Saturday, July 12, 2014

the ghost, first part

When we die, we can stay, but only if we like.  Grace Kinder chose to dwell in the home she'd picked out with her handsome young fiance after her little blue car took an unfortunate tumble down a hill into a winter pond.  She couldn't imagine her life, or death, without him.

Her fiance was not so loyal.  Maybe it was a flaw in character, maybe he was overwhelmed with the kind of support a handsome young man receives when his fiancee is ripped from his arms days before their wedding.  Few can resist the suffering of good looking people, and no one is immune to flattery.  Her fiance was married within six months to the pretty daughter of his new neighbor.  Within three months, the young bride was pregnant.

Grace discovered she could affect the living world.  She hovered with red rimmed black hole eyes as the pretty girl examined the results of a home pregnancy test.  Grace screamed, and the girl gasped.  It was a small thing, this unruly shriek had only toppled a crumpled tissue in a wastebasket and had breezed the hair around the girls ear, like a soft whisper might.  It was this second thing that startled she and Grace both.  The excited ghost spent her day and most of her night slapping and punching the newly expectant mother.  The expectant mother spent the rest of the day in bed with a slight headache and indigestion.  Grace needed practice.

By the time the young wife displayed a sizable bump, Grace was knocking over shampoo bottles and unraveling whole toilet paper rolls.  Her demeanor had improved significantly since the initial shock and horror of death.  Grace restricted her torment to the interloping pregnant woman and spent whole evenings sitting with her lost love as he drank in the garage, smoked on the porch, and played video games in the basement.  In many ways, it wasn't very different from the time she'd spent with him while living.  Routines feel good, they feel right, they're comfortable.  Grace furrowed her shimmering ghost brow and stuck out her black tongue when the pregnant woman asked for her husband's presence at dinner or required him to attend outings.

When the boy was born this young wife became even more insufferable.  Her constant demands drove Grace's fiance away, sometimes for days at a time.  Grace put gum in her hair as she slept, which was seldom with a newborn in the home, and filled her toothpaste tube with pebbles.  She blew light bulbs with a touch of her translucent fingernail and reset the oven timer to burn cakes, pies, and whatever else the woman attempted to cook.  The woman had become more and more jumpy, Grace's fiance stayed away later and later, and the baby cried.  Oh how the baby cried.

When a ghost decides where they'd like to spend limbo, there are no takesies backsies.  That's it, never ending lease, regardless of what happens.  Some spirits wind up haunting vacant lots when their buildings are torn down, or meandering around in parking garages.  The human mind is just as short sighted in death as it is in life.  Everyone goes with what they know, despite the understanding that it precludes everything else.

So when Grace found herself watching her former fiance bang his whore secretary in his basement video gaming bean bag chair while his now not-so-pretty wife slept in a Valium induced stupor and their baby sat howling, it occurred to her that she might have been hasty in her choice of eternal eternal damnation/resting home.

This baby, Tim, was a looker.  He had his fathers black mop of thick bristly hair and his mother's brown velvet eyes.  When he cried, which was often, his screams carried with them a sense of urgent and important need rather than the whiny quality that accompanies so many infant bawls.  Tim looked and sounded as though his crying was necessary.  He screamed like a fire engine, like a police siren, it was a confident call to action.

He had stopped crying, which is what startled Grace, who was so used to his howls.  The father was busy with the whore, the mother was busy with her deep deep sleep, and what was keeping Tim busy?  A moth.  A little white moth with fat finger shaped legs was fluttering and skittering along the stairwell and Tim followed behind, reaching out his stubby hands.

Grace grabbed the moth without thinking and lured the baby back into the safety of his nursery, where she slammed the door.  Tim giggled.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Three Days

They had been in bed for three days.  The novelty of the wispy down that grew along her ribs and thighs had not worn thin.  He traced the curve from her shoulder down her back and along her leg with his palm just above the skin and imagined eclipsing a thousand tiny forests.  She twisted onto her back abruptly, lightly pinning his hand.  "I want to go home"

His face sagged, "We won't make it, you know we shouldn't."  But here she turned her head slightly towards him, the setting sun cast long shadows under her downcast lashes, and not for the first time the boy thought to himself that it might be better to die saying yes than to live saying no.

