I – Los Angeles, CA
II – Silverthorne, CO
III – Roswell, NM
I – The Kraken Sleeps
And behold, rising like the vengeance of a billion over-fished salmon, from the boiling, blood-warm waters of the Pacific, the Kraken wakes. In a maelstrom of writhing and thrashing tentacles She comes, maw agape. She is hungry.
But the last fire and the descent of the heavenly host was postponed at the last minute, so the Kraken checks herself into the Marriott on Sunset and 6th and waits, sipping Jacobs Creek from the minibar.
The sun falls in a silent flailing scream over the edge of the world. Scorched reds and burnt orange; fire tumbling into the cold, forever blue of the Pacific. In their wake the tired gold flows soft and slow over the horizon, the serenity of green dancing behind. Purple steps in, handing the day to the night with calm solemnity. It has been a long time since She saw a sunset like this. It seems a shame she won’t see another.
It’s nearly eleven, and tomorrow will be a big one – for it is written. Still, she can’t drift into the tides of dreamless sleep. Gently mesmerized by the lazy dance of the ceiling fan, drawn into the spilled amber of the streetlights, behold, She goes out to find a bar. The Kraken has slept long enough.
And lo, it came to pass that the Kraken, vengeance of the deep, end of all things, went into Joe’s Sports Bar and Grill and ordered a vodka slimline tonic and two wedges of lime.
It’s singles’ night at Joe’s. By eleven, pretty much everyone’s paired off: the hipsters, the yuppies, the lonely magicians looking for their one true lovely assistant. The divorcees are buying one another overpriced cocktails and projecting. My ex-husband would never have gone somewhere like this – my kids won’t believe I met someone like you – did I mention by BMW has leather seats?
She, of whom there is one and shall forever be the Only, watches from the bar.
You poor bastards, she thinks.
Buy you a drink? he says.
He’s dressed all in black. His eyes are a quiet, gentle sea-green and he’s grinning nervously. Puzzled and flattered the Leviathan of old R’lyeh says yes. A dozen eyelashes bat in the barlight.
The hours pass. Sean tells her about his job in a West Hollywood sex shop. They drink, they laugh, they dance to “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five. Later they stumble out of Joe’s Sport’s Bar and Grill, back to her room.
Red light – wrathful, brighter than a hundred suns – shines spikey through the crooked blinds. The Kraken wakes. She has a headache. Sean is nowhere to be seen. He crept out with the dawn; he left her; what a shithead. He’s nowhere to be found. Rage, older than the first dawn rises with her from the ruined sheets. Her body grows, tentacles spreading across the room. The burning of the world gleams in her cold, endless eyes – her tentacles rise like a storm about her. The hosts of heaven and hell, eager, thirsty for immortal blood; a thousand tasteless burning swords loosen in their scabbards. The end is …
A knock, tentative, cheerful on the door. It’s Sean, bagels and Lox and aspirin in hand. She smiles, embarrassed. Blinds close, sheets twist, the armies of the Eternal Light and the Endless Dark wait, in their eternal rank and file, for She who shall begin the end of all things is in bed. She yawns, happy and tired. Smiling, the Kraken sleeps…
II – A Light Snow Falls in the Parking Lot of the Smilin’ Moose Rest Stop and Waffle House
It had snowed lightly in the night, and again in the morning. The parking lot of the Smilin’ Moose Rest Stop and Waffle House already filled with a dirty slush. Pickups criss-crossed the puddles and ruts, stopping to rest as long as the single, tired waitress kept up her rounds with the coffee pot. No one ever hurried to leave the Smilin’ Moose. They hunched in booths, exchanging their mutterings. No one sat in the window seats.
The road ran up past the Moose, into the mountains that waited in the roiling clouds like a promise. If you stood on the roof of the outbuilding where the snow shovels, bear-proof waste bins and extra sacrificial knives were kept, you could see between the peaks of Old Tooth and Scott’s Sorrow, all the way up to The Temple. If you stood there at night you could see the fires burning. And, behind those ruddy glows, stranger, colder glimmerings that danced and slithered in the dark. The ancient Wurlitzer Jukebox in the back of the Moose was always turned up loud at night. The rattley blare and hum of Chuck Berry records was almost enough to drown out the howl of the wind and the strange, metallic shriekings they carried with them.
