Short Story
                                               Beatiful Sway
                                                                    By Michael Albin

    I buried my face in the side of the couch. When I closed my eyes—I saw his shape. His hair waved out
in all directions like a sea anemone. The face was black and obscured by shadow as light burnt behind it—
dark and yellow. We have these conversations with increasing frequency. None of them lead where I want
them to lead, but we have them.

    In my mind, a year had passed before he chose to speak—though I did not hear his voice. He told me
that there are four potential outcomes for what would follow.

    “One—nothing. There will be a void of existence. It is an incomprehensible outcome, but the most
desirable. No one has been granted the nothing without first passing through one of the following three.

    Two—there will be private punishment. It is a fate that you yourself have created. Over the course of
your life, you have constructed the instruments that will be used. Quite possibly the worst of all outcomes.

    Three—group punishment. It is a place where others like you have gone. The punishment is not
constant or specifically tailored to you. You will wander without comfort or rest—unable to communicate
with the others who have lost the will to communicate long ago.

    Four—no punishment—in a place much like this. There will be others. You will be free to make the
same mistakes or rectify past ones. However, you will not be aware of your purpose. Often, those who go
to this place return to this exact conversation.”

    I drifted back and forth across the abyss of the couch. His shape remained the focal point. I said
something about my mother—how I didn’t want to leave her alone—he said he could wait. I begged for the
nothingness—he said it was not up to him. I thought how pretty a pendulum looked as it swung on large,
old clocks. There is a dignity in its sway.

    I saw my fingers twitch in romantic rhythm with the rest of my body. Music notes blossomed from the
ground like flowers, wrapping me up like ivy while a chorus sang,

    As the pendulum swings,

    The fingers twitch,

    Everything we do leads us to this.

    Nothing to fear,

    Nothing to love,

    No more birthdays to tire of.

    Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful sway.

    I gave in. I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of working. So tired of eating. So tired of shitting. I’m tired
of dwelling on pain I’ve caused. I don’t deserve breath. I don’t deserve to have the sun ever cast its rays on
me again. I don’t deserve—

    “What are you doing on the couch?” He slammed his keys on the table by the front door like he always
does and checked himself in the mirror. “Did you hear about Danny?”

    I didn’t.

    “He got arrested last night. Drove drunk, crashed into a taxi and killed the passenger. Pretty fucked up

    Pretty fucked up.

    “He’s not gonna do too well in prison. He’s a little guy.”

    About 5’4.

    “But hey, that’s why you don’t drive drunk right?” He made his way toward the fridge and grabbed a
beer. “You doing anything tonight?”

    I wasn’t.

    “I might go to Marco’s. Lynn is bartending and she usually hooks it up. Plus I think she wants to fuck.”

    I was sure she didn’t.

    “Why are you lying on the couch like that? Something wrong with your bed?”

    I needed an open place to be alone. My room was too restrictive.

    “I guess that makes sense.”

    He didn’t understand.

    “So get this. This motherfucker at work asked me to cover his shift Saturday. I have literally asked this
dude to cover for me a hundred times before—never did it once. My cousin’s birthday party—didn’t cover.
When I had tickets to the Sox game last month—didn’t cover. When I woke up to that boot on my car—you
guessed it—didn’t fucking cover. What on God’s green earth makes him think I am going to cover his
now? Just because his grandma is in the hospital? Please. Give me a fucking break. This is the same
motherfucker I caught doing key bumps in the utility closet. Sick grandmother, my ass. He just wants the
night off.”

    Nothing to fear.

    Nothing to love.

    I let the hot water run over me. The daddy long-legs in the corner watched as I neither washed nor
lathered. “What an absolutely pathetic creature. A total misuse of cognitive thought and waste of perfectly
good thumbs,” the spider said while wiping his pairs of glasses free from the steam. “I certainly hope
someone puts it out of its misery.”

    I pretended not to see him.

    The ache to be out of your body. The yearn to be free of earthly weight. Existence seems all the more
cumbersome when you live in a place of concrete and filth. Dollar stores. Liquor stores. Long stretches of
road without sidewalks. The roadkill and the trash.

    I thought I saw his hair wave behind the setting sun.

    “That’ll be one thirty-seven.”

    I paid with a dollar, a quarter, two pennies, and a nickel. The man behind me sighed. His warm breath
disgusted me.

