Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Suicide...It's A Killer

by Aaron Carnes


I can't explain what it feels like. When you hold your TV over your head like a sweaty ape. Throw your shit around at gawking tourists. Holler for attention. Collapse your muscles, smashing your stereo. Disembowel your stack of plastic vintage tape cassettes. You ransack your microwave. Hijack your fax machine. You penetrate your oven and overhead stove compartment with your acoustic stopwatch and delay pedal. Disintegrate your telephone speakerbox. Shave your automated toilet bowel cleaner. Bleed knuckle-snot on the under-exposed underbelly of your 20" flat screen panel monitor. Splatter a crack in its uptight face. Shatter your handmade clay-ashtray on the spiky shredded carpet flower pedals. Your head's twisted on nitrocide and you're empowered with the inherent falsity. Left becomes right. North becomes South. What you're doing is correct because you're doing it. Because your body vomits out your guts. Because your thoughts are like crashing airplanes, landing on an uncharted deserted island.

You stare at the tiny bits of TV pellets sprayed all over your living room floor. You feel lusty. Primal. Your heart's firmly lodged up your tiny ass. And you wish you could always feel like this. You want to break little hunk of TV and fax machine into tiny microscopic pieces until there's nothing left but a pile of mechanical dust and a rotting pack of gum. You scream because you think you're going insane in all the right ways and it makes your dick hard with turmoil, torturing and blasting every last material scrap in your tiny corner of hell. You wanna hear some screaming. Some eardrums pop. You can't stop even when there's nothing left to break. You haven't felt this much release since your mom gave birth and they pulled the placenta off your face.

I was bare-chested and panting like a sex-mutant when Rodney started pounding on my door. I was in no mood for this shit right now. My head was warped from the nitrocide. Left was right. North was south. Up was down.

"Jonathon." His voice was ringing through my audiobox. "I just got this crazy message from my scorpitron that I'm sure is bogus AND I wanted to tell you about it, so we could have a good laugh."

Breathing heavy. Holding a throbbing 2x4 in my cut-up jagged hands. I threw it on the ground. BAAAAM. Walked over to the door. I looked at him through the peephole. His hair slicked back. Molten Lava.

I whispered, "I can't talk right now. I'm feeling sick." I couldn't let him in. Not now. Not Rodney and his tacky plaid shirt. His pregnant stomach.

"Don't be silly. I won't bother you one bit. I'll just be in and out. You won't believe what that crazy pet of mine told me. I swear, if I were SANE, I'd have him dismantled and donated to science!" Giggling. Hot flashes and cold sweat.

"Maybe we can talk about this tomorrow. I'll tell you what, I'll stop by your office first thing in the morning. You can uh... uh... tell me your story." It was all I could do to contain my fading voice.

"JOHNNY! You are IMM-POSS-IB-LY headstrong! I've always liked that about you. I remember when you first moved in here and I said to myself, 'Rodney. Things are about to get mighty interesting around here.' (Hysterical laughter explosion) You're a firecracker! You know that?"

"I am what I am."

"You can say that again!"

I had my entire body leaning against the door in case he decided to just go for it. It was a lot to ask to not just collapse on the moldy floor below; flopping back and forth like a dying fish. Spine tingling tear-gasms.

"If you're not gonna let me in, let me ask of you a teeny tiny favor. Not as your landlord, but as your neighbor."

My finger sore from holding down the button on the audiobox. "What?"

"Could you please lend me some butter? I'm making some upside-down-cake. I will just DIE if I have to resort to using Canola spread. (higher voice) I'll tell you what. I would be delighted to give you a nice fat slice when I'm done. You haven't lived till you've tried my upside-down-cake (lower voice) which is actually my late Grammy gram's recipe (solemn moment of silence)."

My legs were shaking and quaking. Snowball-flaking. "I'm sorry. But I just ran out. Why don't you ask Thomas in apartment 26? He's always got his shelves stocked."

"That little Nazi? Pu-lease!"

"So, if you'll excuse me."

"You are a little devil aren't you?"

"I'll see you tomorrow?" I said.

"Bright and early. And don't forget to bring your horns."

I peered at him again. Watched him leave. He walked back a few steps, turned around and stared at the door. Trying to decide.

Go away. Don't push it. Get home before the Ferridactles start sniffin' around; lookin' for something high in Fiber and low in Sodium. He turned back around slowly, and was out of sight.

Rodney's scorpitron must've picked up the whole thing. It was only a matter of time 'til he found a way in. I couldn't keep him out forever. I needed to leave, but how could I without being seen? He'd probably keep his scorpitron on patrol all night. The nitrocide was wearing off. Right was left. South was north. Down was up. Thousands of shards of TV on the floor. A broken stereo and pieces of vinyl everywhere. Bits of my fax machine and microwave. Holes in the wall. Carpet curled up. I would've never done it otherwise. My limbs felt like rubber cement and my brain beads were grated cheese. Melted over a plate of generic tortilla chips. And it was two days past the expiration date, still feeling crunchy. A little funky.

####

Rebecca and I used to catch scorpitrons and set them on fire. We'd toss them at each other and knock 'em out of the neighborhood with her dad's old baseball bat. One time, I stuck one in her underwear. It started stinging her all over her thighs. She was furious and hitting me in the face. I had to get stitches. Three of 'em. Things always went this direction with her. Little jokes turn into bigger jokes that would snowball into chaos.

When we were older, we would go to her father's apartment when he was out of town. Staying up late watching suicide shows and fucking each other's cranium. Pinching each other's ass cheeks with horseclamps and inflicting tiny slices with her dad's rusty razor blade. Shallow nicks and bruises. Just enough to get the blood boiling. We listened to music all night and danced. We didn't know how to dance skillfully, so we would have this unspoken competition to create the most obscene or bizarre dance. Everything was a competition with her.

One time I was sitting down starring at my computer-vox, trying to imagine green as blue. She came behind me and stuck three tiny jaw-snappers under my ass. I was so heavily focused. I was on the verge of an answer and those tiny snappers dug inside my flesh. I literally jumped out of my chair. Swung around. Her laughing skull. My bloody asscheeks. I hurled my body in the air. Tackled her corpse on the stained carpet. Pinned her down. Shoved her face into the ocean of microscopic poisonous carpet fish. Biting her nose. Me slapping her bare ass. "Work it!" I shouted. Barely breathing. Face exhausted, turning purple and pink and grabbing my arms and collapsing my elbows. I fell over. I remember looking to the side and seeing my scorpitron's confused face. I almost tried to explain it to him, but it was a little beyond his comprehension. Rebecca stood up, took off her house-skirt. Cusped my raging hard-on; tore my clothes off entirely. We fucked the life-force from each other. We couldn't move after that. That's just the way things were. Everyday was a roller coaster ride.

####

It was an ocean of broken metal breakfast cereal. I walked to the kitchen table to have a seat. Each step was a painful bloody catastrophe. A natural disaster waiting to happen. A car wreck ready to crash. Sitting down. Looking at my former scorpitron. Shards and pieces spread out like the cremated remains of my dead parents. Its lights flashing on and off.

"Jo...na...thon..." It wasn't quite dead yet.

"Huh?" It shook me by surprise. "I thought I put you out of your misery."

"I'm... not... dead... yet..."

"Don't worry. I'll take care of that." Starting to get up.

"Don't... please... not... yet." I stopped and eased my swollen ass down. I'd give him that much.

"Why..." he said.

"Why what?"

"Why'd... you... do... it?"

Getting back up. "I'm not going to try and explain it to you."

"I... thought... we... were... friends..."

"We were. Are." My brain was a lockjaw. Was there anymore nitrocide left?

"I... always... loved... you..."

"I love you too." The words came difficult.

"I... can... un... der... stand... why... T... V... and ...fax... mach... ine... but..."

