Mark’s Story

He drummed his fingers on the Formica counter, trying to find just the right phrase to put in the letter. This, after all, was going to be the turning point. This was going to be the day that he solidified his relationship with Lucy. This was going to change everything.

Unrequited love may have been something that Shakespeare wrote about, but this was different. This was his life, not some sixteenth century drama. When he thought of the perfect way to express this, he put the pen on the paper and scribbled it out, his hand moving across the paper as fast as he could to not lose his concentration. This was his latest attempt at getting everything down on paper, on getting it written out correctly.

Just as he was about to move over and dump the stale coffee into the sink the news flashed to a story about the special anniversary of the singer who had disappeared. Mark snatched up the remote and turned up the volume, checking to see if they had any new findings on the woman whose voice he had adored.

“…vanished without a trace on her way home from getting gas. Tonight it has been three years since anyone has heard or seen Shelly Green. If you have any information on this case, please be sure to contact the authorities using the special hotline number on the bottom of the screen.”

While she was speaking of the disappearance the broadcaster’s face was drawn and serious, but in the instant when the story shifted over to the children’s art festival her face transformed into a large wide smile, the trauma of the missing singer gone.

Life moves on. He thought, folding the paper up and tucking it into the envelope. He made sure that his shirt was tucked in and that his hair was combed. He knew that presentation was half of the battle to gaining her attention.

On the way to her he made sure to run the truck through the wash, the warm soapy water closing him off from the outside world. He leaned back against the headrest of the truck and thought about the letter in his pocket. He had memorized every line and now replayed it in his head imagining how it was going to go and what he was going to do. He liked to be prepared for every eventuality.

Twenty minutes later he was pulling up in front of her house, his sweaty palms gripping the steering wheel. This was his last chance. He knew that if she didn’t respond to him tonight that it was never going to happen, that he would have to move on.

He didn’t want to, but it was truly in her hands now.

When he got to the door he could see her sitting on the couch through the window, waiting. She was always dressed so perfectly, her long blonde hair fanned out to frame her face. When he stepped on the porch it creaked and she looked over at him and waved.

Waving back, he thought about the first time he had found her, stranded on the side of the road, trying to get help. The cell signal on these back roads was spotty, and he knew right away that he had to help her. Since then he’d been visiting her regularly.

Tonight they sat on the couch as usual, her palms pressed together and her knee slightly bouncing in anticipation. In the time Mark had known her he was always left a little breathless when they were together and he loved to sit next to her and soak up the scent of roses that seemed to seep out of her pores.

He was not sure what to say to her, but he knew that she understood because she never seemed put off or upset when he came around.

Mark sighed, this was his last shot though, he’d promised himself that if he didn’t work up the nerve to ask her to marry him this time then it was never going to happen. He wasn’t sure what he was so worried about; he knew that she would probably say yes. They spent all of their free time together and neither of them were seeing anyone else.

In fact, Lucy was almost a hermit. He wasn’t sure that she ever saw the outside of her cabin, let alone anyone else. While he wanted to do some grand gesture to let her know how he felt, instead he took the letter out and slipped it under the edge of her hand.

Smiling, she took the letter and opened it, her eyes slowly reading over the lines as he waited. Mark could feel his chest tightening and the blood pumping through his body was doing so with such force that small stars lit up the corner of his vision.

He didn’t know that he had ever been so anxious for a response.

Looking down, he fished the ring from his pocket and put it firmly in the palm of his hand, clasping his fingers around the band and pressing it deep into his flesh. When he looked back up he saw that she was staring at him, her dark blue eyes churning.

“Of course I’ll marry you, Mark.” I’ve always wanted us to be together forever.

He heaved a giant sigh of relief and handed her over the engagement ring. He thought about getting down on one knee, but he didn’t want to fall over or do something foolish to ruin the moment.

He held his breath, waiting for her to laugh at his clumsy proposal, but instead she just smiled sweetly and took the ring from him.

After a moment, she stood up and tried to grip his hand, “Come here, I want to show you something.”

“What?” he asked as he rose, pulling his shirt down and wiping his palms against the fabric before slipping his hand back into hers.

“You’ll see.” She whispered, and Mark walked through the room into the back of the house. In all his visits he had never gone to the back of the house. It was were the bedrooms were, and he knew how important waiting was for Lucy. She’d mentioned it more than once.

In his mind he wondered if because he had proposed now would be the night when they would finally be able to be together. He smiled to himself.

“I want you to see what forever looks like.” Lucy put her hand on the doorknob and looked at him one last time. “You ready?”

Mark nodded and took in a deep breath, and he was still inhaling and envisioning their night together when she pushed the door open and stepped to the side.

When he looked up he almost choked on that breath as he struggled to push the air back out in a solid scream. In front of him was a woman shackled to the wall. Her head hung limply against her chest and her blonde hair was matted with clumps of dried blood. He backed up a step, and tried to turn only to find himself falling.

A heavy object landed its first blow against his head, and then that pattern was repeated three more times in rapid succession. The last thing he could see through red tinged lenses was the woman’s face as she looked up and tried to call out to him, her gaunt features pulling tight against her cheekbones as she screamed. But he could hear none of it.

As the darkness sank down over him, he realized three things. One was that the woman had chunks of flesh missing from different points in her body, some of them healing at different rates so that it looked like this was an ongoing thing.

The second was that he had found the missing singer.

The last thought he had as he struggled to pull himself away from Lucy’s beating was how often he had eaten steak at her house.

She leaned over him, the soft scent of her floral shampoo now clogged his nostrils and he pushed himself away from her.

“I promise you forever,” she whispered as she leaned back and raised the pan above her head one more time.

“Oh no…” he managed to mutter to himself as world faded to black.

 

Addictions & Apples

She was cutting an apple, the knife slicing through the thick outer skin and slipping into the meat of the fruit with an almost mindless repetition. Later she would tell herself that she could not remember what she was thinking about at the moment when the tip of the blade bit into the side of her finger, but that was a lie.

