THE LAST GREENHOUSE IN THE WORLD

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veryshortstories Gabriel looked with concern at the sapling in the corner. Its silver-gray leaves drooped and the plant, not more than four feet tall, projected an overall air of forlornness. Behind the ornate pot holding the plant the transparent panes of a wide bay window showed a murky red sky and rolling brown dunes denuded of vegetation, numbing in monotony. The dullness of the scene had no effect on Gabriel. His whole concern was focused on the plant before him.
Reaching out, he touched one of the leaves with his thumb and forefinger. It was the most delicate of touches but even that slight contact seemed too much for the sapling. It trembled and the leaf came away in his hand, leaving a stark white patch to mark the spot where it had detached from the trunk.
Gabriel inhaled sharply in dismay, examining the leaf in his hand. The top of the leaf was still a handsome silver gray but the underside showed mottled patches of brown and yellow and a spidery pattern of cracks covered the surface like a fine lattice. Even as he watched, the little tree seemed to sway, although no breeze stirred inside the building. Another of the lower leaves detached itself and floated down to join a small group of its fellows in the base of the pot.
Clutching the leaf in his hand Gabriel ran back up the long avenue leading back to his central office from this remote alcove on the edge of the building.
The office was hexagonal and glass-walled, providing a panoramic view of the interior of the building, which was large. From the central perspective, the six sides of the building were clearly evident, a macroscopic version of the office itself. Inside, machines and displays stood banked against the clear walls except for a small curtained alcove providing the only privacy in the entire building. The alcove contained Gabriel’s private quarters, although privacy never concerned him these days. Gabriel was the only occupant of the transparent building.
Hastily he dropped the leaf he was holding into the receptacle of a quietly humming machine and pressed some buttons. The leaf disappeared inside and the machine made quiet regular sounds as it analyzed its input. Less than a minute later a small screen popped up and data began to scroll down its surface. The receptacle popped open again but there was no sign of the leaf. Gabriel glanced quickly at the display and his shoulders sagged visibly.
Two days, he thought. That was all the time the sapling had left. The deterioration was irreversible and permanent. The tree was dying. Sadly he walked back out of the office and onto the wide plaza with its six broad avenues branching out precisely to the six sides of the building. Retracing his steps to the sapling, he stood looking at it, knowing he would have to take it out of the pot and destroy it before it infected any of the other plants nearby. But not yet. There were still two days and he could enjoy its company a little while longer.
Stepping to the clear wall, he pressed his face to the surface and looked outside. The building stood on a bare hilltop whose gentle slopes lead down to a shallow valley. The slopes were bare brown and dusty, the valley a continuation of the same. Beyond, other small hills rose up around him, similarly denuded and desolate, an endless procession stretching out into the distance. Gabriel knew that beyond the hills lay a great plain, equally dry and desolate, scoured by fierce winds that were gradually eroding the hills into dust. A world of perpetual dusk. He had not been outside in more than a century. There was nothing out there anymore. The machines that kept his building alive maintained him too, his circuits recharged and replenished as he rested in the nothing state he had come to call sleep.
But he never really slept. The term was a throwback to his long dead creators who had made him for a very specific purpose. He needed to stay vigilant. That was his imperative. He was the Keeper. The Keeper of the last greenhouse in the world.

© Bryan Knower 2015

TRANSIENT: A Short Short Story

transient02TRANSIENT

Short Short StoryA hazy beam of sunlight throws a vertical swath of light on the wall, making a bright smear on the washed out pattern of the wallpaper. The paper must have been ivory colored once, but now it is a dirty shade of cream, fading to yellowish brown. The peeling edges lift off the wall like the curling dog-eared pages of a well worn book, in places torn to reveal the dull blue of an earlier print. Along the path the sunlight takes as it creeps up the wall, the paper has bleached, evidence of long tenure.

In a corner across from the window, an iron frame bed leans drunkenly against the wall, looking like it might collapse without additional support. The frame was once painted black, but all vestiges of color have peeled away, leaving only bare metal, interspersed with darker splotches of rust that contrast vividly with the incongruous emerald green of the coverlet. The bedspread seems relatively new and the small images of romping cats scattered across the surface seem like a sick joke in contrast to the severity of the room. At the foot of the bed stands a battered brown suitcase, its leather scuffed and scratched. The zippers are broken, the tabs missing and the case is now secured by two straps, curling and worn smooth from much use.