"Things aren't black and white. It's complicated being a human being." Tongue tied and stuttering. Rat-a-tat-tat.

"I... sup... pose..." He stopped. "Go... a... head... do... it..."

"Do what?"

"You... know... put... me... out... of... my..." choking on the last word. "mis... er... er..." Crying. It was horrible. I could feel the tears escalating. And holding them in with all my waning strength. It hurts to care. I moved my body and found that 2x4. Still hot. Held it over the little beast. I couldn't go through with it. Not like this.

"Bye... bye..."

"I can't. Listen we can get a technician out by morning."

"No... you... have... to... do... it..."

"What are you talking about?" Feeling angry.

"It's... ok... I... un... der... stand... I... want... you... to... do... it..." It was looking away.

I got up. Pacing in my living room. Kicked a small pile of squashed metal gears and iron tires. Dead like the day God brought them into this tired world.

"Jo... na... thon... you... have... to... kill... me... be... fore... they..." Bleeping sounds and whistle calls.

"Just forget about it. You don't understand." I sat down on the ground, letting the shards of metal pierce my virgin skin.

"Beep... beep... beep..."

And something relapsed my mind that shot me across the hall like a potato being launched from a home-constructed drunken mechanism. I grabbed the 2x4 while still in mid air and lowered it down on my last true friend. SMASH!

I was a weeping disgrace. Took the smoking piece of wood and threw it across the room. Landed head-deep in the side of the wall. Two feet in. Perhaps a bit too much force. His lights stopped flashing all together. Hopefully in a better place than this one.

####

I would rub my scorpitron's finger on Rebecca's clit. We started off with a little of the usual. Just to get things going. To get the pipes unclogged. When she was really turned on, I'd flip her over on her back and do it. That sent her over the edge. He enjoyed it too. Always eager to please. Since she was so vocal during the moment of implosion, you can imagine his gratification.

So when I trained him to start talking dirty, at the right moment. I put his finger on her. "You're my little fuck doll!" "I wanna break your cherry red ass!" "Ride my pony dick!" She just started laughing hysterically. Rolled off the table. Fell on the ground. Couldn't stop for twenty minutes. I thought she would've been turned on. He did it when she was dripping wet. On the verge and hanging on by a narrow thread. He was so embarrassed and hurt for the longest time. Eventually she goaded him into doing it for her amusement. It made her laugh every time. Eventually he learned to take pleasure in getting that kind of attention.

It was hard to tell with Rebecca what kinds of things were a turn-on and which ones would make her laugh. (and which kinds of things would piss her off.) I had to keep a long running chain of experiments and hope that it all averaged out best. I remember sneaking up to her at night while she was reading. Leaning down my lips on her earlobe. I had a rose in my back pocket. I wanted to soothe her hard day with a gentle kiss and a beautiful rose. As flesh met flesh she reacted and sent her hardened fist straight into my face. Almost knocked me out cold. She was stunned and tried to explain her reaction, but that I couldn't understand. Just lay off the ears and that was that. She started to cry. She was so incoherent I could barely understand scattered words. She did end up apologizing to me about that one. And she never apologized about anything.

####

I could make out Rodney's scorpitron in the back corner of the apartment common. He was trying to not be seen, but you could see those two glowing eyes for decades on end. It was near pitch black outside. Like a dark-gray-defecation-biscuit-breathe-mint. His eyes were directed clearly at my door. I watched him for the duration of my cigarette. He didn't blink. The loyal little mutherfucker. I had to think of a way to divert his attention. I could call up Whoodini's little boy. For five bucks and a slice of vomit-steak-cheese, he'd do nearly anything. Including stumbling across the common, pretending to be drunk and irate. Make a big scene. Suicide brain bomb. But I didn't think he'd budge. Not over social chaos. Nothing's sacred. I could toss out a cherry matchbox from my window, but he'd see me do it. It would be exactly what they wanted. My best bet was to go straight into it. Walk up to him and try to fool him. It wouldn't be easy. Scorpitrons aren't stupid, even though they're loyal.

I dug through my dirty pile of clothing and found a shirt. Red striped. It was tagged with "Kickin' up our heels for babies." My chest was still pulsating. I was already wearing pants, so that was no problem. I pried the door open just enough to squeeze my body through. I knew he was looking and I didn't want him to see anything. I applied a nice confident walk. Stroll. Straight into his direction. I shot him a friendly wave. Let him know that I knew. He turned away. Like he was playing lookout "in general."

I squatted myself down next to him.

"It's awfully late. You must be cold."

"Rodney wants me to keep an eye on all the goings on around here."

"You do good work. Nothing gets past you."

"That's right." His voice crackling a little bit. "Rodney has me in charge of the whole place." His voice sounded exactly like Rodney's. The nasal exhalations. The scattered intonations. The heartbeat palpitations.

"Anything special going on tonight?"

His eyes flickered at me. "Not yet."

I readjusted myself to get more comfortable. "Uh. You know, I came over here to give you this." I showed him a jar of butter that I had tucked in my pants. "Rodney asked me to do him the favor of lending him some butter for his famous upside down cake. I bet he'd be real happy if you brought this to him so he could make it tonight." I held it out for him to see. Just out of reach. He started to put his hand out, but thought better of it.

"I'm not allowed to leave."

"Hey. I understand. I can watch your post for you while you drop the butter off."

He looked at me like I was dragging anal warts across my face.

"Of course, I could go drop it off for you."

"You know the curfew rules around here, Bub." Sassy. But not too spicy. What was I thinking? This was so amateur of me. I needed to dig deep.

"Actually. The real reason I came over to talk to you is that I wanted your opinion on something."

"Really?" Sawdust salivation.

"Yeah. Of course. You're a smart machi... uh... per...err.... Dude. I thought you could give me some much needed uh... insight." His eyes widened towards me. "Can you tell me where science ends, and religion begins?"

He thought about this for a moment. I saw his eyes flicker on and off a few times. Let him mull that one over.

"That's a trick question. Neither science nor religion begin or end. They have always been and will always be. The alpha and omega. They are one and the same, as faith being the fear that propels them."

Shit! "Uh. OK. What about the new science?"

"The new science? What's that?"

"The new science," nice and casually. "It's the study and belief that whatever can be, can be disproved through science and faith. So to disprove something is to therefore prove its existence, and visa versa. Therefore leaving us with facts and raw data and eliminating the whole concept of faith. The new science."

"But by proving the new science as truth and faithless, by its own definition you've disproved it."

"And therefore proved it."

"And therefore disproved it." His lights were flickering on and off and on and off. Hard and heavy. His metallic brain spinning downwards. Inwards. His tiny limbs spasming and shaking at illogical intervals. Steam rising. I stood up and started to leave. Not in any hurry. Just strolling on outta-

"Ther... ther..." The glow in his pupils crescendo. "There can only be one answer."

"Huh." Halfway turning around.

"Both are true and therefore untrue."

"And therefore true!"

"And therefore untrue!" Looking confident. Glowing like a light-stick.

Fuck! I looked at him. Looked from side to side. Up and down. What to do? I know. Run!

I bolted. Sweating. Panting. Like a cougar. A diseased and limping cougar with a broomstick lodged knee-deep inside its hyena. Right behind was Rodney's Scorpitron. If you were seated at the hillside above the apartment complex, you might see the following:

A crazy man. Arms flailing. Shouting and grunting. Like a gorilla. A goo-goo-rilla. Red in the face. Panting and screeching. Running with all his might. Fast, but not that fast. Years of smoking nitrocide and other particles have clogged his lungs in all the wrong ways and rendered him near inert. If it wasn't for the adrenaline...

Behind him. Chasing him. A scorpitron. It looks like an older model. They don't make 'em like that nowadays. It was probably a second hand purchase and the owner's probably a cheap, if not demonically possessed, sex-deviant. It hovers over the ground like a swampboat. Surely the robotic life form is gaining on the pink and fleshy cold-blooded one. A mass of muscle and brain tissue strung together by anxiety and self-doubt. Five senses imputing new reasons to not leave the house.

