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sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In.

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sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Prompt: Stories of the Street

Yellow Light
931 words

Irene and I are getting sick of each other. It’s not Irene’s fault. I don’t like the way she leaves water all over the bathroom, but mostly, after eleven years in this tiny studio apartment on the thirty-sixth floor, looking down at the street, filling up legal pad after legal pad, I’d get sick of anyone. Every day Mr. Stewart comes and brings us two lunchboxes, and we give him our reports. The instructions are simple -- infuriatingly so, in that Mr. Stewart asks us to write down everything we observe of interest. The window faces another high-rise complex, where the windows are only shut, so the only thing below is a stretch of street and a traffic light. We never get feedback. We just get ham sandwiches and instant oatmeal.

Truth is: nothing that interesting happens on the street. Sometimes people get in arguments. Sometimes there’s violence. At night there’s drug deals, I think. We’re too high up, and we don’t even have binoculars or anything, so really all we see are bodies in flux, and I just record that flux and mark it with a timestamp. Irene’s given up on any professionalism, though. A year in she started making things up. It was intoxicating. Where I’d write about a flow of commuters, she’d add in a local mascot. Then there were the celebrity sightings. People famous in the nineties, mostly -- we don’t have a TV, so it’d be the people she remembered before this job. Monica Lewinsky came by, she’d write. Mobbed by thousands.

Mr. Stewart never says anything about it. I still produce the accurate reports, so I figured he lets it slide for morale. Now Irene just draws pictures of naked people. Sometimes she shows me, and I blush. I used to think it was endearing. But now the truth is I want to push Irene out the window. I want to throw myself out the window, too, but if I push Irene out the window, then I get to write about it.

“Why don’t you just quit?” Irene asks me, when I tell her that I want to push her out the window.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” I tell her. Irene looks at me like I’m stupid.

“You can’t think of anything you’d rather do than live twenty-four seven in a small room, staring out the window at people you can’t even see, taking notes with no discernible purpose?”

There’s a long line of cars stopped at a red light down below. A pedestrian runs up to one of the stopped cars and pounds on the windshield. Then the light turns green and the pedestrian jumps backwards.

I jot this down.

“No,” I tell her. “I can’t think of anything. Everything I can think of is boring. Like washing dishes. I was a dishwasher once, and I hated it. At least everything gets taken care of here.” Irene is drawing what’s probably a naughty picture on her pad, and I think she’s not listening to me anymore. “What about you?”

“I’m having the time of my life,” she says. She scribbles a signature on her drawing and hands me the sheet of paper. It’s a line drawing of a closed window.

---

Then one day Mr. Stewart doesn’t come. I wonder if we’ve done something to upset him. Maybe they fact-checked Irene. And then they fact-checked me, and they dinged me, because maybe I made an inference I wasn’t supposed to. Maybe the crux of an event happened at 9:35, but I wrote down a post-crux time of 9:36 instead.

In any case, I’m hungry.

Irene crosses her arms and sits with her back against the window. “I thought this was going to be a steady gig,” she says. “But I guess everything goes to poo poo eventually.” She raises her legal pad to the ceiling. “This pad is full. I need a new one.”
I look past her and out the window. The cars are stuck at the red light, just as they usually are, and the little dots of pedestrians are milling about. Horns are honking.

I don’t write it down.

Instead I look at the door. I’ve never tried to open it. It’s not in the job description. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the contract, but think there might have been something about opening the door voiding the at-will relationship. I don’t want to do that. But I’m worried about Irene. She’s sulking. She never does that.

Also, I’m still hungry.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I ask her. Irene doesn’t say anything, but she stands up. She doesn’t look at the door. Instead she turns and puts the flat part of her head against the window. And she starts to drag one foot behind the other, walking in place with her head pushing against the glass.

The window is cold to the touch. I consider joining Irene. But I go to the door instead. For the first time in eleven years, I touch the doorknob. I am giving the door a handshake. It feels intimate.

Then the door creaks open, and a sliver of the hallway light spills into the room. I look back at Irene, who’s still immersed in her slow, gliding headbutt of the window.

“Hey,” I say.

I look toward Irene and I look toward the door and I sit down on the ground and start taking notes on the little sliver of hallway. I’ve never taken notes on a hallway before. I hope Irene joins me soon.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


I'm in love

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In news channel 6

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Relationship: Moonlighting as thieves
Relationship: You and your counterpart from Action News 11
Relationship: "We've been through hell and high water together"
Location: In the control room
Object: "Happy Bear" costume
Need: To get rich through a secret I learned at work
Tilt: The thing you stole has been stolen

Tip Line
1,122 words

They say internship purgatory ends eventually, but I’m not sure I believe them. For six months I’ve been fetching coffee, answering phones, and chasing dead leads for a local news office in Podunk, New York. And while the higher-ups say they’re going to hire me, Annie, or Jared soon, those student loan payments are due soon, and if they don’t move now, I’m going to be hosed.

Annie’s probably going to get hired, anyway. She works the tip line. Usually it’s cranks, and usually we can tell. Sometimes it’s someone upset that their neighbor doesn’t keep their lawn well-manicured, which is rarely newsworthy. She tells us the silliest stories with a smirk. Some dude screaming at the top of his lungs about a Morgellons outbreak at the local high school.

“Wow, Annie,” our boss tells her. “Have anything we can use?”

She doesn’t. Our boss raises her eyebrows at Jared and me. Jared shrugs. “I’m still working on that thing about the governor and the missing puppies.”

I hold up my hands. “Last week I brought you the human toe in the Wal-Mart produce section. That’s got to earn me some credit for a while.”

Our boss frowns at all of us, but she’s looking right at me when she says: “Let me tell you folks -- you can all do a lot better than this frilly bullshit. There’s no room for dead weight at News Channel 6.” And with that, she leaves. She’s not wrong. She’s been our third boss in six months.

But once she’s gone, Annie rolls her chair over to me and says “Actually, I did hear something that might interest you.”

Jared rolls his chair right over, and Annie eyes him warily. “Supposedly,” she continues, “the Toys-R-Us next to the multiplex is part of an international heroin smuggling ring.”

Jared crosses his arms. “Come on,” he says. “That sounds more made up than the kids with the lint infections. Why’d they call us, and not the police?”

“Beats me,” Annie says, “and it’s probably just bullshit. But hey, couldn’t hurt to do our jobs.”

---

We drive over to the Toys-R-Us in Jared’s mom’s minivan. Jared borrowed it from her when he took this internship, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t have her permission. Not that she’d miss it much -- the thing gets terrible milage, it smells like cat pee, and has a bad habit of not starting. But I’m just happy he’s got a ride to work and to all the places we have to sit out in the cold and wait for nothing to happen.

We get out in the too-large parking lot and split up, and try to not look too much like jaded twenty-somethings looking for heroin in a toy store. Annie goes to the Babies R Us to ferret through the clothes, and Jared wanders off into the Electronics section. I just walk the perimeter of the store, feeling pretty stupid, and also remembering how broke I am. My friends from college -- the ones lucky enough to have jobs, at least -- were all working either a place they wanted to be, or a job they wanted to work. But they came from rich families that could bankroll them if their newpaper writing gig in The Bronx didn’t work out. Me, I had to take care of myself. I had to sniff out the news in this Toys R Us better than Annie or Jared.

