Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Week Forty Eight: January 24th - January 30th

Fortune Favors Those Who Die Young

     “It feels just like yesterday,” an old man says to himself while staring at his gnarled old hands. “ I can sometimes still feel the grain of bark against my young hands, or the smooth touch of my first love. Those are long gone now though.” he says, sinking back into the warm water of his bathtub. He pulls his head under as he once did when he was a child, and exhaled into the water, sending a shower of bubbles to the surface. His smile is quickly replaced by a frown when the joints in his hips ache from the position he's laying in. Emerging, he whispers “Fortune favors those who die young”, and slips into his robe and walks to his bedroom; trumpets sound a song of defeat.
     Sitting in a tall-backed chair in front of the fireplace, he stares at the smoldering embers, and says “That's right. Today is my birthday isn't it? I suppose I'm too old to break tradition now”. He pulls out his leather-bound book, and picks up his pen to start writing under a large header of “Year 72”. After only three lines, he places the pen back inside the spine of the book, and sets it down next to his chair. The motion of setting the book down brushes the pages from beginning to end showing a flip-book of gradual apathy. The first few pages are written in full, but page after page – year after year- they grow smaller in substance and meaning. He doesn't even bother to try at this point. Closing his eyes, he falls asleep, his head full of the same thoughts that have haunted him since he could remember: inevitability.
     His dreams are the same as every night since he could remember. He was a young man again, flying a P-51 Mustang over the coast of Western France during the second World War. A browned picture of a beautiful woman with loose rings of black hair sat in his steering wheel, so that if he went down, she would be the last thing he saw. With every metal tooth he sunk into the hide of opposing German planes, he would tuck away the thought of running his strong hands up her smooth thigh, as he kissed her passionately on the neck. Beside returning to a woman, what other reason would a man have to stain the sky with blood and metal day in and day out?
     The war was long and bloody, and the boys who walked into it with youthful courage, left sullenly as men, carrying in the bags on their backs a lifetimes worth of demons. Jumping in a cab near the dock, Will gave his address to the driver, and sat back to stare out of the window at a city that had changed entirely in his short while away. The ride took a good twenty minutes, but he was used to long distances of traveling while being left to his own thoughts. If his tone didn't block any advances of conversation from the driver, his sullen face did. It wouldn't be until they pulled up outside the third story apartment he shared with Alice that the reflection on the window would show a smile. “I'm home Alice” he muttered to himself, giving the driver too much money, and nodding his head in confusion when offered change.
     Walking to the front door, Will patted his coat pocket to make sure the ring was still safely tucked away inside. He smiled to himself, and laughed when he realized it was the first time being nervous wouldn't lead to fearing he would never see his Alice again. He almost reached the door, and frowned when he saw a Chysler Saratoga parked on the side of the road. “Whose car could that be?” he thought to himself as he pushed open the door. Doubt had finally found a way to plant itself in Will Pascal. His pace quickened as he walked the stairs to his old room, and his heart was pounding louder than anything except for his own fist on the door. The sound of romance filled the outside hallway.
     Opening the door, Will found a man with a greasy smile, and oil-slicked hair buttoning up his pants, while Alice sat with the bed sheet pulled up to cover her breasts. “What's the big idea? Bargin' in here like tha-” and is cut off when the light of a passing car shows his face to her. “Will” she whispers, “I figured you would have been long dead by now”. The man, looking between the two of them did not understand the situation, and puffed up his chest as he walked over to Will. “Listen here army boy, Alice is with me now, so scram.” Alice's scream muffles the sound of Will's .45 caliber that illuminated the room for a split second. Clutching his chest, the man sinks to his knees, and is casually pushed out of the way.
     Turning to Alice, Will's face contorted between the horror of what he had just done, and anger at why it had happened in the first place. “Will.. do- don't kill me, please. I'm sorry” she murmurs through a wall of tears. “Sorry!” Will demands. “Every day out there, every day butchering men, and hoping I could make it home to see you. Every day, staring at your picture, the thought of coming home to marry you being the only thing keeping me together! And I come home to this? The ghosts of my past are going to haunt me for the rest of my life, just so I could see you!”. Turning to the door, Will looks over his shoulder at her and says “how could I have misjudged a whore like you.” and strolls from the room laughing as if finally understanding some great cynical joke. She sees him put the silhouette of a ring back into his pocket as he strolls from the room. Two different Alices began to weep in that room, dimly lit by moonlight.

