MarkCooper

Suggested price:   9¢ to 12¢ per word
Location:  Youngstown, OH
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Biography

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EDUCATION:  Geography, Creative Writing from Youngstown State University BLOG:  None provided
CERTIFICATIONS:  Geographic Information Services (GIS) CURRICULUM VITAE:  None provided

Niches

  • Arts & Design
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  • Music & Entertainment
  • Outdoors
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Writing Sample

Teeter

A rare bean can be found on the Indonesian island of Java, whose only societal use is to be crushed smaller and smaller until it forfeits itself to a fabulous new gender, a coffee so grand only the Queen of England’s vernacular could afford it. To me, its procurement represents the penultimate, end-all-be-all of fat-assery. Our little bean’s value is not measured by its taste, but its situation, which is so repulsively wonderful in which it finds itself in the cup, it’s apparently worth the astronomical price.

In order for this brew to be made, this specific bean on this specific island must be grown in the wild, without human assistance. This specific bean must then be discovered by a Java-specific species of jungle cat. This cat must eat our little bean. The bean must slink through the digestive tract of this cat, until it finally slides out onto the jungle floor’s woodsmoke in a heap, a plume of steam billowing from it all picturesquely. It is at this point, soaked in this specific cat’s specific juices that this specific bean gains all its “delectableness,” and becomes The Delicacy for the Ages. If morbid curiosity ever inclines one to inquire of humanity’s lack thereof, simply look in the embroidered pockets of our high society, whose customs and traditions are littered with more barbarity than Genghis Khan ever mustered in all his years of rape and pillaging.

I imagine some sweaty Javan man in a wide-rim straw hat collapsing to his hands and knees around the feces, mere inches from the “liquid gold.” A handsome liquid, I’m sure. His eyes gleam as he sloppily shovels it into his pockets and runs back to his village to collect his reward. Jesus, I am getting desperate for a proper story. But dammit if I don’t feel literate today.

            I never learned to read, though I am often so impressed with my storytelling prowess, I feel as though I could convince just about anyone I have the ability, including myself. I sometimes become so moved by my own words that I feel like a literate man. My mother told me I’ve had the gift of fine speech since I was small. Now, thirty-six years in, I have honed in on this acute imagination and used it to great advantage. From intricate false excuses to feigning intimate sentiments with overzealous lovers, my attentiveness has served me very well over the years, as has it my ability to get out of work and, say, trek to the southern Andes Mountains in the Patagonian region of Chile. I guess that’s ultimately more of a backhanded upside to my imagination, as well as a backhand upside the head, as that particular conversational triumph with my boss mere weeks ago has most likely cost me my life. I should be back home right now, and I’m confident no one will ever find me down here.

I am fortunate to have such a strong background in storytelling, as it has served my morale well these many days, or hours, or weeks since the snow trapped me in here, alone in the dark. Still deciding whether a good or bad thing, my mind has begun to blend my personal anecdotes and word-of-ear stories passed on to me over the years, and is fusing them with the fantasies of my own making. Now, when I reach down and feel the cave floor’s cool touch, my fingers seem unsure. That feeling of uncertainty has predictably become more popular since I first started my descent downward into the belly of the cave. I had to choose downward, for the cave wall was sealed with snow during a blizzard I barely survived, and will be sealed for months, until summer. The cave entrance means certain death, but downward is still a mystery, and gives me hope.

Being in here for so long has reinvigorated the practice of faith for me, though, which many people who I most likely would’ve disagreed with up until now would swear it a good thing for me. I must have faith in my fingers. I must have faith in my bones and my mind, and I must have faith I will eventually see the good light. This dual spin cycle of faith and story help keep me walking through the cavern with an earnest drive, rather than trudging through it, weighed down by wake and defeat. I am thankful for faith, and I am thankful for my love of story, which is admittedly a greasy, slippery love most of the time outside this place, often proving to be very difficult and squeamish when I try to tackle it for just one measly cohesive story. A love for storytelling and a Type A personality are sworn enemies, and the former rarely ever completes itself because of the latter. However, in here, I’m much more grateful for whatever story I can conjure, no matter how low hanging the fruit may be. Damn if I feel literate right now - let’s get up again.