There’s a wooden clothes horse in the left corner, adjoining the window. On its rungs hang a faded pair of blue jeans along with two threadbare grayish t-shirts. The shirts may have been black once, but repeated washing seems to have leached all the color from them.

The other corner hosts a small metal table and a folding chair. Paraphernalia litters the table; a thin length of latex rubber lies like a flaccid snakeskin beside a tarnished silver spoon and a partially used spirit lamp. A disposable hypodermic syringe has rolled to a stop against the lamp, and resting near it is a crumpled scrap of foil paper, an orphan from the overflowing ashtray.

The ashtray, once the property of the Happy Family Peking Diner, is the cheap tin kind that everybody steals. The remnants of a dozen cigarette butts, the unfiltered kind, fill the bowl. The ash tray, once gilded, is now black with the detritus of innumerable mashed out smokes. The smell of stale tobacco fights for supremacy with the scent of Lysol air freshener, creating a strange pungent odor that is not altogether unpleasant.

The sunlight barely illuminates the room, even though it is still early afternoon. The window is grimy, and the inside surface is streaked as if someone has tried to scrub it clean with paper. The outside of the glass pane is spotted and patchy where raindrops briefly liquefied some of the grime before hardening it into a new pattern; layer upon layer of cloudy whorls that filter out most of the light. The view outside is bleak; dominated by the brown brick wall of another building, all the windows shuttered. The light in the room will vanish when the setting sun disappears behind the rooftop of that building.

A single light bulb hangs from the ceiling by a length of wire, as grimy as the window itself. The bulb is bare and unlit. In the wan light diffusing into the room, the wooden floor seems streaked, the result of many repairs that have matched neither the grain nor the type and shade of the wood. The boards look stained and dull, the surface lacquer long since gone and the wood darkened to a chocolate luster with age.

The sound of a jack hammer drifts up through the imperfect window seal, the rhythmic clatter mingling with the sound of shouted voices from out in the hallway. On the other side of the wall, a baby cries, providing a monotonous background to the rhythmic thud-thud of a boom box with the bass turned up loud. The walls are like acoustically permeable membranes, making privacy altogether impossible.

A cheap mirror hangs on the back of the closed door, reflecting the interior of the room in unflattering detail. Above the mirror, someone has screwed in a couple of cheap metal hooks. A white bathrobe, relatively new, occupies one of the hooks, a puffy cumulus smudge against the dull leaden backdrop of the door. It is one of the few things in the room, along with the suitcase and the jeans, that clearly belongs to someone.

Curiously, there are no electrical or mechanical contrivances of any kind in the room. This, added to the lack of furniture, makes the room appear bigger than it really is, an illusion accented by its Spartan emptiness. The entire aspect is one of impermanence, as if the entire room is transient, primed to transform in a moment at its owner’s whim. But there is no living thing here. There hasn’t been for days. Eventually, the landlord will come looking. Come when the pre-paid rent has run out. But by then the Lysol scent will be long gone, replaced by the growing odor of putrescence and the grotesquely swollen foot and ankle protruding from under the trailing edge of that emerald green coverlet.

