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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Tacos, Hair, Crema

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

And so these tacos…they have what in them?

Hair.

And…okay, but you eat them?

Yes, with plenty of Crema.

Okay, now I know you’re just talking about something else.

Yeah, tacos.

The dirty kind of taco, like slang for…well, you know what I’m talking about.

No.

Let’s say you’re actually talking about tacos–

–I am.

Fine. How do you eat a mouthful of hair?

You just–

–Follow up question, who’s hair is it? What kind of hair is it? Is it washed? Where does it come from?

From the bowl in the kitchen.

Come on man, we’re not talking about the beloved Mexican food, are we?

Yes with a twist.

The twist is it has hair instead of meat or beans or rice or fajitas.

Yes, and plenty of Crema.

So where does the hair come from before it gets to the bowl in the kitchen?

I don’t know.

You never asked?

No, a truck just pulled up and on the side in old English style red lettering it said Tacos, Hair, Crema and that’s all they serve.

No questions?

Just the hottest new eats on wheels in town.

Who is eating them.

All the cool kids. The ones with wide brimmed hats, long dresses and heels. Others with mustaches, tweed jackets with patches and spectacles with no prescription lenses.

Oh, okay, you’re saying that ironically.

No, they are cool and I know that because of all the effort that goes into finding those clothes.

See, when you say it like that it sounds like your making fun of them or being passive aggressive.

I’m saying exactly what I think.

Okay…Okay, so tacos, hair, crema. Back to my first question, and I still have so many, how do you eat all that hair?

Well, that’s what the crema is for, you kinda stick a finger into the taco and move it around until all the hair has mixed into the crema, then it kind of just slides down your tongue and down your throat.

Sounds so appetizing when you say it like that.

Exactly! I knew you’d get it.

No, I was being sarcastic. And again you made it sound sexual.

Sexual?

Come on ‘stick your finger in,’ slides down tongue’?

They’re open today if you want to try it.

I don’t.

Where is your adventurous spirit. I have all kinds of photos showing everyone my adventurous spirit. You know in some parts of the world they eat bugs, other parts they eat dogs, in the U.S. we eat cows but in other parts of the world it’s taboo to eat beef.

Yes, but hair, come on. There is a line somewhere and it’s been crossed.

Yes, eating meat is barbaric.

Your point is well taken but eating hair is a stupidity that has to be on the moronic end of the stupidity spectrum.

No, I eat them.

Yeah.

Project, Farm, Worship

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Behold the great sheep, humble and woolly, providing cotton for all of us. Let us raise our hands and lower them to gently sweep the grasses on which the sheep graze. We shall write songs of its soothing bleats, its gently spirit and that wool that keeps us warm when the god of ice exacts his wrath.

Let us erect a statue in the image of the sheep, a ram and a ewe. The pair representing the balance between protection, violence and calm, gentleness. We shall conduct the lambing as a sacred rite. A new lamb represents the Spring, life, growth, harvest. Let us cut the grasses as gently as we sheer the wool, for us the wool, for the sheep, the grasses.

We shall project our needs and desires onto the careless bleating of the sheep. We shall make our most important decisions upon which direction the flock chooses to graze. Let us not take responsibility for our actions but place the burden of our actions on the paths our flocks choose to tread. Through bad harvest and good, all blame and credit will be given to the sheep.

Why? Because we need the wool to stay warm in the Winter’s, to maintain our temperatures during the winds of Fall. We need not take responsibility when we can hoist our burdens onto the sheep. All praise the sheep!

Let us remove our shoes and walk upon their dung to feel the earthly wisdom that is excreted from their nether regions. Let us hold golden goblets to their golden showers and drink of their peace.

Nothing is our fault. We are blameless. We are humble servants of the sheep as the sheep humbly provide their wisdom through their very nature.

Let us sacrifice our children if the sheep suffer from illness or disease. Let us kill one another when there is dispute over the treatment of the sheep. We shall not bother with our own doubt. Let us ignore them as the sheep ignore the sandy earth. Let us dismiss the questions that forever run through our minds of whether the sheep belong to us or whether we belong to the sheep.

Let us remember that when one sheep dies, we must kill one of our own to make up for the loss.

Let us never forget that we belong to the sheep!

Let us write down our decrees and thinking at this moment and forever follow them blindly, as the flock follows their ram. No matter what changes befall us, no matter what discoveries we make, let us never forsake the wool and the wisdom of the sheep.

Let us raise our goblets of sheep urine and drink to the wool and the wisdom of sheep, never to think for ourselves but only to remain faithful to the sheep.

Amen!

Feather, Sing, Cave

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

“Check it out, dude. I found this fuckin’ sweet ass feather over here in this cave.”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Like what?”

“Sweet ass feather?”

“It is a sweet ass feather.”

“Yeah, but in meetings your vocabulary is quite different. Your explaining the demographics and opportunities within the European market. Now your saying stuff like ‘fuckin’ sweet as feather.'”

“I’m not at work. Look forget that bullshit, man. That’s just the 9-to-5, you know?”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just weird is all.”

“Anyway, I was venturing out into the wilds of Canada one day and happened upon the opportunity for a spelunking adventure. So I told myself, Martin, you deserve a break from the rat race, treat yourself to exploration.”

“What is happening, now your talking like the beginning of a novel from the 1920’s. You’re all over the place.”

“You’re missing the forest for the trees, my dude–“

“–My dude.”

“Just listen. I took out my cellular phone–“

“–Cellular?”

“I TOOK OUT MY CELLULAR PHONE and turned on the flash light. The first few feet into the cave I noticed a sharp turn to the right, it was hella dark.”

“Okay, you’ve never said hella in your life…”

“It was hecka dark in there, but like I mentioned earlier, I had turned on my flashlight. So I ventured to the right, following the natural slope downwards and twist of the rock.”

“Okay.”

“Nothing special, just rocks, dirt and a few mice bones. Then I heard it, some sound. At first I thought it was wind but as I walked forward, I realized it was singing–oh hold on, I’m getting a call. Hello? Yes, um, well I already have a phone plan but what’s your offer?”

“Dude.”

“Hold on. Well, I have a pretty good plan now and I don’t want to deal with the hassle of switching over, thank you for calling and have a lovely day. Okay man, where was I?”

“You heard singing.”

“Right. It was singing but it was the combination of a chortling bird and an opera singer. Like Andrea Bocelli Gargling mouthwash or Placido Domingo trying to belt out ‘O sole mio while being water boarded. It was bizarre.”

“Yeah.”

“So I kept going down and saw some light at the end. Then I saw them. These giant birds, about as big as a bulldog standing on it’s hind legs, like crows but with the heads of humans. Like those 16th/17th century paintings of strange birds with human heads, just like that.”

“No way.”

“They were hopping around, like birds do when they’re excited in a cage, just doing that chortling/singing thing.”

“What did their heads look like?”

“They all looked exactly like Dolph Lundgren, you know boxers nose, block chin, and blond feathers.”

“Good thing you had your phone out.”

“Yes, it is, because with the light of the flashlight I was able to pick up one of the feathers that had fallen.”

“You didn’t take a picture?”

“Well, I was grabbing the feather, see?”

“It just looks like a feather. That could be from any bird.”

“Well, even so, how many times to come across a fuckin’ sweet ass feather?”

Reservoir, Material, Crack

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was the last of the water supply. A large artificial lake and there was a crack. The only materials left to patch it would contaminate the water.

But one dude was like, I can fix it. And then he shot himself in the head, just above the crack. His plan, I can only guess, was to use his body to stop the leak. The problem, in the long term, was that his body would eventually begin to rot and therefore contaminate the water supply anyway. The problem, in the short term, was that he hadn’t accounted for the steep curve of the wall. So his body rag-dolled down the slope, not even close to the crack. Ironically, he had landed where the water was pooling so that nobody else could at least enjoy the runoff.

Then some other chick said she could fix it. She cut off her hair until it was just above her ears. she wadded up the mess of hair and began stuffing it into the crack. Not a bad idea, except that she had to cut her locks into smaller pieces to be able to fit. So people were constantly sticking out their tongues and grabbing small hairs for weeks after. Eventually the hairs either rolled outside of the reservoir or drifted into the water supply.

