New Omelas and the Lesser Evils

 

about 6,300 words

Vote Evil

 

New Omelas and the Lesser Evils

by Bryan Perkins

“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable—but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin

Another three years had passed, as they always seem to do, and Campaign Season had come once again to New Omelas, the largest and most densely populated city on the entire planet of Infernum, built on the swampy marshes of the gulfward delta of the River Lethe.

In the weeks that had led up to the beginning of Campaign Season, a general air of disquietude settled over the city. Everyone from shopkeepers and restaurateurs—hawking their food and wares from the most ornate and expensive kitchens and the foulest smelling street corners alike—to taxi, streetcar, and bus drivers, hurling more insults and curses than average—quite a lot, in fact—during their daily fits of road rage, even down to the youngest children who couldn’t yet vote and wouldn’t be able to still for a long time to come, every single resident of New Omelas, despite age, race, or creed, was preparing themselves for the year-long freak show circus that was Campaign Season.

A century or so ago it used to be that campaigning wasn’t limited to a specific season. Back then, on Election Day, everyone would pull their chosen lever and the Campaigners wouldn’t even wait for the votes to be tallied before they started arguing against one another—and at everyone else—about what new Evils might come up for election during the next Campaign Season and who the poor, tired residents of New Omelas—who only wanted a moment to relax and forget about the freak show—ought to vote for when those quickly rolling years passed away and the next most important Election in all of history came around—every Election, it seemed, was the most important election in history as long as it was going on, and back then, the campaigning was going on twenty four, seven, three sixty five, every day of every year up to and including the year of the election, so every second of every day was the most important moment of every New Omelassian’s life, according to the Campaigners.

I think we can all see why the New Omelas City Council got together and limited the Campaign Season to a single year. Campaigning was a truly exhausting experience and even the three years rest that had since been legislated usually wasn’t enough to recuperate before the next year-long Campaign—not to mention the strain of dealing with the wrath of whichever Evil had ended up winning the previous election, because there was always and forever that endless stream of sicknesses and bad luck to contend with as well.

Which brings us to the Evils. Yes, they were there in New Omelas all the time, lurking in the alleys and streets, never to be seen but as a shadow of movement out of one’s peripheral vision, never to be heard but as a far off echo of tinnitus that was impossible to be certain actually existed, never to be smelt but as a smoldering cigarette butt in an ashtray far away or the sulphuric aftertaste from the next stall over in a public bathroom, never to be touched or tasted at all—I’m not sure how one would even think of going about that—or why—but always, always they were there, watching, stalking their prey, and slowly but surely, like the tricklings of the River Lethe through the tiny cracks in the New Omelas levee walls, doling out the torments and afflictions that they had promised during Campaign Season in order to secure themselves the Director of Evil position over the next four years.

Let me remind you, however, that these were Lesser Evils. This was New Omelas on Lethe, a not so bad place for not so bad people. What it was not was Bedlam on Phlegethon where the docks, boats, and levee walls all had to be built of tungsten in order to resist the thousands of degree temperatures of the lava and flames that flowed through Phlegethon’s burning banks. From the river side of Bedlam’s levees there was nothing to see but heat, sweat, work, and death, but from inside the levee walls, in the city proper, one could watch as the flames licked and spit against the light washed sky, occasionally curling around the top of the levee and down to kiss the inside of Bedlam, sometimes at night reflecting off the worn smooth and shiny tungsten walls of the levee like a constellation of fireflies taking flight there in the city where True Evils crept—and where sometimes even stalked the worst demons of all: Greater Evils themselves.

Now Greater Evils were something truly terrifying. Giant, indomitable beasts that they were, they had no need to hide away in shadows and farts like the Lesser Evils of New Omelas. In Bedlam, Greater Evils stomped and stamped and clattered and clomped on cloven hooves and octopus claws all throughout the city, doling out whatever pain or pestilence, misery, worry, or strife their empty, non-existent, heart-shaped chest holes might desire. No promises were made and broken or debates held for the residents of Bedlam to choose whichever Evil they thought might be the Lesser. Instead, the Evils chose amongst themselves by inflicting tortures and punishments upon one another—and upon all the poor human souls who were unlucky enough to find themselves caught between the two Evils—until one or the other demon gave up to scurry, sulking, back into the fiery flowing depths of the River Phlegethon, licking their wounds while the victor went on parading through Bedlam, the Greater Evil, committing atrocities at will.

These Greater Evils we’re talking about were giants with big red horns and solid white eyeballs, spitting fire and brimstone through razor sharp teeth, gnashing at flesh with bloody claws and pointed tail alike. These were Great and True Evils who were responsible for genocides and extinctions, atom bombs and more, tearing entire cities off the map in one deafening second, leaving what few survivors there were worse off than dead and getting worse with every second. They’re responsible for nerve agents, torture camps, and all the worst things you’ve ever heard of from all the scariest monsters in your most frightening and recurrent of nightmares. These Greater Evils and True Evils in Bedlam, on the other side of Infernum, perched atop the flaming lips of the River Phlegethon, as far away from New Omelas as possible without being on another planet entirely, were something to really and truly be afraid of, which makes it a little easier to understand why the residents of New Omelas would go on happily choosing between two Lesser Evils every four years—because at least they weren’t as bad off as the Bedlans who had to look their Evils in the eye for what they truly were and couldn’t even drink from their own river without burning their insides out.

No, compared to Bedlam, life in New Omelas didn’t seem so bad. Of course, none of the New Omelassians had ever travelled to Bedlam to confirm the stories—who would ever want to go to such a horrible sounding place anyway?—but the media, school teachers, and as an effect, everyone in the entire city kept on believing the stories and preaching them as truth, so they might as well have been the truth even if they were more than likely tall tales concocted by the Lesser Evils themselves in order to keep the New Omelassians in line. Evils, whether Lesser, True, or Greater, could be very sneaky and manipulative in that way.

So when one of the little imps, sometimes tiny, red, and winged, flapping around like a grotesque merger of bat and moth into one, others in the visage of a child, a woman, or a dark skinned man, maybe a talking kitten or something even more random and abstract, like telepathic fry bits, or the tunnel of light that represents both being born and dying, passing on to the after life whatever life it may be after, but when the Lesser Evils would come disguised as menacing child demons or the things that all humans knew and loved, or as humans themselves, and they would say, I promise to steal every first born child in the city and force them into a violent fight to the death against every first born child from outside of the city until only one of them remains alive, the New Omelassians could hold their noses and say, Well, at least these Evils weren’t going to take all the children of New Omelas like those Greater Evils around the world in Bedlam do, so certainly this Evil is of a Lesser variety and I should go ahead and vote for it. That’s how life went for many centuries in New Omelas while no one knew better or how to do any different.

So when the racist cheese snack in a bad toupee promised to exile every immigrant in New Omelas to the fiery shores of Bedlam while also locking every New Omelassian whose skin was darker than milk chocolate in the torture chambers until next Campaign Season, and when at the same time the yellow rat in a blue coat, wearing a pink bow in its hair that smelled like hot sauce, promised to unleash a never ending squadron of flying pig monsters with rabid chimpanzees on their backs to drop fecal bombs that exploded not with fire and instant death but instead a slow, painful death full of gaseous, burning agony in every pore of your body, all with the hopes of creating more refugees to flood the streets of New Omelas and provide cheap labor for the city’s sulphur mines—and of course, in the process, the rat planned on exiling as many immigrants as they could replace with the newly desperate refugees—the residents of New Omelas fell into a flurry of surveys and calculations, trying to determine which of the Lesser Evils’ evil plans would be less burdensome on their own lives and the lives of those friends and family who they knew and loved instead of realizing that both platforms were more evil than even the most evil of platforms run in Elections prior, and especially the most recent Campaign Season in which a sensuous space slug who could only speak in poetics ran against a catdog demi-beast which spoke by controlling a hivemind of killer bees to fly in formation and spell out its promises—a lot, a lot of stinging, and since so many New Omelassian voters were terrified of or allergic to bees, the space slug ended up winning the Election and laying eggs in the ears of every single male in New Omelas, killing only ten percent of them and feeding on the, as a result nightmarish, dreams of the others, a rather traumatizing experience, no doubt, but over all, one of the truly Lesser Evils in all the Evils New Omelas had ever experienced.

In fact, except for a few minor aberrations such as the sensuous space slug every once in a few decades, the Evils running for the Directorship of Evil in New Omelas had slowly but steadily been becoming greater and greater ever since the institution of the Election process—which as far as is known coincided with the founding of the city, that is to say forever ago. Sure, some things were getting better, some Evils getting lesser. Where before the Evils had typically focused on a single race, killing untold numbers for the color of their skin, where before the Evils had specifically oppressed women, cutting their arms off or sewing their mouths shut—in the unluckiest of cases both—all in droves so the women were forced to rely on one another more than ever before, now the Evils were becoming more all inclusive, intersectional, diverse. Men, women, and anything in between or outside of that, any time, any age, it didn’t matter. Everyone was fair game. If they really wanted the directorship, the Evils would focus solely on foreigners to the city and immigrants, trying to seem truly Lesser to the native New Omelassians, but those were usually the most dangerous of Lesser Evils because they ardently craved the power that came with being Director of Evil, and whenever they finally had a hold of it, there was no telling what theywould do—and much less stopping them when they did whatever it was they wanted to do, which inevitably resulted in a lot more evil than promised inflicted upon the residents of New Omelas.

