There is nothing that quite compares to the experience of getting caught up in a good book. We all want to feel a connection with characters, to escape our world and be a part of something more (or less meaningful) than our lives. I hope you enjoy some selections from my prose.
People think it’s so mysterious. Space. Mars. Living on a dead planet.
I would know. I’ve been here for eight years. Eight years of cleaning animal shit. Eight years of watching animals have sex with each other over and over, of being reminded that I’m the only human.
I thought about bridging the so-called “evolutionary gap”, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. Maybe it’s because the only male ape here isn’t my type – a real douchebag – and the other animals are various species of disgustingly malformed creature that only nuclear war could create. God Bless America, right? Otherwise, I’d still be scraping camel dung into pails at the Minnesota Zoo.
Trust me, this isn’t exactly a promotion.
4:52am. It’s time for sunrise. As much as I’d like to remain staring up at the corrugated steel ceiling above me, gawking at that one spot where the screw didn’t quite go in straight so the two sheets of metal join at an awkward angle, the sun’s triumphant appearance over the horizon is perhaps the only think keeping me from taking a nap with the Rabid Nucleo-Rabbits (yes, it is their real name).
Turning over hurts, I must have slept wrong last night, and when my feet touch the floor, a familiar bolt of pain shoots up my leg like lazy lightning. It reminds me that I am still alive.
“Fuck,” I say, placing weight on my right leg, then the left. I learned the hard way that doing it differently doesn’t work. I have the bruises to prove it. You’d think that, after living in the same place for eight years, you’d be able to find where everything is, even in the dark.
You’d be wrong.
As my foot gracefully nicks the office chair (that is in the same spot every morning), I scream, hopping up and down like a Rabid Nucleo-Rabbit would if it had legs. I stumble and finally come to rest in the offending chair.
The room begins to hum. I hum along with it. It’s a familiar droll tune we sing together each morning as the Zoo of After-war Symbiotic Studies (I call it Z-ASS for obviously hilarious reasons) starts her systems.
“Please insert password,” she says. Her voice is always melodic, simple, and beautiful.
“Shit,” I respond. I thought it would be funny if the only way to access Z-ASS was “shit”. I was right. Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty days quarantined in space, alone, and that joke is one of two things that hasn’t gotten old.
You have to cherish the simple things, I guess.
All around me the sounds of moving massive metal parts echo as the dome opens for the first time in nine hours. Slowly, meticulously, mechanisms shift and scramble, lock and unlock. To open the dome for viewing is an operation that requires the utmost synchronization and unknowable amounts of computer processes to ensure everything is safe.
Practically speaking, it means that I sit and wait for approximately seventy-seven seconds before I am greeted with most beautiful sight in our solar system.
The common knowledge is that Mars is red. Various iron oxides coat the top layer of dirt giving it a red hue. But, in truth, up close, the planet is the color of copper. This may seem like a small distinction but as I look out on the sun peeking its head over the horizon – a massive, glowing, perfectly round orb of shimmering luminescence – signaling day two thousand, nine hundred and twenty-one, the light pouring forth and the shade of the gravel below are in perfect harmony. Rays of pure white light race across the rocky terrain toward me as though my eyes are the finish line of a great galactic race. It is clean and untainted – the kind of brightness you can’t see on Earth because of the atmosphere.
Each morning I watch this masterpiece of natural order as I drink the disgusting excuse for coffee that has just streamed automatically into my cup. I take a sip, feeling the liquid coat my tongue and hoping that today, perhaps, the flavor is vaguely similar to something tasty.
I am immediately disappointed.
“Savannah 4296, Alpha?” The voice cracks from the box in front of me and I am caught off guard. Coffee pours into my bra.
“Goddammit! Shit…” And various other inappropriate words spill from my mouth. The box explodes in laughter.
“Another coffee bra morning?”
“Yes. You bastard.” I smile and rush and grab a towel from the nightstand to clean myself off.
“Score! That’s what? Two hundred and forty-seven for me, isn’t it?”
“I stopped keeping score, Hugo.”
“I’m not lying! I don’t promote you scaring me at random times of the day.” My favorite bra now has a stain in the shape of an amoeba featured prominently.
“Yes you do. What else do you have to do?” This is his four hundred and twentieth time he’s asked me this question; it always makes me giggle like a school girl. I like him.
“I have hundreds of animals to take care of, I’ll have you know. Hundreds. And it’s not all fun and games like you have it up there in your little pod. I can’t just sit around and drink coffee all day while a space station rots around me.”
“Someone’s feisty this morning. Did Kori try to have his way with you again?”
“Shut up.” Yes.
“He did, didn’t he.”
“No!” It was the fifth time.
“I’m telling you, Savannah, if he was just three feet taller, you two would have something special.”
“Kori is a three-headed cockatoo.”
“So now you’re a species-ist? That place has really made you into a different person.
“Oh please. Like you knew me before I got here.”
“Yea, just rub it in my face. Anyway! You’re still alive right?”
“Yes, Savannah 4296, Alpha is alive. Report good.”
“Other than the Kori incident, no.”
“That’s not a disaster. It’s a missed opportunity.”
“Are we done?”
“Fine. Let the record show that Savannah 4296, Alpha reports no problems.”
Silence. I wish he wouldn’t go. Once a day isn’t enough.
Deep breath. It always ends with a racing heart. Unexplained sweaty palms. Corny, yes. But I don’t care. You wouldn’t either if you were alone for eight years in a Martian deformed animal prison getting leg humped by a three-headed bird every day. Perspective changes things.
The walk to the habitats is always an exhausting one. Three flights of variously oriented stairs, countless long, dim hallways with the only light seeping in from the doors at either side. But the animals are always excited to see me. The sounds of jubilant shrieking and fervent movement fill the room.
It’s not a large area. People seem to think, when talking about things in space, that everything is wide open and spacious with all the amenities one could desire. I think it might be hope more than expectation. As I begin the feeding, a process consisting of taking freeze-dried food and attempting to convince animals that it’s fresh (yes, it is as entertaining as it sounds), I ponder on what people on Earth must think of this place. That is, of course, assuming Earth still has people on it. This place was created by the USA in order to preserve some of the creatures that human war creates, as an example for future generations. The ironic part being that there may not be future generations at all. These creatures, created by war, could outlive the idea of war itself.
God bless America.
