Poetry-Thing Thursday: Rise Up and Resist

Dollars and cents,
numbers and sense,
pick up the creature,
that crawls from the tents.
Madness abounds,
chaotic, disordered,
hold onto the rails,
the madman’s unbordered.
Fight for your rights,
or watch ‘em erode
from hatred and ignorance,
the seizuring toad.

We once knew normality
but like a cold poverty,
it turned to disease,
with terrible property.

Yet all the same,
still do we live,
and in night we sing,
solemn,
“Rise up and Resist!
Remember Humanity!”

Praise others compassion,
but raise up your fist,
to defend against fashion–
whether old or new,
they’re odes to few
and we must resist,
or mellow like dew.

Short Story: Losers

Brad was a gas-station clerk; twenty, lean, and sickly-looking with circles so dark beneath his eyes he could make a raccoon blush. He’d spent his late teens in the gas-station by night, and the trend looked to continue through his twenties. To most, he was a loser. Sometimes he agreed. At least he was independent, self-sufficient, he’d say other times. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

A typical day saw him rise at noon. He went through his daily motions of coffee, showering, over the drone of scripted, daytime court shows. His dingy, one room apartment was on “the bad side” of town. Brad had learned since moving in, “bad-side” mostly meant, “unlike us” for those speaking of it, regardless of circumstances on either side. In his case, it meant poor.

Though there were a few of the truly undesirable around, the “government assist” housing surrounding his cut-rate apartment was simply filled with the “economically unfortunate.” Most called them disadvantaged, but Brad had always taken issue with this moniker, as if all those impoverished souls needed was to work a little harder and they too, could be Dukes and Dames of all they surveyed.

The truth, Brad knew, was much more difficult to accept: the “unfortunate” simply weren’t born into the wealthy elite or the middle classes above them, so they could never achieve what they’d supposedly been given a disadvantage at achieving. In other words, the “truth” was that the current social structure didn’t allow them to climb any higher without serious reformation. Brad had been born into middle-class living, but to escape the clutches of otherwise well-meaning parents, he took on the life of the impoverished. His own unwillingness to be anything else meant he’d all but cut ties with them after they’d tried to force him home for the sake of appearances. It might not have been much, he said, but it was his.

Like Brad, most of his neighbors ascribed to this method of thought. They were hard-working people that rose daily to slave for low-wages and no respect– and in the vain hope of one day lifting themselves from the muck.

The winters were the hardest for Brad and “his” people– the ones most would lump in as losers, whom like him, walked a straight and narrow just trying to get by. Most were laborers, single or child-bearing households with one wage earner. Often enough, those laborers received pink-slips en-masse when the weather turned to cold and the jobs froze with the ground. The influx often came with media-overblown sicknesses that frightened people into inoculating themselves and their children.

In truth, the monetary cost was greater than the risk, but none knew that. Meanwhile, those few claimed by true sicknesses were fraught by their afflictions’ medical costs. Between little work, rising medical costs, and the ever-creeping monster of inflation, it was a wonder to Brad that more people hadn’t recognized the slump into Third-World others had been forced along.

Brad was one of the lucky losers. Despite his sickly looks, and his emaciated build, he ate well enough to remain otherwise healthy. In combination with his hearty genetics, that had gifted him a robust immune system, it seemed no disease could overcome him. Physiologically speaking, he was an impregnable fortress of loop-hole turrets, regimental archers, and countless swordsmen. Were it not for these facts, perhaps the night the world caught up with him he would have died. Even so, he nearly did anyhow.

He rose as usual, coffee, hygiene, court-room dramas, and all. He made himself as presentable as any man unaware of such a monumental event to come could. Like those unlucky folks outside Ford’s Theater, he was merely ready to bustle onward through life, but was instead hit with a dose of reality that would’ve killed those losers of smaller luck.

He arrived at work as the walk-ins did in that season; layered in thick clothing, and with all but his eyes covered by a scarf, hat, and gloves. The only out of place item on him were the gym-shoes for hours of standing to come when others might have worn boots in the cold.

He hunched forward, hunkered into his coat and slinking toward the counter, as much at home there as in his dingy apartment. The two were similarly cramped, ugly, though the former bore considerably more color from the aisles of flashy products. In other words, had he an alley to himself, the gas station would’ve been right up it.