            A true breeze upends my train of thought, focusing my attention on the direction from where it came. A breeze that found its way in here would surely go back the way it came, had it any sense. I walk toward it, the wind kissing each of my ears, different from the direction I was originally headed in. The breeze weakens as I advance, until finally the path trails off and dies. I realize I was in such a hurry, I didn’t notice how far I’d come from where I began. I could’ve been walking for damn near a mile, and just now feel the line of sweat on my forehead. How strange time moves when you cannot see. My silly decisions have gotten a bit more out of hand with each day; I must take more care to discipline myself on such matters, as I can’t afford to get silly in here.

Preoccupied with this thought, and at this point, just standing around in the dark, something between a yawn and a mumble sounds from the direction the wind came. Very faint, I tilt my head towards the invisible canal and perk up my ears. It’s no longer wind I hear, but the sounds of jovial violins and hearty laughter! I’m sure it’s my imagination. That tricky little wind, luring me in here with its siren songs, promising me false company. How could the wind possibly think I would believe such a thing lie just on the other side of the cavern wall? Silly. And yet, my pace quickens from hearing the call of my own kind.

But it stalls once the sound becomes clearer. The laughter doesn’t seem quite right, not as us surface dwellers laugh at least. Maybe I’ve come across some lost collective of Patagonian high societals still unaware the world has frozen them over and forgotten them down here. Maybe they’re half pig, which is why they sound like that. Or maybe I’ve just forgotten that laughter really has always sounded like that.

As I continue to walk, I notice I can no longer hear my own breath anymore, but only the violins and the laughter, which is starting to resemble screaming and shouting more and more. The violins strike at a furious pace now, the jig sounding less like party music and more like a communist march quickened to impossible speeds. The laughter has changed as well, now more of a chant growing more sinister with each new verse, their tones plummeting to octaves that have no relationship with living things. The words morph and trip over each other, eventually making a heady drone of vowels so loud that they now match the abrasiveness of the violins. Through the vowel wall, my name emerges, the only discernable words being sung. Shredded and distorted vocal cords beckon me toward the festival just around the corner, calling out my name in a perverse and untrustworthy way. Backwards is no escape, but forward is still a mystery, so I’ll run now towards the sound, tripping over a shapeless item I couldn’t care less to go back and study.

The sounds of the party seem to falter and recoil from a loud scraping sound, which cuts clear across me like a blade. Demented cheering erupts as what sounds like a large upright piano is being dragged along the cave floor, its hind legs chipping and splintering into a mess. Still all dark, the people are screaming only my name now, the violins pulling their own hair out maniacally as the shrieks snap across the cave walls like a whip. I am sprinting now towards the party, terrified beyond belief of what I might find around the corner. The only way to get beyond it is to bulldoze straight through. Auditory sensations such as these can make a blind bat see clearly, using the vividry of such striking sounds to form a liquid photograph in your mind. I guess the picture would have the texture and viscosity of an oil puddle, rather than a body of water, as mental images tend to morph in a stirring motion rather than with a splash. I still feel literate. Realizing that I’m using sound as a reference for my escape, I stop, now aware I may be running in circles like a fool in the dark. Sounds bounce off cavern walls in a bullying way, teasing me. As soon as I stop, the shrieking, the violins, everything, suddenly disappears entirely, the final “notes” resonating all around the bowels of the cavern.

The sounds bend around the walls and leave me an orphan again, feeling rejected by something I should’ve run from. Just like that, I am alone in the dark, panting like a dog from the events that just occurred.

 

I suppose, these things eventually happen in a situation like this.

 

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I read about an early 1900’s family in Russia that, in order to escape the tyranny of the Bolsheviks, fled into the Siberian wilderness to start anew. With a daughter, the man and woman built a remote cabin where they lived in solitude, never discovering the fate of their village. They lived there for years, having two more children until finally, they were rediscovered. Recently, two men recreationally flying over the area came upon the cabin, and found the family still thriving. When asked, the family was shocked to discover the Bolsheviks never achieved in unifying the parties, although they really were remarkably practical by nature. The husband in particular was quite a smart man, who observed humanity’s technological advancements and formed his own conclusions from afar.