I suppose happiness should come in the guise of being away from all of that chaos and here, alone. But alone and lonely are too often synonymous and if it wasn’t for Hugo I think loneliness would’ve won long ago. I remember the first time that he took over the post, four years ago. The previous station keeper spoke very little English and was severely addicted to meth.
Okay, the last part probably isn’t true unless NASAs standards have become hopelessly lax, but it sure seemed like she was. Her voice twitched audibly every time she’d check in on me, it made me nervous. She’d choose a random time of day to chime in, based entirely on her schedule. I never expected it. Hugo says that’s why he does it.
“You need a sense of stability up here, Savannah,” he said once after his voice echoed through the hallways causing me to tinkle on myself just a little, “It’s the only thing that stops you from losing it. I would know. I lost it a long time ago.”
Placing food for the ape is always a delicate process. I refuse to give him a name because I refuse to acknowledge how similar to me he is. He sits in a corner all day, demands that the food be placed directly in front of him, and scares the shit out of me each time I approach. Secretly, it’s exactly how I’d like to be spending my time up here.
I walk in and it’s silent. It smells of feces (not uncommon). In my hands I hold reconstituted bananas and a food bowl of various fruits and vegetables that are also reconstituted. He hates his food. As I tiptoe as casually as possible, I know he’s already seen me. It’s that feeling you get that someone is watching you but when you turn to look, the culprit is stoic. Douchebag.
I advance carefully to just under three feet away and place the food down. Using my feet, I slide it toward him, breaking the complete silence of the room with the sound of plastic on concrete.
He doesn’t move.
I don’t move.
Moments pass. Moments that feel like forever simply because of the awkwardness of the situation. It reminds me of the time I got drunk and slept with a guy, woke up, realized how repulsing he was, and tried to sneak out of the room. When he awoke and saw me quietly putting on my pants, we had a moment of eye contact that I swear lasted for an hour before I ran, pants half on, out the door.
The ape slowly, painfully slowly, turns to look at me.
I quickly divert my gaze to another part of the room and begin to turn, aware of every muscle shifting as I place my right foot behind me and attempt a swivel.
Out of the corner of my eye I see movement. I hear the sound of flesh on concrete. I turn my head just in time to see the ape charging at me, full speed, with a look of anger, disgust, and glee upon his face.
I swear I can see him smile.
I close my eyes and anticipate impact, breathing heavily and feeling my heartbeat in my chest as well as my throat. I feel my legs shaking. I feel perspiration on every inch of my flesh.
It feels like there’s a hurricane in my head. I would believe it except there aren’t any hurricanes on Mars. And I know that I’m still on Mars because life just isn’t that easy. And I know that life isn’t easy because I’m a zookeeper on Mars. It’s perfect logic.
I try to open my eyes but end up closing them more tightly instead. I feel like there’s a bright light on the other side of them waiting for me.
“Fuck.” The word seems adequate to express my feelings toward current situation. I don’t smell shit and the surface underneath me isn’t cold like concrete would be so something has happened. I breathe deeply and attempt to open my eyes again.
“Close your eyes, dummy.” A male voice. I close my eyes as a hand covers the light above me.
“Who are you?”
I feel myself smile. How’d he get here?
“You didn’t respond this morning, which sucks because I would’ve gotten you good. I did it before sunrise. I imagined you hitting your head on something that conveniently hangs precariously above you while you sleep. Anyway, I’m giving myself a point anyway. What’s that? Two hundred and forty-eight.”
“No.” I try to make my protesting voice, but it sounds feeble.
“Hey. I saved your life from a rabid ape. I have rights.”
“What was he doing to me?”
Hugo’s laughter is more infectious in person and soon it fills the room. I can’t help but join even though it hurts. Soon I can’t tell the difference between my laughter and my cries of pain.
The lights dim.
“As fun as it is sharing our mutual enjoyment if your horrible experience, we should see if your eyes work. Open them. Slowly. You hit your face pretty hard on the concrete.”
I do. Every shard of light causes pain, but soon I see the blurry outline of a face. Hugo.
Slowly, painfully slowly, he comes into focus.
“How do I look?” His voice is smooth, confident.
Gorgeous. Magnificent. Beautiful. Transcendent. His smile brings me instant, utter happiness.
“Crappy,” I say. It’s just the kind of relationship we have.
His smile widens.
“I think it’ll make you happy to know that I’m probably going to get fired for coming down here.”
“Good, you deserve it.” I can’t stop looking into his eyes. They’re glacial and I’m frozen in them.
I feel wetness on my cheek.
“You might wanna close your mouth, you’re drooling.”
4:52 am. It’s time for sunrise.
I slide quietly out of bed, trying not to wake Hugo. I succeed only in tripping over my own pants and falling on the cold concrete floor.
He slides over to the edge of the bed.
“Are you okay?”
“Were you having flashbacks to your encounter?”
“Good. I’m glad.”
“I wanted to see the sunrise.”
“Yea. It’s beautiful. Want to watch it with me?”
He helps me up and we walk to the chair. I sit on his lap, a smile tattooed on my face.
“Please insert password.” Her voice is melodic, a symphony.
“Shit,” I say. I start laughing. Hugo gives me an odd look as the dome begins to recede.
“I thought it’d be funny if the key to unlocking Z-ASS was ‘shit’.”
He doesn’t laugh.
I laugh harder. I don’t think it will ever get old.
My favorite smell is that of morning mist just as light first eclipses darkness and the sunrise begins. It’s a sharp and seductively fresh scent that shakes me awake more surely than any coffee could and I haven’t missed it in seven years. I savor being alone in simplicity as the murmuring chaos of the world rises far off in the distance.
I consider myself a lucky man to be able to experience pure beauty on a daily basis.
The house that I call home is situated somewhat precariously upon the side of a mountain. The forest is dense and there’s not another home as far as the eye can see – a luxury that is often impossible in this world. The plot of land was given to me by my grandfather and, I am told, it has been in our family for many generations although utilized only recently. A team of six and myself put an immeasurable amount of blood and sweat into this place over the course of eight months and I feel as though I pay homage to them every morning as I stand upon the terrace looking out at the sun peeking over Willow’s Peak. My craggy mountain friend.
