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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Bev

“What are you going to do, old man?”

“With this? Shoot you of course.”

“You don’t have the balls.”

“Oh yes. Yes I do.”

“You don’t.  You just stand there.  You trying to look hard. Tough.”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t have it in you, do you? You never shot no one before.”

“You killed her.”

“I killed lots of people. Your woman ain’t no different.”

“She was -”

“She was a bitch in my way.”

” – going to the Quik Mart.”

“What, old man?”

“She was probably going in for an Icee.  Cherry was her favorite. God, she was –“

“She was ugly and blind to be hanging out with your dumbass.”

“- everything to me.”

“So what about this right here?  You break in my crib with your piece out. You going to pull that trigger or what? Go ahead old man.”

“Everything.”

“Why you talking? Go ahead and pop me now. Or else I pop you later.”

“How can you be this way?”

“What, fool?”

“I said how did you — what made you like this?”

“What made me like what? You know what? I’m sitting down. Tired of looking at your tired-ass.”

“You look like you should still be in high school.”

“You look like shit. Old shit.”

“You’re never going to feel sorry.”

“Sorry? For what? Sorry?  Please.  Not for you. Not for anyone.”

“Not even when you destroyed her face.”

“….”

“Not even when you looked right at her and shot her in the face. You’re not sorry about that are you?”

“I needed her car.”

“Running from the police.”

“Hey, it’s not like I banged the bitch first, pops. She shouldn’t have been there.”

“But she was.  And you got away from the cops.  You and your two friends.”

“Yeah okay. So she was there. Thank you Miss Bitch.  Thank you.”

“It’s time to teach you a lesson.”

“You trying to scare me?”

“Yes. I want you scared.”

“Nothing scares me.  See that’s the difference.  You kind of people scared all the time. Running around doing nothing but your boring shit.  Running away from the truth.  Wishing everything is okay. But us real people, the ones that feel the hurt, see the pain — we out here. We don’t know scared. We make our own truths. So I ain’t scared of nothing. Not scared of you.  Least of all scared of no bullet.”

“Then why don’t you run? Or why don’t you come at me?”

“Put the Glock down.  Find out.”

“Have you ever been shot before?”

“What is with you old man? You want to talk? Is that what you want to do all day?  Or do you want to put down that gun and settle your beef with me like a man.”

“You’re not yet a man.  I wish you were.  It would make this easier.  More meaningful.”

“Fuck you.”

“The others.  Your friends.  They told me where to find you.”

“That’s bullshit right there.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“So? You think that’s supposed to mean something? You talking like you know my boys? You don’t know about me or them. They family, old fuck. You ain’t shit.”

“They’re dead now anyway.”

“Don’t fuck with me old man.”

“Derrick Morgan and Trevor Wayne, the other two that were with you when you robbed the Quik-Mart that day. It’s funny, I expected you to live in a cockroach-infested hole, but your house is actually very nice.  Clean. Nice area too. — NO YOU DON’T!”

“FUCK!”

“See? I’m a pretty good shot. I’ve had lots of time to practice.  I’d put a hand over that left ear to stop the bleeding. You won’t be able to hear out that ear anymore. Now get up.  You can’t run away.”

“My ear motherfucker!”

“Pain?  I know. I know pain. I shot myself in the head after Bev’s funeral, but I didn’t die. Still get headaches. Get up I said.  You try for the door again then I shoot off your balls next.”

“Don’t shoot me man.”

“Heh. I already did.”

“I just needed the car man. That’s all. She wouldn’t get out.  But I just needed the car. I had to.”

“Beverly.”

“Huh?”

“That was her name. Beverly Rose Harper.”

“Shit man, come on. I just needed the car.”

“Grandmother. Kindergarten teacher.  Wife.”

“It was a long time ago man.”

“It was eleven months ago. I spent six of those months recuperating, learning to talk and walk and pee and poop again. Best of all, learning to shoot again.  Here.  Tell me how this one feels.”

“No!”

“Sounds like it didn’t hurt bad enough. Not enough for you?  How’s this one feel then?”

“NO!  Please.  No more. No more…”

“Do your legs hurt now?”

