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onelifeandmany.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2012

One Life & Many

 

by Steve Cartwright

 

 

 

 

He was an old man when the world ended.


          Coming back from the corner store, the pack of Juicy Fruit gum and TV  Guide in the little bag seemed to weigh a ton.


           Suddenly his breathing was liquid.

 

Suddenly the sky turned black with enemy bombers.


Wanting to catch his breath, he sank like bones onto a bus-stop bench. 

 

People all around were running and screaming, but the old man’s ears were  now like two stones. Hand to his chest, yes, growing unfocused, lips blue, head  lowering like a child fighting a nap.

 

 

 

hishouse.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2012

His House

 

by Steve Cartwright

 

 

Whirling, swirling black clouds pressing behind his orbs,  seeming to pop his  eyes out.

 

Cold, no-feeling, gray, sounds scurrying up and down the  tonal  range.

 

Memory of a knife, in his own hand, blood spurting, splatter-splatter, drip snail-like down his wall.

 

Confusion, questions: why am I still here? Noise tattooing, crimson drips turn to shrieks at hitting his carpet. His body falling like the millionth tread of the  millionth foot in a  marching, chanting army.

 

Time heavy on his wrist, digital watch with seconds frozen  cold in rock, as are decades, none moving, even he no  longer bleeding.

 

Floating when he should be on his floor draining, now empty,  yet floating like  a dreambird tearing loose of gravity’s grip, only to find himself back in that cold-numbing grasp.

 

Why am I still here?

 

Eyes that no longer blink adjust to the dark, see candle flame shadows pirouette  and dosey-doe. Figures at a table,  interlopers in HIS room.

 

Outraged, he rushes them, shouts for them to get out, this is HIS house!

 

But they continue to sit, eyes shut, holding hands, six men  and women at their  flimsy table.

 

“I can feel a presence in the room,” one of them says, her eyes  flying open and  wide, searching every dancing shadow in the room. “There’s definitely something  in this room. . . ”

 

 




MIDNIGHT  ALARM


 

Steve Cartwright


  


            That damn silent alarm was always going off.


          And always at the worst time -- like now when the service called Tyler Marlowe just as his head hit the pillow. No dreams of mistletoe fantasies just yet.


          Since he lived across the street from the Elite Men’s Club, the other 49 members voted him the Official Alarm Responder. Just like there was a President, Vice President, Treasurer, etc.


          Marlowe reluctantly rolled out of his comfy, lonely bed, pulled trousers and coat over his pajamas, stuffed the snubnose .38 into his pocket, and walked into the cold DC night.



fig1midnightalarm.jpg

                                     As he dodged traffic, he peered at the three-story brownstone and immediately saw that something was wrong.

          Through the gray, frigid drizzle, he saw a light burning on the top floor. The Gold Room. No one was authorized to be in there -- the cleaning crew only worked when members were around -- you know how those foreign types steal.

          Marlowe considered himself young and fit at 52. with his .38, he was  confident he could take on any burglar, so he hurried to the ornate front door  and found it closed but not locked.

          The door creaked like some mythological beast as he nudged it open, using the barrel of his snubnose.

          The foyer was dark, but he knew his way around every inch of the Club. And the only light he’d seen from the street was in the Gold Room.

          Marlowe decided not to use the elevator. It would be quieter if he took the stairs. He envisioned getting the jump on the burglar, busting into the Gold Room, gun brandished, yelling for the maggot to raise his fucking hands or eat a bullet!

          His spine tingled as he crept up the rococo stairs, illuminated by ghostly ceiling lights and a twitching red candle that he snatched from a table. The thought of an interloper in the sacred Gold Room angered him, this was the room, so called for its gold tapestries, Persian rug, and curtains, where the executive board met to “yea” or “nay” applicants.

          Once on the top floor, he could see the door; it stood open, yet he knew it should have been closed and locked.

Edit Text

fig2midnightalarm.jpg

                                     Step by step, Marlowe advanced, feeling his tympanic heart, feeling adrenaline rush through him like torpedoes through water. Closer. Closer.  He leaped from a crouching position, gun thrust forward, yelling: “Hands in the air, you maggot!”

          In the middle of the golden room was a winged, velvet chair, in it sat a finely-dressed, dark-haired man with swarthy skin. He smiled at Marlowe and said, “What took you so long?”

fig3midnightalarm.jpg

Unperturbed, the man reached across a chess set on the table, where he daintily retrieved a cigarette with a long ash. He blew smoke rings to the high, gold ceiling, exposing his neck to Marlowe as if daring him to grab it.

