12/25/12

Night Before Zombiemas
By E.S. Wynn


I’ll never forget that light, that pulsing strobe of red and green as it lit up the snowy night sky like some tainted swarm of impossibly flying patrol cars. It was terrifying, eerie as it played among the blistering, pockmarked shadows clinging to the faces of the zombie mob, the shambling horde of eager corpses that yawned on into the night, moaning as they sought every sleeping body nestled snug in its bed, checked every house for survivors twice. My house was no different; they came in through the doors, the windows, the chimney. My only hope of escape was the second story, to climb out the window and onto the snow covered roof, to find up there some way to get down or get across to the next house before their prancing feet and pawing hands could find me.

But I was not so lucky.

No sooner did I reach the slope of the roof than what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a brilliant light that stabbed down at me from the heavens, blinding and hot against my skin even as I threw my arms in front of my face. There was a whistle, a shout, a crack of a whip, and then in the haze I heard his voice, knew the terrible laugh of the one who had spurred on the zombie horde, the one whose whip drove them forward and into the sleeping streets, kept them hungry, eager for human flesh. I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick, vicious overlord of the northern skies.

There was no time, no choice– I ran, but quickly realized that running barefoot on a frosty, angled roof is no vision of sugar-plums. I lost my balance almost immediately, slid sideways and then spun on the curve of one foot right off the edge and into snowy infinity. The ground came up at me like a flash, tore open my leg and slashed up my hands. In an instant, I knew I was done for, could hear the horde as it closed in on me, hungry to taste the bruised and broken flesh that my fall had opened for them. Cruel, talon-like fingers reached toward me, and for a moment I saw my death, whole body stiffening, chilling with the harsh realization that I was about to die.

And then Mrs. Rosenschwartz appeared.

She came hurtling out of nowhere like a flash in the night, her blood-stained walker and gnashing dentures a vision of salvation, the swinging, reusable shopping bag at her side crammed with goodies meant for the zombie horde. In one swift movement, she plunged one gnarled hand into the sack and tore loose a brown bottle whose white, plastic lid was no match for her porcelain chompers. I caught the twinkle in her eye as she bit free the cap and hurled the bottle into the mob, spraying countless numbers of the undead with a clear liquid that bit into their rotting flesh with foamy violence, dropping them in agonized heaps of writhing, screaming putridity.

“Here, take one, sonny.” She said suddenly, pressing one of the brown bottles into my hand with a grin. “Closest thing left on God’s green earth to holy water when it comes to these rotting punks!”

She didn’t wait for me to respond, just smiled that iridescent, be-dentured smile covered in the stains acquired in countless years of hard reps with a mug of coffee and a dedicated patience to the tutelage of a cigarette. In another instant, she was pushing her way back into the fray again, tossing bottles of the stuff right and left, draining each plastic carcass out upon the convulsing flesh of the risen dead. Awestruck and amazed, I looked at the label of the bottle, eyes wondering after the name of the magical liquid I clutched in my shivering hands. I found the name almost immediately. Hydrogen Peroxide.

I looked up in shock, saw the foaming carnage all around me. With a few well aimed tosses, old Mrs. Rosenschwartz had leveled the endless march of undead under a hail of writhing, bubbly torture whose burn fed upon the rot and disease inherent in every inch of corrupted flesh. Those zombies still under St. Nick’s control quivered in fear as Mrs. Rosenschwartz pulled another bottle of the magic liquid from her still bulging sack, but they soon lost even that speck of nerve and retreated like a host of holiday shoppers going home after Black Friday. St. Nick grumbled and hissed and gathered them all, then he hitched up his ship as his fiery engines gave a whistle and the whole horde flew away like the burning, rocket-powered down of a cyberpunk thistle.

But I swear that I heard him say as he roared out of sight;

I’ll get you next Christmas, kid; you just got lucky tonight.


- - -
Santa Claus believed in E.S. Wynn when he was a child, but later found out that the man in the khaki shorts and loud hawaiian shirts that wrote novels on the wall on Christmas Eve for an offering of cheese danish and Doctor Pepper was actually just his father in disguise.

12/18/12

Collision Error
By Kayla Al-Shamma-Jones


Nobody—save for the overly flirtatious mailman—seemed to notice when Jenna started falling.  I don’t mean that the ground opened up and began swallowing her whole, as if a pool of burping-swirling quicksand had opened up under her hand-me-down Skechers .  No, that’s not it at all—what happened to Jenna Barker is much more treacherous than that.  In the video game world they call it a “collision error” because objects start to pass right through you, almost as if everything (except you) has turned into some kind of hologram; everything looks and seems real, but as soon as you touch something, the jig is up! and you pass right through it.  Most of the time you (the player) won’t notice it for a while, but then it happens:  you’re running around in the game, trying to kill zombies or rescue a damsel or something like that, when bam! you trip and you fall, but instead of landing flat on your face you go right through the (holographic) ground and you fall
and you fall
straight through the crust of the earth and all the way through the planet’s red-hot center until there you are—
floating, completely and forever alone,
in space. 

