The Sidewalk Artist

The city is my canvas. The city sidewalk in particular.

I live in a high rise, on the twelfth floor in a tiny studio condo that my parents had purchased for me. This arrangement was made so that I could remain true to my calling.

I had been stuck in a creative draught until I experienced an accident, an accident so infinitesimal that only a true artist could conceive of its significance.

I had been leaning on my windowsill, letting my condensed breath mingle with the exhaust ascending from the cars so many feet below. A large spider—he would have been more at home amongst jungle palms than on some slab of cement—unwittingly, or purposefully (one never knows with spiders), tickled the back of my hand with one of his eight legs. I swatted and he fell, turning and twisting in the air until I lost sight of him. His fall, while shorter lived than an arachnid’s already abbreviated life, was more elegant and coordinated than a professional Paso Doble: the building’s wall being his final dancing partner. Now this was art!

I dashed down the back stairwell in the hopes of finding some representation of this performance on the street below. As I bent to examine concrete, not only did I realize that any number of common stains could belong to my spider, I also noticed that no one, not one single person, had witnessed the elaborate fall and subsequent squish of the spider. I had run down twelve dizzying flights for nothing. That could not happen again.

I have always been the type to dabble in an assortment of mediums. While the large spider had been satisfying, the body mass was not adequate for the expected performance. I knew that I needed something larger, something I could watch the entire way to the bottom. The resolution is often the most important part of a performance. I also needed something that would attract attention…and fans. I needed a rat.

The performance of the rat was much greater than that of the spider. First and foremost, sidewalk voyeurs notice falling and splattering rats. It surprised me that some should simply step aside and keep walking when I provided them with such a fascinating tableau. I experimented with sending two or three rats at a time. The result was brown/yellow/red tie-dyed concrete: masterful! Yet, the pedestrians most often failed to assume their role as voyeurs and I was, as always, disappointed.

It never ceases to amaze me, what garners attention in this age. It is a mystery that billboards filled with overpaid newscasters or carcinogenic soft drinks are more eye-catching than art. TikTok videos of super mommies dancing is considered entertainment. People spend more time looking at fuzzy conspiracy shots on the internet than in museums. Consumers are starving, yet unaware that they are creatively malnourished.

I spent months with mice and rats. Snow was always a disappointment. The body shape melts, shifts, or is partially obscured before the elevator can deposit me on the street; and there is never as much blood. Sidewalk voyeurs had their vision blocked by umbrellas and hats and scarves. Like horses wearing blinders, they sloshed right through my art in their unrelenting hurry. No one ever bothered to look up and I grew bored with rodents; and, honestly, I grew lonely. What was the purpose of a creation if no one takes notice of the creator?  I had a captive audience, but they refused to assume position. I needed to shake things up.

Thankfully, true artists always experience evolution. I was no exception to this cosmic rule.

Cities are full of starving and pathetic animals. As a picture is worth a thousand words, I simply cannot begin to describe the various scenes I painted on the sidewalk so many stories below. I can confirm that, at that height, it no longer matters that cats always land on their feet.

Yet, no one noticed.

I still was not a famous artist in this big city. I have seen the most depraved things pass as art: photographs of swollen private parts, pedestrian performance art of the most vulgar sorts, mimes. It is true that we no longer appreciate great culture, our taste buds have de-evolved and man is a mindless critic. But, like any virtuoso, my compulsion to create propelled me. I would rise above the desperation of the unsatisfying blood stains, the disappointment, the lack of art.

I realized that I need a showstopper, something so large it could not be ignored. Not large in the sense of elephants and killer whales; big in terms of psychological splash. I am talking about a sacrifice so high up on the evolutionary scale that the loss will resound and be on the lips of everyone.

It has taken me months to reach this point. I produced countless experiments with dogs, cats, raccoons, gophers (I had to travel considerable distances to accumulate some of these materials), but all to no great effect. Even the law ignored me. I contemplated shoving my sun worshiping neighbor, who bakes on her patio the floor above me, but she could hardly be called a prime specimen. Years of drinking and sunbathing have taken their toll and, as an artist, I must consider all aspects of the medium involved. I wanted a powerful obituary piece to accompany the art, not a shriveled shell of a specimen. I had been relatively selective with the animals, so I must be entirely selective about the human.

