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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Squirrel Song

Wrote this a decade ago, but still come back to it… my homage to those suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia.

*****************

The thunder of the storm roars and shudders its way into her room.  When it stops, the woman hears the quiet patter of rain against her window but doesn’t look to see the gray shade of the afternoon, knowing she sees it clearly enough in her mind.  Unlike the muddy silence she usually fills around her, a slight sound escapes her lips and she lets herself follow it into a hum; the hum then becoming a song.

In the dullness outside, a lone squirrel stops its forage under the cover of trees to listen. It hears without understanding, but hears with an attention that humans once knew.  With the rain slowing into a whisper and the song of the woman falling back into silence, the damp squirrel surveys the network of trees ahead and begins to move on.

The day draws into dusk with the twilight somehow seeming brighter than the previous overcast of the early afternoon.  It becomes enough light, mixing with the awakening of city lights as people collide.

There is a lag in the stream of bodies where a squirrel sits defiantly on the sidewalk. People slow here for just a moment, staring at this animal whose trek began earlier this day perched on a tree miles away to listen intently to a song that now fills these pedestrians with the ripple of joyous hope. It was a song of newfound strength and spirit so powerful that it echoed into this small creature. These people move on, smiling as they take in the ghost of the woman’s song.

A woman who only sang for the joy of making it through another day.

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Becoming a Jellyfish

Nightcore.

Ever heard of it?

If you have, then you are as hip as a third-grader.

I, of course, knew nothing about this until my daughter introduced me to the pseudo-genre. It’s basically songs (usually Tokyo-anime-pop) sped up to the pitch and frequency of chipmunks.

As an aging father, my rolling of disapproving eyes after being introduced to this nonsense unfortunately widened the parent-child social gap between my daughter and me. But seriously, why listen to your favorite song altered when you can hear it just fine the way it is?

Then, upon a long commute one morning, I had an introspective moment where I realized how much of a hypocrite I am. I had been listening to an audiobook in the car at double-speed thanks to this wonderful app: Smart Audiobook Player. Why? Because of that ‘so many books, so little time’ mantra.

Not that spoken words are like songs, but in a way they can be. Especially, if the narrator has a golden voice (how I miss thee, Frank Muller). Speeding up an audiobook can ruin a narrator’s brilliant performance, even if it means you can condense a reading of War and Peace to just under twenty hours.

But what can you do as an avid reader when you’ve little time: books already primed on your e-reader, paperbacks stashed in your bag, and hardcovers beckoning you from the coffee table.

Maybe try to live forever.

Turritopsis Nutricula

It’s basically a species of immortal jellyfish. Well, immortal in the sense that they can virtually regenerate themselves endlessly, provided their regeneration process goes undisturbed.

It’s kind of an eww process where these creatures’ dying parts convert back to a state of conceptualization, becoming a blob of sperm and egg commingling together to form infant tissue that will eventually grow.

Not exactly as exciting as watching bullet wounds heal on Wolverine’s skin. It’d be more like turning into globs of goo for a while, and then: Presto! I’m back!

Ironically, my latest work-in-progress is about immortality, although it has nothing to do with jellyfish, nor the dogma of eternal life through religious means. I’ll post an excerpt at the end of the blog for those who are interested.

In the meantime, until I can become like the jellyfish, I’ll be speed-listening to you great writers at just under Mach 1.

(oh, and to my music fans… I’ll be playing Nashville VIP Lounge at Ascend Amphitheater 6pm 7/6. Yay!)

 

Excerpt: Mortals Chapter 1

FIVE MONTHS AFTER DAY OF ETERNE

 

It looked like a prison bus.

That’s what Seb Freeman first thought as his father slowed the pickup truck to a stop in front of a soldier garbed in full black. Seb craned his neck to look through the windshield, looking past the soldier where the bus parked in the distance in front of an electrified fence laced with coils of razor-sharp concertina wire, the bus’s dull-blue color seeming to suck away the morning sunlight and canceling out the vibrant greenery that surrounded it. Seb should have been glaring with fascination at the small group of people lined up next to the bus. It had been months since he’d last seen another mortal, and he knew he would soon marvel over these kindred strangers that were like him. But all he could do at this moment was stare at the bus, disenchanted. This was his transport to possible immortality, to become like his father, his town, and practically the whole world. All of it riding on nothing more than a stripped-down prisoner bus.

