Sunday, December 18, 2011

Issue Eighteen, Volume Two

From the Desk of the Editor,
Welcome to Issue Eighteen, Volume Two of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we are featuring two stories of otherworldly magic and wonder pulling at the seams of reality.

Just an update—we are backed up here on submissions. We plan on answering every email by December 30th. If you haven’t heard back from us by then please inquiry about your submission.

And if you are looking for more great fiction and like the Elder Scrolls video games check this short piece on Kotaku.

Also coming soon will be the Concerning Fiction vlog on Youtube where I will be talking shop about writing, editing, and fiction in general.

Daniel J. Pool
LFM Editor

A Shadow of Restraint
By Damie Ayirakaz

He sat in the car, hunched down a bit in his chair, studying the fragile woman as she looked up at the corner, perhaps swayed by a sudden premonition.  The man slid further down in his chair, afraid that their eyes might meet and that she might notice him.

I watched him.  I watched him watching her while all the time overhearing the vile stream of desires and plans rumbling through his restless mind.  At first, the ideas were a random stream of poorly organized words, often interrupted by the meager remnant of humanity that still haunted his thoughts.  His pity, his sense of right and wrong, were almost as illusory as the form I took next to him on other days, as he walked through streets and other inhabited places.

A shadow is a wispy thing, a creature with the lifespan of a sunny day.  At the end of every day, as the last few spears of sunlight begin to fade, it miserably but resolutely faces the dying of each day. 

It was the only life I’d ever known and I'd grown to appreciate my fleeting moments under the blue skies.

But, over the years, as I grew to know and understand the human creature who I accompanied, my sense of hope and of peace began slowly to fade.

From his early childhood, Franklin Petrovsky had been a troubled boy.   My first worrisome memory was on a playground somewhere in a different place, where there was sunlight in abundance and children seemed so innocent and loving.  Franklin's thoughts had not yet become coherent enough to give him away and he still seemed like the other children, though maybe just a bit less boisterous.

On that day, as was later to become his custom, he sat off to one corner of the noisy crowd of children, staring at one of the others, feeling nothing but a hungry craving to take something for himself.  It never  really concerned him that it wasn't his and that someone else might love it just as much.  Of course, the object of his covetous heart was nothing more at the time than a child's plaything, a pencil sharpener in the shape of a skyscraper.  But, from his first moment seeing it, he'd hardly thought of anything else and had quickly decided that he would take it as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

So, on that bright afternoon when I should have been grateful for another light-filled moment under the sun, I remember instead feeling a persisting sense of hopelessness about Franklins newly hatched plan.  Though I didn't understand it just then, what I was later to realize was that it wasn't the act of theft itself that worried me so much about Franklin.  What bothered me more was the vague sense that something was missing in him, something that portended much worse for the days that lay ahead of his childhood.

When the little blonde girl turned her back on the small previous trinket that she'd lain in a corner on the ground, Franklin waited for her to join the other children and the quickly seized the moment.  As she turned and walked off, he ran over to the spot and greedily scooped up the eraser into his eager hands.  While she played and laughed, he stared at his newly acquired prize, empowered by his success and mesmerized by the glittering beauty of the tiny prize. It was in those first few seconds after acting on his carefully crafted plan, that I learned something about myself as well.  As he tried to enjoy the success of that moment, something made him pause.  More than the fear that one of the playing children might turn their eyes from their games and realize what had happened, something else stirred feelings of discomfort in his mind.

On that day, I first realized that Franklin and I were not completely divorced from each other in our thoughts.  Seeing him act so coldly and with such malice, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss and suffering spreading out from my dark form and spilling out onto Franklin and further out even onto the children as they raced around on the playground. 

In that second, Franklin felt what I felt, though only in a washed out form.  He hesitated, lingering in the background as the children played, his feet planted to the concrete, even as he noticed a finger pointing at him and a shrill voice screaming out.  As he raced away, he dropped the metal prize to the floor, confused that his plan hadn't worked out completely as he'd expected.

