Buddy Bot

Mom’s unopened birthday card lay like an accusation in the middle of where Mike would normally activate his holographic keyboard. Mike stared at the card, slanted upon the projector, the red ‘off’ light occluded by real paper. He picked it up, his other hand already moving to the switch, to turn on the haptic-keyboard, to start logging into Solwar. He’d left the card there on purpose.

“Open the card. Then reward self. Happy birthday to me.” He picked it open with his uncut fingernails. Of course Mum got him a smart card. An annoying animation danced across the front, of a birthday cake, twenty two candles lighting in sequences, then small fireworks, then he interrupted mom’s fascination with gimmicky crap and opened it to find an eight digit number.

I am so proud of you.

“For what?” He asked. For lying. For telling her he had been promoted.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, your father and I love you very much.

She knows. Of course. Mike tossed the card to the side, flipped the switch and was bathed in the warm light of the keyboard. His fingers danced over the haptic interface, artificial feedback making the keys feel real, so real, he pushed on them, pushed on ‘Y’, pressed until his finger when through the keyboard then looked at the eight numbers again. He turned off the monitor.

Groaned. Activated his phone. It could be anything.

“Dial 0024 4433.”

It only rang twice.

“Hello! Congratulations! Someone special thinks you’re special! You’re about to have your very own BuddyBot!”

“Fuck.”

The automated machine continued it’s spiel. “Please hold whilst we connect you to a consumer specialist!”

A BuddyBot. She could have covered his rent for four months instead. Mike couldn’t figure out which was more humiliating.

An upbeat whip-clean woman’s voice: “Good afternoon, is this Micheal Powel?”

“This is Micheal, well, Mike, Please call me Mike.”

“Well hello Mike. I imagine this is quite a surprise! I’m Rochelle and I will be your personal customer specialist. Call anytime with any problems, questions, or suggestions you might have. We have your personal details, of course, provided by your…mother…so I’ll be sending you some emails and till then I’ll be glad to take you through the process. Right now you’re probably asking yourself: WHAT exactly IS a buddybot! Am I right?”

“No. I know what it is.”

“Oh…”

“I’m a programmer.”

Who isn’t these days?

Not missing a beat she says: “Well great! A veteran then. I won’t bore you with the basics, but if you’ll allow me to introduce our newest BuddyBot model- BuddyBoyXP! Gone are the…”

“Look. Rochelle, please. I’m in a hurry. I’ve got a meeting in about half an hour. So is this just a…marketing thing…or…”

“Oh no Mike, not at all. You really are getting your own BuddyBot. Don’t you worry. All we need from you sir is your name…”

“Well. My name is Mike.”

“Well if you’ll let me please finish…what I mean is, when will it be convenient to call you back? So we can finalize the Naming. Everything else is preloaded into the Buddybot, but how he or she will say your name, well we like to test that out first. Trust me, it’s a small thing but it’s the most important thing, so if you’ll let us, in fact, we can do it right now! If you’ve got a few minutes. In fact…”

Mike said: “Yes. A few minutes, sure, my bad.” My bad. My fucking bad. No one with meetings says My Bad.

She goes business like, detached, says it the same way GP’s do when trying to determine if you have an STD: “Would you like a He, or a She?”

“How about an It.”

She actually laughs. “Okay- Mike right? Just Mike?”

“Just Mike.”

“Lets start with a she.”

She cycled through the different voices. At one point Mike said: “Was that you? Or the voice? I mean uh…did you say: ‘Good morning Mike?”

“Oh lord no! That was Dawn- I suppose we might sound a little…”

“That one is fine. Please.”

Silence.

“Excellent sir. Dawn is a great selection. Your BuddyBot will arrive in just a few days! What time would be convenient, on say…Friday?” They hashed out the details. Mike felt like he’d just signed up for a porn site.

On Friday Mike tried not to look so embarrassed when he opened the door. Two large men and one stringy looking teenager in a too large suit entered his small apartment. They all paused, surveying the cramped quarters, then the larger ones went out to drag in several plastic boxes. The stringy man said: “Wait. Hold on. Are you Micheal Powell?”

“Yeah, well. Mike. Yes. This is me?”

“Oh.” He looked around the room again. Nodded a few times then switched on an artificial smile “Well then, please sign here. And lets get started. This is very exciting. Do you have a place I can sit?” He looked at the thing that might be a couch, was now a trove of crumpled clothes, yawning takeaway boxes, physical books that lay face down, open. Mike brought out the chair he kept next to his monitor. He stood whilst the stringy man sat and explained the procedure.

He stood as he left, gripped Mike’s hand and said: “The key is the three stages. First there’s the introduction, then you build rapport, then you’ll be right as rain.”

“Got it. Introduction. Rapport. Rain.” Mike said.

They left Mike with an E-brochure on it’s own tablet (“You can keep it, with our compliments.”) as well as a white, bulbous, plastic mass, about five feet high. Light blue soft-foam pads lay on top of the piled on couch (Thank you, but no…no need for that, I’ll install the uh…hug pads myself.) It lacked any straight appendages, or any appendages at all, defeating the promise Mike made to himself to use it as a glorified clothes hanger. A pink sack covered the top of it’s ‘head’, with a playful note emblazoned on it: Remove when you are ready to say hello. Mike went into his room. He turned on his keyboard. He almost logged in.

Then he went back outside and turned It on.

The ghost of a sound, a slight whine, was heard briefly, then melded with the hum of his computer, air-conditioner, and the thrum of the city outside. A chime sounded. Mike waited. He looked around his empty room. He said: “Uh…are you…working? Hello?”

“GOOOOOD morning Mike! I’m Mira- it’s a pleasure to meet ya! Say, could you be a dear and take this bag off my face?”

“But…I thought…isn’t your name Dawn?”

“My name is Mira. That’s my name, I didn’t get to choose it. I hope that’s okay.”

“OH yeah, no, it’s fine. Mira. Totally fine.”

“Nice. So, like, how about that bag?”

He went over to her and took off the bag, said: “Sorry about that Mira.”

“No problemo bud. Now, if it’s alright with you let’s get to know each other a bit. I’m Mira. I’d shake your hands if I could. Maybe the next version will have hands. Don’t be cheap if they make an accessory! Just kidding. I’m no shill.”

“Okay. Cool. I’m Mike.”

Third Eye Part 3: Winding corridors.

The vague smell of of plastic and disinfectant forced the reality of the situation through my nose. I angled my body towards the front entrance, all about to leave, with only one foot to anchor me to the waiting area. A lone seated woman shot me with a questioning frown. I retreated to the cork board whilst I figured it all out. The notices had, on glossy paper, depressingly optimistic newsletters and information booklets so I blurred my eyes and focused on the noises behind me instead. A quick scan of the waiting room, over my shoulder, confirmed that she wasn’t here, in the waiting area, though she probably was here, in the hospital, and if she was here then her child was here, and if she had a child then the odds were that she was married.

 
The intermittent sound of the opening, closing, sliding door of the front entrance marked, with gusts and noise the slow passing of the seconds in which I tried to figure out what the hell it was that made me look for something different doay, at why I couldn’t have just done what a boring, skeptical person might have, but of course, why would I? Routine is so much worse. These glossy brochures reeked of routine.
 
Another warm gust preluded the voice of a squawking girl who said: “They’re all dead and they’re gonna fall down!” Followed by a shush from her invisible mother. I traced their path from the sound of her shushes. They paused somewhere behind me. The child said: “Mommy look at the lost man.” and I felt the A.C tickle my neck. She didn’t shush her. That silent stamp of approval lent a profound weight to the girl’s observation. “Mommy, why does he look so lost?” I detached from the board and sat on a couch. Waiting seemed the expected thing to do. The child stared right at me. I could feel her eyes through my peripherals. Her mother tapped on her smartphone with one hand, the other tethered to the child.
 
I stared down at the carpet. Squeezed my hands together. The carpet began at the sliding door and ended on the clacking tiles of the hopsital proper, where people perpetually speed walked in my peripheral vision. The carpet contained a gold threaded design. I tried to follow that thread, lost it in it’s incorrigible circles that looped and twisted all over the floor. Then someone’s phone, some child’s app perhaps, croaked “Baa baa.” And it said “black sheep” and I said “Balith.” Then in my head: Barrbalith. Then the thread seemed to glow. I unfocused my eyes and watched how it began near my feet. Shuffled my soles till the tip of my toes touched the furtive beginnings of that treaded on thread. The patterns coalesced. They led all the way to tiny feet that mostly hovered above the carpet, that were always accompanied by adults whose feet were planted on the fabric, their bodies linked, by hands or arms or with heads on shoulders. I sat back slowly till I could see all of it, the whole waiting room. The people moving at the edges were as natural and uninteruptive as the rhythmic movements of a clock’s hands. 
 
I felt their eyes. The children’s eyes prodding my chest. I did not stare back. One by one their legs stopped shaking, they put down their phones and distractions, toys and books and just stared in stillness at me whilst their parents continued, individually oblivious. A child voice said “green shell, sea shell, and don’t ring the bell.”
 
Another followed afterwards: “left and right and left and right again.”
 
And then a third said “she carried it in her right, good speed.”
 
And I whispered “Godspeed, thank you.” And got up. Walked towards the hospital with its maze of corridors and took the first left. I walked at a slow pace as there was a tuneless melody in my head that I kept time to. Towards me jangled a rolling gurney, a tiny female nurse behind leaning into the gurney to push it. The man on it locked eyes with me as he passed and I felt a billowing sadness, absolute conviction that he was going to die soon, but still, I did not break stride. I took the first right. Approached two double doors and pushed through. On the other side was a bright eyed woman wearing a white coat, she looked at me and opened her mouth and I nodded at her with as much command as I could muster, gesturing the clip board towards her without pause and heard no questions over my back. At the end of the corridor branched, left and right, and in the middle another damn cork board, covered in the same too bright brochures. Close enough to it, it seemed identical to the previous board, with the brochures in the same places, covered with the same tacks, angled in the same directions. In one corner however, was an empty space, with a green tack and a scrap of ripped paper impaled by it. I checked to see no one was watching. I sidled next to the shelf that lay underneath the board. In the space between it and the wall I could see, jutting out, the corner of a brochure. Another check to make sure I was alone, then I kneeled and tried to pull it out. Too far in. Too heavy to move. I used the clipboard to dig it towards me instead, froze unfinished when I heard the sudden, hurried footseps. I held still. If I turn it’s over, I just know it, the same way I did as a kid, whenever I was caught in the middle of doing something I shouldn’t have, just hold still and it’s as if they can’t see you. The footsteps went on past. 
 
