1. Innovative fiction by Richard Beckham II,

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    JOHN STEVENS

Fiction by
Richard Beckham II
A Mental Odyssey
     At my cubicle, the cheap partitions are made of loose fuzzy carpet pinched to wooden boards. From inside its dusty walls I use mental chopsticks to stack a pyramid of daydreams. There, in my cubicle, I must escape. But objects, not people, trap me.
     At Coachella people trapped me, back when Rage Against the Machine performed. For hours in the sun I stood smashed on all sides by bodies. After each band that preceded Rage the crowd squeezed in a little tighter, pushed more towards the center of the anarchical universe. We were all so packed close together that I couldn’t put my arms down. Someone threw an empty water bottle and it hovered on people’s shoulders. At one point I was able to crouch down and take out some water from my backpack. There was another world below the waistline. A subterranean world. It was muffled, cool, and shaded. It stunk of sweaty feet, beer, and wet grass. 
    In some bizarre future all of Earth would be like this, this compact mass of flesh. Over time our shoulders would fuse together. And some god-like technology might fly overhead, tossing rations of food and water to the mass of flesh with a billion mouths. Babies would be borne by women who have never known what it’s like to sit. Slowly the ground would give way and the flesh would sink. We would become heads in the ground. All sustenance would enter through these heads; faces in the muck would pass along all knowledge and communication. Perhaps with the right conditions and the right vibrations in the air our heads would become stone, on which the grass of new hillsides could take root. But my desk is smooth and flat and there are a few marks on it: like fingerprint smudges in ink, spots where the keyboard rubs against the laminate. Then there are all those mounds of dust in the corner of my desk behind the computer monitor. I look at those mounds and they become mountains.
     So in my mind I step lightly over the rocks at the crotch of those mountains, along the shores of soft cocoa beaches, tickled by the salt in the air. And the expanse before me unwinds into a chocolate tongue as long and wide as the Amazon. Every taste bud on the tongue only registers sweetness. The sky becomes ultraviolet. Pink and orange clouds dab powder from out of the horizon, rising steadily as smoke from a legion of invisible trains. All the colors dabble above me, highlighted by blond tresses that cling to the sun amongst the shadows. They take pause like an ocean wave in a photograph. I soar. I flip upside-down.
     Then the world’s chocolate tongue is above my head. I tiptoe on a strand of neon hair. I hop from one sunbeam to the other, leaping towards the land above me—the rocks along the shore and the chocolate tongue. As I watch the tongue sway, I can almost feel its sensual musculature. I drop down on it, on all fours. The tongue ripples and begins to fold on me.
     Heavy. Sweet. Rich.
     Chocolate envelopes my body. A warm velvet bath.
     Infinite smooth tongues.
     Curves of supple skin.
     We make love until we die. And while I’m dead I travel eons through sand and dirt, beneath Earth, of the earth, and I become grass—a patch of grass beside a rock, where a man is full of sorrow and grief, shame and remorse. He wears a dark gray suit and tie. Designer cologne wafts in a cloud around him; beads of sweat upon his brow.
     “Please, rock,” he speaks out of breath. “You have to hide me. I can feel it coming on, in my bones, like a metallic snow storm moving in around me.”
     The sun is too large for the sky and the grass is high. Nearly unbearable brightness strains his eyes, almost as if a flashlight shone down a hall on the dark side of the moon.
     Panic.
     “I can’t hide you,” the rock cries.
     As I watch the scene the wind enters and pushes against the man like Sisyphus. I see the wind bend a current of air and a murder of crows above me are a fish school, circling, with gills in their eyes.
     “What’s the matter with you, rock,” the man begins to cry.
     “Don’t you see I need you? Oh Lord!” His breath bates.
     The air turns cold but the sun grows hotter. A huge magnifying glass above a tundra gust.
     As grass, I am all grass. So as the man begins to run, tie flailing, I listen to the thump of his feet, the soles of his rubber shoes. I find him as he reaches the river. Joy almost fixes upon his face. In his eyes is nearly an expression of relief, an expression of hope.
     But the river does not flow cold clear water. Out of its rocky flow is warm sticky blood. The river bleeds onto its shallow shores and stains its rocks.
     The man cannot quench his thirst. The man cannot find quarter there. His breaths are heavy and each breath feels as if it’s his last. The sun drops a little more and the wind wraps around him, a slow anaconda of lava. He must run again.
     And I follow. Every blade of grass that is me bends with the wind that propels this man, with sweat now streaming down his face.
     The smell of an oven and sunburnt skin.
     He loosens his tie as the bright blue air begins to sway as fire. The man runs to the sea and prays for answers and sanctuary. His hopes pile high, like stacks and stacks of fine china. Stacks decorated with intricate flowers by his mother and grandmother.
    Picture frames, glass trinkets, and family albums fill his arms in sacrificial pleadings to something he doesn’t understand.
     But the sea…
     The sea is bleeding. His hopes and pleas shatter upon the pebbles of the shore. The water softly bubbles red and foams atop the sand.
     Immediately the man turns and runs back to the river.
     The wind furls through his hair and sweeps hot dust off the earth. The man tugs at his tie and tosses it onto me, the grass. He rips off his button-down shirt. Sweat glistens in the nearing sun off the contours of his back and down his chest. Thinking not of his breath, but of his vision, he sees the world narrow and tower above him.
     The bloody river is now boiling.
     He does not fall to his knees. With his fists he does not beat the flesh that is me, that is the ever-growing grass. But instead he runs some more, back to whence he came.
     As he runs he fumbles with his belt and nearly trips. He unfastens the belt and whips it off behind him. His pants fall down but his legs keep pumping until the pants drop on top of me. So he runs and runs as fast as he can. Until he reaches the sea once more.
     He shrieks and collapses.
     The wide sea, the vast horizon, is boiling and the sun is as wide as the sky.
     On his back, he rips off his shoes and socks. Now wearing only his underwear, he wails very briefly. The most personal confessions of his soul escape his lungs in a single babbling scream. As the bloody sea boils and fizzes, pops and reels, spilling its dark stain upon the stretches of the Earth, I wave my hairs a little and tickle his wrists. Then the serpentine wind quickens and wraps around him again. Fear and panic set him off running.
     There must be a place he can hide. Maybe there is someone who can hide him.
     So he runs to the Lord, Who floats in a patch of purity of the sky.
     And the man cries, “Please hide me, Lord! Don’t you see I’m praying? Don’t you see I’m praying down here for you to help me?” The man weeps on his knees with his hands clasped. The wind twists around him, warmly but coldly.
     And the Lord says, “Go to the devil.”
     The man tears off his last dignity, his only remaining garment, and he runs for his last time, praying to be out of the light, out of the unforgiving sun. Tears blow dry off his face. The sun is two inches from his forehead.
     I follow the man, blade by blade, as he runs to the devil.
     The devil is waiting in the only shade left upon the face of the Earth. The man sees a smile in the darkness as he catches his breath. The shade exhales moistly upon his face.
     “Power!” the man yells out. “Give me power, Lord! Let me be Your instrument!”
     The devil smiles and says nothing. A tree, the only tree, extends its branches and the devil’s shade expands over the man.
     The man, still naked, reaches his hands toward the sky. His neck stretches back. My soft blades bend away from him, ever so quietly. An innocence rains down upon the man as he reaches out towards the devil with his arms. Then both shadow and light vanish.
     And all is a prism and all the colors blend. There is no dirt, nor Earth. Everything is pure and beyond those meager fabrics. We are the music and the refracted light that dances in space and instance.
     But back at my desk, in my body, the fuzzy walls are still standing and the mounds of dust still lay there as they were. The people are silently working. Then somebody sneezes in the row next to me. In my mind I see the sneeze particles shoot into the world.
     The particles drift off and I see the vast waters of the Earth, the waters that drowned the forgotten friends of Noah and Manu. The waters rise and swirl into vapor so that the light from Beyond may create the tapestry of Nature.
     Having died, I know of all ways. And the land upon which we walk is no more than the bottom of the sea. For green is blue when the day is gray. A waterfall is both brutal and soft. It is the river and the ocean—but the tiniest spray upon one’s cheek.
     Such is music.
     Then the idea of color soothes me as I look up at the small piece of glass at the top of my cubicle partition. The air conditioner above my desk hums. I click a plastic mouse for the nth time and a pilot automates my body while the florescent lights wave their flickering wand over my skin.
     I open my mind and see a computer screen.
     The internet is our god, storing our memories and thoughts, knowing all. The smart phone is our artificial brain that we must carry around at all times, to communicate with this god.

