Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2700

2700
A short story by Sam Vest

Hamlin woke to the sound of sirens. 6:14 AM read his iPhone, a whole minute before he liked to get up. Hamlin rolled over in his king-size-bed, and dozed into a dream of having to pee, but the bathroom was locked. His Marimba ring-tone went off. He scurried across the dark mahogany floor, and was thankful to find the bathroom open.
Hamlin cooked two eggs sunny-side up and placed them on separate plates, each with a generous slice of tomato. He rapped the first plate with tin foil and brought the second onto the balcony, 31 stories up.
A streak of light outlined the neighboring skyscrapers. The gray horizon gave way to a crimson dawn.
“Good show, nature.” Hamlin said aloud.
He ate a slice of egg and tomato and moaned with delight.
Red lights flashed below. Hamlin leaned over the railing. Emergency vehicles crowded in front of an alley adjacent to Hamlin’s building. Wind swept up from the streets and chilled his ears.
FSSSSSSSS! The teapot whistled inside.
Hamlin chugged his tea, and hand-washed the mug before heading to the elevator. There was room service for chores like washing dishes in his building, but Hamlin took on such tasks because he felt they somehow forgave the fact that he was rich, and more importantly, Hamlin believed acts of humility cleansed him of his sins.
The elevator zipped to the ground floor in the blink of an eye. Hamlin entered the lobby, foil-wrapped plate in hand. A doorman in a military-like uniform opened the electric gate outside so Hamlin never had to slow his pace. He left the Benington Luxury Lofts behind and entered the streets of Skid Row, where everything was poor and grunge.
Across the street, stray cats meowed at a fire truck blocking the way to a dumpster in the alley. Firemen dug through the bed of a garbage truck filled with the Benington waste.
Hamlin kicked a can and thought of his Mercedes he could have taken. The three-block walk to the bus stop was an act of penance. Bums and broken appliances littered the pavement. The toxic air reeked of the raw sewage both underneath the street and upon it. Hamlin dug his face into the collar of his coat and navigated over the broken glass and mysterious puddles like a contemporary dancer.
At the bus stop, Buck, a homeless man named appropriately after his dental condition, offered Hamlin a copy of the Fulton Times in exchange for the foil covered plate. Buck jammed the plate into his mouth without so much as removing the wrapping.
“Tanks mista Hamlin!” Buck said with such enthusiasm he spit egg on Hamlin’s Italian shoes.
“Ol’ Buck luvs dem Benintan food.” He tickled his only tooth like it was his little brother.
The rusty 187 bus farted to a halt. Hamlin dug his nose deeper into his the collar. He dropped three quarters into the metal box next to the driver. She frowned at him so he nodded at her as politely as he could without freeing his nose to smell her bus.
Hamlin used the newspaper advertisements to sanitize a seat between a snoring bum and a woman whose brows hung so low over her eyes she required a seeing-eye-dog. Hamlin let her ashy Labrador retriever lick the egg off his shoes.
Buck liked to rearrange the newspaper so the article he fancied most became front-page news. And just to be clear, Buck circled the article with a dirty finger:
Street player granted backstage pass to Montgomery Concert Hall
Hamlin thrust his thumbs between the pages and flicked open the business section on the first try. His eyes zipped across the page and fixed upon the headline:
Subprime Loans Begin to Default
Hamlin grinned underneath his collar.
The snoring bum leaned against him as the bus stopped at 8th and Fender. Hamlin pushed the bum off with his newspaper the way people use paper towels to open bathroom doors after washing their hands. He hopped off the bus. A great black obelisk, called the Onyx Tower, thrust into the clouds.
Hamlin scaled the tower to the executive suites on the 97th floor. A chrome plaque on the receptionist’s desk read:
TRUSPERITY REAL ESTATE
Men in pinstripe suits shouted at each other over the news of the subprime loans. Hamlin swiped his card over a door with another chrome plaque, which read:
Hamlin Montague
Broker
A five-foot tall print of Light of the World dominated the wall of Hamlin’s office. The ticking hands of the clock on his desk were silver crosses. Hamlin strode to the window-wall, which looked out upon the city he had conquered.

When the real estate market crashed three years ago, Hamlin lived out of a storage garage. He spent whole days without eating. One afternoon, in a fit of gastrointestinal torture, Hamlin had a vision. A fiery angel rose from the pain in his stomach and told him this parable:

A king once ordered his tax collector to fetch the money owed to him by farmers for cultivating his land. “But Master,” said the tax collector, “The winter season is upon us. How shall they stock their pantries without savings?” “Fool!” said the king, “All men die sooner or later. What wrong is there in hastening the inevitable?” The tax collector could not think of an answer so he said, “Master, they listen only to their god and will not give me the money.” “Make yourself out to be a profit of their God,” said the king, “and they shall obey.” The tax collected donned pagan robes and frightened the farmers by speaking in tongues to them. They gave up all they owed.

Hamlin awoke and ran to a Salvation Army. He exchanged his pit-stained suit for a pair of Levies and white dress shirt, which he buttoned to the top. He tucked a Bible under his arm and visited the home of Margaret Sinclair, a widow whose home faced foreclosure.
Margaret opened the door for the man with the heavenly smile.
“I’ve been called to save your home from the banks.” Said Hamlin, “I pray you’ll trust me to do God’s will.”
Margaret clenched her bosom and wept.
“Tha Lord haz ansud ma prayas.” She embraced Hamlin. They prayed together, and she fed him chicken soup from a can. Hamlin promised to buy her home, pay off her mortgage, and lease it back to her so she could afford it.
The next day Margaret signed over the title of her home.
The next week a strange man knocked on Margaret’s door and told her he owned the house.
The next month Margaret slept in her first homeless shelter.
The next year she slept in a cardboard box on Skid Row.
Hamlin skyrocketed the financial ladder. He used public records to find leagues of struggling homeowners. The poor had a tendency to be fiercely religious. They handed him the titles of their homes proclaiming, “Hallelujah!” Hamlin sold the homes to the first buyer who believed in Jesus, and disappeared a richer man.
Homeowners cried out for their savior when the bank foreclosed their homes. Amongst the people Hamlin “saved” were: senior citizens, widows, young couples, veterans, handicapped and the mentally ill. They hadn’t the sense to seek justice on Hamlin, or the financial means to support legal action if they did. They became stray dogs. All eventually wound up on Skid Row.

