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.

Oddball Rambling

Adulthood is a funny thing. Despite all the speeches, nothing really prepares you for it. There are certain rites of passage that nobody warns you about. The first time you go grocery shopping for yourself. The first time you travel without your parents. The first time you go to the bank when you no longer need a cosigner. Your first day working at your first real job. The first time you realize you have a remarkably adult routine, full of remarkably adult activities, no more story time, no more games on the playground, no more wonder at everything you see.

The first time you unlock the door that is truly, fully yours, not your parents’ property. The first time you buy a piece of furniture with your own money. The first time you stay out late and realize no one is going to punish you for breaking curfew. The first time you do something stupid, and you recognize you won’t be punished, unless it’s by the police. The moment when you realize that your behavior, admirable or dismal, is entirely up to you, and your only authority is your own conscience. Your time, your activities, your companions are 100% your prerogative, and no one is going to attempt to direct or control you. You may find this freedom liberating or slightly intimidating.

Then there is the first time you see a young child. Maybe you don’t realize it. But eventually you may find yourself thinking how cute they are, how nice it will be to have your own children. Maybe you will note, with probably mixed feelings, how strange it is that these young humans are going through their childhood now, learning the things that children learn, doing the things that children do, while you, quite suddenly, are an adult doing adult things and thinking adult thoughts. Maybe you will realize for the first time that your childhood is gone forever. If you are really perceptive, you might even realize for the first time that you are aging, that one day your youth will end, that you will get old and die. Then maybe if you are brave you will start to think about the future, how your time on this earth will end. Maybe you will start to contemplate death for the first time. What will you miss the most? What will come after? How do you live knowing, with brutal, honest certainty that you won’t get out of it alive?

There’s probably hundreds of first times that nobody ever realizes until they do them. To all those standing on the platform alone, waiting for the train, plane, or bus, teetering on the precipice of the rest of their lives, with all their world packed up in a bag at their feet… well, here’s looking at you, kid. I hope you find what you’re looking for. Maybe now you might put more energy into every day, knowing that they pile up into weeks, months, years, and decades. Maybe you’ll put more thought into your actions and words. Maybe you won’t. You are, after all, an adult now, and all this is up to you.

Emotion

She must have been the fastest runner I’d ever seen. A glimpse of green flashed from her hand as she fled down the tight alleyway. Dark hair and a girlish figure were all I could remember as the driver pulled the squad car over to the side, behind the sirens of the officers already on the scene. “Usually quiet this time of night,” my partner said from the driver’s seat. He and I go out of our cars, drawn and ready, even though the suspect was already long gone. Two officers were already following her.

The lieutenant, a tall, lean, authoritative woman, gave us fresh orders. “We’re stationed on the other side,” she explained. Most likely she’ll be trapped, but she may come back this way. As she explained, she pulled out a holographic map, showing the locations of both the officers and the suspect. Somehow, using odd and awkward back alleys, she avoided without actually being able to escape. “When the next pair get here, I’ll send both of you in.” She saw the next squad car coming in the corner of her eye: she was famed for her peripheral vision in our department. “In fact, they’re here. We’ll stay here in case she doubles back. Go. Be careful.”

My partner, Stilkes, led the way, a dark red orb hovering in between two hands, one under and one above, with the orb floating directly between them. I had my orb drawn as well, a smaller blue orb.

We followed her down the alleyway, stopping at a cross section. “I’m sure she went that way,” he said, and turned the corner. Right before my eyes, I saw Stilkes fly ten feet in the air from a yellow-green blast. I turned and fired a blue bolt at the suspect, but she was gone again. I turned back to Stilkes. Stilkes stood up and leaned against the wall. “I’ll be fine,” he said, “Go after her. Get that bitch.”

I followed down one alleyway, and another, knowing she could appear at any second. I came sprinting around another corner and, sure enough, she was there. She was jumping up, trying to reach a window ledge just out of her reach. “Halt!” I yelled, orb drawn. She stopped and looked, terrified, gaunt, like a wild animal. “Don’t try it! I’ll have no choice but to kill you.” She quickly considered her options, her eyes jumping here to there, terrified. She could have made a desperate move, a last chance, possibly even overtake me and have another chance for escape. She didn’t tremble.