Slowly gaining. There's only so much energy left to mine. An emotional basket-case glued together with four useless limbs. Billions of years of evolution and survival refinement and Mother Nature shits out beings with oversized brain-muscles that consume most of their pathetic time on Earth worrying about their purpose on the planet. Bodies that can barley move. Overarching shoulders. A fat gut full of laziness and medication. Survival movements totally de-evolved. Like an expanding brain trying to squeeze out of whichever opening is available. You ever wonder why humans like so much to get fucked in their asses? It's their brain trying to escape this decaying prison. As soon as they can figure out how to take it up their noses.

All around kids at play. Ignorant to everything and fully aware of everything. What they don't yet understand is just how deep it cuts. They stop playing for a moment to observe the humanoid and electronitoid cause temporary havoc in their transient lives. Another game of "Smash the Gutterball," it's much more interesting anyways. You keep your head down and your hopes low when you know you have no future. When you know there's no hope and no meaning. You just don't know how bad it feels. Not yet anyways. Parents are inside snorting self-hate and you wanna scream at them for not keeping an eye on their fucking kids. When you have sex-crazed-lunatics molesting their way across town. But you know that having a strong feeling about anything is a little much to ask, and nearly illogical. Besides, you know what part of town this is. You know what planet this is. Their prepubescent brains have already been configured to have specifically the kind of life you might expect. Try and change their circumstances and they will find a way to conform their environment back. The human psyche has evolved to withstand unspeakable misery and often goes out of its way to provide itself with that misery even if the conditions aren't there organically.

The human locates a tree, and without thinking it through, darts directly upwards. Just outside the apartment complex now. Maybe it's the first time in his self-doubting life, his finger-nibbling nervous manner, that he may have actually made the right decision. Since scorpitrons are still as of yet unable to climb trees, it spins around the base of the tree trunk. Furious. Shouting and grumbling nonsense. The human says, "Go away!" The scorpitron's only response is the constant rising buzzing sound. "Look around! We're out of your jurisdiction!"

The Scorpitron: I have an obligation to Rodney! I MUST do it!

The robo-beast heavily emphasizes the word must. Like a five year old human pig-boy. Its voice peaks at a near inaudible pitch. The man starts throwing bird eggs at it. There's got to be 5 or 6 of 'em there. Big ones and Mother bird isn't around. "Go away!" he says. Another egg thrown.

Bits of the yolk

splash into the

scorpitron's central

nervous system.

The contamination's only minor, but it's smart enough to know that another egg thrown could be its last. And what good would it be to Rodney then? Maybe a plan B is in order. The machine retreats.

####

When we were twelve, we decided to climb the tree. The one located in the center of Town Square. It was THE tree. Everyone in town knew about it. It had been there since the pilgrims invaded the United States of America and the Indians were busy baking pumpkin pies in the kitchen, waiting patiently for them to come home from work. It was so tall that you couldn't actually see the top of the tree from the ground. I didn't know how high we'd gotten but, I suddenly became aware of the fact that we were high enough that if one of us fell, we would die or at least be paralyzed from the neck down.

"Rebecca!"

"What?" She didn't stop climbing to talk.

"I can't move."

"Why not?" She was ten, maybe fifteen feet higher than I was.

"I'm scared. If I move, I might fall and die."

"You won't die, Stupid." She stopped and turned to face me. "If anything, you'll break your legs and have to walk around with crutches, embarrassing me."

"I... I... can't. There's a hornet's nest here too and... and... what do I do?"

She walked down the branches. Till she was perched right above me.

"Relax. Just try and climb up towards me." she had her hand extended outward. "Once we get to the top, you won't believe the view!"

"I need to get down! Now! I can't move!"

"Come on. I'll help you down. Take my hand." She led me down, branch by branch. Until we were on flat ground again. She walked me home and didn't say much. Neither did I. She made me a peanut butter and banana sandwich at my house. Watching TV and taking big mouthfuls. As big as I could. We watched the usual batch of brain-busting cartoons. Not sure the exact ones. But the sandwich I was eating tasted so good. I could almost recall the exact taste of it years later. I swear, I ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches almost everyday. Maybe it was the way she made it. I don't know.

She said, "I guess you would've died if you did fall."

####

I made it to the spot I was looking for. Deep in the canyon about a mile outside of the outer-limits; about two miles from my apartment complex. It was near pitch black out. There were no city lights visible. Just the ones seen from the other side of the hill. Miles and miles away. And all the dots of light look like little glowing eyes staring straight back.

A FEW DAYS AGO: I was hiking around here. In these parts. Exploring. Trying out new paths. Seeing where they went. Trying to occupy my mind. I'd never been this far out before and I'd never realized just how isolated the outer-limits were. The ones by my apartment, anyways. I saw a condensed patch of trees off in the distance. Something about it intrigued me. It looked almost unnatural. I was feeling anxious. Frustrated. Out of sorts. Trapped like a rat in a cage. Being force fed my own shaking heart. Day in. Day out. Everything I'd been worrying about for the past 20+ years gets magnified cause the only thing that's changed is my age. All those vague ideas and hypotheticals. Sitting around my apartment. Taking showers and watching TV to soften the pain. Trying to calm down my brain. And when I go to bed at night it all slaps me in the face. I sometimes wish that at the very least I could get a decent night's sleep. But nighttime is a piss-drunk bucket of hell. Thoughts are at an all time worst.

There wasn't a path to get there, so I just walked through the thick brush. Ticks and antorids nipping at my shattered clothing and pale skin. The trees were a different shade of green. Almost neon. And there was a clearing circled around them. I walked around it. Staring at this cluster. It was too thick to see inside. All I could see were leaves. There wasn't a single hole to peek in, and if I pushed back any section, there would be thousands more still covering my line of sight.

I was in slow motion, gauging this thing. I turned around the corner and found a sizable entrance. Holy fuck! Where did this come from? I couldn't quite see inside, just a curve to go around. Then another. And over the last one it spilled into the entirety of it, which was like a temple. A big empty temple. There was light coming in from the outside, even though it was night out.

It was wide open. Space everywhere.

I wasn't so sure if I should go any further. But I felt compelled.

I couldn't really tell where the light was coming from. It was so diffused that there was no clear source.

There was a thick patch of grass on the ground that was darker than everywhere else. It looked like the plastic grass you buy at the grocery store for holidays.

"Hello young man."

I jumped. Looking around. "Huh?"

"Down here." It was the grass. Fuzzy and grimy. "Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you."

"How do you-"

"Just move my lips and vibrate my vocal chords." Looking close I saw what it was referring to as its lips. Little green pulsating stretched out flaps.

"What do you want?" I shot back. Saliva bubbling out of it. Spit shooting out each word.

"I don't want anything from you." It looked like a diseased vagina. Beaten with tiny warts and ripened pimples. "I want to g-i-v-e to you."

"What makes you think that-"

"What's the one thing you want in the whole world? Just say it and you shall receive it."

His voice slurred every word together. Just like in that video from school. The one where the dolphins are communicating with each other. High pitched and scattered. Take that sound and shuffle it together with the sound the village drunkard used to make pissing himself to death.

"I want a lot of things."

"Of course you do!" It seemed happy. "You know I want a nice urine bath! You got any pet ligers? Or maybe a nice steaming cup of jalapeņo stool. You got one of those?"

Laughing.

"No."

"Well. There has to be one thing you want more than an-y-thing-else. Use your head."

"I... I... want a more meaningful life." It drooled out of me involuntarily. I didn't really think it through. I should've thought more.

"And so it shall be-"

"Wait!!! I didn't think before I spoke. I'm not sure what I want."

"If you think too much, you'll end up with a dream home in Maui. White picket fence. Two weeks paid vacation."

