Category: Episode 35


Episode 35

Ah yes….dreaded summertime.  This episode was supposed to make its debut earlier this summer, but it seems even writers like to take time off. This episode deals with the idea of being sequacious or something that lacks individuality.  Each writer was put to the test by being allowed to interpret this notion in their own way.  It is my job to find a way to string them together.  I do hope you enjoy the works from some of my favorite flash writers:  Len Kuntz, Nadine Sellers, Jason Huskey, Ken Poyner, Shawn Misener, Jeffrey Miller, Kristin Fouquet and Zack Kopp.

The submission and publishing schedule will resume its usual every 2 month cycle.  Thank you for your patience this summer.

Aleathia

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We wear hand-me downs and each other’s shoes, even if they’re too tight and pinch.  To save money, father buzzes our hair down to bristles with shears that rattle and sometimes catch patches of skin.  We eat in silence, the only sound metal chinking on plastic plates, food being chewed and swallowed.

After supper, we lay on the shag carpet watching black-and-white TV, listening to a family that’s nothing like our own, hearing how happy they are, noticing what a fine car they drive, how big their dining room is.

At night we three sleep on the same mattress.  We never dream, or if we do, we never say.  In the mornings we rise before the sun and make it to the fields, row after row of the same bushes, flocked with blood-red berries glinting against green.

We work on our knees, filling the flats as fast as we can because it’s cash money they pay here.  Afternoons, we stand in line with the other migrants, wilted and sweaty, each person taking his turn, handing over a punch card and receiving berry-stained bills in return.

Years later, one brother steals a car, another brother robs a convenience store, and I break into a house.

Now we wear orange uniforms, sit in similar cells, stroll in sunlight for a single hour each day.  At night we lay in cots.  We imagine freedom, beaches with chalk-colored sand, a skiff bobbing on waves.

She turns to her sister and makes eye contact. Sister turns her gaze to the crowd. Crowd moves in concentric circles around town square. She waits for approval; and the crowd keeps cawing, mooing, moving away from her. Swallowing sister.

She turns to mother and makes eye contact. She finds the wrinkle in the face and stares. Mother slinks away behind father. Father shrinks away behind aunt. Around the square they go. And the vendors hawk their wares. Swallowing their monies.

She turns to her aunt and makes eye contact. She finds the soft spot. Auntie pulls her purse out of bag. Dollars tremble underhand. Around the Square they walk. And the vendors tease their prey. Salting their palms with temptation.

She flaps her skirts with happiness. And slips her monies good bye. She takes the prize away, plastic and paint. She runs in opposite direction. Proud and valiant. She hugs her newest conquest, her inanimate object of acquisition.

She runs into her friends. She runs into her family. She runs to nowhere with nothing in mind. She avoids eye contact. The toy answers no one, no word. The toy is hard under hands, hard under chin, wet with tears and slobber.

She waves, she runs, she craves, she dangles the prize of the day to celebrate four feet of loneliness into smiles of emptiness; she runs on the tarmac. She spots her sister and makes eye contact. Sister turns her gaze to crowd. Crowd moves in concentric circles. And the band plays on to the rhythms of sweaty bodies.

The lights come on and blink upon a toy. A dirty hand reaches for the warm and wet plastic. A kid yells above the din ” look what I found!” and runs around the square, proud and radiant in his new found acquisition. The crowd wobbles in sync, to tired rhythms. The announcer pronounces the evening dead and dying.

She finds the family by the family car ready for the family farm. She climbs in the backseat to the groans and gripes of a spent feast. She hugs her sweater, stares at the stars. Her day, her time divided by five for her foreseeable eternity.

A kid skips by the square, shaking a plastic toy to the moon, waving freedom at the free sky to the clink of empty beer cans in a plastic bag; tomorrow’s lunch money for his family.

We never asked about the old days—never a word about the circumstances that led our parents to usher in the second rise of man—this perfection nurtured from the horde.  As children we were revised often, minds etched with the white out cured in the curls of fists.  Our bedtime stories were nestled in the threats of nightmares, our futures tied to what they called The Quarries Of Hell—mines so vast even Satan couldn’t make it out alive.  We eventually learned to survive by going along, by getting along, and by becoming one with the Elite.

