men, short fiction, writing

Cycle

hei_2276p_copy_by_heikogerlicher-dceapx5.jpg

1.

The call went up, snaking through the branches of the forest, a robust echoing which was shrill with alarm.

 

Men ran. Some of them sprinted with the deft grace of youth, others lumbered like ancient boulders pushed down a hill. There were further shouts of confusion and clarification, and the teeming heat of the afternoon made them all red-faced and irritable.

 

They found them in the clearing, one hunched over the body of the other. There were fresh tears and old blood, enough to make the soles of their boots stick to the grass.

 

2.

LOCAL AUTHOR MAKES GOOD

 

By Temperance Rubin.

 

You’ve seen him promoting his latest book, Rituals of Evening, but Joseph Peters has never forgotten his roots so he’s appearing at Great Hills Library on Wednesday afternoon for a special reading followed by a Q and A.

 

Come, say hello to a hometown alumnus, and see if any of you aspiring types can pick up a few hints!

 

The event starts at 6pm sharp.

 

3.

 

A tan suited him, Edward thought. Joseph stepped out of the car with the same pained, studious expression he had worn since adolescence. Edward remembered playing catch with him in the yard and the memory made something shift in his chest. He corrected his posture, straightening his back and pushing his shoulders back. Joseph’s grey eyes swam with memories as he looked at his father but he blinked twice and smiled as he reached out and shook his father’s hand.

 

Edward gripped with a little too much force, but Joseph had written his pages for the day and he dropped his hand away to flex the discomfort from his fingers.

 

‘Long drive?’ Edward said.

 

Joseph shook his head and adjusted the strap on his backpack without meeting his father’s gaze.

 

‘I got in last night and took a room at the place by the airport.’ he said.

 

Edward swallowed the rejection and gave a small nod.

 

‘Smart move. You hungry?’ he said.

 

Joseph smiled and nodded.

 

‘As soon as I smelled the barbecue.’ he said.

 

The ruins of limp salad leaves, bones chewed white and small puddles of barbecue sat on plates between them. Edward poured out the bottle into a glass, whilst Joseph sipped his vanilla coke. His father’s recollection of his adolescent tastes was impressive, even down to the racks of ribs and venison steaks which they’d demolished between them.

 

Edward apologised as he unbuckled his belt to ease the pressure of his full stomach and sat back in the chair with a sigh of relief. Joseph sat up, straight and took small, frequent sips from the frosted glass of coke.

 

‘How’s the tour going?’ Edward said.

 

Joseph set his glass down and reached into his jacket for his cigarettes. He wanted a hit off his vape pen, but he had imagined his father’s reaction so it stayed there, offering relief from the gnawing anxiety which capered around his insides.

 

‘Good, thank you. I’ve done some TV too, even Kimmel.’ he said.

 

Edward snorted with derision and picked up his glass.

 

‘Late night television is trash. Hope it helps you.’ he said.

 

Joseph picked up his glass again and looked around the deck.

 

‘Did you redecorate?’ he said.

 

Edward didn’t look up as he drank but he gave a thumbs up and nodded around a mouthful of ale. He wiped his mouth and considered his son.

 

‘Yes, Char gets it into her head to redecorate the house and there goes a week of my life.’ he said.

 

Joseph’s jaw tightened as he swallowed and looked away.

 

Edward finished the last of the beer and got up, holding his belt buckle as he shuffled into the house. Joseph stared down the length of the garden and squeezed the glass until his fingers turned white.

 

There was a woman’s voice from inside the house. Joseph’s hand dove to his stomach as an emetic spasm clawed at his intestines. He hoped the carbonation settled his stomach before she came through and said hello.

 

4.

 

Edward sat up in bed, a pillow placed to support him as he turned the pages of his son’s book. Charlene came in from the bathroom and glanced over her shoulder.

 

‘Is he okay?’ she said.

 

Her voice was breathy and girlish, and after all these years, it never failed to stir him. She had packed on some weight around her hips and had the beginnings of a tummy beneath the silk ivory night gown. Edward’s eyes coveted but Charlene grimaced with concern. He smiled as he removed his reading spectacles and closed the book, then tapped the cover.

 

‘Judging by this, I should have burned his library card.’ he said.

 

His voice was genial as she climbed into bed. She glanced down at the book on his lap with the expression she did when Titbits brought a dead mouse into the kitchen.

 

‘I can’t read those sorts of books.’ she said.

 

Edward grunted and shook his head.

 

‘They’re just made-up words.’ he said.

 

Charlene did not relax until he put the book on the bedside table and rested his spectacles on top. He slipped an arm around the back of his wife’s neck and pulled her close.

 

‘He was a difficult young man, and it was a lot to ask a woman, but we’ve done the best we can.’ he said.

 

Charlene suppressed a shiver and clung to Edward’s solid, greying chest. The light went out with a dull click and she listened to her husband’s breathing deepen into sleep. Joseph had kept his distance since she came back, and the acrid tang of memories stained her lips and tongue. She had brushed her teeth twice and used mouthwash but the tang stayed with every swallow. Appalling goblin thoughts stirred and pressed against the amniotic sac of time and repression but she clung to him until she felt the medication kick in and dropped away into sleep.  

 

5.

 

He sat with his knees apart, holding his book to his eyes as he read aloud. Charlene watched his lips moving, how his eyes widened as he spoke with a confidence she had not seen before. Edward was rigid with concentration but his hand rested over hers as they sat there, watching his son read from his latest book.

