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…

 

Trees Exploding into Bloom (a scene)

This is Beverly, a cranky woman in her late sixties who had a bit to say during a freewriting session. I’m not sure what’s going on with the tree at the beginning. 

I haven’t made grits since my niece Laura was two years old, and on that day, my pear tree decided to bloom the fuck out and scared me half to death. One second it was all scrawny-looking, and then wham! Full fucking bloom, right outside the kitchen window! I mean, it was like God was playing a joke. Or the Devil was. It sounds like something that mean old bastard would do. Then again, God’s been known to throw folks a curveball from time to time, too, so I’m not sure. All I know is the whole episode made my Laura pee her pants, and that just about ruined our breakfast Who could concentrate on eating after that? I sure as hell couldn’t, and Laura was screaming like someone had pressed a hot iron to her face.

Aside from trees exploding into bloom, it was a pretty average day. Creepy Joseph Carrera dropped by and asked me to water his plants while he took a two week vacation to Akron, Ohio. “Who the hell goes to Akron for two weeks?” I wanted to know. “Isn’t your life shitty enough?”

Joseph coughed into his arm (which I appreciated because I catch colds like nobody’s business) and said in that puny little voice of his, “Akron is where Alcoholics Anonymous started.”

“And? What’s that got to do with a wheelbarrow of orangutans?”

Joseph went on to tell me that Akron was where Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob put their drunk heads together and came up with the idea for AA. He also said he’d been sober for nearly a year and wanted to go see the home of Dr. Bob for his sober anniversary.

“That’s all well and good,” I said, not wanting to get bogged down in hearing how Joseph got sober. I’ve heard enough testimonials from former drunks to last a fucking last time. My first husband’s a recovering alcoholic H got sober about a year before he left me for a hot little twenty-five-old accountant. I didn’t care so much that he split, but for a twenty-five-year old? And he was nearly fifty? Jesus wept.

“But what the hell else do you plan to do?” I asked. “Akron’s not exactly a hotbed of fun and frivolity. In fact, it’s kind of fucking dump.

Joseph grinned his crazy grin, which he always does when he’s uncomfortable, and my cursing caused him no end of discomfort. But it’s not like I was going to watch my Ps and Qs around him, of all people. Joseph Carrera was as weird as they came. I wouldn’t have surprised me if the police arrested them and then searched his place and found people cut up and hidden in freezer bags down in his basement.

Joseph babbled about going to see the Cuyahoga River and the Akron Zoo (be still, my beating heart) so I rushed him out and said I water his damn plants. He told me he’d put the spare key under the weird little statue of a scantily-clad boy he keeps on on his porch. It’s supposed to be Peter Pan, but it looks like a ugly-ass kid playing dress-up. Not that a statue of Peter Pan looking like Peter Pan would have been better, you know?

Once Joseph left, I shooed Laura out to play and told her if she sees any crazy shit with my trees to come and get me. I needed a nap.

Beth, Clary, and Ben (a scene)

After a long bout of freewriting (which included trees exploding into instant bloom, a computer coducting a therapy session with a teenager, and all manner of peculiarities), this scene emerged. I don’t think there will be a second part, but who knows?

“Hey, you remember when we all had phones?” Clary asked.

Ben popped his head up from behind the sofa. God only knew what he was doing back there. Looking for change? Scraps of food? His dignity? “You mean landlines?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Clary said. “Those were good days.”

“How?” I asked. I didn’t want Ben in this, or any, conversation. In fact, it would have been nice if Ben had found a discarded piece of pizza crust, popped it in his mouth, and then choked on it. Such are my fantasies.

“Because you had to answer the phone if it rang,” Clary said. “You couldn’t just ignore it.”

“Well, there were answering machines,” I pointed out.

“Okay, Beth, before answering machines. Those were the days.”

“I think I’m stuck,” Ben muttered from behind the sofa.

Clary and I ignored him. “The good old days were never actually good,” I said. “At least, not as good as we remember.”

Clary shrugged. “I think they were objectively better than now,” she said. “People were more connected. We weren’t all stuck on our phones and Facebook and Instagram and all that shit.”

“A little help here?” Ben said, a little more loudly.

“Yeah,” I went on, “but we still had problems. People may have been more connected, but as long as we’re all big, walking bundles of neuroses, there are issues. I think things are better now. We can segment our craziness and choose to not inflict it on others. That’s why I don’t have any friends. Present company excluded, of course.”

