Friday, November 25, 2016

2 Minutes. Go!

72 comments:

  1. Damn, that's beautiful... and you made me cry first thing. Well in.

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    1. Yes. So beautiful and sweet and damn you for making me cry. In the best possible way.

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    2. This is beautiful. So full of quiet joy and hope. Thank you.

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  2. There's a turquoise green trailer back in the forest, away from the road. Not legal for him to be there, but the trailer had been there long enough that the trees had grown up to hide it. It was all the home he had.

    The voices in his head kept him company most days, even the ones when he longed for silence. Like a radio with batteries that never died. Like a radio that tuned in all the stations all at once. His daddy went crazy, too. He knew the signs.

    He didn't think he was very far gone, at least not yet. He was smart enough to get rid of the gun and all the sharp objects. He was far away from people, so he wouldn't hurt anyone. He was biding his time, praying for silence.

    In the meantime, he wrote. Word after word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, in print small enough that only spiders could read it. How quickly the stories came to him, his stories, not the stories of the voices, he would not write those.

    He ate from cans, mostly. Cases of Spaghetti-Os. Sardines. Sometimes he caught things in his traps, but he had no idea how to clean or cook them, so he let them go. He took good care of his one and only spoon.

    It was time for dinner now, he realized and went inside, carefully putting his pen and notebook in their place, just like Mama taught him. A place for everything and everything in its place. He took his place at the tiny table, opened the can of sardines, and nodded at his guest.

    "Jesus, would you mind saying the blessing?"

    And Jesus did and the voices silenced and the man breathed no more and a raccoon came in that night and ate the sardines and all was right in the world, the world of the tiny turquoise trailer. And Jesus wept.

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    1. Oh my. Two stories that bring tears to my eyes. And I think I have bronchitis now so that impinges on my breathing.
      Dan, you've described being a parent so beautifully, bittersweet.
      Leland, I burst out at the, "He took good care of his one and only spoon." So very sad and beautifully penned.You feel his isolation keenly. His descent sharply. Wonderful!

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    2. This is so beautiful. "He took care of his one and only spoon." Epic. And the print small enough that only spiders could read it.

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    3. Wow. Just...wow. Not sure what else I can say. <3

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    4. I'm late to the party, but the spoon kills And the rhythm from the git go

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  3. Poor Papa. His mind was going. He kept talking about impossible things in an impossible world. Crazy talk. It happened to the old ones. She was going to miss him.

    Sometimes she liked listening to his stories. She wished some of the things he said were true. As she lit the candle, she wondered if it would really be possible to have light by flicking something he called a "switch." The candle supply was shrinking, and she tried to imagine sitting alone in the dark after sunsets when the candles were gone. But she had no time for such craziness now. She had dinner to cook. She lit the fire in the fireplace and threw in what Papa called a book. She wished she understood what the little black marks meant.

    Fahrenheit 451 was good to cook with. Its pages caught fire quickly, and Papa would be hungry. Poor Papa.

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  4. To JW, who says dark is never, ever dark enough...

    There he stood, bathed in gloom, illuminated by darkness, a spectral shadow of gruesome demeanor, a Wild Hunt demon made flesh, one look turning bones rigid, bowels liquid. Whatever pantheon truly existed, this creature ruled above all.

    Impossible to fight, ridiculous to flee when caught in the gaze of that abyss. Eyes devoid of humanity, if ever there had existed any compassion, any kindness in the first place. Coal black, and not a sparkle escaping, nary a glint, for that might mean hope, and there was none. Dull, flat eyes that reflected back only death, decay, utter defeat.

    He watched all with not even a turn of his head, a twitch of an eyebrow. He saw everything and nothing. No reasons for these pale creatures existences, in his own mind it was compassion he dispensed, surcease he offered, succor he granted. Why they thought him malevolent he would never understand, had he cared at all what they thought save for their fear, their despair. Once ripened to fruition, that he drank in, tasted upon his tongue like the finest wine. Nothing eased his hunger quite like the sharp tang of someone with no will left, crippled by indecisiveness. A sweet nectar to be savored, enjoyed as the intoxication flowed through his veins.

