Posts filed under ‘free science fiction and horror stories’

UPCOMING PUBLICATION

My consistent readers,

It’s been a long time, too long, since I have been able to report an acceptance.
Next week Bewildering Stories will be publishing a flash fiction piece, The Dream Catcher.

I have a very active dream life and my wife, Joni, pays the consequences. There was the night I was a Karate expert and was attacked by two villains, well, you get the picture.

Here is a link announcing the story’s publication.

http://www.bewilderingstories.com/special/schedule.html

I bask in the minuscule glow of my success.

January 21, 2013 at 7:22 pm Leave a comment

THE SUPERIOR SPECIES, A STORY OF NEANDERTHALS

As promised here is my story about Neanderthals.

THE SUPERIOR SPECIES

30,000 YEARS IN THE PAST

The two men sat atop a snow-covered mountain looking down on a land that would one day become Switzerland. Their prominent brows and wide noses marked them as a distinct species, one of two inhabiting this land. The other was a greatly feared aggressive tribe that they watched. With their high nasal voices, the two communicated their feelings to each other, the love for the land that lay before them.
They did not see the band of ten savages obscured by the falling snow approach the hill on which they sat. They appreciated the beauty that surrounded them. The area was covered in a thick blanket of snow and they were sure that there would be more to come. Recently, the period of snow and ice had been extreme. The lithe figures approached, preparing to attack. With spears held high, the savages crept up on the pair. As one of the muscular men talked to his companion, a spear pierced his breast. His companion rose and was himself impaled by a spear. The savages celebrated their kill in a most gruesome fashion.
THE DISCOVERY

John and Paul had hiked the Alps of Switzerland for most of their lives. Friends in England since their youth, they both chose to seek employment in Switzerland to be near the mountains they loved. Both enjoyed the solitude, hiking the mountains high above the point where novice hikers would stop. As they hiked that June day, they would have an experience they would never forget, an experience that would alter mankind’s perception of his place on this planet.
While on the lower levels of the Alps, they drank in the fragrance of the sentinel pine. And as the winter ice retreated, they had to climb higher and higher to enjoy the solitude they cherished. This June day, they hiked into an ice-shrouded valley that was new to them. Paul was the first to notice a dark mass protruding from the ice half way up the valley wall. It stood out black against the pristine ice.
“Do you see that, John?” Paul pointed. “I’m going to check it out.”
As Paul approached, a slight wind ruffled Paul’s quarry.
“John, come up here! It’s hair.”
The two men approached. They could make out a shape in the ice beneath the hair. They peered into the ice and both came to the same conclusion. Buried in the ice was the body of a man.
* * *
The two police officers responding to the Englishmen’s call were used to this sort of thing. Hikers were often lost in the Alps. When egos outdistanced skill and training, along with a lack of preparation, the results were often disastrous. And when the weather became unforgiving, they weren’t found until the first thaw. The two officers worked to reveal more of the body by chipping away some of the ice. The face was revealed along with other details. The more ice they cleared from the body, the more both men knew they were not uncovering an ordinary hiker.
“We had better place guards and call the university in Zurich.”
* * *
Dr. Hans Bueler looked down on the body. He could not hide his excitement. As he examined the corpse he talked to the policemen protecting the site.
As his investigation proceeded, he said, “Gentlemen, I do not know if you appreciate the magnitude of this find. This is, by far, the greatest discovery in the study of our ancient ancestors to date. You will notice the prominent brow, wide nose and lack of chin. Notice also the muscular shoulders. I will require further study, but I am positive this is the body of a Neanderthal.
“I am sure you also have noticed the cause of death. I refer to the spear point protruding from this individual’s chest. Gentlemen, this is a crime scene, a murder. However, you will never apprehend the murderer, for this crime took place thousands and thousands of years ago.

