He remembered hearing about some tribes where the old or the feeble would wander off into the ice and snow one night. Just say their goodbye's and leave, to be found days, weeks, maybe months later, dead. He was unfamiliar with snow, and when the storyteller had tried to describe it, he had just laughed. It never got cold enough for water to freeze. But regardless, that was not his tribe's way.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Posted by Jonathan Martin
"That's the last of them, sir!" The grey-uniformed man said as he tossed the acoustic guitar, a classic cherry red Washburn, onto the pile.
"Light it up." His name was Adam Smith, that was General Smith, or Sir, to everyone around him. He took a step back to avoid the splash of gasoline as it was poured onto the mound of peoples’s hopes and dreams.
With a flip of a match, flames begin to spread, leaping first from the guitar to a record player, then to a baby grand piano, to a pile of sheet music, to records…
On and on the flames spread, the instruments twanging and pinging their dying screams. And General Smith smiled. “Job well done lads,” he called out over the roar of the flames, “job well done. Don’t let the flames die until it’s nothing but ashes.” He added, before turning on his heels.
As he walked past his soldiers, they saluted him, and he nodded to them in turn, until a bulge in the grey pocket of the fourth man, the one who had thrown the guitar on the fire, stopped him.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Posted by Jonathan Martin
“Just watch,” Clacks said, pointing at a man in whiteface, making balloon animals beside a fountain.
A group of children stood before him, watching in awe as the man blew up a long, blue balloon. “Ok, who wants a snake?”
A look of disappointment swept over the kids, as the painted man smiled. “Just kidding, I thought we’d start with a doggy. Who would like a doggy?”
Sarin watched as a young boy of about five years old raised his hand.
“Ah, and what is your name, little one?” The white-faced man asked.
“Tommy,” said the lad.
“Ah Tom, that’s a strong name, and is your mom or dad here?”
“Yeah,” Tommy pointed at an auburn tressed woman, also wearing green.
“Ma’am, is it alright if I make Tommy here a doggy?”
She smiled and shrugged before reaching into her purse. She pulled out a dollar and dropped it into the top hat with a red scarf tied about it that sat on the edge of the fountain.
“Thank you much, miss,” the man said as he began to twist the blue snake into something that quickly resembled a dog.
“Seriously, a balloon artist?” Sarin asked of Clacks.
“First, they call him Loon, and he’s not just any ‘balloon artist.’ He’s a gifted Twister.”
“Twister?” Sarin asked, shifting his oft-patched backpack, the strap more duct-tape than fabric, from his right shoulder to his left.
“Like I said, watch,” he said as he pulled a pair of scissors out of one of the deep pockets in his too-thick overcoat. He crept up behind the park bench where the old man was sitting with his granddaughter, feeding the pigeons. Slowly he extended his arm and snipped the red ribbon that tethered the mylar happy birthday balloon to the blonde, pig-tailed girl.
“Papa!” She exclaimed as the balloon began to float away.
Loon looked up and saw the birthday balloon ascending into the clouds and handed the half finished blue dog to Tommy. “My balloons are needed elsewhere, buddy. I’ll finish yours in a minute.” With that, he pulled a pink balloon from a pocket of the tweed jacket he wore and blew it up. His hands a blur of movement, a butterfly swiftly took shape. “Now here’s where the real magic happens.” He pulled a roll of clear tape from his other pocket and quickly made a loop, sticking it to the head of the butterfly. With a tug, he reached out and untied the red scarf from his top hat. Walking over to the now-sobbing girl, he winked at the old man. “Sweetheart, will you hold out your hand?” Loon asked, holding out the butterfly.
Sniffling, the girl did as she was asked, taking the offered rubber creature into the palm of her hand.
Loon draped the red scarf over the butterfly and leaned in close, whispering something so softly, that not even the girl could hear it. Smiling, he blew on the scarf, which began to twitch. With a flourish, the man pulled the scarf from atop the balloon butterfly, which sprang to life, it’s wings beating feverishly as it drifted higher into the air.
