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The Definition of a Line

This story was written for a ShadowCast contest - the task was to write a story inspired by Tool's "Disgustipated". My story won first place.

“The Definition of a Line”
Todd Austin Hunt

She heard Walter’s labored breathing on the stairs, a sound almost muffled by the rumblings of her stomach. The dying sun through the bedroom window cast her shadow over Liam’s face. With a shiver, she brushed a stiff lock of hair from his forehead. Even sick, even dying, he was a beautiful child.
Walter coughed. “Carolina? Is it done yet? Why are you taking so long?”
Carolina hissed. “If you can’t help me with this, if you can’t show your face, SHUT UP!”
She grabbed the pillow and looked down at her little boy. His eyes were shut, but the orbs were bouncing beneath the lids. Her stomach rumbled again as she glanced at his plump thigh.
“Oh, Liam,” she said, clamping the pillow over his face.
As the boy’s struggles slowed, a bright form entered the room from the darkness of the shadow. Carolina and Walter were oblivious to its presence. It stood behind the boy’s head, curved like the lean finale of an eclipse. With scimitar-sharp fingers, it traced the image of a rising balloon above Liam’s chest. Within that same instant, it painted a necklace around Carolina’s neck, its links burdened by the weight of an anchor. Designation done, it vanished into the weak sunlight.
Upon its exit, the shadow itself bulged, washing over Liam and removing the image. The bulge flattened out, and the little boy stopped moving and breathing.
“Bring the knives, Walter,” Carolina said.

* * *
The definition of a true line is an infinite scrape in both directions. Have you tried imagining standing at the end of that line? You will try forever, because neither you nor anyone else has ever been there. Somewhere along that line, fathoms and chasms away from the window of your eyes, spiraled the designator of the Fates, the instant antecedent to Death’s arrival. The present was his perpetual moment, and he was tugged forward by the taking of life.
Each murder was a doorway through which his lithe form was permitted to the next; he cascaded through a constant wormhole of bloodshed and the imminent transportation of souls. Death was a mere blind force that needed his scrawled directions in order to take these souls to another level. Without the designator, a murdered soul was an obliterated soul. And so he moved, while Death chased him . . .

. . . in the icy waters of the Arctic, painting the Fates of a baby seal and the orca that has crushed its head between its jaws - next - a Rock Elm felled at the edge of a forest by Maurice Polacky for the wood stove - a stray ant drunk from spilled ice cream, squashed by Signora Soledad’s bare foot - Gabriella LeBron pounded and raped against the stone wall of the blood center by her Father, shrieking her Mother’s name until he plunges the razor into her throat - a row of corn plowed down by Cooke’s harvester - a Gornfly sucking the cranial juice completely dry from the Hovering Mercurybat in the shadowed valleys of Gliese 581 C - Private Coulter blown to wet shreds, stepping on a land mine planted by Lt. Peter Yuri - a Labrador puppy dropped from a 18th floor window in Brooklyn by little Marjorie Goldberg, splattering the pavement while Marjorie snapped her bubble gum - a lamb slaughtered by Father Ray, licking his hand as its blood sprayed from its torn throat - next . . .

