Category Archives: Writing

The General’s Head

“What is it now?” damn he’s annoying. All I want to do is finish my nap.

“I’m having a problem with him again. He won’t eat his gruel. Says it tastes like monkey poop.”

I want to fly out of bed and lock my hands around Jason’s skinny neck and squeeze until my fingers snap. Instead I take a deep breath and whip the covers out of my way. My pajamas are thin as rice paper, and I feel the cold air shriveling my nuts. Why did I get chosen to work in a stupid cave? What the hell did I ever do to anybody? I mean damn it anyway, I’ve sucked more ass than a gay mosquito, and still I get stuck babysitting a freaking head.

“I’m gonna drown that moron in his gruel.” I take long strides, setting Jason’s stumpy legs scurrying to keep up.

“You shouldn’t talk about the General like that. He’s a great man. Without him, the slugs would’ve got us for sure.”

Jason’s sniveling slithers into my ears, threatening to drive me to rash acts. I stop and pivot sharply. The little rat bounces off my chest and stumbles back. As he tries to catch his balance I crack him a good one on the mouth with the back of my hand. He clutches his already-swelling lips and cowers as I make to smite him again.

“Don’t tell me how to talk about anyone, understand? Everyone thinks it’s so goddamn funny that I’m the Head Nurse, don’t they? Even you, you whinny little turd. I’ve caught you snickering behind my back! You can’t even feed the freakish thing, and you’re gonna tell me all about how great the General is? I’d rather the slugs have pulled me down into their stinking hell with the rest of the Southsiders. It would have been better than playing caterer to an ungrateful, gangrenous head. Now get yourself together, shut up, and let’s get this over with so I can get back to sleep.”

The twerp quivers like a wet chihuahua as he stands up and smooths out his muddy smock. I really don’t like Jason. I never have. We proceed the rest of the way to LAB 7a in cold silence. I slide my level one ID card through the slot and the laser instantly decodes the information. The reinforced steel door before me swooshes open, and like always, I feel like I’m in a goddamn episode of Star Trek.

LAB 7a greets us with the usual potent stink of formaldehyde and rotting flesh. I just never get used to that smell. My stomach jerks and tries to liberate my lunch. My mouth waters and fills with pre-vomit bile, but I force the whole delicious mouthful back from whence it came. I spot what’s left of the General.

General Justin Cornhower Jr., decorated war veteran, began his career as a draftee in the Conflict in the Middle East and soon discovered he had a penchant for military service. He rose through the ranks in the subsequent and frequent wars at an uncanny pace, finally landing himself inside the upper echelon of the Pentagon. About a year or two later the slugs came. It seemed a much-anticipated meteor was going to strike the Earth after all, but don’t panic they said, it’s much smaller than originally thought. What they didn’t say however, was that it was infested with colonies of semi-solid parasites that bore an innate hankering for human blood. Within a week, half the population of the southern hemisphere had been turned to gelatin and sucked into the ground. They drank us like soda pops on a hot day. General Cornhower, while de-escalating a nuclear pissing contest between India and Pakistan, fell victim to a slug and remains the only survivor of a slug attack to date.

He was subjected to considerably less of the body-dissolving goo than most victims, and some folks account his miraculous and gruesome recovery to this fact. And there are those still clinging to a tattered faith in a benevolent omnipotence that feel he was chosen by the Grand Wazoo to lead the human race to victory. Some even whisper that he’s the second incarnation of Christ, come to crack a few sinful skulls. Whatever he is, all he’s got left is his own head, pumped full of brain-stimulating chemicals and shocked to life every ten minutes. Since his attack four years ago, he’s learned to tune into the primal hive-mind shared by the slugs. All the science geeks figure it has something to do with the residual parasites still feeding on his flesh. He’s a living detection system and the sole early warning system for enemy attacks. All that aside, he’s a stinky, hateful prick.

