lock

Donald Townsend via Creative Commons

Ah, there you are. Come on, sit down. Sure, anywhere is fine. Shoo the cat if you need to; that’s it, just move that stack of papers. Not sure why I hang on to all that old stuff anyway. Pardon the dust, we don’t get many visitors here. Tea? Biscuit? Water? No?

Now. Then. Let’s see it.

Mercy, where are my manners? Forgive me, I’ve waited so long… Please.

Oop! Careful there. Yes. Unwrap it slowly. I know it feels solid and sturdy, but it’s surprisingly delicate.

Ah.

Oh, there I go. I’m dreadfully sorry. I—

For heaven’s sake, I’m such a mess. Excuse me, it’s just a handkerchief I need, please give me a moment.

All right. Do pardon me. I hadn’t expected to be so overcome. But it is beautiful, isn’t it? I haven’t seen it in so long. Such… a long… time.

Well, that’s quite a question! Might as well ask my age, mightn’t you? Never mind when.

What’s that now? A reward?

Ho ho ho. Yes. Haruum. I think we can find something… suitable.

Give me one moment.

Ha! Found it.

Oh no. Don’t try to run. The door is locked, I’m afraid.

Now.

Hold still.

Sixteen eyes on wrinkled stalks wriggle in discordant unrest. Their cat-thin pupils dance restlessly, processing the bedroom’s dimensions like a wet utensil. The broad back slides over itself, glistening skin over moist carapace, punctuated by peaks of chitin rising like tempers out of reluctant boils. From the window burns the sterile yellow light of a distant streetlamp, casting a looming, twisted shadow over the bedsheets.

Green Eye Stalk

Brian Smith via Creative Commons

Jointed arms ratchet out of the flanks like myiasis, ropy strands of pale fluid sucking against the motion and squelching softly like squeezed custard. They reach for the tender young face like a caress. The lamprey mouth opens, round lips peeling back revealing concentric rows of barbed, inward facing teeth, the pale pink tissue between catching ambient light from beneath the door. A thin, hollow tongue snakes from the gaping maw and laps at the rubbery lips.

The maw curls into the beginnings of a snarl and then melts upward, a smile. “Good night,” crackles the low and atonal voice, a shopping cart wheel stuck on a stone. “Sleep tight my heart,” she whispers, leaning in close.

The young one fidgets under the blanket, restless, anticipating the kiss and the dreams.

Evil Bird

Erich Alder via Creative Commons

Remember when Isla and I wandered around the promenade in the crystal rain?

Of course you don’t, we were the only ones alive that day.

We found a sliver of moss-covered glass,

Isla pretended it was a sword, whipping it through the tinkling droplets.

She danced in the empty fountain, engaged in other flights of fancy,

Wondering aloud if she were too old for such displays.

I set about to ease her mind, ended up convincing her to stop.

We ate fruit and laughed at birds,

Never expecting how personally those fowl would take our jests.

They swarmed and bobbed, eyes round and wide and attentive,

Hopping ever closer and we clutched at each other.

Fragile rose beads shattered into spun sugar granules on the black backs,

On the pink beaks, on the crests always moving, moving.

Is there anything worse than splashed crimson red over pink?

Bloody gums, sucking wounds, flecked and unblinking yellow eyes.

Tiny bones crackled under our fleeing feet, stamping songs,

Fans of tight wings battering future nightmares

And the pecks and claws sizzling with insistent rhythms

Saying, Get Away Get Away Get Away Get Away.

Eye

fructosegums via Creative Commons

I’ve misplaced my feet; somewhere in the fog of dope smoke and white lines and tight shoes and forever dancing, they wandered off. Probably I should go, the best place would be home and the next best thing would be upstairs to my room, but neither has the music and neither has the void. The worst is when you realize the music throbbing in your ears is residual, an echo left from records that have long since been packed into a van and driven off, across a bridge or to a downtown garage. It’s usually the heavy snap of the house lights coming on, the resigned, sober sigh of the bouncer saying, Come on everyone let’s go party’s over.

