Jenny and the Gorgon (freewriting)

Writing something weird is better than writing nothing at all, eh?

Do you remember the time with scaled that mountain and you fell and busted your back? Jesus, you were laid up for six months in the hospital, and you did all that physical therapy. What was the therapist’s name? You slept with him, which is all kinds of fucked up, but I try not to judge. I try and fail. Ha ha.

Darren, that was his name. I’m not saying he wasn’t attractive, but you getting in bed with him made as much sense as a lizard in a blender, which–I don’t mind telling you–doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense at all. That’s what my daddy used to say, before he turned to stone. Speaking of weird-ass things, how many people you know that just, like, suddenly turn to stone? It threw me for a bit, I’ll tell you. And when other people started turning to stone, I figured it was some kind of chemical attack, some country that had cooked up this lethal gas that made people into statues. But it turned out a gorgon had gotten loose, which would mean that she had been held somewhere to begin with, for something like a thousand years, and then she was set free and she was like, “Fuck, it’s been a long time, I’m going to set these eyes on the first miserable bastard that comes along,” and bam, just like that, Daddy was stone. He had just woken up, had his first cup of coffee, and opened the front door. Little did he know a gorgon was slithering down the street.

That’s the kind of fucked-up world we live in, Jenny. Trump in the White House, gorgons roaming the streets, ol’ Ms. Shookapoo coming down with the gout. Did you know women could get gout? I thought it was a man thing. Hell, I hope I don’t get it.

No, Jenny, it wasn’t Medusa! Lord God! It was another one. Maybe they cut her head off and put it in a bag, and they’ll keep it around in case something big-ass monster shows up, like they did with Medusa, who’s apparently the only gorgon you think existed. Crack a book open, Jenny, and get off that damn YouTube!

I swear, you and the YouTube! Its like you think it’s magic or something. Maybe it is magic for you and you’re under its damn spell, so I think it would be best if I just smashed the daylights out of the computer and run over your phone in my truck. Then what, Jenny? Then you’d be more worried about the damn gorgon, is what.

 

Ben the Would-Be Cannibal (story snippet)

 I came across this story snippet as I was going through some old writing, and I was struck by how often cannibalism comes up as a theme in my work. Also, for every completed story, I have perhaps fifty or so partial stories. So it goes.

No picture for this one. I’m not terribly keen on Googling “cannibalism.”

“I’m supposed to care about something, you know,” Ben said as he chewed on a face.
“What if I’m a sociopath?”

“Well,” Donovan observed, “you’re eating a human head. And just because you’re
supposed to do something doesn’t mean you should. Shit, I’m supposed to go
to church, but I don’t. Also, I’m sitting here as you demonstrate you’re a cannibal, so
what does that say about me? I’m supposed to stop you, right? Or at least protest in
some way?”

Ben sighed. “I’m not really a cannibal. This is processed.”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re eating a processed human, which they say tastes like the real deal.”

“I guess.”

“You haven’t eaten a real person, right?”

Ben sighed again. “No.” He could have, of course. There was nothing stopping him
from exploring the black market and picking a body. It would be dressed-out and
ready to cook. Instead, he was gnawing on human-flavored gelatin face. What
respectable cannibal would eat a face, anyway? Could you even cook a head and have
the features stay in place? Maybe if you closed the eyelids and simmered it in broth,
Ben reasoned. The facsimile face he was dining on had gooey, sweet-flavored eyeballs.
He imagined the real deal was a bit tougher and more salty.

“So why are you worried you’re a sociopath?” Donovan asked. “I mean, the current
activity notwithstanding?”

“Because like I said, I don’t care about anything. Not school, not girls, or cars.
Nothing, man. It’s a scary feeling.”

“Which means you’re not a sociopath. Do you think a real sociopath pauses to
reflect on his lack of empathy?”

“Maybe. Like, early in their sociopathy.”

“Have you ever tortured or killed animals?”

“No.”

“See?”

“That doesn’t mean anything, Donovan. The mutilation of animals is only one
indicator in a wide variety of cues that might signal someone’s a sociopath.”

“Well, for someone who doesn’t like school, you don’t seem to have a problem
learning. At least about sociopaths.”

Ben shrugged and ate.

Donovan studied the beheaded false corpse before him. Eventually, Ben would have to
remove its clothes, and Donovan didn’t want to be around for that. Ben had
ordered a male corpse, which Donovan guess was better than a female corpse, but he
really wasn’t sure why…

 

The Pattern (short fiction)

In the spirit of Joyce Carol Oates. Please pardon any typos I may have missed.

