Hell, Who Cares
Skin Cells scattered,
dusted as useless pebbles on the highway
eroded as redundant sand by the river
They say you never see the same river twice
Once firm as fresh black top
and tall as mountains
with the strength to look forward,
with promise, with potential
Before the river,
Before the road,
every stone was once a boulder
Note Me Out
I am a choice element with no selection
and this input is unexpected
I am a subject statement in sequence
evaluated in an object oriented language
Babe, I am a Null Pointer
We can push it tonight
Just not tomorrow
if not this then the other
or if this exists then join another
Babe, I am a Null Pointer
We can ignore it tonight
Just not tomorrow
Full of peril and of death, at least
He loosened the straps that held his peg to what was left of his right leg and examined the stars to get his bearings. Many had died tonight, he was determined not to be another. His ship and his crew had sailed south for at least two months before the wind died. That was yesterday, now he was alone. Alone without a crew to hinder his progress, and as the wind finally caught the sail of his long boat, hopefully steering it towards the shore, he looked back, towards the horizon, at his burning ship. The ship he had set aflame before stealing away with the only long boat. At least, his crew wasn’t freezing anymore.
Happy to have the quiet, and knowing it wouldn’t last, he tried to enjoy it. Then, on que, and before he finished the thought…
“That was as rude as it was calculated.” She said. The voice came from the almost apathetic woman who appeared suddenly at the front of the boat. She was gazing back at the fire. The flames illuminated her pale skin.
“Perhaps, they’re better off. What if there’s only one? You’re free of them, at least.” She sighed.
“...but not free of you, and how lucky we both are, for this harlot’s curse.” He said, trying to evade her, scanning the boat, looking for anything to occupy his mind. She went away when he was busy, if the itching stopped, but a chill ran through the wind, and he was resigned only to tighten the fur lining of his coat. She’ll have to haunt my dreams too, he thought.
…It was the thud of the boat hitting land that woke him. The moon, as the sun never came here, was bright, almost happy to see him, but it was freezing. On first appearance, he hadn’t found land at all. He knew enough to realize he had no clue. He was either the first man here or the only man still living. People, of course, had warned him when he asked about the lamp from the south. They warned he would never find the cave. Most told of monsters that roamed the ice islands, others said he would fall off the side of the earth, but everyone recited a cautionary tale, full of peril and of death. He believed no one. He was calculated, with no liking for the prison of superstition, but always, of an open mind. It’s true. For his time and profession, the Captain was a learned man, but mostly just a greedy one. After all, what else would compel a man to sail to the map’s edge and then further? He would tell you, he likened himself as more than just a harbinger of pillage and destruction; he was a lion, his greed the lioness, their conquests were merely sustenance. Though, when he drinks, he’s also quite dramatic.
“You’re so jaded.” She said. He wasn’t fully awake yet, but she was easy to ignore in the mornings.
“You’re not even satisfied we found land.” She added and jumped out onto the ice.
“I’ll be satisfied when we find the lamp.” He said, squinting, trying to find a landmark. His eyes came into focus and he examined the ice terrain before him. It looked sturdy enough to support his weight, and so, he lifted his peg over the side of the boat and placed it firmly on the ice. The ice cracked slightly, and he noticed a puddle gathering, it submerged a portion of his peg, but the floor was holding. With hazard, he attempted the step to land and was successful. He took a few slow steps, and noticed his peg was sticking to the ground, slightly freezing with every step. It was helping to keep his footing. Confidently, the captain pushed forward, walking south. He smiled, happy to be “alone” at least.
“I wouldn’t get too excited. It’s obviously far.” She warned.
“Your peg, it’s frozen all ready.” She added.
“Oh, grow a spine, grow anything.” He said, mumbling, because he knew all ready. It was apparent with each step; the peg was freezing harder to the ice. Each time, it was harder to pull up, to keep his balance and then to take that next step. His last was quickly approaching, the peg would freeze solid to the ground soon.
“Grow a leg.” She said. He could only laugh, and they walked awhile together, towards what we can only assume will be his death. Fittingly, after some time, a blizzard began, and the wind blew the snow around. He could hardly see the faint outline, the shadow of an entrance. It had to be the cave, he thought, and he stopped to focus through the snow. It just had to be.
He was standing in front of the entrance, composing himself, and somewhat relieved, when he realized the peg was frozen stiff. He had stood still for too long. And so, with little thought, the Captain loosened the straps that held his peg to what was left of his right leg. He wouldn’t need it, that is, if he found the lamp.
“It will make a fitting tombstone, I think.” She said, as he removed the straps and made to balance one legged on the ice, but the blizzard swept and instantly blew him off his footing. He fell, flat foot and face down. Stubbornly, he tightened the fur lining of his coat and proceeded towards the entrance, resigned to “walk” using his left knee. He was fortunate there were few steps left in his journey.
