Shattered

I never knew much about people until I saw the way she looked at herself in the mirror.

 

Some girls stand as though being admired by the whole world and they were the center of it. Not this girl, though. As soon as she saw her reflection, everything changed. It seems subtle to most people; around anyone else, she would act as though she didn’t see herself, as though she wasn’t there, or if she had to, as though she was the smallest detail, barely noticeable.

 

By herself, it was different. I saw her stand in front of the mirror, a full-length mirror, not admiring her body, but judging it, every detail, her hips, her thighs, her calves, her stomach, her arms, her breasts, her smile, her stare.

 

Then I saw a crack appear in the mirror, starting near her eyes like cracking tears, then, spreading, supernaturally, cruelly, down her body, splitting, pieces falling, a sound somewhere between a pop and a scrape and as pleasant as neither. She opened her mouth to scream.

 

And before I knew it, she shattered into tiny pieces, spread out all over the carpet, and the mirror glinted, unfazed.

Adventures – “Supersonic Home”

My head feels like a baked potato fresh out of the oven; my brains are the fluffy white spuds inside. For hours, I’ve done my best Tony Robbins impression, psyching myself up to stand and reach for the Low-Carb Monster resting on my desk.

When I finally find the courage to move, I nearly collapse into the pile of used tissues and Sprite bottles littering the ground.

I sip the Monster. Feel my strength returning. Turn on iTunes in an attempt to raise my phlegm-soaked spirits.

Cruel as it can be, the Universe doles out small doses of justice from time to time, and as terrible as it feels to be sick, it’s almost worth it for the rush of endorphins that flood my body at the crest of a flu.

Emotions bubble to the surface, pushing hairs stiff, waving a cool chill over my feverish flesh. I find comfort in repetition. Especially on bad days. I wrap myself in a warm blanket of familiarity, watching old movies, listening to old albums, anything new feeling alien and draining, but sickness has made me brave, so I click on a band I’ve never heard of and travel back through time.

School was where I learned that emotions are dangerous. Smiling, laughing, crying, any outward expression of feelings was an invitation to be bullied. On the bus, I did everything in my power to look straight ahead and make my face into a stone. I didn’t want people asking me, what are you smiling about? What’s so funny? My safety was directly related to the horizontal orientation of my lips and eyes. Everything was a fight. My clothes, my hair, my music, my race, it was all open for interpretation, and it could be interpreted as wrong. It was rough in middle school, and it got even worse in high school. My classmates didn’t want to get to know me. They wanted to find out my weaknesses and exploit them.

At least, that’s what I thought before I joined Mr. Collin’s class.

Adventures is a new band. “Supersonic Home” is the last song on their album of the same name. This was what music sounded like when I was 15. Hearing it now takes me back to my creative writing class with my favorite teacher. Imagine Kevin James if he was 5’5’’ and liked to rap, freestyling about Temescal Canyon High School’s wrestling team at pep rallies. Officially, it was a class about creative writing, but in reality it was a class about creativity. The assignment every week was to turn something in. Anything we wanted, a painting, a poem, a video, sculptures, people did all kinds of things, made skits, collaborated. Some played acoustic guitar and sang. Mind-blowing. It didn’t seem like school. No textbook, no tests, the class wasn’t about learning what the teacher wanted to teach; it was about teaching the rest of the class about yourself. The structure of the class was weird enough, but the people were the thing that shocked me the most. I was the only sophomore in the class. Everyone else was a senior, and they were the strangest people I had ever met.

They didn’t seem interested in dissecting me, criticizing my every layer of existence like it held a hidden treasure. They smiled and cried. They loved things and weren’t afraid to brag about it. Their goal in life wasn’t to be invulnerable. They just wanted to be happy, and if that made them easy targets, so be it. They were flaming-hot Cheeto-eating fat-asses, goths, nerds, queers, anime-watching wimps, girls who didn’t wear make-up, people who didn’t give a shit.

I never knew people like them even existed.

They were what I needed.

Jenny was the first friend I made in the class. She was part of the local music scene. If there was a club for the local hardcore bands, she would have been the one taking the minutes. I was obsessed with music, and she had a story for every band I could think of. She saw DieRadioDie before they broke up, the only good emo band in Lake Elsinore. She’d been to all the classic shows at the Showcase Theatre and Chain Reaction. Zao, Poison the Well, Bleeding Through, you name it, she was there and had the hoodie to prove it. I had just started really caring about music, and I was fucking impressed. She was short and fat. Her boyfriend was a tall shredded stud. I looked up to her. I had a crush on her boyfriend’s little sister, Ashley. She was an identical twin with Amy, but I liked Ashley because she was meaner. I thought being able to tell them apart would impress her. She hated me. Her hair was strawberry blonde and her eyeballs were all I thought about for a year. All my favorite songs were about failed love, so our situation made perfect sense.

