MADNESS IN SPACE

It was just past midnight, though just past midnight could have easily been three in the afternoon from my window seat. Up there, in space, there were no real indicators of time. Our on-board clock had run out of batteries, and our watches were dead or off the preset time we had agreed to, as watches are wont to do. For all we really knew, it was in fact three o’clock. But as a crew we had decided that it was midnight, so that was the time I was sticking to.

The crew had composed of myself, James, Raymond, and Tanya. James had gotten caught up back in the Mars raid, which had just left Ray, Tany, and me. It was now down to just me. All the lights had gone out, and we were free flying through the nothingness, at a few thousand miles per hour. Tany’s body was off in the freezer. She had gotten locked in, and Ray hadn’t found her before it was too late. Ray’s body was down in cargo hold. He’d been out of his suit when the room destabilized and the air was wrenched from his lungs. At least, that’s what the records would show, and that would be my story if I ever made it home.

We had run low on food and water. Our hasty escape meant we couldn’t power up to full speed before power was shut off, and the trip would like take nearly four times the length we had expected. We had enough supply for three to make the trip at normal speed, plus a little for safety, but not enough for three people to make it going this slow. Plus, greedy Ray had decided to snipe the extra food barrels on the trip out. But with the extra food I had now, I would just barely get there, though I might have to go a few days without food. Tany knew that would be the case too, but she and Ray had been too close to each other to actually make a move. So I had.

In another hour, Ray’s body would spoil though, and I wasn’t going to take any chances on running out of food early. Not with all this good meat here. But I wasn’t quite ready to move yet. The twinkling light of the stars, like ten million glaring eyes, looked too beautiful to leave unseen. I wonder if, to them, we were just a star floating along out here too. So I sat there, looking out into the stars for a while, wondering how this madness had come to pass.

——

 

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DREAMS OF THE FAIR

This week I had a dream that I was trying to go to the fair. The ticket booth, which was the only was to get in, was on a dirty covered hillside, behind a row of strangely placed buildings. There was no parking near any of them—the closest parking had been up at the top of a plateau, about half a mile up from the ticket booth. There were pine trees scattered about and another half-mile past you could see the fair. I had gotten in line behind a few slow moving people. I think I had been trying to meet my little brother, my older sister, and my father there.

The fair itself looked quite a bit more spectacular than the local one we get. There were dozens of rides that rose above the walls, and off to the east there was a strange roof that appeared to be made of water, which had reflected light through it in the way that a pool does. It was so exciting—and frustrating, because the line hadn’t moved. There were only a few people there. I remember thinking, Why are people so inept? before I actually decided to look around and see what was going on.

The line had three people ahead of me, all of them were elderly and white. So white, they looked as though they had bathed in a tub of bleach. All of them were wearing strange clothing. One, a woman, wore a big yellow rain coat, and massive rain boots to match. In front of her was a man, dressed in an all-grey track suit, with a pair of running shoes that had been so worn they were beginning to fray. The last person was dressed in a light green sundress, though I couldn’t distinguish if they were male or female. But they were certainly grey haired and wrinkly.

All of them were looking down, and the young woman in the ticket booth was looking beyond confused. She had called “next” several times, though even I hadn’t heard her say it until I saw her. I skipped ahead of the line when I realized nobody else was moving. When I began to walk past each person, the elderly people slowly raised their heads in disdain, but none of them moved to stop me.

I don’t remember speaking to the girl, nor getting inside the fair, yet somehow I’d made it there. I was in the water-roofed room. The ceiling had no glass, but somehow, as if by magic, the water was all suspended in the air. It was a beautiful sight, like the spirit of vacation incarnated. And it was the last thing I remember seeing before I woke up.

 

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PEOPLE WATCHING IN PARIS

I spent the afternoon at a small café in Paris, which could hardly fit the family two tables down from me. They had a string of three children toppling off the edges of the red backed booth—two girls and a boy. The girls were older, in matching pink dresses, and the word that ran through my mind was “starbright” when I saw their smiles. The boy, on the other hand, was more stoic than a Buddhist meditating, as if had been shot with 20 CC’s of chill-the-fuck-out by his parents. He wore a red t-shirt and navy blue shorts, and had donned a matching navy blue baseball cap.