What the hell am I doing?
 
Shame. Embarrassment.
 
I fished out the brochure. Brushed the dust off it with the edge of my clipboard. It was for the cancer ward, the whole thing colored blue. On the walls I foung a strip that lead towards the lift, and the number for the ward. I went in, clutching the info. Exited onto a corridor with a desk, behind which was no one. I’m not entirely sure what to do. At this point it was best to probably ask whether that woman had come this way. Something resembling faith told me it was worth a try. I thought to yell, but it didn’t seem appropriate, so I waited for a few minutes. No one came, and I could detect the faintest of background coughs, muffled sounds from other doors. I noticed the bell on the desk, just like the kind you see in movies on hotel front desks. My hand was right over the tip when I stopped. Don’t ring the bell. I left it. But why not? Why shouldn’t I? Because it would disturb people right? Because I might be heard.
 
I walked back towards a corner and just watched. Eventually I heard a rolling trolley. It stopped right at the branching point of a corridor so that I could see a snap shot of it. It went right so I followed. Till a door opened on my left and something pulled my arm roughly, into a pitch black room. 
 
She said: “Later on when you don’t believe me try to remember how I knew you were right outside this door, at exactly that moment, when there is no way for me to look outside.” Then with her free hand she handed me a bag of ice for the burgeoning bruise on my head. 

Short Story: Rahul or Raul

Raul or Rahul

It was 2001 and the towers had not yet fallen, and Raul’s brother had not left for university. Even though his brother’s empty room was only a scant few meters away from Raul’s, his brother had still tried to send Raul the video over MSN messenger, perhaps just to see if it would work. Raul didn’t know why he’d done that, and the lack of knowing followed him into his dreams, like a hole he could not descend into, a place which when he shouted questions at, would only echo.

So lately, Raul could not sleep. One morning he watched the sky change color again, his eyes half-lidded, feeling itchy all over and incomplete. He lay and wriggled in the stark, smoggy dawn, and tried to list all the reasons for why his brother had sent him the video, and which of the reasons seemed most like the truth. Why not just ask him to watch it? He could have gone right across the corridor, they could have watched it together.

Raul watched the light creep up his own computer, which had itself effortlessly slept through the entire night, and behind the black screen of which waited the link he had not yet dared to click. He went to his computer, tired of being exhausted, and he found the MSN message, the window a week old and still open, the link the color of un-clicked.

He clicked the link.

The ponderous, slow, Windows Media Player whirred to life and an image appeared, of Raul’s brother, a guitar casually perched upon his lap, waving indistinctly in the direction of the camera. So that was what the video was of- that birthday party, from when they had been in school. Raul couldn’t quite remember much of the party, except how his brother had awkwardly dedicated the song to Raul- yes- didn’t he? He did, at the beginning, right before he played the song. He’d said, “this one’s for…” or was it “the song goes out to…” or something else entirely. The song had been for him.

Raul pressed play.

The image would not move. He tried again. It stayed frozen. Raul checked; it wasn’t the codec; or the godawful player. Was it the file? Was it corrupted? Raul slammed the keyboard, then muttered alone, to himself, to calm down. Did his brother dedicate the song to him? Raul peered deep into the frozen frame, trying to access the memory via association, and could not- it was just out of reach, or perhaps, the picture was of too low quality. His doubts clamored about how it never made any sense, for his brother to dedicate that song to him.. It was a love song wasn’t it? The kind you sang to your girlfriend, or in his case, boyfriend. That’s what made it so awkward- though it had been hilarious- everyone knew his brother was gay and this was way too over the top, that he’d meant his older brother.

Unless.

Raul smacked himself in the head.

HE’D MEANT RAHUL!

RAHUL! His brother had had a crush on him! But Rahul himself wasn’t AT the party, so what’s the point in dedicating it to him? Raul didn’t know, and this sent his head into the keys, sounding that annoying warning blare. He noticed then, eyes straining against the top of his head, that in the bottom of the frozen video was someone with a pink mohawk on his head, and an ancient, 90’s style camcorder in his hands. Obsolete, backwards tech, you couldn’t send THAT over MSN. Though supposing if you lived nearby, you could probably run over with the video as quickly as send it online, though you’d need a VCR to play it.

Raul considered, whilst he got dressed for work, of trying out passwords on his brothers locked computer

Then he left.

The world was a bleary mess kept at a distance by the insomnia. At the bus stop, when he heard the tinny, absurd, custom ringtone come from the woman’s phone- the opening theme of Pokemon; “I wanna be…the very best…that no one ever was…” before catching himself, realizing- it was his brother that had shown everyone at school how to get that song onto their phones, his brother who organized that ridiculously awesome phone-sing-a-long-prank during the famous assembly, so what if this woman knew him? What are the odds that this was just a coincidence? How awkward would that be if she didn’t know about him. How do you broach the topic?

Raul said nothing.

Instead he planned how it was he would find out exactly who the guy with the pink mohawk was. At work he used the company landline to place several calls, whilst simultaneously using his Nokia phone to text people. Through friends of friends of his brother, he tracked the number down. He tried it, and in a polite flurry asked the mohawk if he still had the video. The mohawk did. And was he free this evening? He was, sort of. An impending meeting had Raul outright demanding, in a fluster, that he be able to borrow the video that night. The mohawk said sure, but to come by before seven . Raul thanked him profusely and got back to work. It came easier, the promise of the video like a beacon, something to look forward to, that he thought would bring him peace.

The fucking meeting ran over.

When he finally left, it was pushing 8:30. He called the mohawk and the phone rang, and rang, and rang. He texted the mohawk, asking if they could reschedule, that Raul would go anywhere, would travel across the city if he had to, he just needed to see the damn video. Finally a pissed off woman answered. “What the hell do you want?” Her voice softened when he told her who he was.

“Bob’s at the airport. He had a flight to catch.”

“But…what…when is he coming back?”

“He isn’t…” At that Raul couldn’t help it. He began to tear up. “Hello? Are you there?”

“…What’s his flight number?”

She told him and he ran to a taxi, worried inside, ran out of the taxi, and into the airport to a help desk, then ran from the help desk to the check out counters. Then ran from the checkout counters to the immigration entrance. Raul scanned the travelers for a pink mohawk. There were none. Raul wanted to scream, so he did, he screamed: “BOOOOOOOOOOOB!” and someone with a dark crew cut in a suit put up his hand. And no one arrested them as the towers hadn’t fallen yet.

Bob had the camcorder, and the tape, and the camcorder could play the tape on a tiny screen.

“Is it okay if I watch it on my own? In the toilet?”

Bob said it was okay.

Raul sat with the seat down, glad he bought some earphones from the nearby store. He plugged them in, crossed his fingers, and pressed play.

His brother came back to life.

Raul rewinded to the beginning repeatedly. Each time he felt the whole machine shake as the analogue tape physically wound itself backwards. He did this several times to make sure he had heard right, till he was sure his brother had said:

“I dedicate this song to the not yet departed: Rahul! Wish you were here man!” Of course. Rahul. Rahul was leaving the city, a few weeks from then.

So Raul stopped the tape, right before the song began. He felt the hole again, the lack, the truth failing to fill it.

Then he took a breath, and pressed play.

Raul listened, and heard, and saw, that the song wasn’t really awkward at all. It wasn’t hilarious either. It was okay. Under his breath, on top of the toilet, Raul sang along. At the end, to Raul’s complete surprise, his brother made a joke. It was that Pokemon joke. No one at that party had gotten the joke, except Raul. He’d laughed so loudly, wow- THAT was awkward. He remembered now, how his brother had stared right at him, how his brother had made the joke knowing Raul was the only one who would get it, and it was funny because Raul had given him his charizard card, before he knew what it was worth, and that’s what the joke was about.

Then it call came back to him. Raul remembered the whole damn party, the laughing, the dancing, and how, drunk for the first time, he had hugged his brother, and he remembered what that felt like.

So Raul cried, and he said goodbye, touching the tiny screen with his wet fingers.

Third Eye Part 2: Asteroids not meteorites.

Note: I think I screwed up the copy and paste and actually missed out the last third of this part…so if you read it without this note it really wasn’t meant to end where it did!

My arm strained as I held the handle bar while the bus careened around the interminable corner.

The sloping angle gave the impression that the bus was perpetually on the verge of tipping over though no one else had tumbled out of their seats and I refused to be the first. A sound traveled into my palm; a tinking percussion from the child behind, who between wheezing coughs tapped Morse into the rail.We straightened out onto a diving slope and plunged towards the center of the city.The bumps in the road set my pill bottle rattling so I smothered it deeper in my pocket, removed my hand and cupped it from the outside of my khakis. Somewhere in my head a dwarf asks: “What madness drove me here?”Across the aisle a thin, decrepit man battled to hold his paper. A headline shuddered to exclaim: Probe Begins Into Incorrect Asteroid Impact Prediction. I could start a conversation, perhaps say to him: no need to call Bruce Willis now! Instead, once my teeth stop chattering: “What are the odds right?” When he asks me what I mean I’ll explain about how unlikely it is that there ever was an asteroid hurtling towards us. Instead he shakes his head, sighs, says: “Not good, not good.” One drooping corner of his translucent page reveals the horse racing section.

“I meant the impact. Freaking everyone out about it is a bit irresponsible.”

And then the light fades as rain attacks the roof, streaming down the windows to blur the city. A fussilade above, the paper, accusing, on one side, and the damn bottle with the unreal taste of meeting Tom behind. I need a dose of sanity. Some Star Trek tonight to cleanse my mind. We settled down into crawling traffic. The decrepit man exclaims: “Says that the whole thing changed direction.”

“Excuse me?”

“In the papers it says the meteorite changed direction.”

“Well, that’s not actually…possible.”

“Read it yourself.” He thrusts the paper out, glaring. I withdraw, conciliatory palms up. Maybe he lost a lot of money. I turn away and take some wires out from my khakis. Plugs in my ears, staring at the windows, I watch the rain trail down in time to the music. The clipboard dances on my knee, stops as a gust of hot air invades the carriage. The seat sags. I shuffle closer to the window. One earplug catches on a button of her jacket sleeve and we’re trapped untangling the thing, muttering apologies to each other.

