Wanted: Monster

monster 2The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies (The PITTS), renowned throughout time and space as the penultimate college dedicated to finding those who are not lost or even confused or misplaced, is seeking a monster for an upcoming experiment in a basement laboratory.  The ideal candidate will be required to participate in a variety of scientific investigations including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Mind Transfer
  • Transmogrification into a Rat, Sewer
  • Transmogrification into a Bat, Vampire
  • Mopping Floors
  • Time Travel to 17th Century Transylvania
  • Getting Coffee for Mad Scientists
  • ESP
  • ESPN (for score reports, football season only)
  • Temporary Duty (TDY) to the Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico, 1947
  • Crop Circle Creation
  • TDY to certain regions between Bermuda and Florida

Experience in medicine is a plus, especially familiarity with snake oil, leeches, eyes of newt, garlic, crucifixes, ice baths, opium, extortium, and powdered unicorn horns.

The term monster used in this advertisement may apply to any horrific carnivorous being, including extraterrestrials, mythological creatures, dinosaurs, giant insects, vermin, lycanthropes, golems, oozes, dire wolves, cockroaches and other aberrations of nature.

Salary remitted in stock options.

The PITTS is an equal opportunity employer.

Copyright © 2013

What’s in the Trash Can? (A Short Story)

trash canA voice said, “What is in the trash?”

I overheard this question as I rounded the corner at the office, on my way to get my morning coffee.  You know it’s bad when people don’t use contractions.

“You smell that?”

Ewww.”

“What is it?”

“Oh, God.”

Luckily the halls in the building are infinitely long, so whatever was antagonizing my coworkers was out near the vanishing point.  I was far enough away to ignore them safely; I’m a very prudent person, after all.  But they stood near the side door and the water fountain, and that gave me pause.  Was there a plumbing problem?  If so, then that would affect the quality — not to mention sanitary condition — of my morning java.  So instead of turning into the break room I approached my circle of coworkers.  Four of them, gawking and muttering, were standing over a waste basket sitting in the middle of the hallway.  Three more people stood back away from it, like folks at a car wreck.  One woman had a hand at her throat.  One man was chewing on his knuckle.  The chatter continued.

“What is that smell, anyway?”

“Sulfer?”

“I think it’s rotten egg.”

“That is sulfer!”

“It’s bad fish.”

“It’s bad seafood, not fish.  God!” (Are human resources departments required to hire one know-it-all smartass?)

“Is it dead?”

“Better question: Is it alive?”

A woman stuck her palm out, in a stop gesture.  She scampered away, headed toward the restroom.

More remarks followed, and a second circle formed where I stood, making us all a human Stonehenge.  That’s fitting in a way: Many employees had rock-like personalities.  I looked to my left and right.  The questions were now decaying into an argument, not just about what the smell was, or who was more accurate about its revolting odor, but who was responsible for it, and who was going to do something about it.  One boss snapped at another boss.  One old guy started telling a story about what he’d seen in a war.  One young woman started asking if she could go home.

I snorted.

Slamming my coffee mug down on the water fountain, I pushed myself through the throng, and grabbed the trash can on a quick trot.  I was halfway out the sidedoor before people started talking again.

“Who was that?” the young woman said.

“I think it was Eric.”

“Eric?  It was Eric.” The young woman’s voice had a hint of revelation to it, as if she’d just discovered the true identity of the masked man.

Was I wearing a cape?  Nope.  I’m just a guy, named Eric, who’d rather do something than stand around talking about it.

I heaved the entire waste basket — not just its contents — into the parking-lot dumpster and walked around to the main entrance brushing off my hands.  I didn’t talk to any of my coworkers that day, content to spend my time scrolling through hundreds of emails.  Before I left, though, I picked up the phone, put it back, then picked it up again and called the young woman’s extension.  I was a bit nervous, but finally managed to ask if she wanted to go get a cocktail.

It turns out there was nothing for me to be nervous about.

The End

Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, settings or circumstances is purely coincidental.

