writing

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

Mrs. Bridge lit another one hundred dollar bill from the many stacks in front of her on fire. She felt she should see her family one last time. The light from the flame lit the dark room dimly. Across from her she could see the figures of her young daughter and husband huddled together on the couch staring at her. They’d been gawking at her, unmoving with slack jawed disbelief, for what she was sure was several days now, if not longer. She asked them how long it had been but neither answered. 

She laughed to herself. This house, with all its rooms and state of the art amenities; her husband with all his connections to the powerful elites in the area and the assets too large to know a precise figure; none of that helped. Like any common beggar on the street they were vulnerable to the weather, though they severely underestimated that fact. The storm had no trouble entering their gated world and literally froze everyone’s sense of reality and confidence overnight.

The temperature dropped from 10℉ to minus 60℉ in a matter of hours. She recalled how the three of them sat in the living room in disbelief that it was getting colder by a degree almost every five minutes. She wondered how many others denial cost them their lives. If anyone had taken the reports seriously, which were tame compared to the reality, they would have headed south. They easily could have. At least two of their vehicles were 4 wheel drive. All the tanks were full before the gas turned to sludge. Communication and electricity went, at least for them, within less than a couple hours. No goodbyes to anyone, only a few “Can you believe this happening?” calls. 

She never said goodbye to her husband or daughter. They simply stopped moving at some point. It was odd that she felt so little for them now. The cold must have frozen her emotions. She decided to give up on the house. She lit a match and a few more bills and stared at what was her family, until the light faded out. She went to the side door at the east wing of the house where the driveway was. She wondered why she was still alive for a moment, looked out into the freezing pitch dark, and muttered “Fuck it” to herself. She opened the door and slipped out in search of someone but deep down knew she was unable to understand or survive any of this and wanted to die alone wrapped in the layers of illusions of all she believed. 

Fred Vee

 

FAITH

The woman, likely in her 40's and average looking, stood in front of Reverend Bill with her head down. She was lost and scared. She shivered at the thought that the probability that everyone would be dead in a few weeks was high. She didn't want to die alone and was fixated on the void that loomed. 

Reverend Bill was yelling at the top of his voice as he held the woman's head with his left hand. He screamed of false prophets and demons that roamed wild outside of the hall. The twenty or so people that were gathered, save the trio of musicians, were lost in spastic movement, crying and shouting. None seemed to be aware of each other. 

The woman shut her eyes tightly and did her best to concentrate on Reverend Bill's words. As loud as they were, short montages of her life crowded them out. Her at the abortion center, 19 years old and numb from the weeks of turmoil to end her pregnancy. Next, sitting at her desk where she'd spent most of her adult life, shuffling papers and taking phone calls, all done with false enthusiasm. Then, at one of the hundreds of bars that she spent the second most amount of time, cradling a glass of red wine as a strangers hand slowly rubbed her thigh. Suddenly as a child, peering through the keyhole as her drunken father beat her mother about the house. The screaming; one of anger, the other of terror rang in her ears. 

The Reverend Bill slapped her across the face. The screams were real now. The others voices as they whirled, twirled and flopped about the hall. She raised her head and opened her eyes. Her entire field of vision filled with the greasy thick lips and oversized teeth of Reverend Bill moving constantly in all directions. She closed her eyes and opened them quickly in order to focus better. 

The Reverend Bill's mouth larger, louder and moving faster than ever. The images started receding as she grew transfixed on that mouth and the howls that came from it. There was nothing familiar about the sounds. They were disjointed, sometimes in a fast rhythm, others in a chant like fashion. Spittle flew forth as the incantations suddenly penetrated the woman’s mind. She found herself unconsciously moving her mouth. There were no words, only sounds, grunts and trill screams coming out. She started moving uncontrollably, shaking back and forth until she collapsed in Reverend Bill’s arms. She knew she had found a home. She would never be alone again. She looked up and Reverend Bill’s mouth once again was all she could see, now smiling broadly, from ear to ear.

