Category Archives: Short Story

The Dark Beyond The Parking Lot

I grew up here.
All this time the dark has been watching me,
waiting until I could understand it.

Now, it was calling me out.
It was time to collect.
And that’s why I was back.

I was walking to my car
across the lot behind the apartment building when,
“Hey!” Came a slippery voice
from beyond the trees.

“Hey!” I said back.
After a moment’s pause it said, “you used to live here.”

I stopped. “How’d you know that?”
Instinctively, I opened my car door.

“Remember Jinny? She used to knock on your door
after the streetlights came on.
Your parents did not approve.”
A slight rustle through the trees sounded like quiet laughter as I thought, for the first time in ages, of what happened to Jinny. I thought that whatever was out there knew that and was using it, taunting me.

“Is that so?” I went to the center console. Found the old zippo lighter my father had given to me long ago. It still worked. Like very few things in life, it always worked.
“This is a special lighter, Son. Use it sparingly.”
“How will I know when, Dad?”
“You’ll know.”

That was one of the last times I ever saw him. That day, in the garage, when the afternoon light after the rain dressed the sky in an otherworldly hue.

“Remember the first day you moved in here when you were ten?” The voice moved to the other side of the lot now, just behind the thicket –a coaxing, melodic string of words. “Teddy and Carol wanted to be friends. Not with you though, with your older brother. You were in your new bedroom unpacking your Star Wars toys.”

“Yup, I was there.” I put the zippo in my pocket and closed the door. Teddy didn’t last too long after that, maybe a couple of years. Carol too. Nobody had seemed to make it out of here. Nobody except for me.

“And little Timmy. Oh, what a beautiful bastard! Made you wash his bike. Want to know what he’s doing now?” The voice actually did laugh this time, like it was a little inside joke between us. Timmy had probably long rotted away in the back out there somewhere beneath the gravel and thistle.

I stepped to the edge of the parking lot. “Why don’t you show yourself and we can talk?”

Everything stopped then: the buzzing of the caged light, the night birds, the insects, cars on the streets, my breath.

And then the dark beyond the parking lot groaned, shifted –even seemed to sway.

I could see the darkness stretch…
I could hear the darkness yawn…
I could feel the darkness move air and night and nightmares with its being,
as it awakened…
as it was now getting ready to finally swallow me too.

“Do you really…” The voice came out differently now that it knew we weren’t going to be friends. It was Carol’s.

“…think that…” Timmy’s voice now.
The lights flickered.
The air grew colder and the cracks
in the pavement widened.

“…that lighter is going to help you…” Now Teddy’s, ending his sentence with a laugh just like always.

“…out here?” All of them now – whispers falling into whispers surrounding me, invading me invisibly.

I held out the zippo to the wall of blackness and flicked the flame alive. The landscape before me could be heard more than seen, but could be seen enough to know that it was moving in different places as though it were one living, breathing entity.

“This is all I need. This is all I ever needed,” I said.

And with that
I stepped down the embankment from the lot
into the trees and
into the darkness,

if only because I was so tired of hiding away from it
and from myself.

Now it wants to know what I’m going to do about it…

and so do I.

Dream Phone

“I know it’s been a couple years since lockdown…but I heard and I’m so sorry about Beth, Man. I really am.”
“Yeah, so am I.”
“You still think about her?”
“Every single minute, Martin. Things like that don’t just go away.”
“Fuck cancer.”
“Yeah, fuck cancer,” I said without conviction, staring down at the table. Still the same Martin then. I never quite understood how someone as empathetic could be so socially tone-deaf. And why was I here? What did he want?

But really, what was I doing other than sitting in a room with the drapes drawn staring at a television that wasn’t turned on?

Someone at the other end of the coffee shop coughed. I looked over to see an old man in a checkered shirt frowning at me.
“Oh, check this out.” Martin reached inside his jacket. “Got this phone on Amazon. It lets you take pictures of your dreams.”
“Bullshit.”
“No, seriously. All you have to do is make a clicking motion with your finger –like this, and it’ll take a photo of what you’re doing right inside your dream. But you have to remember while you’re dreaming to do this. Harder than it sounds. Took me a while to get the hang of it.”

