Sleep in the Dark
I guess this story is pretty alright. It's got a story, which is a start from what I've read so far. I feel like, "My retard sister kills a guy and so I commit a homocide-suicide so she won't be in a crazy house," is kind of a dumb story, but its a story. Clearly the characters, though simple, have motivations and such. I don't really understand why that last guy is like, "Oh man, I bet they are gonna kill themselves in the pool. I gotta chill and watch this for a while."
In hindsight, the characters aren't great either, but I feel like its brieviety makes me want to like it more because I consumed it all in short order. It's altogether bad, because its so painfully average and outrageous. It also doesn't speak well to your understanding of people with mental challenges.
I suggest that you should watch less anime. That was really what was eating at me while reading this story, like everything seems so outrageous and cartoonish. I don't know if you intended to do so, but you basically just wrote a cartoon. You get a pass because its a story, more or less, though.
|# ? Jul 30, 2015 14:21|
|# ? Feb 2, 2023 17:34|
|# ? Jul 30, 2015 15:25|
Out this week. Laptop won't stay on for more than a few minutes before overheating and shutting off, I've already lost several attempts, and I'm ready to hurl this piece of poo poo against the wall.
|# ? Jul 30, 2015 20:21|
What is dead may never die. I'm in.
|# ? Jul 30, 2015 21:08|
|# ? Jul 31, 2015 00:18|
falling in love again
never wanted to
what am i to do?
i can't help it
|# ? Jul 31, 2015 00:31|
13:48 schneiderheim can someone sign me in for this week because I can't access the boards at work?
Schneider Heim is in
|# ? Jul 31, 2015 05:52|
|# ? Jul 31, 2015 12:15|
i want to do a thing
|# ? Jul 31, 2015 15:50|
|# ? Jul 31, 2015 18:20|
In. Might as well try it.
|# ? Aug 1, 2015 03:29|
SIGN UPS ARE CLOSED
|# ? Aug 1, 2015 04:08|
So I've been thinking of all the ways you chucklefucks can screw this up and it's already pissing me off so please go back and read the prompt. Right now. Go. I mean, Jesus, I know at least one of you morons is already thinking of doing something really really clever like "oh the opposite of love is indifference i'm going to write about indifference hurr hurr" no no noooo nope no stop right now and give me what I goddamn asked for goddamn
|# ? Aug 1, 2015 04:14|
So I've been thinking of all the ways you chucklefucks can screw this up and it's already pissing me off so please go back and read the prompt. Right now. Go. I mean, Jesus, I know at least one of you morons is already thinking of doing something really really clever like "oh the opposite of love is indifference i'm going to write about indifference hurr hurr" no no noooo nope no stop right now and give me what I goddamn asked for goddamn
I'M GONNA WRITE EROTICAAAAAAAA
|# ? Aug 1, 2015 06:54|
I'm failing this week, again. Sorry for being a continual disappointment.
I really need to quit my job.
|# ? Aug 1, 2015 10:27|
I'M GONNA WRITE EROTICAAAAAAAA
If you do I will critique it. Sure, you'll have burned the bridge you walk to enter this thread. But, I will give you a poo poo critique of why its bad in exchange.
|# ? Aug 1, 2015 14:12|
My story is about Rydia from Final Fantasy 4 who just really loves eating scrambled eggs. Thanks in advance
|# ? Aug 1, 2015 16:18|
HOT WEEK CRITS
Benny Profane’s Judging Rubric
In judging Hot Week, I used a rubric of five different components of good storytelling that especially matter to me when reading a piece, and tried to score each of your stories on a scale from 0-3 for each, as follows:
Creative use of prompt: Did you work the prompt into your story in a creative way, or is it jammed in as an afterthought?
0: You didn’t really bother with the prompt.
1: You at least set your story in a hot place.
2: You used the concept of heat as a tool to construct your narrative -- it’s an important part of the story.
3: You made heat into a crucial, living element of your story -- it’s as important as any of the characters.
Description: This is the show vs. tell one. How are details in the story used to establish characters and build plotlines? Is dialog used effectively?
0: Plotlines advanced primarily through declarative statements, dialog unnatural/stilted
1: A few sprinklings of solid detail, but still mostly telling. Dialog merely okay.
2: Good choices for details, descriptions develop natural windows into characters and advance plot. Dialog feels real.
3: Characters and worlds fleshed out concisely and evocatively with precisely chosen details. Dialog is not only natural, but provides a strong base for character development complementary to the narrative detailing.
Originality: Is your story fresh, or do you rely on cliché?
0: Overreliance on worn clichés and tired tropes
1: Solid character archetypes, expressed reasonably but without much in the way of unique developments
2: Recognizable archetypes, but some interesting twists to the standard formulae or unusual combinations.
3: Interesting characters that fall outside of common patterns and develop along novel and exciting trajectories.
Grammar/Spelling: Pretty self-explanatory.
0: Did not even bother to spell-check.
1: A few clunky grammatical mistakes.
2: You’ve at least read Strunk & White.
3: You’ve internalized the rules of grammar to the point that you can use style as a narrative component and not have the results fall flat.
Flow: Is there a lyrical flow to the piece, an arrangement of prose and syllables that lent a discernible rhythm, or was it sloppy and disjointed?
0: A turbulent, disjointed mess.
1: The story proceeds more or less linearly, but didn’t end up going much of anyplace interesting in the process.
2: There’s actually a discernible narrative arc.
3: Not only is there an arc, but the specific choices made with language reflect the use of emotion in the piece: specific sentence structures and word combinations have clearly been chosen for their lyrical quality.
This piece has some really nice observational details in it, and you paint your scene very well. My main issue with the piece is that while your characters have a realistic quality to them, you don’t project much discernible interest in your characters; rather, your piece tends to read more like you’re mocking your characters. Having flawed or mockable characters isn’t a bad thing, of course, but what I felt was missing here was a sense of why you were interested in the lives of these characters in the first place. Of all the characters you could have invented, what made you choose this guy to write about? What’s interesting about these people to you, as an author? To summarize, you’ve got a really nice eye for detail, but I come away from the piece wondering why you showed me this scene, why these characters speak to you, etc.
Use of Prompt: 1
Low Effort Bullshit from an idiot baby-man [Loss/DM]
You know, I think you threw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. You’re more than halfway to a good story here, and your action sequences flow really well. Your main character is basically a cyberpunk River Tam, and I think the main thing that’s bringing you down here is that you’re focussing exclusively on the badass side of your protagonist without really exposing any vulnerabilities that would serve to humanize her. There’s also that little issue of motivation, too, which you don’t really bother to establish. But the action is solid, and I at least found the almost aggressive shittiness of the story entertaining.
Use of Prompt: 0
There are some good kernels of bizarro goodness in here that I very much enjoyed -- the idea of milking humans for their psychedelic donut batter is a fun one. The problem here is that you cruft up the joint with a whole bunch of tangential and clunky dialog between a set of very normal characters -- with a limited word count, if you want to land a concept as weird as the one you’ve got, your world-building and character development absolutely has to tighten up. You’ve invented a world where Soylent Donut is drifter blood, you’re going to need some interesting characters to help you bring this world to life; instead, you literally picked some regular schmucks from the street.
Use of Prompt: 1
I Am Stretched on Your World's Grave
I like your central concept here quite a bit. Death hanging up its scythe post-apocalypse and getting to finally die itself has some good potential, but with these high concept pieces you always run the risk of coming across like a stoned late night freshman dorm conversation -- and for me, that’s what happened here. The whole “Death is a regular working Joe with an office” shtick is pretty tired, and I didn’t feel like you did much to try to freshen up that conceit. The central scene with Alice, and Death’s reluctance to send its last guest packing, is an interesting setup that you ultimately did frustratingly little with. Basically, you’ve got three interesting setups here (Death meets the guy who caused the apocalypse, Death hangs out with its last customer, Death meets its own version of Death), and any one of these could be worked up into a good story. You went for all three with a limited word budget, and that’s a hard thing to pull off well.
Use of Prompt: 0
The Sweat Adds Flavor
There’s some really good characterization work here -- the conflict between Rick and Billy is established early and helps to define their similarities and differences as the piece progresses. The dialog is a little clunky and unnatural in places, but could be good with another round of polish. The major issue with this piece is the flow; you establish a conflict early, then you kind of spin the wheels for the middle scene, and then you try and wrap up with a tidy conflict resolution that ends up seeming out of place because you never actually brought the conflict to a head. This creates a grinding-gears kind of feel to the prose, which doesn’t fit well with the fairly simple conflict setup. I did like your use of the prompt, and thought you used the concept of suffering in heat well on a couple levels.
Use of Prompt: 2
Could This Be Our Last Team-Up?
This reminds me of Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible, which also explores the idea of how comic book heroes interact with each other during the scenes that never make into the comic panels. There’s action in this piece, but it’s besides the point -- the core of the story is a friendship under strain as one of the parties gets an opportunity to move on to something greater. The repercussions of that kind of conflict boiling over when the players have superpowers could make for a great story, but you use up most of your words describing the Sue and Janice beating on cookie-cutter goons, and the action there is largely a sideshow to the main conflict you’ve established. So, you’ve got some good characters and a good setup for a conflict, but it needs more fleshing out to do the setup justice.
Use of Prompt: 1
The Scientific Method, or: How Doctor Shlyapkin Kept It Cool
This is a competently executed riff on a pretty standard star-crossed-lovers jam, and you hit the right notes with good pacing here. What works against you here, though, is that your details are almost all window dressing: you throw in plenty of details about the University of Woolanga (which I’m assuming is somewhere between Wollongong and Wodonga), various bits of Australiana, Pavel’s Russian background, Pavel’s guitar virtuosity, etc, but there’s no depth here. You could switch out the university setting for a hospital, Pavel could be a Canadian, it could be set in Chile, etc, and it would still be the same story. Make your details work for you: if you’re going to spend your words on setting the story in Australia, do it for a reason: let the setting help to build your characters and their respective arcs.
Use of Prompt: 1
There are some really good ingredients in here -- religious folks trying to reconcile strange powers with their faith, good ol’ revenge-flick comeuppances served, creepy superpowers that don’t seem like they’d be that much fun to have -- but the result is pretty half-baked. There are a bunch of threads that go nowhere, and the main plotline is more like a jumble of vignettes lacking the narrative glue to make them into a story. The dialog’s a bit of a mixed bag; it’s at its best during the first conversation between Nat and Whitney, but falters between Nat and Dunbar, and the conversations have a tendency to drag, where those words would have been put to better use establishing more concrete backstories and motivations for your characters.
