Category: Episode 32


Episode 32

Welcome to 2013!  In Between Altered States is happy to be bringing you a new year filled with great flash fiction.  The time schedule is changing  a bit and episodes will only be coming out every 2 months instead of every month.  This is partly because I have to dedicate some time to other things and also it allows for more time to get just the right stories for each episode.  I hope it won’t be too much of an inconvenience to any of you.

This episode is based on being stranded.  Each writer is allowed to make their own interpretation of what stranded is for them.  I would like to welcome some new writers to IBAS: Kenneth Gagnon, Bob Schofield, Bayard Tarpley, Delphine Boswell, and Michael A. Kechula.

Returning to the fold with their great snippets in time are: Bakhulule Maluleka, Angel Zapata, and Joshua J. Mark.

Enjoy!  Happy New Year!

Aleathia

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Two things keep occurring to Sarah’s weakened brain:

  1.  It’s been 41 minutes since she last saw a fin.
  2.  It’s so stupid to die in the Arctic Sea.

She touches Jim, whose shivering has lessened now that he’s wrapped in the extra parka, but averts her gaze from Carol. Carol has quieted, too – but it’s because in her final, love-struck moments, she insisted on providing the extra insulation.

“Let’s s-s-s-s-s-s-ing something,” Jim says.

“Jim.”

“No. It’s better.” He pauses, takes a gulping breath of salt and freezing sea-spray that would otherwise be theatrical and funny.

“Than what?”

“Then imagining,” he says, and her mind flash-bulbs to sleek black flesh, rising soundlessly from the depths. The horizon around them is clear – water scorched black by the burnt sienna sunset – but the reality is they’re still out there.

“They got no place else to go,” Sarah whispers. “Jesus Christ.”

“What was Carol’s favorite?” Jim gasps.

Before Sarah can tell him to shut up, for fuck’s sake, an impact tremor sends their ice floe surging out of the water with a crack like pavement being hammered apart. Sarah tumbles backward, legs kicking up. Her stomach turns and she screams; the noise sounds disconcertingly small.

The snowshoes and axes are scattered, and the sled is tipped on one side, adjacent to Carol.

“What is it?” Jim says, desperate.

She knows it.

“Shit,” Sarah groans.

“Hurry.”

Sarah takes a breath and sings:

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy.

But here’s my number – call me, maybe?

It’s hard to look right at you b-

Sarah is giggling too much to keep singing, and Jim rolls over, grunts at the sky. “She had terrible taste.”

“Well,” Sarah laughs, the water licking at her boots. “Let’s not judge her for her faults.”

The freezing rain transforms into crystal icicles, sealing the cave’s entrance with their three-foot long, pointed swords.  Bundled in layers of heavy clothing and complete with my wooden walking stick, I rest my back against a dusty boulder and wait.  Sealed away from society and its usual cacophonies, in some strange way, I feel safe here—isolated in the dark womb of nature.  In the solitude, the pouring rain, pounding on my rock tomb, creates a melodic rhythm, an almost orchestral, lyrical tune.  I inhale and exhale, sniffle once, cough twice. . .I keep beat as my stiffened gloved fingers tap against each other.   It’s then that I recognize the song, am familiar with its half-notes, its rests, its staccato pitches.

I can’t recall the name of the piece, only that I have sung the words many times—so many times, in fact, that I know the words from memory.

My musical moment interrupts as the sound of crunching snow nears. I listen with intention as the noise comes closer.  My eyes watery, nearly blurred vision from the cold, I see the edges of a silver-grey outline.  I blink once, twice.  Standing at the entrance of the hollow is a  majestic wolf, his head raised to the sky, his pink tongue extended as the pellets of nourishment fill him, a fountain of refreshment. I lay still, watching as much in awe as in fright.  Soon, he meanders off into the distance, until his bushy tail is out-of-view.

I cross my arms, grab my shoulders.  I rock forward, backward.  The repetitive motion calms me until I no longer feel, no longer think.