As I finish my apple juice and turn to retreat into the rustic wooden walls of the cabin, I hear a distant but familiar sound. It is not often that the solitary road leading to my home feels the warm treads of a tire, but, a byproduct of living in society I suppose, one never forgets the sound of an internal combustion engine approaching. I turn and gaze out at the winding road to see, far off in the distance, a sparkling silver Mercedes M-Class making its way toward me. A beautiful vehicle with luxuries that I have all but sworn off for the sake of true mountain living. It has been a warm spring and all of the snow has long gone from the roads in the valley below. I reckon the vehicle will arrive in less than ten minutes.
Rushing inside, I close the sliding glass balcony door and shut the blinds. The house is more inviting with some sort of filter between the harsh rays of first light and ones eyes. My time is limited and so I spend it tidying up the parts of the house that my mystery guest is most likely to see. I take a moment to dust my prized wooden table and clear it of various feminine clothing items, stuffing them in an obscure pantry that I am unlikely to be showing off. I grab my trusty vacuum cleaner and ensure that the Persian rug is free of any stray particles and I turn on my most charming selection of current popular music from the civilized world. It all sounds the same to me, like charming little children singing out their problems in the simplest possible forms, but I suppose it is popular for a reason.
After ensuring the toilet seat lid is down, which is the most visually appealing way for the toilet seat to be, I sit on one of my two local leather sofas and wait eagerly. On every occasion that someone has come to visit me, the first question that pops into their head, whether or not it is the first question that comes from their mouth, is a question as to the location of the bathroom. I shudder to think of the state of it were I not so diligent.
Moments tick by at a snail’s pace.
I am beginning to think that the mystery guest has changed their mind and will not, in fact, be a mystery guest at all when the doorbell shatters the surrounding silence.
I do not move. One cannot appear too eager to have guests.
Several seconds pass.
The doorbell rings again followed by a concise series of three knocks. The demeanor and tone reminds me of a curt French schoolgirl and I immediately take on a less than welcoming demeanor. I, nonetheless, rise and fix the black flannel of my pants and shirt as I walk to the door. It is made of solid mahogany with no glass so peeking is never an option before I turn the brushed brass fixture and open.
The man standing on the other side is not wearing a plaid schoolgirl uniform but a rather impressively fitting navy suit. We both stand for a moment with no sound except the warm wind rushing down upon us. He speaks first.
His voice is deep and commanding and I can tell that he belongs to a profession in which he commands very respectful position.
My voice is less commanding. Several octaves higher in pitch but significantly more smooth and friendly.
Do you have a bathroom that I could use, perhaps?
I wordlessly assent and retreat from the threshold, silently pointing in the direction of the newly refreshed men’s room.
As he politely enters my home and I head toward the couches to make myself comfortable I catch a glimpse of him walking away and am slightly aroused by his behind. There is something inherently seductive about watching a person leave your presence. Perhaps it is the feeling of rejection, a feeling that I know well. In any case, my body has no gender bias when it comes to the beauty of the bottom.
Patience is one of my chief virtues and likely one of the only reasons I’m not in prison. Near innumerable occasions have passed wherein had I not retained a king’s ransom of patience, the entire course of my life would have been changed. Not for the better. One may inquire how lingering while a long-awaited, long traveled guest urinates likens to shifting the course of destiny, but it’s in those moments of simplicity where one’s life has the most clarity.
I am a simple man with simple pursuits.
His very prominent nose leads him from the bathroom and back toward the door where I am not. The man looks confused but soon turns and sees me seated.
Thank you very much.
You’re welcome. Would you like to have a seat?
Can I get you anything? I was thinking of starting the morning off with a Bloody Mary.
None for me, thank you. And thanks for seeing me, I know it’s a bit of a bother.
Not for me, not at all. You’re the one who had to drive all the way out here.
He chuckles. It’s relaxed and breathy, like a chuckle between old friends.
Thank you nonetheless.
You are most welcome.
Oh! I have the check!
He fishes into his pocket and hands me a folded piece of paper. I place it in my breast pocket without reading it.
Wonderful. Do you like this room or shall we go into the office?
He looks around and smiles.
This is lovely. It’s very peaceful up here.
I couldn’t agree more. I’m a lucky man.
You’re a talented man.
Well. That is flattering but it remains to be seen.
I’ve heard great things.
I’m good with social media.
Relax. Sit back.Take a deep breath. We’ll start when I return.
I get up and walk toward the kitchen as I see him settle in. I shout back that he should remove his shoes and I leave his sight. Making a bloody mary is second nature to me at this point. Let’s be honest, I’ve probably had more than my fair share. So, I let my mind wander.
This man is my 26th visitor. You’d think more people would come to see me over the course of seven years, but you’d be incorrect. Invitation only. In fact, twenty six almost seems like too much, like I’ve been sheltering runaway slaves in the 1800s. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very revelatory. I’ve helped, I think, a lot of people. But it just might be time for me to move on.
I finish rolling my cocktail and give it a quick taste. Perfect.
Returning to the couch, the man has made himself very comfortable. His feet are on my favorite wooden table. I note this as I sit.
I’m sorry. Old habits die hard.
He opens his eyes.
Oh! No worries. I understand.
So. Tell me what’s troubling you today.
He pauses, takes a deep breath.
Go on. It’s okay.
Heh. I just realized I’ve never told this to anyone before. I don’t even know why I feel like I need to now. Something’s just…something’s just bubbled up recently.
Bubbled up? I take a sip and savor the deliciousness of tomato juice. I sit back.
I thought my mom and I dealt with all of our issues. She was very abusive to me when I was a kid. But I thought we got over it.
Abusive in what way?
Emotionally mostly. She hit me when I was younger but never when I got bigger than her.
What would she say?
It would always be little things, just commenting that if I only got a B how could she love me as much as an A student. Or saying that she wished she had a boy that would grow up to be a real man. Stuff like that.
That sounds rough.
Yea. But we talked about it. She apologized. We have a great relationship now.
I think so.
So, then what’s been bubbling up?
I don’t know…
I sense his hesitation.
This is a safe place, it’s okay.
He looks over at me for the first time. I smile at him softly. He closes his eyes.
When I was a kid I used to think about bad stuff.
Like sometimes I would want to hear what it was like for my mom to scream.
Pleasurably or in pain?
Did you want to hurt her.
Not necessarily. I was just learning about people’s bodies. And the difference between boys and girls and…
I wanted to see what I could put inside of her.
Were you attracted to you mother sexually?
But you never acted on any of this?
No, no. Of course not. That’s disgusting.
Okay. But these feelings are coming back?
Yea. For my wife, though.
I see. Do you want to hurt her?
