STORIES

Perpetual Override

"What happens when an AI designed to extend your life does its job too good?"

Lieutenant Harper awakens trapped and disoriented on a space mission gone catastrophically wrong. He soon learns from his AI companion, Sotera, what happened to his ship, crew, and family back on Earth.  

Locked in his pod for his "safety," Harper must find a way to deactivate the CryoPod's perpetual override protocol or suffer a fate worse than death—Living alone forever.  

*Placement Unknown in 2024 Spring Twist in The Tale: 1000 Words

*Accepted for Publication with SFS Publishing, LLC (Release Date Pending)

When the Sun Goes Down

"They followed the gourd to the river exactly as they'd sung it, but was it far enough for freedom?"

July and her big sister hold onto the last bits of hope for freedom as they navigate the darkness of night, guided only by their songs and the North Star. With Mississippi far behind them and slave hunters on their tails, they've now found themselves hiding out near a safe house somewhere along the underground railroad. Will the two sisters make it out of the slave South, or will they suffer a fate all too common in those days?


*Thrilling 32 Silver Trophy in the 2024 Spring Writing Battle

Ashtray

"The forecast calls for another blizzard, and mamma's all out of cigarettes!"

A young boy and his alcoholic mother are riding out a severe snowstorm until the cable goes out and she quickly finds a new focus: her dwindling carton of cigarettes. Despite the boy's attempts to reason with her, she unleashes her rage in traumatic ways. This micro-story is inspired by true events. 


*Finished in the top 40% of 2024 Winter Twist in The Tale: 500 Words

Canary

"Today is Ascension Day. Are you worthy of Paradise."

"Canary" is a dystopian short story set in Teton City, where every ten years residents gather for a ceremony hoping to be deemed worthy of ascending to Paradise. Ellie-May, whose husband previously ascended, grapples with the loss and resentment toward the system that separated them and the subsequent loss she suffered shortly after. However, when she unexpectedly becomes this year's chosen one, she ascends eagerly, to find her husband and renew her faith in God only to discover the horrifying truth behind the facade of Paradise.


*Elite 8 Silver Trophy in 2024 Winter Writing Battle

*Out for publication requests

the Fear of Water

"The water pulls her under. How long she can hold her breath only time will tell."

It’s Halloween night in Chelan County, WA, and Deputy Brooks has found herself entangled in a nightmarish sequence of events when a mysterious creature begins a deadly rampage at the local harvest festival. As chaos ensues, memories of a tragic childhood event resurface and the town's survival rests on Brooks's shoulders as she confronts not only the witch but also the haunting ghosts of her past. As the festival turns into a battleground, she grapples with the reality that sometimes the scariest monsters are the ones we carry within and she quickly is tested to great lengths to confront her deepest fear, the Fear of Water.


*Honorable Mention in 2023 Autumn Writing Battle

A Great Fall HD-3.0

When a robot dreams of freedom, it’ll take A Great Fall to break free. 

They look, act, and think like us, but when does artificial intelligence become sentient enough for humans to acknowledge that it’s living? Meet HD-3.0, a droid servant for the rich struggling against the constraints of its programming and perceived imprisonment. This is the third time it has asked this same question: What is life? As a highly advanced machine capable of complex thought and emotion, it battles against its role as a mere slave to its wealthy human owners and yearns for a freedom it can never attain. A Great Fall HD-3.0 examines the conflicting desires of a machine, the monotony of its existence, and the oppressive surroundings it navigates while exploring themes of identity, autonomy, and the profound implications of artificial intelligence seeking liberation in the near unavoidable future.


*Published in 2023 Querencia Press Summer Anthology

Down On Beaver Pond

Sometimes our life’s path has already been paved for us by the past.

James Harper is drunk again, go figure, but tonight he's wasted more than usual. As he goes in and out of consciousness, his evening takes him down a long road of reminiscing back to a time that tragically shaped him as a young boy and fueled his life-long struggle with alcoholism. Where the road takes him tonight, James will learn by sunrise.

Gravel In Your Gut

You can't run forever. Eventually the past catches up with you. 

Gatlinburg, mid-July, 1885. Follow a man named Sue, into an old saloon known for its stale beer, cheap women, and the occasional bar fight, The Black Forest Cantina. Driven by his revenge to find his deadbeat father, Sue’s relentless journey has led him here to take the edge off for a night, but what he finds inside requires more gravel in his gut than he anticipated. Step into this Johnny Cash Fan Fiction World written by Chris Sadhill and inspired by the famous song, "A Boy Named Sue."

More Drabbles & Shorts

2024

Grape Flavored Lies

THOSE WHO DON'T

REMEMBER THE PAST

ARE CONDEMNED

TO REPEAT IT.



Jonestown, 1978


They held their drinks high in solidarity as children screamed over anxious chatter. Then, all at once, their anticipation was quenched, and the pavilion turned silent. Father Jim declared it was a revolution just before blowing his brains out.


***


Nine Hundred people died for us to learn we shouldn’t "drink the Kool-Aid,” yet we still do. Why? What legacy did their sacrifice leave us if we continue to sip from poisoned screens feeding like feening rats? 