Then like ice sculptures, figures made of glass, wings transparent, in silence, they come.  Lift the stranded stranger, carry him. . .fly away. . .to holy ground.

“Harry, you son-of-a-gun.  I’ve been looking all over for you. I have something you wanted. I’ve been trying to deliver it for the past three Christmases.” 

Santa pulled a block of ice from his sleigh. 

“It’ll take twelve hours to defrost,” Santa said.  “Hurry up and shove it in your shelter.  I gotta run before those lousy Martians spot my sleigh.  If they shoot it down, I’ll be stranded like you.  Have a Merry Christmas.  I don’t know if  I’ll ever be able to get back here again.” 

Santa jumped into his sleigh and was gone in a flash. 

Harry pushed the block of ice to the entrance of the doomsday shelter. 

When he arrived at his lair, he read the Christmas card tied  to the ice block.  “Her name is Lala.  She’s not from this galaxy, but she’s female.  It’s the best I could do under the circumstances.  She’s about twenty Earth years old, but has the mind of a child.  She has powerful, primitive instincts, including the one you want most.  Best of all, she’s intact.   Merry Christmas and good luck…Santa.” 

Harry couldn’t wait to defrost her. 

When she awoke, her four hands reached out.  Gently pulling her to him, he whispered the same question into each of the ten holes surrounding her head. 

She nodded.  Taking his hand, she guided his fingers to seven apertures running down the side of her outermost tentacle. 

“Mmm.  One for everyday of the week,” he said, kissing her first set of lips, then the pair just above. 

She quivered and sighed. 

“That’s lesson number one,” he said. “Before we move to lesson two, do you mind if I call you Eve?” 

He thought he heard the most charming, girlish giggle

This morning marks the fourth day of the floating costume ball. It has been a huge failure from the beginning, nothing but long days of murder and deception. I look to my left and see a man dressed as a cowboy throw himself off the boat. I head below decks. This might be my last chance to find her. Who knows how long before the boat tips over a wall of ice? I find an empty bathroom and reapply my vampire makeup. I cloud myself under layers of white powder. I stuff my mouth with plastic fangs.  The boat fills with black water. I see a woman in a bird costume. She slips out of a giant egg. She is barely covered by small patches of green feathers. Her hair is a recognizable shade of red. “Finally,” I tell her. “We need to leave. This boat is ruined. Look at the rust. And the captain. Have you even seen him? I haven’t. Just a uniform passing between some of the guests. A pair of pleated pants. Certain insignia and badges. The whole boat is screaming.” The bird woman looks at me with black eyes. I remove her beak. The face under the mask is freckled and false. It’s just some little girl, already flying away. Somewhere else, a woman dressed like the Queen of the Nile is kissing a man she’s never seen before. He’s dressed like a vampire from a silent movie. They are both underwater. Her hair fans out like some red sea plant. The other man tries to comb it straight with his own set of plastic fangs. From this point on I start swinging in circles from a chandelier. I get so dizzy that everyone finally starts looking exactly the same.

            I’m in a land of porcupines with bristling bodies and all eyes. They move before me in circles but never touch me, banging solidly against each other. I see the guy who loves his pistol and always polishes it and if a girl defeats him he lets her die. The mosquito dude lets you live but you lose your hopeful berry. Then there’s iron neck guy who’s worse than triangle head and as I’m watching them all I’m thinking `What’s that horrible music in the background? And who started all of this?’

            Lollipops with musical notes on them float above my head. I’m sitting in a puddle of I don’t know and I don’t know why when here comes the Danger Clown swinging across the floor toward Godiva who stands impassively and doesn’t even shake her head when he shimmies up to her.

            There seems no really controlling any of this.

