Sunday, December 31, 2017

Stolen Moments

Stolen Moments

By Michael Cannata

He could still taste her goodnight kiss on his lips. It was a sloppy, wet kiss but it still made his heart race. His mood dropped from sheer happiness to utter despair as the door closed. He might get to see her next weekend. But they could never really be sure when the next time would come and they could steal a few precious moments to be together.

They had spent the last four years getting to know each other. Spending every chance they got together. The love between them had grown so great that at times just being with her left him breathless. It was as though he had lived in this world all his life, but until he met her, he had never really explored it. Every day they spent together she showed him something he had seen a thousand times before in a new and wondrous light.

But differences between their families had suddenly turned ugly. He was no longer welcomed at her home. Her mother had reached a point where her anger was out of control. He was forbidden to see her ever again.

His parents had also taken a strong dislike to her mother. They felt that she was being outrageously cruel. Their son was a good man. He loved her daughter with all his heart. Her decision to treat him in such a callous manner was horrible.

Fortunately, her aunt had decided that what was happening was too wrong to be ignored. When her niece came over to visit, the aunt would call him. Once the coast was clear, he would rush over and they would run into each other’s arms, holding each other so tightly that breathing was almost impossible. They would spend the evening walking, holding hands and talking about what had happened while they were apart. Sometimes they would drive around or just sit and snuggle while they watched a movie until it was time for him to leave again.

After the sad and tearful kiss goodnight, the door closed and the pain would come back. Again he would be alone. The ache in his heart wouldn’t ease until they could steal a few more hours. It was then that the resentment he felt for his ex-wife was the worst.

He could feel his heart breaking again. The same way it felt every time he had to sneak away like some thief in the night. He treasured all these stolen moments. He would recall every memory of their time together until they could be together again. The tears fell as he walked back to his car.

A father should never have to suffer such pain just to be with his child.

The Locket

The Locket
By Michael Cannata

               The locket dangled from his fingers. It flashed as it turned slowly in the cool evening breeze, reflecting the bright moonlight. He didn't need to open it to see the picture of the beauty it held inside. Soon he would be holding her in his impatient arms.

                She gave it to him on his tenth birthday. They knew then that they were meant to be together. They were born a mere two hours apart. They were wet nursed by the same women. They shared a common play space as infants. They were together most of the first days and months of their lives.

                They grew up together as children, before family and class became an issue, and they became fast friends. There was a special bond. Even before they could speak, they would cry angrily when they were separated. They played happily and contentedly for hours when they were together.

                 But she was the daughter of the rancher that his family worked for. When they were children it wasn't a problem. But as they grew older it became harder for them to find the time to be together. After all… they were different. She was free to enter his world but her world was forever off limits.  If anyone ever thought that they were more than friends there would be serious problems. His father would lose his job, maybe even his life.

                The friendship grew stronger and closer as they grew. The day came when they stepped beyond the limit of friendship and kissed underneath that tree. He understood the danger they were in every minute they spent together better than she. When he tried to suggest that her future, not theirs, was more important, her security, her destiny, her family, her world… she couldn't sacrifice that for just him and his love.

                She would have none of it. She couldn't ever feel as safe with anyone as much as she did when she was with him. She believed in his love. She knew he would never fail her. She trusted him. He was her heart and strength. He was the truest lover and closest of friends. She was alive only when she was with him. How could she ever lay with another man?

                They made the decision together. It would mean leaving everything and everyone they knew and loved behind. Together they held to the hope that, if time was good to them, someday they could return to the place they both called home. They would repair and reconnect with all the people that both loved them, yet stood in their way.

                Once free and far away from here they could start a life and family of their own. She had some money; he had all the skills a man needed to find work, despite his color or ethnicity.

                This would be the last evening they would have to meet secretly, hiding the passion from the prying eyes of neighbors and family. He had made all the arrangements. The horses and carriage waited under the tree where they had spent so many long hours dreaming of the day they could be free.

                He stood eagerly watching the road from the ranch looking for her sign. He watched intensely, so focused that he never heard the horses behind him until it was too late to act. He turned to look at the men that had come to kill him.

