Impressions [Part Two: Lunch]

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Brian Ennis paid for his lunch with a credit card and thanked the cashier.  He picked up the plastic tray with the food in one hand and the disposable cup of tap water with the other.  He walked across the busy restaurant and found an empty table in the corner by a window.

He sat and observed dozens of pedestrians passing by outside.  All dressed up and rushing about to accomplish something before their allotted lunch breaks were over.  A homeless man was standing near the corner holding a cardboard sign that said “THE END IS NIGH” in sloppy block letters written with a permanent marker.  A low bank of dark clouds had overtaken the sky and the local meteorologists were calling for rain by late afternoon.

Brain removed the plastic lid from his salad and was just beginning to squirt ranch dressing across it when a nondescript man in a suit walked up to his table.  Brian recognized his face, had seen him around the office.  It was no coincidence that someone from work would just suddenly pop up–  Since he had applied with the company he had learned that he was never truly alone.

“Brian Ennis, right?”  The man said.  He unbuttoned his suit jacket and sat down across from Brian.

“Yes.  I’ve seen you around work…”

“Peter Fultz.”  The man said.  He extended an open hand over the table.

Brain briefly shook hands with him.  “Nice to meet you, Peter.  Fancy running into you here.”

“No kidding.  I already had lunch.  Was just passing by and noticed you through the window.”

An obvious lie.  Brian thought.  He had been looking out of the window and had not seen Peter, but he decided to let it go.

“How did the meeting with the old man go today?”  Peter said.

“You mean Mr. Reynolds?

Peter chuckled.  “Yeah, we all call him ‘the old man.’  He’s a great guy, just don’t get on his bad side.”

Brian sighed.  “It went well, I think.”

“That’s good.  By the way, I’m sorry.  Just doing my job.”

“I–  I don’t understand.”

“I was the one who alerted the old man to the phone conversation you had with your brother.”  Peter said.

“Oh.”

“You know, you might want to warn your bro.  Keeps going off like that and he’ll probably end up on one of the labor camps, maybe worse.”

Brian didn’t respond.  He picked up the black plastic fork and took a bite of the salad.

“Yeah, you have to be careful with those cell phones.  Best invention ever, as far as our line of work goes, but you have to be careful.”

Brain chewed another bite of lettuce before saying:  “Feel free to elaborate.”

“Well, you’ll learn more after you’ve been with the company for a while…”  Peter paused to glance back over his shoulder, making sure that no one was within earshot.  He leaned forward toward Brian and lowered the volume of his voice.  “See, the cell is the ultimate spy device.  It’s not just that every call and text is recorded, but they have live microphones and cameras that people freely carry around with them all day long.”

“Yes, I’m aware of that.”  Brain said.  “Of course, one can always turn the phone off.”

Peter laughed.  “Not really.  All of the features are still accessible when off–  Unless the battery is removed.  But on most of the newer models you cannot remove the battery!”  He laughed again.

“The times we live in, I guess.”  Brain said.

“Indeed.  It’s getting a bit out of control, though.  There are computer programs now where anyone can tap into a phone and see what’s going on–  Whether you’re talking on it or it’s just sitting on your coffee table.  Could be your wife, your best friend, a neighbor or even your worst enemy.”

Brian shrugged.  He continued to eat his lunch and thirty seconds of silence followed as Peter sat and quietly observed him.

“Anyway,”  Peter said.  “Remind me one of these days to show you this footage I saved off one of our surveillance cameras.  I think you’ll get a real kick out of it.”

“What is it?”

“Oh, this hippy chick we’ve been following.  Runs a health store downtown.  She was becoming a bit too persuasive about some of the additives in the food, some other stuff.  Had a team swoop in and black bag her last week.  Only took them two minutes from the time of entry to bag her and get her into the van, pretty impressive.  But you should hear her screaming and carrying on!”

“Where is she now?”

Shrugged.  “Beats me.  Probably in a torture camp somewhere on the other side of the world.  Not my business.”  Peter said.

Brain took another bite of salad and made a conscious effort to keep his face expressionless.

“Well, I had better get back to work.  Nice chatting with you, Brain.”  Peter stood up and smiled down at him.

“You too, Peter.  Have a great day.”  He watched as the man walked across the restaurant and exited through the side door.

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[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

Impressions [Part One: The New Hire]

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“You wanted to see me, sir?”  Brian Ennis said.  He had found the office door open after exiting the elevator on the sixth floor.  Mr. Reynolds was sitting hunched over his desk flipping through a stack of papers.  He stopped what he was doing and looked up at the doorway.

“Oh, hello, Brian.  Yes, come in.  Close the door.”

Brian closed the door and walked over toward the massive desk the old man was sitting behind.

“Please, have a seat.”  Mr. Reynolds said.  He moved the stack of papers off to the side and gestured with his hand at the two plush chairs located just in front of the desk.

“Sure.”  Brian said.  He picked the chair on the right.

“What do you think of  the job so far?”  Mr. Reynolds said.  His eyebrows arched upward as he asked the question and it caused the wrinkles on his forehead to furrow.

Brain smiled.  “I love it, sir.  Type of job I’ve been looking for.”

