Because all good things must end…


Hello Travelers,

The coffin is closed, and as such, we must say good bye. I’ve chosen the winner for this tour, one Lori Parker, though I regret not being able to give something to each and every one of you.

However, I’ve opted to share the rest of The Silence in my Smile with you, as you all seemed very interested in this piece, so perhaps I am giving you all something. Enjoy, friends!

***

It was a night like any other for me. I wandered the dark streets, with so many homes filled with families that were not aware of my presence, cold and alone. Not a single house light could be seen, but after all, 2 A.M. was not an hour in which most people were awake. The night sky was black and the darkness unbroken, except by a few defiant stars. The frigid wind blew through my chest, but no cold nor isolation could ever compare to the hollow emptiness inside me.

On more than one occasion, my friends had attempted to pry me from my shell with invitations to parties, drinking games at the local bar, or other such menial delights. On all occasions, I responded in the negative. One of my few remaining friends, Donovan, brought me aside on such a night.

“Look, I know you’re hurt. I know that you must be going through some really dark times, but you have to get out and live just a little.”

“Why should I?” My voice was cold and dead.

“Because we want to know you’re ok, but we have no way of telling whether or not you really are. Ever since… that day… we haven’t heard you laugh. You don’t do anything anymore, and we haven’t even seen you smile. We would know you’re okay if you could just give us one damn smile. It’s rough seeing such a great guy so miserable.”

Well what did they know? I stalked through the night like a wounded animal- desperate for attention, yet ready to snap at anyone who came close. I soon noticed I was coming close to my street, Darnell Court. I didn’t want to return home yet, so I took the sharp left onto Way Street, as if ready to face the creeping memory of death. I tried hard to repress the memories that ripped at my mind, so I shook my head and continued my somber sauntering.

Unfortunately for me, I soon happened upon the town park. I stopped by a thick birch tree, my head suddenly swimming as memories flooded my mind. I fought this, but I could not stop the cruel images from playing in my mind. The colors and sounds mocked me with their unrelenting progression.

I saw the same park, only it was day time. I remembered this scene from just a few months ago; I was pushing my dearest daughter, Emily, on the swings. She had a bright yellow sundress on, and her soft voice was laughing with childish delight. She begged me to push her higher and higher, and soon leapt from the swing, sailing across the playset and landing triumphantly. I couldn’t help but admire her brave spirit. She was always trying to prove she was as mature and as bold as any adult. Sometimes, she actually was, and would prove her bravado despite any danger it might pose to her.

Turning on her feet, she ran suddenly and jumped back onto the swing. Using it like a fulcrum, she swung and leapt once more, this time tackling my chest. I laughed, stumbling, but caught her. She had wrapped her arms tightly around my torso, her narrow arms squeezing tight.

“I love you, daddy!”

That was it. My heart once again shook with pain; my body tensed as I struggled to hold back tears. How cruel must nature be, that I am always reminded of how badly I have suffered? I wrapped my arms tight around myself, praying the other memories would not return as I sprinted for home, unwilling to walk Memory Lane any longer.

My footsteps were loud, echoing through the streets, but I did not care. I shut my eyes, but behind them I saw the darkness in even greater detail. All I could think of was getting home before any other thoughts chose to break my heart again. It almost worked, but I had the growing sense that I could not outrun the pain of my past. I sprinted fast, then faster still, nearly breaking down my door as I slammed into it, but the memory returned regardless.

It had been another bright and warm day. The sun shone brilliantly, with warm air gusting through the streets. Birds chirped merrily, and I smiled up at the pleasant day. Emily and my wife, Elizabeth, had just been out to the supermarket. I couldn’t wait to see them, even though they’d only been gone a short time. I loved them both, and Emily was the spitting image of her mother. They both had wavy, golden hair, a smooth complexion, and an honest, kind, but witty personality. Every day with them was like a day at an amusement park- and Emily had a habit of making up elaborate fantasies, so it could certainly get amusing!

I waited eagerly on my front steps to help them bring the groceries in. I squinted down the road and saw their car driving up Way Street. The bright blue paint sparkled in the sunlight, and I could just make out Emily’s smile from the other side of the windshield. I smiled, stood, and waved to them. I saw Elizabeth laugh as Emily waved back. The joyous expressions were still in place when a black sedan crumpled the driver’s side of their car.