The girl gasped, and then despite her sniffles, giggled. The inflated insect climbed higher and higher, chasing the birthday balloon, which had already drifted out of sight.
“Now, Tommy, where was I,” Loon turned back to the boy, who stood, mouth agape, holding the half finished dog. Loon took the balloon and after a few more twists, he pulled a black marker from a pocket and drew eyes and a nose upon the canine’s head. “Here you go Tommy,” Loon handed the animal back to the young boy. “Who’s next.”
He had almost finished a balloon sword when one of the other boys in the group shouted.
“Look,” he pointed into the sky.
“Shit,” Sarin followed the gaze of the rest of the crowd, and could not keep the exclamation to himself.
“I told you to watch,” Clacks said as the butterfly floated back down toward Loon, towing the birthday balloon. “Come on,” he motioned to Sarin to follow as he approached the Twister.
The Twister handed the sword to a young, curly haired child as the butterfly landed on Loons shoulder, he reached up a once white, now grey glove, and pulled the girls balloon from the piece of tape. “Here you go sweetheart,” he pulled a new ribbon from his pocket and tied it first about the balloon and then about the girls wrist. “Hope that’s not too tight.”
The girl shook her head and thanked Loon in a meek voice, before giving him a hug. “Papa, look!” she said, more excitedly to the man on the bench beside her.
“I see,” the old man said with a smile and a nod. “Thank you,” he said, turning from his granddaughter to Loon. “Thank you,” he said again as he pulled out his wallet. “Here,” he offered the balloon artist a five dollar bill. “I don’t know how you did that, but it was definitely worth at least this."
With a Cheshire-Cat grin, Loon took the money and stuck it in his pocket. “Thank you sir,” he said with a bow. “Ok kiddies, I’ll be back, looks like Ol’ Loon has some friends he needs to talk to.”
“That was some- Well, that was something alright,” Sarin said as Loon walked over, “Care to tell me how it was done?”
The man in the white make-up looked at Clacks, who nodded.
“You must be Sarin,” Loon said, extending his hand and ignoring the question.
Sarin smirked as he shook the offered hand. “I wouldn’t tell either I suppose.”
Loon chuckled, “there’s not much to tell, besides, have you figured out how Clacks here does his trick?”
“Touché. Care if we walk for a minute, I’m not a fan of all the young ears.”
“We can’t go far, I did tell them I’d come back.”
“Fine, once around the pond, then?”
“That’ll work, but first,” he runs over and grabs his top hat, tying the scarf about it as he walks back to join Sarin and Clacks. He pulls a few bills from within the hat, looks them over and shoves them into his pocket before donning the hat.
The three set out, Clacks falling in a step behind the other two as they began the short jaunt.
“So, Clacks tells me you’re looking for a few additions for your crew.”
“You could say that.”
“Crew for what? I do pretty well for myself up here,” he pulls a worn leather wallet from beneath his jacket and then grabs all of the bills from his pocket. Counting them, he smooths each out against his chest before placing them in the wallet. “This alone,” he says as he stuffs the fiver into the billfold, “will cover all of my balloons for at least two weeks. And I’m not interested in any funny business.”
“Nope, no funny business, at least none planned-”
Clacks smacked Sarin on his shoulder.
“Hey, I’m just being honest.”
“Ok, I hear that, but you still haven’t told me what you need a crew for.”
Clacks stepped forward, shoving his way between the two men. “Sarin here has a boat on the Underground Sea, mainly running supplies between the Black Bazaar and The Outer Gate, sometimes more, sometimes less, if you catch my drift.”
Sarin started to groan at the apparent pun, to which Clacks apologized.
“Ah, and how am I supposed to help?” Loon said, look from one man to the other.
Sarin stepped in front of Clacks and slowed just long enough to fall back into step with Loon. “I’d be lying if I said I knew, but I was given your name and I’ll be damned if you didn’t just impress me back there.”
“I’ll need to think about it. What’s in it for me?”
“I’d give you some bullshit about seeing the world, but- You’ve been down to the Black Bazaar?”
