Below are my personal short stories from 3 of my novels. As a writer, I believe in being on the battlegrounds with my troops. Some will see this as a cheap plug, but I see it as a form of payment to offer a FREE online horror mag to the public. For me, horror is whatever doesn't go away when you close your eyes... Enjoy my darkest offerings...
As My Soul Gently Seeps
By Steven N. Marshall
& John Arthur Miller
I never knew my soul was bleeding…
Perhaps I assumed my husk would contain my nectars of life; the rushing lifeforce that gushes within me, ebbing like an evenflow tide moving inside. But no, my soul was slowly hemorrhaging all the while -- and yet ever so slowly so as not to notice, just feel. Feel the seeping of my gentle weeping as I ruminate over my life; a gift that was supposed to be mine. No. Just a borrowed shell trapped within my own Hell. Here, my love lies dying inside…
I want to get up and see my life play out before me like an old, slow-motion reel, cataclysmically unveiling the events in my lifetime. Instead my breathing is the only motion reminding me of the stillness and emptiness I face, waiting for something to happen to me. But that moment never comes. Something lies in wait, analyzing me…
Something is near…
She looked beautiful in rage, standing on the sidewalk outside our front door, fists clenched at her side, blond hair wafting in the summer breeze. The scent of Jasmine floated between us, blossoming from our side garden next to a bed of roses. I would have planted anything Tess desired; would have given her anything, if she’d just take back those legal documents. I used to tease her that I enjoyed angering her so that she’d get that pissed-off glow, which always made for the best sex, the same vibrant glow forming a nimbus around her face. She turned her beautiful face away and left me with divorce papers and angry words, the last ones I remember: “Dennis, leave me alone.”
My love bled out. I felt it oozing between my ribs, which—for some strange reason—ached with a dull throb. My hands felt moist as I held my side, my body drenched in sweat, adrenalin surging. I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to sound my voice, but to no avail. Instead of calling out, I watched the only woman I’d ever loved walk out of our house—OUR house, damn it!—and close the door on eleven years of marriage.
Domestic happiness was my only bliss of a paradise that has survived the downfall. Out of the same sustenance, a stomach will extract nourishment and absorb toxins. The same disappointment in life will nourish and extract love and turn it into waste. One will chasten and refine the spirit; the other will embitter the soul.
I withheld emotion as my soul gently seeped. Was it an internal metamorphosing, trying to show me something? Something my eyes could not yet see, but my breath could feel with each exhale. A flow of energy and existence for as long as the moment allowed.Often my silence can exhaust the confusion of others. Reminders of the way I have embraced my dedication. Maybe, over time, my devotion will lend a bleeding truth to others like a repetitive behavior on the verge of personal completion. Was my love truly dying as much as my soul was gently weeping? Has it really been this way all along, too subtle to notice, yet too painful to confront?
I stand before the side garden looking at the white-picket-fence that surrounds, envelops and divides us. Paint peels and litters the garden’s black soil, jotted with abandoned hopes and white dreams. Wood warps splintered shards like thorns; once pristine paint chips crumbled into pieces; scraps of peelings flaking off like dandruff. The fence is tired, worn and useless, unable to fulfill its purpose.
In essence, I have become the fence…
The decimated barrier rests between the outside world and this so-called American Dream, standing behind me with glass windows and doors; the hopes of rotting memories. I turn from the fence to the American Dream and stare in awe and dark wonder. Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the great! Rusted overhangs sag limp; torn shingles jut up at impossible angles. I now walk on the crumbling decay. I can no longer contain myself. I can no longer embrace it because the lifeforce is now seeping from my splintered soul.
The Turning Point.
Oh, how she always wanted offspring. Oh, how I always delayed the inevitable. Six years into our marriage, we actually tried. I laid my personal demons to rest for my angel. But nothing was happening. The sex was there and still prevalent in our life, flowing endorphins of blissful memories spill forward in my mind as I recall. Fast forward to a year later, the doctor deemed my seed spawnless. Hence, we could not conceive through natural means. Nor did we want to adopt.
It was as if the same fence that surrounded and enveloped us, now divided us on a yellowing grass field as frail as straw; as impotent as a drought, allowing our future to grow with mold and uncertainty. Patches of raw decay, like age-spots on the elderly, corrode that vision of a life that should have been, that never was…or ever will be.
I’ve been on this road for far too long now. It’s not meant to be. Both of us are losing our identity. Our hopes have been denied, yet somehow we just keep pretending.
This wasn’t the first time we didn’t seem to belong together. The horizon divides us like our fence into eternity. The sky shelters and protects us from our seamless boundaries.
But the road ahead is still unforeseeable. It’s just a long mirage of illusions where the left and right side appear to merge yet never connect. They just go on seemingly endlessly, hoping to arrive at a destination. Many different paths will lead to many different places, yet every path leads to the same road. It’s like everyone is waiting for certain failure; waiting for something they cannot have. As time passes, life has its way with you and ticks down to extinction. I’m so thirsty right now; parched with thirst and dying I am.
Something is clear…
Tess has become my own mirage, wavering like the horizon line in front of me. An illusion of beauty verging on the brink of nightfall. “Why can’t you just tell me how you feel?” she asks me, drawing my eyes on her tear-streaked face. “You always just keep it all bottled up inside…until it’s too late and you explode.” I nod and agree because that’s what I always do.
The road ahead seems infinite. Much like our marriage was trying to bleed together with the two of us trying so hard, we were still forever divided. And that damned white-picket-fence running along both sides of the road—was it following me? Was it reminding me of what was almost attained, yet forever lost?
I recall sitting at Dr. Ferguson’s office, a shrink and marriage counselor. Tess again told me that we were here to save our marriage, but the fact that he’s a psychologist informed me that there may be more on today's agenda than our matrimony. Imagine, a perfect stranger interpreting the most intimate parts of our lives. How emotion gives way to vulnerability. I don’t want to talk about our life and what we do behind closed doors. It’s for us to resolve and mend. This was just a premeditated tactic on her part, ultimately leading to the divorce papers she gave me that wrecked my life.
Could a shrink help me with my stagnant libido? Fine, then prescribe me one of those blue pills, inject me with a fertile seed, and problem solved. What I would give to bury a child inside her, now that we can’t conceive together. Strange the loss of something never felt. All I took from the shrink was one simple, yet profound statement I’ll never forget: ‘The only time things change is when you break the pattern.’ It was a brilliant statement.
How could they change unless the pattern was broken? It’s a pattern, right? But all this infinite psychology still led to the same end result of a path that seemed inevitable. The same path that led to this dead-end road. The road only seems infinite, but everything has an end. Everything that starts must have an end...
I want to go to Lowe’s, buy a can of paint and fix up our white- picket-fence past the side garden where Tess’s jasmine grows among thorns. The white-picket-fencing on both sides of the road turns into jagged barbed wire, iron twisted into sharp disappointments. Something broke inside me on a very deep level—or was it always broken and I just now noticed? I imagine myself in the front yard with a can of paint and a paintbrush in hand, slapping on a coat of latex.
