5:31am, part 4

Tommy’s heart was racing as his shaking hand moved closer to the chest of the corpse.

“How did this guy bite the dust?” one of the students asked. There was laughter, followed by a few fevered whispers.

“Excellent question, Terrance,” Zhang said. “But, if I gave you that answer right away, what would compel you to explore further? For instance, you would never know that he was a single father, ashamed of his circumstances. He liked to drink.” Zhang looked around the classroom expectantly.

“Maybe he died of cirrhosis?!” another student guessed loudly, causing Tommy to jolt forward and stab the corpse just to the left of its heart. A stream of blood squirted onto his fresh white t-shirt. Tommy looked down in disgust, vomiting a little in his throat for the second time that day, which then dribbled onto his shirt with aplomb.

“Well, you can’t go through the rest of the school day looking like that. I don’t think Principal Harrington would approve. Go home and change, maybe take a hot bath.” The classroom laughed. Tommy was blushing, he knew it, and decided to leave the room with his head down.

“So, the previous diagnosis was incorrect. Alcoholism can strain the heart and lead to either cardiac arrest or a stroke, or a number of other life-threatening ailments,” Zhang was saying. “In this case…”

Tommy was tuning the rest out. He was out in the empty halls again, following the faded pattern of shoe marks on the light blue tiled floor.  The day started off well enough, but eventually went to shit in a rectangular wooden box. As Tommy’s cheeks stopped feeling hot, he rapidly stopped feeling embarrassed. He remembered being ashamed before, but only when one of his biological processes had been betrayed. When those went away, when he felt no one could no longer see them, he was no longer nervous. What that unusual?

Before heading home, Tommy stopped by the nurse’s office. She smiled at him and handed him a plain white t-shirt. For some reason, white t-shirts were considered a first aid staple. Maybe they thought that various injuries meant torn clothing. And Principal Harrington wanted to make sure that everyone looked neat and tidy. It was a dress code that allowed for diversity in styles, but rips of any kind were a definite no-no.

But why not stock some kind of clothing for the lower half of your body? Which would make sense since teenagers were looking down there most of the time anyway. Tommy was pondering the various ins and outs of the school policy as he walked out of the school’s front doors. Another day down in Middletown High, Tommy thought. But it seemed like there would be an infinite number more, that high school would never cease. Tommy didn’t have any special attachment to the next four years, it was just that he couldn’t think beyond them. Also, the days had a peculiar sameness to them despite being filled with near absolute chaos.

The rain had mostly stopped and had been downgraded to a mere drizzle. Tommy looked up at the white-greyish sky and smiled for some reason. Couldn’t figure out why. He had been humiliated, but had decided to ruminate about the fact that the future seemed like a vague monster to him to compensate. There Tommy was again, standing in the middle of biology class, watching as the entire class laughed at the modest pool of vomit as it turned to form some sort of crust on his shirt. So, what was there to smile about?

Well, he was alone at last, had a fresh t-shirt, and was on his way home. Tommy was already looking forward to that effervescence inspiring fzz-t of a can of Coke being opened. Maybe he would collapse into his dad’s recliner, watch CNN and root for those “damn liberals.” But, Tommy didn’t really care about liberals vs. conservatives even though it was an election year. Bill Clinton seemed okay, and then there was that other guy.

Tommy was still several blocks away from home when he saw it. A decapitated rabbit was gracing the sidewalk with its presence, its bodily fluids leaking out and cleansing the pavement of urban filth.

 

5:31am, part 3

Everyone was talking about the hottest new metal band at lunch, called Pinkie Nail Throat Scrape. Apparently, it was the greatest swell of concentrated darkness since Tommy’s favorite band, Death&Carnage, had releases their last album. As Tommy handed his dirty tray to the nondescript lunch lady, he experienced a whiff of nostalgia. Death&Carnage had gotten him through a lot of difficult times, and would probably help him through many more. But maybe he would give PNTS a chance when things became stale with the old gods.