“What’s wrong with hastening the inevitable?” Hamlin said to himself as he scrolled down a fresh list of ‘at-risk’ homeowners on his MacBook Pro. He noted three addresses, hung his three-piece suit, and pulled out his work clothes from a desk drawer. He left the Onyx Tower in stiff Levies and a white dress shirt with a Bible tucked under his arm.
Hamlin returned at sunset with three house titles protruding from hid back pocket. He posted three homes for sale on Craigslist and bought ad space in the Fulton Times. He stuffed his work clothes into the bottom desk drawer and got dressed in ‘normal’ clothes. The three-piece suit felt like a sleeping gown compared to the itchy jeans.
He counted the cash in his wallet. $2685. He’d spent $15 earlier that day printing three stacks of legal papers at a public library, each of which now held a dozen signatures from Isabel Millitelo, Jorgé Muñez, and Layla Chibanga. Hamlin crossed the street to the Wells Fargo and withdrew $15. He packed the $2700 into his leather wallet and wrapped it with a rubber band. The weight felt reassuring against his upper thigh. He caught the 186 bus back to the Benington.
Hamlin cooked a salmon stir-fry for dinner. He took a plate onto the balcony with a glass of wine. The neighboring skyscrapers sparkled like mile high Christmas trees. The tart Cabernet Savignon mated with the sweet and smoky barbeque flavor of General Tso’s sauce in Hamlin’s mouth. He closed his eyes and remembered the starvation that nearly killed him three years ago, and the storage garage with no view. He thanked God for his slice of heaven on earth, and the homeless people who’d given it to him.
Hamlin tied the garbage bag filled with salmon skin and scraps of garlic. Rather than leave the smelly heap for the maid in the morning. Hamlin put on his coat and descended the Benington, bag in hand, to fulfill his evening penance.
The doorman smirked and opened the gate. Wind funneled across the desolate streets tasting like second-hand smoke. Hamlin crossed Fender Ave to an alley. He paused and squeezed the plastic bag. Police tape hung across the entrance to the alley forming a an ‘X’. Just beyond a gang of cats jumped in and out of a dumpster. Hamlin scanned the alley and found nothing peculiar apart from the police tape. He looked both ways down Fender Avenue. Late night traffic hummed in the distance. Only trash loitered in the streets.
     Hamlin climbed through the tape.
“Mee-how!” Hamlin said.
The cats leapt from the dumpster and ran deeper into the alley where the streetlights didn’t reach. Their eyes glowed in the shadows. Hamlin chuckled to himself. He slung the trash bag into the dumpster and ducked under the tape.
“Uuuuhhh…” came a low moan from the dumpster. Hamlin tripped over the tape and ripped it all down.
“Huh— hello?” Hamlin’s voice cracked.
Wind whistled through the alley. Hamlin’s breaths quickened. Cool air pricked his ears. Garbage clanked inside the dumpster. Hamlin jammed his nose against the collar of his coat and looked over the edge.
“Raaahr!” A cat lunged from the dumpster. Hamlin jumped three five back.
“Jesus! Scat! Scram!” Hamlin said.
The cat darted into the gloom.
Hamlin took a deep breath and turned to leave.
“Uuuuhhh…”
“Jesus Christ! Get out of there!” Hamlin looked into the dumpster. A streetlamp cast a streak of orange inside. A human hand protruded from the trash. The hand twitched.
“Oh God!” Hamlin vaulted into the dumpster and yanked the hand. A woman emerged from the garbage. Her eyes sank deep into her skull and her hanging skin revealed the bones beneath. Her jaw hung agape and the pupils of her eyes rolled into the back of her head.
“Uuuhhhh…” said the woman. She shivered all over.
“Hang in there!” Hamlin said.
He jumped out of the dumpster and pulled her out. She weighed as much as a pillow. Hamlin ran into the street. A taxicab jammed on its breaks. Hamlin looked into the windshield like a deer in headlights. The cab driver kicked open the door.
“You stupid pri—” the driver stopped short at the sight of the woman.
“Please, take her to the hospital!” Hamlin said. The cab driver looked like he was going to be sick.
“Please!” Hamlin said.
The cab driver shook his head, jumped into his car, and sped off.
The electric gate rolled open. The doorman about fell out of his seat.
“Call an ambulance!” Hamlin said.
He hit the elevator button with his butt.
“Have them come to my room!” Hamlin said as the elevator closed.
“Nnn- nuh- am- buh- lanz…” said the woman.
Hamlin tried not to look at her. The initial adrenaline craze wore off and Hamlin suddenly couldn’t believe what he was doing.
     “Nuh- ambu-lanz!” her bony hand pulled Hamlin’s collar off his nose. The smell of vomit filled Hamlin’s nostrils. He looked down into her sunken eyes.
     “I- I’m gonna to get you help.” he said.
     “NO!” she broke out into a fit of coughs that convulsed her whole body, like her lungs would fly out.
“Alright!” Hamlin said.
The elevator opened. Hamlin wrapped the woman in a blanket and laid her on the floor next to the fireplace.
“Nnn-nuh ambulanz!” she started coughing again.
“Yes, OK!” Hamlin said. He picked up the phone and dialed the front desk.
“Cancel the ambulance... Just do it!”
The woman stopped coughing. Hamlin stood over her. Inside the sunken crevices of her face, her pupils rolled out from the back of her head and fixed on Hamlin.
“What do you want? You’re not dyin’ in here.” Hamlin said.
The woman brought her bony hand to her mouth and tapped her purple lips. Hamlin nuked a bowel of chicken soup. He propped the woman against the side of a bulky leather chair, next to the fire, and fed her with a spoon. Hot broth trickled down the sides of her chin as she chewed. Her sunken eyes never left Hamlin’s face.
She ate the entire bowel. Hamlin set it down and wiped her mouth with the blanket. Her eyes wandered to the kitchen, designer furniture, and chandelier. She wasn’t shaking anymore. The dancing flames cast warm hues on her pale complexion.
