The day she left we forgot to take out the trash. At five-thirty in the morning, I heard the city trucks lumbering down the street with their mechanical, prehensile arms and remembered that we had forgotten to take out the trash. I didn’t care though. I knew that in a few hours I would help load the last of her boxes into the truck, and she would leave. Everything was expanding without me, and I felt like the room was growing until I was lost in and filled with its great, grey nothing.
Category: Drama Page 2 of 6
John was born with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, and he often wondered why. But as a boy, it was simply wonderful to have those abilities. He could lift his father’s tractor overhead before he learned to read. He could outrace a galloping horse. He couldn’t be cut or bruised or burned. He could fly…
“Get out of sight, Joe.” He hustled into the shop and locked himself in the bathroom. The first cruiser that pulled up had Frank Boone riding shotgun. Less than a minute later, the sidewalk was swarming with cops.
When me and Joe got home from Vietnam, we went into business together, cutting hair. Bought a little shop in the old neighborhood and been there ever since. Back then, wisecracking Harlem barbers weren’t a cliche yet — at least not south of 110th Street.
I nestle the video camera on its makeshift tripod, carefully centering my daughter’s image. She tucks her hair behind her ear and gives a strained smile. She is sixteen, and that hair is long and golden–kissed light brown and straight; she has the gangly grace only teenagers have, that sleek gazelle form. She is wearing khaki shorts and a striped tank top, and the bite mark on her arm is already putrefying.
I spent last summer crawling through The Big Thicket with cameras and tape recorder, photographing and taping two of the last ivory-billed woodpeckers on the earth. You can see the films at your local Audubon Society showroom. This year I wanted something just as flashy but a little less taxing.
Perhaps a population study on the Bermuda cahow, or the New Zealand takahe. A month or so in the warm (not hot) sun would do me a world of good. To say nothing of the advance of science. I was idly leafing through Greenway’s Extinct and Vanishing Birds of the World. The city bus was winding its way through the ritzy neighborhoods of Austin, stopping to let off the chicanas, black women, and Vietnamese who tended the kitchens and gardens of the rich.
This week the Drabblecast Presents “Happy Old Year” by Tim Pratt.
Tim is a regular Drabblecast contributor, bringing us such classics as Postapocalypsemas, Rangifer Volans, and fan-favorite Morris and the Machine. He also runs a Patreon page where you can read and download a new, unpublished story from Tim every month for a little as a dollar. Why not check it out?
This year, instead of our usual Tim Pratt Christmas special, we decided to run with a New Years Eve them—something new… and something old. Lots of old. Maybe too much. Because in this story, nostalgia can be a cancer that lasts forever.
The night I met Elsie I was up on the roof of my apartment building with a bottle of Kentucky Gentleman, because it’s sort of like bourbon, but cheaper, and better at blotting out reality. Technically it wasn’t “my” building anymore since I’d been evicted and had to be gone by morning if I didn’t want sheriff’s deputies to dump all my possessions out on the sidewalk. Joke was on them — what possessions? Everything I could sell, I already had, in a vain attempt to keep up with rent. What remained was so crappy I couldn’t even give it away on Craigslist.
IT HAPPENED IN BRYANT PARK, a little after six o’clock in the evening. He was sitting by himself in lamp shadow amongst the trees, at one of the rickety green metal tables along the north side, close to where the Barnes & Noble library area is during the day. He was warmly dressed in nondescript, casual clothing and sipping from a Starbucks in a seasonally red cup, acquired from the outlet on the corner of Sixth, right opposite one of the entrances to the park. He queued, just like any normal person: watching through the window you’d have no idea of who he was, or the power he wielded over this and other neighborhoods.
Ford, the physicist, glanced at General LeRoy. The general had that quizzical expression on his face, the look that meant he was about to do something decisive.
“Would you like to see the problem first-hand?” the general asked, innocently.
The CIA man took a quick look at his wristwatch. “O.K., if it doesn’t take too long. It’s late enough already.”
“It won’t take very long, will it, Ford?” the general said, getting out of his chair.
“Not very long,” Ford agreed. “Only a lifetime.”
My last night of childhood began with a visit home. T’Gatoi’s sister had given us two sterile eggs. T’Gatoi gave one to my mother, brother, and sisters. She insisted that I eat the other one alone. It didn’t matter. There was still enough to leave everyone feeling good. Almost everyone. My mother wouldn’t take any. She sat, watching everyone drifting and dreaming without her. Most of the time she watched me.
It is July 31, your birthday, and I can’t reach you. I’ve been trying all day, but the cell networks are down, the internet is down. I even tried a pay phone–there are two left in town that I know of, and I collected all of my change and walked to the 76 in the village. It was on fire. I watched it for a while from a distance as it painted a brown, toxic streak across the sky. It was a long walk back to the house, or what’s left of it. My feet hurt, and it was too quiet.
The air conditioning only worked when the speedometer crept past 70 MPH which the lumbering GMC van (on loan from a friend of a friend who took pity on the family and their situation) rarely did. November in the South is hardly hot, but thirteen hours in any vehicle with nearly a half dozen relatives and mismatched belongings, each one trying to both curl and crowd themselves into their claimed seats had left the air warm and slick and smelling faintly of musk.
There was nothing to indicate the fact but the white hand of the tiny gauge on the board before him. The control room was empty but for himself; there was no sound other than the murmur of the drives — but the white hand had moved. It had been on zero when the little ship was launched from the Stardust; now, an hour later, it had crept up. There was something in the supply closet across the room, it was saying, some kind of a body that radiated heat…
Samuel sat on the balcony, enjoying the fading light of day. When the ventilator pushed air into his lungs, he savored the salt brine from the sea. He pretended that he had control over breath, but it was much a fantasy as adjusting his wheelchair….
Between 1347 and 1450 AD, bubonic plague overran Europe, killing some 75 million people. The plague, dubbed the Black Death because of the black pustules that erupted on the skin of the afflicted, was caused by a bacterium now known as Yersinia pestis. The Europeans of the day, lacking access to microscopes or knowledge of disease vectors, attributed their misfortune to an angry God. Flagellants roamed the land, hoping to appease His wrath. “They died by the hundreds, both day and night,” Agnolo di Tura tells us. “I buried my five children with my own hands . . . so many died that all believed it was the end of the world.”
Today, the population of Europe is about 729 million…
Every few day-cycles, it receives hate-scented lace in anonymous packages. It opens the bland plastic envelope to pull one out, holding the delicate fragment between two forelimbs. Contemplating it before folding it again to put away in a drawer. Four drawers filled so far; the fifth is halfway there.
“Traitor,” say some of the smells, rotting fruit and acid. “Betrayer. Turncoat. One who eats their own young.” Others are simply soaked in emotion: hate and anger, and underneath the odor of fear. It lets the thoughts, the smells, the tastes fill it, set its own thoughts in motion. Then it goes downstairs and sits with the other whores, who make room uneasily for it.
Don’t call me anything at all. Give me my pint of piss-poor ale and leave me be in this yellowed corner where men relieve themselves when they are too lazy to make three extra stumbling steps to the streets of Nantucket. I am done. Finished. Come to this hole to die—and if you insist on speaking to me, I’ll find a deeper hole than this dying excuse of a whaling town can offer…