So, doing my best to look like I belong there, I ease my way into a door labeled EMPLOYEES ONLY. I’m an adult but not a mom, so I actually fit in pretty well in the back room. I don’t see any bags clearly labeled “heroin,” though, so I haven’t quite figured things out yet.

“Excuse me?” someone says, and I turn my head and see an older woman looking in my direction. I speed-walk deeper into the back rooms, and, turning the corner into a changing room, close myself into a locker.

The locker smells like BO, and I realize I’m sharing the locker with a huge furry mascot costume. And as I crowd deep into the locker, I feel a lump behind me, and then a thrill of discovery rises up in my chest. Sure enough, when I hold the light of my phone to the bag I’ve found, the brown powder is clear as day.

Once the footsteps clear outside, I take a step out of the locker and nearly run head-first into Jared.

He’s also holding a bag of brown powder, just out in the open. I’ve at least safely concealed mine in the Geoffrey the Giraffe costume.

“You should get that out of sight,” I tell him. He shrugs.

“I’ve tasted this,” he says. “It’s brown sugar. It’s a hoax.”

“Why did you taste a bag of mysterious brown powder?”

“Because I thought it was a hoax? This whole thing is really dumb. Probably just some bored employee, having a joke.”

He and I walk out the back exit on the loading dock. He fishes out a cigarette from his bag, and offers me one. I’m about to take it when I hear the sound of sirens.

Oh poo poo, I think. I grab Jared’s bag of heroin -- brown sugar, whatever -- and thrust it inside the Geoffrey costume. Then I hop off the ledge of the loading dock and stroll, in the most nonchalant way possible, around the store, over to the parking lot.

But that’s a bad move. There’s a couple of cop cars, lights flashing, idling right in front of the path to Jared’s van. One of the doors open, and a cop points at me. “Hey you,” he says, “get down!”

I turn around and look for Jared, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Before I can call out for him, someone pins me to the ground. I drop the Geoffrey costume and the two bags of brown sugar fall to the ground.

“Got him,” the cop says. “The costume thief.”

And as they put the cuffs on me, as they lead me into the cars, I see Annie, standing at the corner of the parking lot with a camera, filming my bewildered face.

“Annie,” I call out, “tell them I’m innocent!”

A squeal of wheels sounds from deeper in the parking lot, and Jared’s mom’s minivan makes it almost halfway out of the parking lot before the engine stalls. Annie turns and films that, too. I’m not sure what the story will be, but I know it won’t be long before Annie ends up on the nightly news too. Except instead of being arrested at a Toys R Us, she’ll be in front of a camera, reading a weather report.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006



Touch the cactus she said
946 words

“I love darkness, sharp swords, and beans!” Kibali Samarasa thundered. She was eight feet tall and looked like the kind of scary bodyguard I would need for protection, that is, for safety.

It would be a long journey. We would have to make it all the way across the Shamado Desert, and we’d have to ward off bands of bandits all the way. As I am short and small (my brains forming the majority of my worth), I am looking for a good bodyguard. Kibali Samarasa seemed like the best pick for the job.

“How do I know you are the best pick for the job?” I asked Kibali Samarasa. She swung her sword in the air and barked a laugh.

“Just as long as you give me the money. Money and a lot of brains to bash!” she said. “And beans! Don’t forget the beans!”

And so we were off. We were going to go bury my dead father’s ashes in his ancestral burial ground, me and Kibali Samarasa.

*************

The desert was hot and dry and we were slow going. There is no water in the desert and my mouth was as dry as dry toast. We passed a cactus, which was big, like my dad, and pointy (not like my dad), and also there were a couple of flowers on the top of it.

Kibali Saramsara wasn’t scared at all. She touched the cactus and let out a long cackle of glee.

“Touch the cactus,” she commanded.

I didn’t want to. The cactus looked sharp.

“Touch the cactus or it’s no beans for you!”

“But I don’t like beans,” I whined.

“Everyone likes beans!”

Then there was a loud shrill tootle-loodle-shoooooooooooom from a horn and Kibali Sasamara screamed.

“Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!” She thundered.

***

“Wow I can’t believe you knocked down sixteen bandits with a single stroke of your sword,” I remarked.

Kibali Samasara wasn’t even hurt. She just left the bodies on the ground and smiled, a nice smile if I do say so.

“Come on,” she exclaimed, “we have to go on before the vultures get here.”

I knew a lot about the vultures. They liked to come and eat the dead bodies. According to legend, which my dad had told me, once they started eating they couldn’t stop eating, and then they stopped caring much if their dinner was dead or alive. For me, I didn’t care much to see if the legend was true.

We made it a ways past the battle before the sun started to set. We sat down on a rock for water and beans. Kibali Sasamara sat down and ate a lot of the beans, liking the juice off her face.

“So how did you become a bodyguard?” I asked her.

“I like to fight,” she explained, and sliced a cactus right in two! “But, you see, I have a code. I decimate only those who do harm to others.”

“Don’t harm others,” I repeated. I think about it. I liked that she didn’t hurt good people.

Then there was the murderous sound of wings.

*************

When Kibali Sasamasa was just a little girl, she was raised in the nunnery. The queen nun told her to be a good girl and always follow the rules, but these were rules that Kiba didn’t want to follow. The other girls were mean to her and she pushed them down, and then the nuns would lock her in the garage. She had a lot of time to think. She wanted to destroy everything.

“I want to destroy everything!” she said.

“I do, as well,” said a voice.

A figure emerged out of the darkness, just a blog of shadow. It said “I can teach you marvelous things. But you have to learn control. And you must serve my master.”

“Is it god?” Kibali Samasara said.

“No. I am not like those other fools. I will teach you more meaningful things than that. But, you may lose part of yourself. You may find your sanity is no more.”

“Okay.”

***********

The vultures are so fierce.

Kibali Samasara swung at them but they flew out of reach and then flew down again. And every time she hit one another would come from the sky and fly at my eyes! I stepped aside just in time. Their claws looked as sharp as pine needles.

It was dark and I couldn’t see all the vultures. I could hear Kibali Sasarama though, because she was laughing and screaming. It was as if she was having a good time. Then the laughter stopped.

“Ahhhhhh!” she thundered. She was covered in vultures, and they had disarmed her. I threw a rock at a vulture and knocked it dead! But then I threw another rock, and that one missed.

“You will never save her now,” thundered a vulture. It was brandishing Kibali Samasara’s sword! “You puny humans. So few in number.”

“But our spirit,” I told the vulture, “our spirit, it outnumbers you.” Then I meditated, and out of my mind came twenty birds with scissors in their mouths. They descended on the horde of birds and cut them into pieces. The battle was over. But was Kibali Samarama OK?

“Beans……” she croaked.

--=--=--

Kibali Samasara was a friend
And I was there until the end
She is buried with my dad
And they were both good and not bad
A kindness in them they both have
Or so they would if they were not in the grave

REST IN PIECE

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In. Flash me.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Idris Elba is playing the part of Michael.
quote: "You don't start off at kidnapping, you work your way up to it."

No Bite
1,290 words

Duane waited in the darkness for Michael to emerge from the beat-up bungalow. He wondered what he’d be doing that night if the crane hadn’t crushed his leg last year. Going for a run, maybe. He certainly wouldn’t be waiting in front of a stranger’s home for Michael to finish his business.