“Please! PLEASE!”

“Your pictures on the wall.  That one over there. The perfect white family.  A Republican’s wet dream shot. Maybe your parents even helped you with that Mercedes out front. I’m sure Mommy, Daddy, and your little sister wouldn’t appreciate knowing you killed a helpless woman.  Stole her car.  A dusty Buick not even worth the tailpipe on that Merc you have outside.”

Please don’t.  No more.”

“Ronald and Mary Austen.  And little Phyllis.  Oh come on, don’t look at me like that.  I had months to brood over you Andrew. Or Double-A as you’re called.  That’s a stupid name, by the way.  You couldn’t come up with something better?”

“Don’t.  Don’t hurt them.”

“So you DO have morals.  I expected you to beg for your own life, but not for your actual family.”

“I wasn’t the one that pulled the trigger.”

“No need for all that. Derrick the Dinky. T-Ballz.  They already did the finger-pointing game. It doesn’t matter. You just happened to be last on my list.”

“I swear it man. I swear it wasn’t me that shot her.”

“So I asked you earlier but you never answered. I’m just curious. Your gang. Your swagger.  How did you get this way?”

“….”

“I didn’t hear?  I just want to understand about the pain. The suffering of real people.”

“….”

“See that’s just it.  You aren’t real. No more real than the image you conjured up for yourself.  You marvel over the dangerous animal of street-life.  Isn’t that it?  You romanticize it.”

“My legs, man.  It hurts.”

“It’s not the same thing Andrew.  This isn’t South Central. This isn’t even LA. Your life is a lie. I’ll show you what real is.”

“Please… man. Please.”

“Don’t move your head or my gun will go off.”

“I can’t breathe.  Can’t breathe.”

“That’s why they call it a choke hold.”

“Stop. Please, please, please, please… please… ple….”

“Aw.  Actually, I have to say.  You look like a little boy taking a nap.  You even snore like one.  I don’t know if I should wait till you wake up or shoot you now. I wonder if sleeping people even feel gunshots.  Let’s see…  Nope. Still asleep.  Your shins are going to hurt really bad though when you wake up. Your legs look a mess.  Must be hell on whatever you’re dreaming right now.  I remember thinking I was stabbed once while I was dreaming.  Woke up with the worst stomach ache I ever had.  I think I’ll just take a seat over there.  Do you mind?  Nice neighborhood like this, someone’s bound to call the police by now. You still in there, Andrew? I think so. Somewhere deep inside your head there’s a part that still listening to me. How about this?  I’ll tell you all about my Bev.  The day we first met.  The good stuff.  Hey maybe if I get done gabbin’ before the cops get here, I’ll give you a chance.  Let you heal.  Grow a few years and come back at me.  I want it to take time. I want it to go as long as it possibly can.  You staying alive.  You know what I’m hoping? I hope you get that monogamous inkling and try to marry some rich whore your daddy would approve of after he helps reform you back into society.  I show up on your wedding day.  Watch you limp about if your legs do heal right.  I show up.  Cause discordance.  I leave.  You then have kids later on. I show up on their birthdays.  Scare the bastards.  I leave.  Eventually, I’ll have to stop the madness the older I get.  Put an end to everything and everyone.  You, your whore, your kids.  But it sounds like a lot of fun coming your way.  Okay, so how do I start?  Oh yeah. Let me tell you about my Bev. Of all places, I met the love of my life in Bowling Green at a post office. I was looking for a pen because I forgot to write down the zip code to my uncle Ned’s place on the package I was sending out.  I was supposed to ship him this ugly candle-thingy my mom went through the trouble of buying at Woolworth’s. This was – what — about thirty years ago.  Anyway there she was… God she was so beautiful and it’s like she didn’t even need me to say anything but had her hand out with this Bic knowing that’s exactly what I needed.  Smiling so warm and sweet.  So I took the pen and said my name was Ned. Only it wasn’t Ned because my name is Robert. It was my uncle, the guy I was shipping that God-awful box to. That was his name.

I was such an idiot back then.

Most young people are.”

 

THE END

 

 

 

JLT

©2008

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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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!

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