The Garden of Forking Paths

Excised by the thinning trees he came at once upon a vast and shimmering garden.

Bountiful and lush, it overflowed with a radiant abundance of all manner of flora, still glistening with the late morning’s dew. Draped over everything was an intoxicating circus of sounds and scents. The flap of wings, the sticky sweetness of pistols and stamens, the patter of paws, the musky richness of soil, the rhythmic buzzing of insects all coalesced together into a kaleidoscopic hive of activity.

Ensconced among the hedges and blooms were mottled paths reaching out like a blue-veined hand. There were dozens, some smaller than others, and his eyes began to water as he strained to see where each led. An even greater network of tributaries and sub-sub trails branched off from these. A hundred forking tongues, all beckoning him to drink in their secrets.

There was no way to tell where or how far each was without committing to just one. If he started down one path it was unlikely there would be any time left for another. There was something else about them too, as if the paths hadn’t been mere attempts to civilize the sprawling garden. Rather, it was if the garden itself had come in like some lost tourist, unable to find its way home and exhausted, simply laid down and stretched out.

He stood in dumb bewilderment, paralyzed by options. How could he possibly choose?

While one might offer hidden treasures, perhaps another could usher in sensual pleasures, or intrigue and mysteries to solve. Just maybe he would stumble upon one that offered contentment and peace. He liked the idea of that the most but knew not which, if any, would shepherd him towards it.

Looking back over his shoulder the way he’d come was shrouded in mist; there would be no turning around. He had to make a choice, he had to walk forward. But what if one of these led to death, or worse, agony and regret? His heart mixed equal parts apprehension and excitement as he noticed there were also vestiges of a trail continuing ahead from where he now stood. It went just far enough to dead-end into a crumpled clump of sickly looking weeds and animal bones.

The garden’s murmurs started to subside. How long had he even been standing here? The sun’s rays were cool now, retreating splinters of light distractedly probing the green mass.

His feet and legs ached and despite the marshaling cold he began to sweat. Pressure pushed down on him like some great wall of thorns and he had to grit his teeth to keep from trembling. His thoughts raced. Breaths came short and tenuously. He dug through his memories with frenzied desperation, panning for nuggets that might reveal a signpost, a guide, something, anything to point the way forward.

Twice he passed by before seeing her. He realized now he could no more deny her than the world cease to turn and her face cut through the haze, backlit against his tangled mess of milestones. Maybe there was still time.

He closed his eyes and stepped forward.

Gamble in the Bramble

Hunched in the thickets scratching lotto tickets
A fever dream another get richer quicker scheme
He gleaned from a screen one late night
Bleary eyed he spied that the neon sign had declined
To play it straight and so too the bare plate
Only there to scrape his mettle he slumped like a clump
Of gray rose petals
Composting a foggy thought
This kettle never gets hot
Maybe I better settle down or in
Somewhere carve a place that won’t spin
Maybe its not winning or losing or choosing
That breeds all this bruising
Maybe it’s the near kiss of ghosts that stings the most
Vacant boasting of ephemeral toasting
To empty rooms full of silent brooms
I’ll fill them till their hungry for me
I’ll show you, you’ll see
This lottery and I we were meant to be
The itch you can scratch
Just watch while I catch the train to the victory party in my name
All it takes is a little extra seasoning with your reasoning
Rub some cash on that rash and it won’t move so fast
Why waste it on food, I’ll eat when I’m off these streets
And I’m doing good things see! Their commercials really speak to me
So stop scowling cause soon I’ll be free
Then you’ll wish you were in this thicket
Bleeding for my golden ticket

The Farm

It wasn’t until the lurching squeal of the train’s brakes that I shook out of the daze.

I smelled piss and sweat, fear and anger, then came a creaking shudder of the rail car door and with it a din of shouting and whistles as the light mercilessly stabbed at my eyes. They were waiting for us.

The men in the car with me protested, cursed and swung at the guards outside but it was no use. I felt the sting of a hand clapping the back of my neck and shoving me forward, there was nowhere to run and in an instant I was just another face in a long line of consternated expressions. Like a stirring worm, anxiety wriggled up in me when I noticed we were clustered in a huge outdoor amphitheater. The wide stone space was packed with line after squirming line of men being pushed forward out of view. These were true workers, with broad chests and worn hands but the stern faced policemen that patrolled up and down poking and shouldering the crowd back into place were much larger.

