Choking On Mice

Snake’s Short Stories

Horror Vacui

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Morgan watched the cold rain fall onto the deck from the overhanging trees forming puddles that reflected the dark gray sky. The month of May was predictable only in its unpredictability. One day cold and gloomy, more like November, the next, brilliant and hot with mosquitoes, like July. This particular month in the pivot of spring seemed torn between two identities; depressed and indolent on the one hand, and optimistic and motivated on the other. Morgan had hoped to go outside for a walk. It was her usual morning routine to hike for about a mile or so down to the pond where she would stop to observe the turtles basking on the mud banks, and listen to the twang of the green frogs, like banjos out of tune, waiting in ambush in the swamp reeds and lily pads for their breakfast of insects. But this particular morning did not inspire a walk, and Morgan took up her newspaper instead, scanned the headlines, sipped her coffee, and wondered what she would do with the anxiety of time and how she would spend the rest of her day.

She had lost her job. Laid off. With no real prospects of finding a new job anytime soon, for the first time in her life she was faced with the real vacuum of time, the emptiness of the hours. When she had been working, she had always struggled against time, wrestled with it on a daily basis. There had never been enough of it. She had wished the days could have been longer so she could get more work done, and finish her assignments when they were due. Morgan had also realized, however, that the more work she did, the more would be piled on her desk; and that was the nature of work, that work begat work. And there was the maelstrom and vortex of her profession, the 24/7 never-ending always connected, e-mail, Blackberry, you-name-it umbilical cord to the corporation. And now that had been cut. The artery severed. What nourishment employment, aside from the obvious paycheck. She had been delivered of the company, born into her new world of unemployment, stark naked, alone, abandoned. People whom she had called colleagues rarely called, or checked in. They were too busy, too busy hanging on to their own jobs. Afraid, she thought, of associating with her, in a way, as though she might be contagious, with some illness. It might infect them too if they came too close. She was now quarantined. Isolated from the healthy workers.

Both of her children were in high school, employed in the business of learning. They left before seven o’clock every morning, and returned after team practice in the evening. Her husband still had a job, and frequently traveled. The dog had recently died. Three cats were left in the household; two of which were independent and self-sufficient and rarely seen, and the other one, Crackles, an old shameless beggar, would sit in the kitchen waiting for treats, between naps on the deceased dog’s bed. The pet fish had also died, and was in the freezer, in a plastic bag, awaiting his funeral.

There was central heat in the family’s home that kept the house comfortably warm in the winter, along with a wood stove in the living room, as well as central air conditioning that was rarely used. Morgan felt chilled most of the time due to her advancing age and slight build, and preferred the heat. She listened to the furnace kick on and off during the day and night all winter long, cycling to maintain the temperature she had set. It was as though the house were actually breathing, with the warm air puffing from the vents, and this was some comfort to her as if she unconsciously felt the presence of a companion. And this rainy morning in May, Morgan once again felt a desire for the rumbling furnace to resuscitate the house, yet she plugged in the space heater instead, and returned to her newspaper and coffee. No need to heat the whole empty house, she thought, when I’m the only person here.

Morgan turned the pages of the newspaper to the crossword puzzle. She had never done them before in her life. She had no experience, no practice in this exercise. She took up a pencil and began. “1. (across): use the maxilla and mandible.” Four letters. “chew,” she wrote, and then felt hungry. She found her stash of chocolate in the cupboard and nibbled at it while she continued with the puzzle, struggling with the clues. Yet underneath this temporary distraction was the looming anxiety of what she was going to do when the puzzle was finished, when all the squares were filled in, when she laid her pencil down on the kitchen table. What then? What was time going to do with her, with her horror vacui? Would she find something else to do to pass the time, to fill these unstructured hours as the rain fell? Would she open the freezer, bury the fish, and have a funeral in the rain? Or would she give in and wake up the furnace?

Written by Quidam

May 31, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Note to Self

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Thinking of you today, stuck inside that silly head of yours all day and night, through dreams and waking, and thought you might like a little break. It’s cloudy and rainy here today with one earlier downburst, but sunshine is pouring over the clouds just where it can’t be seen, thousands of feet higher in the atmosphere. Well above depression level hovering here close to the ground mixed in with fog. I could describe the clear blue sky nearing the darker stratosphere, where the air in thin, and oxygen scarce. It’s a refreshing sight from sea level on clear days, and how we pine for it on overcast and gloomy ones. How we wish for what we cannot have in these bleak moments when we want it most. Moments of shadow, inertia, and gloom. Days, and years the sun was too weak to shine through the clouds. And driving rain kept us locked in our rooms, alone with our diminished thoughts. The seasons a perpetual winter and wool coat shivering. But the Earth is dynamic, and the weather never static. High and low pressure opposed scatters and churns clouds and weather systems; these fierce moods of the planet both nurture and destroy. As emotions churn their own storms, or maelstroms, with heavy cloud cover and seizures of lightening, they must finally break into daylight or shatter.

