My own

April 26, 2020 – Evening on the patio, thinking about all things.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Jesus loves you, marriage is between a man and woman, dinosaurs aren’t real, win big with McDonald’s Monopoly, doubts lead to temptation, houses are a tax relief; a few things I was told, among others, that turned out to be lies.

This is the part where it ends and where there is peace, you know I will not be.

I don’t want to be alone. The glorious comfort of a star within Orion’s Belt being the home of Jesus does not comfort me. Lying to grandpa on his deathbed was a kindness, a little white lie. I do not know if there is or is not a heaven.

He lied to me so I repeated grandpa’s lies back to him.

These are the truths I hold as self-evident; I have the urge to fuck, to dance, to write those words that combine themselves into a sort of truth. The rest I was told by others, like a trash can spilling its contents, I’m full of shit.

April 26, 2020

Evening on the patio.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A smoke and a tall boy on the back patio. The smell of orange blossoms wafting, every so often in the breeze. Deakan and Baby Girl sniffing at the weeds, chasing crickets and staring off into the yard where Edison does not reach.

I need a new mask, the strap broke on my old one. Too much stretching on and off for every trip to buy necessities, convenience and what-the-hells. Money is on the mind but so is pleasure.

The tall boy’s are sweating. The Black & Mild is sweet. Tears don’t come but I can feel them howling, getting closer like coyotes trekking through the desert, chasing a mirage, feeling the ache of relief but never reaching it.

It wasn’t yesterday or the day before, I don’t remember the date but it was a Friday when we agreed to get divorced.

The études of Philip Glass keep me company as I try to figure out what happened yesterday. Not yesterday, but some time long before it.

I do drink but no bars are open, no restaurants and no parties. The alcohol mixes with sadness. I don’t have a good reason but are things, all choices, justified?

Maybe, like a virus killing off percentages of human potential there is some thing out there pursuing balance. The wild dances of the flame are paid for with the price of a match stick.

In a maze of metaphors I lose my train of thought. I am too easily distracted by the loftiness of deeper meanings of life and its choices.

The magic of a marriage is not in the illusion of happiness but in the preparation and repetition of the illusion itself. The little things that go unnoticed so the grandeur of the illusion is preserved for its audience of one. My time would have been better spent on those little things. Those little things that would have made the whole experience so much more magical.

Smelling candles, trying on clothes, perusing all the aisles of a Target “just to see what they have,” pretending on the occasions when it was important to preserve her excitement, making her lunch, stopping whatever thing I was doing just to say hello, hugging her when I couldn’t fix “it,” hugging her when I didn’t understand her, never interrupting, kissing her goodnight, kissing her good morning, being as excited about my birthday as she was, pushing aside my gripes about buying Christmas gifts and getting lost in her excitement of finding something each person would like, waiting on line and making her smile instead of dismissing it as “too long,” not putting up a fight about the little house things she buys, losing myself in the thought of her excitement when I chose to focus instead on my beliefs about religious holidays, never rolling my eyes in annoyance, never making her wants my observable burdens, expressing my authentic sexual nature to her, getting those tattoos, not telling her to be independent but standing next to her and watching her be it, telling her she’s strong, telling her she’s one-of-a-kind, sharing my doubts, sitting with her while she does something, treating her as equal but also showing that I care, showing her she’s important and not just anyone else.

I know, I have a feeling at least, that there will be more things I think of for years to come.

The difficulty for me is not in all the sudden changes to my external life. The difficulty is in finding the truth in the swirl of thoughts, emotions and new choices without her.

Maybe its not finding truth or not simply finding truth. Maybe it’s something else, one of those words we use to underline our circumstances; a reason, a catalyst, a problem, an answer, etc. I don’t know. There is a piece in all this that is missing. Maybe it’s her. Maybe this is that time between flames when only smoke and charred wood remain, when the next match is scraped against the bottom of a shoe, just before a new fire bursts into existence.

Block, Oral, Solve

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Oral?

Yes.

Oral, as in…

Yes.

As in the type of examination?

Oh. Yes, that too.

Okay, I’ll have to perform orally. Actually I’m more comfortable with the term verbally if that’s alright with you?

*I prefer oral…

What was that?

Nothing, yes, perform verbally.

And I just stand here on my blocking?

Right where you are standing, that’s fine.

On the black tape X, correct?

Yes, where you are standing is fine.

I’ve read through the monologue, I think I understand who the character is but I’m not sure what his motivation is. What problem is he solving in this scene?

*Jesus Christ.

I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

Your character is ordering fast food at a drive-thru. He’s solving his problem of hunger.

Okay, I did think of that but then I thought, well is my character really starving or is he high? Is he just stress eating? Does he have a high metabolism? Or does this meal represent his first meal after going nearly 3 days without food?

Why don’t you go with your instinct and we’ll have you say your two lines, then I’ll see if it works or not with the director’s vision.

Okay.

I’ll start reading all the other parts, you read your characters.

Okay.

Exterior, Billy’s Burgers, night. one car pulls up to the drive thru and begins to order. Our main character, Sally, listens, slightly annoyed. Sally – Welcome to Billy’s, what will you be munching on this evening?

I’ll have the billy cheeseburger, fries and a pepsi.

Will that complete you’re order?

Yes, thanks.

Customer #2 drives around to the window…and that’s the scene. Thank you. That was great. We’ll let you know–

–Well, that was my take with my character driving through with the munchies.

Okay.

I’d like to try again but this time my character is simply stress eating, not hungry.

Fine. We’ll take it from your line.

Actually, could you read the line before mine, it helps so I can react.

Sally – Welcome to Billy’s, what will you be munching on this evening?

I’ll…have…the billy cheeseburger (long pause) and…fries…and a pepsi.

And scene. Great, that was different. Thank you for–

–Okay just one more but this time.

No, I’ve seen enough to make a decision. I’ll call you with the directors decision.

What about the verbal part? I mean the oral part.

We can skip that today.

No, I want to do this right. If nothing else I need the experience auditioning.

No need, you did fine.

Please, I insist. I’m new to acting and even just getting auditions and going through those is helpful.

We don’t always do the oral, um, examination.

Well, could you do it today?

It’s a little unorthodox, but this is Wollyhood, you understand? It’s a different town, we do our own thing out here.

Yeah, sure, I can go with the punches.

The test is really more about seeing if an actor has what it takes to perform under pressure.

Okay.

We like to see that under the most stressful, uncomfortable conditions, an actor can take art to the next level.

Okay.

That by passing the oral exam, they show us just how committed and confident they are.

So what’s the test.

Kneel down and suck my cock.

Exemption, Marine, Slot

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was a losing combination but they met at cherry, grapes and seven. She was a marine, he was a truck driver. She was killing some time away from the barracks, not looking but maybe looking for something different. He was playing the slots like he was filling out paperwork for a 401K and life insurance policy all in one. Gripping the black stick he pulled it down, putting the machine into gear and starting its flashing lights, beeps, and boops.

She was adjusting her camo cap and looking at the roulette tables across the casino, to her right. She bumped into him. They looked at each other and then at the combo that stopped on the screen; cherry, grapes, seven. He chuckled to himself then stood up, “excuse me ma’am.” and gave a limp salute.

She smiled, “At ease, I bumped into you. Let me buy you a drink.”

“That isn’t necessary, ma’am. I’ve already got my security blanket here.” He twirled his glass so that the ice clinked.

“Well, if you change your mind I’ll be at the bar putting on my dancing shoes.” She smiled and looked him up and down.

He smirked and looked down at her tan boots. “I bet you could cut up a rug with those standard issue’s.”

“What’s your name, soldier?” she asked.

“Tom.”

“Staff Sergeant, Mary Maline.”

“Mary, it’s a pleasure to meet you. If your offer still stands, perhaps I’ll slip on some dancing shoes at the bar as well.”

The two made their way to the bar in silence, glancing at each other every so often. He looked down at his drink and around the flashing lights and sounds. She adjusted her cap and looked around at the flashing lights and sounds.

They reached the bar and she ordered. “Two Bulleit whiskey’s, neat.”

He raised his glass to her and finished off his drink, setting it on the bar with a clink.

“Where might two people move their legs and bodies around in a show of complete tom foolery?” he asked.

“I don’t believe the club is open, but there is music playing at the food court, if your up for dancing with complete exemption of social norms.” She answered.

The bar tender set their drinks on the bar. She paid. They toasted to warm casino nights. She grabbed his hand and they zig zagged through the smoke, illusions of grandeur, lights and sound of the casino toward the food court.

There was some contemporary pop playing, they rested their drinks on a deserted table with discarded Chinese food. Then they danced.

Race, Cry, Item

A short piece incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Starter pistols tuned
to octaves heard by few
rabbits sprint ahead
tortoise’ lumber through

furs blur
cotton tails fly
shells drag
Heads stir

Cataloging status
caterwauling malice
hare dares to stop
tortoise keeps his clop

quickly darting all positions
Slowly, slowly moving on
rabbit rests
tortoise tests

tortoise never rests
rabbit seems to test
finish line in view
rabbit stops for stew

cracking feet
steady beat
tortoise seize
the rat-race cheese

springing feet
halting beat
rabbit freeze
its cocky knees

line is crossed
rabbit lost
rabbit cries
tortoise never stops

Qualify, Screen, Reaction

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Entitled by deed
Entitled by greed
Entitled to feed
Entitled to breed
Entitled to bleed
Entitled to stand on one’s own screed.

Begging for chances
Begging for advances
Begging at feet
Begging to eat
Begging for meat
Begging for the right to one’s own dances.

Burn up the screens
Burn up the scenes
Burn up the teens
Burn up the jeans
Burn for the queens
Burn to find out what everything means.

Tear down the bricks
Tear up the flix
Tear down the walls
Tear up the dolls
Tear down the malls
Tear of the curtain to see all the tricks.

Build up your scheme
Build up your cream
Build up your steam
Build up your dream
Build up your stream
Build to make the status quo scream.

Follow no man
Follow no plan
Follow no klan
Follow no fan
Follow no ban
Follow the instinct that tells you, “you can.”

Go up
Go down
Go left
Go right
Go in
Go out
Go

Presence, Genuine, Recommendation

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Haunting impressions of weight all around
Hairs raise, spine tingles, eyes dart
Feelings unnoticed when presence is visible

Not seen, indescribable
Not truly what something is said to be
disingenuous

Authority proposes, recommends, imposes
Impotent listen
all are blind

All have a key, a few have influence
Some listen, some give orders
balance

Chaos, agent of too many free thinkers
Order, agent of few thinkers
chaos is order with none of the rules and all of the consequences

I think
I drink
I think
I drink
I

Projection, Obstacle, Hour

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

His mind projected to him what he wanted to see. Perhaps not what he would ever consciously want, what his ego would want, but what his id was subconsciously saying to him. A figure with a beard down past his knees. Gaunt cheeks yellowed with jaundice, as was the rest of his naked skin. His ribs showed and the skin between his collar bones sagged enough to hold a shot of whiskey on both sides.

What he faced now was the inevitable state of his future, if he kept at his current pace, actions and emotions. Somewhere within him, it felt only an hour away. The future he now saw in the mirror.

The only obstacle to this vision of fury, wasted away was that constant voice of societal pressure, pounded into his head since childhood that one must keep up appearances, maintain a stiff upper lip, keeping up decorum triumphs over weakness of the spirit. To see a well groomed, well-maintained, well-dressed figure in front of him would, should and could keep him within the acceptable realm of sanity.

He wanted to be in sanity. Completely doused in rubbing alcohol, clean and pure. Free of the germs of doubt, low self-esteem and decay. Though he secretly felt that what modern psychologists labeled as deficiencies of the mind, were really just the variables that made up a persons character and personality. The stamps of an original individual.

