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    Please click on the above thumbnail to buy my short, intense nonfiction book featuring 9/11 and trauma. It's less than the price of a cup of coffee... and contains fewer calories. Although, unlike most caffeine boosts, it might make you cry.

  • Music Speaks
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  • First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
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  • Seasons
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  • Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
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Entries in Apocalypse Tales (6)



Harlan sat on his porch of worn uneven planks that, like our world and Harlan himself, had seen better days. We faced west, the direction that once meant hope. The last glint of sun had slid below the rim of the land and only a narrow yellowish strip gleamed through the dead and silhouetted trees, the darkened plain and the starless sky crushing it like a seam of gold in the ground.

We sat in silence awhile. Until we both seemed to realize something at once.

He was the first to say it. "Well, I'll be damned."


Cicadas. The Collapse had brought such ornate miseries it seemed almost impudent to include among them the silencing of the insect world, but even on a subliminal level we'd felt their loss keenly. Ghosts come in many forms. Yet here they were. Tentative and hushed, but back in some facsimile of numbers.

"Thought surprise was a thing of the past," said Harlan, and I smiled. 

The scattering of bug sounds stabbed at the silence under gathering clouds we could sense more than see.

A breeze was testing the air, thinking about becoming a gust or two.

"Mr. Cutler… Harlan, I mean?" Dammit. How many times over the years had the old man corrected me?


"I want you to know you've kept me sane all these years since the Collapse."

"I know that, son."

"I know you know it. I just wanted to say it."

"Alright. Good to know. Let's drink to that—"

"Sir, I'll get it—"

"The hell you will. And the name's Harlan. How many times…?"

I lost his words on the gathering breeze as he made his slow hunched way into the cabin to fetch a jar or two of the crude cider he fermented from some unknown organic thing. Roots. Fungus. Squash, maybe. It always tasted about the same as it sounded.

I knew what he was gonna say before he said it.

"Bourbon, young fella?"

I laughed. We sat and drank, pretending it was Wild Turkey 101. Imagination ain't exactly perfect, but it can get you halfway there sometimes.

"They quieted down again," I said. 

"Huh. Mayhap the orchestra's done tuning and the symphony's comin'."

We wouldn't get to find out. Those gusts had turned to squalls and soon great hollerings, and the sky dropped its pent-up grief on everything. I scrambled to join him on the porch, and we waited it out, drinking slow and steady, hearing the mayhem of trees crack and splinter and jettison their bones in the dark.

Felt like wicked black wolves now governed the night.

When it was done, a sadness came over me and I no longer felt like pretending Harlan's concoction was even drinkable and I told him I didn't feel too good and took myself home, a ruder shack about a mile south of his place.

Next afternoon, a mite rueful, I hiked my sleepless and hungover ass back over to the old man's cabin. 

Harlan was gone. Debris covered his porch, but so much of it; dirt and bits of tree and even what looked like old coyote shit. From the storm, I figured. Some of it, at least. But after calling his name awhile and knocking on his door like a fool, I went inside. A layer of dust covered everything, the only places clear of dirt my bootprints behind me. What in the hell? I grabbed a jar of his moonjuice, a sandy film on the outside, a dark layer of silt inside, and sat in his creaky old chair on the porch sipping my friend's godawful liquor, hair of the mangiest of dogs. 

Things in my head didn't feel right. The silence in everything was too loud.

I listened for the bugs again, but nothing. Thought maybe it hadn't been a chorus but a coda after all. 


A World Abandoned

Everything inside my head is small and enclosed and everything outside is huge and muffled. There are sounds within the woods at night, terrible sourceless sounds, screeches from unseen throats, and we awake to a sun like a penny glued to a fawn-gray board. A coin fixed to a sand-dusted slate. Brassy light falls amid the shadows all day.

Things are going wrong, have gone wrong. I wonder if I mean within or without, and discover I can't answer either way.

Gerhardt left three days ago and hasn't returned. 