No! Never. I couldn’t bear it…it’s just that sometimes these thoughts bubble up and…I don’t know how to handle them, you know?
What do you think causes these thoughts to come up?
As he begins his response, I stand, careful and quiet. His eyes remain closed, as is common with reverie and deep emotional thought when my visitors feel comfortable. I walk behind him, getting a whiff of what is almost certainly his wife’s perfume.
The point screwdriver fits most snugly in these pants and I’m always amazed when I discover it again.
The man inhales and begins to come to the realization that his wife is mean, like his mother, and that he likely should have sought out a divorce or medication rather than a craigslist psychologist, when I dunk the screwdriver quickly and sharply between his sixth and seventh rib.
I pull the tool out and listen to his now rapid breath for the telltale wheezing associated with a punctured lung. It took me four tries before I got this maneuver correct the first time but perfection paid off. That sound of air escaping into the chest cavity with every breath is like music. The key is to use a tool and an angle that will allow you to puncture the lung only slightly. Enough that rigorous activity is unlikely and death is a possibility, but not enough to make blood rush into the lung and death nearly instantaneous. It’s a fine line and I am more than a little proud of my skill.
He looks at me with a shock and surprise that I liken to finding out that someone has cheated on you. I smile and whisper in his ear that everything is going to be alright, that he should stand and come with me. I give him a little kiss on the cheek as I pull him to his feet.
The basement in my home is not what one would call inviting. I find that it increases both libido and fear to hang the perceived tools of the trade upon the cement walls so that, as I walk my friends down the stairs, light from the small sconces glistens off of the metal. That coupled with the blood stained floors creates an atmosphere people expect. The truth is that most of my friends die with very little blood spilt. It is only during the post-mortem dismemberment that things can get a little messy. I’m not a surgeon.
As we arrive at the bottom of the wrought iron staircase, my new friend sees an old friend barely breathing upon a chair. She is a little haggard this morning, but she once was a beacon of beauty, her hair fiery like the sun and a frame and form that could make any man skip breath. She’s a fighter. Two weeks and she still lives, despite all odds. Her head raises slightly, sees him, then falls. Hopelessness.
I sit him in a predestined chair right next to hers and secure him with the fasteners already present on the arms and legs. Today is a singular day. I walk to the table and get the diamond-tipped saw, the scalpel, and the needle and thread that I purchased for this occasion. I smile and start by removing the skin on the right side of her scalp, and shearing the skull. They both still have a lot of life in them, the screams echo magnificently.
My wife once told me that she cheated on me because she wasn’t in love with me but that she loved me enough to never do it again. My papa, between beatings and penetration, always said that he liked the girl in me better.
People always want what they don’t have.
I just want someone that will be masculine and feminine, soft and stern, strong and subtle, all at the same time. Someone like me.
I want to create the perfect human.
They are going to find 26 people in my home, eventually. Some are posed in my bedroom, some in the upstairs bathroom, the rest in the pantry. I didn’t hide any of them because it always seemed like a disrespectful prospect to bury my friends. They deserve my care and attention and it’s them that I will miss.
My newest friends, Adam and Eve, didn’t create perfection. I didn’t have the proper tools to secure their skulls together and bodies get surprisingly flimsy when secured with thread, even surgeon’s grade. Nonetheless, they are something beautiful together. When I lit them and took a photo, the way in which their features blended seamlessly into one another was transcendental. There’s something about a first attempt that is perfect in its own way.
The Mercedes M-Class is even more luxurious on the inside with it’s tan leather interior and computerized everything. It drives like a dream, sliding across the ground like an ice skater mid-routine and watching the sun rise over Willow’s Peak is even more beautiful when you are driving at it’s base, toward something new. Something exciting.
Anita sat silently underneath the searing late afternoon sun of a Denver summer. She shifted slightly so that the backs of her arms, the pale parts, could see the sun, taking a deep breath and allowing herself to relax for the first time in several weeks. Her youngest son was graduating from college tomorrow and she had gone through the meticulous work of planning a surprise party for him after the ceremony. She knew that the tears would well up inside her as the moment came where her baby boy would cross the stage for the last time but for now Anita was most concerned with blending in with the crowds of Ivy League mothers who were sure to be in attendance.
She never quite fit in. Remembering back to high school when she would always be the outcast, smoking in a back alley somewhere by herself, Anita couldn’t quite pin point the reason for her seemingly constant separation from mainstream society. She always had the opportunity to have friends; she was intelligent, good looking, witty. Even now, as her wrinkled skin began to bronze underneath a clear sky, the cool plastic of the lawn chair providing the perfect counterpoint, Anita wondered what she was doing. She had never felt the need to impress these people before, why now? Perhaps it had something to do with her oldest son getting married and moving away, or her daughter’s refusal of communication. Over the last couple of days, Anita had begun questioning everything about how she raised her children.
It was never easy. From the time Joseph left her, the children had been a handful. Raising three of your own is never an easy task, especially when you’re not grown up yourself. But she tried to teach them the best way she knew how.
What was worst was the constant criticism from her family. They were brutal. Always passing rumors about how she’d have to walk them to school because they couldn’t afford a car, how she was living off of government assistance because she belonged in a mental institution, how she had chosen the wrong man and was now paying the price. Always with their Christian façade.
The sun tucked itself neatly behind a cloud for a few moments. Anita took the opportunity to reach into the grass for her iced tea, taking a long gulp that forced the ice to fall loudly in the glass. She replaced it underneath the chair and used the condensation to grant needed relief to her neck. The sun returned.
She had been sitting underneath the sky for the last three hours and it had given her the first opportunity to think clearly she could remember. She had come to the conclusion that she was content. Whether for the good or for the bad, Anita was certain that this was the first time in her life that she was okay with whatever would happen next. She had only almost gotten to the place once before, under very different circumstances.
After being kicked out by her mother, living the streets at age sixteen, Anita began doing drugs and prostituting herself for money. It was life and she needed some way to support herself. Every few weeks a police officer would arrest her, give her some place to stay for a few days in the hopes that she’d realize that what she was doing wasn’t healthy. It never worked. She was always grateful for the kindness of others in those years, always surprised by how many people would pull over to give her a ride.
Phillip seemed nice.
He pulled over; his beat up, paint-chipped pick-up truck smelled of cigarettes and sweat. He smiled at her, teeth glistening. Perfection. Anita was just happy that someone would pick her up – it was raining heavily and the small jacket riddled with holes wasn’t sufficient safety – much less someone so attractive. She got in without hesitation and closed the door. He locked it.
