Suing a Deity

Suing a Deity

by

C.M. Marcum

The courtroom hummed.  A hundred private and hushed conversations overlapped, as people adjusted their belongings, staked out their seats and prematurely opined on the outcome of my case.  A few snatches of gossip stung my ears, as the whisperers suggested that I didn’t stand a chance, yet none seemed to doubt the validity of my claims.  Voices swelled and ebbed at regular intervals; enthusiasm crested over decorum, and then snapped off abruptly when the audience recognized their own inappropriate volume.

On my side—the Plaintiff’s side—the low whir of chatter came from women.  Half of them flapped their jaws, while the other half leaned forward to get a better look at me.

On the Defendant’s side, men crammed the pews, while simultaneously doing their best not to touch each other.  Predominately baritone, their voices suggested anger mixed with a more fundamental bias.  One man grunted loud enough for everyone to hear:  What’s sup with that bee-ich, anyway?

The A-wipe was talking about me, of course.  I could understand his point of view.  I’m seriously, outrageously over matched.  I’m just an average girl, a plain Jane really.  I did have a lot of gall bringing a lawsuit against a goddess, and now that the trial was actually in motion, I wanted nothing more than to run away and hide.  Foolish, foolish me.  Why did I ever listen to Paul Kernosfkie?

Paul, my pro-bono lawyer and ex-boyfriend, cupped his hand over my sweaty fist and cooed something in a soothing tone.  I didn’t catch the words, but at this point I didn’t want to be coddled; I wanted to flee the county, change my name and vanish from public view.

My gaze drifted over to the Defendant’s table.  F. Lee Bailey, freshly arisen from the grave by the goddess just for this occasion, turned and awarded me with a slow and empathetic grin.  Confidence oozed from his pores, along with an unpleasant stench.  Bailey paused long enough to give my lawyer a smirk too, although there was nothing sympathetic in his face when he glanced at Paul.  It was a Zombie look, a stare that said:  I would like to eat your brains. Paul’s hand jerked away from mine, as he turned his back on the elder and slightly moldy jurist.

Aphrodite sat beside her undead lawyer.  She glowed.  Her aura radiated over the table and cast a semi-circle of light behind her.  The men captured by the cradle of luminous light in the pews behind her, sat in rigid silence, too stupefied to speak or look at anything, except the back of their idol’s head—and a beautiful head it was.  Gold ringlets tumbled over her back.  Her hair seemed to flutter and dance in a breeze that did not exist inside the stuffy courtroom.  I suppose, she’d conjured some mystical air circulation to keep the rotting corpse of Bailey from offending her delicate nostrils, and I suppose it would have been imprudent of me to ask her to include the entire courtroom in that breath of fresh air.  I folded my hands, one atop the other, and stared openly and enviously at her, confident that I was not the first woman to do so.

Aphrodite had donned a traditional toga for her courtroom appearance.  Stylish and yet simple.  Her irises—bigger than a mere mortals and a dark translucent violet—were locked on the judge’s high-backed chair.  I had the idea that it was not unusual for her to stare at a seat of power.  Covet it, even.  I was thinking of Zeus’s throne, of course, not the judge’s seat.  Her chest rose in long, relaxed breaths that drew the eyes to those marvelous and bra-less boobs.  I suppose, F. Lee Bailey, being a dead man, had a certain immunity from her presence.  He exhibited none of the trance-like state that her nearest fans were demonstrating.

The Bailiff called the court to order, breaking my train of thought.  It had begun.  As Paul said, history would be made today.  Never before, in all the centuries of law, had a human brought suit against a deity.  Papers would be filed and kept in secure locations, books would be written and newspapers would be sold.  Already my name flew across the internet and betting parlors were giving me long odds.  Paul would become famous and I would…I would be lucky if I didn’t become the butt-end of every late night comedian’s joke.

The judge took his seat and nodded at the Bailiff.

“Jane Smith verses Aphrodite the Goddess of Love,” the Bailiff said, and he did a pretty good job, too, except when his voice soften on the word love and his knees seemed to buckle a bit.  The Bailiff, a skinny squirrel of a man with thick glasses, glanced at the Defendant, sighed and scurried back to his position beside the judge.

It seemed a short and blunt beginning.  I expected more, but I suppose a civil lawsuit, does not carry all the pomp and rigor of the law that we become accustom to in the movies.

***

“The Plaintiff’s lawyer will make his opening statement,” the judge said.  The judge, a wise and elderly man, kept his eyes averted from the Defendant’s table.  Bless him.  He was trying to be impartial.

“Your Honor,” Paul said, rising from his seat, “my client is suing Aphrodite for pain, suffering and damages.” Paul walked across the room and handed the judge a fat envelope.  “I’d like to enter into evidence several impromptu and nude photographs of my client.  I want the judge and the jury to note that even though my client, Miss Smith, has reached the age of thirty-eight, she still has an above average figure; and, therefore, should be quite appealing to the opposite sex.”

The judged opened the envelope and slid the pictures out.  He sorted through a dozen square 9 x 5’s.  My first instinct was to rush the dais and rip the photos from the judge’s hands.  Paul had never discussed the, incidental, fact that he was going to share nude snap-shots of me with the court.  Where and when did Paul take these pictures anyway, I asked myself. My humiliation was complete, or so I thought.  I gave in to it.  What else was there to do?  I couldn’t just scream, ‘Stop.  Stop, now.  I withdraw the suit.’ Or could I?

There were more photographs; but, apparently, the judge had seen enough.  The Bailiff leaned over the judge’s black robe and took a freebie peek.  Sensing his guardian squirrel, the judge relented and handed the pics to the Bailiff.  The magistrate rested his big head in the cup of his right hand and nodded in the general direction of the seated jury.