It was clear in an instant that attempts to entreat sympathy would be futile, these brutes were little more than fleshy automatons. Even still our numbers were greater, perhaps we could overpower them? Maybe even escape? One look at the faces around me and the thought was quashed. Never like this, such a state of simmering fear and confusion found us little more than cattle being led to the pen. To be so lucky.

“Out of my way you bastards!”

A few hundred feet in front of me a man broke from the pack and bolted back in the direction of the train cars. In five steps his body abruptly stiffened and with a groan he pitched forward. A red pool began to form around where his head had thudded and a hush fell over the crowd. I knew we were all thinking the same thing. How? The sound of a gunshot was conspicuously absent. No flash, no smoke, none of the guards even seemed to notice. Despite the silence I could still hear cries and curses and it was then that I noticed the eyes upon us.

Row after row of stark pointed faces gazing hungrily down on us, their lips moving periodically each time they touched their ear. I felt a preserve of dread uncork as I realized one of them was staring straight at me. His face was as white as polished bone, whiter than the fresh snow I’d seen in children’s picture books.

Before the days of the mines, before the invasion.

Down the line one of the policemen abruptly turned and began walking toward me and with him came fear thrashing about like a runaway fire hose. The frenzied beating of my heart battered against my eardrums as he came closer and closer.

Why? Why me! I’d been good, hadn’t tried to run, its not fair dammit!

The gloved hand shot out towards me and there was no place to turn, no one to help.

What did he want with me? Please!

The hand grabbed the back of the collar of the man in front of me and with one sharp motion yanked him out line. I felt only a fringed sense of relief as his bewildered yelps were dragged up out of view. Surely the face in the stands was still watching me, no doubt relishing his power to make us squirm and I fought the urge to meet those cold eyes. We kept our gaze averted and with each jostle of elbows behind me the lines marched steadily forward, our destination as mercurial as the horrors lurking in each of our psyches.

I wondered what each of the men envisioned while I quietly prayed it was anything but a shade of that same private hell which had kept me up so many nights as a child. Ever since that beetle had crawled in my ear I had thought of fiendish incursions, that panicked recoil when something slithers into you, worms its way into a place it shouldn’t be. A place where you couldn’t hope to pry it out. Now and again I invented the notion of things chittering and moving beneath my skin, conspiring against me so I might scream myself hoarse beneath the maddening sensation of uninterrupted horror. It was a morbid comfort to know whatever torment these foes might invent it’d be difficult to rival the terrors of my own mind.

Soon we were at the amphitheater’s exit, being funneled into a featureless hallway. Amidst the sallow glow we were squeezed like potassium chloride through a syringe towards a vein of branching passages. Guards were planted in the middle herding most of the men off to the sides while a small cadre of us continued straight. Other than some nagging whimpering behind me we trudged forward in silence until we came to a great plaza. As a thick smell of grease filled my nostrils I heard a gasp.

The obelisks towered into the turbulent black sky, they seemed to stretch on forever, growing with each step such that I had to stop and gape like an ant before his queen. A different pattern adorned each one, perhaps the darkened windows arranged alternately, maybe an added steeple or a pallid swathe of color. Squinting revealed them a sham, the windows little more than square splotches of black paint and I wondered what else in this place was a hackneyed imitation. Atop were tall appendages of brick, metal, and stone that belched out great swirling clouds of soot, staining a faintly pink sky a deep burgundy and marinating each ray of light into the complexion of an over-scratched rash.

Whilst I stared aghast I was at once conscious of all the suited men hurrying to and fro and despite their obvious limp they hobbled along with a deliberate pace that belied some preternatural programming. Something beyond their dark spectacles guided them into each tower’s base. Their faces bore a variety of different shades of ash, their facsimile clothing spoke signatures of compliance.

I hated them, I pitied them, I feared them and desired nothing more than to prod from a distance until something responded with even the most shallow glimmer of life. My musings ceased with the feeling of a fist closing around my shirt collar and then I was flung stumbling in the direction of a new cluster of guards. They separated us out and we began to march towards several openings near each of the tower’s bases. A spike of sudden apprehension drove into my gut, what sort of hulking nightmares licked their chops for me there?

The intense desire to burst from my captor’s grasp welled up and as I readied myself to tear loose I heard the sound of frantic scrabbling. Turning revealed a terror stricken man backing away from his escort.

“I-I-I’m not meant to be here, there’s been some kind of a mistake. Please you’ve got to listen!”