Years passed on quickly from that first moment, as I tried again and again to reclaim any joy I could find in between fitful periods of ordinariness.  I watched Franklin in the same way that he watched others, completely bent on trying to keep him from acting on his impulses.  Instead of enjoying the bounty offered by the rich light of the sun, I spent my thoughts and energies on keeping Franklin from exploding.  Time and time again, I bent my entire will,  my every effort, on stopping him.

But, the years had been exhausting and I could feel my hold on him waning. With my grip loosening, his thoughts grew uglier every day, as he looked out at the people of the world like he once did at the small metal sharpener.  He didn’t care to interact with them or to get to know them; he simply wanted them to serve his cravings.

As I watched him studying the small, blonde woman, limping as she walked a tiny, white dog, I knew that there was no time left.  Thoughts that had once been vague and mortified, now coalesced into the firmness of cold steel without any doubt or any fear.  As he stepped out of his car, I felt the rage inside of him explode in his chest and I knew that Franklin had finally been transformed into the evil creature he'd always seemed destined to become.

Before she could understand what was happening, he tightened his fingers around her tender wrist as he clamped his other hand over her mouth.  As he started pulling her into the dark domain of shadows under the cover of tree branches, I sensed that I had only a few seconds to act under the power of the light.  With a scream born of the frustration thousands of daily deaths and thousands of days lost to this monster, my silent screams tore into a world that couldn't hear me, but that could sense my anguish.  Just as Franklin reached the border between light and darkness, his feet stopped.

His hand fell slightly from her mouth and she began screaming out into the empty field.  Startled, he tightened his hold, preparing again to act.  But, I would have no more of this powerlessness, no more of a life shared with such a demon.  Allowing myself to bathe in the hidden power of the sunlight, I reached out to the creator of existence, suddenly resolving that Franklin must never again be given the chance to spoil the brittle beauty of an unwary world.

"Enough!"  I screamed out, spreading my dark shadow beyond its usual bounds, enveloping the two humans in a deluge of night powered by the day.  His hands dropped and he and the woman fell to the ground.  With a tremendous effort, I focused all the waves of intent on him, freeing her from the bonds of my shadow.  Quickly realizing that she ‘d somehow miraculously gained her freedom, she ran off screaming, followed by the small dog with the leash trailing behind him.

"Let me go," he begged, trying to reason with the force he'd long suspected had been holding him back from living his visions.

"No!" I screamed, squeezing tighter, knowing that there was only one way for this matter to finally end.  Without Franklin, I would stop existing.  I would no longer be able to bathe in the beauty of a world touched by such majesty and luminescence.  But, I'd also be free, finally, finally free of the fear and the horror of being married to such a creature.

Propelled by a need to finish what I'd started, I allowed myself to explode outward, clamping on the waves of dark particles and focusing them back into Franklin's anguished form, allowing him to see finally that there was a price to be paid for choosing to embrace his awful desires.  As he began to fall, I squeezed tighter and tighter, not stopping even after he dropped into unconsciousness.  I finally saw it, the final light of life still flickering in his soul. With one final burst, I aimed my own dying energies at that final vestige of life, watching as the light shivered and then gave out, in just the same moment as I felt my own final death arrive.

The End

About the Author:
Damie Ayirakaz is a previously unpublished author.

Symptoms Persist
by Nikki J. North

“I'm being stalked by a carnival, my dear Mrs. Johnson.  It's as simple as that.”

The IV drip swings gently, as if nodding, which is more acknowledgment than I'm getting from the woman in the bed.  I pause, leaning on the metal rail that separates us.

“And no, I don't know how crazy that sounds.  It's not crazy because it's true and true things can't be crazy.  True things can only be true.”  Mrs. Johnson seems unconvinced by my logic.  This could be due to the fact that she's been in a coma for two months, or more likely - because she wants to be convinced.  Like the time my cousin Larry wanted to be convinced that letting me cut chunks of hair off his dog, Crowley, and super glue them to his face would make him turn into Wolverine.  Or the time my mom wanted to be convinced that a seventeen year old boy was looking at pictures of botanical curiosities under his bed covers at one-thirty in the morning.  People want to believe.  I pull a pin, lowering the rail so that I can reach over Mrs. Johnson's hip.