. . . and the Designator stopped. His forward motion had been halted. The knotted darkness of Death, a shadow continually collapsing on itself, overcame him and drifted through the present world and vanished into a doorway that the designator could not see.
He was trapped.
He floated leagues above the surface of a gray landscape; the vistas were flat and vast and colorless, and certainly not warmed by the apparent pallor of the sky. The only structure to break the horizon was a colossal pillar of glowing rock; the glow had an orange tint to it he found familiar.
If there had been life on this planet, the taking of it would also have occurred, and the designator would be able to carve his symbols in the air and thus continue. A gnawing worry devoured his ethereal being. Without his directions for Death, the Takers and the Taken would be snuffed out forever.
A colossal hand from below closed around his form and brought him down.
* * *
He stood on a giant pedestal, surrounded by bars of light the color of the glowing rock. The light restrained his movement. Three gargantuan faces stared into his cage. He was no bigger than the pupils of their eyes. The titans appeared to be humanoid, but their features were thick and fleshy, heavy like the stone on which they stood. Although their skin was as ashen as the air, the eyes and hair shone faintly with the orange color. The Designator had never seen this species before.
The giant in the middle had hair on its face and was evidently male. The females standing on either side of him had swollen bellies. The male smiled at the Designator and prodded into his thoughts.
“Yes, they are pregnant. I am sorry if you were handled roughly. Goasha is sometimes too curious. My name is Keenard.”
Keenard glanced at the female to his right, who blushed. The female to his left furrowed her cyclopean brow in anger, then quickly recovered her sullen expression.
“This will be your home. Forever. I have waited eons to capture you, Designator. The time for murder is over. The universe will now reflect the peace that we enjoy here.”
“How is it that your world is free of murder?” the Designator asked. “For you to live is impossible without the subsequent consumption of life.”
Keenard bared his stalagmite teeth. “Murder is evil!”
“You don’t understand the danger of your actions. Murder is necessary.”
The giant calmed. “Every life is precious.” He gestured to the column of glimmering rock. “Ages ago I isolated one of the Thousand Gods of Life. His power is imprisoned within the pillar, and it is enough to sustain the three of us, as well as the seeds sleeping in their bellies. This world has long ago been sterilized. Nothing can be killed here.”
The Designator glared at the towering rock in the distance. “You have taken two devastating steps toward the breaking of the Line. If the Line is broken, the continuity of the universe will be compromised. Death will create a hole without me. I am the recycler of souls!”
“You are a fiend; you endorse murder. Thus, you are evil.”
Forgetting the Designator and the unnamed female, Keenard turned to Goasha and grabbed her waist. “I will lay with you tonight.”
The other female groaned, which made the pedestal shudder. “You have lain with Goasha for a hundred nights!”
Keenard didn’t look at her. “Govern your anger, hag.” He walked away with Goasha, leaving the unwanted boiling in fury, glaring at Keenard’s back.
The Designator felt his worry lighten. Waves of confused wrath radiated outward from the scorned giantess which engorged his hope.
He reached out to her thoughts. “He has forgotten you, as he will forget your child.”
She pressed her monstrous face close to the lighted bars of his cage, breathing heavily, then stalked off.

* * *

Four days passed in this same fashion. Before he retired for the night with his favored Goasha, Keenard stood before the Designator and offered a lengthy sermon on the sanctity of life and his mission to prevent the vanquishing of it.
On that fourth night, once he was left alone, the Designator looked at the sky. The clouds had dissolved to reveal a brilliant canopy of stars. While he gazed at one of the brightest beacons, the star vanished. Horrified, he flashed to the bars of his prison. A few moments later, another one disappeared. Only two winked out that night, but he never broke his gaze, memorizing the celestial map.

* * *

At twilight of the fifth day, he interrupted Keenard’s preaching.
“You disgust me. In your ignorance, you are murdering the future. You are constipated with principals that have the weight of air and hold the truth of delusions.”
Keenard’s orange eyes darkened. He swiveled, yanking Goasha with him to their quarters. “I will forgive you tomorrow!”
Again, the unloved female was left with the Designator.
“With the God’s power, you will never have need of nourishment,” he said to her. “You will live forever, raising your child, bereft of his embrace. You will watch him love the other and that baby. He will make a nation of babies with her, and you will look on, alone and forgotten. And you will never die.”
A decision clicked within her enormous head. She turned away from the pedestal, and slowly walked to her bed.

* * *
The Designator felt the murders the moment they occurred. He was pulled by them, and the acts resulted in the complete restoration of his movement, his purpose. He bolted to Keenard’s behemoth stone quarters, passing through its walls. The spurned female held a jagged sliver of rock to her throat. Keenard and Goasha lay together, blood spraying from gouged throats. Goasha’s womb was savaged.
He stretched his fingers and painted thick upright arrows in the air above Goasha and her child. The murderer took her own life, and the life of her baby. Scratching out two more north-pointing arrows, the Designator turned to Keenard, whose life pumped slowly away.
“Of what use is a wizard if he is so willfully blind?”
In thick lines that burned the air, he painted an anchor around Keenard’s ripped throat, and alongside that, a figure eight lying on its side.
Two holes opened up in the cavernous bedroom, one on the floor and another in the ceiling. The black cloud of Death surfaced from the floor, roiling in hunger, passing over the five and taking their souls to the designated levels.
Outside in the darkness, the dazzling pillar of rock coruscated in orange flame which rose to the peak and flashed a thousand times until evanescing into the night sky.
The Designator blazed up through hole in the ceiling, onward, onward, while Death followed a breath behind.

* * *

Rosemary finished cleaning the freshly gathered vegetables from her garden in the sink. Her huge rabbit, Gargantua, hopped around on the clean tile. She laughed, set the vegetable basket down on the table and picked up the rabbit.
Kissing its twitching, inquisitive nose, she squealed, “Is my pretty lady bunny hungry?” She held Gargantua in her lap and plucked a carrot from the basket, holding it inches away from the rabbit’s mouth.
Rosemary frowned, cocking her head, involuntarily pulling the carrot away.
“What was that sound? Weird. I could swear I heard someone screaming.”
Shrugging, she caressed Gargantua while it greedily devoured the carrot.
A hole opened in the table . . .

