Archive for the ‘Short Fiction’ Category

Growing Season

I was bombarded by country music hits from 1954:  Webb Pierce, Jim reeves and Hank three nights before my psychotherapist  of twenty years Anne Hemming  declared me cured of bipolar disorder. My high school therapist diagnosed schizophrenia and there it stood through graduate school. When I began therapy with Anne she called it manic-depressive disorder and ten years ago it became schizoaffective disorder and a few years ago,  bipolar. Same brain spectacle. Mental health professionals waffle. This “disorder” gives me creative energy and a slant on reality I have leveraged to my benefit. My ‘cure’, in the eyes of Anne, coincided with my announced retirement from a quasi-lucrative career as a high-end residential architect. Life had become frenetic. I don’t do frenetic. I have newer, fresher fish to fry. The waiting list at BlountSpace has grown to outsize proportions in the past five years, must be thinning gray hair and snappy Calvin Klein blazer Anne suggested.  Anne screwed up her face in disdain upon hearing my retirement news.  She sighed slumping in her Morris-chintz Edwardian armchair crossing her size 4 Jacques Levine black suede slippers on the matching footstool.

“Am I going to have to choke a bitch?” She said

I described my dual vocation with fervor:  songwriting-neuroscience.  I  would henceforth be living on Social security payments until……whenever, studying and writing my songs and bioscience essays.

“Chase two tigers and they both get away Frank. You know this.”

“It’s a passion reborn from high school, I scored the top grade on the biology final senior year and my dad enjoyed country music when I was growing up. He always had a radio on, stuff’s in my blood.”

“Passion closes out of town Frank. You’ve got to make a living for God’s sake!. We’ve got connections now. You don’t even know how to play guitar. Survival as an adult requires mature social relationships not a mind on fire, grow up!. We worked  hard to get your business out of the Bush Dump and you casually discard it. We didn’t go to 150 dinner parties in this city for goddamned nothing!

You’ve got a case of the dick-arounds Frank and you must get over them. For Christ’s sake Frank  GET REAL !  You were so….so…. coming into focus.

“Don’t forget the Chateau Montelena tomorrow night” she softly intoned as she closed her office door.

We had been flirting mildly at our sessions for the past several  years. I had aired the darkest of my memories during our first seven years during which we de-fanged many demons. There were six or seven more years of OK Stupid Dot-Bomb romance frustrations and workplace  trivialities that I could afford to discuss. We attended social events together. Her husband begged off. Her friends thought I was gay.

*

I dug up many bones in Anne’s office, from shallow graves, more like scraping out encysted worms writhing under my skin, hidden between my toes and curled up in their fastnesses inside my caudate nucleus, stories  from my life up to and including 365 weird days of my sixteenth year after which things calmed around the house, our eighth address in seven years. Daisuke, my mother’s  ghost, called it quits,  leaving us to our own dysfunctional devices. This ghost, Daisuke, we never got a last name,  entered mom’s sub-subconscious in 1961,  a gift from  my father during their last violent shouting match before the divorce. I was there. I saw the scuzm-plasm exit dad and enter mom as she held the butcher knife to dad’s right eyeball – scared the hell out of me – the plasm transfer,  not the knife.  I had seen the butcher knife wielded in anger many times. Mom liked to wave it around in her jealous rages. Daisuke had followed dad around for seventeen years after a fiery and immensely loud  kamikaze crash onto dad’s destroyer, 225 miles per hour to full stop – a shock to a young Japanese soul  and to the sailors standing nearby on The USS Gwin, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Daisuke infected dad’s moods like a Melanesian fungus. His buddies thought it battle fatigue. Dad was highly respected by his shipmates as fleet champion heavyweight boxer and chief mineman making heroic, eardrum crushing, free dives to set mines forty feet below the surface of the South Pacific. Daisuke’s head was shattered like a coconut, as leader of the fire crew, dad was the first sailor to pull parts of the broken, charred body from the wreckage. Most of it had merged into the aluminum airframe. Daisuke “walked in” to dad immediately after the fiery, immensely loud crash. My grandmother, dad’s mother, said he was never the same after the war. Who is?  Dad was first of the Gwinn crew on the scene.  I unloaded a lot of Daisuke induced family baggage in Anne’s office on Amsterdam Avenue,  enough to fill the cargo hold of an airliner.