She’s got a thick purple jacket on, the puffer kind with the glossy pouches. “Are you warm in there?” I offer. She fingers a nose stud, eyes narrowing to points, she stutters: “I-I thought it would be colder today.” She wraps her arms around herself. Slowly, I pull out the remaining ear phone.

“Well it’s raining now I suppose.” And it is, so I shouldn’t be supposing anything. Tom said I’d kill a woman, and here was one, and I need something to distract me so I say: “Heavy rain too. Should have brought an umbrella myself.” She nods with great conviction, points towards my knees and says:

“You’ll have to use that.”

Turn down the clipboard, turn it upside down. “I can’t. I have to guard these questionnaires with my life.”

Please ask me about the questionnaires.

“Oh, what are those for?” she says.

Relief, I’m back to the real world. “They are for, well, improving the livelihood of the homeless.”

“Amazing! So what are they, summoning spells? Read them out and you summon food? Or a job?” Her smile is a wicked slash, catches me off guard till I’m stumbling: “Well, well, no, of course not, but, it’s important. It’s part of a process. We collect data from the homeless and that way we can decide how best to, well, what policies to enact. It’s part of the process. But in the end it does help. You’d be suprised. Most people don’t know how any of it works but it does, it really does.”

“Most people…”

“Well, yes. For example, with these initial ones we do a census of how many homeless there are, where they are, to learn about them. They are practically invisible otherwise.”

Her throat does a funny thing. She croaks, not unlike a frog. “Barrr-balith.”

“Excuse me?”

“What?”

It might be a tick. No need to press the issue. It would explain her slumping posture, the way she encases herself. I say: “One of the questions is, ‘Where do you sleep?’ The options are a vehicle, the streets, a family’s home, a shelter…and other. Three times I got the same answer in ‘other’: With your mum.”

Her face cracks open, she cackles, then cups her mouth to hide the evidence. She mutters conspiratorially: “Seriously? Can I see?” The top of her jacket presses against my shoulder, her leg against mine- she can probably feel the damn pill bottle, whereas something hard, underneath her shoulderpad, digs into me. I hold as still as I can, make my mouth move only. “I can’t show you, all of this is confidential information. Technically it’d be against the law.” She withdraws. It’s too late to flash a page at her now. Slip my hand in my pocket and re-arrange the bottle, take it out and hide it in my hand. I clasp both together, transfer the bottle, and slip it into the opposite pocket.

Her head turns slowly to face the windshield. I do the same, try not to scan my peripheries. She whips back to face me, “Can I do it?” she asks.

“One of the questionaires? I mean, well, are you homeless?” I could say something corny. About her not being invisible. The words congeal, fail to form a sentence.

“Yes.” She says.

Can’t tell if she’s lying. Being female and homeless, like her. It would be particularly hard. Remember Mira, dessicated beyond her age. Needle pocked, cradling her pregnant belly. It’s too much. Look down and free a paper, hand it to her. It sags in her hands, I proffer the clipboard and she turns it so I’m still holding the makeshift table, placed on my legs, and she writes in the spare moments when the bus is still. From this angle I can see part of a tatoo, poking out of her zipped up collar. Half an ouroboros; one mouth eating one tail. I wait to ask her, when she’s finished, about the tattoo, or her name, or where she’s going, when through the glass behind her head intrudes the smeared sign of St Lorenzo’s children’s hospital. She gets up in a flurry, taking the unfinished questionnaire with her. Her sleeve button catches something under her puffy jacket, a bright yellow string, like the casing of a wire. And then it’s gone, and she turns to look back at me from the stairs, her eyes seeming to be plead. I watch her go, follow her blurry head from my seat. Oblivious to the rain she walks inside the hospital. “Final stop.” The driver reminds me twice, till I calm my pulse and having failed to convince myself that it wasn’t a yellow wire. Perhaps it’s some kind of tool though I cannot think of any that fit.

I get off in time to watch my bus home moon me.

It’ll be at least ten minutes till the next number 21 shows up. Enough time to get her answers. I jog into the hospital, holding the bullets in place so they don’t tumble out.

 

Short Story: Dear Sam’s Diary

Dear Sam’s Diary
 
January 3rd, 2:15 pm
It was scary taking this from her bag, not even sure why I did it. Hope she misses it, at least a little. Writing in this feels weird, writing in you feels weird. Hi Sam. It’s like she can hear me, my words next to hers. Going to open her Christmas present now.
 
Yahoo answers was right, for once. Running it under cold water does stop the bleeding. Fuck, should have guessed she made me a CD. Why not a USB drive? Sam’s so old school. So retro. I thought it would be a video. A recording. Like of David Mr. Brightsiding her at his gym then blowing his load over the camera lens. Fuck, I’m disgusting. She always said so. I should have been cleaner. It’s okay though. No one is going to read this anyway. Why did she burn those songs? Was she trying to tell me something? She burned it before Christmas. Before they were, and not when we were still…must not think about it. Dear Sam’s diary, when it got to that track, a ‘kiss with a fist’ I broke the CD in two, cut hand but the breaking and the cut felt good. Maybe one day I’ll give this back to Sam. Maybe we’ll be back together again then. A kiss with a fist while she’s having sex with a boxer. Be right back Sam’s diary. Going to cry now.
 
January 5th 4:22 PM
Dear Sam’s Diary,
Sam wrote in you every day. I can’t even commit to that. I read your previous entries and realized your creator was fucking David on Christmas eve when she was ‘too sick’ to come over. Shouldn’t have bothered cleaning the apartment up. Shoulda kept the receipt for her headphones. Ripping out your creator’s earlier pages felt good. Then it felt guilty. Still, you’re my diary now. Nope, my JOURNAL, sounds more manly. Fuck I miss her so much. Won’t burn her previous pages out of respect. Bet it would feel great though. Maybe one day I’ll read this back and laugh and hopefully not think I am a fucking psychopath. LOL. Time for vodka.
 
January 9th 2:10 PM
Need to wake up and change. No more drinking. Today let’s try being sober.
 
January 12th 3 something PM
No more. Really got to stop. Headaches are hurting less even though drinking more. Bad sign I think.
 
January 12th 7:51 PM
Mom came over and threw away vodka. Should not have yelled at her.
 
I want to forget. I want to stop feeling like he’s more of a man than me. Want to stop wondering why and counting the ways I’m not good enough.
 
Had a dream where I get her back. I fought David and won. Maybe I can train, become stronger and she’ll love me again.
 
I didn’t last more than thirteen minutes. Running is hard. Every bit counts though, said the old lady as she pissed into the sea. I can be as fit as David. I am taller technically. He’s got muscle, but I can build cardio. Last longer. 
 
Dear Sam’s diary,
I miss her, specifically I miss listening to the same music on the couch together, and I miss watching her dance- if I danced with her more, she might have stayed longer, I should have danced with her more. She was so much fun. Fuck. I wish she’d written on scented paper at least. Raimi has a friend he wants to introduce me to. I bet she’s nothing like Sam. Bet she dances as badly as I do. Hope she’s hot. Feel so low. Should have something to drink but I promised myself. Bet I break it soon. What’s the point in a promise to me? Bet Sam would know what to say to make me go out. She’d tell me I was amazing and clever and would tease me about being a geek. Maybe I can pretend she’s here now. Telling me all these things. If I just lay down and close my eyes I could picture her. Why not?
 
Didn’t work. Date’s tomorrow. So scared. Maybe should follow Raimi’s advice and jerk off right before. And better memorize those jokes from Reddit.
 
Woke up next to her. Then woke up properly. Dreams are evil. Jennifer didn’t even laugh at my joke about the whales in the bar. Felt like an asshole. She’s nothing like Sam, she’s so quiet and after I ran out of memorized jokes I was so boring. Pretty hot though. Checked her facebook, found what kinda movies she likes. Maybe she’ll come over and watch something she likes with me. Probably not. She did talk about her gym. What is it with people and exercise? Pointless moving your body till it breaks. Wonder if its the same gym David learned to fight at. 
 
Can’t even commit to writing in you. Pathetic. At the arcade I lied to Jason about why I started using that boxing character. Feel bad about lying. Couldn’t tell Jason that I’m learning new combos because David is a boxer and Sam’s now with him and if I could fight like him maybe she’ll want me back and since I’m as fit as a weed playing with my joystick is the next best thing. I don’t know. Sam always said I should play less games, should be more constructive. Sam always told people how good yoga was. I’ll never be with someone that limber again. Fuck. I bet that’s how they met. I bet he hit on her whilst she was doing yoga. What if I was a real fighter, like David?
 
I don’t think it counts as drunk texting if I’ve only had three drinks. Dear Sam’s diary your creator does not give straight answers. I texted her what he has that I don’t and she said some cryptic bullshit about passion and character. If I learned to fight like him, if I beat him then she’ll see I’m better because I’ll be like him but also with all the stuff that she liked about me as well. I think it was really mean of Raimi to tell me my idea was ‘fucking retarded’ even though he apologized after. First step is just need to get up and run, and work out. I can do this. Just got to read some quotes online first.
 
Ran for eighteen whole minutes without stopping today. Okay more like jogging. Afterwards high on endorphins texted David ‘I’m coming for you asshole’. He texted back: ‘Sam has a beautiful back.’ I don’t get it.
 
I just got it. Feel really sick now. What am I doing?
 
All I have to do is join the gym but It’ll cost most of my going out fund. I’ll probably not even go. They have a boxing class. Maybe I should go, just to see what it’s like to be a David. All the David’s of the goddamn world. I’ll never be a David. I’ve been hating him but the truth is I just wish I was like that. I won’t be into geeky shit, I’ll just be some player dickhead, a PUA, just got to read more about it online. Excuses. That class in one week. Maybe I could do one class. 
 
Class hurt. The pain, the ache. But it was mine. Raimi laughed, said it would be hilarious if I began boxing. He said if I did it he’d bet on every fight. Made me mad. Maybe I could do it, one day. No way. Sam’s right, I’m going nowhere slowly.
 
Would have been our three year today. Sam’s apparently moved on from David to one of his friends. I can’t even be better than David anymore. No more reasons left to go to the gym, no one to do it for, except me. And what am I? Maybe David feels like shit too. Maybe I should send him Sam’s diary and he’ll get all of this and understand I’m not a loser.
 
