Speculative Fiction: Beauty in Wasteland

I quickly adjust my hair, frayed at the edges, fiery red at the tips, and carefully pull it into a pony tail before I tuck it back into my mask.  I glance at myself into the mirror as I secure my head gear as tightly as I could.  Through a hard plastic green faceplate my eyes stare back at me.  The crystalline oval faceplate that I had painted a slight aqua hue was fraying at the edges.  I hear my sudden inhale rush through the breathing tube that extends past where my chin should be.

I wanted a new gasmask.  It hadn’t turned orange yet.  This was the color that warns of imminent mask failure.  I was tired of this opaque one that I had sported for at least a few months now, although I suppose I had a few more months to go.  I wander out to the streets maybe in search for one.  Maybe.

I continued down the boulevard, noting the asymmetric roads that seemed to give in to the asymmetric buildings.  The properties did not populate the blocks in predictable ways, at least not in Zone 2.  Zone 1 still resembled the city back in the heyday.  Now Zone 3 was the forbidden zone that all of the kids liked to frequent or pretend they did.  My friend julia, with a lower case j, tells me that she had gone into Zone 3 to have her hair done.  She came back with a head of shockingly red, but gorgeous, hair.  Of course, her hair has fallen out completely since the trip, which was to be expected when you expose your hair to the toxic wasteland the Municipality labels Zone 3.  She says while she’s growing her hair back, she wants to see if she can get a toxic tattoo.  I am skeptical that is even possible.  That crazy julia.

I grow thirsty as I continue along the next avenue.  It’s an uphill climb.  Up ahead, Cafe^2, “the coffee shop that does not kid around,” catches my eye.  I also get a whiff of the roasted coffee smells, a science that is a highly guarded secret since because just about everything is filtered through the gasmask.  Then I remember I was supposed to meet Roberto for some Chai today at this spot, just as we had agreed to a week ago.  Roberto was the perpetual foreign exchange student even though he had spent most of his life in the Municipality.  He always missed his motherland and reverted to his Mother Tongue when he grew melancholy.  Roberto greeted me at the door, warmly, with his gloved hand ready around my shoulder. 

“Ah Marla, you finally come out with me,” he says to me, hugging me, though the layers of physical protection we are both sporting makes this act purely a gesture, “I’ve been always asking you out and now you finally agree.  This will be a great day.”

“Well, I do feel badly about never having any time to really get to know you.  We’re constantly seeing each other in the halls of the Station, always passing by, but never really stopping and getting really introduced.”  I really did want to get to meet this Roberto, who was always seemed so kind, in passing.  Inwards, I think, julia is going to freak when she hears this.

Roberto places his dark, gloved hand on my gloved hand.  I struggle to feel something, something fanciful, or a slight sense of elation, but I couldn’t help but notice the heavy layers of environmental protection between us.  “What would you say if I told you that, that, I am attracted to you?”

I am surprised, confused, in disbelief, and I struggle a response.  He continues, however, “Would you marry me?”

“What?” my reply seemed entirely inadequate.  I feel almost frightened by this sudden proposition that appeared from nowhere.  As much as I have fantasized about eloping, marriage, and sudden eloping marriages to Mr. Perfect that drops out of the sky, I had no intention of living the life of my dreams.  What would I dream of, then?

I pull my hand away and he mirrors a retreat seeming to notice my discomfort.  The table, discolored in an amalgam of orange and green, remembered where our hands had met by an amorphous dark green blot.  I notice that the edges of the table were slowly disintegrating, rotting in the open air. 

“This question was completely as friends, you know, of course,” he smiled at me.

“Of course,” I smiled back, relieved.

“Do you remember the time when everything in the world did not decompose before our eyes?” Roberto attempted to divert my reverie, “I remember when I was a child, I used to accompany my Father to the sea in just a small dinghy.  It was a funny time, you know?  Even then, the toxicity of the seas were eating away at our small boat.  We were always bailing out the seawater, always sinking, and I was too young to to know not to touch the water.  But my Father, he kept going in, insisting that we would catch this fish just as he has for the past decade.”

