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No matter where you go, there you are. Artwork by Josu Urrestarazu Garcia

She sat on the stoop and stared as I wrestled my suitcase through the door. Her eyes peered at me from a face swollen by a long night of tears and pleas. But she was silent now, clutching a cigarette like it was a life raft.

I hated when she’d smoked, but I could complain no longer. And as I reached the bottom step, turning to look at her again, she closed her eyes, pulling a long drag from the filter between her fingers and turned her head to the side. We’d said all that could’ve been said, twenty years of marriage rolled into a tight ball and tossed at our feet. But it still felt odd, leaving without a kiss.

“Goodbye, Marilla.”

Not a kiss. But I did always have to get the last word.

My own shaky voice rang in my ears as I walked down the shaded boulevard our house resided at the end of. A knot in my throat, the wheeled case behind me, a couple thousand dollars and a credit card was just going to have to be enough.

I could maybe catch a cab at the main road. I could’ve called for one, but something itched at the soles of my feet. The bite of freedom needed to be walked on. ‘Determined’ had not been a word used to describe me until late. But I had a dream and a pocket full of will. That would just have to be enough.

Marrie hadn’t understood this new creative ambition. An accountant is, after all, the general definition of boring. Honestly, I truly had been. Studying the news and stock markets with such intensity that I could never be bothered with hobbies or side business. So, when I sat on the bench in the back garden sketching and smoking my pipe every weekend throughout one summer, she’d thought it was a side effect of our recently empty nest.

One humid evening as she flipped through a magazine at the kitchen table, sipping on a glass of tea, I sketched her. She’d looked so soft and serene, and the resulting painting won me a display at a local gallery that autumn.

But when she saw the image, she crumbled.

“You’ve given me so many wrinkles. Why have you made me look so old and sad?”

She didn’t look old to me at all. Sad, maybe, as the loneliness of losing our children to adulthood had sagged against her from the inside, despite nearly nightly calls from our daughter and weekend visits from our son. But to me, that sorrow was beautiful. An attribute that can only be worn by a woman during the sunset of her life.

She forbade me from sketching her again. Refusing insistently and abusively, calling my talent ill-formed and amateur.

But I found willing muses then, in other venues.

The night before I left, I’d been unwilling to listen to her apologies. The longing for complete freedom to explore this new purpose gave birth to a vindictive cruelty of words that spewed from my lips as if I’d hated her. A year of hiding my work and lies curdled the adoration of her I’d held for decades. And the glory of retribution for her degradation of my art was addictive.

But as my feet fell into a soft rhythm on the concrete and the sun warmed my face, I felt the edge of my speech cut through my mind, the memory boomeranging back into me.

“You’ve stifled me for long enough. I am a man with art in my veins and I’m not sorry for ways I chose to bleed it out of me.”

Her voice cracked as she asked me how, who and when.

“Those women saw the gifts I offered them instead of the lines I painted on their faces. And the joy of their bodies in return might seem to you as my taking advantage, but I held them each in such reverence.”

The begging turned into convulsive sobs. But she was missing the point completely.

“Marrie, if you could only feel the pleasure of seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes, you would have never turned away.”

She’d sat at the end of our bed, gazing at the tissues in her hands.

“If you’d just explained. Carl, I could’ve-”

“No. I shouldn’t have to. You could’ve been my muse. You forced this upon us. Not me.”

It had been a cold thing to lay blame upon her, my righteous indignation at her ignorance giving voice to the devils of my conscience. Under the blaze of day though, my guilt sprouted wings and prodded me to look into the light.

On Ferry Street, I looked up to witness the broad colorful swath of a paraglider skimming through the crisp darkening clouds of October. Marilla adored such sights, and the desire to share it with her broke open inside my chest.

What had I done? Where was I going? Was I really so stubborn that I couldn’t draw her to please her or help her see the beauty within herself, as bright and expansive as that patchwork wing above?

A handsome young man in glittering white stood beside me, looking up and smiling.

“Wherever you go, there you are,” he said.

It was a mere whisper, but it vibrated through my skull like a gong. I turned toward him as recognition surged through my nervous system. I followed his gaze as he swiveled and his eyes fell on something in the distance, behind me.

A crowd was forming on the sidewalk I’d just stepped from. A frantic woman called for help. A teenage girl dialed her phone as she kneeled. A young man ripped open a coat…

My coat.

I sprung forward, stopping near the edge of the circle of strangers all gawking at the crumpled face I knew so well. The face of a stupid man who’d wasted the last night of his life breaking the heart of the only woman he ever loved.

“Aneurysm,” said the man in white with a lilt in his soft but booming voice. “Even if you’d stayed, you still would’ve died.”

I turned to face him, still feeling the weight in my hand of my wheeled case and now tasting the bitter plastic of my pipe pinched between my lips. The world around me faded into a whimsical scene, stalled as though captured on a canvas.

He strode away from me, up a road I wasn’t sure I was allowed.

He beckoned me to follow.

But all I wanted was to go back.

Irony

I know what you’re thinking. And yes, I’m one of those girls. The kind who wakes up in random places with random strangers and how in the hell do I never end up cut up in pieces in some guy’s freezer or chained to the hot water heater in his basement.

I could only be so lucky.