In fact, she’d been thinking of how her insides had twisted when he’d calmly told her over how he would never be able to love her “like that.” The delicate rays of the sun bouncing from his dark glasses became that much more brilliant, the calm day around her feeling unreal and unsteady beneath her feet as if it were all a lie; her entire life. His words moving through the air like an attack, reaching into her chest and squeezing around her lungs like a vise.

A bright red drop of blood welled up against the cut and then rolled over the waxy green skin of the Granny Smith before reaching the crisp white inside and soaking into the apple like a slowly branching virus. She stuck the finger into her mouth and absentmindedly suckled it, allowing the coppery sustenance to coat the inside of her mouth and watched the blood filter through the apple.

Images flooded her mind: his jaw and how it clenched so tightly when he was mad that she could see the muscles straining against his flesh, the look of the brightly burning stars from their blanket picnic on the first night they had been together and how she’d imagined them searing into her flesh, her white knuckles curled around the doorframe, and the blood moving in small rivers through the sand on the last time she’d seen him.

She didn’t even realize she was laughing until she was doubled over; gasping for breath in great heaving sobs that clenched around her body and left her coughing and raw, the blood from the cut leaving an intricate pattern on the floor.

Vision2 Missing Pieces!

For those of you who didn’t know, a long time ago, in a land far, far away I wrote a book. I thought I was being cute and named it Vision2 (i.e. Vision Squared); however, most computer programs and websites do not like to put it up correctly.  Doh!  Anyway, when I put the book out I cut some of the prologue sections (per my wonderful editor, Matt) because they dealt more with the relationship story and didn’t add to the pace of the adventure that was the main focus of the book…Or some such nonsense 😛

I decided to put up the missing pieces on here just for shits and giggles!  Enjoy!

***********

4-28-1991

Roger laughed, his head tilted to the sun.  There were about six of them at JP’s pond.  It was surrounded by a cluster of tall oak trees that provided shade even in the dead heat of the Oklahoma summer, making the pond stay a cool 70 degrees during the glaring months of July and August.

The pond itself was fifteen feet across at its widest point, but it was at least ten feet deep at its center.  This kind of depth combined with the dense tree growth made it the perfect place for a rope swing.  The point was to try and hit the water dead in the center where the pond was at its deepest.  Because the pond wasn’t very wide, this made it even more difficult, and if you missed the center by too much then you could land on the rocks and bust yourself up pretty good.

They had been doing this for three years now, and so far, only one person had ever been hurt.  And that had been a girl, so they just chalked it up to female error and swore never to let any other girls use their rope swing.  Not even the strong ones.

Roger held the rope in his hand and looked towards Mary Beth.  He almost got a hard on just looking at her long, dark legs and shoulder length chestnut brown hair, and she was sitting less than five feet away watching him.  She had told him earlier that if he let her swing out across the lake she would owe him one.  And having a girl like Mary Beth owe him one was way more important than his damn macho pride any day.

As he was looking at her she winked beneath her sunglasses and blew him a kiss.  The movement was so slight that no one else saw.  Hell, he almost didn’t believe it.  Roger tilted his can of Budweiser up as high as he could, draining it.  The last few sips always tasted like he imagined warm piss might taste, but that didn’t seem to stop or change his growing fondness of it.

He tossed the lifeless red and white can off to the side, hearing the empty clink as it hit the ground.  But his mind was not on the environment, he was too busy thinking about the possibility that he might be getting laid for the first time tonight.  And wouldn’t it be something if he lost his virginity to the likes of Mary Beth Palson?

Roger again glanced over at Mary Beth and attempted to flash her a helluva winning smile before grabbing onto the rope as tight as he could.  He ran backwards, heels digging into the loose dirt, and when he reached the top of the small hill he pulled up his feet and flew through the air.  His life was now connected to a thin rope tied to an old tree branch, and he loved it.

He loved the way the wind rushed past his face, the way that the world didn’t matter out here at JP’s, and perhaps more importantly, he loved the consuming thrill that took over as his hands left the slim, frayed security line.

Seconds before he let go, Roger looked down at the sun-rippled water.  Everything looked normal, but it wasn’t.  There had only been one other time Roger had ever remembered feeling so strange about something so normal, and now he couldn’t even remember what it had been.

It was the mirror.

That’s right.  It had been a mirror, but he could no more remember what happened than he could tell you why the surface of the water looked funny.  He let go of the rope just as realization struck.  The water he was falling towards was a deep, moldy green instead of its usual rusted color.

And there were things moving under the water, green microbes swimming through a world of algae.  Seconds before he broke the reflective surface his head filled with the horrified screams of a man that followed him underwater.

The mirror man’s screams.

Except that wasn’t quite right either, and as Roger fell through the layers of sun-warmed water, something important teetered on the edge of his memory.  Then, his left leg caught on a large rock that none of them had ever noticed before, spilling what seemed like tons of warm blood into the chilly cocoon.  He tried to kick his legs out, to push himself up to the surface, but he couldn’t make his legs move right.  Nothing in his body was working as it should.

Just as the panic started to fill his mind and numbness raced through him, he felt her strong hands latch together under his armpits and pull.  He didn’t have to turn around to know it was Mary Beth, and if it wasn’t and this was all some elaborate delusion, he didn’t want to know.  Before long he found himself kicking his way back to the surface with his right leg, his left one trailing uselessly behind.

The memories that teetered on the edge of his consciousness remained lost at the bottom of JP’s pond.  

4-7-1997

The raindrops fell in big splattering drops that dotted the windshield with their pregnant weight before running together to form a river and flowing down the glass.  Mary Beth sat tensely in the seat beside him, staring down at what remained of her shredded fingernail stubs.  There had been too many long and sleepless nights between them.  They had gone to the movies to get away, but in the end they just found themselves right back with each other.

When I run from myself, how fast do I have to go?

