Short Story: The writing on the wall

I had fun tonight!

Dax jumped as the notification alerted him to the incoming message on his phone. He read it and smiled.

I had fun, too. We should do it again some time…?

Dax waited for a few minutes, but since she was obviously taking her time, he set the phone down and got back to his sketch, a highly stylized drawing of his date as she gazed at the art work featured at an area gallery, one he was hoping to have a show in soon. He took special care on her eyes, drawing and shading in every laugh line, every little imperfection bringing to life a woman of beauty and grace, but also a woman who lived and suffered. He obsessed over her with exquisite detail, wanting to show that she was one who had loved and had been broken, had lost a part of her but had not been defeated.

He marveled that she had even agreed to his invitation in the first place. He was not the type to attract older divorcees, most especially those of a certain status. He struggled just to put a roof over his head. His clothes, while not quite shabby, were definitely thread worn in places.  She, on the other hand, wore whatever happened to be fashionable. She appeared to be a woman with the world at her fingertips, yet her eyes betrayed her even from behind her electric smile.

Dax had seen her several times at the coffee he frequented in the early evenings, as he observed quietly from the corner, drawing whatever caught his fancy. She had become his subject a few times, drawn to her for some reason, her inner strength evident even from across a crowded room. She noticed him the first time she walked in, ignoring the odd man in the corner, but she too felt an attraction of a sort. Though she tried to ignore him, eventually she screwed up the courage to sit beside him and engage him. To her delight, she found him charming and intelligent.

They took to meeting once a week for coffee. Nothing romantic at first, just two lost souls in search of understanding. To their mutual amazement, they found an unlikely soulmate. In him, Sienna found a man willing to suffer hardships for the sake of being true to himself. She found a man free of petty jealousies that consumed so many of her relationships. With him, she found the freedom to be herself, as carefree and bawdy as she desired.

In her, Dax found a woman who need for nothing other than a friend for friendship’s sake. She was a woman who didn’t need a man to support her financially, but looked for companionship to support her emotionally. With her, he didn’t need to live up to some bullshit ideal of what a man was supposed to be. He could be Dax and Sienna could be Sienna.

Their arraignment worked until some unlooked-for moment, when while sipping the dregs from their cups, they looked up at the same time and looked into each other’s unguarded eyes. They pierced the enigmatic facade each presented to the world and discovered themselves in that moment as well. Dax hadn’t planned on doing it, he had no intention of ever dating again, but before he was aware, some unspoken need took control and he asked her for a date to the gallery.

“I would love to,” she replied, “as long as you allow me to take you to a favorite restaurant of mine.”

“I think I can live with that,” he laughed before becoming embarrassed. “I can’t believe I just asked you out, or that you agreed.”

“I can’t believe it either,” she smiled. “Let’s not put too much stock in it for now.”

He nodded but couldn’t help but feel as though some subtle change had occurred. They lingered for half an hour longer than usual, he engaged in a drawing, and she enjoying the magic in bringing a scene to life. Before they departed, their hands met, the first time they had touched in so intimate an expression. They withdrew reluctantly, but Dax knew he was a changed man.

The date night came, and they enjoyed paintings from local talent, some good and others not so much. They held hands as they walked to a pizza joint she had worked at when she was a college student. “I never eat the stuff anymore,” she confided. “Too fattening.”

“Then why eat it now?”

“Because,” she answered after taking a swig of her beer, “I’m tired of trying to maintain the figure of the girl I was twenty some-odd years ago. I’m over forty, and though I don’t want to get fat, I want to taste life again, even if it tastes like this gloriously shitty pizza!”

“It’s not that great,” he agreed.

“No, and I’m loving every single bite!”

The night drew to a close sooner than either had wanted. She drove him to his place, and it was on the tip of his tongue to invite her up. Instead she leaned in and gave him a kiss on his lips, the first kiss he had felt in years. “Don’t say a word,” she whispered as she drew him in and kissed him again. He melted in her arms, the taste of pizza and beer on her breath, but it didn’t matter. At that moment, nothing mattered, nor did he believe anything would matter again.

I’d love to do it again. How about a weekend in Vegas?

He stared at his phone, processing the invitation. Was it an invitation for him to make a move or was he reading too much into an innocent comment.

Whoa! Sounds risky…and a bit fun. When do we leave?

He waited only for a few seconds before she replied.

We can leave tonight. I’m already packed. I already have two tickets bought. I’m on my way.

Why the hurry?

