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Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Seven Stops"

a short story by aleXander hirka
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A screeching of brakes comes across the station.

“Please stand clear of the closing doors.” 


The slap of the rubber as the doors shut is also the click of the ball locked into a roulette wheel slot. 
  The luck of the draw. Your money is down so relax into it. Look left, then right. A chance that Lady Luck may even have a seat waiting for you  - or else she’s busy breathing on somebody else’s dice and you get dealt some warning sight or stinging stench that instead will set your mind on a strategy for preparing to bolt to the very next car at the following stop.

Today an average hand of high and low cards has been layed out in front of you. Nearest the door a woman reads a magazine, the man next to her absorbed in a thick small paperback, embossed silver cover – suggesting action, intrigue – a page turner. 

“If you see a suspicious package or activity, do not keep it to yourself. Tell a police officer or an MTA employee. Remain ALERT and have a safe day.”

And over here  - what are the odds?! – like bookends around the sleeping man between them – two people each reading holy scriptures – little black books with tiny print, one with gold leaf edged pages. These volumes contain messages from different gods – one speaking to the bearded man all in black, another to the Latin woman in bright sky blue. Books that present thoughts from the creator-of-all-this. All this?  This subway?  No – this train is human made, like these books they read from. But these readers are indeed accepting messages from The Creator – a creator who made the sun above-ground ; something they would both agree on.   A creator who gave that man further down the aisle the withered leg he needs the cane for.  That cane: human made. Wood for cane: creator. 

Cane in French is une canne. That is what those other three travelers would call it, huddled over their subway map, trying to figure out some destination – it is their language. But they do not notice the man with the cane.  And what is the french for do-rag? – the cloth that the black man has covering his head – from whose ears, where the white wires end, treble tzzzzls emanate in a steady rhythm. His eyes are closed, oblivious to his seat-mate – her set of wires are black, silent. Her mouth sips cola through a straw, an elixir bottled somewhere far away, in huge vats of not-really-so-secret ingredients – sugar, water – then distributed so thoroughly that every little store in this vast city will have some. Different brands. Choices. Non-sugar variations too. Her tapping foot indicates that there is indeed music flowing from some source in her green bag upward into her ears.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a crowded subway is no excuse for inappropriate sexual conduct. If you feel you have been the victim of a crime, notify a police officer or an MTA employee. Remain alert and have a safe day.” 

Music is a human creation of the most amazing kind – the international flavors are endless, the canned varieties very limited by the market. The economy is human, a game of control and distribution.  A woman reads her electronic book – only glancing up for a second every time the recording blares: “Watch the closing doors, please.” Bing. Without a book cover it’s harder to judge the reader by their book. And after all, up-and-down-scan-judgments are de rigueur for these underground rides ~ human measurements, analyses, and subjectively processed final categorizations of co-travelers. We creatures do that – the constant silent buzz of brains using what was, checking what is, and riding headlong into what will be. The rattle of the tracks is the soundtrack.

“Backpacks and other large containers are subject to random search by the police.”

Someone once said there is a number for everything.  We may not know what it is, but it is there. Six people with umbrellas – there must be a precipitation prediction in the air. Stuck here for more minutes than expected, the man in the suit, for some internal audience, displays the universal sign of exasperation: sliding his hands down his face while sighing loudly.  This visage grows into visible aggravation as a Mariachi guitar duo has entered the car at the far end and are making their happy way towards us. The child whose fingers were skating madly on the surface of some electronic toy, stops and stares – first at the musicians’ passionate strumming coming down the aisle, maneuvering around extended feet – then at the man struggling to lift himself up onto his wooden cane, reaching desperately for one of the poles to complete the process. The others look away as soon as the man’s struggle begins, they don’t see it, but out of the corner of their being they can feel it, feel the pain, want to keep it from intruding into their journey, their day. One of the scripture readers watches, lost in thought, perhaps trying to ascribe a story of why his creator gave this creature this pain component; that analysis would certainly be a parable – one of endurance, acceptance, the rewards of an after-life – and perhaps a castigation on humans always wanting too much.

“If you see an elderly, pregnant, or handicapped person near you, please offer your seat. You’ll be standing up for what’s right. Courtesy is contagious and it begins with you.”

The sombreros and guitars have moved onto the next car, and the old man now crosses the station platform, slowly towards the express train that has arrived. Doors open, doors close. There’s a rigged-game certainty about it. Beat taxes and death still awaits. Maybe another cup of coffee at the office will help.

“Please stand clear of the closing doors.” 

As the train nudges forward, spies, gods and advertisements regain the attention of the readers. Some passengers close their eyes, others press buttons on various small screens. Heads full of ideas and plans ready to move down the tracks. The wheel is slowly set back into motion. Red. Black. Red. Black.