Roger hadn’t been the same since his mother’s death.  At first he hadn’t seemed any different than before, but the changes came in subtle waves that eventually rushed up and buried the Roger she loved.  Now there was something different in its place, something colder and harder.  She had mentioned this to him before in the dark confines of their room as their sweat-entangled bodies lay open, welcoming the night.  His eyes, deep black-green pools, stared at the spackled ceiling as he neither denied nor accepted anything.

It felt safer that way, confronting her problems in the dark after good sex.  But even in the confrontation, he’d told her it was all in her imagination.  Nothing was different, he claimed.  But he didn’t hold her as often as he used to or entice her into bed with roving fingertips that tickled her pale flesh, and then made it blush.  Hell, he didn’t even talk to her anymore, just at her.  Sex was the only tenuous connection they still had, and she could never put all her faith in sex because anyone could potentially be a good fuck.

After the movie, Mary Beth had told Roger that she wanted to drive and talk.  He had only nodded and driven out of town and onto the country roads, taking one long dirt road that eventually wound its way into another.  She had lived her whole life here and believed that she knew every road by heart, but now she wasn’t sure where they were.  And she was even less sure that it mattered.

“Roger, I don’t think we’re the same anymore.”

“You don’t?”  He looked at her, his eyebrow cocked in that mocking way he had.

“No.”  She was flustered.  “Look, what I mean is, we can’t keep doing this.  We spend hours trying to get away, but we just keep running back into ourselves.”

How fast…How fast do I have to run?

“Who else would we run into, Mary Beth?”

“Stop trying to mock me!”  Her voice rose until it was almost shrill and her eyes were rimmed with tears.  Roger felt the shame he tried to keep at bay well up.  “I just don’t think that we should be together anymore.  We’re different people now, and I don’t think those people like each other very much.”

“What do you mean?  I love you,” Roger said as passionately as he could, trying to convince her and, more importantly, himself.

“No, you don’t.  You only think you still love me because it’s easier that way.  You can keep living in your pretend world where your feelings and emotions are right where you want them to be.”

She turned to face him, and he saw her for the first time in God only knows how many months, saw the pain that was deeply etched into her perfect features.

And who put it there Roger?  Who?

In that moment he knew the truth, he had to let her go.

He had pushed her and reality away, but that time of delusion had passed. Without uttering another word, Roger pulled the gearshift into drive and flipped on the windshield wipers.  He drove recklessly down the slippery roads and flinched when he saw her grip her seatbelt a little tighter and scrunch down in her seat.

He wasn’t mad at her, he was mad at himself.  He wanted nothing more than to tell her this, but the words had been wedged somewhere between his gut and his throat.  If the truth did happen to find a way out of him it would inevitably be followed by tears, and he wasn’t about to plague her with guilt as well.

He swung the car out along the narrow road and slid into her parents drive.  When he turned to her he made it a point to look though her, not at her.  He wasn’t going to let himself back out of this, she deserved far better than what he was giving her.

She deserved happiness and someone to share it with.

“You can come over tomorrow and move your stuff out of the house while I’m at work.  I promise I won’t bother anything of yours.”

Her soft sobs mimicked the rhythm of the rain, the muffled sound beating its way through the car on moth wings.  “I…I never meant for it to happen this way.  I still love you.”  She looked at him one last time, her eyes pleading with him, begging him to say something to stop her.

He didn’t move.

She took his ring off and left it on the dashboard before opening the door and disappearing into the rain.  He wanted to run after her, to stop her and let her know exactly what he felt.  But he couldn’t.  He knew what would happen if he did.  He knew how badly everything would end because she was right, he hadn’t really been with her for a long time.  She had turned into a warm body he could come home to.

When she was gone Roger turned the car around on a skid and sped away from her parents’ house so fast that one of the neighbors was drawn to the living room window by the roar of exhaust pipes just as the car streaked by under an umbrella of rain.  She would later swear to her friends in a hushed voice over their weekly domino game that the car had been driven by a demon.  And by the look on her face, her friends could almost believe her.

Roger continued down the poorly lit streets, tires racing through puddles causing water and mud to fly up and over the car with such force that it would later take Roger three car washes to clean off the ingrained dirt.  When he finally did pull into his driveway he was shocked.  He hadn’t thought he would make it home again.

Part of him hadn’t wanted to.

It was there in front of his house that Roger cried for the first time since losing his mother.  He shut off the car and slumped over the steering wheel, letting the tears he had held back for so long leak out of his eyes.  After a few minutes, he wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand and hiccupped back the remaining sobs.

When he had shut off the car, he had forgotten to turn off the headlights, and they now shone through the dark night like beacons.  The dirt and rain continued to run down the windshield, blurring the world outside until it looked like a Tim Burton cartoon nightmare.

As the water trickled down the window, gathering the mud and causing it to slip down in chunks, a face appeared.  It was like seeing a shape in the clouds, only this seemed more solid, more real than all the times he had ever looked at the clouds.  He absentmindedly reached out to touch the windshield, but a deeply buried memory of his seven year old self perched on the bathroom counter suddenly made him stop.

It hurts.

Roger waited for the mirage to shiver and disappear, but it didn’t.  Instead it grew stronger, taking on more definition.  It was becoming something.  He didn’t know what was going on, and he found that he didn’t want to know.  There were things that lingered in the back of his mind, things that he could barely touch before they floated away, but he knew their truths were cold and harsh.

Run. 

And he did.

Roger grabbed for the door handle and threw his body out of the car before it could all come rushing back.

Thirty minutes later Roger sat on the couch, a cold bottle of Budweiser resting against his thigh.  He looked out at the car.  It was now just a harmless shape in the rain-filled night and he could barely remember what all the panic had been about.

Red Hair

The hateful light burned into Matt’s eyelids and the stench of warm urine and dried puke greeted his nostrils.  He didn’t want to move.  The tile surface beneath his cheek told him that he was on the bathroom floor.  He lay on the floor, relishing its cold touch against his flushed flesh, focusing his energy on the task at hand.  It took him a couple of minutes, but he was finally able to pull himself up and into the hallway without opening his eyes.  The ability almost was second nature.  He loved the flurry of a party that never seemed to end and the wild tangos with alcohol that accompany those few moments of freedom.

