Author's Note: I was watching a movie with friends and saw glee on my friends' faces when one of the characters was going to go out in a blaze of glory, causing a wake of destruction in his path and killing tons of unnammed, off-screen characters. My friends wanted this guy to die because of something he did in the movie (I don't remember what it was) and were constantly saying, "This guy deserves to die." "When is he going to die already?" If this were real life, would we dish out life and death so carelessly? Probably not. This story was a reflection of that, and it turned more into a piece that would be to get this reaction of turning someone into someone that the reader thinks deserves to die, and giving them a reason to live not for the reader, but for the author. Maybe they don't deserve life, but that's how life works. This piece was a story that I wanted to write that was completely not for the reader and more for me to see the reaction on the reader's face. I wanted it to have an anti-twist and just completely break the bounds of what a short story can be in terms of style and structure, as I've never really done anything like this. Hope you enjoy!
There he stands at 11:30 in front of a shiny new BMW M3 convertible. It’s blue with that finish that makes it look metallic and futuristic, the envy of all others on the road. Trevor Grant’s shiny new law practice has earned him enough money to easily afford this automobile, but he has hesitations about it. The hesitations about the purchase come from his wife, Heather, who is very stingy about money even though she has much more than everyone else on the block. She wants to save his money until they have enough to move to a block where she only has a bit more money than everyone else on it. Trevor Grant bought Heather the ‘cute’ bulldog puppy that she wanted two weeks ago, so she shouldn’t mind too much. It is his turn for an impulse purchase. “At least you don’t need to clean up a car’s shit,” he thinks to himself with a smile.
“I’ll take it,” he tells the dealer, flashing a perfectly white smile, firmly shaking the dealer’s hand, knowing that he must make this decision quickly because he only has so much time on his lunch break.
(I’m planning on making Grant get into a car accident. Grant can die or Grant can live, that’s all up to me. I am at a crossroad with what I should do. You see, Grant comes off as a guy who has a lot of money, and no one likes those rich pricks. You know the type. Those guys who will be driving those fancy cars, swerving in and out of lanes on the highway while modestly over the speed limit and, even though you don’t let them, they cut you off and give you the pinky thank you because their hand is busy on their cell phone yelling at other employees because they’re rich and therefore snotty and mean. I should kill him. Killing an archetype that nobody likes makes everyone happy. When you can’t do it in real life, get away with it in creative prose.
But then again, maybe Grant deserves to live. He has done some noble things in his life. Grant has his own law firm, which “grants” ha ha people a new lease on life. He specializes in car accident claims, whose fault it was, etc. Trevor Grant really helps people out. He owns his own practice and works by himself, so he’s not using anyone to get to the top or anything, he’s quite good at what he does and truly earns the six-figure salary he makes. Grant should live and keep helping people with their problems in life. I mean, when you’re in a car crash, you think that everything’s over. Grant helps people see that this is not so. However, Trevor Grant is a lawyer.
Everyone hates the parasites that are lawyers, feeding off your emotional distress. The last thing that people want to think about after they get into a car accident and know that they’re going to be spending a lot of money on something knows the extravagant fees that come with lawyers. Especially a lawyer like Trevor Grant. It’s always fun to kill off a lawyer, regardless of how anyone feels about him. He’s a lawyer; they are hated by definition. All lawyers should die! Being a stupid teenager, I’ve never had the experience of dealing with a lawyer, but they are portrayed in a negative light everywhere in our society and it is always successful. That lawyer in Jurassic Park was eaten on a toilet! Michael Crichton knew that people hate lawyers so much that they degraded him by having him eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex while sitting on a toilet. Those silly lawyers. That movie made a lot of money. Trevor is a lawyer, and therefore should be killed off. I mean, wouldn’t it be ironic and literarily exquisite if he died in a car accident? Yes, he should die because people will love the fact that he dies and because it will be one of those really strange coincidences that belong to the Darwin Awards.
It would be sad however, to kill him off because of his situation with Heather. Trevor Grant loves Heather; he bought her a hideous bulldog puppy. Have you seen how truly ugly bulldogs are? The fact that he is willing to get a puppy which he will have to endure with longer than the average ugly bulldog is proof that he will do anything to make her happy. He’s allergic to dogs, too and he’s willing to get the hypoallergenic shot monthly so that he can live with a happy woman. Love would be a terrible thing to ruin by spiting Grant to death just because he is a lawyer. Heather, however, is not in love with him and his unibrow. Heather is obviously using him for his money.
