Lisa

Excerpt from ‘Mortals’ by Jack Lee Taylor

 

She hates him so much. Down to his little bones. Bones that can break; but – no – Lisa, stay away; you’ll just make things worse. We’ll take care of him. Every time.

Stupid little brother.

Even at this moment, when the rain has stopped, and the clouds are thin vapors where the blue of the sky cuts through, he’s there stomping on the puddles, making the bottom on his jeans turn to the color of shit.  Like their driveway. A shitty driveway. A shitty house. A shitty family.

“Look how high I can make the water go,” the little turd says. And, yeah, there he is jumping up and down on brown water and ruining his sneakers. They won’t care. Mom will say ‘boys will be boys’ or something meaningless like that.

He never gets in trouble. He never gets yelled at the dinner table. Or in the morning. Or at night. Or at whenever.

He’s perfect. And she’s not.

“Leesee-“, he says. “Did you hear?”

“No,” Lisa says and then goes back to gazing up at the sky. When does the blue end? She had asked her father than once and dismissed whatever nonsense he spewed back at her. He doesn’t know. No one does.

When does the sky end? That’s easy. There is no sky. It’s just space. Clouds, atmosphere, and space. And then after that? Nothing. No heaven. No god, no angels or fairies or dead grandmothers. There’s nothing after that. And the crazy part of it all is that she’s brave enough to admit it. Why lie about it? Or even worse, why try to brainwash her with churches or bible verses? We live and then we die. How difficult is that to accept?

A red car. A muscle car, she thinks. Because if it’s loud, bulky, and all bulging like on steroids, it’s called a muscle car. It streaks pass her driveway and she thinks: wow, Seb was probably five feet away from the speeding car. He probably would have died if he got hit. Or even worse, the driver would try to swerve and miss him and hit their neighbor’s two-story and die on impact. That would totally screw Seb’s chance of not getting in trouble. My brother, the murderer of the muscle-car driver.

And all that is stupid, too. Because, Seb’s just five. He’s just… five. And that means he’s stupid, but he’s still five, and that, she’s guesses, is the reason why he’s stupid. Why he so perfect and doesn’t get in trouble.

Lisa imagines a digital rewind button dangling in front of her, a white button suspended in the air beckoning for her to push. She takes her thumb and presses it in the air, noticing the gloss of her blue fingernail polish reflecting the sharp blue of the day.

This time the car doesn’t speed by. Seb is jumping. Talking. Laughing. He’s jumping his small jumps that barely impact the ground, and he becomes a three-foot tall Pogo stick, bouncing and bouncing like an ugly Tigger. His eyes are shut and full of stupid glee. She’s guessing he thinks he’s made the perfect storm from shallow puddles. Inches. Inches. Then feet. The driveway below his water-stained sneakers becomes asphalt. Becomes the street. And here it comes.

Lisa sees it all happen in real-time. And, no, it’s not slo-mo or, what is it? Every second feels like an eternity. It’s real-time, and she watches.

Seb is a Pogo stick and then plants himself on the street like… like, well, a kid on the street. And the muscle-car runs him over so fast, he goes from vertical to horizontal in an instant.  Real-time. That’s the only way to know if it really happened. Real. Now.

But it didn’t happen.

Pogo stick is still there, chanting, jumping, and making stupid little brother noises.

Sunlight beams down on Seb Freeman like a spotlight, the boy’s eyes and smile glinting in the daylight. He’s cute. Of course, he’s cute. And he’s special.

Lisa knows he’s special, more than her parents want her to know. She remembers the scraped knees. The band-aids that covered the fingernail scratches on his face. Her scratches, a reminder to him a few years before of who was boss in the family. They would cover up his wounds. But she knew even then, there were lights and sparks underneath the bandages. Doors closing so fast. Get out, Lisa. Go to your room, now! In other words: nothing for you to see here.