I don’t know. I just want to be with you. Don’t you want me? At least a little?

Dax stared at his phone, lost for words. He had lived his life eschewing spontaneity. He gave up on love and women because they were a distraction. He lived a simple life, and though he enjoyed having her around, he wished for her to go away, for things to be they way they had always been. Sienna was a woman in search of adventure, and he wanted conformity and uniformity. He realized there was no place for her in his life.

He picked up his phone and started to write the dreaded reply.

I can’t wait. I’ll be ready in a few minutes. Just come on up. The door’s unlocked.

He freaked out when he saw what he had written. He threw the phone onto the bed and argued into the mirror. “I don’t want to go!”

His reflection smiled. “You wanted to grow as an artist, did you not?”

“I did, but not like this.”

“Too bad,” the reflection sneered. “You know the price. You have to live in order to make art, so live.”

“And is she necessary?”

“She is,” the reflection nodded. “I demand a sacrifice, and I choose her. Don’t disappoint me. You’ve kept me waiting long enough with your foolish chastity. No more. Give me her soul, and in return you’ll be spoken with the likes of Picasso, Monet, Cezanne!”

“Never!” Dax screeched, shattering the mirror with his fist.

***

When Sienna arrived, she found his body in front of the bathroom door. On the wall, in his blood, he had written.

“You won’t understand why, but I did this
because I fell in love with you. Remember me fondly.
I’m sorry.
Dax.”


Short Stories

Next story – Time
Previous story – Lonely Isle

Short Story: Recycled

Blake sometimes wondered why the company required them to work in such a sterile environment, considering what they did. Before entering, they were required to bathe, ensuring no contaminates would enter the facility. Then they put on a sterile one-piece jumpsuit which covered them from the neck down to their feet. White rubber boots were then fitted,  then a headpiece which left only the eyes exposed. The last thing put on were a pair of goggles. Gloves were put on at the work station.

At eight every morning, Blake, along with her work partner Jensen, walked to their station. They waited until five after before the system came to life. They worked from a control panel, in front of which stood a sealed chamber of reinforced concrete and two-inch shatterproof safety glass. There was no way in, and theoretically no way for anything to get out, which made the safety requirements all the more puzzling.

“Another day,” Jensen said flatly,

“…another group recycled,” Blake whispered. Pushing a button, a door on the ceiling opened up, and something fell in, a broken tangle of limbs of what used to be a woman. A pair of robotic arms pushed the corpse onto the conveyor where the body was moved into view, in front of the pair.

“Oh, the joys of harvesting,” Jensen said in a bored drawl. “Imagine, one day we’ll be on the other side of this glass.”

“And cracking jokes about it, no doubt.”

Jensen grunted as he used a joystick to control a robotic arm. Meticulously, they removed every stitch of clothing, which in the corpses cases was a thin hospital gown. The subject, a young woman in her early twenties, lay there as Jensen eyed her hungrily. “You know, I’d totally do her, you know, if she was still alive.”

“You’d do her dead, no doubt. That’s probably why they’re on that side of the wall and we’re on this side.”

“That’s a bit out there, even for me. Still, what would it be like to screw a stiff?”

“I think maybe you need a new job, looking at live specimens.”

“Live girls fight back,” Jensen joked. “But even if I wanted to, what else am I qualified to do? We’re stuck here, you know?”

“I know,” Blake moaned. The corpse moved along the conveyor belt until it rested in front of her. Another body, this time of an elderly man fell through the opening, and came to rest in front of Jensen. Blake studied the girl carefully, removing any metal from her, earrings, tooth filling, and the like. She studied an x-ray to see if any metal rods or screws had been implanted.

A few minutes later, with only a few rings and one gold filling placed in a sealed bag, she injected the body with a liquid desiccant, to aid in drying out the body. With a push of another button, the girl’s body was pushed off onto a cart. The process was repeated until the cart held ten bodies, and then carted off to the drying room, where the bodies fluids were collected, purified, and then introduced back into the water supply.

“You know,” Blake spoke up again after almost an hour of absolute silence, “that we used to bury the dead.”

“Why the hell would we do that?” Jensen replied. “Seems like a waste of resources to me.”

“I think it’s fascinating,” Blake countered. “We once respected the remains of our loved ones.”

“What’s the point?”

“The point? The bodies would rot away and rejoin with the Earth. I think it’s a romantic notion.”

