Welcome to Episode 7 of In Between Altered States! This time around we look at the intricate stages and ideas of conspiracy. This doesn’t mean this episode is all about plots to overthrow government. As per our usual, we like to look at the bizarre and bent up ideas of any given thing. To conspire is defined as planning something together in secret to commit a wrongful act. Who defines the acts that are wrongful? Who decides what is secret? Come walk through this dream of seven stories that attempt to do this. I am pleased to present great flash fiction from: Sean Pravica, Walter Conley, Tantra Bensko, Ryan Link Ralston, Kristin Fouquet, Robert Vaughan, and myself. Enjoy these in order of their appearance and then go back and enjoy them individually!
Category: Episode 7
John didn’t believe in God. Anyone he met who still believed he thought was afraid. Their guilt, their troubles, their insecurities all were eating them alive, he said. No one would pretend their thoughts were someone else’s if they didn’t feel deeply, overwhelmingly, alone.
Coming from St. Louis, Los Angles was very new, and very unusual. Old apartments were still very expensive. And then a few streets over people warned him not to walk there.
He wanted California life. Here, people seemed strikingly godless. They did in the City of Angels, anyway.
Walking through downtown Hollywood one night with its neon orgies and cars steadily crowding Sunset, he watched people from all countries pay only partial attention to each other, everyone’s eyes busy as though searching for whomever it was they actually wanted to meet. Though one man’s eyes sat still, and pierced John’s.
“He knew that I knew,” he recalled.
The man had been sitting with his head tucked between his knees, his back against a bar with low lights barely illuminating its name in silver letters. He looked up the same time John looked over. His eyes were yellow, like they belonged to a small animal.
John said the man was possessed. Not everyone can tell these things, he explained, but it was clear to him.
Asked about God then, and what that meant, he still said he didn’t believe.
“So what do you believe? In demons?” I asked him.
“What’s the other part?”
He finished packing his suitcase, and got ready to say goodbye to California.
“You really think it’s so bad out here?” I asked one last time.
“It is so bad out here.”
“Because I believe it is,” he smiled.
Maybe not everyone could tell, but it was an angel’s smile.
She used to be Constance Kimber Addelade, who used to be my cousin.
Constance was her great-grandmother’s name. Addelade, she inherited
from her father. Kimber came from God only knows, which is where she
went to become Some Other Woman.
“Where are you going?” I remember asking her.
Constance wore black clothes over red clothes that day. She appeared
“God only knows,” she said. “Why don’t you come with me?”
That scared me because I knew she meant it. I followed her outside
and watched her walk up the road and over the hill. For nearly an
hour I sat there on the dry and dusty shoulder, waiting for her to
return. When she did, her black clothes were gone and she had red
clothes over yellow clothes. She also had an odd smile on her face.
“Cousin,” I said.
“I never was,” she told me.
Then she walked past me, through the gate, across the yard and into the house.
At dinner, I told Mama that Constance wasn’t Constance anymore.
“Aren’t you?” Mama asked her.
“I clearly am not,” she said.
Mama studied her for a moment and said, “No, I guess she’s not.”
“I don’t think so, either,” Papa said.
And that was that.
On days that I believe it, I miss my Constance dearly; at other times,
however, when I think they might be lying, I wonder why and hate them
all and wish I had gone over the hill with her and never come back, as
myself or anyone else.
I figure my mother is not really there, because she’s dead. “No, I’m not,” she says.
“Yes, you are.”
“I’m not.” Her head flies off in anger, zooming across the room, getting smaller optically as it goes. Then, it jolts back, flying onto her neck, but overshooting, not attached aligned with it, but off-center. It hasn’t regained its regular size.
“Yes, you are.”
I leave her to believe what she wants, and resurface the table some more, giving it an antique look by hitting it with chains, before I put on a new coat of color that makes it old.
“Do it to me,” she says.
So, I rough her up with sand paper, and hit her with chains, making dents. She examines her surfaces, tidily and efficiently, indicating the spots most in need of filling in with scratches and scrapes.
“You died too young.” Now, you look more like you’re old enough to be dead. I don’t feel so bad about it now, actually. Thank you. That was a thoughtful gift.
“You’re welcome,” she says. She turns her head and blushes. I can tell she doesn’t want to agree to her dead status, but can’t turn down the gratitude.
“You’re so beautiful when you’re dead. Do you want some cherry varnish?”
“That would be very pretty.”
She looks so natural in deep red. It makes it hard for her to move, but she’s pretty stiff anyway. “I miss you,” she says.
I cry. She doesn’t. She’s blowing on her surfaces, and unfortunately, blows out her dentures, which stick in the varnish just as it’s setting. Now, her teeth are stuck to her right shoulder. “You’re still the best, Mama. The very best.”
