Archive for: August, 2013

Intersentential Phenomena By D.A. Cairns

Aug 25 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

It was two in the morning. My ashtray was full, overflowing in fact and I was staring at it, watching the half finished and scrunched up butts transform into hideous looking little monsters whispering to me about my putrid lungs and the violence being done to my arteries.

It was very quiet, so quiet that the silence was a distraction. My desk was covered with coffee stains and dirt and ash, begging to be cleaned for the first time in months. This book was going to be the death of me. I only slept when I could no longer keep my eyes open, and only ate when faint with hunger. Raising a half empty glass to my lips I savoured the bite of cheap whiskey, before returning to the manuscript.

Out of the shadows squeezed a thick fluorescent paste which explored and infiltrated every crack in the wall and every hole in the ground, as it made its way towards the pile of fetid carcasses in the centre of the yard. Alarms were sounding and workers were running from the plant, stumbling and staggering, gagging on the fumes spewing from the leaking reactor.

Duke Porter arrived at the gates of the lower yard as darkness descended on the Blackwater Industrial Complex. Flashing his badge, he walked up the driveway and bellowed at anyone who blocked his path or looked like they weren’t doing anything useful, to get the hell out of his way and let him do his damned job. Carefully he reached out to touch the gate.

‘Don’t touch that! It’s burning hot!’

Duke quickly pulled his hand away as though bitten by a snake.

A stabbing sensation in my hand caused me to stop typing, and withdraw from the keyboard slowly, like reluctantly releasing a loved one from an embrace. I felt hot. Drinking again from the dirty glass, I read over the last two paragraphs. In the corner of my eye, I saw something glowing, but when I turned to look at it directly, there was nothing. Rubbing my eyes, I stood and walked to the bathroom. I felt really hot, uncomfortably hot so I ripped my shirt off and tossed it on the floor in the hallway.

As I splashed cold water on my face, I thought about Duke Porter, and how much I loved and admired him. He was everything I wanted to be, and simultaneously everything I knew I would never be. My hero and my best friend.
A lethal stink penetrated my nostrils while I was standing staring at my dripping, haggard face in the mirror, but the alarm I felt at first passed quickly when I realised it was emanating from the pile of sweat laden clothing on the bathroom floor.

No longer feeling unnaturally heated, I returned to the office, listening to the whispering trees as they brushed the windows, gently rocked by a cool breeze. The curtain fluttered over the desk flicking the upper layer of cigarette butts from the ashtray onto the floor. For a moment I thought I saw the glowing again but I relegated it to imagination and determined to return to the book.

Duke Porter apologised in his gruff and insincere way before ordering the plant worker who had saved him from considerable pain to get away from the gates because they were dangerously hot.

Grabbing a stick from the ground, He pushed it against the gate which to his surprise yielded instantly and swung inwards to reveal an apocalyptic scene. Amidst flashing lights and blaring sirens smoke poured from countless infernos and Porter felt bile rising in the back of his throat at the sight of the ragged and disfigured carcasses in the centre of it all. It looked like a ball of twine except this string was limp and rotting body parts. Dogs mainly, but a few cats and as he looked more closely, more than a few pigs. The luminescent paste poured through every gap between the bits and pieces of dead animals and filled all their orifices, lighting them from inside, weirdly like a Halloween pumpkin.

Again I saw the glow, but this time I refused to ignore it. Wait a minute, I thought, I am seeing what I am writing. Despite assuring myself thus, I still walked slowly to the corner of the room where I had seen the light. The room was dark apart from the focused beam which illuminated my desk, and a faint gleam floating wearily through the window from the streetlight out front of my house.

‘Pigs,’ I said aloud. ‘Zombie pigs.’ As I examined the wall, I realised I was alone and talking to it as if it were my trusted friend. Had I been talking out loud all night? There was nobody here to tell me whether I had or not, and I could not remember. I peered intently at the wall, pushing my face closer and closer to it. It stunk of dirty laundry too.

‘Okay,’ I said to the wall. ‘I can talk to myself if I want to. What’s wrong with that? It’s actually a mark of incredible and indisputable genius. But where was I…ah yes, writing a horror masterpiece. Duke Porter and the Zombie Pigs.’

The breeze kicked up into a wind which sent the curtain flapping over the desk again so reluctantly I shut the window, and lit another cigarette. I was getting hot again.

The Duke stood dumbfounded before the open gate, unable to move a muscle. Others gathered behind him to watch the fantastic spectacle of decaying carcasses reanimating. The paste was somehow reviving them. Gradually the twisted ball of flesh began to unravel as one mutilated animal after another disengaged itself from the mass and stood groggily on their paws. Porter and the other onlookers were frozen in horrible disbelief.

After some time I realised I was sitting motionless. Shirtless and sweating. Dry mouthed and confused. I looked at my hand and saw the cigarette had burned right down to the butt as it lay unsmoked between my yellow stained index and middle fingers. A glow from the corner was accompanied by a fresh wave of dank bathroom odours. Or was there something else in here? Yes, a rotting smell. A childhood memory of a rat which my dad had trapped and killed under my bed without knowing it, confirmed it.

I didn’t realise immediately that my glass was empty even though I drank from it. ‘I’m pretending to drink,’ I said to the wall. Then I waited for an answer. When none was forthcoming, I continued, ‘I am delirious. I need a drink of water and something to eat.’

An angry gust of wind whistled through the cracks of my house, and the office door slammed shut. I jumped. I could see Duke Porter walking slowly towards the gate of the incinerator yard, but his face kept changing. First himself, the imagined likeness of Brad Pitt, then me, the antithesis of him, then a pig’s face. I was moving towards the door, so slowly that I might have needed an hour to cover the five steps needed to reach it. When I finally arrived, it was locked from the outside.

Stupefied by alcohol and sleep deprivation, I had not, up to this point in time, considered seriously what might be happening to me. As I wrenched and ripped at the door handle with both hands fortified by panic, I cried out for help. An over reaction? Couldn’t I have easily slipped out the window? Guilty on two counts but as I said, I was freaking out!

I spun around to look at the computer screen and watched the words I had written dance on the screen, fading in and out, and my head began to feel like the only part of my body still functioning. But it was heavy and caused me to lose my balance. I heard glass shattering and felt pain, sharp and cruel in my stomach and my arm before I lost consciousness.

Duke Porter shook off his fear like sand from a beach towel as he steeled himself with the resolve of a superhero. He commanded all the stunned bystanders to leave immediately, assuring them that he, Duke Porter, had everything under control. At that moment he felt invincible. Although he had no plan, his heart swelled with the courage of a pride of lions as he stepped forward towards the mob of four-footed living dead. Picking up an iron bar he had spotted on the ground, Porter began to beat his left palm with the weapon and threaten the zombie animals with death should they attempt to pass him. For a moment neither Duke nor the animals moved so he kept on drumming his palm with the rod of iron, and swearing insults at the evil creatures.

Suddenly I stopped typing and looked at my hands, they hurt, especially the left one and my palms were all cut open. Blood covered the keyboard and the desk, and my glass was empty again. I screamed in pain, fright and frustration as I tried to remember what had happened to me. Wasn’t I on the floor a second ago? I could not even recall what I was writing about anymore. The door! The door was locked from the outside. I was trapped. I panicked, then I fell. The window! I cursed myself for not thinking of the window before. Rushing to the window, I told the wall how happy I was to be free, to be alive.

Half way through however, I lost heart. I had totally forgotten that somebody must have locked me in the office, and that somebody was possibly still in my house. I am ashamed to say that at that crucial moment my courage failed, and I retreated back inside the office to consider my position. The mixed stench of body odour, wet towels and rotting flesh was so thick in the air that I gagged on it every time I took a breath. I lit a cigarette, sat on the floor and listened. At first there was only heavy silence which brought me tremendous relief, but then a heard a sound. An unexpected sound coming from just outside the office door. I crawled along the floor to get closer to the door and as I did the unmistakeable sound of snorting filled my ears with a new kind of terror. A flashback again to my childhood where I was surrounded by grunting porkers, covered in mud, slipping and sliding, desperate to escape their stench while in the background I could hear my brothers laughing. I hated pigs!

It was then, in an instant of miraculous clarity that I realised I was writing my own worst nightmare. A light came on, its beam fingering its way under the door, and the animal sounds disappeared. Again I listened. Cowering, rigid with fear. Light began to break into my office cautiously as though not wanting to disturb me but I was already extremely disturbed.

Magically the increasing light infused me with some courage, and after smoking another cigarette with insane alacrity, I edged closer to the door, and stretched out my trembling hand towards the handle. Still locked. I heard a strangely familiar voice. Mum?