Tommy waved goodbye to Kevin and the gang. They were his “lunch friends” and after the last tater had faded, so to did their smiles and a broader camaraderie he had a hard time finding anywhere else, tbh. Kevin flipped Tommy off as he was leaving, he was pretty sure at least, but he didn’t mind. The way Tommy figured it, if you didn’t play football, you had to show that you were a man somehow. And what better way to do it than to flip someone off when their back was turned?

The post-lunch diaspora was quickly pouring into the rooms and leaving the hallways empty and lonely. Tommy kept his sights on the few stragglers left. He didn’t like it when the corridors were empty. As much as he found people mildly irritating, they helped distract him from his thoughts.

Tommy made it before the door to biology class shut everything in like a tomb. Mr. Zhang gave him a wry glance as he sat down near the window. Rain still blanketed everything in sporadic sheets, and wind seemed to rattle everything, as if the weather was trying to have a voice or something.

“Almost late again, Tommy. You like playing it close. I like that,” Zhang said with a wink. Somehow, despite being an elderly gentlemen in his early sixties, he managed to never come across as creepy. Still, what was it about Tommy that made older dudes wink at him?

“Alright, settle down, children,” Zhang said with a brilliant smile. “I have a surprise for everyone. I’ve been waiting for a package to arrive for weeks, and today it finally showed up.” Zhang walked toward what looked like a closet door and opened it. He disappeared for a couple minutes while the class whispered and chuckled to themselves. As Tommy was about to doze off, Zhang emerged with a wooden box trailing behind him.

“The morgue finally agreed to send this over today,” Zhang stopped in the middle of the room, rubbing the box theatrically. “I’ve been teaching ungrateful teens for over thirty years, and it occurred to me that if you want to get developing minds interested in science, in biology, you have to present to them a specimen that is relatable!”  Zhang opened the lid, revealing the corpse of a forty year old man. The class let out a collective gasp.

“But, Mr. Zhang, how can we relate to this. It’s dead!” the class clown, a boy named John, asked.

Zhang waved the comment away dismissively. “Sure, it’s dead. But one day at some vague point in the future, you will be too. And dead doesn’t mean inactive. Everything is in the process of decay, tissue is breaking down. Molecules disperse. What have you done recently that can compare with that?” at that the class laughed. John was no match for Zhang, it was true. Tommy admired the man’s scathing wit.

“Well, Tommy?” Zhang said, turning to him and holding out a scalpel. “Have you ever seen a human heart?” Tommy perked up a bit. Everything had been unpredictable and somewhat absurd lately, but this was truly something out of the ordinary. Tommy felt a shiver bounce up and down his spine. There was mystery here. What was the man’s name? Was the cause of death mundane or unusual? What color were his boxers?

5:31am, Part 2

Tommy trudged his way up to the third floor, wondering what history class had in store for him. Mr. Milton was always full of surprises, like that Hoover/panzer tank thing. For every step, Tommy tried to think of a ludicrous statement Milton had made or some bizarre association he had subjected the class to, but he couldn’t remember them all. Tommy just shook his head semi-affectionately, as if he had known the teacher for years, when in reality it had been about a month. Teachers didn’t last very long at Middletown High. Milton practically seemed like one of the old guard.

As soon as Tommy entered the room, a cloud of confetti burst in his face.

“You’ve just been blitzkrieg’d, Mr. Thomas!,” said Mr. Milton.

Wiping the confetti off his face, Tommy muttered something and sat at his desk in the back of the room.

“Oh no, you don’t!,” Mr Milton elevated his voice. “Slackers such as yourself sit in the front of the class.” Tommy complied sluggishly. At least he got to sit next to the window whose other side was being battered by the elements. For some reason, he found that soothing.

Tommy was zoning in and out, the boredom almost eating him alive until Mr. Milton called on him by lightly scraping his cheek with a ruler.

“You’re content to stay behind the scenes, eh, Mr. Thomas?” Mr. Milton said. Tommy had to suppress the urge to punch this ragged looking sham of an educator. He actually preferred it when teachers used his last name. He fucking hated “Thomas.”