There was the obvious choice. I would finally have my name in the papers and on the internet. I would be noticed; I would receive the recognition I deserved. I will plan the jump according to the proper weather, the proper velocity, most importantly, the proper passerby beneath me. I will land on one (hopefully more than one) and the voyeurs will no longer be able to pass blindly. If my trajectory proves perfect, I may even be able to land on a car driving below, thereby causing gridlock. Radios will announce the accident as will the television stations.

While my manifesto (another piece of art!) will not be read until after the act, I feel obliged to warn in retrospect. If I had been noticed, lives would not have been lost. In the meantime, I will make the most of those living or working in the city who keep their eyes down. I will take advantage of those distracted drivers, focusing on cell phones and food and applying makeup instead of being at the ready to apply foot to brake. I will exploit (for artistic purposes) those walking the sidewalks who walk briskly but not alertly.

The title of this final masterpiece: “Look up!”

∼ Elaine Pascale

© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.

Forgotten

Hell has laid claim to places on this earth, places that are lost, forgotten, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist. I woke in such a place. For days I screamed for help, but none came. A failed attempt to climb the walls left me with a broken ankle and no hope. From time to time, I would hear creatures snuffling at night, but even they wouldn’t approach the edge of my open-air coffin. Daylight would come and the glass above this pool of no pools amplified the sun’s rays to the point of roasting me. My mind wandered to time spent in the Polynesian Islands, the pua’a I enjoyed with such gluttony – no thought given to what the creature may have endured when lowered into the roasting pit. Far from those days, I’m left to consume every bug and rodent found in my living crypt, to lick dry the weep from the concrete walls. Now I wait. Death will find me, it’s the only thing I’m sure of.

∼ Nina D’arcangela

© Copyright Nina D’arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Homecoming

I took another gulp of my drink. The room swirled and I felt sick.

I lit yet another cigarette, one of far too many that I consumed that night. As I breathed in the smoke I played with my lighter. It was a brass Zippo petrol lighter that my parents had given me so many years ago. Although my father was completely against me being a smoker, he abhorred the idea of me sucking on those ‘coffin nails’, he still didn’t begrudge me possessing an instrument of my doom.

He had passed away a few years earlier. I sat there, blind drunk, with a cigarette in one hand and a large glass of neat vodka in the other, flicking my lighter and thinking of him. 

I found myself in my garden with no memory of how I had gotten there. So drunk that gaps of that evening, and of my life were the norm. I looked out across the dark of my lawn and called out to my only friends, the foxes that would visit me. 

I’d started feeding them a year or so earlier.  Even though they’d just take the food and run, I still considered them my pals. It warmed my cold heart to see them tuck into whatever I had decided to put in their bowl each night. 

I heard a rustle in the hedges at the top of my garden and saw one approach. It was beautiful. Its coat was a glorious red with white on the end of its tail. It walked towards me with much more confidence than it usually had. 

As it got within a few feet I fell to the floor. Slumped in my stupor, it continued to advance. Its eyes reflected the light from my kitchen window. They burned bright and they warmed me. As it inched closer, I was lost in the orange glow of them. Its teeth were a brilliant white, and they smiled at me with such affection that I wept. I smiled back with drool dripping from my lips and down my chin. 

I found myself being pulled into its fiery gaze. I was drawn into those orbs of orange as they fixed intently on the wreck of a man that was crumpled on the ground in front of it. Each time its eyelids blinked I heard a click and the light that reflected from them flickered. I could feel the heat from them warming my face and It felt so good.

From a distance, I could hear pitiful screaming. The sound grew in intensity, as did the heat. The fox now sat with its face mere inches from my own. I was now engulfed by its flaming eyes. 