                "She won't be coming tonight, Josh." Her father spoke in a cool, yet angry voice. "She won't be coming here ever again. It's a shame her closest childhood friend won't be at her services. Word is that he packed up and was headed west somewhere. Word is he won't be coming back." 

                "Word is that you and her, you intended to spend eternity together. My family's honor, it's reputation was at stake. I had no choice. I'm not sure where she went when I killed my own daughter, but you won't be leaving this tree again. In a funny kind of way you'll both be together. Both of your lying deceitful souls will be spending eternity in the same hell you created."

                "I told both of you what would happen if I ever found you together. If you ever touched her…" The fathers face twisted into a disgusted sneer; "If she ever touched you!"

                He stared into the barrel of the shotgun her father pointed at him. He thought he heard her voice cry in some distant echo beyond the sound of the gunshot. In his final moment, he saw her face, every beautiful smile she ever gave him, embraced in one glorious memory.

                He lay dying alone under the tree. Speaking in a choked voice he called her name for the last time. But even as he died, he never let her go. The locket she gave him when they were children, children who knew everything about the passions but nothing of the perils of love, still dangled from his fingers.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Earworm's Song

The Earworm's Song
By Michael Cannata

                He sat quietly in his favorite chair listening intensely to a song no one else in the room could hear. He knew every word and had since the first day he had heard it. It was called, “Sneaky Ways.” When he first heard it years ago it stuck in his head. He liked it a lot. It was one of those one-hit-wonders that raced to the top of the charts, stayed there for a few weeks until everyone on earth had heard it at least one time, and then just vanished from the airwaves… never to be played again, except at weddings and other such festivities so people could do the dance that it spawned
                For most people it was forgotten as quickly as it was learned. But for him it was the beginning of a decade long struggle to get the damn song out of his head. He’d heard it enough times that he easily learned the rhythm and the lyrics. He would almost always hear it on the morning drive to work and would sing it to himself all day as he sat in his office.

                Gradually, the song became a part of his everyday train of thought. He found himself humming it at inappropriate times. At important office meetings he had been asked several times by his boss to stop his ridiculous humming. He tapped his fingers incessantly to its beat. Eventually he was fired because his constant singing was disrupting the office.

                He couldn’t get the song off of his mind. And slowly it drove him out of his mind. After about a year he smashed his car radio because it seemed to be on every channel. After two years he would shut off every radio and TV at his office and then his home. No matter what he did he would always hear that evil, insipid melody ringing in his ears.

                He learned there was even a medical term for his affliction. “Earworms” Also known as "Musical imagery repetition", "Involuntary musical imagery" and "Stuck song syndrome." It afflicted many people throughout history. It had driven people to murder and had even saved the life of one man stranded on a mountain. Scientists had a lot of theories about what started earworms but they had no idea how to stop one once it started.

                He followed all the popular recommended antidotes. He tried solving crossword and Sudoku Puzzles. He would read until his eyes could no longer stay open. Regardless, as soon as he stopped, that song would start up again as loud as if it was playing on a stage.

                Sitting in his chair he watched the blood drip from his hands; Dropping slowly, to hit the floor in perfect time to the voice from the worm. For weeks now he had refused to leave his room. His wife was becoming worried, almost panicky at the way he seemed to be listening to something just beyond her range. She knew about his earworm problem but had always chalked it up to his inability to relax. He was always so restless to begin with. Lately, over the years, he had taken to incessantly singing or humming some crazy, silly song that had been big on the radio over 10 years ago.

                His wife wasn’t going to worry any more though. When she turned to him in the kitchen she was as angry as he had ever seen her. Yet when she opened her mouth to curse him all that came out were the words of that insane song in perfect pitch. In that moment he knew that she had been infected as well. He couldn’t bear the thought of her suffering the same fate as his. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to control his own panic but it only served to amplify the sound of the song.