Use of Prompt: 2
Sweat Tea in a Tin Can [DM]
You’ve got a good ear for classic detective story banter, and your scene details, while sparsely inserted throughout, were generally well chosen and effective. The overall story, however, is a pile of worn cliché from start to finish; your main characters are bargain bin beat cops, the breached marital trust between professional partners conflict is one that’s been hashed over a thousand times before, and the central mechanic of personal conflict erupting during a boring stakeout is so familiar as to seem lazy. Now, shows like The Wire manage to get away with all of this and still manage to be great by being truly invested in their characters -- there’s an artistic obsession with trying to find out who these characters really are, and the cop drama stuff is really just there for framing -- and so the clearest path to success here is dialing back the cookie cutter procedural stuff, and finding a set of characters that you really want to dig into to find out how they tick.
Use of Prompt: 1
Best Laid Plans
This might not be the most original plot line around, but it’s elevated by some very efficient scene detailing and excellent dialog pacing. I’m a little bummed that you didn’t do more with the prompt, since it seems like it could have been more easily woven into the fabric of the story and used to build the plot instead of merely framing the conflict -- especially because the places where you brought descriptions of the heat into the narrative were really strong. Your narrative flow was good (I’m a sucker for disjoint narratives and cold opens), the main thing that worked against you in this piece was the relatively pedestrian plotline. Aside from that, good stuff.
Use of Prompt: 1
Sleep in the Dark [HM]
I really loved this story, and it was almost my pick for the win. Worldbuilding was fantastic, the setting was perfectly matched to the story you wanted to tell, and you chose some interesting character archetypes to play off of one another in non-standard ways. This was another story where I felt the prompt might’ve been used a little more effectively in driving the plot, but as set dressing you worked with heat very well and very effectively captured that thick buzzing swamp vibe with an economical use of words. Good stuff, enjoyed reading it each time I came back to it.
Use of Prompt: 2
I reckon you think you've been saved [Loss/DM]
Now that the judgemode is off, I somewhat regret having given the loss to a first-time entry; while there was a lot here that rubbed me the wrong way, there were a lot of things here that you did well, and I think with some simple little polishing work you could bring this closer to the kind of story that I imagine you were hoping to tell. The greatest sin here is the scorn that you heap on your protagonist from the point of view of the narrator, which as a reader is just irritating to sift through. What am I, as a reader, supposed to come away from this story feeling about the characters? Am I supposed to feel some kind of catharsis in seeing this one-dimensional zealot get taken down a notch? Why do I care? I get the feeling that you had this idea of retelling the temptation of Jesus in the desert story (except in this version Jesus is a despicable fundie and Satan is a hot chick) but didn’t get to the step of trying to find some kernel in that story that you were actually interested in exploring. Aside from that, there are typos and punctuation errors all over the joint -- a little proofreading would’ve gone a long way. But overall, while this was the story that I liked least this week, this still had a bunch of good stuff in it, and I’m looking forward to seeing more stuff from you in the Thunderdome in future weeks.
Use of Prompt: 1
You Can't Catch Every Portrait in a Picture Frame [HM]
This is a very well polished and professionally executed rendition of a very familiar story. The flow is impeccable, the characterization is confident and efficient, the scene details are expertly woven in, and there’s a solid if predictable arc. Despite all the things that this story does so well, this wasn’t my personal favorite for the week, largely on account of it playing things very, very safe. You’ve got a stable of very familiar archetypes (deadbeat cool dad, uptight mom with new yoga boyfriend, young daughter in the middle) and a proven story arc, and you keep everything tightly on the rails from start to finish. There were any number of times when I read your story and thought to myself that you had written a part very well, but I was never surprised by any of the choices you made in your plot. I wanted to see the wheels on the narrative train lift off the rails just a little bit, just to spice things up with a bit of danger. But that may end up saying more about me as a reader than it does about you as a writer, and on the strengths of your narrative mechanics alone it’s a well-deserved win.
Use of Prompt: 2
This is reasonably well written, and there’s a solid arc to your story -- you manage to do a good amount of worldbuilding and characterization with your limited word count. For me, where this fails is in the choices of characters and conflicts, which all feel pretty well-worn. Your protagonist learns the ancient art of sustainable energy harvesting from a wise old woman and then uses that secret knowledge to subvert the callous machinations of a mustache twirling villain-patriarch, who is eventually forced to admit his folly when confronted by the new power wielded by the protagonist. Despite some good character details and confident dialogue, it still ends up being a little paint-by-numbers. It’s a potentially interesting world you’ve chosen to portray; with some slightly more fleshed out characters and blurring of their archetypal qualities, this could end up being pretty good.
Use of Prompt: 1
Signals of Fear and Uncertainty [Win]
This was my favorite story of the week, and the only one where I really felt like the prose was completely suffused with the heat of the prompt. The whole thing has a queasy shimmer, like some weird tropical malaria dream narrated by Hunter Thompson, and the interaction between the protagonist and the President strikes a Lynchian balance between wild hallucination and the everyday which works perfectly in the context. In judgechat I was crapping on about the tropical cadence of this piece, which sounds dopey in the cold light of sobriety, but: the words are exceptionally well chosen throughout, and there’s a strange rhythm to the piece that evokes a thick, heavy, humid feeling buzzing with little tangential sentences that flit in and out like insects. It feels tropical, even though there are no specific details about exactly where the story is set -- and for me, that’s what makes this piece so successful.
Use of Prompt: 3
The Wet-Bulb Limit [Late]
I think this piece could work pretty well with a larger word-count and a bit of character expansion. You’ve got some interesting bits of worldbuilding sprinkled throughout, but your characters are a little underbaked -- it feels like you wanted to write a story about a post-apocalyptic Brisbane, and are using the plot (in which a lonely woman commits suicide) as a frame to hang your world canvas on. The central suicide plot feels a bit like cheap pathos; for me, at least, you didn’t manage to sell your main character’s suicidal motivation. She recounts plenty of life details that would serve as more-than-adequate justification for a depressed world-view, but the way that she describes her world is more tour-guide than suicidal.
Use of Prompt: 2
Hospital Beds [Late]
This feels like it could have used a bit more polishing; I’m assuming, given that this came in late, that you ran out of time. Choosing a burn ward as your ‘hot place’, despite being a bit of stretch, could have actually worked, but despite the fact that your main characters are burn victims they don’t actually act much like it, and seem to be overly preoccupied with trading limp insults. The dialog throughout is pretty weak (the haphazard approach to punctuation that you employ doesn’t help much) and tends to undermine your efforts to characterize them as burn victims. Rather than evoking any sense of sympathy for their condition, your characters just come across as crappy people. Their conflict feels superficial, and its resolution feels rushed and artificial. That said, taken individually, each of your characters could have made for an interesting study -- both Moz and Kate have some good detailing, and are reasonably compelling. They just don’t seem to belong together in this story.
Use of Prompt: 1
|# ? Aug 2, 2015 17:34|
SIGN UPS ARE CLOSED
Just to be sure I have calculated properly with this crazy moon time zone: entries are due in 14 hours, right?
|# ? Aug 2, 2015 19:58|
Sorry. I failed.
|# ? Aug 2, 2015 21:24|
Bowing out this week myself, I'm afraid. I have spent the weekend all hosed up on cellulitis, which is much less pleasant than being hosed up on love.
|# ? Aug 2, 2015 21:25|
Just to be sure I have calculated properly with this crazy moon time zone: entries are due in 14 hours, right?
maybe this link can help?
|# ? Aug 2, 2015 21:57|
“It’s okay, Danny. Just don’t look down. Look at me,” Beth said. She squatted on the other side of the steep gully, her arms raised to her sides like she was pretending to be an airplane. “Stick out your arms like this! It’ll help keep your balance!” The drop was one foot down for each of Danny’s five years. His battered sneakers sought purchase on the slick bark of the fallen tree which bridged the gap. The tree was young, skinny, frail. Like Danny. The tree could break under pressure.
Beth was six years older than Danny. When he had started public school, she was twelve; a seasoned professional. The first day she showed him where to sit on the bus to get the most air from the windows, which kids to avoid, which teachers would be good ones and which would be mean. She had taught him to write his name and helped him with his homework in later years.
Their parents had divorced when Danny was in third grade. Danny’s father didn’t spend the sort of quality time with him that Beth did, but he would rough-house with Danny, play football in the back yard, and he and Danny would both fall asleep on the couch watching the Reds. Dan Sr. had gone west with a woman he met in a bar after a year-long affair. Their mother had to take up a second job at a pizza shop to make ends meet. Beth would prepare stovetop mac and cheese for them, ramen noodles, even bake the occasional cake. Their mother would come home, flour dust on her from toe to hair, crack open a can of beer and head straight to her room.
They spent their summers playing games that Beth invented. Games like Advanced Pelé, which was just a variation of “Keep It Up” with a light rubber ball except you could only use your knees and head, and “Karate Kick Basketball” which was basically “H.O.R.S.E.” except every time you tried to take a shot your opponent attempted to high-kick you -- this game they didn’t venture into until Danny was a teenager. “Trench Walkin’” wasn’t a game so much as it was a way to fill the afternoon. Trees had an uncanny knack of falling across these ditches to make for the perfect tightrope challenge.
He left the bank of the gully and was over a precipitous drop. He put one trembling foot in front of the other.
“Alright, you got it. Just keep at it. I gotta pee.”
“What?” Danny said, alarmed. “Where are you going?”
“Kid, I’m not gonna go in front of you. I’ll just be right over this hill.”
“Don’t Beth,” he said. His eyes were full of fear. “Just … hold it.” He started to cry. A real baby cry, but he couldn’t help it. The house was half a mile away. They were utterly alone.
She leveled her gaze at him, and spoke calmly and slowly. “You’ll be fine. I’ll be right back.” He watched her ponytail sink behind a crest of fallen leaves on the ridge.
Beth had gone off to college when Danny was twelve. They spoke on the phone almost every night but her absence was palpable. He started to get involved with some of the types of kids she had told him to avoid. By thirteen he was drinking, tagging bridges. At fourteen, one of the girls he had been having semi-regular sex with had missed her period. Although they hadn’t spoken in months, Danny called Beth at college, desperate for advice. She told him to go to Planned Parenthood with the girl, get tested. It ended up a false alarm.
