VIN 20- Thus, We Resist

The only problem with America is that it has always been acceptable for large portions of it to be uneducated.

After the fall of Southern Slavery, that divide became smaller and smaller, resulting in less educational inequality. The seeming Broca-Divide between those diseased with poverty, and those with eloquence and refinement, was nearly erased. At least so far as history had yet recorded. Then came the re-institution of racism in the national-jingoist’s mind, the rise of the Civil Rights movement.

These were effects of the disturbing changes in modern-day comforts. Suddenly, instead of seeing a local newsman lazily predicting weather, people were seeing whole swaths of others being brutalized or disruptive.

Regardless of sides of the fence, fires were stoked. Indeliberately, but undeniably.

These realities though still existent, seemed to subside with the growing pace of the Vietnam war’s end, and the sleek fast-moneyed cocaine-lifestyle of the 80s. However, that lifestyle had a seedy underbelly that millions were suffering from the cost of fueling it. In context, Cocaine was black market. Black market was bad. Not because it is, inherently– it is only a concept for the market of that which is prohibited but needed, and thus, unregulated– but because it was perceived to be and treated as such. (Whether it’s worth long term stability to remain so is a matter unto itself.)

However, those suffering from that underbelly were those so recently disenfranchised– whatever the effect, because they, as components of the system of society, were yet in the final stages of their own turbulence.

In essence, civil-rights and peace movements weren’t done moving, but they were slowing– if only to come to a stop at having yet nowhere to go next.

That was exacerbated later, by those other-but-corrupt elements of the system (society) that had struck back at those slowing, causing them to speed up, swerve, and nearly lose control. It was like a retributive game of rural-road chicken.

The crack and heroin epidemics of the 80s and 90s gave way to such current nuisances as the Drug-war and Opioid epidemics– whose pre-digital mindsets are entirely products of their time. Psychology dictates prohibition is doomed to fail. Human curiosity, that which is relied upon for us to survive and thrive, does not allow for prohibition except when used to challenge oneself.

While these aforementioned epidemics are of the worst kinds, in that they harm those involved more greatly than they could ever help, it remains that it is not in the prohibition nor prosecution of these behaviors, Human efforts should be focused. Rather, evidence best indicates its focus should be on treating their underlying causes.

Escapism will never be entirely voluntarily. It is, if only partially, a compulsion for Humans that comes from their need of, and connection to, imagination. It is why, despite the existence of videography, pure type still exists. There is a want, need even, for the Human mind to capably escape its reality in as many ways as possible.

The reason is simple: Stress is a killer.

Medical science knows this now. Society knows it, too. Likewise through Medical-Science, it is known as unavoidable, useful even: as much a part of the Human condition as water, oxygen, excretion, or death. An equal imperative in life to keep itself living. As well, through Physics, we know each action has an equal and inverse reaction.

These principles, reversely applied to escapism, reveal its engineering as a mechanism of action for coping as much as needed or desired. The problem with the aforementioned epidemics, and their connection, means they’re byproducts of the same underlying issues.

Simply: No pure-escapist, uninfluenced by external sources, wishes escapism badly enough to rot their teeth and smell like bleach and cat-piss from crack. Such a person would be like a connoisseur of animal shit: probably necessary, but limited in number for sake of natural process rather than want.

To simplify even further, the extremes one may go to in their escapism may correlate the depths of their damage. Speaking generally, the higher you wish to soar, the deeper you live– unless you’re Tolkien’s Dwarves.

But education, its seeming lack of pervasiveness in a so-called “educated society,” dictates we are anything but. Mostly, because en-masse Humans have failed to grasp the simple concept that to learn, one must be willing to do so.

With that comes a harsh reality: Humans don’t care to learn. They care to be led. To change the people, they must understand why they must change. It is why the addict seeks help only after admitting their addiction.

Thus Humans must wish to learn, so that they might see the beauty inherent in what it grants– why it is crucial to existence as a whole, as a “next-level” species to do so.Because otherwise Humanity is built on a foundation of animals shit, rather than something lasting.

To resist that, guide the change properly, allows all involved to be apart of something grand. It makes each participant like a kind of royalty.

Until that is recognized, treated as such, Humanity cannot hope to even begin grasping the challenges before us. When such challenges threaten our existence as a whole, it is dangerous to ignore them– Climate change. War. Nuclear anything. Planetary catastrophe. Extra-solar catastrophe…

We must remain focused on our individual goals, the healing ones– for ourselves and those around us. Otherwise, the systems needed to be in place to prevent catastrophe– for us and our progeny– will not do so.

Thus, we resist.

Hard Lessons: Part 17 (Conclusion)

17.

Mr. Brownstone

The Roadrunner screamed to a stop outside an abandoned, Happy-Fish packing-warehouse. Wyatt had done his part at least. Titus’ Custom Porsche came to a rest beside him, its high-performance tires and brake-systems able to stop on a dime, in silence.