I thought my eyes were going to pop free of my head, as I watched the Bailiff sashay across the floor.  Once the photos passed to the jury, I couldn’t look in their direction anymore.  Worse of all, I hadn’t even seen the ‘evidence’ myself, so I had no idea what the pictures looked like. My mind fluttered over the…well, what can I call it?  The one-night stand that Paul and I had shared.  A ratty motel room with flowered wallpaper in the background—that’s what I remembered best—which says a lot about our little tryst.

“Don’t be shy, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” Paul said.  “Have a good look.  Miss Smith is a perfectly acceptable female form.  I want you to know, with one-hundred percent assurance, that there is nothing out of the ordinary or abnormal hidden beneath her clothes.  And consider this:  after thirty-eight long, long years my client has never been loved.  No, not once.  Love has been denied to Jane.  Time and time again.”  He pointed at me.  “And there is nothing wrong with her face, either.  She’s tried different hair styles and multiple colors, but nothing works for her.”

Pumped with enthusiasm, Paul stomped back to the table and gathered up a sheaf of papers.  I took the opportunity to beg him with my eyes, but he only winked at me.

“I also have several affidavits from many well known dating services and internet corporations, who all state that they have been unable to find a male companion willing to propose to the lonely Miss Smith.”  Paul fluttered the papers in the air and took a deep breath, ready to forge ahead.  “I will also produce several witnesses who will testify that Miss Smith has a pleasant if somewhat sedate personality.”

Paul walked back to the judge.  At this point, my lawyer let his shoulders slump and he turned his hands out, in a gesture of being at a loss for words, which had never been true of Paul for as long as I had known him.  He made a show of regrouping himself.

“In summation, your Honor,” Paul said, “A reasonable person can conclude only one reason for this lack of romance and lack of companionship in my client’s life.”  He turned and pointed a shaky finger at Aphrodite.  “The goddess has ordained that poor Miss Smith shall never be loved.”

The goddess gazed at Paul, as if seeing him for the first time, and he seemed to shrink inside his power-blue suit.  Even his tie sagged, but he bravely held his ground.  Paul wanted, above all things, to be a famous lawyer; or, failing that an infamous one.

“We mortals may ask ourselves why the goddess has done this,” Paul said.  “But why is not the question that this jury faces.  The defendant’s guilt is obvious, to any reasonable person, and my client has suffered and will continue to suffer.  Maybe she will never know love.   Unless the goddess relents, Miss Smith may die as a bitter old maid.”

I began to cry.  I suppose my tears could have been mistaken for perfect timing, but I didn’t plan it.  Paul had always been good at making me cry.  The six women in the jury box brought hankies to their faces.  Sympathy.  Oh, how I hated sympathy.

“The Plaintiff rests,” Paul said and finally sat down.  He actually had the unmitigated nerve to smile at me.  I squeezed my hands together, praying that my degradation was over.

***

“The Defense will give its opening statement,” the judge said and my belly threatened to erupt.

F. Lee Bailey begged the court’s pardon and requested to remain seated—owing to the fact that one of his legs had rotted off.  Indeed, his right leg was tucked discreetly under his seat like a forgotten umbrella.  The judge nodded.

“Your Honor,” Bailey said and his voice boomed across the room. The jury swayed back from this vocal pounding.  He may have lost certain body parts, but death had not weakened his vocal cords.  “This is a frivolous lawsuit.  Nothing can be proven.  Can we divine all the reasons that men find Miss Smith unattractive?  No amount of naked photographs can tell us about all the missed cues in her romantic endeavors or replace lost telephone numbers or negative rumors that might abound.”  His voice softened and the tempo slowed.  “Perhaps her pheromones emit an aroma that men find debilitating.  Perhaps her well is dry.  Perhaps she does not shave her legs at regular intervals.  Or, perhaps, Miss Smith is just terrible unlucky.  Bless her heart.”

Bailey slammed his hand down on the table.  Two fingers on his right hand rolled away.  The courtroom tittered.  Bailey picked up his errant fingers and slipped them in his pocket.  He smiled to let everyone know that he was a good-sport and not offended by their laughter.

“I would like your Honor and the court to consider the future of the Law.  My client is a deity.  Of what use is a civil law suit, a point of tort or even a criminal judgment?”  Bailey said and continued with hardly an in-take of breath. Do dead men breathe, I wondered.  “Aphrodite owns everything; and, yet nothing on paper.  The plaintiff can gain nothing in monetary fines against my client.  Or, perhaps, Miss Smith expects Aphrodite to take a job as a waitress to pay off her court penalties, should such be awarded, injudiciously, to the Plaintiff?”

The courtroom tittered, again.  It was hard to imagine Aphrodite in a polyester uniform, a wad of gum in her mouth and a miniature pad in her hand.

“What jail could hold my client?” Bailey asked, “And even if this was a capital murder case, what punishment could the court demand?  Aphrodite is an immortal?”  He raised his finger toward the sky.

Bailey shook his head.  Completely ignoring the jury box now, Bailey held his eyes on the judge.

“Your Honor,” Bailey said.  “My client’s guilt is not the question here.  The court’s ability to exact a negative ruling is the question.  The very future and order of the Law, as written by man, is in danger of being over ruled by Zeus, himself.  Will we risk that for the sake of one lonely; and, perhaps, very unlucky girl?”

***

The judge pulled back from his desk and let the idea roil around like slushy water in his brain.  His ruminations lasted about 30 seconds.

“I judge this to be a frivolous lawsuit.  Case dismissed.”  The judge slammed his gravel down.

