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The Goblin Market, by Catharine Bramkamp.
Some took pictures with damaged phones
buildings flayed alive
collapsing away from the center
A pattern of worn dominoes hit by an angry child
You had to be quick of course, to see the photos
the cities that became just place names overnight
A rescued laptop hooked to a generator with a minute and a half of charge left
one minute on a rogue site
thirty seconds before the corporation shut it down.
It's not true that we all died.
She met him right after.
Her parents stayed dead in the back of the dank theater
she was too slow when the carts came by
Bring out your dead.
Tired of rat
she dressed in leg warmers and a top hat
picked her way to the Last Cafe In The City
Call me Sam
he huddled over a beer
smoked his last.
Alone? Worried about the Goblins?
It was always so dark in the alley behind the theater where her mother worked.
It was difficult to imagine how that hard light
penetrated so deep between the V of black vertiginous buildings
the flash of white puncturing the small TV
the children stopped chanting
Eat your Rat
It's Low in Fat
the terror gangs stopped shooting
didn't want to do the other side any favors.
She knew she couldn't stay another day.
Sam finished his beer. How old?
Shit, thought you were 18
They all want me to be 18
We do he agreed.
He helped her order everything that was left.
California, he announced to her and the empty dishes
Sam unfolded a large map, a complex origami project.
This goes back to when it was terribly normal
to drive forever, cars blackened the country
It will take a few seasons, he cautioned
Gold Coast, Swimming Pools, Movie Stars
South is faster, you sure?
She knew about seasons - swimsuit season, flu season
He scooped up a computer, three loaves of hard bread
and the girl: top hat, leg warmers and a pink tutu
Once they cleared the domino buildings
the sun, a basketball orange suspended mid-dribble
on an intractable asphalt sky
motioned them to follow its everyday death.
They encountered others - anyone with only a few things
to carry, escaped the quickest
some survived, although they didn't know it at the time
traveling west served as a last act of defiance.
She told Sam stories
to fill in the silent trudging towards the flaming sun
how she felt trapped between buildings
that squeezed daylight into switch blades of light
the Goblins yelled from the shadows
back and forth, trading an persimmon for an apple
Buy, buy, buy
Don't be afraid her mother ordered
but don't eat.
hand size strawberries,
cantaloupes the size of her head
buy buy buy the Goblins
dressed in same kind of clothes and shoes
wore fantastically high platform boots
swayed from booth to booth in her short dress
An uncertain tulip, the stalk too weak to hold up the head
buy buy buy.
Computers glowed at the stalls; displaying web sites with stories,
tiny children held up gigantic strawberries
grapes, bananas, it's all good, grinned the Goblins,
all organic. Natural. Certified.
No, no we will find the cans. Her mother said
dragging the girl from the fruit.
We'll find the kind already
chopped up into bite size
bits and pieces, stored in aluminum recycle, reuse, reduce
they pushed the cans home in metal carts with broken wheels.
now the metal carts are filled with bodies.
Bring out your dead.
Did they eat the fruit, the dead?
By the time she knew, it didn't matter
and the Goblin market was gone.
Blast Away Fat
Her mother read the article out loud every night.
Her mother's arms
were held together in the middle
by a knob of bone.
The camera adds ten pounds; she tapped at the cover of Glamour
The girl wondered if mother would look better
if she held a camera up between them.
Burnt out days. Sam muttered.
the poets are always right.
It just takes time.
The Corporation, you'll be relieved to hear
is operating again, up and running, ready to take care
of your needs at some point. In the mean time.
Don't Go SOUTH
DON'T go WEST
Stay. We will REbUILD
not as catchy as
Eat your rat
It has no fat
Perhaps that was the trouble.
No, not all dead.
They could see the arrays ahead
Sucking in just enough unstable sun
to power a small lap top
The Last Café
We have beer and bread
Sam smacked down cigarettes instead.
The girl - was not for trade.
Jerry was a poet and a thief
He wanted the girl, but accepted a pack
It may cause death, she pointed out the label on the pack
Oh sweetheart. He blew smoke from his nose.
Everything causes death, even staying alive.
I saw them, Jerry said in exchange.
All headed south to Orlando
Pushing and Pulling suitcases, grocery carts
Costco flat carts, packed trucks the whole family
Pushing that stuff along.
whole morning to drag that much stuff
just a few yards forward.
Like the markets before
the Goblins controlled the trains
They worked the coal mines so long the fuel
belonged to the Goblins
Sam smirked. We didn't consider that.
YOU can lose unwanted POUNDS in just weeks.
They were right
losing weight was easy
she could count all her ribs.