          “Do it, scumwad!”

          “Come now, Mr. Marlowe.” The man chuckled. In his voice was a trace of some unknown accent. “I’m here to be interviewed for membership in your fine club.”

          Marlowe stammered, “Y-You’re a burglar!”

          “I assure you,” the man said, “if I came here with the intent to steal, this place would be one big echo chamber right now.” He stubbed out the cigarette. “My name is Vespaces. I am a representative of my government. I will be in your capitol only a few days, and was told this club of yours, Mr. Marlowe, was a place I could enjoy most splendid meals, the finest wines, and rub shoulders, as it were, with the elite of U.S. industry and government.”

          Marlowe lowered his gun slightly, thinking. Vespaces chuckled at his troubled expression.

          “Please join me,” Vespaces said, indicating a chair across from him. “I know that in a club as exclusive as yours, even a guest must be interviewed. Please. Sit. Interview!”

          Like a man hypnotized, Marlowe’s hand fell to his side.

          “Please. Sit, Mr. Marlowe!”

          Marlowe walked over and sank into the overstuffed chair, his brow still furrowed, his gray eyes crinkled. “But, how…”

          With a dismissive twirl of his hand, Vespaces said, “As I am sure you perceive, I am a foreigner. My country is a small one in the middle of the jungles of South America. I, Mr. Marlowe, am an agent of my government, if you will.” He popped a filterless cigarette into his mouth and grinned around it as he flicked a silver lighter.

          “If you watch CNN, Mr. Marlowe, you no doubt have seen a news report from my country. There have been several murders on the jungle roads, murders mostly of hapless foreigners -- DEA agents, corporate men working on various oil wells, or cutting down trees. There are many foreign businessmen in my country, Mr. Marlowe.”

          As he spoke, Vespaces poured an amber drink from a crystal carafe into two glasses; he handed Marlowe one, never missing a beat in his story. “The CNN report made it all sound very mysterious, these murders, because each victim had both his feet surgically removed.”

          Marlowe absently sipped his drink, but abruptly stopped. “And why do you think that is, Mr. Uh… Vespisses?”

fig4midnightalarm.jpg

“A folk tale among the more superstitious of my countrymen. Do finish your drink, Mr. Marlowe. I took the liberty of rummaging through the Club’s liquor cabinet. Fine selection.” He blew more smoke rings before stubbing out his cigarette.

          Marlowe’s empty glass clinked onto the table beside his chair.

          “The severed feet, you see, to my benighted countryfolk, means the victim cannot walk his path into the hereafter, so it is a horrible act. Silly, these superstitions, do you agree?”

          “But, why kill foreign businessmen?” Marlowe asked, feeling suddenly warm, attributing it to wearing his overcoat inside the house; but, looking down, he remembered the first thing he’d done was remove his coat. “they’re bringing jobs to your country.”

          “They’re cutting down our rainforests, Mr. Marlowe,” said Vespaces, his black eyes suddenly narrowed. “My benighted countrymen think these forests are sacred. Once they are gone -- we are gone as a people, as a country. So, Mr. Marlowe, we have declared war on your country. It sounds funny, yes, doesn’t it? You are so immense, and we are so puny. So my country decided to declare war on you -- but not tell you.”

          Vespaces stood, he was tall and sinewy beneath his dark suit. “So, we have sent soldiers -- such as myself -- into your country, into places such as this, where we are conducting guerilla campaigns.”

          Marlowe tried to jump to his feet, but fell, instead. Confused, he bowed his head and screamed when he saw his feet, still standing in their shoes, and the arteries at the end of his severed legs shooting blood onto the gilt carpet.

          From under Marlowe’s chair crawled a midget, as swarthy as Vespaces. In the midget’s pudgy hands was a bloody surgeon’s saw.

          “In your drink, of course,” Vespaces said, standing over the squirming Marlowe and kicking his gun aside, “I sneaked a powerful, fast-acting painkiller.”

          At the door, Vespaces joined his fellow countryman, and Marlowe, his life quickly shooting from both sawn legs, watched their backs.

          Vespaces said something in parting. But Marlowe’s face was in the gold carpet and his senses failing fast, so he never heard.

fig5midnightalarm.jpg

pottagesleap.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2015

POTTAGE'S LEAP

 

Steve  Cartwright

 

  

 

He leaped from nowhere into a dark corridor.

The only light was about thirty yards ahead through the gloom. Harold Pottage thought he could see a counter and, just maybe, yes, someone hunched over the desk.

