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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

DIG TO RISE By Justin Dunne
September 21, 2013  Short stories   

Often, more than not, he is in two places at the one time.


This place, now, he is known as Mad Dog. All six foot of crazy, plus another foot of tight curled hair.  The black Nazi style helmet with the half torn sticker of a snarling dog is two sizes too big for his head, but not, for his head and his hair.  The modified, barely road worthy dirt bike he rides is two sizes too small, for everything.


His greasy stained singlet, once blue, now closer to grey, leaves nothing to the imagination. Bits of tummy, all the way up to belly button bulge out.  Hairy sweaty side boob protrudes to the nipple, wet and glistening.  He is a sight of Sideshow Bob meets Mad Max, but without all the leather and with more glimpses of testicle.


Often, not all the time, he snarls and barks, at nothing.


Here, this place, now, he is driving in his car. Beside him, in the passenger seat, his high school sweetheart. Her eyes deep, dark and warm. He calls her beautiful because he honestly thinks that she is. Proudly he adores her kind, gentle features. With grace he shares the gift of her with their son.  He is a boy of three years, too clever and independent for his age.  To shit nosed stubborn, this man, here, now, would say. A blessing is he. This man and his lady, decided by fate would only have the chance to share their love for each other with just the one child.  The miracle of children, they made the most of it and almost drowned the young creature with their praise and adoration.


In this place, now, he is by birth Tyler Polsen. Yet he is known to all as Mad Dog. The familiar old stranger, crazy, he rides and barks, everyone talks about him but nobody truly knows him. He lives, in his mind, through the memories of Tyler Polsen, the middle aged man, content with wife and child, who smiles more than he doesn’t, long forgotten by most, known only to one.


Physically in one time and mentally in another, here, now, he is Tyler ‘Mad Dog’ Polsen.


Pictures, on the TV, in the papers, everywhere you look, make no sense to most, too grotesque, unbelievable and just plain wrong. Wrong on that ‘God has left us’ unacceptable sort of level. Unable to accept the truth, denial, it is the biggest killer and will prove key to the destruction of all.  The Great Fall.  But the Mad One, who bares his teeth and snarls at innocent passersby, to him it is a key for a different door.  The pictures paint a story, an ending to his tragic tale, beautiful and complete. An ending to make Tyler Polsen smile.


Mad Dog sits hunched lonely on his dirt bike, a wide eyed look that seems to pain him smears his grubby bearded face.  The streets, deserted, all the rats of the race gone home to sing their prayers, say good bye and spend time with their loved ones. That is, every individual bar Tyler ‘Mad Dog’ Polsen. Fixated, glued even, he watches through a shop front window. Several TV’s all on different stations broadcast the same images. Left on in the haste of terror. Blood – Death – Carnage and the thing to make Mad Dog’s lip turn up – the Rise of the dead.


His eyes glaze over; he looks distant, troubled then quite irritated. Tyler Polsen wants his son to shut up.  They have been prisoners by choice in their four wheeled, ABS, EBD, Scandinavian designed prison.  After a day or two he discovered an ergonomically constructed car seat is not necessarily a comfortable one.  After more than a week of driving he had wished the head rest of the clever, safe chair had been born with feelings, so that he might crush them and spite them and dance on their tiny chair feeling graves. Hate is a strong word. He hates the chair.


“But WHY?” had become an all too frequent question, repeatedly given life from the back seat. “But HOW much very longer?” was also very popular.  An emphasis on the ‘HOW’ and the ‘WHY’, demanding an acceptable answer that could not, so frustrating, be given. And far, far too often and rather painfully the phrase, “But I don’t want too,” whined and screeched, dug in nails and pierced human feelings creating friction and tightening the tension on already frayed moods.


Tyler Polsen had received a work transfer, mistakenly perhaps asked for, an adventure is what they wanted – a sea change. From the cool wine making climate of the south west coast of Australia to the tropical warm murder suicide capital of northern Australia. What could go wrong?  The weather up here, so close and neighborly with the equator, so hot and humid and worst of all constant, drives people to insanity. Locally known as ‘Going Troppo.’ Here, now, driving in his car, after regrettably deciding that flying the four thousand kilometers would sap too much of the adventure, he, Tyler Polsen has begun to taste the crazy in the thick hot air.