Something is stirring just past my vision. It maintains a subtle presence beyond my peripheral view, keeping me at a disadvantage. It stirs past my imagination and hides in the shadows of reality. I’m not certain if it is analyzing me or coming after me. It is more than just a thought in the black, beyond the wake of a nightmare. And it is more than a self-manufactured paranoia, for it has a purpose. I’ve been told I’m paranoid, but I know it’s out to get me!
It’s a conscious entity taunting my vast imagination. It has an awareness behind my eyes and yet it’s crawling around off the side of the road as if it has interjected itself into my reality. Every time I move to confirm its presence, my body winces in pain, my breathing becomes more labored, and my mind can’t correlate what’s really happening.
Tess wakes up next to me one morning and finds herself in bed with a complete stranger. Oddly enough, the stranger is me. She stirs beneath the covers and rolls toward me. Soon she will reach for me as she always does and—here comes her arm now—serpentine beneath the sheets.
I cringe in terror combined with passion; I want her touch, need her love, yet the more she touches and the more she loves, the sooner our journey ends. No matter how valiantly I try, I cannot rewrite the script’s conclusion. Recently, she has begun to tell me that I’m not the same man she married…
Absurdist existentialism at its best manifests itself on the hands of unrequited love, because no matter how much Tess tries, I just lie here doing nothing, frozen in uncertainty, feeling the ebb and flow of my lifeforce trickling out.
“Do you want some breakfast? It’s Saturday and I don’t have to go to work. I can make scrambled eggs and cheese with hash browns and bacon,” she says way too enthusiastically.
“I never eat breakfast, you know that. If I do, it’s never this early when I first wake up. I have no appetite in the morning.”
“I know, I’m just trying to break up the monotony around here and do something different, like breakfast in bed.”
“Oh, so now I’m monotonous?”
“Not you. Stop being so defensive. You know what I mean. Our daily routine. Our ritual is always habitual. I just wanted to surprise you and do something spontaneous.”
“You know I hate surprises. I want to know what I’m getting into before just being thrown into a situation,” I replied like I always rehearsed.
We drift off into an awkward silence, reverting into a restless unsettling as I flip to my side and curl the covers around me like a pig in a blanket. Somehow, I guess I expected her to know me and my propensity for routine, that which I find comfort in, and my sarcastic ways would somehow be perceived as me being stubborn, which, in many ways, I thought she liked; my firm dedication to not wandering astray from a chosen path.
But now it almost seems like she is irritated by it, as if I had lost my boyish charm. She would always come around once she got over her pouting spell, or so I assumed -- as I always did. And with this set, pre-existing inflexible condition of mine, I expected her to know me better and not impose her willful ways on me. How gradually time changes things to a point where you can hardly even notice.
The End has a life of its own; its own intelligence. I can feel it drawing near with each touch, from each kiss and conversation with the woman I once loved. Each private intimacy brings us closer to an inevitable conclusion and these thoughts bring terror because something seems to manifest within the room; a palpable yet invisible presence that is empowered and made strong by Tess’s touch. Ironic that my need for Tess also brings forth The End. Does this insanity originate from a neurotic psychosis and superstition, or is this presence as tangible as it feels?
Despite what my eyes do not see, I feel something with us in our bedroom, something is watching that’s impossible to describe or understand. The warmth of Tess’s hand nestling into my thigh just before contact is a harbinger of doom, empowering this thing that hovers around me—a portent of abstraction propelling us into the absurd conclusion that awaits us. She mistakes my trembling for me being cold, and offers the warmth of her body, which forces me to overcome my intimate paralysis and spring out of bed.
“Aunt Edna called,” Tess tells me. “The family’s getting together for the holiday weekend.”
“Don’t you mean YOUR family?” I wanted to say, but I merely nodded and considered all the yard work that needed doing. I didn’t remember which holiday it was; all the holidays merged and distorted before me like signposts along the highway blurring past, as if Picasso framed the speeding landscape around our marriage.
“I have stuff to do, Tess.” I thought of the mold beginning to blight the fence, the roses I’d planted for her. She always let me take care of her garden and I never complained. Even the jasmine with its overpowering stench was a testament of my love for Tess. Couldn’t she see that? “I can’t make it. Maybe next time.”
“Of course you can’t.” Her voice turned hollow, bleak. “You stay home, dear. Mend the old fence.”
“Okay then. Have a good time,” was all I could think to say.
A year later Tess and I sat in lawn chairs before the side garden. “What happened to us?” she asked. We looked at each other for a long time, saying nothing. She began to describe to me how we met, and how wonderful it had been, expounding about a utopian experience.
Then I felt something behind us, a presence growing stronger as she spoke. Something was listening to our conversation, but she didn’t notice. After a pause when I said nothing, Tess stood and went into the house without saying a word, the silence speaking volumes.
It is funny how people paint their past with bright and vivid colors, how they transform their beginnings into “Glory Days” as Tess had transformed when we first met like some mythical romance.
“It didn’t happen that way,” I said after she left.
Yes, it did, said the unwelcome presence behind me. I turned to look, but the invisible specter wasn’t there. Instead, I tended the roses and jasmine and wondered if the white-picket-fence wasn’t warping before my eyes.
“Do you want to go to counseling?” Tess asked last week over the phone. It seemed to be the only way we spoke anymore because her schedule and paradigm, like her daily world, didn’t seem to mesh with mine anymore. “I'll make an appointment,” she coaxes.
“Sure, go ahead,” my automaton response.
She sighed, recognizing the same lackadaisical tone in my voice. She mentioned something about how trashed the yard was as I brood over her many family get-togethers and various shopping sprees.
“I need some…help,” I confessed.
“We don’t even make love anymore.”
Even our conversations didn’t mesh anymore.
I didn’t say anything. I wanted to — I wanted to talk about the End and the fence that needed mending — how every time she and I touched, it brought about something which had no name, an invisible shadow that lived with us every moment of our lives. I had begun hearing it whisper through Tess’s voice, had begun almost wishing for its presence as Tess and I lay in bed, never making contact.
“What are you waiting for? she would ask, lying next to me.
I smiled whenever its presence flooded the room, not quite understanding her frequent tears. Once I asked her, “Do you feel it?”
“I feel nothing,” she replied, her face heavy with regret.
Now, I can understand if there was some catastrophic event that transpired between us. I have never engaged in a nefarious affair or went out gallivanting until all hours of the night. Nor did she partake in any act of infidelity, or even innocent flirting for that matter. And neither of us suffered from an addiction, drug or alcohol wise to bring forth this inevitable apocalypse between us. Nor had I ever laid hand upon her in rage or abuse. That’s what was especially disconcerting to me. We never fell into the clichés of the most common reasons for a divorce. Heck, we didn’t even have any shouting matches to offend the neighbors. We simply fell out of love with each other. It seemed our relationship became the jasmine with an overwhelming stench.