I suddenly had a moment of clarity in my alcohol-addled brain. I had not walked into my garden at all. I was still slumped in my living room. The clicking of the fox’s eyelids was me clicking on my Zippo. The fiery eyes were the flames that engulfed me. With the spilling of my glass of vodka and the sparks from my constant flicking of my lighter, I had set myself ablaze. As the sounds of screaming ebbed, the vision of the animal returned. It moved so close that I could feel its breath on my face and it spoke to me. The voice was human. It was the voice of my father. “Time to come with me, son,” it said.

Ian Sputnik

© Copyright Ian Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

Damned Words 48

Better Hope
Miriam H. Harrison

Just keep him plugged in—that’s your job. It may not sound like much, but you better hope this thing keeps him alive. We’re not ready for what he might do—not yet. But as long as he’s in his body, we stand a chance. So keep him secure, keep him plugged in. The drugs should quiet him. You might hear him in your head, but ignore him. You understand? No matter what he says, don’t listen. Don’t press that button, don’t pull that cord. And try to stay safe. We really don’t want to hire for this position again.

Feasting
Nina D’Arcangela

Feasting, that’s what it’s doing. Still as it may look, its savoring, consuming, devouring; making a meal of us all with that unrelenting gaze. Wait for the flinch if you will, but it won’t happen.

They say we, as a species, eat with our eyes first. I guess we’re not the only ones.

Expectations
Charles Gramlich

Textures: ripples, curves, lines. Fossilized in verdigris. Mouth and eyes above a silver collar of anodized aluminum. Diseased pustules filled with the rust of oxidation. A copper tongue wishes to speak and cannot.

You are frozen without, terrified within.

A crown of hollows rests upon this brow. Bullet holes torn in the fabric of form. You await. We await. Some in awe, some in glory, all in fear.

Transformation. Transmogrification. Transubstantiation.

Metamorphosis within a chrysalis of glass.

What will you be when you shed this skin?

The Deep
RJ Meldrum

Down here in the depths the creatures lived in the endless darkness. In this dark realm, evolution favored specie who ate little and moved less. She lay in the sediment, an ancient creature, huge and bulbous. She was the top predator in the food chain and if she could conceive of an emotion like fear, she would have felt none. Lesser creatures avoided her, except for the occasional unwary or unwise fish, who would quickly become prey.

A change in pressure told her there was something above her. She opened one glistening eye. She saw a shape. Whatever this was, it was bigger than her. That made it an enemy. She stayed still, waiting. In her primitive brain, she decided not to fight unless she was attacked. It came closer. It emitted something she did not recognize, but it was painful and it blinded her. She used her tentacles to push herself from the sediment, pain coursing through her body. She had to defend herself.

The men in the bathysphere had left the lights off until the very last second. Light was alien down here, at this depth, and would scare away the creatures. The switch was flicked on and light flooded the scene. The cameras recorded everything around them, but they still wanted to see for themselves; like children, they crowded the small observation window. They were briefly aware of a huge shape, surrounded by disturbed sediment, hurtling towards them before oblivion took them.

Aficionados
Lee Andrew Forman

In the hours of day, when families would roam the gallery, it had to be covered; the minds of those unwilling could not be privy to its nature. It had to be presented during selected hours beneath the shroud of night. Only those most dedicated would be allowed to witness its glory, experience its wonder. They never debated its origin or creator, the unknown hand who brushed its oil features remained nameless in history. This canvas held power far beyond any known artist of the time, or before. It revealed great tragedy; its shapes and colors warped and morphed into visions held long ago. Its audience reveled in these savage memories of time. Their sadist hearts fluttered at the gore-soaked images the piece invoked. It spoke of pain and suffering the modern world had never witnessed, but as its kindred aficionados grew in number, it soon would.

Identity Theft
Elaine Pascale

I hid the bracelet in that statue in the old library.  No one went there anymore. There was no need for reading in a world covered with a curtain of darkness.

We were kept blindfolded most of the time. They believe their faces would frighten us to death. Our blood is tastier when we are alive: alive and scared.