It was late August the last time I thought that about myself. I opened my eyes to a vicious sound, whining and rumbling in disharmonic unison that made images of my grandfather’s chainsaw pass through my whiskey clogged brain.

When I opened my eyes, the ever adorable Raina was standing at the kitchen counter dropping rocks into the bowl of her giant Kitchenaid mixer and glaring at me with eyes that could have set water ablaze.

My hands went to my ears as I shouted, begging her to stop.

She pointed to her ear, shaking her head as her mouth twisted upward at the corners. Raina’s smiles cost me a drop of my soul, every single one. But there was never any complaining on my part. She paid her own penance for being with me.

When I stuffed my thumbs in my ears and wrapped my fingers over my eyes, dropping my head against the back of her fuzzy futon, she threw one of the stones at my stomach and turned off the grievous machine.

“I don’t know why I put up with you, Krista.”

The wilted thorns in her voice told me I’d better get up. As I did, the room spun with waves of heat and black baubles of non-light making me wish I’d just keel over and die on the spot.

“Raina. Baby.” Another stone, smaller than the last, dashed across the coffee table and hit me in the thigh. “You’re gonna break something.”

“If it’s your face, I might be ok with it.” Her lips trembled with the ache of whatever I’d put her through. Don’t ask me what it was, I couldn’t have told you my name just then if she hadn’t said it.

I sighed, putting my hands up to simultaneously steady myself and signal the universal sign of surrender. “Then you really wouldn’t put up with me. My face is the only thing you like about me.”

Another twitch at the edge of her lips made my heart flutter.

There is lots of beauty in the world, but then there is a rare form of it that is so close to magic, you might not be able to distinguish the difference. Raina had the means to make you believe she flitted between the two like a fairy or angel or siren.

Most like a siren. There was just something dark and dangerous in those fiery eyes of hers.

But this time, the darkness bloomed. It took over the crisp sweet pleasure of her smile. With tiny explosions of thought visibly firing inside her mind, her features muddied into demonic fury. She held the large rock in her right hand and I swallowed hard, gazing at the mud that still clung to its surface and wedged deeply beneath the long white tips of her fingernails.

A surge of something cold and penetrating went through my spinal column, sobering me from root to stem as I stopped my quiet advance toward her and let my eyes waft back up to hers.

I knew I’d taken her for granted. I never told her how I loved her or made sure she felt it. I partied hard and plenty, letting myself become seduced by pretty boys and gruff girls in the toilets of bars or hotel hot tubs. I was 26 and I still thought I was invincible.

Raina was just a girl I was fucking. FWB. My last call.

The realization of my mortality that sticky, late summer morning made my life seem so wasted. So worthless. And as her fist rose in the air, I did not see the past flash before my eyes.

I saw every speck of dust sparkling in the late morning sunlight. I saw the drops of sweat on Raina’s forehead and collarbone. I saw kids across the street running through the spray of a lawn sprinkler. I saw Raina’s kitten with eyes wiser than they should have been watching the scene unfold before her as she perched on the top of the sleek silver curtain rod I’d helped to hang a hundred years ago.

I saw every single thing in the world around me, in slow motion, about to go on without me after the sharp, cold ridge of that rock slammed into my face. But I didn’t see the small stone she had thrown a moment ago sitting neatly behind my right foot as I stepped back away from her.

Holding my breath, milliseconds fell between us like those helicopter seeds that sift below the branches of maple trees in the spring. Her eyes widened and my foot fell awkwardly on something round and rough and out of place. I watched as the massive rock glided past my eyes, mere millimeters away and my frame lurched backward nearly parallel to the floor.

But only a breath before the back of my head skimmed over the solid oak edge of her coffee table.

When I opened my eyes to find her kneeling over me, crying and laughing in some superfluous symphony of irony, she was holding the tiny rock I slipped on.

“Only you, Krista. Only you.”

I’m baffled as to why, as it hurt my head when I began to laugh with her, but I did. I sat up, clinging to her as she dissolved in a fit of giggles before me.

“Where is your shoe?”

Through the tears in my eyes and the pain from the depth of my soul, I laughed even harder.

Because she was right.

Only I would lose a shoe and have it save my life.

 

Perspective

Polka Dots by melusine-la-fay via DeviantArt.com

“Three can keep a secret, but only if two of them are dead.” My dad had told me that once. It sounded smarter coming from his lips. And not nearly as threatening as it did in my head.

Bruce’s breath came out in a rush against the door to the bathroom. “Josie.”

He hadn’t actually mocked me. Rationally and logically, I know this. But crazy rarely pays attention to such things.

I hate that I take this all out on him. The mere implication of how those two girls always react to my presence, their giggles and whispers dripping with deceit and disgust, it nails me behind the bathroom door. It floods me with a jealousy that chokes out all sane thought and produces the intrinsic need to hide.

It doesn’t matter how much I trust him. I don’t trust THEM. And the knowledge that he spends every day, alone in tight quarters, with women who were cut out of magazines and pasted into his life for pretty much no other reason than to actualize my self hatred, it’s too much for this broken girl to take.

A gentle thud on the wood makes me close my eyes and mimic his likely stance. Foreheads pressed against each side of a bathroom door that has separated us far too many times. His voice is simultaneously muffled and amplified by the position of his lips which I imagine grazing the surface of the tan paint as he speaks.

