Sinon (part 4)

I left Vic in that stinky Syn den to get drunk at Max’s.  But there were even some damned Synners hanging out there too, sitting on the filthy floor around the pool table.

Too wary to drink from an open container (fearful that the bartender would lace my booze with Syn), I stuck with canned and bottled beers.  But frustratingly, I couldn’t get drunk.  (“I drink beer to sober up!” had been one of my favorite boasts.)  By the time I came up with the idea of buying a pint of whisky from the 24-7 convenience store down the street, it was already 4:47pm.  Time to meet my perfect brother, I dejectedly thought, as I slid off the bar stool.

Arriving home, I grimaced as I walked past David’s beat up Chevy Dash (sporting more dents than I remembered) in the driveway.  Opening the front door, I consoled myself that I had at least a steak dinner to look forward to.

But there was no sound of sizzling steaks inside.  No excited conversations about David taking the bar exam.  No TV blaring sports highlights (and no Dad sitting in his living room recliner).  I was met with utter quiet.

Mom, Dad, and my brother were sitting serenely at the kitchen table.  In unison, they all turned to me and smiled.

“Oh fuck,” I heard myself groan.

“Oh Durant, you’re home,” spoke my mom, as though she was concentrating on every word.  She unsteadily tried to stand, then thinking better of it, sat back down.  “Your brother is here.”  She deliberately gestured to David.

“Mom, you told me not to take Syn!” I accused, my voice cracking.

“Well, David said all of his professors assured him that Syn was safe.  Who are we to argue with the experts?”

I was angry and hurt.  Angry because, by taking Syn, I felt my family had betrayed me.  And hurt, because I knew Mom and Dad would never have taken Syn if I asked them.  But since their favored son asked them…

“You should join us and take it, son.”

I couldn’t remember the last time my dad lovingly called me “son”.

“Uh, maybe later.  Listen, I need to check on something in my bedroom.”

I could feel their stares follow me as I ducked into the hallway.

I knew my sleeping bag was on the top shelf in my closet.  But I struggled to remember where the rest of the camping gear was.

In my parent’s bedroom, I delicately shut the door behind me.  From the dresser, I swiped the keys to their station wagon.  I then lifted and moved my mother’s jewelry box, revealing the wad of cash hiding underneath.  Shucking off a few bills, I silently promised my mom that this would be the last time I’d ever do this.

To be continued…

(Or read the story in its entirety in Goddess.)

Sinon (part 3)

Swinging open the door to Pepper’s, I walked into a wall of wet sour air.  Gross.  This place smells like a locker room.  Why isn’t the AC on?

And why aren’t the lights on?  The only illumination in the bar and grill was the noon sun beaming through the windows’ slatted blinds.

Peeking into the dining room, I noticed it was mostly empty.  At the few tables that were occupied, the diners sat upright in their booths, not talking to one another, with no food in front of them.

The bar was far more crowded, but just as sedate.  Every seat around the bar was taken, but except for the occasional burst of laughter or heaving sob, the patrons sat silent.  None of them had drinks.  The surrounding, dauntingly tall, cocktail tables were mostly vacant, the Synners opting to sit on the ground instead, their backs propped against the reassuring wall.

How can Pepper’s operate like this? I wondered as I squeezed in between two “customers” at the bar.  Wouldn’t corporate shut this franchise down?

As I looked around for the bartender, I recognized some of the same people here from last night.  None of them had changed their clothes.

“How are you doing, buddy?” said Vic, seemingly materializing next to me.  He was likewise wearing the same red t-shirt and black jeans from when I last saw him.

“Dude, where the fuck have you been? I texted you a hundred times!”

“Sorry, I’ve been busy.”

“Busy doing what?”

“Busy.  Busy, uh, meeting people.  Yeah, meeting people.”

“You’re still tripping, aren’t you?”

As an answer, he gave me a creepy toothy Syn smile.  “Do you want to try it?”

“Fuck, no!  I came here to check up on you.  After I get a drink, I’m out of here.”

Vic trotted to the opposite side of the bar.  “Cool.  What do you want?”

“Shit, what are you doing?  Get out of there before you get in trouble.”

“Nah, it’s OK,” assured a 30ish woman slumped against the wall.  Judging from her black slacks, white polo shirt, and pepper green suspenders, she was Pepper’s bartender.

“I’ll have a beer.”