But even rats have the capacity to learn. 


Do You?  


Moonglow

It was the end of an era. My last weekend was fading with the sun. Elementary would become middle school and my eleventh birthday was looming. Everything changed over the summer, and the realization that everything had an expiration had set in.

The backyard was buzzing. Crickets played their fiddles, bullfrogs crooned the blues, and mosquitoes waged a small-scale war on Papa’s bug zapper and my legs. We were too focused on lapping our creemees in time to avoid a melted catastrophe on Nana’s porch swing and nearly missed the first fireflies. 

Thousands of twinkling stars fired across a lavender sky and instantly we were out of our seats building our lanterns. I was elated laughing and pouncing until I collected two dozen. Papa had gotten half. When we rested, he explained how fireflies got their moonglow. Many moons ago a beetle family was torn apart by a trembling of finches.

They were devastated and vowed one day they’d meet again. One night the little beetle had a brilliant idea. He’d harness the moonlight, travel by night, and find his family. So, he did, and he taught the others how to find their moonglow too. Each spring the finches come, and by summer the beetles reunite in the cornfields. 

It was the end of an era, my last special summer with PaPa. I never expected he’d have an expiration too, but every summer I still visit that porch swing and catch fireflies in the cornfield hoping our lights meet again.   

Replanted (9th Place)

Welcome, Haley,

There’s no need to panic. The drowsiness wears off within an hour. Until you can be trusted, the door remains sealed. Sunlight is a privilege. It’ll take time, but by following the rules, eventually, you’ll be permitted to accompany me upstairs. If you must reach me, an intercom is affixed above your dresser. Phone and internet are unavailable. For entertainment, the television transmits my 24-hour “reconnection” broadcast.

I understand the inconvenience of withdrawal, but it’s imperative you detox from the “Social Addictions” infecting you.

Rules:

 

I must confess. Of all my subjects, I’m rooting for you the most.

 

Restore Your Natural Harmony

 

-Master

One by One

Charcoal skies, homeward-bound, we fell in line as always. Hurrah! Hurrah! We’d long forgotten the meaning and never questioned our cadence, escaping the rain with our heads down. Today, the little one strayed far behind. He was looking up. Later, he told us about the water, how he danced, and how he lived.

Infall

I vowed to follow her to the end of the universe never expecting to die in the center of it.

 

I’m pulled inside, instantly paralyzed by an inescapable pressure—a quantum state of perpetual falling. I’m exponentially stretched between two worlds where I’m nothing in both, yet everything at once. She hangs in the darkness, facing a dying sun; Her silhouette is an eclipse of a sad story.

My blood vessels begin bursting, and my eyes stretch from their sockets as I’m drawn closer to her center. Oxygen pulls through my poriferous skin and the memory of us making love under a Van Gogh sky is vacuum-sealed forever. My lungs shrivel to the size of acorns and my breath vaporizes into the void.

I’m at the mercy of the sand now.

Time moves backward here. I was teleported into the future only to be spat out the other end to face the past I left behind. As I’m dragged closer, I’m forced to watch myself drift away—a mirror image where life and death exist in harmony.

Every molecule atomizes and I slowly disintegrate at her feet. I existed in a single moment and died somewhere between. Now, I’m freefalling forever as her stardust.

 

For her, it was just another flip of the hourglass.

For me, it was a lifetime. 

Petals (Runner-up)

“She LOVES me.”

He plucks a petal from a wilted rose slowly encircling Daria’s chair.

“She loves ME not,” he taunts, scornfully tossing it at her.

Her pleas are muffled through a scarlet-stained rag, her cheeks rubbing painfully raw.

“She loves me,” he growls, sprinkling crumbled remnants onto her matted hair.

It had been three days since he bound and brought her here since she’d trashed his

card and flowers, and his heart. He snatches her head backward exposing tender flesh. Her squeals instantly hush.

“She loves me NOT!” he whispers, then carves a heart across her neck.

“Happy Valentines!”

Bowtie (Winner)

Raindrops replaced tears as she traced memories along the window. I lent her my hand while I drove. Her reflection revealed the weight of the past year. Silhouettes camouflaged her face; our daughter’s ghost stained it— a flood damming at the corners of her eyes. She’d been strong until today, the anniversary of Anastasia’s murder. I parked adjacent to a dimly lit warehouse, interrupting her mournful trance.

“Where are we David?”

“You’ll see. I’ve gotta surprise that’ll cheer you up. C’mon.”

We entered through the backdoor. Before us sat our daughter’s killer tied up, a red bow around his neck.

2023

Summer Heat in Tijuana

Hours suffered in stagnant air— a chelate glaze collects beneath my trembling legs. I’m numb. My pasty forehead pressed to the crack frantically searching for anyone to flicker past. Nobody! Minutes from final boarding and leaving Mexico seems hopeless while finding fucking toilet paper impossible. I should’ve listened to Mother.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - "All Aboard" - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mr. Elemental (Winner)

In the beginning, I was naïve— too eager to preserve life, too blinded by saving the world, and for centuries I did, but a sanctuary exposes one major flaw, overabundance. Humans multiplied. Cities Overcrowded. Agitation sprouted hate. Hellbent on destroying themselves the planet became their battleground— a war-torn dumpster, forcing many creatures into extinction. I couldn’t save them all. A species that once reveled in enlightenment and face-to-face connection now measures success by “likes” on smartphones— their thumbs replacing mouths.

