Beneath a turquoise sky

“Did you see this?” I held my phone up to the woman sitting next to me. We were wheels-up, Chicago bound from Kennedy Airport, the six a.m. eye-opener.

“I’m sorry, can you hold it a little further away?” She was older, seventy maybe, with eyes that look liked they’d been shielded from pain for decades. “Oh, NASA is it? I’m not much for space and rockets and things.”

“Well, they’ve just spotted an asteroid headed toward North America. It came from behind the Sun.” I flicked the screen. “This shows where they think it might hit.” A graphic depicted the U.S. and Canada, with a tinted circle that stretched from D.C. to Kansas, Ontario to Arkansas.

“Hit?”

“Well, unless it breaks apart in the atmosphere.”

She tilted her head back to focus through her bifocals. With a finger she pointed at the center, inching forward until she gave my phone a tap. “But that’s Chicago, right there in the middle.” The circle expanded, showing the belly of Lake Michigan. “Will we be safe up here?”

“I don’t know.” I began browsing the news. The story of the asteroid blazed across every outlet. “You think the pilot knows about this?”

She peered over her rims. “Dear, do you want to take that risk?”

I cocked my cheek. Maybe she’d seen more than I realized. I pressed the attention button above my head.

“Yeah, hi.” I lured the attendant closer with a finger. She bent in, leery. I said, “I’m sure the flight crew already knows about this, but here, take a look.”

The flight attendant’s scarf, a blue and gold breath of perfumed gauze, brushed my hand. I took a guarded breath trying to fill my lungs with her scent.

“Is this today?”

“NASA’s twitter feed popped it up just before we left.”

“Hmm.” She pursed her lips, a shade of pale strawberry. “May I?” She opened her palm. On her hand she wore a ring on every finger, but the one that mattered showed a turquoise stone, hardly nuptial material.

I blinked to clear my daydream. “Sure, here.” As she left, I leaned over to watch her thread the aisle.

By that time, others around us had heard me talking and had independently discovered the news. Chatter swelled like teacher had left the classroom. Turquoise charged back toward me, phone gripped in her fist, having recognized the buzz, she eyed me, a frown spoiling her face.

She bent close, closer than before. “Did you leak this?” Not waiting for my reply she straightened and announced, “Everyone, the captain is well aware of the recent development. Please remain calm. He’s…”

The overhead speaker crackled like parchment. When the captain began Turquoise dropped my phone in my lap like a dead fish.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. As you may know, NASA has announced a surprise discovery of an inbound meteor of indeterminate size. They expect arrival sometime soon, somewhere in the mid-west. At this point in time, that’s all we know. Until we hear otherwise, we’ll be continuing our flight as planned. NASA will keep us appraised and we’ll fill you in as soon as we know more. Please, try to relax. We have the situation under control. Chicago is fifty-five degrees with just a whisper of a breeze, which is unusual for this time of the year. Thank you.”

Speculation ran like a plague through the cabin. I heard talk of Chelyabinsk and Tunguska, and not a few mentions of the KT asteroid. Glasses next to me, Audrey, was keyed into the rumors.

“Every few years? But why don’t we hear about them?”

“Well, mostly due to probabilities. Over the oceans, no one can hear you scream.”

Audrey tisked me down. “Don’t say such things. You’ll bring bad…”

“Oh, my god. There it is!” A kid three rows back on the right had had his face smeared against the window. “I see the tail.”

“Must have come in over Canada,” I said. “We should see it break up any moment now.”

With the sighting, the captain was forced to come back on to instruct the passengers to sit down. “Yes, we’ve identified the meteor. Please return to your seats. We suspect heavy turbulence if and when the… the rock explodes.” We felt the plane bank away from the incoming threat.

Audrey and I remained entranced with the video streaming in from twitter feeds. This asteroid didn’t seem to want to detonate. I quickly flipped back to NASA’s feed and couldn’t help but gasp. “Geezus! This thing is the size of a city block. How could they not have detected…”

Audrey pulled her glasses down from her face and grabbed my hands, lowering my phone to her lap. Calmer than the captain, who’d just come on to tell us to lower the window shades and brace for severe shaking, she looked me in the eye. “Have you lived a happy life?”

I gawped and swallowed hard. “I’ve had some good times. Some bad. Tried to be kind, I guess.” I squeezed her fingers. “You?”

I could see the pain in her face now. It hadn’t been vacant, I realized, it had been confronted and beaten. She smiled, thin-lipped. “Yes, I’ve had good times. And bad. And yes, I’ve tried to be kind. My daughter was in an accident. I’m to… Well, I was to meet her at the hospital today.” Audrey pinched her eyes tight. “My grandson, he’s only eight.”

I brought her head to my shoulder. “The subways will be safe from much of the explosion. And they’ve had plenty of time to get to shelter. He’ll be OK.”