I drummed my fingers on the table.
“Bullshit,” I said again. I mean, believe this guy?

Martin laughed, “Okay, I get it. But tech these days? And this phone? I got it a week ago and you should see some of the shit that it can do. Unreal. I don’t know who made it, and I even looked.” Martin then leaned forward and whispered as though what he was telling me was a grave secret: “Listen, this is so much more than just a phone. It’s like a line to the other side of the universe; a bridge to beyond and back. Something happened soon after I got it…so…I had to show you it.”

“Okay, Martin,” I clasped my hands together and looked over at the old man again. He was still frowning at me. “First off, what the fuck? Why me? And what do you mean ‘other side?’” This was when I started to feel something begin to crawl around the inside of my stomach, something cold and unfriendly.

“Alright, alright…” Martin smiled. He has always been a decent enough guy, but this conversation made a quick right turn and went a little too far down the yellow brick road. Maybe Martin was a few gumdrops short of a gingerbread house. Who knows? Either way, I didn’t like where this was going.

“Don’t freak out. Okay? Promise?” Martin didn’t wait for an answer. He slid the phone over and I found myself staring at a pic.

It was me and Martin leaning back against a beach bar with Chinese lanterns filling the sky behind us. Somewhere tropical. Sailboats and gulls. Even though I was never there, it did look like an actual photo. But the only thing that I really saw was Beth, my dearly beloved and departed, standing on the other side of me in a white flowing dress with her arm around my waist.

“What?” Was all I could muster to say, and I could hear my own voice begin to choke. I didn’t know what I was looking at, at first. But it hit me, hard. My vision began to blur. I wasn’t expecting to see her today. It changed things. Memories came flooding back: watching her live, watching her die.

“You fucking photoshop this?” My hand started to shake, so did the phone. I felt tears begin. Fuck, I thought that I was getting better for a while, but obviously I wasn’t.

“Whoa, Man.” Martin looked around. “Let’s just chill for a sec. You’re not seeing the whole picture.”

I actually began to laugh, “I’m not…whew!” I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and looked at the pic again; brought it closer to my face.

Martin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “You need to listen to me, I…”

“You Sick Fuck, you think this is funny?” I said it softly, my voice quivering. I could barely make out Martin sitting across from me. My face felt hot. Holding the phone anymore was no good so I lay it down on the table, gently.

Martin’s eyes widened. “Easy, Man, just give me one second to explain.” He seemed just as unnerved as I was. Maybe he wasn’t a complete asshole, just hopelessly misguided. But by now he had certainly realized that this was a mistake.

That’s when the phone lit up with an incoming call and I stared at it in disbelief.

Back in college, when we were starting off, Beth and I had made a pact. We made it because deep down inside we knew that we were meant to be together. We would always be in love; there was no question. And we would always find each other no matter what. That was the pact. There was a song that was part of that pact. It was playing when we made it. It was forever, just like us. We adopted it. Sang it to each other. Stupid shit. It was a silly, young romantic gesture. One that I had almost forgotten until now.

It was a collection of flat eight-bit tones, but the ringtone the phone was playing –it was mine and Beth’s song.

Nobody else knew that. When the song then began to play over the radio in the coffee shop it felt like somebody had just tapped me on the back in an empty, locked room. It brought back the nights I lay alone in our bed after she was gone, having conversations with her in my head, wishing to God that I could have went as well and not be left here, like this, grown-ass man crying in the dark like a lost little child. What I would have gave to speak to her again, if only for a minute.

What I would have gave.

Martin put both his hands up like he was under arrest –only to show me that he was non-threatening. He then slowly reached over and answered the phone.

“Hey. Yeah. Thank you. Here he is.” Martin handed it over across the table. As though in slow motion and like in a dream itself, I slowly reached out, grabbed the phone, and brought it to my ear.

“Hello?” I said.

Can You See Them Yet?

Sometimes I hear people
right behind me,
and I don’t know who they are.
All that I know is that
they’re not really there.

It all started with Alice.
That wasn’t her name.
It was what she was after…or who.
She wouldn’t shut up about it.