Heather’s main goal in life is to be better than the Joneses. With Trevor, she has found someone who will allow her to do this and have a “cute” puppy along with it. Trevor Grant is a rare breed indeed. The reader now sides with Grant and thinks that Heather should be killed in his stead, because she’s a superficial bitch who isn’t good for Trevor. She’s not good for him so she should be killed off; there will be no resentment.
There is also always the 1:140,000,000 chance that the earth can be hit by a huge meteor and kill everyone. The problem with a meteor is that it provides no resolution for any of the characters, which makes such an ending out of the question when trying to write a story that focuses on the dynamics of character. Deux ex machina isn’t the best way to end a story these days.
Dammit, Grant. Just when things seem to be looking up for you, you have to say that thing about not having “to clean up a car’s shit,” showing that you hold resentment toward the dog. While it is understandable that you are allergic, that gives you no reason to speak with such negativity. Everybody loves puppies. If you hate puppies, especially puppies that are so ugly that they are pitied, you should die. Well, Trevor, the odds are against you now. I guess there’s only one thing left to do. Time to brainstorm.
Ending 1:Trevor Grant does all the paperwork and about a half hour later, drives out of the lot with his new shiny metallic blue BMW M3. At 12:03, Grant bids his last goodbye. At his first traffic light, he crashes it into a telephone pole because he is not used to how quickly a BMW M3 accelerates and the brake system is different from the beige Ford Taurus he used to drive.
And we are all happy.
I’m gonna give this ending a no because it’s the obvious ending and it’s what the reader wants. We want Grant to die, but this ending is too obvious. It won’t work.
Ending 2:Trevor Grant does all the paperwork and about a half hour later, drives out of the lot with his shiny new metallic blue BMW M3. He works late and gets home at about 12:03 in the morning where his wife greets him with a bullet to the face.
Trevor Grant is dead. And we are all confused.
The reader here will infer that Heather had a gun and found out that (gasp!) Trevor has been cheating on her for the past two years! This could work as one of those twist endings that come out of nowhere and make no sense but the reader loves anyways regardless of the lack of substance. It’s great to throw the reader for a loop and when he’s expecting all of these great things out of a character then Bam! something comes out of left field and ruins the pristine image granted to the character they have grown to love. Adultery works perfectly for this, which is why this ending could work.
Ending 3:Trevor Grant does all the paperwork and about a half hour later, drives out of the lot with his shiny new metallic blue BMW M3. On his way back to work, he sees that it is already 12:03 and he is late to get back to the office. He decides that he can be a bit late getting back because he never got a lunch and he wants to roll up in the drive-thru with the new ride. Smoothly pulling up next to the drive-thru menu, he is about to order his favorite when, out of nowhere, a smoldering rock soars overhead at blinding speed. Seconds later the shiny metallic blue paint of his BMW M3 peels off due to intense heat and Trevor Grant is vaporized from the heat a huge meteor striking the earth created.
OK, now I’m just playing around. A meteor? People will interpret this as an easy out, like I’m not smart enough to come up with an actual ending. Oh, these people. Do they not see the complexity of this story that I am writing? In one short paragraph, I have a multitudes of possibilities that can happen with a life and I can explore them all and have whatever I want happen in an effort to please the reader. The reader loves seeing characters die, especially characters that the reader would not like in real life. For many reasons, Trevor deserves to die.
Trevor is a lawyer. Trevor deserves to die.
Trevor is a rich prick. Trevor deserves to die.
Trevor does not like puppies. Trevor deserves to die.
Trevor Grant drives out of the lot and goes back to work in his shiny new metallic blue BMW M3 Convertible. He is the envy of all the other drivers and when he gets back to the office, he has three miles on the odometer. He has a great rest of the day at work and is able to stay positive knowing that he just bought something that will bring him a lot of joy. At the end of the day, he drives home and Heather greets him at the door with a stern look on her face. She does not look pleased with his purchase.
Trevor nervously walks up to her and gives her a kiss on the cheek. “Hey babe,” he says, glancing at the sleek vehicle. “What do you think?”
She looks at the car, then looks at him and his proud eyes. “Boys will be boys,” she sighs.
“Come on, let me show you how it rides.”
They take an enjoyable drive with the fresh air combing their hair. They both have a great time talking about the lovely neighborhood that they live in and Heather discusses all of the cute things Bradley, the cute bulldog puppy, did today.
Upon returning back to their large home, Heather cooks an immaculate meal while Trevor watches SportsCenter. They engage in deep and meaningful conversation over the chicken cordon bleu. After dinner, they have wonderful, passionate sex and before going to sleep, each reads a chapter in the current bestseller they are reading. They tell each other that they love each other and go to sleep.
