Short Story: Dangerous Feeling

We are a generation of fatherless children. A generation so far lost in our own sadness and feelings of abandonment, we look only to each other.
This is the best possible outcome for the situation.
Because we. are. not. alone.

The Nuclear Family has erupted. Dad’s stopped coming home from work. Instead he visits the bars. Mom cries a lot. The other kids in the family cry, too. So we cry: we cry harder and louder than any of the others, unaware of why or how, but knowing we’re justified in it.
Then, Dad does come home, stinking. Too late after dinner– which we eat in front of the TV now. TV’s kind’a like Mom and Dad, ‘cause Dad’s always home late and mom’s always staring: out the window. Smoking. Folding Laundry.
Did she always smoke?

Dad finally detonates, taking the Nuclear Family with him.

He comes home later than usual one night. He stinks. It’s a bitter kind of stink. Like the stink after pulling a prank crossing from harmless to malicious, humorous to depraved.
Mom and Dad are screaming. We’re pulled out of the room, away from the loud noises. Sounds nearer-by try to drown them out. Deliberate sounds. Sonic equivalents of rocking back and forth hugging our head. There’s a lot of tension in our muscles and guts, and our bum doesn’t feel right– like we ate bad meat. Or suddenly developed stomach flu.
Twitches are present from then on. Subtle, yet obvious signs something’s not right.
The noises last a while, sort’a freezing us in time. We cry. The other kids don’t. The eldest runs off, able to. We envy but miss them, yet desire to remain. The other remains with us, choice-less, but too old and numb to cry. At least in front of us. Sometimes.
We cry a while instead, losing sense of time in the chaos outside that eventually dies down– enough for the arms to come away from the ears, if yet the rocking continues.

I am dangerous: I feel.

The other keeps us occupied. Somewhere inside, we know it’s a distraction: an attempt to help process. Conscious or not, even if we do not understand the terms, the knowledge is there. The underlying concepts, undeniable, immutable.

These are not things to understand, the other teaches.

I am dangerous: I feel.

Dad goes away. He’s gone a long time. He doesn’t ever come back to stay. We have to go see him somewhere else. A place that isn’t home. There are strange people there. Ones that seem to know us, greet us, like family.
I have never met them.
We start learning a lot in a short time. Big words we’re not supposed to hear or understand. Words we’re not allowed. Why?

I am dangerous: I feel.

Strange people come and go: New ones. Old ones. Elderly ones. Young ones like us. Those we like best. They, too, seem to be confused on things. We don’t speak to them much, but we like them. We make fools and fiends of ourselves. We don’t know why.
There are new places too. Places that seem strange, even for irregular people like we’ve become. Places with men in robes. Rows of chairs. Men with badges and guns. The kind that guard. All of them look unhappy to be there, so we play along. Mostly, we’re glad Mom and Dad are in the same room.
But then, later, the fighting again. Walking away alone this time.

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

I am dangerous: I feel.

There are only a few more new people now. Some like us: younger. The others seem to have settled in their places for now. Dad is with them. We still do not know them. We know she is not Mom, yet acts as her– as if to usurp.
Snake.
We don’t like the other young one. Dad pays it our attention. We begin to cry again, more often. What is happening here?

I am dangerous: I feel.

Dad does not try to sugar coat it. Anything. He never again candy-coats a single word or behavior. This, we understand, is growing up. This is the realm of the Adult. Of the sweary-mouthed sailor-comic and the naked-chested cable lady.
It is a brave new world, someone says.
Mom says otherwise. In fact, she screams it. Everything. If she is not screaming, she is crying. Often, she is doing both together. Sometimes, we do too. Sometimes the other leads us away. Still other sometimes we wander off alone.

Until we begin to break the golden rule:

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

But we do. We are not sure how, but we do. We are also certain on how to fix these things, but no-one wants to listen. Or is willing to stop scream/crying or stink-snaking long enough to listen.
Mom is not happy. Dad is not happy. We are not happy. Nor are the other or eldest, whom we see less and less. These are not good things. These are the baddest of bad. So why can’t we come together and prevent it? Why can’t we listen?

I am dangerous, I feel.

Slow and subtle, we feel the creep of something. An anonymity. A dreadful yearning for attention. Not ours. Elsewhere. Distractions. We wish for the night and darkness. To command fear and dread so we no longer live with tension in our muscles and tendons and bones and bum and guts.
It comes from the loins. Sometimes, late at night. We think of the naked-chested cable lady, and those things the sailor-comic swore about her. It warms us. We like it. We make it warmer. It feels good. Like awakening.
We mention it to others like us. We know that’s how it works. Somehow. Instinct, someone says. An old person word. Something to do with the warmth, awakening.
The one not like us feels good, but so does the one like us. We like warmth. We later hear words that harden but do not frighten about this. Our feelings remain unchanged, though we become more excluding, excluded.