“Nn-nice place.” She said. Hamlin laughed.
“Nice? You couldn’t find a better place in all of Fulton!” The woman pulled the blanket tighter over her shoulders.
“Ah know.” She said.
“Know? How could you know? This is probably the first time you’ve ever set foot in a place like the Benington.”
She looked into the fire, sighed, and coughed, only this one didn’t sound life threatening.
“I yousta be a real ‘state agent.” She said.
Hamlin’s stomach twisted. He leaned in.
“What happened?”
“Lost ma job when da market crashed—”
“Me too! My God I nearly starved to death like you!”
The loose skin contracted over the woman’s brow.
“How did ya escape?” she said.
“I- uh—” The woman’s glowing eyes made Hamlin tremble. He grabbed the bowel and went to the sink. He could feel the eyes on his back.
“What’s your name?” he said.
“Judith.” She said.
“Judith, do you believe in second chances?” Hamlin scrubbed the bowel with a sponge and watched the water carry the residue down the drain. The gas flames clicked and cackled. He turned around. Judith stood in front of the sliding glass door of the balcony like the grim reaper made flesh and blood. The blanket draped from the top of her head to the floor, clenched to her bosom by a white hand. She was taller than Hamlin realized.
“Would you like to see the view?” he said, moving to the door. He opened it and welcomed her outside, but dared not touch her.
Only a slit of moon hovered in the sky casting purple shadows over the city. A howling wind drowned the hum of twilight traffic. The flickering lights that had always filled Hamlin with delight now gave him no comfort amongst his ghastly guest. The wind chilled Hamlin’s ears.
“Come inside, Judith, it’s freezing out here.”
She didn’t move.
“Come on I’ll set you up for the night.”
Still nothing.
“Hey!”
Hamlin grabbed and spun her around. The blanket fell from her head. Tears streamed down her face. She was shaking again.
“Oh no, Judith, come on, it’s alright, I don’t mind.”
Hamlin carried her inside and lay her down in his king-sized bed. She tried to get up but Hamlin eased her back down.
“Judith, I’ll make you an offer,” She dug her face in the pillow. Hamlin removed the $2700 from his wallet and put it on the nightstand along with a business card.
“Tomorrow I want you to clean yourself up. Take this money and buy whatever you want. Meet me at my office at 2pm and we’ll discuss your employment over lunch.”
Judith glared at Hamlin with bloodshot eyes. He gasped and backed away.
“Sleep now. I’ll make you breakfast in the morning.”
Hamlin’s hand trembled as he closed the door. He sat in the chair next to the fire. Normally it took minutes for Hamlin to doze off in that chair, but he couldn’t put Judith’s eyes out of his mind. He tossed and turned till early morning and fell into a restless sleep.
A door handle clicked. Hamlin snapped awake. The fireplace lay lifeless and cold. Grey light seeped through the balcony windows. Hamlin squeezed his iPhone out from under his aching bum. 7:13am! Late for work!
He dragged himself into the kitchen, and cracked two eggs over a pan. His right arm tingled like a million ants crawled under his skin. He sliced a tomato and cut his finger with the knife.
“Dammit!”
Hamlin sucked the hanging flesh. He rushed to his bedroom door. His hand froze on the handle. Had last night been a dream? Those eyes, those horrible eyes! Were they waiting for him now in his bedroom? Hamlin swallowed hard and creaked open the door. The bed sheets tucked tightly around the mattress as he’d left them the day before. The room smelled of his fabric softener, not the odious stench of a dumpster. Huh! The bathroom!
Hamlin tiptoed to the bathroom, dreading the sight of the walking skeleton that called itself Judith. He listened for a moment then slid the door aside.
His baby-blue towel folded on its rack. The shower, tub, and sink were dry. Hamlin opened the mirror on the wall and pulled out a Band-Aid. He didn’t close it immediately for fear of seeing his nightmare behind him. He quickly bandaged his finger. A burning odor filled his nostrils. He ran to the kitchen and scraped the black crisps onto two plates. He ate one with a bloody slice of tomato, and gagged on the burnt, rusty taste. He tossed the dishes in the sink without bothering to wash them.
Hamlin reapplied deodorant, which only made his un-showered armpits stink worse. He combed back his greasy hair and decided it looked better as bed-head. He snatched his wallet off the nightstand. The feathery weight shocked him. The money was gone! He rummaged through drawers, tore off the bed sheets, and lay flat to check under the bed.
“Judith is real! She must be. I offered her money and she took it. Oh no- I offered her a job. God I hope she buys sunglasses so I won’t have to look her in the eye!”
Hamlin descended to the lobby with a foil wrapped plate in hand. The doorman was different from the night before.
“Did the doorman last night call an ambulance?” Hamlin asked.
“Never told me if he did.” Said the second doorman.
“Dammit! When will he be back?”
“This evening.”
Hamlin stormed past the gate. He glanced at the alley across the street. No police tape. Cats prowled around the dumpster with steaming garbage in their mouths. Hamlin tried to distract his racing mind by watching his feet kick garbage and splash through murky puddles.
“Mornin Mista Hamlin.” Buck mumbled. He leaned against a newsstand and blew his nose with strip of advertisements.
“Bad nooz today. Can’t neva tell when tings’ll stop gettin worse. Ain’t theyz worse off enough?”
Hamlin traded foil plate for newspaper and boarded the 187. He pushed the legs of a sleeping hobo off a seat, and collapsed in it. He unfolded the newspaper. Buck had rearranged the stack so that the briefs section became the front page. A circle of dirty encompassed a tiny article:

