Darkness The darkness creeps in again As day changes to night An unstoppable phantom An all-encumbering blanket No light can make it bearable Just surrender and accept It is dark once again Until morning
Darkness The darkness creeps in again As day changes to night An unstoppable phantom An all-encumbering blanket No light can make it bearable Just surrender and accept It is dark once again Until morning
The Bear by Cameron Brtnik (based on my girlfriend's dream 3/22/18) I had a dream, twas more like a 'mare I had a dream I was chased by a bear This big brown bear was chasing me It chased me until I ran up a tree I was safe there, at least for now There's no way in hell that I'm coming down Then the bear whipped out its claws Five sharp knives on large white paws It bared its fangs like sharpened blades And shook the tree until it gave Right then I jumped and made escape I looked behind me and saw its shape That's when the fear and dread arrived Don't think I'll make it out alive I ran and ran like rabbit game Inside my fears I had to tame I couldn't tell what's dream or real I thought I'd be the bear's next meal Frantic, panic, sweat and tears All my doubts, anxiety, fears Would I escape? I wasn't sure Next thing that happened was a blur I fell and stumbled, tried to reach high My heart was pounding, I felt it cry I tried to wake up, cried and moaned No one to wake me, all alone The bear bit down upon my head I let him eat me, sure I was dead Then suddenly, everything was fine No more fear, it was a sign From then on when the bear gave chase I stood my ground, stared face to face ….. Now don’t you see, I am the bear The one being chased, the one that's scared But now I can control it, see And tame the bear that lives in me
The Bear by Virginia Kyriakopoulos
Based on my nightmare 3/22/2018 There is a brown bear living inside my head, the weight of its might sends my muscles into flight, a terror as terrestrial as the animal seizes all activity, I am running, no other part of me exists, just fear to make it out, one piece of flesh, I am just a piece coalesced in an aim to move up up up the tree where the trunk meets the branches, where the leaves kiss the wood, there far above the terrors of the forest, fear drips, mist hanging on to the veins of the foliage clinging on from the great storm, that sent the bear charging, like a ghost from the past...
The Shark by Cameron Brtnik (a scary bedtime story for kids) There once was a boy named Mark And he was afraid of the dark Every time that he tried to sleep He imagined being chased by a shark His mother tried to comfort her son When he screamed her name out in the night She told her poor boy to calm down As he stared at the darkness with fright Eventually he calmed down As she gently put him back to bed But as soon as Mark went back to dreaming They once again filled him with dread So his mom took him to see a doctor She’d try anything at this point to help Just at the mention of the word shark Mark would jump in the air and he’d yelp The doctor prescribed medication That would cause Mark to have a deep sleep She gave him two pills before bedtime So instead of a shark he'd count sheep The pills worked! Yes they worked like a charm Mark finally slumped on his back His mother was happy and went to her bed While Mark in his dream was attacked See those pills, well they put Mark to sleep But they worked just a little too well Poor Mark was still having his nightmare It was like he was under a spell In his dream he saw sharks in the water Surrounding him, and he could feel If he didn't wake up from this nightmare He would be the shark's next toothsome meal Pinching himself didn't work now His body was limp as a worm As much as he tried to snap out of his daze Mark's body would barely just squirm Mark prayed to God he would survive this And somehow wake up from this 'mare By try as he might try to struggle and fight Nobody could hear poor Mark's prayer The big shark attacked and it bit him And the pain seemed as real as life When his mother found him the kitchen Mark was standing there holding a knife But she couldn't seem to awake him Then she suddenly started to scream Cause to his mom's horror he fell to the floor And Mark never woke up from his dream The End....Sweet dreams! PS. The Shark you ask? He still roams children’s nightmares He lurks deep in the murky blue He's always ready and waiting For the next child that sleeps might be you! Cameron is a poet, fiction writer and children's author, and is scared of swimming in the ocean to this day
The Flight Attendant
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
The Flight Attendant
She wore too much makeup; too much red lipstick that gave her a likeness to The Joker, already dry and cracked from the airplane’s dry, recirculated air, and too much foundation, giving her skin the veneer of a vampire. Her faded, slightly dirty blue flight attendant uniform matched her pale visage, and the lipstick smudge on her collar “complimented” her tacky red lips. Her fake smile was very sincere, fooling even the most frequent of flyers, men nodding back at her as they boarded the plane, in the back of their mind their inner voice saying, That smile was just for you, stud. She was probably thinking, Hurry and get the fuck on board fatty, you’re holding up the line.
The non-smoking signs flickered on to remind people there’s no smoking in the cabin. Really?! Are people still lighting up on these flights? Do they still need a reminder after smoking was banned in the 90s? Is this really still a thing! My God humans must be stupid. (The real reason of course was for the Chinese; they would light up a cigarette in the middle of a gas leak at a power plant if there weren’t a million signs everywhere warning of the obvious dangers.) Now on to the familiar, yet forgettable life vest demonstration. You know the one: you’ve seen it a million times, yet haven’t quite committed it to memory. If the plane were to ever actually crash, there would be chaos, calamity, and confusion, people hastily scrambling for the pocket on the back of the seat in front of them, life jacket instruction manuals darting through the air, whipping around the cabin, slapping people’s faces, ironically posing more of a danger than an actual “life-saving” manual. I half paid attention as I pretended to switch off my phone, not quite understanding what all the fuss was about – “Please turn off all electronic equipment before takeoff,” like my runway text message to my Tinder match somehow tampered with the plane’s sensitive instruments, the news captions reading: “Tinder Tragedy as plane lands in nearby field.” After my seatbelt was fastened, seat pushed up, all electronic equipment was “off” and the window blind rolled up (why, to get a good view of the engine during takeoff?) we were up in the air, the initial queasiness slowly fading into an easy calm, a forlorn acceptance that my fate was now in the pilot’s hands, no way to know if he had had a “late nighter” at the rippers the previous night or the line of cocaine he just did in the bathroom was affecting his judgement. We were now a human-filled bird, cutting through clouds, on our way to our destination in Southeast Asia.
