Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Memory's Echo

I hadn't planned on another short story this month, but I couldn't sleep and a short story leapt out of me. It's shorter than I wanted it to be, but that's what you get when I'm doing this suddenly at two in the morning with no warning or planning.

One of the fondest memories I had of my grandfather before he passed away were the times we’d spend out in the front yard. I was about six or seven and he would sit in a foldout chair under the shade of the old, wooden garage door and watch me ride my bike up and down the sidewalk. I’d blaze by as fast as I could and he’d slap his hand to his forehead and make some kind of exclamation, usually, “Wow!”

We lived with my grandparents then and this was the closest thing I felt I’d had to bonding time with him. Sure, we’d watch cartoons and he’d watch us play and things like that, but for some reason, our time in the front yard with him watching me bike back and forth seemed incredibly special.

Soon, he would watch me from his same spot, only from the comfort of his wheelchair. I can still remember every detail of that chair. It was green with a rusted chrome body and gray rubber handles and the left wheel was mysteriously missing a notch in it’s rubber. I remember being upset when my grandmother gave it away to an ailing neighbor years later, but I couldn’t say a word about it.

My little brother was sitting in my grandfather’s lap when he had the heart attack that eventually killed him. They were playing a game where my grandfather would pretend to pass out and the only thing that would revive him was a kiss. He passed out onto the floor, the paramedics were called and while they worked on reviving him, my little brother shoved his way into the commotion and tried kissing him.

It didn’t work and he died in the hospital not too many days after that incident.

It was devastating, to be sure. I always felt that it might have been even more devastating to my little brother, though on a subconscious level, since I wonder if he actually remembers that as vividly as I do. But I would always cherish the memories that I did have of my grandfather, and few would be more precious than him watching me ride my bike.

I lost my grandfather so young that it was hard, later in life, to hear the bad stories about him. For my part, he was wonderful and that’s all I needed to know.

But I was stung today. I was caught completely off-guard and it was sad and sweet all at the same time.

I walked out my front door today and saw his wife, my grandmother, sitting in the shade in a fold-out chair, watching my six-year-old daughter ride her bike up and down the sidewalk, blazing by as fast as she could while she made exclamations about her speed.

“Granny,” she called out, racing by, “Look at me!”

“Wow!” my grandmother called back.

I had intended to go, but I sat down on the porch behind my grandmother and took in the scene, trying my hardest to repress the tears I felt coming on. A thousand things raced across my mind, but I simply had to enjoy this one sweet moment, an echo of one sweet memory.

She’s in her eighties and may not be with us much longer, but I feel comforted knowing that my children will have the same fond memories of her that I did of her husband.

Only I hope they have a lot more time with her than I did with him.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Cruel Kids

I imagine it’s never an easy thing to hear that someone you knew a long time ago killed and raped a little girl. You think back and you wonder if there was anything you could have done to change what had happened. The most frightening thing about Jack Thompson is that I really feel like we could have.

We grew up in the same neighborhood, fifteen years ago. He was younger than the group I would hang out with, but his older brother was part of that group and he was always hanging around.

Back then, he wasn’t wanted at all, we never wanted him around at all. He would ride around the neighborhood, following us and whatever we were doing on a girls bike in bare feet that were constantly as dirty as his face. He was a weird kid and didn’t have many friends and naturally he would gravitate toward the crowd his older brother congregated with.

But we were all brand new teenagers, kids really, and kids can be cruel.

This story appears as part of the collection "The Cruel Kids: Four Short Stories".  You can get it for the Kindle or the Nook.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

GUEST STORY: The Beast

Here's another one from my little brother, Jason Young.

The city sleeps when terror casually strolls out of the misty hills. She’s not bad by nature, but few would argue the fact that she is a beast. Left over since long before the ice age, from a time when the Earth was a much harsher place, a distant epoch when evolution was still playing cruel jokes. She is the last of a dying breed, natural selection's failed champion. She leaves the place of her birth, the only place she has ever known, in search of a mate, in search of a future.

She doesn’t look back as she leaves the protection of the misty hills. She crosses over the borders of a small town at the base of the silent knoll, never looking back. As she passes by the houses on the outskirts of town it’s hard to keep from mentioning the fact that she’s as big as a house herself, with jaws that could easily snap bone,and paws as big as an adult human being. It’s a particularly quiet night, and at this late hour it is even quieter. The streetlights and mailboxes overload her tiny brain with puzzlement. She is filled with fear, just like any stranger walking in a strange land, she is afraid.

The night is old, and a blood moon looms over the dark city. The bloody light drips into the streets, an omen of things to come. Not knowing what to expect, she hesitantly wonders deeper into a residential area on the boarder of town. As she passes the house of a particular yappy dog, it lets off a barrage of yips, and yaps. The dogs tiny barks feed her fear and she recoils onto a nearby Porsche. The former vehicle let’s off a siren car alarm, the dog keeps barking. The noise is amplified in her head from many years living by comparison in complete silence. She runs away, deeper into the city.

