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Social Graces

by Lori R. Lopez

The corner appeared to consume
Whatever strayed or stumbled within
Reach. A blackhole at the far end of the
Room, sucking every ray or speck of
Positive energy, absorbing the dark out of
Shadows and souls
The pigment and dirt; the essence
From anything it could lure, touch, trap

As I stepped inside the dim lair, fanning smoke
Eyes adjusting day to night at a blink
Waves of heat billowed off. Liquid fire
Boiled in my blood, and I sensed it — almost
Smelled its presence, the raw sinister
Stench of things decayed. Nerves and muscles
Tightened. Not that they were loose
I was tough for my age, slim but wiry

I cringed and considered departing before
The door sealed, the crack of light vanished
Retreat was not my habit; thirst was...
And an occasional need to rub elbows

Cursing my luck, anticipating trouble and
Not in the mood, I barged to a counter, muscled
My way between bodies of Drinkers and the
Drugged, a few Diners choking down revolting
Meals. The void beckoned, wordless —
Yawning in welcome, the depths of which
Endured beyond sight or reckoning, an oasis of ink
A multitude of Black Roses sprouting in my
Field of thoughts that I could do without
Thorns and all. A flash of childhood memory
Distant as the Stars, when I was very small

My head ached as if sun-logged
From the glare of a too-bright morning
After being lost in a wilderness of Dusk, yet
This was the opposite, for I had come in
To escape the relentless stark shine of
Solitude...on a journey that led nowhere fast
And gave me a very bad taste. A scowl
No booze or narcotic could erase

My social graces were lacking
As well as an appetite for Bugs
I hauled out a flask, my own supply
Of Cactus Juice — the only plant to grow
Wild in a hostile climate: my single
Form of sustenance. Gesturing for an empty
Vessel, I poured and gulped in three swallows
Then slammed the dented metal cup down
Accompanied by a thin coin. Paying to feel
Less alone, I turned to escape an unhealthy
Atmosphere. The vibe increased, magnetic

The corner hummed in my ears. “What the heck.
I’ll bite.” A curious stride. Drawn closer —
Squinting at obscurity, I started to distinguish
Shapes from gloom and realized I had entered the
Carapace of a giant insect. “Holy Mothra!”
It was closer to a Cockroach I guessed
Most species on the planet either perished or
Evolved. Few remained, with limited diversity
Except mutations. The Apocalypse
Wasn’t an epic bomb or virus

The civilized world’s collapse arose
From neglect, mindless and deliberate. From
Greed. Somehow this Roach Motel put humans
In a trance. Manipulated us to see what we
Wanted, expected, catering to hungers
Rendering us docile. The thing engulfed —
Absorbed — fed upon people. A disgusting
Revelation. It had no corners, just a deep
Insatiable gut. My motto Do No Harm seemed
Inconvenient, for I couldn’t hurl a chair
Through a window that wasn’t there. Maybe
I could stir up indigestion, an upset stomach
Or cause a stampede! Persuading the others in
That belly of the beast to believe
Where they were required powers of persuasion
I didn’t have. Instead I yelled “Fire!”
A guaranteed crowd-mover. And trailed the
Charge to an exit. They had to create one —
Bursting, rampaging free, a panicked mob!
I left the Bug Cantina eating my dust...

And would strive to be more observant.

Copyright © 2020 by Lori R. Lopez

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