 

She knew this section off by heart. Edward favoured hardbacks but Charlene, thanks to her younger sister, had an electronic reader and so had downloaded Joseph’s book on the day of release and read it straight away.

 

‘She came as I sat by the lake, toes pruning in the water as I sat there.

 

Trying to hide the erection she inspired whenever she drew close.

 

‘Your pa says supper’s ready.’ she said.

 

Her voice was a honeyed drawl which crept beneath my skin. The prohibition lent a terrible, insatiable clarity to my perception of her and she grinned as she knelt down in front of me.

 

‘I’ll be right there.’ I said.

 

I tried to make my voice as low as possible, promote whatever shoots of tender manhood were poking through the mud of adolescence. She was a strong burst of sunlight, a nurturing shower and yet all of it forbidden on every level.

 

It did not stop me wanting.’

 

Charlene’s heart pounded in her chest but she held herself still. Her mind was racing, knowing there were another twelve pages before anything happened.

 

The applause drowned her out as she emitted a small, careful whimper of anguish. Edward shook his head and applauded, but his eyes were soft with confusion.  

 

6.

 

Joseph accepted the safety lecture with a detached grace and wore the orange vest without comment. Edward, dressed in the worn, clean camouflage which had been his woodland uniform forever handed his son the rifle. Joseph took it and held it close to his chest.

 

It was a beautiful morning when they walked into the forest. Edward was on point, and Joseph had availed himself of the vape enough to put him into a state of herbal equanimity.

 

‘What did you think of the book?’ Joseph said.

 

Edward put a finger to his lips and narrowed his eyes before he pointed through to the trees where a young buck stood, nose to the ground as it chewed at a clump of grass. He gestured for his son to raise his rifle. Joseph blinked and aimed down the sight. His finger rested on the trigger guard.

 

The buck raised its head and ran. Edward lowered his rifle and shot an accusing look at his son. Joseph shrugged his shoulders as he took his eye from the scope.

 

‘Come on, I didn’t say a word.’ he said.

 

Edward snorted and walked into the woods. Joseph matched his pace, so they were abreast of one another.

 

‘I acknowledge your talent with words, son, I’ll say that. You know I don’t truck with monster books, but I’m glad you’re doing well with it.’

 

Joseph sighed against the hot lump of upset which dropped into his stomach from above.

 

‘I’ve had enough reviews to know when someone’s not read it, Dad, you don’t have to bullshit me.’ he said.

 

Edward stopped and stared at his son.

 

‘I don’t read those sorts of books.’ he said.

 

His voice whistled like a stove top kettle and it hurt Joseph’s ears. Joseph stepped back, discomforted and struggling with the urge to articulate something massive.

 

‘You mean mine?’ Joseph said.

 

Edward’s eyes widened as he sweated beneath his camouflage.

 

‘Why are you so sensitive about this?’ he said.

 

Joseph’s eyes flooded with tears as he cradled the rifle. He was a boy again, a skinned soul lifted for his father’s acknowledgement.

 

‘Because I thought you would be smart enough to get it, Dad.’ he said.

Edward slung his rifle over his shoulder and adjusted the brim of his cap as he looked down at his boots.

 

‘I’ve never gotten you, Joe. Christ knows I tried and so did Char.’ he said.

 

Joseph’s face was taut and bloodless as he stared at Edward. His grip on the rifle was loose and he staggered backwards, shaking his head.

 

‘You didn’t know, did you?’ Joseph said.

 

Edward’s face crumpled with confusion.

 

‘About the book?’ he said.

 

Joseph watched his father struggle with the conversation. A decent man dumbfounded by something which his son couldn’t explain. Edward reached his hand out and touched his son on the shoulder.

 

‘I may not understand you, but you’re my son, and if I’ve hurt you then you need to know I never meant to.’ he said.

 

It was a speech for Edward, and he was red in the face when he finished but Joseph, a man too acquainted with lies not to see them in others, believed his father. Joseph shouldered the rifle and lowered his chin to his chest and sobbed. Between the sobs, he forced out seven words.

 

‘Not you, Dad, you didn’t hurt me.’ he said.

 

7.

 

Charlene was so relieved Joseph had gone, it was an easy thing for Edward to persuade her to accompany him on a hunt.

 

It was easier to let her wander ahead, between the trees. As his finger closed over the trigger, he thought of his boy and asked his forgiveness again.

 

Advertisements
Standard
love, short fiction, women

7 Skies

He had wrested the soul sapphire from the forehead of a God.

 

Entire armies had taken him on and fallen before his skill and strength.

 

There were cemeteries full of tyrants and monsters who had died at his hand.

 

Life stretched out before him, bland and smooth, and all he had to show for it was a reputation larger than him and pain when he awoke.

 

He attracted women, but they seldom stayed. His fires burned too long to bear for long and part of him went with him. He replenished himself in solitude and battle, but there was a bleak ennui which tainted his meals and marred his sight.

 

The Ragged Ghost was full, which he welcomed as he took his place by the fire with a bowl of venison stew held in his large, rough hands and a flagon of ale on the table. He stared into the fire as he recalled old hates and older loves.

 

‘Seven? You fight seven champions, and then what?’

 

He turned his head to the source of the conversation. The hour clad the men in shadows, sat in a corner of the inn where the light did not reach.

 

‘You win your greatest wish from The Lady Of Heaven.’

 

Two men, soft voices and youthful, which raised no concerns. He put his bowl down and stood up, walked over to them and stared into the liquid, shining eyes of a young priest, his features smoothed out by faith and discipline.

