My story came out today!
My story came out today!
Just got an update that my story “Laughing Jack” will be published on Aphelion! Officially it will be up on December, 4th, 2016. This is my third for the season… :0 I’ll post a link at that time!
Published since 1997. Free Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Webzine which offers original fiction by new and established writers published on the first Sunday of every month except January. Features include poetry, short stories, serials and novellas, flash fiction, and reviews of interest to science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans. New writers are encouraged to submit their work to the webzine, and feedback to the authors is encouraged.
Visit Aphelion: http://aphelion-webzine.com/
Under the flicker of the sun’s licks, then under its whole blow and blare, like an unheard scream, like an act of mercy gone, as the wall-less light and July blaze struck through from the opened sky, the mirror felled her flat.
—Eudora Welty, The Burning
Something about the cadence in the sentence above, the reverberation and underlying beat and tempo, the subtle repetition — and, a death march quality rare in its inevitability seem to define the spirit of Eudora Welty’s stories as of her life. Such a dark epiphany, unlike those in let’s say Flannery O’Connor whose own stories have a pitch and timbre that bespeaks shock and violence, Welty’s works have that genial and comic quietude that allows the darkness to come forth out of the light – a nihilism that dispels its fogs in the temporal sequences of such fallings of mirrors, breaking of sun over the mind like a wave rather than a sledge hammer.
Her Collected Stories bare many fruitful readings. Welty once asked: “Where does beauty come from, in the short story?” Her answer in On Short Stories,
It comes. We are lucky when beauty comes, for often we try and it should come, it could, we think, but then when the virtues of our story are counted, beauty is standing behind the door.
As a writer of short stories one listens, one hears the voices of death and beauty; yet, one cannot force either out of their lair, one can only await it, let it come, and stop at the threshold and realize beauty like death is standing there in the shadows of the light. Harold Bloom in one of his essays on Welty once said it this way:
American writing in the twentieth century touches the sublime mode only in scattered instances, and always by reaching the frontier where the phantasmagoric, and the realism of violence, are separated only by ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds. Welty’s high distinction is that in her the demarcations are as ghostly, the sounds as keen, as they are in her greatest narrative contemporaries, Faulkner and Hemingway.1
Eudora Welty was born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, the daughter of Christian Webb Welty and Chestina Andrews Welty, Eudora Welty grew up in a close-knit and loving family. From her father she inherited a “love for all instruments that instruct and fascinate,” from her mother a passion for reading and for language. With her brothers, Edward Jefferson Welty and Walter Andrews Welty, she shared bonds of devotion, camaraderie, and humor. Nourished by such a background, Welty became perhaps the most distinguished graduate of the Jackson Public School system. She attended Davis Elementary School when Miss Lorena Duling was principal and graduated from Jackson’s Central High School in 1925. Her collegiate years were spent first at the Mississippi State College for Women in Columbus and then at the University of Wisconsin, where she received her bachelor’s degree. From Wisconsin, Welty went on to graduate study at the Columbia University School of Business.
Welty had produced seven distinctive books in fourteen years, but that rate of production came to a startling halt. Personal tragedies forced her to put writing on the back burner for more than a decade. Then in 1970 she graced the publishing world with Losing Battles, a long novel narrated largely through the conversation of the aunts, uncles, and cousins attending a rambunctious 1930s family reunion. Two years later came a taut, spare novel set in the late 1960s and describing the experience of loss and grief which had so recently been her own. Welty would uncharacteristically incorporate a good bit of biographical detail in The Optimist’s Daughter, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.
“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”
“I’ll let you in on a secret, boy,” he whispered: “it want die out.”
“What want die out, Pop?” The boy was sitting at the side of his Pop, who was whizzing and coughing up spittle into a little can on his chest from time to time. The Old Man’s eyes were growing soft in intensity as if a flame in all that darkness was slowly melting down like a candle that had been left to burn too long.
“The Light, boy, the Light,” he coughed up phlegm as he spoke. “Even in the midst of all my dark days, and I had plenty, there was something deep down in me that hung on to that belief I’d gotten in me when I was your age. A belief in life boy, a belief in life…” He started hacking again.
The Boy’s Mama came in the room, whispering: “Let ’em rest now.”
The Boy leaned over gave the old man a hug. The man opened his eyes up and tried to speak, but nothing came out but a whistle from someplace in those watery lungs. As the boy rose up from his chair and turned to leave the Old Man reached over and held his boy’s shoulder. The boy looked back, and the man gave him something he’d been holding in his palm. He tried to speak and got out a cracked voice: “Take it…” Then his head fell back and he began whizzing and croaking.
The Boy looked up at his Mama who had a worried fever in her eyes; he nodded that he understood. She hugged him tight for a few moments, then said in a whisper: “It’ll be alright son, everything’s gonna be just fine.” As he got to the door he looked back one last time. His Pop was still hacking and coughing, his Mama was sitting holding his hand, her eyes closed and seemed to be praying. He knew it wouldn’t be alright, nothing would be alright anymore. He closed the door and left.