Pottage felt woozy, looking around and surrounded by  the disheartening dark.

He tried to think, but his mind was blank.

“Hey, you!” you, you, you echoed as though he was in a cavern. “I seem to be lost!” lost, lost, lost. But the faraway figure did not respond.

Pottage found himself stepping forward, hearing his shoes crushing unseen things on the floor.

He drew closer to the lonely light. On the counter were several stacks of yellowed paper. An ancient man, bald pate, crooked, pasty nose, was scribbling with a quill pen, still not looking  up.

“What is this place?” Pottage asked, once close enough to bang on the table. Here there was no echo. In fact, he felt as though the dark  concealed  crowded walls. Perhaps even closing in on him. “Why're you ignoring me? Look at me, you!”

“Name's Mister Spink,” he said, still not looking up, but jabbing a name plate on the desk with his pen. “I'm processing you as quickly as I can. Know patience.”

“What is all this?”

 “I'm the scrivener.”

“The what?”

The pen in his mottled hand scurried over the page, making little snails and geodesic designs.

When Mr. Spink swivelled in his seat to retrieve an arcane tome from a bookcase, Pottage was stunned to see curled wings protruding from the back of the old man's frayed frock coat.

Turning back to the counter, Mr. Spink opened the book and leafed through it. Pottage could smell the dank musk of ancient paper. “Ah, yes! Here it is. Under `brigand.'”

“Listen, little man, you gonna tell me what the hell's wrong with me or I gotta  beat the answers outta you?”

“New arrivals are not allowed behind the desk. Until the classification is completed.”

“New arrival? Just where the hell is it I've arrived at, you old sock?”

Mr. Spink's left finger held his place in the book as he scribbled more  esoteric symbols on the sheet of paper laid out before him. “That'll do for that column,” he muttered, shutting the book with a great snap. He arose and returned to the bookcase, shelving the book and scanning the several dark spines for another.

This gave Pottage an extended sight of the strange wings. They looked broken, maybe even dead.

“Is this some sorta freak show? Am I drunk and at some stupid carnival?”

“This is the very one!” Mr. Spink cackled, retrieving a large book from a high shelf and returning to his desk. Flipping through the yellowed pages, he nodded his head with satisfaction. “This will be a short one. You won't take long atall, Harold Joe Pottage.”

“Look, you dried-up old bastard, how do you know my name? You got  my rap sheet back there? Is that what this really is?” Pottage was grinning, as though they were pulling a fast one on him and he'd caught them at it. “This is some cop trick. Tryin' to fool me into a confession!”

“Memory coming back to you, is it? Good, good.” Mr. Spink grinned, yet still his pen was busy with caterpillar dots and fly speck dashes. “You'll find it stronger than ever. More vivid than you'd ever dream.”

“Find what stronger?”

“Your memory, of course. Of that which I speak, is your memory.”

Reaching across the cluttered counter, Pottage grabbed the old man by the collar and pulled him easily into the air. Mr. Spink grinned as if his ribs were being tickled.

“I might just rearrange your ugly face for the fun of it!”

“Please do, Pottage. I'd enjoy the excitement. Gets so little of it, I do.”

“You want me to beat you?”

Shrugging: “It matters not mightily to me. A little diversion. But I'm through with my scriveing for you. You are processed!”

The old man still dangled from Pottage's beefy hands. “I'm gonna snap your neck like a chicken, buddy!”

“Like all the others?”

Cocking a suspicious eye: “This really is a cop trick. Well, old goat, I ain't confessin' to nothin’!”

“When you were ten, you tortured the family dog to death. You'd killed the boy next door by age thirteen. In and out of institutions, brawling wherever you could. When you came to this place, our little dark corridor, you were leaping, remember?”

Confused: “Y-Yeah.”

“You were running from the police. You'd just killed a man over an innocuous remark you thought he'd made about you. Chip on your shoulder the size of a tombstone, that's for sure.”

“I remember now. Running from the cops.”

“You had a gun, didn't you?”

“Yeah. I mean -- no. I want my lawyer!”

“Oh, I'm sure you'll see him here before long,” said Mr. Spink and laughed so hard his face flushed crimson, contrasted with his full set of yellowed teeth.

“I don't care if you are workin' with the cops, geezer, I'm gonna smash your

face – ”

“Running from the police, turning and firing your gun at them – ”

“OW!” screeched Pottage, jerking his back, feeling his spine hot as fire. His fingers spasming, he watched as Mr. Spink slid from his grasp. “I been shot! Shot in the back!” He could feel viscous fluid anointing his butt, the back of his legs, filling his shoes like sacrificial fonts.

