My wife and I recently visited Zoolumination at the Nashville Zoo.
Zoolumination is the country’s largest Chinese lantern festival featuring colorful scenes of more than 1,000 custom-made silk lanterns. The three-mile walking tour immerses visitors in a wonderland of dazzling lights and displays. I think my personal favorite was the illuminated bamboo forest. It was cold out, but we bundled up and got some hot chocolate. I thought I would share a few photos from our visit. Enjoy. Happy Holidays!
I was sipping egg nog and looking out the window of my quarters at the Station Kronos Kuiper on the dwarf planet Pluto. I was 3.6 billion miles away from my home on Earth and it was Christmas again. The weather outside was perfect for Christmas. It’s always perfect for Christmas here. It was my seventh Christmas in this eternal void of the soul.
I don’t know why I volunteered for the Pluto mission, but then again, I do. I suppose it was a hasty decision driven by the heart. All I remember is I was reading a newspaper in a diner on a rainy day in New York when my fiancée found me and informed me that she was in love with someone else. I had asked her if she had forgotten about the wedding we were planning for. I asked her if she just didn’t want a future with me because I was a rocket jockey. She just rolled her eyes at me and then removed the engagement ring and slid it across the table in my direction.
I caught her glancing out the window and then I looked too, through the mist of the city. There was a tough guy outside on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette beneath a black umbrella as he leaned against a pole. He looked like a fancy pants Wall Street James Dean.
“That’s the guy?” I asked her.
She just halfheartedly nodded and slid out of the booth. She looked at me for the very last time and said, “Have a nice life among the stars.”
It was right after that when I volunteered for the mission with no return trip back to Earth. I didn’t care. I wanted as far away from that shitty world as I could possibly be… And then some. I had to put together and submit pounds of end-of-existence paperwork, agreements, contracts, and final wishes for out here. Talk about signing your life away.
And now here I am. It’s Christmas again, and I am the only one here. All those words and directives mean nothing now because there is no one left to abide to them in my name. I suppose at some point I will just fall over and eventually turn to dust.
I handled the death procedure for the last of the others. And now they are all out there, floating around me somewhere in far-out space unseen. It’s cold. It’s gray as metal. I am lonely.
There hasn’t been any communication with Earth in a very long time. They never answer or maybe they never even receive my transmissions. Either something bad has happened there, or they have simply forgotten about me. Perhaps they have moved on to something more viable and fresher and exciting. Like my ex-fiancée. I took another sip of egg nog and looked out in the vastness of it all even deeper. This is a depth of loneliness unseen, yet at times it is nourishing to me.
I often take my loneliness with me and just sit in the great worship hall to visit with all the various gods of the universe we have created. They all have our own interpretations of what they may look like, or what we want them to look like, painted or chiseled or lasered into and upon various places throughout the sanctuary. I think I prefer the God of Time or the God of Lost Places the most. There’s a god for most anything on Pluto. We had to devise reasons for existing and passing on.
It’s a vast place with arches and buttresses and golden windows and statues and rows upon rows of pews for the people who once came there. There’s a large, clear dome at the top to allow one a glimpse of the wet universe that surrounds this place. I appear in the sanctuary at a spot in the middle and pause and admire the work of the ones before me who built it all. I owe them my life at this point really, for their vast creations on this planet have kept me alive and for the most part, safe.
Instead of the plethora of gods, I pray to the astro-engineers and architects and builders and the mechanical men who carved out a whole new world here on the outer Kuiper. I thank them for their ingenuity, patience, and skill. But the silence here now is nearly deafening. What a strange thing. But even so, there are at times distant rattles, invisible things falling, dust skittering in the low light. They often frighten me because it makes me wonder if I am truly alone after all.
Author’s note: I hope to craft more of this story over time as an experiment in writing some science fiction. Thanks for reading and supporting independent content creators who just want to do what they love to do.