"But what if I'm wrong? I used to think I wanted to be a genetic scientist when I was ten. If you'd asked me back then-"

"Then you'd be too busy designing household pets to be having this conversation with me. The point is, you'd never know the difference."

It was supposed to make me feel better, but it just made things worse. You drift along though this existence with no direction and no clue. You can have nothing, but still have all the options in the world. Even as you age and start feeling like doors are starting to close behind you, you tell yourself that you can be one of those people that makes a big comeback when they're older. But if you're given one thing of your choice. You have one area in your life worked out and narrowed down, and it may be the perfect decision. But you had to sacrifice a lifetime of options to get it.

"Do I have to sign something? It's not official until I sign something right?"

"No! You don't have to do anything now. Just go home and get a good night's rest. Oh! There is one other thing."

"What?"

"Lean down here and I'll tell you." I hesitate at these moments, but I did it anyways. The closer I got, the stronger the smell.

"Closer!" It smelled like someone fed their pet liger the worst, foulest smelling pile of its own waste. Then they sat down on the living room floor, eating dinner, and watched it produce the second generation of waste while they were eating. Then the giant ogre standing above demands that they must finish every last bit of it (after the actual dinner, which leaves them totally full before even starting on the turd-sandwich-pellets) or he will finally pull the level that keeps their testicles/clitoris from being razor bladed from their weaker half.

"Bring your ear closer so I can whisper something." I did so. Closer than I wanted to be. Its tongue came out. Licked around the puss of its lips. Darted out and penetrated my ear drum. "Oh baby! Give me a sloppy one. Come on! Don't hold back on me!" Lick! Lick! Lick! I pulled back fast; stumbling to stand up. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! It was laughing so hard it nearly sprouted legs and ran a marathon.

"You should've seen your face!" Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! "It was priceless! Oh my god! I think I'm gonna have a heartattack!" Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

It felt like bug shit had spread all across my ears.

No amount of leaves or twigs could stop the feeling. It made me shiver and shake. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! I stood up and started to leave.

"Wait!" Still laughing. "Where are you going?"

I turned around and pointed at it. "You shut your mouth before I pan-fry you with garlic and canola spread."

"Sounds good."

"Fuck you." I was out of there.

"Hold on. I was only kidding with you. Just trying to have a little fun. It gets lonely here sometimes. You should try it sometime!"

"I'm lonely all the time."

"Having fun! Listen, I do need to tell you something before you go."

"What."

"You have to do something."

"What."

"To have the one thing you want more than anything in the world, you need to do something to get it. Nothing is free."

"Ok. What?"

"Come closer and I'll tell you."

"No way." His lips. Wet and ready. Fully stimulated.

"Just come closer and take the tiny slip of paper. That's all."

I looked closely and saw it. A torn scrap from a yellow binder pad. Folded in half so I couldn't see what it said. I reached down to pick it up. Kept my face away from its lips. Opened it up and read it. I couldn't believe what it said. It wanted me to do what? I was crazy to even consider.

####

I don't know why I wanted so bad to see that hunk of phony grass again. What could it do for me now? Who knows, but I was going insane and it was all its fault. I should've never listened to it. And now what's worse, I didn't know where to go or what to do. I figured if there was anything that could be done, that fucking piece of grass might know. Rodney could've been just behind me. I doubt he would've followed me this deep into the forest at night. That wouldn't matter. Not by sunrise. Everything would be different by tomorrow. As I approached the cluster of trees, it looked just like I remembered. I held an exaggerated cartoon image of it, and almost expected to be disappointed when I saw it again. But it was plucked directly from my imagination. Even brighter and more colorful and magical.

Have you ever been injected with so much adrenaline and so much terror? Tangible fear, not the kind that's lodged in your shaky skull 95% of your life. Or that constant pounding in your head, living in an illogical world that only wants to rape you again and again. No. Real fear. The kind that chases you into the wilderness. Climbs you up trees. Sends you screaming over gigantic chasms. You suddenly realize that you're engaging yourself in activities and environments that would otherwise terrify you. You're jumping up trees, dodging bullets. You're too busy with the real fear to even notice the little things. You have no concept of "Why." You only think, "How." How can I get out of here alive!!! There is a small window of time when the threat that terrorizes you is safely out of sight and the moment when all of your regular fears return. During this time you are able to calmly look at the long roster of paranoia that plagues you, and see how ridiculous it all is. You fucking jumped up a tree without thinking about it for God's sake! You wonder to yourself why you are so afraid, so much of the time when nothing that you think about or fear is of much importance or value, but time that you're killing.

Once I went inside, something about it struck me different. Something was missing. But everything I could remember was still there. The light that was glowing from the outside. The wall of trees. I stepped slowly. Careful. Analyzing all the details. Not really having the criteria to gauge. Hoping to stumble upon something I might've missed last time I was here.

Where the talking patch of grass should have been, there was just a pile of dirt. Dirt and another folded yellow piece of paper. "There's one more thing you have to do," was written on the outside. I bent over to pick it up. Read it. I don't know how it expected me to do this one. Out in the middle of nowhere. But ok. Fine then. I threw the note in my back pocket. If I somehow manage to find one, I'll do it.

####

It was always different at night. In bed. Rebecca and I had these long running jokes and for some reason they were mainly brought out during that time after we lay down, but before we started to get tired and fall asleep. There was Timmy the talking toilet. Taking turns playing Timmy in a variety of compromising circumstances and locations. "Get your ass outta my face!" "I feel like you don't respect me. You're always shitting on everything I say." Which usually lead to bouts of shouting gibberish and rolling on the ground in hysterics. Or loud crashing sex. "On your goddamn knees you fuckin slut! You stupid fuck-doll! Now lick my ass before I fuck you in yours!" "No! Don't do that! Anything but that! Please!" "Goddamnit! Don't talk back to me!" SLAP! SLAP! SLAP! "Bring me the fucking plunger so I can make room for my dick!" Which sounded awfully similar to our fights. Our neighbors were placing bets trying to decide on what we were actually doing. There were books and dishes flying all over the place. Fist fights. Everyday was a surprise. When I bumped into someone from the neighborhood, they were usually nice. But we kept it short and sweet. "How's it going?" "Fine. You?" "Same" Curtain drops. Everyone takes a bow.

I thought about their disgust with us at night sometimes when things were quiet. When we were reading or staring at the ceiling, if I thought about it too much I would have to jack off right there or just stick it in Rebecca. If she was sleeping I usually had a 50/50 chance. She'd either pretend to not wake up or smack me in the face. There was no way to predict her response, but it was worth the risk.

I think the way our neighbors treated us bothered her more than it did me. She started going out of her way to avoid them. She had complicated routes to get around the neighborhood. That's if she even went out at all. Always asking me to pick up shit for her. She'd say, "You're going to the store anyways." I never said no, but I don't think she understood why it got me so mad. I guess she figured if it bothered me that much I would tell her to fuck herself. It just didn't work that way. I could never tell her to fuck herself. Not for real.

####

The moonlight was shining down on me like a spotlight. But everything was so dark, I couldn't see five feet in front of me. I was spinning around in circles trying to decide which way to go. All my options were slimming down. (Unlike the fat belly that's been plaguing my body for the past 5-10 years. Feeling like a wheelbarrow I'm pushing around everywhere I go.) I couldn't go backwards. That was a given. There was my old apartment complex and Rodney and who knows what he had planned for me. Up ahead, deeper into the canyon. They probably wouldn't look for me there. But there were other risks to consider. I didn't even know how far in I was now. I must've been miles past that pile of dirt and that folded fuckin' piece of yellow goddamn paper.

There was less and less space. The vegetation hung down on my shoulder like it had something it needed to whisper in my ear. I swear the deeper in I got, the more control the plantlife had over the path I was trying to follow. To where I was guessing if I was even following a path or a dried creek bed, or a slight grade break, or an imagined discoloration.

