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Authors: Dan Keohane,Kellianne Jones

Christmas Trees & Monkeys (10 page)

BOOK: Christmas Trees & Monkeys
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The earthquake stopped. Above him, the ceiling split. Beams groaned as gravity tried to pull the queen-sized bed through the floor. Jacob didn’t move. He lay on his back, staring at the jagged scar above him.
Let it fall
, he thought.
Just let it fall
.

 

* * *

 

Morgan and Sarah Kane ran out of their unit across the street. Above, clouds raced beneath the massive, falling stone. Morgan called his brother’s name. Sarah grabbed his arm, but he’d already seen it. His brother lay on the sidewalk across the way. His head didn’t look right.

An old woman stumbled, crying, from unit thirty-one. “I’m so sorry for not stopping it,” she shouted. “But what could I do? He would’ve killed me, too.”

Morgan looked absently between the old woman and the monstrous rock in the sky. He whispered, “Who killed my brother?” Deep below the cracked street the rumbling began again.

 

* * *

 

The supports split above Jacob’s head. He tried to remember a prayer, maybe the “Our Father.” Too long away from church. Too late for any redemption.

The quake hit full force as the dead man’s brother came through the front door. Jacob recognized him. Then everything imploded around them. Morgan Kane fell forward. His wife struggled through the shattered entrance in pursuit. She begged him to come back, not to let it end like this. She fell into the room. Jacob let himself pretend she was Claire.

Claire coming home.


You son of a bitch!” The man clambered on top of him. “Wipe that fucking smile off your face.”

Hands around his throat. Jacob grabbed the other’s arms, but never resisted. This was an angel sent to squeeze penance from him. The grip loosened. The angel couldn’t keep his balance. Their figures tumbled across the floor in time with the earth’s breakdown. The ceiling sighed, gave out. The dark lumbering shape of the bed loomed like a miniature version of the annihilation outside. When it fell the floor boards twisted and cracked open. It missed them, landing at Jacob’s feet, kept on going. The tentative grip on his throat fell away.

For a fleeting moment the shaking stopped. Jacob turned in mid-air, like flying in a dream. He was falling. The floor of the basement seemed to hurl itself up at him.

Black. Then, slow consciousness. Back into chaos.

The broken floor of the basement shifted beneath him. He saw the dark, swirling tempest in the sky above through the jagged remains of the floors.

The earthquake’s howling fell to a background hum. The earth took in its final breath. The light outside dimmed.

Jacob tried to roll sideways. Hot, wet pain burned down his back. He touched something protruding from his belly, felt the long wooden stake. A vampire run through the heart. But it missed. Everyone missed. After a too-short respite, the world heaved in its final death throes.

Across the room, the angel bled from a gash running along the middle of his face. He held the woman. Her eyes were open, frightened and unfocused. She stared without blinking at a spot far above. Jacob stumbled forward, feeling the stake pull out of him. He covered only a few feet before rattling plates deep below the floor finally split. His legs dropped into a crevice. Dust and steam. As he slipped into the entrance of hell, Jacob thought he saw the angel rise on a slab of earth, racing skyward as if to meet his destroyer half-way. He carried with him the body of the woman.

Rapture,
Jacob thought.

His feet had become wedged into the tight confines of the crevice. No more light above. The walls squeezed in. Jacob felt his feet and legs crush out of existence. He wanted to say the “Our Father.” Something large moved up his throat.

No weight. No maddening violence. The sensation of hitting smooth road after miles of torn and grooved pavement. He rose without pain. In the blackness he sensed, then moved through, the asteroid’s mass.

Brilliant stars. The earth enormous, looming below as in a proportionally-skewed dream. In its center a dark, scorched growth nuzzled itself below the surface. Dust sailed past the atmosphere into dispassionate space.

From the carnage, a river of souls like his own flowed, converged toward a single expanding star. Its light stretched forward, celestial arms gathering up its children. Jacob watched the tide move with unnatural speed. He felt no motion of his own. The light expanded, outshone the rest of the universe. Jacob swam in it, barely able to see the river spiraling away.

The light blinked out. The other stars returned, their illumination tarnished by the display. Jacob had the unwelcome sensation of falling, back toward the crumbling planet.

 

* * *

 

He opened his eyes. Green tiles. He should have been surprised, should have screamed in defiance.

He wasn’t surprised. All so logical to him now. Jacob stood, muscles thick as if replaced with layers of fat. The old man moved around the counter. He stopped at the front door and turned, his voice the only clear sound around them.


You were so damn close, Jacob.” He opened the door and said, “He’s all yours,” then left the building. The lethargy in Jacob’s muscles crawled into his brain.

The skinny man and his two buddies walked in.


Well, well, Mister Dempsy,” he said. “We meet again.” The fat one was the last to enter. He seemed to be suffering from the same fatigue as everyone else.

Jacob breathed stale air. “You tricked me.”

He watched the fat man lean against the door. The world outside was a pale white. Nothing there. Empty. The walls absorbed the whiteness - the
nothingness
.


You had your chance,” the skinny man said. His eyes darted around the room. The walls were gone, replaced by white.

Jacob fell slowly to his knees, unable to support his own weight. “You thought you could hold me back,” he said. “Play this game in my head forever. Like this is Hell or something.”

The skinny man forced a smile. “Isn’t it? All the others swam away to Heaven. You saw that. Where else
could
we be?”

The fat man was gone. The Irishman dropped against the greeting card stand. A moment later
nothing
washed over that section of the store.

Jacob whispered. “Somehow you got in my head, kept me running, kept on playing this damned game of yours. You drove me crazy. Made me screw up.”