I take long walks, you see.
One day her voice caught up to me
and out of thin air came:
“Alice wasn’t home today.
I want to show you where she lives but
I follow you. You don’t follow me.
You can’t. That’s not the way it works.”

“What? Hello?” I turned around and saw no one.
“Is anybody there?”

“Don’t be a lunkhead. I was fucking telling you about Alice.”

From there it didn’t stop.
Next came James,
“Alice always wears green, but don’t tell her I told you that.”
Then Marcy,
“Alice isn’t as nice as she comes across. Her kindness is a charade.”
And Sean,
“Alice pretends that she doesn’t want me. But that’s all it is, pretend.”

I don’t know what they look like
because I can’t see them
but they are right there
and nowhere at the same time.

I started walking faster, but it didn’t help
because the voices were always
just behind me:

“Alice is being a real bitch.”
“Oooh, I just love your skin.”

It wasn’t just one place, one walk, one road.
It was at the mall, at the bank, the bakery,
on the street or in my shitty apartment
as I sat on the recliner watching TV.

“What’s he doing?”
“He’s just sitting there staring at that talking screen.”
“Does Alice know?”

I don’t know who they are
(who the fuck is Alice?)
or what they are or where or
how they can see me or if they only see me
or a million other things.

The only thing scarier than this being all in my head and that
I was going batshit crazy
was the possibility that this wasn’t
-that this was real and
what that implied.

Two weeks later I got my answer
from once again, the unlikeliest of places
because our expectations of life
and all that it entails
are meant to be smashed, obliterated,
run over and then set on fire
every single step of the way.

So, there I was on a Monday
at the shop when
Marcus (the mechanic)
nodded me over, wrench in hand.

He wasn’t working on my vehicle just yet
and I didn’t really know him so
I approached with caution
because humans were dangerous.

As Marcus went back to changing a tire he said,
“Alice’s friends have been telling me about you…”
in a happy, sing-song voice.

“Alice?” That sounded so familiar that it was painful.
It still took me a second to process because,
“you mean the voices in my head?”

I wanted to grab Marcus and shake him
and scream and cackle madly
but I just stood there staring at him…stunned,
because none of this seemed real.
I could smell the oil, the exhaust, the lubricants, the cold air outside.
The lighting was harsh and glaring as usual. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
But yet, everything had changed forever
in one casual conversation.

Marcus shook his head and laughed.
He slowly turned to me,
set his wrench down on the cart
and with excited eyes said,

“Can you see them yet?”

The Dealer’s Apartment

The text read: 122 Hamilton Street. Apt 42. Bring a flashlight. Get the stash and go home. Easy.

I arrived at a six-story apartment building that was completely dark. All windows were black squares. No lights in the parking lot. No cars.

Was this place completely empty?
It looked like a utilitarian tomb, but that was under closer scrutiny than I would have given any apartment building on any of these streets. Hidden in plain sight, there was something definitely wrong here. I could smell it.

Bring a flashlight. So, the dealer knew about this. Of course he did.

I opened the front door to silence. No dogs barking. No babies crying. No life. I pulled the flashlight app on in my phone and held it in front of me as I went up the stairwell to the fourth floor. All was still. Eerie. A night museum.

I shone my light upon each door until I came to the right one and knocked.

“Get your light off my door.” I heard someone say from behind it.
“What?”
“Put your fucking light down. Do you understand English?” The voice sounded gruff, tired, angry.

“Okay.” I complied. The door opened to an apartment I couldn’t see as it was pitch black except for the echoes of light my phone reflected off the linoleum floor.
“Keep your light down. Don’t shine it in my face, so help me God.”
“No problem.” My hand was shaking slightly, causing the light to bounce around. I steadied it, but everything about this situation made me extremely nervous.

“Wait here,” he went into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him.
I heard the distinct sound of somebody sucking up a rail of cocaine (or whatever) up their nose. I heard a female’s voice.
“Shut the fuck up,” he said, almost at a shout. “Nobody fucking asked you.”