The trio piled out at top-speed. Angela led. She crossed the distance to the doors in a stride. Another put her through a door, at the edge of a warehouse floor. Across it, Lucas stood before a heavily pierced and tattooed ganger. His ink was old, faded; an O-G, surviving on wit– and the wide line of enforcers around him.

Ganger-contractors were the real thieves; running protection to people they’d murder in their sleep for a better fee. More often though, they just cut their bosses enemies to pieces and stuffed them into cement-filled drums. Gruesome, but effective.

The trio’s sudden appearance prompted a drawdown.

Unarmed, Lucas blurted in shock, “Angela!?”

The dealer drew on him. “Fuck’s goin’ on? You fuck us?”

“N-no, this is–“

“His sister.” Angela stepped forward, a modded-Sig trained on the dealer.

The dealer grew a sardonic smile. “Oh, little sister coming to reconcile with junkie brother, eh?”

“Big sister, actually.”

“Oh, big sister. My bad. My bad.” Then, with a shout and spittle, “Bullshit! My deals don’t go South. Get out, bitch!”

Lucas pled, “Angie, just go.”

“You stole something from me, Lucas,” she said, eyes on his. “I need it back.”

“I talkin’ to a pair of deaf ‘n blind street-rats!? I said, fuck off!” The dealer spat.

They ignored him. The room twitched, bowing with anxiety. Its various players eyed one another, their leaders. Lucas reached a hand for the tablet in his pocket. The room broke into shouts. Lucas froze.

The dealer laughed, “Finally, some recognition. Aye? How d’you know I won’t just shoot him?”

“You do, you die. You’re not that stupid.” She knew his type. “You still want his cash. Can’t have it if you’re dead. Won’t get it if you hurt him.”

The dealer laughed, lips pursed and rocking, impressed she’d deigned his thoughts. “I think I might like you, sis, but you still gotta’ fuck off. Junkie, give sis her shit so we can get this on with.”

Lucas hesitated.

“Go on fuck-wit. Move it along. Got brown to move.”

Angela kept her gun level, eyes flashing. Lucas started forward; the dealer caught the flash, stopped him. “Ho, ho, wait, Esse.” He’d tasted desperation on the air. “Sis, what good’s a little piece’a shit like this to you?”

“Lucas, bring it,” she said, carefully.

“Nah, Lucas, stay.” The dealers gun leveled on him a hand. The other drew the tablet from Lucas’ pocket. “Good boy, Lucas. Sit. Stay.”

The air thickened.

The dealer thumbed the tablet with one hand, “Now, me, I’m thinking, big sis gets her crew together, brings ‘em ‘ere to get somethin’ from little bro. Risks a deal. Means he’s carrying somethin’ important. Somethin’ she wants back. Bad.

“Right, mi hermanos?

His crew nodded mischievously. He hefted the tablet in a hand, the other firm at Lucas. “I’m thinkin’ this might be worth somethin’ to her. Or someone her crew works for. Aye?” He leaned toward Angela in a hush, “Catchin’ on, am I sis?

Angela’s body tensed, rigid, “Yeah. You are.” Her face tightened, sharpened. “You won’t get out of here with it. Give it now, we all walk away. Make your deal. Don’t. Otherwise… what’s another sour deal in Jackstaff?”

He mmm’d and stepped back shaking his head, gun on Lucas, “I dunno, sis. Sounds like a threat to me. What’chu think mi hermanos? Big sis got a hard-on for putting money where her mouth is?”

Lucas twitched at the agreement, his fear and detox growing, “Let’s all jus–“

“Shut up, Lucas,” Angela ordered.

The dealer mocked her with a grating, nasal tenor, “Aye, shut up, Lucas. Big kids’re talking.”

“You walk out with that, you’re worse off than if I killed you,” Angela warned.

“Dead men don’t have no problems, sis,” he said, eyeing the tablet. “Live men on the other hand, got bankroll. Make me an offer.”

“I just did; your life.”

He laughed; deeply and uproariously, tablet held to one side of his head, mid-air. “Big sis ain’t gonna risk lil’ bro over–“

His skull’s innards splat across the tablet, spraying air with a passing slug and a paste of blood, bone, and brain. The dealer’s body crumpled.

The room was frozen save Curie’s John. He appeared alongside the bullet’s obvious source: one of a cadre of heavily armed men in fatigues. The enforcers were still processing. The John’s men raised their weapons, said nothing. The John strolled toward the newly unemployed posse, catching them before they’d grasped reality.

He projected to be heard, “I am a reasonable man. Our associate here was not. The police are on their way. You have precisely ten seconds to flee or we will open fire. Ten… Nine.”

He continued to count. One of the dealer’s men fled. The rest aimed, dove for cover. A wall of fire cut two down before they were in, the rest scrambled.

Angela tackled Lucas. She huddled over him, ballistic-weave coat fanned to shield them from the automatic weapons rattling and chattering overhead. Semi-automatic barks of low-caliber pistols answered back in sparse desperation.

