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Dog Days

(Author’s note: This is unrevised/unedited and I don’t even like it that much. You may proceed.)

My ears pick up faintly the sound of thunder despite a lack of storm clouds in the sky. Eden, Pennsylvania rarely saw storms this time of year. The deep blue above me is as clear as it had ever been and the sun, shining fierce, is baking my body, my shirt stuck to my back with sweat. Even in the pit I’m reached by the sun. The air of the field beyond the church is filled with the buzzing of insects and the palpable heat of the summer. These days are often hazy and strange. They will leave a man breathless and struggling if he works himself too hard and they will drive the dogs mad.

Preacher Charlie (he isn’t really a preacher, I just call him that) sat on the edge of the pit next to the ladder I had brought out with me so I could climb back up, his feet hanging down into the dark, damp hole where I stood. Dizzy, I lean against my shovel and rest my back against the moist wall of earth. More thunder. Still no clouds. Not the slightest hint of anything out of the ordinary. There will be no calming rains today though I am sure something is coming. I could hear the phone begin to ring in the rectory, the window was open.

“How we doin’ down there Lee?” Preacher Charlie asked. He peered down, his feet swinging, never offering to help. He wore long pants and a dress shirt, but never broke a sweat, not even in this muggy weather. Charlie didn’t seem to notice the phone ringing, which had stopped by then. The portable radio I had brought out from the rectory, with permission from Father Brown of course, was straining out the last few chords of some Bruce Springsteen song. The news would be coming on shortly.

“I’m doing just fine. I just got a little light-headed is all.” I looked up at Charlie, but I couldn’t see his face. The sun had settled just behind him, casting a shadow. The hole was pretty damn deep already, but Charlie insisted that it be deeper. He has yet to steer me wrong so I do as he says. I take a few swallows from my water bottle and set to begin digging again. A little deeper and I’ll be done.

I can hear the weatherman’s voice from the radio. He has nothing to say that I can’t see with my own two eyes. I use my forearm to wipe the sweat from my forehead as Charlie begins to hum the Springsteen song that had just ended; boy does he love The Boss. My hands ache they are beginning to blister, but I have to finish before tomorrow morning’s services. Sometimes Preacher Charlie scares me. I’ve never seen him flustered and he always knows what to do. It’s hard to resist him.

“Lee, quiet down. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Charlie, turning up the volume on the radio. Once again, I heard thunder and once again the phone began to ring in the rectory. I couldn’t see Charlie’s face, but I could tell from his voice that he was smiling. I planted the shovelhead into the soft soil and leaned on it again, listening intently. The newsman’s voice was strained through the small speakers, but I could still hear what he said:

Some disturbing news, another bizarre murder has occurred in Eden. Father Patrick Logan of St. Thomas’ church has been found dead in his church’s courtyard, the apparent victim of a homicide. Police found stab wounds on his throat and chest and his feet were tied to top of the churchyard fence, leaving him upside down. This is the third in a string of horrifying crimes that have frightened the people of Eden all summer long, leaving the people frenzied as the fear of these crimes coupled with the heat wave is creating tension all throughout the city. As if the murder were not brutal enough, police also found a child bound and blindfolded in the rectory, apparently unharmed. Father Logan had been suspected in a child molestation scandal in Boston a few years ago and it is unclear why the child was with Logan at the time of the murder. Add this to the list of murders that includes Deacon Ortiz of St. Cecelia’s and Father Michaels of Our Lady of Mercy and the people of Eden are left to wonder: If these men of God are not safe from the brutal evil that afflicts the world we live in, how can we believe that we are?

We’ll be back after these local advertisements.

I could practically feel the smile radiating from Charlie as he lowered the volume on the radio, his feet swinging over the edge of the pit like a child’s.

“I wonder why they didn’t mention the other men’s involvement,” Charlie said. “They were so quick to condemn poor Father Logan to the public. I bet they’ll blame the heat wave too. People are so afraid to accept what lies beneath the veil of humanity that we cast over ourselves.”

 Speaking of the heat, it was agonizing and my water was almost empty. I began to dig again. It occurred to me that this hole would make a nice shelter when the thunder came, or whatever it was that I could feel coming. Yes, a nice wooden hatch on the top and some canned food. A few candles and some books and it would make a nice spot to wait out the storm. Unfortunately, I would not be using this pit. My burden, that which I have labored over, will go to shelter another.