The predators recycle our identities. It is a way of dehumanizing us, which is ironic as they aren’t human. They use adjectives for our names: delicious, scrumptious, succulent. My real name had been engraved on the bracelet. I tucked a paper in with it on which I had written the names of those I loved. I wrote them with a sharpened stick that I had burned at the tip. The predators no longer feared stakes as they don’t have hearts to pierce. They are empty, just like the meaningless names they call us.

“Tasty,” they called me over. They didn’t realize I could still see some things despite the blindfold. They underestimate how smart we are.

“Be a good snack and tell us about your creepiest encounter in the before times.”

“Creepiest?” I pretended to think. I was really estimating how long it would take for me to reach the window. “I guess that would be the guy who followed me home from the bar.”

“Mmm,” I could hear the saliva dripping from their mouths. They were anticipating my fear.

I was afraid, afraid I wouldn’t make it to the window.

“He was a stalker, a nightmare.”

I knew their eyes would be glazing over with blood lust. I bolted to the window and ripped down the curtain.

Their skin scorched, quickly producing flames.

Knowing my name was secure, I lifted the blindfold to watch it all burn.

Smile
A.F. Stewart

The crystal in the middle of the carved stone shone with a smudged pink glow, reflecting our lights. 

“Looks like a smile, doesn’t it?” Darren leered and nudged me. “That sweet, after sex kind of smirk, am I right?”

I shuddered. Darren was a pig, always making lewd remarks, trying to hit on me, badly. If someone grinned at me like that, I’d scream. The stone resembled a weird blob monster from an old TV show and gave me the creeps. Part of me wanted to walk away from it, the rest of the relics, and the temple. 

Still, the thing was pre-Columbian, and we came to loot the place. I shoved it in a crate and we loaded it on the truck with the other artifacts before heading to the dinky airport at the edge of town. Soon I’d be on a plane smuggling our score out of this forsaken jungle.

I shot a glance at Darren. He hadn’t stopped smirking since we left the crumbling temple, but was uncharacteristically quiet. He gave me the heebie-jeebies, but I kept my mouth shut. Our plan depended on that.

I glanced at him again and saw the pink glow at the edges of his mouth. I relaxed. Part of me didn’t believe my bosses, but the curse was working. Soon Darren would be dead, and the antiquities would be in the hands of my real employers. People who knew how to use their power for more than a quick buck. The world would be ours soon, and creepy Darren…

Well, he’d die painfully, but with a smile on his face until the end.

Chernobyl Blues
Marge Simon

The door swings open. A slender woman stands framed against the sun. The bartender knows her. He fixes her a shot of his best Scotch on the rocks. She walks over to the piano and plays a few chords. Her face is as velvety smooth as the white of her hair. She’s old enough to be your mother, but that doesn’t matter. When she starts playing, everyone shuts up to listen, even the guy in the booth coughing blood in his beer.

She plays the blues and more. Like more than words and deep and it goes straight inside all the places where you’ve tried to hide your fear, digs them out and tries to make you feel all right about it. It seems like she plays as long as she feels like and then she stops. There is another drink waiting for her but she just leaves it there on the piano. She glances at you on the way out and you grab her hand, pull her to sit down.

“Is that mutant thing still out there?” you ask.  

She nods. “I told him I had to play the blues for you, but never again, after this one.”

“But you can’t just leave. We’re in this together, lady,” you plead. “Everything’s polluted now, even the beer. Stay inside, keep playing – you know it makes dying easier for us.”

She shakes her head sadly.  A thin band of late sunlight falls on her empty seat. Just before she leaves, she tells you that thing outside the door is her son. “I’m so sorry, but I’ve got to let him in, now.”

Each piece of fiction is the copyright of its respective author and may not be reproduced without prior consent. © Copyright 2021

Two Villages, Two Scholars

Two scholars finally get a chance for some field work to study the stone age cultures they’ve been reading about for years in the abstract. A helicopter takes them into a remote region and drops them off. It’ll return for them in late evening.