*

I was on my thrice weekly  Long Island  midnight swim  ensuring my manic and  depressive remain under control.  Do what it takes, burn calories, stay calm when serving, the ultra-rich, our leaders. They desire elegant homes. Homes for these rich people are a competition and BlountSpace delivers victory. I was one hundred yards from turnaround time, slowly powering through a medium chop, blowing stinging water out of my nose at every other deep breath. I swam hard for one nautical mile straight out into the moonlit ocean from Jones Beach. I was a mile out when I sensed another consciousness. I thought for a moment it might be a squid brushing across my back. Things had slithered across my skin  before. This was different, this was  similar to being fish-slimed but this contact  was across my entire upper back and neck, driving  a fear-flight electrochemical  jolt from amygdala to every muscle, reversing course with no conscious input. The intense neurochemical charge fuelled a churning Aussie crawl back to shore. I staggered  through the soft sand up the moonless beach,  breathing hard and fast,  lungs hot, sitting on the edge of the concrete walk under the steel rail, I lean forward and retch saltwater,  heart thumping. The fright will not subside.  I had not been this fearful since my solo encounter with Daisuke at age twelve 1964, sleeping in the basement of our third “new” house in a year. Some entity, some unfriendly consciousness down there in the dark hovering near.  I kneeled, silently howling into my pillow. I gathered my wits to force it away, back into the darkness and hurried upstairs dragging my bedding to spend the rest of the night on the sofa. I refused to sleep in the basement. My two older sisters thought I was a chicken, my younger sister knew what I was talking about. She was awakened in the middle of the night the previous year by an acrid  sulfuric waft through her summer bedroom window and she ran to a neighbor’s house in unexplained terror at three in the morning in her flannel nightgown – two blocks away.

My breathing returned to normal. Another oppressive force was hitching a ride on my mind. I could now hear Kitty Wells singing “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” Very quiet at first then the music in my head got louder then it was  Jim Reeves singing “Bimbo” over and over. This old-time country music is different and deeper, more strange than a Daisuke prank. It swirls around my  brain stem. It is not ordinary ghostly pineal-hippocampal  ping-pong, like a normal spirit dicking around in the fourth layer neurons of my temporal lobe.  Ghosts enter by merging the ghostly spirit-essence ( a cloud of pi-mesons – stuff a million times smaller than atoms) of their undispersed soul,  with their subject’s quantum architecture in the “junk” base pairs in claustrum neurons, quark charges rearranged by the billions, enough to maintain the spirit identity while altering the behavior of the violated as a misguided effort is made to serve their misaligned spiritual purpose. It’s all very sloppy and ineffective quantum chemistry for the ghosts. Not many are friendly, most are pernicious pests. The lost souls of evermore forever lost forever.

*

The boundary between doctor and patient with  Anne blurred seven years ago,  soon after her husband Peter’s law firm became involved in a colossal product liability case against a  Fortune 5 corporation. “The People of Argentina vs Texxxan Oil” Smart money was on “The People” and a $200 million payout. Anne’s cut would be $12 million. Peter, a principal in the firm,  was the lead attorney. She was already spending like a sailor.  Her marriage had been disintegrating for years.  We violated her professional oath  when turning up the heat on our growing friendship. She joined me on Freud-Sofa three sessions prior to my final visit as her psychiatric patient,   her displeasure at my career pivot still a week away.

I thought I was doing her a favor when our higher society explorations began,  escorting her to events her husband had no interest in. The benefits to my architecture practice began to accrue. I was moving up in the world. Anne’s visions of her share of her husband’s share of the Texxxan payout  imbued her with an adventurous free-spending confidence. Her financial worries were about over. She could smell the money and it made her happy.  One U.S. Supreme Court ruling and  years of legal drama and her upper, upper middle class financial straits would be over.