He went down the hall to his own room. Once in he closed the door and sat on his bed. His little brother was already asleep in the bunk above, snoring away. He turned on the little lamp just above his bedstead and took off his clothes, hanging them on the chair next to the nightstand. Then he pulled back the coverings, crawled in and lay there a moment feeling the cool sheets against his skin, and the fresh clean smell of the linen that permeated the room. His Mama must’ve changed the bed today, it was all straight and clean and smelled like those flowers she bought from Mrs. Jules Shop on Saturday’s. Violets and other bouquets she’d set out on the table in big white china bowls in sugar water, just floating there giving off that sweet smell that filled the whole house like it was summer all year long. His sheets smelled like that. Then he felt the small thing his Pop had placed in his palm. He sat up and opened his fingers and gazed at the little medal medallion for a moment. It was the worn figure of a man set against some kind of smooth background with writing around the edges on one side with a big eagle carrying stars in a ribbon. He could just make out the words Saint Michael US Marines Medal on one side, and on the other was a winged angel-man holding a sword up standing on a mule or jack ass with something in his left hand that looked like small bags or pots on a string dangling down. He knew his Pop had been in the Marines. This must’ve meant something to him.
He lay back down thinking about his Pop, how he’d had his legs blown off overseas by some bomber who’d put something called an IED in the road that blew his Pop’s armored vehicle to smithereens killing one of his buddies and maiming him and one other for life. Ever since Pop had come back his condition had deteriorated day by day. Pop tried to slough it all off at first, tried to keep chipper like he did in the old days, but little by little his hurt body had slowly given way to one thing or another till pneumonia had set into his lungs recently. The doctors said he’d suffered certain internal injuries that just couldn’t be mended; that it was only a matter of time. They’d done all they could for Pop. He loved his Pop. He sat up again and slipped the neck chain over his head, and let the medallion fall onto his chest. He felt that cold metal fire light up as his heart thumped against it. He remembered what his Pop had said earlier: “The Light, it want die out.” He knew what that Light was now, and he knew he wouldn’t let it die out if he could help it. He felt that medal burning, burning…
©2016 S.C. Hickman – Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
Note: Flash Fiction. Flannery O’Conner said long ago : “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” Even though I lost my own faith long ago, I have to admit even to my self that it haunts me still. One cannot so easily escape one’s origins… the fear-haunted preacher’s of my youth, the apocalypse, the fire-n-brimstone bully-pulpit waylaying… it all sits there in that dark place like a rabid beast waiting to unleash its terrible secrets. Took me years to walk away from all that dark southern religion… and, even now I hear those voices in the black places of my soul.
You loved them well and they remain, still with nothing
to do, no money and no will.
—Richard Hugo, What Thou Lovest Well Remains American
She sat there staring out the window. The day was gray and so was she, her face had lost that sense of time that holds us to the course of things; a sleeper’s face among smooth stones, river stones slipping into deep channels of black water. The clouds drifted along another course toward the north, but she could not follow them across the veil. She kept remembering the boy as he used to be coming up that lonely road, up from the creek, barefoot, hollering, running to the cabin with a string of fresh slung perch flapping on the rope strapped around his waste. His dusty brown bangs bobbing as he swung through the gate, the dogs yelping jumping up and licking his face. Him working against the tide of all that animal love. That was another time, another season. Now, was now. She let out a long sigh…
So, as you sleep, I seek your bed
And lay my careful, quiet ear
Among the nestings of your hair,
Against your tenuous, fragile head,
And hear the birds beneath your eyes
Stirring for birth, and know the world
Immeasurably alive and good,
Though bare as rifted paradise.
—James Wright, The Quiet (Above The River)
Jonas Wright stood there looking down at her body knowing that looking wasn’t going to bring her back; wasn’t going to bring her back, ever. The Medical Examiner, Sandra Kercher, and Sam Wolfson, the Case Detective, had been over the scene with a fine tooth comb. He’d read their report tomorrow. Nothing he could do here now; he knew that. Yet, he didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to blink his eyes, didn’t want to move his old bones, didn’t want to hear his partner telling him what they should or shouldn’t do… he just wanted to go back home, sit down, pull out his standard issue .38 snub nose 2-inch special revolver and blow his gawd dam brains out. “Hell,” He thought half-joking in a gallows humor sort of way: “I should upgrade to my partner’s Glauck 9mm and do it right. That’d be a good ‘un for the boys back down at the precinct, they’d remember that for a long time.”
That’s what he wanted to do, but he knew very well he wouldn’t do it, he knew he’d have to ride this dark horse all the way to the end of the race… there would be no stopping it now, no turning back, no easy way out; he’d have to pay the pied-piper the full tilt fare; for only the bittersweet pain of life lived out till it was sucked dry of every last ounce of strength he had left in him would satisfy the demons of his broken mind now; and, there’d be that other payment as well, the one he’d exact from hell itself… He’d have to find Lobelia’s killer, and he’d have to make the bastard pay the Devil himself if it was the last thing he did in this crummy life.
But instead he was standing here listening to his partner trying to comfort him, trying to get him to follow protocol, trying to get him off the site and away from here before Captain J.T. Willis arrived and chewed their ass out. He’d heard it all before, knew what was coming, but at the moment he just didn’t give a dam, period.