Usually the only way to fix this sort of thing is to restart your game, but poor Jenna didn’t have that option so she just had to live with it.

Thankfully for Jenna the whole process happened slowly, at the rate of just a few inches a day, so she had time to try and figure out what the fuck to do.  But even though Jenna was one of those (annoying) straight-A girls, the best thing she could come up with was to ask her friends or (gulp) maybe even her teachers—but that was a bit of a problem because (like I said) nobody seemed to notice Jenna’s plight—or Jenna herself—at all, save for the mailman.  When she went to school that Wednesday, half of her shins had fallen through and she was significantly shorter than she’d been on Monday, but even then, her best friend Elly didn't notice; she just passed right by poor Jenna in the hallway before the morning bell.  The day went by and Jenna went from desk to lousy desk and nobody said a word to her.  Jenna knew she should say something, or cry out for help, but she didn’t want people to think she was crazy

(“Women and children should only speak when spoken to”, Father had told her when she was three and making too much noise at the supermarket),

so she went along with it and tried to be as normal as possible, which worked because nobody addressed her or even looked at her her at all that day, not even once, even though by lunchtime half her legs were gone.  Then there was cheer practice, which was depressing because of course Jenna couldn’t do most of the exercises during warm-ups or really participate at all; all she could do was stand there and flail her arms around which made her feel like an idiot.  The only person who spoke to her all day was the mailman, who was standing on the porch when the school bus dropped her off that afternoon.
“What the heck’s happening to you, Jenna?” he asked as she wobbled up to the front door.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s like you’re slipping through the cracks.”
Jenna looked down and noticed all the hairline cracks in the sidewalk and imagined all those tiny skittering bugs deep down in there and tried not to think about what it would be like if she continued falling and her head got stuck down there.  Would the bugs and worms crawl all over her eyeballs and nest in her hair and poop on her blouse? 
“Should I take you to a doctor?  I have a guy, real good, named Dr. Felp…I’ll give you a ride.”
Jenna knew that a doctor couldn’t help her, plus she didn’t want to go anywhere with the mailman, even if his offer was genuine and he was only a little creepy, so she just nodded and mumbled her thanks before walking-tottering past him and shutting the door.
When she got inside she did what all teenage girls do when they’ve had a rough day: she went to her bedroom and flopped on the bed.  Or, rather, she tried—but she couldn’t hoist herself up onto the bed because her legs were stuck.  She gripped the edge of her bed and pulled and wriggled and twisted until all her veins popped blue-purple against her porcelain skin, but it was no use.  Exhausted, she slumped over and decided that she’d just have to weep standing up.
But all that struggling must’ve done something because then she started to fall much more quickly, just like you do in video games. 
Down
down
down she went.
The whole earth rushed past her: she tumbled right past all those bugs and worms and went straight through the earth’s crust, then she slipped through an ocean of oil and passed through the sunshine-bright molten core (Jenna was thankful that it didn’t hurt—she actually didn’t feel the heat at all).   Then she did it all in reverse and fell through the sky somewhere around rural China and continued falling until she plummeted through the atmosphere and finally came to a rest somewhere in outer space—Jenna didn’t know where she was because she always fell asleep when her parents took her and her stupid sister to the observatory.  Nope, she was lost
and alone
            in outer space, and all she could do was float there,
                        and stare down at the big blue marble beneath her,
limp as a forgotten doll,
            and wonder why nobody noticed
when she started falling through the
cracks.


- - -
Kayla Al-Shamma-Jones was a pretty weird kid, which is why she’s now a writer. Long ago she studied literature at the University of California at Davis and is now a full-time author of dark, disturbing, and fantastical fiction. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA with her fabulous husband Orion and her two cats.

12/11/12

There's such a thing as being too adaptable
By Erika Price


Scheherazade ran out on the bastard, retired someplace temperate, and started writing flash fiction on her shins and forearms with Bic rollerball pens. Every day, she squinted into the rising sun and narrated on herself while taking fortifying sips from a big plastic cup, until every limb was covered in jagged handwritten henna, which she’d then survey with brief pride, and forget.

She’d take a swill from a slurry of Kristoff and Crystal Light and ice. And another, and another, until the ice went from thick rocks to small, crispy meteoroids, and the liquid became more water than not, and she’d drain it and chomp on the ice and the sun would burst into swells of purples and oranges and fizzle into navy and she’d find she couldn’t re-read the story on herself even if she wanted to. Then, by morning, a crest of water’d crash over her passed-out drunk-ass and wash it all away.