I would love an airplane he said.
To fly, that would be like being a god.
There are no gods. She pointed out.
Not anymore. Sam kicked the rocks on the asphalt road.
But we need them, the gods, she continued.
Then make some up, he was tired of talking
Girls talked more than boys; he forgot that.
Okay, she said calmly, I will.
Some travelers were not thieves, but just wanted to share.
Sam still didn't know which he preferred.
A handful of cigarettes adverted violence and bought silence
The girl took the stories a traveling stenographer
In the Saloon at the End of the Line
a woman shared her huge apple
I had my arms up again,
her arms were deep red and scarred, her face spared.
He lit up right in front of me - a Roman Candle, remember those?
I hardly know what to do with myself now.
From the dark safe bunkers in the East, the corporation
issued questions from survey monkey:
1) how do you like us so far?
2) how's the fall out?
3) do you feel more/less secure on a scale of one to ten
Ten being very secure.
A hacker from Montana sent in the results:
(1) Not secure
The site disappeared
Many forgot to vote
They came across the dead of course
Some random, caught in the blast, caught in the fall out, caught out.
Some lay in circular patterns, feet to feet, in a ragged cart wheel
Dead before the blast.
It was God, one guardian of such dead intoned
Your God killed them? The girl asked.
No, no, he impatiently waved his hand munching on a meat sandwich
No. They are with God
How do you know?
I sent them there.
100 miles per hour, Sam gloated stroking the dusty car hood
seven days of walking
accomplished in one hour, think of that.
Don't you see?
At The Final Lounge
The woman of a certain age crowed
every wrinkle gone!
Got them back when tanning was getting something done.
She pointed to the red stretched skin
blasted right away
I can't stop looking at my face.
The center of the highway curved
over the bare horizon.
Shelters looked like casinos
Seven Feathers and a Squaw
The Drummer bragged -
Women loved me
he rolled his head, black hair flying
I was in the casino basement at the time
we thought it was a lame gig
You make music like I saw on TV.
The girl finally got up the courage to speak
Yeah, almost as good as fucking TV.
Deep in their bunkers, the easterners
snatched up random writers
as if Letter Men were wandering in packs
and only needed to be cut from the herd, and hauled underground
enough huddled in the dark and wrote for food and safety
From us it is the truth - DO NOT GO WEST
The survivors trudged through the sandy oily soil
And did not hear anything.
Packs of RVs, white land whales
Beached on their sides or backs, the attached furniture
Still serving a skewed purpose.
Yes, chortled the old man,
we had so much to eat
we needed a big cart to roll the food out of the store
a big car to take it all home
the refrigerators! The electricity!
The girl saved Twinkies to exchange for his story:
People like us, the old man remembered
stranded on an island, season after season
The professor tried to make a boat
The cabin boy struggled to help
He made the others laugh.
The movie star was very pretty.
Sam considered her notes. I don't think that's a legend
She finished writing with a flourish
It is now.
Everyone moved slowly at the Rapid City Diner
The bar tender wiped the countertop with a wet rag
leaving streaks of damp
that did not dematerialize in the heavy air
You know there is never a girl in these stories.
I know, Sam accepted the home brew
With appreciation born of deprivation
I thought it would be more sincere
With the girl
The beer foamed over the mug
Sam wiped his mouth and laughed
More often the RV residents tried to walk the rest of the way
fallen along the high mountain roads
Bring Out Your Dead she whispered
They wintered in airplanes
That's what Sam liked to call it wintering.
The sky was so fierce that she named it the time
of the abandoned gods
The travel gods, the train gods, the grass and growing gods
Those hide underground.
Like snakes Sam said.
Of course they weren't the only ones in line for the planes
A big woman with wild hair in row 16 asked about her.
No, a rescue. Ah, sleeping with her?
Sam shook his head.
The woman eyed the slender girl. She was old enough.
Sam looked at the sky instead of the wild hair
I am not tempting her gods.
So he and the woman went in the back.
Vision of the street. As the street hardly knows.
He called himself the Drummer
since that's where the first terror gang found him
what were the choices?
Boys wilding in the center of the country, taking on
anything that moved Goblins; they made the best story
Already the enemy. The terror gangs attacked.
They titled it the great train robbery
The Drummer posted the video on creaky You Tube
It never made money
so the Corporation never bothered to take it down.
The Mother God,
The girl explained to the men in the long light of spring
has to stay with us, must care for us
which is why she is the mother.
which is why she must be a god.
Her logic, impeccable; the beer, helpful
The desperate men nodded and gave them both
If you are abandoned. The girl continued
the Mother God will protect you.