And so on and so on the cycle went, and every new Campaign Season a new pair of disgusting Lesser Evils would take to the Campaign Trail, and it seemed like every single resident of New Omelas would forget everything they had learned from each previous Campaign Season, diving head first and irate into another one, screaming the praises of their chosen Evil and damning those who would dare to find another Lesser, until finally, one or two people started to give up and drop out of the Election Process altogether, letting the voters decide their fate for them. And soon more and more New Omelassians were giving up on the elections. Not a lot all at once, but a handful here and there. And those rare few would meet in dive bars and back alley cafes, in bookstores and around dining room tables, to discuss what they had experienced and try to find some better strategy other than voting between two of them to deal with the Evils.

Having come together, all these Abstainers, and shared their experiences with one another, the first thing they realized was that they truly had been forgetting their histories. Each had a story to tell going back until about the time that the previous election had been decided on then nothing more. None of them could remember any part of their lives before four years prior.

After some time of arguing, debating, and experimentation around the matter, the Abstainers came to the conclusion that it was the waters of the River Lethe that were causing their forgetfulness. It must have been some magical property of the river, they had decided, that was no doubt created or controlled by the Lesser Evils, and the only method of overcoming the effect was by not drinking the water at all, abstaining from that, too. What was easily enough said, however—and what had been so difficult for the New Omelassians to discover—was not so easy to do.

First of all, there was no possibility of digging wells in New Omelas. Whatever water could be found in the swampy ground there would no doubt be polluted with the forgetful liquid of Lethe and digging any deeper would only lead to the same lava and brimstone that flowed through Bedlam’s Phlegethon—that same fiery semi-liquid which filled Infernum almost to the brim, leaving just enough topsoil and water reserves to support a few small pockets of human life, the largest of which being New Omelas. But pockets of life there were, bringing up the second difficulty: how to convince a large enough group of adventurers capable of making the journey out there and back again that a potentially fatal trip to another city, looking for water, was worth the effort and inevitable casualties it would entail.

It took two more election cycles to assemble a team—Lesser Evils getting incrementally more so and their Campaigners becoming exponentially more fierce in their campaigning the entire time—due to the understandable deterrents of the True Evils that stalked the ragged dead zones between cities, picking off travelers at will, and to the added forgetfulness of the Lethe waters which the Abstainers were forced to drink in order to survive. Mountains of sticky notes and other written and recorded reminders had finally gotten the Abstainers around that second difficulty, however, and eventually a team of a dozen or so explorers set off north toward the Wailing City of Ymir and the Frozen River Cocytus.

Sure, it was going to be some work carving out the ice and hauling it the thousands of miles home to New Omelas, and sure the legends and campfire tales all told that the waters of Cocytus induced fits of moaning and wailing when drunk, but an ice block would be easier to travel long distances with than as large an amount of unruly liquid water would have been, the people of Ymir had to drink something themselves in order to have survived long enough to build a city, howling beat forgetfulness if the Abstainers ever planned on ridding New Omelas of Evils altogether, and no one wanted to risk drinking the waters of the River Acheron in the south that were said to burn and hurt any flesh they touched—including throats on the way in and urinary tracts on the way out—or those of the River Styx in the west that were said to contain all the souls of all the dead who had ever lived on Infernum—something about ingesting another human’s soul just didn’t sit right with any of the Abstainers. So the Frozen River Cocytus of Wailing Ymir in the north was the only viable option left to them.

The expedition took months and months, and those Abstainers who had stayed in New Omelas to recruit others and brainstorm methods of dispatching the Lesser Evils had entirely forgotten about the adventurers several times—only happening to remember with chance glances at old and quickly fading sticky notes—before the expedition returned a few adventurers shorter and every once in awhile wailing and screaming the words they only meant to speak.

The howling side effect was grating, no doubt, and the ice block they had returned with wouldn’t last long, but those brave explorers had opened the lines of communication with Ymir, and the Ymirese people had thought that forgetfulness might be better than involuntary screaming in some instances, so three Election Cycles later the pipes between Ymir and New Omelas had been completed and each city was pumping a supply of water from their respective rivers to the other. The Abstainers were making progress.

Now that the new Omelassians—or at least those Abstainers who had a problem with the Election System as set up by the Lesser Evils—had a source of water other than the Lethe and could remember beyond the past four years, they had a chance to actually change the future for the better. They continued to slowly and quietly accumulate new members, attracted mostly by the howling remembrances that were a side effect of the Ymirese water, and at the same time began to put into effect experiments as to how to overthrow the Lesser Evils once and for all. Finally being able to remember their history, the Abstainers could tell for certain now that the Lesser Evils had been becoming greater and greater for some decades at least, and the last thing they wanted was for New Omelas to become Bedlam—creeping with True and Greater Evils alike, taking no care as to hide their presence—so they had to do something other than fighting over who was the lesser Lesser Evil about it.

The Abstainers’ first plan was to get everyone, the entire population of New Omelas, to abstain from voting just the same as they were, and at first, it really started to work. Though they were only Lesser, the Evils up for Election were still no doubt evil, so it wasn’t difficult to convince people not to support them. More and more New Omelassians decided to abstain over the next two Election Cycles until the Lesser Evils took notice of the falling voter turnouts and promised to enact both Evils at once if not enough votes were cast in order to elect one or the other to the Directorship. Voter participation skyrocketed after being given the ultimatum until enough time had passed and enough of the waters of Lethe had been consumed such that the residents of New Omelas—besides those few Abstainers who remained drunk on the once frozen waters of Cocytus, wailing in misery—forgot everything they had once learned and returned to their normal fervent levels of participation in Campaign Season.

The Abstainers’ next attempt at defeating the Lesser Evils was their longest and most tedious. They had decided that there must be some power in the election itself, so the Abstainers became instead the Ultimate Participants, attempting to get their own, human, candidate into the running against the Lesser Evils. But lo and behold, and of course, the Evils controlled the entire Election Process, and knowing that any human would readily beat any Evil given an equal playing field, they did everything in their power to keep the Abstainers out—and were flawlessly successful. Even when the Abstainers had gone so far as to build their own levers into the walls of every voting booth in New Omelas, the Lesser Evils had seen it coming and amped up their platform of terrors so much—each promising nukes and deformities, ecological collapse and soggy cereal for life, such horrible things it was impossible to tell which of the two was truly the lesser Lesser Evil—that it scared the New Omelassians into throwing their votes away on an Evil they thought might be Lesser instead of using it on a human who obviously was—all of course, except for the Abstainers who had been responsible for researching, building, and installing the voting levers in the first place.

Running their own campaign for the Director of Evil position against the Lesser Evils, as it turned out, was a bust, never could have saved the Abstainers in the first place, but it had served to attract more interested New Omelassians at a higher rate than the Abstainers had ever been able to attract before. As such, the Abstainers continued to “attempt” their own campaigns—with full knowledge that the Lesser Evils would never let a human being into the running, much less let one win the Election—all while simultaneously searching for, debating, and discussing other avenues through which to end the reign of the Hellish Lesser Evils—who were daily looking more and more like True Greater Evils—once and for all.

The more New Omelassians who joined the Abstainers, the more perspectives from which they could see the situation, the longer time went on, and the more history from which they had to draw, one thing became utterly clear: the only way to end this charade once and for all was going to be to destroy the Lesser Evils entirely. As soon as it had been aired, no one knew by whom, and only as a joke at first, like a meme that had taken on a life of its own and gotten out of hand, becoming more serious than any meme ever should be, the idea took hold and became the only plan that could ever save them.

And so the Abstainers went about determining a method of doing just that, some way to kill the Lesser Evils and liberate the humans of New Omelas. But first, the Evils had to be found. They were never to be seen or heard but in shadows and shit, as previously mentioned, so how could the Abstainers expect to destroy them? But never wasn’t entirely accurate, they had soon realized. The Lesser Evils did come out into the open twice every four years: Once to announce their candidacy for the Directorship and make known the plagues and torments in store if they were to be elected, then again on the day of voting to be announced the winner or to concede defeat. And so our brave Abstainers chose the day of coronation for their rebellion efforts, thinking they could use the hectic Campaign Season as cover for their actions and perhaps along the way convince more voters to join them in fighting against the Lesser Evils.

Campaign Season dragged on, and the Abstainers slowly stockpiled what makeshift weapons they could lay their hands on—pitchforks, shovels, torches, your typical low tech riot gear mostly—all the while they were bombarded on both sides by arguments from the Campaigners:

“It must be nice being as pale as your ass is, y’all are never targeted by the Lesser Evils, but dark skinned people have to be afraid of the fanged worm eating the core of an apple, because it promises to lock everyone whose skin is darker than ash in the torture chambers, and if you didn’t know, that includes my wife and her kin.”

Followed by, “You think the fanged worm eating the core of an apple is scary? You must not have heard what the black hole at the center of the universe promises to plague us with, because they’re gonna torture twenty percent of people whose skin’s darker than charcoal and flip a coin as to whether to exile or murder every single immigrant in the city.”