Bryan Knower 2014

Short short story post-

And The Day PassesAND THE DAY PASSES

The noonday sun scorched his bare head and perspiration trickled across Leon’s scalp, crawling inexorably towards his hairline. He scrubbed his sleeve across his forehead, catching beads of sweat just before they tumbled off his brow and fell into the bottom of his boat. The breeze was out of the northwest and the canvas shelter he had rigged to the cabin provided no shade. He looked at the meager catch in the bottom of his boat, trying to push down the feeling of despair creeping up over him. It was the third day with no major catch now, and he urgently needed something substantial to keep Martha going for the rest of the week
He tried not to think of Martha, lying sick in the little seaside cottage they called home. Even if he got back by early evening, it was an hour’s drive in the old Ford pickup to Puerto Vallejo, where he could sell his catch. The fancy restaurants there paid good money for the big table fish, but those fish were getting harder to find, especially for a lone operator like himself. The developers mushrooming along the once pristine beaches had polluted the bay, driving the big fish out into deeper waters. The ones he caught nowadays were scrawny and undersized. Not worth much on the market, and he was struggling.
In spite of the hardship, Leon liked the life. Lonely, but that suited him. He had come here with Martha twenty years ago to get away from city life and never regretted one moment of it until six months ago, until Martha’s illness. It was scary how she deteriorated before his eyes.
They went to the city to see the doctors, many of them. None of them could provide much comfort. Cancer, they said, and ordered all sorts of tests, keeping Martha confined to a small room, sedated and comatose. She hated the whole process, when she was aware of it, and soon she refused to continue. He agreed.
Six months, the doctors said. Maybe longer if they were allowed to treat her. But for what? A few more months of misery and pain?
So they loaded up on narcotics and drove back to Caravinho, Martha squeezing his hand all the way and the first month had been good again. The narcotics helped and Martha was pain free and full of laughter, like she had always been. But in the past few weeks, the pain came back, and with it the cramps. Leon hated it when he had to leave her in the mornings, motoring out gently past the moorings to head out past the bay looking for those elusive fish. One or two good days might let him stay home the rest of the week but the catch lining the bottom were nearly worthless. Not worth driving into Puerto Vallejo to sell. The restaurants were only interested in prize catch. This stuff was only good for the neighborhood diners, who did not pay. Also, he was not the only fisherman in the area feeling the pinch.
A sudden unreasoning rage swept through him and he kicked savagely at the glittering pile at his feet. Even the contact was insubstantial. They were too slippery to provide much of a target. A beep from his navigation unit caught his attention. He had reached the end of his daily circuit. Time to pull up the nets and see what he had caught. He throttled back and cut the power, turning the small boat into the swells so she would not swamp. Then he walked over to the winch, activating the mechanism that would raise the net, gather it and swing it aboard. The motor whined ground and brought up the gray skeins of nylon from the deep, the bottom bulging slightly with the fruit of his current efforts. Nothing looked substantial there, just more of the same he had brought up all morning.
Swinging the net into the boat, he lowered it to the floor, opening the beams of the winch so he could look into the net. Something bulky and brown, bigger that the rest of the struggling silvery mass caught his attention and he leaned over, hooking it out. It was an old battered suitcase, waterlogged and rotten, nearly falling apart in his hands. Intrigued, he placed it on the floor and pried the lid open. It came up easily, the locks tearing away from the rotted leather panels holding them. Inside was a small package wrapped in plastic, about the size of a paperback book and sealed with tape. It appeared watertight in spite of the state of its enclosure. Curious, he cut the sealing tape and stripped away the wrapping, revealing a small intricately carved box inlaid with many kinds of wood and shell.
Very pretty, he thought, as he stuck the tip of his knife under the lid and levered the box open.
Taken aback by what he saw, he nearly dropped the box. Putting it down carefully on the deck of the boat, he stared again. The contents glittered back at him, catching the refracted rays of the sun and throwing them back into his eyes; all the colors of the rainbow flashing in a prismatic kaleidoscope that dazzled him and made him blink. They were a small handful of beautiful scintillating stones, crystals that flared in the light and tumbled around gently in their bed of crumbling black velvet. All were cut and polished, radiant and glittering; a king’s ransom in the palm of his hand, delivered to him in his need. He looked at the gems for a long time, trying to discern their story, but they glimmered on inscrutably, bright and hard in the sunlight, their secrets trapped like the rays of light imprisoned in their faceted bodies.
He did not wait to roll up the nets as he normally did. Stuffing the gems into his pocket, he swung the boat around, gunning the motor as he sped back to the shore. He felt filled to the bursting with excitement, anticipating breaking this wonderful news to Martha. They could afford all those experimental treatments now; the one the specialist doctors offered; the ones costing so much money. In fifteen minutes, he was back at the little jetty in front of their house, scarcely aware of navigating the shoals at the head of the bay. Leaping out onto the wooden dock, he ran towards the front door, calling out Martha’s name.
It was only a few hundred yards to the door, but long before he reached it, Leon felt something amiss. He felt it in his bones, in the oppressive stillness that seemed to surround the little cottage. The door was open, as it always was, and he pushed through, blinking as his eyes adjusted from the bright sunlight outside to the dimness of the interior. Martha lay in her usual spot, stretched out on the cot under the window where she could watch the seagulls swoop down as they scavenged for food. She always turned to greet him, no matter how weak she was but now she did not move. Leon hurried to her side, his heart growing heavier as he approached.
Martha looked asleep, her face turned towards the sunlight. All the lines had disappeared from her features, as if the care and pain of the past weeks had suddenly left her body. As indeed, they had. She was not breathing. He took her hand in his, fumbling for her pulse, feeling her skin still warm under his touch. There was not even a flutter, although Leon stood there for long minutes, concentrating. Martha had left him. Gone while he was out on the water. Alone at her passing.
Leon broke down then, weeping and wailing in his grief. Then he lashed out with his fists and feet at everything in the cottage, venting his grief in anger. He raged for hours, pacing around the little room, screaming at everything and nothing, until the westering sun began to redden the interior of the room, giving Martha’s pale cheeks a last lingering blush. He paused then, drained and spent, and walked out of the cottage, back towards the beach and the water, which a short time ago had held out so much promise.
He stood at the water’s edge a long time, staring at the water as the sun sank in a flaming ball below the horizon and the afterglow painted infinite reflecting pathways on the darkening billows. The waves rolled endlessly towards him, breaking on the submerged rock mounts inside the mouth of the bay and marching with diminishing intensity to dissipate in froth at his feet. He could feel his former life slipping away with the eddies of the breakers, the shell of his world falling aside like a peeled plum, leaving him raw and bleeding, exposed to the universe. He groped in his pocket and brought out the handful of gems that had seemed the panacea to all his ills a few hours ago. In the fading twilight, the stones had lost much of their luster. They lay dull and quiescent in his palm, their inner fire extinguished.
He should go back inside, prepare for tomorrow, but he lingered. If he stayed where he was, stayed still, time might stand still too. Tomorrow could wait; a small delay in the inevitable of the darkening present.