“You’re such a cynic.”

“I’m literally stuck behind the couch!” Ben wailed. “Will one of you get off your asses and move it so I can get out?”

“Fine,” I sighed. Clary hopped off the sofa and she and I moved it forward a few inches. Ben, sweat dripping into his excuse of a beard, crawled free. “Jesus, that was awful,” he panted.

“You’re such an idiot,” I said, shaking my head.

“Hey!” Ben protested. “Why are you being so mean tonight?”

“It’s my talent,” I said and walked toward the door. My people meter was full, and it was time to make myself scarce.

The Whale-Shaped Man (fiction? poetry? both? neither?!?!)

The Whale-Shaped Man

Is he in his office? asked the whale-shaped man.
Is who is his office? the woman in sparkly pants replied.
You know.
I don’t.
Him.
That doesn’t clear it up.
The whale-shaped man grimaced. I’m talking about your father.
Oh. Why do you want to see him?
To ask for your hand in marriage.
That’s stupid, the woman laughed.
What?
Why would I marry you? You’re shaped like a whale.
But I love you.
That doesn’t change anything.

So the whale-shaped man left. Inside his office, the woman’s father sighed in relief.

Leaves for a Pillow (short fiction)

I remember writing this creepy little story while at my son’s taekwando practice…and then, as I do with so much of my writing, completely forgot about it. I did a little tweaking here and there and am mostly satisfied with it. Why you would gather leaves for a pillow is beyond me, but that’s what the character insisted on doing, both during the first draft and this morning. So be it.

Now that my health is back under control, I’m writing again but not as frequently. I have zero interest in submitting poetry, so I’m taking a break from that. Instead, I’m combing through stories and poems written during the last year and seeing what can be salvaged.

Here’s the story. As always, thanks for reading.

 

leaves.jpg

Image courtesy of Flickr and the Creative Commons license

 

“You’re very kind,” the girl said, kneeling on the ground and gathering leaves.

The boy watched. He wasn’t kind, but the girl didn’t need to know that yet.

When she had enough leaves, the girl walked back toward the farmhouse. Not enough for a pillow, but a good start. The boy followed but stopped on the porch while the girl opened the door and went in.

“Do you want to visit for a while?” the girl asked. “Mama won’tt mind. She’ll be in the kitchen, fixing supper. Daddy’s gone to town for the day.”

The boy studied the girl. He liked her bone structure, her fine ankles, the tilt of her head and the slow blink of her eyes. She dazzled in a bar of sunlight. He nodded.

“You don’t say much,” the girl remarked, turning and facing the boy. “Or anything, really. Can you talk?”

The boy nodded.

“But you don’t have anything to say right now?”

The boy nodded again.

“Well, then,” the girl said, “I need to get these leaves in a pillow case and gather more. I’ll introduce you to Mama first. Come on.”

The boy followed the girl into the kitchen, where a tall woman stood over a sink snapping beans. She turned and regarded the girl and boy.. “And who’s this?” she asked.

“I don’t know his name,” the girl said. “I found him in the woods. He’s very kind.”

The boy studied the girl’s mother. He didn’t like her bone structure. The girl didn’t favor her at all, lacked the woman’s long face and protruding brow.

“We don’t take in strays,” the woman said. “We don’t have an extra plate, if it’s food you’re after, and we don’t need help on the farm.”

The boy didn’t move. The girl said, “He doesn’t talk.”

“I can see that,” the woman said. “Is he deaf?”

“No,” the girl answered.

“This is my house, you understand?” the woman said, tossing the beans into the metal colander and closing in on the boy. “You’re not welcome here, no matter what my daughter says. Go back to where you came from.”

The boy still didn’t move. The girl said, “Can he help me put leaves in my pillow.”

“No, he can get himself out of here.”

The boy flicked his right hand and the woman disappeared. The girl gasped. “Where’d she go?” she demanded.

The boy shrugged.

The girl thought for a while. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with her mother gone. She could be quite cruel, and the boy was very kind. Her father might be a bit put out. Maybe the boy could make him disappear, too.

“Would you like to help me now?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded and followed the girl upstairs to her room.