Written by Quidam

April 21, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Over the Cliff

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It was there in a vague and foggy way when she woke up in the morning, and it followed her to the bathroom, and then to the kitchen where she brewed coffee and boiled her egg. It was stronger when she was in the car, driving, especially when someone was tailgating, and when she glanced in her rearview every few seconds or so, to keep an eye on the vehicle behind her, and how close it was, how impossibly close. And at the red light, waiting for the green, she felt it pounding through her in that infinite minute while the traffic whizzed past her on South Street. Here she had to make a left turn with no arrow to assist her through the intersection as her engine knocked on the pull up the hill. Because she was afraid of hills too, afraid of rolling backwards as she released the clutch. She never, ever quite got the hang of driving a standard transmission. But this was her car, this old Subaru, and she was harnessed to it, like she was with this fear.

Her fear was her shadow, her companion. Her universal other spirit, weaving into her mind and body both consciously and through her dreams and nightmares. It had been with her for so long now, she could no longer imagine life without it. It was integrated into her personality. Touch her and she’d startle and tremble. People would remark that lately she seemed a bit “jumpy,” or “nervous.” Because, inside, she felt as though she carried a bomb that was on the verge of detonating. The fear was so intense, and it’s power so devastating if unleashed, she felt it was capable of annihilating her. That is what she believed. So of course, she was very cautious with the bomb. She carried herself gently, so as not to disturb it, or agitate it. She spoke softly, carefully, if at all, worried about waking the bomb, and never raised her voice, or cried. Most of all, she knew she’d never be able to afford a specialist to disarm the bomb. It was hers for keeps, as long as she was alive.

“The economy is going over the cliff,” the male voice announced on the radio. She didn’t catch his credentials; he was just another voice in the background of her day. She thought of lemmings, nothing more than little hamsters, leaping off the cliffs of Norway, into the sea, and swimming, swimming, swimming, until they were fatally exhausted, and drowned. No, they didn’t commit suicide. They were migrating. They had tried to make it and press on. But after that big leap, and all that cold water, how far could a lemming expect to go?

She had lost her job. Her benefits were running out. And some, in her position, she knew, had done the unthinkable, and had come running to the edge of the cliff with something other than a lemming motive in mind. And that’s why she was so fearful lately, of the bomb.

Written by Quidam

November 21, 2008 at 7:40 pm

Bubbles

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Soap bubbles of various sizes orbit her head, like transparent planets with rainbows whirling, each has a stroke of hypnotic beauty that captivates her eye. She squeezes the bottle again, releasing another solar system into her universe, flowing into the light beaming through the window. What light. What wonderful living light after a day of soaking, dark rain, and nothing to do but sit all day and brood, and wish for it to end, with the dead leaves plugging storm drains, and the street flooding.

She pokes one bubble with her pudgy fingertip; it explodes with a silent pop, and she feels the burst of first energy, a gasp of breath, and giggles. She splashes the water in the sink, foaming even more bubbles, bigger bubbles, churning them into a thick frothy mass. She scoops the foam into her palms and blows dark wormholes, speckling the window with warm water spots. She swirls the water once again, where the dirty dishes lurk: Spoons, forks and knives. A roasting pan. The bubbles begin to weaken in the heavy grease. But this is their job after all, isn’t it: To suspend oil and dirt in water, rinse down the drain and keep it flowing.

And what dark galaxy without bubbles and all this work to do.

Written by Quidam

October 4, 2008 at 11:03 pm

Boosted

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She steals every day that she can. Why not? She never took anything as a kid, but plenty of her friends shoplifted when they were young. She didn’t get it then. Didn’t see the point of it. Linda was the worst. She’d steal candy and makeup when they hung out together, slipping it all into her purse while Tammy held her breath and her heart kicked. Linda never got caught. This was before all the “eyes in the skies,” the surveillance cameras that peep from the ceilings, with remote joysticks driving their lenses, focusing on suspicious shoppers’ subtle hand movements while they stroll up and down the isles touching and sampling. No, when they were kids, all they had were those convex mirrors to deter them. But they never stopped Linda. The clerks were too busy at the cash registers to focus on the mirrors. But Tammy always saw deeply into them, the way they inflated her body into a hideous Betty Boop balloon bouncing at the end of its tethers in some mock Macy’s Day parade with the marching bands blaring and the majorettes twirling and never once missing a high toss.

