William Mays is the owner/editor of Mays Publishing. He wrote Family Obligations, a mob novel. He also co-wrote Escape from Sunny Shores with his wife Carol. In addition he has published a book of nature photos, The View from Oso Creek. His new novel, “George, The Lost Year,” is a dark comedy about the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll era of the 1970s.
I had a dream, which started out pleasantly enough. I was in downtown Corpus Christi, but it was more crowded and hectic than CC, like a much bigger city. I enjoyed the activity and the crowds, and I saw some old friends in a diner named Delk's, but they didn't recognize me, and that made me sad. Everything was so picturesque, I was upset that I didn't have my camera, and I got a little lost in the unfamiliar streets. A helicopter flew low overhead, and I followed it to a strange neighborhood. They were tracking a lion, and they killed it, although it turned out to be a coyote. That upset me. I realized I had lost my leather jacket, and I went back and found it. By then it was almost dark, and I was lost in a strange neighborhood, unsure where I'd parked, with stray dogs nipping at my heels.
On a recent road trip, the GPS took us through 200 miles of small Texas towns. As a photographer, I'm attracted to blight and decay, and boy there was lots of it. I remember idyllic, inviting places with well-maintained houses. There were still plenty of those, but desolation dominated. Buildings, including churches, were boarded. Barns and houses were literally falling apart. Heaps of lumber and debris punctuated the landscape. There were toilets and rusting washing machines on porches. There were fences down and cars abandoned. Weeds completely covered a group of broken-down cars in a pasture. Houses were stranded at the end of flooded roads. Businesses were open but no one could park in the muddy, unpaved lots. Most shocking was a group of mansions that I remember from my childhood. Built when most Americans lived on the farm, they were testament to a glorious past, and had gone through a long devolution from residences to offices to rooming houses to abandoned, crumbling wrecks. Nature abhors a vacuum, so maybe falling land prices will attract people, and a new rural Texas with a different economic base will emerge.
(I wrote this years ago and then put it aside and moved on to another project. I can't remember what I had planned for the rest of the story.)
Der day fer der Shuetzenfest was gettin closer. All der good volk was gettin ready. They was cleanin their guns and loadin up their ammo and pacticin every night after they got in from der farming and ranching.
Herr Muller was in his barn with his favorite rifle. He was tired after a long day using a bedeezer on der goats cuz he couldn’t make no money on dem and was gettin tired of eatin cabrito so he figured he might as well not have no more baby goats. He had tried to get der city slickers that had moved in down der road to take some, but he had already fooled em twice on some other deals, and they was startin to wise up.
He looked out der big open window across der open field and gully to der property of his neighbor Herr Schmidt. He saw him walk out of his house with his rifle and head for der open field behind his house.
Schmidt was der reigning Schuetzenkoenig, and Muller always watched everything he did, particularly when it was gettin close to time for der Shuetzenfest. If it weren’t for Schmidt, Muller would be Koenig. Why didn’t der old fart just have a heart attack and die? Or maybe a huntin accident? As God fearin and church goin man as Muller was, he couldn’t help hopin somethin bad would happen to Schmidt.
As soon as Schmidt disappeared into der wooded area at der edge of der field, Muller took his gun and went outside. He walked across
So we used to have this yard man who drove a big truck like a furniture delivery truck and my wife and I ride adult trikes making us quite a sight in the neighborhood and they don't fit too neatly in the garage not having the slim footprint of a two wheel and I'm always struggling to position them between the weed eaters hanging on the wall so when I saw the yard man in line in front of us at the HEB I didn't recognize him but he was telling the checker that HEB was getting to be like the Wal-Mart and it sounded like a complaint and I finally recognized him and that night after a glass of wine my mind drifted and my wife and I were riding our trikes and then we took them back to the garage and I was trying to position the trike between the weed eaters but it wasn’t my trike it was the great big furniture delivery truck of the yard man and surprisingly I got it to fit which didn’t seem logical considering it was huge but I was happy that I could do it except that I needed to move my wife’s trike a few inches because of the weed eaters so I went over to do it and the big truck rolled out into the driveway and down the hill which is impossible since there is no hill this being South Texas which is flat as hell and the truck kept going and I ran to catch it which I almost did but I couldn’t jump into the cab because I wasn’t quick enough or agile enough and then it careened off over the edge of the creek bed and boy was I depressed thinking about how much the repairs were going to cost.
copyright William Mays
What rhymes with selfie
I do not know
Google will tell me though
Whether tis healthy or wealthy or mayhaps stealthy.
So prithee do tell me
Tales of Lost Lenore
Who will be never more
Whilst I ponder Shelley and Boticelli and Machiavelli.
For me truth is not in a belfry
My hearts in the highlands
Where my soul understands
That I must faithful to my own selfie be lest the world overwhelm me.