I called out, ‘Mum? Mum, is that you?’

Footsteps, the handle turning, her voice clear and concerned. ‘Are you all right, dear?’

The best way to describe my answer was incoherent babble. I mentioned the lights, the pigs, the heat, the smell, the blood, and the locked door in a continuous verbal stream which could not have made any sense to her. The look on face said as much.

‘Did you say the door was locked?’ she asked. ‘It wasn’t locked. I opened it straight up.’

BANG!

I jumped and grabbed for the security of my mother’s embrace. ‘What was that?’

She pushed me away gently and looked me in the eye. ‘Something fell…probably the broom I was using. I stood it against the wall when I heard you calling. What’s wrong with you?’

‘A broom?’ I said incredulous. ‘That wasn’t a broom, mum.’

She turned and walked away but before I could ask where she was going, she bent down and picked up a broom off the floor. When she turned, I screamed. Her face was a pig’s face, framed in her hair. I spun on my heels, skating on the slippery tiles, and flung myself back into the office slamming the door shut behind me. Picking myself up off the floor, I noticed the computer screen was still on, the screen saver apparently not functioning. I read the last words I had written as though they had been written by somebody else.

The rotting mangy animal zombies eased confidently towards Duke as he stood defiantly between them and the gate. They barked and yowled and grunted menacingly as they advanced. Porter swung at the first of the pigs and his rod of iron connected with its head instantly dissolving it in a splash of green paste. Too easy, thought Duke. Even as the animals began to surround him, increasing their numbers, he was confident he could dispatch the whole hellish horde back to the cesspool abyss from which they had sprung. Duke Porter felt no fear.

I suddenly remembered the satanic beast which had impersonated my mother waiting on the other side of the door. Waiting? Why? I had not locked the door. I hesitated. Duke Porter felt no fear. I created him, I feel no fear, I told myself, but still I sat; a heartless statue.

The office door opened, I felt the light on my back but I did not turn around. I was ready to die, and this realisation relaxed me. Shoulders unhunched, heartbeat slowing, breathing quite normally, I prepared myself for death.

‘What have you done to this room? Mandy’s only been gone for two days and you’ve turned the house into a pig sty. Boy, am I glad I decided to come over and see how you were doing. Badly, apparently. What is that smell? Is that you?’

Mum kept on yabbering as I turned very slowly to face her. I still expected a pig’s face to greet me, but was relieved to discover nothing but an angry and disappointed scowl on my mother’s face. Sheepishly, I listened as she ranted and raved, criticising me for this and that, berating me for my lack of self respect, lambasting my laziness.

She wanted me to wash and help her clean up but I protested that I needed to finish the chapter I was working on. I yielded to her undeniably authority when she said I would not write one more word until I smelled and looked like a human being instead of a pig.

‘Mum,’ I said, ‘I’ll do whatever you say but can you please stop talking about pigs. I hate pigs!’

Bio: D.A. Cairns is married with two teenagers and lives on the south coast of New South Wales where he works part time as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had 19 short stories published (but who’s counting right?) Devolution was his first novel and novel no.2 is currently seeking an agent or a publisher. Anyone interested?

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Low Tide on the Bryn By Craig Kyzar

Aug 18 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

She awoke with reluctance to the cruel charade of another day. In the fleeting moment before complete consciousness, she lay with her eyes closed as her body processed the surroundings and suppressed the screaming of her dreams. The room was chilled, as always, and the tickle of salt air on her nose confirmed her usual position facing a slightly cracked window. But this morning was different; she did not need to open her eyes to see that. As she clutched a small, tattered baby blanket to her chest, familiar tears began to well. But these tears were not met with the usual burning of muted morning sunrays.

She could not remember the last time she awoke pre-dawn, or had even wanted to. Her mind toyed briefly with the notion that she was finally turning an important corner but the deadened emotions within seemed to negate those hopes immediately.

“Maybe,” she thought, extending her arm back for the comforting warmth of his body but finding only a barren handful of empty sheets. They had not greeted a morning together in weeks, nor would they do so today.

Echoing down a short hallway, the groan of old wooden floors alerted Tom to her awakening … yet he made no effort to draw away from his piping cup of coffee for any sort of proper greeting. She was all he had left and he hated himself for the uncontrollable resentment he felt toward her.

“Arabella,” he acknowledged without turning as she crossed the creaky threshold into the kitchen. “You’re up early.”

Her steps were plodding and deliberate, as though not entirely conscious. From behind, she reached out to gently touch his shoulder but his instinctive recoil shut her down once again.

“There’s coffee on the…” But it was too late. Arabella quickly reclaimed her hand and continued on her path. Placing the remains of the powder blue blanket gently on the edge of the kitchen table, she shuffled through the rickety front door and down the aging steps of their modest stone cottage, mottled with an array of seaside lichens in various earthy hues.

As he watched her leave, Tom cast his eyes downward: too exhausted to berate himself further. He knew that she blamed herself more than he ever could and he so wished he could let go of the anger and be of some comfort. After all, the love of a mother is unrivaled. Compared to such a powerful force, his own bitterness was just petty.

Beyond the tall grasses of the bryn, Arabella’s toes sunk beneath the gritty sand that forever delineates the lush vegetation above from the lapping waves below. Her strawberry hair blew randomly across her fine features as ominous clouds battled overhead. Here, at the edge of the world, the weather was always violent and the atmosphere always cast in foreboding shades of yellow and green.

While she had never measured her strides or labeled a single landmark, the precise location of her sanctuary was never difficult to find. Despite the perpetual shifting of the earth beneath the tides, this spot was clearly and forever marked with heartbreak. Her screams, like invisible scars, still lingered on the howling winds as she followed the siren song of her own sorrow to this personally sacred space.

Here, at the tip of a natural jetty far from prying eyes, she was free to cry. Such was her daily ritual. This was where he drowned. No, this was where she let him drown … and she knew that is why Tom had never accompanied her here. But Arabella saw this place as so much more. This was the closest she would ever be to her son: a place to set aside the weight of self-hatred and breathe in the lingering essence of their final moments together. She was not ready to give that up, and Tom had long ago stopped trying.

But something about this morning felt different. Perhaps it was the exceptionally tender hour, before the rest of the world had awoken, but the air was filled with a serene calm that was not coming from within. Through the rumbling of distant thunder came a silence usually filled with the rolling crash of water upon the shore. As Arabella approached to assume her mourning spot at the edge of land, she was bewildered to find … more land. Before her bare feet, the sea receded in a way she had never seen, revealing a narrow path that extended into the distance and vanished into the depths of an ethereal offshore mist. To each side, it appeared as though the sea had evaporated into the atmosphere for the sole purpose of the revelation, leaving behind a fragmented field of puddles merging into vast plains of shallows.

Had this really been there all along, resting just below the surface? Where did it lead? Was it really there at all? Perhaps she had finally given up the fight for sanity, as her husband obviously suspected, and this entire surreal landscape existed only in her mind.

Consumed in a swirl of uncertainty, Arabella experienced the first tinge of curiosity since the death of her child. That, in itself, inspired further investigation. With childlike abandon, she lowered herself one sizeable step onto the path. Surprisingly, it held firm beneath her, unlike the melting sands to both sides. Gaining added confidence with each step forward, Arabella was struck with sudden paralysis when her first glance back revealed a murky haze but no defined shoreline. Trapped and alone as the fog encroached on both sides, her curiosity quickly turned to panic.

In a rush of fear-laced adrenaline, the mind is capable of many things. Her mind, she was certain, heard a gentle voice on the breeze … his voice. As she doubled-back in the direction from which she came, she heard it once, and then again, at the same time heartwarming and horrifying, “Mummy!” While her heart longed to turn back and race into the mist, her feet carried her toward solid ground faster than she had ever moved before. The journey back seemed endless but Arabella just managed to climb ashore and dust the sticking sand from her clothes before turning back to the sea and watching the last of the once prominent path submerge again beneath the waves.

Arabella stood and shivered, silently stunned, as the thick fog dropped from the air and back into the shallows. There was no destination on the horizon. Indeed, there never had been. Not visibly so, anyway. But she was so certain that she had heard his words on the winds, and so desperate to believe the impossible.

Wandering into the edge of town, dazed and dirtied, it dawned on Arabella that she had not stepped out in public since young Austin’s funeral. Surely, her current appearance would do little to quell the rumors of her deteriorating mental state. Still, as much as she wanted to rush home and share with Tom, she worried about the reception such news would receive.