“Lee, let’s go. I think that’s enough.” Preacher Charlie keeps me focused in moments like these, when the heat gets to me or when my pride gets the better of me. I ascended the ladder, the cool and moist air being replaced in my lungs by the squalid and festering heat of the day. I walked to the solemn church, standing steady in the sunlight. The trees softly swayed in the hot breeze and I could hear no cars on the road at the end of the drive. Nobody would be here until tomorrow morning for the service.

I entered the rectory with Preacher Charlie at my heels. I can only imagine how I must have looked to Father Brown, dirt covering my face and clothes and my hands shaking from gripping the shovel so tightly. He lay on the floor on his stomach, his hands bound behind his back and blood caked on his face around his mouth and nose. More blood pooled around his head, but had begun to dry. A kick to the ribs stifled his attempted cry.

“Do you remember me yet?” I asked him, “Charles Leopold?” He shook his head since he could no longer speak.

 I heaved him to his feet and half-lead, half-drag him out into the field behind the church. He begins to sob when he sees the hole, but his broken nose and missing tongue stop him from saying anything intelligible. I left his tongue in the tabernacle, just like Preacher Charlie suggested.

I can hear Charlie whispering in my ear, telling me what to say. His breath is a hot wind in my ear. The sound of thunder echoed from some distant sky and the phone began to ring in the rectory again.

“Father Edgar Brown, you absolve others of their sins, but who absolves you of yours?” I ask him. I tighten my grip on his wrists which are slick with sweat.  “You wear the collar of a man of God, but you are a devil beneath your skin. You are a demon and you were punished when you were placed here, not saved. Men of the cloth are allowed too many sins that go unpunished. You prey on those who are weaker than you, but I am not weaker. You are a shepherd, yet your flock is not here for you. Your savior will protect you no longer.”

I grabbed the shovel and swung it into his knee, tearing the tendons. Brown collapsed to his knees and then onto his side as I hear Preacher Charlie laughing. Father Brown rolled easily into the pit and I spent the remaining hours of sunlight filling in the hole while he lay there silently, accepting his fate or unconscious. I was never sure which. The heat had subsided and night had fallen when I was finished.

Preacher Charlie was gone.

It was downright cold in the church. There was nothing to drink in the rectory except the unblessed communion wine. It wouldn’t be needed at mass tomorrow anyway. The wooden pew felt good and cool against my back and the wine felt good and cool in my mouth, but it tasted sour. I looked up at the large crucifix hanging above the altar. The ultimate sacrifice to make the world a better place. I could only hope the churchgoers who arrived tomorrow morning would see my sacrifice and understand what I’d done. I took another mouthful of the sour wine and I could already feel the warmth in my cheeks.

I looked up to Jesus hanging on the cross, his sorrowful eyes meeting mine.

“Bless me, Lord. For I have sinned.” I put my head in my hands and wept for the world.

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair, the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
Stephen King. “On Writing”. (via fuckyeah-unclesteve)
Less Traveled By

I took the road less traveled by; it made no difference to me.

No trodden leaves to lead me on, no marks upon the flanking trees.

I found myself without direction,

There were no footsteps leading mine

I tread heavily to leave my tracks,

But when I turned to look behind,

My footsteps faded into grass, I couldn’t see the path I’d made,

For I am only just one person, pressing on this path unpaved.

So lonely on this empty road,

Exhilarated here I stand,

I realize that it is better here

Off the beaten track of Man.

I was not the first to take this road, and certainly won’t be the last,

The others will not see my steps; I see no signs of the past.

When I reach the end, if I ever do

I’ll look back, saying with a sigh

I’ve lived my life like only I, and took the road less traveled by. 

               It was so strange to see the world this way, standing all alone and looking out into space. The Earth, blue and white and green and so far away, seemed like a beautiful foreign land. One that was totally unfamiliar to him, but one that he longed to touch again. It didn’t take long for him to regret taking his mission. The face of the moon was cold and unforgiving and he was disturbed by how quiet and serene it was.

