Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cough, Cough


I woke up in the middle of the night, a tight raspiness gripping my throat. I hurried towards the bathroom, suppressing the urge to cough. Hacking in your spouse’s ear at 1 A.M. is not a good way to promote marital bliss. I’m a restless sleeper, so I already feel bad for waking Kara up so often.
When I arrived in the bathroom, I felt something move inside my chest, like a large glob of phlegm had shifted. Maybe that explained my desperate need to cough. I shut the door and looked into the mirror above the sink. I hadn’t been sick recently or been in to a bar. I don’t smoke. My job is sitting behind a desk all day, and even though I work for the CIA, I promise it’s nothing exciting. I’m just with human resources.
A spasm hit me and I bent over the sink, a dry cough exploding out of me. Did I swallow a bug in my sleep? I wondered, thinking about a story from Reddit about a woman who’d swallowed a spider. Another cough burst out of me. I felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. Several more hacks hit me, and my abs started to hurt. It felt like something was attached to my throat.
I drank some water from the sink, but the sensation seemed closer to my lungs than my stomach. When the next wave of coughing hit me, I slammed my fist into my chest, trying to dislodge whatever was down there. Great, I thought, now my sternum and my abs hurt. I looked into the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot, an angry red network of spider webs. Can you give yourself an aneurysm from coughing?
A quick search of the medicine cabinet revealed no cough medicine. Damn it! The idea of an insect stuck in my throat resurfaced, images of June bugs and hairy spiders crawling across my mind.
Before I could dream up how to remove the invader, the worst spasm yet doubled me over. I clasping my knees, feeling weak. Tears forced their way between my squinted eyelids, and still I kept coughing. My abs were on fire and my head felt like it was going to explode.
Finally, the fit subsided and I was able to stand again. I wanted to grab my phone to look up what to do, but I knew any movement would trigger another outburst. With no access to Google, I had zero information on what to do.
I felt the shifting in my chest again, but this time I was sure legs were moving. It has to be a bug, I thought, still at a loss for how to get it out. Why isn’t it coming up?
Another brutal coughing fit, more violent than any before, slammed my chest. I braced myself against the sink, trying to keep my balance. Though the pain and spasms, I felt the thing inside me move up. Each cough forced it out, centimeter by agonizing centimeter. I felt like I was going to die. My muscles were tearing my ribcage apart.
And then it was in my mouth, something slimy, but with mass and texture. I quickly spit into the sink, and stared in horror. A tiny thing, coated in blood and mucus lay in the basin. It was black, leathery, and about three centimeters long. Dread flooded up inside me and I took a step back. “What is that ?” I uttered. I wanted to know, had to know what it was, but everything inside me said stay away. It looked mechanical as well as organic, a paradox my mind could not wrap itself around. It wasn’t an insect, wasn’t anything that had evolved on Earth.
Movement. I thought I saw a leg move, but they were so small. How could I know for sure? A scream of terror escaped my lips, and I jumped back. The thing had risen up on its short legs, and was looking at me. It had no eyes that I could see, but I could tell it was observing me somehow.
“What? What’s happening?” Kara yelled, bursting in though the bathroom door. When I turned back to the sink, the thing was gone. All that remained was a small puddle of mucus, spit, and blood.
“I coughed something up…” I replied dazedly. “It looked at me.” What just happened?
“What?” Kara said, squinting her eyes against the harsh bathroom light.
“I  — I — I don’t know,” I stammered, trying to make sense of the situation. Did I just dream it? There was evidence for something in the sink, but what? My body felt wrecked from all the coughing, but that didn’t prove the existence of the creature.
“Come back to bed,” she said, shaking her head. I worried that moving would bring on another fit, but I took a step and felt fine. The tightness and congestion were gone from my throat. Other than the weariness of my abs and the rawness of my windpipe, everything felt normal.
I fell into a deep sleep and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at 5 A.M. I felt refreshed. My core was sore, but that was pretty normal for a day after working out. While brushing my teeth, I noticed a big glob of some nasty looking spit in the sink. Gross, I thought. Kara must be using my sink again. I rehydrated the mass and washed it down the drain.
During breakfast, Kara told me about how she’d dreamed I was yelling. I often have nightmares and can make a lot of noise. “You know,” I replied, “I actually think I remember that dream. I had a spider in my throat. I just couldn’t quit coughing.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Riders