(Readers love unexpected endings better than predictable death.)
There are three things left in the room. A Gibson guitar, a sleeping bag, and the erroneous impression that I loved him. The first two things will stay with me. I'll pawn the guitar but keep the sleeping bag. Mine is getting old. The latter, I imagine, will stay with him forever.
I pull the vacuum from outside the door, a Hoover that I brought from home. It sucks up all the trouble that we made. It picks up wrappers bottle caps and ashes. It cleans up very well. He's leaving in the morning but I won't see him off. I'll say goodbye tonight once all the boxes are addressed.
If these walls could talk, they’d probably choose not to. Maybe their voice would be heard in the sullen hum of the radiator, or whistle softly over the cracked window pane. The sloppy paint job exaggerates how sad and empty a place can feel, even if it’s abundant in life and furniture. A plastered bulge by the closet covers a fist sized hole. It was there long before I was, evidence of previous residents, whispers, and screams.
And the closet, the dark wedge of space in the corner, housing for doubt and pride draped over hangers and stacked on the shelf. It’s only meant to be considered as storage space.
At dusk a deep melon light moves like ballet over blades of beige carpet and the face of each wall. It casts shadows but creates something pure, a blank slate, an open canvas. But to someone, it is finally empty.
His eyes and heart are tired of the city and I'm happy as hell to watch him go. I'm okay with losing an alcoholic friend.
He asks for favors up until I’m gone.
He wants to know. Will I mail the boxes tomorrow afternoon? Will I take this shirt to keep his memory? Will I finish this bottle of wine with him tonight?
"No, no, and maybe." I say. Later, I will stumble eight blocks home and hit the sack. I can not sleep when I’m this cold.
This clean room has four bare walls and beige carpet. Aside from indentions left by the four feet of the bed, no evidence is left that someone lived here. This is no place to bid farewell.
Tonight the sky is the most silent shade of bruise I’ve ever seen. Coffeemate clouds spill in and swing across the sky with ease. Still, there is no wind. No toss for my hair as I walk away. No gush of air to push us together one last time. I decide that this is where to say goodbye, under a canvas I can remember while trying to forget the rest. Not in the room where it all began, a snug corner cavity rented out monthly by Heather the owner. Rather, outside, in a place where the surroundings drown out the scene and ambulance songs remind us that the world is still going around.
His flight takes off at nine am. I’m nowhere near the airport. Instead, I have come back to the room. Just double checking to make sure nothing is left behind. I remember walking in for the first time. I saw it as a whole. I didn't pick apart the artists or bands posted on the walls, the pictures taped to the mirror on the antique dresser. All I saw was art and music, a place where I could see myself sitting. Even being happy. Much like hearing a good song for the first time. When the music and the singing sound sweet and mysterious, before realizing that the drums are digital and that the lyrics are meaningless. Before you realize that it's nothing like something you'd want at all.
I lost a ring in this room once, a gift my mom brought back from the Dominican Republic. Two linking silver bands stemmed out from a turquoise shell with amber inside. It slipped off my hand one night and I nearly turned the room upside down looking for it. I gave up that evening but kept watch every returning visit. Even when packing the room up in cardboard, I kept my ring in mind. Perhaps it was sucked up with the rest of the trouble in the vacuum. Or maybe it was packed in a box addressed to Oregon, set to ship out when he did. A piece of myself that I just had to let go of.
Once things go missing, they tend to bring on more meaning than they ever had when they were around. This goes the same with objects, pets, houses, people. There seems a need for closure, a better definition for mental clarity. It's why average people become martyrs in death. Why a lost ring becomes the greatest piece of jewelry ever owned. Now that he is gone, this room will become so much more than four bare walls. In my memory, it will sit as a sanctuary where I go to refurnish rearrange and redecorate something that never fit me to begin with. This room will embody a boy who left me with a guitar and a sleeping bag.
While we were packing, it hit me. That I found nothing in here to be familiar. I don’t listen to Black Sabbath and my favorite movie is not Tremors, Tremors II: Aftershocks, or Tremors III: Back to Perfection. I know because I’ve watched them. All. Consecutively.
With every item thrown into a box, the room began to crumble. Beneath the mask of decoration and furniture, I failed to see the room for what it actually was. A place so empty it echoed.
In lieu of covers and sheets, I sat on the mattress and took in the fact that I had never before realized the walls were beige or that the blinds were broken. I grew frustrated with things I’d overlooked. How I found this space inviting, I may never know.