“You swam?  In the sea?”  I was afraid to have placed too much emphasis on swimming.  I did not want Roberto to get any ideas.

“I was too young to realize then how dangerous that was,” Roberto seemed suddenly saddened, less forthcoming, and he reluctantly added, “I have these deep, deep scars on my arms, on my legs, on my chest.  It was a difficult time and I have never been able to forgive my Father.”

“He couldn’t have known it either.”

“Yes,” Roberto paused, and more emotion tinged his voice, “People always say to me, ‘Oh your father was a great man.’  I have never seen this great man they speak of.”

We left the cafe when the sky had dimmed to gray.  Neither of us could remember the time when the world did not wither away before our eyes.

“Are you doing okay?  Are you cold?”  Roberto asked gallantly, “You know, you only need to ask.  I would do anything for you.”

What an antiquated, no, strange thing to ask when we were both wrapped in the most durable and protective bubble known to man.  These fashionable hazard suits of youth could withstand bullets, fire, storms, and several metric tonnes of crushing weight, but one flaw remained: the human element.  Anyone could release themselves into the wild world where all sorts of dangers lurked, prowling for these naive sorts, ready to pounce them to death.  I’ve heard this anecdote uttered, rewind, and replayed on my mother’s lips.  I then notice that his haz suit was a little too old and a little big.

Just north of the Station is the tattered remains of a single-man footbridge, with the occasional hand rail, named Bessie, just a few feet above the waters.  It rests on giant pillars, corroding blue and yellow at edges where the sea silently lapped away.  This bridge serves as the primary link from Zone 2 to Zone 3.  Aboard Bessie, I notice three silhouettes teetering along the bridge from the window of the Station.  Bessie seemed hardly suitable for a single crossing, and seemed she may at any moment succumb to the chemical bath slowly eating away at her support beams.

I join them, moving across Bessie, taking note of the letters ‘ORION’ brazenly etched across a rail.  A small gathering formed around julia.  At first glance, we stood uniformed, donning black hazard suits, differing only in faceplate designs, like civic soldiers encircling a thing of inexplicable wonder, a goddess herself.  And we stood in awe, worshipping her in her ravishing naked beauty.  She seemed more agile, more true, more human than any of us, all the while cloaked the necessary heavy suit of armor. 

Noticing that I had joined her little tribal gathering, she came to me, wide eyed and cheery, like a freshly opened package of potpourri. 

“Marla! I’ve been waiting for you!  I want to show you something.” She had a head of short curls, brown doe eyes, a warm sweet smile, like a cherub.

Almost as if I had just been entranced, I suddenly realized that she had removed her gasmask and was slowly extricat
ing herself from her hazard suit.  I yell out and move to stop her.

She stops me with a look.  She gestures at the other members of our private gathering, which had grown in numbers since I had arrived.  One by one, each of them were following suit, emerging as newborn men, women, teenagers, and children. 

“Oh, god, why?” I moan and take a step back.

But julia, she grabbed my gloved hand, and, in a surreal moment played in slow motion, pulled off my gasmask.  In a panic, I utter a shriek, but then stop myself to hold my breath, reaching, grabbing wildly for my mask.  She laughed at me and tossed the mask behind her, into the sea.  Tears are foaming at my eyes, the air burned my face, and my heart was jumping out of my chest.  My face throbbed and burned, until julia reached out and held my face with her naked, human hands.  All the world seemed to stop. All that was true and real in the world was here and now with her hands cradling my face.

“Breathe,” she commanded me, fiercely, looking like a glowing figure through my blurry eyes.

I could not fight my instinct, my force of habit, that I had learned since before I could even remember.  All I could do was cry, shudder, shake my head, and suffocate in my own carbon dioxide.

“Breathe!” She yelled, “You were born to breath on your own.”

Suddenly her lips were on mine, forcing a rush of air into my lungs.  I felt her lips for only a second.  My mind had elapsed into a state of shock from the mixture of odious gases.  I was gasping, reeling backwards, clutching at my burning, thumping chest.  But in a moment of realization, I was reminded by her words.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe!  I could finally see clearly again and I saw julia smiling at me now like the sun through the mist.  Fractal shaped scars were growing on her cheeks, crawling over her neck, extending and circling her temples.  I watched her atrophy with a mixture of fear and morbid curiosity.  I look down and notice curious patterns etching into my palms.  Those who were among the first to join our experiment were convulsing in vivid patterns on the ground. 