Their mother was a tall, lanky woman, with thin arms, thin legs, and a thin waist—one she clearly paid careful attention to maintain. Her daughters were the spitting image of her: tall for their age, strikingly blonde, and beautiful. But where their smiles were bright and full of happiness, their mother’s was full of anguish, as if nothing could have annoyed her more than going out with her family that day. To contrast, their father was the height of personable. He had kept the waiter around for minutes, prying the youth out of his shell until they were both cracking jokes, and before long the manager had to pull her employee back to work.

They came and went, and I sat, drinking my coffee in the sunlight. It was a cool day, where a few minute indoors could leave you chilled, but a minute outside would melt the ice right off your backside. A good day to be people watching. The beautiful maids in sundresses walked around less in a step and more in a dance, and their partners never seemed to have the same sense of rhythm about them. They looked a bit too porcelain for my taste, but lovely nonetheless. I was particularly struck by the elderly couple that passed by when I took the last few sips of my drink.

I had never seen a couple with more swagger make their way down la rue. They were both in exceedingly white clothing, bleached to the point of blindness, save for matching pairs of Aviator sunglasses, which covered their eyes entirely. Unlike most elderly couples, there was nothing feeble about how they moved—they might as well have been going to the gym to beat up on some college athletes. Their grim expression was fitting a pair that had survived a world war, and didn’t hope to survive into another. But they too came and went, and my mug was finally empty. I left a couple notes on the table, beneath my cup, grabbed my bag, and started walking home.

——

 

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THE LAST SIP

I always loved looking in the sinister whisky glasses, with two clear, fat ice cubes barely contained within the small, cylindrical walls of the cup. The satisfying pop of the stopper, pulled from an equally extravagant crystal decanter, builds the anticipation of the moment. The first splash or two of the amber-gold liquid sets the tone of the pour. If the ice is cold enough, it will crack in half with a satisfying crunch, then those shallow splashes create tiny arcs off of the ice, until they eventually settle into the base of the glass.

I always prefer the glass left half empty, especially to start the day. Any day like today is full of wonder, tranquility, and anger. Whisky will pull in a similar sense of self-hatred. Strong, powerful, and above all else, contained. The first sip always stings, which is why I swallow it along with the second and third all at once. It slinks through the throat, like magma through the canyon—burning and renewing the land in one fatal swoop.

But it’s always the last sip that always gets me. Most often, people forget the last sip. They see a fleeting ounce left in the glass, and down it quick, like an actor in an old western film. They typically follow it with a satisfied Ah, and perhaps even a quick wipe of the chin to catch any excess the slipped through their lips. It’s dignified, hearty, and full of meaning. But the last sip still clings to the sides of the glass, drifting back into the base of the glass, forgotten beneath the melting cubes inside.

The bartender will pick the glass up, throw the residue to melt away into the sink, along with all the other forgotten memories. Quite the waste of perfectly good booze. One that, after many downed glasses and agonizing headaches later, I have learned never to miss.

The last sip is watery and cold. I like to catch each ice cube in my mouth, lick it clean, then spit it back out. If they split clean apart when the glass was poured, I might even chew one down to cleanse the palate. Catch the glass in your lips, and tilt your head back. The little droplets will form together, then slide down the side as a team, like a group of fish joined to impede the approach of a predator. In excitement, you might lift the glass in the air, as if to say to the onlookers “this moment is mine.”

And the drop will dangle, afraid, or perhaps teasing you there to build anticipation, before falling for ages in those inches between the glass and your outstretched tongue. Your throat might feel dry, as though this were the last drop of water on Earth, until it coats your mouth with the strength of a thousand oceans. Then finally, your glass is empty, and you might realize you’ve become an alcoholic.