Short short story post-

shortstory2WHITE ROOM

A man in a white lab coat pushes a steel cart down a white painted corridor, his feet making no sound on the dark grey industrial carpeting. The cart has two large trays. One of them holds covered steel containers that steam gently. The other tray is open, filled an assortment of medications, syringes and bottles of all sizes. Doors, painted white, stand closed at regular intervals. The man passes them all, going down to the end of the corridor, which ends in another door, also white and also closed. On the door a small metal frame holds a cardboard tag that reads Holmes, David. The man pauses at the door and fumbles in the pocket of his coat, fitting a large key into the lock.

***

David Holmes squeezes the white pebbled stone parapet hard, his grip so tight that the muscles under his skin ripple with the tension. He has powerful athletic arms; the muscles defined and curved under sunburned skin. He looks out over the low balustrade towards white flecked breakers flopping over lazily on the shore below. A vagrant breeze lifts a lock of his hair and whips it across his face. Absently he raises one hand and pushes the errant strand back into place, keeping his eyes fixed on the surf below. A single wisp of cloud hovers overhead in an otherwise azure sky and he smiles as his eye catches the glitter of the noonday sun on the rising crest of a breaker. It’s a perfect day on Hidden Cove Bay. Perfect for sailing. He relishes the prospect, imagining the feel of the wind whipping his hair into a tangle and hear the crack of the canvas sails as they gather the breeze.
Sailing is David’s passion, the only time he really feels alive. He loves the motion of the waves rocking the planks beneath his feet, the salty taste of spray on his lips, yelling nonsensical pirate phrases into the wind knowing no one can hear him. Sometimes he drops anchor in the middle of the bay, strips of his clothes and lies naked on the deck, luxuriating in the warmth of the sun on his skin, feeling the sweat pop out on his brow, the red haze hot against his eyelids as his upturned face catches the sun’s oblique rays.
Maybe today he’ll go swimming instead. The water looks inviting; deep turquoise blue, sprinkled with shimmering translucent wavelets that break up and catch the sunlight in endless tiny fragments. The motion of the waves is hypnotic, lulling him into a trance. His mind reels in a well worn memory.
Once, floating on his back a hundred yards from his boat, a flying sailfish, Parexocoetus brachypterus, flew right over him, fins spread, leaping over him like an inconsequential hurdle, the diamond like shards of its watery wake creating a rainbow of refracted colors through his half closed eyelids. He turned over then, rolling on the surface, trying to follow the path of the fish as it re-entered the water, but it was too fast for him. All he saw were the shadows of the wave ripples on the sea floor. It was August, the water so clear he could to see all the way to the bottom, almost forty five feet below; everything enhanced and clarified by the light, making the water so transparent he felt as if he was lying on a pane of glass.
Right now, his mouth feels dry. His body is sticky, remembering the liquid coolness; the sensuous embrace, like a lover, like being in a warm fluid cocoon, welcoming him in, arousing his lust, stroking him with the feathery touch of vagrant breezes on his skin. The water calls him with an indefinable urge, a visceral yearning his body responds to on a molecular level.
Today he must stay longer. He is tired of this place, trapped in this building even though it affords him a daily view of the sea he loves.

