The Griminals: Part Four


In case you’ve not read The Griminals: A Separation Story Part One | Part Two | or Part Three 


And here’s the conclusion:

Of course, Chelle knows ravens are a different bird from the crow; or at least she thinks they are. But, really, she’s not even sure these invaders are crows—long obsidian feathers, all shinny and sharp make her feel they’re crows. But either way, the name Ravenbend just sounds better. And there’s a lot of them flapping around. Big and black, noisy and posturing, like nightmarish pigeons, they stare at her. Intently. And she wonders how so many large birds can exist in one place at one time. What do they eat?

Oh right, she decides, it’s the bodies. All the bodies, and there’s all the garbage that’s piled up. She hasn’t seen the building super for days. Although, there seems to be more bodies now than 24hrs ago. And more garbage too. Not less, as she’d expect, that’s for sure. Shouldn’t there be fewer bodies? How many pounds of flesh can an average crow eat?

Someone has to remove some of these bodies. The smell alone is ruining Chelle’s sense of adventure. And her appetite is nearly gone. If she were the building’s super, she thought, where would I be hiding out? If my job description had just recently changed from fixing leaky pipes and re-hanging planter boxes, to disposing of dead bodies and fighting off evil crows, where would I disappear to? Anywhere but here.

Chelle now thinks her boyfriend isn’t coming home. Ever.

He hasn’t even called. And when she pictures his face, all she sees is a plate of raw meat. You know, like one of those cheap steaks served with a baked potato at a dive bar. It’s pink with the threat of blood. But not bleeding. Just lined with false potential.

In her head:

I’m having doubts. No super, no power for lights, and no Internet. But lots of garbage. I can’t wait here forever. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Chelle, what are you waiting for this time? You’re a lonely hatchling in this darkened nest of birds and bodies.

Oh, my parents would say I should wait for help, for the authorities to come, for a savior. But my parents aren’t answering their phones. Two damn cellphones and no answers. No super. It’s just me. I haven’t even had to change a lightbulb for myself in three years. Now I’m faced with this loneliness, and I think the bodies have been moving around. Dead bodies. Moving!

I’ve become too scared to go downstairs for a closer look. But from the fire escape outside my window everything looks like those police drone videos of protesters all bunged up, shoulders hunched, just struggling against each other. A single purpose with multiply avenues of completion, and even more avenues for failure. But they stand up, and they take a risk. No matter the beatdowns taken, they push on. Push on.

I’m going to die here alone if I don’t make a move. I have to put some things in a bag and go out there. This waiting isn’t working out.

Eaters Without Boarders

Milton Fife and I are in the mall’s foodcourt. “Hard people full of soft potential,” I say, as he’s stacking heavy objects against one of two entranceways to Snack’s Snack Emporium.

The lamia came for the children,” Milton Fife replies between grunts and over the sound of his work.

I ignore his comment because I’m now more interested in Snack’s unused bounty of individually wrapped, chocolate-dipped corn chips. Salty and sweet, that’s my kind of meat. In these times of decay, we nomads have refined our understanding of nutritious meals into three commandments. “Stay hydrated; eat proteins when available, and above all else you have to enjoy the pleasure of consuming snacks with long shelf lives. Thank you, Hostess.

Mini Muffins for days! And days. And days.

It’s this thought—Ho Hos: A Bad Thing Turned Good—which keeps me from noticing the sudden sound of music booming from unseen speakers, until it’s cranked to 11 and quickly reaching out to all ears.

All at once, the commanding voice of Barbra Streisand breaks over me as Milton Fife slaps my backside and swings his sledgehammer onto his shoulder in one fluid motion. “New question,” he says, “can Eaters tell the difference between live and recorded audio?”

And all around us, Barbra Streisand electrifies our foodcourt stadium with a rousing rendition of Second Hand Rose.

Better question,” I reply, “will the Eaters be repelled or attracted by Barbra’s voice?”

By way of an answer, Milton Fife hones in on the scent of something, a smelly vibe I guess, telling him the answer to a more important and unasked question: Where’s the music coming from?

Chelle Preaches Vengeance

As we run in search of the voice, a new threat comes to us in the form of an amplified, disembodied question: “Are you dead or alive?” … secondhand pearls … I’m sick of secondhand curls…

Now. How does one answer a oneway transmission in space? Maybe, one lands one’s spacecraft on the doorstep of the inquisitor and says, “Yes, I’m alive. How kind. Thanks for asking.”