 

The Pattern

If she looked closely, she could see a pattern, and she could see herself in the pattern. This didn’t happen every day, of course–she had to be in the right frame of mind and receptive to receiving the pattern and her place in it. Over the years since the accident, she estimated that she’d detected the pattern about fifty times. Of that fifty, she’d located herself in the pattern about twenty times.

She couldn’t talk about the pattern with anyone, not her husband, not her sisters, and certainly not her friends. But they weren’t really friends, were they? And as much as she loved her sisters and her husband, that weren’t of ultimate consequence. The accident had proven that she could live without them. She could live without anyone, or so the pattern indicated, and she believed the pattern over all things.

After the accident, she lay in a coma for three months, and that’s when the pattern had come to her. When she woke to her broken body, her torn and disfigured face, the pattern was burned into her mind. She remember the fiery way it came, like the tongues of flames that appeared above the apostles head on Pentecost, She’d known she was on the brink of death; that feeling permeated everything. In the coma, she had a series of dreams, all of which were lit by the fire of the pattern. It flickered over walls, highlighted the ground, filled the sky. Sometimes she dreamed she was a young girl, and other times she was a old woman. No matter the dream, no matter the non-sequiturs her mind strung together, the fire followed, and she felt peaceful.

Nearly a year of physical rehabilitation followed her waking, and she bore it with uncharacteristic stoicism. Her husband said she was remarkably brave, and she just nodded. He was afraid of her, afraid of her new-found strength and determination. Her doctors were skeptical that she would walk again, but she was walking after six months. She underwent two surgeries on her face but stopped short of cosmetic repair. The scars formed their own pattern, and she liked them. Her husband urged her to get the cosmetic surgery, but she wouldn’t be swayed.

When she was cleared to leave the rehab unit, she found her house stifling. It was no longer her home, she realized, and she convinced her husband to sell it. In the home’s place, they settled into a small apartment in a neighborhood that made the husband uncomfortable, but he found that he couldn’t tell his wife no. She had been returned to him, more or less whole, and every day was a gift, or so he told himself She wanted to move, and so they moved. He would grow accustomed to the neighborhood with its loud music and questionable young men who stood on the corner, laughing and smoking and hitting each other. He had been a young man once, but he had never acted like that.

She went for long walks, even though it was painful. She walked with a limp and would for the rest of her life, or so the doctors said. That was all right, she decided. Her new neighbors stared openly at her, disturbing by her ruined face. That was all right, too.

She couldn’t have explained the pattern to anyone, even if she felt they could be trusted. The pattern defied description, and it could be apprehended by her alone. It made her sad sometimes that she couldn’t locate herself always in the pattern, but ultimately she decided that was the nature of life and, indeed, the nature of the universe. The universe didn’t have to include you in its plans, but it was wonderful when it did.

As much as she could determine from the pattern, she had only to follow it when prompted. The first indication had been to leave her house, which she had done. The next part had been to walk through her neighborhood as much as she could, mentally mapping the terrain, and she did that.

She hadn’t worked since the accident. She found she hated her job and work in general, and she was relieved when she discovered her company had terminated her. What a horrible thing, work, she realized. Her husband was an investment banker and made more than enough money to support them both, but he wondered if she wanted to perhaps get a part-time job or maybe volunteer. She shook her head no. It’s not that there wasn’t time for such things, for there was, even with the promise of the pattern. But she had no desire to do anything unrelated to the pattern.

Her husband was more patient than most men, and he felt overwhelming guilt whenever he allowed himself to wonder What’s wrong with her? She’s healed physically, but it’s like the rest of her is just…elsewhere. She would have agreed with that sentiment, had the husband shared it. She was certainly elsewhere in her mind, her spirit. She was seeking the pattern, having seen it enough times to crave more. But she was not in control of that. She simply had to remain open.

The woman’s sisters and friends slowly separated from her, and they shared worried whispers about her less and less. Eventually, her husband took a job and Seattle and said he would return to move her there with him, but he never did. She didn’t mind. He still supported her. Her bank account was alway full and never need replenishing. She had more than enough money for food and the occasional item of clothing she bought.

All the while, she continued her treks through the neighborhood. As time went on, people developed stories about the strange woman who limped up and down the streets, her eyes scanning back and forth, sometimes talking to herself. The stories ranged from true, that she’d been in a terrible accident that affected her mind as well as her body, to patently false, that she was a cold-blooded murderer who had done away with her husband. Most people felt sympathy for her, but some hated her for no reason other than she was different. One day, some kids in a car threw rocks at her, one large enough to leave a jagged gash in her forehead. She fell to her knees.

“Crazy bitch!” one of the kids sang out from the open car window as it sped away.

She stared at the concrete, tracing its web of cracks with her fingers. “The pattern,” she whispered, knowing everything–the accident, her sisters and husband abandoning her, the cruelty of the world–was worth it.

