Short Story: Lucem Ex Tenebras

I was sitting at my desk arranging the desktop icons into the semblance of a middle finger when the chat window popped up. 
 
“Tony, are you there?”
 
I finished giving myself the finger and began to type: “Sorry, but this isn’t Tony.” and I was about to press enter when I read:
 
“I’m drowning in a sea of shit Tony, except I’m the sea. I could really use someone to talk to.”
 
It occurred to me that Tony might not be available to talk to whoever this person was. That is precisely what had happened to me, the day before, except her name was Michelle, and she’d gotten sick of how often I needed her help.
 
Besides there appeared to be no one else at any of their desks, anywhere on this floor.
 
I wrote: “Okay. What’s wrong?”
 
They said: “IT’S fucking stupid. I’m being stupid.”
 
“Whatever IT is, If IT bothers you, then it bothers you. And that’s okay.”
 
They didn’t type anything for awhile. 
 
Then they wrote: “On the subway someone’s phone went off. The ringtone was Don’t Stop Believing by journey and I wanted to cry because of it, but I didn’t want anyone to see so I picked up this newspaper and there was this stupid picture of a soldier upside down and he looked like an idiot so I started laughing but I was crying at the same time and then I realized I was holding the newspaper upside down and that everyone would know why I’d done it.”
 
I waited.
 
Typed “lol” then deleted it. 
 
They wrote “See, it’s fucking stupid.”
 
I typed “Why did the song make you cry?”
 
They wrote it all out. How their face had been scratched by the windshield of their car whilst they listened to what used to be their favorite song. How they had lost who they were and that reminded me qof how I’d lost Danielle, and how simple things that shouldn’t be, did. Like waking up. And breakfast,
 
Except Danielle was definitely still alive and waiting for me at home with the next episode of Game Of Thrones.
 
Later they wrote “Thank you I fucking needed that” so I thought it was time to type: “My name isn’t actually Tony you know. Though I am in tech support…” which is when I woke up from the dream, into an empty bed, on top of a duvet too large for one person because Danielle was still dead and I’d forgotten again. 
 
It took me sometime to get dressed and go to my real desk, out in the real world. It was somewhere around noon when I realized that I’d left my latest prescription at home. My supervisor let me go, told me to stay home, and I knew he meant well but why couldn’t he understand that I would come back the moment I took my pills and that the last thing I needed was to be at home. That auditing the accounts of a popcorn company was bliss in comparison. 
 
The pills didn’t seem to do anything except make day time TV somewhat more bearable. The romance, between an ancient concubine and some kind of half-man, half-bird creature was particularly enthralling, especially since I do not speak cantonese and so made up the words in my head. My stomach growled so I put some instant dimsum in the microwave and pressed some buttons. At some distance from the couch the microwave started beeping. I figured that now that it was cooked, that it would keep, for several hours if necessary. Later the washing machine started making noises. I remained on the sofa, listening with half-shut eyes to the nonsensical patter of another Chinese soap. 
 
Of course my phone had to go off right next to my head. An unknown number. I prepared to be polite. If it was all I going to do today, I was going to be polite to his poor, underpaid telemarketer.
 
“Hello.” I said, in my polite voice.
 
She said: “Hi there! I’m calling from tech support! Why so glum chum?”
 
“Excuse me?”
 
“What’s on you mind man! I heard you’re kind of down.”
 
“From who? Who is this?”
 
“Well, I got this memo, said you’re kind of down. Got it from the sysadmin. He assigned me to you I think. I’m not sure. But who cares, whatever, you sound like ass, you really do and for what it’s worth you shouldn’t bottle it all up. Let’s see here…Danielle…lovely name that. Come on man, tell me about her. I’m listening. You can tell me whatever you like.
 
I tried a few Well’s, some But’s and it’s just’s- she waited for me to finish one of my sentences but I failed to. I only breathed slower, and harder, till I was gasping.
 
She said “Danielle would want you to treat yourself well, I mean, that’s love right?”
 
“That’s…what the fuck…” And it just spilled out of me. In a babbling mess. I confessed about how I’d finally found someone that made me feel everything I’d ever dreamed of, right when I’d given up all hope, right when I was at my most overweight and tired, and then out of nowhere, just like that she’s gone and all the pills in the goddamn world weren’t enough. I told her how I hadn’t really been happy to begin with. How Danielle just accepted me and that was the definition of love.
 
The tech support lady said: “Self-acceptance counts too.”
 
And after that I poured the rest out. And after that I tried to thank her. “That was so much better than these pink pills I take.”
 