“It's like the how people wake up from comas all the time.  Or how you're taller in the morning than at night - learned that one in class yesterday.  Or how zero divided by zero is anything.”  I say the last bit knowingly, like a wise old sage, or sherpa tucked away at the top of a mountain, even though it's tied my brain into a pretzel ever since I heard it while browsing through a  Piratical Cats calendar at the Words n' Stuff bookstore.  Rearranging the pillow that keeps Mrs. Johnson on her side, preventing bed sores the size of pancakes from forming on her shoulder and hip, I sense her interest in the way her hand flops on mine, so I lay it all out for her.

“In class teachers ask these questions, you know?  How would chromyl chloride be synthesized?  Who discovered the country of Brazil?  Why did people in early civilizations transition from hunter-gatherers to agricultural subsistence models?  And the thing is, they expect answers to these questions.  They expect answers and interest and attention and possibly, sadistically, some form of active participation.”      A sloppy physical therapy tech has left Mrs. Johnson's right leg on top of her left when she likes it bent forward.  I lift the blanket to reposition it. “ But how can I answer them when Miriam Coronado's Bio textbook, so big an emperor could be buried in it, is floating off the desk next to me?  How can I listen when Chris Carey's bag, an apple, a pencil, and Professor Thurston's stuffed owl are revolving in a circle above my head?  Could you watch a demonstration of the properties of magnesium with something like that going on?”

Mrs. Johnson expresses her sympathy for my plight by lying absolutely still, which is very considerate of her; after all, she's got problems of her own.  I straighten to leave, there's still Mr. Alph to get up and Mrs. Carey to check on before breakfast.  The joys of the double shift.  I yawn.  “I know what you're going to say - 'Robbie my boy, just do what it takes to get through this last year of med school.'  Or - 'Robbie, just because you're experiencing the manifestation of a crippling mental illness doesn't mean you can't do your best.'"  Someone has knocked over the picture of Mrs. Johnson's family again.  I position it next to the action shot of her son kicking the scoring goal in his senior high school soccer tournament, her husband looking into her eyes like he's seeing her for the first time, and Mrs. Johnson laughing into the camera with her arm around her daughter.

“I know that.  I do.  I'm just trying to weigh all the consequences, take in all the variables.  That's the responsible thing to do.  The doctor says the new stuff will allow me more control, but ...”  A red flag snaps in and out of my peripheral vision as I pull my hand from my pocket and stare down at the two white snakebites of medication in my palm.  “Their weight is so insubstantial.  It's hard to believe they're real.”  The tube in Mrs. Johnson throat prevents her from issuing what would surely be agreement.  “And when I swallow them it's hard to believe I'm real.”  The urge to rip the hideous plastic gag from Mrs. Johnson's mouth and let her speak, to hear words from the woman I've been caring for day after day, is almost overwhelming. 

“You understand.”  I nod at her.  “With them I'm … and without them ...”  I remember how it is without the medication, how it was all those months in high school before the diagnosis – the grades slipping, the friends driven away by strange behavior, the anxiety in my mother's face. 

“Why don't you come back Mrs. Johnson?  I know you're there. You can come back.”  The body on the bed remains a still lump of flesh.  I sigh.  “I'll give you my lucky fedora ...”  I tip the plaid hat back, revealing a high forehead.  “I think you would look quite fetching.”  Pausing at the door, I tip the fedora back down over my eyes with one finger.

“Alright, I'll be back in a couple of hours for our med date, darlin'.”

Placing the pills back in my pocket I stride down a hallway lined with wheelchairs.  My hand tightens as I walk past the bathroom, and I pause.  Before was bad, sure, but there's always a price to be paid … mostly I remember entering rooms and finding tufts of hair from the dancing bear on my seat.  I remember sitting on the ledge of a fountain and pulling a feather from my mouth.  The taste of it, like cotton candy and sawdust, still rests on my tongue.  And I remember riding my bicycle to class after work, the rushing lift of the Zipper tilting me into a black-puddle night.


It's my turn to get the coffee at first break this morning.  In line at the corner shop, I watch an apple green snake wind around a woman's shoulders.  It coils through the tattoos of teapots that decorate her skin, draping itself, like a scarf around her neck.  The sound it makes, as it extends its tongue at me, is a released-steam echo of the latte machine on the counter.  I am hypnotized by eyes that tell me all my futures until the clerk behind a faux granite counter snaps his finger in my face.