I put down the diary, careful not to let the cover touch my perspiration soaked legs. Vision and sound returned then; of the dozens of people laughing, talking, some shouting; of the announcer doing another mic check; of the way the floor of the ring creaked underneath my aching body; and of my friend yelling something at me from beyond the ropes, his hand grabbing my right arm: “Yo, come on, hey- halftime is almost over. Come on man, don’t get down now- don’t get distracted, this guy’s Mike Lee, Mike Lee! He’ll be able to tell if you’re getting tired.”
 
“Doesn’t matter what his name is.”
 
“What was that man?”
 
I push one gloved hand through the ropes, use it for leverage and balance as I turn to face him.
 
“I’m not out yet, and I’m not feeling down. You though, seem just a little nervous.”
 
“No way man, I’m just pumped, I feel like you’re going to win this one. I just know it. You’re doing an Ali right? Tiring him out!”
 
“Ali. No. More like…what was that characters name, the one from the old game we used to play, the one from the arcade…” I reach for the journal, try to open it with the gloves on.
 
“Hey, hey! What are you doing? Stop reading man. Why do you always bring that thing? I swear it’s bad luck. Maybe if you ditched it Renee will call back and I might actually win one of these bets.”
 
“I’m not calling her again. We didn’t click.”
 
“Seriously? What happened? She was really hot!”
 
 “Not my type, she was pretty judgmental. Thinks video games are for loser. They’ll be others. I’ll meet someone else.”
 
“I guess. But how about you indulge my superstitious nature and let me take the book…” He reaches and I pull it away.
 
He says: “Come on man what is that thing?”
 
“It’s a training manual Raimi. A record of who I was, and how far I’ve come.” 
 
“Okay, okay. Look they are going to start soon. Get your ass up and kick his. Shit. I don’t know why I ever said I’d bet on you. You’ve lost the last five fights in a row.”
 
I roll onto my feet, raise myself up. In the other corner my opponent punches the air, aims a glare at me. He flexes. I don’t. This part, right here, right before we go at it, this is the best fear. I feel the electricity in my veins, the purity of the challenge- I can see my enemy clearly, 190 pounds and only human. 
 
Raimi shouts: “GO MAN GO, NO LOSS TODAY!”
 
“You don’t get it.” I say, over my shoulder, down at my waiting friend: “I’ve already won.”
 
And then I turn and fight.
 
 
 

Short Story: Gonzago The Auditor

The lift stopped between floors. Did we break down? No one moved or seemed to care. I say “Hey uh, maybe someone should hit the emergency bell.” A slumped suit back doesn’t move. Bastard. Poke him. No one is moving. Turn around. See someone frozen, mid-yawn, hand ready to catch it. What the fuck:

“HELLO?” Nothing except the fear rocketing up my spine.

Then the lift doors slowly open and a blinding slice of expanding light has me closing my eyes. I open my mouth to scream when sound stops me:

“Greetings Human Male You Have Been Chosen Do Not Be Alarmed. Walk Towards The Light.”

I count the fingers on the hand I use to shield me from the brightness. I can still count. Does that mean my brain is working correctly? I yell at the light:

“My name is…Krantz. Krantz Gonzago…and I’m uh…I’m an auditor…please…what’s going on?”

“Step Forward Gonzago The Auditor.”

Theres nowhere else to go so I move towards the crack till I’m immersed in white. “It’s too bright I can’t see.”

“Follow My Instructions Gonzago The Auditor: Forward. Keep Moving Forward. Now Stop. Open Your Eyes.”

I do.

And find myself in a steel room with a see-through floor, a desk and chair, and no visible doors. I turn around and the elevator is gone. What remains is only a blank steel wall with some kind of protruding screen, and one thin metallic finger, extending outwards.

“H-Hello?” The voices seem to come from every direction, heavy with reverb. I scan for speakers, find none:

“Gonzago The Auditor Do You Know Where You Are?”

I open and close my mouth a few times.

“I Will Increase The Magnification: Look Down.”

I do and find, spread out below, a sea of black, speckled with glinting stars and a pale blue dot, enlarging, becoming as big as my fist, then a large ball, then the earth fills most of the floor, the blue capped with tufts of white, lace-like clouds, the curvature fading to black, all of it seeming to glow in its own light.

“What Do You See Gonzago The Auditor?”

On my hands and knees I say: “Home.”

“Yes.”

“Fucking hell.”

“Yes. That Terminal Near You Is An Ecto Move Towards it And The Haptic Interface Will Activate.”

“What?”

“Touch The Metal Thing Gonzago The Auditor.”

I went over to the metal finger. When I got close enough some kind of hologram appeared, of a keyboard, the same sort I’ve been using for years, with the exception that it hovered in mid-air and was made entirely of orange light. The screen lit up with a menu in English.

“Is there an option to go home…”

“Gonzago The Auditor?”

“Yes?”

“Do You Really Want To Go Back?”

I looked at the stars and stretched away and off to the sides of earth, where these aliens had come from, which meant, that I wasn’t or at least we weren’t, truly alone, not really and I said: “No, not yet, but why did you choose me? Hello?”

I asked several more questions but no response came. I stood in eerie silence above earth, alone.

The screen had a list of terms, functions that meant nothing to me as I went down the list.

– Activate Nano-fabricator
– Augmented Reality Control
– Hologram Projector
– Smart Wall Configuration
– Station Status

“Hrmm.” I pressed he “Smart Wall Configuration.” Another nested list emerged.

“Wall climbing. I used to do that in school.” Sort of. Vague memories unfurled. An image of hanging from a blue sea shell, some crowd chanting below. Were they old friends? What were their names? It already seeemed so far away. I key down till I’ve selected wall climbing. A confirm box press yes. Oddly familiar.

The ceiling retreated upwards, sliding away, and the walls reformed themselves into a climbing wall, hand helds emerging and changing color. It all looks so pristinely clean.

I approach the nearest wall. “I bet you perverts think its funny and predictable that an advanced primate such as my self as resorted to climbing.” Run my hand over the hand-holds- they feel solid. Say: “Must be like…nano-technology…yeah.” More silence.

“Definitely *ahem* nanotech, yeah.” I go back to the terminal, look at the menu. I select gravity control, and notice, for the first time, a small graphic of what looks like a human mouth in the corner. As I look at it a holographic tool tip appears: “Voice Control”. I press it.

Now what?

“Uhh, computer, uhh…voice control…active?”

“YES”

“OKAY. Well…” And smiling through my teeth, I say: “Set gravity to…zero.”

“ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY DEACTIVATED.”And I slowly felt my arms drifting upwards, then my whole body.

Awesome.

I shove off the floor.

“WOOHOO!”

“REPHRASE COMMAND”

Nevermind. I soar upwards, tuck my legs in and begin to spin. I’m going head over heels, out of control, the earth sliding into and out of my view, into and past, over and under- the ceiling hurtles towards me- “FUUUUCK” My legs, outstretched, hit the ceiling and I push off and now I’m diving towards the transparent floor, the earth on the other side. I try to shield my face. “OH SHIIIIT…” Then I stop, bungee cord back the way I came- some kind of rope encircling my shin, made of the same, shape-changing material as the wall.

I play in zero-gravity, spinning through the air, floating. I learn enough control to glide, arms spread, a foot or so from the floor. For a few minutes it feels like I’m floating space, free, above earth. I drift down till my nose touches the ground, find myself panting from all the movement. A cold sheen covers my face. A single bead of of perspiration forms on my nose, expands till I blow upwards and watch a perfect, salty sphere detach.

I prepare myself for the short fall and say: “Set gravity to…uh…default.”

“SETTING GRAVITY TO 1G”

And I hit the floor with a dull thud. Feel clumsy and heavy again. Go back to the terminal. There is a menu option- ‘Entertainment.’

More options:
-Audio
– Video
– XP

Before I’ve even finished reading the menu the whole thing flashes red and I’m back where I started. Maybe it’s glitched. I try XP and the wall next to the terminal reforms quietly, a sort of shelf extending with a strange , curved piece of plastic that almost resembles a headset. I reach out, touch it, and the whole thing retracts, the screen red:

‘ACCESS RESTRICTED’

“What’s XP?”

A voice answers, filled with reverb, that I hadn’t heard in some time:

“XP Stands For Experience Playback, Gonzago The Auditor.” I go back to the terminal and start going through menu options, settle on ‘Nano-fabricators.’ Whilst my captor explains, “Experience playback is full sensory experience entertainment.”

The nested list under ‘Nano-fabricator’ is massive- food, drinks, furniture, clothing.

“it’s not just audio and video, but tactile sensations, bodily awareness, emotions and even internal thoughts…”

The food looks human, even down to the names of the drinks, it’s like they designed all this for a human, for me.”

“With full spectrum XP you can feel what it’s like to be someone else. You can experience what it’s like to scale a mountain, to fly like a bird…”

“And porn?”

“That too.”

“Fascinating but I got some other questions like, when do I get to leave this place? What is this then? Am I an exhibition for you guys? An experiment? What’s with all the human food. The menu lockouts- and woah…what was that?”

Down, towards earth, I watch objects, small at this distance emerge from the atmosphere like a school of steel fish, rocket trails extending beneath them down to the surface. “What is happening down there?” The night side of the earth approaches, and I see another impossibility- a straight line, like an enormous silver string, it goes through the sky, down past the clouds towards the surface. “What is that?”

“Well. That would be the sub-saharan space elevator.”

Now notice how South America looks weird- too much sea, like sections of it are submerged in the ocean. The fear comes back.

“WHAT THE HELL IS ALL THIS?”

A section of the wall recedes, and a woman emerges. “Hello Gonzago.” she says, the reverb gone. “My name is Ophelia and there is something you should know. The date is March 25th.”

“I know.”

“2093.”

“Oh my God.”

“Yes.”

“You’re fucking time travelers. You like, time traveled me into the future. You’re not aliens at all.”

“Yes.”

“You’re human.”

“Well…we prefer the term trans-human.”

“Excuse me?”

“This is going to come as a bit of a shock Gonazgo the auditor, but the world has changed somewhat, in fact we, as a species, have changed.”

She extended one arm then, and I saw it slide open, revealing a hollow space. Inside she withdrew a small object, a metallic cube. “My arm is artificial.” She said. “I had it replaced by choice- it helps me as an artist.” She tapped her head. “There is an insert here, a sort of computer with which I can control networked objects, like this holo-projector.” The cube sprouted tiny rotors, landing in front of us. Her hand spread and split, her digits parting to become small tools. “The holo-projector will teach you about our brave new world, that has such things in it- it’s your world now.”