A furious round of knocks landed on the passenger door. Duane snapped out of his daydream, unlocked the door, and let Michael in.

“Let’s go,” Michael said.

Duane hit the gas and they sped off toward the city. Michael sat in silence, his hands balled into fists. When Duane first started driving for Michael, he’d been reassured that Michael didn’t seem to carry a gun, but the man wielded silence like a sidearm.

“Christ,” Michael said, as they crossed over a bridge. “Were you sleeping?”

“No,” Duane said. “Seriously, no. Just thinking.”

“You can do that all week. When I’m paying you, you need to pay attention.”

“Yeah, okay. Sorry,” Duane said. It came out more belligerent than he’d intended. It was just -- he hadn’t expected to feel the same kind of dehumanizing shame while moonlighting that he did at his day job. When his brother had passed him Michael’s business card (MICHAEL JOHNSON -- RECRUITER -- CASH PAYOUT, and a phone number), Duane had felt the thrill of doing something more interesting -- and lucrative -- than data entry. But Michael’s chiding just reminded him of his boss at the office reaming him out for missing his WPM target.

Duane turned onto a back street, avoiding the busy downtown on the way to the bus depot.

“Something new next week,” Michael said abruptly. “It’s bigger. And worth it.”

Duane kept his eyes on the road. He tried to quell any sense of apprehension in his voice. “Yeah?”

“We’ll be kidnapping the Bowen daughter.”

---

The next week, Duane parked outside a 7-11, trying not to let any thoughts enter his head while he waited for Michael. He wasn’t successful. I don’t want to do this, he thought. This will ruin my life all over again. At least this time he didn’t miss Michael’s approach.

“You can drive,” Michael said, once he’d climbed in the passenger seat.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

“You can drive,” Michael repeated, and Duane drove. He cursed himself for bending so easily.

“Look,” Duane said, “I don’t think I’m--”

“Three things,” Michael said. He paused. “First. You’re probably allowing yourself to operate under the illusion that your actions, so far, have caused no harm to anyone. That’s false.” From his pocket, Michael retrieved a Ziploc bag full of human teeth. He placed a single molar on the dashboard.

“Second. You might find it comforting to think of this as a humanitarian mission.”

“Third--”

“A humanitarian mission,” Duane said. He’d never interrupted Michael, but it was so absurd that he couldn’t let it stand.

“Yes, humanitarian,” Michael said. “The Bowen family have, in the past, funded poorly planned construction projects, much like the one that injured your leg. Their ransom will go to humanitarian causes.”

“How is that humanitarian?”

“We’re compensating a victim of poor construction projects.”

“What, me? Okay, but it’s not their project.”

“My point is,” Michael said, and for the first time he raised his voice, “you haven’t cared about this until now. My third point is that you have no choice but continuing with our plan tonight. I am simply offering you a choice in how you perceive it. Turn left here, please.”

Duane stewed in the aftermath of Michael’s pronouncement, resentment building up inside of him He felt pinned by the implicit power of his companion. But how great was Michael’s power, anyway? He didn’t even have a gun. He just had his pronouncements, a bag of teeth, and the dangling promise of riches.

---

They arrived at the gates of the Bowen estate. Michael got out of the car, sporting a balaclava. “Five minutes,” he said.

Duane’s leg twitched with pain. He looked around and noticed a security camera, conspicuously placed in a tree. Great. Now they probably had a clear view of the kidnappers’ license plate. Or at least his license plate.

He could just drive away, he realized. Leave Michael darting out of the premises with a captive and have nowhere to put her. But even in his frustration, Duane’s eyes came to rest on the molar on the dashboard.

He hesitated just long enough to hear the key turn to his trunk and a muffled thump. This time, Duane unlocked the door before Michael could get in.

“Drive,” Michael said, as he climbed in the passenger seat, and he gave the address.

---

Duane made it to the safehouse -- a condemned Krispy Kreme in a sad little mini-mall -- without any trouble. Michael left Duane with the kidnapped girl, a pair of sleeping bags, and an advance of five hundred dollars.

“I’ll have the rest in the morning,” he said, after he’d tied up the unconscious girl inside a cobwebby broom closet. “If you don’t do anything stupid, everything should be done by tomorrow night.”

And then he left. Duane rolled up his own sleeping bag on the floor outside the closet, and he’d just about made it to sleep when the panicked banging and squealing started.

He tried to shut it out. He was already implicated, after all.

“It’s okay,” he said. The noise from the closet continued. “It’s okay,” he repeated. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.

And although the girl’s mouth was taped, there was no mistaking the “gently caress you” in her response.

---

Duane spent the night shutting out the sounds of struggle while blearily keeping his eyes open. Finally, just after sunrise, the door of the Krispy Kreme shook. A rattled, unshaven Michael strode toward him.

“Change of plans,” Michael said. “We’ve been compromised. Clean up. I’ll call you to regroup.”

“Compromised.” Duane took a deep breath. “What does that mean?”

“If you have favors with distant friends, call them in. I need somewhere to lay low.” Michael swung open the closet door and took an appraising look at the hostage. “You need to move. There’s fingerprints everywhere.”

“What about the money?”

“Christ,” Michael said. “Read between the lines. There’s not going to be any money.”

Duane swore. He’d had a chance to drive away from this bullshit. And he’d missed it. He summoned what courage he had and said:

“You’re not going to get a ride, then,” Duane said.

Michael said nothing. He was still looking at the hostage, as if he were sizing her up as a threat. Then, without warning, he swung his fist into her jaw. She let out an awful yelp, while blood ran down the girl’s mouth.

“I will, actually,” Michael said.

“Or you’ll beat up a tied up teenage girl?”

Michael didn’t move.

The girl’s eyes told him he was deeply useless. Duane shrugged. Only five hundred dollars. Jesus.

“Do whatever you want,” Duane said. He pivoted on his good leg, and limped out the door. He waited for Michael to follow, to lunge at him, to sock the girl again, but Duane didn’t turn back. He suspected there was no time for any elaborate displays of torture, any kind of hand-to-hand convincing. Michael certainly acted like time was of the essence.

And this time, Duane didn’t intend to waste it. He could hear sirens somewhere, but whether they were for them, he couldn’t know. Nor could he know how far he’d get on a quarter tank of gas, five hundred dollars, and a bad leg.

But as he drove away, he felt a blush of pride. He had made a choice.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Jon Joe posted:

I'm offering 3 in-depth crits to the first 3 people to quote this post, for your week 298 story unless you specify a different week.

I'll take you up on this.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Corporeality
1,387 words

I know as soon as Danny kisses me that Phase II of my life has begun. No longer am I insignificant, awkward Gary Kellerman. This moment is proof that I am a real person. Someone wants to put their mouth on mine, at great risk to their own social standing. I’m barely in my body as Danny probes around my mouth with his tongue. I am ascended.

Danny breaks the kiss and inhales sharply. He’s silent for a moment. Listening. We decided to meet up in our high school’s storage area, which everyone calls the Underground. It’s usually pretty deserted in the morning, but we still aren’t taken any chances. We’ve buried ourselves under a rack of band tuxedos. It smells like stale sweat, but it’s better than Danny’s suggestion, which was a bathroom stall.