It’s not a muscle car this time. It’s Mrs. Burton’s Prius humming four houses down. Humming, but humming a bit louder and faster than Lisa cares for.

Because Pogo stick is now on the road. Laughing. No, not just laughing. He’s talking. Talking to no one. He’s such an idiot.

Except, he’s still on the road, and Lisa’s already on her feet, her pace slow at first and then picking up speed.

Because it’s in real-time, and she knows she’s paying for wishing there was a rewind button before. This time there is no rewind, pause, or stop button. It’s just Lisa. Thirteen. Full of ideas and dreams that no one knows or cares about. She just happens to be the older sister of Seb Freeman, and she understands now that she has just killed her brother.

She feels her feet moving faster, her brother growing in height and size in front of her eyes as she reels toward him. To her right comes Mrs. Burton’s silver orb on wheels, not slowing but moving forward like a rolling snowball gaining size as it heads downhill toward Seb Freeman.

Lisa is yelling. Of course, she’s yelling. And before she can bring the hate she has toward her parents – where the hell are they? – she is pushing; her hands connect to boy-body, a feeling of a bony, bird frame in her palms.

The smack of ground leaves a pain so intense to her nose that her eyes water.  For this brief split-second of real-time as she lands face down on the road, she takes in the wet, tarry smell of asphalt. She barely feels the heavy weight of the car tires crush into her back. Only after Mrs. Burton’s Prius rolls over Lisa does the young girl understand she can’t suck in breath. For a fraction of a second.

Then it’s many seconds.

How foolish had she been? Real-time. Really?

Seconds without breath do feel like eternity.

When she does breathe again, her body shudders as she takes in a weak breath, trying to fill her broken lungs with life. Her ears ring and then follow a melody – an awful one. Her brother’s screams.

“LEESEEE!”

He’s alive.

She draws breath once more and has time for one last thought before she dies.

He’s so stupid.

 

The Library – A Short Story by Sydney T

One clear, summer morning, Mom had dropped me off at the school library with a couple other kids who I had no clue who they were.

“Goodbye, darling! Have fun!” Mom yelled at me as I opened the car door to enter the tall building. I shuddered as I looked up at the school. ‘Wells Middle School’ I read.

“I can’t believe I’m back.” I murmured to myself, as I met my librarian and the rest of the group toward the doors.

“Hey… Chloe.” Mrs. Smeltz read off my name tag. She introduced me to the rest of the children, “This is Aaron, James, and Haddie.” She pointed to each one of the students as she said their names.

“Hm…” I mumbled, keeping my head down, trying the avoid all contact with anyone as much as I could.

“So, I hope you all understand why you’re here.” Mrs. Smeltz said, walking back and forth in front of us. She lead us inside to the book museum and sat us down at the blue desks. “What you have done to the school is unacceptable!” She scowled. “Vandalizing? Especially what you wrote is horrendous!”

“Just tell us the punishment,” Aaron shouted, pushing back his chair to stand up, but instantly got that ‘Death Glare’ that moms give you.

“Ma’am,” He quietly said and sat back down.

“You children will have to organize my books,” she told us. Everyone shrugged, including me. I was fine with cleaning around the library. It was better than listening to my sister’s phone calls with her boyfriend.

“No, you hang up!” She would say. “No, you!”

I sighed of relief.

“Also, you have to dust the bookcases! I want them extra clean for next year.” She walked over toward the four dusters she brought.

We all agreed. Once again, I was fine with that. What I didn’t want was to go to the very back of the room. Apparently, it’s been haunted by some ghost guy from a book. There have been rumors that a child name Cole Smith got murdered when he went to return a book he had borrowed.

“Oh, and one more thing,” she said, “I need you to clean up a spill in the very back of the room. One of the staff spilled something while we had a meeting. Stupid teachers.” She shook her head as she walked away.