“Well? What was President Andrew Jackson known for?” asked Milton.

“His wife was called a bigamist. She might have died because of it. Oh, and he was the seventh president of the United States…”

“Those weren’t the facts I was looking for, Mr. Thomas. You’ll be staying after class.”

Tommy just shrugged. He would simply explain that there was a class following this one. Not much time for lectures from the halfwit educator class. Why would you willingly teach high school students? Milton was either sick or had some cognitive impairment. Still. Tommy tried not to judge. Everyone was struggling and had their own ailments to tend to.

Sure enough, the end of class came, and Tommy weaseled out of talking to the man. Saying there were “problems at home” helped it along. Tommy was almost depressed that it had been that easy.

The lunch bell rang, a peculiar sound, as if five whales had died at the same time, their death rattles short and to the point, but still beautiful and chorus like. Tommy shuffled his way to the lunch room on the bottom floor. Everyone was so excited that they had gotten to eat so early. Tommy went through the line and snagged some taters, pizza, and orange juice. He decided to sit at his usual table. These people were insulated from the scheming of the popular people. They were vaguely there, on the precipice of “cool.”

Tommy just wanted to eat his taters, think about the rain, and what biology class had in store for him.

 

 

 

5:31am, part 1

The alarm went off like a blaring siren. Tommy vomited a little bit in his sleep before fully waking up. Looking over, he saw that the time was 5:31. Every morning he looked over and the clock read dutifully: 5:31.

Making his way downstairs, Tommy found the kitchen to be quiet. Mom & Dad had left for work, and Lamarr–the nickname he had given his little sister–was cooing in her crib still. He grabbed a cold waffle from the fridge, stuffing it into his mouth as he made his way to her room. As Tommy entered, he caught whiff of a full diaper. He changed it without thinking, then spun the circle of animals above her crib. She laughed, uninhibitedly and with some semblance of joy.

Tommy left the room smiling to himself. He realized he always looked forward to those morning visits with Lamarr. That little bundle of human meat laughed but didn’t talk much. Everyone was always talking at his school, or at home, or out on the street as they drank from whatever container was in vogue that day. He wasn’t angered at the fact that what they had said lacked substance, but more that it was a constant stream of information that he couldn’t filter out.

Swinging by the fridge, Tommy reached for the bottle of maple syrup on the top shelf. He took a few chugs of the viscous brown liquid and was out the door. His watch now read 5:48. That meant that the babysitter would arrive soon. Or at least, she should be. She was a college dropout with nothing better to do. & yet mom & dad decided that she was trustworthy enough to watch Lamarr. If anything happened to her, Tommy sweared to god…

…Anyway, it was a brilliant, sun-drenched morning. The grass was incredibly green but moved erratically whenever the wind decided that everything was too calm. A storm was coming, Tommy thought, even though the sky was a pure, reassuring blue. But it was a ways off. He hoped it would rain in history class at least. The pitter patter on the large windows would distract him from his flighty teacher. The man went from blah-blah-ing about President Hoover to the psychological warfare of panzer tanks in less than 60. What a jerk.

Tommy made it to the front doors of Middletown High only after he had been completely soaked by the rain. So much for “a ways off.” Brian was there, and Tommy smiled at the man with fake camaraderie. Brian had always fancied himself one of the “cool” people employed by Middletown High. He always gave Tommy a break. Never asked him for a hall pass or anything. But Tommy didn’t pretend to like him for that reason. No. Brian was a loser, the way he saw it, and Tommy felt sorry for him. He never really understood why.

“You’re not going to like this, man. History class is first. Room 304,” Brian handed Tommy his updated schedule. The schedules were usually updated daily, and when they weren’t, two or three days of routine seemed like hell on earth.

As Tommy started to walk away, Brian said “Hey!” and Tommy looked back.

“Yeah?” Tommy replied, forcing a smile.