Why should his sanity ever be in question when it swam in the same pool of saturated judgements and opinions as those who were insane and those who labeled others insane. It was all the same doggie paddle, just different ends of the pool.

The difference, he thought, was that some very few felt comfortable swimming completely naked, while most felt the need to cover themselves with that seasons flavor of bathing suit. They were all naked, and sex assured that everyone viewed the clothed and unclothed alike, as naked or potentially naked. And so that question of sanity ran down the same track.

He smiled and wondered just how far into the deep end he could swim. How far he could dive before needing to come up for air. How long he could last before feeling the need to cover his nakedness in front of those who pretended not to be naked behind their trunks, one pieces and bikinis.

What was the point of the bathing suit if everyone already knew the truth underneath?

Sex, Win, Deposit

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Nose lost in cascading curls of hair
tongue tapping ear drums
flesh taught with bumps

Torso writhing
slipping on sweat beaded skin
sweet sweat

Adventurous fingers
traversing dunes, peaks and valleys
pushing in territorial flags

Allied conquistadors
Friendly foe
Choreographed wrestling

Negotiating deposits
Salivary transactions
biting lips, grabbing hips

Incan, Aztec, Roman, Egyptian
Games played ancient
always two winners


Factor, Attic, Fill

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Fill what’s empty
plenty
one to twenty

space unrecognized
sized
brain disguised

Addict’s eyes
compromise
Attic’s rise

March backwards
hcram
stuffed clam

Time to rhyme
Logic and
Reason be damned

Not a factor
Nonsense
wheal-less tractor



Cover, Relation, Hilarious

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Crown me King
I am at
the center.
You may be
sister
cousin
father
mother
brother
but I
am king.

An empire of
foxtails
dust
rotted fence posts
chipping paint

My loyal subjects
crickets
spiders
roaches
ants

My closest relations
anger
acrylic paint
sadness
drink
loneliness
my right hand
anxiety
my bicycle

The crown is
light
The scepter is
missing
The freedom is
looking out
through hard
plastic
packaging,
my case
my cover
molds
to me.

I am king and queen
prince
and princess.
I am jester
jester
Jester

I am dungeon master
and
shackled prisoner.

I am lord and lady
in waiting.
I am peasant
pageboy
Knight
and horse.

I am king
and you
are alien.

I am king
and you
are nothing.

I am jester
and I point
and laugh
at the king.

I am king
and I
am nothing.

Topple, Rebellion, Penny

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The Penny Rebellion started with an Instagram user, @toppletopkym. He was wearing a mask, as was the necessary trend of the time, to decrease the spread of the virus. Short videos of the rich and famous had spread of them showing mountains of paper money. So user, ToppleTopKYM, filmed a short video of his own. Up to that video, his account was frequented by family and friends, mostly concerned family and curious acquaintances, not so much friends.

ToppleTopKYM mimicked the other videos. Where as they would lay on their beds on top of piles of paper money, or hold stacks in their hands and swipe single sheets into the air until they floated down in a confetti of money, he converted his meager income into pennies. Using the camera on his phone, ToppleTopKYM made a series of split-screen videos where he mimicked the celebrities and their braggadocios content but with pennies. He laid on his bed making a snow angel out of copper, while next to him a clean-cut A-lister pretended to do the breast stroke through a pile of 100 dollar bills. He through pennies in the air and let them clank to the ground while next to that video played a man with sunglasses indoors and a gold chain making it rain 100 dollar bills.

He made these videos for quite a while, not really gaining any notice, until he made a post simply titled Penny Rebellion. This video began with the screen split. A chubby man was tied up in a throne on one side with stacks and loose piles of cash around him. On the other side of the screen sat ToppleTopKYM in a metal folding chair with towers of pennies. On his side of the screen, he began striking matches and throwing them at the pennies. He did this a few times before shrugging, then turning towards the other screen. He struck a match and began tossing it towards the stacks and piles of paper money. The man in the throne widened his eyes.

ToppleTopKYM, after unsuccessfully lighting either of the piles, metal or paper, walked to the throne side, revealing they were in the same room. Then he struck a match and held it to a pile at the foot of the throne. Smoke slowly rose, then a small flame and then the whole pile was alight. ToppleTopKYM walked back to his metal chair and sat down, scratching his head comically. He lit a match and held it to the pennies until the flame burned his fingers. He tried again and again.

By this time the tied up man was screaming but they were muffled by the gag in his mouth. Then ToppleTopKYM walked towards the camera and said, “Fire licks Metal until it’s black but it eats paper until it becomes ash.”

Then ToppleTopKYM turned and began kicking the towers of pennies. When they were flattened, he turned to the burning paper and began kicking them onto the throne while the king on the throne tried to scream. The video ended mid kick and scream.

This video went viral. People started making their videos showing their wealth in pennies. People began paying for everything in pennies, and it was legal tender, businesses lost countless hours counting. Then the videos took on a life of their own. There were videos of how to make bullets, knives and even guns out of pennies. People got tattoos of pennies and graffiti-ed images of pennies all over the buildings where they lived.

Then it became a movement. “Show us your pennies.” Meaning, show us you’re one of us.

Politicians, terrified, always terrified of losing their image began making speeches about how their fathers and grandfathers came to this country with nothing but two pennies in their pockets. To that the people replied, “show us your pennies.”

After much violence, spectacle and shifting of power the people grew tired of using so many papers. They eventually went back to paper and its practicality; it could be folded, you could carry a lot and ultimately it wasn’t about the currency, but really more about the pricks who flaunted it, or pretended not to.

And that, was the Penny Rebellion.

Trace, Estimate, Satisfaction

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

His fingers traced the groove that ran down the center of the barrel of the gun. The pointer finger taking a sharp right turn down to the end of the handle.

“And you know how to use that sweaty?” He licked his lips after he said it.

Her thumb clicked the safety off and moved up to the hammer, cocking it back. She double squeezed the trigger as if clicking a computer mouse. One, two shots went into his chest. The second bullet assisted the first through his chest cavity, and past T5 and T6 of the thoracic vertebrae. Her employers required such details so they could verify them with the coroners office and newspapers.

He was wide eyed and taking short halting breaths.

“To answer your question, yes, I do know how to use this thing.” She let it flop back and forth in her hand. “It’s pretty easy really, just squeeze. It’s like using a weed whacker or hand blender. Pretty straight forward.” She holstered the gun in her bra and put her white gloves back on.

“If I had to guess, you have about 10 to 15 minutes of living left to do. That’s a gift in my book, not many people are given the satisfaction of knowing how much time they have before, well you know.” She sat with her legs crossed, bouncing her right foot over her left and her hands stacked on her right knee.

“You…” he tried to say something but the effort produced bloody spittle on his lips.

“If I were you I would take time to review your surroundings. Start with this beautiful hard wood floor and work your way over the Persian rugs, carefully laid over one another as if haphazard, follow them to the base boards and their precision cuts all the way around the room. Take in the eggplant colored walls and up to the crown molding with its striking bevels, curves and lines so elegantly dividing the wall from the ceiling. Take in the Spanish style texture of the white ceiling and follow that to the center piece of the room, the French empire crystal chandelier. Note how it’s trimmed by Swarovski crystals. I bet you never bothered before today, huh?” She winked at him.

His eyes were glazing over but he laid back and stared straight up at the bell shaped light fixture dangling above him.

“If you don’t mind, I’m in a bit of a hurry, so as you pass I’m going to search your pockets for the information I am required to find. I’ll do that now.” She paused, as if waiting for permission, seeing him blink she proceeded.

Bus, Defeat, Miracle

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He hopped on, paid the fair and took an open bench seat towards the back. Someone had vomited in the seat across the aisle from him. Gripping the handle above him, swaying with the bus, he lifted himself into the window seat and stared out.

The rain drops on the window made all the head lights look like shooting stars passing him. No one was walking the streets. Homeless were huddled at bus shelters, doorways and underneath shop overhangs.

Then, once again, he thought about her, a new her, a more recent her. As quickly as it had begun it had ended and instead of the hurt subsiding, it was rising again.

He lowered his sleeve by raising his arm and twisting his wrist to check the time. 40 minutes to get home, review what he had written so far, think about the new direction for the project and then call Larry. The new project was about his divorce but he couldn’t stop thinking about the girl friend he had had shortly after signing all the paperwork. He had lost her too.

Maybe lost wasn’t the right word, she had come and gone. He had to sit with that. Accept it and not hold onto it. It was too easy, with everything that had happened over the past year and a half, to not view things as defeats stacking up. He was winning in defeats. He snorted and smiled to himself, checking the neighborhood they were in. Two more stops.

No one saw the smile because of the mask he wore, everyone wore. The pandemic was still raging and he thought about how much social distancing he had already lost, now this “act of god.” It would be nice to experience a miracle some time soon rather than disaster after disaster.

One more stop. The bus pulled away from the curb and he watched the red and blue lights of a cop car across the street. They bounced all inside the bus when they passed.

He had to force himself to think about the story. At first a good idea. Taking his recent experience with divorce and creating a fictional horror out of it, exaggerating the feeling of loneliness, strangeness of the once familiar and the questions of what he had done wrong.

The bus stopped, he grabbed his bag and jogged around the corner to his building. Someone was exiting and held the door for him.

“Thank you.” he said passing.

“No problem, it’s nice to catch a brake sometimes.” The old woman laughed and let the door slip from her hand.

He kept going, trying to force himself to think of the story, to write what he knew but be separate enough from it to tell it coherently. Unlocking the door, he nearly tripped over his dog, Marty who was nearly seizing from excitement.

“Marty! Not now. I got work to do, bud.”

Setting his bag on his desk, he pulled out the notes he had begun taking. Reviewing all the acts and asking himself, what small details can I add that provide some relief to the heaviness of the story?

And I write.

A poem.

And I love you
even though
you are gone.

And I sit
in my feelings
and enjoy them
because I am alive.
And then
I feel
the next thing
that comes.

And ancient
cosmonauts
hold up
scepters
in a statue of liberty pose
in the kingdom
of outer space.

And wolves
drip bloody howls
into snow.

And red haired girls
dance
in fields of flowers
with their eyes
closed.

And
I write.

And
I love you
Forever.

Pilot, Hair, Wolf

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

…only beginnings

At mach speed it screams through me, mixing with my chemistries, passing through the shudder down my spine and ripping through my rib cage. I’m left with a glimpse, a still of a needle nosed jet driven by a figure with a helmet and tubes. Intimate is the moment, a photo, a tingling, an ache.

Follicles salute bloody snouts. Extending past split ends, peering at red snow, hearing howling, growling and snarls. Patellas chatter with tibia, fibula and femur. The vertebrae conga twists and sways. Visceral macabre discos, danced by ancient biological giants and jolted still by animatronic technologies. Everlasting, never changing pirouette’s dedicated to the unknown, to fear.

Notes bounce jagged lines over tympanic membranes. Hear and let beat what needs beating. Listen: I can be fulfilled alone. I let things come and go. There are only beginnings…

Cope, Oppose, Manage

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

An ocean of booze is not enough to forget. It’ll still spit you up on shore and you’ll squint at the sun wondering how you got there. But you don’t forget. You never forget. So you jump back in, swim as far as your arms and legs will let you and stop, maybe thinking of something else, but you’ll eventually crawl back up the sand and feel the hot sun.

You wade back into the water, jumping the small waves, diving under the big ones until again, you’ve reached the chop of the ocean. Then you find yourself spitting out sand and protecting your eyes from the sun. You take a skiff out until the engine runs out of gas. You can’t see the shore and so you think this enough. So with no life preserver you jump into the water, moving your arms and legs just enough to keep your mouth free for air. You don’t want to die, just forget. Yet you find yourself stuck in the rocky crags at the mouth of the bay. Hands, feet, sides and head bleeding from the beating your body took to get back to shore.