But, alas, she was beaten. Her head drooped with defeat, and she sank to her knees. Still cautious, I approached, not allowing my guard to drop. She was thin, too thin, like a feral animal that had been forced to the outskirts of society.

“According to the law of Social Order,” I stated, “I am legally obligated to take your orb from you. May you have mercy on your soul.” Carefully, slowly, I reached into her pocket, pulling out her orb from her pocket. The green color that had once been so prominent was gone, and in its place was dull yellow. It was the first time in my career that I actually had to confiscate an orb: it was rare in our district. As the orb separated farther from its owner, the color became dull, then, slowly, turned clear, and a look of peace overcame the suspect, and the girl began to look pale, white even, and then light gray. Particles drifted with the turning of her skin and she began to crumble, leaning to one side, and, finally, she slumped over into a pile of gray dust. The once vibrant orb was completely clear and could no longer float, a lifeless crystal ball in my hand.

 

 

A white t-shirt showing her belly ring barely concealed her breasts. It took a lot of effort not to stare at them, or the form of her hips in jeans, as she sat to one side, one arm holding her up and the other resting on the curves of her body. We were both on a blanket, overlooking the small town, and the stars were just about to emerge. “And then I told him to go home, you ruined one birthday cake already.”

She laughed, her whole body heaving. A flip of her dark hair revealed her pouty lips, a few freckles, and eyes, sensual eyes, that seemed to dared me, complete with eyeliner, lipstick, and makeup just for me. Was her laugh a little forced? Perhaps, but that only meant that she was trying, too, that she wanted in my pants just as badly. I moved a little closer.

“So you’ve never been up here before?”

She smiled, looking at me. “No, never. I love the view. And the stars. Do you know any constellations?”

I kept my smile up, even though I knew what was coming. “Not a darn thing. Could you teach me?”

“Of course,” she said, almost shyly. “That one’s…” I heard names and watched her pointing, feigning interest for a while, but then I knew my next move. Right in the middle of her sentence, I moved close. She sensed it, but kept going. She’s waiting. Mid-word, I landed a kiss right on her lips.

It was an awkward angle at first, but I made it work. As we made out, she instinctively put her hand up to my face. I’m not much for having my face touched by people I don’t know, but I let it slip this time, allowing my hand to follow the side of her body, skin against skin, starting at her extra rib and down to her waist, finally holding her waist with one hand and holding myself up with the other. Since her eyes were closed, I stole a peek at her orb, lying next to her. Vibrant pink. She thinks this is love. Fine by me. I grinned: I was getting lucky tonight.

A pair of headlights suddenly blinded both of us, flooding us and our immediate surroundings with light. I tried to cover my eyes and see what was happening; both were in vain until a car door opened and slammed. The lights stayed on. “Margerie, come with me.”

“Dad?” She exclaimed, standing. “Dad, I…”

“Not a word,” he said. “Car. Now.” Her head bent down. “Joey’s a nice guy.”

“Joey’s a nice guy, huh? Notice the color of his orb?” She said nothing. “Didn’t think so. Get in the car.” She moved to obey.

“And you, young man,” he said, challenging me. “I know you’re trying to drain color out of her orb. And I know what else you’re up to. I was your age, once. But you’re not even old enough to support yourself. Leave on your own, youngster. Be glad that’s all you get for now.” With that, he left, and darkness returned.

Well, my night was ruined. I picked up my blanket, floundering in the dark until I realized I could use my phone as a light. Too bad she’s under his thumb. Maybe when she’s older. I packed up, started the car, turned on my headlights, and headed home.

 

 

“Tonight on World Broadcast Network, home to the world’s most trustworthy news.”