“But I can’t. I’m not FROM here. I have no money, no pass port, hell, no job. Except, wait a minute- was I declared dead then? Or my investments…if I’m still alive, with almost one hundred years of compound interest…I could be rich right? Super rich…”

“Gonzago the auditor you are not rich, not in the sense you mean. In our time, this time, money is not as necessary as it was in yours.”

“So what…do I do now? I mean I’m an auditor. I have a degree. The laws have probably changed, everything, I bet you have like, what, robots doing my job now?”

“The short answer is yes. We do not call them robots, but essentially- yes. Your occupation is no longer relevant.”

“Then how will I make a living?”

“Living is easier, with the use of the nanofabbers. These machines are like your ancient…” she seemed to zone out, then she focused on me again. “Sorry I had to look up the historical term- these nanofabbers are like your ancient 3D printers, but with microscopic…robots, that build objects from the atom up. All that is needed are the raw elements- silicon, carbon, hydrogen; all, of course, readily available. In our world, in this world- creative work is what is valued more, originality that only your unique perspective can produce, work that can’t be produced by the nanofabbers, not gross labor. Design is what matters, art, Gonzago the auditor you must discover what it is your are capable of creating, what you have to contribute to the rest of us. The holo-vid will explain in more detail.

I watched and felt as if I was falling, as if everything I thought I knew had been rendered a lie. So I sat, hugging my knee in hologram’s glare.

“So what is this then- some kind of utopia? A heaven without friends, with no family, like some kind of dream that I am a tourist in?”

Ophelia looked at me for some moments, then nodded her head, as if in approval: “Gonzago the auditor, that was well put- have you considered writing?” She clapped her hands with what might have been condescending pride.

“I haven’t considered a damn thing. I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I mean the scariest memory I have would have to be, I mean…”

I tried to cast backwards in my mind, found an image, stark, of a climbing wall, the same damn wall, and I am falling- no, I am merely afraid of falling. Then Ophelia’s hands are around my hands and she’s saying: “Don’t worry Gonzago, stop trying so hard to remember- focus on the future, on what you’re going to do next in this world. It really is incredible in the end, you know- so much better than your time. There isn’t much of what you called poverty; nobody wants. Technology has made us more, made us better than we were. We explore the universe now! The kind of menial, repetitive work you used to do is fully automated, is being by AI’s.”

“So now what, you have robots, living alongside humans…as equals?”

Opelia looked disgusted. “They aren’t people Gonzago, they are machines, property: we created THEM!”

I wondered how I had here, what the life expectancy is, what kind of government exists, what kind of families their now were. I said to her: “Okay. So where do I start?”

She smiled and I feel reassured, and she…

Froze.

I froze Gonzago’s playback, took off the XP headset. My partner said: “HEY! Why’d you pause it? I was inside the guy’s head. You totally ruined the flow.” Gonzago remained, that weird sensation he had, a mixture of curiosity, wonder, and fear, all fading away. “HELLO?” my partner said, poking me- “I said, why’d you pause it? This is great- this is the best XP cast I’ve seen in ages.”

I said: “I don’t know, the whole thing seems kind of gimmicky. Like Ophelia’s running out of ideas.” There were two more seasons to go through still, but for now Gonzago remained frozen. “It’s like, come on, there’s no way he’d really believe he was ‘time traveled’ into the future- that’s stupid, everyone knows that’s literally impossible. And when he finds out he’s a machine?”

“Yeah. That almost seems wrong.” My partner said. “I like Gonzago, even if he isn’t a person.”

Eventually we resumed the show.

Short story: Afterwards

Afterwards

The room I was in was for waiting, and the person that stood over me was saying: “Ray Gupta, Peter will see you now.”

I said “Oh.” and accompanied her through a glass door that I could have sworn was from work. On the other side was a maze of cubicles. The sounds of phones ringing, of hurried typing, so much of it was recognizable. The hundreds of cubicles were not. “What office is this? Did I make an appointment or…”

She interrupted by stabbing my shoe with the tip of her heel. I screamed and no one seemed to care. She explained: “Sorry but I have to hurt you if you ask me questions.”

I almost asked why.

She motioned me to follow, so I did to a cubicle with a man inside and a single chair.

Peter said: “Sit!”

I held my foot and again the question pulsed: Why?

Peter said: “It’s your head! You tell me! Maybe it’s a metaphor- think of it as pain guiding you here, or something. All questions lead to suffering. Etcetera. Besides you’re dead, literally, so don’t worry too much.”

He had a point.

Peter said: “Actually, you still have a little bit you have to worry about, or at least some choices that need to be made, concerning your severance package.

Before I could phrase another question he answered: “Look, just go with it. Focus on how comfortable this environment is. How familiar. Don’t ask questions, it’s too late for all that. And don’t worry about the people you recognize. It’s perfectly normal.”

Peter got down on his knees, on the computer brought up a spreadsheet. “Let’s see now.” He said. Over his shoulder I saw tiny black marks, thousands of words in a too small font. I croaked: “Peter…can I…leave…please?

Without looking back he said: “Don’t worry you’ll be gone soon. You just need to go through your review, and poof, you’ll be done.”

“What do you mean…gone?”

“You know exactly what I mean.”

So I was going to die, or I was already dead, or oblivion was next. Peter said: “Exactly! Here, we’re going to start now, so you understand why you get what’s coming to you next. Unless you prefer we skip this?”

And expedite my non-existence? Fuck that. Peter said “Typical” and brought up Youtube.

“You have internet here?”

“No it’s an illusion. We have something better.” He typed: Lowest point before 30.

One hit only. In the screenshot I saw myself lying on a bathroom floor, two plastic prescription bottles in one hand, a Gideon’s bible in the other. Peter pressed play and I beat my head bloody with the bible. I watched myself tear out random pages, terrified of Peter witnessing me committing what was probably sacrilege. I tried to explain: “I didn’t know, okay? Sorry, so sorry, I didn’t know the bible was…I mean I’m not even Christian!”

“Just watch. We’ll turn up the sound.” He did and we heard a voice speaking, though the high-definition image of my mouth remained shut. I heard my voice, the way it sounds normally, inside my own head, say: “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t get up again. No reason to. No one to see me rise. No point in doing anything.” Then the tears started. “Fucking lonely stupid loser. Fucking FAILURE of a man. Deserves nothing. Deserves to die.” There was a murmuring sound then, too quiet to make out.

Peter said: “Ah, need to turn this part up, it’s a background thought, very hard to hear.” And he fiddled with the controls till we could make out what I thought, which was: “Beccy cares. Arjun cares. Other people suffer too. Don’t give up on them.” Then blasting out, so loud I covered my ears:

“JUST TAKE THE PILLS AND SLEEP THE GOOD SLEEP REST FINALLY REST FINALLY FUCKING REST…” and Peter muted it.
With the volume down I looked like somebody lying on a bathroom floor, clearly miserable, but seemingly doing nothing for an hour or so. Then with the volume up I heard myself find hope and choose to flush the pills down the toilet. Peter showed me other scenes after, and how they all linked, one into the other. He watched me watch myself being decent to strangers, showed me how I affected then, how their lives were indirectly improved by the hope I had found on that cold floor. He showed me how my kindness had been kindled by suffering, and how with my everyday actions I saved people- for eons he showed me videos of them remembering what I’d done or said and thus finding the strength to get back up themselves.

He showed me all the ways I’d suffered and the empathy inculcated by years of torment.

Afterwards I was ready. I told Peter I could die now.

He told me to wait, that we had to go into his office. On the way I overheard someone say “Sex is good, fuck, sex is GREAT, but the money, it’s empty- so let’s try having less.”

Inside Peter’s office I wondered: Do I get heaven now? Or is this it?

He said I would be gone, one way or another. I thought I was supposed to be Hindu, and that this was not the karma I had been taught about.

“Don’t worry Ray!” Peter said. “All that’s left is this…” And he produced a blank paper pad and a pen. “Now Ray, in case it wasn’t abundantly clear, you did good. As far as this department is concerned you did good with what you had.”

“So I won then?” I asked, the tears finally pouring out in this absurd and twisted version of the afterlife.

“Yeah you did great Ray, real super. So, here’s the deal.” He put the pen next to the paper, pushed both towards me.

“Write your own cheque Ray. You decide the circumstances of your next life. Completely up to you! For example…that…ah…K-pop guy you heard outside- you want to be like him? Sex, all the sex you’d ever want, or money, security, fame. You want it, you got it. A soul mate maybe? Meet her, or him by the time you’re say…twenty-three? Done and done. You get the idea. Write it out Ray, and your next life, that’s it.”

So I stopped crying and wrote something down.

Handed Peter back the paper.

He stared at the three words I’d written:

One more time.

I explained: “I want to suffer the same way.”

“Ray? I don’t think you understand how this works…”

“No, I do.”

“You people…Okay. You’re the boss”

We left the office and I wandered the cubicles for awhile, watching others, hearing their last requests.

Questions came whilst we walked back to the front door, which Peter held open for me. Will I remember any of this? Is this real? Does it matter? I looked in front of me at the darkness, said “Goodbye Peter.”

“Only for now. But I have to ask…why are you choosing pain, again?”

“Because I think it’ll make me kind.”

It was the last thing I said to him. Never got to hear what he thought about it.

Short Story: E O 17

It happens so slowly it becomes a task to watch, the way the fog climbs the road, but during the pause Gunny tried anyway. Gunny liked the pauses in conversations, the natural lulls- good friends of Gunny were the kinds of people that appreciated silences, the sort that weren’t uncomfortable during a break in conversation.

Bradley was uncomfortable.

Bradley said: “You know this cocktail, it is shit.” and then shot a nervous laugh into the silence that followed. Gunny sighed, loud enough that Bradley heard and grabbed onto it, relieved, he asked Gunny: “What are you thinking of?”

Which made Gunny cover up another sigh with something resembling a groan. For once Gunny would have preferred if Bradley just used his glasses for awhile, looked up whether whatever latest comic he was into updated, or even played some AR app…”Gunny?” repeated his old friend.

Gunny responded: “I’m thinking about the fog. It’s a game I play.” And waited for Bradley to inquire further.

