Monday, February 4, 2019

The Sun and the Mountain


Nobody expected such a drastic change in the appearance of the sun. It was abrupt to say the least. It came out of nowhere. Surprisingly, the people of the earth were pretty blasé about it. One might have expected global panic, riots, wars and a resurgence of childhood insecurities. But no, that was not the case. What little panic surfaced was isolated and mild.

     The sun was swollen at first. It burned and ballooned. Big time. It looked set to burst like a big warm pimple. It had also turned a sickly new color. It looked like a rotten egg-yolk suspended in the sky. Most people thought the change was ugly, like something from the disco era. It was not a sun you’d want to bathe under or worship. It was in bad taste.

     Some people said the sun was sick. That it had some kind of celestial flu. Nobody could remember a past occurrence of the phenomenon. There was nothing in the historical record. This was a brand-new, baffling situation. Some people were squeamish about the new “sick” sun. They feared its rays. Scientists came up with nonsensical theories to explain the change but they were met with derision and/or incomprehension. Nobody knew what was happening. A slow-boiling dread began to percolate around the world.  People suddenly wished they’d built bomb shelters. Those that DID have bomb shelters hid like moles, gloating over their cans of Dinty Moore and packages of ramen.
     Some curious people stared at the sun which was something you’re not supposed to do. Anyone will tell you that. But the sun had turned mild. It didn’t hurt your eyes anymore, which was good because lots of people kept looking at it. It was irresistible.  
     The strange, diseased sun wasn’t putting out much warmth that late January day when Jacob Pike, after years of drunken bar-talk finally gathered up his courage and disappeared. Unhooked himself from the grid and escaped to the mountains. He gave most of his belongings to Goodwill. Now everything he owned was strapped to his back. Why he decided to make his move in the middle of winter was something that only Jacob could explain. And he wasn’t talking. Everyone in the Geronimo Pub thought Jacob Pike was really strange. He was not ill-tempered, he was not dangerous. He was just. Strange. And a little sad. But he was not stupid either and could philosophize with the best minds the Geronimo Pub had to offer (we’re not talking Mensa here; the regulars were not the most educated or erudite of barflies).
     Sam Willoughby puffed on an empty pipe he’d carved from an oak knot and said, “Jacob won’t last one night. Those mountains are fucking cold, man. And he’s gonna live in a tent? No way. He’s dead.”
     Kimberly was working behind the bar. She said, “Jacob knows what he’s doing. He’s been cramming survival techniques for months and he bought a bunch of gear. He’s prepared. Like a boy scout.”
     “Or Ted Kaczynski,” said Tom, just back from the men’s room.
     “Nah nah,” said Sam. “He’s probably frozen stiff already. Animals will eat him when he thaws out in the spring. You mark my words. Oh and gimme another beer willya Kimmy....” 
     Kimberly slid Sam another Bud draft. “Don’t underestimate Jacob Pike, Sam. He’s tough.”
     “What the hell are you talking about? The guy’s soft as a marshmallow. In more ways than one. He’s 47 years old and he’s gonna trudge through twenty miles of deep snow and climb a mountain? And then live there? Face it; Jacob Pike has a death wish. He’ll get a mile through the snow and his heart will explode. Mark my words.”
     The door flew open and Dave and Yuko came in out of the cold where they’d been smoking cigarettes. They returned to their seats at the bar. Kimberly slid them each a fresh rum and coke.
     “That weird sun is really starting to freak me out,” said Yuko.
     “IT’S ARMAGEDDON!!” said Dave in a deep, menacing voice. Then he broke into choppy laughter. It was a show of bravado but everyone knew he was worried about the situation too.
     “I’m being serious,” said Yuko. “What if it collapses and sucks the earth into a black hole?”
     “So what if it did?” said Sam.
     “If that happens, everything on earth would turn into spaghetti.”
     They all pondered this for several long moments.
     Kimberly leaned on the bar and asked Yuko and Dave if they’d heard about Jacob Pike taking off into the wilderness.
     “You’re kidding,” said Yuko.
     “I think maybe he’s smart to get the fuck outta Dodge with that wonky sun hanging over our heads. We might all be doomed,” said Kimberly.
     “No,” said Sam. “Jacob’s been planning this for years. The weird sun has nothing to do with it.”
     “Besides,” said Dave. “If the sun explodes or fizzles out or whatever, there’s no place on earth to hide. Jacob would be just as doomed as we are.”
     Yuko said, “Will you please stop saying we’re all doomed. It’s probably nothing. The sun is fluctuating, that’s all. Maybe it’s going through something. Like a growth spurt.”
     “It’s never spurted before,” said Dave.
     “How do you know? Maybe it’s something that happens once every million years or something...”
     Big Joel came into the bar. “The sun is melting,” he announced.
     ‘What?” said Dave. “That’s impossible.”
     “Go and look for yourself if you don’t believe me,” said Big Joel, shambling to the bar. Everyone but Big Joel went outside
     The sun in fact did seem to be melting.
     “Oh shit what the fuck,” said Dave.
     The sun had changed color again. It had turned deep ochre, almost brown, giving everything a dusky, granular quality.
     And it was dripping. The fiery drips were as large as planets and slid away from the sun in tear-shaped rivulets. It looked like the sun was crying.
     “This is some scary shit,” said Yuko. “I’m going back inside where it’s safe and sane.”
       Once everyone was settled back at the bar, Yuko said, “Is there something we should be doing? Turn on the TV. We need information.”
     Kimberly turned the TV on but it emitted nothing but static. She flipped through the channels. None of them worked.
     “I bet the bad reception has something to do with the fucked-up sun,” said Big Joel. “Interference caused by cosmic rays. The universe is going haywire.”
     Sam pretended to puff his pipe and said, “Did you hear about Jacob Pike?”
     Big Joel said, “No. What kinda stupid shit he get into this time?”
     “He’s a survivalist now. He moved to the mountains to live in a tent in the woods.”
     “No shit.”
     “Swear to god.”
     “Maybe he’s smart. Hiding from the fucked-up sun.”
     Sam repeated, “No, he was planning this for a long time. The two have nothing to do with each other.”
     Sam said, “Maybe he deciphered some kind of old Nostradamus prediction. Maybe he knew this would happen. Of course, I don’t know how living on a mountain helps the situation...”
     “Who knows...” said Yuko. “I’m tired of speculation. If the sun’s going to destroy us I wish it would get on with it.”
     “That’s my girl,” said Dave and he gave her a quick, one-armed hug.
     She laughed and said, “I’m serious. This waiting around sucks.”
    “I wonder if it’s affecting other shit. I bet the tides are acting crazy too,” said Dave.
     “I think the tides are a moon thing, honey, not a sun thing.”
     “So? It’s gotta be affecting the moon too. And don't call me honey..."
     “Dave’s right. This shit is gonna disrupt the entire Milky Way galaxy. If the sun melts away all the planets turn to ice. Darkness and ice forever and ever,” said Big Joel.
     Dave snickered and said, “And on that note I believe I’ll have a shot of bourbon. Make it a double. Thanks Kim.”
     “Yeah,” said Big Joel. “Let’s get fucked up. We’ll toast the end of the world! Every species on earth will soon be extinct. Even Homo sapiens will perish and I say good riddance.”
     “Hear hear,” said Sam. “I’ll take one of those shots when you have a second, Kim.”
     Kimberly poured a shot for Sam and one for herself.