Independent content creator, author, former print and digital journalist, and trying really hard to be a diligent husband. I am the publisher and editor of Cereal After Sex, an eccentric online journal/magazine focused on social commentary and fiction with an unpredictable edge. I reside in Tennessee, US.
The chariots rode into town blaring trumpets and waving spider webs like white, cotton kites and the soldier watched the cheering crowd all smiling with blood on their teeth and scriptures dripping from their curled fists and the soldier felt as empty as wind when he jumped off the back and made his way through the blistering crowd their eyes vacant, their hearts rattling with ice everyone was like a bee sting clawing and banded amber jewels wearing spears and hammocks on their backs in which to swing above a lazy flower before the dark stones fall from the sky and Jesus is riding a missile spreading handfuls of love dust across the widening gap of mankind and he plants the point of the missile right into the dirt lot of the Cactus Gin a splintering roadhouse joint on a desert road a long, spindly caramel kiss warmed and running across the bourbon asphalt the mellow yellow of factories glows like a foggy harbor veiled in red velvet and the broken bulbs of the Cactus Gin marquee still flash, the craggy edges are crusted black the little heartbeat light flickers like a sick Christmas tree and inside… floating malnutrition backward evolution noise pollution
And the son of God ordered a whiskey and smiled at the people he created as they danced and fought and loved, cried and laughed and ached… to the slow grind of a melancholy jukebox and he brought with him an angel one with a rhombus head and stunted wings and the angel was singing the grief of all she suffered on her leash and a weepy guitar began to groan in the corner Jesus was singing a song about peace and love and the congregation began to throw beer bottles at him and Jesus spoke into the mic… “Oh great. Here we go again.” But he took the blows with harmony, nibbled the glass between his teeth as he sang weaving tanglewood hopes through the vibrating cave.
And the madness began to settle as he curled before the window the soldier was home but shaking he was upset about the killing he had done his wife a dozen miles away on sleepers the children were slaves the plays were robbing their minds of any moral foundation the madness had spun out of control to the point of consensual acceptance like morphine in your I-V the slow drip of horror shows gone real and fishing down by the river was no longer notated in the wired almanac as simply two boys and a bucket of worms a shingle thatched roof crowning a famous whitewashed bait and tackle shop glows in the background like a slice of warm care or apple pie with vanilla ice cream on top cinnamon showgirls lifting their skirts and squirting you with a city sweet… that’s life with those eyes, what is this undecipherable want?
The sound of the jet airplane’s engines had lulled him into a half sleep. He was drifting in and out of a panoramic dream — something about floating on clouds — and then when his head jerked hard enough to snap him back into wakefulness, he looked out the small window next to his seat and saw that his dream had come true.
At that very moment, he wanted to crawl through that impenetrable opening and just fall like an angel into those mushroomy blooming puffs cut now like vibrant jewel prisms by the perfectly angled falling light of the day. There was a ding sound in the cabin and then an indecipherable voice came over the sound system. He could feel the plane beginning to dip and soon they were swallowed whole by the very same clouds from his dream come true. And when they finally emerged from the bottom, he could see the land below, wide western meadows and low rocky ridges and far off into the distance he saw the snowcapped peaks that Colorado was so famous for, and they sprang out and up from a mirky soup of yellow pollution hovering over a city called Denver.
He moved through a pulsing hot throng of people on his way to the mile-long escalators going down to where the train arrived that took travelers to the main terminal of DIA. Even though he had no particular place to be at any particular time, he walked fast, constantly adjusting the backpack he carried with him because it kept slipping. People zoomed by him in both directions. The voices all mingled into one loud hum in a hive.
He dashed into a crowded men’s room to relieve himself. He had to wait in a line to use a urinal. Once finished he washed his hands, splashed his face, tried to comb his hair into some semblance of order with his fingers. He studied himself in the mirror for just a moment because he thought it was overly vain to look at oneself for too long. And for some reason it made him uncomfortable to look at himself, as well, almost embarrassed. That’s why he always did it quick. He decided he looked very tired and moved on.