The announcement came on that it was okay to unfasten our seatbelts (half the passengers had done so already without the captain’s consent). The red-lipped stewardess – the same one who artificially welcomed us aboard – came by to offer “coffee, tea or wine.” I went with beer; this was going to be a long flight. She opened the can, poured it into a small plastic cup, and flashed her fake smile, a bit of red lipstick smudged on her front teeth giving the comical impression she just ate a Pink Sherbet Crayon for a quick, light snack, and set the tiny cup on my personal plastic table placing the half-empty can next to it. I was thinking You might as well save time and open three more while you’re at it, then mandatorily thanked her and flashed her my own fake smile, lips pursed together, cheeks creased into a Grinch-like grin, hoping it looked genuine enough. I opened my magazine – the one I’d been planning to read since May – to an article entitled “Genghis Khan: New evidence of his twenty-one year reign,” and sank back into my chair, leaning back enough that I was comfortable, but not far enough that my rotund rear neighbor would complain.
The robotic voice of one of the bored airline stewards came over the speakers offering “discounted merchandise” – T-shirts, perfume, and Prada purses (who has enough money to burn that they buy this crap? If they really needed it, wouldn’t they have purchased it on the ground? It was all unnecessary and useless and a waste of money in my poor opinion.) Eventually, the welcome scent of chicken smothered in tomato sauce filled the cabin with its delectable aroma. Our deceitful stewardess came by to offer the airline meal: chicken or lasagna. Most people complained about airline meals but I actually enjoyed them; I went with the lasagna. She smiled that fake smile of hers and leaned over the isle seat, the first passenger getting the full blast of her fake Chanel No. 5 perfume, the remaining aroma wafting up our nostrils like freshly baked perfume pie. Her siren red nail polish clashed with the bland colors of the yellow and orange lasagna. As she placed the lasagna on my tiny tray, I felt something strange – I think it was the way she looked at me – but it was also something more, just a feeling I had as she hovered above me, balancing our glorified Hungry-man meals over our heads. I could almost swear she had some kind of intentions, however silly that sounds. She finished serving our cuisine, attempted to say, “Enjoy,” and moved on to the other famished passengers (it had, after all, been at least an hour since they gobbled down that fried chicken at the airport KFC). That odd feeling quickly dissipated and I enjoyed my clammy lasagna (don’t people always complain about the food being too dry?) and asked for my neighbor’s bread roll when he didn’t eat his. I was satisfied – I guess my only complaint was that you can never get full from an airplane meal – and washed it all down with a glass of red wine I had ordered with the meal; I was already ready for another.
I was into my second glass of wine, and 20 pages into my new Michael Crichton book, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the Janus-faced stewardess and that weird feeling she had given me. I watched her as she served the other passengers, and they all smiled back at her seemingly fine with her “friendly” service. Was it just me who was feeling this way? Maybe I was just tired, or the notes of fake jasmine from her perfume were rubbing me the wrong way. I decided to drop the thought and went back to my book, something about the “airplane engine having malfunctions” (I know, probably a poor choice for flying.) I liked Crichton’s books because they always seemed so realistic, like they could really happen with just enough science and bad luck. I must’ve dozed off because I woke up feeling like my head just hit a brick wall. I made it to page 39 and a half. I guessed it was evening because everyone was dozing off, watching movies, or already dead to the world. I decided to check the in-flight movies available on the personal screen in front of my seat. Coincidentally, they had the movie adaptation of Turbulence, the book I was reading. I decided I would wait to watch it, wanting to finish the book first (besides, the books were always better than the movies, with a few exceptions where the movie was as good as the book). I decided to go with ID4 2 – it was on my list – even though I knew it’d be terrible. I suppose that’s why they kept making terrible movies; because studios know we keep shelling out our hard-earned money to see them! If I see another mindless Transformers movie trailer, I might forgo movies altogether.
At some point nature was calling, so I got up to go to the bathroom. I hated the arduous process of getting up to go to the bathroom: asking your neighbor to move his legs and awkwardly shuffling between his knees and the adjacent seat, making a scene of it, almost like holding a sign saying, “Look at me, I have to pee!” But when nature calls, answer you must (they really should design a tube that drops from the ceiling like an oxygen mask for emergency bladder-emptying). I strolled down the carpeted isle toward the back of the plane and waited behind the large gentleman in front of me. I glanced back into the staff area of the plane, mainly where they kept all the hot food and coffee, and suddenly locked eyes with the red-lipped stewardess. I could feel my heart actually stop for a moment – why? – but I returned her fake smile with one of my own, minus the uneven lipstick. The obese guy in front of me – American – went into the tiny cubicle and I was left open and vulnerable to her somewhat psychotic stare. “Where are you from, sugar?”, she suddenly asked. “Um, here, Canada,” I managed but left out the city for some reason. “Ooh, that’s great! Where are ya headed, hun?” “Uh, Vietnam?” (Wasn’t everyone headed to Vietnam?) I suppose this was typical attendant-passenger small talk. But her trying to be nice to me was making me feel uneasy. I hoped that lard ass would finish up in there. “You know, I had a son, he’d be about your age by now…” Did she just say had a son? I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just nodded and smiled, adopting her fake technique to a tee. “But he disappeared some years back…never found out what happened to him.” Probably ran away from his psycho mother, I thought to myself. Finally what seemed like hours later, the fatty opened the cryogenically sealed bathroom door and squeezed by me back to his seat. I nodded and escaped into the bathroom.
