Shoes on. Teeth brushed. Scraped the rust off my disposition. I punched myself in the solar plexus for good measure. Chest out, Comrade. We're on a search for buried treasure. We're circling round the pole - balance as best you can.
The night is coming, and it's a fucking doozy. You'll see.
My central nervous system is down for maintenance. I am sitting on the top of a cliff-side rock, and the earth is shaking. I want to get off.
The animals are weary. They are tired of our bullshit and they aren't going to take it anymore. Yeah, right. They've been taking it for years, and they will take all we got, praying that we all die before we take everything with us.
Jet black hair and teeth sharp. Tongue darting, you are the viper queen. Your saliva is caustic and acidic. You've got it all, sweetheart. Except a heathy septum; that thing is fucked.
So where does this leave us? Chin up, son. Chin up. It will only make you stronger.
#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back..
Those septums... they're always deviants. Or deviated. Chin up... it makes the neck easier to bite. Nicely done, and strong images.ReplyDelete
Yes! I always suspected the animals were biding their time.Delete
I love how even at your most impressionistic I still get at the gut level what the piece is about. This is like some Beat Generation shit... updated.Delete
Half the lessons I learned in life were between hello and goodbye, and the other half between goodbye and hello. I mean, sometimes you learn from another and sometimes you learn from the quiet of being alone.ReplyDelete
He taught me to kiss that summer. It started as a dare.
“You ever kissed someone?” he asked as we dangled our feet in the lake.
The heat I felt in my face was not from the sun. “Sure I have.”
“I don’t mean your grandma.”
“Don’t lie,” he said as he pushed me off the dock into the emerald water. He jumped in after me.
We were like fishes that summer. Always in the water, or at least by it.
We both came up for air and headed for the narrow rocky stretch we called the beach. The warm wind dried our bodies.
“What?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“If you’ve kissed someone besides your grandma, you’ll know how to do it right.”
And then he pushed his lips onto mine and stole my breath away. The heat I had felt in my face spread out all over my body, outside and in. He licked my upper lip and then his hands were holding my head. By the time I felt his tongue on mine, I was on fire.
A century later, he pulled back and still held my head. “I didn’t think so. But you’ve got potential.”
We practiced a lot that summer, before we said goodbye, but I didn’t understand myself until I was alone, and realized that maybe that was love.
I never let Grandma kiss me again.
Leland, you must have read or seen Call Me By Your Name, yes? This gave me that same vibe. Coming of age. First love. Indelible summer. If you haven't seen the movie, I strongly recommend it. This is lovely, by the way.Delete
I have, and that is high praise. Thank you!Delete
This is so lovely. The push into the water a great metaphor, and very boy-like.Delete
His breathing is ragged as I sit by his bed. Too many cigars, too much trail dust, too many range fires.ReplyDelete
I do for him what I hope someone does for me when my time comes. I tell him stories. Mostly true but with some lies sprinkled in for good measure. Lies he’d tell himself if he could still speak.
I tell him about the sunsets we saw out west, through the clouds kicked up by the cattle we herded. I recall the calving seasons in blizzards.
I remind him of what a fool headed idea it was to raise sheep instead of cattle. He chokes as he tries to laugh at that.
The only thing that kept us from killing each other that year were the dogs. They didn’t like when we fought.
They’re gone now, all of them. The cattle, the sheep, the dogs. It’s just me and him now, and not on a ranch, but in a damned apartment.
There’s no dust here, but it’s dirty air we breathe. A thousand lungs have polluted it before we breathe it in. No wonder he—we—are dying.
Some days I wonder whether it will be the air or the aging memories that smother us.
So I go back to the lies and tell him he is still the handsomest man I ever met, that one day we’ll get out of this place, that we’ll see another sunset.
Except he really is the handsomest cowboy I ever knew. No one ever looked better on a horse or off. Muscles in all the right places and a heart of gold, especially when we weren’t drinking.
I’m gonna miss this old cowboy when he’s gone. And I tell him that, and he closes his eyes so as not to cry. I can’t close mine though. I need to make sure he’s breathing still, until he’s not.
I love the fool. And that’s no lie.