Fred Vee

 

THE DANCER

She must be real. She is beautiful, dressed in white and moving with a grace that remedies the nightmares that attack me. They are not real, I hope. Look at her…the elegance of the hand, the triumphant leap, the eyes filled with compassion. All around her love emanates. Her feet, bare and graceful land with a whisper. The air blows outward from them and alight like a gentle kiss.

You can hear it. It sounds like an amplified muffled kick to a chest. You look in the direction and suddenly metal and smoke are everywhere. Everyone close to you covered in blood and pieces of flesh now. The ringing won’t stop in your ears as you look at the carnage. A foot here, over there someone looks ok although they’re crying and you notice there is nothing from the waist down, turn to look away and a lump of flesh greets you. A wayward eyeball. A clenched fist. The smell of hatred in the air lingers among the death and destruction.

She is spinning. It’s unbelievable the way the left arm slowly rises, then the right leg raises and tucks in. The spinning continues, a delightful whirl of white topped with a black rope of hair that resembles a propellor. Perfectly executed that your eyes cannot look away. There is nothing else to see. How does she stay balanced? Will she ever stop?

Black boots. Dozens of them all around stained with blood. They move methodically left to right, right to left. From the ground you see the barrels of the guns rise and fall. The shots are deafening. As the bodies fall to the ground some move about from the extra bullets they receive. Everything is dusty, hectic and bright flashes of light mix with crimson blood. The boots keep moving. Will they ever stop?

She has nearly stopped moving. Poetic gestures that surely heal all wounds flow from her arms and through her fingertips. Gentle and slow the movements continue as she folds into herself. Lowering herself to the ground, the air still, she unfolds until she is positioned on her side. Head propped up tenderly by her radiant hand and elbow, she looks straight ahead. Though her eyes remain still, it’s obvious she sees everything around her. It is pure bliss to look at her. Quiet, peaceful, her simple beauty is the embodiment of serenity. 

There is only fire in the sky. Unrelenting blasts of wind so strong anything that appeared to have physical form evaporates instantly. As far as the eye can see from east to west, from north to south there is only fires. Sonic waves of sound punctuate though the clouds. All is rapidly disappearing, leaving a barren, scorched patchwork where life was bustling moments earlier. A frightful silence fills the now vacant space, pulsing every so slightly. Perhaps it’s the millions of souls ascending from the ruins. There is no beauty, no peace…there isn’t anything. Not even a memory remains, only a void.

Where is she? Please! Come back and dance!

Fred Vee

 

CAMP

The boy ran up to me weeping and grabbed me around the leg. I asked if he was sad because it was time to leave. He couldn’t speak he was crying so hard but through his sobs he shook his head yes. I could only tell him to be brave. I had only known him for a short time. He was quiet and frail for an eight year old but confided his fears to me for some reason. I guess I was his only friend.

When you arrive here you can stay a maximum of twelve weeks. During that time one of three things can happen. You receive a pass from the Federation to continue to the next camp (closer to safety) and are provided transport. Or, if twelve weeks expire with no pass, you are safely escorted out for two kilometers, at which point you are left on your own to survive. Finally, the last option is euthanasia. This is mandatory for people over eighty, people with any illness or injury that requires serious care and for children ten or younger that are unclaimed after their allotted time here. With nearly a zero percent survival rate for them outside the camp, it would be beyond cruel to release them alone. Many who are simply tired of trying to survive request it.

Euthanasia is comfortable, quick and done with dignity. Everyone knows most of us will not survive long anyway, so it is rare to have anyone resist. If they do, we are compassionate and have "mercy therapists" to aid them in their existential crisis.

Each week we are able to transport a maximum of fifty people. Not nearly enough. If you receive a pass to proceed it isn’t a guarantee you will leave though. Even on the day of departure, if a scientist arrives or an agriculture expert, an electrician, any person with a specialized skill that will aid in survival overall, they get priority seating on the soonest transport. No–one is spared the loss of transit for these people. The old, the young, children and infants; all will lose to the skilled.