We all looked at each other in horror. “The back of the room?” James asked in disbelief. Haddie nodded. We all got up and went toward the bookcases. As we were heading toward the books, we grabbed a duster, ready to pay the price.

“This duster looks old.” I said, surprised to hear my own voice. Aaron agreed.

About an hour later of reorganizing the bookshelf and cleaning, we all decided to head toward the back. Everyone else was huddled up while I stayed as far away from the group as I possibly could.

“Well, we’re here.” James said.

“What’s that?” Aaron asked, pointing toward a crack in the wall.

“What do you mean?” Haddie questioned. She looked around, feeling cold and scared.

“There!” Aaron said, pointing at something no one could see.

“Where?” I finally asked, looking where Haddie and James were looking.

“We don’t see anything- Aaron?” James said. He stepped back in horror; blood was smeared all over the floor.

“Ah!” Haddie yelled. Aaron’s body was on the ground.

“Okay, let’s go back. Please!” I yelled. I gathered the remaining kids up to run away.

“It’s too late,” Haddie said, still facing the same direction as the dead body.

“What do you mean?” James asked.

“I’m next.” She answered, as she slowly fell to her knees, collapsing to the floor.

 

THE END!

SJT

Patriot

I was one of five. The middle boy bookended by four sisters.

Sara, the youngest, was my favorite sister. Six years my junior, she had a wisdom that surpassed me even before I reached adulthood, her own conviction and passion rippling positive change into the world until those threatened ended her life with cowardly bullets.

I thought of her now as they bound me with rope, unforgiving tethers that choked into my wrists and ankles. They forced me down onto my side and pulled the ropes taut until every knot ground in protest. The rough pores of the concrete floor in the death room poked at my cheeks, my bare legs.

“It will be over soon,” one of them said, kneeling behind me.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

The one behind me huffed a small laugh and then cupped a leather-gloved hand on my sweat-drenched hair. The touch was curiously gentle.

“You are probably right, my friend.”

I had once told Sara that life is over the moment you are born. The rest of your days are spent denying it. She had slapped me so hard for saying that, her small hand unleashing a powerful sting across my nose.

Love yourself, brother! If not for yourself, then for me. For what I do is for you and every other soul that lives in our country.

The man lifted his hand and squeezed my shoulder, a last effort at calming me before the inevitable bullet would silence me forever.

“Do you know what your problem is, my friend?”

I stretched my head to look behind me, but the ropes held me fetal-like on the cold ground.

He continued. “You tried to fight the world. That only works if you yourself are like the world, no? You have to be more powerful than the world to do that.”

“No,” I said. “You just have to do what’s right.”

The man snorted. “Right. Wrong. For the weak, it doesn’t matter. You’ll be dead soon, no? And what comes of that, my friend? No one will remember you.”

I gave a sigh to close my resolve. “Maybe no one will. But the choices I have made – for that is the gift my sister showed me – will always stay with the world. A mark left on the world in some way.”

“A very small mark,” he said. “But…yes. I believe that as much as you, my friend. Tell me, when all that are left of your people are gone, and there is no more of you to cause trouble for us, what do you think will happen?”

“We will never truly be gone. For our voices have been heard and will echo into the next lives that will listen and know what we stood for.”

He sighed tiredly and then stood up behind me.

There was a metallic click, and I understood the bullet was chambered and ready.

I closed my eyes and thought of Sara.

“For you, sweet sister.”

 

THE END

JLT

 

Flower Lady

The neighbors call my mother the Flower Lady.

Her front yard is practically a canopy of plant-life, while her backyard is a dense trail festooned with prickly bushes, pastel flowers, and a pond brimming with ornate goldfish.

At least, all that was true about a year ago.

Now, the front yard droops with unkempt vines.

The backyard trail is now smothered by wild, uncut after-growth; the goldfish long dead.

There’s a strangeness here not from the lack of upkeep, but from my mother’s unwillingness to tend to the joys of plant (and fish) life that only she could enjoy.