Once again he swore off drinking as he stumbled back to the dark comfort of his room.  The promise meant nothing.  He would see the inside of a bottle before the week was up the same way a lifetime felon will return to the odd comfort of his jail cell.

When Matt’s knees hit the edge of the bed he let his body fall on its pillow-top with awkward grace.  Once he was securely on the crumpled sheets he even dared to look around before returning to the sanctity of his half-drunk and dreamless sleep.  The windows had long been blocked with aluminum for mornings such as these, and he was thankful that momentary bouts of sobriety could contain foresight.  In the darkened room there were several piles of dirty clothing, food, and empty beer cans.  Scattered, half-empty bottles decorated the dresser top, but nothing seemed unusual.  If he wasn’t careful when he did laundry, a few things would come out of the drier with fun psychedelic patterns imprinted on them from the baked-on food.

Good, he thought as he began to sleep off the harmful daylight.  There had been mornings where people he couldn’t exactly remember from the night before had been near comatose on his bedroom floor, and he had been forced to wake up and get them the hell out.  If there were people sleeping off their booze in the living room or kitchen, that was just fine with him, but his room was off limits when he was recovering.

As he curled up on the bed, he realized that while his pants were off, his shoes weren’t.  He usually didn’t care about trivial matters when a hangover was pressing against his temples, but his feet were unnaturally hot.  So, using his feet he kicked off his shoes, wincing at the odor.  He wasn’t sure how long it had been since his last shower, but he couldn’t bear to take one now.  That much activity would make his head explode.  Better to live with the bitter stench another day.

Besides, no one’s here to smell me but me, he thought, burying his head in the pillow to get away from the smell of his feet and the stench of sour beer leaking from his pores.  He reached behind him for something to pull over his head so he could return to his morning hibernation.  But instead of finding the usual blanket or occasional sweatshirt his hand closed around a satin comforter.

The feel of the cool fabric beneath his fingers brought back the memory of the person he’d been trying to drown.  His eyes popped open, the dangerous light and throbbing hangover forgotten.  The dirty room lost.  Hell, he wasn’t even there anymore.  He had been transported back to his freshman year at college; spring break on Padre Island.  And now, alone in his room, he could almost hear her voice in his ear.

“Hey, you like to dance?”

He’d been drunk then too, but it wasn’t the same.  He’d been happy and carefree for the first time.  Free from his controlling parents and their insecurities.  He was in Padre with his classmates, and being drunk only heightened his sense of joy and excitement; this was pure, a rite of passage.

When she’d spoke, he’d turned around and saw a bra clad girl with beautiful ringlets.  The bar had turned up their fog machines, and black lights made her hair radiate a bright, fiery purple, her skin darkened in the haunting light.  Day-Glo paint covered her arms and belly in mindless swirling patterns, and there was something about the way she looked that instantly gave him an erection.

“What’s your name?” he’d asked.

“Maria.”

“Sure Maria, we can dance if ya’ like.”

They began to dance, and he clung to her for support as they staggered across the floor.  When she went to get another beer, it looked like a purple bra, a few painted lines, and a beautiful wig were moving away from him.  After a few feet in the fog he couldn’t even see that any more.  She’d been absorbed into the flowing crowd.

For a while he had been sure she wouldn’t return to him, that she had found someone bigger and stronger to take her out on the dance floor.  It wouldn’t have been surprising id she’d left him there.  But she returned out of the dark nothing to him.

“You want to dance in private?”

She took him back to her motel room and covered him with lush kisses, pulling at his clothes with in an unleashed frenzy he’d only seen on porn tapes.  Hands, tearing at clothes, brushing against raw skin.  Just the feel of her hands was enough to drive him insane, and he found himself replying to her need with the same hunger.

On the way to the room he’d tried to tell her he’d never done this before, but she already seemed to know that.  She kept whispering in his ear, and eventually her voice was all that mattered. It drove him to the reckless orgasms of youth again and again without a second thought of condoms or AIDS.  He was lost in the warmth between her sweet thighs, the kisses of her fiery lips, the fullness of her perfect bust, and the continuous whispering of her sweet voice.

It’s all right, poor, sweet Matt.  Just love me, just love me.

The next morning when he woke up he was only aware of her.  The hangover pulsing in the background didn’t even bother him.  He lay next to her for at least an hour, not moving for fear that she would wake up and throw him out.  It was possible.  People did stupid things when they were drunk.

When she woke she greedily accepted him back into her arms.

It was like that for the remainder of the trip.  They never left each other’s side, and that was fine with both of them.  Matt enjoyed having sex over and over again on her satin sheets.  She’d told him that her need for comfort caused her to take them everywhere with her.

But by the end of the week Matt was ready to leave.  He loved having sex and even enjoyed spending time with Maria, but he needed to get back to real life, needed to go back to being himself.  They exchanged phone numbers and addresses.  For a long time afterwards he remembered her fondly, and he even spoke to her often on the phone, but the memories of that steamy week had faded until she was nothing more than whispers in the dark, and then…

His hand slid down the soft, satiny comforter.  She was in his house, and he was afraid.  The beer smelling sweat poured out of his salty body and made the sheets cling to him like the lost Maria.  The urge to stay with the covers over his head was strong; he didn’t want to get up, but knew he had to.  If he didn’t get out soon she would come and find him, and that would be worse.  She would have the advantage if he lay terrified in bed, and he didn’t want that.

She was mad; he’d provoked her.

Two years after college he’d landed a good job with an accounting firm.  He hadn’t really wanted to crunch numbers full-time, but it was good money, especially for someone with a degree from a lower class university.  At a company business party he’d been watching the people dance around the marble floor thinking of Maria.  It had been three years or more since he’d last thought of her.  The last time they’d spoken was right before he’d moved out of his college apartment and into a house in Oklahoma City.  He and his roommates were going their separate ways, and Maria had called to bitch at him for not keeping in touch.