I looked at the boy and put my hand on his shoulder. I made it a personal rule not to hug anyone, though it is perfectly acceptable to do so. As he looked into my eyes, my hatred towards the men and women of the death cult, whose actions lead to these moments, outraged me yet again. You’d think it would have died down after thousands of these interactions for me, but it hasn’t. The boy had stopped crying and asked if I was scared. I smiled and told him there was nothing to be scared of, that there was only beauty and happiness ahead. I told him it was time for him to go, to be brave.

Fred Vee

 

SLIMBONE

"Fuck Slimbone!"

"Shut up."

"Why should I? That motherfucker has a couple snakes and some kind of birds. Least that's what I heard."

"Maybe you heard wrong."

"Well shit, I ain't eaten for three days now. I'm goddamn going out of my mind. I say we go to Slimbone's and kick the shit out of him and take them animals he been hoarding."

"What if you're wrong?"

"About what?"

"About the goddamn snakes and birds. You think Slimbone just gonna let you kick his ass for nothing? Let alone steal his shit if he got anything." 

"Fuck him. (Long pause) Let's kill his ass then. I hate that smart ass anyway."

"You never even met him you dumb fuck."

"Well that's what I heard and anyway I gotta eat man. I'm about to die." 

Chill Phil wondered why he let this idiot tag along with him. He didn't even know his name and didn't want to. He just called him dumb fuck cause that's all he was. A simple, scared, stupid man who Chill Phil wondered had managed to live this long.

"C'mon man, let's get some sticks and some big rocks and go kill his ass when it gets dark."

"I ain't interested. You go ahead." 

"What're ya scared? You told me you ain't eaten nothing for a week now. I know you wanna eat. If he's got them critters we'll have food to eat for a week I bet. Besides, it'll be easier to kill him if it's the two of us."

"Fuck you dumb fuck. I ain't starting nothing with Slimbone. He never did nothing to me." 

"What about the snakes n birds? What if he's got em?"

"None of my business. If he got em they're his. He did something to get em, not me and certainly not you. You dumb fuck." 

Chill Phil puzzled over how he let himself agree to let this dumb fuck squat with him. He guessed it had been about a month since he'd last seen anyone alive when he stumbled upon him on his knees in front of the old church in town. Pathetic sight. Crying, praying, the whole routine. Like it would change anything. But Chill Phil knew it was a chance for company and maybe more. Three days was enough to know he was dead weight though.

(Later)

"C'mon man. It's getting dark, let's get going."

"You really wanna do this?"

"Fuck yea! I'm starving." 

"What about killing Slimbone?"

"I'm taking the son of a bitch out. He's as good as dead already" 

"Alright then. Seeing you're gonna go through with it I better come n make sure you don't get yourself killed. Slimbone ain't no chickenshit." 

"Whatever, let's go." 

Chill Phil let the dumb fuck lead the way. He wanted to keep a little distance in case of any surprises. Besides, he'd decided Slimbone wasn't gonna get killed, especially by this dumb fuck.

"Hey man. It's just a ways up from here."

"I know."

"Look, I'm thinking you go up first, seeing that you know Slimbone and all. You get him out in the clear and I'll come up and smash his head with a rock." 

"Yea, I guess. It's pretty dark and quiet though. Your fat ass gonna have to move real quick."

"Don't worry about what I gotta do. You make sure he's in the clear."

"Well, come here for a second. I wanna see what yer reflexes are like. Slimbone's a quick son of a bitch. He sees something funny happening, neither one of us is gonna see the sun again." 

"Jesus H Christ! Wasting more time" 

Chill Phil saw dumb fucks silhouette move toward him. Short, fat, lump of flesh. Thick as a brick thinking any of this would work. Opening his big fat trap, not knowing a goddamn thing about this place. Chill Phil pulled the blade from the back of his pants when the dumb fuck was a few steps away. Without a word he pounced and in one swift motion cut a new smile in dumb fucks throat. He watched him thrash on the ground, trying to talk and just waited till he bled out. Yup, there'd be food for a few days now he thought. That much mister dumb fuck had right.

