A Momentary Snowflake

It’s in this small moment that a universe exists

A simple creation

A flake of ice

It falls with glory from the sky as everything

Is and in a flash

Gone

Seeping into the fabric of a wool jacket like it never existed at all

Out but going Back

Steve stands at a bar with a fuck it all attitude.

Fresh out of prison he swore he would never again try for the big easy. Last time he was out on parole it was a crushed cheek bone that sidetracked him.

“Stupid bitch had it coming.”

He thought that for three months until the drugs kicked in. Zoloft, with some lithium and a great off button for sleep.

He can honestly say he never felt more normal then he did the last five years in the can.

And now he cant get the drugs no more.

“That cunt was just a piece of pussy anyways.”

Strawberries

Peter grew strawberries

Not on purpose

On coincidence they developed into plump juicy fruit every Spring

From April through May

They bunched up in a corner of his yard, the northwest corner, where the sun always shone from rise to set

Well

Shown in the  Pacific North West way where light makes it day instead of night

But rarely beyond the just grey sky did the sun actually peak

The strawberries are told to be the sweet beyond comparison

Beyond imagination if not sampled first hand.

The Amberg

In 1944 the Polish resistance has been crushed. Half a million of Warsaw’s citizens are dead rotting in destroyed building or in plain sight on the street.

The survivors of what was once a vibrant cityscape scurry about like vermin in a living nightmare. They look for any way to survive, but know death is coming for them no matter how hard they struggle. Today, tomorrow, it does not really matter, their birth condemned them to death anyway.

Feliks wears the uniform of the Waffen SS. He is a Polish conscript who never fired his weapon. Even when he was a member of the resistance. He was a shit soldier and is okay with that. He did not ask for war, war asked for him.

His uniform was once pristine grey wool, but now fits his overly thin body in baggy tatters. His face is gaunt. Maybe all fourteen bones can be counted if a person can move past the dark haunted eyes that sit sunken in that now far from human face to count them. His lips are depressions that once covered teeth. His neck, sticking from the frayed collar of his uniform jacket, is rail thin. The hands appearing from the cuffs of his jacket are limber bones attached to each other with visible strands of ligament.

Yet when he lays eyes on the pristine Amberg piano, a light goes off that takes away the war weary shadows and makes him look young again.

He has been hiding from the Soviets for weeks. Going from bombed out apartment to bombed out apartment finding scraps of food, hunting rats, eating bugs. Doing things that in his twenty-one years of existence he never thought he would have to do, yet he needs to survive. For what reason though he has not a clue. Maybe he is just afraid of death. Maybe he does it in memory of his mother. Maybe he does it to honor his father’s name. Maybe he continues to make his lungs suck air and his heart pump blood to insure the Czarodziej lineage lives on.

But the Amberg might be the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. It must have come from one of the apartments further up in the building because now it sits on top of a pile of rubble as if it were built there more than a hundred years before.

Feliks Czarodziej stumbles toward the piano like a man possessed. He climbs the rubble. Loose stones of cement cascade behind him. His climb is far from quiet. The person who moments before secreted himself in this building to avoid a Soviet patrol would be shocked at his blatant disregard for sound discipline.

With his climb to the piano, he is wasting weeks of sneaking around voiding all his attempt to keep living at all costs.

He reaches the pinnacle of the rubble and stands before one of the greatest instruments ever built. Its cherry finish glows even in the low light of the destroyed building.

He runs his hands along its smooth varnish as if it had been blessed by God.

He lifts the lid, which protects the implements capable of producing so much of the music he enjoyed as a child in the audience of the Warsaw Philharmonic.

This instrument, or one of its sisters, was worked under the fingers of the music masters of Poland. People who could make grown men weep.

He places his fingers above the keys and memories drift up from the abyss of his mind. His teachers, old even then, not very patient men who would slap his knuckles with rulers if he erred.

They are all probably dead. Most of them Jewish masters. He witnessed his last teacher being paraded to the train yards just five years ago. Stooped and more grey than he had been at their last lesson. A walking skeleton.

Feliks would be surprised to learn he was not far from a walking skeleton himself. His war is over, but hell was just beginning. He snuck away when orders for retreat back to Germany were given. He was a conscript. A forced soldier and he did not want to leave his beloved Poland even under threat of Soviet invasion.

He was forced to be a German soldier, but if given a choice he would die a Polish musician.