Baby, baby blue eyes,
Stay with me by my side;
‘Til the mornin’, through the night. (can’t get you out of my mind)
– Rocket to the Moon
Jolene Wilson was her name. Boy she had a pair of knocker’s on her I could’ve used for batting practice, instead of wasting my time sitting here with the ball dummy. Of course that’d been soft ball without the ball (if you know what I mean). I met her at Charley Devlin’s place out by Tipper Mill. He’d had a BBQ that Sunday week. Dam she had the prettiest baby blue eyes, and that smile of hers with those split front-ends was like watching a good Hollywood flick on a Friday night down at the Chief Drive-in.
Tears do not burn except in solitude.
—E. M. Cioran
Any death is sorrowful, but his death was worse, pitiless. No one came to the funeral. No one cared. No one knew he’d died. Even his children wouldn’t admit it, that he was their responsibility. They’d just bought the flowers, the hearse, and the preacher man. The rest was between the Old Man and whatever devils he was assured to meet on his journey.
I was the only bastard there that day. I wondered at times why I was. Hell he’d never given me any reason to care, but for whatever mad reason I still did. He’d come into our lives at a time when we’d needed him. All his lies, all his dreams, all his stories… somehow they’d given us hope again. That’s the funny thing about hope, it’s not what you think it is when you get it; it’s usually something quite deceptive and full of that cagey kind of laughter that lets you know that under its veneer is just another dark piece of rotten furniture waiting to turn to dust in your hands.
All around the carnival town.
The clown chased the child.
The blood was shed, the soul bled and bled.
Pop Goes The Weasel.
Amy felt the smooth worn fabric of her Grandmother’s old rocking chair. Grooves had been rubbed into the wood pushing its way out of the frayed cloth. She could still hear the voice of the old woman in her mind even now: “Amy, you gotta do what your ole mammy tells you now! Gotta be careful, there’s terrible things in the world out there, and there’s no one goin’ protect you but yourself. After I’m gone you’ll be all alone. So you be a good girl, get to college and learn something; don’t let those boys trap you in marriage like I was. No. You got brains. Use them.”
Amy could still feel the penetrating glance of the old woman’s eyes on her, those vibrant sea-gray eyes turning almost violet in the warm light of the afternoon sun. Yet, there was also something in those eyes that terrified her, too. Gave her the chillies thinking about it. She’d hear her granny at times talking to herself. Or, at least that’s what Amy thought she was doing; she could never be sure. Her granny gave her a stern look one time when she started to go up to the attic one day. Those beady ole eyes turned somber and ferocious when she told Amy to never ever go up there: “Amy there’s things in this world a young girl has no business poking her head into. Do you understand? I don’t ever want to catch you near that attic under no untold circumstances.” Amy understood, but she didn’t quite understand why… what was up there that made her granny get so upset.
** Warning: Vulgar Language Ahead! **
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
—T.S. Eliot, The Burial of the Dead
“I’ll bet you won’t do it.” Fat Girl lisped triumphantly; her yellow buck teeth grinding away as she spit gumwad bubbles the size of watermelons out the passenger side of the pick-up truck window into the moon-lit summer’s night.
“I betcha I will.” Thin Boy laughed excitedly; his bone-cracked eyes, black and primed, drilled back hard on that Fat Girl like she was a fly he was ready to smack down. Then he thought better of it and decided he might be better off just poppin’ her cherry tonight like it was a freshly minted silver julep sprinkled with sugar and shaved ice, and coated in pure bourbon and topped off with slices of lemon and oranges: with a sprig of mint topper, just where his tongue could slip into that sweet crevice and taste all those fine juices. His mouth watered just thinking about it.
“Okay, there’s a car comin’ right there…” Fat Girl pointed at two lights blinking just over the ridge, past the clump of scrub oaks huddled in the middle of the highway.
Thin Boy, Fat Girl, and Joey – her little brother, had been drinking and slurping down mostly cheap shine and beer all night long. Jake’s brother had gotten it for them just past County line where they say the devil’s own still brew the poison that gives men screw hairs on their chests, twisted and steely. They’d watched the zombie flick at the Chief Drive-in three times before heading out to roam the byways looking for mischief.
Fat Girl gave good head, otherwise she was a freak, Jake thought to himself. They called him Thin Boy because he was so tall and skinny, and had those dang blamed freckles from his Maw. He looked at Fat Girl and said, “Shut the fuck up. You don’t know dip-shit or doodly-squat about nothing. So keep your flap shut, here me?”
She was about to yap back at him and give him all Billy Hell, but decided better on it after she saw that smile he always got when he was about to back hand her with a double-fisted whammy. So she shut up.
He smiled. “That’s more like it. Now, this is what we’re going to do…”
Chuck Bannerman was traveling home with his wife and two kids. It’s been an uneventful day, but most days seemed that way to him anymore. Especially days spent at Lucy’s Mom and Dad’s place. Everyone sitting around like knots on a log, jawing the shit, eating, watching the Friday night games on Channel 5. Sometimes they’d play cards till the wee hours of the morning. But not tonight, no tonight his daughter Lizzy had come down with something, sneezing, runny nose, fever… so they’d decided to call it an early night. “If one could call 11:00 o’clock pm early!” He thought.
His wife was asleep against the window. He peered in the rear-view and saw that the kids were doing the same, sound asleep. It was only a two hour drive back to the house, but everyone was tuckered out. He yawned and turned the radio up, moving the channel to his local favorite KickAss 105 Country. He heard an old Hank Snow tune “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Sometimes he wished he was drifting out there alone somewhere, hitchin’ a ride to wherever rather than stuck in this thing called marriage. He loved Lucy and the kids, but sometimes he just dreamed that old dream of freedom, wide open-spaces, a world to be had… Instead he was trapped on an old cotton farm sunup and sundown, eking out a minimal living on some property his own worthless drunk of a father had left him a few years back.