Heartbreaking, with just the right amount of deft little character touches to make it stand out.Delete
Oh, my heart. Especially this line: "Some days I wonder whether it will be the air or the aging memories that smother us."Delete
Gonna tell you one of the hardest lessons I ever learned, and that’s that some lessons can’t be taught.ReplyDelete
We all get lost. I live in the middle of nowhere. I’ve gotten lost a million times. Sometimes getting lost is the best thing, new discoveries, places I didn’t know existed.
Sometimes getting lost is the worst. I spent four hours trying to get out of a subdivision in Northglenn once. Even so, I learned to look at maps after that. So I guess that was a good thing, too.
I get asked for directions a lot out here. Sometimes people take my directions, sometimes they don’t. One time, a guy stopped four times asking for directions. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t remember him. I don’t know. I told him the same thing all four times. And when he drove away, I watched him ignore the first turn I told him to take. I went inside after that.
So what’s the lesson? The lesson is you can help, you can give the directions that work for you, but the driver behind the wheel is gonna find his own way regardless. And sometimes he’s gonna get lost. That’s the way it works. Maybe he’ll see something beautiful you missed. Maybe not.
You can hand out roadmaps. You can give directions. But unless you’re in the driver’s seat, you can’t keep ‘em from getting lost.
It is the custom of his kind to die out of doors, under the stars if it is night, under the clouds if it is day.ReplyDelete
Legend says that a renaming occurs at the moment of death, and the name is only shared with those who really loved the one who has passed. So it came to be that I learned his name, his new name, and it was not all that different than the name I knew him by for the last dozen years.
The morning after he passed, I felt him walking at my side.
“Hello, old friend,” I said to him without looking to the side.
“Hello,” he responded, never one for small talk.
We walked the old paths, looked for new footprints, watched for signs of spring. The sun grew warm as the sun rose higher in the sky.
“What’s it like?” I finally asked him.
“Much the same. Less pain.”
“I am glad. Will you visit often?”
“I will visit always, though sometimes you may not notice.”
I considered this as we reached the mound of fresh turned soil. “When I do not see you, is it okay to talk to you here? Where I buried you?”
He pressed his body against my side. It felt lighter. More like a feather than a body, but familiar nonetheless.
“You may talk to me anywhere, at any time. I will always hear you.”
“Thank you.” I looked down, at my feet, and at his shadow. The tail was higher, the ears pointier than they’d been of late. Heaven suited him well.
“Later, old friend.” His shadow faded, and the sun grew brighter.
I blinked hard. I had a garden to plant and tears to cry.
You're killing me today, Leland.Delete
“Why do you do that?” my girlfriend Sara asked.ReplyDelete
“Do what?” I said, since I am a simple man.
“Why do you insist on using that cup every day? Even after you’ve washed it, it’s still a stained mess,” she said.
“Because,” I said, since I am a simple man and she probably wouldn’t appreciate my mansplaining.
“And that’s it? Because? What the heck does that even mean?”
“It means it’s more important to me than some shiny new cup. I’ve had this cup for twenty-some years,“ I said.
I stared into the coffee, black as the nights in the Arma Mountains, when to make any sound would offer Taliban fighters enough intel to blow you away, or even five of your buddies.
I was about to take a sip when Sara noticed more of the interior of the cup.
“I mean, look at that. It’s so scratched and stained, I don’t know what to say except ‘Why?’” Sara said. I’m sure she was just trying to plumb the depths of my male mind.
She was right, though. Its interior wore the dark scratches where thousands of turns of a spoon or field knife had stirred two sugars into it. If we had sugar.
Finally, I took a sip of my coffee and it scalded my tongue. Again.
“Damn it, Sara. I keep it because it’s important.”
“Gahhh,” Sara huffed and stalked away.
“If only…if I had held my tongue,” I thought. With Sara, too, for that matter.
What a snapshot! and what a coffee cup!Delete
Yeah, this one has great depth beneath its placid surface.Delete
What they said. A cup of power.Delete
Footprints in the SnowReplyDelete
As I descended into the basement,
lit only by a ground-level window,
I mused on my soon-enough internment.
Oh, I know. How morbid, depressed. How Joe!
Guilty as charged. But sometimes I ponder
any non-spiritual afterlife
that may come my way like I ponder those
piles of my life living under the stairs.
What’s to become of us, the dusty stuff
and I, once I trip on a rainbow?
So today, I began throwing away
bits of the life I never really had.
