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Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Anomalous Amalgam posted:

I don't know if I have the power to do such a thing, but...

Interprompt: My neighbor has been doing something weird at night lately

250 Words

It’s Not Illegal
236 words

I pressed the doorbell and waited. I could guess where he was, and knew it would take him more than a few seconds to reach the front door. It was Ally who had first noticed it, when she was jumping on our trampoline. She had asked me why it was there if he didn’t have a dog. I waved to Maggie Morrison, out enjoying the early fall dusk, and whatever lay in her stroller.

Finally, he opened the door. He was a big man, broad-shouldered and balding, like his skeleton had pushed the hair aside on its way up. But he had eyes like a chihuahua’s - wet, bulging, and never still. We had spoken a few times. He had kept the mail when we went upstate for Dad’s funeral. He smiled a desperate little half-smile and asked how Ally was liking the 5th grade. I told him I wanted to see the hole.

His fidgeting grew more frantic as we weaved through leftover furnishings. He took me to the small landing at the top of the back steps, clutching at his fingers. A bare flood bulb shone down on piles of moved earth, and the dark oval between them. It was more of a pit than a hole, not suited for anything that would raise the property value. I’ll admit: I got agitated. But all he would say was, “It’s not illegal to dig a hole.”

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Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


I'm in please ant me up

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Overwintering in Hive Country
747 words

Let it never be said that Oi am not a simple beetle. Oi want the things that all beetles want - a bite to eat, a fit lady beetle to spar with me mates over, and to not get caught out in the open by a bloody great crow. But we don’t get what we want in this life, so we? Almost never, and me especially. That winter, in the desert, all Oi got was ants.

If Oi remember it right, Oi was trundling along as Oi do, looking for me mid-afternoon lunch, when I ran into the first of them. The wee moron nearly ran right under me, Oi don’t think she even noticed me until she was fifteen, twenty grains on the other side. Then she turned around and got real “interested” let’s say, circling me about and sniffing me over.

“What the gently caress do ye want, ye hairy swarmer?” I asked her, to predictable silence. Oi never trusted the ants. They’ve no personality to speak of. No force of will. All hail the queen and that. Not like me - Oi’m all willpower, with a shining personality, and a giant, heavy hanging set of bollocks. Metaphorically.

She paused, antennae quivering, and then shot off, weaving her way back to wherever she came from. Oi went on me way and forgot about that dronette. Oi had me sights set on some scrub plant root tendrils and Oi wasn’t about to stop to accommodate whatever may be the dark aims of the local hive. But Oi hadn’t found nary a nibble before she came marching back, with a whole crew in tow.

Me hackles rose. Of course Oi’m a fighter, but a dozen ants could overwhelm even one such big-balled beetle as me. Oi made a run for it, but they kept nipping at me legs, driving me back into the scrum. Bastards! Oi went for higher ground, but they hounded me and hounded me. Oi growled, “Go on ya wee cunts! Come at me if ye want me!” And Oi knew they had some mad plan because they didn’t - just kept corralling me up the hill. The circle tightened, me foot slipped - and there it was. The entrance to the hive. They had me right where they wanted me and their jaws weren’t getting any less sharp. Oi have to imagine you’d have done the same thing.

Inside the hive it was dark and tight. Me carapace scraped the narrow tunnel walls. A thick melange of pheromones assaulted me nostril analogues and Oi about lost consciousness. Behind me, the worker ants steered me by nipping at me heels - albeit less fiercely than before Oi dove into the belly of the beast. Oi turned another bend and found a worker squatted in the tunnel before me - Oi could go no further. Those behind steered me into a side chamber. It was a wee hovel of a room - barely big enough to turn around. “Bloody brilliant,” Oi grumbled to myself. “This is what ye get for heeding the wishes of the bloody queen.”

