Deirdre was only six when the headaches started to alter her life, resulting in the loss of family and friends. Being a child, she could not accurately articulate her pain. Although her experiences were somewhat debilitating, she managed to have an average childhood. She lived with her mother and father in a small community west of Hartford, Connecticut. Their modest two-bedroom red brick house was centered on half an acre and surrounded by a traditional white picket fence.
The backyard had a small play set with ladders and ropes complete with sand underneath. Deirdre could not easily count the number of times that she had fallen and been comforted by that sand. As a family, they never had pets in the traditional sense, although she did have a frog from time to time. Green was her favorite color and it was the color of her playground. It was also the main color of her bedroom, which, thanks to a local high-school artist, was painted into a dense coniferous forest.
The forest located on the walls of Deirdre’s bedroom was completely different from that of her backyard and surrounding community. The leaves on her trees were thin and narrow needles of all lengths with some even having cones. Outside her window, the trees had large flat leaves in every color and size imaginable, but they were much smaller than what she had on her walls. She enjoyed long walks through the woods with her parents, who often took her to Bigelow Hollow State Park. No matter how hard she tried, she could never find a tree that matched the height or the leaves of hers. She made her mom promise one day to take her to a place where she could enjoy those trees in nature.
It took her mom, Mattie, over a week to locate that artist that had painted Deirdre’s bedroom. After several unanswered e-mails, she finally had her response—redwood trees. The artist had painted a redwood forest like the ones that existed in California. Mattie smiled from ear to ear at the thought of telling Deirdre about those trees one evening over dinner. Arnold would be happy too; although he was a very loving and caring father, he tired easily when the discussion turned to trees.
Six years ago
Mattie was a forty-something, married, stay-at-home woman with a daughter that she had late in life. When Arnold and Mattie found out that they were pregnant, their good news was overshadowed by the bad. Complications were inevitable, and their doctor gave her a fifty-fifty chance of carrying their baby girl full term and only a 10 percent chance of that child being healthy. Mattie had high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Those potential complications together generally meant that most would not reach the age of fifty, let alone birth a child.
As their baby continued to grow inside Mattie, Arnold worried more than she did. Before he knew it, he had put on about ten unwanted pounds during their pregnancy. Mattie actually felt better after the first trimester. She worked hard at her diet and remained moderately active throughout her pregnancy. Mattie’s latest doctor visit gave her a clean bill of health for her and her baby. “It was a miracle,” Mattie would say.
On the longest day of the year, toward the end of the month of June, on one of the darkest nights Arnold could remember, baby Deirdre Elizabeth Anne Daly was born. On the outskirts of town in the county general hospital shortly after midnight, several nurses scrambled to give baby Deirdre a fighting chance. It was the summer solstice, the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Today’s date went unnoticed by most, but it did not escape Lucinda.
The pumping beats pummeling my ears weren’t enough to block out the annoying presence of, well, everyone. You might think people would be sympathetic to the sick, but no, they have to be bugged with needles, pain meds, or changing IVs. If it isn’t the poking and prodding, it’s the are-you-okay questions executed with just the right amount of false concern to haunt you until you eventually die.
Tammy walked around my bed to check a monitor and wrote something on her pad. Her oversized fish-eyes peered through a set of thick glasses that offset the rest of her appearance. If it weren’t for those dreadful goggles, I’d bet she’d have a chance at a more exotic career than changing bedpans. She seemed to know it too. I had often seen her hunched over a little too far, leaving some good-looking smug a decent view of what her too-tight nurse’s uniform had to offer. Yet she didn’t do it for everyone.
Over time, I noticed looks didn’t matter that much, but deep pockets seemed a necessity. She wouldn’t be the first nurse to search for riches among the dying.
Thank God, she wouldn’t do that to me. Tammy wouldn’t flash her boobs at a thirteen-year-old girl with a nearly bald, fuzzy head of hair and stage 4 cancer. The doctors figured I had a couple of months left, which sucked.
Parker sits on the balcony in the dark, high on blood, thoughts coming quick and sharp as razor wire. The river rushing cold and fast over stones worn to soft ovals makes Parker think of the five smooth stones David took from the wadi to kill Goliath.
It is too late for people to stroll along the Animus but there is something moving through the cottonwoods. A coyote is coming down the far bank to drink. It stops just before advancing into the open, looking this way and that, wary.
Parker says hello, projecting his mind. The strange invasion of the animal’s inner ear makes it shy and toss its head. In the next instant it is gone, running away to find another place to drink.
Parker pushes up on the metal chair arms and goes back inside. The room is illuminated by a light from the bathroom. The girl is on her stomach. Parker’s eyes explore the heavily inked flesh, like viewing pictures at an exhibition. Angel wings are tattooed over shoulder blades. There is a dragon, another skull. On the back of one thigh, the image of Marilyn Monroe but as a zombie, or so it seems. The words Daddy’s Girl written into the white skin of her ass in script.
My God, Parker thinks.
A permanent bracelet of Celtic design encircles one wrist, the fingers on that hand tattooed like a carnival worker’s.