A man is startled awake in the middle of the night from the sounds coming from outside. Not thinking too much about the sounds, he remembers that he has forgotten to take his garbage to the curb for the garbage truck to pick up. Like a zombie running on autopilot he puts on his slippers and robe then walks outside. He picks up the garbage pail and lugs it to the curb. Unaware that he is outside, he zones to sleep while standing up, never to wake again.

A stampeding beast taken in the clutches of fear running without looking at what lies in front of her. She tramples a man sleeping on the curb without even realizing it. A life snuffed out of the confines of reality. She doesn’t stop until her crimson fur is soaking with sweat. The start of a new cycle takes place when she stops in the territory of another particularly yappy dog. This time more composed, she sits and listens to the yips and the yaps. She misinterprets the dog’s weak barks as some sort of a game, so she calls back. Shattering windows in the near proximity with the force of her blast, she turns the yappy dog, into a yelping dog, a whimpering dog. The defeated dog yelps away.

She is proud of her victory, and she stands proud with her breast puffed out. The victor let’s out another cry somehow louder than it’s predecessor. Half the city lies awake in their beds, checking the locks on their doors before returning to sleep. Those closest to the sound wave get out of their comfy beds to investigate. A small boy is the first outside to witness the monstrosity. Horror freezes the paltry boy in place and empties his bladder. The frail boy gazes upon the beast and wishes his favorite comic book hero would come and rescue him. The helpless boy cry’s the name of the comic book hero, but he doesn’t come. He is a defenseless statue made of flesh and blood. The pint-sized boy is given an unconscious choice: fight or flight. Flight a metaphor for the boy’s mind.

Others are given a similar choice, but take flight in a much more literal capacity. A young married couple run down the street in their pajamas screaming. Thinking this is a game, the beast misconstrues yet another message. She wags her tail, her tongue dangling out of her beastly mouth playfully. She is upon them in a single bound. Accidentally crushing the newly wed woman with her massive claw. She squelches not one, but two life’s. They just got the news yesterday. They were going to have their first son. They had already decided on a name. Thomas. The newly made widower suffers a fate worse than death, when he is taken up into the creature’s monstrous muzzle. Rending his thin flesh with her sword like fangs, he is hurled twenty feet on to a neighbor’s lawn. His wounds will heal in time, but his scars will last a lifetime. Painkillers numb his pain, but nothing will bore the memories of the beast from his head. He will relive the same moment a million times over in slow motion.

A local gun nut hurries back into his home. Next to his bed inside a night table, he finds a loaded revolver, “Old Trusty”. Having seen the demon outside his home, causing what could only be described as utter carnage, he takes what seems like his last option. The chamber clicks around one-sixth of a rotation and then falls to the ground. Old trusty has never faltered. Another life taken into the hands of God, another journey to the darkness.

Others make a more courageous attempt to save themselves from the creatures destruction by phoning the police. The emergency lines light up like a Christmas tree. An emergency dispatcher is given a report about a beast with fiery red hair, and fangs like swords. She hangs up on the caller sarcastically. It isn’t until the fourth call that she takes it seriously enough to dispatch every available unit.

Dawn is drawn over the city when the police finally arrive. Their first and only response is to shoot every bullet in their arsenal. It doesn’t do a bit of good; the beast’s fur might as well be a coat of platinum armor. The little pricks just seem to be making her angry. A renegade cop overwhelmed by the stress of juggling a badge and a cheating wife, against all reason turns himself into a kamikaze. Driving his police cruiser straight into the beast’s leg. A glancing blow at full speed manages to injure the creature enough to make it realize it is under attack. The flesh wound whispers blood, soaking into her ruby fur. Not comprehending what’s going on in the least, she does the only thing she can think to do. With a single bound over a house the police don’t have a chance to keep up with her.

She has a slight limp in her injured leg, but it doesn’t stop her from running at full stride down the vacant streets. She is now afraid and angry. Her enemy, the humans, and what a dangerous enemy she is, her claws like a morning star, her fang the soul of a samurai. A news helicopter flies overhead. In the heat of her rage, she clubs it, hurling it to the ground spinning, the anointment of a brand new cemetery. As she nears the center of the city her heart wonders, looking for the protection and solitude of her misty hills. Willing to kill to get away from the harsh streets that have only yielded her torment and confusion.

A little boy named Timmy rides his bike to school. He is going early today because he has some make up work for science class. When he grows up he wants to be an astronaut. Had he turned on the television before leaving home this morning he wouldn’t have missed the emergency broadcast telling everyone to remain indoors. If he wasn’t riding on such a bumpy road he might feel the Earth tremble behind him. Had he not been listening to music on his walkman he might hear the sirens of police cruisers pursuing a rampaging abomination, he might have heard the screams.

The carnivore is bombarded with ballistics every time she so much as stops to breath. The assaults have turned her into an unstoppable maniac. She passes a little boy on his bike, a little boy that wouldn’t hurt a fly. In her eyes even he is a threat. She locks the boy in her jaw and crunches. Several disconnected appendages race to the scarlet street, the heavy inanimate skull is the champion of the contest. It bounces on the concrete before remaining still. Twelve years of memories are erased as if consumed by a black hole; the rest of the boy is swallowed. A meal on the go.