Mr. Reynolds nodded and squinted at him.

“So, this is your second week here?”

“Third week.”  Brian said.

“Okay.  Well, the reason I called you into my office today…  I  just wanted to have a short chat about some of the work we do here, some of the stuff you’ll be exposed to over the next few weeks…”  He trailed off, allowing Brian time to respond.

“Alright.”

Mr. Reynolds continued:  “Then there will be just a couple more things I’d like to go over that involve your personal life.”  He paused to look down at his watch.  “And I’ll have you out of here just in time for your usual lunch hour.”

“Sounds good.”  Brian said.

“Fantastic.  Let’s start off with a simple question.  What does the word ‘biometric’ mean to you?”

“Um, well, as far as the type of work we’re doing here is concerned, the word refers to unique characteristics or traits in a person that can be stored digitally and used to later identify that person.”

Mr. Reynolds smiled.  “Yes, basically.  What would you say the first major breakthrough form of biometrics used to identify criminals was?”

Brian hesitated a moment.  “Fingerprints?”  He said.

Mr. Reynolds nodded.  “They were first used for that purpose in India in the 1860’s.  But can you actually name the person who was the first to place the study on a scientific footing?”

Brain was beginning to feel like he was on a game show.  “Um, that would be Francis Galton, right?”

Mr. Reynolds beamed.  “Wow, very good, I’m surprised that you know that.”

“Thank you, sir.”  Brian actually had serious moral issues with Galton, but realized that saying so would be a bad idea.

“On a quick side note, Brian, did you know that nowadays there are even methods to test if an individual smokes cigarettes, drinks coffee or uses street drugs just from their fingerprints?”

“No, I was not aware of that.”

“It’s true.  But anyway,”  He waved his hand in the air as if to dismiss the subject.  “Over the next few weeks you’ll be trained on both voice and facial recognition software.  Our training team is superb, but if you do run into any problems, anything at all, be sure to let me know.”

“Okay.”

“Are you aware that all phone calls and text messages have been saved and stored in supercomputers for over ten years now?”  Mr. Reynolds said.

“Yes, I read that in a news article somewhere.”

“Okay.  How about the fact that the facial recognition software is already in most security cameras?”

He shook his head.  “Hadn’t heard about that.”

“Ah, doesn’t matter.  By the end of the year we’ll train you on some programs that deal with palm prints, DNA, iris recognition, walking gait patterns and even RFID chips.  Sound good?”

“Sure.  This is all–  I mean, it’s only used on criminals, right?”  Brian said.

Thirty seconds of silence followed as Mr. Reynolds calmly, coldly stared him down across the desk.

“No.  Not exactly.”  He said.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.  Is that going to be a problem?”

“Nope.”  Brian said without hesitation.

“Good.  Now, the other reason I called you in here today…”  Mr. Reynolds leaned down and pulled a small stack of papers out of a drawer in his desk.  “Since we offered you the job here we have assigned a couple people to observe you day and night.  We’ve also been surveilling your wife.  I just wanted to clarify a couple of things…”  He started leafing through the papers in his hand.  “Last Tuesday you had a conversation on your cell with your brother, correct?”

Brian nodded and gulped.

“Yes.  The conversation was brought to my attention.”  Mr. Reynolds said.  “I listened to a recording of it.  About five minutes into the conversation the two of you started talking about this thing called freedom?”

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[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

The Voice of the Damned

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“What do you think?”  Lucas said.  He nodded toward the house.

“Hell, I don’t know.”  Warren said.  He climbed off of his motorcycle and put the kickstand down.  “The front door has been ripped off the hinges.  The place looks deserted.  But who knows? Some of those things could still be in there.”

“Yeah.  Stay here with the bikes.”  Lucas said.  “I’ll be right back.”  He pulled the binoculars out of his saddlebag and walked down into the ditch facing the house.  He raised the binoculars up to his eyes while crouching there and scanning over the windows.

Warren remained standing next to his motorcycle.  He was wearing his helmet but had the visor flipped up so he was able to look down the road for any sign of approaching vehicles.  They had been cruising around the back roads on the outskirts of the city for an hour, looking for any supplies they could get their hands on.  Lucas had spotted the white farmhouse and signaled a stop.  They had not encountered any other humans since leaving the camp.

After a couple of minutes had passed Lucas lowered the binoculars and walked back.

“See anything?”

Lucas shook his head and sighed.  “No.  Doesn’t mean that there aren’t any in there, though.”

“I suppose we’re going to have a look.”  Warren said.

“I suppose so.”

“Just don’t want a repeat of last week.”  Warren said.

“Look, Jack was being stupid, okay?  Not saying he deserved to go out like that, ’cause no one does.  But he was asking for trouble, letting his guard down like an idiot.  Keep your gun out and be ready for anything.”

“I know, I know.”  Warren said.  “Hey, you think Natalie’s safe back at the camp?”

“Yeah, most likely.  They don’t roam around very often in the daytime.  Besides, she has plenty of weapons and knows how to use them.”

“True enough.”

Lucas sighed again.  “Alright, let’s get this over with.”  He said.