####

I started out with my TV. I stared at it for ten minutes, holding my 2X4 over my head. It almost made me cry. I would think about the time we spent together. There were those cold and lonely nights when misery and meaninglessness were as common as the flu. Sometimes I felt so backed up inside with emotions and feelings with no place to go and it can help to watch a depressing movie about the inevitability of death to come completely unglued, and sleepy, and empty inside.

When we were lonely we had people to talk to.

When we were angry we had someone to yell at.

When we were sad we had life affirming stories.

When we were tense we had emotional outbursts.

And the nitrocide kicked in and turned my tears to rage. My nostalgia to disgust. (my older brother once told me that he'd never smoked nitrocide. Not once in his whole life. How can you truly know yourself, if you've never flipped truth with lies? Right with wrong? Good with bad?)

####

I trampled through the forest in the cold fog of the night's musty air. I could barely see a thing. I had no direction to follow and no sense of bearing. I didn't recognize the sounds and the faint rustlings. I was unfamiliar with the blurry darkened images in the corner of my eyes. And I'd turn my head to get a look and see nothing.

Up in the sky, there was a faint glow coming from the stars far away. So big and powerful, and yet so tiny. I felt like a useless speck of flesh hanging on the universe's butt cheeks. I was an overgrown zit that had overstayed its welcome and numerous attempts were being made to squeeze the white puss from inside of me out. This was no-man's land. And I kept moving. Hoping.

All the sounds surrounding me were growing in pitch and volume. My feet were moving faster and faster and my coordination and dexterity paid dearly for it. Before I realized, my foot had slipped and my body was in the process of falling down. The impact crushed my skin before my brain could send the message to my mouth to scream my guts out. My nose was firmly planted two inches deep in the dirt. Sniff sniff snifffin' around. The suction-hooks underneath the surface of the ground started to dig themselves into every inch of my body. Tightening on me. Penetrating the first three layers of my skin. Fluids were draining from my nose without control. I couldn't move any of my muscles except for my legs. They were kicking back and forth as though I were swimming. My eyes were planted just below ground and all I could see was the shards of dirt and cracked rocks. I tried blinking, but there were too many obstructions. Snot kept oozing from my nose. The hooks kept pulling on my skin.

It was like a Chinese torture finger machine. As I pulled away, its hold got stronger.

I could still wiggle my fingers, which was weird, cause they were fully submerged in the dirt. Worms slithering past my fingernails and excreting freshly tilled soil and healthy compounds. The rest of me was getting worse and worse. It was like taking a human being, and for one day decided to, instead of raping it, slice it in half with a butcher knife. Separate the side with the face from the side with the ass. Then submerge the facial half into the ground below and cover it entirely. The ass-half gets pasted on top and pokes into the free-air. The ears halfway in and halfway out.

I was totally fuckin' stuck.

VOICE: You should watch your step. The dirt can get a little sticky.

ME: Who is that? I can't see anything.

VOICE: Of course you can't! Don't worry. I'm just passing through. I'll leave you alone.

ME: No don't go! Help me get out of this pickle I'm in.

VOICE: What do you expect me to do?

ME: Maybe you can pull me out. What's your name?

VOICE: Maybe you can pull yourself out.

ME: Who are you? Please. I can't see you. What are you doing out here?

VOICE: I am passing though. What else would I be doing out here at this time of night?

ME: I have no idea. I guess you could be camping.

VOICE: What are you talking about? (starts laughing) You have got to be kidding. Now really, this has been delightful, but I must get moving. I don't have all night. If I stand around in one place for too long, then, you know, things happen.

The feet clambered away. The hooks were locking in on me tighter and tighter. I couldn't even move my fingers and now I was fully submerged underground. Rocks and mud everywhere. Tiny insects crawling all over my goosebumps. Something sticky slithered over to my eyelids and brushed past my skin. It touched my fingertips one at a time, then started molding itself onto itself. It wrapped itself around me like a great big condom. Pressed my eyes wide open, so I couldn't blink. The ground was shaking and there was a loud grumbling sound. I knew that I was about to get pushed down, but I didn't know to where, and what kind of shape I would be in when I got there. I only wish I could close my eyes and pretend to be asleep the whole time.

Human bodies are like tall paper cups filled to the brim with emotions and frustrations and self-hate. You go through your life trying to run a marathon as fast as you can, holding your paper cup, trying desperately not to spill any of it.

The stingers were imbedded in my skin and were yanking on me to the point of pulling out tiny hunks of flesh, and spraying miniature fountains of blood in the dirt around me. And they were moving my body down. I slid like an ass-gift when you haven't been drinking much water and it hurts like shit, but you can't turn back because it's wagging its tail out your doggy door. I tried and screamed and only was able to produce silence. Tiny rocks banging up against my teeth. Maybe I was headed straight to hell or someplace far worse.

It got faster and faster. Each rock seemed to find my face and bang it just a little harder than the one before. It felt like someone took my spinal cord and folded it in half, then in half one more time, then placed me in the underwear drawer.

I was outputted into a dimly lit cave. There was a running conveyor belt inside, at the end of it was a great big magnifying glass. Nothing else. I landed right on the conveyor belt, pushing along. Moving me towards the magnifying glass. It was ten feet in diameter at least. All the mucus and membranes encasing me seemed to be weakening. The conveyor belt was gliding me over slowly and I saw the great big lumbering piercing magnifying glass getting closer and I tried escaping in time before something horrible happened, but my body was so tired and weak. I focused all my energy into my muscles to make them move, but panic was freezing me. As I passed by the great big glass, nothing happened. I just fell over and landed on the ground. The belt kept chuggin' along with that constant droning squeaking sound. What was this shit doing here? What was it for? Whose was it?

I got up to dust myself off. I was relatively clean, considering. The ceiling was roughly 10 feet above me. The hole that pushed me out was slowly healing itself and erasing all evidence of its existence. To my right, there was a long corridor that lead out. It was the only exit from this congested room. The corridor made a sharp curve so I couldn't see where it went, but I assumed it was a way out. This cave was so shallow and humid. I was already dripping with sweat and I felt desperate to get out and back into the cold night's air of the scary forest outside. I started walking down the corridor. It was a long unending circle. The hallway got thinner and thinner the farther I walked down till the walls were basically pushing my shoulders together. It all led to a very narrow single door. I opened it. It was a tiny bathroom. There was barely room to get inside and sit my ass on the seat. This was a dead-end. A toilet huh. That's odd. Hmmm. I thought about it. Things couldn't get worse. Without much real thought I decided to close the door and do it.

Maybe I was totally insane. What was I thinking? I didn't even have a lot of money in my wallet to begin with. I pulled out each of the bills, one at a time. What about my credit cards? I suppose so. Dumping them in the muddy water with detachment and anger. The bills, I started shredding them. Giving the credit cards a nice bend. Back and forth till they came apart. Breaking into two pieces. Staring at them floating in the water. It didn't really seem like much once I got to look at it all, floating in this toilet bowl. It hardly took up any space. I put my finger on the trigger and said a heartfelt "Goodbye." It was hard for some reason, but I no longer had a choice. All it took was one flush and it was gone from my life forever. I watched it spiral down the drain and I was half hoping that some of it would come back up. It was like watching one of my sawed-off toes spinning down the drain, knowing full well that I would never see it again. All I had now was the shirt on my back.

There was nothing left to do. I went back to the other room to take a nap. Maybe if I sat and thought about it long enough, a solution would present itself. I was starving. I could've used a nice piece of rye toast and a side of pinto beans. The conveyor belt kept squeaking along with no end in sight. The scar on the ceiling had completely healed by now. Like nothing ever happened. There was nowhere to sit but the ground. I leaned my back up against the wall. It was old and crackling like an eighty year old man's ballsack. I buried my head in my hands; tried to press all my weight into myself. How was I going to leave this cave? Was I stuck here forever?

