Friday, April 11, 2014

2014-04-10

Having stumbled down the hallway to class, it took the last of Stephen’s energy to drag himself to his seat. He flopped into his chair with a sigh. He was almost asleep instantly when he felt a hand shoving him.
“Yo. Dude,” came Rusty’s familiar voice. “You still recovering from last nights game? Those were some wicked hits you took.”
Stephen could only grunt in reply, face still smooshed against the desk.
“I wasn’t sure if you were gonna get up from that last hit,” Rusty said, “But I guess that the price you pay for being star quarterback, huh?”
“Fuughh  . . .  eeww,” Stephen tried to reply.
“Easy now, tiger.” Rusty said with a laugh. “You know us running backs get banged up pretty bad as well.”
He was cut off as the last bell rang.
On cue the teacher, Mr. Shauk, came into the class.
“Sit down,” said Shauk, “I’ve got a treat for you kids today.”
A collective groan was the class’ mutual response.
“We’ll be watching a film on the history of inter-planetary disease transmission,” said Shauk, “Then tonight you will write a short thousand-word essay summarizing the main points of the feature.”
Another collective moan was the only response.
Shauk started the movie and hit the lights. Even in the darkness he could see heads going down.
“The essay will be worth ten percent of your final grades for the quarter,” said Shauk.
About half the heads came back up.
But Stephen wasn’t one of them.
Rusty tried shaking him again, but to no avail.
The last thing he recalled was the narrator’s droll voice announcing the film’s title.

“Hey! Wake up!”
Stephen blinked as he sat up.
Rusty had been shaking him again, only this time the room was oddly lit.
“What’s going on?” Stephen asked rubbing his eyes.
As he looked around again he realized that the film was no longer going, but it was still mostly dark except for the emergency back-up lights.
“Right after you crashed the lights went out, came one, then went out again,” said Rusty, “They’ve been out about five minutes now.”
The room was almost loud with the sounds of students murmuring while Shauk vainly tried to maintain order. As if sensing his distress, the announcement speaker chimed. It was the alert that the principal was going to make a critical statement.
“Attention students and faculty of Starside School,” came the wizened voice. “We are currently experiencing power supply issues throughout the entire southwest colony sector. If everyone would just remain in their seats, the mechanics and their helper bots  are already working diligently to restore power. We need—excuse me, Ms. Piper. I’m trying to make—what are you doing? No! Stop! I—ARRRGH!”
There was only stunned silence.
“Now I’m sure everything is fine,” said Shauk weakly.
As if to answer, the automatic sealing shutters dropped in front of the door and windows, completely sealing off the classroom. The noise level began to rise as students were quickly becoming excited.
Then something slammed outside the door.
“No, Gabby stop—” came the voice of security guard Sue. She was cut off without even a scream. It was followed by the sound of something being dragged away from the door.
Instantly class erupted into a full blown panic.
Stephen was just taking it all in when Rusty turned to him and smiled.
“Good thing you’re dreaming, huh pal?” he said.

Stephen woke with a start just in time to see the ending credits rolling.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014-04-09

Each day Forrest would eagerly scan the flower beds in front of his. Standing a stout six-foot-seven, it was hard to miss his extra large frame.
            Despite his size, he possessed an unusual kindness and dexterity, especially when it came to living things. He had several cats, two dogs, goldfish galore, and even a parakeet.
            Most of all though, he loved plants. Trees, shrubs, house plants, wild plants, annuals, perennials—Forrest loved them all.
            If ever a person had been appropriately named it was him.
            He finally made his way to the beds at the end of the driveway. Using his large hands to clear aside accumulated piles of snow plow cinders gave the rounded, waxy tips of daffodil shoots an added boost to be the first of his children to bloom.

            Leo couldn’t stand it anymore.
            His girlfriends had dumped him after finding out he had gotten fired for the fourth time. Worst of all, she still had all sorts of his things still at her house.
            As he pulled out of her driveway, he felt growing unease about what he should do next. He hadn’t talked to his parents in three years and his sister now lived halfway across the country.
            Leo suddenly remembered that his old pal, Skip, had offered him a place to crash if he was ever put out.
            Without a second thought, he pulled out his phone to shoot him a text.
            He never saw the giant of a man crouching by the curb side, nor did he see anything else ever again.
            Leo in his rush, on top of forgetting most of his stuff, had also forgotten his seatbelt.

