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

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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

 

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

 

 

 

Fair Shopping

 

It starts when Nora and I see the black-and-white flyer on one of Ember’s Grocery tack boards by aisle 7.

24th ANNUAL EMBER COMMERCE STREET FAIR

SATURDAY JUNE 28

FOOD CRAFT MUSIC FUN!

We turn on aisle 8 and I stiffen, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Why do you keep doing that?” Nora says. My wife looks at me, her eyes luminous and accusing.

“Do what?” I reply.

“This.” Nora stoops forward in the cold air of the grocery store and rubs the back of her neck briskly with her left hand, her arm bracelets jangling. “Always when we get to the baby aisle.”

“I’m just walking, Nora,” I say, knowing where this is heading.

I see her let several weeks of pent up frustration go as she slap both hands to the sides of her white summer dress. She studies my face and then says, “Stop pretending, Alan. It’s not just the damn grocery store anymore. It’s everything. You go all stiff and start rubbing your neck like that. It drives me crazy!”

“What are you talking about?” I say and see a grocery stock boy walk by us, eyeing us briefly to catch our little soap-opera. I stare back at his preadolescent face and he looks away, walking past the rows of stacked Huggies.

I take a patient breath. “Do you really want to do this here?”

“Why not?” she says. “Why do you think I cut through here all the time?”

I close my eyes, letting out a long tired sigh. I then look at her and try to smile a degree below patronizing.

“Nora, all I want to do is pay for our stuff and get out of here. We’re going to the street fair. Right?”

She stares at me for a moment and then says in a gritted hiss, “Just take me home.” She drops the grocery basket full of comestibles we planned on smuggling into the town fair and storms off, tucking her purse hard to her side. I watch her leave, her thin dress flowing wildly behind her.

The miscarriage was three months ago and ended Nora’s chance of ever carrying again. After her surgery, my attempts to support seemed hollow and pretentious to her, angering instead of comforting. So I left her to herself and waited for the normality of our three years together to resume. I’m still waiting.

I run after Nora, catching her near the exit. People stare when I turn her around and hug her tight. She goes rigid and then shudders. I raise her head to look at me, seeing tears fall on her pleading eyes and knowing what we both want. We want the pain to go away.

Nora smiles slightly and skirts her eyes to see our audience. She then looks at me and crunches her brows together as if in pain.

“What is it?” I say. She goes slack, dropping her purse. Her eyes become chalky stones in their sockets. I hold her tighter in my panic when I see her mouth droop open to an impossible length, her howls of pain cut short when the lower half of her face suddenly falls off and splatters to the ground. I hear my own screaming when I see the rest of her fold inward, her skin becoming diaphanous, revealing the dark meat inside. Her bones crackle and her coppery smell ripens the air. She becomes slippery in my grasp, like a giant gleaming internal organ. She squirts out of my arms and drops to the ground in a splash and I stare in horror at the bloody dress and the clump of flesh on the tile floor, a ruined mass looking nothing like Nora or anything remotely human.

I move my head up slowly, my wide eyes searching through a haze of blood-pounding shock.

Someone has to come to me.

Touch me.

Move me.

No one does. I walk slowly in a mindless stupor. When I bump into an ice bin near the wall, I come to and see the other bodies. Bloody messes spot the grocery store like droppings from some large animal. I see the crimson-drenched garments on the floor in loose piles and I reconstruct the image of their former wearers: an overweight man in jeans, a young girl in a Hello Kitty shirt, a cashier lady in a beige Ember’s Grocery work shirt. All of them reduced to what looks like slabs of mangled butcher meat.

A car crashes through the face of the store. Brilliant shards of glass scatter. The sound of it brings me above the numbing cotton of disbelief and I start to run. The car, a pearl-like Cadillac, plows into rows of check-out counters, catapulting candy bars and magazine stands toward me. I watch the car teeter to stillness and can see through the gloom of the passenger window the writhing things that splatter dark-red into the windshield.  Outside air rushes through the gaping hole in the wall the car left in its path. Several dead birds line the sidewalk leading to the parking lot.

I run around the car and head back toward the exit where Nora is. There are sounds of collision and destruction outside; a chorus of car alarms screech endlessly in the distance. I look through the automatic sliding doors, pulled instinctively to exit this place. I pause to look back down at Nora’s ruined remains. I kneel down, feeling the loss of her strike cold and hard inside my chest.

I pick up Nora and cradle her slick form into my chest, holding her like a baby. Like our baby, the child that defied us its life and struck Nora barren before it died. I whisper the song. Hush little baby…

The car alarms continue their crying outside, blocking out my toneless singing. Nora begins to stick to me, the glistening coat of blood of her gluing against my forearms and neck.

The pain is slow, a kindling heat deep in my stomach. I cough the foaming blood up from my mouth, letting it spew onto Nora.

My eyes go dark, dissolving into mucus-like tears down my cheeks. The unseen takes me. Consumes me.

One trickling afterimage.

A parting thought.

Aisle 8.

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

aisle8

The Centurion

Thanks to folks at The Drabble for posting this!

sword-790815_1920

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

Sidewalk Magic

He tried to explain the pain of disenchantment to her.

She had her hands cupped over her ears.

Honestly.

The billowing stench of sewage smoke coming from the metal grates protruding unevenly on the sidewalk. The ear-chafing cacophony of traffic honking into her ears. This was not the perfect place to talk.

He was breaking up with her. She knew this. The sex the night before was staged, unlike the other times that left her in a near vertiginous state of euphoria.

“Love is supposed to be magic,” he said. “And we both know there ain’t no such thing as magic.”

Stop that. Biting her lower lip only reminded her how overly plump it was, captured in uneven smiles in pictures.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” she said. Her sandals vibrated. She looked past him to see the scrawny construction worker twenty yards away wrestling with the paint-chipped jackhammer upon crumbled asphalt. Her legs hummed, and she waited curiously for the sensation to rise up to her thighs. Perhaps even higher. What a lovely distraction.

“You don’t understand,” he yelled over the thrum of the jackhammer. Over the prattle of the city. “There’s no such thing as magic. There’s no such thing as us. You. Me. This.” He thumped his chest. “There’s nothing in here but meat, blood and bones. Just like there.” He pointed at the spot below her where her legs joined.

A warm raindrop pelted the raw crown of her scalp. She smiled because it was the only thing that made sense right now.

She said, “I get it.”

He shook his head. “No. You really don’t. You –“

A woman’s hand upraised has many powers. Magical powers. He stood there silent, staring at her smirking face.

She took a deep breath, breathing in the atoms of those long dead, perhaps seeping from the white steam fuming through the metal grates. She looked down at his feet and saw that he stood dead center upon one of the grates. How long of a drop before he’d lay crumpled and broken after a fall? She stomped the metal grate and felt it jar hard against her heels, unyielding. She laughed.

“I know what magic is,” she said. “It’s the only thing making me not want to kill you right now. See that policeman over there?” She pointed through the space to his right.

He turned to see the man garbed in dark blue at the intersection behind him. She stepped in closer and breathed into her ex-lover’s ear.

“I’m going to sleep with him tonight,” she whispered. “I’ve never fired a gun before, but I’m sure I could learn. And I’m sure he could teach me. How’s that for magic?”

She walked past him and headed toward the policeman. The rain pattered between them, the drops warm and sulfuric.

She turned and gave her ex the finger as the magic ritual of breaking up demanded. He licked his lips and then ran toward her. Past her.

Toward the policeman.

 

JLT