—————-

“Battered wife syndrome my ass. I’ll haul out whenever I want, and that’s now, or later today, I’m serious.”

“…”

“I’m telling you, I got my bag right here and I’m putting my shit in it, and that’s it, I don’t need you to pick me up, huh uh, I’m out.”

“…”

“‘Financial domination’, they called it on the hotline. Like I’m a child. Like I’m a concubine. Like money justifies the thousands of, of like, women who stick around watching their kids get slugged for decades. Why? Because they need the fucker for a check? Like I need a job first?”

“…”

“Yeah, they’re the ones telling my ass to hold my horses. Get some financial security, get a safe space set up with a friend, you need a parachute. Legit, they said that. But, no, that’s not true.”

“…”

“I don’t need to work on a thing. I’ll eat bananas and sleep on the beach. My hair and skin and sand all the same color, all taupe everything, all warm and dusty-dry. I can live there, fuck it. I won’t get skin cancer from it, I don’t burn, not hardly ever, except at water parks. That’s it. Just me and the sloshing sound of the water and a pen. I’ll live, like, forever in the now.”

“…”

“It’s that practicality crap that kept me hanging around here in the first place.”

“…”

“What, no, I’m not drinking.”

—————-

Once you’ve written a story, it doesn’t belong to you, even if you get credit for it. It reads in your head like something said by a sibling: it has your patter to it, but not your essence. So why try to own it? Why own your babies like an animal hoarder or a parent of helicoptered children?

There’s about three ways that can go. One, you can cling to what you’ve done in the past, while slowly losing your grasp of it nonetheless, failing to identify with your prior self more and more. Two, you can jump hoops and ride unicycles in parody of yourself, trying to get your own tone right. To keep sounding like the person you once were. That didn’t work out so hot for James Patterson or Cormac McCarthy. Three, you can keep shitting work out, stories as disparate, ephemeral, and unfocused as selfhood truly is, while paradoxically claiming all those mis-matched productions came from the same source.

Or you can do it up real, that storytelling thing, and throw out your loose ends with each coming night. You can murder your children and feed rocks to your forebears until their bellies burst and you’re the only one standing. You can come up with really hasty climaxes and put all your energy into composing catchy pitches and premises that beguile the listener until he passes out in a drunken stupor on the dog’s bed in the living room at four AM before he gets the chance to go all surly and whale on you. You can get really heretical with it, if you want, and tell stories not for their craft, but to save your crafty hide.

—————-

If someone writes your ass-saving stories down, and retells them, you might become mythological. But it’s little comfort. Trust me: people think Scheherazade’s story is a love story, for chrissake, because she marries her would-be murderer in the end. People know all about Aladdin and Sindbad the Sailor’s adventures, but they don’t think about how it’d be to pace around the palace every day with the scythe hanging over your head, being forced both to bang your be-header and tuck him in with swash-buckling, cliffhanging narratives every night.

Sounds like a hell of a writer’s retreat, though. It obviously did Scheherazade’s career wonders. See her there, hunched over herself on the beach, ostensibly free— but still married, somehow, to her old adaptations. She clutches to the drink and the tireless unwinding of narrative, those vestigial structures that kept her above the crest so long. You can’t swim very fast with your water-wings on.

Watch her sip, and write, and perhaps learn: Abuse is the art of turning gifts into weapons.


- - -
Erika D. Price is a social psychologist, writer, and eternal student living in Chicago, Illinois. She writes all her first drafts on the Notepad app of her iPhone, which sounds insane but is actually quite a convenient way to bang out ideas on the go while simultaneously looking like a vapid, perpetually-texting woman-child.