The Boy did not stand on top of the outbuilding that looked up between the peaks to The Temple. He stood, leaning against the grey brick wall, looking at nothing in particular. Hot air from the open kitchen door warmed the back of his neck. The tip of his nose was already numb in the cold. His apron, soaked and stained with dishwater, steamed gently. The tip of his crinkled roll-up flared; smoke mingled with the steam in his breath: it coiled into the leaden sky. As they had on his previous two smoke breaks today, the Boy’s thoughts turned, inexorably, to the dream. Not a vision of wet stone walls lit by sickly green light and a hooded figure beckoning with a single, effeminate finger (everyone had those). No. There had been Golden light… a city in the clouds… and the beautiful figures who wore no hoods… he couldn’t for the life of him remember their faces, but he remembered the things they had said, had asked him to do. The boy shivered. No one could know. No one would believe him… and if they did… he shivered.
The half-smoked cigarette hissed into the dirty slush by the back door. The Boy returned to his sink. Inky clouds curled and prowled between the peaks. In the parking lot of the Smilin’ Moose Rest Stop And Waffle House, a light snow began to fall.
III – The First and Last Cosmic Gift Shop
The lights are brighter than ever tonight; an Endless indigo blanket; diamonds spilled and scattered, wider than the edges of the eye. The cacti crack open Pabst Blue Ribbons and watch the sky. The lights are brighter than ever tonight. Roswell, New Mexico. Population: 48,611. Area code: 575 … The number you are calling is currently unavailable, please hang up, give up, don’t try again.
She switches on the sign – Fizz, zap and hummmmm… goes the ancient neon – pink-green-gold-blue-pink-red-pink… Flap, clunk and creak, goes the old folding deck chair. She rustles the pages and, under her breath, under the lights that are brighter than ever tonight: Come and get ‘em while they’re hot, rhyme rhythm and verse for all, contributions voluntary, all currencies accepted the sign screams into the night.
The Patrice Martinez Cicada Show Band of New Mexico counts off and jams, ragging and riffing through the same old songs. The conductor waves his legs. Everybody waves their legs. Babum-cha-be-boo-doo-tsss … Clap along cacti –Snick – Goes her Arnold Palmer. Slurp–
Whooosh… Just a car. Settle down. No one’s come before; no reason they’ll come tonight… But … The lights are brighter than ever tonight.
Behind razorwire and chainlink and the tumbleweed guards they dance, swooping back-forth-up-down-around again, all for her amusement she thinks. Condensation from the can clings to her hand, ink bleeds when you touch its paper; into to the discount bargain bin they go. Can’t expect full price if it’s smudged and soggy. She re-folds her legs, can in hand – Slurp – and returns to putting pen to page, pinning down her world for the consumption of the tourists: the first cosmic gift shop.
This little one’s about a boy from Ohio. He meets the alien Quargleflorb on Christmas eve. He takes him inside and proudly shows him the stockings and the milk and the carrots and all the presents jumbled up beneath the tree. Quargleflorb smiles and drinks his eggnog and gets in his ship to go home – where he tells everyone on *&JUI#6 about the warrior people of Earth and how they decorate the corpses of their enemies with trinkets and baubles and display them in their homes to mark their victories in bloodthirsty conquest. By an unfortunate coincidence, Quargleflorb’s neighbouring planet – which by another coincidence is called Steve – is populated entirely by a benevolent race of creatures who, in addition to being great lovers of art, music and interpretive dance, also bear a striking resemblance to Douglas Firs. Overcoming our cultural differences is the key, she thinks. Slurp – Pen down, eyes up. The lights are still dancing.
She’s sitting on the roof of her father’s gas station and convenience store, beaming into the night. Downstairs her dad – also a Steve – sells a man in a cheap suit the biggest cup of coffee they have. The man is CIA, maybe FBI, CDC, ABCDEFHI – definitely not a Steve, but who can say, really? He’s tired, eyes red raw from keeping the white line snugly on his left tire for two hundred miles. Not far to go now to the crash site. He doesn’t believe. He will.
Red lights nod goodbye to the speedbumps. Thank you for leaving Roswell, drive carefully. You never know what might happen. She shifts in the chair, in the warmth of the glow, under the endless indigo night, scattered with little jewels. Some of them might be headlights. There are no tail lights in endless indigo night. Welcome to Earth. Stay awhile. And please, folks, don’t forget to visit the gift shop on your way out.
She sits on a ragged old deck chair on the roof of her father’s gas station and convenience store. Neon light flickers all around her, and she looks only at the sky or at the page. Another tan Ford Taurus pulls in for coffee and gas on the way to believe. She reaches for another iced tea. Tap tap tap goes the pen on the armrest of her chair. Indigo fades to black.
The lights are brighter than ever tonight.
‘Three Strange Tales of…’ was published in 2016 as part of the UEA Undergraduate Creative Writing Anthology, Undertow.