NEW HAVEN, CONNETICUT

It was a wild night with a howling and frigid wind buffeting the windows of the senior faculty house on the Yale campus. Sheets of rain kept all the details of the world beyond the windows indefinite.
Four men, leaders in their fields, sat before a roaring fire, the flames reflecting off the dark wooden panels of the study walls. Each man held a brandy sniffer and appreciated the ambiance of the room and the moment. The men were in one of the faculty houses provided to senior members of Yale. The residence was that of Dr. Carl Gold, an evolutionary psychologist. Gold was in his mid sixties, and with his trim build and gray mane of hair, would not be out of place in the boardroom of a major company or arguing on the floor of the senate. He was a leader in his field with a worldwide reputation.
Gold had invited three men he knew by reputation as giants in their own fields. He also knew them all personally, in varying degrees, and was confident that what was discussed this stormy night would not go beyond the walls of his study.
Across from Gold sat Fred Fielding. Tall and gaunt, Fielding had a permanent tan from his many field trips as physical anthropologist. Next to Fielding was John Sanders, a world-renowned human geneticist. Sanders published his work in all the major journals, but most of his work was now tied up in the debate over the use of human stem cells. Sanders, with his short thick build, was the opposite of Fielding. With his thick black hair and swarthy complexion, he was often mistaken for a maintenance man. The broken nose he earned during his collegiate boxing career added to the image.
The last of the three invited guests was Dr. Bill Mark, a fertility specialist and adjunct professor in Yale’s medical school. Tall, slim and blond, with his athletic build, he appeared to be in his mid forties although he was well on the way to sixty. As each man introduced himself and discussed their specialties, Mark wondered if he had been summoned to this meeting by mistake. His discipline did not fit in with the others present. He was not a researcher. He was a physician.
Gold surveyed his colleagues and friends. “Gentlemen, the storm that rages beyond these walls will be dwarfed by the storm that may rage within these walls tonight. I’m sure you are all aware of the magnificent discovery made in the Swiss Alps. The body of a perfectly preserved Neanderthal, using carbon dating, is estimated to be thirty thousand years old. I have spent my life in the study of these creatures. From the time the first Neanderthal skull was found in 1848, this subset of man has remained a mystery. We are still trying to fathom the extent of their intelligence and how they fit into the human tree of development.
“There are many facts about these distant relatives of modern man that lead to fascinating conjecture. To begin with, their brains were ten percent larger than that of modern man, yet they are thought to be simple brutes. We now know that Neanderthals manufactured tools and produced art. The mask found on the banks of the Loire in France was an unexpected find. The fact that they produced art indicates they had an appreciation of life beyond their own existence. They apparently did lack one skill. They were not as adept at fashioning weapons as their fellow bipeds.
“Another intriguing discovery found in the Kebara Cave in Israel was a Neanderthal bone of extreme importance. The bone I refer to was a Neanderthal hyoid bone. This find dispels the theory that Neanderthals could do nothing but grunt. The presence of a hyoid bone indicates they were capable of speech. Taking into consideration other aspects of their skulls, it is thought that Neanderthals had a high, nasal voice.
“There are many questions to be answered, and now we have the means at our disposal to journey from conjecture to fact. I have obtained a sample of the newly discovered Neanderthal. The reason I have called you all together this evening is to formulate a plan, that my utilizing modern genetics and in vitro fertilization, will produce a Neanderthal. We shall be able to answer all the questions that have plagued modern man about the Neanderthal enigma.”
Fred Fielding was the first to speak. “As a physical anthropologist, I look forward to examining the body of the recently discovered Neanderthal. But your point is clear. To see how the physical characteristics, whose meaning we assume to deduce, come into play in a living specimen would mean phenomenal advances in our knowledge of man’s distant relative.”
John Sanders, the geneticist, now spoke up. “With a specimen from this newly discovered Neanderthal, modern genetics could solve, once and for all, the debate of where Neanderthals reside in man’s family tree. However, what you propose is to produce a living individual. To do that would require cloning, a method too dangerous to try on a human – to say nothing about it being illegal.”
Gold said, “My dear Dr. Sanders, you would not be cloning a member of the Homo sapiens species. You would be cloning an example of Homo neanderhtalensis.”
A smile crept across Sanders’ face. This argument would be viable, until the law caught up with the science. “In that case, I am willing to isolate the DNA. What we would need next is a human egg and female willing to carry the Neanderthal to term.”
All eyes were now on Dr. Mark, the fertilization specialist. He said, “I now see where I fit in. I see how we all fit into this project. I will not mince words. I feel uncomfortable about this proposition. The mechanisms of the plan would be simple. I have a supply of donor eggs. We can remove the egg’s DNA and using cloning methods described in the literature, insert Neanderthal DNA and initiate mitosis. I also have a group of women we use in my practice who are willing to carry babies as surrogate mothers, but refuse to see the baby after birth. They want no chance to form an attachment to the child.
“I think the experiment Dr. Gold proposes can be accomplished. My question is should it be done? By using the scientific name of the Neanderthal as a loophole, we feel we are free to create an individual who may possess human emotions, who may possess a soul. This is much different than cloning a sheep or a cat, no matter how much we choose to belittle the difference. I am not sure I can proceed with this endeavor.”
Gold said, “I picked you, Bill, because I knew you would not go easily with this plan. What we are planning to do is of profound importance, and also of profound scientific and moral complexity. Yet, for science to advance, sometimes risks must be taken. I appreciate your arguments. I know there are risks, but we have the capacity to venture into the unknown and bring light to a land of mystery. Through our expertise we can gain knowledge of the beginning of our humanity.”
The debate went on until dawn lit the study windows. Fielding and Sanders warmed to their initial confidence. Mark persisted in his initial skepticism. But in the end, as a new day on Earth began, a new chapter in mankind’s knowledge was agreed upon.