——

 

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NIGHT ON THE BARE MOUNTAIN

When I finally reached the flat top of the mountain, I was greeted by a flatland that was more the top of a hill than a mountain—so green and grassy I could hardly believe myself. I took a nap for a while, and when I awoke the sun had been falling.

The sudden rush of cold air had taken me by surprise, marking the end of the day. Nightfall was setting in, and the air had taken a dramatic turn from the comforts of that afternoon. I had spent the day hiking to the top of the bald mountain. It had been a beautiful hike to the top. The sky had been a clear blue, with sky shrouds only at the edges of the world view.

But it had also been quite treacherous. There were many places where the rocks threatened to give way, and the way down was no easier. Each step felt like I was trudging through the snow, hoping not to fall into some unseen depths. I turned a corner on the main path, and was blown by a powerful gust, which knocked me on my backside and rolled me toward the edge of a cliff. My legs were dangling over the side when I finally got control again, and the wind subsided. I looked down at the eons of space beneath me, like a vast mouth of darkness, threatening to swallow me up like Jonah. Grasping for the strands of ground, I managed to scramble back to my feet, and continue down.

I was given a brief respite for most of the rest of the way down, and eventually grew accustomed to the treacherous ground and chill air. The clouds had rolled in in droves, like a pack of beasts descending in the night, and when the first crack on lightning shot through the sky, it sounded almost like they had made the call for pursuit. The rains fell then, hard. Each drop was a rock, and blurred my vision. But I was getting close to the bottom.

The tempest was in full throttle then. It felt as though it were sent there, just to trap me. I had begun running, though I couldn’t remember when. I hopped over bushes, between fallen branches, and across small gaps in the path, emboldened and afraid of what would come next. I wanted to get away before more went wrong. The trees were shaking; rattling like snakes coiled, and the path had grown thick with mud. Many steps became more like surfing through waves of mud than stepping through them.

Until finally, I broke out from behind the last tree, and the world grew quiet. I looked back at the bald mountain, which looked like Sisyphus trapped in his own hell then. But I had escaped. I walked over to my car and drove home, though I kept my eye on the mountain as it grew more distant, just to make sure the storm stayed with it.

——

 

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BARN FIRE DREAMS

For the past while I have been recording my dreams, either in a mental log or on actual paper, and you may have notice I’ve been talking about dreams a lot over the past few weeks. That’s because I wanted to change up my Tuesday slot, because I’m struggling more and more not to be redundant with my concepts. I mean, you can skin a cat multiple ways…but at the end of it, all you’ve done is a bunch of skin cats. And it really isn’t in my interest to have people saying something like “Yeah I get it” when I talk about my ideas. So, instead, let me describe a short dream to you that I had the other day:

 

The world began with the light from a rotting wooden roof. Sunbeams looked down on me from the rectangular holes of missing roof tiles, and the interior of the barn had grown over with moss and various other plants. But the hay was still comfortable—at least, as I realized my arm was trapped beneath a woman, it had been for the half the night we had slept. I didn’t know her name, but she look familiar, like the friend of a friend. As I rubbed my eyes and rose, stumbling, I saw that the place really was run down. The walls looked like they might give out any time, and the color of the wood was so grey with rot that it scarcely looked a color at all.

And then I was outside, almost more suddenly than my mind could keep pace with. The air was fresh like the morning after a heavy rain, though the ground gave no hint that there had been so much as a drop recently. There were a great many trees around us, though there were other small cabins mixed in as well. It looked like a world stuck out of time to my mind’s eye, yet my body felt perfectly at home.

Until, of course, a young woman rounded the corner and ran up to me. Her hair was a vibrant red, and when she approached me it was clear she had been running for a great long while.