“What, you okay?” her voice reverberated back to him from over the hill.
“I … Yeah, I’m okay, but I slipped.”
“I’ll be right there,” she said.
She was still fussing with the button on her denim shorts when she returned, panting a little bit. Seeing her again relieved his worry and he straightened up, resumed placing one foot in front of the other.
Beth graduated college and began teaching elementary students at a public school in the city. He moved in with her and later found work at an auto body shop near the railroad tracks. Six months later, their mother died of cancer. They were alone, and although they always had been, in one way or another, now it was official. A decade later Beth was married, had two children. She named the little girl after their mother. Some time later Danny had taken over ownership of the body shop and had expanded it two locations. He married and had a son which he did not name after his father.
When Danny was 42 he was struck by a drunk driver as he walked home from his uptown shop. He was on the phone with a pizza shop, placing an order for his family. Immediately before the swerving van struck his back, he thought of his mother’s flour-dusted pinned-up mess of brown hair. The driver stumbled away down an alley and Danny’s barely-audible groans of pain were enough to alert neighborhood dogs. Soon the street was a chorus of barking dogs, front windows filled with lamplight, red and blue lights flashing in the tree-lined street like some kind of macabre dance party. He lost consciousness in the ambulance but had mustered enough energy to tell the emergency medical technicians beforehand: “Phone,” and then, “Beth.”
The other side of the trench was an arms reach away. In his haste to reach the other side he put his arms down, overconfident. His right foot slipped and he went over, scrambling with his left hand to grab the fallen tree. It missed. His knee connected with a small outcropping of rock and he screamed out in pain but it stopped his freefall. The tree above was a foot out of his reach, and the drop was another three feet down. He looked: there were more rocks there. He squeezed his eyes shut. In his left hand he felt a cold wet rock. The moss on it was soft, slippery. He reached up his other hand to the sky.
He felt her firm grip and he opened his eyes. The bright fluorescent hospital lights were as bright as the sun. The light enveloped her face, angelic.
“It’s okay, kid. I got you,” she said. “I got you.”
|# ? Aug 2, 2015 22:30|
It was always the same, she thought. The same conversations over and over.
This was because the people she talked to on her instant messenger lived in the same city. In the same two block radius, most of them. Their crippling anxiety stopped them from simply going outside and seeing the world. She knew what that was like, but at least she tried. She went on satellite map programs every day, and looked at as many places from as many camera angles as she could. It could be a famous landmark or some out of the way bookstore somewhere. What mattered was that it was somewhere else.
So when she got a new contact request from someone she didn’t know she looked at it instead of ignoring it automatically. The man pictured in the image box had a prominent third eye. She sniffed. Who used such masterful image manipulation skills in service to such hackneyed irony? This man could probably go outside and see the world, she thought, and he didn’t even care. He just lived in an ironic bubble. But the little message attached to his request read simply, “I come from a different place.”
She clicked “accept.”
Now that the request had been accepted she could see the little message on his profile. She had to work a little to figure out what it was saying. It was something about a “witch queen” and her “oppressive psycho-pheromonal control”.
Part of the joke? How deep did this go, exactly?
There was the little ping. Usually it annoyed her but now it was… exciting? In fact, she could feel her heart starting to beat faster.
The message read, “is this working?”
“Yeah,” she typed. “Who are you?”
“My name is N'ai,” the message read. “I’m talking to you from another dimension, and, I believe, several thousand years in the future.”
“Look,” she typed out. “I’m not that easy to troll. Any further attempts to spin out your drugged out fantasy will result in me blocking you and going on with my day.”
The reply was an image file. She accepted it, expecting some sort of hilarious (here she did scare quotes with her hands) or maybe shocking image.
Instead she saw a city. The photo had obviously been taken from someone’s room, elevated, looking out of a window. It showed a view that seemed to consist of nothing but dark, spiked spires. The sky peeking out from between the structures was a pale indigo.
It was in high definition and as real as the world that existed somewhere beyond her apartment.
A message followed it. “I’ve used my telepathic chat program to hack into the informational matrix that connects all of space and time. We use different mediums but the fundamental structures of communication programs are the same in any reality.”
“Mhm,” she typed. “What is life like there?”
“It’s bleak,” he wrote. “The witch queen doesn’t let us talk to our neighbours, let alone people from other instances on the space-time continuum. She says that communication foments negative feelings. We should be happy in ourselves and not rely on others.”
“You hear that all the time,” she typed, “from well-meaning friends. They’re usually on anti-depressants.”
“I don’t know what those are,” came the response. “But it could be true for other races. We, though, are evolved specifically to hold communion with each other. Our species has historically used our natural abilities to share feelings, so that we may be comforted in times of sorrow and feel the pain of others when contentment makes us blind. I feel totally isolated, and I assume everyone else here does too. As a witch queen, her pheromones supercede ours. She has blunted us totally.”
“That sounds awful,” she said, still not really sure she was believing it. This chatlog could be screencapped, she thought, and posted to any image sharing site. What I should do, she realized, is question any inconsistencies as they come up. That should satisfy my curiosity but also reveal me as a skeptical, critical thinking individual.
“Why can you talk to me,” she asked him, “and not anyone else?”
“I coded this chat program myself,” he said, “based on fragments of knowledge I gleaned from the mass-mind archives. We used to use this program, or something similar, to connect ourselves to those living all over our world. We knew, in those days, the value of additional perspectives. Anyway, I don’t think anyone else has this knowledge. The pheromones of the witch queen block out local area telepathy with brutal efficiency. Meanwhile the spire doors pulse to the queen’s whims and don’t let us out of our homes.”
“Why do you speak English,” she typed, “if you live in another dimension?”
“This program hacks into the very concepts that make up the physio-semiotic construct of shared reality. It automatically uses the language data that is locally embedded in each specific reality as a result of constant signification.”
A pause. Then, “The building blocks of reality are ideas, and they’re the same everywhere. What makes our worlds truly different are the people, and how they reach for those ideas and take them into themselves. What decides which ideas we reach for is the truest part of us, and I don’t think anyone can control it.”
She was dizzy now. It was like honey was coating her mind, dripping slowly into the deeper parts of her. She was sluggish, could barely think. She felt as if a fly, tasting the sweet resin of the tree. He is caught there, the resin crystallizing around him over millennia to form golden amber, and he doesn’t mind. There in the sweetness, forgetting everything around her. Forgetting the conversation she was having. She was only with herself.
She saw herself, then, in that amber, as if from many angles, many perspectives. From each, the amber caught the light differently. How it shimmered, how she shimmered. Translucent, fluorescent. Beautiful.
Then the feeling began to dissipate, slowly, the fog lifting, her mind clearer, but still happy. Her computer screen swam into focus. There were a few brief messages.
“Not much time,” she read. “She found my traces in the archive. Feel pheromones, stronger than ever. Paralyzing me. Can you feel them somehow? So happy to have talked to someone.”
“Are you still there?”, she asked. She waited. There was no response.
She sat there for a few moments, thinking. It was the air in here, she thought. It’s too stale.
She stood up, walked away from the screen, and left her apartment.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 00:37|
Just an FYI, there may or may not be a plan in the works to do a fun dumb Happy Birthday Thunderdome week, since technically TD turns 3 this week! That means that whoever wins this week will judge week 158. The winner of week 157 will get the privilege of winning without having to judge! And probably another cool prize, who knows!!
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 00:51|
Believing the Strangest Things
I knew what was coming the first time my brother warned the family that his new girlfriend was 'a little different.' I mean, it was the first thing that jumped into my head, and even after I dismissed the idea as being too crazy, even for Ian, it kept on lurking in the back of my mind. So when the doorbell rang and the whole family came down and Ian opened the door, I was probably the least surprised of us to see a Arconian, with a pink and blue angular skirt wrapped around her trunk and almost certainly forced smiles on the mouths at the end of all three mouth-stalks. “Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Craig,” Ian said, waving at us, “This is Holly.”
Admittedly, I would have guessed the other of the two alien species trying to bring humanity into their interstellar alliances, but close enough, right? Father and Grandpa both stared in deeply impolite shock, but Mom took charge, rushing us all in to the dining room. Ian took the seat set up for the guest and moved it into the corner of the room, since Arconians did not sit down. They just don't bend that way.”I'm afraid we weren't properly prepared,” said mom, glaring at Ian. “I don't even know if you can eat anything we have...”
A rasping noise came from Holly's upper body, and the device strapped to one of her five arms translated. “We do not take solid food, no. But we do find ethanol nourishing; the purer the better.”
“Now you're talking my language,” said Grandpa. He sprung up and grabbed a full bottle of vodka and two large glasses. “Let's see who can out-drink who,”
“You misunderstand,” said Holly, through the machine. “It is not intoxicating for us.”
“Then you'll probably win,” he said. “But I'll have more fun.” He filled the glasses.
“So how did you two meet?” asked Mother.
“It was at the embassy, of course,” said Holly. “Ian has been working in the nonhuman interests section for about a month, and, well...”
“You have?” Father said. “Running around, dealing with those sexy blue Hitaxian babes all day? What a life, son.”
“Honey,” said Mother, “Let's not-”
“Actually,” said Holly, “Hitaxians are quite hideous in person.”
There was a shocked silence at the table for several beats. Then Ian spoke up. “Politics aside, she's not wrong. The Hitaxian race only exist in about 2.7 dimensions. They look human-like enough in pictures or on video, but in person, with stereo vision, looking at them or their tech is literally nauseating.”
“No,” I said.
“It's true,” said Ian. “The diplomats who have to deal with them all have to wear an eye patch at all times. And if they move their head too fast while looking at them even then, well...”
“Chunk city,” I said. “Cool.”
“So, you met at work,” said Mother.
“We did,” said Holly. “And I found Ian a wonderful and refreshing change from the men from my ship.”
“Your ship?” asked Father.
“It's about a six year flight from Arconia Prime to Earth, even in our fastest diplomatic ships.” said Holly. “That's more than enough time to get completely sick and tired of everyone else on board. And the senior diplomats that were already here are all already pairbonded. But then along came Ian, with his brilliant mind and wonderful sense of humor.”
That didn't sound like the Ian I knew, and I was about to make a comment to that effect when Mother said, “And you felt the same way, Ian?”
“I did,” he said. “Holly's not like any girl I've ever met before.”
“She is a girl, though?” I said, ignoring Mother kicking me under the table.
“Three of the seven Arconian genders are potentially child-bearing, and I am one of those, so yes, I identify as female in your language's binary classifications.”