Like the most frigid of midweek nights, things were slow, tedious. Work had started just as the day’s last shift-change urged departing workers in and working departees out. The nine-PM rush quelled itself by ten with only the occasional hooting of night-owls or stoned-teenagers buying necessities to break the monotony. Cash and food stamps changed hands, debit and credit cards were swiped or shoved in to droning beeps, but that was it. Nothing unforgettable. These were the same, unfortunate souls that had lapsed into the haze of life; where day and night, weekday and weekend, had little meaning or distinction.

Brad sympathized most with this sect of “his” people. The all-nighters, graveyard shifters, and nocturnal creatures that prowled, patrolled, or otherwise maintained the night. And it was one of that group, most prone to prowling, that stepped up to the counter.

Brad greeted the man habitually as he stepped up to the counter. He seemed out of place, as if he fit into none of the groups Brad saw nightly. He looked almost alien, with his long, emaciated figure, skinnier than even Brad’s. Signs of addiction were present in the gaunt of his face and the brown rot of his teeth. Brad guessed Meth: it wasn’t a stretch. Those few, nearby undesirables still present in society had chosen that particular poison as their cash-cow.

Nonetheless, Brad showed no disrespect toward the man, nor in response to his request for “a pack of smokes.”

Brad turned away mechanically, lifting cigarettes from the display. He turned back and found himself staring down the end of a snubnose .38. It took his mind but a moment to connect with the steel death staring him down across the counter.

Brad dropped the cigarettes, raised his hands, “Take wh-whatever you want, man.”

“Give m-me e-everything in the d-drawer!” He stammered back with a strung-out scream.

His fury made him look more alien than any creature Brad had seen. The shaking steel death in his hand looked too familiar. Brad’s mind was slowed by terror, but the gun waggled and reality went in double speed.

“All the cash!” The man shouted, the gun pivoting left and right in a narrow arc. “Everything! Bag it. No funny stuff.”

“R-right,” Brad said with a habitual pull of a plastic bag. “N-no funny stuff.”

He rang up a false charge, opened the drawer. Hundreds in cash and change from the last few hours flowed into the bag. Had he not been alone, Brad knew, that money would’ve been locked away in the safe, and out of his hands. But the manager was home, sick, with the flu. The money was to pile up ‘til morning, when the next shift’s manager was due to collect before he clocked out.

Shaky hands fumbled paper-bills to the floor. “S-s-sorry.”

“Get ‘em!” He shouted.

Brad dropped to his knees, trembling. He felt as if standing before the firing squad. Tears fell involuntarily from his eyes. The alien creature softened.

“Nothin’ p-person, man. T-times is hard. Gotta’ support family. Nothin’s gonna’ happen to you, so long’s you pick up all that money.”

“R-right.” He stashed the last of the money into the bag, readied to hand it over.

“Yur comin’ with me,” he said, gesturing sideways with the gun. “Gonna’ cross the parking lot ‘n then you good. Can’t have the c-cops called too soon.”

Brad didn’t like it. He felt his stomach lurch. He stepped around the register, hands up and bag dangling from a thumb. He was escorted at gun-point into the cold night. The laterally-arranged fuel-pumps were vacant, save a single car just out of sight. The .38 compelled him across the lot, to the curb of the main-road, then across to its far-side. A car skidded to a stop before them.

Sirens blared through the night.

“You damn fool!” The creature barked at him.

He dove into the car, and for a flashing instant, Brad saw a human being. It was afraid, hungry. Then, the revolver rose and popped! A single round struck Brad’s gut. The shooter and his getaway car were gone before Brad hit the ground. How, he wasn’t sure until later, but those sirens screamed for the gas-station with angry vengeance. Brad lie in the snow, bleeding and half-frozen. A car inched over, its head-lights adding white to his pained and darkening vision.

Anyone else should have died that night. Brad wasn’t anyone else. In fact, he was the only “one else” for a young, espresso-skinned woman that more than qualified as stunning. As one of his regulars, she was also an independent, people-loving “loser,” content (like he) in the goings of her life.

Were she not so certain of that fact, she might never have been compelled to linger at the pump. She might never have been looking for an excuse to ask Brad out. She might never have wrestled with the decision, and thus witness the robbery, call the police, or watch Brad cross the road.

Had she refused to accept being a “loser,” she might have found herself in conflict with her feelings. Her nerves might then have gotten the best of her, and she might not have sat, waiting and arguing with herself. She might then have driven off, hopelessly romanticizing “what might’ve been.” Most of all, had she been anything else but herself, she would never have been quick enough to rush to Brad’s aid, or apply the life-saving pressure his wound required.

