High in the branches, death is perched, waiting. You are being watched, for death watches all of us. It's easy to disregard this reality. It's hard to go about your life knowing you are under the laser eye of eternity, but that's just facts, man. That's the way it is. It will come when you least expect it, tear you apart with talons so sharp you barely even feel them. Like razor cuts.
So, keep scurrying. Find places to hide if you can. Use the shadows to move.
Death don't care. That's what you need to wrap your mind around. Death will stoop and plummet, drive you into the ground with the force of its decent. That's how death works, but it's not personal. It's not a vendetta. It's just death doing what death is supposed to do.
Circle, dive, impact, blackness.
You can go through your days in constant terror. You can flaunt your aliveness. It doesn't matter. Riding the wind currents, high in the sky, death is biding its time.
So, do what you must. Brace yourself against the cold wind of time. Smile when you can and laugh as much as possible. Death doesn't care one way of the other. I'm telling you the truth. And when it comes, you'll be torn to pieces because death has not teeth. It doesn't chew. It just rips. Tears. Swallows.
And the blackness lasts forever.
"Please leave comments. Good, bad or ugly. Especially ugly."ReplyDelete
Okay, I'm going ugly tonight. Your darkness pains me, drags me down. Makes me dread the Friday Night Fiction reminder that pops up on my calendar each week.
I know life is currently a shit storm. Pandemics, war, a sharply divided nation. A look at my past shows how intimately acquainted I am with the life sucks factoid. There must be a bright point in your personal universe or the wilds of your mind's eye.
I challenge you to reveal that next week.
This is a dark one, but pretty apt considering the devastating things that are going on in the world right now. Death walks; he's personified here, and he's unstoppable. I really like 'you can flaunt your aliveness'.Delete
I feel like this piece tries to present itself, or at least its subject, as matter-of-fact. But it does come off dark, bleak, no matter that it's also 100% dead-on accurate.Delete
The one bright spot - "Smile when you can and laugh as much as possible." - that's solid gold advice.
The great thing about writing is that you don't have to hide behind a polite mask. You don't even have to be you. Or you can be more you than anyone in your life can accept. The great thing about you as a writer is that you bring your A game, no matter what the story in your heart chooses to be. You are a great writer. You made death real and yet almost a cartoon to me. Keep being you. Even if there is no silver lining. Sometimes there just isn't one.Delete
I think we're all finding different things when we write here. It's - or so I find it - a place where we can air our feelings in a safe place, using narrative or poetry to either vent or give us an opportunity to view the world as we wish. Dan's particular style is a constant and although the world has changed recently so that our nightmares are all coming closer to the surface, it's up to each of us to choose which message we want to bring here. We can ignore the grim-dark and instead build a lighter world for ourselves here - writers do both; we sometimes need to escape and slay those dragons that seem so unbeatable in the 'all too real' world.Delete
Other than that, this is classic Dan. A constant we can rely on.
Interesting. This is 98% about a hawk. Nature is dark. ;)Delete
We think on a thing that’s true,
talk of freedom, a reflection of the time
we cannot have, this yesterday of ours.
Boots stamp the hills of our country flat,
choke it with fire, wails and bullets,
black smoke, explosions splintering glass.
The snake rides its hide for 40 miles out,
carves a barren trench in our supple soil.
We hide inside our own shocked expressions.
This is not living. It’s a smothering of life,
this sharp shock to the consciousness.
He walks with death, this stickman, the usurper,
this mad dictator whose greed is his undoing.
The old women weep. They hug our hearts
to their chests. We are rag dolls. Sunflowers
nod beneath a pale blue, quaking sky.
Where are the saviours? Where are our rescuers?
We ask for our skies to be sheltered,
but we are pleading to the silence of fear.
People fight and people tower ever higher,
growing in magnitude to match their courage,
but we are small; the children are so small.
We ball our fists and scream into the dark,
wondering if our outrage will see us through.
The enemy is coming; he is close on our heels.