What was he supposed to do, marry her?  She’d grown increasingly impatient, and she hadn’t understood that he wasn’t ready for a relationship.  Yeah, they had shared a week of great sex, but it had been so long ago he could barely remember it, and there was no guarantee sex would hold them together.  It had been the last semester of his senior year, the beginning of the great job-hunt, so he had ended the relationship.

Then he’d been alone on that elegant dance floor, thinking of her beautiful purple ringlets and Day-Glo body paint.  She was still his night goddess, and many of his fantasies were of her and that first fumbling encounter.  He could almost feel her, could almost smell her vanilla body mist, almost hear her soft, teasing voice.

“Hey, you like to dance?”

He thought it was his imagination, a fantasy created out of longing.  That was before he felt her warm breath against his neck.  He’d turned around, and she was there, so beautiful he was afraid he would get lost in her.

“Of course.”

Now it was a different story.  Now Matt was creeping down the hall towards the bathroom, his vision still a little impaired by the throbbing headache, but if he concentrated, he could see better with each passing minute.  Wherever she was, she wasn’t here to play games.  That time was long past, and he wished he could stop thinking about the sane Maria, the Maria he loved.  For the first time in a year, he didn’t have any alcohol ready to dam the memories, and they came flooding back like a monsoon.

If he wasn’t careful, he would die in the flood.

That was the strange thing about memories.  Sometimes he was doing good to remember his name, and then, for no reason at all, he could remember the day he first hit a home run.  That perfect moment in time when everything just stopped.  How the sun glared in his eyes, how the handle of the bat was slippery with sweat, and how the heavy smell of salty popcorn and old chili filled the air.

Right now he could remember every detail about her, and even though he was on his hands and knees trying to get away from her, part of him loved her.  But he hated her too, that was the fucked up part.  That’s why the bottom of a whiskey bottle or a case of Texas beer was his best friend.

Now she was hunting him, and he couldn’t care one way or the other.  Survival was all that mattered.

At the edge of the hallway, he bent his knees and slid halfway down the wall before tilting his head to look through it.  He knew from experience that she was less likely to see his head if it wasn’t at eye level.

Matt remembered the exact moment he’d realized Maria was going insane, even if he couldn’t, wouldn’t, have admitted it then.  They had been living together for six months, and they were eating dinner together at the house.  She had cooked for them, and her meals were usually pretty good, but this one tasted like shit.  Maria didn’t even look good.  Her blonde hair wasn’t pulled back or even brushed; it just hung loosely around her head in greasy strands.  He hadn’t been home much lately because it was tax season, so maybe she had been having a rough week.  The hollow metallic scraping of her fork as if moved back and forth across her plate was the only sound, and the silence threatened to swallow them.

What’s wrong?

Why must something be wrong?”  Her eyes didn’t move up from her food.

You just don’t seem like your normal self.

Don’t I?

When he could think of no response to this, Matt had given up trying to talk to her.  Choking down what he could, he got up to do the dishes, but he never saw it coming.  He didn’t see anything until he woke up on the kitchen floor with his neck and shoulders throbbing.  Reaching out across the floor, trying to pull himself up, his hand brushed across a greasy, cast-iron skillet.  Crazy bitch hit me with the frying pan, he thought as he reached back and rubbed the very tender, very greasy, spot on the back of his head.

A M*A*S*H* marathon was playing on Nick at Nite, and she sat popping chocolate covered pretzels into her mouth.

Don’t question my moods.  They are what they’re none of your damn business.  Got it?

Not bothering to wait for an answer, she focused her attention on the television and laughed in large braying heaves that shook his brain and damaged something inside him.  After a little while he made it into the bedroom where he fell asleep.  He didn’t go to work the next morning, he hurt too much.  Maria stayed home and took care of him.  She acted normal, like nothing had ever happened, and he made himself believe it had been an isolated incident.

It was a month before it happened again.  This time she beat him repeatedly with one of his own golf clubs.  For two days he couldn’t move, but she took care of him, and he forgave her.  How could he not?  She was beautiful, and when she came to him at night she would freely give him her body, and with it came the things that perpetually masturbating teenage boys only dreamed of.  She was so uninhibited, so wild; he couldn’t imagine himself with anyone else.  He kept telling himself that it wasn’t just the sex that kept him there; he loved her, he knew that.

So he had kept her awful secret, and it had corroded him.  No matter what he did the episodes became more and more frequent.  To hide the obvious bruises on his neck and arms after a particularly bad beating, he had fallen down the stairs at work.  He collected worker’s comp on the accident and didn’t leave home for two months.  It was what she said she wanted.  She promised him that his being home with her all the time would keep her happy.  It did for awhile, but only a little while.

Four months after the accident a neighbor called the police during one of Maria’s outbursts.  The complaint had been made that Matt was abusing Maria.  But when the police beat down the door in rhythm to his horrified screams they found Maria holding an ax over his hand, lost in her own madness.  As she looked at the oncoming police, she dropped the ax.  Blood had poured from his arm in obscene amounts before he’d passed out.  His left arm was now slightly warped, and he could still feel the hauntingly cold touch of the metal as it bit into his flesh.  A constant reminder of her.

His health insurance had a stipulation that paid living expenses for two years in the case of a debilitating accident, and that was exactly what Matt considered it.  They told him he didn’t have to work if he would use that time for rehabilitation.  Matt took the offer, but he wouldn’t have returned to work even if he’d been poor.  He was lost and isolated in a world that he no longer understood.  She was gone, both mentally and physically, and he hadn’t been sure what to do without her.

Now she was back, and he didn’t have a clue what he was going to do with her.

His instincts told him to run, but every muscle in his body was tense with terror.  Running would have been impossible.  But one knee at a time he continued to slide across the carpeted floor.  The rug burn developing on his kneecaps didn’t phase him; it wasn’t important.  All that was important was that he kept his nostrils open for the scent of her soft, vanilla skin.  She was addicted to that scent, and she wouldn’t have come to his house without getting her hands on some first.