Meanwhile, Jacob Pike stood at the base of Mount Winthrop and looked up at the brown, sweating sun. Fear was a clenched fist in his chest. He would die on this mountain. He was born to die on a mountain.  He already missed the gang at Geronimo’s Pub but his mission was too important to let sentimentality distract him. He’d show those guys. He decided to make base camp and climb the mountain in the morning.
     The sun continued to shed giant droplets of fire. It was shrinking and brown. It was only a matter of time before it was completely extinguished, bringing a new Dark Age to the planet. Jacob would gleefully dance on the icy grave of humanity.
     He started to set up his tent and then realized he hadn’t packed any food. How could he have been so stupid?
     Some survivalist he turned out to be. Jesus. He folded up the tent and started back the way he’d come, away from the mountain.
     The sun continued to melt until it looked like a tarnished dime in the sky.    
    And the clientele of the Geronimo Pub drank with desperation, Trying to dissolve the fear and nervous dread they felt.
     Kimberly suddenly decided that all the alcohol was now free.
     ‘All drinks are on the house due to, you know, the apocalypse and all.”
     The sun shrank to about the size of the moon. Earth was darkeng, growing cold.

     Jacob was not afraid. Everyone was doomed. He sat in the deep soft snow, lifted a pint of Peach Schnapps and toasted the wobbling sky. The End of the EARTH. And all Jacob thought was; It’s about fucking time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Sheila had one too many at last night's celebration
I wrote a story about Old Hollywood in all dialogue. You can read it HERE!