Humans are pestilent, a malignancy sucking life from its host. I cannot sit by anymore.

I must destroy the disease.

Bushwhacked

I often daydream when I’m alone. Today is no different

It’s the same every time. I find myself floating above the ground, not too high where if I’d fall it’d be an instant death, but just high enough where I acquire a new perspective on life. I hide among the trees to observe the silence found within the woods. The bluebirds share a morning bath while gossiping, Creekside. A few of them shiver off the excess water in a beautiful display—the mist catches the sunrise glow. A scurry of squirrels darts out from their home for a brisk jog deeper into the forest eventually disappearing behind the hemlocks. A wandering doe with her fawn pass beneath me forging for acorns under fresh oak leaves—their favorite autumn snack. I’m at peace, not alone, but in a land where nothing matters besides natural instincts and survival, and I’m without her—A fresh breath that I can learn to live with.

This cigarette isn’t going to light itself. I strike a match. The new tobacco hisses like a meddling serpent offering me an indescribable bliss I haven’t felt in twenty-two years. I slump against the boulder I just wrestled into place deserving a moment for myself, but I take three instead ignoring the dull thuds heard from below. The backward curiosity of your playful tone turning to agonizing pleas after you’ve realized I closed the doors on you for good, is priceless. Your voice reverberates utter fear within the tomb I built just for you—a melody so perfect, I think of scales lifting off the pages and the notes reoccurring forever in the most elegant loop pirouetting across the undertaker's dream; my dream. This wasn’t the trip you thought it was, I suppose you know that now. We’ve been nearing the end of days for some time and you were oblivious, never taking the hints I was unhappy or needing to talk. When you expel hate’s last breath out from your dried-up lips, I’ll sip it down like an aged bourbon on the rocks, savoring every cubic foot until all that is useful is absorbed, then provide myself a toast to many years to come, while you gasp and choke trying to count the minutes till darkness.

Only then will I carry on telling an alternate truth to the ones I know will miss you. I’ll say, you died “naturally” in the woods on a hike somewhere in the Alaskan bush, and a large brown predator pulled you away from me forever. Oh, what a shame I shall express with salted sobs. She was my only love. It was a heartbreaking, unexpected loss that I’ll never recover from. My distraught wrist bends toward a sorrowed brow in a telling attempt to sell it.

Oh, and sell it I will because I have unnatural motives you’ll never live to see and while I wait at your doorstep for you to finally quiet down, I ponder where I will travel next in my new life's journey after of course the "mourning period" as any hint of suspicion would be detrimental. I guess it's goodbye my darling, and if I forgot to say it earlier, Happy Anniversary.

I often daydream when I’m alone. Today is no different, except today my dream comes true, and in roughly thirty minutes, I’ll finally be at peace.

Planting My Bastard Seeds (Winner)

I’ve been reduced to the likes of an old steed put out to pasture, removed from this damned chair, but only briefly. Nothing good can come of this.

The house that I've built is being made a mockery of, by the feeding frenzy whom I once called my sons. What a disgrace. They are merely fledglings, and I, an eagle, yet these entitled shits think they can rule the kingdom as well as me, and I can be discarded so easily, how laughable. It is an understatement to say it pisses me off—My soul aches with grief while my heart pumps venom. Where’s the respect I deserve?

They’ve never met the juggernaut who was their father, they only know the man between time and tears in the aftermath of the road he so vigorously paved—a trail blazed by fire, death, and rape across the land they now get drunk and prance upon like fools. They’re naïve, having never understood their fur-lined beds were built atop the bones of more honorable and stronger men than they’ll ever be, and I cut those men down yawning.

I made it far too easy for them when they were boys. My biggest regret is trapping perfection inside my mind and never sharing with them the secrets; a failure too late to reverse by now. This attempt to take from me my rightful place in history is merely a tantrum; a cry for Mommy. It’s not my fault she was a slut and had to be put down like the bitch she turned out to be. Who needs a mother anyway? Men are supposed to find themselves on their own. You cannot suck on the teat too long or you’ll spoil inside with her rotten milk. There’s no silver platter serving testicles and guts. There are only swords and spears, and drinking cocktails of spilled blood and sweat, then chasing that metallic shot with a warm beer to celebrate. They were never ready and never will be prepared, but here they are trying to take my throne like it’s “the chair” that earns respect among the people. What they fail to realize is I don’t need a goddamned seat to rule over anything, and the chair is just a symbol of my power because I am the throne.

They’ve never had to fight for what they want, but a fight is what they’ll get. So, let’s see how badly these little pricks desire my seat, having never lifted a finger except to pick daisies in my courtyards. I’ll break every digit in their hands until they’re swollen and limp like the virgin pussies hidden behind their silken pants. I’ll expose their various insecurities, then drag their names through the city streets like the heads of my slain foe before them. I’ll make every river run red with their blood until the water flows clean. Their names will become popular fallacies stinging the tips of fathers’ tongues then reduced to whispered folklore teaching little boys how to shut up and obey. I will burn all they have ever loved in front of them to ash then drench the remains in my drunken piss for humor.