Metal twisted and screeched as my family’s car spun out of control. The driver’s door was so badly damaged, that it could not possibly be opened. Their car wrapped around a telephone pole, a thunderous bang echoing through the neighborhood. Smoke billowed from under the hood. It happened so fast, that I knew they were going to die before I had even stopped smiling.

I raced from my porch, frantically dialing 9-1-1, knowing it would not save my family, but trying nonetheless. I reached the crushed blue van to find my wife slumped upon the steering wheel, her once-vibrant green eyes were now dulled and lifeless. She died on impact. Looking past her, past the blood that coated her, and past the steel that pierced her torso, I saw Emily. She was barely breathing, a large, jagged piece of metal having gouged open her side. She was bleeding badly, but her eyes still locked on me.

I rushed to the other side of the car. Though the thick pole blocked my access to the door, I could see into the gap where the window used to be. She was rasping, blood trickling from the corner’s of her mouth. I heard a desperate sob escape my lips as I pried at the other doors, but the automatic locking system had engaged and my little girl was trapped. My precious Emily was dying, and I couldn’t help her. My heart throbbed in agony as I ran back to the window.

“Emily, it’s ok. It’s going to be ok. Daddy is right here and we’re going to get you to the hospital, ok?” My voice shook, but I didn’t want to let her know how scared I was. I strengthened my resolve, in hopes that fear wouldn’t plague my voice.

“Daddy… It’s ok daddy.”

“Yes baby, it’s going to be ok. You’re going to be ok.” I was praying, no, begging for God’s salvation to shine on my daughter.

“Don’t cry daddy.” Damn, I couldn’t even appear strong for her! “You have to smile.”

“What was that baby?” Smile? I must have misheard her.

“If you don’t smile, then the darkness will get you, and you’ll be all alone. You’ll be sad and scared. Just smile daddy. Smiles say everything.” She pushed her cheeks up in a forced, childish, yet almost surreal grin, and collapsed. Her limp form never stirred again, and my heart broke. I turned with all the fires of hell in my eyes upon the people who had done this to me. God could not have saved them.

Unfortunately, the police could, as they had just showed up and proceeded to restrain me. The driver was 17, dropping acid, and drunk. His BAC was .24 and he had taken nearly enough drugs to kill himself. He was unharmed, as were his five passengers, who were all high. They laughed all the way to the precinct, and I doubted they would remember what had happened. It did not matter. My family had been taken from me, and my happiness went with them.

“Well, you were right baby. I don’t smile anymore, and I’m sure not happy anymore. I’m all alone, with no one left to smile for.” I sobbed to the empty sky, creaked the door open, and collapsed into my bed. I allowed exhaustion to carry me away, my dreams as black as midnight.

***

I awoke the next day feeling odd. Standing, I noticed my mouth would not open to yawn. I thought this to be a simple thing; I had fallen asleep on my stomach, so perhaps my chin had been pressed into the bedding to hard. I reached up to stretch my jaw by force, but my hand did not meet my chin. It met a hot, thick and burning substance. It slowly dawned on me that it not only hurt to touch, but burned the skin around my face, as if it were eating me away. My heart leapt into my throat, and my body could barely keep up with my feet as I ran to my bathroom. I looked upon my reflection with horror to see that a majority of my mouth, chin and cheeks were gone. In their place was a hideous black fungus that bubbled and seethed with a mind of its own. I felt it had eaten away my mouth, and I pressed my tongue to the front of my mouth, noticing I no longer had lips. In place of them, acidic mush greeted my tongue. The taste of copper blood filled my mouth. Whatever this thing was, it was devouring me.

I looked up at my mirror and tried to dispell this horror with my reflection. I watched the seething mass on my face, wondering what arcane and demonic force had chosen to reap its pain upon me. Then I considered this situation; this had to be a dream or some form of hallucination. I shut my eyes as tight as I could.

This isn’t real, it can’t be… It’s all going to be gone in one… two… three.