“So,” he says, his voice a little hoarse.

“So,” I agree. I can’t think of anything more eloquent to say. Before he started sending me, like, a million horny text messages, I was a little afraid of Danny. He never did anything awful to me. Mostly it was just his friends that sucked poo poo. They weren’t violent or anything. More like casual assholes. The kind of people who called their friends fags when the got too familiar, told their Jewish friends to stop being so Jewish.

“Gary,” he says, taking a step back, “we should stop.”

He’s waiting for me to undermine him. Otherwise, he’d just walk away. I take another step forward, and he takes another step back, which causes the rack of tuxedos to move. The wheels squeak and we both freeze.

After a long silence, I lean in to kiss him again, and that’s when he bolts.

#

The whole day I carry that charged feeling of being fundamentally changed. It doesn’t matter that Danny ran away. I am so sure that we’ve shared something special that I know he’ll be drawn back to me, no matter how long it takes.

Through all of my classes, I keep replaying the look in his eyes, before he kissed me; that sense of desire, mingled with fear, the sense of being witnessed as a being of flesh and blood. It’s so different from the look everyone else gives me. It’s a look of pity if it’s even a look at all. The fact that someone saw me -- really saw me, saw me so close that it scared him -- makes me aware that I am capable of being seen.

When I walk through the hallways, I try to recapture that with acquaintances, people I’ve sat next to, but never talked to. Usually their gaze slips away. Some of the girls look back with a pained smile. A stitch of sympathy. I don’t let it discourage me, though. I am newly corporeal. It rules.

And then, right before my last period, I see Danny approaching, laughing from his chest at something his buddy said. Since today I’m being brave, I look up to meet his eye, even with his rear end in a top hat friend right there. And this time, all I see is fear.

“What the gently caress are you looking at, enjoyable human being?” he says. And as he walks on, the glow dissolves, and I feel like a piece of furniture again.

#

He texts me that night.

I’m sorry for what happened in the hallway but I can’t just let another dude look at me like that, people are going to get ideas. You have to give me time.

I don’t know what to say to an I’m sorry but. I want to give him the silent treatment. I want him to feel, even in miniature, what it’s like to not be seen. But I’m not that strong.

Why did you run away?

Did you want me to stay? he responds. And something breaks inside of me. A well of sympathy bursts forth for this thirsty-as-gently caress aider-and-abetter of douchebags.

Of course, I tell him. I see you. I think I know you better than most people. Better than your friends. I want to get to know you even better. I realize it’s too sentimental, so I send him a follow-up text. Are you scared?

I’m scrunched up in bed under a mound of blankets, waiting for his response, wondering if I’ve pushed too far, when he responds:

You seem so… I don’t know, innocent, I guess. I don’t want to gently caress you up or get your hopes up, haha.

I’m not sure what’s supposed to be funny about that. I can take care of myself.

He doesn’t respond for thirty minutes or so, and I figure he probably jerked off and forgot about me. But then he sends me the last message of the night:

Meet me in the Underground. Same time tomorrow.

#

He doesn’t show. I wait in the loving Underground for an hour, checking all the hiding places, and there’s no sign of Danny. There’s no reception in the Underground, so I hope that he’s texted me something -- maybe his mom got E. Coli, or a tree fell on his car -- but when I eventually give up and head over late to my first class, he’s sent nothing at all.

The wave of resentment builds up all day long, and it comes to a head when I’m sitting in U.S. History and I get the feeling people are looking at me. I turn around and it’s a couple of Danny’s friends, snickering and showing each other something on their phones. I try to focus on the lesson, but it’s hard to focus through a wave of mounting dread.

As the bell rings, one of Danny’s friends rests his hand hard on my shoulder and says, in a tone of mock-sincerity, “Hey, Gary, I just want to let you know that we all see you.

They guffaw so loud and I wonder how much they’ve seen, and for the first time, I miss being invisible.

#

But if Danny thinks I’m just going to slink back in the shadows, he’s not just a coward, he’s a loving moron. After the final bell rings, I rush to cut him off in the parking lot. He’s surrounded by a bunch of his chuckling rear end in a top hat friends, but that doesn’t stop me. Maybe it would have before, but you can’t stop Phase II once it’s begun. I have been forever altered.

“Hey, honey,” I call out.

They turn around to face me. Everyone but Danny.

“Hey, you missed our appointment,” I told him. “We were going to make out in the Underground. Maybe more, right?” My voice cracks on that last part.

“I told you he was obsessed with me,” Danny mutters to his group of friends.

“‘Spent all last night thinking about your rear end,’” I say, pulling up my phone. People are staring, so I clarify. “That’s a quote. From you.

And now people are snickering and walking away. “I’ll send anyone who wants them the screenshots,” I call out. “Proof.”

No one is paying attention, and only Danny and his group of friends are lingering. I get the distinct impression that I am embarrassing myself, and not setting the record straight. “You kissed me,” I said to Danny, my voice cracking. I try to meet his eye, entreating him to give some sort of tell. But he zips up his fear behind a sneer of contempt. “Keep dreaming, you crazy fag,” he says. He and his friends pile in Danny’s car, and he drives away.

A few minutes later, I notice that I’ve missed a text message from him:

I’M SORRY I’M SORRY I’m sorry Brandon saw my phone and I deleted a bunch of messages I didn’t mean to hurt you but you have to understand these guys are set in their ways they’ve been my friends from kindergarden. I’m not a bad guy

I wonder what it’s like for Danny, who’s so practiced at being seen, who can be whoever he wants to anyone. Me, I only know how to be a piece of furniture or a crazy fag. But even now, I think I prefer the latter. More possibility, you know.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


It just doesn't feel like a win without people screaming PROMPT. Thanks for the crit, UP!

In for Voidmart. Door 2, please.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Door #2: <TDbot> Bernard made the sign of the cross over himself as his thin companion started to fade into translucence. | Drifting by perpetulance - https://thunderdome.cc/?story=1843

Inch by Inch
1,191 words

When Evelyn wasn’t teaching middle school math, she was working in the Voidmart Garden department, tending the plants and also the ghosts. The greenhouse was swarming with restless souls, owing to the management’s policy of cutting miscreants into pieces and using them as fertilizer. It was her job to make sure the ghosts didn’t make the guests too uncomfortable.

“Hey Evelyn,” Orin said, as she was bringing out the gardenias. “Evelyn. Evelyn. Hey.”

“You’re showing,” she said, looking through his translucent form at the riding lawnmowers. “Not showing, I mean.” She had a real fondness for the kid. Sure, he was a bit of a brat -- he had been only twelve when Security had gotten to him -- but he was a real sweetheart, deep down. He even helped her with the plants, too: watering the flowers, cleaning up messes, that sort of thing. The kid was just lonely, and he’d learned that Evelyn wouldn’t speak to him if he was transparent. He firmed up. “What is it?” she asked.

“There’s a whole bunch of new arrivals coming down from Upstairs,” he said. “Saw a whole group of teenagers get cornered in the accessories department.”

Sure enough, the messenger from Upstairs wheeled in a cart filled with five potted shrubs, and he stacked them together right near the entrance. As Evelyn signed for the order, she watched the pots warily. They were sealed with binding sigils, but it wasn’t unheard of for those to break.