After climbing back to the sand, you lay down, exhausted. The tide begins lapping at your feet, your legs, your thighs, your hands and you remember. You jump in a plane and fly for hours until the view below is all blue with ocean. You jump and think you’ll never remember again. Your body slaps the water, bruising all over. Later you wake up with coast guard above you and family members crying. And still the waves lap at your feet, you can’t forget. You never forget.

Now you hobble back down to the waters edge, your legs are wobbly, arms feel like lead and that little ball of light inside you is dimming. You fall into the water pushing yourself crawling into the deep of the ocean. Why not just turn around and forget the water completely? Why keep trying to find the deep?

How do you cope with what you can’t forget? How do you manage what you remember? How do you prevent the memories from drowning you if you never stop jumping into the ocean?

Spirit, Reflection, Amber

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

When the lighter’s flame gets pulled into the leafs of tobacco tucked into the cigarette’s tip, a spirit is born. It dances and twirls like the gossamer on wild cactus. It bends and twists like the strokes of a painters brush. It flees off the white capped end of the cigarette like a stream of melting snow down a mountain. Its thin opacity creates a colorful reflection in the morning sun, a shape shifting stained glass window. It’s wispy shards equally as dangerous as broken glass but just as beautiful. It will take breath away.

At dusk, the end glows like ancient amber lodged in a fossilized tree. It’s color dimming and brightening with each inhale or gust of wind. The cherry end glows and fades like the spinning of a lighthouse lantern, the blinking of airport lights or the frantic braking of LA traffic.

The pleasure end stains with each dragging breath. From white to mustard to brown, the filter, a tributary for the waste of those dancing streams.

At its end, the cigarette is left curled up and alone in a mass grave of butts all spent and bent into the fetal position.

Production, Costume, Healthy

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

There was a calm in the crowd. That moment the lights flicker, signifying everyone to take their seats. Moments before there were members of the audience everywhere, in the aisles, restroom lines and mezzanine bar. Now they gingerly took their seats and made themselves comfortable. It was a professional crowd, each one doing their part to create a cohesive beast of attention.

He stood, stage right, peeking out of the curtain, watching them. Some opened the programs, others sipped drinks and in the balcony, a few focused their binoculars. They were nearly ready.

He looked down at his wardrobe; adjusting the lapels of his jacket, straightening the collar, un-ruffling his pants, and straightening the noose around his neck. Tonight’s performance would be his first and last. All 23 years of his life led up to this moment.

In the general public, out there where the world communicated in double-speak, entendre’s, metaphors and straight lies, his act was intolerable. Why would a healthy young man of 23 with nothing but future ahead of him take his own life? Why? Why? Why?

The stage would be his answer. He would deliver a monologue explaining his life, experiences, doubts, fears and perceptions. He would be joined on stage periodically by doctors, lawyers, therapists and his own parents. They would ask him questions and he would respond honestly. Then, after he’d make his exit, the audience would have an answer to the question of why, while staring at his swaying corpse.

The idea was that those viewers who accepted his answer may be closer to their own little productions than they would like to admit. And those who still did not understand were either in denial or what the actor playing the psychologist might say “in a healthy state of mind.”

Taking one more breath, he waited for the lights to dim and the spot to shine on the step stool center stage. No music, no sensationalism, just light and then darkness.

False, Leave, Posture

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Was it false? Her posture said yes when eventually she did leave. Her slow steps, that quick glance at the dogs, the fumbling with the lock she had opened hundreds, even thousands of times. Was she trying to convince herself of something? Something that she didn’t want in her mind but that her heart couldn’t support; not making the effort to pump blood to fingers, feet and eyes to make her way confidently out of the house.

I couldn’t know either but I suspected she wasn’t quite sure either. Decisions of the heart are never made in confidence. We may tell ourselves they are prudent choices but the heart plants a seed of doubt and only time will tell us if that doubt will grow into regret or die buried deep. I imagine that small unborn seed remains there, not growing but never truly dying, keeping its small hardness somewhere in the chest.

I wonder if it gets easier. Growth, nurturing, planting, giving, sharing time and energy. Or do those nutrients get lost with those seeds that never grow? Does the soil around those seeds grow into dust, leaving less and less space in the heart?

Then the weeds come. What did I do wrong? Was it this? Was it that? Was it all the things I was blind to? Was I selfish? Did I lose myself and become someone else? Will I be enough for anyone?

I’m only at the beginning but it already hurts to open up. It hurts to moisten and till the soil for new plantings. The first time, there was no pain in preparing for love but the more it happens, the more pain seeps into the process. The more those seeds of doubt poison what’s left of the soil around them.

What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me.

Resort, Trait, Separation

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Yeah, there were palm trees, cabana’s, poolside drink service, as many towels as you could request, a 24-hour buffet and plenty of security. A complete separation from what was actually just outside of the resort. They told me to stay within the confines of the property, you know, for my safety and shit. But what was out there? There was nothing at the pulga vieja that I couldn’t find at a Los Angeles or Miami beach.

I wanted to know what this country was like. What did they really eat. I was almost positive they didn’t eat Wagyu sliders and tapas, I was almost certain they didn’t bring you a towel and when you said thanks they would respond, “para servirle,” or “to serve you.” No, I imagined they were just like me when I was at home. Annoyed with herds of tourists crowding the places that I thought were beautiful, the places I enjoyed because they were part of my home.

So I grabbed a bag, called a local taxi number and got picked up in front of the main entrance of the resort. The guard at the front gate was trying to shoo away the cabbie when I got there. I told him it was for me and immediately his demeanor changed, though he tried to warn me against leaving. Was I being kept in the resort, where everything was charged to my room? Where the more time I spent inside, the more likely I was to purchase food and drinks?

I got in the cab and told him to take me downtown. With what little of the language I knew, I tried to talk to him. From our limited conversation of gestures and using only the words we knew in each others languages, we found understanding. He lived in a smaller city just a few kilometers from the main city, the tourist city. It was a quite place, he said. His wife worked in a small shop making some sort of food and he drove a cab.

We got downtown and I waved good bye, cinching up my backpack. I stayed where I had gotten out, in front of an old hotel I had read about in certain novels. The sort of novels that men in the 1950’s wrote about, pretending to be about grit and truth but really living in luxury without spending their millions and ignoring the people that had lived in that location for centuries, even millennia for all I knew.

I started walking down the street. There were luxury shops I had seen in downtown’s across the U.S. and Europe. There were street vendors selling the things I had seen about this place on television and movies. I got the sense that they had set up shop for all the backpack carrying people who needed sunscreen applied every 2 hours.

I stopped in front of a shop and ordered some of the local food I had heard so much about. It was good, but somehow didn’t sit well. Maybe it was the family of tourists at the table next to me, who looked like me, complaining about the service. Maybe it was the fact that just a couple blocks down the road I spotted a Kurber Bing, with its iconic scepter holding out a juicy burger (a burger, I might add, that never looked like it did in the advertisements).

I went down to the beach, removed my shoes and walked on the sand, looking out at the sea. Cruise ships were coming and going. I followed the line of oversized ships to the port where hoards of people, with backpacks, disembarked.

I took a seat in the sand and looked up at the sky. Not much different than where I called home. I looked down at the sand. Not much different than where I called home. An old lady made her way up to me, holding up a book with postcards of the scenery I was currently enjoying. I smiled and politely waved her off. Some kids came up to me with small toys that lit up with they made impact. I laughed and tried my best to tell them no in their native tongue. A young man came up to me and tried to sell me sandals, saying they were made by his grandmother. I said no thank you. I saw another woman coming up to me, about to sell me something else.

I was annoyed. I got up and started walking back downtown, ready to hail a cab. I wondered what this place would be. I had traveled so far but found that it seemed only to cater to me. What would this place look like if all eyes were not on me? I suspected that it was the way it was out of necessity. That it was this way because people like me kept traveling, expecting something authentic but only receiving what we expected.

Base, Meet, Deep

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Lemuel picked up the ring on the table, size 4 finger. It had fit for a while, then in the middle of their marriage she had gained some weight. After much struggle she was able to slide it off. Butter, go figure. When she slimmed down again, the ring was back on for a week but came off again. A lot of things became off after she lost weight. Lemuel’s base instincts knew something else was off.

Then a few months later, like a bad movie, he found the evidence that became the catalyst to their divorce. She would meet others, Lemuel didn’t know them. She wouldn’t answer the phone. Lemuel couldn’t sleep. She never slept with him. Lemuel puffed out his chest and stuck out his chin as if it didn’t matter, but there was too much darkness down deep to keep pretending his confidence came from the light.

Lemuel tried, for a while, to pretend it didn’t bother him. He reached out to friends, family and without telling them what was going on, pretended to have a change of heart that bent towards connection. Really he was trying to fill that new crevasse that had split him open after the earthquake of her absence.

Because he had reached out to loved ones, they began reaching out to him. But the darkness was taking over, even if he didn’t realize it. One day he was in its shadow and the next he was swallowed whole.

After a night of hard drinking, Lemuel loaded his dog into the car, grabbed some clothes and food, and drove in one direction. East. East would let him drive farther, too far west and he’d need a boat. Too far North or South and he’d need a passport. All things he didn’t have the capacity to deal with.

He stopped. There were rows of wooden cabins that looked like something gold miners during the rush of early California days would build quickly to sustain them for sleep and food. An inn that allowed pets and plenty of space from one room or cabin to the next.

Lemuel paid for a week and moved all his things into the room. Keeping the dogs in the air conditioned inside, a detail that he was thankful to be added, despite it’s historical gold rush inaccuracy. Lacing up his boots, grabbing a bottle of Bulleit Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey, or what he referred to jokingly with his ex-wife as his dancing shoes. And so Lemuel laced up his dancing shoes and waltzed into the desert.

Taking shade in an outcropping of boulders, Lemuel rested. A pain emanated from his stomach. When he pulled up his shirt, he saw something moving underneath his skin. Always carrying a pocket knife, but rarely using it, Lemuel found the perfect opportunity. He flipped open the knife and poked his stomach where the bulge had emerged. The stab hurt, but it was a duller, less urgent pain. Sure the blood would run and he might feel faint, but it wasn’t the sort of pain that wrapped his head and heart in butcher paper, pounded by a tenderizer 24/7.

The bulge emerged at his side, between his last bottom two ribs. He poked and dragged the blade, this one made him wince, but nothing came out. However, he did feel a small sense of release which also felt like relief. He stood up and wandered back to his cabin, wondering what HBO might have on their station this evening.

Retain, Function, Analysis

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I haven’t the faintest idea how much I have drunk. I can see what’s left in the bottles and count the beers but those are no indicator as to the capacity or volume of liquid. At least not with my vision in the state it’s in. Perhaps an analysis of my personal ability to consume would be helpful if not at the very least interesting.

My ability to function with certain amounts of H20 and alcohol sometimes astonishes me. Bottles and cans shiver, empty next to the trash can, their use outlived, their spirits transferred into my being. I know that I am able to keep their contents long in the memory of my gut. My guts retention is amazing. A true American in all its glutenous, consumptive old glory.

Like those bottles and cans waiting to be tossed, I too shiver at the thought of needing more. A deep valley, is my body, slowly filling with the trickle of some Joshua tree property hose.

Yet, I still bob my head to the music, play with the dogs, wash the dishes, respond to endless streams of asinine emails and rub out those liquid pearls. What is a man to do with is time, his animal instincts and his intellect? To eat, to masturbate, to read, write and paint. That is how time is measured; in tasks, ideas, grunts and the reckonings of shame and regret.

