Short Fiction

A Ride

There is a pause in my head for a moment, and suddenly I am no longer on a drug. By this point my understanding of the situation, and the resulting anxiety has congealed, and is just another part of my personality. As a result, this rush of reality is not appreciated, adding nothing in the way of perspective. I am still a white kid, lost in Camden on a bicycle, two tabs deep into some remarkably strong LSD. I begin dealing with my current predicament by finding some relief in some choice ELO lyrics, and it occurs to me that the acid must have kicked back in. The phone in my pocket contains lists of people who would drop what they were doing to come rescue me, but it is dead.

Fuel cells. Aquarium. Sweat.

Every street corner brings new spectacle to deal with. The people I see are my peers, but there is definitely some vague stereotyping jammed up in my brain that I haven’t been able to get at. I apologize to them under my breath as I pedal faster to quickly leave them behind. They look like actors that have been cast to be inner city thugs. I feel bad for thinking that, swallow, and take a left, as there are slightly more traffic lights in that direction.

White newscaster. Running fire hydrant. Menthol.

Who put these things in my head? Is that guy actually staring at me? Yes. Wait…no. Is it legal to ride on the sidewalks with a bicycle in this city? The sun has been setting since I got here. Was I even safe in the light? Who would I ask this question to? I don’t want to offend anyone. I should come back here when sober.

Riverline ticket. Smeared ink. Thumb print.

I see an overpass, and what  looks like the Delaware River just beyond it. I let loose a shout of joy, and look around nervously for someone who noticed. In a flash this whole thing turns from an affair of confused terror to a funny story I can tell everyone later. Relief drains from my shoulders into my pockets, and for the first time in my life, I am content with leaking.

Black shoes. Yellow stripe. Gun. Badge. Hat. Sneer. Aviators….no mustache..

I squeeze hard on the brakes, place my foot on the curb, and stare, head down, at the street. I think that cop saw my eyes. The whole city is suddenly quiet as a snow covered suburb. I am left impotent, I stare at a used condom that looks empty, and wait. The realization that the stance I have adopted is wrong hits me, and I look around for somewhere else to be. To my left, the opposite direction of the cop, I notice an alley that isn’t fenced off. I swing my leg over the frame, and begin calmly walking the bicycle into the dingy passage.

Brick. Dumpster. Cat clues.

The walls of the buildings that are now hiding me from trouble stretch out into the distance, and it seems as though they slope inward, constricting the space available to me and my bicycle. I move the bicycle out further in front so we might be single file. This hinders my movement, and ultimately proves to be pointless as I come to the other end, and leave the alley without issue. There I find that darkness arrived while I was in there. I remember to turn right onto the cracked sidewalk, and then congratulate myself on remembering that. Suddenly there is a homeless man engaged with me, but I have missed the introduction and pleasantries. I am confident that he is speaking my language, but have no actual evidence to support this claim. On trained impulse, I ask him politely to repeat himself. It seems that he has seen my skin color as an indication that I will have extra money that could be given to him. I realize that he is probably right. I already have my train ticket home, and there is still some money in my wallet. And even if there wasn’t, I could give this guy all my money, and probably still bounce back by the end of the month. There is also my savings. I could just give it to him. Then I remember that he might spend that money on drugs, and that sometimes matters to some people. But I am on a drug. Would he want some of what I’m on? Is it appropriate to offer this man drugs? Would that offend him? We’ve now been staring at each other for a minute and thirty eight seconds.

Holes. Callus. Newspaper.

I begin to explain a few things to this man, when I hear a police siren in the distance. The panic plumes out of my soul and through my eyes, terrifying him. I see his face contort and I’m off. Pedaling as fast as I can past him, I turn briefly to scream “I AM SO SORRY!” as I tear towards the river. The other denizens I pass are a blur, but I am sure I am offending them somehow.

Spokes. Concrete. Jetsam.

The river smells bad enough to make me disappointed even as I beam at it for being my savior. My fetid point of reference. The lights of Philly ripple in the currents of the river as I lean my face against the chain link fence wrapping up Route 30. The traffic behind me roars and cascades in stereo from right ear to left. An ambulance jolts me from my trance. I mount up, and head for a slightly safer part of New Jersey forgetting my intentions to find the train.