                When he opened his eyes he was sitting on the kitchen floor holding his wife’s head in his lap. The large steak knife protruded from her left ear… or what was left of it. When he cut off her head it was still screaming the words to “Sneaky Ways.” He tried to help her by digging into her ear canal to kill the worm but all it seemed to do was make the singing louder. He couldn’t get close enough to the damn worm with such a large knife.

                He made his way back up to his room, stopping at the utility closet on the way. By the time he was back in his chair he could hear a pounding on his front door. It was the police. His neighbor must have called them when he heard the commotion that cutting off his wife’s head caused.

                He didn’t have much time so he had to act quickly. He had figured out the perfect way to get to the earworm. He raised the foot long ice pick and set it gently into his ear. With one powerful blow from his fist he drove the ice pick into one ear, through his brain and out the other. On the end of the ice pick was along slimy piece of tissue that he believed in all his heart was the earworm itself.

                He had finally killed the musical demon. As he slowly slipped into a blissfully quiet embrace with death he savored what he had craved for so long; the sound of silence.


By Michael Cannata

                    Her smile was the greatest Christmas gift he'd ever received. They named her "Joy."

                She was born on Christmas Eve during a storm that was fierce and furious as it fought them all the way to the hospital. Her mother nearly died during the 14 hours of labor she endured trying to deliver her. The doctors joked that it was like she was doing her damndest to stay warm and resist coming out into the world. Maybe she knew what was ahead.

                He and his wife had tried for years to have a child. She suffered several miscarriages and soon they decided that her health was more important than their dream of becoming parents. They settled into a quiet but loving life and focused on each making the other as happy as possible.

                In a twist of fate, years after they had put the thought out of mind, she unexpectedly became pregnant. He was both thrilled and terrified. He worried that his wife wouldn't be able to handle the stress of delivering a baby, or the pain of losing another one. To the contrary, his wife wasn't worried at all. There was no question or hesitation, she was having this baby and it was going to be the most beautiful child ever born… And she was.

                They were happy beyond belief and spent every moment together indulging and pampering Joy.  But his wife began to become ill frequently. Soon, it became obvious that the delivery had done more damage than they realized. Gradually his wife grew weaker. She survived the delivery but it took a toll she would pay with her life, sooner than expected. It took so much of her strength just to get through the days but she never complained. She made the most of every moment she had to spend with her precious Joy.

                 Her mom passed away when she was five. He was left to raise her on his own, a job he always felt he had failed at miserably. He continued to provide everything his daughter needed, but he fell short when it came to giving her what she wanted the most… his affection. He wallowed in his own self pity and as his daughter grew he just seemed to get angrier. Joy looked so much like her mother that when he looked at her it just made his wife's absence more painful. He missed his wife so much that he also missed much of the life he should have been sharing with his daughter.

                Joy always seemed to be smiling and she was popular with all the kids in her schools. Yet, as her circle of friends grew larger, his friendships seemed to slowly wither away. He stopped going out with the couples he and his wife had spent so much time with
                After her mother died, Joy began to feel her father slipping away. She was too young to understand why, but she knew it when she looked in his eyes. His sadness was like a dark shadow that always hung between them. Nothing she did, no matter how many times she told him she loved him, he always seemed out of reach, even when she hugged him fiercely. She grew older while he just seemed to grow old
                Eventually, she went to college and gradually the passing time pulled them further apart. He rarely visited her at school. She got a job that took her away from home. Over the years she tried to stay in touch with her father and keep him in her life as much as possible. When she met the man she would marry she tried to include her father in her life. But her father never made any effort to get to know him. The first day her father met her husband was her wedding day. It was also the last day she saw her father. He left the next day and he never called or wrote after that.

                It took ten years before her father realized how much he needed her again.  A storm, just as furious as the one that had brought him, Joy, had cut the power; As he sat alone in the dark a beam of moonlight came through the window and settled on the only picture he had of the three of them together.  He had lost his wife, but his daughter had lost even more. She had lost her only chance to have a family. As he drove through the storm he hoped it wasn't too late to have her back.