Some of us take up our kitchen knives and create memories for our bellies. Some of us take up our kitchen knives and create outlets for pain. So much pain. What do we do with this pain? I don’t know, refer to how I spend my time.

The optimist believes in something greater, always better, a rising sun. The pessimist believes in nothing, see’s everything, the rising of the sun, its heat, its cancer, its vitamin D and its setting. The pessimist sees what is and optimist sees what could be. No one is only one of those things. It’s impossible to board an airplane and never think of its crashing.

Reasons to drink

Thoughts on growing up middle-class in America.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

At 3-4 years old I was asked which animals I wanted to pet in heaven. I was told from which star our savior would come. I was taught how to pray.

At 10-11 years old I got in trouble in my school for reading a book about my favorite dinosaurs, Velociraptors.

At 15 my grandfather attempted suicide. It was never talked about from that day forward, even though I saw him in a sterile facility, hair wispy, with a wrist band and hospital gown. I was asked if I wanted to go to church. I stayed home and watched stand-up instead.

At 33 I separated from my wife.

At 35 I get divorced.

At 34 I meet a real woman, I pee in my backyard, rent out a room to my best friend whom I met in rehab and do my best to limit my smoking and drinking.

And at some point I’ll stop listening.

I grew up in the land of mid-sized sedans, mini-vans and low-end luxury vehicles. The land where rap was tolerated as a phase instead of the gospel of fellow Americans. The land where men wore suits but ordered water when eating out on occasion. Where they preached loving they neighbor but threw their money at stained-glass windows and steeples.

I grew up in the land where causes had the opulence of being accessorized, awarded, badg-ed and medal-ed in. First place goes to the woman with her heart on her sleeve. What’s her prize? A podcast, followers and the right to perceive. Second place is forgotten.

I grew up where cultures were worn on the runway; tagged, liked and put to bed with the 24-hour news cycle. Where smiling with brace-corrected teeth was more important than listening. Where dents on garages were ignored for blue-tooth mirages. Where the placation of expressed problems were as cute as a stay-cation meme.

Meme, meme, me, me, me ,me: a virus of non-essential, feel-good, self-righteous, resting above comfortable but just below content ideas spread through imitation. Where love is shared with those who succeed and for those who don’t, martyrs are made. Where thought, like above, are unclear, influenced by what’s trending, not by what’s right.

I grew up where grandfather’s worked hard, father’s built empires and grandson’s teetered on their shoulders reaching for wisps of clouds. My hands are too soft, my mind too dull and my heart too brittle.

Where quarantine is spent at home with no reduction in grocery bills and no one wonders if today is the day. where there’s the luxury of debate, unpopular opinions and fundraising for traveling missionaries.

I grew up in the land where 14-year-olds built houses in foreign countries. Where 15-year-olds drove Mercedes-Benz and 16-year-olds started thinking about their parent’s colleges.

I grew up where authority is referred to on bend-ed knee but you don’t know what authority is. Authority is a running tally of wrist scars. Authority is counting days sober. Authority is orgasm at will. Authority is false teeth, cauliflower ears, and a crooked nose. Authority drags around an oxygen tank with wheezing breaths. Authority isn’t found on any screen, it rolls in a wheel-chair and dictates its will to on one.

I grew up where drugs, alcohol, pornography and other vice are worshiped for six days and absolved on the seventh. Where respect goes to the shiniest cars and the tannest chins. Where those who care the least are crowned the Kings and Queens of cool. A land of illusion where death is a shock at any age and life comes with medical, dental, optical and, a life insurance policy. Where people wait for bread with crossed arms and a tapping foot. Where necessity means a lack of excess and ignorance is an offer color joke chuckled at in church parking lots.

I grew up in the land of recycled boxes. Where one hundred rolls of toilet paper will never sell when on the self next to one-thousand roll packs for just a dollar ninety-nine more. Where emotions are changed by the click of a remote or swipe of a playlist.

No one taught me how to drink but Bukowski. No one taught me love but Shakespeare. No one taught me life’s lack of meaning but Seinfeld. No one taught me how to become a garbage pail for any drug passed my way but my lack of satisfaction. but I have a foot print on my ass the size of the middle class. Its kicked into my dockers in the direction of complacency, American democracy and mediocrity.

Rugby, Hair, Hammer

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

A real bruiser, this guy. He had a head that looked like it had been pressed by vices, one smashing his chin and nose, another pressing against his ears. His neck was about as thick as his skull. The rest of his body looked like a sculpture in progress. A cube of marble with arms, a chest, stomach, legs and feet with none of the ripples and bumps of a completed piece. He was a block.

He was most comfortable and alive in the middle of a scrum. Locked arm and arm with two other bruisers, pushing against the entirety of his opponents. His team would always say that they swore he was doing all the work and that they were just along for moral support.

He was one of those guys that stayed in shape from 18 to 50 years old, no matter how much he ate, drank or otherwise consumed. Teeth might fall out of his mouth but the rest of him remained an absolute unit, as they would say on the sidelines.

He would have kept going, there was no signs of him slowing down. Except one day his picture appeared in the paper. His face was caved in by a hammer. It appeared that someone wanted to put a little more detail into his bulky features.

And so he was remembered, briefly, by family, friends and team mates but will be all but forgotten when they also pass on. Hopefully by less artistic means.

Monster, Note, Chauvinist

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I don’t know the type of monster I became that night. Wandering the streets and alley ways looking for a fight. A wrong look, a look for too long or the wrong note played on a piano would be enough to begin growling and pawing at the dirt.

It happened that a male chauvinist made himself known to me. Saul, who was just a man for the evening, told me it was a creature of the worst kind. A rapist. That the chauvinist had at one time in his youth taken advantage of a woman.

After being confronted by a man with fight but no reason to do so, my adrenaline was pumping. So when I finally had a reason, the fight came with it. My hands became anvils, my arms pistons and my legs stanchions for the movement of my upper torso.

The creature in front of me was well groomed, the worst kind of monster, with manners. A hannibal lecter, harvey weinstein or jeffrey epstein. In front of me, yet another male adult too scared to face life like a man and so they became beasts wildly using the worst of their nature to feast.

By the time Saul had revealed the man’s nature, it was too late, but the fight was still with me. And so I became a monster, looking for someone to fight, winning or losing were not the point, it was simply about the fight.

There is a cliché that goes something like, you become the very thing you hate. I imagine that goes along with being vigilant of ones mind and guarding against it. I was not vigilant and so only the fight took over.

Woman, Cellar, Cutting

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Her razor blade was still on the nightstand, dried brown with blood. There was water running, the shower, she must have turned it on to hide any sound. What sound, I didn’t know, but then again suicide is often uncharted territory if done correctly.

I put her clothes from the hospital in the hamper and sat on the bed. What were all those forms I needed to fill out? What were those phone numbers I had to call? Why did I put her clothes in the hamper?

I stood up, compelled by the only instinct, I knew. I headed down to the cellar and grabbed the first bottle of wine on the rack, not bothering to read the label. I suppose it wasn’t instinct, simply learned behavior.

I pulled off the label, twisted into the cork and popped it open. Red wine. Whiskey would be better but I was able to hide my learned behavior behind a hobby of wine collecting. Maybe that was one of the reasons that compelled her to leave. One of many, I guessed.

I went back to the room. No glass, just the bottle. I laid in bed. I need to fix that baseboard it’s loose. She had pointed it out. I never got around to it. Probably never would. Perhaps that was one of the last remaining forms of communication between us. A shared responsibility for the house. Without that, what was the house?

I turned and saw the razor blade still poised on the edge of the night stand. I imagined it had just been used and looked down to see the crowns of blood on the floor below it. What had that felt like? Sitting here, hiding from me, wanting to escape, not just this home but everything. There wasn’t a single place she would have rather gone, could have gone other than to that unknown place that hovers like a stick behind us. Or maybe in her case, like a carrot dangling in front of us.

A deep emptiness seemed to push all else out of my stomach. A pit so vast I couldn’t drink fast enough to fill it. The emptiness forced tears out of my eyes and shaking so violent I double over, gripping my pillow. It pulled my face in all directions, contorting my mouth into ugly cries. There was a deep hole and would not be filled again. Never.

What did it feel like to sit here, shower running and cut into the veins of the wrist? To cut so deeply that the blood rushed out like a crack in a dam. What sort of emptiness was that? Or was it exactly like my own. An agonizing look into nothingness.

I grabbed at the razor blade, spilling my wine. What sort of emptiness did she feel? That woman, that once called herself mine. My woman. A woman. What did it feel like?

Nipple, Mustache, Sprinkler

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was pierced. Some sort of small barbell that ran the diameter of the aureola. A few tattoos; praying hands, rosary beads with a cross, some biblical texts and a bloody Jesus on the cross on his back. He had slicked back hair and a lady tickler that seemed to be frozen in a crawl up into his nose and down into his mouth. Though, this priest wasn’t tickling ladies with that mustache.

“Turn, bend over, spread your cheeks and cough.” He paused and looked at the other freshly imprisoned men complying. His clothes black with a strip of white, wadded up on the floor behind him.

He finally turned and overheard someone say, “he’s going to be in that position a lot.” He wasn’t sure who said it, could have been a guard or an inmate, but it didn’t matter. The truth in his head was verbalized.

They shuffled down the corridors being shown to their cells. He reached his and a man, small, bone thin and not a tattoo visible would be his celly.

“What you in for?”

The priest hesitated with his answer as his cell mate looked him up and down. Seeing he wasn’t going to answer, the cell mate continued.

“It’s probably better not to answer that question or make up a lie. I have the bottom bunk, you’re on top. Keep your shit until I’m not sleeping, I don’t want a rude awakening.”

The priest set his clothes and things on the top bunk. He looked around at the toilet, the desk, the bunk bed, the bars at the end of the cell and the cobwebbed sprinklers on the ceiling.

“I’m Henry.” He said, still gazing up at the sprinklers.

“Well, Henry, I’m willing to bet that your pregnant pause when I asked why you were here was something that really only God can deal with. And their ain’t no sprinklers in hell.”

Eye, Leader, Raccoon

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Through the peep hole, all I could see was that big blue window into her soul. I smiled and knocked again. She opened the door but the chain kept the door open just a crack. Maybe she didn’t recognize me. Maybe I had the wrong house. Then her head peaked through the crack.

I smiled a little wider this time.

“Hi, it’s me.”

She only stared. Not saying anything. I could hear the sounds of a house full of living. Pots, pans, yelling kids, a TV.

“Is this a bad time.”

“What are you doing here?”

Now the words caught in my throat. I folded my hands behind my back and cleared the uncertainty welling up.

“Well, I wanted to be the first to tell you that I got that movie made. It was purchased and now there’s some director looking for actors and…well, I just wanted to tell you. You were always so supportive of that.”

She looked at me. Then closed the door. I heard something scratching and then the door opened all the way. She stepped onto the porch, shutting the door behind her. It took every ounce of social conditioning and domestication that had been thrown my way to not instantly through my arms around her shoulders and pull her head into my chest.

She crossed her arms slowly and then looked up at me.

“You couldn’t have called or texted?”

My cheeks flushed. I knew she could see that.

“I’m sorry, you’re right, this isn’t fair of me.”

“No, look, I think it’s great. That’s what you’ve always wanted. It sounds like you’re on your way to something great.”

I knew she was just extending a guilty hand. I looked around the yard and spotted chains and a lock on the lids of their trash cans.

“So you keep a pretty tight lid on your trash now, huh?”