But perhaps this is what hell may well be
And the way the world ends
With colliding conflicting individual trends
And a chaos of Jelly Chelsea Delhi Belly Deli Sell Me Adelphi.
copyright William Mays
There was too much plenty, ham and turkey and numerous trimmings, and the refrigerator runneth over. Then some made a pilgrimage to Premont, and bought bad gas at the convenience store. There was much gnashing of teeth on the side of the road and roadside assistance was not available on Thanksgiving evening and the insurance company would not cover bad gas. But the people converged, people willing to work, people who understood cars. They raised the car onto a trailer and drove it back to Corpus Christi and unloaded it. With great effort they pushed it a block to put it in position for the tow truck in the morning. And when it was done, the people were hungry and so late at night the turkey and ham and trimmings were eaten and lo there was enough to feed them all.
Sam, feeling more desperately bored than normal, scanned the long curving rows of the stadium. He hoped to see something new, something different. No luck. Above and below, to his left and right, the rows, all crowded with people, stretched as far as he could see, seemingly to infinity, blurring together at the extremities.
In front of him there was nothing. The other side of the stadium – if there was another side – was too far away to be seen. The sky – if it was sky – was clear, not blue or hazy or cloudy, nor was there a breeze or a smell.
“Maybe we should start again?” he asked Chen.
Chen sat next to him. They had recounted their lives to each other many times in great detail. That was the only way to beat back the ruthless monotony, but they had told the stories so many times that they were no longer interesting. There were things Sam hadn’t divulged, things he didn’t want to admit. His life hadn’t been perfect. Whose life had? Why should he talk about the bad stuff?
After what might have been hours, Chen answered. “There is something I’ve never mentioned.” He spoke only Mandarin, but it sounded like English to Sam. Likewise, Sam spoke only English, but it sounded like Mandarin to Chen. “An American movie. Dirty Harry. My wife and I went to see it a theater.”
Sam had seen that movie too. It was one of those things he didn’t want to mention.
“I was starting my own business when I saw it,” Chen said, his voice trembling.
Sam too had seen it when he was starting his business. He and Chen had been born at almost exactly the same time, married at the same time, and both their wives had died of cancer at about the same time. Sam had always assumed there was some reason the two of them had wound up next to each other, and perhaps the reason was about to be revealed.
An angel interrupted them. It appeared to their left. Merely a white blip at first, it drifted steadily in their direction. They flew by every so often, but Sam had no idea how often. There was no night or day, no sun or moon, no change whatsoever, nothing by which to gauge time.
Everyone in their row and the adjoining rows, turned to watch. What else was there to do in the stadium?
This one looked like a boy, clean-shaven, soft, but with a defined jaw, wide mouth, and pronounced cheekbones. Did that mean something? It slowed as it neared them. Was it his time for some final, horrible judgement? Or Chen’s? How would he ever pass the time without Chen?
It stopped in front of the woman on Sam’s right. She and Sam had never spoken. She talked only to the man to her right. They spoke a language like nothing Sam had ever heard with lots of clicking and popping sounds, like insects. She was black with short-cropped hair, rather young-looking, and he was old and tall with pale skin. The angel pointed its finger at her. She screamed and tried to escape, but that was impossible. No one could leave.
Her clicking became frantic. She grabbed for the pale man, and he reached for her. Their fingers came close, but never quite touched. She chattered to him, and he responded, and then she was gone. No cloud of smoke, no poof, no sound. Simply gone. And there was a man in her place. He was old and wrinkled, and he and the pale man talked in that annoying clicking language. It was as if they had known each other forever. The memory of the woman slipped from Sam’s brain. He tried to retain it, pressing his eyes tight shut, visualizing her face. The image slipped away, though. He opened his eyes, not remembering why he had shut them. The old, wrinkled man and the tall, pale man were talking, as they always had.
More time passed. Hours? Days?
“I guess we have to talk about the movie,” Sam said. “I loved it because I thought of myself like Harry, a tough guy who got things done. I can remember that night as clear as anything in my life. I’d had a fight with my wife. She wasn’t even my wife yet. It looked like we were going to break up. I didn’t want to marry her. But her father had offered to help me in my business, and I felt I would never be a success without him. So, I called her, and we went to the movie, and got married a few months later.”
Chen shuddered “That’s exactly the way it worked for me. I didn’t want to marry my wife, but her father would help me with my business. I called her up, and we went to the movie, and got married a few months later.”
“We saw it on Christmas Day,” Sam said. “We went to the last showing. At ten at night.”
“We saw it the day after Christmas. At eleven in the morning.” He got a funny look on his face. “With the time zone differences between us, that means --.”
“-- we saw it at exactly the same time!” they said in unison.
