Here we are in Episode 6. The world is full of disappearances and there is no telling what that can mean from one person to the other. This dream takes you on a trip showing you how losing oneself could be on a grand scale or a small one. As always, this set of flash fiction is meant to be read in order for full effect. Try that once and then come back and read your favorite stories individually if you like. I am happy to present Episode 6 featuring the impressive talents of: Robert Vaughan, Jesse Bradley, Len Kuntz, Matthew Dexter, Chris Deal, Dominic Ward, Ben Pullar, and Mark Howard Jones. Get lost!!
Category: Episode 6
I could use some floss. But then, we’re camping. No floss, no hairspray, no condoms. Well, we won’t need condoms, really, we’re both women. But there is the remote possibility of meeting some lumberjack at Casey’s in Juneau. And, god knows, he won’t have a condom.
I park our Fiesta and we crunch across the nearly frozen parking lot. The flourescent light of Casey’s blinks on and off in the dark.
“Do you think we’ll be warm enough?” Sandy asks. Her breath comes out like a white bubble, like a cartoon. “I mean, later. In the tent.”
“Probably not,” I said. “Let’s just have a few Coors and see where we end up.”
Later that night, getting close to closing, I’d been chatting with a group of university guys, playing darts. They couldn’t believe a girl could beat them. Round after round, that a girl could win. They had no clue how often Sandy and I had played darts in my basement when we were kids. I smelled my fishy hands, reminding me of work. No matter how much bleach I used to scrub that smell away, it lingered. I figured we’d better call it a night. But where was Sandy?
They say it’s impossible for someone to disappear. But she did. It’s been more than twenty years now, and not a word from Sandy since that night. Police searched, her family hired a private investigator for a year. She left no trace. Sometimes I wonder, did she ever exist? Was that our dream? Move to Alaska, make a mint off those fishing vessels, find a husband. It all seems so unreal now. And yet, still, I wait for her call.
How you should break up with your girlfriend
*Make a new sexually transmitted infection out of hurt feelings
*Recreate the “Valentine’s Day Massacre” using her face and your penis
*Dress up like a killer whale before offering to go down on her like Sea World’s attendance
The PowerPoint slideument is in indigo Comic Sans, the elementary school bully type font that flushes my bathing suit down the toilet, tells me no I won’t go to the Sadie Hawkins Dance with you, chide me for dressing like a girl to ask a girl I really liked out to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. I made this blueprint a couple of years ago as a way to demolish too-good-to-be-true moments, Novocaine for my skin aching after my index finger and thumb gnaws on it.
How do you teach a master bridge burner to fear cinder and smoke, to save pillars of salt for the rims of margarita glasses instead of the soil of her hands, wean hammers off of photo frames, mirrors?
I close the slideument, hide it in the crypt of subfolders. I walk over to my closet and put on the flak jacket I made out of all my mistakes.
He is holes and rings. The cavities covering his body are eye-shaped, almond-shaped, pumpkinseed cutouts. She says not to worry, that she’s only going away for a week. “It rains there,” she says. “All the men are waxy and have bad teeth.”
While she packs, he takes a bath. It is like watching a kaleidoscope or an ant farm with all its tunnels, the way the water sluices through him, gushing past his gleaming organs and thrumming aorta. He gets a hand mirror for a better angle but no matter how hard he tries, he can’t see the holes in his head because they are up high on a shelf. When he tries shampooing his hair, the sudsy soap slithers into the craters and out through a spout near the back of his neck.Oh boy, he thinks.
He thinks she should not be going on this trip. He thinks he might call Bradley’s wife and get her up to speed. Bradley can get any woman he wants. He has a one already, why does he need two?
The clues were not a crumb trail but blatant, like someone who had marked their path in the woods so as not to get lost. A few things he found were: panties in fire engine red; citrus perfume; plum bruises inside her thighs; a pouch of mutant pebbles, all shaped like chubby hearts.
At the door he blurts out, “Bradley’s going.”
She tells him it ended months ago. She says, “If you don’t stop this, you’ll give yourself an ulcer.” But there’s a thing she does with her eyes, the way they skid sidelong when she’s lying, and they do that now as she leans in for her goodbye kiss.
