Good Beginnings: Fair Shopping

Good beginnings.

It’s something so delicious and delicate.

And dangerous.

Zipper down. Spinach-infested smiles. Eye boogers. Toilet paper stuck to… well, just stuck.

First impression failures line my history well.

Then there are those winning first shots.

Wind causes hair to blow lavishly behind face. Sunlight making eyes radiant. Body odor: good.

Point being, good beginnings can happen as random as bad ones.

And when it comes to good beginnings with stories, I have bucketloads. Trunk-novel-loads, in fact. Many still stuck in the mucus of my hippocampus.

What to do with good story beginnings? Write long epic novels, of course.

The frustrating part about these good story beginnings is that they don’t always promise a good long ending.

That’s what happened to my short story ‘Fair Shopping.’

It was supposed to be epic in length. An odyssey that stands ageless and full of action and intrigue.

Yeah… that didn’t happen past chapter four. Damn story.

It wanted to write itself into the truncated form it is now, the stubborn thing.

No! I want espionage. End-of-the-world cataclysm. Perspective of our current throes into modern potential warfare.

But the damned story kicked me out and said this is what will happen instead. It defied pantsing. It defied outlines.

So, I let it do its thing and write itself out.

What was supposed to be a brick of a novel became a short dive into horror for a young couple on their way to a town fair.

So happy the folks at Spectral Press liked this good beginning that wanted it to go as short as it wanted to.

‘Fair Shopping’ will be part of the fifth anthology of Spectral Book of Horrors, a wonderful series to be part of in my opinion.

Coming soon in the fall.

Hooray for good beginnings!

 

JLT

Touch

Look at your hand (hopefully, you have one).

Flex it. Curl your fingers inward and touch your palm with your fingertips. Open it. Spread your fingers and let your hand expand flat in the air in front of you.

Touch forefinger to thumb.

Turn your hand palm down and make a fist. Look at the mess of knuckles bulging from your skin.

Now clasp hands together and squeeze slightly. Let go and just stare at a hand until you feel the perplexity of the limb in front of you.

You are looking at a part of your body. You are looking at an extension of yourself consisting of near-infinite amounts of particles put together and fired by the will of your mind.

You don’t see the bone and sinew underneath the sheath of skin, but know that there is a miracle to your machinery. It’s a reality you take for granted now but once was fascinated by with infant eyes.

The hand exists for you.

Use it to touch others that you love.

Feel their existence.

And know how strange and wonderful this ability is

to touch until you cannot touch anymore.

For one day the use of your touch will be gone forever…

Touch while you can.

JLT

black-and-white-hands-photo-1

Roommates

Finally.

You’re awake.

Yeah. It’s crazy.

We’re locked up in a room together.

You. Me. That stranger huddling against the wall.

You can stop searching. I’ve already tried. For hours. There’s no way out of this place. This room. It’s really more of a box, actually.

You, I know. I’ve seen you before. Once or twice.

I got you. Get you, I mean. That stranger over there, I don’t know. And I’m nervous because it’s just sitting there quietly in the corner rocking back and forth — hiding its face from us.

I was thinking of getting up and poking it on the shoulder, but I don’t know what it will do to me. You want to give it a try?

Here. Take this. In case it tries to attack, you can defend yourself against it — whatever it is.

Don’t look at me. I don’t want to touch it.

Is the room getting smaller?

Seriously.

Did you hear that? It said something, I think.

I have no idea.

It smells…funny. No, I’m not being mean. It smells different. Well, you smell different, too. But I don’t like the way it smells. Or looks. It’s so…not right.

Why?

Why did you just do that?

Make it stop. Make it stop crying!

Stop it! Shut up! SHUT UP!

What? No. I can’t believe you. Why did you do that? Don’t touch me. Please. Just stay away from me.

Why did you have to kill it? Why?

I know what I said. I just…

I didn’t know what it was.

I just didn’t know.

THE END

© Jack Lee Taylor 2017

 

trauma

 

Ill Met

I don’t know you.

The softness between the ridges of bone. Tender spots I’ll never know.

Was it a fleeting glance, or a rotting glare?

Maybe a bump against shoulders. A middle finger shared between cars.

How could it be from so much distance that we are strangers?

You and your language — I don’t understand it.

Your peace and fury — so different from mine.

Even with separate mothers and fathers, and all that makes us different…

do you long for a smile from me?

Do you wish for revelation as to why you are there and I am here?

We eat and breathe. We sleep and dream.

We die.

But all of it never at the same time.

Sea foam splashing on the crags; our tides ripple with different paces.

And the ghost of chance bites us with cold teeth.

In that second of warmth, could we find each other?

Or else, pass one another waving arms, faces full of tears and thoughts of what might have been?

The answer to these questions are revealed with time.

A time without you.

 

Bedtime

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: But your arms are soft and warm. They can’t stop monsters.

Mother: No. They can’t.

Child: So when are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: You already said that. So, we’re never safe.