As adults we refined our understanding of obedience into the kiss of a well-placed needle against a toddler’s flesh.  After my education was complete, I accepted my offered position as the keeper of breaths—the last line of defense between the old ways and the new.  My station was a corridor of incubators under the soft buzz of fluorescent lights.  The babies all entered the same—free-will stronger than men my age—breaths hard and eager and pure.  Fingers opened and closed, eyes roamed between me and the glare of glass—thoughts bubbling out of their precious mouths—ever-learning since the first burn of daylight.

My job was to count the breaths of babies before and after the serum was administered.  The fewer the breaths, the more docile.  The more docile, the more perfect of being.  The greater the breaths, the more resistance.  The more resistance—I made a note on their chart and pretended I couldn’t remember what happened in the room at the end of the hall.  I could never forget.

This morning’s subject was special, though, a girl born prematurely and riddled with the old disease of men.  She was barely a dozen moon cycles old and already a handful of trouble.  Her chart bled with ink, the fear of the Elite scribbled in the margins in hurried script.  A revolutionary in the making, she had been watched since the minute she stole breath.

She smiled at me like she knew me.  Not today, sweet.  Today, I’m one of the monsters in the nightmares of my youth—just a man doing his job—going along, getting along, being one.  The baby girl wriggled wildly on the pad, her cries lending a shiver to the observation glass. Soon the cure would calm her as it’s calmed us all, and she’d be perfect in the eyes of the Elite.  I watched her from my station on the production line, her eyes catching mine with every grasp of air—her hands reaching and falling and fighting and faltering with each weakened gasp.  Her tiny fists unclenched, slowly hiding their reflexive need.  She looked at me again, that beautiful smile now fear frozen in a frown. This is the death of liberty, I wasn’t allowed to think.  Not even when it’s my own daughter fighting to be free.

There is no way to go on loving in a burning building, but we do.  We worry more that the sheets are unjustly knotted, than that there is smoke crawling like omnivorous, dream-stealing spiders across the ceiling.  We worry that the blankets will never be used again; that our memories, woven into them like the smell of a corpse littering the trunk of a car, will go out of existence with the ashen cloth.  We worry we are forgetting sheets blankets and memories even now, and being ourselves forgotten.  We are twisted through the variations executed in the mere simplicity of our present accomplishment, and, buried within our perception of even the burning building, our paper hero antics are lost inside the needful anatomy fulfilled by thousands of lackluster generations acting out in the panoramic tunnel vision of individual needs.  We are of no need, but all of you need our act of unselfed selfishness.

 

When you, my brave fireman, look in from the municipal fire truck ladder, the glass window already vibrating from heat, you will not think of saving us.  You will understand the flames and our frenetic cross-stitchery and think:  how intricate.  Or, you will think how beautiful the disharmonies of people meeting a simple animal imperative can be.  Or, you will think omigod, the place is on fire and how murderously they hump.  Or, you will think again this is a line and not points on a line.  Or, you will think nothing at all.

 

Then, from the microphone tethered to your shoulder like a favored flagellum, dispatch will tell you:  there is no way to go on loving in a burning building.

Through extensive research he discovered that the only way to be completely and perfectly unique was to be everything at once. To be as normal as possible in all aspects of his demeanor and experience, his presentable “self” becoming an absurd amalgam of style and culture, a “Mega-American” archetype, a living, breathing, and speaking mash of everything so prevalent in the United States which had been rendered hollow and meaningless through media overexposure.

His ultimate vision manifested on the most American of street corners: Vine and Redman, precisely between a well-maintained white picket fence and the ranch style home it shepherded, and the always-jangling aluminum chain link of a little-league baseball field’s dugout. He wanted to climb in and out of both fences and wear them like Flavor Flav wears giant clocks, dragging the chainish symbolism behind him, a snake molting his society with the dead skin hanging on for far too long, news reporters trailing with frazzled hair and whipping microphones like ninja stars, blown away by the perfect absurdity that he represented.

It was all too much to rationalize though, and he ended up stark naked on the corner of Woodward and Voss, digging crack rock out from under his toenails and wondering if he even had a sense of smell any longer. Fuck this, he thought, I finally understand what a Katamari is.

