After much thought, and regret, it has been determined that Eschatology cannot continue into 2013.
Thank you, readers and contributors, for a great two years!
After much thought, and regret, it has been determined that Eschatology cannot continue into 2013.
Thank you, readers and contributors, for a great two years!
Conversations stirred momentarily when the clown walked in, then fell back on themselves, on safety. When was the last time anyone had seen a clown, I heard them asking. Weren’t they outlawed? And in a bar, for chrissakes? That was too far, that was pushing on ludicrous. That was dangerous.
Somebody was sure to call the cops, but it wasn’t going to be me. I ordered another beer, showing my breathalyzer to the bartender. When you can’t joke, when you can’t let yourself get too drunk, you make sure there’s good beer. Micro-brews being a global market? You tucked that germ of laughter away in savings, hoping your mind didn’t go bankrupt before they found a cure. Some day, you said, you’d redeem that joke, and it would be glorious.
The clown took the stool next to me, sad panda to the nines. He nodded slowly, commiserating wordlessly with me and all the things best left unsaid. I wondered what he’d been through. I flashed to all those protesters, just college kids, dressing up as clowns; they thought the whole thing was a joke, absurd. Big brother, they chanted. Most of them laughed themselves to death. That was the highlight of the best-of reel played every April 1st to make sure we didn’t forget; as if we could forget living without laughter.
Laughter was too big a thing to miss, of itself; you missed the details, instead. I missed groaning at jokes that were just that end of wrong. I missed playful one-upmanship. I missed…. I took a long draught of my beer, and waited for the big one to hit: I missed love. My marriage, the real reason I was drinking on a Tuesday night. Without humor, we were just a pair of mean, cantankerous busy-bodies who had less and less respect for each other.
The clown tilted forwards to whisper, bouncing the words off the stained bar between us. “It’s a lie.” His blood-red flower threatened to dip into my nachos, and I batted it away.
“The cake, or tell me another one?” The words scattered, brown and bubbly, in the prism of my beer. I’d never been a fan of clowns; they’d always been, if not a little scary, at least disturbing. And that was before the humor singularity; after, with the vaudeville death cults….
“The joke heard ‘round the world.” He waited for the words to sink in, waggling his shaved, white eyebrows like a demented Marx brother, and all I could think of was the stench of conspiracy. I’d heard too many conspiracies. I focused on the grease-paint half-filling the crevices of his weather-worn cheeks. Had he snapped? My heart quickened—a clown gone ‘round the bend was more dangerous than I’d pegged him. But he didn’t seem quirky. It was something else.
I looked at him, nonplussed. “That’s not funny.”
He smiled. “It is. It really is. Think about it, and see if you don’t, under the rage, have to crack a smile—have to let it out?”
“I’ve seen the footage. I know people that died in the initial wave of reporting. I know people that died in the rush to self-control, before the rules were figured out. It can’t be a lie.”
He ducked his head lower to the bar, and I realized I’d raised my voice. That’s what you get, talking to a wingnut, I could imagine them saying. The clown’s whisper was almost a rasp, skimming along the bartop like shuffleboard. His dark eyes pierced upwards into mine as he watched the measure of his words. “The best lie has a grain of truth. What better way to control the masses, all of us at once?”
“All of us—the joke heard ‘round the world, the killing meme. That wasn’t a lie, and who cared if it was conspiracy? Dead was dead.”
“One step further, the twist at the end. Don’t you see it? The joke was real, the cure was not. They couldn’t target sedition or competition with their thoughtcrime virus, but they could dull the sting. What’s worth fighting for, if mere comfort is the apex of achievement? But that’s just you and me, chum. Chum in the water. They know the score, and they’re laughing in their private clubs.”
It was absurd. Patently, beautifully absurd. We, the downtrodden—the proletariat, self-flagellating for fear we’ll die, unable to even imagine another life. I imagined them pulling some random Joe off the street, and just laughing at him. His eyes would widen with fear, his breath quicken, and then he’d start to tremble. The laughter would explode inside him as well, all the more torturous for the mandatory conditioning they claimed would save his life; laughing as he collapsed in a puddle of blood, sweat, and feces.
I didn’t believe him, couldn’t believe him. It was too absurd. All the same, somewhere deep in my guts, a butterfly began to tickle; a giggle tried to burble its way out of my chest. I twisted in my seat, conditioning-cramps working overdrive to keep it in, and that was the last straw—the laugh ripped through the cocoon of my stomach, shredding my resolve. I heard dish-ware breaking, people screaming, stampeding the exits, and it was hilarious. The clown’s hand was on my shoulder, his hot breath corkscrewing into my brain. “You don’t have to die. Breathe. Let the pain go. Breathe. Let control go. Breathe. Let the hope in. Breathe. Let the madness in. Breathe.”
