Young’uns

YOUNG’UNS

“I used to have a beautiful lawn,” Stanton said. “Fucking immaculate.”

We sat on the sun-bleached porch, Stanton in his rocking chair, bathrobe flopping out around the legs like some sort of goddamn wizard robe. His stained undershirt peeked up over the top near his neck where coarse, white hairs grew. He scratched his beard once before continuing.

“See that path?” he pointed out across the trampled grass. “Used to have a flower bed along there. Wife planted it twenty years ago. Goddamn kids would run by, kick it all to shit. I’d try to replant it but what’s the use? After another day or so, another herd of ‘em comes by and WHAM! knocks the whole fucking thing around. Might as well be running a goddamn daycare.

“That’s all the world is now,” he added. “One big fucking daycare center for those goddamn young’uns.”

“You mean actual children?” I asked. “Or do you mean the–”

“You know goddamn well what I mean,” he said, glaring at me from under bushy brows. “That’s the problem with this country, with the whole world. A bunch of children, all of you.”

“Literally,” I said and coughed. “Although, some of us didn’t choose this.”

I had lived next to Stanton for ten years or so. He was always a cranky bastard, yelling at people from his porch, scowling at us when we waved at him. He managed to warm up to us after a while, especially once Janet got sick. After Janet was gone, Stanton just got grouchier to everyone except me and my wife. Then Susie got sick as well.

Now it’s just us, the two bachelors, kicking it on the porch, watching the herds roll by.

“Bunch of petri dishes with feet,” he said. “I’ve said it from day one. Those fucking kids are nothing but little disease factories. Once one of them gets sick, they all do, then they pass that on to us. Then we get sick, only we’re fucking old, you know? Our bodies don’t cope with disease like they do.”

“Well, now it’s nothing but children,” I added with a chuckle.

We could hear the herd approaching from a distance, that aimless shuffling, the coughing and crying, like a parade of nightmares just wandering around the city, covered in snot and shit and dirt. They’d be here soon enough. Stanton was right about one thing, the young’uns were little disease factories all right. No doubt about it.

“Problem you see,” he said, pausing to spit over the arm of his chair, “is that back in the day, even before my time, people used to have some fucking respect for their elders. You showed some fucking respect when grampa walked into the room, or when gramma came to visit.”

At this point I just nodded. There was really no point in arguing with Stanton once he got on a roll.

“Then someone got it in their head that what people really wanted was to be young. They made those goddamn creams and those goddamn pants, even that fucking music is all about worshiping youth. ‘Baby’ this and ‘Baby’ that. And that’s how we got where we are now.”

“You think so?” I said, watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon.

“I fucking know so,” he said. “Why else do you think anyone would even consider making the De Leon virus? What’s the benefit? Just look at them!”

The parade had arrived.

We paused our conversation a moment to watch them crawl by, children, hundreds of them. At least they looked like children. They were certainly short, like an adult had somehow been compressed unevenly in some machine, arms and legs bunched up like soft dough. But those faces…

“And there they go,” said Stanton. “All over my fucking lawn. Look at that shit. They don’t give a goddamn rat’s ass about how much care Janet put into that yard. They just roll on through, tearing it up.”

A toddler with the face of a fifty-year-old man wobbled away from the crowd, his eyes old, and sad. You could see that they all knew they used to be something more, but just couldn’t remember what. They all looked confused, like Charlie from that book about the mouse, or maybe Lenny from that other book about the mouse.

“What was that one book?” I said as the toddler ambled onto the lawn, grabbing handfuls of grass and stuffing it into his mouth. “The one where the janitor gets all smart and then forgets everything?”

“Flowers for Algernon,” said Stanton, ignoring me to stand. “Hey! You little fucker!”

He shuffled over to the wall beside the chair, all the time yelling, “You get the fuck off my lawn, you hear! Just get! Get the fuck off! Shoo!”

But the middle-age toddler didn’t even listen.. None of them did, really. The De Leon virus pretty much makes you a functional infant. You could talk to them and they’d act like they used to be able to understand you, but then they’d just cry and cry, screwing up their little faces in the most grotesque way.

I sometimes wonder what it’s like, that eternal innocence. As I watched them roll and stumble by, their grimy naked bodies compressed like clay dolls, I thought that maybe I was the lucky one. Me and Stanton, two lucky guys.

“I fucking warned you!” yelled Stanton, turning the nozzle.

Sprinklers sprayed the toddler. He floundered, then ran squealing back to the herd.

And then there was Susie again, just like every night, waddling naked and dirty, a woman’s head on a toddler’s body. Her hair still had the barrette from that night.

When we hit forty, Susie asked me if I thought she was getting old. One of those De Leon treatment commercials was blaring on the TV. “Live forever or die trying!”

“We’re all getting old,” I had  said and laughed.

I really wish now, that I’d kept my damn mouth shut.

(c) Martin Kee 2011

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The Last Honeymoon

 

Chuck Wendig threw us another short fiction challenge. This time the prompt was an image.

Now I have to start by saying that I don’t think I have ever written a story based on an image. I don’t like comics, and I don’t care for illustrations when I read. I like my imagination to do the looking for me.