Before he even realizes he is even doing it, his fingers pound a startling note on the ivory white keys. The sound is powerful as if coming directly from Feliks’ own soul. It has qualities of sadness to it, of regret and death.

Then he is playing the first bars of Mozart’s Requiem and tears come to his eyes blurring out the keys.

He stops to wipe at his eyes.

A sudden clapping startles him.

He turns quickly and is shocked to see six Soviet soldiers standing in the destroyed entryway to the building. The officer is clapping slowly. He has an evil look on his face. A face that has seen more death than a single person should ever see. He is chubby. He has a great bulbous belly while his men are rail thin. Not as emaciated as Feliks, but hungry. They hold bolt action Mosin-Nagant and one has the automatic PPD

“Please, don’t stop on our behalf,” the fat officer chides.

Feliks does not want to oblige. Music is his art. He used to love what his fingers could create. But these men are evil. He can sense it. The rumor was the Soviets waited for the Polish resistance to be destroyed before entering the city to finish the job. They killed more than the Germans did.

“I insist,” he lowers his hand to sit on the pistol tucked in the holster on his belt.

Feliks takes his hands from the keys and puts them in his lap and shakes his head no.

He sits like that for what feels like an eternity, until a pistol fires and the cement below his feet crumbles into chips.

He looks up to see a TT-30 in the fat red hands of the Soviet officer with smoke slowly swirling from the barrel.

“The next bullet finds a soft warm spot in you, and the next and the next then next. Keep playing comrade Polish.” He growls, the sarcastic smile gone from his face.

Feliks raises his hands and hovers them over the keys. He has decided to die today, but will first play one last piece of music. It is his choice, so he will go out with the memory of Mozart playing in his ears.

He again plays the first haunting note and then the second and the third. He strokes the keys lovingly and the sound comes back to him as an embrace. He has never felt more love then he feels in this melody. It is haunting and beautiful and he finishes and lowers his head, spent.

The sudden barrage of gunfire startles him. He looks up to see five of the Soviet soldiers fall. The fat one squirms, he acts as if he wants to roll over and protect himself, his pistol held in a shaking fist. Another barrage by the man holding the automatic rifle stops him cold.

He looks up at Feliks tears dripping from his eyes.

He walks over to his now dead leader and drops his rifle to the ground. He reaches down and replaces it with the officer’s pistol. He puts the weapon under his bone lean chin and in accented Polish says, “Someone who makes music so beautiful should live forever,” and pulls the trigger.

Instantly his skull explodes into tiny bits of blood and brain and he collapses in a heap. His name forever unknown.

Sixty years later to the day, Feliks plays Requiem one last time. He remembers that soldier as he does when he plays any music.

The crowd in Lincoln Center stands and claps vigorously.

Many call for an encore.

Feliks bows. His long life almost over. The nightmare of living in the past almost done.

He feels his heart stammer as it has been doing a lot lately. Death approaches. Good, he thinks, it’s about time.

Music has haunted him. He plays because he was told to play. He was cursed to play until he could no longer play, not under threat of death, but under threat of life.

“Not tonight, my many friends, not tonight; tonight I have no more music to play,” he says standing and moves off stage.

The pain in his chest growing. His heart pounding. His left arm numb. He thinks of his children. A boy and a girl, both parents now themselves. Happy adjusted, Americans. He thinks of his home in Warsaw. He thinks of the Amberg he has kept in his living room all these decades that he never played again.

That might be the greatest tragedy of his life. To own that piece of art meant for the joy of music to languish unplayed. As he collapses to his knees just on the safety side of his dressing room door he hopes that someone will make joy on that instrument again. He hopes that the music they create will be from their heart and not from the curse of life.  

Full Pads

Dirt and sweat cling. The smell of destroyed grass and hot salty watery air encompass everything.

It’s Wednesday.

It’s Spring.

It’s fucking Gulf Coast Florida.

The offense breaks with a loud simultaneous clap of eleven pairs of hands.

The sixteen year old lines up as a defensive tackle. He lowers himself into a familiar four point stance. His knuckles press into the sandy ground . His muscles are taut and ready.  

Just six month ago he was much bigger. From 220 he has shrunk down to 180. From a 275 pound bench press to he hasn’t even tried in over four months. If he thinks about it he can still feel the tingle of nerve damage racing down his left arm.

The quarterback, a boy who will be a senior this coming Fall yells, “set,” and with his left foot sends the wideout in motion.