He apparently caught sight of that new Sputnik they shot up a couple of years ago, and figured it a fire Man somehow successfully shot up into space. Amazing, I thought it. We have men and women in gaudy fur coats drinking cat-shit coffee at the forefront of our cultures. And yet, tucked away deep in Siberia is a man wise enough to completely bypass the typical and disappointingly immediate assumption of a Godlike being in a situation like this, and figure humans somehow finally got something to stick into orbit. I’m sure my reaction would’ve been less than wise if put in his case, despite my disdain for faith up until recent events.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t Sputnik that won the man over. He was, according to the newspaper, peculiarly uninterested in the satellite, but rather charmed by standard Scotch tape. He referred to it as “collapsible, adhesive-infused glass.” A remarkably practical family, indeed. The most amusing part of the story, though, was that once the family was informed that the Bolsheviks never made it to power, they still preferred to live out in the wilderness. Their only request was for the pilots to bring back a large amount of salt, for the food was very bland and homely to the taste buds.

And a generous amount of Scotch tape, surely.

            The patter of heavy running water breaks my concentration. Though days ago I may have found it humorous, I now find it strictly unnerving that, rather than sounding of some underground channel carved in the Earth and let out to breathe in this little instant, it resembles more a gigantic faucet in a suburban kitchen sink. Octaves and octaves lower than any spicket could procure, the rumbling booms blip in such rapid secession that an uncomfortably loud hum bellows, and radiates throughout the cavern tunnel. Oddly, it makes me feel warm. The faucet could be miles away for all I know, as ears trick the brain in a limbo like this, where sounds have the ability to appear right in front of your face, rather than tethered only a mere few inches from its source like up on the surface.

            Seeing as I have no choice, I press on towards the faucet, getting more and more tired of this kind of company. If I can’t return home to the States, I’d at least prefer to have the company of bats or lizards, or maybe even an uncharacteristically lovable spider. None of those are down this far, though. Nothing lives down this far but me, and maybe whatever is now moaning along with the reverberation of the faucet. Upon further inspection, I decide it is indeed some type of human groan coming from the cavern holding the faucet, though how it is possible to compete with the deafening thunder of the water, I don’t know. I am very frightened now, though how could I be by a figment of my imagination? I’m sure anyone in this situation would be frightened as well, as at this point these hallucinations are becoming more normal than the occasional glint of light off a degrounded rock or wet stalactite. It’s been days since the party incident (I think), and since then, my walking has been littered with various interactions involving creations generated from the slimiest corners of my imagination. I am at my wit’s end with them.

            My adrenaline compounding, and with a damp film of sweat overtop my brow, I round the corner to face my faucet. The tunnel opens, revealing a cavern so large it appears wall-less. Like a canyon with the lid licked and a cap put on, the small amount of light I use to gauge the size of the opening comes in glints off an impossibly vast shape I haven’t yet made sense of. As I walk closer, the faucet grows louder, and I notice a lot of lightful commotion coming from above the shape.

The faucet! Dumping gallons upon gallons of I don’t know into the shape that at once reveals itself to be a glass bowl so large, the only place it would fit would be a crack in the Earth this particularly monstrous. The faucet keeps spilling as I turn my attention to the movement within the bowl. It’s not water, but wiggling things firm in form yet with enough of each other to mistaken for water, the small amount of light in the cave reflects off their bodies all the same.

The moaning gets louder, until it’s almost unbearable as I’m only inches from the glass. Not only can the moans compete with the sound of the water, but, being this close, overshadows the water’s roar completely. I extend one finger and tap the glass once. The ring from the tap reverberates throughout the entire chamber, echoing so intensely, rock falls all around, crumbling onto the floor. I swear I go deaf. However, I don’t need hearing to pick up the resounding vibration that follows, coming from the now-heightened moaning from the bodies in the bowl. I press my face up to the glass, this time unfazed by the resulting second ringing from the bowl. Rocks detach from the cavern ceiling again. I have definitely been deafened, but I’ll worry about that later. I’m sure I would’ve broken down into tears at any other point, but I don’t particularly recall having an endless fishbowl of squirming leftovers in front of me, so despite my weakening reasoning skills, I still feel my prioritizing is respectable considering the circumstances.

            As I peer into the bowl more intensely, what looks like tumbling reeds of clay forms into the gaunt face of a screaming woman. It presses against the glass right across from my own, startling me to the floor. Rattled, I regather my bearings and turn back to the glass.