All of that upkeep takes a lot of energy, anyway.

Try this.

Tell someone something amazing you just remembered. Tell it to this person with pure alacrity, your blood pressure and heart rate up from the excitement. Energy runs afflux in a fast stream throughout your body. After this revelation, converse on other things with this person, your body calming itself to homeostasis.

After a few minutes, repeat this whole process again and again.

Do this for a half hour and your body will grow weary — energy levels depleted.

This is where my mother’s energy has gone to. And why she no longer desire the title of Flower Lady.

I never thought of Alzheimer’s as a slow life-sucking vampire, but then I’ve never seen it firsthand until now.

As I prepare a journey of support and care for my mother’s next stage of life, I’m reminded of how this Flower Lady had created and maintained a landscape of beauty around her house for many years. And at this point, no matter how much anyone can take over her labors of love dwindling outside, her life — like her yard — will never be the same.

Nor will mine.

JLT

 

So Why Are You Here?

The spattering of cells, those rival spagellas whipping and lashing.

Moving faster than the speed of mammal machination, reaching an orb that is undefined and dormant.

Plunder and pillage. An unwelcomed guest making itself at home.

Oh, grow up, will you? Listen to your spawners. Clothe thyself. Become the endless cycle.

Or are you worried about the meaning of it all?

Gestate. Engorge. Enlarge. Decide. Whither. Decompose.

Simple is the common among us, but we lavish complexity. Throw the feces at the window. It’s too clear. Too clean.

Oh, habitat. Save me from my discomfort. Look at the outlier that is me. Babble. Laugh. Cry. Kill. Make speeches. And scroll through the uninteresting.

Pace and calm.

And death to us all.

Live.

Love. Always. Wins.

All newborn babies are cute little things, right?

No?

Not all newborn babies?

Oh, I see.

Yeah, that wrinkly alien-thing with the one eye open.

Ooh. And that one with what looks like pubic hair on its head.

And that. Clean yourself up, you icky thing.

Okay, so not all newborn babies are the cutest thing known to humankind.

Oh, but look at them.

Aw.

All together in the nursery. Quiet and content. Even that colicky one over there in the corner.

They are precious, aren’t they?
When I was a wee lad living in the poorer parts of middle Tennessee, I was scooped up every Wednesday night by a battered van filled sporadically with churchgoing kids.

What I remember most on those Wednesday night children services was that I was the ‘yellow’ kid.

As the song went: Red, yellow, black, and white. They are precious in our sight.

The preacher would line us ethnically diverse kids up in front of the congregation. My sole job was to stand still between the Native American (The ‘Injun’ as she was so pleasantly called) and my buddy, who just happened to be blackish.

When those lyrics hit the air, the preacher would touch our heads in succession: Red; Yellow; Black; White.

It was a dirty job, but I did it well. With no perspective.

Okay, the mid-70s were a shocking mixture of mundane-meets-offensive. Don’t believe me? Just watch an early episode of ‘All in the Family’ and see how many times you can count the word ‘nigger’.

But years later, here I am trying to put in all into perspective and all I can think about are the babies in that nursery room.

All those babies in that nursery room, cooing, crying, or pooping. They actually have no real agenda. No real political motives.

It’s so trite of a thing to write about. The innocence of children.

But look at that crowd of hatemongers. Those grown-ups. Imagine them in that nursery. Not yet walking. Not yet talking. That’s them. Those grown-ups full of self-validated hatred. They were once in that nursery. Holding their own feet. Their diapers full of shit and piss. Their mouths aching for the nipple, plastic or real. Their eyes open to what the world offers.

We gathered as babies. Surpassing the insurmountable odds of not being born. Only to grow up adding hatred to the world.

Adding sorrow to our nursery.

It’s a contribution that takes away contribution.

If it’s your right to prolong a hatred for another newborn that just happens to share the nursery room with you, know that you were once like that other newborn. Struggling to become alive. Seeking love first. Seeking comfort and safety.

