Short Story: Even Fools

Cracked asphalt rose to plateaus, forming sheer drops to insects too malformed to see their repetition on the massive scales beyond. Humans were no different. Only their scale was. They did all the same foolish things, made all the same foolish mistakes.

Difference was, intellect had kept them alive long enough to thwart death’s equalizing grasp.

Insects didn’t have that advantage, but they were no more in control of that cascade of datum known as Time than Humans, either. Time was ever the dictator. This go-round, it dictated with age went grace.

The elderly were no longer the Olympians. It was the youth. Problem was, in a world of asphalt and suffocated atmo, even the most vibrant soul could not compete. Worst of all, the elder non-competitives were deluding themselves into believing things weren’t as bad as they’d made them.

But they were. And they were only getting worse.

An ant at the apex of one plateau peered over the edge to see another at its base. In deference to the similar scene playing out a hundred miles west, and one more elevated, the man at the base of the cliff wasn’t pumping his antennae in curiosity. He was dead.

Scale mattered, even if size didn’t.

The man that pushed him was staring into the distance, sun still beating on him from its late-noon arc as if nothing’d happened.

But it had.

He’d pushed him. That was supposed to be the end of it but the scream came. Piercing. Shrill. Echoing in the nothingness far longer than he’d have liked or expected. Then, the distant crack. Nothingness again.

Then it was over– supposed to be, anyhow. He slugged the rest of the beer, threw it into the gorge.

That was when it hit him. Later, the Sheriff guessed that was how it happened too. He explained it to a deputy, “Crime of passion.’ People don’t get what it means. Think passion’s all about fucking,” he as much as flopped down as a man with a rod in his spine could.

“What it really means is, ‘people too fuckin’ stupid to look at the bigger picture.’ History’s rife with it. Humans get caught up in the mob mentality, their momentary fury, and fuck things up. Only reason a group can do it’s ‘cause the individual’s capable. Just amplifies it from there.”

The Deputy then asked, “That why you became a Sheriff, Sheriff?”

“Nah, got tired of getting arrested,” He slugged back a shot of coffee. “The problem nowadays, everyone’s afraid to do anything for themselves. Right or wrong.”

The Deputy’s face was small, “Mind if I ask why you kept gettin’ arrested, Sheriff?”

He sparked a joint, “Possession.”

The Deputy laughed.

The night would be quiet, as with all others. Nothing happened at night in the desert. Night was for the warm-blooded, those forced to warm their own for the better of all such as the Sheriff. The next few hours would be spent processing paper-work, filling in forms.

“He ever admit why he did it?” The Deputy’s wife later asked,

Her husband sat beside him on the porch as they puffed their own reefer, “Nope.”

She passed it to him, held her breath. Fireflies floated past in the haze of heat and smoke, drifting upward together with as they puffed deep, let their thoughts drift.

She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she guessed a woman caused it. Nothing turned men against one another faster than women. Usually too, the more the woman, the worse the effect.

“Must’ve been a helluva woman.”

That ponderous introspection had caught her in line at the grocery store. Had it not, she’d never have drifted off, never seen them.

It wasn’t difficult to sniff out the small town three-lane grocer if you were a crook. It was even easier to sniff out the crooks when you used to be one. The place was small, convenient: a path of least resistance for dregs seeking ground.

Marriage to a Deputy had instilled some instincts in her, for instance the ability to spot the two, out of place men in one-oh-four-degree heat wearing flannel over-shirts, rolled caps, and leaning into themselves rather peculiarly. They were loitering. Waiting for badness, she wagered. Lucky really, if they’d been smarter, she might never have seen them.

But she did. They were waiting and by now, so was she. She angled at the cashier, leaned forward as if to set items on the belt. She spoke fast and low, “The two men over there may be about to rob the store. Press the silent alarm and alert your manager. Now. Go!

Her body stiffened. She was instantly feeling under the register. Then, with a terrified attempt at nonchalance, she stiffly speed-walked for the manager’s office. Careful not to appear too out of place she knocked, but forced her way in. A thought to decry the intrusion was waived at the woman’s terrified stiffness.

“I think we’re being robbed!”

“What?”

The shouts came then.

The alert had gone out from the store and the Deputy’s wife’s phone near enough together the threat was obvious. The Sheriff himself had been nearby, and the Deputy not far from him. They were first on-scene, caught the guys mid-draw. The guns went up. Before a minute had passed, it was over.