     Waking up, Will sees a flash of faceless men, bloodied by his own actions, and vomits into a small pot near his chair. Wiping off his mouth, he picks up his book, and tosses it into the fire. Ominous, in that he wouldn't live to write another chapter anyway. The last two months of Will's life were bitter, and full of wishing to try his youth all over again. To stop being haunted by the ghosts of all those he killed, and so that he could finally wash the memory of Alice's naked body off of his hands. In those last days of his, the thought of that woman would lead him to scrubbing his hands together until the skin cracked and bled.
     Will died alone, not because life was harsh to him, because it is harsh to everyone. Will died alone because he lost most of himself in the skies above Europe, and the rest of him was left in the stained sheets of that third story apartment bed. Had he only been an adult when he started to kill for his nation instead of a boy. Oh god, one can only weep for the dead bodies of children like Will that would walk around not knowing it for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Week Forty Seven: January 17th - January 23rd

Carolyn and I had been talking about this at the cafe the other day, so I decided to throw it on here :]

Oh! The Abhorrence!

     Some say death by fire is the most horrific pain imaginable; others say death by drowning. As convincing as those statements are just by casual mention, this essay will focus on those who would argue that being eaten alive is the worst possible pain imaginable. Perhaps the use of the word "worst" is an exaggeration, but which of us hasn't felt like dying when being eaten alive? Perhaps not in such a physical sense, but in a metaphorical sense, most definitely. We all have felt the feast of the monsters in our stomach before something important. We Americans have a hilarious outlook on these fears. In fact, we have such a hilarious outlook we have even cynically coined them "butterflies." Typically, these butterflies begin their rampaging flutters before something important, like the big day.
     On the big day, the desks, as uncomfortable and cold as they may be, are thrice as bad. The cool, particle wood covered surface becomes frigid so suddenly, the spontaneous change of it is far more appalling then the frosty connection between your sense of touch and the solid table top. Every word from the instructor adds a new butterfly to the collection, just another pair of squalling wings. In front of the class stands a student who confidently bellows his story; a smile to accompany every sentence is painted with jovial mockery on his face. We all close our eyes and tell the butterflies to stop their fluttering, but fear is more powerful than mock authority. The mental skirmish is pierced with the resonating sound of our name, reverberating in the now desolate room.
     Another trick the butterflies have is the uncanny ability to make reality inexplicably surreal. The walk to the front of the class increases in distance right before your eyes; and what better way to walk a mile than with quivering knees fiercely attacking each other. The peripheral vision you once took for granted now fails you, exposing a tunnel of clear sight to the front of the room while everything else appears to be several colors splashed upon an empty canvas. Now that your at the front, the butterflies have reached your throat, but knowing their tricks, you have already swallowed down a fair amount of mock-confidence. Words start to pour from your mouth, but you don't hear them, all you hear is laughter from of those who shrugged off this nightmare so easily before hand ricocheting around in your head. A common knowledge to some, but for the sake of others a general truth all us humans inevitably figure out is what a great substitute anger is for confidence. Halfway through, you listen to how serenely your words become liquid. A smile starts to envelope your face as you think about just how well you are doing, then the realization hits; despair sets in. De-evolution of the worst kind crash your fluid words upon a red-faced rock; the quivering knees begin to dance all over again.
     Frantically you spew out the rest and make the shameful walk back to your seat, now curiously shorter than before. A round of applause correlates with the air, completely catching you off guard; what a ridiculous smile we plaster to our faces. The butterflies disappear, and you hear a voice heard from countless movies drone "and the lesson was learned." How unfortunate it is for us that this is a lie. Your facade is impeccable, you look just like the last student, but the weight of the ominous future in which your act will be reapplied slumps your shoulders, and makes you start to feel heavy. "Congratulations Mr. Thompson, your finest work yet!" exclaims your instructor
responds. If only you could believe them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Week Forty Six: January 10th - January 16th

This week I want back and fixed up one of my favorite short stories a bit. I hope you enjoy it.