Seeking each other.

 

Love. Always. Win.

 

JLT

Write. Move. Write.

Wow.

Life. Yeah.

You know, man.

It, like, totally changes.

From time to time.

Like all the time. (giggle)

And cut…

I suck at acting.

But I’m great at pretending. Like, yeah. I’m pretending to write at this moment.

It’s true. Life changes. Totally. All. The. Time.

Old house sold.

New house bought.

Moving. Packing. Drinking. Packing. Drinking. Unpacking. Drinking. Drinking. Drinking. Drin…

And what do you know. It’s been like forever since I’ve put word to blank white. I am miserable and sorry for it. But what can I say. Life, man. Like all the time.

My daughter, a soon-to-be-tales-of-a-fourth-grader, has put more to paper than I have in the past six months. At least I can use the George R.R. Martin excuse. These stories will be finished when they are finished. You can’t rush writing.

Big fat ‘but’

When going through prolonged periods without writing, I get cramps. Okay. No. But I get feelings of guilt, dissatisfaction, irritability, and anxiety. I guess I know what I’ll feel like on my deathbed + pain of dying.

And you know what? That means I’m going to be okay. Because I’ll write again. One. Day. In the meantime, I get to read all of your lovelies. Your blogs. Your stories. Your labors of love. You. Yes, You. And from that I say: Thank you! Because your works are a bridge for me getting back to my own works.

Praise to you and yours.

JLT

 

(oh and Happy Birthday to me!)

 

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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

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Waste of Space

In the time I have left on Sol III, I defer to people more competent at arguing over the current state of the universe. I imagine the ratio of these folks in comparison to the world population to be small – maybe a portion of the National Institute of Science, some college professors, a few rogue physicists, and a slew of think-tank geniuses at NASA (give or take an astronaut or three).

You probably walked out of your home this morning not giving a damn about why the majority of the universe appears uninhabitable, or why all the observable matter in the universe is so small compared to all that mysterious dark energy and dark matter that has bright minds scratching holes in their skulls down to their fully-utilized brains.

Leave it to those that really care about mulling over the unfathomable universe. We got things to do. Places to go. People to see. Money to make. Mortgages. Rents. Dates. Kids. Cars. Parties. Politics.

Besides, we can be satisfied or nullified enough to quiet down any fervent curiosity of the makings of the vast seas of space. An episode of Nova or the Science Channel on the subject of the universe might be enough to have us ruminating a few hours before our interest turns to other things. A particular sermon on Sunday would be enough for some churchgoers to nod with approbation and move on with other aspects of their faith. Even a child daydreaming about another galaxy far, far away will eventually tire of her pondering and go crank up Minecraft on her iPad.

But then something happens on rare occasions. This could be during beer-fueled barbecues, or joyriding with your pals, or even during pillow talks with a significant other at night. We do our own amateur version of squabbling over the design of the universe. Like the way we bicker over politics, many of us grow our belief systems like a whole pizza pie sliced in two — the two sides settling as intelligent design vs. non-intelligent design.

These conversations can get pretty heated if the right (well, wrong) buttons are pushed – becoming a personal attack on one’s convictions. Like the armchair quarterbacks, we become experts without any true qualification. Because, basically, it comes down to a simple opinion. We’re either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (and, hell, we’re always ‘right’).

One thing many of the great minds seem to agree upon is that the universe is a pretty messy place with a lot out there unexplained.  Some may go even far as to say the universe is a fairly inefficient place for human beings. That’s pretty much a jab at God’s interior decorating skills.

Humans have been around for a short while – as least as long as we can measure or speculate here on Sol III. We’ve come far in terms of building and designing things. From tree houses to skyscrapers, we’ve done some good work.

We’ll set up a meeting (with free lunch, of course). We’ll create new plans. We’ll use our best technology out there. And we’ll find a way to recreate the universe.