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Excerpt from Cocktails & Cancer

This was not the life I’d planned for. I wanted something in beige.

Time tumbled on and I made it home after an agonizingly long visit to Walgreens for Percocet. The excruciating white spotlight of the drugstore scrambled my head even worse than usual; I had to appear normal again but it was hard. I was among them. As I self-consciously scanned my way through the bright aisles (monstrous, fluorescent shimmers) the products on the shelves made less and less sense. Feathers and Claws. Boxes of brown LARD. Products, products. A blood-spitting blowhole locked next to a fortress of Q-Tips. An old woman stood hunched like a vulture in the candy aisle, brooding over the sugarless chocolate. She was surrounded by a moving aura of thin, colorless filaments and I watched the spikes of no-color as they radiated around her. I felt like saying something. I felt like screaming at her. Warning her. She turned and noticed me noticing her and I quickly averted my gaze. I don’t need this. I made my way down the aisle to the pharmacy. I could barely stand in line and wished for the relief of a collapse. A seizure would be nice. I was standing with a stoop due to the pain of the staples and the cumbersome dressing on my balls (ball, I reminded myself—singular now). I was walking like Groucho Marx without the humor.  Do people still say egad? There was one person (?) ahead of me, a man with hands like eels. He glanced at me; his eyes pitted gray cinders in a crumpled paper face. Get me out of here, please. The man (?) was buying vials of ochre pus. I wanted to scream again. I wanted to scream a blood-curdling aboriginal screech of the universe exploding. The man paid for his pus with the smooth swipe of a card. That’s when I realized I had to pay too. How was I supposed to cope with the mystery of money? Did I have money? How much will it cost? I felt separated from myself. My hands were loaves of bread dough. How would I get them to work when I’m locked in the Sudden Singularity of the cash register? Fire at me with a hellish flare gun. Biblical questions dribbled from an old hole in my head and puddled on the floor behind me. I smelled orange juice. This was no good. Standing in line was an absurd rite. I felt a spiritual sickness, like black fluid spurting from an infected tooth. The guy (?) ahead of me winked something in code with his nictitating membranes. The sound they made went, snik snik snik...

     And then he was gone and it was my turn. I somehow maneuvered my way forward and placed the prescription (now a dried origami abstraction) on the counter. I felt like an intruder in a dead realm, a taste like muck in my mouth. The girl-thing behind the counter went, “Wuh wuh bluh wuh wuh bluh,” with a blubbery mouth and I nodded and think I answered, “Yes...”

     She raked her nails across the slip of paper with sharp, boundless horror. My mind was melting and the fear of fainting returned. I needed a sharp slap in the face. I needed a hard kick in the ass (for several reasons). It finally occurred to me to open my wallet. I handed the girl-thing (I think) my ID. She said something. I think I said something in return—a verbal volley of twaddle. The girl-thing turned and disappeared behind shelves of drugs. I wanted to (but didn’t) drool.

      She came back with a little white paper bag. “Wuh wuh bluh bluh...”


     She lowered the bag into the wrinkled jaws of a dead albino lizard. She handed me the lizard—now a big plastic bag—and I took it. I took it and I think I said, Thank you. And then I accidently looked into her shining face of reflections; convex, fish-eyed mirrors of myself; glistening, bone-marrow skulls leaking the bloody seepage of my personality all over the floor. All over the floor, splattering like hot gore on the cement deck of a slaughterhouse. I handed her the money and mumbled something and then pushed toward the doors, pushed myself outside where the cool air revived me a bit, bringing a measure of sanity to the tilt-a-whirl landscape.

     When I got home I crushed and snorted the Percocet. It paired well with the Ambien[1] that I sometimes swallow for insomnia (fake insomnia I invented for my doctor). I couldn’t stretch-out because of my new handicap, so I lay curled like a fetus on the couch, clouded eyes staring unfocused at the TV screen. The chemotherapy started next week. I had arranged for transportation after my fictional Aunt Roberta shot me down (she’s attending a nonexistent dog show in Topeka). The hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Center would provide a ride. Dana Farber is the cream of the crop (I hear) but I secretly hoped they wouldn’t be able to cure me. I wanted the cancer to snuff me out, like permanently, man. Y’dig?