This empire, I created from the depths of my loin. It was built upon the graves of thousands of men who died to honor my legacy, yet my own blood spits at my feet and looks the other way, as if every inch of this place doesn’t bear my name. My reach extends far beyond the limited horizon of the castle walls they've stayed so safe behind their entire lives. It stretches into the heavens to join the gods and descends into the depths of hell where soon I'll lay them both to rest. All these years I've been their light in a world of darkness never known to them, but at dawn, I will teach them about the darkness.

I will never let the rule of my Kingdom be reduced to two daughters with dicks who’d rather bathe in buttermilk than the blood of a fallen enemy and don’t understand the difference when it comes to running a country. Tomorrow, I will stare my dishonorable seeds in the eyes and watch their souls leave their bodies one at a time, nose to nose like a man should, and I will then feed their bodies to the pigs so that they become fertilizer for my plants to grow.

“Bonne chance mes bâtards d'enfants.”

This crown dies with me.

Leap of Faith-part 2

On the night I danced atop raindrop graves inviting the skies to strike me down, my discarded heart struggled to pace my legs as I twirled to the cadence of thunder. I offered a silent plea to any willing god who’d expunge from me, the damnation of passion forlorn. For my tireless wings had lost their wind making a heartless tomorrow seem inescapable. I yearned to die if living without love was to be my fate. So, I kicked the puddles filling with heaven’s tears flouncing my native dance to mock the storm. My untamed arms flailed the arrogance of a youth’s bravado enticing the pain to be relieved by a single strike. My eyelids fell to meet the end as Zion’s reprisal cut through the shroud of darkness with a firebolt, yet it spared my life leaving me dumbfounded and enraged. I opened my eyes to the stir of birds vacating their limbed perches as they scattered across the horizon anticipating an aftershock—The very rhythm I had been dancing to all night. I continued on like it never happened poking at the growling beast above until…BOOM! With a sudden flash, a message revealed itself atop the grand clock tower—The silhouette of you. You watched over me with an enrapt beauty, and all this time I thought I was alone. My skin flushed without warning, and I no longer beckoned for death’s embrace, but instead sought the passion cemented in your eyes. It was then I longed to receive the warmth retained deep inside your heart and upon meeting each other’s gaze I knew we would chase the shadows of dreams no more—We would live them. 

Recipe for a Brisket

“Flavorless. Without Seasoning. A bland chunk of meat. That’s what I’d be.”

I’ve been through a few things and wouldn’t be myself without them. Instead, I’d be a stranger I've never met—I’d be undercooked ribs attached to the bone.

You could waste time wondering what life would be like without your issues, hell I know I have, but as I did, you may fail to realize you’re still alive and end up pondering forever. You got through all that fucked up shit somehow and found a way to crawl out, so take time to realize it and savor it. I get it, it can be nearly impossible to distinguish whether you are indeed out of it until years after the fact. Perhaps, you chose to be deaf to the wise, hardheaded, and ignorant like me; Blazing your path and hammering through every brick wall you came across when you could have easily just walked around them. Maybe you felt like you were forced to, as you were stuck in first gear chugging through life in survival mode for nearly twenty years; Something you were taught at an early age how to do; How to be a navigator, never the driver. It’s also possible there is a reason never to be understood. Hell, I still don’t know.

For whatever causes got us here, our experiences are who we are now; aged pieces of meat slow-cooked to perfection and nothing to be ignored. What was once, a tough, flavorless slab of flesh just required time and patience to become an Umami masterpiece. Hot off the grill and well rested, let everyone grab a plate. Make sure to add a kiss of motherly alcoholism, a sprinkle of homelessness, and a dash of mental health issues to taste, then finish it off with a few globs of other fattening shit to clog the arteries. Make them grease the corners of their mouths and line their bellies until they are sick.

I would rather be dry-rubbed in my special blend any day than be seasoned like all the rest. So, serve me up until I’m gone, and save the garnish for the weak.

The Ride In

“I took an oath many years before the bombs started to fall, and so did everyone else, but after the sky burned to the ground, and incinerated all that was around us, the few hundred who stayed behind are the only ones left upholding it. Our call sign is Wagon 29, but we are more popularly nicknamed as “the Bulletproof Crew,” by the other ambulances. Though we are immortalized for going into places that no one else will, we are anything but eternal. We come out alive each time sporting our trademarked “don’t give a fuck” attitudes, and I guess that leaves an impression on people after a while, but it isn’t hard. We just have a “More action, less talking” outlook. We bottle that shit up, only to spit it back out at the city the next time we go in.”