Titus and Crystal kept down at one side of the warehouse’s edge. The John’s wall of fire was continuous, unrelenting.

“Let ‘em work it out, Cee,” Titus instructed, gun ready.

It took only seconds longer for them to cut down what remained of the dealer’s people.

Then, choking silence.

Crystal and Titus rose slightly. Angela and Lucas eased themselves up. Lucas was utterly stunned, but Angela was waiting, curious if the John would kill them too.

The John instructed a man at his left, “Mister Norman, if you please.”

Norman stepped over and rolled the dealer’s corpse sideways, exposing his grisly death-face and the cracked-eggshell state of his head. Norman collected and wiped the tablet, handing it to the John. He removed his card from its side, reached into the inner-pocket of his jacket, and exchanged it for a USB stick. With indefatigable grace, he stooped to place the stick on the floor before Angela.

“A job well done, Miss Dale. My regards to the Madame.”

The John was gone before the distant sirens forced them to flee.

Lucas lagged behind the others, panting and running, but too focused on the stash he’d stolen off the dealer.

No point letting it go to waste.”

Angela sent Crystal with Titus, fled with Lucas in the Roadrunner. She drove until she was sure they weren’t followed, then pulled over in a nondescript alley to breathe. Meanwhile Lucas prepped a and snorted a lump of brown. Seconds later, he was calm, collected.

Angela waited for his head to clear before it fogged up again.

He smiled, “That was wild. What the hell was that? I mean, I knew you were–“

“Get out of my car.”

His face fell off. “Huh?”

“I said, get out of my car. Now.” She safetied the Sig in her lap. “If I see you again, and you’re not clean, I’ll turn you in. I swear on my life, Lucas. I survived our childhood because of you, and I’m sorry I couldn’t get you out with me, but I loved you then and I love you now.

“So get out, and stay away from me.”

“Angie? What’re you–“

She wasn’t listening.

“You could already die for what you know. Get out. Otherwise, I don’t want you here. Take Wyatt’s money, the Dealer’s brown, and get the fuck outta’ my city.”

He was visibly hurt, “Angie, I–“

She hardened with finality, “Get clean or don’t. I love you, but I don’t care. Go.”

Mechanical habit forced him from the car. He watched, slack-jawed as the car trundled off through pouring rain and steam-frosted air. Some lessons had to be learned the hard way. Angela knew that. Either you learned ‘em, you died trying to, or you were killed failing to.

Hard lessons, but important lessons.

18.

Never Go Home Again

Crystal and Titus stood across from Arthur at the island counter. Arthur was relaxed, more-so than the others; as if a sudden weight were lifted from them all, but him most of all.

Crystal figured it for the best, “Angela left. She say anything about it?”

Arthur shook his head. “No, but I know why.” He looked to Titus, “We may need help.”

Titus slugged back beer, curious nonetheless. “Details?”

“Have any contacts in CPS?”

Crystal’s eyes narrowed, turned to meet a similar expression in Titus.

*

Seattle was a big city. Bigger than ever these days. It was obvious the sprawl was taking over. Approaching metros was like coming in for cross-country landings; the highways forcing you to taxi a holding pattern until you could be pointed to a terminal. Save they did it with traffic jams and convoluted loops of concrete that made sense on paper, but not in practice.

It was no wonder auto-cars were taking over; they were just plain simpler.

In spite of everything though, Seattle never felt less like home. Unfortunately for Angela, that wasn’t necessarily a pleasant thing. She loved the city itself, but returning was like standing on hot coals while force-fed milk and honey. It took all of her emotional control not to treat it like walking straight into a lion’s den.

Guns weren’t an option here though.

To Angela’s credit, better than anyone might expect, even if she felt differently. She’d been fighting to figure out her approach. Eventually, she decided on winging it. Improv was her forte, after all.

Just past midday, she stepped through the doors of an old, back office to speak with the woman there. She was pretty, if plain, and brimming with all the pleasantness of over-educated civil servants finally meeting intellectual stimulus again. The woman disappeared a few moments later.

An eternity of hand-wringing later, she reappeared with a young girl in tow.

Alison was an almost perfect duplicate of Angela at her age; primly groomed, bicep-long curtain of hair, bright teeth and fresh braces. Thick, conservative clothing covered roughly every inch of the rest of her, like some pseudo-modern take on a puritan-pride ad. All the same, that image missed one subtle but crucial thing.

That one thing hinted itself with flashes of gold beneath Ali’s collar.

Few might have caught it, but Angela’s attention to detail was beyond the realm of most’s imagination. That last detail also made Angela’s heart ache. She knew the habit, had it herself through childhood– was partly why, despite her piercings and eccentricities, she’d never taken to necklaces.

She despised the cross, all it stood for. Ali did too. Hiding it was the only vigil of rebellion open. Angela knew her parents, knew Alison wouldn’t have been allowed a scrap of unsanctioned writing, let alone a diary. Thus she expressed herself the only way she could.