Vic grabbed a bottle of Graf (which he knew was my favorite premium beer) from behind the counter, but before I could stop him, he opened for me.

“Where’s your drink?” I asked, staring at the open bottle.

“I’m good,” he said, with a grin that seemed to extend beyond the confines of his face.

After bringing the beer to my lips, but not taking a sip, I excused myself.

On the way to the bathroom, I was puzzled that I couldn’t access Twitter on my phone, even though I had five full bars of reception.

In the stall, I placed my foot on the toilet seat to retrieve my flask.  Even before unscrewing its top, I could tell it was empty.  In my haste to leave the house to get drunk at the news of my brother’s visit, I forgot to refill it.

“Fuck!” I cursed.

To be continued…

(Or read the story in its entirety in Goddess.)

Sinon (part 2)

I thankfully woke up still a little drunk, instead of hungover.  Sober up or continue the buzz? I asked myself as I rolled out of bed.  I’ll let the day decide!

Tasting the familiar tang of stale booze in my mouth, it was obvious I didn’t brush my teeth before crashing last night.  Time to remedy that, I thought, as I walked out of my bedroom and down the hallway.

After taking my wakeup piss, I leaned over the bathroom sink and looked at my reflection in the mirror to survey the damage.  My goatee and long sideburns were now in a shallow sea of stubble.  Acceptable, I judged.  I’ll shave later.  My brown eyes were slightly bloodshot.  Normal.  My hair was a disaster.  Normally groomed into a pompadour, the front looked like a wooly brown turd, pinched off at the right.  Douse my hair and style it?  Nah, I’ll baseball cap it for now, and deal with it proper when I take a shower later.

After brushing my teeth, rubbing on some deodorant, slapping on jeans and a Generics concert tee, shoving my flask in my sock, grabbing my phone (which I was surprised and grateful that I had the presence of mind last night to plug into its charger before passing out) and donning the all-important hat, I was ready to face the ‘rents.

As usual, Dad was in his recliner in the living room watching TV, while Mom was busy in the kitchen.  “Good morning, Durant,” she greeted.

“‘Morning, Mom,” I said, as I made my way to the fridge to grab some orange juice.

“I just made some breakfast for your dad and me,” she said, gesturing to the strips of bacon sitting on the paper towel-lined plate.  “I can cook you some eggs.”

The thought of eggs made me slightly nauseous.  “No thanks, Mom.”  Even though the OJ tasted sour from my just brushed teeth, I guzzled down an entire glass and poured another.

“You’re too skinny, Durant.  You need to eat more.”

Mom was right: I was, by far, the skinniest in the family.

On the opposite end of our family’s weight spectrum was Dad.  While some men drank, smoked, or gambled, my dad’s addiction was eating.  When Mom would ask how a business trip went, he’d list the Michelin-starred restaurants he dined at and describe each decadent meal in lavish detail.  And his light features—a blond crewcut, light blue eyes, and pale complexion—made him look bigger still.  (I’d often describe my dad was the whitest person I knew.  Vic once joked, “He’s so white, he’s pink!”)  Alarmingly, the stress of financing my older brother’s law degree at the University of Southern California had fueled his addiction, adding to his weight.  He was now the most rotund I’d ever seen him.

My brother, David (“Don’t call me Dave”), was definitely his father’s son: same blue eyes, fair skin, but with dirtier blond hair.  Though he was easily the second largest in our family, he was not fat like Dad.  He sported a sturdy build, which served him well when he played center and defensive end in high school.  Yet it was not hard to imagine his stockiness bloating into Dad-like obesity in 20 years’ time.

While Mom was the shortest of all of us, I suspected I still weighed less than her.  Though she was petite, she had an ample bust and curvy hips.  (I punched Vic in the arm whenever he referred to her as a “MILF”.)  While David was built from my dad’s mold, I most resembled Mom: we shared the same thick brown hair and dark eyes.

And then there was skinny, dark featured me.  (Vic relished calling me “ethnic”, though my family was as white as they came.)  I was so slim because I hardly ever ate.  Not because I was on a diet or anything.  When I woke, I was usually too nauseous from my hangover to eat.  When I began feeling better in the late afternoon, I’d begin drinking again, the empty calories killing my appetite.  Hence, my only food would inevitably be the greasy hamburgers or tacos I’d grab on the way home from the bars after last call.

“So what did you do last night?” my mom asked.

