The Pieces Left Her Body

Like most people I think it’s easiest to forget the pain if I keep my head down and blinders on. Stay busy, stay sharp and keep distracted. If I keep myself overwhelmed, forever struggling to keep my head above water, I may not have to deal with the guilt. I won’t have to think about the suffering I caused her, or rather, the suffering I should have prevented.

It’s the quiet moments that I’m learning to hate. In the positive space between distractions something will catch my attention, some sound or smell, and I’m brought back to the night it all began. Like a fender-bender, bang, I’m jolted back to the night Beth became something else, something other than my wife, and everything changed.

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Sun Chang Happy Fortune

My boss takes a bubbling sip from his caramel latte and steam from the drink fogs his glasses. His lips are wet and pouting, his eyes are weak and watery. They don’t match the power he’s struggling to project from behind his desk, a giant oak sonofabitch that’s been in his family for generations.

He sets the latte down and purrs, “So, Michael, how can I help you?”

“Well, Sir,” I begin slowly because I know this is going to be a tricky bit of business, “I have something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you.”

Images flicker across in my mind and progress forward in a stuttering stop motion animation. It’s Mr. Forsythe nodding his head, taking notes, some back and forth, I go back to my desk and continue working at the same level of pay. I need a stronger prompt to get a read.

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“Tamerlane online,” said Dr. Chang. A cascade of lights illuminated the control deck and washed over her. “Cortez and Tecumseh saw a 17 percent drop in power but they seem to be stabilizing.” She cracked her knuckles and leaned over the array of controls to view the drone in its launch silo as it ran through systems diagnostics; gouts of steam rolling from exhaust vents and the flicker of external cameras acknowledging its environment. To either side of Tamerlane’s silo his fellow drones creaked and settled into Awareness State. The thrum of their drives could be felt through the concrete walls but, from the insulated Operations room, they were silent. In the silo great slabs of armor would be screeching, slowly dragging against one another, and the drone’s generators would be roaring to life at deafening levels.

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A Frittata Lost and a Hero Found

The tremor began slowly, the low subconscious rumble of the subway underfoot, and intensified until the pigeons scattered and a wide split opened in the sidewalk, a ragged concrete maw, swallowing a young couple who had been flirting over their mimosas. My plate skittered off the table spilling my lunch across the sidewalk with a wet slap. The laptop and café au lait followed. I’m not a psychic but I knew this wasn’t going to end well.

A metallic voice, distorted by rage and amplified, electronic modulation echoed in the canyon of the financial district. “GIVE ME THE SOULSTONE, BILLY WEATHERS! YOU ARE THE HOST NO MORE!”

A beat, a breath, and a single scream tore through the air igniting a wave of confused panic.  Standing at the edge of the square was a Heigelfiend drone: seasoned and scarred, two stories of war machine, radiating heat and twitching with a ferocious, sub-human drive to kill. To maim. To deliver pain.

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When Summoned

Charlie paused, silhouetted in the doorway, and slapped dust from his leathers while his eyes adjusted to the gloom. A window overlooked the mud of Main Street but the glass had long been stained by grime that choked every feeble mote of light. The Law Office of Martin Banks Esq. was painted on the window in gold script and the lettering was chipped and fading. Like everything in Cherry Cove it was worn and in a state of advanced disrepair.

“Mornin’, Preacher, glad you could make it.” The lawyer resolved into a dark lump sitting behind his desk. His spectacles reflected light from outside and for a moment they glowed there, in the shadows, like the eyes of a mountain cat.

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10,000 Dungeon Masters

“You know what I hate about zombie movies?” Perry paused and looked around the table then pushed a folded slice of pizza into his mouth. He chewed slowly; his lips slightly parted and he took deep, whistling breaths around the mass of cheese, dough and sausage. “This supposedly badass virus that has no cure and spreads like wildfire across the globe, bringing about the collapse of humanity and the end of the world as we know it doesn’t affect animals. That’s just lazy film-mak…”

“What about Return of the Living Dead?”

Perry swallowed. “Excuse me?”

The kitchen lights flickered and shadows twitched across the pale green walls and IKEA cabinetry. Owls dominated the room: salt and pepper shakers, magnets, dish towels, and needlepoint. The family dog, Pansy, was barking in the backyard at something unseen in the deepening shadows of twilight.

Barton shrugged and looked around the table at the rest of the gang. “Return of the Living Dead had a zombie dog.”

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Blue, Through and Through

“The sky is blue, so why are you?” said the songbird to the chameleon.