                On Christmas Eve he stood anxiously at her door. He had been too afraid to call and ask her if he could come for fear that she would turn him away. She would have been completely right if she rejected him now as he had done so often to her. He didn't expect to be forgiven. He only hoped she would give him the chance to tell her how sorry he was and how much he loved her.

                As the door opened, he didn't see his wife anymore. He saw Joy and the family his wife had given him. His tears were matched by hers as he realized it was still true.

                Her smile was the greatest Christmas gift he'd ever received.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Replacements

The Replacements
By Michael Cannata

I can hear the Replacements as they come and go, prowling the corridors outside the locked laboratory doors. They are patiently waiting… waiting for me to join them. We all know it's inevitable. Even my death can't prevent it from happening. In fact, it would only speed up my transformation. I am the last member of my team that still survives in the form we all once shared. I'm still human.

My name is Peter Lindsey. Not that that means anything anymore. Anyone that I ever knew, or knew me, is gone. They've been replaced. I've been locked alone in these rooms for six months. I have more than enough water to last a lifetime, but the food stores are getting low. If the rest of the team hadn't succumbed to the pressure and were still with me we all would have starved months ago. But survival isn't a matter of concern any longer. The greatest need I have is to share contact with another living creature, regardless of how different. Being alone is becoming more than I can bear. In a language that is more like a sense than a sound, I can hear them talking to me through the walls.

Along with the other members of my team, I've been isolated in our laboratory for over a year. The risk of contamination reaching us before we could finish our work demanded that we lock ourselves away from the rest of humanity. We were safe as long as we stayed confined to the laboratory and its closed atmosphere. The plan was to stay in here until we could discover a cure for the disease that was killing the human race. As usual the only flaw in the plan was found in our human nature.

In the end, our fate was determined by simply opening a door that should never have been opened. I don’t know who finally lost control and opened the door, but I can’t blame them. I had fought the urge almost every day myself. The need to breathe fresh air, no matter how dangerous, had become overwhelming for everyone. The madness of the isolation finally conquered our reason. If I hadn't been shut away in the isolation lab I’m sure I would have followed them.

We set out to find a cure for the disease that had wiped out most of the world's population in the last two years. We succeeded in our goal. The cure sits in a set of vials locked in the freezer; a cure that could have saved everyone. But now, in the end, it will benefit no one. The results of our work revealed a truth beyond anything we ever imagined. Unfortunately, that truth was far more horrifying than anything we ever imagined as well.

 Initially, our greatest fear was that we would run out of resources before we could develop a cure. Once we realized that the source of the cure lay inside our own DNA, we knew that we could reverse the plague. But by then it was too late. Now, as I sit alone contemplating my future, my mind keeps going over the events of the past two years. Hopeless, the only thing I can do now is write down the story before I become a replacement myself.

No one knew for sure how or even when the "aliens" arrived on the planet. The first reports were of two ships that came to rest in synchronized orbits above the poles just at the edge of space. Whether they were actually physical crafts could never be confirmed. They appeared on radar but they had no outline that would allow us to see their true size. At night they shone brighter than the moon. During the day they appeared like small suns. Shining, but casting no light. Soon, the first two were joined by four others like them. They settled at equal distances above and along the equator.

They brandished no weapons, showed no signs of open hostility. They made no attempt to communicate and responded to none of the efforts by the nations of the Earth to contact them. They merely sat in place while the people of the earth waited in growing panic. In a short time, monitoring stations at the Arctic and the Antarctic began to detect changes in the atmosphere. Soon, the cities along the equator closest to the ships began to notice the change in the air. According to reports, the change, subtle at first, eventually became so strong that it could be tasted in each breath.

Gradually, the physical symptoms of the toxins in the new air started to infect all the people in its path. Populations closest to the sites where the ships hovered were the first to experience a range of strange and terrifying mutations. They lost all need or urge to eat, but they drank copious amounts of water. Quickly, once infected, they became listless and weak. Their skin began to blister and expand in a way that made it appear to wrap itself around the body it once covered. Eventually, their skin hardened and became almost like a cocoon, impervious to heat or cold and almost indestructible. Once the infection reached its peak the people would become motionless and remain dormant inside for about 48 hours.