“Romantic my ass. This way is more efficient, and has the added benefit of not polluting the environment. We collect everything there is to collect, water, minerals, and whatever chemicals. All pathogens are destroyed. All that’s left is pure, clean materials that we can use to build our future.”

“And the fact that we may be consuming our loved ones doesn’t bother you?

“You’re being such a woman, B. Too emotional and melodramatic. We’re nothing but a matrix of organic compounds blundering about the world, mucking along until such a time that we’re called to be culled. It’s no big deal.”

“No big deal?” Blake asked incredulously. “It’s a big deal! We’re more than the sum of our parts, and our ancestors understood that. Now? We’re just a resource in potentia. A resource only to be harvested upon our death. Reduces the meaning of life to nil.”

“There is no inherent meaning to life, B,” Jensen argued as he striped another corpse. “We live, we die, and then that’s that. There is no hereafter, no afterlife. Those who believe otherwise are blind fools.”

“Are they?” Blake responded. “I’m not so sure anymore. If this is all there is, existence is pretty bleak.”

“That I can’t argue with.”

“Finally, something we agree with.”

The day remained uneventful until almost two. A body fell through the opening and promptly stood up. ” Oh look,” Jensen said gleefully. “I forgot about him.”

“Another execution?” Blake moaned. “Why aren’t they killed before they get here?”

“Why waste the resource?” Jensen pushed a couple of buttons, and then with the joystick aimed and fired a projectile into the condemned. It injected him with the liquid desiccant and within moments he fell to the ground, dehydration rapidly disabling him. Jensen proceeded to strip him of his clothing before Blake took over, removing all metallic objects from his body. The condemned shook, trying to break free, but the desiccant left him unable to use his muscles.

“Such a shame to torture him this way.” Blake protested feebly.

Jensen grunted. “Then he shouldn’t have done whatever it was he was found guilty of doing.

At three, they began disinfecting the chamber, and by fifteen til four, they were back in the changing area, their jumpsuits stripped and placed in the chutes that led to an incinerator. By four-thirty, they both had showered and dressed in their own clothes and headed home. Tomorrow they would begin to disassemble the dried remains of today’s batch, feeding the massive grinder which would pulverize the remains into dust, before placing the dust into the kilns to be fired, dried, and sterilized before shipping to the next facility to process and refine into useable materials.

As Blake sat down and pulled out a biscuit to snack on, she shuddered and wondered if she was eating the remains of someone she had harvested. There was no way to know, but the thought creeped her out as she took a bite. If I’m eating someone, she thought, at least they’re delicious.


Short Stories

Next story – Lonely Isle
Previous story – Segovia’s Revenge

Camp Nano – 2 days until it begins

I didn’t mean to do it, but I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo. Great plan! I don’t have a computer yet, so let’s sign up to write something. Brilliant! Fantastic! What the hell am I thinking!!!!!

Okay, it’s not really that bad. My goal is a very modest 10K words, a short story that has been brewing in my mind for several months. I want to write it down and get it out of my head. Really, it’s a simple exercise to get my brain focused on writing again. I’ve let my dream fall to the wayside this year. Shame on me.

I need a writing goal to motivate me again, something before the main event in November. I haven’t mentioned it in a long time, but I would like to be back in the DFW area by the time November hits. That’s been my goal every year since I came back to my hometown almost 2 years ago. I’ve accomplished a life goal in earing my degree, and I’m about done on my most recent personal goal. I think it’s time to look towards the future and make plans to get on with my life.

Which is a scary thing, if you ask me. Things in my life aren’t great, but they are stable. I desire a stable life, but not like this. I want more out of my life, and the only way to earn it is to upset my stability for the hope of something better. It’ll be a calculated risk, but one we all have to do on occasion to grow and to progress in life.

My truck is almost done. It’s insured now, and I lack a few minor repairs before I take it to get inspected. I should start working on my resume and begin to actively look for jobs again. I had considered going back to school to get my teaching certificate, but the longer I thought about it, the more I became convinced teaching  would be a mistake, at least for me.

So I’m a man with a degree and not much else, trying to find his way through life. Looking at my successes and my failures, the business world is not a good fit for me, but I have to ask, what is? Is writing my future? I’m not convinced I really have a talent for writing.

Nevertheless, my short-term goal is to write a short story next month, and to polish my resume. By the end of the year, I want to have a real job, my own place where I can live, and write, in peace. I don’t know what will happen, but I think it’s time to get my life back on track.