The bright lights inside gave a feeling of sterility, like waiting inside a doctor’s office. I felt a sense of freedom inside, from the other passengers, from the rest of the world, a momentary blue-white bliss… A moment later I heard a knock at the door – can’t the stupid idiot see it’s occupied! – so I knocked back, alerting them to the occupant inside since they so clearly missed the red “occupied” sign above the door handle. As I was washing my face, repeatedly pressing down the tap handle and quickly gathering as much water in my cupped hands as I could before it shut off again, I heard a knock at the door again. I guessed whoever it was really had to go, so I said, “Just a minute,” and suddenly heard the lock unlatching… I saw five siren red nails come through the opening like each finger could see, slithering and guiding their way inside… I recoiled and froze, not sure what was happening or what the Hell I should do about it. Maybe she was just refilling the soap, was the first thought I had. “Hey sugar, do you need any help in there?” “No, I’m fine,” I nervously replied. She was now halfway inside… “I’ll just be a moment,” I convinced her. I could see something in her hand, glinting in the bright fluorescent light..scissors? A kni– Suddenly I could see her hand with whatever was inside swoop down…I moved out of the way just in time. I had to think fast. I kicked up and knocked the sharp object out of her hand; the fingers attached to her arm withdrew fast. I slammed the door shut and locked it again, trying to catch my breath… What the Hell just happened? Was she trying to kill me? Maybe I was just being paranoid, frightened of her fiery red nails, imagining they had a life of their own… Maybe she was just refilling the tissue dispenser. I composed myself as best I could, and slowly unlocked and opened the door… There was a little old lady waiting to use the bathroom, and she looked pissed. I looked around, but Freddy Fingernails was nowhere to be seen. I calmly walked back to my seat, having to wake up my dozing neighbor, a look of annoyance escaping his face as he shifted his legs to let me through again. I plopped back into my seat and took a few deep breaths…
For much of the rest of the flight, I didn’t see the maniacal flight attendant – maybe she was seeking shelter from the breaking dawn shimmering in through the cabin windows – and I was glad. We had a friendly Asian male attendant serve us. When I asked him about our previous attendant, he said he wasn’t sure whom I was referring to. I shrugged, and fell into a deep sleep…and awoke to terrible turbulence. The captain’s reassuring voice came over the PA system: “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and remain seated as we’re going through an area of turbulence. Ah, thank you–.” Then, I couldn’t be certain, but I was sure I heard a lady’s voice..it almost sounded like a moan. No one else seemed to notice. The turbulence rocked and jerked us, up and down, side to side like an old rickety wooden coaster. Everyone had woken up, and their faces were tense now, the pallor of the vampire attendant’s makeup. No matter how many times you experience turbulence, it always feels like the plane just blew out an engine and is going down…Malaysian Airlines all over again. I always calmed myself by watching a comedy; I found The Simpsons on the selection screen and put it on. But even Homer’s antics couldn’t ease the queasiness I felt in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t so much the turbulence – I had felt turbulence lots of times and knew it was par for the course when flying over the Pacific – as the voice I thought I heard at the end of the captain’s announcement. Why would there be a woman in the cockpit? I mean, unless she was the copilot, but even then why was she moaning?