The cave was dark, hollow, and hardly warmer. He was exhausted, at least the cave floor collapsed before he did. He only heard the rush, then landed safely on his end, he opened his eyes, finally to realize, he was staring at the lamp. It was resting atop the rubble, waiting. He jerked towards it, crawling like a madman. With the last of his strength he reached to grab it and pulled it close to his breast. He was caressing its polished edges, when suddenly, the cave shook, and a rattling ran throughout. He dropped the lamp and crawled backwards towards the wall as he watched it rising, suspended in the air. The sound grew unbearable, he was covering his ears in pain, when suddenly, the sound stopped, and a genie appeared.
“Damn, it’s cold.” The genie said, annoyed. Yet, the genie immediately regretted his curtness and tried to cover.
“I’m sorry. Hello, I see you found me, but please be brief. What’s your name and only one of you?” He said, almost apologetically.
“Yes, I’m the Captain, and I’m alone.”
“Never say that.” She said, pretending to pout and sitting at his foot.
“Indeed, yes, alone. Interesting, one never knows, but wait, oh, I do see another.” The genie said.
“You see her too?” He asked, almost relieved.
“If you wish.” The genie laughed and continued.
“I see her, through you…I wonder if that makes you a man at all?” The genie was forgetting his feigned kindness.
“I like him, a lot.” She said.
“I don’t wonder anymore.” The Captain said, defending his wit before his manhood.
“Yes, you just wander. What a difference a vowel makes in a verb. Please, hurry.” The genie said.
“Do I have a wish?” He asked.
“Somewhat, what’s your problem?” The genie insisted.
“I just want a leg.”
“How simple, yes. I can do that, of course…well…not to get too specific. A couple millennia back, I made a vow to myself, after an unfortunate turn of events, I mean after certain life lessons, I decided to stop being a wish giver, and instead; a problem solver. So please, if you could, state your problem.” The genie insisted again.
“I take it back. I don’t like him anymore.” She said, turning despondently to examine a rock.
“What should I say is my problem?” He asked the genie, annoyed now too. The genie deliberated hurriedly and tried to answer.
“Something like, ‘Oh genie, please help me, I cannot walk.’ And I can, as I’ve said, solve the problem.” The genie replied.
“Wouldn’t you just give me gills and fins then? So, I could swim. You’re a trickster, it’s why you’re here. I’ve read the stories.” He argued, determined not to be swindled by the patronizing “problem solver” who lived for all eternity in a lamp at the bottom of an arctic cave. Understandably, the genie was offended and quickly started ranting.
“Why does everyone think that? As if we’re that literal, like we’re just shouting across lamps about another human we fooled. It’s the stereotypes that plague…”
“Oh genie, I cannot walk” The Captain interrupted, worried he’d freeze before ever making his wish.
“Thank you, I’m happy to solve your problem.” The genie said, before disappearing with a crack. The cave groaned as before, and he heard the genie’s voice echo from above.
“Of life and limb.
A peg forgiven.
And though the weight...
Let our Captain, walk to heaven”
She was the last thing he saw before losing consciousness. She was waving goodbye. In what felt like an instant, he came to, staring at his new right leg and sitting on the ice in the moonlight. He moved his right toes, then, hesitantly, he looked around. The boat was steps way, and she was nowhere to be seen. He smiled.
“That was surprisingly cryptic.” He said, to no one now, happy to be alone and anxious to walk. With little effort, he stood up, as if he’d never missed a step, and for the first time in our story, the Captain walked with both legs. Unfortunately, and, perhaps it’s because he felt lighter, but he failed to consider the additional weight of his new leg on the ice. If doing so, he would’ve taken more caution when stepping towards the boat. He was stepping towards the ice that had cracked earlier, towards shaky ground. And, as he took his last step, lifting his left leg up into the boat, at least, he never heard the crack. He only heard the rush and then the quiet. I imagine, he’s still smiling.
...Carlos Too (or, Carlos Two)
The music was still playing. Still, she could hear something rotating, incessantly spinning somewhere close to her head. It was something metal on pavement. It was slowing and getting annoying now. She opened her eyes in a haze, to find it and stop it. She found a hand instead, it took hers.
“You’ve been in an accident ma’am,” an urgent but calm voice recited to her. It was coming from above, or was it below?
“My children…” She said, barely.
“They’re alive. Please we need to get you out, your car is flipped, you’re upside down, can you undo your seatbelt?”
“I can try.” She said, feeling stronger.
“Not yet, let me get ahold of you first, I’m going to do my best to get the door open.” It was then she realized he was lying on the pavement talking through her broken driver side window. She looked up at the road through her moon roof, she saw the broken glass, glass everywhere, even in her hair, and thought of her children…my god, her children.
“Please hurry,” she begged and began praying. He pried the door open and smiled.