Your stop is next.
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drawing by T. Remington                                                             click to enlarge

image by 
aleXander hirka

click to enlarge


  • • •
The companion CD ~
  "Underground"
  • • •

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Maxed Out"

a short story by T. Remington
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image by aleXander hirka - click to enlarge
   









  




     There it went. Bev watched the bus pull away from the corner and shrugged. It’s not as if she wanted to go after all. She slowed down, relieved in the old sidestepped-the-beggar-while-catching-sight-of-the-landlord-at-the-door way. Oh, she knew she’d have to go. And now she would be late. She’d tried every conceivable angle and, no matter how she played it, scripted it, invented it or let it run through her imagination - like a movie she was making up as it went along, directing, starring in and distributing to deep pockets throughout the Panhandle - this was the end of the run.
      She was moving back to live with her mother.

      You know how I never wanted kids. Here, wait a minute, I want to check this out. See that? Damned government’s gonna take us all down. I tell you what; neither of those lying bastards is getting my vote.
      What? Oh right. Yeah, she’ll be here today, later. I cleared out the back room some, she can fix it how she likes it when she gets here. You know how it is, I got pregnant and that was it. Couldn’t go anywhere. Couldn’t work, hell, nothing around here pays enough to cover the damned childcare. So I had to go on the welfare, get the food stamps, line up in their shitty offices and get treated like a lazy immigrant. You’re lucky with Stan; he’s a pain in the ass, but he’s solid and you can count on him.
      At least she lit outta here before she’d turned seventeen, sure she was gonna make it big downstate. By then, though, what kind of job was I gonna be able to get? Yep. And I’m still there; shoving bacon and eggs down the yap-holes of every truck driver comes down the turnpike.
      Can you get that? My hip’s hinky today. And hand me the bottle, would you? Ah, that’s better. Yep. Of course she’s gonna be late. Hell, she was born late and the only thing she ever did early was get out of here. But now she’s coming back, isn’t she?

      The film crew moved in and took over for the two weeks it took to get their external shots. The whole town went bonkers. Every online-obsessed, rag-reader was sure this would be it for her and flocks of them hovered around the perimeter of the sets, trying to catch an eye, any eye, even the eye of the props guy would do. Bev made it her business to get the union hands into the diner for breakfast and lavished them with extra butter, refills of coffee, whole jugs of fresh squeezed orange juice, defiant in the face of her mother’s annoyance. Bev’s a grown woman now, hell she’s nearly thirty years old and her mother can glare all she wants.
      Bev did her homework. She knew who she needed to corner and planned the encounter with the focus of an invading general whose army was down to its last good push. She knew where he walked, where he ate, where he went to shit. She staked out the route and made her move on the second to last day.

      Yeah, who knows what’s gotten into her this time. I think she had some big ideas around that movie crew that was in last week. She’ll get over it. Sure, I’ll have another. Get one for yourself, too. Want to tap on her door while you’re in there? She’ll come out when she’s hungry enough, I suppose. I thought of that, yep, but I’m not seeing anything missing from the fridge or cupboards. No, I haven’t gone in. What am I gonna say to her? Better luck next time?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"What You'd Expect"

a short story by T. Remington
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Originally published in Storyglossia, Issue 38 (2010) ~ this story was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

image by aleXander hirka - click to enlarge







___________________________________

It gets to where you kind of expect things. People yell first, usually, but if there's yelling, there's hitting. And people bigger than Teeter hit.
     "Quit that."
     "What?" She's a little startled by Weston's tone.
     "Quit chewing your nails. It makes you look retarded." He doesn't even glance over at her.
     Teeter sulks a little. He was nicer to her before she'd moved up here. They're sitting in his dad's living room, watching "Combat" on the TV. It's the ugliest living room Teeter's ever seen with the couch and the old man's chair set to face the TV like in a theater. And the floor's covered with linoleum.
     The old man never talks much, but Danny, Weston's little brother sure does. He talks to the TV.
     The funny thing is there's no yelling with Weston. He just hauls off and cracks Teeter across the face. She'd been chewing her nails again, not even realizing it. Her face registers shock and then she's gone, flying up the stairs two at a time. The old man doesn't even look up.
     When Weston gets to the room, Teeter's throwing her stuff into the suitcase she brought along six weeks ago when she was coming up for the weekend. It's all show. She's got no money and doesn't even know how to get down to the Greyhound station if she did. Weston sits down on the edge of the bed.
     "Ah, baby, c'mon. Stop that. Come here." He reaches out and takes her arm. When she snatches it away and keeps packing, he smiles. She can feel the charge in the air and packs faster for all the good that's going to do her.