“Hey Chad,” I yelled to the upper floor. “Live Programming’s on.” Although much of regular television had all but died out, Chad always appreciated live newsfeed, as though it was more real. I didn’t have much interest, but since Chad was going to change the channel anyway, I left it on. “Crime has statistically skyrocketed in the past six months, a drastic change since the Social Adjustment Measures were enacted. Authorities say this is due to more criminals being caught, while critics argue that these measures aren’t tough enough, citing the need for capital punishment for more offenses. One important aspect of the new Measures is that Authorities have granted the right to Police Officers to confiscate orbs from dangerous criminals immediately on the scene. Authorities believe this will eluviate the public outcry for justice and…”

Click. “How can you do this to me, Marvin? After all we’ve been through?”

“It’s not you, baby, it’s me.”

When my roommate finally came down the stairs, a stern-faced carrot top, he gave me the look. “You were taking forever,” I replied. Click. A very old movie appeared on the screen, black and white, with a giant lizard monster walking across a miniature city.

He joined me on the couch. “Could you at least recount what they talked about?”

“Confiscating more orbs. Oh, and crime is skyrocketing as well.”

He sighed. “Harsher punishments mean more criminals.”

“Or maybe they’re doing their jobs.” Click.

“Part of the system, man.” He pulled out his orb. “All about controlling these. They control our orbs, they control our lives.” Click.

“I’m not being controlled by the Authorities.” Click.

“Whatever. At least decide on a channel you want to watch.” Click.

 

 

He walked into the office, seemingly amazed with everything in it. It was a large room, collected replicas of antiques made to look exactly like their real counterparts. There was an Ivory chess set on the counter: the Boss didn’t know how to actually play the game. No one is brave enough to point that out, though. The visitor, a short, wiry man with thin, blonde hair and a second-hand suit, eyed the room with quick, nervous eyes and then rested them on the Boss. The Boss (god, I hate using that pretentious name) was a thick, bulging man with a charm that took attention off his quick temper. I sat next to him on the uncomfortable couch, striking an even more uncomfortable sensual pose that drew the visitor’s attention every so often, though he tried to hide it. I wore a dress with the silly opening in the leg. To me, that takes away the whole point of a dress, but it wasn’t my idea, I just get paid to look pretty (And yes, I literally get paid to look pretty. Nothing more, thank god). As much as I look like it, I’m not much of a girly girl. In fact, I’m not much for the cliché scene the Boss creates anyway. Cross-legged, I waited patiently for moron #1 to initiate contact with moron #2.

“Charlie Briggs,” the Boss said. “Have a seat.” Charlie saw a chair in-between two men in dark suits, the lackeys, and as uninviting as it looked, Charlie took a seat.

“They call me the Boss. I’ve heard good things, Charlie. So let me give it to you straight. You have talents that I could very well use, and I have something that you need. You follow, Charlie?”

With a gulp, he responded with a barely audible “yes Boss” and a nod.

“Very good. Now quite a few people are in the business of orbs. Color, you get me? And many of them refuse to work with me. I need someone to help me out, kid. Someone who can tell me what the other big boys are doing. And I would pay handsomely for it. So, what do you think?”

Charlie struggled to get his answer out. “We-Well, yes, I would s-s-sure like that.”

The Boss nodded. “Good. This is the big league, kid. And the big league kids get big rewards. Marcie, bring in the Machine, please.” He looked to me, acknowledging me for the first time that day.

I got up to leave, and when I came back, I was rolling out the Machine, a great big box of metal with cables, hoisted on a tall trolley. The breeze in the slit dress annoyed me as I sarcastically waved my hand to the Machine. Fortunately, no one here is smart enough to catch onto my sarcasm; all they see is a nice ass and long legs. Though that can be quite the advantage, sometimes. I sat back down near the Boss. “This Machine,” the Boss explained, “has color from orbs all over the world. The last shipment was from Africa. Warlords would do anything to support their civil wars. Anything with their child soldiers who aren’t good at soldiering.” He took a cable and pulled out his orb, a sickly green. He connected the cable and different colors flooded in, blue and red and white, all swirling together until they morphed into the same sickly green, only more dense than before. “Color is power, my friend. By helping me, you help yourself.” The Boss handed over the cable. “Try it. It feels good. Powerful.”