After the period of "incubation," as the scientists called it, the cocoons would open and a creature would emerge. The Replacements, as they came to be called, were unlike anything ever seen before; Different, yet somehow familiar. Humanoid in form, they possessed physical features not found on any creature on the earth.

They were thin and hairless and had the largest, darkest eyes ever seen. While intimidating, once a person looked at them they were overcome with a sense of warmth and peace. Their face had two small openings in an almost flat patch of flesh where the nose should be. Their mouths were small and lipless. Instead of speech, it seemed they communicated with sounds that resembled a strange yet soothing type of music; Voices that spoke in melody along with whistles and slight chirps.

The people of the earth had never seen anything like them before. They looked both terrifying and intriguing. Yet, despite their intimidating appearance, none of the creatures ever harmed anyone they encountered. They were giants that emanated a gentleness that was almost palpable. They didn't conquer us, they converted us.

They nurtured each new form as it emerged from the cocoon and grew to maturity within a week. Fully matured, they were a consistent seven feet tall. For every cocoon that transformed successfully, the human inside emerged, replaced by a new being. They seemed to be androgynous with no way to distinguish between male and female. How they reproduced without a host remains a mystery.

It was clear that their only weapon was the ability to change the atmosphere and its composition. As time passed it became obvious; it was all the power they needed to bring mankind to its knees. Soon, the air we all took for granted began to change. The all encompassing atmosphere that we have floated in, like fish in the sea, was replaced by a new mix of gases. The replacements drew deep breaths and became stronger and more invigorated as they basked in the air they created. The new atmosphere that was Manna to them was toxic to humans. As the level of the toxin increased, we died as they thrived.

When the scientists of the earth finally understood the threat we faced, they launched their best efforts to build sealed research environments. They constructed sealed shelters and sanctuaries where the best minds in science could be locked away and protected until they could find a means to defend us from the "attack." Known as, The Apocalypse Teams, by the time we were secured in our laboratories most of the world's population was beyond help. Each team communicated by radio as we tried to coordinate our research efforts.

Despite our best efforts, each team became victim to the effects of the new air. It has been months since I've had any communication with the other sites. All the radios have fallen silent. We never got to tell anyone of our success.

It was my team, Apocalypse Team 5, which discovered the horrible truth. The only way to protect ourselves from the alien threat was to surrender our own humanity. The animals on the planet never seemed to be affected by the changes. We soon discovered that it wasn't just our bodies that were susceptible to the gases; it was our consciousness that made us victims of the disease. It was our superior DNA, our greatest advantage over the animals of the Earth, which proved to be our greatest weakness.

Our research revealed that we shared almost identical DNA with the Replacements. The difference was smaller than that between a chimpanzee and a human. The only way to avoid being transformed into a product of the cocoons, to prevent someone from becoming a Replacement, would be to alter their DNA. But the radical change would result in changing a human into an animal.

It became clear; the human race faced not merely attack, it faced assimilation.

The creatures we saw as invaders were anything but. They were not foreign beings from another galaxy. Based on all the scientific evidence we studied, the "aliens" weren't alien at all. They were native to our own planet. They were a new and improved version of human beings. As they've waited for me to join them they have revealed their story to me; Singing their tale to me through the walls, through the air, in that melodious speech.

Millions of years ago, when our ancestors were still walking on all fours, they came to this planet in search of a new home for their race. They set in motion a plan to inhabit the earth; a plan that would take millions of years. Only a few of them arrived in the first ship. Others would follow.

They were the last of their race; there was only one way to ensure their survival. They had to use the primitive species that would eventually evolve into humans as living incubators. Gradually, over the eons, they manipulated our genetic composition.  With their help, we evolved in leaps and bounds. We evolved in ways faster than science has ever been able to explain until now.