I clutch our old retriever Lola at night, my arms encircling the pitiful trellis of her ribs, and she whines quietly at the shrieks from the woods. Come daylight she doesn't investigate.

And come daylight I pull up the ghosts of carrots and beets, translucent things like alien pods spawned in our friable dirt. Dirt that looks and feels but will never taste like the crumble topping my Aunt Caterina used to bake over Tuscan apples and sweet red grapes.

Must stop remembering. Too dry. Too drained of faith. Even yesterday is beyond the pale now.

Gerhardt took the crossbow; I have the old Winchester pump-action and the last two shells. 

I can't help myself. I think back to a time when the worst thing I thought could happen was losing my children. Laughter now would be legitimate, yet I don't laugh. Irony is as stupid as nostalgia.

Right before he left, Gerhardt laughed.

"What is funny?" I asked him.

"Nothing, my dear."


"Not fine. Not funny. And yet…"

"What?" I could never resist his artful pauses.

"A dream is an unfinished life, so maybe they were all dreams."

"The children?"

"All of them. Taken before their time. Maybe the life they're meant to live hasn't yet begun."

"But how is that funny?"

"Oh, outside of the cosmic scale, it isn't."

"And also, what then are we?"

"Midwives, perhaps? Or morticians."

His fragile smile left the cartography of his face like a misremembered shallows and he winked and kissed the air by my cheeks and he shouldered the crossbow over his day pack and stepped on the loose boards as if to release a pent and groaning sendoff—secretly ordained by impish music-loving satirists—and he never turned his unkempt head the whole time his wiry frame hitched itself down the long gravel lane.

Irked as I was by his cryptic foolishness then, how I miss him now. Stabbed by loneliness, I call Lola, who happens like a specter out of the strange quiet air. I bury my sorrowing face in her patchy fur, but when I pull away, her fur is dry. Perhaps I am the wraith, not her.

Perhaps my grief leaves no stain on this world.

Gerhardt and I once spoke of Christ and redemption. He was once a Lutheran and I a Catholic. We might as well have conjured Anubis or Krishna. Kali or the Morrigan. Cthulhu. Isis. A thousand echoing rooms and hallways spiral beyond the vacant futile atrium of unanswered human prayer. 

The night is too generic for copyright, and as it passes once more, stamped by the usual screams of the arrested trees, by the endless moonless hours, my insomniac eyes become the only things in this world that are large. They keep growing—while morning enters like an intruder pissing weakly in a corner—expanding like fungus or a thing far worse, daring the fawn-gray sky to blink in toxic fellowship, tempting the universe to tremble in abject defeat.

What is this now? Men? With guns and lust and deadened eyes?

O woe.

When Gerhardt returns, our last shells will be spent, I will be a strand of spider silk shimmering with rosy dewdrops and stretched between splintered fenceposts, and holy Lola's howls will fill the whole valley.



"She is up there," they tell us. "Up in them hills." 

They file on past, eyes averted, some making religious gestures, clasping tokens, intoning auguries, chanting maledictions, the superstitious fools. 

A red-tailed hawk catches a thermal and whistles a falling oath, while rising. Pretends to give a shit.

We set to climbing the red hills, breathing the sun's furnace and its diffuse issue from the world's parched surface, the sounds of the ferrous rocks we dislodge like a pool hall absent the cool and the echo. Same essential hush, though this one's hot, flat, and indifferent.

Guess we're all behind the eight ball now.


What do we expect to find? The polished bone of a cue ball? A shiny solid red?

I question my own damn self halfway to hell and back on that trek up the steep incline, with its loose rusted shrapnel like someone blew up some great adobe hut, with its tufts of vegetation too hardscrabble to ever be thought of as food by any living critter worth its salt. Like ancient green leather stuffed between the shattered brick-rubble lots of war-torn Europe.

What do I expect to find?

Likely nothing comforting. All I know is she's bad news on legs, and I'm weary, and not much good will come of any of this. And that's the optimist part of me.