The defensive tackle adjusts to a three point stance tucking his left arm up under his chest. It feels vunerable. He feels vunerable.

Go.

And he does. The guard and tackle gap splits for him like butter. His powerful legs driving hard into the dirt. He’s free of both blockers or they missed their assignment, neither matters because there is the ball carrier. A Costa Rican kid name Henry Diaz. He aims with his shoulders. Wraps and drives. The clash of plastic and helmet is loud. They both go down.

Five yard loss.

Henry stands and throws the ball against the defensive tackles helmet, angry. 

The hit stung. 

It felt good in that way pain can sometimes feel good.

With his ears ringing the tackle smiles.
Maybe a broken arm is something he can recover from after all.

A Life Not Lived

 

Her search for God has lead her to the edge of a building

Her pink painted toes brush the abyss

This too skinny bitch use to be beautiful

She turned heads

She was watched

Made other women jealous

But now she stands ugly

Used up

Wasted at the front of classroom filled with teenagers

Once she claimed to be a alive

But life has been lived without her

At least in the end

She soars

Jeffery

I stand in a small halo of yellow light cast from the single incandescent bulb swinging naked in the Gulf breeze. The light dangles from a black cord hung from the plywood ceiling covering the front porch. The house attached is not well maintained. Paint is a long forgotten memory here.

The rustle of palm trees and chirp of frogs invade the otherwise silent night.

In front of me is Jeffrey. He sits on a crumbling lawn chair. Blocking his front door.

I feel every bit the chubby fucker who used to live down the street.

He knows me.

Everyone knows Jeffery.

I stopped to say hi after remembering this guy sometimes rented out the room behind his house to friends.

I chose to be a friend and ask if the space was available.

We were far from actually being friends.

I wait in the thick hot stew-like air for him to answer. I sweat.

I wouldn’t be here if I had somewhere else to go.

I very much do not want to be here anymore.

Jeffery says, “I’ve been arrested twice.”

The time when his wife washed up on Green Key Beach tangled in seaweed and nibbled on by aquatic life. He spent a-bit of time in a holding cell for that. The local police counted Twenty-eight stab wounds dotting her corpse.

They knew it was him.

They found the murder weapon.

He confessed.

Open and shut.

He got off because the cops forgot to read him his rights.

Or some such shit.

The other time he got snagged is when his baby boy got his head bashed in. When the poor kid died, the whole neighborhood started pointing fingers and issuing blame in his direction.

There was a witness.

Jeffery got cuffed live on the evening news and brought in.

But he was out shrimping.”

He pulled six gallons of shrimp on the night it happened. When his attorney brought forward this evidence, they had to let him go.

That part never made the news.

Only that he got free.

Everyone liked him for the crime.

Everyone was disappointed to see he got off.

Once he was Captain of own boat, once persona non grata on the piers, that was gone.

Now he does day labor at a gravel pit with the hope he gets blue-badged someday.

Buy his boat back maybe.

“Nope,’ he says in response to my request and cracks another beer, eyes straying to the dark street behind me.

‘It has code issues. If some government asshole comes around I’d get busted. So fuck that shit.’ He slams back half the contents of the beer in one quick gulp.

‘I always get looked at; it’s like they’re waiting.”

I don’t respond. My hands shake. I’m stoned. I smoked a thin joint on the way there. I wish I hadn’t. It was the last of my shit. Now I have horrible cottonmouth and can’t stop staring at how deadly this dude’s hands look.

He finishes the beer and tosses the empty into the dark off the porch and reaches for another from the almost empty half rack warming on the cement next to his left foot.

“I am a two-time murder suspect.” Jeff states the common knowledge. He cups the unopened Minneapolis-pressed aluminum in his lap.

I nod my head as if understanding exactly how that might feel.

“I should have known something. I should have known my wife was unhappy and I should have known my little boy was getting it rough.”

He raises his right arm and flexes a veiny fifty-year-old labor swollen bicep.

On the inside of the deeply ridged flesh is his only tattoo, an indigo colored anchor with the name Tyler above it and smile below. Both words are scrawled in hard to read script.

I crinkle my forehead in confusion.

“Tyler smiles Forever.” he explains, eyes glinting.

In the Closet

She opens her closet. In the dark shadows he is there.

Maybe it was the expectation of seeing her Armani collection that makes the face obscene. That or the fact he shouldn’t have been there at all.