She entered the room with grace, poise. Her eyes were on the counselor. She never even noticed Angela; never expected anyone to come for her, let alone her own sister. Angela’s heart broke, its effect felt in the sudden turn Ali gave.

Her eyes met Angela’s, widened, “A-Angie?”

Tears welled, duplicated by sisters separated by a generation of suffering and now rejoined to heal. It was safe to say Alison remembered her, only time would tell if she could forgive her.

Short Story: Love or Not

Taryn was young, lean, and more or less healthy– if eternally under-the-weather looking.

Strawberry-blonde flax crept from her head. The strands formed great sheets of otherwise-silk whose ends were too frayed to allow proper naming. Her clothing was perpetually clearance-rack, tattered edges, and at least one-two sizes too big in one placed or the other. Nonetheless she was happy.

She loved life. She loved living.

And she loved the smell of opium. Mostly, its flowery hints blooming on her tongue between lung-smothering bellows of robust smoke. Real opium was hard to find nowadays. Even harder when the bi-annual shipments to pharma-corps vacuumed up the poppy harvests like whores on-the-clock. Everyone felt it those times; street dealers, their suppliers, their supplier’s suppliers. Everyone.

Even the large corps like Bonne Nuit and Neuro-Kinetics needing stuff for their own, meager manufacturing for inhouse aug-testers were left with only scraps. No help for the poor bastards with neural-shock from malfunctioning augs during those dry times either. They were as likely to off themselves then as the addicts drying out in gutters.

Users and abusers weren’t the only people hurting during those times of year.

Taryn personally recalled hearing the feelers from Megacorps like Cameron and Byrne for any and every hint of true Opium from the shadows. It was obvious in the rumors of double price for already-astronomical street values.

No user or abuser had that kind of cash. Corps wanted hard stuff. Real stuff. What Uncle Emile and his Bonne Nuit ilk cooked up in synth labs just wasn’t pure enough.

Taryn had taken one, deep whiff and agreed; Opium had started thousand year wars for a reason. Funny to think it could do it again if it tried.

She relaxed like some ancient rebel under dim light, to smoke it now. New. Sweet. Fresh. Sprinkled a gram of grass that those ancient rebels never could have dreamed would exist. She inhaled far deeper than few else could.

Dry times meant an end to the extremely sluggish downers that kept her mind limber. She was too high-strung, anxious otherwise. Always had been, really. To a point, sometimes, of unintentional self-harm.

Only past a certain age had she learned the usefulness of street drugs in treating that. Doctors all insisted her condition was normal adolescent angst.

Until a shadow-dweller took her to his street-doc.

Even as she kicked back in the dingy apartment, she remembered the visit. As if it’d just happened. Burning opium buried a damp mildew that clawed through the darkness. Its filth was held at bay by her leather clothing, but she barely recalled it later.

She was focused at her nostrils. That was how she remembered it. How she wanted to. That first hint of flowering sweetness.

Spot looked the typical shadow-type; half-balls, half-brains and utterly average save his personal history and grotesqueness. He’d gotten his nickname from a massive burn along one half his face. It left him eternally looking like he’d lost a fight to a waffle-iron. Nobody would have laughed about it. He was more a mental image of Harvey Dent than any actor could hope to achieve.

Ironically, that scar was earned as a result of someone else’s two-facedness.

Spot had been married once. Technically still was. He’d even been by a corp-suit. Not an exec, but high-up. He had all the nice things a suit had, too: big penthouse condo. Super-cars in the garage.Drivers and limos, and more money than even the catholic church managed at its height.

Anything he didn’t have, he had access to. Even Opium. Any time of year.

Then, one day, Spot arrived to find his best friend drilling his trophy wife on his kitchen table. The fight that ensued ended with the guy dead and Spot looking freshly-cooked. The guy stupid enough to be drilling the wife did so while she was cooking Spot’s dinner.

Consequently, Spot was stupid enough to lose the upper hand and have his face held to a burner.

Spot’s former-friend didn’t last long after that.

That was the end of it. The eventual repercussions, perfectly in-line with what one expected of corps, swept the murder under the rug and ostracized him from his former-world. Because of his ugliness, they disowned him socially.

He burned through what remained of his accounts and and took to the shadows. He’d been screwing the corps every chance he could get. And Taryn, too. Incidentally, he’d never said what happened to trophy-wife. Taryn didn’t much care anyhow, but knew not to ask.

All the same, Spot was good to her.

Since the day he’d taken her to his weird-ass street-doc, they’d been working together a while. They’d been screwing only a little less. It wasn’t love. Just sex. Neither really believed in love, anyhow.

But both believed in orgasms.

The one nice thing about their partnership, for lack of terminology, was the mutual benefits they afforded one another. Ones other people simply couldn’t provide. Sex wasn’t even one. Anything with genitals could fuck.

Sometimes, even without.

What was most important was their link, one they’d decided was the same between confidants, but stronger. She could look at him, ignore his scars, listen like a human being. No staring. No judgment. He could let his guard down.

And she, too.

