Necropsy

Necropsy
By Geofrey C Porter

The meal steamed. The seven-year-old boy, Mathew, wore his lucky red hat, despite that being against dinner rules. He sat leaning forward into the table clutching knife and fork. His eight-year-old sister, Heidi, was in her pink dress with yellow flowers. She sat across from him with darting eyes shifting between the rib roast and the front door. Jerry, their dad, took off his apron and tossed it in the general direction of the kitchen. The front door opened, and in stepped Beth with wide eyes. She wore a tight gray business suit that showed off her well formed body.

The children shouted, “Mom!”

Jerry said, “Hi, honey.”

She waved her hand at the spread of food. “What’s this?”

“I got a raise.”

“You didn’t tell me!” Beth said as she tossed her purse onto the mantle. “You bought all this food!”

“It only kicked in two weeks ago. The prime rib was on sale, honey, and the kids never get enough meat in their diet.”

Beth shook her finger at her husband. “They get meat at least once if not twice a week.”

Jerry sighed. “Ground beef hardly counts.”

She breathed in the smell of the food. “I watch our—“

“Let’s eat!” The young boy said.

Jerry started slicing half-inch thick steaks off the rib roast and doling them out to everyone. Beth sat down and tucked a napkin in her shirt collar. The kids reached for rolls, green beans, and mashed potatoes all in turn. Their dad cut his portion of the succulent fare into bite sized cubes before taking his first taste.

Jerry said, “I forgot the milk.”

The kids nodded and chewed.

Jerry got up and started filling glasses.

Kitler, Beth’s Siamese cat, jumped onto the table. The feline stole up a bite of pre-cut flesh off Jerry’s plate. He set two glasses of milk down in front of the kids. “Get that cat out of here.”

Beth speared a green bean with her fork. “Awww. He’s so cute. He thinks he’s human.”

Jerry got two more glasses of milk and sat down. “Shoo!”

The cat turned and hissed at him. Jerry reached for the cat, mistake number one. The cat swiped at him cutting into his finger with enough rip to draw blood. The cat took another bite of steak off Jerry’s plate. “Beth!”

She grabbed the cat and cuddled with it.

They ate their meal without the slightest pause for conversation.

The next morning, Beth looked into Jerry’s eyes and whispered, “I’ll be gone for two weeks.”

“It’s going to be hell for me, woman, but somehow the kids and I will try and survive.”

“You know my two cousins work shifts at the Mega-Lo-Mart, and my aunt and friend John work at Bill’s Market. If you buy meat, I’ll find out.”

“You’re going to have your family and friends watch for us?”

“There’s a half pound of ground beef in the freezer. You can eat that over the next two weeks. Have pizza delivered once, and pick up fast food once. Otherwise the meals are all planned out in the computer.”

Jerry let out a little whimper.

Beth said, “The kids have to eat healthy!”

“I want real food!”

Beth kissed him on the lips. “Meat is too expensive. It’s terrible for the environment. It’s loaded with fat and cholesterol. We’re trying to save up money, remember?”

“No meat,” Jerry said.

Beth crawled out of bed, and the whole family dropped her off at the airport. The first night of sleeping alone went well. Kitler the cat moaned all night and clawed at Jerry’s feet.

In the morning, Jerry was greeted with the wet, cold, greasy feeling of poop in his slipper. He found a similar present in his left shoe when he put it on to leave the house. The second night the cat clawed and moaned even more, and Jerry didn’t sleep. He came to the simplest of decisions.

After waiting for the kids to go to sleep, he set a plate on the table. Making eating motions and sounds with an empty fork, he waited for the feline.

The cat jumped onto the table.

Jerry went into the kitchen under the sink and pulled out the rat poison bait. He filled his plate. The cat feasted. Jerry slept better than he could even remember.

The next morning, Mathew grabbed at his leg. “Dad!”

Jerry opened his eyes.

“The cat is dead!” The child exclaimed.

Jerry smiled. “Are you sure, boy?”

“I think so.”

Jerry climbed out of bed and donned a robe. “Show me.”

The cat was in the hallway. The young girl stood over the corpse. “I think he’s dead, Dad.”

Jerry poked Kitler with his toe. It didn’t move.

“Are they going to do an autopsy?” The girl asked.

Jerry paused.

The boy reached down to touch the corpse and then pulled away. “What killed him?”

Something clicked in Jerry’s mind. Better him than a vet. “Yes, an autopsy is in order. Mathew, run and grab the big cutting board and put it on the kitchen table. Heidi, get me the big knife.”

Both kids took off running.

Jerry picked the cat up and carried it into the dining room. The boy set the cutting board on the table, and Jerry put the cat on it. The girl approached with the big knife.

Jerry took the knife and lopped the cat’s head off with a crunch of the blade.

Mathew said, “Ewww.”

Jerry cut along the cat’s belly and peeled the skin down to the paws. Then, with four quick motions, he cut the beast’s legs off and discarded the skin and paws. Off came the tail.

Heidi said, “Ouch.”

Jerry slit open the cat’s guts and pointed to various organs. “See, here are the lungs. This is the liver. Everything a cat needs.”

He pulled the intestines out and plopped them on the cutting board. He held the carcass up.

