Dan

Gorgeous

You wanna hear the story of the time I met the Pumpkin Man, again? Are you sure? I just told you that one last night! Well, okay. Well, fine. Whatever you want, little lady.

I was down at the beach, right where you was swimmin’ earlier today. This was way long ago, well before your momma was born. I was skippin’ stones on the lake, sending ’em towards the sunset with a satisfyin’ sorta song. “Kssh-kssh-kssh-ploop,” went the rocks. “Klash-kssh-kssh-ksh-ksh-blop,” they would sing when I really put my wrist in ’em. My nice little half-whistled melody screeched to a stop, though, when I heard a yell so loud it made me just about jump out my skin.

I dropped the rock in my hand, forgotten with a clinkety-clack, and turned around expectin’ someone right there behind me. But it was just an awful “HALLOOOOOGHHH” echoing across the water, followed by a loud squishy sound. I didn’t see nobody there on the beach with me.

But then I noticed, way up on the hill, a-way up the path by the big old oak tree, stood a man. Or — well — it looked like a man anyway. With some kinda crazy hat on, just hollerin’ his head off to beat the band.

I waved and tried to yell back, “What’s wrong?” but he wouldn’t stop goin’ “HOOOOLLLOOOOOUGGHH!” So I figgered, better go see what’s wrong with this feller. I clambered up the steppin’ stones, couldn’t see cuz I ain’t wantin’ to fall, so’s his, uhh, appearance really done shocked me at the top.

I looked up, outta breath, and there was the pumpkin man. The dude had a giant jack-o-lantern on his head! I mean, it was bigger’n a beach ball. He’s standing there staring at me with black triangle eyes, and his hands on the sides of his pumpkin-y cheeks, and I’m just starin’ with my jaw on the ground. Catchin’ flies.

Before I could think to offer to help him get the dang pumpkin off his head, he lets out a hollerin “HOOO” and grabs the pumpkin up — but he’s got no neck! He’s got no head! He’s hollerin still somehow, and I swear to you that pumpkin mouth was openin’ wide as he bashed it to the ground with a giant ker-SPLUT.

I swear to you, no lie, he had no head. No neck! But when I looked down at the ground in the piles of smashed pumpkin-parts all around, and then I looked back up at him, his dang pumpkin head was right back on his shoulders!

I blinked a few times. I rubbed my eyes. And as I did, he yelled “HOOOO” louder’n anything I heard in my life. He lifted that pumpkin up in the air again, and brung it crashin’ down on the grass, ka-whump, and again, when I blinked, his head came back. His pumpkin head, I mean.

“Look, mister pumpkin man,” I says, “I don’t rightly know what’s goin’ on here.”

He yelled “HOOO” and hurled his head on the ground again, ka-plort, and by then I started to get better at ignorin’ his yellin’. “Look, let me try to help you there, mister.”

So’s I stepped towards him, holding a hand out, and he froze. It was quiet for a moment, like the wind died down to listen in. I stepped again, and he put his hands to his giant orange head. “Now look,” I said, which was all I could get out ‘afore he whipped the big pumpkin in my general direction! I ducked to the side, and it whizzed by me, tumblin’ in broken pieces down the stepping stones. Blat-bup-bup.

I don’t know why I wasn’t scared at that point, but I was just gettin’ angry about all these dang giant pumpkin parts all over my property. So I marched towards him, returnin’ his “HOOOO”, and when he threw his head at me again, I was ready. I caught the damn thing.

No, I don’t know what I was thinkin’. But I tell you what, I stopped thinkin’ pretty quick as soon as those triangle eyes squinted up at me, and the pumpkin winked.

I swear it, the sun set over the lake fast as I stood there holding that pumpkin. And then in the new darkness it started talkin’. “Put me on,” it said. “Put me on your head! It’ll be fuuuuuun,” it said. And that’s when I screamed “HOOOOOO” myself, and I threw that accursed thing to the ground, splat!, and I started runnin’ for the barn to get my dang shotgun.

Clearly this was a supernatural situation, but I wasn’t really in my right mind. And when I got my gun and I got out the barn, I heard only one more earth-shattering cry of “HOOOO” as I walked trepidatiously back down through the field towards the lake.

When I got to the old oak tree, the pumpkin man was nowhere to be found. But the ground was littered with pumpkin pieces and a whole bunch of crows were picking at ’em, eyein’ me.

Anyway, that’s why we don’t ever carve pumpkins after the harvest here on the farm no more.

Sleep tight! I’ll be downstairs, watchin’ out for that mean old pumpkin man, and if you hear a “HOOO” off in the distance, well, gorgeous… that’s probably just an owl.

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Dan

Constellations of Want

Sustain yourself with the
clean-smelling petals
as they wrap themselves into the night,
scratching the starry horizon
into constellations of want.

I don't want to see forever, that's absurd, so:
allow for a thick mist to settle,
as if on schedule, a melted snowcap in mind
now turned into a wall of fog
to hide behind when the extroverts
come to steal my energy.