***

The sound of a key grating in the lock intrudes upon the stillness of the room, and a stark white door swings inwards to rest against an equally stark white wall. The room’s decor is Spartan, almost minimalist. Everything is white, from the linens to the furniture, unrelieved by even a picture on the wall. The man in the white lab coat enters, wheeling a steel cart loaded with two trays. One of them holds covered steel containers that steam gently. The other tray is open, filled an assortment of medications, syringes and bottles of all sizes.
Sunlight streams in through open French doors, the intensity of the light washing out any color in the room. The French doors open out onto a broad uncovered balcony where a hunched form is visible, leaning forward in a wheelchair, hands gripping the balustrade. A blanket covers the occupant’s thighs but beneath the edge of the fabric a pair of withered uncovered legs are visible. A flicker of sympathy crosses the lab coated man’s face as he notices the faraway expression on the patient’s face. David Holmes was a champion sailor once, but he will never walk again.
“Hello David,” he says, gently breaking into the others reverie. “Thinking of the sea again? It’s time for your medicine, you know.”

Short short story post-

shortstory2Captured

I wake up groggy trying to blink my eyes open, and then scream from the flashing pain in my head. There’s a migraine raging through my skull and I don’t know where I am but I dare not open my eyes again just yet. I shuttle in and out of consciousness, finally summoning the will to crack my eyelids open a fraction. They shut almost immediately of their own volition. My heart, suddenly accelerated, thumps in my chest. It isn’t the pain; it’s what is lying on the table in front of me that stresses me out.

My mind seems irrationally calmly logical. Must be a neat freak who laid this out, I think, wondering if I should just go ahead and panic. The implements on the table are shiny, most of them pointed; many with rows of wicked looking teeth or flat clamping surfaces that make my sensitive parts cringe. There’s a perverse order to the madness, with the smallest ones to my left, increasing alarmingly in size and cruelty as they progress across the surface. I’m standing upright, manacled at wrists and ankles. When I try to turn my head to get a look around the room, a metal band securing my head in place scrapes against my forehead, giving new meaning to the phrase “stars in my eyes.”

I must have passed out again, for when I open my eyes a second time it’s a lot easier. Time is dulling my headache, but time is not my friend here. As far as I can see, I’m alone in the room and I can only conclude that these cold shiny instruments are there for my benefit.

I’m cold. I have not even a scrap of clothing to preserve my dignity and a cold draught plays across the room, shriveling my genitals. Using my eyes without moving my head, I can see a doorway across from me, with a high narrow window a few paces to the right of it, open to the elements. It seems dark in the window slit, darker than the fitful illumination in the room. It must be night outside. At least four hours have passed since the late afternoon when I sneaked away from our group, tiptoeing up the stairs of abandoned “Macbeth” tower in the roped off section of the castle we were exploring. I remember stepping on a crumbling stone step and plunging into blackness, screaming. Now this.

Goodrich castle in Herefordshire is supposedly uninhabited; a decaying ruin that somehow draws visitors because of its association with Wordsworth’s poem “We are Seven.” At the moment, I am one, alone and Wordsworth’s little maid might soon add me to her list of two dead that so bothered the poem’s narrator. The silence is uncanny. I always assumed castles were noisy places, but an almost unbearable stillness fills the room, a musty expectance, as if awaiting a familiar presence. Unbidden some lines from the poem come to mind;

Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

The hair on the back of my neck and arms rises as I contemplate this, and at the risk of wringing my own neck I scrunch my head into my shoulders, trying to wriggle out of the restricting band about my head. It hurts like crazy, and I can’t free myself from the constraint, but the grip on my head loosens as my head slips an inch down in the ring. I can turn my head a little now, and see almost all of the room.

It isn’t large, and the walls curve around, making me think that I am still in the tower. But this tower is not ruined. The walls are made of solid stone blocks, undecorated and gray to match the gloom that fills the space. What little light there is comes from a sputtering torch mounted to one side and now burnt almost to an ember. My eyes adjust to the dimness and now I can see that a faint stream of smoke trails from the wall and creeps under the door. The door. I haven’t paid any attention to it until now, but there it stands, massive beams of wood banded with rusted metal, worn almost the color of the walls. I stare at it intently, trying to discern a lock or key when, to my horror it begins to swing slowly open, making the torch sputter wildly and go out. In the extreme darkness that follows, I can’t see what comes through the door, but somehow, I know that I am no longer alone in the room.