"You gonna order or what?"  People behind me mutter and shift.  The line is a question mark squished against the entrance.  I salute their angry faces with a finger to my hat.  The snake lady next to me shrugs and rubs a finger under the snake's chin. 

Exiting the shop, I pass a man in a suit, a pretty woman with a nose ring and blue, blue hair, and a man on a unicycle, the front wheel as tall as I am.  A woman in spangles leaps onto his shoulders.  I can see up the dress that springs from around her waist.  Even her panties have sequins on them.  Their shining aspect against the dark of her torso suggests that underneath that dress she goes on forever.  I want to climb up the bike, up her legs, up and up and into her; into the place where the sequins make their glittering, unconstrained home.  The place where, under her ribs, a twilight landscape has unfurled its undulating hills.  In a valley between those hills shines the light of rides that no one has ever heard of – The Diving Weightless Whirl and Step, Worlds a'Waitin, Exploratory Shark Immersion, the Dancing Taranchuaua, and the Mirrorless Magic Mirror House.  Rides to zip and rides to zag, rides to pull you inside out and rides to push your insides back in.  Rides to make you scream and laugh and make that soft “oh” sound a person really only makes three times in their life.  And in the middle of it all, the great striped tent.  You know if you could just get to that tent, if you could just lift aside the curtain, all the answers to all those questions the teachers ask and any question, asked and unasked, would be there, waiting.

A cab barks.  It bolts around me.  Landscape dissolves.  The white, foggy Aramanthia morning comes back into focus.

I am standing in the middle of a street as a city bus hurtles towards me, its headlights blinding.  Brakes are howling.

I try to calculate the distance from my outstretched hand to the bug-encrusted grill bearing down on me.  The sunlight glints off the front fender; its knife edge slices through my eyes.  From the ragged edge of light steps a shadow, like the shiver of a great, black dog.  Detail runs down the figure, becoming a fuzzy puddle at its feet.  Atop its head sits a hat, the only thing distinct about it. 

“Hello, Robert.”  The voice is grinding, like it’s made by gears, big as a city, moving together to lift some tremendous weight into the sky.

“Why, lucky me, a gentleman caller.” I bat my eyelashes at him.  “Go away.”  I try to stalk past, but remain frozen.

“What kind of greeting is that for an old friend?”

“Yeah, okay, then there, Mr, uh ...”

“Still haven't come up with a good name for me?”

“Unreasonably Scary Carnival Dude? Black Licorice? Lassie?” I shake my head. “No, nothing ever sounds sinister enough.  I think I figured out why you have the head of a wolf though.”

“Oh?” The sound is the polite expression of inquiry.  Oh, you didn't want any more tea?  Oh, you didn't want to see my collection of exotic bugs?  The impression of politeness is ruined by the tongue lolling from the side of its mouth.

“That was the last play I saw with my mom before the wreck, before the coma, before she died.”

A great sighing rumble shakes the world, vibrating it like a plucked string.

“Yes, indeed, Peter and the Wolf.  Lovely. Why don't you come with me, back to my office.  We can talk all about it.  And we can talk all about Mrs. Johnson.”  He steps back, outline vivid.  “I have something there, something I think you would be very interested in.”  Drops of light and time are immobile around him, crystal beads of universal matter.  “Do you want it?”

All I have to do is reach out.  All I have to do is follow him.  My hand clenches on the pills in my pocket.  The door of light twitches shut.  I am standing, panting, in front of a bus in the middle of downtown Aramanthia, cups of Cafe Mocha, No Foam Latte, and a Peppermint Tea cooling in my hands.

“The hell you doing?” a driver yells out his window, zipping past the bus.  On the bus one driver, seven passengers, and sixteen sets of eyes stare after me as I rush away.


By the time all the residents have been fed their over-salted, over-sugared, under-eaten meals, lunch is more pre-dinner than midday repast at the Sunbeam Treeview Home for the Age Enabled.  No one seems to notice, least of all the elderly residents of the nursing home's stale and hallowed halls.