They crossed the ditch side by side while pulling out their pistols.  Neither spoke as they passed over the unkempt  front lawn and stepped softly onto the porch.  Warren’s stomach churned and he thought he was going to lose his breakfast.

Are you seeing this?”  He said, voice barely above a whisper.

Lucas narrowed his eyes and raised his index finger to his lips.  Quiet.

His earlier assessment had been correct:  The front door had been torn from the frame and was nowhere to be found.  Blood was pooled and dried nearly everywhere across the front porch, and from what he was able to see, it was also splattered all over inside of the home. He grabbed Lucas’ arm and used his other hand to motion in the direction of the bikes. Let’s go back!

Lucas shook his head and walked into the house.  Warren looked back at the motorcycles sitting in the middle of the road one last time, took a deep breath, and then crossed the threshold.

More horror awaited them inside.  Every room they passed through was in total disrepair: Most of the furniture was shredded and broken, the television set was smashed, the windows were knocked out.  Warren noticed many bullet holes in the walls and the ceiling, and, of course, there was no missing the blood spattered and smeared everywhere.  No sign of life to be found and no bodies.  Nothing to be heard, either–  The house was silent.

When they reached the kitchen at the far corner of the first floor Lucas leaned forward and whispered next to his ear.

“See if you can find any food.”  He said.  “I’m going to check upstairs.”

Warren nodded in response and began to look through the cupboards.  It didn’t take long. Nothing.  Every cupboard was empty.  There was a severed arm that had once belonged to a large man stuffed into the refrigerator, but nothing else.  He opened a slender door across from the refrigerator and found himself staring down a narrow flight of stairs leading into the darkened cellar.

Lucas returned to the kitchen and walked over to have a look at the staircase.

“More of the same upstairs.”  He said under his breath.  “Any food?”

Warren shook his head.  He reached into the front pocket of his leather jacket and took out a  flashlight, turned it on.

“Ready?”

Lucas now had his own flashlight clenched in one hand, his pistol in the other.  “Let’s go.”

They started walking slowly, quietly down the steps.

“Oh, dear God.”  Warren said.  The cellar was one large, dark room with skulls, bones and various body parts covering every inch of the floor that the bobbing light passed over…

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Sudden movement from the corner of the room-  Warren turned on his heel and raised the beam of light.

The creature lurking there opened its mouth and hissed at them as the flashlight illuminated its face.  Its eyes were huge and pitch black with a tiny mouth full of fangs and no nose to be seen.  It had a tall, slender body with long, spindly arms and legs. The bloody, half eaten corpse of a young man was propped up against the wall next to where the thing stood.

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Demon!”  Lucas said.  “It is time that you were sent back to hell!”  He charged at the thing while firing his gun.  The shadows behind the creature were swirling about with some sort of living, dark energy.  The first shot went wide and hit the wall, but the second one hit it in the shoulder.   The creature’s mouth opened wide and it shrieked with the voice of the damned.

Warren was frozen in place with fear, his hands were shaking as he tried to hold the flashlight steady and aim the gun at the same time.

Lucas squeezed off one more round, hitting the creature in the abdomen.  The thing shrieked again, but this time it jumped forward, toward Lucas.  It slashed out with the claws on one hand and severed the man’s head in one sudden movement.  His decapitated body slumped to the ground and blood gushed from the stump that remained above his shoulders.

“No!”  Warren screamed.

The creature turned to face him and its mouth twisted up into a strange smile.

Join us.”  The thing rasped.  “We are many.”

Warren started shooting and didn’t stop until he was out of bullets.  The thing shrieked one final time and then fell down next to where Lucas’ body was laying.  The shadows stopped swirling and immediately retreated.

Warren turned and sprinted back up the flight of stairs and found his way outside.  He frantically crossed the front lawn, panting, out of breath.  His mind was unable to process all that had just happened.   He jumped onto his motorcycle and raced back to camp.

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Natalie was sitting on a log next to the fire pit when she noticed a motorcycle approaching. The fact that there was only one of them meant that something had gone wrong.  As the figure advanced she was able to identify it as Warren, so that was a relief.

But where was Lucas?  She thought.

*               *               *              *               *

By the time he reached the camp and dismounted from the bike tears were streaming down Warren’s face.  He took the helmet off and threw it in sheer anger.

Natalie raced over and embraced him.  He allowed her to lead him over to the fire.  He sat down next to her and told her everything that had happened.

“You just left his body there?”  Natalie said.

“We’re going back for him and the other bike in the morning.”  Warren said.  “I just had to get out of there…  I just couldn’t…  I…”

“It’s okay, it’s okay.  I understand.”  She leaned forward and hugged him again, kissed him.  “Lucas was a good man and he’ll be missed.”

Warren nodded.  “Yes.”

“Did you find any food?”

He frowned and shook his head.

“No big deal.  We still have enough for a few days.”

He was just sitting there staring into the fire, a strange transfixed look upon his face.  She reached out, grabbed his wrist and gave it a slight tug.  He turned to face her.

“Hey, you’re covered in blood.  Why don’t we walk over to the lake and get you cleaned up?”  She said.

“Okay.”