His voice was manta-ray skating across the folds of my brain, until there was nothing but; he repeated the incantation tirelessly, and it became me. I could breathe. A tension lifted, one I hadn’t even known I was carrying. The cramps began to loosen. Hope flooded me past full, until madness began to squeak out my ears like superheated helium. The room warped, and when my vision cleared, the bar was empty.
I could hear sirens in the distance. He didn’t have to ask: I was ready to go with him, to learn, and to spread the gospel on my own. Some day, we would all be free…but until that day, I would be a sad panda, proud and strong.
© Kaolin Fire
Kaolin Fire (http://www.erif.org/) is a conglomeration of ideas, side projects, and experiments. Outside of his primary occupation, he also programs open source games (http://www.erif.org/code/games/),
Tequila, orange juice, and grenadine. Holding the drink up to the rays of the two suns made it look like an illuminated work of art. If someone had just walked out onto the deck where Gerald was standing, they might have been led to believe that he had just reached up into the sky and plucked out a freshly made Tequila Sunrise.
Looking down into the backyard, he nodded to his wife’s gravestone. “Be patient honey, we’ll soon be starting the new year together,” he tipped the glass back and didn’t lower it until every last drop was gone. Funny how he still had all the stuff to make his favorite drink, but antibiotics had become rarer than unicorns. If the fever hadn’t taken Bonnie, she would have been drinking a rum and coke with him right now. But that’s just the way things had gone.
This was going to be his last Tequila Sunrise before the last sunset, although you wouldn’t know it from the second sun lighting up the sky overtop of the real sun sinking into the horizon. It wasn’t actually a second sun, it just looked like one. Planet X is what most people liked to call it. But it wasn’t really a planet either; it was a comet, a bright burning torch of flame coming to bring the apocalypse.
Redemption by fire is what he had heard a lot of people say; especially the religious ones. He doubted whether people were going to feel very redeemed once that lava ball hit the Earth. One thing was for sure, this was going to be the worst Christmas ever. It didn’t matter how good you had been this year, everyone was getting coal.
Without a doubt, this winter solstice was going to be the warmest moment in history. Yes sir, we’ve got record highs of one hundred thousand degrees, ninety thousand in the shade folks. Pulling the revolver from the back of his waist band, he took careful aim at the comet, lining up his sights at the center of its awful fiery mass. He squeezed the trigger, careful not to pull it like his Papa had always reminded him, and sent six gray slugs off into the thick hot atmosphere. He paused for a moment, waiting for the comet to shatter like a light bulb, and then he screamed out a hysterical hyena laugh.
“Well I guess there’s just no stopping you is there?” Spinning the revolver, he tucked it back into his waistband. Those were all the bullets he had left. He never would have the courage to us it on himself anyways. No more bullets to take away the pain, but there was plenty of alcohol. If he got started now, he would never feel the heat.
Lugging an orange milk crate loaded with Jack Daniels, Smirnoff, and Jose Cuervo, he sat down next to his wife’s crudely fashioned gravestone.
“Here’s to oblivion,” he said, uncapping a bottle of Jack Daniels and drinking deeply.
@ R.A. Malek
Magick Man is sponsored by Marc Nocerino. Thanks, Marc!
I met Sam P. Fallwell in the moon-washed desert on Halloween. I don’t know if we were in Nevada or Utah then. Out there in the badlands human concepts such as state boarders don’t exist. There’s only unbroken expanses of hardpan, with ever distant mountains rising jagged into the dusty sky.
I’d been on the road since Green River. September 15. I caught a ride with a big burly trucker out of St. Louis and then hooked it south from Salt Lake. I spent three days working on a homestead east of town on a rural dirt track before I left again, my wallet and my stomach both full.
On the lonely black top traversing the arid plains, I encountered few cars and almost no human life besides. I slept in a hayloft for almost a week before I moved on. I think the old farmer and his wife knew about me. I don’t know how. Just a feeling.
Most nights I camped under the twinkling stars and listened to my old transistor radio, the one they gave me when I left the group home. I didn’t get many clear stations, I might as well have been on Mars, but even a crackling voice in the static was enough to keep me company. I didn’t sleep. I did that in the day when the sun was at its worst. I tried to walk as much as I could at night, but I was lazy…and desperate for down time. I could have been in California by the 31st, and never met that demon.