Adventures makes me think back to that time. Back then, it would take me 8 hours to download a new song from Saves the Day or The Beautiful Mistake. Many nights I’d stay up just listening to the same 3 songs on repeat. There was something different about this music than all the other rock I’d heard growing up. Something amateurish and desperate about it that made it seem current and relevant.

I knew the voices in these songs.

I heard them in the record stores or waiting in line for shows.

It was punk, but it wasn’t vulgar.

It was sweet, but it wasn’t commercialized.

It was honest and vulnerable in a way that bands on MTV never could be. It was easy to make fun of. That’s what I loved about it.

It reminded me of the people in my creative writing class.

The Piss King

It starts in the night, the feeling of tearing flesh. You quickly open your eyes and spring up. The pain in your knee has returned. The whole knee is on fire. Sharp cutting pain is rushing through your left leg; it feels like a surgeon got really drunk and instead of postponing the operation until he was of sound mind, just said “fuck it” and started operating anyways. You scream under your breath to stop yourself from crying.

 

You realize that if you don’t move your leg, the pain is manageable, so you slowly lay back. You wonder if football was worth the torn ACL, MCL, and every other fucking muscle in your left knee? Was it worth your future?

 

You’re damn right it was! Pain builds character, and over time, yours will define the person you will become.

 

As you lay back, your mind starts to shift to time not so long ago. A time you weren’t alone. She had once slept on the right side of the bed, she had given you the choice. “Which side do you want?” she had asked. You preferred the right side of the bed. It allowed you to hold her in your right arm, your strongest. And it was the furthest away from your left knee, your weakness. Proof that you weren’t Superman, proof that you were human. This was before it happened.

 

You have to pee, but the bathroom is 12 steps away, and suddenly that seems an unreasonable distance. You wonder what asshole designed these apartments, and why he felt the need to make such inhuman lengths between the rooms.

 

Awake, your mind does everything in its power to help you forget you’re alone. You stare at where she once laid. You can picture her face now. It pulls you back to another time. You had just finished the worst fight of your relationship. Standing in a snow storm holding her with only a street light above to light your way. She cries into your shoulder that she loves you. You whisper it back and then you kiss her. You catch yourself smiling.

 

Stop! What’s done is done and can never be undone. If you can’t learn to accept what’s happened, you’ll go insane. Once you’ve made your bed, there’s nothing you can do except learn to sleep in it.

 

You feel it now. It’s time to decide. Will you get up off your ass, limp to the bathroom, or will you accept defeat and piss the bed? For most men, this is not a hard question, but you are not most men. “I need a bottle,” you tell yourself. Then it hits you.

 

A piss bottle, a bottle people put beside their beds so that when they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t make it to the bathroom, they can just reach over, grab their piss bottle, and take care of business. You’d make millions, be as rich as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. And your simple invention would put any of theirs to shame. Sorry, Apple. Move aside, the future is here. They would call you the Piss Prince. What the fuck are you thinking? Are you stupid? The Piss Prince? No, you’d be the Piss King.

 

“Piss the bed, what am I, six?” Or crippled. You slowly push yourself up. It’s hard to say for sure what you feel in your knee. Pain, that doesn’t cut it. Torture, not even close. The doctors asked for one word, one word to describe the pain that has stolen your future and left the past a bitter memory. The doctor even showed you “The Wong Baker faces Pain rating scale.” And you look over all the face, you can’t seem to find the face that screams “Fuck your pain scale, you hack! Fix my leg before I skull-fuck you!” After the pain scale fails to perfectly describe the pain you’re in, the doctor goes back to his original question, “One word?” You wonder if it would be easier to describe the Mona Lisa. Art, you guess. Yes, the pain in my leg is art. It’s a burning, twisting, tearing art, but it’s yours.

 

As you slowly limp across the room, cursing every step of the way, you have to stop and take a second. Your dick is giving you trouble now. They always said he’s got a mind of his own, never has that statement been truer for you. You shoot him a glance and say, “Don’t be a dick, Dick, we’re almost there.” He’s not happy. He’s like a water balloon that’s been filled way past its limit and is ready to pop and send piss everywhere. You almost start to cry as you quote Tim McGraw: “I don’t know why they say grown men don’t cry.”