***

And me?  Well, I’m just glad that it’s over and wondering if I have enough money in my bank account for a ticket to Aruba.

Author’s Note:  Originally  published in Emerald Dragon, August 2010 and listed on Facebook by admin.

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A New Painting

Have we got any Twilight Zone freaks in the house?  I’m talking about the old black’n white episodes.  Why don’t they make shows like that any more?  My favorite had to be the episode about the girl who dreamt the world was spinning closer to the sun, only to wake up from a fever and realized the world was spinning farther away from the sun, or the episode about the homesick Nazi, who went back to visit a concentration camp, only to be trounced by ghosts.  I might add that everything happened inside his head—no blood and guts in sight.  But then it takes a talent writer to frighten you without a bucket of guts.

Most of Rod Serling’s stories  fall somewhere between fantasy and horror—nightmare stuff, with only thin treads of logic.  No matter, they were still great.  I always had the idea that his stories were about things that should happen, not things that could happen.  Not a very popular genre these days, sad to say.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Mr. Serling, but here’s a piece that I wrote that’s reminiscent of that style:

A New Painting

By

C. M. Marcum

Sunlight peeking through the window slats, as dust motes danced a slow parade from shadows to strips of early morning beams.  A promising day for some but not for her, it would be her last day of freedom.  The old woman held Charlie’s picture against her heart. Once her heart had beat like a sewing machine—strong, steady and unappreciated.  Now she could feel it skip and flutter.  It skipped with sadness; it flutter with despair.

“Come now, old gal,” she said.  “Pull it together.”  These were the last moments to save herself.  She waited, watching the clock with almost as much dread as a condemned man counting his last steps.  One deep breath and then another to calm herself, to think clearly.

How ironic was it to live her entire life, to be born, to grow, to learn, to work, to fight and win only to be reduced to the whims of some else’s directive?  How wasteful had it been to beat down the briary path for kith and kin only to have them dig a pit and throw her in?  How unfair.  How terribly unfair.  Sabotaged, waylaid and friendless at the end of the long, long road, that’s how it was.  Had she prognosticated the end, she would have painted an entirely different picture.  She borne her children, nursed them through infancy and illness, only to have them grow the claws of deception that would shred her golden years.  Why did her evil prodigy begrudge her the last few steps in life?

What was her son said to her on the phone?  Oh, yes, she remembered, nothing wrong with her memory.  ‘Now, Mother, you know this is the best way.  You’re not taking care of yourself.  You don’t eat well.  Your health is declining.  You can’t keep up with the bills.’ And this was his reasoning, his pretense to pilfer the vaults while she still lived.

Of course, her health was declining.  Everyday wore upon her.  Worry rattled her, and she’d eat what she pleased.  What did it matter?  She was old.  Was she to die in the pitch of health?

Was she eccentric?  Yes.  But wasn’t a bit of oddity the prize of attaining adulthood and independence?  Hadn’t she fought the good fight to indulge in her own beliefs, moods and idiosyncrasies?

No.  These thoughts would take her nowhere.  She was taking everything personally, and Charlie, her dear husband, had taught her to be more logical than that.  It wasn’t about her; it was about the money.  She should have given the money to SPCA years ago.  If she had, her children would have faded away into a sweet memory.  How much better that would have been?  Much, indeed much!  Loneliness was perhaps not the worst fate to ravage the old.  Greed made a relentless enemy out of the most cherished.

“Incompetent, my granny’s ass,” her words slithered out, neither whispered nor shouted.  A cigarette dangled from her fingertips, smoke drifting over the silver framed picture clutched in her hands.  The smell of menthol quickly filled the room.  She hadn’t smoked in over eight years.  She had given up tobacco so that she could live longer—so that she could live long enough to see her children, her precious children, turn against her.

She sighed, kissed the glass and blew smoke over it.  Charlie wouldn’t mind; he enjoyed a good cigar, now and then.  Once, after a particularly delightful romp on their marital sheets, he’d lit a fat cigar that smelt of cherries, inhaled deeply, and amused her with an old Cherokee ghost story from his childhood.  In the story a young lad lit a ceremonial pipe and through the swirling smoke he sought the advice of his dead grandfather.  According to Charlie, his ancestors loved a good smoking, loved it so much they would sometimes offer assistance to the living.  She had laughed at Charlie, those many years ago, but now…  Now, she wished she could believe as he did.

She missed Charlie, ached for him really, even after all these years.  How many years, now?  Fifteen?  So long, too long.  Poor Charlie, tragically and violently killed in an automobile accident, while teaching his young son how to drive.

“Charlie, Charlie.  Help me now, Charlie,” she said.  He would know what to do.  Charlie wouldn’t let his children push him around. Charlie knew how to look out for numero uno.   If Charlie was still alive, he would fix them.  Fix them good.  Charlie knew how to handle adversaries.  Charlie never wanted children, but she had insisted.  Yes, Charlie had been wise.

She studied the picture, looking for an answer in his eyes.  His foot rested on the bleached bones of a skiff and the wind pulled his long white hair back, revealing a dark and handsome face.  ‘Indy Man,’ that’s what she had called him.  Brooding, dark, mysterious.  When she had taken the photograph, she had been kneeling in front of him, between him and the sea.  Now it was as if he was still looking down on her, casting those hazel eyes over her again, judging her, smirking at her.  Charlie wouldn’t hesitate—not if he had to choose between himself and them, not if his kids had grown into enemies.  She needed his mojo, now.  Just a little bit of his magic would do.

“Charlie, if you ever loved me help me now,” she said.

Her children wanted to put her away, lock her up, exile her to an island of strangers.  They wanted to confine her to a nursing home—oh, a first rate joint to be sure—but just like the jailbirds sang, ‘A joint is a joint.’