THE CLONING

John Sanders received the frozen tissue samples from Gold. As he gazed at the sample packed in dry ice, he could not believe he was peering into a box containing a tissue sample of a ‘man’ dead thirty thousand years. Sanders’ ego did not get the better of him. He knew he had been out of the lab for too long to attempt the important work that lay ahead. He employed a promising PhD candidate, Michael Rose, to do the actual work. He would tell Rose as little as possible about the nature of the experiment. The meeting at Gold’s study had left him with the feeling that he was involved in a conspiracy rather than an experiment, the fewer people that knew about the true purpose of the experiment, the better.
Sanders’ first meeting with Rose went well. “Michael, I would like you to help me in a special project.”
“Certainly Dr. Sanders. I’m a little desperate for a new project now that the study I’m working on is going nowhere.”
Sanders said, “It’s a cloning experiment.”
“Fantastic,” said Rose. “What will we be cloning?”
Sanders hesitated, and then answered, “A non-human primate.”
“Has that ever been done before Dr. Sanders?”
“Not to my knowledge. We would be making history.”
Rose could not believe his luck. He was going from a dead-end research project to an historic experiment.
“When do we begin?”
“Immediately,” Sanders said. “I already have a tissue sample from which you can extract the DNA for the cloning. I also have a list of references I want you to read and extract from them the method used to fertilize the egg and develop it into an embryo.”
* * *
Two weeks later Rose had the DNA extracted and the materials he would need for the union of the egg and extracted DNA to begin their journey to a living entity.
Sanders called Mark, “Bill, we’re ready to implant the DNA into the eggs.”
“I’ll ship them out by express mail,” said Mark. “Good luck!”
The eggs arrived in a container of liquid nitrogen. The paperwork indicated that there were ten eggs contained in the container. When all was ready, with Sanders at his side, Rose began the cloning experiment.
The eggs were rapidly thawed. Once thawed, Rose removed their DNA and inserted the ‘primate DNA’ he had prepared. Each egg was given its own petri dish of life sustaining fluids and put into an incubator.
Both Sanders and Rose periodically checked on the eggs. Initially, all ten began to divide. But soon four of the small balls of cells died. The remaining six progressed to a point where they could be slowly cooled, then frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen until they could be implanted into a uterus.
Rose was excited as he entered Sanders’ office. “Dr. Sanders, the embryos are frozen. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the experiment.”
Sanders said, “I’ll let you know how things progress.”
“Do we have the monkeys that will carry the embryos to term here?”
“No Michael, the implantation will be done at another institution.”
After Rose left, Sanders sat at his desk and thought; You’ll be told the embryos all died after implantation. For you, this experiment is over.
Strangely, Sanders found himself feeling envy for Rose. His dreams had recently been haunted by what this adventure might produce.

THE BIRTH

Bill March had three women he had used as surrogate mothers in the past who refused to see the babies for whom they had made life possible. They were ready to perform the function again. All were young, in their mid to late twenties and all were single. They were all paid for their service and all three shared similar feelings about their pregnancy. They wanted to provide a family to couples who needed help.
The three women were each implanted with two of the Neanderthal embryos. They were all told that the fetuses belonged to a very wealthy couple, and that they would be paid well for their services and their confidentiality. When it came time to deliver the babies, the births would take place at the couple’s country estate. All preparations had been taken to equip a room at the estate with the criteria of a delivery room, all the latest equipment necessary to handle whatever emergency might occur.
Two of the women miscarried.
These miscarriages revived the doubts March originally felt about the project.
Pat Meyers carried the last two fetal Neanderthals to term. She knew she was pregnant with twins, but she grew no larger than she had when she carried a single child. This disturbed her. She also knew she carried two boys. Even with her doubts, it made her happy to know she was bringing joy and creating a family. She was making it all possible.
Two weeks before her due date, she was moved to a country estate in northern Connecticut. The house belonged to Gold and had been in his family for many years. Mark told the two nurses who would assist in the delivery, “The babies may seem somewhat peculiar. You will be paid to overlook anything out of the ordinary. After all, we must be sensitive to the parent’s feelings.”
Pat went into labor and had an extremely easy delivery. Although she had carried the babies to term, both were less than four pounds at birth.
Each nurse cared for one of the infants. The boys were covered with a fine down of black hair. One of the nurses whispered to the other, “Look at his head. It’s so misshapen after such an easy delivery.”
Once the babies were settled in the nursery, the nurses left the estate. As they walked to their cars one said to the other, “Those infants were indeed peculiar with their misshapen skulls and covered with hair like an ape. But the one thing I will never forget about them was their eyes. They weren’t the eyes of any baby I’ve ever seen. They had a weird look to them, like intelligence. I felt they were looking right through me.
The other nurse responded, “Did you also get the feeling that they feared our touch. I’ve never seen that in a newborn before.”