 

‘How do you enter?’ he said.

 

His voice was a mountain struck by lightning, the hiss of melting stone and the avalanche which follows. The priest swallowed and reached into his robes, held out a scroll which Hand took from him with a mutter of thanks.

 

The scroll was a set of instructions and a map which he calculated to be three days ride from here. He kept his face still, but his heart thumped against his ribs and his hands shook with anticipation.

 

He stood up, rubbed his scalp and picked up his sword, threw a few gold on the table, and left with a nod to the two priests. They brought his horse to him, and he rode out into the night. His eyes were damp with joy, but he told himself it was the wind across the plains.

 

There was a mountain. He took two days to climb it He sat on the peak and waited for the opening in the clouds.

 

A bank of thick, black cloud moved towards him, against the wind but he sat and stared into the north wind as patterns of frost appeared on his scalp and through his beard. When it reached him, it stopped and the clouds parted to reveal a set of steps which led up into the sky.

 

He walked up the steps into the first sky.

 

A cyclops on a bicycle, with thick spiked wheels pedalled until they were a blur of razors, rushed to meet him as Hand set foot on the first battlefield. He rolled to the side and was up with his sword drawn. It galvanised him with shock to see the one-eyed giant, already turning the iron frame around to charge at him again.

 

He ran to meet him, legs pumping as he roared with bloodlust, but the sword stayed down by his side. If he fell beneath the iron wheels, they would tear him to pieces, but as the cyclops stared down at him, he slipped to one side and disappeared.

 

The cyclops stopped the bicycle and lifted it, reaching out with an enormous hand to spin the wheels and see if the spikes had caught his opponent. It moved with a screech but there was no sign of his opponent’s body. He set the front wheel down and growled with frustration before he reached to scratch an itch on the back of his neck. Before he had flesh underneath his nails, he felt a sharp puncture sink into the meat of his throat. His hand came up, fearing something had stung him.

 

The cyclops was right. Hand pulled his sword free and with it, came a gout of blood, reddening as it hit the air. He leapt over the cyclop’s shoulder and clung to the lank ropes of hair which protruded from his scalp as the cyclops collapsed, the iron bicycle tangled between his enormous legs.

 

Hand walked away from the corpse but it was miles until he was free of its shadow.

 

His second opponent wore the face of his best friend, and although it made battle difficult, Hand fought the creature until his sword sank into its gut and it returned to its natural form, a thing of lights and shapes which drifted away like petals on the wind.

 

The Rotten Hound was a shambling thing, which dropped pieces of its own flesh as it chased him, bones aglow from within as it spat fire at him. It clawed his chest and cut through to the bone, but he got onto its back and wrench its head all the way around. It fell beneath him and he stayed there until the next set of stairs appeared.

 

They sat his third opponent before a deck of cards and a small pile of stones. A pot of steaming tea sat next to him and he gestured for Hand to sit down. It took a dozen hands, but Hand agreed it was the most pleasant fight he’d ever had out of bed.

 

His history met him in the next two rounds. Old foes, resurrected for their reputation and armed with knowledge of his weaknesses. Their mistake was to fight the man he had been, not the man he was. It was awkward to fight them, and he was embarrassed to find their defeat came to him with ease.

 

There was a surprise waiting for him on the sixth round. The time between rounds passed in a blur, but word reached him that there were great wagers being placed on his success, but he ignored it.

 

She came to him with a smile as bright as the blades in her hand. Her hair flowed out behind her, and the sunlight blessed her skin. Hand looked into her eyes and saw a broken, inexorable hatred there. When he dropped his sword, she stopped and raised her swords.

 

‘Fight, damn you.’ she said.

 

Her voice was a hiss, but it was fat with unshed tears.

 

He opened his arms and shook his head.

 

‘I will not take arms against you.’ he said.

 

She threw one sword and he leaned to one side as it flew past him. He stared at her as she brought back her remaining sword, ready to bring it down on his head. Hand let the sword come down, but stepped to an angle and wrapped his hands around hers and brought his knee up into the bones of her forearms. The crack was loud, and it sickened him as she fell forwards, fainting from the pain. He laid her on the ground and asked her forgiveness. She turned her head and said nothing so he stood up and walked towards the next set of stairs.

 

Hand looked back at her, but not for long.

 

He walked up into darkness and thunder, like he were in the lungs of some great monster. Hand drew his sword and held it before him.

 

‘If you defeat me, then what?’

 

The voice was his own, amplified to the roar of a storm.

 

‘I will claim the prize.’ Hand said.

 

‘Then what?’ the voice said.

 

‘I do not fear death, if it is what you are getting at.’ Hand said.

 

He sheathed his sword and walked further into the darkness. It was humid and his skin grew slick with sweat.

 

‘Then what do you fear?’

 

Hand closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

 

‘Being forgotten.’ he said.

 

Laughter, rich and mocking washed over him.

 

Hand shook his head and looked into the darkness.

 

‘I know my fears, and yet it is difficult to speak of them. There were lovers who would have enjoyed such an admission.’ he said.

 

The voice sighed, mocking and aware.

 

‘Yet here you are. Lost in the darkness, Hand, and no one can see or hear you.’ it said.

 

Hand took a deep breath.

 

‘I know myself. My fears are not things to be defeated, but learned from.’ he said.

 

The darkness closed in. Hand controlled the unsettled bubbling in his stomach and gritted his teeth.