Charlie took out his own orb, a hysteric, bright purple at first, but as he gained color, the swirls started to turn to a distrustfully dark, ruddy orange. The Boss smiled. “You see? The next shipment isn’t quite as good. The poor and desperate usually pay up the best. This time it’s from a bunch of politicians. They need extra finances here and there, and they pay well. Very well. Eventually, my plan is to own the whole market on color. A monopoly, so to speak. You know why, Charlie?”

Charlie shook his head. “No, sir.”

The Boss grinned. “Because whoever can manipulate color can manipulate the world.”

 

 

My mom collected clear orbs every day. A short, dark, stocky woman who kept to herself, she always wore a heavy, oversized coat with large pockets, though, as I always admired, she was always able to look cute in it. She would stop by the hospital first, visit with some of the nurses and doctors if they had a moment to spare, and take a crate out to the van. Next was the Old Folk’s Home, which she always corrects with “Nursery”. She would go around town, collecting orbs, until she ended up at the local Police Station. Usually she wouldn’t let me come in, but this time I begged her. I was fourteen already. If that’s not old enough, how old do I have to be?

When I asked her for the hundredth time (though it had been a long time since last time I bothered to ask) she looked at me for a moment, weighed it, and nodded, turning to pick up an empty crate. “Finally!” I said, and then a hasty “thank you” before we got in the door.

Two men were in a conversation, and then one left, leaving an older man, gray hair, barrel chest, and a handlebar mustache, who was adjusting a worn-out ball cap. “Just as I was on my way out,” he said, beaming. “Caught me before I left, as usual.”

“How is it this time around, Randy?” My mom replied, eyeing the crate full of orbs on one of the counters.

The man caught on and switched her the full crate for an empty one. “More cocksuckers in jail this time. Too many lawbreakers. But a’least I’ve taken less orbs this week.”

She looked to me and nodded. “Alex, this is Officer Bill.”

He turned his head down toward me, tipping his hat. “Howdy,” he said. I didn’t respond.

Mom sighed and ignored me. “Taking orbs is nasty business.”

“If that were the worst of the whole fuckin’ thing,” he barked, as though his thoughts were a zit that needed popping. “I’ve dealt with quite a few in my career, I ‘ave. But most o’ those are criminals, black and white. They knew they did wrong and got punished for it. Some o’ these, though, somethin’s off. Their orb color, I mean. A’least a criminal’s looks healthy, rational I mean. Now, more and more turn a sickly yellow before they go. You know what that means? They’re sick, confused. Not knowing what to do. No peace in death.” He looked up, his entire demeanor changing in an instant. “But, somebody in this world’s got to keep the peace,” he added, attempting a cheerful smile. “That’s what we’re here for.”
We finally headed home for the night. I helped mom with the crates and brought them into the workshop. She piled them up with many of the others in a waiting line. I don’t think she ever got to the point where she didn’t have at least one crate piled up, and she worked long hours. As soon as the crates were down, she took the next one in line and examined it, finding a few broken parts where the orb was probably smashed. She took a substance from a tube and started to apply it, filling the holes. While she worked, I could see the orb in her coat pocket, glowing a light blue, but very light, and very dull. This meant she was focused on work, and not much else. Just to have a little interaction before I left her workshop and went to my room, I asked a question. “Mom, you said when I was older, I could ask you about the orbs. Why we have them, I mean.”

She stopped filling the cracks, swiveled in her chair, and, for the first time that day, looked at me. “We’re here to let people have peace. That’s what we do with the orbs, we let them rest. We also keep them from being misused by other people. You’ll know more as you age, but orbs can be manipulated for other people. Other people can give your orb vibrant colors, and other times they can drain it. There are good people in the world that try to help other people maintain good color. There are also bad people in the world who try to take color away from other people, use it for their own, even steal their orbs any color in them. That’s why it’s important to remember to keep your orb safe. You don’t have to be distrustful of everyone, but don’t let the colors control you. They’re easy for others to see and manipulate. Now, I have work to get done, and I’m sure you have homework.”

“Okay,” I said, and turned to leave.