I opened my eyes and found a vision even more shocking then my own appearance- my wife and daughter stood behind me. I stared into the mirror, unwilling to believe it was real. They appeared as real as they ever had, Emily’s green eyes gazing eagerly at me. Elizabeth smiled gently, as she always had. I looked back at Emily’s reflection, who pushed her fingers up against her cheeks, just as she had done the day… the day she died. Elizabeth’s image reached over to mine and gave my cheek a soft kiss.

I felt that kiss. I whirled around to grasp my family, to beg their help, to just see them again, but no one was there. Tears rolled down my cheeks as my misery returned, even stronger then before, and caressed the outer edge of the thing that engulfed my face.

I looked back at my reflection, crying with terror and regret, as anyone would. I noticed the fungus had begun to creep outwards. It spread down my chin and across my face, and I could feel it eat and burn my flesh. It was growing, feeding off my body to fuel its own! Pain seared and radiated from every inch that this thing covered, and my breath came in ragged gasps as terror filled me. Worse still, it was attempting to block my nostrils and suffocate me. I smelt an acrid, burnt odor, and soon understood that my facial hair had been burned away by the fungus.

Terrified and in agony, I sprinted down the stairs to my living room. Of course, no one was home to help me, and I didn’t dare go outside. Though my blinds were closed, some slits revealed the sunlight to be blinding. I put my hand in the path of the sunshine only to feel it scald my wrist in seconds! I could not leave my home, and the fungus was spreading into my sinuses. My situation appeared hopeless, but I couldn’t just let this thing win. I picked up a phone and dialed 9-1-1, but of course, I could only attempt to speak. No sound came from me. The thing slowly made its way into me; I had no choice but to dash to the kitchen. I grabbed a knife and stared at the reflection of my blackened, bubbling and terrified face in the blade. I prepared myself for any further pain.

I thought back to the day that fate chose to take my family from me. I remembered the way my daughter gave me one last smile, her face still so innocent and beautiful, despite being matted with dirt and blood from the accident.
“If you don’t smile, then the darkness will get you, and you’ll be all alone. You’ll be sad and scared. Just smile daddy.”

Had she done this? In some point of her life, did my daughter manage to become some dark prophet? Either way, I had to be free of this, so I dragged the knife across my cheek, but found the sharp blade only became stuck within the seething mass. I managed to wrench it free, and knew I had little time. My head began to swim as I lost oxygen, and it had already engulfed half of my torso. My vision shook and began to fade as I thought back to my daughter.

Okay baby, you want daddy to smile? I’m going to give you the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. I thought.

I brought the knife down upon my face, severing portions of my nose. Parts of it dropped to the floor, cartilage attached to the bloody chunks of flesh, and as I sucked in air through the hole, I knew this was the only way. I continued my macabre home surgery, my daughter’s voice echoing in my ears…

***

Clearview Mental Facility- patient report.
Patient 1842930; Joesph L. Johnson
Patient admitted: 4/12/09
Diagnosis: Severe psychotic break with manic tendencies.
WARNING: Masochistic tendencies. Placed on suicide watch.

Mr. Johnson was admitted to our facility pending an emergency phone call from the patient’s home. A scream was heard, and it was thought he was being attacked. When the police found him, he was laughing in a deranged manner, and continuously slashed at himself with a butcher’s knife. It is unclear who reported the incident, as the patient was far too delusional to do so, but the patient carved off his own nose, lips, cheeks and portions of his chin and neck. He was also alone, and no traces of hallucinogenic or toxins drugs were found in his body.

Mr. Johnson recently lost his wife and child in a traffic collision. The stress of this is undoubtedly what took such a drastic toll on his mind, causing this episode. Fortuntely, the police were able to restrain him and stop the bleeding, preventing his death. Too much damage had been done for skin grafts, so the patient’s physical condition is scarred and gruesome.

Patient is non-responsive, does not answer or even look at those who speak, call his name, or even strike the patient. Patient does not become better or worse with medication. Patient does not engage in any activity, alone or otherwise. The only action indicating this patient has brain function is that the peculiar expression he displays upon the remnants of his face.