The Years of Decay
I remember them distinctly. A paradox of being together and being alone at the same time. It was a crossroads of growing, irreconcilable differences, leading to indifference. Two people that became self-sold slaves to their own rut, sharing a roof together for convenience, yet they existed as two separate entities of non-intimate beings. After my life seed was deemed infertile, the sex had become equally as soiled; the daily romance faded. Time is a distillery of emotion, dispensed by doses of loveless acts that maintain a robotic finesse and harbor a listless indifference between them.
The road reminds me of how far we’ve come, only to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, with tumbleweeds rolling by like curled-up skeletons of shriveled memories, exhausted of life. A paved grave leading to the promise of a certain destination, always within sight but never within reach. The further you gaze, the more magnified the illusions become until the mirage is your life, waiting at the far end of something unachievable. But as long as there is an illusion of hope down the road, we will deceive ourselves to press forward and maintain our course.
Something I fear:
The loss of love from the one I loved. I am so accustomed to the togetherness, I don’t know how to be without. Strange how familiarity breeds contempt. Above and beyond the once-upon-a-time intimacy and love making was the promise of a life-long partner there with me as a guiding compass that completed me. The moments now memories, and her memories now in this moment, she has somehow developed an angelic aura in her absence…
The shadowy figure has returned. It has moved from the side of the road to the rearview mirror of my mind as it circles and stalks me beyond my vision. A shadowy effigy and conscious being or anti-being has come for me as I continue to bleed out my love, empty out my soul, and slowly relinquish my being. Life is so fragile and temporary as the moments that make up my existence flash by like a home video, highlighting all my experiences.
It’s also aware of the visions that I’m projecting, as if feeding off them as it draws ever closer. It has come to eclipse my thoughts forevermore. In the ramshackle ruins of what was once my life, I have become so very vulnerable to the passing infinity that wants to claim me on this abandoned road...
“You did WHAT?” I exclaimed.
Tess continued applying her makeup while I watched from the bathroom door. She ignored my attempts to solicit a response from her. When she finished, she stated, “They’ll be here in half an hour.”
After Tess brushed past me, I got a whiff of musty sweat—mine. Looking down I saw my dirty T-shirt and filthy jeans from working in the garden. “But I have nothing to wear.”
“Yes you do. I laid your dress clothes out on the bed.”
“Who are these people again?” I moaned. “I hate surprises.”
“A couple from work.” Tess cocked her head, her eyes pleading. “For me, please? Just this once?”
My routine had already been disrupted so I resigned myself to Tess’s schemes. I turned on the shower and shut the bathroom door, letting the steam create a mystified world in which I sought escape.
“Twenty minutes,” Tess yelled.
Jack Harms sat next to his wife Elaine and I tried not to stare at their hands clasped on the table. When was the last time Tess and I had held hands? I chalked it up to the fact that the newly married couple—still hot for each other; deeply in love—who knew nothing about the End. I remembered Dr. Ferguson’s words about breaking the pattern. I reached for Tess’s hand to mimic Jack and Elaine and to break the pattern that had been suffocating us.
Tess let loose a titillating laugh and pulled her hand from mine. Her eyes said back off but her face remained pleasant for her friends. I reached for her hand again, but she yanked it from my grasp. A waiter with a towel over his right arm approached our table then strutted off after seeing our struggle. Nearby patrons noticed us and, in their faces, I saw the End. I tried to hold Tess’s hand again but she folded her arms and bunched her shoulders.
“It’s cold in here, don’t you think?” Tess asked Elaine.
Elaine looked uncomfortable but smiled awkwardly then turned her attention to Jack to look away from our antics.
“What’s the matter with you?” Tess whispered into my ear. “You won’t even make love to me in the privacy of our own home and now you want to hold my freaking hand?” she lamented in my ear with scathing contempt, digging her nails in my knee as if we were a sado-masochistic couple discovering a freshly picked scab.
It wasn’t just her tone of voice that made me freeze; it was the eerie, alien intelligence shining in her eyes, the whispered and arcane syllables radiating through her words. The End was speaking to me through my wife. The lights of the expensive restaurant dimmed but I saw and felt the distinct presence of something so foreign, it couldn’t be described.
“Could you pass the bread and butter, dear,” Tess asked, so that I’d have something else to do with my hands.
“What’s wrong?” Tess asked when I stood so fast I knocked over my wine glass. Jack immediately used his cloth napkin to sponge up the spilled spirits, sort of smelling like jasmine and Riesling. Tess called my name again. Elaine looked on as if I were some grotesque slug.
“Nothing’s wrong.” I just threw my napkin on the table. “It’s… we don’t belong here.”
Here, meaning Tess and myself; we just didn’t belong here, or there, or anywhere. We had tried to force ourselves to graft to each other, but The End was right around the corner.
Then I saw shadows stirring beneath the heavily draped table; felt claustrophobic in the thickening air. It was all around us. I felt the conclusion to eleven years of trial-and-error, but only I knew where this was going. I also saw where Jack and Jill, or whatever the hell her name was…Jane or Elaine! were going. I saw The End coming for all of us to pull us from each other’s clasping hands in death.
“Will you sit down, Dennis?”
“Well, they won’t bury us together,” I uttered aloud. “Maybe side-by-side, but in the end we rest in solitude in different coffins, alone in The End.” I smiled, pretending all was well.
A muted shock besieged Tess’s open mouth in a frozen oval. She looked at her friends and shook her head, stunned in disappointment. A silent dagger was cast that lanced her heart.
I needed stealth to put distance between us, to put a thousand-miles—no, a million miles—between my wife and I. I would leave this masquerade of a marriage, covering the pus of our souls, the seeping, hidden desire that we both felt yet never declared. The lies we told each other, the illusion of true love that was never ours—the bubble burst as the End closed in, as the pattern-that-was-never-a-pattern broke and grew stronger in this one ugly moment here in public. I understood now: the pattern that broke wasn’t our routine; it was The End which broke free, thickening and congealing in the dark places of my soul, forever seeping misery.
Jack peeked up at us over his menu and interjected, as if to placate the situation.
“Well, we can get another table, maybe a booth in the corner if you don’t like being out in the open.”
“Yes, I think we should,” I said, trying to disguise what I really meant, but had already committed myself and couldn’t retract.
“Waiter,” I called to remedy the situation.
“Dennis,” Tess hissed. Is this really necessary?”
“You know I hate being out in the open with people walking by, bumping into you,” I replied, creating another mild scene amongst us.
“This isn’t IHOP. Seating and reservations are usually booked two weeks in advance here.”
The waiter approached, cocking his nose in the air.
“Is there a problem, sir?”
I was suddenly put on the spot, embarrassed and fumbling.