Then some priest was like, I’ll pray about it. For all we know he’s still doing that.

Then some politician was like, I’ll fix the crack. What I’ll do is collect a small percentage of all your money and with that I will be able to find the appropriate solution. The money was raised quickly, the first time. He took it and then declared, well first, we must have a building dedicated to researching a solution for the crack. So the money went into the building.

Then again, the same politician told the people that for a small percentage of money he would expand on the research. He could update the facilities, which he also called home on the top floor. This update would allow them to hire the best scientists and equipment which would this time guarantee a solution for the crack.

More money was raised, this time a bit less. but the raising of money continued and more buildings were erected.

Now a female priest came along and said that the prayers of the other priest were incorrect. So she went on the opposite side of the reservoir and began her version of prayer, which to the rest of us looked very similar to the first guys. Anyway, she’s still there and water is still leaking from the crack.

The rest of us figured we’d just go for a swim while there was still enough water to do so. While down there, one of us got too close to the crack and the small part of their back received a small hickey from temporarily getting stuck in the crack.

One of the kids smiled wide and grabbed an old sheep bladder. He swam down to the crack and place the bladder just in front of the crack, watching as it seemed to grab onto the wall. From the other side arose a cheer, the leak had stopped.

At this the priests, both of them, leaped into the air and said, I told you my god would deliver. At the same moment, the politician appeared in his window and said, I told you the schools and research buildings I built would solve the problem.

We told them to fuck off.

Leftovers, Spin, Commission

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

She wiped it off her chin. He wiped with a towel. The crew struck the set. The director took the footage to the editor. The talent got dressed and drove off in separate vehicles.

The footage was edited. The file uploaded and the views started coming in. The director got his percentages, the editor got his cut and the cast and crew were paid up front.

The video went viral. It was talked about in whispers at work and communicated through smirks and smiles at friendly gatherings. Talk show hosts feigned tongue-in-cheek jokes for the sake of not embarrassing the wholesome American public.

Journalists tracked down the director and location. Documentaries were made. The male talent jawed and grinned in front of interviews. The female talent declined to speak.

Fathers exaggerated their anger towards the video. Sons stayed silent. Mothers slacked their jaws but kept their eyes open. Daughters wondered. All of them hid their authentic private thoughts.

Preachers ensured congregations that they had watched the video so the rest of their souls would be spared. Politicians ensured constituents that the tapes had been reviewed to ensure good, hard-working Americans wouldn’t need to be subjected to such smut.

They made their meals spinning their stories to strengthen their commissions, burying the leftovers with the truth about themselves.

Steak, Charm, Shelf

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He touched the fleshy part of his palm, just below his thumb.

“Well done, okay, and for you ma’am?” The waiter wasn’t faced by the man’s silence or his stare.

“I’ll have a chicken salad, please, with dressing on the side.”

“We’ll have that right out for you. More wine?”

He put his hand over his glass. No.

The waiter left and the two at the table stared at each other. Their eyes looked all over each other’s faces for understanding.

The woman’s charm was in her eyes. She would narrow them at him and smile. Words were unnecessary at this point in their relationship. After 60 years, words mostly got in the way.

They looked around the room, and look back at each other. Remembering and knowing what the other would say. An ongoing conversation, never placed on the top shelf, always going back to where they were.

They communicated like this for 20 minutes before the waiter returned with their food. The steak let off wavy streams of heat. The salad nearly spilled out of it’s bowl. They looked at the salad and both began to laugh.

The man pushed the tines of his fork into the base of the T in his steak. The woman scooped out a piece of chicken with her hands, dipping it into her dressing before taking the whole bit in her mouth.

They ate, paid the check, left a 20% tip and left. All without a word. The waiter came and cleared the table. A younger man and woman took their place. Laughing and jawing at all the things they wanted to share but barely looking each other in the eyes.

Tax, Silence, Sailor

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

She could hear only the wind and the waves. Standing at the lighthouse, she looked out as the light behind her flashed a silhouette of her figure to all watching sailors. Tonight there was no storm.

When she closed the glass door of the lighthouse, for a moment, there was only silence. Silence and the spinning light.

For months she watched and waited. The rocky dirt all around the small island undisturbed but for a patch about six feet long and three feet wide. She missed her husband but not his drunken behavior. Perhaps a sailor would come ashore and give her the attention she required, though she wasn’t eager to pay the heavy tax of a relationship. A tryst was all she longed for.

Sun or moon. Fog or rain. She kept the light shining. The work, however taxing, still left plenty of time for her mind to be pulled to her husband. A strange mix of righteous indignation and guilt. The men of the sea seemed never to suspect that a woman could be anything but warm respite from waves, rain, splinters and scurvy. She would do better with the next man, guilt has a queer way of turning one into a saint.

As the sun dipped into the ocean, she noticed the lights of a ship approaching from the dark side of the sky. Ahead, in a dingy, rowed a sailor approaching her rocky haven. She clutched her knitting needle and thought, I will no longer accept a drunk fist but I’ll welcome a gentle caress.

Preference, Suffer, Acquaintance

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The drums beat a steady rhythm like a soldiers march, like a heartbeat like the rhythms of men and women making life and love. The wailing song that emerged was born of terror, rage and sadness from the men lured into the ocean by mermaids.

Fishermen and hunters, beards long, skin rough and muscles taught, they would wander too close to the crags jutting like teeth from the mouth of the bay. Mermaids would sing their sweet songs and bare their full bosoms. The men didn’t stand a chance. As they waded in the water, eyes fixed to the breasts above them, they didn’t see or feel the mermaids pulling them below the surface. No suffering, just a gurgled sigh as they drowned in delight.

The women, looking for their men would kneel in front of the waters edge and submerge their heads under the waves. This is where they heard the steady beat of their loved ones hearts.

The Mermaids of since gone. Living deep below the waves as men became more beastly and developed tools that helped them get what they want without the sacrifice of death. After the ages of machines and convenience, the mermaids traded souls for legs of their own.

Sometimes, when men wander by themselves, walking along the beach, pier or harbor, they meet a mysterious woman with an ancient familiarity, an acquaintance to the DNA swimming around in all men. They’ll fall on their knees and beg to be held, their beards hitting the ground. The mermaids, mute, place their own hands on top of the kneeling men, smothering them in between their bosoms, stomachs or thighs.

No screams or tortured cries, just a soft sigh as the men pass from this world with awe and delight. A much preferred death to the violence of battle, tangles with machinery and the 1000 little cuts other women sometimes inflict on their victims without the pleasure.

Stick your head beneath the waves and you’ll hear Poseidon’s hymn, the heartbeats of satisfied men, tortured by delight.

Guitar, Waiter, Poetry

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was Flamenco night. Some black haired, olive oil skinned man was grating his finger tips on the guitar. A woman whipped her skirt around her legs with one hand while clacking castanets in the other. A spot light illuminated the two on stage, the only other light coming from the candles at each table.

“More sangria, sir?” the waiter hovered his pitcher over my glass. I nodded. He poured. I chugged.

I chewed on a bit of apple that made its way through my teeth and watched the Spaniards sweat on stage. The woman began to sing. A haunting wail that sounded like the agony of regrets. She twirled and sang words that sounded like the poetry of the dead or the drunk.

It was my fourth Sangria. My eyes began to water and tear splashed on the table. Maybe it was the music or maybe it’s because mixed drinks are hard to judge.

I looked around the room. A woman with white hair and spectacles clapped her hands. A man with a bald spot threw his shoulders back and forth to the rhythm. A young couple was making out in the corner. The waiters danced with their trays between our tables.

I looked at the empty seat across from me but didn’t feel regret. I couldn’t place the feeling.

I flagged down the waiter for another Sangria and sat, trying to figure it out. All this raw emotion and rush of feelings but I was alone. In younger days it was easier to identify my feelings. This is happiness. This is regret. This is anger. As I grew older, the feelings tied themselves to memories and experiences, making it harder to untangle one emotion from another.