The scholars quickly identify two local villages of interest. One sits high on the edge of a great cliff; the other lies in a deep gorge at the foot of the same cliff. The scientists are glad to be observing from a distance when they see that the village in the gorge is surrounded by bone fields of butchered creatures. They identify both animal and human skeletons. The cliff-side village, on the other hand, is remarkably tidy and clear of any kind of debris.

Towards evening, a radio message comes in from the city. A tremendous storm has arisen over the airfield and the retrieval helicopter can’t take off. The two men will have to camp for the night. The chopper will come for them in the morning.

The men had not planned to camp in the wild but they’d prepared anyway. They have a tent, some supplies, and a cook stove. Their main problem is to decide just where to lay their heads. Finally, they pitch their tent high on the cliff, near the tidy village and well away from the settlement in the gorge where they witnessed the bones. Exhausted from their exciting day, both men fall asleep easily. Neither of them awakes.

Soon, more bones are tossed over the cliff to join the debris pile below.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

The Exile

Earth hangs on the horizon, round and blue. Once, he was a god. Now he is an ice sculpture on a flat forever plain, alone in the terrible cold of the sidereal night. His eyes have become a waterfall of frozen tears. He knows it is his due for sleeping with a Native mortal, though she was of great beauty, body and mind as well. She could never have an equal.

If forgiven, he would know a sluggish awakening after a millennium. His children’s heels would drum the earth, rousing him from dreams of thunder and flame, calling him home. He would remember that insatiable hunger known only to certain gods. His mouth would salivate, recalling the feel of soft pale skin, so like the surface of grapes when peeled for the fruit within. Yet best of all delicious in his jaws, the marrow of the White Man’s bones.

~ Marge Simon

© Copyright Marge Simon. All Rights Reserved.

Butcher’s Choice

My lips whistle a tune as I lay strips over the rack. It’s fresh, clean; my product is made with loving care, always has been. The meat must dry, absorb the homemade smoke flavor. I’d claim its delectable wonders as my own, but the recipe has passed many generations. Only one ingredient comes at a price. My customers are picky, have been for ages. Beef, chicken, pork; none of what my storefront holds is proper to their taste. I must hunt the most taboo prey. Though I do this not in pleasure. The hungry things which come each month would surely satisfy their bellies elsewhere—upon the innocent, I fear. So I take what flesh is needed to keep them at bay.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

Returning Sins

The smell of rot and dirt displaced the stale air in the bedroom and I tried not to choke on the overpowering stench. Huddled in a corner by the door, shivering in the sudden cold draft, I listened for the slightest sound, praying she was gone. Or that I would wake up from this nightmare.

Scritch, scritch.

There it was, the faint scratching noise against the wood. Fingernails scraping at the grain. I caught my breath.

No. I don’t want to hear it again. I don’t want…

Scritch, scritch. 

Only louder this time. Like an animal clawing to get inside. I whimpered and my stomach churned.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” The words blurted out before I thought.

“Liar!” A horrid screech ripped from behind the door, shuddering through the air. “Bad, you were bad! Left me alone! Left me to die!”

A thundering crash sounded as something slammed the door, bending the wood. I jumped inside my trembling fear and hugged my knees, rocking on the cold dirty tiles of the room. I answered her shriek with my own, a long continuous wail, to drown out her voice, shut out the memories. Every pounding of the door ripped against my skin, racing my adrenaline, shredding my nerves.

“Stop it! Just go away! Leave me alone!” I screamed my terror to the empty room before burying my head between my knees.

“Like you left me?”

The quiet question hurt and frightened me more than her anger. “I didn’t mean it.” My words felt like a lie. Maybe they were. She didn’t answer, and the silence unnerved me. I babbled, “Why now? Why did you come back?”

“Secrets lost. Secrets found. So, I’ve come home, Mama.”

I whimpered. My lost little girl. My thrown away child. I thought I was done. I thought I escaped. “How is this possible?”

“Scared now, Mama? I was scared.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Another whimper and I hugged my knees tighter.

