Friday, January 7, 2022

2 Minutes. Go!

Through the walls, you can hear them coming. You huddle together; try to create some feeling of safety - it doesn't work, but it is the only thing you have. The walls bleed with mold slime and rainwater. You can smell death every time you inhale, but the fear cuts through the smell, and you are overpowered by the scent of your own misery. You have lost control. 

Through the windows, you see rooftops. They are distant enough that escape promises a crippling death. Still, you are tempted. 

In the walls, you hear the fetid scrape of small animal claws. If you die here, they will devour you. Feast on your corpse and revel in your meat. You will at least serve a purpose, but there is no consolation there. You grasp the hand of the child next to you and hope that you are the first to die. 

Footsteps. They are coming. You can hear them dragging their feet as they close in. You can smell them now - the smell of them is mixed with the smell of you and your heart pounds. There is a crash as they break down the door. You close your eyes so you won't have to be a witness to your death. 

It comes swiftly. There is that.

Friday, December 31, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

You can hear the bell ringing, but you don't understand the significance. Eyes smeared, you try to find some kind of purchase, something to make you feel present - like you really exist. Like there is reason to the madness you try to corral inside your skull.

It wasn't always like this.

If you reach far enough back, you can remember another existence entirely - lush trees, verdant fields, pastoral expanses that did not try to trick the eye. These places existed. You know this, but knowing doesn't always guarantee understanding. 

You don't understand, do you?

Convince yourself that these shadow memories will suffice. Warm hand on a cold, winter cheek. Stretching into consciousness with no agenda to yoke you to the moment. Try to slip back into that amniotic yesterday. The tension will, at the very least, make you feel something. 

It's hard, listening for those bells. Waiting for the other shoe to drop and understanding that it never really will. No love for the searchers; they just keep searching. Meanwhile, you circle around the thing and pretend like you could grab it if you really wanted to. 

This had all been an exercise. Nothing was solved here today. You are not any more prepared than you were before. So, cast your net and pull it in. See what you've caught and wonder about what slipped through - back to blackness, opaque wandering. It's what you do to fill the time, and the time must be filled. Otherwise, it will crush you.

Hear the bell toll.

Friday, November 5, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

    The fire smoldered in the dim light of the sitting room. Gerald debated adding more wood. He was alone, so he debated the glass of whiskey beside him. He promised himself he wouldn't let the fire die, but he also knew that, most mornings, he awoke to winter chill. Still, there was something in the promise that made him feel imperceptibly warmer. He had everything he needed; this was what he wanted, wasn't it? A quiet cabin full of books and music that he picked. It would have been the perfect writer's retreat if he still wrote instead of just talking about it. 

    A familiar face flashed across his subconscious, and he winced. He took another sip and opened the book he had chosen to stare at. Dickens. A former version of himself might chuckle at this pretentiousness - small stone cabin, winter, scotch, and an evening of Dickens? That version of himself had been dead for at least a decade. He barely remembered him.
    Gerald lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. He often coughed these days, but not when he was drinking. Every time he went to the doctor, he pretended to be concerned about lung cancer, and the doc pretended to act like he gave a shit. It was a delightful pantomime.  It amused and pained him at the same time. It was a bitter, acidic feeling. He craved it. Something to rage against. 
    He stood up and threw a log on the fire. Congratulated himself for this. He unplugged the wall phone and put his cell phone high on the top of the book shelf, turned off. He was reaching the point in the evening where, sometimes, the whiskey was able to convince him that calling her would be a good idea. Hearing her voice. But would he hear other voices? He convinced himself that it was bravery - to nip and cauterize. He was the victim and the hero. So many of us are, he thought. He reached for a pen and paper to write this down, this theme, this seed, something to work with in the morning. By the time he found a pen, he had forgotten what he wanted to write down. He would have to buy a new laptop to replace the one that lay smashed and broken in the corner of the room. 
    It was her, the fucking bitch. She was the reason he couldn't write. Couldn't take care of himself. She would have told him to cut back on the cigarettes and whiskey. She would have convinced him to finish one of the novels he'd started and never realize that it was her fault that he couldn't find the words, the plot, the magic. He had folders full of character studies with no life in them. He took a sip and cursed the day he'd met her. Cursed the "happy" years. The years that had ruined him. Writers weren't supposed to be happy. The pain was a cattle prod. He thought briefly about excavating one of those pieces, then realized that the files were on the demolished laptop. 
    Fuck 'em. 
    The urge to call was strong, but he had so much to answer for. So many drunken nights and fights and misplaced flirtations. And she would forgive it all. He knew that, and it made him despise her all the more. The fucking bitch. Fucking doormat. He tried to giggle and failed. 
    The fire was dying, but he was too drunk to care. Too drunk to stand up. His trousers were soaked, and he knew that tomorrow would be agony. Somewhere deep in his semi-consciousness, he feared the pain that was guaranteed after a night of work like this. He could feel it already. Sobriety was fighting through the scotch and the agony was starting. The aches he could stand, the blood in the toilet bowl. What scared him was the emotional fallout he would feel. He would want to call, but he couldn't call when he was hung over. It required too much.
    The cat padded over in disgust. Used to dirty litter boxes and unreliable food, he was not bitter. He was simply disgusted. Gerald could feel it and, somehow, the stab of it was too much, and he broke down into bitter sobs. 
    He would kill himself. That would fix everything. The pain, the failing ambition. The half-hearted drive. And she would find out somehow. She'd finally see what she'd done to him with her poison love. It would be big news, even. The networks would have a field day. His books would start selling again, and myths might just be created. The suffering artist. The suicidal writer. They would eat it up, whoever the hell they were. The readers. The faceless fucking readers he cared so much about. The vultures. The ones who decided where in the pile you ended up. 
    People love dead writers. It's the living ones they can't stand. Except for all the no-talent hacks that were climbing the bestseller lists. Hacks like he used to be. 
    He was nodding off now. There would be no suicide, no death knell. He would fail even in that. He tried half-heartedly to stand. To make it to bed. To drink a glass of water, something. He didn't make it. The cat settled on the arm of the chair, not his wet lap. He'd learned his lesson. He fell asleep next to the man he had known since kittenhood. This man was not even worth hating. Deep in his mind there was a memory of how life had been before the move to this cabin. 
    Before he never saw the woman again.