What would he do when he found her?

It was the passion that had kept them together and had left him feeling empty when she was gone.  For the first time in a year he could almost taste her lips again, and despite everything he wanted her, wanted her like he had never wanted anyone else.

If it were possible he would return to that fumbling world of rough touches and misplaced kisses, to hold her as an innocent and to have her hold him with honesty and compassion.

“What a second. What the hell are you thinking, bucko?”

What was wrong with him?  Matt closed his eyes, sucked in a cool, deep breath that stung his chapped lips, and reminded himself that he hated her, couldn’t stand the thought of her.  She fucking deserved payback.  He’d loved her, and that little bitch had lorded that love over him.

Manipulating cunt.  Dirty dealing whore.  Mean hearted psycho.

Matt could think of a thousand names to describe her.  A genuine smile crept onto his face.  He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn’t notice what had happened until his nose was pressed against the taunt flesh of her leg and vanilla filled his senses.

Her firm hand ran through his thinning hair.  He tried to move, to at least struggle against her, but his body had turned to limestone with her touch.  Seizing what little hair he had left, she yanked his head back.  Pain shot his neck and quickly spread to the rest of his body.  If he had been free to leave before, he wasn’t now.  Looking past her and into the living room, he tried to avoid her face.

Placing another hand firmly under his jaw, she pulled up, forcing him to look at her.  She wasn’t as pretty as she had once been.  They had cut her hair off.  The soft, curly ringlets had been traded in for uneven strands that hung around her face in frizzy chaos, and a fine web of lines were now etched across her soft skin.

“The outside world hasn’t been so good to you, huh Matty boy?” she asked with a half smile.  “Well, the inside world wasn’t so good to me.  I think we should’ve stayed together.  You were always mine anyway.  Even the first time we met, you were all mine, weren’t you?”

Gulping, Matt found it hard to nod with his hair locked in her tight grasp, but he managed a small one.

“That’s right Bitch, you were mine.  Come on, say it.”

“I was yours.”

“Always.” She demanded, her foot silently tapping against the carpet.

“What?”

“I said, tell me you were always mine.”

“Always.”

“Always what?” She asked, twisting his hair until tears unwillingly welled up and fell down his warm cheeks.

“Always…always yours.”

“I thought so.”  She pulled hard on his hair, dragging him back down the hall and into the kitchen.  He struggled to keep up, but she wouldn’t let him walk, forcing him back on his already raw knees.  Once they hit the linoleum floor, he stopped struggling and slid on his bloody kneecaps.  In front of the cabinets she released him, planting her feet firmly on either side of his kneecaps.  She leaned forward and reached over his head.  The familiar fragrance again drifted off her supple skin, and he could feel her full breasts as they grazed the top of his head.

Moving his hand slightly to maintain his balance, he felt a sleek, plastic case resting against his fingers.  Reeling it in with his fingertips he turned it around, a sharp pain stinging his palm as he tightened his grip.  It was a corkscrew, carelessly discarded, its coil four inches long.  It was small, but better than being defenseless.  He closed his eyes and thanked buddha he wasn’t a good housekeeper.

Knowing it probably wouldn’t do any good, he gripped the handle so that the corkscrew stuck out between his middle finger and his ring finger like a silver pig’s tail.  He was so busy concentrating on his small weapon that he hadn’t even noticed the gun in her hand until an empty click broke the silence.

“Bye bye, Matt.  It’s been fun.”  She said, a giggle slipping into the edge of her voice.

It was the laughing that bothered him most, and he knew he couldn’t give in to her, no matter how shitty his life was.  If she killed him, that was the end of the story, lights out, bye-bye birdie, and she’d win.  It wouldn’t matter that he’d once loved her, because no amount of love can bring someone back from the dead.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath.  The unusual aroma of salty beer, sweat, and sweet vanilla mingled in his nostrils as he ran his thumb along the corkscrew.  God, it was a long shot.

Ready…Set…

He opened his eyes as he sprang up using the counter as leverage.  She was standing in front of him.  The startled look in her eyes told Matt that she’d not expected retaliation from him, and in that single moment he had a perfect shot.

There was time to notice her eyes widening in shock as he advanced on her, and how they morphed into hate-filled orbs when she realized what he was trying to do.

But it was too late.  The wheel was in motion.

Muscles zinged with activity, and he could feel atoms bouncing off one another across his body; everything felt alive.  It was magic.

His arm swung down with perfect aim.  The skin puckered around the small tip and gave into the corkscrew’s odd penetration with little resistance.  Putting her hands up, she clawed at his face, still holding the gun, and the cold steel pushed against his flesh, the hollow barrel inches from his left eye.  Forcing himself to focus on the tightly wound silver coil, he plunged it even deeper into her neck, tearing flesh and muscle alike.  All the hatred and resentment boiled up in him, and he couldn’t stop attacking her.  He buried the unlikely weapon up to its handle.

In the middle of the struggle he remembered that when he had worked at a bar one summer they had called bottle openers church keys.

What church door will I open with this one?

 He put his sock clad foot against her knee and pulled back hard on the handle, ripping it out of her flesh.  Blood spilled down her neck as pieces of flesh and muscle hung from the wound.

The clock was blinking 9:48 a.m.

Blood bubbled from her lips as she attempted to shriek and dropped the gun.  It discharged as it landed on the linoleum with a heavy thud.  Pain seared into the left side of Matt’s abdomen, but it felt removed, as if it wasn’t really him.  Not really his pain.  The real him was watching from the other side of the galaxy.  He wasn’t here; it was a dream, a delusion.

Only he knew it wasn’t.

