From the Desk of the Editor;
Welcome one and all to Larks Issue Twelve, Volume Two! In this issue we are featuring two works that are very different from each other. One is a light hearted tale of wisdom and the other is a science fiction thriller about getting just what you wished for.
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We were a little shaken last night here in Oklahoma as a 5.6 earthquake hit the state. Everyone is alright; just a little unsettled.
Daniel J. Pool
WISDOM SITS ON A PARK BENCH
By WILLIAM J. WHITE
The elderly man sitting on the park bench was deep in memories, not seeing the words on the newspaper that he held in his lap, but becoming quickly alert as a young couple, arguing, walked past him. Under a short white mustache, his wide lips opened into a smile, as he watched the girl trying to encircle the waist of her companion, with a thin arm. Each attempt was rebuffed, and finally the young man side-stepped away from her. When she reached out for his hand, it was quickly jerked away.
As they walked down to the edge of the pond, there to continue their disagreement, the old man’s eyes followed them, his head slowly shaking from side to side, and even when the young man turned and caught him watching them, he continued to look their way, and only after he was given and sent back a middle- finger salute did he return to his newspaper.
That young fellow is slightly on the crude side," he declared to himself, raising his paper and peering over the top.
“…harmless,” he heard the young girl saying in a raised voice, as she turned to join her companion in observing the old man. “I’ll go up there and see why he’s looking at us; maybe he knows us… No! You stay here. I don’t want a policeman coming by and hauling us off. I’ll be right back..."
As the girl approached him he lowered his eyes, not wanting a confrontation in a public park. She stopped directly in front of him, staring over the top of his paper, with azure-blue eyes that didn't appear to be too friendly.
"Hey, mister!" she said sharply, why have you been watching us? My boyfriend don't like it."
He looked up at her for a long moment. "Miss, it would take a long explanation..."
"Do I know you?"
" I believe not, miss..."
"Just nothing else to do, huh?"
"I like your hair..."
"What?" Placing her hands on her narrow hips, she glared down at him. "Are you one of those dirty-minded old geezers that hang around in parks ogling young girls?"
Smiling up at her, he said: "My Elizabeth, bless her sweet soul, had hair like yours–a little dark brown added to pale yellow..." Still smiling, he closed his eyes, savoring the recollection. When they opened, he added: She also had a walk like yours, sort of a glide, as though her feet weren't touching the ground."
The girl, looking about, replied: "Where she at, mister...your wife. Elizabeth?"
Placing his hand over his heart, he said, "You two young people have brought back to me some wonderful memories. She and I had spent many hours in this park, just walking, usually winding up on that bench down by the pond..." He locked his eyes onto hers. "But we would walk close.
The air that we breathed was no more important to us than our feelings for each other..."
"Yea," she said, looking down toward the pond to where her boyfriend stood, throwing rocks at the near-by swans, "me and Andy are like that...You know, close." She sat down, bumping her hip against him, making more room on the bench.
"Yes, miss, I could see that. He must be real sweet on you..."
Frowning at him, she said–rather sharply, "Well, I suppose it's really my fault. He wanted me to do something with him... you know, to prove my love for him, and I told him that I wasn't ready for that. When you and what's-her-name...Elizabeth were going together," she said, toying with her hair with thin fingers capped with dark blue nails, "did she have to prove her love for you before you would marry her?"
"Young lady, " he said, not too gently, and taking her hand in his, and being surprised when she didn't pull it away. "I cherished that woman from the first day I saw her. I cherished her purity; her innocence... It was my place to prove my love for her!" With his free hand, he pointed down to the pond. "You go down there and tell that young man that he is to prove his love for you by not asking you to do something that you don't want to do. If he cares for you at all, he will be proud of you for not accepting his terms."
She stood abruptly, and looking down to where Andy was still throwing rocks, she remarked defiantly: "I will do it!"
"That young lady has spunk...,” He thought, "If she can go through with it."