Heidi whispered, “It looks like a rabbit from the butchers.”

Mathew shook his head back and forth. “It looks exactly like a rabbit!”

Jerry’s right eye twitched.

The children looked at each other with slowly growing grins.

Jerry’s hands did this spasm thing for a few moments. “We could…”

“Yes!” Mathew said.

“We should marinate it in soy sauce and brown sugar like we do kabobs,” Heidi said with a vicious grin that she should be saving for her teen years.

They soaked the cat overnight in marinade. They started the rotisserie at three o’clock and feasted at five.

Jerry’s sleep was so calm it was like he set his head on the pillow and drifted off in an instant to pleasant, warm dreams of mountains of chocolate.

Beth returned home. It didn’t take her long to notice her cat was gone. She found Jerry in the living room. “Where’s Kitler?”

Jerry frowned. “He passed away, honey. I meant to tell you.”

Beth cried. She lay awake that night while Jerry breathed. She lay there for hours. She noticed Jerry twitch a few times, and then break out into a tiny bit of song.

“I killed the cat. The cat is dead. Rat poison on the dinner plate. Hehe.”

Beth’s eyes went wide, and then they narrowed into tiny beads.

She didn’t sleep that night at all. The next night she didn’t sleep, but she heard Jerry’s sing-song again.

“The cat is dead. I killed the cat. Rat poison on the dinner plate. Hehe.”

She fell asleep after a few hours of tears.

The next night was the same thing, except he changed his tune just a bit.

“Feast on the cat. The cat tastes good. Rat poison on the dinner plate. Hehe.”

She went to the children. “Mathew, when Kitler died, what did your dad do?”

The young girl said, “Dad said it was a secret.”

“We had an autopsy,” the boy said. “Kitler was so tender. Are we going to get another cat?”

Beth looked from one child to the other giving each one a smile. “You ate Kitler?”

Mathew nodded.

Heidi shrugged.

Beth said, “Run along, children, and play.”

She went shopping. Concentrated pesticide was the only thing on her list. She found the strongest one and bought a gallon jug. Two teaspoons of the stuff ended up somehow in Jerry’s coffee the next morning.

“This coffee sure is strange today,” Jerry said. “Is the cream still good?”

Beth shook her head. “The cream is fine. It’s a new flavor. It was on sale.”

“What flavor is it?”

“The label fell off. That’s why it was on sale.”

Jerry took another sip. “It’s not bad.”

Beth smiled, and they went about their day.

Jerry ended up on the couch, moaning. Beth sat down and felt his forehead. She said, “I’ll get you a glass of orange juice.”

Two teaspoons of the pesticide ended up in the orange juice. He drank it down. “Thanks, honey. Thank god it’s a Saturday.”

She patted him on the head. Later that night, he lay in bed, moaning. She slept like a baby. She fixed his morning coffee up special. He drank it down with a glaze in his eyes.

She helped Jerry make it to the couch, and then she retired to their bedroom to read a novel. She made it to chapter seven.

Mathew came running in. “Dad’s on the floor!”

“Oh no!”

She marked her place in the book and followed the child into the living room. Jerry lay on the floor in a painful looking position.

Heidi nudged him on the arm. He didn’t move.

“Is he dead?” The boy asked.

“I’ll feel for a pulse.” Beth reached down and put her hand on his neck.

Thump… Thump…

She shook her head and pulled her hand back. “He’s dead.”

Heidi held her arms perfectly straight at her sides and looked up at her mom. “Are we going to have an autopsy?”

Beth had the simplest thought. Better me than a doctor. “Heidi, run and get the meat cleaver. Mathew, you know the black plastic gardening sheets in the shed?”

The kids darted away.

“You always say the kids don’t get enough meat in their diet,” Beth whispered.

The children returned with the goods. Beth spread the plastic out next to Jerry. She rolled him over onto it. He groaned.

Heidi pointed at the still body. “He’s alive!”

“Oh no, honey,” Beth said. “Dead things make noise when you move them. The lungs compress and expand is all. Here, I’ll check for a pulse again.”

Thump… Thump…

Beth frowned and let out a low sigh. “See, no pulse.”

Mathew rubbed the palms of his hands together. “Are we going to have a barbeque?”

Beth’s cheek twitched as she raised the meat cleaver over her head.

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The Raid

The Raid

By Geoffrey C Porter
I knew it was time. A few hours earlier, I ate my last package of Kahiki Chicken Fried Rice. I knew it was time for a trip to the frozen foods section of my favorite grocery store. The Kahiki Chicken Fried Rice was pivotal to my diet, yet I feared that the grocery store would be sold out as was often the case.

I drove across town passing by two inferior grocers on the way. I was on a mission, and I would not fail. The clock struck 2 A.M. as I stepped into the store.

I ditched and dodged past the sale displays of snack cakes and peanut butter cookies. I reached the frozen food section and cardboard boxes were stacked in front of the doors. I was closer to a brand I didn’t enjoy as much as Kahiki, so I pushed the boxes out of the way of the door and grabbed a variety of the inferior brand. I would eat just Kahiki, but variety is the spice of life.