Some bar in Tuscaloosa or maybe even Memphis, a drunk plain ran out of patience with my jaundiced talk, squinted at me and asked, "What's the difference 'tween ignorance and apathy?" I shrugged, and he answered his own self. "Don't know and I don't care." Only damn words he didn't slur all night. Truth is, I wanted to laugh, but I felt more like crying. So I did the next best thing and ordered another shot of bourbon. Better that than ripping out his throat.

I'm tired, tired like the damned. Been walking trails and riding rails and stealing horses a half century or more. By horses I mean four legs or four wheels, it don't really matter; hot-wire or hackamore, it's all the same. Part of me hopes I won't ever come back down from these hills.

But we're pilgrims of sorts, and this is what pilgrims do; we keep on moving even in a headwind of doubt, push onward so's we can find some succor in an artifact, grab ahold of a ragged sleeve or a loose page caught in a dry storm, hungry for its message, and if it ain't got no message we'll write our own, because there's plenty that's worse than death and one of them is the fear that all this has no meaning, which the red-tailed hawk knows, and the coyote knows, and the raven knows, and the red hills know, and I only partly suspect, despite all the scribbling I ever done in a score of ledgers I since burned for warmth.

I'm the first that gets here. She stands, inside a horseshoe of striated rock like the rough hull of a dugout, naked as the first day of man, or woman, her bright auburn hair like the radiated halo of a Celtic saint, like hair can shriek, like the lunatic prophets were right, her body in an X pose, impaled and glorious on a stake, skeins of watery blood spilling from the many wounds in her torn scalp, a crimson Tigris and Euphrates over her shoulders and breasts, down over her clenched midriff, merging like a bloodtide with the dry, sandy delta of her sex, congealing there in slow, pendulous drips. 

A twisted umbilicus hangs from that arcane gap and I shut down all thought, pledge not to wonder what such an organ might have been appended to, and where such a thing might now draw breath.

Before the others arrive, she looks at me and whispers, "They took it all, my love. They took everything." 


Discount Noah

He knew a time approached when it might behoove a man to make good his escape from this tarnished jewel of a world. And for this, he began to build his pod from molded plastics and bright chrome, bringing to bear skills he'd learned in his youth. Granted, he favored natural materials, but he was a carpenter in a world bereft of wood.

"Never did Jesus much good, either," he said to Maisie Ellen, who stopped by now and again to chat.

"What's that now?"

"His trade, I mean."

"Stuff and nonsense."

He loved this part. Fastening and honing and sanding. Making things fit. Smoothing and fashioning. The backs of his hands were dry and creased as Martian valleys, all tawny cliffs and canyons fanned with deep rubicund gulches. Life, he thought, is mostly about elaborating.

So he elaborated.

"Jesus hisself, I'm sayin'. A carpenter who ended up nailed to two hunks of wood. Should probably have stuck to fishing. Though even then they probably woulda poked a hook through his damn lip and hoisted him over all them rubberneckers."

"He was a fisher of men, not a fisherman. Different thing entirely, you old heathen."

"Yeah, well."

She regarded him as he worked. He noticed.

"What? Woman, you look like you've been chewin' a lemon soaked in vinegar."

"You really think you can save your scrawny heretic posterior while billions pass from this tired old world?"

"Sure, maybe. Why not? Someone's gotta. Happened once before."

"You heard the saying about the only two things certain in life, right?"


"Tell me."

He put down his tools and gave her eye contact. "Death and taxes."


The faded charcoal arch of her brow forced him to elaborate again.

"Figure if I cheat the first, the other ain't gonna count for all that much. Kind of a twofer."

"Well, good luck with that, Major Tom. Me, I'm happy to keep canning fruit and sweeping away cobwebs until the good lord calls his sheep home."

"Always been more partial to goats myself. More gumption. And I prefer to take my chances up there." He peered into a dark void scattered with bright rainfall diamonds on some vast invisible dome. 