The man came back out and put something on the table. I shone my light on it. Pills in a Ziploc bag. I could see his stained white shirt momentarily before pulling my phone back down. I thought that he was going to berate me for shining my light on the table but, “go on, take it.”

I stepped forward and shoved the bag into my inside pocket.

“Get the fuck out. Keep your light down. Don’t shine it on anyone. You’ll be sorry that you did. You Shitbags never fucking learn. Scram.”

I gladly got out. In the hallway, from the opposite end towards where I was going, I heard a door close and footsteps start to come my way –heavy, awkward ones. I did what my immediate instincts told me to, shut the light off and plastered myself back against the wall until they passed.

Once I was outside, I could really feel the cold in the air. I punched in an Uber and waited, thinking that my problem –my whole new fucking situation– might have been a little understated.

And I wasn’t sure about these pills anymore.

Billy’s Laura

Raining hard at the
mouth of the trail
where Shane was
waiting for his ex-wife
umbrella in hand.

“Nice day out. Isn’t it, Laura?”

Laura smiled, “Yes it is, Hon.”

She was already drunk
as usual.

Shane held out his umbrella
and walked holding it over her
letting himself get wet
until they reached Billy’s house.

No lights.
Billy wasn’t up yet.

“I’m sure Billy will be up soon.” He said.

Sometimes it was hours
before Billy got up
and Shane would hold his umbrella
over her as she lay her head in
his lap and slept.

“You still love me, Shane.”
She would say,
“You wouldn’t do this
if you didn’t love me.”

And when it was cold
Shane would put his warm jacket
over her
with nothing for himself
as they both waited until…

“Light’s on, Laura, Billy’s up.”

Billy would open the front door
without looking out and just
leave it open but
only when he had a fix ready for her.

Once Laura was inside
Shane would then go on
down the road to
Tim’s house to
drink himself to sleep.

Tim would see Shane
all wet and cold
and will give him shit
for the same old shit.

They used to be the
toughest around
in town back when it mattered
until there came along
fights that couldn’t be won
like plants shutting down
unpaid debts
miscarriages
divorce
and then there came the bottle
and other things that were worse.

“She’s Billy’s Laura now, Shane, Billy’s Laura!”

“You don’t understand, Tim.”

“I understand that you can’t let go.
That you’re killing yourself
just like she is and
I just can’t
watch it anymore.”

“Come on now, Tim.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Shane. It really wasn’t…”
Tim’s eyes were red, wet and he
slammed the door.

Shane grabbed his coat and
umbrella and headed back.

Maybe Tim finally had the
last of this
but for Shane it was
just another day to get through.

Just another day.

CANADA DAY 2020

Is the day that
neighbours like to
terrorize
veterans and pets alike
by unleashing a
seemingly endless arsenal
of loud sky magic.

Restrained to their yards
because everything is canceled
forever
fireworks (and plenty)
help air out the grievances.

Two lots over
a dazzling array
of starbursts
mostly white
(racists)
with a nice jazzy finish.

There’s a mosquito in my wine.
Fuck.
Whatever. Flick it out.
Cover the glass
with my cigarette pack.
All good.
Better than good.
Fucking best ever.

Somewhere down the street
shots of colour coming up
to explode into intersecting
streams of sparkling light
accentuated with a
thunderous bass.
Definitely more baritone.
Definitely more
Beethoven than Mozart.

There’s something swimming
in my wine glass
again.
It’s a moth.
How in Satan’s secrets
did it get in there?
This is truly a magical night.

It’s quite the avid swimmer.
It looks wasted and happy
but it’s actually dying
wondering what the fuck
happened to it
and i imagine
that’s probably how I’ll go too.

There were fireworks
up the hill from the large houses
unworthy of mention
(fuck your money)
some here and there
with little forethought
in execution
judging by the random
long pauses
and haphazard order.

i look at my wine glass.
there is nothing in it.
not even wine.

I go inside.
the cat looks like it’s
on its first bad acid trip.

I’m surprised
I didn’t find it
in my wine glass.

I go back outside
light a ciggie
momentarily feel
happy and sane and relaxed
and contemplative
when the neighbourhood
blows up as
two streets behind me
they light off mortar shells.