“No! Not sorry. Scared I’m back.” 

Bang! Something rattled the door.

“Why Mama, why?”

Bang! I saw the hinges rattle and bend.

“The closet was dark. I clawed to get out! You never came!”

My eyes closed slowly, my body trembling. Blocked memories surfaced, images of the horror I wrought. I shuddered. “What happened… I can’t… I was high, drugged out of my mind. You were too much for me to handle.”

“I loved you. You left me alone.”

The door frame convulsed, and splinters of wood flew across the room.

“I was so hungry! So thirsty! I cried, and I cried. I was all alone!”

Bang! 

The door slammed open, smacking hard into the wall, and she stood there, framed in the light. My little girl. She looked so thin, with red-rimmed eyes. Hate shone in those eyes.

“You killed me.”

I had no excuses left. Only fear and the truth. “Yes.”

She smiled, rotted teeth grinning at me like a demented thing. “They found me. My bones. Where you buried me. They’re coming for you.”

She laughed as she vanished, and I heard police sirens in the distance.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Long Walk

Her shoes walked about at night. She could hear them pace through the house all night, yet by morning they always returned to their place by the door, waiting for her.

One morning she came down to find the shoes dirty. More than dirty—ruined. The once-white sneakers were caked with mud, scratched as if from underbrush. She went through the house and found the back door standing open.

That night she brought the shoes to her bedroom and set them down beside her bed. Closing the bedroom door, she settled in to sleep. 

It wasn’t long before her shoes began to shuffle about, then pace the room. She rose and opened the door. The shoes hurried out; she followed close behind. Down the hall, the stairs, to the front door. The shoes shuffled about eagerly as she turned the latch, opened the door. They hurried out, but she hesitated at the threshold, her feet bare.

The shoes returned, organized themselves at her feet, waited. She slipped her feet inside. Before she could close the door behind her, the shoes had already carried her into the night.

The door stood open through the night, the morning, into the afternoon. It was only then that a neighbour came by. He poked his head inside, concerned. He pulled his head back, frightened. 

There by the door were her shoes. They were ragged from their long walk. Torn, scratched by stones and underbrush, they sat there. Stained through and through with blood, they waited.

∼ Miriam H. Harrison

© Copyright Miriam H. Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

Tiny Freezer

The delivery man dropped off the new freezer. Part of the store’s deal was to take the old one away. As he loaded it onto the truck, he asked. “How did it die?”

“Pardon?” asked Melissa.

“The freezer. How did it die? It isn’t very old.”

Weird, she thought. Might be something to do with store’s return policy. “The storm last week. The power went off. When it came back on, the freezer was bust.”

“Good to know.”

He loaded it onto his hand-truck.

“R.I.P. tiny freezer.”

He stroked its white surface, as he gently placed it into the delivery truck.

That was really creepy, Melissa thought, but decided not to say anything. He was a big guy and she was on her own. She quietly closed the front door and watched as he drove away.

A couple of days later she decided it was time to fill the new freezer with food. She went shopping and returned with a car full of groceries destined for the freezer. As she climbed the stairs from the basement, after filling it with her purchases, she noticed the front door of the house was open. She closed it, disquieted.

She entered the lounge and saw the delivery driver sitting on the sofa.

“I checked it. The condenser had blown. The manual clearly says to unplug it in case of a surge after a power cut. You didn’t.”

“What?”

“You could have had the condenser replaced you know, you could have fixed it, but no, you went ahead and had it destroyed. Euthanized. You killed it. You murdered that tiny freezer. It was only a baby. There can be only one punishment for that.”

He rose from the sofa.

Brian came home from work at six, to find the house dark and empty. Shrugging, he guessed Melissa must be out for a walk. There was no note and she didn’t answer her phone. He decided to get a head start on dinner. In the basement the floor was covered in thawing packs of food. Melissa had obviously forgotten to load the new freezer. He opened the lid and recoiled. His wife lay, curled in a foetal position, in the frozen compartment.

∼ RJ Meldrum

© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.