The confusion never had a chance to give way to chaos.

Later, after taking statements and returning to the station, Sheriff asked the Deputy the cause of the robbery attempt.

“Crime of passion, Sheriff,” the Deputy said. “Couple out-of-towners needed cash to fix the car.”

“Uh-huh. Anything else?”

“Sure. I asked ‘em, “Why not ask someone for help?”

“They say anything?”

“Yeah, sure. “Where we come from you don’t ask, ‘cause you know the answer.”

“Hmm…” The Sheriff retorted.

Later on, the Sheriff relayed the conversation to the two men in holding, adding, “I get it. You’re drifters. Prob’ly running from a past no man can begrudge. So I’m gonna’ give you a choice: leave now, never look back and never come back. Or stay on as deputies, and learn to be real, proper men. Flaws and all.”

“Catch is,” the Sheriff admitted forthrightly, “You show signs of regression, I put you down. Clean from here-on. S’all that matters.”
They eyed one another, shrugged. It was the best deal they’d find– especially given no-one else was offering. They took to it, too– even fools know change is good.

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2018 New Year Update! (HAPPY [late] NEW YEAR!)

Incoming transmission from the Wordsmith of Sol:

Merry late…everything, everybody!

First off, I wanna apologize for any neglect of late. It has been hectic the last few months and I’ve been less active and involved lately. Sorry. I’ve been forced to split time between books, site-work, re-formats, image editing, and the mental debauchery necessary to keep my sanity through them.

All the same, I’m hoping it’ll be less of an issue going forward. I’ll be doing my best to manage my time and be more active, but ultimately it may seem to start slow and sporadic as I work more interaction into my routine.

In the meantime, if you want to take some of the load off, link my site or even a specific story to people you think might enjoy it. As ever, you know I’m hugely grateful.

Moving along.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated you with plans present and future. So without further stalling for time:

New ebooks— I’m working on new ebook versions of previously released material. This will fix formatting and typographical errors, but if you happen to come across any and they bother you, please let me know so I can fix them. The is the unfortunate effect of being unable to pay for an editor, but I am immensely grateful to those that help and will credit you appropriately.

Smashwords— part of this re-formatting is being done for the sake of Smashwords.

If you don’t know, Smashwords is like Amazon Kindle but allows me to sell my books world-wide and (potentially) millions more people by redistributing to other digital retailers. A full list can be found here, if you’re interested.

Novels— In case you’re not aware, Free Fall  is futuristic Sci-Fi set two-hundred years after depleting resources resulted in nuclear war across Earth’s surface. This event, or series of them, caused survivors to hollow swaths of earth to live within. There, they constructed intricate digital networks of synthetic life; machines created to mimic the nature lost above, but at the cost of an equally intricate digital illusion blinding them to reality.

Currently well on its way toward completion, Free Fall’s release is TBD, but expect it sometime late 2018-early 2019.

Last, but not least!

Novellas, Short Stories, & New universe–Over time, I will be releasing stories from a new “universe” I’ve begun building. I won’t spoil anything, but they will connect to one another in subtly obvious ways, but also to others both released and not.

Fleshing out this world has become a bit of a passion project, but I’m eager for it. Why? Wait and see. I can tell you though, I’m excited about it.

So, keep an ear out for all this and more this year. I’ll do my best to be more present, but if you’ve got any questions, ask ’em. And as always, thanks for reading!

SMN

P.S. Pardon any digital dust over the next weeks. I’ll be periodically updating parts of the site. If you have any suggestions or comments, leave ’em here and let me know what you think.

Transmission Ends.

Short Story: Mistakes Unchanged

Emile Manning had been in the motor-pool roughly four years now. He’d signed up as a heart-sick teen intent on a two-year deployment. He’d always preferred motor-pool maintenance, had done everything to ensure he ended up there. He took the tests, aced them, met the veterans, got in good with the job placement guys. When he finished boot, he got to where he wanted, spent a few months as a greenie gopher, passed muster, inspection, and P-T every day with flying colors, and when it finally came time to apply that discipline to his “dream job,”he did.

Maybe that was his mistake; dreaming of an average job in a sup-par part of the world. Who knows, maybe it was just being born.

In any case, he landed the job and shipped-out to Mid-East for a front-line motor-pool. His first few months established his routine of rising for chow, then watching the other guys head off for patrol, before he headed off to repair the HMMVs they ended up trashing.