We can smell him through the smoldering wood
and he pretends to know our weaknesses.
But we are strong; we are united in our fight.
The sun may go down in our restless sky,
but we will never sink lower than the horizon.
We hold the sunflowers against our skin,
bathe in the golden glow they bestow.
There is so much I love about this. The imagery is spectacular, as is the emotion. "The snake rides its hide for 40 miles out,Delete
carves a barren trench in our supple soil," is SUCH a great descriptor. And "pleading to the silence of fear" - wow. Yeah, that sums it up. Such a beautiful, sad, hopeful poem. Love this one to bits, Vickie.
This transported me back to way-not-that-long-ago, and I had those feelings all over again. I felt helpless and powerful and angry and hopeful and scared and out of control and hopeful again, right along with your people. Maybe not exactly in that order. This is beautiful. I don't like most poetry, but I haven't read a poem of yours that I haven't liked. A lot of them, like this one, I love.Delete
This poem has some of the feel of Dan's anguish at the current state of the world and also the imagery of Steven King too. It's also most definitely you too, Vickie, and I love the way you've picked up Dan's baton and taken it and made it your own. Bravo!Delete
This is beautiful. I especially love the close of the first stanza. I'm so glad we have poetry representation here, too. This is one of my favorites that you've written.Delete
Marco woke with his heart pounding, the nightmare still vivid in his mind. It’d been a long time since he’d had this particular nightmare – 30 years, give or take – but he recognized it for what it was: bad news.ReplyDelete
Rubbing the grit from his eyes, he switched on the bedside lamp, staggered to his feet, and went to get a pot of coffee started brewing. Then he went to his closet.
Jeans would do. A t-shirt. His leather jacket. The sturdy boots he wore for tramping about in the woods. He waited until he was dressed to return to the closet and drag down the heavy Craftsman-knockoff toolbox from the shelf, where it had sat buried behind a stack of blankets and a box of old photographs. His hand strayed toward the box of pictures, but in the end, he let it sit. He checked the contents of the toolbox, nodded, and carried it and his cell phone into the kitchen where he doctored up a cup of coffee and used it to chase two Tylenol and a couple of slices of toast.
Dressed, fed, and water, he gathered up his supplies -phone and keys and wallet and toolbox – and went out to his old truck. As he sat there letting the engine warm up, he pulled a compass a small vial from the toolbox. The vial had a dropped top, and it let him place one drop of the pale brownish liquid from the vial on the needle of the compass. Instantly the needle swung from pointing north to pointing somewhere off the southwest. Marco nodded and set the compass on the seat beside him. He pointed the old truck as close to the direction indicated as he could, which wasn’t very close at all really, and headed out.
It took him nearly two hours of consulting the compass and adjusting course to reach his destination – a little town near to the city where he lived. He shouldn’t have been surprised. He knew this town. He’d been here, a long, long time ago. 30 years, give or take.
The compass guided him to a sizable house on the outskirts of town, and Marco took a minute to appreciate the beauty of its architecture and the artistry of its landscaping. Then he pulled up behind a brand-new SUV and parked. He grabbed a few things from the toolkit, shoving a couple of them in his pockets and keeping one in his right hand, ready to use. Then he headed for the wide front steps of the house.
He didn’t bother knocking. He just let himself in. No one was there to challenge him. He heard a high, thin wail – a child’s cry – and charged up the stairs toward the sound. Kids, man. Why do people have to fuck with kids?
They were in the master suite. Five kids, two boys and three girls ranging from “barely old enough to dress himself’ to “probably will start shaving soon,” two women of the right age to be their mother, a man of roughly the same age, and a much older man. And Him. The subject of his nightmare.
The nightmare turned as Marco stepped across the threshold into the master suite. The thing looked like a man, albeit a very tall one. Marco topped 6 feet, and this guy towered over him. At the nightmare’s feet crouched three shadowy creatures with long muzzles and longer tails, something not quite like a wharf rat and about the size of a medium dog. A smaller version of the creature sat perched on the nightmare’s shoulder.