In the last few seconds, the cabin had become silent but for the increased drone of the engines. I looked at the time; hell, it had only been three minutes since the sighting. We’d been over South Bend when the kid had spotted the asteroid. I figured we were now going over six-hundred miles an hour, due south from Chicago, about thirty-thousand feet. I swore this felt like a movie, surreal and scripted.

Yet, when the seams around the windows flashed to pure white I expected instant death. I’d returned to watching the video—airborne wi-fi was surprisingly good these days—and was stunned at NASA’s final headline speculating three levels of destruction.

A two mile radius around the southern end of Lake Michigan would be vaporized. Ten miles out, the fire-wave would incinerate everything in its path. Thirty miles from the impact the shock wave would flatten all non-reinforced structures.

When the light dimmed, I could still see and breathe and Audrey looked up at me in confusion. My mind rationalized our existence. “At the speed we’re going, the shock wave won’t come for a while.”

Hmm, I thought, as my phone continued to work. The twitter feeds I’d been watching had quit streaming. In macabre fascination, I re-wound a few to watch the last seconds of the impact. Each one terminated in a flash—white fading to nothing.

The next fifteen minutes stretched out in terrifying anticipation. By then, we were well south and when the shock wave hit us, all we experienced was a rumbling shudder that felt more like a thunder storm than the apocalypse.

“Where will… What now?” Audrey said, slowly rocking back and forth. The window seat, vacant next to her, held her purse and a bag of chips.

“Why don’t you lift the shade and let’s see what’s what.”

She peaked and then slid the plastic sheath all the way up. Patchwork green, yellow and brown flowed beneath us like a game board. Above, a cloudless sky smiled down. The world continued to exist. Life pulsed on.

The captain returned to the speaker. “For all on board, our deepest condolences. I… I live in Denver, but I have… had close friends in Chicago. This shock we’re all feeling, I’m sure it will last for, I don’t know. A long time. But we still have work to do. We’re being re-routed to St. Louis where… what?” He broke off when the co-pilot began speaking. With his finger still on the switch we caught his final words. “… More meteors?”

I swapped my place to sit next to the window. Audrey seemed lost, looking through a wallet album. I scanned the vast blue sky through frosted glass. It didn’t take long. I heard others cry out discovery as I identified what looked like a squadron of contrails, straight as ruler-marks, descending all around us.

I struggled from my row and walked up to the attendant’s station. “Plenty then. Good,” I finished as I’d made my case. Turquoise had eased up and smiled briefly through tear-blurry eyes. I turned and announced to the cabin, “I cleared it with the flight attendants. Drinks are on them.”

SepSceneWriMo: Catcha-22

“She’s not taking your calls or email.”

“No shit. You guys took my phone.” I scratched at imagined flea bites. “Will she see me?”

“Sorry, no direct communication of any kind. ”

“What? How can I explain or defend myself?”

“Defend? ‘Guilty as a scorpion’, she called you.”

I considered the imagery and realized she had a point. “Will you take her a written message?”

Parsons looked at me through the bars. “Certainly.”

“You got a pen and paper?”

“No.”

“Hold on.” I got up from the stiff bed and wrapped both fists around the steel bars. The piss-bucket in the corner remained empty, but at this rate, not for long. “You’ll take a message, but you won’t give me a pen and paper?”

“You should have paid more attention to the rules when you wandered onto this compound.” Parsons waggled a stubby finger. “Particularly the final one.”

“Rules? What rules?” I felt childish at this response. But by this point the irrationality of my situation had reduced me to grade-school logic.

“The twenty-two rules posted on handbills every fifty yards around the property.”

I thought back to my illegal traipsing, fence hopping and camera avoidance. Ah,  yes. “I didn’t have time to read them.” I judged Parsons to be just out of reach. He stepped back having caught the calculation in my eyes. “So, what’s rule twenty-two?”

“Exactly.”

He turned and walked from the single cell jail, and was gone before my brain turned over his answer for the umpteenth time. Exactly? Exactly? Fuck-me-Alex. And who the hell builds a dungeon in their basement?

SepSceneWriMo: 16…21

16

The far side beckoned, a lover’s glimpse, but between the river’s banks fierce rapids churned. Slick rock promised a deadly fall, while the sucking water, forever folding onto itself, rumbled tympanic threats. To cross here was suicide. Yet, retreat offered a worse fate, the admission of failure, his dreams of conquest ruined.

17

A woolly-bear caterpillar crawled in syncopated locomotion across her arm. Its tiny feet brushing pale blond hairs to ticklish attention. With a poke she directed it to the side. It responded in sea urchin fashion, a spiny ball tumbling to the ground.

18

Breakfast was eggs and toast, curdled rubber and too light on the butter. The coffee was cold by the time he got downstairs. He dowsed it in sugar, drank half and left without saying goodbye. He closed the door softly in latent atonement.