And so this is it. A moment. The moment. It leads into the next and swallows whole each moment until you find yourself alone. It wasn’t pity I felt for myself, just a reminder that when life is around you, it must be grabbed, touched, caressed, held, laughed at, cried with, struggled with…

To feel it all, all at once and acknowledge that I was feeling. That’s all that was necessary.

The waiter filled my glass. I took a sip before setting it down to enjoy the rest of the show.

Terrify, Characteristic, Throat

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

She danced on the burning edge of a match. Flames lapping at her legs. Her skirt twisting with the into the reds and oranges. A little spot of white in the center of destruction.

She danced and opened up her throat to scream. Her hair tangled in the flames being pulled by the stars. Fingers moving like tentacles, waving and sticking to her body as she swayed with the wind.

I held up a hand to shield the match from the violence of the wind. The fire would eat, but it would have to taste the wood of the match all the way into my fingers before it sent up its smoke.

The fuel of the green lungs all over the world fueled the dance between my fingers. Those forests of lungs all in a singular breath from the Amazon to the Black Forest, creating a hollow breath through the tunnel of the world.

I watched her dance and ignored the insatiable appetite of the flames biting into my finger tips. An emptiness hit me, a tunnel opening up inside my chest, terror. Then the flame spit up its victory smoke and I was left with the memory of her dance.

My blistered fingers fumbled for another glimpse at the woman who danced on the burning edge of the match.

Until my fingers black and nerve endings shriveled, I would strike, and shield, and watch the women dancing in the flames.

Back, Extreme, Thirsty

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Uncle Acid drove his dead beat nephews, nieces, sons and daughters to the circus. He’d arrive with the gang and leave with some money. The kids would learn a lesson today.

The morning was moist and the empty lot was soft underfoot, clinging to all the hand-me-down shoes of the young troupe. They made their way, shortest to tallest, toward the striped tent. Cotton candy, kettle corn, funnel cakes, fried chicken wafted into their hungry noses. Not a single kid, however, turned his gaze toward the vendors.

“Straight for the tent.” Uncle Acid had said. He didn’t speak much but he underlined his points with beatings, so talking wasn’t necessary.

Uncle Acid, following a few feet behind, stopped at the beer cart. Something about today was making him extra thirsty, but water wouldn’t cut it. Never did. A pain was slithering up from his gut to his chest. A familiar pain. The same pain when he left his sister at the foster home as a kid. The same pain as when he took the money from his partner and skipped town. These were not the first beers to reduce the pain and they would not be the last.

Holding both beers in his hand, Uncle Acid reached a wrist through the tent flap and pushed it aside. Entering the tent, he looked around for the clown in red coat tails. The sooner he found him, the sooner he could get his money, and more beer.

In the center of the arena, he saw the kids standing in a semi-circle around the clown he was meeting. Uncle Acid watched by the entrance.

The clown was blowing up a long balloon. It shot out like a sausage casing being filled with meat. It grew and grew, longer and longer. Uncle Acid frowned. The balloon kept growing. With each exhale from the clown, the balloon grew. It was curling around the pole leading up to the trapeze artist’s perch.

The kids, their backs to Uncle Acid, slowly turned around to face him. They all looked at him, holding his two beers. The clown kept blowing, now the balloon was reaching out across the wire to the other side of the arena.

Uncle Acid gulped down one beer and dropped the empty cup. He pulled a cigarette tucked behind his ear and lit it. Looking up at the balloon, he couldn’t see the end of it anymore. The clown still blew, so it must still be growing.

The kids started walking on the balloon, they followed it’s curling path around the pole and across the tightrope. As they did, they seemed to shrink.

Uncle Acid felt a tap on his shoulder, it was the end of the balloon. The clown stopped blowing and tied up the end.

“HA HA HA HA HER HER HA HA HE HE…” the clown laughed. Uncle Acid turned back to see the end of the balloon. The kids, now the size of cigarette butts, hopped onto his shoulder and began climbing into his ear. Just as the last kid climbed in, Uncle Acid touched the cherry of his cig to the balloon. It popped, along with the clown, the tent, and the muddy lot.

Uncle Acid had another flashback. When he came out of it, he told us all to hop in the car, we’re going to the circus.

My last confession

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
1,407 words

I must be falling. My suit jacket is bunched up under my arms and flapping around my head. A strip of polka dots slaps around my face. My calves and white cotton socks exposed. Shoe laces whip my shins. The wind changes pitch as it passes through the circle I’ve formed with my lips.

Forgive me father for I have sinned; it is…

     The air is getting colder. I look down and see flecks of shine coming and going on a canvas of blue. The ocean coming up to greet me. I make out, almost directly below me, the Golden Gate bridge.

I pray I hit it so the story ends.

The bridge whistles past and out of instinct I point my toes to the water and press my arms to my sides. The air rushes into my lungs just before water rushes in my nose and past my ears. My eyes are shut but less and less light makes it through my eyelids. I put my arms out to slow the dive.

     I open my eyes. All around are people. Some swim gracefully above, others motionless and fall past me. I see a man in shorts and a polo pushing past a motionless woman in pearls and an apron. Her hair wrapped around her face, pointing her way to the surface. People were everywhere, submerged, floating and swimming, looking around confused.

I look down. A mass of behemoth black shadows swirls below me. I look up. Pants, belts, socks, skirts, blouses, bras, thongs, ties, jackets, shoes falling toward me. People kicking and thrashing toward the light. I see people at the top burst through the surface and take a breath of air. My chest starts to burn with envy. Naked bodies fall toward me.

I need oxygen.

O’ my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…

     I started to push up as if there were solid objects below my feet and hands. I am heavy with wet clothes. A woman removes her shoes and fights upward. I pull at the water to fight up. I kick off my own bloating leather soles and pull off my socks. A loose tie wraps around my neck as I push upward. I tear it off and begin removing the rest of my clothing, always gyrating upwards toward the light. The burning in my lungs starts to feel like the image of a film reel being eaten up by a flame. I’m feverishly kicking like a frog while my hands tug away at the belt. I pushed off my pants. The shirt doesn’t tear quickly enough. I look down and begin to panic.

     The shadows seem closer and the light farther away. Something touches my foot and instinct kicks in. I look straight up, now completely naked and cup my hands for full force. I’m beginning to exhale in short bursts that grow longer with each snort. I’ll run out of air soon and then, out of habit, inhalation will take over.

I am sorry for these sins and all the sins of my whole life…

     Next to me, a man grips the legs of the person above, trying to pull himself up. He exposes the man’s ass and they both fall further down. They reach for me while their mouths fill with water and sink to the swirling black masses.

A woman below me reaches for my leg. I kick at her hand, but she grabs my ankle. A bubble of air leaps out of my throat but the muscles tighten their grip on my body, and I pull both of us forward. 

     I won’t make it to the top with her extra weight. The burning in my chest has been replaced by spasms. My lungs pounding in their cage. I begin to sputter. Whatever air is left in my lungs turns to bubbles in the water. The light is just a few strokes above me. I look down and see a man grabbing at the woman hanging on to me. I kick at her hand, she lets go, now fighting off her own leech. I push forward and in another two strokes, the light blinds my eyes.

Thank you, father.

The light disappears.

#

In an abandoned house off the 215 freeway I go to confess my sins. The minister sits behind a plaster wall from 4:00 pm to 4:52 pm. He enters through a hole in the outside wall because the front door is boarded up. Sitting in the master bathroom, he takes confessions through a glory hole. 

I walked in with the dead eyes of a junkie, unsticking my eyelids from the caked cocaine and running eyeliner. Another day wasted. Given up to the night before. I had time to confess before Father Ibsen spent the rest of his night suckling at any booze he could find, nursing his own demons. I stooped to put my face by the hole. Parting my dry lips with my tongue, I recited the script.

“Father forgive me for I have sinned again.  I know not what I did but I know a blue-eyed, red-haired devil in fishnet stockings made me do it.”

A lighter clinked and hissed. Tobacco hit my nose. Smoke poured through the hole and made my eyes well up. His words curled through the haze.

“Tell me son, what have you done that you say the devil made you do?”