“I think He’s watching you, ma’am. I was washing the ambulance across the street and saw the accident. I rushed over in seconds and got the kids out…”
“Where are they? Get me out of here!” She yelled, then took a breath.
“I’m sorry. Please it’s hell down here, get me out.” She said, he took hold of her.
“You’re right, I was just so glad you were alive. I’ll lift you up first, then you should be able to undo the seat belt, and I’ll bring you down. Ready?” He asked.
“Yes.” She answered, and released the belt, he carried her to the stretcher. She smiled at seeing her two children, occupied with lollipops, and noticed a man standing to the side stretching in pain. It was the other driver, in the black car that had appeared out of nowhere and hit her.
“Does anything hurt?” The ambulance driver asked.
“Nothing, honestly I’m fine. What will happen to him?” She gestured to the other driver, who promptly bolted out from the side, obviously waiting for the invitation.
“What will happen?” The other driver exclaimed and continued.
“What will happen, is your insurance company will buy me a new car. Are you blind? Jesus!” He said, and she raised her hand to stop him.
“What I can see, is an insurance judge handing a fat check to the single mom and her two crying kids.” She said, noticing that her face was warm. The ambulance driver came from the front to stop the fight, he had been on the phone.
“You two save it all for your statements. Kids, your mother needs medical attention. Could you both hop into the ambulance and sit in the front? Ma’am, I’ll help you into the back.”
“Yes do, I’m sure she’ll show up to court in a wheel chair.” The other driver snarled.
“Sir, there’s no need to be snide, have a seat inside the back, I'll look at you too.”
“I want him put away!” She yelled.
“Please ma’am, calm down.” The ambulance driver said, bringing her into the back, possessing her hand.
“Sit tight,” he said to the children in front, and then looked back to her.
“Your name, ma’am?” He asked.
“Your maiden name?” He insisted.
“That’s my maiden name.” She said, noticing her face getting warmer now. He smiled and turned around to the other driver.
“Your name, sir?” He asked.
“Carlos,” the other driver answered grinning, and as quickly as his car had appeared, the man disappeared, vanishing in front of her. The ambulance driver chuckled standing before the vanished driver’s now empty seat.
“My name is Carlos too.” He said to no one, and as he turned moving to shut the back doors, her face started searing. In an instant, she was yelling in pain, almost paralyzed. She could hear her children crying up front. Soon, he started the engine and music began playing. She heard him answer his phone.
“Good Girl…” she heard him say.
The Sniper and the Spy
A Russian shell exploded, close enough to throw debris into her fox hole. She was covered. She hoped it was dirt, but on the eastern front, in 1942, one never knew. She was rolling a cigarette before the blast and now began looking for the rolling papers she had dropped to take cover. Though, for a trained sniper, she was often impatient and soon quit the search. Instead, turning her attention to the ground, to the dead German soldier’s corpse at her feet. A corpse that made the floor of her fox hole. Noticing a bulge, she quickly began groping through the dead man’s pocket and grinned. Instantly, her fingers recognized the smoothed edges of a smashed cigarette pack. She lit one. Maybe my luck has changed. She thought.
The morning sun broke and brought the Russian front into view. That was one issue, but a familiar one. It was not her first time dodging her comrade’s shots. It was, however, her first shot wound. She examined her left arm and was relieved to see the stream of blood had slowed to a trickle. She had no recollection of being shot, but it was likely a stray bullet from the fire fight she had been trying to avoid the night before. She was behind the German line now, only not far enough. She could see their lake to the North, it meant she was miles West of her Objective. Her arm was throbbing. In search of bandages, she began to take stock of her few resources. Already regretting last night’s haste, abandoning her burning plane, leaving without her rifle. Surprisingly, the crash landing had left her mostly unaffected. Her limbs were working, even her left arm. She was calm. She did not know why, she guessed it was the blood loss. She knew she needed to eat. She knew that surviving meant she would depend on the dead. Their rations, their munitions, and hopefully, their morphine.
Everything is different. She thought. The plan had to change. There was no rifle, only the hairpin and the heels, it would have to be in person. In person, would mean no escape. Her son would be an orphan, but the Objective was paramount. It was time, she was steady.
Luckily, she grabbed the jump-pack before retreating from the plane, and so, had her mother’s dress, her only German clothing. She removed her uniform and slipped into it, intentionally smearing blood across her chest. Painfully using both hands to pull her hair up, she inserted the hairpin, then slid on the heels. She could tell the shoes looked ridiculous, after all they were not hers. They were intended for another woman, this was not supposed to be her mission, but, as far as she was concerned, he would not die at anyone else’s hands. She stole the plane, and the rest, during the chaos that followed last night’s attack. It was treason. Surely, they did not plan to let her live. All fronts are enemy fronts now, unless, I accomplish the mission. She thought. She needed to secure a soldier’s escort to German headquarters. Any commanding officer would identify her there and promptly send her to him. The soldiers, though, were savage, and warranted caution. If they found out who she was, they would kill her. That’s the least they would do. To their credit, they had a right. She had murdered dozens of them.