At this point, I realize her face is without eyes and teeth, completely blank where they should be, with an almost liquid quality to the consistency of her skin. In fact, I’m amazed I can tell it’s a female at all, for she has no hair and no breasts, just a constantly bending and flowing gob of jelly flesh without bone. A second the body’s there, and then it’s gone, disappearing into the ocean of skin around her, yet her face never moves. Other faces aimlessly moan into the air like fish out of water as they pass by, more and more noticing me and coming towards, planting themselves directly in front. The entire organism is a slow-moving animal in its own strange way, like a machine; it looks like a pat of butter on a paint board, with the submissiveness to permanently change shape at the slightest command from my hand. Damn I feel literate.

            All the bodies make the same gawking gesture toward me, their faces caked against the glass. Their expressions make me think they expect something from me, though I’m unsure what. What even are you at this point? Stripped of your eyes, your words, your bodies all morphed and melted into one lifeless soup. The entire sight disturbs me.

            Thousands of faces are looking at me now, their mouths agape, the dimples where their eye sockets should be are vacant. Their numbers continue to grow until the entire side of the bowl begins to lean towards me from the weight of them piling up, all gathering to look and goggle. I imagine the vibrations I feel now are coming from the bowl as well, as the amount of pressure must be stressing it a concerning bit. They’re heaping upon each other like ants.

The vibrations grow stronger as I see what looks like a giant lightning bolt strike clear across the bowl. It’s beginning to shatter! A massive vibration shoves itself up my body, leaving me on the floor. I look back at the bowl; more cracks begin to slice through the glass, making the vibrations take the form of a pre-20th century canon fight. The army of faces arches over me as I stumble out of the corridor, the blasts from the newly forming cracks knocking me to the ground one after the other.

Tears in my eyes, a final sprint to the resuming cavern leaves me home free as I feel one final ultimate boom of thunder. I look back as a sea of them envelopes the length of cave behind me. In seconds, I’ll be consumed by the sea of flesh, each of their sobbing faces absorbing mine as they meet me and I finally lose. As the vibrations feel right at my heels, I look back at the tidal wave now hanging directly over me. The wave crashes down, and I scream one final time, ready to be smothered into nothing; to regress back to the shattered bowl in my new form.

Just as I feel the weight of the faces on me, something happens. I feel the cold, constant temperature of the cave again; no longer am I in sweltering heat from the infinite number of bodies pouring from the bowl. I open my eyes and yes, they are gone. I’m in the dark, and I’m fine, and I think it’s quiet…

 

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            I am now a deaf man, wondering mute in complete darkness in one steady direction. I have been stripped of everything but my stories, which I am losing the energy to fuel and honestly, would prefer to spend my time focusing on the vibration of my feet landing on the ground underneath. Hand-in-hand with my sense of time passing, the stories and their origins are beginning to avoid me. Once a well-oiled machine, my wit and imagination is sputtering and freezing like a fed up and worn down clutch, the teeth becoming more mismatched and warped by the day. Hallucinations, be they auditory or visual, have become something I’ve lost the interest of even remarking on, as my interactions with them usually end in me feeling more alone than ever.

Madness, it’s like a teeter-totter lying atop a ball, all perched on the crest of a hill. If the ball were kicked down the hill, I would be so preoccupied with keeping balanced on top of the ball, that I would be powerless in stopping the ball from meeting the bottom of the hill. All my teetering does not affect the roll of the ball, only how comfortable the ride is to the bottom. Teetering back towards the top of the hill may prove useful for a while, but no matter how well I balance myself on the descent downward, how much I fight and teeter, the ball will inevitably come to the bottom.

I imagine what I look like now. Ever-opaquening eyes sinking into my head with each passing hour, resembling more and more a hallucinatory figure I may find wandering around down here. What would they do if they found me here? My mouth would be slightly ajar like a skull in an anatomy classroom; I don’t think my wife would even recognize me anymore. Maybe, I might not even want to leave anymore.

I have made very careful to keep my spirit and attentiveness close to my side, for without it I may as well not even proceed with the actual act of dying, and just keep walking forward from hereon until the mystery becomes the answer. Because at that point, what’s it to be to me? Hell.