He’s thrashing around on his serving platter, wallowing in overturned NutraGruel and howling as a surge of life-sustaining electricity rips through him. What’s left of his thinning hair stands straight out from his scalp, like gray needles stabbed into a pin cushion. I suppress my laughter with some difficulty.

“General, sir,” I choke out the words, trying not to sound like I want to play basketball with his moldy melon. “Jason tells me you’re giving him problems with the gruel again. We’re not going to have another incident, are we?”

“NutraGruel tastes like monkey poop and you know it! Christ in Heaven! Don’t we have any chicken noodle soup around here?” His words issue from speakers wired into his vocal cords in a disturbing, mechanical voice—kind of like a trash can trying to talk through an amplifier. Watching his head rock back and forth with the motion of his jaw makes me queasy, so I avert my eyes.

“Sir, as I’ve stated countless times, NutraGruel is the only sustenance you can intake when you’re lacking things like a lower body and a stomach. What the hell are you going to do with chicken soup? Slurp it up and piss it out your neck?” As I speak, I feel my tenuous control over my anger dissolving further. “You need this paste, and you need to let it absorb under your tongue. Like it or not. And if you’re not going to eat it on your own, I’m going to stuff you like a Thanksgiving turkey full of the nasty stuff.” That voice I try to ignore in the back of my head hisses at me that I’ve gone too far, that after all, he is a General. Too late now, I guess.

Gen. Cornhower shoots me a look born both of hatred and shock. I feel him willing me to die, trying to kill me through an act of sheer mentation.

I snort and force a grin.

“So how ‘bout it? Are you going to eat your dinner or choke on it?”

Silence. We stare at each other for what seems like an hour, locked in a kind of old west showdown. High Noon, just me and the head. Finally, I break and scoop up a double portion of monkey poop in my right hand and advance on the General in a semi-crouch. I see the strategic fires leap up behind his eyes, plotting, conniving. Damn, this isn’t going to be easy.

“Touch me and I’ll bite your heathen fingers off, so help me Jesus,” he barks, snapping his teeth together to emphasize his threat. That’s when I bolt forward and try to snatch him off his tray with my other hand. Why is he grinning?

Ah, no, the shocks! How could I forget about that? Just as I grab a handful of gruel-greased hair, electricity rips through the both of us. I swear I hear him laughing.

I can’t scream. All my muscles contract at once in a burning symphony of galvanism. My teeth feel ready to crack in the vice of my jaw. I want dearly to let go of the General and punt him like a football, but my hands only clench tighter. The electricity ceases, and I collapse, hair smoking and nerves aflame. My last thought before I fade out is this: It’s not quite as funny from this end.

I open my eyes to behold Jason’s weasel-like mug grinning down at me. My body is blessedly numb from a morphine drip.

“I guess I’ll be spending time in the brig, eh?” I grunt more than speak.

“No, the General said you were helping him eat when the LifePulse fired out of sequence,” he says and his thin grin wriggles back into place.

Well I’ll be dipped. I thought the old stump would’ve ratted me out and asked that I be drawn and quartered.

It’s then I realize the General is a great man. Now the two of us get along fairly well. We have an unspoken understanding and mutual respect. I keep all that to myself, though, at least around Jason.


Fiction

I’m going to post some short stories here. I’m not sure about them, so any feed back would be appreciated. The first one is pretty new, and I forced it out of my brain in an attempt to overcome a prolonged inability to write. I hope you enjoy it.

Hatch-Head

It was one of those days—a dark and stagnant day, devoid of joy or reason—black and cold and empty as distant space. Jeffrey marshaled his feeble resources and forced himself to take a shower. He wondered how a task could one day be mundane and common, yet the next take a feat of will power to accomplish. It was one more joyless thought in a stream of hopelessness. He had so much that needed doing—cleaning, writing a resume, finding work, finishing side jobs, making payment arrangements for his unpaid bills—and by late afternoon he had barely managed a shower.