Single shots
ruptured the sky
enough to obtain
a decent understanding
of how fast
the speed of sound is
by observing the echoes
of the explosions
tear across the landscape.

They didn’t even sound legal.

It’s almost midnight.
Assholes.
Some people have to have
the last word.

I had sparklers
but i ate them.

Good night.

MAN IN A HOTEL ROOM WITH A GUN

Taking it all in
one long moment

sitting there
on the edge of the bed
with a gun in your hand
blood on the sheets
a brunette laying across them

naked
pale
stiff
like a mannequin

you don’t recognize the gun
the room
her
your clothes

You don’t know how you got there
at all

so you lie back
upon the bed
your head close
to her hip

taking it all in
one long moment

staring at the ceiling fan
spinning
a quiet shadow
across everything

before you close
your eyes

and try to wake up.

COVID-19 SOCIETY: LIFE IS A ROLL OF TOILET PAPER

As the pandemic was unfolding on social media people were scattered in the frozen produce section of Costco staring down at their smartphones as if waiting for instructions. A lady was fixated on her screen beside a batch of tomatoes when her face scrunched up and she started to turn. They all did, not into zombies or vampires or werewolves. Instead, they all turned toward the aisle containing the bathroom tissue.

“Oh no, she has it!” A man said to his daughter.
“What, Dad? The virus?”
“No, Stacey, the hearing about the virus, virus.”

In one single motion typically reserved for geese taking flight, the people began to rush alongside and at times over each other in a desperate bid, not to grab the last remaining rations of ass-fleece, but to get it all, grossly more bog roll than they would ever use in their entire lifetimes. Fuck everybody else.

As can be seen on any given Black Friday: wrangling, scuffling and outright brawling overtook the immediate area in an implosion of bodies interacting in the most primordially deprived fashion possible. Yes, it was social-distancing at it’s best in aisle seven where humanity had rapidly devolved into a raging pile of limbs, gnashing teeth, pulling hair -and in the midst of the chaos freshly-ejected spittle freely soared, danced and coalesced to form a fine blanket of mist that soon settled upon everything (sleep well).

“See Honey,” Father said as her brought his daughter close to witness the spectacle, “this is why we aren’t going to make it as a race –because when under duress we lack the ability to think about the common good and instead become dominated by our own self-interests in immediate and irrational ways. What you see here? This is a true reflection of our society. What you have to understand is that everybody’s nice until you start messing with their livelihood and after that…there’s this.”

The final bulk pack of toilet roll was won over by a lady the size of a Whirlpool fridge who manhandled a millennial.

“Dad, I’m scared!”

The father smiled warmly, “You should be, especially when you consider how quickly we all can be reduced to little more than contagious self-serving vermin controlled by an increasingly authoritarian government.”

“I don’t understand!”

“Well, after a lifetime of being sold your own self-image while following the trivial pursuit of achieving Instagram-worthy selfies it must be very difficult -if not downright impossible- to suddenly wake up one day and realize that it’s not all about you.” He gave her shoulder a light squeeze. “I get it. Your whole generation’s going to be living in a dumpster-fire cause of climate change anyway.”

As callous hordes of people ran by waving around over-sized loads of scrumptious, fluffy toilet rolls with blank stares in their eyes he said: “Don’t worry, we can always wipe our ass with Scruffles.”

“Not my cat!”

“Oh yes, and that’s just for starters.” Father gave her a look that made Stacey worried about what would happen after that resource was exhausted.

As another horde charged through with what looked to be the last remaining stock of rice, pasta, eggs and flour (because everyone was going to suddenly take up baking) Father said, “Who knows? We might have to eat her too.”

Stacey began to cry as her dad nodded to an old lady and gave her a tender look that would make anybody feel at home right before clothes-lining her as she was walking by for the six-pack of hand sanitizer held against her chest that he was going to dilute and sell online at an absurdly marked-up price.

”Welcome to the new world!”

THE MARVEL SUPERHERO ON PARK STREET

I was walking by a large Victorian house on Park Street when from up on the top floor balcony I heard someone calling out. I turned to see a girl –maybe ten years old– leaning over the railing so that her long hair hung straight down.