I made my way to the section storing the Kahiki. Again boxes sat in my way to get into the freezer doors. I started moving the boxes out of the way. I didn’t see any General Tsos or Chicken Fried Rice, and I sighed. How will I survive?

Then my eyes wandered to the cardboard boxes.

I looked around. I was alone.

I ripped the tape off the top box and looked inside: Kahiki Sweet and Sour Chicken. I set that box off to the side. I opened the next box. I laughed maniacally, for the second box contained Kahiki Chicken Fried Rice. I stashed three packages in my basket. I moved the cardboard box to the side and opened the next box. I smiled when I read the label: General Tso’s.

I grabbed two packages and put them in my basket.

A voice snarled from behind me, “What do you think you’re doing?”

I turned to look. A tall Amazon with perky breasts and short brown hair stared at me with her hands on her hips. I have always fancied tall women. Well, in truth there were very few categories of women I didn’t fancy, but the tall ones were special to me.

I said, “What do you mean?”

“You’ve ruined my whole system!”

She had brown eyes and the cutest frown complete with dimples.

“I needed my Kahiki,” I said, with an attempt at a friendly smile.

“This is going to set me back hours! I’m going to have to stay late off the clock!”

I showed off my teeth. “I like you.”

“What?”

“I think you’re good looking…”

She glared at me. I moved a little closer to her. She didn’t back away. I was like, what the hell, so I kissed her.

She slapped me, which has been known to happen when you kiss strange girls.

She said, “I’m calling the cops!”

“What?”

“Yes, I’m calling the cops.”

“Why!”

“You just assaulted me!”

I smiled. “I could do it again.”

Her eyes opened wide, and she pulled a cell phone out of her pocket.

I took off in a run dropping my precious stockpile of frozen meals.

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The Pixie

The Pixie
By Geoffrey C Porter
The snake reached out to me with its forked tongue. It had black scales all along its back, but green scales adorned its underside. It seemed to shake its head and then twist and turn into the tall grass. I wondered what would come by next. That damn pixie cast some spell on me, and all I can do is sit here. Then I tried moving. It worked. I pushed myself to my feet, and a tingling sensation coursed through my feet and ankles, but it evaporated as the sun finished setting.

The autumn wind rustled through the trees, causing dead brown leaves to whisper to the ground here and there. I hadn’t eaten in ages, and I kept my eyes peeled for any sort of berry or fruit, edible or not.

I started hunting for dandelions. The pixie demanded two handfuls, claiming she needed it for wine. I found one yellow flower after another and kept at it until my pockets were full. After walking back to the ancient oak tree, I knocked on the trunk.

The tiniest little creature you could imagine maybe two inches tall with clear wings stepped out from behind the tree trunk. She had kind of pointy little breasts and wide hips. Her long and black hair was neatly arranged in a bow. She wore a well-tailored moleskin dress and high heeled boots. In a high pitched, loud voice, she screeched, “Did you get the dandelions?”

“Don’t hurt me!”

The creature glared. “I won’t if you do as I ask.”

“I did what you said. I got the dandelions.”

“Show me,” she said.

I started pulling the flowers out of my pockets in a great mass.

“Hand them to me one at a time, you idiot!”

I held out one flower. The pixie flew off the limb and grabbed it. She slid through a hinged door and came back out. She started to tap her foot. I shrugged.

“I need more than one!” She howled.

“Oh.” I held out another dandelion. She snatched it and went back through the door. She came back out. I held out another blossom.

This went on for some time. I handed over the last flower. She came back out of the door, and I started to back away. She flew up to my face and tapped me on the nose with her wand. I transformed into a rock.

Being a rock wasn’t so bad. I waited. Birds liked to perch on me, and of course inevitably, the birds didn’t seem to mind pooping on their perch. So I spent some time as a rock. It was very spiritual.

One day, the pixie returned, and tapped me again with her wand.

I morphed back into a human shape. Although I might not be human, mum always said my father was a goat, but that’s another story.

I looked at the pixie. She looked at me and smiled. She had stark white, pointy teeth, and a tanned complexion. I ran. The pixie was faster though and flew ahead of me and threatened me with the wand. I stopped running and started crying. “Please don’t hurt me! I’ve done everything you’ve asked!”

She shook her head. “You haven’t done enough! I need hawk eggshells.”

I wept. She kicked me in the eye.

“What was that for!” I yelled.

“If you’re going to cry,” she said, “I’ll give you something to cry about!”

I did my best back away routine.

She waved her wand. “Oh no you don’t.” She pulled out a little pipe, stuffed it with something, and lit it with a flintlock lighter. “You’ll get me some hatched hawk eggs first.”

“Then you’ll let me go?”

She rubbed at her chin.

“I’ll get you the hawk eggs, if you promise to let me go…”

“No deal. Get the eggs first then we talk.”

So, I started climbing trees and soon got pretty good at it, too. I found some hatched bird eggs. Not knowing if they were hawk eggs, I put them in a pouch anyway and lowered them by rope to the forest floor. I stumbled upon an apple tree and climbed until I found some ripe apples. My stomach was full for the first time in what seemed like years.

I went to the pixie’s tree and knocked. She answered with a wide smile on her face.