Coupled with his emotional malfunction, Jeffrey was developing a monster headache. What started out as an uncomfortable pressure behind his eyes and tension at the base of his skull crescendoed to a brilliant star of a pain blazing in place of his brain. The slightest stimuli, be it sound, light, or motion sent lightning agony tearing through his head. The pain was enough to bring nausea.

The headache was an odd comfort, however, because it replaced the haunting apathy with something palpably wrong, which alleviated some of his spiritual angst despite the immense pain. By midnight, he longed to replace the headache with depression. Whatever comfort it had been at first had long dissipated. He lay perfectly still, not wanting to risk a chain reaction of misery by turning his head or adjusting his body. The tick of the clock and his ragged breathing were the only sounds inside his cold, dark apartment, and the clock crashed like thunder to him with each passing second.

Sleep came to him like an angel of mercy. His dreams were pained, relentless episodes of being overcome by quicksand, by vines, by bills, by death. He had a vague memory of birth and light upon awakening at three AM, but it faded like candle smoke in a gust.

The pain in his head had subsided to a dull ache, which was blissful by comparison. He thought it odd how the absence of pain could transmute into pleasure—but he was immensely grateful to feel any measure of joy: it was like a single breath of air to a drowning man—ephemeral as it was invaluable. For the first time in hours he was able to rise from the couch. He turned up the thermostat and listened to the heater kick on. He was surprised to find himself hungry. He’d been so devoid of desire the past thirty hours, the presence of it felt momentarily alien. But humans are nothing if not birthers of desire.

Eventually his hunger outgrew his apathy and motivated him enough to dress, find his keys and wallet, and venture out into the winter night. Unable to afford the registration and insurance on his Ford Fiesta, he opted to walk to the Latino corner store.

It was warm inside and clinically bright. Primary colors assailed his vision—rows of shampoo bottles, stacked next to beans, arranged next to a rainbow of hard candies. One shelf, six rows high, consisted of nothing but various hot sauces. Despite the low volume of the radio, a laughing shout accompanied by frantic, polka-like music was clearly audible. Cheap shampoo and bleach merged into one cloying scent.

Jeffrey paid for a frozen pot pie and a bottle of cream soda. There was no one in the store except for him and the cashier, and neither tried to bridge the language barrier, though Jeffrey did notice a widening of the cashiers eyes when the man looked up at him.

He left the store, followed by the electronic ding of the door and noticed the pain returning to the very center of his head. He caught his reflection in his front window as he unlocked his door and understood the cashier’s expression: his head was starting to swell. It was as if a grapefruit were pushing up beneath his scalp, right out of the top of his skull.

He hurried to the bathroom mirror to examine it more closely. It was red, hot, hard, and sore to the touch. The pain was steadily increasing. He wrapped some ice in a towel, leaving his pot pie, forgotten, to thaw on his cluttered kitchen table. He sat down on the couch, holding the ice to his head and worried. As his mind conjured fantasies of cancer, his free hand subconsciously touched the needle scars in the crook of his arm.

Though it did little for the swelling, the ice numbed the pain some, and his mind wandered from worry to day dreaming. A spark of inspiration glowed within him, and he discarded the ice pack to retrieve a notebook from atop his tv. A pen was clipped to the metal rings of its spine. He wrote slowly, neatly.

When? When I’m haunted

When the clock ticks thunder

When hope dies

When I long for escape

When I pray to Oblivion and observe the needle rites

When I lose reason and forsake joy

Then I wonder: When?

Just as he finished writing, a flash of blinding pain seared the inside of his head—enough to elicit an involuntary yelp from him. He clutched his head in both hands and writhed on the couch, squirming like a spitted worm.

He heard a sickening wet rip as his scalp split and glistening skull emerged like an egg. He had the surreal experience of hearing a scratching both inside and outside of his skull simultaneously, but the feeling was quickly forgotten in unbearable pain.