*

In 1964 Daisuke was in a playful mood. He materialized in a black trenchcoat pretending to steal  mom’s taxi on a foggy night in seattle. She was returning from a weekend stay at King County Hospital mental ward after a four day drinking binge at the end of a haywire affair with her married boss. The romance ended when her boss’s daughter, a highschool classmate of Maureen my elder sister, accosted Mo in the hallway at school angrily demanding that sis put a stop to mom’s home-wrecking behavior. The same taxi mom thought had a fare, stopped to pick her up. It was empty. Another Daisuke stunt was to materialize on mom’s  chest in the middle of the night. There were  blood curdling howling screams waking me from my sleep upstairs. When I arrived in her bedroom ( this happened four times in a single year)  Mom, shaking and sweating and breathing hard, complained of her chest being crushed by an incubus. Daisuke played this game when mom was drunk. It drove her deeper into alcohol. She went from a sixpack a night to eight beers and a half pint of scotch. Daisuke often jumped ship into  Maureen and caused her to drive mom’s old Chevy into Green lake or crash into parked cars and smartmouth cops, so unlike her. Daisuke loved car mayhem. Maybe it allowed him to relive his plane crash while messing with outcome. He walked into me in the spring of 1966 and things got rough.

*

Daisuke grew up in the pottery making village of Onta in a narrow gorge high in the evergreen forested hills of Eastern Kyushu. In early 1942 Daisuke kissed his lover Sukio goodbye and travelled by rattletrap bus down the treacherous mountain road and out across many vegetable farms to the prefecture Army induction center. After his basic training he volunteered for the Kamikaze corps. After three months of training he reported to Japanese carrier group gathered near the South Pacific island of Kwajalein.They sailed to the Leyte gulf into the most intense naval action in the War in the South Pacific. Daisuke was lounging on deck  thinking about winter days back home in the mountains, of a secret place miles from the village where Sukio and he would hike deep through the dark forest with wind whistling through the high branches up to a steam pool in the snow. They were sitting in the warm water stroking one another’s arms in the moonlight when something cool and soft and wet  brushed against the back of Sukio’s neck. She screamed  springing high out of the water when they saw It was a deer trying to nudge its way to the warm water they laughed and hugged.  Daisuke and Sukio were deeply in love when he left the happy, industrious village for the Navy. He volunteered for the kamikaze corps out of a deep sense of honor for his country and for his true love.  He knew they would meet again in the afterworld. He was so wrong.

*

At the instant of impact Daisuke knew he wasn’t going to heaven and that his only chance to reunite with Sukio was to hitch a ride on the living. Frank Blount Sr. was nearby looking and acting capable. He mogrified into Frank and tried to make himself inconspicuous. He failed. The weight of his loneliness for Sukio infused Blount’s soul doubling the mineman’s tendency toward the blues. Frank Blount Sr. served with honor and distinction as the final months of the war played out. HIs work as an underwater guy was put to a task of Homeric proportions for which he won a bronze star. He was to perform a sequence of forty free dives, hard, black rubber swim fins only-no air other than holding breath into cold, silty Tokyo Bay where the U.S. fleet was convening to sign the peace agreement two weeks hence. Frank volunteered to inspect a network of Jap[anese mine cables radiating from two power stations at opposite ends of the shore, one in Kawasaki  and one at Kisarazu  extending out many thousands of yards out into the bay. His cardiovascular prowess from boxing training was taxed to the max.

The Japanese had mined the Bay for the immanent arrival during wartime of the U.S. forces. Frank Sr’s job was to dive into the cold murky water and lift every foot of these two inch diameter heavy black cables up out of the mud at every inch from shore to one thousand yards out ensuring that the mine detonating signal cables had been severed properly. Some of these cables were more than fifty feet under the surface in the benthic slime. Blount had to spend up to four minutes thirty seconds per dive,  feeling around in the cold dark water with his ears bursting in order to do his duty. If he failed, the battleship carrying Douglas MacArthur could be lifted from the water by expanding column of explosive-driven water, fractured from port to starboard, keel to gunwale and sunk by a Japanese mine, a possible fate for any one of twenty U.S. Navy ships due in Tokyo Bay to observe the signing of the Japanese surrender document on the aft deck of the U.S.S. Missouri. Daisuke was down in that cold dark water with Blount every inch of the way and Blount was ecstatic down there. Daisuke was waterproof and trying to help.