 

After you finally reach the bathroom, you slowly lower your ass into the seat. This is it, the moment of truth. You wonder if all your hard work could ever be worth it, then he starts. The feeling of relief is hard to put into words, it’s biblical. Moses can keep his magic staff and burning bushes, you have a bowl that holds your waste.

 

You start the bath. The cold is what caused the pain to flare up, so maybe you can burn it out. Once the tub is full of scorching water, you lower yourself in. You can feel the water burn your right foot; your left leg feels nothing. There’s a sense of terror as your balls approach the water. Once you lower them in, the impulse to scream fades away. It’s not so bad until you realize that you just boiled any chance of having kids away. You leap to your feet. Balls, knee, and ass all in a different state of horror and agony. After most of the pain has all gone, you look up to the ceiling to talk to God. “Fuck you, man.” You slip and fall.

 

After one of the worst bathing experiences of your life, the pain has shifted from “oh God, please kill me” to “this sucks.” You stand in front of the mirror. Smile, you notice your chipped, fake teeth, your fading hairline, and kickass beard. Most people might not like what they see looking back, but you don’t mind. You were taught at a young age to make the best of any situation. What you lack in looks, you more than make up with personality. After staring for far too long, you ask yourself: what do you want? What do you want?

 

You can look back at so many times in your short life you wish you could relive. One more hour lying in bed with your girlfriend, hearing her tell you she loves you just one more time. Running to the peaks of snowy mountains with the wind and the rest of the world at your back. Holding your grandmother’s hand as she tells you stories of a father you’d never meet, but whose stories and words would shape the man you are today. Standing beside your little brother peeing off your deck, joking that if you crossed streams it would cause all life as you knew it to stop. Or even further back, chasing sail boats on the shore as a little boy, praying for him to come home, even after your mother takes you into her arms and tells you, “He’s not coming back, baby.”

 

But all you really want is to be able to pee standing up again.

Moonlit Playground

Ghosts come out during the moonlit day.

Raspy wood protests its burden as ghostly horses neigh.

Silhouettes dance on moonlit walls.

A crisp chill stains the air with smells of fall.

Wet footprints splash across the red-bricked hotel’s floors.

Vacant desks lie under mason ritual and folklore.

Mystery bleeds onto the dusty street.

Ghosts emerge stirring as dancing sheets.

For before long, they will come out to play.

When the ghosts come out in the moonlit day.

The Lights Are Going Out

Alone on the dusty porch, the woman lightly rocks herself back and forth in her creaking chair, eyes fixated on the city lights in the valley beyond, lights competing against the spray of diamonds in the inky sky. Her hair is a brittle white, her brown eyes dim and sunken into a bony face. Layers of knitted blankets guard her from the chill of night. Her breathing is calm this evening; there is no noise on the plateau but the creak of her gentle rocking. The moon above makes silhouette spears of the garden to her right. To her left, the hunting shed slumps with neglect.

 

It is a perfect evening.

 

The woman’s eyes do not shy away from the radiant city. The lights remind her of another city, in another time. Eastern Europe, when the world bled and buckled under the strain of war. She remembers the bright lights of the facility where she brought the children of nearby villages for purification. She remembers the lights of the cities below her plane when she fled, the sporadic orange plumes of explosions marking the departure of more souls, the extinguishing of more of civilization’s luminance.

 

She still recognizes her past, but her present is a mystery.

 

She does not know this foreign land or how she came to be here. She does not know the beautiful young woman who tends to her from dawn until dusk, fussing at her clothes, her hair, ensuring that she is not kept hungry or thirsty. The climate is too hot during the day, too dry. Most days find her angry and confused. She finds escape in her Bible, understanding of its passages burned into her at a young age. She finds solace gazing out at the lights on the clear, cool evenings.

 

The lights keep the darkness at bay.

 

The wicked autumn chill creeps beneath the blankets. The woman stirs, and notices the stranger sitting in the chair next to her, rocking patiently, the groaning of the chairs a matching tempo.

 

“It has taken a long time to find you,” the stranger says. His voice is the slight rustling of sugarcane in a breeze, the warning hiss of a serpent just before striking.

 

The woman hears the words, but they are muffled in her ears. She cannot tell if the stranger is speaking her language, the language of this land, or all languages at once. But she understands. Her knobby hands grip the handles of her chair tightly.

 

“I looked for you at Bełżec,” the stranger continues casually, “but you weren’t there. I looked for you, later, at Nuremberg—”

 

“Geh weg!” the woman snaps.