Rocky Edge (A Short Story)

rockYou are standing at the edge of a cliff and looking out at the gray, churning water 30 feet below as waves crash over jagged rocks.  You back away, half-dizzy, stomach pumping with vertigo.  Behind you to your right is an outcropping of grim boulders, weathered from wind, flattened by time.  You thrust your hands into the pockets of your Levi’s and wince as your dry knuckles scrape against the hemline of the blue jeans’ stitching.

You shuffle and slide across black soggy leaves over to the boulder that grows out of the ancient Alabama mountainside.  Your hiking boots give you footing, but you still feel uneven, with pressure in your ears.

You turn and sit on a tongue of rock that forms a chair unusually well-suited for your thin frame, one of those natural seats that doesn’t seem real somehow, but that you know has been there since prehistoric times, before anything that we know as intelligent walked or slithered on earth.  And for some reason you remember a children’s bible illustration where Jesus, sitting on a similar rock, gestured His eight beatitudes to a throng.  You  can’t remember the commandments, but you know you are not among the blessed.

But thinking of childhood Sunday school does make you think of the word love, and you know you didn’t love Allisa, and you know that you never really loved her, that you were merely

horny

obsessed by her.  And it was not even by her looks per se.  While not ugly, she would never pass Madison Avenue’s tests for looks.  Her crystal blues under those thinning black bangs turned you on.  But did they work on others?  Her Cuban accent and cravings for Thai food, her encyclopedic knowledge of architecture multiplied your

lust

romantic longings, which she did not reciprocate.  Not until that final night.  Not until her passion boiled over and set you on fire.  Her friendship had been platonic and yet, and yet … there was always the “ooh ah” factor in your favor.

Allisa had giggled at the first sight of computer eye candy.  When was that?  1990? ’91?  You’d shown her the shiny new Windows 3 splash screen as it zoomed across your monitor.  Techie stuff won her heart as often as roses.  She broke out in a huge grin when you told her you were going to email something to yourself.   That was her first Internet epiphany, circa 1994.  Years later, last week to be exact, she texted a picture of herself to you.  In the photo she stood beside a mural at the art museum — a mural of a twisty mountain road — hand on her hip, a smile in her eyes, one black pump up in the air.

The fundraiser at the museum had gone well into the night.  You waited up for her.  She’d texted around 11:00 or so, admitting she’d had three glasses — and counting — of Merlot, admitting her date was a creep, admitting she really wished you were there.

Drunk yourself from a twelve pack of beer and no food, you called her cell an hour later.  She’d answered on the first ring with a sweet, “Hell-lloo.”

“I only have sex with good-looking guys,” she’d told you. “That son of a –.  It’s always like that, isn’t it?  They’re always like that.  Sex.  Drugs.  Rock-and-roll.  All of them.”

You didn’t follow her train of thought, muddied by wine, or yours, sullied by beer.  But your eyes had lit up.  Your face had brightened.

Unlike now.

Now your face sags, hangdog eyes.  You feel scaly, eyes bulging like a fish’s.  What was it the nerd said in the office last week?  The guy with the letters MISKA-some-shit-or-other on his sweatshirt that casual Friday?

“You’ve got that Innsmouth look going, buddy.”

You had no idea what that had meant.  You didn’t care.  You didn’t care then, and you don’t care now.  Your mouth is hanging open, though, so you can take in big gulps of air.  Mouth-breather.  You roll your

bulging

eyes.  Well, you are from Alabama.  That’s what people expect to see.  Mouth-breathers.

You sigh.  Your thoughts are gloomy, pre-winter clouds, roiling like a too-hot November day that presages tornado outbreaks.

You snap out of your daydream when you realize your hands are tingling.  They’re still in the pockets of your jeans. You’d sat down with them like that.  Now you wiggle them out, and the dry skin on your hands finally cracks, and two of your knuckles bleed.  You grip one hand with the other, worried you’ll get blood all over your North Face jacket and people will stare at you later.  Either that, or the coroner will ponder your bloody hands after they fish your body from the waters below.