“So,” said Grandpa, “How do you and Ian...that is, do you even have the right kind of parts?”
There was a second filled with equal parts shock and curiosity around the table before Ian said “Parts? It's always about parts, isn't it? Why don't people understand that real love doesn't have a thing to do with parts?”
“Now, dear,” said Holly.
Ian was on a roll. “I mean, real love is only possible with something that's genuinely other than the self. And all human beings share, what, about ninety-eight percent of their DNA.”
“That two percent makes all the difference,” said Mother.
“No,” said Ian, pounding the dinner table. “It doesn't make any difference at all. Loving another human being is just 'parts' and narcissism!”
“Are you even listening to what you're saying?” I said.
There was a pounding at the door. All conversation stopped. “Were we expecting anyone else?” asked Father.
There was a louder noise, a pound and the sound of wood ripping. We all got up and ran for the front hall. The door was barely hanging on the frame by one hinge, and another, larger Arconian was behind it and barreling in. It made sounds in their language and Holly's wrist device translated, using a different mechanical voice. “Holly! You're coming with me! Or am I going to have to get rough?”
“Who's this?” asked Father. “Father, boss, or ex?”
“He's my ex,” said Holly as she pulled her mouth-stalk out of the vodka glass. “From the ship.”
“He's not, like, the lead diplomatic or the emperor's son or something like that, is he?”
“No,” said Holly. “Just the mechanic.”
“Well, all right, then,” said Father. He pulled two wooden baseball bats from the closet and tossed one to Ian.
“You squishes are going to try and stop me?” said the large alien.
“Go for under the arms,” said Holly. “Anywhere else is just like hitting a tree trunk.”
Ian and Dad went at him, following Holly's advice. They took some solid punches to the face and body from the thing's massive arms, each ending up with some bruises and a black eye or two, but a few hits under an arm-joint with the bats were enough to put him in a state of severe pain and send it running. Or rather, something sort of between rolling and slithering, but at a fast pace and in the direction of 'away'.
“Father,” said Ian. “Thanks for the help there. I didn't think you approved.”
“I don't understand it,” said Dad, “But that's not the same thing. You're a grown man. It's not much of my business to approve who or what you love. It is my business when someone breaks into my house and starts threatening my guests.”
Me, I think he realized just how much media attention was about to land on the family and picked the narrative that wouldn't make the most horrible people in the world line up on to be his side. But what do I know?
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 01:03|
If Your Treehouse Falls and No One Is Around to Hear It, Does It Make a Sound?
We screamed as the bulldozer came at us. Zach, brave as could be, kept his cool as the metal monster advanced. I squirmed, trying to escape the chains holding us tight to the tree. Realizing escape wasn't happening without Zach changing his mind, I squeezed my eyes tight and prepared to open them in heaven like mama said I would.
The bulldozer screeched to a stop feet away. I only dared to peek when I heard the bulldozer rumble away – a fat little man in an even littler suit yelling at the machine’s driver as it drove off. Zach exhaled, a grin wide on his face as his shaking hands slipped the key into the lock, letting us free.
“See? Toldja they just wanted to scare us.”
While the construction workers left their jobs, we regrouped in the Great Hall of our treehouse. Zach stood in the middle of us all, the target of whines and complaints from the others. Zach’s confident smile never seemed to falter through it all, even if his foot tapped with impatience.
“Your plan is dumb.”
“Dad is gonna kill me for being out late.”
“I’m tired, and – I, maybe, kinda, need new pants after the bulldozer…”
“Guys!” Zach laughed, hands thrust into his pockets. “Look. We can win this! We just gotta wait them out, right? Everyone can go home. We’ll figure out who will watch the house at what times tomorrow, okay?”
My own stomach grumbled, and I tried to distract myself from thoughts of mama preparing chicken or mac-n-cheese or any of her other amazing food. I moved my fingers over the wall next to me, letting them trace along the various cravings. Initials, messages, drawings and countless tic-tac-toe games with long inaccurate tallies all scratched into the wood, sometimes scratched over messages from years past. Only some of the older messages remained uncovered, messages from us and our parents when Zach and his dad first built the place.
None of us understood why Zach loved the house so much, but I knew it had history – our history – and that was important enough. Right?
Zach sat next to me, his knees drawn in close. Only the two of us remained in the cleared out room.
“Here,” he said and reached into one of his coat’s pockets, pulling out a tiny misshapen package vaguely resembling a cookie. “I was gonna save it, but, uh. Your mom is gonna be so mad. I bet she’ll ground you for a hundred years or something. Maybe even without her awesome food.”
He snickered and handed over the cookie, the pass completed with our secret handshake ending in a fist bump.
Zach sighed and placed his head against his knees, trying to keep his cool. Our fearless leader couldn’t break down in front of one his most trusted soldiers! I placed my hand on his shoulder, and I leaned in to hear Zach's quiet voice.
“I’m scared. Like... a lot. But you better not tell anyone I said that, or I swear..." he said, punching halfheartedly at my shoulder.
“I promise! I promise. But... why? You said they just wanted to scare us with the bulldozer, right?" I asked. "Besides! This place is a fortress. We can defend our castle against all invaders, sir!" I stood and gave him a mock salute, hoping the soldier routine would cheer Zach up. Instead, he just stared up at me for a moment.
"Dad always told me a man has to defend his castle. I... can I, we really do this? Ugh. Go home, Blake. I need my lieutenant in tip-top form for our planning tomorrow. If your mom lets you."
Zach was right about one thing – mama grounded me pretty much on the spot when I got home. But when I told her everything about the chain and bulldozer, my sentence was upgraded to a "million" years.
I worried sleep would be difficult, that I would keep trying to figure out ways to save our awesome treehouse. I'd barely even considered the slingshots and water balloons stored in our armory when sleep took me. But not for long.
My sleepy self stumbled to the window and opened it. Zach had been tapping away at my window. His flushed face and ragged breath didn't stop him from whispering his orders at me. "Hurry up, dork! No one is at the treehouse right now. Come on! Hurry! Bring a pack - please?"
I grumbled something about the time to Zach, but something in the way he begged, whispered "please?" got me moving quicker. We ran through backyards, along the sparse treeline that seemed even further from the houses by the day. One tree stood out like an out of place thumb, one of the last stopping the road from being built.
Huffing, we climbed the ladder to the treehouse while Zach ignored any questions. I expected Zach to lead us into the Great Hall once more, but instead we caught our breath in a tiny room. A room only Zach usually entered, the only room in the house with a lock: the treasure room.
Zach stuffed the pack, filling it with our important treasures. A huge bag of marbles, my Game Boy, a one-eyed teddy bear. And Zach's private photo album.
"Zach? Why are you doing this? Do you think we're going to lose?"
"Go home. Run! But don't you dare drop this bag. You guard it with your life, Lieutenant Blake. We–"
Zach went silent as a machine outside started up. We both rushed for the parapets but Zach stopped and shoved me back toward the door.
"You have a mission, soldier! Go!"
The entire house shook as the machine crashed into it, and Zach pushed me again. I screamed after him, but he continued on, rushing into the armory. I escaped with the bag of treasures clutched to my chest, and yelled at the driver to no success - the pellets fired from the treehouse missed the bulldozer's cabin by a mile.
Only when seeing the treehouse at its death did I realize how small, crappy and vulnerable it was. Our Great Hall? Simply the biggest room in the house. The treasure room? A dinky closet. The parapets just an old wobbly railing. Was it Zach who made it all seem so much bigger?
A shadow flew from the house, moments before the tree fell. But instead of rolling and landing unharmed like some action movie hero, I could clearly hear the snap of something breaking, and not just the tree. Still holding the bag, I rushed to Zach's side.
Zach's stepdad left with my mama, promising they would return from the hospital cafeteria shortly. Seeing Zach, brave and invincible Zach laid up was so strange to me. He nodded in greeting, his eyes lighting up at the sight of the album in my hands.
"Thanks for bringing it, Blake. But - I wanna talk, I mean, but can you give me a sec with this? I... need a minute."
Zach turned away, opening up the album. I stepped, but didn't move, my curiosity getting the best of me. I peered over Zach's shoulder, watching him ignore the photos of us all at the back - instead, turning to the pictures at the front. Pictures of Zach and a huge man working together on the treehouse.
"Sorry, dad," he whispered, "I couldn't– I didn't save..."
I backed out of the room, letting Zach be alone with his memories. Mama told me that Zach's body would heal, but it would be up to me, to his loyal band of soldiers – friends – to help heal his spirit.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 02:55|
Mister Feelings: A Teenage Parable
Under the summer starlight, with three weeks left in vacation, I came to the realization that Casey Demovsky was the girl I wanted to die with. It was the drugs; I knew that, but the memory of the hit of whatever it was I had just taken seemed so hopelessly distant in the immediate and powerful feelings washing over me, that all my worries just evaporated like the droplets of PharmTech Brand Feelings on my face.
Her hair was a beautiful, unnatural, shade of black, that had this way of capturing the purple in the light of the moon and giving her an angelic glow.
“Casey,” I asked after finishing my beer, “what was in that tube again?”
Casey took a drag of her cigarette. “A special little blend of things, beautiful,” she said while stroking my hand, “but I might tell you, for a favor.” Casey leaned in conspiratorially, cupping her hand to my ear and causing her rickety lawn chair to rock forward.
“Affection and Curiosity, courtesy of my therapist,” she said. “Doctor Brooks thinks it helps me make friends.”
Casey was the most welcoming and interesting person I’d ever met. Why would she have trouble making friends?
“I mixed those with some Love.”
“Like, tender love and care?”
“Like, pharmaceutical grade poo poo,” she said.
“Your therapist prescribed you that?” I asked.
“I stole it from my parents,” Casey confessed while leaning in closer.
Just as she finished, the tilted chair buckled unexpectedly and sent her knee-first into the dirt. Casey’s left hand rested against my thigh as she kneeled in the grass, giggling, but when I offered my right to help her up, she placed hers in mine and left a second plastic tube, Lust.
“Stole this one from them too,” she said as she lifted herself onto my lap.
While I slipped the new tube into my PharmTech Brand Mister Feelings Device, Casey produced a tube of her original mix and loaded it into her own.
“Unsupported feeling read error.” her device announced in its standard monotone.
“Here’s mister Lust!” my machine responded as I flipped the mute switch.
Casey pressed herself into my lap before holding the atomizer to her face. “First, let’s mist ourselves,” she said. “Then, let’s do each other.”