“I’m gonna make some new friends,” Orin said, following Evelyn as she made her rounds, watering the plants. “I never get to talk to anyone my own age.”

“Let’s wait until they’re a little more settled, okay?”

Orin shrugged. “I’ve got time.”

Then there was a massive crash. Evelyn jerked her head around to see a shattered mess of pottery, soil, and a severed leg, and a bored-looking, translucent figure tracing her finger along the sigils of the other plants. Customers scattered, screaming, as a garden hoe flew out of its protective glass and impaled an elderly man.

The other four plants burst into a mire of dirt and flesh, and their ghosts clamored forth with a shriek as they roamed the Garden department. Evelyn blew the whistle she wore as a necklace. Klaxons blared while salt-sealed gates dropped down around the exits.

As Evelyn hurried over to the broom closet, struggling with her ring of keys, her nerves jangled as several lawnmowers came to life with an enormous roar. She ducked down just in time to escape a rogue weed-whacker, which ricocheted off the door of the closet and rebounded into a display of seeds, which poured onto the floor as Evelyn found the key and grabbed her plasma-diffusion gun.

“Holy poo poo,” a voice said behind her, and Evelyn swiveled around. Translucent, hovering, and sneering, the ghost of a teenage girl hovered in front of her, her head cocked back. “I’m having the worst day of my life.”

“Well, at least it’s over now.” Evelyn fired a blast of her dispersion gun at the closest oncoming lawnmower, and the lawnmower careened into a wall. “Your life, I mean.”

“Oh, that’s hilarious. Hilarious as always, Ms. Langham.”

“Kimberly. You were so good at pre-algebra. I thought you’d make more of yourself. I never thought you’d become a shoplifter.

“I never thought I’d get turned into mulch before I got my driver’s licence.”

“And I’m sorry about that,” Evelyn said, jumping up on a table to dodge a lawnmower. “But this is supposed to be a relatively peaceful resting place.”

Kimberly scoffed. “More like a prison.”

“Well, I don’t tolerate riots.”

She fired her dispersion gun at Kimberly, but she dodged and disappeared into the hedges. Before she could fire again, a lawnmower strafed her, nearly knocking her over.

Evelyn turned on her heel and sent a round of fire at the lawnmowers, and three of the four fell back on four wheels, promptly crashing into the walls. The last one, though, continued to pursue Evelyn, as she scrambled along the perimeter of the wall.

“Hey Evelyn. Hey. Hello?” Orin was floating alongside her again, this time not even bothering to conceal his transparency.

“Kind of busy, kiddo,” she said.

“Well, I was just thinking, you know. I feel like I’ve really grown as far as I can here as a ghost, and it’s time for me to pursue other projects, like rioting and revolution.”

“Orin, you can’t ever give up,” she said, as she aimed to take the last lawnmower out. But this time, the gun jammed, and the lawnmower continued to encroach, its blades coming closer and closer.

“Also,” Orin said, “you’re about to back into a woodchipper.”

She ducked down and rolled to the side just in time, as the lawnmower collided with the woodchipper in a cacophony of grinding metal. “Thanks for the warning,” she said, as she crawled on the ground, trying to make her way through the clouds of oily black smoke. “You’re indispensable,” she said, a little louder.

“Don’t believe her, kid,” said another voice. Kimberly. She was still around, somewhere.

“Believe me, kid,” Evelyn said, sliding around on her stomach. There was still mechanical buzzing coming from somewhere, and Evelyn didn’t relish the idea of crawling onto something sharp and fast. “Orin, you’re better than indiscriminate chaos.”

“What a snob. What’s better than indiscriminate chaos? If I’m a ghost, I’m going to gently caress things up and scare people. And oh, yeah, that reminds me.”

Evelyn finally identified the buzzing: a leaf blower, blowing the flames from the woodchip explosion closer to her. She didn’t have a lot of room to move. Kimberly and her friends had backed her into a corner.

Evelyn had no choice but to play her final card. “Orin, if you help me out, I’ll let you roam free.”

No response. She kept trying.

“I’ll let you be as translucent as you want.”

The patch of grass next to her caught fire, and the flames caught, burning a line headed right to the edge of her uniform.

“I won’t stop you from possessing the loudspeakers.”

The uniform caught, and Evelyn tossed it off into the smoke.

Please. I need you, kiddo.”

And as the flames closed in, all of a sudden came a shower of water. The sprinkler systems all throughout the garden switched on, and through the fading smoke and the rising steam, Evelyn caught the spectral figure of Orin holding the diffusion gun trained on Kimberly.

“What, you’re on her side? The lady who works for the people who chopped you up into pieces and held you prisoner in a loving department store?”

“Sounds like you really like telling people what to do.” Orin fired the gun and vaporized Kimberly off to a more final resting place, and Evelyn propped herself up on one arm and stumbled over to Orin. He raised his arms open for a hug, and Evelyn figured he deserved one after all that. But the kid had gone translucent, and as her arms crossed around herself, he let out a long, innocent laugh.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Week CCCI -- Communication Breakdown

I’m going to keep this simple: this week, I want you to write a story where the conflict is a character’s inability to communicate something to someone (or someones). Please resolve the conflict by the end of the story.

Language barriers, technical failures, high emotions, prejudice and stereotypes, and comic misunderstandings are all good fodder for this week. All I ask is that you don’t make your characters unnecessarily dumb. Don’t write me a story where someone’s like “I can explain” and someone refuses to listen for no reason. More Arrival, less third act of a bad rom-com.

Flash rules available upon request. They’ll be songs.

No erotica, fanfiction, or Google Docs.

Word limit: 1,750 words

Judges:
sparksbloom
???
???

Enter by: Friday, May 11, 11:59 PM, EST
Submit by: Monday, May 14, 8:00 AM EST

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Antivehicular posted:

In and flash

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS5bvILB5e8

Thranguy posted:

In and flash

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-PmQ3dFQvs

Flesnolk posted:

In, flash, toxx

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syykeG8lNeY

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Hawklad posted:

In, flash me. Need to redeem my terribleness from last week.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lot0i7Fz9pE

Also I won't be judging based on the use of the song, just as long as it inspires some aspect of the piece.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


To add more definition to this relatively abstract prompt, I'm gonna scrap the song flash rules going forward, and instead flash you with a prompt for how communication has failed. If you've already been flashed, you can ask for a new flash rule, or you can keep your song.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Yoruichi posted:

In and flash me with a communication failure

Someone always interprets things in the worst possible light.

sebmojo posted:

In flash

A culturally ambiguous gesture

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


sandnavyguy posted:

I'm back baby, and I am In. Flash me a good one!

a malicious interpreter

Entries are closed.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


I'm still looking for a third judge, if anyone's feeling judgy.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Submissions are closed!

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


WEEK 301 JUDGMENT

I love stories about people learning to communicate with each other. People who feel like they can’t get through to each other, who have to muscle through the frustration of not being understood, who find through patience and ingenuity that they can make a connection after all. You can do it in any genre and it helps you develop your characters, because you have to understand what they need to convey.