Instead, Arabella steadied herself and greeted her way through the small village, purposefully tight-lipped so as not to disclose too much of her experience with anybody at one time. God forbid she mention the haunting calls riding the winds at the water’s edge. Frustrated by the bubble of busybody presumption surrounding her, Arabella kept her inquiries polite and pleasant, limiting each to the mysterious path beneath the waves and the destination on its far end. Burdened with inescapable self-awareness, she meekly absorbed every stare and made every effort to disregard the gossip hanging audibly in her wake. But the exercise proved fruitless. According to all but her own eyes and feet, no such path existed. Indeed, the very idea of an Atlantean roadway beside their sleepy community dripped with lunacy. If it had never been seen then it could not be real. This was no collection of dreamers or adventurers. These were simple people, with dirty hands and an affinity for the familiar. Each had their place and none were eager to deviate. Perhaps this was why she never felt at home here; her spirit had always been far too open to the preposterous.

The next morning, Arabella slipped from the covers as Tom slept, greeting the first rays on the horizon with the slightest hint of a long-lost smile. Through force of habit, she again placed the tatter of blue fabric on the table’s edge. But this time she turned back to reclaim it and stuff it deep in her pocket before battling the gravity of the sloping hillside in the relative blindness of early morning. Along her familiar route, she sat on the damp sand of the jetty’s edge for what felt like hours, studying the increasing light in a futile attempt to identify the pending approach of the phenomenon. Her entire essence hummed with curiosity. Like a wide-eyed child on the brink of discovery, her body rocked with the methodical rhythm of the lapping waves. As the morning wore on and the gulls began to squabble, each passing minute intensified and lengthened through a lens of frustrated expectation.

As the first flickers of self-doubt crept among her thoughts and she pondered the long walk home, a thunderhead formed over open waters and drew in toward shore. Arabella held her breath and closed her eyes. She stood at land’s end; her face lifted to the heavens and arms extended to embrace her consumption … awaiting a downpour that never came. The sky again filled with a rolling fog and the water’s solid surface fragmented into a patchwork of broken oases. At once, the dead winds revived with a thunderous snap as a charge of electricity bathed her bare skin. For the briefest of moments, she lingered, basking in the empty validation that she was right and they were all so wrong.

Arabella’s timid green eyes opened to the same alien landscape she had discovered the previous day. But this time, all semblance of fear and confusion gave way to calm and curiosity. Again, she lowered herself onto the firm pathway and waded into the fog, this time far deeper than the last, training her ears to every sound carried to her on the breeze.

Arabella was now entirely cut off from the world beyond the beach, or what little she knew of it – surrounded in every direction from a shapeless wall of blinding white that maintained a solid density just inches beyond her reach. To avoid disorientation, she kept her eyes downward, often looking back for the comfort of her own footprints.

Suddenly, a playful giggle broke the muffled silence of her cottony surroundings. Startled, she snapped her head forward just in time to witness a wake of swirling vapor over the path ahead, but not the solid mass that left it. Before she could process the confusion, another giggle raced across the path behind her as she turned to catch sight of the mischievous three-foot high shadow just beyond the curtain of fog. By all rights, she should have been terrified but that exuberant laugh that hung in the air brought Arabella instantly back to a place she never expected to revisit.

“Aus…Austin?” she pleaded into the mist as the figure kept elusively out of sight.

“Mummy!” The giggling voice bounced back from behind her, as though shouted through a long, echoing corridor connecting another place entirely.

Arabella spun around again, instantly noticing a pair of footprints not behind her but before her. They were a fraction the size of her own and left a much fainter impression in the damp sand, but they were there … and they clearly lead somewhere. She followed the tiny prints forward, through a palpably dense wall of air and into a sudden expanse of circular space.

The circle was barren, save for a small, smooth boulder to the right, ideally placed for sitting above the wet earth. Here, the fog kept its distance, creating a sense of breathing room relative to the constricting corridor between it and the real world. In the center of the circle stood little Austin: his beach attire still pristine and his dark hair perfectly combed. He had Tom’s hair, which had always sat so peculiarly atop that perfect reflection of her face.

“I’m sorry, mummy,” his sweet voice echoed within the tight confines, wonderfully oblivious to his plight, “I seem to have lost my hat.”

“My angel,” Arabella gasped amid an unexpected flood of tears, unleashing a violent flow of emotion that rolled through her body in spasms. In life, it had always been his favorite pet name and she never hesitated to use it, yet the connotations of the moment gave it all the more unintended relevance.

From the center of the circle, his gaze remained leery as he watched his mother collapse uncontrollably to her knees before reaching out to embrace him. He met her gesture not with a step toward her but rather a resolute step back.

“No, mummy,” he said with a proper firmness far beyond his tender years, “you mustn’t touch. You must never touch.”

Arabella’s heart sank as much from the reception as the inability to grasp and hold her baby but the dejection was short-lived. She was sharing a new stolen moment with her angel, after all. Perhaps even heaven had its drawbacks.

“Chase me, mummy!” Austin laughed away the disappointment, provoking a playful chase around the perimeter of the circle while Arabella made sure to keep her distance, as ordered. For what seemed far too short a time, mother and son ran and played until she could no longer catch her breath. She sat on her rock perch and proudly watched as Austin drew her pictures in the sand: drawings of a home he would no longer recognize, drawings of daddy, and drawings of the wondrous places he had since been. Her world, as tiny as it had now become, was perfect once again.

Suddenly, in the indistinguishable distance, a low, rumbling horn bellowed through the fog. It was nothing she had heard in an entire life spent on the shore, but it clearly meant something to Austin. His playful mood changed instantly as he tossed aside his drawing stick in a huff and looked upward with pleading eyes.

“You have to go now, mummy.”

“What?” Arabella panicked. “No!” How in the world could she be asked to walk away from him again?

“You have to go while you can.” He did his little boy best to hide the melancholy tone beneath a reassuring calm. “Hug daddy for me?” Austin always had a way of prowling his seated father, sneaking ever closer from behind and leaping up to hug his neck while dangling over his broad shoulders in gleeful victory. And it suddenly struck Arabella why Tom now looked so lost in that familiar old chair.

“Come with me!” she pleaded, but the fog was already closing in. “Baby, wait!” Austin’s eyes lit up as Arabella reached into her pocket and retrieved the humble remains of blue. She extended her hand as he raced back across the circle, stopping just beyond reach. It sliced her to the soul that she could not hand him his security blanket directly, let alone hug him goodbye. Instead, keeping a brave face, she kissed the blanket and placed it atop the rock.

As the rising waves began once again lapping at the sides of the pathway, she stepped beyond the circle and raced back toward shore. Austin’s last words hung in the air behind her as she stepped back onto the beach just ahead of the tide, “Come see me again, mummy.”

Tom sat, motionless, on the porch as Arabella returned home. Her cheeks were stained with tears but her mood was far from sad.

“Where’ve you been?” His voice sounded gruff and irritated, but that was simply his way. The more she pulled away, the more ineffective he became at keeping her mind stable and grounded in reality … the more he failed as a husband. He would never know how he would have fared as a father. This was the last responsibility that meant anything in his simple hillside life.

“Just … down at the beach.” While a large part of her was thrilled that he cared to ask, she was not at all ready to explain her morning’s adventure to the most stubborn and pragmatic man she had ever known. Still, she steadied herself for additional questioning as her body vibrated from the boiling emotions inside.

“Where’s the blanket, Bella?”

“I don’t know, Tom.” Arabella hesitated and turned away, knowing her rather strict limitations as a liar. “It has to be around here somewhere.”

To avoid an unnecessary fight, Tom let the discussion die peacefully. Still, her erratic behavior was increasingly worrisome, and not only for the awkwardness it caused in town.

The ritual repeated again the next morning, with Arabella rising even earlier to sneak into Austin’s dusty old toy chest and retrieve his most prized worldly possession: a hand-carved locomotive, given to him by Tom’s father on his fourth birthday. The vision of her angel, alone and bored on that desolate patch of earth, had grown so loud in her thoughts. Perhaps his train would bring a few hours of comfort. The next day, she surprised Austin with his most battle-tested toy soldier … and the day after that, a weatherworn jack in the box.

As the week wore on, Tom would busy himself through the early hours, keeping his mind and hands too occupied to fret over his wife’s routine disappearances or the sudden, seemingly delusional, contentment that had so swiftly replaced her chronic depression. Thinking only made him wonder. Was the poor girl finally beyond salvation? Or had she somehow found peace and moved on without him? If the latter, should he be relieved by her recovery or resentful at her ability to let go of all the remorse that he still held so tightly? She was growing more detached from the outside world by the day, vanishing before daybreak and returning hours later. When she did return home, she did so without a word, wasting the remaining daylight hours coiled in a corner seat and gazing distantly through the window.

