SYMPATHY FOR A BATTERING RAM (short story – newly revised)

sympathy title

by Nathan Goldschot

 

I’m a woman. Twenty-whatever. Before you ask, I have shoulder-length auburn hair streaked with blue highlights and turquoise eyes to match. My muscles are toned, my frame is slender and my skin is pale. Are you hoping I’ll describe my perky breasts and pouty lips? Stop. No amount of sex appeal will endear me to you once I’ve finished my bloody task.

Chaos erupts the moment I step through the security gate. A stomach wound would probably suffice to drop the first guard but instead I choose to put a bullet in his face. This may be underselling my emotions, but simply put–I’m pissed.

Turned off? Would granting a glimpse into my private life help regain your sympathy? Fine. I adore boysenberry pie but never touch cake. I don’t smoke or drink, but I started taking Adderall in college and I’m probably addicted. I like telling jokes. Bad ones.

A man walks into a bar and sees two large pieces of meat hanging from hooks. After getting his drink he asks, “Barkeep, why do you have meat hanging from the ceiling?”

“I bet anyone who walks in here $50 they can’t pull down one of those slabs,” the bartender replies. “Want to give it a try?”

“No way,” says the man, “the steaks are too high.”

Perhaps more relevant to the situation are the two years I spent in the Marine Corps. I was set to join Force Recon until some desk barnacle quashed my dreams…but I digress. Bottom line: I learned a plethora of ways to kill a man.

After dispatching the first guard the next guy rushes toward me with surprising speed. He knocks the gun out of my hand with a wild swing of his baton. I drop him to the floor with a boot to the testicles and retrieve my piece. A pistol isn’t normally my weapon of choice, but toting a semi-automatic rifle toward a super-max prison wasn’t an option. This Glock 27 will have to do.

The crumpled guard has a kind face. He regains enough air to start blathering about his wife and kids. Such a cliché. I convince myself he wasn’t one of the men responsible. I waste two rounds shooting him in the knees. Stupid.

A bullet grazes my cheek. I realize adrenaline is far more potent than Adderall as I slide across the top of a table. I accidentally scissor a cup of coffee on my way over the oak and soak my crotch. Fucking embarrassing. It will be even more embarrassing if I can’t get any deeper into the prison than the break room. Concrete chips rain down on me as I slide behind a low wall. The guards have pulled the M16s reserved for special occasions out of their lockers and their keeping me pinned to the floor with fully-automatic fire. Dammit.

The bastards are all complicit in this. My father’s an innocent man. They didn’t have to beat him nearly to death. Break his arms. Take his eye.

Anyone who stands in my way will die.

I find a preternatural calm amid the havoc but the hail of bullets tells me the odds aren’t stacked in my favor. A series of dry clicks tells me the officers’ magazines have ran dry, giving me a few seconds to react. Before they finish reloading, I rise up and pop a .40 caliber round into the forehead of the closest guard. He flops to the grey tile and convulses like a carp in a drained pond. Fear boils in the eyes of the dead man’s compatriots as they resume firing wildly.

Something impacts my arm but it’s not enough to shake my resolve or my aim. I blow off a man’s jaw and his eyes express regret over his life choices. I move closer to the firing squad with every pull of my trigger until only a pair of guards remain. In one motion I stash the pistol in my belt and draw my knife. Two quick slits later and the hallway goes silent. The floor is packed with thick bodies–their gray uniforms turning black with blood. I’m alone again but not for long. I sprint toward the medical bay.

My father had been silent for weeks and I was beginning to worry. Finally, my phone rang with call from the prison, but it wasn’t my dad. The young man on the line informed me my father had been beaten to a pulp and was barely able to speak. When the kindly inmate finished relaying my father’s love, he gave a detailed account of how the guards took turns breaking dad’s bones before dumping him in the prison clinic to die. I dropped my phone and broke down. I had to act.

A can of tear gas bumps my foot. I kick it back in the other direction but not quickly enough. The painter’s mask I brought isn’t doing much. Shit. My eyes are burning. I’m firing blind shots through the smoke.

A termite walked into a pub and asked, “Is the bar tender here?”

If you lived in the middle of nowhere and wrecked your back every day farming alfalfa, wouldn’t you smoke the occasional joint? Of course it was my dad’s dumb luck to buy from the biggest drug dealer and gun runner in the state. And of course he had to be there when the feds raided the place. My dad didn’t have anything to do with the dead men in the back of that damn trailer but the truth didn’t matter. Guilt by association. When he refused to confess, his captors did their best to fire up his imagination with their night sticks. Still, the tough old bastard wouldn’t bend.

The next batch of guards are in riot gear. Face shields and bullet proof vests. My only hope to survive is to take them by surprise. I charge ahead, becoming more battering ram than woman. I’m in the air screaming at the top of my lungs. I knock a big man to the ground, my knees crushing against his chest as I snarl like a puma and twist my knife in his neck. Three point-blank shots from my pistol enter the guard to my right and he topples. His buddies retreat and I’m off again.