19

Her finger swished through the air to ill effect. The hand-painted teapot she’d attempted to repair, cracked further, its delicate handle separated and fell from the table. The magic within her had all but fizzled and died. Worse, it revealed itself as a negation on the world, an inversion of intent.

The word evil came to mind.

She swished again. Vapors rose like eels to entwine and strangle her caged pet. The creature wiped cloyingly at its eyes, pus having formed across the membranes. Its chest began to heave as the noxious gas slipped like silk into its lungs.

20

Lapine Turoc drives his wood-gasifier car, a patchwork Volvo wagon, back and forth across the country. He’s taking a census; who lives where, for how long, working at what to survive. He tallies and charts his results storing them in a fireproof suitcase—or so it claimed on the inside label. Ricky and Popo, a Jack Russell and a collie, ride where they please, the smaller terrier bouncing between seats in constant search for just the right spot. Popo nestles alongside of Lapine, her head resting on his lap.

On the dash, the self-appointed census taker has mounted a shotgun. Shells—each one a treasure—are stored in the glove-box, where they ought to be. The fact that he drives the only operational vehicle seen for decades is reason enough for caution. The fact that he ferries instructions from cell to cell, plans outlining the rise of—what—he couldn’t imagine, not in this torn and failed land; but documents many would find heretical here in the aftermath.

Additional weapons are stored in the back, packed with essentials required for hostile encounters and comfortable off-road camping. Over the years, Lapine has refined his lifestyle to suit his solitude. And so it is with no little irritation, if not trepidation, that he eases the gas pedal and breaks to a squealing halt for the vagabond blocking East Highway 45, their brown-grey satchels spread like tumbleweeds.

21

The ambidextrous biped examined its talons, fingers curled in its fist, nails dark and hard. It stood at the foot of the cliff, hands upon the face and performed, once again, the act of Spark; Spark, a name it itself had devised. Nowhere else in the valley could Spark be evoked. Elsewhere, thick clouds and constant rain misted every surface. Here, tucked beneath an overhang, odd winds drawing rather than delivering moisture, the cliff face dried to dust. On the floor, leaves and sticks had stacked and withered, crunching like nutshells beneath the bipeds feet.

Through painful experience, the creature, we’ll call him Trick, had learned to segment the organic fuel into manageable piles. Trick reached high on the rock face, glassy veins streaked throughout, and sliced a down-stroke as if defending its mate against a rival during rut-tem-pah. Spark erupted behind its iron-traced nails. Fiery orange seeds cascaded into the leaves and tendrils of smoke lifted to crawl up the cliff. Trick scraped and scraped until a scar formed on the rock and dozens of blazing seeds burst the leaves to flame.

As the fire caught, Trick danced back, his eyes wide, his nails friction-hot. Spark burned; light and heat where none had been before. In a drowned land, fire crackled to life and he was the cause.

 

SepSceneWriMo: Fifteen

Food of the Gods

Chaco pinched the joint from El Hefe’s nimble fingers. He set the point to hover near his lips, disappearing beneath a draping mustache and inhaled a stream of reefer smoke into his barrel thick chest.

“Yo, Chaco. Save some for us, cabrone.” Miguel the interpreter, sleek with words and gracious, empty complements shouldered the bigger man.

Chaco disengaged, handing the diminished nub to his friend. Through compressed gasps he said, “The weed es gratis, cabrone. Look around, ees everywhere.”

El Hefe exhaled, coughing his toke through fits. He fondled a steel thermos took a sip and pointed the open neck out into the jungle that surround them. The three of them had hiked up from the valley floor into the Sierra Amerrisques, the backbone of Nicaragua, seeking a myth. “We’re up a thousand meters today. How much further, Chaco?”

“The people de la montañas, of the mountains did not say. Walk to the clouds, then keep walking. Walk until you step and breathe, step and breathe.”

“Shh!” Miguel said, kicking the dwindling campfire’s last flame to dark. “I hear laughing.”

They lay still, listening to the fire tick and the chitter-chatter of the jungle. “You heard monkeys, stupido,” Chaco said, chiding his long time friend and comrade in arms.

“I did hear laughing. This path is used by mules and bandits. We should have camped further from the path.”

“Mules?”

“Mules on mules, heh heh,” Chaco grinned. “Coca this high up. Opium in the dry valleys to the west. In the Nico you can grow anything.”

“Including ambrocriol?” El Hefe, Steven Fuller, botanist for Nestle’ Corp, recapped his thermos and pulled out a chocolate bar. He peeled the wrapping, snapped wedges and handed them to each of his guides. “This is pure criollo, eighty-three percent cacao, bitter but satisfying. The Mayans never had it so good.”