Like a foster mom. One man said.
Yes, she agreed, not knowing what that meant
It didn't matter; she and Sam were safe for another night.
By reasonable deduction
The rest of the gods were angry gods
I will find out why. She said.
Sam helped her down the muddy banks of the Missouri river
She scrambled and tried to imagine enough water
to wake and drown
Yes, find out
the names of the gods, ask around.
A trained roared overhead.
Cries of the Goblins mocked them from above.
He always tried to stuff her backpack with food
Cans of chips, ding dongs the stuff that survived in the Chevron stop
the notebooks took up too much room.
No, I will carry the stories, leave the cans.
The Preacher still danced on the graves of the wicked
The wicked! The wicked did perish!
I told you all so! He danced and danced a round, spinning dance
The girl drew up as she watched,
the ground shifted, the preacher stumbled,
Sam threw out a warning arm
She pulled up to her full height, taller by much more than when they began
he noticed with astonishment.
The Preacher fell into the dust and rocks.
All the voiceless women, she whispered
the stoned, the burned, the buried, the raped
How do you know the wicked
Because they are gone! He howled from the ground
The howl danced from his lips and was caught up in a train whistle.
What was that?
The Goblins travel much faster.
Sam found a tin full of gas, surrounded
by skeletons with long fingered hands
Mad Max meets O. Henry
he grinned. We need a worthy receptacle.
It took hours but they found a sports car
low to the ground, fast he promised.
It roared to life cutting off every other
possible sound, she clutched the seat, the window
screaming like the demons from hell
She never moved this fast.
Sam yelled straight from his soul
They careened through the flat desert
in a more or less straight line.
Sound trailed behind them - 100 miles an hour
Took care of the next seven days, he grinned like a maniac.
Her heart was forever damaged
by all that speed. She just knew it.
Can we do it again?
Ketchup bottles red as the setting sun
Absorbing all the light
the old waitress served them ketchup and road kill
specialty of the house
The Last Café on Earth
I was in the meat freezer
I hate it in there.
So of course I was trapped for like
All that cold meat
Her nametag read Fran
which was not her real name just the last name left
She fingered her tight neck
The pink scars growing up over her sharp chin.
Tell me again about the Mother God.
Careless children, the same children
Who cracked Pandora's box
Unlocked blue beard's last room
Inspired the flood
The angry god hunted and destroyed
But the Mother God patiently
gathered body parts flung across the Nile or
the whole universe
and reassembled those back into a better man
missing only an eye, back of a heel, sometimes a hand
she watches over us
The girl concluded.
The waitress sighed
Sam rolled his eyes
They grew bolder as the leaders lost
brothers, hands, teeth, brothers
no job was too awful, that was the legend right?
They quizzed the Drummer
Weren't they the stuff of old legends?
Billy the Kid, Dillinger, the Okay Corral.
He didn't have the heart or the balls
to explain the sacrifices legends require.
It was easier to find notebooks and pens
In the abandoned Union Station stores than cans
Here, he tossed her a fruit pie
and Dr. Pepper because that was all that was left
eat this, you will live forever.
She clutched a new notebook to her chest.
Yes, she could live forever.
The wind turbine over the Last Stop Saloon
thrummed in the sky
Come, charge for free, called the owner
although there is little to say.
She offered a cupcake
Too fat, the girl automatically announced, recognizing the object
As a no in the magazines
Ah, the woman bit into the cupcake.
Just so you know,
here. Along the edges of the world
we all eat dessert first.
Wasted hills, as if the apocalypse had arrived
ahead of time - swept through
stranding the survivors: rocks, dried creeks,
chunks of asphalt road
haphazardly fitted together
like a jigsaw puzzle no one cared to finish
because the final picture wasn't very compelling
No, he squinted against the big savage sky,
the blue washed out to faded denim
I think it always looked like this.
The rails blew
scattering Goblins like rubber toys.
Sam pushed the girl behind him
They were too close to the explosions, but not the target
the Goblins muttered and gathered fruit and baskets
and determinedly marched forward.
With a whoop copied from old films
the terror gang roared in throwing
more hard explosions into the crowd,
the girl and Sam hid among the dust and chaos
down, down, Sam hissed, reached for her hat.
The Drummer recognized her hat and distracted
With blown out parts of cucumbers and zucchini
Look here! The Drummer patted down the dead:
gold shavings, lumps of coal
he hefted a hand size lump - wasn't there a story about this too?
Hey, a brother cut off a goblin head and pulled off a necklace.
did you hear the one about the people on the boat?
What about the boat?