Once back into the rush of the main thoroughfare, he slipped out and took a seat in the mostly unoccupied waiting area of a darkened gate where a flight to Detroit wasn’t set to depart for another two hours. It was a quiet reprieve for the time being. He lifted his pack into the seat beside him and retrieved his cell phone. He squinted as he looked at the screen. He took it out of airplane mode and waited for the technological pipes to clear. No calls. No messages. Nothing erupted now that he was back on the ground. He was almost glad for the fact he wasn’t popular among any crowd but his own. He took a deep breath and tried to stretch his neck by bending it from side to side. He could almost hear the tendons strain and crackle.
He sat still there for a long time, his thoughts getting caught up in the traffic of human beings continually parading by like a perpetual mountain stream. Some moved fast, others dawdled. Some had a trainload of luggage behind them, others merely a single bag slung over a sore shoulder. He wondered about where they had come from and where they were going. Why were all these people moving so much? What was with all the here and there? What great grief or passion was calling to them? His life in comparison seemed so much slower and simpler. But was it? Not really, after all.
He glanced at his diamond digital watch from Hades, but then realized it didn’t really matter what time it was. He was at that place in life where time was something that only other people dealt with, not him.
Then for some strange reason his thoughts drifted to childhood in the lakeside burbs of upper middle crust Chicago and about the Christmas mustard his Aunt Sharlene used to proudly serve with her platefuls of fancy meats and breads and cheeses during the warm, crystalline holidays. Aunt Sharlene was always wearing a dress, he recalled. Even if she was cooking eggs and bacon at 6 a.m., she had on a dress. Back then he even thought that she most likely slept in a dress. Maybe she did. But the mustard, that Christmas mustard. It came in a fancy glass jar, and it had a fancy foreign label and lid and Aunt Sharlene boasted about how she got it from this peculiar owner of a deli in the brick and gold shopping plaza in the neighborhood because he thought she was something special and would know exactly how to use it as if it were fragile magic. His Uncle Drake always frowned when she brought that part up because she would always throw something in there about how this particular and peculiar deli owner was also tall, dark, and handsome. His Uncle Drake was none of those things.
But the mustard was something special in exchange for the pricks of jealousy, as well, he supposed. And his Uncle Drake would lovingly slather it all over his rye bread. It had a bite to it that was somehow extraterrestrial and made the person eating it feel like they had traveled somewhere very far away. The man’s imagination had always been bright, and he believed the Christmas mustard must have had come from Saudi Arabia or perhaps Yemen or even Tatooine. But why would he think something so foolish? He shook his head at his own youthful naivety, and then he was suddenly hungry for a sandwich even though he knew that no one would have any Christmas mustard in the airport.
He settled on a faux New York deli type of sandwich place that pretended it was authentic but really wasn’t — merely corporate fantasies for sale. It was crowded and hard to move around inside the little box in a long line of other boxes aglow with money suckers. His broken velvet eyes the color of underwater gold scanned the menu for something that wasn’t gross. He settled on a New York Clubber — roast beef, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, spicy (not Christmas) mustard, black olives on a crusty crunchy dick-like stick of white bread cut and spread open like a lover’s legs.
The pace of the place was frantic, and the man’s nerves began to tick and twitch as the people pressed in on him, the mingling of sandwiches and skin like uneasy sex in a musty dark cellar, and he reached forward to pay at the counter quickly because the pressure was on him. People were watching and waiting and staring at the stranger from somewhere else. He felt like they all hated him.
He found a small table in the very center of the food court outside the deli joint and the roar of people eating and talking and slurping and bitching and babies wailing was all around him. He unzipped his backpack and reached in for an orange bottle of pills. He uncapped it, shook out two white bars with score marks and tossed them into his mouth. He washed them down with a bubbling iced Fresca.
