Deepening Dream Space
by Trent Walters
At a two-story, two-door Tudor house, a police car screeches. The policemen motion to a lithe little girl lit up in the backyard. She’d fallen asleep playing at the foot of her treehouse--a corrugated cylinder of metal. She skips toward the searching lights and wailing sirens. Her skin is wrinkled like a prune.
“Space,” the girl, leaning through the open window, tells the cops, “makes...”
The cops can get a warrant if she wants to play hardball.
She does. She takes them to her bedroom to show off the old-time transistor radio: “...time for music...”
They aren’t listening. They rake through diaries and crumpled pages of half-baked ideas seeking answers to mysteries hiding in plain sight between lines.
“...after, before, beside bedside...” She opens her toy chest and hands one a pony with its flaming red tail, the other a battered Strawberry Shortcake. “...words to make...” She spreads her arms wide, wrapping up a short tune off Broadway. “...room!”
Neither cop claps though they’d like to clap her in chains.
Before they can arrest her, she dodges their slow arms and dashes to the yard out back. She slams the treehouse door behind her with a clang. The officers cannot budge the door, cannot find a handle or a keyhole. The treehouse rumbles. They back away to watch the overturned ice cream cone ascend. Behind it blooms iced flowers curling into petals of black cherry.
by Trent Walters
Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote: "Sitting serenely under the shade of a banyan tree, the essayist wrote that a crazy, angry monkey squatted in the banyan tree, plucking and eating figs from the vines and getting fat. He read his beautiful, rice-paper composition aloud.
" 'I am not a crazy, angry monkey and I'm not fat,' said the crazy, angry monkey who was getting fat, which must be so because it was written on rice paper. The monkey paused to listen, then let out an angry monkey shriek, ripping out a banyan branch. The monkey hurled the branch at the cherubic essayist. The branch smacked him in the head and splattered blood all over the beautiful, rice-paper composition.
"Hopping gleefully up and down in the banyan tree, the monkey proved the essayist's point. He lived long enough to scribble a few more lines.
" 'That's it. I want a divorce,' the monkey said, climbing down. But it could not resist grooming the beatific essayist's bloody scalp."
Hypocrite Écrivain, Hypocrite Lecteur: a Letter to the Editors of DailyCabal.com
by Trent Walters
Note: This fictional creative-nonfiction comments on the underlying aspect in the Anan Muss series [click this link].
Since its christening, I have faithfully read your zine. Its vessel has at times thrust itself into amazing worlds and has at times scraped its barnacled hull through narrow wormholes. SF Poet Anan Muss, however, has shipwrecked and should no longer captain your masthead (or even swab the decks).
His themes tend to be Darwinist variations on the idealistically fit who are actually unfit because of their idealistic naïveté, which causes them to be buffeted by the supposedly unfit (according to standards humanity claims to uphold) but who are truly fit because they obey an unspoken social Darwinism. While the themes should disturb the blithe and, indeed, deserve to be heard, it appears the poet himself does not abide by his implicit ideals: All have worth and ought to be treated as such.
Last year, I paid to attend a benefit for the SF Poet Society because Anan, a man of self-purportedly high principle, was the guest of horror--pardon, honor--teleported in from Jac-Sun V. He spent the late afternoon swilling a dozen Chardonnay and swallowing more than his share of salmon. Many tried to discuss literature, to stroke his ego discussing his work. He actually glared when I brought up his thematic disposition. He had eyes and words only for a third-rate poetess a third his age. One might surmise where he spent that night.
I do hope you’ll take a billy club and knock that man between his lustful, blue-speckled eyes.
Nobody the Poet
Thank you for writing. My first reaction is “That’s not me.” But how many times have we gazed in the mirror--especially as we age--and been deluged in a self agnosia?
I could make excuses: Dionysia dissed me again, and I desired revenge (but that’s petty and not me). You or whoever else appeared sycophantic (but that’s egotistical since we all start somewhere). My only hope lies--hope springs--in misperception:
1) It wasn’t me you saw, or
2) you saw me but my mind was elsewhere (if we trust your version, we cannot but be disappointed in any writer who claims objectivity, to see all angles, to peer into the hearts of all characters with equanimity), or
3) my identity was mistranslated through quantum entanglement--maybe the distance between a good person and a bad takes very little leap (a quantum leap, if you will--another perennial concern).
You do realize your perspective is hopelessly idealistic: Most would merely blink after getting kicked in the teeth by someone bigger than they. That is why I thanked you. People should hold more mirrors and, using their senses, stand up to their own standards.
Bless you, dear poet of incorporeality. Let’s pray the slitters made his death excruciating.
Heaven Is a Place where Nothing Ever Happens
by Trent Walters
The bar was packed. Everyone was there. The band on the carousel dais played my favorite Talking Heads song, the name of which escapes me (it goes bop-bop, bopbopbop--but then a lot of songs here do). And me, I was sandwiched between my two favorite people, Julius and Endiku--arms slung over shoulders, beer from mugs sloshed on sandals, bodies swayed, voices bellowed at the top of our lungs yet somehow still in tune. To be perfectly honest, my two favorite people are usually whomever I’m sandwiched between. Also, to be perfectly honest, my favorite song is usually whatever’s playing. The ambrosia, however delectable, tasted flat. It needed more hops. I’d been hesitant to complain to the management.
During the bridge, the lyrics of which we never seem to know though Endiku kept singing off-key anyway (which the walls of heaven somehow resonate into a kind of harmony), Homer dashed to my side. “Did you hear?” Before I could shake my head, Homer had babbled on breathlessly, “Sure-footed Mercury said that knobby-kneed Pandora entered heaven with a Bowie knife, then vanished after he spoke to her.”
Julius and I guffawed. Long-winded Homer was forever making up stories. “Yeah, right,” I managed after catching my breath. With the back of my hand, I wiped away tears of laughter.
Endiku, off in his own world, catching sight of my tears, wrapped both arms around me. “Everything’s fine now, David: We’re in heaven.”
“You guys, burn me up.” Short-tempered Homer stormed off to find a more appreciative audience.
Time is difficult to measure in a place like this, but it couldn’t have been long before our corporeal forms began to rise, pirouette, and swirl about the hall like--well--Lincoln Logs in a toilet, getting faster and faster until our bodies slammed against the walls and tapestries that dematerialized as soon as we struck, our bones snapping on impact.
And then I was ordering another ambrosia, arms slung over the shoulders of my two favorite people. “Now be honest with me, fellas,” I asked the guys concentrating hard on not holding my sibilance for too long. “What’s the last interesting thing that’s happened up here?”
Endiku gave me a funny look. “You think nothing interesting happens because you already know so much.”
by Trent Walters
Raven-haired from the womb, Anan Muss was a swimmer, circling the same lane eleven months out of twelve for a dozen years. The pool chlorine bleached his hair. After high school, he quit. The hair on his head went back to its natural color while his eyebrows remained a bleached sandy blonde. His classmates asked why he dyed his hair, or had he received gene therapy to look more like Lizard Breath? His brothers thought his eyebrows were turning gray.
Was it Anan’s imagination, or were his eyes now covered in scales? Perhaps the increased number of Lizard Breath spottings made him nervous. What at first seemed simple petty arson was now looking more complicated and sinister.
Anan Muss jogged long distances, slowly. He plodded through quiet, unpopulated industrial districts to soothe his mind. In case thieves happened by, Anan left his wallet at home, giving no one any reason to molest him. One night, after three years of jogging the same route, Anan was arrested. The cops escorted him around town, to an officer who didn’t think Anan was the suspect since the suspect wore different clothes and was of a different species—if not phylum. The friend of the suspect did not recognize Anan (nor did Anan recognize the friend). However, since Anan did not have a wallet on him, ergo, he must be the arch-criminal, Lizard Breath, who exhaled methane gas and set it ablaze with his cigarette lighter. When DNA samples came back negative, the cops let Anan go, with reluctance. As Anan waved goodbye, he found two pits where his ears had been. Where had he last seen his ears, the cops wanted to know.
From vending machines, Anan picked up a newspaper at a café and, like everyone perversely fascinated by the criminal element, bought a cigarette lighter. Idly, he flicked the flint lighting mechanism. It took more dexterity than he had supposed. He spread the newspaper before at one of the tables under the glare of the sun. The misdeeds of Lizard Breath were now ubiquitous as well as notorious. Entire buildings had gone up in flames. Criminal profilers suspected a syndicate. Anan raised his head from the newspaper accounts of Lizard Breath to contemplate why someone would do such a thing. A woman slapped him for scoping her out. He belched and lit his breath on fire.
This Is Not a Love Song
by Trent Walters
a love that
swills the black
milk of twist
the SF Poet Anan Muss had transom-entangled to his lover. Responding to its fifteen seconds of fame, critics responded: “What lovesick, cornball hack hasn’t thought-twittered something to that effect?”