“Mmm,” Chaco ate his and motioned for more. “Si’, ambrocriol, they say, grows around La Roca de los Dioses.” He accepted the black chunk of candy, if candy it be called. “Pero, I have never seen it. De color of, how you say, huevos de la planta?”

“Eggplant. Purple,” Miguel provided; he pronounced the color with an exotic roll of the “r”.

Steven chewed his own piece. “This is good, great even, but Food of the Gods?”

Miguel handed the last half of his to Chaco. “Si’. It is the gods that hide ambrocriol de cacao. Protect it.” He used his own thermos, swishing and spitting. “Tastes like mud to me. I prefer coco con leche.” Rolling the logs back into a pile, the coals kindled a fresh flame, the bright light startled them. “No one has ever returned with a seed, or cutting. The gods, they are selfish.”

“Selfish or not, with your help I hope to see one of these trees, these Theobroma cacao Ambrocriol, Ambrosia of the gods.”

“Tomorrow we begin the hard walk. That is, if we live through the night.” Chaco laughed, “The monkeys and mules, they play tricks on touristas, eh Miguel?”

Miguel blew the glow of the joint back to life and huffed before replying. “Ha, ha, Chaco. Tomorrow night we camp like a bandit, deep in the tangle of the forest.” He passed the last hit to Steven.

El Hefe smiled and finished the weed. “Bandits of the gods,” he giggled. “Sounds like a movie.”

“Who will play me?” Chaco’s toothy grimace triggered guffaws from the others.

“We will make a documentary. You will play you. And I will play I and Miguel will play, will play the guitar.”

SepSceneWriteMo: 12,13,14

Memento Mori

It should always rain for funerals. Bobby rode his bike to the cemetery. I bet I’m the only kid there. The plot had been dug at the far edge, nearly into the woods that surrounded the lonely graveyard. She probably likes being separated from the others. At least a dozen folks gathered around the hole; the casket, stained dark mahogany, sat on 2x4s above the moldy pit. I bet I’m the only one who remembers her favorite color.

As the priest spread his Bible—an index card, printed with few words, marking the spot—the sun broke through the clouds and glorious light cast down upon the gathering. This doesn’t feel like a sad moment. Bobby shaded his eyes and looked about, broad smiles spread on everyone’s face. They must be glad the rain has stopped.

The priest read a passage and then held the card up and recited a eulogy that she’d written herself. This is why I’m here. Before he could reach the end, however, he coughed. Did that sound like a laugh? He finished the reading but not before two others, standing opposite the grave, choked out a strange sound. They must be feeling her lost like I am.

“I can’t help it,” spoke out a man wearing a mustard-colored turtleneck beneath his suit jacket. He began to laugh hysterically. “Ding, dong,” he started.

Why is he saying that? A woman, wearing owl-like sunglasses, joined the man. “Ding, dong,” they sang.

They never understood you, did they? Soon, all who had stood, somber around her coffin, were singing. Is this the right place? Is this the right grave? In ones and twos they started skipping around the grave, their manic voices lifting into the sunlight.

“Ding, dong, the witch is dead.”

Your favorite color is black. You love mushrooms and tall castles and fire. You hate flowers, little people and water. I remember. I remember. I’ll never forget you.

~~~

Last Race

Her father lowered her into the race car’s driver seat. “Get the linkages nice and tight, honey.”

Debora entwined her fingers, stretching her fireproof gloves and then spun the ferrules at the base of each of her truncated thighs, connecting the gas and break pedal rods directly to her body. “Check.”

“You downloaded the latest vision module?”

“Check.” Debora’s sight had been taken during the same accident that had lopped off her legs, punctured her lungs, burned the skin off her back and seared her scalp. “I’ve got full, three-sixty scan-o-rama vision.”

“Be serious, Deb. If you don’t finish this race intact, this’ll be your last one.”

“No biggie, Daddy-o. You know this is how I shake off the nerves.”

“Show me you can reach the ejection lever.”

“Dad, I can reach it.”

“Show me.”

With both arms, Debora reached back over her head to grasp the bike-grips that would trigger a disconnect of her linkages and the ballistic launch of her entire seat-assembly from the vehicle, simultaneously inflating twenty-four canvas balloons that would cushion her impact.

“See. I’m kinda hoping I get to use it.”

“Funny. Focus on the road and your left front corner.”

“I know the drill, dad. Now, blow me a kiss and get out of my way.”

~~~

All Gone

“That was the last beer.”

“There’s still whiskey left.”

“You finished that last night.”

“I know I saw a couple of unopened wine bottles.”

“You filled those with urine and pushed the corks back in.”

“What about those little airplane vodka bottles, there were like a dozen of those.”

“The empties are strung as a necklace around your neck.”

“Oh, these? Right. They make such joyful sounds when they click together. What about the edibles?”

“Gone.”