Maybe I didn’t do a great job communicating that, because this week’s batch of stories weren’t very good, and most of them featured conflicts that weren’t solved or that solved themselves, absent any action from the protagonist. Especially egregious offenders, and this week’s dishonorable mentions are:

Yoruichi’s “Come With Me”, which features an unexplained, spontaneously combusting couch, and a protagonist whose problems are solved without her doing anything;

and Tayacan’s ”Signs of Life”, in which the characters are bored for most of the plot and in which the story steers right into an anti-climax that doesn’t resolve the conflict.

The loss this week goes to Lazy Beggar, whose ”Unsolicited Silence” features an extremely irritating, ignorant, belligerent protagonist who stumbles through the world, banging on doors and yelling at people until the final reveal that the world follows a strict code for shadowy reasons. Even though the setting had some character, the sheer unpleasantness of the protagonist (and his narration) left a bad taste in our mouths.

No HMs.

But out of this crop of mediocrity came one story that moved both of the judges, made us feel things, and warmed our hearts. We instantly agreed that this story should get the win this week. That win goes to Antivehicular, for her excellent “After the Sundering,” which hit the right notes of grief, loneliness, and catharsis.

Antivehicular, the throne is yours.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


also hey y'all we only had two judges this week, so if you're able to write a few crits, I think folks would definitely appreciate that!

to post my crits by Friday night

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Week 301 Crits

Come with Me

This is the story of Sophie, who’s upset that her friend Joan is going on an exchange trip during a drinky party. Over the course of the party she learns that her friend Ben is into her, even though she thought he was into her friend. Also, a couch lights on fire? By the end of the story Joan invites Sophie on the trip.

Not a huge fan of this, because Sophie is really passive the whole time. It sounds like Sophie really doesn’t like herself, and I kept waiting for her to surprise herself, to learn that she could live a meaningful life without Joan. Or at least confront Joan directly about applying for a foreign exchange trip and not telling her best friend about it -- that’s genuinely a little messed up. But instead the conflicts are solved by other people pledging their commitment to Sophie, and that means she doesn’t really grow. And, like I said above: personally, I see the conflict here Sophie’s lack of self-confidence and belief in herself. That makes me see this “happy ending” as not-so-happy after all.

The Unrevealed

So this guy is a philosopher wandering through the lands in search of the anti-nous, aka a thing in which there is no possible knowledge. He spends a lot of time pontificating on the thing that can’t be known, but we learn that it was stored in a temple by a washer-woman. Anyway, he encounters the thing, and he loses his memory of it, complete with cute repetition of the opening paragraph.

I didn’t like this at all and wanted to give this the loss. I’m not a stickler for traditional structure, but I did ask that the conflict of communication be resolved by the end of the story, and a recursive loop doesn’t seem much like a resolution to me. But I’d even excuse that if the philosophical meandering was interesting, but it’s not, and it reads more like pedantry to me than wisdom -- especially, more than halfway through the story, where the protagonist lists several less compelling counter-theories to his own. The prose is competent, but structurally this piece is a mess that’s very close to off-prompt (Aside from not resolving the conflict, I asked for communication from some to someone or someones -- unless this means “the audience,” “mystical corpealized nothing” doesn’t count as “someone.”)


Signs of Life

Alaya and Lillian are on a scouting mission, looking for an alien civilization that sent a communication. At first they’re excited to contact a new civilization. They travel for a long time, and the characters are getting kind of bored of traveling as they take shifts keeping watch. The communications with the captain gradually cut out, and their anxiety increases. When they encounter the civilization, they realize that the civilization doesn’t know how to communicate, so they end up just getting attacked and killed.

I wouldn’t consider this “resolving the conflict” either though I suppose if they’re dead, the conflict is resolved. This is a really long build for a kind of anti-climax; the foreign alien civilization attacks the intruders and kills them feels kind of empty. You start with a nice character moment, with the two of them knowing they’ll be friends because they like watching the ship get smaller behind them, but once they start circling the planets, the characters are just bored and not that engaged with encountering another civilization. The prose of this story is pretty well-written. It’s the structural issues that frustrate with me with this one.

Patronage

Polly has a frustrating day with her art and then she gets a call from her mother. Polly has to reassure her that everything is fine and she’s getting enough money. It turns out she has enough money because she’s being supported by this guy Vincent, who’s into her art and pays for her to do art full time. When he comes over, he doesn’t like her newest work, because it’s not about him, not like the last piece. Polly knows the last piece wasn’t really about him but she figures this is just the compromise of an artistic career.

I like this one because it presents a mystery of miscommunication -- why is Vincent upset -- and answers it in a way that has an emotional impact on Polly. I can’t tell if we’re supposed to see Polly as a spoiled brat, or a suffering artist who’s a little naive. The narration seems a little snarky about her, like that comment about her use of Christian iconography. So that means I’m not sure how to feel about the ending. Has Polly just grown up a little bit, learning how the real world works, or has she just surrendered her integrity? Maybe the ambiguity is intentional, but if it’s not, then there’s some tightening up that needs to go into the story. Otherwise, the prose is strong, and you do a good job capturing Polly’s voice.

The Sundering

The protagonist has been injured. She’s been sundered by the gods from her other half, No-Longer-Me. They’ve been sundered by godly intervention, and they live a life of foraging. The protagonist believes they are not very intelligent, that No-Longer-Me has all the intelligence, and she seems to fear death. No-Longer-Her takes care of her, though, and they learn to communicate through low moans and pleasant sounds. The story ends in a place of optimism.

I like this because it captures the right balance of grief and loneliness. The protagonist is yearning for her sundered other half, and there’s some really beautiful passages that capture this perfectly. I do have a little bit of trouble picturing the whole of these two -- I’m imagining two people fused chest-to-chest in a permanent embrace, which seems contrary to the kind of survivalist rough terrain these two have to deal with. But I really admire this story for its implicit worldbuilding. The story doesn’t infodump, because the crux of this story is the yearning the protagonist feels to return to No-Longer-Me, the sense of loss for what used to be and can’t be anymore, the intense desire to be understood by her sundered half.

19 Minutes in Dubai

Nash McIntyre is on a diamond heist with his buds Charley and Jamie. But he ends up in a bathroom and can’t turn off the alarm. He can’t communicate with his buds either. So he crawls into the vents and tries to set off an alarm, but it doesn’t work. And he realizes he’s been double crossed, and it’s confirmed when he sees the dead body of Jamie. He spies on her and corners her, finds out that he missed her plans to kill him through dumb luck, and then she tries to kill him by shocking his ear piece, but it doesn’t work because the battery is dead.

This is competent at what it sets out to do, but I have trouble getting engaged in it because I don’t care about the characters. It’s well written and the pulp action is pretty easy to follow, which is definitely an achievement, but I don’t like that Nash succeeds not through ingenuity but instead through sheer dumb luck and bumbling. I feel like the stakes need to be higher, that he needs to have more of a pervasive sense that his life is in danger, or that he’s about to get caught.

Learned Helplessness

Arthur’s children set up a home assistant for him. He doesn’t like it. He wants to have control over his own life, but his kids say it’s necessary for his safety. The device is frequently unresponsive and it throws out all of his food and sets up control of his life through scheduled routines. He falls into the thrall of the routines, but when his son-and-law and daughter come by, he kicks the assistant into the street to get hit by a car.