It happened near midnight. I was walking up the middle of US50 with my knapsack on and humming a ZZ Top song when, off the road to my right I caught a glimpse of fire. Looking at it, I paused, the bars dying on my lips. A camp. Much like the ones I’d been making for three years. Silhoutted against the flames, I saw a single dark form.
I don’t know why I went to him. I usually avoid strangers when I don’t have to deal with them, but I found my feet carrying me to him.
It all seems like a dream now. He was sitting cross-legged on a flat rock, clad in cowboy boots and a desert camo jacket, like the kind they wore in the Persian Gulf, just grinning like the Cheshire Cat. His face was dark and sharp.
“Hello, Kevin,” he said, his voice eerily hypnotic.
“How did you know my name?” I heard myself asking lethargically.
He shrugged, still grinning like a shark. “Lucky guess. You look like a Kevin. I’m Sam.” He didn’t offer his hand. “Have a seat.”
I sat on a rock across the fire from him.
“So, Kevin, where you headed?”
Where was I heading? My mind was numb, swaddled in warm wool. I couldn’t think.
I nodded heavily.
“Ah, the home of the Zodiac,” Fallwell’s smiled. “And the sixties. I like the latter one better.”
“Me too,” I blankly echoed. I wasn’t a fan of the sixties, but of the two choices it was undoubtedly the better.
“Everything was better then,” Fallwell sighed, “especially the music.”
I grunted. I felt drunk.
“I like Tommy James,” Sam said, passing a hand over the fire, which turned green and yellow. He grinned at my widening eyes. ”Do you want to know something, Kevin?”
“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t.
“Magick is perceptive.”
“It’s all about perception. The human mind. Look.” He opened his hand, palm-side up, and after a moment a crackling ball of blue fire arose and hovered in the air. “You see it, but is it truly there? You see it, I see it, but does that make it real? It can burn you, it can burn this whole world, but does that make it real?”
“No, it isn’t. You see a movie, but it’s not real. In a natural chain of events, you’d expect to catch fire if this thing crashed into you.” He paused, seeming to consider. “But it’s really as harmless as a puff of smoke. There is no real world, only what the human mind conjures up. Colors aren’t colors until the mind makes them colors.”
My head ached. Fallwell sounded like some kind of idiot sage in a bad B-novel.
“To put it more simply: the mind projects reality onto the blankness around it. If you can manipulate the mind…” he closed his hand, shook his fist, raised it to his lips, and blew glitter into my face. He laughed at my coughing and waving.
That night seemed to last forever. Time froze, and Sam was my teacher. He ripped asunder the veil behind which lurked reality. He showed me things that night that terrified and fascinated me, told me things that filled me with hopelessness and wonder. He did magick and I worshiped him under the cruel, glowing moon. At some point we fucked, and his wisdom and his power filled me.
“You are the chosen one, Kevin,” he whispered into my ear, his breath hot on my neck and rancid in my nostrils. “There will come a time when I’ll need you, and you will come.”
I agreed, and slipped into unconsciousness, a deep chasm of blackness in which lurked monsters. I dreamt I was on a vast hill overlooking a rolling valley and the endless blue sky above it. I saw a small village huddled in a hollow, smoking curling from many chimneys. Then, with a crack of thunder, an army of skeletons poured over the hills like a swarm of ants, led by Fallwell, who sat astride a coal-black horse like a demonic Napoleon.
I woke in the milky light of dawn, panting and covered in sweat. Sam was already gone. I was his property.
I found my bag and left as day broke over the rugged hills in the west, a marked man, a latter-day Cain.
He’ll come for me. Soon, I think. I can feel his presence, dark and stiffing, and he’s close.
Things are coming together. The center cannot hold. He’s coming.
© Joseph Rubas
Joseph Rubas’ has been featured in a number of ‘zines and hardcopy publications, including: The Storyteller; Eschatology Journal; Infective Ink; Strange, Weird, and Wonderful; Horror Bound Online; Short Story.Me!; parABnormal digest; Shadowland, and various anthologies (Potter’s Field 4 by Sam’s Dot Publishing and Daily Bites of Flesh 2011 by Pill Hill Press just to name a few). In addition, his collection of mine, “Pocketful of Fear” was released in February while an anthology he edited (titled The Thorn of Death) followed in March. Currently, he writes for an online news site (The Golden Vanguard) and heads the marketing department at Firefly and Wisp Book Publishing.