“A couple of times, I make a lot more up here, but I occasionally have need of some of the services they offer, if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” Sarin said as he lifted his loose t-shirt, showing a pair of six inch scars on his left side. “Martha can work miracles,” he added with a smile and a wink.
Loon winced, “what are you asking me to get into?”
Sarin’s smile widened, “Ha! This?” He laughed as he let his shirt drop, “I got asked to grab one of the sewer gators about three months ago. You should see what I did to it!” He pulled a thin silver necklace from within his shirt, a pair of pointy teeth dangling from it. “Your question, what’s in it for you, well,” he said with a chuckle, “if you run into any sewer crocs, I’ve got them.”
“Frankly, there’s not much chance of that up here.”
“Noted. The Underground Sea is not much for looks, but you’ll get an equal share of anything we bring in as a crew. Hell, here,” Sarin reached into his pocket and pulled an iridescent sphere from his pocket. “Pearl, probably worth enough to keep you in balloons for a year, you can keep it if you come along or not.”
Loon took the sphere, and closing one eye, held it up to the sun. “Thing’s got to be an inch across.”
“Yep,” Sarin said, pulling a drawstring pouch from his belt and opening it. “There’s more where that one came from,” he said, showing a pouch full of what looked like marbles to the painted man.
“Color me impressed,” Loon said, slipping the pearl into a pocket inside of his jacket. “Clacks, what’s your take on this?”
“I’m the one that arranged this meeting, didn’t I?”
“Guess so. I’d still like to think about it. Oh, and next time you want a demonstration, you can find a better way to get my attention. The ribbon was cut” Loon chided as they arrived again at the fountain. With a slight frown, he added, “What do the tiles say about this?”
Clacks laughed, “see for yourself,” he said, pulling his own drawstring pouch from his belt. He held it out, open, before the Twister.
Loon reached into the bag, his hand closing about a few tiles. He opened his had as he withdrew it and shook his head. “How do you do it?” The white-faced man asked Clacks as he looked at the word the tiles formed in his open palm. ‘JOIN’
Sarin smiled, “So?”
“I said I wanted to think about it, and I still do. I’ll be here tomorrow with your answer. I have one more question though.”
“Yeah?” Sarin said as Loon returned the tiles to Clacks’ pouch.
“Who told you about me?”
Sarin motioned for Clacks to hold the pouch out, and reached his own hand within, pulling out seven tiles. “Ask him,” he said, opening his hand and revealing the word 'BALLOON.'
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Posted by Jonathan Martin
“Excuse me sir, do -“
“Already am,” I mumble under my breath. I have my story, if anyone will stop long enough to listen to it. I’ve boiled it down to bullet points, I can get it out in less than a minute now.
But this is not that version.
“Are you coming or what?” The old man called to me.
I shrugged, the too big coat I wore almost falling from my shoulders with the motion, the duct taped together strap on my weathered backpack preventing it from sliding too far.
“Well, you better make up your mind fast kiddo, this train’s leaving, with or without you.”
I gave one last longing glance backwards, told myself that if dad was there, I’d go back with him.
“Suit yourself,” the old man said and stood.
“No wait,” I called to him, running and hurling my backpack into the moving freight car.
“Here,” I’d later learn his name was Tobias Shade, or ‘Lampman,’ held out his hand, which I grasped and held on tight as he pulled me into the boxcar.
As I knelt there on the hay strewn floor of the railcar, Lampman slid the door shut behind me, but not before a far off shout reached my ears, or was I imagining my father calling my name. I tried to look back, but the door had already slammed shut.
The old man held out his hand and introduced himself.
“Nice to meet you sir,” I shook his offered hand, feeling the calluses, “I’m Caesar Ingram.” I said with a smile.
“That won’t work, will it Hayseed?”
I looked around for the first time, light peeking its way into the car through the spaces in between the slats, illuminating nearly a dozen other people huddled in the darkness of the railway car as it chugged along.
“Don’t think so,” a man with a wispy beard the color of hay stepped forward, lighting a lantern that sat on an upturned crate. “Caesar Ingram you say?”
“Uh, yes sir.” I squirmed beneath his careful scrutiny, causing him to laugh.