She selected one of the egg shells and went inside. She came back out with a yellow liquid in the shell. “Drink it!”

“I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me! Let me go!”

“Drink it, now!” She shouted.

“I went inside the volcano for ash. I found you newt claws. I did everything!”

“What I’ve done to you so far is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you, if you don’t drink the wine.”

I took the egg shell and chugged it. It tasted good. I started to shrink until I was no bigger than a pixie. I felt compelled to check on the size of my manhood, but then I realized I was in public with birds and chipmunks watching.

The pixie grabbed my hand. “Now we can get married.”

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Turtles & Rabbits

Turtles & Rabbits (by Geoffrey C Porter)

A version of this story was originally published by Bards and Sages Quarterly.

The ancient but timeless snapping turtle sat on a tree stump lecturing on the proper application of technique in writing. I sat listening and nodding, wondering if I would be allowed to speak anytime soon. The turtle went on to claim that he was a third generation linguistics expert, and his policies regarding technique were taught in all the best universities. My attention span for such things is limited, and I interrupted, “But, can’t I simply put pen to paper and etch the words out as they come to me?”

“Oh no,” the turtle said, “you must be inspired to plot out a great picture in the reader’s mind. You must paint a vivid canvas of colors and imagery. You cannot simply put down ideas and concepts. The writing must flow from word to word. You must assume your first draft is atrocious, and write a second draft, and finally a third draft. Some even go as far as to write a fourth or fifth draft.”

I had to interrupt again, “But, what if I’m careful, and I get it right the first time?”

The turtle cracked a wide smile, and there were bits of food stuck in his teeth. “You won’t get it right the first time. Nobody gets it right the first time. I’ve seen your first drafts, and you manage almost fifty errors per page.”

“But you’ve said in the past that the difference between a first draft and a second draft equates to improving the plot.”

“Yes, but would it hurt to fix the errors?”

“Publishers have armies of editors.”

“Will a publisher read past the first error?”

I paused at that. Would they?

The rabbit next to me whispered in my ear, “I got sex right the first time.”

“Sex and writing are two very different things!” The turtle said with a raised, high-pitched voice.

“For the reader, are they that different?” I asked. “I mean, you derive pleasure from both. Both should have a climax.”

“Writing is a skill that works like a muscle,” the turtle said. “There are countless exercises that will build up that muscle, and you must practice them everyday.”

I shook my head back and forth, thinking what kind of maroon does exercises? “But I want to write a new story every day. Isn’t that exercise enough?”

The turtle shot lasers out of his eyes at me and howled. “No! The exercises are more important than any story.”

I sighed. I had heard the turtle talk about exercises before, and those talks bored me to tears. I often wondered if I was interested in this writing class, but it was the only writing class in the forest.

The turtle’s eyes shifted from me to the other pupils. “Don’t aspire to be as good a writer as I am. Be content if you can write one decent story in your life. Someday, you might have a great epiphany and become a great writer, but until then, you must practice and revise.”

“But… I don’t want to revise old stories. I want to write new stories.”

The turtle turned back to face me and simultaneously slumped his shoulders down low. “I have read your old stories, and they aren’t very good. You need to apply the technique of imagery and detail to each one. You need to give your characters thoughts and emotions. It’s not good enough to create a solid plot or a bit of action. You must write each story as if a blind rabbit were reading it. You must detail every image and character.”

“But, if I’m writing for a blind turtle, it seems the imagery would matter less, for a blind man has never seen a blond haired, blue eyed wench. He doesn’t need to know what she looks like. My characters are defined by their actions.”

The turtle laughed a happy little chuckle. “That’s the key to the imagery and sensory detail, for you must make a blind person see. You’ll have arrived as a writer when you can make a blind man see and a hard man cry.”

My eyes opened wide enough that they almost fell out. They almost did. “I’m a simple rabbit. I don’t want to make a blind man see, or a hard man cry; that is the work of miracles.”

“You will never be a writer.”

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The Bracelet

The Bracelet

By Geoffrey C Porter

This story was originally published in Breath & Shadow.

I took to wearing long sleeve shirts on my fourteenth birthday. Two years before, I received my bracelet, and the restrictions started. I was born with the sugar disease, and ever since I have been on insulin. The insulin doesn’t matter, for it lives in a simple little pump I wear around my bicep. I replaced the cartridges of medicine with fresh ones and watched the battery charge. I could charge it with any one of my other devices, so that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the stinking bracelet.

It was worse for some of my friends at that age. One boy I knew had failing kidneys, and he couldn’t even walk up to a drinking fountain and take a drink of water if he was over the limit his doctor prescribed. The damn bracelets controlled everything. If I walked up to a vending machine, 82.3% (I did the math) of the selections would flash red and be locked out by black screens. If I walked up to the counter in a restaurant and tried to order a large milkshake, well they aren’t really milk shakes of course, a resounding alarm will sound if the equipment is in place. The equipment wasn’t always functioning or on, so it was worth it to wear long sleeve shirts and tempt fate on some of my crueler days.

It wasn’t illegal to try and ask for things I wasn’t allowed. They have talked about it in Congress, but you know how they talk and talk and talk. One of my friends made the mistake of asking for a beer when he was 16, and they called the cops. The cops just laughed and hit him a few times with their clubs. Only two or three times, not like they would if he had done something truly heinous like playing his car stereo too loud.