Had a lifetime of such mysteries. Getting tired now.

"You old fool. Up there's where I'm fixin' to go too. Only not in some contraption built outta duct tape, binder twine, and dollar-store gimcrackery, neither."

At this he laughed long into the night, while the two men observing through one-way glass glanced at each other; one shrugged and the other shook his head so briefly it might have been a tic.

"So convincing I could almost hear the other party's words."

"Yeah. He's in deep, poor old fella. We need to up his dose, I'm afraid."

Back in the room, the old man paced and chuckled to himself, rubbing his rough hands together and imagining to what glittering enchantments, what unspeakable radiance, the arc of his ark might soon transport him.




There Is Lonely

Something had made her stay.

The call of her humdrum job cutting lengths of fabric and of two likeable if slovenly roommates in an untidy apportioned suburb had not been loud enough. A relationship not so much on the rocks as fully shipwrecked had not been loud enough. Her one-time companions imploring her to head back east with them had not been loud enough.

This was loud. This place. Painted a safe watercolour veneer over hallucinatory light. Where the beat of life drummed deep within the marrow of the land. This land. This place. With its incessant rush and rumble of tides across mist-draped miles of satin blond sand and the restless receding hiss; its storm-stunted forests whose edges leaned ragged and coerced on promontories; these wispy echoes of a world pre-settled; those scents of tangish salt and sweetish cedar; eddies and flukes, spawn and breach, fat tangerine starfish, driftwood bleach, clustered shellfish; brackish secrets of orca and sockeye, coho and squid, slipping slick through the chuck as skinless muscles; great tawny bays flanked by dark masses of dripping beams trailing mosses like the beards of truant gods; vast spruce posts and struts and torrential canopied ceilings, immense sweatlodge dwellings for bear and raven and eagle and wolf, framed and fashioned by no man and heedless of same. 

A poet of sorts, she was humbled to silence by the indigenous poetry of locale.

But now she was isolate. Something had sequestered them here. A fear hush had wrapped them just as the mists became sometime cauls for the trees. 

Her beachfire pulsed in the tideborne gusts, and sparks were whipped and buffeted and streamed to join the effervescent stars in the forthright arc of the overbearing sky.

She stood. She was lonely. She was hungry, in truth, and something about that brought her shame. That she was so utterly unwomanned. Diminished. Five feet ten of corvid-black enviable beauty reduced to a hanging jaw and knees that would barely lock.

We are blunted spears riding the pactless gales of a livid world, tumbling enfeebled from stentorian skies into breeding swamps of buzzing unchecked swarms absent treaty or terms. If an ending is in store, and soon, what of hundreds of years of white-skinned settlement and tens of thousands of far kinder years before that? Of carvers and surfers, of fishers and loggers and holy dancers under the greying brows of both lucid and baffling skies. Did the land dream us? Are we part of a long slumber from which greater sleepers are already set to awake?

She'd noticed two men and a woman earlier, and they seemed to her kindly, but she could no longer see them, and staring so nakedly at everyone on the beach made her urgency more shameful, more needy. Around the closest fire sat three men and she thought they'd been stealing not so benevolent glances at her. Or glances of a different nature. But they were people.

As she stood, a meteor bisected the big spill of the Milky Way above, flashing like mercury from east to west at the speed of an eyeblink. She imagined it hissing into the dark Pacific, some solitary birdless place where our world's face showed nothing but ocean to outsiders, as lonely in its brisk and sudden finale as it was throughout most of its existence, unable to relate its first-person tales that spanned an eon or more, and dying companionless in cold saltwater on this strange convulsing planet orbiting an unremarkable star on some dismal limb of the galaxy.

Enough. She would walk. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream or plead, but she wouldn't. The surf kept rushing, crashing, as if everyone exhaled but no one remembered to breathe in.

She would walk and talk to the men at the next fire, and if that made her a fool then a fool she would be.