I am dangerous, I feel.

We learn things as unusual. We believe otherwise. Feel otherwise. We exclude more. Seek only others that find night and darkness, full warmth, and sailor-comics and naked cable-ladies exciting. We join groups, bands, form tight cliques that last us decades yet form or crumble in moments.
We go through so much so quickly, and with everything else, it is impossible to know if we’ll ever come to see it all. We are not meant for this speed. And we are far beyond our realms of understanding, still hung up on…

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

I am dangerous, I feel.

The night is sanctuary. It hides all depravity. No-one around means no-one to watch. They would not anyhow. Mom is rarely home. The other keeps us in line, fed. They are mom-sis. It is difficult. The shift is natural enough with the chaos around.
Mom works now too. It is hard. She’s not paid well. Mom-sis cannot work. She helps how she can, mostly with us. Eldest does too.
Family must support each other: this is said often. Loudly. And proudly.
Mostly it is said with a kind of wanting sorrow. A feeling we know all too well. The feeling of stink-snaking and scream/cries beneath mad-eyed smiles.

But the darkness absolves us of all. We don’t fear the others there. We feel only the warmth we surround ourselves with. We meet new people that like the warmth too. And we join the warmth however we can. We seek happiness in them because we know we won’t find it at home.
We ride forever and ever. One day is the same as the next. Night is the goal, always. Riding and running for days so nights can be warm and colorful. The days are colored no less for it. Somewhere is still an uneasiness. Tenuous for now, but at-peace.
We know it will come back again. When, we can’t say. Gut feeling says so. The one time teaches. That says the sun rises and sets. That we can trust in that, if nothing else.
The others like us, feel the same.

I am dangerous: I feel.

We become attached to a specific few. Time is spent mostly with them, or alone. They are all like us, forced into place without regard. We bond. This begins a cycle best summarized thus:

Here we go again!! what’s the point again?

Inside we are day. Outside we are night. Neither bothers us, or is any less us than the other. We ride two-ality like radical waves cause our futures so bright we gotta wear shades.
Something like that.
Knowledge comes quicker and quicker. Easier. Reading is fun. Taking time between two other things: writing, games– all stories.
Stories never wither.
Mom still cries and screams. Dad is meaner now. He says things he shouldn’t. He makes mom-sis cry. He makes Mom cry. He makes us cry. We dislike Dad. But we love him. He is Dad.
This two-ality can’t coast, bro…
We cry more. Again. Start to understand. What was hidden. Uneasiness. Out of placeness. Missing confidence. Something we never felt before.

I am dangerous. I feel.

We become excluding again, but do not stop. Ever. It is now a trait to seek almost solely the night. Warmth. Color. Exuberance. It is color that we see mom-sis embrace. It is not ours, but her own. It suits her.
We like our colors anyway. Some don’t. We understand this is why we must be excluding. Stink-snaking is a bloodsport with innocent bystanders. Like war. Which we love to understand. It is depraved. Like us. A thing of night and hot blood and passion. Corrupted innocence incarnate, which we now know ourselves to be.

It’s never to hurt. No. But like the joker whom pranks with the squirt of a flower, meant to be innocent, amusing. Showing of a sort of twisted affection only those that understand us can understand. Most do. Eventually. Even the ones that pretend they don’t, do too.
We’re not their type, but a prototype. Above they and the rest. Something tells us this. We don’t believe it. Though it is true, we don’t learn it for some time. How. Why. For now, we remain prototypical and in demand, yet plagued with failure.
Mom and Dad notice. They have no room to judge. Mom-sis notices too. Eldest is absent. All are upset.

Here we go again!! What was the point again?

I am dangerous: I feel.

And so it goes for longer than we can comprehend. Time is flashes. Television Mom and Dad. Mom-sis on the cello-lin. Lots of scream/crying. Stink-snaking. Bloodsports.

Here we go again: What was the point again?

Reading. Writing. Learning. Discussing. Seeking warmth. Often not finding it. Having it teased just out of reach. Prototype or not, frustration builds. We isolate and exclude further, never minding.
We begin to hide things. Make secrets. Lay plans. We break rules and push limits and test boundaries like never before. Night always comes and with it hides our indiscretions. Then, after the coming of day, the here-we-go-again-go-round absolves us. Day is white. Night is black. Color is everything around.
We fight. We love. We hate. We swear and smoke and drink and spit and swallow and fuck and forget and forgo and hope and dream and scream and cry and laugh and kiss and tell lies and make stories, and all to fill the void between the two-ality of things, the duality of things.
We are the all singing, all dancing crap of the universe.
Until darkness comes, and sadness falls, and betrayal abounds. We partake in it all, because we know we can and we’re allowed. Until we’re accused of excess for wanting to suckle the teats of knowledge so forcefully fed to us, and appreciated.