And the Abstainers would argue back that neither of the Lesser Evils were desirable, that the Evils seemed to be getting greater with every new vote that they consumed, and even going so far as to share their plan to destroy the Evils once and for all, inviting the Campaigners to give up on campaigning and join them in abstaining, but inevitably such arguments would fall on deaf ears, because the Campaigners were so convinced that their only option was to pick one of the two Evils that they couldn’t be bothered to stop arguing with one another for long enough to listen to—and much less seriously consider—any other position. A small percentage of New Omelassians could be convinced away from Campaign Season, of course, or there would never have been Abstainers at all, and those few were going to have to do what they could with the numbers they had or do nothing at all, and nothing was not an option.

Election day came with its typical mixture of nervous excitement at finally knowing the outcome of Campaign Season and relief at having made it through another year-long circus to a three year break that was never long enough, but this time the Abstainers were actually going to try something unique to Campaign Season so their excitement was of an entirely different nature than that of the general population of New Omelas.

The votes came in and were instantly tallied, and by eight o’clock that night, in the lamplit Center Square of New Omelas, under the giant statue of two Lesser Imps, magnified over a hundred times size, shaking hands with one another, flapping wings and wagging tails happily, in front of as much of the city as could fit into Center Square, probably more than a hundred thousand of New Omelas’s more than seventy five million strong population in the five or so acres of space going all around in front of and behind the candidates on the stage, the two Lesser Evils stood, one, the black hole at the center of the universe, to concede defeat, and the other, a fanged worm eating the core of an apple, to begin raining down its first promised pestilences on New Omelas, while no one, the Lesser Evils least of all, noticed the Abstainers, hiding on the wings, backs, arms, and heads of the statues above the stage, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.

“Good evening loyally frightened residents of New Omelas,” the black hole at the center of the universe said in a thousand different tortured, screaming, inhuman demonvoices that seemed to echo up from far away in every direction at once, even from inside the head of every listener. “It is with great displeasure that I, the black hole at the center of the universe, must stand before you today and concede the position of the Director of Evil for New Omelas to this here fanged worm eating the core of an apple.” The black hole at the center of the universe floated silently above the podium for a moment, sucking what light that came out of the lamps around the square toward it in curly cue patterns like an impressionist painting, photons floating toward the darkness to be crushed down into a single point like a postmodern moth to the flame, and when the black hole started to speak again, the A-Team leapt into action.

One by one, like spiders without webs to slow them down, the four or five dozen Abstainers who were brave enough to take up arms against the Lesser Evils dropped from atop the towering imp statues, pitchforks and pick axes brandished and ready, aiming for the floating black hole and the worm eaten apple which both somehow could be seen to look up at their would-be predators before lashing out in kind.

One airborne Abstainer fell directly on top of the black hole at the center of the universe and was sucked into it like any other ray of light to become smaller than a lepton and infinitely more dense, a singularity, along with everything else that had ever been consumed by the insatiable vortex of destruction. Another two Abstainers landed on the apple being eaten by a fanged worm, one piercing the apple with their pitchfork and the other hitting the rapidly embiggening worm in the head to stop its razor sharp teeth from landing on flesh.

All at once, two Lesser Evils transformed into two Greater Evils—and getting more so by the second—right before the frightened crowd’s very eyes. The fanged worm eating the core of an apple was discombobulated, confused, and angry. Roaring irately, the worm head thickened and hardened, turning red and taking the shape of a devil with giant black horns and glow in the dark eyes and teeth, while the apple morphed into a cloven hoofed, six packed satyr, bleeding from a gash on its shoulder. Blind rage whipped the beast’s razor sharp tail and claws spastically, seeking revenge on the flesh of Abstainers who still fell like bees in attack formation, diving from the top of the tall imp statues onto the Lesser Evils below.

The black hole at the center of the universe, however, paid no attention to any of them. It was busy thinking about revenge on a larger scale. Against the Abstainers for pulling a surprise attack in the middle of its speech. Against the worm eating the core of an apple now turned Greater Evil for winning the Directorship of Evil in the first place. And against the residents of New Omelas—Hell, against the entire city itself—for voting to elect a stupid worm instead of it, a badass black hole. The entity didn’t even have to change form to exact its vengeance—not qualitatively, at least—instead it simply grew.

As the black hole at the center of the universe expanded, its gravitational pull multiplied exponentially. The aura of deep dark blackness glowed at further and further distances around the point that was the center of the black hole at the center of the universe, and soon, more and more beings were being pulled in and crushed into that same singular space. First the podium and a few Abstainers, then the worm-eaten apple turned Greater Evil and those Abstainers who were still trying to fight it, and soon even members of the onlooking crowd who didn’t have time to run away, the statues and all the Abstainers who had still not dropped off of them, the road, lamps, buildings, every single thing in that square, all hundred or so thousand human beings, eaten and crushed into one singular point at the center of the black hole at the center of the universe in the blink of an eye. Just like that. Creating the crater in New Omelas’s Center Square where Elections and Coronations of greater and greater Lesser Evils are still held to this day.

“I am the Director of Evil now,” the black hole at the center of the universe boomed out in a thousand demonic voices, echoing in and through every single mind in the entire city of New Omelas, waking or asleep, all adding their own voices to the chorus as well—mother’s speaking these words in the middle of bedtime stories, older brothers yelling them at their friends instead of curse words, even dogs barking whatever grotesque mimicry of speech they could manage with their non-human voice boxes, all at once and all together with the black hole at the center of the universe in a hellish chorus: “These four years will be the worst you’ve ever experienced, and you’ll be lucky if you get another election after that. Don’t believe me? Visit Center Square and see.”

Rain, hail, lightning, and hurricane force winds pummeled New Omelas all through that night—the River Lethe lapping hard at the levee walls but never quite breeching—and the black hole at the center of the universe did its best to make the next four years a living Hell, but nothing ever seemed that bad when compared to the crater left in Center Square. Inevitably a new Campaign Season came along and the residents of New Omelas forgot all about the last one, as those people who consume the waters of Lethe can only do, but luckily, by that time not all of the residents of New Omelas still drank from Lethe, and though most who drank otherwise had been consumed by the black hole at the center of the universe along with the rest of Center Square on that day of attempted revolution, there still existed some who survived solely on the imported waters from Ymir’s Cocytus—you could tell them by their mournful wails, which came out predominantly at night, both as a side effect of Cocytus’s magical properties and as a result of still remembering the faces and names of all those poor souls lost in the regimes of Lesser Evils previously.

And so those surviving Abstainers regrouped and regained themselves, and they started again the long and tedious process of attracting people to their cause. They ran more candidates in elections where their names weren’t even on the ballots, and they helped those who were interested attempt to build their own voting levers, all the time reminding the New Omelassians that no amount of voting would get rid of the Evils, there was only one way to do that.

Which brings us to today, the present, our current Campaign Season in New Omelas. We now have a giant flaming phoenix lit in blue, green, and purple flower patterns running against a three headed crow with nine eyes and feathers made out of ice. These are two apparitions of Lessers Evils that we Abstainers feel we can actually defeat. We have a much better chance than when we went up against the black hole at the center of the universe at least, of that much we’re sure.

Not only do we have more comrades in arms ready to fight, we have better weapons and more efficient tactics with which to do it. These here nets of copper are filled with “water” from the River Phlegethon. The Ymirese and Bedlans have been working together on the weapon for many centuries while forgetful New Omelas still slept under the spell of the River Lethe. The Ymirese say fire nets are the only way to catch a snow crow if you want to kill it before the thing becomes enraged and transforms into a Greater Evil—which would be thousands of time more difficult to kill, though not entirely impossible—and the Ymirese can be trusted on this because frozen Cocytus is the favorite haunt of many snow crows and other such frozen Evils, giving the Ymirese more experience with such demons than anyone would ever desire. And here we have heat resistant shielding and spray cannons which the Bedlans have been able to combine with reserves of Lethe’s and Cocytus’s water supplies to defend against the fire moths and other burning things that haunt the River Phlegethon. As you can see, these are the perfect defenses for the particular combination of Lesser Evils we are now faced with in New Omelas.

As election day approaches, we hope you read this transcript or listen to the recording soon enough that you can come to see past the flowery burning rainbow phoenix and beyond the three headed psychic snow crow to a better option, to our option, the Abstainers who choose to build a better system rather than perpetuate an unjust and Evil one. With help from the humans of Ymir and Bedlam—and those who live in the badlands in between, which we now know are more populated than we’ve been led to believe, and not just by Greater Evils but by many tribes of humans as well—together, all of us, sharing our technology, resources, and knowledge, will rid Infernum of Evils Greater, Lesser, and True no matter how long it takes or how many times we fail along the way.

That’s all there is to say on the matter. It’s time for you to decide for yourself. Go on living life like everyone in New Omelas always has, drinking the forgetful waters of Lethe to soothe their minds as they choose between the rainbow phoenixes who promise to immolate every first born along with every other female or the psychic snow crows who promise to freeze every second born to death along with those females who wouldn’t have been burned by the phoenix, or you can join us, the Abstainers, and grab a pitchfork and net, or operate a hose and pump, as we put an end to this Evil freak show circus once and for all.

Your choice. But you’ll know where to find us when Election Day comes. Good luck to you and good luck to New Omelas, from the Wailing Abstainers living here amongst you and those in Bedlam, Ymir, and beyond. We do nothing alone, and we will succeed.

☭ THE END ☭

TL;DR

So, I just might have written a reddit love story.