*               *               *               *               *

Later that evening Warren and Natalie enjoyed a simple dinner by the campfire.  They shared the last bottle of whiskey while telling stories about how good life had been before evil had returned to the earth and destroyed society.  They shared memories of their beloved family members, of Lucas, and of all the others who had fallen thus far along their journey.

They made love under the stars and tried to remember a time that was full of peace and happiness.

*

[Original writing / photography / art by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

A Romantic Dinner By Candlelight

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“I’ll be right back, sweetie.  Going to take this to the kitchen.”  Devin said.  He stood up from the small dining room table and picked up his empty plate.

“Oh, wait, you can take mine.”  Veronica said.

“You’re sure?  All finished?”

“Yeah.”  She said.  “Couldn’t possibly eat another bite.”

Devin picked up her plate.  “How was it?”  He said.  His eyebrows raised as he awaited her response.

Yum.  Absolutely delicious.”  She said.  “I had no idea you were such a talented cook…”

Devin smiled.  “Thanks.  I’ll grab us some more wine while I’m in there.”

“Okay, honey.”  Veronica smiled back at him.

She watched as he crossed the dining room and disappeared from sight around the corner. Devin had surprised her by inviting her over to his condo for dinner.  Usually on Friday nights they went out to a nice restaurant.   But she certainly wasn’t complaining-  He had cooked two steaks [Medium-well] with baked potatoes on the side and then opened an expensive bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  They had enjoyed the meal, the wine, and a light chat about daily life by candlelight while the stereo played Mozart softly in the background.

Devin reappeared and whistled to the classical music as he walked back across the room with the bottle.  He refilled both glasses before reclaiming his seat across from her at the table.  He picked up his glass of wine and raised it in the air.

“A toast…”  He said.

Veronica picked up her glass and smiled again.

“To our love.”  He winked at her.

“To our love.”  She nodded and they clinked their glasses together.  Each took a sip.

“Listen, Veronica?”

“Yes, darling?”

“You’re probably wondering why I invited you over here tonight, huh?”  He said.

“Well, yes…  I have a few ideas…”

“Oh, no…  Nothing like that–  Er, I mean…  That came out wrong–”

She reached over and softly patted the back of his hand.  “It’s alright, I know what you mean.”

“Thanks.”  He took another sip of wine.  “The last year, as you know, has been amazing…”

“I couldn’t agree more, dear.”  She said.  “Absolutely amazing.”

“And the wedding is just around the corner, a few weeks away–”

She interrupted him by holding her hands up in the air and emitting a high-pitched squealing sound while hopping up and down in her chair with excitement.

“Uh-huh.  Yes.”  He paused and waited as she regained her composure.  “So, I was talking about some stuff with my Mom last night…”  He stopped and sighed.

She took a sip of wine and gazed across the table.  “What were you two talking about?”

“I’ve always considered her to be a very wise old lady and I wanted to get her advice on something.  You see, baby, there’s something I have to tell you about before we go any further…”

“What do you mean?”  Veronica said.

“You know me, my life is an open book.  I don’t believe in secrets.  What you see is what you get.”

She nodded.

“But, unfortunately, there is one secret that I have been keeping from you…  From most people in my life…”

Her heart skipped a beat and a million different possibilities flashed through her mind.

“I decided that it would be better to just tell you about it now than have you discover it somewhere down the road.”  Devin said.

“I-  I don’t understand…”  Her brow furrowed with befuddlement.

“Hold on a sec.”  Devin picked up his wine glass, swallowed the rest in three giant gulps, immediately refilled the glass.  “Sorry,”  He said.  “This is really hard for me.”

Veronica remained silent.

“Well, here goes…”  He said.  “When I was in the third grade a friend of mine named Richie dared me to pull a piece of old chewing gum off the bottom of a desk at school and chew on it.”

Five seconds of silence, neither one of them moved.

Veronica started laughing.  “Really?  That’s what you wanted to confess to me?  You are such a funny little man!”  She reached out to hold his hand.

“I’m not finished with the story yet.”  Devin said.  He was staring down at the table and had stopped making eye contact with her.

She pulled her hand back and nervously took another sip of wine.

“I pulled the old gum off and I chewed on it…  And, well, I really enjoyed it!”  He said.

“Um, that was a long time ago, cutie pie!”  Veronica said.

“Yes, it was.  But I liked it so much that a few days later I found an old piece of gum stuck to the wall in the boys room and I did it again.  That time I wasn’t dared by anyone to do it.”

“Okay, well, um…  That’s pretty weird, but it was so long ago, I understand.”  She tried her best to smile.

“No, sugar, you don’t fully understand.  See, it quickly became an obsession of mine.  It didn’t matter where I found the gum, or how long it had been there, or ever how gross it looked.  Whenever I saw a piece stuck somewhere I simply had to pull it off and start chewing on it, tasting it…  Experiencing the flavor…”  He trailed off and took another drink.

“Wh-  Um, I’m not sure what to say!  Kids do really strange, crazy things sometimes, and–”

“You know me,”  He said.  “I love chewing gum, I always have some.”