But she was herself, and she was there: she did apply the pressure, flag down the officers on scene, whom radioed EMT’s, then took her thorough description of the two men and their getaway vehicle. It wasn’t a half-hour after Brad was rushed to a nearby hospital that she was identifying the men. She waited two hours while she gave and signed statements, then made sure to locate and populate Brad’s otherwise-empty bedside.

What happened after he awoke is a matter of another tale, much too long to be told here. The conversation that took place immediately after he awoke was almost tedious in its way, but properly sets the tone for that lengthy tale, for those interested.

Brad awoke with a throbbing head. “Ugh. What happened?”

The woman was on her feet. She pressed him back to the bed, “Don’t try to sit up, you’ll pop your stitches.”

He hit a threshold of pain, then allowed her to ease him backward. Her espresso-skinned face, and jewel-bright eyes flitted through his mind, unseating a buried memory.

“You’re one of the regulars.”

She nodded. Her gentle hands and glowing smile forced a mental recall of the multitude of times they’d interacted. He’d seen her, felt a draw. He buried it, played it off as wishful thinking. Her smile glowed a little cooler now, but more from concern than anything.

Her hand withdrew but hesitated near his. She spoke almost breathlessly. “I s-saw everything, and… well, I wanted to stay here until someone else came, or until you w-woke up. I didn’t want you to feel alone after what happened.”

He gave an earnest smile, “Thank you. But… why?”

She chewed her bottom lip timidly, twiddled her nimble thumbs. “I was… um. I noticed they had no-one to call and … well, since I was there– and was sorta, gonna, maybe, ask you out– I figured I’d just s-stay… you know, as a f-friend. In c-case you n-needed someone… here, I mean.”

He blinked off a fog of morphine and pain. “You were gonna ask me out?”

Her big eyes glistened, “Y-yeah, I mean, i-if you wanted.”

He blushed, felt his cheeks reddened, and managed a laugh that made him wince. She looked as if about to lunge, fearing something more, but grimaced with a desperate laugh. Her gaze fell to her twiddling thumbs.

Brad watched her, found himself as equally stretched for words. “Wow.” His wishful thinking was rekindled into a blazing fire of hope, “I’m– and you’re so… I mean, why me? Why would someone so… be interested in me?”

She looked up with another timid, half-smile, having found her confidence again. “You’re cute, and I figured, since I see you everyday, we sort of have something in common. I-I really was only gonna ask for a-a date and then, well with everything now–” She sighed, “I understand if you don’t… want to, you know?”

He laughed again, shallower this time, then like her, found his confidence again. “From the sound of it, you saved my life. Least I can do is oblige such a… stunningly beautiful woman.”

Her eyes rose at him with a twinkle of hope. He let his hand rest atop hers, “I’m Brad, by the way.”

She giggled, shook it, “Sheila.”

One date: that was the agreement. And it was held to. Time and again, until long after they’d already become inseparable, they recalled that fateful meeting. No matter what anyone said about two such “losers,” they’d found perpetual joy in the fickleness of life– and in one another’s contentment of their place in it. Together, they took their own happiness and combined it, only to find more. What losers…

Bonus Short Story: Never the Same Again

The world shuddered in fear when it appeared. It was a ghostly apparition sent from the heavens that no one refused to accept. It was like the shadow that flits at the edge of the eye, but when one turns to look with a start, they find nothing. Except it has never left. It didn’t then, most certainly. Now, I’, not sure we could imagine our lives without it– for good or ill.

I was working a main-line water-repair when it appeared. A few hours before the main had burst in front of a local middle school. We were lucky the summer-time was on us and school was out. If it hadn’t been, people would’ve hated us all the more for blocking the main thorough-fare between ends of the city.

I’d been cracking asphalt with a jackhammer when I looked up. I was wiping sweat from my forehead. For a moment, I thought my eyes were playing tricks. Even in the dead of night, the heat was ungodly. If it had been day my boots would’ve melted to the asphalt. I guess there’s some silver lining there, however minute.

There it was though. Hanging overhead twice the size of the largest the moon could become, and clearly man-made– or rather, made by something other than nature. It had settled into an orbit that allowed it to be viewed world-wide at appropriate times of day.

Humanity breathed together. We were like one organism, together in terror. I remember dropping the jackhammer and almost causing an accident when someone was about to trip over it. He and the other guy carrying equipment between them stopped. They caught my gaze. Five hundred pounds of concrete and other gear toppled sideways like over-stacked books. The ruckus made the job site stop and gaze over at us. They all saw us frozen, staring skyward, then stared themselves.