Neither were squeamish. Utterly lacking any ability to be physically disgusted– for her, another effect of her conditions. Because of it, he enjoyed hints of normality.

She, on the other hand, enjoyed his presence. The Jaded, corp-life rebellion. The simple, delicious irony in his new roguishness. His gun-for-hire ways perfectly complimenting her invisible thief’s skills.

In a world full of boring, typically average people Spot had connections, stories, motive. He had plans. He was human. He knew big-time players too. From his status and previous employment. More than that he– and her through him– had full access to resources most only dreamed of.

They were a hell of a pair. Brought together by what they’d learned at the Street-doc: Taryn wouldn’t live as long a life. She had, at most, twenty years before her heart gave out.

For anyone under thirty, that seemed unfair.

How could it’ve been missed? How was the street-doc sure? It was, he said, a difficult disease to diagnose, both due to obscurity and being commonly mistaken for arrhythmia. He knew it though, had seen it.

The disease– whatever it was the Doc called it, had a long and irritatingly difficult-to-pronounce name. She never bothered trying to learn it. Spot might’ve known it, but like the trophy-wife thing, just never bothered bringing it up. It served as equally little purpose to either of them.

Taryn left, utterly overwhelmed. Unaffected by everything in life until then, she and Spot returned to the apartment only for the tables to turn completely.

Suddenly,Spot was listening, making her feel human. Then, something altogether new. It manifested something more until the pair found themselves drenched in tears, faces wet and choked for air like small, sobbing children. She, for her lost time; he, for fear of being without her.

Neither recalled much afterward, more an effect of the Opium they’d taken to. They still worked, kept themselves clear-headed thieving and gunning, but all bets were off after punching out.

Most time was spent working, fucking, and getting high. Or, when the Opium was light two or three weeks in purgatorial boredom before intervening normality where new memories were formed in various ways.

Problem was, of course, once the next phase of smoking came about they dissolved again.

Didn’t matter, Taryn felt; she lived for the moment, never guaranteed the next. Besides the drugs kept her from spazzing out more often than not.

She took another hit, heart skipping its arrhythmic beat as if reminding of her dwindling time. Life wasn’t shit, but it wasn’t roses. It was a flowery hint of something wafting on smoky, mildew-damp air; as fitting a metaphor as anything.

He submerged himself in smoke, carrying a brown-bag of groceries in from the door. Simple day-time stuff. Just bare essentials. Neither had a taste for much else.A strange normality from a dysfunctionally average life.

That strange semblance of normality culminated when she found her, upright, naked on the sofa. Her feet flat on the floor. His face pressed her groin; scarred and smooth sides brushed her inner-thighs in a similarly dysfunctional mirage of feeling and rightness.

It was the same sort of duality, she decided, that their lives were filled with. The slow death and fast life. Their coldness fostering peculiar warmth between. Their love that wasn’t love.

But because it was more, something stronger.

All of it was their lives. For good or ill. Through thick and thin. And she never wanted it to end, and thus knew it must. Eventually.

She locked her ankles behind his head. Folded scar-tissue pressed one thigh; warm stubble the other. She thrust against him. She decided then that twenty years or less; twenty years or more, and love or not, life was for living.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Sobriety’s Uncouth

A month in chains,
is worth a lifetime of dreams.
Shackled at the wrists.
Bound at the ankles,
I live on,
knowing my freedom,
lies on the other side,
of cages gray and iron,
of bars cold and blue.

This is the mind,
the point of view,
of a creature
whom, unlike you,
finds sobriety uncouth.

To it,
said state is stagnation;
a poison,
bearing things far worse than death,
for this creature,
thrives on imagination,
and revels in its every tainted breath.

When cut off from it–
the muse of the mind–
such creatures wither,
they die inside.

And while they can be reborn,
each time their fire is dimmed.
Until one day but embers,
coals of themselves,
mockeries of their former existence.
Wouldn’t you rather fly,
than die?

So heed this command;
let live and let live,
for though there may be impostors,
so too are there anomalies,
true-born freaks,
creatures of darkness,
whose counter to light,
can only be accepted,
not understood.

Short Story: For Family

It was insanity. It was complete and utter insanity. This had to be the most stupid thing she’d ever done. And for the most stupid of reasons. She steadied herself on the front bumper of the car, held on to a windshield wiper. People’d been killed less stupidly.

At least if she fell at this speed, she told herself, death would be quick.

Somehow, it didn’t make her feel better. She wasn’t sure anything could, not at the moment. Maybe a bubble of down-soft mattresses around her. Probably not. Otherwise, the universe could call all their debts even so long as she didn’t die horribly– even dying non-horribly wasn’t off the table.

She swallowed hard, feeling the car’s engine explode with power. It raged forward, spurned by the foot of the fuming creature behind the wheel. Kris had never exactly been collected, but this was insanity. Stupid insanity. All of it.