Woman dies in dumpster accident
CENTRAL CITY-WEST (AP) — Judith Pankova, 37, was found dead yesterday morning at 5:58 AM in the bed of a garbage truck. She had allegedly fallen asleep in a dumpster near the Benington, and was crushed when a garbage truck emptied the dumpster. She was carrying a large sum of money. Investigators suspect foul play.

Hamlin’s eyes bulged and hands squeezed the newspaper. He reread the article then threw it on the floor. He jumped to his feet and paced the bus.
“No! It can’t be. How could she be dead yesterday? She was there. I saw her last night. I heard her leave my room this morning. The money! She took the money!”
“Keep it down will ya!” said a homeless man with bushy eyebrows. Hamlin grabbed the metal bar overhead. The bus twirled around him.
“She is going to meet me for lunch.” He said.
“Onyx Tower.” said the bus driver. Hamlin stumbled off and ascended the black monolith. He locked himself in his office and ordered his secretary to warn him the second someone came asking for him.
The furniture in his office slanted at an angle. Hamlin could feel himself sliding out of his chair like the world tilted to one side. He checked his messages and email. The sounds of the speakerphone went in one ear and out the other. The words on the computer screen made no sense to him. His mind sank into a tar pit of paranoia. Slits of muck peeled open at the bottom revealing Judith’s glaring eyes. The veins pulsed with tar. Hamlin’s lip quivered. Each breath felt like lifting a lead weight.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
The door handle shook on its locked hinge.
“We’re ruined, Hamlin, ruined! The market’s crashed. Trusperity is sunk!” The words echoed from across a canyon. Hamlin’s hands stretched the skin of his face.
“Again, it’s happening again.” Hamlin said. “The world is collapsing around me, but this time I’m ready. Thousands’ll face foreclosure, and I’ll cut the umbilical cord. I’ll put them on Skid Row with the rest, and they’ll call me their savior.”
Hamlin turned to the giant painting on the wall. Jesus’s eyes reflected the fire of his lantern.
“Is this the thanks I get for saving Judith? Why then do her eyes haunt me!”
CRASH! A chair shattered the window of the neighboring office. Hamlin whipped around in time to see his business partner jump. Down he fell like a car vanishing in the horizon. Green liquid erupted from his body as it splat on the sidewalk. The flashing lights of cop cars buzzed around the base of the tower.
A dozen feet stomped outside Hamlin’s door.
BEEEEP!
The door swung open. Policemen stormed the room. Hamlin raised his chair and flung it out the window. The police tackled him and pushed his face into the Persian rug.
“You’re under arrest for the murder of Judith Pankova!”
“I didn’t murder her!” said Hamlin, “I saved her from the dumpster. It’s impossible. She was dead by the time I found her!”
The cops met the grizzly sight at the base of the tower. A crowd had gathered around the remains. One cop locked Hamlin in the backseat of a police car, while the others went to clean up the mess. A pale woman stood at the edge of the crowd in a smart, new business suit. She glared at Hamlin as the police car pulled away.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Brother Igloo

Brother Igloo
A short story by Sam Vest

     Upon arriving home to my family’s mansion I heard the feint strums of music in the basement. There were seven children of us altogether, and only one too young to have flown the coup. I descended the stairs to find a lone musician leaned over his guitar, soaking in bittersweet chords. I paused halfway down the stairs, not wanting to break the spell.
This musician was my youngest brother, though he was not young anymore. His limbs protruded from pants and a t-shirt two sizes too small. Baby fat had been replaced with angular muscle, and his blonde hair was darker now, even against the sunbeam that illuminated the peach hairs of his adolescent beard.
“Brother.” I said.
The musician whipped up his head and looked like a deer in headlights.
“Oh!” he said tossing aside his guitar.
He sprung to an electric keyboard and set the basement ablaze with the sickest beat I had heard in years. I flew across the basement to join him on the dance floor. We shook our long, lanky bodies like witch doctors begging the sky for rain. We were suddenly both kids again and the time that had separated us seemed like only yesterday.
After moving my body every which way I knew how, I embraced my brother, and threw us both upon a giant round pillow called a Luv Sac.
“Luke, I’m home!” I said kissing both his scruffy cheeks.
“Yes,” said he, “now put on some clothes and let’s build an igloo.”
I scarcely had time to thank him for my glorious welcoming party before he zipped up the stairs.
I ascended the mansion to my old room, where I rummaged through a nostalgic closet, picked memories off hangers, and found the relics still fit and looked awkward and mismatched as ever.
“Brother!” I called into the mansion.
“He’s already outside.” Echoed my mother’s voice from some deep chamber.
I exited through the garage and beheld a winter wonderland! In the distance, my brother, the Eskimo, shoveled fresh snow by the pounds upon a steadily growing hill. I grabbed a flat-faced spade and entered the jungle. My legs disappeared up to the knees into the canopy, and with great effort I ventured to the working Eskimo.
“Take this spade,” said he, “you can do more damage than I.”
I traded my flat-face spade for his snow-spade and we set to work building our hill. I needed only touch the surrounding powder with my spade and it weighed heftily with white dirt; and thus, contacting all the muscles of my abdomen and back, I hurled the load upon the hill.
“Heeyag!” said my Eskimo brother contributing another spade-full to the hill.
“Blag-ah-darg!” I mimicked.
“Weee woooo!” said he.
“Froginst!” Said I.
We piled the surrounding jungle onto our hill till my sides ached.
“Another three feet and we can make a second floor.” I said.
“Yes, but not before a break.” Said my brother. He trudged through the white jungle to the mansion and returned with two water bottles. I squeezed the ice water into my burning mouth. The defective bottle depleted half its contents onto my steaming beard, which then trickled down my coat.
“Watch this.” I said.
I backed up a good distance, plotting to make my brother laugh at the sight of fluttering legs, and my body half-submerged in the hill. I took off running and dove headfirst. The snow was hard as a brick-wall, and I nearly broke my neck, which made the joke doubly funny.
My brother climbed our mighty hill and danced upon it to test its constitution.
“It’s ready.” Said he. “Which side should we make the door?”
“Well,” said I, “I want the sun to wake me in the morning and bid me good evening at night.
“Hmm… The sun rises over there,” He said pointing East to the misty sky above the tree line.
“And sets over there.” He pointed West.
“Therefore logic dictates we build the door………that way.” Just as he was about to point East again, he swung around his arm and pointed West, where everyone should know the sun does not rise.
“Heh heh heh,” he giggled, “J K, we’ll put the door on this side.” He thrust his spade into the side of the hill facing East.
We worked as a tag team. First, my Eskimo brother chizzled the insides free, and I swept out the debris. Soon the hollow could encompass one of us. Then I crawled inside and hacked at the walls, while he swept out the debris. Working upward and out, the hollow expanded large enough to hold the two of us with a lady friend each.
“Fashion a door so we might know the dark.” I said.
My Eskimo brother rolled a giant snowball. He crawled into the hollow with me and we used the snowball to seal the entrance. Sunlight ceased to be and all of a sudden the two of us lie in an ice cave.
“This is the closest either of us will ever be to ‘buried alive,’” I said, panting from our efforts, “Look at the lengths we must go to get a little thrill in Godfrey, Illinois!”
“Yeah.” He said, somewhat removed.
Our eyes adjusted to the dark. The walls of our cave glowed with yellow and baby blue light in spots we’d cut too thin. Steam rose from our exhausted bodies and hovered in the atmosphere like a sauna.
“This must be like what Godzilla feels like before attacking Tokyo.” I said.
“Ha.” he responded.
He sounded deep in thought. He put his foot on a glowing blue spot on the roof of the cave, and pressed hard till he grunted from exertion. He got on his knees and punched the spot.
Once!
Twice!
Thrice!
His fist pierced the wall. Light burst in upon us and felt like the first we’d seen in ages. The sight of my brother gazing into the light looked like a snapshot from a grand adventure film.
“Stay there!” I said, “I want to see what you look like from the outside.”
I kicked the giant snowball blocking the entrance till I could squeeze past. I climbed atop the hill to the spot where my brother’s glove protruded. I seized his hand and held it tight. It slipped through my mitten and retreated into the hole. I looked inside and saw the smiling face of my brother, the igloo.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Girl Down the Street