Short short story post-

shortstory2HEMOGLOBIN
by Bryan Knower

Marvin Goodly looked down at the spreading pool of blood in disbelief. Stuff like this only happened on TV. He was still gripping the kitchen carver he had grabbed by reflex. He willed his fingers open, trying to drop the knife through sheer willpower but the blade refused to leave him. Using his other hand, he pried the digits loose one by one in a macabre game of this little piggy until the carver dropped to the floor with a clatter. It skidded into the widening puddle on the floor, spattering his white sneakers with little burgundy droplets. For a brief moment the blade gleamed in wicked contrast to the dark surface on which it seemingly floated, then, the bonds of surface tension broken, the red tide overwhelmed it, consuming it from the blade up. He moved back in horror, his eyes fixed on the viscous mass, ignoring the body from which it was still oozing; a pulsing endless stream.
Who knew a person had so much blood in them? A fucking river and he was going to drown in it.
An hour ago, this had seemed like the perfect mark, a detached suburban single on the end of the block, lights out, occupants away on vacation. He had done his homework, watched the place for a week after he overhead the thirty something blonde female discuss her plans with a friend at the stop-and-shop counter. Noting that she asked for delivery, he had discretely followed her out and along the ten minute walk to the corner house she lived in. Then it was just a matter of waiting, and Marvin was good at that.
He planned to be in and out within fifteen minutes. Initially, it all went like clockwork. Jewelry hidden under clothes in the bottom drawer. Check. Silver statuettes on the mantelpiece. Check. Mac Book Air on the dining table. Check. He hit the jackpot behind the sofa; a small safe with a combination lock. Three and half minutes to crack that one. Marvin was an old pro and the combination proved no match for his skills. Inside was a bunch of paper, mostly stock certificates and bonds. He scooped it all up, silently congratulating himself on another fine pick. It was a good night.
He should have left then. He’d stripped the house of all that was mobile and valuable. But he got thirsty. It was always like this. Whenever he finished a job, he needed to raid the mark’s fridge. A bad habit and he knew it, but it hadn’t tripped him up yet, and besides, the joint was empty. It was the orange juice that did him in. There couldn’t have been more than three fingers in the Minute Maid carton, and Marvin had his head back, chugging it down, the fridge door open, light blinding him. He never heard the sound of the door behind him, or sensed anything until the voice, shrill in the darkness.
“Who are you? What the hell are you doing in here?”
He reacted instinctively, his hand finding the handles in the knife caddy on the counter, gripping, drawing, turning, stabbing in one motion before his brain had time to analyze the situation. It was a pure adrenaline reaction, completed before he was even aware he had begun it. He heard the meaty chunk as the blade went in, the rasp as it slid off bone, like a saw going into wood, and then a sigh, like a deflating balloon, trailing off into a wheeze. Then silence, as the dark shape fell forward against him and slid off the blade, folding up on the floor like a discarded rag. There was silence for a moment and then an awful sound.
It was Marvin who made the noise, screaming so loud he frightened himself. He felt his bladder void, trickling warm down his thigh as he looked at the huddle on the floor, a shapeless mass that had just now been a speaking moving person. The coppery smell of fresh blood filled his nostrils and the bile came up in his throat. He had just enough time to turn away, spare the figure on the floor the final indignity of a shroud of vomit, before the contents of his guts came pouring out in a raw torrent that burned his throat and his sinuses, making him choke and splutter. When it was over, he felt empty, drained of more than his own body fluids, as if his life had spewed out of him somehow in sympathetic liquid collaboration with the blood coagulating on the floor. He shuffled over to the wall and flicked the switch, keeping his eyes shut as the lights came on. It was an effort to open them, but he did so, his mind registering but not evaluating the nightmarish scene before him.
The woman was blonde and in her mid thirties, the resemblance strong enough to tell him that this must be a sister.
Where the fuck had she been? Downstairs? He hadn’t checked the goddamn basement!
Stepping around towards her head, away from the massive stain dispersing out from her torso, Marvin pressed his fingers against her neck, searching for her carotid. She was still warm, still soft, but there was no pulse. The carver had deflected off her ribs and penetrated her heart, probably severing an artery from the way the blood still pumped like a little fountain from the center of the crimson blossom on her chest.
He had fucking killed her.
Her cell-phone, screen still glowing, lay nearby. She must have dropped it as she fell. He picked it up and thumbed to recent calls. There it was, right at the top of the list. 911. She had called the cops.
So this was how it ended. Not seven years with time off for probation as most burglary charges went, but fifteen to twenty, maybe life, for aggravated manslaughter. Marvin had never killed anyone before; never even thought about it, but right now, right here, he was a murderer. Meet the new Marvin. Not like the old Marvin. The old Marvin was gone, drowned in the creeping ruby tide that was reaching for his shoes once again.
He should close her eyes, but he couldn’t bear to touch her again. Why wasn’t he running? His body seemed strangely lethargic, moving with its own volition. He reached back into the fridge for the rest of the orange juice he had put down before turning. Stepping over his past life, he walked into the living room, listening for the sirens he knew were coming.