“Alex,” she said. “I love you.” For the first time that day, her orb turned a light pink, with swirls of green, forest green, nurturing green. “I love you too.”

Then she went back to work, her orb turning a dull blue again as she worked on someone else’s former orb.

It Came At Night

It came at night.

The air oozed silence, no passing cars or other people. We were far enough outside of town not only to see stars but to enjoy them with peace as well. Dinner was heavy enough to send me to my rocking chair, the one that lures me to sleep, overlooking the Sunrise Valley of green brush and golden grass; the view always threatens to bring comfortable sleep. My eyelids started to cover my eyes by a will of their own, and as I was filled with my last conscious thoughts, I could see only a vision of the stairs leading up to the porch, only slightly crooked, old, leading out into the darkness beyond the light. Sleep came. I closed my eyes.

I hear a howling, snapping, clanking of wind chimes, louder and louder, horrific as nails, chalkboard nails, chiming frozen melodies, compressing my head. The chimes stop. Silence comes: brief silence. I open my eyes. The lights are off, and I see only dimly. Darkness is prevalent. Then I see a shadow, like a man or an ape, not yet visible. Its shoulders were hunched, crooked, one side faintly rising and falling with each step. I began to see its hands, long and spindly, casting their own shadows over the porch like the limbs of trees. Its head bent over until it reached the first step, then arched up towards me. On top of its uneven shoulders was a crooked skull of an antlered buck, glowing dully white, even in the dark of night, its empty eye sockets sucking the air from my lungs. I watched, petrified, as its antlers waved, clopping step after step, creaking and moaning, the specter advancing. Its human ribs were inhumanly bent inward, and the spine was bent to accommodate the unnatural head. The bones softly jangled as it reached the top step, hooves on human legs, echoing, reverberating through empty air. One long arm half curled under the body, half drooping, lifeless, vines growing through the skeleton, a Black-Eyed Susan blooming on its shoulder. It cocked its head at me, knowingly, and raised its other arm, arm and finger bones stretching toward me, palm open, outstretched to grab me.

“Jesus, Marty!” Marge came bustling out of the screen door. “Are you alright?”

As though awakened from a trance, one last shiver traversed through my spine as I realized Marge and I were the only ones on the porch. “My God, you were screaming again.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Let’s get you inside, I should have known better than to leave you to sleep in that damn rocking chair.”

“It helps me sleep.”

Marge, a large woman with high cheekbones and narrow eyes, turned back into the doorway. “It helps give me a heart attack,” she said over her shoulder. She wanted to say, ‘stay away from that rocking chair,’ but truth be told, she was as afraid of it as I was.

 

 

“Alright, Jean, pull me out,” I said, thinking the job was done. Lifting my head slightly from under the sink in an attempt to see my daughter, a tweak in my back tightened as though I hadn’t stretched it for years. I could see just enough of a younger version of my wife’s features in my daughter, high cheekbones, narrow eyes, but her body more closely resembled mine, narrow features, as well as other features I try to ignore as she gets older. I could also see the smartphone she texted on, the texts keeping her focus.

“Jean?”

She sat bolt upright. “Sorry!” she said as she quickly pulled on the flat scooter underneath me in an instant to pull me out. The problem with such a maneuver, however, was that my head was still up, and the pipe was of solid material.

A tonk sound echoed in my head. “Jesus,” I said as my daughter pulled me all the way out.

“Shit!”

“English,” I muttered, as my way of saying ‘watch your language.’ “Help me up.”

This time, she was very careful, slowly pulling me to my feet. My back tightened but not enough to make me squeal. Her hand covered my forehead. I swatted it away, muttering. Jean said no more.