From what I’ve heard, that was how it went all over. One man or woman was wiping away sweat, or daydreaming with eyes on the sky, or blowing smoke from pursed lips, and caught sight of the massive object. From there everyone followed to look in similar fashion. I can’t imagine how many car accidents, or accidental deaths there were from that event. It was like the world came to an utter and complete stop. From 60-0, and there was no time nor braking. It stopped, and that was that.

People panicked. World-wide, global panic. The stock markets nose-dived. The stores were emptied by doomsday preppers. Martial law was declared in many places. Others were almost completely abandoned by law-enforcement and military, giving rise to local militias of crazy assholes with more guns then brains. At least the more intelligent folks among them prevailed. Some sort of order was necessary, of course, but it was a long time before anything resembling it reappeared.

I remember that first night. It was like we were on the cusp of a precipice. Behind us was this sort of imperfect peace. Ahead, lay a chasm of total anarchy and violence. The job was called off pending this appearance– and more “officially” the loss and damage of the dropped materials. That last part was the excuse, but I doubt anyone would’ve argued about it. I’m not even sure that information was ever received.

We were sent home around midnight. My wife was awake. She’d received a call from a friend working the late shift somewhere. I don’t know where. We never got along, and I didn’t ask questions about her. Point is, my wife was awake, and our little girl was still sound asleep in her bed. What I wouldn’t have given to see her dreams go on forever, so that she might never wake up into the nightmare that was sure to come.

We sat at the kitchen table, across from one another. We’d been friends our whole lives. We’d dated in junior-high, explored each other, broke up, explored others, then started over again Senior year of High-School. Somehow we came out of it with a beautiful daughter, a nice house, toys and luxuries, and an otherwise wonderful life. I wasn’t greedy. Never have been. She’s like me in that way. I guess we jut got lucky, rewarded for our general, positive way of living.

But that night…

It was like we were kids again. We trembled and held each other like inexperienced children. We cried in anger and sorrow like petulant children. Hell, we even laughed and joked the same as we once had, long, long ago. It was all a response to fear. We knew it then, as surely as I know it now.

It’s not something one experiences everyday. This was a complete and total shift of everything we thought we knew. Us as a people I mean, Humanity. Everything from social issues to physics was now challenged. So far as I know, scores of people vastly more intelligent than myself rose to it, and all of them came away stumped. Even that great physicist and sometimes philosopher Hawking only knew what he could deduce from observations, measurements, and readings taken with every known instrument.

I guess they tried communicating with it for a while. All the while the anarchy and chaos were worsening. The faithful said it was the apocalypse. The scientists said it was a baffling mystery. Law men and politicians flocked to one side or the other, adding whether they thought violence was the answer. Personally, I just said “holy shit.”

That was all that would come out. Every time I looked up, I thought about the millions of years of evolution that our species had gone through. I thought about the last few hundred years of technological development, the last few millennia of civilization. All of that had to pale in comparison to whoever– or whatever– had brought this thing here. I still can’t imagine what they’re like, or were.

Billions of years have passed since the Big Bang. The Universe is still expanding. It will, for the foreseeable Eons forward. Even our tiny knowledge base had deciphered that much. We had speculated countless ways of alternate evolution, from the most learned astrobiologists to the most overconfident sci-fi writers, but we’d never had any proof, any indication of where to look.

We suddenly had it then, and we still didn’t know what to do with it. When communication attempts failed, and our instruments had found all they could, an expedition was outfitted. A team of astronauts with a mathematician, linguist, psychologist, and school-teacher in tow, launched for the ISS. They made their rendezvous to procure supplies sent up before them on an automated rocket, then made for the moon-like vehicle orbiting nearby.

We still haven’t heard back much, but we know its empty. There’s a lot to be deciphered and scoured, but there is supposedly a distinct lack of any life aboard. I hope that proves true. I hope those crazy conspiracy theorists are wrong, that there isn’t a cover-up about aliens aboard. I hope, but I’m not holding my breath. There’s something about disappearances these days. They’re too numerous, too obvious. I can’t imagine what the point would be.

We live in fear now. It’s kept us in check thus far, but the way things have turned, it isn’t a stretch to believe it could all fall to chaos again. The governments don’t have control anymore. The militias are more armed and populated than ever, and the water main is still unfixed. I don’t know if things will ever be the same again, but I’m not certain if that’s good or bad. All I know is that my wife and I, and our daughter, won’t be taken without a fight, no matter who comes knocking.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Judging Independence

Listen closely,
to the mortars’ song.
They cry of freedom,
by banging a gong,
but shriek in terror,
at a girl’s thong.