Then you see it’s only you and the scattered handful of remaining ghouls, sunken cheeked and numb toed, blinking at each other with rheumy eyes and self-loathing smirks. We’ll drift like seeds on a prairie wind.

I find myself in a filthy bathroom stall at some all-night diner. My companion is a greasy pair of hands attached to a blazer with a set of Porche keys in the pocket. In my compact’s mirror, there is lipstick on my teeth.

Get Out

Annadriel via Creative Commons

May, 1946

 

Arata Ui could tell the difference between the rumble of ocean against sea wall and the buzz of an approaching aircraft when he was awake and alert. Four hours into his second shift, when cursing Ryo for contracting the flu had lost its distracting fire, it became a uniform hum of white noise. His fingers stiffened on the searchlight. Across the dugout, the battery team shared a cigarette, black outlines of huddled bulk nagged by an orange ember.

“Tetsuya! Shin!” Arata hissed, hoping the Gocho wasn’t making his round. “Someone cover me while I go to the latrine.”

The debate was held in susurrus even Arata’s trained ear couldn’t make out. “Fine,” they said at last. After a moment, Shin tapped him on the shoulder.

“Make it fast. I’m only doing this because you’re pulling a double.”

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Troy Springs State Park:  Algae formations

Phil’s 1stPix via Creative Commons

You expect to lose a few toes to the wet-rot during a contract. Not a single contractor offers hazard pay for getting three of them shot off. I wish I could tell you I took it like a tough guy, but the truth is I howled like a baby sea lion. The deeper truth is, most of my howl of agony had nothing to do with the fearsome pain of taking a zipshot bolt to the wee-wee-wee piggies. It had a hell of a lot more to do with the fact that my ex-wife was on the trigger end of that transaction.

Darla and I didn’t start off as fire and ice. She was a fisherman’s daughter, a naive hick with hair that never dried and a sweet voice that sang songs no one else could remember. I thought bringing her along on a couple of contracts would be good for her, toughen her up a little. But the open water did more than that; it changed her. I didn’t begrudge her taking up a contract of her own, and I didn’t really mind when she was promoted to captain of our skiff ahead of me.

The part I minded was her sleeping with the steward and throwing me overboard when I caught her in the act. That, and when she shot off my toes.

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Paul Hocksenar via Creative Commons

Paul Hocksenar via Creative Commons

The laminate coating on the steering wheel is wearing through, leaving rough patches that tug at my lycra glove. I’ll have to get that fixed. On the clock: 07:51, which gives me nine minutes; on the speedometer: 141 kph, just above the average I’ll have to maintain to clear the checkpoint on time. I peek at the side mirrors and the cyclist weaves back behind a rig, able as always to anticipate my glances, to keep me from getting any more than a glimpse of her. She’s clad in predictable black leather, lithe where I am bulky, her sleek helmet contrasting with my angular one like a robot from the future chasing a steam-powered relic. That’s not an inappropriate comparison, come to think of it.

Out here in the flats where the lanes are generous and the traffic is moderate I can open up a bit, maybe give myself some cushion. The current stereo track is a shifting tempo experimental number so I tap the Next button and a steady bass line tingles along my thighs. Throttles were made to be opened; my sense of acceleration spreads from my spine depressing the seat back and the decrease of strict control over the wheel from whisper to growl. I draft my way past a courier van, using the slingshot effect to clear one-ninety for just a second or two and make a tight weave between two carpoolers.

I wish I could believe the cyclist is stymied, roadblocked perhaps or forced to downshift out of self-preservation, but I know better. A kilometer and a half of clear space opens before the switchbacks start which isn’t much time to burn but I do it anyway, boosting with a tug on the release valve that flattens me: breasts to armpits, stomach to tailbone, cheeks to ears. Timing the valve screw to lower the boost can be tricky. At these speeds your eyes are unreliable, human depth perception and distance estimation, even decision making, not evolved to compensate for speeds up around 300 kph. On an open stretch, during a land speed test for example, it doesn’t matter. Here, my window and margin of error is measured in meters which translates into seconds and I know the risk of miscalculation is far beyond that of a grisly death. This is a company car, after all.

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