1) The Second Coming By Ashley Bowline
MOMMA SAYS the devil comes down on children that don't eat their green beans. I keep five cans under my bed and put back more when I'm down to two. I eat one green bean a day, and it keeps me holy. I ain't going to hell--even though I steal gum from Nanny's purse on Sundays and sometimes only eat half a bean. Momma says Jesus is coming again, so I've decided that I have a good chance of being him. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see the light all around me; I think my holy glow is beginning.
Yep, at 10, I will start to save the world, and I'll tell everyone the good news that I'm here.
The first thing I'd do as Jesus is get momma a house that don't leak. Dad always promised to buy her a new house, but he lies. He'd be the next person I'd find, the bastard, and hit him with some lightning or use my halo to bind his arms and legs and throw him to a pool of sharks.
That's if I could find him. We haven't heard from him since he got out.
I'd probably make my sister an angel, that's if she keeps sharing her tape recorder. When she's selfish, acting like a sinner, I say I'll call the demons on her. Anyway, she'd make an all right-looking angel. She's got these crazy blonde curls that would fit right in on all those silly Christmas cards. She wouldn't be holding a stupid harp though. She'd have a harmonica. She loves that damned thing, the one dad gave her 'fore he left.
The LOVE: DADDY sticker is still there but smeared from her fingers.
Next, I'd make momma an Archangel. She's good with the scraped knees and can pull a Band-Aid off without a hurt. Maybe she'd take care of all the kids that get killed and go to heaven, like my brother, Sidney. If I'd known I was Jesus last year, then I coulda saved him, but I've only been eating my beans for seven months.
Momma'd be real happy to see Sidney. We all miss him because he was so nice to everyone. If he was still alive, then he'd a made a better Jesus than me. Everyone would still think so 'cause he use to wave at everyone, and they waved back. You can always tell you're popular by the number of waves you get. I don't wave. It don't matter 'cause Jesus is the most fucking popular guy in the world anyway.
Who woulda guessed he'd show up today. When I saw his ugly face at the door I ran for the gun. Momma saves it for burglars, but I figured he was worse than that. Anyway, I did it. He bled a lot. Momma won't like having to clean it up, and it'll probably stain. I'm waiting till she gets home, but I'm not worried much--I had my green bean this morning.
2) Skin Trade By Lynn Watson
A COPY of Playboy magazine dangles from his hand. He's fallen asleep, his naked body half-covered by the cowboy blanket--all spurs and rope. His member is hidden, luckily, from view. Because I'm not supposed to be here in his room. I'm not supposed to be waking him up for school. He's my older brother and tall enough to be popular, big enough to play high school football. I am the short kid sister, still unkissable, the imprint of braces making me untouchable. I've done my best solitary snake-in-the-grass trick of inching the doorknob open so quietly he hasn't heard me. He's making love to the naked body of the woman falling off the right side of his bed. Her thighs bulge over the edge of the mattress, her legs rolling towards the floor. He's made love to her before. There's not an inch of her body he hasn't touched.
I'm in trouble. I'm in as much trouble as if she were his sweetheart and I'd walked in on them kissing on the couch. My only hope is to shut the door as silently as I opened it. Otherwise, I'm dog food. I'm a welterweight punching bag. He'll pound me into ground round, sure I won't keep my mouth shut. I tiptoe on the linoleum, a diagonal pattern of fleur-de-lis. The floor creaks. I freeze, then take another step. I'll never walk into his room again, unannounced.
Behind the bedroom door, behind the barn, my brother conducts his secret rituals, dealing shares in the skin trade. It's better than algebra or conversational French. He makes sure the knife is sharp, the blade thin, so the marks he makes won't be noticed in gym class or football practice. Under the arms, inside the thighs, he carves himself, editing out the pieces of his life that don't work. No one sees him cry.
The nude woman completes her descent as I close his bedroom door, her head flopping forward to meet her feet. She's whole again, unexposed. She'll be good for another ride, tonight.
3) Jeremy By Nan Rad
I MET HIM at a party at the grange on an extremely cold Humboldt night, given by an activist group in that Christmas spirit of only caring about your common man once a year. There were mounds of crab, chicken wings, French bread. But for some reason no one was eating. Maybe they were on acid.
I saw drums. That's always scary because that could only mean one thing--drum circle. And to me, that means to get the hell out. I could tell it would be hard to pull Zoe away from the party, but I did carry a gun for those special occasions.
"Hey--aren't you going to at least stay and smoke pot with me?"
It was one of those charming, housing-challenged men. He looked like Keanu Reeves, except dirtier, fewer teeth, and sores all over his arms. His name was Jeremy. I was dumbfoundedly smitten. God knows what attracts people, maybe it was that smell of garbage around him ... but I'm sure it was his brown eyes. They reminded me of a wild animal's. They were the eyes of someone who had been to the edge and back, then back to the edge for some more. Wolf eyes.
Face cast toward the clear December sky, Jeremy explained in a sort of Jim Morrison immaculately stoned way, "I'm a nomad. I prefer to be called nomad rather than homeless. I'm so free."
I want him. Fleeting thought.
I gave him my number when the dope was gone.
"Thanks," Jeremy shouted.
"Are you nuts?" said Zoe, the one who has a boyfriend who is a bisexual heroin addict with a pierced tongue.
When I arrived home Jeremy called to meet him up at Moonstone Beach. I grabbed my sleeping bag and Mexican backpack and headed out the door.
My mind was devoid of all thoughts as I arrived at the beach, because if I had any thoughts, like the logical Vulcan types, I wouldn't have been doing this.