My eyes tried to focus. I listened to my breathing and my mind clarified for a moment. Guilt has a queer way of turning me into a saint. The few moments in between coming to and my next blackout I find myself curling into a ball and begging my inner child for forgiveness. My ego quenches the thirst, but my self flushes it into oblivion. However, feelings don’t mean facts, so I answer honestly.

“I don’t know but the evidence keeps piling up behind me.”  Father Ibsen passes the cigarette through the glory hole, filter ripped off. I extend two yellow fingers to accept. 

“Son, in my terrifying experience the demons don’t scratch, tear, bite, claw, scream or yell, rip, shred or gnash their teeth. No, they brush your hand, touch you lightly on your thigh and whisper in your ear. They’ll give you sweet words and pour confidence down your throat, inject self-esteem into your veins and breathe life into your nose. It’s a slow seduction.”

I took a long pull from the cigarette. With no filter, the smoke punched a hacking cough out of my lungs. I choked it down to hear the rest of Father Ibsen’s sermon.

“They make you think you are doing all the work. That you make the decisions and take charge of your destruction. So that by the time you feel the scratching, tearing, biting, clawing, screaming, yelling, ripping, shredding, and gnashing of teeth you think it’s the demons but it’s really the angels giving all they have to try and pull you back. While the demons lay back, pissing and blowing snot bubbles all over themselves with laughter at the violent struggles of their boy scout doppelgängers.”

Father Ibsen stuck two fingers back through the hole. I handed him the cigarette and he continued.

 “That is the devil’s greatest pride. She twists her forked whiskey-soaked tongue around yours until you can’t tell the difference and when you think you know, she has you.  Her trick is making you think all the rules and regulations will save you, but the fortress is really a prison.”

The words were ironic coming from the fiery, vodka drenched breath spurting out of the hole. He chuckled and finished his impromptu sermon to the choir.

“So, it makes me laugh, son, until tears stream and sides ache, when I hear one of my children say, ‘the devil made me do it’ because son, aren’t we just the devil?”

His final words sounded like an admiring mother mildly scolding her mischievous child.  I heard his chair creak as he stood up. He passed his collar through the fuck hole, spotted and stained with sweat and semen, and spoke the last words I ever heard from his mouth. “Time for this devil to change costumes. But you should sit on this side of the wall. Hearing the insanities of the other, keeps one’s own in check. Their ain’t no glory on this side of the hole, any stone age queen will tell you the same.”

end

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Multimedia, Bite, Eagle

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It used to be a symbol of freedom and strength, bald though it was called. There were statues in official buildings and statuettes on the tops of flag poles. It was tattooed on the soldiers, officers and citizens with overwhelming pride. The eagle.

Now the laser shows had taken over. Lights pointing in all directions, splayed in all sorts of colors. Dots on walls, shapes bouncing off flat surfaces.

At first there were lasers only in the hands of civilians. At sporting events and theaters, jokesters would point single, red lasers into the eyes and crotches of athletes and actors. The more responsible among us used the lasers in academic settings, pointing at important points within lectures. Then video went viral and seemed to spark the consciousness of all mankind onto one laser beam.

A young girl, taking her parents lasers and adding some of her own, taped all of them together and stuck them on the weather vain of her roof. As she stepped back to admire the lasers whipping in all directions the wind would blow, she fell off the roof and never was the same, but neither was the world.

An explosion of tributes made to the girl, Lucy, became know has Lucy’s laser’s. People were putting together lasers with everything, on lawn mowers, through cereal boxes, on car windshield wipers, their dogs tails. They started adding other media to the mix, lasers playing out the scenes of movies to music and interpretive dancing. Soon, there wasn’t a time of day or night, or a direction in which you could look when a laser beam could not be seen.

This was the end of the eagle. So fickle were the people of the country, that they blamed the eagles weak eyes on the biblical downing of great birds. Almost like a plague, the baldies fell from the sky. Chomping their beaks and grasping with their talons on the way down, seemingly hoping to clutch a branch or telephone wire.

“The laser and its beams are what make us strong now. We were wrong to follow that stupid bird.” And so at every official gathering, public event, statue and statuette, the eagles were slowly replaced with lasers, light shows and multimedia extravaganzas.

This was the way the country found something they could control.

Extraterrestrial, Prisoner, Distance

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Dust. So much swirling in the air that it became mud in the eyes and chewed up cake in the mouth. Their ears built dams of wax and stone. Their noses reduced to only to hold up glasses, unable to pass air in or out from the mucus and wet clay caking its opening.

This was where we sent our poorly behaved, even badly behaved of society. Those who lost their cool or nerve or patience and acted. They were not banished to a cage, safe and warm and well fed. They were sent to the far end of the western United States, on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California. Once the heartland, now simply a vast swirl of dust from the beaches all the way to middle of the eastern country.

To resume their lives and learn from their mistakes, they’d have to find the lines of wire that ran from West to East, leading them home. Or die. There were checkpoints with food and water but they would have to be found. Often times they were lost in the dust storms. Missing a check point meant starvation and none of the safe houses along the way were evenly spaced out. There were no calculations to be made along the way. No planning or rationing, just pulling oneself along the wire to the next symbol of hope.

It might take months, or years. Never less than months to make it back to the livable Eastern United States.

When the prisoners arrived, they would be so fundamentally changed, that the states called each survivor a “remarkable recovery.” Under their breaths, however, officials were more terrified of the blank stares, lean muscle and wild hair.

These men and women crawled their way back to what, at the beginning of their journey’s, they called home. Upon arrival, however, there was nothing comforting or homely about it. For the rest of their lives, their minds would be trapped in the swirls of dust. Their bodies would wander through their former lives like cosmonauts on an unfamiliar planet. Aliens to all those around them and to themselves, living in an alien world.

Be right back

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
825 words

Bob looked down at the floor. The shoes around him were new and pregnant with the identities of the partiers around him. His own shoes had no slashes or colors or stripes or patterns or loud brand names, only thick black soles and two Velcro straps creased perfectly around his feet. 

He looked up at the faces of the other guests. Nodding, smiling, winking, head-tilting, lip-biting, red cup sipping, arm touching, eye fluttering, eye fucking, and jealousy. Bob noticed it all in those faces. He took a deep breath and downed the rest of his drink. What was he doing there?

Looking around at all the tight-skinned faces, he was beginning to think he had overstayed his welcome. Nobody at the party would catch him slipping out the back. They were all too busy looking up at the sky. Bob had been that way once. Always staring at the clouds, scheming and dreaming. Dreaming of changing the world. The clouds looked the same. Never closer but never further away. He thought about all the things other people had achieved and perfected in his lifetime. The automobile. Telephones. T.V.s. Computers. The internet (apparently people spent all their time in the web, it sounded like a trap to him.) Faster food, faster service, faster payments, more nudity, less danger and sensationalized news. Working, making and consuming distractions. Everything was strange entertainment.

If he had slept for 50 years and woken up on this same day, he would be just as confused, disoriented and unsatisfied. To be honest, he felt cheated. All those promises and hopes for the future yielded nothing but more ignorance and more dependence. Hell, he remembered when a car would still start if you had enough people to push it.

     “Gads.” 

Bob startled himself. He looked around. Nobody spared a glance. The two kids he had met at the bar were now schmoozing at a couple of young ladies across the room. The girls were cute, sure, but they looked as if they would giggle at the news of their parents’ death. For that matter, so did the boys he came with.

He had met them at a bar when they started philosophizing with him. They bought his drinks, so he played along.

     “What do you think about Obama?”

There was no such thing as a free drink. He blew out all his air, pushing out his lips.

     “I’ve been asked that same exact question my whole life, just a different name at the end. Bush, Reagan, Roosevelt, Truman, Bush. The question is old. The name changes, the face changes, they die, soon I’ll be dead and something similarly different will happen.”

