You can blame Richard Wood for the morose entry today, he gave me the full set of Harry Potter books when he discovered the scandalous truth that I had never read them. Well I just finished The Half-Blood Prince and I’ve been crying my eyes out of half an hour.
So there you go. In fact, I’ve been home with a migraine today so my routine’s thrown off and I forgot it was Tuesday. It was only because I came to the computer to cuss him out for putting me through that that I saw the date and time. So you can thank him that 5MinuteFiction happened today, I suppose.
Right, so bit lean on the entries this week, huh? Well, I was afraid that would happen. In fact, next week 5MinuteFiction is going on vacation until the new year.
So, I’ve decided that this week everyone’s a finalist! YAY! These are the entries from this week, enjoy, and then vote below for a winner. Poll closes at 9:30 tonight.
My name is Martin, and I’m sorry to say I’m about to ruin your Christmas.
I’m not a malicious person, just ask anyone! It’s just that you all have to know the truth. About the Needlers.
What are Needlers? It shouldn’t surprise me that you haven’t heard the term before. The mainstream media and government have been suppressing the information for years.
A little over a hundred years ago, a comet exploded over Tunguska…you know, in Siberia.
Except it wasn’t a comet. It was a spacecraft.
Few of the details are known, but what I do know, I’ll share. It’s my duty…and if I’m going to kill off Rudolph, Frosty the Grinch and Christmas Pudding, you at least need to know why.
What I know is that an advanced race of horse-people was infested with a species we call the Needlers — small insect-like green critters about an inch long…and very thin.
Like pine needles.
Anyway, the uber-smart horses couldn’t kill the damn things. Didn’t even know at first that they were actually alive. Until they discovered that the Needlers were feeding of the very souls of the people of their world.
What they did, then, was to capture them. No, I don’t know how.
Anyway, all the Needlers were packed into a spacecraft and sent hurtling toward a distant sun.
But the ship missed, and some how the infestation survived the blast over Russia.
You can’t see them. You can’t smell them. But they’re there. In your back gardens, the forests…
…and your Christmas tree.
Sorry about your holiday, but you had to know. Tell everyone before it’s too late!
* * *
Martin Gerbino currently resides at the Christian Brothers Psychiatric Center in Horseneck Beach, Massachusetts.
There was no way on God’s green earth that I was going to ride that. My head shook, silently conveying my feelings because I didn’t trust my hands to say the right things beyond a good hearty “Fuck you”.
The that in question mimicked my shake. Shiny black hair tossed over the back of its neck. I had to admit the animal was stunning. Muscles twitched under inky fur, an oil spill come to life.
There was still no way I was going to ride that horse.
Susan, the woman who had this bright idea, tapped my shoulder. I gave her my attention, waiting for her to agree this was a stupid idea.
“Come on, you’ve never done anything fun. Just once around the property, Kenny.” Her fingers moved in time with her words. Words I heard as nothing more than a dull hum.
“Fuck you,” I mouthed silently. So much for trying to be nice.
Her delicate hand fisted and came down on my arm. Jesus she could pack a punch. “Quit being an asshole and get on the horse. You have to do something with your life other than sit and feel sorry for yourself.”
I hated that she knew me so well. Hated that Susan was the one person to realize how much I hated my life. The signs were hard for her to ignore when she’d found me six months ago, straight razor splaying open the veins on my wrist.
“Okay. Just once.”
Susan gave a triumphant smile. The horse stomped its hoof on the ground. Everyone was so damn thrilled that I was going to live a little. Maybe their joy would wear off. Maybe.
Retracing steps, two decades gone in a city halfway around the world. Thomas looked for old footprints in the fading phosphor of memory.
His camera was digital now, he’d be able to see instnatly if the frame matched the photo in the stack he brought. Recapturing the places he’d visited, overlaying memory and the original image he carried with him.
The rusting bridge they’d crossed holding hands is now six suspended lanes of commuter frenzy. The hostel they’d stayed in was now an upscale hotel. The Palace was the same, except for the concrete barriers and glass enclosures putting one more layer of distance between a tactile work and touch. The Old Town looked older, but was newer than when he and Cecille had intentionally gotten lost in it. Today, horse-drawn cabs, which had never been part of the city’s history, took couples for romantic rides through extensively and expensively refurbished cobbled streets.
He couldn’t get the right angle on the old library. The park across the street was now an office building. Thomas paced back and forth, trying to get the angle that matched his picture, shoulders hunched in concentration, glasses perched on his forehead as he peered through the viewfinder, eyes darting.
“They moved the park. Seven years ago. Traded lots with the the old market,” he heard in clear, accented English.
“What?” Thomas looked over his shoulder behind him. A woman was speaking to him.
“Scholar’s Park? They moved it. That’s why you can’t get the photogrpah you’re looking for.”
“How do you know? How do you know what I’m looking for?” Thomas’ voice betrayed irritation – _not_ despondence! Here was some local yokel telling him his business. He let his glasses fall back into place and faced the busy body- and stopped, further words lost.
“Because I also promised I’d come back here, with you. In twenty years.”
The gray, shadowed horse trotted on the perimeter of my vision like a cloud of fog. My head snapped towards it and the equine specter was gone as if burned away by the sun.