If you’re Milton Fife, on the other hand, you sledgehammer the office door of Poppy’s Pumpkin Palace and scream, “We’re the living, and you’re going to be the dead!” And yes, he screamed “going to be” and not “gonna be”. Milton Fife is formal even in a fight.

Now, the question becomes: How does one respond to an In-Your-Face challenge from a stranger on her doorstep? With a true action movie hero one-liner, of course: “Buddy, I’m gonna press your suit with a cold, dirty iron.”

Chelle slides a big pistol of unknown make and manufacture from under her jacket, letting fly an awkward shot that slams into the wall just to the right of Milton Fife’s head.

Milton Fife, with a slight shakiness in his voice, “Bed your make, sleep in it!” Accompanied by thunderous sledgehammer gaveling on the floor in front of Chelle.

It’s no wonder I feel abused … I never get a thing that ain’t been used …

That’s when our false front of bravery breaks down into the gushing of laughter and tears. Absurdity and fears. We—the only truly living human beings left—drop all our defenses, falling bodily to the floor in a release of loose, casual humanity. For a moment.

Our chuckle orgy lasts an eternity of about four carefree minutes. Time doesn’t like to stand still, however, and its momentum makes Chelle pull us back to the moment. Rising, with a flash of heat and anger. Without disclaimer, she unleashes an oral barrage. One, I can only conclude, that had built up in her over days of lonely struggle until our presence called it forth.

I have lasted in this sick crow and garbage infested horror town as long as you! And without aid from others, I’ve been completely alone.” And from Barbra… Life is juicy, juicy and you’ll see I’ve gotta have my bite, sir….

She continues; her voice building with Barbra’s: “I’ve killed those dead things. I’ve put them down for good. And in the short time since I left my apartment at Ravenbend, I’ve grown more than in my entire previous, shitty life. I was a baby. A baby waiting for death.”

Chelle reloads her pistol. She eyes us with a brutality beyond her years.

Together, we will destroy them all. Reclaim humanity. Or at the very least, we will take back our city. Stand now. No progress without vengeance. No future without a fight!”

Everything is Coming Up Eaters

Have you ever misplaced a chunk of your day? An hour gone, no imprint. A day in the week, just blank. Or an event, years prior, that someone swears you attended. You know you didn’t. Maybe?

Oh fluid memory! It’s a juicy gossip. It’s a tale of conjecture. So my retelling of the next few hours may not be true. Sit back, and look for the warnings.

Chelle is not an imposing figure. She is small, like 5’3”. But with a pistol in one hand and a machete in the other, she’s a reverse biblical crusade of miniature fury. Fuck Knights Templar! And that is our fighting word. Every cry begins with it.

Fuck! Fuck lard! Fuck the dead! Fuck the Eaters of human flesh! Fuck viral incongruities! Fuck greed!”

On and on we go. Killing and crying. Milton Fife sledging anything that moves, quivers, shakes, or drags a lame foot. Fuck the lame!

Oh … right, and fuck the hundreds of Eaters from the rotunda that have heeded the ongoing call of Barbra Streisand because in our excitement we forgot to turn off her saucy voice. Fuck amplified music!

He touched me

He put his hand near mine

and then he touched me

I felt a sudden tingle

when he touched me

a sparkle, a glow

He knew it

It wasn’t accidental

No, he knew it

And suddenly nothing is the same. Oh, Barbra, your words are prophetic. Touched, and it’s over. But that hasn’t happened yet. The fight is on.

As Barbra’s recorded voice sings, “Life’s candy and the sun’s a ball of butter,” we chop and curse; we fade and regain our energies. We feel the unrestrained freedom again.

And then there’s some other lyrics, not so important until this: “Eye on the target and wham. One shot, one gun shot, and bam!” Chelle is Barbra incarnate. Milton Fife and I are simply her backup singers. We repeat her lines and double tap our way forward on her wings. Bloody wings of vengeance. We kill and kill.

And then, she’s there. Wife. Ex-wife. My once living love. Yes, the one who left me. Her outsides matching the twisted insides I hadn’t understood soon enough. Only glimpsed in missing time and contradictions.

Her true self, it seems, has been let out to play. Well, good. Seeing her lame-footed dance now makes me wonder: Is there a feminine for Conquistador? Maybe it’s Eater? Oh man, can she eat. When I spot her, she’s noshing on some mall cop’s tender bits. Another survivor? Not now.