REALIZATION

From the time of their births, the babies struck Gold, Fielding, Sanders and Mark as odd. The infants appeared tense, as if they had an inherent fear of Homo sapiens. The only time they relaxed was when they could see one another.
“Strange,” Gold noted, “it’s as if they know they are alien to us.”
The babies grew into muscular toddlers and were walking at six months. Gold and Fielding closely followed their development. Sanders and Mark occasionally inquired as to the progress of the children, but other projects quickly took them out of the picture. Their major concern was when Gold would go public with the astounding accomplishment. They were eager for the recognition their work would bring. Gold would answer their inquires by saying, “Soon, very soon.”
Fielding spent hours observing the Neanderthal infants, monitoring how their bodies developed as they matured. They were far more agile than he expected nothing like the lumbering brutes commonly associated with Neanderthals. As expected, their frames indicated that they would develop into adults of short stature compared to modern man. Their physique began to fill out, becoming more muscular than that of human babies. Gold, however, would uncover the true mysteries of the Neanderthals when he studied their psychological development.
The infants began talking at eighteen months, and not with the fumbling birth of knowledge of speech associated with human children. Gold discovered them talking one day as he entered the room where they slept. He was stunned, for he never heard them parrot sounds as children do to develop speech. The Neanderthals did possess the high nasal voices predicted by the bone structure of their skulls. Gold found the sound of their voices annoying.
Studying their psychological development, Gold thought, these infants are progressing far more rapidly than human toddlers of comparable age. Gold began recording his conversations with the Neanderthals. During one of his sessions with them they both seemed withdrawn. He asked, “What do you boys think about?”
The Neanderthal born first was called Adam, the other John. Adam answered, “Why, he asked, “ are we so different from you and the others we meet?”
* * *
It had been four years since the Neanderthals were cloned and Gold became more and more ill at ease about what the experiment had created. Fielding and Sanders wanted the results of the experiment to be published. Mark preferred to be left out of the picture.
One night Fielding and Sanders visited Gold in his study, site of the initial plans for the project. Fielding asked Gold, “Carl, don’t you think it’s time to publish our Neanderthal results?”
Sanders added, “The boys have shown none of the signs of premature aging that many of the animals clone in the past have exhibited.”
Gold said, “The boys are coming along fine. In fact, their intelligence level, given their age, is remarkable. But I still feel we should wait to publish. There is something strange about the boys. I would prefer to let them develop further before we go public.”
In the end, Fielding and Sanders persevered. A manuscript was prepared and sent to Science.

HISTORY IS REPEATED

When news of the existence of the two Neanderthal children became known to the scientific community, Gold was overwhelmed with requests to study them. The boys were now ten, and possessed all the characteristics of the typical Neanderthal physique. They were short and extremely muscular with prominent brows and wide nose associated with their kind. It was their mental abilities that Gold found both interesting and disturbing.
Gold taught the boys to read. Now they devoured books. They were sponges for knowledge. Fielding still visited the boys. On one such visit he told Gold, “You know Carl, physically, the Neanderthals are developing precisely as expected. It is their mental faculties that I find intriguing.”
“I share your amazement,” said Gold. “They have a thirst for knowledge that far surpasses what their human contemporaries demonstrate. It’s almost as if they are making up for thousands of years of extinction.”
* * *
A wild storm raged as Gold drove to the Neanderthal residence. They were fifteen now and had become something beyond human.
Gold entered the living room to find Adam and John reading. They were always reading. Gold stood drenched before them. He reached into his pocket and produced a revolver.
Adam said, “I fully expected this to happen some day. I expected history to repeat itself. You fear us. I have read all that has been written about Neanderthals. I know the conjectures your fellow scientists have about our intelligence. I knew, early on, that you realized how wrong those theories were.
“At the same time, we both realized that you would not accept us as merely different. Because of your human egos, we appear threatening, superior. John and I are ready to accept the only outcome this experiment could produce.”
Gold shot twice with the realization that he was the savage were and the Neanderthals were the superior species.