 

The stranger ceases to rock. He is slender and tall, dressed in a dark suit and top hat, dressed in shadows. His leather shoes are immaculate. He has a cane the color of moonlight, its form a shaft of eerie light in the blackness of the night. He taps it gently against the dry boards of the porch.

 

The woman refuses to look at the stranger. She keeps her focus ahead, on the radiant city and all of the life flowing within it. As a little girl, she was told many stories about this stranger, stories that left her afraid to sleep at night. She has met him many times throughout her life, she is sure, there is something vaguely familiar about the face, the voice, but she can’t remember his name.

 

“Now that I have found you, it is time for us to depart,” the stranger says.

 

“Geh weg!” the woman barks again.

 

There is a shuffling inside the house. A lamp is lit. Footsteps approach.

 

“Mamá?” a younger voice calls out, full of concern.

 

The old woman sighs, closing her eyes to suppress her irritation.

 

A young woman steps out onto the porch, wearing only a white nightdress. She hugs herself to ward off the cold. Her mocha skin and raven locks stand in stark contrast to the pale woman; the only shared feature are their eyes, wide and brown.

 

“Con quién estás hablando?” the young woman asks, her words warm and soft.

 

The woman hates the familiarity with which this girl addresses her. She is the real stranger, the warden of this prison in the mountains. She is not her daughter.

 

The girl cannot see nor hear the stranger sitting before her, but the stranger answers her query anyways.

 

“I have been called by many names. Nergal, Batara Kala, Yama, Mictlantecuhtli, Ogbunabali, Thanatos, Arawn, Baron Samedi. Your people refer to me as—”

 

“Santa Muerta,” the old woman mutters. Saint Death.

 

The stranger inclines his head and tips his hat, though still unseen by the young woman. “I would have come as a woman, but you have always found this form most pleasing in your mind’s eye.”

 

“Mamá? Mamá?” the young woman repeats, seeking answers.

 

The stranger stands up, leaning on his glowing cane and buttoning his suit jacket with his free hand.

 

“Come,” he says to the old woman. “I have business elsewhere tonight.”

 

The old woman shakes her head vigorously.

 

“Come,” the stranger says, his tone betraying a hint of sharpness. “You are too fragile, too exhausted to continue eluding me. Already, you have lived much longer than the rest of the world would have permitted, had Mossad captured you in 1960.” He reaches out his hand and grasps the elderly woman’s bony shoulder.

 

Suddenly, a window opens within the woman’s mind. The fog rolls back, and she sees her husband, Raúl, dead now for three years. She sees back further, narrowly avoiding the Israeli operatives who caught Eichmann in Buenos Aires, the voyage from Genoa to South America, arranged by Bishop Hudal, the perilous flight from the Red Army, the mounds of children burning each night in the facility, the lights of their eyes stolen by death. The same death has caught up to her.

 

She rocks back and forth, agitated, trying to struggle free from the stranger’s grip.

 

“Fool,” the stranger says, striking her across the face with his cane. “Do not think you can fight me.” The woman sags back in the chair, clutching her bruised face. “You are born. You die. The length of time separating those two points is determined by chance, nothing more. All things must end with me. Now, come.” He holds out his hand.

 

The old woman scowls at the stranger and sits up. She turns to the young woman, who is kneeling beside her, sobbing. She remembers now, she remembers everything. “María,” she whispers. A single tear slides down her cheek, a small mark of acknowledgment for all the secrets withheld, the frailty of the human mind, and the judgement to come.

 

The old woman pushes out of her chair, the blankets sinking to her feet. Still glaring at the stranger, she reaches out to his offered hand. “Hoffnung und Reich,” she spits, defiant, and clasps the stranger’s gloved hand.

 

She crumples back into the chair and lays still. The chair rocks three times before slowly freezing. The young woman pulls her hair and wails to the darkling sky. The old woman’s eyes rest on the stars, millions of points of light in the dark, cold nothingness of space. A spark is held within her eyes for a moment, but as the seconds tick by, the spark withers and fades. Her eyes grow dark.

 

Everything dies.

 

The lights are going out.

Rejected Proposal: A 100-Word Story

I enter my new hotel room. The first feature that catches my attention is the lamp on the nightstand, its crimson base sculpted like a teardrop, a drop of blood. The lamp is the final insult: the ancient gods themselves must be mocking the miserable turn my vacation has taken.

“Fuck you, Zeus,” I whisper, defiant.

At least these housekeepers will have less to fuss over, no blankets thrown on the floor, no tangled bedsheets redolent with sweat and sex.

Mykonos is too wondrous for depression.

With a heavy sigh, I drop my suitcase and leave for Katerina’s gelato shop.