He heard harsh words from both of them, and finally the young man turned and stomped away. When she returned, her eyes were damp.
""I'm sorry miss... I should not have butted in."
Rubbing her fingers across her cheeks, and giving him half a smile, she said: "I'm glad you did, mister. I told him that I was not Lucy from school, who is always proving her love to different guys."
Giving him a lop-sided grin, she remarked unhesitatingly, still dabbing at her eyes,”I told him that I was going to be an Elizabeth..."
About the Author:
I am an implant from Cincinnati, Ohio. Moved here to Paradise– in Monticello, KY. thirty years ago, and built our home next to a road dropping down to Lake Cumberland.
I have been writing short stories since January of 2010 and have had two published by Lark's magazine here and here.
The Other Side of the Darkness
By Maxwell Jameson
Now, I am writing for them. I cannot see them, but I can hear them. I am locked in my cell, which has only one wall that I can see. The other three walls only consist of a black, seemingly-empty space. However, the space is far from empty. The spotlights are too bright for me to see them, but I can hear them out there—breathing, coughing, sometimes talking under their breath. I take one page from the stack to my left, fill it with words, and place it in another stack to my right. Every time I finish a page, they applaud, whoop, and shout. They're pulling for me. They need me to scrape meaning out of their lives. I know. I used to be one of them.
Beyond this darkness, there is a place where the sun shines and the people like them live in one endless, bright, and delightful day. I lived out there with them in a house with a massive window in front, through which the sun shone so brightly that I could see each flake of dust in the air. I wrote for myself back then, because I had no idea who else to write for. I wrote in a bedroom in that house. It had another, smaller window and a desk. I mounted an enormous screen on one of that house's walls, through which I would watch other people in cells just like this one. Sometimes, I would save up my money and enter this darkness so that I could watch someone else in a cell much like the one where I am now. I dreamed of joining them.
I do not remember how I learned of the Center. Out there, it exists on the margins of peoples' knowledge, never attempting to hide itself, but also somehow remaining undiscussed. Once I discovered it, I knew my way out of that house. I wrote something that my observations told me the Center would enjoy. I found the pipes running under the ground, and I dropped what I created into them, and heard the rushing sound as they circulated beneath the road, paths, and alleyways that were all I knew.
I had to do this many times before the Center responded. They told me I had to walk down the hill, away from the town, to a meadow where I had been many times. I went, although a part of me was certain it was a cruel prank by the other townspeople, all of whom knew how desperate I was to move into a cell. I stood in that meadow, hearing only the chirping of birds, feeling only the breeze against my skin. I panicked for a moment, glancing angrily up at the sun as the sadness and anger welled within me.
But just then, a door opened. Its surface resembled a mossy rock, but it made a mechanical sound as it opened, and I glimpsed the shiny mechanisms behind the facade. This meadow was only one disguised tip of the Center jutting into the bright, sunny world I had known. Through the door, I saw a pale, metal corridor with two fringes of fluorescent lights running along the top, and a low, dragon-like rumble emanating from below.
It took me a few moments to walk through. I felt a strong pull coming from beyond that artificial meadow, seeming to originate from the house, that bedroom, that desk. As I stepped through, I wondered if it were real chirping birds I was leaving behind or simply pre-recorded playback or even a digitally contrived double. I wondered if it were even a real town I was leaving behind, or a vacuous doppelganger.
The door closed behind me. The air smelled sterile and artificial, a scent just close enough to flowers to remind you of them, but clearly a chemically-derived substitution. I stood for a few moments until another door at the other end of the corridor opened. I walked through the corridor and through that second door. It closed behind me.
The suits met me—two men and a woman. The men were both several inches taller than me, with severe, opaque faces. The woman was about my height, with dark, shoulder-length hair held up with pins. The suits they wore were tailored perfectly to their physically-fit bodies. They had perfect posture and breathed evenly and steadily. They spoke to me in clipped but personable tones.