The visitors were not infecting us; the toxins in the atmosphere were merely activating a hidden strand of our DNA that had been sleeping dormant in our genes since the beginning of mankind itself. Throughout time, we've carried their genetic code as unwitting hosts. The creatures that we saw as insane mutations that consumed human forms are actually the new inhabitants of this planet. They are the next stage in our "evolution."

We were the ones that were diseased, not them. Their form was bizarre and hideous. To us they looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. Invaders from some distant galaxy, inhabitants of a freakish dimension where life forms grew in ways we could only dream of. Through our work we discovered that, what they are now, is what we have always been destined to be.

These are the last words that will ever be written by someone who knew the human race before it evolved. They are my last words. As far as I know, I am the last of what we once called Modern Humans; the last man alive on the earth. The rest of my team stalks just outside the walls. Nourished by the new air, free of their cocoons, their genetic transformation complete, they wait. They are not pursuing me, they are waiting patiently. They await my death knowing that it will not be the end of me. The DNA strand will see to it that my body remains animated long enough for my new consciousness to take over. I will join them on the planet they will now call home.

It was not anything they brought with them. It wasn't merely the changes to our atmosphere that triggered the changes. It was Time. Human beings had reached the point where their genetic structure, one that had been carefully manipulated eons ago, was ready. Once we started to breathe in the toxin we began to undergo changes that could not be stopped.

The invaders are not aliens, they are our forbearers. They are what we have always been destined to become. Like any of us, each one is an individual. Yet all of them are connected by a collective consciousness.  They hold no aggression against their fellow species. They have no delusions of Gods or religions that pit one against the other. They have no need of war. Their nature is one of peace and their future one of prosperity. They have a physical life span that is measured in centuries rather than years. Their beauty exists in their hearts rather than their appearance. They not only express love, they are love personified.

Sadly, as humans are prone to do, we were blind to that. We only saw the change they brought, and, as it most often has throughout mankind's history, that change inspired fear.

Before they arrived, I always believed that the human race was doomed to a future of endless war and strife. The violence of terrorism had spread at a pace where it was only a matter of time before some madman unleashed the sort of biological or nuclear attack that would result in the death of millions, if not billions of people.

People all over the world had reached a point where they no longer trusted their own government leaders. Weapons of mass destruction were rumored to be held by every nation and their use, once imagined, was now anticipated. The Internet once heralded as the new frontier in communication that would allow the voices of peace to be heard, had become a platform for hate speech and disinformation. Conspiracy theories were running amuck. People no longer knew what to believe.

Political leaders no longer represented the interests of the people as much as the interests of their party. Rather than keeping the peace they were intent on keeping their position. Religions and their followers no longer seemed interested in spreading the word of God. Rather than seeking truths to believe in, they focused instead on promoting their religious beliefs as truth.

Instead of rallying together to fight the aliens that threatened the Earth, the people broke off into armed mobs and turned against each other. The scientists that worked feverishly to solve the problems the invasion caused were denounced and attacked as blasphemers.

The media insisted on fueling the fear by running stories that only made the situation worse. Factual reports were abandoned and replaced by the most extreme speculation and opinion with no basis in truth. The outside world has descended into madness.

When I finish writing these last thoughts down I will save these notebooks in a safe place. I'm not sure why. I doubt they will ever be seen by another human like me. Once I enter my own cocoon, the human race as I knew it will cease to exist. When I am ready, when I can finally accept my fate, I will open the door and take a deep breath of the new air that the rest of the new human beings have been basking in. I will finally see the sun again.

Perhaps the fears that I have lived with most of my life will not be realized. Maybe life will be better once I accept my fate. The Replacements hold a promise of change that we as a people never thought possible… peace.

I hope that I'm not wrong about what the future holds for me. I hope that I will, in fact, still be me when I emerge from my cocoon. Above all, I hope, more than anything I have ever hoped for, that finally, I will not be alone anymore.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The City's Serenade

The City's Serenade
By Michael Cannata

Through it all she sleeps, soothed by a lullaby.