“Whadoyoutinkof Sarin?” His breath reminded me of my father’s, after a beer or two, when he would get in my face to yell at me. I shrunk from the man known as Hayseed and glanced at the door again.
“Give the lad some room.” Lampman pushed the blonde back into the corner he had come from.
“Ignore him, he’s harmless, but he has a way with names, don’t he.”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.”
“Then it’s settled, Sarin, let me introduce you to the rest of my family.”
“Your family sir?” I regarded him again, his ebony skin, his nearly bald pate.
“Bah, they’re who I spend my nights with, and they help me out when I need it, that’s what family is, right?”
“I uh, guess, sir.”
“If you ain’t going to call me Lampman, at least call me Tobias.”
“Why Lampman sir?”
“Cuz I didn’t like Lampshade,” he said with a chuckle that brought a laugh that turned into a hacking cough out of the dark corner Hayseed had disappeared into.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Posted by Jonathan Martin
It started with a knock on the door. Any other day and I would have ignored it, probably another salesman trying to get me to upgrade my satellite package or offer me a free estimate on a new roof. You know what, that is not where it really started, let me take a step back.
It really started with a loud thud as my whole house shook.
“Honey,” My wife, Sonya, called out, “what was that?”
“I don’t know dear, let me step outside, could you get Abbey?” I called over my screaming two year old.
“What?” Sonya yelled, but I was halfway out the front door.
“Hey Tom,” Jason, my next door neighbor, called out to me. “You heard it too?”
“Yep-“ I started to add a smart ass comment, but Jason’s wife called out from behind the fence to their backyard.
“Hey Tom, whatever you’re grilling smells great!”
I sniffed the air, she was right, something did smell good, but it was not from my back yard and I told her so.
“Then you better get back there, because there’s a lot of smoke.”
I broke into a run, calling for Dezi, the toy poodle my wife insisted we had to have. Luckily, or unluckily I thought to myself, she greeted me at the fence’s wrought iron gate, her stubby tale vibrating with excitement. “Your mom’s gonna have to bathe you,” I said as I nudged her out of the way with my leg, rounding the corner of the house, the smell getting stronger, smokier.
“Everything okay?” Jason called from the fence line. I appreciated his respecting my boundaries, but, unsure of what I was about to uncover, I called him back, figuring an extra set of hands could not hurt.
I was still trying to wrap my head around the scene when he too rounded the corner.
“What is that?” He pointing at the crater that occupied most of my backyard. “You been digging a pool?”
I shook my head, not sure what to say as I edged closer to the edge of the hole.
“You sure about that?” Tom grabbed my arm, holding me back.
“I, I don’t know,” I admitted, but I took another step forward, pulling my arm from his loose grasp. Black, acrid, smoke poured from the gaping hole, blocking my view of how deep it was, and more importantly, what had caused it.
“What is it?” Jason asked again, his voice barely more than a whisper.
“Honey?” It was Sonya, sliding door open, Abbey on her hip.
“Not sure yet hon, go back inside, just to be safe.”
I heard the door slide shut and I peered over the edge again, trying to make something, anything, out in the smoke.
I jumped, almost falling in to the hole as my cell phone rang, the device vibrating in my pocket. I slid it out and answered it, knowing who it would be without looking at the caller ID. “Yeah, Frank, I heard it - No, I don’t know what it was, at least not yet - Yeah, I said yet - Whatever it is, it landed in my backyard - Nope, you don’t need to come over - Fine, see you soon.” I turned to Jason, who just nodded at my exasperated look.
“So, what do you think it is?” He asked, taking a step closer to the smoking crater, the ground giving way beneath him.
I managed to grab his arm before he slid too far down.
“Pleasepleaseplease,” Jason whimpered as I pulled him out of the hole.
He hugged me tight, mumbling “thank you,” over and over again as Frank came running into my yard.
“Dude!” He exclaimed before taking a sip of his beer.
“I’m glad you got dressed before you came over.” I said, looking at the ripped sweatpants he wore, the armpit stains in his t-shirt turning my stomach.