Mother: We’re together.

Child: Not all the time. Besides, that doesn’t mean we’re safe.

Mother: But I’m here now to protect you.

Child: Well how can you protect me when you’re not around?

Mother: I’ll stop the monsters now so you won’t ever have to worry about them ever again.

Child: But you’ll die if you do that.

Mother: I only want to keep you safe.

Child: I’ll be alone.

Mother: You’ll never be alone.

Child: You know, you really are starting to annoy me.

Mother: Why do you say that?

Child: Well, first of all, you come off as kind of weird every night with this ‘I’m-the-mom-everything-is-okay’ stuff that goes on and on, over and over. But it doesn’t really help me.

Mother: So you’re saying I annoy you.

Child: Yeah. Kind of. I mean if you stop to think about what you’re saying to me, it’s pretty meaningless. I’m telling you about the blood-sucking monsters that are outside my bedroom window, and you’re going on about this ‘here-and-now’ crap.

Mother: Child!

Child: And the stuff about being in your arms. Do you know how sweaty I get when you hug up on me? It makes my head itch, too.

Mother: Well then, if you find me annoying and don’t like my hugs, then you can deal with the monsters yourself.

Child: Mom? Oh come on, Babe. You don’t have to leave now. Mom?

Child: Mom?

Monster: Hey kid.

Child: Which one are you?

Monster: The choker.

Child: No. Not you. Aw, I hate it when you show up.

Monster: Hey, at least I’m not the bloodsucker. Besides, you haven’t been choked in a while. A good choking is just the thing for you.

Child: Yeah, but it hurts.

Monster: Not if I kill you. Then you won’t feel a thing.

Child: Dammit. Do you really have to choke me tonight?

Monster: I’m afraid so. Don’t struggle.

Child: MOM!

Monster: shhhh….

Child: MOM! The choking monster is in here! He’s going to choke me, Mom!

Monster: Just relax, kid.

Child: MO-gurgh–

Monster: That’s it. Turning blue. Turning blue. Baal loves you. Turning blue.

Child: gggrrruuuggghh

Monster: Turning blue. Turning-

Mother: That’s enough of that.

Monster: OW!

Child: Uu…uh. Mom… Mommy.

Mother: Honestly, you have way too many fathers that love to torment you.

Child: Mommy?

Monster: Did you really have to kick me in the nuts, Hon? I mean, geez, I have a job to do.

Mother: Et daemonium exisse.

Monster: Oh, you rotten strumpet. I hate you, you bi–

Child: It’s gone?

Mother: He’s gone.

Child: Mommy?

Mother: What?

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Shut up and go to sleep.

 

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

 

 

 

A Signature

Anna was the youngest in her family.  She was now on the verge of cutting the paternal noose from the thing on the hospital bed that silenced most of her childhood into the fray of background noise.  In the room filled with mechanical instruments that gave the illusion of sustaining life, her brother stood as a meaningless pet like a stuffed furry thing forever stuck in a pose of hungry anticipation, a shadow to Anna’s right that froze in child-like fear.  She should have relished the power she now had, extinguishing the existing nepotism that brandished her elder sibling, bringing to light in the sterile air her calm voice that would comfort and command.  Such a voice was always there, but always underneath the sparkling praise her father reserved wayward toward her brother; it was her voice that always rang true even in disregard.  During her teenage years, there had been no other to have helped amplify the voice above her shyness (her mother had died two years before Anna first saw the crimson drops of her own womanhood begin).

“Miss Showalter,” the doctor said. “It’s a difficult situation, I know.”  He, too, had been a statue all this time, offering explanations that filled the air with sound.  His babbling lifted upward in the room, creating waves of sleep-inducing sentences that floated away and reverberating back to her in wet echoes.

“In a case like this, there’s still time to reach out to other members of your immediate family to-”

“It’s not a case,” Anna said.

The board-stiff doctor stiffened further.

“I didn’t mean your father is just a case Miss Showalter.”

“It’s okay.  You can stop.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  Is that an answer?”

“I mean it’s okay.  You don’t have to say anything else to me about it.”

The doctor gave a stammering smile, but Anna saw his eyes were tired and distant, a face trained to separate from the toxic fatigue within.  How many times has he made this speech? Anna wondered.

“Miss Showalter, I do have to make it clear you understand this form before I give this to you and your brother to review.  In fact, I’ll need to bring in other personnel to witness your signatures should you both wish to sign.”

“You mean this guy?”  Anna pointed at her brother.  She watched Frank Showalter flinch as she did this. He put his head down, standing there and staring at the ground.  Anna thought of that shaky war footage of a Vietcong prisoner getting executed.  It was one of those clips that her father ran often in supposed seclusion inside his private room, oblivious to the child that hid in the same room searching for entry into his mysterious world. She remembered the cowering, adolescent face of that VC prisoner pulled downward with eyes that never fully closed, waiting for the bullet to come.

Her brother surprised her, however, by fully closing his eyes, shutting himself from the rest of them in the room.

