Thursday, January 3, 2013



           ...Cody ambled into the kitchen. He was wearing his usual bathrobe, looking by the shady aura of his bearing and meticulous trim of facial hair like a warlock in Birkenstocks. It was 6:44 pm, Saturday, September 22, the first day of fall. Cody had spent a good portion of the day meditating cross-legged in the middle of his waterbed, which was itself centered between four lava lamps, each aligned with the points of the compass. The blue lava lamp, representing water and winter, was positioned north; opposite it, the red lamp stood for fire and summer; to the east, purple for air and spring (it was either that or orange, but the base on the orange lamp somehow didn’t match the others); and on the west, green for earth and fall. This was the position which Cody had faced off and on for several hours over the course of the day, focusing his energy on a peaceful, bountiful season.
            With the lights out and the lamps on, a relaxed mind perceived simple beauty in the gently flowing wax. Heated by the bulb inside the base beneath the glass teardrop lamp on top, the melting wax in the water slowly rose from the bottom, reached the cooler water at the top, and subsequently tumbled back down, to repeat the process. Rising and falling, but never leaving—the lava lamp formed a replica of the planet’s own energy flow—each ever-shifting formation completely unique, yet always in motion, part of a whole out of which it comes and to which it returns, never to be seen again.
            “Who’s an idiot?” he said.
            Heidi resisted temptation....


...As the train started pulling out, Joe positioned himself on the waterproof cushion with an elbow up on the railing behind him so that he could see what was coming. Leanne had turned herself so that she was sitting in front of him and not to the side now that the train was moving. He got to see her hair flickering in the gentle breeze, light little hairs in the soft curve of the back of her neck revealed. A talking burl outside told them how it hoped they enjoyed the haunting gloom of the old town, but they were leaving now, taking the train into virgin forest, back to simpler times when Bigfeet roamed a land untainted by human presence.
Riding through the redwoods—in a northeasterly direction, away from the Avenue and Mist River now—as the greenery of the scenery grew denser and the colorful animatronic Gypsy-like Hippies heading back to the land were behind them—sightings of animatronic Bigfeet on either side of the train got called out by kids in the cars up and down the line—“Say hi to Idd!” their parents cried all through the Bigfeet Before People stretch, “Wave goodbye to Yawg!”—while Leanne told Joe that the only time she ever saw her dad cry was when the System could no longer afford the overwhelming financial burden of carrying out capital punishment executions. How for years it had been his favorite show. That it had simply been part of his routine, just a little fun thing from which he had been allowed to obtain a small amount of enjoyment in life. How he worked his goddam ass off, and now he had to do it for nothing.
Joe admitted he had seen an episode of “The Switch” before. An old woman, who legally affirmed her everlasting faith in The One Almighty System God, had the last wish that she be allowed to pull the switch. She needed some help rising up from the wheelchair with gleaming eyes and a wavering hand, live on-camera studio audience chanting, she feebly reaching, some guy hooked up nearby screaming his innocence. Afterwards, during the wrap-up, the old woman confessed she really couldn’t see too well at all—like Justice, she guessed—but she damn-well caught every last word.
“You doing the three-day stay?” Leanne asked.
“Yeah. How’d you guess?”
“I saw your ticket. I recognize the color because I’m on the three-day, too.”
They came to a place where a skeleton wearing Hippie-type clothes sat perched on a pile of pot in a pot patch, still holding up a bud.
“You really can’t tell the difference between the actual trees and the fake ones at all,” said Leanne. “I heard some of the fallen redwoods are flip-top, so that security squads can pop out at any time.”
“Fernden’s haunted too,” Joe said, examining a map. “Maybe we should get off there.”
Two Hippie skeletons leaning against a giant redwood had smoke coming constantly from both the open mouths and the perpetually issuing bong. Beyond, the skeleton of a ragged Hippie in tie-dye t-shirt, bandana headband, long-fringed cutoffs and cheap thong sandals could be seen in the weed-choked half of a VW van, realistic thunder and lightning flashes intermittently revealing the dogged Hippie still gamely at the wheel....