“Um, I was just wondering. Are there any free booths available in the corner?” I asked with a musical tone to gesture all was well.
“I’m afraid not. We are usually packed to capacity on Sundays.”
“I see,” I uttered, finding myself in a checkmate of sorts, trying to take charge of the situation, but found myself null and void as its prisoner. “Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask…” my famous last words.
“Yes, sir.” he bade in a pompous tone. “If you’ll excuse me, I do believe your dinner will be served momentarily.” Then he walked off.
“Are you done creating a scene now, honey?”
“No biggie,” Jack interjected. “We’re lucky to get seating at all.”
“No matter where we sit, I’m sure it will all taste the same,” said Elaine, an Aristotle of fine-dining cuisine.
I looked at the beautiful manmade waterfall adjacent to us as another maitre d’ served us soon after.
“Here we go,” he said robotically and started reciting what each of us had ordered. When he got to me last, he said, “The Porterhouse, medium-well with asparagus.”
How naked my plate looked without any carbohydrates, which I assumed came with my meal. “Wow, for $70.00, you can’t even throw in a potato?” I asked, a Neanderthal at a fancy feast.
“This is a la carte, sur. And we don’t throw, we gently place,” he said in a chastising manner.
“It doesn’t come with anything other than this…?” I wanted to say broccoli, but I knew it wasn’t that, so I kind of just trailed off.
“A knife…” he replied. (Did he just say a knoife?) “Perhaps some steak sauce if you fancy.” Could he cock his nose any higher in the air?
“Yes, please,” I requested, feeling all eyes heavily upon me.
“I’ll have another glass, no, make that a carafe of Chardonnay,” my wife interjected, downing the golden remains of her chalice.
“We’re fine,” Jack said, a testament to their couple status.
“Excellent then. I’ll return shortly with your condiments and the lady’s wine,” the waiter said, stabbing me with his words.
As dinner progressed, I remember saying:
“Yeah, I should have remembered from when we were here last year that you have to pay for everything separately,” I said to my wife after Sir Pompous waddled away.
“We were here three years ago, dear,” Tess corrected me like a school teacher, reminding me of my time-amnesia…as always.
“Has it been that long?” I asked, thinking she was mistaking the last time we had sex.
Yes, I remember that night so distinctly like I was a witness to a foreign scene that shouldn’t have had us in it; could have been better controlled on my part; would have been the other couple had time eroded their respect for each other. It was a telltale sign of our future as a couple; a pivotal turning point defined in that waking moment.
What I remember the most was the beaming glow of the couple we were with radiating in our funeral wake. Together our marriage, Tess’s and mine, had become this dirge of sadistic intent toward one another, littered with her biting sarcasm and underlying mockery. We became progressively malignant and blissful in our ignorance of just how destructive and lethal we’d devolved as a couple; a ruse of dark entertainment for others to take note of what not to become and why.
My wife sipped and I chewed without further comment, as if someone had flushed a toilet to the sound of our inevitable demise.
Even now as The End calls to me, it seems I’m at the threshold of a new beginning brought forth by a certain outcome. Over time, I have trivialized our relationship, summed up by a long laundry list of what-went-wrongs.
None of these moments could be taken aback and replayed under different circumstances with better results. They were collectively compromising, one verbal dagger at a time; the inevitable end to something that should have been, but never did prevail to what could have been our salvation. We were living in nefarious contempt of one another, playing the blame game, surrendering to new clichés that plagued our marriage, ridiculed our respect, and undermined all the time we spent together in a cruel form of mockery and disdain. It all played out as if it maintained a lifeforce all its own…
The divorce papers she slapped on our dining room table made a crisp smack like a head-on accident. Yes, that’s it, the car accident! The one act of fate that defined this very moment as if both were the same event that paralleled each other like the left and right side of the road. The cause and effect that ultimately led to a shattering sequence of events that transpired between us and our marriage.
The heavy gravity was now defining the last waking memories of my life. It was as if I heard the tires screeching and watched as an unwilling witness the moment we call an accident an accident. After all, they don’t really call them deliberdents, do they?
She was texting me a list of things I forgot to pick up while I was driving. I took an unfamiliar route that led to an alternate highway; a highway I was hoping would be an alternate reality to escape all my insurmountable problems. I never went to the damn store! Instead, I went to a bar and had a few mixed drinks just to…mix things up a bit. When I exited, I made a left instead of a right; a consciously chosen path that represented a firm decision that invariably decided my fate.
The combination of mixed alcohol and adrenalin gave birth to the despondent, passive-aggressive chance-taker in me. I listened to the voice that said turn left, and I did. I heard the chirping of my cell phone nagging at me to reply. I could animate her letters forming into words and her voice inflections chastising me of items I forgot at the store, trumpeting like an elephant in the background of my mind.
The multi-tasker in me said I could successfully juggle both the wheel whilst getting in a few jabs at our jousting expedition via text. I took a few blows, sarcastic in nature, and wielded my bastard sword in the air, ready for the fatal, thrusting stab that would shut her up. On the road there were no signs of life; no vehicle headlights beaming on the adjacent side. I may not have been sexually active, but I sure as hell was textually active. I typed and pecked and jabbed like a vulture picking at the gaping maw of an animal carcass. I think the metaphor actually came true as I was driving -- or least I pictured it happening.
It was daylight still, dawning into dusk. The sun might as well have been sitting on the end of the road, luminous and beaming with incandescent rays; its illumination blinding me from seeing the road. Then, from out of nowhere, a white pick-up truck grew increasingly larger in my windshield. It was parked alongside the shoulder, but I must have veered off the main road -- much like my marriage. As I hit the breaks and screeched my tires along the gravel, the image became more magnified and collision was imminent. I braced for impact…
There’s something I hear…
“You did what?”
Those were the words I’d blurted whenever Tess disturbed my routine, like when she informed me we would be dining with Jack and Jill—whoever. But now I imagined those words coming out of Tess’s mouth at the police station. They sounded like crunching metal and splintering glass. I saw myself behind bars, telling her how I hadn’t gone to the store, how I went to a bar instead, and then sped down the highway. I would have gotten a D.U.I. and Tess would be in my shoes, her routine broken by my spontaneity, shouting, “You did what?”
“Pretty impulsive, eh?” I would have loved to reply: ‘Broke the pattern, didn’t I? I guess Dr. Ferguson was good for something, eh?’
Yes, that’s what I imagined in that slow-motion moment when the past and present collided with The End. I laughed just before the initial crunch then cried as a speed limit sign soared past me.