Humvees weren’t his specialty, though he could breakdown and rebuild one with his eyes closed. He was to machines what foot-soldiers were to rifles. He knew every piece of the motor-pool, could hear when one was about to trash the others and require a rebuild. The EOD guys kept the roads safe, but Emile kept the people traveling them safer. Patriotism may’ve fueled the Army but sweat kept running, and Emile could sweat like no other.

So when General Hardin came through the motor-pool, he found Emile ass-deep in an Abrams tank– his actual specialty– and its jet-engine motor. The tank’s rearwas disassembled and scattered around the repair garage. Some jokerthought it a genius idea to ramp the thing off a ditch and onto a massive boulder. Sure, the tank had made it, even caught some air, but at the cost of a compressor and a few air and fuel lines.

The idiot brought it down too hard, forced the compressor to re-seat in its casing. When the pressure sky-rocketed in the lines, they burst and sprayed fuel, oil, and air everywhere. The resulting mess required an entire tear-down, cleaning, and rebuild. If Emile had been the unmotivated type, he’d have had the whole turbine scrapped but he liked the challenge.

He’d already torn down most of the saturated parts, replaced the lines and repaired the compressor, but still had over half the engine to clean and check before reassembly. His mind was empty, like a Buddha in meditation. The only thing he knew was the autonomous way he worked.

And, occasionally, the question of how the hell the thing hadn’t caught fire, exploded, and killed every one aboard. Jet fuel was highly volatile, after all.

General Hardin approached and called for attention. Emile dropped his tools, banged his knee, and stood board stiff with a grimace and a salute.

“General sir, Master Sergeant Emile Manning, awaiting orders, sir.”

“As you were, Sergeant,” the General instructed.

Light hit the four, silver stars on Hardin’s shoulders and Emile’s military instincts kicked in. He fell back into his routine immediately, ignoring Hardin’s continued presence. He’d been taught to power through anything to do his job, had even replaced an alternator on a stranded Humvee in pitch-dark night during a fire-fight.

Normally, they’d have just called out a tower, brought the old rig in and exchanged it for another. The fire-fight meant possibly never returning; someone else could get it. They couldn’t allow that. Short of scuttling the damned thing, they’d lose it unless Emile went out; the best, fastest mechanic in the whole damned army. He took it as a personal challenge to get the thing running again or die trying.

Maybe that was why Hardin was there now. He didn’t know. It’d been a while since that stunt, but there was a definite hint of evaluation to the air. Emile ignored it, but the little pill of curiosity was there, in the back of his head.

He emerged from the rebuild, expecting Hardin to question his break. Any normal human would’ve collapsed hours ago from heat. Between sweat, grease, jet-fuel and oil, even Emile was pushing it.

But that was the US Army; best of the best from the cream of the crop. Or in other words, damned if you did, damned if you didn’t.

Emile grabbed for a canteen at the edge of the torn-down tank-ass and threw back a few gulps. It wasn’t until he capped off the canteen again that he saw the General sitting a few paces away, studying him pensively. An awkward moment later, Emile spoke up, damned either way, but damned curious at that.

“General, sir, permission to speak, sir?”

“Granted, Sergeant,” Hardin said, rising to bridge the gap between them.

“Is there something you need, sir?” Emile noticed even the hardened, old man was red, sweating. “I only ask, sir, because I imagine you’d want to be as far from this heat as anyone.”

The General chuckled. He actually chuckled. And smiled. Emile’s surprise was obvious, less due to the fact that the often-enigmatic creature-type before him laughed than that he could laugh. He figured there was some regulation against it; an unspoken, secret code upper-echelon officers adhered to with subordinates.

“Son, I don’t know whether to commend your honesty or take offense to your implication.”

Emile stammered out a reply, “S-sir, I-I meant no–”

“I know you didn’t, son,” he said with a dismissive wave. “Point is, I am out here for a reason.”

Emile’s ears perked up. He couldn’t help it. His curiosity piqued, and if the General was truly speaking freely, and to Emile of all people, there was cause for interest.

“Sir?”

The General eyed him, then the engine, “I want to see you finish this thing, son. How much longer d’you estimate it’ll take? A straight answer. No bullshit bravado, understand?”

Emile gave a nod, and a “Yes, sir.”

He thought the question over in earnest; he could probably finish in a few hours, but that meant skimping some of the cleaning. He didn’t like the idea, but it was more a point of personal pride than necessity.