“Hello,” said the woman. “We are thrilled to meet you.”
“Hello,” I responded.
“We are pleased you could make it,” said the first man, slender and tall with dark brown skin.
“I-I'm pleased as well,” I said.
“Follow me,” the woman said. “We'll show you around.”
They showed me nothing, but only led me through countless corridors. The woman walked in front of me, with the two men at my sides. They never initiated conversation, but always responded to my questions.
“What is this place?” I asked at one point.
“The Center exists to regulate the lives of the people living outside, in towns like yours,” the woman responded in a bright tone. “Our world used to be radically different—a thoroughly inefficient and unintegrated thing that never worked in concert with itself. After countless upheavals and catastrophes, a new system was created.”
“A new system?” I asked.
The first man answered: “Those in power came to realize the need for a unified, organized experience of the world. Each town like the one where you live was designed from the bottom up, with the intention of providing for everyone's needs—material, social, and cultural.”
“I—I don't understand,” I said, feeling ashamed.
The other man—with a blonde crew cut and a square, rugged jaw—chuckled jovially, then answered: “It's a lot to take in, I know,” he said. “You see, one of the greatest problems with the previous world was the lack of an organized, unified vision.”
As if on cue, the woman piped in: “There were just too many subversive voices disrupting the flow of life, planting seeds in peoples' minds that grew into dangerous, toxic mental infestations. Do you understand what I mean?”
“Well, sort of,” I said, not wanting to appear stupid.
“The Center began regulating art as a way of solving this incongruity,” the first man continued. “They decided the works that people needed, and went about making them readily available.”
“And, to this day, everyone with potential is monitored,” said the woman. “We're always watching to discover the voices that can help provide unity and order, who are seeking to make all our lives fuller and better. That's where you came in. We've been monitoring your progress for quite some time, waiting for you to develop to a point where you were ready.”
“And I'm ready now?”
“What people need the most right now is a book like yours,” the man said. “They need to understand that many people feel lost and adrift living in our world as it is. We can't allow it to simmer below the surface—it's a feeling they must confront and reconcile.”
But, mostly, we just walked in silence. The corridors went on and on, marinated in that dragon-like rumble, highlighted occasionally by the swishing sound of those pipes running through the ground, transmitting information. After a long time, we reached a door unlike any previous door. This door was mounted in the side of the corridor as opposed to one of its ends. The woman stopped, and turned to me. She indicated the door with her hand.
“Here is your first space,” she said. “You'll find everything you need in there.”
I looked at her and the two men. They all smiled, though not widely. I walked in. The door closed behind me. Inside, I could see only the corona of a solitary spotlight. Within it, I saw a single podium with a stack of pages on it. I walked up to the podium. On the first page, I recognized the opening lines of my book. I looked up at the microphone extending from the top of the podium. I squinted in the glare, but could not see anything. I did not have to. After a few moments, I could hear them breathing. My chest surged. Through the glare of the light, I began to pick out the outlines of countless heads stretching out into the darkness. Their combined breath sounded like the rustling of an ominous wind through the grass.
I understood what I needed to do.
I read my first book to them, my raw and subversive cry of entrapment and frustration. But as I read it, I realized many sections of it had been considerably altered. My desire for freedom became, instead, a desire for greater integration into the system of the world. My defiant declaration of independence from the flow of information from that screen on the wall of my house became, instead, a desire for that flow to have a greater appeal to me. I came to these sections, but glossed them over.
I read the book to the end, and that invisible audience applauded. For a few moments, I soaked in their adulation. My pride welled. Soon, the door on the wall opened again. As the applause died down, I walked through it. More suits—different ones—waited. They congratulated me as if we were close friends. I found the notion that these people, so comfortable in this vast maze of passageways, with seemingly unbounded access, considered me a peer. I happily followed them as they led me through another series of passageways.