I laughed until the entire world shook, until my ribs popped and something began to seep through my shirt onto my hand while I watched Tess walking up the crumbling sidewalk into the house—OUR house, damn it!—and the scenes of eleven years of marriage became pieces framing a mock reality, a destiny overshadowed by the presence slithering into the car with me, cascading through the air until…
The sidewalk crumbled and the white-picket-fence blighted with mold; our love turned to a routine masquerade that cracked in a restaurant during a fairytale—Jack and Jill went down a hill and smashed into a white pickup truck; tires squealed as I looked up from texting drunken epitaphs, and the presence screamed in the cacophony that never really ends, but begins with wedding vows. Everything blurred into a Picasso of savage delight, until I couldn’t tell yesterday from yesteryear, until I couldn’t fathom or decipher the next second from the tumbling paradigm swirling around my wrecked car. Fragments of our marriage smashed as car met truck, as metal impacted glass, and man met woman. It all end in shards…
I woke startled back into reality. Tess was absent as I felt my moist side and broken ribs. A man hung partially from the window in his truck, unconscious—lucky bastard!—and a thick strand of bloody ooze drooled from his agape jaw. Within the crimson strand was The End, whispering terrible secrets in my ear. Tess texted me a list of the things I forgot to pick up -- none of which entailed a pick-up truck.
Amidst the scent of gasoline and stench of burnt rubber, I heard wisdom in wedding vows spoken eleven years earlier; I felt my heart slowing, heard the death-rattle of a stranger hanging out of his truck, and I smirked at Tess within a police station asking, “You did what?” (That part hadn’t happened yet.) Jack and Jill sat across from us as I went to Lowe’s and bought a can of make-believe finish to paint over something-that-could-never-be-mended.
The sight of a thousand crows filled the air. My shirt was red, although it had been white before I told Tess I was going to the store, but went to the bar instead. The slow realization of how serious this was began to lament along the membrane of my consciousness, and what I’d been feeding on my entire life—the plastic mask of domestic happiness, my only bliss of a paradise that survived the downfall. Out of the same sustenance, a stomach will extract nourishment and absorbs toxins. Our sentimental ‘I Love You’s’ became waste, flushed through years of indifference, coalescing into these final crossroads of time on the side a thousand fragments of eternity, but only one highway. I only wish I told her more, even if only in vein…
Suddenly, I was sitting with Tess in our lawn chairs before our garden. “What happened to us?” she asked, as she described how we met, repainting the past with lies and exaggerations. I wanted to say, “Glory Days” but didn’t. I heard her voice yet I wasn’t there; I was still inside my car, pinned behind the steering wheel as fragments of time stitched themselves to my consciousness.
“Well, you win,” I informed the omniscient presence that had all the while been stalking me -- throughout the years and perhaps throughout my life. For the first time, I spoke to it directly. “Here I am, you bastard!”
Nothing happened. The demon didn’t appear to claim my soul, to take me down into the pits of Hell. It was all vanity! I became angry and cursed, bubbling blood forming on my lips, angry that the demon had tried so hard to claim me wouldn’t appear now when I needed it the most. The rearview mirror revealed my distorted face through enraged illusion, splintered and cracked, like my life.
“You bastard,” I shouted at The End, crimson spittle flying. “Show yourself now! I’m ready! Come and take me already!”
At last, a faint, small whisper sounded, a vapor mirage slowly appeared above the horizon line, wavering like the illusion of our concrete foundation, setting like sun bleeding into the horizon. But it came from deep within where something broke—or had it always been broken?—and finally I began to understand…
Tess painted the past with vivid colors, creating our ‘Glory Days’ out of fragments that were nothing more than broken shards of the cracked rearview mirror through which I now envisioned myself—and glimpsed reality—for what it truly was. She sugar-coated the past into a vainglorious paradise, yet I painted the future with a certain truth and that truth was…The End. Only something was clearly…wrong.
This presence I manifested was never real -- had never been real; I manufactured it from the delusions of my psyche, just as Tess had recreated our beginning from false hopes and dreams. A shard of glass fell from the splintered rearview mirror and with it toppled eleven years of marriage that had been nothing more than a lie; a car wreck on reality’s highway of shattered dreams where both sides of the road always tried to converge in the distance, but never did. Where white-picket-fence dreams blurred past at 90 m.p.h. into a barbed-wire essence of finality.
The End didn’t need to claim me because it had always owned me. It owns all of us, each and every single person, and it has “had us” since the beginning. All of us are like characters in Nathaniel West’s novels. All of us are going to California to die, loving the splendor of Hollywood-illusions, glimpsing reality only when the rearview mirror cracks and The End descends like locusts feeding…
The End has claimed the guy sitting dying behind the wheel in his pick-up truck. A nausea is filling my stomach at the asphyxiation I feel, trying to pump air in my lungs in short bursts. My heartbeat is quickening by varying degrees of my broken spirit. My forehead feels hot and sweaty as does my body. I smell the raw burning debris of our vehicles, crushed metal under the sun, rancid with a slow decay, over easy. My body is bleeding out along with my gently seeping soul. Our love was a bleeding rose, rotting with putrefaction like dying jasmine.
I never knew my soul was bleeding…
I withheld emotion as my soul gently seeped. Was it an internal metamorphosing, trying to show me something? Something my eyes could not yet see, but my breath could feel with each exhale. A flow of energy and existence for as long as the moment allowed. Often my silence can exhaust the confusion of others. Reminders of the way I have embraced my dedication. Maybe over time, my devotion will lend a bleeding truth to others like a repetitive behavior on the verge of personal completion. Was my love truly dying as much as my soul was gently weeping? Has it really been this way all along, too subtle to notice, yet too painful to confront? Maybe now she will understand…
I’ve been on this road for far too long now. It’s not meant to be. Both of us are losing our identity. Our hopes have been denied, yet somehow we just kept pretending. At first I thought I was referring to Tess and I, but my mind is wavering in confusion from the blood loss. I meant the truck driver and I. As we lay here dying, we are somehow losing our identities yet we keep pretending this event never occurred and soon we will return to our lives and everything will be back to normal. I guess the same could be said about Tess and I. This is all becoming one event that parallels with each as a result of the other. The accident was my divorce, yet the divorce was not accidental. They collided head on, dying with each other, like the truck driver and I.
I never knew my soul was bleeding for the same reason I didn’t want to accept the fact that my body was dying. Neither myself nor the truck driver foresaw our deaths happening today in the middle of our lives. We were just trying to get somewhere. Then again, so were Tess and I. How I regret not being able to go through this pain and figure out a way past it…or was that also a dead end? Perhaps this will serve as an enigmatic memory and make an icon of me in the eyes of Tess. Or maybe this was the best gift I could give her; my permanent absence so she could move on with her life. Sometimes moving ahead means leaving something behind to create the illusion of distance and motion. Maybe this is why we had become so stagnant?
As the sun bled into the horizon, so did my heart into my soul. Like our marriage nothing was clear until the very end. It was never painted in black and white; rather a dulling of both -- blurring into gray. Accordingly, all of this will turn to ash. Yet it stemmed from a gradual meshing of colors spilling into themselves like vapor trails of memories; orange dipping into red, red into an eternal night of the soul; now eclipsing in the darkness with each blink, winking out of existence as I sit here and think...
