Browsing Category Frozen Sea & Desert


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Their wedding quilt is white with red thread framing squares that form a pattern of interlocking circles. Some squares are vibrant, some pale, some sleek, some soft. They are pieces of their lives before marriage. Her grandmother’s dishtowel. His mother’s apron. Her father’s tie. His uncle’s bandana. Her Girl Scout uniform. His soccer jersey. She made it the month before their wedding, almost seven years ago.

The white is still fresh and bright, the colored squares unchanged. It’s something they fold at the foot of the bed or drape across the rocking chair at Christmastime. A showpiece, not for everyday use.

She runs her finger along the edge of one circle, feels the hills and valleys of each stitch. Her husband, beside her in the bed, heaves a deep sigh. He’s still asleep, but barely. He’s in that space between. She’s more receptive in that space. To dreams, to ideas, to long-forgotten song lyrics. Just the other day, as she was waking up from a nap, a tune drifted through her mind, and suddenly she was back in college, in a grungy coffee shop, ignoring the cover band she’d come to see, staring instead at the scruffy young guy in front of her. The first time she saw him, she’d wanted to put her arms around him. Hold onto him. Not let go.

Her husband sighs again. She scoots over and drapes her arm over his torso. She takes a deep breath, then slowly relaxes into the curve of his back. A smile stretches her lips as his warmth floods through her. She hesitates, then rests her chin against his shoulder. This. This is what she loves—the way their forms fit so neatly. The firmness of his buttocks against her thighs. The curve of his back against her breasts. The feel of his chest against the palm of her hand. The way his shoulder makes the perfect pillow. She is in heaven. She stretches her toes, touches them to the backs of his heels, snuggles closer and inhales the earthy scent of his neck. She gently trails a finger down his sternum, then—

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How did I end up possessing the dog? She was handy. She was a growing puppy, easily accessible, a path of least resistance.

All the souls, the planets, the big bang, the black holes, my guilt, my innocence, my death — I was aware of them. None of this stuff was far away. None of it was close by. Some folks die and go to a reward. Some go to punishment. I was plain dead. I was an empty soul floating in vague semi-awareness.

The soul contains the body, not the other way around. Two things made possession different from original life, not that I remembered much, not that I remembered anything specific about my life.

First, there was the soul of the puppy, sharing her body with me. She clung to me. She was possessive, fierce, willful. She acted like I was an old friend, like she knew me. Her mind, her canine brain, driven by urge more than human thought, could never make me understand her acceptance. Happy to have me join her, happy to let my soul go into solution with hers, she was still insistent in marking and holding herself in the life she was given.

Second, there was that awareness, my formerly-dead-soul awareness that I was nothing but sort of… well, just sort of. I was a thin substance, and the puppy soul was syrupy with life. Possession worked both ways. I chose the puppy, but then I became the puppy. My priorities became puppy priorities. I had puppy thoughts, mostly directed by that puppy soul. Even so, I was still I.

Our first thought was more hunger than I could understand, if such a deep urge can be considered a true thought. Every movement, every impulse circled around to food. Any food would do. A sock on the floor, a shred of cardboard. We could beg, or we could take a longer strategy, plan like an adult human, like my old soul.

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The Bigfoot Murder

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“Only Sasquatch would do this!”  Bimbo said with certainty, nodding his large, bearded head.

“You’ve seen a bigfoot killing before?”  Jake had joined the Highway Patrol to help people not kill themselves with their cars. He felt he had been failing. Speed kills. Excessive speed obliterates. This situation looked like a hit and run at excessive speeds. He had been first on scene in too many of these, especially on these backwoods two lane highways.

“Sure! Sure! Seen body parts all over the place.”  Bimbo scratched his large stomach. A musty smell was generated by his action. Something came out of his beard too.

“But you’ve never seen a Bigfoot kill anyone?”  Jake had seen plenty of body parts all over the place, but it was done by human devices, bombs, fast cars or a fast car and a tree. Once by a train. It was going 90 miles an hour or more. It hit a bus load of people stuck on the tracks, just like in the movies. No hero rescues this time. Body parts as well as bus parts and train parts were all over the place. It had been a bus full of church folks. It’s always church folk. ‘Church folk just shouldn’t travel in buses.’  Jake’s mother had concluded. ‘It is much too dangerous for them.’

“Don’t have to. I know what it would be like.”  Bimbo smiled a very odd smile. Jake had seen plenty of odd smiles in his life. Bimbo’s was the oddest.

“How did you find out about this incident? I just got the call. I was just down the hill.”  Jake hadn’t learned to ask questions. He just did. No reason not to.

“Found them, it. The situation. I called it in.”  Bimbo waved at the pieces.

“You weren’t here when I pulled up.”  Jake looked around again just to make certain he didn’t see any other vehicle than his own.