Yellowed newspaper stories I wrote when
I knew not how to be a reporter,
stories quoting me when at last I did.
Books of knowledge I didn’t really need
and second place trophies that showed I did.
Pictures of my young face, aged face, old face
chronicling how I forgot how to smile.
And dust, so much dust, maybe dust to dust
of someone else who one day figured out
we walk through life and all we really leave
behind us are footprints in the snow.
I'm still pondering this. So many great images. My favorite line:Delete
"So today, I began throwing away
bits of the life I never really had."
Her body, a muscleReplyDelete
Is always in motion
Flexing and twisting
A study in flesh
It calls without speaking
Calling my name
She knows that I’m watching
A peacock parading
A showing of fineries
Designed for one thing
Hidden from me coyly
While wantonly displaying
Skin dull in one aspect
With a sheen where she’s wet
A carnival ride
With neon lights flashing
A walk in the park
With her hand held in mine
Teaching me daily
An education in life
Lessons without classes
Chalk dust or slow time
She brings understanding
She brings consciousness
She stirs me to action
She makes me her own
A toy to be played with
A delight to us both
Renewing my life
The scales on his cheeks glowed gold in the lamplight. She could see how others would find it attractive. The Dragoons were stronger and assertive and had already become more powerful than the Guilds. Thomas had always been ambitious: this would be perfect for him and his dreams of becoming an Elder.ReplyDelete
“I don’t want to do it. I can’t do it,” she said. “I won’t let them put a worm in my chest. They’re alien lifeforms – who knows what changes they’ll make to our bodies. They’re promising us miracles, but they’ll answer none of our questions.”
“Topher’s keen to assimilate with you. They’ve set him aside for you; he’ll be a perfect symbiotic match. We can do it tonight…”
“Topher? Symbiote? Assimilate? What the heck does that even mean? You’ve brought a glass jar with a worm in it to our home. You think I’ll swallow it back as easily as that? That I’ll succumb to it like you did when you were drunk?”
He dropped the bottle to the floor, letting it fall and roll beneath his chair. The glass jar remained where he’d placed it: it was between them on the table, the symbiote inside it spread against the side closest to her, its single eye attentive to her every move.
“Do it for us, then,” Thomas pleaded. “I’m committed - surely you want to come along with me. It’ll happen to us all eventually, so why wait and become a stranger if there’s no need?”
Ohhhhh I like it! And the scales! Perfect!Delete
So many of your flash pieces feel like they already have huge backstory, like they exist in time (or perhaps outside of time) and against some vast background.Delete
The syllable filters down like mist, drifts around in her head as she parses the inflection and what it wants of her. Everybody wants something. Read this, join us, click here, you won’t believe what happens next. Get mad, get religion, get woke, donate to save the polar bears. Save democracy. Save the planet. Save the children. Save your soul while you still can…
“Ma’am, I have to close the store now.”
Store. She clasps something in the faded-denim valley of her crossed legs. Cotton balls. Jumbo size. She doesn’t remember needing cotton balls. She doesn’t remember coming here. She never comes to this pharmacy. But she can’t remember why. The slippery package feels nice in her hands. Cool. Soft. Comforting. There’s a background hum--ventilation maybe--the air is clean and antiseptic, the floor carpeted. Before her sparkles a mirrored wall of wands and lacquers and tubes, but she can only see slices of her face. Face slices. The words and image make her laugh…softly, to herself, before her throat tightens and the tears threaten to return.
“Ma’am.” Now it’s a plea. “Ma’am, I need to go pick up my kids. Is there someone I can call?”
“Carla,” she tells the heavens. Remembering how her mother loved it. Loved crooning it to her to chase away the pain.
“Oh-kay. Does this Carla person have a number?”
“I’m Carla. My name is Carla. I’m not ‘Car.’ I’m not ‘ma’am,’ I’m not ‘honey,’ I’m not ‘libtard,’ I’m not ‘snowflake,’ I’m not…” The tears choke off her voice before she can say it. Crazy.
Silence from above, except for the buzz of fluorescent lights. It skitters across her nerve endings. Now she remembers why she doesn’t come here. He shook his head at her when she said that about the buzz, walked away and turned on the television. Those loud, braying mouths spewing garbage. Like his. He can’t walk away anymore. Or watch that network.