Something happens. More new people. Others leaving. Some gone, come back again. Others remain unchanged. Still more hurt, and hollow, desecrate and deconsecrate. Dad stays. Mom and mom-sis go away. No-one is the same again.
We are something different now. Swaddled in hate. Something changed and rabid. Weaponized. Something turned from pure, innocent, into corrupt and vile. Made vicious by pain, fetid wounds. Battered and broken. Manipulated and hurt. We are all these things.
But perhaps now…

These are not things to understand, the other echoes.

I am dangerous, I feel.

Depravity drives us. We know it well. It is simple. Animal. It is the chaos of the universe at its core. Always decaying, always eroding. Chasing the dragons of a million uninterrupted myths and legends. Then, questions. More questions. Always questions. Why so many questions?
We don’t know why we’re forced apart, the night and day. The day and night. As if the two were inseparable. Like Gemini: twins, kindred spirits. Redeemers and destroyers. Bitch and bastard. We only know that there’s ridicule, that the prototype is malfunctioned.
It is not, but we do not know that. In all the here-we-go-again-go-rounding and excess of intake, experiment, and evaluate, we lose something. A focus. A clarity.

I’m told it’s the drugs. I don’t believe that. I know the truth…

I am dangerous: I feel.

We go back and forth, round again. Wounds. Weeping. Love, swooning. Mom and mom-sis bleed. Eldest screams. We cannot look back: the trail of failed prototype parts is too hard to bear for the loss incurred.

Anything can be rationalized by a mad enough man.
I know. I did it.

We are dangerous: We feel.

We cannot go back to what we were. So we move forward. How? Inclusion. One specific. To replace one lost, and with hope, build toward what we hope to be the crowning future. That which sees day turned to night and night, day, and color and warmth and vibration all as one.
For a prototype is, if nothing else, a showpiece for some avid collector. Finding one is a surprise. Finding a good one is a miracle. She’s the latter. He would be too. Time and distance are dictators and love is what makes the world go ’round.

The danger is not that we feel. The danger is that others do, too. That vastly complicates the web of possible interaction, and no doubt befuddles the mind. Especially for mass-production models.
Prototypes though, have features not included in mass-market versions. Simply, they’re too unstable. Mostly, in the Human sense, they’re difficult to come by as a result of genetic mutation.
But every once in a while, you get one. A whole line of ’em, even. And the best thing you can do, is run ‘em dead. Not just for their sake, but everyone’s. It’s an unfortunate fact of a prototype’s existence, that it is not for itself that it exists. Rather, it is for the masses that will soon come under its designs– the ones that appeal broadly.
The great tragedy of life is that this reality of possible-pains exists. The great comedy is that tragedy’s spawning of something far greater and grander than itself.
Duality at its purest.
Where that may lead us, no-one yet knows, but we can say for certain two things….

We are dangerous: we feel.

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Poetry-Thing Thursday: Siren’s Song

You find her eyes are dead,
cold and feeling-less.
They suck you in with dread,
leave you without happiness,
but the Siren’s song,
is far too strong,
and you’re already long gone.

She came on like wind;
slow, cool, soft,
then your wrists were pinned,
your body hoisted aloft.
Spinning went your mind,
for those of her kind.
Find sustenance in wasted time.

For you the end is near,
She will suck you dry–
the heart’s love,
the eyes’ fear.
Death is yours only to defy,
but it will come soon,
for life is its boon,
and your name,
written in its rune.

A cautionary tale,
is all you’ll become–
an old dusty trail,
of bones and then some.
For the Siren’s song,
is far too strong,
and you’re already long gone.

Short Story: Powers of Ten

He sat at the kitchen table, knowing exactly what was to happen. She sat too, only some idea buried beneath a hopeful fear. There’d be no denials. She’d try and try, he knew. Every step. But the truth was undeniable.

A picture was worth a thousand words? He had ten.

For each one, she’d have a new excuse, its complexity growing and tightening the noose until the tenth emerged. Then, the floor would give. The rope would tighten. She dangle, dead or gasping. Likely the latter. She’d assured it. No matter what, he had her this time. She couldn’t escape.

Quentin Pearson had suspected his wife of adultery long ago. He couldn’t pinpoint when, exactly, but ignorance had turned to suspicion. Before long, it became the hand that shook the P-I’s after handing over the signed check that hired him.

Suspicion became knowing. Cheryl had always been off with friends, spending long nights away. Sometimes she called, drunk; they couldn’t drive home. It hadn’t bothered him, she’d always been the social type. He wasn’t. Nor was he the type to complain much about her excursions, so far as he knew.

Only his unexpected clusterfuck avalanche could’ve led him to be sitting with Cheryl now. Full-color 8x10s printed from digital photos between them. She was fucked. He knew it. Somewhere, someone else wasn’t the one fucking for once. Maybe more, too.

After all, Steph hadn’t mentioned how long it’d been since she’d seen Cheryl, only that she’d wanted her to call. That was how Cheryl’s type of recluse imparted long distance pleas. Not one of ‘em could use a damned phone.