He loves his son, he really does.  This little treasure of creation is, after all, a miracle and a blessing and the only child he will ever have. But lately, just these last few days, with the same movies played on tiny screens over and over again, characters of which use sounds like animals to communicate instead of the words he wants his son to learn, with the crying and the winging and the ‘but why’s’ so many ‘but why’s!’ Tyler Polsen loves his son more, when he is asleep.  At the moment when he looks peaceful and restful and as close to death while still being alive as possible.  He feels guilty for it but he feels it still.


Out front of the electronics and white goods shop, dirt bike purring in the deserted street, Tyler ‘Mad Dog’ Polsen, through a grimaced expression and tightly controlled lips speaks, “We will get there when we get there, son. Daddy does know the way but it is very, very far away. We will, we will be there soon, ok…………ok.”


To Tyler Polsen and Mad Dog both, the smell of this place is the smell of fever, hot and tropical, glowing sweaty and sick.  In the dry season it is paradise on earth, a Garden of Eden with just the right amount of Sin.  In the wet season however, as is a rule in life, you pay the price for your joy and frivolities. The due amount is paid via sweaty uncomfortable crotch rashing, unrelenting, brutal humidity. The rain, the reason it is called a wet season, does nothing to ease the woes of the small wide cast population, the heat persists. The monsoonal rain just makes things wet and the air all the more thick. Thick with that smell of fever.


A person of normal validation, content perhaps or even happy, cannot really prepare for what is about to come, the end of the world, the Great Fall.  If it could be prepared for then it wouldn’t really be a great fall would it?  Although a man, a seemingly crazy broken one, a man who has already suffered a great fall of a personal intimate nature, a man who has seen bad things, felt real pain and mourned deep soul shattering loss.  This sort of a being, who has survived, even if ever so barely, he will have a different view of things, the angle from where he sits so low, gutter bound, sets him with different priorities and altered outcomes when the End of the World approaches, so very nigh.


This wet season, here, now, brings more than the sticky smell of fever. It brings a robust companion, pungent of chaos, death and a hearty odor of warm meaty decay.  It was hatched in parts far off and foreign, distant. That contagious soothing thought, ‘It’ll never happen to me,” has already claimed so many. The plague, as it is known, has come to roost, here, now.


Bad things do happen, and not just to good people but to shitty people too. Rich people, poor people, murders, dentists. The world, Mother Nature, God, whoever, the universe does not discriminate and dishes out at will.  Everyone can fall. Deep down, somewhere buried and hidden, Mad Dog knows this, has learnt it the only way possible for such a lesson, the hard way. And Mad Dog would have to admit, as a person, he has not handled this harsh lesson all too well. Something he aims to remedy. Tyler Polsen doesn’t have to admit anything; he is given the freedom of being just a memory.


Altogether though we are not judged purely on how we fall, we are also looked upon by how we rise. How we shake it off and move on. In this empty forgotten street, watching disturbing visions on plasma and LED screens, Mad Dog knows to the essence of himself that he has done the right thing, taken the course of action to rise, to brush off his past, take the step and rise again.


Off the empty shop windows and down the streets echo the sounds of hardened steel contacting and bouncing on cement, breaking a silence not belonging. Mad Dog has abandoned his blood soaked hatchet to the littered pavement. It is ok; he will no longer need it.  Blood weeps slowly from bite marks on his forearm. The wound has already turned black and green, infected, it smells of mushrooms and almonds.  The maddening intense fever hits, Mad Dog knows, it is time.


Sweat breaks on his brow, on cue, looking up to the heavens, the rain falls. Heavy buckets of it. Drenching, straight down deafening rain.  Tyler ‘Mad Dog’ Polsen unsaddles his dirt bike, still running, leaving it to crash harshly to the floor. He doesn’t care; he will no longer need it.  With a snap of fingers he undoes the buckle of his helmet.  Even in this weather, his hair, springy like an ejector seat, shoots the helmet from his head. It sits spinning dreamily on the sidewalk, pooling with water.  He doesn’t care; he will no longer need it.  As he walks, searching amongst the abandoned cars for something in particular, he attempts to tuck his singlet in to his short shorts and using his coarse unwashed hands he pats down his hair to no good cause. These are the habits of a memory, of a tidy professional Tyler Polsen.