Back then he’d dreamed of college, even moved to the city and gotten him a job at the gas station. Was saving him some money slowly but surely; that is, till he’d seen Lucy and some of her friends drive up to the tanks one day, then his dreams went right out the window. She was the prettiest thing he’d seen in his whole life. Her hair a blaze of golden honey, eyes like those pictures of the ocean he’d never seen on postcards; and, her laugh, was like listening to innocence itself, so mellow and assured. He’d slicked his black hair back real smooth and come out to the car, one of those convertible jobs – a Buick roadmaster skylark two-door Coupe – sky-blue with a powder finish, white-walls, and a shiny chrome grill that looked more like some kind of beast with teeth clamped down waiting to bite you. But he hadn’t been eyeing that automobile, that day; he’d been gazing at one thing, that pretty girl with the wandering smiling eyes and scarlet red lips.
When she’s noticed him looking at her she’d laughed out loud, telling her friends: “Lookie there girls, we got a live one!” The other girls turned and oohed and awed him till he blushed, turning red until she’d said: “Aw, we’ve embarrassed him… stop that now, girls you’ll give him one of those – what do they call it? – a complex; yes, that’s it, a complex.” She laughed at her own joke and jumped back in to the automobile, motioned for one of the girls to pay the nice man without ever turning toward him again.
He took the money, but when he came back he saw she’d dropped a white handkerchief when she’d sashayed back to the driver’s side. He picked it up and walked around the front of the vehicle, turning and nodding to all three of the girls making them blush in return. Then he’d looked directly at her when he came up to the door saying, “’Scuse me, Miss…” He held the hanky out to her. And, when she reached out to grab it, said: “Not so fast.” And pulled it back behind him: “What’s your name, then I’ll give it to you.”
She looked a little perturbed, just to put on a little show for the girls, saying: “It’s not proper to tell a man a girl’s name whose a ‘stranger’.” She teased.
Now, he laughed. “Well I’m not a stranger, my name’s Chuck Bannerman and I’m going to be someone someday.” He boasted, smiling back.
“Well, Mr. Bannerman,” She looked up peevishly. “Until we’ve been properly introduced you’re still a stranger to me. Isn’t he girls?” She waited. The girls chimed in… “Yes, yes, properly introduced…” both of them laughing hilariously now.
He turned back to his boss: “Hey, Johnnie these girls say they’ll tell me their names if I’m properly introduced.” Johnnie who’d been sitting on his whittling stool laughed and walked over, saying: “Well, let me see…” He stroked his chin. “If I remember correctly, since I’m old enough to be her father, and an owner of a business that qualifies me as an elder in the community to do just that.” He made a sweeping gesture, and spoke up: “This here is Mr. Chuck Bannerman, ladies, a bonafied grease monkey from way back.” The girls all laughed, while Chuck wanted to slink into some dark hole and forget he ever thought up this hair blamed scheme.
“Well, well,” She said, satisfied. “I guess that means me and the girls will just have to comply. Right, girls?” They said in unison: “Right!”
“My name is Lucy Groomer, and these two gals are Judith Temple and Betsy Peabody.”
He bowed like a real gentleman and said: “I’m pleased to meet you, Ladies.” Then he handed her the hanky and told them that anytime they need gas or anything at all just to come on back by and he’d make sure they were taken care of.
That was the first time he’d set eyes on her. The next time he’d caught her all by herself late one night needing some gas, heading back to her dorm. He’d asked her out that time, just for a soda down at Watson’s Soda Fount of Main. She’d accepted. It’d been all down hill from there.
Of course her Dad hadn’t taken too kindly with his daughter going out with a grease monkey. He’d even tried to buy him off and send him packing. But Chuck had stuck to his guns, told the old man he couldn’t be bought. After that her Dad had taken him under his wing, given him a place in the oil fields. Taught him the trade, so to speak. That is till they’d found out about his background, his drunk father who’d beat his mother to death and almost done the same to him on several occasions. The boy lied for his father on the stand and he’d gotten off with manslaughter instead of the electric chair and spent several years in the State Pen up by Tuberville.
When he’d returned he’d not changed his ways much at all. Took up drinking and cussing and roaming as he’d always done, forcing his son to work the livestock and the help around the place. Then one night he’d run into a creosote pole – the phone company had recently put up, on the way home, busting his head wide open and cutting his neck to the juggler when he’d plunged through the windshield. They’d found him dead the next morning.
After that they’d felt bad for the young man. They’d allowed their daughter to marry him. Even let them take over the farm and move out there, given them their blessings, helped them out with some new equipment and kitchen supplies and enough money to make it through a few seasons.
Things were turning around for them. They’d had a couple of children, Toby and Elena. Everything was looking up. Getting better. He looked over at his wife, back at his kids and smiled. Yes, things were getting better, what else could a man ask for?
Joey grabbed the old mattress from the back of the pick-up so they’d have somethin’ to protect them when they slammed into the next vehicle; that is, if something went wrong and the other fellow didn’t swerve in time. They’d been sitting there a while chewing the shit, drinking the rest of the beer when another vehicle topped the ridge a mile away.