The nightmare lifted his hands and opened his mouth, and Marco lunged forward, closing as much of the space as possible. He raised his own hand, one holding one of the items from the toolkit – a can of Aquanet hairspray. He pushed down on the button, praying it didn’t stick and cursing himself for being too stupid to check it…and a thick mist of noxious hairspray hit the nightmare right in his open mouth. The nightmare sputtered and gagged, and Marco shot it with the hairspray again for good measure. The hairspray wouldn’t hold the thing for long, and if it spoke, Marco was done for.
The ratlike creatures had darted forward at the first blast, and Marco was forced to take a moment to kick one of them in the teeth and dart to one side, chucking the Aquanet can at the creature’s head. It hit it between the eyes, slowing it. The rat things were faster than he remembered. Bigger, too. But he knew what they really were, and he knew how to hurt them.Delete
He reached into his left front jeans pocket and pulled out a handful of fine blue powder – Fairy dust. He swept his hand in an arc, letting the powder fly, and the rat things charged into a cloud of it before they could stop their momentum. They howled in pain, a sound so eerie and so loud that Marco had to clench his teeth against the pain in his ears and his head. Almost as one, they fell to the ground and melted away into nothing. Three down, one more to go. And the nightmare himself.
The thing had recovered from the Aquanet enough to glower at Marco. It was still sputtering, but time was growing short, and the thing was too wary for Marco to have used the hairspray trick again, even if he hadn’t tossed the can at one of the rats.
Marco pulled the last of his aces from the back pocket of his jeans. It was an old bit of wood, hardly more than a twig, with a shiny bit of red glass attached to one end and a few feathers tied to the other end. He pointed the fake ruby toward the thing and screamed, “Creature of darkness, I banish thee. Leave this place and return to whence you came.”
The nightmare screamed, a -thankfully- incoherent sound of rage and pain. The small rat leapt from the thing’s shoulder right at the little wand, but Marco had known it would. He dropped the floor, wand still pointed at the nightmare, and cried out again, “Creature of darkness, I banish thee. Leave this place and return to whence you came.”
Someone screamed. More than one someone. Small voices. Frightened children. The nightmare lifted its nose and inhaled deeply, like he was enjoying the scents of a banquet being prepared. It licked its terrifyingly humanoid lips and sneered at Marco. Then it began to mutter.
Marco’s blood ran cold. His time was up. A great pressure built in his head, and the edges of his vision began to turn gray. It was all he could do to keep holding the wand aloft. The muttering became louder, and he fell to his knees. He tried to form the words of the chant, tried to speak…but he couldn’t make the words form in his mind.
A bright shape darted into the grey fog of Marco’s vision: a little girl, dressed all in pink and purple. There wasn’t an ounce of fear on her little face, only righteous fury. She ran up and kicked the nightmare in the shin, hard.
It stopped muttering to howl in sudden, surprised pain.
Marco didn’t hesitate. Even as the nightmare raised a hand to swat the little girl away – a move than would have bounced her off the far wall, or maybe put her through it – Marco found the words and screamed them in fear and defiance, “Creature of darkness, I banish thee! Leave this place and return to whence you came!”
The nightmare turned back to Marco, snarling. And then he just vanished with a loud pop. A moment later, the small, confused-looking rat thing turned into goo and disappeared, just as the other Fairie rats had.
Marco fought his way to his feet and took a shaky step forward to rest a hand on the little girl’s head. “Thank you,” he said. She just smiled.
He turned to the rest of the family, huddled there in terror and confusion. He met each adult’s eyes in turn and then he asked in a hard voice, “Which one of you did it?”
The old man shook his head, but no one answered.
Marco took a menacing step toward the group, and the adults all flinched, all except the old man. The kids just looked up at him with wide eyes. Marco turned his gaze on the oldest. “Was it you? Some kind of dare or Tiktok challenge or some shit?”