“I love you, Marla,” she told me as she joined the mass of human art.

This was the last memory I had of julia.

She was dead, at least, that was the simplest way of putting it.  She was always with me, always lingering in the recesses of my mind, serendipitously reminding me of a memory I longed to forget.  Every time I thought of her, incredible sadness gripped me.

I woke this morning in the Medic Center.  I woke doubting if she ever really existed or whether I had imagined her completely. 

“Good morning, Miss Marla,” the Medic spoke in a soft alto, “We are all very surprised that you were even able to wake up again.”

I gazed at the medic through the large window that separated us.  I was stuffed into one of those large medical tubes suspended in some sort of medical gel.  The proper terms just weren’t popping into my groggy brain.  All I could do was stare back at her, silently, through the prison of the gel.

“We are putting you under observation, Marla,” she said looking over some of her notes, appearing rather busy, “You have to understand that you’ll be in the tubes indefinitely until we are clear about your involvement in the murder of fifty citizens in Zone 3.”

I struggled in the gel that only seemed to tire me out the more I moved.  I felt myself nodding off.

“Marla? Marla. Marla!”

I saw Roberto through the prism of the gel and his facemask.  Roberto placed his hand on the wall separating us and shook his head.  “I am calling off the marriage.  I need time to think, you know, about us and the future.  I’m just not sure what’s going to happen, you know?”

I was irked every time he inserted ‘you know’ into his speech.  I wished more than anything to speak and dispel the surreal circus that seemed to corner me at every turn.  As much as I felt Roberto was insane, I also wanted him to help me.  In my mind I was banging on the window, begging for release, but in utter frustration, I only watched him walking away and felt myself losing in to drowsiness.

I can not be sure how much time had passed.  I was not entirely convinced that I was at the Medic Center anymore, seeing that I had only seen one Medic thus far.  Maybe they had placed me at the Station for my supposed crimes.  Then I saw my mother.  She was crying.  It seemed as if my memories of my mother were only punctuated by brief moments when she was smiling and happy.

“Marla,” she said between tears, “What have you done?  Why did you do it?  You break my heart.  You know we believe in you.”

Then release me!  Do something!  I was screaming in my mind.  All were words, words, words but never action.  If I hear any more words, I would kill myself.  I was threatening, in vain, in my thoughts, with words!  I struggled again, but maybe it had been a while since I had used my body, and I ached all over.  Endorphins rushed to my brain and I relaxed.

Mother had deserted me just as all the others had.  Now when I woke, no one greeted me.  Sitting, no, floating in thin film, I was illuminated in a dim blue light like some curious museum spectacle.  My mind grew bolder, time passed, and I realized that the small lapses of wakefulness began to turn into small lapses of drowsiness.  Really there was no reason to sleep at all because I was never truly tired.  The world must have forgotten my existence, which curiously came as a welcome thought.  Perhaps this forgetfulness could turn into carelessness and then my release.

Poem: When it Rains

Rain drops: small and sublime are sliding, tapping on my shoulder, bouncing with irregular rhthyms–a parade in the streets–marching, beating, like the step, step, and swing of the legs to the rag-tag big band blues, marked by its siren singster.  A Wetness chills to the bone, accompanied by each sharp stringed cry, in its quietude, mysterious yet symmetric, and synchronized to the ocho–stomp, stomp, and swing of the legs–and cresendo, repeat.

Fiction: Buddha Bar

I love the feeling of ecstasy.  I craved it, that cozy feeling that overpowers the senses, that feeling of losing myself forever, as it was the only feeling that wards off the feeling of the blackness, the void, ever-constant tedium of living and living and living.  That was all I ever felt anymore, the gray feeling of living, not the vibrancies of emotions, or the livid shades of rage.  Living was such a lie, I scoffed to myself, forgetting I had just thought that minutes ago.  Nothing about life seemed real, not the feelings of emotional anguish, not even the ecstasy was real, but I made sure I forgot that last detail.  I made sure of it with a heavy helping of Buddha Bar brand Ubiquitous cradled in one shaking hand; a fierce feeling of resolution flooded my dull, inert brain, and I felt ready to emerge into the world fully conscious. 