“Got you a special surprise in your locker. I hear today is supposed to be a real kicker,” Brian said with a wink. “You’re gonna need it!” Tommy gave Brian a “cool” smile back, perpetuating the illusion of Brian’s continued relevance. Tommy didn’t view that cynically, though. Brian was sort of his friend, but one he preferred to keep at a distance.

 

 

The Bedlands, Part 4 #fiction #writing

Tabitha regretted her mean-spirited thoughts about Sebastian immediately after feeling her drool.  She was conscious now, and despising every second of it.

“You alright, Tab? Fuck, I was worried sick about you.”

She felt even worse now, and hated both herself and him in that moment.

“Yeah…what happened? You lose control of the wheel again?”

“Look, Tab, I swear, this giant steel wall came out of nowhere! The horizon went on for miles, and then…”

“You always say that.  Just help me up.”

Sebastian went over to Tabitha, and gently pulled her back from the dashboard, holding her to the seat so that she wouldn’t collapse into the same position again.  She took a few deep breaths, and her lungs bubbled with something known.  Not good.

“I’m not sure what the hell is going on, but it’s screwing with our plans.  We wanted to be on the other side of the bone pit by the end of the day.”

“I don’t care about bone pits.  I want cactus juice for this headache.”

Sebastian silently took some from his pocket, and anxiously watched her drink it.

“That’s it…put it all down.  You’ll feel better in no time!”

Tabitha tossed the half full bag into the wastes just to spite the old man.

“See what you made me do?! I needed that pouch!” Tabitha said, but stopped as she followed Sebastian’s eyes.  They were fixed on the ancient structure, as ancient as anything was in this place.  Wires and tubes stuck out all around the sides of the building, giving Sebastian a run for his money.

“Where did this thing come from? You were right Sebastian, I’m sorry.  This wasn’t your fault.”

Sebastian practically cooed.  “At least this gives us a chance to stretch our legs!”

Tabitha was annoyed again.  “I guess.  You find anything interesting while I was out?”

“It’s the second best thing I’m good at!  Follow me, but not too quickly…”

So, Tabitha followed Sebastian, nursing her aching head and watching as the sunset deepened.  She couldn’t help but think that they had, at most, three days left before there was the 45 minute a year darkness that swallowed everything.  You lost a limb if you were lucky.  They both had been exceptionally fortunate.

They went around the structure, Tabitha trying to remain patient at Sebastian’s slow waddling.  Eventually, they arrived at what looked like an old cemetery.  Mounds of crushed rock dominated the space, dug up bones were everywhere.  It had been pillaged.  Tabitha sighed.  She thought they had hit the jackpot, because even cemeteries were just treasure by a different name.

 

 

The Bedlands, Part 3

“The strip” was a curiosity of the bedlands, it was lined with abandoned military installations, and as a consequence radiated mystery and danger.  Sebastian was driving silently, out of respect.  Tabitha never feared this place, but she always appreciated the silence it delivered to her mobile home.  She would gladly take steel monoliths over the bones of dead reptile gods.

As they passed the last of the installations, Sebastian sprung to life, giving her an affable smile.

“You know, I have to admit, I respect the hell outta that place, the strip I mean, but it scares the shit outta me.”

“Yep, I know.  You’ve said that before.  I thought about it well before you said anything.  Guess that makes me a psychic, huh?”

Sebastian looked over at Tabitha in anger, but didn’t say anything.  She was accurate with her pistol, and there was no way to deny that without putting your life in jeopardy.  She was concentrating on the sunset, which was currently in its 300th day.

“The night will come soon, in another day or two, and then you’ll see I’m right about some things.”

They were faced with a flat patch of desert.  There was nothing except cacti and dunes for miles.  Maybe the odd rattlesnake eating a titmouse.  Sebastian glanced over at Tabitha right before he crashed the buggy into a steel wall.

“Dammit, Sebastian,” Tabitha said before passing out.  She wanted to say “fuck you” but didn’t have the strength nor the awareness to do so.  Let the old man dance on his victory, his moment will come.