“Frank,” Anna said.

“Frank!”

His eyes clamped tighter, creating a spider web of angry wrinkles that would probably take permanent residence on his face a decade later when he would turn forty.

“No,” he whimpered.

“No what Frank?” Anna said.

“I can’t.”

The doctor took a step closer to Anna’s brother.  She thought the doctor was going to reach out and place a hand on Frank’s shoulder.  Instead, he simply faced him and said, “Mr. Showalter. As I’ve said to your sister over there, there is plenty of time to make a decision.”

“I got to go,” Frank said. He broke wind; it was a loud, sonorous, moaning sound.  Frank opened his eyes wide and bolted out of the room, holding the seat of his jeans with both hands as he ran pell-mell and bowled into a group of nurses nearby.

The doctor goggled at the splaying scrub-blue bodies that scattered on the white tile.  He then turned to look at Anna.

“Is your brother…” The doctor grimaced and looked up, pretending to search for the proper word.

“He’s an idiot,” Anna replied.

“But is he… incapacitated in anyway. Does he have any condition that would affect his judgment concerning your father’s–”

“No,” Anna said.  “He masturbated a lot in the bathroom we had to share when we were kids.  He farts all the time like that, especially when he’s nervous.  He’s probably out there right now with the beginning of a load in his pants.  He eats like a dog lapping food out of garbage cans and is probably still a virgin from the looks of his GapKids sense of style.  He’s a freaking idiot.”

Anna turned to look at the heap of old flesh that was her father, a flaked-skin man bone-thin with a mind empty of the need to survive.

“My brother’s an idiot and still earned the love of that man.”

Anna grabbed the clipboard cradled within the crook of the doctor’s left arm.  She yanked it so fast from him that it made a slapping sound from the doctor’s sleeve.

“One moment, Miss Showalter.  There is a group of people I’ll be bringing back with me to help you through this process.  You should look over the form but please do not sign anything until I return.”

Anna smiled.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked.

“There’s one attached to the clipboard.  Miss Showalter, you do understand the importance of the decision you are about to make, don’t you?”

“Go get your people,” Anna said, still smiling.

The doctor retreated with a sigh.

“I’ll be back shortly, then.”

Anna watched him leave the room.  The scramble of nurses outside were now gone and Frank was nowhere to be seen. She looked at the clipboard, studying the verbiage allowing for non-voluntary euthanasia. She imagined the countless others who had to read such a form, perhaps scanning the lines on the pages with an uncomprehending gait, stunned by tumultuous sadness as they tried to scrawl a semblance of their signature on the large open area boxed at bottom of the page.

Her father was brain-dead; he could not survive without a breathing tube. Those statements were enough for the daughter of Edward Showalter to put his last day to an end.

Anna removed the Ember Medical pen snapped within clipboard holder and twirled it in her hand.

She knew it would be easy to sign.  No last minute jitters.  No unnecessary legal consultations to further clarify the pros and cons.  No media-clad circus to cheer or jeer at her.

She went closer to her father’s bedside and looked over his face.

He looked sad, the outside of his gray brows drooping down.

She reached for his right hand, which was a mottled claw that nestled near the edge of the bed.

She was surprised at how warm his hands were.  Blood was still swirling defiantly inside of him.

His soul is gone, Anna thought, and then held his hand tighter.

She fought off the urge to look around to see if anyone could see her alone with her father.  Such a picture is completely normal in a hospital room, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about.

Anna put his frail hand on her face and unlocked her emotions.

Her heart fluttered with sadness and fresh tears came.

She leaned closer to him and hugged him.

It was their first hug.

“So this is how it goes, Dad?”  Anna said.  “This is how you finally show me you love me?”

The hand.  Her father’s hand moved.  Anna felt his grip tighten.

She shook in a combination of sobbing and giggling.

“Do you really love me, Dad?” she asked.

She felt another twitch in her hand.  She squeezed back.  He hears me, Anna marveled.

“Do you love me?”  There was no squeeze this time. Anna leaned in and embraced the husk of her father’s emaciated chest.

She gave him a soft kiss on his cheek and squeezed his hand once again.

When the doctor arrived back with both a nurse and a bereavement counselor, Anna sat up and gave them all a smile.  Her face was blotched wet with tears.

This is how it goes, Dad, Anna thought.

“I’m ready to sign.”

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

The Centurion

Thanks to folks at The Drabble for posting this!

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By Jack Lee Taylor

You lie under the hot sun: A baby drying to dust.
(Because of your eyes. The shape of your mouth.)
The monster is big. He picks you up by your leg, holding you upside down. His armor rattles. A sword slaps against his thigh.
He picks up another child, much bigger than you.
You look about the desert: A sea of deformities abandoned.
Far across the horizon, life abounds.
He falls to his knees, dropping you and your kindred.
“It’s never enough,” he says wearily.
He unsheathes his sword and raises it over you.
“It shall be quick,” he says.

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