The Earth was crumbling.  It wasn't mankind's fault, for all of everyone's worrying.  It was just happening, and it had been happening for a very long time.  Every patch of dirt above and below the sea was having a turn, each upheaval worse than the last.  Geologists were able to predict with some certainty where the next situation would occur within several hours, but there was no way for every human being to hop scotch continuously across the planet to safety.  Both of these children had heard stories of people who had flown planes and helicopters from city to city, state to state, only to be sucked deep into the earth upon landing.  If by some series of grand fortunes you were able to survive an upheaval, it was best to stay put.  An area that had just been hit wasn't generally affected again quickly.  It was better to stay and hope, they both knew.

When the Earth had come for them three days ago, it had ruined everything around them.  The small hill next to the boy's apartment building had become a mile deep chasm, the floor sagged and tilted.  And it wasn't over.  Everything around them was being pushed up or pulled down, they had watched two houses across the street teeter totter before collapsing together into a trench like dominoes.  And then the pair had crawled into bed and held each other, waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  The horrific noise from outside never abated, but the two remained safe.

This boy and girl were in love but they hadn't been the week before.  This hadn't been the boy's apartment the week before, either.  He was looting for food when the girl, this lone girl, had knocked on the door to ask if he had any water.  He only had a little, it would last a week if he was careful and alone.  He'd been smart enough to fill up the tub as soon as he'd entered, before the building started to shake.  But then she turned her head slightly and the sun cast long lash shadows on her cheeks below her downcast eyes, and he said yes.

And now she wanted to go home.  The boy knew that home for her was in the next town, she had been visiting her father when the upheaval hit.  He was dead, and the phones were down, and the girl wanted to see her mother.  The boy filled a backpack with bottles of tub water and cans of tuna.  The pantry had been well stocked upon their arrival, but believing that death is around every corner doesn't encourage frugality.  Still, the pair could only carry so much.  No sense in hoarding.

The elevator door was tilted slightly, giving it the appearance of a tortured and tense parallelogram.  The backup generator in the building had kept some functions operating, light music crawled tinnily from the shaft.  The boy whispered along quietly, "There's a little black spot on the sun today, it's the same old thing as yesterday", the girl tugged his sleeve and together they climbed over a jagged railing onto the stairs.

"What do you want to do if she's still there?", the boy asked, to their left a man and woman wept over a pair of children's shoes sticking up from the earth, the girl turned away as she realized the child was wearing them.  She gripped the boy's hand tightly and they made their way through shifting rubble.

"I just want to tell her that my dad was sorry, and that he loved her, and that I love her", she sighed.  "I should be able to do that, if I'm allowed to do anything, and I have to do something."

So the boy squeezed her hand and nodded, "It's going to be ok, we'll get there, I'll make sure of it."  But his eyes had darkened because he knew that the fates didn't respect nobility and cared nothing for last words or tender moments.  The earth had always swallowed up stories and robbed innocent and guilty people alike of their endings, this was nothing new.

The pair marched on over broken glass and bodies, among occasional crowds of sobbing and singing passerby.

The girl's mother waited on the roof humming to herself.  "There's a little black spot on the sun today, it's the same old thing as yesterday."  The inside of the house was decimated, small piles of half buried debris where the furniture and several of the rooms had been.  The roof, by some stroke of good fortune, had remained intact.  And so the woman sat, knees drawn up to her chest and her back leaning against the chimney, a tarp spread out against the sun, and there she waited for her pretty daughter to come home.

She was asleep when her girl arrived, bleeding and shivering and half carried by a strong dark haired boy.  The woman and girl fell shaking with sobs into each others arms, "Mom he said he was sorry, dad said he was sorry, he never should have left!"

The boy waited patiently, marveling at the only miracle he'd ever seen.  They had made it.  His beautiful girl with downy skin was arm in arm with her lovely elder doppelganger.

And the earth exploded, and they had their ending.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Savage 9

The center was dark save for a lone light in Dr. Adler's office.  Adam hadn't expected to see the secretary at her desk, but he was startled to see that the desk itself was not there.  Gone also were the few chairs, tables, and lamps that had adorned the small waiting area. 