The two kids were impressed. Or at least impressionable. They invited Bob to the party, and he went. Maybe it was the free drinks, but Bob remembered when he was like them. He would have believed anything that came out of an old drunks’ mouth. He would have thought ‘boy, this guy’s been through the ringer, he must really know something.’ Now Bob was that old drunk and he knew that nobody knows and that’s the truth. Some are optimistic and others pessimistic. Some believe in god and others don’t. Some pretend and some don’t. Just having a mind is too much. Or maybe it’s not. Only a few wrinkles, a drowning liver and a bald head separated Bob from those boys.

Bob set down his cup and made his way over to them. He stepped up behind the two Romeos and clapped them on the shoulders.

     “You boys need anything?”

They looked at each other and looked back at the girls with wide eyes. Bob was a malignant tumor to them now.

     “I’ll be right back.” He said.

Bob walked off through the crowd and out the door. He looked up at the night sky. No clouds and not a visible star. That was another change. Edison eventually did away with staring up at the stars, now he looks out the window and sees the glow of television sets from every house, apartment, and trailer. He got in his car and lit a cigarette. He had only agreed to come because the party was a couple blocks from his house. The ignition turned over and the gas pedal felt like a pole in a tar pit. He pressed his foot down and the rest was mechanical: Left, stop, go, stop, go, right. Four houses down Bob slipped into the garage and closed it behind him. He put the car in park and cranked back the emergency brake. The window popped out of its crease as he pressed the button down. Leaning back in the driver’s seat, he dragged slowly from his cigarette before dropping it out of the cracked window. He pumped the gas pedal, revving the engine a couple of times. Then held it down at a low RPM, going nowhere. He closed his eyes. Maybe tomorrow or maybe nothing.

end

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An err on Rowan’s meaning

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
574 words

“I wanted you to be the first to know,” Rowan confided in me. I think. Was Rowan his name? I’m not sure. I just walked into the break room and popped open a Fresca. Now this Rowan character, whom I’ve only ever seen in office meetings and the restroom is confiding in me. Was his name Jeremy?

He seems nervous. I sense he wants to tell me something weighty and I can’t even remember his name.

While sipping my soda, he continues. “The thing is, I’ve only ever wanted you to know.” I try not to let the bubbles tickle out a swampy belch as he continues. “But I know that eventually everyone will find out, so I’m telling you now,” Jeremy said? Was his name Jeremy Rowan? Or Rowan Jeremy?

Something like thirty cubicles span the space between me and this RJ character, so why is he unloading his life on me? His badge! I can glance at the name on his employee badge. I look down at the usual badge holding locations. Shirt pocket. Damn. Belt loop. Shit.

His eyes are staring blankly into mine. I’m only half paying attention to what he is saying but I understand from over thirty years of social cues that it is my turn to respond.

“That’s cool, man.” Balls. I think that was too casual. Maybe I don’t understand. I’ll nod a few times, press my lips together and blink slowly. That looks sincere, almost brotherly. Now he’s squinting and crossing his arms. Reremy Jowan is crossing his arms?

“I’m busting out of here.” Jowan Reremy laughs and lets his face relax into a smile.

Thank the gods of social situations, Wojarn Reemy is being facetious. This isn’t a serious conversation. I’m saved. I can call him ‘buddy’, or ‘chief’, maybe even ‘sport’. The point is, I’m free.

“Good for you, man.” I go with ‘man’, it’s utilitarian. 

“Excuse me?” Merry Najowe says, lifting his eyelids up and jutting his chin towards me. He presses a finger to his right ear and says, “No, sorry, someone in the break room is talking to me.”

Sipping from the can of Fresca in my right hand, I use my left to try waving Jarme Yerwo off with the old I-had-this-running-conversation-in-my-mind-and-at-the-same-time-I-was-trying-to-figure-out-your-name-while-trying-to-appear-sincere-because-you-sounded-serious-but-were-just-being-facetious-so-now-I’m-processing-all-that-and-casually-waving-you-off look.

I’m not pulling it off.

“I’ll call you back,” says Jeemy Roranw (maybe the “w” is silent?). Wanjo yemerr pulls his finger from his ear and focuses on me. Then the words that change my life forever, come forth from his mouth. “I’m sorry, I was on the phone. You probably thought I was talking to you. What’s your name again? I’ve seen you around, but I can’t remember it.”

So confident, straightforward and kind, he asked for my name with no excuses. Wenermy Jr. shows me a level of class my introverted mind has never fathomed before this moment. Aoeey Wjrrm blows my mind. He is a social genius. I take a loud sip of my Fresca trying to find the words.

With the bubbles still burning my throat, I force out a raspy whisper, “It’s Simon.”

“Well Simon, it’s nice to meet you. I’ll see you around.” He claps me on the shoulder and walks out of the room. Wanormy Reej leaves me with a foundational building block for constructing my retarded-above-average social IQ and my Grapefruit with Lime soda.

I think about how I’ll never forget Wanjo Yererm, or whatever his name is.

end

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Slice of life

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
696 words

Janine’s phone was off. It was never off. I only found out because eventually her father answered the house phone.

     “She cut her wrists with a knife or razor blade or something. Anyway, she’s fine she just needs some time away from everything.”

I could have crushed his frail ribs with my fists. That naïve–

     “Where is she?”

I didn’t care to filter my anger. Sometimes reality forces its hand despite our best efforts.

     “At the BMC”

I hung up. No more wasted breath.

#

I walked in the front entrance of the institution where crazy lived. Outside crazy was called normal. Inside it smelled like rubbing alcohol. In the waiting room, everyone’s hair was shiny and thick. The bags under their red eyes reminded me of how I felt every morning.

I walked up to the plate-glass window and spoke softly.

     “Is there a Janine Ibsen here?”

     “Yes, may I ask who is asking?”

I faltered. I imagined one of her parents requesting to see her and the nurse saying, “you’ll have to wait until her boyfriend is out.” I chose the path we had already paved.

     “A good friend.”

     “One moment, please.”

Janine and I had been dating for over a year, but the situation felt so foreign. 

     “Put this on, walk through the double doors all the way down the hall and when they ask for a number tell them 0147.”

I put the fluorescent green sticker on my shirt and walked.  I thought about what I might see when I found patient 0147.  Jesus! It’s Janine. I almost vomited at that thought. I pictured her feigning a frown at me after one of my farts. I really got a kick out of that. I should have treated her like a lady. Then I thought about her tiny wrists looking like raw hamburger meet.   I reached the locked doors and the buzzer spoke.

     “Patient number please.”

     “Um, hold on.” Shit. “Oh yeah, 0-1-4-7.”

The buzzer sounded and I jumped at the door.

Janine’s mother was crying in the hall. She looked up and came over to hug me. 

     “It’s okay.” I said hugging her back. 

I felt awkward for telling such a bold lie. I knew how she was feeling but I didn’t give a shit. Her sadness started to make me angry and I asked her where Janine was. She didn’t answer.

     “Can we pray together?” I ignored her and walked to the nurse’s station.

     “Which room is patient 0147 in?”

     “Her name?”

     “Janine Ibsen.”

Why give me the fucking number?

     “She’s in room 31 down the hall on the left.”

I thanked her and started down, passing her mom, I heard her again.

     “Can we pray together?”

What the fuck was pressing our hands together supposed to do? I picked up my pace acting as if I was anxious to see Janine. The pounding in my chest told me I wasn’t acting. Sometimes reality really has a way of forcing its hand. 

Room 27…

…29…

…31. 

I took a deep breath and knocked softly with one knuckle.  I didn’t wait for an answer. I brushed the door open. Their she sat, in a chair with her arms bandaged and facing upwards. Her black curly hair twisting all around her head. Her eyes squinting slightly, shifting back and forth. She looked as if she were trying to solve life’s mysteries. I melted.

     “Hi baby.”

I walked over and sat on the bed next to her chair.

     “I love you. How are you?”

I had asked this question in passing to thousands of people but for the first time I meant it.

She answered slowly. I was aware of my silence and touched her leg. She looked up at me, then right back down at the floor before making her thoughts audible.

     “All of the questions are just distractions. The deeper the question, the cleverer the distraction. What’s on TV? What should I wear? Who am I? Is there a God? If life were just a fart, would death be the wind?”