The difference here being that Anan’s object of affection was none other than the lovely Dionysia, recently loosed from a marriage contract to King Ash--he who decimated planetary kingdoms remotely with a tap of his pinky fingernail-chip. As one of Dionysia’s comrade lovers of the arts, Anan once had the displeasure of meeting King Ash--obesely lounging on a mountain of oversized cushions amidst a cacophony of incense. King Ash sneered at Anan as the power-jaded king sneered at all of Dionysia’s thinly disguised “art-loving” friends to mask their night-emission desires.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Anan Muss never intentionally found a loophole in their marriage contract. In fact, being rather outmoded in sex transactions, he sought ways to patch the contract for Dionysia. Nonetheless, when Dionysia uncovered Ash’s harem secreted into a pit beneath the mountain of cushions, his first target was none other than Anan Muss. One tap of his royal pinky: Slitters zipped across the rolling desert on autobikes, arc-blades slapping their mighty thighs.
Trip-lights warned Anan of the intruders, which gave him time to scramble-translate himself to Jac-sun V, a sparsely populated planet full of jutting buttes, tumbleweeds, and sand--a land where few of the sane would choose to stay. Anan wrote Dionysia to come live with him in the wilds--a world where their swelling love could engorge the empty spaces. After sufficient time to show that she and she alone was in control, Dionysia wrote back, “You’ve got to be shitting,” and chose a sycophant, the intrepid Captain Skylark, who gave her extravagant if impoverishing gifts, but who had the physique of one who had valiantly survived a famine and now lived to eat at USA Steak Buffets.
To this day, Anan translates copies of himself back to the home planet--in the vain hope that she might find her way to love him--only to watch his copy get diced by a slitter’s arc-blade on pirated vid-feed.
Anan refuses to write sad SF love sonnets since truth and justice triumphed in the end. No one likes to spoil a happy climax.
God's Disco: ii) Nibbling off God's Platinum Platter
by Trent Walters
At the poetry reading, black turtlenecks and tweed sport coats jabber over steaming cappuccinos. My friend hangs his head in his hands. One would think it would be difficult to walk in that position. He is still sad, apparently. Guiding him into the poetry room by that nasty elbow that made my gesture, which still smarts, smart, I ask him, what is wrong?
Don’t you see? They look like poets. We do not. We wear jeans and T-shirts. Look at that goatee. I bet it belongs to a poet.
Sure enough, the goatee belongs to a brown-eyed man in a brown-spotted tweed coat. He walks to the podium, reads in a poetic monotone--as if not to eschew a regurgitated supper of leafy green vegetables. The stage lights set his white hair ablaze. His white oval face shines like a virile god with a baldpate, a laurel of hair--the sides horned up like Ferdinand the bull--and a beatific smile from tugging his infinite yoke. We are awed: poetic virgins stunned into immaculately losing our cherries. An hour later, he finishes, awakening my friend who leaps to his feet and cries: Sir, who does your goatee?
Why, I do, says the poet, stroking the sage white bristles.
It is divine. Very poetic.
Thank you, says the poet; I think.
Your sport coat is also poetic.
Do you have a question?
How did you become so poetic?
By writing: the first step in the disco poetics.
On my feet, I say: We may not be Travoltas, but we sure can dance.
The second step notes how the variegated lights reflect off the disco globe, sees the globe again, then revises your second sight, and so forth. Toward the end, you do a jig, then stutter-step to a jitterbug or cut the jitterbug altogether, so that the new end is a new beginning: Only when you know the end do you know how to begin.
My friend sits.
Then you mail the revision to a publisher.
I sit, too.
Nobody else asks questions. They already know the answers. Later, at their private dinner party with the poet, they will glitter and titter like whores over cheap wine and hors d’oevres, and scoff at our insolent questions.
We slip out and notice, on the poet’s back-cover photo, that the goatee covers a weak chin. Relieved, we will fast until breakfast tomorrow when we will gorge on steak, eggs and salsa. Yum.
God's Disco: i) Driving to God’s Disco
by Trent Walters
My friend is sad. He is driving us to a poetry reading. I have just shown him the glossy back-cover photo of the poet reading tonight. My friend holds his head in his hands and rubs his face. One would think driving in this posture would be difficult. Grabbing the steering wheel, I ask, what ails you, my friend?
I am sick and tired, he says, of being sick and tired behind the wheel of this vehicle.
I allow him to wallow in his misery in peace. People need peace with their misery. Like donuts need grease.
He cries dry tears. I know because he will lift his face, and it will be dry because I will do something he will not like that will cause his face to lift. His eyes will, however, be red from rubbing them with his palms. The only time he has ever cried wet tears was over Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. When the peaceful misery passes, I say, tell me what makes you so sad.
If you don’t know, I am not going to tell you.
I release the steering wheel. My hands cover my face. I say nothing. I need peace with my misery though misery gives no peace. Come here, I say; let me kiss and make it feel better. I gesture for his face.
He lifts his face. His eyes are red, his face is dry, and his elbow, apparently, does not like my gesture (nor does my gesture like his elbow). He says, we will not. We are men.
I forgot, I say rubbing my gesture; I only wished to comfort your misery.
Let us go, you and I, to a poetry-etherized reading.
Let us, I say, and afterwards we can gobble a steak dinner and salad at the casino buffet on the river. The food may not be good, but there is a lot of it, which is good for us manly men who don’t know what we want to eat.
Yum, he says.
Besides, I say, a river is the universal, unidirectional symbol for time because it can’t change directions--except in earthquakes. We will eat on a river of time until our guts explode. Like true artists: everything done in excess.
Thyme, he asks.
Exactly, I say.
My friend cuts across traffic, because we are late, heading the wrong way down a one-way on Dodge Street, which is poetic because the cars have to dodge us. We live art.
Long Live the Dead
by Trent Walters
In terms of continuity--although it should stand on its own--this is the last of the Pandora series. The order is 1) "Meet the Extraordinary Ordinaire," 2) "The Bug-a-Boo Bear," 3) "Chop Chop," 4) "Byzantine," and 5) "Long Live the Dead."
Pandora scaled Olympus. Oblivious to the world, she snagged her skirt on prickly shrubs and scraped her palms each time a stone slipped out from under. In her right, she carried a knife, gripped blade down. When the climbing grew too steep, she held the hilt between her teeth.
Finally, she reached the Hall of Gods. Apollo, Hera, Zeus, and others lined the jagged walls in colorful repose inside their mile-high, mahogany-framed portraits. Towering above, the statue of Athena was so life-like that Pandora’s footfall stuttered. Should she give obeisance? Only when Athena stood serene as death’s box, did Pandora pass.
Swift-winged Mercury caught up with her and, glancing at the knife, inquired of her business on Olympus, but she sprinted up an unobtrusive spiral staircase built of pearl bricks and silver mortar. Mercury pursued her not. Pandora grabbed a flaming torch from the wall and hastened on.
She paused at a landing to catch her breath and lean out a window. Old Olympus, below, sparkled with the gleam of emeralds and rubies. High above, the tower’s pinnacle was, to the naked eye, invisible. She soldiered on.
Her legs nigh quaked with rubbery fatigue as she reached the topmost stair. Without hesitation, she approached the sleeping figure on the cot--his hair a flowing golden mane--and plunged the knife hilt-deep into his chest.
Pandora jerked the torch from the wall and hurried up. On the landing, she caught her breath and, shaking off her deja-vu, continued.
At the top, she tiptoed to the sleeping shape and plunged the knife into his chest. He raised a feeble hand as if in whisper, but she wasn’t interested in listening to this jerk.
Pandora’s fingers lingered on the torch before removing it. She cautiously ascended.
At a landing, she saw the Hall wink brightly, sighed and clambered up.
Her legs were spry as she arrived upon the height. She approached the figure on the cot, plunged the knife toward his chest.
A firm hand gripped her wrist before it touched the man. A voice from nowhere and everywhere asked, “Have you learned naught?”
“That you’re cruel? Yes. All blame me if something goes awry, but blesses you if right.”
“Because you lack capacity, you look and think you see.” The figure, whose vague features grew more featureless as she watched them, pointed. “The window.”
Pandora glanced at the floor-to-ceiling window, then the figure--which became a child’s thin rendering of a man--now slept as if it never stirred.
She crossed the chamber to stand inside the window--its frame a cheap, pressed wood-pulp--saw the Hall below; above, the tower rose--if she could believe her eyes--beyond the stars.
Meet the Extraordinary Ordinaire
by Trent Walters
In terms of continuity, this is the first of the Pandora series. It is followed by 2) "The Bug-a-Boo Bear," 3) "Chop Chop," 4) "Byzantine," and 5) "Long Live the Dead".
She was just like us, but she was less than us, and she was more.
Pandora left the pantry door unlatched, the mead-stained beer steins in the sink, her clocks unwound.