“Yeah, I, am camping over on the other hill.”  Bimbo pointed off behind him into the trees.

“Out for your morning constitutional, were you?”  Jake took some more pictures of the scene with the department camera. It was old but it worked. All the new departmental stuff went to the forensic guys. All the shows about crime scene investigation had made the CIs celebrities. People love to give stuff to celebrities. Politicians especially.

“What does politics have to do with this?”  Bimbo generated his scratch musk again. It was a fly escaping form his beard this time.

“Nothing. Everything. Doesn’t matter.”  Jake pointed to the ground in the center of the scattered human parts. There were an uneven number of legs. “Where’s all the blood?”   Jake had the cruiser video camera running, so he spoke loudly to get a good recording.

“Bigfoot drinks it. How I know it was Bigfoot.”  Bimbo made a circle with his hand.

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To Summon Her

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I first saw you in dreams after I’d stolen an apple from the market. You chided me then, in a way that no one had. You warned of a doomed future, should I not change my ways. Despite those ominous words I had never felt such peace. Nor would I, in all the years after. I promised to adhere to justice to see your smile. But you turned away, your wings burning inseparably from ethereal sunlight.

I kept this promise for so long. Or tried to. But you never returned.

I became a soldier believing, like so many, that it was the path to heroism. I found war’s truth in pain and pestilence and piles of bodies. When I came home, I imagined a family in my future. But I failed to make a courtship. I blamed my scarred face. But I knew always that it was my lack of confidence with words; my fear of what would come when I said the wrong thing. I resolved then to be a man of action. I would earn everything by working to meet my ambitions.

By then, you were only a memory of an imagining. My greatest hope was for my future wife to be someone like you, convinced as I was that you, yourself, were not real.

After my post-war idleness, I became the guard of the Fort of the Forbidden Library. Four crumbling stone walls surrounded a tower full of books that no man was to enter. Not that anyone would, with the Fort placed atop a mountain and surrounded by a forest said to be haunted. It was the slow, boring work that ex-soldiers with cooled bloodlust craved.

And it was where I saw you again.

I stood atop the wall one night, drifting into unconsciousness, as the glow of foxfire caught on the shape of a winged woman. I remembered all at once that you had been more than a dream. But before I could approach, the light faded, and you were gone. I had seen nothing but your shape, and your presence in memory was that of a half-formed dream. That night, I slept on my cramped barracks cot wondering whether I’d been enchanted by an angel or a succubus.

The next day, knowing full well that the penalty for such betrayal was death, I snuck into the Library.

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One Last Move

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I’d imagined her living on a different kind of street, in a different kind of neighborhood.

“Watch yourself, Billy-boy. Act normal. You remember how to do that? You make a move on her too fast, you’ll find yourself back in here.” Jance had said those words looking through the bars of his own cage, watching as the guards unlocked my cell and let me out of mine. I glanced back just once and caught the sadness in his eyes. He’d have hated to know I saw that.

Before they shut the gate behind me, they’d handed me a small duffel bag that contained all my possessions from five years before. I was wearing the jeans and sweatshirt I’d arrived in, all too aware they’d never been washed since.

First thing I did once I’d gotten off the bus, they put me on was get a room at the local hotel, a two-story dilapidated building with a sign out front claiming it was haunted. I wouldn’t be surprised. It looked like it ought to be razed for its own protection. Each to their own.

I set out to find her place. Even the limited Internet access they gave me for good behavior at the prison was enough to find her last known address. It was easy. But I didn’t look up anyone else. I didn’t want to betray the trust the authorities had in me.

The house she lived in was on North Street on the other side of town. I had fifty dollars on me, courtesy of the state. A cab would eat away at that, but the bus would take over an hour with all its stops. The hotel manager said I could use a bike they had in the shed, for five dollars. That seemed a bargain till I saw the thing, but at least the wheels turned, and the brakes worked. It got me to 81 North Street fine. I left the bike in a nearby alley, behind a discarded stove. The sky was threatening rain. I hoped it’d hold off till I got back to the hotel.

“Who are you?”

I was walking up the steps leading to the front door. The man standing on the walkway below was wearing the outfit of a London bobby, which made no sense.

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Dunes of Possibility

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“This one has a flaw,” said the clerk. She displayed the frame for inspection.

“I don’t see it.”

“It’s small. That’s why it’s marked down.”

Despite her warning, I bought the moving sand picture at the Denver Museum of Art gift shop when, for a moment, the trickling grains squeezing between bubbles at the frame’s top and settling to the bottom into layered and shadowed hills lifted my spirits.

Whimsy costs only $160, at a discount.

Two weeks later, on a Tuesday, my sixteenth yearly performance review at work came up short again. “Not everyone is managerial material,” my boss said as he handed me the promotion list.

My former apprentice, Sweeney Jameson didn’t look my way as she boxed belongings at her desk. Her promotion came with an office, and a door she could close, and a window.

Windows are important for me. When I rented my apartment a year earlier, the show unit’s window on the top floor overlooked Confluence Park and Elitch Gardens. The setting sun smoothed Denver’s skyline into buttery yellows and reflected glisters. I didn’t see the apartment they gave me until the day I moved in. Its second-story view faced a building’s backside thirty feet away across the alley above the dumpsters.

So, windows aren’t everything.

Like every apartment I’d rented, I knew I’d just wait out the lease and move again. I hardly ever stayed long enough to decorate the walls.

With the promotion list folded in my back pocket, I took the sand picture from the closet then hung it in the living room, opposite of the window so whatever natural light showed it best. The mounting hardware let me spin the frame. Settled sand rotated to the top, streamed between bubbles like multiple hour glasses, creating the image below. Black sand fell faster than white. A sprinkling of gold swirled after the rest. In a few minutes, the water between the glass plates cleared, leaving a deserty landscape, like something from the American southwest or Arabia, a place for rattlesnake or adders, and lonely winds that whisked sand away in a whisper. Behind the hills, the artist painted a huge moon among translucent clouds. I studied the scene while the shadows on the walls shifted, until the room grew dark.

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Song For The Molars

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Space sector 2N was bad, Clean Space X-2 promotional musician Enyan thought as he stared at his reflection in the cockpit window, but The Pull’s sector 3A conjured depressing effects.

Crow’s feet had become sags of flesh. The hair on his temples had rendered from a compound of black and silver to cream white.

He turned an aching neck to his right. Pilot Tanimoto was still clung to his chair, arms gripped tight on the arm rests and mouth opened wide as if trying to catch a kernel of popcorn in mid-air.

Enyan patted his widening forehead and stroked his lengthening arms. A receding hairline was something he had feared the very first time he had gone on tour with his band The Moon Whiskers, and now it had receded all the way to the middle of his scalp. A compound of deformity and quick aging made it clear that he would no longer have a singing career after returning to Earth.

A blinding migraine came violently, his vision flashed white, and he wretched between his legs.

Tanimoto, like the rest of the crew, were the fortunate ones.

They were no longer in this reality.

Enyan got up and walked past a frozen Hans, aka Bullwhip, which was still standing and pointing at the billiards table-sized holo-analysis module that was positioned in the middle of their ship’s main deck.

On the opposite side, lead engineer of the space debris cleaning technology, Haley, was standing with her arms crossed and lips pushed out. Enyan was sitting next to Tanimoto when the flash came out of nowhere. He could only remember that Hans and Haley were having an argument about their course of direction. Hans was arguing that they had come too far out of orbit, and it wasn’t safe on account of the recent asteroid belt interference. Haley heated up and was yelling that playing it safe would give them safe numbers. She said they had to push the clean space X-2 and the only way to do that was go bigger and find larger debris outside of the safe zone.

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The Jury Consultant

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“Tom, you’ve gone from practicing civil law at a big firm in New York City to representing scumbag criminals.” My old man shook his head and wrinkled his nose in disapproval. The overhead lighting reflected off his bald dome as if to intensify the harshness of his comment.

“Look, Pop, I’m working for myself. No one tells me what cases to take or not take. I’m my own boss and that’s the way I like it. And frankly, civil law is not that civil.”

“Mr. Atkins, your son is a wonderful lawyer. You should see him defending clients in a courtroom.”  Lara Lopez, university grad student and my part-time legal assistant, besides being beautiful, was also supportive. I flashed her an appreciative smile.

The old man wasn’t buying it though. “I said it before and I’ll say it again, your office looks like a cheap imitation of Sam Spade’s, and it sucks.”

In all fairness, my office did look a tad stark. Even my mother’s amateur landscape paintings covering cracks in the walls didn’t improve the ambiance much. The blue wallpaper was faded and peeling. Someone, probably a previous tenant, ground chewing gum into the worn gray carpet, making a statement. Two battered wooden desks and shabby chairs were what passed for office furniture. If a person wasn’t careful, he or she would end up with splinters in the nether zones. A single narrow window permitted a view of a brick wall and a dirty alley replete with overflowing garbage cans.

“Nothing short of a bomb blast could help this place,” the old man said shaking his head. “Lawyers are a dime a dozen. You should have gone into construction work fulltime like I did. That’s a useful trade. When a person needs a plumber or electrician, you bet they don’t try to nickel and dime them the way they do a lawyer.”

I did my best to control my temper. My old man had a way of making me lose it. But no point arguing with him. My old man was never going to change.

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