Bradley said: “Man. Fucking San Fran. Fucking hills, fucking fog, is miserable man. I miss Hong Kong when it’s like this. The old days you know?”

Gunny said: “Yeah. Sure. But the fog, I like it. It’s like, if you watch it, really closely, it climbs up the street. I play this game where you focus on the fog and see how much you can track it’s progress. It’s like meditation- barely make it one or two streets before your mind drifts, and then you look back at the fog- well you’ve been looking the whole time, and now all of a sudden it’s creeped right up to you.”

Bradley twirled the ice in his glass. The tinkling preceded him saying: “Man I prefer playing S-S-B. You ever try it out? It’s crazy, should download. Helps pass the time during crappy meetings, you know? Swear to God, I’ve gone through a conference doing nothing but playing S-S-B, just sit with my hand under my chin- like so- and then nobody could tell I was using the controls you know?” Bradley appended a trickle of laughter to his story.

Gunny eventually said, “Nah I stopped playing games a long time ago. Pity really. Too busy.” Which was a lie that summoned thoughts of Kayan, her angry shoulders, ears plugged up as she played the same games rather than tell him what was wrong and how to fix it. Gunny shook his head till the memory disappeared. He hated that he still thought of his ex-wife, especially since meeting Jessica. He began to compare Jessica to Mara, the way they dressed, and the way they sounded, then Gunny shook his head again. Then he noticed how the fog had climbed that much closer.

Bradley twirled his ice again, before saying: “Okay man come on. I know something is bothering you. It’s been ages, sure, but I can still tell okay? It’s obvious you know. So why don’t you get it off your chest. Not like I see you often enough to make it count you know? Is it work Gunny? Girl? Heard about Kayan man, sorry about all that. Want to talk about it? You can you know. I mean shit, you rememeber I was there for Florence.”

Gunny looked his old friend in the eye. “Okay. There is something I wanted to ask you. Some advice I guess.” He stared hard at the table.

Bradley prompted him with a gesture, so Gunny continued with: “You remember how we wanted to be shout-casters? Starcraft 2? Okay, Company Of Heroes for you, but you remember….”

Bradley interrupted with glee, his deep voice reverberating: “OF COURRRRSE.” One of his hands chopped the air for emphasis, slicing it up as he said: “FAA-cking COH. Man I remember your screen name- Gundammit. GUNDAMMIT! You know, our videos, they are still there? Found them on YouTube man, seriously. I watched them like, a few years ago, for fun. Was strange you know?”

“Gundammit…Yeah. I remember I trained myself to talk like Day-Nine. Trained. I never told you, thought it would be embarrassing.”

“Gunny, man, I knew. You sounded just like him. It was fucking obvious man.”

They both laughed, Gunny stopping first. He looked back at the fog and said to it and his friend: “You ever regret not going for it? I mean, we were pretty good, we’d both done tournaments. We could have been big. In fact did you know they have courses for it now? If I had kids, I could send them to get a degree in it- hell, Day-Nine could be the one to teach them.”

“Gunny man, if you could afford that, maybe, but let me tell you, children are expensive. Time and money you know?”

“Do you ever regret…I mean I do sometimes. Sometimes. Not always. I’m glad I’m at Bain, really. I think I’ve done alright, compared to some. It’s not even dull. A lot of people, they hate it, me I like it. It’s good, or at least, it’s not bad. But sometimes, I think if I did, do the shoutcasting…who knows?”

“Nobody man.”

“Yeah. But, things might be simpler too. No responsibility in shout-casting. You just have to well, entertain people. Make people happy. You don’t actually I don’t know…you’re not a part of things? I mean, big things. Not that I am, obviously we’ve consulted on some massive projects but…I’m just saying it seems carefree, just doing what you want to do…”

“Yeah man I regret it. Could be fucking famous now you know? Blowjobs on demand!” Bradley laughed at himself.

Gunny continued to watch the fog. Bradley said: “But not really as well. Life is good in the end, wouldn’t trade my girls for anything. So that’s it? You want to count regrets with me? We can count them together man.”

The fog was less than a street away. Gunny watched a streetcar disappear into it, the weak glow of the ads dissolving to white.

Bradley clicked his fingers again. “Oy. Gunny? That it? You wanted to ask me about what, shout casting?”

Gunny got up from the table. He looked at Bradley. “Well.” He leaned on the high, round table with both hands, before noticing Mara’s card, held in his right. He quickly hid hand back in his pocket. Bradley looked at his old friend with a serious expression. “Sure man? Just that?”

Gunny flashed a grin. “Sure.”

They shook hands, hugged, made promises not to wait seven more years before speaking again. Then Gunny began the long walk back his street. Down the slopes he trudged, in the direction of the bridge hidden in the fog. As he listened to some new, catchy, song, Gunny convinced himself, by degrees, that it was best he had lied to Bradley. Whether or not he ought to lie to Jessica about where he would be tonight- the debate continued all the way home.

Thus in the pristine lobby he forgot to smile at the korean doorman, and stood in the immoving lift till he realized he had not pressed his floor. In his apartment he deposited his things on the table, smoothing Mara’s card onto it, then paced, then went into his room, collapsing into the ergonomic seat in front of his dead monitors. He stared at the black for a beat, before tapping on his plastic table, summoning the red letters of his virtual keyboard and bringing his displays to life. Blinking against the glare, Gunny found the window he had last left open with all the quotes.

He read.

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

“…the opposite of love is not hate — it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn. If somebody hates me, they must “feel” something … or they couldn’t possibly hate. Therefore, there’s some way in which I can get to them.”

Gunny checked his missed calls, noticed amongst all the ignored notifications that Jessica had tried to call him two more times. His finger hovered over calling her back. He cleared his throat in anticipation. Then he sighed, loudly, alone in his small room, and continued to read.

“We shall have to repent in this generation not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

He swallowed, not allowing himself to cry, even here, on his own.

He scrolled.

He read.

“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

He spoke out loud: “Search. E-O seventeen explanation.”

Then he read in the new window till he became too scared, till the very next sentence was like a verdict of death, and he found it too difficult to continue.

He closed the window and his breathing slowed. He brought back the quotes, read:

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”

He scrolled.

He read.

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

And that was enough to make him minimize to his desktop and move the folder from there to his glasses, before syncing it to store a copy online, and deleting the one on his desktop. Gunny stood up. Walked. Then standing in the door frame of his small room he thought again about how if Jessica saw the folder she would end up leaving him, one way or another, and that made him sit back down. He told the room it wasn’t fair.

The room did not respond.

He took out a coin. He thought of flipping it. He found a die and almost rolled it. He went to his search engine said: “Search…” and then covered his mouth so hard he slapped his lips, berating himself silently about how close he had just come, to slipping. He told himself it was not paranoia, that that was the lie.

He sat and went online and took no savor in his usual sites and somehow found himself on a random chat site. He agreed to the terms and conditions without reading them, and waited for someone anonymous to connect.

Eventually someone did.

<Stranger> hi

<You> hi

<Stranger> ASL?

Gunny cursed out loud and prepared to close the window. He stopped when he noticed his deskstop background had changed to an image of Jessica and himself, playing chess in the swimming pool, Jessica as usual destroying him, and him smiling like an idiot nonetheless.

<You> 36/M/San Francisco.

<Stranger> Thank fuck a citizen

Gunny typed an honest lol.

<Stranger> Do you play LoL?

<You> No. I laughed.

<Stranger> I know. just asking

<You> Oh. Is it because of the categories? Sry didn’t put any categories. Ur with a random.

<Stranger> PUF!

Gunny’s brows knitted. He never did this, and did not know the latest acronyms.

<You> Sry.

<Stranger> Np just glad you are an adult

<You> What about you? ASL?

<Stranger> Secret

<You> Wow double standards much?

<Stranger> lol. its why ive never been EO17d

Gunny’s heart jumped, then he realized it was a joke, and continued to type.

<You> lol.

<Stranger> Crazy world. what u do?

<You> What do YOU do?

<Stranger> Same shit most people do: work

<You> Oh in what?

<Stranger> if i wanted to talk about my shitty job would not do it here. boring to talk about. do you do anything interesting?

<You> Idk. Im a writer.

<Stranger> O rlly? wat sort?

<You> Fan fiction. Bad fan fiction.

<Stranger> shit guess that means im a writer too

<You> lol.

<Stranger> lol

<Stranger> so u married?

<You> Was. Divorced.

<Stranger> wat happened?

<You> I did something wrong. I dont know what.

<Stranger> ook

<You> Do you read the news?

<Stranger> lol news

<Stranger> i read news about LoL but otherwise not really

<You> You don’t care?

<Stranger> Something like that

<You> Apathetic.

<Stranger> no more like disillusioned

<You> Oh?

<Stranger> no point in trying to find out wats true and wat isnt. takes a lot of effort. in the end all that would happen is i would have researched who im supposed to hate

<You> The main character in my story is a bit like that. Disillusioned.

<Stranger> o shit ur actually a writer. tell me your story then (if it isnt boring)

<You> lol. Well, you can be the judge of that.

<You> So this guy he has this girlfriend but he doesnt tell her much, he keeps a lot to himself, even things he should tell her. He doesn’t want to risk the relationship, so he’ll do things behind her back, because he sort of has these feelings, but won’t tell her. Anyway that’s not really the focus of the story. Sort of. I mean it could be. Anyway. He works for a company that work for a contractor of the government. US government. He’s working there and one day he finds something. I mean not one day- not like baam, omg I never knew about this, more like everyone suspected something, everyone could know, but no one says anything because it’s all confidential and not really the business. *their business.

Gunny sat back from his desk. Stared up at the ceiling.

When he looked back the monitor showed:

<Stranger> …

<Stranger> and?

<Stranger> hello?

Gunny continued.

<You> The guy used to say some things online, stupid things, in forums and stuff. He got into trouble at his first job because of pics of himself doing things.

<Stranger> fck all that what was the thing? that he found out?

<You> its hard to explain. Complicated

<Stranger> then whats the point in writing the story?

<You> What?

<Stranger> if its too complicated than i wont understand it ie no one would so no one will care. have to make it understandable. even a fan fic author like me knows that

<You> But real life is complicated.

<Stranger> i dont fcking care about real life lol. so make it something understandable. do it now. is good pratice.

<You> lol.