She read the stars, some side-stitched journals stained by meadow grass, the minds of mortals (unreliably, it’s true).
Pandora had boxes--lots of them. She opened some and closed the rest. A magpie queen of hollow cubes, she mountained box on box, secreted box in box. She even slept in one. The boys perked up to hear how well she worked with boxes though she labored blithely blind to such potential perks.
She lived for untold years, for who knows what? She died, for who knows why (none cared to ask)? She altered lives, for good and ill.
So why are you, dear reader, unaware of her but for her famed faux pas?
Through Weakness, Strength
by Trent Walters
A. Template for the Crrrazy-Bar-and-Grill Story
At the Crrrazy Bar and Grill, where everybody loves you and your worst quirks, Joe Schmuck cradled a foaming mug of Schlitz, sitting in his regular black leather barstool. The stool’s panoramic view allowed him first glance at whatever otherworldly creatures would slime inside Uhura’s [insert more Irish sounding name because they’re so crrrazy and they likes they booze]. The balding bartender wiped down the counter as in sashays his fiery red-headed daughter, whom Joe secretly pines after--the superfluous love interest that is never quite requited so that readers return, story after story, wondering when those two crrrazy kids will hook up. They’ll almost make out, but then she’s beeped out to LaGrange point 2.5 to settle the alien dispute raging there.
In [walked, zapped, sizzled, slithered] a(n) [extra-dimensional being, time traveler, cockatrice, the oafish two-headed were-snake] with a mean thirst for stouts--only Joe didn’t know it was a(n) [extra-dimensional being, time traveler, cockatrice, the oafish two-headed were-snake] until he/she/it did something dastardly, putting the whole universe in peril!
But thank God for Joe and the dipsomaniacs at the Crrrazy Bar and Grill, who come together when they’re needed most. [Insert corny gag at the end to release tension through a forgettable denouement.]
B. Questions for Popular Templates
Is it enough to kick over a man’s many-storied sandcastle, laugh, and walk away? Isn’t the gesture like the hole left from a foot passing through walls of sand?
What is a template, but the framework that satisfies many, not unlike eating a pound of chocolate in one sitting? Is it that the few are displeased that many are happy with little, or that the few are displeased with much?
What drunken misfit wouldn’t want to guzzle a beer-sticky oak floor where misfits fit in? What lover wants the chase to end: Isn’t that what leads to boredom, musty motel rooms, and expensive divorce lawyers? Isn’t it fulfilling when the clumsy two-headed oaf saves the universe precisely because of his unfortunate birthmark as it gives hope to the rest of us misfits?
C. Pop Will Eat Itself
Socrates’ fame inflated like a latex balloon by his popping other balloons with questions lathed to pinpricks. But what foundation did he ever smooth with a trowel? Can an ecology of pincushions and wrecking balls exist alone?
The snake consumes its tale.
Or does it? Is Frankenstein any less for creating a monster that seeks to destroy him as much as the creator seeks to destroy the created?
Sticks without Stones
by Trent Walters
This is not a sequel or prequel but pairs with the stand-alone, "Stones without Sticks."
The stick was once known fondly by its parent as a limb... until a biped severed it from its parent, stripped it naked, and hobbled on the stick up the mountainside. Despite the biped’s initial cruelty, the stick grew fond of the biped as its palms wore groves into the stick’s flesh. Before being held in the sleeping embrace of the biped’s flabby yet warm limb, the stick had not experienced true love.
Sadly, the relationship was one-sided. In spite of enduring long hours of pressure and pain because of its devotion to the biped, the stick broke unexpectedly and was, without a teary goodbye, discarded for another. “Oh, I see,” said the stick, “love me and leave me, will you?” But the biped neither answered nor returned.
The stick lay quietly for many moons, too upset for words, until another biped stepped on the stick, and it snapped:
“Why don’t you watch where you put your oafish feet? You think you can traipse through this neck of the woods and not notice upon whom you’re stepping? You don’t see trees uproot themselves and stomp on your fingers.”
The biped pretended not to hear and strolled on through the stick’s home.
A stone came rolling along. The stick, still nettled by its busted-up life, yelled at the stone to help out a fellow inanimate object. It showed no interest in the stick’s plight. Burned again, the stick thought, by a stone this time; it doesn’t get any worse than this.
The sun came and went. Rains came and went. Snows came and went. The stick lay still, nursing its wounds, when a black ant showed interest. Finally, the stick hoped, it would be loved for itself.
But no, the ant was a termite and it hollowed out the stick and laid eggs in it that wiggled and lunched on the stick’s innards. The pain was as excruciating as it had heard the biped complain that kidney stones were, but the stick felt too hollow to be hurt again.
Or so it thought.
On the last day of its life, a biped spotted the stick, put it over its knee, and broke it in two, then, carrying it back to its lair, built an altar encircled by stone, and set the stick on fire. Perhaps the stick ought to have been bitter about the flames charring its flesh, but it couldn’t help noticing the biped’s worshipful and submissive posture.
by Trent Walters
Since they closed down the interstate, eighteen wheelers have rumbled by our trailer, making the shades shake and the dishes clatter. Every damn one headed to New York.
Each time another whooshed by, my teeth rattled with the windows. Unless Pa had duct-taped them a coupla winters ago. He hadn’t but the front. We cuss him out cause he’s not here no more. He whored on Ma, hooked up with an eighteen-wheeler, and high-tailed it to Californication. We hated that state then. Now we’re glad to see it passing.
When we was little runts, Ma bought Jeb and me slingshots with Pa’s rare child supports. We graduated to BB guns last year. That’s when we started hitting the broad side of the barn. One morning in nothing but our longjohns, we crawled into the ditch. A trucker whooshed down the hill with his window down and head stuck out, serenading the cows with Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” He couldn’t sing worth two hoots, so we popped the sucker. His brakes squealed like hogs in a slaughterhouse. He swerved a little cause our road is twisty. He hopped out, cussing and waving his shotgun. Jeb and I took off for the cornfield, but the cows had mowed it down. We was sitting ducks. I still got lead in my hide.
So we got four cheap .22s--cheap cause everbody’s heading for the highlands, unloading what they can.
Last night Jeb and I guarded both sides of the highway, behind tall cornstalks--rifles lined up and loaded. A driver can’t be in two places at once, we figured. We sited a punk-rocking trucker and pop-pop-pop! We only hit a couple or five tires, but the trucker must have been wet behind the ears cause he over-corrected, jack-knifed and dumped his cargo.
Jeb and I looked at each other. Since half of California was to fall into the Pacific anyways, rich dudes from New York bought up truckloads of California rocks to build a barrier against from the rising Atlantic. Jeb and I--for the price of our .22s--were as rich as New Yorkers, building our own barrier outside town.
That’s why we slicked the road with used motor oil and so many jack-knifed trucks lie along the roadside. Jeb ain’t sure whether we’ll get enough to make a difference. I say it’s worth a shot. Another truck’s coming over the hill, Jeb. No, Sheriff, we don’t know the time, except how late it is. We’re hoping Pa drops in.
They Came a Lot to Camelot
by Trent Walters
For Mark Ferrari
Barely teenagers on their first expedition to Avalon, the three of them--Gwen, Lance and Mark--sought adventure. They paddled for three hours over Lochness Lake when a sea monster raised their rowboat aloft and, lurchingly, transported them. They clung to the gunwales, trying not to upset the boat’s precarious balance. “Land ho!” the three cried gleefully as the monster lowered them into the bay of a deserted isle.
They thanked the monster, which bowed as though accepting their gratitude graciously. Then it pulled up some seaweed and chewed like a cow, eyeing the tiny upright monkeys with bored indifference as seawater dribbled down its jaw.
However, they weren’t in Avalon but Camelot. That wasn’t the worst of it. Not only was Camelot a deserted desert isle, but a Bedouin must also have erected a discount-camel emporium, decorating it with sagging party balloons and brightly colored if tattered banners that quipped “Camelot’s Camel Lot!” The Bedouin then, due no doubt to disappointing sales in the British Isles, abandoned the lot.
The gaunt camels--still bound by the neck to stakes--periodically bent, sniffed and nibbled the sand in search of nourishment. Gwen, Lance and Mark tugged up handfuls of seaweed from the lake bottom and fed the camels. They built a makeshift water distillery, filled it, and watered the camels, each of which slurped eagerly and sloppily.
The camels and the trio became fast friends, despite the camels’ reluctance to give the trio a tour of the island. After camping the night on the beach beside the camels, Gwen, Lance, and Mark took turns rowing the camels, one by one, ashore. When at last they’d completed their arduous task--the camels bestowing love-bites to show their appreciation--the trio decided it would be best to find the camels caring homes (Mark suggested bottom-dwelling sea scavengers--a suggestion more desired than acted upon).
After selling them as guard dogs, Mark, Gwen and Lance made a bundle, which afforded them Avalon expeditions out the wazoo. Despite forty years of trying, however, they never did find Avalon.