At the entrance to the chamber, that worker crouched, staring back at me with her gormless eyes. She didn’t look worried - the fear stench must’ve been flying off me in waves, among me other fluids. They had me right where they needed me, and Oi was about to find out why. Another ant slinked into me chamber, but this one was different. She didn’t have the hard exterior of the worker drones that brought me in; her backside looked smoother - almost silky like. She nuzzled up to me leaking glands, absolutely dousing her antennae in me excretions. And then she started… drinking it. Yeah, Oi don’t have any bloody clue either. You’re thinking it stops there? Wrong. Because the more she drank from me, the bigger her hindquarters grew, swelling from me lovely juices. Oi haven’t any love for the ants, but it was frankly impressive how much she could pack in there. When she was done, she dragged her big rear end out.

This baffling dance went on for months. All winter they sucked out me fluids and fed me with honeyed pods, straight from the organ. Oi never learned to speak with the ants, but they only wanted the one thing. Me juice for the queen. Come spring, they kicked me out to wander the wastes again. Oi’m not proud of what Oi done, or what was done to me. But Oi am a survivor.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


I'm in and I'm taking the gd Funkopops

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Top of the Pops
1271 words

It was the eyes that started it. Those big black eyes, gazing out without blinking - gazing inward without judging. Like radar dishes, swallowing signals… and emitting them. Signals only Amy was equipped to read. Signals she couldn't ignore.

That day, she had a familiar feeling - whatever it was inside her that sensed their signals had sensed another one. The feeling usually made her giddy with excitement. But that day, that electricity chilled her deep into her organs, lingering even after the car windows defogged.

Following the feeling was easy. Something grabbed ahold of the hairs on the back of her neck and steered her in the right direction. This time, off the freeway at her usual exit. That wasn’t unusual - the university was up that way, and that meant nerd shops. But the feeling didn’t take her there. It led her home. Amy caught a glance of her face as she backed into a parking spot - fear, a kind she hadn’t known since before the Pops. Something was definitely wrong.

She’d developed an eye for details, and her racing pulse made her sharper, but it wasn’t the tire tracks suggesting a mounted curb or the crowbar damage on the door that caught her breath - it was Princess Leia in the gutter. She snatched it up, cradling the toy like an injured child.

It was smudged, as if stepped on. Those implacable black eyes yearning. Rage bubbled up inside Amy. She looked up at her apartment building, knowing what she’d find inside. Melted bootprints. Discount wards, cracked in half and useless. Vacant shelves and dusty outlines where figurines once stood. She’d probably find her crystal matrix and passport untouched. A snarl formed on her lips as she stomped upstairs to confirm her suspicions.

~

She crashed through the door of Calvin’s shop, sending a rack of kid’s comics spinning chaotically. “What the hell!?” Calvin stumbled, knocking over the stool behind the counter. It was still early, so the store was empty. “Oh, Amy. Christ, I thought I was getting robbed.”

“I DID get robbed, Cal. They got my Pops. Everything but the Princess.” Amy sat Leia on the counter. Calvin stared down, wide-eyed. He knew what it meant for her to lose her collection. He’d been her main supplier for years.

“Do you know where they went? I mean,” he stammered. “Can you feel them?”

“What would I be here for if I could? Armed backup?” Calvin grimaced. He was tall, but he was wide, and he was proud of never having touched a gun. “I need a lead, Cal. I know you have other regulars for Pops. Anybody acting squirrely lately?”

It took him a minute, and a couple of slugs on his Dr. Pepper can, but his damaged brain finally came up with something. “There was this one guy. You might remember him. Skinny guy, red hair. Always wore that camo messenger bag. With the pins?”

Amy did remember. They’d crossed paths at the shop. He was all scoffs and side-eyes, but based on what she saw him buy, his collection must have been extensive. There was even an incident - recently - when she snatched up the last of a limited edition moments before he walked in the door.

She slammed her fist on the glass case containing the nerd card singles, and growled. “I need details.” Calvin nodded, more afraid of her than any consequences, and ran his fingers up the sides of his crystal matrix, calling forth credit card records and other data on ‘Max Orelyan’. It wasn’t long before she had enough to go on and headed for the door.

——

She was miles away, deep in the industrial area south of downtown when she caught the scent. A shudder of goosebumps ran up her arms and legs and nearly wrenched her head off her neck with the intensity of it. She cranked the wheel to the side, crossed four lanes of traffic to get to the exit. She barely heard the honks.