She chuckled.  “That’s true.  Almost every time I see you, just smacking and chewing away…”

“Veronica, look, what I’m trying to tell you is that I’ve never paid for a single piece of gum in my entire life.  My obsession–  It never stopped!”  He sighed again.

What?  Is this some kind of sick joke?”  She said.

He shook his head.  “No.  I am afraid not.  I have tried talking to shrinks, I have tried medication. Doesn’t work.  I’ve chewed on old gum from park benches, the subway, the sidewalk, public restrooms, the bottom of my shoes, places that you couldn’t even imagine. Sometimes I’ll get lucky and find a fresh piece that’s still warm!”

Veronica had turned as pale as a ghost.  “Oh my God!  You’re serious!”

Devin frowned and nodded.

“Uh!  I think I’m going to vomit!  I can’t believe this is happening!  I thought I had found the perfect man…  You–  You’ve kissed me with gum in your mouth, you disgusting sonuvabitch!”  She grabbed her purse and raced for the front door.

“Veronica, wait!”  Devin said.

But it was too late, she had already left the condo.

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[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

Inflamed

Henry Judge walked into the gas station.  A skinny young man with a red vest and a name tag was standing behind the counter.  The employee heard the door as it closed and turned to make eye contact with him.

“How are we this morning?”  The employee said.

“Oh, pretty good,”  Henry said.  “Say, do you guys sell those red plastic containers for gasoline here?”

“Yes, of course.”  The guy said.  “The polyethylene gas cans are back there on a shelf next to the oil.”  He extended a bony finger while speaking and pointed toward the far corner of the store.

“Thanks.”

Henry walked over in that direction and located the gas cans.  Three options on the shelf:  One and a quarter gallon can for thirteen ninety-nine, two and a half gallons for sixteen ninety-nine, and five gallons for nineteen ninety-nine.  He picked up the largest one and walked back to the register.

“All set?”  The employee said.  Henry was finally close enough to make out the name tag-  Scott.

“Yeah.  I’ll take this and prepay for five gallons of regular.”

Scott picked up the gas can and scanned the bar code.  “Car ran out of gas?”  He said, smirking.

“Yep, something like that.”  Henry said.  He smiled and reached for his wallet.

After pumping the gas and screwing the lid onto the container Henry walked the short distance back to his house.  It was a typical spring morning:  The sun was shining and robins were singing while they flitted about and hopped through the green grass.  A few puffy white clouds and a couple of chemtrails drifted languidly across the blue sky overhead.  The usual noisy morning rush hour traffic paralleled him as he made his way down the sidewalk.  He held the gas can down at his side while walking and the sound of the liquid sloshing back and forth kept rhythm with his stride.

Jerry, his neighbor, was outside rooting about in his garden.  He turned to smile and wave at Henry as he turned and walked up the driveway that separated their properties.

“Good morning, Jerry.”  Henry said.  He raised his free hand and returned the wave.

“Morning.”  Jerry said.  He turned around and continued to toil.

He just saw you walking up to your house with that bright red container, Henry!  The voice in his head warned as he fished his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the front door to the small house.

“Who really cares anymore?”  He said aloud in response to the voice.  He pushed the door inward and entered the darkened room on the other side.

All of the blinds and curtains were still closed to the bright sunlight and the place was a bit stuffy, stale.  He closed the door and sat the gasoline down on the floor next to a bulging backpack.  He had spent a couple of hours jamming the backpack full of supplies the night before:  A few days worth of clothing, the last of his cash, a few days worth of nonperishable food, personal hygiene materials, a pocket sized road map, his Ruger nine millimeter and a small box of bullets.  Plus a few other miscellaneous items.

Henry walked over to the bookshelf on the other side of the living room and picked up the framed photograph of his family that was propped up against the books on the top shelf.  He stood and quietly stared at all of their smiling faces, remembering the simple happiness of the day when the photo had been taken. Before he had been laid off and discovered that his college degree meant nothing in today’s world.  Before his wife had taken the kids to go live with another man. Before he had realized that the bank was going to take the house just like they had taken the car. Before he had realized just how cruel and corrupt the world he lived in could be.

Aw, are you going to start crying again, you big blubbering idiot?  The voice said.

“No, I’m not going to cry.”  Henry said.  He took a deep breath, then violently tossed the frame over his shoulder.  He heard the glass break as it collided with the wall.

The rage that he had kept caged within for months suddenly escaped and he realized that he could now longer control it.  He started with the bookshelf–  Grabbing books and ripping them apart and throwing the pages in all directions.  After the shelves were nearly empty he grabbed the back of the shelf and tipped it over onto the floor with such force that one side of it broke loose.

He moved next to the flat screen television sitting on the center of the entertainment center–  A flat black idol on an altar–  He tossed it down onto the floor and stomped on the screen until it was completely destroyed.  He went over to his laptop computer and did the same.

Really starting to lose it now, aren’t we?  The voice said.

“Shut up.”  He said.

He worked his way through the house, breaking all of the mirrors, emptying all of the clothing out of the closet and drawers and leaving the articles strewn about the floor.  He took a box of old photos and scattered them about much like the pages from the books.  In the kitchen he took all of the cups and dishes and hurled them against the far wall, one by one, until there was a giant pile of broken shards on the floor.