The Russian bombardment had ended. The Germans would be by any minute to survey the damage. She was planning on it, what she needed was a place to be found. A road would suffice, she would find one. Thinking of him, she imagined he would find it entertaining, watching her gracefully pop out of a foxhole, covered in blood and wearing her mother’s dress. Then she realized, she didn’t truly know him it all. She could, at least, take solace in the fact that maybe he didn’t know her either.
In little time, she came upon a road that was worn deep. They come by here frequently. She thought. A tree sat perfectly near a straight section up ahead and cast an inviting shade on the grass. She wrote a note in pencil and stuck it to her bandage with the little tape she had left. She would sleep until someone woke her up, maybe, that someone would be a medic.
Her eyes opened on their own and only slightly. She felt better, only tired and drugged. Her arm was still throbbing. She looked around. The room was not familiar. The voice was.
“Has it been a year?” He asked, truly not knowing.
“Bastard.” She exhaled, mad that her voice sounded so weak.
“My men told me you had a note. It read: Property of the Commander, his Mistress…I remember you always saying, the best lie was often the truth. A lie good enough to get you here alive…It’s nice to see you.” He added.
“I know now. After 3 years. I know! Don’t be coy.” She yelled. Rage made her less tired. She sat up, noticing the heels in the corner and feeling the pin still tangled in her hair. Do it now. She thought.
“Do they know you’re here?” He asked.
“They didn’t send me.” That was the truth, she was too important for suicide missions and they were unaware the two of them had spent three years sharing missions and hotel rooms before the war. It was obvious Russian Command didn’t know, no one came to kill her when he left, but maybe she could survive today too. Her response had given her an idea.
“I just had to see you, had to talk. You broke my heart when it started. When you turned. You used me. You lied to me and to Russia.”
“I was always German. You were too proud to notice” He said, affected by her apparently broken demeanor.
“You turned on me, on us. On me…and our son!” It was true. The child of the sniper and the spy, born in riot and living in war, was currently alone at home. Maybe alone forever, she thought.
“I was needed to command. My mission was over. So are we.” He questioned his own sincerity at hearing the words. He did miss his son, he missed her too. Quickly, he poured a drink, finished the glass and lit two cigarettes. He handed her one, she started to feel better. They must have given me blood, she thought. He began to talk again.
“I cannot kill you. I can take you as far as the path by the lake…our lake. It will be clear for you to walk back to base from there.” She almost laughed, it was so unexpected for him to be sentimental, and for a plan to fall into place so easily.
“If this must be our last time together, take me in your car. It will be like when we used to park at the dock.” She said.
“Are you strong enough?” He sounded dumb. She knew he was unhappy and felt validated.
“To be with you, I’ll endure.” She almost made herself laugh.
“We must go now.” He said, moving to her and pulling her into a wheel chair.
“Please give me my shoes! I’ll need them.” She said. He placed them on her lap and wheeled her through the hall, out the back of the building. His car was waiting.
Putting on the heels, she stood up slowly and stepped into the passenger seat, slyly inserting her right heel under the brace that held the seat to the carriage. It snapped loudly as it broke when she sat down.
“I did it again. It really is like old times.” She said, placing the broken heel in the glove box like she had done that summer day over a year ago. Only, she had broken her heel on accident that day.
“You’ll have to make do.” He said and started the car.
Her arm was lifeless now and bounced freely at every bump the car hit. She looked pitiful. He was feeling guilty and tried to explain himself. She let him babble. He continued.
“Life is love and war, all’s fair.” He summarized, they had arrived and he put the car into park. The path was only yards away, at the tree line. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his ID tags. His Russian ones, from the country the had betrayed, to woman he had used.
“For my son.” He said. She smiled, and perhaps thought it sweet, so she kissed him.
“Goodbye, my love.” She said.
“I’ll watch you till the tree line. Goodbye, Katya. Take care of our boy.” He said
Her heel was still broken, so she hobbled, steadily swinging her left arm lifelessly from side to side. She continued towards the forest, whose path would lead her to her son. The car made a hitch as he switched it into to gear. “Life is love and war, all’s fair,” he had said. She ran over the sentence in her mind again, as she removed her hairpin and held it tenderly, slowly releasing the safety on the detonator hidden inside. The heel containing the plastique explosive was still in the glove box. She had his ID tags in her hand, proof of his demise, and she was only a mile from base. The mission would be accomplished. She would be celebrated instead of punished. She turned and waved to him from the tree line, at a safe distance from the impending explosion. All’s fair, she thought.