For the same reasons that no publisher would ever pay me to print this in their magazine (it’s about reddit, the formatting is wonky, it relies on hyperlinks), I’m offering it free for your reading pleasure right here. Wordpress will never be able to handle this formatting, though, so you’re gonna have to read it Google Docs style.

Click here to read and (hopefully) enjoy.

The Song From Outer Space

I’m not quite sure I really like this story, and yet I’m the one who wrote it. That’s why I’m sending it out by paper airplane here and giving up on selling it to the birds. Only a mother could love this one, and maybe the people who follow the blog will be more forgiving like only a mom could be. Without further lowering of expectations, here it is:

length: 1,000 words

The Song From Outer Space

by Bryan Perkins

 

I dropped the pick and rubbed wet palms on skinny jeans, clenching my eyes tight, waiting for any response. After an eternity of silence, it came.

A chuckle? My heart sank into my stomach. The beat stopped. My knees knocked, probably a more rhythmic performance than I could ever play on my guitar. It was shit. I knew it.

“Stop it!” Erin said. I hear hand slapping jean jacket. “That’s so rude.”

“Sorry,” Phil said, trying to stifle his laughter. “I was laughing at something else, not you. Your music was…well…your music.”

I opened my eyes. Only Zane was left to respond. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me, hiding behind his swooped black hair.

“Well, what do you think?” I said, unable to wait longer for his verdict. My life was in his hands now.

“I don’t know,” he said, flinging his hair to the side with a tic of his neck, revealing his piercing blue, lined eyes. “It’s like–and I never thought I’d ever say this–but it’s like, too out there or something. Alien almost. Am I right?”

“Oh, yeah. For sure,” Erin said, nodding too hard. She always went along with Zane’s opinion, no matter how stupid it was. She wanted to get into his pants. Well, guess what, girl. They’re too skinny. There’s not even room enough for him in there.

Phil chuckled. “Outer space,” he said, probably because he was so high that’s where he was. Maybe I’d join him in the clouds when this was all done.

“Right,” Zane went on, nodding and swiping his hair to the side. “Like it was from outer space. It gives me a weird feeling. I don’t know. I don’t like it, bro. I’m sorry.”

“But–You said–” I said. “You said you were tired of the mainstream. You said you wanted something new, something different. Well, here it is.” I played a few notes.

“I don’t know what to tell you.” Hair swoop, sending all my hopes out the window. “I guess you’ve shown us today that there is such a thing as too unique. Let that be a lesson for all of us. C’mon guys. Let’s go. We’ll talk to you later, bro.”

Zane walked out first, Erin followed right up his ass, and Phil lagged a few steps behind, chuckling to his own joke.

My knees ended their performance once the three hipster stooges were gone, giving out entirely, and I fell to a heap on top of my guitar.

#

It doesn’t matter how long I laid there, almost sleeping. When I awoke, I lined the room with candles, lighting each one by one, and sat in the middle of the circle of flames with my guitar in my lap and pill bottle next to me.

It wasn’t that bad, was it? I started to play, staring into the fire. Sure, the time signature was overcomplicated to the modern ear, but what of the future ear? The melody followed patterns and progressions with alien logic but logic nonetheless. It produced–

The lights changed color. A rainbow chorus of candles sang out in perfect harmony with my melody. I couldn’t stop playing.

The colors flickered and danced in geometric patterns while the flames grew and shrunk. Smoke billowed. I almost stopped playing before the smoke resolved itself into physical forms. Standing atop each colorful flame were tiny, barrel-bodied figures, singing in chorus with each other, in chorus with my guitar, my song.

I stopped playing. My muscles grew too weak to carry on. The stupor produced by the vision was too much. The song kept going, though, with the little visitors keeping it alive.

One of the figures, standing atop a green flame, grew larger and larger as the chorus sang, to about the size of a toddler, dwarfing all the rest. “You sing more beautifully than we have ever heard,” it sang, and the chorus crooned their agreement.

I blushed. The whole lot of them flashed red with me. “Oh–well–I wasn’t really singing,” I said, feeling a little light headed about everything. “That was my guitar.”

“Your song was beautiful,” the green one sang. “It opened our pathway here. We had to come see what perfect creature could have such an angelic voice. Please, sing it again. For us. Bring us closer to your presence.”

“Yes, sing for us,” the chorus sang.

I tried to play something, anything, but it took too much energy to even lift my pick. All that came out was randomness. The chorus and the green one, whatever they were, flickered and squealed.

Noooo! Stoooop!

I dropped my pick, dropped my guitar, knocked over the empty pill bottle, and the aliens–I was convinced now that’s what they were–flickered back into solidity, standing atop their flames, singing my song better than I ever could.

“Come with us,” the green one sang over my own alien melody.

I couldn’t even lift my head, slumped over the dead guitar, to respond. I tried to move. I think I waved.

They sang my song louder, giving me energy. I raised up, reached for my phone, clicked the last call, and it rang.

“It doesn’t work as well from this side,” the green one sang. “Come with us or keep playing. The connection will be lost soon.”

“Hello?” said the voice from the other side, Zane. “You there, bro?”

“Come with us,” the green one sang, flickering, still singing my song, the song from outer space.

“Do you hear that, Zane?” I mumbled. “It’s so beautiful.”

“We’ll be awaiting your voice,” the green one called, blinking into nothingness along with the rest of the chorus, blowing out the candles on their way, and leaving me in darkness.

“Did you hear that, Zane? They’ll be waiting for my voice.”

The phone fell to the floor in a clatter. So did I, humming my melody, waiting for Zane or the green one, whichever came first. My life was in their hands now.

END

Dinner for Two

Here’s another short fable for you all to enjoy. Come back now, ya hear.

length: 600 words

Dinner for Two

by Bryan Perkins

Fast Food

 

“She’s gourmet,” I said to the phone. “Of course I want to go out with her. Next to her I’m like dog food.”

“So what’s the problem?” the phone asked back.

“The problem? I can’t even afford to go out to a nice restaurant by myself, that’s the problem. How do you expect me to afford a dinner for two?”

“Oh, come on,” the phone said, putting on that concerned tone like he knew what I was going through. He didn’t. Phones had all the money. Everyone everywhere needed a phone to do everything. He couldn’t help but to roll in the bakers—it was how he was built. “This is a new day and age,” he said. “The girl will even pick up the waiter these days. They call it dutch ovening or something, I don’t know. The point is, even a cheap ass sack of fries and a greasy burger dressed up in a paper suit deserve to sit on a nice table with a pretty girl every once in a while.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” wasn’t too difficult for me to say. “You’re a phone.”

“What?” the phone said, tone: offended. “You think my life is problem free? Those animals are always grabbing me, spitting on my ass, putting my face—that’s where my mouth is, you know, and my nose—up in their ears, and making me whisper sweet nothings from some other phone’s ass. You’re tellin me you want that life?”

“No,” I said. I did not want that. “But I’m fast food. I’m gonna—”

“What? So you’re afraid then?” the phone cut me off. I wasn’t even sure I was close enough to his butt for him to hear me.

“No, I’m not afraid,” I said anyway.

“You’ve never dreamed of sitting on a fancy table, candlelight between you and your gourmet date, a sweet, beautiful violin singing in the background, accompanied by an a capella orchestra?”

“Well, sure, who hasn’t? But I’m fast food!”

“It doesn’t matter, kid. It’s your destiny. I’ve made the call already. Get ready for the ride of your life.”

#

I won’t bore you with the details of the ride. Suffice it to say that it was the ride of my life. The table I ended up on deserves a little more description, but the phone has already gotten to that: candles, a capella orchestra, and—best of all—my gourmet date.

Ooh, what was she, though? I couldn’t see her from that angle, with the burning candle blocking my field of vision, but I could almost smell something exotic—maybe Thai. More than likely it was my own unkempt stench which I’ve probably never smelled anything beyond.

Ahem.” I cleared my throat of greasy phlegm. “Hello,” I ventured over the candlelight.

Gourmet gagged. “Ew. You have got to be kidding me.”

“I—excuse me.” I didn’t like the tone of her voice.

“You’re fast food!” she screeched.

“I—uh—” Of course. “The phone didn’t tell you?”

“I thought it had to be a joke. It is a joke, isn’t it? You’re not fast food, there’s something more under that paper veneer.”

“No, I—” I complained, but a hand—ugh, the most disgusting thing imaginable—ripped my clothes off and lifted me naked for the entire world to see.

Gourmet giggled now. It was so much worse than gagging. My insides turned pink. I gave up, gave in. There was nothing more for me. Thank the Holy Cow, Creator up above, a slobbery, cavernous black hole devoured me, sending me on a journey unknown, through depths even darker than these.

END

If you enjoyed that, click here to read more fables or here for other short stories in general.

Lionheart Lives Forever

Here’s another story from around June of 2013. This one is about graffiti writers in the ’80s and was highly influenced by the documentary Style Wars which you should definitely watch if you haven’t seen it. Enjoy.

length: 5,000 words

Lionheart lives forever.

by

Bryan Perkins

Lionheart

I’ll tell you this much: Lionheart is gonna live forever. And he knew it, too. He knew it when the gravel crunched under his feet, walkin through the train yard at midnight. He knew it with the rattle of a fresh can in his hand, and when he breathed in its first puffs of fumes. He knew it puttin the finishin touches on a burner, and celebratin at the playground after a successful bomb. I know he knew it, because I knew the same things when I was bombin. But, I think most of all, he knew it on this particular day, with the smell of iron and grease in his lungs, and the afterburn of whiskey and adrenaline mixin in his stomach, starin into the early mornin sunlight creepin over the railway tunnel, waitin for the clickclack, clickclack, squeal, clickclack, clickclack, squeal of the Monday mornin run.