Eventually he ran out of stuff to trash and found himself standing in the midst of the destruction, panting, out of breath.

He walked back out to the front porch to get some fresh air.  He sat down on the top step and was just starting to regain his composure when he saw Jerry back his old Dodge pickup out of the driveway and putter off down the street.

Hurry, Henry!  Finish this before he gets back!  The voice said.

The rage had subsided as quickly as it had surfaced.  He calmly stood and walked back inside.  He unscrewed the lid and picked up the gas can.  He started at the back of the two bedroom home and worked his way toward the front door–  Leaving a connecting trail of gasoline wherever he had been.  By the time he returned to the front door the container was empty and he tossed it aside.

Hurry!  Get out of here!

Henry grabbed the backpack and slid his arms through the straps.  He removed a cheap disposable lighter from his pocket and bent down to the trail of gasoline.  A flame appeared and he slowly lowered it to the carpet.

inflamed 1Henry closed the front door and locked it.  After a few long strides he had left the porch and returned to the driveway.  He walked down to the sidewalk and took a right.  The weight of the backpack upon his shoulders was worse than he had anticipated, but he ignored the pain and traveled as quickly as he feet would carry him.

He told himself that he wasn’t going to look back, but after a few blocks he decided that he simply had to.  After all, it was an important day–  The end of his old life and the beginning of something new and unknown.  A dark column of smoke was already raising up in front of the sun.

To Henry the sight was both horrifying and beautiful.  He stood there on the sidewalk watching it until he heard sirens approaching in the near distance.

inflamed 2

[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

Whiteout

“You guys have a great weekend, see you later.”  I said.

“You do the same, drive safe.”  Wayne said.  A couple other employees within earshot murmured similar farewells.

I clocked out and zipped up my coat.  Another workweek down the drain.  Forty more hours of my life that I would never see again.  I walked out to the parking lot and saw that Charlotte was already waiting there for me.  The car was running and she was sitting behind the steering wheel with her window down a crack, a lit cigarette clutched loosely between her fingers.  I opened the passenger side door and climbed in.

“Hey, baby.”

She leaned over and kissed me.

“How was work?”

I shrugged.  “About the same as usual.  You?”

“We were pretty slow.  I think everyone was out yesterday and this morning stocking up for the storm.  They’re all hunkered down already.”  She backed out of the parking space and exited the lot.

“Yeah.  They’re calling for three feet by tomorrow night.”

“Glad we both have the day off.”  She said.  She turned left onto the next road and continued driving.

“No kidding.  I’m not planning on going anywhere.  Going to get a big fire going and make a nice dinner.  Then we can snuggle up next to the fire with some wine and I can take all of your clothes off and–”

“Alright, alright.  That’s enough of that.”  She smiled rolled her eyes.

We were stopped at a red light.  Snow flurries were already falling, but not enough to accumulate-  Yet.  The light switched to green and she turned the car onto the highway.  It was a two lane blacktop that weaved in and out of the mountains with steep grades, switchbacks, the works.  We had to travel forty-five miles to reach our Victorian house in Leadville.  It was a very dangerous road with sheer drop-offs that go down for thousands of feet, blind curves, falling rock, deer and elk crossings, snow and ice half the year plus avalanches.  There was a story in the paper about someone dying on the highway every couple of months.

The two of us smoked cigarettes, listened to music and talked about various things as the car climbed up the first twenty miles or so of the journey.  The snow was falling the whole while, coming down faster and faster, the flakes growing in size.  It was really accumulating and the driving conditions were starting to get bad.

“I haven’t seen another car for quite a while.”  I said.

Charlotte nodded.  “We’re some of the only people out here.  Everyone else knew better and is already at home or in a hotel.”

“Ray offered to let us crash at his place, but I didn’t think it was supposed to get this nasty until later.”  I said.

“Well, it’s starting to get nasty right now.”  She said.  Right on cue the car started to slide sideways.  She cursed under her breath, twisted the wheel, and somehow regained control.

“Got it?”

She let out a long, audible breath.  “Whew, thought I was going to lose it for a second there.”

“Me too!”

The car was equipped with thick and meaty snow tires, but they were having difficulty.

“Where in the hell are the plows at?”  I said.

“I don’t know.  Never around when you need them.”  She said.  She turned the wheel and handled the next switchback like a pro.

The car continued to climb in elevation and the blizzard only intensified.  We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a full-fledged whiteout.

 “Um, I can’t see anything…”  She was straining to see through the windshield.  She had slowed the speed of the car down considerably, but it had to remain at a certain speed to find traction upon the grade of the road.  We were suddenly trapped inside of a car that was in a vast, white void.

My heart skipped a beat.  “Turn around, turn around!”

“I can’t!”

“Turn around and go back to Minturn!”

“I can’t turn around!  Where am I supposed to turn around?”  She said.

I tried to light a cigarette and realized that my hands were shaking uncontrollably.  Every time I looked out of a car window it was just more of the same–  Unknown, vague, white and impossible to imagine.