Reliant now on the tingling
sense of the moon,
I need it to predict my tides.
The interconnected muscles
in my chest float flashing moonlit bursts of
my breath into the heavy spring air.

I don't think I have hallucinated
this street,
this sidewalk,
this hill,
those trees,
this comforting fog,
but I have the strange sense
I could have created them
in the moment just before waking
to allow for a walk into the introverted night.
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Dan

The Kings of Sand and Order

(written partially with Robin Sloan’s Voyages in Sentence Space tool)


 

We couldn’t find ourselves until the day was just right. The whole shop was in the dark shroud of thick curtains, with the uniformed projectors under their dustcloths. Whip open the windows, let the curtains fall, and let the gold dust drift on down in the broad sunbeams.

Dear friend, the adventurer, the one who waits and watches, the museum-lover, the last knower: perhaps it was not right of me to tease her, after she lost Saturn and fell to us, ringless. We’re all just governments in the midst of internal coups, trying to get going, get started again, somehow. Not lose.

“Just tell me, though, if you think my old art is holding you back.” I move with vigor now, as I yank the coverings to the floor and power on the projections.

She looks around. “Never, Jim. I’m just glad to absorb it. At least now I know it’s all trickery.” Lazily draping an arm down to rest on a crumpled tarp on the floor, she whips it up and around like a flag. “You have no idea what you’re really revealing,” she laughs. Dust flies in whirlwinds.

I take a step, adjusting. Balancing myself on a curve of dappled sunlight carving shadow on the dusty boards. “No. But, there is still, always, somewhere… that combined pattern that has beauty within it.” Reaching up, I twist the focus ring. “The one crystallized experience we always strive for.”

As the projections come into focus on the ceiling and blend with the setting sunlight, she turns on the floor-lights and begins to absentmindedly practice dance steps.

The room becomes one of the ninety million moons of the earth. She is lit by them, golden. She obstructs my lights and my plans.

“We may need never understand, doctor. A few minutes to bring back the order, please.” Now she dances, as if trying to absorb all the light.

I stare and smile, thinking about someone else, another time, another place.

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Dan

In Line

Gray sky slouches, angry and resigned. Refusing to reveal any texture or hint of where the sun may lie. Under that gray sky, we sit.

Smear of forest rides the distant hills, a blackened brown lined by cracks of snow. Hints of the evergreen are invisible at a distance, and it all looks dead. Or, at least, it looks like it’s trying to die. The winter still sits with us. Sky through the branches looks like nothing. A white void.

The trees are just trying to do their best, though, reaching scraggly arms to the featureless plain above. Down at their mossy trunks, the dry brambles play.

Old boards of the hunting stand are held on the wounded trunk with old rusted nails. The plywood of it bends like a forgotten promise to pay you back, from a friend you know never will, rotting with resentment and the creaks of old age.

The hunters: our breath a silent summons. An unpleasant scent of warm beer and sweat. The smell becomes a blanket for us, and the long-gone wind refuses to wake up and carry it off.

In the stillness, the deer stands framed by black oak trunks against the muddy snow. Raises its head to become a better self. Twitches in the stillness, no sound, our breath held in now, our smell retracted, praying it does not alert our prey.

The bullet flees from a resounding clash. A tiny explosion in its beliefs sends it buzzing through the stillness. An invisible knife, a murderous orbit, an accidental insult you can’t take back.

Entering the flesh, the bullet rearranges the poetry of the deer into poorly-written comedy. We would cringe if we could see the havoc up close, but we are far away. Under the same gray sky, but far, far away now.

Blood cells on high alert rush to the scene of the wound. The pumping heart of the deer as it recoils in pain sends a red river down its haunch. Through the matted tangles of a forest in miniature, each hair a tiny tree, an un-dammed river of red splashes downward.

Except these burnt-black trees are on an earth that is upside-down, and dying. A droplet forms. A dark bright red, the color of candy. The color of a woman’s lipstick when she wants to be seen as someone else. Transparent, holding a precious cargo of blood cells, the globe cuts its surface tension. It falls from the struggling deer, unnoticed.

The drop of blood falls through the still air towards the snowy ground. Within it, the blood cells desperately try to gauge the situation. Should we attempt to coagulate? Yes. There is so much air here. But where are the rest of our forces? Where is our host? And now what is this cold, cold crystalline shore we’ve crashed upon?

Star-shaped crystal snowflakes form a colorless beach, a sculpture garden at microscopic scale, and the deer’s blood seeps out into it. A tiny circle of red in the white, unreal spreading there within the brown black forest under the distant gray sky.

Look closer. The crystalline structures and frozen palaces of the winter’s art are formed from water molecules, locked in their icy dance. But the warmth of the vibrating blood begins to loosen their bonds. The water and the red blood begin to mingle, melting outward.

We follow the trail of pink through the muddy snow.

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Dan

Weapons of Weapon Destruction

In the William P. Hobby airport, CNN is on. Glazed stares and crying babies maunder through an almost-visible haze of cinnamon, fried fat, and cleaning fluids. On the screen, the anchor is reading tweets from the public. But then the bottom of the screen flares up, with a shining silver “BREAKING NEWS” badge. “GUNS ALL GONE?” it reads. Just as a few people start muttering, the airport intercom erupts with static.