On the fifth morning, as Arabella broke the veil of her newfound sanctuary, she was met not with playful giggles but a pensive quiet. An expansive series of train tracks ran the perimeter of the circle, looping gracefully around the sitting stone and leaving intricate patterns in the impressionable sand. But on this morning, there were no indulgent laughs or imaginative locomotive noises enlivening the space. Instead, Austin sat in the circle’s center with his back to Arabella and his arms wrapped comfortingly around his legs. His face was buried against his knees as though he had been crying inconsolably before her arrival.

“Mummy? Am I bad?” The heartbreaking simplicity of the question poured forward, hitting the misty wall in front of him and rumbling along the outskirts to hit her ears hard from both sides. “Is that why I have to be alone in this place?”

“No, angel…” Again, the inability to embrace him rendered the words hard and inflexible. “There’s nothing bad about you.”

Austin turned slowly to face his mother; her words provided empty comfort, at best. “Where are the other children?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart. I honestly don’t.” Their community had always been composed of older adults, many of them too poor to ever consider a family, so Austin’s brief life had never been particularly filled with joyful socialization. But Arabella knew this was not what he meant. The same question had consumed her thoughts for days: why was her baby left in limbo on the tides when it was she who deserved the burden of punishment for her momentary neglect? His loneliness was inconceivable, surely dwarfing the emotional isolation she suffered at home.

The day’s visit maintained a quiet tone throughout, filled with arm’s length consolation and shared outbursts of frustrated tears. Through necessity, the two had found creative ways to share the illusion of contact and, on this day, Austin sat on the hem of Arabella’s soiled dress as each tightly grasped opposite ends of his deteriorating blanket remains. Her resolved continually weakened beneath the weight of maternal instinct, as she grew increasingly unable to envision a fate terrifying enough to outweigh the solace of a single embrace. But Arabella honored the rule, all the same, fueled only by the uncertainty of the repercussions that a touch would have on her baby.

As the familiar bellow pierced the fog, signaling the end of another visit to this realm, she turned away to hide her daily anguish.

“Mummy?” Austin started, just as Arabella stepped through the fog. “You will come visit me always, won’t you?”

“Every day, Angel … you be a good boy.” With that, she once again cried her way across the land bridge back to the tangible world, and another day of misery.

“So, Tom … how is that lovely little lady holding up these days?” With his usual impeccable bedside manner, Doc Josiah tinged his inquiry with polite pleasantry but the rumors had long-since spread about town. The poor girl was now seeing things and wandering through public looking a complete mess. Perhaps the question had become largely rhetorical.

“I’m worried about her, Doc,” Tom admitted through his grizzled exterior. She disappears daily, spends most of her time in her head … she’s not eating … I fear I might be losing her.”

The two men talked through the severity of the situation before sending Tom on his way back to the fields with a firm pat on the back and token assurance that all would be ok. With the white-haired old doctor’s help, Tom would no longer passively sit and watch Arabella deteriorate beyond recognition. And while it gave him no pleasure to betray her trust, he was committed to doing whatever it took to recover his fading wife.

That evening, over modest plates of picked over cod and potatoes, Tom stared across the table: searching Arabella’s distant eyes for any sign of coherence.

Without blinking or shifting her gaze up from the table, Arabella laid down her fork, retrieved the small linen from her lap to wipe her lips, and stated with an eerie calm, “Austin misses you, Tom.”

Tom stared back in bewilderment, uncertain whether to speak at all for fear of exacerbating the spiraling nightmare. He rose from his seat and rounded the table, gently spinning Arabella toward him and kneeling at her side. “Arabella, sweetheart, Austin is gone.”

“No,” Arabella corrected, at first dismissive and then belligerent, “no! He’s not gone. He’s just … not here.”

“Not here? Then where is he, Bella? Where is he if not here?”

“I can’t…” As far as she was concerned, her lucidity had never wavered. So why was she suddenly so disbelieved? Faced with such abrasive scrutiny, what could she say? “Come with me, Tom. Let me show you.”

As Tom lowered his head in devastation and defeat, a hollow knock on the front door echoed through the small cottage. Tom exhaled deeply as he rose to answer the call.

“Tom?” Arabella panicked as the doctor stepped over the threshold after a brief discussion outside. “Tom, let me show you! Please!” Her pleas went unanswered as Tom restrained her thrashing arms. Before she could process what was happening, a sharp needle jab gave way to a dull malaise that spread through her body like a racing virus. As the two men stood above her with palpable concern on their faces, Arabella began to drift out of consciousness. It was no long-term solution, but at least now she would rest. Into the dead of night, Tom sat over her and silently prayed: prayed it was a start in the right direction.

The next morning, Tom woke to Arabella’s screaming howls and a sun already ascended high into the morning sky. His own lack of sleep left his senses dull and prevented any real ability to stop her from pushing him aside in a manic dash out the door and down the hillside.

She sat along the water’s edge, silently willing a parting of the waves that never came. Watching the languid ebb and flow of daylight through the clouds, it became clearer and clearer: she had missed it. She had broken her promise. The longer she sat, the more ominous became her thoughts. Without ever understanding it, what if she had also broken whatever delicate link had granted her and her baby this impossibly unlikely second chance? What if her last goodbye had become the last goodbye?

As Arabella took refuge in a small thicket of woods within sight of the shore, she eluded the chilly onset of dusk and the growing calls of the searching townspeople. Her exposed skin grew tingly and then numb as she wallowed in the dreaded thoughts of that remaining spiritual thread of her son, adrift and alone in an isolated world, betrayed yet again by his own mother. As desperately as she wanted to, she could not blame Tom. She had married a simple and closed-minded man all those years ago and, for all his shortcomings, he had always stayed true to who he was. No, there had only ever been one failure in this family, and she was determined to hold on to every bit of self-hatred.

Arabella stared up at the passing hours overhead. The icy air of the seaside held no moisture, opening itself to the rich black tapestry and vibrant celestial shimmer of the heavens beyond. She studied every detail of a crisply defined moon through the sky’s crystalline clarity. Every so often, her mind would wander back down the beach to the terrible concern poor Tom must be enduring. But Tom could always take care of himself and Austin needed her far more than this tangible world ever did.

On the far side of midnight, after the darkest dark but long before the earliest rays, Arabella awoke on a bed of lush grass beneath a violent gathering storm. As she crept from her hiding place and made her way to the water’s edge, a familiar electrical charge brought her skin to life. She had never thought to seek the elusive path by moonlight, not that Tom would have ever tolerated such unconventional behavior.

The faint illumination from a waning moon guided the way as Arabella cautiously approached the end of the familiar outcropping. As though awaiting her arrival, Arabella’s footprints upon the ledge prompted an immediate recession of the tides despite the steady fall of a light rain. The drops fell heavier with every step deeper into the iridescent fog, until the rainfall upon the shore behind her became a deafening roar, interspersed with whips of thunder and lightning strikes that stabbed deeply into the dense mist and unleashed refracted light across the entire horizon.

Within the soupy haze, Arabella remained shielded from the downpour and protected against the vicious release of energy from above. By all rights, the shallows near land should have boiled onto the shore during such a storm, yet Arabella confidently strode forward, deeper down a path uninhibited by rising waters.

Stepping into the circle, Arabella instantly spotted Austin leaning next to the sitting stone, cowering against the only protection this world afforded. Just as in life, his eyes filled with terror and the overwhelming need for the comfort of her arms. The look was poignant but exquisite and the nurturing spirit within Arabella welcomed it, in spite of the helpless fear it conveyed. This was where she was needed; it was the only place she would ever find joy.

“Austin, sweetheart…” Her voice again rang with the omnipresent calm of a loving mother at ease in her role. “What happens if mummy touches?”

Austin’s voice stumbled with trepidation. Was he allowed to share this with her? And what consequences would he face if he did? Encouraged by a gentle nod, he continued, “Then you stay here … with me.”

Another crash of thunder pierced deeper into the shielding fog, eliciting an involuntary whimper from the cowering child.

Arabella smiled sympathetically at his reactions. Since the day he was born, Austin had always been terrified of violent weather. She dropped to one knee and extended her arms without reservation. “Come to mummy, angel.”

Austin tentatively crawled across the circle to mere inches from her outstretched hands. “But what about daddy?”