“Four or Five hours, ‘pending on if I take my time cleaning the parts, sir.”

The General retook his seat, “Do the job right, Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir.”He threw back another gulp of water and set to work.

The next five hours he did his job and did it well. He was zen; in a state of mind where repairing the turbine engine and cleaning each piece became more autonomous than anything he’d ever done before. Had he been a machine, they’d have modeled a production line after him. After all “do the job right”to a General meant time was the price paid for immaculate work.

Enlisted guys like Emile had learned to tell good officers from bad ones that way. Good officers knew to let their subordinates get the job done right, pushing however they wanted or needed, but not so much they forced their guys to fuck up. Bad officers thought perfection was a possibility, thus always demanded more, then bitched when things did fuckup. Thankfully, General Hardinseemed the former.

Emile finished near dusk. The heat had retreated, but the General remained in his seat, as passive and observing as he’d been all day. The other mechanics would fit the engine tomorrow morning, run the Abrams through her paces. Even so, there was no doubt in any mind the thing would run better than new.

Emile threw back the last of his now-warm water and the General stood from his seat. “I’ll be damned if I haven’t seen a better mechanic than you, son.”

“Thank you, sir,”he said, again in earnest.

“The reason I’m here’s classified, but if you agree, I’ll brief you on the way to your new deployment.”

“Sir?”

“I’m not gonna’ lie to you son, it’s work. There’s no pay raise, and no promotion, but you serve your country and put for your god-given gifts to the test everyday. You agree, and you’ll be rewarded, no doubt about that.”

Emile wasn’t one to deny officers their requests. That was suicide, physically and occupationally. More than that it meant ignoring his curiosity.

“I don’t expect you’d have stuck around this long unless you needed me, sir, and I wouldn’t want to disrespect you by declining. So… yes, sir, whatever you have for me, I’ll do.”

In retrospect, that was his mistake. It wasn’t dreaming of a certain job, or being disciplined enough to be damned good at it, or even just being born. Rather, it was the blind acceptance and plunging curiosity’s dick-first into something new.

It took a couple days, but when he saw the General again, he was dressed in his finest dress-greens, pins and all, and looking respectable. He and the General boarded a plane and twenty disorienting hours later, landed in the states. Emile could’ve kissed the ground, or indeed the General, on seeing America again and prematurely at that. It had been four years. Four too-damned long years.

His great mistake? He learned it all too soon. He and the General were escorted to an awaiting helicopter, to a nearby training academy, then to a nondescript building. They rode an elevator more floors down than he thought possible and emerged into something even more impossible.

The doors opened onto a skunkworks like a massive production-floor with obvious prototype fighting machines. Emile salivated; jet-turbines, combustion engines, sleek and boxy angles, armored plated tanks, APCS, next-gen HMMVs.

General Hardin escorted him through the building toward a back-office, took a seat at a desk, and offering one to Emile.

“You agreed, son, so this is the deal; you work here, under cover of still being on deployment. Nothing externally changes. Your family still believes you’re deployed. Everyone does. Everyday you wake up, come down here, and build the shit outta’ whatever the Engineers request. Test it. Beat the hell out of it. Whatever it takes to make the world a little safer in the process. In exchange, you stay safe, and out of that festering pisshole you came from. Sound good?”

What else could Emile say but yes? He knew even then he was making a mistake; slaking his curiosity with unimaginable change, prospects and projects he’d never dreamed of, all while never being able to tell anyone.

Still, he couldn’t deny the allure as he glanced out the General’s office window at the vehicles in their varying states of assembly. He was almost giddy.

“When do I start?”

The General chuckled and smiled again; some mistakes were best left unchanged.

Short Story: Rock ‘n Roll Lifestyle

Scents of fresh cigarette smoke mingled with stale beer and dry sweat; the same scents that greeted Ethan every early afternoon at work. The painful truth of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle was that it didn’t really exist, never had. In fact, one of the few things it accurately claimed to have was long nights and late mornings, and even those weren’t the same, really. Fringe benefits, Ethan called them, hard truths of sound engineering for the local dive.

That’s all he could ever think to call the Club. It had an official name, but nobody used it– a claim to Ethan’s generational droves offlowing apathy. The Club wasn’t a club. It wasn’t even a bar, though it had one. It was a collection point for the aimless and brainless to nightly smash into each other. If they weren’t doing that, they were smashing other shit into their brains or veins. Regardless of its seeming differences, the road taken was always the same: ride the groove of the latest, least-audibly offensive metal jocks stuck in Podunk like the rest.