    A never ending bounty as there existed a plethora of those so well mired in the depths of despair that should he wish to, he could remain drunk always. In the early days of his ascension he had, but over the decades he'd learned a modicum of balance. Not feast or famine, certainly not, why deny himself like that, but a steady flow of their liquid souls to swill. That was best. He still overindulged on a whim, but exceedingly rarely.

    His eyes sharpen, focus on a new arrival. A fresh and newly despondent soul has just entered. Taking a slow deep breath, he fills his lungs with the scent. Oh, a wonderful vintage this one will make. What passes for a heart leaps in his chest, a staccato rhythm only he can hear. Leaning back into the shadows, he waits, watches. Knowing it won't be long now until he can partake.

    After all, you must leave eventually.

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    1. Ohhhh... I like this! and I'd read more! My favorite phrase (and you might want to use it as a title for a book): "illuminated by darkness" ...

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    2. Thank you Leland. The inspiration is such a dichotomy of a man, those words popped from my very first thought. I don't know how others write, but whole sentences occur to me, and I rush to get them written out most of the time.
      You're right, it does make one helluva book title.

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    3. Wow. I like this. The rhythm. It's so good.

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    4. AGREED! This is what grabbed me: one look turning bones rigid, bowels liquid - simple and perfect.

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  5. "Don't do this. Not on Thanksgiving."

    The voice was small and far away. Not like the wind that was roaring up from the bay below.

    "Come on, work with me. Talk to me."

    She focused on the white caps below, trying to shut the voice out.

    "What kind of a day do you think I'm gonna have if you jump? There's a turkey in the oven, drying out while we're freezing out here."

    She wavered. She spoke. "Go home, then."

    "Doesn't work that way. You jump, I gotta fill out a shitload of paperwork."

    "Pretend you didn't see me then."

    "The cameras see all. I'll get fired if I leave now."

    "I'm just tired. Of it all. I'm thankful I'm ending it."

    "That's a lousy gratitude. What am I supposed to tell my daughter when I get home and she asks me how my day was? 'Oh, I just watched someone your age kill herself. Hey, how was the turkey?'"

    "Tell your daughter to be careful who she loves. And goddammit, you’d better love her and tell her that you do."

    He was mercifully silent for a moment. "I do."

    "Is there anything...anything your daughter could do that would make you stop loving her? Drugs? Being a whore? Running away?"

    He answered without a pause, "Absolutely not."

    "Then your daughter hit the daddy jackpot."

    The sky was gray. The seagulls drew circles in the sky.

    "You like turkey?" he asked.

    "Are you serious? You're totally fucking up the ending I had planned. I just wanted to slip away, no one..." and she felt his hands grab her arm.

    "It's my job to fuck up endings when the story isn't ready to end."

    She sighed and let him drag her from the railing.

    "You know what I'm thankful for today, young lady?"

    She smelled onions on his breath. "I'm guessing it's not your mouthwash."

    His laugh startled her. "Sorry. I was making stuffing when they called about you. No, I'm grateful that I can share some turkey with a stranger today."

    "Goddamn turkey."

    The van with flashing lights and the subtle name on the door pulled up. No one would ever guess it took crazy people to psych wards. The attendants firmly placed her in the restraints.

    "No goddamned turkey?"

    "I'll bring some to you later."

    The door was almost closed. "Tell your daughter I'm sorry."

    He got into his car, put the key in the ignition, and got the hell off the bridge, the bridge his daughter jumped from seven years ago today. It wasn't onions that made him cry.

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    1. Oh. Oh no, did not see that coming. I was emotionally broadsided by that one. I was getting "Its a Wonderful Life..." vibes, not sure why. Lives that touch, intersect for a reason. Until the end. Beautifully told.

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    2. Oh that ending! </3 So perfect in it's beautiful tragedy.

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    3. Blindsided. I love this: ""It's my job to fuck up endings when the story isn't ready to end."

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  6. I call this, The Abyss Stared Back...

    The call came in at 1:47 a.m. To the minute on the date of his birth. The irony was not lost on him. He'd be avoiding the annual false festivities planned, exacerbated by the attending of even more false friends. As the monotone voice dispensed instructions, he became more elated by the moment. His existence to this point had been mediocre. A small, nondescript man, easily overlooked and underappreciated by his colleagues and his dull as dish-water wife. As she found him to be precisely the same, existence had become tedium. But this? This was going to be monumental. He'd read about the events most thoroughly. They'd always fascinated him. How brilliant that he'd been reading about himself without ever knowing it.