If Kate hadn’t been insane enough to get involved with the gangers, this would’ve never happened. If Syd hadn’t been insane enough to still love her baby sister, she wouldn’t be hanging on by a wiper blade. If big brother Kris wasn’t insane, period, he wouldn’t be forcing her to. Most of all, if their parents weren’t insane, Kate might not have developed her insanity, and wouldn’t be just out of reach in the econo-van rapidly approaching their front-bumper.

The more she thought about it, the less she knew what the hell came next. Kris’ foot was to the floor. The car was gaining. Soon enough, she’d have to decide if she wanted to attempt something. As to what, she didn’t have a clue. All of this was played by ear. Obviously. Who the hell planned hanging off the front end of a rapidly moving vehicle. If she had planned anything, it would’ve been driving. Not hanging. Kris could’ve done the hanging.

Instead, here she was– in arm’s reach of their sister and the stupid fuck trying to kidnap her. Or who had rather– wasn’t much further to go on that, really.

Kate had always had drug problems. They all had their vises. Family problems were as genetic as the genes themselves. Kris liked to gamble. Syd drank like a fish. Kate smoked, snorted, or shot just about anything and everything she touched.

She’d always been safe about it– mostly. She’d contracted Hepatitis from bad needles. Not her fault, really. The needle exchange’s supplier made a mistake. It was a big one, ended in lawsuits that Kate had benefited from. She immediately took her cash payout to get high off of and had been coasting off it ever since. It was a lot of money, after all.

Likewise, Kris’d had both his legs broken by bookies. Not at the same time mind you, but it got the point across… for a while. Syd woke up in unfamiliar places more often than not, expected to start puking blood any day. She hadn’t decided if she’d stop drinking then or start drinking harder.

They’d have blamed their parents for their shitty lives if they weren’t so certain that, by now at least, it was unfairly beating a dead and less blameless horse than they’d like.

None of that prepared them for what was happening now. If Syd bothered to stop and think, or had time to, between the car’s first nudge of the van’s bumper and her reactive leap between them, she’d have realized how absurd the whole situation was. Kate was an adult. She could do what she liked. Including junked-out, maniac gang-bangers. It wasn’t their business. Both Syd and Kris knew that. But since when was sibling-anything ever rational?

Sure as hell not now, Syd knew. Or would’ve thought, if she weren’t clinging to the very razor’s edge of the van’s rear, double-doors. Her nails were splitting the weather stripping. Her finger tips stung from inflamed needles shooting agony through her hands. Her grip tightened. Knuckles whitened. Fingers went purple at their edges. Her feet caught the bumper and in a flash, Kris revved up and past to the van’s driver side.

Syd had only just gotten her footing when the van lurched right.

“Kris! You stupid fuck!” She shouted into the wind.

She regained her footing, only to lose it again from another lurch. She clung on by a lone set of fingers. Kris was ramming the van.

“You idiot!” She screamed, feeling her fingers bleed.

The van lurched again, forward this time. It gain an inexplicable burst of speed. Between it and the oncoming traffic, Kris was forced back behind the van again. Syd screamed and shouted at him, regaining her footing a last time. He seemed to understand the stupidity of his own actions, didn’t care. As soon as he could, he surged around and past again. Syd cursed his name, his life, and her own stupidity for being here. Then, she did the only thing she could think to.

Her free arm reeled back. All the force of the bar-brawling drunkard she was shattered the door’s window. Blood instantly streamed down her arm, her coat, the door, rained into the wind. Kris rammed the van again, but she had a better hold, however painful. Most of all, she had a burst of fury. She threw open the second door, and hurled herself into the screeching van.

The next few moments were hard to follow, even for someone sober. Syd barreled through the van toward her sister, drug-addled but in a terrified daze on the floor. Syd’s drunkard’s-legs engaged from her idiot brother’s head-butting. Then, in a moment she was sure would’ve killed them all, her bloody hands slammed the junkie’s head against the dashboard.

Syd had just enough time to grab the wheel before the van lurched, angled right, and tipped. She saw the last few hundred feet of the van’s momentum from a tumbling view progressing backward and around through it. There was also, in a glaring sort of way, the obvious, ongoing road rash of the junkie boyfriend’s head and face; gravity had wedged it through the shattered window and dented driver’s door.

Even before the tumbling world came to a halt, Syd knew the guy was dead– though her own status was undetermined. Dragging herself, and Kate, from the back of the van, she found Kris waiting. Only then was Syd sure she yet lived; there was no way they’d all three gone to hell at exactly the same time.

Kate swayed, another junkie on drugs and completely oblivious to the severity of her circumstances. Syd swayed too, but from a daze more excusable than Kate’s. By now, the junkie boyfriend’s face was mush between window and ground.

But that didn’t stop Kate from shouting through the back of the van, “It’s over, Shane! Don’t ever call me again!”

She swaggered over to Kris’ car and fell in to the backseat. Syd and Kris exchanged an incredulous look. Kris sighed and headed for the car.

“You’re welcome,” Syd muttered, though Kate wouldn’t have cared anyhow.