THE END

July 22, 2012 at 9:15 pm Leave a comment

WELCOME NEW VISITORS

For those that are new to visiting my blog, and those that come here regularly, I am offering you a story once again that is one of my favorites.
It was published in the literary journal, Toasted Cheese. I hope you enjoy it.

The Gig of a Lifetime

Sweats Connelly was having the time of his life. He nodded to the rest of the band; a band made in heaven, and played his heart out. A glowing fog obscured the audience, but he knew they were there listening as he gave them his sweet music.
* * *
Jerome Connelly grew up under the care of his unwed mother on the hard streets of an unforgiving city. His skin was rich ebony, and from the time of his birth, he was rail-thin with the delicate features of a father he never knew. His nickname was Sweats, a direct result of the mean streets he called home. His friends gave him the name because, even on the coldest winter’s day, Jerome would arrive at school drenched in sweat.
His friends would ask, “Hey man, why you always sweating?”
He would mumble something about running late, wipe his face, and head for class. He couldn’t tell his friends that he was sweating from fear. The walk to school was through streets where drugs were dealt, where people were shot for no reason, where life was cheap and held no promise.
First his friends, then everyone he knew began to call him Sweats Connelly. It wasn’t long before there wasn’t anyone who called him Jerome, except for his mother.
Sweats began playing sax in his middle school band. He continued to play into his high school years, but alone for his own pleasure. With money earned doing odd jobs, he managed to buy a used alto sax, which quickly became his most prized possession and his only close friend. Hours spent playing in the safe solitude of his bedroom sharpened his skills. He was good, and with time to focus on his playing, he knew he could be a lot better. Now sixteen, Sweats felt he was wasting his time in class. He had discovered the meaning of his life and none of the classes he took furthered that purpose.
Sweats returned to the small apartment he called home one day after school and carefully closed and locked the door. His mother, Martha, suspecting that something was bothering her son for some time now, asked him, “What’s wrong Jerome? You just not yourself lately.”
“Mom, I can’t take this shit anymore.”
“You watch your tongue,” his mother warned.
“Okay, I can’t take school anymore. I ain’t learnin’ nothin’. I want to play my sax, that’s all. I’m good Mom, and someday I could make some real money.”
Jerome’s mother bristled when he talked about dropping out of school. “I want you to do something with your life, Jerome. Not be like the bums you see everywhere on these streets.”
Martha said to her son, “It’s against my better judgment, school is important…
“I know mom, but playing my sax is important to me. I promise to get my GED, but I need time to practice.
“Oh, Baby,” cooed Martha.
Sweats knew he had her.
* * *
Sweats dropped out of high school with his mother’s reluctant permission. He still poured sweat, but now it was the perspiration of passion and emotion while playing his sax, not from fear of his surroundings.
One day, while darting through the neighborhood on an errand, Sweats saw a sign hanging in the window of one of the local run down clubs. JAZZ MUSICIAN WANTED, proclaimed the placard. Sweats went inside.
It was eleven o’clock in the morning and the place was mostly empty. There were a few customers sitting at the bar nursing their drinks, behavior born from hopeless lives. About a dozen tables were set up, and across from the bar, was a small stage. Behind the bar stood a man washing glasses and preparing for the day’s business. His name was Mac Shorter, a tough looking man who had evidently led an equally tough life. He was the bartender and owner.
Sweats approached him and said, “I’m here about the musician’s job.”
Mac looked up at Sweats, and asked, “How old are you, boy?”
Because of his height Sweats looked older than his sixteen years. “I’m eighteen,” he replied. Eighteen was the minimum age to work in a place that served liquor.
Mac was a keen observer. He rubbed his whiskered chin in disbelief. “What instrument you play?” he asked.
“Alto sax sir, and pretty damn good,” was Sweats response.
“I’ll be the judge of that. Come back with your instrument tonight, about nine o’clock, while the band’s here. We’ll see if you have anything.”
Sweats knew his mother would be working the night shift at the café.
“I’ll be back tonight, sir,” Sweats responded as he made for the door. He knew that tonight he would have to play like he never played before.
As he was leaving, Mac yelled, “What’s your name, boy?”
“Sweats Connelly, sir.”
Sweats went home and practiced more intensely than ever. By the time he was done his fingers were stiff, but he knew he was right on for the audition. He left a note for his mother saying he would be out late and headed for the club.
* * *
The four band members began filtering in at eight o’clock, nodded to their boss, and began setting up the stage.
Mac walked up to the stage.
“What’s up, boss?” asked Joe the piano player.
“Might have a sax player for y’all.”
Frank, the drummer, said, “That’s great! About time somebody saw your damn sign.” The other band members laughed as they nodded in agreement.
“Don’t get too worked up,” said Mac. “He’s just a kid. I’m sure he lied about his age. But there aren’t many musicians in this part of the city, and those that are wouldn’t work in a dive like this. Hell, by this time of night, there ain’t many sober folks of any sort in this part of the city. He’ll be here at nine. We’ll see if he has anything.”
At nine sharp the door to the club opened and Sweats walked in carrying his sax in a beat-up case.
Joe took one look at Sweats and muttered, “Shit.”