It turns out we took the same pills.
 
She had been swearing a lot. I asked: “Have you…ever been in a car accident?”
 
She said Yes.
 
“And do you have a friend, a good friend named Tony?”
 
She said What the fuck.
 
The line began to crackle. I remembered then, being transferred to tech support, the empty office, and a middle finger made out of desktop icons and: “LOOK, IF YOU’RE AT THE OFFICE TONIGHT, MEET ME AT THE PHOTOCOPY MACHINE!”
 
She managed to ask: “The pink one?”
 
“YES THE BRIGHT PINK ONE!!!!!” and the line went dead and I woke up opposite the TV and I made a mental, then a written note to bring all this up with my psychiatrist. Then I did my washing, ate the dimsum, and went back to work.
 
I was so excited that getting to sleep took ages.
 
It felt like I was about to go somewhere new. Meet someone new. It felt like my first date with Danielle and the debate I had about what flowers to buy. So I still thought I was awake even when I found myself at the bottom of a lift shaft, with only a ladder and the distant sounds whirring office machinery. I climbed and counted the floors, perpetually afraid I had lost track, that I was going to miss mine. It made me want to start all over again but my arms were tired and what if I wouldn’t be able to go back up? 
 
The silhouette of a head peeked out, far above me. “About time! I couldn’t find a single freakin’ photocopy machine anywhere. Its like the end of the world up in here.” 
 
At that point it became easier to climb, until I stood on the other side of the shaft from her, the gap in between too large to jump. “Jump it!” she said. 
 
“I’ll fall.” I replied.
 
She extended her hands and it occurred to me that if I ran really, really fast, then maybe I’d outrun gravity. So I did, and I was only a foot away from her when gravity caught up to grab me by my ankles, “OH HELL NO!” She yelled, then her hands clasping mine, pulling me up till we stood, face to scarred face. She kissed me and I didn’t ask why, or feel guilty at all despite the fact that she looked nothing like Danielle.
 
“I checked out the company directory, none of it makes any fucking sense, but I’ll tell you what- the sysadmin’s office is on the top floor. Come on, we’ll take the stairs.”
 
So we ran hand in hand up an interminable fire escape. Eventually we emerged into a white marbled lobby. At the end of it, large and imposing, were a set of double doors. One black, the other white, with a drop of the other color in each. Holding hands we shouldered both open together.
 
Inside the sysadmin dropped the dimsum he’d been eating. Then he tripped over a bundle of wires covered with what looked like unwashed clothes. He stuttered: “Who the…what the…you guys aren’t supposed to BE here! At the same time! Oh jeez, you’re even holdin’ hands.”
 
I gently disconnected from her.
 
The sysadmin sighed and circled us, humming and hawwing to himself. I said: “Excuse me, we would very much like to know how…”
 
“Shhhh.” He gently pressed one finger to his lips. “Shhhhhhhitttttt I see it now. Wow. You guys. The pills you both take. They messed with the system! Fucking PEOPLE!” His hands flew up, beseeching a red neon sign above him, composed of Chinese characters I did not understand. “Always messing around with the mind, like idiot children. Damn pills got side effects. Ought to put that on the label.”
 
“Look sir, is she real?”
 
She turned on me: “SAY WHAT? Fuck you, are YOU real?”
 
“YOU’RE BOTH FRICKIN REAL!” he said. “Look. Here’s the thing. There has been a teensy little screw up. You aren’t ever suppsoed to be together in the same place and time. The same place-time. That isn’t how it works,”
 
“How what works?” One of us said.
 
“The…buddy program. For broken people- not unlike yourselves. What happens is when one person is really low, like, down in the sewers low, then another person, quite like them, but- and this is crucial- not feeling the same way at that exact moment in time, contacts you, and you have a bit of a talk, to alleviate the symptoms of existence. Now you are both, if I may say so, HIGHLY QUALIFIED buddys in your own right. Seriously top notch traumas you’ve both sustained. But the algorithm’s screwed up, there shouldn’t be a recurring relationship. Not like this. There shouldn’t be anything tying you to together. Except for the goddamn pills your quack of a psychiatrist gave both of you. Same pills, same connection, and now you’re freakin HOLDING HANDS!”
 
He sighed again, said: “There is only one thing left to do now. Gotta reset the system.”
 
“Reset?”
 
“Yeah, turn it on and off. Works most of the time.”
 
“And then what, we just…”
 
“Wake up, and all of this is forgotten, and later on you help someone different instead.”
 