He screeched and convulsed as a sharp claw broke apart the skull from inside like a beak pecking apart an egg. First two, then four jointed, spider-like legs squeezed out of the hole, then trembled as they pulled a fist-sized, bright red, spherical body from his skull with a soggy pop. It was free now, perched on top his opened head on eight legs supporting a perfectly round sphere of flesh, in which an unblinking human eye was set dead-center. The eye looked frantically around before the creature scurried down his back and under the couch.

As quickly as it had appeared, the pain subsided. Jeffrey, still in heavy shock, reached up to feel the certainly fatal wound he’d just received, but felt only a deep gash where he expected to feel his brain. When the shock subsided some, he convinced himself he’d fallen and cut his head. He was already feeling better. Even his depression had subsided.

It watched from beneath the couch, waiting for the cover of darkness, to make its way into the world.


See Which One Fills Up Faster

I remember the very moment I fell in love with writing. I was young, not quite a teenager, and my imagination was splitting the seams of my skull. I could alleviate this pressure somewhat, as well as occupy my time alone (and I was a lonely child), by conducting large scale battles between tiny, imaginary soldiers. I don’t remember what these soldiers were—no doubt gargoyles, ninja-vampires, and beasties of that nature—but I remember seeing them vividly. I picked up on language quickly, and soon enough was able to manifest some of that experience that had been previously confined to my head.

The first thing I remember writing that I liked was about a wizard strolling into an encampment and making warriors drop their swords because the hilts had grown red hot with a wizardly flourish. Pretty cliché stuff, yes, but not to me, not at the time. To me writing about that magic was a magic in itself. It was pure joy. I was delighted. The possibilities were fucking intoxicating. I could create anything I could imagine, and my imagination was snorting and virile as a young bull.

That love affair with writing has been a difficult one, however. I remember someone in high school saying to me, with a hint of jealousy, that writing came so easily to me. Oh, how wrong that person was. Because I had a knack for it, I felt responsible for developing it as much as possible. And I don’t care who you are: learning to write well is hard. If you don’t think it is, I’d wager you’re not pushing yourself. In fact, at times I was so focused on trying to write well that I lost the joy of it. This magical pastime that I thought I loved because it gave me such delight was suddenly a maddening burden. I have always felt compelled to write, though I have not always written. This state is one of discord—I feel guilty about spending my time engaged in non-writing activities. My angst builds, I berate myself for being lazy instead of just getting to work and that spiral adds to my other spirals. Once I discovered the sweet oblivion of alcohol it was a wrap.

I’ve always considered myself a writer, even when I wasn’t writing. Kind of like a non-practicing Christian or something I guess. When I am writing, especially when I’m writing in a disciplined and frequent manner, I feel like I’m utilizing my time the best I can. When I’m not writing, I feel like I am wasting valuable time. As I approach my mid-forties, I realize how limited that time really is, and I regret how much of it I have squandered on hangovers and recovering from psychotic drug binges. Regret is useless, and I don’t engage in it often, but when I do it’s because I’ve lost time with my children or my writing.

I have recently renewed my commitment to the art of writing, which had become very difficult. So difficult I felt I’d lost the ability to do it well, and the joy that stems from that. Watching your dreams die is bleak indeed. However, I haven’t given up yet. I kept writing whatever I could, sometimes just a few chicken-scratch repetitive thoughts in a journal. If I couldn’t rub two thoughts together enough to write due to black depression or apathy then I’d read. Reading is brain food for writers. Eventually, I started building stories again. Parts of them anyway.

Tonight that persistence has rewarded me. I caught a creative wave rolling out of the ether and rode that bitch with the almost-forgotten childhood joy of imagining. I’m as happy and fulfilled in this moment as I am when I spend time with my children. And bothers and sisters, it is a god damn refreshing breath from that wasteland sensation of inevitable failure. I wish each and every human being the experience of absolute joy in whatever endeavor he or she engages in (provided you’re not hurting anyone in the process—if you are I hope the world around you corrects your error and quickly). I think the planet could definitely benefit from a little more happiness, and a little less suffering. But you know, wish in one hand, shit in the other…..