Fred Vee

 

SMASHING METAL

Startled by the sound of metal smashing into metal I awoke from a dream dense with imagery and meaning, none of which I can remember now. It was late afternoon and already dark outside. The room so cold I could see smoke come from my mouth with each heavy exhalation, my breathing fast and nervous due to the ominous sound outside my window. Although I was warm under the covers, my body shivered in fear. Fear of what I’d heard as much as fear of losing body warmth if I dared leave the cocoon of warmth the hours in bed had created. I was frozen by indecision as I heard the sirens start to wail in the distance. This made matters only worse as I knew one way or another I’d have to leave the bed as the police would be banging on each door of every building until someone answered or they broke their way in to search for and interrogate every living creature about the disturbance outside. I stayed put. Of course, I’d been through this many times but not under these circumstances. Would they drag a sick man from his bed to get no information? Or would they allow me to stay where I was if I yelled for them to come in and cooperated, explaining my condition once they entered? I wracked my brain trying to think if anyone had told me what they do in these cases. The sounds of the heavy boots and suddenly the banging on doors down the hall filled my room. It would be only a minute of so before they arrived. Still shivering with fear I decided to remain in bed when they arrived. Certainly they wouldn’t make me leave the warmth of my bed once they saw I had no windows. How could I be expected to give them any information of value if I had no way to witness whatever had happened? Furious voices yelled outside of my door to open up. I tried to yell to them but no sound came out when I opened my mouth. The battering of fists upon my door was a violent cacophony. I tried again but even if I did make a sound I’m convinced they couldn’t hear it through the chaotic symphony they had created. I tucked into my blanket just as I heard the door smash open.

Fred Vee

 

THE END

It’s only a matter of minutes at this point, maybe 15 at most they say. I’m watching from the roof of my building as I write, knowing this will never be read but I don’t know what else to do. The bombs are on the way and I’m excited to know this will all be over soon and have no-one to talk to. 

It’s amusing watching the reactions. We found out about an hour ago, though it’s not a surprise. Things have gotten worse and worse in what felt like the course of a week but was actually more like a month or two. Still, so many of them down there are in disbelief. 

Packed in their cars trying to flee, stuck in the maze of streets and avenues like flies in a spider web. Others are delirious in their denial. Looting from stores, trying to lug as much shit home as they can, thinking this is a false alarm. They’re too stupid to notice the regime’s thugs are nowhere in sight. Who knows where those cowards are.

Another notable group is unusual and distinct. They have guns or knives and are murdering others with no rhyme or reason. The old, men, women, children, babies…even each other! Their last moments pretending to be evil, wantonly killing or torturing as they see fit. Within the group of murderers are those killing in the role of savior. Courage sweating from their brows as they defend the defenseless. It’s quite a show.

Well, I wish I could go on. There’s so much more lunacy to describe! However, I’m going to put this device somewhere it might not get destroyed…basement I guess. Then back up here and wait for the blinding light to absorb me back to where I belong.

Fred Vee

 

QUESTIONS

Bam! Another right to my mouth. Blood flew to the left in one large ball that, like a formation of men suddenly under attack, spilt into smaller groups spreading out in disjointed directions. As it landed with an audible splat, it mixed with various other bodily fluids that unwillingly left my body during the beating. The cumulative effect was forming interesting patterns which I convinced myself were rather beautiful. Again I was asked for information I honestly didn’t have. If I did know something, I wouldn’t have been able to say anything comprehensible at that point anyway as I’m pretty sure my jaw was broken. Plus, during one blow I wasn’t prepared for earlier, I nearly bit off the first centimeter or two of my tongue. I felt it’s separation in my mouth and couldn’t help but try to push it against the sides of my teeth to keep it from separating. Blood flowed from both sides of the hole on my face that was ostensibly my mouth. Still they persisted with questions they were certain I had answers for. Although I was a close to leadership, my role was strictly to provide conceptual advice, mainly on matters of morality. They never gave me details, only describing broad hypothetical scenarios, which were no secret to my interrogators. From the corner of my eye, I saw one of them approaching me holding a sizable rubber hose. I looked at the floor again searching for the divine patterns I was positive existed there a few minutes ago.