The feeling steered her roughly, down between refineries and lots full of rusting equipment. Her neck felt hot, and her head started to throb as she approached a dilapidated warehouse. She lurched out of the car, stalked around the warehouse and found a door. It felt like a fist behind her eyes would punch through and knock it down if she didn’t hurry up.

Her brain saw markings painted along the frame and told the feeling the door was warded. The feeling convinced her brain that it was too late to worry about that. She kicked the door, rattling it in its frame. Physically, it was weak, but she could feel a prickling under her socks. She kicked it again and again, until something cracked and the door swung back. Amy could feel her shoe filling with blood.

She took a deep breath. The wards resisted her at first, but she pushed through, palms forward. A hundred tiny papercuts opened up all over her skin. She kept her mouth and eyes shut tight as she forced her head through, feeling the little slices go up her nose and down her ear canals. With a grip on the inside of the doorframe, she pulled her body through and collapsed into a bloody crumple.

She was lucky, in a way, to not have any room in her head for thoughts, or for any feelings besides The Feeling. She might have been distracted by the pain. Instead, she hauled herself up the stairs, tugged upwards by those overworked little hairs on her neck. With every step, the feeling in her head seemed to expand, taking up more and more space.

Upstairs, the feeling seemed to finally exhale. She'd found them.

Rows and rows of Funko Pops - thousands of them. Far in excess her own collection. Giant heads, and giant eyes, all staring inward, towards a kneeling figure at their center. It was Max. He was chanting something, head bowed. Amy didn’t see any point in trying to decipher it. She found a crowbar.

Her first swing knocked him aside, scattering some Pops. She noticed something then that she hadn’t before. His head was big - bigger than it should be, and strangely... angular. He pushed himself up on stunted arms and turned towards her, narrowing eyes that already looked minuscule inside massive, shadowed sockets. He recognized her even through the sheen of blood coating her.

“No,” he growled. “You can’t have them. Not now, not when I’m so close. You don’t even know who they are!” His hand closed around a Pop and sent it flying towards her, then went for another. “Professor McGonagall! Western Doc Brown! Patrick Star!” The Pops collided with Amy’s guarding forearms, forcing her back.

The feeling subsided in her head long enough for doubt to creep in. Was he right? He’d managed to collect all of these, and she didn’t know a drat thing about whoever they represented. Was he their rightful owner? But the feeling surged back and the doubt was flattened into nothingness. The feeling expanded out to coat the inside of her skull… and then it kept going.

Max’s screeches stuttered to a stop as he looked on in awe. The Funko Pops swirled around Amy, levitating along with her, as her skull stretched and then skin barely kept pace. Her head grew until it dwarfed her body. Her eyes became black pools, blacker than black. Max realized the truth and fell to his knees, praying to her. Power surged throughout the collection, flowing towards her.

The last thought Amy had before she stopping being Amy, was that it was about time.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


I’m in

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Never Log On
1430 words

I shake hands with the officiant, squinting in the spotlight. I accept my plaque. I am one of the top ones in the country, if not the world. I field questions for an hour before they call it a night, but I could go on for longer. Professional satisfaction is the only kind I know these days.

I set the table for dinner using the boutique ceramics that look like the stone age. I shout up the stairs at my son. “Plato! Dinner’s on the table!” I listen for any response amid the muffled bass beats, and hear nothing. Plato is recently fourteen, and I already know I've lost him.

I knock on the door, on the metal sign really. It reads 'Trespassers will be shot,' and I have no idea where he got it. I open the door. His eyes flick to mine, and back to his screens. He mutters something, but I can't hear it under the squealing guitars. "It's dinnertime," I tell him again. His eyes roll up into a furrowed brow. He thrashes out something on his keyboard and pushes back.

We eat dinner. I tell him about my ceremony. I have to concede that he does acknowledge me. I ask about school, about his friends. I wonder why that's a hard question. I wonder how to bring up the idea of a 'no phones at the table' rule. I can't settle on it before he runs back up the stairs. I convince myself I've earned a heavy pour, and I watch the news.