They wanted to forget about her.  Oh, but they wouldn’t forget about her bank account, would they?  Millions of dollars and a big estate waited to be plundered with one frail old lady in their way.  Just one judge’s signature away and she would be in an old folk’s home, while her children bought new houses and cars and boats and diamond watches and anything else that titillated them.  Her son was busy about the dirty deed right now, completing it with lawyers and legalese.  When he got back to the house, all that would remain would be physically transporting his old Ma to the Home of the Forgotten.

She placed her husband’s picture back on the mantle.  “Look at your children, Charlie.  See the greed in their hearts.  Witness what they are doing.”

Above the mantel and Charlie’s picture, hung a sweeping landscape of the Atlantic Ocean and the beach in front of her house.  The ocean thundered against a grey shore.  To the left, a white cottage with the door flung wide waited for the family to return.  Two children, blonde and lithe, played in the sand with red buckets.  In the far right corner, her signature crawled over the gritty sand.

How things had changed.  She remembered standing in the sand with her skirt flipping around her legs.  How young and strong and very much in control, she had been.  The boss of all she surveyed; Charlie never wanted to wear-the-pants.  He’d had more important things to do, and he simply accepted whatever she desired.

She laid her hand, wrinkled and streaked with blue veins, on the wooden frame.  She hated the painting now, after years of adoring it, she hated it.  She wanted to jerk it down and burn it, but she only sighed and tossed her butt into the fireplace.  Everything changes, even a mother’s love for her children.  After Charlie died, she lost control of the little brats.  Eventually Carl’s blonde curls had fallen out, and Susan’s cheek bones had pillowed with fat.  Always they came with their hands stuck out, and she filled their palms with alms, but she didn’t even recognize them anymore.  Her gaze flitted back and forth between the small photograph of Charlie and the large landscape.  Had it always been that way?  Small, stingy pieces for her dear, dear husband and gross exaggerations for the children?

She looked back at her husband’s picture and gasped.  He was looking up.  He was looking up at the painting.  But that was wrong.  She had taken the picture herself; she had looked at it for years, and she knew—absolutely knew—that he had been looking down.

“What are you trying to tell me, Charlie?”  Her gaze darted between the photo and painting.

Her hand gripped the corner of the painting and pulled.  The portrait slipped from its anchor, teetered for a moment and then tumbled to the floor.  Odd bits of bric-a-brac fell with it.  From upstairs an agitated voice drifted down to her.  Susan, her daughter, toiled away up the staircase, packing some necessities for old Ma’s one-way ride to No Place.

“Mother, what was that noise?  Did you break something?”  The voice exasperated and scolding thundered down the stairwell.  Impertinent cow!

The old woman closed her eyes and lit another cigarette.  What if she did break everything in the house?  It was her stuff to break.  But she didn’t say that, instead she said, “Just a glass, dear.  Don’t worry.  I’ll clean it up.”

“Well, be more careful,” Susan yelled.  “Carl will be here any minute, and I don’t want any last minute messes to clean up.”

The old woman sat the painting down on the sofa and took a seat next to it.  She looked back at the photograph of her husband.  He was looking down again, but this time a little more to the right, almost directly at her.

Her fingers edged to the little girl playing in the sand.  She touched the chest, rubbing it, as if to seek a beating heart.  Over the blue bathing suite, her fingers felt the tiniest of cracks.  Beneath her nail a lip of paint and a sudden jolt of hope surged through her chest.  She peeled it up, until the blond girl disappeared, except for two arms and two legs.  Upstairs a horrendous scream startled the old woman.  The scream reverberated around the house and beneath her fingers came a smaller, fainter echo.

She scratched another chip and pulled until the arms and legs of the blond girl disappeared too.  The screaming stopped.  She moved to the foot of the stairs, dragging the old frame behind her.  Resting a shaking hand upon the newel, she place one foot on the bottom step, but she had no intention of going up the stairs.

“Sus-an?” Her voice cracked and she called again.  “Susan.”  But there was no answer. At the top of the stairs, a whirl of dust motes.

Outside a car turned in the driveway, tires displacing gravel.  Carl.  Her breath caught in her throat, as she grasped the painting between her hands.  The door opened and her son stood there, looking slightly bent—oddly twisted—in a way that no normal human being could or should fold their spine.  In the painting Carl fluttered, half adhered to the canvas and half freed from the fabric.

“Mother?” he called.  His voice filled with impatience. When had his voice changed, she wondered.  When he was little and he called for her, his voice had been filled with uncertainty—a timid and nervous boy, who jumped at lightening and wept in the dark.  So unlike his father.  Her fingers wiggled under the oil, sliding effortless over its slick consistency.  Carl rippled.  He staggered in the hallway and grabbed the same newel that she had held in her hands only moments ago.  Was the wooden post still warm with her touch?  Could he feel it?

“Are you feeling ill?” she asked.

“Mother,” he wheezed, slightly out of breath and confused.  She sighed.  There it was.  She remembered it clearly now.  That needy sound, that irritating whine.  Had she ever liked that effeminate squeak?  Why had she ever listened to it?   Why had she hurried to his side to comfort and aide him?  Why had she succored the enemy?  Her husband had foretold Carl’s coming deceit.  Of course, she’d only laughed, not believing.  Had she been a bad wife?  Had she really shucked her true love for motherhood?  Craziness.  Absurdity.

She pulled harder and the image of the little boy with the bouncing yellow curls separated from the canvas in one fluid movement.  Baby Carl folded.  The heat of her hand melted the paint.  Carl, real Carl, darkened to a blob.  In the living room there was a pop and the smell of sulfur, as if someone had struck a match.