Maria sank to her knees and groped for the gun.  She put her hand around it just as she started to double over on the floor.  Using the last of his fading energy, Matt kicked the gun away.  It slid across the grey linoleum until it hit the carpet.  She lunged toward it but quickly gave up and began pushing on the hole in her neck, her fingertips covered in bright blood as she tried to stop the red cascade.  The pale face was a sharp contrast to her fingers, and she looked like one of those B horror movie posters that hung outside the Star Theater.  He’d watched them as a child, enthralled by the cheap entertainment.  Now, he watched her die.

The clock was blinking 9:53 a.m., and Matt knew it was lying, but he didn’t care.

He sank to his knees.  She was dead, but he still crawled across the floor and curled up next to her, his socks were soon soaked with their mingling blood.  Her hair was now a deep red, and it was a beautiful color on her.

I’ll tell her that someday, he thought, as he fell asleep on the warm, sticky floor.

Surviving With Zombies

Hordes of the undead
parade across the screen –
some fast, some ploddingly slow,
all recently revived from the tomb.

They are mute except for
scuttling footsteps and occasional
attempts at vocalization –
their existence one of base
needs.  I wonder if they can still feel
their humanity – if it haunts
them in flickers and memories.

I know you are still there, always in the
background.  Where would
you go? After all, there are machines to
help you breathe and implements to give
you food, because you can no longer
do even this on your own.

It is too easy for the world to
forget that being trapped by a body which
no longer responds does not lessen who you are.

If zombies can remember their lives
before that disorientating moment when they
re-emerged into the world craving human flesh,
then I have to pause and consider that each
moan is a plea for someone to put an end
to it.

And you are still there…

Outsider: A Tribute to Lovecraft

Evelyn leaned against the gate, her honeyed hair shining in the pale embrace of the moonlight. Although I tried to keep myself from staring her beauty did not allow me any resistance. I knew her face well from the newspaper articles on her family. I also knew she waited for her lover; for their midnight rendezvous. As I gazed upon the outlined beauty of Evelyn I saw she was looking to my window. My shame-filled face looked away from the intimate moment I had been stealing.

I sat down to read my book, but I couldn’t keep my mind on it. I kept glancing around and criticizing my surroundings. Even in the lamp’s glow I could see the bare and dingy apartment and wondered if this was my destiny, if somehow my entire life would be like this.

Sighing, I decided to resign to my bed for the night, cursing my boring existence.

It wasn’t long before I awoke to someone knocking on my door. I rolled out of bed, unable to think of anyone who would be at my house at this hour. I quickly pulled on some pants and stumbled for the door, silver strings of moonlight filtered into the room, providing me with enough light to see where I was. Just then, my foot stubbed the door frame; jamming my toe back with such force it brought tears to my eyes.

The rapping increased in both frequency and volume as my fingers fumbled on the latch. When the knob turned and the door opened I was in shock to find the blonde Evelyn on the other side. I realized who she was about ten seconds before she collapsed on the floor. For a moment I could not move even to breath, but then I looked up and down the narrow hallway, worried that someone had seen the wealthy heiress collapse at my door.  I may have been poor, but I was not a simpleton, and I knew such circumstances would not look well upon my character.  When I was certain we were alone I hefted her into my arms and carried her to the bed.  Once she was safely secured I scoured the apartment and managed to come up with twelve candles that I placed around the bed so that I could have enough light to check her over.

Once the candlelight streamed across her face I found myself staring at the beauty which I had always watched with careful gazes, dreamed about with silenced lips: her ivory skin, the delicate curve of her cheekbone, the satin curls of her hair, and the eternal blue of her eyes were only enhanced by the amber glow that now filled the room.

I placed my hand against her chest and could barely feel the thump of her heart against her ribs, and her breathing was slow, shallow, and almost nonexistent. Pulling on my coat, I headed for the door intending to get help. Then the same fear that had caused me to search the hall ground my footsteps to a halt.  I was nothing but a workman, and she was a high-class princess. I was trapped, bound where I stood by the knowledge of my own condemnation.

Unable to do anything else, I sat with her and prayed violently for her safety.  I spent most of that night draping a cool rag across her brow and listening to the murmuring of her sweet voice as it told the tale of her feverish nightmares: goblins chasing her through the park, vampires biting her tender flesh, and sorcerers in dark hoods enchanting her skin.  It never occurred to me to actually check her skin to see if her nightmares were real.  Nothing she described could have been possible.

But, nevertheless, the intensity of her fear and panic was so vivid I could almost picture them as she spoke.  I felt the chills sweep across my back and spread like wildfire as the hair on the back of my neck bristled to life.

Her face was contorted with pain. When she finally settled down I began to relax, and soon enough I too was carried into that violent world of nighttime demons.

I awoke sometime after dawn; choked out of a nightmare so realistic my mouth was full of the bittersweet taste of my own blood.  I looked around the color soaked room for signs the demon fog had followed me into reality. Reassuring myself that it was only a dream I remembered Evelyn’s late night visit and looked to the bed, it was empty.  The resting place was surrounded by nothing more than clumps of molten wax.

Had that been a dream too?  The candles an act of a delusional mind?

I paced the floors with worry.  I would be locked up for sure if they found out about this, only this time they’d been leading me away in a straightjacket.  After a while I began to calm down, time’s easing hands healing the raw wounds of my insecurity as it did most everything else.  It felt as if I were still dreaming as I climbed into my work clothes.

It wouldn’t matter to the bill collectors if I was crazy or not, they would still want their money.

That night I was two blocks away from the apartment building when I saw the police trolley.  The dingy-gray night did nothing to help the scene.  On an instinctual move I sought refuge deep in the alley shadows as I approached my building.

I stifled a cry of surprise as I stepped next to a trash bin and rats scuttled over and around my feet.

I crept up and listened to the officers.  Bits and pieces of their conversation floated up to me like poison:

“Last person saw her alive said she went in this building…..one room we can’t get into…..name was Evelyn Riley…..light brown hair…..blue eyes…..can you help us….open your doors, we’re looking for a murderer….break down the one place where no one’s home.”