I guess only time will tell…

Senator Oldman introduces legislation seeking to ban rope

Today Senator Gus Oldman (D – Calif) has filed a bill to make possession of any length of rope longer than six inches, without a license, a Class A Felony. This comes on the heels of the April 22, 2038 mass hanging in San Francisco. Sen. Oldman was quoted as saying “This piece of legislation will ensure homicides by hanging will come to an end.”

Readers will remember that in 2021 Congress repealed the 2nd amendment making possessing of firearms illegal. Murders spiked inexplicably when many murderer disregarded the change in Federal law and the general population was unable to defend themselves.

By 2027 most guns had been confiscated and destroyed, criminals turned to knives and in 2028 knives were outlawed, leading to the pre-cut vegetable and meat industry. The Food Cutting Union has stated this was a boon to the industry. Food prices did spike uncontrollably, and have yet to stabilize.

In addition, all sharp and pointed implements have been outlawed. Amateur carpentry is still reeling as they are unable to practice their trade. Home Improvement centers have been shuttered as there is no point to them since people are now unable to possess most tools. Blunt instruments are currently being studied to see if it will be feasible to ban. On an unrelated tangent, unemployment rose to 34% after the latest rounds of bans.

This of course has led to the secession of the South, except for Florida, most of the mid-west and central time zone, except for Chicago, and West Virginia.

The U.S. is currently engaged in peace treaty talks with Canada. Our northern neighbors invaded after the U.S. outlawed matches as they posed a serious fire threat. President Walton, of the Federal Union of States has said that with the current state of affairs in the U.S., Haiti could invade and Washington would have no choice but to surrender because they have outlawed all weapons. North Korea has called the debacle the best thing to happen since The U.S. banned the Republican Party.

As always, we will keep you informed as to the next round of banned products.

FUS News Wire Copyright 2038.

Inquisitor

I murdered a man. I knelt over him, my hands around his neck, and watched him struggle as my stranglehold slowly wrenched his miserable life out of his decrepit body. I watched his eyes as acceptance replaced horror from knowing that he was most likely going to die, and then a small glimmer of gratitude as he slipped away, escaping the never-ending nightmare that his life had become.

I looked into his eyes as they dimmed, and I felt his pulse fade and then nothing. He was gone. I killed a man with my bare hands, and never before had I ever felt as powerful, and as sick to my stomach. I leaned over and began to retch, but near starvation meant an empty belly. All I could do was dry heave, and the pain left me wishing I could die as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve killed before. Tens, hundreds, perhaps more, unique precious souls, mothers and fathers, someone’s child, all dead by my hand, or rather that of an impersonal bullet. Sometimes it came from my hand, but most of the time I only gave the order, and then death followed. I became the reaper, and although I’ve made peace with it, it haunts my nights, inflicting terrible guilt on my psyche. I’m a murderer, by sworn duty as an officer in the army.

But he was different. He was personal. I didn’t kill him from several yards away, I felt his life leave him as I robbed him of breath and of blood to his brain. I don’t know where he came from, but he found us, and I couldn’t let him give us away. Our very mission depended on it. He had to be dealt with. I wanted to take him prisoner. He resisted, and the noise became a liability. Guns would have given the enemy our position. So I killed him myself.

I look to my men, sweat and blood covering my face. Exhausted, I give a couple of privates an order to dispose of him quickly and quietly. We have a mission. We need to take the small community, hopefully with minimal casualties. Unfortunately for him, he became the first. In the wrong place at the wrong time.

I stand up, wanting to move back, to hide until nightfall, and then everything goes dark….

****

I wake up, and I don’t know where I am. I should be in the jungles of Vietnam, but I’m not. It takes several minutes for my eyes to adjust to the glaring whiteness of the room I’m in. Curiously, all my aches are gone. I reach up, and I do not feel any cuts or wounds on my face. I’m completely healed. How long was I out? Where am I?

I ponder my predicament, hoping against hope that I wasn’t captured – but if I were wouldn’t I be in a cell? – when I hear the door open. A portly, avuncular gentleman walks in, wearing a white jacket. He sits down, and I gaze into his bespectacled eyes, and he looks at me, a look of weary concern mixed with cautious curiosity in his dark gaze. He produces a file and begins to review it quickly, before smiling at me. I think it’s meant to set me at ease, but instead it terrifies me, the inquisitor and I feel as though I’m about to be put on the rack.

He clears his throat, and in a voice, quiet, effeminate, but still authoritative, he begins his assault. “Who are you today?”