“There’s no one else who could even hold a candle to you, Josie.”

The pinch of those words travels right to the center of my forehead. That place that makes tears eminent and rips right down through my heart and guts and soul.

There is no believing those words.

“I don’t even know how to compare you to other girls. I can’t even imagine wanting anyone else.”

I do. I can. I am plain and pudgy and gravity has stolen anything that might have been desirable about me long ago. They are beautiful and sexy and pert. Oh how I hate that word.

“Not a Victoria’s Secret model or those dumb girls I work with.” His voice is gruff, filing down the last words to wood shavings and casting them aside like garbage. “Especially not the two of them.”

A lifetime of self hatred boils up through my chest, escaping in silent sobs that wrack my upper body and steal my balance. I steady myself with both hands pressed on the hollow core door. But instead of holding me up, it disintegrates like a wall of dust.

I free fall as though everything around me was nothing more than smoke. The spiral is deep and dark, rushing through my ears and somehow constricting every inch of my body at the same time.

Closing my eyes to the furious spinning, I feel the door against my fingers again, as well as the solidity of the floor beneath my feet. The vertigo releases me as quickly as it chomped down.

But everything feels different.

Eyelids squeezed shut, I exhale and push myself back from the door. My center of gravity is off, my heart feels heavier and louder against my ribs, and my chest itself feels constricted from within. Bigger somehow, but tighter. I take a deep breath, filling an expanse of lungs that makes my eyes pop open.

As they focus, I’m on the wrong side of the door. The other side of the door. The tan paint marked with the oil of where my forehead just rested, except it should be on the white side. And much lower.

I take another step back as the handle turns and the door swings open.

She stares up at me. Shy, flirty smile budding on her soft, pale mouth. Lips that always seem to carry the tiniest pout below the most adorable nose that fits her face just perfectly. Her hand rises to sweep back the silky strands of hair that fall in her face whenever she looks down. But when she looks up, her oceanic eyes rimmed with long, black lashes, painted by expert hand, watch me expectantly.

The delicious curve of her breasts, which lift and press against the sweetheart neckline of her red polka dot dress makes my mouth flood with saliva. The hourglass dip of her waist and thrusting curl of her hip beneath the satiny bow fogs my mind so that I can hardly force my gaze further down to the arc of her calves.

I swallow against the feeling that fills my chest. It’s like warm soup, how a look can somehow give you a hug and a kiss and wipe away all your complaints. But the feeling doesn’t stop in my chest. It sinks and swells, burning hot and bright and full in my groin. I crave her like a beast hungers for it’s prey, but at the same time, I long to cradle and care for her like she is fragile.

My mind can’t quite wrap around what it is that I’m experiencing, and there isn’t time to contemplate it. I simply must convince her just how wholly and completely beautiful she is. That it’s impossible for me to notice other women because, when she is near, even in thought or memory, I am simply engulfed with desire to kiss her.  To touch her. To hold her.

I take her hands, or she takes my face, or some cosmic force magnetizes us until our bodies are touching and I feel exactly what it is for a man to want a women so completely that his body takes over the thinking.

As his lips meet mine, the spiral stops for real, and my eyelids spring open.

Behind my own eyes now and watching his face from the correct perspective, I am frozen in his arms. His lips tasting of all the love I just felt and his hands preparing for the task of forcing me to feel it.

No other women get to experience that. Only I do.

“Please, Josie. I’m so-”

I hold a finger to his mouth, tracing the soft, full curve of his lower lip before looking deep into his clear but heated gaze. The words he wants to say pour from his fingertips as they pull me tighter against him and grip me there like he cannot allow me to escape.

“They are beautiful, Josie, I don’t deny that. But you are a sunset. Compared to you, they are the dry desert surface of the moon.”

I know it’s crazy. That no amount of affirmation could ever make me see myself as he does. But even after feeling it first hand, it’s difficult to believe myself worthy.

But it’s easy to believe he wants me. To see the beauty he sees in me. To feel the physical representation of that affirmation.

So, I guess I’ll hold off on killing those girls just yet. You know, now that I have some perspective.

 

Beneath

ramada
The Ramada Plaza Hotel of north Columbus, closed in 2015

I’d heard the rumors. Some of the guys on the force think it’s funny to try to scare the female officers. But, I would say, after seventeen years of experience, women police are far more difficult to rattle than male.

We probably have more fears than our male counterparts, but we simply cannot show them.

Dan was trying to bait me, no doubt. Our afternoon assignment was to clear out the squatters in the abandoned Ramada Plaza hotel. The property owners had security, but once a month, they’d ask for a sweep. And we drew the short straw that day.

“Patterson, code 4.”

The hotel was supposed to be on a low-use power setting, operating hallway lights, exit signs and the fire system 24/7. But even this seemed to be faulty, as I exited the 2nd floor and jogged down the steps in the dark, my feet spotlighted by my Maglite.

“Please answer me.”

My ears rang with the bang of the door behind me as I exited the stairwell and jogged over the matted, thick carpet between peeling wallpaper and doors marked with large, gold plated numbers in the one hundreds. My whispered pleas where only met by the squelching of the carpet beneath my shoes.

“Officer Patterson, please respond.”

The crackle from the two way echoed through the first floor hallway. No power on this floor either. I stopped and started to close my eyes. But the silence around me begged for my full attention.