    He hung up the phone, and in a blinding moment of clarity, saw it all. His whole life, his reason for being must have been for this. How else to explain his experiences, the events he'd weathered. He was childless which was a huge hurt, but as he saw it now something Fate must have arranged. What if he'd had a son or daughter and chose to balk at his assignment? At the sticking point? Leaving no real kith or kin was a boon, he could see that now.

    And being hurt while cycling that last time, well, he saw that too. It had given him a pronounced limp and a blown disc. He'd railed at the Fates over that one, having something he'd enjoyed so much taken from him, but could see now how it would aid him in the mission. How would anyone hobbling about with a back brace and a cane be considered a true threat? His smallish, bookish demeanor would serve him well.

    And if he hadn't had cycling yanked so abruptly away, he might not have taken to his books, studied Science, most particularly Chemistry. Yes, he understood so many things now. His place in history had been preordained, and all the misfortune and sorrows he'd weathered had nudged him along this path. This glorious path.

    He showered, then dressed carefully, referencing the grainy picture in the history book they'd given him when first recruited. He shook his head, amused that he'd never recognized his own loafers or that hideous sweater that his wife had given him several Christmases ago. The face, his face he now knew, was covered in the confusion, the chaos of the picture but now he knew, saw all the puzzle pieces falling neatly into place.

    Mixing the chemicals precisely, he tucked the vial into his sweater and used the transporter he'd been given with the book. The walls shimmered, changed and reformed, depositing him to a safe spot backstage, never a worry that the Custodians didn't know what they were about. He could see the politicians on the dias, workers buzzing around them, giving them index cards with the notes they'd need, receiving last minute makeup touchups. Security was tight, but they paid him no mind as he walked towards the stage, a clipboard in his right hand, his cane in the left.

    When close enough, he reached into his pocket, tossing the vial in front of the podium. They responded quickly but his success had been assured. He had the History book to prove it. No politicians would survive, none in the room would, including himself, but that was fine. As he drew in his last breaths, drool leaking out of his mouth, pinned under already dead or dying Secret Service agents he realized Nietzsche was right. Stare into the abyss long enough, into that consummate darkness and something will begin to stare back. He'd seen it, but more importantly, it had seen him, chosen him. He died with a gruesome rictus and his heart swelled with pride.

    World War Three would be beginning shortly.

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    1. Ah, the restoration of justice... this frightened me more than I can say.

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    2. Yeah, this is SUPER strong and scary. Really, really tight.

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  7. And lastly, something I just wrote after finding out a good author friend hates, loathes and despises chicken and turkey. I also wrote a Naughty Santa Claus poem I'm not sure the world is ready for. I shocked even myself. So we'll reflect on posting that one...

    Now some people like chicken, be it roasted or fried,
    Fricassée'd, cacciatore'd, it's theirs to decide.
    But I'd rather eat dirt, much more tasty by far,
    Or ingest coon or possum, tenderized by a car.

    Yard bird never will suit me, I'll not eat a bite.
    As it's gamey and gummy and just don't taste right.
    Now I know what you're thinkin', I sound a bit picky,
    But the thought of a chicken is way too damn icky.

    So keep those fowl nuggets far away from my sight,
    For no matter the method, it won't cook up right.
    Beady eyed nasty creatures, runnin' round, always clucking,
    And I bet that cock's in the hen house now, what the fucking!

    So give me some ribs, or some ham, better... steak!
    As for me eating chicken, I'm on permanent break.
    And don't try fooling me, stick it in my tube steak,
    Or my friend, 'twill be your very last, worst mistake.

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  8. Not fiction... my actual morning (and I've posted a picture of the hawk on my timeline on facebook)

    I hear Angelo shake off the remnants of sleep. Then he pads over to my bed, and slaps it with one paw. My cue to wake up. It is dark outside, with a thin crescent of the moon chasing Venus. I stumble to the kitchen, leaving Maggie sleeping on her back. She is not an early riser.