                The silence was thick up here, a burden to him, bearing down on him. It had been relaxing when he first stepped out of the ship. No whir of machinery or raspy voices from the people back on Earth. He was totally alone, in every sense of the word. His family, friends, and coworkers could never grasp the feeling he had that first day, standing on the moon and looking at the Earth where he had spent so many decades. They could never understand that experience unless they had it themselves. Yes, at first it was awe-inspiring. Amazing in the truest sense of the word, not amazing in the sense that we often use it, when a baseball player dives for a catch or when a magician seemingly makes an elephant disappear. It was breathtaking in that he gasped and sighed when he looked out at the abyss, watching it surround him. A religious man may have seen the world resting in the loving hands of the Lord, but all he saw was blackness. It spread out farther than his mind could comprehend, enveloping everything, and it was uncomfortably inviting.

                The sight was still something to see and it never really lost that quality, but it began to spread a fear deep within him. Not a shocking fear that drags a scream from your mind and lungs, but a settling in the pit of his stomach that seemed to make him ache. A heavy despair brought on by the distance between himself and his home.

What if he never made it back? What if the world ended while he was up here?

He could imagine the beautiful blues and greens becoming the bright burning red of fire and the suffocating gray of ash. It was well within the realm of possibility these days. The economy was struggling and there were pretty much no foreign relations anymore. Humanity now lacked its humanity. Even more so since the last war. Countries no longer got along, but only co-existed with a tense bitterness. The resources were rapidly depleting, had been for some years, and the government could do nothing except lie to the people about it.

When the companies began talking about colonizing the moon, his first thought was that he could go into the history books forever and leave his mark on this world and the next. He was already decorated, but this would make him famous, known worldwide. He would forever by the man on the moon, the original pioneer of the final frontier. The last pioneer. It would be Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clarke, and him. He would bring no disease because there were no natives, and he would meet no animosity for the same reason. He was not the first to set foot on the moon, in fact people had gone further, but he’d be the one who planted a foothold there for the rest of the human race. Who wouldn’t jump at that chance? It was a once-in-a-universe job opportunity.

 He didn’t realize, however, the price he’d have to pay for becoming a historical footnote. The uneasy feeling stayed with him while he worked. The time away from his life on Earth was not felt by him, but the knowledge of it was enough to drive him to tears. He regretted leaving behind his family, as distant as they were. At least they could be reached by phone on Earth, but up here he had no idea what was happening to them. He lost track of the minutes, days, months while he was on the surface. Only when he returned to the ship was he reminded that it had only been a few weeks on Earth. It was if he were on a holiday. He dreaded the chance that he might have to tell Earth that it was impossible to inhabit the moon. They might ask him to move right on to Mars. Space travel had changed from the first time he was out here. It was faster and he thought that the travel hadn’t agreed with him. He didn’t like the way he felt up here. The first time out was years ago and it had been quite a trip, but now he just felt a perpetual motion sickness. He blamed the new technology.

 He embraced the isolation eventually, rarely communicating with the people on Earth, probably angering them to no end, but he was doing his job all the same. They would find out when he found out if it was possible. They would need to send another mission up with the proper equipment to make the environment livable, but he would not be involved with that one. He doubted that he’d ever return to the moon, even if they were able to escape the failing Earth. He had come to detest this place.

My Name is Richard

Mr. Maxwell Jane

735 Creswell Drive, Mansion District

New Eden, PA

 

Dear Jane Family,

           Hi! My name is Richard, and I’m here to help you with whatever you need! I can be programmed to do whatever you’d like. I’m proud to tell you that I’m the perfect robotic housekeeper, cook, gardener, carpenter, landscaper, mechanic, caretaker, and overall companion. In the day of modern miracles, I am the elite product offered by the company. You can find all of my programming disks in this delivery container, but guess what! Since you did the best thing for your family and purchased the all-purpose model, you also get two BRAND NEW experimental disks. One disk in an intelligence program, the Mind Disk, which will allow me to converse with you about a number of topical categories including (but not limited to): politics, philosophy, science, and history. It also allows me to approach problems with logic and reason, making me more unique. The other is an emotion program, the Soul Disk. It will allow me to be more compassionate, understanding, humorous, and driven to do my tasks well. Install both and I’ll be as close to human as you could possibly get. Insert my disks to download and remove and reboot to uninstall. All I ask for is a place that I may charge myself. When charging, I will place myself in a low power state until my battery is full again. You will not be disappointed Jane Family, and I can’t wait to meet you!