Every night was roughly the same. Unless the joint was bust from a cancellation, the band or bands arrived, set up, ran sound check, then lingered until their slot whilstdoing their best not to drink away the night’s profit. Most did. If, after the long wait, they were still fit to play, they went onto the makeshift stage and did their best to murder a set or two. By the end of it, the drinkers were drunk, the stoners were high, and everyone else was everywhere in between.

More often than not, Ethan watched from behind the mixing board. Drugs and booze made their way through the crowds. He could always tell the inebriated minors from the crowd; they didn’t move in time with it, as if knowing they stood out and completely incapable of helping it. No one cared. What was a few wasted teenagers to a crowd?

It wasn’t just the music and intoxicants that drew the kids either. The girls did their best too. If the bartenders and concession girls didn’t appeal, there were always the few regulars– cougars and their younger counterparts on the hunt for more stamina and cum than brains. Sometimes, even the occasional flamer or dyke surfed the crowd. Like the others, they too, found their select few to get something from or give something to.

Ethan still laughed at the thought of his closest brush with the rock ‘n roll lifestyle: He went to piss, walked in on a freshmen poking “Lightning Lucy.” She was fast, easy. Before Ethan knew what was happening, he was suddenly double-teaming Lucy with the freshmen– who was more and more jealous of the fact.

But Lucy was quick and easy because she wanted to be. It made life easier. The last thing she wanted was strings. By the end of it, Ethan figured he’d done the kid a favor: gave him a story to tell and made the break easier. The last thing anyone wanted was a love-sick hanger-on, Lucy especially.

That was the closest Ethan had come to the rock ’n roll lifestyle he’d been promised. Even then, he had a hard time believing it had happened. Life was hardly as fast and easy as the legends made it sound. Mostly, it was standard fare; sit at a board, keep the lights green, and ensure no-one skipped out on the tab.

Maybe that was why it felt like every other day to Ethan. Maybe it was just his generation’s total apathy from the knowledge that they’d missed “the good ole’ days.” Maybe it was nothing, or everything, or some of one thing and a little or none of another. All he knew, was after the fact, he knew even less than he’d thought he did.

He took his place behind the board to watch the lights. The latest incarnation of wannabe rock-star nobodies were on stage. They droned on with the same bullshit metal sound Ethan heard night after night. There was nothing original in town nowadays. The only thing that distinguished one set of screeching vocals and open-string pounding from the next were the various shades of gray eyes or their faces. The bands around were as dead as the horse their music beat.

The guys on-stage that day were no different. The only thing even relatively noteworthy was their singer’s utter lack of vocal enthusiasm. He looked like a caricature of late Floyd-era Syd Barret; on stage, head down, guitar hanging; no life whatsoever to him. The only real indication of his continued existence was the noises emanating from below his head. He seemed to be doing his best to do nothing at all, and was succeeding expertly– not that he’d have noticed nor cared. Someone had left a hang-dog expression hanging too long, and this was the result.

The drummer finally exploded with rage, angry at another night potentially ruined. It was then the singer came to life… in the most awful way Ethan’s apathetic generation could muster. He rounded toward the drummer, suddenly raised a loaded .45.

Where it came from, Ethan still wasn’t sure, all he knew was the sound of a round fired off into the drummer’s forehead. Then another, into the bass player as he booked it for the door. The third cut down the rhythm guitarist at the edge of the risers. After him, one-by-one, went all of the crew and the hangers-on that had tried to flee but weren’t quite fast enough.

The barrel angled onto Ethan and the frozen, deer in the headlights expression remained unchanged. The rampaging frontman stopped, stared. To an outsider, he looked as if trying to decide if Ethan were a man or an armless marble statue. Something suddenly shifted in the guy’s face. The gun turned on the shooter, and the guy let himself out as he had his mates.

Through all of it, Ethan was frozen, petrified. Terror had coursed through his veins. He was terrified, of course, but also utterly confused and entirely confused. A creature of such despair and hang-dogged emptiness had managed to erupt into a ball of fire. It was as if the last pocket of existence inside a formless shell had burst forth to ensure it be remembered, for good or ill. It was safe to say it had completed its task.