I've sent the help home. After everything today, I can stay with Grammy. She's been pretty lucid, seeming like her old self. Maybe it'll be ok after all.
     "Teeter? What time is it?" Grammy's on the move, wandering. I've double checked the doors. All the alarms are set. She won't get out this time.
     "Grammy, I'm Angie, Teeter's daughter. I know you remember that, so don't play that you don't." I don't know why I keep correcting her, but it never fazes her. And it never sticks.
     "Oh right. Angie. Where's Teeter?"
     "On her way." I've learned to pick my lies with Grammy. Some calm her down and some just raise the devil. "You hungry?"
     "No, child, I'm not hungry. Where is everyone? That bastard didn't scare everyone off again, did he?"
     "I sent Delia and the girls on home." I side step any mention of that bastard, my father. My father the ex-con. My father who ruined my mother's life and is responsible for my Auntie Lil's suicide when she was fifteen. My father who knocked my mother up and ditched us before I was born.
     "I never should have let them move in after the fire." Grammy's voice trails off. Here she goes. It might not be so easy tonight.
     I follow her into the vast living room at the back of the house, past the grand piano and the fully stocked bar with its rows of booze shimmering in Baccarat crystal. Of all the stuff that Grammy does forget, I expect the thing she'd most like to forget that it was my mother, Teeter, who provided all this. Not for the first time I feel a crawl of dread at the thought of what's in the will. I was a crappy daughter, Moms, please remember that.

"Teeter, why the fuck are you wasting your time on these things?" Weston's tone is kinder than his words mostly and Teeter keeps on drawing. She can't afford presents for all Weston's nieces and nephews, so she's cut the last of her illustration board into sections and is drawing a picture for each of them. She's working to keep the pictures not too weird. These are little kids after all.
     It's Christmas Eve and Teeter's finishing up the last picture. Danny's out warming up the Buick. She bundles them all up and heads out. She doesn't bother saying anything to the old man, sitting in front of his TV after another double shift at the factory. He won't respond anyway.
     "Let's get a move on, Teeter!" Weston's ready to go. She doesn't notice that the candle on top of the tree has been lit. When they couldn't find a star or angel for the top of the tree, Danny tied a small white stub of a candle to the top branch.
     Hours later, they're standing in the snow with all the neighbors, waiting for the sirens and watching the house burn. The old man is in there, but there's no way anyone can save him. Heavy columns of black smoke rise from the open front and back doors and the first flames appear in the living room windows.
     "Oh Jesus, the dog!" Teeter cries.
     "Fuck the dog." Weston clenches his fists. "My dad's in there!"
     Fuck your Dad. My journals are in there.
     Teeter thinks a lot of things she never says.

Grammy's asleep on the couch and I think I'll leave her there. It's just easier for now, even though it means she'll be even more disoriented in the morning. I'll deal with that then. For now, I'm content to sip some more fine bourbon and flip through the thousand and ten channels on the high def television. This, I'll miss back in Scranton.
     I wonder if he'll really be there like he said. Generally I don't have much use for men, but this one with his gorgeous, sad eyes has me going. Doreen's been calling all day long and I suppose I ought to call her back. She didn't used to be like this back when we first started dating; it's only since she moved in that she's got to know where I am and what I'm doing every minute of the day. And night.
     We buried Teeter yesterday and that's when I met old Sad Eyes, coming out of the cemetery and there he was, leaning against the brick pillar by the gate, smoking. He nodded as I passed. I ignored him, but wasn't surprised when he was at the pizza joint later that night.
     I'd had enough of the rending of garments back at Moms. There's something to be said for having hired help and I was relieved to hand Grammy off to Delia and get out.
     "Sorry about your loss." Even his voice sounds beat up. "Mind if I join you?"
     I just nod and take a long pull off of my beer. There's no beer back at Moms' mansion.

Teeter wishes Weston was as ugly on the outside as he is on the inside. It's a gorgeous May morning when they bury Lily and Weston looks like some grieving Victorian with his widow's peak and pale skin. He looks genuinely broken. Teeter braces herself slightly; being pregnant has thrown her off balance in every way imaginable.
     "Weston, dear, you'll ride with me." Teeter's mother is as blind as the rest of the fools gathered around the hole they're putting poor Lil into.
     "Of course, Gaile, c'mon." He reaches for Teeter, but he's looking at her mother who drops her eyes at the sound of her name.
     "No, Teeter needs to stay and make sure everything gets taken care of properly. Right, Teetie?" Gaile replaces the simper with a brave smile.
     "Go on." Teeter pushes Weston's hand away. She's done all she can and no one's ever listened, so to hell with them.