"Mashed peas again today.”  Alex James pulls back a chair across from me and settles a tray of turkey with watery gravy, mashed peas, and orange juice in front of him.  “That's the third time this week.  I've a mind to talk to Lunch Lady about the sub-standard shit they serve around here.”

Alex has an aura of mystery about him that swiftly devolves into a cloud of charming incomprehensibility when conversations turn from any of his three favorite subjects – zombies, himself, and women with comically large breasts.  Over at the university I'd heard him described as “certainly individual” or “positively special” by the more tactful professors.  At the Home the descriptions most used by his contemporaries ranged from “scrumptious” to “asshole” depending on gender and time spent in company.  We started work here on the same day.  Our friendship was cemented when we found a set of matching fedoras left on bar stools at McGill's Bar and Grill down the street.  We've worked our shifts together ever since and wear our lucky fedoras every Tuesday, except for that one Tuesday we forgot them ... but we call that day Doom Tuesday and don't talk about it anymore.

I pop a chip into my mouth, watching as Alex raises his arms high above his head like a conductor.  In one hand is a knife, the other a fork. 

“Caroline decided not to eat again today?” I ask.

“Nope, too busy moaning on for her daughter.”
His hands descend in a dramatic slash.  Everything on his plate is mashed into a single pile.

When I don't respond with the usual chastising comment about eating the resident's food he looks up with a tilted eyebrow.

“What's the matter? ”

Quick, I think, distract him. “Your food pile looks like giant boobs!” I blurt out, perhaps a little too loudly as Mr. Howitzer, one table over, leans in to get a better look.

“Huh,” Alex appraises the two mounds he's made, “Indeed they do.”

That was close.  I slump a little in my plastic chair.

“It's back, isn't it?” he asks.

And there it is.  Just like that.  I flinch and swallow twice.

He leans forward, sighing in a way that suggests he should have a pipe clenched in his teeth. 

"You know, there are worse things to be stalked by."  He nods in the direction of Emily Morderline sitting alone at a table across the cafeteria.

Alex shovels a heaping spoon into his mouth.  I catch Emily looking back at us.  Her expression suggests that Alex is the last branch before a thundering waterfall or maybe the only source of oxygen aboard a rocket shot into space.  I wiggle my fingers at her in a clandestine wave.  She ducks her head.  I don't think it's so bad to need something to hold on to, and Emily has a big shovel of a smile that makes you want to smile back.  A monkey scampers past her, a small, red hat perched on its head.  I look away.

"Carnivals aren't so bad." Alex pauses to shovel another mouthful in, leaning an elbow on the table.  "It could be sharks, or used car salesmen, or zombies.  Zombies are the worst," he proclaims with authority.  "If there's an invasion or appo-polex or whatever, I'm going to that ranch in Nevada, the one with all them fancy lady birds."

I stare at him, monkeys momentarily forgotten.

"That's your zombie invasion plan?  A whore house in Nevada?"

"Well, I'm not plannin' on it happinen' now am I?  It’s more of a better to be safe than sorry, don't die without some crazy-end-days-do-it-like-lions-on-the-Serengeti sex kind of plan."  Alex leans back, leaving the spoon impaled and quivering in the middle of the mashed potato mountain on his plate.     

“I thought you were takin' the stuff the doctor gave you?”

I give a negative jerk of the head.  He stares at me, then tips back his fedora.

“How long?”

“Since the old ones stopped working.”

“And the new ones?”

“Quite comfortable in my pocket?”  I give him my best Garbo eyebrow waggle.

“Take them.”  He pushes a glass of water at me and watches with narrowed eyes as I pretend to swallow down the medication. “Come over tonight.  Shoot some pool?”  Over Alex's shoulder I can see a column of three monkeys wavering on top an empty table as a forth scrambles up them.

“Seven o' clock?” he persists.

I nod in absent agreement.  He pushes back from the table.  The monkey column goes tumbling; crying and screaming, they bounce and run.  One leaps onto the light fixture and, hanging upside down, grabs it with hands and feet, trying to yank it from the ceiling.  Another runs across the room.  Most jump up and down on the tables.  A smallish one jumps up on the table where Emily sits, watching Alex leave through the double doors at the other side of the room.  She slumps, shoves the remains of her lunch into her brown sack, and makes a wandering arc towards the door before approaching me.