They’ve still got time.
Brothers of the Ravenous Regret
by Trent Walters
Four score and seven years ago, four and twenty black birds brought forth a cawing to our backyard’s Chinese elms. The birds supplanted the colored leaves that had fallen and left the trees barren. Some of the birds drooped by their legs, upside down like primates--almost as if the birds had been tied to the limbs with a bit of twine. They--both birds and trees--were so frightful in appearance that we remained indoors. No matter, the incessant caws pierced our house’s thin bay windows.
The twins, side by side on seats that Father had built for them, did not open their mouths to speak or eat for days. The living-room grandfather clock donged the hour, which they--as we later learned--did not count. The twins moved only to shift in their seats, sigh, or perform what looked like a secret handshake.
We worried over this and coffee around the kitchen table while Aunt Effie baked some of her famous monkey bread. But even this failed to entice them. We had to console her because Aunt Effie blamed herself--as we, more often than not, were all wont to do.
On the third day of fasting, we keyed up a doctor--the latest model, which included a built-in fMRI. While it examined the twins, we got out the shotgun and fired at the roosting black birds to get them to move on. The birds merely swirled into the sky and settled back down into the elms. A few merely swung back and forth, dangling by their legs.
When we returned, the doctor had left a fMRI-recording of our twins’ thoughts: “Our existence is little more than to devour, oxidize, drowse and defecate. Why bother?”
We tried to reason with our brothers, but they could not yet understand English.
Tyrone Wilson's Metropolis
by Trent Walters
Tyrone Wilson grew up across the street from Metropolis--the details still snap like a Polaroid fished from a closet shoebox... vivid until you finger it.
Metropolis was trifling--as far as metropolises go--but its sundry skyscrapers impressed: jade-colored glass, clunky obtuse obsidian distortions, steel needles stitching heaven and earth, arches sculpted from dark marble and granite ledges topped by grimacing gargoyles.
Before the school bus arrived, Ty knelt in the bromegrass and peered through the glass-domed metro down at the traffic bustle. He liked the warehouse heavy equipment operators because that’s what he wanted to do when he grew up: lift heavy stuff men couldn’t budge.
On cold mornings when the machinery refused to turn over, Ty made sympathetic chugs by flapping his lips, and the engines started right up. Though Metropolis largely did not notice him, an operator gazed up and thanked Ty, which delighted him immensely.
Once a mother pushed a double stroller across a curvy road and, with her parka hood up, didn’t see the oncoming furniture truck. Ty shoved it into a stack of pomegranate crates and panes of green glass lining the sidewalk. At the whining steel, snapping wood and shattered glass, the mother whirled in the middle of the lane to gape.
For days, she counted beads.
Because she reminded him of Mother--warming formula, microwaving Spaghetti-Os, changing old diapers for new--Ty kept watch, saving her life again when her toddler turned on the old gas stove without the pilot light on. But the mother never learned of this and soon forgot the furniture truck.
The truck driver did not. He cussed out whatever inflicted this upon him. His life savings were tied up in that truck--not to mention his responsibility for the furniture, now lacquered kindling. The driver, it turned out, was a frustrated writer; and the incident ignited his muse. The book, detailing how a superior being must be inferior in a screwed-up world, became a bestseller. This wouldn’t have troubled Ty if the mother, whom he’d saved, hadn’t nodded agreement with the book. If everyone quit believing in superior beings, it reasoned, they would cease to exist; the universe would make sense.
That seemed as good as any way to ask Ty to leave.
Years later, whenever he met someone from his old neighborhood, he’d hedge around the crazy question. No one remembered Metropolis. Only a weedy parking lot where people dumped their defective appliances. Which made more sense when he thought about it.
A Truer Story
by Trent Walters
This is a true story. How true is a true story? You could hear “eye-witness” accounts or reverse time to camcord events, but how true is that? You’d bypass the motivations of the players. Besides, you’d probably accidentally drop the timeportal in the bathtub and electrocute dear old Granny, and then where would you be?
By all eyes and camcorders, I assure you, this story is far truer than Lucian’s or any Samosatan’s. Three out of four dental hygienists agree. Everyone knows what big fat liars Samosatans are. They imbibe too much cheap Dionysian and would as soon sign a hex on your kinsman if you didn’t buy their story. Such fabricators of truth are unworthy of your trust.
So my brood of brigands and I were sailing the seven seas of castaway, backyard bathtubs (about which Mum nags Da fortnightly) when--Lo!--we espied the next-door neighbor boys, fording a stream unto strange new territories. “Lo!” we cried, “wherefore art thou next-door neighbor boys going?” They replied, “Huh?” but one of the lads, brighter than a half-watt light bulb, said, “We wage war against the hoards of Bullylanders who hath flunked three grades, beat us up and thieved our lunch money, and who ride upon scorpions and eat tarantulas for breakfast. Will you not join our worthy cause?” My brood and I gazed upon one another. Ought we to risk blood and guts to aid the distressed? Dare we stir the hive of Bullylanders whose vileness we had just rid ourselves of the year before?
But of course!
We moored our ships and, after saddling up our galloping dogsteeds and securing alleycats to swing at enemies, we joined the fiercesome warriors on their journey through treacherous marshlands, nomanslands, wastelands, and tseliotlands, battling pterodactyls and bogmonsters along the way. We flew on raven’s wings across the oceanspace to the floating island of Bullyland, berthing at dusk. Crouching in bushes--so excited we could’ve peed our britches--we stripped to scibbies and pasted our skins in the red moon mud as camouflage.
Alas, that dastardly Lucian lounged amidst Samosatan hoards, imbibing Dionysian and bragging of conquests: literary exploits and many a betrothed lady to our comrades (that is, as soon as our manly beards sprouted). We unleashed, by their tails, the alleycats, which let loose their mighty war-whoop, outstretched claws, and madly scratched the air. Our dogsteeds and we, makeshift clubs aloft, charged after...!
Thus we vanquished our foes. Believe not in Lucian’s tale. If you buy his over ours, may your grandmother’s warts beget a plague of horny toads.
The Living Word
by Trent Walters
In a world full of trillions of otherwise wasted, tasteless words printed on trillions of otherwise wasted, bleached tree pulp--from the papyrus to the pine--this one word is deliciously alive. I won’t tell which. You wouldn’t believe it if it were so easy. It isn’t: the paradoxical architecture of its lettered spine: curved yet straight. But it is easy: more ancient than coelacanths yet more spry... and sly: the way it creeps, it stalls, it crawls and breathes on the sly. It slips, it slides and plays possum when your eye lands upon its black frames in that wintry wasteland of bleach pulp snow--a frozen and fallow ground--waiting for your eye to grow weary and blink so it can exhale and inhale in the space of that eternity. It bides its time. You will turn the page. You will move on. You have dishes to do, garbage to take out. Meanwhile, it has rearranged the neural map of your brain--former dead ends are superhighways, and once indispensable bridges are washed out (you can still take that bridge though you’re liable to baptize yourself and drown in what is clearly now just a chugging, churning muddy wastewater).
As you cinch the trash-bag ends closed, you see the garbage differently. With the bag slung over one shoulder, clinking gently against your back, you half-consciously mutter conjugations of sounds you’d forgotten you knew. Slowly, you roll your tongue over various viable words, tasting their liveliness.
Outside, mercantile semis jostle futilely for pole position, apply their clamorous airbrakes against the crisp, clean silence, pass in their light regalia like toppled Christmas trees trucking above the Interstate 80 viaduct. You gaze up in wonder at stars as you trudge through knee-deep snow that melts and trickles into your bedroom slippers and through the night’s bitter cold that nips at your fingers and toes.
How do you know it lives if it hides in plain sight? It nudges other words, testing their livelihood compared to its, rolling them aside like slow heavy stones to see where they might go, toward places you haven’t heard their torpid frames clink before. One word occupies the snowy space here instead of there, alters the stories less on the page than in your brain--not enough to change the plots or meanings, rendering the books wholly different, but enough to see your garbage differently.
And, otherwise on an other wise tongue, it is all garbage.
My Love for You Would Bust Kneecaps: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Mostly Untrue Story of an Olympian and her Most Devoted Lover (Intimate Moments #769)
by Trent Walters
Editor: Any resemblance to this famous public figure is purely coincidental.
Gilly Fahrenheit lived on the other side of the tracks. Tonka Hearty lived in a trailer court. Their forbidden love affair had begun at Camp Marshmellows where they hid from the camp counselors and rolled among the tall weeds behind the latrine.
Tonka could no longer conceal the truth from her mother. Mother, elbows on the formica, stood hunched over a six-inch black and white playing a crucial scene from "One Life to Live." A damp and musty washcloth dangled from her hand. Tonka tried to wait patiently for a commercial.
"I'm having a baby," said the TV.
But Tonka's news was too important. "Mom?"
