Unlike Episode 1, which was a sampler of the sorts of stories you can come to expect, Episode 2 is set up like an unsettling dream. It is my wish that you will take the time to read the stories in order like a dream/nightmare sequence at least once. Feel free to click on individual stories by your favorite authors as well….each of them warrants some attention. I am pleased to have these fine writers guide you through the lucidity of the mind: Kristin Fouquet, Jeffrey S. Callico, Luis Berriozabal, Len Kuntz, Mikael Covey, Barry Basden, Timothy Gager, and Christopher Allen. Enjoy!!
Category: Episode 2
Warned for decades, we still contaminated the air. I guess we could point the finger at big business burning off industrial pollutants, if it made us feel better, but I suspect we all had a hand in it.
I have to suit up to venture outside. No one can live for more then a few seconds out there without wearing the gear. I’m seeking the most unlawful substance- smoke.
Downtown, I find my destination and go through one door, then another to the stabilization room. I remove my gear and enter the tunnel. In the distance a figure waves me forward. No clearance needed, I’m a regular.
The walls sweat; the air is a giant pocket of smoke. As I edge in, several men hunch over smoking. This is my camorra. One hands me a pair of surgical gloves and a cigarette. Lars is a greasy younger man with nervous shaky hands. “Hey, how ya doin’?”
I nod, drag on my smoke.
He creeps closer. “You know, I heard of this older lady, like around your age. She runs this smoking parlor where you can smoke anything- cigars even.”
I frown. “That’s a myth, Lars. I’ve heard it for years. Sorry, my friend. There are only these caves.”
“Well, I heard they’re watching some of the caves.”
I shrug, unaffected. I’ve heard this for almost as long.
I peel off the skin-like gloves, suit up, and leave. Outside, I’m too relaxed and unguarded when a stranger bumps into me.
He declares, “As a smoker, you are a murderer.”
Four uniformed men approach us. I’m stripped of my protective gear.
They’re really beautiful; pink and azure ribbons swirling all around me. Before I drop to my knees, I smell something sweet.
Martin Everson shut the door to his office and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He knew he shouldn’t smoke in the office environment but he was testy and tense so he had to have one and now. The boss was out for the day and there was nothing important or urgent on the schedule so no one would be checking in. He lit up, sat back, inhaled the lovely smoke then held it inside himself.
Two days later he discovers his girlfriend has left. He calls her but she does not answer. He smokes a cigarette and thinks about her. An hour goes by and he calls her again. Nothing. She is gone. He shouldn’t call her again. She is gone and he shouldn’t call her. He should have another cigarette and never call her again. He should go to work the next day and have a cigarette and if he thinks about her then he should have another.
A week goes by and Martin is at home. It’s a Saturday afternoon, a game is on, he isn’t watching it, he’s smoking a cigarette, he’s trying not to think about the girlfriend, he tries to keep his mind on the cigarette, tries to get his mind back on the game, the tv is messed up, it doesn’t work right, the cigarette is almost gone, the girlfriend left, she’s gone, the cigarette tastes good and the game is on but the tv is messed up.
In a month Martin has no job. The boss caught him smoking, gave him chance after chance to stop, to abide by policy, to do the work and not smoke, but no, he smoked and thought about the girlfriend, and smoked some more.
He’s at home and he’s smoking again. Martin can’t stop smoking. The girlfriend left and he has no job. The cigarettes remain like newfound friends. Martin leaves the house and takes them with him. They go everywhere together. They are inseparable, full of themselves and more. If Martin dies from smoking, he’ll die with a cigarette between his fingers.
Last night Billy worried about not getting enough cigarettes. There was no indication that the voices had returned. In the morning Billy was agitated, yelling and screaming at the voices. At five in the morning Billy found an old razor in the bathroom. He had superficial cuts on his chest and abdomen. Billy vowed he would cut out all those tattoos his late mother always nagged him about. He would talk to his dead mother, his voice breaking, “I will cut the tattoos out. Please stop telling me I am a bad son.” Billy never meant to hurt anyone or to disobey his mother. He thought his mother would never know he got tattoos since he would not take his shirt off in her presence.
Yet his mother knew about the tattoos. From beyond the grave she would admonish Billy. She did not like to have her name tattooed on her son’s chest. Billy’s mother thought that was a sick thing to do. She felt it was inappropriate. In the morning Billy was found on the bathroom floor. He fainted. Billy could never stand the sight of blood.
Until twenty three, my mother could beat me in arm wrestling, her bicep the size of a hamster, so puny, no more than a clump of hamburger meat sagging down the middle of her bone. Cackle and squeal she would upon each petty victory, cig smoke train-chuffing from her mouth and nose and ears. “Pussy,” she’d say. “Pussy,” and mean it.