He unwrapped his sandwich and laid the paper out flat. He opened a bag of salt and vinegar chips and poured them out onto the paper. He brought the sandwich up to his open mouth and bit into it. He chewed and as the flavors and textures mingled, he looked to his left where he saw a young girl in a periwinkle blue dress and her hair in pigtails sitting at a table all by herself. She looked very different from everyone else. She looked like she belonged to a strict old religious clan that rebutted the ways of modern, sinful life. She looked like she should have been in a barn, knee-high in hay, not inside one of the busiest airports in the world.
The girl was staring at him for a long time for some strange reason. Did he have something on his face? He instinctively reached for a napkin and wiped it across his mouth. He glanced over at her again. She had weird eyes and she looked unsettled. He put down his sandwich and sucked on the straw connected to his plastic cup of Fresca. A strange man and woman dressed similarly to the girl suddenly appeared at the table and they set down bags of food and cups of drink. She looked up at each of them in turn and smiled. Then she said something to them that he could not understand through the cacophony of humans communally filling their guts.
Then all three of them turned to look at him and their faces were dusted with disgust. He watched them watch him through the clouds of humanity. He couldn’t understand why they were looking at him that way. What did the girl say to them? And why? He had done nothing wrong. Was it because he was so different from them? Had she read the inner linings of his soul and discovered there was a reason why he was now drifting listlessly through time? Did she discover that he was merely a living ghost after all, and it upset her balance of beliefs and familial rituals set forth by her spinning God?
He quickly finished eating, gathered his trash and stood to carry it over to a receptacle to dispose of it. When he did, an eerie quiet fell upon the food court and seemingly the entirety of Denver International Airport. A billion heads turned to watch him with scathing glances. He moved slowly to the garbage bin and dropped in the remains of his meal into the wide hole. No one else moved or spoke. He hoisted his pack over his shoulder and gazed at all of them.
“What do you want!” he screamed out.
And when they just continued to stare and not say anything, he backed away from the coital mob and made his way back onto the main thoroughfare of the concourse and walked as fast as he could. The people there too now stared at him, watched him with sallow unfamiliar eyes like he was some murderer on the loose. He quickened his pace as the swarm thickened. He started bumping into bodies, pushing bodies, kicking at bodies. He pulled the pack off his shoulder and started swinging it at the people closing in. He hit a young woman in the face, and she fell. No one screamed but instead they just hummed like a hornet’s nest plump with menacing insects.
And then he ran. He ran as fast as he could and the tunnel like artificial air of the airport whooshed by him in an effort to keep pace with his speed. He glanced behind him, and the people were floating toward him effortlessly. He glanced in front of him, and there he saw that a thick wall built of human beings was erected to keep him from passing. He suddenly stopped and looked from side to side. He saw an emergency exit door and made for it. He pushed on the thick silver bar and an alarm immediately began to wail. He ran down the jetway that was untethered to any airplane. Once at the end he could taste the open air and he saw an attached metal ladder in which he could use to get to the ground, and he swung over and onto it and climbed down.
Once his shoes hit the pavement he ran and ran and ran until he was breathless and limping. A jet loudly swam above him and then he was suddenly surrounded by white cars with flashing blue lights on their rooftops and men in uniforms quickly jumped out and corralled him. They pushed him to the ground and made him lie on his stomach. They handcuffed him. They yanked him up and led him to one of the cars and shoved him into the backseat and slammed the door. He was in a cage now, and he was headed for another cage. He was sure of it.
I was sitting in the din of another rum-soaked afternoon on High Street in some far away town. I was alone as usual. The clock was ticking behind my head like a reader counting down the days to my ultimate demise.
I looked out the balcony fortress at the world all messed up and angry with itself, and I saw a cat eating applesauce down on the sidewalk around the perimeters of chalk art and lonely hearts.
I was cut like dynamite all up in my guts… my face so fucking worn away from the droop of negative gladness that I felt like gravity sucking at a skull through a circus straw, clowns all mad and boisterous running around with shaving clippers to cut away the dirt of dope all muddied in my blood.