Her mother tapped her finger to her lips.
"If you loved me," the TV rumbled, "you'd abort it."
"And if you loved me," the TV piped, "you'd divorce that hussy who stepped out on you to have an affair with Rick."
"If you loved me," Tonka said, "you'd let me date the boy who lives on the other side of the tracks."
"If you won't divorce her," said the TV with a sob in its throat, "then I’ll have a secret love child, and after the court releases the DNA results, the world will know who the father is!"
"So?" Tonka’s mother glanced at her child, then back at the black-and-white. "It's all in the same trailer court."
"It's not a secret," said the TV, "if you just told me."
"You don't understand!" Tonka slammed out of the trailer and ran flat-footed to the court's edge where Gilly crouched in the bushes.
"What'd she say about us hunting horny toads by the lake?" Gilly croaked in a whisper.
Tonka wiped her nose, sniffed, and shook her head.
"Geez. Your mom doesn't let us do anything 'sides play house and skate at the ice rink."
"Gilly." Tonka braced Gilly's shoulders. "I'm having our secret love child."
A decade later, across the rooftop of a rented Yugo outside the Olympic ice rink, Gilly professed his undying 4e passion with a boot to the hub cap, setting it ringing hollowly. "My love for you would bust hub caps." Gilly climbed into the left side believing he was still in America.
Buckling herself into the driver's seat and tossing her ice skates into the back, Tonka thought that, with one life to live, she couldn’t have many Olympics yet to go. "That Kerry Schmancy chick ain't no better than me. If only she'd.... What did you just say, Gilly?"
"Never mind. I want you to prove your love like Madonna said you should. If you loved me, you'd..."
The Ghost Key
by Trent Walters
A leaden skeleton key lay locked in his head. Arthur could feel its heft when he shifted in his acceleration couch. He traced the lumps of his skull like a phrenologist divining the contents--lumps received by attempting to retrieve the key the hard way.
The key to unlock his head was locked in his head, so Arthur was baffled how he might retrieve it. Even if he did, it remained to be seen whether it would fit all the locks that needed opening: his Babbage Engine of Analysis, an empty chest of drawers (he’d been living out of his space suit for weeks as though the ship might spring a leak any second--his fishbowl helmet was flecked with toothpaste), and a medicine cabinet stocked with the essential toiletries.
The color of the key he could not see, it being on the inside, his eyes on the out. But he felt it. The once machined-smoothed edges had corroded down to brittle sharps that broke apart and cut if he stood too quickly from his acceleration couch to stare out the bay projection window into the starry night--the stars aswirl in golden flames. The impression of the grooves--that the key slipped into--still hung in the convoluted knots of his gray matter, like that image of a child that remains after he’s fallen backwards into a snowbank, flailing his arms.
Arthur had fallen back into the acceleration couch, just smelling the rusty tang of impossibility. The key’s teeth must have bitten into his olfactory. A drop of blood leaked from his nose. He held the bridge of his nose between thumb and index finger, recovering. A bridge. That’s what he needed--the kind Einstein and Rosen might construct.
But he needed the right equations to plug into. The equations lay in his engine of analysis. The key opened his engine. His fingers drummed the couch’s leather armrest. He tapped something hard.
A keypad! If he could visualize the equations and escape coordinates, freedom might once again be his. His fingers tapped the keys, then again--harder. He pounded them with his fist.
They didn’t respond. They were frozen.
The ship was losing heat rapidly, becoming a cryogenic freezer. Or a coffin. Depending on whether rescuers spotted his ship in the vast expanse of space. He’d wait quietly. Not hope. Hope disappointed. Instead, he’d drift: down passageways, haunting them as if still alive.
One Man's Heaven
by Trent Walters
You oughta drop in. It's all chew what they say about how grate hell is (sp? Nobody thought to bring a dickshunary. Thank God. Books would of made life in hell hell!)
It's a never-ending bitch party with necked sand volleyball and castles that last forever (unless someone kicks 'em over. Someone usually does). One half of the place is frozen, the other a fiery lake. Remember the Polar Bare Club in Alaska? Like that accept we brake holes in the frozen lake, leap in, then dripping ice cubes, dash over to the one of fire.
Hey, remember the good times when we'd boozed up at ol' fatty Slim Jim's, then you'd talked me into driving us around town doing crazy shit like playing chicken with oncoming traffic or tossing the "Bridge Out" sign into the ditch? Damn, that was funny. At least I thought so until I drunkenly forgot about it on the drive home.
That's what it's like here--crazy fun! non-stop parties by the lakeside! the best practical jokes! One hot chick keeps an everlasting stash of whiskey chilled in the frozen lake. While we slurp Southern Comfort from rose-colored, plastic sand-buckets, the guy or gal who's been the biggest pain in the neck of late gets roasted on a spit over the lakefire. It hurts like a son of a beach, but the pain receptors get charbroiled quick enough. Then we've got something to snack on with our buckets of booze. The meat rots fast, so we wolf it down. Tastes like chicken. Not a big deal to the guy being charred cuz he reappears after we've licked the last grease off our fingers.
You were always the life of the party, so I know you'd be a favorite as I've been. Life here is so much more exciting--better sex, sexier babes, faster boats, spicier meats, and no work. Heaven can't beat this living.
RSVP. The guys look forward to meating you.
by Trent Walters
"Wake up, sleepyhead. Do you remember your dream? You squeezed your pillow awful tight. Was the dream of me?"
"I don't think I dream. I never remember them."
"Everybody dreams. Maybe they're nightmares, so you block them."
"I'd remember a nightmare."
"Maybe your dreams have nothing to say. We only remember the memorable, holding on to the relevant."
"Wake up, Love."
"What a strange dream. I dreamed I said I don't remember dreams, but I do--to the minutest detail: my day-old perfume mingled with your scent on my lace pillow, the brush of cotton sheets against my legs and the heat of your face hovering over mine, the sound of your voice cracked and scratchy as if you were getting over a cold and it made me a little tingly down there, and my mouth sour from the alcohol of the night before. I don't even drink. My dream-me implied dreams mean nothing, but they mean the world. Why would I say something that I don’t believe if it was my dream? Do you think some being hijacked my mind?"
"Being? Do you mean aliens or chimpanzees?"
"I'm serious. God could be trying to tell me something. Or our mitochondria are trying to warn of impending catastrophe. Or you, even: You're making me dream."
"Possibly. Could also be that someone who needs your help sends you the dreams--someone in another dimension. Or else you dream of the life you live in a parallel universe."
"I hope I'd have more sense than that. An inability to see meaning shows a distinct lack of imagination."
"Pay attention, Mabel! You're always daydreaming in my class."
"Wake up, oh god, wake up! Don't die on me--god please no. If you leave me this way, I’ll never forgive you. Please. Breathe. Oh baby. Breathe. The CPS will send out their investigator again, and she won't believe me. Not a third accident."
"Why won't you wake up?"
"You ruined my dream of flight over the ocean where the sea met sky--no up or... What's that smell?"
"The house is on fire, you fool. We have to get out of this place."
"Despierta, mi cielito."
"¡Mamá Mar! ¡Acabo de soñar que hablo inglés pero no hablo inglés pero yo estaba hablando inglés!"
"¿Qué dijiste en tu sueño?"
"No sé. No hablo Inglés."
"Espero que fuera bueno."
"¡Claro que sí!"
Parthenia Rook, episode VI: The World's Fair
by Trent Walters
For previous episodes in Parthenia Rook, see the archive.
Parthenia, in her shiny leather pants and pineapple sunglasses for a disguise, scanned the crowds for signs of a barefoot chimpanzee in an Italian suit made out of chitin. The digital displays that flowed down the sides of her sunglasses assured her no zombie photographers slouched in the vicinity.
An anonymous tip had warned that the Bonobo King would "arrive today to rain on the world's parade," and Parthenia believed it. The Bonobo King always emailed his anonymous threats in assonance.
However, there was no hint of clouds in the pale sky above Vörpalsberg. Only the bittersweet scent of coffee wafted up from the four hundred cafes--reminding her of wasted kirchenstreuselkuchen.
Her stomach rumbled at the loss. No, it wasn't her stomach, or else her stomach was making the silverware rattle and the dishes clatter. Earthquake? Probably more like the overgrown earthworms that Dr. Mandril had genetically engineered to attack Manhattan.
That's when Parthenia saw the swift-moving cloud, the tail end of which twinkled like stars on a humid night. Parthenia turned her sunglasses to the dark mass, to allow the pineapples (actually, radar dishes with astounding pick-up) a chance to bounce and receive beams off the disturbance, but Dr. Mandril must have either devised a cloaking device or come up with something more sinister.
A plague of locusts? Not the Bonobo King's style.
A gust of wind jostled the crowd. They looked up. That's when Parthenia felt a lump in her throat. Dr. Mandril had engineered a Zemeros giganticus. A giant butterfly. Gorgeous. Parthenia stood paralyzed with awe.