Hell is not a place, but a state of mind, stemming from the moment I stop making stories. I might as well just slip right into it without so much as a notable transition, for I’d already be dead without the official accolade. My soul probably died back in the blizzard all those weeks ago, or has been leaking all over the cave floor since I started my descent from the cave’s mouth. If that were the case, I could just turn ‘round and follow it back up like a trail of breadcrumbs. But it wouldn’t return, and I don’t want it back. I’m tired, and this entire ordeal has finally lost its charm.

 

Some distance ahead of me, and sharper and clearer than ever before, I see a naked body, slumped over on the cave floor. The sounds of steel scraping wood assure me the man is alive, though the closer I get to him, the more his figure resembles that of a preserved, older model one might find laying pictorially in a slab of wood in a museum. What an ancient thing, I’d hardly call him a man at all. Strangely enough, for the first time with my hallucination run-ins, I am put at ease. I feel comfortable and quiet, and I feel familiar. The man feels familiar, and the man feels warm. With his back turned to me, and still whittling, I crouch down mere inches from his body, studying the lines and muscles up along his protruding spine. The man pays no mind, and keeps whittling. The more I study him, the more familiar he feels.

 

Who are you?

 

My name is Eater.

 

I know you aren’t real, because I can hear you. I have been deafened down here,

you see, by a very large and very hallucinatory faucet.

 

How is it that you were deafened by a hallucination?

 

I have no answer for him, but am too transfixed by the man’s movements to spend more time on it. His silhouette seems to blend with the backdrop of the cave, as the harder I try to view him directly, the more his shape eludes me.

 

I think you should be moving on.

 

His words take me by surprise, as the thought has become less and less appealing. What I really want to do is sit down.

 

Don’t you know? There’s no escape from here. I cannot go back the way I came, and the way ahead will just take me deeper.

 

The man turns around and faces me. His eyes look like that of a twin whom I’ve never met. A lifelong friend who’s name I never knew. He feels part of my history, in a way I was never aware.

His gaze transports me through to an early memory with my mother. I’m a young boy, looking at her hands draped over a mixing bowl full of raw eggs. She hands me another egg, while mimicking the reflex of cracking it against the bowl properly. Frustrated, I look out the kitchen window, only to be distracted by her inverted reflection dancing up and along it as she continues to cook. Condensation forming on the outskirts of the glass from the boiling kettle, I dig my heels into the stool and throw the egg in the bowl. Scant traces of my literacy, I haven’t felt in what feels like such a long time.

I look over at the cave wall. I can see it clearly for the first time since the snow blocked the light. A vein of gold runs through and along the stone, carving its way most magnificently into the underground.

 

No, there is no way out from the cave.

 

But, I think you should be moving on.

 

Just then, the walls melt into shapes, and the shapes melt into what look like the features of women, elbows and potbellies and eye sockets growing from the gold vein. They’re dressed in nothing, their hair covering their breasts and backsides as they glide toward me. The cave walls continue to produce women until I’m completely enveloped; their hands clasp around me like a blanket as they hold me. I turn up to look at them. Their faces are perfection, without a single wrinkle, blemish or mark, radiating warmth and content and comfort.

I have a brother somewhere, and a sister with children. I have a wife who was born in 1923, who likes to trace my shadow with her foot while we sit outside on the porch. I often wonder if I’ve earned them.

An image appears in my head of when my father and I, as a young boy, burnt a railroad tie in the bottom of a quarry. The foul stench of the oily treatment they used to preserve it from the elements polluted the air, proving a formidable opponent for the fire. But fire always wins, and it won that day too. Dad, it broke me. The slick smell of creosote tears into my sinuses again as I look down and realize I’m covered in it. I reach for their hands and scream. The women’s faces look down on me, their eyes looking directly into mine, their gazes unchanged. The old man doesn’t reach for my hand. The eyes evaporate from their skulls, as do the teeth. Their jaws drop, and their hair go up in flames, revealing no breasts or any other feature underneath. Their gaping faces stare me down, a circle of them towering over as I feel myself struggle to draw air. Despite what I see, none of it feels violent.

From the time I screamed until now, I have traveled so far away. I have done my best this long not to teeter, and yet now I welcome the sight of the bottom of the hill before me.