A Rant About H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft for me is what happens when a misanthropist is never checked by friends or loved ones. Some of us identified with the Comedian in Watchmen, or the goat in Animal Farm, and cherry-picked passages of Nietzsche at some point in our teens. Eventually, the best among us have more than one orgasm, or find the right recreational drug, and we’re off to a more structured existence. Maybe Lovecraft never moved on. I don’t imagine I would be friends with dear Howard if he were alive. I am blessed by having his work without having to deal with what was obviously a dreary, and unforgiving man.

This idea of him that I got from his work, and the various biographies about him is part of his allure. He helps me to not become him. I have thoughts all the time that I realize he had years ago, when I read something new by him.  Instead on dwelling on these often negative thoughts, I seek their positive counter, and try to find the middle. He was not afraid to, or not able to move past these thoughts, and instead turned them over and over in his head, until they collected like string wrapping around a vacuums rotating brush.

He is what would have happened to me if I spent as much time working on my writing as I do with friends, and actively trying to engage strangers. It’s interesting that he is constantly quoted ragging on his saving grace to human civilization, his art. Without his writing, he’s just another jerk we never read about. But as it stands, he creates moods and moments that have many times blanketed me with despair. Having launched this distress from roughly ninety years in the past gives him the pleasure of being the closest thing to a specter I will ever actually encounter. If he was in fact the cause of his own melancholy as it seems, then it is humorous to me that the most horrifying monster he created in his career was himself.

But speaking of his monsters, I wish they would stop reimagining his work. Howard is effective because of the way he crafts his stories. Many criticize him for using the “unknowable” aspects of his monsters as a lazy crutch. But to me that is what makes him such an effective horror writer. By giving us the color of the wolfman’s teeth, and the length of the [adjective] claws, other authors paint themselves into a box. Their monsters have physical limitations. They’re, for better or for worse, part of our world. It’s why sharks have always been more terrifying to me than mountain lions. As easy a piece of prey I would be for a mountain lion, I fear them less because I am at least on my home field when I die. Lovecraft doesn’t give us hope in his stories, and his monsters are abstract by definition. So when I hear that there is a comic book, or a movie, or a t-shirt being made based on his work, I immediately become dismissive. I of course understand that his world exists in the written word because that was his medium, but it also feels appropriate that we as humans should leave it there. By trying to interpret that into a visible depiction, it immediately weakens the initial concept. If you were to show me an actual photograph of Cthulhu, I would be less afraid than I ought be, and probably less afraid than I am right now. There’s a reason that those who actually see R’lyeh go insane. It’s almost as though his creatures show up on a different wavelength of light than what we can perceive, or indeed understand. It is because of that, that I get more than a little grump in my puss when I hear announcements of a new film on its way, and foresee THE GREAT OLD ONES on a collectible 20oz Slurpee cup tumbling through a parking lot.

Lovecraft will always be a friend from the past. Like a kid in my graduating class that I don’t talk to anymore, but see monotonously buying more diapers and lottery tickets. The unwitting lesson of H.P. is that we should be mindful that the thoughts in our heads are not in every head.

Yoink!

Many years ago while walking through a suburban neighborhood I noticed a white styrofoam plate holding a single pancake on the sidewalk in front of me. A cursory glance at my surroundings confirmed that I was completely alone with this found object. The streets were deserted. Its placement on the sidewalk was in between two houses in that indistinct perimeter that disappears when the two households mow their lawns with the same regularity.

I crouched down, and lifted the plate even with my eye level. Steam could be seen rising from the abandoned cake, and there was no discernible blemishes or flaws. Save for the fact that it was not covered in syrup.

I placed the plate back onto the ground, and again assessed my surroundings. At the time there was a window of under two hours when all the children are home from school, but most of the parents are not back from work. Before modern phones and tablets, this meant that the neighborhoods in my area were empty, as the kids could have uninterrupted television access before someone more mature arrived and kicked them out, or changed the channel. For the time being, the pancake and I were alone.

I stood in the same spot, alternately looking down at the pancake, and then further down in the direction of my friend’s house. A friend who was probably wondering where I was by now. And while I am not sure if I even was waiting for someone to come along with  answers, I do know that I eventually gave up on them. I bent down, slid four fingers underneath the pancake, and pinching it with my thumb brought it up for one large bite.

It was a bland pre-formed pancake, the kind you keep in the freezer. They come in packs of three, and you have to microwave them to bring them to life. But in the slowly lowering temperatures of the season, this piping hot pancake was a nabbed treat.

To whomever lost a pancake on that day, I would just like to say that I am sorry for not simply taking half. I owe you one.