Before there was nothing in here, there was everything. There was a lamp in the corner and light spilling in. And there were two people. Eating eggs and watching Seinfeld. He played the guitar and I read Kerouac in my glasses. He did pushups while I hit the snooze button.
The empty room holds more than dust and memories. Phantoms from the past drift in through the AC vents, they fuse in the power outlets. They are only shadows of who and how we used to be, pictures and scene frames, silhouettes and songs. Then, like the ghosts that run the labyrinth of a Pacman game, their safe blue state blinks back into a pack of monsters. And in a precious moment of defeat and relief, the screen reads GAME OVER, goes blank, and turns back into an empty room.
In memory, I fill in the gaps over the skeleton of what I remember these four walls to be. I do anything I can to make it whole again. I hang Monet and Elvis Costello posters and fill the mirror edges with childhood photographs. Once it's full in my mind, the details fade. I see it again as something whole where only art and music reside. I’m reminded of how lovely they are sitting next to each other.
The guitar leaned in the corner. Last to go. I'd always loved it but it wasn't mine, even after I was told so. I even loved to play the thing, but it didn't sound right under my hands. He didn't have enough cash to ship it to Oregon. He left it in my hands for permanent safe keeping.
I sold it because I didn't need the presence of one thing to remind me the absence of another. Also, electricity was due. It only represented a place I couldn't go back to, an apartment with new names on the lease, a room that now embodies a new person new art new music. Maybe even someone more like myself
Upon digging through my own room nearly a month after he's gone, I come across his ugly red shirt, the one I said I didn’t want. How he snuck it in, and when? I don’t know. Surely though, this was no accident. It was tucked in a corner too deep to have been simply left behind. Immediately, I start a list of ways to rid myself this awful garment. Do I have a friend with an upcoming birthday? How about the garbage? Will Goodwill accept a bag with just one item?
The effort becomes too much for too little, and I toss it in the laundry bin in acceptance. It's a little piece of him I just have to hang on to.
He calls to ask how his guitar sounds.
"It sounds like electricity" I tell him.
He sounds pleased.
He wants to know. Do I miss him? Do I love him? Do I think he should move back?
"No, no, and hell no," I say.
In the background I hear his fiancé sobbing.
I almost wish to have her on the phone instead. So I can calm her fears as he will not. Someone needs to tell her that there is no point in trying to rearrange the furniture in a very empty room.
Author's Note: I've been taking an English class that is all about cities and their effects upon their citizens and the literature their citizens write, and also listening to a lot of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and this was the result. Enjoy.
It runs constantly, taking in those who move within its boundaries, naively thinking that the city is a place of infinite opportunity, that within the urban jungle they will find something new and exciting, that they will find themselves and do something great (what is it about cities that gives people these visions of grandeur, anyway? Is it the enormous skyscrapers rising up on either side of them as they walk the streets? Is it the sheer size of them, the number of people walking the streets who at least look like have done something with their lives?); these are the people the machine takes in, and before they know it they have been chewed up, stripped of everything they call their own, processed, and spat back out onto the pavement, where they join the crowds and wander aimlessly, filling a role that was given to them by the city: the high-powered businessman, yelling importantly into his cell phone, briefcase swinging from his hand; the bum who accosts you every day as you walk by, lusting after the money in your wallet; the street performers for whom you harbor a secret admiration, but yet you are never willing to give them any money; the prostitutes who you shun in broad daylight, but at night you find your mind wandering down those same dark streets that they inhabit; the corrupt politicians; the street preachers, with their signs and their prophecies; the immigrants, who believe that somehow within the hugeness of a city, they can carve their own identity, make a niche of their own....everyone who enters the city, whether they want to or not, fills a role that was designated by the city, and are there because the city needs them to be, because they are necessary for the machine to keep running.
I came to this city ten years ago, lured, like so many others, by the prospect of a job, of money, of opportunity; however, after ten years all I see is violence, degradation, and decay. I see ghettos, I see the crowds of homeless people who huddle in doorways, in parks, in alleyways, but somehow go unnoticed; I see corruption and despair.
I no longer see people walking these streets, I see crowds of puppets, being manipulated by strings they cannot see.
I know I am not the only one who sees things the way they are. I know I am not the only one whose eyes are open to the horror that surrounds us.
This city does not care about your dreams, or your life experience, or your reasons for wandering into its grasp. The machine does not understand that you are more than just fuel to keep it running.
It doesn't think, it just takes, and takes, and takes.
And we give, and give, and give.
I know I am not the only one who sees things the way they are. I know I am not the only one whose eyes are open to the horror that surrounds us.