Dream: Bus to China

Along with dozens of other speculative fiction writers, I was on a bus for a trip to China.

I looked out the bus window at our guide. She was tiny next to the huge fuel dispenser, yelling and banging on its side with her purse. She was crying. “I’ve been planning this for years! And now, and now, I don’t know the fucking code to squeeze the juice from this can!”

Near the front of the bus, a particularly clever science fiction writer said, “I’m surprised I decided to go on this trip. I’m not a stupid person. I mean, we’re in Oklahoma. Somewhere in Oklahoma. The Bering Strait is even wider than it is on the maps. How are we going to get to China on a bus from Oklahoma without drowning?”

Several writers said:

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t know.”

“I HATE car racing!” said the fantasy writer sitting behind me. As I turned left to investigate this person, I noticed a flat screen television was mounted on the left side of the bus, playing a stock car race. VROOM, VROOM, VROOM, the cars went. VROOM.

I tried to turn completely around to talk to the writer, but I merely got a peripheral glimpse of her face before she pushed my head away.

“If you want to talk to me, keep looking at the screen.”

“Okay,” I said. “How come you hate this so much?”

“It’s boring and unrealistic.”

Even though I shared her negative opinion, I found myself defending the sport. “But they are so fast, and the wheels don’t last as long as most wheels. It takes concentration, ex domestic lager and lots of diet choke!”

“You’re full of shit, and the back of your head looks like a dead coconut. Damn! I want to get there!”

This hurt my feelings, so I pushed my head against the glass. Our guide was on her hands and knees, scraping her nose against the petroleum-stained cement. A horror writer I didn’t know had exited the bus and was examining the dispenser. A handle emerged from the right side of the dispenser, out of the reach of our small guide. He pulled it and the construct clucked like a chicken. A narrow bar appeared on the front, displaying rolling symbols like those on a slot machine. The rollers stopped on three dying panda bears. Something unlocked.

Our guide stood up, smiling at the writer through tears and blood. Her nose was halfway gone, and I noticed that she kept her nose clean.

“You did it!” she said. “Now we can start our journey!”

I looked at the front of the bus and waited.

Dream Over

No, I'm Not Your Mascot

No, I’m Not Your Mascot

Walking is a vital part of my life. It’s a source of exercise, hope, mental rejuvenation, and the act itself is inextricably entwined with my identity as a person and a writer. I was born with mild Cerebral Palsy and my parents were told by doctors that I would never walk. They were wrong, but I didn’t begin to walk until I was four years old. I was eventually sponsored by a Shriner, and received free operations and treatment at Shriner’s Hospital for Children until I was 21.

The subject of walking appeared in the first piece of writing for which I was paid at age 11. It was for a contest held by the local newspaper on Mother’s Day, titled I Love My Mom Because. I won first place and my letter was a giant print centered among the other entries. I don’t think I won necessarily because of my skill in writing, rather, like a savvy little skid mark, I exploited my problems with CP in the letter, and how my Mother persisted in finding me help until I could walk.

However, I wasn’t being manipulative, but honest. And it was an early lesson on the power of honesty in writing. Still, I think I had an edge that the other children did not, and to the editors who magnified my letter on that full page, I was probably an INSPIRATION. And this type of response to my presence, especially while walking, has occurred in my childhood and adult life often and often (not countless, I’m not a vampire). In the case of the contest, I’m glad I won, and I think it was fair because the letter to my Mother was unusual.

But comments from strangers that sound like Hallmark memes copied so many times the letters are wasting away like frogs in the Sahara have become an annoyance that stirs in me some quiet anger. I understand that most people are just being nice, but it gets old being a repository for banal observations which seem new and fresh within their incandescent bubble. Many people do not have sluice gates between their questionable brains and the yawning expanse of their mouths.

For instance: a few years ago I joined the Cooper River Bridge Run/Walk where I live in Charleston, SC. As I crested the slope of the bridge, a man in his sixties broke away from his wife and walked beside me for a few moments. He said, “You know, you’re an inspiration to all of us.” I think I grunted. I wanted to sound like the lower-level troll he imagined was straining against nature to join the normals in their normal pursuits. He smiled and went back to his wife; they both walked faster than I. Maybe I have a bad attitude, but I don’t want to be his inspiration. If he wants to fly higher than an eagle, then get on an airplane, or ask Bette Midler to switch places.