There isn’t much you can do, is there?  Your mind is numbed by data entry and bad nutrition and subtle musings about madness.

“Do you want to come over?” you had said to Allisa Fuentes that night.

And Allisa Fuentes, from Santiago de Cuba, where communist revolution had been born, had giggled like a conservative white American schoolgirl of the 1950s.

“Sure!  I’m turning around now, and we can –.”

The phone had gone dead in your hand.  You gawked at it, a stupid grin on your face.  You tried her number again.  You tried it over and over, assuming she just hit a dead spot in coverage.  No signal.

“I’m turning around now, and we can –,” had been Allisa’s last words when, distracted, she lost control of the car, and plunged 1000 feet into the roaring mountain river below.

She was still holding the phone when they found her.  It was her right hand.  You’re looking at your own right hand now.  It’s still bleeding.  And scaly.   It’s the color of a fish.

You stand, roll your head, and shuffle away from the rocky edge of the cliff, wondering if the words “Innsmouth look” have any real meaning.  Maybe they do, but weird crap like that doesn’t matter.  You walk back and get in your car, a high-tech SUV that’d been idling, waiting for you, and when its display lights up, telling you your own cell phone has been detected by its Bluetooth rigging, you grind your teeth, take the phone and sling it as far as you can out the car window, over the bluff.   As you put the car into drive you think you hear the goddamn thing die on the rocks below.  You hope so.  You’re going to pretend you do, anyway.

The End

Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Jackie is Moving Quickly Now (A Short Story)

Jackie is jogging now, her size 5 tennis shoes squeaking on the tile floor of the mall, her breath quickening as her heart pounds away in her throat. His footsteps, the ones from the black, sound like metal on the tiles, like sadistic tap shoes following her down the aisle. She breaks into a full sprint and whacks her thigh on the corner of some serving counter — a Starbucks? McDonalds? Sbarro Pizza? Doesn’t matter. It hurts, and it’s in her way, and it slows her down, bruises her pace even though Jackie is moving quickly now. Ahead of her is a row of chairs. They sit near the escalators, but Jackie wrinkles her brow at that escape route because escalators tripped her up when she was little, when she got her skirt caught in its

teeth

treads. That saved Jackie’s life, but it didn’t matter because back then the man was after her mother, not her, unlike the man in the steel-toed boots who’s chasing her now.

boots

Everything is surreal, nightmarish. Is she moving or is the row of the chairs? They rush forward, like oncoming runway lights. Old people sit here, talk about young people these days. But they are empty of any people right now. The black is behind her. He turned the corner and he missed the coffee counter. The villain always has the best luck. Click, click, click go his shoes. Jackie turns her head quickly left, then right, her eyes begging for help from people who are not in the shoe stores and the jewelry stores and the You’re-Not-Wearing-the-Latest stores. Only the mannequins watch her. They seem more alive than

Jackie will be

any of the salesmen who put up the 1/2-Price ONE DAY ONLY signs earlier.

Dizzy from the glittery goodness of kiosks Jackie’s shoes squeal to a halt beside an overstuffed mall chair. Whoever said tennis shoes were silent was just a damn-fool-liar in Jackie’s book, yes sir-ee, Bob. She leans on the chair, out of breath, her throat burning. When she blinks she sees the cane, propped neatly beside a chair, and a half-open James Michener resting over the arm of another, and an empty Starbucks cup on a side table. But it’s not empty, is it? No. Steam rises from it, as if the owner forgot about it because he

got killed?

got up and left to go home.

Cold, bony fingers wrap around her shoulder. Bony. Bone. And that’s when bile catches in her throat. The man takes — took — his victims and did something to their bones, with a hammer. She sees his pink-skinned hand with its thin, blue veins sticking out of his Member’s Only black jacket. She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t need do that. Instead, Jackie grabs the steaming coffee, and wheels about on one heel.

She flings the scalding coffee in the man’s face. He screams. It’s a dark, angel-of-death scream.