Reaching forward, Arabella took her baby in her arms and pulled him tightly against her. In that moment, an overwhelming sensation of lightheadedness tore the energy from her body and rippled down her entire being. After a moment of recovery and a long overdue kiss on the cheek, she responded, “Daddy is going to be just fine.”

Two weeks later, the town said goodbye to Arabella in a humble seaside service, not far from the spot where the tattered remains of her dress washed ashore. Tom said nothing; he could not have spoken if he had wanted to.

As the service ended, the townspeople lined up to offer moments of solace and shared memories of a beautiful young girl before dispersing to their waiting lives and families. Tom stood entirely alone, brooding beneath a yellowing sky that respectfully deferred to the sadness of the day. He had not set foot on wet sand since the day Austin was lost but fate now gave him no choice: not if he wanted to say a proper goodbye of his own. As he removed the small wreath of white roses and baby’s breath from a makeshift stand of twigs, the air grew stale and heavy. For a lingering moment, he stood atop a modest peak that quickly descended on all sides. The sloping hillside ahead and the town behind him existed largely in shadow, deprived of contrast by the soul-sapping cloud cover.

He could have stopped at any point along the water but something pulled him along the shore to a destination he could not anticipate. His mind meandered over years of bittersweet memories as his feet pushed forward, until he found himself at a standstill – overlooking a sea that had now taken everything. For a fleeting moment, he wondered if it would accept him as willingly as it had welcomed his family.

As the winds shifted and the clouds rolled landward, Tom kneeled to float the wreath atop the lapping waters. Saying a silent farewell, he turned for the lonely quiet of the cottage. Mere steps into his journey home, his ears rang with a crackling silence as rhythmic waves ceased to fill the air. Looking over his shoulder, Tom fought a lifetime of reason to accept the scene behind him. From the end of the jetty extended a narrow road amid a swirling corridor of dense fog. At his feet, the wreath now lay at the start of the pathway, encircling his son’s prized locomotive.

Tom reached down to retrieve and clean the toy train, the physical contact invoking a degree of acceptance. Tom found himself struggling with a foreign desire to step upon that path and learn where it might lead. After all, he had nothing left to lose. Still, there were chores waiting at home, alongside an empty new life of solitude. Responsibility had always been Tom’s lot in life. His dreamer was forever gone, as was his light.

Tucking the locomotive beneath his arm, Tom turned for home. As he stepped away from shore, the winds turned again, this time carrying a single enticing echo. Tom turned back to the impossible pathway and dared the sound to repeat. After an endless moment of silence, it did just that, and just once more…

“Daddy!”

AUTHOR BIO

Craig Kyzar is a former award-winning journalist and international attorney, earning his Master of Laws degree from NYU School of Law. Upon graduation, Craig spent eight exciting years practicing law in large firms around Manhattan before turning his focus toward a much smaller clientele. Today, Craig is heavily involved in nonprofit work dedicated to enhancing children’s literacy skills and connecting economically disadvantaged youth with a life-changing love of reading.

When not frolicking in fiction and playing with poetry, Craig’s editorial columns and articles are regularly featured across several news outlets, providing uniquely provocative views on legal, political and humanitarian issues. His heartwarming personal essays have also appeared in journals such as Recovering the Self.

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Donald Trump to The Rescue by Peter Wood

