Numb

The cello hums a warm melody through the laptop speakers.  I am no stranger to this sound.  My lungs move with the instrument’s faint swell-drop, characteristic of its hollow, wooden body.

The ocean undulates ferociously.  Waves crashing against the rock-hard barriers that keep water away from the shore.

Meanwhile, on land, all is dry.  The villagers have no embellished tales of fish, extravagant beasts washed to shore in the night’s storm.  They know the legends of mermaids and sharks as large as ocean liners, fictitious feathers of hope that something interesting might happen, if they pray hard enough.  They gaze at the black clouds above them: perhaps tonight is the night.

The floods come hard and fast, spilling jellyfish and bottles and unanchored ships onto the sand.  They bury themselves beneath the dust, sculpting homes of the wet, grainy clay.  The salty ocean swallows them before dawn.

***

            Bluish laser lights cannot penetrate the thick, graphite brick that rests somewhere inside my skull.  They can blind me all they want, but they will never disrupt the safe, neutral mass of minerals I have allowed to accumulate between my ears.

…or so I think.

The artificial sun is hot enough to form crevices where there was once a flat expanse of gray.  Heated rays spread lonely particles across the wasteland to where they, too, will transform this uniform object into something unsightly.

All the earth’s work, falling to waste.  This brick took years to form, fitting the mold just so.  At this rate it will never form a house; it will see the sad day where it is mechanically separated into slender cylinders and divided equally among the wood.

***

            The percussion of pots and pans affects me more than the steepest high note, the loudest shout to leave my lungs.  My vessel-lined alveoli shrivel into their pink mothers, asking why this chaotic noise has to happen to them.

Iron lungs are no longer iron, for iron rusts too fast.  They are bricks laid around a wooden frame, massive twelve-by-twelve squares too heavy to be mobile.  The patient must lie inside, wrapped in the safety of the oxygenated cocoon.

“What a sad way to live,” the villagers say. “What a lonely way to go.”

There comes a time when the patient must choose how or if he or she wishes to communicate, to know the humans outside without choking on their pollution.  To leave the lung would spell danger.

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Lunch at Noon

He tossed together:

Lettuce,

Mushrooms,

Cheddar,

And peas.

Salad.

 —

He stacked hungrily:

Buttery bread,

Fatty ham,

Butter,

And onions.

Sandwich.

He poured carefully:

Coffee,

White milk,

In a glass,

A fragile glass.

Latté.

 —

He stepped

On the stairs.

And

            He

                      Fell.

(Confuse your friends with the original version.)

Stress

She holds the scalding mug to her forehead, because her nerves are at it again.  With their spindly hands, they grasp onto the squishy tip of her eyeball and squeeze until its fluids congeal in an impenetrable wall at the bottom of her skull.  The only thing that can stop them is heat, and the blue pills that might do some miracle to relieve the tension.

She doesn’t know whether or not they work, but it’s worth a shot.

Eventually her nerves are calmed, and her straining cranial bones release their hold on the barrier that falls and smashes onto her back and crinkles into every tiny crevice of her spine.  The shattered bricks of jelly sever her muscles and rip at her tendons, taunting her for daring to lift the bags she knows are far too heavy for her strength.  She grits her teeth at the pain that ensues, feeling the burn of twisted brown paper digging into her thin fingers.

Her body is constantly digging at itself, and for what?

Vertebrae shovel their path to the knees, to the ankles, to the ground.  Her feet are aching with the pressure.  No treasure is to be found in this frozen soil, she explains; but her body does not – cannot – listen.  Biology has no ears to lend, only hands to form what it sees fit.  Maybe she will be crushed under its massive fingers, unsuitable for another generation.

How could she survive death, if this is how she crumbles on Earth?

The Classy Coat Club

It was a sunny day in September when mommy gripped my arm, whisking me away from the thronging crowd, and into the department store.  It was three stories high, I remember, with escalators and ramps twisting up its middle.  It was called Kelly’s, like Barbie’s sister.

Except, unlike Kelly, nothing was cute.  The dull-colored suits hung stiff, cardboard-like on their oddly-shaped hangers.  Massive plastic women with painted-on lips wore some of them, trying to make the customers think they were fashionable or mysterious because their hats covered their eyes.  Why would you want to wear something that makes you blind?  They couldn’t see how silly they looked, with their legs all spread apart and their elbows tensed.  Mommy grabbed my arm, again.

            Come this way, we’re going to the little girls’ section.

I couldn’t imagine it would be any better than this, and it wasn’t.  I stood still as mommy locked me in the dressing room, surrounded by glimmering mirrors and the shimmering fabric of maybe ten ruffly dresses.  Even before I tried them on, I knew I would hate all of them.  Mommy knocked on the door, reminding me I had to come out and twirl around for her once I chose an outfit.  She sounded impatient, so I chose a green dress.  I think impatient people have a permanent green light blinking in their heads: go! go! go!