Signed,

              Richard

 

     Richard sat and looked at the yellowing note that was left in his box. The Modern Miracles Inc. stamp on the bottom of the box had begun to fade away and the picture on the front had become fuzzy with dust. The walls and floors of the house settled quietly around him as the sun began to rise, peeking in through the single window, slowly illuminating Richard’s attic. Despite the glare on the window, Richard could see his own reflection. He was tall and sleek. No bolts or screws showing, no hint of the metal that comprised his frame. Nothing about him suggested that he was once delivered in a box and assembled rather than born of flesh. His synthetic skin glowed with life and his face, although sullen and frowning, was indistinguishable from that of any crude machine that came before him. If he had been wearing clothes there would be no way to tell the difference between man and machine.

           He looked past his reflection and down the slope of the hill atop which sat the Jane residence. They were well off and their estate surveyed the automated city from its elevated location. He could see birds crawling across the sky, clouds tumbling behind them. He could see transport pods zipping along the streets, undoubtedly carrying other house-bots who were tending to various errands that they were programmed for before the collapse. They would go and buy food that would feed nobody and cleaning supplies for windows that would never again be dirtied by fingerprints, floors that would never again be scuffed by dirty shoes. Goods were still produced for consumption and television was still broadcasted around the clock. The entire world was still running, full steam, and he was the only person who knew that it was all for nothing.

 He knew that it would soon be breakfast time and the Jane kids would usually be waking up, but he also knew that they never would again. He stood up, knees whining. His joints had been getting a bit squeaky lately. He’d have to get some oil soon. He hadn’t needed maintenance until recently. His inner workings should be fine for years, his battery being almost everlasting as long as he kept it charged. The only part of him that ever needed maintenance were his joints which had begun to rust since he’d moved to the moldy, moist attic. He’d have to start taking better care of himself now that there was nobody to do it for him. He was no longer anyone’s possession.

           He looked around the filthy, grim looking room where he charged himself. He never cleaned when he came in here anymore. He had abandoned his old charging place in the living room quite a while ago. He had kept marking the calendar just like Mr. Jane always had him do, but he didn’t care about days or months or time anymore. It was more habit than anything. He needed some kind of routine to keep himself busy. He spent most nights in the attic, reading the letter in his box, coming to grips with it all only to go about his business in the morning. Sometimes he would sit in Mr. Jane’s vast library and read. He’d read whatever he could get his heavy hands on. He was well aware that he now knew everything, even though he didn’t. He was all that was left so his knowledge was the only real knowledge. He had also found a radio transmitter in the library that was barely used by Mr. Jane when he had still been alive. Richard would often turn it on and broadcast his voice to whomever may be out there, if anybody. “My name is Richard,” he’d say, “is there anybody out there to hear me?”

 He never received an answer, of course. He thought it impossible that he could be the only person left so he would sometimes go for days aware, hoping beyond hope that somebody would broadcast back. He couldn’t bring himself to reboot and revert to his ignorant house-bot self though. It was too important to him to be the last human left. At least that’s how he saw it, being human. At first he thought that having a name made him human, but pets had names too. He had a name before gaining intelligence and he was only an android then. The humans were all gone, leaving him as the most human being on Earth. He would sit there with the weight of his existence and his isolation bearing down on him. If he had not been made of metal, he thought he might crumble and fold. If this is what it felt like to be human, he was oddly unsettled by it.

He decided that once he had cleared away the breakfast that he could not stop the house from making every morning, he would read for the rest of the day and listen to Mr. Jane’s classical music. He couldn’t stop the house from doing many things. It made meals every day that were never eaten, it cleaned the appliances and dishes that were never used. It heated and cooled itself according to the outside temperature. None of these things could be stopped without the house’s recognition of Mr. Jane’s voice which had been forever silenced. The only things he had any power over were the ways he spent his time and Martin, the gardener-bot. Martin had continued to tend to the plant life that surrounded the estate after the Janes were gone, but Richard finally dismantled him. He was out in the shed, placed reverently back in his box. Richard had tried to talk to Martin and even tried to program some intelligence into him, but he was an older model and the software wasn’t compatible. Richard at first felt bad that he had shut him down and taken him apart, but he knew that it was best for him. He had repeatedly, although accidentally, disturbed the graves Richard had made for the family in the garden. He pitied Martin and at the same time he envied him.