But the twinkling that trailed the butterfly snapped her out of her reverie. Their plan was for Parthenia, the world-famous lepidotrist, to fall so in love that she wouldn't protect the world from the Bonobo King and his minions. It might have worked if the Bonobo King's zombies, harnessed in anti-grav devices, didn't have to photograph the fair before wrecking ruin. Parthenia Rook tapped her platform heels to jet--Kung Fu fists first--into the butterfly's maw.
by Trent Walters
The new reality show, "Your Life," received an unprecedented five billion viewers--all hyperwired to be seated among the stadium's studio audience. Cameras panned the virtual viewers as the red velvet curtains rustled slowly away to reveal an empty stage.
A few hands clapped tentatively.
by Trent Walters
Grimmy's fingertips nervously tapped the keyboard on his first day as a communications specialist. Mr. Boss put his mind at rest by spreading his arms to take in the small blue cubicle space, nearly knocking down one partition. "See? It's simple. Nag until they give, so you have no twinge of conscience if you press the disconnect."
Grimmy adjusted his headset to give his hands something to do other than tap the keyboard. "Oh, sir. I have no twinge of conscious about asking money for charities."
"Great! Then you're ready for your first call." Boss had spread his arms wide again, which made Grimmy blink a few times until he suspected the Boss' gesture was a symbol for what the company did: gave people second and third chances to be generous souls.
Grimmy hit the call button. A man answered, "Hello?" and his name appeared onscreen. "Hello, Mr. Walters. Every year, thousands of children die due to faulty deflector shields. You and your beautiful children may be next, resulting in death, deformity, or agonizingly painful disease. All proceeds from your donation to the deflector shield repairman's bilge are tax-destructible."
"I'm sorry," said the voice that was purported to be Mr. Walters', "but I don't give over the vidphone. Put me on your do-not-call list."
Boss whispered into the ear of Grimmy, who might have otherwise remained frozen in unbelief. Grimmy repeated the whisper: "What amount can we put you down for?"
"We must have a bad connection. I said I don't give over the vid. You don't even display your face. How can I scan it to know if you're legitimate?"
"Trust me. We're too legit to quit. What amount can we put you down for?"
"Maybe you're hard of hearing. I'll trust you to put me on your do-not-call list. Thanks!"
The dial tone buzzed in Grimmy's ear. His eyelashes restrained brimming tears. Why would the man's heart be so hard after Grimmy had been so earnest and eager? His finger hovered over the disconnect button that glowed, "Lower deflector shields in this man's neighborhood."
"It's okay." Boss squeezed Grimmy's shoulder. "Last week, this same soulless bastard forced me to press the 'Straight to Hell' button when he refused to donate to the religious fund for demon-possessed toe-fungus in West Africa."
Disciples Teach the Master a New Principle
by Trent Walters
Confuscius--winded from a tangle with a Bengali tiger which he had grabbed first by the tail, then the ears, and finally the head before dispatching the beast--was cresting a small rise on his stroll through the metropolitan zoo of Sung. He was decked out in his finest serge and skins, his belly full of acorns and chestnuts. In this pleasantly sated mood, a sight confused Confuscius: Holy men, with rods of chastisement, beat two young men.
"Pray, good sirs," Confuscius inquired of the holy men whom Confuscius belatedly recognized as his own disciples, "explain your behavior."
The disciples, who did not recognize their master, said, "These two brothers were bruising each other in their rough-housing and enjoying themselves. Their motive for doing this--since we do not understand such motives except as outsiders--must be anger and power; therefore, even though Confuscius never forbid such behavior, it is wrong and should be punished."
Confuscius' puzzled expression cleared, and he nodded. "You were quite correct to do so. Please, allow me to examine your rods of chastisement, They look impressive." When they handed them over, Confuscius whirled them through the air until they sang. "Yes, they are impressive." He handed the rods to the brothers. "Please, at your discretion, use these on the holy men, for clearly these rods were meant to be wielded on those who revel in anger and power."
This Is the Fairy Tale
by Trent Walters
This is the fairy tale your mother wouldn't tell you. This is the fairy tale the brothers Grimm found too horrifying to ink on pure white parchment. Through the years only the meanest mothers passed it down to their most iniquitous children to frighten them into submission (and wetting their beds) in the darkest, coldest hours of bleak German winters when the bloated moon cast shadows of swaying tree limbs into the children's bedroom--the gnarled fingers of a witch lingering just outside and tapping at the window.
This is the fairy tale that survived on the back flyleaf of dusty library tomes hiding Grimm's worst fairy tales that an unfortunate listener had to pen in order to purge herself of the nightmares that still stalked her into adulthood or in order to burden new generations with his own childhood afflictions. This is the fairy tale, rumor spreads, that the fabled old wives share with a hearty cackle as they squat around a boiling black cauldron deep in the thickest thorny bramble and poison-oak woods.
This fairy tale is typed here only to purge the world. Legend tells that if the story were told to the world at once, evil would flee from the land and leap back into Pandora's lock box. And so, paradoxically, I wound the world to save its soul from the stain of this story:
by Trent Walters
-- Drac. We meet again.
-- I need a job, Doc. I'm so desperate I--
-- I vant to suck your blood! Ha, ha.
-- That's an old joke.
-- So you're desperate for a job?
-- An oldie but a goodie! Ha, ha. You got some delivery, Doc.
-- Frankly, Drac...
-- Name's Dracula. The title's Count. Say them together: Count Dracula.... But please call me Drac. My trusted associates do.
-- Okay, Drac, but frankly a man of your qualifications isn't needed in the hospital nursery.
-- I'm overqualified?
-- If you want to put it that way...
-- What other way is there?
-- Your experience in the mortuary, hospice, blood bank, ICU, and phlebotomy labs, don't translate into work for a nursery. Besides, a few irregularities sprung up at your last positions.
-- You're discriminating. I'll sue.
-- Nobody's said--
-- Undead men got rights, too. You think I won't sue?
-- That's nice, but it's more your reputation.
-- Have you checked my references?
-- George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson were fine American citizens in their day but they're dead now. Your reputation, I'm afraid, goes a little deeper than any man alive could dig.
-- What do you mean?
-- You were in jail forty years for murder.
-- I'm a changed man. I was let out on good behavior.
-- You were let out for the good behavior of the state of Georgia. The prison had trouble keeping inmates. The criminals disappeared, one by one, until only one mysteriously remained. The entire state of Georgia didn't commit a crime during your sentence. They called the prison you stayed at, let's see, "Death Row."
-- Aw, Doc. Give a fella a chance.
-- With babies? These little fellas want to live. You've got to work where no one else wants to.
-- I need youth. Rejuvenation. I need to savor the laughter of boys and girls. If you don't give me a job, I'll... I'll...
-- You'll vant to suck my blood?
-- I'll show you! You... you...
-- Speech impediment?
-- Ow! What the heck?
-- That? That's my fang-proof turtleneck--a fine weave of cotton, wool, and sterling silver smelted from crosses found in abandoned sanctuaries. You like?
-- I'd like a job.
-- Youth ain't what it used to be. Time to hang up your dentures and move on. Oh, Drac, don't cry. You'll smear your powder. Chin up. Listen, the unwanted pregnancy clinic opened a position in... What do you know? Gone already. Like a bat out of hell. Give the boy credit. A real go-getter.
Stones without Sticks
by Trent Walters
The Rolling Stone was his own man, so to speak, and traveled past lands unseen. The stone, being a stone, was stoned with the inordinate pride of having gathered no moss--his being's essence unsullied by another being's essence, which his most restless and rocky friends had firmly warned him against.
To scale new heights in his rollings, he started at the foot of a mountain that poked holes in passing clouds. For millennia (a figure rounded by reckoning since stones don't count), he forded streams and outstripped boulders attempting the same ascent. Occasionally, a biped wandered by, and Stone leaped into the crack of its foot's second skin. This saved him hundreds of years of bounding up the path. The free rides never lasted long, however; for in short order, the bipeds removed their skins (they obviously gathered another kind of moss).
Along the way, he heckled those stones who had given up the struggle--not only gathering moss but water, earth, grass, and trees, even! What odd, stiff, wooden creatures they were to stand heartlessly on his fellow stones. It served the trees right to die in a few hundred years.
The higher he climbed, the stranger the substances that his fellows had drowned in: water solid as stone! He chatted up a few, but they all seemed frozen in fear.
Finally, Stone reached the summit. He leaned over a steep precipice and roared his triumph at achieving his dream. That's when he heard the triumphant yahoo of a biped which swallowed his pipsqueak roar. Before he could turn, the biped's second skin kicked him over the ledge.