It’s the countdown to broken neck as end of summer lawns hiss as the sprinklers spit at the grass like riots, I am hungry and in pain deep down in the belly welly of life on bourbon street sans street, the plastic puppets of a childhood tossed in a bin scream redemption but the oily candles only bleed sin and throat blessings designed to curb the swearing are merely molestations of the skin.
So God, do you have a dick in which to fuck the universe and all its celestial holes?
Alcoholism and roughed up love meet in a bar down on Bleeker Street. It’s puke and madness and a dying heart just trying to reach out to another Rings of Saturn soul, blowholes and arrows, hard drinks and drugs and tattoo flu shots trembling at river’s edge, in upper north Wisconsin, where I want them to spread my ashes, like tumbler cheese on a cracker, and GODmother is dead because money is more important than any sensibility of love and honor… fuck you Chicago and all the piss you dump and pray for… my ass hurts, like a tiger biting into the bone, and I tremble Atlanta, my home, my five-fingered mannequin bone, restless and destructive like a coffee-scented angel on the 285, running circles round the metro like a honey-bee hive, all full of stings and poison and air machines for the lungs, my head, my life, so heavy and strung out like Christmas candles in a circus, a mall walker carrying a tombstone and a blowtorch, attacking the restless kiss as if in a never-ending dream.
My mother got up to answer the door, cradling Maine, and touched at her hair with one hand to set it in proper place before going out of the room. She always had to look proper, no matter what. It was the outside that mattered to her, rarely the inside of a person. I guess that’s why I failed her so much — I wasn’t proper on either side.
I stood back in the swallowing shadows of the big house biting my nails as my mother opened the door. Emily and Frost began to step in and then suddenly stopped when they saw her holding the baby.
“Mom?” Emily asked, her face scrunched in confusion. “Are you babysitting for someone? Whose kid?”
“We’ll talk about it, dear. Please come in. Hello there, Frost.”
Their voices were distant to me, like in a dream. I saw Frost lean in and give my mother a fake kiss on the cheek. Then their voices bloomed and became an uncomfortable gathering upon me.
“Oh, hello Everett,” Frost said when he noticed me lurking as he shed his fancy coat and placed it over one arm. “It’s a surprise seeing you here. We had no idea. Are you planning to stay for the weekend as well?”
“I don’t know,” I said, and I moved forward to shake his perfect hand. His grip was cold, crushing. His cold blue eyes drilled into me. He had a look of winter about him, and so his name fit him perfectly — Frost. Frost Bennington of the Benningtons. Prick.
Then I looked over at my sister, the dear Emily. My older sibling. Intelligent and oh so intelligently cool, cold, frosty like her lover. She acted uncomfortable and brushed wispy blonde hairs out of her face, her evergreen eyes avoiding me.
“Hello Emily,” I said, and I awkwardly hugged her. It was a short-lived embrace that she quickly pulled away from.
“Hello Everett,” she said, her words nervously stumbling out. “It is quite a surprise to see you here. If we knew you were coming… I suppose you could have ridden with us from the city, but I guess neither of us knew.”
“No. I hadn’t planned on it.”
“So,” Frost broke in, “Where’s Edward? I brought him a bottle of some fine brandy.” He held up a surely expensive bottle to show it off.
“I think he went off to his study,” my mother said. “Why don’t you go and say hello? I’d like to speak with Emily in private. Everett, go wash yourself up, you look like you could use a long, hot shower, and I think it would be best if you stayed the night. You can sleep in your old room. There are some clean linens in the closet upstairs. Well, you know where it all is. Go on now.”
Evelyn led Emily to the quiet of the obscene chef’s kitchen in the back of the house. She spoke to the house maiden who was busy polishing glasses with a white cloth. “Eliza, please take this baby into a quiet room and soothe him while we talk.”
The house maiden smiled. Her light brown skin brightened. “Oh, he’s something,” she said as she came closer. She took him into her arms and immediately fell in love.