“Okay, Carla.” She pinpoints the source of the sound. A loudspeaker mounted to the ceiling. The voice is very slow and deliberate. Almost kind. But she doesn’t quite believe it. “How are we going to get you home?”
An images flashes through her mind and she shakes her head violently. The slices of her face dance. Face slice dance. Not funny. Not funny anymore. She clutches the cotton balls more tightly to her middle and with the unlacquered finger of one hand traces patterns in the dried, rust-red dots on her jeans. “Oh. Oh, I’m not going home. I’m never going home.”
Now that’s dark... and noisy... and good! Carla is doing god’s work...Delete
I love how quickly I got drawn in to this piece. Effortless. And yay, Carla. :)Delete
They must have come in the middle of the night. Why his dog Sadie didn’t bark, he didn’t know, but it was the only explanation.ReplyDelete
The book he held now, it was filled with gibberish. Hieroglyphs. Not a single English word in the lot. He put it down, and looked in another, this one with a red cover that looked vaguely familiar. The same. Little triangles and impossibly curved letters. He squinted. Was it Arabic? He threw it at the wall.
The floor was sticky. It felt like molasses grabbing at his feet. It took far longer than it ought to have to make it to the coffee machine. At least they’d left him that.
He lifted the pot and poured it into his favorite mug, but it didn’t pour right. The hot liquid spread out across the counter and moved in slow motion to the floor, where it crept inexorably toward his feet.
He tried to jump backward, but his feet, still stuck in the molasses—or was it honey— and he fell backwards.
There was something wrong with the ceiling. He’d painted it often enough through the years to know it was flat. But now, now it domed upward. And there were stars.
They’d beaten him. They won. The aliens stole everything away. His favorite words. His coffee cup. And now his house.
What he did not see was the clot forming inside his skull. The stress, the lies, the pressure took him away from all he loved.
The nurses were very gentle with him. He almost didn’t mind the coolness of their tentacles.
God, or someone like him, decides to tell a joke.ReplyDelete
Here’s how it goes.
It’s wintertime on the great plains. We’re huddled at a giant gas station—ten islands each with five pumps, like little solar systems—and we’re alone there in that cold dome of artificial light amid an encroaching, encompassing darkness, like all of space itself has encircled us.
Us being Doris, Blake, and me.
And the winds. The winds on all sides sing no human melody, just a fluctuating galactic plainsong, like abandoned sheets berserked by a gale. Blurs of snow like the flung arms of colliding starfields.
Doris says, “You think she made it?”
Given I watched Sylvie die with my own anguished two eyes, I’m gonna pass on that.
I stomp my feet, Doris hugs herself, and Blake ignores us.
Our exhalations hang in the air like tiny frozen organ pipes.
In the gloom beyond the lights, a pale gathering of rigs lie still, accumulating snow like the corpses of buffalo. I wonder where the drivers are, but again I keep my thoughts inside, for warmth.
And speaking of inside, not a soul moves within the cold fluorescence of the great hangar around which the gas bars orbit. An inconvenience store, I think. Not funny. The place looks like a forsaken terrarium.
Blake hasn’t spoken in hours, but he does now. “So this is hell,” he says, quietly.
“More like hell’s briefing room,” says Doris, which makes me look at her and nearly smile. She nearly smiles back. And I try not to think about Sylvie.
How do things go so wrong so quickly? Twenty-four hours seems barely enough time for such a one-eighty. Everything had gone to plan; against the odds, we’d pulled it off; we were superstars; life was about to begin in earnest. But now…
It’s all a risk, every step of it. You can tell a joke, even a bunch of jokes, but no one’s obliged to laugh.
Out there in the dark, beyond the dizzying supercluster whorls, we watch shapes move like slow behemoths; real or imagined, who knows? All we know is we’ll never reach them, on this day or the next, but if they reach us they will end us.
Blake says, “After we soar, how come there’s this rule we gotta come down?”
“That’s God’s punchline,” I say.