Later the detectives ask her how she knew, because the crime against her mother had happened 30 years ago, in 1984. The man in the black coat was in his 50s then. He’s in his 80s, now. The people at the mall thought she was sadistic, attacking an old man like that. Little did they know. So the detective asks her — has to ask her — what clued her in, probably wondering how he’ll deal with the vigilante justice angle even though she’s caught the man who’s been wanted for decades.

“The shoes,” Jackie says. “Those awful steel-toed boots. When I fell on the escalator he kicked me. I was just a little girl. He kicked me when I was down.”

The detective brings her some tissue. Jackie nods, begins to sob. Tomorrow, she thinks, she’ll sign up her daughter for tap lessons. Jackie will finally be able to tolerate the sound of metal clicking on a floor.

The End

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker, All Rights Reserved.

Meat

There were more mashed potatoes and more meat on the plate than there’d been a just few minutes ago. Johnny blinked.  His head was sizzling, ice-pick pain crushing his eyeballs.  His leg, too, throbbed as if it’d taken hammer blow to the shin bone. It reminded him of how his mama told him the Romans broke Jesus’ legs on the cross.  But this wasn’t ancient Jerusalem.  He was simply sitting on a bed, in the present day.

He blinked.

There was more roast beef on the plate, now.  Had there been that much before?  He couldn’t tell because he couldn’t taste, his tastebuds had been cauterized, and his tongue was as dead as the meat that laid there, so he surely hadn’t been eating anything, and yet … and yet, he daintily wiped the corner of his mouth (did manners even matter here?) … and his hand came away with brown gravy on it.

He blinked.

Blackened gargoyles flashed before his closed eyelids.  He was still sitting there on the bed, but it felt different now, and the food was gone so he figured it was over, that it was past dinnertime and now he’d moved on to … on to what?  Somebody was yelling from next door, something about fire, something about a fizzle?  Sizzle?  Was that what they said?  And lightning?  Something about him and lightning.  Were they talking about his woodworking? His woodcarvings?  He always talked about how he liked the smell of a power carver burning into a fresh wood.  He brushed the top of his head, found stubble from his … what? … his crew cut?  Why did he have a buzz cut?

He blinked hard.

White feverish splotches flashed before his eyelids, and now he smelled barbecue pork, the kind Johnny’s dad pulled off pigs over barrel fires when he was a kid, better barbecue than any joint in Alabama ever dreamed of cooking.

He blinked.

His lungs were crushed, smashed, a seat-belt … was that it? … yanking his rib bones into his flesh and puncturing his lungs, making him scream … but he couldn’t scream.  He opened his mouth … did a little gravy dribble out? … but he couldn’t scream.

He blinked.

He sat at a large table, but kept his elbows off.  Old habits died hard, especially here in the South.  It was a  library table like he’d sat at in school on Saturdays.  But this table was rough-hewn, and his fingernails dug into a splintered crevasses that’d been gouged deep into its surface over the years.

He blinked three times.

The images were splashes of acid hitting his wide-open eyeballs.

A man in a suit stood on the other side of the table, his necktie loose, his shirt sweaty … can anybody sing that ring-around-the-collar jingle? The man’s face was wrinkled and tired, but his eyes were alive from too much coffee and sugar.  His milquetoast face had darkened from beard stubble … kinda like the stubble on your head, eh, Johnny boy?  The man glared.   The suit was expensive.  Armani, or a damn good knockoff.  And it’d been pressed … but not for a long while.  And he had a sported a watch … an expensive one, complicated … a Bulova, full of hands and dialsspinning, turning, ticking, tocking.

Johnny’s head still ached, a post-trauma pounding.  It felt like he’d been sunburned, and then sunburned again, and then sunburned yet again after the first two had healed.  His leg still crackled from the hammer blow,  or whatever it was, and he now wondered if the bastard had used the claw of the hammer to break his leg bone slowly, sadistically.

Johnny blinked.

The man in the suit looked … better.  His tie was tied.  His suit didn’t have wrinkles.  And his face was fresher, no three-day shadow, and no perspiration.