The Girl Down the Street
a short story by Sam Vest

I fell in love with the girl down the street. I saw her Tuesday, sitting next to the road as I drove home from work. On Wednesday I thought of nothing but her. By Thursday night I could stand it no longer. I put on my hoodie and I walked two blocks to where she lived. I peeked through a crease in the window. My beloved sat inside looking bored amongst her sisters, who were awfully pretty too. I took a deep breath, thrust my chin, and stepped through the door.
The vast variety of her family caught me off guard. The lay atop one another in stacks spread across countertops and tables. They filled whole cabinet shelves lining the walls such that I could look nowhere in the room without my vision being filled with their kind. I twirled around gathering first impressions of the fiercely handsome family.
There were more twins under that roof than any in existence. The twins averaged a dozen apiece and huddled in cliques as twins often do without realizing. No family member could have been more than a day or two old yet each bore a striking maturity.
My eyes took no preference of the big or small members, light or dark, slim or hefty. I had never seen such beautiful creatures. I swam in the honeymoon phase of their culture. Every cousin, aunt, uncle, brother, and sister was an island of design and texture, dressed in habits of age-old tradition.
A servant girl frowned at my loitering. She ran to a room in the back. The master of the house emerged and perched atop his crystal throne. Below him my beloved gazed at me from her chamber window, trapped under lock and key.
“Uh-hem!” said the master. He was large man with an iron gut and strict brow. I could not bear to look him straight in the eye
“Your family is quite beautiful.” I said glancing amongst the sisters to ensure that my beloved was the one whom I suspected, the one whose eyes gazed deepest, and heart beat loudest.
Knowing not their customs, I decided to ask a question to make my intentions clear.
“How much shall I pay for your daughter’s hand in marriage?”
I thrust my eyes upon the master to show I meant business.
He furrowed his brows at my attire. I pulled out my wallet and fiddled through my humble wealth. He peaked inside.
“You cannot have just one of my daughters. Should you want one then you must also take the rest of a dozen.”
I fell back a step at the prospect. Twelve wives! Did I carry enough love in me to go round? Let alone the money for such a prize! The sisters held their breaths, stillest of all, my beloved.
“How much then for these rare beauties?” I said knocking on their chamber door. I grabbed my entire sum of wealth and loosened it from my wallet.
“Six dollars.” Said the master.
That much! A mere six dollars for such a heavenly host! I could have bought half the family for six times as much.
I handed him the money and watched him liberate my betrothed. One by one they blew their father farewell kisses as he guided them into a diamond carriage. Lastly he loaded my beloved, whom he must have loved best of all, because before freeing her he weighed the carriage on a scale, to see if he really must let her go.
The mother-mistress came out of the back room and glanced at me sideways, for I presumed showing emotion during such a transaction must have been against her custom, yet nothing could contain the love and pride that swelled in the room. The family bowed their heads as I took hold the reigns of the carriage and strode into the night.
I steered my feet the long way home, and set them on autopilot so I might cherish the night with my brides. Each was more beautiful than the next, brimming with health and youth. I brought the first to my lips and kissed her. She filled me with such ecstasy that I floated into the night sky, up to the clouds. The second came to me. My hands dissolved into her soft texture. I spun her around and kissed her neck. The third and fourth lay me down in their laps, and fed me sweet berries that set my lust aflame. The fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth messaged my arms and legs till I forgot every worry I had ever known. The ninth I tried to take slow, but I could not contain my joy, which charged me to pick her and the tenth and eleventh up and embrace them as if the world could end without us caring.
Finally I sat me down at home, all alone with my beloved. I could’ve been happy lying there next to her for an eternity. No two souls had ever longed for each other the way we did, and no two came together with such passion. Time stood still the moment we united. A million galaxies burst from our fusion. She was all at once a part of me. I was complete.
I recycled the diamond carriage and went to bed. I closed my eyes. My mind was clear, my breathing steady. I floated off to the dream world in hopes of tasting my beloved again. There she inceptioned the idea in my mind to return again to the bakery.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Todd Ball - Excutiating

Todd Ball's Journal Entry:
Excruciating
a short story by Sam Vest

Imagine the ball of your femur was an egg, the part of the femur that fits into the socket of your pelvis. Now imagine you smashed the egg when you turned your hip too much chucking a dodgeball.
SSCROTCH!
Your hip makes a sound a mixture of a pop and a tear.

