“school shooter,” by Eric Robert Nolan

Grendel’s mother wanted murder; but we all knew that,
you knew that just by looking at her:
the green and odorous skin like dark olive parchment over her cheeks’ low bones,
the blackening teeth where the stale blood caked
and dried in her receding gumlines
like burgundy ink on her molars and incisors,
and a blackening-scarlet
stain on her canines.

Remember when we first saw her —
her flaccid breasts like flour-sacks,
her womanhood a stagnant moss,
the cadaverous, driving
lime of her hips,
her labia in livid lines
of bitter water lilies?

Remember the rising, putrid moon of her —
her green, sour form arching over ours in her ascent,
burning up from the green lake, a gangrene flame from the brackish water,
her profane grin adorning her,
and algae tracing her lips?

Remember the wet weeds
trailing the viridian strait of her throat
like silt-laden necklaces,
and all the mud and water rolling off her knuckles?
The spoiled laurel of her sinewed shoulders,
her outspread arms and their
parody of embrace?
Remember her mocking our own mothers?
Her derisive voice was like
the crack of splitting emeralds, asking,
“Am I so strange to young eyes?”

Remember the boiling fat on her tongue and
her victims’ burning skin there?
The scalps she held in her upturned palms
were like watery garments.
Her talons were as black
as snapping-turtle shells.
We all knew at once that we were quarry.

Remember her
sorrel-colored cataracts?
Her eyes were as green seas
boiling under Ragnarok.
Remember their ruptured capillaries
like collapsing red galaxies?
Remember her very irises bleeding?

But what if evil appeared
not as the face of Grendel’s mother,
but, rather, the ordinary boy in her maw —
as unexotic and as common
as we are?
If we were boys and girls again
and bored in English class —
maybe at Beowulf’s strangeness,
or maybe the strangeness of Jung —
and he were next to us,
with neither green skin
nor blood along his molars,
if he wanted murder, could we tell?
His face was as a clock’s face — prosaic and round.
Neither silt nor sinew lined his frame.
His gaze did not depict a grisly cosmos;
no galaxies had hemorrhaged in his eyes.
Would the difference be perceptible there
between wanting to kill time
and wanting to kill ten?
Would we know that we were quarry?

Tonight we’d like to believe
that the young are strange to old eyes
for any resemblance would kill us,
as Medusa’s own face was fatal
to her upon the shield.
As adults, we understand
that Beowulf is only fable —
but that Jung’s reservoir
is a fatal green lake.
Better an Idis than likeness —
if a monster looks like us, it stands to reason
that maybe he could BE us,
we’d nag in our primordial minds.
It might make us envision
a kind of reverse baptism:
our own plain faces
cresting the flat, green waters
to glide across the lake,
but bearing the eyes of strangers,
emerald and seething,
irises bleeding,
crushed green reeds in our jaws, like captive verses …

And we could not suffer the thought.
Better to be quarry, or be drowned.
We’d know that, and so
we would run mad, we would run weeping, we would run forward and ravening to the green, forgiving lake,

where we could sink like Beowulf,
and our silenced lungs would fill with water.

                                                            (May 19th, 2018)

(c) 2018 Eric Robert Nolan

 

franz-von-stuck-head-of-medusa-1892

“The Disappearance of Little Tommy Drummond,” By Eric Robert Nolan

[First published by Dead Beats Literary Blog, November 5, 2013]

A town could die from the inside out.

That was what Kira Manning thought as she gazed absently out from the wide front window of Manning Hardware in Willibee, Massachusetts. A single loss close to its heart can reverberate throughout a town, in the same manner that a malignant cancer flourishes throughout a body.

On the surface, things might look the same. Main Street beyond her window still held the same cars and passersby. Eddie Berenger, the town drunk, still ambled along with his big, dark green Army knapsack, ever laboring under the misconception that nobody knew it held a 12-pack. Anna Mirren walked smartly along with her arms full of choir notes for the Willibee First Baptist Church Adult Choir. And the prim Mrs. Bell still strolled like royalty along the sidewalk, her corgi keeping perfect pace with her like a diligent squire.