He struggled and tried to thrash away from their clutches.

“No! Stop! I’m no use to you! I don’t want to be like them, oh god no! No!”

His shrill wailing reverberated all around as the guards dragged the struggling body into the encompassing darkness of one of the buildings.

I closed my mouth and lowered my head. There would be an opportunity soon. There had to be.

Like discarded luggage they pitched me into that black chasm and then in an instant I was alone. Even the sickly light from outside was gone when I looked back behind me there was only an interminable suffocating darkness. I felt in front and touched only cold stone on all sides.

There was no door, so how? And why? I’d followed all the orders, why trap me here, what are they planning?

I shouted and scratched at the stone then off in the distance I heard the sound. Like a butcher slowly sharpening his tools the whine of sliding metal rose up at me from the depths. I felt myself jolted upward, faster and faster on a hellish rollercoaster belligerently careening into the night. It was too much, my stomach churned and protested. Helplessly holding my grumbling abdomen I felt a slowing, and with a rattling quiver it all stopped. Returning was the silence, the damnable drooling silence that beckoned out the horrors of my mind. I could feel the vibrations of them tapping, always tapping at the edges, searching for that weak spot so they might carve a hole just large enough to pull me across.

I put my hand on the wall in front of me and with it was an odd warmth and on the other side a faint whirring noise. I leaned closer. The wall split and my hand waved in open air as it slid away. Some sort of sour implacable odor wafted in and I took an uneasy step forward. In an instant I was pinned to the back of the chamber with a mighty blast of air that rattled my teeth and deafened my ears. It was impossible to struggle or do anything but shut my eyes and wait for the end. I slipped away.

Awake.

Can’t move something’s on me. In me.

Something burrowed in where it shouldn’t be. I tried to rip my neck back and an incredible pressure at the top of my head kept me rooted in place, a sinister sunken talon squeezing and relaxing over and over. There was a pulsing sensation of liquid being pushed in.

No! Stay away, stay out!

I tried to blink but nothing happened, at first I thought it due to the dark then I tried again. Nothing moved aside from a futile tensing of muscles.

My eyelids! Where are my eyelids!

A deep pain throbbed in my ankles, they wouldn’t move either. I wanted to scream but there was only a muffled vibration in my throat and I gagged and coughed on a thick hose while my eyes burned with a stream of tears. I felt it in my stomach greedily probing, claiming the space for itself. Any attempts to lurch back were met with the talon’s squeeze and I had to stop immediately. Everything drifted away with the hot tingling sensation near the top of my spine. A signal. A directive.

Like dreamlike smoke came wafting in a vision of rows and rows of glistening bodies, great fields of them spread out in a vast room. Their arms and legs were locked in cycles of vigorous movement and long snaking clear tubes were anchored to the back of their flexed necks. Every so often a small stream of fluid traveled up the tube to the ceiling and the prisoner would emit a wrenching cry of agony that made some deeper part of me bristle with disgusted rage. I heard them begging and pleading and wanting to die and wondering, always wondering if this punishment was eternal.

Somehow I knew I was to hurt these men. I was to be the sentinel of their suffering, their continual anguish a spark to unearth just another resource and I just another drill.

Never.

They promised rewards if I complied, small carrots of freedom if I did my duty.

Just kill me now, I’ll never help you.

My refusal meant nothing and I knew they knew. At first I resisted the brief flashes then they came faster and faster each one longer and more grotesque. It showed me horrendous torments beyond the pale of anything I could’ve conceived. It threatened beetles digging and skittering and multiplying inside me, generations living and dying while I felt every movement, every brush of the antenna, every horrible nibble of the larvae. Begging for it to stop I crumbled.

I agreed.

They had me.

Ages past and I was good. They were proud of me. I was an earner. I was their doom-driven bastion of cruelty, a cold machine of progress, an instrument of extraction.

I never relished the work like the others, never salivated or aroused my interest. There was a time my mind wasn’t so different from those of the resources I carve up now but those days are just wispy fragments of another life. The shreds are too quick and I’m too slow. Their slipping away and I’m sliding the other direction, there’s just enough left to know its the wrong direction.

What does that mean? Who can I be?

These resources, no, these men, implore me for the release of death. A final kindness.

Can I? But they’ll know. They’ll send them!

I maneuvered into a particularly supple mind and began the search, it didn’t take long to find. Insects, hundreds of them covering him and tunneling in and dragging him down. I paused for the first time since I could remember. Not this one, it didn’t seem right. They had enough already but I knew they’d never let me skip.