I turned 18, and I moved on to college. The equipment was everywhere. I met a guy without a bracelet, and he offered to sell me a Snickers bar for two dollars. I asked him, “What do they cost from the vending machine?”

He smiled. “You’ll never know, will you?”

Having never tried a Snickers bar, I still relished in the commercials. They did make sugar free Snickers, yes, but that is beside the point. I gave Bob his two dollars, and he handed over an ice cold Snickers bar. I was in heaven. I ate it so patiently. Of course, I threw it up later. My stomach simply twisted itself in knots until I went to the bathroom and encouraged it with my will to empty its contents.

The machines and cafeteria barely allowed me enough food to survive. I weighed in at 130 lbs. I told myself countless times standing on the scale, ‘130 lbs is unhealthy…’ I was hungry all the time. They let me have all the celery, carrots, and plain lettuce that I wanted. Oh, and vinegar, if I wanted to put vinegar on the lettuce, that was allowed. I craved a satisfying meal. At least I could get meat, when I wanted it. Mostly. The guys with kidney disease could get a thin slice of ham with breakfast, or a cheeseburger at lunch with the smallest slice of ground beef you’d ever seen.

I could get cheeseburgers, with no ketchup. I could get a steak, but they were costly. It’s like the government wanted me to live forever. But it was like that for everyone. I heard stories about the bracelets they give the elderly: how they cause doors to lock when you’re near, so you can’t even go outside to enjoy the fresh air.

I met this girl, and she was nice. She did the most wonderful things to me. She wore no bracelet though. She used to buy these chewy, little sweet candies called Bit-O-Honey. I even tried one. It was like bliss. Not the same kind of bliss being with her was like, but definitely sensory bliss in the form of taste. And the ice cream, she loved ice cream. She would buy pints of the best flavors and always offer to share with me. I couldn’t stand it. Better to starve, I said, and I broke up with her. It wasn’t the best decision I ever made in hindsight, but I was going through three insulin cartridges a week! I was back down to one cartridge a week in no time.

I grew a little older. I took on a job jumping through hoops for a big company.

I couldn’t get food. I had to eat every last calorie worth of food I purchased, or I would truly have withered away. I woke up in the nights with heavy shakes, and I would eat a four gram glucose tablet, of which I was allowed three per day. My doctor kept me on an 1800 calorie a day diet even though I begged and begged for more. He would quote the law and offer me no other choice than to live in anguish with bitter lows constantly assailing my physique.

I still wore long sleeve shirts, and I found myself wandering the streets seeking out a store without equipment. I saw a strange sign in my quest. It read, ‘One liter water, $2. M&Ms, small bag, $2.’

The sign hung next to a wooden door. I knocked. Inside someone shouted, “Come in!”

I stepped through the doorway.

A short, tan-skinned fellow with jet black hair and piercing brown eyes sat behind a counter. The lights were dim. Four coolers sat against walls. A rack of assorted candies leaned against one wall. They had other groceries available too, various nuts, cereals, rice, very common stuff. The short man smiled. “Cash only.”

I nodded. I knew if they had no equipment they’d only take cash. I stepped up to a rack of fruit and grabbed both an orange and an apple. I walked up to the candy selection and grabbed a box of Nerds, because I could make those last, and a Bit-O-Honey in homage to my first girlfriend. Oh, there had been a few others, of course.

The man took my dollars and smiled. He put everything in a thick paper bag, and I began to walk home. I went back to that store almost every day for a month. No more hunger for me. I even gained one pound.

It started across the Internet. New laws were being debated about increasing the strictness of the dietary management system they claimed was so effective and necessary. The laws passed of course. Thousands protested, but the laws passed.

I lasted for a week and a half before I found myself out of food credits and half starved with bad shakes and a twisted stomach. I walked to the store, expecting to find equipment for scanning bracelets. I poked my head inside. The short, dark haired fellow smiled at me. The cash register was there. The food was there. I didn’t see any equipment to scan a bracelet.

I grabbed a banana, a package of beans & rice, and a chocolate bar.

The man took my cash, and I smiled. I peeled the banana as soon as I stepped out of the doorway. I started walking while enjoying the fruit.

Sirens howled. I walked casually stuffing the half eaten banana in my paper sack. A cop car with blaring sirens and screeching tires pulled to a stop next to me. The cops approached me. “Halt!”

“Eh?” I said and stopped.

The cops had their clubs out. One said, “What do you have in the bag?”

“Essential supplies.”

The other cop said, “Show us.”

I showed them the food.

They laughed. Then they scanned my bracelet.

They arrested me. I sit now awaiting trial.

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The Machine

The Machine

By Geoffrey C Porter

The machine decided it was time to quit smoking. The machine is that force of will inside my head that drives me to both the brink of insanity and the crux of success. I must obey the machine, and today it spoke with a clear metallic voice: quit.

It has been there with me at every one of my darkest turns of fate, controlling me and guiding my actions and words. It calculates with a cold, blinding, murderous precision unmatched by any man-made device.