Dying, I was slowly dying in that alley.  I had lived and worked my entire life to die here with the vermin.  They were breaking into my apartment, the vivid, dreamlike encounter had been real and now I had to wonder if there any traces of her had been left there.  My blood ran cold and my breathing stilled, one solitary trace of her and I was a convicted man.  They wouldn’t have any pity on me; my word was nothing and could be tossed away as easily as dust laid to the wind.

Even though my heart counted out the passing moments as constant thuds in my ears, it felt like an eternity passed as I waited for the officers to report back on what they had found. My knees were weak from fear, and even the sound of my pounding heart seemed as if it were causing too much noise.

Finally, they returned. Their faces grim masks of horror and I knew they had found something hideous behind my walls of solitude. I clenched my chattering teeth together and pressed even closer to the dirt and brick filth that had become my fate. Again I waited for pieces of their conversation to drift to my already tired ears. I did not have to wait long before the scared and timid voices rose and carried in the brittle night:

“I think you should see this for yourself…..not natural…..must be inhuman………no explanation for what we saw…….will make you sick.”

They talked in jumbled sentences with their eyes as large as tea saucers, and skin that had turned stark white against the ebony evening.

My entire body went limp, my legs falling out from under me as I curled in on myself. I was not sure of what they might have found that would have been so horrible, but I did know one thing: my life as I had known it was over. I was now a wanted man: a murderer.  Even the thieves would reject me.

I waited through the night, sleeping and waking in fits as I lay curled against the gutter walls with the trash and rodents, now a citizen of the dark and unseen civilization within the city.

It was still well before sunrise when I was able to make my move from that place.  The police had not yet left but I felt a need to see what they had found in my room.  Clutching the walls, I turned back down the alley and felt my way even farther into the consuming blackness. There were stairs that led to the top of the building next to mine and I climbed them without my shoes, for fear of any small sound that might give me away.  I crawled my way across the roof until I was able to lean over and peer into my bedroom window.  I was only able to see the area around the bed, but what I did gave me nightmares.

Stretched out on my white sheets was Evelyn’s corpse, even in its terrible shape there was no denying who it was.  She had apparently lost a great deal more than her life. Her skin was thin and brittle, clinging to her bones, but this was because all of the vital sustenance that had filled her body was now gone.

Everything.

They had removed her blood, and even some of her organs, but I could see no visible cuts on her, nor any huge puddles that would allow for such a loss.  Her eye-sockets had become two penetrating abysses that peered out from her skull.  Her skin was drawn so close to her bones that it gave her the appearance of a mummy from ancient Egypt.

The fact that this was impossible did not escape me, but the meaning behind the way her body was dressed and treated eluded and disturbed me.

Cold sweat covered my body, chilling me to the bone, but it was not entirely due to the state of her corpse.  Beside the bed lay four clear jars, and placed in each of them there was an organ, sucked clean of its blood. They too looked as brittle as dust, and as old as time, but there was no mistaking them for what they were.

It was then that I gasped, loud and uncontrollable it burst forth from my lips before I had time to choke it back. At the foot of the bed there was another jar, and this one held her eyes. Their crystal blue clarity stared through the glass protectors and into me, not at me mind you, but into me with such pain and knowledge that I could almost not force myself to look away.

I stayed there on that rooftop until my knees stopped shaking long enough so I could sneak away unnoticed by the patrolmen that kept their vigil by my apartment door.  Even hours later as I pulled myself into an old sewage drain to hide from the approaching dawn, those blue eyes followed me into the dream-filled depths of my exhaustion.

I opened my eyes sometime after the cloak of darkness had surrounded me.  My legs were stiff and tingling when I stepped out into the night.  My stomach had become as tight as a knot and my lips were thin and cracked from the lack of water.

I was so preoccupied with my condition that I didn’t notice them surrounding me until I had completely emerged from my hiding spot.  The images that stood in front of me immediately reminded me of Evelyn’s rantings on the night she had lain in my bed.  There were five tall figures cloaked in long dark robes that trailed the ground.  In front of them stood three goblin-like creatures with shimmering blue skin that seemed to glow in the night. Their eyes were red, and each of them had mouths that were covered in foamy blood and drool that hung from their chins in thick stands.  But it was the six people that stood together in a horseshoe shape at the end of the drain that intrigued me the most and made me immediately forget my hunger pains.

Their faces were pale and slacken, void of any coloring except for the gleaming darkness of their eyes.  I knew there was no way this group were policemen, but they scared me far more than any jail ever could.  I stepped into the center of their watchful stare and suddenly found myself being led away with them.  I could not tell you how long we walked or where we went, I can only remember watching as my dusty feet moved in time with theirs.  The men who stood in the back were chanting some soft and lulling song, almost like a hymn.  I kept thinking about the haunting look that consumed their faces.

I eventually found myself in a room although I did not remember going into any house. They encircled me and began chanting, their voices holding me captive. Then I saw her.

Evelyn had moved into the center of the circle with me, her blue eyes now the same hungry black as the others. Their voices rose to a level of noise that hurt my ears and clamored together inside my head. Evelyn motioned to me and I found myself moving towards her, drawn by lust.

I can still see her mouth opening to reveal the brilliant points that had been carved into each of her teeth, making her a beautiful grinning, piranha. For one pristine second the fog that had filled my head cleared.  I have no knowledge of how I got out of that place, only that I was running under the open night sky as their footsteps pounded against the ground behind me. I cut across alleyways and abandoned warehouses in an irrational attempt to disillusion them to my whereabouts.

I have found a deserted building and a room without any windows and a lock on the door. Too weary to go on, I have locked myself in.

I can hear their voices outside the door, and I know they are aware of my presence here.  They have recently begun chanting again and the fog has started to creep back through my brain, caressing all the sore spots. I am certain these creatures will overtake my resistance soon, for I now find myself embracing a part of me which begs to have Evelyn close her mouth around mine and mingle my blood with hers.

I…I think that I have to go now.  I see that.  There is no life for me without Evelyn, there never was.  And all I have now is the chanting; those sweet voices that linger in every thought and urge me toward sweet oblivion.