I reached up and pressed the service button. A minute later our friendly Asian steward walked shakily toward our seats. “I’m sorry sir, at this time there’s no service.” I nodded, and then added, “Is there a lady in the cockpit?” He gave me a weird look, then turned to go back to his seat. Ten minutes of intense jumping and churning went by.. then the plane felt like it was in free fall… I instinctively reached out to grab the armrests on either side of me – my neighbors had beaten me to it, and I awkwardly clung to their arms. I could hear audible screams coming from the other passengers. My heart was in my throat..then just as suddenly, the plane evened out. An inaudible sigh of relief could be felt like a wave through the cabin. I heard a crackle over the PA system, then the clear sound of the captain screaming…then deafening silence. Then, surprisingly, a pleasantly fake, female’s voice: “Would the passenger seated in J22 kindly make your way to the..cockpit. I have a message for him.” My heart suddenly sank…and my mouth instantly went dry. That was my seat. I looked around awkwardly; everybody nearby was staring. I dutifully unbuckled my seatbelt and slowly got up, aware of a hundred pairs of piercing eyes boring a hole through me. I ignored them, focused on my martyrly mission, and the hell-colored nails awaiting me in the cockpit…
I slowly marched to the front of the plane, everyone looking expectant, placing the entire air pressure of the cabin on my shoulders. I had no idea what to expect… Did she kill the captain? But the plane was still in control. Was the captain in on it? What did she want with me? To kill me? To rape me! I was frightened, but what choice did I have? The jeopardy of the entire plane was in my hands… I made it all the way, through Business class, past First class (damn First class and their private pods and champagne flutes) to the cockpit. I remembered when I was a child I was allowed into the cockpit to meet the captain, watch him fly the plane, and even take the wheel..I felt so powerful; 416 passengers at my mercy (although now I realize it must’ve been in autopilot), everyone’s life in my tiny hands.. This was pre-9/11 of course. I looked at the airline attendants for help, but they all looked in shock. I decided just to knock on the cockpit door… “Who is it?”, I could faintly hear from inside. “Um, it’s me, you called me..to come…to the, uh, cockpit.”There was a momentary silence, then I could hear the heavy lock unlatch from the inside (it could only be opened from the inside, apres-9/11)…I peered in. I had a momentary feeling of relief as I saw the captain at the wheel. I couldn’t see her. I stepped inside, and the door quickly slammed shut behind me. (Why didn’t the other attendants force their way in? Useless!) “Hey sugar,” I heard her say in her falsetto voice. I didn’t want to look, afraid what I might find. “Don’t be shy, it’s comfy up here,” she said with feigned friendliness. I slowly turned my head toward the disembodied voice…all I could see was red. Not red from her lipstick or fingernails – there were stains of red across her uniform, dark red on light blue, red droplets splashed across her face, and the copilot looked like he was sleeping… Although I knew he wasn’t sleeping; he was dead. She had killed him with her sharp, deadly fingernails. But why? I had all these questions hitting me at once – mainly, what was she going to do to me? I started thinking of way out – but we were on a plane – there was no way out. “What did you do to the copilot?”, was all that escaped. “Ooh, don’t worry about him sugar, he wasn’t really that helpful, right cap’?” I waited for the captain to respond…but he said nothing, kept his eyes straight ahead. Thank God. (Why did God always come up in life-threatening situations? I hadn’t used God’s name since, I couldn’t remember..) “Why don’t ya come sit up here with me?”, she patted the seat next to her. I hesitantly obliged, not seeing any other way out of this. She pulled the limp copilot’s body off the chair and let it slump to the floor, and pat the seat for me. I sat down, the tension in the cockpit excruciating.. I glanced over at the captain, who looked extremely uncomfortable, sweat stains pooling in his blue shirt, eyes focused ahead, doing his job, flying the plane…
The red woman put her hand on my lap. Normally that would be an exciting prospect, but in this circumstance, it was not. “How are you enjoying your flight?,” she demanded. “Did you enjoy the nuts?” As she said this she squeezed down hard on my crotch… “What do you want!”, I blurted out. She leaned in closer…”You remind me of my son,” and she planted her big, red lips onto mine, giving me an unexpected and unwelcome kiss. “Maybe if he didn’t treat me so poorly, I wouldn’t have had to kill him.” Those words hung in the air like an acrid smell…”I’m, uh, sorry that happened,” I feebly managed. “You see,” she continued, “I was in flight school. My dream was to fly a plane one day…not be a stupid flight attendant. But then he came along. I didn’t have the time to finish flight school, I had to take care of him. So I dropped out… His deadbeat father left, and I had to take care of him, me, me!” I didn’t know where she was going with this rant, but I had to take advantage of her stalling… “And he took care of his stupid twenty-one year old bimbo of a girlfriend, probably ex-girlfriend by now, probably thinks he left her for a younger woman…” Then she let out a laugh, more like a shrill, and I had to cringe as I couldn’t cover my ears. Thankfully she continued, “So I had to make do with being a flight attendant. Nobody respects a flight attendant! Flight in, flight out I have to smile at these idiots and their disgusting children, ‘Welcome aboard Cardinal Airlines,’ ‘Please take your seat,’ ‘Please put your carry-on luggage in the overhead storage,’ ‘Please buckle up your fuckin’ seatbelt!’ These morons need to be treated like children to understand anything! I hate my job, I fuckin’ ha–” I quickly grabbed her and put her in a chokehold. I was scared, but I couldn’t just sit there and listen to her pitiful whining. The captain didn’t budge; I guess he witnessed what she did to his comrade. I shouted, “It’s okay, you’re gonna come with me, out of the cockpit, and sit still till we can land this plane. You’ll be escorted by security once we land..” She was flailing now, trying to loosen my grip on her neck, when suddenly I felt a pain in the left side of my abdomen; I looked down to see a shiny object protruding out of it: her silver Cardinal Airlines pen. I felt my grip loosen… “I’m sorry sugar, I didn’t want to have to do that.” I was on the floor now, backing up, in extreme pain. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the lever to open the cockpit door..I quickly reached up to grab it, and used all my body weight to pull it down..and the door hissed open. I winced and fell back to the floor. Nobody in the cabin moved, and she quickly pulled the door closed again, pushed the lever back up, closing off my only escape… As she did this, I could see movement coming from the captain’s direction. He threw something to me, and I quickly shoved it under my head; the psychopath didn’t notice. She came back over and straddled me. “Now that wasn’t very nice,” she said, and started unbuckling my pants. “Somebody’s gonna have to learn their lesson…” She yanked my pants down below my knees, and hiked her uniform’s skirt up. “You’ve been a bad boy, just like my son was a bad..bad..boy.” She hopped onto my groin and reached down…just as I threw the life jacket – the one the captain tossed me – over her head and tugged the strings on both sides. The jacket inflated quickly, catching her by surprise. I squeezed both sides together, cutting off her air supply… The captain then made a bold move: he sharply veered the plane to the left – effectively knocking her to the floor – and probably giving every passenger on board a heart attack. I jumped on top of her, adrenalin surpassing the pain I felt in my side. I kept squeezing the life jacket, ironically using it to end her life. She slowly stopped grappling, her lifeless red fingernails falling to the floor like extinguished flames, a moribund menorah.