I asked him: “But wait, you mean, we go to the same doctor? We could see each other…outside of…work?” 
 
She asked him: “Hey dickhead, what if we don’t want to forget, did you ever consider that?”
 
The sysadmin paused, hands hovering over the console he had been typing at. “Sorry. Really am. But if I don’t do this you guys might end up perfectly happy, and then so much for balancing out the others. And you’ll know all about the backoffice. And you’ll start some frickin cult and invariably in a century or two it’ll all get fucked.”
 
I held her hand again. “What does it mean?” I asked.
 
I was pointing at the neon sign, which had changed from Chinese to latin. “Lucem ex tenebras; from darkness, light.” The sysadmin massaged the top of his forehead. “Even if I reset the system it won’t be over for you guys. You’re on your way up. The darkness, without it you wouldn’t understand each other. You wouldn’t care. Not as hard. Not as much. And for what it’s worth there are a lot of you guys out there, trust me.” He gestured to the stack of servers: “You’ll find someone else. Or you won’t. I don’t know. It’ll be like a dream- you’ll forget the details but you’ll remember the point.” He squatted and reached into a space between two servers.
 
She turned to me, her smile melding with the scar that traveled from her jaw to her forehead. “I’ll remember you.” She said.
 
And then he flipped the switch.
 
I woke up late on top of a duvet too large for one person. I was pretty sure I’d dreamt of Danielle. What little I had slipped out of my grasp, leaving only a few word that made no sense.
 
So I googled Lucem Ex Tenebras and went back to work.
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My Captain

Too often and like too many others I have

suffered silently choked by your words your callous stares,
Your ‘cheer up cheer ups’ your verdicts of self indulgence
Your condemnations of angst
But no more, not for him,
For the man who made me laugh,
Made me smile,
I will not stay silent for Peter Pan.

Oh captain, my captain,
I’ll say it plainly.

Robin Williams fought every day and today he lost. There is no comfort for him, no afterlife, just robbed time, just broken hearts, today the devils win. The shadows that asphyxiated him, the black that paid no heed to success, fortune, or fame. The invisible illness, the change within his mind. They took my hero and strung a noose around his head, they dragged him, beaten and bloody to the stocks and placed the rope around his neck and gave him no chance to speak, no dignity, no solace, they only promised that life was worse than nothing, and nothing is what they offered.

So many of us will not look into that abyss, will not dare allow it to rise and up fill us, and chill us, and gape at our mortality, our fragile happiness, that is why you call us weak, self-indulgent, liars and losers because the alternative is horror. Yes I will bend and buckle and break, I will kneel my head, avert my eyes, hold my stuttering tongue, will allow the heat to suffuse my face and your words to echo on my bed, and the tears to leak from my face, I will let you tell me I am not enough, but I will not let you tell that

To him.

To Robin Williams.

My first Peter Pan, you cocked that mobile phone before I knew what lawyers were. Stood bewildered among children, you were like the adults who crushed me till, you flew, you fucking CROWED, saw bright balls of goo where no food was threw it around never in my life have I seen a meal that looked as tasty as that.

You remembered how to fly again, bangarang my friend. The pan arises, the hook sinks. I saw hook at least ten times and love it still.

So you look Peter Pan in the eye and tell him he isn’t ill.

I never had a friend like him. Never had anyone who could be there all the time, who could take it. Who could stay the night, it was too much, day after day when I didn’t recover, hour after hour whilst I still cried. He never had a friend like me.

They taught him between jabs, between trips to the bar, between white lines and whilst he cried the demons taught him what matters, that people lie, that old men think they know what’s important, what life is made of; money, exams, rules and regulations, what to wear and say and do and when lest you become different. Robin took all that darkness and within it he found hope. Maybe he couldn’t be happy himself but he’d be damned if he did not try to make you laugh instead.

So when Robin whispered the dead men’s words and said, Carpe Diem, he knew you had to seize the day because those days when you can, they won’t come all that often, and when they do when you beat back those snarling fucking demons you gotta leap up, gotta make them all laugh, and all those lines you wrote in tears you’ll unleash them on the rest. The despair in their eyes inside their heads, the depressed we can see them, can smell the enemy on you, and Robin fought like Peter Pan, his sword, his sword was laughter, he was a knight, a bright white ball of happiness man that man burned away your misery because he knew, he knew, how bad those days could get.

Oh captain, my captain,

Carpe diem.