I hear things at night. The music changes - not much, it still sounds like chaos to me. But I hear swear words, and foreign languages. I hear gunshots, not real ones, I know, but from games, or videos. I hear him laughing. In my head, I tick off all the practical reasons not to worry about my son. And then I worry.

I lose hours at work reading articles that chill me to my bones. I find myself unable to banish images of the toddler I laughed with, unpacking a duffel bag of long guns, with a name and story for each one. With plans. I let them know I'll be running home at lunch.

I step into Plato's room, ease my way around his desk. I kick through the crumpled tissues and napkins on the floor and settle into his gaming chair. I feel wrong. I picture my son screaming in face. I picture him pulling something out of his bookbag. I tap the space bar.

No password. I guess he never thought I’d come poking through here. He must feel so safe at home. It warms my heart. I’m proud of the life I’ve made for my little prince. My eyes focus. I resolve the image on his desktop background - a grassy, flowered field, and two pale women lying in it, nude. It isn’t lascivious, exactly, but it’s certainly not art. Either way, it falls into the pit in my stomach, making it deeper and wider with its presence.

I don’t know where to click at first. I follow my fear, mostly into games with violent titles, and I close out of them as quick as I can. I find a browser I recognize, but it looks like he hardly uses it. Default bookmarks only, which unnerves me.

Finally, I find something with chatrooms. It’s messy. I’m overwhelmed by everything I see there. The words they use. The way they use them. I refuse to connect these things to my son. There’s no straight line that can be drawn from these obscenities and the product of my loins without breaking all known laws of physics. I hear the door slam downstairs.

Dinner that night is different. I can’t take my eyes off him. I analyze him now, his every movement, the way he eats. The way he doesn’t notice me. I can’t muster a single question. Nothing to seem normal, not anymore. At least he doesn't betray any suspicion that I was in his room. His mind is elsewhere. I shudder to think of where that might be. I wait for him to go upstairs.

I agonize over my screen name. I feel silly. I feel it must be crucial. I land on ‘Dirger_Prime’ - a reference I have to count on Plato not to understand, not to link to me. I log in.

At first I wait, and watch. The conversation flies by so fast, I wonder if any of the participants can even keep up with it for more than a minute. They talk about music and games, mostly. They seem to hate everything normal, and everyone who isn't here. Then again, they call each other the most terrible things. I find some of the words completely un-googleable, to my dismay. I am fascinated.

I zero in on a screen name - it's 'KkrruchH8'. Unpronounceable to my aged tongue but I recognize it from Plato's computer. That must be him. I follow him throughout the chat. He laughs. He posts a picture of a gun and asks if he should buy it. I laugh at that, knowing he doesn't have the money. He tells someone that I'm a stupid bitch. I read on for hours.

I try to think of what I would've said to my parents if I caught them listening in on a party line when I was fourteen. I might've bit their heads off. But back then the conversation was about the beach, and next week's test. I try to consider my bias. I want to be fair to my son. He posts a picture of a cartoon frog wearing sunglasses, and holding the end of a rope that leads into what must be an archival photo of a lynching. The chatroom loves it.

I get a message alert. From 'admin' - it reads: "Who are you?"

I close the app and slam my laptop shut with too much force. I watch the stairs, but he doesn't come down. I don't think he ever will, and I'm afraid of what will happen if I go up.

I try to return to my normal life. The next quarter promises ever greater challenges at work. I should be thrilled. But I know something new now, about the world, and it put a poison inside me. Scuttling along in the shadow of my normal thoughts as they make their way to the top of mind, there's a hatred, or the idea of one, that tries to make itself real. I don't hate the way Katie wears her hair, but that poison tells me it might feel good to try hating it. I hate the poison and I know that means it's winning.

I pour some wine for strength and log in. I flex my fingers and respond to 'admin'. If I have to lie to find out who put that poison in my son, I will lie. I tell them I'm a fellow traveler. I'm Travis. I'm white, of course, and Christian. I love to game. I go to the gun range every weekend. My father is a business owner. It turns out 'admin' just wants to know what school I go to. I give the name of the one across town.