It doesn’t take too much looking. Luck would have it, in the third car he looks in, in the back seat he finds out what he is searching, a child’s booster chair.  This he will need. Using a bare skinned elbow he smashes the driver’s side window to bits.  Oddly it doesn’t even hurt.  He climbs in and settles himself behind the wheel.


Tyler Polsen turns around to address the empty booster seat. “It’s all right my boy, it’s just rain. A little falling water never hurt no body.”


It has been a long time since Mad Dog has been in a car. Tyler Polsen never got out of the last one he was in.


Just like in the movies, but never in real life, from behind the checked sun visor, spare keys fall.  The car is started and off they all go. Windscreen wipers run back and forth, pointlessly in a battle they will never win, against the ferocious torrent of water. Wind roars through the shattered window, pelting him, abusing him with hard droplets of rain.  It hammers, drumming without mercy or feeling on the roof of the car. And this heat, this unrelenting, uncaring humidity. He feels chocked and suffocated.  It’s claustrophobic and offends him. It all adds up quickly and the equation isn’t pretty, it’s too bloody much.


“Shut up!” yells Tyler ‘Mad Dog’ Polsen, snapping and twitching, “JUST. SHUT. UUUUUUPP.” Snarl bark snarl. “We will get there when we bloody well bloody get there……SHIT!” Momentarily, for a few measly fractions of seconds – of all the seconds that ever were and ever will be, he forgets.  He forgets that he loves his child. That his boy is a blessing and a miracle and the only child that he will ever have.


He thinks selfishly that it is too hard to see, too damn noisy to hear and too bloody hot to bloody well think.


Subconsciously, born from maybe guilt or love, that line is sometimes fuzzy, from a place though where thought has no presence, only feelings, he once again speaks in his snappy tone, “What are you? – A bloody three year old?” It is a grown up attempt at humor and a terrible form of an apology that a child would neither grasp nor understand.


The moment of rabid anger passes, his blood is cooling and with a proper apology and some kind loving words about to part his lips they crash. Yes, they crash.  Head first and at full speed in to an unmovable stubborn old tree.  Tyler ‘Mad Dog’ Polsen has driven them here, to this place, now, guided by who knows what, an unholy spirit, fate, destiny, a fading memory or GPS, to their final destination. The tree that has stood in this cemetery, protectively overlooking the hollowed grounds, has stood here for a very long time and by such a way has earned its place in this world.  It did not flinch nor even succumb to greet the car when it collided.


The broken thing that falls yielding from the wrecked car, now, at this place, is neither Mad Dog nor Tyler Polsen. It can be said that it is different from the rest of the infected, yes, keeping lodged in a dark hole a little more of its damaged soul than considered normal, but one wouldn’t go as far as to say that it was human.  The rain, the heat, the bloody humidity even now looking upon this tragedy and waste of life does not ease, will not show mercy, not even now.  Perhaps it is necessary or fitting, a way to wash away the blackness of the desecrated scene.


Across the muddy ground with crooked limbs it crawls, shifting more dirt and sludge than moving itself forward. Its cracked and bleeding head bobbles up, by chance, or maybe not, it looks with vacant eyes upon a grave stone. From somewhere deep down it recognizes what it sees but cannot read.  Engraved upon the granite, two first names that share a last, ‘Here Lies Polsen’, below him, six foot, two corpses share the one coffin.


Here, now, in this place, the zombie that was once known as Mad Dog that was once Tyler Polsen, with crooked content smile scaring his face, digs, not to fall but to rise and to rise again.


  1. I love it! Especially the ambiguity about whether Mad Dog was a down at heels survivor or zed until the very last paragraph. And the interspersed memory flashbacks about him, his wife and his kid. Nice sobering, downbeat ending, too.

    Comment by Craig Y on September 21, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

  2. Fight Club reference For The Win

    Comment by TheWarriorMax on September 22, 2013 @ 3:06 am

  3. Can really sympathize with the character, what with the words painted in broad lively strokes all over the story.
    So when he turns, he remembers enough to dig up his family in the end, so they can rise together.
    I really liked this story, a cerebral workout for me.