Perhaps my machine is man-made, though. People have definitely added pieces to it over the years: mother, father, sibling, and best friends. The machine rarely speaks, but when it speaks, I obey. When I am tired, I let it drive me forward. When all is lost, it builds a warm fire for my heart and destiny. When I am caged, the machine still runs free.

It lifts my spirit on lonely days like a quick jolt from a more powerful drug than any dealer sells. I don’t talk about the machine. It told me not to long ago. I think deep down that the machine is a killer. Not just a killer of my fellow man, but the destroyer of dreams and hopes. The machine drives me forward when nothing else will.

I have tried to quit smoking a thousand times in the past, but never with the undivided will of the machine. It sends a flux of ecstasy racing through my tingling veins as I write this. It’s these blasts it triggers that remind me perhaps not everyone has a machine as refined and well oiled as mine. At times, it has been alive in me, coursing precious endorphins through my body multiple times in the day.

The machine is only quieted by the darkest and strongest of modern medicines. Still, I take the medicine, for the machine is truly broken and will spin out of control at the simplest of turns in the path. I wonder sometimes where it would have taken me if I were born 3,000 years ago, before the advent of medicines with the sole design of caging the machine.  Would it have driven me to be a great conqueror? Would I have been truly crippled without medicines?  Would I have lived in the woods and briars of ancient man like an animal?

Today, I am truly crippled by the machine. It is a great boon to possess a machine, but mine breaks. And it’s not so much the breaking that bothers me, but the plagues of darkness and visions that assault me when the machine does break.

It talks, often saying gibberish like, “It doesn’t matter how much firepower you have,” or “Harkonen Battle Group.” I just ignore it. I’ve gotten good at both allowing the machine to drive me and to ignore its rambling. Sometimes it comes up with a new thought or phrase to assault my brain with; sometimes I have to quiet my mind with simple mantras which I will choose not to share. Over time the machine has become quiet as if biding its time for some great cataclysm.  The machine keeps me safe when I drive. Yes. The machine is a big fan of driving, and it is a very safe driver.

I ask myself sometimes if I am alone, and it is imaginary, then nothing, but in a day or a week, it will send a shiver through my body, reminding me of its presence. It decided today was the day to quit, and I obey. No one believes I will quit today. Only I feel the power of the machine, and know I will pay dearly if I don’t quit.

The machine has proven time and again it is capable of waging war, and I know it will beat me, even if it tries to destroy me. It controls my actions and will, moreso than I ever could. It decides when it is time to work. It lets me play when I want, thankfully, but when it’s time to work, I must punch the clock attached to the machine.

It is a hard, diligent worker, but fickle in what it will work on. I can accomplish things without the machine, but I produce wonders with it. The machine is on. It has been years since the machine was on. I have to hope it doesn’t drive me to the abyss, but surely I must embrace its power and let it drive my actions. My hopes and prayers lie in the myriad of anti-psychotic medicines coursing through my veins. The drugs have kept the machine quiet for perhaps too long, and I have a dire feeling that it’s angry and seeking redemption. In the morning, I shall begin to finish an old task, and I am hoping the machine is with me. With the machine, I will make leaps and strides in my work, and without the machine, I will simply putter along at a snail’s pace. The machine was alive today, so I expect it will be with me tomorrow.

The medicines are said to stop working ever so slowly over the years, and I wonder if the machine is finally breaking free of the last of its holds. I dare not share this story with my doctor to see if he wants to prescribe a new medicine. I do not want a new medicine. I want the machine to pulse with life driving my destiny to new heights.

It has been a long time since I’ve used tobacco.  It was a great battle, but in the process, have I lost the machine?  It no longer sends pulses through my neural system.  It no longer keeps me warm on cold nights.  It no longer whispers insanities.  I miss it.

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Codename: RedCat

Codename: RedCat

By Geoffrey C Porter

I looked down at the piss coming out of my dick. Pink, maybe even a little red. My step dad took it too far with his last drunken beating. Hitting me all over with a leather belt. Who hits a kid in the kidneys?

I knew enough to know I had to get away. I’d be dead before I reached eighteen. It started real slow like, a smack here and a smack there, but a twenty minute beating as hard as he could over a B in school?

Somebody banged on the bathroom door. “Are you about finished in there? Are you in there wanking?”

My older step brother, obviously. I zipped up and opened the door. The step brother was allowed to hit me, too.

I ducked under his swing. He was slow and clumsy, and at this time, seemed more interested in using the bathroom for the night than giving chase. I crawled into bed, but I refused to let myself fall asleep. Nobody came to tuck me in or say goodnight.

I had good ears, and in that house, having good ears was a penalty. The last grunts and moans from down the hall quieted, and I knew the house would be asleep soon.

I waited for snoring, and it soon followed. My feet reached out to the floor. No way was I turning a light on. Dumped my backpack out on the bed. I had a stolen box of granola bars, and those plus two pair of underwear, socks, and a pair of pants, plus an extra shirt all went in the bag. I had twenty dollars too, a present from my real dad. Not that he gave a rat’s ass about me either, but at least I had the twenty.