I could still taste the sweet, succulent air, mint and eucalyptus flavored on Wednesdays.  My heart beat pulsed to the music of Egyptian cymbals, arid Moroccan beats, tum tum hollow drums, amid an upward windy drift that swirled sand amidst the throbbing, moving, harmony of human form.  Flesh-like dancers, twirling, swirling dervishes, faster in a whirlwind of debris, soon became Golems that danced and atrophied to sand.  Sand, which seemed to linger underneath my nails, as I reached for another spoonful of frozen Buddha Bar brand Ubiquitous.  Sand, the infinitely fine, infinitesimal stream of particles, once frozen, flowed once more like an undulating stream of a non-Newtonian river. 

“Be mindful of the streams of consciousness,” my critics seemed to say to me from the papers all in tatters on the coffee table.  “Fear not the undercurrents and the drifts and the transcendent path,” the walls seemed to lean in and whisper in my ears.  I push them all away to slurp on my drink in peace.  I gazed at the wall now.  How profound a wall.  I touched it slowly with my left pinky, marveled at the silk linings, felt astounded that I was touching the fabric of time.  Time seemed to stretch, looping round and around like a scarf, but stopped before reaching the legs.  It is now ten years ago above my neck and five minutes later in my calves.

I could not lift my head now.  I sat, slumped in the corner, hair partly braided, eyes wide open, and my face lined with sloppy red lipstick.  I wore a tattered white wedding dress that was ripped at the seams.  I was a broken marriage today.

“Where are we going?” A child asked, her hand resisting the larger hand that gripped hers.

“Be quiet, Athena, please don’t make a fuss,” was the reply.

She pointed at me, ready to burst into tears, yet adamant, “I must have my Princess Cleopatra!”

So we took off, Athena and I, by foot, in the fading heat, into the crimson setting sun.  She cradled me, and she sang to me as we made our way to Tel Aviv:

Oh, that red, red sky. 
Fly into the lines of light. 
Ever did you see the sky so bright?

Fiction: In Space No One Can Hear You Romance

Who am I?  What am I even doing here?  These thoughts flickered in my mind as if I had been brought back to life, awakened, or born.  In the mildly fluorescent lighting, a young, pleasant-looking man sat before me, looking at me across the table, as if to speak.  He had kind eyes, a soft chin, and broad jaws.  One could trust this face, a trust that can only be explained by the the subtle genetic memories of a primal past.  But what was trust anyway?  Was any of this real?  I had my doubts, but maybe it was the lighting.  We sat in a mutual yet comfortable silence, but we were surrounded on all sides by the warm din of idle chatter, Korean soap opera, chimes of plates and dinner-ware around us.  Briefly, I felt at home, alive, in touch with my surroundings.  The waitress appeared at the table beside us, but she seemed engaged by the customers. 

“Do you want to sit up there?” The man motioned with a lift of the chin.  I turned around, following his gesture, to the small, empty balcony above us. 

“Why?” I smiled at him in appreciation of his romantic gesture, but inwardly the void, a quixotic, impossible lack of feeling pulled my mind back to introspection, that endless searching and analysis.  Could the folds of awareness possibly implode and collapse upon itself from the sheer weight of social imbecility?

“Well, wouldn’t you like it better if we weren’t in the middle of all this noise,” he spoke softly in contrast to the stock, burly man, almost pleadingly to be away from the crowd.

I considered, still lost in my own thoughts, wondering why time came to a crashing halt whenever the mind drifted back to consciousness.  How oddly restricting it was to be a presence, to perform idle chatter, simpler yet, to be a companion.  The words, a companion, reverberated in my mind.  I could feel a pressure on my frontal lobes; a tightening noose of time stretching in both directions, leaving me standing precariously on a physical plane.  How am I to know I am even alive, that I exist, that I have registered with this moment in time?, I wondered, seeing my robotic self from a third perspective.  Briefly lucid, I responded cheerily, as if on auto-pilot, like a space cadet already checking out of this dimensional plane, “I like it here.  It’s in the middle of everything.  Right in the middle of it all.  It’s like being alive.”