Had he been made of muscles and meat the job would have worn him out, especially digging Mr. Jane’s grave. He was a considerable man which pointed to his considerable wealth, but also to a great a tragic neglect, a neglect that was not exclusive to Maxwell Jane. Humanity had begun to take their life for granted and for that they had suffered. They lived without want of anything and were never inconvenienced. The life of luxury and rest had charged a price much greater than anybody had expected to pay. When you have to work for nothing, the world starts working against you and like most of the grandest ideas, the idea of a perfect world seemed wonderful until it was too late.

 In the library, Richard looked over the stacks of books. He had been reading anything and everything. Elegant prose and hard boiled pulp, religious texts and history books. He picked up one of the books he had been reading the previous day. He had started reading all kinds of fantasy and science fiction stories in the library, stories about beings such as himself. The stories featured spacecraft computers who malfunction and hurt the crew, mechanical fire-breathing hounds that burn books and people, and androids who think they’re humans. Richard knew that these stories were what was called ‘fiction,’ but he found them fascinating regardless. Why was he so unlike these robotic characters? Why did they not exist as he did? What cruel trick was played on him that he was not as they were? He decided to spend the day thinking about those questions against the backdrop of Bach and Wagner and Pachelbel. He had nothing but time to think these days.

Richard was enjoying a book about space travel that involved an android with a social anxiety problem when he heard a large crack in the kitchen. The midday sunlight was pouring in through the grand windows of the library, illuminating the stacks of books and glinting off of the polished table that Richard was sitting at. He wished he could figure out how to stop the house from making food. He assumed that the kitchen equipment had finally malfunctioned after all of this time. When he got to the kitchen, he could see that the toaster had caught fire. He rushed over, concerned about the fire spreading, and grabbed the toaster with one hand and the power cord with the other. His hand must have touched the connecters and the outlet because his metallic body buckled at the knee-joints and his vision dimmed and cut out.

 His vision returned, although blurry at first, after he rebooted and he could see the ceiling and the smoke rising from the smoldering toaster on the floor next to him. His internal vitals told him that his battery was low and he felt almost groggy. The shock must have drained it. He was almost fully charged before going into the kitchen and he hadn’t laid there that long according to the clock. It was a rough way to be reminded that he was made of metal, not meat.

His joints whined again as he stood himself up. He disposed of the blackened shell of the toaster and headed to his attic to get his charging equipment. After coming back to the library, he plugged himself in carefully as to avoid another shock, but bypassed the low-power state as advertised on his box. He tried the radio again, “Hello, hello, my name is Richard.” Pause. No answer. “Is anybody out there?” Pause. No answer.

After charging for a while and finishing his book, he unplugged and his internal vitals told him that his battery was damaged and would not be able to hold the charge for long. This was the first conflict he had encountered since he had been on his own. He had no way of repairing his battery and didn’t have a spare.
Then he remembered Martin.

In the shed, Richard sat on an old wooden stool and began unpacking Martin. He knew that Martin was just a machine, a tool used to trim the hedges. A glorified lawnmower which had grown legs and was able to walk. Yet he still took the utmost care when handling his parts. He finally found the battery that had driven Martin for all of those years and realized, with a sinking feeling in his head, that the battery would not fit. Martin was an old model and just as the intelligence programs were not compatible with his hardware, the battery was not compatible with Richard’s.

He didn’t like the idea of harvesting parts from other bots, much like humans tended to frown upon cannibalism, and it bothered him when the idea had struck to use Martin. In the long run, if Richard wanted to continue his questionable existence, he would have to do what needed to be done. After all, none of the others were like him. He supposed he was the last remaining link to the world that now did not physically exist. It existed only in his artificial brain, like a Word document on an old computer. He was the only chance of allowing it to survive, but he wondered if it was even worth saving. Would he be going against some greater power? Was he not an accident? It seemed far too incidental that he was the only one of his kind left. Even in the Bible Adam had Eve, Noah had a wife. It was not logical that he would be the only one to carry on the world. He could not procreate and had no way of knowing if his programming could be copied onto another bot. Trying each and every one would take the rest of eternity. Of course, eternity was all that he had left. It was at his disposal. He decided to go to the supermarket to find a battery. They didn’t sell them there, but he could find another bot. It had to be done.