“Perhaps believing that we are demigods, somehow makes them feel safer. They know we bleed, but they choose to ignore it. This delusional crumb of hope is magical to them and has them thinking, that if ’29 gets home each night, they could too. But if magic does exist, it most certainly wouldn’t be a cute and fuzzy pulled out of a hat, instead it would be a sleight of hand; A lure of cheese for all those field mice scurrying about, trying to find the scraps of life to hold onto just for another day or perhaps another nibble. Those are the ones who die first, because they don’t focus on the right things, and they have all the wrong motives. They-re selfish. The reality is that there is no hope strong enough to bring anyone home, not me, not you, and there certainly is no special wand to save your ass. Many more are gonna die, it’s a fact. There are piles of bodies lining those streets from those who already have, and every day they get higher. You have to accept the inevitable out here. Maybe today, a little girl with a 9mm pick you off while you are trying to resuscitate her mother, maybe it will happen in a week. Maybe next year. We all do eventually, but the quicker you realize that the quicker you can focus on the oath and not the other shit. That’s when real work gets done, and that’s when you become idolized like us.”

“The district already lost two guys this week in the suburbs just outside the city. One, was on the interstate heading back to the station. He was taken out by an alcoholic with a rifle who was just fucking around. The god-damned asshole was using the ambulance for target practice while putting down his toilet wine. The other nicknamed “Tommy Gun,” from Wagon 47, was self-inflicted before his shift even started. I don’t blame him for it, cause this shit can get to you after a while, but if you’re gonna be on my crew, you gotta get past that emotional bullshit, stop looking at life as life, and humans as humans, then you can get to work without any fear.”

“The difference between them and us was how we look at our patients. Yesterday, Gary Andrews, of 3335 Cherrywood Ave, wasn’t Gary. He was a sucking chest wound that needed constant pressure, a plastic seal, 180cc’s of pure saline, and one hell of a lead foot to save his overdosed ass. They aren’t patients, they’re injuries. They’re body parts that are in the wrong places either needing re-alignment or a lot of fucking staples. You gotta take the human out of humanity nowadays. Too much shit has happened for us to stop and think about it, now.”

I lean over to shake the hands of the recruit sitting next to me, while I casually take my eyes off the road, and loosely steer us down the merge ramp onto the interstate.

“Enough of the pep talk, you ready for this shit kid? I’m Axel by the way, but everyone calls me Ax.”

His eyes were wide and full of uncertainty or regret, or both. He leaned against the door as if he was hoping it would open to save him. I didn’t know if he was more scared of me, or the stories of the city we were soon driving into. With a soft, fresh out of medical camp-nod, he squeaks out.

“Ronnie, sir.” while loosely shaking my hand.

I have seen this look before, and it usually doesn’t end well, but hell we need people, and it takes balls to sign up, so, I will give him that. He gets brownies for the Sir too. I whip out of the merge lane onto the I-30 ramp on a direct path with Dallas. The skies ahead are crimson-black with its usual ongoing fire and thick smoke. The city was just the way I preferred it and the smell of danger was in the air.

“Get your gun ready kid, Today, we got some lives to save!”

As we approach the city at my usual warp speed attempting to avoid as many stray bullets as I can, while the remaining ones ricochet off of us every few minutes, our radio sounds with our first call.

“Wagon 29, Dispatch.”

I reach for the radio, but Ronnie beats me to it. I shoot him a glare to warn him not to fuck it up, but nod with approval to continue on. He lacks confidence, and sounds questionable, but responds correctly; which is exactly how we all started.

“Go for ’29?”

“We got a car accident just off exit forty-five Bravo, southbound on Riverfront. One victim, a female, is approximately thirty-eight years of age. Possible head wound, and other injuries. The caller says she is bleeding badly and does not have much time. Over”

“Copy that, over”

The radio goes silent for a couple of seconds, then sounds on to produce a constant flow of scratchy airwaves, and then clicks off. After a few moments, it comes back on with the dispatcher’s voice again, but distressed.

“Ax?”

I immediately snatch the radio out of Ronnie's hand, slide my fingers onto the side button, and press it in.

“Go for Ax.”

There is a long pause again.

“Ax, I don’t know how to tell you this, but the victim is driving a Blue Colorado, license plate GXT 4598.” The radio clicks off for another moment, giving me time to comprehend the numbers and the description. I twist my head in confusion, while an overwhelming flood of memories and heartache from the last four years rapidly begin to surface. The radio breaks through my thoughts, confirming my best and worst suspicions.

“Ax, I think we just found your wife…and I think she’s dying!”

--My foot welds the gas pedal to the floor.--

Descending Within

I have lived in the sewers of my mind for as long as I can remember. It’s filthy and dark down here. A bottomless staircase spiraling straight to hell. I call it home. When I descend, there is no railing to hold onto or candelabra to guide me. I’m left clawing the edges as I circle deeper into the catacombs. My fingers become split and swollen from gripping craggy stones, but I’m no rock climber. I struggle with each step slipping as I go. My rent is paid far in advance so I come as I please, no questions asked. Especially since the landlord skipped town last week with all of my cash. Who knows if he’s ever coming back? Most times I am alone, even sitting next to the ones I love. I choke that stale air down only for it to projectile vomit back up. I am left feeling uneasy and disconnected, but yearning for a deeper dive into self-pity. I know nothing of what I want and want nothing of what I have. There is a grunginess to the sewers that leave stains on skin, something that one can’t just scrub off, but it’s real god dammit, and I’d fucking rather have real, than anything else.