Friday, October 29, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

 “Don’t talk that shit, boy. Sayin’ you never got no childhood. I was working when I was seven years old. Long hours. I didn’t go to school but every once in a while. But you gonna bitch about three hours after school.”

“Dad. I get it. I know what you went through, but we ain’t starvin’. If you didn’t work, y’all went hungry. We ain’t never out of food. House is damn near paid for. I never minded so much before, but I’m in High School now.”


“And you ain’t man enough to get your dick twisted on your day off? Hell, you ain’t no bird dog, boy.”


“It’s not about girls, Pop. I just want to keep my grades up and be on the team. Coach has seen what I can do, and he said with hard work on the court and in the classroom…”


“He said what? You could be a cheerleader?”


“No, Pop. I can throw a football on a line. 70 yards every time. If my grades stay OK, Coach said I’d be looking at scholarships. Nothing too fancy, but state schools for sure.”


“Alright, so you got that arm. What you need the coach for?”


“To learn, Pops. To play with a team. To get better and develop my passes. Learn routes and get used to throwing in shoulder pads…”


“Boy, you know I could throw just as good as you, and what did that mean? Jack shit. That’s what it meant.”


“Pops, please. Please try to understand.”


“What, I’m just a dumb hick who can’t understand plain talk? That it?”


“No Pops, I just want to…”


“What? Say thanks for this house and the food you eat? You thankful for having an old man that taught you to work?”


“No, Pops…”


“No nothing, cheerleader. You drop this now before I lose my temper.”


“Pops…”


The slap came from way over in Alabama, and it practically spun him around. He tasted blood and could feel it rising in his cheek. A slap from Pops hurt worse than a punch. Quite a trick.


Derrick tried to speak, but it was cut short with the rifle-clap of a slap on the other cheek. For a minute he stood there, willing himself not to cry, but he knew it was coming, so he bolted out the back door. There was no fixing this. There would be no football. He couldn’t buck the old man, as much as he wanted to. 


He ran until he was tired, and he ended up by the little creek. He fished there, but it was hard fishing. The water rushed by, and he always figured it wanted to get past his house as fast as it could. Especially since Mama died. 


He threw a stick in the water and watched it tumble. And he made a promise, out loud, to the stream and the sky and the fish and his mother up in heaven.


“Let me be a better man,” he said. Don’t make me work my boy so hard. Or push him because I never got to play. Don’t let a game break my son’s heart. Just let me be a bigger man. Please.”


The ‘please’ came out in a long sob. He knew he couldn’t leave his old man. Even if he hated him. Not since Mama died. She wouldn’t have wanted that for him. But he knew that once he turned 18, he was going to be a walk-on, and he was going to try his best. And he would visit his father only occasionally and hope they talked about the weather. 


The sun was falling, but he didn’t mind. Work would come soon enough. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

2 Minutes. GO!

There's no point in bucking the simulation. Resistance leads to glitches, some of which can be very painful. 

There is nothing to be gained by trying to maintain the old data; rewrite will commence with or without your cooperation. Even breathing and relaxed posture will make the process go more quickly, but your new update WILL be installed. 


The dogma and arc of the last update will not serve you in the next quarter. 


Hiding outside the update area will make you a target for the newly initiated. 


For those familiar with the process, please set a good example for your compatriots. Rations will be doubled for those practicing XTRAComply. 


There may be sounds and smells that you fail to recognize during the assessment portion. This is not cause for concern; we are adjusting flat levels, and this is a harmless side-effect. 