    Coffee in the travel mug, and I open the door… two blurs of fur race past me. The moon gives off just enough light for us to walk. A couple of miles later, the sun rises. It’s a special moment, each morning, the visible transformation from night to day.
    There is no adequate name for the color of light made by the just-risen sun. It’s pink, and orange, and salmon, and tangerine, and it’s magical.

    I watch the dogs run ahead of me. Maggie half-heartedly digs in a place the elk came through last night. Their hoofprints have made for easy digging, but it’s digging for digging’s sake.

    Angelo stops, barks once, and I see the large wings of a hawk rise up from the sage. Glorious in its lift-off. The air is filled with feather-thunder. When I catch up to Angelo, I see the hawk was feasting on a rabbit. Angelo regards the carcass with caution, one eye on the sky, in case the hawk returns. But the hawk has moved on. At last, Angelo picks up the remains of the rabbit, and carries it as he walks beside me.

    We near the tree I call the Kindle tree, because it’s where Angelo and I wrote half of one of my first books. It sits in the middle of a ravine, a ravine where a coyote likes to dig a new den every year. We’ve not seen the coyote directly, just the results of his or her digging.

    Angelo stops. He looks at the fresh dirt outside the burrow. He lays the rabbit carcass down and backs away. Maggie watches, but does not disturb the carcass. I wonder if the coyote killed the rabbit and the hawk stole it from him, or if Angelo is making an offering to a wild friend.

    I ask him, and his only answer is, “Balance is restored.”

    And I am humbled to live with one so wise, so generous.

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    1. Angelo <3

      Thank you for sharing this story, and in such a way that we got to be there with you.

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    2. You know I love this one. We're gonna have to trade raptor stories some time.

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  9. Another one of those that wants to keep going. If I finish it, I'll link to the finished version on my blog.
    ___________________

    Geneva's a small woman in a small town at the quiet end of a quiet life.

    Union Street is straight and plenty wider than it needs to be, and the bakeries and thrift stores and credit unions and jewelers and coffee shops are comforting, like old photos in sepia. It's only partway through November, but the seasonal lights are already up. She doesn't mind. She finds it safe, like when she used to lie beneath the towering fragrant spruce as a little girl, her eyes filled with color and love.

    This is her routine on a weekend. Since her Stanley up and died a decade ago now, she's discovered a love of film, so she attends at least one matinee a week, usually on a Saturday, which leaves Sunday open for when she gets the comparatively less frequent urge for Jesus. Fact is, Jesus ain't really cutting it all that much of late.

    Ron McDonald manages the movie theater. Everyone forgets how plumb comical his name is now; given time, people get used to most everything. It's called The Empire, and though it mostly shows current films, Ron tries to host a classic or two during weekend matinees.

    Geneva feels still as the eye of a thwarted storm, like the storefronts and sidewalk are moving past her and all she has to do is wait until Union and Wabash arrive and she can walk right into the movie house to find her weekly measure of drama.

    She knows she's old and unremarkable. She knows her place is set and her role defined. Unseen. If Stanley were still alive, perhaps they might drive to Echo Park, even take a real picnic like old times, red-and-white checkered cloth and everything, while the young folks stared, bemused. He would call her Eva and she would smile. But Stanley is gone, and her life as a wife, and as a waitress, then as a department store salesclerk, and then, briefly, as a student of art history in college before she realized she'd bitten off more—financially at least—than she could chew, is gone.

    At the big department store she worked in when they moved to St. Louis for a year, she won Employee of the Month three months in a row. She would've won it four times if the other employees hadn't started to get antsy. Her boss told her he was sorry about that, but sometimes excellence isn't rewarded in this world all that often, and the other crabs want to pull you back into the bucket. That's exactly how he said it, too. She still hung those awards on her wall, in the tiny apartment she shares with the odd roach, a colony of bedbugs (she suspects), and plenty of angry Spanish epithets from her florid neighbor.

    This is her life. She wonders what would happen if she stripped naked as a jaybird and danced the can-can the length of Union Street. Would anyone even notice? Or care? People in movies do crazy stuff like that and everyone loves them. She sighs, buys her ticket, and finds a seat about ten rows up from the screen and central.

    There are more colored folks here than usual (she knows she needs to say African American but her tongue can be obstinate when it comes to current ways), a couple families with kids even, and Geneva realizes why: this Saturday, they're showing To Kill A Mockingbird. Sure, a story still told by white folks, but one that at least looks at prejudice without blinking. She knows because she read the novel a few years back, and she loved Scout's raw, wide-eyed voice and Atticus's quiet nobility.