I will not say rest In peace because you did not die at peace, you were killed, you were murdered and me and mine will not rest either. Will not pretend we did not lose a brother in arms, a friend, will not bow our heads in shame, will raise our fists, not our glasses, will do the best we can; we’ll make ’em laugh, we’ll make ’em sing, we’ll dance our dances, write our plays, we’ll swing with the best of them, we’ll take it on the chin and get back up, one more time, one more time, again and again Robin. I promise you I’ll write a bit harder, I’ll try a bit harder, I’ll get up one more time more because I cannot let the demons know they’ve won. They don’t get to win, not anymore.

Carpe Diem.

The father on screen. You made Will Hunting love. Made him feel human, because despair and loneliness can make one kind, makes one brave, makes one bold enough to stand and speak and laugh and joke because those that live in darkness, know the value of the light and the secret to create it. You said it’s not your fault till I believed because it isn’t our faults dear friends. We lost one of the best today. So I will not say:

Raise a glass,
Rest in peace,
I will not claim
It is now easy,
Bow your heads,
Mourn and walk away.

No.

That is not our way. It never has been. We do not move on. We do not forget. And maybe we will never be whole, never be healed, never know peace and too many of us will die too early in this war we fight, we fight every day so to all the ignorant, selfish rest, to all the others too afraid to face someone else’s suffering, that do not accept what this is like, that do not know how daily despair tastes, to them I say laugh on, laugh on, laugh at our jokes that is what we do, but to you my brothers and sisters, captains and comrades, you know who you are, you that forget you are legion, today or tomorrow or right now you are surrounded but to you I say in my hero’s name:

Fight on, fight on, fight a  bit harder for him.

The demons do not get to win.

Show them what we are made of. Put on your red noses. Throw on the clown shoes. Hell forged, battle born, our smiles are scimitars, our bright eyes shields. Sing your soul out. Cut out pieces of you. Fling your pain upon the canvas, take the shadows and make balloon animals out of them. Dance to wake the light, burn brighter, to make up for the star we’ve lost today. Fight on, fight on, for the fallen, the fallen, for our

Captain, our captain,

Carpe Diem

Do not let him die in vain.

Flash Fiction: Sewed Shut

Claudia biked with her husband, through the same paths they always took. Past the same trees that wrapped their limbs across the same, too-near fences. This time when they got to the crossing, they kissed with eyes closed, and raced- Hugo started first, got ahead, and Claudia was too focused on his sweat-clinging back. So that when Hugo yelled “LOOK…” and she did, she failed to hear the next thing he said, before the van hit her.

Claudia woke into a room she had never been in before. Everything about her was wrong. She could not move her legs or arms that were tied to a teal wall. She could not speak, or turn her neck. She tried to stay awake, instead she fell into a sleep, where she dreamed of pain and snapped twigs. The man woke her, the scary man who moaned at her, words she did not understand. The man who went about her, he poked and prodded and moaned some more. Made noises abhorrent and incomprehensible. She could not turn her head to look and see what he thought in his eyes. He would go. Leaving her there, trapped. She would wonder, had he always been waiting for her? At that crossing? Was her happiness too much, was she guilty of being too content? She wished Hugo would find her and rescue her, and these were her last thoughts usually, before she slept and dreamt of broken twigs.

The man came back, and she resolved to finally do something, anything at all- even if it was only to scream.

So she tried to open her mouth. She attempted to widen her jaw. But the sewing between her lips, the thick black threads would stretch and cut her and the pain was too much to bear. The stitching was so tight she could not even open a centimeter. She tried to scream and could barely moan. The man however paid attention, to the box beside her head. He stopped and then would make moaning noises near her face. She tried to moan back, but the threads hurt so, and cut against her mouth. So she mumbled instead, and he didn’t seem to hear. He left her to sleep and dream of a cage, the bars of which thrust through her belly, that wrapped around her flesh, piercing her so that any movement would bring the tearing agony.

Then finally, Hugo came, with the man, and other shadows. They moaned at her- she could not moan the way Hugo did. She wished she could, she tried so very hard to. She tried so hard to open her mouth that the stitches began to rip. They ripped apart her lips. “Oh.” is all she wanted to say. The threads began to stretch and then came the blood, pouring into her mouth, that tasted of cold iron. And she screamed and screamed and screamed.

Inside the hospital room. Hugo wiped away his tears and regarded his immobile wife on the teal bed. He said to the doctor that he could have sworn he saw something happen on the monitor attached to her head. He could have sworn he saw inside her open eyes a hint of life. The doctor told him it was only an illusion. The doctor told him it was time to say goodbye. So he did, and they turned her off, and she stopped screaming.