“What?” She looked where my gaze held then laughed. That sweet laugh. “Oh, yes, well we have some pretty tenacious little bandits that dig around and spread it out every night if we don’t.”

She uncrossed her arms but took a half step backward.

“I’m sorry, again, I should have called, I just thought it would be cool for you to know when the trailers came out and stuff. You’d see them on TV and know who made the movie.”

She looked at me for what seemed like a full moon cycle. It was only a few seconds before she spoke but I could see that familiar glint, somewhere buried back behind her new life.

“Well, it’s just that, it’s hard to see…”

Another pause. I knew what she was going to say, something to the effect of it’s hard to see me but it wouldn’t work, it never worked. Despite what I thought to the contrary.

“Alright, well it sounds like you’re busy in there with the little ones. I just wanted you to know and now you do. It was great to see you.”

“It was great to see you too.”

I turned to go down the steps. She turned to go back inside.

I thought about the most memorable people in history. The presidents, kings, bishops, popes, captains, outlaws, revolutionaries and wondered how their greatness was shaped. I wondered if they didn’t have their own broken hearts and so turned the world into their anvils, beating it into the shapes that suited their desires.

As I got to the gate, she yelled out to me.

“Hey, I’m gonna see your movie the day it comes out.”

I smiled and thought about an empty theater playing my movie with only her big beautiful eyes to watch it.

Failure, Clock, Wagon

A short story incorporating three random words, written in 20 minutes.

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He tapped it a couple more times. The hands stayed frozen at 3:15. AM or PM? He couldn’t remember the last time he looked at his watch. The old grandfather in the corner of the room struck snake eyes. The dings of the clock’s bells conjured up a memory. A train station, a whistle, some bags he hadn’t packed but carried for someone else. Someone he used to know.

She didn’t even look out of the window as the engine yanked the cars forward and away from him.

The grandfather stopped its whining. He check his watch out of habit one more time then slid it off his wrist. Another thing he thought he could count on gone.

Sitting in his chair, letting the momentum of its rock jostle up more thoughts, he looked at the wagon through a window. It was parked in front of the porch. The mare in his barn, really a shed, hadn’t been on a ride in a while.

Rocking the chair forward and pushing off his feet, he stood. Too quickly. Little stars danced around his head, just outside his vision. She’d asked him once if he was happy and the only thing he could say was that happiness were like fire flies in the eyes, you could only see them if you didn’t try.

Cinching up his belt, he grabbed the bit by the front door. The night was cool, bright with stars and the light of the moon. No breeze, just the world holding it’s breath. He took the three steps down to the yard one leg at a time, listening the groans of his tired knees. He’d learned to stop holding his breath a long time ago, she wasn’t coming back.

The latch to the barn door was cracking and splintering. He grabbed it carefully and lifted, swinging the big door open in the same motion. The mare pawed at the ground and snorted. He smiled.

“Atta girl.”

She trotted past him and out into the yard. He patted her back and fit the bit in her mouth. He hitched her to the wagon and pulled himself up onto the seat. Yes, a night ride always did him good. For fifty-some years, it was the only time he saw the stars.

With a click of his mouth and gentle tug of the reins, they moved toward the old dusty road, rutted from nightly rides. The wheels creaked and he bounced in his seat but with one hand gripping the reins and the other stroking his beard, he was content.

Content to think about his short comings. Maybe if he had wound it religiously. Maybe if he had carefully dusted its face. Maybe if he had taken it apart once a while for a good cleaning, the watch would still work. Maybe if he had just paid more attention to it, the hands would still be faithful to him.

Or maybe if he had paid more attention to her…

Beast, River, Turbulent

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It’s a gorgeous creature. I can see it from the burbling banks. I’m sitting behind a tree. The low leaves and uncut foliage provide enough cover for me, but not for… whatever I’m looking at.

The silky white skin pops out from the greens and browns of the forest. It approaches the water one step at a time, looking around with every gentle paw print.

Then the thunder clapped. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of lightening. I didn’t flinch, my gaze fixed on the creature. I forgot about my hunger. I forgot I about my thirst. Maybe I just ignored my basic needs. The creature moved so elegantly on the other side of Sacramento. In between us the sound of rushing water. I was able to ignore that too.

I stubbed out my cigarette. The smoke would be a signal. The burning cherry a red eye in the middle of the forest. Looking through the scope, the creature looked around one more time before bending over to lap up the river water.

The creatures pause gave me a chance to look at it through the cross hairs of the scope. An elegant white skin with bright orange dots all over. Something I’ve never seen before.

Long arms that bent like a bulldogs. Legs that rippled with muscle. Hair that ran from it’s head down to where I imagined some sort of sexual organ. I was attracted but not sure what sort of creature I was looking at.

My knees shook from sitting for so long. The rifle dipped and I gripped it with a “Click.” The creature looked up, seemingly straight at me, through the scope and into whatever part of me people call the soul.

I was terrified to breathe. What I had considered a burbling brook a few minutes ago seemed now like a turbulent vortex. It started to rain.

The creature looked up to the sky and roared.

I watched, now with my rifle lowered. Across the banks, I realized it was twice as big as me. It pawed at the dirt, backing up a few paces and began to charge the river bank. Just before touching the water, it leapt.

It seemed to hang in the air for an hour. I stayed in my position with the rifle’s barrel digging into the dirt. I was too enamored with the creature.

Just before it landed in front of me and roared I thought how I would do everything to make sure the creature would exist, forever.

Right in front of me, the creature opened it’s mouth, revealing yellow piles of teeth. Sharp and dripping with saliva.

Before the beast took its bite, I wiped away a bit of saliva so I could watch. It grabbed my throat and shook. I didn’t put up a fight.

If I could nourish such a magnificent creature, then I was doing the lord’s work, as grandpa would say.

Tower, Light, Cup

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

I caught a glimpse of a tower made of white brick. The squares were stacked in such a way that they spiraled all the way to the top of the spire. The tower seemed to glow, by the light of the moon or the beams of the sun. Something about the structure compelled me to see it up close, to feel the texture of the brick and get to know the inside of the building. That day, however, I was stuck on a boat. It was stormy and there were no ports on this side of the peninsula.

Through the angry clouds and assault of spray from the waves battering the boat, I stared. My eyes stung from salt. My body ached from gripping tightly to ropes and climbing rigging, all to pull us out of the deep ocean and closer to land.

Sun peaked through the clouds and shone on that white tower. I dropped my ropes and grabbed the railing. I needed to go there, it represented hope, safety, security, reassurance and warmth. It took all my instincts of self-preservation to stop me from hopping over the rail and swimming the impossible length to shore. So I stared.

Seagulls orbited the tower like nymphs dancing around a fire. Green grass and brown clumps of hairy shrubs bowed toward the tower. The storm seemed to calm but I knew that really, my focus was not on the tumult happening all around me, I was only fixated on something that I could not reach.

It wasn’t the right time so I made my way all around the boat, following the white column as we moved around the sound. I stared at the spot where I knew the tower stood long after it had disappeared over the horizon. One day I would see it again and with any luck, the conditions would allow me to explore that magnificent structure.

For now I would have to be satisfied with my cup of whiskey and the memory of having seen it. I know that a tower such as that will always be there, even if not for me, but it will be there, strong and beautiful.

Tacos, Hair, Crema

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

And so these tacos…they have what in them?

Hair.

And…okay, but you eat them?

Yes, with plenty of Crema.

Okay, now I know you’re just talking about something else.

Yeah, tacos.

The dirty kind of taco, like slang for…well, you know what I’m talking about.

No.

Let’s say you’re actually talking about tacos–

–I am.

Fine. How do you eat a mouthful of hair?

You just–

–Follow up question, who’s hair is it? What kind of hair is it? Is it washed? Where does it come from?

From the bowl in the kitchen.

Come on man, we’re not talking about the beloved Mexican food, are we?

Yes with a twist.

The twist is it has hair instead of meat or beans or rice or fajitas.

Yes, and plenty of Crema.

So where does the hair come from before it gets to the bowl in the kitchen?

I don’t know.

You never asked?

No, a truck just pulled up and on the side in old English style red lettering it said Tacos, Hair, Crema and that’s all they serve.

No questions?

Just the hottest new eats on wheels in town.

Who is eating them.

All the cool kids. The ones with wide brimmed hats, long dresses and heels. Others with mustaches, tweed jackets with patches and spectacles with no prescription lenses.

Oh, okay, you’re saying that ironically.

No, they are cool and I know that because of all the effort that goes into finding those clothes.

See, when you say it like that it sounds like your making fun of them or being passive aggressive.

I’m saying exactly what I think.

Okay…Okay, so tacos, hair, crema. Back to my first question, and I still have so many, how do you eat all that hair?

Well, that’s what the crema is for, you kinda stick a finger into the taco and move it around until all the hair has mixed into the crema, then it kind of just slides down your tongue and down your throat.

Sounds so appetizing when you say it like that.

Exactly! I knew you’d get it.

No, I was being sarcastic. And again you made it sound sexual.

Sexual?

Come on ‘stick your finger in,’ slides down tongue’?

They’re open today if you want to try it.

I don’t.

Where is your adventurous spirit. I have all kinds of photos showing everyone my adventurous spirit. You know in some parts of the world they eat bugs, other parts they eat dogs, in the U.S. we eat cows but in other parts of the world it’s taboo to eat beef.

Yes, but hair, come on. There is a line somewhere and it’s been crossed.

Yes, eating meat is barbaric.

Your point is well taken but eating hair is a stupidity that has to be on the moronic end of the stupidity spectrum.

No, I eat them.

Yeah.

Excessive, Revolution, Pomegranate

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Seduced by the plump arils offered up in the hands of Hades. Those tempting seeds spilling through his fingers and falling over the edges of his hands, stained red. Twelve devils surrounded the king of the underworld each a different shape, size, color and vice. They whooped, coughed, choked, laughed, cried, screamed, roared, cut themselves, masturbated, penetrated their orifices with objects that stretched their cavities. They pointed their chipped fingernails at me with one hand and spread blood, oozing from their self-inflicted cuts, over their skin and hair. Macabre wrestlers making their bodies slick with blood instead of olive oil.

A scene designed by the lord of the underworld to make his outstretched hands appear the most enticing choice. To grab those seeds and feast in the face of excessive debauchery would be a triumph.

The revolution, however, is only won by turning to a demon, lathering myself with the blood from my own wounds and wrestling until each one in the circle is bested. I feel the gash in my stomach, poke two fingers inside and slowly wipe them over my face. I feel the cuts along my legs from the thorns they pushed aside and wipe them around my neck, shoulders and arms. I wipe the blood dripping from my forehead, and rub it all over my chest and legs. I take my pointer finger and push it into the deepest cut in my chest. I slather it over my waist and buttocks. I rub my hand over the open wound in my chest and put it to my lips.

I can taste the iron.

Project, Farm, Worship

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Behold the great sheep, humble and woolly, providing cotton for all of us. Let us raise our hands and lower them to gently sweep the grasses on which the sheep graze. We shall write songs of its soothing bleats, its gently spirit and that wool that keeps us warm when the god of ice exacts his wrath.

Let us erect a statue in the image of the sheep, a ram and a ewe. The pair representing the balance between protection, violence and calm, gentleness. We shall conduct the lambing as a sacred rite. A new lamb represents the Spring, life, growth, harvest. Let us cut the grasses as gently as we sheer the wool, for us the wool, for the sheep, the grasses.

We shall project our needs and desires onto the careless bleating of the sheep. We shall make our most important decisions upon which direction the flock chooses to graze. Let us not take responsibility for our actions but place the burden of our actions on the paths our flocks choose to tread. Through bad harvest and good, all blame and credit will be given to the sheep.