To those of you out there who are in agreement with me, and I know that you are out there: your eyes are open, your ears are open, now open your mouths and say something! Go out and do something! Don't just be one of them, one of the wandering, aimless crowd! Show the world that you made it out of this machine with your identity intact! Show the others that they can too! This machine has run perfectly for far too long; go out and clog its gears!
You will be persecuted; you will be shunned; but I know that you are strong and you will do what has to be done!
"We are caught in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
-"The Dead Flag Blues", by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Author's Note: This is very much an autobiographical piece written at many rest stops between Portland, OR and Bellingham, WA. I was stuck in traffic, headed North on I-5 when I started having flashbacks to my childhood, wondering what it must have been like for my family to take such frequent trips with me in the backseat, bitching about my need for a McDonald's #2, or my little brother poking me, and so on. The stop and go traffic was a bitch, but when I stopped and saw the gentleman holding the sign, things became less annoying and I felt more fortunate. I immediately called a friend of mine, who suggested I get it down on paper immediately. The drive normally takes 5 hours; I managed to take twice as long as I wrote during the drive, but felt great about the experience and how the piece turned out in the end.
There used to be a giant neon sign around here that often caught my eye as a young boy.
I remember being excitedly confused every time we came here...
waiting for it on the freeway, doing what any 6 year old boy would do on random trips across the Columbia Gorge...
Counting headlights and license plates.
The sign read,
"Eat at Joe's"
It had a giant clock on it, if I remember correctly.
I used to watch Looney Toons at my grandparents' house.
Every restaurant was called "Joe's Diner" and often had that same motto
flashing in the window of what looked like a double-wide trailer.
They made me want to visit Chicago, even though I wasn't sure that's where the cartoons were taking place.
I wanted the hustle and the bustle in separate instances because I didn't want to overload my senses and kill myself.
I didn't realize that many of the cartoons were drawn
when people were nicer to each other.
When cars looked like space ships.
When cigarettes didn't kill you.
When the lights were beautiful.
I was born 30 years too late.
Approaching the exit, my heart jumped with some instinctual excitement as I saw the sign in the distance...
That excitement was quickly replaced with tremendous disappointment.
Joe's has been bought by Hooters.
Shaking my head in disbelief, I continued on my journey.
As I crept up on the bridge which separates Washington from Hell,
the soon-to-be I-5 traffic halted my progress in front of a half-breed metalhead/80's goth
tightly gripping onto a cardboard sign which read:
"WON'T KILL YOU"
His thumbs were not vertical.
His eyes were rested.
He was smiling.
"WON'T KILL YOU"
My brain suffered from momentary lapse.
It was as if everything I'd learned in elementary school about talking to strangers
and good touch/bad touch
and looking both ways before we cross the street
became null and void.
I wanted to believe this man.
I wanted to believe that he was merely on a peace keeping mission,
preaching the gospel of anti-murder and trust to the masses stuck in traffic with his cardboard sign of truth.
With outstretched arms he whispered
"I love you"
into the windshields of passerbys
hoping that one day,
one of these strangers will return the favor.
I wanted to believe that he was the only ray of sunshine in between Portland, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington,
while the Pacific Northwest was on Storm Watch.
Then the Fox News side of my brain-matter issued an Amber Alert.
What if this is what he wanted me to believe?
What if he was locally known as the "WON'T KILL YOU" KILLER
and I was to be one of his reverse-psychological experiments?
His only desire... to wait for me to throw up a peace sign,
like my hippy mother often taught me to do at smiling strangers,
then he would approach my barely moving vehicle
and shoot me in the facial region of my head.
Author's Note: Here's a little story I wrote about a man called "Jessup". This is a commentary on American society and there are tons of hidden meanings. You MUST read closely. Ok, i'm lying. It's only skin deep. But if you can draw some bigger meaning out of it, i'm all ears. I hope you all like it.
Jessup’s stomach unleashed a baritone growl. Mrs. Huang smiled through clenched teeth as her grip on the yellow stress-ball tightened. Her hand quivered slightly.
“Almost full, Mrs. Huang,” Jessup said. “Keep on squeezing.”
He thought about lunch, but not for too long.
“Let’s get you disconnected.”
Jessup put the vial of Mrs. Huang’s blood in the refrigerator and looked at his watch. Without a word she got up and waddled to the front desk. Jessup shut the door behind her. Privacy was rare at the lab—and he’s the kind of guy who needed it.