Amanda's Crescendo OR 
A Hammer Heard Ringing From the Void

     Puppet strings pull leaves in front of my eyes, blinding me momentarily. I shield my eyes, but let my arms fall down. If I let the wind realize I know it doesn’t really exist, I could damage its pride. Or even worse, it may stop even trying. Such a reaction could ruin everything the wind has tried so hard to prove to the world. I slowly brush the leaves away from me, my deft fingers making sure to not pluck any of the strings.

     I press forward, seeing as how I could never forgive myself if I went back now. The trees are all starting to line up with mannequins. They stare at me through dark slits accusingly, but I won’t be hurt by their gazes. They're too afraid to even come down from their branches, so why worry what they think. I slowly brush away the feelings, my deft brain making sure not to let in any of my fears.

     My path grows darker, as the leaves drift back to their respective branches and form above me. The disgusting trees start to grow a dull brown, and their shapes weep like twisted power lines. I start to feel sorry for them, sorry that this is what has happened after all these years. No one to care for them. No one to care at all. Their splintery fingers reach out to me for help. But I’ve been here before, I just keep walking. They grow desperate; they start to dig into my skin. Blood runs from a cut on my cheekbone down my face, losing it’s warmth by the time it gets to my chin. Focusing, I losing peripheral vision, my deft eyes making sure not to weep.

     It’s much darker now, only small amounts of sunlight break into this world. As I stare at the ground, thinking of what I have to do, I become startled as I bump into an object in front of me. As I look at the object, it appears to be a rabbit, hanging from the trees by a rusty uncoiled coat hanger. Old skin is spilling over the sides of the metal necklace. Pushing it aside, I keep on going, ignoring the growing collection of ornaments in this foul place.
      I keep looking straight ahead, avoiding as many of the animals as possible, when my foot strikes something fleshy. I give myself a moment to collect myself, and look down. Laying in front of me is a small child; its arms and head nailed to the ground. I turn around and have to stop myself from running. “This is all because of you, don’t you dare turn away”. I brush away the boys shaggy hair to see his face, and am now five inches away from a yellow toothed grin. 
     I hear a sickening snap as the boys back folds over on itself, and his little legs are pushing the ground, trying to tear his hands and head from the forest floor. I hear a mix of howling and laughter from the child, seemingly focused on me. I know I have feet, but why won’t they walk? I slowly push myself to step around the boy, and try to continue walking; my stomach making noises to match the boys shrieking. I continue forward slightly swaying, my deft stomach making sure to keep down anything that may want to escape.

     The haunting sounds of the boy turns into echoes as I walk through the forest, now completely black. My feet gracefully testing each step before hand. I lightly tap hundreds of nails, and there is no need to wonder what they are. The smell confirms that these are more bodies. Some large, and some small. Some fresh, and others nothing more than bone. Nothing will wake these bodies though. This place is dead set on being known as a graveyard, regardless of the lack of tombstones and mourners.
      “Why do you leave your bodies in plain sight?” I whisper to myself. My grace starts to fail me. The stench is making me lose my balance, and no amount of practice could get me through this. Bodies make up more of the forest floor than dirt does anymore. I realize I have to keep moving though. I put these bodies here. I am a very bad person, but I will fix this place. I know what has to be done here. I force myself to ignore the stench, my deft nose making sure not to let in any reminders of what I have done here.