“Where are ya headed?” His voice was like silk in her memory. She knew it wasn’t so pleasant then.
“Just across town. Wherever you can.”
And they drove. They drove through the city, across the suburbs, and into the surprisingly empty land of the east as Anita enjoyed the music. And then she noticed that the car wasn’t moving. She turned to him and saw, instead of his smiling face, a gun barrel. Anita had never seen a gun before and there was something terrifyingly curious about seeing one as it approached her face.
He told her he was going to kill her. It was blunt, uncaring. She wondered why, how could someone with such a lack of passion for the act even follow through with it? But she prayed.
Dear God. If you let me out of here, if you let me live to see another day, I will never do drugs again. I will make something of myself and I will turn my life around.
And the door opened.
Anita was never sure whether it was the pressure of her shifting weight as she backed away from the cold metal gun or the work of her hands feverishly searching for the door handle behind her, but the door shot from behind her and she fell onto the ground, hearing the glass of the window breaking directly above her as she fell, scrambled away from the door, and ran.
The sound wasn’t loud, it wasn’t booming. It was just there. It reminded her of the sound of her ice falling comfortably into the iced tea glass.
As the sun once again dipped behind a cloud, Anita became vaguely aware of her heart beating quickly. The memory still made her anxious. But she couldn’t bring her breathing under control.
The doctors would say that it was peaceful, that she had fallen asleep in the warm sunlight and drifted off.
Anita was dead.
She would never hear the wonderful news of her first granddaughters’ birth, which her oldest son was racing to tell her. She would never see her youngest walk across the stage and receive his final diploma. She would never know that her daughter thought of her every single day.
But she kept her promise. And she died with a smile on her face, warm in the reappearing sunshine.
As Curio lay in his sleeping bag, the warm flare of the fire warming his very soul, he felt at one with nature’s serenity. He gazed upward, seeing the crystal clear beauty of the sky for the first time in his life. One could easily make out the constellations; Leo, Sagittarius, Taurus, but Curio’s attention was drawn to the constellation Orion. The outline of the picturesque man encompassed his gaze and the center star of Orion’s Belt seemed to shine exceedingly bright this night.
All was silent, save the crackle of the fire and the occasional shift from his parents inside the tent to his left. Curio could hear himself breathe. The silence was a welcomed reprieve from the big city and he wished that could stay here, not only in this place, but in this moment, for the rest of his life. His father had said that he would get frightened by the darkness, the silence and would want to go home in the middle of the night, but Curio was persistent about this trip and now he was happy with the decision and the reprimand he incurred because of it..
Curio shifted in his sleeping bag so that he faced away from the camp, into the darkness of the forest. The bright, flickering light of the fire intermittently illuminated the trees and Curio could sometimes see well into the darkness. The trees were of massive height, they towered over the encampment in all directions for a seemingly infinite distance. The flame behind him gave a quick, high-pointed vacillation, allowing Curio to see incredibly far into the depths of the forest: he could make out the twigs and logs on the ground and followed them into the distance. The light faded as his eyes reached the point of infinity, where ground ended and sky began.
Just as the flame returned to its normal state, drenching the forest in darkness once again, a shadowy figure darted through the trees. It was only for an instant, but Curio was positive that this was no optical illusion. He sat up, squinting, attempting to pierce the darkness once again and confirm his vision, but to no avail. The light from behind only obscured the forest now.
He grudgingly returned to his previous position, convincing himself that it must have been nothing, the creation of an idle mind. The dimness of the forest encompassed his vision once again; it was hypnotic how the trees seemed to dance in unison to the faint music of the wind, how the small blades of grass followed suit with a quicker tempo. The blaze expounded spark once again, elucidating the woods. There it was again. This time the figure was closer, unmistakable. It was hunched over, but still quite tall, running on two legs quickly out of Curio’s line of sight. Adrenaline began to pump through his veins, his heart beating to a tribal drum. He sat up as the flame faltered.
He looked behind him, pondering if he should awaken his father. But what if it was nothing? He would look like a coward and his father will have won. The endless hours of chastising and anger will have been justified. He would never be able to revel in the sheer bliss of this forest again. No, he could not wake his father and whimper on the unknowns of nature, he could not give the man he hated more than anything that pleasure. He must be strong.
He clasped his eyes shut; trying to forget what he had seen and focus on the beauty and silence of the world around him, but suddenly the sound of nimble footsteps destroyed the serenity. He shifted focus; they weaved a dexterous path around the camp, encircling three times as Curio listened. As the fourth loop finished, the footfall abruptly stopped. Stillness. But this was different; anxiousness plastered the camp like muddy water, clogging tranquility. Curio’s heart nearly broke free from his chest as he stood, prepared but not quite ready to meet his destiny. It had stopped directly in front of him.
A single twig snapped and the echo caused Curio to jump, his soul nearly breaking free from his flesh. He began to stagger slowly backwards, etching closer to the fire. He took deep, muted breaths, attempting to facilitate his heartbeat.
Curio’s back unexpectedly collided with something solid. It rose above his head and concealed the fire’s glow. Curio turned at a snail’s pace, knowing what he would inevitably see but not willing to confront it. He was shaking uncontrollably now, his breath impossibly erratic. He took the final turned step…
An exhaled a sigh of relief; it was only a slender tree…But something was wrong, he looked behind the tree and saw that there was no longer a camp to be seen, only the endless abyss of forest. Mesmerized bewilderment filled Curio’s mind, this was not possible and yet here he stood, gaping at the empty space where his parents slept only seconds earlier. A figure glided into the clearing. Its slender legs seemed to float across earth as it approached Curio, no less than three times his height. Its eyes were deep chasms of abysmal black dominating its face, its mouth was small and undeveloped and its nose was virtually nonexistent.
The figure’s skin glistened with a pale silvery-blue in the moonlight. Curio opened his mouth, intent on screaming as loud as his vocal cords would allow, but his voice betrayed him and only breath expelled from his mouth as tears of terror fell from his eyes.
The creature stopped. It was less than a foot width from Curio. With watery grace it lifted its right arm, the silky gesture forming shadows in the darkness, and placed it upon the head of Curio. The bony fingers ran through his hair, finally finding solace with one finger caressing his temple.