God, that’s beautiful. Matching plainsong with Great Plains in the same piece would be brilliance enough, but the structure and cadence are genius, too. And I have been stuck in that gas station/truck stop. When I was there it was the plains of Wyoming, in February, and I wondered where the drivers went, too. Thank you for this. I love your words and patterns.Delete
Yes, I've seen those places too and wondered why they're so massive when almost no one seems to use them. Certain times everything shuts down, I guess. Thanks for reading and reading, Leland. Always appreciated.Delete
(Oops, it autocorrected reacting to reading in order to make me look insane.)Delete
Reading and reading is also correct. I always read your work at least twice!Delete
So beautiful and haunted. My favorite line is about the rigs coated with snow like buffalo and "keeping my thoughts inside, for warmth." And "Forsaken Terrarium" needs to be a novel title or the name of a band.Delete
Forsaken Terrarium! I love that, lol. And yes, I'm so happy you caught that small addendum: for warmth. :)Delete
It wasn’t his fault, really. The wind made him do it. Gusts over fifty miles an hour. Constant wind at thirty knots. For a week or more the wind blew. Dust sifted through the cracks in the windows and the door and every other place.ReplyDelete
And then the snow came. Not pretty snowflakes, but tiny ice crystals that mixed with the dust on the windowsills and then became mud.
The particles of dust and sand pummeled the glass in the windows. In the daylight—gray as it was—he knew it was the sand and snow, but at night, at night he wondered if instead they were insects. Locusts. He’d awakened in darkness, and tried to remember where he’d stored the can of insecticide. He’d emptied the cabinet under the sink before he convinced himself there were no bugs in winter.
The power had failed early in the windstorm. The candles he kept on hand lasted through the first two nights. After that, the only light was from the woodstove, which he kept stocked with the firewood stored on the deck. At the current rate of consumption, he might have another two days’ supply.
Food supplies were running low, too. He’d used everything in the freezer and refrigerator first after the power died.
Would it really be considered murder? That was the question that plagued him by day four. They’d spent more than a year together. Fussing over little things, fighting over big things. The caresses were what he’d remember, if he survived. Caresses he’d never dare to tell anyone about. And the sunrises they’d shared, after sleepless nights. Rising naked and making coffee, sometimes breakfast, and then caresses again.
It was murder if it was someone you knew or someone you didn’t know. Death was the same either way. Legal niceties were the only difference between first and second degree murder and manslaughter, but death was death.
With some difficulty, he found the whetstone to sharpen his knife. The sound it made echoed the grit hitting the windows. His sighs echoed the breathing of the wind.
He tested the knife on the back of his hand, to see if it was sharp enough to cut the dark hair that grew there. Have to be careful. No ambulance would come to save him this far out of town or in a storm this bad. He was startled by a noise at the door, and drew a tiny cut across his skin. The blood seeped in glowing red beads.
There was no one at the door. An icicle lay just past the threshold. That must have been what made the sound.
He looked at the target of his fury. His eyes now glowed as red as the drops of blood he failed to wipe off.
“Well, then,” he said aloud, startled by the evenness in his voice. “Let’s get started.”
Long slow cuts. Over and over. Separating the sinews, touching the same places he’d once caressed. The finality of it all was satisfying, though he was disappointed there were no screams.
When he was finished, he took a handful of the remains and threw them into the stove, watching the flames envelope the spidery words of the manuscript he’d labored over. He didn’t weep until the last shreds were incinerated.
It was, after all, murder. His characters were dead. And it was time to mourn.
When spring came, they found him lying in front of the stove, two cans of beans left on the counter. He was clasping a folder labeled “first draft.”
Wow. This has such a presence, as if we're there in that cabin with him. And the surprise is well constructed. But also, this: "The blood seeped in glowing red beads." A startling and poetic image. Bravo!Delete
Three magpies wrestle
In an old juniper tree
Only the wind wins.
This is perfect.Delete
The artist sat down at his canvasReplyDelete
though the model that rested across from him
a mere mortal
the portrait that was produced
resembled a saint.
Ignoring her flaws
and broken past
his heart blindly led him
to paint an unrealistic reality.
The bright hues behind her
The shading on her face
When it was finally complete
she gazed upon the depiction
unable to recognize who
that goddess-like being was.
She left the creator
without allowing him to explain
that he could see
what mirrors do not reflect.
He beheld her very essence.
Fueled by a fit of frustration
the painting was destroyed.
Pieces of pigment peeled
from the surface,
leaving nothing but a putrid pile
the artist wondered
if he would every
perceive perfection again.