Sweats walked to the stage.
“So they call you Sweats,” Joe said. “Does your mom know you’re here, little boy?”
Sweats’ forehead instantly grew a glistening sheen.
After studying Sweats’ face, Joe said, “I take that to be a no. Well boy, I’m sure it’s going to be a waste of our good time, but we’ll give you a try.”
Sweats hurriedly took out his sax and scanned the sheet music handed to him, while Joe introduced the band. Pointing to each member, he said, “This here is Frank. He plays drums. Leroy, over there, plays brass and Fats plays bass.” The musicians looked Sweats up and down. He could see the ridicule in their eyes.
The band began to play the first set. Sweats was nervous at first and made some mistakes, causing Joe to wince. But halfway through the second piece, Sweats fell into his groove and took off. The rest of the band had to work to keep up with him. One by one, the band members stopped playing and listened. The conversation in the club died down. Only the sweet sound of Sweats playing his sax filled the club. Sweats was lost in the music. He was at a level the band members tried for but never attained. At that moment, his entire world consisted of his sax and the notes it produced. When Sweats was done, he was drenched; the club was silent. Slowly, the audience began to clap. The enthusiasm of the crowd picked up with shouts for more.
Joe handed Sweats more music and the band played until one. As they were packing up, Joe said, “See you at eight tomorrow night, kid. We play Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. That okay with you?”
“That’s fine sir.” Sweats was getting ready to leave when Mac called out his name and motioned him to the bar. “Look’s like you got yourself a job, kid. I got to tell ya’, kid, you fooled me big time.” He handed Sweats two, twenty-dollar bills.
He had totally forgotten that he would be getting paid to play. However, his euphoria ended when he thought about going home and facing his mother. He knew she would be home before him, probably waiting for him now.
Sweats made his way home on the darkened streets to the apartment he shared with his mother. Entering quietly, he locked the door behind him. He put down his instrument in the hallway and walked into the tiny kitchen. His mother sat at the beat up table drinking coffee.
“Where in the hell you been, boy?”
“I got the job, Mom,” Sweats said as he laid his pay on the table and pushed it across to her.
“What kind of job, and where you working?” she said as she looked down at the money.
“Playing my sax, Mom. I’m getting paid to play. Shit, I’d play for nothing if I had to, but they’re paying me.”
“Watch your mouth, boy”
“Sorry, Mom.”
“Listen, Jerome, the streets around here aren’t safe during the day, never mind at night.”
“I’ll be careful Mom. I’m playing with a band and I love it.” As he said this, Sweats pushed the money closer to his mom. She looked at the money. Sweats knew they were barely making it.
“Oh, Baby,” said his mom.
Sweats knew he had her, again.
* * *
Sweats had been playing with the band for a few weeks when Joe approached him, as he was getting ready to head for home. “Hey, Sweats. Good session, man.”
As he packed up his instrument, Sweats said, “Thanks, Joe. I love playing with you guys. The best time I have is when I’m up here on the stage.”
Joe said, “I’ve got to tell you, kid. When I first laid eyes on you, I had my doubts. Shit, they were more than doubts, but you proved me wrong. Telling you honest, we all play better since you joined the group. Hell, Mac hired us to provide background music while folks sit out there and drown their sorrows. But you notice something about the people now?”
“No, sir,” Sweats said. “Can’t say I do.”
“They’re listening to us play, Sweats. When we start up, the room quiets down. You’re good and playing with you is making us better.”
Sweats responded, “Thanks, sir. I appreciate that.” But he was embarrassed by the praise, and deep inside, knew he still had a ways to go.
He made for the door, then turned and said, “Thanks, Joe, for the encouragement.”
As soon as he left the club, he broke into a heavy sweat. The excitement of playing with the band initially blocked out the fact that he would still have to walk the same dangerous streets he walked to school, but now at night. His mother’s words came back to him. He felt a new level of terror as he walked the streets past midnight. On the way home, men he knew by reputation had approached him. During the day, they were around but kept a low profile. Nighttime was the time they owned the streets, when the fears that gave Sweats his name became reality. The only time Sweats felt alive and safe was when he played his music. Feeling the frustration of his life, he shouted into the night, “I just want to play!” He was tired of his life bouncing between the deepest fear and greatest ecstasy.
What Sweats didn’t know was that his plea was heard.
* * *
The following Friday night, the band was setting up when Joe turned to Sweats and said, “Can you feel it, Sweats? The air is electric. We’re going to be right on tonight.”
Sweats looked at Frank, Fats and Leroy, who nodded in agreement. As soon as he walked into the club that night, he had felt it too. He just didn’t know what “it” was.
As soon as the band began to play, Sweats knew that Joe was right. All five members of the band found their groove and inhabited their own musical heaven. During Frank’s drum solo, Sweats looked out at the audience. They were clearly enjoying the band. His eyes drifted to a table in front. There, sitting alone was a man he recognized. The man smiled broadly as his head bobbed back and forth and his hands rapped on the table, keeping time with the music.
After the performance was finished, backs were slapped and high-fives passed around the band. Frank said to Joe, “Man, were we on tonight, or what?”