“I should very much like to be a robot,” I told him.

He appeared surprised, mainly from not expecting such line of thought. He spoke from his heart, “That is just so unnatural!  I believe that man would not know what he is missing.  He would not know the feel of things and experience joy.”

I could understand him, see his perspective, while all at once feel the utter alienation of two worlds.  I continued, “I believe it would be along the line of evolution to become one with technology, and if evolution deems it then so be it.” 

It would be so exhilarating to become intimate with all knowledge.  No age, no disease, no death.  There would only be thought and from thought everything would be.  Maybe this is the step towards deification that the Bible warned of.

“I would miss being out in the sun, the fresh air, working with my hands,” he delivered his argument, “I would not feel the texture of wood and smell the wood shavings when I make carving.  It just would not be the same.  It would not be right.”

He was a simple, uneducated man with simple wants.  Even with such a mild manners, his words, unfettered with ambition or avarice, spoke more of the core of who he was and who man naturally should be.  From that brief lucent moment, I loved him deeply with a love that would last for a thousand years. 

He broke his chopsticks in half.  They broke unevenly, which prompted him to look at me with significance.  Following suit, I broke mine in half, and it split perfectly in the middle.  I looked at him and smiled, triumphant that I had introduced something that the uneven chopsticks omen could not explain.  He seemed relieved, interpreting something I could not guess.  In passing these few moments, five hundred years passed.  How oddly time does fly.

“They were having an argument,” he stated grimly about the customers sitting to my right.  I nodded, simulating empathy, and looked past him to the gloomy outside world.  Drizzle had turned to a significant rain.  Even though there was no anxiety and it was a completely pleasant evening, I wanted the evening to end, to pass just five hundred more years.

“I think it wouldn’t make much sense to walk around the city after dinner.  It is starting to rain,” I paused to study the frown lines starting to appear in his face, but I persisted, “I mean, it just wouldn’t be very pleasant to walk in the rain.  Don’t you think?  Let’s wait for a clearer night.  Another night.”

He relented, still disappointed, admitting, “It would not make much sense to see the sights on such a cloudy night.  I had really wanted to show you the sights, the beautiful skyline, the old fashioned tourist sights, it being your first night here.”  I was strangely relieved, unaware that I had wanted his agreement. 

The waitress visited us and we ordered.  As she left, he told me with a smirk, “She has a mustache.”

“I didn’t notice,” I said neutrally. 

The curious remark finally shifted my thoughts and attention back to the man.  He was a burly man, with a boyish face, and a gentle voice.  His demeanor was that of a gentle giant and very likeable.  Something about this man made me feel as if I had known him for years and years.  He seemed like the perfect man, in the moment, in the yellowing lights, in the occasional cold breeze accompanying new guests, in the aromas filled by the kitchen.  Everything from the tone of his voice to his attentiveness was just right.  Only hours ago, there was even the raw thrill of the new, the “chemistry” that is the glue that binds two souls.  Now that glue had set and held me, hypothetically.  Yet, I could only observe, as if I were multiple entities reflecting on my identities, and in spite of my out of body experience, feel something that can only be described as reckless glee that my soul was free and unbound, eternally young.  In the space of minutes, hours, decades, all meaningless nomenclature when the true space of events occur in the timeless mind, I had fallen out of love.

The waitress brought us several small dishes of appetizers and we dug in.  I spoke, “There’s so much food!  Don’t be afraid to eat all of it.”

“Girl, you know this,” he made a motion to himself, seeming more comfortable when shifting to his regular urban vernacular, “I ain’t gonna be shy.”

What a funny tempo this man had, like a samba or a slowly syncopated jazzy beat.  I felt the music of this man so clearly, in sharp contrast to my blaring monotone.  Could this be the music of the soul?  How would music dance with cacophony? 

