He awoke early, too early, yet had no idea why, but would soon find out. His head was itchy. Not just itchy, it was on fire. He dug his fingernails in deep and scratched. God it felt good, although it did nothing but offer temporary relief.
Dave Driver felt like he was in a living hell. Even as he sat down in front of the TV with his morning cup of coffee, his attention was fixated on his head. It felt like a thousand ants were crawling around in his scalp.
Being his day off, he decided to numb the pain with a rather large glass of whiskey, and then another. Eventually the discomfort seemed to ebb away. He woke several hours later but felt much worse. The itch on his head had spread to his eyes. He rubbed them until they were as red as stop signs, and still they stung and burned.
Dave made his way to his bathroom to splash cool water onto his face. The relief was only temporary and the discomfort quickly returned. Only this time the tingling, itching, fire-laden feeling had spread to his nose and ears as well. He could hear a scraping-crawling sound. The volume was excruciating, but no matter how hard he held his hands to his ears, it only increased. Staring bleary-eyed into the mirror, he stepped away from the sink and immediately passed out.
He couldn’t tell if it had been minutes, hours or days since he had fallen, but one thing was evident to him – he was completely blind. He gingerly touched his eyes. The sockets were encased in clumps of matted hair. As Dave screamed in repulsion, he realized the sound was muffled. Had he hit his head when he fell? He reached for his ears only to feel long, thick hairs protruding from his auditory canals. Still on his knees, there was a wretched gagging sensation crawling down his throat. His body convulsed, tried to vomit up the intrusion, but the bile and contents of his stomach were stuck fast behind an impenetrable wall of hair that was working its way down his throat.
After what seemed like an eternity of writhing and spasming in pure agony, he died.
Dr. Sadler didn’t hear the door open as the two police officers entered the room followed by two other doctors from the facility. As they shook him awake, they were repelled by the stench of alcohol that enveloped him. He stared at them with upside-down eyes, then proceeded to vomit all over the lead investigator’s shoes.
Sometime later, after he had sobered up enough to sit upright, the interview began.
The detectives laid out the facts of Mr. Driver’s sad demise. They then inquired about the procedure Dr. Sadler had performed the day before wanting to know every minute detail of the patient’s hair transplant.
Dr. Sadler cleared his throat and then confidently informed them that he had inserted each of the genetically modified hairs with the utmost precision, and applied the growth agent at the required dosage of 1ml per square inch of scalp. He proudly announced that he had managed to give Mr. Driver double the number of hairs per square inch than most of his co-workers had the skill to deliver.
This new genetically modified hair was even better than the older version, his arrogance proclaimed with a belch.
“Blue tip down, white tip up,” he boasted. “And then the patient will never be blue, or down again,” Drunken laughter punctuated his statement.
Dr. Marigold, one of Sadler’s co-workers who had sat in on the interview, put his hands to his mouth and gasped. “It’s blue tip up on the new hair, and 0.1ml of solution. Please tell me you didn’t…”
Dr. Sadler’s shoulders slumped and his body fell forward, his head made an audible thump as it hit the table; he’d fallen into a drunken stupor, again.
Mrs. Driver put down the flowers that she has brought along to adorn her husband’s grave. She gently laid them on the thick thatch of dark hair that continued to push its way up through the oak coffin and six feet of earth. She had heard the churchyard gardeners mumble and groan as she passed them. Apparently, they were sick and tired of having to mow the Driver plot twice a week, when the surrounding grass only needed doing once or twice a month at most.
They had promised unspeakable beauty. The procedure would unlock new colours, open wide a world of wonder. We would see as butterflies see, unwrap the hues and patterns and glories hidden in our plain sight.
But first, the darkness.
I was proud to be among the first. The first to shed my bandages. The first to step out into the light. The first to see.
The first to realize our mistake.
We were not meant to see what would break us: those things beyond our understanding, hidden in ultraviolet.
Seeing the unseeable, I realized butterflies would scream if they could.
The Drift Nina D’Arcangela
Petals sway softly upon the breeze; they twirl, they dance, they float, they soar. Glorious in pale pink, flushed deeper on the edges, how you outshone any other. You began to drift away, I reached for you, but there were so many. You sang as you lifted high upon the current, free from my arms at last. Then the air stilled, you spiraled downward and I, stiff with age, could do nothing.
You settled in a soft plume of vibrant green, a lush cushion to rest your head upon. I watched, I smiled, then a moistened pellet struck, followed by another. The torrent began, you were trampled by the onslaught and I wept for your pain.
A week all that is granted, yet too weak was I to give you even that. Whispers among the branches comfort for next Spring’s thaw, but bent and broken, these limbs heavy, I see the point no longer.