My ex-wife has been touched, torn, stripped clean of social structure. But it is her. Something in the eyes, or the big white teeth, this is definitely her, all her. An Eater, as I had thought she would be. An Eater I used to know.

I miss her still. Even like this. Inside I’m reaching out. Outside I’m riding on the bloody wings of Chelle’s vengeance. And mine, too. For the lies and the blame. For the unwanted separation. This is why I survived. Bad timing turned good.

I take a moment. I slot an arrow. I draw it back. Goodbye, old world.

Thomas Cleans Out His Closet

But, truly, back in the office, as Milton Fife charged with his sledgehammer, Chelle shot him twice. Once in his shoulder, and once in his stomach.

free again … back in circulation now … time for celebration now … a party

She hadn’t missed. We hadn’t charged off to fight for vengeance. No wings. No ex-wife.

Milton Fife stumbled forward, hitting Chelle’s arm with an awkward sledge swing. Her pistol fell. I slotted an arrow. I shot it through her neck—right in the center. No thought, no consideration. Just the sound of Chelle and Milton Fife hitting the floor mixed with the voice of Barbra hitting the high notes.

At that point, I crawled to him, and I lifted him up, head and shoulders, onto my lap. A most loving gesture it felt in the moment. He was still breathing. And there was a happiness in its sound.

As Milton Fife bled, he talked: “I guess, Thomas, we’re grim criminals in the end. Not heroes. Not poets. Only commentators and thieves. We stole a little extra life. The turd pool would eat this up. I can hear them tapping away, and clicking away. Be alright, my friend. Stay strong. Use blood if you have to, but write this thing out. Write it out of our existence. Thomas? I should’ve stayed under my rock.”

The Barbra Streisand Fortress

I think this is where I will stay, in the pumpkin palace. The food is preserved beyond recognition, although the water tastes a bit like cancer. Familiar and final. Also, there are Sharpies, ball points, and pencils in every drawer. I have my blood, too. Plus blank pieces of paper in the office printer. And at the end of the day, even the music conforms to the situation:

People

People who eat people

Are the luckiest people in the world

Where children eating other children

And yet letting our grown-up pride

Hide all the need inside

I feel a true peace coming on. I greet it. I become it. Thanks, Hostess.


K. Shawn Edgar | Thanks for reading | Hope you enjoyed it | Ho Ho’s

 

 

 

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The Griminals: Part Three


Catch Up Here: Part One of Griminals | Part Two of Griminals


 

|•|

As for Thomas, currently he’s gone small and Old World by penning his words in a blueish calfskin binder on non-bleached off-white pages. Pages with tiny words reminiscent of earthly stratification. There’s no “school” here, old or new, for Thomas. His method is simply primal, and I suspect he’s close to using blood as ink.

Dance of Life

It’s only now that I feel relaxed and comfortable in my own skin. My toes are my own. Organs, all inside and in place, healthy and mine. I no longer feel an overwhelming need to hide under a rock. I think it’s the recent decrease in non-screaming humans to Milton Fife and I alone that has released me from the fantasy that I’m not human. Because now I have millions of examples of true subhumans. And this gives me new purpose: be the best flesh, bone, and blood I can be.

From the fire escape outside of a large department store on the other end of our block, we jimmy a fourth-floor window. There are five buildings we can get to by going in different directions over the roof of our building. Some are connected by narrow metal walkways, while others we jump small gaps. On the largest gap we tipped long steel poles across, secured them on our side with brackets and concrete screws, and then shimmied over to bolt them down on the other side.

Milton Fife found some corrugated sheet metal on an unfinished floor of one neighboring building, so we pushed it along the poles and secured it with three-and-a-half inch bolts on either side. Ingenuity. I never thought I had it. But it’s bubbled up like spring water from the cavernous deep. This shows me that when you’re forced to level up, new abilities are exposed and, of course, you have to make use of them or you perish.

If you’ve ever been in a department store after closing—security guards and window dressers will relate to this best—there’s a queer glee and freedom to running about, or touching and turning everything on, that overrides one’s sense of societal propriety. Bang. It’s switched off. Full stop. And another sense switches on. A sense of unrestrained exploration. Maybe that’s how the Spanish felt after landing in the “New World”?

Normally, throwing a switch like this causes conflict with the untransformed majority because the actions it produces appear antisocial and harmful to the status quo. But, as Milton Fife says, all those tables have been turned. And burned. Eaters no longer care about controlling image, making money, or market shares; they’ve been rewritten to a single root command: If it’s alive, eat it.