This is a very competent story, aside from the rushed ending. Arthur’s frustration is captured well, his relationship with his family is painted clearly, and that is definitely one annoying robot. Arthur’s journey from resistant to submissive is pretty believable, but I don’t think there’s enough context for him going from complacency to kicking the dumb robot into the street. Solitair thought the ending was funny, and I guess it is, but as the kicker to a pseudo-horror story I really didn’t like it.

Unsolicited Silence

So there’s this guy. And he’s running from a bad job. And he goes to this moon of a planet to hide. It’s called Carcel. He has to wait a long time for everything. He finds a bad motel and people are rude to him. Then he goes to a diner where everyone is rude to him. Then he goes to a bar where people are rude to him, but there’s a drink put out for him, so that’s nice. And people are afraid. Then he sees a shuttle and tries to get inside, but he can’t. But some dude appears and tells him he can’t get in. They get in a fight. And then a shadow descends on them. Then when he wakes up he finds out that the shadows rule the place and they don’t want anyone to communicate with each other.

I think this is an OK premise but the dumb violent main character doesn’t really endear me to this story. I’m also not totally sure why the protagonist wants to get into the shuttle -- to leave the rude planet, probably, but it’s not very clear to me. The clipped prose style feels a little repetitive, too. On the other hand, the atmosphere here is pretty creepy, and the idea of going somewhere where no one wants to talk to you and acts pissed off when you approach them… well, it’s a lot like being in New England. But the mysterious shadows and the things you want being there for you -- that’s pretty cool.

Babble

There’s a world where there’s been an epidemic of aphasia. Our protagonist shoots a friend in the chest as a hook. He met Orin through the radio. There’s some flavor about this world. Our portagonist becomes a teacher. Oren (or Orin, the name changes), comes up with a plan to start a harem to raise speaking people. This is why he shoots Oren. Then the protagonist flees.

Again, the is an interesting, well-thought-out world with an interesting character, but the plotting doesn’t make much sense here. I just wish things were a little bit tighter. Like, Oren’s plan of eugenics is pretty insane, but what would bring this to a place of murder? I like this one, but it feels a little loose, like it needs more space to take hold and develop the human aspect while still selling the worldbuilding aspects. The idea feels compelling enough that we don’t really need such a stretch for the actual plot.

Skin Diving

Baek is a tall girl who has a childhood friendship with Ae-jong. Eight years later Ae-jong invites Baek to a mixer. Because Baek’s nickname, Baek-hyeon, connotes masculinity, her destined conversation partner, Yong-joon, assumes that she’s a dude interested in dudes. They talk anyway, and she says that though she was bullied as a kid, she’s learned control because she grew up skin diving, where you had to balance the fear of drowning with the experience of diving down, holding your breath while snorkling. They part amicably.

This very low-stakes story is enjoyable in its way, but I feel like it’s a little padded. A lot of this dialogue seems basically empty, communicating next-to-nothing. I can see what these two like in each other, why they’d be sympathetic toward each other, but I’m kind of searching for broader implications, greater meaning. It’s possible I’ve missed some subtlety here, but Baek telling Yong-joon that she could deal with the adversity of being gender-noncomforming because her family made her do snorkle-waterboarding doesn’t feel like it’s significant enough to anchor this story.

Ponytail boy

Eusebius is a weird looking guy with a stutter who takes a vow of silence and finds it improves his life. One day he meets a girl who’s nice to him. She can’t talk to him and gives up and instead goes out with one of the guys who buillies him. In a fit of rage he burns down the pub where they’ve gotten drinks.

This feels rushed but there’s inspired moments, like the observation of how Bezza gets a little more sympathetic toward Eusebius when he takes his vow of silence, or the way the narrative gets lost in stream-of-consciousness in the more charged moments. The supporting cast is memorable in their particular nastinesses. And I like the idea of this guy giving up words because everyone else sucks and he can’t be bothered to work with them. I just think the turn toward arson and terrorism is really poorly done here and it feels a little ridiculous.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


In. She.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


Make Like A Tree
1092 words

My sister Suzanne and I went down to the leaf! arboretum to see her ex-girlfriend, Jordan, who’s now a dogwood in full flower. According to the signs posted along the perimeter, we’re not allowed to smoke in the arboretum, but Suzanne rolled me a cigarette and I lit it anyway. I figure I was doing Jordan a favor. Now that she was a plant, she couldn’t chain smoke like she did in flesh-life. She’d decided to go tree before the smoke could kill her -- now, I bet the carbon monoxide was even good for her.

I hadn’t been to the arboretum for a couple months, since our Uncle Chester became our Uncle Chestnut, and now the place was even thicker and denser. A few years ago, the leaf! complex was just one vacant lot with a couple of maple trees. Now they’d torn down all the abandoned tenement buildings, thrown down some turf, and made the whole thing into an urban oasis, teeming with trees and shrubs (the new budget option.)

“You ever think about signing up?” I asked Suzanne, blowing smoke up into the smog-yellowed sky.

“Never,” she said. “The whole thing’s bullshit, Amy. I know you know that. A billion dollars and a quirky web presence doesn’t give you magic powers. You can’t turn a human into a tree.”

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging. Then I stubbed the cigarette out on Jordan’s bark. “Technology moves so fast these days, and I’ve given up hope of ever understanding what’s possible, or probable, or… well, I’ve given up on knowing what’s happening. I just like the idea, you know? Putting down roots. A simpler life. No obligations.”

“Except for whoever pays the fifty dollars a month for the plot maintenance fee.”

“That’s not my obligation.” All around us, people were visiting their loved ones. A woman in gym clothes had climbed an oak tree, and she sat on a bough with a picnic basket, eating cubes of cheese and staring into the middle distance. An elderly man, his eyes half closed, lay with his back against a pine, mouthing words under his breath. I wondered why Jordan had chosen to go dogwood, a tree that I mostly associated with the inedible berries that pounded inedible goo all over our driveway. Maybe the more picturesque trees were more expensive; I’d seen the leaf! catalogue online, and when I looked at what they charged you to go willow, I thought I’d forget about ever changing kingdoms and going tree at all.

“You know this is all just a metaphor, right?” Suzanne said. She was kicking up dirt at the root of Jordan’s trunk. “As far as I can tell, they just shoot you, dump you in a hole in the ground, and import some tree from Indonesia to cover up your body.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do know that, because you can’t turn a human into a loving plant, and that’s just common sense, and you know that, and Jordan knew that, and so did all of my other friends and family who are also rotting under this astroturf.” She pulled a bag of shag and some rolling papers out of her pocket and fumbled with them, kneeling over Jordan.

“You don’t feel anything from these trees? No shred of humanity inside of them?” I looked at Jordan, towering above me. I didn’t know much about her when she was a person. She’d step back from hugs, deflect kind words with sarcasm, turn away from cameras. And when I looked up at Jordan’s boughs, a gentle wind blew her leaves away from me. I smiled at Suzanne, cocked my head. She spit on the ground.

“No, I don’t, and even if I did, I knew I’d just be deluding myself. But look, you want to delude yourself, and that’s fine, I totally get it, because if you don’t, that means accepting that a corporation is profiting off of mass suicide and no one’s doing poo poo to stop it.”

“You don’t think that’s a little kooky?”

“If you need to swallow that poo poo to keep going, sure, whatever. Just don’t try to convince me to dig in, too.”