“The mayonnaise jar full of Oxy?”

“Empty.”

“The lid of…”

“Smoked to a cinder.”

“The half ounce of smack?”

“Coursing through your veins as we speak.”

“Are you saying this is the last, the last and final, absolutely, solitary last beer?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Do you want a sip?”

“Yeah.” Takes a good long swallow.

“Are there any chips left?”

“I just ate the last bag.”

“Hotdogs?”

“Nope.”

“…”

 

 

SepSceneWriMo: Eleven

Drought

The floodwaters receded months ago leaving carcasses drying beneath an unrelenting sun. A burning eye that baked cracks in the mud-pan flats, deep crevices where even the tadpoles became stuck, rigid in their slow desiccation. While they could, magpies gorged themselves. Within a week the birds moved on, their black and white feathers kiting east with the wind. The rain had come in a torrent. The land, unprepared to receive it—parched to cake flour dust, sloughed off the water like it hated the touch.

“We won’t see rain again ’till fall.” Cory Townsend kicked at the hexagonal mud tiles. “If we’re lucky. Sure, we can pump wells for a while but, crops won’t get big enough to harvest by the time they run dry. And they will run dry.”

“And what of the drought resistant seeds we loaned you?” The brown khaki shirt of the service man showed dark stains beneath his armpits, a chocolate stripe of sweat ran down his back. “Could you…”

“Forget it.” Cory lifted the skeleton of a three-foot snake, flung it away. “Thieves broke into my barn. Took every sack I had.”

“Those seeds were on loan. You’re liable for those, you know.” The service man fanned himself with his hat. “We expected a return crop, metrics tallied. Why didn’t you let us…”

Cory pinched his own hat down from his head and poked the man in the chest with the stiff rim. “Your concern for my family is touching.”

Service-man’s jaw hung open. “What?”

“You and this land has gone and killed them. Not directly, no. But assuredly they’ll die from hardship.”

The man covered his head, tilting his hat low. “What happens to your family is up to you. You were supposed to keep your farm secure.” Service-man quoted from the contract, “Gene-Mod seeds must be planted on premises. Unused seeds must be returned to Gene-Mod, intact.”

“I’ll need a fresh set.”

“Not gonna happen. Those seeds are in the wind, now. Whoever plants them, they’re going to taint the whole area. Gene-Mod’s got a patent on those seeds, you know. A legal patent.” The man spoke the last three words like he was ordering Chinese food.

“Then I’m dead. My family is dead. Your seeds were our only hope.”

“Your only hope is to sell.”

Cory, fifty-three, so thin scarecrows could dance him to shame, cursed out loud, an infrequent break in his taciturn nature. “Five, goddamned generations.” He swept his hand in a circle. “Sell this desert? What fool would…”

“I hear there’s a company, got new-fangled tech, suck moisture from the air. Runs on solar.”

“Moisture? In this air?” Townsend waved his hands about. He bent and scooped up a handful of dust, let it sprinkle to drift like broken promises. “What’s this company called?”

“Eco-Mod, I believe.”

“Eco-Mod? Any relation?”

Service-man walked back to his pickup. When he open the door, Cory reached around and slammed it shut. “Any relation to this company of yours?”

“Mr. Townsend, don’t touch my vehicle again.”

“You stole those seeds, didn’t you? You or some o’ your lackeys. Gene-Mod owns that water-sucking company, don’t it? Don’t it?” Cory fiddled with the Barlow in his pocket. He stood close enough to smell the man’s hesitation.

“My advice is to sell this godforsaken land, Mr. Townsend. Take your family to the coast. The Valley is no longer a place for a family farmer.”

Service-man drove off. Cory pulled the sturdy pocketknife out to clean his nails, admiring the wear patterns and resilience the knife possessed. He kicked one more mud-tile and began the half-mile walk back to the turquoise colored house that he’d painted only a year ago. Along the way he came across a milkweed plant, the only green thing in sight. Upon it rested a single orange and black monarch butterfly. Life in the desert. It lifted and bobbed around his head before meandering, sporadic toward the distant hills. He watched until it vanished at the horizon’s edge.

 

SepSceneWriMo: Ten

10 X

Down range the flagman, hunkered below the 1000 yard berm, stood and waved the black signal flag—another “X”. He lowered the four-foot wide target, taped over the pinky-thick hole with a circle made for the task and hoisted the target back up for Riccards’ last shot.

Riccards, sharpshooter for the Army’s 103rd, let the number slosh around in his head. He tried washing it way with thoughts of insane motorcycle rides, train dodging, and interstate cliff-jumping into the Arkansas river but, like his addiction to nicotine, the number nine continued to plague his nerves. One more X and he’d break the record.

At a thousand yards, no one had ever shot ten rounds from a .308 match grade M1 Garand all within the inner most circle, the X-ring.