I heard what sounded like the toilet bowl open. My head flinched up and I saw them. I counted four. They sure scared the shit out of me. I think I scared them too. They were soaking wet, dripping trails of water behind. The woman looked stunned, as if she were gonna drop her bags and spill them all over the ground. There were two kids. They didn't seem to care. More curious than anything, until their father opened his mouth. I felt everyone else's heart miss a beat: "What the hell are you doing in my factory? Get the hell outta here before I break my foot off in your ass! You hear me WHORE? Outta here!" The more this man yelled at me the more it stirred up his children, till you could see full blown hatred in their posture. Venom in their spit. "Get the FUCK outta here FUCKER!" "FUCKING SHIT!" "You dare to FUCKING come into our FUCKING factory!" Children look for any available moment to spew raw hate. Its builds up and they're still too young to start fucking. The woman was motionless. I wondered if she's ever seen another living being besides her family. Worse was their pet ooze. It was coming right at me. Slithering to my feet. Starting to dissolve my toes. I was scattering to get myself away from it, but all I could do was spin around in circles. There was nowhere I could run to. It bubbled at me. Turning red. Everything turned dead silent.

"I'm sorry! Don't hurt me! I'll do anything you say! Just don't let it dissolve me! Please!"

It burned, its membrane searing my big toe. It was still working on the tip of the skin and the pain was throbbing. I felt like somebody took my entire body. Roped me up, like they were going to cook me medium-well. Then started to peel me from head to toe. Just the first two layers of skin, so I still had the last layer on and it keeps all of my insides from spilling out and ruining the campfire for everyone else. But my guts and organs apply so much pressure to this one thin layer of skin that it's only a matter of time. Gravity demands results. "Stop it Please! I'll leave! Just stop!"

"Julyan," said the man.

Nearly bubbling up on me. It stopped and looked over at the man. "Heel!" Short and simple. It turned around. Eager to please. Pushing itself over to the rest of them. The man paced forward. I was perched against the wall, shivering with fear. He leaned his head down over me.

Calm. "What are you doing here?"

"Where did you come from? I looked around and all I saw was a bathroom. It sounded like you came from the bathroom. But how?"

"You didn't answer my question."

"I fell down and landed here by accident."

"But why are you out here?"

"I needed a place to stay."

"Way out here?"

"Uh-huh."

He looked back at his wife. Turning a bluish-green, still quietly emoting to herself. "Are you a homeless person?" he asked. Inquisitive.

"I...uh..." I was ready to say no, but I didn't want to explain the whole story. "Yes sir. I am homeless."

"You think you can just come into other peoples' factories and expect them to take care of you?" With a gradual increase in rage.

"No sir! Of course not!"

"Well. Then what?"

"I was looking for a way out."

"What did you expect to do once you got out?"

"Uh..."

"Why don't you get a job? Are you too good for that?"

"Absolutely not!" Almost standing up. Sounding the trumpets. Flaring the harpsichords. There's a fine line between truth and fiction and the best any of us can do is to make our fiction sound as much like the truth that we feel inside. "I was laid off at the cheese factory two months ago and things haven't been good for me ever since. I've tried. Really I have."

"Hmmm." He reached down and politely picked up one of my arms. Squeezing and inspecting it. I almost pulled it away, but it felt calming.

"What's your name?"

"Jonathon."

"Don't you got no family or what?"

"Not anymore."

"Nobody to help you out? No close friends?"

"No. I've never had any close friends."

"What about a girlfriend?" He sneered the word 'girlfriend.' His kids laughing. His wife looked away.

I shook my head. It was hard to speak.

He was silent. He set my arm down and walked down the hallway, over towards the bathroom. His family just stared at me. I couldn't tell what they were thinking. The youngest, she started to wave at me, smiling. But her older sister slapped her on the head and gave her a dirty look. Whispered something in her ear. She turned back and gave me the meanest look she could hold on her face.

He came back, holding a club. It was about as big as my right leg. There was a 10-15 second time lapse before the data reached my brain. I jumped up. "Hey! Wait a minute!" My limbs were spastic and trying to run in every conceivable direction. I bumped into the conveyor belt and fell down on the ground. He kept his pace even. Stood over me and sent the club flying. Hit me over the head. Thud! My body stopped moving.

####

He seemed irritated. He rarely spoke to us, so when he did it made us feel like we'd really done something. We drove for days. Years. My mom said we would be able to own our own house here. The neighbors could come play with us in our backyard. I was determined to get a rabbit and let it jump around in the backyard. Play with it after school. At night I would secretly carry it into my room and let it sleep with me under the covers. My dad told me no, but my mom said she would try and talk to him when he was in a listening mood.

She seemed excited when we got there. "Look how big it is!" To me: "We're gonna put up whatever wallpaper you want in your room and a new bed to sleep in!" I was thrust with excitement. It made me jump up and down in the backseat. Who knew wallpaper could be so fun?

"Are you gonna get a job to pay for all this stuff?"

"The boys need furniture." Trailing off. I felt guilty. He slammed the door and went inside.

"I'm sorry. He's just grouchy from driving. Don't worry. I'll talk to him. We'll get you that wallpaper. Just like you wanted. Just wait."

We ordered fried chicken and tacos and ate it on the kitchen floor. My older brother complained that the chicken was cold and too greasy, but I didn't mind. I like cold chicken. After dinner, I went outside. I was carrying a deck of cards. Bored. Playing solitaire. Making up my own games. Changing the rules as I went along to try and keep my interest.

I decided to play war. Both teams. But I would root for a different team each game. And that would be the real team.

"What are you doing?" she said.

"Nothing. I'm playing war."

"You can't play war by yourself."

"So. I know."

I didn't see her cause I was looking down the whole time. Team A was in the lead, but I was rooting for team B. I was looking very closely for that little edge that could tip the game back in my favor.

"Do you want to play?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Card games are stupid."

"No they're not. (Quiet) You are."

"Not as stupid as you."

I kept flipping cards.

"Come on." She put her hand out. "Let's do something fun." She yanked me up by my limp hand. "What's your name?"

"I'm not supposed to leave-"

"What a stupid name!"

"No. that's not my name I was uh..."

"Shhhh!" We were walking down the street. She pulled something round out of her pocket. "Look at this."

"What is it?"

"A bomb."

"No it's not! You're lying!"

"Uh-huh."

"Where did you get it?"

"I stole it from my dad."

I grabbed it from her. "Cool."

"Be careful."

"I'm not gonna do anything!"

"Yeah right."

I looked at it. In my hand. It's not what I imagined a bomb to look like. It was so small.

"How do you get it to blow up?"

"You have to light the fuse." Pointing at it.

"Wow."

"Do you want to light it?"

"Where? Won't it be loud?"

"No! Why don't we put it in here."

"But that's my mom and dad's mailbox."

"So what. Are you expecting a letter from your dumb girlfriend?"

"No. Of course not!"

She pulled out a box of matches from her pocket and handed them to me.

"I'll keep watch."

"How do I do it?"

"Light the fuse."

"How?"

"Haven't you ever lit a match before?"

"No."

She was in total disbelief. "You've got to be joking!!!" Arms waving over her head. I was tongue-tied. She yanked the matches from my hand. Lit one, handing it back to me. "Go ahead." I was holding the dissolving flame in my fingertips. "You have to light the fuse before the match dies." "OK." It sparkled. I still held it, unsure. "Put it in the mailbox!" "I..." She grabbed it from my hands and tossed it inside. "Come on. Let's go!" Pulling me by the hand. We hid behind the bushes on the other side of the street.

It blew up all over itself. Nothing spectacular. Not like how I'd imagined it anyways. It was a semi-quiet 'pop.' Thousands of pieces of the mailbox spilled out onto the pavement. My parents came running out.