A few days before that day—you know, this is where it all started, or the idea came about, or whatever—but a few days before that, me and Lionheart and Trap, we were all sketchin at the 149th Street writer’s bench. We used to always go down there, you know—it was a subway bench—and we used to always go down there to sketch and to show off and to just hang out back then. And it was always filled with writers no matter when you went and every piece of wall and ceiling and ground was covered in tags. It was beautiful.

So we were sittin there, sketchin as always, when a couple of kids I had never seen before came lurkin around the bench and gigglin to one another like a couple of toys. And, you know, I could see they were lookin at Lionheart’s sketches when they were doin it, so I stood up to them and I thrust out my chest, like this—which, lookin back, probably wasn’t impressive at the time, seein as I was younger and smaller than any other writer there—and I said to them, “You got somethin to say?”

And one of em says back, “Nah, but it don’t look like none of you do either.” or somethin like that. And then he giggled some more and shook hands with his toyfriend like he had said somethin worth sayin.

That’s when Lionheart, bein Lionheart—because he was always like that, you know, so cool and collected—that’s when he said, “You got a problem with my style?” and he didn’t even look up from his sketches when he said it, like those toys didn’t deserve any respect. Which they didn’t.

And you know what that toy said back? He said, “Problem is: I don’t see any style.”

And I couldn’t believe what I heard. I don’t think anybody could believe what they heard. Everything got quiet. I mean, no one coughed, no one breathed, they even stopped sketchin. I swear, though, I could hear the sound of Lionheart starin through his sketchbook.

And when the silence had gone on long enough, I took it upon myself to break it by sayin, “You better watch yer mouth, toy. You don’t know who yer talkin to.” I had been ready for a fight all week, you know—for personal reasons unrelated to this story, let’s just say it had to do with money troubles, the trouble bein my mom didn’t have any—but anyway, it looked like one—a fight that is—had finally come walkin up to the bench where it knew it would find me.

And that toy didn’t stop there. He said, “Shit. I know who I’m talkin to. Lionheart the has been. The probably never was, I should say. And from the looks of you, you must be his little toy poodle Daz.”

And I couldn’t take it anymore after that. I jumped at him swingin but Trap was quicker than me and he grabbed me by the arm to hold me back before I could land anything.

“Looky, looky,” the toy said, gigglin some more. “He even gets his poodle to fight for him.”

And I wanted to pound his face in at that. I wanted to beat his nose to a bloody pulp while his toyfriend watched. The things I would have done to him if I could just get a hold of him. I’m tellin you. But before I could, Lionheart said, “There isn’t going to be any fighting.” And that ended their gigglin. Then he said, “If we have somethin to prove we’ll do it with paint.” And that calmed me down. Because I knew it was true. I knew it was the best way–the only way–to prove anything to these toys, you know. So I stopped struggling. And Trap let go of me. And I brushed myself off and I sat on the bench.

“You’ve got a lot to prove,” the toy went on and on and on, diggin himself deeper and deeper. He said, “I say your five-car bomb was a lie. I say it never happened and you could never do it again.”

And that sent the entire bench into a frenzy of argument. Sheeit, I remember yellin down Seen who for some reason was on the side of the toys and not us. I told him, “You’re toyfriend over there wouldn’t of said he couldn’t do it again if he didn’t know it already happened.” and that shut him up. Most of the voices I heard were in support of the truth, you know, in support of Lionheart, but I knew there were too many skeptics for him to let it slide.

And so he waited for everyone to shut up before he said anything. And he said, “Alright. Even though all of you know I’ve been all city longer than anyone here,”—and that was true—“and even though you all know I threw up that five-car burner—painting by myself”—and that was true, I knew, because Trap and I were his lookout when he did it—“I’m still gonna do you one more to talk about.”

And everyone held their breath at that. Waitin to know what that “one more” was. But those new toys were too impatient and one of em said, “Well, spit it out.”

And Lionheart didn’t like that. He didn’t like to be rushed. So, you know what he did? He waited a good half minute longer before he said, “I’m doing six cars this weekend. All in one night. And everyone’s invited to come to the unveiling on Monday.”

And after that the roar was louder than the arguments. And with the noise of it echoing through the subway halls behind us, Lionheart and me and Trap packed our sketchbooks and left.

The next Sunday, Trap and me got a ride from his cousin to pick Lionheart up at the bench. We got there first, but we didn’t have to wait long until Lionheart came up and said, “You don’t have to come. I’ll be out there a long time for six cars.”

“Sheeit,” I said to that. “You think we’d let you go alone?”

And Trap said, “We want to be a part of this, too. This shit is legendary.”

Then Lionheart stared at us all quiet for a while before he cracked a smile, and snickered, and said, “Shit is, isn’t it?”

At that the three of us shook hands and sat on the bench. This was the night we went down in history, and—like I said—we knew it. We stared at the wall for a while and I got lost in the tags and dreams about future burners I would paint until Trap said, “So, what’s your plan?”

“Paint fast, fuck an outline,” Lionheart said. And, “I don’t know. This is almost twice the cars I’ve ever painted in one night.”

Trap nodded at that and said, “Guess that’s all you can do.”

Then I asked him what he was plannin on writin and he got out his sketchbook to show us.  And, you know, I could tell that he had been thinkin about three-car burners for a while because there were so many designs to choose from. His sketches covered every style from straight letters and blobs, to blocks and arrows, to 3D and texture. I mean, there were so many doo-dads and bits that it was easy to get lost in the patterns.

“Sheeit,” I finally said when I had gotten through them all. “You think you can do two of these in one night? I mean, damn. You know.”

Lionheart just said, “I can do it.” Then he looked over at Trap—who was still lost in the sketches—and asked him, “What do you think?”

Trap didn’t take his eyes of the book. He just said, “Legendary.”

And it was legendary. I knew it. They knew it. We were ready for this. So I said, “Well, what are we waitin for?” And we packed up and walked out to Trap’s cousin’s car where Trap’s cousin was already ready to leave.

“Come on,” he yelled at us out of the window as we walked up. “I don’t have all night.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Trap said. “Whatever.”

As usual, he dropped us off a block away from the train yard. As usual, he reminded us that we had to find our own way home. As usual, Trap said, “I know, man. Shit.”

Then we walked the short block and we were there. My heart started beating faster with just the sight of the train yard, surrounded by one tall fence with razor wire at the top. You know what I’m talkin about? It’s the kind that if you fall into it, struggling only makes things worse. That’s what they say, at least. We’ve never tried to climb over the fence, though. We always just climbed through the hole that every writer knew was in the dark corner. You see, it was a small hole, and much harder to get into than out of, but I was small enough to climb through and make it easier for Lionheart and Trap, you know, from the other side.

When I climbed through on that night, I could see where it looked like they were building a new fence goin around the inside of the old one. “Two fences?” I said, and I laughed, holdin the hole open. “They think that’ll stop us? We’ll just cut another entrance.”

And Lionheart said, “I hear they’re putting dogs in between.”

And Trap said, “Dogs?”

“Between the two fences,” Lionheart said. “It won’t stop me, though. Nothing will. Now shut up.”

And so we were inside. And, I tell you, there’s nothing like the crunch of gravel you feel under your feet when you’re walkin through the train yard at night. It sends shivers up my spine just thinkin about it. And the smell of grease and trains, and their ghostly blue glow when the inside lights are left on at night. Sheeit, I’d almost be too scared to even be there if bombin weren’t the greatest experience ever. And, I have to say, the fear was a good part of the fun.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all grease smells and crunchin gravel. The train yard had its dangers, but they didn’t come from the trains or tracks as much as they came from the transit authority pigs who wasted their time chasin artists rather than robbers and murderers, you know. And all three of us were always lookin out for those exact dangers every second we were there in the yard. Well, Lionheart was up until the moment he felt that rattle, rattle, rattle of a fresh can in his hands—after that he got lost in the burner—but that’s why me and Trap were there: we were his eyes and ears while he was lost.

“Hand me that glossy green,” he said to me, without lookin away from the line he was painting. We were lucky, we found a train with three freshly buffed cars in a row in no time. As soon as we did, Lionheart started on his first car which said: “Just a kid”. It used a straight line style, you know, which was more like the original writers. And he did something most writers wouldn’t do, he added some smaller tags on it like TAKI 183, and Juno 161, and Eva 62, to the background as–you know–like a nod or whatever to some of the writers who invented bombin. You know. They were the first ones to do it and all they wanted to do was spread their names wherever they could. They had no real design or style. They just plastered their names up everywhere.

On the next car there weren’t any words, just two pictures of Lionheart. One, on the left, with his back to the world, paintin an “L” on the train, and the other, on the right, with his hands in cuffs, bein led off the car by a cop. He finished the second car and started on the third when Trap made a shushing sound. Lionheart stopped sprayin. My heart almost beat out of my chest. I kept lookin around to see if I could see anything, but it was just the blue glow of train cars.

Lionheart asked, “What?”