Lunchtime could never come soon enough for Jessup. But he was not a large man in any respects. His body was covered with minimal hair, his head quaintly shaped and he had the hands of a mannequin. He was more than secure in his own skin, pale as it may have been. Jessup was always a legend in his own mind.
He poured himself a glass of his wife’s homebrewed iced tea—with plenty of breathing room, of course. Then, like a zombie, he walked over to the refrigerator with one powdery white hand extended in front of him. The droning hum inside the fridge always got Jessup’s adrenaline flowing.
“Nature’s sweetener,” he said aloud, sharing a brief laugh with himself.
The refrigerator door swung open, initiating a long selection process. Jessup fingered through the rows upon rows of vials. It was all incredibly fresh. Nothing over 35 days old. And he had all of the types to choose from. He settled on some of Ms. Gervais’ nice O+ from a few weeks back.
Jessup held the vial up toward the fluorescent light. A true, healthy red. He unscrewed the cap and poured about half of the vial in his tea, afterward stirring it with his pinky finger. He stuck the finger in his mouth like a recently pricked diabetic and then dried it on his pants.
Jessup reclined. He knew today would be a long day.
He raised the glass of sweetened tea to his lips and took a small sip. Just testing the ratios. He licked his top lip and then smacked both of them together several times, causing a chain of delightful “pop” sounds. Jessup approached his unique style of drink mixing like an artist. On some days it came easily to him. Other days he felt uninspired. But today Jessup felt adventurous. After all, it was Friday and he was not looking forward to the looming family trip to the shore this weekend. So why not treat himself to an exceptional lunch?
With a shrug of the shoulders and a chuckle, Jessup emptied the rest of the vial of O+ into his drink. Without hesitation he walked back over to the refrigerator in search of another flavor to add. He thought back on the different clients he had this past week. Mr. Calico popped into his head first—all 350 pounds of him. He always seemed to have sauerkraut on his breath and grime under his fingernails. But his blood. Oh, his A blood was as red as a Chinese sunset. Jessup grabbed Mr. Calico’s most recent vial and placed it in a rack on his desk.
But this wasn’t enough for Jessup. He shimmied back over to the refrigerator and opened the door. He held both hands in its chilled mist and twinkled his manicured fingers toward the plethora of vials like a shaman conjuring spirits. He rifled through his mental Rolodex:
Mr. Cortez—thin blood. Mr. Stephens—Parkinson’s. Mrs. Hudson—sickle cell anemia. Mr. Blanco—steroids (make blood taste too metallic). Mrs. Ballenholtz—best enjoyed alone. Ms. Rayburn—idiot.
Jessup usually wasn’t this picky. He just wanted today’s mixture to be especially perfect. For times like these he had his “go-to” clients—the best blood around. He’d never gone wrong with Ms. Phillips’ blood. She was a beautiful Yale grad with a lisp. Her tongue might have been enlarged, but there wasn’t an impure cell in her entire body. He grabbed a recent vial of her AB and set it next to big Mr. Calicos.
At that point, Jessup had Ms. Gervais’ O+, Mr. Calico’s A, and Ms. Phillips’ AB. He knew he’d need at least one vial of B in order to balance out this mixture. Jessup also knew all of his clients’ blood types by heart. The B’s were on the tip of his tongue. But which one?
Mrs. Atwater—alcoholic. Mr. Torres—wonderful, but had it yesterday. Mr. Richardson—nah. Mr. Jumanji—can’t drink my brother’s blood! Ms. McHendrix—Bingo.
Marylyn McHendrix was legally a midget, but she preferred “vertically challenged.” She’s literally the only client of Jessup’s who was shorter than he. But that’s not the only reason Jessup liked her. She was also the only client who never needed the stress ball. Her blood flowed stronger than anyone he’s ever drawn from. He pictured her blood in the starting blocks like a sprinter. The needle like the gunshot. The tubes were the track. And the vial was the finish line. Her blood was so eager, so anxious, to get out of that body. Jessup believed blood has feelings. That’s why he didn’t go to medical school.
Jessup added her vial to the pile and began mixing. The O+ foundation meant it was best to add Phillips’ AB next. He emptied the whole thing into the homebrew. Next he added all of Calico’s A into the mix. Lastly, Jessup drizzled McHendrix’s eager blood into the tea. She’s a wonderful catalyst, he thought.
In the bottom drawer of his desk, under a stack of wordy liability forms, Jessup kept a box of plastic spoons for the occasions when his pinky just won’t do. He fished out a fresh spoon and violently stirred his concoction. It had taken nearly twenty minutes for Jessup to sweeten this batch of tea. Lunchtime was nearly half way over. This frequently happened to him. Some days he’d get so fed up with the mixing process he’d lose his appetite.