The day following the treaty signing ceremony,  Blount and a small cadre of U.S.sailors went ashore to meet three friendly , now defeated Japanese soldiers who showed them to the mine control structures in order for the U.S. team  to dismantle the mine control stations. This would be Daisuke’s chance to jump “ship” from Frank and enter a Japanese person and hopefully piggyback his way closer to his home in the distant mountains on a different island and to Sukio. He needed a weakened spirit to make this transfer and the few times he tried with the Japanese soldiers escorting Blount and Company he was rebuked, repelled and resisted,  cast back into the soul of Blount where he dwelled in loneliness for the next eighteen years until he switched over to Lorraine, my mother,  Frank’s now soulshot wife. Frank had gained enough spiritual strength from a rejection / individuation scene with his clutching, clawing, possessive mother, my grandmother, after her 18 years of meddling in her son’s marriage. One she never approved.  He now had the spiritual independence and strength  to cast off his ghost. I was there.  I saw it. Dad was free, mom was not. Daisuke was patient, mischievous and nimble. Who knows why he thought his chances of reuniting with Sukio were better with mom. She wore silk kimonos every night for five years  that she won at auction along with the classic Wurlitzer bubbling arch juke box in which she was buried, face-out,  lips and fingertips pressed tight against the glass between columns of bubbling colored alcohol. It was unplugged following the first silver-plated shovelful of dirt.

end

 

 

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“Rat Kids” – Short Story – 1995 ( sci-fi-fantasy)

In the year 2210 Rat kids live in the dim, stinking underground levels beneath the great domes of  America.  These subterranean, concrete lined zones are used for composting garbage. Every city in North America with a population over 100,000 has been re-built as a mega-structure over the past generation and  covered with a tinted plastic dome.  Each dome has a swarming population of rat kids.  They live in dim, dank and violent squalor.  The only light is from six inch diameter grilled air vents at one hundred yard intervals that cast a faint glowing patch of light onto heaps of rotting garbage.    Abortion was outlawed in 2015. Unwanted babies are dropped down the garbage chutes from as high as the seventy fifth level of the mega structures.  Many survive the fall from the intermediate and lower rings and if they are not immediately torn apart and eaten, they are cared for by female children who feed them and keep them warm as if they were dolls.  Most dropped babies suffer broken bones and severely bruised internal organs in their ricocheting fall through the chute and collision with the pile of garbage at the lower opening.  Sometimes the trash at the bottom of the chute is deep enough to break the fall and  if the older boys, the seven to ten year olds, are in a merciful mood, usually after eating, the new arrivals are spared.  Babies dropped from the upper levels inhabited by the dome aristocracy rarely survive the drop. Biodegradable waste is typically thrown into the chutes where it decomposes at ten year intervals as though in a vast composting device.  Composted organic matter is flushed out every decade and used to fertilize the greenhouse dome crops that along with flavored cockroach paste feed the populations of the domed cities.  The Earth’s ozone layer was burned off by the warming earth one hundred years previously, making it impossible to remain in the direct sunlight for more than a few minutes at a time without sustaining life-threatening sunburn.  There is no food grown beyond the protection of growdomes that surround each of the vast, urban structures.