Or maybe not, judging by the first photo: Cheryl outside, half-in her car, phone to her ear, talking to someone.

She could use a phone, thus the issue was one of choice. Then again, the whole damned thing was. If she’d chosen to remain faithful, Quentin wouldn’t have hired the PI. If she’d chosen to admit her affairs, neither would’ve remained in such a farcical marriage. But too bad, huh?

Then again, if she’d chosen otherwise, he’d have never been able to confront her. Given his enjoyment, why spoil it?

She was already busy making excuses: she was leaving. Going to the store, to the mall, to see Stephanie. All obvious lies. Or maybe not. There was no way to know how the images were sequenced, only their eventual ends.

Quentin did his best not to see red. It was important to remain calm. Rage ruined the trap he’d lain. He needed her like a startled hare, ankle caught, and dangling. He was too intent, the slow build of panic too insatiable in her, to risk doing things any differently.

When the panic would become too much, he couldn’t say.

He laid the second image between them. Nothing suspicious; her, outside a building. Nondescript. Parking lot. Indifferent to any other. Though he couldn’t place it, she feigned familiarity. Enough said.

Image two, means to an end it was, established the next. Quentin placed the third photo directly beside the second: Wider angle, less zoom. A drugstore forty miles away. One on every corner, he said, why this one in particular?

She’d begin to chew the inside of her lip now, he knew it. Quentin couldn’t see it, subtle as it could be, but always there in her times of distress.

Photos four and five were benign, boring. Yet, imperceptibly important. Doubly so, given photo six. He laid all three out, over the previous three. They’d made their point, word-values expended.

Images four and five only revealed their secret after the emergence of the sixth. With them, Cheryl’s teeth would bite deep into her lip. Deeper. Quentin imagined she’d taste blood. He hoped she would. He wanted her to. Then, he wanted to upper cut her jaw. Make her taste it.

Instead, he let the images settle in. Their existence hovering overhead like a gray cloud of tension, shame. That same fear prey felt before being eaten. She’d was his now.

Cheryl breathed. There it was. A car approaching a nearby parking space, making an arc. Cheryl exiting. Slipping into the vehicle. The driver, male, leaned. Cheryl squirmed, her chair man-eating jam attempting to devour her from the genitals upward. Maybe it was, in some reality. Here, it was another’s hands.

Quentin tempered fury with satisfaction from the belly-full feeling of a soon-to-be fed predator. He’d always loved watching her twitch and spasm, usually atop him. Death would do now. If only in death of a lie. She wouldn’t bother fighting.

Cheryl knew little could be said or done, didn’t care.

Image eight: Cheryl. The man. Deep kissing. It took all of her strength and senses not to flee. It took all of his cowardice not to beat her to death.

Image nine: Mystery man’s car. A cheap motel charging hourly.

Image ten: death knell. Shot from outside, through a window. Difficult angle. Subject matter clear. Her, impassioned-back bent; mystery man’s face averted from behind, thrusting. Her in ecstasy. Happy. Dreaming. Wishing. Presently squirming. Quentin smug, tasting victory on the air.

“I hate you,” she said, quietly guilty. “And I’m leaving.”

His victory slipped from his grasp, replaced by sickening emptiness.

“You’ve terrorized me for years. Beat and belittled me. Sucked away what happiness I had. Smiled at my misery. I’d call you a monster, but nothing like you is known.”

He was eviscerated. Victory and life snatched away and his own arrogance rubbed into his face all at once. He couldn’t even muster the wrath she knew as his trademark.

She was never more alive. She rose to leave. Years ago, his sudden, surprising lack of anger might have led her to believe in him. Might have led her to hope he could change. She wasn’t a girl anymore, didn’t.

Cheryl drew tri-folded papers from her purse, set them on the table. “I expect you’ll sign these,sooner or later. I commenced divorce proceedings the day I learned you’d takenover a thousand dollars from our savings. I knew you were either using, or spying. I didn’t care which. Maybe one day, you’ll be human again– if you ever were.”

Neither of them knew it until long after, but her final words rang out into a disemboweling emptiness. “Goodbye, Quentin.”

She knew only the sound of the closing door. The lifting of a weight that comes from shedding that which has burdened one for far too long. Cheryl breathed and climbed into her car. From then on she lived free.

Short Story: Cold Moon

The moon had risen cold that night, duller than it had any right to be. Just another sign something was wrong, or heading that way. The highways were deserted. Only once did headlights meet to warn then bypass Austin from the oncoming lane. He barely noticed them. To him the road was merely an endless series of ups and downs, micro-turbulence, and wide curves. For all he knew, he was flying.