The Watcher (flash fiction)

I’m slowly crawling out of the funk of a long-lasting, unexplained fever…and regaining my equilibrium in others ways after a difficult past few months. Writing hasn’t been much of a priority. Today, I feel well enough to return to the keyboard, so I’m taking advantage of that.

I’ve been reading a lot of Joyce Carol Oates lately, and I see her influence on the following piece.

The Watcher

It wasn’t enough that he could see her, he wanted to be close to her. He wanted to lean in, take a deep breath near her neck, and luxuriate in her scent; he wanted to meld his flesh with hers and disappear into the darkness forever.

Daniel slowly lowered the binoculars and squinted at her form, so far away. From this distance, she could be anyone. She was just another person sitting at the outside cafe, drinking a coffee. He couldn’t see her delicate features, the gentle slant of her nose, the spark of her eyes. He couldn’t see her lips curl in a secret smile or her brow furrow in worry.

“Excuse me, sir?”

Daniel turned at the voice, a flutter of panic in his stomach. The police officer wore a smile, but it was forced. The smile said, I’m trained to look like this when I approach people, even shifty-looking sons of bitches like you.

“Yes, officer?” Daniel said automatically. The binoculars suddenly felt awkward and heavy in his hands.

“May I ask what you’re doing?” the office said. Even though he was in full uniform, including what looked like Kevlar under his short, his face was free from perspiration, and it was at least 90 degrees outside. Daniel had been sweating ever since he stepped out of his apartment, but that wouldn’t deter him from his purpose.

“Bird watching,” Daniel replied. He’d practiced this, of course. He care nothing about birds, but he’d memorized the local birds by studying various Internet sites. He could ramble off facts about cardinals and blue birds and even the migration patterns of geese.

“This doesn’t seem like an ideal place for bird watching,” the officer said, pleasantly enough. The radio on his shoulder squawked to life, and he reached out and turned down the volume. “I mean, standing here on the sidewalk downtown.”

“You’d be surprised how many different species are here,” Daniel said.

“Be that as it may, I’m going ask you to move along. The park isn’t far from here.”

Daniel gripped the binoculars. If he left, he could lose track of her, and who knows how long it would be before he tracked her down again? Lately, the girl had been changing her routine, and it frustrated (and tantalized) Daniel to no end.

“Sir?” the office prompted. His smile was gone now, and his voice carried a slight edge. “It’s time to move on.”

“Of course,” Daniel said. “I wasn’t trying to bother anyone. I just spotted a scarlet tanager and got excited.”

“Where?”

“What?”

“Where was this bird?”

Daniel smiled. He brought the binoculars back up to his eyes and focused on her. “Right over there,” he murmured.

The Dark Woman (surreal flash fiction)

Dark women and Jedi…story of my life. 

woman blue shadow

image credit

 

I would like to present myself as living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, I thought, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for today. Or any day, for that matter. I was as mindful of my thoughts, as good as any Jedi.

The dark woman who rented out umbilical cords shook her head. “God doesn’t like the Jedi, you idiot,” she said.

I stopped sewing myself back together. I didn’t know the dark woman could read my thoughts. Troubling. I shielded my brainwaves by placing a metal colander on my head.

“That only works with the aliens,” the dark woman said. “And not for all of them, either. Don’t you know anything?”

I know I hate you, I thought, making the words in my mind burn like fire.

The dark woman smiled. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” she said, smiling.

Glinda and Charley (a scene)

I’ve given up trying to write traditional stories (at least, for now). Instead, I’m just letting the words do what they want. In this case, the words made me say, “What the hell?” Incidentally, the picture has nothing to do with the story. I just typed “weird” in the Flickr Creative Commons search bar and clicked on the one that made me laugh.

“Is there somewhere we can talk privately?” Glinda asked. She wasn’t the Good Witch, or a witch at all. She was just Glinda, and she didn’t know how to dress herself despite being thirty-three. She had a maid help her. The maid’s name was Fuzzy. She was a cat, but a really smart one with a keen fashion sense and a remarkable vocabulary.

“Like the moon?” Charley suggested. He was fond of the moon and its wild temperature swings. He was also rather partial to radiation.

“The moon’s too far,” Glinda lamented.

“It’s not that far if you travel with your imagination.”

“Like Mr. Roger’s?”

“Sure, if Mr. Roger’s was a kick-ass space explorer.”

“Mr. Roger’s is plenty kick-ass without adding ‘space explorer’ to his already impressive resume,” Glinda said. Her hair dragged the floor, and she suffered from excessive optimism, the kind that made Charley nervous.