Seb’s father rolled down the driver window, the whirring sound of the power-window dissolving Seb’s stupor. Hot summer air gushed into the pickup cab as Seb turned to see the soldier peer in with a dark-gloved hand spread open expectantly toward his father. The soldier wore a gleaming black metal helmet with a tinted visor and Seb wondered as he noted the strange but familiar plastic glaze of the soldier’s eyes why immortal soldiers would even need a helmet to protect their heads or a visor to shield their eyes from sunlight. Then Seb’s thoughts went cold when he saw the protruding muzzle of a black M-16 strapped behind the soldier’s back. Seb knew the war had been escalating on the borders, but guns had become obsolete since Day of Eterne, becoming an ineffectual weapon against gods fighting gods.

End of excerpt

 

 

 

 

Morton

Holly liked his biscuits and gravy. That would be her reward this morning, Morton thought, peering through his kitchen window where the morning sun bathed his backyard more white than yellow. In the distance past his privacy fence, he could see the top of his neighbor’s bald head bobbing to the beat of a loud, blustering push mower.

Morton frowned. The morning would otherwise be serene were it not for the rackety noise his neighbor was making. Oh well, Morton thought, rubbing his index fingers against his thumbs, a gesture he would do before preparing fine cuisine. Why not? Holly deserved the best. She was eating for two now, after all these years of trying. Soon, Morton’s family would be complete — something he’s wanted his whole life. Family.

A booming series of knocks jarred across the hallway behind Morton. Now what?

Morton wheeled around and jutted his head forward, as if to lengthen his vision and hearing. Another jolt of thudding knocks filled the house, and Morton could actually see the front door across the hallway shudder with each pounding knock.

A man’s voice growled from the other side, though the speech was muffled, undecipherable. Except, no. Part of it was clear. Morton’s name.

“MORTON!” the man yelled. “MORTON CHILDRESS!”

A door creaked opened in the hallway, and long, rippling hair flowed out. Holly’s eyes sparkled between the strands of her dark hair as she stared at Morton.

“Who is that?” she hissed and then stiffened as the front door banged again with more knocks.

Morton marched down the hall, agitated. Whoever the asshole outside was, he had not only woken up Morton’s pregnant wife, but had managed to upset her with all that belligerent knocking.

Holly stepped back into the bedroom as Morton approached her. She straightened in her nightgown, the swell of her round belly stretching the floral print at her midsection.  “He sounds angry,” she whispered, cocking her head as if remembering some long forgotten song. “Who is he?”

Morton shrugged. “He’s someone who’s about to get his ass kicked,” he said. “Go lie back down. I’ll get rid of him.” He kissed the softness of her right cheek while placing his hands gently over her belly. As she retreated back into the bedroom, Morton closed the door, hoping she would be able to go back to bed after he’d send this jerk on his way.

“CHILDRESS!”

“I’m coming!” Morton yelled.

He stomped toward the front door, meaning to yank it open, but then tendrils of uncertainty cooled his blood. He peered through the brass peephole and saw the fish-eyed view of an old man’s reddened, pinched face glaring back at him. Who the hell was this? Morton wondered, but then there began a tickle of recognition, something about the shape of the old man’s raging eyes.

“I see you now, you son-of-a-bitch,” the old man said and raised a hand holding a gleaming, rectangular object. It was a small LCD screen, displaying a blotchy green image of two black lines. The black lines shifted as Morton shifted and he instinctively looked down at his bare feet. A small, black snake head poked from the bottom of the door between his feet. Morton looked back up through the peephole, seeing the black lines move as he moved his legs.

What the hell is this? Morton tried to say, but before his words could come out, the door shook loud; a small mouth splintered opened from the door’s center.

Morton fell, only it didn’t feel like falling. It felt like the ground rose up to meet him. Three more gaping holes exploded from the door, letting in shafts of morning brilliance.