The chat flows past me now, without perterbance. The words and images I found profoundly disturbing days ago, are now just streaks of light. I find 'KkrruchH8' and send a direct message. I tell him I like his memes. We get to talking. I desperately copy and paste from the main chatroom, trying to keep up. At last I find my opening. I ask him about other chat rooms. If he's into anything else, besides this kid stuff. Anything more serious.

KkrruchH8: wat do u mean?

Dirger_Prime: u know. the worlds getting worse. some1 has 2 take action.

KkrruchH8: uhhhh idk. goodluck tho. make sure u let whoevers cool at ur school know b4 u do whatvr. common courtesy thats how its done. g2g

And that's it. He logs off. Or maybe he blocks me. I close my laptop gently and sip my wine. I can't decide if that's a good answer or not. I can't decide if I feel any better at all. I go upstairs and knock on Plato's door. He's gaming. Hyper-focused. I wish him goodnight. His eyes flick towards mine, and back again. I shut the door. I decide that I don't feel much better at all, in fact.

I take my laptop to bed and start doing research. I'm going to buy a gun.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


I’m in for this week

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


High Signal Ratio
950 words

They say we’re all for sale these days. The men who built this world put a price on our eyeballs and buddy - they collect. They plastered every inch of our lives with screens, even floating them in midair. You can’t turn your head without seeing a pithy commercial, or an ad to get you to watch a more elaborate series of ads. All day, every day.

When they get you cornered in a taxi or a bathroom stall, they scan your face and put on this smooth voice algorithm, like you’re talking to a trusted friend. “All bullshit aside, Ryan,” the smudged screen purrs as I wipe my rear end, sounding too much like my old boss, the one I’d idolized. “Coleman’s the tent for you. You said you wanted to go camping, right?”

“No,” I mutter, unlatching the door. “Just searched for it.”

I dry my hands on my pants and step outside. Someone took my scooter, the bastard. Not that I had any right to it. Sure, I sat through 12 minutes of ads just to unlock the drat thing, but that kind of payment doesn’t last. As soon as you park it, it’s up for grabs.

People don’t really own things anymore, not anybody I know anyways. Work, if you can ever find it, won’t buy you more than trinkets. The high-up men provide a “free” bed, “free” food, “free” transportation. But you gotta play by their rules.

You gotta watch the screens, you gotta consume, and you gotta post. They don’t care how much you take, but you gotta make a choice, so the high-up men in their board meeting have a metric to apply. Don’t forget to post! Tell your friends! Spread the word! Lick the boot!

No clue if it’s like this anywhere else. There’s no such thing as news in this town anymore.

“Big thank you to Crapper & Sons Street Toilets for another stellar evacuation experience. Killer TP as always!” I grit my teeth, shove my phone into my jeans pocket, and amble over to the Lock-N-Buy.

After a quick retinal scan, the door hisses open. I bee-line to #884, the only refuge I have for the meager valuables I’ve accumulated over the years. Another scan lances the back of my eyes. The front of my locker tries to entice me into upgrading to a bigger one. The one I have is nowhere near filled.

In there, my trusty notepad waits. I sketch with it sometimes, when the mood is right. It's not encouraged. It's been depressing me lately, though - the only subjects I seem to find these days are billboards. I reach past it, for my current obsession - my radio.

I delivered a dozen pizzas for it, and it still works like a charm. It still picks up every station with perfect clarity. Some of them even play music, if only for a scant few seconds before the ads break in. And every song they play will come back later as the background music to a beach party scene selling beer. You can’t escape the algorithm. But if you can catch a song at the start, and it speaks to you enough to tune out the ambient screens and shoutboxes? That’s fifteen whole seconds of freedom.

I crouch out by the curb, thumb on the dial. I have a method - a way to hear the most music, and the least ads. That kind of thinking can get you thrown in the slammer, if they catch you. My method is simple, but it takes practice - you have to know the position of each music station and be able to dial to it precisely. Then, you have to be able to hear the difference between a song and ad, right away, so you can twist the dial with minimal delay. This is the only thing I've done with my life, and I am the master of it.