The dull-Mooned sky was cloudless. An occasional wisp of fluff drifted by in the distance, but never bothered the dampened sheen of incandescent white. The two were like opposite sides of a coin, ne’er to meet. Somehow that didn’t affect Austin. He merely drove, staring, almost lifeless. His motions automatic.

Even after, he wasn’t sure where things had gone wrong. There was a deer in the headlights moment, with Austin the deer. Moments where, even long after the accident, Austin swore there’d been no-one there. It was as if one moment the road were empty. The next, a boy had materialized. The blood stains said otherwise. His damaged car said otherwise. The boy’s grieving father said otherwise.

Austin knew the kid was dead. He was just sitting, waiting to hear it confirmed. A police officer sat beside him. He’d come to take a statement. It was simple: “I was tired, but alert. Like always. I drive that road twice a day. No-one’s around on late-nights like mine though. Still, I check the mirrors. Always. Mom was killed by a drunk driver ‘cause she merged without checking her mirrors. I always check them.”

The cop was forced to re-focus him.

Austin stared at the floor, completely shell-shocked. “I checked my mirror to change lanes. My exit was next. You know how it is. I look up, and this kid’s in the middle of the road. I didn’t see him before. It was like he’d come outta’ thin air. I didn’t… didn’t see him. I was checking my mirrors.”

Austin wasn’t much use after that. He descended into a fugue state. Traumatized. The officer stayed near him. Eventually Austin suspected it was as much for safety as support– the last thing a prosecuting entity wanted was a vigilante murder out of grief. Austin didn’t think it would’ve been all that bad. Then again, he didn’t feeling much save complete and total dread.

Before long, a doctor appeared. He stepped from earshot with the officer, muttered in low tones. This was the moment. Austin knew it. In seconds, the officer would lock-step over, relay the news. He couldn’t help but feel the soul-shattering crack in his chest. It still echoed through him as the officer escorted him to his bloody car and promised to be in touch. Austin drove toward home, front-end one headlight less than usual.

He wasn’t one for bars, but he knew all of them in his dingy town. He knew the upscale ones. The ones that attracted the best women. The ones that brought allowed underage kids. He even knew the ones that stank least or offered the best drugs. He wasn’t interested in any of them. He went to the only one he was certain he’d never wanted to approach. It was a dive-bar for dive-bars. A place where nobody knew your name because no-one had names there, because no-one spoke. They just drank, hunched over, acting as small as they felt.

He hid in there, and within there, like all the other so-called barflies drinking away sorrows. No-one bothered him. No-one would. The bartender didn’t even ask what he wanted. He just set two-fingers of whiskey on the counter. It was warm, vile, felt like Austin’s insides felt. Whether clairvoyant, or prescient, the bartender never needed to speak. If someone needed another drink, or a change of taste, they got it.

Perhaps that was the reason Austin found himself returning nightly. Perhaps not. Perhaps it was something entirely unrelated, inexplicable. Or, perhaps, it was just another of life’s mysteries– like how a child living twelve miles from a highway mysteriously appeared there without his family knowing he was missing.

Like everyone else, Austin drank with his head down. This was the way such people were made– how places like the dive-bar survived. They fed off the souls of those slowly killing themselves there. Not directly. Indirectly. And not through money. Not a single person, Austin included, ever paid. They were never asked to. Their tabs were kept and tallied, in as much silence as everything else, to be paid by their next of kin. All of it was overseen by one man; a creature of silence like the rest.

Somehow, perhaps from lack of awareness, or the desire to keep quiet, drown sorrows, the man that joined the barflies every night in the corner was entirely missed. He sat with legs crossed, just out of range of Austin’s peripheral vision. Atop his knees was a book. Beside it on the round table, a Mojito. A curious drink for such a place. More curious was the way, every few minutes, he dabbed sweat from his forehead, sipped his mojito, and scratched his book with a pen.

Had anyone bothered to look, they might have noticed the rhythm. Had they bothered to look, they might have noticed him at all. Then, they might have thought to step near him. They might have smelled the hint of sulfur to the air. They might have seen the ink colored of fresh blood or drying to a deep, brown. They might have noticed too, the curiously Latin and rune-like writings in the book. If anyone in the bar had thought to notice him at all, they might have noticed these things too. Indeed, they might have noticed the names of their fellow liquor-jocks, or even themselves.

And if they’d thought to stick around long enough, observing closing time, they might’ve seen the man rise to disappear out the door. Were they able to inhabit multiple places at once, they might even find themselves near a highway and at the bar simultaneously. Then, with a flicker of surreal reality, the man would disappear from the door while a boy materialized on the highway.

Perhaps, if someone thought to look, they would see these things. But no-one ever did. And no-one ever would.

Short Story: The Worst in Us

She was fifteen; old enough to know right from wrong. What she aimed to do was wrong. Even in the withered husk of society, it was wrong. She couldn’t help it now. Not even if she’d wanted to. She’d made a deal. Maybe afterward she’d care about right and wrong again. Find herself at peace with things. Maybe not.