 

Hand’s limbs shook and he felt his hands, reach for the hilt of his sword.

 

‘You will learn this lesson, Hand. Your final one.’ it said.

 

Hand focused on his hands but they drew the sword with the grace of experience and his arms lifted as they aimed the blade at his stomach.

 

‘Give in. Win this fight with the same determination as the others, Hand. No one will question your determination.’

 

Tears ran down his face and he screamed, shaking his head as the sword came down towards his stomach. It was a good blade and it would pierce him with ease, but a blade to the belly was a slow death.

 

‘I WILL WALK THROUGH.’ Hand said.

 

He managed a few steps before the tip of the blade opened his skin and he gasped as the darkness guided the sword. Hand kept walking and breathing until he felt his arms return to his control. He let the sword fall from his fingers and lifted his arms to the sky.

 

The darkness dissipated. Its absence revealed the audience. All the gods and monsters of seven skies. They showered Hand with gold and praise, but he waited for the true prize. The wound in his belly was small, and it closed up when an angel smiled at him.

 

She floated down, raven hair and eyes glittering with an amused intelligence. The Lady of Heaven, Mother and Wife, Warrior and Priestess.

 

‘Hand, you have won your prize. Name it.’ she said.

 

Her voice was a melodic delight, a dark sweetness of tone which sounded too rich to be divine. Hand looked into her eyes and ached with desire for her.

 

‘Come closer.’ he said.

 

He sheathed his sword and lowered his head so her mouth was next to his ear. Despite the attention they paid them, no one caught what she said to him. Her fingers rested against his cheek before she stepped backwards, a wry smile curved her full lips upwards as he gave a terse nod and walked away.

 

It was many years before someone asked him what she said to him. He smiled, pulled the thick fur blanket down his chest and sat up, wincing with the cost of a lifetime’s battle.

 

‘She told me I was a good man.’ he said.

Standard
short fiction, women

As God Loves

 

The wig made his scalp itch like an addiction, and the lipstick tasted of something extracted from a marine life form, but Heath looked up at the gold statuette with its mother-goddess curves and blank face and bit back a shudder of vulgar joy. He would get away with this, he thought, as he followed the media people down into the auditorium.

 

He had practiced with heels, but they had delivered their punishment by instalments. Walking the length of the laboratory had been one thing, but hours spent waiting to get in whilst the nominees and celebrities stood for photos and interviews with the press. He wouldn’t risk talking to one of them although it would be quite something to ask Melissa McCarthy about playing Winifred Churchill in Her Darkest Hour or Mercedes Carrera as Connie The Barbarian.

 

Heath loved the cinema of this world the way God loves: from afar.

 

Security ushered them to their seats. Heath sat down in a way which appeared feminine but he felt awkward, already sweating under his arms and at the small of his back. There are whoops and cries from the audience, a hubbub of chatter which swells like an orchestra before the lights fall down and the presenter comes out. Something pinched the back of his ankle and he cursed the shoes he had chosen but he wanted to fit in with the beautiful people.

 

It was controversial this year because a man was hosting, which made Heath chortle when he read about it, but as Michael Gyllenhaal walked towards the microphone, Heath felt a foreboding bubble in the pit of his stomach.

 

They were the only men in the building. He wished there weren’t restrictions on sharing his work. The department guidelines on contact and interaction were enforced with a rigour which verged on the pathological. A Latin woman, in a black suit walked down the aisle, shot Heath a look which raised gooseflesh before she moved down the aisle. Michael made a few jokes about men, and the audience cackled with a fierce glee. He was playing to the crowd, Heath thought, and good on him. Men had it tough in this parallel universe, but the politics didn’t interest him because he was here for the culture, which was always upriver of politics, anyway. His throat was dry and he rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth to generate saliva.

 

The first guest hosts were the stars of Bitch, Where’s My Car?,  stunning despite the goofy smiles and snapback hats, heavy bracelets and midriffs carved from wood, scarred with tattoos which made Heath stir in his seat. He had taped everything back and had to take a deep breath to control his reaction. When they announced the winner as a supporting actress in Thora Gump, Heath tutted and shook his head. An elderly woman shoot him a look, and when Heath uncrossed his legs, she scowled with a cautious suspicion before she returned her attention to the show. His mouth was like the skin of a baked potato and he had a headache building at his temples.

 

Thora Gump was awful. Heath suspected Zemeckis knew enough story structure to adapt the best parts of the book, and Hanks was subtle enough to avoid going full retard, which he’d been saying long before Tropic Thunder came out, but here Jodie Foster had suffered under Nora Ephron’s affectations to create a saccharine clown show which felt like a cheap satire of the original.

 

Heath loved the cinema of this world. For every Thora Gump, there was a Saving Private Rachel. Joan Allen was amazing as the determined school teacher and Greta Gerwig as Rachel provided an intense, but brief introduction in the final act. Their failures and successes held the same allure for Heath, but here he was indulging his appetite for novelty and risking his life to do it.

 

His money was on The Running Woman, Karyn Kusama had done an amazing job on the direction and Saoirse Ronan had proven a ballistic and credible lead. He had friends back home, who would have rated Frances McDormand’s role as Killian the equal of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight but he couldn’t share it with them. He shook with pain as his mouth cracked and bled with thirst.  

 

The speeches. The tearful calls for action to the faithful. He needed the bathroom but his legs had gone numb and his calves were hot coals grafted to his bones as he struggled to his feet. The old woman scowled at him and he avoided her piercing gaze as he staggered from his seat. The Latin woman looked at him with frank interest as she walked towards him.