“Please remain calm. A state of emergency has been declared by the governor of the state of Texas,” the toneless voice rings out.

At the FastCheck TSA security checkpoint line, a man in a battered cowboy hat stands confused, reaching in his jacket. “Where the hell did my piece go?” There’s dust all over his hands. He claps them off, confused, patting his pockets. Then he stares at the guy behind him. “You take my gun?”

“Naw man, what’re you even talking about, man?”

“I’m a fed, son. Don’t mess with me.”

The guy puts his hands up; sort of joking, sort of not. “I’m not messin’ with you, dude!”

From far back of the TSA line someone yells, “Hey! They’re sayin’ ALL the GUNS are gone!”

“What? Gone?” someone shouts back.

“They ALL GONE!”

Mumbling and jostling anxiety skitters down the lines, ramping into a buzz of fear.

The fed stands stock still, arms akimbo, glancing from side to side. “I’m an air marshal,” he says, more to remind himself than to inform anyone else.

The TSA agents look around in panic. This was not covered in the training videos. One of them stands up, sky blue gloves raised, and tries to restore order. “Please wait until we get further information!”

The marshal pushes his way to the front of the line, causing more people to grumble and the general chatter to get louder.

“PEOPLE!” he hollers, loud enough that everyone actually does stop and stare for a moment. “I am a U.S. Air Marshal! I hereby order you to REMAIN CALM and STAY WHERE YOU ARE!”

“Yeah, but do you have a GUN?” an anonymous voice in the crowd yells out.

The marshal’s hand moves instinctively to his empty holster, he looks down confused, and then pandemonium erupts.

“Blyaaaa!” yells a man, completely unintelligible, as he launches himself at the U.S. Marshal and bites his ear clean off. The ensuing screams are drowned in the clatter of the mob rushing over and past them, plowing their way through the checkpoint and howling with feral glee as they enter the sacred inner confines of the airport’s plaza.

Some react like animals, becoming predators or prey, asserting their dominance or running for cover. Some people lucky to not be pushed along in the raging torrent stare in disbelief, frozen. Deer with only other deer to fear.

By this point there is far too much screaming for anyone to hear the airport’s intercom. “Please stay calm,” the disembodied voice says anyway, flat with the conviction that it can’t compel a soul now.

 


 

Hours later, a family are huddled together in a fortified restroom entrance, walled in by chairs and baggage. The two boys’ faces flicker by the light of the blazing fire that used to be a Sbarro.

The mother glances around the corners, grimacing in the direction of a bloody pile where a police uniform lies in tatters over a mangled body. “I bet there’s a radio.”

The father nods. “Not a bad idea, hon. I’ll keep watch.” He hefts a home-made spear fashioned from a walking stick and a barbecue tool set.

She touches his cheek, and then lurches out past the baggage, as one of the boys grasps for her hand. “Mom, no! Be careful!”

Ducking fast, and staying close to the soot-stained wall, she eyes the infinite gates stretching past the roaring Sbarro fire. Nobody in sight. Far off, the sound of screaming, or maybe laughter. Behind her, towards the dead end terminal they came from, most of the lights have been broken. But no motion in the shadows there, either. Just bodies, quietly lying. She shudders, and looks at the body.

Grimacing, she kicks at the belt. Nothing. Empty holster, of course. But she grabs the heavy flashlight and sticks it in her waistband. “Stupid of them to leave that,” she mutters. “Radio must be on his chest.” Before rolling him over, she looks both directions again. Nothing moving.

As she pulls the body over, a sudden radio squawk makes her push it away with a sickening thunk. But that sound means the radio is still working. She grabs it, squeezes and yells, “Help us!”

Static fills the air. And then a voice cuts through. “Excuse me ma’am, this is a police channel.”

“I know. The, umm… the officer is dead. It’s total chaos here. Let me get back to, uhh, to cover. Call you back.” She flips the radio back off and hustles back to the wall, cradling it.

Her husband steps out and watches for movement as she ducks back behind their little fort. “What’s going on?” she asks into the radio, as he squeezes her hand and pinches his lips together.

“Sorry,” the voice on the other end crackles. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, but… I can’t help you. I’m locked in a radio room.”

“What’s going on out there? Is it like this… everywhere?”

“Pretty much. Some kind of high-tech nanotech mumbo-jumbo destroyed all the guns. Now there’s no guns anywhere, no way to protect ourselves, so we just gave up. There’s a few good police still trying to work how they can, but…”

“But what?”

“The federal government sent in marines armed with bows and arrows. They’re taking over all the states one by one like this. First, they get the guns. Then, they take over in the inevitable chaos.”

One of the kids yanks on her sleeve. “Mommy, why did God take away all the guns?”

She looks down, wiping a tear from her eye. “God didn’t take the guns, sweetie. THE MAN took all the guns.”

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