“The view is stunning,” said the lizard, “it’s true, but I’m not meant to be flying like helium. God’s gift to me, is color you see, and my color is that of my surroundings.”

“Hmmm," pondered the songbird, "that won’t help you eat and it won’t help you breed; I confess your gift is a little confounding.”

“I share your confusion and would add some of my own,” said chameleon, “for I should be nearly invisible. On dirt I am brown and on grass I am green and my ability is usually reliable.”

“Well, you are hard to see,” said the songbird, “and your color confused me but my vision is really quite keen. If I see a twig move there isn’t much more to prove and its almost as if you’ve been seen.”

“Ah, that’s good to know and in the future I'll show,” said chameleon, “how still and concealed I can be." She swished her tail in the air. "Now I'm sure I'm not getting lighter and I have babies to feed, so you can drop me off wherever you’d like to.”

“I’m sorry to say this just isn’t your day but we won’t be flying much longer,” said the songbird as her talons squeezed just a little bit tighter. “Though you should know I have babies as well and God's gift seems to have failed you.”

Going Nowhere

Molly stopped crying just past El Paso and sometime later, in the harsh afternoon heat, she ate a greasy burger at a roadside restaurant sculpted like a giant metal bull. Under the glare of the bulls glowing red eyes she wiped threads of dried tears and grit from her face, washed her burger down with a soda then climbed back into her car and drove.
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Laptop Judo

The jazz is thick in Puff's hips and it propels him forward into the night. Dark mysteries and limitless options branch at every intersection presenting a mother-load of sensual, libidinous options with elbow room for improvisation. He’s been here before and he can read the signs in any language. The streets of Shibuya are a glittering black snake rolling beneath his feet to a crackling tempo that switches time on a whim.
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Immortal Al Dente

“Seriously, Perry, you shouldn’t eat the Fae.” Barton’s glasses were glowing, reflecting the flames from the campfire. His head was wrapped in a black plastic bag and his face was smeared with soot. Draped over his shoulders was a thick, soiled cloak made from an old quilt. He was sharpening his machete, applying the sandstone to the blade in slow, loving strokes. “I’m serious, Perry, killing it is understandable but eating it? You’ll bring us all bad luck.”
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The Animal Lover

It was late and a frost had settled, crisp and brittle, over a thin trail running between the Rhine and the sagging, weary town. Hond sniffed the air and the cold stung but he was sure he smelled the warm, metallic tang of food. At this hour no butcher would be plying his trade so he suspected a darker tradesman had left the meat cooling in the winter air. He followed his nose through the filth along the river bank and the water flowed, black and sluggish, no faster than he walked. The river reeked of sewage and threatened to drown the smell of blood that cut a ribbon through the air and led Hond on a desperate hunt for sustenance. He was close now and began to run in the hopes that he might be the first to the meal. The competition would be fierce and he wasn’t sure he could survive another fight, a collision of fangs and boney hides, over meager scraps of garbage.
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The Spirit of Giving

It’s Christmas morning in St. Joseph, Michigan, and Caroline Hubbard peels away layers of thick, silver wrapping paper to reveal a heavy, yellowed wheel of cheese. Odor, rich and fetid, spreads across the living room in a wave and her husband looks up, frowning from his easy chair.
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Reaching for the Singularity

Fading ink etched in skin and sharp, pressed khaki’s invert. The faceless grind of time loops then bends, wearing smooth the details. Paths of rough, coarse stone stretch and become elastic, an even path to well-worn ideals where the near blind suffer their individuality. Masses fold and recombine with a practiced smirk into the many-armed Goddess, wreaking destruction to purge and reanoint her children, the blessed fools. Her reflection catches her eye and she can’t help but wonder at her beauty.
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Back to the Future

    I speak with my sister every week. Our Sunday night phone calls have developed into a tradition that we haven’t missed in the past three years no matter where I am in the world or how hard she’s working. We plan in advance to both drink the same wine and since she likes lights, fruity whites and I’m always drawn to deep, rich reds so we take turns choosing a bottle.
    We try to keep the topics light and the bitching to a minimum but you know how it goes, sometimes you can’t have that conversation until you unload some stress. The thing is this: I kinda love my life and I struggle to manufacture gripes just so we can have an even exchange. It’s never even, though. She tells me about the clinic and the losing battle with half her patients, the slog of fighting with insurance companies for payment and her family issues. I don’t want to get into that. Sorry, but just talking about it stresses me out. When we speak I am left feeling powerless and frustrated. Last time I saw her, on a layover in LAX, her hair was gray and wrinkles, sharply defined, were crowding her eyes.
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Let 'em Eat Cake