He’d said we should stick together, but I wanted to get in and out and had felt the vile, moldy stench infecting my uniform before we were even inside. No one in their right mind would sleep here, breathing normally was impossible.

I thought we’d be out in fifteen, so I’d decided to split up.

But as I had kicked around crack pipes and used condoms in my twentieth empty room, there was a laugh through the two way, a gasp and a sigh. Then, complete silence.

Half an hour later, I wished I’d listened to his sorry, lazy ass.

“Dan, please. If this is a prank, it’s over. I’m calling for back up.”

I stood at the front of the damp, putrid lobby, praying for his laugh to bark through the speaker at my shoulder.

But the only sound I heard was my own breath. And the pop of electricity as the lobby, too, went black.

Reeling into the daylight felt like being born. The front door swung open so easily, I half expected to find Dan standing by the cruiser, eating one of those God awful protein bars his vegan wife makes for him.

But the car was empty.

I fought back tears as I sat in the drivers seat. Pressing insubstantial buttons on the laptop screen, stomach acid rising in my throat and my skin itching with some combination of the late summer heat and the layer of mold spores that must be invading every pore. I could not give myself the opportunity to second guess. It had been nearly an hour.

“Better not be fucking with me.”

I cleared my throat and took a deep breath, closing my eyes to the setting sun glaring across the windshield.

“Tango Echo, officer needs assistance at 4900 Sinclair.”

I waited, an odd light grabbing my attention from behind the glass inside. Green and hollow, like a hot air balloon, but as it grows brighter, I’m fascinated by it. I stand and move toward the door, the dispatcher’s voice chirping over the call, asking me to repeat. The sun seems to be setting too fast.

Stopped, halfway to the door, I felt the ground beneath my feet shudder. The vibration was electric in it’s intensity, invading my skin, penetrating my tissues right through to my veins and nerves.

My vision swam, the light changed, became all I could see.

It is twenty three steps to the door.

I know this because I fought my own feet for 22 of them.

I heard the sirens blaring up the highway that zoomed across the back of the hotel. My puppeteer maneuvered my body as though I truly was held up by strings. I couldn’t stop staring at the light. I wanted to be in it. Under it.

I needed to.

When I found him, in the center of the basement, the light pouring from his pores, I understood why.

But by then, it was too late.

 

 

 

Flower in my pocket

I slipped it in there to hide it from sticky fingers and perplexed glances. It was a greedy gesture, sure. But it’s not for them. 

It’s mine. 

It pokes through the fabric lining a few times, digging into the skin of my thigh. But it isn’t painful.

It’s a thrill. 

An injection of femininity. A sharp reminder of the girl I leave behind so often. A symbol of the self I long to set free. 

I reach into my pocket to feel it’s faceted petals and silvered leaves. I hold it in my hand, letting the buzz of touching something so fine, so sweet rush through to the deepest darkest places that need it so desperately. 

She stands about twenty feet away, a gorgeous girl, fingering a strand of beads and wearing a self satisfied grin. The kind I would wear, if I’d only chosen a dress, if I’d only worn the kitten heels, if is only slipped that flower in my hair. 

It’s me. 

As I glide it from my pocket, watching the light catch the pastel ovals to make glittery lights sprinkle across my skin, I stop thinking. 

I let it find its way into my hair, and the buzz turns into a high. Wings of sparkling daisies glinting in the sun of my imagination, lifting me and my mood, brightening the world all around. 

“Oh, how pretty!”

It’s only a barette. 

But sometimes, the little things are so much more. 

Future

Family-Foods by KyleAndTheClassics via DeviantArt

It was so dark that night that the lightning bugs looked like flashbulbs. As we drove north on AB-2, the highway was littered with stopped cars and lifeless bodies. And the static on the radio was too deafening to keep seeking through.

Shannon’s hands were so cold that I had turned the heating on, despite the mild July evening beyond the Chevy’s windows. I held my fingers over her wrist, her pulse was fast and her breathing slow. My mind felt like a glass ornament, crackling into fragments before it would eventually shatter beneath the pressure.

As we approached Calgary, there were still no sign of life except the occasional firefly. The draw to this unknown place made no sense. Yet I knew, if I could reach it, everything would be alright.

I checked my phone as I passed a billboard for the MRT Family Foods, lit up like a homing beacon. I don’t know why I kept checking, it had shown the map and nothing else for hours and hours. Not even the time. It must’ve been close to 10pm.

Shannon had called me from her office. “Glenn, honey, oh thank God.” Her voice held the kind of throbbing shrill that made you pull the phone away from your ear. “Everyone is lying on their desks or the floor, unconscious.”

I was working beneath a 1958 Olds and had to slide out to hear her properly through the chunky, digital static that I’d grown to hate. Cell coverage in my shop had always been a joke. “Baby, you aren’t making sense.”

The sound was so garbled, I had to step outside to hear better, but the call dropped and before I could even dial her back, half a dozen people strewn across the parking lot of the First Baptist Church caught my attention. Like they had been rushing to their cars, but just… died.

I went back inside to ask Mike what he’d heard, but he was out cold. He was breathing, but his pulse was slow. The DJ on the old Memorex radio said, “…reports from all over,” but then he was gone too, along with the power. The phone in my hand proved as useless as a paperweight, but I still stuck it in my shirt pocket, climbed in my ’57 Chevy pickup, and made my way down Marias so I could get to Shannon.