“And find some privacy,” I added.
Ji was my friend, but I didn’t want her or any other partier ruining my perfect moment with this perfect person, plus there were some people inside, like Chuck Windham, who might outright attempt to ruin this for me. Chuck hadn’t liked me since I tried out for the soccer team during freshman year and accidentally got him in the face with a cross pass. He still had a little bend in his nose from where the ball clipped him.
My face was still damp when we found our privacy behind the woodshed. We made out with our bodies pressed against the rough wood, knees tickled by the overgrown grass, with other parts tickled by other things, foolish and focused, with the passion of two drunken high-schoolers and the affectations of a couple on their golden anniversary.
“I love you, Duncan” she said, “but you need protection.”
Casey was right. In that moment, I could see our children in my mind; they were cute. They had the humor of their mother and her charming little teehee laugh. The boy would have my hair; the girl, her mother’s. They were perfect, but, the drugs would wear off soon, and kids just don’t wear off. We knew better.
“I’ll be right back,” I said.
I could always count on Ji.
I wandered back into the house through the kitchen, where, on the island, Ji had arranged a circle of little bowls into a buffet of the world-changing mood enhancers: Affection, Awe, Curiosity, Elation, Hilarity, Joy, Pleasure, Satisfaction, and Zest. In the middle sat the largest bowl, which was filled with tubes of Indifference, PharmTech’s palette cleanser feeling.
I found Ji in her living room, fogging herself in giant clouds of Elation while surrounded by kids all cooler than myself. A brilliant smile crossed her lips when she saw me. "Duncan! You dog, you, where’s Casey?" she asked with a wink.
Somehow, her smile got larger when I made the request.
"I’ve got some upstairs in my nightstand," she said. “Weren’t you a boy scout, Duncan? Be prepared!”
“I’ve learned my lesson,” I promised.
Not to get all wrapped up in cliches, but there are only two ways to achieve true popularity in high school, be a jock or a dealer. Fortunately, I knew Ji back before she was either, back when she was just the quiet Korean girl in Honors English 9, who would geek out with me over anime and hip-hop. This was back when she was using her full name, Park Ji-na; back before she grew into her long, swimmer’s body; and back before she started raiding daddy's office for PharmTech Brand Designer Feelings and flipping them for a profit.
Being friends with a popular kid has its perks.
My mind wandered like the spiral staircase leading to the second floor of Ji’s home; Casey was waiting for me outside in the deep, lonely, dark.
Be right there, I texted.
Hurry up, or I might start without you, she replied.
I thought Ji had told me that her room was the first door I’d approach, but when I opened it, I discovered that it was the master bedroom. A figure was hunched over in the corner of the space, kneeling before a broken closet door while fisting giant handfuls of plastic tubes from a PharmTech dufflebag into a rucksack. I watched him from the doorway before the buzzing of my phone alerted him to my presence. The shape turned; it was Chuck Windham, of course.
“What do you want, Rook?” he asked after sliding the bag behind him and approaching me. Chuck guided me into the room and closed the door, trapping me.
“Just looking for a rubber,” I said, “thought there might be one in the bedroom.”
“Just looking for a rubber? Or texting Ji?” he asked before reaching into my pocket and removing my phone.
Apparently, Casey had texted me some photos in her impatience.
“Woah! Rookie wasn’t lying! Casey Demovsky, huh? She’s a wild ride, trust me.” Chuck reached into his wallet, “drat, I have to visit her later,” he said while placing a silver package in my palm, “but you’re up for now. Just don’t tell Ji you saw me here.”
The thought of Casey with another person made me feel ill, and I wanted to get back to her; however, a stronger ache lingered in my stomach every time I thought about just walking away, allowing him to hurt Ji.
“Why don’t you put the tubes back,” I suggested.
The next thing I remember is a splitting headache, and the sound of Chuck’s mister announcing, “Here’s mister Apathy,” then the hissing, and the wetness to accompany it. My face was dripping from the chemical, but Chuck continued to lay it on. The drops ran down my face, washing any feeling I had away with it, until I was alone.
“Get out of here,” Chuck said before turning back to stuff his bag more, “or else.”
I opened the door, momentarily considering going back to Casey, but there was nothing for me with her, with these people, or at home. There was, however, one voice calling to me through the void.
I lifted the weighty bookend from the shelf and left Chuck unconscious on the floor; I didn’t expect him to bleed so bad. I hoped that Ji would understand, and I’d promise to stay late after the party was over, to help her clean it. Maybe then we could watch some anime.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 02:55|
Eternal shame is me, I can't get my story in by the deadline.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 03:29|
Ironic Twist fucked around with this message at 03:49 on Oct 1, 2015
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 03:31|
Mons Huygens Winery, 2022 Vintage, 1276 words
Carl felt the vomit boil up from inside of him, like a pissed off Golgothan who refused the typical route. He doubled over and was sick all over his shoes, a unsettling red mixture of stomach acid and pruno. It splashed and jumped in the lunar gravity, covering his flight suit and lab with abandon. He stayed like that for two more body-wracking heaves before standing up and giving a drunken giggle. He carefully hopped over the puddle, towards the change of clothes in his office.
"No. Absolutely not. He's not my responsibility, Marie. He's YOUR bio-tech."
"And he's your husband."
"EX-husband, Jesus Christ how does that make him my problem?"
"I've got some much poo poo to take care of before the evacuation, and you want me to deal with THIS interpersonal bullshit? Do you know how many metallurgical analysis I need to rush through? How much machinery I need to prepare for vacuum? I'm swamped to my eyeballs!"
"Everyone is swamped, join the club. I've got my own things to take care of, plus two other freaked out astronauts. I don't have the time for Carl right now, Sarah."
"No. Final answer." Sarah crossed her arms in a way that was suppose to indicate the conversation was finished. Marie looked at her shoes in a guilty sort of way, and didn't make any move towards the exit. The silence hung around like a fog.
"What is it, Marie?" Sarah finally asked, giving in.
"...If I do it, it becomes official." She looked up, red-faced. "Part of the record. I can't say I didn't know about it."
"Jesus, Marie," Sarah sighed. "What did Carl DO?!"
"I don't know anything," Marie repeated with emphasis. "Carl isn't communicating and won't leave his lab. His behavior has been erratic since NASA terminated the supply run and ordered us home. Could you please make sure he's ready to leave by the time we evacuate?"
"I'm coming in, Carl, whether you like it or not." Sarah waited for any sort of answer. All she heard was the quiet hum of the air scrubbers. Apprehensive, she tapped in the door code.
She wasn't prepared. The smell blasted out at her before the door had finished opening - a massive lake of semi-congealed vomit, and she took a horrified step backwards. Her own stomach gurgled in a traitorous manner, and it took all her willpower to force it down. It reminded her of her trip on the "Vomit Comet" - an airplane that simulated zero-G by performing a series of dives. One of the other candidates at the time had tossed her cookies, and lost hold of the airsick bag. Sarah had impressed her trainers by keeping her composure the entire ride.
She stood there, taking slow shallow breaths. After a while, she managed to acclimate herself to the stench. She still hadn't heard any sound from Carl. His office door was shut, she noticed with increasing concern. Of course he wouldn't take the news of the evacuation very well. Everyone knew how dedicated Carl had been to the lunar colony project.
I knew how dedicated he was, Sarah thought guiltily. And I avoided him. Oh, Carl, please don't do anything stupid.
She took a vaulting leap over the puddle, floating in the reduced lunar gravity, and tore open the door to the office. Inside, Carl was propped up against the back wall, snoring loudly. The office smelled like red wine mixed with rubbing alcohol, overpowering the smell of vomit. Sarah guessed it was the liter container of blood-red liquid cradled in his arms.
At least he's still breathing, Sarah thought as she pulled the homebrewed booze from his arms, and dumped it down the lab's drain. She left him there, sawing logs, as she cleaned up the rest of the lab and took stock of the situation. As far as she could tell, Carl had done nothing to prepare the lab for the evacuation. If she had to guess, he had been completely focused on his horrible concoction.
At last, the worst of the mess was gone, and she brewed a pot of coffee. loving rear end in a top hat, Sarah thought to herself as she watched him. She took a sip from her cup, and gave Carl a swift kick to his side.
"Argh!" He yelled, before rolling over and opening his eyes. "AUGHH!" He yelled again, the fluorescent lights stabbing into his eyes like needles.
"Hung over, Carl?" Sarah asked. "Not going to help the rest of the us get the hab ready? I won't even bother asking where you got the ingredients for that concoction."
"Ugh... bright. Jesus, Sarah..." He opened his eyes tentatively, slowly. "A little quieter please... dehydrated orange juice and Antoni's cultures. He didn't even notice..."
"The hell is wrong with you, Carl?" Sarah handed him the other mug. "After our falling out, we're both on thin ice. One setback and you're going to throw your career away? You'll never get another chance now."
"gently caress off Sarah," he muttered, before sipping his coffee.
"You... YOU... YOU BASTARD! YOU SELFISH, SELF-ABSORBED, SHORT-SIGHTED BASTARD." She screamed at him. In the back of her mind, she noticed the sound of the rest of the doors in the section being shut. If no one observed it, it didn't happen...
"Not so loud," he muttered, before trying to stand up. About halfway through the motion, he seemed to run out of steam, and sank back down. "And none of us are getting a second chance. It's all over except for the long ride home."
"They ordered us to preserve the habitat. NASA is still committed to the lunar colony project."
"No they aren't, Sarah. It's economics, babe - it'll cost as much as it took to get us here to get the place fixed up. That was the whole point of the supply runs. No, we're never coming back. You know that." Carl rubbed his hand over the floor like it was a dog. "But nobody wants to admit it. Admitting it would mean acknowledging that the dream is dead. So much easier to pretend that we could come back any time we wanted."
"Carl... are you crying?" He gave a loud sniffle and didn't answer. "So just like that, you're giving up. All those years, all those sacrifices, and whoops, it's over? What the hell happened to you, Carl?"
"What happened to my wine?" He asked, looking around the lab for his concoction. He stood up, all the way this time, and began stumbling around.
"Gone. Answer me, Carl! What's wrong with you!"
"WHY DO YOU CARE?" He screamed at her, before pulling another container from beneath a counter. This one was a yellow-ish color, with a hint of green. "You got your answer. I'm me! Look! This is all there is, all there ever was. Same yesterday as the day you married. Not my loving fault you couldn't see that."