    And whoever picked Gregory Peck must have had the same dreams as her.

    While she's watching the show, she drifts and has a memory of when Stanley first hit her. The pure shock of it. She remembers wanting to disappear, to be like mist, because mist can't be broken. She misses him but she doesn't miss his knobby fists, his sandpapery palms, and his random meanness.

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    1. *IF* you finish it? Dear God, I'm begging you to. I love the structure of this... and its story... and the simplicity of the wording... it's amazing! Now get to work on it and give us more. Please. Don't make me grovel.

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    2. Ha ha, careful what you wish for! This one kind of made a left turn near Albuquerque. ;) But thanks for the encouragement. I seem to be writing more *story* stories lately. Weird.

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    3. It does seem that this is begging to be something longer.

      That said, you captured the "old and irrelevant" thing perfectly. Just kind of makes me want to befriend Eva and show her she still matters.

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    4. I love that you call her by the shortened version of her name. All she needs is someone to pay attention, and you paid attention, Laura! :)

      Incidentally, I'm sorry I didn't get to comment on any of this week's stories. I'm still trying to read them all, and as always, they're spectacular.

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    5. Oh, I meant to say: I did link to the full version in my previous comment, the one right after Laurie's. Not sure Dan's blog makes links all that obvious.

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    6. Sweet. I'll have to check that out. :)

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    7. Sweet. I'll have to check that out. :)

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    8. Man, I love this. And I was struck by the simplicity of language, too. You write such ornate beautiful stories, but you do this so well, too. That's command.

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  10. Charlie finished his cigarette and slogged back to his bus. The roads were slick with the light rain, but the brats had to be picked up and dropped off regardless of the weather. His bones ached with the wet and the chill that was setting in. He was tired, and just getting more tired of the screaming and shrieking and throwing things and million other things kids did on a bus to distract the driver.

    The parents didn't give a shit, he though as he stepped up into his idling ride. They let the little fuckers get away with murder and wouldn't hear a word about how their little darlings were acting on the ride to or from school. Kids probably didn't act like idiots when they were around their parents, either. Damned shame the next generation was shaping to be a bunch of noisy idiots.

    He buckled up, wondering why he bothered, and threw it into gear. Gravel crunched beneath the big tires as he pulled out of the back parking lot to trundle around to the front of the school.

    He didn't figure there would ever be another 30-year driver in Montgomery County. The kids would make it impossible, if everything else about the job didn't. He drove a split shift for shit pay. "Working for benefits" some of the drivers called it - the price of insurance alone ate up the part-time wage most drivers got. And the hours he did have free were not what other employers were looking for in a part-time employee. It was a dead-end no-win situation. If not for his wife's job with Exxon, they would never have survived the last decade.

    Stopping the bus in the proper position as dictated by the school principle - not even his own boss! - he opened the doors and plastered a smile onto his face. He didn't even care if he looked friendly today or not. One of the parent volunteers waved and gave him a cheery smile back form under her bright red umbrella before she started loading the drippy little sardines into the can.

    Time for another run.

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    1. You completely put me in the head of that poor driver... well done!

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  11. It started with a line in the sand.

    ~~~~

    The wall was taller than it had ever been, the top almost out of sight. If you angled your head right you might see it; topped with strings of wire, the haze glowing purple between them as the moisture began to ionise. Further down, it was more solid, blocks airlifted into place and then mortared together. The cracks had been filled; there was nothing that could come through.

    Inside, it was secure, people massing to hear the announcements. A new age of prosperity. A clean sheet. A redo. There was nothing that could mar this beginning we’d been offered. Outside, there was nothing; nothing worthy of mention. Just anarchists and malcontents and the lawless dominions, picking at our nation, all jealous of our success.

    Of course, we were proud. We’d done this ourselves. One nation united; all races together. From where I stood I could see everyone gathered here to watch. The old and the infirm, the prodigals and the youngest – we were all here together. All the people as one with no division.
    The Guards were all elite, of course, each hand-picked by the Governor. The most loyal and the most skilled, sitting high in their towers. They’d watched and they’d waited and they’d killed tens of thousands; the foreign horde had been most persistent. But eventually they’d learned to leave us alone.