I went out to my chair on the porch. As I sat down to relax, I finally felt a sharp pain in my forehead. Involuntarily, my hand reached up to touch the spot, which hurt more, at which point I cringed and moved my hand away. Voluntarily, I looked at my palm. Blood. It seeped down my forefinger, leaving a crimson trail, to pool in the cracks of my hand. There seemed to be an excessive amount for a small bump, more-than-droplets crisscrossing to heed the call of gravity, eventually dripping over the side and onto the porch. Red dripped, dripped, until it fell one last time, cascading, blending with a small stream underneath, crimson twisting and bending, mixing, swirling until the swirls lost color. I stood on the bank, moonlit, reeds blowing in the wind, trees narrowing my view, tall grass, tall trees. Gurgling from the stream started to rise, faster, louder, but became subtler to my ears, quieter and quieter, jarring against rocks. In its place came footsteps, crackling. I looked. On the other side was a figure, covered in a black robe, walking slowly through the dry bank reeds. As it stalked, the only skin that could be seen was a hand, pale white, lifting up from the robe. The other hand appeared, ghostlike, hovering over an open palm, fingers, fingertips grasping, pulling a few petals straight from the palm I could no longer see and ejecting them, a flowing hand from the wrist to the tips, leaving a shower of petals to float, slowly, down to the water and be carried by the stream. Mesmerizing. I took a step closer, and another, trying to peer into her hand. I leaned over. As her hand went down to take another handful, in her open palm, was red, a red, beating heart, fleshy, blood pouring over the side. Her hand grasped again. Skin, heart skin, stretched, stretched farther, separating, reshaping, become petals in her hand. Plop. My heart jumped. I looked down; my foot was in the water. I looked up. The figure had turned towards me, a shadowy figure of a white face, a specter, taught skin; it opened its mouth, and a long, painful, piercing sound came out, a harrowing scream.

 

The next day, I dropped my pen by the door of my daughter’s bedroom, and as I picked it up, I heard voices. I leaned closer to the door. I could just hear “Marty” and “nightmares.”

So, by accident or by purpose, I overheard their conversation about me:

“You know your father freaks out from time to time.”

“He wasn’t even asleep!”

“It’s not his fault.”

“I’m not saying it is!”

“You have to understand…”

“You’re not even listening to me!” Jean screamed. A pause. “Dad needs help. Serious help. Like a psychiatrist or something.”

“Good heavens, Jean.”

“I’m serious.”

“It’s not that serious.”

“Not that serious? Are you fucking insane?”

I straightened up, pen in hand. All I could hear from then on was too much. The strain was too much. It was time to end this suffering, for my family, and for me.

I went to my rocking chair again, same old heavy, color-drained seat cushion on top. I never noticed it in so much detail before: it used to be just my rocking chair. Like never before, it terrified me: the rocking chair was my portal.

The wood groaned under my weight as I waited for the dreams.

 

Hours seemed to drain by; now that I wanted it to come, it took its sweet time. Light slowly faded. My wife didn’t come out to see what I was doing, as she is used to my outbursts. My daughter came out, but, seeing the expression on my face, was speechless. She also let me be, though certainly not from apathy. After a while, the day began to wear away, and darkness took the place of light.

Sure enough, it came for me.

It appeared on the porch steps ahead of me, its head cocked. I couldn’t open my mouth to speak, but it already knew my question: it reached out its hand and closed each finger, one at a time, starting with the smallest on the end, in a gesture I understood. I stood up and followed the creature.

Its gait was odd, but it walked with purpose. I followed behind, walking around the brush and attempting to keep from tripping in the darkness. My eyes began to adjust, and I could see the creatures around me: the bright eyes of whitetail deer, the cautious walk of a feral housecat, the swoop of an owl. It wasn’t long before the creature found the stump, the halfway point, a landmark to find what I had hidden.

The creature never once turned to make sure I followed, though now and then it would look around as though its memory was as corrupted as its body. I felt an air of familiarity toward the creature, its hideous demeanor notwithstanding. Finally, it stopped, stooping over a place in the ground with a weather-worn shovel stuck in the mound. I knew.