“There’s one now,” Fat Girl hollered, excited. “C’mon guys, hurry up!”
“Hold your horses, will you. Got to get things set just right. Okay!” They nodded at the driver, who seemed to know what he was doing.
“Now when I holler pull the mattress up and over out of the cage, got it?” Thin Boy looked at the two of them as if they were idijits… they were. He pointed to the area behind the seat where two rifles were locked up. “There, got it?” They nodded. “Ye, haw! Now we’re talking, let’s go…”
So they set off in the dark without any lights showing. The skinny driver figured to wait till they were right on top of them to turn the lights on so they’d have to react fast or be slammed. He didn’t tell the others that he hoped they’d plow right into that other car no matter what.
It was a moon-lit night or he’d of not seen the dark blob in the road ahead of him. It was strange looking, something he’d never seen before on this highway. And, he’d driven it a hundred times or better. Something wasn’t right, he felt it. He thought about slowing down, because whatever it was seemed to be getting closer as if it were moving at a high rate of speed.
Then when two light beams came on he realized it was a truck, and it was speeding right at him. All he could do was react, he tried to swerve right to the other side of the highway but too late realized there were some scrub oaks that way so suddenly shifted back to the left which would have plunged him immediately into a gully about four or five feet down and across. So instead he turned back and slammed on the breaks, hoping the other driver would swerve out of the way knowing he had no maneuvering room at all.
The driver didn’t swerve…
At the funeral, everyone, even the First Methodist preacher looked haggard as if the whole affair were some kind of horrid joke. The preacher, who usually had something profound to say, didn’t offer anything more than the basic set eulogy. He’d decided not to charge the family. He didn’t want to be there, but felt obligated to them for their support of the Church.
Everyone was in shock, no one wanted to say a thing. It was as if the world had just gone dark and meaningless for good. Words no longer held any solace. None at all. Everyone left the funeral home as quiet as they’d come in. At the graveside service the same routine. A few minimal words were said by the Preacher, and he left unable to say anything else, anything of comfort to the parents who seemed more like stone figures on a marble tomb than living flesh and blood. Their eyes were gray and empty, even the tears seemed to freeze in those eyes. Death had undone more that the dead this time. He shivered and turned away.
The next morning they’d found them all except the skinny driver of the truck. Dead. His friends, Joey and Fat Girl had been thrown clear out into the fields. The family had been thrown through their windshield onto the highway. Even the State Patrol and ambulance services had to turn their heads. It was a bloody mess.
Only the skinny driver was found wrapped up in the mattress snoozing away in the truck unharmed. The truck was totaled. Looked like it had flipped and rolled over so many times that the paint and all the chrome accoutrements were stripped clean off. The axles and tires were broken, and the frame twisted up like an accordion; even the rear end was missing, strewn metal cut into the asphalt like someone had taken a can opener and had a heyday; everything but the cab was a complete wreck. And, yet, the skinny boy had not only survived, but didn’t have no broken bones, not even a fucking scratch on him as if he’d been floating on a cloud like an angel.
The state patrolman and his partner asked him what he was thinking. Why he’d done it?
Thin Boy looked up, grinning from ear to ear, and said, “I saw it in the drive-in movie last week. They was playing chicken. It looked fun. I had to do it. It looked fun. And, by golly, it was… fun!”
One of the patrolmen sighed. The other just stood there blinking at the kid.
Thin Boy rose up out of that mattress naked as a jaybird, and said: “Boy howdy, I can’t wait to do that again next week. Anyone seen Joey and Fat Girl?”
One of the patrolmen cuffed him, saying: “Boy, where you’re goin’ you better pray to gawd you can find a friend; any friend at all.”
Thin Boy grinned: “Oh, don’t you worry about me none, I make friends anywhere I go. Chicken, anyone?”
Note: Back in the mid to late fifties kids used to dare each other and play a game called Chicken wherein they’d either bluff each other and drive old wrecks off cliffs and wait to the last minute to jump out; or, they’d actually run at each other head-on and see who would chicken out and swerve at the last second. Sometimes such idiot games were played on innocent unsuspecting people. This tale is of such a family and of such a psychopath…
One will remember James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause…
©2016 S.C. Hickman – Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
I had not thought death had undone so many.
-T. S. Eliot
I understood that from now on I belong to those who have ‘troubled the sleep of the world,’ and that I could not count upon objectivity and tolerance.
-Sigmund Freud, Letter to Ernest Jones
Tilly came to visit me again this morning. I was having a hard time adjusting. She told me it was like that for everyone at first. I wanted to say: “Not for me. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. I had a life, a good life. My work. My family, It was a good life; well, at least it was my life, and things were on the uptake, things were getting better.” But no, then this thing happened. Blam… alive one moment, and… well, you know the biz… sink or swim as they say. Well I wanted to keep on swimming. I’d grown used to it. Comfortable. Then this…
Maybe I should back up to the beginning…
“Only a cynic can create horror — for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.”
