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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Survivors

     My Mom once told me that when she was a child, kids complained about having to take math. They said it wasn't useful enough to warrant all-night studying or hours of impossibly complex equations. That was then. Now, if your deathday is far enough away, say you're going to die in your thirties, you will be funneled into the cooperate math machine. Algebra in first grade, Geometry in second, then Algebra 2, Trig, Pre-Calc and Calculus in the subsequent years before high-school. Before you know it, you're taking Theoretical Mathematics and being prepared for the ultimate goal, Prognostication. Not everyone makes it, of course. We only need enough Prognostical Mathematicians to predict, with 100% accuracy, the moment when every man, woman, or child will die.
     I didn't take any math classes. On the day I was born, my parents cried. Not for joy, because they had birthed a beautiful baby boy into this harsh world, but because Prog Jones, still new to the gig of ruining people's lives, couldn't bring himself to look them in the eye. Instead, he wrote down the day of my death on the official documents, handed them to the nurse, and left without a word. Mom says Dad ran after him as he sped away in his expensive sports car, ran until a semi flung his body across two lanes of traffic. No one knew his deathday and my birthday would coincide; Mathematical Prognostication began some years after my Dad's birth. He was lucky.
     “Alright honey,” Mom says. She grips my hand, tighter than is comfortable, but who cares? I'll be dead in a few minutes. “Is there anything you want me to do?” Two ever-moist tracks trace the path her tears have taken all day today. Since I was born, she's known I'll die before my eighteenth birthday, but knowing in advance doesn't make it any easier for her. Me neither, for that matter.
     “I think I want to be alone,” I answer after checking my phone for the time. She nods her head, understanding perhaps that her seventeen year-old son is stronger than her. I will die alone, and she will not have to witness it. That is my gift to her. Before she leaves the room though, I give her my best smile. “Great deathday party, Mom. You're the best.”
     Another flood of tears begins its inexorable journey over her high cheekbones, around the wrinkles on either side of her mouth, and onto her t-shirt, one she had made. My goofy face smiles out at anyone who bothers to look. “Keep Kibbles with you.” Mom picks up the heavy cat, sets him on the bed beside me, and closes the door behind her.
     I lie down beside Kibbles, right arm outstretched so I can see my death time clearly on the inner side of my bicep, tattooed in miniscule type, but clear enough for me to be sure down to the second. With my left hand, I hold my phone and scroll through the pictures, birthdays and graduations, sleepovers and hikes in the woods. The pictures are plentiful, mostly of me and Mom; it's hard to make friends when everyone knows you won't live very long. As the clock on my phone announces my last thirty seconds of life, I pause the slide show on a picture of my parents. Dad hugs Mom from behind, his hands on her pregnant belly. Sorry for letting you down, guys. Tears of my own wet my arm, and as the clock runs out, I take in one last big gulp, let it out in a heavy sigh, and die.
     Harsh sandpaper scratches my face, quick strokes in rapid succession across my forehead. Is this death? Heaven or hell? Kibbles continues to lick me, finishes before I dare to hope that somehow, whatever Pr. Jones predicted, I am still alive. I crush Kibbles' fluffy form to my body despite his protests. Even when his claws find my arm, I take joy in the pain. I'm alive! Prog Jones was wrong!
     The door to my room opens on silent hinges as I enter the hallway that leads to the living room. I run my hands over framed pictures of the life I thought was over, and when I reach the open space where many of them occurred, I see Mom, sobbing louder than the sound of my footsteps. The blinds are drawn, the lamps off. I fumble for a light switch.
     “Mom—” Anything I would have said is cut off in the blood-chilling scream of a woman who has seen a ghost. My mother, never very quick or athletic, zips across the room, to brandish a heavy iron poker from the fireplace.
     “Get thee behind me, Satan!” She shouts and waves the poker about to emphasize her point.
     I can't help but laugh. Try as I might, I really cannot stop it. Mom puts the poker down and walks toward me.
     “Is this real?” She asks. I only shrug my shoulders. Who am I to say? I'm supposed to be dead. The next hour passes slow and sweet with many hugs and tears, with dancing around the room like maniacs. Finally Mom picks up her phone. “We've got to call someone.”
     “Who?”
     “I don't know. Pr. Jones, another Prognostician, the local news? Somebody. Everybody. You're alive! You decide.”