“They shot you as you tried to leap out of a window. Your feet left the earth, the bullet pierced your heart, and you came leaping into my dark corridor. Such pleasant memories you have. I've calculated all of it, Harold Joe Pottage, and you, dear boy, owe a fine.”

The bullet wound in his spine was eating him like flame-tongued worms as he watched Mr. Spink hobble toward a huge door. The pain knocked Pottage to the stone floor, and from there he could see a dark serpent was coiled around one of Mr. Spink's ankles. The snake regarded the prostrate Pottage with merciless, hungry eyes. Its tongue tasted the air.

“Fun and games are over.” over, over, over. The maddening echo returned as soon as Mr. Spink opened the door.





2.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2016

2

 

by Steve Cartwright

 

  

There should be two inside.

 

Nate followed Cybel to the bar where she hooked up with that weird-looking guy.

 

If the witch was gonna cheat, Nate thought bitterly, fingering the 9mm in his coat pocket, she ain’t waiting long after our argument.

 

A cruel smile revealed his crooked teeth. Witch, he thought, creeping up the dark, back stairs, she sure the hell is!

 

They’d only been dating twice when, drunk, she laughingly told him, “I’m super-supernatural! A daemon!”

 

“You’re drunk,” he told her, unbuttoning her red blouse.

 

“I really am a daemon,” she whispered, her eyes rolling up in sudden ecstasy.

 

On the second floor, he walked out on creaking floorboards, looking, and finding, apartment number 2 in this weird guy’s sleazy apartment building.

 

“You’re the first human I’ve ever dated,” Cybel told him a few hours ago, and that somehow started the drunken argument.

 

He listened outside the thin door. Heard noise like a whirlwind inside. Drums? Twilight flutes blaring orgasmically. What the hell!

 

Nate, pulling the blue-steel 9mm from his pocket, reminded himself there will be two: shoot her first. Then shoot the bastard!

 

Testing the knob, it was locked, so, without thought, he busted it open with his broad shoulder. The room was dark, but an obscene bonfire blazed. Cybel, naked, danced around the fire, but her arms ended in snapping

serpent heads! Her suddenly red eyes snapped onto him. Before she could scream, he shot her in the head.

 

Rushing over, he kicked her hard, screaming at her accusingly.

 

Suddenly a muscular arm coiled around his throat, stifling his scream as Nate watched two serpent heads engulf his head.

 

He forgot there would be two inside!







crate.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2016

The Crate

 

by Steve Cartwright

 

 

 

“How’d you like being the one in the cage, Mr Dog Catcher!”

 

The blurry man ran out of an alley, grabbed me by my uniform collar and shook me. “You’d rather be running free in the wind!” He hit me on the head with something hard. “Napping in your own bed!” Whack again to my head. “Chasing tennis balls!” Whack!

 

The last punch knocked my legs out from under me. I fell to the sidewalk. Slowly, my swollen eyes opened and I could see the white terrier I’d just captured and stuffed into a city-issued crate.

 

“Dogs want to be free! Not imprisoned! Prison is punishment!” My assailant’s voice sounded far away, as if issuing from a nearby tavern, as if calling from under a tavern table.

 

At least he stopped hitting me.

 

I was face to face with the terrier, separated only by the wire crate wall. I watched as her teeth snapped against the bars, trying to get to me.

 

Pulling myself to my knees, I looked at her bulging eyes.

 

Fidgeting with the latch, I threw the crate door open with a good degree of fear. When she jumped on me, I expected to feel her teeth sink deep into my throat; but she wrapped her paws around my neck, hugging me hard, and licked my ugly face; and licked and licked and licked.

 

I climbed into her crate & locked myself in; the dog gave me a snack, then walked to the Animal Control truck and climbed behind the steering wheel, and drove away in my truck.

 

 

Steve Cartwright is both professional illustrator and writer and thus suffers as does anyone who serves two such masters. His book about dog Rescue, Rescue Dog Rescue Me, is doing well   <http://amzn.to/2akHVe1>. His collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, is available at Amazon.com <http://amzn.to/2gVmsZf >, as is Dark Tails, a horror anthology including three of his stories  <http://amzn.to/2fW7aq4>.  A former newspaper writer, now a retired cop, he's had thousands of articles and short stories published in such publications as Yellow Mama, Skyline, Amazing Journeys, Heist, and others. His illustrations can be viewed with trepidation at  http://www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright.

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