     The modern generations will never die as long as this god exists. And there are penguins who march toward frozen mountains, away from their colony; scientists call them insane.
     Then my heart jolts my loins. I click the mouse and I’m at home. My wife and I are on the couch, where her body curls around the front of mine. The softness of her blue cotton robe clings to her contours just enough for my hands to acquiesce my thronging.
     So I wrap my arm around her shoulders and squeeze her close. Beneath her soft robe and her thin undershirt is her body, a lithe jewel. Inside the jewel are electric tropical clouds. As I look into her eyes my stomach drops and we pull gummy kisses from each other. We want to siphon all of each other’s atoms, trade them quid pro quo, or exchange our lives in one shared underwater breath, locked together at the mouth. Pisces.
     We swallow each other. My hand slips through her robe, across the smooth watery jewel of her skin, and down to where the parting connects. There is a charge to the static of the air. Two oppositely-charged magnets begin to obey their purpose.
     We step into the shallows of a sugary beach and dive, only to resurface after touching the imperceptible bottom. Without speaking we know that one day we’ll drown.
     While I’m in bed, waiting for sleep, somewhere a giant hand sprinkles tinsel that melts upon our eyelids. The hand brushes our cheeks and wraps us in another universe—starlight and stardust, emptiness, all of which we are. This same hand is the hand that paralyses as it revives, inspires growth as well as rest. The same hand cradles in infancy as it does in old age.
     But for now the hand won’t come.
     The clock is red. It pierces the digital minutes as they flick away. As do the stars in the clear sweeping skies of Nebraska blot out in my mind. I tick off each star one by one with just a flick of my finger. Scores upon hundreds.
     My wife breathes like a cute sighing vacuum. I want to give her all that I am and I selfishly wish for her to do the same. Even in the absence of the sun she glows, nestled in sheets and tucked beneath a down comforter.
     The smell of her toothpaste, the sparkling bristle-tipped sky above Nebraska, and the stark color of my alarm, rolls over my mind like the tracks of an armored tank. On my back I see the popcorn ceiling and it becomes the jaggedness of the Ivory Coast, while the streetlight through the blinds sharpens its intensity and pours down like a pool of watery-orange juice that has opened its trapdoor.
     I am sticky from that watery juice. I kiss my wife’s neck and drape my arm over her. A thin orange film rises off of me and seeps through the open window. Part of me climbs with it, out into the night. And the giant hand sweeps up the film while the mobile of the sky spins gently, weaving our fantasies.
     We are infinite and nothing can take that away from us. Time is relative and meaningless.
     I am: an idea.


Richard Beckham II is the author of two novels, Frog in the Pot, which is about an alcoholic's quarter-life crisis, and, The Tale of Mu, a mythic fiction fantasy novel about Lemuria. He has an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and he also paints with oils in Seattle, where he lives with his wife. More information about Richard can be found on his blog, Think by not Thinking, at www.richardbeckham.com.​​