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.

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.