 

His leg shook and he remembered the pinch on his ankle. A subtle display of tradecraft as good as anyone in the department. Culture was upriver of politics, but as he pitched forwards onto his knees and watched the Latin security guard walk towards him, he marvelled how his story had turned out.

 

Small but capable hands lifted him to his feet.

 

He knew where he was going. A room outside any jurisdiction where he would be asked questions. He hadn’t come to watch The Olivias as his work, but his passion. As he focused on the blank, beautiful faces, his knees bumped against the step as they loaded him onto the van and shut the door. He wanted to tell him how much he loved this world, its achievements and tragedies, how terrible and beautiful a world of women was, but they lowered the hood over his face and someone thrust a fist into his trachea before throwing him to the floor of the van as it sped away from the auditorium.

 

Standard
love, sex, short fiction, women

Urge

 

She measured her day in tasks. Lunches made and counters cleaned until they shone. Fresh, desperate breakfasts which she served with a gleeful aplomb, ignoring the sleep-glazed expressions of her family as she dished up crisp bacon and thick pancakes. Her husband and son were a reflection on her, and she had established herself as a cheerful dictator. Carl was solid, unassuming and gentle in a nervous, concerned manner which meant he came home to meals sober and on time. They had sex when they felt they should.

 

‘She can’t even make a pot of coffee, but everyone seems to like her.’ Carl said.

 

He was talking about Taylor, the new secretary and her ineptitude alongside the bland, amiable monologues he used to fill the space.

 

Erica flashed him a bright smile as she poured him another coffee. He smiled back and carried on talking whilst Tommy shoveled cereal into his mouth and chewed with his mouth closed. She felt a small burst of pride, took it like medicine against the guilt and the powerlessness.

 

‘She sounds like a klutz, honey.’ she said.

 

Carl’s face turned red and he nodded, a beat too quick for her liking but he wasn’t good with women. He went to great pains to hide his fear, by being at great pains to remain benign and professional around them. Carl’s virtue was he would never leave her.

 

Tommy made it to the bus, independent and brusque with his efforts to prove childhood was tucked in the storage space along with the undersized clothes and garish plastic toys. Once Carl had left, the only sounds were the scheduled breathing of the house – the hum of the refrigerator, pipes and floorboards eased or contracted by the temperature and the babbling excited chatter beneath her skin which sent her rushing around the house like a pinball in play. The air was clean, conditioned with a small bouquet of faint cooking smells and the lemon wax polish she used on the weekends. She did a final circuit of the house then went upstairs to change.

 

She wore a white shirt, pencil skirt, stockings and a purple brasserie, without panties. He had told her not to when she came to see him, and hearing him order her around in his low, soft growl made her flutter with anticipation. Erica allowed an hour to prepare, but with each slow stroke of the hairbrush, she knew it would adhere into a single lock at the back of her head where he would grab her as they wrestled with one another. Her strokes were awkward as she thought of him, the gentle burn of his beard against her skin and how he handled her with a brutish ease, then afterwards would hold her so tight she couldn’t breathe. The guilt came later, but these moments were a song she couldn’t get out of her head no matter how much she tried. Her heart hammered in her chest and she messaged him, asking permission to touch herself.

 

No, he replied. She bit her bottom lip and put the phone down. Erica looked in the mirror and saw herself, flushed and expectant, before she finished brushing her hair. The drive to him was quick and she sang along with the radio, girlish and flushed with excitement as she drove to her lover.

 

These moments were the anaesthetic. Pain came later, and it made her studious at home. She laid beneath Carl, stroking his back as he pumped inside her and closed her eyes, willing herself not to think about her lover and failing, opening to the present with a fervour which made Carl come in reflex. She read to Tommy, helped with his homework and cleaned the house, made the lunches and kept her tears private.  She wished she could split herself in two, and the pull between him and her family wore on her nerves like a disease which worried at her psyche until it was translucent.

 

She knew it was coming but these times with him paid for it all. They went out, but her favourite thing was to come to his home, then his bed and after a shower and food, they would sit on his couch, her feet up on his lap as he massaged her feet until she made low, purring noises in the back of her throat. He worked from home in a studio building on the grounds of his house, was there most of the time.  It had been how they had met, when she came in with a coupon from the local newsletter, blushing at his jokes and staying for a coffee afterwards, when an appointment cancelled on him.

 

He answered the door in a white t-shirt and faded blue jeans. His smile made her bubble with glee and excitement, a narcotic rush which reduced her senses to the promise of his skin against hers. Erica stepped through the door and he took her in his arms. The height difference meant she fit into his chest, small and safe in the space they created together.

 

2.

 

They whispered hello to one another, chuckled at the dichotomy between the feverish need which animated their hands and mouths alongside the delicate greeting. He stopped kissing her and took her to the bedroom, his hand around hers, looking back at her with a dark, primal want which resembled anger or irritation to the uninformed, but she knew the want. Carl was a good man but beneath her lover’s fingers and tongue, his worth drowned in the deluge of sensation which bloomed in her soul like hothouse orchids.  He undressed her, sighing with lust as she pressed herself against him.

She guided his hand to her throat, and when his fingers pressed against her arteries whilst his other hand was at play between her legs, she asked, between gritted teeth, permission to come. His casual shake of the head made her whimper and her impending orgasm thrashed and bucked inside her as she asked him again. She asked him but he denied her until she shook with the intensity of it and cried out as she came in juddering, celestial spasms of joy.