It would seem that me sitting here crushed behind the wheel of my car is as far as I would ever go, and yet as far as I’ve ever been. As the lifeforce seeps between my fingers, I’m getting all tingly and numb. All the while, I am vying for keepsake of my life. An internal suffocation is taking place as my breath quickens and I realize that no one is coming. My blood, sweat and tears are congealing, soon to be evaporated -- the fast pulsing fluids the finality of my essence -- dissolving like the sun bleeding over the horizon, awakening itself to dark veil of nightfall.
…Something is here…The End...
Steven Nicholas Marshall John Arthur Miller
I Dream Of Death
I lie here in eternal calm with my arms crossed on my chest. My eyes closed, body stilled, I feel a tear drop splashing upon my cheek and trickle like an icy tendril congealing upon the dead clay that was once my putrid flesh. A loved one looms over my borrowed human shell, crying. A dark coolness cascades over my carcass like a wave.
I hear the lid to my coffin clamping down, imprisoning me in this grim solitude; my nocturnal pit of evermore. Henceforth, the casket seals and I’m lowered into the dank, brittle ground of a sunless earth. Darkness quickly absorbs me as the swelling shadows encompass me here in my grave. I’m now trapped in this abyss, screaming within myself.
Now hear my cry! A deafening scream from within permeates my being at the odd realization of the end of taste, touch and smell. My hollow empty husk hardens as it crusts over with the brittle earth. My lifeblood drained and fluids evaporated, I lie in perpetual stillness, crawling inside my skin as if to twitch in protest. I endure a lingering itching sensation that I cannot scratch. My organs are writhing like snakes in coming to terms of my life lost. I cannot claw my way out of my skin. Thus, I lie restlessly in limbotic stillness.
What has happened here? This must be some kind of mistake! My heart doth no longer beat; my blood no longer pulsates through my body. Indeed, they confirmed this upon my death. Yet my brain still maintains its own heartbeat within me; a sensation of existence I cannot escape. The last food rots inside my stomach; my insides no longer able to process it. Thoughts ripple through me like an entity within my own being. Death has yet to take claim of them for reasons I know not. Stop thinking, just acknowledge an end!
For me, there is no Heaven of glory bright where angels are dwelling, no Hell where sinners are roasting; divine is my suffering and now is my day of torment. My thoughts echo on and ricochet through every fiber of my being. I cannot will myself to cease to exist as I run lunatic in my head, for I am devoid of life, yet not quite one with death. My new awareness of existence continues to haunt me in the catacombs of my imagination, forever taunting my dead self.
I can now feel the dirt spilling over my grave, feel my casket sinking deeper into the dark earth, hear the distant sobs of loved ones. If they only knew the grim nature of my suffering in this asphyxiated eternal suffocation of my soul, my nocturnal state of anti-being, they too would crawl inside of their skin. A numbing chill tickles my soul as death enraptures my body. Why can I not die? Why can this existence not cease to be? Why does God not feel me?
The thought of oblivion terrifies me so! For the moment, I feel solace in my awareness of existence. I remember having panic attacks at night, thinking about death, eternity, the beginning and end of time, and the nothing from whence I came to the nothing to where I shall go. This Void of Nevermore stemmed from a vision of nothingness -- now a fully conscious living-but-not-breathing nightmare.
The frigid darkness is overshadowing me with yet even more frightful sensations that this may never end; creeping, lingering thoughts of embodied imprisonment and eternal unrest as I decay away. Death in pure form is simply not an option.
My skin begins to shrivel like the dead autumn leaves outside of my grave, peeling like bark and flaking away. Death has now taken on its own life as the process of decay withers me away; corrodes me as mold grows over my skin. The formaldehyde settles in me like still water in a pool, replacing the life force of my blood. Numb inside, start to decay, emptiness shatters my soul to gray. Memories of life I once forgot, slowly I mold, decay and rot. I become one with the metamorphosis taking over my flesh as I now see the beauty of decay firsthand. How the symbiosis between life and death interacts with each other in parasitic contentment, unaware of my pulsing thoughts. It’s only function is to trade my flesh for a more organic purpose; to give life within death uninterrupted by my whimsical dilemma.
The roots of the earth are feeding off of me: vines corrugate my veins, rain moisture replaces sweat and mold patches over my flesh; worms fester inside my intestines. I can feel each stage of my transformation consuming and becoming me as I rest here defenseless and without hope; a manmade dogma of pragmatic comfort. The predicament of my horror is pure, but without it I would not be able to acknowledge my existence.
I am now in the cocoon stage of my existence, slowly morphing into something else. Even though the caterpillar that was once my body has stopped crawling, I am a dead moth without a soul, unable to fly away. I scream inside myself, unheard by any God or Netherworldly Anti-being.
Now fully awake inside my shell, I languish here in a coma of my own soul. I simply cannot scratch this internal itching, organs on the brink of popping -- those palpating batteries within which now forsake my flesh. When will my physical brain stop acting as nerve fibers sending pulses of thoughts to me? I am but a lost insomniac in my own bodily death, resting but wide awake, knowing but not seeing; dreamless yet not quite dead. And thus my horror is a lingering and personal one without an end; ongoing and eternal as I bequeath this internal continuum alone and suffocate within myself. The creeping insanity is divine as it is malevolent. Let me die; release me from this shadowy effigy of me.
The Beauty of Decay
By Steven N. Marshall
Prelude to The Banished
The vast overabundance of toxic chemicals in the enclosed atmosphere created a spontaneous combustion, triggering random explosions throughout the entire factory with deadly radiation. The noxious gases flooded the halls like water in a ruptured submarine, choking the lungs of anyone breathing it and collapsing them to an agonizing death.
Just inside of a minute, half of the inmates on the workforce labor crew were banished to extinction from the initial blasts. The other crew on the level below were fleeing for their lives and seeking refuge from the toxicity seething through the air. No one knew or cared what had happened to the guards or the other factory workers. The only concern was seeking immediate shelter and temporary safety before becoming extinct.
The explosions reverberated above and around them as they frantically followed each other progressively downward to the lower levels until they reached the boiler room. The inmates of the second crew had seized a hostage, who they forcefully escorted along. He was the last surviving janitor who worked boiler room maintenance at the factory.
He led the inmates straight into the closet supply room in fear of his life. Once inside, they shut the door and flicked on the lights. Above, they could still hear the thunderous explosions, footsteps racing, voices screaming, and the hollow thuds of bodies collapsing to the floor. Mass chaos was still escalating above and around them and it was difficult to distinguish the explosions from the gunshots.
The air in the supply room was rippling with vapors from the intensity of the heat, making it unbearable to breathe. There were eleven of in total confined, sucking up all the breathable air in such a small, contained environment.