The signs of life downtown were few and far between, and when I reached the US Bank parking lot, my phone buzzed and screeched, sounds I didn’t know it was programmed to make, then as I took it out of my pocket, it lit with a nearly radioactive glow that almost seemed to mist out and land on my skin before displaying a navigation map from the bank parking lot I stood on to Calgary, AB in Canada.

It was hot against my fingers, but I was paralyzed against dropping it. Like a silent, siren’s song beckoning me to follow it’s command, I heard it without hearing. And then I felt it, without feeling.

I gripped it back, as it gripped me, and ran inside to find Shannon on the ground just inside the front door.

Whatever this was, it needed me awake.

It was about a four hour drive, from Shelby to Calgary. But with cars dead in the road, and the boarder blocked from so many angles. It must’ve been six hours later when I reached the exit for 19th Street.

I’d seen two other cars approaching the lot from the other direction, and when I pulled in, the store was lit up like Christmas. The appalling darkness of a city so big but so completely dead made the store feel like home.

“I got here at 5. Cleared the lot to make space. I really don’t know why,” Tony approached me, his phone glued to his hand. I don’t know how I knew his name.

“Cleared it? You moved the cars?” My voice held a depth that was usually reserved for pillow talk with my Shannon, dark and heady, thick with testosterone. I suddenly realized I was growing erect.

“And the bodies.” Our voices hung in the still air. I wanted to ask if they were dead, what he’d done with him, what had made him move them. But as I stared at him, I felt my own purpose seep into my skin like ocean air.

There were fifteen of us by midnight. All in classics. All with wives who had warmed when we reached the lot, but had not regained consciousness.

By then, I was as hard as steel pipe and felt the body of a much younger man inside my skin. It was invigorating and intoxicating. And the work we had all begun without any instruction or understanding continued to energize me, instead of wearing against my 57 year old bones.

Each new fella came in a classic car with a wife 10-20 years his junior, asleep in the passenger seats of those vehicles that lined the parking lot of that little shop as though we had communed for an auto show. But our work on the shop and it’s contents was as individual as our thumbprints.

I had stopped worrying about Shannon almost immediately. I knew she would soon be revived and would join me in the place that we were transforming. My skills with mechanics offered me a lead position along with two others whose specialties were in science and medicine.

Charles, Stan, Bernie, Don, Freddie, Dominick, Cecil, Henry, Virgil, Robert, Paulie, Kirk, Tony and I greeted Buck when he arrived, phones up, dicks hard, the bewildered look of Cub Scouts getting ready for their Arrow of Light. We knew each others names like we’d all grown up together. Buck was apparently our leader. We all knew it when he shook each of our hands, still acclimating to the surge of answers flowing into him from… well, us I suppose.

He instructed us to place our phones together on the ground of the thing we were machining inside the store. When they were laid in place, each screen went black, and once the 3×5 block had been created, they came to life in unison. One great white square.

It hurt to look at, but as we moved into a circle around it, Buck began to explain things, looking as though it was a great effort to do so. I understood immediately why, as the last to arrive, he was made the top dog simply out of necessity. He needed every drop of energy to receive and translate the information he was getting. From what, I did not quite understand.

Buck’s wife was the first to rise, then Tony’s. One by one, they came over to us, leaving trails of their clothes as they did. Shannon was the last, the oldest I guess, and when she joined us, the women undressed us as well.

Buck continued to speak, eyes closed and appearing to be pained by the effort. “The future is bleak. The men of this world have allowed themselves to be woefully misused and taken for granted. Fifteen men from fifty sectors of the planet have been chosen to remake that future.”

Cindy led the women to the left of their husbands, positioning them on the knees, looking up into the eyes of their men. Shannon’s were filled will the admiration and respect they had always held for me. I welled with pride at the understanding of exactly what the machine we were building was to become. And why this store had to be the site.

Buck, somehow a conduit for something I could not understand continued his speech about our paths and our ideals. That the fallout would only remain for five years, in which time we were to procreate as much as possible in the bomb shelter built beneath this fascinating place. Stocked with supplies, vitamins, plants and the machine we were creating would withstand the blasts and power the shelter for at least those five years.

The future came seventeen days later and took everything from this planet.

Everything but us, and those who were chosen in the other forty nine communes across the planet.

The air was always sweet. We understood this was a gift from the future. Something that would nourish our bodies beyond what food and vitamins could provide. It kept the women young, soft and supple and the men strong and hard. My hair was growing in black again and I was able to make love to my wife like I had never had the authority to do before. But more than that, we were a collective. And as we all accepted this as our reality, our beds were more suggestions than assignments. And sex became something integrative and without gender. 

Tony was my first. He and his wife shared a bunk with Shannon and I, and we found ourselves in primitive knots of thrusting, sucking, coiled jubilation that I would have never believed to be so rewarding.

We were the new Romans. And this bomb shelter was our Eden.

Buck was the only man who did not benefit from the gift of the future. The weight of his purpose meant long hours writing in notebook after notebook. Shannon shared a pillow with him one night. They talked and fondled one another, but he told her that he couldn’t release a drop. As good as is felt, he had to remain whole.