     I'd rather not speak to any Prognostician. They're likely to focus on setting another death date, and that's something I'd like to avoid.      “The news.”
     “Right.” She finds the number and dials it, giving me a thumbs up as we wait for an answer. “Hello? Yes, I'd like to report, well, how do I put it? My son was supposed to die today, just—” She checks her watch, “just an hour ago. But he's not dead! He's alive, sitting right here.” She squeezes my arm and gives me the goofy grin I inherited from her. “Yes, of course. We'll be right here waiting.”
     She hangs up, takes me by the shoulders, and shakes me back and forth. “They're coming to check it out right now! Help me clean the house. It's a mess.”
     Chuckling to myself as I sweep the floor—this is not what I would have thought life after death would be—I settle into cleaning until the sound of a vehicle stops our work. Mom and I wait at the door, and on the first knock, open it.
     “Welcome...”
     The men standing before us are not newsmen. No way. Black suits, black shades, black guns in black holsters. “Mr. Sloan, Ms. Sloan. We're going to need you to come with us.”
     They've come to kill me. I don't know how I'm so sure, but I am. If I don't run, I'm dead. For real this time. “Go, Mom, go!”
     Who am I kidding? I make it to the kitchen before a dark form rears up before me. I didn't study math in school, but that doesn't mean I'm some musclebound jock either. I can't compete. The man wrestles me to the linoleum, my cheek bruising against the cool floor.
     “What's going on?” I scream. “What did we do?”
     They don't answer. Well, if they're not going to be helpful, neither will I. I go limp, forcing another of the well-dressed men to help the first carry me through the living room, out the door, and into a black car with tinted windows.
     I try to shout again, but one of the men cuffs my hands behind me and stuffs a piece of cloth in my mouth. What is this? How am I being kidnapped in broad daylight? Mom, already cuffed and gagged beside me, looks around wildly, and moves closer to me until we're touching.
     “Mump wumph hmme woway.” She says. No, it's not going to be okay.
     One of the men starts the car and we're rolling. My heart rails against my chest, beating faster than it ever has. We leave behind our quiet neighborhood with its cookie cutter homes and clean streets. Our car enters the country, only populated with occasional homes. Children play tag in their yards or jump on trampolines, unaware of our passage. What do their tattoos say? Another forty five minutes, and the houses grow sparse. Now fields of tobacco and green beans surround us. The men that took us may not tell us anything, but I don't think they have to. I was supposed to die today, and today I will die.
     The sun sets on our left, a brilliant display of red and yellow, perhaps the last I'll see. We'll see. I try to apologize to Mom, but my gag turns my words to mush. I hope she knows—
     Squealing tires are all the warning I get before my world slows to a crawl. The high-pitched scream of twisted metal accompanies weightlessness, like a cartwheel underwater, and finally, a punch to the chest, expelling my breath and any ability to take another.
     Our driver, one arm trapped in a metal claw created by his smashed door, reaches into his jacket, pulls out his gun, and points it at my head. His face disappears in a red and white kaleidoscope as a bullet tears through it.
     Before I can give in to the urge to vomit, my door opens. A different set of men pull me out and remove my gag. Despite my joy at this rescue(?), I make a note of their failure to uncuff me.
     “What's going on?” I ask as they lead Mom and I to a large truck complete with snow plow attached to its front like a rhino beetle's horn.
     The man who saved us doesn't speak, but his answer is enough. He pulls back his sleeve, and in the light of the full moon, I read his tattoo.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Paradise - I



This story is a sequel to "Limbo," also found on this blog.
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I always wondered how people in the far north could stand months without night. Now I know it’s just something you get used to, something you can’t change. I’ve found the same to be true about the Invasion, if that’s what it is. It’s been a month since I woke to this new world, it’s ruby red skies and bruised purple nights, it’s never-ending heat. I woke to the Crawlers, bulbous pink creatures with no eyes, a hundred tentacle legs, and six tubes along their back that house the worst part of it all.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Drawing of Velvet

Another great commission by my friend Juanita based on a character from the first novel I wrote. She is very talented and her prices are great! Check out her work at http://banachana.deviantart.com/