It appears to be a smile

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Ashes to Ashes by @AlexChaseWriter @CoffinHop 2013


Hello Travelers,

This story is far too long to have posted here; it simply wouldn’t have been fair to you or the other Hoppers to expect you to read it. I’ll clue you in to the fact that this is an apocalyptic piece with some obvious subgenre work going on. Enjoy, my friends…

#

Dr. Calvin Dent rested his chin on his elbow and stared through the window at the front of Marie’s Coffee Emporium. It was a quaint little shop known for serving half-priced drinks to college students and weekly poetry slams, affordable and atmospheric, but not so much so that it would seem cheap or overpowering.

He watched vehicle after vehicle pass by without so much as slowing, then bit his lip and whipped out his phone. It was 9:20 in the morning, an early time for her, so she was probably running late. More importantly, it was her, so she might not show up at all.

Then she did. Jewel Alvarez stepped out of a beaten-up taxi and onto the cracked sidewalk. It had been two years, but he’d recognize her anywhere. Her light brown hair was stacked in a bun, but she’d left just enough free to frame her angular face. She had sunglasses on, even though the coffee shop’s side of the street was shaded. Though now into her mid-thirties, her body retained the lithe shape she’d developed in her youth, partially because she was athletic but also because she would often get so wrapped up in her work that she’d forget to eat. Jewel was the type of girl some men spent their lives dying for: shapely, exotic and out of their league.

Calvin enviously wished he could say the same. Though not particularly heavy, he had no muscle to speak of. His skin had a pasty hue from having spent the majority of his life inside. Add glasses to the mix and you’ve got the spitting image of a man whose mind was his greatest- and only- weapon. He wore a light jacket over a long-sleeved shirt, despite the temperate weather. No one had any idea how he’d managed to wind up with Jewel in the first place- he was almost certain he couldn’t pull that trick off a second time, but he was ready to try.

The tinkling of a bell announced her entry. She spied him and walked over. Jewel was dressed in her signature paint-stained jeans and a black t-shirt. Calvin had already pulled her chair out prior to her arrival. She smiled and removed her sunglasses as she sat across from him.

“Hello, Calvin.” Her voice was by no means melodious, but he could listen to it for hours.

“Hi, Jewel.” He realized with abject horror that he had no idea how to conduct such a meeting and fumbled for something to say.

“Thanks for the coffee,” she said, wrapping her hands around the steaming cup in front of her.

“N-no problem,” he chuckled nervously. “Do you still take it the same way you used to?” He paused, then stammered, “No! I mean, take your coffee? Do you like, you know, two creams, one sugar, in your drink, like before?”

She laughed as he blushed. “Yes, I still like it just like I used to.”

“Oh, good!” He breathed a sigh of relief. “Some things never change, huh?”

They stared at each other for a dangerous minute. For a moment, Calvin was sure she’d get up and walk off. He’d come on too strong, he was sure of it. He hadn’t meant to, but some things just slip out. Then again, she wouldn’t have met with him if she didn’t have SOME kind of feeling for him, right? But even so-

“Yeah, some things don’t.” Her voice was almost quiet enough to hide her feelings- but not quiet enough. “…I’m… glad you called, Calvin.”

He gave a half-smile. “I am too. …I guess I have trouble letting go, huh?”

“Sometimes, it’s ok to not let go,” She laid her hand on his, her thumb gently stroking the top of his palm. “How’s work been going?”

“It’s… oh, you know… space. It doesn’t change much, so… Well, actually, the sun has been giving off some strange readings lately, but we’re not sure what they mean yet.”

“Really?” She arched her brow and, to his shock, seemed genuinely interested. “I’d love to hear more.”

“I’d love to tell you,” he stared into the pools of amber and, like a prehistoric mosquito, found himself trapped by their depths. “How… is work, for you?” he managed to whisper. Her perfect lips curved up in an all-too-recognizable expression. Whenever something really, seriously great was happening, her face would inexorably shift to show off an impish grin.

“I’ve actually published two books: my first is on painting with ash, the second is on the human body as a canvas for artistic expression.”

“Painting with ash?” he tilted his head.