“You know what will help that?” asked Todd’s teammates.
“Alcohol!”
The conservative part of me said to go home and write about the experience, my better part feared losing the friendships I’d forged over the past four weeks.
Dexter gave me a lift to the bar in his Cadillac. There I gimped about hoping the woeful sight of my gimp and a deplorable tale of chucking a ball at a girl point blank would win me sympathy.
I wanted to shake off the gimp, make it look like it never happened. When I heard my hip pop in the gymnasium I did not go down immediately. Just to reiterate, my hip popped/tore just to the right of my genitals where the leg connects to the hip.
I did not scream “Mother!” or go down immediately. I knew I was done for. I pushed myself too far. I dragged my sorry ass to the sideline and sat down. No one noticed. Maybe Amie, our team captain saw me and looked upset that I wasn’t my usual perky self, cheering everyone from the sideline. I sat still with my left leg propped up. Rotating my right leg outward meant doom.
I waited till the game ended to tell Amie.
“I’m out.”
“Are you ok?” she said.
“Yeah, just heard my hip pop.”
Midway through the last quarter I decided to test my condition. I stood and propped myself against the pad against the wall next to the referee. Putting weight on my right leg was out of the question. Even the slightest extension or turn that we all take for granted, felt like a team of knifes hacking my groin.
I played the last three games to hide my condition, and even hoped to make a catch. A blind man could have hit me. Without the ability to duck, a 6’2’’ guy was a sitting duck.
During warm ups I was thrusting my hips back and forth, joking with my teammate Dexter. We created a new dodgeball stance called ‘Paper Thin’ which involved a great deal of rotating hips.
It’s amazing how fleeting health is. Just thirty minutes ago I was prancing like a doe and now reduced to the mobility of a 95 year old man with arthritis.
The game ended thank god. I found I could walk forward all right with a gimp. Any amount of pressure on my right leg hurt, but gimping was tolerable.
I didn’t want to be that guy who played for 5 seconds on our team last weak and had to have the ambulance called for him. I did not want to be injured period. I should have been in those final games helping my new friends win, not hiding my pulled groin! And now I faced losing them.
What use am I to my team if I can’t through at 110%? I might be out for weeks. The season will be over then. Why associate with a gimp? Sure a minute ago he had a good arm and personality, but now a toddler could beat him up.
These demons haunted in my mind as we walked to the bar. Dexter offered me a ride in his Cadillac. I took it gratefully. Getting into the car was no big deal but getting out was an issue. I twisted my but to the right incrementally, picked up my right leg, drop it an inch to the right, then repeated till I faced the sidewalk. Dexter offered a hand, but I would have none of that, more from fear of pain that he’d pull me too fast than pride. I gimped into the bar and got as close to drunk as I’ve ever been. The alcohol eased the pain! I had many a good conversation. I got to know my buddy Dexter better. I spoke with a player on an opposing team named Emily and found out she was a 40-year-old trying to be a writer like me, only she had the additional pressure of being a woman with a parents on welfare, a master’ s degree in Engineering which she found useless, and all the expectations of being a 40 yea-old woman on her shoulders.
“If money was not an issue what would you be” I said.
“A writer, a poet, a painter.” She said. Music to my ears.
“You’ve got a head start. You’re amongst the young t heart.” I told her. I like to think I cheered her up. Dexter beckoned me to come get food elsewhere, which I needed badly if I were to make it home safely.
“We shall have another conversation soon.” I said to Emily.
Outside the bar my team voted where best to eat. We chose Satan’s Pizza Parlor, a block down the street, to my relief. Any farther and I couldn’t have made it.