I dunno if most people would call what I listen to with my method, "music." But I love it. I click the radio on and hear an ad - I spin the dial to a trusty station, 98.5, and catch a few seconds of mambo before an ad cuts in - I spin up to 107.7, but it's an ad, so I have to spin down to 103.1, where I catch a jazz bridge. I've learned to hear what comes out of the space between the channels as music too. It's chaotic, but I'm the conductor. It's my chaos, and that has to be better than the chaos I don't make.

I'm spinning down through the low 90's when I hear it. Something I've never heard before. Something impossible. I spin back past it, and zero in. It's a soft sound, but it isn't music, and it definitely isn't an ad. I lose myself in the uniform noise. Now that's a tune-out!

Down the street, I catch my buddy Moloko polishing off some Foodbox chow. "Mo-low, you gotta check this out. It's on my ra--"

He cuts me off, with a finger raised and his nose in his phone. "Hold up, Johnny, I'm posting."

Moloko's older than me, I guess he remembers some stuff from further back, before the high-up men perfected their world. He says it's called "static," and it's not supposed to be there. My heart leaps higher the more he talks. There's never anything that isn't part of the system, not without a cop jetting in to block it off until it gets cleaned up. I watch the sky for hours, listening to the static. But no cops. That night, I fall asleep easy, cuddled up with my radio, and sleep through until morning.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


i'm in and i would like a reaction please thank you

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


The Roommate Solution
1186 words

The house Diane and James bought in the fat years was cavernous. Some part of it was always cold, somehow, despite the central air. It seemed to James that, lying down on the floor, he could see the curvature of the earth bending towards the far wall of the living room. He spent countless scattered hours down there, stoned and pretending to think. Diane was the one who worked - James was the creative one.

Diane came home late that night. Her cheeks were hazy black from wiped-away mascara streaks. Her hand shook as the car keys slipped into their designated dish. “Babe,” called James. “I made a couple apps. But I held off on the main since I didn't know when... It’s all in there. Let me know if you wanna—“

“James?” She stood in the doorway to his studio, strappy pumps dangling from her finger. He slapped a handful of clay onto an indeterminate mass and smoothed it out.

“Yeah?”

The company’s valuation had tanked, and they cut salaries across the board. James didn’t panic - he wouldn’t have known to panic, not until she told him to. Diane lost her poo poo for a while. She wanted to quit, but the brand was toxic - she’d be in the wilderness for months before HR departments could laugh it off and see her as a real option again. She redirected her frustration onto James. No amount of taste or aloof charm could stop her from seeing what was right in front of her. The numbers said Diane and James would lose the house.

So, James and Diane, in their infinite wisdom, said gently caress the numbers.

Five bedrooms or bedroom-style spaces. Four massive panes of glass opening onto the best view in the city. Three online listings, idealized and inviting. Two off-street parking spots! One giant house, filled with artifacts of travel and tasteful touches, which they wouldn't give up for anything if they could help it. Dozens and dozens of applications to sort through.

James left it all to Diane, while he promised to finish a piece that he could actually sell, for the first time in years. She steamed at that, but the original Spanish tile in the master bath told her she should've expected it, and the morning reading nook she fit into perfectly told her to forget it and get to work.

She told herself to be ready to compromise, that the perfect candidates didn't exist. But they presented themselves anyway, emerging from the mess of desperation like twin beacons of stability. Phil and Lila Alders - "the Alders," as they introduced themselves. Their building downtown was set to be demolished. They could easily pay the rent Diane had specified, and neither one worked from home. No pets. Didn't want kids. Parents just outside the city so there'd be no reason for a visiting Dad to sleep on the couch. A happy marriage, by all appearances. And the photos from their old place showed off a sense of style that meshed well with what James had put together at the house, without adding too much extraneous furniture besides. The Alders moved in at the end of the month.

For weeks, Diane thought she'd made a terrible mistake. James was annoyed, glaring around the corners from their side of the house while the Alders moved their things in. He criticised Diane for choosing such "normies," even though he'd clearly abdicated any role in the choice. Diane wasn't prepared either, for the feeling of strange eyes moving across the material of her life around the house. Taking in, as the Alders must have been, the omens of doom that loomed all around her relationship with James.