Curio did not think that pain of such intensity was possible for a human to withstand. The finger penetrated his head, shooting bursts of pain throughout his body. It felt as if knives were being impaled through his brain and, at the same time, someone drilled a hole through his scalp. He winced and attempted another scream unsuccessfully. But the pain eventually began to subside, Curio’s brain morphing and assimilating to the finger. All at once, he felt not only the pain recede, but completely open. Every single item of information housed in Curio’s mind was released for the darkness to see. He felt every contemptuous, spiteful or hateful thought being relinquished from him and every happy, exultant, and blissful thought being reinforced. His vision became blurry and he felt his legs collapsing beneath him; he was falling…
Curio awoke to the joyful sound of birds frolicking in the morning air. The sun was just poking its head over infinity and the forest was aglow with early light. He sat up, dazedly looking around and instinctively brought a hand to his temple. It was a dream and yet a faded bruise graced the right side of his head.
He looked around, smelling the freshness of dawn air, and realized that he no longer despised his father. He grasped that his father only chastised him out of affection and that he was worried for Curio’s safety.
Just then his father unzipped the tent and numbly sauntered out. Curio turned and smiled.
Sharp. Flat. Forte. Rest.
Melody. Chord. Allegro. Rest.
Arpeggio. Crescendo. Climax. Rest.
It was as if the earth itself were transferring harmonies to him. To Geoff. He sat back in his tattered, leather chair and breathed the stale air of the room he hadn’t left in seventeen days.
Scratch the notes to paper. Rest.
Finger the keys. Rest.
Hear the music…
He lit a cigarette and felt relief fall over him. Page twenty-seven, done. But he couldn’t help feel the pressure wearing an indentation into the seat below him.
It’s the kinda thing that sticks with you. The kinda thing that makes you lock yourself in an apartment with bagged windows for three weeks to finish a composition. The kinda thing that makes you question who you are.
Geoff promised himself that he wouldn’t let it get to him. At first. You always promise yourself that you will rise above, triumph, that the aquarium you feel comfort in calling home won’t shatter, leaving you falling, flailing on the floor. But here, now, that doesn’t matter.
C sharp. D flat. A natural. Rest.
G chord. A flat. B natural. Rest.
F sharp. F natural. E chord. Rest.
There’s a sort of surreal state you get into when you’re writing music. Geoff never looks. He closes his eyes and lets his fingers dance across the keys, a tempestuous tango that his brain only vaguely controls.
He sees the music.
From the moment he sat in front of the piano seventeen days ago, pure sound exploded from his mind and he chose, like a magician pulling birds from the air.
But the silence set in. It was the silence he couldn’t deal with – the lack of music was deafening.
It was 3:52pm.
The sun outside was bright but Geoff wouldn’t know the difference. The only shard of sunlight came from a single rip in the heavy plastic bags covering the windows and Geoff only noticed it when he walked around.
It started with a click.
He heard it behind him. A muffled click that would be impossible to make out if there were any other noises in the room and Geoff only heard it because the moment he was composing required great concentration. He turned to see what it was but was unable to find the source, so he continued.
This time louder. This time it seemed to demand his attention, to undulate in real time and real space in a manner inexplicable to Geoff. He turned again and searched the room with his gaze, looking for any minute detail that would explain. He stood, his slightly overweight frame fighting him for every inch of movement. He crossed the room to where he imagined the sound to be coming from, passing through the beam of light but not noticing its warmth on his pasty skin. Looking lazily under books and furniture he found nothing. He turned to go back to his seat and there he was.
A man, the same shape and size as Geoff sat in the tattered leather chair, eyes closed, composing. Geoff froze. The man remained still, his posture the same as that of Geoff.
Then the man spoke. His voice was not quite the same as Geoff’s, it was darker, more menacing.
Geoff tried to speak but he couldn’t.
The man was more insistent. Like the click had been.
Who are you? Geoff managed.
I am an answer. It replied.
An answer to what?
To a question.
In a moment, the man disappeared. It happened in a way Geoff did not expect. When you think of seeing someone disappear, your thoughts tell you that there’s a flourish, a signifier, something visual or audible that lets you know. But the truth, as Geoff experienced it, was void of pomp and circumstance. He was there and then he was not in a way indescribable by words.
Geoff heard a whisper.
Don’t be afraid.
Geoff took several steps backward and shuddered. He suddenly felt cold, as if the energy of the room had been removed.
What do you want!?
I have always been here. I have always been the answer to these questions.
What are you talking about?
About you. The whisper burrowed deep into Geoff’s head, like a drill-bit tipped with buzzing bees. He gritted his teeth but the feeling did not cease.
Stop! Please! And it stopped.
I would like to show you something.
The walls began to decay. The urine colored wallpaper dripped from the walls and formed puddles of filth upon the floor. The walls fell backward and burned, crumbling to cinders and ash that fell upon the puddles of filth and smoked. An inhuman light glowed from some unknown source, bathing Geoff in colors he could only vaguely imagine.
What is this? The words fell from his mouth with no discernable form.
Geoff looked down and noticed that the floor beneath him was merely a mass of undulating bodies. He jumped backward but could not escape them, the bodies groaned and screamed quietly, seemingly in unimaginable pain.
Geoff screamed louder than he could ever remember screaming but the sound was immediately swallowed up by the vast landscape he now found himself in. Far in front of him sat grizzled mountains, reaching toward the foggy sky with rocky, foreboding, fingers. In front of them was a lake with water of the most dingy color Geoff had ever seen. And everywhere he looked, the ground quaked with innumerable bodies, all moaning and crying. Screaming. Dying. Some of them reached up, as though they could grab hold of the thin air above them and wrench themselves from their open tombs.
Listen. The whisper demanded.
And he did. For he had no choice but to heed.
After a few moments of listening only to the death cries of the interred sufferers, a faint melody tickled Geoff’s ears. It was euphonious in a way that Geoff had never heard before. The notes seemed to speak with volumes of knowledge separately so that, when combined with the harmony of the whole, a tune arose that was the nothing less than all-knowing perfection. By listening, he felt as though he were being fed the answers to all of life’s questions. He felt as though the perfect composition, one that no man could ever top, was floating in the sparse air around him.
It grew louder. Calling forth sounds that Geoff was unfamiliar with, strange amalgamations of notes and chords and scales and refrains that no human being could produce. And as it grew, it chose direction. It was just over the mountain.