Allison Hartley was about to murder someone. The teenager’s time and place were decidedly amoral. It wasn’t merely a place of warped morals, but one sans them. Simultaneously, and paradoxically, they were the only thing keeping the world from going to more shit than it had. It wasn’t the whole of society preventing it though. Rather, it was the few that managed to hold themselves to a code, a set of rules. Allison had always been one. That was different now. Would be forever.

Thus her premeditated violation felt a depraved kind of original sin. Whatever the repercussions, it had to been done. No-one would’ve disagreed with that. That is, if she ever planned to tell anyone. That had been part of the deal too: do what needed to be done, keep her mouth shut, and she learned the truth.

Nora had made the deal. Since the world went to hell, Allie had been watching over her. Their parents had been at the refugee camp. They and thousands of others were bombed by “the enemy,” whoever they might’ve been. All Allison knew was she and her little sister were suddenly alone in a burning world. Allison would’ve been better prepared if they’d been honest. Love brings out the worst in us, she knew. Their parents’ lies about reality had eventually forced her into fighting fire with fire.

Three years of utter hell had taught of nothing in life as absolute. That much should’ve been made clear the day they were sent to the refugee camp. Instead, Mom and Dad were quiet. They were quiet through school closing, and the imposed curfews. Twelve-year old Allie was completely oblivious to the world. Fifteen year old Allie was still traumatized by it, daily. She’d had no idea the real extent of damage being done to the world.

Radio and television had become spin machines. She didn’t know it, but she learned it later. They’d turned ongoing narratives from truth into what bolstered wartime support. The family reached the camp, and a matter of hours later the illusions shattered around Allie and Nora. Though the latter was still lost then, she sensed the beginning of realities eventually forced on them. The most prevalent, of course, was Humanity’s depravity– which she was once again a victim of.

A fiery sunset had bled from a dusty horizon as Nora limped up the mound of rubble. It marked the entrance to their home and hide-out. It wasn’t much more than a corner room in a bombed-out building, but a thick, steel door made it impenetrable for anyone hoping to get in. Solid, concrete walls kept them from the elements too, only a small, barred window at its high-ceiling to vent fires for cooking or heating. Allie knew the place was a police station’s set of cells, but the rest of the world was a prison enough that it didn’t bother her.

She’d left the door open to listen to the rare, slap of rain, and keep her ears peeled for the crunch of glass or gravel on their sound-traps. The tell-tale scatter of gravel said someone was sliding down into the bombed-out building. She shouldered her ancient rifle, threw open the door, ready to kill.

Nora was lying face down in glass and gravel, back laden with a pack of supplies. At only twelve, she could already hump the weight of a soldier three times her size for twice as long. That perseverance was the only way either of them had survived.

Allie scrambled for her side, helped her up, neck whipping to eye their surroundings. She fitted Nora’s then heaved them both toward the door. She laid her sister on the makeshift bed of sleeping bags and star, then dropped the back to bolt the door.

It was hours before Nora awoke. She pled for water. Her whole body shook with fresh pain. Something had happened, but Nora’s pistol was still full, her pack too. No raider did this: their ilk struck on the roads, took what they could, then killed their victims in fear of retribution. Nora was still alive, her supplies untouched. Whatever had happened was quick, without obvious resistance.

She finally began to speak, her eyes distant. It was the same stare Allie had seen after they’d watched their parents swallowed by bomb-fire. “I’ve done it a million times. Never like this.” Her bottom lip trembled. “I… I didn’t even know he was there.”

“Who, Nora?”

She teared up with a fierce refusal. “I can’t. I can’t tell you. If I tell you’ll want to tell someone else. You have to kill him.”

Allie’s eyes sparked with sibling guardianship, “Then I will, Nora.”

She refused to speak further, sobbed. A small, dirty hand, lifted the edge of her frayed t-shirt: her dirt-covered navel glistened with “Whore” carved in drying blood by a shaking, old blade. Each letter was torn fabric, the flesh only just coagulated.

But Nora’s hands continued to her pants, slid them down. Allison’s hate-filled eyes went blank, unable to muster even fury at the senselessness inflicted. Etched across her groin, the letters more jagged than before– from Nora struggling– were the words “use me.” The letters extended across her whole groin area, the vulva beneath swollen, bloody, bruised.

The atrocity didn’t need to be named. Neither did the punishment.

She managed to coax Nora into letting her further examine her. She helped her back into her clothes, and medicated her with old, bitter pain-pills. Allie coddled her into sleep, deducing what had been left out. She’d sent Nora to a nearby settlement to procure supplies. They’d done it a million times before. On the way back, she’d been grabbed, assaulted. Again, it clearly wasn’t bandits. That left only a traveler or an inhabitant between the two places.

She scrawled a note to Nora, left quietly; I will.