“Fire,” She gasped, pointing back the way she came, “help.” Without a moment’s hesitation, we were off running again. I can’t say how long we ran for, nor how I got my hands on a massive hose, but there we were, spraying down the side of another barn. Everything was going according to plan, until the faint cries of “help” rose up through the barn window, and we realized someone was inside. I handed the youth the hose, and ran toward the half open door. The heat inside singed my face, but I continued inward. It was as though the world itself had been immersed in flame. The Earth, the walls, and the roof all burned heavily. Even the faint view of the light seen from the shattered window in the loft looked redder than it had outside.

I looked around, and saw a pair of children standing at the center of the room, paralyzed with fear. It looked like they had found the only place without fire, though the circle around them was growing ever smaller. There was no way to get to them, save through the flames. Somehow, I found an area where the fire was less fierce, and took a few quick steps across the flames to them. I scooped them up in my arms, then looked for the door. In all the movement I had lost my bearings. It seemed so much farther than before.

Wood crashed around us as the roof began to shatter, shooting sparks through the air. The flames fed on the fallen wood like wolves on their prey, and grew all the fiercer. There would be no making it back to the door the way I had came. I looked around for another way to cross, but there was none. The flames crept closer, so close the children had to huddle against me tight. My mind raced, until it came to me that I’d have to toss them. They might break an arm in the landing, but it was better than being burned alive.

I did it one at a time. The boy went through first. His body soared over the tips of the flames, which in that moment looked more like the finger of Hell. He crashed through the door, rolling a few times before struggling to his feet. The girl was next. She was heavier than he was, and the tips of her skirt caught fire as she passed over the wall before us, but in landing she rolled and they were put out. The wall of fire screamed before me, enraged I had taken it’s prey from it. There was a huge crack, and I saw the ceiling finally give way. Then everything went dark.

 

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THE SECOND HEARTBREAK

I still remember my first heartbreak. I was a child of ten, sitting on our dirty house sofa, watching Avatar: the Last Airbender. It was the episode where Aang loses Appa to the sand benders, and the weight of loneliness crept in at the edges of anger. In between the scratches of static on the TV, I could feel the enormity of losing a loved on for the first time sinking in through the empathy of my being as this beloved titan of the cartoon world was carted away into enslavement.

I felt my legs shake, and the hollowness of my house that evening began to feel much larger than it ever had before. Dad was on a flight to New York, and mom wouldn’t be back from work until bedtime. As the credits rolled, I stumbled over to the TV, and clicked the OFF button, then slumped to the floor in a pile of depression. How could someone take his love away like that? Didn’t they consider how that made him feel? Why would anyone be so cruel? By the time the key to the door finally turned in the lock and my mother entered the house, I had accepted that some people do not consider the feelings of others, and act selfishly.

I would have thought that such strong emotions would have prepared me for the first time I caught my partner cheating, five years later. I had taken up basketball, which we played after school every day at the courts next to our campus. The girl I was dating then would come watch us play every day until her mother picked her up. One day, I decided to surprise her with a group of flowers I had collected, before the practice. I asked the teacher if I could leave early and everything. I went to the flower garden, and picked the nicest five roses I could find—four red and one striking white. I rushed over to the quad her class was located in, took a seat on a bench outside her vision so I could run up and surprise her, and waited until the bell rang. When it did, I could feel jitters of excitement crawling through my veins. It was so perfect.

But when the door to her classroom opened, I saw her walk out with another guy. Tall, white, classically handsome. They were both laughing. I kept my distance. She’d never talked about someone like this, but they were walking toward the courts together. Eventually, they came to the corridor just before the court I played on. It was after practice would have started, about three minutes before she usually trotted out to meet me.

They just started going at it, like wolves ravenous for each other’s face. He pinned her against the wall, one hand in hers, the other gripping her backside, all the while she was breathing so hard I could hear it from my hiding space. He turned her around, and pressed up against her, kissing her neck and grinding against her hips. They were completely fearless of any onlookers, like they had done this a dozen times with no problems. When she fell to her knees, and brought her hands to his belt buckle, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. My stomach was spinning with disgust, the pain in my chest felt like someone had stabbed my lungs, and tears were building up in my eyes with the hacking sobs that claim distressed children.