-Letter from H.P. Lovecraft to Edwin Baird
Maybe I should’ve realized then that my life was going nowhere fast, but as in everything I did I tried to hide that fact from myself. I’d get up, shower, shave, put on a decent gray suit and black tie – the usual invisibility shell I’d been using for years. I’d enter work and smile my masked smile, joke with the guy in the cubicle next to me – Frank was him name, I believe? – for a few minutes; and, then I’d go into my own cube as if it were a monastic cell and shut the rest of the world out of my mind for the rest of the day.
I’m not sure when I noticed things were beginning to change. It wasn’t like I could see a physical difference in the objects around me. I didn’t. It was more a feeling – a vague one, at that. It’s like those strange moments when you catch a glimmer of something out of the corner of your eye, but it is moving so fast that by the time you turn to see what it is – it’s gone, poof. Then you have to ask whether it was just your overactive imagination; believe me, you don’t want to go there, but we’ve all been there – haven’t we?
Then there was the clock on my desk. After all these years – I noticed it. Not that I hadn’t noticed it before. No. I looked at it all time, looked at the one on my computer, looked at the one up on the office wall above Judy’s cube. Time was a preoccupation with me. No. This was different – it wasn’t so much about looking as hearing. Suddenly I kept hearing the tick-tock of the clock over and over and over again to the point I had to stop it or else. I picked it up and slammed it down as hard as I could on the desk. It seemed to stop, or at least it wasn’t as noisy. Then I thought to myself: “What am I doing, this is sheer lunacy?” So I picked the clock up examined it carefully to see if the crystal was cracked or the facing scratched, wound it back up and locked it away in my drawer and left it there.
I remember going to the lavatory for a few minutes. I wasn’t gone that long at all. When I returned there it was – the clock. Sitting there on the desk as if I’d never put it away. A friend had given it to me years ago as a gift. She said it was a rare item. A one of a kind. She’d found it in one of her travels to some country of the Far East. She didn’t remember where. Said it came with a curse; or, at least that is what the shop owner had told her. They’d both laughed at such antics. He told her the clock once belonged to a Princess of ancient China. That a famous toy and clock maker had made it especially for her, and that it was built to keep her alive as long as she took care of it – and, didn’t anger it. It was said that the Princess kept the clock safe for years and years, that she’d put it in an alcove just above her bed where it kept time to the Dragon never yielding to its flames. That is until she fell in love with a young Prince.
The Prince had moved her to his palace and she’d brought her dowry and her clock with her. Everything had gone on fine for many cycles of the turning wheel of time, but then a day came when the Princess had accidentally discovered her lover, the Prince, in the arms of another woman. She’d been so enraged she’d come back to her quarters and begun shredding everything, her clothing, her art, her furniture, her bed, until she came to the object she valued most in her life: the clock. She knew of the curse, and she knew she wanted to get back at the Prince. She picked up the device and without thinking she threw it from the balcony of her room onto the rocks and sea far below.
From that day forward the Princess became ill and a few days and weeks later, even after the Prince had called in the best and brightest doctors, sorcerers, witches, and ancient necromantic seers: she died of unknown causes in an excruciating form – she turned to jade, to stone. The Prince so distraught over the death of his beautiful lover felt there was some ancient curse upon his House. He summoned all his soothsayers and wise men to discover the problem; and they told him of the old toymaker’s clock, and of this man who had loved the young Princess from afar, but due to his age and station in life could only offer the one thing he had to give – the promise of immortality. The clock held the ancient powers of chaos and creation within its mechanical works, a magickal device of cunning and sorcery that bestowed the semblance of life for a price; that price being the dark and terrible secret of death itself which would extol a malignancy upon those who betrayed its confidence. For those who betrayed the device it meant becoming a living death in stone; an immortal statue of jade within which one would be aware for all eternity.
The Prince had the old toymaker and all of his clocks summoned before him. The old man was forced to share the story of his corruption and of the device. The Prince entreated him to break the spell upon the Princess, to release her from her living abomination. But, sadly, the toymaker said this was beyond his power; that the daemon of the clock held the power, and that only it could release her. The Prince angered beyond his young years had without warning slid his katana out and swiftly sliced the head off of the toymaker. He’d wrapped the clock up – which had reappeared after his lover’s mutation in her jade hands – and wrapped it in the old man’s shawl and floated both down the Yellow Yangtze River. That was the last anyone had heard of the clock and its tale till the shop keeper’s great uncle who’d been a traveling merchant had found it and the slain toymaker in the river. The clock seemed such a wonderful object that the old merchant had scooped it from the dead man and hidden it among his things. The merchant had a dream that night and the old toymaker had come to him and told him the tale of the clock and of its curse, that anyone who angered it would surely die as it would die at the appointed hour of the tiger: absolute zero. There and only there did time stop, and freeze into nothing; to remain there throughout all eternity along with its victim alone with the daemon of the clock.
The shop owner Pooh-poohed such old wives tales, said it was just one of those tales to tell your children on a late night when the moon was dark, and the owls and mice in the rafters were hooting and pattering. And, yet, she’d felt a little uneasy about it later, even made sure she wrapped the clock up safely and stowed it away in her traveling chest nice and tight. By the time she’d arrived back home after her journey she’d forgotten all about it. Until she’d given it to me, along with the unnerving tale of Princesses and demons and owls and mice and dark moons and curses.