Half-way to the village, it dawned on her. The small, rocky hill was a hovel: an old manlived there. He’d seemed harmless enough, if slightly insane from time’s rigors. He’d only ever interacted with the sisters once. Hardly enough to kill him over, but enough to sneak in and interrogate him over.

The small hovel glowed from a fire-pit in its center. Flames spit and nipped at the air, cast grotesque shadows across the walls. Allie sneaked into a darkened corner, able to see him across the low-light of the room. He slept like a child might after a long day of play– how they had before. Children didn’t do that anymore. Now Nora never’d sleep without the terrible memories of what someone had done. It gave her fuel to move on.

Allie crept past the fire-pit. The old man grunted in his sleep. He rolled toward her. She dodged behind a makeshift table of half-rotten cardboard. Then, she saw it: a deluded shrine of drawings and black and white Polaroids of Nora and Allie, both clothed and nude. Allie’s face was cut or crossed out, but the old creep had managed to find or repair an old camera. He’d stalked them more than a few times, evidently following them to the nearby river where they bathed.

Her teeth clamped down, eyes took in the few valuables stolen from the girls. Presumably, he’d taken them at the river, when they weren’t watching. Allie and Nora thought they’d lost them. Evidently not.

Atop the pile of underwear, trinkets, and god-awful smelling things, was an old knife. Its cracked, dull edge still bore Nora’s dried blood. The clothing beneath it was as stained as Nora’s innocence. Allie nearly chipped teeth. Her hand clasped the knife, obscene atavism in her eyes. She sneaked toward the bastard…

She returned home to find Nora still asleep. The deal had been held to. When morning came, all that passed would see him crucified, castrated, genitals hanging from his mouth, and “rapist” carved into his groin above mangled flesh. If he wasn’t dead by then, someone would gladly spend a bullet.

Allie rinsed the last of the blood from her hands with a water-bottle, then settled into bed beside Nora. She held her tight, silent tears running down her face. Love brings out the worst in us, she knew, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.

Bonus Short Story: Horizon of Pastels

Early 90’s metal blared from the speakers of his ’68 Camaro. Over the dash, the waxed polish of the blue coat and white racing stripes gleamed in the bright light of the desert around it. She had her head in his lap, sucking him off. Between the vibration of the 396 V8 and her vigorous strokes, he was in utter heaven. He drove with one hand on the wheel, the other between her legs as she splayed out across the leather seats. Her sundress flapped in the hundred-mile-an-hour breeze while her throat groaned against him.

His fingers were wet inside her as she thrust her hips back and up to get off. He suddenly understood how kings and emperors felt. They were Gods among mortals, a half-dozen women on their knees for them at any time. All he had though– or needed for that matter– was her and the car. The three had been running together for months, every night out doing one drug or another, and at some point ending up in a similar position before passing out.

That was of course, all in secret. Likewise the mornings had always come too early and the glaringly recognizable car had to park down the street to drop her off at home. She walked the block in the near-darkness, her sneakers scuffing gravel the whole way. He watched her every step to the house and into the door, even despite the difficulty. And always, before leaving for wherever he was headed, he waited long enough for her to sleep, revved the engine and sped past too fast to be seen.

She never knew anything of it, but he knew exactly what he was doing. So did her father. He couldn’t see the car, but he sensed it’s owner. Always though, when he went to check on his daughter, she was fast asleep in bed– still sore from their sex hours before. If only that fat, abusive prick had known, he’d have killed them both for it.

He was one of those types that always hid their abuses in community participation. He’d take the family out to church on Sundays, and the quiet, reserved family would silently participate in the sermons. Sometimes, they’d even stay after to mingle with the other members of the congregation. She and her mother never betrayed the secret, no matter how much they wanted to, but from fear rather than love.

When she was younger, Karen– or Kay, as he always called her– had made the mistake of saying something to him about the abuse. Jake showed up the next day with a squadron of cops and a loaded .45. They pulled everyone out of the house, took them into separate interrogation rooms, had female cops examine the women physically. There was nothing to suggest abuse. Kay’s “dad” ended up beating her half to death when it was all over, but when in the hospital, everyone insisted she’d been mugged the night before, walking home.

That was the last time Jake got the law involved. Ever since then, he’d taken matters into his own hands. The prick couldn’t blame anyone when he woke up some mornings with swastikas burned into his yard, or his tires slashed, or with broken windows in his car. He always called the police, and they always took his reports, and did absolutely nothing. Most of them had gone to school with him, took him at his word. It was the same reason he’d gotten away with the beatings and escaped the interrogations unscathed.

Everything changed recently though. How he’d pulled it off, Jake didn’t know, but he knew what he’d pulled off. Kay had been in to see a gynecologist for a cursory examine after turning eighteen. Somehow the bastard got hold of her medical records, or bribed a doctor, and found out her cherry’d been popped. He also found out she was on birth-control, as opposed to the anti-acne pills she’d said she was taking.