    “I don’t know, Pop, it just doesn’t feel right, you know?” Johnny Barsetti took a moment to check his hair in the restaurant window, the interior lights reflected off the glass and his coifed reflection stared back at him, framed against the black of night. “I was talking to Pauly the other night and he said most weddings are more for the parents then...”
    His father cut in, “Pauly? Now you’re getting wedding advice from Pauly the Puss? When did you see him?” Lou Barsetti wiped his mouth with a starched, cloth napkin and glanced at his wife across the table. She rolled her eyes.
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Last Words

    He coughed, a loose rattling sound, and a thin spray of bloody spittle stained the sheets. The nurse leaned in with a fresh towel to wipe red foam from his chin but the Colonel pushed her gently away and took a long, deep swallow of wine. He closed his eyes and held the thick red in his mouth, savoring the earthiness and memories. When he swallowed it was with a grimace of pain and the glass shook in his hand, spilling wine across his chest. His glare stopped the nurse and she settled back into the chair beside his bed. His other hand hovered to the bandages around his belly.
    “Bah, if a man’s to die there are worse things to taste on his lips. Eh, Captain Fletcher?” His voice was strained but he spoke with clipped, quiet, precision. “What was the last thing you tasted? The morning gruel? Vomit and fear? Bollocks, man, pour yourself some Malbec.”
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The Glistening Arc

A flat sheet of wet, black macadam reflecting a white sickle moon and the echoes of folding metal swallowed by the dark. Shatter glass buckling, a spider web glowing in the halo of fluorescent headlights.

The memory of a single cobweb, floating, lazy in the bleach of afternoon sunlight and a loop of spittle frozen against the dashboard. White teeth in a camera flash.

Potential and kinetic energy, stretched taut to the point of breaking. A glistening arc.

The Drone

    The crater, a smoking, attenuated V, cut a ragged furrow across the prairie. At the head of the crater a lopsided ball of metal twitched and hissed with stress fractures as slabs of earth, crystalized by the heat, settled across its dome. The external communication arrays were slagged, melted by the re-entry or scraped from his shell on impact, and Blister ran diagnostics with little hope that any of his core systems would be online. Given what happened he was surprised to get cognition at all.
    He had been attempting to slingshot off the planet’s gravity well when the first missile gutted his fusion drive and dropped him into the atmosphere. The second missile knocked out his anti-grav sending him spinning towards the surface. If he had been a war drone, with heavier plating, the missiles would’ve thrown him off course but he’d be halfway around the world by now and ready to catapult into deeper space with only a few dents to show. Recon drones weren’t made to take direct hits. But then, he had no reason to think he’d be at risk, deep scans hadn’t shown any indication of Separatist activity on the surface. Where had those missiles come from?
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His skin was taut and he imagined a sudden movement might cause it to rip like dry, rough paper. The air-conditioning tickled his arms. Cool, lazy and impersonal. He stared, unseeing, down the snack aisle and ignored the magazine spread before him on the counter, a jumble of contrasting yellow headlines promising sex tips and the inside scoop on celebrity love lives. He glanced at his watch. 2am. The depression was heaviest at night and his shoulders sagged under the weight. It was always hardest in the evening when he was alone with the beauty, health and hygiene around him making promises they couldn’t keep. In his pocket he fondled a baby blue pill, rolling it between his fingertips. He looked again as his watch. Soon, he thought, 3am.
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The Long Road

    She placed her hand over his and pressed the pen to the paper. The signature looked shaky but it should be enough. “Easy peezy,” she said. “Now you just need to do it on your own. Maybe a couple thousand times.” She smiled.
    His hand was pink where she had touched him and he stared in disbelief at the pen in his hand. Without her support his fingers felt loose, like they were all skin and tissue. No bones.
    “Yup,” he said. “Easy peezy.” The warmth of her smile buoyed his spirits. He felt like he might actually be able to do this. Weeks ago he had dreamed of signing his name, tying his shoes or flossing his teeth but now he felt it might actually happen.
    “Why don’t you try picking up the pen and doing it yourself?” She offered him a crooked smile that filled his stomach with a buzzing, nagging desire to please. He wanted to make her happy; to make her proud but hesitated, unsure that he could handle the look of disappointment if he failed. On the other hand, maybe she’d offer him a little help. And maybe he’d feel something; the glow of her skin touching his.