So he began rolling, naked through the city streets, collecting all types of ghetto remnants on his skin: Burger wrappers, pennies, broken syringes, half-used matchbooks, whatever else rested in his path. His monkeyball travels continued until three days later, when he accidentally rumbled off the Ambassador Bridge, by that point an unrecognizable ball of trash and treasures, fully and instantly aware that he had fulfilled his vision unintentionally.

No one had ever smiled so boisterously the moment before their death.

Two weeks after I met Suzy in the parking lot of the Cocky Bull, we’re in my buddy’s Ford Fairlane headed north across the eerie moonscape-like desert to Vegas. With a suit I borrowed from Larry in avionics, as soon as I finished the graveyard shift at the air base, Suzy and her two friends, Billy and Joy and I were headed north on I-15.

My family back in Illinois didn’t know. In my mind, I could hear my mother screaming how I could marry someone two weeks after we met in a bar and my father trying to calm her down. “Well, he is twenty-one now.”

Suzy had her heart set on the Silver Bell Wedding Chapel as soon as she laid eyes on it. For starters, it really did look like a chapel—this white clapboard building with what appeared to be stained glass windows and a steeple, surrounded by the cutest white picket fence you could imagine; though, the red and yellow neon sign out front and neon trim around the eaves were a bit over the top. I wanted to get married by the King at the Graceland Wedding Chapel, but Suzy protested. How could anyone not want to be married by an Elvis impersonator?

Billy and Joy loaned us some money so we could have the deluxe wedding that came with photos, a cassette recording of the vows, and four tickets to a show, tokens and a complimentary bottle of champagne. The minister, reverend, or whatever religious moniker he used to sanctify the vows reeked of whiskey and cheap cigars. Turned out he grew up not far from my childhood town. Then he asked me for a tip, or a donation to the church as he put it.

The show turned out to be some off the strip venue, but the guy that played Chuck Campbell, the ventriloquist with his dummy Bob on TV’s Soap headlined along with a chorus line of naked women dancing to the music of Star Wars as they brandished illuminated plastic light sabers. Suzy quaffed most of the champagne and promptly ordered more followed by shots of tequila and Coors.

Outside, while I waited for Billy to bring the car around, a hooker propositioned me. Joy and Suzy staggered out of the casino. The hooker smiled and shrugged before she sashayed down the sidewalk.

We had the $3.95 “All-You-Can-Eat” buffet special at the Circus Circus before we go back to our hotel located next to the airport. As soon as we arrived back at the 12.95 a night hotel, which came with with a complimentary bottle of cheap bubbly and tokens for one of the casinos, Suzy made a beeline for the bathroom. I fed some quarters in the vibrating bed and turned on the television just in time for Saturday Night Live.

“Suzy, are you okay?” I asked.

She said something unintelligible, which I took for, “I am so sick” as she vomited into the toilet.

Eric Idle was the host of SNL and Kate Bush was the musical act. Looked liked it was going to be a good one, I thought. I cracked open a Bud and dialed home. Dad answered and wasn’t too happy to have been woken up.

“It’s me, Ray,” I said and swigged some of the beer. “Yeah, I know what time it is. I just wanted to let you and mom know that I got married today.” It got quiet on the other end and heard him wake my mother. Through two time zones of static, I heard the two of them yelling. First, he yelled that I was old enough and then she yelled that I was his son and that this would have never happened if he would have spent more time with me as a child. Then it got quiet again before my father came back on and told me how happy he and mom were for us.

In the bathroom, I heard Suzy vomit again.

“Oh God, please don’t let me throw up anymore,” she said.

Finally, my parents got around to asking how we were.

Outside, another jet took off rattling the windows.

“We couldn’t be happier.”

Months ago, I was contemplating my impending marriage, when I heard stomping upstairs.

“En Garde,” a voice declared.

It wasn’t my business, but I found myself creeping up the staircase to the third floor. Crouching down, I peered through the keyhole.

Having seen the apartment before, I was surprised by its present oddity. The new tenants furnished it entirely in white. Blanche walls accommodated large frameless mirrors. Plush ecru carpeting provided a base for eggshell hued sofas and end tables, along with a pristine white baby grand piano. However, they were not tickling the ivories tonight. They were fencing.