I watched him down his food.  I watched him eat with unconscious fascination, a mixture of disgust and wonder, whereas I hardly ate, if anything.  I had no appetite.  There was no time nor reason for appetite.  He asked the waitress for more small, square dishes. 

Fiction: Tapestries

The knife laid there on the cutting board.  What a compelling blade: dull sheen, not sharpened for months, left out to dry on a dirty board.  Clearly, what the blade needed was a human touch.  A touch was finally supplied at 2 PM by the portly, resident Mr. Chopin of 293 St. Levres Ave.  Mr. Andre Chopin led a solitary life living in his solitary abode just off the intersection of La Rue de Cheveux and St Levres, but today he received a small package inked carefully in red:

To: Dearest Monsieur Andre Chopin,
Please use knife to open.  Do not open by any other means.

Monsieur Chopin glanced at his kitchen knife and back at the small brown parcel, increasingly mystified by the parcel.  He rubbed his hands together slowly and stretched his stiff, rarely used, stubby ligaments.  He reached for the knife.

The parcel could not have been from Mr. Chopin’s relatives.  Family life or keeping in touch with distant relatives never appealed to Mr. Chopin, because he lived the life of the enlightened, and he would often write about this in his private diary.  He wrote often in clear, concise terms documenting his punctuality and the meticulousness with which he ensured his punctuality. 

 

Standing still, feet glued to the ceiling.  What a wondrous feeling it was to be still and not moving like the rest of the swarm.  Batting my wings, slowly at first, then in a steady rhythm, the air flow forced me adrift. 

Fiction: Falcon’s War

Falcon woke this morning feeling particularly determined, determined to die.  This particular feeling was not the result of some deep seated emotional anguish, or unrelenting unhappiness, or even some external tragedy.  Falcon simply felt, intuitively, that his time should end.  However, his determination waxed in vain, he thought, and there was no true death to be had for him.  As much as the desire to die plagued him, like some nagging itch he could not reach, he could not bring himself to act out his fantasies.  On most days, Falcon did not feel very alive neither, which was typically a source of discontent.  At that particular moment, he most desired to feel either alive or dead, without the questionable morass in between.  Falcon strapped on his combat gear, but no armor, stepped out onto the desolate streets of Baghdad.  No living soul was around for miles, as far as the eye could see.

Bomb shells screamed a few hundred miles away.  Falcon steadied himself, as he felt the ground shaking from the impact moments later. 

“Shit, are we close?” Raoul grunted over team Jackal’s private channels, serving as the team scout, stationed a few miles away.  As the scout, Raoul had not seen a single enemy combatant in his month serving, but it never occurred to him why the team even needed a scout.  Rules were rules, he thought.

Irene, the analyst, joined them having just finally gotten ready.  “Looks like a nuke is heading your way, Falcon.”

She could not have spoken sooner.  In a split second, like a flash of light, Falcon felt as if he were nothing, just vapor.  Half a second later, he was screaming, blood was flowing down his face, down his cheeks, choking his lungs.  He clutched his face but he could not feel his arms.  Another second passed, he heart pounding faster and faster, heaved, his internal organs gave way, hemmoraging, and collapsed upon itself.

“Thank the freaking Buddha!” Raoul was a stout man compared to the rest of the Jackals.  He was often gruff and disgruntled looking, and did not appear to be the type to be religious or even modest.  He added, “Praise triple-b. We thought you’d be a goner.”

Falcon could see again, dimly.  He choked out a weak reply, “Shut up, Rao.  Jerk.”

“Stay still,” Irene cautioned, sticking some tablets into his open mouth, then some needles, “I’m filling you up again.”

“So, what was it like, man?”  Raoul crowded them, and added with some mystery, “You know, dying.”

“How long did you leave me out here for the vultures,” Falcon asked, feeling better now.  In fact, he could not remember feeling better.

“It took us about an hour to get here from our positions,” Irene estimated.  It was difficult to see her expression through her dark helmet.  Then she added, “We had to wait out the radiation levels for most of that time, actually.”

Falcon whistled, stopped, tasting the sweetness in his mouth.  He remembered this taste now, months ago in training.

Greatest hits

  • 1,046 hits