Ethan was more concerned for himself; a dozen people were murdered in front of him, and he could do nothing but blink. For a while, he wondered if someone had slipped him acid or peyote again. Instead, the police and EMT’s arrived to find him standing, staring, traumatized.

It took a long while to coax him back to reality. In the end, he returned from his curious fugue state unharmed carried on with life. The Club eventually began functioning again too, as much as it could be said to. Ethan wasn’t sure what life he nor it led, but something told him neither qualified as rock ‘n roll.

Short Story: At Peace on the Water

John McDonnell was a fisherman. He rode the seas by day, slept atop them by night, trawled them the times between. John was mostly a one man show; did it all himself despite the workload required of a commercial fisherman of his station. But such was the way of the industry that a man did what he ought to earn his daily bread. For John, like most good, hearty Americans, that daily bread cost him hours ‘n hours of blood and sweat that dribbled periodically down his catfish-smooth back.

While trawling for whatever his nets could haul in, Martha was at home. Two boys and the life of an overworked school teacher meant, like John, she was under-appreciated, under-valued, and stuck in an industry as collapsed as his. Ever the homemaker and loving mother though, despite the collagen beaten thighs aching from hours on her feet. Each night she’d tuck the boys in, recalling stories John had told her. Stories she felt it her duty to impart to them. Told her, that was, on the rare nights he managed to make it home for supper instead of trying to procure it.

John had wanted to be a fisherman all of his life. He’d sit in school, drawing finely detailed sketches of the various species prowling the coasts and waterways of his childhood. He’d fill whole pages with specs of various rigs for boats and special fish. It was a pass-time. An obsession in the truest American tradition. All of those times he should’ve been focused on maths and sciences so he could “grow up and getta’ good job,” he was planning and learning his trade. When first he started to ply it, the middle finger he gave to dejectors gave him a hard-on. Martha would’ve enjoyed that thoroughly.

The first boat was an old one. Barely large enough to piss off. He spent more money repairing it from summer gigs than he’d ever earn with it. Between that and the oft-bags of ‘shrooms and grass aboard it, he was at peace with a lack of profit.

Cue Martha with comely good looks and dimpled cheeks. The bottles of Ole English Rye, John had taken to drinking. One hot night, and nine months later, there wasn’t much more he could do but provide for the twin boys that popped out.

That wasn’t to say John didn’t love his family. On the contrary, he was a family man through-and-through. Just like Pop’d been. And Grandad before him. Difference was, they’d made their livings as leather merchants or carpenters, back when those things were still valued. In that way, John had followed in their footsteps, found the thing he knew and was good at, and refused to do it for free– or anything else for that matter. That work was for land-lubbers though. The types that could sleep without scents of fish on ice or the sea-salt spray.

John just wasn’t quite the way about things most fellows were. He needed the water. Be it Pacific, Atlantic, or any rivers or streams between the two. He rode them all like a true man of his craft. It was all business until the lunch-time beer, then nothing more ’til the day’s the work was done. And when forced to sleep, the photo of Martha and the boys at his bedside got the nightly, longing look. Then the one of Martha naked got the nightly, stroking grunt. The light went out on his bed with a broad beamin’ on his grizzled face.

It was a bad May that John finally met his match. The season was just starting again. He’d only been out a week. The weather’d been fierce, but nothing the forty-footer couldn’t handle with John at the helm. Per usual for spring and summer, he’d hired on a few, part-time hands to help rake in the expected rush. The result was a near twenty-four hour done in twelve-hour two-man shifts. Only a pair of hands were there to tend the wheel or empty the nets at any given time.

The ocean swelled. The sky gave a thunderous roar. Squalls blew past island coasts far to the west and south. The season was geared to start with a bang. In the middle of it, John and his hands were slogging through knee-buckling waves while the forty-footer rode ‘em like a rag doll. By the end of their second full-day, they were all exhausted, their haul only half as intended.

Were he not chasing something in particular, maybe John wouldn’t’ve kept himself out so long. Maybe he’d’ve been satisfied with the first days’ bounty. Then again, maybe if he’d been that kind of man, he’d’ve never spent all those hours drawing fish or making charts. Never stepped on a boat. Never even dreamed of being John McDonnell, fisherman at sea.

But life’s funny that way, for both the fish and its most patient predator. It’s not quite a matter of maybes. Rather, it’s a matter of the soul. A sort’a passion that can only be appeased and rocked to sleep by the caress of water against the hull.