Why? Because we need the wool to stay warm in the Winter’s, to maintain our temperatures during the winds of Fall. We need not take responsibility when we can hoist our burdens onto the sheep. All praise the sheep!

Let us remove our shoes and walk upon their dung to feel the earthly wisdom that is excreted from their nether regions. Let us hold golden goblets to their golden showers and drink of their peace.

Nothing is our fault. We are blameless. We are humble servants of the sheep as the sheep humbly provide their wisdom through their very nature.

Let us sacrifice our children if the sheep suffer from illness or disease. Let us kill one another when there is dispute over the treatment of the sheep. We shall not bother with our own doubt. Let us ignore them as the sheep ignore the sandy earth. Let us dismiss the questions that forever run through our minds of whether the sheep belong to us or whether we belong to the sheep.

Let us remember that when one sheep dies, we must kill one of our own to make up for the loss.

Let us never forget that we belong to the sheep!

Let us write down our decrees and thinking at this moment and forever follow them blindly, as the flock follows their ram. No matter what changes befall us, no matter what discoveries we make, let us never forsake the wool and the wisdom of the sheep.

Let us raise our goblets of sheep urine and drink to the wool and the wisdom of sheep, never to think for ourselves but only to remain faithful to the sheep.

Amen!

Feather, Sing, Cave

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

“Check it out, dude. I found this fuckin’ sweet ass feather over here in this cave.”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Like what?”

“Sweet ass feather?”

“It is a sweet ass feather.”

“Yeah, but in meetings your vocabulary is quite different. Your explaining the demographics and opportunities within the European market. Now your saying stuff like ‘fuckin’ sweet as feather.'”

“I’m not at work. Look forget that bullshit, man. That’s just the 9-to-5, you know?”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just weird is all.”

“Anyway, I was venturing out into the wilds of Canada one day and happened upon the opportunity for a spelunking adventure. So I told myself, Martin, you deserve a break from the rat race, treat yourself to exploration.”

“What is happening, now your talking like the beginning of a novel from the 1920’s. You’re all over the place.”

“You’re missing the forest for the trees, my dude–“

“–My dude.”

“Just listen. I took out my cellular phone–“

“–Cellular?”

“I TOOK OUT MY CELLULAR PHONE and turned on the flash light. The first few feet into the cave I noticed a sharp turn to the right, it was hella dark.”

“Okay, you’ve never said hella in your life…”

“It was hecka dark in there, but like I mentioned earlier, I had turned on my flashlight. So I ventured to the right, following the natural slope downwards and twist of the rock.”

“Okay.”

“Nothing special, just rocks, dirt and a few mice bones. Then I heard it, some sound. At first I thought it was wind but as I walked forward, I realized it was singing–oh hold on, I’m getting a call. Hello? Yes, um, well I already have a phone plan but what’s your offer?”

“Dude.”

“Hold on. Well, I have a pretty good plan now and I don’t want to deal with the hassle of switching over, thank you for calling and have a lovely day. Okay man, where was I?”

“You heard singing.”

“Right. It was singing but it was the combination of a chortling bird and an opera singer. Like Andrea Bocelli Gargling mouthwash or Placido Domingo trying to belt out ‘O sole mio while being water boarded. It was bizarre.”

“Yeah.”

“So I kept going down and saw some light at the end. Then I saw them. These giant birds, about as big as a bulldog standing on it’s hind legs, like crows but with the heads of humans. Like those 16th/17th century paintings of strange birds with human heads, just like that.”

“No way.”

“They were hopping around, like birds do when they’re excited in a cage, just doing that chortling/singing thing.”

“What did their heads look like?”

“They all looked exactly like Dolph Lundgren, you know boxers nose, block chin, and blond feathers.”

“Good thing you had your phone out.”

“Yes, it is, because with the light of the flashlight I was able to pick up one of the feathers that had fallen.”

“You didn’t take a picture?”

“Well, I was grabbing the feather, see?”

“It just looks like a feather. That could be from any bird.”

“Well, even so, how many times to come across a fuckin’ sweet ass feather?”

Potato, Elephant, Rocket

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars. Let me see if…Shit what’s the rest of it? Something about Jupiter and Mars.

“Sir, the enemy is approaching.”

“Don’t charge the elements until you see the expressions on their faces.” I thought that sounded good, strong, confident.

“Sir, that’s pretty close sir.”

“Exactly.” More confidence and strength.

“Sir, we can use our new rockets to fire at them at their current distance, sir.”

“Yes, but we have nothing to fire at them but potatoes and cans of soup.”

“I think that would hurt, sir, especially at the speed and force with which we can fire them. Canned soup at that speed is basically a cannon ball.”

“I see your thinking private, but we need that food. If all we do is bruise a few of their men, we’ll also be feeding them. I don’t know about you, but if I’m starving, I’m not above digging a spud out of the orbital socket of a dead man’s skull. What about you private?”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“I said, would you dig a potato out of a dead man’s skull if you were hungry enough?”

“I suppose so, sir.”

“Well private, I suppose the enemy would not be above such behavior either.” I tapped a cigarette on my gloved wrist.

“Light.”

“Here you go, sir”

CLINK, HISS.

I took a thoughtful drag and let the smoke come out with my next words.

“What do you think about pancakes private.”

“Pancakes, sir?”

“PANCAKES! Pillow-y spheres dripping with melted butter and sweet maple syrup. What do you think of that.”

The private looked up at the sky, as if the clouds would fall down onto a plate and the heavens would rain down syrup.

“That sounds nice, sir.”

“Indeed, private, indeed.”

ZIP, ZIP, SPLOOSH.

The elephant reared back, like the grand finale at a barnum and bailey’s circus act. I fell from my saddle to the rear of the elephant.

My cigarette fell, just a foot from me, I reached, pinching it between two fingers. My head, suddenly hot. Everything went dark and a smell, an ungodly smell. I could hear faint voices. Was my spirit leaving my body?

“huh, ooor eeeaaad tuck eeeefaant aaasss!”

What was he saying? It was getting hard to focus. I was getting sleepy. Time for those pancakes from the sky.

“I served with General Culos, he was a confident and strong man. I think about him everyday. So let this memorial be a reminder to all of us that the enemy is not always in front of you. It can come at any moment from behind–from a behind.”

There in the town square, where General Gustavos Peditos Culos was born and raised, was erected a statue of an elephant standing, trunk saluting the sky and the torso of a man, head lost in the anus of the pachyderm, with the uniform, patches and medals of the town hero.

Flower, Lamp, Sandwich

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Swiss on rye with pickles. That’s that I ordered. What the deli worker gave me 25 minutes later was ham with mustard, mayo and a single piece of lettuce.

Fuck it. I was starving, but I looked at the price and saw it was the same amount, so again, fuck it.

Then I checked out the dollar store to see if they had any Maruchan soup for 29 cents a package. I could live for month on those for about 20 dollars.

On to the rite-aid for some ice cream, a scoop with a cone for a dollar a some-odd cents. A pretty good day. I felt like I had lived like a king.

On my bike ride home, I passed a house with a row of roses. I stopped and leaned over to stick my nose in the red petals. You know that old saying, I don’t remember how it goes but it meant something like taking time to appreciate life or the small things. Something like that.

Starting to pedal the bike again, my legs felt heavy. Probably due to the ham and the rocky road digesting in my body. Most likely not the preferred diet of Lance Armstrong, but then again, I also wasn’t on steroids. These thighs were all natural.

I got home and locked up the bike. Walked into my dark apartment, making my way by memory to the lamp in the corner of my room. I pulled the chain and a plastic stocking-ed leg lit up. Above the leg, a red lamp shade. You know, from that one Christmas movie with the kid that gets his tongue stuck to a frozen pole on a dare. It was a movie about Christmas, I can remember the title.

I turned on some Seinfeld and filled up a cup with ice. Then poured myself a glass of vermouth. I drank in bed until I passed out. The last thing I remembered thinking was, don’t forget to smell the roses. Well, that day, I had.

Cake, Rooster, Ocean

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

Rooster’s don’t have teeth. At least that’s what he was told. He was also told to go to college, get married and buy a house. That shit didn’t work out. So did rooster’s really not have teeth?

His fingers curled over a smooth rock and he felt it in his hand. The smoothness reminded him of the doorknobs he would swipe his hands over in the eleven room mansion in which he was raised. He gripped the rock, knuckles white, and whipped it into the surf, thinking it would skip. The hungry waves bit down on the rock almost instantly.

He thought about those rooms. All those rooms filled with strange paintings and things. Things was the best word he could think to describe the objects he saw. Things hanging from the ceilings by chains. Things penetrating from the floor into the ceiling. Things that were flesh colored. Those things were scary but intriguing.

He remembered once a table as long as a football field, or at least that’s what his 7-year-old brain told him it was. A table filled with cooked birds, platters spilling over with vegetables, meats, cheeses, fruits and bread. Dishes with green garnish, plates with sandwiches, and giant decanters in shapes that suggested the things he noticed in all those rooms. Then there were the cakes, spheres as tall and sturdy as elephant legs towering over the table.

The memories were coming back to him. The rhythmic sound of the waves chomping down into the sand seemed to hypnotize him.

He remembered pushing open the kitchen door and seeing pigs sprawled out on the counters. Fat butchers with equally fat cleavers slamming down into the flesh and making the pig smaller. Hooves fell on the floor, a rump, then a head.

He watched giant pots of soup, steaming into the chefs spectacles, forcing the chef to clear his vision every few seconds. Then he heard the chickens clucking.

They bobbed their heads around in the coup just outside the kitchen. A chef would grab one by it’s neck, twist it around like a towel being rung to dry and then slam a knife into a wooden block, separating the chickens body from its head.

One time, he noticed a rooster with the chickens. Not a common sight. An absent minded chef grabbed the rooster twisted its neck around and decapitated it. The chef tossed the head carelessly into the doorway of the kitchen. He remembered looking down and seeing the grin of a beak full of teeth. He remembered it as clearly as the first time he broke an arm, the first time he kissed a girl and the first time he had sex. That rooster had teeth.

But they don’t. So what else was he not remembering correctly?

Tree, Fork, Boat

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The tree was dripping with honey. She looked down at her shoulder and dabbed at the drip of bee juice spreading over her freckles. The taste was too irresistible to worry about the bees. She hiked up her skirt above her knees and gripped a knot in the old oak. Pulling herself up closer to the humming of the drones orbiting the nearest honeycomb. From her purse she pulled out a fork. She pressed the tines down into the comb just the way father had taught her to press into a boiled potato before mashing it.

She watched the viscous gold ooze out of each pore and drip onto the ground, down the tines of the fork and onto her hand. The sensation of the collapsing comb beneath her hands force was satisfying. Like popping packing bubbles or pressing a gigantic pimple before it popped.

The honey kept coming and the bees kept buzzing, louder, angrier. The nectar began dripping from more and more areas of the comb as the fork went deeper, and her hand nearly swallowed by the beeswax warehouse. Honey oozed onto her arm, dripped into her hair, stuck to her white dress and splattered onto her bare legs.

The fork hit something hard, the bark of the tree. Already straining to lift her arm to reach, she pushed up from the know in the oak to lift up the honey comb and bring down to earth. Straining, she lifted up her arm just enough to loosen the rare treat. With that move, she lost her grip and fell down to the ground, the honeycomb smashing next to her.

Getting to her knees, she bent over the honey, beginning to mix in the sand, making sweet mud. She licked the fork, her hands, her arms. She squeezed the honey into her hair and tussled it all into a wild nest of red tufts.

She ate her fill of honey, leaving it all over her face. In the sun, she could feel the stickiness pulling at her cheeks when she smiled. Looking down, she saw her dress was above her waist, leaving her black panties exposed. Feeling satisfied from the honeycomb that came from above, she began to work her fingers to feel that satisfaction that came from within.