But that was the surface. Today, Willibee was a changed place. On a telephone pole just outside the store window, a poster broadcast a word in bold black letters:

MISSING

Below that was a photograph. A handsome 11-year-old boy with closely cropped black hair smiled broadly out at passersby. That smile suggested a soul who had never seen a rainy day in his life. If the boy himself had been standing there on the sidewalk, the smile would have been contagious.

But he wasn’t there on the sidewalk. Little Tommy Drummond had been missing since May 9th, 2013. He had been playing with two friends at Falcon’s Wing (or just “The Wing,” to many locals), a twisting ravine among the piney hills along Willibee’s western edge. The Wing had been a favorite place for the town’s children – a steep, sharp rift, full of thick vines, with a sandy trail winding along the bottom. Lined by coniferous ridges, it was actually quite close to town, running alongside it. Yet it was tucked firmly under the forest’s endless canopy of pines.

Tommy had been playing with two friends – John Paulson and Troy Bristol – and they were the last two people to see him alive. And now, as the calendar crept into the waning days of a humid June, a growing consensus held that they would always be the last to have seen him.

Tommy Drummond never returned home that night. And the only sign of him the following day had been a single, bright red, left sneaker, sitting askew in the ravine’s vines.

Kira turned away from the window. She was a slender 32-year-old in a red flannel shirt, with a cascade of curly walnut hair tied back in a ponytail. She had much work to do. It was inventory day at Manning Hardware, and she preferred to run a tight ship. Besides, she was only one woman, and the store was hers alone. She liked to run a tight ship because life had taught her that she needed to do so. She’d been orphaned by a car accident when she was 14, and she was far too independent to have ever married. She was one of those uncommon people who truly treated industry as a virtue. And so she resumed counting the rows of squat green Kohlemen Lanterns on an overhead shelf.

Still, like so many others in Willibee, her thoughts returned to what the newspapers had dubbed “The Drummond Case.” Willibee was a logging community of about 2,000 souls, and the possibility of a kidnapping or murder had monopolized – no, fundamentally altered – the town consciousness. Nobody could forget the pageant of grief that was the local news coverage: Cynthia Drummond, the mother, weeping openly on television; the worn, frightened look of Sean Drummond, that father; the shell-shocked expressions of his two younger sisters.

And nobody could forget the singular nature of the case’s strangest clue. On May 11, two days after the disappearance, someone in the search party noticed a single word carved into one of the great, tall pines lining The Wing:

NERO

Police determined that it had been made with a pocket knife, and neither of Tommy Drummond’s playmates had placed it there. And nobody had a firm idea how it might relate to the boy’s disappearance. Nearly all opined, however, that it had something to do with it. The tree sat at a high pass that overlooked nearly all of Falcon’s Wing; whoever had put the message there could easily see where Tommy and the other boys had been playing. The FBI had been called in from the Boston Field Office (kidnapping is a federal crime), and their forensics experts had determined that it had been carved at about the same time the boys had been there.

Nero. What did that mean? Was it a name? If so, was it a name the abductor called himself, or was it an appellation given to him by others? A minority in the town held that it wasn’t a name at all, but a reference – “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Was that how the message was intended?

But while Rome burned, a chill settled over Willibee. The effect on the town was difficult to fully describe. Certain changes were predictable: people locked their doors at night, schools cancelled outdoor activities, parents admonished their children never to talk to strangers. And, of course, children no longer played along Falcon’s Wing.

The real effect of the disappearance, however, ran far deeper; the chill over Willibee permeated its very bones. A sense of danger can invade a place. It can occupy a town like an opposing army. It can change the nature of every single subsequent moment for the people living there. Willibee was a small town, and like many small towns, it was no stranger to provincialism. Residents there had once credited themselves for living lives that were simpler and safer than those who lived in big cities. The Drummond Case robbed them of that. The sense of safety was gone now, leaving a gap that was as painful as a roughly extracted tooth. And the most venomous aspect to all of this was a suspicion – that the crime had been committed by one of Willibee’s own. The small town was not a tourist destination, and had few visitors. Some of the lumberjacks were seasonal workers from elsewhere, but the police had investigated them with no real leads.