The noise of the city produced a symphony of sounds that carried through the night. The steady stream of traffic meshed with the low hum of the machinery that brings the city to life. The hum reverberated in the background; a mechanical movement that became the rhythm of life. It pulsed endlessly beneath the surface of the streets and sidewalks.  A constant cacophony of life's uttering's

The wails of the distant sirens lend an urgent cry that waxed and waned in the distance. The drone of the engines in flight filled the far away sky. In the distance a door slams. A shot rings out. The scream that follows adds its note to the urban melody that echoes through the streets and alleys.

Through it all she sleeps, as the voice of the city whispers to her

The people march steadily along its paths. Their footsteps become a measure that becomes a heartbeat. The noise of the city becomes a voice that rages and whispers; it calls and cajoles. It resonates with fear and awe. Violent vibrations coupled with subtle sighs that fill the air with power and passion; a velvet thunder that roils and rolls in a never ending crescendo.

Through it all she sleeps, as the voice of the city comforts her.

In her mother’s arms she slumbers, contented. In lyrical cooing, hushed pledges of love between mother and baby are spoken without words.  She doesn’t hear the angst and anger that the night cries carry. They blend in harmony with the pleas of pain and the peals of laughter.  They are the verse and refrain of the city’s composition. She doesn’t yet feel the fear beneath the hushed tones of the night. In the dreaded darkness she dances in dreams.

Through it all she sleeps, as the voice of the city serenades her.

The ebb and flow of the tides of life against the shores of the metropolis wash over her. Carried on the cool night breeze, the song of the city croons softly to her. The cacophony becomes a symphony. The reverberations become a rhythm.  The movement of the mechanisms becomes music.  The noise of the city becomes the lilting voice, singing a melody that echos in her dreams.

Through it all she sleeps, soothed by a lullaby.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Sleepwalker

The SleepWalker

By Michael Cannata

His wife lay quietly in bed, listening to the muffled sounds of her husband wandering aimlessly around the rooms below. He was sleepwalking again and she was worried. He'd started doing it over a year ago. The first time his movements woke her, she found him down in the basement, drilling holes in the family room walls in a random pattern. He didn't respond when she called to him. He didn't seem to know she was even there. When she touched him on the shoulder, shaking him, he woke with a terrified scream. He seemed dazed and had no idea where he was or how he got there.

Over the next few months his episodes grew more frequent and even more bizarre. One night, the police brought him home when they found him pushing an empty stroller down the middle of the street. When they woke him, they got the same startled reaction. Looking utterly confused, he explained he was dreaming he was walking their daughter in the park. They helped him home safely to the relief of his worried wife.

He sought a psychiatrist's help in figuring out what was causing the problem. The initial diagnosis was stress. Things were tough at work and, with the economy the way it was, the company was suffering. He was always worried about being laid off and had fallen far behind with the bills.

He continued to have episodes. He often left the house, only to be returned safely home by the police. Soon, everyone in the neighborhood knew what was going on. Neighbors sympathized with his wife and took turns returning him home when they found him wandering in their yards. He never remembered anything the next morning.

He never hurt anyone, but it was clear he was becoming a danger to himself.  His wife dealt with it as best she could while living in a constant state of fear, praying he wouldn't hurt himself while hoping his doctor could cure him. She let him roam the house, rather than wake and scare him. Eventually, if he didn’t leave the house, he always returned to bed.

Finally, she heard him coming up the stairs. She was relieved he was coming back to the room. She moved over ready to hold him close once he was back in bed. He always responded to her affections with a sigh and settled against her as she held him. He came into the bedroom with the same glazed look.

Only this time he was holding a gun, pointing it at her. Frightened, she called out to him gently, "Honey? Please honey, wake up!"

Slowly, deliberately, his gaze changed as he looked straight at her. "I am awake, sweetheart!" he whispered, staring at her with an insane grin.

He shot her twice, smiling as she fell off the bed to the floor. He climbed back into bed, pulling the covers over him to wait. He was sure the next door neighbors would call the police. They called every time they heard loud noises at this time of night. After all, they didn't want him to hurt himself sleepwalking.