“Hey,” I reply.  I can see a small stain where pudding or jello hit her scrub top.  There is a pause big enough to swallow a galaxy.

“So I heard -”

“Do you -” We start at the same time.

I clear my throat. “Do you want him?  Alex?”  She bites her lip and tosses her short, black hair away from her face.  “Because if you do you should talk to him.”  Her hands clench on the brown bag.  I can tell she's about to leave.  The idea of her, sitting there, sitting there, sitting there, everyday, watching and doing nothing, frustrates me.  My voice freezes her.  “He likes zombie flicks.  Talk to him about that.  Especially Romero.  Look up some of the plots.  Tell him you saw it, and ask him if he can recommend more like it.  That should keep him busy all night if you can stand it.  He'll be at the Tired Cougar Pub tonight from seven.  Wear something -” My eyes flick covertly to the scrub top that hangs over breasts that are decidedly un-comical.  Maybe that was going too far.  “Just go in and buy him a drink.  Ask him about zombie flicks.” 

She looks at me, hesitant and fumbling. 

“Just do something, alright.”  My eyes are too intense.  I feel anger that comes from nowhere and is not for her.  “You can't just keep staring forever, like some dog looking at a bone.  Either move on or do something.  Don't let him decide for you, because you'll never be able to take that back.”  I sound harsh.  She flinches a little, a flush rising to her round cheeks, opens her mouth as if to say something, but instead turns and flees through the double doors.

I'm alone in the cafeteria.  The light is fading as the sun turns above, rays no longer reaching through the wall of windows that line the east side of the room.  I'm about to rise when a monkey gambols over the table and snatches my hat up from where it sits next to my tray.

“Hey,” I yell.  Mr. Wilson, the only other person left in the cafeteria, jerks awake from a doze that has placed his head precariously close to a large bowl of uneaten pudding.

“Hey,” he yells, in agreement or surprise.

“Go back to sleep Mr. Wilson,” I say.

I spend the rest of the afternoon chasing monkeys.  The one who grabbed the fedora has an especially malicious glint in his eye as he watches me brandish a broom handle at him from the middle of a supply closet.  He makes a gesture at me that is reminiscent of a kung fu challenge.

“You know I've named you Bobo, right?” I call out, as he pulls yet another ninja disappearing act, scampering out the door, baring his teeth at me and waving the hat in a teasing circle.  At five o' clock the beast pauses at the sliding entrance doors and raises the fedora towards his head.

“Don't. You. Even. Think -”

The miscreant primate places the hat on his head and displays a mouth full of white teeth.

It is only after another hour of chasing that I give up and trudge home, surprised to find that I am only two blocks away.

The clock above the sink ticks – two minutes past seven.  I tilt my hand and let all the pills from the orange bottle slip from my palm.  They bounce and clamor off the edges of the stainless steel like popcorn.  One by one they disappear down the throat of the drain.  Leaning against the edge of the counter, arms straight and tight, I breathe in and look out the kitchen window.  A striped tent is being erected in the empty lot behind my house.  At the top of its center pole, one long, red flag ripples in the wind like blood trailing from a puncture wound in the sky.  Beyond it, the lights of the tilting, swirling rides bob and streak through the night.

I step off the back porch, ignoring the stabs of pebbles and twigs.  I walk to the back fence that marks the boundary between my yard and the grassy, broken gravel that used to be a used car sales lot.  In the middle of the lot there's a tree that didn't exist before.  Burnt black shapes rest in its branches.  I hesitate, looking back at the facade of the house where I grew up.  Light blazes from the kitchen. Gravel crunches under my feet as I move away.

Reaching high to the lowest branch I snag a top hat from the tree's fingers.  I turn it over and over in my hands.  Stepping over a rusting tail pipe, a crumpled cigarette wrapper, and a Colorado license plate, I wind my way to the tent.  It seems that I walk miles before I can push rough canvas aside and wriggle my way through a loosely tied panel at the back of the tent.  Crowds of people line the inside, chatting and waving.  Kids eat popcorn; fire breathers entertain them.  Women tumble in fantastic leaps up and down stairs.  An unlit dirt ring meditates in the center, anticipating the caress of spotlight.  They're waiting. They've been waiting, but the ringmaster is nowhere in sight. 