“What are you getting?” Dexter asked me.
“Everything.” I said! I was close to drunk and in a lot of pain from the short walk. Money was no concern at that point. I spent $20 on a vegetarian supreme pizza.
“Which spicy level do you want?” said the cashier. “Hot, Sizzling, and Blazing?”
“Blazing.” I said with a coy smile. The cashier rang up the order. I hoped he would give me the “oh-my-gosh-you’re-crazy look”. My ego needed a pick me up.
I got it. The sweet barbeque, spicy vegetarian, and meat lovers pizza filled my spirits till I thought I would be sick. The ‘Blazing’ supreme vegetarian caused me to sweat from every orifice of my body. Had I not been so slaphappy I wouldn’t have been able to eat it. The searing pain in my mouth could sober any man. It’s amazing how you feel like shit, do something to make you feel good, overdo that thing that makes you feel good, and are in a worse place altogether. I cared little. Dexter and Ernie kept up good conversation.
I discovered Dexter had a similar life-changing experience as myself during a high school theatrical performance. He received a standing-ovation for performing Mr. Cellophane, a Chicago classic. It’s necessary that I mention he performed between two professional actresses, one starred in the European tour of Le Misérables and the other played Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway.
“I don’t have much of a voice.” Dexter said. From what little I knew about Dexter, I could tell he must have acted the shit out of that piece.
“All my friends congratulated me backstage. It was like WHOA….” Dexter fell back in his seat eyes towards the heaven, reliving the nostalgia. Spoken like a true artist. I could relate.
Charlie told me an equally interesting tale.
“I dropped out of high school because the pressure became too much. I worked three jobs as well as being a full time student. My senior year I realized I had no social life and said, ‘Fuck it!’ I dropper out and toured with bands in the Midwest for five years... After sending my three older sisters through college without having made them earn a cent for themselves, they told me I was on my own concerning paying for college. They hadn’t budgeted for their youngest and only son, and didn’t expect him to go to college anyways. My sisters are very shallow people.
“To this day?” I said.
“To this day Charlie repeated.
We got onto the topic of the Birds and the Bees. I recollected my story of Sex Ed in elementary school for Dexter, Charlie, and Felipe, our other team captain.
“Being very much embarrassed by the whole ordeal and wanting to go to recess, I stood in the midst of the boys in my class, the females had been separated, I stood up and said, ‘A man sticks his pencil in a woman’s sharpener and a baby is made.’
“Not quite!” said my teacher.
Felipe got up and left. I don’t blame him. Our dodgeball group had just been told by an employee to quite down and now I was shouting my middle school theories of sex loud enough so everyone could hear.
“I gotta go re park my car.” Dexter said, “It’s been two hours.”
I shimmied my legs out from under the table and pushed myself erect. Getting up felt like I was pulling my intestine off frozen ground. I Dexter out of the restaurant in the middle of a story Charlie was telling about ‘farm-boy’ friend’s first drinking experience at a big college.
Our whole team and other teams that had tagged along to Satan’s Pizza Parlor magically decided it was time for them to leave too. That’s the kind of dudes Dexter and me were.
“My friend’s told me to check on the farm boy in the bathroom, he’s messed up.” Ernie continued his story as I gimped as fast as I could across the road. I probably looked wasted to oncoming traffic.
“There was shit all over the walls and the farm was covered in shit.” Ernie said.
Good story, I thought.
Dexter offered to carry me on his back to his car. He pulled my arms over his shoulders. Knives hacked at my groin.
“No please!” I said. “Allow me to maintain what dignity I have left.” I was pleasantly surprised by my eloquent speech. “It’s not that I doubt that you could carry me; it’s only that I wouldn’t be able to withstand the pain.”
I gimped to the Cadillac at a snails pace. The alcohol didn’t seem to be working on my leg anymore, just my diction.
“I won’t leave you behind!” Dexter said.
I boarded the Cadillac in slow motion, first turning to the perfect angle such that I could bend over without rotating my leg, then clasping to the doorframe for dear life as I hoisted myself in. My passenger door snagged against the grassy curb, Dexter pulled up and I shut it. The vibration of the door closing was enough to send a knife into my groin.
“It’s amazing how when I decided to become a storyteller, I cannot experience life the same anymore. It’s as if I watch my body from a third person camera, never fully present.” I said.
“You’ve become observant. You’ll use your observations to make statements about human nature.”
“You and I are more alike than different.” I said. I bit my lower lip as Dexter pulled next to my car.
“Alike, only I can kick my leg above my head while you on the other hand are a gimp.”
“Indeed.” I said, “That is our biggest difference. See you next week.”
“We’ll see.” Dexter said. He waited for me to load into my car. I pushed lugged myself into my Prius as quickly as I could, hoping to raise Dexter’s hopes for me.

I could mention other things. Keera, on of my teammates, offered to jam her elbow into my groin to ‘fix it’.
“A good hard jam is all you need.” She said brandishing her forearm in my face. She was an acrobat on the Cirque du Soleil. I thought they were insane, but now I know.
An Asian guy from the team we'd just lost to, kept pinching Nicholas’s, another one of my teammates, nipples. The Asian guy demoted to ‘nut smacks’ as he grew more intoxicated.
“Our team enjoys high brow and low brow humor,” I said. “We laugh at low brow humor, though we do not participate in the low stuff.”
Nicholas grabbed across the table for the Asian guy’s nipple and spilled my fresh beer. The liquid bread splashed onto Natasha’s pants (Nick’s girlfriend) and she had to leave to dry her pencil sharpener, fearing yeast disease.
“I’m sorry dude.” Nick said, clearly embarrassed, “It’s crazy how you just said how we do not participate in their ‘low brow’ humor.”
“That’s irony for you.” I said.

Then there was the whole ordeal of me getting home. The alcohol eased the pain slightly, but did not impair my vision. I made it home safely and even was able to multitask and call my parents.
“Mom, I threw a ball playing dodgeball today and my hip popped.” I said.
“Oh,” she said groggily, “Let me put Dad on, that’s his specialty.”
“Did it hurt immediately?” said my dad.
“Yes, is it dislocated?” I said.
“No, not if you were able to walk.”
“Great! I’ll call you in the morning. Oh— I plan to be home for Easter. Love you bye!”
I pulled into my reserved parking spot and time slowed down. I pushed off the frame of my car and the dashboard with my hands and turned my body in increments so my hips wouldn’t have to do any work. For every inch I twisted my hips I lifted my right leg and set it down closer to the edge of the car. I kicked out my left leg then lifted out my right. My right leg sank to the ground. As it reached full extension the knives started stabbing so I propelled myself out of the car with my hands and put the weight on my left foot. I leaned against my car and panted for a good minute.
     “There go my dodgeball friends!” I said. “I can’t escape it, physiology and sociology equals psychology. Perhaps I could still go to the games and cheer them on. I’ll write articles about their games and make them laugh! It’ll never work… They’ll never look at me the same. I’ll forever be the Gimp to them. ‘Who cares that he could throw?' They’ll say, ‘what good is he to us now?’”
     I wanted to be a writer and there I was, a friendless Gimp with something to write about. I hoped the alcohol was causing me to overreact. My cheeks were rosier than cherries.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hide and Stalk