Probably the latter.

They make eye contact.

A slight smile forms at the corner of his wrinkled lip less mouth. It grows matching the fear working its way through the woman’s brain.

A brain that was positive it knew what to do in just this situation. She trained in the ju jitsu. She knows she should go for the eyes, those humorless orbs that look so hungry, so happy to see her fresh from the shower.

Maybe her perfect brain that majored in economics and made her one of the editors of the Yale law review, who bought mace and made sure to replace it as soon as the expiration date passed, would know to at least scream and make noise.

She wants to scream.

Maybe it would have made a difference.

Doubtful.

This isn’t his first rodeo after all.

 

 

osjface
Original art by Scott Johnson

Keith Richards: The Last Human Alive

Keith Richard’s thought he was the last human alive. It’s been thousands of years since he last laid eyes on another living soul. He has spent many of these years confined to his brownstone in the upper west side of Manhattan, his needs being served by the A.I. that acts as his jailer and that also wiped out the rest humanity.

His most recurring thought is, “maybe today I will end it all.”

He fights against this solution to his loneliness, but every hundred years or so it gets harder and harder to push the thought away.

Today is his birthday again. He could do the math, but doesn’t feel like it and instead plays the rhythm section to “Sympathy for the Devil.”

As his finger dance along the songs crescendo his door buzzer rings.

Somehow he knows what to expect.

Slowly he lays his guitar down and stands up.

He ambles to the foyer, his smooth leather bottom slippers hissing on the varnished oak wood floor along the way.

Standing in the vestibule he sees a silhouette through the multicolored stain glassed window.

It’s the outline of someone he hoped long dead, but knew otherwise.

Latching the chain he pulls the door open a Crack and peers into the barnacle crusted eyes of Mick Jagger.

“Got any Twinkies, mate?” the gravelly voice pop-star moans pushing his way through the trammeled barricade to face his long-lived nemesis one last time.

Talia in the Dark

The world ends not with a bang, but with a whimper, at least for Talia Gould.

She was an engineer with Crest Weapons. She worked R and D in a lab at a secure location two levels below ground buried under a military grade concrete sub-floor and surrounded by steel reinforced walls. The lab has no windows, an air filtration system with narrow openings and redundant traps inbuilt to prevent electronic eyes. Multiple armed guards work every choke point, badge scanners on barred access to every door. A no outside communication devices prevented phones and tablets and laptops of entry. There wasnt even internet access.  The top engineers even got escorted to and from their cars through triple layers of fencing topped with razor wire.

All employees get company housing and monitored twenty-four, seven.

The facility ran three shifts.

Talia worked the night shift. She did QA.

Crest Weapons was like a prison. If prison paid seven figures and was filled with smart people who lived in luxury and were pampered with no expense spared.

Weapons development was the name of the game. They Built stuff to knock out the bad guys EMPs, sonic pulse, high altitude drone tech basically war toys that took the death burden of American soldiers.

That is until the Sun ironically spit a massive solar flare accompanied by a coronal mass ejection at the Earth and in the process rendered all modern technology useless. This effectively plunged mankind into a post-apocalyptic Stone Age.

The good news is Talia got to miss the mass carnage on the surface. The plane crashes, car wrecks, the lack of medical care and all the looting and widespread violence all which resulted in the sudden death of more then three quarters of all human life on the planet in less then a month.

Those left went from apex predators to scrounging trash and avoiding anything that moved on less then two legs or more then four.

At the Crest lab all that avoiding the surface carnage meant for the fifty people trapped inside was that they either got to starve to death or start the process of killing and eating the weakest of them.

Groups formed quickly.

Murders happened.

Human’s were eaten.

And slowly the numbers dropped.

From fifty down to unknown.

Talia wasn’t the biggest one left, and maybe she got her job through more charisma then smarts, but it was that charisma that gave access to the pistol she wields in her right hand and the flashlight she holds in her left. The security guard thought they were going to partner up. She still has a bit of him left, dried and stored in a safe spot not far from where she hunts now.

Time is meaningless now. She lives in the dark. She hunts in the dark. The flash light is a weapon, as well as the gun, but she will only use the gun if she needs to.

She hears something and freezes.

It a soft scrapping of naked calloused flash on the cold linoleum floor.  She can tell it approaches. She waits. What concerns her is the person who approaches is showing no concern. The scrapping