Trap held his finger up to his lips then whispered, “I think I heard something.”

“Where?” I asked, still searchin for the sound of steps or the flash of a pig’s light.

Daz took a step toward one of the trains, “Right,” he took another, “over,” with one step closer he screamed, “here!”and jumped back from the train. A fat, hairy rat crawled across the gravel after him.

“Sheeit, Trap.” I whisperyelled at him. “It’s just a rat.” And the disgusting thing crawled across the tracks to find some garbage can somewhere to eat out of.

And Trap said, “Rat, pig, what’s the difference?” But I could tell he was trying to play it off, you know how people do that, and he wasn’t doin a good job of it, you know. He was always too cautious and that could be a liability out there in the yard, you know. That was a liability. The rat thing as evidence.

Anyway, Lionheart just sighed and went back to paintin the third car which read “Growing up.” This one looked more modern than the first car. It had arrows and doo-dads, and so much camouflage I don’t think anyone who wasn’t a writer would be able to read it. When he finished, he dropped the can and took a step back to admire his work.

While he was, Trap said, “C’mon, man,” pickin up the paint and puttin it in Lionheart’s bag for him. “It’s almost three. You got, maybe, two and a half hours to paint three cars.”

Lionheart stared for a second longer at his work before he shook himself out of it and said, “Yeah. Let’s do it. Let’s go.”

Then It took too long to find another canvas: Three clean cars in a row. It seemed that our luck had run out for the night. The only thing we could find was two empty cars and a third with a toy-lookin “Cap” in terrible, half-buffed blob letters that were barely even filled. I mean, it looked like it took all of three seconds to throw up. And we even passed it once, lookin for another spot, before we gave in and decided we had to use that one. Cap would have to take his toy work somewhere else. And so Lionheart rattled his can and started from the last car going backwards.

The last car in the burner said, “Will you?” and it took almost an hour to paint. One thing I have to say, though, is that those words were the clearest most easy to read words I’ve ever seen painted on a train. Now, don’t get me wrong, he didn’t skimp on the arrows and doo-dads, but he didn’t camouflage the words, you know. He just gave them style.

Then, when Lionheart was almost done with the second car—“lives forever.” in the same lettering style—Trap shushed us again.

So I asked him, “You sure it’s not another rat?”

And he says, “Shhhh. Listen.”

But Lionheart just kept paintin. Time was tickin, you know, and he was just startin his last car, his masterpiece, the burner that would make sure he was remembered forever. It had to be exactly right, you know.

And then I saw just a little bit of light slip between the gravel and a train car up ahead of me, and I knew what it was so I said, “It’s a pig. What do we do?”

And Lionheart—like I knew he would before I asked the question—said, “I’m finishing. You do what you want.”

So, Trap—the cautious one he was—said, “Nah, man. C’mon. It’s not worth it. We can try again. We already did five and started the sixth. That’s more than anyone already.”

And Lionheart said, “I’ve done five. And I’m not leavin until I’m done.”

And Trap just said, “Man. We. I—“ Like he was stupefied by the reaction or somethin. As if he didn’t expect Lionheart to say that.

So before he could say anything else and make a bigger ass of himself I grabbed his arm—just like he had done for me with that toy earlier—and I said, “Trap. We can’t stop now. You know what we have to do.”

And Trap nodded, and he patted Lionheart on the back and said, “I’m sorry, man. Finish up. Get a clip if we don’t make it in the morning.”

At that Lionheart stopped sprayin for just a second. He said, “Thanks.” without turnin around then the sound of spraying came back.

Me and Trap took one look at each other then headed off in opposite directions, jumpin between cars and over tracks to put as much distance between us and Lionheart as we could. When I got to what I thought was a good distance away—you know, a couple of tracks or so—I climbed up to the roof of one of the cars and I looked out across the white backs of the metal giants. I could see Trap climbin up to the roof of another car across the yard and I couldn’t help but smile even though my heart was poundin and adrenaline was rushing through my veins.

When I saw that Trap was up and ready, I yelled, “Olly-olly-oxenfree! Soooooooiiie!” as loud as I could. The pig’s flashlight shot in my direction then started bouncin up and down as it moved closer to me.

After the pig got a couple of tracks closer to me, Trap yelled, “You’ve got the wrong guys, officer! We’re just here for the bacon!” And the flashlight did a one-eighty to point in his direction.

The pig took a step closer to Trap then couldn’t decide which way to go so I yelled, “You’ll never catch us!” and started runnin up the train, away from Lionheart—and away from the hole in the fence.

And then I was alone. Cut off from Lionheart. Cut off from Trap. Even cut off from the pig except for the thought of him chasing me which kept my feet movin. The metal of the train roofs gave and bent under each step I took, especially when jumping from car to car. It was so soft I felt like I could run like that forever, but I knew the train would end and I would have to find some way to dodge the pig. I took the chance to glance behind me and I could see that he was gettin further away even though he was still followin me. I knew it was my opportunity and I jumped off the side of the train furthest from the pig and rolled along in the gravel.

It took me a second to catch my breath, and I could feel the scrapes and bruises the fall gave me, but as soon as I was up I was runnin back the other way to try to get closer to the hole in the fence. And, I’ll tell you this, the crack, crack, crack of the gravel when you’re runnin away from a pig gives you such a different feeling than the crunch of the gravel when you’re first walkin to the yard at night. There’s the same adrenaline, you know, but it’s different. It’s tinged with fear and it’s shaky, you know, it kind of sits heavier on the stomach and works the heart harder. Well, it pushed me and it pushed me and it pushed me until I didn’t think I could take it anymore and I jumped between two cars and I waited.

I was just sittin there, pantin like a dog, cornered like a rat, waitin for the pig to find me, and, to be honest, I didn’t care if he did. I didn’t care if he took me to jail or told my mom or anything. I guess that’s why I just sat there. I knew it didn’t matter, you know. We had done it. We had given Lionheart time to finish his last car, to finish the first car: “Lionheart”. And I was a part of that, whether I got caught or not—probably more if I did get caught than if I didn’t—and Trap was a part of that, and all three of us would live on forever because of it.

And as I sat there thinkin about it, I saw the light. The pig was comin. From the look of it he couldn’t have been but two tracks over. I could even hear his heavy breathing. He was beat. He prolly couldn’t have caught me if I had bolted out right then for the fence, but that might have given Lionheart away so I just sat there and held my breath, hopin he didn’t hear my heartbeat.

And he didn’t. He walked by—after a short pause to catch his breath—without even seein me. I waited ten, fifteen, I don’t know how many minutes, lettin my heart calm, then I snuck back out through the hole in the fence and made my way to the playground where we always celebrated after a night out bombin.

When I got to the playground, Lionheart was already there, but not Trap. The first thing I did was bring him in for a handshakehug, sayin, “I got away. Did you finish?”

And he said, “Yeah. We did. But I haven’t seen Trap yet.”

And I just said, “Sheeit. You serious? That pig followed my ass. I figured Trap was home free.”

And Lionheart said, “He might still be. He just isn’t here yet.”

So I said, “Well, shit, two outta three ain’t bad. I can take a shot to that.” And I fished through my backpack to find my flask, took a quick shot, then said, “You want some?”

Lionheart thought about it for a second and said, “You know what. After that: yes. I almost got caught by a pig myself.” And he took a shot. When I reached out to take the flask back he took another swig and said, “Maybe two shots. Two shots for two burners.”

And then I said, “Be cool. There’s not much. That’s all I could sneak from my mom without her noticin. Sheeit, she’ll prolly notice that, you know. If I’m gettin whooped I at least want a few shots out of it.”

“Alright, alright,” he said, givin me the flask back. Then, “I guess we better get to it, anyway. Our audience’ll be waiting.”

And so we started the winding walk to the tracks, you know, where the trains came out in the morning. And this is where we were on that day that we knew we would live forever. We were starin into the early mornin sunlight creepin over the railway tunnel, waitin for the clickclack, clickclack, squeal, clickclack, clickclack, squeal of the Monday mornin run. But we weren’t the first ones there. A few writers from the bench were already there, and the two toys who didn’t believe Lionheart could do it, but we didn’t say anything to any of them. Most of them didn’t believe we could do it, so they didn’t deserve to be spoken to, you know. Especially those toys. So we stood a few steps apart from the rest of them, just starin into the sun in silence.

Then eight o’clock came and the clickclack, squeal everyone was waitin for. Trap still wasn’t there, though, but that was a small price to pay for eternal life. I shaded my eyes with my hands and took in a deep whiff of the greasy air because I wanted to remember everything about that day.

And when a few cars started rollin by that I recognized, I couldn’t help myself, I just kept sayin, “This is it. This is it, this is it, this is it, this is iiiiit!”

As I was countin cars to find ours, I tried to imagine what could’ve happened to Trap but I was too excited to think about it. I was so excited, in fact, that I was still repeatin, “This is it, this is it, this is it…” for a few seconds after everyone saw the burner before it registered in my brain. After that, there was silence for another second, with only the clickclack, squeal to fill it, then I said, “Sheeeeeit. That’s an unforgivable action, man. Unforgivable. That type of thing can’t ever be forgiven. I’m tellin you, man.”

And someone in the audience said, “That’s bullshit.” Because it was.