All those years, I’d lift weights and drink protein shakes. I’d baby-bawl, I would, and say prayers, but nothing worked, not until I put that mirror in my mouth, glass the size of a doll’s compact. Palm-to-palm, our arms lanced like a mating eels, we followed a similar trajectory until I parted my jaws with the mirror on my tongue, played Mom a movie, a biography, of her beating me—head hand face arm chest leg groin–her fists blazing, nails ripping, working out her own black victory.
“Wake up little one” says Mommie. “The Jews are our enemies; and the Blacks and Muslims and the Americans.” Baby ponders this, remembering the viewing room for new-borns at the hospital. So warm and shiny there under all those lights, under the soft cuddly blankets. Surrounded there by Jewish babies, Black ones, Muslims, and Americans. The proud happy parents and grandparents pointing and smiling so, on the other side of the glass. Their excitement, wonder, and overcome with joy. How could they be our enemies, thinks Baby. Baby starts to cry. “There, there” says Mommie soothingly. “Don’t trouble yourself, little one. Our government and our religious leaders decide who are enemies are. All we have to do is follow.”
Whirling. Small, bounding circles in the noonday sun. She’s the kind of crazy dog his granddaddy would’ve shot then claim she’d run away.
Empty skies, blazing heat. A gray privacy fence, trees, cicadas, the rotten smell of the pool next door. In a scrap of shade, chugging the last of a Lone Star, his fourth on an empty stomach. Screw banks and foreclosure notices.
Wrench off the koozie labeled “HIGH ON STRESS,” drop the bottle in the grass next to the cooler. Everything looks bright, vivid.
The little dog stops dancing, comes up to stand in front of his lawn chair, staring.
“I know you,” she says. Her amber eyes hold his gaze and she edges closer, trembling. “You’re a dancer, too.”
He reaches to touch her. A nervous lick and she backs away with a little Michael Jackson shuffle and head bob. She whimpers, begins to dance again in crazy circles, unpredictable rhythms.
He has another Lone Star. Cicadas are applauding in the trees. He looks up at a sky paler than Paul Newman’s eyes. There is no rainbow there, not even a used one. From somewhere near by, the opening strains of “Gimme Shelter” begin their haunting riff, and suddenly dancing doesn’t seem like such a lousy idea at all.
He rises from the chair and pirouettes toward his partner, awaiting him in the blinding sunlight.
Amanda was the perfect girl to like because she had a great job. She worked at Tape World. Compact Discs had just hit. No one went to Tape World. I always went.
“Do you have Born To Run on cassette?” She looked at me like I were retarded and had asked her if I could eat her pizza only instead of asking if I could eat her pizza, I only drooled.
“Of course we have Born To Run on…cassette. If you were interesting you’d ask if we had Depeche Mode on cassette because I order all the cool stuff.”
“Got that already….on disc.”
She had the look. I’ve seen it. It is the way a girl looks when she is about to smack you in the head or throw something at the wall. “Why do I care,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before Tape World will no longer exist. Then what’ll I do?”
“I’m sure they’d hire you at Disc Dat. You stock the best shit. Always. If it weren’t for you, I’d be completely done with tapes.”
“You like me?” she asked.
“Depeche Mode on disc…what else did you see?” she said, hitting the ‘no sale’ key on the register, springing the draw.
“Gun Club, Clash, Stan Ridgeway.”
She yanked the twenties, the tens, the fives and the ones out in four quick snaps. “I want to buy you lunch.”
Then we waited for the end of the world.
Snuggle up to her koi, Annie did but didn’t like it. Slither up—surely a better word to describe the love between a twenty-something pisces and her pesce—Annie did and enjoyed it more precisely. Mwaw-mwaw for air, the fish mimed mute; mwaw-mwaw for love, Annie bussed back. And that little orange spot on the fish’s forehead twinkled like a star while the koi, with its left eye, then with its right, watched Annie mouth a lovely, lethal bedtime story.
In a time once upon, lived a koi fish in a pond.
Turn the page, Annie did. Mwaw-mwaw
In the sun the koi sparkled, red-golden spangled.
Turn the page, Annie did. Mwaw-mwaw
Stare up with left, stare up with right. Smiling creature shadows strobe-stroked light.
Turn the page, Annie did. Mwaw-mwaw
To leave, the koi longed; break its waterskin and fly.
Turn the page, Annie did, to a PAPER POP-UP KOI. Mwaw-
Slither in, Annie did to her paper pop-up koi. Painted scales and fixed mwaw mouth, she kiss-coloured blue and blew good night. She tickled her alarm clock for a quarter past six and Skype-chatted awhile with a headless e-stralian. She scribbled the words “olive juice” on a Starbucks napkin—because she loved black-on-brown words that looked like “I love you” on mute. She held it—and her koi—up to the camera.
“Mwaw-mwaw,” Annie mouthed to her dry-as-paper koi. “Olive juice,” she mouthed to the headless e-stralian, leaving blue liquid lips, here and there and here, on the laptop screen.