            That day he learned, in the harshest way possible, how instant karma can really be.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

2014-04-08

The water cascaded over the cliff and struck the rocks below as long, thin daggers. Despite this relentless assault, the exposed bedrock did not relent.
            Welch just stood back and took in the pitiful view, more than fully aware what it truly meant.
            Up until a few years ago, the very spot where he stood watching would have been under almost two feet of water. The place there the waterfall struck should have been a frothing pool marking the spot where the two streams merged.
            Instead, both locations lay bare, exposed to the sun and all but devoid of life. The small rivulet that wound its way between the rocks barely increased despite the added volume.
            Welch realized that it had been all those damn subdivisions up stream tapping into the water supply. In a way, change was inevitable he supposed.
            It was that very change that put Welch in his current predicament. By his recollection, he had been gone nine years, six months, and four days. In all that time, his own life had changed little. When the opportunity for change presented itself, he had embraced it heartily.
            With no real planning, sans some vague daydreams, Welch had decided to go for it. He was sure that things would work out, although it would likely not be in the way he initially envisioned.
            As he stood there pondering not only his past and current situations, faintly hearing the first sounds of approaching bloodhounds, Welch could feel his own will subside as he started to capitulate to the approaching inevitability.
            As the sounds of men started coming into focus, he couldn’t help but wonder how much longer either stream would persist.
            When the marshals finally caught up to Welch, they were thrown off by his non-resistance.

            When asked why he had stop running, Welch only answered that the place he had planned on going to was no longer there.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

2014-04-06

The heavy rains from before dawn had left small rivers and lakes in the gutters as Mai made her way to school. Despite being less than half a mile, she enjoyed taking a leisurely, twisting path through various back alleys and side streets.
            On the last stretch, just across from an all but forgotten graveyard, an old man sat on the corner. Crouched a small stool, next to him slept the most ragged, pitiful dog Mai had ever seen. She couldn’t’ even begin to guess it’s breed.
            In his hand he held three balloons tied to short lengths of silvery ribbon.
            “Could I offer you a balloon?” he asked as she approached.
            She stopped, still a good ten feet from him and looked him up and down. She had the feeling he might be homeless, but wasn’t sure.
            Without speaking, Mai just shook her head.
            “Please?” he pleaded, proffering a balloon again.
            “No,” said Mai flatly. “I do not want one.”
            As she said this, the silvery ribbon slipped from his fingers, releasing the balloon into the sky.
            “That is a shame,” he replied as he turned, grabbed his stool, and shuffled away.
            When she looked again she noticed the dog was no longer there.
            Mai told herself the poor thing probably went off to a dumpster somewhere looking for food.

            The next day was a windy one, the kind that ripped the heat from the flesh regardless of how many layers were worn.
            Unlike her usual habit, Mai made a beeline for school.
            Once again, however, she encountered the same old man in the same spot. He got up from his stool at her approach.
            “Could I offer you a balloon?” he asked.
            Mai noticed he only had two balloons this times.
            She shook her head without slowing her pace.
            “That is a shame,” he said.
            Mai looked back just in time to see the silvery thread of the balloon slip through his fingers. She stopped and watched him shuffle away.
            Mai wasn’t sure why, but she couldn’t help but notice he didn’t have his stool with him. Brushing it off, she hurried on to school.

            The following day turned out to be unusually muggy, leaving a thick fog obscuring distant views.
            Nervous about the past two days, Mai left early and took a roundabout way to school, being careful to avoid the intersection where she had encountered the strange old man twice before.
            The school day came and went uneventfully, the heavy fog persisting into the afternoon.
            Distracted by thoughts of an assignment, she headed straight for home.
            “Could I offer you a balloon?” came a voice from the fog.
            Mai let out a small scream and jumped back.
            It was the old man again, holding out a solitary balloon.
            “No!” she screamed. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
            “That is a shame,” he said.
            Once again, Mai watched as the silvery string slipped from his hands. She quickly lost sight of the balloon in the fog.
            When she looked back down he was gone.
            Unnerved, she ran home as fast as she could.
           