The Dream Beyond Lee Andrew Forman
Upon the tip of the other side, balancing between a heartbeat and silence, I see only beauty. For what has been, what is now, what will be. It exists between every line, in every place, no matter how obscure and ill-lit. Its brilliance rests even in the face of evil itself—in its purity, its honesty. That visage I know well. I’ve gazed beyond and witnessed its truth. The brute I hunted bested me. The intelligence in its eyes told all.
Rows of razor-bone upon my throat is what brought me here, to this realm between the fragile panes of reality. Its color, its shifting form, a wonder unimaginable. What lies at the end? Where does this journey lead?
Perhaps it is no more than a last shedding of chemicals, a dream to end all dreams, and when it ends, all is swallowed by the void. I’d like to believe it’s a transition, that I wait in a heavenly cocoon, soon to open. I’ll spread wings and soar among clouds.
As the images flicker, something lurks behind them, creeping in the brief glimpses of black. Between each moment of bliss, it shifts toward me, twists its contorted form. As the dark spaces take dominance, I wait for what comes.
Pink Elaine Pascale
The dogs had been trained to find me.
Their tongues are as pink as the blossoms above me.
I cannot smell the blossoms; I cannot smell me though I am rotten.
Pink was my favorite color.
The ID that they will find of me in my pocket shows me wearing my best pink dress and pink lipstick.
The leaves and dirt that cover me are not pink, but the worms that feast on me are. The leaves and dirt are messy but not as messy as what I left behind. I was considered a hoarder. When they trace my ID back, they will find this out. They will see my pink furniture and sheets and bed coverings, once they brush aside the pink papers and postcards and paper plates.
My insides weren’t pink when they spilled out on the ground. I wish they had been—clean and fresh. Like my apartment had been when I moved in, before I doused it in pink paraphernalia.
The dogs sit in a circle around me. It is only a matter of time before the people discover me.
And only a matter of time before they go to my apartment and move the pink candles, empty bottles, socks, scarves, books, candy wrappers, umbrellas, bags, soap, erasers, and stuffed animals to see the real pink beneath.
My insides weren’t pink when they spilled from me.
But the insides of others were.
The Forlorn Charles Gramlich
On an unmarked trail of dirt left by animals, under spring trees which provide a roof of lavender petals, I pause my meander. The perfume of blossoms overhead is so overwhelming I can barely think. I do not remember where I come from or how long I’ve been traveling. I do not remember why I began my walk, or even my name. But I know why I’ve stopped.
The mistresses of God are visiting here!
A whisper stirs the petals overhead. A sinuous shape swirls among them, invisible except for the movement of the tree limbs and their burden of blooms. A mauve rain begins, dropping around me, catching in my hair, brushing my face with the exquisite softness of satin.
Aroused, I shed my clothes like a snake molting. The petals keep falling, and now begin to cling to my sweat-wetted skin. Some things from the trees touch me. Their hands feel like bones softened by oceans of time. Their caresses turn me around, and around, and around. Faster and faster.
I begin to spin like a whirlwind, like a dust devil. Painted in all the perfect shades of purple, I spin until my feet drill deep into the soil. I spin until my toes sprout roots and my arms sprout twigs, until I grow up and up toward the sky. Until I join my new lovers in the sacred grove where beauty screens death.
And now we wait. Amidst the forlorn and the sacrificed. For the next visitor to travel this path.
Blue Sky Somewhere Marge Simon
Thea parts the curtains on the day ahead, then quickly ducks away. Sunlight unfurls from the window panes sparkling on an unused coffee cup and a basket of imaginary rolls. She knows it’s make-believe, a tableau laid out by habit. Useless to pretend she’s one of them beyond her home, but it is all she’s had for centuries.
On the floor, shadows of cherry trees in bloom remind her spring has arrived. How she longed for a glimpse of cobalt sky above the blooming branches,, a sight she treasured on the shores of Attica. Those sweet days, a memory from centuries ago when she was young, unaware her mortality was soon to change. But now the blood of cities bleeds into a wounded sky; the atmosphere so thick with toxic fumes, few mortals dare to walk the streets without a mask.
It seems unfair that she must bear the situation, knowing it was never her intention. But worse, the shrinking population bodes her ultimate demise. She wanders darkened rooms, touching surfaces, feeling the measure of textures, the contrast of cloth and stone, glass and polished wood. Things in her small world she knows so well. Inside things, held dearly but dearer still the feel of sun on skin. A patch of blue sky, there must be a glimpse of it somewhere.
Why wait any longer?
A twist of latch, an open door. She steps into the light.
Pink and White A.F. Stewart
The sickly sweet smell of cherry blossoms filled the orchard, frosted petals descending into the unexpected spring snow; a layer of soft pink atop the white. Prevalent as the scent was, it did not blot out the undertone whiff of copper nor the smell of decay. And pretty pastel colours couldn’t hide all the stains underneath the layers of warring nature.