His wife then took the seed of all of us in a way that led to no one knowing who’s had won out. Buck was an amazing father, too. Despite having no biological stake in those babies.

Shannon became pregnant within three weeks, despite our struggle to have babies for the fourteen years prior to that awful, wonderful night. We are expecting our third now, as the five year anniversary wakes us with the sweet, bubbling call of two dozen babies and toddlers.

It is finally time.

Buck, having aged fifteen years in five, stands at the hatch door.

The lights on the machine visible from the window.

“We are all green, friends. Who would like to see the sun?”

 

 

Image courtesy Family-Foods by KyleAndTheClassics via DeviantArt

Vows

image

The sky rumbles. Villainous chuckles of fate superceding dreams, as I waited, willing the sky to cooperate but grateful for the taught canvas above my head.

The tent had meant borrowing against my 401k, but I’d been unable, or more unwilling to deny her the dream her first husband and lack of parents had refused her. A wedding, after all, is the most important day in a woman’s life.

One of them, I hoped.

It was an impressive sight. Forty feet wide and twice as long. Stillwater was the tent style. Or manufacture. I hadn’t been privy to all the details, only the rental invoice. I remember my stomach lurching when the pretty, strawberry blond printed our final order in the glamorous two story rental showroom after an hour of picking our tent, lighting package, table shapes and sizes, chairs and dishes and fabrics and colors. My head was still swimming, seven months later.

But rain did mean the garden ceremony would be moved into the house.

Thunder might mean we shouldn’t be under the massive tent as well. The installers had provided some warnings.

I ignored the memory prickling in the back of my mind.

Nothing would stop this day.

My phone buzzed, and as I fished it from the inside pocket of my tux, a second message was coming through.

I have handled the disjointed frustration of my mother who had wanted a doctor, but had raised an accountant. I’d dealt with the sadness of my college sweetheart when I’d said I didn’t want to marry her. I’d even muscled through the violent hatred of my first fiance when I realized she was never going to be mother material.

But Jenna’s disappointment was something I knew would crush me.

Please save the peonies
We could line the hearth, couldn’t we?

My smile made my eyes close. I loved this women with a fury that caused a simple text about flowers to give me a hard on.

The flowers had been the only thing she could pay for, and she’d made every penny count. I didn’t get the fuss, but the way her face had lit up when we walked into that florist made understanding a frivolous thing.

It took the wedding planner all of twenty seconds to come up with a plan for them, and as she took them from my sweaty hands, I glanced around for what catastrophe I might stave of next.

If only.

It’s truly amazing how dark the world can become with heavy cloud cover. A summer storm is not an odd thing in July. And even as the wind picked up, I refused to worry.

Jenna was the most beautiful bride I’d ever been privy to see. Even as she bent over my punctured chest, rain smudged and tear stained, the shimmery white fabric of her dress wicking blood from the wound like tissue paper absorbing watercolors. She was exquisite.

I stood and watched her, rain pelting in from the side of the splintered tent.

I didn’t feel the lightening strike. I didn’t hear the snap of the pole at my back. I didn’t understand what had made my knees buckle as I turned around and watched myself fall.

I just kept practicing those vows we’d written.

Nothing would stop this day.

Fourteen Years – a drabble, 100 words

Bloody Knife by WhiteEyedFrog
Bloody Knife by WhiteEyedFrog via DeviantArt

It took more force than I’d expected. The blade was sharp, but even with my full strength behind it, I barely got four inches in.

That was enough. As he fought against it, it sliced deeper, and vibrated with each sinewy centimeter. He scratched and clawed at my arms, my neck, but I clung to the wooden handle, slick with the warm, wet life oozing out of him.

The air was thick and acrid, so I held my breath.

There was very little life left within me anyway.

I had died a little every day for the last fourteen years.

Secretary

There are billions of people on earth, and at least a third of them live their whole lives without being known. People know their names and faces, but their heart and their soul? They keep those hidden.

The idea is privacy and protection. At some point, most people un-brick the walls and pull back the curtains for some special person who, typically, does the same. Intimacy begets a connection that can be joyous and nurturing.

It also allows someone close enough to truly know you. And therefore know exactly how to hurt you.

Some people have been marked by the devastation of those moments where it all goes wrong. Sometimes, at their own revealing. Sometimes, by proxy. In youth, we learn directly through the experiences of our parents and siblings, as much as our own.

Those who have seen that damage refuse to let anyone in. They hole themselves up forever inside their own mind. And every so often, that buffer between them and people around them becomes a tool and their ability to repel the pressing need for intimate bonds becomes a skill.

In a few rare cases, that skill becomes something else entirely.

She was one of those few. And probably one of the strongest to possess it.

I was none of the above. Or, at least I believed I was.

Brian’s business had started as a joke between friends in college. The kind of joke that leaves you reeling when, five years later, he is one of the top 100 Most Successful Men in America under forty.

I was the kind of friend no one ever expected to amount to much. Not that I couldn’t or wouldn’t be successful, but my heart was too soft, my mind too open. My one and only skill was knowing if an idea was good or bad. That joke had been Kristy’s idea. And when I said it would work, the laughter was all but unanimous.

Seeing the business value in having someone like me around, Brian made me a partner. I got the deciding vote on new endeavours, and, in exchange, he got the deciding vote on everything else.