     I dozed off watching a rerun of Hello Larry. I dreamed McLean Stevenson and I were performing Satanic rituals at the end of the world. I awoke at 3:00 a.m. and swallowed three more Percocet. Then three more. Then three Ambien. I chased everything with tepid beer. A serene, dead feeling overcame me. I was floating above a warm grave. I thought, Nothing is better than this. This was bliss the way it was intended. I tested my serenity by thinking about my cancer, I contemplated a horrible, lingering death. I saw black tumors secreting caustic lymph. Bald-headed leukemia kids screaming in pain. Bottomless despair. Needles and nausea and bad TV.

     But nothing fazed me. I had no fear. I still felt like a cloud with a sweet, gooey filling.

     I spent the next three days lost in a Percocet and Ambien haze. The thing about Ambien is that if you stay awake after it takes effect you will probably hallucinate (more than usual). You will trip balls (or in my case, ball).

     My memories of my post-op drug binge are fragmentary and vague. I napped a lot. Here are a few highlights I remember from those two wonderful days:
 1. Standing (or floating) in the kitchen eating sugar out of the sugar bowl with my calm hands while an aging invisible college professor lectured me about microeconomics, the sweet granules jittering on my tongue like crunchy white fleas. If I’d thought of it, I’d have snorted it.  
2.  Sitting in my living room in the bright light of day, surrounded by giant floating cells. Like big misshapen soap bubbles they were, with clearly visible organelles: mitochondria, vacuoles, ribosomes, Golgi apparatus, (and so on and so forth etcetera). They floated like friendly jellyfish before my astonished eyes and I could make them move like balloons by waving my hands in the air and blowing on them. I could see an incredible amount of detail in the strange, lucent organisms. It was as if a dream had gotten loose from my subconscious and hit the atmosphere in my apartment, semi-solidifying into soft, runny matter.

     The little floaters kept me occupied for hours. I WILL MISS THEM.

3. I woke up in the warm sun one morning and thought I was a baby. I wasn’t but I did wet the bed. I cried happy, grateful tears.

4. One dark, moist night I believed I was being swallowed by a giant black giraffe, its mild saliva slowly breaking down my cellular integrity, dissolving me to warm, unthinking fluid.

     Again, I wet the bed. Warm urine pleasure.

5. Overall, I had never felt so tranquil. So clean and peaceful despite the bladder spills. But all good pills must eventually end. My pleasure slowly dried to dust.

     Drugs, huh?

     And then I heard a blaring trumpet fanfare and it was chemotherapy time.

* * *

     I got picked up on a chilly, vaporous day by a supernatural girl named Wendy who drove a battered orange Miata. I had forced down a calming breakfast of Klondike Ice. I was buzzing into my chemo. Wendy had onyx eyes and spoke with a Maine accent. I immediately recognized her psychic abilities. She was as clear and sound as a bronze bell. Her car smelled of patchouli and factory-produced pine.

     “Well, hello there... Henry?” She was consulting a clipboard, moving her finger along the lines of information. I fastened my seatbelt and said, “Yes.”

     She drew a checkmark with a nub of pencil and put down the clipboard.

     “So, yuh got the cancer, do yuh?” she said. “That sucks.” She jerked the car into DRIVE and we were off.

     “It’s no big deal,” I told her.

     “What kinda cancer yuh got?”

     “Ball cancer.”

     “In your tentacles, huh?”

     “My testicles. Yeah.” I gazed out the window, watching things in my life blur by.

     “Yeah, that really blows for yuh, huh?”

     I ignored her, looking out the window.

     After realizing that small talk with me was impossible, she began to whistle. She didn’t whistle a tune; it was more like one long birdcall. It lasted for ten miles. I walked around in my head. Around and around. An endless loop. The private pornography of my SELF.

     “I’m starved,” said Wendy. “Skipped breakfast this morning.”

     No comment.

     “After I drop you off I’m, like totally going to McDonald’s for chicken McNuggets.“ She turned to look at me and I felt the familiar sting of fear. I felt icewater in my bowels. “Do you like chicken McNuggets Henry?”

     I felt stunned as I replied, “They’re okay I guess.”

     “Damn straight.”

     And then finally, we reached the hospital. My new home away from home. I told the driver (magical Wendy) “Thanks a lot,” and started to disembark the car.

     “No problem. Hey, good luck in there. I’ll send positive vibes your way.”

     “Okay. Thanks again.”

     I walked toward the building fighting the urge to look back at the Miata. I imagined the car vanishing like rising fog. Magical Wendy’s Miata ascending into outer space to pick up a cancer patient on another planet. Making small talk with Ptoth-23 from the Andromeda galaxy...

      A glass door slid open for me. I was in.

[1] Have I not mentioned the Ambien before?