 “Oh my God!  This is really, really not good!”  She said.  She was hunched over the steering wheel and squinting out through the windshield.  “For a while I could see the tracks from the last car that went this way but now they’re gone!”

“How do you know they stayed on the road and didn’t go off!”

“I don’t know!”  She said.  Then, “Shit!”  As the car started to veer sideways.  Once again control was regained but there was no way to discern if the car was even on the highway anymore.  If the car traveled too far to the left it would strike into the side of the mountain.  If it went too far to the right we would plunge thousands of feet to certain death.  There was no way to see any oncoming traffic and no place to pull over.

“I don’t know what to do!”  She said.

I rolled down the passenger side window and stuck my head out to see if it improved visibility.  Nothing.

The car continued moving headlong into nihility.

“Jesus, please help to guide us through this.”  She said.  Her hands were locked onto the steering wheel and her eyes were frantic with fear.

I hadn’t prayed in years but I found myself suddenly placing my hands together.  Reality on earth had been erased all around me.  Faith was the only thing left with the power to return our sight.

[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

The Reptiles in Basement Three

reptiles in basement three 1

Dr. Miller parked his Jaguar XJ Supersport on the lower level of the ‘N’ Street parking garage and exited the vehicle.  He pushed the button on his key ring to lock the doors and the loud *beep* echoed across the mostly vacant concrete structure.

He walked the short distance to the elevator and pushed the down button.  After a few moments the doors opened and revealed an empty car.  There were rows of glowing buttons marked ‘1‘ through ‘8‘ for each level of the garage and then, beneath those, a row of three buttons that required a key.  These three were marked B1, B2 and B3, one for each of the basements hidden under the massive structure.  Dr. Miller inserted a small silver key into the slot for B3 and the doors closed.

There was a mechanical hum as the elevator car descended.

*              *               *               *               *

Ten minutes later, after he had navigated through a labyrinth of hallways covered with security cameras and checkpoints, Dr. Miller arrived at his office door.  He leaned forward for the retinal scan and the door popped open.

Rebecca, his young assistant, was standing next to his large desk waiting for him.

“Good morning.”  Dr. Miller said.   He closed the door and heard the locking mechanism automatically snap back into place.

“Good morning, sir.  How was the vacation?”  Rebecca said.  She was wearing a tight black business suit that accentuated her curves.  Her long hair was pulled up into a bun and a noticeably large silver pentagram ring gleamed on one hand.

“It was very nice.  Spent most of the time on the beach.”  He said.  He walked around the desk and plopped down into the leather chair.  “But it’s good to be back.  I can only take so much of the wife and the brat kids.”  His lips moved to form a reptilian grin.

She winked at him.  “Yes.  I understand, sir.”

“So, what did I miss?”

“Well, it will take most of the day to brief you on everything that has happened over the last two weeks, and Dr. Jones will need to be consulted on his latest breakthroughs and what you’d like him to do next…”

“Okay…”

“But I do have some good news.”  She said.

His bushy eyebrows raised.  “Oh yeah?”

Rebecca smiled and her eyes seemed to shimmer with excitement.  “We took care of the reporter.”

Dr. Miller knew who “the reporter” was without her name even being mentioned.

Heather Hill was a freelance journalist who had been a major thorn in his side for years.  Someone had been smuggling documents and pictures to her-  Things that the public was not supposed to know about.     She had published most of it on the internet, five different stories so far about the chimera cross-species they had been creating in the laboratory.  They had been able to downplay the stories and keep them in the realm of “conspiracies,” but it was only a matter of time until people started to figure out that it was real.

“What happened?”  Dr. Miller said.

“Our surveillance team has been monitoring her day and night, as you know.  They saw a window of opportunity last week while she was out hiking.  A two man operation-  They tranquilized her and whiskered her away in one of our vans.”  Rebecca said.

“Is she dead?”

There it was again, that sick shimmer to her eyes.

“No, she’s here in one of the holding cells.”  She said.

“What?  What do you mean she’s here?”  Dr. Miller stood up and walked closer to her.

“Well, sir, she nearly compromised our experiments.  We tried to reach you at the island about the matter, but you had instructed the resort not to bother you under any circumstances.  There was a meeting and a vote among the doctors and they decided the best thing to do was to make Ms. Miller our newest lab rat.  She has been in a holding cell for six days.  The first three rounds of gene splicing and skin grafts have been successful.”

“Show me now.”  He said.

*               *               *               *               *

Rebecca walked down a series of narrow hallways with Dr. Miller following a short distance behind her.  They entered the human testing ward and she stopped in front of the second door.

“Go ahead, sir.  Have a look.”  She said.

Dr. Miller approached the door and peered in through the small, rectangular plexiglas window.  He bellowed out a deep, guttural laugh.

reptiles in basement three 2

[Original writing & artwork by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

Dream Journal Zero – Dissolution

“Well, well, well…  Look who decided to get out of bed.”  Mina said.  She was sitting at the kitchen table in her pajamas eating a bowl of cereal.

“Good morning.”  Aaron said.  He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down across from her.  “How long have you been up?”

“About an hour.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?”

She shrugged while crunching on another bite of the cereal.  He slurped down a gulp of the Ethiopian coffee and wiped the sleep from the corners of his eyes.