I've had a fascination with Riders ever since I began noticing them. That was around when I turned 13 or so. Riders are funny looking creatures, bearing a strong resemblance to the imps you see illustrated in those old fairy tale books. They have leathery skin, long faces, big eyes, and pointy ears. They don't have tails or wings though. That's where they differ from the drawings. I started calling them Riders because I was young and didn't have a more creative word. They hang on and ride around. Seemed cool at the time.

I grew up in the country, out in the Mid-West. There, most Riders are small, less than a foot tall. Until I got older, I actually didn't know they could be larger. Before then, I'd run into someone who had a big Rider and I would just stop and stare, wide eyed. I'm sure they wondered why some kid was gaping at them. They probably thought I was “special.”

Once I moved to the city though—Woah man!—the Riders here are huge! I catch glimpses of the biggest ones as they fly by, passing me in the right lane of the highway. I've noticed the largest ones are usually perched on some dude's shoulder, riding inside a jacked up, noisy truck. Sometimes a really fat one will be on the shoulder of a motorcyclist, whizzing between cars, hanging on for dear life at 120 miles per hour. It would be funny if I wasn't so worried about what happened to the Rider if their host eats the back of a car. The other day, I even saw a huge Rider on the shoulder of this girl who was stopped by a cop. (In case you were wondering, the Rider on that particular cop was an average size. Some cops have huge Riders though!)

The Riders never really pay attention to me, but I don't mind that. They always seem busy, whispering or screaming at their hosts. It's really strange they never talk in a normal volume, but maybe that's just not possible. Man, Riders can get so worked up sometimes. There was this lady at the post office, and the big Rider on her shoulder started going off, straight in her ear. It was loud, like a jet or something. (As a side note: I can't understand the language, so I can't tell you what it said.) Pretty soon, the woman started yelling at the person in front of her for talking on her cell phone in Spanish. “This is America. Speak American!” I feel like the Rider was connected somehow, because after she finished, it just sat back, looking really satisfied. I don't understand why it was so happy, but it didn't make another sound the whole time after. The Rider on the Spanish speaking person's shoulder was whispering furiously in her ear, but she never said anything.

Oh man, I almost forgot! The smallest Rider I've ever seen was in a picture of a bunch of monks in Tibet. It might have been the Dalai Lama or whatever his name is. Get this: The Rider on his shoulder looked so starved and emaciated it seemed like a tiny puff of wind might blow him away! I've never seen one looking that bad. Sure, some Riders are small, but this one looked like if he turned sideways he would straight up vanish.

Everyone else I've ever seen or met has a Rider on their shoulder, and I often wonder if I have one on mine. Sometimes, when I'm driving, my right shoulder feels heavier and I think I see a leathery face at the edge of my vision. It's probably just my imagination though. How could I see everyone else's Rider and not my own?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Can't Stop, Won't Stop


Today was the first day of my second week as a full-time author.

I have been a writer for the past 9 years. It started because the band I was in folded, and I was left with no creative outlet. I wrote short stories, I wrote poems. I came home from a full-time job, sat down on the computer, and typed until I fell asleep, trying to hit my word count goal for the week, for the month, for the year. I failed a lot. I finished the first draft of my novel. I had a dream.

I fell away from writing several times. The creative process is difficult, the rewards minimal. I came back. I did one revision of my novel, then two, then three. I let people read it and they were encouraging. I revised it yet again. I changed jobs, changed states, changed marriages, still writing was with me.

I mailed my manuscript off to publishers and got many rejection letters in return. I didn't take it personally. There are many people out there doing the same thing as me, and a lot of them are better.  More submissions, more rejections. Publishers don't want to risk publishing the first novel of a four book series from an unknown author.