Behind the covered range, gravel crunched beneath a hum-vee’s tires and the tinny sound of its door being slammed forced the shooter to stop and collect his wits.

“What’s going on here?” Colonel Spratt, his fatigues tucked into his boots, his carpenter’s square crew-cut out of place in the modern army, superhero stood and glared at the two privates.

Both carped for air.

“I said, what the hell is going on here? Don’t you both know we’re in lock-down?” The Colonel looked to the distant targets and watched as the big black circle rose from behind the berm. “And who the hell do you have down range?”

“Practice, sir.”

“Practice my ass. It’s six-the-fuck-am, on a gottdamn Sunday. The only gottdamn Sunday I have free for the next three gottdamn months and I wake up to the sound of rifle fire. Un-fuckin’-scheduled rifle fire.” Spratt re-positioned himself at the edge of the concrete slab upon which Riccards lay. “So?”

“A b…bet, sir.”

Spratt noted the empty casings. Riccards and Joel watched his eyes as he counted the rounds. The Colonel stuck his finger into his mouth and held it out, turning it. The pair saw the man’s eyes shift to the tops of the trees that lined the range.

“How many?” Their commander resumed his superhero stance.

Riccards swallowed hard. “All of them, sir.”

When the Colonel leaned toward them and cocked his head the private added, “Nine, sir. Nine down the tube.”

Riccard’s phone rang and Joel answered it. “Excuse me sir.” Joel turned and spoke into the phone, “The Colonel’s here. Yeah, really. I don’t know, probably. Yeah you better come…”

“Hold on there, son.” Spratt dug out his wallet, flipped through a quarter-inch thick fold of green, pulled out five hundred dollar bills and waved them in the air. “You all vouch for Riccards’ score?”

Joel nodded and handed the phone to the Colonel.

“Nine “X”s so far? Is that right… Breck?”

Spratt tossed the phone back to Private Joel.

“There’s five hundred on the line now, Riccards. You send one more into the Eye of the Beast and it’s yours. You miss? You three are gonna be my personal pets until Christmas—you got that?”

From Riccards’ prone position, he looked up at the wiry Colonel, yesterday’s beard still shadowing his face. The private’s eyes widened with a thought. “What if I don’t take the shot? I pack up now and we leave. Would you consider…”

“Well, that’s up to you, son.” Colonel Spratt’s demeanor softened a bit. “I’d be willing to forget you-three’s disobedience in the light of the current state we’re in. Are you willing to abandon your chance at history?”

Riccard worked his tongue across his teeth. Nodding to himself he plucked the last round from his specially-made ammo block and loaded his M1. The morning air remained still as a crypt. Joel sent a text to Breck, ‘range-hot’. Spratt moved back from the soldier’s line of sight and covered his ears.

Private Riccards, a sharpshooter since he was eleven, plinking sparrows at a hundred-yards with a .22, let his breathing steady: slowly in, slowly out, slowly in, half-way out, hold… Thoughts of diving from the interstate bridge drifted away as the vision of the black dot at the end of his barrel, the front-sight nested in the back one, filled his mind.

There is nothing but the shot. Nothing but the shot.

He squeezed the trigger…

 

 

 

SepSceneWriMo: Niner

Lacy’s Run

Lacy’s grip on the polished brass pole held her like a bronco rider beyond her mandatory eight seconds. The calliope music didn’t help. Neither did the rotational momentum nor the pumping motion—up down, up down—like she needed her bucket filled during the Dust Bowl, and her well had run plum dry.

“Lacy dear, it’s a ride, honey. You won’t fall off. And if you do…” (What kind of psychotic rationalization is that?) “I’ll be here to catch you.”

Fuck that! But, yeah—sure enough, I’m here. Am I gonna let this plastic pony get the best of me? Hell no!

Lacy relinquished her home-run grip on the carousel pole to switch to a bear-hug of Flicka’s frolicking neck. She gave her father a quick smile to reassure him. “I’m okay, daddy.”

Jeeze, will the guy quit the hovering-hands bit? I said I got this.

“You’re such a big girl now. Look at you.” Dad expanded his father force-field. “Like you could clear the gates at a gallop.”

This ain’t the frickin’ hunt club, dad. And you ain’t no fox.

Lacy tried to lift her head to look around at the other merry-go-victims but the rolling-wave motion had tempted lunch’s corndog into returning to the light of day. It took all her will to keep that puppy kennel-bound.

“Daddy, I think I’ve had enough.”

“One more spin honey. You have to do ten or you’re not a real rider.”

Lacy tongued the side of her cheek. Her icy-blue eyes had yet to develop their penetrating glare. To her they appeared like Kaa’s eyes, a snake to which she felt akin. Evenings often found her practicing her entrancement on herself, staring into her vanity mirror like she could see into another universe. So often though, her power failed. Every time in fact. Regardless, she focused her sapphire lasers trying to burn through her father’s retinas, through his fatty-grey matter, all the way to the back of his skull.