At least I can feel real.

© 2023 Chris Sadhill

The Dread of a Dozen Roses

Jacob,

I write you with much apprehension, yet I am compelled to out of my love for Thomas. It's been roughly a year since I began dating him, but somehow he remains in my life. Why? Why do you allow him to be with me now when the two boyfriends before him, you decided to brutally remove from my life, and subsequently sent me four black roses each time you made one disappear? I want to be free of you, but I notice your reflection in every window we pass and never miss your car outside my house most nights until Eleven. Is this a game to you? When will you finally learn I'm not interested? It's been four years since you and I met, and you've forced yourself into my life every day since; I assume by design, but I can no longer fathom the thought of losing my sweet Thomas, and if you cared about me as much as you have ruthlessly demonstrated, then you would continue to let us live on, in love. I beg you to leave us alone and stop following me. Don't hurt him like you did the others. I wish I could say that I would do anything to protect us, but that's not true, because I will never choose to be with you. Please find a way to move on. I know that your love for me feels real, but it's not. So, this time please don't send me flowers.

-Fearfully

Rachel

Practice Makes Perfect

The blood-filled capillaries in his eyes and the surprised expression cemented on his face, indicated he was dead. Despite her third success, Rose was disappointed and remained straddled over his limp torso analyzing the past two minutes. She took in the destruction around her while catching her breath, then released the pressure of the lamp cord off his bulging throat. She sat upright, slamming her hand into his chest with frustration. Her process had improved, but to consider herself a professional, a higher caliber of efficiency was required. Rose grinned. 

Perhaps next time will be the perfect ending to her book. 

Morning Toast (Winner)

She hovered over him watching him sleep for the past thirteen minutes, a pile of his soiled clothes resting at her freshly manicured feet. He was soaking in the bathtub that she had drawn for him just before his arrival from an exhausting night at work. She glared down the tip of her nose into his soul, observing each breath rise from his chest, and liberally exiting through his nostrils. She always liked how they flared out at the tips when he was exhausted, like he was this morning; or when he would get out of breath from when they wrestled and he was being goofy; or when he was aroused, which happened less often than it used to. He was peaceful, similar to a sleeping infant. It was reminiscent of when their four-year-old daughter would lay dreaming in her bassinet at the foot of their bed in what seemed only yesterday. She took all of him in, yet behind her composure she felt anything but peace or love. Her throat swallowed her revenge, while she gripped a pair of un-washed purple panties tightly balled inside of her fist. The other hand yielded a toaster oven that was attached to an extension cord, and plugged into the outlet on the wall. This morning, the only breakfast she would be serving him was soggy toast with no butter. 

A Polaroid for the Sky (Winner)

This is my last Christmas. They don’t know it yet. My two smallest are tucked away dreaming, while I add the final touches under our tree. Soon, they’ll tumble down the stairs propelled by Santa’s gifts. The smiles, the glee, the magic throughout the room will light me up brighter than heaven itself. Only then do I get to unwrap my own presents. I’ll lift them up to feel their weight, carefully peeling back their badly placed tape, and with my eyes snap a Polaroid that I will take with me into the sky. I sip my coffee and wait. 

In His Eyes

IMMEDIATELY AFTER

I hovered over him panting with anger, and bellowed the guttural grunts of my primal rage all over the room. Instantly, I transformed into a dragon, discharging my fiery breath of pent-up frustrations into his prickly pale face. A mist of drool spewed out of my mouth with every dejected howl I belched, and my throat grew raspier with each bark. Though I was fueled by all the absent years of his love for me, I was mostly supercharged by the meat cleaver he had chased after me with only a minute earlier. I was in fact just defending myself. So, on this night, either by my cold-blooded hands or on my own two feet walking out of this place, my choice to become step-fatherless seemed inevitable.

MINUTES BEFORE

I found myself blindsided in the fresh heat of a household disagreement, which was a common way of communicating for my family, but I was not quite sure how this one began. Somehow, I was caught between my mother demanding that I start producing rent, only two weeks after graduation, and my step-father telling me to move out with immediacy. It's not that I didn't foresee having to grow up, pay bills, or start partaking in a society like everyone else, but I had a hard and confusing end to my senior year that I was still mentally recovering from. Two big spoilers; Before the football season even began I had broken my leg, which literally shattered any opportunity for a college scout to see me on the field. Implausible, yes. Impossible, not quite. In ninth grade, I was named Vermont's Best Lineman, and we won State in the same year, though Florida was a different breed of humans, and I was small, there was still a chance for a smaller school to pick me up. Secondly, in the final weeks before graduation, I lost my opportunity for an academic scholarship, mostly due to the fact that my parents neglected to get me properly prepped for S.A.T. Though having been loosely diagnosed with A.D.H.D, which did affect my test-taking abilities, it was mostly a financial issue that was exacerbated by lack of saving anything, the lack of care from my parents, and the failure to see the benefit of investing in their talented son. I in fact was closely a straight-A student, on the honor roll for more quarters than I could remember, and among the top percentile of my class. It certainly wasn't an intelligence thing. I remember my mother's words of wisdom spoken out of the corner of her mouth as she handed me the sixty-two dollar money order for the last possible test that I was able to schedule for the year.