Hide and Stalk
a short story by Sam Vest

The stairs creaked. The pads of feet podded down slowly. Don knew it was her. Kerr (pronounced ‘Kair’) had escaped and she was coming down the stairs now.
            He sank into the sofa, beads of sweat squeezed out his temples. A chill crawled up his spine. He wished he would sink into the sofa altogether and disappear.
            Don lied down on his side. Perhaps she hadn’t seen him yet. A wall partially blocked the stairs in the hallway from the living room. He curled up into a fetal position.
            The firm cushions made sounds of collapsing leather. Air hissed out the seams. The chill on his spine had reached the back of his neck. He felt faint.
            Footpads thudded on the wooden floors at the entrance of the living room. The hairs around the rim of Don’s balding head stood on end. He launched himself off the sofa and ran into the kitchen, never looking back.
            “KERR! Stay away! Get out off my house!”
            Don pinned himself against the kitchen corner next to a cabinet and counter. He held his breath. His heartbeat echoed through the kitchen into the living room.
Don lost his hearing. Such was a symptom of paranoia paralysis a condition wrought by Don’s weak heart. When Don lost his hearing his heartbeat did not make a noise, but rather a thudding sensation which heaved his chest.
Don eyed the door less passage into the living room. If Kerr was in there she was probably just around the corner, waiting for the opportune moment to scare Don so badly it would cause a cardiac arrest.

Don had a bad heart and Kerr knew it. She’d never physically abused him before. She did not have the build. Don was a big guy with a vivid imagination. It was much easier to cause Don pain by putting out the lights or scratching walls.
Kerr had grown her nails long since her and Don got back together. She was a woman of ambition who wore the pants. Don was a dreamer who needed someone to carry his fragile imagination.
Don had managed to muster the courage to ask Kerr for another shot three years ago. At the time Don thought it was his fierce romanticism that had won her back, but now knew marriage was a social status Kerr needed to climb the social ladder at work. She was a news anchor for FOX and had climbed steadily to the top ever since college when Don first dumped Kerr because she put her sorority and career before him, and Don was a needy dreamer.

“Kerr, please. Come out slowly where I can see you. I know you broke free of the St. John’s, but don’t worry, the security guard will live. I know it wasn’t you who jabbed him with the pencil.”
Don’s voice didn’t sound like his own. In fact, it didn’t even make a sound. Don knew what he said, and felt it in his chest, but the words were lost to his paranoia induced paralysis. He glanced at the counter for a weapon. The porcelain tiles were barren. The glass cabinets were empty as well.
“Have they taken everything?” Don thought.

The banks foreclosed the house when Kerr went crazy three months ago. Don’s video work wasn’t steady enough to support a home and his son Henry. Kerr had always been the breadwinner, and now she wanted to take back what she’d worked so hard for.
Don couldn’t change Kerr. Not back in college when she stopped caring about anything other than her ambition. Not three months ago when she blamed him for soiling her rise to the top, whatever that meant. Kerr would stop at nothing to keep her paycheck from increasing and her network of friends from increasing. She used people to get what she wanted, and Don hadn’t given it to her. Don could only provide love and companionship, but what Kerr wanted was world domination.

Don pulled a plastic spoon out of the back of a drawer. He tossed it into the living room. It clanked to a halt. Don heard that. The initial kick of adrenaline had settled and now Don had super senses.
Though sunlight illuminated the dust mites hovering near the windows, Don imagined the room was all black and the contours of the walls and kitchen and house were all green lines. He could see through them like wireframes. Through the wall in the living room he could see a warm mass of red standing just around the corner of the door less frame.
“I see you there, Kerr.” Don surprised himself with his confidence.
“You can’t scare me now. I’m coming out there.”

Don and Kerr had been intimate once. They were high school sweethearts and enjoyed a passionate romance as teenagers. The sex was good when they married three years ago. Foreplay had always been an important step of the ritual, and in the six months leading up to Kerr’s breakdown, foreplay had become a game of hide and seek. The night of Kerr’s breakdown, foreplay had become stalk and scare the shit out of Don.
Don came home late at night after spending overtime on set. He went straight to the fridge for a snack and weird shit began to happen.
            There was a loud thud upstairs then a knock on the front door. Don sneezed up milk he was chugging out of the carton when he heard the knock. He put the chain on and opened the front door.
            “Hello?”
            Womp! The washer door in the basement slammed shut.
            “Jesus Kerr! Why the heck are you doing laundry at three in the morning?”
            Don opened the basement door to darkness that seemed to suck him in. Don jumped back.
            “Jesus Kerr! If this is some kind of joke it’d better stop now!”
            Don slammed the door shut and preceded to turn on every light in the house. He grabbed the broom out of the kitchen and swung it violently around corners before hitting the light switch. He turned the basement lights on last but didn’t dare go down.
            Broom in hand, he plopped down on his Lazy Boy chair in the living room and switched on the Television to full blast. SpongeBob pranced gaily around an equally queer starfish.
Don pulled out his iPhone and called Kerr. Don thought he heard the phone vibrating so he switched off the TV.
There, shaking on the open windowsill was Kerr’s phone. Don ran to the sill and grabbed it. Kerr leapt up from the bush and hollered a blood-curdling scream. Her tangled-black hair covered most her face.
Don fell backwards and collapsed on the coffee table in front of the couch. The wind got knocked out of him. His heart sent a jolt throughout his body rendering it useless. Kerr dove through the window and crawled toward him. She dragged her feet behind her and clawed the floor with three-inch nails. She mounted atop Don and sat there in a smart blue dress.
Don felt her weight over his genitals, but it was cold. She leaned over and kissed Don’s limp lips then proceeded to undress him. Don knew what it was like to be raped after that night.
He would have called the police the next morning, but Kerr was already locked up at St. John’s Institute of Mental Health. She tried to kill herself on the morning show by jumping into the newly opened freeway she was reporting.

Don took the drawer out of the cabinet and inched toward the living room. His super powers were gone and the paranoia paralysis tempted his limbs like a vice grip. Don took a quick breath and leapt across the threshold. He swung the drawer like a battle-axe. It smashed into splinters against the wall. A quick survey of the room and no one was there but him and the splinters. His heart throbbed and he grunted made wafts of air. An idea struck him.
He pulled out his cellphone and punched Kerr’s number. Her iPhone vibrated on the open windowsill.