            If anyone could see me I would feel unwelcome here. I’d feel like a complete creep. Confetti leaves of artificial trees dance down delicately between me and the world. Another porcupine boy, all hands and eyes on stilt legs, asks the chair beside me to dance. She smiles and shakes her head. He says, “But you need to. We have to get out of here” and she shrugs and takes his hand. He yanks her to her feet and pulls her from the room. Everyone is still banging into each other wide-eyed.  It’s not so much a dance as a collision. My mushroom silence strands me safely. The band plays as the room rises and falls.

“Oh, but you always lose your hands inside the freezer, John. What’s wrong with you?” She asks me.

“It’s not my fault, mom. I didn’t ask to be like this.”

“Well, clean yourself up before the neighbours see you.”

I put on my body suit and gas-mask and make sure to tuck each and every one of my tentacles away. Mom has a terrible habit of making me feel like it’s my fault that The Accident happened. Mind you, I wasn’t even born then.

All the pictures in the hallway break as one of my stray tentacles runs amok.

“How is it that I can be both one way and another?”

Mom brings me a cup of red tea to calm my nerves. She’s long since forgotten the name of the South African wild grass from which it’s derived. I tell her that today I want to sit in the atrium. I hold the cup of tea some distance away as I watch the two-headed birds playing on the barren branches. One of them flies onto the ground and periodically bobs its head into the mud…

I was sleeping when the sirens went off this time, my cup of tea having cooled amid my slumber. Apparently some kid fell into a well and awakened some of the mutants in the depths waiting for him. Now the mayor’s afraid they’ll ransack the town. Perhaps if he’d played in the mud like the birds, there’d be no siren. Especially today, on my birthday, of all days…

The blood pours from that poor soul’s chest like… I don’t know, insert some genius metaphor here. This isn’t a linguistic beauty, it’s a visual one. You have to see the blood trickling down his side, slowly searching the pavement until it finds the cracks and then rushing toward the gutter. There it joins that tiny river of water on its way into the sewer. The very red life draining from a man where it will run under his neighbors’ houses, under his boss’s office, under his doctor’s practice, under his lawyer’s firm.
I don’t know this man. I guess I’ve seen him around, but I don’t really know him.
I’m watching all this from a safe distance, well above street level, peering down from a height where I can barely tell it’s a human. It’s more like a bug that someone’s stepped on.
His tie, a pastel sort of green color, is spotted now with blood. I have one just like it. That familiarity makes it harder to stare, but not hard enough to stop. My tie obviously doesn’t have the blood. The blood kind of goes with the tie, though, makes it more interesting.
Impossible to pinpoint, sirens blare in the distance, echoing off the buildings. Ah, they’re coming from the left. From the left an ambulance speeds along and stops near enough to the corpse.
But’s it’s not a corpse to them yet; it’s still human. They stop the bleeding, they seal the wound, all with a calm urgency that gives away the fact that while they appreciate that this is a human life, and yes it’s very important, this is the 50th time they’ve done this this month. But they’re too late.
And as everything goes black, I realize how familiar that man looked.

There used to be a fence here, around this domicile husk. The children, two by two, were ushered through the gates. Small, bare feet hovered above the earth like ghosts, touching air and nothing else. It was the large hands of strangers that swung them over the steps, set them down on the cool tile floor of the orphanage lobby.

The boy remembers that when it stormed the window shades would sway like paper arks, and all the caged animals on the curtains— two rabbits, two canaries, two cats, two dogs— would dissolve to whimpers and scratches, broken only by the sound of thunder or the creak of bed springs in the dark room.

The girl has no memory of fur or feathers. She would listen to the rain fall and pretend the lightning bolts were a carnival of cotton candy. Her numb fingers became paper cones for electric blue curls.

They were called by their former names back then and had promised to one day marry each other. Twenty years later, he’s Mr. Delgado. He addresses her as Mrs. Maya.

“I thought we would never leave this place,” he says.

“I never wanted to,” she responds. “Not without you.”

The crumbling building before them is a forest of charred wood, bones buried beneath bricks.

“Maybe you are still here.” He reaches for her.

In his arms, she doesn’t feel like anything at all.