As if on cue, Kate yelled something fittingly foolish.

Syd threw her head back to confront the starry sky, “The shit we do for family.”

Short Story: The Exiled One

Anita Cooper had worked seven days a week for months, either tamping away at a calculator or drumming along a keyboard. They’d been longer days than most people’s; ten-to-twelve hours at least. The money was right though, if nothing else. She’d deduced over that time that telecommuting wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, costing as it did, a marriage and any hope for companionship.

Still she worked; day in, day out. Her lunch hour was the only break she took outside once-an-hour coffee refills. Those breaks were only physical anyhow. Mentally, she remained in the chair, staring at profits, losses, expenditures. A few times she tore herself from work to web-surf or pan-fry her brain with Net-TV, but it was as mentally stimulating as watching grass grow.

Her one-time friends had watched her descent with pity. In the beginning, they were sympathetic, believing the issue was an over-demanding employer that required more effort for telecommuting. In truth, Anita’s employers barely knew her name. As time passed, it was evident they cared only for output being on-par with her desk-bound colleagues. Her excess of their output only made them notice when it dropped.

Ellen Fritz was the last of Anita’s friends to stick around. She’d carried the title of “friend” since grade-school; through thick and thin, high and low. They’d managed to remain friends in spite of the years and their trials. Ellen was proud of that, in a way, being of a humble self-noble type often and easily mistaken for self-absorbed. Unfortunately, Ellen’s would-be nobility also lent itself to prying, even if rightfully.

The conversation that eventually ended that friendship, or wounded it enough to make it seem so, was had over wine. It was a rare nights when Anita contacted someone outside of work. She invited Ellen and a few other friends for wine and dinner. Only Ellen arrived. It definitely wasn’t a good sign to any onlookers. Anita didn’t notice, too caught-up in cooking.

The pair ate and joked over a bottle of Pinot Grigio and an expertly crafted Chicken Piccata. Ever an an excellent cook, Anita’s home overflowed with scents of freshly peeled garlic, minced lemon, and rich, spiced wine. Atop them, scentless candles added their warmth, dripped wax into their columnar holders. Anita and Ellen relaxed in their seats, full and warm.

The conversation turned from pleasant small-talk. In words alone at first, over another glass of wine. Then, with whole sentences, the talk became deeper, heavier. Ellen pulled at the shoulders of her silk blouse, resetting it over her breasts and leaning onto her elbows. She slid her interlocked fingers beneath her chin, and rested it atop them. Anita had seen it a million times, most recently, when told of the divorce. It was the physical manifestation of a mental preparedness; the posturing of one about to plunge into tumultuous waters.

“Nita,” Ellen said finally, her voice heavy as her head. “I’m worried about you.”

Anita played it off with a chuckle, “I am on cloud-nine! What could you worry about?”

Her brow furrowed. “Honey, you’re withdrawing. I just want to know; why? Is it ‘cause of Darryl, or something else.”

Anita’s wine-infused breaths stiffened. Her face went blank– the same type of posturing, but stubborn. “I’m fine, El. No-one else is worried about me.”

“No-one else is here, honey. How would you know?”

Anita’s face showed the brick-wall of reality that hit her. That was all Anita recalled outside the knowledge of catty, baited quips and Ellen’s eventual departure– and her shaking head. Anita fumed, downing a bottle of wine alone, and leaving the rest to history.

Life took a turn that day, and every day after, she found herself alone, and uncertain of why. Apart from find herself forced to trek out for groceries, she’d entirely avoided leaving the house. Whether clear or not, she’d become agoraphobic. Everyone else knew it. The isolation afflicted her, even if she refused to admit to it or the cause.

Anita had always been fit, adhering to a workout regiment that kept her slimmer than most. Now in her mid-30s, the weight she’d put on was merely the most egregious sign of her self-exile. Apart from the aforementioned grocery trips, her life was entirely downsized, planned to avoid people entirely. Her days now consisted of waking, coffee, working with coffee, and showering before bed, at which point she’d sleep, only to rise and repeat.

Her worsening state had seemed only mildly different, allowing for terrible habits to take root. Some days she smoked cigarettes, or popped magic mushrooms from the private myco-troughs she’d once used to grow truffles, shitake, or portobello mushrooms for cooking.

Despite its recreational effects, Psilocybin was the only way she’d found to cope with the inevitable cluster headaches that now descended each night before bed. Somewhere in her, she knew, staring at computer screens sixteen-or more hours a day were to blame. Her life of work and nothing more had taken its toll; was taking its toll. Most times, she slept off the high…

Tonight was different.

Anita sat at her table, once more imbibing an expertly crafted meal. For one. She’d taken her daily dose of mushrooms before starting to cook, popping the caps and munching away as if a vegetable appetizer. Midway through cooking, the high set in. The five or so knitting-needles jammed through various parts of her skull and gray matter withdrew. She doubled down on the meds for sanity’s sake, finished cooking.