For instance: one day I was walking along the side road that leads to my apartment. A man in a truck called out to me as he was leaving the driveway of an office building. I went over and spoke with him for a few minutes. It was an odd exchange; I felt like I was being interviewed by a nervous fan. What’s your name? What do you do? Do you walk every day? He told me that everyone in his office sees me walking each day. He said that his eyes were bad and at night when he was leaving work, his colleagues told him, “Watch out and don’t hit the dude with the bad leg.” He said that everyone who worked at his software company thought of me as their mascot.

This guy was friendly and sincere, and I didn’t grunt. He drove away and I continued walking, musing on the encounter. In middle school, since I had always been a hopeless athlete where every sports-related instance of my life was another strata in the compounded mountain of humiliation, I tried to belong by becoming a manager for the football team and later the basketball team. Part of it was pressure from my parents to join a school-related activity. Everyone was nice to me, but I quickly felt a tool. I didn’t do anything, really, but hand out water and watch from the sidelines two sports that cultivated no interest or passion within me. When I “managed” the football team, at home games the announcer would blare my name and position with extra gusto, and I recall feeling embarrassed by this, knowing that it was really just empty horseshit. Perhaps well-meaning to boost my esteem, but I wasn’t a dumbass. I knew I was on the sidelines; I knew that, in that position, I was a marginal who didn’t care about the game and didn’t matter to the process other than to be there to make most everyone feel comfortable that I was not left out. I was a mascot. But I didn’t stay a manager long.

Because despite how my persistent walking within this body that lopes in a limp to the left fills you with an inspiration to do your best and rise and shine with King Kong thumps to the chest and a Willy Wonka twinkle in your eye . . .

I’m not your fucking mascot.

Daddy Poison

Daddy Poison

For a very short season, I had a friend in high school who gave me one of my first real-life glimpses into the bone deep reach of daddy poison.
I had just changed schools, and making friends was (and still is) difficult for me. He was a nice guy who befriended me in English class, funny, both of us shared a love for books, especially works by Stephen King. It was one of those friendships in which the dissolution was so gradual, I don’t remember exactly when we stopped communicating, but I remember some two or three years later seeing him in an arcade and recognizing the fierce dislike of me in his eyes.
About a couple of months after we had become friends, he started saying things that really bothered me. He had an older brother who had recently graduated from the school, and it was obvious that he worshipped him. From his stories and the collective gossip of other students, the brother had an unsavory reputation of being a proud racist. It was in the recollection of these stories that my friend began to say n****r, as if it was an accepted word on which we bonded. I saw something different in this new friend of mine; it was like a layer of cellophane pressing down on a genuinely kind young man, a layer that, when he delved into these brother narratives, dissolved into his skin and altered who he really was. It was mean and unthinking hatred that surprised me, confused me.
One story that will probably never drift away from my brain involved his brother and a teacher whom the brother hated. This teacher was a woman in her sixties whom doctors would describe as morbidly obese. The brother somehow procured keys to the high school and her classroom, and in the middle of the night, broke into her classroom and defiled all her walls with obscene references to her weight problem. My friend finished the story by laughing and telling me how the poor woman, when she entered the next day, broke down and blubbered. He grinned as he told me this, saying, “Isn’t that cool?”
I don’t remember what I said to him. I remember being shocked and silent and thinking HOLY SHIT THAT’S NOT COOL THAT’S FUCKING MEAN YOUR BROTHER IS A FUCKING ASSHOLE AND SO ARE YOU FOR LAUGHING ABOUT IT.
Another story involved his brother’s humiliation of a young black student at the school.The student was a young woman whom I thought was EXCEEDINGLY attractive, and it was through other friends I had made that he found out my attraction to her. He asked me about it; he was visibly pissed. I told him, yes, that I thought she was hot. It was after this that we went our separate ways. Luckily, I didn’t have any more classes with him after that. (My English teacher the following year was the one abused by his evil brother, and she was excellent.)
At some point during our brief friendship, I visited his home one afternoon, and discovered the origin of Evil Brother and gathering clouds forming over the kindness of my friend. Earlier that day, he had found one of those wallets with a long chain that attaches to a belt. His father returned home from work a few minutes after we got there. He introduced me to his Dad; I shook his hand, his Dad glanced at the chain wallet that his son wore and said, “Take that damn thing off. You look like a n****r.”
My friend tried to defend the wallet, and I distinctly remember the look on his face. He loved his Dad, but he was also embarrassed and ashamed. I saw that struggle - a young, shy and good-natured man fighting the daddy poison.
I can’t say if he ultimately lost the struggle, but he was certainly overwhelmed by it during that short season.
One fallacy shining in the loving eyes of sons is that Daddy is Super, Daddy is God.
But Daddy is not God. At best, Daddy is a loving, but flawed man, like everyone else, awash in the uncertainty of life. And at worst, Daddy is an ignorant asshole whose words are poison, poison, poison.