Fred Vee

 

BODIES

They come to pick up the bodies twice a week. Unfortunately, our days are Friday and Monday which sucks. They’re too close together and by Thursday the whole fucking block smells so bad it makes you wanna puke. To add insult to injury, the collection spot is right below our bedroom window. Thursday nights are obviously the worst. People start stacking the bodies out there once it gets dark, which you’re not supposed to do, but I can’t say much since I’ve done it myself plenty of times. 

The absolute worst is if you forget to take the bodies out on time, because they come early, seven or eight in the morning. You know, maybe you were drinking the night before and didn’t set the alarm or whatever. Then those carcasses just sit around all weekend stinking up the area. Of course, it happens on the regular since most people around here are shit faced 24-7. Hell, you’ve even got the ones that miss Friday and Monday. No use complaining about it though. Nothing you can do but wait. It’s a big ass city and the unlucky dolts who do the job are busy buzzing around the maze of wards that make up our section, picking up the remains day and night. 

There’s no shortage of bodies. One week there’ll be 20, 25 rotting away outside the window. They got city workers that come do counts and some way or another figure out where the bodies were staying. Before you know it, a bus comes with 20 or so people and they get led to different buildings. Sure enough, the next week there’ll be another 20 or more bodies outside. Like I said, there’s nothing you can do about it. You know, as much as you hate it, you actually do get used to the smell. It’s not that bad really.

Fred Vee

 

MARTIN

Martin opened the window leaning about half his body outside. He twisted and turned his back, neck and head until he could see a jagged sliver of sky. No rain yet but the sky was washed in dark grey hues. He worked his way back inside, sat at the primitive table he’d built long ago and stared at the clock on the wall. The actual time was of no matter to him or to anyone really, except the scientists or the militia. Martin wasn’t a member of either group but he enjoyed watching the second hand move its way from one number to the next. He counted seconds to keep his mind active. With a good deal of concentration he could make it to one thousand most days. Today though, he couldn’t get past three hundred or so and gave up after several tries. Earlier in the day when the walking siren wailed, he was designated Path D when he went outside. During the walk, he caught a glimpse of a cat squeezing its way under a gate into a colorless alley. Since then he couldn’t take his mind off the animal. He thought it was brownish or gray but it moved with determination and was out of sight before he had a good look. He wondered if it was young or old, sick or healthy, happy or sad. One thing he was sure of was that like him, like most everyone, it was alone. So as he sat at the table and got to around 200 while counting the seconds, the cat appeared in his mind and he imagined details about the cat that he didn’t know. When he’d finally lost count he was immersed in a world where the cat lived in his room with him. All the details were filled in, the most important being that the cat was friendly, and in his mind for the rest of the day, he lived a life where he had a friend.

Fred Vee

 

FACE

Dylan looked over at Selma. "Why the hell doesn’t she say something?" he thought. Selma was squatting next to the body and indeed was quiet. She stared at the young mans face. Aside from the blood on the side of his head she was fixated at how handsome he was. No more than twenty, he had deep chocolate skin, a slightly narrow face and a strong, wide nose. His eyes and mouth were half open as if he were photographed mid sentence, his words and meaning forever a mystery.

"I wonder who killed him…", Selma said after some time. "Who knows", Dylan answered nervously. It suddenly dawned on him that the young man must have been killed a short time ago as the blood was still wet and he still looked as if he’d get up at any moment. "Look, we better get out of here", he said, "Someone’s bound to come by soon and we don’t need any hassles." Selma remained where she was unmoved. "Yea, in a sec", she answered. She wanted just a bit more time to look at the man’s face. She thought she might be the last stranger to see it with the compassion she felt.

Fred Vee