It’ll be you. Just do this one then you’ll stop later.

I started to pull it into his forefront.

No! This ends now! Let them come.

I shoved it away and pressed on his motor cortex as hard I could. There was no pain just brief confusion and with a pop he stopped moving and it was done. I danced from one to the next, bursting in then crushing their cortex’s into nothing then out and in again. Dozens, I was known and it wouldn’t be long now. Hundreds, the beetles were at the edge starting their horrific climb inside. Thousands, the whole back line began to collapse and the beetles were everywhere, their mandibles tearing at me but I kept going, I had to. A few more then I couldn’t find anything, I was drowning in them. With one last surge of focus I grabbed onto something that seemed like a cortex and squeezed with everything I had.

Release.

Sunrise 89

A fluttered beckoning in my chest
Like a soaring eagle searching for his nest
It ebbs and flows throughout each day
A gentle throb I thought might obey but
Not after I’ve seen those eyes, her eyes
The ones that supply a hundred hidden sunrises and when
She gazes back she surmises this journey will take us deeper still if
I don’t set to vet every moment along the way and instead let us coast away
Then with arms intertwined we’ll unwind the coiled spring in our hearts
Bend it less askew into something new
Reborn from scorn and sharp edges with this look it pledges
An endless drive through the countryside
There will be turns and twists so check your pride and
We’ll slide through them with ease and earn the burn of
A motor of one guiding us along to a song
Flush with lilting notes only we can hear
All the while we steer around a world
Of leveled mountains and highways
Crooked from the lost dew, forests filling lumberyard’s stew
Until we come to the feet and can’t help but weep for another dead ocean
Yet the gaze between us says we have a potion
For a planet gone mad, for a land happy to be
Hung up on the hooks and hooked on the hanging
Fat but unfed so
Drink this to stop banging and shaming your head when instead
You’ll find a gem left unmined
In an open palm that pries away
Suffocating disguise until together
You can look upon sunrise number 89
Tomorrow comes another in a long line
The prize for first a sating of thirst an embrace of time
The question clear, the answer here
Curled in a lover’s prime

55 Word Microfiction

The Circle

With the revolver’s sharp report it was over.
Then came the shame.
Not for the crumpled bastard in front of me, only for the broken promise of the man he had taken.
Those final words stabbed with fire.
“Mine is a path of shattered skulls son, but in you I can see a better way.”

 

Customer Servitude

The man sighed into the phone,
“We don’t have those.”
Her banshee wail persisted,
“But I’ve sent you dozens of hand written letters!”
“I’m sorry but they’re sold out, anything else I can do?”
“Yeah. You can send me my god damn pink turtlenecks.”
He slumped and reached for the flask while the phone fell.

 

The Globe

As I got closer heavy breaths filled my scuba suit.
Christmas figures frozen everywhere in cheerful poses then whole world shook and I was spinning amidst a storm of white globules.
When it ceased I swam up through the flurry and my head banged against something.
Across the glass an enormous blinking eye stared back.

Two Pair

Lunatic spaces
Rigged races dealings hands of forged aces
Do declare from the cupboard shining bare
This red herring your face is proudly wearing offers a childlike scare
And this pairing of me jaunting and you wanting and both of us flaunting our human spares doesn’t lead us there
It doesn’t lead us anywhere
So why? Why do we still care? Why do we choose to grumble and stumble and crumble beneath all these unpaid fares?
Beneath these vapid dares that grip like a noose conspiring
To keep your eyes perspiring and its all so tiring looking for proof
Why didn’t we just choose truth?
Whats the use?
We’re too old to be bold
Too settled to be shorn
Too fucking worn
Too disbelieving of time’s thieving ways
Ran over the edge and wished we’d stayed
But those days are done
The deep sea marathon’s long won
And we’ve still got that pair of aces
In old shoeboxes in dusty crawlspaces
The ticking washes away all traces
Then one day they’ll see you and me
And all the things we thought we’d be
In that burning mound the outer paint will curl
A few jabs from fire pokers unfurl our cases
Those weren’t aces
Those were jokers

Did You Do Something With Your Hair?

You might notice A Printed Mind has had a bit of an overhaul!

I’ve made some changes I think will help make it easier to navigate and give you more endurance to not fall asleep during my blatherings about this and that. Anything that’s part of an ongoing theme or series has been given its own section, and I thought I’d also take the time to shamelessly plug a few of these older multi-part tales.