And Lionheart just stood starin at the cars as they passed, with three of them carryin his masterpiece, but each burner was covered in three squiggly, childish, barely filled letters: “Cap”. They had been defaced before they ever made it out for the world to see, in the same night that we got chased out of the yard by pigs putting them up. It was the most absurd thing ever to happen in the history of bombin.

And someone else said, “I wonder if he got the uptown cars, too.”

So I said, “He better not have. That would mean war.”

And Lionheart just shrugged and walked away from the track, sayin, “Whatever.”

So I jogged to catch up with him and I asked him, “Well, what do we do now?”

And you know what he said? He said, “We do it again. But with more cars this time.”

And that was exactly what we were going to do.

 

END

 

Tracey Gracey

This post is a throwback to a short story I wrote in June of 2013 which has never before been published. Here it is now for your reading pleasure. You’ll probably recognize the folk tale that inspired this one right away. Enjoy.

length: 3,600 words

Tracey Gracey

by

Bryan Perkins

 

Tracey Gracey ran barefoot through the soft grass, her hair flowing in waves behind her. She leapt over a fallen tree branch, imagining her classmates–whose real life voices she could hear off in the distance–oohing and aahing at her performance. She played alone in a wooded hideaway near Epsilon Eridani Elementary’s playground. She had no friends among her classmates, and, as such, her imagination ran wild.

All at once she was an honorable space traveler, exploring unknown alien planets for signs of life with her laser gun strapped tight to her hip. In the next moment she was a brave knight from the Old Earth tales, her ray gun now a shiny iron sword used to fight the fiery red dragon and ensure the safety of the cowering villagers. At last she was a butterfly, floating on the wind, searching for a place to rest. Tired from all the adventure, she landed under a sprawling oak tree and drifted off to sleep.

Her dreams allowed her little rest. Amid images of flashing masks and talking cats she felt a hard thud on her forehead, waking her from her sleep.

Still lying on the grass, her eyes batting the sleep away, she felt lazily around for the culprit. Her right hand grasped an acorn which she tossed in the air and caught just before it hit her again. Up and down, up and down, she tossed the acorn until she heard a rustling in the leaves above her and felt another loud thud on her head.

“Ow!” She sat up and rubbed the growing lump on her skull. “Twice in one day?”

She felt around in the grass for the second acorn when she found a rough chunk of cement. Examining it closer, she noticed it was only rough on one side, the other side was smooth with a slight curve and it had been painted baby blue with just a hint of airy white puffs, almost like clouds.

“Wait a second,” she said. Having spent so much time alone she had developed the habit of thinking aloud, even when no one was there to listen. “That’s not baby blue, that’s sky blue. And those aren’t almost like clouds, they are clouds.”

She jumped to her feet and ran out from under the canopy of the tree to look up at the sky.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “It couldn’t be.”

She looked back at the rock then back at the sky, back at the rock, at the sky, the rock, sky.

The sky is falling.”

She shoved the rock in her pocket and darted out of the trees toward the voices on the playground.

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” she called as she ran. The children on the playground stopped their game and gathered around her.

“What now, Tracey Gracey?” asked a round girl in the front of the group.

“Can’t you just leave us alone, you freak,” added another of the children, sending the rest of the group into a fit of laughter.

Tracey balled her fists. “The sky is falling.”

The round girl sneered. “Hah. Yeah right. The sky can’t fall. Everyone knows that.”

“It can.” Tracey fumbled in her pocket for the rock. “Look.”

All the children laughed.

“That’s an acorn,” one of the boys squealed.

“No, that’s not what I—“

The round girl interrupted Tracey before she could finish. She turned her back to Tracey and waved her hands like a conductor while the rest of the children sang along.

 Tracey Gracey,
Everyone knows she’s spacey.
If something stinks,
Everyone thinks,
There goes spacey Tracey.

After a few rounds of singing, the children grew bored and returned to their game of tag. Tracey stomped off toward the school, kicking the grass as she walked. As she turned around the corner of the building, she tripped over a boy who was crouching to pick something up off the ground.

Shmeesh,” Tracey huffed, getting up and dusting herself off. “Watch where you’re standing, kid.”

“I—I’m sorry,” the boy stammered, adjusting his glasses.

“No, I’m sorry.” Tracey shook her head. “It’s not your fault. It’s those other jerks.”

“Yeah,” the boy said, looking away. “I know what you mean.”

“I’m Tracey Gracey, by the way.” She extended her hand to shake his. The boy examined her hand like it was an alien object before deciding it was okay to touch.

“Yeah, I sit in front of you in class,” he said.

“Oh.” Tracey blushed. “I thought I recognized you from somewhere.”

“It’s alright,” the boy said. “You don’t have to lie. No one notices me. I’m Dwayne Wayne.”

“Well, Dwayne Wayne, do you want to see something cool?” Tracey said, trying to make up for her mistake.

“Sure, I guess.”

She pulled the rock out of her pocket and handed it to Dwayne who turned it over and over, examining it closely as he readjusted his glasses.

“No way,” he finally said. “You’re not going to believe this, but look what I just found.” He handed her a similarly smoothed and painted piece of cement that was slightly smaller in size than hers. “What do you think they are?”

Tracey kicked a piece of gravel on the sidewalk at her feet. “I’d tell you, but you would just make fun of me like the others.”

“I won’t.” He shook his head. “I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Well.” She paused, trying to decide if she should tell him what she really thought and figuring there was nothing left to lose. “The sky is falling.”

Dwayne snorted, trying to hold back his laughter.

See? I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”

“I didn’t mean it. It’s just–The sky? Falling? Is that even possible?”

“Well, look at them.” She handed the rock back so he could examine both. “You see that? Exact same color as the sky. And those wisps of white, those are the clouds. What else could it be?”

“You know, I guess you could be right. Or it could just be some rock that someone painted and lost.”

“Yeah, right.” Tracey scoffed. “They just lost it on my forehead. I was laying under a tree with no one around. How could they?”

“Maybe someone threw it—“ As he spoke, a third rock fell from the sky and landed with a thump between them. Tracey picked it up and held it for him to see.

Hah! Now what?”

“I—I don’t—I guess—“

“Exactly.”

“But, what are we supposed to do?”

Riiiiiing.

The bell announced that recess was over. Tracey and Dwayne were the first inside because they were the only students not on the playground, but they lingered in the halls as students streamed in around them.

“So,” Dwayne asked, “what’s the plan?”

“I don’t know,” Tracey said. “We have to tell someone.”

“Tell someone what, Miss Gracey?” Mr. Lister, their teacher, asked, coming inside from recess.

“The sky is falling,” Tracey blurted out without thinking.

“The sky is falling? Ha.” Mr. Lister laughed. “You do have quite the imagination, don’t you? But I assure you, the sky is not falling, child. Now, off to class with the both of you. Chop chop.”

“Yes, sir.” Dwayne started towards their classroom.

“But, it’s true, sir,” Tracey went on. “I have proof. Look.” She handed him the largest of the three rocks. Mr. Lister rolled it over in his hand, barely glancing at it before answering.

“What you have here is a painted piece of cement. Nothing more. Now. Off to class, please. Don’t make me say it aga–”

But it fell from the sky.”

Now, Miss Gracey.”

“But…fine.” She slouched her shoulders and stomped off to the classroom.

After hours of watching the clock while Mr. Lister droned on, the day finally ended. Tracey hurriedly packed her things and was the first student out of the school doors. As she turned down the sidewalk towards her house, she heard Dwayne jogging up behind her.

“Tracey. Tracey, wait!” he called through gasping breaths.

Tracey slowed her pace slightly. “I’m off to find someone who’ll believe me,” she said.

“That’s what I came to talk to you about. Just wait.” He caught up to her and bent over, breathing heavily, in her path. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I believe you now. There’s nowhere else that third rock could have come from.”

“Good.” She walked on around him.

“So what are we going to do about it?” he asked, hurrying to keep up.

I’m going to go show these rocks to my mom. She’ll know what to do.”

“But isn’t she at work?”

“I’ll find a way to get there. I’m showing her and that’s that.”

Dwayne noticed a dog playing in the shade of a crepe myrtle tree and ran up ahead to play with it. “Hey there, puppy wuppy,” he said in a high pitched voice, patting the dog. “What are you doing? What have you got there?” He took something from the dog’s mouth and turned it over in his hand. “Tracey, come look at this.”

“What?”

“Another piece of the puzzle.” He handed the rock to her. It looked the same as the pieces of sky they had already found.

“This is serious,” she said, pocketing the rock and darting out into the street in front of a passing Colony Police cruiser. The car screeched to a halt and the officer jumped out.

“Excuse me, little girl, do you know how dangerous that was?”

“It’s important,” Tracey said, squinting to read the woman’s badge, “Col. Pol. Joel. The sky is falling.”

Psh, just stay out of the road, please.” The officer laughed as Dwayne jogged up, out of breath.

“But, look.” Tracey shoved the pile of debris they had found into the officer’s face. “They all fell from the sky. Something’s going on.”

“I’m telling you, kid,” the officer said, ignoring the pieces of sky in Tracey’s hands. “There’s no way that the sky can fall. We are perfectly safe. Please, move along so I can get on with my duty.”

“Isn’t it your duty to protect us?”

“That it is. So if you don’t listen to me and stay out of the road we might have to take a trip down to the station. For your protection, of course.”

“No way,” Dwayne said. “Please don’t.”