They brought me here, to this cell. When the door closed, I was unsure of what to do. I could hear the same aggregated breath, but no podium waited—only a desk with a large stack of papers. “Enjoy your space,” one of them said, just as the door closed. I was not sure of what to do. My writing desk was at home, in my bedroom, with the sun through my window shining on it. This desk was immersed in darkness, lit up by impersonal fluorescent lights. This would not work. I needed to get back home.
Soon, a voice spoke:
“He is struggling. He knows the book is there, trapped within the ether, locked within the prison of his fears and insecurities. He must free it, but he must first learn how...”
It went on like that. I listened for a minute or so, and hated it instantly. Nothing it said expressed anything close to what I was feeling. I felt confused and helpless, not understanding why I could not go home, why I needed to remain observed in this darkness.
But as I inched towards the desk, it continued:
“He is poised—ready—overcoming his fear!”
I sat at the desk, picked up the pen, and wrote a few sentences expressing my frustrations.
The voice stopped.
I have been writing ever since. I do not always know what I am writing, but the words nevertheless come, and they stop the voice. Sometimes, I will enter a flow-state, and find myself writing words I am actually quite proud of, and I will forget where I am and what I am being forced to do. But it is all predicated on one realized truth: the Center wants another book. I will give it to them, a book even more powerful and more influential than the one before. I will deliver it to them, and I will tell them I want to leave. Millions of others will stream in to take my place. I am not important.
It took me a long time to realize that I no longer sleep. I no longer even feel the desire to sleep. This entire experience is like one long dream in any case. Food is never brought to me, but I find I do not desire it either. I used to, but every time I did, I would feel a strange pricking sensation in my back, and my hunger would be satisfied. It was frightening at first, but I no longer question it. My life is a mad rush for the completion of this work—once this work is done, I will live again.
Sometimes, they do let me stop. The door simply opens. I turn to it, get up, and walk out. As soon as I enter the corridor, the door closes. At one end of the corridor, another door opens, and I follow the buzz of the fluorescent lights through many, many different sections of that same corridor. I have no idea whether I am going anywhere or not, but I do not care. Sometimes, I stop and touch the side of the wall, feeling the robust vibration of whatever massive engine allows the Center to run. I wonder how it operates, who designed it, and who regulates it—how any human could ever have contrived such a massive conglomeration of mechanisms. I walk on, until I come to a corridor with a door on the side, which opens as I approach. I am back in my cell. I go back to my writing. I wonder what the point of those aimless walks could be. The need for physical exercise is the most obvious answer, but I know that what I require most of all is hope. Each time that door opens, I keep on believing that this walk will be the one that leads me back to that artificial meadow, where I can walk back up the hill to the town that contains my house. But as I begin each walk, I realize that returning to my town, with its endless, relentless sunshine, will no longer suffice. What I really wish for is that these corridors would lead me through the darkness of the cells and towards another light, on the other side of the darkness, that shines independently of the Center's contrived, mechanical influence, a light that would take turns with another, more natural darkness, allowing me a balanced and unified existence free of this domination of extremes, where I could come to understand the noble and transcendent reason I chose to enter this silent, crowded darkness.
And with time, a sentence comes out that does not lead to another. I stop, look at it, and in a few moments realize what that means.
The voice chimes in: “He has finished! All of the blood, the sweat, and the tears have paid off! He has freed the book from the ether! He has succeeded!”
Thunderous applause. Cheers, whoops of joy beyond anything that came during the process of writing. It washes over me, but I am oblivious. I am relieved only because I know it is time to leave, that I have earned the right to leave. In the midst of the applause, I hear the door open. I gather up my book, and I follow them. The suits wait for me. They are the same ones that met me that first day.
“Congratulations,” the woman says.
“Th-thank you,” I say. “Am I—am I done here?”
“Yes,” says the woman. “All you have to do is present the work, and then it's time for you to go above.”
I just nod.