Afterward, he goes back into the bathroom just as the last slug of the water gurgles triumphantly down the tub drain. In the mirror he sees how the holes have widened, melding into each other to form a single gigantic window. Now he is only an outline, like bread when people eat out the center, leaving the crust intact. He looks through himself, out the glassless window. He sees the room service cart, a shiny silver dome on top and unfinished food congealed. A foot away the mattress is moving.
When the phone rings the next night he hears it but cannot lift his arms because he doesn’t have any. His hands are faint glimpses of what his hands once were. His legs are the same way, as are his pelvis and penis. He doesn’t own an answering machine, so the telephone won’t stop ringing. He counts each one like an insomniac might count sheep.
If he’s still there when she flies home, she’ll say she called but he never picked up. She’ll ask if he ate while she was gone. “Look how skinny you’ve gotten, you’re almost invisible.” She’ll say there’s another trip in June. She’ll yawn wide as a grizzly, then kiss him dry-lipped with her eyes wide open and whisper, “Sweet dreams.”
Omar was hunting mice. At least he thought he was; turned out to be only one. Anyway, Omar was hunting this mouse when he broke his wrist, caught his wedding ring on something inside the mouse hole: an electric socket. It shocked him, sure. But the serious damage was done when he attempted to yank his arm out the narrow archway after the nefarious furry creature started nibbling on his nails. He could hear the bones crack as the mouse hurdled his veins, sprinting across the living room floor.
“Where’s your wedding ring?” was the first thing Karla asked when she met him in the emergency room.
“He took it,” Omar said.
“Who?” she asked.
He didn’t answer, just swallowed Vicodin as the wife watched the doctor reset his wrist.
“Have you been biting your nails?” she asked.
Omar didn’t hear her. He was in a different world; a distant planet.
“I want a divorce,” she said.
The nurses looked over at Karla, the surgeon furrowed his brow, cast a splint on Omar’s wrist. Sweat trickled down his hairy arm. The air grew thick and solemn.
“Everyone thinks I married a terrorist anyway,” she said.
Omar absorbed the words slowly, as if they were drifting out from a deep hole in a cave.
“Before the attacks on the World Trade Center it was glamorous–being a foreigner’s princess–an exotic treasure.”
Omar disappeared into the triage curtain; the simple pattern of layered lines against cheap heavy fabric. He counted the circular holes in the mesh–lost count around three hundred and sixty five. His eyes gave out, followed the mouse as he lost consciousness. Ended up in the intricate maze behind the walls; labyrinth of rotting cheese, chunks stolen from traps, peanut butter smeared on the infinite secret corridors of his palace. There were termites and maggots everywhere, but the mouse was undisturbed, not the least bit perturbed by this odd visitor or the squalor he lived in.
Patiently he sits in the shade outside on the café’s patio, watching as the world moves slowly by, ugly men with beautiful women, obnoxious kids chattering about white noise.
He imagines the smoke of his cigar holds his future, like the reading of tealeaves or entrails, bloody and steaming in a golden chalice. A curve that seems to be a hip, feminine, shifts down on the currents, and he can only think that he’ll be in the ether before long.
A man at a neighboring table discusses the failing strength of his erections of late.
One moment, the protagonist’s mind is calm, smooth, and then there’s a turbulence and all he wants is a proper fucking drink, something more alcohol than water, and then there is a scratching behind his eyes, the call to a spot of mindless violence and he wants to smash the waiter’s face with a brick. He can’t help but wonder what the man’s guts would prophesize, if they would have foreseen the fall of Rome or a need to increase his insurance premiums.
He stubs out the smoke and leaves a decent tip for the coffee that he didn’t even finish. Twenty five steps from his table is a bar, and he hopes to God the bartender knows how to pour a decent bourbon.The ether would have to wait.
The first day clean is like being reborn; even though you’re still sick, you feel your options are wide open. You can do anything. I now know what recovering addicts mean when they talk about ‘one day at a time.’ That’s me now – never get ahead of myself.
This freighter isn’t so bad. We’re about to go to sleep for the fifty-six year ride to New Pluto. Massive pays for those who ride a lifetime or two. I’d never see my family again, and I didn’t even need the money. My father had begged me on hands and knees not to go.