            Despite telling her initially she was overreacting, Mai was able to convince her older brother to walk with her to school before he left for work.
            This day was clear and bright, if not almost unseasonably warm.
            As they rounded the intersection, there was no sign of the old man.
            Instead, a woman who appeared in her thirties crouched in the spot where the old man had been. She had in her hands three balloons.
            As they approached, she realized that the woman was praying.
            “Is that your ‘old man’?” her brother chided.
            “No,” Mai said as she punched him in the arm. “Wait here a sec, kay?”
            “Look, I gotta be at work—” her brother started.
            “Thirty seconds,” she pleaded.
            “Fine, fine,” he relented.
            Mai walked up to the woman who seemed to not notice her.
            “Excuse me, miss . . .” Mai said
            “Oh I’m sorry,” said the woman as she stood. “Am I in your way?”
            “No,” said Mai, “I was just wondering . . .”
            For some reason, she suddenly felt foolish and compelled not to ask further. Shaking it off, Mai continued.
            “I was wondering what you were doing . . .” Mai said as the balloons waved in a gust of wind, “With those balloons. What are they for?”
            The woman smiled the saddest smile Mai had ever seen, then answered.
            “My grandfather used to sit on this corner and offer balloons to children as they came by. He never took any money, nor asked for any. He used to tell me that there was enough sadness in the world and a small thing like a balloon could go a long way to brighten someone’s day.”
            Feeling her fear wanting to swallow her, Mai had to work up the courage to ask the question that was suddenly screaming in her mind.
            “What,” Mai said, “What do you mean ‘used to’?”
            “Someone started spreading rumors that he was secretly up to no good and meant to harm children. Eventually, some parent decided to take things into their own hands. When he went to give out balloons one morning, they were here waiting for him.”
            The woman turned away and looked towards the sky.
            “It was a good thing for dental records,” the woman said, “Because even his own daughter, my mother, wasn’t able to identify the body. There was this old hand-made stool he used to carry around. They used it on him until only splinters were left. Even his old mutt that followed him around wasn’t spared from their wrath.”

            Mai felt herself grow weak as she dropped to her knees, tears already streaming down her face.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

2014-04-05

“Hilda!” came a voice for the hallway.
            “Almost ready Euric!” Hilda yelled back in reply.
            She had been preparing for the demonstration for weeks, and tonight it would finally bear fruit.
            Hilda was determined to knock those stuffy old sods in the historic society right off the pampered posteriors.
            The presentation she had arranged for tonight’s event was three-fold.
            First there was a dramatic reading of her historically inspired poetry. She had done her research not only on the local history, but Hilda had also scouted out what sort of preferences these old goats had.
            Adjusting the corset of her traditional attire, she was certain she would blow them away on al levels.
            “You are going to be cutting it close!” yelled Euric again.
            “Fashionably late!” came a sardonic reply.
            Hilda looked at herself again in the mirror, triple checking that everything was in place. For her second element, she planned on giving an account of the historical significance of various practices which were still upheld today. And for her coup de grĂ¢ce, she planned to segue that into baked samples based off of her own Grandmother’s recipes.
            Nothing could go wrong.
            “Hey Hilda—” Euric started.
            “Almost I said!” Hilda interjected. “Unless Thor himself is in the kitchen, I don’t really care! Unless it’s a catastrophe, don’t bother me until I come down!”
            “Well I didn’t find any thunder gods,” said Euric from just outside the bathroom.
            “Then what—” Hilda started then froze.
            In Euric’s hands was a baking dish full of a raw ooze.

            “Does finding out that the breaker for the oven tripped count as a catastrophe?”

Friday, April 4, 2014

2014-04-04

The top of the small hill offered quite the view, but it still wasn’t enough. Miguel looked around in all directions, but still couldn’t find any familiar landmarks.
As he watched the sun start to dip below the horizon he could already feel the temperature doing the same. Having grown up in the hustle and bustle of urban life, he was ill prepared for the scrublands at night.
Randomly choosing a direction, he pressed on forward.
Miguel had at least been fortunate enough to become lost on a night with an almost full moon.
Feeling his lips tingle and his sweat lessen, he thought perhaps he would be alright if only he could find some water, or maybe some fruit. His ignorance kept him from realizing not only how dehydrated he already was, but also how very dire his situation really was.
Miguel looked up again at the moon. This time,  a large shadow crossed it, causing him to cower at first. As he sat hunched in fear, he relaxed as the large moth fluttered closely overhead.
He gave quick thanks that it had not been a bat. He truly and deeply hated those flying rats.
Miguel trekked on, feeling the cold less and less. Thinking, once again mistakenly, that this was a good sign he picked up his pace, or so he thought.
Any onlooker would have just shook their head at the man lurching half delirious. He was in the midst of his blissful ignorance when he all but tripped over the shrub of berries.
Having thought him self saved, Miguel made his final poor choice, and started consuming the berries voraciously.