 

Afterwards, he fucked her like a prisoner on a conjugal visit, rough in a way Carl would be horrified by. She stopped asking permission when she could not speak, gushing over his cock where his strokes imposed themselves on the deepest points of sensation inside her. He verged on brutal when he fucked her, all at her behest, and the intensity of it resisted the moral argument she had with herself whilst she was with him.

 

Erica loved him. She wished she hadn’t, but the time with him was simple and comfortable without being dull. He got things about her without having them explained to him, and she opened to him, let him into parts of herself even Carl hadn’t found. The pleasant inertia grated on her, and when she tried to end things, he had accepted it with a stoic, wounded grace which made her feel awful afterwards.

 

She was proud of herself for managing six months. If anyone had included not thinking of him, then she had managed nothing close to cutting off contact with him.

 

The cycle was relentless on her nerves but she clung on, and when she left, part of her stayed with him. She tested him about it, why he wasn’t seeing other women, and she hid the relief when he shrugged his shoulders and said he was happy with her. The unspoken, artificial nature of it hung between them, unspoken except in her moments of anguish. She was sick without him, but she was frightened this too, was an addiction, no matter how solicitous and gentle he was with her.

 

HIs primacy was magnetic to her, and she had tried so hard to pull away.

 

Erica stopped at a nearby mall for her alibi and she was grateful for the anonymous mass of people, losing herself for a time amongst them, shopping in a pleasant daze when she wandered into the food court.

 

It was out of the way here, but not so far as to require a story.

 

She stood there, looked at the couple holding hands across the table.

 

Carl had the same idea.

 

The woman, younger than Erica, with pale green eyes and white blonde hair. She exuded a tanned, excited youth as she looked at Carl with fervour. Her hands were in his, and he stroked the backs of her fingers in slow, hungry strokes. He was clumsy in passion, yet the woman sat across from him was flush with desire and Erica turned away, stunned and relieved at the same time.

 

His hair looked different, she thought, but then she had not noticed him in a while.

 

She drove home in a daze, and later, she wondered how there hadn’t been an accident. Tommy would be home soon, she told herself, an hour, no more and she had looked ahead when she walked in the door.

 

The note on the kitchen table.

 

Her hands shook with too much feeling to contain. She went upstairs to use the bathroom.His half of the wardrobe was empty and he had left his bank cards and house keys. It was organised with a feminine efficacy which she knew hadn’t come from Carl.

 

She scratched a small itch on her nose, caught the faint amber warmth of Jon’s skin on her fingers and stopped herself from rushing to wash her hands.

 

Erica got out her phone. She should have rung her husband, asked for an explanation, even begged him to come back to her, negotiate a desire which had been throttled by anxiety and duty but she did not.

 

Jon answered the phone by saying her name.

 

‘I need you.’ she said.

 

It felt right to admit it inside her home. She told him the rest through her tears, and before Tommy came home, he was on his way.

Standard
fiction, grief, short fiction, Uncategorized

Exposure

 

My life was bare walls, no surprises in the laundry hamper, the disappointed relief when you watch porn in the standard browser without worrying if anyone else will check. The sharp relief and then the slow entropic ebb of disappointment afterwards. I’d let go of salon visits and gym sessions without care for the impact.

 

My phone rang.

‘Please don’t hang up.’

‘What reason is there to talk to you?’ I said.

Rage was pointless. She deployed her final tactic and my dull tone masked the contempt.

She breathed in. I remembered the sounds when we made love, all the neglected nerve endings stirred into life by my touch. Now it tasted of dust and raw meat.

My affair left me with a concrete block of guilt which sat on my chest with each breath. My anger towards her was a hammer swung into it.

 

‘I don’t know.’ she said.

 

We did things with one another we had never dared ask our partners. 

‘You are fucking dead.’ I said.

There was a choked whisper.

‘Why are you being like this?’ she said.

She came to the house whilst I was out. I imagined her, flushed with righteous indignation, telling my wife every detail of our relationship. On the drive home, I wondered if there were tears, but that’s something I chose for easing my feelings. Tossing a little compassion in her direction to mitigate my guilt is a child’s motif but panic shaves a good few years off your faculties.

Begging is distasteful when you’re an adult. It is worse when it fails to make anything better. No one showed up to make my case for me, how the comfort becomes ennui. You’re supposed to forget how they fucked you when you were an exciting proposition to them and accept tired, half hearted intercourse where they use your tongue or fingers as a sleeping pill.  The grey miasmal guilt became useful as I navigated the remains of my life.

 

Irritation choked my libido as I looked at myself in the mirror. Sallow and unshaven, dark smudges of fatigue jammed into the skin under my eyes.

 

She told me I was beautiful once. No one had done that before. The memory stung and I shoved it away.

 

‘Are you always this fucking stupid?’ I said.

 

Sobbing.  

 

‘Do you feel better for what you’ve done?’ I said.

 

My faded, ugly face forced itself into a mask of contempt. It fitted so well.

 

‘No.’ she said.

 

Her voice was small and soft.

 

‘Does it help you sleep at night? Hurting my wife and kids for something I did?’

 

She wept, but I felt nothing. It was a glass being dropped in an adjacent room for the impact it had on my emotions.

 

‘Never call me again. You’re fucking dead.’ I said.

 

I measured the time in cups of coffee and cigarettes. Blue afternoons nestling a sick misery alternating with harsh, sobbing conversations hearing my family spit their bile and pain at me.