The smell of spent bullets and the dust of chalky drywall filled the room. Morton tried to scramble backward with his legs, meaning to crabwalk away. Nothing. No feeling down there. He looked at the dark red drenching the lower half of his t-shirt, almost tasting the iron and meaty aroma of blood. It was then that he registered the burning pain in his stomach.

I’m shot, he realized and then thought with incredulity not that he was shot in broad daylight but on a Saturday morning.

Morton’s wife was crying. He could hear Holly’s weeping over the buzz of his neighbor’s lawn mower.

He twisted to fall flat on his stomach, meaning to crawl away from the door with his arms, but the excruciating ache in his navel forced his arms to curl into his chest.

More shots fired into the door. Morton could hear the whipping of bullets slap the carpet fabric near his right ear. He craned his neck up, ignoring the searing pain inside him. A portion of Holly’s tear-streaked face peeked out at Morton from the bedroom door. She was eye-level, low to the ground like he was. Did the bastard shoot her, too? Did he hurt my family?

“Get back in the bedroom, Holly,” he cried. “Lock the door.”

And call for help? No phones in the bedroom. No phones in the house at all.

Holly gave a small nod and pulled back out of sight. Was she smiling? The bedroom door slammed shut.

From behind Morton came the cracking of faux wood as the center of the front door caved in from a long, booted leg. This set Morton tadpoleing fast on the ground, digging his elbows in as he dragged himself forward. Get to the kitchen.

Another gunshot cracked from behind. Morton heard a sickening, wet plop as the bullet entered somewhere below in the part of his flesh that he’d never feel again. He plowed forward across the hallway, his pace quickening with his grunting breaths.

A flood of outdoor light invaded the house, the front door no longer holding the old man at bay.

Morton could no longer hear the sound of his neighbor’s groaning mower. And as he hoisted to a sitting position using the lip of the kitchen counter to pull himself up, he heard the mewling cry of sirens coming from far away.

He fumbled at a drawer with a hand, entering a code on a nearby keypad. Hearing a lock unlatch, he fished blindly inside the drawer for the large shark-tooth shaped knife he was fond of. Pain throbbed below his chest and he could smell the foulness of his innards coming through the bullet wound in his stomach.

The old man kneeled in the hallway, embracing Morton’s pregnant wife. There was a squabble of bass and treble as the two voices spoke over one another with urgency.

The large revolver dangled low in the old man’s hand, next to Holly’s hip.

Guns. Morton hated guns. He only understood knives, their quiet play he had learned early on as a child. But not guns. A gun threatened only from its black eye, while a good knife gave nuances of fear to every inch of its blade.

The old man stood up from Morton’s sobbing wife, and a question formed in Morton’s mind. How long has it been since Holly had last seen her father? Three, four, maybe even five years?

As the sirens grew louder, the old man walked slowly toward Morton.

“You don’t deserve a trial, you kidnapping son-of-a-bitch,” Holly’s father said. The old man pulled the trigger.

Morton smiled, grateful for the hollow click of the gun. His searching hand settled for a serrated steak knife in the drawer above him. He pulled it out and sat back against the kitchen counter, his resting hand over his stomach. He pointed the knife out at the old man.

“I took care of her,” Morton said, but then a pang overcame him as he looked deep into the old man’s hateful eyes — those eyes the same as those of Morton’s sweet wife. It had to be her, Morton wanted to plead. He didn’t want to trick her and steal her away all those years ago, but it had to be her. Out of all those that he had followed and shadowed, she was the one he chose to make his perfect family for him.

And now, seeing the disappointment on the old man’s face – the disapproving eyes of a parent — did Morton truly understand. The old man had become part of his family, too. Morton had put them all together: father, wife, child, and Morton.

Morton never had a father. But he could claim the old man just like he claimed Holly. Was it really that simple? Yes. It was.

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Morton said and felt the pain ease inside him.

The old man’s thick brows furrowed in puzzlement, joining into a white caterpillar above his hardened eyes.

“I love you, Dad,” Morton said. “Holly…”

Sirens stopped and tires screeched outside.