“Alright, it looks like you’ve had enough.”

Success!

 

SepSceneWriMo: Eight

Missing

“She’s this tall,” Tooq held his brown hand up to his chin, “and she laughs like a goat when you tickle her. And… and she’s all I have left.”

When the bomb detonated beneath the fruit seller’s stand during Tuesday morning’s market, Tooq and his sister had been two stalls down, hunkered in a corner of the wall of the now defunct tannery, nibbling cast-off laffa bread. The concussion had blown the palm-thatch roofs of both the spice and the filigree brass stands over top of the children. Tooq, a boy of ten, and Fenta, a dazzling eyed child of seven, screamed for each other but their hearing had temporarily vaporized with the explosion and though they tried, they could not link hands, touch each other’s fingers.

When the boy finally pushed off the debris, he discovered his sister gone. He rummaged frantically through the pile of staves and fronds and pots and brokenness, even ignoring a bundle of turmeric colored candy thrown from the spice stand. Panic filled his chest as he realized Fenta had vanished in the pandemonium. The remainder of the day he spent stumbling amongst crying widows, mothers, fathers and children, peeking into shadows and under broken lives. That night he huddled in their corner. She’ll find me if I just wait here.

The next day his search began in earnest.

The fruit seller’s son had been away to pick up fresh dates when the terrorist bomb had taken his father and their livelihood. The community would hold his place in the market, but not forever. “I know your sister but, I’m busy. Our business is destroyed and you want me to stop everything and look for her?” D’mique noticed the salty tracks that meandered down the boy’s cheeks. “I will add Fenta to my list of the missing. If she’s here, the market people will find her.”

Unexpectedly, there was now plenty to eat. The merchants salvaged what they could, but a pile grew of damaged and discarded goods. The best remnants disappeared quickly, but Tooq had learned years ago that ugly food was not always unpleasant. He grabbed what he could and returned to their nook at the wall, creating a stash, hidden to most but obvious to a tiny girl with clever fingers and curious eyes.

He wished he’d kept better care of the photos of their family. Many of their possessions had been trampled in a riot months ago. The desert men had come with their reckless trucks and black guns. Tooq and Fenta had scrambled for their lives.

Today, two days after the bomb, he ferreted out a picture from their previous hiding spot. The walls of a collapsed bank held strong beams that propped up the broken floors from above. Within a narrow channel they’d found an alcove. Bigger kids had forced them out, but today he returned and smiled like a cheetah when he found the faded picture.

“How many copies can you make?” he asked the shop clerk that provided internet, fax and copies. Tooq pulled out his savings, “For six-thousand dinar?”

“Five.”

“Five? Can you make ten, please. My sister, this is her picture, she is missing. She is all I have in the world. Please sir, can you make ten? Eight maybe?”

The clerk helped Tooq to frame the photo and add words in large Arabic letters directing any who might assist to the corner next to to the tannery wall.

“Did you write that Tooq will be waiting for her?” The boy examined the proof.

“Can’t you read that?”

“Yes, but, my tears…”

“It contains everything you need. I’ve made these, many of these before.” The clerk ran the big white and gray copier that blazed like the sun through the cover with each pass. “Here’s fifteen, that’s plenty.”

Tooq clenched his jaw. “Thank… thank you.”

The clerk selected a nearly spent roll of tape. “You’ll need some of this too.” When Tooq held out his hand, the clerk, a man of thirty who looked fifty, enclosed the boy’s hand in both his own. “Be smart where you place them. You’ll find her, I promise.”

 

 

 

 

SepSceneWriMo: 5, Six, 7

Orbital Odyssey

“What’s the count?” Dicky sat scrunched into the corner of the capsule trying to speak calmly.

Mel Falori, Dicky’s co-worker, tapped the digital read-out, habit from decades of watching space exploration movies, the numbers held firm. “Over a thousand, now.”

Dicky tried to slow his breathing, but the building CO2 tricked his mind into thinking he was out of breath. “At least this pain in my joints will finally end.”

“Goddamned shame. ”

Sweat dripped into Dicky’s eyes, his albino eyebrows seemed to transmit the drops like rain. “What? You want me to hurt?”

“Huh? Hell no, I was talkin’ about the frenzy the news is gonna have when they find out how we died.” Mel’s deep complexion barely shined in the rising temperature. Dissipating heat had always been a challenge in space habitat design. “Orbital’s stock is gonna bomb.”

Orbital Odyssey had built the first space hotel; twenty-two thousand per night, transportation extra.

“Fuck Orbital. Everyone knows they skimp on safety. ‘Shared scrubbers’ my ass.”