Was Leonardo da Vinci a cannibal?–I do think he had a bit of Jeffery Dahmer in him. He writes in his aphorisms: “We preserve our life with the death of others. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life.” And in his notebook on anatomy he speaks of an old man on his death bed, how kind and nice and gregarious he was, and how he had such a fine liver, all with the unbroken calmness of mind of a latent sociopath. He was as casual over a corpse as over a breathing man. Some of his riddles (prophecies) speak of horrible things, such as children torn to pieces after being abducted from their mother’s arms, of broken skulls and gauged out eyes, of wholesale slaughter and quartering–clearly the thoughts of a deranged and unbalanced man. Is it possible there is a good reason why Mona Lisa went missing shortly after the painting first began? Could the uneven pools of water in the painting ’Mona Lisa’ symbolize the descent of the soul and its inevitable resurrection, the path from life to death to life again? Could her sinister smirk be hiding some deeper plot? The recent uncovering of actual human DNA within the paint of this most famous portrait speaks volumes. I venture to suggest that this was not the DNA of the curator of the Musee du Louvre that wandered into the painting sometime during the restoration of 1766, but that Leonardo himself was a culprit of a most heinous crime. Late into the evening on their third meeting, on a cold, windless Italian night, the Da Vinci murdered and then dissected the Mona Lisa, ingesting some parts of her while mixing some with wet blue paint so as to create the harsh blue hues in the uneven pools of water in the background, all this so she could aid his painting from within, since would now live through him, but also live forever through the unfeeling portrait in her own likeness. Leonardo in his genius foresaw that one day technology would allow us to have ourselves as children, and so he would literally paint the “Mona Lisa” with Mona Lisa, so that she will stare us down until the day we finally bring her back. Maybe you will see a Mona Lisa walking down the street. You’ll look twice. No, can’t be. A clone. They’ll be everywhere, like knock-off prints. You’ll think, she’s not that special but neither am I. I’ll love her anyway. You lure her into your apartment for after-hours tea. You two will talk and get along but something is wrong, she has to leave. You sense that something is slipping away but also that you never really had it to begin with. She’ll leave and there’s nothing you can do to stop her. You want to paint her into eternity too, but you remember there is an eternity is forgetfulness, and also that you can’t paint either. You ask her if she wants some meatloaf, what a loaf I am. I will love you like the places I’ve never been, the empty corners of my soul, and like the art I never saw. Of course she leaves and you never see her again, but you will see ‘Mona Lisa’ many times. You sit back on a couch with a half cocked smile, no longer afraid of not being the genius.
The neighborhood teens called her a witch. There was no account of her being seen during the day and never a light burning in her decaying mansion. Their parents warned them to leave the reclusive widow alone, but they wouldn’t listen. Every evening for months, they waited for her to come out of her dark house and work in the garden. By amber lantern and on hands and knees, she weeded, dug, and planted in the cold soil. The teens would creep close to her vine covered iron fence then shine bright flashlights on her face.
“No light! S’il vous plait.” Her plea in a shaky French accent was always ignored. “My eyes,” she screeched.
They cackled and gave her their nightly shrill taunts. “Witch, witch, witch.”
She ducked her head into the crook of her elbow, the dark bell sleeve covering her eyes, until they left.
Among her moonflowers and night blooming cereus, Veuve Hébert found her most toxic white blossoms. The angel’s trumpets and oleander will make a poisonous solution to serve her vengeance. Wearing her darkest sunglasses, she will look beyond their painful flashlights and spray revenge into their eyes.
Tomorrow evening, Veuve Hébert will be waiting.
I saw the ad in my local paper: field sniper. I’d been laid off from the Wal-Mart in Orem.
Brenda was ragging me about my target practice, scaring squirrels at the bird feeders. So,
she said, go talk to this guy. Put yourself to some good use. We thought it might be to
control the deer population. Could get some venison. Who knows?
So, I met the man who calls himself Fred in Sugarhouse Park close to downtown.
When I pulled up I noticed the bumper sticker End the Fed. And the impressive gun rack.
Got one just like it in my Ford pickup. He wore camouflage hunting gear.
We walked while Fred hammered on about guns and the NRA. Told me people need to
wake up, buy semi-automatics. Before they start controlling everything. He used the
words social chaos. “We got to stand our ground without getting attention from the
authorities. Before it’s too late.”
I was a little confused. “So, what is this position for? The field sniper?”
He ignored me. “Any day now, the feds are gonna set up camps all over the country.
They already stored guillotines, racks, electric chairs. Have over a half million caskets in
the south, someplace like Alabama.”
The hairs were beginning to stand up on my arm. “Caskets? For the soldiers in Iraq?”
“Some day very soon, maybe tomorrow, the government will declare martial law.
Then the feds will move in to round up, kill folks like you and me. Civilians.”
He pulled a videotape from his jacket. “Watch this at home. You married?” I nodded,
looking at the tape in my hands. “Do yourself a favor, watch it when she’s not around.”
He got back into his truck, started it up. Rolled down his window. “Training starts
tomorrow. Directions are on the video, where to come. You in?”
I shrugged, forced a smile. “Sure.”
“Tell me where he is!!!!!”
“He is in my back pocket,” she told him with a smile that covered her face as she imperceptibly began twisting her hands from the ropes that bound them.
“You are fucking delusional, absolutely delusional.”
“Delusion is all I have left,” she spit back to the agent standing there in his company issue suit that meant nothing to her. His supposed authority laughable at best in the face of everything she had seen up until now and the best part was that he assumed he was in control. She let him continue thinking that as he stepped in front of the flood light that was shining in her eyes.
The agent put his hairy hands on either arm of the chair she was bound to. He moved his face in close to hers so she could see the serious business written all over his face and the strength in his eyes. He wanted her to know that he meant business.
She felt his hot, stale breath in her face. It smelled like the stink of corruption. It smelled like government. It smelled like Big Brother. It made her angrier by the second. Each inhalation an attempt to suck the life out of her, to coerce the answers to his questions; each exhalation fueled her hatred of him.
“Tell me where he is!!!!”
She felt his spittle spray onto her chin, part of it touching her lip and she snapped. She pulled her head back and butted him in the mouth. She felt his teeth pierce the flesh of her forehead, felt the teeth break at the solid fortitude of her skull. She felt the blood running down her face like a river.
“He is in my back pocket you prick!” she yelled splattering blood all over his nice crisp white shirt. “He’s in my fucking back pocket.”