12/4/12

The Scorpion
By Michael Fontana


I missed work Friday because a scorpion had grown from my spine. The scorpion was actually an extension of the vertebrae, with a stinger and claws to boot. It didn’t like people seated in too close proximity so it would sting their ass but good if they crept too close. You know how that is, someone who’s not respectful of personal space and wants to touch you before they decide that there’s room enough for both of you. That’s when the scorpion lashed out.
“Scoot your buttocks over,” the scorpion said in a distinctively brassy and feminine voice.
The recipient of the sting took a hop but definitely away from me, which won the scorpion plaudits from me.
“Who’s next? Huh? Huh?” The scorpion was on a roll now, bobbing in and out of my spine, snipping claws in the air. No one was going to mess around with her now.
Except for Monday, when I returned to work. My boss was all over the tale of my tail. My boss had hair slicked back with Brylcreem, strictly out of the sixties, all of it gray as well as his thin little risqué beard. He had beady black eyes and a nose striped with gin blossoms. Not a pretty sight.
“What’s this growing out of you then?” He said, pointing at the scorpion but not daring to draw close.
“She’s my bodyguard,” I said.
“Very funny. But let me tell you, if anyone gets hurt you will bear the legal liability alone, got it?”
Oh, I got it all right. My boss was probably one of those with a wee peccadillo for such critters, spent his bedtime animus dreaming of the formations he might make in a dune with such a beast.
“She’s in my custody,” I told him, even though it was a blanket lie.
“This is a meager excuse at best for missing work on a Friday afternoon,” my boss said. “I’ll expect a doctor’s note.”
“You’ll get one,” I promised. I sat at my desk but the scorpion was not amused. She chewed into the seat backing of my chair, she whipped her stinger around at anyone who passed. She was spoiling for fun and I was bringing none her way.
So I finally lifted myself off my seat and took a walk. It eased the pressure on my spine to move a little anyway, and it certainly freed the scorpion up for whatever gig she surmised. On this occasion the gig was to pierce the water cooler with her stinger so the liquid all ran out and she could have a splash in it. It embarrassed me because it soaked my clothes to make me look incontinent.
Other employees circled us and it was plain to see my distress at the incident. They were amused. They laughed and pointed fingers at my wetness. I pictured them shaming small children in a similar condition, they were so pleased about it. The scorpion soon began laughing as well, high pitched and squealing with it.
My boss hurriedly blustered onto the scene. “What’s this?” He said. He grabbed the scorpion by the tail, which prevented his being stung, but that didn’t mean the tail didn’t whip around and by default, him with it. He was like an untethered balloon there, bobbing up and down with the reflex motion of the scorpion’s tail.
“What’s the meaning of this?” My boss said.
Everyone, including me, was now laughing at him. The scorpion was having herself quite a time, flapping him around like a stale newspaper.
In the end this wore me out for the scorpion was still attached, after all. I seized her little head and squeezed and that caused her to drop my boss. He stood up, beet faced, and adjusted his tie before slinking away. I released the scorpion’s head but she wouldn’t sting me because it would be a lot like suicide to do so.
“Let go of my head,” she said, trying to deepen her voice to sound more masculine and menacing.
“I won’t. You need to control yourself. You’re going to get me fired.”
“Your boss is a blowhard anyway. What do you need with him?”
“His money every other week.”
“You should show a little more gumption and strike out on your own.”
“Well until I do, you need to exercise a little restraint.” I squeezed her head just a smidge harder.
“All right then, let go.”
I let go. She took a couple of random clicks at me with her claws but otherwise did no harm.
We went through what I would consider a sort of 12-step program for scorpions, informally. Every time she meant to lash out with her tail, I squeezed her head. It was training for both of us. She hated me gripping her that way, said I was violating her, but somehow still seemed to put up with it.
In time the scorpion started hanging off my back more, being less intense. She took up knitting and crossword puzzles. She crafted herself the cutest little caftan. Long story short, I was able to slough off the Vicodin and returned to work a happier and yes, far more productive, employee.
My boss meanwhile, learned the trick to her. He began to flirt. Severely. “How’s my pretty today?” He would ask the scorpion. She couldn’t quite blush, being severely red already, so she curled her tail up and down invitingly.
I objected the first time he asked her out for cocktails. “I won’t be part of this. This is crossing some employer-employee boundary.”
“You’ll be crossing the boundary over to the unemployment office if you don’t cooperate,” he said.
I cooperated. I sat at a bar nursing a beer with my back turned to the happy couple, who were drinking bloody marys like to beat the band. During their first kiss I heard the scorpion hiss with pleasure and I knew I was in deep trouble.
After a few months of this, my boss asked her to marry and she accepted. He liked the little stinger in the ass every now and again, I knew from far too personal experience, listening to the old monkey take his turn on the needle like a slab of wax. So on the wedding night I had to lay on my side, back turned to them, while they went through the motions of their kinky and bestial love.
“My darling,” my boss said with jowls flapping.
“My love,” the scorpion whistled like a tea kettle.
“My god,” I said. And I considered myself a heathen.
Thankfully they didn’t or couldn’t reproduce. But I was still part of this cracked relationship, flipping my backside to them whenever their passions overtook, which was far more often than you would expect from a codger like him and a critter like her.
That’s when I elected surgery. I spoke to my doctor about separating myself from said scorpion. She objected. “You can’t! I’ll die!”
“Modern science is full of miracles these days,” I said. “They’ll find a way to keep you alive all on your lonesome.”
“I like being attached to you,” she said coyly.
“Why?”
“Because it’s fun to do it all behind your back.” This made her titter with delight.
It was enough to provoke me to sign up for the surgery. They were able to remove the scorpion and keep her alive courtesy of myriad tubes and wires.
Her first independent action was to sting me in the ass.


- - -
Michael Fontana is the author of two novels, Sleeping With Gods and The Sacred Machine. He lives and writes in beautiful Bella Vista, Arkansas.


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