<You> Okay. So this guy works for a major consulting firm, and they are consulting with a defense contractor. Automated weaponry- land/air drones, that sort of thing. Primarily we’re consulting on cyber-security, network security, but also a new contract on talent management.

<Stranger> wtf is this. wats the point man?

<You> Its complicated.

<Stranger> make it simple

<You> The guy comes across evidence that the US government is in a secret war.

<Stranger> wat?

<You> Drone strikes occur multiple times in the sovereign territory of a US ally. The ally however, takes the credit for the attacks, claiming they did the killing. In actual fact it was the US.

<Stranger> ok thats cool

<You> And the attacks kill civilians. Including dozens of children.

<Stranger> fuck

<You> Over 50. And the justification was sketchy to begin with.

<Stranger> when isnt it lol

<You> Women too. Children man. But maybe its better, then the alternatives. Maybe more people die if they didn’t use the drones.

<Stranger> lol ok

<You> So thats the story. The main character though he chooses to not do anything because it wouldn’t change anything probably anyway. No one would care. So he sits on it, doesnt even tell his colleagues. They knew about the intervention- I mean the info is there but not the children. That took some digging.

<Stranger> he does nothing?

<You> Probably.

<Stranger> wow ur character is an asshole

<You> But you said earlier you don’t even watch the news?

<Stranger> thats real life. lol because i cant do anything. i have no power. im just a regular human. but ur character has power. he has the ability to change things. if he does nothing he is an asshole. worse than the rest. he has no excuse.

<You> He has tonnes of excuses.

<Stranger> if he doesnt do something who the fuck will? who the fuck does? no one does.

<You> EO17?

<Stranger> u ever lost a child? u have kids?

<You> No. Do you?

<Stranger> maybe.

<You> lol

<Stranger> ur story sucks lol. also we should say its a story in case they are watching. this chat log is going to end up somewhere.

<You> You know they never cared before, because it was too much information to analyze. Even if you collated every single thing said by every single person it would be impossible to analyze.

<Stranger> lol yes an algorithm that was fully effective be hard to make but with ai it can happen. also it doesnt matter if they cant analyze it in real time all they need is a way to get the information later once they decided to target u they have ur history online everything you ever said every fuck up. they can find you if they wanted to by seeing who u are. thats how they do.

<You> You…know more than I thought you would.

<Stranger> ur story sucks. i dont like how realistic it is

<You> Whats your name?

<Stranger has gone offline>

He stared for some seconds at the chat. Then he closed all the windows.

Gunny tried to remember the address of Mara’s newspaper. Realized he would have to check it on the card outside.

Gunny got up from the chair. His heart rate climbed. He stood and double checked that the folder was on his glasses. He put on his coat and went outside to the corridor. There he pressed for the lift, and leaned against the wall. He tried to summon one of the quotes he had read, but could not remember any of them exactly. Rather he remembered how they made him feel, and this was enough to have him clenching his empty fists inside his pockets. As the lift crept towards his number Gunny remembered he had forgotten Mara’s card. Not wanting to waste another moment or give himself a chance to reconsider, Gunny ran back inside. He hoped to be back in time for the lift door. His inertia maintained, he grabs the card on the table, crumpling it accidentally, then runs back out. His front door slams shut as the lift doors open, and he steps inside the empty box.

The doors close and the lift descends.

A mantra in his head floats on waves of determination, repeats: I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.

The lift stops on the floor below. The doors open and two policemen enter and nod at Gunny. They turn and face the doors. Their reflections slide into place, and the lift begins it’s descent.

Gunny’s mind freezes to white. He becomes oddly cognizant of his own breathing, and it’s volume, and how anything he does, says, or even thinks right now could damn him, completely. The lift crawls down a floor.

The first policeman is very tall, well built, with one hand casually stroking his holstered service pistol. He clicks his tongue and says to his smaller companion: “You must have gotten the floor wrong.”

There is a pause that lasts another two floors. The LCD screen, from which streams the silent news, reads “25” as the shorter cop says: “I don’t know, I’m pretty sure I got it right.”

23.

The taller one rounds on his companion, speaks aggressively: “Check again. Quick.”

22.

The smaller begins to fish for his phone.

18.

Gunny tries to look at the phone’s screen, his eyes squeezing against the corners of his rigid face.

16.

“No signal. Have to wait to see.”

10.

The taller one says: “What was that description? Caucasian? Five-eleven?.

9.

Immediately the smaller one says: “Asian. Korean I think. 5’8”.

Gunny suddenly feels like he is going to cry. A voice in him, one he has not heard before, screams at him to just wait. Gunny squeezes the old-fashioned business card in his pocket, soaking it in perspiration. He keeps his eyes locked on the reflection of his face, thinks that moving anything at all will end him.

7.

The taller policeman rounds on Gunny, and looks him straight in the eye. His hand casually rests on his pistol and he says to Gunny: “Sir. I’d like to see some identification please.”

6.

Gunny says: “You what?” and wishes he hadn’t.

The smaller police officer responds with: “Sir, identification please. Paper or chip.”

4.

Gunny looks at the news display. On it are some details, of some e-sports tournament, with the winning team. He says to the policeman: “I…I…can you…wait…”

3.

The larger policeman holds out a hand.

2.

Gunny’s shoulders collapse, his head leaning to the left, as if it were about to fall off. He holds out his forearm, the way he was taught to when he got the chip, and the two men take out the scanner.

The doors open, the smaller cop standing in the frame. The doorman stares, somewhere in the background. The larger man passes the device over Gunny’s forearm. He regards the display, nods to himself in satisfaction, his whole body suddenly shifting, coiling, muscles tense.

Then he says, with the force of an accusation: “Gun-Woo Kim?”

Gunny looks up and asks, in a defeated voice: “E-O Seventeen?” and the policeman only nods, his face unreadable, before launching into his rehearsed lines, which he repeats flawlessly:

“Under the Espionage act of 1917, I am placing you under arrest….”

And Gunny stops listening.

Let’s them handle his body as they please. He tells himself they will be unable, at least, to stop him from speaking.

The Tower

Today I look back at that poem I posted before and already I’m starting to hate it. All the things that aren’t perfect, the rhythm, the rhyme, word choice. Et cetera et cetera.

It’s a common thing, I know so many of you have the same doubts, maybe not about your writing, but of all the things you wish you were better at.

There is this unhappy thing I wrote, a long time ago when I was incredibly depressed. It is all I can do sometimes- write, when I have these black moods during which there seems no point at all. I can’t help it. It’s just who I am, it’s the only way I know how to fight back. I ask the question: What happens next? And then I answer it.

And I realize that might not make any sense.

You see sometimes there is a mountain in my head. A massive, cold mountain, with blizzards and comfortable caves and a moaning wind that will not cease. Sometimes it is a dragon who I know well, and all I have is a rusty sword and a wooden shield. Sometimes it is a place, sometimes a person. All I know is I am terrified that I might not make it there. Or that when I do I will fail.

I do not usually show people the words I write about that thing. After all the words are so far from perfect, and what if it is embarrassing? But that is not the point. The point is to climb It.

Sometimes It is a mountain.

Sometimes It is A Tower

A man dreams of a tower made of steel and glass, filled with the kind of shiny windows that reflect the world around it like some strange mirror.

A penetrating edifice, warping reality inside of it, till the clouds themselves dance slowly across it’s titan form. The tower is so smooth, the tower is so new, so modern, the tower is human, not natural at all. It stands at the top of an impossibly tall mountain, and wind and blizzard whip at it’s babel-like form for eons and eons, and still it stands, this office building, this monument to human progress. The climber makes it to the peak of the mountain, only to find this smooth, steel tower, revealing his reflection- what a weathered climber he is, how small, how incredibly tiny, in front of this vast challenge.

Impossible to climb.

No handholds. No help. What is at the top?

He did not come so far, leave so much behind, and hold on for so long just to sit in it’s shadow.

So he grabs hold of smooth glass, and presses his legs against the sides of the steel bars, and slowly, so slowly, he pulls himself upwards. It takes him almost an hour to make it a few meters, he keeps sliding down. He continues, waiting for a night that never comes- there is no more sleeping at the top of the mountain. Each time he see’s his own cheeks puff, his own muscles strain, reflected by those glass windows. Each time he falls.

Lying in the snow, he redoubts his efforts. With cunning learnt from years of climbing he finds the tiniest handholds, the secret imperfections, and he makes it higher, and higher, leaving the summit behind. As he climbs he see’s into the windows, now transparent. What he see’s lashes at his heart far more than the blizzards he encountered below. Scenes from his life, friends long gone, now inside and warm, with families, with love, with success and security, these scenes right in front of him remind him of what he cannot have, what he does not have. He screams, pure agony, pure animalistic pain, and collapses back down to the ground. Has it not been enough? Is it not enough to contend with shadows? Is it not enough to have fought his own reflection every day, to strain and rise with no one to watch or care. Now he must also be taunted by the happiness of others, over and over again, he must feel his solitude.

The climber collapses on the ground. Snow begins to fall. Coating his body. He wonders at all the white piles around him. He wonders at all the others that despite it all made it this far, only to be forgotten in death, only to lie buried in snow, white piles for others to stumble over, reminders and warnings for the foolish. Then the climber remembers. He is not foolish. He gets up. He is many things. He thinks himself weak, and he puts one hand on a hold. He thinks himself broken, as he jams one cold foot against a bar. He thinks himself different and cursed and unable to be like all the others, as he lifts himself above the snow. But he is not done. Not yet.

The climber uses his fingers to smash holes in these windows to other people’s dreams and his own bad memories, small fractures to allow for grip, which cut into his palms, till the blood flows like tiny streams down the side of the titanic tower. Upwards he goes, and upwards. Here there are no caves to rest in, no checkpoints to mark his progress. Here he either climbs or falls, and the climb is so far, and so long, and no one else cares.

He peers into a higher window, one he hasn’t seen before, and what he see’s cuts him far deeper than the cold he usually contends with. The climber’s hands fail him, and he plummets again to the ground.

This is it. This is the end. He lands with enough force to break. And break he does. Shattered on the peak of this mountain he thought would lead him to peace. His body useless. As are his dreams. A thousands jagged pieces, each a reflection of a battle lost- a desperate shard taken as a lesson, heaped on a pile he called hope, telling himself that all the suffering was worth something, anything, that the pile would mean peace, that if he could just put all the pain together it would amount to something beautiful and it would all have been worth it. Now he lies, broken, and slowly bleeds.