A burst of air shot through my nose. I squeezed her leg and realized that I had never loved anyone more.

end

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Nonstop, Shine, Beggar

He was back again at the dinner table. His mother, father and sister were sitting around him, eating. The sound of the TV in the other room droning at a low volume. Looking at the faces of his family around him, he reached for a bowl of mashed potatoes but they were just out of his grasp. Then his mother turned to him and said, “Look at this mother fucker, just shining.”

His eyes popped open. A few yards from him, walking away, two people looked back at him, one of them laughing. He sat up, pushing himself against the stone entryway of Citizens bank downtown. The same dream, still haunting him nonstop. No matter what he did to his mind or body, that dream always came back.

He grabbed his bag and threw on a jacket before wandering to his spot where he’d hold out a cup and shake it for spare change. In the tourist spots, he always made enough to at least buy a sandwich from McDonalds but he was out of his potions and elixirs that helped him forget. Not even a beer in his possession.

“Look at this mother fucker, just shining.” The comment played back in his mind. Someone returning home from a long night of partying must have seen the print on his shirt. A black t-shirt with silver glittery print that read Shine. It was just a shirt. He grabbed it from a donated bag of clothes behind the Salvation Army store. He never liked going into the store because it was usually filled with kids in their teens and twenties laughing and trying on old clothes for fun.

Elderly, Party, Month

Looking up at the stars, Henry got the impression of being in a box. Like breathing holes in cardboard, the little pokes of light taunted him. Later that morning, when the sun covered up the sky, he would be at a meeting of his entire company. At some point, he would be asked to present the progress of his project: a review of competitors and their presence in the marketplace compared to the company for which he worked.

More than the presentation he had to give, Henry dreaded the party that would come after. A forced affair in which those at the top would goad those under them to drink. Those in the middle, feeling the tension of normal workplace decor become loosened, would oblige. Those who left were usually not at the company the next month.

Thinking about these things, he wondered what his thoughts about the stars being breathing holes had to do with anything at his job. Perhaps he felt trapped, but that seemed obvious, something that his star analogy didn’t need to explain. Perhaps he was wondering if he had reached his peak. The highest level of success in the workplace of which he was capable, and from that level you could see the light poking through the holes in the whole thing.

Henry snuffed out his cigarette in the little square patch of dirt in his backyard and went inside. He patted his cat on the head and got ready for the day, laying out his suit and tie before showering.

Henry groaned as he got out of bed. His back popping and snapping as he stretched. It was still dark out. He grabbed a cigarette from the night stand and went to his back patio. The dew from the grass and the absence of sun sent a cold shiver through his body.

Ever since retiring, Henry had woken up before dawn with no alarm. As a young man he’d imagined all of the creative projects on which he would have time to work. Lighting his cigarette, he thought about all the energy of youth he had spent on getting to this point and now, with all the time in the world, he found his energy depleted.

Looking up at the stars, Henry got the impression of being in a box. Like breathing holes in cardboard, the little pokes of light taunted him.

Detective Sykes, Murder, of course by Furman Newby III

Murder, of course

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
3,856 words

“So, why’d you do it?” Detective Sykes leaned over the metal table and stared at the murderer. Well, he had still to confess but all video surveillance and eye-witness testimony was pretty damning. Sykes looked at the two-way mirror, knowing his partner was on the other side. He asked again, “Why did you do it, Percy?”

“I do not know. He seemed like a pretentious prick. Or is it pompous? I do not know.” Percy answered. Sykes noticed he had responded genuinely puzzled, as if he were answering a different question, like “why’d you flip the guy off?” Or “Why’d everyone boo when the guy walked in?”

Down at the coroner’s office a medical examiner was inspecting the body of the victim. At the scene of the crime, the unlucky had on black jeans so tight the EMT’s had to cut them off. A short-sleeve button-up shirt with a famous cartoon mouse and round-rimmed spectacles, pieces of which were still mushed into the carne asada that was now his face.

Sykes thought about this face being cleaned up. The Diener picking out teeth, shards of glass, and chunks of carrot from the skull turned bowl now holding onto the pulp of the man’s features.

Blinking rapidly, Sykes prodded Percy for more information.

“Did you know the guy you killed before you saw him at Trader Joe’s?”

“I did not know him. I did not want to. He had been at parties and other events where the same crowd was. He always seemed uninterested in me and my wife.”

“What do you mean disinterested?”

“Well after a while, you see someone enough, you eventually introduce yourself, or at least give a knowing nod, you know?”

“So, he snubbed you. Is that why you killed him?”

“I do not really know. I do know that after a while of seeing him, my blood pressure would rise, he would consume my thoughts and, well, he just became more stress than he was worth.”

Just like that, thought Sykes, kill a man because you didn’t like his face? Sykes pressed Percy.

“You said he consumed your thoughts, with what did he fill your mind?”

“At first, just thoughts of telling him off—-well, no, actually, the first thought was of just walking up and asking why he did not say anything to me or my wife.”

“Why didn’t you ask?”

“Because the thought directly after that was, well what if he apologizes, maybe even profusely and then I have to deal with him walking up to me at every party. I would never be sure if he was genuine or not, knowing that I had once confronted him about not acknowledging me.”

“Do you always have such a hard time with social mores, social norms?”

“Yes, I do.” Percy said, as if answering the question, “do you have two eyes?”

Sykes leaned back off the table, he crossed his arms and cocked his head. He’d personally processed 27 murders in the last year alone, a comparatively slow year, but still. This guy sitting in front of him was genuinely puzzling. No passion, just annoyance.

“So that’s why you killed him, because you thought he’d never be a genuine friend?”

“No. Most people fall into that category.” Said Percy.

“What category?”

“People who would never be my genuine friend.”

“So, why’d you kill him?”

“I do not know, I just wanted him to end.”

Sykes could see that the conversation was getting him nowhere. He looked at the two-way mirror and scratched his ear. A signal to his partner that he was coming out. Sykes looked back at Percy, then started for the door.

“Why do you need to know why?” asked Percy as Sykes reached for the door knob. Percy continued.

“I mean you already know I did it. You have my confession; you have camera footage and you have a whole store full of people who will say I murdered him. Send me to prison, I’m hungry.”

Sykes stopped. “Hungry for what?”

“Hungry for blood!” Percy twisted his face and curled his fingers into claws. “I am kidding, no I am just hungry for food. I mean a burger would be nice, but I will start getting used to prison food. I am just regular old hungry, that is all.”

Sykes was starting to feel his blood pressure rise. Percy’s nonchalance and sarcasm were tapping at the mercury thermometer sticking in the area of Sykes’ brain in charge of temperament.

“Also, it is boring in here.” Added Percy. Sykes paused and took a step backwards into the room. He rolled his tongue between his top row of teeth and top lip, pressing it against the roof of his mouth before he spoke.

“Would you say this was pre-meditated?”

Percy didn’t answer right way. Sykes asked again.

“Did you plan this out and think it through before doing it?”

“No, I know what pre-meditated means. I am just trying to understand if you are truly asking me if I planned to kill him in the middle of a store full of people by beating his face in with a larger than average carrot. Is that what you think I planned?”

Sykes didn’t want to get further away from the point. So, he tried again.

“Had you ever thought about killing him before that day in the grocery store?”

            Percy furrowed his brow and used his bottom teeth to pull his upper lip into his mouth before answering.

“Sure, I thought about it. Little day dreams here and there but nothing like a step-by-step plan. I mean obviously that is not how it went down.” Percy paused then looked at the two-way glass, he pointed between the glass and Sykes.

“Are you telling me that as cops you guys never think about killing anyone? You know for the betterment of humanity, to serve and protect, any of that stuff?”

Sykes took a quick breath, it made him sound exasperated.

“Percy, we’re asking the questions. But I’ll answer one you asked earlier. Why are we asking you? Because we want to be able to give his family some sort of reason for their loved one’s death. No matter how unreasonable.”

            “Why? You imagine a satisfactory scenario in that conversation? Okay.” Percy raised his arms as far as the handcuffs would let him, but the gesture he made still looked grandiose. “I did it for the betterment of humanity! So that my son and his sons and their sons would never have to lay eyes on such a smug, pretentious asshole as he was.” Percy’s chains clanked on the table as he put his hands down.