The second dose began to hit while the first peaked. Colorful swirls flowed from the lit candles like incense smoke-trails. They formed geometric shapes that zigged or zagged about the table, appearing and disappearing in and out of space-time randomly. The wine in Anita’s glass bubbled and frothed like a science experiment gone awry, but tasted better somehow. She drank it down and poured more, watching it form a waterfall along more of the floating, geometric shapes.

Her biggest shock was yet to come.

Anita began a conversation with herself, playing two sides of a dialogue between her and the Chicken Penne on her plate. Though it remained inanimate, the food thanked her for being so carefully prepared and wonderful tasting. She gobbled it down, the two quipping about its taste, until a polite “goodbye” preceded her taking the last bite. She threw down her frothing wine, and broke into a giggle-fit the likes of which few have seen. Through tearful blinks and table-slapping hysteria, she settled back in her chair, more relaxed and at-peace than in years. She swallowed her amusement, laid her head back, and closed her eyes.

She righted herself and nearly fled, screaming. Instead, reality’s icy-grip rooted her via now-rubber limbs.

Before her sat a much younger, slimmer version of herself. To say she wasn’t a looker would’ve been an insult, and a flat-out lie. The former-gymnast body was long, lanky, muscled in all the right places and tantalizing in all others. The one-time flicker of aroused satisfaction at viewing herself in the mirror returned. It coursed through her loins with the recollection of long-lost, acrobatic sex.

A shameful sniffle shattered the cooling silence. Her head fell, taking in her body; age-related change was one thing. This was another. She’d never expected to go through life being the bombshell-gymnast, but hard work had paid off then. She’d hoped it would continue to, but then, she wasn’t putting in hard work now. Not that kind. All her years suddenly felt squandered.

“It’s okay, you know?” Her younger self said. Anita’s eyes bulged with uncertainty, blinked away fatigue. They met their youthful counterpart’s. “Nobody’s perfect. Least of all us. We had it hard growing up. Not as hard as some, but not easy. Dad left. Mom withdrew. But we promised ourselves we’d never do that.”

Anita grit her teeth. Heart stung by her apparition’s words. Her mother had withdrawn. She’d become as much a recluse as Anita was now. It was the reason she’d been driven to take such good care of herself; she never wanted to turn out that way, sad, alone, stagnating. Her distant argument with Ellen came back, as foggy as ever, but depositing shame in her gut.

Her younger self laid her hands on the table, in a sort of heart-shape arrangement. Anita had always done the same thing when being forced to confront another’s guilt or shame. It was a sign that everything to be said was harsh truth, but that pain was alright given its context.

“You know why I’m here, what brought me– not just the ‘shrooms,” she said sympathetically. “We never knew how to deal with life. We were never taught that. Mom didn’t deal. Dad didn’t. How were we supposed to?” A tear slipped from Anita’s downcast eyes. “No one blames you. But you have to do something. You’re only a victim so long before you’re the cause. You’re about to pass that point. Things with Darryl were bad. Work was important. You’ve sorted those things out now, but you need to keep moving forward. We never really knew what was supposed to come next, I know. We still don’t. Kids, maybe, but Darryl wasn’t right for that anyhow. We need something though.”

Anita nodded slightly. Sorrow etched her folded mouth with sadness.

Her apparition aged with pained shadows, “You know what you need to do.”

Anita found herself standing from the table, her apparition beside her. It escorted her toward the bed room, laid her down, and helped her to settle for sleep.

“When you wake up, you’ll do it. Because you know you need to. You won’t want to. But you will. You have to. We don’t deserve this, let alone from ourselves.” The apparition began to fade, “Good luck, sweetheart. I’m always here.”

It reached out, touched her forehead with a pair of fingers. As if time jumped, Anita suddenly awoke to daylight streaming in from the windows. She found herself more refreshed than she’d expected. The coma-like sleep had rejuvenated her, left the night as fresh as if it were yet to cease. She stood before the bathroom mirror to rinse her face; age-lines and hard years had strained it, but something youthful beneath had been found anew.

Anita swallowed hard, screwed up her face. She dressed in cool, casual clothes, and walked to her door. Steel tethers pulled taught in her chest.

Good luck, sweetheart. I’m always here.

She breathed, and walked out the door.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: On the Prow

I nearly fell upon
my knees,
oh please,
don’t tell me the seas,
have memories,
of all of the fallacies,
that men and machines believe or breathe.

I couldn’t tell about,
the time,
or crime,
that lead me to climb,
a ladder of slime,
atop a bell whose chime,
certainly leave you a mime.

If I had known,
the song,
a gong,
from my heart would wrong,
the messer of prongs,
dislodge and assert them inside of your bong,
or perhaps wetten a sect of your thong.

Were I to say,
The word,
I’d heard,
No more than a third,
of the mourning bird,
would flock with a herd,
of cattle-men ready to hone the absurd.

So do I,
sit here right now
with unbidden bow,
out on the prow,
of bright-white ship but how,
could they, I wow,
in wake of a filth and greed-laden sow?