Once you have received your update, you will proceed directly to the NEWSROOM, where your [i]TEMPLATE files will be filled with common axioms and awarenesses. 


Desirable biases and jealousies will be installed automatically once you are branded. 


Relocation is the final step in the progress, but fear not. You will be preloaded with the necessary long and short term data-packs. 


It is time. Please place the headset on your head loosely. It will AUTOSET to your head shape. Take a deep breath. 


Your rebirth awaits. 


——


We’re all just shoving things inside us. Food and drugs and ideas and biases. We shove in things that feel good and things that feel bad. We stuff ourselves with things that distract us from the passage of time. A little religion for you, a little heroin for your cousin, a little NFL obsession for your Father in Law, and a couple glasses of wine and fifty pages of literature per diem for those of you who think highly of wasted time. 


You need to put something at the end of that carrot. Hell, it can be anything. Retirement, home-ownership, keeping your family from starving. It can be anything, really, just something to lock your head and eyes forward. Like blinders on a horse. What’s good for the goose…


We’ll light a fire under you. That’s for sure. Literal or figurative, we don’t like you horizon-gazers. You dreamers and malcontents. We got matches, and we’ll make this make sense. 


There are plenty of industries to sell your time to at less-than-market-value. Take your pick. No, you can’t pick none of them. What kind of place do you think this is? 


We are making PROGRESS.


Certain parts may be removed from you at the end to repair other models. This is all explained in the booklet which is available to your loved ones upon your retirement.


Now, relax and think of the wonderful contribution that you and your flesh are making. 


Prime Members may now move to the front of the line. 


Friday, October 1, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

On my elbow, trussed and truculent, I tap the bar with the corner of a card and try to smile. The smile is rusty, jagged like a torn stop-sign. The barkeep knows I’m waiting, but he likes to toy with me, his kitten, with this ignoring schtick, his piece of string. He knows that I am a barnacle. He is not afraid of losing custom, he just likes to mess with the old drunks - the ones he knows will never leave. 

I pour the whiskey past my teeth and shudder, kick one leg out until it hits the rail. There is an old song playing, but I can’t place it. I sing snippets of lyric and try to make them fit. The young woman two stools over watches my mumbling lips and turns her gaze to the construction workers drinking loud draft beers at the other end of the bar. She is not looking for company - she is looking for something to stare at while she drinks. Something that is not me. I


t has been so long it’s fuzzy, but I remember who I was before I came into this bar. I was a married man. A father. I had a woman who loved me. Kids that drove me crazy. Until they were gone, and drinks at home turned into… this. 


I drink because I am a coward. Drinking is easier than suicide. The cycle of hangover depression gives me something to do. Something to think about. Something to run from. The loss I feel turns into a coat of melancholy: old, worn, familiar. It protects me, or lends the illusion of protection. The loss and the drink are married in a death spiral that will outlast everything but me. 


On some future day, I will lay down my glass and die. And, with my last breath, I will thank the drink, the only constant friend I ever had. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

2 Minutes. Go!

The first light of the morning touches the grass, and whole worlds come to life. The scrub jays bend their crafty eyes to new opportunities. The insects are busy. The chipmunks chatter in the trees, and the hawks and vultures begin their slow circling. Farmers finish morning chores before breakfast. 

In this maelstrom of life, we find truth. The hunters, the hunted, and the busy workers trying to get through the day with some accomplishment on which to hang their hat. It is all a question of perspective. Just ask the lifeforms watching our solar system like it’s a low-budget slasher flick. We are the ant farm, but it’s not just ants on the blue planet. 


For the most part, we know what predators we fear - other humans. Most of us never encounter a mountain lion, a shark, a bear. We fear humans who dress their wolf faces up like sheep. And they are EVERYWHERE. 


Not only that - they look just like you and me, most of them.


Some of the things that we fear exist only in theory. In THEORY, we could contract cancer, get hit by a car, or have a heart attack, but, as much as we might worry about it, it may never happen. Or it might happen whether we worry about it or not. 


This kind of fear don’t have the same cachet as a Great White Shark.


We want fears with panache, so we stoke them, ghost stories to keep us up at night - keep us on edge. Gangs of immigrants, rapists, and - brace yourself - people who have different belief systems. These are the things you should REALLY fear. Except the thing you should REALLY, REALLY fear, which might kill you and everyone you love. 


You want to know what that is? Tune in at 11. 


If you fall asleep before 11, I guess you’ll never wake up again. Your fault. You were warned. Or warned to show up on time to be warned, which is even graver. 


Money, fear, and misery make a potent cocktail. Too bad you only have two out of the three. Fear and Misery just make you like everyone else. 


The scrub jays just flat-out don’t give a shit about any of this. The ants are just grindin’ - they aren’t worried about the cancer boogeyman hiding in the bushes. The vultures aren’t pedophiles. The grass has no ulterior motive. Hawks aren't racist.


You are not a vulture, or a scrub jay, or a beetle. 


Sucks to be you. You want to know why?


Tune in at 11.