Morton raked the blade of the steak knife gently over his neck, scrubbing the serrated edges until he hit the life artery underneath. He choked and coughed for a moment, catching glimpse of the gout of blood that poured out.

He smiled.

He was with his family.

What better way to die?

 

THE END

 

Jack Lee Taylor © 2016

Weirdbook Magazine #32

My parents did not play the guitar.

Nor can anyone in my immediate family make it gently weep (not yet, at least… I’ll be waiting on one of my youngins’ to grapple the six-string-relay baton from my cold dead hands one day and speed forth).

Yet, progeny aside, it’s interesting to see other parents out there validate the “born-not-made” principle, a debate I really don’t pay much cause to. But still…

Case in point.

Currently reading the new Joe Hill novel, The Fireman.

I’m a fan of his since the 20th Century Ghost days, before I even knew who his father was. And now that I know, it begs the question: Do the parents pass the ‘awesome-sick-talent’ gene along? Don’t know — but I guess it doesn’t really matter. What’s in my reading hands right now is well worth the read. That’s point enough for me. Regardless of how you were made, even with test tubes and Bunsen burners, you alone make you happen. And this boy Hillstrom did just that. Bang on!

But strange that I think of this now because I’m thinking about the latest short story I did that recently hit the public along with writers-greater-than-me. My little daughter asked to read it. I declined. Not that the content is sexually perverse or gore-ensued, but I just want her to find her own way right now and not be manipulated by my fledgling efforts. So far as eight-year-olds go, she’s well on her way without my interference.

Interesting side note to Clay Baby, which is the name of this particular tale released in Weirdbook Magazine #32.

I follow Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com.  Why? Just because he digitally yells a lot and uses a lot of colorful metaphors that Spock would approve. Also, he’s a great writer (and screw you Aftermath haters).

Mr. Wendig challenged his crew with a writing prompt. I’m not a jump-right-in type whenever it comes to writing prompts. I often scoot my chair back and say, “Maybe not right now.” Yet I jumped in on this one several months back. The prompt was: Take a random picture posted by other fellow writers and come up with a string of words on your own.

I scanned through several pictures. Many were dark and disturbing, showing shadows and hidden etches of life well left hidden. Others were enchanting, showing picturesque moments of nature or florid captures of flowery lands.

Then there was this one picture posted by the talented writer, Diedra Black. It was a strange picture of some clay happy thing on a table.

I immediately thought: Okay, crazy psycho kidnaps family and this clay thing will somehow save their lives. But that didn’t work. So how about a kid comes home from school and sees this thing on the table, and it comes to life like a Smurf — zip-a-dee-do-dah. That sucked. I went over and over, trying to come up with something remotely worth writing. Couldn’t plan it. Couldn’t plot it.

In the end, I just let the words come out, and the result pleased me as much as it pleased the folks at Wildside Press. Glad to have it aboard (especially on a mag that Joe Hill’s father might remember back in the early 80’s).

It’s a short piece, though above the threshold of flash fiction.

If you’re into weird, speculative fiction, you may check it out at:
WEIRDBOOK MAGAZINE #32

Special thanks to Ms. Black for her picture contribution!

Love you guys!

weirdbook-32

Emails from the Dead

I had a story idea once about a teen girl who hacked old email accounts of deceased people.

Her purpose for hacking these accounts — besides the IT-driven creed of ‘because I can’ — was to read through the old emails of these people no longer among the living. She’d sift for hours upon days reading the back-and-forth personal correspondences of these emails that belonged to the dead, trying to understand their use of verbiage and strange writing tics so she could better convey who these people were in life and what type of personalities they had.

When she was confident of her mimicking, she would send emails out from these hacked accounts, pretending to be the deceased sending messages from the afterlife. She would get in touch with the dead’s closest acquaintances (names and email addresses gleaned from contact lists and inbox histories). Her messages included telling widows to find companionship; parents to not mourn; and children to grow up strong.

She would part her messages with, “I’ll always be here for you if you ever need to talk to me.”