And suddenly she couldn’t remember ever having had any children.  Couldn’t remember why she was holding a damaged canvas.  Couldn’t remember spilling paint at the front door, but there it was.  A little turpentine would clean it right up.

Tomorrow she would gather her paints and brushes.  She would fill in the hole.  Perhaps she would paint herself on the beach.  Yes, that would be good.  She would paint Carl, too.  She would paint him slightly older, but just as wise and mysterious as he had always been.

Sayagain

Sayagain cried out in pain.  His childish voice rose at just the right tremulous echo, ringing through the woods and overpowering the natural order of things.  The kind of querulous, infant sound that made all woodland parents pause in their daily tasks and look up; the kind of sound that demanded attention.  Only a certain call would divert his mother from her daily search for rosemary, milk thistle and fairy whiff.  Sayagain had perfected this sound.

Many nights he fell asleep with hunger pangs clawing at his belly, but mollified by her rocking embrace and dazzled by her long, pink plumage.  His nest mates did not share in this special bond between fairy mother and fledgling son.  Sayagain’s siblings were forced to sleep on the far side of the rocky perch without dinner and sans maternal comfort, least their rambunctious play further injure the runt of the litter.  They nestle together and cooed at him, sometimes jabbing their heads in his direction.

Sayagain did not care.

With trembling gestures, he steadfastly assured his mother that his troublesome pain issued from his left wing and spread throughout his lithe body.  Sometimes his mother frowned and inspected the area; sometimes she wept when she rocked him.  Her tears fell softly on his fine, natal down.

Within a few months all of his siblings left the willow branch nest, launching their diminutive bodies into the air.  Always, he watched them as they edged toward the thorny rim, inhaled a sup of courage, and jumped.

Perhaps, there was a little stab of jealousy, but mostly he was glad to see them go.  Soon he had his mother all to himself, and nothing could have pleased him more.  The seasons passed and Sayagain grew quite fat.  The summer sun tanned his skin to berry brown.  Fall turned the garden into a spate of riotous colors.  His mother brought him leaves and chortled the names of the trees from which they came, but he had no desire to visit the woodland giants.  He could see the woods quite well from his perch, and the wind brought him all the smells of the world beyond the nest.  Winter came and he snuggled, safe and warm, under his mother’s wings.

Spring came again, and he celebrated his birthday by sending his voice through the forest vegetation.  That same high, vibrating squawk that always brought his mother back to him with juicy mushrooms and yellow daffodils clutched in her arms.

His mother had grown quite thin, and the vane feathers running down her back had separated.  Catching the wind was harder now.  During the molt, two of her tail feathers never returned, and she flew at a queer left angle that was not as graceful as the year before.  Sayagain did not worry about these things.  Mother was immortal.

As she cleared the last tangle of woody limbs, Sayagain spotted another fairy fast on her wing tip.  Bright red and deep blue plumage marked this visitor as an elder male.  The nest rocked dangerously when the heavy male landed on its edge.

“Here is my boy, Master Featherbrook,” his mother said.  “A year old he is.  And still he can not fly.”

“Mutation,” Master Featherbrook said.  “Already he is too fat to fly.”

“What shall we do?” his mother asked.  Her hands circled around and around.

“We must clip his wings and give him over to the humans.  There is nothing else for it.  If he will not fly; he will grow too heavy for the ledge.  The Mountain Nymph will cast him down to the forest floor.”

Sayagain wanted to protest.  He wanted to confess to the colorful elder, but he did not want his mother to hear.  He wanted to.  But he had never learned to speak—nothing more than the ugly squawk that brought his mother home.

Wrapped in grey moss and green birch leaves, Sayagain cried out in pain, but this time he was not fooling.  His back ached from where they had cleaved his wings from his shoulder blades.  The bright white, baby feathers still littered his swaddling coat.

The door to the human cottage opened and a hairy monster-man stepped out.  Stinking of boiled meat and onions, the man picked up Sayagain.  The man’s fingers, rough as bark, pulled the tangled web of foliage from Sayagain.

“Ah, a boy,” the man said.  “You will make a good farm hand.”

Just before the door closed, Sayagain saw the twinkle of pink in the leafless and dead oak beside the cottage gate.  His mother, almost invisible in the hues of sunset, called out to him.

“Kachou,” she said.  Fairy-speak for goodbye.

The end

Litterbug Poop

Have you ever been to the park and seen all the trash lying about?  Did it make you irate?  If I was Ruler of the World, we would have a story that went something like this:

Litterbug Poop

by

C.M. Marcum

Tall and lanky, the image of the boy tunneled down the scope, casting a perfect reflection on Peter’s right eye.  Background flora faded.  Yellow birch trees, buckeyes, and sugar maples blended into smudges of green, brown and grey.  Peter adjusted the sight, until the mildots were perfectly aligned on the boy’s breast pocket.  The circle of the scope chopped off the top of the boy’s head from eyebrow to crown.  Peter’s trigger finger lay outside the rim of the guard.

Clad in faded blue jeans, a red flannel shirt, and a dark blue baseball cap with a big red A, the boy crouched down on his knees and wedged the fishing rod between a stack of rocks.  The young fisherman pulled an aluminum soda can out of his empty creel and chugged on it.  Still crouching, the boy backed-pedaled, craw-dad fashion, until his butt reached a small boulder with just enough flat space to accommodate his skinny rear-end.