Inside the next door I see rows of rusting steel beds with paper thin mattresses. There he is. My heart sinks. My father’s face is a bruised prune wearing an eyepatch. His arms are encased in plaster. Goddammit. I lift him to his feet. Can you walk? He says he can. This is no time to cry, for either of us.

Where are you, Samantha?

My sister is one hell of a welder and an even better mechanic. I didn’t think we had a shot at pulling this off until I saw that five-foot steel pole she mounted solidly to the front of the hulking, second-hand tractor we bought. It’s common to see a farm implement taking up the road in rural Idaho, but not one covered in armor plating and towing a truck. It was my job to distract from the eyesore Samantha had created. I didn’t barge through the prison’s front gate for vengeance alone–I needed every eye on me, not the home-made tank slowly pushing through each row of chain-link fencing.

I pull dad into the corner as bullets start peppering the room. After firing my last round, I duck back into the clinic and barricade the steel door with a few gurneys.

I’m desperate to hear that rumble. Come on, Samantha.

Boom. The air is full of concrete suddenly made aerosol. I wave away the dust and drag my poor father through the fresh hole in the wall, past the massive steel pole penetrating the room. My sister looks exhilarated and deranged. Hurry up and get to the truck she yells. She’s busy cranking the tow hitch loose.

The clinic door flies open, falling off its hinges. The front of the tractor rings like a steel drum as it soaks up bullets. I throw my dad in the back of the truck and fall on top of him. The engine roars and we screech onto the asphalt. We’re gone.

I feel a series of thumps as the truck slips over a cattle guard onto a muddy road. Seconds later a parade of sirens fly right past us, keeping to the highway. My sister is laughing loudly and pounding the roof of her Ford exuberantly with her fist. Somehow, we’ve escaped.

Why did the burglars steal the toilets?

So the police would have nothing to go on.

If you tip Idaho on its side it looks like a pistol and we’re zooming to the tip of the barrel. Soon we’ll be in Canada. We have friends there who can get us to Alaska where we’ll disappear into the wilderness. My arm’s gushing blood.

Do you care if I bleed out and die? Despite my rampage, did I win you over in the end?

 

-end-

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SCREENSAVER

screensaver

By Nathan Goldschot

 

I’m the last one out of the building–another unremarkable specimen of a nine to five cubicle drone. It’s the time between seasons when the air bites your skin and the night arrives early to overstay its welcome. Emerging into darkness is soul-dragging. The parking lot has gone empty aside from my sensible sedan. I think I’ve had enough.

I traverse the path toward the lot, my face pointed downward to avoid the breeze. The pitted concrete is littered with the corpses of dead worms from yesterday’s rush of rain. Swollen and slick. Stretching with futility toward nothing in particular. Dying violet curls on rain-slick slabs. Why do they do this? Again, I’ve had enough.

The rain returns, amounting to little more than a hurried mist. Something feels different but I don’t dare question how. I soon realize the mundane urges forever howling through the canyons of my mind have gone silent. Not even a whisper remains to remind me of the importance of keeping my rubber soles and rubber tires in their designated ruts. Their absence is jarring. My muscle memory begins to fade. Predictability fails me.

I am quietly becoming unhinged and the feeling is both terrifying and exhilarating. I won’t be going home tonight. The apartment will stay dark. My fish unfed. My screensaver flashing whatever it flashes.

I’ve had enough.

A small strip of mud separates 50 yards of manicured lawn from the cement path where my footsteps have suddenly stopped. I fall to my knees. Pain is secondary to my sudden embrace of nothingness. None of this matters and it never will. I slip lazily to my hip then collapse into the mud. The bitter earth embraces me–colder than the nibbles of rain pecking my cheeks. My ears. My bare hands. My legs bend and slide slick through grit and slime. A pill bug flees. Blades of grass stand stiff and stoic. I gasp and jet out a hot breath. I am prone. Vulnerable. My heart adjusts to a panic and my brain could not care less. I am in the moment and it is in me. A microcosm of overwhelming sensation surrounds until it numbs.

I am alone. Perhaps for the night. Perhaps forever. Surely, the security cameras are watching but is anyone watching them? I wait for my body to outwill my illogical thoughts but it never does. I feel a scratch of fear at my spine but still I do not stir. I shiver uncontrollably, paralyzed by this absurd choice. Hours pass and no one is coming. The gentle patter of rain soaks my clothes with a thousand tiny impacts. My eyes twitch to see my skin, drawn tight and blue. Exposure will soon take me. I am ready and I have had enough.

The moon tilts a pale glare through a crack in the clouds. I stare back and feel the stubby lights along the path burning pin marks in my peripheral vision. The texture of the mud has become a language as I sink into it immeasurably. The cold penetrates my bones until they tire of shaking. I am still. Relaxed. Ready to sleep. I listen to a constant caravan of cars steadily dig themselves deeper in the nearby highway. The hum is a lullaby. A death rattle.