Parker wonders if there is a story to go with each tattoo. He eyes the pentagram above her left ankle on the outside of her leg. Perhaps he doesn’t want to know. He thinks of the words inked on her breast: Memento mori.
Brian M Taylor
A slow stream of consciousness began to waft through Sam’s brain like the smell of bacon that fills the air right before someone eats it all. The ever so vivid dreams that can never be remembered rapidly began to erase themselves as his eyebrows raised just enough to barely crack open his eyelids. It was the start of what promised to be yet another dull as hell day in the life of Sam Rittenhouse.
He could pretty much map out the day before it began. He would take the next twenty minutes to wrangle himself out of bed, which was not a bed. It was a couch. Sam could neither afford a bed nor did he have a place for a bed in his ultra-tiny apartment. The one room studio apartment was the ultimate in downtown living. Super cramped and small, very expensive and located in an overpriced part of town full of a bunch of well to do, cooler than you, bike riding, beard growing douchebags, or hipsters as they refused to refer to themselves.
This apartment was little more than a room and a closet. It did not even have a kitchen. There were only two plugs. One powered the microwave, which sat on top of an empty mini fridge. The other plug was across the room and remained empty. It was located in the vacant space where Sam imagined there would be a large flat screen TV.
“What can they make us do?” Jon sighed. “We weren’t forced here; we agreed to be on this game show!” As they weren’t forced or bribed to leave Highway 67 on their way to Boston after being pulled over by Highway patrol for a minor-infraction (so they both thought—a broken left taillight—something like that), and given friendly thank-you- kindly advice by Mr. Patrol that if they were in a hurry—or just wanted to shorten their trip, that they should take the shortcut through Bangor, Maine, and not to mention it. He liked to help passersby—Mr. Patrol, and besides, it would be where they would find the finest homemade momma’s all-American apple-pie as close to heaven as stripping fresh bacon off a hogs’ ass at that time of day. Which would be lunch-hour: 12: 05pm. They had been waiting there on two steel stools since around that time—almost half an hour.
Their behinds were definitely past numb—they would have been in Boston by now, Jon reminded, if their piece of crap (a yellow Subaru—Rita’s choice, he also added) car wouldn’t have up and decided to drop dead in the hub of Bangor. But that’s exactly what it did, after refuelling at a small Texaco, of course. “All right, you two love-birds!” hollered a short well-dressed man hurrying their way from down the hall of star-labelled dressing rooms. “It’s showtime!” They eagerly hopped off their seats and the man directed them in front of a large stage-curtain.
The house sat at the end of a short curving driveway that was cut off from the street by a small thicket of trees. It hadn’t taken Bryan long to find it. The mailbox was decorated with an action figure and curling vines painted in green and blue on a chipped white undercoat. A promising sight, not the kind of thing a serial killer decorates his mailbox with.
Bryan had promised himself that if anything seemed weird he would bail. He stepped off his bike onto the loose gravel and walked it up to the side of the house, leaning the bike against the white painted siding.
He pulled his smart phone out of his pocket again. This must have easily been the third time in the last five minutes he’d checked the house number in the message, and the floating icon with Jake’s picture in the FIND’M app. This was definitely the right place. He wiped his glasses on his shirt, ran his fingers through his hair, took a deep breath and walked up to the door.
This had been a long time coming. Finals had been hell, and it had totally killed his social life. Even worse, finals had been the final nail in the coffin for his budding romance with Nathan. That might not have been very serious, but it was something, and Bryan was sure it had been heating up. A few weeks with them both insane with stress had just killed it. Bryan could still feel the dull ache in his chest from the awkward way they’d said goodbye for the last time weeks before. He’d always imagined that relationships ended with a bang. With Nathan, it had just fizzled out into ill-fitting moments.
Bryan hadn’t gotten laid since then. He’d thought about checking someone out on FIND’M. He’d done it before… nearly. That time he’d arrived to the meet up but backed out. At first he told himself it was because there was something off about the bar they were meeting in, but if he was honest with himself, it was really because of the way he felt he looked naked. Scrawny, pale, a bit of a paunch forming from all the computer time. He knew he wasn’t fat, but he also knew he really needed to exercise more. Nathan had told him he had nothing to worry about, some guys just weren’t’ built, and Bryan wasn’t fat. He was just imagining it. That was the problem. The voice in his head sounded like his father, or like one of those gym ads that glared down at him from the billboards across from his room in town. Before and after shots of a pale, soft looking guy turning into a tan Adonis who actually looked happy. Bryan couldn’t help but slump a little when he looked at that.
This time though. He’d had enough to worry about with finals. Now that they were over a feeling of loneliness had started creeping in on him. A feeling of failure. The night before he’d contacted Jake, Bryan had lain in bed, unable to sleep for hours. The ache in his chest had filled into his throat, and hot tears had pricked at the corners of the eyes. He had felt this before. Bryan realized, while staring at his ceiling in the dark, that he could either take a risk or stay, as he was, unhappy and disappointed in himself. He’d taken a risk.