Aug 11 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Bruce was almost relieved when the Ruport Murdoch slammed its interstellar drive into reverse. He didn’t know why the ship had stopped light-years from Earth, but at least it got him out of another pointless argument with his wife. Since boarding the star ship five years ago it seemed like Bruce and Tammy were always bickering about the pizzeria they ran with Bruce’s brother, Rusty.
With his faded Red Sox cap turned backwards Rusty leaned against the bulkhead as the ship shook. He laughed. “Man, that was amazing.”
Six months pregnant, Tammy rested in a chair. She glared at Rusty. “Glad you’re having fun. You ever think the drive might be blown?”
Rusty shrugged. “Ain’t no use in worrying.”
Bruce steadied himself against the kitchen counter while the vibrations slowed. “What the hell happened?”
As if in response the ship’s P.A. crackled to life. “The interstellar drive is fine. We stopped, because another Earth ship contacted us.”
The P.A. explained that with the time dilation the new ship, the Donald Trump, had left Earth twenty five years after the Rupert Murdoch with an improved interstellar drive. The Trump could reach the colony in three months, instead of five more years. It could take some colonists from the Rupert Murdoch. More details were coming.
Tammy’s eyes had a faraway look. “Only three more months.”
Bruce didn’t believe it was that straight forward. Nothing in a corporation controlled galaxy was free. “They didn’t say we could all go.”
Tammy rolled her eyes. “You’re so damned pessimistic.” She marched into the pizzeria’s tiny dining area. She joined a group of physicists and a man Bruce didn’t recognize.
The stranger wore a goofy grin, like a tourist gawking at big city skyscrapers. He must be a stiff, one of the fat cats who escaped the tedium of a long space voyage by spending most of the trip in suspended animation.
Bruce hated the stiffs. The beautiful people.
Rusty’s girlfriend, Lori, sat at the only other table that hadn’t cleared after the announcement. Lori stood up. “Rusty, I have to go. They’ll need me in Cryo.”
Rusty grinned and grabbed her arm. “You can be late.”
She jerked free. “No, I can’t. The lab’s probably going to thaw out everybody. Do you have any idea how complicated that is?” She rushed to the air lock.
“You think we should start making pizzas for the stiffs?” Bruce asked Rusty. Those in suspended animation had prepaid to have various things waiting for them when they awoke. A surprisingly large number craved pizza. “Maybe your girlfriend knows if the stiffs want their orders.”
Rusty was quick to correct him. “Lori’s not my girlfriend. She doesn’t like me calling her at work.” Rusty changed the subject. “You hear about that stiff who thawed out a few months ago and demanded lobster and champagne.”
And even though Bruce couldn’t afford lobster on Earth, much less at inflated prices an interstellar flight, he knew the stiff had gotten everything he wanted. “Some of them bastards even got their pets frozen with them.”
An HVAC grunt stepped through the air lock and fiddled with the room’s temperature controls.
Bruce approached the worker. He half expected the grunt to hit him up for a bribe. Stuck on a company town of a ship for ten years meant many ship workers relied on payoffs to get by. “Are the guys in the deep freeze waking up?”
The man sneered. “I don’t care. We don’t get to leave early. Maintenance goes down with the ship, man.”
“Thanks,” Bruce mumbled. He should have known better than to expect a straight answer. Low men on the ship totem pole, ship workers resented him, because he had his own business. Bruce could afford some of the Murdoch’s extras, like a multi room apartment and time in the exercise quadrant.
Tammy walked up wheezing from the exertion. Her pregnancy was slowing her down. “Did you call the Cryo Lab and see when they’re waking the stiffs?”
“Not yet.”
Tammy sighed. “Do I have to do everything?” She pointed to Rusty who was now laughing with the HVAC guy. “Why doesn’t your brother call his girlfriend?”
“He doesn’t want to.”
Tammy’s voice cracked. “You need to get us off this ship. We can’t raise a child here.”
* * *
Bruce got the Cryo Lab on the holo screen. Lori muttered a halfhearted hello. She kept looking about as workers in lab coats rushed about furiously in the background. She said she had no idea if the clients wanted their damned pizza and hung up.
Bruce decided to prepare the stiffs’ orders. If he was going to get to the colony with something to show for the long trip, he couldn’t afford to make anyone angry. Maybe he’d squirrel away enough money to outbid the stiffs for one of the best properties.
Tammy diced onions on the galley kitchen’s narrow counter. Unlike Bruce, the stresses of the trip rarely got to her. Some passengers couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without taking anxiety medication.
Rusty flipped through channels on the holovision and nursed a beer. His Red Sox cap sat on the table. He never came to work without it, despite Tammy’s constant comments that it did not look professional.
The airlock opened. A man wearing a strange uniform entered. The stranger flashed a salesman’s smile and held out his hand. “I’m Ensign Luis Deville from the Donald Trump.”
Bruce wiped his hands on his apron and shook Deville’s hand. He introduced Tammy and Rusty. “Has it really been twenty five years since we left?”
Deville nodded. “Bruce, it’s been at least that long.”
Rusty jumped up. “Hey, how my Red Sox doing? They won the Series yet?”
“They won it about ten years ago. But the last few years nobody’s beaten Tokyo, not even Mexico City,” Deville said.
“When I left they were talking about bull dozing Fenway,” Rusty said.
“Fenway’s still there,” Deville said.
“Fantastic.”
“Can we talk about something a bit more relevant?” Tammy snapped.
“Hey, want some pizza, bossman?” Rusty asked Deville.
Deville’s smile almost seemed genuine. “You got pepperoni, Rusty?”
“I’ll fix you right up.” Rusty began shaping a doughball.
Turning so Deville couldn’t see, Tammy rolled her eyes.
Deville set a comp cube on a table. “The first thing you need to understand is that we’re not a United Nations ship. I work for Interstellar Rescue. We save colonists.”
Bruce knew Deville’s kind. The new ship wasn’t on a humanitarian mission. It was here seeking corporate profit. This wasn’t a rescue. It was a hold up.
“Save colonists from what?” Bruce asked.
“Boredom. Wasting their lives. We’ll get you to the colony years faster that a piece of garbage like the Murdoch.”
Rusty sat down and handed Deville a beer.
Deville took a long sip. “Our ship is much smaller than yours.” He gestured about the room. “They don’t make big old cruise ships like this anymore.” He took another sip. “We get reimbursed by the U.N. for some passengers and after we meet our quota we’re allowed to charge additional passengers.”
Tammy glared. “It’s going to cost us to go to the colony?”
Deville shook his head. “It won’t cost everybody.”
Rusty stood. “Gotta get that pie.”
Rusty brought the pizza and sliced it on the table. He slipped a plate in front of Deville.
Deville shoved a slice into his mouth with plump fingers. Sauce splattered on his shirt. “Lord, this almost makes me want to switch ships.”
“Can we go on the Trump?” Tammy asked.
Deville swallowed. “I need some information first, Tammy. How are you guys related?”
Tammy’s eyes narrowed and she focused on Deville. “Bruce and I are married. Rusty is Bruce’s brother.”
Deville nodded. “Got it. Here’s the deal, Tammy. Rusty gets to go as part of the U.N. quota. One of you two also gets to go. One adult from each family. You and Bruce count as a family. Rusty is a second family.”
Tammy made no effort to hide her sarcasm. “Thank God we haven’t had our child yet. Or we might have to leave the baby behind.”
Deville put down his pizza. “Tammy, even then you’d be okay. The first two children in each family get free passage.”
“Your policy doesn’t make any sense,” Bruce said.
“I agree, Bruce. I wish we could take everybody for free. But, what can I do? It’s a United Nations mandate.”
Bruce snorted. “Like a U.N. mandate means anything.” The corporations had the U.N. in their back pockets.
Deville put down his beer. “The Trump doesn’t have to be here at all. We could have let you coast into the colony in your rusty antique while the new ships whiz past you. If your ship makes it at all.”
“Why wouldn’t our ship make it?” Bruce asked.
“Your drive has a history of breaking down. And when that happens a ship is on its own.”
Deville’s eyes darted as his retinal muscles activated the comp cube. The United Nation’s Space Agency’s holographic logo hovered over the table. Deville blinked as his eye movement triggered a virtual floating keyboard that only he could see. “Watch this. It explains things better than I can.” He slumped in his chair and let the comp cube continue the sales pitch.
“Ortiz Drive Death Trap,” boomed a voice. An image of rescue ships in deep space. “These ships arrived too late to save the UNSA interstellar Transport John D. Rockefeller. Another victim of the Ortiz drive.”
For the next few minutes Bruce watched a rapid fire montage of star ships in various stages of damage. The Stephen Jobs. The Sam Walton. The Ray Kroc.
Bruce’s stomach lurched. They had almost booked passage on the Kroc, but switched to the Murdoch when the Kroc wouldn’t let them open a restaurant.
Bruce wondered how many times Deville had sat through the holofilm or if the holofilm was even telling the truth. Interstellar Rescue’s claims about the drive might be an elaborate corporate con game to bilk an interstellar ship’s captive market.
Bruce felt a headache coming on. “How much will it cost for me to go on the Trump too?”
Deville waved his hand over the comp cube again. He pointed to the screen. “There’s the figure.”
Bruce’s headache worsened. “We can’t afford that.”
Deville took another sip of beer. “Bruce, when the Murdoch gets to the colony years after the Trump, it’ll be nothing better than scrap. If it makes it at all. The people who designed it are dead. Your ship could arrive in five years or twenty or thirty or never. It all depends on the drive and the relativity effect. You’d be taking a huge chance. I wish you could see that I’m trying to help you.”
Deville turned off the comp cube. “I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but the tickets are first come first serve. The U.N. mandated slots are guaranteed, but once we run out of paid slots, they’re gone. You need to buy a ticket. You owe it to your kid, Bruce.”
Bruce massaged his temples. He had two impossible choices. Go early and arrive owing money or stay on a ship with no customers and get there years late. He could pay for the trip if he cleaned out their savings. Hell, that still wouldn’t be enough. He’d have to borrow a third of it from Rusty.
“We can provide financing,” Deville said. “The terms are quite reasonable.”
* * *
After Deville left Bruce took a deep breath. “I’ll stay,” he said to Tammy.
Tammy stared at him. “And miss your kid growing up? No big deal, I guess.”
“Of course it’s a big deal. You think this is easy for me?” Bruce snapped.
Rusty stood up. “Time for a break.” He pulled out a joint and stepped into the utility hallway.
“Have you lost your mind?” Tammy asked.
Bruce closed his eyes. “I’m a businessman. We need money to survive on the colony.”
“Your child needs a Dad.”
Bruce put his arm around Tammy. “If I have to buy a ticket, we’ll arrive there in debt. My way we got money and a business.”
Tammy pulled away. “All you care about is money.”
“That’s not true.”
“What if the Murdoch’s drive breaks?” Her eyes pleaded. “If you stay, I could be years older than you when we see each other again. Your son or daughter could be grown. You might not even make it.”
“I know that,” Bruce mumbled.
Tammy sniffled. “I’m going to pack.” She stood up and walked to the air lock. She stopped and turned around. “Are you coming?”
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Why can’t you leave now, Bruce? What could you possibly have to think about?”
Bruce did not know what to say. When he did not respond Tammy walked out of the restaurant.
As the air lock slid shut behind her Bruce knew that she would have slammed a door shut if she could.
• * *
While Bruce filled the stiffs’ orders he obsessed over the cost of a ticket on the Trump. But no matter how many times he ran through the numbers he still couldn’t make it to the colony without borrowing money.
When Rusty returned, Bruce wondered if he had seen Lori. Knowing Rusty he might have hooked up with some new girl. It was about time for his brother to screw things up again.
Rusty laughed. “Why you messing with those pies? You know there ain’t no pleasing a stiff.”
Bruce ladled sauce. “You gonna help?”
“Where’s Tammy?”
“She’s been helping,” Bruce grunted. “She’s pregnant, you idiot. She’s tired.”
Rusty opened the oven. Hot air rushed out. He rotated the pies so they would cook evenly. “These are almost finished baking.”
Bruce sprinkled mozzarella. “If you’re not too busy to do your job, could you take them out when they’re done and box them?”
Rusty closed the oven and leaned against the bulkhead. “You serious? You really gonna stay?”
Bruce scooped out a big handful of pepperoni and spread it on a pie. “What choice do I got?”
Rusty clasped Bruce’s shoulder. “Bossman, listen to me. Lori says the stiffs are buying all the extra seats to the colony. The Trump’s gonna sell out.”
“Why the hell don’t the god-damned stiffs just stay in the deep freeze?”
“Because they get whatever they want. You know that.”
“The stiffs have been sleeping for five years, doing nothing and they still get special treatment. What the hell have I been working for?”
“Bossman, you got to go on the Trump.”
“It’ll bankrupt us.” Bruce looked at the boxed pizzas and was at once overcome with rage.
At Interstellar Rescue. At the stiffs. But mainly at himself for not figuring out how to get to the colony without blowing all their savings.
The game was fixed. He couldn’t win. Hell, the cruise line probably owned Interstellar Rescue.
Bruce slammed his fist into the teetering stacks of pizza boxes and knocked them off the counter. Pizzas slid out and hot cheese oozed onto the floor. Tomato sauce mixed with grime and dust.
A rat sized sanibot scurried out of its cubbyhole to clean up the mess.
“Leave it alone!” Bruce barked.
With an indignant beep the sanibot slunk away.
Rusty grinned. “I guess you’re not finishing the orders.’
Bruce panted. “No, I’m not finishing the order. I got to take out a friggin’ loan.”
* * *