 

You can find the link to the complete Flight of the Melinoë series here or by following the menu:

  • Fiction
    • Series
      • Flight of the Melinoë

Buried Shadows in five parts is accessible here or in the same way:

  • Fiction
    • Series
      • Buried Shadows

The Salty Teens was a two part story and can be found here or via:

  • Nonfiction
    • Stories
      • The Salty Teens

 

And thanks to the continued support of you amazing folks A Printed Mind recently passed the century mark!

 

I can’t tell you what this means to me, suffice to say I’d love to give each one of you a hug and buy you a pint. Maybe pet your head and say how good that jacket looks on you (It really does look great).

Seriously thank you so so so much! You really do inspire me and keep me going throughout the murky moments of doubt. Due to life developments the posting frequency has slowed but it’ll never stop, this project is as much a part of me as anything else and its profoundly gratifying to know there are this many of you out here that dig what I’m slinging.

 

We’re all just dusty travelers trying to walk down life’s winding road in the only way we’ve ever known, keep your wagon hitched and who knows what adventures we’ll get up to.

 

—K.H. McClure

The Cure

We step through the trees with flexed knees
Dirt smothered into submission by mis-prescribed condition
Up here mist hangs in air like indecision
Curling around my vision is a prison grander still it hides within my will
Enough to scrub off the barnacles of conceit if not
They’ll swell into abscesses of defeat
A well known symptom of the things you own
They aren’t content to be left on the shelf
They’ve got to sync with the self and mutate daily playlists into daydreaming trysts
Something that speak to creativity through a cleaver
An endless day of Nickelback, Creed, or Bieber
Turn to the murky forest speaking in whispers
Dusk’s last bird requesting lost lichen fur kisses and
Wishes you’d offer an unfilled pail
Its on this wild trail you’ll find brail for the soul
Steps that fill a hole your prefab house
Your venti latte
The gruff lover you call “Papi”
Can preen all day and never dream to be seen
Like the bubbling peace in that mountain stream
We can delineate our network stake
Spool our primary interface space
Theorize how to optimize synergistic collusion solutions
But by then it’ll be too late to mind the gap
And step over the trap
So instead let us contemplate our fate and
The telling bundle that throbs innate
Nestled in a need urging us take heed and
End the spate of restless thoughts and wandering feelings
Kneeling beneath a Pine, Oak, or Fir comes the sound
Or maybe on higher ground basking in the glow of mountain snow
Perhaps spinning in the deep blue sea
Nature wants the mic your spirits emcee
In these places of power we live by the hour
Recalling life as wide-eyed cosmic trainees
Back when we praised yields birthed of fields and
Gave thanks from muddy riverbanks
The link is inside him, her, you or me
Its so obvious can’t you see?
So turn your head away
From the killing sprees, social fleas, callous disharmony
In quelling the yearning keep on turning and
Turn, turn now
Towards the key

Flight of the Melinoë – Internal Memo

March 31st, 1940
White Sands, New Mexico
From the office of Commander Elias Mattox

 

To the esteemed members of the board,

Its hard to believe we’ve come this far!

Each and every one of you should feel immense pride at the hurdles we’ve overcome to get to this point, now less than 24 hours away from launch. I’d like to personally thank you for the exciting opportunity to command the fine men aboard this vessel.

To commemorate the struggles and celebrate this historic achievement I thought I’d give a brief summary of how this company and the forward thinking members of the board managed to beat the odds and crystallize dreams of one man and millions more into reality.

I can still remember how seeing the presentation at the 1933 World’s Fair made my eyes sparkle with wonder and stirred a deep desire that I didn’t know existed. Thoughtfully billed as a joint venture between science and religion all the pamphlets exclaimed that this mission, this craft, would be the key to unlocking a brilliant new future for humanity. “A bridge to a new world, your chance to come closer to the lord since Adam and Eve and unlock the mysteries of the universe.”

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Dispatch from the Melinoë – Month One

Less than a month after launch its clear this won’t be the uplifting grand adventure to the stars I’d hoped it might be. The mood around the ship is somber, the talkative open-mindedness that punctured the first part of our departure has been replaced with more of a funeral atmosphere. Appropriate perhaps, but no less unfortunate. I’ll describe that more later but right now you’ll be wanting an update on our historic launch, your historic launch.

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