The challenge in this case was: How do I make a story about the things you can’t see?

Here is my solution.

——-

Bobby lit another cigarette and lay in his bed, watching the smoke drift out the open window. The sheets were yellow, probably not originally. When they had checked into this room she had joked that they should have brought a black light. Bobby was glad now that they didn’t.

In fact, Bobby was pretty damn content to just sit there on the bed, smoking the last of his cancer sticks until the world ended. That seemed like a nice way to go.

He glanced toward the bathroom, the light flickering through the crack above the floor. A shadow moved along the crevice, blocking the light, then was gone.

How long was she going to be?

He looked back out the window. Storm clouds. Everyday, storm clouds.

It had sure seemed like a great idea when they checked in. You got a clear view of the city, a free drink from the tiny fridge and all the soft-core porn you could watch.

Bobby reached for the remote and turned on the TV. It sputtered static, bathed the room in blue light and then rolled the imaged over and over on the screen.

It was the same thing as before, the same monster movie scenario from 3am. Every few seconds the screen would roll, splitting the image in two, mashing it against the bottom then looping from the top.

“You about done in there?” he yelled.

“Hold your horses,” she said through the door.

“You hold your horses,” he said back lamely. He took another drag on the cigarette, staring at the luminous screen, matching the clouds outside.

Those clouds. No clouds should glow like that, unless it was mid-day. He looked at the clock, 10pm. Shit, had they spent the entire day in here, again?

Outside the clouds rolled over one another like juggernauts, but it wouldn’t rain. Oh, shit would fall from the sky, no doubt of that. He laughed to himself and smothered the spent cigarette on the tabletop.

“What’s so funny?” she asked from the bathroom.

“Nothing,” he said, reaching blindly for the pack. “Finish what you’re doing.”

“I just want… I just want to…” he heard a sob. “It’s supposed to be our honeymoon!”

He sighed and fumbled for the pack. Empty. Well fuck, he thought. He certainly wasn’t going to go out in this weather.

A laugh crawled up from his throat. Weather. How fucking rich is that? Two days in and it had gone from a global disaster to “weather.”

He crumpled the empty pack and threw it across the room. The TV image rolled again, voices trying to fight through the static. Amazing they even got reception at all, he thought.

“Just come out, Sweetie,” he said. “Nobody is going to judge.”

“I will!”

Well then you could stop obsessing at the mirror, he thought, but kept it to himself.

“Are the lights off?” she asked.

“The lights are off.”

“Are you lying?”

“Why would I lie?”

More silence and shuffling came from the bathroom.

“What about the TV?”

“Do you want it off?”

“Of course I want it off!”

Bobby reached for the remote again and killed the TV. It was the same shit anyway: a Lovecraftian nightmare of water and monsters. The meteorologists couldn’t explain it. The astronomers couldn’t explain it. Religions couldn’t explain it, but you bet your ass they tried.

It’s God’s punishment for our sins! It’s God’s punishment for socialism! It’s God’s punishment for the gays, for the war, for the taxing of the rich, for hurting the feelings of the Baby Jesus! It’s God’s punishment for neglecting the earth! Neglecting your spouse! Neglecting your church! It’s God’s punishment for Muslims! For Hindus! For Christianity! For Baptists! For Pagans!

Bobby was an atheist. Melinda was an atheist. It was actually the first thing they discovered they had in common. They had a whirlwind engagement and their parents had shit a brick when he delivered the news.

“And now, we’re going to Cuba for our honeymoon!” He said just to see the shock on his conservative parents’ faces.

So they flew to Havana, checked in, never turned on the TV set the entire first day (more carnal entertainment was in order.) When he realized that he was on his last cigarette, Melinda had hopped out of bed.

“You’ve worked hard enough, Tiger. I’ll get you a pack down the street.”

Neither of them had even noticed the clouds rolling in. Nobody had noticed. What’s to notice about some storm clouds in the middle of June? A fluke storm. And it wasn’t like they got a lot of American stations down here, and not like he understood the language of the stations they got.

Now Bobby stood in the silence of the room, staring out the window, wearing his boxers and scratching the uneven hair on his chest. The streets were invisible beneath the black water. Occasionally he could make out something massive beneath the surface. Nobody knew what it was, really. All they knew was that it was everywhere.

Bobby heard the bathroom door open and shut his eyes.

“Are they closed?” she said.

“They are,” he said, turning to face her.

He had promised after all. That was the vows, richer or poorer, sickness and health, human and– he cut the thought short as her footsteps drew closer. They squelched on the carpet like wet sneakers.

“I’m sorry,” she said nearby.

“It’s okay baby,” he said reaching out to the woman he had promised to love unconditionally. “You didn’t know.”

“We should have listened to the TV–”

“Shhhh,” he said as she melted into his arms.

Something wet, slithering and cold pressed against his back, hugging him closer. He felt her wet hair on his chest, that curious seaweed smell wafting up from her scalp. She had come back with the cigarettes. She had come back changed. He had changed with her.

In fact, Bobby expected he would change a whole lot more.