 

I never thought about involving her family. We made our choices. We blocked one another on social media but I still nursed revenge fantasies but they all felt so small after what she had done. She knew where I was weakest and stuck the knife in where it would bleed the most.

 

Love does that better than anything. We open ourselves up to one another and alternate between ignored or derided so we go back to hiding within our lives but it doesn’t fucking stop the pressure, the skin hunger which requires novelty like a vampire needs blood. When she emailed me, Nostalgia made me weak and she promised it wouldn’t get aggressive.

 

She came with a bottle. Red wine, which she knew I liked.

 

A peace offering. It was difficult to hold in the anger so I drank the wine and walked the tightrope between civil and honest.

 

A wave of dizziness washed over me in tidal brushes of blackness. I tried to laugh but the muscles in my face didn’t move. I had forgotten about her work in the pharmacy. She was always industrious, a way to compensate for the lack of belief in her intelligence and with each sip she watched me succumb..

 

I tried to stand up but my legs went out from under me. She got out a second bottle from her handbag and straddled me as I laid there on the floor. I wondered why she was wearing gloves.

 

My face burned where the liquid splashed down. She aimed for my mouth but I turned my head and she caught my right cheek, burning it away to the bone. It stunk of sweet pork and the bitter chemical bouquet of the acid.

 

She stepped backwards, slipped on the laminate flooring and caught her head on the back of the dining room table, under the chin which snapped her neck before she laid there. I tried to scream but my tongue melted and I was choking on the sludgy remains, feeling the lights go out in my brain due to lack of oxygen and shock trauma.

 

My flatmate found me and called an ambulance. Quilted grafts rebuilt my cheek and tongue, but I had false teeth and it was afterwards, I decided dating wasn’t in my future.

 

It made the papers and the internet. People knew me on sight, and the reconstructed cheek was a mark of Cain, a scarlet A and it inspired equal parts disgust and pity. Children cried when they saw me and their parents pulled them away, scowling and muttering under their breath as they shot me with withering looks.

 

I had a room in a small flat and I spent the time writing.

 

The horror of the story made media rights profitable. An act of literary purging brought my family to a place where they could forgive but not forget. The money was welcome, but I had no use for it, not with the sense of place my disfigurement provided me with.

 

There was love for myself, a reason to be alone and a relinquishment of the burden of performance. I received offers, but they faded in time. My gratitude lent a clarity which allowed me to make one final decision regarding my life.

 

I dedicated the book to my children. I’d arranged my affairs, given them and my former wife control over the media rights. I finished the last draft and sent it to the publisher. There were pills and good brandy, a fat joint of a good, powerful weed which made swallowing the pills a slow and delicate affair.

There were good moments, slow and replayed from different angles.

 

The first date with my wife. Her face flushed with excitement, the awful shirt I wore, a boy pretending to be a man.

Children. The exhausted delirium of imposing order on beautiful bundles of chaos.

Her face, when we met for the first time. Being seen and wanting it, despite knowing it was destructive.

Single moments, alone when the light would look a particular way, and there was quiet.

My children’s future was secured and it felt like a good point to stop pretending I had a life beyond being a horrible warning.

 

Letting go was like taking off a tight pair of shoes after a long walk.

 

The light faded, and I went along with it.

 

She told me I was beautiful once.

 

In dying, I felt it.

 

Standard
fiction, love, short fiction

Tips For Dating A Homicide Detective

‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ Gloria said. She was flushed with excitement at his being a cop but too polite to come out and ask Hoyt about his work straight away.

He looked past her. The growing crowd who followed him around. Junot with his throat cut. Jessica, blue from strangulation. Too many others to hold onto. Each one faded when he closed a case but there were others. They spoiled dates but he’d been lonely.

He picked up the glass and smiled, enjoying her excitement and wondered if she could handle the truth.

‘Sure I do.’ he said.

Standard
short fiction, women

Episode 32 – The Transformation

Kelly watched him from the doorway, sleeping on his side with his arm stretched out. His chest rose in slow rhythms and she fought the urge to slip underneath it. She feared it closed to her now even though she had healed him. There was so much she understood, but it was the unknown aspects of her world which inflicted damage beyond her means to heal.

 

She was not alone. The dogs had the run of the house, but they stayed away from her. Their loyalties were absolute, and she read the unyielding column of their love manifested as a rainbow bridge of neural activities.

 

There was the artificial intelligence. She had stolen some of its data as a reflex, and she guessed it closed to her as much as John himself.

 

She could go. There were people after her, but there had been people after her for years. Life had been a series of hotel rooms, damp walls and stale sheets, beds which vibrated if you fed coins into a meter and televisions tuned into a riot of lurid colours. John had a beautiful home, but it was cold and empty to her now.

 

It was a laboratory, a temple to a mystery she bore like a scarlet A or the mark of Cain and revolted underneath it.

 

The doorbell rang and she flinched. She heard John get up, sighing as he stood and threw on a t-shirt in the dark. He moved past her, his palm brushing against her hip with an offhand tenderness which made her sigh with relief.

 

Police. A uniformed officer, wired with tangential adrenaline, doing a routine visit to ask if they had heard anything. John explained they had been watching a movie in bed and Kelly heard the faint intimacies within the long pause, John’s relative state of undress and the officer’s restless looks away.

 

She reached and ran her consciousness over his, saw he was fighting an image of the two of them together, Kelly’s long legs wrapped around him before she drew back and found nothing suspicious in John’s recollection.