As I sit here listening to Éliane Radigue’s Triptych Trilogie de la mort, the droning of the waves slashing sonically, the winds riding the capped plunge of an acoustic universe, the hum of throbbing black noise hovering like a ghost in the shadows – the coming and going of some forgotten electrical footprint in my mind, I think about when it all ended. Did it really end? Did I imagine it would be this way? Didn’t we all think it would be something else, something different? As if difference meant not the Same? But of course we were all wrong. But isn’t that the way of thought, error prone, full of blanks, believing one could actually gain a foothold on reality? Find in the gaps, those cracks in time a way through to the Real? As if language and being truly were one as Parmenides hoped. But that’s the drivel of an old man’s brain, less than nothing; inconclusive. An oscillation in the void between two poles of indecision, when the brain in its blind process calculates one’s desires like a master magician, guides one toward the appropriate door, nudges one to make the inevitable choice, the only choice available, reckoned? Then it happens, the unexpected. The thing not looked for, because it was unknown, and even unthinkable, ineffable. Pulsating, speed-death, the circles, eddies, the vibrating air… I hear it now, haptically – the nervous irradiating force of the abyss. It envelopes me now; it’s palpable. I thought I would be gone by now? The ringing, as if the planets were clamoring against space, empty space. Can that be? Is there sound in the great desert of the emptiness? They say it’s already over, the apocalypse, like an event long expected that finally arrives, an unexpected guest; maybe even like a country exiting into its own bleak past, trying to recapture a way of life, a way back into its primal youth, looking for a truth it lost along the way. Like a child dancing on the edge of the sea, in the waves, her dark hair tremulous and free in the salt-spray wind. But its all too late for that now, we’re too late for that, we who waited too long to act, to do anything… now we all sit here in the dark listening to the dark sing.
– S.C. Hickman ©2016 – Prose Proems
Bethany came home today. I thought it would all be fine, she is to all intents and purposes the spitting image of my wife. Yet, something is missing, something I just cannot put my finger on. Oh sure, her memories are perfect, her voice – the lisp, her little idiosyncrasies: the way she holds her head, the lifting of her hand, the way she stops in the midst of a sentence – as if in thought, then laughs; it’s all there. Yet, when we touch, when I reach over and kiss her lips, it’s as if they were the lips of a stranger, of some other woman. It makes me feel strange.
I asked the doctors about it and they assure me that this is all normal, the way it should be. They insist I should just take it a step at a time. Day by day things will fall in place, her old self will come through as if by magic.
* * *
It’s been three weeks now, and I’m even more ill at ease. She seems to repeat her stories, seems to be stuck in an record or old memories as if she couldn’t think of anything new to say. She wanders around the house almost sleepwalking, puttering, mumbling, trying to figure something out in her mind that she just can’t seem to comprehend.
She looks at me sometimes as if she doesn’t recognize me, as if I were someone from her past, but that she couldn’t quite grasp who. She’ll come up to me and gently touch my face, feel my skin, explore my nose and eyes, my ears; touch my Adam’s apple as if in doing this she might grasp some intangible memory of desire., a fleeting world of life that for some reason had fallen away from her. Tears will come into her eyes then and drop onto her pale cheeks like angels condemned to some forlorn world they’ll never be able recognize nor escape.
* * *
Today she smiled. It was the first time she actually put on a dress. Said she wanted to take the children to the zoo. It was wonderful.
But when she returned she was crying, and the children seemed cold and indifferent. I sent them to bed. I asked her what happened. “I couldn’t remember how to drive, John.” She ran off to the bedroom and locked the door.
I slept on the couch.
* * *
We went to the movies to see one of her all time favorite stars. She sat there silent through the whole film. She didn’t laugh or cry once. She even forgot to eat her popcorn. I’m beginning to think something is wrong. But what? On the surface she seems her old self. She plays with the children, rocks Lizzy and sings to her; and, with Joey she walks him through his lessons carefully and with patience. Her eyes seem almost to have the old fire. Yet, something is missing. What? There’s this void, this emptiness. She seems to be absent while present. Elsewhere.
* * *
Joey asked me something today that frightened me: “When’s mommy coming home, daddy?”
“Mommy is home, Joey!”
“No, no, daddy: I mean my real mommy, not this one.”
“What do you mean, Joey? This is your mommy, the only mommy you’ve ever had.”
“No, daddy, this one just looks like mommy, but she’s not. She’s someone else’s mommy.”
I wanted him to explain, but was afraid to inquire further and didn’t want to upset him. So instead I just told him that mommy would come home someday, but that he needed to pretend he loved this mommy for now. What else should I have told him?
* * *
Bethany didn’t go to work today. She stayed in bed all day. Said she wasn’t feeling well and that I should just leave her alone.
She didn’t want to see the children. I asked her why.
“Their not my children!” she said emphatically.
That’s when I called Dr. Cael.
* * *
He explained to me that it happened like this sometimes. Some people reject the idea of immortality, they just cannot accept an endless life of becoming other skins. It’s the strangeness of the skin that upsets them, they seem to be unable to make the crossing into reembodiment. Bethany cannot accept being a clone. She knows what she is and feels guilty for having cheated death, as if she were a zombie and not your young wife. She says she feels distant, cold – as if she was watching someone else’s life, not her own.
What do we do now?
There’s nothing that can be done, John. You have to let her go. She’ll find a new life, maybe even have children again. Meet someone else, but she has rejected her former life and cannot return. She has her memories, but she cannot have her former life. It happens, John. Why? It’s a mystery we have yet to figure out.