Finally, the flight attendant with the blood red lipstick, firetruck fingernails, and bloody uniform lay sprawled out on the cockpit floor. I was breathing heavily, feeling like I might pass out… The captain finally asked, “Is she dead?” “I think so,” I said in a tireless breath. “Sorry I couldn’t help, she disabled the autopilot.” After a moment I asked, “Who is she?” “My ex-wife,” he calmly replied, and steered the plane towards our destination, first stopping for an emergency landing in Taiwan. “She was always a real bitch.”
Cameron is a fiction author living Taiwan, and is not part of the mile high club…yet cbrtnk.com
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
It was a well known fact that ants could lift up to a thousand times their own weight (actual research puts that at around a hundred times which is still an astonishing amount!) I’ve always had a slight unsettling feeling toward ants, not quite fear, but close to it. It was their hive mentality, similar to that of bees (God I hate bees). I live in a home with a backyard, which means that they invariably broke into my home daily in search of food and shelter. And everyday I could see them marching across the floor with crumbs of food dancing deftly above their tiny heads, the larger morsels being dragged behind them like luggage wheeled by a passenger at an airport. Imagine lifting a hamburger a hundred times your body weight – for me that would be a cheeseburger weighing in at an obese 18,000 pounds! I would typically stamp them out with my finger or toe, ending their short, hard life in a hundredth of a second; as if the finger of God suddenly appeared out of the clouds and stamped you out as you exited a McDonald’s, no time to reflect on your life, your decisions, or steal one last tasty bite of that delectable Big Mac.
One hot day (I had the aircon blasting in my one room studio apartment) I was eating lunch: a scrumptious ham and cheese sandwich I had made at home with a fresh loaf of 12 grain bread, and the ants were having their own feast at my feet. A miniature feast to my eyes, but then again what is the world but how every individual and living being views it? To the ants it must’ve been early Thanksgiving! It was like watching construction men at work; they were hoisting, lugging, carrying and transporting food back to their anthill to feed their gluttonous queen ant. Did you know she is the mother of every ant in her colony?! (What a succubus!) Watching these tiny workers, slaves, perform their labor always reminded me of Aesop’s famous fable The Ant and The Grasshopper – The ants busy from spring to fall foraging for food, whilst the grasshopper enjoys his life. When winter comes he has no food, yet the ants welcome him to feast with them, the lesson being, “work hard play hard” or something like that. I always looked up to the grasshopper, and his free-spirited, laid back view on life; the ants didn’t really experience life in my opinion.
Like the proverbial child burning ants with a magnifying glass, I enjoyed squishing them as they tiptoed by me, Jack trying to sneak by the giant, a costly mistake on their part. Some I would torture by dropping crumbs next to them, waiting till they pilfered their prize, then moving the crumb an inch away so they’d have to repeat the same exhausting routine again.. Ow! I dropped my sandwich on its plate and looked down – my left big toe started bleeding. What the fuck! I said out loud. I looked for the critter that could’ve caused such big bite – there! A large ant, clearly much larger than the rest, she did it, she looks like the queen (I thought the queen never left her dirt palace, which is why they lived up to ten years): her bulbous body was much bigger than her workers – it had to be for the breeding she did; one queen could produce up to a hundred million workers! I wondered if she could tell them apart… I stopped the bleeding with my napkin and used the same napkin to squish the queen before she could get away back to the safety of her sandcastle. I lifted the napkin to see if she was still moving – one of the bulbous sections of her body had exploded, ant guts smeared on the tissue, and I snickered to myself, satisfied I had my revenge. But she was still moving, thrusting her remaining upper abdomen forward, legs skidding left and right like she’d had too much ant wine (she was a queen and I imagined her loyal guards fanning her with grass and pouring sugar water into little goblets made out of clay). I had to give it to her; she was a tough little bitch, and I decided to let her hobble back to her hole and live out the rest of her days paralyzed, a crippled ruler, never again desired by any of her winged suitors or envied by her slave daughters, ha!
I went back to my sandwich and episode 4 of Game of Thrones (Season 6) and forgot all about the bite on my foot (do black ants bite? I filed away the thought for now). After about five minutes I could feel a throbbing in my foot. My left big toe had swollen up quite a bit, so I put some Neosporin on it and cursed aloud at that queen bitch. I lay on the couch, just getting into episode 7 (the joys of binge-watching on a lazy Sunday) and at some point I must’ve passed out because I awoke to the familiar theme song – daaa daaa da-da-da daaa da-da-da but I felt strange for some reason. It felt like something was crawling on me… I went to swat my legs and pressed down on something squishy. I was still half-asleep and imagined it being Jello, a cool, jelly-like texture…I slowly came to and suddenly my heart sank– it couldn’t be Jello! I was eating a ham sandwich– I looked down at my legs and almost spewed – my whole left leg was black like I had gangrene, but the blackness was moving… in a way that looked eerie, like hundreds of nano-bugs crawling, surging together as one… I let out an unnatural scream.. Jumping off the couch, swatting at them, just wanting to get them OFF OF ME!!! It seemed like hundreds (it seemed like a nightmare) of ants were on me, crawling over my leg like a stump, covering every inch of skin like molasses….
