Category: Episode 8


Episode 8

Hello great friends and lovers of flash fiction!  In Between Altered States is ushering out 2010 and welcoming 2011 with great hopes for fabulous fiction and people stepping outside their comfort zones to get down and dirty in small spaces.  You can take that any way you like. 

Here at In Between Altered States we believe in those spaces that you can’t give a name to; we believe in the transition between one thing to another.  All the episodes on this website have been crafted to sort of go along like a dream and be read in a row and then enjoyed individually again at a later date.  I am continually impressed by the fiction that people are bringing me, trusting me with, even if the subject matter is hard to swallow or pushes a few buttons they shouldn’t.

We believe in community here and word of mouth, so if you like a story, pass it along.  This project is all about looking at the world in different ways and we hope  to continue this in the coming year.   I would like to give a rousing thank you to Brian Fugett whose original series “Altered States of Consciousness” was the inspiration.  His project came in the very early days of Zygote in My Coffee and last a short 8 issues and featured fringe-like poetry.  Before ZIMC closed its doors, we had thought we would bring in back under a new name, but it never saw the light of day.  We wanted to move on with the project and he graciously granted permission to use part of the original name.  Without him, I guess this webzine wouldn’t be alive, so thank you Brian.

In Episode 8 we are going on a journey into the realms of regret. We all have those places and spaces that are filled with it…sometimes the regret makes us sad, sometimes disgusted and sometimes, we can look back on it and get a laugh out of it.  It is my pleasure to start the new year off with stories from Jeffrey Miller, Dan Provost, Jodi MacArthur, Jay Coral, John Sheirer, Andrew Post, Sean Pravica and Timothy Gager.

Happy Holidays and the Best New Year.

Aleathia
Editor

After my brother and I came back home after watching The Bridge at Remagen at the Majestic Theatre, we played in the front yard with our G.I. Joes, taking on the entire German Army until mom yelled for us to come in and wash up for dinner. She made a big batch of sloppy Joes and later, her friend Barb from work stopped over with her boyfriend Don who just returned from Vietnam.

Don sat cross-legged on the living room floor and stared straight ahead with hooded eyes at the television and Clint Howard on Gentle Ben. He wolfed down two plates of Joes and washed them down with a six-pack of Old Milwaukee. When he finished, he fidgeted with a large hunting knife that he had strapped to the outside of his brown boot and jumped when a car backfired outside.

That’s when I stopped playing army.

Old Jake was begging for coins on a cold December day in Worcester when we walked past him.  He was the token veteran in town—a man who fought his battles in Vietnam but never could get the sound of gunfire out of his head.  Nowadays he spent all the money he scrounged at the Red Baron Pub, buying a seventy-five cent draft, looking sadly around at the other patrons who ignored him, then scurried out of the bar like a mouse annoyance at a palace. 

As I strolled by him with my disillusioned friend Rat-Boy; I suddenly noticed Old Jake on the corner of Main and Front Street —doing his usual routine of asking for a handout.  He said that La Drang really did a number on his head and if we could show some “respect” for a man that “saw body parts fly like matchsticks” he would be extremely grateful.  Rat-Man looked at him in disgust, took his hand out of his pocket and proceeded to slap Old Jake in the face.  “I’m not here to give hand-outs,” he told him then haughtily walked away.

“What the fuck did you do that for?”  I asked Rat-Boy, searching for a reason for this violent act.

“No reason” he said.  “I’m just sick of the beggars, whiners and all that call themselves the maladjusted crowd.

I looked back at Old Jake.  He was crying into an old towel he would wrap around his neck to stay warm.  He was having a hard time getting up and failed to regain his balance.

Everyone just ignored him, another inconvenience during the Christmas rush.

I left him there and joined Rat-Boy into the Tavern.

My eyes are missing. My lips are dull, and there are only hollow spots where my ears used to sit. A few straggles of gray hair grace my head. Pins and needles hold my breasts, stitch in my sides, and prop my buttocks.

I am wrapped and suspended like a shish kabob over an open fire. The flames lick at what is left of my skin, and I can feel it. It shocks me. It jars me. It burns my sins and cleanses me through and through. I feel pain. If I had eyes, I would cry. If I had a voice, I would scream.

For the first time, I know what is real and what is not.

The stake turns, and night is at my back. I can’t see the darkness outside of my mind. I can’t hear the quietness of the birds nesting, but I feel the coolness against my skin. And I want to reach up where I imagine the lone blue moon sits, and touch it. 

The stake turns again. My heart aims toward the moon. I scream inside my mind as the fire digs into my back like a giant tongue. It digs a hole, enters my ribs and shoots out my mouth like a shooting star.

And before I explode into ash, I cry out to my mother, I ask her why? But she can’t hear me. She never could.

“Congratulations You Won!”
 
Rick is one click away from another bad decision. He pictures an army of viruses eating the left side of his brain.
 
Reading blindly, he welcomes the idiocy of the spam and his dull logic.
 
Betty Jane is at the sofa slurping a Doctor Pepper and watching Wheel of Fortune. She often tells him she will google Vanna White and the word scandal together, “Anyone that beautiful surely has skeletons in her closet”, but she never does. She thinks she has the most glamorous job in television.
 
He looks at her fat belly, a baby waiting to cry for its bastard father.
 
She was his high school sweetheart. She ran away with her cousin and came back with sketchy details of her odyssey.
 
She begged and he conceded.
 
O_R_I_G_A_M_I, she guesses the fifty thousand dollar question.
 
There are other clues in the vault that needs to be unlocked.
 
A_N_G_E_R
G_U_I_L_T
F_O_R_G_I_V_E_N_E_S_S

 
Rick is still learning to unfold.
 
Meanwhile, Betty Jane rewards herself with a triple scoop of Strawberry Shortcake ice cream in the fridge.