     The tunnel breaks into open woods, but the light doesn’t return. I can’t see anything. I can’t smell, or taste, or hear anything. I blindly fumble through the dark, using trees for stability. The bark shivers at my touch, its been so long since they have felt me here. “Don’t worry my children, everything is going to change soon enough”. I wonder how sad a clock might be here, seeing as how time no longer feels like it’s moving.
      Suddenly, ahead of me, I see a bright light appear. It starts to grow a more brilliant white, as I desperately bound towards it. I get close enough to tell details, and trip on a wild root, crashing into the cold soil. When my head stops spinning, I weakly lift it up, and the light is gone. When I finally rise, I start to hesitantly walk forward again, when I feel hands on my shoulders. I freeze, and although I should be terrified, I feel calm. The hands slowly trace along my back, and the light appears into my view.
      It’s a woman, a woman I didn’t think I’d ever see again. “Amanda, you shouldn’t be here. You can‘t be here”. She chuckles to herself, and glides up to me, and plants a kiss on my cheek. “I didn’t know you were still here, If I would of known…” my voice trails off as I raise my hands to her cheek, and pass right through. Her smile starts to weaken, and her eyes lose their brilliance for a beat.
How I’ve longed to see you again my dear” she says with a defeated smile, “but I know why you are here”. My body shakes as I try to turn my body to go back. “I can’t lose you again Amanda. I can still feel your arms going as the consumption took you, but I won’t feel that again”. She dances back behind me, and leans over my shoulder. “We both know it’s too late to turn around now”. She kisses me of the cheek, and I try to hold her arm one last time, but she’s gone again. I put one foot in front of the other, my deft heart making sure to keep on weakly beating.

     Would you laugh at me if I said I came to a light at the end of tunnel? The dark is pierced by a clearing, growing a sickly green glow. A dark piano sits on top of a mound of dieing earth, void of grass, holes forming and quivering in the soil. Two rag-dolls sit on the seat, playing a sad melody on the piano.
      One of the dolls is a white, with a black dress with the letter A written upside down on it. The dress is well sewn, and averted my eyes from the jewelry decorating the length of its arms. The doll has no eyes, but a mouth full of rotting teeth. The second doll is a black doll, wearing a white, longer dress, with the letter P written on it. The doll has no mouth, but holes burned into it’s face for where eyes should be. Paint cracks and falls away from its hands and legs, as though some disease were devouring the material. Avarice and Pestilence, my old friends.
      As I approach, their hands free fall onto the keys, creating the sort of discord that could make your skin want to crawl, but too afraid to try. I sit, and slip into thought, but am drawn out again by the tugging on my pant legs by a small hand. I look down, and Pestilence’s hollow sockets are staring up at me. I reach down to hold her, but she shies away from me. “What did you expect to happen boy?” Avarice shouts from up on the piano. “That we need you in anyway? That we've sat by watching our world eat itself alive, hoping you'd show up again and save us?” With that, Avarice threw himself down from the chair, and started to run full speed at me.
      I throw open my arms, and accept whatever happens, but before I found out what would happen, Pestilence stepped in and took him in her arms. She picks up a stick, and pokes a few words into the dieing dirt for me to see. “Forgive him. It hurts so bad” looks up at me from the dirt. I hold back tears as I nod my head, and reach out once more for them, but stop halfway there. “This isn’t fair, leave them alone” I tell myself. I sit down on the piano, and just stare for awhile.
      Everything so far has come to this. I swallow hard, and look around and realize that not only are Avarice and Pestilence both gone, but so has the land. The only thing left is me and this piano, floating around the darkness with this gloomy light above us. I close my eyes, smile, and take a deep breath. I know what has to be done now. My fingers make a muted popping noise as I flex them together, and start to play the piano.
      The song quickly loses it’s tune as the piano starts to contort, and arms sprout out in every which direction. Piano key teeth split apart, and start to pull me in. I can hear the piano's heart pounding as its head rushes with the ecstasy of what’s happening. I close my eyes again – still smiling - and keep playing my song. I know you wouldn’t be able to tell by listening, but it was the most gorgeous song I’ve ever heard. The hundreds of hands grip my throat, and start to pull me in. My mind flashes back to the way things used to be, and Amanda drifts into my thoughts. “I’m close darling. I’m so damn close to you”. The lights flickers out, and the last thing I remember are her arms draped around my neck, the teeth of the piano tearing my skin off, the sound of my world crashing around me.