Swatting at them was doing nothing, so I had a thought: I could pour boiling water on them–no that would take too long to boil the water–I wanted them off me NOW!!! I ran to the cupboard, opened it and reached up to the top shelf to grab the Raid. I unleashed what must’ve been half the bottle and ants started falling off me like miniature rock climbers on an ill-fated mountain climbing expedition, trapped in an avalanche of poisonous fumes… One by one they fell away, and as I ran toward the porch door they left a trail behind me like breadcrumbs in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel. I leapt outside toward the garden hose, turned the handle and blasted them with forty pounds of pressure, the equivalent of what must’ve been a tsunami and typhoon rolled into one for those teensy fuckers. Almost all of the ants were off me now, though I could feel a few crawling around in my pants.. I stuck the hose down my crotch and blasted the remaining gnats off my skin. I started to feel better, but could now feel a throbbing pain across my entire leg. It felt like I was stung a hundred times and I could see scads of red bites with red swelling encircling each bite, each its own micro anthill, tiny active volcanoes….
I needed to cover my leg in ice immediately. I ran back into the house to the freezer, took out the ice cube tray, and popped every cube out into a plastic bag, quickly rubbing it all over my leg to soothe the (by now) excruciating pain, it’s cold temperature an ecstatic relief. I limped back to the door and bent down to see how the hell they were getting in. I noticed a small slit under the door, barley noticeable, but to an ant it must’ve been like a highway underpass. I got some tape and sealed it shut. The remaining ants indoors I took my revenge on, squeezing the life out of their black bodies, popping each ant like a blackhead on your forehead. That night I rubbed aloe vera on my body, usually used for burns, soothing the burn up my leg, cursing at those fuckers loud enough so they could hear me outside in their shanty hills. I had popped a couple painkillers and felt euphoric as I lied back on my bed, covers off, enjoying the cool air on my moist skin. I must’ve passed out quickly cause I didn’t remember falling asleep…but I awoke suddenly from a nightmare. I dreamed that I stepped into a giant anthill and starting sinking, ants slowly covering my whole body… I opened my eyes, but the room remained dark like the moon had fallen out of the sky. In my half-dream state, I thought I could feel my skin tingling, almost like my body had goosebumps, goosebumps that were spreading… Suddenly I had the horrifying thought that I didn’t just dream I was covered in ants– that I actually was covered in ants! I swat at my eyes and brushed them off so I could see…. I wished I had kept them closed…I started screaming like I was in an ocean being attacked by a shark. It was the only natural response to what I saw: my blanket had turned black, except it wasn’t my blanket – it was a living thing, writhing sheet of black ink, teeming with a thousand ants crawling over each other, seemingly unaware of each other’s presence…
At first I felt frozen, unable to move or even attempt to brush them off my body. Then the real world returned and I jumped up and started dancing frantically like my body was on fire (stop, drop and roll! my brain was telling me). I dropped to the floor and started rolling wildly around but I wasn’t actually contacting the surface, the ants acting as a buffer between me and the hardwood floor – it wasn’t working. It was like trying to remove an ever-tightening straight jacket that even Houdini would’ve struggled to get out if. I got the can of Raid and blasted myself. That was working; ants started falling off me me like dead skin. I was starting to get dizzy, inhaling the noxious fumes, but it was working. When enough had fallen off that I could see my clothes, I tore off my t-shirt and jumped in the shower..I’d deal with the pile of ant corpses afterward. The remaining ants on me were scalded by the hot water, like acid rain, causing them to writhe in pain as they plummeted a thousand feet into the pool of water at my feet, swirling around till they disappeared down the black holes in the drain…
By the time I got out of the shower, the survivors had made their way back outside. The remaining carcasses I swept up into a dustbin and flushed them down the toilet. I decided I was going to have to get an exterminator to rid of these fuckers. In the mean time, I would start the the extermination myself – I went out in the yard and spotted the anthill. I picked up a branch that had fallen off the tree and stuck it in the the hole, shoving it as deep down as possible, then tore up through the dirt until I had destroyed what was once a formidable sandcastle. I knew that there were labyrinthine tunnels below, so I went and got the bottle of bleach. I poured it down into the hole, imagining every ant getting bleached white till it dissolved their tiny fragile bodies, disintegrating into nothing… I could see a few ants emerging from the top, stumbling out of the hole like drunken sailors out of a tavern. I felt like a ten year old again, feeling a sense of pleasure torturing these motherfuckers. They deserved it! They attacked me firs– I stopped what I was doing. One ant struggled out of the hole (or what remained of it) and it was missing it’s lower abdomen… Damn she’s a tough lady! I thought. It was that damn queen bitch ant, somehow she was still alive… I could see how she was walking and it was horrific; there were two worker ants beneath her propping her up being used as legs, transporting her, keeping her mobile even with her disability… Although they were staggering now, losing balance, the bleach already dissolving their black guts like sulfuric acid poured on steel, melting them from the inside out… She lost her prosthetic legs but continued crawling, struggling over the top of the mound, trying to save herself…How is she still alive?? is all I could think to myself. I had an idea – I went and got my pliers, again feeling an overwhelming sense of delight that surprised even me (maybe all men felt the same, never losing their adolescence, their inner boy, harboring the same curious, sick, surprisingly evil tendencies… ). I found her halfway down the melted hill, struggling at every step, at every last breath… I trapped her in the plier’s prongs and said, out loud: I have the ant-idote for you (I know, a little over-the-top) and squeezed easily; her head popped, leaving just the upper half of her body, still jerking, until it too finally came to a standstill, the end of her reign, her kingdom overthrown by a man-boy, a violent coup…. What I couldn’t have known is that she had already laid a hundred million eggs just below my feet, all embodied with her genes, each encoded with one mission: To attack when ready.