A gust of wind pushed the fishing-bob south and the rod wiggled slowly and surely out of its impromptu prop.  The boy tried to grab it, but he was too slow. Rod and reel skidded over the dirt.  He jerked it up and attempted to brush the dirt off.   His pimpled cheeks puffed out, and his lips puckered into a perfect O, as he gave the reel a couple of hard blows.  Deciding he had done enough, the teenager gave up on cleaning his reel.  Slowly spinning the reel, until the bob was at the tip of the pole, he drew back and cast again.  The hook jetted out over the water, followed by the red and white cork.  There was a soft plunk.  Almost immediately the boy pulled up on the pole.  Impatient and inexperienced, the teenager’s hand moved to the reel again.  One turn, two turns.  The reel jammed.

Peter braced the rifle with his left hand and moved the barrel two centimeters to the left.  He inhaled and then slowly exhaled.

The boy whipped out a pair of leather gloves from his back pocket and slid them over his hands while bracing the rod against his chest.  He pulled the rod up and over his head.  Snagging the line, the boy tugged, hand over hand, until the bob cleared the water.

Peter relaxed and took his eye away from the scope.  He stared down the mountain, past the east shore, across the blue-grey lake and over to the western border where the boy stood, angrily jerking his empty hook home.  A wad of green slime coated the hook.

“Good boy.  Cheap gear,” Peter whispered.  At least, the boy wasn’t going to cut the line and let the hook and bob float away.  It was never a good idea to get dirt on a reel, and the cheaper the fishing gear; the more likely it was to jam.

The boy fiddled with the tangled fishing line and the jammed reel for fifteen minutes, before the sounds of curse words drifted over the lake.  Peter smiled and watched as Flannel Shirt began picking up his gear in outraged defeat.  Flannel Shirt pulled the baseball cap off, scratched his stock of coarse black hair and put the hat back on.  He looked around, one last time, to make sure he had everything.

Peter looked, too.  He braced the rifle and tilted his head to look down the scope again.  A blue bait cup—no doubt, still filled with fat worms—lay on top of a rock.  The boy began to walk away.  One step, two steps, three.  Peter had authorization to shoot at ten paces.  Four steps, five steps, six.  Peter fired.

The bait cup jumped, spraying dirt and worms over the rock, as the sound of bullet echoed over the lake.  The boy hit the ground and curled into a fetal position.  Peter waited for ten seconds, but the boy did not move.  He fired another round, this time much closer to the boy’s feet.  Clumps of dirt exploded into the air and rained back down on the boy.  Again there was the delayed echo of the gunshot pushing the air around the lake.

Inspired by his dirt shower, the boy crawled over to the bait cup and began stuffing bits of shattered blue plastic into the pockets of his red shirt.  Peter smiled, turned around and slid down the boulder.  His back rested against the rock, as he rubbed his eyes.

***

Outside the Blue Ridge Sniper Café, Peter stood in the parking lot, scraping most of the mud off his boots.  Resting his hand against the new memorial and stomping his feet on the tarmac, he read the plaque.  He always read the plaque, but, for one reason or another, he never finished reading it—never got all the way to the end:

President Hubbard’s Third New Deal for relief, recovery and reform

Established June 14, 2014

America’s Greatest Beautification Efforts–

A shadow passed over his head, and Peter looked up to see a Bald Eagle silently gliding through the air.  Transfixed, he tracked the eagle until it was a fuzzy dot on the horizon.  Flying toward the mountains, the eagle sailed toward some unscheduled destination, not too far from Peter’s camp.  He thought about the fish that he left drying in the sun and wondered if they would still be there when he got back.  He had hung the salted and glittering fish in a dead maple tree.  The fish dangled twenty feet up and about a mile and a half away from his camp.  Sufficient precautions for poaching bears, but it would not stop the eagle.

Peter shrugged.  He would not begrudge the eagle a few fish; he just hoped the bird would leave him enough for dinner.

The smell of cafeteria spaghetti and fried ham assailed his nostrils as he pushed through the double paned doors of the restaurant/headquarters for the Blue Ridge Snipers.  Overpowering and unpleasant, the smell made him grunt.  After being outside all day, his nose told him that the pasta was over cooked and the ham was lacquered with grease, rancid grease.  Thoughts of eating lunch in the café vanished, but he would still refill his canteen, grab a handful of salt packets and tank down a whole pot of coffee, before he headed out again.  Hot coffee would be a delicious treat after three days of pine needle tea.

In the far left corner a group of men, clad in light, brown ranger uniforms, dominated the tables next to the plate glass window.  Mark Boyd lifted up his hand and motioned Peter over to the table.  Beyond them, the mountain range, monstrously beautiful and misty green, made the men seem small and painfully ugly, like toads on the edge of the river bank, left homeless and forlorn after the rainy season.

It was kind of funny, when he thought about it.  Him—and this posse of ugly toads—kept the park beautiful, and not at a distance either, but close up.  No soda bottles littering the trail, no plastic bags clinging to the tree branches, no flat tires nursing mosquitoes, and no miscellaneous crap bobbing down the river.  Not anymore, not since the government put them on the payroll as deputies of President Hubbard’s Anti-Litter Army and Park Reclamation Program—a ridiculously long name for a very simple idea.

Peter grunted again and forced his legs toward the group and his supervisor.  A cloud of cigarette smoke hovered over the deputized toads.  Strategically placed between them was a large, glass ashtray, brimming with burnt paper and yellow butts.  Coffee cups, spoons and water glasses orbited the centerpiece.

“Hey man,” Boyd said.  “I haven’t seen you in three days.  Have you been camping out?”

“Yeah Boyd,” Peter said.  He did not offer any further information, since he did not want any surprise visits at his camp site, especially not from any of these guys.  Teaming-up was not mandatory; Peter would have never taken the job if that had been a prerequisite.