I spotted the lone campfire. My hormones caught the scent of the wolf.
We mated that night. Wolfstyle.
He told me his tale, as I clung to his long, elegant, and filthy body. He did a "little" speed and he owned no socks.
After that night, I encountered Jeremy once more, hitchhiking on Highway 101. I pulled over, recognizing his loping walk. His thumb wasn't out, but I knew he needed a ride.
He wanted a ride to a motel in downwardly mobile Eureka to "save" one of his many girlfriends. It was reassuring to know that I wasn't the only woman that was unwittingly drawn to him. I was definitely the only one with a job.
We looked at each other, held each other. I had gotten used to the smell by now. We kissed. Jeremy took off the brown beaded necklace he had on. "Merry Christmas." He put the necklace over my neck and tumbled toward the hotel.
His fur was still entangled on the clasp of the beads.
Coincidences and strange encounters.
Honorable mention Gator Hole By Marty Hamburger
THE SMELL OF ROT was thick and sweet; she gulped her breath. She gagged and vomited, recognizing the noise that awoke her. She opened her eyes, but the dark was thicker than the stench.
She panicked, struggled, and screamed as a nightmare became reality. She felt the mud, heard it sucking on her arms and chest. Her stomach seized in a wave of claustrophobia. It was the same feeling she had when she was little, trying to get the kittens from the big pipe under Grandmother's driveway. Stuck to the waist, her arms at her sides, she wriggled herself free that time. Now the movement only stirred up the fumes, fresh stink, and another wave of vomiting. She rested her face in the bile and remembered having lunch with the cute boy from work.
She became aware of water. The rushing sound filling her head began making sense. It was the river, but now she was 10 years old at the family reunion. Diving in the murky water, she could hold her breath longer than any of the cousins. She reached the bottom and held on to a rock to stay in place. The sounds of boat motors and splashing swimmers surrounded her in that dark place. When her head broke the surface, the entire family had gathered at the shore to look for her drowned body. She got a good whipping for "pulling that stunt."
The sudden throbbing of her leg ripped the nostalgia from her mind. She gasped, but the air was a rancid sock shoved in her mouth. She had nothing left to puke, but the retching didn't stop for a long time. When it did, she remembered walking with the boy along the bank of the river.
Terror instead of bile jumped into her throat this time. Her mouth opened in the gape of a horrible sob that never came, just convulsed her body.
There hadn't been enough time to react as the alligator lunged from the water. The boy grabbed her hand to run, but she slipped on the grass. The alligator bit her leg to the bone, then dragged her scuttling backwards towards the river. The boy came back, reached for her too late.
She spun in a death roll; the alligator pirouetted to kill her. She held her breath as the flesh tore from her leg. She was dragged to the bottom. She remembered the twisting and shoving, being pushed into dark space. She knew the habits of alligators. She was stored away under the water, left to rot and become easier to eat later.
In the pitch black, she didn't know how long she had been in that putrid hole, but the terror shook her to life. With a final breath of foul air, she kicked and pushed.
The mud tried to hold her, but relented with a doleful sucking sound; she floated free.
Honorable mention The Little Metamorphosis By Jeff Elder
MR. MAN AWAKENED one morning and discovered that one part of his body had turned into a microphone.
He went to the bathroom to pee. It made a very loud sound.
Curious, and oddly stimulated, he touched himself. Such an ear-splitting screech of amplified feedback wailed through his apartment that he threw his hands up as though he were being held at gun point. He looked warily around, blushing deeply.
Mr. Man got dressed for work and walked out onto the street. A theater technician walked up to him, unzipped Mr. Man's pants, tapped on the microphone several times, and said, "TESTING."
The technician looked at someone in the distance and jerked his thumb up several times, calling for an increase in something. Then the technician left.
A smirky stand-up comedian approached Mr. Man, pulled the microphone from his pants, and began telling jokes.
"Is it just me," the comedian asked passersby, "or is this microphone a little bit Freudian? I'll tell you one thing--it's more of a microphone than a megaphone, if you know what I mean."
Mr. Man stood by, uncomfortable. He was afraid that if he objected, the comedian might make more fun of him.
Next, Mr. Man did a news break with an anchorman. "Very professional," the anchorman intoned after the broadcast. "Good acoustics and a tidy circumcision."
Mr. Man did a dance mix with a rap group, which made him feel macho and excited. And he did a radio show with a shock jock. That show was low key and bawdy, so Mr. Man just relaxed and hung loose.
After his big day of amplified and private exposure, Mr. Man returned home tired and went to bed early. He entertained notions of braving the feedback, of playing a whole screeching Jimi Hendrix national anthem. But instead he left the microphone alone and went to sleep.
He dreamed that a mute woman was talking to him in sign language. Silently she spoke with hands, which at times fluttered like doves and at times struck like hammers. This is what she said:
"Mr. Man, you have disappointed me sexually, not by doing too little as you always feared but by doing far too much. Sex should be a hummingbird, a purple rose, a single drop of honey. You have made it a nauseating professional wrestling match of absurd tauntings, corporeal hurtlings, and counterfeit results.
"I am changing you back now, because we have much to do. But I expect you to go slowly, to go carefully, and with the delicate humility of a pardoned prisoner on his very first morning of liberty."
When Mr. Man awoke, his private parts had returned to normal. But throughout his life, on this very same day, sometimes he would awaken to find that his feet were cars, or that his hands were telephones, or that his body was a shopping mall, or his head a television.
From the October 15-21, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.