“Is that good? Can I eat now?”

Sykes pulled the chair back from the table and sat down.

“I’ll bring you food if you tell me what I want to know. No sarcasm, no bullshit, tell me why you really killed him, and I will bring you a burger.”

“A Tommy’s burger.”

“A burger.”

“Fine, but you are not going to like the answer because you have not liked the answer so far. It is not going to change. I did not like him, and I saw him in the store, he did not acknowledge me one too many times and I saw red. I guess it is what people call a crime of passion.”

Sykes wiped his hand over his mouth. “A crime of passion is a lover coming home to find their partner in bed with another person and then killing one or both of them. A person taking revenge. Usually they know the victim, or the victim has done something. This guy you murdered was an acquaintance to you. Am I wrong?”

Percy slowly tilted his head left and then right before answering. “I did not know him intimately, but I saw him enough to where he was more than an acquaintance.”

“So, what was he to you?”

            Percy squinted and looked up as if the answer was on the wall behind Sykes. He sucked air through his teeth.

“I would say he was more of a nuisance. I read something once. I think it is from the bible.”

“Oh, you’re religious?” Sykes glanced at the two-way mirror, as if to see his partners expression.

“No, I just read something once about god saying you are either cold or hot but if you are lukewarm, I spit you out of my mouth.”

“So that’s what you did, you spit him out of your mouth.”

“Something like that. I guess god had his criteria, or standards or boundaries, whatever you want to call them. So, I guess I have found that I have my own criteria.”

“And what criteria is that?” Sykes had his arms crossed on the table and he was leaning forward. Percy raised an eyebrow and frowned. He swayed his head side to side slightly.

“Maybe it was just him, I do not know. Who decided that certain drugs were illegal? I was not involved in that.”

“You murdered a man. Are you saying you think you are God?”

“No. And how do you know what God is?”

“I don’t, but I guess the idea of God is that he makes all final judgement about life and death, right and wrong. Do you think you have that right? That power?”

“No.”

“But at the very least, you think you did the right thing?”

“Who is to say, in my own little existence, that I did not do the right thing. Are you god?”

“You live in a society and therefore you live by a social contract of written and unwritten rules.”

“I did not write them. To me, every birth is a revolution. A life is uncontrolled by the law’s others have created, though definitely others try to impose those laws. My current situation is a perfect example of that.” Percy made to motion with both hands around the room, his chains prevented it. “We have the right to exist however we wish.”

“But there are consequences, you may very well spend the rest of your life in jail.”

“So what? How is that different than your life now?”

“I’m not a prisoner. I’m free to move and do things as I please. I haven’t killed anyone.”

“You are being a prisoner right now. You think your freedom is about being able to move anywhere and touch anything, but your thought is restricting you.”

“I think I’m understanding why you killed him.”

“Because I could. Because my mind is uncontrolled by your legislature and other nonsense. You can lock me in a casket or put me in a field, but my mind is free.”

“You’re batshit. You’re rocketing way past Pluto with no sign of slowing down.”

“See, your mind is so tangled, officer, tangled up with the things others have told you, with the laws you choose to serve and protect, with tales of morality that either end with eternal damnation or eternal paradise. These are prisons because they shape a mind before it has a chance to shape itself.”

“So, you’re not religious. You don’t believe in god?” asked Sykes.

Percy smiled.

“You are still doing it. I either am or am not religious to you. There is either god or no god to you, but have you ever thought that is such a narrow existence?”

“So, what do you believe in?”

Percy shrugged and lifted his hands before letting them drop on the table.

“There is no point. You will write me off as crazy, if you have not already. You just want to know so you can tell your buddies this story later. Just lock me up in your prison and let us be done with this.”

Sykes smiled.

“You’re right, but why don’t you humor me. I’ll order you that burger from Tommy’s.”

Now Percy smiled. “See I cannot even escape myself.” He sat looking at the table.

“So?” said Sykes.

“I believe a virus infects us. It is a simple virus that plagues the brain and does not allow it to see things as they are, but rather forces the mind to create meaning.”

“Meaning?”

“Yes. I believe a virus of meaning infects us all. This entire conversation you have been wondering why I killed him, and you will probably always wonder why on some level. That is a symptom of the virus. You cannot simply accept that I killed him. You, his family, his friends, must know why.”

Sykes raised his eyebrows and looked straight at Percy.

“You never wonder why about anything?”

“Of course, I do.”

“So, you’re infected with the virus of meaning?”

“Of course, I am. Unlike you, I am simply aware of it.”

Sykes continued with his eyebrows raised. Percy finally shrugged his shoulders and went on.

“Because I know about the virus. Because I recognize I am infected, I recognize a flaw, much in the same way an alcoholic knows they cannot drink without control. If they do, the knowledge of their abuse of it taints all drinking experiences thereafter.”

“So how does that work for your virus?”

“Well, though I cannot prove a virus exists, I believe it does because no one has exhibited any evidence to the contrary. Everyone has to know why and even if they never audibly ask the question, the question gnaws away at their mind.”

“What’s wrong with questions?”

“Nothing, they are meaningless but symptomatic of the virus of which I am speaking.”

“You’ve asked me a few questions in the time you’ve been in this room.”

“I am sure I have; I am only human.”

“So, questions are meaningless?”

“There is a view, a popular view, that questions and inquiry lead to a path of understanding and enlightenment, but I think the opposite is true.”

“What?”

“Questions lead to doubt and confusion.”

“How so?”

“The more you know about something, the more that thing opens up to you, forcing you to recognize a whole world of information that you had no idea existed. That trail of information splinters off into an infinite number of paths. Like holding a flashlight straight down at your feet when it is pitch black. You might ask what you are standing on? Or, where you are? That question leads you to slowly lift your flashlight to reveal more information until you see as far as your eyes or the landscape allows but it is not enough. You may have answered your initial questions but now you wonder ‘what is behind those rocks?’ ‘what is behind me?’ ‘Where am I in the grand scheme of things?’ or ‘why am I here?’

“It’s part of human nature to ask questions.”

“Yes.” Percy pointed at Sykes “Yes but that nature is flawed, or as eternal optimists might say, there is room for improvement.”

“As people get older, they get wiser.” Sykes heard himself. Now Percy raised his eyebrows and stared at Sykes as if giving him the opportunity to correct himself. Sykes, out of pride or spite or maybe curiosity, remained silent. Percy responded.

“They do not. We do not because of the infinite paths of questions. The older we get the more questions we have. Our initial questions have to do with more practical things such as how to survive, what to eat, even how to treat others. But we get older and start becoming fixated on questions that either have no answers or yield yet more questions. An infinite loop of questions. For example, why did I kill him?”

“Why did you kill him?” Sykes asked.

Percy sighed and slouched back in his chair.

“I am trying to tell you that there is no why. You, his family and friends are upset because I took a question, an infinite possibility of questions and turned it into a statement. Instead of ‘what is he up to?’ now it is ‘here lies Shawn.’ That is, it. The only relief you or anyone else will get is when your own statement is written, here lies officer Sykes.”

Sykes wasn’t sure whether to take Percy’s last comment as a threat or not. He was more curious at the contradiction sitting in front of him. He asked.

“Earlier you pointed out that it was narrow of me to think dichotomously, god or no god. Now you’re saying that a living person is a question and a dead person is a statement.

“Did I say that?”

“Isn’t that too simplistic for your ideology? Isn’t it contradictory to your theory? You’re either this or that?”

“Yes. Our very questioning nature, or rather the virus, makes us hypocrites. We cannot retain all information all the time, so when presented with some information in a particular situation, we change. We adapt.”

            “Okay, enough. I’m tired of hearing this pseudo-philosophical crap. I’m going to order that Tommy’s burger and start processing you.” Sykes stood up and walked to the door. Percy stared at the wall; his hands folded on the table. He seemed to be concentrating.

“Okay.” He said.