The window in my room opened easily enough, and I pushed the bag through first. There I was, on the roof, a good eight or nine feet off the ground. I strapped the bag on, and climbed down to my stomach. My whole plan was to hang from my fingers and just drop a few feet down, but I scraped my belly on the shingles and slipped.

I landed on my side, but compared to some things I’d been through, it wasn’t that bad. I really didn’t mind the pain, but pissing blood? The principle of the matter, who wants to live in terror their whole lives? The whole concept that it started real slow, and just kept getting worse and worse. I had enough.

I ran through our little town. A national park bordered the other side, and on the other side of that, another town, another county. If I could make it through the park, avoid bears, I’d be golden.

I crossed a dirt road and ran through the woods. The moon set, and I curled up on the ground to sleep. Best sleep I ever had in my life, and the sun woke me up. My stomach growled, but I needed to save my resources. Six twin-packs of granola bars, and it’s at least a five day journey through that park.

I took a leak and realized a thing I forgot was toilet paper. Screw it, I needed to poop, and I did.

I got my bearings and ran. Almost stepped on a damn rattler too, but the thing paid me no mind. I didn’t stop running. Free at last. I had no plan, but I knew there had to be something better out there somewhere.

When the sun set, I ripped open a pack of the granola bars. I drank from a stream. My backpack made a fine pillow, and damn if I did not dream of conquest and fury.

Somebody said, “Wake up, kid.”

Dear god, it was all a dream?

I opened my eyes. The moist forest floor tickled my back. There were two park rangers there. I was lightning, grabbing my pack and taking off in a run.

These were grown men though. One shouted, “Don’t run or we’ll taze you!”

They’re not going to tazer a kid, and I was distancing them.

I felt a prick on my back, and bam, lightning raged in my body, and I fell.

They zip tied my hands behind my back, and one of them threw me over his shoulder. The other one picked up my bag and looked through it.

I cried. They put me in the back of their patrol car.

The driver hit a red button on his radio and started the car.

“You can’t make me go back,” I said.

The officer in the passenger side said, “A runaway.”

“If somebody beat you like they beat me, you’d run away, too.”

The driver turned down the road, but not in the direction of my little town, in the direction of the town on the other side of the national park.

“How often did they hit you?” The driver asked. “What did you do?”

I didn’t want to talk to these men. The passenger said, “You have to talk to us. We can file charges.”

Charges won’t do me any good. “Last time I was pissing blood, over a B in school.”

“They hit you on the kidneys?”

“They hit me all over. All over.”

The radio spoke for the first time. “We’ll take him.”

The driver reached down and pushed the same red button on the radio.

The passenger said, “What’s your name?”

“Jim.”

“Happy Birthday! It’s a good thing you’re 14 now.”

“I’m 13. My birthday was last month.”

The driver pulled into a diner. “You look like you could use a meal, and since it’s your birthday, they’re having a special on pancakes.”

“I’m 13.”

The passenger turned to smile at me. “You need to trust us that you’re 14. If you’re 14, you have choices in life. If you’re 13, you’re heading off to a foster home.”

Choices? What choices? But both of these officers were staring at me with huge grins.

I said the words real slow like. “I’m 14. Today is my birthday.”

“Now you’re talking, kid,” the driver said. “Let’s get some pancakes.”

One of them let me out of the car, and undid the tie on my wrists. He said, “Don’t run. We’re not going to make you go home.”

I nodded. We went in the restaurant, and I ordered a plate of silver dollar pancakes.

The officer sitting to my left said, “Double that order, and throw in two sides of bacon.”

I looked up at the waitress. “If it’s going to be two plates of meat, make it one bacon, and one sausage links.”

Both of the men with me laughed.

I ate all that food. It made me kind of groggy, too.

One of the officers started talking. “Now that you’re 14, you can choose to go to a foster home, or you can choose to go with some friends of ours.”

“Friends?” I asked.

“They’re law enforcement. Just a different breed than us.”

My eyes started drooping, and I wanted to lie down.

“That bench is awfully comfy,” the left officer said. “You can sleep. You have time.”

I was down on that bench in a heartbeat. A great thundering woke me, and I looked outside. A helicopter was landing in the parking lot. Two men climbed out. They were dressed the same in tan slacks, leather shoes, white button up shirts, and leather jackets, with bulges under their left armpits.

The two men walked up to our table and smiled at me. The officer on my left said, “Go with them, Jim. They’re good guys.”

I stood up. The left man in the jacket said, “I’m Mathew, my companion is Jeffrey.”

Both men were big in the shoulders and legs, with a narrow waist.

Jeffrey waved at the waitress. “Two to go coffees, and a ham sandwich for the kid.”

I just had two plates of pancakes. “I don’t need a ham sandwich.”

Mathew pointed at my chest. “As little as you are, you need a sandwich. You’re 14?”

“I’m 14!”

The waitress came out with two coffees and a plastic box containing a sandwich.

Jeffrey and Mathew took the coffee, and I grabbed the plastic box.

We walked to the helicopter. How could I be that important to these men to justify picking me up in a helicopter?

Jeffrey said, “Ride in front.”

I climbed in the front, and we were off. As loud as the chopper was when it landed, it was nearly silent as we flew.

“This helicopter is Chor-Tan made,” Mathew said.