    And so, we were here now, on this first Celebration Day.

    A squawk of feedback rang out, the loudspeakers deafening the crowds.

    “I thank you for being here,” the Governor said, his voice echoing between the walls within the city and the greater wall beyond. “It has taken us four years to get here from when we began. You’ve all been so patient; you’ve supported the Guards, the Dominion, the intelligence services. You’ve paid for this willingly – the protection of the Nation. You’ve seen us build a wall, separating us from the Evil; all the liars and the thieves and jealous foreign nations. But they succumbed and we won and now we’re all together.

    “Of course, it’s been hard and of course there have been casualties. The Guard has had to be enlarged and their weaponry upgraded. And new measures of trust had to be assigned to all you people and only the truest and the best of us could join. And so, you should be glad that this nation is secure.”

    The microphone clicked off and then the floodlights began to blaze. A voice rang out from the Guard tower; distorted, cruel and harsh. “Begin Phase Two,” it said, announcing the end of all of us.

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  12. Elfin times

    There’s a spiky humoured, spindly elf sitting on my shoulder sometimes, just watching what I type, listening to what I say, amused by my limp jokes, and I think he even hotwires my brain to detect what I’m thinking, or I could be slightly paranoid there. His green, peaked cap is wearing thin, his piercing purple eyes giving off less of a sparkle of late and his long, thin nose is not so often poking itself in strangers’ business, yet he still carries an unattainable air of incandescent magic.

    At the crack of dawn, he’s the first up, before Moira, my ginger-coloured cat, has even lifted a paw or stretched a pink yawn. The tiny grey mouse who inhabits the walls sometimes breakfasts with the elf, feeling safe in his presence. By the time I’m awake, the house is clean, spick and span, and pancakes await me, smelling of warm vanilla and that golden, bready smell, tossed in something I can’t pronounce, but he did tell me once. It’s a delicate herb from his other world, one you cannot grow here, in this time, lost as we are from the time of magic. Yet there it lies, sparkling on my table, waiting to be eaten.

    He throws a wink at me, before I take my usual seat. “It will give you another long year of my company,” he says, eyeing my napkin, being tucked delicately beneath my chin. I nod, lifting my hand slowly, noticing another liver spot on the surface of my wrinkled, translucent skin. I guess eternity comes easy and tastily, it would seem.

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    1. Ohhhh.... nice! but my eyes aren't purple...

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    2. haha, I thought u might like this one! :) I wasn't sure where it would go and then it went to time.

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    3. I love the whimsy and rhytmn right at the start.

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  13. [This is probably the start of something a lot bigger.]

    The heavy footsteps came closer, echoing through the cool stone corridor, and then stopped in front of Aaron’s cell. A man grunted the short, guttural words that he’d come to associate with the delivery of a meal, and he waited for it to clank through the hatch at the bottom of the door. By the slant of light through the tiny barred window near the ceiling, and the last time he’d heard the call for prayer, Aaron expected dinner: lentils or rice with a bit of meat. Over this meal he’d say his own prayer, thankful for what he’d been given.

    The tray snapped through and there was no dinner. No lentils or rice or meat he could not recognize. Only a black hood. He said another prayer, put the rank cloth over his head, and waited. The man’s voice called out a question. Aaron said yes and the door creaked open. By his own arrogance, he’d once learned what was on the other side of the hood—a guard with a rifle—and he didn’t think it would be wise to tempt fate again.

    He let the man nudge him out and down the hallway, their footfalls ringing in lockstep. Each feeling heavier than the last. Aaron’s heartbeat stealing the air from his lungs, the saliva from his mouth. He thought of Jesus on the cross, of that iconic prayer: forgive them, Father, for they don’t know what they do.

    The guard stopped him. A door swung open. He was led forward. Made to stand in a certain place and pushed down at the shoulders. He knew that meant sit, and a hard surface awaited him, and his hands were tied behind his back.

    The hood was removed from his face and the door clanked shut and he was alone on a blue plastic chair in front of a flat-screen television. He knew what came next. The interrogator would come and turn on the set and watch with him. When the cloaked men got through their litany of crimes against the accused, the end was mercifully swift; he prayed that his compatriots had not suffered long. Then he would provide the same answers to the same questions he’d been asked so many times. No, he didn’t work for the government. No, he wasn’t with the military. No, the church he claimed to represent was not a front for a ring of American spies.