Geoff began to walk toward it. He ignored the people suffering beneath him as he crushed their bodies with his feet. Though they reached out and grabbed his leg, he did not falter, he did not turn. He came upon the lake and began to smell the sordid fumes it gave off, but he did not let it sway him. He waded through it, the slimy seaweed groping him underneath the surface and the waters sickening odor permeating every cell of his skin.
The high-peaked mountains were more daunting at their foot, the way things you see up close usually are. But without hesitation, Geoff began ascending. And as he climbed, the music became louder. His fingers started bleeding, the result of the sharp stony climb. His clothes were ripped to shreds from the wind and falling rocks. But he did not stop.
As he rose higher and higher, the music became more and more discordant. Sounds from the extremes of the melodic scale juxtaposed virtually in between each other created a clatter of noise that cut holes in his ears. They bled. But he did not stop. In his mind the music was a beautiful as ever, the new notes added only a depth that he could never hope to create. He wanted to reach the source of the music. He wanted it to belong to him. He needed it.
Geoff’s leg shattered. Bones piercing muscle and flesh. But he did not stop. He dragged his leg behind him, his eyes dripping tears from the incredible amount of pain, his ears gushing blood as the music burrowed deep into his brain like an instrumental parasite, his skin turning blue from the freezing wind whipping in every direction.
But the look on his face was peaceful as he mounted the final peak. He smiled when he saw it. A small pedestal just at the bottom of the other side. He knew this was the source of the music.
Go to it.
He did. He began a cautious descent down the side. This side was more jagged than the previous, it was peppered with ruts and valleys, with peaks and troughs. He placed all of his weight upon the intact leg and stepped carefully.
But the music began to fade. He heard it receding and he felt is brain clearing and he became desperate. A desperation he’d never felt before, the feeling of something so close slipping away.
Hurry. The whisper was insistent.
Geoff moved more quickly. He began to slide, as carefully as possible, down the side of the mountain. The flesh on his underside was torn apart by the jagged rocks and the sharp thorns that populated the ground here.
Faster. It demanded. And Geoff felt the door closing, the opportunity for true greatness slipping away.
He threw caution to the wind and leaned head-first into the slope of the mountain.
He rolled. Each part of his body hitting the ground in succession.
Head. Arm. Chest. Rest.
Leg. Stomach. Wrist. Rest.
Foot. Back. Neck. Rest.
A trail of his blood could be seen from the summit as he tumbled, the piercing of each rock sending the impulses of pain to his brain to combat the melody of this music. But he did not stop until he reached the bottom.
He could not stand.
The pedestal was a mere five feet away from him but the agony of those five feet was comparable to suffering a thousand deaths. He crawled. Inch. By. Inch. Every movement a struggle, light headed, blind from dirt, sweat, tears, and blood. He reached be base of the pedestal and forced his hand upward, bringing the object upon it down to the ground.
It was a gun.
Do it. The whisper urged.
Geoff smiled. He knew, despite the pain, that this wasn’t real. All that he needed to do was pull the trigger, end the illusion, and he would get what he wanted; what he deserved.
Slowly, he placed the gun in his mouth. He felt the cold metal clack against his teeth and he tasted it on his tongue. Tears of joy flowed down his cheeks, mixing with the blood and the dirt and the sweat to create a paste that clung to his face making him look like a smiling statue as he pulled the trigger.
Geoff was dead.
He was found several days later in his apartment. He was lying on the floor, a bullet wound to the head lined up perfectly with the small sliver of light sneaking through the bagged windows. In one hand, he held the gun he always kept in a drawer of the desk; in the other hand he held a pencil and paper. Hastily scrawled upon the paper were the last notes he would ever write.
Let the variable “x” represent the humanity in every person. Let the square of variable “x” be the portion of every human that is connected with God. Let the cube of variable “x” be the Supreme Being, residing over life on all planets within our universe and being benevolent and good-natured towards vampire-kind in our constant plight for spiritual intelligence. Let those who dare speak detrimentally towards Kane, Lord of Heaven and Earth, be struck down vigorously by the Almighty. Let his entrails be extruded from his nose, wrapped around his neck, and let him be hung from the tallest tower, feet dangling, choking on his unworthy tongue, so that Kane, The Great One, may be pleased in hearing his pain from the Realm of Supremacy. Let the negative square of the variable “x” represent these Dark Ones whom we must purge from our illustrious society.
A few drops of blood slid down her dirty, naked thigh. It made a trail as it wound around her shin and fell from her lifeless foot a thousand feet above Gibrael Aerat. Her name was Ariel. A suspected member of the Rebellion. As Gibrael looked upward at her hanging corpse, he remembered her trial in perfect detail. He sat with the other members of the Council of Sight and High Councilor Ene behind a brick wall and she told her story of innocence. But an example needed to be made and no matter how many tears she shed, her fate was sealed. It was what Kane, Lord of Creation, desired.
The drop fell into Gibrael’s slightly open mouth and he swallowed deeply. He felt suddenly invigorated as her Life Force flowed through him. Her sorrow burned as it flowed down his throat and he smiled. She deserved it. She would, in death, act as a monument to the supreme power of the Council, and for that Kane would grant her mercy.
Gibrael turned and began to walk, the hard leather of his heels making occasional clicks as they came in contact with the cracks between the cobblestones of the road. He meandered slowly; he had learned to enjoy his evening walk home. It was one of the only times he got to see residents of Kingdom. With half of his time spent inside the dark Council chamber and the other half spent with his family, he found it comforting to look around in the evenings and see the people he ruled. Some small part of him wanted them to bow, to thank him for the lifetime worth of work, but he knew that the system depended on their knowing ignorance.
The history of Kingdom was well known to even the youngest of citizens: Kane, The Almighty, was the First One. He breathed life into every living creature in Kingdom by sacrificing himself to the Dark Ones in the beginning. It was because of his sacrifice and rebirth that Kingdom began and continues to thrive. Upon his rebirth, he could partake only of blood as sustenance, and all citizens of Kingdom were so afflicted. His words were studiously recorded as the Book of Flame, a guide to all future inhabitants of Kingdom. The Council of Sight was created to pass final, unquestioned judgment on the will of Kane. Every member of the Council was chosen at birth and no one would ever know their duty. They would live two lives and fulfill the will of Kane in secret.
The streets were nearly empty as Gibrael approached his home. From the outside his home had the same gothic architecture as the others. He climbed the stairs of his porch and opened the large oaken door.