I have his hat. 

With sure fingers I place it on my head, not surprised to find it fits perfectly.  I pause.  This is what I want.  Right?  Ahead, the spotlight blinks on.  Its path leads to Mrs. Johnson, sitting in the front row, smiling.  She looks just like she did in the picture with her daughter.  She's been waiting for me too.  The world settles and grows quiet.  I step into the ring.  Drawing in a deep breath I am ready to release the words that begin everything.

An anvil hits my chest, and air leaves me in a short squeak. Whatever oxygen is left in my lungs is expelled when I hit the ground on my back.  I lay there, looking up, trying to figure out why my bed is so lumpy and cold, before realizing I'm not in my bed and that it is definitely not Ms. April staring down at me.

“Sorry, man.”  Alex glares down at me.  He doesn't seem sorry at all.

“What the -”

“You didn't take them, did you?”  He doesn't wait for my response.  Straightening he grabs my hand and pulls me to my feet.  “So here you are, naked in the middle of vacant lot, shouting loud enough for the neighbors to have called the police, unresponsive to vocal stimuli ...” He seems to be running out of steam, breathing hard a couple of times.  I look around at the sad, rusted cars that seconds ago were cheering audience members. There's a broken piece of antenna clutched in my hand.  I gulp down a sudden, shocked sob.  A wash of shame strangles me.  Throwing the antenna away, I lean over, feeling that I might vomit.  Alex throws his jacket around my shaking shoulders.  He turns me toward the house, helping me take a stumbling first step.

“How did you know?”

He pulls something from his back pocket.

“You left this in the cafeteria.”  He places a crumpled wool shape in my hands.

“The monkeys took it,” I explain.

He just nods and steers me through the back door.  Inside he fills a glass with water and holds it out along with two white shapes.

“Please, Rob.”  His face is dead white.

I really take them this time.

He relaxes against the sink and leans forward to shove the fedora on my head.  He seems to consider it for a moment.

“Alright, let's go, I need a beer.”

“Okay with you if I put some clothes on first?”

“And deprive the ladies of the sight of your pasty white fish belly?” I ignore him and head up the stairs.     

“Just leaves more for me then.”  He calls out.


Alex orders two beers and leans against the bar.

“Now that we've managed to acquire libations, the other reason I came over -”

“You finally beat Mrs. Pac Man? “


“You found the mystery smell in your car?”


“You got inside of Lunch Lady's pants?”

“No, but I'm telling you, underneath that hair net and stupendous mole is a tiger just wait -”  He glances over at the bar tender who is pretending to clean a glass while clearly listening to every word.

“Uh, no.  It's Mrs. Johnson -”

A shiver climbs up my spine.

“She's dead, isn't she?”

“Dead? Nah, man, she woke up.”

I sputter, glaring at him. “This isn't going to be like the time you had Mr. Wilson stay really still and convinced me he was dead is it?”

“C'mon, you know I swore on my lucky fedora to never do that again.”

“She really woke up?”

“She really did.”

He raises his bottle.  I tap it, a smile pulling up the corner of my mouth.

“Doctor Handy told Mr. Johnson that it may be your fault.  You forgot her three o'clock meds,” Alex takes a solid drag of his beer then salutes me with it, “So you're fired.”  He eyes me over the bottle the way rescue workers watch a man on a window ledge.

“Damn those monkeys,” I say, grinning, happy for Mrs. Johnson, happy for myself.  Alex relaxes into his chair.  There is no flash of red hat, or swish of simian mischief in the dim bar.  My grin fades as I stare at the wet ring left by my beer on the wooden table.  Tracing the circle, I tilt my head, searching the moments of quiet between the sound of clinking glasses, laughter, and music for a booming voice calling out to me from the night.

The End
About the Author
Nikki J. North lives in the UK with her wonderful spousal unit.  When she isn't programming she likes to read, write, and knit a small, but growing, ninja monkey army.

Thank you for joining us again and I hope to see you all back here next Sunday for a very special Christmas Issue.

No comments:

Post a Comment