This week’s random rejection comes to us from the small press magazine Mindmares. The story in question, “Feeder”, is about how much May loves her sweet little birds, and the lengths to which she goes to provide them with yummy suet. Given that this story comes out of my splatterpunk days, you can sort of imagine how she goes about it.
Non-horror writers probably don’t recognize any of the names on the list of authors featured in the third issue, but a couple of them were pretty big in the underground press for a while, especially Michael Laimo. I met several of these folks at the World Horror Conventions I attended. Hi guys! I’m sure you don’t remember me — I’m the one who didn’t say anything for the entire convention!
I would have to say that “Feeder” is rather thin on plot; as Tracy observed, it’s pretty much the script for a slasher flick, only the slasher is an old lady who has a soft spot for our feathered friends. I did eventually get into Mindmares with the short story “Rush Hour”, which was almost short enough (907 words) to qualify as flash fiction, but not quite.
I could post “Feeder”, and I will if anyone wants me to do so; but it’s a bit of a nasty piece of work, actually. So instead, I’m posting the story that did make it into Mindmares. Because after all, there’s more to life than rejection, isn’t there? Yes. Yes there is.
Incidentally, I wrote “Rush Hour” long before moving to California, where for years I got to live it every day. Well, part of it, anyway.
by James Viscosi
Stuck in traffic, again. Cars bumper to bumper, gridlocking each other across at least the next three intersection. Horns tooting, engines revving, heads coming out of windows to scream curses at other drivers as though everyone in this mess isn’t equally at fault.
A hot day, early August. Been bone-dry and ninety degrees for over two weeks. Thank God for air conditioning. Without it this would be intolerable, sitting here with the sun glaring through the windshield. Even the dark tint doesn’t do much to block the heat. Cars become greenhouses in the summer. Maybe that’s why everyone gets so punchy.
Turn the radio up a notch, drown them out. Classical strings seem out of place on a midtown street, don’t they? One of those harsh, screechy metal bands would be more appropriate. Discordant music for the discordant sounds of honking, shouting, somewhere a radiator hissing as it pops. Don’t pay any attention to them. Just listen to the music and read the paper.
Hm, look at that. Another politician indicted. You would think there’d be bigger things to worry about than who shook down a lobbyist for a campaign donation or who was screwing his aides. Things like the street people who come out during traffic jams, who spread out among the cars looking for handouts, tapping on the windows, touching ninety thousand dollar cars with the same hands they use to wipe their runny noses and pick at their draining scabs. That ought to be front page news.
Flip through the pages. Horoscopes. Bunch of astrological hooey. Two or three vague sentences full of psychobabble. Where’s Libra? Ah, there it is. Your emotional detachment threatens your interpersonal relationships. As you find yourself in increasingly heated situations, your inattention to others becomes more and more critical.
Hey, that’s not a prediction, it’s a personality profile. An insulting one, too. What a load of claptrap. That’s the trouble with these newspaper astrologers. They make sweeping generalizations that are obviously untenable. Every Libra in the city behaves this way? Doubt it.
Sniff the air. Something smells funny, like burning rubber. Better not be another short in the electrical system or the air conditioner. Ninety grand for a car, there shouldn’t be a single goddamn thing wrong with it for at least five years. Glance at the dashboard lights. Nothing indicates a problem. That’s a good sign. Maybe the smell is coming from outside; the air conditioner is on recirculate but eventually odors penetrate. Probably homeless people burning tires in an old oil drum. Even in high summer they have their fires going. Hazardous. The city ought to do something about that before they start a great big blaze and do some real damage. Especially down here in the industrial sector, so sodden with old petroleum and volatile chemicals that even the ground burns.
What’s that noise? Sounds like a goddamn cat scratching at the windshield. Probably some seedy stain with a dirty squeegee, hoping for a couple of bucks for getting the glass all smeary. Don’t make eye contact, don’t let his presence register. Just go deeper into the paper.
Shouting now. Can’t make out the words, the thick windows muffle his voice pretty well, and if he gets too annoying, just turn the radio up until it drowns him out. That’s the only way to deal with these cretins. Complaining to the cops doesn’t help, that’s for sure. Been there, done that.
Pounding on the driver’s side window now, still shouting. Angry that he’s not getting a response. Trying the handle, even; these weirdos get bolder every day. Eyes on the paper; move it closer, make it a wall to keep intruders at bay. Reach out and check that the doors are locked. The deeply tinted unbreakable glass was expensive, but worth it. No one will be getting into this vehicle without an invitation.
Finally, he’s gone away. The car will need a thorough washing now, wipe away any schizophrenic homeless junkie freak residue. Turn the music down; it doesn’t need to be so loud to keep out the regular sounds of the city.
A lot of sirens in the distance. Nothing unusual about that. Some lunatic probably opened fire on a day care with an automatic weapon. Coming this way, it sounds like. Ha. Good luck getting through this gridlock.
Different sound audible over the music as well; a hiss that’s almost a roar. Lower the newspaper, take a look around. Smoke lies heavy over the street. Fire. Everywhere, buildings burning. The block has become an inferno. Vehicles are jammed so tight in the street that the blaze is spreading to them. Even the pavement is burning, feeding a firestorm. It’s coming. It’s coming. It arrives. Orange-red-yellow dancing sheets blot out the street like shifting veils. Trapped. Nobody could survive out there.
Heating up inside the car. Flames lick the paint, raising blisters across the hood. The fire roars louder than any rush hour traffic, louder than the highest setting on the radio. Somewhere out there sirens wail, water gushes, things explode. Maybe they’ll put this out before it completely engulfs the car, before the gas tank goes up. Maybe they won’t. The only option is to stay put. Opening the door would be fatal.
Turn the air conditioner on full-blast. Crank up the stereo. Pick up the paper. Start to read, not looking out the windows again. Just wait it out.
That’s the only way to deal with rush hour.