Jessup flopped his body back onto his tall desk chair, more than ready to commence his Friday feast. Last night’s meatloaf between two slices of Wonderbread and a glass of sweet tea: decadent. After a bite of sandwich, Jessup raised his glass to the ceiling like a wedding guest and nodded his head once. Bottoms up.
The tea entered his mouth and ran its course over his taste receptors. He kept the tea in his mouth just a little longer than usual before releasing its sweet nectar into the abyss of his innards. His stomach sunk. The tea just wasn’t up to par.
Without hesitation, Jessup made his way over to the supply cabinet and flung the door open. Since none of these bloods could meet his high standards, Jessup had only one choice. He grabbed the necessary equipment from the cabinet and returned to his desk. He unbuttoned his left sleeve and carefully rolled it up to his paunchy bicep muscle. He strapped a tourniquet onto his arm, causing his veins to rise like crocodiles in a swamp. Jessup connected the needle to the tubes. Then, instead of hooking a vial to the open end, he submerged it into his drink.
The fingers on Jessup’s left hand tingled as his veins inflated more. They sat vulnerable and exposed under the fluorescent lab lights. Jessup slowly lowered the needle toward his arm, stopping just before the tip pierced his skin.
“I’ll be damned if this doesn’t work,” Jessup said aloud, smoothly pushing the needle in to his arm.
Drawing your own blood is a lot different than drawing someone else’s. It’s a whole new perspective, kind of like tying a tie.
Jessup watched as his tea ever so slowly creeped toward the lip of the glass. After a few seconds, Jessup ejected the needle from his skin. He then withdrew the tubes from his glass and tapped them on the glass to clear them out. He licked his arm where the needle had been and applied a Band-Aid. Lunchtime was over in ten minutes.
Jessup took three large bites of sandwich to make up for lost time. He worked the large ball of food down his esophagus and reached for his glass. He placed it to his lips and took a major gulp—even swallowing some small ice cubes. Jessup was pleased to discover that the tea tasted phenomenal.
He took a deep breath and wiped some sweat from his forehead. Jessup never really liked needles.
Author's Note: "Voice" came to be after reading a particularly unique succession of literature. I read "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, followed by "Boys" by Ricky Moody. The imagery and urgent repetitious patterns of these works clicked in my brain, and "Voice" was conceived shortly thereafter. As for the story itself, it's purely fiction. The characters and events that transpired come from years of musical self-doubt. This story is what society predicts will happen to every burgeoning musician.
The kid has a voice. That voice, they say, can carry a tune, can carry a seventh grade choir singing ‘Joy to the World’. The voice carries home news of all A’s, and with that news a report to attach to the fridge. The voice carries dreams of stardom, a life on stage. The voice carries confusion about the god-damned pointlessness of that life on stage, the dream only wanting to carry a boy closer to his father. One day, the voice carries news of a ‘63 Stratocaster in the pawnshop downtown. That guitar, he says, was carried by Hendrix himself. His father, carrying a responsibility like all fathers do, gently explains to his son that not only was that guitar not carried by Hendrix, it was a lousy piece of garbage that no one needs. The voice carries a note of pleading now, carries a note of desperation for that baby blue Stratocaster downtown. His mother carries sympathy, as all mothers do, for her son’s innocent dream, and slips the kid a check. The voice carries with it excitement as it drags the guitar home one Thursday afternoon. The father, seeing that ‘63 Stratocaster (baby blue), carries with him a belt, and proceeds to beat the living shit out of his son. The voice carries frustration. The voice carries complaints of blisters, broken strings, and a temperamental father. The voice carries home friends, punks and scum, who lend him music. The voice carries the lyrics of a dozen perfect songs, which carry with them the heart and soul of artists long past. The mother, carrying a certain burden of guilt, tries to console the father when the kid styles his hair into a tall, black Mohawk. The father carries a nine-volt electric razor and shaves that shit right off. The voice carries talk of rebellion, of a pushover mother and a judgmental father. The voice carries a poem, a lyric, and a song that express that extra, added, carried weight of adolescence. The voice carries teenage angst. The voice carries a tune, again, in the cramped basement of a house down the street. The house, he says, smelled like cats and cabbage. The voice carries home news of a gig, a one-night show at a punk rock club downtown, where the pawnshop used to be. The father, carrying with him a slow-boiling anger, tells the kid not in your dreams. The mother, always carrying her maternal sympathy, simply smiles weakly and shrugs. The voice, carrying hatred now, tells his mother and father that the flea infested pit is his first chance to be on stage. The voice carries instruction to be waiting in the van at 