The Heel that Started the War

Amy shoveled another spade of martian dirt into the pile. It felt strange to have traveled so far to Mars to shovel dirt. She and Bill were building the greenhouse, and these holes would be its foundation. She peered at his pile, a foot shorter than her own. He had spent most of the hour humming, and it seemed to have slowed him down.

“Bill, could you dig a little faster?” she said.

“Hmmm, hmmm, remember me to the one who lives there, she was once a true love of mine,” he sang.

“Bill?”

“I just sang the first song to ever be sung on Mars. It was Bob Dylan. Y’know they put that album in Voyager 4. ‘Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.’ Freewheelin through the cosmos, Ha!”

She couldn’t help the smile. His enthusiasm was corny, but contagious.

“We’ll spin that record when we find it,” she said.

Voyager 4 carried bits of Earth’s culture, and it had crashed on Mars.

“Y’know, I wonder if they put any fightin’ songs in there, to warn invaders to stay away, like, ‘We’ll kick your asses!'” he said and punched his palm.

“Good idea, but they might take it the wrong way. Don’t wanna start a war off a misunderstanding.”

“Guess so.”

She headed to the shuttle for a break and froze at the entrance. A horsefly the size of her fist stared at her from the ramp. Her childhood instincts kicked in.

Hello. We come in–

Before she could stop herself, she crunched the bug under her foot. She lifted her boot and trembled as the blood oozed down the treads.

“Oh god.”

Life. She had found life on Mars and greeted it with a boot heel.

“Something wrong?” said Bill.

“Um–”

A piercing screech filled her head, a violent, stabbing screech that knifed into her brain and chainsawed along her skull. She clutched her helmet and doubled over on her knees. The pain sliced through her body with a serrated edge and sprawled her onto her back.

“What is this!? Bill?”

“Fuck!”

He twisted on the ground, kicked up small clouds of dust until he became a shadow of jerking limbs.

The crew flashed into her head and for a second she wondered if they were safe, but the pain escalated and smothered her worry.

And then it stopped.

Amy stared into the sky. It was calm and reminded her of butterscotch. She wanted to sit up, to assert control over her numb limbs, but she feared waking the pain. In the silence of the peace, she heard a thousand tiny voices singing in her head.

I am not saying you treated me unkind

“Bill?”

You could have done better but I don’t mind

A dark cloud filled the sky. It was sizzling with tiny movements, and it was coming closer.

You just kind of wasted my precious time

“Bill, I know this one,” she said.

But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

The swarm devoured her.


Lyrics by Bob Dylan

 

Week Twenty-three
Prompt: The first men/women to set foot on Mars return to their ship only to find a large, strange insect on the door of the ship.

Goodbye Alexander

The apartment was small and drab and suffocating. Alexander slouched into the gutted sofa cushions and tried to admire the decor. Instead, he scribbled criticisms in his mental list: the walls were a splotchy, faded red, the floors were puddled with water stains, the windows were dark with the city’s grime. He almost added “filthy,” but decided against it. It didn’t matter now.

“It’s cozy,” he said.

His foot slid from the coffee table and left a smear of cleanliness on the tabletop.  Continue reading

Dodging Flyers in the City

Five o’ clock, and Lisa was out the door. It was home-time, and work was over. No exceptions. You could scoff and say, “work is never over!” and to you she would roll her eyes and answer, “fuck off.” She had a schedule to keep, and something important was scheduled after work.

If you studied her agenda you would see it: a blank space between five and ten; its emptiness and isolation among the pencil-ins and highlights emphasizing a pure white space; a sacred, divine, and practically mythical slice of nothing called “Free Time.”

It was free time-o’clock, and Lisa burrowed her earbuds in and disappeared beneath the stream of umbrellas bobbing toward 33rd street station.

She reminded herself: eyes forward, no eye contact. Eye contact was dangerous. She learned that when she started the job. The city, she realized, was determined to hand her something: brochures for bus tours; tickets to comedy clubs; pamphlets to ready her soul. She grouped these undesirables under one, disgusting word: flyers. Continue reading

Dead Dog Days

William had just turned 12 and was breaking in his new bike by parading it around town. Heads turned as he zoomed past, but instead of their awe, he felt their disgust. People didn’t like him, and he knew it.  He sensed their stares as he went by; although their lips never formed the word, he felt it from their eyes.

Freak.

William sped through town. He rode until the pavement disappeared and he was crunching over twigs, until the world sloped downward toward a lonely creek. He stopped short of the water. He was safe. The creek wound through three acres of private woodland, and William, friendless, planned to spend much of his summer in its isolation.

He staggered to a rotting old footbridge, took a knee, and peered underneath.

“Hey, Arnie! Hey boy!”

A small, dead beagle stared at him with a gelatinous eye. Its legs bent at impossible angles, scratches marred its face, and its coat squirmed with maggots. A leash dark with dry blood fastened its head in place. Continue reading

The Great Out There

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Julie and I were passing the alley behind her parents’ grocery store when she picked up a fallen head of cabbage and declared it a metaphor for her life. She liked grand statements and big gestures, so as she stood with a foot on the curb and the cabbage thrust high into the air, I expected her to break out into some poetic explanation of how this brown, wilting cabbage so perfectly encompassed her life’s trajectory.

She said, in boring, plain english, that she felt old: she felt it as quiet nights in became preferable; as her internal clock woke her earlier and earlier; as she worried about her future, plotting ifs and thens until the vast uncertainty of it made her cower. She knew it would come. “I’ll just be driving along and BANG! Future! Out of nowhere!” It would poof into existence as a lamppost in the middle of the road, and she’d run right into it. Continue reading

Old Chains

The news broke at four, and by four thirty, the streets were empty.

Don was reading a message on his Personal when it pinged and a headline consumed the screen:

A DANGEROUS FELON HAS ESCAPED.

STAY IN YOUR HOMES.

DO NOT PANIC.

The ping was bad news, which everyone understood as good television. They had rushed home to watch the night’s entertainment, and Don slowed to savor their absence.

At home, he turned on his television and muted it. He hated the play-by-play. He trusted his eyes.

Onscreen, the Liberty Unit of the police department interrogated the city’s homeless. Ragged men kicked up dust clouds and ducked their heads as the Unit questioned them with steel batons. The Unit swarmed one man, and he vanished among the uniforms and the truncheons.

Continue reading