John and his hands were in a squall to beat the band. They all sensed it. When it finally happened, they almost welcomed it. Like John had said, though more sarcastically than not, he was doomed to end his life at sea. It made sure he was no liar.

The waves pitched and rolled him back. The trawler heaved and hoed. John sensed more than anything that the sea was fierce. Almost seemed as if he’d done something to anger her. Maybe it was his own foolishness. Maybe greed. Maybe poor, dumb luck. Whatever it was, there was no escape.

A final, forceful heave. The sea crashed from two directions. The keel groaned and flexed. Then, a loud crrrack. Fiberglass snapped. The hull tore open. The forty-footer began taking on water. It was over in moments. The trawler headed for the ocean floor, John with it. The last thing he saw before the air left his lungs and the life left his eyes, was the limp curl of a dead fish. It floated up past him in the aerated water, no doubt released from the trawler’s own depths.

As a fisherman’s wife Martha knew the fear and sorrow of missing husbands or partners. Even at the best of times, they lived a life of perpetual torment, terror. Ever on the precipice of tragedy and sorrow. None of them knew if or when their mates might make it home. Usually, they missed their scheduled returns by days anyhow.

Martha and the boys didn’t worry ’til then. It wasn’t long after that they knew she’d joined the ranks of widows whose only solace was that no man could be so cruel as to stay at sea so long.

John was one of those men. Lost to the sea. Lost to history. Nothing was left to find of him or the others. He’d spent his whole life wanting to be a fisherman, living as one, then dying as one. Even in his final moments when he felt the forty-footer shudder and begin to sink, he was at peace knowing that. After all, the water was his home, always had been. Now, it would be forever.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Life’s Unending Quest

Surf the great wave,
from atop a coral cave,
while throwing down the glaive,
for there’s Humanity to save,
and all the free and knave,
deserve to rant and rave,
about the fluids they gave,
to the insane and the brave.

And they wish they could’ve known,
before their fates were sown,
that gold-thread and bone,
and all the God-like tone,
had writ upon the cone,
that fate could not be postpone,
but instead they went alone,
and got lost there on their own.

Rarely did they sit,
while wand’ring in fit,
as the Earth’s great golden tit,
nourished them with wit,
they took for granted it,
and wound up forced to quit,
and to defeat admit.

There they settled down,
each wearing their frown,
for each was made a clown,
and lost all their renown–
and even each their noun–
to end up quite uptown,
for the ever-sparkling crown,
had turned them all aroun’.

Even at their best,
each was forced to rest,
having never passed the test,
of life’s unending quest,
for food and cumly breast,
such matters not in jest,
however doth protest,
find peace in their arrest.

Short Story: Not a Bad Day

The earth heaved with a frightful shudder. Laura’s feet felt the earth-shattering tear. Her teeth rattled. Cement split, cracked. She thought to leap for the sidewalk, but it lurched upward by the quake. A moment of inertia preceded a terrible rumble. It growled to a roar. Car alarms began screaming across the city. All was chaos. Skyscraper-chunks dislodged, tumbled through the air. A car was suddenly flattened. Laura tried to pretend she hadn’t seen the people there, couldn’t.

She’d been running through the park when it began. Her new, daily ritual had put her there. She’d only just found out her weight problem was going to become diabetes. If she didn’t get fit now, she might lose a foot– or worse. The future would only get more difficult. Fortunately, something had woken her up this time. Even though her breath was perpetually ragged that first week, she’d lost ten pounds. Now, breathing was much easier all ‘round.

Somehow those things so present in her mind dissolved when all hell broke loose. Moments ago, she was content, joyous. She should’ve known. She’d feared those emotions from the years of terrible happenings usually succeeding them. Her luck had been bad since childhood: when she first the wonder of life, her parents divorced. Her childhood home was sold off as community property. When she finally recovered, she got her first period. When that was over, the skies cleared just long enough for adolescence to become teenage angst. Cliques excluded her. Her grades fell. She was altogether depressed until college. The first rays of sunshine once more appeared when college dissolved the cliques gone. Even a few boyfriends came around, despite her “unattractive” physique.

Then the clouds parted, and a downpour flushed her hopes. A car accident forced her into traction, worsened her weight problem. Her then-fiancee stuck around long enough for her to walk again. Since then, her life was one series of disappointments after another and preceding more. Now, when the sun’s rays seemed most likely to shine again, the asinine happened.