Joe said, “Shit, man. We were beyond on. We were on holy ground!”
Frank, Fats and Leroy walked to the bar to celebrate. After they left, Sweats approached Joe and asked, “Say Joe, did you happen to get a good look at the audience tonight?”
“Sure, kid. I gave them a look. There were some sweet women out there. That what you talking about?”
“No,” answered Sweats. “There was a man sitting out front. I recognized him. I can’t believe he came to hear us play.”
Joe asked, “You mean a friend of yours came to give us a listen. He sure caught us on a good night.”
“No, Joe. It wasn’t a friend of mine. Sitting there in the front row was Miles Davis.”
“Shit, kid, you must be crazy.”
Sweats insisted, “No, Joe. I’m sure it was Miles Davis. I recognized him from his CD cover.”
Joe stepped back and looked at Sweats, then said, “I don’t know who you saw, but it wasn’t my man Miles. He passed away about two years ago.”
“But, Joe, I’m sure…”
“Go home and get some rest. And next week, if you see Satchmo in the crowd, let me know.”
* * *
When Sweats arrived home, his mother was waiting for him. She waited every night he worked with a hot meal. As he sat eating, she said, “You know, honey. I was reluctant to let you quit high school, but then you got your job, and the extra money is helping out. And you seem to be happier than I’ve ever seen you. You’re a man now, and I’m proud of you.”
Sweats sat quietly eating, thinking. How could he tell his mother that his life was still a nightmare while he lived in this neighborhood? How could he tell her that all he wanted was to play his music? Nothing else mattered.
There was an uneasy quiet as his mother watched him eat. Sweats decided to tell her what happened at the club. “Mom, tonight I thought I saw Miles Davis in the audience. Joe said that he’s dead. Is that true?” He knew his mother loved jazz, had been to the club a couple of times to hear the band play. Then she would walk him home, talking about his music and how proud she was of him.
“That’s true, baby. Miles died a few years ago. It had to be someone who just looked like him.”
Sweats just nodded and went on eating. He was sure it was Miles.
* * *
The following Friday night the air was the same – electric. Everyone in the band was smiling, joking and having the time of their lives. They were “on” again, their boss, Mac, knew it and the audience knew it. Half way through the evening, during a piano solo, Sweats once again scanned the crowd. He blinked his eyes in disbelief. There sat Miles Davis again, out in front. Beside him was someone Sweats also recognized. The man wiped his brow with a white handkerchief. Sweats could easily hear his gravely voice. It was Satchmo. Louis Armstrong was watching Jerome Connelly play. Sweats was numb with excitement and fear. He had no doubt that he was looking at two dead men. They were his idols, but they were dead. When it came time for Sweats’ sax solo, he flubbed the piece. His playing was terrible. There was no way he could concentrate on playing his sax with Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong in the crowd.
When the night’s work was over, Leroy walked over to Sweats and said, “Don’t worry kid. No one is on all the time.”
There was no way he could tell Leroy why he was off. He avoided all contact with Joe. Sweats walked home doubting his sanity.
Another Friday night and Sweats was living up to his name. He usually calmed down after he arrived at the club. But now, even the club wasn’t his sanctuary. There were dead men watching him play and he couldn’t tell anyone about it. He always found solace in his music. Now even that was gone. If dead men kept showing up to hear him, his only sanctuary would be destroyed.
The band began to play. Sweats didn’t dare look to the front of the audience but couldn’t help himself. There, at Miles’ table, sat Louis Armstrong, along with Duke Ellington and one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time, Gene Krupa. Sweats could tell they were enjoying the music. He didn’t understand what was happening, but he played his heart out. They were part of the audience and deserved to be entertained. He never mentioned the patrons of the ghost table again. He just played as well as he could for them.
The next Friday was the last Sweats ever played with the band. The ghost table had a new member. It was John Coltrane. He sat deathly still, just staring at Sweats, his gaze never wavering. When the band was done for the night, the ghost crew was still there. Sweats was totally unnerved. John Coltrane was motioning him to the table.
As Sweats left the stage, the lights of the club dimmed and a milk-white haze enveloped all but the ghost table. Sweats sat down in the only empty seat.
In a quiet voice, no more than a whisper, Coltrane said, “We’ve been following you Sweats, not only your music, but also your life. We want you to join our group. It will be the gig of a lifetime. We have an audience that spent their whole existence loving jazz, living it. Say yes, and the fears, the streets you dread will be gone forever.
Sweats agreed, and was never seen again.
* * *
The band missed Sweats. Joe said to the group, “I guess Sweats got himself a better gig. He deserved it. I think we were holding him back. With the right group, no telling what he could do.”
* * *
It was late Friday night, actually early Saturday morning, and Mac was closing up his club. Lately, he always made sure he was alone when he locked up Friday nights. Friday nights were special. Just before he turned the key in the door he would stand there, with the door slightly ajar, and listen. From afar, he could hear the sweet sound of Sweats playing his sax. But it wasn’t just Sweats playing. There was also a tenor sax, drums and more. The music was the sweetest Mac had ever heard.
Mac lived for closing up on Friday nights.