As the sound of the birds singing and bees humming crescendo-ed so did that sweet feeling inside. At the moment of clim–

–“Hey, babe! babe! I got the boat. The guy gave me a pretty sweet deal too! It just needs a new motor and some paint but we can still go out and float a little bit tonight, have that adventure you were talking about.”

She stopped, sat up and walked past her husband. He wouldn’t know adventure if it stuck to his hair, face, arms and legs.

Leftovers, Spin, Commission

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

She wiped it off her chin. He wiped with a towel. The crew struck the set. The director took the footage to the editor. The talent got dressed and drove off in separate vehicles.

The footage was edited. The file uploaded and the views started coming in. The director got his percentages, the editor got his cut and the cast and crew were paid up front.

The video went viral. It was talked about in whispers at work and communicated through smirks and smiles at friendly gatherings. Talk show hosts feigned tongue-in-cheek jokes for the sake of not embarrassing the wholesome American public.

Journalists tracked down the director and location. Documentaries were made. The male talent jawed and grinned in front of interviews. The female talent declined to speak.

Fathers exaggerated their anger towards the video. Sons stayed silent. Mothers slacked their jaws but kept their eyes open. Daughters wondered. All of them hid their authentic private thoughts.

Preachers ensured congregations that they had watched the video so the rest of their souls would be spared. Politicians ensured constituents that the tapes had been reviewed to ensure good, hard-working Americans wouldn’t need to be subjected to such smut.

They made their meals spinning their stories to strengthen their commissions, burying the leftovers with the truth about themselves.

Steak, Charm, Shelf

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

He touched the fleshy part of his palm, just below his thumb.

“Well done, okay, and for you ma’am?” The waiter wasn’t faced by the man’s silence or his stare.

“I’ll have a chicken salad, please, with dressing on the side.”

“We’ll have that right out for you. More wine?”

He put his hand over his glass. No.

The waiter left and the two at the table stared at each other. Their eyes looked all over each other’s faces for understanding.

The woman’s charm was in her eyes. She would narrow them at him and smile. Words were unnecessary at this point in their relationship. After 60 years, words mostly got in the way.

They looked around the room, and look back at each other. Remembering and knowing what the other would say. An ongoing conversation, never placed on the top shelf, always going back to where they were.

They communicated like this for 20 minutes before the waiter returned with their food. The steak let off wavy streams of heat. The salad nearly spilled out of it’s bowl. They looked at the salad and both began to laugh.

The man pushed the tines of his fork into the base of the T in his steak. The woman scooped out a piece of chicken with her hands, dipping it into her dressing before taking the whole bit in her mouth.

They ate, paid the check, left a 20% tip and left. All without a word. The waiter came and cleared the table. A younger man and woman took their place. Laughing and jawing at all the things they wanted to share but barely looking each other in the eyes.

Preference, Suffer, Acquaintance

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

The drums beat a steady rhythm like a soldiers march, like a heartbeat like the rhythms of men and women making life and love. The wailing song that emerged was born of terror, rage and sadness from the men lured into the ocean by mermaids.

Fishermen and hunters, beards long, skin rough and muscles taught, they would wander too close to the crags jutting like teeth from the mouth of the bay. Mermaids would sing their sweet songs and bare their full bosoms. The men didn’t stand a chance. As they waded in the water, eyes fixed to the breasts above them, they didn’t see or feel the mermaids pulling them below the surface. No suffering, just a gurgled sigh as they drowned in delight.

The women, looking for their men would kneel in front of the waters edge and submerge their heads under the waves. This is where they heard the steady beat of their loved ones hearts.

The Mermaids of since gone. Living deep below the waves as men became more beastly and developed tools that helped them get what they want without the sacrifice of death. After the ages of machines and convenience, the mermaids traded souls for legs of their own.

Sometimes, when men wander by themselves, walking along the beach, pier or harbor, they meet a mysterious woman with an ancient familiarity, an acquaintance to the DNA swimming around in all men. They’ll fall on their knees and beg to be held, their beards hitting the ground. The mermaids, mute, place their own hands on top of the kneeling men, smothering them in between their bosoms, stomachs or thighs.

No screams or tortured cries, just a soft sigh as the men pass from this world with awe and delight. A much preferred death to the violence of battle, tangles with machinery and the 1000 little cuts other women sometimes inflict on their victims without the pleasure.

Stick your head beneath the waves and you’ll hear Poseidon’s hymn, the heartbeats of satisfied men, tortured by delight.

Guitar, Waiter, Poetry

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

It was Flamenco night. Some black haired, olive oil skinned man was grating his finger tips on the guitar. A woman whipped her skirt around her legs with one hand while clacking castanets in the other. A spot light illuminated the two on stage, the only other light coming from the candles at each table.

“More sangria, sir?” the waiter hovered his pitcher over my glass. I nodded. He poured. I chugged.

I chewed on a bit of apple that made its way through my teeth and watched the Spaniards sweat on stage. The woman began to sing. A haunting wail that sounded like the agony of regrets. She twirled and sang words that sounded like the poetry of the dead or the drunk.

It was my fourth Sangria. My eyes began to water and tear splashed on the table. Maybe it was the music or maybe it’s because mixed drinks are hard to judge.

I looked around the room. A woman with white hair and spectacles clapped her hands. A man with a bald spot threw his shoulders back and forth to the rhythm. A young couple was making out in the corner. The waiters danced with their trays between our tables.

I looked at the empty seat across from me but didn’t feel regret. I couldn’t place the feeling.

I flagged down the waiter for another Sangria and sat, trying to figure it out. All this raw emotion and rush of feelings but I was alone. In younger days it was easier to identify my feelings. This is happiness. This is regret. This is anger. As I grew older, the feelings tied themselves to memories and experiences, making it harder to untangle one emotion from another.

And so this is it. A moment. The moment. It leads into the next and swallows whole each moment until you find yourself alone. It wasn’t pity I felt for myself, just a reminder that when life is around you, it must be grabbed, touched, caressed, held, laughed at, cried with, struggled with…

To feel it all, all at once and acknowledge that I was feeling. That’s all that was necessary.

The waiter filled my glass. I took a sip before setting it down to enjoy the rest of the show.

Terrify, Characteristic, Throat

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman

She danced on the burning edge of a match. Flames lapping at her legs. Her skirt twisting with the into the reds and oranges. A little spot of white in the center of destruction.

She danced and opened up her throat to scream. Her hair tangled in the flames being pulled by the stars. Fingers moving like tentacles, waving and sticking to her body as she swayed with the wind.

I held up a hand to shield the match from the violence of the wind. The fire would eat, but it would have to taste the wood of the match all the way into my fingers before it sent up its smoke.

The fuel of the green lungs all over the world fueled the dance between my fingers. Those forests of lungs all in a singular breath from the Amazon to the Black Forest, creating a hollow breath through the tunnel of the world.

I watched her dance and ignored the insatiable appetite of the flames biting into my finger tips. An emptiness hit me, a tunnel opening up inside my chest, terror. Then the flame spit up its victory smoke and I was left with the memory of her dance.

My blistered fingers fumbled for another glimpse at the woman who danced on the burning edge of the match.

Until my fingers black and nerve endings shriveled, I would strike, and shield, and watch the women dancing in the flames.

My last confession

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
1,407 words

I must be falling. My suit jacket is bunched up under my arms and flapping around my head. A strip of polka dots slaps around my face. My calves and white cotton socks exposed. Shoe laces whip my shins. The wind changes pitch as it passes through the circle I’ve formed with my lips.

Forgive me father for I have sinned; it is…

     The air is getting colder. I look down and see flecks of shine coming and going on a canvas of blue. The ocean coming up to greet me. I make out, almost directly below me, the Golden Gate bridge.

I pray I hit it so the story ends.

The bridge whistles past and out of instinct I point my toes to the water and press my arms to my sides. The air rushes into my lungs just before water rushes in my nose and past my ears. My eyes are shut but less and less light makes it through my eyelids. I put my arms out to slow the dive.

     I open my eyes. All around are people. Some swim gracefully above, others motionless and fall past me. I see a man in shorts and a polo pushing past a motionless woman in pearls and an apron. Her hair wrapped around her face, pointing her way to the surface. People were everywhere, submerged, floating and swimming, looking around confused.

I look down. A mass of behemoth black shadows swirls below me. I look up. Pants, belts, socks, skirts, blouses, bras, thongs, ties, jackets, shoes falling toward me. People kicking and thrashing toward the light. I see people at the top burst through the surface and take a breath of air. My chest starts to burn with envy. Naked bodies fall toward me.

I need oxygen.

O’ my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee…

     I started to push up as if there were solid objects below my feet and hands. I am heavy with wet clothes. A woman removes her shoes and fights upward. I pull at the water to fight up. I kick off my own bloating leather soles and pull off my socks. A loose tie wraps around my neck as I push upward. I tear it off and begin removing the rest of my clothing, always gyrating upwards toward the light. The burning in my lungs starts to feel like the image of a film reel being eaten up by a flame. I’m feverishly kicking like a frog while my hands tug away at the belt. I pushed off my pants. The shirt doesn’t tear quickly enough. I look down and begin to panic.

     The shadows seem closer and the light farther away. Something touches my foot and instinct kicks in. I look straight up, now completely naked and cup my hands for full force. I’m beginning to exhale in short bursts that grow longer with each snort. I’ll run out of air soon and then, out of habit, inhalation will take over.

I am sorry for these sins and all the sins of my whole life…

     Next to me, a man grips the legs of the person above, trying to pull himself up. He exposes the man’s ass and they both fall further down. They reach for me while their mouths fill with water and sink to the swirling black masses.

A woman below me reaches for my leg. I kick at her hand, but she grabs my ankle. A bubble of air leaps out of my throat but the muscles tighten their grip on my body, and I pull both of us forward. 

     I won’t make it to the top with her extra weight. The burning in my chest has been replaced by spasms. My lungs pounding in their cage. I begin to sputter. Whatever air is left in my lungs turns to bubbles in the water. The light is just a few strokes above me. I look down and see a man grabbing at the woman hanging on to me. I kick at her hand, she lets go, now fighting off her own leech. I push forward and in another two strokes, the light blinds my eyes.

Thank you, father.

The light disappears.

#

In an abandoned house off the 215 freeway I go to confess my sins. The minister sits behind a plaster wall from 4:00 pm to 4:52 pm. He enters through a hole in the outside wall because the front door is boarded up. Sitting in the master bathroom, he takes confessions through a glory hole. 

I walked in with the dead eyes of a junkie, unsticking my eyelids from the caked cocaine and running eyeliner. Another day wasted. Given up to the night before. I had time to confess before Father Ibsen spent the rest of his night suckling at any booze he could find, nursing his own demons. I stooped to put my face by the hole. Parting my dry lips with my tongue, I recited the script.

“Father forgive me for I have sinned again.  I know not what I did but I know a blue-eyed, red-haired devil in fishnet stockings made me do it.”

A lighter clinked and hissed. Tobacco hit my nose. Smoke poured through the hole and made my eyes well up. His words curled through the haze.

“Tell me son, what have you done that you say the devil made you do?”

My eyes tried to focus. I listened to my breathing and my mind clarified for a moment. Guilt has a queer way of turning me into a saint. The few moments in between coming to and my next blackout I find myself curling into a ball and begging my inner child for forgiveness. My ego quenches the thirst, but my self flushes it into oblivion. However, feelings don’t mean facts, so I answer honestly.

“I don’t know but the evidence keeps piling up behind me.”  Father Ibsen passes the cigarette through the glory hole, filter ripped off. I extend two yellow fingers to accept. 