The ABC Wizard Duel

“Arpleeweepoo!” he shouted. But nothing happened. Carson the Supremely Magic magician walked back and forth on the edge of the rooftop, while a scattering of fans watched from 12 stories below. Disappointed, he looked across the street to the adjacent building, where his competitor and rival, Moosejuice Slingbad, laughed and danced on the top of the structure’s water tower. Every one of Slingbad’s fans were embedded in the windows of his building, their eyes turned to him in awe and adoration, but since he was out of sight, their eyes were rolled back in their heads. For the third time, Carson flourished his hands in the air, and tried another magic phrase, “Groping candylops!” Generelda, his number one encourager from Outer Space, slowly began to rise from the street like a bird with one wing. Her lovely form floated to the level of the roof, and Carson stared into her black eyes and winked. “I feel funny,” she said, then she opened her mouth and vomited a spray of bile into Carson’s face. Just then, dual apparitions of Slingbad appeared, one beside Carson, which wiped the vomit off his face with a violet hanky, and another in the air aside Generelda. Kissing and embracing her, Slingbad’s Other said, “I love you so much, even the taste of your vomit doesn’t bother me. You should be mine, deary.” Laying her head on Moosejuice’s shoulder, she stuck her tongue out at Carson. Moosejuice’s Other cackled, and squeezing her tight, they flew off, landing on his roof entwined. “Never, never try to best me, Carson,” said Slingbad’s Other Other. “Only I can command the forces that make the ladies shudder into butter. You’re as powerful as a Grandma’s eyelash. Maybe you should try cooking. I heard you’re good at that.”
Putting his hands together, the Other threw his hanky at Carson and vanished. “Quit?” Carson said. “Remember, Moosejuice, you’re an indolent talent, a lion in a hammock. Nobody loves magic as much as I.” Standing erect with his back to the sun, he pulled a magnifying glass from his pocket and directed a small beam of concentrated sunlight onto Slingbad’s vomit-soaked handkerchief. The circle of light quickly began to smoke, and soon a vine of black smoke twisted up from Moosejuice Slingbad, who grunted, then shrieked in agony as sunbeams of fire pricked out of his body in dozens. “Understand, Slingbad,” said Carson. “I am not a short-order cook, I mean, I am not to be mocked.” “Vote for me!” Slingbad yelled, before his body was consumed in a sphere of yellow fire, which promptly shrank to the size of an eyeball and rotated beside Generelda, who remained unscathed and still floating. Waves of applause came from his fans below, causing Carson to preen his hair and offer another magical flourish, causing Slingbad’s embedded fans to melt into butter and slide down the building. “Xenophobia is what inspired me to learn all of these tricks, master them, multiply them, and then kill everybody,” said Generelda. “You first,” she said to Carson, and the shining orb disappeared into her eye; she glared at Carson the now-Supremely Beshitted Magic Magician and a ragged line of lemon fire punched through his head, burned through the fans, raged through the world. Zero people survived, but all the domestic animals were spared, because Generelda loved cats.

Two Disassociates on the Blue Capped Internet Thought Tosser

"There is a backyard in my forest and the animals don't shit there."
"My Mother sang a song to the robins and they watched her, wormless."
"We never have time to crack walnuts on the freeway, and the radiovoice mocks us for it."
"I will eat alien plants."
"Uncle Lorry bought an el Camino and drove it through the preschool cafe. Nobody was in there."
" . . . "
"Nobody ever responds here. This place is nothing, like gathering nourishment from an O2 gel drip."

Brief Dream: Death in a Handbag

Dream 16 August 2013

Had a strange, horrifying nightmare, part of which took place at a party. Somebody I know was at the party, standing in the corner with a handbag which contained a gun. She threatened to take her own life. Her mother stood on the other side of the room, and she motioned to me. She whispered to me, "Just let her do it."

I said, "What?"

"Just let her do it. She's been carrying that gun around like a sundress, and I always knew that someday she'd wear that sundress.”

Her callousness traumatized my heart.

“Fuck that and fuck you, you open sore.”

I walked to the woman in the corner and embraced her, told her she was smart and funny and beautiful, that everyone loved her. She trembled in my arms and wept, and dropped the gun.