James wasn't working. The clay mass sat inert in his studio, gouged-out and run through with unwound clothes hangers. During the day he'd lay in the grass, smoke a joint, and run through the numbers Diane had given him, gloating to himself that he and Diane were only responsible for forty-five percent of the mortgage. At night, he'd putter around their side of the house, doing little chores to avoid the bigger ones, and most of all avoiding the Alders. When James and Diane laid down to go to sleep, they both felt the Alders laying between them, being what they could never be.

James was folding laundry in the basement when he heard them through the vent. The Alders were discussing something inconsequential. James scoffed at their pet names and inside jokes, wondering to himself if there was some place where boring people like them went to meet each other. But the longer he listened, the more he heard. The Alders had something that he knew he and Diane simply didn't. It wasn't romantic, or even beautiful, but it was solid, and simple, and they'd have it if they left this house and wound up in a cardboard box. The Alders wondered aloud whether that might actually happen - they thought James and Diane were days away from a blow-up.

James proposed a dinner. Diane was skeptical, as she had every right to be. The Alders were surprised, but warmly accepted the invitation. James made a spread. The Alders brought home a few bottles of wine from their friend's uncle's vineyard. Diane left work early so she could take a bath and decompress. She wanted to be her best self at dinner.

The wine helped, as did James' magic touch in the kitchen. The conversation moved well, thanks to Lila's inquisitive nature and Phil's knack for arcing a story as simple as running into an old friend at the grocery store. He'd been a novelist, or so he had thought, but selling one novel sometimes meant you had to then put in a decade-plus as a copywriter for an ad agency. Lila worked in sales for a company that did held team-building events for corporations. Highschool sweethearts, even though they spent some time apart in their twenties.

James tried to soak it all in, and Diane noticed his attentiveness. She also caught him gazing at her, while the Alders related some simple note of sweetness from their life together. They all did the dishes together, played a game and laughed together, and went to bed at a reasonable hour. James and Diane made love that night.

The dinner was the start of something. Using the Alders as his model, James began to shape himself into a different kind of man - one who could be happy, truly. Without having to talk about, Diane reacted, trying to be the woman who fit with the man James was becoming. And then they talked about a lot of things, and grew together. Above all, they invited the Alders to join them more and more, and before long they didn't have to invite anymore, it just happened. James connected to Phil connected to Diane to Lila to James and every way inbetween. James even confided in Phil that he'd overheard them through the vent that time. They laughed it off.

The house felt much cozier in those days, and they didn't have any more trouble heating it.

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


i am in

Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


These past few weeks of thunderdoming have reignited my creative fires and the effects are already rippling throughout my life. TD has made me stronger, faster, and more introspective. I’m so glad y’all are trapped in here with me.

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Something Else
Dec 27, 2004

What use was time to those who'd soon achieve Digital Immortality?


Christine
1092 words

She wrestled with her purse to extract her keys, the white plastic wristband snagging on some hidden internal zipper. The apartment was just as she had left it, nine months ago. The bed was unmade and coated with dust. Dishes festered in the sink, far beyond the point of washing. Her brother Rob had come through and cleaned up her gear, mopped the spot where she’d vomited on the floor. She was glad he hadn’t done more. I don’t deserve more. At least her art was still up on the walls - the erotic goth aesthetic that made a brick-walled studio feel like a sexy castle, which she appreciated in a way that was only partly camp.

She smacked the dust out of the bedsheets. Threw the dishes in the trash can. Dragged a heavy velvet armchair over that suspiciously clean patch of floor. Laid her worn composition notebook on the table and flipped to a page dark with ballpoint slashes. The header read, “Clean Goals 2020”. It stood proud above a rickety tower of boxes and aspirations. Alongside them all, the words “IGNORE TRAVIS” stood out in deep angry scratches.