The Meat On Our Bones

Ogden said, “It is the urge to build and expand—to literally increase one’s mass—that separates the living from the dead; for once this urge is gone, the living topple and decompose.” You may not know of Ogden. You may think you do. Either way, he was an Eighteenth Century Irish farmer and poet who wrote under the name of Barnaby Smoot. Shaped like a bean stock, he weaved agriculture into everything he did. Even his house, it is said, had a turf grass and sunflower roof.

I’m reminded of Ogden as Milton Fife and I stare down from the balcony overlooking the central rotunda. Four stories of shopping, food, and other entertainments reflect our past of over building and expansion for expansion’s sake. But now, it is all inanimate emptiness.

I wonder how Ogden would have factored the Eaters into his equation? Their urge to increase individual mass is definitely not gone and, if anything, has intensified to the singular focus of expanding into the one area previously taboo. Other living humans. That’s the thing, isn’t it? The ultimate connection; the ultimate sex is not sex and reproduction at all, but eating human flesh.

Milton and I snap into our Spanish Conquistador mode. The new sense of freedom overtaking us both at the same time, we run about the place touching, tipping, and attacking everything in our path. My main goal is to gather all the weapons I can, while Milton is clearly more interested in scientific study. He dumps a mannequin and a microwave over the balcony railing to see which hits the ground floor first. It’s an old experiment, no doubt, but somehow for him it’s also a cultural statement and a nod to his favorite stage play and movie adaptation, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.”

The impact rises, building and expanding, filling everything. Clearly a living sound. My heart cogs freeze with this auditory sabot. Our momentary freedom made us forgetful. Eaters are attracted to sound.

And as the crash loses its urge to expand, flattening to silence, a corresponding noise builds from below. Slowly, out of sight, the heavy steps gather like a gang of clumsy dancers. Milton Fife’s childlike bouncy enthusiasm burns off, leaving the much more recognizable, clipped nature I’d come to know. Time to run.

I gather up several arrows, my bow, and a camper’s hatchet from the stash I had pillaged earlier. Milton, with his new, yellow safety-handle sledgehammer, sprints along the main corridor toward the foodcourt. For no sensible reason I take a moment to glance over the glass and chrome railing of the rotunda, needing a visual. A confirmation. Eaters—all bunged up and jostling each other, like so many rubber ducks in a funnel conveyor—have occupied the bottom floor and begin pushing up the rounded staircases.

Chelle

Unlike her boyfriend, who’s a bellhop down at West Hippodrome and loves a crowd, Chelle has trouble leaving her apartment. The couple lives in “The Nest” at Ravenbend. It’s actually called Orchard Court, a product of low-income housing. But since the crows came, and the building’s architecture has always resembled a cluster of short-limbed trees, she has taken to calling it The Nest at Ravenbend.

Of course, Chelle knows ravens are a different bird from the crow; or at least she thinks it is. But, really, she’s not even sure these invaders are crows—long obsidian feathers, all shinny and sharp make her feel they’re crows. But either way, the name Ravenbend just sounds better. And there’s a lot of them flapping around. Big and black, noisy and posturing, like nightmarish pigeons, they stare at her. Intently. And she wonders how so many large birds can exist in one place at one time. What do they eat?

Oh right, she decides, it’s the bodies. All the bodies and there’s all the garbage that’s piled up. She hasn’t seen the building super for days. Although, there seems to be more bodies now than 24hrs ago. And more garbage too. Not less, as we’d expect, that’s for sure. Shouldn’t there be fewer bodies? How many pounds of flesh can an average crow eat?


Continued on Friday in Part Four.

 

 

The Griminals: Part Two


Here’s a link if you’ve not read Part One of The Griminals | Or continue reading for Part Two below…


 

The lucky ones, however, like me, we just happen to spend all our time under a rock, or in a garage banging a drum, or in front of a screen under the flickering bulb of a basement office. That’s our bad lifestyles turned good. Or maybe it’s a right place thing? Or maybe it’s just our good uncommon sense protecting us? Anyway, that’s the moral of this storytelling last-stand: Life’s terms-and-conditions can change without notice.