    Comment by bong on September 22, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

  4. TheWarriorMax, I wish I had a prize for you!

    Comment by Justin Dunne on September 24, 2013 @ 6:04 am

  5. “Blood weeps slowly from bite marks on his forearm. The wound has already turned black and green, infected, it smells of mushrooms and almonds.”

    That’s a terrific description.

    That aside, when I read, I look for little things that jump out at me–it’s both a blessing and a curse–and I saw several things that stood out, but this passage in particular has soooo much depth and truth to it:

    “Altogether though we are not judged purely on how we fall, we are also looked upon by how we rise. How we shake it off and move on.”

    I like the style this was written in, kind of a mix between stream of conciousness and the standard 3rd person account.

    I like that you gave Mad Dog feelings and determination at the end. Good, solid story.

    Comment by A.J. Brown on September 25, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  6. Thanks ALL for the positive feed back.

    I never know how my stories will be recieved. This one in particular was a bit of a worry for me. The style was different and it was difficult to tell, from my perspective, if the memory flashes would work or just confuse.

    It took A LOT of polishing and soooo many comma’s. I never really know what I’m doing. If I’m breaking some writing rules or not.

    So I appreciate your kind words!

    Comment by Justin Dunne on September 26, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

  7. Break all the rules you want to, Justin. All that matters is the story, and if the story is good and the punctuation is good and there are limited spelling errors, then rules are just that rules, and they are meant to be broken. They’re not laws, thankfully. I’ve always taken writing rules as guidelines that you can either apply to your story and style or not. A LOT of people disagree with me, but I really feel like if a writer worries more about the rules of writing than the story he/she is telling, most of the time the stories will be technically sound, but suck big time.

    Comment by A.J. Brown on September 26, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  8. I don’t know any of the rules…..but that is why I keep coming back to this site. To learn stuffs. 🙂

    Comment by Justin Dunne on September 27, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

  9. Nice. Written from a different perspective than you typically see, but well done.

    Comment by Suzanne on October 1, 2013 @ 5:33 am

  10. I totally agree with AJ on the. Following line:

    Altogether though we are not judged purely on how we fall, we are also looked upon by how we rise. How we shake it off and move on.”

    Awesome. I really enjoyed the change-up in style. Loved the rhythm. Good job!

    Comment by JamesAbel on October 12, 2013 @ 6:53 am

  11. Dear Reader – if you’re still there – when I submitted this story to your faithful editors for review I was tempted to attach a little notation explaining some of the motivations for this tale. I didn’t and I sorta regret it.

    I didn’t want to try take anything away from the story and I figured, you, like me, come to this site for the entertainment of the stories – not necessarily the writers motivations on writing them. So I hummed and I harred and left it out.

    But here it is now.

    Mad Dog is a living local legend in the suburb where I work. People do talk about him, rumours do circulate like urban myth. People say he is crazy and won’t get back in a car after an accident involving his family.

    I have been barked at by him but have never spoken personally to him and have NO idea if the rumours are true. So why do I tell all this now? I don’t know. Just didn’t seem right telling half the story…or fair to Mad Dog.

    Anyways, for those that enjoyed my fictional tale based on a stranger – thank you.

    Comment by Justin Dunne on November 11, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

  12. That’s a cool story, Justin. I love finding out where stories come from, how they develope, and the motivations behind them. It’s always interesting to hear someone say, ‘This happened and this happened so I wrote this because of it.”

    Story ideas just don’t pop out of the blue. They are based on something someone has either said, done, heard, smelled, or tasted (or a combination of those). One of the best stories I’ve written came from me counting the letters in words to make sure I didn’t go over a certain amount of characters for a Twitter story I was writing. The next thing I knew I stopped working on that story and began working on ‘Numbers.’ It was one of the more enjoyable pieces I’ve written.

    Thanks for sharing mad Dog’s story. I enjoyed both the tale you wrote and the truth behind it.

    Comment by A.J. Brown on November 15, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

  13. During my sixty-five years on this rock, I have met some very, very strange (demented) that would make Mad Dog an Ode to Joy. Great story.

    Comment by John the Piper's Son on November 21, 2013 @ 3:05 am

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