Oh, does that not look pretty with your hair.  Twirl around for me.  Yes.  Um, we might have to get it altered around the cuffs, but yes.  We’re taking this one.

Happy that I had done the right thing, I went back into the room and put on my normal clothes, which had been picked out for me pretty much the same way the dress had been.  It was only a matter of time before mommy had my arm in her hand, and we would be on our way to the pop shop, I hoped.  I didn’t mind shopping as long as we stopped to get a root beer.  Maybe mommy would let me get a float.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.  It was green, like my dress, but it was a green I liked.  It had a whole bunch of flowers on it, and, oh, winter was coming.  It would match my new dress just perfectly.  I would be the prettiest girl at the Christmas party and, oh mommy, could we get that coat, too?  Please?

She said yes, because I had done such a great job of trying on a nice dress.

***

            I wore the coat out of the store.  Mommy didn’t mind, because it was “tailored just right” and made me look like a “little lady.”  She even said we could get a float.  As I sat at the stool kicking my feet, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was another girl, wearing a coat that was like mine, but red.  She was older than me, and had shiny black hair.

“Hey.  I see you are fond of classy coats.  Yours isn’t bad, and we’re looking for new members.”

I asked her who “we” were, because I wasn’t going to let myself be stolen and forced to work in a sweatshop.  She told me she was the leader of the Classy Coat Club, which sounded like a group of girls who walked around while wearing coats.  Of course, their meetings were only as long as the weather would allow.  Sometimes they would get pops, and other days they would go to the matinée at the movie theater.  The only rule was you had to wear your coat, and that your hair couldn’t look like a bear had attacked it.  Her name was Joan, and she lived just a few blocks from us.  I asked mommy if I could go visit her sometimes.

Yes, but please be home before dinner.

And that’s how we were formed, the Classy Coat Club.  I felt really grown up, probably how mommy felt when she became a part of The Parents’ Organization at my school.  I was ready to drink floats with them, and to go to the movies like some of the other girls on my block.  As I waved good-bye to Joan, I started calculating in my head all the quarters I would have to earn to pay for these endeavors.

In the September sun, I sweltered.  I didn’t care, though, because I was now a member of the Classy Coat Club.

 

La rhume

I always look forward to October 16th.  It’s almost always a beautiful day, the sun beaming weakly on the cool ground.  It is that time of year where the earth has released itself to winter, the atmosphere still clinging desperately to the warmer climate of early autumn.  Confusion erupts, a clash between what was and what will be.

It is in this confusion I make my appearance.  I am known to man by several names, depending on where you go.  In France, I am la rhume.  In Spain, el resfriado.  In Japan, 鼻風邪.  Either way, I am the same.  In all languages, I am hated.

My search is always ruthless.  Of course, I am only given twenty-four hours to leave my annual mark on mankind.  I search for weakness, and there I strike.  With a small twist of my hand, I wring the life from my victim’s pink lungs, filling them with the soggy gel of a half-frozen sewer.  I then take my hands to his expansive back and narrow shoulders, crushing his bones and rendering his muscles incapable.  He shouts for mercy as I rip open his straining trachea and steal for myself what voice he can muster.

When I finish, it is only his ears and his nose that are emanating his hot-blooded warmth.  I lean close to his face, inhaling the putrid smell of my damage, and I tell him: “three days.”  That is all the time he has to find his missing parts, until my work takes him over for good.

The first day, I know he will be entirely disabled.  Most humans are, anyway.  They hide themselves from their comrades, trying to keep them safe from me.  Little do these people know I have brothers, who have no need for assistance when it comes to making their attacks.  They come out in the summer, the winter, and the spring; they do nearly the same thing as me.  Our variations are often so subtle, they go undetected.

On day two, he will have cleaned the liquids from his lungs enough to stand.  Humans are about sixty-five percent water.  Any more, and they might drown.  He walks, my victim, gathering his shattered bones and limp muscle to reconstruct himself from the waist up.  His legs wobble.  He is a fawn in stag’s costume: his body, tall and powerful, is betrayed by the shadowed stare of his lifeless eyes.

By day three, he is able to wander about.  Perhaps not run, perhaps not climb, but he can wander.  His silence is disturbing.  For three days now, he has said not a word.  His voice is still missing; he cannot make contact with any who might serve as help.  His efforts are strained, he is losing hope.  Perhaps I will earn my victory?  From the pocket of his worn jeans, there is a buzzing.

Hello?

Damn, foiled once more.

 

Gone Batty

September 25th marks fifty years since Lance Lambert, a native of the Cowper, Indiana, began carrying with him a giant, wooden bat.  Tilting the wood over his shoulder, he carries his bat proudly with him from the market, to the barber, to church, and not to many other places.  In Indiana, there aren’t many other places you can go – what’s necessary is there, and everyone gets by without as much as the occasional specialty coffee.

Lance Lambert is an eccentric man, but his ways have become the norm in the Cowper.  He served as the leader of a new group, numbering to five-hundred at the last census, which carries with them a bat wherever they please.