I kept at it, determined to make my way in a harsh creative field. I had failed to make it in the music industry. I would not fail with writing. I did lots of research and decided self-publishing was for me. I would make own way, find my own audience, be my own boss.

I published Breakers of the Dawn and started on the next book of the Dawn Saga. Can't stop, won't stop. I moved into a van with my wife and we traveled the U.S. and Canada. I wrote in different states, outside, in libraries, in National Parks, in friends houses, in campgrounds. Can't stop, won't stop.

A year and a half later, we run out of money and both start working. Sarah is a nurse. She is amazing at her job. She saves the smallest human beings you could think of. 24 weeks after conception doesn't give you long to grow.

Sarah believes in me, believes in my crazy sci-fi stories, believes in my dream. I love her more than anything. I couldn't have done this without her. I've dreamed of writing full-time for so long, and now it's a reality. It's not easy, but it is good.

So here I am, sitting in the middle of Las Vegas, having completed the first day of my second week as a full-time writer. I met and then exceeded my word count for the day, but I'm still here. Can't stop. Won't stop.

Cheers,
Zachariah

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cancer


I rode out to the place where the cancer is growing. It’s an open sore, full of disease and rot. It’s a place where piles of rocks and trash, the excrement of progress, overflow onto the beautiful desert.

I stopped along the road, taking in a vista that at one point must have been quite striking. The mountains on the horizon are full of snow, unmarred, at least from this distance, by the sprawl. I am at the boundary line, able to see the true nature of what this whole valley once was, and how it was slowly subducted by organisms that replicate beyond any reasonable limit.

I take a deep breath, smelling the diesel fumes of passing trucks. I long to breathe the clean air that once existed, to be free of the miasma of smog surrounding me. A car roars by, the sound of its exhaust asserting a dominance louder than a lion or bear ever could.

Beside me, a man installs fake grass, using spikes to attach enormous sheets of the stuff into the dirt. No one will ever be fooled by this lie. Even if it was less garish, that grass could never grow here. Apparently, the plants destroyed to put in this simulation were not good enough. In this place, fake is better. In this place, fake is real.

I ride down a new road, seeking an escape from the desolation. The pavement ends ahead of me, ceasing in the middle of the desert. No doubt there is some planner of this cancer who will put in more of the cheaply made boxes that are the hallmark of this city. He will profit from the disease, creating things not needed for people who do not need them.

I turn around and work my way back to my section of cancer. In here, the fake grass isn’t so bad. The green is lush and pretty. It stands in stark contrast to the ugly browns and tans of the desolate landscape. I go into my box, happy. I am content in this place. As one of the billions of cancer cells, how could I not be…

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Yoshi



I see Yoshi when I go running. He sits on his box, looking dejected.

Yoshi has been there for quite some time. He sits, staring off into a deep blue sky  stretching on forever. Clouds come and go, seasons pass, and he waits.

His malevolent creator, the person who put him on his box, abandoned him with no thought for his future. The event was so long ago that Yoshi can't tell if the face he remembers is his creator or a picture of a Realtor he saw on a passing bus.

Yoshi always feels the weather. He cannot go inside, cannot feel the warm embrace of his own kind. The steel of his box cuts him with cold, scorches him with heat, treats him with indifference.

Time passes, and still Yoshi waits. Year after year he sits on his box, hoping for something, unknown, unnoticed, alone. Until now...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Where Are We Now?


Life, days, compose, dispose.
Eat, consume, pause, and resume.
Where are we now?

Confuse, degrade, terror, error.
Climate, health, faith, and wealth.
Where are we now?

Lead, follow, jump, trump.
Hate, views, selfish, and news.
Where are we now?

Love, courage, refugee, me.
Regain, perceive, stand, and conceive.
Where are we now?

Find, go, solve, evolve.
Post, like, hope, and psych.
Where are we now?

Help, save, share, care.
See, understand, act, and demand.
Where are we now?