 

Kelly left a suggestion inside the officer’s head to think he had written their names and details, and to go see if he could do something useful with his time. She planted a seed in the soil of his insecurities and let it grow as he exchanged hot, gnawing looks and dull, envious small talk with John.

 

She watched John close the door, appalled at how she had used her abilities without cause. John turned and looked at her in the doorway.

 

‘You’ve experienced a big part of the problem, Kelly.’ he said.

 

She frowned and stepped backwards.

 

‘I’m not – it was just easier.’ she said.

 

John glanced past her.

 

‘Yes, it’s natural, like turning into a wolf or an insect who feeds on memories.’

 

She closed her eyes as a molten anger heated the air in her lungs.

 

‘John, this isn’t helping-‘ she said.

 

His eyes blazed in the darkness as he raised his hands.

 

‘Then what does, Kelly?’

 

His voice was loud, and Kelly flinched as her muscles coiled to prepare for conflict. The fight-or-flight instinct was a scalpel and she read the wounded frustration in his posture and neural activity. An aura of regal purple and harsh infected red exuded from him.

 

‘I lost control, John. It’s not your fault.’

 

His lips drew back over his teeth as he stared at her.

 

‘Everything is my fault.’ he said.

 

She came towards him as he opened his arms and held her with enough force to make her bones hurt. Kelly needed the force of his reassurance as she put her mouth to his ear and clutched his back.

 

‘What are we going to do?’ she said.

 

He told her in a terse whisper and she agreed with a nod before she asked him to take her to bed. John gripped the hair at the back of her head and held her gaze, looking at her with a focus which made her ache with a sudden, vicious want.

 

‘Are we monsters?’ she said.

 

He shook his head before he kissed her. His teeth found her lips and she pressed against him. They moved like they could not get close enough to one another, and by the time they made it to the bed, she was screaming for him to be inside her.

 

Afterwards, they whispered to one another about their fears and she listened to him detail how they would approach her transformations.

 

His authority offered Kelly a state between surrender and control, which softened her fears as the parts of her made alien stayed dormant in his presence.

 

Adam watched the flames with fascination as he moved through the house. There was no one left to resist him, and he watched as people fled with a cold fascination. The woman had shown talent, and he had felt his consciousness warp before an attempted assault.

 

He recalled her tapping into the air, her forehead wrinkled with concentration as he wrestled with the man whose pores dripped lava. He couldn’t move his fingers without bursting the livid blisters which congregated where the flesh had not burned away. The pain was insistent, but he kept it under control as he walked outside.

 

There were sirens in the distance and he shook out his arms, acknowledging the flares of pain which travelled up his arms. He had ammunition to spare, and a part of him revelled in the chance to hurt others again.

 

The woman had fled, and she knew things. The intrusion into his mind had unnerved him, and such an insult could not go unavenged.

 

By the time the police arrived, he had left. There were enough bodies and evidence to keep their attention occupied, and none of them knew how it had been a whim which kept them alive. Adam’s hands healed by dawn and he kept walking, imagining the woman’s neck in his grasp to motivate him.

 

3.

 

Olivia read the secretary’s intentions with the ease of a take away menu. Her heightened senses fed her professional experience so each micro expression was clownish and obvious which made manipulating her a polite series of observations and questions.

 

Olivia gestured to the teacups, three in a row by her computer monitor.

 

‘I bet it’s the least of your collection.’ Olivia said.

 

She had shaped her features to resemble the woman, sculpting her jaw to reflect a similarity which would endear the woman to Olivia.

 

Ellen blushed and looked away.

 

‘They’re so pretty. I run this office, so it doesn’t hurt to have a few touches to make things feel -‘

 

Olivia smiled and changed the set of her shoulders to better mimic Ellen.

 

‘Human?’ Olivia said.

 

Olivia adjusted her vocal chords, emitting a frequency which made Ellen susceptible to suggestion. It was like putting a hat on a hat, but Olivia wanted to work with haste and Ellen helped anyone who massaged her fragile ego.

 

Homely.’ Ellen said.

 

She would get the files.

 

Nothing wrong in helping Mr Howlett at all. Olivia hid her delight at Ellen’s obedience and she was back in the car with a telephone number, an email and most important, an address. There was glee in Olivia’s steps when she got into the car, and underneath it, a thirst to reward her skill and care.

 

She resolved to use her abilities with care, Amaro expected nothing less.

 

Olivia called him but an aide answered. He was at rest and Olivia passed on her intention to start contact with him at the earliest opportunity. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, arching her eyebrows and giving herself a confident smile.

 

She set off and turned the air conditioning up, feeling more comfortable as the chilled air blasted her skin. Olivia was hungry, but she had work to do.

 

4.

 

The waitress was kind to her, but she didn’t feel deserving. Her head rattled like a pit of snakes, trying to come up with a reason she wasn’t coming home. All the stories she had written, and here she was, stuck in a cosmic second-act climax, without a hope of turning the tables on whatever was coming for her.

 

They had built him from various interpretations of the character, borrowing from cinema and literature alongside some novel comic book versions to develop a version which would prove unstoppable in pursuit of its mission. He was relentless.

 

There were flaws in his character which she could exploit if she avoided being shot or stabbed long enough to strike at them. She was a long way from a Swiss lake or an Arctic floe, but she resolved to find something she could use, writing on napkins as she drank endless cups of tea, writing to beat the dawn, and whatever followed it.

 

She recalled the location of the other flares and headed in a different direction. It was not safe, but it offered something.

 

Hope.

 

Standard