But none of that really mattered. None of the fatness, or thinness in their friendship. It simply came down to Linda’s perfect timing and execution of her crimes. She’d wait for the little old ladies to shuffle up to the cash registers with their canes and baskets, coupons and coin purses, and then make her move: snatch the mascara and then select the lipstick she wanted to buy. Yeah, she’d actually go up to the register with the Mabelline Crushed Cranberry, stare the clerk in the eye, and pay the money, with her purse right there on the counter, busting with boosted goods. Tammy worried that if Linda were ever caught, she’d be arrested too, as an accomplice. But nothing ever happened. Linda was slick. Cool. Never looked nervous, never broke a sweat. And she always kept to the same routine: Steal a load of crap, and buy one little thing. What else could you do in the suburbs for fun, to fill stinking boring hours with nothing to do but walk around the same glaring mall with no real money in your wallet, with no real hope of getting out of town until graduation, until if and when some college somewhere said “congratulations,” and loans could be patched together somehow. Otherwise it would be the commuter college, and living at home for four more years in the same bedroom with the same stuffed elephant staring from the bureau by the window looking out to the rutted road where the neighbor always drove home drunk and hadn’t killed any of his kids in the driveway just yet, but said, “aw hell, it’s easy enough to make another one,” when he came close one day. Otherwise, if the community college sent a rejection letter because you failed that last year of English, you could always work that job at the mall full-time at JC Penny to make the car payments. Because in the suburbs to have a car was to have a pulse. Otherwise you were dead. Dead and buried in the grave of your parent’s house. Under the weight of their concern and constant interference.

But now that Tammy was middle-aged, and on the downslide of her life, alone without Linda, Linda who had long ago abandoned her for the city and subways, the apartments and the elevators, and the homeless begging for spare change on the streets. She lived in her own house in her own suburb, with crushing car payments and the new mall just five minutes away, where shoplifting was like a jailbreak for her. A release from the monotony of the early alarm clock, schedules, routines, and compulsive vacuuming and silver polishing. She had found herself tempted again one day in the candy store, and grabbed a fist full of rainbow gummy worms, successfully sliding them into her coat pocket, before bolting out the door and into the Christmas shopping crowd. Her heart pounding, she slipped into a nearby clothes store. Tee shirts lay folded on display. She had a large shopping bag ready in hand. The store was bustling and crowded. It was a popular store with the teens. People pushed in all around. Rap music blared from the speakers. Spot lights flared. She was perspiring. She stood out from the other shoppers, and sensed that people were looking askance at her, as she stood there, short and fat, in her bulky winter coat and scarf, with her cotton hat. fine facial wrinkles and thin pale lips. She never had Linda’s cool, and never would have it, and she knew it. She picked up a tee shirt, held it and considered it for a long while. It would make a nice present for her son, even though he didn’t enjoy gifts. It was a bright color, solid red. A change from his usual dark colors and black. She checked the price tag. Twenty-four dollars. Not bad. She had the money. She had the credit cards and cash. She folded the shirt with meticulous care, like she did with the laundry at home every day, and placed it back on the display. On her way out of the store, she grabbed a pair of socks from a table close to the exit and dropped them into her bag.

Walking back into the mall congestion, loud and bustling, her heart banged against her ribs so hard it felt as though someone were kicking her from the inside, like the old thrill with Linda, but with an edge of mortal sickness this time. She felt a headache beginning and knew it would soon explode into a migraine. Her knees felt soft, as though they would buckle, and she soon found an empty spot on a bench where she sat with her eyes closed. Perspiration continued to bead on her lip. No mere hot flash this time. Waves of nausea became more intense, beyond the usual upset she’d expect from a headache, and she became aware of a dull ache now in her left arm.

This is grossly unfair, she began thinking, as a tightness began to travel more centrally into her chest, squeezing down, unrelenting. That old elephant standing on top of her, killing her with his weight. She collapsed to the floor, softly and slowly, her fist pressed against her chest, as the security guard caught up to her, and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Help is on the way,” he said…just as she lost consciousness.

And she steals every day that she can.

Written by Quidam

September 28, 2008 at 5:02 pm