A short short story post-

shortstory2BICYCLE SAMURAI
By Bryan Knower

I am on my way home after work, trying to get to the Forbidden Planet bookstore on the other side of Broadway when the Bicycle Samurai crosses my path. It’s lucky I’m paying attention, because he is serenely oblivious to his surroundings, going by so close that he forces me back onto the pavement. I feel the breeze of his passing, but my mind hasn’t caught up with my eyes. His lordship isn’t moving very fast, but he’s pedaling like crazy, clearly a bike with a low gear and nothing else, and the sheer spectacle of him, a floating rainbow of a figure moving in his own virtual self-contained bubble, chokes my instinctive New Yorker response.

The man is physically imposing, dwarfing the bicycle he’s riding, and I guess he weighs over two hundred pounds, all of that enormous bulk swathed in a colored satiny kimono-like costume that envelopes him like a robe, authentic to the point of hanging sleeves and intricate dragon embroidery on the neck and down the arms. Shades of red, ochre, yellow and orange so vivid they make me blink, remind me of the maroon and saffron robes worn by Buddhist monks, but the burgundy red pants, tucked into calf high laced up boots, pointed conical leather cap with ear flaps and sequined vest are nothing a monk would ever wear.

The mount is as amazing as its rider, a marvel of ceremony and function clearly modified to serve the self expression of its rider. Over the front handlebars hangs a metal mesh waste basket cradling a boom-box turned up as far as it will go. I think the bike is yellow, but I can’t be sure. I stare incredulously at the long whip-like radio antenna fixed to his rear mud guard, waving in the wake of his passing like a conductor’s baton dictating the tempo of the music as it scores his passage. I don’t know if the antenna has any connection to the radio up front, or if it serves some other esoteric purpose, but it is connected to something, because on the tip appears what looks like a ping-pong ball, and it glows bright red. A wicker basket bounces up and down behind the Samurai’s seat, painted red and lined with cloth. In the basket sits a little dog; a Fox Terrier or something similar, posed like the iconic image on old RCA record labels, perched alert on his haunches, with his head cocked to a side and his ears pricked up. I swear he is listening to the music.

Amazingly, a pigeon sits motionless on the top of his cap, like the plume on some ancient warrior’s helmet. Initially I think the pigeon is dead, stuffed and fixed to his headgear but suddenly, startlingly, it flaps its wings to maintain its balance on that precarious perch. The pigeon is as aloof as its wearer.

Leather saddlebags drip down either side of the Samurai’s seat, reaching almost to the rear wheel axle and making the entire assemblage appear bigger, so the bike doesn’t really look like one unless observed closely. In sum, it defies description, a characteristic it shares with its rider.

Surprisingly enough, the Samurai is doing well in the traffic coming down Broadway, although he clearly obeys his own rules. Looking back towards Soho, the traffic signals are red as far as I can see, but the Samurai sails on blithely, ignoring the vehicles approaching from either side at the intersections he crosses. I think the sheer spectacle of him gives him safe passage through those perilous junctions where he clearly does not have the right of way. Nobody honks. Everybody stares. Everyone smiles. I just watch as the Bicycle Samurai sails on into the gathering twilight, his theme music fading as he dwindles into the distance.

Long after he has disappeared from sight, I can see him in my mind’s eye, an incongruous caricature of a figure, inhabiting his own world and supremely comfortable in it, larger than life and so obviously enjoying it. I envy him. When I close my eyes I can see him still.