Sarah lept forward and slapped the glass container out of Carl's hands. The container hit the ground, but didn't shatter in the lower gravity. She slapped Carl next. "I tried! At least I loved you! All you cared about was your drat DREAM!”
“That’s not true,” he muttered.
“I don’t give a gently caress! I’m going to the cafeteria, I am grabbing your lunch, and when I get back I want your personal effects stored, or by god, I WILL BURY YOU ON THIS ROCK.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Carl muttered.
“Good,” Sarah said, breathing heavily, before wiping a stray tear from her eye. “I’ll be back. And go brush your teeth.”
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 03:58|
No One Ever Dies
Dr. Rittenbaum told Jan she had six weeks to live. The corner of his mouth twitched when he said it. She pictured what his fat bald head would look like scored with a five-millimeter stylus. Then she went home and started on a new sculpture.
She avoided looking at the answering machine for as long as possible, until she couldn’t stand it any longer. Three messages. She could guess who.
It wasn’t until the third, last message that she heard that voice, the voice that made her heart stop, no matter how many times she heard it: “Jan, please don’t be—” She slapped her hand down on the machine.
Leroy looked up at her from the couch with half-squinted eyes, folded his ears, and went back to sleep.
She paced around the room. Thought about hiking trips, boat rides, never wore hats when she should, sunscreen without enough SPF, if she had only gone to see the doctor last year, when the pain first started, hadn’t let Liana talk her out of it with the earth and self alignment and the inner balance and all that poo poo, but no. What ifs wouldn’t help now.
She went back to her work.
It was starting to come together. Needed more underscoring below the chin. She picked up a stylus.
“Jan, it’s me. I know you’re upset. Please talk to me. Just give me a call, OK? I just want to talk.” Beep.
Jan shifted to her millimeter stylus. She needed to fine-tune the left side of the face, smooth out some rough features, and add fine detail lines around the mouth.
She looked up at the clock. Past midnight. She leaned back in her chair and nearly fell over, but caught herself just in time. “Goddammit!” Leroy went tearing out of the room, probably to go hide in the closet and sulk.
Liana’s closet, of course.
“drat cat,” she muttered.
Jan couldn’t focus. She was spent. She collapsed on her bed and fell instantly, dreamlessly asleep.
She worked for days. Never left the apartment except to buy cereal from the corner store on the ground floor. Ate a lot of delivery.
Never answered the phone.
It had been two weeks since she had answered the phone. Since it had all gone wrong. Since the doctor had called her in, and took her life away with a single word: “inoperable.”
Sometimes she didn’t sleep at all. That happened more and more, lately. She just stared at the ceiling, watching car headlights drag a hundred jagged lines across its surface.
“I’m coming over, Jan.” She ignored the machine, like it ignored her. “I’m coming over. I want to see you. I need...” A sigh. “I just have to get a few things. I’ll be over at noon, OK?” Beep.
She picked up her contouring knife.
Just after twelve, footsteps came up to the door and stopped, then waited a few seconds, until there was the familiar jangle of keys, and the door opened.
“I’m here,” Liana said, like always, like nothing had happened. She was still tall, still had her hair back, wore a big red dress. No makeup because it made her itch. Blue zigzags raced around long socks down into dark boots.
Jan was sitting at the couch, staring at the blank screen on the TV set, when she came in. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Tara moved to the side of the couch, put her hand near Jan’s shoulder. “I just...”
“I left your things in the closet,” Jan said. “I haven’t touched them.”
“Right.” Liana walked into the bedroom, pausing only for a second at the dining room table and its cloth-covered mass.
Five minutes later she was gone.
Jan didn’t show her the work. Couldn’t. It wasn’t ready yet.
“Can’t we have a meal here, for once, without this thing taking up half the table?” Liana had asked, once, a long time ago. Jan didn’t talk to her for weeks.
Tuesday morning. Jan needed more white clay. She didn’t want to go outside, but she couldn’t wait for a package order to be delivered.
She had no choice. She got dressed, filled Leroy’s food bowl, and squared her shoulders. Then she went out.
The city was cloudy, cold, gray, miserable. Ice lined every step. Sidewalks were covered with giant white snakes writhing out of downspouts. The train was cramped and rheumatic with humanity. She seemed to spend the whole trip dodging winos, scumbags, and creeps.
The dull fluorescent-soaked banality of retail was a welcome sight in comparison. Even the endless piped in holiday songs, weeks too early, didn’t get to her for once. She had a mission.
She paid for the clay with her card. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to pay everything off this time, but it wouldn’t matter soon, anyway. The clerk’s incongruously aggressive impatience despite the holiday decor fit her mood perfectly. If the trip back was no more pleasant, at least she felt some relief. Nothing could stop her, now.
She was finding it harder to control and shape the fine details. Maybe she shouldn’t have saved them for last, but that was the only way she knew how to work. Sometimes the pain was so great she could hardly even lift her hand and left her bent over, shuddering, in her chair.
When she could, she kept refining, working the subtle curves and hitting the smallest pockets of every detail, even if it took her four times longer than it should. She just kept working at it until it was right.
It would be over soon, now.
She finished three days later. Made a call to the collective to use the kiln one last time. They had a reservation process, but gently caress it. She was on the board, she could answer to them if they wanted to challenge her. She doubted anyone would. They didn’t have much going on this weekend, anyway.
She dropped the portrait off that afternoon, then went to pay a visit to her lawyer. There were certain changes that she needed to make. Changes she should have made a long time ago.
Beep. “Jan, it’s me. I’m sorry about the other day, when I came by. Look—”
Jan picked up the phone.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 04:13|
“Run.” That’s all I can hear my brother scream clearly through the sound of the rifles firing. My mother, my father, my baby sister; they’re all probably dead. Arnel’s legs seem so much longer than mine even though he’s only a year older. The muscles in my thighs burn as I try to keep up with my brother. The grass is tall enough to keep us concealed. Years of playing through the same fields make it easy for us to negotiate through the brush. I can’t think. At this exact moment, all I know in this world is that Arnel is going somewhere and wherever that place is, I just need to get there. I trust him. Wherever we’re going, it must be safe. I trust him. I need to be safe.
“Keep up!” Arnel screams without looking back. Every moment I feel like my legs are going to catch up to his, he pushes further ahead. The gunshots continue to echo around us. I keep telling myself that every shot fired is another life. Someone I know. Someone I’ve spoken to. My friends. My mother…
Right when it seems like my lungs are going to punch through my chest, my brother comes to a halt, then motions for me to get low to the ground. He crawls backwards on his stomach towards me, looking back with a finger over his lips. He tries to slow his breathing as he points a finger beyond the brush then holds up his hand, signaling the number five.”
The tall grass stopped right before a main dirt road. I see them through the thick brush. A group of five soldiers armed with the same weapons that killed at least half of my village. My brother’s hand covers my mouth to muffle my panicked gasps for air. I’m too scared to feel embarrassed when I piss myself. Arnel presses his forehead against mine, ignoring the soaked mud under us and exaggerates his mouth as he exhales and inhales slowly. He nods as I mirror him. I feel my heart slowing. He reassures me by forcing a smile. The sound of the soldiers ahead begins to soften as they continue to march towards where we came from. By the time my heartbeat has returned to normal, they are already out of sight.
Arnel who is still in the prone, reaches behind and grasps his canteen still full from earlier. We both roll out of the piss soaked dirt and find better cover behind a mound along the road. He undoes the cap and hands it to me first. He pushes the canteen away when I attempt to hand it back to him, urging me to drink more. There isn’t enough to sustain the both of us for more than a day but he continues to insist. After I take a few more sips, I hand back his canteen and try to look over the dirt mound to see anyone else on the road. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else around on either side for at least one hundred meters. I let out a sigh and roll onto my back. For the first time since we left our village, my thoughts finally catch up to me.
My brother and I were coming back from the lake with fish we caught earlier in the morning. I couldn’t rationalize what I had seen when we arrived back home. Everyone in our village had been lined up against the school house. Foreign men in uniforms were pointing weapons at everyone lined up. Some of the men were on their knees, wrists bound with cloth wrapped around their eyes.
One of the soldiers started to yell at another man who was blindfolded. I couldn’t understand what they were saying. To this point I had never seen men like them or heard their language. The one yelling slowed his words, making them rhythmic and short as if he were counting. The soldiers stiffened as he continued to bark, their barrels pointed at the kneeling man’s face.
At one point, another one of the blindfolded stood straight up and screamed, “Not him! Not him!” I recognized his coat. It belonged to my father. There wasn’t time for me to react. All of the soldiers pointed their weapons at the one who stood up and fired. A woman in the line began to scream. She was holding a baby. Before my mother could run to her husband, one of the soldiers slammed the end of this rifle into her mouth. Her body crumpled while still holding my infant sister. Everyone in my village charged the soldiers. There were more of us than there were soldiers but still not enough to overwhelm them. Everywhere there was gunfire and blood. I couldn’t move. I just stood there until I felt my brother tugging my hand, telling me to run.
I try holding back tears as I remember what happened to our family. I don’t even know if our mother and sister are still alive. Arnel crawls over to me and sees the tears swelling up in my eyes. For the first time since we escaped our village he looks lost. He reaches over and grabs me as I weep next to him. Dirt is smearing under my fingers as I claw at my own face. My brother grabs my hands and tries to calm me. Before I can wipe the mud from my eyes we hear the distant barking of orders from one of the foreign soldiers down the road.
As the voice approaches, the sound of marching grows stronger. I don’t want to imagine how many of them are moving in our direction. Before my brother can tell me to get up, we hear a rustling in the tall grass behind us. As Arnel motions for me to get behind him, a swift burst of teeth and fur jumps from the grass and sinks its fangs into my brother’s leg. My brother howls as the canine rips into his calf, severing tissue and splattering blood onto the surrounding dirt. I freeze as Arnel desperately reaches for his other leg and unclips his fishing knife from his ankle. The hound doesn’t have much time to fight back as my brother plunges his knife over and over into its throat.
There’s blood everywhere. I can’t tell which belongs to my brother. Arnel violently rips off his belt and immediately tightens it around his calf. I’m scared beyond all imagination. As far as I know, the only remaining member of my family has just been maimed, a foreign army has probably heard the clamor and I have absolutely no idea what to do. My brother sees the paleness of my face, grabs me by the back of the neck and rips out the knife from the dead hound.
“Run.” He says as he hands me the knife and unslings his canteen. “I’m right behind you.”