“Had that weird dream again last night.”  He said.

“Same one?”

He nodded.

“Run me through how it goes one more time.”  She said.

He sighed.  “Okay, well, my wrists are bound together with some kind of rope or twine and I can’t get my hands free.  There’s this figure wearing a pitch black robe and a hood walking just in front of me, leading me down this strange tunnel.  A stream of blood is running down the middle of the tunnel and there are these lights mounted on the ceiling every twenty feet or so–  Except they aren’t emitting any light, they’re giving off darkness instead…”

dissolution 1

“That doesn’t make any sense.”  She said.

“I know, I know.  It’s a dream.”  He slurped his coffee.

“What do you mean ‘they’re giving off darkness?'”

“They’re attached to the concrete wall of the tunnel near the ceiling in a protective cover.  A pitch black darkness is pulsing out of the holes of the mesh cover.  Do you understand what I mean?”

dissolution 2

“No, not really.  But continue.”  She said.  She picked up the box of cereal and poured more into the bowl.

“There’s not much more to it.”  He said.  “I continue walking down the tunnel behind the figure in the black robe.  My gut is churning with fear the whole time but I never stop following.  I know that I should turn around and run in the opposite direction, but I don’t.  At one point there’s a fork in the tunnel and I see nothing but pure darkness ahead.”

dissolution 3

“We walk into the darkness and it’s like walking into a freezer, I’m shivering, teeth chattering, the works.  Shortly after that I step out over nothing and I have the sensation of falling and falling…  And then I wake up.”

[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved

Another Day, Another Dime

Eric was alone in his car and stuck in the middle of gridlock.  It was rush hour and the traffic that surrounded him on all sides was barely moving, if at all.  He could see stoplights turning different colors further on down the road, but nothing was happening.

Eric glanced down at his watch.  He had left his day job thirty minutes ago and had only traveled ten miles.  He had less than an hour to reach his part time evening job on time and it wasn’t looking good.

The cell phone in his pocket started to chime.  He pulled it out and glanced down at the small screen.  Eric was vehemently opposed to people talking on their phones while driving, but what he was doing now couldn’t be called driving.  The number on the caller id didn’t seem familiar, but out of sheer boredom he answered it anyway.

“Hello?”

There was a brief pause and no one spoke on the other end.

Yello?”  He said again, this time in a slightly mocking tone.

Click.  “Hello, Mr. Washington?”  A man’s voice said.

“Um, who’s this?”

“Is this Mr. Eric Washington?”

“It could be…  Who am I speaking with?”

“Mr. Washington, my name is Dale and I’m calling on behalf of Debt Services Incorporated.  This call is an attempt to collect a debt and any information collected today can be used to royally screw your life up.”

“Wait–  What did you just say?  I–”  Eric said.

The voice on the other end, Dale, interrupted him.  “Mr. Washington, I’m calling about the amount you still owe to Mountebank General Hospital, now–”

It was Eric’s turn to interrupt.  “Listen, Dale, I wasn’t able to make the payment last month, and–”

“Mr. Washington, if we can’t work something out on the phone here today, well, then I’m afraid we’re going to have to take this matter to the next level…”

“What does that mean?”  Eric said.  The light ahead turned green and the traffic started to crawl forward.  He glanced up at his rear view mirror and caught sight of a guy in a minivan who had his index finger buried knuckle deep in his right nostril.

What do you think it means?”  Dale said.  Pure venom in his voice.

“Listen, you little punk!  I’m working two jobs and doing what I can.  Inflation is so bad that it’s still not enough.  Now, what you don’t do is call me up out of the blue and talk to me like that!  Ya’ hear me!”

“Just calm down, Mr. Washington.”  The venom had been replaced with a calm, soothing tone.

“Don’t tell me to calm down, jackass!”  Eric said.

“Okay, okay.”  Dale said.  “You leave me no choice, sir.  I’m going to type up how you were irate and threatened me today.  This will be reported.”

“Wh-what?  Wait!  I’m not being irate or threatening you!  How did I threaten you?”  The light had switched back to red and he still hadn’t made it through the next intersection.  He nervously glanced down at his watch again while applying the brakes.

“I find your words and tone of voice to be very threatening.”  Dale said.

“Wh–  My tone of voice?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Who are you reporting this to?”  But no sooner had he spoken the words than he realized he was listening to dead air.  He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the screen.  Dale had hung up on him.

He closed the phone and tossed it onto the passenger seat.  He glanced over to his right and saw a young  girl sitting behind the wheel of an old Cavalier and openly smoking something out of a pipe.  Could be tobacco, but he doubted it.  He looked in the rear view and found that the guy behind him was still digging in his nose.

Eric took a deep breath and tightened his grip upon the wheel.

The light turned green and every car started moving except for the sedan in front of him.

What is she doing?  Eric thought.

The car was just sitting there and the woman behind the wheel was staring off into space like a zombie.  He honked his horn, hoping to break her from the trance.  The woman turned around and looked at him as her face contorted into a sadistic grin.  She raised her middle finger in his general direction.

another day another dime

[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]

© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved