Wednesday, December 7, 2011

THE MACHINE by Jon konrath

We watched the room melt into slag, the furniture crystallizing into nothingness, the sound waves of the ambient noise converting to raw electrons and neutrons of particle energy, flowing through our cells and cutting everything apart like x-rays slicing through flesh to bounce off a broken bone. The world outside sped up, slowed down, the structure of the false machines falling apart and disintegrating.

“I think it works,” he said. Ricky ran outside, into the street, picked up an abandoned taxi cab and threw it into low earth orbit, shuttling past communications satellites and passing space stations. I took a Polaroid picture for possible inclusion in a future JC Penny holiday catalog, but don’t keep your fingers crossed. 

“Everything is blue,” he said. “Everything is blue in this world.” I borrowed a french fry machine from a Burger Chef, a mobile fry daddy on a set of roller skate wheels, with a trailer hitch attachment. You could plug it into your cigarette lighter of your rental car and make a set of onion rings while you cruised at 65 on the open highway. Excuse me officer, but I have to flip these chicken tenders before they burn. I’m certain that aliens from another dimension taught Ray Kroc the secrets of fryer oil technology, in exchange for fattening up civilization for the apocalypse. When we hit eight million people, expect killer drones to fall from the sky and take out the most succulent cuts of human butchery for their own drive-through meal deals. I’ll have a #2 meal with a huge fat bastard with fries and a Coke, no pickles.

His lawyers later filed some trumped-up charges that he didn’t know the staple gun actually used staples, that the abortion clinic was for simulated use only. We took a long recess and went to Marilyn Manson’s house, because he’d recently married Carny Wilson and went on this Beach Boys rampage, mistakenly buying a billion dollars of Brian Wilson memorabilia on eBay and then finding out it was all stuff for the San Francisco Giants closing pitcher, stick-on beards and orange t-shirts. That’s why Manson looks like Fidel Castro on his new album. Smile!

CHILLED COFFEE by E. M. Jeanmougin

The coffee is too cold.

It's always too cold at Chomsky Coffee but this time he doesn’t ask for a fresh cup. It's not worth the scowl of the head waitress or the risk of his next cup being accompanied by spit.

Outside, the rain pelts rapidly down. The world is a dismal, wraith-like place, slated in shades of abysmal gray. Two narrow beams of alternating light (one of blue, the other of red) splash across the dreary boulevard. Though the sirens have long-since stopped, the police remain.

From the safety of the café, he's watched on-lookers come and go. They pause at the site of the accident, giving the morbid scene an ephemeral glance before moving on, like children passing exhibits in a museum. A few remain clustered in as close as the authorities will allow them, but with the increasing rain speed their numbers are fast diluting.

The driver of the ’97 Firebird has been arguing with the cops for almost ten minutes now. From his window seat, he can't actually hear the words, but the man’s violent hand gestures and facial expressions tell the tale. It was the pedestrian's fault, surely. He was the one who had walked in front of the car. 

He's not going to win. You don’t cream a pedestrian at 70 mph and then just stroll away without doing serious jail time.

As the ambulance wails up to the scene and the paramedics pile out, he turns away from the window, looks back at the cold cup of coffee, and wishes it were warmer. The extended sitting period has made it somewhat thick and soupy. He crinkles his nose distastefully.

“Shame about that,” comments a man from the table next to him. With alabaster white skin and bruise-like black sags under his eyes, the florescent lights make it almost painful to look at him. The pallid man holds out his cup and the waitress fills it with fresh, steaming coffee. Taking a sip, the man asks, “Guy was a regular, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” replies the waitress, picking up the chilled cup without a downward glance. “Bastard was always whining about the temperature of his coffee.”

IT TAKES A PILLAGE by John H. Dromey

Erik the Redneck spent his summer vacation “flipping Burghers.”

He hung around the village tavern waiting for gluttonous merchants to pass out after swilling too much lager.

Turning over the stupor-rich topers so he could cut their purses was hard work but highly rewarding.

When he wasn’t rolling drunks, Erik was a typical Viking teenager. He listened to the latest sagas, worried about his complexion, and complained loudly about doing homework—he despised chopping wood, fetching water, and picking up those rare table scraps that even the family dogs refused to eat.

Erik was well on his way to becoming a rich man himself when the source of his newfound wealth became an open secret. A barmaid blabbed.

Magnus the Mariner had no difficulty in organizing a small raiding party to go after Erik.

“You won’t even have to get your feet wet,” Magnus told his recruits, “and you can be home by midnight.”

Of those invited, only Hrolf the Eveready—a specialist in assault and battery—begged off, citing chafed knuckles and a bruised ego (from not being the first ruffian asked to participate).

With vulpine cunning, Erik easily outwitted the first three attackers by placing a bearskin rug over an open trapdoor.

Knut the Rock Knee, so-called because he often bumped into boulders when going ashore on unfamiliar beaches, was the first to fall into the root cellar. He was followed close behind by Thorfinn the Complainer and Eystein the Insecure, who both leaned over the opening to see what had happened to their companion. They discovered that for themselves when Erik nudged them sequentially with just enough force to tip them past their centers of gravity.

Ivard the Intimidator was a different matter entirely. Erik knew he wasn’t strong enough to take the bully by the horns, but that thought gave him an idea.

“Are you wearing your wife’s helmet? Those look like cow horns to me,” Erik taunted.

Ivard was unable to reach up and check the calcified protrusions and swing a broadsword at the same time. Erik kicked him in a delicate part of his anatomy and then finished him off with a dagger. 

Having tippy toed into the tavern during the preceding commotion, Olaf the Obnoxious asked the sixty-four-Thaler question, just before he tapped Erik the Redneck on the back of the head with a war club: “Are you smarter than a fifth raider?”

ANGEL OF MERCY by Joseph J. Patchen

It was only after I pulled the trigger that I realized what I had done. Despite all the smoke and shouting and bodies, I could distinctly hear that hammer click into place. I could feel that chamber lock and that bullet whirl out through the barrel.

The steel vibrated and kicked and the powder burned, but all that concerned me was the lettering stamped on the bottom of that bullet. I could read it's markings over and over as it slowly turned and pulled away. At that moment, the battle ended - and so did my involvement in the war.         

I was firing in the face of a charge, standing shoulder to shoulder with like-minded men. Bayonets and swords in our faces, cannon balls past our ears - I never truly aimed at any particular one.

It was like shooting at the side of a barn. Our only aim was at the color. That’s what we were trained to do.  Never, ever have I recognized one - until, of course, today. With the bullet moving slowly, I was able to look up and catch a glimpse of his face.

He looked much older than he was supposed to be - more serious. Maybe because he realized the bullet’s path. I thought I could lean out and snatch it, or maybe swat it to another. But it was out of reach and I was out of time. I could hear his uniform rustle and see the bullet enter and split those fibers, with a little smoke and powder trail.

First he dropped his rifle. Then he clutched his chest before we locked eyes. And then I heard it crack bone. He laid still, his eyes wide, looking past me. We made promises on graves long ago that we would care for each other. I feel I’ve met my end of the bargain. After all, I’ve delivered him from this insanity.