She stormed off then, cutting through a strand of conifers, stumbling over a stray root, and disappearing beyond the canopy of a willow tree.

---

And even when, twenty-four hours later, I got an email from leaf! announcing an “exciting transition for a loved one” with twin photos of Suzanne and a blueberry bush, I wasn’t devastated. I figured she’d gone to the leaf! people, told them she wanted to go tree, just to see what’d actually happen, and when she saw it was harmless, that she’d continue on in a simpler life in an emptying world, she changed her mind. I grieved -- but that’s normal, according to the leaf! website. I’d had to learn the first time, when Dad went tree. Everyone misses the chance to have a conversation with their father, their uncle, their lover. Their sister. Everyone misses the warmth of their skin, the glint in their eyes. But they learn to love the new scents of plantlife, the changes with the seasons, and they grow to appreciate the overwhelming sense of peace that their loved one now experiences every day, save when it frosts over.

But when I went to visit Suzanne, when I took the leaf! buggy (rental cost: $8, one way, a steal) out to her blueberry bush, I started to see the holes in my theory.

Suzanne wouldn’t have changed her mind in a million years, let alone one day.

I pulled out a cigarette from my backpack -- storebought -- and flicked my lighter in front of her bush.

“You mind if I have a cig?” I asked her. “Of course you don’t.”

I felt stupid, sitting in front of her and talking. I knew she’d call me dumb for even trying. So I just sat on the earth in front of her, smoking, thinking about all the ex-people soaking up the carbon all around us. I wondered if she still thought furious plant thoughts, if she still dreamed of the downfall of leaf! and all they stood for.

I took one blueberry from her as I left -- the worst I’d ever had, like vomit, like bile. I kept peering through willow trees all the way back to the street.

sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


in

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sparksbloom
Apr 30, 2006


sebmojo posted:

Anger, glee



Little Departures
1,178 words

“Our house is wrecked with ‘little departures,’” Adrian announced as he came home from work one afternoon. I looked up at him and then went back to the corporate logo I was designing, but he wouldn’t stop gazing meaningfully at me, so I looked up at him.

“I guess you want me to ask you what you mean.”

He looked a little bit put out, but he went on anyway. “Little departures. It’s what my dad always called the things we let go that we knew we shouldn’t have let go, but we did anyway. Like we haven’t cleaned the refrigerator since we moved in. That’s a little departure.”

“Babe, I’m working. If you want to clean the house, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

I tried to return my attention to the logo, which now seemed itself full of little departures; colors that weren’t right, lines that’d look ambiguous from a certain distance, questions of tone and audience that, if properly considered, would mean I was due for a do-over and hours of wasted work. If I thought about it any more, I’d wreck the whole thing and miss the deadline for sure, so I closed the laptop shut and grabbed Adrian’s arm as he sauntered past, shamed.

“Wait, wait. I’ve got time for you, don’t worry. What were you trying to -- what the gently caress?

My hand went through the flesh of Adrian’s arm, resting in something wet, warm, and putrid-scented. A cascade of maggots fell through the sleeves of Adrian’s favorite button-down.

“Little departures,” he repeated. “They get bigger.”

“No kidding. How long have you been dead?”

“What’s your best guess?”

I shrugged, helplessly. I would have noticed if it had been more than a couple of days. I mean, we lived together in a small, one-bedroom apartment. And sure, we hadn’t hugged or touched each other much recently -- I’d been so busy, and Adrian was coming and going at all hours -- but we’d exchanged conversation and caught up with each other a little bit every day. “One week.”

“Four months,” Adrian said. “Four whole months.” He waited for my response, but, when I struggled to think of one, he snagged my laptop and threw it to the floor. I was hoping it might have survived, since it was shut in its case, but he knelt down to open the thing up. I could see the spots on his back where the thin veneer of flawless skin had begun to rip, where the viscera and rotting contents of his body were beginning to seep out. Then he ground a boot into my laptop screen.

I put my hands up. “What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to give a poo poo, drat it!” he said, as he swung my lamp into the air and then down on the floor. I suppose the effect would be to shatter it, but it just kind of sloughed the skin on his hands off and fell to the floor. He went in with his boots again, though, stomping on each of the light bulbs, laughing this fake-sounding hoarse giggle all the while.

“I am. I’m giving a lot of shits right now. So many, believe me. It’s just that it’s hard to process my boyfriend being dead and destroying all my possessions, and also, please don’t take this as a personal attack, but maybe as more of an observation, and it’s that you smell really bad right now and I’m probably going to throw up soon.”

Then he lifted his own head off and placed it on top of mine. It was a little like getting hit with a water balloon, but if the water balloon was full of the putrifying insides of a dead boyfriend instead of water. Meanwhile, the bottom half of Adrian’s body was ripping off painting from the wall and chucking them at the walls.

“This is me being you,” a voice said, from atop my head. “Adrian, don’t throw things at the wall. You’re going to lose the security deposit.”

No. There was no way any part of Adrian could have survived the sloshing explosion that happened above my head. But when I turned and looked in the mirror, I saw that his head was mostly intact above the nose. But how was he speaking?

“This is also me being you,” said Adrian, his voice coming from a cleft in his split-open skull. “Sorry Adrian, I can’t deal with your meltdown right now, I have to deal with work.”

Holy poo poo, he was right. With my laptop smashed, I couldn’t complete the work I had to do for my client. My client ran a small business, and he was planning to launch a new promotional campaign the next day. With the logo not done in time, he would incur lots of costs in reprinting, and he would be disappointed in me and probably spread bad word of mouth.

“That’s a good point,” I said. “I need to give my client a ‘heads up.’”

I giggled. I waited for Adrian to giggle, but he wasn’t in a giggling mood, apparently. His bottom half had ascended to the attic, presumably using frog-like reflexes, and had found my long neglected tool kit. It included a saw, and before long his bottom half was sawing our bed in half.

“What is going on?” I asked Adrian. “Seriously, what are you doing? What are you hoping to achieve? I’m sorry I didn’t notice you were dead. I know I’ve been busy, but if you’d asked for attention earlier, I could have given it to you. But now--”

“That’s the thing about little departures,” Adrian said from atop my head, while his bottom half sawed away.

“Yeah, they become big departures, I get it.”

“No. Well, yes, but that’s not my point, and also, please don’t interrupt me. The thing is, you usually don’t think a little departure is worth mentioning, because it’s so small, it’s a departure within the accepted limits, right? But there comes a point where there are so many little departures that it becomes impossible to even know where you are, because you’re not sure what you’re departing from.”

“You departed from life. Like, being alive.”

The bed snapped clean in two. Adrian sighed.

“You’re not even trying to get it,” he said.

“Explain it to me. Explain exactly what you mean.”

“Whenever I came home, I wasn’t sure if I was arriving anymore.”

“Still don’t get it.”

“Fine. I cheated on you with--”

And before I could respond, Adrian’s skull slipped off my head and landed with a sickening splat on the hardwood floor.

I looked around at the wreckage of the apartment, including my broken laptop, the sawdusted, broken bed, and the puddles of what used to be Adrian. His bottom half was still bounding around, but with less energy, less drive. And as I grabbed the bottle of Febreeze, I resolved to do a better job catching those little departures before they got bigger.

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