“We’re protecting our rights,” they say, and they are.

September 25th also marks fifty years since the assault weapons ban, which prevents gun-owners from bringing any weapon larger than a pistol outside their homes.  The mandate was voted into effect in 2020, after a town official opened fire on the Islamic State Convention.  While we will not disclose his name, we can recall his words regarding the incident:

“They were everywhere, attacking me at all sides.  I had to protect myself from these criminals, may God bless them.”

The shooting, which left forty dead and ten injured, was one of many events that lead to the restriction of assault-grade firearms in a public setting.

“It’s a violation of my rights, as far as I’m concerned,” argues Leland Leland, owner of the Leland Retirement Community, “Guns serve no different purpose now than they did when the Declaration was signed, and they’re not much more powerful, either.  The only different thing is the types of criminals, which are ranging from blacks to Asians to terrorists.”

The diversity of Cowper has increased over the past decade, causing the overall Caucasian population to fall to a staggering 95%.  It comes as no surprise: the Cowper school district is one of the best in the state, having ranked top in both math and reading for the past fifteen years.  The growing racial gap of the region, however, has struck fear in the heart of another long-time citizen, Randall Gale.

“When I was about fifteen, in the year 2008,” he recalls, “our high school became segregated, and you can see all the problems it’s caused.  If you go over there, you will see they [terrorists] are training our kids to go over there and join them.  They’re even teaching them their code languages.  It’s no surprise I need to defend myself, when my own grandkids are being taught how to kill.”

The language, French, is one that is growing in popularity among global businesses and trade.  It is also the primary communication language of people from both Europe and Asia, when English is not their native tongue.  Other high-need languages taught in the Cowper Schools are Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese; all which are necessary for business of any nature.

While both the sale and carriage of weapons have undergone a supreme makeover, it is important to remind readers that they are not entirely illegal.  According to the Cowper County Police, there is little chance of firearms being restricted any further than the home.

“There are some people who would like to see them gone altogether, but there are amendments out there that won’t let that happen,” comments Cowper County Sheriff Daniel Baker, “We’re simply trying to keep the terror and the fighting at a minimum.  We don’t need any more dead innocents, no matter what race or religion they are.  The bats can put someone in the hospital; but the rifles – the rifles could kill on contact.”

What does Lance Lambert, now eighty, have to say?

“The day I stop carrying my bat is the day I die.  You would have to be blind to not see those n—lovers out there, watching my every step, even at Meijers.’  They might have taken my guns, but they haven’t taken my freedom.”

The People Underground

Under the thinnest layer of the earth, you find a house in which time stands still.  It is far enough away from society to run of its own accord, but close enough to the surface to be able to taste, selectively, a morsel of what goods the environment has to offer.

When we say time “stands still,” we want you to know the house is not frozen in time, at least, not in the traditional sense.  The inhabitants, three females and a male, all function and age like their companions above the rocky periphery.  They were born like us, having gushed out of a bloody womb and into the firm grasp of the man with scissors; and they will die as we will die, shriveled like prunes and drowning in the fluid that no longer accepts a breath as life.

Yet, they can’t predict it.  They have to feel it for themselves.  There is no way they can mark the moon, or the sun, if that’s what we want to measure, as it travels around the celestial rock in which they find themselves interred.  They stay awake until they get tired, then sleep until they feel awake.  What do they do, in between?

We have determined they walk, quietly, through the halls of their houses in single-file lines.  Up and down, back and forth, with backs as straight as the poles whose wild roots sprawl uncontrolled around the cemented dwelling.  They appear to communicate through their faces which, serene so as to demonstrate a disconnection to modern stressors, are marked little and familiar with nuance.  Small gestures, some of which may not be achieved by our mainstream kind, can be depicted as insults, humor, or affection.

We notice they appear to be concerned with a certain something, which is either unseen to us or that matters not in our civilization.  Alone, they must create their own stressors.

The group has also procured a television, whose wires are just long enough to pull from the sky a colored speck in a sea of black and white static.  They stand as they watch, guessing and guessing as to where the little shred of rainbow might appear.  The television is a game to them, and their faces are never angry when scanning the glass dome for some sign of saturation.  If one spots it; they jump, a single hop for joy.  There is no winner, just the victor of the moment.

By all scientific standards, these creatures are human beings.  It should come as no surprise that they eat, although their diet diverges from the quotidian fare we consume from our soil.  Having dominated the land, we know that the best nourishment has been pushed from the bowels of the soot below our feet.  We have mastered its cultivation, right down to keeping it safe from the cold.  Our timeless friends are fond of the opposite.

Death, it seems, is to them as important as to us is life.  They, with iron shovels, scavenge about the sous-terrain, collecting in their hands the calcified shards of crackled bone that have persisted long since the dissolution of flesh.  How do these beings consume them?  We are not entirely certain.  The act, done in private, recalls the suicides of the ancient Greeks.  We are forbidden from viewing the preparation of this nourishment and, for the present time, we believe it is for the best.