THE END

January 6, 2012 at 7:10 pm 2 comments

UPDATE CAT’S EYES

My consistent readers,

I just had my 26th story accepted for publication. Those of you new to my blog have much catching up to do. Google ‘Walt Trizna’ and you will find many of my stories offered free from the publisher.

The most recent story is Cat’s Eyes to be published soon by BooksToGoNow.
I’ll let you know when it is available.

November 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm Leave a comment

LIBRARY REQUEST

My consistent readers,

I would like to ask a favor of those of you who would like to read my work for free.
Go to your library and ask them to order New Moon Rising in paperback. If you do that, you and others can have a free read. I have already donated a copy to my local library.
At this point in my writing career what I feel is most important is that people read my work.
Also, you can ask libraries to order my story, Martian Rebirth, as an eBook. It is available to libraries through OverDrive. Soon more of my stories will also be available to libraries using this website.
Thanks,
Walt

 

http://www.overdrive.com/#1

July 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

THOUGHTS OF MONDAY, AN UNPUBLISHED STORY

My consistent readers,

Although I am now retired from my ‘day job’, I have been a writer for some time now and will continue that endeavor as long as my mind continues to generate thoughts.
I do recall, however those dreaded Monday mornings.

MONDAY MORNING BLUES

On early summer mornings I’m first out the door and on my way to work. Without exception, I run smack into spider webs built across the area of the doorway during the night. Not the way I chose to start my day, pulling nearly invisible strands of spider secretions from my face and arms.
One Saturday morning I decided to use the garage door and walk down the driveway to get the papers. As I returned to the house I noticed spider webs running from nearby bushes and trees to our parked cars. On inspection, I also discovered a huge web across the side door; I found another web blocking the back door. A broom took care of the webs across the doors, but they provided more resistance that usual. As my wife went off in the van to run some errands, she dislodged the webs. Was it my imagination or did the van’s tires hesitate for better traction just before breaking free?
Monday morning, I leave for work but don’t get far. I hit the spider web and stop short, cannot move! The damn thing has me stuck and the more I thrash about the more enveloped I become in the sticky mass. I’m about to cry out to my wife for help when, from behind the house, illuminated by the porch light, extends a hairy leg, thick around as a small tree.
Don’t you just hate Monday mornings?

June 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm Leave a comment

THE GIG OF A LIFETIME

My Reluctant Readers

I had mentioned earlier that this story was published by Toasted Cheese, a quarterly literary journal.
Now that it has been archived, I’m allowed to give you a direct link. I hope you enjoy the story.

http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/2010/10-2/trizna.htm

September 22, 2010 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

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