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things weird and creepy cbrtnik.com
A Sharp Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour…
The butcher was hard at work slicing meat – purple and sinewy, like slicing into fresh veins. Sometimes I couldn’t believe we put that stuff in our mouths. “We’re no better than cannibals”, I always told myself. I had a respect for vegetarians – I had recently gone on a health binge myself and invested in a juicer, juicing fresh fruits and veggies every morning and feeling better than usual – and felt that they had made a respectable choice; “Save the animals, save the earth,” all that stuff. The only problem was all the usual hippie crap that went along with it, “washing” their hair with olive oil leaving their hair looking “healthier”, although I thought “greasier” was a more fitting description.
The butcher (I never got his real name) was a nice enough fellow, quiet and dedicated to his meat. “Good morning”, “Three pounds of beef, three pounds of bacon,” and “Have a good day,” were the only words I ever exchanged with him. He had impressive skills with his butcher’s knife – I had the feeling he could slice through anything like those informercials you see: “Sharpest blade on the market! Can cut through vegetables! (SLICE!) shoes! (SLICE!) and even tires!!” (SLICE!!) Like anyone would ever be slicing off a sole of shoe with a side of tire for Thanksgiving dinner. He offered a variety of meats: beef, pork, lamb, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, chicken, duck, goose, and had freshly hung pig, sausage, and all the innards you could desire: liver, heart, kidneys, lung, gizzards, and entrails galore. I couldn’t stomach looking at most of it, let alone imagine eating these strange things. I liked sausage, but knew the ingredients were a mystery to most of us…
He plowed his knife into the slabs of beef, blood splashing his apron like he’d just sacrificed a cow to the butcher gods. He wrapped the twelve ounce slabs with pieces of brown paper, the juice immediately being soaked up by the semi-absorbent paper. Next his thick knife sliced through the chunks of frozen peameal bacon like a hot sword through ice. I was already in heaven just thinking of the bacon entering my mouth when we got home (a Sunday tradition in our family, bacon and God). We had already been to church, and we always stopped by the food market on our way home. “Tommy! What are you doing?!” I heard myself automatically yelling. As usual he had wandered off, and was prodding the door to the “meat shed” to get a glimpse of the frozen animal carcasses inside. He was immediately by my side, “Nothing daddy”, the butcher not even batting an eyelash, his unwavering focus on slicing the perfect slab of peameal like that of a scientist researching some unknown matter through a microscope. The door was left open just a crack, and I was hoping he wouldn’t notice.
Tommy pulled me down – well as much as a twelve year old kid of his strength can, but somehow manages to do – to whisper in my ear, “There’s a kids in there daddy.” My heart stopped, but for just a second. I realized the meat man must have a children too, and probably has to bring them to the market on Sundays cause, well I guess he’s divorced (who could stand the stench of a husband, crusted by blood and sweat, bloody apron, coming home to his untainted wife and making love in their clean bed), and he’s probably showing his kid the ropes so he can proudly take over his father’s successful meat business one day. “Did you you say hello?”, and for a moment, I couldn’t be sure, I think I saw the butcher glance up, then go right back to weighing the meat on the scale like it was an exact science, measuring the atomic weight of a bacon atom. He pulled me down again to whisper at a close distance, “No dad, I think he’s frozen!” and this time a felt a chill up my spine. I stood up and attempted a conversation with the quiet butcher, a single droplet of cold sweat running down my forehead. “So, you keep all the frozen animals, or carcasses back there?” I managed uneasily, trying to sound like it was a normal question (“So did you catch the Yankees game?”) The butcher raised his eyes to meet mine – they were slightly bloodshot, probably from waking up early in the morning to get a head start on the all the prep work – but didn’t answer. “$55.49”, he finally said. I reached into my wallet, paid the man, thanked him, then grabbed Tommy to go. We walked around back to leave, and to stifle my curiosity, I peaked in through the crack in the door. I was suddenly frozen, and found my feet glued to the floor. There, like Tommy said, was a boy of about nine, hanging, upside down, completely frozen… At first I thought my eyes must be playing a trick on me me, that it must be a calf that, through our childish imaginations, resembled a human boy. But, through the frost, you could clearly make out a blue jacket, brown corduroys, and a human face. I felt for the first time in my life what could only be described as horror…
I panicked. I felt literally frozen to the floor, unsure what to do. Tommy was trying to pull me away, but I didn’t budge. “We gotta do something” I whispered, more to myself than anything. I told Tommy to go wait in the car, and he apprehensively scampered off. I decided to go in to see if there were any other bodies. I went in, slowly shutting the door behind me so the butcher wouldn’t see me. There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour, and I had to hold my gloved hand to my nose. I turned on my phone’s flashlight, and suddenly the world fell from under me…. Bodies, frozen bodies, all young boys, hanging from hooks, dangling by their feet, all with frozen faces of horror, like they saw something coming at them…Shump! I heard this sound like a knife piercing flesh, and at the same time felt something cold and metallic enter my back. I tried to scream, but a calloused, bloody hand wrapped around my face like a bear’s paw and I couldn’t even croak. I felt the hook (was it a hook??) shove deeper into my spine, and all I could think of was Tommy, and Sarah, my beautiful- Riiip! the sound of torn flesh as I felt the frigid air hit my spine, the skin of my back dangling, like velcro hanging off a shoe. I felt this bear of a man pick me up easily off me feet, and pierce me onto a sharp, rusty hook. I saw the tip of it penetrate the front of my shoulder blade, dripping with blood, consciousness starting to fade, and I was convinced this was all a horrible nightmare, that I’d wake up safe and sound in church while the priest extrapolated on what the bible means, how the Lord is looking after us, how God is good….