The boy shook his head almost violently.
Frustrated beyond endurance, shaking from the aftereffects of almost being obliterated by whatever demon or construct the nightmare actually was, and just plain angry, Marco howled, “Which one of you numb fucks did it?”
Now the kids did flinch, and the youngest boy began to cry. The little girl who’d kicked the nightmare gave Marco a hard look as she walked by him to go comfort the crying boy.
Marco fought down the anger, taking deep breaths until he was certain he wouldn’t strangle anyone or scream again.
“Whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve learned the lesson and won’t do this shit again.” He took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “This. This is why we don’t fucking talk about Bruno.”
We don't talk about Bruno no no no.Delete
For real, this is a fun piece. Lots of action, good pace, the ending is pretty freaking awesome. Much love.
And again, we're back in Kingsville. Although, it's somewhere I'm often inclined to go myself. I love the story arc you've created here; the quiet, foreboding beginning where you've used the small details to create atmosphere, this leading us quickly to a climax where the instigator of the summoning is revealed. Who'd have thought a little girl would be behind it all? I'm certainly glad my sisters were all fully grown and had flown the nest before I was born; who knows what devilry they might have dragged the me into. This is such an epic piece of writing - great work!Delete
This is great. I agree about the echoes of King in here. You captured the best of what he does in my opinion. There is magic and darkness and wit in this.Delete
"I was a bright-eyed optimist once, just like you," her hard-ass supervisor, Donna said. Her smirking lips parted just enough to admit the cigarette she'd half sucked down in the three minutes they'd been outside. "Then I got out into the world. People are shit. Jobs are shit. You find your tribe, hell, maybe you won't become me. I never found my tribe, though."ReplyDelete
"I don't want to be bitter and alone," Stephanie, her favorite coworker said. Mira couldn't help but feel that comment was unwise. "I guess I'm glad to be a pessimist."
"You're five seconds from being fucking fired is what you are," Donna barked. "I ain't fuckin' alone. I have a husband and kids. I have my congregation. I just also have a lifetime of people disappointing me to make me bitter as hell."
"Yeah, and alone," Stephanie said. "You may have these people in your life, but if you don't let them in, what's the point? You're still alone."
"I'm alone," Mira said. "But I'm not lonely."
"Honey, you're five," Donna countered. "You are a puppy who is still exploring the world. You think life is going to be one big, happy, overflowing, never-ending sorority party."
"I can't stand sororities," Mira said, her lower lip jutting out in a way that was both defensive and vulnerable. "I just want to experience everything the world has to offer."
"Aw, honey, I'm sorry," Donna said. Her eyes softened and she got this look on her face that made Mira believe that maybe, just maybe, she understood. "I can be a major grump, but don't let me rain on your parade. I will give you one piece of advice, though. Get the hell out of the hospitality industry. You're doing this to get through school, right?"
"Stick with that plan," Donna said. "Don't whitewash this experience so that you think this job is amazing. It isn't. This field is not for you. I hate saying this shit, because you're one of my best people. I just have to give you the knowledge I wish someone would have given me. Run. Get out. Do it before you see what greedy, whiney, two-faced, greedy, pathetic bastards most people are. Be a statistician or something. Stay the fuck away from people. Then go out and find your people and keep to 'em."
"She's not wrong," Stephanie said. "This place will teach you real quick, people are greedy, mean cusses. Do not stick around. Do something noble like teaching or go into medicine."
"You think she'd be happier dealing with people who are scared and in pain all the time?" Dylan asked, lighting up as he entered the conversation. "Nah, this girl need s to start a business. Then she can hire people to deal with people for her."
"I'm majoring it Journalist, y'all," Mira said. "I'm going to be a reporter and write for a good paper."
"Newspaper is dying out," Donna said. "It's a shit plan. Find another."
"You don't like where I work, you don't like my boyfriend, you don't like my career plans, tell me, Donna, is there anything about me you like?" Mira asked.