“You look like a grizzly bear.”  Boyd sniffed the air.  “And you smell like one, too.”

“I do?”  Peter’s hand rubbed his chin and found more hair than he would have imagined.  Coming down the mountain and into the post always jolted him.  Being around people and suddenly realizing how uncivilized and randy he had become in manner, thought, and appearance always startled him, even when he prepared himself for the unpleasant, psychological revelation.  He wanted to believe that he was a man who could navigate the human world as well as he could moved through the piney woods, but that was just a delusion—a delusion, he had to face every time he wandered into the station.

“Have you killed anybody yet?”  Bob Crane asked and blew a grey cloud at him.  He didn’t look anything at all like the actor, Bob Crane; he looked more like…well, like   Rambo, with less hair.

Peter smiled.  “Nah.”

“Pussy,” Crane said, and the men around the table chuckled.

“You’ve been shooting,” Boyd said.  His fingers tapped the ammo belt around Peter’s waist.  “Target practice or warning shots?’

“A little of both, I guess.”

“You’ve missed your chance for some real action,” Crane said.  “The word is out.”

“What do you mean?” Peter asked.

“Crane is right, Peter my boy,” Boyd said.  “People have stopped littering the park.  We’ve got new directives—from the President, no less—to move into the city.  After the summer season is over, anyway.”

“I don’t think I’d like the city, Boyd.”  Peter’s words came out in a hitch, and he tapped the flint-shaped National Park Ranger badge pinned to his chest.  “They won’t move our whole team into the city, will they?  Someone has to stay here.  Someone has to keep the park clean.  People will go back to littering if we leave.”  Peter looked out the window at the lush mountain range.  Twenty paces away something large moved behind a tangle of purple rhododendron, probably a deer.

Everyone at the table brought their cigarettes up to their lips and inhaled.  The cloud receded, just a little.  A moment of silence passed as everyone exhaled and replenished the smoke curling above the table.  Their heads pivoted between Peter and Boyd.

“I mean, I think I would be the best man to stay behind.  I ain’t so good in the city,” Peter said.

“No shit,” Crane said and cackled.  Crane’s laughter, which always came too often and too loud, was escorted by a tide of phlegm.  He paused briefly to bring out a filthy handkerchief and unceremoniously harked in it.  Throat cleared, and personal hygiene aside, he resumed his rumbling chuckle.  The laughter of the other men faded away.  Unwashed and scruffy, given little to social propriety, and known to hee-haw at ordinary flatulence, the scruffy rangers were still offended by this gunk-chunking.

“For Christ’s sake,” Skinny George said and snarled at Crane.  “You got’a switch to them filter cigarettes, like I told ya.”

“Sorry Peter.  Its Presidential orders,” Boyd said, rubbing his red and bulbous nose—a souvenir from too many nights spent in an alcoholic blur.  But drink or no drink, Boyd was still Peter’s boss and lead man on the team, or, as Boyd liked to call his position: LEM.  (Local Experienced Man.)  “We’re moving out in the Fall.  We done such a good job in the park that the government wants us to clean up the city as good as we cleaned up the park.  Taxpayers want it.  Hell, the damn President wants it.  It’ll be beautiful.  Imagine!  Gatlinburg City all sparkling clean.”

“Yeah Peter,” Crane said.  “You’re going to have to take a bath and put on a new uniform.  We all will.”  Crane lifted his coffee cup and threw his pinky finger out.  He wiggled his shoulders.  “We’re going to have to get all city-fied. We’re going to get up-close and personal with the townies.  And you won’t get to take that fancy Remington 700 Sniper Rifle with you, either.  All that concrete in town makes for too many ricochets.  We’re all going to get tasers guns and dart guns.  Can’t accidentally hit no innocent by-standers.  That would make for bad publicity.  We got to keep the newspapers out of our business.”

“Don’t look so sad, Peter,” Boyd said.  “Maybe we’ll even get you a real girl, instead of those grizzle bears that you like so well.”

“Are we ever going to come back to the park?” Peter asked.  “People will go back to littering if we leave.”

“I suspect we will come back.  Sort of on a rotation bases.  Park, city, park, city.  Maybe, we’ll even go covert like some real spies or something, hey?” Boyd said.  “The main thing is we got to make this transition nice and smooth.  We got to handle it real delicate like.  Dealing with townies in town is going to be different than dealing with tourist from town.  Do you guys get what I’m saying?” Boyd looked around the table and the men nodded, as if they understood him completely, although Peter was a little fuzzy on the details.  “We’ll have to talk to the people.  Educate them a little.  Maybe pass out some fliers, and then slap them around when they throw the fliers down on the ground.  You know, stuff like that.”

The men laughed and Peter made a half-hearted attempt to join them.

“Tasing and darting the townies is going to be fun,” Crane said and slapped Peter on the back.  “I’m going to give double taps to anyone with those damn, pink flamingoes in their yard.  If they think them plastic birds are so pretty, they can dig them up and take them in the house.”

Skinny George—who seldom spoke, but unlike Peter, did seem to enjoy the company of the other men—piped in.  “I’m going after folks with them junk cars in the yard.  Ain’t nobody going to tell me a car with four flat tires ain’t a hunk-a-junk.”

“Me,” Boyd said, driving his thumb into his chest and shaking his head up and down.  “My specialty will be going after them city slickers that can’t spit far enough to get their gum into the trash bins.  Don’t you hate it when you get gum into the ridges on your boot?  You got’a scrape that shit out with a knife.”

Everyone, including Peter, had to agree.

“I don’t know, Boyd.  The city is going to be a lot more complicated.  I still think we ought to leave the pigs in the sty.  If you know, what I mean?”