What great masses,
of fools and hypocrites,
would deny man or woman,
their in-born spirits?
Perhaps the same ones,
that themselves have no merits.

Yet those same masses,
seem to rule the world,
with chaos and madness,
and delusions hurled.
If only we, the minority,
could be quite so unfurled.

Judge not,
lest ye be judged,
but there is no jury,
and they’ve bought the judge,
forever our innocence,
has been smudged.

A corruption of spirit
of truth and unity,
and thus I must say,
without impunity,
that our independence,
caused a wisdom-immunity.

Two centuries have come,
and then some,
all but a fraction,
spent waging war.
It’s hard not to feel,
just a little bit sore.

If independence this be,
I just have to ask;
is it me?
Or have we failed the task?

The Pod: Part 5

5.

Provisions

We deliberated a while on what to do next. After a period of rest, we concluded that the weapon must be mounted in an appropriately sized vehicle or trailer, powered by a gas generator meant for homes. We set about procuring the supplies.

Perhaps looting is the more apt term. The truth was, upon emerging from his home, My colleague and I found the scene worse than before. Looters were abound. The city had descended into all-out anarchy. Windows were being smashed all down the street. Homes were broken into, their owners still fighting for their lives and valuables. Some rightful residents were able to gain the upper hand, throwing their opponents into the streets bloodied and bruised. Others, lost in their own rights. Soon the thieves were seen running, light-footed, over bodies as they carried out their victim’s possessions.

Luckily, several levels of security on my colleague’s home protected his workshop and our weapon. The windows were of high strength Plexiglas, meant for use in tall office-buildings, thicker than normal. His front and rear doors were constructed of double-ply steel, set in heavy frames and bolted shut. Even the basement workshop was barred by one of these doors in addition to electronic and analog security locks. These were not the fruits of a paranoid man, but rather the result and value of the contents of his workshop. His work was not primarily his own. Very little was, in fact. Most consisted of several multi-million dollar projects of small research firms that, because of his idiosyncrasies, he was allowed to work on at home. Being that he was a well-respected man in his field, his employers readily gave such allowances.

After acquiring all that we would need from a hardware store, we hurried home in a large pick-up truck, stolen from a new vehicle lot. With the insanity around us, the crime was hardly unwarranted. Upon returning home, we found an eerie sight: The streets, previously filled with looters, rioters, and all manner of human-detritus, were now devoid of life. The neighborhood and surrounding blocks were silent. Had a mass exodus begun and concluded in so short a time?

We rolled to a stop outside his home, hurried inside to gather the weapon and any necessary tools, whilst the question festered in our minds. With the batteries aligned in the truck’s bed, there was just enough space for the alternators between they and the generator to connect to the weapon. My colleague set about configuring the weapon while I bolted its heavy tripod into place.

It was then that a sound came, shattering silence like a gunshot. It rocketed overhead from the West with a high pitched whine. It Doppler shifted, grew louder, passed by invisibly, then sank to a lower frequency. Then, once more, from the distant East.

It could not be true, could it? No man was so foolish, so short-sighted to dream it, were they?

It came at us from the West again; a beast possessed of an unnatural, synthetic survival, sonic-booming overhead. The shock-wave from its low flight and high speeds shook the truck, nearly deafened us. I worked faster to bolt the gun’s final leg down. My Colleague readied the batteries, switched on the gas generator. The gun climbed to a low rumble. The power increased, the rumble shifted higher to a whir its own. It was then that we glimpsed it, hovering on the horizon, studying us. Without conscious thought, I grabbed at the gun.

The massive fighter jet seemed to notice my intent and made for us. It began a passing run, spitting out imitation bullets composed of the nano-bots. They chipped at the ground, punctured cars with as much velocity and intimidation as their real counterparts might.

I had no fear. It was not an option. Not for a mind so bent on firing the weapon. I judged its trajectory, fired. The weapon’s concussive wave shoved the truck forward several inches. The blast of electricity traveled faster than anticipated, attracted to the mass of minute robots. It struck the nose, emanated through-out the swarm. The plane dissipated mid-attack, the bots fried and raining ember to the ground.

The weapon had worked. We knew what must be done. My colleague and I set off to gather as many survivors and materials as possible; to build weapons and an army to fire them. In time, all could be put right.