Deville tore off a jagged chunk of pizza. “Good stuff,” he said through a mouthful of food. He pointed to the mess on the kitchen floor. “What happened in there?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Bruce said.
“I told you the ship was breaking down. Even the sanibots are busted,” Deville said.
“I told it not to clean up the mess.” Bruce ran his fingers through his hair, a nervous habit he usually reserved for arguments with Tammy. “My wife and I have talked about your proposal. I need to take out a loan.”
Deville smiled. “You won’t regret it, Bruce.”
Rusty took a seat at the table. “So, you get a commission, right?” Rusty asked Deville.
“I do.” Deville’s eyes fluttered as he worked a virtual keyboard.
Rusty jotted a figure on a napkin. “Is it this much?”
“What are you doing?” Bruce asked.
Rusty spoke in a casual tone, as if he were offering to pick up a check at dinner. “Bossman, let me do something for you for once. Relax.”
Bruce was tired. He was in no hurry to hear about how much a loan would cost. He leaned back in his chair and listened to Rusty and Deville.
Deville’s eyes narrowed. “What’s your point?”
“Let’s skip the company’s fee. I’ll give you that much if you let my brother on that ship.”
Deville’s eyes lingered on the napkin. “It doesn’t matter if you pay me ten times the fee. Nobody extra goes on the Trump.”
Rusty smiled. “You’re not gettin’ my meaning. I’m not talking about anybody extra’s going. I pay you that and you let my brother go instead of me.”
“I can’t.”
“Sure you can. Say there was a mix up. What are they going to do? Come back and get me?”
“Why are you doing this?” Bruce asked Rusty.
Rusty shrugged. “I got to stay.”
Bruce wondered if Lori was pregnant. Or maybe like the HVAC guy she wasn’t allowed to leave the Murdoch.
“You know what’s funny?” Rusty asked Deville. “I figure Interstellar Rescue might be doing to you what you’re doing to us.”
Deville’s smile vanished. “I’ll do all right. I get along fine with Corporate.”
“Yeah, but by the time you get back to Earth the folks you know will be gone and a whole new group will be there.” Rusty smirked. “I reckon you’ll do fine. Interstellar Rescue’s putting your money away for you and it’s gonna be waiting for you when you get back. Because Interstellar Rescue’s all about helping people.”
“Shut up,” Deville said.
“I’m just trying to give you a little nest egg in case things don’t work out.” Rusty reached for the napkin. “But, you don’t need to worry about anything, I guess. You don’t need my money.”
Deville folded the napkin and put it in his pocket. “I want the money tonight. And if you change your mind, you’re not getting it back.”
* *
Bruce was giddy at the thought of seeing Rusty for the first time in eleven years. Today was the day the Ruport Murdoch finally arrived at the colony. He glanced at the clock. “Hurry up, honey.“
Tammy bounced their daughter, April, in her arms. “We got plenty of time.”
Russell, their ten year old son walked in the kitchen. “Do I have to go?”
Bruce picked up his son and hugged him. “You’re going to meet your uncle today. You’ll love him. He tells great stories and he loves sports. I bet he’ll go out to the recreation fields and play baseball with you.”
Tammy gave Russell a mother’s stern look. “Go clean up. We need to leave.”
It seemed like a lifetime ago that Bruce and Tammy boarded the Donald Trump. Bruce did not like thinking about the three month trip. From armed sentries preventing people without tickets from boarding to substandard living conditions the trip had been a nightmare. Interstellar Rescue had given them the bare minimum- a mat to sleep on, water and stale corporate rations. Everything else cost extra. Even medical care for pregnant women.
Bruce was surprised that he actually enjoyed the time away from his brother. But after the relief wore off he began to miss Rusty. When the Murdoch didn’t arrive on time he fell into a deep depression for almost a year. The colony assumed the Ortiz drive had claimed another ship.
Two weeks ago the colony received the first transmission from the Rupert Murdoch. Limping home with a damaged engine, the ship was almost at the colony.
“You got someone to cover the restaurant,” Tammy whispered as she put April in the bassinet.
Bruce grinned. Nothing was going to ruin his mood today. “Of course.” Their pizza place was thriving. Colonists appreciated having an alternative to the corporate restaurants that littered the city. He and Tammy were very lucky when an Earth chain had pulled out of the colony and offered its fixtures for sale dirt cheap.
Bruce drove through Prime Insurance City. Lord only knew how much the insurance conglomerate had paid for the naming rights. By the time Bruce and Tammy arrived, another improvement in the star drive had made the Donald Trump obsolete, and the city was already half built. Instead of being among the first colonists to settle the planet, Bruce and Tammy landed at a functioning starport that saw half a dozen ships a year.
The family stood in a crowd and watched the Rupert Murdoch appear over the tops of the towering trees that flanked Prime Insurance City. The ship slowly descended on the tarmac.
The gangway creaked to the ground. Hundreds of people spilled out. The crowd rushed to meet them.
Lori and Rusty walked down the gangway. Rusty looked good, about the same age as when the Trump left. Lori looked like hell. Her face was wrinkled and she had gray hair and easily appeared twice Rusty’s age.
Bruce ran up to meet his brother. “Rusty!”
Rusty gave him a blank look. “That’s my Dad. My name is Mike.”
Bruce stared at Rusty’s son. Yes, it wasn’t Rusty, but the family resemblance was strong. “I’m your Uncle Bruce.” He hugged his nephew.
Mike gawked at the sky. “This is huge. So much space.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Lori said. “It’s beautiful here.”
Mike turned his head back to the Trump. “I don’t know,” he muttered.
“Where’s Rusty?” Bruce asked Lori.
“The Trump left almost thirty years ago,“ Lori said. “Rusty and I had Mike five years after.” She sighed. “Rusty passed away two years ago.”
Bruce fought back tears, “How?”
Lori showed a sad little smile. “He died of colon cancer. After we lost the restaurant we couldn’t afford anything, but basic medical treatment.”
Tammy stood behind Bruce. She put her arm around him. “I’m so sorry, honey,” she whispered.
Bruce could think of nothing to say.
“Bruce, I loved your brother,” Lori said. “He was a screw up. I’m still not sure how he ran the restaurant into the ground, but I loved him.”
“He shouldn’t have given me his ticket,” Bruce said.
Lori shook her head. “Bruce, you’re wrong. That’s the one thing he did right. If he had gone on the Trump, I wouldn’t have had Mike.” She pointed to April and Russell who were standing behind Tammy. “And, those must be your kids. They’re beautiful children.”
“I could have bought a ticket,” Bruce muttered.
“I wasn’t allowed to go on the Trump,” Lori said. “Even all the stiffs together couldn’t have bribed my way out of my work contract.” She sat a small duffel bag down on the tarmac and reached inside. She pulled out a small object. “Rusty wanted you to have this.”
Bruce stared at Rusty’s battered baseball cap. His voice cracked. “I never saw him without it.”
“He wore it through Chemo,” Lori said. “He said the hat should go to somebody who had seen the Red Sox play.”
“Rusty dragged me to a few games.”
“He said he wanted it to go to family.”
Bruce put on the cap. It fit snug. “Thanks.” He stepped over to his children and picked up Russell. “Lori, I’d like you to meet my family.”

BIOGRAPHY

I am an attorney in Raleigh, NC. I have been a science fiction fan since falling in the love with the original Star Trek in the 1970s. My favorite writers include Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Dick, Margaret Atwood and Ernest Hemingway. I have had stories published in Bull Spec, Enounters, Stupefying Stories, Ray Gun Revival, Interstellar Fiction, Bards and Sages and Every Day Fiction

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Maternal By David Massengill

Aug 04 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Talia usually saw the pregnant woman walking along the beach where the government workers had piled all the bodies. But today the young woman was coming out of Islanders Market with a bag of groceries in one hand. She had sky-blue eyes and wavy black hair that nearly reached her waist.

And she was no longer pregnant.

“Hello,” Talia called from across the street. She felt a pang of guilt because she’d assured her husband, Frank, that she’d never speak to any of the nest people they’d seen on the island.

The woman turned toward her, surprising Talia. Usually, the nest people remained in dazed states due to the insects living inside their heads. They continued their daily routines as much as possible, yet they seemed oblivious to all that had occurred in the last 10 months. The destruction of the island’s population by poisonous, roach-like insects that killed you just by landing on your skin. The government’s evacuation of the survivors who were willing to trade their homes for a refugee center in Seattle. Talia and Frank were certain the nest people weren’t aware of the bugs inside their heads. After all, how could they go about their lives with such knowledge?

“It’s a lovely morning,” the woman called. She was looking past Talia at Seal Bay. Talia glanced behind her at the cloudy sky, the gray water, and the wreckage of the military plane that had crashed months ago on the adjacent island.