As my brother lies, the sound of marching soldiers loses its uniformity and becomes a commotion of approaching boots. Before I can get a word in, Arnel slaps me across the face, shoves me away and begins to scream at the top of his lungs. “I’m here! I’m here!”
I look at my brother one last time as I clutch his knife and canteen. He doesn’t blink. He only looks towards the oncoming calamity and continues to roar.
I still don’t remember taking the first step. I continue to sprint long after the sound of gunshots are miles behind me.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 05:20|
The Look Down
crabrock fucked around with this message at 05:45 on Jan 1, 2016
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 05:52|
Read it in the archive.
Kaishai fucked around with this message at 09:43 on Jan 3, 2016
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 07:27|
The Other Side
flerp fucked around with this message at 09:30 on Aug 11, 2015
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 08:22|
Roy teaches him how to make a ring out of a half dollar. Something he heard about in Marion County Correctional, after his first clinic stint didn’t stick. Roy punches out the middle with a nail and a rock, then shows him how to tap all around the edges with a spoon until the whole thing was smooth.
“An hour or so a day, and you’ll be done before you know it,” Roy says.
“Lot of work.”
“She’s gonna love it. Just you watch and see.”
They meet at AA, make small talk beside the snack table. He tells her how he only came for the coffee and the snickerdoodles, and because Roy won’t stop mentioning it. She laughs. Her name is Sofia.
At the next meeting, she looks up, scans the circle of chairs, picks him out. She smiles, waves shyly. He is startled by the way the sight of her affects him. A giddy lightness in his belly, and something else—like being homesick.
The meeting is cut short when one of the regulars causes a disturbance. Howard, who sits crosslegged in his folding chair, yogic, stroking his beard with his good hand. Howard shares, for what feels like the twentieth time, the story of how he lost his left arm up the elbow after getting stone-drunk and trying to use a bandsaw.
Howard clutches the empty sleeve of his shirt like a magician about to unveil some trick. “If there weren’t ladies present, I’d show y’all. Unless the ladies want to see?”
Someone laughs, and a scuffle ensues. Howard is a kicker. The responding officer is left with the unenviable task of handcuffing a one-armed man.
He walks Sofia home, past the seawall, the gift shops shuttered and sad-looking under the lamplight. The breeze coming off of the water blows her hair across her face. He can taste salt in the air.
He no longer attends meetings for the coffee and the snickerdoodles. He considers the possibility of something like love, its encroachment into the cautious routine of his life.
“Here we are.”
He invites her inside. An afternoon spent cultivating the apartment for her visit; neglected dishes washed, DVDs arranged, a half-dead indoor fern optimistically watered. He puts his hand in his pocket and feels the half-dollar ring.
She brings beer. He wonders vaguely what Roy would say. Every time he finishes one, another sprouts weedlike in its place. They put in a movie, but he can’t concentrate on the plot. Everything bleeds together, so he steals glances at her instead. The beer makes everything move in slow, steady waves.
His hand reaches for hers, lingers there. For a moment, out of kindness, she indulges him. Then she slips her hand free. She lets out a small, nervous laugh and scoots over to the end of the couch before he fully understands what has happened.
After the movie, Sofia offers a slurred goodnight and lets herself out, steadying herself against the wall. For a long time, he sits on the couch and debates following after her. To apologize, or explain, or both. Instead, he reaches for the last sweating can of lukewarm beer.
He shields his eyes against the daggering sun, makes his way past the damp tourists and the buskers hunched along the boardwalk. A small crowd has gathered against the seawall where it juts into the harbor.
An accident, someone says.
Out on the water, a pair of rescue boats make lazy circles. A man in an orange vest stands on the deck, straining to bring something in with a boathook. Someone in the crowd gasps, and the others surge forward.
They pull Sofia aboard, bare arms bloated and blanched moon-white. Dark hair plastered across her face like a veil. The man in the orange vest goes below deck and returns with a blanket.
He turns away from the seawall, the pressing mass of curious onlookers. He sways in the push and pull of the wind, realizes that the half-dollar ring is still in his pocket. It has taken on a sudden, impossible weight. He imagines it dragging him down, down through the concrete and into the brine. He imagines himself settling at the bottom in a bloom of silt, anchored upright, while things scuttle over him and thread through his hair.
He watches the man in the rescue boat drape the blanket over her. Already the crowd is drifting away. The engines hum to life, and all the anchors are pulled up.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 08:36|
Posting on behalf of my good friend and wage slave Schneider Heim.
My Ex Friend's Wedding
The church smells of incense, a smell I haven't experienced in decades. I think of Gwen, not as the woman at the altar whom I hardly know, but the girl I used to be best friends with, and wonder where it went all wrong.
I sit at the farthest pew, mostly to evade questions from curious people. The men wear barongs, but I chose to wear a suit. I've gotten used to suits despite this country's sweltering climate that I feel naked without them. When you find that you can intimidate the average person with the clothes you wear, you'll never go back to wearing anything less.
Gwen doesn't know I'm here. She probably doesn't even know me anymore, not as I am now. She'll probably never forgive me for what I'm about to do, but that's preferable to me not being able to forgive myself. Because I'm done with that.
The ceremony is a blur, much as the masses I used to attend. No good news for me here. I follow directions to sit, stand, and kneel as I had been taught in school. But I don't smile, I don't applaud, I simply stare at Gwen through dark sunglasses. She only has eyes for her husband, of course.
This is the last loose end of my life.
The reception is a modest affair. I bribe my way inside, and I add a couple grand for my own table. Can't stand these people. Can't stand strangers. I fill my stomach with carbonara and chicken cordon bleu, buffet staples that have become cliche. They taste like nothing. I decline the wine, having told myself that I'd do this sober.
I sit through all the pomp and circumstance, wishing for Gwen to look my way, recognize me, and be outraged in some manner. How I wish that she'd truly gone bad, that her sweetness had turned acrid, that she really did cast me away with hate in her heart and leave me to deal with the changes I had been going through. I still do, to this goddamned day. The program brings up memories of Gwen that I've never been a part of, a veritable desert of fucks given, six years long. I clench my hand and deny the urge to ask for a glass of wine.
After everything's said and done, I walk up to the newlywed couple.
"Best wishes," I say. My smile is a finely-honed lie forged in the fires of the boardroom.
Joseph gives Gwen the look. The look that says "is he a friend of yours", which Gwen returns.
"Gwen and I come from way, way back." I pause for a look of recognition on Gwen's face. It doesn't appear. "We used to eat fishballs together in grade school and she'd refuse to put anything on them."
There it is, shock and horror following recognition. I may have grown facial hair, but I didn't bother to change my nose. "Amanda?" My birth name.
"It's Arthur," I say, the unspoken now hanging in the air.
"What do you mean?" Joseph asks. He's completely out of the loop. A part of me wants to get him involved, but I'm not that petty.
"I'm trans." The words are like stale tea leaves.
Gwen grabs my hand. "Can I speak to him for a moment, honey?" She pulls me away without considering her husband's response. We enter the deserted reception hall, its dim lights casting an unwanted gloom.
"Why are you here?" she demands. I'm laughing inside so much that I have to struggle to keep my poker face.
"I wanted to see you," I say. "Nice gown, by the way."
"But you're not even invited."
I tug at my tie in a not-so-subtle display of wealth. "Oh Gwen, I just had to bribe the right people. How'd you meet Joseph, by the way?"
Gwen's face is red. "What do you want?"
"I told you already."
"You've changed," Gwen says. There's a hint of sadness in her voice, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry about it.
"What happened? Why did you... do it?"
"I didn't like who I was, so I become the person I wanted to be. Somewhere along the way I got rich. Don't let anyone tell you math is useless."
I press my advantage. "Do you still hate me?"
She blinks. "Hate you? Why would I ever hate you?"
"You stopped speaking to me six years ago. About the same time I started transitioning. No replies, no answered calls, you didn't even unfriend me on Facebook. I would've asked you face-to-face but I didn't have a spine back then. But here we are now. Why, Gwen?"
"Am-- Arthur, you just fell off my radar. I was going through something at that time. It's not that I don't care, but..." Her voice trails off. She averts her gaze, her hands fidgeting. She had always been a bad liar.
"Everyone's going through something, Gwen. You only needed to talk to me. I guess you didn't really care for me after all?"
Gwen shakes her head. "I didn't know how to talk to you. How to act around you. You were going through all these... changes and... I was scared you had turned into someone else."
"But I'm still me. I've never even felt better, if anything."
"Arthur..." She forces herself to say the name that I chose. It sounds so wrong, coming from her lips.
"I didn't need anything special from you," I say. "I just wanted my friend Gwen. I just wanted her to listen to my problems and fall asleep on the phone with me like in high school when Luis dumped me for that Debate Club bitch. But you're not the Gwen I knew. You have her name and face but Gwen would never have abandoned her friends."
I look into her eyes and see her pain, a genuine realization of what she had done. Of what she had chosen not to do. Sometimes I lie in my bed, wishing that Gwen had hurt me with something. That way I'd have a tangible reason to be hurt and angry at her, and didn't have to turn it all on myself. Well, all that poo poo has to go somewhere new now, doesn't it?
"Enjoy your honeymoon," I say.
Joseph's standing by the hall. There's jealousy and worry etched on his smooth face.
"We just had a little heart-to-heart talk," I tell him. "You can come in now."
"Who are you, really?" he asks. Poor man, he really doesn't know anything. Not that I care, though.
"Someone who used to be friends with your wife." I smile at his face. "You can ask her the details later."
Joseph rushes inside and hurls himself into Gwen's arms just as the doors swing close. I can hear Gwen's sobs and Joseph's soothing voice through the door. That's it, I'm done.
I walk away, past the well-wishers and the staff, and into my waiting car.
Ernest, my driver, gives me a sidelong glance. "Everything all set, sir?"
"To the meeting, please." I had deals to close and a company to run.
As we drive away, I look at the greeting card neatly resting inside my coat pocket. There's ten thousand pesos enclosed, but I figure that I don't owe Gwen anything. Not since she stopped talking to me.
I smile, and it's a new day, a new me emerging from the chrysalis of past weaknesses. "When are you getting married, Ernest?"
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 08:36|
The next morning I got out of the shower, and Emmy was changing the sheets - the sun reflecting off the clean white linen did my headache no favours. I asked if I’d see her again, and she paused for a few seconds to think, while her fingers tapped at the ghost of a number-pad on her thigh.