The transport pod was sitting outside the gates of the Jane estate. It was roomy, large enough to fit the whole family, including Mr. Jane. Richard sat in it and keyed in the location of the supermarket. The door sealed shut and the pod took off. Richard watched as the trees whizzed by and plugged himself into the pod to keep his battery charged. He saw various animals freely reclaiming their natural world. There were no longer civilized monsters or clothed predators to give them worry. The trees and wildlife gave way to buildings as he entered the glistening city of New Eden. He saw stylized signs for products that some marketing executive long ago decided would sell; signs that were cleaned every night for the benefit of nobody but the wind that would just bring more dirt to the sign the next day. He zipped by other pods and stores and empty office buildings. There were no streets because there were no cars in New Eden, no sidewalks because nobody walked. There were only tracks for the pods and docks at the buildings for the people or bots to disembark.

He arrived at the supermarket and found that it was bustling with bots. The security-bots were still maintaining and patrolled the aisles for no real reason. Even before, there was rarely any crime to stop. Richard felt almost nervous. The effects of the emotional programs made Richard wonder how humans ever took any risks. He didn’t like the feeling. He didn’t like that he had to do this. How would he pick? The closest one? He finally summoned the courage and with the sickening thought that the bots shopping here were at his disposal, lined up like cattle waiting to be slaughtered, he walked up to one that was browsing through the frozen meats. It appeared to be a similar model, definitely from Modern Miracles.

 The bot turned to face him and said, “oh hello, sir.”

Sir? Why did he call me sir? Richard thought.

Richard only stared at the bot so it turned back to the meats. Richard reached out and opened the back panel of the bot’s frame. He had decided to do it quickly, like ripping off the proverbial band-aid. With one push of a button the bot shut down. Its body remained rigid and upright, knees locked, hands grasping a package of steaks. The bots never stopped shopping. If he had tear ducts, he may have cried. If he had had a digestive system, he may have thrown up.

He opened the panel on the bot’s chest where the battery should be and saw that it was the right model. He thanked whatever higher power, who until then had appeared merciless, that he wouldn’t have to do that again. As he began carefully removing the battery, he heard approaching footsteps. The mechanical clank they made against the shiny tiled floor reverberated inside of Richard’s head. He turned to see a security-bot.

“Excuse me, sir. Is everything alright here?” the bot said.

Sir again? Why do they keep calling me sir? Have these programs changed me that much? Richard thought.

“This is my house-bot. He malfunctioned and left the house without being told to do so. I came to retrieve him,” Richard said.

The security-bot locked eyes with Richard and didn’t speak immediately. Finally, after what seemed to Richard like hours, the bot said, “Alright, sir. My apologies for interrupting you.” And with that, the bot turned and walked down one of the aisles to the other end of the store. Richard felt relieved and he took the battery and left the store.

In the pod, Richard didn’t plug himself in and he couldn’t bring himself to put the new battery in either. He knew that he would eventually grow scared of his draining battery life and switch them, but he just couldn’t do it yet. He had some time before he’d really need to change them. He couldn’t help but think about the way the security-bot looked into his eyes as he sped back to the Jane estate. Had the programming made him that fundamentally different? Had it made him unrecognizable as what he actually was? He had been treated like he was a human. He had been treated like he was superior to them. As he thought about it, he felt more and more disgusted with himself because he had briefly felt a surge of confidence at the thought of being above the bots. The conflicting emotions were too much for him to handle so he decided to remove the emotional disk and uninstall the programs. He would keep the intelligence disk because he liked to read.

Night had fallen and back in the library, Richard put on a classical record and sat by the fire which the house insisted on lighting whenever somebody used the room at night. He was once again surrounded by books, by the past and the people who left them there. The new battery sat on the couch beside him. His damaged battery was running low. Not panic level yet, but not too far from it either. The heavy feeling of being alone returned to him. Being in the supermarket had given him the illusion that he was not alone, but he couldn’t be fooled for too long. The bots in the market were just cutouts, shells capable of simple tasks and thought patterns. The regret of essentially taking the life of the one in the frozen meat section weighed him down even more. The whole human package inside the circuitry that formed his brain had spread through him a drunken melancholy. He tried to remove the Soul Disk from his body, but found that the electrical shock he had suffered earlier had damaged the ports. He couldn’t get either disk out. He was no longer free to go back to the way he was made, ignorant in his factory settings. He was snow trapped within the human condition and there was no escape. He pitied the bots in the supermarket. He pitied the animals that were killed to feed no one and knew nothing of his existence, his responsibility. He pitied them all, but he also envied them.