He started to reply, but a roar blasted us from our feet.
“Was that from?” Jason asked, point toward the smoke.
I nodded and watched as a crow swooped down and began pecking at an exposed worm, dangling still from the craters wall. My mouth dropped open as a pair of jaws reached out of the smoke and clamped down upon the bird, pulling it back into the depths.
“Oh shit!” Frank exclaimed, dropping his beer as he scrambled for my back door. Jason and I were close behind him, slamming the sliding glass door shut and dropping the security bar into place. “What was that?” he was wide eyed, his hands shaking, one of which he brought to his mouth before remembering that his drink lay out on my lawn.
It was then that the knock on the door occurred and the men in black suits showed up. The one in charge called himself Agent Kay, but I was not sure I believed him, he did not look like a Smith. He was older, his grey hairline receding, but he knew how to give orders, and not one of his men questioned his decisions.
“The good news is that you have no out houses or hen houses,” he said with a smirk.
“Who are you guys?” Frank asked, getting a little to close to the Agent
“Have you been drinking? What about you,” he pointed his finger at Jason, and then at me, “and you?”
Frank was the only one that answered in the affirmative and that did not sit very well with Agent Kay, I could tell by the way he shook his head.
“Hey boss,” a pug said from my back doorway, you were right, it’s a dinosaur all right.”
“Did that-“ Frank began but I cut him off.
“I thought meteors killed the dinosaurs. That’s what this is, right? A meteor?”
Agent Kay put his sunglasses back on, “You see son, that is what you were taught but that is not really the case,” He began as he reached into his pocket. “Now if you’ll look right here, I’ll explain to you what really happened to the dinosaurs is that they stopped coming to Earth.”
I blinked away the bright flash, trying to make sense of who the strange man in my house was, and if my daughter was still asleep in her crib.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
Posted by Jonathan Martin
Clink. Clink. Clink.
The line of souls stretched out before Charon. They would step up, hand him their obol, which he dropped back into his bag. Clink. They then stepped onto the ferry and the next one strode forward. Rinse. Repeat. His skiff would soon be full again and he would depart the outer shore of the river Acheron and deposit them within the underworld for Hades to do with as he wanted.
His pole struck the bottom of the river again and he propelled his newly emptied ferry forward. Finally the bottom skidded along the sand and he got out, the water soaking through his boots. He dragged the boat further onto the sand and took up his position before its bow, dropping his bag beside him again. More souls shuffled forward. More obols fell into his sack. More souls crossed the river.
Charon could see down the line, could see that trouble was approaching. Four more souls passed and the trouble maker was in front of him. “Dear uncle. I should have known it would be you.”
Tartarus stood before Charon, fuming “What took you so long?”
Charon held out his hand.
“You know I do not have one!”
“Why not? I gave you one.”
Tartarus glared at him.
“I will see you in one hundred years.”
“No, you cannot do this to me! Do you know who I am?”
“You were Tartarus. And now you are just another wanderer upon the shores of the River Acheron. You lost.”
“No!” But Charon had already moved on to the next soul.
Clink. Clink. Clink.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Posted by Jonathan Martin
Zach took the fedora from atop his head and, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped the sweat from his brow. He refolded the kerchief and replaced his hat upon his head before pushing the bike further up the hill. Someone had begun to fill in some of the smaller holes in the roadway with dirt and gravel, but he still had to negotiate his way around the larger ones. He paused when he came to the top of the hill, his destination in sight. He dropped the bike’s kickstand and unslinging his pack. He pulled the canteen from its side and took a long pull, the water still as cold as the stream he had taken it from. He pulled a piece of rabbit jerky from the pack and ate it, looking over the group of buildings below. Smoke came from the main houses chimney, although the pile of firewood on the side of the building looked low. He hopped on the bicycle again, the pedals turning a few times beneath his feet. Once he was on the downward slope, he let gravity do the work for him, only pedaling again when the bike had almost rolled to a stop.
He stopped beside the houses mailbox, and leaned his bike against it, as he had done when he was a kid, riding up and down the very same driveway. He walked the rest of the way to the house and knocked on the door.