I snapped a quick picture, which I have come to regret, of the mouthful she had, then walked down the hall past them to practice, completely stone-faced. No words, no recognition—I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing she mattered. She stood up faster than a cat in a thunderstorm, pushing him away from her and apologizing. But her words fell on deaf ears. People were selfish. I knew that.

——

 

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ELEVATOR ESCAPE

They had given me tickets to Bermuda as a departing gift, after I had told them I was done. I read over them several time, to verify there was no falsity to the tickets, but they appeared real enough. When I walked out, the click of the door behind me was a reminder that this was all too good to be true. No hitman leaves the industry that easily.

As I walked through the hallway to the elevator, decorated lavishly with red furnishings, I had an eye out for the betrayal. None came. I pressed the down button, and took a step back. The doors swung open a moment later, and a small man walked by me. He was inattentive, and nearly walked right into me. When I turned to let him pass, I saw a body appear down the corridor to the left. A massive, titan of a man, nearly seven foot tall and four feet across, was pacing slowly toward me. His suit coat was loose, but the shirt underneath was tight to his chest, and made it look like he was made more of steel than flesh.

The doors to the elevator opened, and I thought, panic stricken, that he might not be able to make it to me before they closed, so I stepped through. Dead wrong. He broken into a sprint, and as the doors began to shut, he barreled through them. His shoulders smashed the edges of the elevator where I had been standing a moment before, and when he stepped away the support bar was indented. My shock had frozen me for a moment, and the ding of the doors woke me with the realization that I was probably going to die here.

Fortunately, my body was not so frozen. Acting on muscle memory, I stepped behind him, and kicked out his right knee. He toppled off balance and fell to his knees for a moment. The pause gave me the chance to get an arm around his brick of a neck, pressing my chest tight against him to give as little room for breath as possible. When I pulled tight, to squeeze the life out of him, it was like wrangling a beam to a building. It only took him a moment to regain his footing, and as he stood up I felt my feet leave the ground. His arms went to his neck, and dug into my arm as a lion digs into its prey. I thought he might break my arm with his grip alone.

Somehow, I held on. When he began getting desperate, he slammed me back into the elevator door. Or rather, through the door. I felt my whole back snap and crack as the steel doors bent. Our bodies came tumbling two floors before the bottom floor. In a heave of pain, I scrabbled to my feet. He was still bent over, coughing as he caught his breath. I scanned the room, and found the stairway, then bolted for it. I heard him stumble to his feet behind me, and then suddenly the whole building seemed to shake as he took up the chase. I swung the door open, taking the steps four at a time, using the handrail to balance myself and redirect my momentum around the turns.

Two flights of stairs later, I reached the bottom. I had gained a bit of distance between us. A man that size was unlikely to be able to move quickly through such tight quarters. When I stepped into the lobby, I tossed my black coat into the trash can beside me, and ripped a deep red one off the coat wrack, along with a pale black hat. I stepped out onto the street, and melted into the crowd just as he tore into the lobby. That was the last time I saw him.

——

 

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THE TWO DIMENSIONAL WOMAN

I dream myself, one night, inside the seams of the wallpaper, looking in on our house. It was a wonderful feeling—to be utterly flat, and without a care in the world, living in the second dimension. My family was there, staring back at me, like a crayon picture that had learned to dance about. There were all sort of secrets that I learned about behind the closed doors. My son hid candy he had stolen beneath his clothes in his second drawer. My daughter had a very handsome boyfriend (that was a shock, speaking that he had never come through the front door)! Whenever my mother would stop by to visit, she would comment on how the couch pillows didn’t match the rest of the household, but only under her breath when everyone else was out of the room. It became quite a life.

I eventually figured out how to move from wallpaper to electrical wire, street signs, and so on, until I could make myself useful and run errands. Nothing like getting groceries—two dimensional hands don’t work to well with carrying things. But I could deposit checks, and when I figured out how to walk inside the computer, I really made my way into a different world. My husband would open Word documents, and I would get to rearrange the letters he typed on the page. It made for mischievous fun, and great laughter.