An angel moved steadily toward them. The face was clearly defined. A young woman. Yes, it was her. What he had feared. He had been trying to remember her name ever since he died, but he couldn’t.
She pointed at him, and he found himself floating alone in a blue ether. A blinding light hurt his eyes, yet the pain was almost welcome since it was the first thing he had felt since he died.
“Sam,” a Voice called out to him. It came from no particular place. It might have even been coming from inside his head. Was this the time of Judgement? The Voice didn’t sound God-like though. It was a bit nasally, and had a rather pronounced Texas drawl. And there was a lot of background noise. People talking, phones ringing. Like a boiler room.
Sam put his hand up to shield his eyes. “Where am I? Is this hell? Purgatory?”
“Do you think you could explain algebra to a cockroach?”
“No, I couldn’t do that.”
The bedroom of his house materialized. It looked the way it had early in their marriage. His wife came into the room, her white bathrobe around her. She was young, and he was struck by her beauty, so unlike the bitter drunk she became.
“I will not go to the party,” she screamed.
He too looked young, virile, and handsome. “You will go.”
“No, I will not! I will not pretend anymore. Never again.”
“Be quiet. The children will hear. The neighbors will hear.”
Her voice grew louder. “I don’t care who hears!”
He grabbed her by the collar and slapped her. “Shut up.”
She started crying.
He slapped her on the other cheek. “If you don’t go, I will divorce you. I don’t need you or your father anymore. Don’t disobey me. You will regret it.”
The fight drained out of her as she sank onto the bed. He still held onto her collar. The sash came undone and the robe slipped loose.
What pleasure to dominate and destroy a human being. It’s what he had lived for. Like the time he demolished his boyhood friend. His office materialized around him.
“It was my idea, Sam!” his friend yelled. “You stole it from me. You’re going to make a fortune. I deserve a share. There’s enough for both of us.”
It wouldn’t have hurt Sam to toss a few crumbs to his friend. But what fun would that be? “You get a paycheck. Take it or leave it.”
His friend turned red in the face. “From the beginning everything was my idea.”
The greatest pleasure came from stringing the con out as long as possible, so Sam decided to play one more trick on him. “Sure, I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry.”
The fool believed his lie. As soon as he left, Sam called the police and said his friend had threatened to kill him. What pleasure when they came and arrested him and everyone stared. He had destroyed two human beings. Well three, counting the young woman whose name he still couldn’t remember.
The office disappeared and Sam floated in the ether. He felt the warmth of the sun. The light dimmed to the reddish shade of a sunset. The pleasing aroma of the sea filled the ether. A cool sea breeze caressed his face. Then a foul smell, like rotting fish, floated in on the breeze, the stench growing worse and worse, waves of nausea overtaking his body. He’d never experienced anything so miserable. The boredom of the stadium would have been better.
The nausea stopped.
“Have you had time to contemplate your actions?” the Voice asked.
Did his entry into heaven depend on the right answers? He’d always been good at bullshit. “Yes, I have, and I decided I was a sinner.”
“So, you are repenting?”
“Yes, I am.”
He was in the back seat of the car with the young woman, but he still couldn’t remember her name. He lied to her, of course. Told her he’d help her if she got pregnant. Told her she could trust him. And she believed him. What ecstasy to con someone so completely.
Eight and a half months later, on Christmas Day, he and his wife-to-be were at the movie theater, standing in line to buy popcorn. The young woman appeared at the end of the line. She was pregnant, very pregnant. When she saw him, she wobbled on her feet and fainted. Sam paid for the food and raced away, yet he couldn’t help looking back for one last pleasurable gaze at her on the floor.
The vision faded.
“Sometimes things are set in motion,” the Voice said. There was loud music in the background. And laughter. Were they having a party? Someone was singing “All My Exes Live in Texas” in a really bad voice. Was it Karaoke night in Heaven?
“You can’t blame me for being strong. For being aggressive. For doing what I had to do to survive.”
The pleasing aroma of the sea filled the ether. The light dimmed to a reddish shade. Waves gently crashed into shore. Gulls cawed. His skin tingled as unseen fingers moved across his back and chest. A woman was massaging him. He couldn’t see her, but her breath was hot on his cheek. Then, he felt the stubble of a beard. It was a man! The fingers became knives, cutting him over and over, going deeper and deeper. He screamed, expected to see blood all over his body, but there was nothing, not even marks on his skin. The knives became burning hot pokers. Flames engulfed him, choking smoke clogged his lungs. Surely, he was in hell.
When the pain finally subsided, there was nothing. Endless time, and no way to count it. He started telling the story of his life to himself, as if he were talking to Chen. He included all the omitted scenes. Then he started telling himself Chen’s stories. He had heard them so many times it was if they were his stories. A funny thing happened. He began including scenes Chen had omitted, scenes Sam had no way of knowing anything about. They were nearly identical to Sam’s omitted scenes. What was going on?