I focused on the two slender figures, dressed completely in black, lunging back and forth. They were almost indistinguishable. Their pale faces were the only flesh revealed; their long black ponytails slapped their backs as they attacked and retreated, foils within inches of one another.

“Dirty Bitch.”

“Filthy Cunt.”

Their lunges quickened; foils struck.

“Nasty Whore.”

“Fat Ass.”

One charged, pressing the foil’s bulbous rubber tip to her opponent’s chest.

“Touché. No riposte.” She released her weapon.

The other dropped hers and stepped closer. She pulled the elastic band, freeing her long hair. The gesture was reciprocated. A moment elapsed before a deep kiss. In a flurry, clothes were thrown until both stood wearing only short black gloves. They acted in unison. A gloved finger traced a nipple and the other followed. Caressing and licking each other, they purred.

“Valentina Lenore.”

“Lenore Valentina.”

I quietly descended the staircase.

My fiancé pressed me to move in with him.  I would’ve proceeded with our plans, but I longed to know more of the two upstairs.

The opportunity presented itself.

Opening the gate, I saw them talking to our landlady in the carriageway. Black gloves animated every comment. They quickly waved before disappearing into the stairwell.

I said, “I’m glad I caught you. I have the rent.”

She squinted. “Hello. Will you really be leaving at the end of your lease?”

“I’m afraid so.” I opened my checkbook. “Valentina and Lenore seemed in a hurry.”

“Expecting their manicurist. Hand models, you know?”

“Ah, the gloves.”

“They were runway models in New York.” She accepted the check and brought it close to her face. “Nice sisters. Good tenants.”

“Oh, they’re not sisters. Just emulate one another, right?”

“Identical twins.”

“Is that what they told you?”

“They needn’t. My eyes aren’t that bad.”

“Of course,” I replied.

As the wedding neared, he asked me to start packing, but I wanted to stay in the building.

The other night, I snuck up and listened at their door.

“You’ve been sneaking food, Lenore. The evidence is in the trash.”

“Prove it. Put your hands in the can,” she dared.

“Shall I get the scale? Measure your hips? This is serious. Our metabolisms will shift if we’re not eating exactly the same. You will get fat.”

Regurgitation. While Lenore lost her extra calories in the toilet, the main door suddenly opened. Valentina stared at me.

“Prefer a better view?” she asked, leading me into their apartment.

The next morning, I renewed my lease.

His name was Dave or Trevor or Brandon or something. Normal haircut, stupid job, no dreams, politics. There was nothing to make him stand out. he sat there like all the others, head on top, legs crossed. Sitting at his desk. Always going with the flow, never making, say, a LEFT turn, a RIGHT turn, no. Eyes forward, straight ahead, head bowed in service, plodding through the slag of seventy thousand melted bodies of the ones who’d gone before. They must have known it was right! Always marching onward into the furnace. Even if your nose begins to melt, or if it melts entirely off. This will be your mark of bravery. The assignment that day was to write about “lacks individuality.” It was a real kick sometimes, the humor life had. Dave or Steve or Bill would probably end up writing the same thing as everyone else. He had always wanted to fit in but how he really wanted to stand out. He raised his hand. “May I go to the restroom?” But they wouldn’t allow him. He had to start writing that paper. He wanted to write something individualistic about lacking individuality, something completely individualized that could never be mistaken for anything else. But it had to be about the lack of individuality. He frowned and tried hard. Seventy thousand have passed this way before, he reminded himself, this is getting to be a tradition. It’s honorable and right! How dare I question this road? He challenged himself. Just go with the flow. As above, so below, he reassured himself. As within, so without. Even the tiny torn out guts of dead insects should do nothing to dissuade my doggedness here. “I have blank eyes,” he wrote. He thought this was a very good idea; other people had blue eyes, etc. but his were blank because he lacked indi- But no, that was the exact opposite of “lacks individuality.” This assignment was a Mobius strip! Tom/Joe/Bob crossed out that sentence. It was almost his time. He frowned at the paper again. “Once upon a time,” he wrote. Every fool always wrote that. He crossed it out. He couldn’t think of anything. Just kept sitting there. Even the way he sat there was nothing special. This assignment was so hard! Soon he would crumple it up and throw it into the fires of hell. He couldn’t wait to eat his lunch.