Several days later some farmers found Miguel’s desiccated corpse. His mouth had a wide grin, covered in the juice of the poison berries he had so joyfully consumed.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

2014-04-03

“You’re on in five minutes Mr. Petrarkis,” said an anxious production assistant.
“Thank you, Peter,” said Josef Petrakis, “But I’m ready anytime.”
“I’m sure you are,” responded Peter.
As the door clicked shut, the elder statesman let out a sigh of relief. He had been in the game a long time, yet he still didn’t quite feel comfortable with all of this new tech. Sure he had been on camera, hundreds, if not thousands of times, and Q & A sessions were familiar grounds for him, but despite this he still felt a sort of disconnect when computers were involved.
Josef’s campaign manager had insisted that a live streaming broadcast would help him garner the younger vote. He wasn’t totally certain, there was a lot he didn’t’ know, but polls were not one of them. And according to the most recent ones, his opponent would overtake him, mostly thanks to securing the votes of the youngest voter demographic by a wide margin.
Absentmindedly, Josef grabbed a small handful of sunflower seeds from the bowl on his desk. Using his waste basket as a spittoon for the discarded shells. As much as he enjoyed the snack, he also found it to be a sort of meditative release. He closed his eyes as he went over the practiced speech again in his head.
As Josef went to spit out the last seed, a knock at the door startled him. Instead of spitting, he swallowed the seed as he inhaled.
Instantly he shot up choking and cough until the stray shell fell limply from his lips. After a few more hefty coughs, he wiped his face and sat back down.
“This blasted new technology crap—who needs it anyway?” Josef started ranting. “I mean, why do I need a machine with bells and whistles just to tell my constitutes, to tell the voters how it is? All I want to do is serve my people to the best of my ability by representing them and their wills fairly. That’s it. No games, no bullshit. IF I could just say that to everyone, I’d be happy as pie.”
Josef Petrarkis sat in silence, lost in his own frustration. He had completely forgotten about the knock at the door until it came again.
“Oh, right. C’mon in,” he said.
It was Peter again.
“Um, Mr. Petrarkis?” Peter started nervously.
“What is it?” Josef asked. And why are you staring at your phone for. That’s kinda rude.”
“Well um two things.”
“Hit me.”
“Well first is . . . the camera feed actually started right before I came to get you before.”
Josef just stared up at the tripod mounted camera in his office. A small red light blinked silently.
“And the second,” Peter continued without waiting for a reply, “Is that the audience loves your fresh and honest approach.”
As the reality sunk in, the edges of Josef’s face went from a slack jaw to a wide grin.
“Are you ready now? We can—” Peter started, but was cut off  as Josef raised his hand.
“No,” he replied, still grinning. “I’ve said all that I need to.”
With that he grabbed a fresh handful of sunflower seeds.
“I do love these things,” Josef said.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

2014-04-02

Despite having been at his new post for almost six months, Phillip just couldn’t stand the last part of his rounds. The research facility was vast, and staffed several hundred workers during the day, but it was a different story at half-past midnight.
The corridors and labs that bustled with activity all day long now lay mostly dormant and still. Throughout the complex, there was an absence of life.
Except in one section.
Phillip had never given animal testing any thought one way or another, but after having to do nightly patrols of the facility, he came to abhor it for reasons most would never even begin to consider.
Even the fact that there were three other guards on duty didn’t help assuage his nervousness. Robert was at the central monitoring station, Jackson was patrolling outside, and old man Mikhail stayed in the gate booth out front.
The sounds of Phillip’s own foot steps echoed coldly off the spartan surfaces. Occasionally, animals would stir in their cages as he probed the shadows with his flashlight. Despite how many times he made these rounds, he was always expecting something to pop up and surprise him.
He turned the corner down the last corridor and froze. At the far end of the hallway, about eighty paces away, one of the labs was still lit up. Normally, if there was working being done outside of regular hours, there would be a completed PHR-06 form at the central monitoring station.
Realizing he had not seen one today, his hand instinctively reached up and released the clips of his taser holster.
Not hearing any noises, Phillip approached slowly towards the lit workspace with his flashlight raised, his other hand ready to draw his weapon at a moment’s notice. As he neared, he noticed that the pass-locked door was still shut and to room seemed empty.
Phillip chuckled to himself. One of the researchers or cleaning staff must have left the light on. He was about to re-clip his sidearm when a noise made him reconsider.
It sounded like it came from within the lab, but at the same time not.
Preferring to err on the side of caution, Phillip drew his taser and undid the safety. He moved along the observation window in the hallway while scanning the interior of the lab. There were several rows of felines in cages. Some were sleeping, while others were grooming. One was even biting it’s own tail. He almost breathed a sigh of relief until his light shone on the last of the cages.
One of them was open, and empty. If he recalled correctly, these animals were here for pathogen research.
Before Phillip could ponder this further, a furry ball of black and white leapt up at him from below the inner window ledge. He almost lost his balance as he backed up in surprise.
Again, the cat leapt futilely against the glass where he had been standing. This time he just chuckled.
“Hey Phil—” a female voice started as a hand touched him on the shoulder, but Phillip heard no more.