When the police arrived, knowing who they were dealing with and seeing the gun on the floor, they approached him carefully. As always, he pretended to remember nothing about what happened and they believed him, as usual.

It took over a year to set his plan in motion. He had all the medical evidence from some of the finest doctors he needed. He had a lawyer who had successfully defended others who had committed crimes while sleepwalking. All his friends and family testified as to the love between him and his wife. He was confident and played the role of the inconsolable, grieving husband as effectively as he had the role of a sleepwalker.

He believed no jury would ever convict him… he was right.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Promise

The Promise
By Michael Cannata  

He couldn't sleep, so he lay still thinking of tomorrow. It was going to be the best day of his life. He knew that in his heart. The way his life had been going, the promise the dawn held was a dream he looked forward to with anxious anticipation.

He’d made a lot of poor choices, but this wasn’t one of them. It was the smartest decision he ever made. He didn’t want to drag things out any longer. He needed a change. The routine was getting to him. Every day it was the same thing. Wake up, exercise, do some writing and a little work, take a walk for an hour, maybe some more writing to pass the evening before bedtime.

Writing had always come easy to him, words poured out of him like fine wine from a flask. But lately writing had become too much of a struggle for him. The ideas didn’t come as easy as they once had. Rather than write about things around him, he’d taken to writing about what went on deep inside him. He didn't enjoy that at all. He sat at his desk staring at his latest story. It was full of anger and pain. His hate for what he had become had poisoned his creative spirit.

There was a time that he had a dry, insightful sense of humor. He could make people laugh even when he explored the darker side of life. And he knew that dark side all too well. Aside from writing, he was also a great drinker. He was a lot more passionate when he was drunk; at least that’s what he told himself. Unfortunately, there were times when the passion morphed quickly into anger. Controlling the anger was even harder than controlling his passion.

The day he caught his wife with his best friend, he experienced both anger and passion to a degree he would have never thought possible. When the rage subsided, they both lay dead on the floor of his studio.

He had spent the first five years fighting the death penalty he received. Finally he consigned himself to his fate and stopped the appeals. He asked for the earliest execution date possible. The courts readily, almost eagerly, agreed. He’d lived with the pain and grief for too long. He regretted every day that passed as he sat waiting.

At dawn they would take him to the gas chamber. He made them promise to be on time. It was a promise his life depended on.

Where Evil Lurks

Where Evil Lurks

By Michael Cannata

He'd been a good Christian all his life. When the time came, he devoted himself to the church and its teachings. He fought evil with a passion that earned him the love and admiration of all his parishioners over the last 40 years. He arrived at his new appointment in the city a few months ago. Glowing articles in the local paper announced his arrival. The first few weeks were a glorious time.

He battled Satan and sin every day of his life. He sought out evil wherever it lurked. He counseled his flock with all the care and wisdom he possessed. He was able to move past the sins and look into the heart of all those who came to him for help and guidance. He judged no one and forgave everyone their transgressions.

Until that fatal day when he met Gregory in the market, he always believed in the innate goodness in all men… especially himself. The smile on his face that first appeared when he spotted Greg in the aisle froze as their eyes met. He saw the fear and hate they carried. It was clear from the look on Greg's face that he recognized him. He realized that the meeting wasn't accidental. Greg approached him and stood staring with an anger that was barely controlled.

At first, all he remembered was the young, shy smile of the lonely boy that hung around the church after school, waiting for his parents to pick him up. But the hateful look suddenly brought back other memories. Shame filled memories that he'd suppressed for years.

"Have they come for you yet?" Greg asked in a chilling voice. "Because they will, and I hope you burn in hell for what you did to me!"

He loved the boys in his charge completely. It was comfort that he offered them. Why didn't anyone see that? Now, after a lifetime of battling sin, he was finally about to commit the greatest sin of all. He would never get to meet Jesus.

"How?" he wondered aloud. How had he missed the evil that lurked in his own heart? He raised the gun to his head as the police started knocking on his rectory door. "Forgive me, Lord!" he prayed.

Hopeless, he knew better. After what he'd done to the children, God himself wouldn't answer his prayer.