“Yes, well, don’t get too attached, Eliza. He may not be with us long,” Evelyn said to her like a cold breeze.
“Yes, mam,” Eliza said, the brightness of her face turning to night again. “I will be in the sitting room.”
Evelyn nodded to her and she turned to look out the big windows into the large, perfectly kept yard bleached with winter.
“Mother?” Emily began. “What’s going on? Whose baby is that?”
“Oh, my dear daughter. We have trouble in this house today. I think your brother has totally gone mad. He just showed up with that baby in a pillowcase. He says it belongs to some tramp he met in the city and she up and left. Just took off is what he said and just left the child behind. I just don’t know what to do about Everett anymore. I’m just sick about it. But that child. That poor, innocent child stuck in the middle of all this.” Flustered, she stepped away from the window and frantically started going through cabinets. “And I don’t have anything for a baby to eat…”
“Mother,” Emily said, trying to slow her down and make her pay attention. “Stop and listen to me. I have great concern for Everett. I don’t think he’s well, I mean, mentally.”
A clock on the mantle above an unlit fireplace in another room chimed four times before Evelyn spoke again.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Did something happen to him in the city?”
Emily shifted her eyes. “Everett came over to our place, it was back before Christmas. He said you had visited him that same day and he started talking very strangely to me about when we were young and living here in the house. He seemed very confused and troubled.”
“Yes. I did go see him. I had met some friends for brunch.” She sighed. “He was sitting there all alone in that awful apartment. It was so dark. Dirty. Sad really. Very sad. I thought maybe stopping by with a bag of leftovers might cheer him up. I gave him some money, too. But despite the typical grayness of his life when I saw him that day, he seemed fine. Is there something else I should know about?”
“Like I said, when he was at our place. Frost was off doing something important most likely and so we were alone, Everett and I, in the kitchen. Just trying to talk. You know how awkward that can be.”
“What are you trying to tell me?”
“He kissed me.”
Evelyn froze for a moment, and her eyes began to quake with nervous twitches behind her glamorous glasses. “What’s wrong with a brother kissing his own sister?”
“It wasn’t that kind of a kiss, mom,” Emily softly spoke. “He kissed me, you know, a real kiss… He forced himself on me.”
Evelyn stepped back, coughed, and adjusted the same glamorous glasses. “Oh please, Emily! Such talk. You must have completely misread his intentions.”
“No. I didn’t.”
“He must have been drinking then,” Evelyn strongly suggested.
“No, mother. He wasn’t drinking. He knew what he was doing… Or he didn’t. I don’t really know,” she said, hands in the air as she paced the polished floor.
“My God, Emily,” Evelyn moaned. “Why would he do that? What on earth would possess him to do that?” She scoffed in frustration and embarrassment almost. She waved a hand in the air. “I don’t believe it. I refuse to believe such a story.”
“I think he needs a doctor,” Emily stressed to her mother. “A good doctor. A psychiatrist. He may even need to go to a place that specializes in whatever is wrong with him. Frost and I know some people who may be able to help.”
Evelyn bit at her mouth with worry. “This is all too much,” she moaned. “But how are you? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“No. He didn’t hurt me at all. I was just shocked, and I pushed him off and told him to never do it again, that it was inappropriate… But then what about this baby now? This definitely proves there is something seriously wrong with him.”
“It’s very odd indeed. I think the child is sickly and I’m not surprised. That fool boy knows nothing about taking care of a baby. And that girl who dumped him, I can just imagine what a piece of work she is. I just don’t understand why Everett can’t find a nice girl. He’s not a bad looking young man, he’s just …”
Emily finished her mother’s sentence, “Incredibly strange.”
“Why don’t you help him out and introduce him to some of your friends? You know plenty of well-educated people. Good, decent people too. He needs to be kept away from common street trash — like that poor child’s mother.”
“I would, mother, but I don’t think Frost would have it. You know how particular he is about everything. And it’s no secret that he doesn’t like Everett.”