    I was annoyed I wasn’t able to attend to them directly out of the shower, but I sat with my new clippers
and went to work on my toenails. No one ever saw my bare feet.  I had neglected them for so long that they
started to give me pain when wearing shoes. My fingernails had black dirt underneath them—not from
hard labor, but from a lack of concern. Dirt accrues in all crevices if given the proper amount of time. I
trimmed them too. I put on a collared shirt. Socks that matched.

    There was a small gardening shovel in the garage. I went and dug a small hole just off to the side and
buried my phone. The next few rainfalls should render it useless. I couldn’t risk it going off—though odds
were in favor of it remaining silent. Either way, I would see it in hell or I wouldn’t.

    The top of the stairs was visible from the edge of my bed. I sat there and waited. The dread blossomed
in my chest and burst forth to create a cage around my body—I couldn’t leave now if I wanted to. I traced
the caps of my knees with my thumbs and stared. I sat there and thought about Sam. Beautiful Sam. Gone
now. The blame nestled on my back. This is for you. And mother, I’m sorry but I have to go.

    A trumpet began to sound from the bottom of the staircase. It was a hymn of announcement, of
proclamation. My room began to turn a yellow hue. The air itself—yellow. The sound of the trumpet
intertwined with lutes and flutes to form a jovial song. Pairs of feet made their way to the top of the steps.

    The first entered. He was a small imp-like creature with a city for his hair. The towers and buildings
protruded from his head and the bustling of life scattered about like lice. He walked into my room blowing
his trumpet, swaying it from side to side and dancing in place once he reached the wall.

    They continued to enter. The lute players were large spiders who walked in on their back six legs while
their front two strummed their instruments. Their mandibles twitched and glistened in the yellow light—wet
with salivation.

    The flute players arrived. Fat, fleshly creatures with no eyes stumbled up the stairs on top of each
other—still executing their melodies with great proficiency. Their hairless skin rippled and waved as they
swayed about. As they took deep breaths between stretches of notes, their few sharp kernels of teeth
showed like scattered nails jutting out of rotting wood—my stomach turned. They would look like worms if
not for their limbs—which were capped with long, black fingernails. The red bows they wore atop their
heads made a mockery of their repulsive appearance.

    Then, the formal delegation began to enter. Holding tall banners with red flags, the horned beasts
arrived in my room. Their mouths were wide and their tongues flicked around their lips. In their stomachs,
faces of men and women pressed against their flesh with muffled screams. There were five in total.

    The first entered with expressionless eyes that never left the ground. The second barged in and let out a
horrific roar from the depths of his prison of a stomach. The third slunk through the door with bags of coins
around his waist that jingled as he made his way to the end of the line. The fourth wept as he walked past
the rest—his tears fading before they hit the ground. Finally, the fifth arrived with his head held high and
banner hoisted with pride. He took his place at the end of the line and pounded his wooden staff against
my floor with a thud that shook the room. The music stopped.

    The creatures all bowed their heads. A woman with dark eyebrows and pale blonde hair slowly
appeared at the top of the steps wearing a soft smile. She stood in stark contrast to the beasts—her face
simultaneously resembling every person I had ever loved. I began to become erect and found myself idly
rubbing the tip of my penis. Her red dress moved in rhythm to the silence as she walked towards me. She
wore no shoes. Her feet were bloody and filled with shards of glass. She smiled, nodded and held out her
heart to me—which was still attached to the veins and cords inside of her chest cavity. The heart had a
silver pen stuck in it like a pin cushion. She nodded once more and motioned for me to take the pen. I took
it. The smile left her face and she took her position to the left of the proud horned beast.

    The trumpet again began to sing. It played a heralding song—uplifting and regal. Two flies—as big as
owls—entered and draped a long, crimson carpet from the stairs leading to my feet. The mucus from their
mouths left two parallel trails. They flew over to the spiders and nestled underneath their mandibles so that
they could begin to softly pick at their flesh. The flies moaned in ecstasy.

    A small figure appeared at the end of the carpet. His garb was that of a Catholic bishop—though there
were no crosses or marks of Christ. The robes were adjourned with strange symbols—Rorschach
inkblots— I saw Sam. As he approached, I noticed the small bishop looked almost human, but his skin
was grey and cracked like concrete. His wrinkled face scrunched up as he looked up to meet my eyes.
The music again stopped.

    “You have called us here today. Do you know what you are asking?”

    I did.

    “Lo! This is no meager undertaking! I beg you again! Do you know what you are asking?”

    I did.

    “Then sign. Sign and find where you belong.” The small bishop unrolled a long parchment written in a
language foreign to me.

