prelude to nothing (let there be light)

Go to a strange place to take a long test. Everything is unfamiliar but signals an escape. Recall the repellent damp stench of the locker room. Trees waving from the roadside. Airing tires at the gas station. Old men clean the windshields, their starched white coveralls blistered in full noon sun. Now the strange sounds of Fiat Lux wash over the bed. Now a breeze enters the room. On the phone a voice to capture an ache. A head still full of numbers. Names to speak in a rush. Understand little / experience less / imagine all instead. Growing wake of books trails behind. Later too late. Later written to the page. Later loss of lettersloss of historyloss of self. Self walks awaynever in pursuit. Transport black bile across state lines. But no: too soon. Return, retrace. Head strikes blacktop, skin inflames summers. Cover with this overcoat before a surge at year’s end. Holy songs and rituals halo material desires. Now far offnow beyondnow tinny at the end of this dead line.

[w. 2015 / rev. 2017-2019]

the saboteur

The saboteur slips through the night wreaking a panoply of sabotage. No one sees it, though, for it is a discreet form of intangible sabotage in which this particular saboteur specializes. To cause hidden sabotage is harder than one might think, considers the saboteur as he packs up his equipment in the early morning hours. Crawling in and out of dreams, sidling through grey matter, traversing axons and creeping around dendrites: all of it grueling work. And for what, he mused. Freelancing is tough. It’s nice not having a boss, but you feel you’re on perpetual call. Don’t want to turn down any clients with the potential for lucrative return business. This madness results in very little down time, no chance of relationships beyond the superficial. It begs the question, he thinks, of why do it at all. Surely there is more rewarding work to be done. He thinks back to when it all began. Minor acts at first: messing with people’s heads without actually getting inside them via the back doors he later learned to use. Then a slow transformation of increasing technical subtlety, eventually ascending to the point of fully cloaked missions. Looking on it now he is mystified as to the actual steps leading to his present position. It is mostly a blur. What prompted his entrance into such an unusual vocation? He had no mentor; neither did the few others in his field utilize one. It was frowned upon. Not so much a badge of honor to go it alone as a matter of practicality. A highly competitive field it was, but also one where most saboteurs located an unfilled need and grew to fill it. They focused their efforts on what in effect became their own personal niche. Of course there were a few generalists around, but it was his understanding that they did not fare as well in terms of compensation. When it came to this type of work, clients wanted the best tool for the job, so to speak. For that is all he was, after all: a highly specialized tool. Outside of his narrow range of skills he was nothing. And when he retired or passed on someone else would take his place. Certainly the clients would not miss him. There was never any direct contact; the entire transaction was completed through a digital third party. They did not even know he existed as an individual, only an anonymous resource to be ordered for a specific task. As for his fellow saboteurs, well, it’s not like there was a professional association. Nor did anyone meet down at the pub after hours. For one thing, after hours usually meant early morning, a time when sleep’s siren song called louder and sweeter than the raucous hoots of the bar. And that sweet song was what he heard in his head at this very moment. Time to sweep away the dark existential thoughts now and embrace the daily death of sleep, one he hopes will be free of sabotage, particularly of the self-inflicted varietya type in which even the least experienced saboteurs among us excel.

it’s rather dry this time of year, isn’t it

Gagging on small talk was a common pastime we could not help but engage in, having never learned as small children how to talk to other people. Choking on dry word-chunks about the weather and idle chitchat regarding weekend plans was the norm. In the awkward silences mushrooming between ill-formed non sequiturs one would contemplate one’s fingernails with intensity. Perhaps the geometrically pleasing pattern in the kitchen tile would draw one’s eye and immediately become the single most important focal point in the room. Anything to prevent dwelling on the brainless statement that just dribbled out of one’s mouth 10 seconds earlier, now still hovering with impunity in the air, each second since feeling like an hour complete with all the attendant mental self-talk that typically fills such a length of time, only compressed into a single second, so like, really rapid-fire, and as a result significantly more debilitating. Maybe I will just stand here feigning rapt attention as I read every single package label in this entire snack machine, one of us considered, hoping against hope that during that excruciating length of time the room would empty itself of other humans. Another clung to a particularly adept small talker in the room, desperately hanging on each of the talker’s meaningless words, the line of thinking being that this human life preserver could certainly keep one afloat if one seemed really interested in the inane prattle issuing forth from its word-hole. Who would dare turn away from such a loyal audience at the risk of being outdone by some other babbler in the room. Who, indeed, I whispered to no one in particular as I slunk silently out the door, avoiding all eye contact throughout my quick and surreptitious departure, my soundless footfalls rapidly and confidently transporting me closer to solitudinous freedom.

weighing souls with sand: a response

Touched through by a white wing she stands defiant (or is it expectant) above the crashing waves. Orange storm sky rages above the rocky coastline. Thundering in her ears. Birds soar overheadtheir frantic cries pierce the heavy air. I don’t want to leave, I don’t want to leave. The darkening sky. The diminishing hour. A throat clogged with fear. The golden orb sinks toward a depthless chasm, loss radiating from its rim. There is only heavy sand belowsand to weigh a soul down. Perched on the rock, though, perhaps she will ascend, the feathers of the wing lessening her load, her arms open and her soul rough with sand, aching to be brushed clean.

the agent by russell edson

. . . Assigned to you when your flesh was separating from your
mother’s, this shadow, who seeing the opportunity at hand, joined your
presence in such a way as some say the soul is given.