"Your heart," Donna said. "I think you're heart is a little bit a' all right."
Wow. Bringing the real. Love that last line. It's everything. <3Delete
This is a neat little glimpse. Real and interesting. I feel like more story could spin out of this.Delete
There's such a lot of truth in these words and this situation. I've been here, I've seen these people, and I can also see myself in more than one of them. I love the lift in the tone you added at the end, but I can't help admitting that I was waiting for that heart to get another jab immediately after, when Donna returned to her usual character and added a final snarling comment, making it a one, two, kiss and kick manoeuvre. I love this though, it's 100% real life and truth.ReplyDelete
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A spot of light pierces the darkness and homes in on the man. The man walks along the beach, his path running parallel to the waves, his face directed to the north. The scene is monochrome and without sound.
“That was the first time we saw you,” the show’s presenter said. “You were moody and enigmatic, remote but still every man. What was going through your mind at the time?”
“I was trying my best not to blink,” Carlson said. “But the helicopter with the spotlight was raising a sand cloud. And it was aiming its beam directly into my face.”
“So, you’re saying it was just an irritation that made you cry. That the tears that graced a thousand magazine covers were nothing more than a reaction to an errant grain of sand and the glare from a piece of badly positioned lighting equipment? That the Oscar you received for that movie was given to you by mistake and that Xian Fenn should have been given the award.”
Carlson laughed good-naturedly, turning his best side to the camera with the red ‘broadcasting’ LED lit up, showing it was active.
“No, of course, not,” he said. “An actor is like a selective filter, taking what he needs from his environment, his circumstances. It’s like a divine balancing act, creating a reality by choice, deciding which elements are valid in his world. The directors are a crude tool, applied with little insight; it’s the actors who’re the real artists in filmmaking. The writers too – they’re just wordmongers; it’s the cast who bring their scripts to life. The writers are like the delivery van that supplies the ingredients: it’s the actors who put them together, applying their finesse and guile and an understanding of the humanity of the occasion. Xian Fenn has his skills, but at that point, he’d barely been tested. He’s won a Golden Globe since then – we’re good friends now, too – but he’d agree his Oscar nomination came too soon.”
The presenter sensed a scandal and was quick to jump in, seeking an exclusive. “Zombie Combat would have been the viewers’ popular choice that year,” he declared, provocatively. “The critics were unanimous about that. But it was the studios themselves that influenced the committee’s decisions. If it hadn’t been for that, Xian Fenn would have been an easy shoo-in for the best actor award.”
Carlson shook his head, dismissing the comment. “It’s easy for you to say that,” he said, turning back to the host, “but that’s complete speculation. Nobody can say that for sure. Besides, it was more than enough for him to be nominated, that’s always the case. It’s only the media that make such a big thing out of the public awards – everybody in the industry is more than content to co-exist with one another and to appreciate any plaudits they get from within the various guilds they belong to.”
A moment of dead air resounded across the studio. The presenter put one hand to his ear, intent on the directions the show’s director was shouting into it, urging him to continue his line of comments. They had another ninety seconds to go before the next advertisement break; they needed reactions, accusations – anything he could coax from the guest to fill the time.Delete
“An inquiring mind would ask why you’re so quick to dismiss his performance in Zombie Combat,” he said, smiling to soften the blow. “If you’re all so ready to acknowledge one another’s personal triumphs, you’d be happy for him either way. You said he wasn’t ready – right now, here on this show – but the public loved him. The box office takings from that year proved that. Zombie Combat grossed fifteen times more than your film. It’s still showing in cinemas now. There was an outcry when you were given the award – do you have anything to say about that?”
Carlson glared down the camera lens. He was tired of these questions. He'd thought he’d be able to promote his new film where he played a surgeon with dementia, a stalwart hero with a need to continue his art. Saving lives was the least of his concerns – he had a score to settle with God, while he still had the physical abilities to match his skills. Carlson was still in the bubble of this role; he felt he had limited time too. His last three movies had barely broken even.