    Part of him prayed that he would be taken next, just to have it done with.

    The door opened again. It was not the same interrogator that had sat with him the last two times.

    This man gave him a sad smile, almost one of gratitude. “You are Aaron Westbrook?”

    “Yes.”

    “You are the same Aaron Westbrook who went to Syracuse University in 1980?”

    Aaron blinked. “Yes.” This man didn’t look old enough to have even been a sparkle in his father’s eye all those years ago.

    “You saved my uncle’s life. He was going to university there. Some men pulled him from his car and called him terrible names and beat him and stole his wallet and left him for dead in the street. He says you took care of him. He speaks of you often. How you got him a doctor and let him stay with you and…”

    “Salah?” Aaron smiled. He hadn’t thought of his old friend for so long. “Speaks? He’s still alive?”

    The man nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. In fact, he is the reason I’m here. He recognized you on the news and asked me to find you.” His eyes darted to the door, and then he started working on the ropes that bound Aaron’s hands. “Come with me. I know a way out. For both of us.”

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    1. Oh.... I think you're right! it needs to be bigger, even though it's perfect the way it is!

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    2. Oh. Oh I love this so hard. And what Leland said.

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  14. Ginny Bocca sat by the window in her bedroom, her eyes following snowflakes fall on the houses up and down Bancroft Street, their colored lights signaling landing strips for reindeer.

    “Boy, Mooshy, Mommy and Larry were pretty mad…I hope I haven’t done somethin' so bad this time that Santa doesn’t come, ” she said to her one-eyed, threadbare Teddy bear.

    “We been in here a long time and they stopped hollerin' a million-zillion hours ago,” Ginny said, looking up at the cat-faced clock, swinging its tail in tick-tock monotony, when it meowed six times.

    “When they come an' unlock the door, I’ll tell 'em how sorry I am, whether Santa left me anything or not,” she said, blinking back what tears she had left.

    As she stared out at the neighborhood again, Ginny saw living room lights blink to life here and there up the street. Once again she wondered what fell over last night, two loud bangs, when her Mommy and Larry finished their yelling and must have gone to bed.

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    1. Heartbreaking... and you make us see it from the most vulnerable... exactly what good fiction should be...

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    2. Agreed. Painful to read, but truth. Brutal and powerful

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  15. I woke up knowing today was special, but unable to remember why. It wasn't my birthday. It wasn't a holiday. I didn't have a vacation planned, but today was special. Then it hit me, just about the time I was pouring my coffee. Today was the culling.

    We were all supposed to show up at our preselected culling stations, pick up our numbers, and wait to see if we were riding the train to death. I'd voted against this. That vote didn't go my way either.

    Don't get me wrong, I agree that overpopulation is an issue, but this shit is extreme. Killing one in four people is not the way to go. We're not cows. Still, we voted. The vote swung in favor of the culling, so a-culling we would go.

    I showered and dressed and locked up my house, headed to my culling station, and marveled at how calm everyone was. Just going about their business like it was any other day. I made it to the block of my culling building, noticed the dead bodies of protesters and runners littering the ground around the building. We didn't allow protests anymore. Another vote that hadn't gone my way.

    I made a decision on my way to the building. My decision was quite simple Fuck culling. Fuck voting. Fuck this whole thing. I walked right by the stupid-ass building, went back to my house, packed a bag, got in my car, and went looking for like-minded people who were still alive. I found them.

    Yeah, fuck culling.

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  16. All his life, he'd heard about the city by the bay. Amberly, the shining jewel of the country. He'd read all about Amberly--in novels, in travel guides, even in letters from friends. He thought he knew all there was to know.

    Then came the day he finally, finally got to see Amberly for himself.

    From the moment his feet touched the ground in the great city, he realized that he knew nothing at all. The books had told him the history of the port city, the travel guides had described the points of interest, and his friends had written about their escapades there, but none of them captured the essence of the city. Their words couldn't fill his nose with the scents of food and waste, they couldn't assault his ears with loud voices and screeching conveyances--or bless them with the sweet, soulful music that rose up in the streets. And nothing anyone had written had told him about the city's spirit.