I open my mouth, but immediately shut it. It occurs to me that I do not know who the hell he is. He isn’t Japanese. That much is obvious. He appears to be American, his accent betrays his New England upbringing. I decide that my name wouldn’t give too much away. “My name is Major David K. Holland.”

I notice that he nods is head in ill-disguised excitement and begins to scribble furiously on his note pad. “Okay, Major Holland, what branch of the military are you with, and to what unit are you assigned?”

Again I shut my mouth as soon as I open it. I reach up to my neck, and I discover my dog-tags are gone. Did they take them? I’m on the verge of refusing when I feel compelled to open up, as if the shrink is familiar some how. I choose to trust him and respond, “Marines, first battalion.”

He jots a few more notes on his notepad before he looks up at me, sizing me up before leaning back and resuming his interview. “I’m curious, Major Holland, what year is it?”

“1957,” I answer, annoyed at the idiotic question he asked. “Where am I and who the hell are you?” I demand. “I’m not answering any more questions.”

“I’m Dr. Townsend, your psychologist. You are in Shady Acres Hospital, and right now you are my patient.”

“And if I refuse to go along with this?”

“We can do this any way you want, but it would be to our mutual benefit if you would be oblige to this treatment.”

“Treatment? What are you talking about? Did something happen?”

“In a manner of speaking,” the doctor answers me enigmatically. “Why don’t you tell me what you last remember.”

I hesitate, not wanting to break my cover, but in spite of myself, I begin to tell him what I remember, haltingly at first, but gradually it starts to come. He asks me to be as precise as I can, and I tell him everything. I tell him about the young Korean guy I killed, the smell of fear, sweat, and the stench as his bladder and bowels empty themselves.

I begin to cry hysterically, not wanting to continue, but he becomes relentless, sadistic in his role as inquisitor. His humorless eyes rarely look at me as he jots down what amounts to a confession. Suddenly, without warning he stands. “I think that’ll do for now. Why don’t you rest and we’ll continue this at a later time.”

“No!” I jump up, suddenly furious. It suddenly occurs to me that I may be a prisoner after all, and I may have committed a horrible betrayal, a treasonous act. “Let me out or so help me,” I puff up, ready to fight my way out or die trying.

“Tell me Major, what conflict are you fighting at the moment.” He stumps me. I don’t remember. Seeing that I’m flustered he doesn’t wait for an answer before asking me another stupid question. “Are women allowed on the battlefield?”

“Hell no!” I answer him indignant that he could ask such a ludicrous question. “Women have no place on the battlefield.”

“Then, if you are Major David K. Holland, how do you explain yourself?”

He looks down at my body, and confused I look down and see that I have breasts. Large breasts. How did I not see them? How did I get them? “What the fuck old man?” I scream in a panic. “What did you do to me?”

“I? Nothing. Sit and try to calm down. When you are ready I want you to take a moment and discover what you are, physically. I will be back later to explain, that is if you are calm. I will return.”

Dr. Townsend walks out, leaving me confused. Why do I have breasts? I walk into the small bathroom, and sure enough I see a young girl looking back at me. I must have had blonde hair at some point, but great chunks seem to have been pulled out. The rest of my hair seems to have been sheared off at some point.

I look at my body, and in addition to my breasts, I’m missing my penis. What the hell happened? What unholy experiment did those sons of bitches do to me? I’m staring into the mirror, staring into the face of a stranger when a nurse walks in, with a couple of orderlies and she hands me a couple of pills. “What’s this?” I ask.

“Only a couple of pills to relax you,” she replies.

I throw the pills across the room and try to make a break to the door before I’m subdued by the larger men. My female body is no match against them, but I struggle in vain, trying to elude my captors when I feel a prick on my ass, and a warm pain spreading. Seconds later, or maybe longer, I feel as though I’m floating away. It’s not unpleasant. If this is death, it’s not so bad after all….

****

I open my eyes, and I see a man looking down on me, a look of concern evident in every line on his face. “How are you?” He asks me curiously.

Suspicious, I blink my eyes, trying to get my eyes to adjust. “My name is Dame Margaret Horn. Where am I?”

The odd gentleman closes his eyes, frustration boiling over as he curses. “Goddammit, not again!”

“I do not know who you are, but I will not be insulted by your vulgarities. My word!”

“My apologies,” the man says, trying to compose himself once more. “My name is Dr. Townsend. Can you tell me a little about who you are today?”