“You have to,” the man was saying.  “You have to.”

Johnny shook his head.  “I didn’t do nothing.  Nu-thing.”

The man’s nostrils flared.  He slammed his hands on the table, rattling Johnny.  “What’s your favorite meal, John?  Hmm?  What is your favorite meal?”

“Wha –.”

“Food, man!  What’d you choose if it was your last?”

Johnny blinked.

This time nothing changed.

“Mashed potatoes with roast beef and grav–.”  Johnny stopped, the word a bone caught in his throat.

That’s when he focused on the man’s elegant wristwatch, at all the hands and dials.  And the main one, the military dial, told him it was little after 1400 hours.  He zoomed in, bringing the watch’s second hand into view, and it was running backward.  He ran his hand through his hair, and he had hair now.  He … had … hair … now.

Johnny blinked.

Nothing changed, but he now knew that mashed potatoes had reappeared on his plate because he’d eaten them, in the future.

They shaved your leg.  They shaved your head.

“What year is it?” he said

The man in the suit blinked.  “What does that have to do with –.”

Johnny’s turn to slam his fist.  “What year is it?” he yelled.

The lawyer told him.

“And when would I get out?” Johnny said. “If I take the deal?”

The lawyer’s face — which had been sharp angles and tension — suddenly sagged, his brown eyes hound-dog sad.

Johnny felt a tear well up in one eye, the way it’d always been.  He always cried from one eye.  It’d been that way when the cops had kicked down the door and found Johnny standing over one of the bodies, holding the serrated knife that’d been used to slice open throats all over the apartment building, and he’d cried because he knew they’d never believe that he’d removed the knife from of one of the victims to save the woman’s life because he was a nurse and that’s what nurses did.  But the evidence was a D.A.’s wet dream, fingerprints on every floor.  Johnny had helped those old men and women for years, and they thanked him — oh, yes — but they’d also insulted him when they thought he was getting uppity.  It was annoying, stupid.  He’d even got a scalding cup of coffee in the face once.  That was more than “annoying.”  But he still loved them.

But that coffee wasn’t nearly as hot as the skull cap, was it?  They said the electric chair was painless.  They said the initial jolt of voltage knocked you out.  They were wrong.  Dead wrong.

Johnny looked up slowly, through moist eyes.  “How’d you do it?” he asked the man with the backward clock.  “My mama would’ve called it devil’s work.”

The man shook his head.  “Not witchcraft.  Just … a gadget.”

“You let me see my future.”

“I let you live your future, John.  Or one possible future.  You’ve traveled forward, and now you’re coming back.  And you still remember everything, for now.  But soon enough those memories of the future will be gone.  There’s nothing I can do about that.”

“And I died.”

“We all die in the future, John.  You will be killed in the future if you don’t take the plea.  But if you do take it, you’ll live in the future.  You’ll make woodcarvings.  And one of those woodcarvings will be a spaceship.  You’ll make it on a whim.  And thirty years from now you’ll give it to a schoolgirl who’ll become the first human to set foot on another planet.”

“You’re making that up.”

“You don’t know that.  But you do know what the electric chair does to you.”

Johnny nodded.  “But I didn’t kill those people.  I tried to help them.  I tried to help them!”

His lawyer gestured toward the room outside.  “I know that.  But they don’t.  They don’t know and they don’t care.”

“Then is there one thing I can ask?  Just one thing?”

“We have very little wiggle room.”

“Can you at least tell them I’m a vegetarian? I don’t want to eat meat.”

The lawyer puckered his lips.  “I might be able to swing that one, Johnny.  If you apologize.  Show remorse.”

“For something I didn’t do.”

The lawyer nodded.  “For something you didn’t do.  I bet I can get you a vegetarian diet.  I might be able to swing that one.”

Johnny slumped in the chair, his eye teary, his body hiccoughing with sobs.

He blinked.

The lawyer turned to go see the prosecution, winding his watch as he left the room.

The End

.
Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.