“Let me say this here, then,” he said, an arrogant set to his jaw. “Xian Fenn didn’t act on that film, didn’t prepare for the role. He just turned up and went through the motions. It was the same for the make-up, the direction, the casting. It was all just a sham, a hollow premise that managed itself. The only thing that was for real was the zombies – anyone would be convincing if they knew there was only an extra between them and certain walking death for the rest of their lives.”
“And now, we’ve gotta go to a commercial break,” the presenter cut in, his camera going live. “We’ve a bunch of important messages for everyone at home from Gourmet Dogs – can you believe the quality of this meat?”
This is really cool. I'd like to read more about this world. I think you raised some interesting Qs about how creativity works and why. Who is responsible. Who can claim credit.Delete
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Pete lugged a yellow scuba tank through the double-glass doors and set it poolside, next to the ten others his crew had already moved in for Red Cross training class later that afternoon. The tanks weren’t that heavy, just a pain in the ass on a suddenly hot day like this, and a dozen more waited in the back of the truck, two flights down. But goddamn, he needed a break. His back was troubling him, his pulse thudded in his ears and he felt like he was breathing through a straw. Doc said he shouldn’t be doing stuff like this anymore, carrying all this heavy shit up and down the stairs, at least without dropping a few pounds and cutting back on the bacon. His wife would have…well. She was gone now. He nodded to one of the other guys, who was heading out for another load, and leaned his bulk against the wall, mopping his sweaty forehead with a bandana from his pocket.
The water looked so fine, so cool and tempting, and some eight-year-old part of him wanted to kick off his boots and cannonball in, like a couple of little kids were doing maybe twenty feet away. Who would care if he did? The lifeguard was busy yelling at the kids; a few old dudes were swimming laps on the other side of the pool, a young mother was cooing at her infant in floaties in the shallow end, and the guys in his crew wouldn’t give a shit. It would probably give them a laugh, something to talk about over beers and the end of their shift. Hell, maybe a few of them would jump in too. He lumbered up to the edge, thinking it over.
That’s when he saw her. The smooth, efficient strokes, the aqua suit that blended into the pool’s surface. The first word that entered his head was mermaid. He fell mesmerized by her smooth, long strokes, the way she reached the end and flipped the other way with barely a splash, like a creature who’d lived her life under the sea. Who knows how long he watched her: three, four, five laps?
The words filtered through the humid, chlorine-scented air.
“Hey. Pete. Buddy. You ain’t lookin’ so good, maybe you ought to get away from—you’re all red and…”
Everything got wavy just then, air radiating up in waves like when the crew was laying blacktop in the deepest hell of summer. Then he got a sudden shock of cold. Then he stopped feeling anything at all. But he kept seeing the mermaid. Hair streaming down her sleek shoulders, the aqua suit enveloping her body down to the flip of her tail. And her eyes. Gazing upon him as she sat upon her rock and sang siren songs…
“Pete! Can you hear me? Stay with us, Pete.”
What seemed like the weight of a small creature landed on his chest, making him gasp and cough. Water flowed out of him, all around him. Chilled and chemically reeking on hard tile.
A few male voices cheered. His eyes popped open, searching. He found a mildew-splotched ceiling. A gaggle of denim legs and workboots. Then a smile. A pair of green eyes. His mermaid.
“Hi, Pete.” Her voice was like silk. Her touch soft. “Welcome back.”
A thousand questions went through his head but he couldn’t get a single one out of his mouth.
“Welcome back, buddy,” one of his guys was saying. “You gave us a good damn scare.”
“The girl…” Pete said.
“What? What girl?”
He lifted his aching head and glanced around the pool. She was gone.
Oh, this is super cool I also want to know what happens next, but I feel good caught in this moment of surprise, too.Delete
And... And... I need to know what happens next! Excellent, Laurie. I got totally sucked into this.ReplyDelete