And of course, my merry laughter echoing into the darkness for miles.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week Forty Five: January 3rd- January 9th

Just moved out, so no show this week. I don't think anyoen even reads these, but *shrugs*. Habits I 'spose.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Week Forty Four: December 27th - January 2nd

Overture for Worms

     Before I have you step into this story, allow me to first explain a little about our antihero: Arthur Donaghy. Arthur is born into one of the worlds greatest shadows – the infamous robber baron Ernest T. Donaghy. Toss perspective into the wind, and consider this political tyrant based only on his merits, in that he has forged a ladder to the top of the world by himself. Cool, calculated, ruthless, and strong – Ernest T. Donaghy is a man seldom loved, but always respected.
     Nora Donaghy is the quintessential image of a 1920's “perfect wife”. No job, or aspirations, Nora's life consists of making sure her husband is happy, and entertaining guests brought home to the house. Elaborate parties are thrown, and large amounts of alcohol suddenly vanish, leaving only a sad, laughing shell of a woman who has disillusioned herself.
     Enter Arthur Donaghy, our antihero. A cold father, who is rarely home, and a drunken mother who acts more often as not as a 16 year old show him very little affection. I wouldn't quite say he was unloved, but rather both his parents weren't made to exhibit the love needed. They would buy him a great deal of toys, and push him off to the corner to be quiet.
     You could not blame Arthur for the way he acted, but at the same time, you can not excuse someone of his nature. You can only excuse a dog's digging in the trash as “nature” so many times before punishing it. Just the same, Arthur never even got that punishment. Even when he started to lash out, craving that punishment, he was just given more toys. Perhaps this was a punishment worse than a spanking, but regardless, it was a factor to who Arthur would become.