She could’ve lived with a broken leg, getting hit by a car, or somehow gaining weight when she meant to lose it, but an earthquake? Really? This was absolutely the most unlikely thing to happen. Sure, the west coast got quakes, but here? In the middle of the park? At the peak of Seattle’s dormant period? And just when she was feeling alright? Seattle hadn’t had a major quake in almost twenty years. They weren’t “due for one,” either. This was a fluke. Of all the times… If she’d believed in God, he was laughing and pointing right now. Asshole.

Her body engaged. She leaped to the sidewalk. It shuddered, lurched. The ground split. A chasm appeared, widened. She bolted at a break-neck speed, raced splitting earth. Her feet bucked and trembled, bounced and skipped against the upheaval of concrete. She felt as if levitating, rather than running, feet never touching ground. Asphalt cracked. Car windows shattered. Something exploded far-off.

All the while the hot sun beat through a cloudless sky as if in a reality all its own of peace and serenity. Bastard.

She sprinted past falling debris, flocked with crowds rampaging the city. They were stampeding in every direction. Fleeing for nowhere in particular. Fleeing just to flee. They were no longer people: scared animals, directed and steered by crashes, cracks. The cluster around Laura grew larger each second. It became a gathering, an assembly, a stadium, so on until everyone in Seattle had joined them.

They fled together. Some manifested only panting terror, fueled by adrenaline. Normally Laura would’ve joined them– panting, wheezing, stumbling and eventually falling back to accept the inevitable. Being heavy and learning to run meant learning to breathe again though. If the quake had hit even a week earlier, she’d have fallen miles ago. She’d have been trampled to death by the crowd surging around her.

Now, she ran.

Her muscles ached. Joints burned. Her heart was a metronome set to insanity. Until now, she hadn’t liked the aches, the pains. Now, it meant she was still alive, intact, still running. She needed that. She managed to pass a few people, push nearer the mob’s front. She could jealous hatred around her:a fat girl outpacing them? Well they never! Jackasses.

Near an intersection, someone fell. People trampled him, unaware of his cracking bones in their terror-flight. He screamed, bellowed for help. Laura pushed her legs toward him, threw her weight around to shoulder and elbow people away. One strong arm pulled him up. His eyes and face were red, wet. He bawled “thank yous.” People tried to shove her away, force her along the current of bodies. Between her new muscles and still-heavy build, she was a boulder in the rapid.

Something exploded, forced them into a half hunch. A half demolished car careened out of control. It ramped off un-level asphalt, arced nearby. Its rear-end caught a fire-hydrant, tore it free. A geyser erupted the persistent swoosh of pure, liquid fury. The car punched through the front of a coffee shop, pinned a few people down inside. The man half-pulled, half followed her toward the still-running car. Its roof was dented from an impact of debris, driver dead. Laura’s adrenaline suppressed vomit and fear. They scrambled over shattered glass, angled nearer the pinned screams.

The man managed to kill the engine, the Earth’s trembling lessening each moment. Laura’s tone– “bitch” as it was often called by, at last count, everyone she met– rallied the people still standing in the shop. Together twenty-five people helped turn the car onto its side. The people still able to walk fled for their lives. Others merely moaned in pain. A few people helped to set bones over screams, a couple ending as their producers passed out. Jerry-rigged splints were fashioned from broke tables and various miscellanea. Someone even managed to loot crutches and from a drugstore nearby.

Laura turned to eye the man she’d saved. A doctor tended to him, an off-duty ER doc in from the street to check the injured. The rest were being carted off for nearby hospitals. The doctor assured the man he had a few broken ribs, some bumps and cuts, but otherwise was fine. The man stepped over to Laura, and as best he could, hugged her with thanks.

Then came a moment of almost total silence. Reality was still. The world had stopped. Laura swiveled: the entire coffee shop eyed her with gratitude. Someone said “thank you.” Someone else clapped. Another person whistled. Laura reddened. A line formed of people wanting to shake her hand or take pictures with her– even though her face was beet-red from exertion and bashfulness, her skin slick with sweat, and her hair wild.

The moment passed and the man pulled his savior aside to slip his phone number over sheepishly. “For, you know, if you wanna’ actually have coffee some time.”

Laura giggled. Then together, they laughed full on. Maybe her luck had changed. Maybe, it wasn’t such a bad day after all…