“The usual: Hung out with Vic,” I volunteered, as I nibbled on some bacon.  What I didn’t volunteer was that after I got bored hanging around Vic’s Synned ass (and more importantly, after I drained my flask), I left him and went barhopping.  I vaguely remembered returning to Pepper’s to check up on him on my way home, but he wasn’t there.  In a jolt, I checked my phone.  I had sent him five texts last night.  He didn’t respond to a single one.  Fucker, I thought as I slipped my phone back in my pocket.

“I hope you and Vic aren’t experimenting with that Syn drug,” said my mom, as if she was reading my mind.  “Please promise me you’ll never take it.”

Before I could come up with a comforting answer, my dad barked from the living room, “How’s the job search going?”

“No one’s hiring during Memorial Day weekend.  I’ll hit it once the three-day is over.”

I heard him grunt his disgust.

My last job was floor man and occasional cashier at French’s Electronics.  But they fired me a month ago for taking too many sick days.  (I really wasn’t lying all the times I called in sick.  I was truly physically ill, throwing up from drinking too much the night before.)  Since then, I’d been casually looking for another gig while collecting unemployment.

But besides the occasional snide inquiry, my dad didn’t push me to get a job.  And though he made it obvious he’d prefer I move out, he didn’t push me on that front either.  He never pushed me to do anything.

But he pushed David to play football in high school like his old man.  He pushed David to go to college.  And he pushed David to go to law school.

In short, my father never hid the fact that he loved David more than me.

“That reminds me,” said Mom.  “David will be spending the three-day weekend with us.  He should get here sometime this afternoon.  So I’m making a big steak dinner for all of us.  So please be here around five.”

So the favored brother returns.  The day has indeed decided for me.  Getting drunk it is!  “OK, Mom,” I assured her, as I kissed her on the cheek, before heading out.

“God damn it!  ESPN’s off the air!” was the last thing I heard before I shut the door behind me.

To be continued…

(Or read the story in its entirety in Goddess.)

Sinon

“Why did you want to come here?”

“Just wanted to check it out before they make it illegal,” answered Vic.  “It’s only a matter of time.”

I leaned in close and whispered, “Shit, you’re not actually thinking of trying it, are you?”

“I’ll play it by ear.”

“You don’t ‘play Syn by ear’.  That shit changes you!  And just after one dose.  Look around you.”

It was easy to pick out the Synners at the bar.  They were sitting (they always sat, if not in chairs, then on the floor), staring at nothing.  They were often mouthing words to themselves.  I’ve seen them sometimes laugh for no reason, and occasionally cry for no reason.  But once you approached them, they sparked to life, immediately breaking out of their stupor and engaging you with a smile.  I’d never met a mean Synner.

And this was where all the Synners in town hung out: at the local Pepper’s.  The chain bar and grill wasn’t as classy as Vermillions, but wasn’t a dive like Max’s (where Vic and I frequented).

“Got a special today,” the smiling bartender announced as he appeared across from us.  “Free Syn with a drink.”

“Any drink?” asked Vic.

“Dude, you don’t want to get Syn from a bar.”

“There’s no such thing as bad Syn,” the bartender said evenly.

“It’s all bad,” I muttered.

“I’ll take it with a vodka tonic.”

“What vodka?”

“Well will do.”

“Tell you what: I’ll pour you Sidorov Elite at the same price.”

Vic brightened.  “Thanks!”

The bartender turned to me.  “Same thing?”

“Nah, I’ll take a whisky on the rocks.  No Syn.”

The bartender didn’t offer to upgrade my drink.

Plopping both of our tumblers down on the bar, the bartender unclenched his ring and pinky fingers about Vic’s drink, letting a tiny white pill tumble onto the red cocktail napkin beneath.

Vic plucked it up and held it between us.  It looked like a grain of uncooked rice, only fatter.  It had no seams or markings; it was perfectly plain.

“You want to check it out before I pop it?”

“Hell, no.”  I was paranoid that if I touched it, some of it may rub off on me and get absorbed through my skin, like LSD.  Then it occurred to me that the bartender could’ve laced my drink with Syn.  I swirled the tumbler in my hand, futilely trying to discern a tiny white tablet amid the dark whisky and glistening ice.  I ended up spilling some.  Drying my fingers on my napkin, I asked Vic, “You really going to do this?”

“You should do it with me.”

“Nah, one of us needs to stay sane to look after the other.”