Many of her attempts failed as email accounts were shut down, many of her messages blocked or left unanswered. Sometimes she’d get a reply from someone outraged, dejected or horrified: Is this some kind of sick joke? A lot of responses left brick walls she could not climb: If this is really you, what’s our son doing right now in Afghanistan?

But on the rare occasions where her fruits were answered properly, her reward came from those that wanted to believe they were talking to their lost loved one. Their replies back to her, timid and reluctant at first, had become hungry for more communication with each send. She’d respond eagerly, appeasing her audience. Perhaps there was a mutual ruse, but she felt good about herself and what she was doing. She was dishing out closure, be it false closure.

I chose not to write this one because of the big hero flaw and the fact that it really had no plot, but it reminded me of something I did while toiling social media the other day.

I knowingly sent a ‘Happy Birthday’ Facebook post to an old friend I knew that had died a few years ago, his page still active, however. I had no immediate explanation for why I did it. I just felt compelled to do it. Was I expecting this person who had passed on to check his Facebook page and go: Cool. Thanks?

Not really. But I had to send it anyway. Maybe this act has evolved into a form of cyber-shrine visit, for I wasn’t the only one that wished this dearly-departed a Happy Birthday. Nor am I the only one to engage in this type of act for just this one person. This is a common occurrence, an accepted behavior. Several messages go out daily online to or on behalf of the dead-long-past for the sake of loving remembrance.

The motives might be pure or for show, but it brings me back to that girl-hacker and what was pulling on her heart-strings when she’d read those messages to the departed, and how she’d taken on the other side and had become a virtual speaker for the dead, like Orson Scott Card turned Ender into later on. She wanted to give closure, peace and a validation of an afterlife.

Maybe we want to believe some or none of that, but something definitely pulls many of us in and makes us want to reach out and say to our lost loved ones: I am thinking of you right now, and I’m taking time out to remember you. I hope and wish you could hear me right now.

Imagine if we get an answer back.

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Pigtails Released in CCQ #2

Independent courier.

The job sounded menial, almost mundane. Prerequisite skills were mainly having a clean driving record, being able to lift from feather-light to backbreaking weighted parcel, being on call from dawn till next dawn, and — most important — having your own set of wheels to tow all that crap around.

Many years back, while strapped for cash in my last get-me-the-hell-out-of-here year of college, I took on the job as an independent courier, with my mighty Chevy S10 pickup and Home Depot dolly.

Immediately, I learned the harsh reality of the job. Paychecks were shaved down painfully by gas and maintenance expenses. ‘On-call’ meant forget any free time to live, let alone survive. Delivery miles were grueling, whether in cramped city infrastructure or through long stretches of freeway. Residential deliveries past midnight were always odd and unsettling. And I learned how to ignore the contents of what it was I was delivering, be it a body part or horse semen (and, yes, I’ve delivered both).

There were perks during the long travels, though. You got to see much of outside. You drove through beautiful roads you’d never seen before and would probably never see again, taking you sometimes through breathtaking scenic lands where tranquility resided. Those moments of travel offset the nasty, grinding fight through heavy, human-congested traffic.

In my reverie, I like to remember those times where the beauty of nature allowed the pass of a quaint, country road.

But then some of those roads began to lie to me. They made me feel safe for a spell and then opened up their true faces. They made me feel like I had crossed over into a strange place where I was not welcomed. The placid scenery around me transmogrified into an eerie space of unkempt fields full of crowding, decaying trees. Sometimes when driving on this road where it seemed no human should dwell, I’d pass by a lone figure standing on the side, perched still like a mile marker and looking back at me with wary, mistrustful eyes.

On these roads you never want to break down. Despite our advanced navigation systems, some of these roads still remain uncharted, hidden curving and snakelike underneath the guise of the mountains and countryside that shroud them and their strange secrets.

This is what inspired the short story: Pigtails.

EMP Publishing just released Creepy Campfire Quarterly #2, and I’m thankful this story got to be a part of a wonderful collection of stories from other great writers.

If you like strange horror, please go check it out through the link below (and if you like it, please leave a review).

CCQ #2

Thanks as usual. Love to you all.

JLT

creepycampfire