But then I found out a secret that I wished I hadn’t. One that, living in three dimensions, I had never had to worry about. My husband kept a journal on his bedside table, and I had never looked at it before, since it was personal, but while trying to learn to transfer from wall to paper, I accidentally fell into the pages. The first few pages were beautiful. He drew, and wrote, and occasionally scribbled. There was a poem about me. It was like walking in a field of daisies.

It wasn’t until halfway through that things took a bad turn. The daisies were replaced by dead roses, and the sunny skies became covered with thunder clouds, and the beautiful words grew harsh and jagged. He missed me; resented my freedom. Jealousy, anger, loneliness, depression, stress, and all sorts of real world issues fell on his shoulders in the place of mine.

To relax, he had taken up staying late at work. I had never check in on him there, because overcoming the rocky hills he was stationed in had proved too difficult. Apparently, there was a woman he worked with, Stephanie, who had recently transferred from Washington. She had been staying late with him, and they had been entwining together as I entwined with the paintings in the living room.

Which is when I woke up, feeling lonely in the middle of the night, to see him laying next to me. There’s nothing quite like cuddling up with someone after feeling like you lived a whole lifetime apart from them.

——

 

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DISMEMBERED THOUGHTS

Well it looks like this is the end of the line. I’m rolling down the steps now, and the whole world is spinning around me. I can even hear the sputtering coming from my neck a ways off; back at the guillotine. It must have been comical for the crowd when my head bounced off the rim of the basket and down the steps—I could vaguely make out the bubbling laughter the exhibited as I bounced and turned wildly.

But here I am now, sitting—can we even call it sitting if I can’t take a seat?—as a dismembered head, looking out over the horizon. It was a kindness of them to remove the weight of my shoulders on such a lovely day. The sun was just starting to set, and the bright orange of the clouds hadn’t quite turned that lovely hue of pink yet. The air was cool, but not cold, and the wind was just light enough to be pleasant.

It reminded me of the days with my mother, out on the fields before all of this happened. Those were they days when things felt so much simpler. I could go out running, away from all the noise and struggles. My mother worked so hard then, though at that time I hadn’t a clue. I wonder what she would think of me if she saw me now.

Flash forward a dozen years, when I set off. That was the last time I saw her. Her age was finally starting to shine through, but I was dead set on making my life what I wanted it to be. Not ten miles out from my home I found a woman, about my age, with long blonde hair and a proud smile. She accompanied me for a while.

Another dozen years flew by, and I saw myself grow into a hardened criminal. The thin beard of my previous visions had grown rustic and gruff. Life had not gone my way. I had been forced to steal and pillage to make a living, and in my own way, I found success. I had gained notoriety, and the crown had placed a bounty on my head. In turn, I burned down their capital building and stole their princess. She was returned without a scratch—I’m not a monster—but only after they had exhausted their vast wealth looking for her.

Then at fifty, things began to change. I watched my limbs grown thin and my heart grown darker. I nearly lost my first fight then, to a younger, heartier lad, and I only won because I played dirty. When he pinned me, I spit in his eye and stuck him with my knife, then cut my own belly and swapped the knife to his hand, to make it look like, in self-defense, I had managed to kill him with his own knife. He bled out groveling in pain. But the damage had been done. I realized time was not on my side, nor was it on the side of any living being, and I went back to see my home.

They had left it abandoned, and I took up residence for a time there. I grew fatter, and for a time I like to think that I was happy. Until one day, the corporal found out just who I was, and they took my in. By that time, I was too brittle to put up a fight.

And here I am now, stretching out the last moments of my life, just to watch the sun set one last time. That was my mother’s favorite time of the day, but it looks like I’m not going to get to see the sun fall behind the mountains this time. My vision is already growing hazy, and I can hardly manage the strength to keep my eyes open. At least now, maybe, I will get the time for some rest.

——

 

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