“No one’s ever overdosed or died from Syn.”

I resisted the urge to tell the bartender to shut the fuck up.

We clinked our glasses.  “’Long live the new flesh’,” Vic toasted.  (Knowing Vic, the phase must’ve come from some horror movie.)

Vic popped the pill in his mouth and swallowed it with a gulp of vodka tonic.

I brought the whisky to my mouth, but didn’t take a sip.  I tried hard not to lick my lips.

Vic’s eyes grew wide, his jaw fell slack.  Then the edges of his lips curled, forming an open mouth smile.  His arms fell lax to his sides.

“No, hold on to the bar,” the bartender instructed.

I put an arm around him to make sure he didn’t topple from his bar stool.  “Shit, you’re already feeling it?  What’s it like?”

“Oh my god, it’s like—  Everyone…from everywhere, shit!  It’s really hard to concentrate on words.  Hard to talk…”

“Alright, I’ll let you enjoy your high.  Is it OK if I let go of you?  You won’t fall over, right?”

Vic nodded, his eyes now closed, his mouth an intense grin, his hands latched onto the edge of the bar.

After I was sure Vic was OK on his own, I hopped off my stool.  Making my way to the bathroom, I thoroughly wiped my mouth on my sleeve.  I locked myself in the bathroom’s only stall.  Planting my foot on the toilet seat, I hiked up my pant leg and fished out my flask from my sock.  Unscrewing its cap, I took a stinging swig.  It was my turn to smile.

To be continued…

(Or read the story in its entirety in Goddess.)

Progress?

On the NeoSparta front, I haven’t heard back from any literary agents, so I’m about to query book publishers directly.

Also wrote a short story called Sinon.  Submitted it to a handful of magazines.  If they pass on it, I’ll cast a wider net and send it to several more magazines.

In the meantime while I‘m waiting for responses for NeoSparta and Sinon, I’m working on the first “episode” of my sci-fi serial (codename: Jame-O Shot).

To be continued…

NeoSparta

What if the ancient military city-state of Sparta existed, even thrived, until modern times?  That’s the premise of my completed novella, NeoSparta.

Currently peddling the manuscript to literary agents.  Wish me luck!

The Trip

I’m squatting on the knuckle of a giant earthen hand, whose fingers are lazily swaying in a lake of fluid mercury.  The deep blue sky is littered with the ivory skeletons of soldiers clashing with the endless vertebrae of serpents.  I feel like a point of light.  Sometimes, I forget I’m even here.

Someone’s behind me.  It’s her—Impossible!—standing away from the shore, watching me.  I scurry over a bed of skyward faces, their mouths gaped open.  Falling to my knees, I embrace her, resting my head between her pale breasts.  Oh god, I loved you so much…  I did this because of you…  Her skin becomes bone, unyielding, cold.  Cracks worm up her body.  I look up at her.  Her chiseled face looks straight away.  Chunks of her head are missing.

Pulling away, I’m startled at the sight of my arms, surprised I have a body.  The pinpricks inside my arm are still bleeding a little.  Bubbles under my skin travel to the punctures, slowly at first, then faster.  Much faster.  Snakes geyser out of the holes, snapping at my face.

Pain slices through my chest, dropping me on my back.  I open my tearing eyes to a blood sky.  Purple lava spurts out of the side of a nearby hill, threatening to overtake me.  Tribal drums beat in the distance, the beat in sync with the throb of pain.  She finally moves, peering down at me, smiling, her head whole.  The beat grows irregular.  I smile as I cross the thin line between everything and nothing.

David Downey
1997

###

This vignette, as well as several other short stories, are published in Goddess.

 

Goldilocks

As a fanatical atheist (previous post), bitter that I “wasted” my life being a fanatical Christian (previouser post), I anointed science as my new god.  Unlike religion, science was empirical.  Unlike religion, science provided proof.  And unlike religion, science invited, even encouraged, questions to its authority.

Or so I thought.

According to the boffins, the universe is accelerating in its expansion; instead of all the galaxies eventually slowing down due to their gravitational attraction to one another, they’re actually speeding away from each other faster and faster.  This phenomenon is due to something called dark energy, which supposedly makes up nearly 3/4 of the entire universe.  (About 1/4 of the universe is dark matter.  A tiny sliver is ordinary matter, which makes up all of our perceived reality: the stars, the planets, your home, your car, you, your cat, a rock in Kolkata…)

But this rate of acceleration is very finely tuned.  If it was minutely faster, individual molecules would have long since scattered away from one another, never having the chance to gather together to form the stars, planets, your home, your car, you, your cat, a rock in Kolkata.  But if the acceleration was minutely slower, all the ordinary matter of the universe would’ve long since clumped together into one big omni-ball.