          ...Yellowy bulbs muffled by tapestries of cobwebs blanketed with dust silhouetted large furtive shapes. The spiders of the basement audibly repositioning themselves in their cotton candy webs were disturbed routinely and almost seemed to consider Denny, who scuttled in sometimes with meat, the great chief of their kind.                
          Denny hitched his body sideways along the crawl space between the concrete wall and the spacers until he came to the sliding window of which he was so fond. Pulling the neck of his shirt over his nose and mouth he squinted into the room, hanging back outside in a wary crouch.
          One of the bulbs inside was still working. The light thus cheaply afforded was dim, but still Denny could clearly see the body. Rather, what was left of it. The monster had fed on Turk till his sides caved in like a juice box.
          The experience of feeding on the dog had exhibited an immediate effect upon the giant flea. Its ordinarily dirty-looking blood, which had always hitched along in an ungainly and irregular manner now sped fluidly. Its attitude had also changed. Discontent seemed conveyed by its vocalizations. For once, though, Denny noticed that he wasn’t hearing any of those.
          “Hey,” Denny said, aware of his voice disturbing the silence of the room. He had intended to share with his incarcerated friend the great news of no work for the next two days at least, and almost did say, “You in there?” but caught himself as his eyes scanned on a hole in the far right corner.
          Probably he had walked right past the beast. Denny chanced a quick peek and made certain that the flea was out of the room.
          It was.
          All of its bouncing around must have loosened the plywood wall on the far left side, Denny thought. Once it got its legs in, it just pried and chipped and wedged itself right through.
His opinion of how exactly the thing was growing differed daily, almost hourly. Was it freed by the river flooding? Had it been affected by farm soil filled with weird chemicals and fertilizers? Was it a case of a mutation with a freakish growth hormone somehow activated? How much bigger could it possibly grow? Would it still act exactly like a flea, only bigger? Last he saw, it was almost as big as he was. Supposedly, from what he looked up in his parents’ old encyclopedia set, a flea his size would have a vertical jump of two hundred and fifty feet, and a horizontal leap capability of a whopping four hundred and fifty feet.
          When he found it, he also found that the damn thing was tougher than it looked. Denny Holmes was not one of the world’s great gun aces but he’d plinked enough bottles with his old single bolt .22 to hit the thing from twelve feet away–a darkish spot where he supposed its nervous system must be. The bullet left a mark on the semi-translucent shell near where he had aimed. That was about it. Unless, Denny thought, in the intervening seconds it was recovering
from the shot it took, for it was several moments before the thing launched itself straight through the sliding glass doors.
          A banshee wind howled through the shattered doors, bearing the attendant sounds of the ocean. Wind-wild curtains flapped. It was as though a giant slingshot had been pulled.
          Somewhere in the back of his mind Denny knew he couldn’t sleep at night with that thing hopping around. He wished it would accidentally jump in the ocean so a nice big shark would get it, but in the meantime he should probably try to shoot it again. It wouldn’t do to have the thing show up somewhere in his house unexpectedly when it got cold and hungry. Yet there was also the nagging tug of: You don’t want to get in any kind of trouble. Nobody has to know that you fed it.
            He followed the thing outside, empty .22 shell discarded, one new one loaded.
            The question was, where did it go?
            East, toward the bluffs, perhaps to Oceanside Health Center? Nice thing for someone there to wake up to. North? It would have to go over or around the property, and maybe it did. There wasn’t much back there, though. His was the last ocean-front residence. But Denny had a hunch the thing went south. It was sandy in that direction, dotted with scrubby clumps of bush, riddled with soft cracks and gullies thick with swaying dune grass almost like a dirty giant carpet. All the houses were ahead.
          Someone was booking on a four-wheeler.
          The handful of bullets in Denny’s jeans jangled awkwardly as he maneuvered over the terrain. Haphazard thoughts bounced similarly in his mind. The mental image of the mess from the broken sliding glass doors, memories of how he had seen the thing feed.
            Denny topped a rise and saw in the dim light afforded by the nearby corner lamp post a car crashed in a ditch. One person was helping another from the car.
            “Over here!” one of them yelled. Younger voice. That jogger’s kid. “Watch out!”
            The thing stumbled out of the brush.
            The six-foot flea teetered on its long back legs in the dim lamp light and the glare of the four-wheeler’s headlight, a hideous nightmare delicately poised, then sprang in a panic-producing arc perhaps twenty yards toward Tim and Bret. The man and his son yelled as they stumbled to the ATV. The thing flopped on the car not far behind them in a loud heap, landing like a body at the bottom of a four-story window.  The impact did not seem to faze it....


          ...You haven’t lived till you’ve died.
            The wheels of what I will call my mind spun the gears of my giant revenge machine all that night sitting upright in my grave. As dawn neared I decided to creep around the crypts in hopes of forcing a door. I would have stayed in my own grave if I could, but the pile from the freshly upturned mound would call attention to a mindful eye that something was amiss. So I patted down the dirt as best I could, sort of sad at seeing my dead limbs doing this. Somehow images of Mother and the horrified expression she would have to know this would one day happen to her baby appeared before me. I would have cried, if I could, but for fear of merely excreting maggots.
            A gray tattered mist hung among the tombs. To my left below sat a large crypt notable for its intricate if crumbling masonry. Pen and paper in pocket, I strode over.
            “Anybody home?” I thought, peering through a small iron-barred window. “What have we here? A rusty lock. And look over here, an iron bar lying perfectly for me to do this–”
            Here I twisted the lock off with a snap that actually took the hinge. Gathering up debris, I shoved open the creaking door, hauled my carcass in and shut it.
            I sat there in that crypt listening to the sounds of the morning. Birds, mostly. A screen door or two. The slam of the door of the idling truck of someone with a long commute. It occurred to me that, what with the May heat, not too bad yet but not getting any colder, the crypt might almost have an oven-like effect, inviting unwanted attention from passersby with the smell of death warmed over. If I had to play dead, I supposed, anyone who nosed me out would figure it was vandals that moved me. But I really didn’t want to have to endure being handled and redeposited. What if they put me in something I couldn’t get out of?
            I looked around behind me. MANSON, said the family name. I had stumbled upon the Manson family crypt!
            The joy I felt on realizing the sheer fun now at my disposal sent a shiver of glee quivering through my rotting body sufficient to loose galvanized crawlies skittering to the corners.
            A slab centered at the far end in a recess of the wall presented possibilities. Yet when I slid the concrete slab I found not a body as I expected within, but a dark aperture. Upon closer inspection, I saw rungs descending down a wall into an interior crypt. I climbed down.
            The room was good-sized, but appeared a little smaller than it was due to the numerous boxes and crates stacked along the walls. The toxic worm fermenting in my skull’s slush wriggled. This, I surmised, must have been a bomb shelter. Private, but big enough to hold a sizeable portion of the community at the time it was built. The owner of the house, probably tired of the proximity to the graveyard and its advancing needs, must have sold his property to the city.
            So now the shelter is under that slab, possibly completely forgotten. But no matter. Because it’s all mine now. Everything in it. And that’s just for starters. Compensatory damages from Randall Manson and his dead family are going to be extremely stiff....

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