     Our story queues by the sound of broken glass. “Oh Arthur, you mustn't keep doing this. Those vases were expensive” a woman with sleepy eyes, and close cut dark hair, sitting in a bob on her head says to the boy. Smirking, the child pushes another off the shelf, and arrogantly strolls from the room. Slowing for only a second in hopes that the harsh echo of shoes on wooden floors would start to chase him. However, as usual, only fading shouts for a maid are heard as he walks into another room of the house. 
     For nearly an hour, he completed his daily ritual of kicking the shins of the butlers, and pinching the behinds of the maids. For nearly an hour, he received haughty stares that melted into fear as they realized who he was, and went back to worth, trying their hardest to ignore him. More priceless antiques were broken, meals were ruined, clean floors were covered in dirt, and more servants were regretting their job choices before Arthur found himself outside. With a heavy magnifying lens, and sweat dripping from his forehead against the harsh Georgian heat, Arthur walked around the large yard, searching for something destructive.
     Some of the smallest creatures in the yard held the largest part of Arthur's attention today. Dropping down next to a fairly large anthill, Arthur drummed his fingers on the soil outside the hive to get their attention, and then held up his lens. Ten by twenty, the ants started to pour out in larger increments, only to be hardened and smoke by the large disc of glass above them, impossible for their eyes to even comprehend. Squeals of childish glee set of a both haunting, and innocent background music.
     After a time, the flow of ants started to dwindle down, and as Arthur started to rise, he saw a small speck of black crawl its way onto his hand. Bringing it up to his face, Arthur bends down his middle finger, and prepares to fire the ant out into the yard, but stops short when the ant just sits there. Tapping near him, blowing on him, and even nudging him does very little to move the ant – Arthur grows furious. “I am human” the boy whispers, “I want you to fear me”. Arthur becomes startled to hear a “why?” whispered back to him.
     Regaining his composure, Arthur turns to the ant, and lowers his eyebrows in anger. “What do you mean why? I am much bigger than you, and just killed a bunch of your friends” the boy says. Just staring back at him, the ant looks confused for a while before answering, “what reason is there, to fear that “death”?”. Incredulous is the only way to explain Arthur's face. Sputtering, Arthur starts to raise his voice as he says “what reason? I could kill you at any moment! Doesn't that worry you?”. The ant just keeps staring, and replies “anything could kill me in this moment, why should I show fear? Do you fear that the sun will rise and set?”. 
     The knuckles of the boy's hands go white as he clenches them in preparation of the anger he subconsciously feels coming. “No, of course not, the sun is the sun. I'm talking about life and death you stupid ant! Heaven and Hell! If I kill you right now, you're entire life is  done, and you'll end up in heaven or hell depending on how you've lived your life. You'll never get into heaven without a little fear, without any belief. Doesn't that worry you!” the boy responds matter-of-factly. A long silence passes as the ant just stares at the boy.
     “Heaven?” the ant repeats, testing the word in his mouth. “Hell?”, he says, awkwardly emphasizing the “e” and almost forgetting the “l”s. “When my time comes, I know what will happen to me” the ant responds – humbly, and without any tone of mocking to the poor boy. Arthur starts to go wide-eyed, but asks the ant “what will happen?”. The ant raises his head a little, to allow his small voice to fully carry to Arthur's ear. “I will finally stop working, and pass on. My colony will use my body anyway they need to, and when they are done, they will stuff me aside, and I will decompose into the dirt”. 
     As the ant continues to talk, Arthur starts to look angry, but more and more, his face shifts into one of fear. “Worms will tunnel through, and devour pieces of me for nutrition. They will dig to the surface, and be eaten by creature, who will in turn be eaten by another creature, and so on, and so on, until finally one of those creatures dies, and places me back in the soil, and the worms start all over again. I start off as an overture for the worms, and I rise up from there. I can be taken freely in the skies, or tranquilly into the sea, but I will always end up back in the soil. There is no finale, because there are no endings you see. Every ending is just another overture in disguise.”
     Weeping now, the boy uses his free hand to wipe away his tears. When his hand drops down, rage envelopes his face. “lies!” the boy yells. “Stupid lies. You go to either heaven or hell, and you should be afraid!”. With that, the boy starts using his free hand to dig through the mound, and killing ants he pulls up. “Was that your friend? Maybe your uncle?”Arthur babbles out through crying. Switching up to pounding his fist, Arthur looks down, and sees the ants just laying there watching him now. Fear becomes him. “Why won't you all fear me!” he screams, his human voice drowning out the ant on his hand trying to explain. 
     The pounding doesn't stop until all visible ants are dead, and turning towards the ant on his hand, his face holds a look of a last hope; desperate, yet strained. “I've just killed your entire colony ant, now show me that you fear me” Arthur pants. The ant just stares at him, and says “I'm sorry you have such a burden on you”. Arthur's head snaps up and his eyes could bore holes through a mountain. Raising the magnifying glass, Arthur poises the ray next to the ant, and says “I'm giving you one last chance ant, tell me you fear me!”. The ant presses itself against the skin of his hand and says “I'm sorry, but I just do not understand”. 
     Arthur moves the glass, and braces himself for the screams, but nothing comes from the ant. In a second, the ants body is fried, and Arthur is sitting alone in his yard again. Weeping, he falls to the ground among the now impossible to pick out ant bodies, and just cries. In the morning, Arthur would go on to break more vases, but something inside him started to fester and grow. You see, the seed of doubt had been planted inside of him, and no mater how adamantly he rejected it, the boy saw the truth in the ants words. For a long time, he felt lonely. Without a family, and even without faith, the boy stopped lashing out, and instead spent him time alone, thinking.

     It wouldn't be until many years later that Arthur grew into a man, and learned to live without fear. He accomplished much in his life, and even raised a family; making damn well sure to give his children all the affection they needed. Together with his strong philosophy, and the knowledge from the finest college money could buy, Arthur grew into a very successful business man, some say even passing up his father. When asked what his secret was during a report, Arthur merely looked at the camera and said “think free, and live without fear”. Arthur lived a great life, and right now is part of a symphony underground, orchestrated by worms. Arthur was noted to be laughing before he died.

Week Forty Three: December 20th - December 26th

No one reads these anymore, but Holiday break from writing :]