So how could the universe be so perfectly tuned to allow for life to exist?  Does this imply the existence of a meticulous Creator?

Of course not! the boffins contend.  The reason is because we live in one of several universes.  The universe we inhabit just happens to have the perfect rate of acceleration.  There are many other universes with faster rates of acceleration (scattered molecules).  And several others with slower rates (omni-balls).

“Very cool theory!  How can we test it?” I want to know.

Er, well we have computer models.  We’re still coming up with experiments, the boffins reply.  In the meantime, just take our word for it.

I left Christianity due to its adherence to blind faith.  I went from one dubious god to another.

So where am I now, spiritually?  Well, religion wasn’t the answer.  But neither fully is science.

I do earnestly hope there is a caring god out there.  I hope there is an afterlife.  And I hope that my teeny tiny life matters in the mind-numbingly large celestial scheme of things.

But if all those hopes are for naught, I’m finally OK with that too.

Fanatical atheist

In the throes of hardcore Christianity in my early 20s (see my previous post), I finally decided to read the Bible.  I figured If I was going to dedicate my life (and afterlife) to its teachings, I should probably actually read it. So I reverently opened my NIV study Bible and began reading Genesis 1:1.

And after I finished reading the last words of Revelation 22:21, I knelt down and prayed.  For many things in the bible didn’t make sense to me.  And many more things profoundly disturbed me.*  So I asked God to help me understand his word.

Then I proceeded to read the bible again.**

And this time when I was done, I didn’t kneel down and pray.  For instead of feeling like I read a book inspired by a perfect loving god, I knew I just read a work patched together by primitive ignorant humans.  Though I still loved god with my heart, I no longer loved him with my mind.

My Christian friends tried explaining to me that that was why my belief in god was referred to as a “Faith”, for it transcended reason.  But that argument further confused me: why would god create me with a brain, only to expect me to disregard it?

From a fanatical Christian, I became a fanatical atheist.

The next ten years of my life were my most turbulent.  No longer knowing my place in Creation and what was expected of me, I was an unanchored unbattened boat tossed in the stormy ocean of life.  I was angry that I wasted my entire life to blind faith.***

However, I owe the existence of The Alpha And The Omega to my fanatical Christianity and fanatical atheism.  I couldn’t have come up with the its plot if it wasn’t for my Christianity.  And I wouldn’t have wrote it as a secular (i.e. over-the-top horror) novel if it wasn’t for my atheism.

To be continued…

* What exact biblical concerns I had are outside the scope of this particular post.  But I’m willing to divulge them if enough blog commenters ask.


** Including all the excruciating “…X the father of Y, Y the father of Z…”s in Genesis and Mathew.


*** This doesn’t mean I believe all people of faith are living a lie.  Events in my life have led me to my current (ir)religious state.  Not having experienced another’s life, I have no right to pass judgment on his/her spiritual journey.

How the End Times will unfold

…is chronicled in The Alpha And The Omega.  Or at least, that’s what I thought when I was a fervent Christian.

My father is Methodist and my mother practices Shinto.  So naturally, I became a Southern Baptist.  (Being brought up in the Bible Belt during my formative years may have had something to do with it too.)

In second grade, I literally cried with joy when I was Saved at Grace Baptist Church.

Living in the dorms at Cal Poly, my standard greeting to strangers was “Hey, would you like to hear about how I met Christ?”  (Though, I did pass on the occasional invitation from my fellow collegiate Christians to protest at the local Planned Parenthood.)

When the Bible stated God created the Heavens and the Earth in six days, I believed it was six days.  Not a figurative “biblical day” that equaled an epoch of a billion, or even a thousand, years.  No, six fucking days.  Because my God, an infinitely-powerful god, could easily create the entire universe in less than a week.

So when I came up with the idea of writing a book about the impending End Times, it was easy.  To me, the plot of The Alpha And The Omega wasn’t fiction: it was cautionary non-fiction.  It was how I earnestly thought the world was going to end…

To be continued…

OUT NOW!

NeoSparta
By David Downey