The dark outside is still a mystery to me. Why would anybody want to chase down its secrets when everyone knows the only reward it has to offer for this pursuit – no matter the effort – is an unending loneliness that settles deep in the heart. We’ve not even passed Mars and I’ve already felt it at moments just walking around the stainless steel corridors of the ship, this strange tenderness just beneath my breast. Every creak or groan that reports upwards from the otherwise silent hull of the ship below. Imagine how the flight deck and mess hall will look once we are all asleep.
I catch a glimpse of a curve of the sun from outside as the freighter turns onto the line of its course through hyper-space. It is beautiful; magnificent golden light. It is the light of life; an agent against the loneliness. It delights a final time in a warm shower and then it is gone, left behind to keep its glow over the home to which we have just said goodbye. Barely perceptibly, the freighter has begun to accelerate.
I only walk another few minutes along the sterile corridor before a core directive comes over the ship’s PA system. All personnel are to make their way to the medical deck for sleep. Well, this is it. It’ll be fifty-six years before I have to wonder about whether I want to take another pill; fifty-six years of guaranteed sobriety – and my tolerance will have been re-set to zero. Fifty-six years before I have to feel the true loneliness of being without a family, no light of the sun to hold me gently, rock me, soothing. Finally, in fifty-six years, a new life. And with it, new decisions to be made.
‘Fill that loft up Cheeseman. Fill the bloody thing up and then talk to me.’
Gower did up his cuffs and blew his nose and offered Cheeseman a trumpet. When Cheeseman said no, thanks, I won’t take that thing at all, keep it, Gower made a series of new fangled shadow puppets upon the mulberry walls. He made a discuss thrower, that one went down well. He did a space capsule but Cheeseman had no idea what that was. Gower lost his temper then. He started shouting at Cheeseman about Energy Phelps.
‘You’ve got his library card you great wank fest! You know it! Do something about it then!’
Gower watched Cheeseman rise form his desk very slowly, and as he watched Cheeseman reach for a flask, a carrot, a stapler and a wire coat hanger, he thought of the Doc Pomus song. He thought of it, a great bearded thing. He thought of it lumbering along a nineteen fifties pavement looking slow. Cheeseman reached for a mug of tea and Gower thought about falling in love with the Doc Pomus song, and yachting, and learning Mandarin behind a bicycle shed after hours. Then he fired Cheeseman on the spot and went back to his job, which had nothing to do with power lines, but quite a lot to do with transporting helium balloons in giant trucks from one end of the country to another end of the country, and other places, like Perth. He went back to his job and focused.
In just three years they had become one of the most renowned variety acts in London; Marvellous Maurice and Hugo, the Wonder Dog. They had entertained the crowned heads of Europe and the de-bagged dons of Oxford.
But tonight’s performance was nowhere near as auspicious. A booking at O’Reilly’s Theatre and Music Hall (better known locally as Irish Johnny’s Gin Palace) was merely bread-and-butter to the renowned duo. But they acted like professionals nonetheless.
Maurice strode onto the stage to the usual chorus of cat-calls and jeers from the ill-bred audience. To be followed moments later by Hugo, complete with a pair of miniature wings strapped to his broad bulldog back.
Hugo snuffed onto the far end of the see-saw while Maurice ascended the set of steps opposite, all the while cajoling the racuous audience with his eloquence.
Infuriated by the braying of the jeering ingrates, Maurice leapt from the platform with particular ferocity. Yelping loudly Hugo shot into the air, soaring straight up, as his master’s considerable weight landed on the see-saw.
Maurice peered anxiously up into the darkness behind the stage. Hugo did not come down. “‘E’s gorn up to ‘eaven, bless ‘im,” wailed a woman in the front row.
Despite an intensive search of the theatre flats, there was no sign of Hugo. He had disappeared completely.
Two weeks later, the district ratter was laying traps in the theatre’s attic when he spied canine hind quarters hanging from the ceiling. A pair of crumpled paper wings lay beneath them.
He clambered out on to the roof through a nearby skylight. There was Hugo, his head poking out through some shattered tiles, blackened tongue jutting from his mouth to lick the air, tasting the path to paradise; the ugliest angel in heaven.