“Let's get you out of here,” says one of the men, indicating for me a way forward.
I follow them to the end of the corridor, and through the waiting door. I clutch the pages to my chest and follow them. We walk for quite some time. I speak to them about how oppressive the corridors can feel. They nod and agree completely. They say it is a necessity, but that no one can live in it for too long. “It takes its toll,” the woman says. “Yeah,” says the man, “I try to get above as often as possible.” “It's real up there,” says the other man, “you'll love it.”
After some time, we enter another corridor, with another door on its side. As we approach, it opens. I shudder. The woman notices.
“Don't worry,” she says, “it's just for your presentation.”
“We'll be waiting when you finish,” says one of the men.
“Break a leg,” says the other man.
Still hesitant, I walk in. I see a podium much like the one from before—possibly even the same one. I hear that collective breathing I have become so accustomed to. I walk up, and place the pages on the podium.
I pause—for a moment longer than they like. The voice chimes in: “He knows you are ready, but he wishes to savor this palpable moment, a moment unlike anyone else will ever feel...”
I clear my throat.
I read: “Now, I am writing for them. I cannot see them, but...”
My voice falls upon the words perfectly. As I read, I stop seeing them in front of me, but instead see myself as I must appear on those countless screens in those countless houses, in those contrived towns dotting the landscape that may or may not be real. I imagine someone out there, much like myself, watching me in the way I used to watch others. I wish there were some way I could tell them what waited for them. But I do not let it show—I let my words flow out clear and pristine. I own every moment.
I finish. A short silence. I expect the voice to come at any moment, but instead it is only applause—an applause the magnitude of which I have yet to hear—a sound as deep and as robust as the dragon-like rumble of the Center's power source, making me question the authenticity of its hegemony. When the door opens, I do not want to leave—I want to explore this possibility farther.
But the applause dies down, and before that eerie breathing can recommence, I walk back to the door and out into the corridor. The suits smile. “Great work,” says the woman. “Let's get you out of here,” says the first man. “You've earned this,” says the next. My heart thumping, I follow them down the corridor and through another all-too-familiar door at the end. I am done writing for them. I am ready to live for myself, on the other side. We walk through it to another corridor, with another door in the side. However, this door is different—it is a double door. It opens, and inside is a small, closet-like chamber. The woman motions me in, and I enter. As soon as we walk in, the doors close. I suddenly feel a powerful upwards surge of inertia, and a rushing sound much like the sound made by those pipes that run beneath everything. We are ascending. Is the entire Center underground, twisting and curling beneath the world like the roots of a tree?
After a time, the elevator stops. The doors open.
“Welcome home,” the woman says. The light pours through. “You've earned it,” the first man says. I squint as I step out, knowing the light I am squinting in is brighter and more vibrant than any I have seen. Slowly, my eyes resolve that light. “This is reality,” says the third man. I begin to make out my new surroundings.
“Enjoy,” all three suits say as the door slides shut.
The first thing that I see is the table, and the typewriter. I panic, and turn away, towards the source of the light. Slowly, I make it out—a vast, ruined, desolate landscape. I reach out for it, but hit the transparent surface of my new, final cell. Through it, I see the burned, desiccated world, dotted only by brightly-shining extrusions from below, where the Center makes contact in order to power the artificially-lit world below—the massive lie that is our life. But that landscape is not lifeless. It would be better if it was. The faces I see watching me are twisted, deformed, and mutilated—they bang on the glass, they cry out although I cannot hear them. They have been left behind.
I crumble to the floor, convulsed in sobs.
The voice chimes in: “He knows the life he's chosen. He understands the dire price of learning the truth. But he takes this moment to remember the most important truth of all—that we must all be human.”
For more from Maxwell Jameson see his blog at http://maxwelljameson.blogspot.com/ here on Blogspot!
Thank you for reading and we hope to see you here next week as we delve into works of oddity and the sublime.
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