Boyd folded his arms and leaned over the table.  “Tell you what, my boy.  You’re my favorite sniper, so I’m going to give you the zone down by the river.”

Peter considered the offer, but made no reply.

“Just think about all that trash floating down the river toward your precious little park.  Don’t you want to stop it before it gets here?”  Boyd asked.

“Yeah,” Peter said.  “Yeah, I want to stop it. Okay.  I’m in.”

The End

Post Script:  This story was rejected by ‘On The Premises.’ Oh, well.  Too controversial for them, I guess.

Daughter of the Sea

What can I tell ya?  This one came from a dream.  I got up one morning and there it was like a present. I wish I could remember all my dreams.

Daughter of the Sea

by

C.M. Marcum

Seafrome selected the clear vial with the thick green gelatinous fluid.  She wrapped a suction cup around the slender neck of the bottle and brought it close to her left eye.  The white spermatozoa were so tiny that they were hard to see, but they did appear to be very energetic, and they sparkled like bits of slow moving lightening.

Her right eye swiveled, quietly and slowly, to the back of her head.  The Sperm- Mart clerk was busy trying to impress her father with a bit of aphrodisiac powder.

She vibrated the bottle with a flip of her arm, and the luminous white sperm danced to life.  Squiggling this way and that way, the white sperm would bump into each other, engage in a brief battle, and then swim stubbornly against the thick fluid, pushing through it with frenzied agitation.  She liked them.  The way that they struggled was exciting, and they looked like opals with long tails.

It was against the rules to shake the bottles; the sign on the shelf warned against such testing, but she had already decided against her father’s wishes.  Her father would be horrified to find her in this section of the store.  The experimental section, housing dangerous subspecies, had no guarantees.

With her right eye on her father and her left eye on the vial she pulled the cap off and tucked the tiny vial deep into her mantel.  She lifted the directions tab and slipped it into her sac.  She would need the information later, when her babies were born.

Her father’s voice tapered off, and he began to turn.

Seafrome slithered down the end of the aisle and up the next, landing in the Amphibian section.  The advertisement at the top of the aisle displayed a fat, slimy frog nailed to the sign.

Her father ogled her with suspicion etched across his green face, but she only pretended to read the pamphlet on Aquatic Amphibians.  He slithered up beside her, placed one of his eight arms around her neck, and extended his eyeball over her shoulder.

His thick copper musk muted her senses.

‘Ah, good.  Aquatic Amphibians,’ he said.  ‘That sounds delicious.  Are you planning on stocking your father’s pantry?’

‘Would you like that?’ she asked.  ‘Would you like to eat my babies?’

‘Of course,’ he said.  ‘But it’s almost too good to be true.  Can it be?  Your rebellious nature has finally subsided?  All those lye baths must have done some good.’

Seafrome shuttered, remembering the terrible pain of the lye on her skin, and remembering how her mother had died in the deep end of the Pool of Purity.  It was an odd name, she thought, for a bath of torture.

Her mother, weak and old, had chosen to die in the Pool of Purity, where disobedient females were sent, until they agreed to obey the alpha male of their family.

She had chosen revenge.

She looked down at the long streaks of scars that lined her arms and the frayed lips of her suction cups, and she knew that her spirit would have never risen to such a lofty goal as revenge, without them.  It was in the lye baths that she had finally realized that her father did not love her, could not lover her, or any female.  He only meant to use her.  He would like nothing better than to abandon her on an alien planet, so that she could give birth to tiny frogs that he could swoop down and eat at his leisure.

‘Shall we buy the Aquatic Amphibians?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she said and bowed her head low.

‘With such tasty off spring, I’ll be coming to visit your new planet, long before I visit any of your sisters.’

‘Please, do,’ she said and smiled.  ‘I will teach my children to leap into your lap.’

‘That’s a good girl,’ he said.

Seafrome wrapped two of her arms around the sturdy rocks at the lip of the ocean.  The salty waves massage her pregnant belly, and the buoyancy of the water eased her burden.

With a contented sigh, she blew out her breath, and the water foamed with bubbles.  She pulled the vial of Aquatic Amphibian eggs out of her sac and tossed it toward the dark boulders that were encrusted with starfish.  The bottle arched high, tumbling lip over end, and crashed against the jutting stone with a sharp crack of glass.  The ugly frog eggs, with their black-eyed centers, dripped slowly down the stone, and it wasn’t long before the starfish discovered them.

Her new planet was warmed by a yellow sun and angry spurts of lava from a continent on the other side of the world.   The land was covered with giant Maidenhair trees, and scrumptious ginko ferns grew everywhere.  Her favorite place was the blue ocean and she especially liked the crunchy craps that seemed to be just as happy in the water as they were on the land.

It was good home, after all.  She had been afraid that it wouldn’t be.  Her father was not one to step out of his way for her comfort.  But now that she was here, she could see that it suited her just fine, and her oxygen-breathing babies would do well on the land.

After her babies were born, she would adapt herself to the Sea.  She had decided to name her favorite place after herself.   She pulled the directions tab that she had stolen from the Sperm Mart out of her sac and read it again, for the seventeen hundred time.

WARNING:  Dangerous sperm.  NOT tested in the laboratory.  This sperm produces terrestrial bipeds with above average intelligence and innate interest in weaponry.  These oxygen breathing carnivores have anti-social behavior and large teeth.  Mammalian with hunter characteristics.    Female of this species is prolific and unpredictable.   High risk pregnancy.  SURGEON GENERALS WARNING:  Only battleship approach to planets infested with this species is advised.

Seafrome smiled.  Her father was going to get a real surprise when he came to visit his grandchildren.  If things worked out like they did in her dreams, her babies would be eating him.