I took the shovel in hand and started to dig. The creature, ominously, crouched next to me as I lifted the first, second, third shovel-fills of dirt. A sliver pricked my hand, piercing, a splinter caught in my palm. I heaved ten, twenty, thirty times and fell into a rhythm. I worked as though a slave, my fate sealed beforehand, working toward my own destruction, the ruin of man. As I sank lower, the creature stood above me, head cocked, staring, unmoving, lifeless. Then, as though choreographed, planned, or scripted, I bent down and moved the dirt with my hands, my fingers, trembling fingers, dirt in my nails. Eventually, I touched it: cautiously, carefully, my hands pulled away small layers, roots, pebbles, flakes, making an outline, starting at first in a semi-circle, more semi-circles, whole circles, liberating pits, small pits, working down, finding lines and curves and patterns and bones, more bones, finally revealing the skeleton of the man I shot and killed one year before.

 

One year before was the third day of hunting season, and I took a couple days off from work to celebrate it. I often went alone, since my daughter never took up interest and my wife annoys me (admittedly because she is a better shot than me). I went alone, my packing my rifle and walking out from the house before the sun had risen. I took no flashlight, as I would allow my eyes to adapt to the darkness, and I took no lunch, since I tend to find a deer before lunchtime even comes around. I followed the same old trail my grandfather used to use, and then my father and uncles, and now it was only me, alone, wandering deeper into the area I thought of as my property, even though there is more land than a man can really control.

I did not stop until evening. I was a hungry, though only a little, but I was very thirsty. I followed the trail home, my stomach leading the way, reminding me that supper would be on the table. My pride was a little hurt, since it was the first time in years I did not find a decent buck by the third day. It had not been a good day.

My eyes followed the trail lazily up a hill, my feet practically dragging. Then, from some primal instinct luring my gaze upward, I finally saw it. Standing on the top of the hill was a four-point buck, staring, immobile. It certainly wouldn’t be the best rack I’ve collected, but at this point, I wanted what I could get. I pulled my rifle from off my back and put the creature in my sight. Adrenaline kicked in, helping me aim. The buck looked as though it was just about to bolt. With the speed of molasses, I pulled the trigger. Crack. I must have gotten excited and missed, but the buck didn’t move. I thought I was lucky. Crack. The buck jumped and bounced away, but my adrenaline began to cease. I must have hit him that time. I slung my rifle and made my way to the top.

There was blood, alright. Enough to follow him by. I stopped for a good half-an-hour, trying to see through the dense trees, one of the few places with anything taller than me growing on the whole property. After a moment of waiting, I unslung my rifle and followed the blood trail, a little tense from the adrenaline.

After meandering through thick brush, I found the carcass. The deer was dead, probably not long before I had reached it. A feeling of relief flooded over me. A clean kill. I started to look at the kill I had made, one of many. It was something I was used to. Just then, a chill vibrated on the back of my neck. Something else was here. I looked up. There was a figure, lifeless, in a small clearing fifty yards away. Everything told me not to go up to it, but my body disobeyed me. I walked toward it.

On the ground was a forty-to-fifty year old man with a speckled gray and brown beard. He wore all camo, no ‘hunter’s orange’ or pack. He lay sprawled against the ground, his eyes staring upward. His throat was covered in red, one hand still over his wound. Though I couldn’t know this, it seemed that he had choked to death on his own blood. He wasn’t supposed to be on the property, but here he was. After seeing his body, I turned back toward the buck, pulling my knife out, prepared to go through the tribal motions of gutting and quartering, ready to…

What was I doing? A man lay dead just behind me. I couldn’t turn to see the man again, the blood still pouring from the wound onto the ground. Something my grandfather had told me came back to me: “Never shoot over a hill, son. You never know where that bullet might go.” I saw the buck again, with new eyes: blood poured from his chest, still pouring, a fresh kill, fresh death, red, blood covered the dirt, soaked up the red blood, red, still bleeding, his hand on his red, red, on his neck, red, red, red…

I couldn’t remember the next part. It was dark, very dark, and there was a hole where the man’s body was. A compactable shovel was in my hand, one I always bring with me. Both of the bodies had gone. I stood and, following the old trail, made my way home.

I stepped up onto the front porch, shovel in hand. The lights in the house were on, and a figure moved back and forth. My tense feet struck the steps with a heavy thump, thump, thump. The wind chimes started acting up, making a ruckus. I heard some commotion from inside the house. Halfway up the steps, the front door opened. My wife took one look at me and screamed, a soul-piercing sound that made me tremble. I froze.