    Amberly seemed almost a living thing, thriving, growing, pulsing with a vitality that seeped up through the souls of his boots and soaked into his skin. It seemed that almost everyone could feel it, too, judging by how they acted and interacted. Almost everyone seemed happy in Amberly, relaxed and yet busy as they explored the city or went about their daily lives. They talked to strangers as if they were long lost friends, smiled, laughed, and lived. Oh how they lived. Not a moment wasted.

    He only had twenty-four hours there. Twenty-four hours, and then he had to leave with his ship. But they were twenty-four of the most important hours of his life. He knew, even as he lived them, determined to be in the moment and make every second count, that they would shape his future. And he knew that, come hell or high water, he'd be back one day.

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    1. Good scene setting and building of anticipation! I want to read more!

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  17. “Whoa, whoa, slow down there, Jenny!”

    “Get off my dick, man, I can hold my liquor,” the buxom blonde replied, after downing her third shot of Jack, and before chasing it with a mouthful of Budweiser. She took another slug, burped, and continued, “y’all don’t know me. I know I usually present like this perky blonde girl-next-door type’a ho, but I’m from Detroit, you feel me? Not fuckin’ Grosse Pointe or Ann Arbor or some shit, Detroit city, ghetto-adjacent, Eight Mile and Woodward Ave. I can tell a backfiring car engine from a gunshot, and usually, I can tell what kind of gun it was. I got n-word privileges, yo, cuz that’s how much I don’t give a fuck.”

    “Aw, don’t go there…” “Why not? I’ve fucked a few niggas in my day. Most of them ain’t shit. I went black, it was cool, but I went back.”

    Jenny’s husband finally returned from the gents and asked, “so what are we talking about?”

    “Your wife is getting drunk and running her mouth.”

    “Hey, fuck you. This muthafucka, when we was first dating, he tried to get me drunk, and I put his ass under the fuckin’ table. Dude, I’m fuckin’ Irish, Swedish, and Polish. I come from a long, storied line of hard-bitten Midwestern drunks. I had this fuckin’ Jewbag licking me up like I was matzo ball soup.”

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  18. I feel the lack of things more than anything. The hole where the tooth used to be, the gaps on the shelves. It can often be that there was never a space that was filled - or maybe the space was always there but I was unaware of it. You can be sure of yourself but still be uncertain; having never known what it was that is missing.

    Of course, there's always TV and films; imaginary lives enacted for our amusement. Sometimes you sit before the screen, passively taking in the pastiche of another person's life, two-times removed from reality. But that can be even worse; in books and in films and on TV life's always in hi-res, a 4K hi-res perspective with no filler added. Every day is eventful and every date ends in sex and everyone kisses and hugs. It's the crack-cocaine realities we all need to inhabit.

    So, in a way, perhaps it's better to be out. At least the people there are real. You can sit in a coffee-bar with your bottomless cup, just watching the people go by. But these are the real deal, humans with lives, busy doing something on their way to somewhere. You can hunker right back, preferably in a corner, cocooned in your watch-post, in company but alone. If you're passive - and you probably will be - you can just drink them in, content to be the fish on the edge of the shoal, following the movements and the lives of the 'others'.

    But if that gets old, or if you demand more, you can orchestrate them all for yourself. The red-bobble-hat is a man with a wife, spending an hour here before going home. He's his eye on a barista - that Asian-eyed girl - and he's probably imagining her waiting at home for him, with her tattoos and her lipstick curves ready to be kissed. Or maybe that woman, the one with the hair, the hair that's fully braided and falls to her waist. She's probably a model, or an actress, or a PA, her Baedeker open as she plans her next trip. It was Mauritius last year, and she slept with her friend, having never once dreamed they'd share more than a room.

    Although, sometimes going out alone can tear you apart. These people have lives, they have everything worked out. They talk as they pass you, they embrace and they kiss. They do all the things that you wish you could do. You'd kill to swap places, to be the one that exists; the one with her hand in the hand of that man, throwing your hair over your shoulder with a smile. And not here alone, barely five feet away, watching someone living your life within reach.

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    1. Urban angst, well-written. Thank you.

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    2. Agreed again. More great scene setting.

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