“Does he know what happened?”
“Yes. I told him, and he wasn’t happy about it at all. No surprise. He went ballistic. It took everything in me to calm him down enough to even come this weekend… And then pow, Everett is here, unbeknownst to us. I could almost hear Frost’s perfect teeth grinding to dust.”
“Yes, I suppose he would be upset. I can’t blame him. He’s a fine young man, very driven, bred from fine stock, and well positioned to take care of you financially. That’s very important. So even if things go sour between you two, always consider that. And another very important thing is the fact your father is more than fond of him.”
“I find it strange that daddy takes him on like that and then treats Everett like he’s not even his son.”
“Well, your father has always been drawn to highly successful people. I’m afraid Everett has greatly disappointed him.”
“That’s sad,” Emily said. “It shouldn’t be like that. You should love and support your kids no matter who they are and what they do. That’s the way I want to be.”
“You’ll be a fine mother some day,” Evelyn assured her daughter as she gently tapped the back of her hand. “As far as Maine is concerned, I’m going to convince your father to let me keep him here — just for a day or two until we can figure this all out,” she said. “In the meantime, I want us to have a nice family gathering this weekend. Cozy and warm and perfect. Will you help Eliza with dinner?”
“Of course,” Emily said.
“And do you think Frost would mind running Everett over to the store to get some things. For the baby. Diapers and such. I’ll make a list.”
Emily made a face. “Well, he may not like it, but he’ll do it for you.”
Evelyn smiled. “Good. I like it when he does things for me.”
Oxidized eyes and diamond fireflies doing the rotating Merry-Go-Roundabout above in the sky, under hot sun ozone hole as I’m mining in desert Minehead up the breach highway linear West near the Hondo – I’m hitting into dirt wall with pounds and pounds of frustration while the rattlesnakes and the antelope watch, cocking their different heads in wonder, sniffing the air with nose and tongue, searching for an unwound rag doll named Sheena in this desert Mars land of bar.
There’s a tattered zip line over a deep gulley to get across when the mad, mad water rushes in from the West – but this place be bone dry today and yesterday and probably has been for a long, long time by the looks of the bleached skeletons down in there playing bad hands of poker with weathered cards set to reel off at any second with the slightest breeze. This is Deadland and I am deep in it, shins and thighs scratched to hell by the muscled, thorny bitch plants that thrive here, the ones that dine on salt and spit and kick at you with tentacles of nails.
It’s Christmas day and it’s still too damn hot. I’m hiding from St. Nick because I know he’s going to beat me with a pillow sack full of fresh beehives. The family of strangers back in the village is all too damn hypnotic, admiring those dumb faces as they hold up the shiny new toaster as if it were a mirror – you’re burnt bread baby, I can smell it from here. How can you live in such a fucking catacomb Mrs. Nannette Hourglass? How can your soul stand to be so bound? I for one cannot take it and let out of there like a hurricane playing a harp, a roughshod whisper, phantom skin squeezing through the door, starting the car, driving away, away, away.
Sure, I think about my bad case of anti-social and radical behavior as I ride alone on the Rose Highway smoking sheepskin cigarettes and listening to defunct, angry music. Sure I feel the rocking horse guilt well up inside and think I might puke it all out over the steering wheel, but this mind muscle can be hallucinatory, can trick you into believing that what you are doing is right when in fact could be wrong, but most likely is correct anyways, baby – listen to your soul, not the fucking TV – for Christmas is meant to be spent alone, alone in the dry hot, hot whorehouse, alone to recall the dead ones that used to give you gifts; gifts now broken, now tattered, the ruined parts sent back to China or Bangladesh where they are piled in heaps right next to the used and worn bodies that made them in the first place – stockpiles of corporate shit and the starving enslaved with those melted, plastic fingers scratching at the emergency exit just to get out, out, out. Smile and sell for hell.