≈≈≈≈≈

At the birth of 2010, my wife said it’s time to turn out the lights. She misspoke, our lights were already out. Our bonds dissolving. It had happened dining-room-dimmer-style according to her: Didn’t you see it coming, my love? And Mike Tyson punched-in-the-face-style, lights out, according to me. No I hadn’t seen it coming. Timing kaput.

Only now, several years later, when I replay all our bumblebees-on-steroids jumble of life details. All our time together. All our happy pain. Like, for instance, her at the farm with a friend, and me at the duplex in Hillsboro solo. Or, more comically, her imitating the Beatles badly at the rock-band-of-the-dead den in Beaverton, and I’m just skating those asphalt waves alone in the oncoming darkness.

It’s that tendency I have of being somewhere else when the abstracted scriptwriter is cutting my part and changing the scene without my knowledge, that has put me in this lucky position of still having a living brain and heart when most people are either doing the Eater’s stumble-strut in the street or screaming in their hovels.

Timing rebooted. Mine, of course, not my ex-wife’s. She’s probably an eater chowing down on some guy’s still beating heart.

≈≈≈≈≈

The screamers and eaters pingpong their contagion phone-game style for about two weeks before me and Milton Fife notice a hiccup: As more screamers become eaters, the chaos slows down like cars in a traffic jam or planets, moons, and stars in an aging universe. Their slothfulness will be their true death. And it will be our salvation. Or so Milton Fife says.

Piss, take a” says Milton Fife, peering through his binoculars and leaning a bit too far out over the guard rail. The building on Fawcett is no fortress but it’s tall and already vacant, so the street level windows and doors were boarded up. Pretty much half the streets in the city have buildings in this wasted state. All courtesy of a declining national economy and rampant debauchery on the part of those who take and take. Now, however, it’s a bad situation turned good—when the down side is up and Eaters are filling the streets.

Hey, which ones should I aim for?” I reply to Milton Fife. “The Pogo dancing clump with the hippy-haired mammoth at the center? Or the group by the car who look like they were all students at a beauty school?”

Milton Fife, a galaxy unto himself, happened to crawl out from under his rock about a week after the screaming started. He wasn’t even surprised. Saw it coming, he said. People have a natural desire to eat other people—the ultimate delicacy. Milton and I met on a fire escape. Me, with an armload of arrows and a compound bow fresh from Dick’s, and him with a bag-load of fancy English tea biscuits. The kind with a thin layer of fine foreign chocolate. A symbol, he told me, of what we’d become.

Milton Fife

You people have such a small view. Petty concerns and the ability to foreshorten real ones, that’s what I like best about you and the whole of humanity. It makes me giggle in my blood. Plus, any of you who happens to know how that feels, you’re one of me. Except now we’ll never meet. Because, since you’re either a screamer or an eater, you’re all fucked. And you know it. You finally know it.

Before this dark and cloudy spring, I spent most my time in a small room writing phyllo-poetic journals for an online turd pool. You know—what they used to call a social utility. Daft bunnies.

Pine needles, you just fall and pile. Fall and pile. No needle knows where it will end. Tumble through the barrage of other falling needles, alike to each other in so many ways, and yet the only one in its needle skin. Tumble till they stop you, needle. Tumble, kid, tumble. It’s thick mingling in the end for most tumble buddies. A few outliers, however, land free. Untouched and untouchable, they eventually sight others of the outlying chance spread. It is then that falling and piling become flocking and future building. Don’t we all hope?

I wrote crap like that, you know? The turd pool ate it up. These days my posts go up on the sides of buildings and run more like this: Tools with tools are taught the answers to the first questions in a classroom of Industry’s own making; monsters from convenience. Convenience is the impregnation and the birthing. Tools, our babies become. Daft bunnies.

But since none of the subhumans can read, I gotta guess my “views” and “likes” would be quite low due to the limited readership. Thomas and I comprise the audience, an army of two, an army of also, and that suits me better. It’s good to have your readers be writers. Writers are > readers. They know the venom and the juice. They live it. They love it. They write and choose their own medium—skin, canvas, 80%-recycled, or digital bits. Sculpting their own style, they can take it or leave it; whether or not someone out there reads them is the least important element. That’s why writers are the best readers. This idea falls apart in the turd pool, of course, but so does everything else. Eventually.

As for Thomas, currently he’s gone small and Old World by penning his words in a blueish calfskin binder on non-bleached off-white pages. Pages with tiny words reminiscent of earthly stratification. There’s no “school” here, old or new, for Thomas. His method is simply primal, and I suspect he’s close to using blood as ink.