            Sykes walked out of the room and into the cold hallway of the station. The lights buzzed and the drinking fountain hummed. For a moment he forgot about their conversation, as if getting up too fast had pushed it all out of his head. He walked a few steps to his right and entered the viewing room, where his partner watched Percy. His partner, a mustached, mousy man with just enough spine to drive a patrol car, but not enough to conduct the interrogations, asked.

“What do you think he was talking about? Some sort of cult? New age religious thing?”

“I don’t know,” said Sykes. “It’s not important why. We know he did it. Order the man a burger and I’ll start working his file.” Sykes grabbed a folder. He sat down at a desk facing the two-way mirror. His partner stepped into the hallway to call Tommy’s and order ahead.

Sykes heard banging and looked up to see Percy pounding on the table, both palms flat, the chain bouncing along with his hands. The expression on Percy’s face looked more like a snarling baboon than the calm man to whom he was just speaking.

Sykes stood and walked over to the interrogation room. As he was unlocking the door, Percy began yelling.

“Whyyyy? Whyyyyyy? Everybody wants to know why but I am not going to tell them. Fuck you Sykes. Fuck you man behind the mirror.”

Sykes stood at the door. He twisted the knob and walked in. Percy looked at Sykes and stopped pounding.

“How about that burger, sport?” Percy grinned.

“What was all that yelling?”

“I needed to vent. Blow off some steam as they say. You ever do that? Being a Cop is a stressful job.”

Sykes walked back out of the room and shut the door. He could hear Percy chuckling. The burger couldn’t arrive fast enough. He sat down and began rifling through the stack of paperwork. He looked up to see Percy staring at him or at least staring into the one-way mirror.

“Sykes do you ever get scared?” said Percy. “Do you have a wife? How often do you apologize to her or your girlfriend? Do you have kids? How old are they? What are their names and ages? Where do you live?”

Percy now widened his eyes and began tilting his head side to side. Something in his voice made his questions sound like mockery.

“What is your favorite food? What is your favorite color? Are your parents alive? Are they divorced? What did they do?”

            Sykes saw no signs of this stopping. He stood up and walked back out to the hallway. From the hall he heard Percy’s muffled voice. Unlocking the door, he stepped in.

Percy sang to the tune of Miss America theme song.

“There he is, Mr. America.”

“Your burger is coming Percy. You’ll eat and then be on your way, let’s just keep this easy, for both of us.”

            Percy smiled wide. “I am just trying to construct you Sykes. I am building my image of you. It is easier if you answer my questions.”

“No.” Said Sykes, quietly.

“Then I will have to use my fabulous imagination.” Percy announced the last two words as if announcing the title of a children’s TV show.

“Okay.” Sykes responded, walking back out and shut the door. He walked back to the table. Percy started up again.

“I did it. Here is my confession.” Percy was now staring up at the CCTV camera in the corner of the room.

“I pummeled his face in with a carrot, if you can believe that. At Trader Joe’s, they have these big ‘ol carrots. I grabbed one in my left-hand and the man’s collar in my right. Then I started beating him into the wine aisle. He asked me why I was doing it, of course, no one is immune to the virus Officer Sykes, but I didn’t answer because I was focusing all my energy into my carrot holding arm.”

Percy sniffed.

“I did it for self-preservation. He was eating away at a part of my mind and now I find that there is some relief. I have scratched an itch and feel relieved. You know, I probably just proved my theory. Perhaps that itch was the virus of meaning eating away and now it is, well it will probably take on a different form.”

Percy went on. Sykes did his best to focus on the paperwork though he read sentences over and over a few times. A photo of the victim before the crime was usually paperclipped to the reports. Sykes couldn’t find it.

“Ah, my burger!”

Sykes looked up at the sound of Percy’s sudden delight. Through the two-way mirror, he saw his partner walk into the interrogation room.

“Thank you,” said Percy. “I did not think it would really happen. Do they serve burgers in prison? Are they like sad McDonald’s burgers or do they have all the fixings? Do you like burgers, Officer Sykes’ partner?”

His partner set the bag in Percy’s reach and walked back out of the room, closing the door behind him. Sykes watched as Percy carefully unwrapped the burger and slowly smoothed down the corners of the paper.

Sykes was so lost in thought, staring at Percy, he hadn’t noticed that his partner had walked into his own room. and set down a burger in front of him.

 “I got you a burger with cheese.”  Sykes was startled out of his daze. His partner set down the burgers.

“Oh, and the front desk handed me this on my way in.” Sykes took the folder his partner held out to him. The smell of burgers telling his mind to wrap this up so he could eat.

He flipped open the cardstock and a photo fell out. Sykes picked it up and saw the image of a scrawny male, mid-thirties, Caucasian wearing a Mickey Mouse print t-shirt and small round spectacles. The victim before his murder, almost exactly as Percy had described.

Squinting his eyes, Sykes thought ‘he does have one of those faces.’

end

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Fire, Water, Plant

3 things to inspire 1 story written in 20 minutes. #story320
words/phrase provided by https://wordcounter.net/random-word-generator

The scene was hazy, so I tried to determine which elements were present.

I looked down but could only see, well, I couldn’t see past my belly. I shifted my weight just enough to feel something solid.

Earth.

My lungs weren’t burning and I could feel that familiar habit of inhalation and exhalation. It was automatic. I couldn’t remember a thing but I was breathing. Air was present.

I looked down at my belly again, focusing on something dancing, a shadow bouncing around the rim of my umbilical cord. The shadow was orange and red.

I looked up and saw the source of the orange on my belly. I curled my hands around the cord protruding from my stomach and used it to pull myself toward the slit.

A deep red, orange, yellow wind brushed past my face.

I started to panic as the safety of my darkness was slowly eaten away by the colors.

Now I could see greens and browns leaping out behind the reds, oranges and yellows. I tried to retreat to the safety of the darkness but a weight pressed down on my existence. An apocalypse of my cocoon.

My hands suddenly forced to my sides my nose smashed against the walls of my home. My head bubbling in different directions.

Suddenly my being floated and my world of black exploded into a million pieces of light and color. I floated, my lungs burning. My eyes squeezed tight but the light still stabbing through.

The force accelerated my floating and I burst into an alien atmosphere. My face and body melting, my hands tried to curl around the cord at my belly button but nothing was left.

In shock my mouth sent a scream and all my senses came to life.

I was born.

Stride, Regret, Needle

3 things to inspire 1 story written in 20 minutes. #story320
words/phrase provided by https://wordcounter.net/random-word-generator

It happened quickly. The party was in full swing and all of a sudden Jamie came downstairs, sewing needle in hand, and began popping all of the balloons.

At first, the sound of the music, laughter, cheering and conversation drowned out the popping but after a while, Jamie hit her stride and the sound of instant deflation began turning heads.

“Why, Jamie?”

“We’re having a great time, aren’t you?”

“This is your party, Jamie. What are you doing?”

Those were questions that Jamie pretended not to hear. She just kept popping balloons, and there were many. She had been inflating balloons all week for this day, with a rental helium tank. All 300-something balloons had been single-handedly inflated and tied by her.

As she worked on the balloons during the week, she thought about herself. This would be her great coming out party to show all her friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors and colleagues that she, Jamie, was the string that kept the balloons at the party, metaphorically speaking. Although, for a split second she worried the metaphor would be lost since she was popping them.

And so now, into popping maybe over 100 balloons, Jamie started relishing in the reactions of her guests. The force and energy of all the partiers was hushed by a single balloon popper.

Some of the guests began to leave. Coworkers and neighbors glanced around, made excuses and left. Friends chuckled nervously or tried approaching Jamie but she would only look them in the eyes and pop the next balloon.

Jamie’s friends began to leave and shortly after, so did her family. There was only herself and another girl she recognized from work who was passed out in a chair in the kitchen.

Of the 300-something balloons, she had popped roughly 280. She had lost count when she tried paying attention to her guests.

She allowed herself a brief chuckle and started her walk upstairs. Struck suddenly by an idea, she went back into the kitchen and opened the miscellaneous drawer. She pulled out a Sharpie and walked up to the girl passed out. On her forehead she wrote “regret nothing”, then she capped the pen and headed upstairs for bed.