“It’s somewhat likely,” she said. One corner of her mouth was turned up into a smirk, and her eyebrows were just barely furrowed. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be in on the joke. I gawked while she tapped away for a few more seconds, and silently moved her lips. “I’d say about thirty-seven percent.”
The look was the same one she’d given the bouncer at the club, the one that riled him and made him twist my arm a little higher up my back.
“This isn’t a huge city, we’re a similar age. thirty-seven seems correct.” She was wearing my t-shirt, ironically printed with a photo of a puppy. “If you write down your number before you leave it might be more like… sixty-three or sixty-four.”
I zipped my jacket up over my bare chest. The shirt was hers now. And so was I.
She was in big data. Contracted to a small company, contracted to a big company, contracted to the government. She had a security clearance and a baggy of cocaine. It looked small, but seemed to go on forever. She sat cross-legged on the floor in the dark and watched glowing green characters, raw units of information, play across the black screen. I rubbed her back.
At some point she stabbed the enter key with her middle finger, and a spiralling rainbow matrix of dots, lines and bars filled the screen. I gasped, overcome by the colours and the drugs and by the smell of her sweat. Her shirt was damp, and I could make out the bra-strap through the sheer white cotton that clung to her back.
She spun the wheel of her mouse, zooming in, and the graph exploded. It outgrew the confines of the screen, and seemed to fill the room. I was inside it as it grew wider and denser. It slowed while she put her head down to suck up the line of white powder she’d tapped out onto the trackpad of her laptop. I could see the colours from the screen reflected in her hair, impossibly black and glossy like an oil slick.
When she came up she sniffed, urgently, as if surfacing for air. She started zooming again, faster, and the pixels blurred. The data moved so quickly that it was hard to be sure it was still expanding, like when the wheels of a car seem to spin backwards. She continued strumming the mouse wheel while she spoke to me between clusters of shallow breaths.
“What time is it?”
The numbers on my watch swam, but the light seeping in around the edges of the curtains told me it was morning. She gestured to me with the baggy, but I shook my head.
“I think it’s Thursday,” I said, looking into Emmy’s eyes. They sat deep in their sockets, wild and fizzing. “I’m worried about you. About that.”
“It’s only this project. Just a means to an end.” She took her fingers off the mouse and enmeshed them in mine, and the expansion slowed. We had zoomed in far enough that the colours were coalescing into recognizable shapes. First flags, corporate logos, stock symbols. then cities, suburbs, products. I looked back as she lead me to the bedroom. The screen had stopped on a photo of my face, just a few months old and encircled by thousands of coloured threads connecting it to a thousand other points of data. It leered at me, a version of myself scraped from a fibre-optic cable and fed, grinning, to Emmy’s algorithm.
Emmy came home from the gym and went to bed. At the end of her contract they’d hired her on permanently, and she’d traded the sledgehammer efficiency of seventy hour coding binges for long-haul output optimization: flu-shots, daily stretches, green vegetables. All that, long hours, and nothing else. She had a new set of needs that served the same end.
In the morning I tried to fight with her. She just watched the TV weather-lady, smirking at the perky blonde’s fifty percent chance of rain. Her coat stayed on the hook when she left for work.
When she got home she was late and dry. Her presence barely registered. She perched on the edge of the couch and opened her laptop. Even the squab she sat on was untroubled by her weight. She was still and hygienic, like the signal from the wi-fi. I wanted her to cut me down, to look at me with the same playful contempt she had for the weather-lady. She stayed silent.
She was so grey, but I could feel the coloured thread that wove us together, the one from her computer program, as strong and vibrant as ever. It was digital, the numeral one stretched to gossamer and tangled around our tongues, stitched into our hearts, and binding our ankles together like convicts on a chain gang.
I wanted to break it, but I couldn’t talk. I squeezed the side of my tongue between molars, harder and harder. Blood flowed into my mouth, hot and ulcerative, and salty like the tears I assumed came next. I closed my eyes for the grand unravelling, but there was something else holding me together. It was as calcified and organic as coral, analogue and immeasurable as hope. I felt a draft from the air-con, and it picked up a strand of her hair which blew free like a piece of snapped fishing line. I went to the spare room to make up the bed.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 09:09|
|# ? Feb 2, 2023 17:34|
Nemo woke up before dawn one morning, saw the stacks of boxes and the empty walls of his new apartment, and put his pillow over his head. Juliet had left early again. The mattress felt cold and dead, like being cradled by a corpse. The undecorated white walls were like bone. Making coffee felt like adultery, but what did Juliet expect him to do? His parents had, with the best of intentions, given Nemo an ultimatum: either get a job and find his own place to sleep, or he'd have nowhere to sleep at all.
She was upset about his new job. It got him up early, sometimes kept him out late. She didn’t understand that he would give anything, everything to spend all his time with her, to wrap himself in the shadowy heat of her body, close his eyes, and slip away from the day forever.
Nemo’s cellphone buzzed from somewhere deep in his laundry pile. It could only be one of his parents; they were both obscenely early risers, and didn’t understand people who weren’t.
“Have you talked to Hunter lately?” his dad asked after they’d made the requisite small talk.
Nemo hadn’t. He’d been totally preoccupied with Juliet’s capriciousness. His little brother, Hunter, was just another part of the needy, merciless daylight.
“We're worried about him,” his dad said. “He’s been sleeping all the time, barely comes out of his room. We thought he’d pull himself together, like you did, but.” There was a pause. “Maybe you could talk to him?”
Nemo mumbled a half-hearted "yeah-I’ll-see-what-I-can-do." He barely heard the rest of the conversation. His heart felt like pistons firing in his chest and his ears rang and his father’s voice was muffled like he was talking through a wall. His body didn’t have an adequate reaction for what he was feeling, but his mind expertly conjured up images of Hunter entwined with the darkness, swaddled in the black silk essence that was Juliet.
After he said goodbye to his father, Nemo phoned his supervisor at work and told her he wouldn’t be in that day. Then he drew the curtains, turned off the lights, and threw himself back into bed. It was still early yet, and the only light was a drowsy blue-grey. But Nemo couldn’t get back to Juliet.
What do I have to do, Juliet? He sat at his kitchen table, both hands wrapped tightly around his coffee mug. Steam rose from the coffee in seductive, curling wisps, then dissipated.
Juliet had first come to him the night he arrived home from college, when he was half-dead from scrimping and scraping for average grades. He’d been trying to fall asleep in his bedroom, which still looked like it belonged to an eighteen year old boy, when he heard the breeze through his open window ruffle the curtains. He’d opened his eyes, and there was Juliet: Her hair, the fluttering drapes; her eyes, the glint of moonlight on his old soccer trophies; her body, the heavy warmth of exhaustion, and the yielding softness of his mattress. Stay with me awhile, she’d whispered, and her voice was the distant sigh of freeway traffic.
And he had. Wrapped in the darkness of Juliet, there were no obligations. She asked nothing and gave everything. She curled around him, selfless as a blanket, as the day blazed jealously outside. Until his parents’ ultimatum.
Nemo left his coffee, which was tepid by then, at the table, went back to his bedroom. It was stuffy and smelled of unwashed clothing.
“I’m here,” he said, holding his arms out. Beseeching. “I called out of work today. I’ll...I’ll get on unemployment for a while. I’ll find a job I can do from home.” The words sounded empty even to his own ears. Of course it wasn’t possible to be with Juliet all the time and be an adult.
He threw himself onto the bed, pulled the blanket over his head. Even in the dark microworld between the sheets, he couldn’t call Juliet back to him. He still felt the gravity of impending daylight and all her demands. Hunter had never gone to school, had complained of “depression” and “anxiety” and generally soaked up all their parents’ patience and sympathy. He had nothing but time, time for Juliet. It wasn’t fair.
Nemo stayed in bed all day, and by eight o’clock he was restless and had to pee. It was dark outside. His face felt stale, so he washed it. He was wide awake, worlds away from sleep. There was a half-empty bottle of NyQuil next to the sink. He swallowed quadruple the recommended dose, went back to his room, opened the window, and climbed back into bed. The drapes fluttered like agitated ghosts.
I’m here. Juliet’s voice was the distant crash of a car accident. Nemo jolted out of delirious false sleep. Her hair fluttered angrily around the window, and the crescent moon gleamed like cat’s eyes on his trophies. You should go to her. You belong together, she said in the quiet roar of a passing jet.
“But there’s only you,” Nemo said. “How could there ever be anyone but you?”
The breeze died down and the curtains went still. She makes you challenge yourself, Juliet said in the mournful tone of an ambulance siren. Nemo felt the weight of her body, pulling him down into the embryonic place between sleep and wakefulness. I knew I was just a rebound. It’ll only hurt if you keep lying to yourself.
“Then why are you holding me so tight?” Nemo said, or maybe thought.
Because tomorrow you’re going to wake up, and you’re going to decide I’m not worth giving up your life for, and you’re going to go love every moment of her for as long as you can.
Nemo tried to deny it, but then Juliet pressed down on him, held him tight as a tourniquet, until he could barely breathe. And he thought of something his dad had told him when he was giving Nemo the sex talk: “You’ll know it’s love when you’d die for them. When you want to die for them, if it means never living without them.”
Juliet whispered, I’ll always be there for you. But I can never die for you, as long as there are tired bodies on this Earth. But she held onto Nemo through the night, ‘til well into the morning, smothering him in sleep so deep it seemed like a world unto itself.
Nemo woke up, then wished he hadn’t. He felt used up and empty and a million miles away from his body. He looked at his phone, which was on the nightstand, and understood in a dissociated sort of way that he’d taken too much NyQuil and missed work for the second day in a row.
He had to get out of his bedroom. He pulled on his least smelly jeans and T-shirt, tottered down to the parking lot outside of his apartment building. Eyes that were not Juliet’s glittered in the dewy grass. A body that was not Juliet’s wrapped around him, and its skin was made of sun and wind and possibility.
“Hello,” he said hesitantly. He’d forgotten how beautiful things were in the morning, how frenetic and bright and full of potential. “Do you think we could...start again?”
And the day laughed in the voice of chirping birds, said, we can start again as often as you want. Her breezy touch was tentative, yet familiar.
“You forgive me for, for Juliet?”
That was yesterday. I am now.
“I’d like to take a walk,” Nemo said. Pure joy warmed his skin.
I have so much to show you, the day said, and took his hand.
|# ? Aug 3, 2015 09:54|