“Whatever,” Charley said. “Are we going to the moon or not?”

“Not. What I have to say can be said here. It’s private enough.”

“The bugs are listening.”

“I’m not worried what a few bugs think, if they think anything at all.” Glinda took a deep breath. “Ok, here it is. I’m worried you might not be real.”

Charley rubbed his chin. The thought had occurred to him, too. It was troubling notion, that he might not be real. Glinda’s realness was never in question. Was that strange or is that how things were supposed to go?

“Does it matter if I’m real or not?” Charley asked. “We still like each other.”

“We do?” Glinda felt warm inside. She thought Charley kind of hated her.

“Well, we tolerate each other.”

Glinda felt her insides clam up. She would never be the apple of Charley’s eye, or of anyone’s. The only creature that loved her was Fuzzy…maybe. Or maybe Fuzzy was just doing her job?

“Now that we’ve settled that, I’m off to check out the moon,” Charley said. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

“Yes,” Glinda whispered.

“Toodle-oo,” Charley said and blinked out of sight.

Glinda settled onto the floor and tried to cry, but she’d forgotten how. Or maybe she’d never learned in the first place.

The Unfortunates #1 – Steffan Mosley

I went through a period late last year that I took selfies with Snapchat and made all kinds of hideous portraits, which I shared with my wife. She was more repulsed than amused, and she took to calling the imagined people in the pictures my “unfortunates.” Steffan Mosley is one of my so-called “unfortunates,” and I have a soft spot for him.

The fake article below was supposed to be funnier, but the more I wrote, the darker and sadder the piece grew.

Steffan

Steffan Mosley in his mother’s flat (photo by Ginger Atkins)

Steffan Mosley sits shirtless in a large, red recliner. His belly drops over his blue elastic shorts, and he periodically gazes down at his breasts, which look engorged. “It’s like I’m about to breastfeed or something,” he mutters. His voice is low and scratchy and difficult to hear over the small, battery-operated fan on the table beside him. The fan blows his dark brown hair into wild, sweaty configurations as he continues, “I’m trying to lose weight, but I love food somuch.” As it turns out, being overweight is the least of Steffan’s problems.

Steffan was born with cyclopism, a rare genetic disorder affecting less than half-a-percent of the world’s population. Some cultures, particularly indiginous tribes of the Indian subcontinent, revere cyclopses as gods. Other cultures treat cyclopses as persona non grata. The suicide rate among cyclopses is staggeringly high, especially in Europe and North America.

Steffan was born in Leeds, UK, in 1971. He has brother and sister, both older (and who did not wish to appear in this article). They’re “normal as daises and ducks,” according to Steffan.

“And then I was born,” Steffan goes on. He’s put on a shirt, which is too small and stretches over his large midsection. “My parents didn’t put me in a sack with rocks and toss me in the river, at least. My dad had the hardest time. I haven’t seen him since I was five.”

Steffan’s mother, with whom Steffan shares a small flat, sighs. “Joe just couldn’t take it,” she says, speaking of her former husband. “He comes from a very traditional family, and I think it was as much that as anything. He loves Steffan, in his own way. Maybe he’ll come back into his life at some point. He and I still talk, and he sends Steffan birthday cards. He hasn’t come around, though. I guess he’s too ashamed at this point. Maybe that’ll change one day.”

Steffan isn’t as optimistic about reuniting with his father. “He could have done the decent thing, what any father would do, and stuck around,” he says, “but he didn’t. He took the easy way out. Most days, I just say, ‘Well, fuck him.'”

At twenty-three, Steffan is considered middle-aged. Most cyclopses die in their mid-to-late forties, often not in full possession of their minds. “Dementia is common among aging cyclopses,” says Dr. Saanvi Khurana, director of Cyclopic Studies in London. “Sadly, so is Alzheimer’s. But it isn’t just dementia and Alzheimer’s that cyclopses have to worry about, though. There is a host of other neurological disorders they can fall prey to, such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy.”

Steffan goes to a doctor regularly and has participated in a number of clinical trials. Most recently, he was one of several cyclopses who volunteered for a research project on preventing vision loss, another problem facing the cyclops community. 80 percent of cyclopses lose sight, usually in their later years. The optic nerve in their eye is weaker than in other bipoic people. Retinal detachment is also common.

For now, Steffan tries to maintain a positive attitude. He could stand to lose some weight, and he’s committed to that. “I can’t join a gym because I don’t want to put up with narrow-minded folks,” he says, “so I’m going to exercise around the house. I’ll also take walks around the neighborhood at night when most people are asleep and don’t have to look at me.”

Steffan sits back in his chair and sighs. “I just wish I fit in,” he adds softly. “I wish I was normal.”