“Admit it,” she said as they left their final court appearance. “You’ll miss me.”

“Well,” he said. “Do you remember that time five years ago when I cut my foot on that broken beer bottle? The doctor closed the cut with staples instead of stitches. It took fifteen staples. They stayed in my foot for a month. I kept snagging my socks on them and they’d seep little pools of blood into the sheets at night. They itched all the time, but I couldn’t scratch them because I was afraid I’d open the cut. A couple of them got kind of rusty looking and I thought I might be getting blood poisoning. It hurt like hell when the doctor finally took them out with those weird little pliers. And he almost broke one off because it had actually started to grow into the bone. Then they oozed puss for a couple of days, and I had to go back to make sure they weren’t infected. Do you remember all that?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“I’ll miss you like I missed those staples when they came out.”

She considered this for a moment, and then broke into a smile.

“I knew it. I knew you’d miss me.”

Awake at four. Another sleepless night. Fired from her waitressing gig because of the risk of contamination, she now had nothing to swallow her time but The Project. Maybe some breakfast? What’s the point? Eating is for the living.
            She decided to call them in reverse alphabetical order from her little black book. Funny, they call it a little black book, but hers is canary yellow. Names, phone numbers, three or four per page. Thumbing through: so many nights, so many ill-advised drunken trysts, most of them partially remembered, at best. Grunts, creaking bed springs, sounds and sensations recalled with concentration—hazy, far-away. The next day always clearer: finding the condoms in her purse still in their foil packets, unutilized. Fingers crossed, a quick prayer, and then into the shower she’d go. Life goes on. A week ago, a cough she couldn’t shake, some sores dotting along her bikini line like soldier encampments. What could it hurt to go get it checked out? Better safe than sorry.
            She called Danny Zebrowski yesterday and that was all she could stomach for one day. Some simple chit-chat, then straight into it when he asked, “So, what’s up?” He must’ve known. They hadn’t spoken since he had gotten fired for their workplace affair. He probably had his eyes closed tight, hoping for it, at worst, it was just a baby and not the other thing. From her mouth into the receiver; the bullet travelled the phone lines to his waiting ear. He took it well. After a pause that lasted a thousand searing seconds, he said he’d get himself to the clinic. Oddly enough, he thanked her. Thanked her for telling him. “I’m with someone now that I’m pretty serious with, so it’s good to know before we—you know.” She apologized three times, her voice fragmenting on the last. “Take care of yourself, okay?” he said, vaguely passive-aggressive. She had to be honest with herself, there was no better reaction. He could’ve yelled, threatened legal action. She hung up, became catatonic in her prayers that it skipped him; that his test might come out clean.
            Today, after some coffee, she’d call the next one, Todd Yonkers. She took her eight pills and drank the bitter cup of black and failing to concentrate on the banal morning talk-shows, sighed. Back to it. She found her phone next to the yellow book on her nightstand, bookmarked with a matchstick. Cocooning herself in her comforter, in the bed where she had most likely caught it, she dialed Todd with the bad news sitting ready on her tongue.
            After Todd it’d be two down, sixty-four more to go.

Debra hated her name.  It sounded old and unsexy.  Debbie was only slightly better, in that it didn’t automatically make her sound like she was over forty. 

While she was recovering from surgery in the hospital bed, the girl next to her was a college student named Lucy.  She was frail, but her blue eyes bordered on supernatural.  They were bright as Christmas lights, made only more so against her pale, white skin and dark, black hair.  She looked familiar, but that may have been only that she seemed so cliched with her junky body and sniffling nose, nervous hands and twitching mouth.

Debbie imagined Lucy’s bedroom life.  Though only a couple years younger, she could see Lucy leading a messy, typical, spoiled girl’s existence, full of powdered fingernails digging into her ass, bloodshot eyes hard to see in the candlelit minimalism of her dorm room.  She imagined a bed, dresser, bookcase highlighted by Augustine Burrows and Sylvia Plath, sink, closet, and mirror, plus lighters, cigarettes, ziplock bags and bottles of varying shapes and emptiness/fullness (perspective depends on day and weather), needles, balloons, hollowed pens, and smaller mirrors.

While her mind drifted to the tamer setting she inhabited, Debbie felt a shooting pain from below again, but smiled when she opened her eyes to see the small, pink glow before it blinked off beneath the sheets. She could already taste the hunger that would bite into her and spit out rubies, a voice murmuring, “Debbie,” and meaning it.

Lucy winced and a blue light popped off under her sheets. 

“I didn’t know clit lights came in blue!” Debbie was surprised.

“Yeah,” Lucy groaned.  “They’re fucking sexy.”

“Mine’s pink.”

“Pink’s cute.  That’s what my mom has

Linda’s doctor said her small vagina would seal up and close if she didn’t stick something in it fast. It made her angry because she promised God back in High School that nothing would get in there before marriage. She was also pissed because the doctor was unusually interested in his diagnosis. When she needed an anti-biotic he didn’t seem to give a shit.

“Use it or lose it,” he said. “so what’s it gonna be?”

“I’ll figure it out,” she said. “OK, I’m not going to die from this, right?”

Linda went on-line and found a guy on the Whale-of-a-Dating site. He was perfect, average in every way but he didn’t fit; she was too small. It was a round peg square hole predicament. Afterward she tried to stick a pencil in there to stretch things out but the damn thing snapped off.

Next she tried an Asian man because everyone knew that story but he was really big. He said, “It’s actually just a myth! Some of us have small penises, but some of your kind do too!”

She next thought of the Irish, but she didn’t want to be with a drinker. Drinkers are bad news, she thought and if one couldn’t fit into me he might beat me. She was getting smaller by the hour. She looked at her dog. She said, “What the fuck.” She said it out loud.