I’m standing. Shaking once again. Gasping for air. I can’t seem to collect enough breath. My feet are pushing to concrete and my knees are bent. My posture hunched. Rivulets of mud flow along the creases of my oxford shirt. My blue tie is a bruise. I take a step and thick globs of filth slap unceremoniously on the path, dripping from my trembling body. My mouth hangs open and dry and I’m taking more steps.

I’m in my car. Engine heat blasts me from the vents. I’m in my apartment. Muddy clothes heap to the linoleum. Wet socks stretch like dead worms near the bathroom door. The shower runs for an hour and I want to scream but I can’t. I feed my fish. An RGB glare spins a row of letters from a cathode ray tube and they say YOU_CANNOT_ESCAPE.

 

 

INTERMISSION

index

Small things bursting with airy spaces
Swallowed inside out
Driven
Desultory
Contradictions expand to
Embrace unknowable dimensions

Time slips along a transparent edge
Hard and sharp as slow glass
A liquid in stasis
Shattering
Drawing quick blood

Lacerating a language long forgotten
Composed of hemoglobin
Silicate awakens
To creep and flow once more

Brittle layers spread across the dark
Smashed and restored ad infinitum
Orbits inside orbits
Remnants of dust
That never was

 

INTERMISSION

moon

A gray film stretches across the atmosphere
Sending a cascade of diamond dust to streak the horizon
A frustrating equilibrium denies the catharsis of a downpour
Dousing the valley in a clumsy mist
To chill flesh and pierce tired bones

The sun wanes and sinks away
Tired beams wilting behind the hills
Only the lodestar persists
A pinpoint puncturing the darkness
While clouds hang stubbornly beyond my sight

A lilting wind twists the turbid sky
Opening a vaporous eyelid in the canopy
The full moon tilts down at me
Reflecting cold light through a cataract stare
Judging my struggle
Denying my questions

 

Auto Absurdia

oldcarwreck_7

Millions of machines crowd an endless asphalt expanse, belching an effluvium of distilled death from an unknowable legacy of carbon. A series of tiny explosions blasting inches from our fleshy bodies give momentum to tons of metal, suspended above the ground with only a few inches of rubberized contact. We distract ourselves from speeds our animal brains can barely comprehend with a series of surface comforts. Insulated cabins. Loud bass. Cup holders. Heated seats. A nylon strap and a puff of compressed air.

Humanity’s domination of the the planet using little more than the strength of our collective will is remarkable, but we are impatient and deluded about our true capacity to control our surroundings. The Highway has become a microcosm of our inevitable downfall. Our confidence on the road is misguided and fueled by selfishness. We are in an arms race with our neighbors, obtaining ever-larger vehicles in order to survive inadvertent jousting matches–pushing as much terrible mass as a bunker-buster bomb as we slam into each other. Danger strides in lockstep with driving, but such threats are easy to ignore until the invisible becomes instantaneous and irreversible. Traffic fatalities are rampant and predictable but somehow continue to surprise us. It has become a cliche to state “I never thought it could happen to me” when it would be more appropriate to question “why did it takes so long?”

Just one of these hulking beasts should be enough to cause worry, but we send entire flocks of them hurtling on narrow strips of concrete, bumper to bumper, often with nothing but a line of paint separating us from a thousand instances of kinetic fury in the opposing lane. Swaddled in plastic and steel, we adhere to the simple language of a yellow bar, relying on a repressed fear of certain death bouncing around the id to keep us honest. Humanity’s faith is tested every day with twisted metal and blood, yet we cling to the dogma of combustion–nothing daring to separate us from our instruments of dominion.

Our minds have developed to take advantage of every opportunity, small or large. Evolution has given us consciousness so we may weigh risk against reward. On the highways this reward becomes nothing more than a nebulous entitlement. A potentially deadly act reduced to a daily chore, pushing us ever further into statistical danger. We delegate this supreme responsibility to a few firing sparks in our muscle memory, leaving our active minds free to concentrate on the lyrics of pop songs.

In other words…please use your damn blinker.

INTERMISSION

df

Why do you keep me here?

Absurdities took their toll. I prepared to embrace the momentum of a selfish slope. To feel the gravel slip against my heels as I spilled from the ledge.

Why did you save me?

Solace is a myth. Pain is a constant. Love is fleeting. You taught me these were lies and I am grateful but I still feel the heat of their distorted comforts.

Why won’t you let me go?

Lifting this weight from my shoulders would burden your innocence with my wraithlike baggage. It would be a betrayal beyond comprehension. Existence persists because it must.

I want to leave this place but I would never leave you alone.

When you arrived my adoration became unassailable. A gift wrapped in a curse allowing me to endure. I will cling to the slippery rocks for as long as I can. I promise.

What gives you such power?