    I asked him what it said.

    “To read it aloud would be heresy! It is the terms of our agreement and tells of each potential outcome. I
assume these have been detailed for you?”

    They had been.

    “Then you do not need them explained. Use the pen. Sign it.”

    I reached out and signed my name at the bottom. The parchment quivered as I signed. I was hurting it. It
bled as I finished my last letter and my name faded into the parchment’s flesh.

    “Then it is done. I hereby grant you access to the many gates. Your existence here is revoked and your
next shall be decided by the Judge.”

    Who was the Judge?

    The small bishop brought his hands together and then spread them apart. A bright light formed,
indistinguishable from the yellow air of the room. The obscured face appeared in front of the illumination
and I saw his waving hair.

    “You have chosen purification—an attempt to purge your sins and be freed of debts.”

    I asked who was the Judge.

    “You are. Only you can decide what follows. We are but guides.”

    The imp began to weave a long rope from the spider’s webbing. It was grey and thick. He weaved with
precision and skill—twisting and braiding the strands together to make a large coil.

    I told him I was afraid—that I didn’t think I could ever shed the horrors of my actions—of my life—that
they were too deeply engrained and permeated throughout all planes of existence.

    “You think too highly of yourself. Fear is necessary. Accept the pain. Learn from it. Eventually, you may
gain access to the void and join the eternal tapestry of nothing. As the Judge, you will choose the best
course for this. The knowledge is with you.”

    The imp crawled up on my bed and onto my back. He gently placed the rope around my neck like an
award. I could hear the beings atop his head wail. Their existence was filled with terror. The tiny denizens
lied in the street—bleeding and burning. They did not help one another as they aimlessly ran in fear. Their
screams played in circles. The imp smiled, kissed my cheek and hopped down.

    “There is nothing left to discuss. The time has come to shed.”

    The small bishop closed his hands and the face was gone. He turned and gestured to the woman with a
bow of his head. She came and put her hand in mine—her heart still resting in her other. A fat, fleshy
creature held the end of the spider’s webbing as we made our way toward my bedroom window.

    Sam. I’m sorry I was so cold. I’m sorry that I didn’t offer my hand when you needed it most. I put my
selfish wants in front of everything—love, friendship, you. I hope to see you again to tell you that my mind
was clouded by the haze of this earth. If I could do it all over, I’d be there. You wouldn’t have left this place
alone. I will see you again and I will tell you. You will see that I’m not a monster. You will see that I can be
human. I will see you in the nothing.

    The music began to swell. It was blissful. Neither triumphant nor sorrowful—a melody that lulled one into
sweet submission.

    Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful sway.

    The woman sang the words but her mouth did not move. They echoed in my head. She guided my
footing and I positioned myself at the window with my legs dangling out. I looked back at the creatures
standing patiently. I turned and saw the ground beneath. The woman leaned into my ear and whispered,
“You get what you deserve.”

    I let go of the sill and dropped. My neck cracked with deafening volume. Bile began to force its way up
my throat but was caught with a gargle where the rope was tightest. The backyard became a red blur as
my eyes bulged and throbbed. I whisked my tongue around feeling for anything at all. All breath halted in
the middle of my throat behind the bile. My limbs twitched—I shook. Warmth ran down my leg—I shit
myself. My chest splintered, cold like ice, as the panic reached its height.

    Then it all stopped. My fingers twitched with their neatly trimmed nails. The red faded to grey, which
faded to black, which faded to white. My last thought was of another. My last thought hurt the most.


    He woke up from his after-work nap and grabbed another beer out of the fridge. “That piece of shit is
still on the couch,” he thought as he saw his roommate. “Hey, wake up! I’m going to Marco’s. You comin’ or

    The man on the couch stirred and rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. He tried hard to remember what
he had just dreamt, but the dream eluded him. Staying home on a Friday night didn’t seem too appealing,
so he nodded yes.

    “Hell yeah. Let’s get fucking stupid. Beer?”

    The man on the couch smiled. He figured he deserved a night out. It had been a rough few years and he
needed every opportunity to take his mind off of it all. He knew there would be some cute girls at Marco’s.
Maybe he could talk one into coming home with him. He ran his tongue across his teeth and licked his lips.
It was going to be a good night.

About Michael Albin

Michael Albin in a writer
from the south
Chicagoland area. He is a
coffee drinker, an
occasional educator, and
lover of a good existential
crisis.  Don’t cry for him,
he’s already dead.
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.