“Ash is… often overlooked. It is uniquely beautiful; it’s the remains of something that has perished in flame, but isn’t really a symbol of destruction. It’s a symbol of making way for something new, something greater, that will soon come to be. It’s like with forest fires; those fires only occur so new life can spring up in their wake.”

***

Walk with me from October 24-31 as I post some of my work in honor of Coffin Hop 2013. Some of this is quite old, some of it not–guess which is which, Traveler. Perhaps a right answer will earn a stroke of fortune for you…

For this tour, I’ll be giving away one signed anthology in which a story of mine has been featured. Which anthology is up to the winner. Keep in mind, I reserve the right to award additional gifts as per Coffin Hop rules. Who knows–if I get a lot of hits, you might see a lot of rewards in the future. Be sure to click the badge at the side of my page and visit the other Hoppers!

On Time


Time is the one force of nature that no one can fully understand. The Modern Mind can place much within its domain of comprehension: Gravity and vacuums, atomic and planetary movement, light and sound, all of these can be measured, grasped, understood, but not time. No, there is no scientific way to measure time- we only have ways to examine our interpretation of time.

We could insinuate that time cannot be understood because it does not exist- existence being defined as having a state of objective reality. There are those who’d say that it is a mere convention; a tool used by men solely for the sake of regulating business. But that’s not strictly so, it it?

Consider plant life; the majority of global flora go through daily cycles, regulating by whether or not the sun is shining. They must spend certain periods within each state, for if one is neglected, the other is overwhelmed, and the creature dies.

Consider, also, a bat within a cave. It hunts at specific portions of the day, despite not seeing the sun.

There is also, of course, the rate of decay- the inexorable desecration of the physical that releases spent energy to the universe. The body decomposes within a certain period, barring extenuating factors, meaning that this process, too, is subjected to a natural temporal regulation.

But what of unnatural regulation? Is it ‘time’ to say that an author must complete a work within a specific ‘time’ period? Or that any other person must accomplish a task within allotted ‘time’? Of course- though we arbitrarily determine how much time is given in modern society, all tasks, throughout history, were devoted to survival, and will continue to be.

The hunter-gatherer is so named because it was all he did, but he needed to do so within a specific time in order to continue his own life cycle. Those who failed in tribal duties could often be subjected to punishment that, inevitably, caused his or her life to end its course that much faster. Similarly, in the modern age, the inability to operate according to the standards that are required of you to profit will result in the near-certainty of homelessness and starvation.

Despite human advancements, the Earth spins at precisely the same rate, day in and day out, and will continue to do so until it is ultimately subjected to the dark regality of cosmic oblivion. Our delightful little sphere orbits around the sun; our solar system revolves and orbits as well; the other galaxies shift, spin and move in relation to one another; these all happen cyclically, as if these celestial bodies are one giant LP with a skipping needle, forced to play on loop until their end comes.

Human behavior, like the actions of the planets, is also regulated by such cycles, though often beyond our conscious awareness. Should one overeat at a midday meal, one will still look for food at the time one would usually eat next, even if one is not hungry. If a person stays up late, that person may, without consulting the clock, yawn to his or her self and say, “Time for bed.”

So, is time irrelevant, then, if that person did not concern themselves with what the time actually was? Numerically, yes; literally, no, because that person’s physiology dictated that, its normal cycle having been broken, the mind was to shut down and relinquish consciousness to the temporary death we all have come to love so much.

To those who say that time does not exist, I propose that you are wrong. To those who say that time does exist, I say the same, for this reason:
Time as we know it is merely a convention used to analyze and understanding the notion of how our entire physical universe operates in cycles. These cycles are the ‘true’ time; hours, days and years are ‘human’ time.

Time is in a constant state of partial existence- we can conclusively say that all things cycle, operate under the ebb and flow of atomic energy, and absorb and release that energy at specific times- but we cannot objectively state what it really is or in what ways it can be understood.

All things, separately and simultaneously, are subjected to their own inescapable eventuality. Whether the fruit fly, which lives for a mere day, or a star, which could live for hundreds of thousands of years before detonating and wiping out all life around it, these things will continue to repeat upon themselves until they cease to exist.

As will we all.