By the time they are three years old, the rat kids are strong enough to fight for food.  At least once every day a rat child gets into a kicking, biting, slugging battle over a new scrap of food that falls to the garbage pile from one of thousands of garbage chutes that extend vertically for hundreds of feet to the upper levels of the dome and empty into a dim slot of space over hundreds of near dark acres of garbage strewn concrete slab.  It is warm in winter in the garbage underground and there is plenty of food but the rat kids must fight all summer in the hot, gassy, damp stench of this lowest slot to keep their place at the inner circle of a garbage chute during the freezing time.  The kids know that the finest morsels of food come tumbling down from the shafts connected to the living units of the upper levels of the dome.  The strongest kids, few younger than eight years old huddle and play and fight around these shafts from on high.  The eight year olds rarely win their fights with the older boys and girls but they are strong enough to beat back the ones younger and weaker than themselves.  All of the kids are covered with pustulating wounds, aching muscles and scar tissue from the relentless fighting.  Many of the older kids have been bitten too many times by age nine to fight successfully for a spot at a food chute and they huddle in the dark fastnesses of the zone and die.  There are no rat kids over ten years old because they have died from disease, infections from their bites and ripped flesh, blows to the head or suffocation.  There are many gangs of six to eight year olds who roam from shaft  to shaft smothering or clubbing sleepers during the early morning hours.  Sometimes the twenty or thirty kids gathered at a shaft will all be killed while sleeping after  a particularly savory feast, the remains of  roast beef dinners or Thanksgiving meals.  The death rate for rat kids accelerates greatly late on Christmas night after myriad kitchens in the dome above have been cleaned and leftovers dropped down the chutes.  A trick is to listen closely and hear the upper shaft hatch opening then rush in toward the shaft, pushing the others aside just as the scraps drop out of the duct opening that is ten feet or twelve feet above the maggot infested, slimy, stinking pile – jump into the air and catch a few choice scraps in mid-air, then run away before getting pummeled and torn apart.  Rat kids know it is dangerous outdoors in the ultra-violet sunlight.  They know they would starve to death outside of the dome or they would be murdered on sight by any ordinary citizen after failing an instantaneous birth-chip verification glance.

Rat kids know their place.  The garbage levels under each urban dome are flushed once every ten years, killing all of the rat children in the garbage zone.  Rarely does a rat kid survive the flush.  After the flush, the rat kid society is reborn as fresh garbage piles up at the base of the chutes high enough to break the fall of the first new baby who then becomes the potential elder of the new ten year colony.  Each of the dozens of chutes of  supports its own gang of rat kids.  Rat kids are, of course, totally ignorant of sex.  They never see babies born.  New members of their society drop from the chutes.  Each garbage chute is two feet in diameter.

Dome Salt Lake is the fourth largest population center in North America.  Down in the garbage zone there lives a colony of one thousand rat kids.  High above the rat kids on the exclusive seventy-fifth ring live two eleven year old girls Margie Roux and Aria Purcell who have recently graduated from talking dolls to Barbies.  Margie and Aria have just agreed via text  message to drop their two dolls, Chatty Cathy and Talking Tina down their respective garbage chutes in a private little ritual that will, at least for them, symbolize their transition into big-girlhood.

Seventy six levels below there are dozens of clusters of naked, vicious and hungry children waiting for the sound of a hatch opening, then the drop then the extremely violent version of the game King of the Hill with the spoils going to the strongest, most vicious kid who fights off his competitors with bites,, kicks, scratches who grabs the prize and runs away through the darkness to gnaw at the morsel.

At opposite sides of the fifteen mile diameter mega structure each of the two talking dolls falls onto a pile of old bones, rinds, peelings and coffee grounds.  The population of kids has known, as long as they have been alive, which chutes drop the highest quality garbage and the dolls fall onto the piles of the two most vicious, brutal and experienced of the entire subterranean population.  The dolls are immediately tossed aside by the two girls who have won this particular battle when they discover that the dolls are not edible.  The abandoned dolls are inspected in turn by the eight year olds and then the six year olds.  The dolls are finally picked up out of the darkness by a curious boy called Gip who pulls the string in Talking Tina’s back.  Tina Speaks and Gip drops the doll in terror and runs away.  He creeps back and pulls the string again introducing his generation of rat kids to the English language.  Fifteen miles away at the opposite side of the ring, a seven year old girl named Rika is struck by Chatty Cathy by an angry older kid who has tossed it away.  Rika is huddled by the vent…. (to be continued )

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