Each moment of panic and anxiety drained the source of their precious remaining air. Together, they were randomly thrown in a predicament of dire consequences with no hope of making it out alive. Each surveyed those amongst them to see whose faces they recognized. They knew they had to devise a plan -- and quickly.
“What the fuck happened?” screamed one of the inmates.
“Don’t you see, there’s been a chemical explosion! The entire factory has been destroyed!” yelled Jake over the commotion.
“What the hell are we going to do?” asked another.
“I’ll tell you what we are going to do,” asserted Jake. “Use this as our one chance of escape! But not just yet – it’s still too lethal up there; it’ll peel the flesh of your bones before you can make it out. We must wait, but not too long. They’ll want to contain the area and will probably have the National Guard out here within the hour because it’s a prison break security risk.”
“So how long before we get the fuck outta here?” asked the first.
“At least 30 minutes, but we’ll need to prepare ourselves before we can go out there as the toxic fumes will still be rippling in the air. Believe me, you don’t want to breathe that shit!” said Jake.
“He’s right. We don’t stand a chance until some of the debris settles,” intervened the factory lab technician, who instinctively followed them into the boiler room. “You think it’s hot in here now? Wait until you get upstairs and feel the heat from the explosions! You’ll need to bundle up. Even a half-hour might be too soon.”
“It will have to do and we’ll have to take our chances,” persisted Jake, assuming a leadership role among them.
“Who the fuck are they?” a disgruntled Mohawked skinhead wanted to know, pointing at two unknowns in the room.
“I’m Stan Hammond, one of the factory scientists here.”
“I’m…Robert, the boiler room maintenance guy.”
“So Robert, I take it you are knowledgeable about the layout? Would you like a second chance at life?” offered Jake as he slowly circled Robert.
“Yes. Sure,” Robert humbly spouted.
“If we make it out, you are both coming with us. If either of you try to escape I will kill you myself,” promised Jake.
“What the fuck do we need the other guy for?” the skinhead protested in reference to the scientist. “The more we have with us, the more it will slow us down. And the better chances the cops will have at spotting us.”
“Hostage for now, knowledge for later; knowledge on surviving out in the woods. We must band together as one, despite any of our differences and backgrounds. We will have to accept the fact that if we survive beyond today, life will be much more difficult than we knew it and forever tainted. We’ll also have to make a home in the woods so as not to be caught by the cops. And that includes learning how to hunt for food and sleep outdoors.”
“We stand no chance in society. Not now, not ever. There will be a national APB out on us as prisoners on the run,” said another.
“Okay headcount. How many of us are there in here? asked the skinhead, assessing their situation and doing headcount. (After counting:) 11? Where’s Russo and Sugar Pop?"
“If they’re not here, then assume they’re dead. If not by the explosion then gunned down by the guards. Now let’s not waste any time or oxygen on irrelevant details. Robert, where do you keep those paper face masks you use when you’re cleaning?” asked Jake, refocusing their priorities.
“Right over here in this box,” obliged Robert, pointing to it.
The inmates tore wildly at the box and shredded it open. A full supply of paper masks started toppling out, enough so they could take a handful each. They would need at least that to shield them from the toxicity looming in the air.
They found some used worker jackets on a storage rack and passed them around until each had coats and extra facemasks then prepared themselves mentally for what lay ahead.
“Now, Robert. You do know the way out? Keep in mind, the continuance of your life depends on this answer,” interrogated Jake, leering over his shoulder, breathing down his neck.
“Yes. Yes I do…” Robert said, exasperated.
“Great choice for an answer! Now Robert, same stakes as the previous question. Do you hold the magic key for the way out? Don’t let us down with the wrong answer, Robert, we are quite desperate and will do whatever it takes to get out here alive!” added Jake in a firm, unconditional tone.
“Not exactly. The factory doesn’t issue keys to the workers, only management. When you guys come to work they turn the whole place into lockdown. Even I’m treated like a prisoner. But I do know where the exit is. Isn’t that key enough?” Robert boldly inquired.
“It is for now, but don’t let me find out otherwise that you’re lying! So then it looks like we’ll need some kind of battering ram for the door. What do you have that’s like that?”
“Just a hammer in my toolbox to smash the knob. We would only have enough time to break the knob off. Can’t saw, pick or batter the door and breathe that shit all at the same time, you’ll collapse and die. It’s your best and only bet.”
“What kind of door is it?” asked Jake.
“Full metal security door with a round, iron knob. There’s no digital access so it’s not code sensitive. It leads out to the loading dock for incoming supplies.”
“What’s beyond that?” probed Jake.
“Dirt road, leading to a 20-foot-high barbed-wire metal fence all the way around. Same material and height as what’s around your prison walls. You’ll need some large wire metal clippers. Fortunately I have a pair right here in my toolbox.”
“Good, we’ll need them. What else obstacle wise?”
“Nothing I can think of.”
“Just in case something happens to you, what’s the exact way to that door?”
“Well, you go up one level, make a right into a reverse L, then another right down the corridor to a gray metal door. That leads to the fence which is code locked.”
“Assuming the police aren’t swarming the area by the time we make it that far,” scowled the skinhead with grave disapproval.
“There’s no other choice. It’s all or nothing. You can stay and take your chances or be ready to die out there. But either way, death should come quickly,” Jake said grimly to the group, advising them of their predicament.
“How long we been in here? I’m getting claustrophobic,” stated Jackson, one of the two black inmates among them.
“Not even 15 minutes. We have to wait at least that long before we go back up”
“Sh-iiit. It’s like the ferret going in da snake hole,” observed Jackson.
“You mean mongoose. Let’s just hope that no one’s home,” corrected Jake, all the while maintaining a leadership role.
“What else we gonna need?” asked Jackson.
“Whatever we can find. Let’s start looking,” suggested Jake.
The following fifteen minutes were ones of anxiety, curiosity and apprehension. They had managed to acquire some crude smashing devices, a few stabbing instruments, a painter’s tarp to cover over the sharp razor wire fence, and two hostages/tour guides that they were now using as human shields if need be.
Each grew increasingly nervous about the grueling situation they faced where life could turn to death in an instant. Some might already be statistics of death -- they just didn’t know who among them yet. Would it be excruciating death by radiation, suffocation, gunshot elimination, or a random shooting along the way?
Would any of them survive beyond today or were they destined to die, each silently wondered. The odds of survival in light of their situation were vastly against them. Given their current predicament, there was no other choice.
With sufficient layers of paper masks wrapped around their faces, they looked like true bandits as they exited the boiler room. Above, they heard fast moving footsteps pursuing other fast moving footsteps clanking along the hollow metal platform. Then a gunshot was fired and a voice cursed the air. The sound of a body fell then a more authoritative voice sounded.
After a brief pause, “Fuck you pig,” resounded off the walls then another gunshot rang out. “Yo, dat sounded like Sugar Pop!” whispered Jackson. The footsteps withdrew as they waited a full minute before proceeding to the next level where the radiation was most intense.