He rose from the couch, knocking the plundered battery to the floor, and shuffled over to the radio. He couldn’t help dragging his feet. He picked it up and spoke into the transmitter.

“My name is Richard,” he said, “Is anybody there?”

Pause. No answer.

Nothing more had been expected. With his will flickering, Richard walked to a small bookshelf beside the fireplace and picked up a dense volume. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. With his other hand he picked up another. The Last Man by Mary Shelley. He took them to the fireplace and held the corners of each to the flames. They caught and he walked them back to the shelf, putting them in different spots to spread the flames quicker. He repeated this with several books. Chaucer and Twain; King and Asimov; Vonnegut, Austen, and Shakespeare. All of them blackened by flame until the blaze raged along the stacks. The fire stretched across the walls and out onto the floor, licking the curtains and cracking the windows. The ashes of the books fluttered through the room. The culture that created him and cursed him with their humanity would go with the people that created it. They would follow Richard to wherever he was headed.

Richard then sat on the couch again, staring at the flames and pitying himself. His battery was depleted and his consciousness was beginning to fade. “My name is Richard” he said to nobody in particular. He briefly thought that he had heard an answer, but there was nobody there. There was nobody anywhere. The roar of the flames engulfed Richard and the static hum of the radio could not be heard over the crackling fire and collapsing bookshelves.

“I have a name. And I have lived for too long” he said as his vision began to dim, “My name is Richard.”

 

If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.
Stephen King. “On Writing”.

Part of an interview with Dennis Lehane, the author of the novels Mystic River, Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, and The Given Day. I’ve read Shutter Island and Mystic River and they were both excellent. The Given Day is on my list. He speaks passionately about his craft and gives some great advice for writers. 

Fleeting Moments

(A short series I began a while ago that only reached 4 poems.)


Fireworks flare and fade away, pretty flowers wilt and die

The beautiful pictures in the clouds will not last up in the sky.

 

Topple the steady evergreens, brown and stiff by New Years be,

You must have something fine to show Christmas dinner company.

 

A child spends all day, drawing on the walk.

A storm cloud slowly passes by, erasing all the chalk.

 

A note rings out, a chord is strummed,

Swell the pounding of the drum,

Yet silence always replaces song.

What do we keep doing wrong?

Baseball Haiku

I spent one glorious morning writing haiku as an exercise to get my creative juices flowing and I happened to make a bunch about various baseball things. Enjoy (or don’t. I really don’t give a shit:)

Homerun

America’s past

Time to play ball, home plate looks

Great the second time
 
 

Triple

Deep line drive caroms

Into the deepest corner

Legged out for three bags

 

Double

Split the gap between

Two outfielders run, one fires

Slide into second

 

Single

Crack! The ball jumps off

Grounder just past short’s webbing

Still a ways from Rose

 

Strikeout

Wind up, stretch, and kick

Fastball zips down the middle

Should have swung, slugger

 

Grand Slam

Bags are jammed, no room

Grand mound mistake costs them now

That one’s outta here!

 

Bunt

Small ball, a lost art

Batter suddenly squares up

Suicide squeeze

 

Walkoff

Bottom nine, two outs

Pinch hitter’s swing is quite clutch

That’s the ballgame folks!

 

Sac Fly

Not the deepest fly

Tracked down by a roaming mitt

It still brings one home

 

Foul Ball

Cheap seats, dollar dogs

Well timed swing, poorly aimed hack

Glad I brought my glove

 

Ejection

Screams muted by cheers

Dirt kicked on Blue’s long black pants

Bumped the ump, you’re gone

 

Stolen Base

The cap’s brim, a sign

Speedster’s off to the races

Swiped another one

 

Double Play

A hard hit grounder

Feed is good, foot slides over

Toss to first in time