Cameron is a Toronto-born writer of short stories and lover of all things gory cbrtnik.com
The Beggar Woman
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
The Beggar Woman
The beggar woman brushed briskly by us with her shopping cart: trash, empty Taiwan Beer bottles, old, stained t-shirts, water-damaged books, magazines with their covers torn and corners curled in, tin cans rattling around inside like they were thrown in a dryer. This, even though it’s a common sight in Taiwan, this woman made me feel uneasy as she passed us; I felt she looked right at me even though her head faced forward and her eyes remained on the prize (I’m assuming a junkyard to exchange her hard-earned junk for some coin), I feel like her eyes, like a frog’s eyes, were multidirectional, like her vision was 360′. I really felt like she stared straight into my face as she passed… And then she turned the corner and she was gone. I felt a surprising sense of relief – I didn’t mention this to my girlfriend who was walking independently, unaware of the woman’s intrusive (or imagined?) gaze. As we walked another block, on our way to a local cafe to while away our Sunday, suddenly she appeared again from a side street (damn she must’ve been hustling!) Her cart was still full – maybe she had veered off to pick up some other junk, a discarded tire, pieces of a broken chair – and she was staring straight ahead (to our left). I looked over and my girlfriend, who was texting away, either letting her BFF know how exciting her day was going be sipping coffee and playing Candy Crush, or already playing Candy Crush, didn’t notice the lady, and I decided to point her out this time. “Hey baby, doesn’t that old lady look weird?” I asked, trying to sound oblivious and unconcerned. She looked up, saw the lady, shrugged, and went back to crushing candies. We were nearing her again, and I could sense the lady somehow observing us without looking directly at us, like one of those new 360′ cameras that were becoming all the rage. I started to slow my pace, reaching my hand out and grabbing Julia’s, feeling safer like putting on a seatbelt in a taxi, when the lady suddenly bolted forward, cutting off a car who had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting her – she didn’t flinch. She made it across and disappeared down another side street. I knew the cafe was coming up on our right, and was looking forward to sitting down with a warm cuppa coffee and reading my new Stephen King novel Under The Dome. We arrived – I’ll admit I looked over my shoulder to make sure the lady hadn’t suddenly crept up behind us – and we got our usual table on the patio. We ordered our drinks, opened up our book and Candy Crush respectively, and fell into our lazy Sunday routine. Our drinks arrived, and I nearly forgot about that creepy old woman when suddenly she appeared in front of the cafe… (Wasn’t she on the opposite side of the road?) She reached over the railing, towards our table, and my heart jumped into my throat – my girlfriend didn’t even look up from her candy-filled screen – and grabbed the receipt off our table. I breathed a silent breath of relief. The woman shoved the receipt into her pocket, but didn’t move. I tried opening my book to give her the hint (“Hey lady, we’re trying to enjoy our Sunday here, leave us alone okay?” I could hear myself saying in my head, but because I didn’t speak Chinese I kept silent). I peeked over the pages and she was still standing there, like in a trance, or waiting for something…”Can you tell her to go away?” I asked my girlfriend. “Zou kai!” she replied, without looking up from the colorful candy sprites. The woman didn’t budge. “Zou kai!” I attempted, but it sounded even weird to my ears. Suddenly my girlfriend put her phone down, stood up and yelled at her in what I can only imagine consisted of insults, expletives and curses. And the woman (I’m not sure if she could even understand any of it) slowly started pushing her cart away, wheels screech screech screeching from not being oiled in years, her tired, bruised, atrophied legs following behind like the cart was her master, her body its slave. Now she was muttering something, to herself it seemed, in neither English nor Chinese, just unintelligible gibberish. And just as soon as she had appeared, she was gone, on to her next plunder of trash and treasures. I turned to thank my girlfriend– but she was gone. “Baby?” I said, loud enough to hear on the patio. No response. I waited a few minutes, assuming she had gone to pee or complain her latte wasn’t frothy enough. When a few minutes passed I started to worry (why??), so I got up and went inside. “Have you seen my girlfriend?” I asked in my broken Chinese, horrendous but passable. “Mei you”, the waitress replied. I knocked on the bathroom door and received a knock back. “Baby, is that you?” I asked, slightly embarrassed. No answer. I went back outside but she wasn’t on the patio. I walked to the sidewalk and looked up and down the street. I couldn’t see her, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the old woman parked at the end of the block, her back facing me. Almost like she could sense my eyes, she turned, her cart leading her body in tow almost like they were one; a human centipede. And I could make something out in her cart, something that hadn’t been there before: a large, dark shape, almost large enough to be a…human.. her hair….Julia…….and she was gone, turned down another side street like a million before, to fill her cart and survive another day.
Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things macabre cbrtnik.com