“If it was Sugar, he’s dead now. Here’s the plan: weapons guys in the front and back and supply guys in the middle. We’ll need to form a barrier around us and be ready for anything. “Just keep your voices down and stay sharp,” whispered Jake to the group.
As they opened the door to the ground level of the factory, back the way they came, they could see the air swelling and pulsing with rippling heat vapors. They made a run for it all at once and stepped stealthily according to the route that Robert had laid out.
Immediately they felt their eyes and lungs burning with sharp, painful omissions of the lethal vapors. It was unbearable as the tears welled up in their eyes, blurring their vision. It felt like an entire onslaught of bees had filled their chest and were stinging them en mass as they proceeded in an L pattern along the scalding hot metal platform.
They made a right down the long corridor leading to the rear exit of the factory. Sure enough, the dead body of Sugar Pop lay crumpled up on the platform as they passed. By the time they had reached the exit, their skin was molten hot, starting to boil and shrivel like dried prunes. The skin on their arms was beginning to clump and melt like a puddle of wax corrugating over itself.
There were no visible openings along the way where any of the explosions had blown holes through the walls, thus they were faced with the gray steel door in front of them. They were considerably weakened from the otherwise short trek due to the combustion of chemicals cascading in the air.
A clump of flesh fell off one of the inmate’s cheeks and he started choking on the air, violently coughing up blood. He slumped down to his knees, causing his facemask to shift underneath his chin. He breathed in and puked up a bile-like mucous, mixed with blood, as his eyes rolled back in his head. Life flashed by slowly and painfully as his body bucked and convulsed a few times before death claimed him.
The skinhead wasted no time mourning over his death as he smashed the hammer over the knob several times. It started to dent and bend, but the toxins usurped much of his strength. He cursed at it while the others desperately implored him to break past it. Fear and adrenaline coursed through them intensely, uncertain if they could hold out even for another second. Jake slammed all his weight into the door and kicked at the knob, but to no avail. The skinhead took one last whack and the knob finally buckled and gave way.
Just as the first few of the pack burst through the door, another gunshot ruptured behind them and another inmate fell; a skinny, rakish-looking white guy with awful jail-made prison tattoos and a long mullet. The bullet planted itself into his spine as he was hurled forward.
Behind them, a prison guard horribly marred and disfigured by the airborne chemicals, stood weakly against the railing. In the pack, a muscular biker inmate in the back turned and saw him and reacted immediately. He held in his possession a large wrench from the supply room and cast it at the guard. The wrench boomeranged through the air and struck the officer in the side of his head as he turned to avoid it. The firearm was knocked out of the officer’s hand and he lost his balance, dropping it over the rail. He tried valiantly to grasp it, but must have been too dizzied from the impact of the tool. His body toppled over the rail where he met a certain death in a sickening hollow thud.
They burst outside into the warm sunny air and stayed clear of the exit as much of the contamination seeped out in heat waves and escaped along with them.
The scientist crouched down inadvertently from heat fatigue and caught a lungful of the lethal fumes. In doing so he threw out his back, but hobbled along with the others as they made their way to the fence. All they had to do now was cut through the fence and escape if more police didn’t arrive by then and seal their fate.
Jake was the first to the fence with the wire cutters. He clipped one link at a time, trying to cut a rectangular pattern enough for them to escape. It took several minutes before he made any real progress.
One of the Hispanic inmates, Hernandez, was not a man of patience and he was losing it by the second. He was the one carrying the painter’s blanket and decided to climb the fence and heave the blanket over it for a quicker escape. As he ascended to the top, the sharp razor wire easily pierced through the blanket so he doubled it up and secured it in place.
He got half his body over just as Jake was almost done snipping through the wire. Another sound like that of beating thunder filled the air. They looked up to see a military helicopter in the distance. Hernandez looked up too and the razor wire was now carving itself into his exposed hands. He winced in pain as large drops of blood pelted the dirt. He screamed and cursed as he lifted his leg and flailed it over the other side of the fence. The blanket suddenly ripped open and his left arm fell through the opening. It shredded nearly all the flesh off his arm like he’d shoved it down a garbage disposal. Twisted tendons and sinew, like uncoiled licorice, scarcely clung to his limb as his skin peeled off like silk. He screamed as the chopper approached and tried throwing his other leg over, hoping his weight would carry him the rest of the way. His arm got tangled up even worse in the razor wire as he went to fling his body over.
He was now dangling in the air in suspended motion, hanging by his arm as the merciless barbs sunk into his bone making him an ornament of pain realized. Blood was now spilling like rain onto the sand and there was nothing anyone could do as they watched on helplessly.
With his body dangling on the other side of the fence, they could not even so much as kill him to spare him the suffering. His shrill cries would forever be etched in their nightmares as he howled in pain until he lost his voice and was simply hissing and gurgling at the air with the last strength that his lungs could muster.
Jake cut down the fence just in time for his group to escape before the chopper could make visual contact. The rest hid in the tall grass whose bristles blew like hair from the downdraft of the chopper. The spot man from the chopper surveyed the area below, probing the tall grass where the escapees sought refuge. That’s when the pilot noticed the body of Hernandez twisting and squirming on the fence like a hooked crab. Neither the pilot nor gunman could believe the amount of blood spilling from the shredded limb of Hernandez.
Mercifully, seeing his mutilated condition and knowing he was beyond any medical help with radiation exposure, they opened machine gun fire on him. A swarm of bullets violated his torso as his body twitched and danced, pierced by razor wire where he languished; a human shish-ka-bob.
The others waited for the chopper to disappear before making their way through the field and into the thicket of the woods. They were surprised that only three of them had perished in their escape.
But how deformed and infected would they become in their brief encounter with the radiation? How many years had they just lost in this fateful moment?
No matter how strong or muscular each might have been, it had to take some exacting and permanent toll on them. The toxic chemicals coursed through their veins and irritated their lungs, completely mutating them. Hair was falling off of their heads in large clumps. Their skin became matted and charred, boiling with newly forming cysts. They were nearly blinded from the harsh toxins. It even hurt to speak.
But at last they were free. They had robbed the system of the time they would have faced rotting in prison for the duration of their sentences. Never more than now did they realize how alive they were, but it was through their pain and suffering that life seemed to regain its meaning.
Like some tribal cultures who willingly desecrate their flesh for beautification with tattoos, brandings, or body piercings, they soon discovered that pain must be experienced before its beauty can be realized. Tonight they came to realize a new kind of beauty in the extreme through the curse of radiation.
Pain was the nightmare that left its inevitable scars on them to prove that life was real. What aesthetically unpleasing decay had they suffered for their freedom? What further losses must they endure for their struggle to survive? Like some cultures, they would have to learn to embrace their pain and suffering. In doing so, they would eventually discover…the beauty of decay.