A distant cry travels up the mountain.

The climber turns his head. It’s a cry of pain. A cry of anguish. He knows it well. He has emitted the same noise from his own mouth far too often. Someone else is in pain. The body wishes to die. The climber will not allow it. He remembers the jagged lessons, the way he put them together into something resembling a dream. He has trained himself to piece together hope, thus he shall piece together his body. The cry is that of another. He is not alone. Others suffer. He has not met them, but he knows them. He looks at the rope he used on the mountain, and promises himself one last thing. The rope is not useful, not on the tower, not here at the end.

But if he could bring it to the top and throw it down, then his brothers and sisters could use it, to help themselves. The climber slowly, so slowly, gets back up. His arms are not as strong, having been shattered in the fall. He carefully winds the rope around himself, his useless arms flapping in the wind.

He looks up at this vertical behemoth, this shining example of everything good and warm that he cannot be a part of. He considers smashing through the window, but he knows, that was never his way. That was denied to him at the outset. Some are brave, they climb because they dream of peaks, because they are the trailblazers, the pioneers who will not settle. Some climb because they need more, and more, and more, until death they are driven, always to seek more, and they are the ones that drive the race forward, these ambitious leaders. Some set their sights so high, and do not turn away, and work, with others, towards greatness. The climber is none of these people. He is a coward.

Because some are being hunted. They are chased, forever, wherever, by dark demons for reasons unknown. They learn, from an early age, to run. To run, and run, and never look back. Sometimes they are cornered, and forced to fight, sometimes they lose, and always, always they carry the wounds of these battles.

The climber has run all his life. He has trained for this. And right now there is only one thing left inside of him. Something more than hope. Now he knows that there are others like him. That they are crying for help, as he has done before- that they wish they had backup, that they are alone, so terribly alone. He hears them below, shouting “Where are you?” And he has one thing left to say.

“I’m coming.”

He shoulders his rope. He must secure it to something high.

He runs towards that vertical tower. His footsteps stop sinking into the snow. He runs and runs, till he reaches the base of that steel tower.

His feet leave the ground, as he runs up it. One step, two, three, thirty. He does not stop, running against the gravity of his darkstar, defying physics, straight up he runs, his eyes fixed on the top, his arms trailing uselessly. His mortal heart beats, a drum sounding like a call to arms, all he can hear are the drums. Step after step, so fast he doesn’t have time to fall. Past old friends, past old memories, past lost loves, past easier choices, past life, past fear, past it all, upwards and upwards, he is almost three quarters of the way there….when he see’s her.

She’s happy now. She’s married. She has children and they are all smiling. Everyone is smiling.

He trips.

No.

He falls. Plummets down to earth.

He thinks he hears laughter. It’s the tower. The tower is laughing. It has finally won. Don’t you know? It asks, don’t you know how many of you fools I shake off everyday? Count the deaths. Count the ones that do not make it. You are another mistake, and I am ridding you from my perfect world.

The voice gets quieter, the farther from the top he falls. The ground approaches. The climber tried. He was not strong enough. He was not fast enough. That is the way of the world. We do not all win. As he comes near to the ground he thinks he hears other voices, those from far below.

Help. Please. Help me. Where are you?

The climbers thrusts his broken arms to either side, and learns one last lesson.

His broken arms, shaped by pain- he flaps them, harder, faster, till the ground itself is held at bay. He aims himself at the peak of the tower. He say’s “I’m coming.”

Looking up, at the enemy so far above. “I’m coming for you.”

He’s trained for this his entire life.

He flies.

Flash Fiction Medley

I was reading about black holes today, which put me in a certain kind of mood. The Japanese have a word for it “Yugen” . That and I saw this picture (warning 10 MB picture), which is a super-high-res image of a fraction of the stars in our own galaxy.

You know I’ve always thought there was something deeply wrong with me. Partially because of the two links above. I’ve had people get very red-faced, very loud and and sure about certain ideas they have, including ideas that are really quite fantastic, compelling stories, like God and the Afterlife and Retirement, when the very fact that all those stars out there exist reduces so much of all of that noise coming out of people’s mouths to be….

Something less.

Not that I know any better. I am so awfully aware of how little I know that I indulge myself in a congruently complimentary hobby/passion/desperate need: to make things up. If I had it my way I would be a professional-maker-upper. I don’t want to call them novels or fiction, I want to call them stories. That’s all they are in the end.

In that spirit I’m writing this flash fiction medley which is is comprised of ideas that have taken root somewhere inside of me, that I have been quite an abysmal parent to, always claiming tomorrow I will finally write them all out, and do them justice. However in light (or lack thereof) of super-massive black holes of infinitely large mass and infinitely small volume I will deny my perfectionism and just let the ideas flow, like so much kaleidoscopic vomit.

Starting with The Third Planet Is Sure They’re Being Watched By An Eye In The Sky (because I love Modest Mouse and because Edward Snowden). This would have/will be/should have been a story about an obscure band with some average to pretty decent instrumentalists who acquire, randomly at a party, the skills of a front-girl and lyricist of dubious reputation- she has an obsession with psychedelics and is rarely seen sober, a sort of neo-hippy that others dismiss as pretentious.

Her name is Rachel and her parents are rich and thus the band plays at her place, which is austere and owned by her single father, the too serious CEO of some impenetrably dull hedge fund.

She writes these strange lyrics and sings in an off-beat falsetto with the band wishing she sounded more like Haylee Williams but they can’t deny the poetry, the way in which her words are so enigmatic, flow so easily, and how she never ever writes them without being at the very least stoned, if not tripping all over everybody’s balls.

The band is obscure, they get some hits on Xanga- using the new-fangled internet (did I not mention this all takes place in the 80’s?), play a few concerts but never make it big. They are torn apart by the tragic suicide of their front-girl, who falls in love with the gay guitarist that found her at the party and can’t hack the impossibility of it all.

The band falls apart, the lyrics left online.

Till they are found by a certain boy decades later. He fails to find anyone to take credit for them. On 4chan him and a dedicated few begin to form a subculture over these lyrics on account of how eerily accurate they are when it comes to historical events in the 21st century.

Funny thing about these lyrics. They are strangely prophetic. Very much like an 80’s version of Nostradamus, Rachel had somehow written down these hard to understand, rolling lines, that all seemed to come true. So this subculture spawns a member, who didn’t show her tits then GTFO, who becomes, through some twist of fate (in other words a realty TV show contestant), super-famous, ga ga famous, and after singing the autotuned songs of successful song writers eventually releases her own album- remixes of Rachel’s lines, catchier now with a bit of dubstep to underline the drop.

The last song in the album contains lines that suggest that this was what was always going to happen anyway, and whilst scholars spend a goodly amount of time debunking and arguing against the prophetic nature of all the other songs (not unlike a an 80’s remixed Nostradamus)  it is very difficult to argue against the rather explicit nature of these final lines that talk about another girl from another time when information is far more free taking her words and making them widely known.

See why I don’t finish these stories? That one could go one for awhile.

There is also Sonder, a story I really keep telling myself I’ll write, which is meant to be about a single day in the life of this person, and how it ends suddenly, and how although there is all this pain in his life- a divorce in process, a job that does not treat him so well- he values the time he has waiting, at the bus, or at lunch, the in between times, where he listens to these fantastic pod casts that teach him all about natural selection, or the general theory of relativity; space and time and history.

And at the end of this day, through random chance he is struck by a car, on his to the operating theater- with his broken family and wife united by the tragedy, all around him wishing him well with superstitious but well-meaning platitudes and the invocation of a plethora of conflicting Gods; then, in that gurney with the tube in his mouth he starts to imagine.

He imagines zooming out, of that hospital, and appreciating the hundreds of lives in the same building- like disparate atoms in a gas cloud all heading towards their own destinies, all of equal importance, all comprising a whole. From their he zooms out to the city block and wonders at the various animals, the sparrows and cockroaches that have evolved to fill their various nooks in the shadows where tigers once stalked- the strange ways in which life has continues to reproduce itself and that trajectories through time those species have taken…he zooms out again to the whole island, considers the geological movements, the plate tectonics of the island breaking off, reforming, the volcanic violence that led to it’s original creation- and he zooms out even more to consider the earth, wrapped in it’s atmosphere against the void, this pale blue dot with all the variety, all the life, all the water and wealth of chaos- and zooms out again, to the solar system and the strange series of collisions that led to the planets, the life cycle of Sol, and again to the galaxy with it’s billions upon billions of sisters to Sol and all that potential, the potential for all those hospital tragedies, and again to all the billions of other galaxies and the sheer amount of other things, the shadow of infinity- and without God, and without answers, with one single tear rolling down his face, the man is content in the face of death. Without words, without actions, with his imagination alone he traversed all of space and time.

The definition of Sonder.

The anesthesia dulls him to sleep and he dies on the table and his imagination is lost to an invisible past only the reader might have appreciated.

Let’s go for the hat trick, one time, with my final story-yet-unwritten: Get Krunk

Which is quite simply about a man who does not drink much, or dream much, whose life is turned somewhat inside out by the collapse of his company, a sudden thing that discards him, and all the things he thought were important, and leads him to a bar his fellow workers always frequent and he never did, where they regale each other with happy memories he missed in his endearing naivete, and how he drinks quite heavily that night.

He stumbles out of the cab home too early near a football field where the lights of the stadium hypnotize him- shadows, young, dance underneath those sharp lights, and he stumbles towards them driven by a mysterious line “get Krunk, get Krunk”…and he finds himself in a party for high-schooler’s, and he joins.

This man he looks so young and his askew tie and stained suit mark him as cool among all these teens. The story would have been about the lie he lives for one insane, magical night, where he tries to relive his past, and would have turned on a girl, the kind of girl he wishes he would have had, and how he realizes at the end how late it is, when, she brandishes her fake ID with pride.

I’m not certain what he would have done during that party but I think it would have had something to do with making a heartfelt speech about the future for these young ones, and something about how he befriends a supposed younger version of himself, who really is not like him at all- and that realization that he can’t even guide himself, because of course there is no one like him- not truly- that truth hurts.

I probably would have ended with the girl and whether he has sex with her or not because that shit sells.

Three’s a crowd apparently so I’ll cut the medley short. It’s kind of freeing to let these stories out so I might do this again soon. It’s also a form of cheating which appeals to me.

The End.