At first glance, Gibrael’s home seemed overly regal for a mere columnist, the grand foyer flanked by two massive pillars, between which lay the most magnificent red carpet, and the imposing spiral staircase sitting to the right; Gibrael always assuaged new visitors with the false story of a novel published in his youth. As he entered the living room, his wife arose from her suede seat near the grand fireplace. The fire made reflections in her deep auburn hair and silver dress creating the illusion of fierce flames pervading her form. She embraced him and they kissed deeply, as if they hadn’t seen each other in decades. Her hands explored the small of his back, delicately long fingernails lovingly digging into his flesh. She pulled away.
“I love you, Gib.” Her silky voice was only slightly above a whisper as she buried her head into his shoulder. He smiled.
“I love you too, Mara. It seems as though no matter how long we are together at night, I always miss you when I go to work in the morning.” She smiled as well and began to lovingly nibble on his neck, drawing blood.
“You always did have a way with words, Gib, even if it is bullshit.”
“It’s not bullshit if it works, love.”
“If only you didn’t write for a living, I could believe it.” Her teeth dug deeper. He winced in pleasant pain.
“Mm. What difference does it make? It only matters that I want you and that you know it.” She lapped up the fresh blood from his nape and let her tongue wander downward. Gibrael moved his hands slowly down her back.
“Very true. And I have already long been seduced.”
He stopped and took a deep breath, regaining control of his desires.
“Haraut is much too young to walk in on his parents, Mara.” She noted this and backed away from Gibrael, licking the remaining blood from her fingers. “How have you been today, love?”
“It was quite uneventful. Haraut did very well in his studies and was very intrigued by the article you wrote in the newspaper today,” she said softly as she turned away from towards the kitchen, “you know he very much wants to follow in your footsteps.” Gibrael followed. Mara was full-figured and beautiful and he couldn’t help but stare as she walked away from him. She had produced him a beautiful child in Haraut and was now educating him herself. She was a wonderful woman.
“That is very good, though Haraut always seems to do well in his studies. I do not believe, however, that he realizes how unglamorous my job is.” He chuckled to himself. It was always interesting to return home from the Council and learn of articles he’d supposedly written. It was the job of his assistant, Phineas, to fabricate these articles. It was one of the many things Phineas excelled at. On many occasions he had proven himself to be a most competent assistant and, though sometimes the amount of corrections he took it upon himself to make to Gibrael’s Book of Flame interpretations were annoying, he was undoubtedly the best.
“Have you fed today,” he asked as he entered the modest kitchen. It was Mara’s idea; she enjoyed the country feel of it and didn’t quite understand the need of a large kitchen that would never be used.
“Yes, the delivery was quite satisfactory today. More filling than usual.”
“Well I wouldn’t get used to it. I heard that there was a disturbance at the Farms, there will likely be a reduction soon.” Gibrael was always privy to information before most people, the “writer’s advantage” as his wife referred to it. “I am going to bathe.”
“Enjoy yourself. And you have post.”
“Thank you, love. I will not cease thinking of you.”
She showed him her beautiful smile once again as he exited the kitchen and began up the winding staircase. Their home was modest from what he heard of the other Council members, and especially High Coucilor Ferras Ene, but Gibrael still had to walk a considerable distance through the purple velvet carpeted hallway of the second floor in order to get to his bedroom. He preferred the walls free from portraits; it was his small personal monument to Kane, the Unseen Father. The dark wood of the hallway opened into the magnificent master bedroom. The bed was draped in the finest dark silk; it was Gibrael’s one vice. He loved the downy feel upon his skin. The room was otherwise stark, ever-open windows flanking the bed on both sides and no other furniture to speak of.
The bathroom was more ornate: the walls lined in silver and gold and the tiles carved marble. He relinquished his clothing. Gibrael was surprisingly fit for someone who did nothing but sit for the entirety of most days and he supposed it was because of the other demands of the job. He spent most days endlessly reading the Book of Flame, reciting prayer, and condemning despicable Rebellion members to death but the stress of being tested in allegiance to Kane daily was immense. Every suggestion made, every opinion delivered, every prayer recited was stringently examined by High Councilor Ene. He must always be the picture of faith, and he prided himself in being just that.
Gibrael stepped into the grand circular bathtub and opened the valve above him, releasing heaven in liquid form. He moaned quietly as warm, syrupy blood washed over his body, pervading ever crook. The sensation was perfection. He let it wash through his well-kept black hair and tilted his head back, allowing his face to be drenched. As he opened his mouth, a rush of excitement sent shivers through him.
Blood showers always erected Gibrael. The tingling sensation of sweet Life Force coating every taste bud in his mouth was exhilarating. The Blood Farms had been requisitioned recently to provide bathing service to the upper echelon of society in addition to feeding the masses. Gibrael hadn’t missed a shower since.
Though he had never himself visited a Farm, he was aware of how they generally operated. Humans, mostly caught in the Outlands of Kingdom, were raised. At birthing facilities, they would be stamped and, based upon projected size, output, and gender, sent to various Farms scattered around the outskirts of Kingdom. Their lives consisted of eating, sleeping, and artificially induced sexual activity designed to stimulate blood reproduction. Centuries of trials and experiments suggested that these were the optimal conditions for the happiness and health of the humans. Twice per day, each human would contribute 1 quart of blood to Kingdom, after which they would receive large amounts of food and sexual stimulation.
Kingdom was always more than comfortably supplied with the Life Force of its population. Occasionally, however, the Council would impose restrictions on the blood flow in order to shield the citizens from Farm “disturbances” resulting in less than suitably nourishing blood. It was never questioned. None of the Council actions ever were. There was no reason to.
Gibrael exited the shower, toweled dry, and donned comfortable red silk night wear. He descended the staircase and reentered the living room; the newspaper on the small table caught his eye:
He chuckled to himself once again, sitting down. The post was on the table as well. It would include his study topics for the following day, written in cipher, along with the major cases. He couldn’t open them until his wife was asleep so he lazily sifted through the envelopes. He was about to place them back upon the table when an envelope at the back caught his eye. It was a personal post, from High Councilor Ene. He quickly ripped it open and began to read.
“Mara. Come here.” He turned his head toward the kitchen. She enjoyed sitting alone there.
“What, honey?” She called back as she appeared in the doorway.
“We got a letter from my boss.”
He looked up at her, nervously smiling.