"Oh my God!" My mom's hand covering her mouth.

"Goddamnit! I knew something like this was gonna happen here!"

"Jonathon? Have you seen Jonathon?" She sounded worried.

I couldn't stop laughing. I laughed so hard I fell over and nearly stopped breathing. She was rolling over in hysterics. She had a smile so big on her face, and me on mine. I couldn't believe it. It felt even better than making my mom happy.

####

It looked like a chicken coop, but I wasn't sure. There wasn't enough room for me to stand up straight. So I had to keep my neck arched down. I saw some chickens and pellet-food in the other corner. They were clammering about, pecking their sprinkled polka-dot-life-beads to death. I felt dread hit me. My will snapped in half. I wish I could return to my dream. It was so much better there. The monster was chasing me. But I knew that if I ran hard and fast enough, I could eventually get away. The chickens didn't seem to notice me. Walking on me. All around me. It was dark, so I couldn't make out much past the cage. Just the cold night's wind. I was above ground now, that was for sure. I didn't know how long I'd been out since I got hit over the head. There was a low and constant murmur of sounds. I couldn't distinguish any one from the rest.

There were two bigger chickens pecking at a smaller one. The little one was trying to get away, but they had it cornered. Beaks were cocked and pointed. It was stumbling over itself. Bumping into the barbed wire. Drawing a fresh vat of blood each time. The big ones leaned back and enjoyed the ride.

Once the little chicken killed itself with the razors on the barbed fence, the other two reached in and shredded that carcass up and sprinkled some cheese and lettuce on it and wrapped it in a fuckin' corn tortilla. The ground was hard and smelled like red slime. I found it difficult to stay awake. I wanted to know what was going on, but I started drifting off... sleep... monster chasing me... I can get away... if I try hard enough...

####

Splash! I woke up with cold water drenching my sunburned face. "What the fuck!" I said. My eyes were hurting. A symphony of brightened lights piercing my vision. It must've been morning. The water was so cold it felt like those tiny razor blades I used to inflict on myself in the privacy of my bathroom growing up. I opened my eyes to find this little kid staring at me. Holding an empty bucket. It was the youngest kid from the cave. A knot of frenzied primal scream imploding my intestines. Ka-boom.

"I'm supposed to wake you up."

"Well, you succeeded."

She was just staring at me, like there was some specific response I was supposed to give her. Then she turned around. Returned with a plate of food and stuck it underneath the barbed wire.

"What no pancakes?" I could barely look up. The sun was blaring down my pupils.

"What are pancakes?"

"Nevermind."

She left. I forced the food down my meager pipes.

Even though it was bright out now, there were so many trees and shrubbery I could barely see twenty or thirty feet. The birds were chirping and sparkling tiny pain-gasms in my head. Everything was an assault on the senses.

There was a haphazard building to the left. Another one half the size on the right. Two pickup trucks outside. And a pulsating eggplant generator five or ten feet in front of the chicken coop. My stomach hurt from the throbbing breakfast. Cockroach surprise.

The man: I could get a better look at him in the morning light. Late forties. Facial hair. Head shaped like a tomato. He came outside. "Get back," he said.

"Huh."

"I said, 'Move back from the door,' and keep your hands where I can see them."

Oh. I moved myself back and watched him nearly tear the door off its hinges. He was wearing thick gloves. Pulled the two chickens by their feet. Silent squawking. "Where the hell the third chicken go?" Looking at me. "What did you do with it?"

"I didn't do anything! The two big ones ate it."

"Are you so stupid as to think that-" He stopped. Ungloved himself and aimed his giant hands at me.

From a distance: "Dad, come here quick!"

He looked at me. "I owe you one." Then darted off into somewhere I couldn't see. I don't think he realized he left the door wide open. I waited for a second to see if he would come right back. But when nothing happened, I started to lean my leg out. Then my other. The chickens followed. It felt odd to be free from the cage. Stretching out finally. Bitter relief.

When he retuned, he grabbed me by the arm. Pulled me over to one of the buildings. "You should've ran while you had the chance. Cause I'm gonna put you on trash detail all week for letting my chickens get loose." His feet slammed the ground with each step. He threw me inside the larger of the two buildings. Closed the door.

He reopened then said, "Show him the ropes please." And shut the door again. I tuned around to see what looked like a small factory. Not the same factory. This one was bigger. There were rotting fish carcasses everywhere. A bucket of eyeballs. And three other people. They were dressed in the worst scent I've ever smelled. One of the guys came up to me. He was wearing a baseball cap on backwards. "Come on," he said.

"What are you guys doing?"

"What does it look like?"

"Hey. There's three of you. Now you have me. That makes four. Why don't we take a stand? We can go back in there and make mince meat out of these mutants."

"Forget it."

"Why."

"I don't have the energy to try and explain-"

The other two looked like case studies. They kept their heads glued to the conveyor belt. Pulling eyeballs out of the fish as they went by. Tossing the fish bodies in one bucket and the eyeballs into the other.

"How long have you been here?"

"A while. Now can we get to work?"

"He told me that he was gonna make me do trash today."

The other two stopped. Looked up at me. "Have fun." Slow and low. Boom. Boom. Boom.

"Listen. If you'd rather not, we can cover for you and-"

"Whatever. Lay it on me."

"OK. If you want. Follow me." We walked over to the conveyor belt. Stood over the bucket of fish eyes and the one with eyeless bodies. He picked up the one with the bodies and handed it to me. "Let's go."

"What about the eyeballs?"

"They stay here."

"What for?"

"Did you ever eat the frozen fish sticks when you were out there?" "Yeah."

He nodded at me.

We walked out back behind the larger building and over to the trash heap.

"Why don't you just leave when you're doing the trash? I'm sure there's got to be a moment."

"Forget it. Here. Hand me the bucket."

He set it down. Put a fish body on the ground. Opened it in half. Removed the microchip. Gently took the bones and set them aside. Took the face off and tossed it into the heap. Then he smeared the fish body all over his own exposed chest. Periodically licking it and/or lubricating it, then working the body down.

"When you find that you're not making much progress with your fish, you need to take a break and roll your own body into the heap of fish-heads. Watch." He pulled off his pants. His underwear too. Rolled his smelly ass n' testicles and all the rest of it. Spreading it around like flour. He came back to surface. Worked up a nice sweat. He sure did have a nice set of muscles on him. He handed me a rotting fish body from the bucket.

####

She told me that I should lift weights and get pumped up. Not like an oversexed bodybuilder, but toned. "It would be hot if you looked like that, since you're not like them, and I'll know you're different when I look at you."

I was really against the idea for a while, but eventually warmed up to it. Hell. I wasn't getting younger, and my stomach was growing. My skin was hanging lower. I tried. I really did. I bought weights and an exercise machine. I made a plan; wrote down a schedule. Rebecca joined in too. The idea mutated into what it would be like if both of us could get into primo shape. It was a thing that we did together. That we planned and worked on and talked about. We dreamed of taking long excursions into the outer wastelands with nothing but our steaming bodies and a keen sense of survival. I'd never been in very good shape. I'd never felt confident in my body. I'd never pushed my potential to the limit.

It was difficult to maintain a regular schedule. If I didn't feel like it, she would back down too. And if she didn't feel like it, I would back down. We were always changing our work-out time and regiments to try and find the perfect system. We talked about it all the time. What we would do when we had those muscular powerful bodies. The places we'd go. How good we'd look. But I missed gorging myself and every once and a while, I couldn't take it and would go crazy and eat everything I could get my hands on. That would usually set us back a week or two. Maybe it was her that did that. I can't remember now.