“My god!” she said. “You scared me half to death! You know I was waiting up all night for you…” She didn’t know. A part of me felt relieved. I barely listened to her in my state of mind. “… You’ve never been gone so long. What a heart attack you gave me!”

“I’m sorry, dear,” was all I could mutter.

She gave me an odd look. “Why, you’re all covered in blood. My, men are messy! But at least you get the job done.” She smiled. “I suppose you’ll go back for it in the morning, hmm? Big, strong man couldn’t carry it by himself?” She looked at my shoulder. “Honey, where is your rifle?” I gave her a puzzled look. “Oh, you know, your father’s rifle!”

“Oh,” I managed, “I must have put it down somewhere.”

She made a tisk tisk sound with her mouth. “You know what your father would say. ‘If someone dropped that rifle, then someone had better be dead!’ Now come inside, dinner’s cold enough as it is.”

“That’s alright,” I responded a little too quickly. “I’ll have a moment in my chair.”

Her eyebrow raised. “Suit yourself, but I’m going to bed. Finally.” She left.

Once she was gone, I had another feeling, the same feeling I had when I found the dead man. I turned, slowly, against my will, toward my rocking chair. It was occupied by a slouch-backed man with both hands on the end of the arms of the chair, not rocking, not moving. He wore the same camouflage as before, had the same build as before. I looked at his face. Instead of a man’s head, it was an antlered buck, fleshy, lifeless, staring away, its tongue lolling out of the side of its mouth, its teeth showing. A fly buzzed around from out of nowhere, landing at first just above the eyelash, then crawling, purposefully, onto its eye, searching the surface, until the eye twitched, the fly fled, brown eyes pointed, purposefully, directly, at me.

The Stain

Every stain has its origins. Many particles all residing in one specific area in which they begin to seemingly collect more; building upon what once was a minute spec on the wall, to obscure design that engulfs your very existence.

At first, only you notice it. The little dot of what may have been just some coffee spilled from this morning’s breakfast. It is your little secret; a secret in which you pray no one will discover.

As the stain begins to expand, you turn a blind eye to it. Still, no one seems to observe a difference. And to be honest, neither do you. Or at least, any change you do notice is counteracted by the feeling of denial. Besides, the stain is no bigger than your thumb at the most.

Days turn to months, and the stain is now the size of one’s fist. Today is the day; the day in which you finally decide to remove the unsightly mark from your wall. However, after hours of scrubbing, you see no result. The coffee cup, still almost full, flies with incredible speed towards the wall. You watch the cup shatter into a million little pieces, and the coffee only adds to the impenetrable stain that you must now find a way to cover up.

You begin avoiding people; keeping only those closest to you, knowing that they will not judge you for the stain on your wall. Social events become hellish, a nightmare that in which, there is no escape. One last time you try to eliminate the stain for good. Armed with what was the number one-rated stain remover on Amazon, you confront the stain in a last ditch effort to be free of the burden. Try as you may, the stain now is part of your life.

The stain has become an everyday part of your existence, and the fear of change is eminent. The shame that surrounds you deflects any kind words bestowed on to you. The entirety of your wall is black. No matter how desperate you cry for help, no one hears you. When finally someone does respond, your retaliation is brutal; knowing that if you do receive “professional aid,” the stain in which you have become so accustomed to will be gone forever. The constant push-pull relationship with your inner emotions pertaining to the stain has you forever exhausted. Every time you attempt to penetrate the immense blackness of what once was a beautiful white wall, you fall, chastising yourself on how you could ever conceive the idea of having a clean slate. You love the new color your wall has become, yet you hate it; knowing the complete control it now exercises over you.

The path in which you know everyone wants you to go down is clearly the most dangerous. You want the stain to consume every last part of you, and yet knowing what it has already done, leaves you in a state of woe. The harder you try to please everyone, the more you end up loathing yourself; thus falling back onto the stain that has now entered your heart.

Darkness.