Let’s do it better this time, remaking the universe from scratch. The way we’d want it to be. The way it should be for all of humanity. We’ll execute our plan and get it right the first time — none of that Arthur C. Clarke false-start correcting phenomenon where it takes a few times before a planet becomes inhabitable for humans.

First of all, make certain there are no extraterrestrials. We’ve got enough of each other to deal with. We’ll have every planet inhabitable from every galaxy created. Or even better, make a universe with a single nexus galaxy comprising of all planets encapsulating humans and their food sources. Much simpler.

Not only will we have next-door neighbors, we’ll have next-door planets. We’ll have the ability to visit these neighboring planets with ease, spending reluctant time with the in-laws on Earth #2,657 (based on the in-laws’ planet calendar, naturally).

Imagine the efficiency of such a galaxy. The trade and commerce. And the biggest part: No questions. None about our existence. Nothing about who/what made the universe and why we are all here because, dammit, we did it ourselves.

The problem with this notion is that even if we have universe-creating abilities now, and we decide to rebuild the universe, would this discount the existence of a God? Of a former intelligent design?

Hmm…

Sometimes, it’s okay to say we truly don’t know. That at times our mind cannot comprehend. The logics we base on the physical and theoretical invariances we’ve built them upon may not always explain things to the meat inside our heads.

So I’ll just sit back, let the experts continue their great work of trying to explain the universe.

 

And, mostly, I’ll just continue to admire God’s work.

 

Love to you all.

 

JLT

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Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. – Carl Sagan

Raining Red Amoebas

He’s a loving husband, father of three children, and owns a modest house in a suburban area where his pet dog and cat roam freely. Despite his shortcomings, he remains gainfully employed to support his family.

Upon a well-deserved family outing one night at a local all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, this man was thrown out by the restaurant owner due to the man’s overindulgence of the endless buffet policy, the reason for the ejection eventually subjected to a court hearing. The man was cleared in favor of the court for any wrongdoing, as it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man clearly did not eat ‘all-you-can-eat.’

One of the jurors, sympathetic toward the family man, was so angered by the blatant injustice caused by the restaurant owner, exclaiming, “That could have been me!”

That’s the crux of protest against injustice. It could have been you, not Homer Simpson, up there on that stand demanding justice.

The circumstances here are farcical and dismissive because – well – it’s a freaking cartoon. I tend to escape to cartoons during times of crisis. Something funny to drown out the media buzz that either boil or mislead human emotion. A day watching cartoons with the kids beats the drumming negativity howling on news channels and flooding through social media.

Focus on the good, not the bad. It’s a likely way to live. Impossible when we feel the outrage after so much pointless bloodshed lately, many of us taking a trembling breath before screaming, “THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME!”

The problem with empathy is that not everyone feels the same way about tragic injustice. We split into multiple amoebas, each divided portion countering the other with discord.

Some of us scream for action. Jimmy said it best from 8 Mile: “If something needs to happen with this shit, it needs to happen now.” These amoebas think they’re right.

Other amoebas say justice was served and death was warranted. And these amoebas think they’re right as well.

Then there are amoebas like me, those that simply wish it was all a silly cartoon and not reality. Because reality has limitless potential for peace only inches maddeningly close to realization. I’m not talking utopia. Who the hell wants that?

Each of us grew up with different thoughts, experiences, and upbringings. No, the playing field is far from level, and every life is a unique, fleeting raindrop that exists as a watery orb before falling to the ground to dry away. Some of us clash together in mid-air on our way down, joining lovingly into bigger droplets of water, or splattering together into destructive, wet oblivion.

We must remember the color of human rain no matter where it falls from our sky.

Blood red.

Always that.

Right now the rain falling is a torrential storm. It will quiet, eventually. Hopefully.

More importantly, one day the rain will stop for all of us.

 

Love to you all.

JLT

 

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