A large african american man answered, his smile bright white in contrast to his dark, weathered skin. “You’re late.” The man said before Zach could even open his mouth.
“Um, I’m sorry?” Zach offered.
“You were supposed to help me with the harvest.”
“Sorry dad,” Zach said and took the man’s extended hand.
Jud pulled his son to him, clasping Zach in a tight bear hug. “Aubrey, guess who’s home?”
He heard the shuffle of his mother’s feet and smiled when she rounded the corner and squealed. Jud released him and he wrapped his arms around his mother.
“He’s right you know,” She said.
“Tell you what, I’ll help you with the winter chores. Looked like you could use some firewood.”
“That we could, but that can wait. Tell us what you’ve seen, where you’ve been,” His mom said, leading him by the hand into the kitchen. “Did you guys ever find that Graham guy?”
“Yeah mom, we did…”
Amy lay asleep in the hospital bed, despite the lack of comfort she had spent the last hour complaining about. Peter held his sleeping daughter, Elizabeth Marie, as he rocked back and forth in the hospital chair, watching her tiny chest rise and fall. He bent his head down and kissed her forehead, shifting so he could stand up and hopefully put the girl into the small basinet the hospital had provided.
He managed to successfully navigate the labyrinth of machines and instruments that still occupied their room and set Elizabeth down in her bed. He watched her again, sleeping, trying to remember a time when he had been so happy. He finally managed to pull himself from the small life that he was partly responsible for and was startled when he saw that Amy was awake, sitting and watching him. “She’s beautiful,” he told her.
Amy smiled and put a finger to her lips.
Peter nodded and went to her side, taking her hand in his own. “So, what’s next for us?”
“The wedding is in less than two months.”
“Excuse me, Mayor?” One of the nurses walked into the room, looking at Peter.
Peter exhaled and looked at Amy. “Hold that thought.”
Peter stepped out into the hallway with the nurse, “How can I help you Anne?”
“We just delivered another baby down the hallway. I just thought you might want to know. It’s a boy. Benedict.”
Peter smiled and nodded. “Thank you. And everyone is doing fine?
“Roger fainted, but yeah.”
“Anything else?” Peter asked her.
“Nope, that’s it.”
“Good job today Anne,” Peter said with another smile. One thousand, three hundred and twenty two people, assuming no one else had wandered into the town while he had been in the hospital.
He stepped back into their room and found Amy still awake, taking a sip from an almost empty glass of water.
“Let me get you some more of that. Would you like ice?”
Amy nodded around the straw, finally releasing it as it began to suck air. “Anything important?”
“When you’re mayor, everything’s important,” Peter said, laughing. “She just wanted to let me know that the Tecy’s had their boy. Everyone is doing fine. No, I forgot to get details.” He added, cutting Amy’s question off. “They named him Benedict.”
Amy smiled. “I like that,” she said, finally handing the empty cup to Peter.
He had to go down the hallway to get ice, and poked his head into the Tecy’s hospital room on his way back.
“Congratulations, Roger,” Peter said, shaking the new father’s hand.
“Same to you,” Roger said.
Peter held up the cup full of ice as an excuse to leave and Roger nodded. “I know, I’ve filled Sharon’s three times already. Good night.”
“Night,” Peter said as he slipped out of the room, closing the door soundlessly behind him. He walked back into his own room, filling the glass with water from the sink. He handed her the cup and walked back to where his daughter lay. She was awake and staring at the ceiling, flexing her minuscule fingers. Peter leaned down and picked her back up, bringing her back to the rocking chair where he sat and stared at her mother. “Now about this wedding…”
Nyx sat in a store room below the Venetian, a bottle of wine in between her and the man across the table. “I’m so glad you managed to talk some sense into me, Ananke,” She said.
“Yes, I’m sure you are,” Ananke said. “I am always on the side of the winners, know that. But I fear that our time up here needs to come to an end.”
Nyx upended the bottle into her mouth and chugged the rest of the wine. She smiled, using her long sleeved shirt to wipe her mouth. “That’s fine, I seem to be all out of wine.”