Awake (part 1)

mannequins-in-love-2

This is part one of my story about mannequins coming to life at night, a scenario I first read in a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) style book when I was young. I’ve since looked for the book online with no success (this might be it, but I can’t be sure). The book chilled me to the bone, but I read and re-read it, trying out different outcomes. If you’re familiar with the CYOA books, you know the endings can be quite dark. In one ending, your left as prey for the evil, animated mannequins.

In my mannequin story, there’s no boy or girl trapped in a store after the mall closes. It’s a love story, and a sad one, at that. I haven’t done more than spot editing, so there are undoubtedly mistakes and things I’ll change in the final draft.

If she stood away from the security lights and stayed in the shadows, Ashley almost looked human, which made Barry more than a little uncomfortable. They had agreed to be themselves with no adornment, but Ashley had applied lipstick and eyeshadow, and she had found a wig. Her lips were curved in a permanent smile, even when she was upset.

Barry looked around the department store, but he didn’t see any other mannequins about. They used to all animate at once, exactly fifteen minutes after the mall closed. It was magical, all of them gathered in the center of the first floor by men’s casual wear, looking at each, flexing their plastic fingers which didn’t move more than a little, but any movement was a miracle.

That had been close to a year ago, and Barry supposed it was inevitable that the newness of consciousness had worn off. That still didn’t account for the different animation times…or the fact that some of the mannequins didn’t animate at all.

Barry took a few halting steps toward Ashley, suddenly unsure of himself. He considered changing his shirt, a complicated task that usually required another mannequin, but he decided against it. He would stick with the plan he and Ashley made. If she wanted to break it, fine. She was her own…person? Her own entity? Barry didn’t know. He imagined he felt a headache coming on, which he knew wasn’t possible. He could barely feel when he touched something, as if he had stunted nerve endings. Perhaps I do, Barry thought. Perhaps I have a functioning brain, but the rest of the system isn’t complete. Would it ever be complete? Barry liked to think so.

“Good evening,” Barry said to Ashley. He remained formal with her. It seemed the right move.

Ashley didn’t turn to face him. Her cool, flawless face stared at an unseen point on the shadowy wall. “You don’t approve,” she said after a moment.

“I don’t approve of what?”

“The lipstick. The eye shadow.”

“It’s not that don’t approve,” Barry said. “I just thought we were going to be ourselves.”

Ashley turned. Barry had to admit that she looked good. Somehow, she had expertly applied the lipstick and eyeshadow, and the blonde wig was situated perfectly on her normally bald head. She had always been more flexible than Barry. She had almost a complete range of motion in both her hands, and she could turn her neck more than a few degrees without causing tiny fractures in the plastic. Other mannequins usually whispered jealously about Ashley’s abilities, but Barry saw none of them around tonight.

As he scanned their corner of the department store, he realized they were the only two that had animated. He saw Evan in his corner, wearing the store’s latest fall jacket, along with a red scarf, jeans, a flannel shirt, and hiking boots. Beside him, Joey–no more than ten if he’d been human–wore the same outfit but in a smaller size. From where he was standing, Barry couldn’t see Elizabeth, Cierra, or Tonya. He also couldn’t see Alex, the half-mannequin with no eyes whom Elizabeth usually carried to the center of the store.

He heard no voices. He and Ashley were only ones awake.

Perhaps a Little Fiction to Change Things Up

I’ve sensed lately that I need a break from poetry. Perhaps it’s all the rejections I’ve been getting. I certainly want a break from submitting poems. I still have a few out there, and maybe they’ll find a home.

I have a few stories running through my head. One is about mannequins who come to life at night in a department store, two of whom have fallen in love and find immense difficulty mapping the emotional and physical terrain in which they find themselves. Another springs from a wrong number text I received last night, and the other has something to do with this:

junk

There’s a story hiding in this big ol’ pile of scrap metal

I’ll post the stories as they progress, as I used to, breaking them up into parts. I generally do little editing and revising of my fiction that I post until I’m finished with the story. I like having a record of the piece as a work in progress.

Here’s the beginning of the tale of the love-smitted mannequins:

If she stood away from the security lights and stayed in the shadows, Ashley almost looked human, which made Barry more than a little uncomfortable. They had agreed to be themselves with no adornment, but Ashley had applied lipstick and eyeshadow, and she had found a wig. Her lips were curved in a permanent smile, even when she was upset….

So stay tuned, and thanks as always for reading.