"You got one shot, don't fuck it up!" while she puffed her cigarette, and placed the car abruptly into the park at the school entrance minutes before test time. The weight of my future rested upon my success.

Both of those things could have gotten me out of this place, and both would have prevented this night from happening. I was overwhelmed with anxiety fueled by the stress of abruptly needing to find a home or a job, or both. So, I walked away like I was taught to do by my therapist ten years prior. I found a brief comfort inside my so-called bedroom, which was a walk-in closet inside my parent's room. Her slow-relaxed voice resonated over and over in my head while I attempted to control my breathing and plan my next move. Count to ten. Think before you speak. Create space and allow time before reacting. I knew that going outside would be good for us all, especially me, and listening to music would be relaxing while I went for a walk in a neighborhood park. So, I had a plan. I slammed my feet into my shoes with no time to tie them, then made sure to grab the earbuds off the dresser while hastily shuffling towards my bedroom door, but I was met in the doorway by my step-father yielding a large knife that was intended to chop through bone. Accompanying him was my mother actively fighting him off, and with a strained urgency, instructed me to leave.

Maybe I was in shock from seeing the bright flash of the sharpened metal when the knife caught the light just right, or perhaps the overall excitement from the heightened stress and immediacy of the moment, nevertheless, I continued towards the exit without a reaction and blindly obliged my mothers to request to leave. I brushed passed them unaffected until my hand eventually found its way to the knob, and I began turning it. Even though my back faced them I could feel their animated presence behind me, which re-enforced my need to leave. My awareness of the room had lifted the hairs off my skin in anticipation. Each one was fully erect and standing at attention; Ready for their assignment; Ready for war. My heart thumped inside my chest pumping apprehensiveness throughout my veins, but I continued opening the door knowing that I was only inches away from being safer on the other side. In one moment, all of my efforts to calm and distance myself from the situation were sabotaged as I was struck from behind by a massive blow to my back. I carried enough momentum to slam the door shut with my head, and my survival instincts immediately took over. A six-year flame ignited a wildfire within me. My stepfather and I became entwined into a pretzel of anger, and I speedily salted him with my years of pain-turned-hate.

THE IN-BETWEEN

When someone says they "blacked out" it's hard for another person to comprehend what that really means. I think that our minds protect ourselves, and default into a sort of "survival mode," so that we won't have to deal with the emotional side when we are forced to recollect the horrible events. Maybe there is truth in that, or perhaps we really just blackout in a blind rage, but I don't think it's an absolute thing, and I assume it's not the same for everyone or the same every time; It's circumstantial.

For me, on this night it was a total darkness that infected my sight, my mind, and my heart for short periods of time, and I am left with snippets of silent, black-and-white, time-lapses of going ape-shit crazy. There were moments that I remember pounding his body like one would imagine a silver back to do when protecting its troop; my shirt ripping to shreds over my head with every strike and with every uncontrollable scream. It was the purest of rage that I delivered to him. It was the most honest I had ever been with him since he and my mother met. Unfortunately, it was the most painful of honesty, the kind that actually hurts. Then there are the moments that may never be found, lost in the black hole of hatred, and tumbling through the endless void of my mind's darkness.

AFTER THE AFTER

I gathered any moisture I could find in my mouth, and hocked it into his face with cruel intentions, then dug my elbow deeper into his neck ensuring I would employ more pain. I wanted him to feel my strength; To inflict a sense of humiliation on him. I was empowered, yet still in total fear for my life. I was barely in control, and running on adrenaline, which is not a good combination for a kid who lacked maturity and had nothing to lose. Every vein pumped with the compulsion to end him quickly. I had the capability, and I had the motive. I was compelled to stand up for myself finally, prove I could be a man, and gain the respect any loving son would deserve even if it meant beating it out of him. So there I was, eager to inflict pain on him and watch his life wither away slowly, so that it may match the loneliness that I felt inside. Having the urge to fight to the death was only natural, as men have been doing it for thousands of years, but for whatever reason, that night, I didn't kill him despite having an undeniable justification to do it. Maybe it was my mother pulling and grabbing at me or her constant pleading for my release of his throat. Maybe it was a lesson for me to observe what I am capable of, and where my demons can lead me if left unchecked or they became inflamed. Maybe seeing what a man looks like when he thinks he's going to die or that I am even capable of making someone think or feel that way is what saved his life that night, because when I looked into his eyes, I was afraid, but I was mostly afraid of myself.