In the wake of the recession that shook the globe, we didn’t fold, but sought to give the world a reason to buy our product over others. Years before, I’d told him that I’d like to start a non-profit, at some point, because I never felt comfortable making a fortune knowing how many humans were starving. He recalled this, in the summer of 2008, and devised a means of donating a portion of every sale to a charity of our creation, therefore marketing the company to the masses as a business with a noble purpose.

The process was complicated and Brian had to keep me in check often, reminding me of financial reality and dismissing me whenever I got carried away talking about the people we helped.

“Fuck, Marc. Do you really think I care about this shit? It’s not about them, dude. It never was. It was a marketing ploy. An amazing one.”

“But, we are really making a diff–”

“Save it for a speech. Let me enjoy my beer.”

I lost myself to it, ignoring the stories and lives of those around me, focusing solely on the next mission or gift or cause or fire that Brian would allow me to throw myself into.

And then came Katrina.

Our friend Paul, who’d been a writer for the Times when everything went sideways, had been handling phones, press relations and travel. But got ball-and-chained and moved across the country. I had to hire someone, and fast. The phone is not my friend.

She came highly recommended by several political campaigns and was a personal assistant for a year for someone whose identity she wasn’t allowed to divulge. I later discovered it was a CEO in one of the major banks, but that was as much as she would admit. Nor would she say what had happened.

I was sure she’d be perfect before she’d even opened her mouth. Introducing Katrina to Brian was the kicker. He got to decide on everything else, remember.

Yes, he’s my best friend. But he can be a monster when it comes to women. He’d cast a nice wormy hook, and if she took the bait, that would be the end of it. She’d get fucked, and so would I. Warning her put me in the precarious position of admitting all of that.

“Brian is very… I’m not sure just how to say this.”

Crossing the street, I noticed her shoes. She’d worn heels to interview with me, but now she was in flats.

“Please Marcus. I’ve been doing this since I was fifteen. I’ve brushed off men at every job, without making them feel brushed off. I do my research. I know how to dress to dissuade attention without making it obvious.”

As we reached the restaurant, she stopped me with her hand on the inside of my elbow. Her smile was coy and sweet as she looked up from beneath her lashes. I hadn’t noticed her eyes before, but now I couldn’t break from her gaze.

My entire body responded. Every hair seemed to reach for her. My pores wanted to drink her. My mouth watered to taste her and my blood pounded inside my ears. My cock swelled ferociously while my hands tingled with a wicked desire to touch her skin, feel her inside and out, bring her to orgasm until she couldn’t breathe. My stomach roiled from the intensity of it.

As she stepped back and laughed, my cheeks burned.

“I also know how to achieve it.”

Katrina rolled her shoulders and stepped up again with her fingers wrapped around the door handle. I swear, I felt the grip as if her hand was inside my shorts.

Then I sagged with relief as all of these sensations suddenly flitted away. Like I’d imagined each one.

“You hired me because I wanted you to. And Brian will love me but not desire me, because I don’t want him to.”

For a moment, I stood inexplicably still, caught with the heaviness of trying to recall something that did not want to be discovered. But as she grinned at me and motioned inside with a flick of her head, I thought I’d simply found Brian’s female equivalent.

We sat at lunch for over two hours. Katrina ran the meeting, making prolific notes and discussing her role between the company and the charity with a confidence that was impressive. Brian, unimpressible as he generally was, smirked at her as she closed her pad folio. I gritted my teeth at this sign of him preparing his fishing line.

But the smile she’d given in return burned up the moment like a laser. Then lunch ended without incident, and Brian actually congratulated me on such a great find.

So, I shrugged off my concerns and walked back to the office with Katrina, feeling pride and success. Accomplishment at finally having judged another human well.

Oh, the irony.

It was weeks before I thought about that moment in front of the restaurant again. But I started having surreal dreams that woke me with a raging hard-on and a splitting headache.

Who puts stock in dreams? They are just your subconscious way of processing your experiences. I tried to believe it.

And as we worked closely together, Katrina loosened a bit with me. But she was diamond hard with Brian. She never budged an inch when he was around. Which only strengthened my attraction.

I spent more and more nights, alone in bed, picturing those long, strawberry blonde waves, falling decadently over her pale skin which somehow looked impossibly delicate beneath the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose and soft curve of her chest. Her ocean green eyes peered up at me through thick lashes and her raspberry pink pout would break into a smile before she bit down on her lower lip.

The fantasies became so intense. Things I’d never considered before. I found myself in the restroom at least once a day with my cock in hand and visions of her swimming through my head, naked and writhing, struggling and screaming, moaning and crying. I thought I was losing it.

In important moments though, my thoughts and visions of her would dissolve and I’d be able to work. So I threw myself into it. Only, that just brought me near her more often. I found myself losing chunks of time occasionally. Opening my eyes to find 28 minutes gone, and my fingernails firmly dug into the armrests of my chair.

I was getting very close to making an appointment with a shrink.

Bun one afternoon, sat at my desk watching her, trying to figure out what was happening to me, she suddenly looked up and caught me staring through my open door. I watched her blow me a kiss before slouching down in her chair, hitching up her pencil skirt and spreading her thighs wide.