“Hey Mister, do you want to see a trick?”
I shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

“Okay!” She shouted and clapped her hands excitedly. Smiling, she turned and went back into the house only to appear at the front door three floors down not even a second later. She opened it, came out onto the porch, spun around with her arms held out and went back in. Next thing I know there is a knock on the top floor window where she waves and turns away. Again, before I could formulate a thought she reappears out the front door and this time she walks down to where I stood on the sidewalk.

“What do you think?” She asked and folded her arms across her chest. I didn’t even have the do the math; there was just no way was she faster than my eyes could travel from the ground floor to three stories up and back down.

“You have a twin. Throw the same clothes on and have fun with unsuspecting strangers.”

“Nuh-uh! NUH-UH!” She whipped her head back and forth viciously enough that the ends of her hair threatened to blind me and then shot me a glare like I was the biggest dipshit ever.

“Okay, then you’re a Marvel superhero.” I returned.

Behind her, a lady opened the door. “Who are you talking to, Cadence?”

“Absolutely nobody, Mother.” The girl stuck her tongue out at me and crossed her eyes before running back inside. “Noooboooodddyyyyy!!!”

“Hey!” I called to the mother as she was closing the door. “She has a sister, right?” I asked, curious.

“What sister?” The lady looked at me like I was a meth-fueled derelict and when the door was half closed she held it there and scowled at me as though I were the world’s most active pedophile.

“Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have asked that.” I said to myself as I continued on down the sidewalk. “This is why I try not to go outside anymore.”

And this was the second house I couldn’t walk by in this neighbourhood. The first one? Now, that’s a strange story…

THE LIFE COACH

You’re terrified of death because you don’t really know what it is, what it’s like, what comes after. You’ve spent your whole life building things up but all that will be gone in an instant and you are deeply troubled by the idea that there is nothing afterwards; that you just extinguish like a light, forever. Most people cannot bear the thought of it. That’s why we have drowned ourselves in religion for thousands of years.

“Talk dirty to me.”

The universe is apathetic to your condition. Throughout the centuries humanity is made to suffer; built to sing, to bleed, to create vast landscapes of art, music and poetry based on all that experience and in the end will receive nothing in return because even with our sentient intelligence, resilience, cultural and technological advancements –your life has no more value than that of an insects. That you thought it would be any different is nothing short of comedic.

“You’re a nasty piece of work. I like it.”

You all want to think that you’ll go to Heaven, that you’ll get some kind of reward for living or that you’ll return again somehow in someway, but you won’t and there is nothing after. You will die and your energy will return to the cosmos. It will most likely be distributed between a number of various elements such as comet dust, fungi on Mars, running water or part fucking dog fart.

“You’re gonna get it sideways.”

But I can tell you that nobody ever makes it off this planet. Not a chance. We are too greedy, selfish and weak to ever unite and conquer our own environment, never mind outer space, so all of these great inventions and discoveries are fuck all and nothing is worth a shit. We will perish with no understanding of the universe and with not having met any other intergalactic species that is how pathetic and insignificant we all are. In the end life is nothing more than senseless detritus wasting away on a floating cemetery filled with a bunch of fucking nobodies.”

“I gotta go. You’re getting it next time for sure.”

 

LATER, TALKING TO HARRY…

“Hey, how’s dating your life coach going?”

“Same. Think she knows everything. We all die. Nothing’s after. No point of anything. I’m a dog-fart.”

“Shit, doesn’t it get to you? I mean, this is all just so weird, Man. And you’re weird. I know she’s fucking weird….”

“Sure. Well, we can have these great in-depth discussions but honestly sometimes I feel like we’re just so disconnected. I mean, I keep trying to get with her but all I get back is that we’re all a bunch of losers that are going to die for nothing. It’s frustrating. Maybe it’s my approach but I don’t really get why it’s not working.”

“You gonna move on?”

“Nah. She’s still…interesting…and besides, my previous life coach makes her seem like a fucking optimist.”

“Well then, what can I say? Keep going. Sometimes you have to eat shit in order to see the sunlight.”