They sailed for three hours then ship wreaked and never got off
The point? The Drummer asked. He knew Legends always had a point.
Don't get on a boat. He laughed and twirled the necklace
Un-cut stones glittered in the setting sun.
Who would buy?
The Drummer shrugged and absently cut off a hand
Bring out your dead
Bring out your dead
But there were no grocery carts for the Goblins.
The Florida exodus was not working out.
Roads did not accommodate wheels, the carts
ditched along with 15 pounds of dried soup, a gallon of mayonnaise
Enterprising goblins snatched up products
and sold them again at the trail head.
It will be fine, they assured the new travelers
Each group weaker than before.
Buy, buy, buy
You will need all this mustard, cereal, peanut butter
The refugees were wiped out by a hurricane.
We knew that, the corporation advertised
How do you feel now?
Fantasies hugged the left coast, no where else to go
but the grey pacific
dreams swirled around in the tide
the directors came to shore and pick up the remains like driftwood
and captured them back onto film and computers.
Yeah, yeah, the hunched man emerged from the bed of a truck
he eyed the girl.
Sam shook his head.
I just want to hear the stories, the old man insisted.
Tell me yours, she gestured to their fire
and I'll tell you mine.
At the Timeless Tavern
A young man grinned, his teeth knocked out
a badge of terror gang encounters
Ignored the girl. You were a Letter Man.
Sam nodded. For a time he helped the cause
he could change Terrorists to Freedom Fighters
re purpose Hackers to Liberators.
Angry to Righteous; we fight for you.
It was merely outrage and opportunity.
Just a historic confluence of Anger and Talent.
It's not like the peasants weren't armed.
It's not like they couldn't read a bus schedule
they stole into the heart of the beast
the city of walls, all breeched
whole collections of CEOs disappeared in seconds
gold parachutes do not open quickly
when thrown from the highest floor.
It was a good moment, it was a glorious moment
then the tide receded
leaving beached cities, gasping for air and temporary assistance.
Too big to fail
Except the most neglected
were the most angry
and in the end - they shattered the sky
With old plutonium and new resentment.
She threw a handful of dust
the grit blew away like starlings
Fear into flying
She found herself on the web her legends lifted and retold
Can I fix these? She complained.
There isn't enough electricity. Sam squinted at the turbine slowly turning
She nodded and continued to look for her gods.
As they labored over the Sierras, they passed
the bone yard of wrecked trains, accordioned against the base of the mountain
on the sides of the narrow trail, blackberries
and poison oak
gold bars, black cooking pans, red parkas in summer, sandals in winter
The air was as thin as a myth
She felt she could melt her wax wings against the implacable sky.
She squatted down and ran a finger over a solid bar
so pretty; so insistent
But after a few miles, too much.
You could exchange the notebooks for it: it's valuable.
She thought of the notes fluttering like the hawks
after hitting a turbine
No, no, the stories stay.
She slid the bar out and it landed with a thump and puff of dust
He bent and shaved off a handful of wrinkled foil
lighter than air
heavy as greed.
The Drummer was not as kind to the preacher.
He shot him mid-step.
Damn evangelical, thinks one rhythm works for all songs.
In San Francisco there is gold.
In San Francisco there is stripped copper wire.
In San Francisco ship masts litter the bay
Goblins call, chatter and unload boats with scary speed.
Mangos, green nail polish, knives.
The bars served more food than bread
More drinks than only beer
The Westin Hotel and Cabaret
An Official joined them and for a crease of yellow foil
Told them new stories.
Sam knew in wine there would be truth.
There was no elegant solution the Official admitted
no one says that of course
they sent me out here right before.
Goblins? The girl asked.
The Official grimaced, a practiced gesture
anyone who is different is a Goblin.
But you. I've heard about you.
They all flocked to her.
A mermaid singing each to each
she sang to them.
The crowd chanted knowing she could
break open their world
Howling through the night
on the corner of Columbus and Fillmore
jugs of wine passed through the group.
The Drummer sidled up to Sam.
She's going to need a name.
It would be good for her act Sam agreed.
The Drummer shook his head keeping his eyes fixed on the girl
The battered hat, the ragged edges of her pink tutu thin as a memory
That is no act.
The girl looked better - eyes shining
I'll tell you about the great mother; you are sitting on her skin
You need to caress her more often and stop hitting.
I will tell you the story of the three-hour cruise
How many of us start - believing
we have only three hours and it turns into
The girl lifted her hands a natural gesture the crowd roars.
She insists they throw shoes as tribute
I know how it ends. Sam patted the Drummer's arm
I never thought
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