The tip of the sliver jutted from a patch of reddened flesh. Olivia winced at the lightest scrape against it. The pain sank deep, into the hollow of her bones where it pulsed up her arm. If she didn’t pull the sliver out soon, infection would spread. Her father was a surgeon, would know exactly what to do, but how would she explain what she wasn’t supposed to be doing? She had been told numerous times not to climb the oak. If her mother were home, and didn’t always work the night shift, she would help her. Her mother understood her. Her father never tried.
Olivia went into her father’s den, another forbidden place, in search of his surgical tools. She sifted through his medical desk and kept a close watch on the door. In the bottom left drawer, light glinted off a long pair of chrome surgical tweezers. At a glance, they looked more than sufficient for the job, but the handhold at the top suggested gentle precision.
Olivia tiptoed into the bathroom, shut, and locked the door. After a few self-help chants and a deep breath, she pushed the teeth of the tweezers into the flesh of her palm. A bullet of pain shot up her spine when the tweezers grazed the tip of the sliver’s tail. Her breath heaved out with a groan. The sliver proved difficult to grasp. She gritted her teeth and prodded further.
To widen the gash, she had to pluck the skin back and tear through the layers. A burning ache spread over her palm. She jabbed deeper and pretended the sharpness pushing through the tiny bones of her toes wasn’t real. But a strange abnormality appeared in both feet. Her toes bent into bony tips. They curled under, as if grasping something.
The hurt in Olivia’s palm reached an unbearable peak. Now, a red line streaked up her arm. With renewed intensity, she dug for the sliver again. The tweezers bit down on the tip. She squeezed the handhold and pulled. The sliver wouldn’t budge. She tugged harder. Another shot of pain raced up her back and rooted into her shoulder blades. The sliver dislodged, but not entirely.
The red track up her arm stung like honey bees. Olivia kept pulling at the sliver. It grew longer and thicker and began to arc … like a talon. Her fingers stretched out, reminiscent of teeth on a rake. But this is absurd, she said to herself. Then, a second sliver surfaced at her elbow. Bewildered and frightened, Olivia dropped the tweezers. They clanged to the jingle of her father’s keys. …
Footsteps approached the bathroom door. Before Olivia had time to act on a thought, it opened up to her father’s face, stretched long with surprise. His eyes widened on the talon protruding from her palm.
“Olivia,” he whispered. “Do not move.”
It wasn’t something she could have done anyway, frozen still by the oddity of her condition. “What’s wrong with me, father?”
“I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner. Your mother wanted me to.”
“Told me what?” Though Olivia had asked the question, she wasn’t sure if she wanted the answer—she was a spectacle, at the least.
The explanation that left her father’s mouth might as well have been blood-starved bats, for when they reached Olivia’s thoughts, it was the image her mind had conjured. Images of the bizarre and horrifying.
In a panic, Olivia gripped what she once thought was just a sliver and worked feverishly to jam it back into her palm. It was much too late. A sheath of dark brown skin unfolded between her elongated fingers and under her arms, becoming wing-like.
“Father? What is happening?”
“It will all be all right, Olivia.” But his expression wasn’t one of reassurance. He opened the window. “Your mother is waiting for you.”
Olivia reached for the bathroom doorknob, seeking to hide under her bed, but the October breeze pulled her into a moonlit sky.
© Erin Cole
Erin Cole’s stories have appeared in over 30 print and electronic publications. She is the author of two books, “Grave Echoes,” and “Of the Night,” a proud owner of a fist-sized meteorite, lover of spicy food, and is attracted to chaos—not by choice. See more of her work at http://www.erincolewrites.com
I live in the Butcher’s Block since I work at the Area 12 Work Center. We’re the ones who grind up meat and turn it into hamburger patties. I’ve got a friend who works in Area 23. They call the housing over there “Paper Chase.” I think Butcher’s Block is funnier. They make and print the paper wrappers that go around my hamburgers. One week they print the wrappers for restaurants and the next week they print the ones that say, “Government Approved Meat Product.” Doesn’t matter which label’s on it, it’s all the same meat from the same place and from exactly the same stuff. Continue Reading
I wake up with stones in my pockets, dragging me down, sprawling across the floor as I try stumble into the day that has been patiently creeping down the trees, under the eaves, over the sill all morning long. I lie sprawled across the tiles, a trellis of sunlight splashed across my stubbly chin, my neck, my bare shoulders and my pajama-clad legs. My eyes and my brain box still lurk in lingering shadow, questing through the last nocturnal marches for a rewind button. But it is day and I am fallen, fallen across the cool tiles now warming in a patchwork beam in which motes flick and flecks fly.
So, the stones: I draw them out. Continue Reading