You have always caricatured me in my travels. I have seen you on
mountains, and in dim cafes. I have seen you hold your head, your elbows
on your knees, and while I was sad you were serene!

I seek a mastery over fate, of which you are, in objective witness, the
agent of . . . I run away one night as you sleep, the trusting wife, whose
borders have opened in the universal dark.

She feels in the morning among the sheets for the easy habit of her
husband’s shape – Now arc the earth, sweet dark, the law of umbra give
you panic to search me out with your cunning speed of light!

~from The Clam Theater (1973)

hatred of writing update

Hatred of Writing is now available at both Atomic Books in Baltimore and Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago. Copies are also still available direct from me through PayPal on the order page. Many thanks to those who’ve already ordered! Your support means a lot.

From the depths of the salt mine comes…Hatred of Writing.

.

sentence death notice

The sentence died at 1:03 PM (EST). It was not an easy death. Tremors rippled across the subject area and into the predicate. Wheezing soon led to coughing up of apostrophes and commas. The sentence then clenched in pain and began hemorrhaging superfluous adjectives. It was all over in a matter of minutes. By the time the doctor arrived there was nothing left to do but carefully scoop up a jumbled pile of letters into a body bag. It was impossible to obtain a diagram for the records office.

The sentence is survived by the immediate members of its paragraph. There will be no funeral; instead, the paragraph invites all interested parties to attend a brief ceremony and reading from Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Thank you.

song of the drifter

The drifter drifts into town in the wake of a tumbleweed stampede. You know the scene. Faded porches flank a straight-arrow main drag. The chink, chink, chink of spurs as boots kick up tiny clouds of red dust. A town gone dead for want of purpose.

The drifter pauses. Cocks head left then right. Continues chink, chink, chinking down what passes for a street in these parched, forgotten parts.

Are any of my friends here?

His shout echoes off the weathered grey clapboard buildings.

(How about my enemies?)

He laughs. My enemies. They may be legion but here they are not.

Above this parody of a town the sun busies itself with broiling the world beneath it. The drifter shields his eyes, peers up. High noon approaches. The time of reckoning, he reckons.

Out of his line of sight an alley-side door cracks open. A creature of diminutive stature pokes its weather-beaten head out and focuses red rheumy eyes on the tall shadow growing larger out on the main drag. The head recedes and the door eases shut behind it.

The drifter pauses in his progress to once again bellow at the sky.

Have you forgotten me?

The tortured sound of the drifter’s voice carries. Below the porch of the town bank a pack rat pauses, whiskers twitching, in its survey of sweepings.

Where have all of you gone?

The drifter steps up onto the porch of the saloon. Chink, chink, chink. The door swings open with a creak.

In the darkness the two burning eyes pause to adjust. But there is not much to see. A roomful of dust-covered tables. A lacquered bar bare of bottles on the rack behind it. In one corner a low stage. In another a battered billiards table. And everywhere stagnation. Desolation of loss. An absence of company.

Outside the drifter removes his hat and wipes his brow. He stares across the street at the building from which had briefly emerged the diminutive creature with the watery eyes. Yes, that’s the one. He descends the stairs.

Inside the building minor panic crescendoes to a state of mania. But the small man is now dressed. He snaps the top snap of his best shirt, knots his bolo tie. Now he pulls on his boots. Now he grooms his drooping whiskers. Now he fits the gun belt around his waist. He opens the door.

It is high noon. In the street stand two figures back to back: one tall and one short. Were it not for the gravity of context the sight might elicit a chuckle, perhaps even a guffaw. But the street remains silent. It is, after all, otherwise empty.

Twenty paces is the rule here, no matter the length of stride. And so they begin. Chink, chink, chink.

The pack rat scurries down an alley, back to its midden. It wants no truck with this scene.

The two figures turnone aims high, the other low.

On a bluff outside of town a shepherd’s shaggy head swivels at the pistols’ report. He gazes down at the town as his sheep nibble the last bits of greenery growing on this rocky point.

Drawing his horn to his lips the shepherd blows a long mournful note. Down below the drifter saunters out of town whistling a tune no one ever recognizes.

new zine: hatred of writing

Hatred of Writing, © 2018 S. D. Stewart

Now Available: Hatred of Writing

Selected short fiction from the past five years.

Limited to 50 numbered copies

48 pages, digest-sized, hand-lettered cover

Published in October 2018

$5 US / $6 CAN / $7 World

Order by PayPal or for cash payments via post send me a message.

doves depart

Thunder cracks
over doves of doom
perched on wire,
tails toward gray mass
tracking north,
a wet smudge to
wash our heat away.
What wonder sprung
from this shall pass
before doves depart,
folded feathers
now unfurled,
shedding rain
as voices sing
familiar words
in arcane bursts.

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