“Son, in my terrifying experience the demons don’t scratch, tear, bite, claw, scream or yell, rip, shred or gnash their teeth. No, they brush your hand, touch you lightly on your thigh and whisper in your ear. They’ll give you sweet words and pour confidence down your throat, inject self-esteem into your veins and breathe life into your nose. It’s a slow seduction.”

I took a long pull from the cigarette. With no filter, the smoke punched a hacking cough out of my lungs. I choked it down to hear the rest of Father Ibsen’s sermon.

“They make you think you are doing all the work. That you make the decisions and take charge of your destruction. So that by the time you feel the scratching, tearing, biting, clawing, screaming, yelling, ripping, shredding, and gnashing of teeth you think it’s the demons but it’s really the angels giving all they have to try and pull you back. While the demons lay back, pissing and blowing snot bubbles all over themselves with laughter at the violent struggles of their boy scout doppelgängers.”

Father Ibsen stuck two fingers back through the hole. I handed him the cigarette and he continued.

 “That is the devil’s greatest pride. She twists her forked whiskey-soaked tongue around yours until you can’t tell the difference and when you think you know, she has you.  Her trick is making you think all the rules and regulations will save you, but the fortress is really a prison.”

The words were ironic coming from the fiery, vodka drenched breath spurting out of the hole. He chuckled and finished his impromptu sermon to the choir.

“So, it makes me laugh, son, until tears stream and sides ache, when I hear one of my children say, ‘the devil made me do it’ because son, aren’t we just the devil?”

His final words sounded like an admiring mother mildly scolding her mischievous child.  I heard his chair creak as he stood up. He passed his collar through the fuck hole, spotted and stained with sweat and semen, and spoke the last words I ever heard from his mouth. “Time for this devil to change costumes. But you should sit on this side of the wall. Hearing the insanities of the other, keeps one’s own in check. Their ain’t no glory on this side of the hole, any stone age queen will tell you the same.”

end

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Be right back

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
825 words

Bob looked down at the floor. The shoes around him were new and pregnant with the identities of the partiers around him. His own shoes had no slashes or colors or stripes or patterns or loud brand names, only thick black soles and two Velcro straps creased perfectly around his feet. 

He looked up at the faces of the other guests. Nodding, smiling, winking, head-tilting, lip-biting, red cup sipping, arm touching, eye fluttering, eye fucking, and jealousy. Bob noticed it all in those faces. He took a deep breath and downed the rest of his drink. What was he doing there?

Looking around at all the tight-skinned faces, he was beginning to think he had overstayed his welcome. Nobody at the party would catch him slipping out the back. They were all too busy looking up at the sky. Bob had been that way once. Always staring at the clouds, scheming and dreaming. Dreaming of changing the world. The clouds looked the same. Never closer but never further away. He thought about all the things other people had achieved and perfected in his lifetime. The automobile. Telephones. T.V.s. Computers. The internet (apparently people spent all their time in the web, it sounded like a trap to him.) Faster food, faster service, faster payments, more nudity, less danger and sensationalized news. Working, making and consuming distractions. Everything was strange entertainment.

If he had slept for 50 years and woken up on this same day, he would be just as confused, disoriented and unsatisfied. To be honest, he felt cheated. All those promises and hopes for the future yielded nothing but more ignorance and more dependence. Hell, he remembered when a car would still start if you had enough people to push it.

     “Gads.” 

Bob startled himself. He looked around. Nobody spared a glance. The two kids he had met at the bar were now schmoozing at a couple of young ladies across the room. The girls were cute, sure, but they looked as if they would giggle at the news of their parents’ death. For that matter, so did the boys he came with.

He had met them at a bar when they started philosophizing with him. They bought his drinks, so he played along.

     “What do you think about Obama?”

There was no such thing as a free drink. He blew out all his air, pushing out his lips.

     “I’ve been asked that same exact question my whole life, just a different name at the end. Bush, Reagan, Roosevelt, Truman, Bush. The question is old. The name changes, the face changes, they die, soon I’ll be dead and something similarly different will happen.”

The two kids were impressed. Or at least impressionable. They invited Bob to the party, and he went. Maybe it was the free drinks, but Bob remembered when he was like them. He would have believed anything that came out of an old drunks’ mouth. He would have thought ‘boy, this guy’s been through the ringer, he must really know something.’ Now Bob was that old drunk and he knew that nobody knows and that’s the truth. Some are optimistic and others pessimistic. Some believe in god and others don’t. Some pretend and some don’t. Just having a mind is too much. Or maybe it’s not. Only a few wrinkles, a drowning liver and a bald head separated Bob from those boys.

Bob set down his cup and made his way over to them. He stepped up behind the two Romeos and clapped them on the shoulders.

     “You boys need anything?”

They looked at each other and looked back at the girls with wide eyes. Bob was a malignant tumor to them now.

     “I’ll be right back.” He said.

Bob walked off through the crowd and out the door. He looked up at the night sky. No clouds and not a visible star. That was another change. Edison eventually did away with staring up at the stars, now he looks out the window and sees the glow of television sets from every house, apartment, and trailer. He got in his car and lit a cigarette. He had only agreed to come because the party was a couple blocks from his house. The ignition turned over and the gas pedal felt like a pole in a tar pit. He pressed his foot down and the rest was mechanical: Left, stop, go, stop, go, right. Four houses down Bob slipped into the garage and closed it behind him. He put the car in park and cranked back the emergency brake. The window popped out of its crease as he pressed the button down. Leaning back in the driver’s seat, he dragged slowly from his cigarette before dropping it out of the cracked window. He pumped the gas pedal, revving the engine a couple of times. Then held it down at a low RPM, going nowhere. He closed his eyes. Maybe tomorrow or maybe nothing.

end

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An err on Rowan’s meaning

by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
574 words

“I wanted you to be the first to know,” Rowan confided in me. I think. Was Rowan his name? I’m not sure. I just walked into the break room and popped open a Fresca. Now this Rowan character, whom I’ve only ever seen in office meetings and the restroom is confiding in me. Was his name Jeremy?

He seems nervous. I sense he wants to tell me something weighty and I can’t even remember his name.

While sipping my soda, he continues. “The thing is, I’ve only ever wanted you to know.” I try not to let the bubbles tickle out a swampy belch as he continues. “But I know that eventually everyone will find out, so I’m telling you now,” Jeremy said? Was his name Jeremy Rowan? Or Rowan Jeremy?

Something like thirty cubicles span the space between me and this RJ character, so why is he unloading his life on me? His badge! I can glance at the name on his employee badge. I look down at the usual badge holding locations. Shirt pocket. Damn. Belt loop. Shit.

His eyes are staring blankly into mine. I’m only half paying attention to what he is saying but I understand from over thirty years of social cues that it is my turn to respond.

“That’s cool, man.” Balls. I think that was too casual. Maybe I don’t understand. I’ll nod a few times, press my lips together and blink slowly. That looks sincere, almost brotherly. Now he’s squinting and crossing his arms. Reremy Jowan is crossing his arms?

“I’m busting out of here.” Jowan Reremy laughs and lets his face relax into a smile.

Thank the gods of social situations, Wojarn Reemy is being facetious. This isn’t a serious conversation. I’m saved. I can call him ‘buddy’, or ‘chief’, maybe even ‘sport’. The point is, I’m free.

“Good for you, man.” I go with ‘man’, it’s utilitarian. 

“Excuse me?” Merry Najowe says, lifting his eyelids up and jutting his chin towards me. He presses a finger to his right ear and says, “No, sorry, someone in the break room is talking to me.”

Sipping from the can of Fresca in my right hand, I use my left to try waving Jarme Yerwo off with the old I-had-this-running-conversation-in-my-mind-and-at-the-same-time-I-was-trying-to-figure-out-your-name-while-trying-to-appear-sincere-because-you-sounded-serious-but-were-just-being-facetious-so-now-I’m-processing-all-that-and-casually-waving-you-off look.

I’m not pulling it off.

“I’ll call you back,” says Jeemy Roranw (maybe the “w” is silent?). Wanjo yemerr pulls his finger from his ear and focuses on me. Then the words that change my life forever, come forth from his mouth. “I’m sorry, I was on the phone. You probably thought I was talking to you. What’s your name again? I’ve seen you around, but I can’t remember it.”

So confident, straightforward and kind, he asked for my name with no excuses. Wenermy Jr. shows me a level of class my introverted mind has never fathomed before this moment. Aoeey Wjrrm blows my mind. He is a social genius. I take a loud sip of my Fresca trying to find the words.

With the bubbles still burning my throat, I force out a raspy whisper, “It’s Simon.”

“Well Simon, it’s nice to meet you. I’ll see you around.” He claps me on the shoulder and walks out of the room. Wanormy Reej leaves me with a foundational building block for constructing my retarded-above-average social IQ and my Grapefruit with Lime soda.

I think about how I’ll never forget Wanjo Yererm, or whatever his name is.

end

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Voice, Dock, Hushed

It only takes a moment for our animal instincts to take over us. A hushed whisper of a thought becomes the booming voice of vice.

I live in the Pyrenees. Away from the middle of anything, where lonely figures get noticed. Anyone visiting the Pyrenees or any mountain setting are nagged by the thought to return home.

In a small cabin tucked away behind a cluster of pine trees, I kill the rest of my time. Only the birds get wind of my existence when the smoke from my stove floating like ribbons in the wind up into the sky.

I leave my boots, muddy from the river banks, by the front door. The fish make a slapping sound on my cutting board/dining table. An urge hits me when I hear the slap. From my brain, a messenger couriers quickly through my blood stream heading south for the waste and procreation department. In its mailbag it carries a million years of evolutionary instinct. Pushing past letters of food and shelter, it grabs an envelope marked longevity and delivers it, creating a bulge with its contents.

The fish is best when gutted and cleaned as soon as possible after being caught. That ship had sailed and it was time to find a place at which to dock my intentions for the newly received message.

With the feeling of having controlled my instincts, I went back to the fish. There would be more slapping before dinner was finished.

Elderly, Party, Month

Looking up at the stars, Henry got the impression of being in a box. Like breathing holes in cardboard, the little pokes of light taunted him. Later that morning, when the sun covered up the sky, he would be at a meeting of his entire company. At some point, he would be asked to present the progress of his project: a review of competitors and their presence in the marketplace compared to the company for which he worked.

More than the presentation he had to give, Henry dreaded the party that would come after. A forced affair in which those at the top would goad those under them to drink. Those in the middle, feeling the tension of normal workplace decor become loosened, would oblige. Those who left were usually not at the company the next month.

Thinking about these things, he wondered what his thoughts about the stars being breathing holes had to do with anything at his job. Perhaps he felt trapped, but that seemed obvious, something that his star analogy didn’t need to explain. Perhaps he was wondering if he had reached his peak. The highest level of success in the workplace of which he was capable, and from that level you could see the light poking through the holes in the whole thing.

Henry snuffed out his cigarette in the little square patch of dirt in his backyard and went inside. He patted his cat on the head and got ready for the day, laying out his suit and tie before showering.

Henry groaned as he got out of bed. His back popping and snapping as he stretched. It was still dark out. He grabbed a cigarette from the night stand and went to his back patio. The dew from the grass and the absence of sun sent a cold shiver through his body.

Ever since retiring, Henry had woken up before dawn with no alarm. As a young man he’d imagined all of the creative projects on which he would have time to work. Lighting his cigarette, he thought about all the energy of youth he had spent on getting to this point and now, with all the time in the world, he found his energy depleted.

Looking up at the stars, Henry got the impression of being in a box. Like breathing holes in cardboard, the little pokes of light taunted him.