The sausages are boiling in the pan over the small fire I have built here. The smell is fine. The stomach is growling. I look at my scratched pocket watch – they are all probably sitting down right now for the big feast and the blah, blah, blah, hah, hah, hah, chit chat shit of waggish talk whilst imaginary butcher knives twist in the spine of who sits across. It’s all pretend love and love until the polite goodbyes and then the door slams and the backstabbing blurp, blurp comes rolling off those twisted tongues. I wanted no part of that; I wanted crisp sausages, quiet, fire and Christmas cheer – toasting the rocks, the gravel, the wayward scorps – it was lonely as hell either way.
There is the aftertaste of chagrin in my mouth and guts – oh, how I long for guilt-free freedom, how I long to never return to the same space twice, how I long to taste every road, every directional arrow, every point on the map, every carriage, every castle, every loch, every green garden ever grown, every ocean, every river, every trickle of light in some small English cottage – but I am far linear west poking at ash with the metamorphic girl sitting across from me now dressed in lava rock – it is the shimmering sheen of some prehistoric volcanic sacrifice in hallucination – the wild makeup and hair; the savage, spitty pout; the long, velvet legs leading to Heaven’s flesh; the eyes bursting like honey bombs set ablaze by a sharp, silver Zippo.
Flick, burn, inhale –
“Merry Christmas,” I say to her anyway.
She fades away, but I can still smell her – like roses and spray paint.
I thought I saw that dude Arafat scrambling around in rocks and brush, but the longer I stare the more I realize that nothing is real. It’s all a memory bank baby. We were all here many moons ago, rag-tagged in the back of some trashed out Euro sedan, barfing out the remnants of mad ragers all over the freshly polished desert floor, the groaning, the twisting and uneasy sleep – everything always comes back around again no matter how hard we try to avoid it. Memories are deposited, the pains and joys withdrawn – it’s like black-and-white Poland to me, wandering in rags, sleeping in parks, losing muscle just to hustle.
888 West End posh and some baby hot, hot lady in bed-ready red is sipping my best brandy like it’s water as she sits on my couch looking at all the shit I have on the walls. Does she even know she’s just a mannequin who happens to know how to breathe?
“So, it’s New Year’s Eve, and here we are.”
That’s what I say to her.
Her glassy eyes look up at me as if I were some loon.
“Do you like chainsaws?” she asks. “I’m afraid of chainsaws.”
She holds out her glass for more brandy.
“You know, this shit is pretty expensive.”
I pour her more of the brandy and walk out onto the veranda. She doesn’t get off the couch. She just sits there sipping my expensive brandy and staring off into space like some bucket of chicken in need of a warm towel. How can I tell her to get the hell out of here, but still be polite about it? Am I really that boring? Is it me? Has it always been me?
I turn just in time to see her putting on her coat and walking toward the door.
“Wait – it’s not midnight yet.”
She smiles, puts a chick cigarette between the frosted lips.
“So, what? “You are boring me; you always bore me.”
That’s what she said to me in that thick Euro accent.
“But wait, we could take a drive in my car. It’s fast. We can go wherever you want.”
She stopped at the door.
“All right, but you let me drive.”
She was a maniac behind the wheel, but I said nothing. I even removed my seat belt when she went faster, faster, faster.
“Are you afraid I will wreck your car, or worse, get you killed.”
I just let go and flew with her. She accelerated. Faster. Faster. She went faster still until we were out of the city and in the luscious throes of country dark.
“Are you afraid yet?”
She shut it down in some lonely void.
“It’s 12:01. I’m going home now.”
She got out of the car and walked away, disappeared into the dark woods, forever gone.
I poked at the ashes with a stick on Christmas day. The sun was still bright, and I was still alone. Would it ever be safe to go back? Why go back? Why keep going back? This life should not be a revolving door – push in once and go through, push in again and keep going through, push, push, push, until the end is beautiful enough to stay, the day she falls in with a first airport kiss that sends rockets to space.
An online journal of fiction, essays, and social commentary.