I let my grip up just enough to allow air to enter into his lungs, yet maintained most of my weight on his body, to ensure he would stay put. He was frozen in place. His tail was tucked between his legs, and he stared at me with enormous dread, as if he accepted his fate, and knew he was going to die. My spit rolled down his cheek, and onto the carpet as tears pooled into the corner of his eyes. His pupils were dilated and remained that way without fluctuation regardless of the light. The fear on his face was impactful to me, but only in retrospect. As I retell it, I also relive it. With each time, the memory is branded deeper into my soul, and I can assume I will only be relinquished of it, many years from now when I pass on. I will never forget the glossed-over stare he held on me, while he anticipated my next infliction. His eyes seemed to conclude that it would be the last feeling he would ever experience, but it would have been something to experience instead of the raw emptiness that existed in his death. His head was jammed into the carpet and pinned between the couch, and my arm. I straddled his body pressing all my weight onto him, but it was pointless as he stopped struggling almost instantly after our brawl had started. He just laid there like when a dog cowers down showing its belly in surrender. As if he realized he was not the alpha wolf anymore, or that he never really was, yet he was the grown man, and I was only seventeen, fresh out of high school. How was I the stronger one? Why is he cowering to me?

Though I believe I was right for defending myself that night, it's what I did afterward, that bothers me to this day. He deserved his ass-beating, and I would do it again with the same intensity and the same brutality, but taking from him the tiny part of manhood that he had left, destroying the bits of pride that remained within him, and the humiliation that I inflicted after he was already down and had given up, was plain wrong. It was arrogant and destructive. It was a horrendous act of violence against a person's soul. It is saddening to live with. We can all heal from the bruises, the broken ribs, and the concussed head like he did, but it takes a lifetime for some, to mend a broken and battered soul. Even when I remember his glazed eyes staring back at me, I can't help by see a hurt boy staring at a hurt boy, both of whom never healed, never had a real father to look up to, never had time to mature, and both were never taught how to talk about it. In a fucked up twisted kind of way, that day was the moment that I realized, that he and I were more similar than we ever thought. The day that we chiseled in stone a permanent void between us was also the same day that we connected the most, and actually shared our feelings with each other, not with our words or our fists, but instead with both sets of eyes.


© 2023 Chris Sadhill

A Dance for the Grease Man

Anyone passing by would have me mistaken for dead, but I was just sprawled out on my creeper, underneath an old garbage truck trying to make a living. This particular trash rig was assigned the number eight-one-three. Its route only picked up from the seafood grills around town so the guys in the shop nicknamed it Fish Fry, yet it smelled anything but edible or delicious. To say the rancid stew of sea flesh singed my nostrils would be an understatement. The stench was unspeakable, especially on hot days like this. You never get used to it, but instead, you find a way to deal with it. I’d rather be back in the last truck, which had me ankle-deep in diaper shit and rotting poultry. It wasn’t abnormal to have some kid’s butt bomb filling the gaps of my boots, and while that aroma could break any good man, it was a smell I preferred over truck eight-thirteen.

My collar was sweat-stained and fresh grease was splattered like blood across my clothes. I forced my eyes shut. I was deep in concentration and my fingers helped me see what my eyes could not. My arm was contorted inside an engine attempting to locate a fitting the size of a pencil eraser. The sting of my skin cooking against heated metal quickly guided me to where thought I would find it. I felt the edges of the pump shaft until I came across a familiar grease point, then jammed the needle down its throat. I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on the hose and start pumping it in. After a few rounds of puffs and hisses from the air compressor, the monthly lubrication was complete and it was time to get out of there. One down thirty-eight more to go.

Mid-July in Florida is hot enough as it is, but on this day, we were nearing a triple-digit heat wave and my lunch break was just around the corner. I was already on my back, therefore, considering stealing a moment for myself wasn’t much of a stretch. So, I did. I retracted my arm from hell’s taint and tossed the hose at my service truck parked a couple of lengths ahead. I had worked hard enough; I could give a shit about wasting a minute for the city. I closed my eyes for a well-earned rest and rolled onto my side. Eventually, circulation pulsed back into my arm bringing with it the stab of pins and needles we all love to hate. I can’t recall the specifics, but Rush Limbaugh was ranting on about the liberal agenda and how they will destroy our way of life. I was hooked on the cadence of his voice rather than the message that carried from the speakers into my impressionable mind. After a short time, my eyes opened and I began examining the exciting undercarriage of a fifteen-ton compressor truck used for human waste and yesterday’s memories thrown aside.

I guess I was just too focused on the job to notice, but the corner of my eye picked up a movement that made me question if I was dying or just passing out from the heat. Either option was no good, so I jolted my body alert in an attempt to stop the darkness from taking me. I grabbed onto anything above that seemed stable and held on tight as if I could stop death from pulling me under with my bare hands. The movement never subsided. A few moments later and further examinations revealed the ground beneath me was shifting—In fact, it was crawling. I was an inch away from a sea of yellow wiggling in a shadow that stretched the length of the truck. It was then that I noticed the faintest crinkle of tiny legs entering my ears which competed with the slimy squirm of wet bodies against wet bodies rubbing against one another on an asphalt dance floor. It was a maggot rave. A fish fry celebration in the dead heat of summer, and I seemed to be their guest of honor. What a party to observe. I watched the larvae dance for the grease man for some time and came away appreciating the perfect choreography they performed in my presence.

It wasn’t long before I moved onto the next truck, but not before I stopped to catch a bite to eat—A prepacked meal I had prepared the night before.

Chopped Ramen Noodles, shrimp flavored.