The possibility – the very notion – that “Nero” could be a local was not only terrifying, it also destroyed the town’s sense of identity. It was a different place now – the old Willibee was dead, while this new and frightened community had fallen, trembling, in its place. With Tommy Drummond’s loss, the town had died from the inside out.
After a solid day’s work, Kira closed Manning Hardware just a little early at 4:50 PM. Skipping her usual cup of coffee at the Bumblebee Diner, she proceeded directly home. Her left turn on Willows Street took her past one of the immense and solid walls of pines that lined the town like ramparts. Not far away was Falcon’s Wing.

She too had played along The Wing as a girl, in those forever-ago days when she had parents. Her favorite game was hide and seek, and she had been good at it. She remembered how each tree seemed like a friend and a teammate, concealing her flight from her pursuers. She remembered how the fallen pine needles on the forest floor made her footfalls silent.

Now the trees felt like a presence once again. Here, in yet another humid June evening, they stood sentinel over the secret of Tommy Drummond’s fate.

A girlish, irrational thought crossed her mind – “Maybe the pine trees took him.” She could imagine them thinking, conspiring once again, but this time as confederates with whatever dark soul had stolen away with the lost boy.

Shivering a little, Kira continued home.

(c) Eric Robert Nolan, 2013

 

PuszczaBydgoska_night4_01-2015

Photo credit: By Pit1233 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

More stories from Eric Robert Nolan

If you happened to enjoy “Shine Now, Fiercely, Forever” last week, then stop by the “My stories” section right here at this website.  It has links to all of my published stories, and some of them can be read for free:

https://ericrobertnolan.wordpress.com/stories/

Publication notice: “Shine Now, Fiercely, Forever” featured at The Bees Are Dead!

I am truly honored today to see my colleagues over at The Bees Are Dead feature a new short story of mine.  Its title is “Shine Now, Fiercely, Forever,” and it might be the darkest thing I’ve ever written.  It portrays a married couple constructing the world’s first functioning time machine — and then discovering what are possibly the worst possible consequences of such a device malfunctioning.

Thanks so much to Philippe Atherton-Blenkiron for allowing me to share via The Bees Are Dead, his online magazine for dystopian prose and poetry!  I am grateful indeed for the opportunity he’s afforded me.

“Shine Now, Fiercely, Forever” can be found right here:

http://www.thebeesaredead.com/prose/shine-now-fiercely-forever-eric-robert-nolan/

Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine features “Amanda” and “Amanda II, A Haiku”

Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine released Issue 9 tonight; if you’re so inclined, you can peruse my poems, “Amanda” and “Amanda II, A Haiku.”  (You can find them on pages 16 and 20, respectively.)

You can actually download the magazine for free right here:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/samantha-rose/peeking-cat-poetry-magazine-issue-9/ebook/product-22468453.html

Or, if you’d like to have a hard copy of Peeking Cat delivered to you, you can purchase it here:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/samantha-rose/peeking-cat-poetry-magazine-issue-9/paperback/product-22468430.html

Once again, thanks to Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine for allowing me to have my work included among that of so many talented authors.

 

unnamed

MY LONG STORY, “IRIDESCENT GREEN SHARKS,” IS AVAILABLE FOR FREE AT WATTPAD.COM.

October finds me in the mood to try new things, and so I have self-published a tragic story entitled “Iridescent Green Sharks” on the wonderful website, Wattpad.com. This story is dedicated to Audrey Hanson.

“Iridescent Green Sharks” is the story of Sean and Maryanne, lifelong friends, storytellers, and lovers of words, who inevitably come to love each other. Yet divergent paths in life can make love, art and even life itself suffer – or ultimately be destroyed.

The story is a bit long, at just over 11,000 words. It can be viewed here:

http://www.wattpad.com/26952420-iridescent-green-sharks-this-story-is-dedicated?d=ud