“I think he’s waking up,” said a familiar voice. “How ya doing rookie?”
Phillip opened his eyes. More painful than the light piercing his eyes or throbbing in the back of his skull was the burning in his chest. He looked down to see his shirt open and a large bruise at the source of the burning. He looked over to see one of the lab techs standing next to Jackson and Robert.
“Did the big bad putty tat attack you?” chided Jackson as he offered a hand up.
Phillip tried to stand, but felt his knees go weak despite Jackson’s aid. He settled for sitting.
“Easy now,” said Robert. “Just sit up for now.”
“What . . . happened?” Phillip said as he winced.
Each syllable made his head throb and his chest sting.
“Well, apparently, Suzy here tapped you on the shoulder . . . you wanna fill him in, hon?” said Robert turning to the lab tech.
“Well, I was going to apologize for not filling out a PHR-06 form. I was coming back from the bathroom when I saw you staring at the glass,” said Suzy. “But as soon as I touched your shoulder you fired of your taser. It ricocheted off the glass and got you right in the chest.”
Phillip went to look down at his chest, but grabbed the back of his head as it throbbed again.
“So what about this head ache?” asked Phillip. “And why was I on the ground?”
Jackson just chuckled as Robert turned his face away coughing.
“Um,” started Suzy, “I guess you sort of, I dunno, tripped over your own feet?”
Phillip just sighed. He had been surprised indeed, just not the way he would have ever expected.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014-04-01

As Carson watched the sun slip below the horizon he could feel the last of his frustration go with it. The day had been long and unproductive and its ending was a welcomed relief.
Being only little more than a hired hand, he had little room for making his own decisions. With this in mind, he once again gave the giant oak a once over. He had been given the task of felling the daunting deciduous, and despite his best efforts it had vexed him completely.
Chain saws, axes, and even an old-fashioned two-man saw had been halted in their attempts to topple the towering tree. He had one final card to play, but had to wait for the cover of night to do so.
Carson had come up with the idea in the middle of the afternoon and had just finished up preparations a few minutes ago.
Near the base, at about waist level on a person, he had managed to drill four holes at about waist level. He had wanted to make at least six, but had run out of drill bits. Into each hole he placed a quarter stick of dynamite. He had remembered the farmer using them to help with stump removal and thought he might be able to do the same.
He tied all four fuses together with some electrical tape. Looking around to make  sure there were no prying eyes, Carson smiled at his own ingenuity. He pulled out his Zippo, lit the longest fuse, then jogged back a few dozen paces. The fuses crackled and sparkled in the deepening dusk ,then one of them appeared to go out.
The next instant a deafening bang made his ears ring and filled the area around the tree with smoke.
Carson stood motionless for a moment, waiting for the smoke to clear, but it never did.
He could feel his own jaw go slack as he watched the smoke swirl and coalesce into recognizable shapes. He blinked repeatedly and rubbed his eyes, but still the mysterious moments continued.
The smoke took the shape of people who seemed to be fighting with other people. Some of them had hand axes while others had rifles. Then the smoke semi-dispersed only to reform into new shapes.
These were again human shapes, but only two of them. They approached each other hesitantly at first, then embraced. Then once again the shapes faded only to reform into the form of large cattle standing around grazing.
This cycle continued several times. Each time the form was different, and none lasted more than mere seconds.
Finally, the smoke formed into a solitary figure. The figure reached down, and seemed to use a chainsaw on the tree. It put that down, and then seemed to swing at the tree with an axe.
A cold understanding crept up Carson’s spine as this scene unfolded, a foreshadowing of events he didn’t want confirmed.
The figure then crouched down and seemed to be doing something at about waist-level to the trunk of the tree. A quick glimmer came and went, followed by the figure jogging backwards.
Backwards, to the place where Carson now stood.
He looked down to see his own body lying on the ground, a large circular bruise on his own forehead.
He went to scream but nothing came out. He tried again and again but still only silence persisted. He dropped to the ground and started crying, no sound accompanying his tears as they fell.
Then he felt a throbbing in his chest. Then again.
Carson looked up to see himself, his body, now surrounded by EMT’s and the other farm residents. His chest throbbed once more and his world went dark.
“Carson . . .” came a faint voice.
“Carson!” shouted the farmer.
With a gasp Carson went to sit upright but was stopped by those hovering over him. Through blurry eyes he saw half a dozen people leaning over him.
“Easy now, son,” came the farmer’s familiar tone.
“Sorry . . . boss,” was all he could manage.
“Well, just thank your stars things turned out this well ya big galoot. If that first quarter stick hadn’t knocked out the other three, you and I might not be here for me to yell at.”
Carson, neck now immobilized, only whimpered in agreement.