I was so angry at her and would've kept it up if she would've been more consistent. I needed a partner that would stick to the plan, and would lift me up when I wasn't feeling good. She claimed the same thing of me. I just don't know whose fault it was anymore. Our decision was to scorch the weights. Have a funeral for the machine. Go back to our lives and try and be happy about everything. It felt good at first to rid ourselves of something that was hurting us, like a splinter in our big toe. But something else died that day. And it never came back.

####

I woke up and found a slip of paper. It was still folded. I wasn't sure I wanted to read this one, so I tucked it away. Stacy, the littlest one, came to the coop with a big plate of pancakes.

"Oh my god! You made pancakes!"

"I told my mom and dad I wanted to learn how to make pancakes. You know what?" Leaning in. Whispering. "They're really good!"

"They are?" She slipped me the plate under the wire. The top cake got hinged for a second, but she beat it down and squeezed it through. Beaming, her eyes glued on mine. I dug the fork in. Sliced right through it like it was human flesh. Dipped it in butter and clam juice.

"Hmmm! They're the best pancakes I've ever had."

"Really?" Jumping up and down. "My mom said I could make them for you every morning from now till forever!"

"I'm the luckiest guy in the whole world."

"And I'm gonna eat 'em too just like..." her voice getting fainter as she walked away.

She left. I spat the batter brick in the chicken feed. Left my plate on the ground. Said, "Here Milo!" Watched it looking nowhere in particular. Shifting eyesight at random, but making a direct bee-line to the cakes. Led by its beak.

I was plucking eyeballs thinking about the note. I wonder what this one could even say. What would it want me to do this time? What else could I do? I didn't have anything left. A couple of fish went by and I missed them, cause I was distracted.

Meredith said, "Hey Jonathon. Are you ok?"

"Huh?"

"You seem out of it. Is there something bothering you?"

"Besides the fish heads?"

"You didn't seem to care yesterday."

"Yeah. Well."

She grabbed a handful of fish heads and started plucking out eyes. She's the best of us.

"Come on. You know we can't stop the conveyor belt, and if we get more than ten unplucked fish heads-"

"I'm sorry."

Philip and Randy came back from trash detail. Sweaty and dripping. We usually went in twos, ever since I came along.

Randy said, "Whoa. Did we interrupt something?"

"No. We were just talking."

"Cause if you want we'll go out again. I'm sure Philip won't mind." Winking.

"Or we can all watch together." Philip added.

"Why don't you help us pluck fish heads before we go over budget again."

Throws the bucket down. "Ahhh. What's the difference?"

"There's a difference for me."

"Come on," Philip said. "Let's do this."

"I'm gonna put on a fuckin' shirt first. I smell like dried semen."

We sweated to pop out bulbs and fill up buckets. We worked our little fannies to the nub. Even Randy got into the spirit of things. The clock was ticking. Meredith was determined. I could only stand so much, so I put my whole self into it.

"AAAAAAAAAAAA" The whistle blew. It was five. "Ah shit!" Meredith seemed pretty upset. "Just one away."

"Can't we cheat it?"

"Are you kidding? That'll only make things worse!"

Trying to cheer her up, I acted as upset as I could muster. "That fucking blows!" Though, I wasn't too upset about this. This was small potatoes.

He came in. Knocked the door down with the weight of his body. We all cowered. Even Randy. He ducked behind the conveyor belt. "Fuck," slipped out of his mouth.

"Alright. Everybody up! Let's go! Time is money!" He positioned himself behind us, sweeping us to the door.

"Come on!" I said. "We're just one off! Why don't you take it easy!" I looked over at Meredith. In my mind I imagined her to be so proud of me. Grateful that I cared, but she was signaling me, emphatically, to stop!!!!

"Uh..." He looked at me for a sec, then cleared his mind. "Here's the deal. We're closing shop. You guys have exactly ten minutes to get off of my property."

"What?"

"And I recommend you do it before I decide to go into business selling BABIES." Eyes locked on mine.

I fell back on my ass cheeks.

Meredith said, "What's going on?"

"I'm giving you nine minutes! BABIES TASTE GOOD IN CHICKEN BROTH!" He stomped off through the door. Fell off its hinges all together.

All of us looking at each other.

"I guess we should go."

"Where do we go?"

"I don't know but we should get the fuck out of here."

"I can barely even remember the world out there. I was getting used to life here."

"Me too, I guess."

He came back. This time with a shotgun in his hands. "You're still here? You have seven minutes!" Took a shot. Blew the bucket with the fish eyes to glowing guts. An eyeball hit me where it would be the most ironic. It hurt like hell, but the pain flittered off into the sunset.

Scared, we scattered off out the door. Just kept running. None of us looked back. Flying through trees and shrubbery. Didn't even know whether he was chasing us. If we were in any kind of danger or what.

Bent over. Lying on the ground. Leaning on a tree. Totally out of breath. I don't know how far we'd gotten. But it was enough.

"It's safe now," Randy decided.

A creek bed. Wall of trees. Leaves and brushlings hovering above, covering the dimming sky fog.

"It's nice out here."

"Do you think they'll come after us," Meredith said.

Randy: "I don't think so. I think we're ok, but it's almost nighttime. We're gonna need a secured place to sleep."

"What do we do?"

"I think there's a village this way."

"Yeah, but we ain't gonna make it by dark. We need to find shelter out here and by morning we can, with restored energy and virility-"

They were totally wrapped up in their discussion. I remembered the little yellow note. Reached into my pocket and opened it up. I read it. Why should I care what it said, but... I didn't want to do this one. It was too much to ask. But something in me, something pushing me to see this thing through. I don't know why. Maybe I wanted to just see what would happen. Maybe I just wanted to finish something, for once in my life. They were so busy arguing that they wouldn't even see me go. This was my opportunity. I backed away quietly. Tippy toes.

"Jonathon!" Meredith came running down the hill to me. The others looked over at us.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Uh. This is just something that I have to do."

"Why? What are you doing?"

"I... I... just have to."

"Well." She seemed confused. "You'll never survive out there."

"Don't worry about me. Just take care of those two." I tried to smile at her.

Randy and Philip looked at me. Mad, baffled, upset. I was totally fuckin' nuts. Yet an odd sort of calmness filled me as I took my stand.

"Bye." Meredith leaned in and gave me a dripping hug. A small tiny tear fell from her eyes.

"See ya," I turned around and left them. It was quiet. They went back to their discussion, trying to find the best place to sleep for the evening. Worried about the group's overall safety. Maybe they watched me walk away. Maybe not. I couldn't look back.

Inside the forest, the trees rocked back and forth like the gentle curving waves of the ocean. There were bugs everywhere. Running around on the ground. Swimming in the creek. Climbing all over my shoes and skin. Little blue mosquitoes. Square-headed green polka dot cockroaches. Hairy ten-legged orange spiders. Horned-beetles dragging purple tails. Flying squirrel-faced pigeon ants.

I set up camp. I had nothing, so I leaned my back up against the furry bug infested tree. I called it home. They were nipping at my flesh. Red and swollen.

I saw him. To my side. I couldn't believe it.

"Well hello."

"What do you want?"

"I don't know. I just want so many things. But the thing I want more than anything is, I'm not sure. I would have to think about it." Laughing.

I almost smiled at him.

"What's your problem? Are you upset about losing all your stuff, and those people?"

"I don't know. Who cares? Right?"

"Don't take it out on me. All I ever did was suggest ways for you to get the thing you wanted. What was it? Oh yeah. You wanted a more meaningful life. Well here you are."

"Yeah, well, I'm not mad at you. This pathetic path you lead me down is no worse than the shithole I was stuck in before we met."

"Wow." he said. "I'm impressed."

"It's my wish I regret."

"What's wrong with your wish?"

I shrugged my shoulders with what little energy I had left.

"I was wrong. There's something that I wanted more."

THE END


© 2009 Aaron Carnes

Bio: Aaron Carnes has been writing for over ten years. In that time he has published two books. His work has been published in Sein Und Werdern and Ascent Aspirations.

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