Six hours have passed since she entered the small town, six hours of horror. Blood bubbles, frothing from her maroon muzzle, mounds of human flesh fall from her claw as she runs. This isn’t what she was, this is what she has become.

The police force has been cut in half; tranquilizers have proven as useless as shooting out bottle rockets. Every attempt to slow the beast down has brought nothing but the creature’s wrath. Yet the men and woman of the law keep fighting, barely holding on, thinking they are protecting the ones they care for most. Holding on, waiting on an order from the president of the United States of America, the order to deploy his army.

At 10:13 A.M. the order is given, the creature’s fate is sealed. The army, whom has patiently been waiting on the sidelines, suddenly springs into concise action. Tanks roll through the city streets. The tank tread cracks the ancient concrete as it makes it’s way relentlessly over whatever lies in its path. Although small hand held fire arms have proven useless, the massive cannons mounted on the tanks will not yield the creature the same mercy. All it will take now is to get a clear shot in.

Meanwhile, while the army corrals the monster into place, other forces have been at work. Forces that are the beasts only hope for survival, a top military scientist going by the name of Martin Barnhouse. He has been working non-stop since the first news report about the monster was aired. His cause is to save the creature so he can run strange tests on it. His pleading with the president has gummed up the works thus far, but preservation of human life has won out, the order was given, and the creature’s destruction is all but immanent.

Barnhouse, being one of the top minds in the country, saw his plan falling through well in advance and is now in a frantic race against time to reach the town, and the creature before it’s to late.

The army gets the beast tangled deep into its trap. Twenty tank barrels are pointed down the tired creatures throat. The creature somehow has an understanding of the predicament she is in as clear as daylight. She Growls. The sunbeams shine over the cannons. A tank pilot sweats onto the expensive equipment in front of him. The concrete is hot enough to fry a chicken. A four star general raises his arm preparing to order the fire. In the nick of time Barnhouse flies out of his jeep, and past the firing line. Between the cannons and the tired beast. Barnhouse announces his mission of mercy.

He gives an inspiring speech that touches the hearts of the men behind the cannons. This is what he said, “Stop, for the love of god stop! This is not your enemy, this is a miracle of nature. We can’t simply recreate it once it’s gone, this is likely the last of it’s kind, more afraid of you, than you are of it. To kill this creature would be a crime against humanity the size of a million years. This creature’s life is bigger than your lives; it is bigger than me. We can’t simply squelch this species out of existence, we must preserve it, we must study it, and learn from it. To this point the creature was defending itself, let’s put away the weapons, stop the destruction, and we’ll usher in the next era of...Yearrrggggg!”

Using the temporary pause to her advantage, the beast leaps over the old man, and goes for his jugular instinctively. When clashing with such small creatures as human beings, there is very little precision. Barnhouse is ripped in half. His life flies from him. Unfortunately for the men in the tanks he is left with the opportunity to scream. His cry will echo through their unconscious for the rest of their lives, no matter how much they drink to get it out. She smacks the top half of Barnhouse between her jaws tearing him into small enough pieces to swallow. She has a hole in her stomach before she is able to get him down.

A solider by the name of Russell Sinclair makes a rash decision. Russell Sinclair joined the army for the sole purpose of taking the life of an Earthling, and “Blowing shit up.” He stews in his tank, waiting for the creature to mess up. He sweats through his uniform. He gives locomotion to his trigger finger. Every time he sees a gun fired he will be reminded of this moment. His life is changed in an instant. The shell affects his life as much as the targets. He goes home a different man. He is rewarded a hero but throws the medal away, feeling only like a killer. His wife and child don’t recognize him. They will leave him shortly after he comes home. He wakes in the middle of every night screaming and alone.

The beast’s frame is pierced. Pure adrenaline shoves her into a savage lunge towards the misty hills of her birth. She is stopped short surrounded by tanks. Three more cannons burst. The shells tear through her with a splatter, as if she were made of lemon meringue pie. The rest of her life is a series of frozen instances. Deaths dark cloud enshrouds her, everything slowly fades to black. She faces towards the misty hills, and she is there, running through the trees with her mother on a starry night. Hunting with her father again, before he went away. She is born again. She is lying next to her mother looking up at the same moon a thousand years ago. The night lasts forever. The pair look into the stars, into their own futures, it stretches into oblivion. The last of the big red dogs.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Girl at the Party

I worked so hard to avoid your gaze,
afraid that if our eyes met
that there would be something there.
A glance, a look, a spark.
I was pulled aside to have a word,
trying my hardest to look at my shoes
but when you finished your question
and I looked up to answer…
It happened.
That glance, that look, that spark.
Your eyes the deep color of chestnut,
a bright and beautiful amber
that glimmered in the light.
I could see into them as we shared
that tender, unspoken moment.
My heart skipped a beat and
my breath was took.
Our eyes had locked
and my worst, best fears were realized.
I brought my eyes down to see
your delicate lips raised in a smile
that matched the smitten flutter in my heart
and the simple grin on my face.
I realized that we were inches apart,
our eyes locked once more,
and then we remembered ourselves.
Sometimes, I’d prefer to forget.