He's here all right. My flight out is tomorrow, but I've lied to Grammy and Delia so I can sneak off to this cheap motel for something I never thought I'd want. Yes, I've been with men but it was never all that. All that grunting and pushing, like they turn into pigs when they get their clothes off.
     But he's different just like I knew he would be. He's slow and deliberate, starting out gentle. There's this odd smile he gets and when he winds his hand into my hair to pull my head back hard, I like it. Sometimes with Doreen, when her eyes get big and wet, I want to slap her hard across the face. It surprises me to be the one behind those big, wet eyes. Maybe she just wanted me to crack her a good one all along. The impact is satisfying, loosening generations of crusted over denial.
     It's a long night. I don't scream, but I wonder how much more I can take. We go right up to where there's gonna be yellow tape across the door in the morning and still I don't fight to save myself. He flips me over and it hurts worse than anything yet. I wipe my face and, finding my fingers bloody, suck them and growl.

I couldn't have known who he was that night. Right? But then again I like to think I did because that makes all of this even more wrong and awful. And inevitable. The doctor says the baby is developing normally. I'm due around the end of December. Doreen, the one who always wanted a family, has packed and disappeared. Just as well.
     The will was every bit as bad as I'd feared. I've inherited everything.
     Everything.
Copyright©2010 Tammy Remington

• An interview with T. Remington at Storyglossia here. • 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Blank and Silent

a short story by T. Remington


It’s just the way she’d hoped it would be. Everything is right and in its place. She drifts through the rooms, adjusting this or that bit and then returning it to the way she’d found it. It’s quiet, too. Quiet as she’d longed for over and over; quiet that she’d begged and screeched for. What’s that? Her breathing. Her heartbeat. Her footsteps. No dust. No jumbles and piles and no mess. No internet. The waste baskets contain neatly rounded piles of wadded up paper. Idly she reaches for one and unwads it: blank. Nothing. She smiles. At last.

    “What do you mean Gracie doesn’t want to see me?” Irv was not having a good day and would love nothing better than to ruin it for someone else.
    “She doesn’t want to see anyone.” Beau’s smile was genuine.
    “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not anyone. I’m her lifeline.”
    Beau said nothing, simply rolled her chair back and let Irv stomp past her. She could practically see steam rising from the starched collar of his immaculate shirt when he tried the door and found it locked. He seemed sure to blow, but remembered himself and pulled back. They both knew that his pounding on the door would achieve only his mortification and Gracie’s happy scorn later.
    “Call me the moment she comes out.”
    “Of course.” Beau didn’t even glance up from her copy of Gracie’s latest blockbuster hit.
   
    Every bookstore still standing has stacks of “Crescendo” in front windows, giant posters and matching book marks, all of which are moving fast. The fire has caught and it won’t abate for months, maybe longer. Before “Crescendo” it had been “Backstory” and before that it had been “A Denial Denied”. Both of those earlier books had spawned movies.
    It had taken Gracie Foster Maxwell four years to complete “Crescendo” and before the second year was out, the various message boards online were alive with speculation and anticipation. By year three, the tone had darkened. Bad as the crap online was, it was a particularly nasty dust up over tea at the Excelsior with her server, an avid reader, that had been enough for Gracie. That undulating, money spewing blob kindly referred to as her readers would have to settle for rumors and its own bile. Gracie doubled down, finished “Crescendo” and then … she went away.

    The bed linens are exquisitely silky and cool. She smoothes her hand over them and wishes she felt sleepy. Later. Right now there’s something else she needs to do. Going from waste basket to waste basket, she selects certain balled up pages. She doesn’t fumble; she can tell from the first touch of each piece that it’s the one. There are more waste baskets than she remembered and soon she’s gathering the wads of paper into the lifted folds of her nightgown. The logic of this dream holds no mystery. Everything is clear. If it’s words the whining fucks want, she’ll give them words.
    She takes her treasure pile into the study and tumbles the white onto the wide, shiny walnut desk next to her first ever typewriter, a manual Royal. The chair slides out silently and is exactly the right height for this desk. A mild downy light spills in from the tall windows. There is an order to be obeyed in this and she pauses before selecting the first ball, smoothing it out carefully and then sliding it into the machine. The words are all there, ready and eager.    

    No one noticed at first. The missing persons’ reports did seem to be increasing, but even with it staring them in the face, it took months before anyone put it together. Some savant detective type noted the presence of one of Gracie’s books at each crime scene. By the time the headlines got panicky, Irv was ready to storm that door. It was less Beau’s steady refusal that held him back so long as his own disbelief. Impossible. Then an entire book club vanished before they got to the second chapter in Crescendo.

    “Ok, that’s it. Get out of the way.” Irv had grabbed the fire ax from out in the hallway.
    “Isn’t that a little much, Irv?” Beau didn’t move.
    Without another word, Irv shoved her chair aside with his foot and took a wide stance in front of the door. The timing couldn’t have been more contrived, more perfect. The door knob slowly turned. Irv stepped back, letting the ax fall to his side. The smile on Gracie’s face widened as she saw that.
    “Silly old Irv. Don’t worry. I’m done.” She turned to Beau, “Darling, I could use a drink.”

images by aleXander hirka