Changing seasons swirled against the scars and the silence, and hollow time eager to swallow what once existed here. Not claimed yet, the fallen dead, flesh and bones still marking the place of carnage, their blood feeding the soil beneath the snow. Echoes of the war drifted between the trees, chased by the cruel laughter of the mad gods.
Defiance met with death, and rebellion with ruin, a bloody example to all souls that might rise to grasp at the beckoning wisp of freedom. Hope expired within this orchard, and only soft petals fell like tears on their graves, wrapping the remains in velvet spoils, mounds of pink and white.
Pretty in Pink Ian Sputnik
“Let’s play a game,” the two boys had suggested to her. Minutes later, Ed and Rob began to wrap the chains around Katrin, despite her protests. They left her bound to the witching tree as they scampered away across the white blossom that blanketed the orchard floor. Glancing back they could see her struggling to get free, her pink dress already stained by the rusty metal.
Rumour had it that those found guilty of practicing the dark arts would be tethered to the tree and left there to die. As they hid in a ditch at the other end of the field, they could hear her screams of panic turn into sobs of despair. Then all went silent.
Returning some time later, they found her gone. The chains hung from the tree, blood dripping from the links. They ran, screaming from the scene.
At school assembly after the weekend the headmaster announced that Katrin had gone missing and said that anyone who had information regarding her whereabouts should come forward. The two boys remained silent. They had made a pact never to tell anyone about what had happened.
It wasn’t until the following year that they returned to the orchard. They stood mouths open as they took in the scene before them. This year the blossom was bright pink in colour not its usual white.
They were startled by a voice from behind them. It was Ed’s annoying sister, who must have followed them from his house.
Rob’s mouth turned into a menacing smile as he looked at Emma standing there in her blue dress. “You ever seen blue blossom?” he asked Ed.
Ed smiled back and then said to Emma “let’s play a game.”
A dream woke Hank Jessup. He’d been a kid again, imagining Santa’s sleigh jingling overhead. Sad that it wasn’t real, Hank took a flashlight and stepped onto his deck for fresh air. Dark pines walled his house. The moon painted his yard in shadows.
December in southern Louisiana. Christmas Eve. The air hung heavy, humid, warm. He’d lived here thirty years, seen two feeble snows that melted faster than boiled ice. He missed winter; no one should have windows open at Christmas.
Snow cleanses the world.
Something winked, catching Hank’s eye. He looked up. Hundreds of fat white flakes descended through the moonlight.
Snow! It’s too warm. But what else could it be?
A smile tugged Hank’s lips. He flashed back to childhood Christmases, his last happy times. Snow sledding. Warm soup. Shiny presents. Maybe this snow would cleanse his life, his soul.
Something like tiny voices caught Hank’s attention. He frowned. Hundreds of flakes had settled to earth now. Another landed on his deck railing. He reached to touch it, pulled suddenly back. It was no snowflake. He turned on his flashlight.
A tiny being cut away its white parachute, then drew a silver tube from its belt. Hank wanted to laugh, and shriek. It was a tiny elf, with yellow eyes and pointed ears. And sharp, sharp teeth.
“Wait!” Hank said as the creature pointed its tube and shouted:
“Merry Effing Christmas!”
A wintry blow stunned Hank. He dropped as if axed.
All over the earth, the same strange snow began to fall.
An old woman stands boning fish. She wipes her forehead with the back of her hand. It leaves a trail of silver scales that match the streaks in her hair. The bones are piled on old newspapers she’s never read. She can’t see the tiny print, only the headline: World Famine. There are always plenty of fish, Thom says. Even after the last bombs that ruined the farmlands. “Fish are like the news, something to get by on.”
Where the famine is, she doesn’t know. They have no neighbors, no visitors. Her son makes sure to pay the bills, he’s good with figures. All this is done by mail, but no postman has come for days. Thom usually leaves his boots on the porch, but not this time. She drops the knife when she sees his face.
“Bad news?” He slumps in a chair, staring at something distant. He’ll tell her when he’s ready, always has. She returns to the fish, arranges a row of neat fillets and covers it with a plate. There are a few potatoes left. They’ll do, if he has brought the shrimp. She doesn’t want to bother him right now, but she must ask. When she gets no response, she touches his arm.
“Don’t,” he says, pulling away. “They’re gone.” She hears this but doesn’t understand. It’s something bad, she knows that much. In the cabinet under the sink is a bottle. It is time for this bottle. She puts it on the table. He looks up at her, tears in his eyes. “Gone, ma. The fish, the men, the boats. Even mine.”
She frowns, clicks her tongue. “Then we’ll have to wait,” she says. “Can’t make chowder without shrimp. They’re coming back, aren’t they?” He says nothing. She wraps the fish in the last piece of newspaper. She should ask him to get more, but not now. She pours herself a small glass and smiles. The wine is good.