The other watched the last of his buddy blink from existence. He took a half step forward. “It worked,” he said, looking everywhere except at Jacob. “You… you were a bad boy, Jacob. Now you get to play with us... with me at least, forever.... Ummm..” He pranced back and forth, not certain what to do next.


It worked great,” Jacob breathed. “But we’re not in Hell. There is no Hell. You’re in the same place you’ve always been. My mind. But it’s fading, now. There was only one place to go when I died, and you fucked it all up.”

The skinny man tried to kick him, but the nothingness caught his arm like a bug on fly paper. Still, as his arm and shoulder blended into the advancing wall, he stretched a leg out, tried unsuccessfully to connect with Jacob’s head or chest. He screamed without sound, his face twisting in revulsion as it drowned in the white. The remaining arm reached up, as if to grab his own hair and pull free the body. Then nothing. Jacob was alone.

Five feet. Four. Jacob watched the floor shrink like a thin piece of ice. He wondered if this was the end, if he would simply blink away. Maybe something waited on the other side. Maybe not. It didn’t matter. In the end, maybe his only redemption was to finally see this nightmare fade away. Forever.

 

 

— — — — —

 

 

About “Ptolemy”

OK, you’ve had a couple of heavy stories to suffer through. Time to get weird with a story that I came up with while sitting on the toilet.

Remember in my “Monkey...” discussion I mentioned a couple of magazines that deal exclusively in “surreal fiction?” Neither is around anymore that I know of - one was called
The Urbanite
.
The Urbanite
liked to have theme-issues, and one day while reading the magazine I learned that the next theme was “Zodiac”.
Hmm
, thought I,
a surreal story dealing with the Zodiac
. I thought of stars, then the constellations, then I had to go to the bathroom.

Sitting upon the Daily Throne, I pondered the constellations (I didn’t have any reading material at that moment). What came to me was an image of a man standing in his back yard with a spoon. The constellations were pouring out of the night sky
into
this spoon. Well, I had to finish up what I was doing, and thought nothing more about this tale until I next sat down — to write, that is. I took the scene, and began writing in
stream of consciousness
. That means I wrote whatever came to mind, with only one rule - I wanted twelve sections, one for each of the zodiac signs. There really isn’t any relation between the twelve Signs of the Zodiac and what happens in each section, aside from what I might have snuck in during later drafts of the story. I just wanted twelve sections. Call me shallow, go on.

And, here it is.

 

Ptolemy

 

I.

Capricorn dripped into the spoon like black syrup. The silver plating sparkled; reflected the stars. Adam lowered his arm, terrified of the act and the thought he might spill. Digging under the grass with his free hand, he lifted a handful of dirt and poured the constellation into the hole.

He replaced the mound of earth. Small stars flowed around the edges as the black ether spread under the weight. Slowly, as if drowning, the pinpoints faded into the backyard. The pure and horrible understanding, which had gripped him ten minutes earlier and sent him running into the house for the spoon and gun, did not abate. Adam cried, seeing in his periphery the remaining stars swirling above, as if gently stirred by the spoon. The utensil was no longer in his hand, however. It lay beside him on the ground, dark, reflecting only the light from the kitchen window.

Adam pushed the revolver’s barrel to the roof of his mouth. He pulled the trigger, freeing the flame and smoke into his frightened brain.

 

II.


No. I’m sorry.”

Camden opened his eyes. The dreamless, swirling vortex of sleep burned away under the harsh glare of sunlight streaming in from the window. He looked around the room, trying to remember. Her leg protruded from behind the couch, tinted blue in the daylight.

He remembered. Mostly. At some scattered point after last night’s violence he must have simply lay down on the red-spattered carpet and slept. Why would he do that? Perhaps he’d fainted.


No. I’m sorry.”

The words belonged to the woman. Though she could no longer speak, her nervous, apologetic voice echoed in his skull as if his brain’s only remaining thought. Originally spoken last night, before he pushed his way in, intent on salvaging some tattered remnants of pride lost to those three words.

Now, laying on her living room floor, he couldn’t even recall the woman’s name. Couldn’t quite hold on to the reasons for his original obsession.

Camden stood slowly. His hands were still wet. What time was it? He smeared the blood across his tee-shirt.


No. I’m sorry.”


Shut up,” he said. “You’re sorry. Fine. I get it. It wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”

He looked around the small apartment. Though her body was out of sight from his new vantage (had he put her there?…yes, he thought so…), her blood was all over the room. Camden looked despondently at the broken statuette on the rug. His heart seemed to stop, then start, sputtering like a neglected engine.

When he finally found the mobility to turn and leave the apartment, he yelled behind him, “Why did I come here, anyway?” He waited for the elevator. The apartment door hung open. He did not go back. Instead, he let himself be carried down to the basement.

 

III.


Get him out of here, now!” As if swatting away bugs, the police sergeant waved at the two EMTs. They remained standing, one at each end of the gurney and its bleeding occupant. They watched the night sky fall, draining like bath water towards a single point in the lawn. The portable flood lights dimmed respectfully to the blinding stars, which twisted and compressed into the earth beside where Adam’s body was found.


Ralph, please! The man’s dying, for God’s sake.”

Ralph looked down. Adam’s broken skull was tightly bandaged, but blood still leaked onto the gurney. The EMT made a concerted effort not to look skyward as he lifted one end. The action broke his partner’s spell. For the moment they ignored the sight above and carried the bleeding man to the ambulance. Behind them followed Adam’s son, home from college the week before and who had been immersed in laundry when his father pulled the trigger.

Ralph hit the emergency lights as he got behind the wheel. His partner and the son secured the gurney in the back as the ambulance pulled out of the driveway. Ralph stared ahead, eyes riveted on the flashes of trees in the headlights.

BOOK: Christmas Trees & Monkeys
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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