“One more thing to show you,” the Voice said.
“What is this? A Christmas Carol?”
“Is that a made-for-TV movie?”
A teenage girl appeared in front of him.
“That is your daughter, Sam.”
She walked down a dark alley in a rundown neighborhood. Two-story brownstones lined both sides. A garbage can had fallen over and rats were eating the contents. She stepped around them and followed an emaciated man with scraggly, long hair up a long, narrow staircase to a room where people were shooting up drugs. When she shot up, her eyes rolled up in their sockets, and she collapsed.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked, panicked.
“Your daughter died at the age of eighteen from a drug overdose.”
He started crying. “That’s horrible.”
“You don’t know how horrible. She was a brilliant young girl. The algorithms indicate that with even a little child support from you, she would not have fallen prey to drugs. She would have become the President of the United States. She would have brokered true peace in the Middle East, and presided over a period of unprecedented world prosperity. She would have been considered the best President in American history.”
“What can I do to make things right? I’ll do anything. Give me a chance.”
“It doesn’t work that way. The algorithms are inflexible. It’s all mathematics.”
“So what’s going to happen to me?”
“Hard to say. There are a lot of irrational numbers, expansions that neither terminate nor become periodic.”
Sam didn’t understand at all, but suddenly he found himself back in the stadium again next to Chen, and he didn’t care anymore. He couldn’t wait to once again tell the story of his life, except this time it would be a different story. He thought of all the things he wished he’d done or said, all the missed possibilities. He would invent the ideal life, including the story about his daughter who became President. He could change it around each time he told it, adding scenes, deleting scenes. That would make it endlessly interesting. He was happy for the first time since he died.
“Hello Chen, how are you?”
Chen responded with lots of clicking and popping sounds, more like the sounds an insect would make than a human. Sam screamed so loud that even the people five and six rows up turned to look. He kept screaming, his voice never getting hoarse. Finally, though, he grew bored with the screaming and sat silent.
Hot. Sidewalk cracked. SkyLink overhead clanks past. Point zero zero zero three Realcoin™ for Truesnack™ at the sidewalk cart, a really good deal, and I really need it, but my bank balance is negative, a result of that unfortunate biomechanical investment in my retirement account.
Nothing left to do but go back to Bucky. Keep walking. It’s been a year since I’ve been there, and the buildings rise fifty stories, all exactly the same, but the route is saved in my GPS. Broken plastic crunches under my Ughs. My Glass shows high mercury, temperature rising to one o five. Got to get out of this corrosive air.
Elevator crowded, real lowlifes, Kinks, Growbies, Christians, and a few Hybrids like me. Bucky lives in the penthouse on the forty-ninth, great view of the other buildings, great if you think monochrome buildings look great.
Bucky looks the same as he always did. One blue eye. One brown eye. Teeth filed to a point. The only difference is the big hoop left ear, the latest style, Bucky always had style.
He leads me down the hall to his lab. A bunch of Christians, big crosses hanging around their necks, are putting Truesnack™ in little vials. Bucky looks at me.
“Why did you leave?”
“I wanted to try to make it on my own.”
“You are a Hybrid.”
“I wanted more.”
“You didn’t leave a forwarding address.”
He makes me sit in the Chair and holds the Manual up to me.
“Do you swear your allegiance to the hive?”
He unscrews the cap to my port and pours a vial of Truesnack™ into it. Right away I feel better. He holds a mirror up to me. My Softskin™ still looks too much like plastic, too white, too shiny, but I hope it will get better, will look more human. He puts the probe on my fingertip, and for a second all the vitals look good, but the microcharge doesn’t hold on my re-valve.
He shakes his head. “I’m going to have to reboot you. It’s been too long since you had a good dose of Truesnack™.”
I should have expected it, but you’re never really prepared for reboot. He puts the helmet over my head, and the lights are pleasant, soothing, ultimately narcotic, and I drift toward sleep. There is no guarantee that my memories will survive, in fact many may not, except in some mangled form like a series of dreams, disconnected, unable to be assembled in any meaningful way. It is crushingly sad, but that’s what it means to be a Hybrid. All I know is that I will be able to think. At least I think I will be able to think.
Originally published in Realms of Possibility
In this middle novel of the Saga of George trilogy, George drives a car load of marijuana from Austin to Chicago. When he arrives in Chicago, he is supposed to marry a girl he's never met in order to avert a mob war. He runs afoul of police and a deranged cowboy, discusses the meaning of life with a junkie, and meets three beautiful women and a Cherokee Indian. He encounters plagues of termites, snakes, and rats. No matter what he keeps on going. All the while, his enemy plots to kill him at a hippie commune