At the top of the list were the ones she had written just after admittance. “Find pills” was crossed out savagely. “Find a way to thank Rob” was written in a softer hand. Don’t know how I’m going to manage that one. Further down the page, her lettering grew neater, more formal. “Make it to Paris” made her roll her eyes, but it also made her smile. “Donate blood.” “Work with animals.” “Get your job back.” At the very bottom of the list, there lingered a carbuncle of worry. Crossed out and rewritten, letters shaky, it was the only one that really mattered.

“Drown the stash.”

You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay. Her pulse raced as she opened the bathroom door. Reached up to grab that old screwdriver from on top of the medicine cabinet. Knelt down behind the toilet, in the grime. The grate came off too easily. All of it was too easy. Will the next step be easy too? The shadow in the vent dared her to find out.

She put her hand inside, imagining that Rob had already discovered the stash and cleaned it out. But she wasn’t that lucky. Her hand touched plastic.

She stared at the translucent orange tip that protected the needle. What’s protecting me? She had to hope that there was some kind of callous built up by now. She fumbled with the plastic bag, dropping its sub-baggies and bits into the toilet. Old pills and powders, probably long gone moldy, unusable. They have to be. She tried to drop the syringe, too. But her fingers wouldn’t open. This was the moment she had feared, for ten hours in the smelly bus on the highway back here last night. Where is my control? She wanted to give it up. Let whatever entity governs these dirty things run her life again - maybe that desire would never go away completely. As she stood, immovable, tears flowed on her cheeks.

No. Not this. Her other hand lashed out and smacked the syringe down into the toilet with a plop. Before she had a chance to think, it pushed the lever down. The bags were sucked into the depths, but the syringe wasn’t the right shape for it. It just circled around and around. Mocking her. Her good hand flushed and flushed. It can’t be that strong! The hand reached in, threw the syringe on the floor, and smashed it with its heel. She realized that it was her hand, in her control, by the pain the oozing blood there. Nevertheless she felt the rush of freedom.

[x] Drown the stash.

The cuts were superficial - no stitches required, but a bandage. The job hunt would have to wait. Can’t go applying when you looked like a basket case. I am a basket case, but they don’t need to know that right away. She thought about puppies and kittens, and resolved to make a visit to the shelter and volunteer. Rob was so, so wonderful to pay her rent, and pay for rehab, and keep her afloat until she finds something. She’d figure out how to thank him later.

In the cold air of morning, she stepped onto the street. She lived close to downtown, but downtown was small. She was close to everywhere. People didn’t usually walk, but she felt like walking, and besides, she had let Rob sell her car months ago. She walked downtown.

The animal shelter was closed still. drat. They didn’t open until 11 on Fridays. She wanted to nuzzle those kitties. She thought she might wait around until they opened, but then she caught sight of someone she didn’t want to see. The last person she wanted to see, and he saw her. Travis.

He yelled, and she bolted. She had a block on him at least. No clue if that would be enough. You’re supposed to be in jail! But that was 9 months ago. Travis was her ex, and he had not wanted her to go into rehab. He wanted her under his control. He was an rear end in a top hat, and she knew that if he caught her, he would have her again.

She could hear his shoes slapping the pavement behind her. She ducked around a corner into an alley and hid behind a dumpster. She held her breath and watched slivers of his form move past. He stopped at the mouth of the alley, panting. She could hear the soft ragged wheeze he’d never shaken. “Christine,” he bellowed, and listened. She shut her eyes and wished to be anywhere else. Squeezed her hands into little fists. Blood oozed through the bandage.

When she opened her eyes, Travis was gone. She pulled herself out of her spot and peeked out around the corner of the alley. He was nowhere in sight. Shakily, she started to run back to her apartment.

She shoved her bad hand down the toilet hole, grasping for anything. It came up empty. She collapsed on the floor, crying for her pain. Crying for her inability to change, or for the rate of change being so dreadfully slow. Crying for the pitiful, shallow emptiness of it all. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay. Somehow, slowly, the steel returned to Christine. She wiped her eyes, toweled off her arm, and returned to her notebook. She wrote a new entry, and it brought a smile to her face.

[ ] Do better tomorrow.

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