“Chor-Tan?” I asked.

“Aliens who are trying to help us.”

Aliens? “Like at Roswell?”

Mathew and Jeffrey chuckled. “You really think a species capable of interstellar travel would crash land?” Mathew asked.

“Well, I never thought about it like that.”

There was a pause. I looked around. The ground was just a blur, sliding by below us.

“The problem is, even though the Chor-Tan are helping us, the Razdoran are trying to assimilate us,” Mathew said. “If they can pull that off, by dismantling our governments, mankind will just be their slaves.”

That did not sound good.

“How do I fit into all of this?” I asked.

“There’s a man who is helping the Razdorans,” Mathew said. “His name’s Centurian. He’s the biggest crime lord the Earth has ever known. You’re going to be his end.”

I don’t think I can do that. Wait. Maybe I could? I could bloody try. “I’m in!”

“We knew you would be. Eat that sandwich.”

I ate the sandwich. After a while, we landed on top of a parking garage surrounded by desert. An older woman in her forties was waiting. She smiled at me.

“I’m Nancy. I’m in charge of this training facility.”

They should call it Home.

“Are you sure he’s 14?” Nancy asked.

“His birthday was today,” Jeffrey said.

“Parents?”

“There was a fire. Burned up his birth certificate, too.”

“Convenient,” Nancy said. “Let’s look him up in the database. Where were you born?”

“I forget,” I said. “I never thought it would be important.”

“The auditors are going to have a field day. Especially as little as he is.”

I looked from one adult to the next.

“You said we needed new recruits, and we got you one,” Jeffrey said.

“Yes, now get me ten more. Just make sure they’re bigger than this one,” Nancy said.

“He just needs a sandwich or two.”

I just had a damn sandwich.

She looked me in the eyes. “Your name’s RedCat now, forget Jim.”

Huh?

“You’ll work. Study. Exercise. Train. Follow orders no matter what,” Nancy said. “Is all that clear?”

“Except the RedCat thing, can’t I get a cool name like, Scorpion or Snake or something?”

“No, you’re RedCat!”

I shrugged.

Nancy said, “This way.”

I followed her. She led me to a door in a hallway. “These are your quarters. Your schedule’s on the computer. Today you can relax, but tomorrow you’ll work.”

I wanted to hug her. And before I realized it, I was hugging her. She patted me on the back, then pushed me off her. “Try and make friends.”

I nodded.

“And eat something, please.”

I laughed. She left me alone, and I read up on agency history. Ate at meal time with a big crew of other teenagers, and I was littlest by far. Two sandwiches went in my belly at dinner.

I lay awake that night. What have I gotten into plagued my thoughts. Since when have aliens been in contact with us? I started reading more agency history on the terminal.

A messenger window popped up on my screen, from somebody named Thomas.

“If you’re not going to sleep, let’s do something. Meet me at the range, and I’ll get you checked out on our 9mm.”

Checked out on a Nine? I pulled up a map of the complex and started looking for range. I sent a message back to Thomas. “I’ll be there.”

The lights in the hallways must have been on some kind of motion detectors, because it was lit up where I stepped into the hallway, but in each direction was darkness. I ran to the right, and the lights above me lit up just ahead of my steps. Behind me was more pitch black. I tried to run faster than the motion detectors in the lights, but they were always one step ahead of me.

Thomas was a bulky fellow who obviously worked out a lot. He was in his thirties and thin as hell. He had kind of an ugly mug though, like his face was originally a typical brick or something. He smiled at me. “RedCat?”

“Jim,” I said.

“No, you’re RedCat now.”

I shrugged.

We stepped into the range proper. There were 15 stations, plus a control panel. Thomas typed some stuff into the panel, and a slot opened to reveal two boxes of ammo, and a Beretta 9mm pistol that I had seen on TV a hundred times.

Thomas dropped the magazine out of the pistol and showed me how to insert a round into it. Then he gave me the box of bullets, and said, “You can load.”

He smelled very strongly of marijuana, and I was a bit surprised. “You smoke pot?”

“It’s allowed. It helps me relax.”

I started feeding shells into the magazine. No more would fit, so I stopped.

“You don’t have to slam it in, just push until it clicks.” He handed me the pistol.

“Don’t point it at anybody unless you intend to shoot them,” he said. “At the range, keep it pointed down range.”

I pointed it down range.

He moved to one of the stations and punched a few buttons. A target materialized about fifteen feet away. He looked at me. “Pull the top of the gun backwards and let go to chamber a round. Line the sites up and squeeze the trigger like you’re trying to crush a soda can.”

I lined things up. Squeezed the gun together. Bam! It jumped in my hands, but I held on tight.

Thomas clapped. “Good for a 13 year old.”

I stopped. “I’m 14, man”

“You had better be. And you had better remember your story when the auditors come. Plus you are too damn little, start growing!”

I stood up on my tippy toes.

Thomas laughed, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I did something funny, or he was just that stoned.

“Empty that pistol,” he said.

I did not need further encouragement.

Journal note: Auditors questioned me eight months later, but I was six inches and twenty pounds heavier. I kept my story straight. They raised a few eyebrows, but there were no further investigations.

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