The beating she received then only stopped when Jake showed up. The house was wrecked. Glass was shattered all over the place. Kay and her mother were barefoot in the middle of it. Blood spotted the creme-white carpets where Kay had been tossed and shoved around. Jake had been lucky enough to get a call from one of Kay’s friends. The two had been on the phone when her father came in screaming, she heard the first thuds of heavy fists, and immediately hung up.

Everyone knew Jake was bound to do something, and that calling the cops only made things worse in the long run. What they didn’t know, and few did in fact, was Jake’s proficiency with his .45. He’d spent months at the range, learning pin-point accuracy shooting at every range. He’d also learned to control his adrenaline through street-fighting, and had a morbid fascination with human anatomy.

The only thing that kept him from driving the Camaro through the front room was the fact that he’d still need it afterward. Instead, he kicked the door in off its hinges. The .45 was up and aimed straight on the old man. The snake-faced monster was poised over Kay. She lie, sprawled on the floor in her sundress, hands and feet covered in blood.

Her father actually had the gall to bark orders at Jake. He didn’t sway. His voice was calm, firm. He kept his gun and eyes level on her father, “Kay get off the floor. Get in the car.”

“Move and I’ll break your neck!” He spat at her. Jake repeated himself calmly, feeling adrenaline flood him. Her father spat again, made a move, “Son of a–”

The .45 cracked. The aim was perfect. The bullet whizzed past his left ear, close enough for a friction burn. He recoiled with a yelp. Kay skittered toward Jake. She rocketed out the door and into the street, climbing into the car.

“I could’ve killed you,” Jake said simply, unmoving. “I will if you follow me.”

The old man gave a roar, and moved to lunge. The gun angled down. Two rounds blasted his kneecaps. He fell in screaming pain. Jake lowered the gun as the monster howled and screamed pain and obscenities. He gave a final look to Kay’s mother, who stood slack-jawed to one side of the room.

“I wasn’t kidding. If he follows me, I’ll kill him,” he said, turning for the door.

Over his screaming pain, her mother called, “Take care of her.”

He stepped for the door, hesitated just before it. His head cocked a little to the side as if to speak, but he had no words. He started forward again. A few moments later, sirens screamed nearby as the Camaro’s engine revved. It’s tires squealed and it tore away from the house.

Since then they’d been driving, only stopping long enough to refuel, sleep, or fuck. They finished together; she threw back his semen like a pill and he sucked his fingers dry. She sat up with a smile, leaned against the passenger door. The bruise on her cheek was just beginning to yellow, but the light played off her face with an angelic glow, accenting her blonde hair with bright highlights.

“How was it?”

She threw back her head with a laugh, giddy from her newfound freedom, “Magnificent.”

He laughed with her.

They didn’t know what the fallout back home was, or if there would be any. For all they knew, they were fugitives, but something in Kay’s mother had told Jake she wasn’t going to make a case of it. Who knows, maybe he’d liberated her too, or opened the door for her to do it herself. Personally, he didn’t give a damn. He had Kay, she had him, and they had the car with nothing but an open road and a horizon of pastels ahead. Most of all though, they had life.

That was more than enough for anyone.

Bonus Poem: Ground State

I can feel electricity in the air.
It clings to surfaces as electrons to their shell.
While sweat glistens on the brow,
of the back-breaker with the stained blue-collar.

There are no more heroes anymore.
We left them behind with our youth and prosperity.
Tumult is our new currency, fear our inflation,
cold death and iron hate our tax.

I wanted green fields and plains full of wild flowers.
But all that’s left are concrete jungles and steel deserts.

What is this life we live?
Fading Earth and Sun with no Moon.
The birds don’t sing anymore and the plants have all died.
Their corpses are swarmed by flies while stale excrement taints the air.

Beneath it is the electricity that charges with each moment.
If you wait long enough you can feel it upend hairs on your neck,
and in the distance, a cry of mourning.

It was our dream to sow this land as explorers.
But our arrival was greeted with strange, old faces.
The dead had long been buried so we added to them,
and in the cool, night air, we waged warfare in virulent form.

A toxic nightmare became the reality of millions.

Wives.
Mothers.
Children.
Found death in the world’s cruel embrace

And so we danced and drank beneath the moonlight,
to forget our troubles and forgive us our sorrows.
But night is the time of the raven-call and the black-winged devils.

So we sang to forgive us our trespasses,
and to emerge once more into morning,
with hope and the calculus of reason,
whose ways disintegrate existence’s illusory nature,
to wed science with metaphysics and reveal our true path.

But fate is no more a sickness than a virtue.
Change is constant; quantum flux relentless.

And so we bow our heads in prayer,
that we might forget what we know to be true,
to carry on blissful, ignorant.

But electricity still clings to the air,
and excites.

It invigorates,
energizes,
cries out for discharge
so that it, like we, may return to ground-state.