So what do I do? My children?
John, she is dead. Your real wife is gone, her ashes are right here. Do what you must. Take your children and see a priest or children’s therapist, work through it John.
* * *
I did. I worked through it. I finally met someone else. Her name is Judy. We love each other very much, and the children seem to get along with her beautifully. But there is a slight complication.
She is a clone, too. Should I tell the children?
– Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
Grumpus sat there eyeing the boy. The time of turning was upon him, and the boy would need every bit of knowledge the old man could muster into him if the boy was to survive it. Even now the boy had no clue. The old man remembered the day he’d changed. Things happen in life and not always for the better, but nothing had prepared him for the turning. As a child his old man was mean and kept his nose to the grind, never speaking about the way until the day it happened. So when it did Grumpus was ill-prepared and went wild and rogue. But that wasn’t the half of it…
But all that was long ago, a time he didn’t relish remembering now. Only thing that mattered was that the boy would not go through such pain. He’d see to that come hell or high-water.
Grumpus felt the creep in him, knew his skin was turning wood, rough and leathery; his snout seemed growing longer with each passing year, and have more white hairs coming out of it than his horse Juju. Warts the size of June bugs were crawling and popping out skin-wise on nose and toes, especially around his eyes like black toads. His knees kept snapping and creaking in the mornings, and his fingers were not as nimble as they once were. His feet looked more like scrimps, roots full of pimples and growths as if at any moment he might burrow down into the earth and become a swamp oak. The simples Mrs. Degler fixed for him no longer did him much good. His gimpy eye hung low, the good one was beginning to droop slime. He’d rub the burn oak oils into his swarthy skin, hoping against hope his bones wouldn’t creak like some old reliquary’s tomb wood. But every time he walked now something seemed to click and clank as if he were a living drum pounding the world back into some iron age kettle.
He almost envied the boy. Wishing he was again his age. But that was all foolishness. His time would soon be over. He knew that. He even relished it like an old lover. Death would be his last love. She’d come quickly too when he gave the boy the dark gift.
“Come here, Shandee!” a mite too harshly.
The boy looked up, his sprite eyes almost ready to burst, full of foxfire. He stood up and walked over to Grumpus with a big grin on his face. “So what we doing?”
He knew the boy wasn’t ready. But he’d have to make do. “We got things to do today, you and I,” he spoke with a lisp, as if he didn’t even like using his mouth anymore. His tongue felt like a dried up plum, squirmy like it didn’t belong to him but was some kind of snake crawling around in there waiting to get out. The boy was getting tall now, and a little too scrawny; he’d have to put more carp and crocodile on the menu, more potato’s and some hog jawls and buttered turnips. Fatten the boy up. His eyes were strong and healthy, his shoulders broad and had a grip on him now like one of those swamp wrestlers. Boy was growing up. Mop of brown hair and strange blue eyes. Must’ve gotten those from that no good daddy of his. Sorry son-of-a… enough, he thought.
“You’ll see.” Grumpus knew he didn’t see; no one at his age could see such things coming.
He grabbed his knotty stick, coat, and hat stood up rubbed the boy’s thick brown mop of thick-laden hair, and said, “Let’s go!”
Outside the leaves and wind seemed almost ready, waiting on queue to start up and make the scene as hostile and eerie as could be. Autumn always seemed to have that flavor: burnt oranges, umbers, caked-dried earth, the scent of winter on the breeze; the river colder, darker, and the stones along the creek, wet and slippery. He felt a sudden chill, turned his collar up, took his bone pipe out and lit it up. The smoke seemed to drift round and round and up toward the meeting place as if it too understood what was about to happen.
Grumpus pulled his coat tighter and told the boy. “Follow me.”
As he turned he saw the boy, changing…
Note: Just snippet of a series of children tale I’m working on…
Background: A fusion of old European notions of the Wood-Elf and Ogre, Amerindian notions of Windigo, Skin Walker, Wechuge; Japanese notions of Jikininki; Hindu notions of the Rakshasa; and, even H.P. Lovecraft (Ithaqua: Wind Walker) and Algernon Blackwood’s Windigo all play in the background. The notion of the Wild Man or the legends surrounding the spirits of the wild places in resurgence, manifesting themselves through time even in an Age of Reason such as ours still plays heavy in movies, books, etc. We seem to have a fascination with the unknown, with the dark powers outside the human range of being. From Kant’s time on the realm of the noumena was closed off, and philosophers have lived handicapped in the realm of phenomena as if nothing else could be questioned, known, tolerated in the House of Reason. Yet, during the whole time of the early 19th Century when the Enlightenment was supposedly to take hold through science etc. we saw a great influx of the Gothic and Grotesque/Macabre aspects of literature and poetry in Coleridge, Poe, Baudelaire, some of the German Romantics, the Decadents, etc. All dealing with the darker aspects of human and inhuman forces. My aim is to make it come alive, to bring a language that truly awakens the imagination of an old evil presence that is at once intelligent and crafty, wise and full of that mischievous power associated with the tricksters from Coyote, Raven, Fox, etc. A sense of the Wood Elf. To situate it in a southern gothic mythology and physically implant it in that culture with echoes of all the aspects shooting out in concrete metaphor and metonymy.