“Yes,” Talia lied. “Beautiful.” She started across the street toward the woman, and she glanced down at her wrists to make sure there was no exposed skin between her sleeves and her gloves. Frank had constructed her “body suit” out of a hooded blue tracksuit and a thick sheet of plastic that shielded her face and neck. Frank didn’t like her leaving the house for her solitary Sunday walks, but she told him she needed the alone time and exercise to keep her sanity. She didn’t mention she’d been keeping track of a pregnant nest person she’d spotted around town.

“My name’s Talia,” she said. She extended her hand, which was trembling. “I’ve seen you before, but we’ve never met.”

The woman gave her an empty look and said, “I’m Mary Beth. I come to town once a week to run errands.”

Talia smiled as she discreetly looked for the scab or scar that would confirm that Mary Beth was a nest person. She remembered watching a news program about nest people when there was still TV and the redbug attacks were limited to Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The commentator said it was unknown why the insects nested inside certain people. Some left their hosts without harming them while others immediately triggered death by poisoning. The one common denominator was that each nest person had an entrance wound on his or her face or neck.

Talia saw a dark red mark beneath Mary Beth’s pale chin. “Did you have your baby?” she asked. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t be so bold in her questioning, but she needed to know what happened to the child.

“The baby’s at home,” Mary Beth said, her face brightening. She looked almost fully conscious. “We chose the name Sarah.”

“So you live with your husband,” Talia said. She hoped her voice didn’t reveal her disappointment. But if Mary Beth had a healthy husband then Talia’s plan had gone to rot.

“My husband?” Mary Beth asked. She gave a distant look, and then there was a flash of terror in her eyes, as if she recalled something horrible. Her daze returned and she repeated, “We chose the name Sarah. Do you have any children?”

“No,” Talia said. Her response was barely more than a whisper. “My husband and I have been trying.”

She remembered how she and Frank had moved to the San Juan Islands two years ago to start their family. The move was just after her 37th birthday. She’d been certain that the stress of her paralegal job in Seattle was preventing a pregnancy. Frank didn’t mind that she wanted to give notice at work, and he was open to relocating because he could conduct his software design business anywhere. But he did suggest they stay in their condo on Queen Anne for another year.

“I feel like we need to get away from the city and all its distractions now,” Talia had said. She didn’t mention that she wanted to separate herself from her three closest friends, all of whom were new mothers who talked ceaselessly about their babies.

After the redbugs infested the island and the government workers came to collect the survivors, Frank asked Talia if she wanted to return to the city. She knew she’d never reproduce if they were confined to some cramped and stinking refugee center. She figured that with most of the residents deceased or evacuated, this gorgeous, forested island would be their private utopia. And their child’s as well.

“We’re resourceful people,” Talia had told Frank. “We’ve managed so far, and we’ll continue to do so.”

But they still hadn’t managed to make a baby.

“I wish you and your husband the best of luck,” Mary Beth said. She smiled robotically and started to walk away.

“Wait!” Talia said, suddenly terrified she’d lose this opportunity.

Mary Beth looked back at her with those expressionless eyes.

“We haven’t exchanged addresses,” Talia said. “I think we few people left on the island need to watch out for each other. I haven’t seen any swarms lately, but as you know the insects can come out of nowhere.”

“Insects?” Mary Beth asked. “I saw honeybees on my walk into town. It’s a lovely morning.”

“Where do you live?” Talia asked. She knew she sounded aggressive, but she didn’t care. She guessed Mary Beth wouldn’t either.

“Our house is a 10-minute walk from town,” Mary Beth said, “near the woods. Would you like to see it?”

“Please,” Talia said. She knew Frank would be expecting her return soon. But first she had to see the baby.

They walked to the house without speaking, and Mary Beth remained a few steps in front of Talia the entire time. Talia was going to try some small talk, but then Mary Beth began humming a monotonous, slightly eerie tune.

The house wasn’t near the woods so much as it was engulfed by them. Talia peered past trunks of evergreens and massive, flowering shrubs to see a small structure with peeling white paint. Surrounding the house was a picket fence with various gaps in it. Dry pine needles littered the ground.

Everyone’s yards had taken on wild qualities after the redbug attacks, but this property looked as if it were on the verge of becoming a ruin.

“Welcome to our home,” Mary Beth said before heading between the trees.

Talia followed until she saw the tree trunks that were closest to the house. Her heartbeat quickened.

Hundreds of redbugs speckled the bark, their crimson exoskeletons gleaming in the morning light. None of the insects moved. They appeared to be waiting and watching for something.

Mary Beth continued past them nonchalantly.

“Be careful of the insects,” Talia whispered.

Mary Beth looked back at her without alarm. “I saw honeybees on my walk into town,” she said in a flat voice. “A cluster of baby spiders, too.”

Talia also walked past the trees. She thought she saw a redbug’s feelers point in her direction, and she hurried toward the front door.

Entering a dim living room, she smelled something both sweet and decaying, and she tried not to retch. A ripped bag of diapers sat on a couch and a tipped-over baby bottle leaked milk on a coffee table. Facing the couch was a muted television showing static on its screen. In one corner of the room was a tangle of bloodstained sheets.

Talia heard a baby’s gurgle in another room. Mary Beth walked toward the sound, which originated from a dim bedroom that was connected to the living room.

Talia was about to follow her when she glanced inside the kitchen. It appeared to be the only room with a view of the forest. Talia noticed that the window above the sink was wide open, and she thought of all those redbugs that could fly inside. She moved to close the window, and that was when she saw the corpse lying on the kitchen floor, beneath a table covered with cans of baby sauce.

Talia knew the young man had been a victim of the redbugs. He had the ashen skin and bulging eyes of so many other corpses she’d seen around town after the attacks. Frank had once told her that fever cooked the victims’ brains.

“I thought you wanted to see the baby.”

Talia was startled by the voice. She turned around and saw Mary Beth standing directly behind her, staring at her coldly. Mary Beth didn’t look at the man’s body.

Talia slowly pointed at the corpse and asked, “Is that your husband?”

Mary Beth continued with the creepy stare. “We chose the name Sarah.”

“Yes,” Talia said, trying to shake off her horror. “The baby.”

As they walked toward the bedroom, Talia decided that she and Frank would never be able to take Mary Beth into their home. The woman had obviously lost her mind to the insect inside her head. Talia was originally going to suggest that Mary Beth and the baby live in the guest bedroom. Now she knew that if Mary Beth didn’t surrender the baby she would steal it. She was certain she could outrun the nest person if she had to.

The crib was beside an unmade double bed. Talia noticed dark yellow stains on the bed’s rumpled comforter. The stains reminded her of the squashed redbugs she’d seen around town after the government workers’ brief occupation.

Mary Beth walked to the crib and leaned over its railing to reach for the infant.

Talia suddenly dreaded that something was wrong with the baby. After all, the mother was a nest person with apparent brain damage. But what if the baby were healthy? Talia imagined teaching her child to walk on the back lawn, which Frank had sealed off with Plexiglas. She and her daughter could learn to sew sweaters and make blackberry jam to store for the upcoming winters.

“This is Sarah,” Mary Beth said.

Talia beamed when Mary Beth turned around. The adorable, pink-faced baby in her arms was swaddled in a fuchsia blanket, and she wore a little knit cap on her head. Her eyes were closed, but she didn’t seem to be asleep. Her lips moved as if she were mouthing words.

“I think she’s trying to say something to me,” Talia said. “May I hold her?”

Mary Beth nodded and handed her the baby.

Talia held the child close to her chest and sang, “Sarah, Sarah….”

She patted the top of the baby’s head, and then her hand froze. She felt bumps beneath the cap. She pulled the wool above the forehead and saw two repulsive stubs protruding from where the baby’s hairline would be.

The thing in Talia’s arms was growing antennae.

“I want to put her down,” Talia said in a frightened voice. She held the baby away from her, and Mary Beth received the bundle.

Talia saw the baby’s eyes open and stare at her. They resembled spheres of coal.

Panic made Talia flee from the bedroom and rush toward the front door. She swore to herself she’d apologize to Frank if she ever made it home again. She’d been so foolish, so selfish.

She cracked open the door, and a cooing sound came from behind her. Talia turned when she heard what sounded like “Mama.”

BIO: David Massengill lives in Seattle. His short stories and works of flash fiction have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Eclectica Magazine, Word Riot, 3 A.M. Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, Yellow Mama, Tainted Tea, and The New Flesh. Read more of his fiction at www.davidmassengillfiction.com.

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