Stone cursed the biped--though the beasts' lives were already abysmally ephemeral--until he realized this was another journey (if considerably faster) to tell his grandchildren about. Stone bounced and sparked other stones who, excited about Stone's journey, joined him in the Great Fall. Despite the descent, it pinnacled Stone's achievements: His fall was his meteoric rise: so many other stones leaping to join in Stone's headlong, boisterously joyful fray--a veritable pride of the unmossed, so quintessentially, so unreservedly stoned in their stony abandon.
Panting and laughing, they landed at the foot of the mountain with a flurry of dust. What a rush! They spoke of the great race for eons to their children's children. Eventually, Stone gathered moss, but it was nice not to be bald anymore.
The Rise and Fall of Minor Fiefdoms
by Trent Walters
Thief Bowlsalot's girlfriend dragged him to the artsy-fart reading at the Thebes gallery. He couldn't even wear jeans. It was for some fancy-schmancy writer lady who won the Bigwad award, and his girlfriend had read him the Bigwad o' crap and he'd wanted to say, "So what?" but said, "Oh, baby, that was great." The things he put up with to get down a girl's pants. Only she thought he liked novels that rich heiresses wrote--those who never dirtied a fingernail except as snot-nosed brats slumming it with her girls at the Everyman's Mall.
Ms. Bigwad wore a pink feather boa and was trailed by a ham-handed, bodyguarding knot-head, who looked like he was itching to pound any one of these balding scrawny sycophants, and by a waiter with a tray of black goo on crackers, which Thief found more lively than anything else in the gallery.
Ms. Bigwad read. Nothing happened to the characters, so they never had to deal with anything: no air raids, no gun-toting fourth graders, no fistfights after a night of booze and schlepping through the streets with some other guy's girl. They never disobeyed signs: no fishing, no hunting, no shoes, no shirt, no service. Just a dentist who collects famous photographs and trades them with friends who blow their never-ending wad at Macy's and not at the hooker's or on a line of blow, and the characters blab, blab, blab about zip--enough to make you gouge your ears out. Somebody gets a brain aneurysm, but fuck talking about that--too interesting. Who cares about death? What did Ms. Bigwad know of ticking time bombs ready to explode in her head? Thief's granny died of one. That meant something--to the family at least: an inheritance of quilts, several dozen balls of yarn, and thirteen feral cats.
Thief tried not to snore as the writer lady droned in a voice parched as the Sahara. Thief's girlfriend elbowed him awake before he'd been ready to, so he left the reading. No chick's pants were worth that much.
The rich lady's lousy limo was blocking the alley when Thief went to kick start his motorbike. A steel bar with a large knob concrete at one end got Thief to thinking: He'd give the poor lady something to write about.
With the first stroke of luck he'd had all evening, he found a diamond as big as the Ritz on the back seat.
by Trent Walters
"Boy!" the copy editor cried.
Adolphius Equis, AKA Boy, had been chatting up one of the reporters to verify mutual interest when he heard the summons. He ran to the watercooler, poured himself a paper cup full, and tossed it back. He noticed the reporter was still watching him, so Adolphius grinned, lifted his black tie and mock-hung himself--tongue protruding, head lolling to the side. It got the laugh he'd wanted. He shot back a sly grin.
Adolphius flicked drops of cool water on his face and dashed the last few meters into the copy editor's office. He panted as realistically as he could manage. "Almost didn't hear you, boss--what, with the noise of the metal fans."
The copyeditor didn't glare long at the absent-minded secretary. He stood and handed Adolphius a typed page with various corrections in red ink. "Take this to the editor. Don't dawdle."
In the reflection of the window, Adolphius adjusted his tie and pushed back his hair while he watched the copyeditor bend over a filing cabinet. Adolphius let a half-animal noise escape his throat, which he turned into a throat-clearing.
With a manila folder in hand, the copyeditor spun on his heel and snapped his heels together. "What part of 'Don't dawdle' didn't you get?"
"Just want to make a good impression, sir." Adolphius marched out of the office, down the hall, and--out of eyesight--ducked into the bathroom to seat himself on the porcelain throne. He had reading material:
Hitler Wins Again!
(UPI) After conquering the world and ridding it of the filth of Africans, Americans, Asians, Eurasians, Hitler successfully purified the European blood down to the superior Aryan line. Of course, not all Germans measured up to the Aryan standard, and these genetic reprobates were swiftly dispatched. Superior Nazi scientists have since developed human cloning techniques, which lead to the ultimate purity. However, it has come to Hitler's attention that some Adolfs of genetic variability are not wearing their mustaches between four and six centimeters. Effective immediately, all such outliers will be dispatched with due haste. Heil, Hitler!
Adolphius finished his business, washed his hands, pulled out ruler and scissors from his back pocket, and trimmed the impurities.
by Trent Walters
Although known commonly as "teleportation," I prefer this 1950s usage, which implies a short, pleasant trip. Originally, it meant to ride your horse until it tired. Now it's knowing your destination by orienting your mind to the beginning and extrapolating yourself to the end--a minor reorientation of perspective that changed the world.
Whenever newsheets downloaded the latest death tolls, my family took short trips down to a private North Carolina pine-forest island beach. We laid out a blanket and picnic basket and gave our daughter a bucket and a shovel--pretending we were the only people left in the world. The Atlantic lapped the shore as if time might stop. We didn't experience that pang in the chest every time we snapped up a newsheet to find out who bombed who, who hung or decapitated in retaliation.
Vera, my wife, coped differently. She rearranged the world, moving the couch at different angles to the 3V as if the news looked better from a different perspective. In her green phase, all the upholstery was verdant with vines, leaves, and hanging gardens seen only when the light glanced off it. A spring of false optimism. Every tribe attempted peace accords. Negotiations murmured behind closed doors. We held our breath when the world's leaders came out to say nothing had been resolved.
When news of jaunting spread like a virus, every man with a grudge and a bludgeon could appear anywhere within the limits of his imagination. War returned. Vera swapped green upholstery for red.
When our bank lost their reserves to mirror-shielded jaunters on whom automatic laser rifles had no effect, my mind was distracted and I jaunted home, afraid to tell my wife we were penniless and probably wouldn't be able to fill our picnic baskets on our jaunts to the seashore. Only after we'd eaten dinner in silence--a minestrone with grated Parmesan--did I notice the furniture was green. The couch was repositioned to where it was before jaunting hit the world. Furthermore, news on the 3V had restored its era of false optimism.
Whenever Vera changed the upholstery to ashy blacks or desert tans, I jaunted back to an apartment of green upholstery. I won't say that I'm jaunting to a saner, parallel universe or that I'm reversing time, perhaps stunting my child's development indefinitely. I don't know.
But somehow I don't care.
We Are Siamese
by Trent Walters
Yuk hated Yak and knew Yak would ask for the salt-and-peppershakers that would raise their blood pressure. At a closeout sale following the big quake, Yuk bought the most hideous shakers he could find to curb Yak's appetite. It didn't work. "Pass the matching pair of joined-at-the-hip salt-and-peppershakers that look like a couple of nasty beasts going at it, if you please," Yak asked in a tone that suggested he would as soon stab Yuk in the back as accept the nifty shakers. Yuk laughed to himself, good thing I laced the shakers with rat poison; that'll learn the dirty rat.
Yak accepted the damnable salt-and-peppershakers with a smile on his face and a dagger in their heart. Yuk had probably poisoned them. Yak pointed at the window. "Look, in the sky! Is that a bird or a plane?" When Yuk turned his head, Yak sprinkled Yuk's Tostitos with poison. We'll see just how funny poisoned salt-and-peppershakers really are, Yak thought.
The chair groaned as they wobbled back and forth.
by Trent Walters
In 1203, A.D., Pandora yawned and rolled aside the stone covering her box (well, coffin). A walk to Byzantine might do her good.
Her feet grew sore from walking, so she rubbed her tootsies by the gently lapping shores of Stone Lake--which, despite its name, was not a lake of stones but one of water. Dusk had fallen when she spotted knights in shining armor, rowing toward the palace docks. A hundred boats, at least.
She whistled shrilly. "Fishermen!" She waved.
"Shh! Keep it down!" one whispered, motioning his axe to emphasize.
Their chivalry did not impress her though the palace guard had waved at her atop his Byzantine wall. But, employed, he lacked the necessary gondola.
She wouldn't let those Sunday boaters get away with skimping on their manners. "Over here!"
A knight looked at the guard (who sighed at the female), shot an arrow through the guard's poor pounding heart, and told Pandora, "We will pick you up if you will shut your trap."
Pandora clapped her hands. She'd never played a game of catch the castle.
On the other side, she let herself be lifted out the boat and on the dock. She ran beside them as they clattered down the corridor. Somehow the residents were not surprised to see them. She gave pointers, helping knights to better slash and gouge. One knight paused to grab her by the shoulders. "This is not the time to play. When we go forward, you go back, lest one of us fortuitously lop your head off."
"Aw, shucks," she said and shuffled to the water gardens.