"Come in, Adam," the doctor called from his office.  "We've got the place to ourselves, and I've got a lot to tell you"

Adam walked through the door to find Dr. Adler pouring champagne into two fluted glasses.  The doctor chuckled weakly, "We may as well celebrate the end, though it's come a lot sooner than I'd hoped"

"Won't that interfere with my medication?", Adam asked, and again Dr. Adler chuckled weakly.  "Adam, there is no more medication.  I know you've been taking it only sporadically of late,"  Adam opened his mouth to protest but Dr. Adler nimbly bridged the gap, "it doesn't matter, son, there is no more medication, no more treatment, no more hypnosis.  In fact after today we will likely never see each other again."

Adam drank the champagne quickly and poured himself another glass, his broad shoulders slumped.  He sat heavily on the only seat left in the room, the couch on which he'd taken so many after session naps.  Dr. Adler sat on the desk looking down at the tall man.  "You were perfect for the program, I want you to understand, Adam.  You wanted this, and we wanted you.", the doctor handed Adam a manilla envelope.  "Go ahead, open it.  That is your permission slip, if you will, authorizing the company to tinker with your brain.  You wanted to get well, Adam.  Though to be fair we did have you over a barrel."

Adam had taken the papers from the envelope and stared at a gray and black photocopied picture of his aged parents.  They looked back at their son from beneath a still layer of dark water, those familiar circles carved into their skin.  Not exactly how he remembered finding them, or was it?  How had Dr. Adler gotten this photo?  Beyond this picture were more, pictures of Emily and Adam sitting on the bench in the hospital courtyard where he'd spent so many months healing from his accident.  Each picture was labeled, "Week 1", "Week 2", on and on in the doctor's sharp and tidy print.

"Empathy replacement therapy", the doctor pressed on, "Adam I need you to focus on what I'm telling you, it may sound ridiculous, but you know it's true.  You know it's true because you've never gotten better.  Not really.", The doctor looked down and away.  "What we tried to do, what I tried to do," the good doctor sighed,  "you did so well.  It just didn't work, Adam, I was wrong, and I can't protect you anymore."  Dr. Adler cleared his throat and squared his small shoulders, "Adam you have to protect yourself now, you have choices."

Dr. Adler looked at Adam's confused expression and softened.  Adam had reached the picture of Emily's mother.  The photo wasn't ten years old or five years old, oh no.  It was far more recent.  The woman was a bloodied mess, and the next carefully cataloged photo was the image of the whore's teeth and tongue in the bottom of the Savage sandwich cooler.  An inky shadow rolled slowly across Adam's eyes.

Dr. Adler went on.

"Adam there are bodies in your basement.  You murdered your parents, you are a predator.  You were selected for this program because you displayed a gift for emulating emotion, and because you were careful enough to not have been caught.  Oh you were a sharp one, Adam.  The best we'd seen.  We thought, I thought, that you could be taught empathy and that a broken past could be replaced, swapped with something healthier and cleaner.  This isn't repression, understand, though that is a small part of the process.  I've been working on creating simultaneous memories.  I thought we could break you and put you back together the right way.  Adam, Adam?  I need to know that you understand me.  I was wrong, you weren't broken.  What we've done has broken you."

Adam's chest and shoulders moved up and down rhythmically with each breath.  He had reached the final picture, though it was in black and white Adam knew that the boys wore kelly green tee shirts and running shorts.  Adam could also see that he was among these tough boys, standing tall in the back.  Not all of team green made it into the group photo that year, several of them were in the infirmary, having had nasty fight in the night.  None of the boys would say what had happened, though Adam's knuckles were a shade darker than his uniform.  Why had Adam thought that he was team red? 

"Adam, you don't have anything to ask?  Anything to say?"  Dr. Adler looked at his hulking guest quizzically.  Why hadn't the boy spoken up? 

Adam raised his eyes to Adler without lifting his head, "Is Emily real?" 

"Well Adam, Emily is an actress.  I believed if I could make you connect with a child, develop a bond,"  And here Dr. Adler's last sentence ended.  Adam had shattered the champagne bottle on the desk and slid it with a twisting motion into the neck of this father who had unmade him.  Dr. Adler gripped Adam's neck and stared, his mouth opening and closing, stuttering and sputtering, "Ba ba ba ba ba ba", and then it hung limp.  Adam mused for a moment at the spout of blood the bottle neck had created before getting out his pocket knife and going to work.

When he had finished fixing Dr. Adler, Adam rolled him into the area rug and loaded him onto the van, along with all of his files.