“You can’t do that,” Tracey said. “We’re just kids.”

“Well, are you going to move along or are you going to continue to impede an officer on duty?”

“I’m not impeding,” Tracey complained. “I’m trying to help you. Something’s going on—“

“Alright then. You leave me no choice. Get in the car.” The officer opened the back door to the cruiser and shepherded the two children inside. “What division does your guardian work in?”

“Meteorolol—meteorolial—meteor—she works in weather.” No matter how often she had practiced, Tracey still couldn’t pronounce “Meteorological Engineering”.

The officer started the cruiser and pointed toward a giant towering structure in the distance. Tracey was excited. She had never seen her mother’s workplace before. She had barely ever traveled beyond the grocery store down the street from her house, which she eyed as they passed. She and Dwayne stared out of their respective windows, gawking at how familiar the scenery was. Each new street looked exactly like the last. She could have lived on any one of them.

After some time of repeating scenery, the houses and streets blurred into a single mass. Tracey barely noticed when the car slowed to a halt and Col Pol Joel got out, leaving the windows cracked.

“What seems to be the problem, Brother Smothers?”

Brother Smothers, the colony chaplain, stood in front of his car which was parked on the side of the road, waving his arms to hurry Officer Joel’s approach.

“Well, a band of hooligans, I’m sure. There I was, driving along, minding my own business, when Lord help me some little heathens threw a rock straight through my windshield. Take a look and see for yourself.” He pointed at his car before crossing himself.

The officer glanced at the windshield. “Yup. Do you have the object?”

“The object?”

“Yes, sir. The object. The item. The perpetrator. The thing. You know, the rock that broke your window.”

“Oh. Yes, yes. Lord, here it is.” He fumbled through his pocket and handed something to Officer Joel.

“What was that?” Tracey asked under her breath, nudging Dwayne with her elbow.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t see.”

“Yes, well, did you see who did it?” the officer asked.

“Nope, that’s the thing. It seemed as if the stone simply fell from the heavens.”

“Alright, Brother. I’ll keep my eyes open and let you know what I find.” She put the object in her pocket and got back in the cruiser.

Tracey scooted closer to the grating between the front and back seats. “What was that?”  she asked.

The officer started the car and drove away with a wave to Brother Smothers. “Nothing.”

Tracey put her nose up to the cold metal. “What did he give you?”

“A rock, if you must know. Some hooligans–much like the two of you–broke Brother Smothers’s window with it.”

Tracey poked her fingers through the little holes in the grating. “What did it look like? Can I see it?”

“Nope. Can’t do that. It’s evidence.”

“Exactly! Gah.” Tracey slouched back in her seat.

“You want to know what I think,” she whispered to Dwayne who nodded, re-readjusting his glasses. “No one threw that rock. I bet it was a piece of the sky that broke Brother Smothers’ windshield. Not hooligans.”

“I don’t know,” Dwayne whispered back. “Why would Brother Smothers lie?”

“He said himself that he didn’t see who threw it. It fell from the heavens. Just like when I got hit the first time. I’m telling you, this is the real thing.”

“I still don’t know.”

The two looked out their windows. The rows of cookie-cutter houses had long since given way to a lush green forest, their destination still towering above it all.

“Are we there yet?” Dwayne asked, smiling at Tracey.

“We wouldn’t be driving if we were,” Col Pol Joel replied.

“Are we there, now?” Dwayne asked, giggling with Tracey. The officer ignored them.

“You know my mom’s going to believe me, don’t you?” Tracey said, more of a statement than a question.

“That doesn’t matter,” Officer Joel replied.

“It doesn’t matter? The sky is falling! How could that not matter?”

“What does matter is that you were playing in the middle of the street, and that you were impeding an officer on duty.”

“It can’t matter that much,” Tracey said. “Not if you have the time to bring us way out here. Is that your super important Col Pol duty for today?”

“You children are truants.”

“Truants?” Dwayne groaned. “My mom’s gonna kill me.”

“We can’t be truant,” Tracey said. “School’s already out for the day.” As she finished her sentence, they pulled up to a gate blocking the entrance to the now unimaginably tall structure towering above them–Tracey couldn’t even see the top of it, it just went on forever and ever. A magnet on the cruiser caused the gate to open and they parked directly in front of the tower’s entrance. The officer went inside alone, leaving the children in the car.

“I don’t like this,” Dwayne said. “What did you get me into?”

“Me?” Tracey scoffed. “I didn’t ask you to follow me.”

“Well, I didn’t think you would run out in front of a Col Pol car and get us arrested.”

“It doesn’t matter, anyway. Once my mom gets here, she’ll take one look at my evidence and set that idiot straight.” She laughed at the thought of it.

“How can you be so sure?”

“Trust me, she’s a super smart scientist. She knows everything about the sky. She can even control the weather. She’ll know what’s going on for sure.”

“I hope so. She doesn’t look too happy right now,” Dwayne said, pointing out the window behind Tracey.

Tracey turned to see her mother, Stacey, walking out with the officer. Her mom had the same look on her face as the time Tracey got suspended for punching the kid who came up with “Spacey Tracey”. Of course, it didn’t stop anyone from singing that stupid song.

“Tracey, what’s going on?” Her mom demanded as soon as she was in spitting distance. “This officer tells me you were playing in the street. She said she almost—wait a second. What am I saying?” She turned to the officer. “Are you seriously telling me that you not only pulled me from my work, but you put my child and her friend in the backseat of your squad car and drove all the way out here because she was playing in the street?”

The officer blushed. Tracey nudged Dwayne. “I told you.” Her mom noticed and turned back toward the car.

“And as for you little miss, you’re not off the hook, either. Why were you two playing in the street?”

I wasn’t in the street,” Dwayne objected.

“We weren’t playing, Mom. I was trying to get her attention. Look.” She handed the rocks they had collected to her mom. “They all came from the sky. One of them hit me right on the head.” She rubbed her knot as she said it.

Stacey turned the rocks over in her hand, examining them closely. “It can’t be,” she said. “No way. No how. Tracey Gracey, you gift. You just might have saved us.” She hugged her daughter tight, driving the rocks uncomfortably into Tracey’s shoulder blades.

“What? What is it?” Tracey asked, squirming away.

“We need to get inside. Now.”

“What? What is it?” Col Pol Joel repeated.

“The SKY is falling,” Stacey said.

“What?” Col Pol Joel frowned. “No way.”

“I told you!” Tracey boasted.

“But how?” Dwayne asked.

“I don’t know exactly. That’s why we need to get inside. Let’s go.”

“That’s impossible,” Col Pol Joel said. “This dome is indestructible. We’re completely safe. A little wear and tear is natural. The repair bots will keep everything in tip-top shape. They always have and they always will.”

Look,” Stacey said, “some damage can happen too quickly for the automatic repair bots to keep up with. If we don’t take care of those damages fast, and somehow even a small hole forms in that dome, then the air is going to be sucked out of here in no time and there will be nothing we can do about it. Once the human body is exposed to a vacuum like that, you only have fifteen, twenty seconds tops before your saliva boils and you pass out.

“Now, we’ve already seen weather aberrations in the lab, and with these pieces of cement falling from the sky I’d say that we have enough evidence to take action. I’m bringing Tracey inside where she’ll be safe. You can come with us, but not until you alert the rest of the colony about the possible dangers, starting with your superiors.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m on it, ma’am.” Col Pol Joel saluted and marched back to her cruiser.

“Tracey, come on. Bring your friend with you.” Her mom said, walking toward the tower and calling someone on her cell phone.

“Let’s go,” Tracey said, waving for Dwayne to follow her as she started towards her mom.

“I don’t know,” Dwayne said, looking back at Officer Joel. “Maybe I should try to find my parents.”

“But you heard what my mom said. It’s dangerous out here. The sky is falling.”

“But how can the sky fall? The repair bots have always taken care of it before.”

“Did you hear her?”

“Yeah, but…she could be wrong. This stuff happens all the time. You heard Col Pol Joel.”

“She’s not wrong. I’m not wrong. Look, I’m going inside. You should come, too. You don’t even have a way to get home.”

“I could ask Officer Joel.” Dwayne tapped his feet, looking back and forth between Tracey and the cruiser.

“Well I’m going now,” Tracey said. “Don’t take too long.” She ran toward her mom who was holding the tower door open and waving her hands at Tracey to get inside.

“What’s your friend doing?” her mom asked, still holding the door.

“He hasn’t decided yet,” Tracey said, shaking her head. “I don’t think he believes you.”

“Well, I don’t know how much time we have,” her mom said. “I need to get upstairs to run some tests. This could be urgent. I have no idea.”

In the distance, Tracey saw a large chunk of rubble fall from the sky.

“Mom!” she yelled. “Did you see that? Dwayne! Hurry!”

The trees around the tower bent under the weight of heavy winds. The clouds were sucked out of the sky. Dwayne turned from the cruiser and tried to run for the tower but his pace slowed instantly. Tracey tried to slip outside and save him but her mom wouldn’t let her through the door.

“Tracey, no. We can’t.” Her mom pulled her back inside. The glass door closed with a pneumatic hiss.

Tracey banged on the window. “No! No! Dwayne, please!”

Dwayne fell over on the ground, holding his throat and convulsing, while Tracey fell to the floor, red-eyed and crying. And the SKY fell atop them all in the end.

 END