“Yeah, but I had all of our money in their stock. Tammy and Mom’s money; our neighbor’s, and shit, even a few of my professors’ from Caltech.”

“I gotta fart.”

“So who’s stoppin’ you?”

“Fair warning. Dead scrubbers means dead air.”

“Yeah, well, I let go an hour ago. Your runny nose must o’ missed it.”

“Asshole.”

“Dicky the dick.”

The pair broke up laughing, the giddy feeling of slow asphyxiation having dimmed their minds. The lumbering tumble of their life capsule gave them frequent glimpses of Earth, the fractured Odyssey Hotel and the other capsules that had shoved off soon after the rotating habitat had started to crack apart at the cables that held it together.

Mel and Dicky were working at the hub, finalizing the insulation layer that coated the structure—a thick, expanding foam that would harden and absorb micro-meteors, paint chips and bits of space junk too small to see but, big enough to penetrate the carbon fiber walls.

“Space coffins.” Mel giggled like a child.

“Starlight Cemetery.” Dicky’s creative side never failed to best Mel at word games. He sniffed and failed to detect any change in odor. “Seems wrong we should be laughing while we die.”

“What? You wanna cry? I ain’t gotta tissue.”

“Asshole.”

“Dick.”


Small Change

She stood, barely clad, small change in her open palm, a bag of apples, a yogurt and a Slim-Jim scanned and bagged. “I need all of it.”

The clerk, a seventeen year-old boy, tall with long black hair pulled back in a ponytail told her, “You need two dollars more. You only got enough for the yogurt.”

When she dug an empty hand back into her tight-as-rubber-glove shorts to rummage for what little remained, the boy looked up from her sinuous struggle to check the place for customers. At eleven-thirty pm, the small grocery store at the end of the two lane strip that Cedarville called Main Street, contained no one but he, the girl, and Beatrice, the manager, snoozing in the office; she’d had a rough day at court and the worry had exhausted her.

The girl’s hand seemed trapped. Ponytail bit his lip watching her struggle, her chest dancing beneath the cut-off sweatshirt, its neck gaping so far as to expose both nipples.

She looked up to catch his lechery. Popping her hand out she flicked back her dyed-blonde hair and tilted her head exposing a long pale neck. “What else will you take for payment?” Beggar-girl flipped the change onto the counter, put both hands palm down and leaned forward, her sweatshirt yawning.

Ponytail recognized her as soon as she’d flip-flopped into the store. From the scant money she possessed, he couldn’t imagine how she afforded gas for her car. He had a better idea now that he stared into her beguiling eyes. Like a parody of lust, he licked his lips in nervous anticipation. “I… I guess, maybe after midnight, when I…”

“If’n I’m gonna pay that way, I figure I should get more for my money. Don’cha think?”

The logic of it seemed sound so Pony nodded. “About how much do you think, you’re uh, it’s uh…”

Beggar-girl, hands to waist, swung her hips back and forth. “Well, I think I’m worth—” She did a twirl there in the checkout lane, her hair lifting like a dream. “—at least a six-pack and a couple of Ho-Hos.”

Pony swallowed so hard he almost choked. “Yeah, OK, I can work that.”

The girl dashed off to the cooler section and returned, grabbing a handful of Hostess products from the bins at the aisle end. She tossed the treats down and clanked the beer, Coors-Lite, to the counter.

“You got ID?”

“‘Course I got ID. But I think I left it at home.” She pealed a can from the plastic and rubbed the dewy aluminum up and down her throat. “It’s so hot tonight. Don’t you think?”

“Uh, so, OK. Let me put that in the sack. To make it, you know, official.”

Beggar received the sack of groceries and beer, and ran her hand up Pony’s sweaty arm. “I promise I’ll be back by midnight for—payment.”

The boy’s training kicked in. “Will there be anything else, ma’am?”

“If you’re lucky.”


Final Grades

Professor McAllister limped from desk to desk returning final papers. Aside from the toggling sound of his hard-sole shoes, only the ticking of the wide-faced clock’s mechanical seconds could be heard.  The students all held their breath. McAllister’s crimson marks flashed like bloodstains on each paper as he waved them in oration before setting each, with a sigh, upon a desk.

“There is no such thing as a bad mark,” he said. “Bad marks are merely triggers, instigations, ignitions that should light fires in all of your bellies. Fires that should burn until you learn what must be learnt. Master what must be mastered.”

Leonard Doolin closed his eyes as the professor lay as sacrament, Leo’s final paper of his final year at university. The professor’s shuffling moved to the next student and Leo opened his eyes. An authorial massacre spread its gore across his desk. Each corrective wound bled through to the page beneath. Exposing the last page, grades were never presented as title-marks, a bloated “D” glared out like a butchered animal.

Leonard openly exhaled. A smile crept onto his face. Pass, he thought. Thank god.