She sat at a table-style desk, open beneath, so I could see the lace of her panties between her legs. Sitting up uncomfortably, but unable to shift his eyes away, I watched her fingers wrap around her water bottle. Feeling the inexplicable pressure around my cock, I gasped loudly as she slipped her fingers into her panties below the desktop.

She lifted the bottle to her lips and swirled her tongue around the capped tip. I experienced it as if she were kneeling in front of me. She rubbed herself furiously, whispering for me to come take her, slipping her panties off and inserting the tip of that bottle into herself and working it in and out until my cock was about to explode.

It ended as quickly as it began when she was startled by the ring of the phone. She silenced it, before glaring at my fingers gripping the edge of my chair so tightly that my knuckles had gone white. The she slipped into the bathroom.

While she was gone, but I was cemented into my seat, I wrote down exactly what I’d experienced and slipped the page into my jacket pocket before she returned.

It was 11pm that night when I read the page that I found, quite by surprise.

I didn’t remember any of it. Not even writing it.

But my fantasies of her that night were even more vivid than ever before. And when I woke, sweaty and thrashing around on my mattress, still feeling her clenched around my rigid cock, I decided to start writing everything down. Everything I could.

Almost a year passed. Very little was written.

She stood in my doorway with her hair piled into a bun and wearing that blouse that was meant to drape, but clung instead, begging to be ripped from her then used to violently restrain her so that she could be used and pleasured. It mocked me, that fucking blouse.

I glared at her. But she smiled.

“You are a tough shell to crack, Marc.”

Trying to look away, I didn’t trust my ears. Months of visions and dreams had blurred together with moments that couldn’t possibly be real. I had come five times that day already, but hadn’t released a drop of semen. I didn’t want to look at her, but she never gave me a choice.

She sashayed through the door and dropped a sheet of paper on my desk.

“I’m giving my notice.”

I continued to stare, carefully grinding my teeth to prevent myself from speaking. I still couldn’t be sure this was real. Or a trick. I have no idea what would’ve happened if I’d ever let go. And I’m still not clear on the why.

“I hope you’ll provide me with a glowing reference.”

It wasn’t really a request, I felt her attempting to implant the words inside my brain. It was the worst part. Knowing, but not knowing.

I had resorted to communicating with her solely by text or email, working from home as often as possible, and with my office door closed when I was there. It had become my life goal to evade her. To prove to myself that I wasn’t insane.

Or that I was.

“You don’t need to stay two weeks. If this is real, today should be your last day.”

I managed to drag my eyes away from hers to look at the page on my desk. It was a typical letter of resignation. I gripped the edge of the warm wood and waited for her to leave.

But she sniffed, making me look up.

“Why do you hate me? What did I do to make you hate me so much?”

My eyes grew wide as a tear slipped down the crevice between her nose and cheek.

My entire body flooded with the primal need to comfort and soothe her, make the tears stop. Tell her whatever she needed to hear…

But my mind caught the crest of that wave. Just the peak. Where there was still oxygen above it. Before she began inundating me with the visions of my arms wrapped around her, my nose in her soft, vanilla scented hair, my lips capturing hers.

I shook my head, hanging to the thread of belief that I would not and could not fuck her or something devastating would happen. I knew with every fiber of my being that touching her would be the end of me. And who knows what else.

“How can you be so cruel? You were so kind in the beginning, so sweet and funny and–”

I glared at her again, my fingernails digging into the desk.

“I may be cruel, Kat. But if I am, something made me that way.”

It was the first time my voice felt like my own in weeks. And at those words, something broke.

In her.

Between us.

And electrified me.

My thoughts were as clear and bright as they’d ever been. All of my memories returned to me, some of them so shocking, I wish they hadn’t. Her desire to make me take her had devolved her into something almost pitiable. Almost.

My desire for her had not waned, but the talons of it had shifted. I felt my fingers at the edge of the desk and flattened my hands over the top. I began moving my fingertips in small circles as her eyes grew and those beautiful lips parted.

She watched my hands as I felt her nipples beneath them.

Her breath came in shallow bursts as her her own fingers danced across the hem of her skirt.

Realization popped between us and I smiled at her. The fear I’d stomached for months glittered behind her eyes now, like fireworks. Her lips began to move, but no sound escaped.

“Is there something you’d like to say, Katrina?”

I felt the wave of anxiety roll off of her like a cool breeze.

The power of manipulation can be a disgusting thing. But in the right hands, perhaps it could be used for good. My mind filled with Robin of Loxley ideas. Would it work on men or only women, if I used it?

As Katrina kneeled in front of me and began to unbuckle my belt, I looked down into the oceanic eyes that had mesmerized me for so long. I could let her have what she’d wanted so desperately all this time. I could use her as she’d wanted to use me.

“No, no,” I whispered.

And as the last little strands of that incredulous gift made their way from her to me, I took her hand and helped her to her feet.

“There are better ways to use people, Kat.”

With my hand at the small of her back, and my lips against her ear, I told her to go home and do nothing.

“It’s your last day. Enjoy the freedom.”

I chuckled at the light in her eyes and the wrinkle between her brows that I’d never once seen in 12 months.

“I’ll call you, Kat.”

She licked her lips and I simply couldn’t help myself. Power is the best kind of revenge. I pictured her, perched on the arm of the couch, waiting for her cell phone to ring.

That freedom, perhaps, was not liberating at all.