Someone yelled, "We've got the emperor!"
Pandora, skipping rocks into the pool, was roughly whipped around. "Who are you?" asked a handsome Byzantine. "You don't belong here. Tell me where you come from."
"From going to and fro across the earth."
His face was horrified. "Miss Fortune!" Maybe he'd have plunged her in the pool, but from a window, cheers arose, which made her glum--their having fun without her.
"The knights have seized the emperor," she said.
His face grew pensive. To his side, he drew Pandora. "Hastily, I judged you, oh, my good luck charm. I'll exit to Nicea. Meanwhile, next in line is witless Isaac Angelos. I, Constantine, will reign thereafter!"
He was right. He ruled the Byzantines--although without a crown--a reign that lasted months.
by Trent Walters
It's the broken hum after a hovercraft crash. The chrome-plated policemachine, with black helicopter blades chopping out its back, prints out a traffic violation from its mouth. The craft steersman jabs a thumb toward Pandora, rocking on her feet at the street-corner in her green, knee-length pleated skirt--pretty as a picture--as though she were a guileless fold-out child in a forbidden men's magazine. "Jail-bait," says the wild-haired man, panting, "enticing the weak-willed with illegal proclivities, crossing at a green light just as I'm supposed to stop at the red! A green skirt means go--go for it now!" The cop processes this, inhales his ticket, and chops over to the girl.
The Bug-A-Boo Bear
by Trent Walters
The brokers of the pawnshop heard a burly growl before Pandora lugged the weighty chest inside and lifted out the fearsome heart of papier-mâché. Unlatching the catch in back, she emptied it upon the counter. Bats flew out, tarantulas crept, black widows scuttled, killer bees buzzed, and a praying mantis mantraed. A small, discolored, ugly pearl rolled off the counter and under the paw of the tallest pawnbroker who shook his furry head with sad regret. The other brokers laid upon the heart a heavy club to crush the papier-mâché. The brutish girl had got what she deserved.
she is where she is or Why She Boarded the Shuttle for the Station at Lagrange Point Seven
by Trent Walters
She is unhappy with herself because she is two months pregnant with his child, she is two months pregnant with his child because he didn't wear a condom, he didn't wear a condom because he was too horny to think straight, he was too horny to think straight because she had really turned him on, she had really turned him on because virginity embarrassed her, virginity embarrassed her because her mother had laughed when she'd asked what a penis felt like, her mother had laughed when she'd asked what a penis felt like because her mother's mother had slapped her mother when her mother had asked her mother's mother the same question, her mother's mother had slapped her mother when her mother had asked her mother's mother the same question because her mother's mother had felt only one penis which was her mother's father's who had gotten her mother's mother drunk off a whole mason jar of moonshine and left her mother's mother two months later when her mother's father heard her mother's mother was pregnant with her mother's father's child.
Proust1: A Primer, which the Author Painstakingly Annotated to Allow How Not to Read about a Lout Whose Crimes Spouted against Humanity Are Not in Doubt2
by Trent Walters
Squatting on the bottom library step, the mousy, elfin-framed man named Arthur4 dusted his snake5-skin suit, glanced at his watch6, then adjusted his horned1-rims to watch an old woman6 wheeze and labor7 up the steps with a dolly that held his titanic8 stack of manuscript pages. She paused to catch her breath and pushed long tresses of gray hair out of her face.
"Cease wool-gathering, Miss Mykoytress." His eyelids hooded to slits. "We haven't words enough and time9 before I present my doctoral thesis."
"Did you reproduce this thesis and read three-thousand pages of Remembrances?"
Art raised himself, as if slowly uncoiling his legs. "That facsimile records the achievements of the all-time greatest novel."
"I read the first fifty before I realized I hadn't read the first."
He hissed, ready to strike.
"I reread it, realizing he taught himself to write on my time. I don't have much left."
Scenting the proverbial lost sheep's weakness, Art flicked his forked-tongue7 and slithered7 up the steps to make the intellectual kill. "He had strapping male companions, one of whom Proust bought an airplane which the companion promptly crashed into the ocean. Proust never regained the time lost from the loss."
"I prefer Of Mice and Men." The tresses of her hair writhed and turned him to stone.
1 Pronounce Proust like Faust2 jousting it out with the metamorphosing Mephistopheles, whose elfin frame housed a Machiavellian mind that deluded the most casually espoused Marlowean/Goethean readers of Chairman Mao's social policies.
2 The author uses assonance3 to demonstrate artfully4 the proper pronunciation.
3 The auctorial3 terms "ass-onance" and "pomp-ass" resonate like pans9 of Teflon-coated Freudian slips for the propensity to use overly erudite3 and pompous3 terms like "auctorial" in a flagrant flaunt of critical authority.10
4 The "author" impishly misdirects the reader with "Arthur" to obfuscate his identity slipping a devilishly deceptive "author" into the title.
5 The wise old woman archetype tempted into servitude by the wise old serpent male archetype.
6 Sly injection of the symbol of time.
7 Scathing indictment of the bourgeois laissez faire.
8 Double entendre alluding to the recyclable Greek myths and the ship that lost a thousand faces9. Note the juxtaposed conflation of a child's and a man's play toys: a doll-y and a ship (with phallic suggestion)--let alone the bio-ethical reproductive dilemma of cloning inherent in a "dolly."
9 Marvel at the coy allusion to Andrew Marvell's poem.
10 Never trust auctorial3 critical authority.
by Trent Walters
A proud and knowing forestpeople, we dwell near a clearing used for fertility festivals. The forest is all of the world, except for the sky. We see the sky and know it. Our home is parallel to the home of the sky, so we are parallel to the starpeople, their equals. But we are earthy compared to those lofty ones, who uphold their torches nightly, so far off they hear not our calls.
The forest is the world, the world the forest; the forest inscribes the world; the forest flows beyond what the eye can see. There are no words for these things. We do not write but only speak them. Some urge us to transcribe history for the next generation. Foolish conceit! People should live in the now, not the past.
Rumor spreads that our world shrinks, tree by tree. One claims to have marked a tree with his sharp stone, and on the morrow, it was leveled to a stump. This we find difficult to believe because this one often cannot find his own sleeptree at night, which he should know, blindfolded, like his wife's form. Besides, what are we and what is the world without forest? If a tree disappears, does the world disappear with it? The notion's nonsense.
Rumor also claims a grassland surrounds our home, the forest. This we also find difficult to believe. Grass is for walking on and softening your nest. It cannot shield you from the tusk beast. A people need only forest and juicy beige fruits that dangle off limbs. We know this, but we also smell smoke from foreign fires--smoke flavored with wild game and fragrant wood. Do we believe what we know or what we sense?
Some of us desire to descend from the trees, to lope to grasslands to see what strange beings these may be, if such truly exist. The starpeople we know. We see them every night. They are silent and persevering if aloof in their nightly searches by torchlight. But the grasspeople must indeed be strange--grazing their world upon all fours.
Others of us doubt the sense of leaving the safety of our world. Can these grasspeople be found? Would they want to be found? If they wanted to meet us, wouldn't they have attempted to talk already? This assumes that we can find our way out of the forest, the world.
by Trent Walters
The wisest woman in the nursing home was Venus Merchant--a name undoubtedly excavated from a dusty Victorian novel of Classical mythology. When I expressed delight in her name, she lied and said--always neighborly--that mine was beautiful.
She smiled with her teeth, which stood in neat, white rows--each surrounded by a halo of yellow. Ridges of skin dipped toward the corners of her mouth, a star of ridges between her brows. Her eyes were bright and filmy. On her eyelids, flakes of sleep had sat since the morning, neglected by her nurse's aides. I wanted to wipe them with a damp washcloth, but it wasn't my place, my time.
Meet your neighbors, she said. The new people, the young make the community. Grow with your community, and sell them your love at prices anyone can afford.
She asked if I had children, no doubt thinking I had a family. In her day, someone my age would have settled down to a steady job with a family and built his home in a lifelong community.
Today, community is mutable. If we can't make it here, we move on as our African ancestors had. Perhaps--because every niche is filled--starting fresh to find, to found your own community is no longer feasible.
And perhaps I only thought this to comfort myself.
She said this had been her community for three or four--(here her lips trembled to form words. I expected the word "years" to define how long she had lived in the nursing home)--hundred years and that she wouldn't be here much longer. She dipped a spoon into her Coke and sipped. "This"--the spoon shook as she set it before me--"is your community." I looked at it. What looked like mozzarella was crusted about the handle. I turned back to her, awaiting the complete metaphor. But she put the spoon in her handbag.
She pointed to a plant highlighted by the sun near the far window. "See that leaf?" I nodded. "It says: I am here, this is my home. We should leave things as we found them. Find out about those who were here before, how they lived. Know your neighbors--what they do for a living, what dishes they favor, what celestial kingdom they grew up in--even if it takes a few centuries."