I wiped the salty beads of sweat away from my forehead with a wool sleeve. I’d been searching for the blasted thing for days. Even the hair on the top of my head was sore and worn out from endlessly trudging amongst the starchy pine trees.
“You have to find him, Dad. Please. He’s scared,” I heard my little girl say, and I ground back into motion. I hated to admit it, but I was close to being lost myself. The trees had no order, and clustered around me tightly. All bearing down on me with branches pregnant with sap, liquefied in the Indian summer heat.
There was a crackle, like a heavy branch being snapped in two. I looked up, and the entire forest crystallized in an instant into rows. I could see all the way to the horizon it seemed, the trunks lined up in perfect parallel to each other.
Every direction I looked, there was space. I was at the nexus of the forest.
Down one row, I saw him. His bulbous black eyes regarded me with compassion, and then he lowered his head. “Come,” I could almost hear him beckon.
He was close, and far away at the same time. When my hand finally ran through his stringy mane and down his warm flanks, the forest had randomized again. There was no way out for us, but I knew my daughter’s horse would lead me back home.
I felt my body fill with warmth at the thought of finally reuniting them with each other. Like two childhood friends, they were as inextricably tied to each other as the sunrise was to the morning.
Her horse had been missing the entire time she’d been in the hospital, connected to all manners of plastic tubes and metal machines. The doctors told me that she wouldn’t be strong enough to go for one last ride.
They didn’t know my little girl.
Warm, safe, each muscle relaxed and leaden with sleep I didn’t want to open my eyes, to greet the day just yet, so when I heard the horses clip clop past my window at the usual time I didn’t look as I normally would. They walk past, the same horses, twice a day, to and from their grazing; if I’m home I always look out the window to watch their muscles ripple, marvel at their elegance, their statuesque beauty and their sheer size and power as animals. But, I wasn’t interested in marveling at them today, today I wanted to keep the world on the other side of my eyelids, as soon as I opened them there was going to be no going back.
There’s only so long a body can stay in bed pretending to be asleep, he knew from the sound of my breathing that I was awake and he said so, ‘I know you’re awake, I heard your breathing change when you woke, would you like some coffee in bed or will you get up?’ I groaned and then laughed, I reminded myself of myself as a teenager and the noises I used to make in response to my mother when she called me to get up on weekend mornings, I’d moan, groan and complain, just like I was to him now.
I snapped open my eyes and yes, I saw him there in front of me, no longer a dream, no longer a fantasy, no longer just a voice on the end of a phone or a Skype call, but there, facing me; real. We’d wanted this for a long time, much had happened to bring about something so simple as him asking me, in person, if he could bring me coffee in bed. The enormity of it all sometimes took my carefully articulated language away and left me with nothing but incommunicable and deep emotion.
As the rhythmic, metallic thudding of the horses hooves faded into the distance he came close to me. I knew he knew what I was thinking, how I was feeling, sensed my anxiety and wonder at it all, he leaned close, one hand steadying himself either side of me as he moved closer and closer, a smile spreading across his face, his eyes fixed upon mine and just before he gently kissed me he said; ‘it’s OK, my love, I really _am_ here and I’m going nowhere.’
I’ve been called many things in my life, none of ‘em good, most of ‘em true. I’ve done some bad things, watched men die, stood by as their life blood spilled into the dust while their women wailed in an empty street. Some people might say I’m as close to evil as they’ll ever meet, without suppin’ with the devil. They’ll get no argument from me.
They think I don’t feel, or I don’t care. Sure I do. It takes a lot to kill a man, especially up close. To hold a man, almost like a lover, to smell the tobacco and whiskey on his breath, to feel the bristles on his chin scratch your cheek, to hear the death rattle in his throat. To push a knife between his ribs, to cut through muscle and bone. It’s a moment of intimacy, the ultimate irony, to feel most alive as you snuff another life from existence.
I’ve heard it said, some natives believe killing a man is a way to source and absorb his strength, his power. I know this doesn’t sit well with the God fearin’ Christian folk, but I believe it. I believe in the power of life, I’ve seen men cling onto it with all they have, begging God to give them one more moment, just one more breath.
I do suffer, maybe not in the way most honest folk would like me to, but I do. I can never stay in the one place for long, sooner or later some local hard man will recognise me and try to enhance his reputation by gunning me down on a deserted street, eyeball to eyeball, man against man. They always lose. Or some law enforcement official will see glory and dollar signs where he’d be best off turnin’ the other way. I don’t discriminate, you come after me you’re goin’ down.
They’re all dead already, they just haven’t realised it yet, I can see it in their eyes. Their hands tremble, I can almost sense the itching in their fingers as they reach for that piece of iron on their hip. Too slow.
Some people get a sense of the badness in me and bar their doors to me, children are grabbed out of my path, God fearin’ women fear for their virtue. Hard workin’ decent men avoid making eye contact with me. They got the right of it, I’m a mean son of a bitch. If you see me comin’, run, get the hell as far away as you can.
I’ll get my reckonin’ one day. I’ll meet my maker and have to account for my life, by then my body will be six feet in the dirt and nothin’ but worm food. Until then, I’ll saddle my horse at daybreak and ride into the rising sun. Never lookin’ back.