10:25 P.M. The van carries the band, a half-cab Marshall amplifier, and a rusted old paint job. The voice carries joy when, at exactly 10:38 P.M., that van rolls up to the curb. The voice carries silence as it slides open the window and hops down onto the azaleas. The van now carries the band, a half-cab Marshall amplifier, a rusted old paint job, and the voice. The voice carries a perfect show while the band carries the rhythm. The voice carries thanks, gratitude, when told they could play the club again sometime. The father’s anger, carried to the boiling point by that disrespectful little punk, carries consequences, a black eye and a vow to never speak to the father again. The voice carries regret, poorly masked, as it gets expelled from school for underage drinking. The voice carries a yellow plastic alarm clock, a tweed jacket, a toothbrush, an assortment of records, and a ‘63 Stratocaster (baby blue) out of his house, after his father orders him to leave. The voice carries pride, months later, when retelling the story for a group of friends. The voice is scratchy now, raspy, from carrying the weight of too many packs of Camels. The voice still carries a tune, carries a blond girl upstairs to an unfurnished apartment to spend the night. The voice carries her back down again in the morning, guitar in hand, ready for the start of a cross-country tour. The father carries a hidden remorse for the alienation of his son. The mother carries a memory of her son at a younger age, five years old and playing on the jungle gym. The voice carries the band across America. The voice carries talk of a record deal, of a manager and a producer. The band, however, carries doubt about that deal. The voice carries anger, drunken anger, when screaming at the band because the long carried dream is so close to coming true. The voice carries doubt as the band tells him, in a dingy bar, that the dream will have to be abandoned. The band carries their own responsibilities, of friends and family back home. The voice carries rage. The voice carries emptiness. The voice carries a handful of Xanax and a bottle of Jack Daniels up to a motel room. The voice is muffled now, a mangled shadow of its former self, as he dials his mother and his father and he tells them what he has done. The father carries fear now: hopeless, terrifying, vivid, real. The mother carries an absolute sense of guilt, always torn between her husband and her son. The voice is weaker now, fading, as he struggles to stay awake, and tries not to fucking die. The paramedics crash through the door, carrying an armful of tubes and a ticket outta hell, carrying the kid to the ambulance after his stomach is sucked free of that shit. The voice, weaker now, babbles about a ‘63 Stratocaster, baby blue. The guitar, he repeats insistently, was carried by Hendrix himself. The ambulance carries the kid, the paramedics, and the driver to St. Joseph’s Hospital, Phoenix, Arizona, where doctors carry smiles about the numbers on the charts, a steady heartbeat and normal breathing. The father carries relief, carries tears in his eyes as he sees his son in a white hospital bed. The mother carries flowers, balloons, and a cheap ‘Get Well!’ card to her son’s room, trying her best to avoid the guilt. The voice mumbles, cloudy, hard to hear. The voice rests. Days pass, weeks pass, until the voice is released on a Thursday. The voice carries thanks to his father and his mother, who in return carry their son back home to stay. The voice carries a resume to stores around town, hoping to gain a job. The voice, silently hating his life as a Kroger cashier, asks the customer if it will be cash or credit. The voice, remembering, eyes a cheap acoustic in the mall. The voice drags home the acoustic, no longer able to carry a tune, and tries in vain to recall a perfect song. The father carries a responsibility, like all fathers do, and tells his son to cut that shit out. The mother, always carrying her maternal sympathy, tells her son, gently, that his voice just isn’t what it used to be. The voice, remembering a dream long past, puts on a starched white shirt and heads to work.
Author's Note: The Orange was a very rare foray into pure fiction for me, and one of the few that actually saw completion - my knack for short stories is not terribly strong. This one, however, was a definite example of a concept that struck me all at once and demanded to be written down before I could get anything else done. (And even under the guise of fiction, I find that Parker's voice occasionally echoes my own far too closely.) Enjoy.
Parker remembered the orange very well. It floated about four feet above the ground, perfectly round and perfectly still. A gash of perhaps one knuckle’s width, the place from which the infamous two slices had been taken, was its only imperfection. There was nothing odd about the location; it was a perfectly idyllic setting. No otherworldly glow, no strange humming sound, no air of wrongness about the place. The only thing that pointed to something strange being afoot was the incomplete orange hovering in the air.
It was a medium-sized orange; it probably would have been passed over in the store. Though it had existed for twenty years, it showed no sign of rot or over-ripening. In fact, it looked rather appetizing. No one was going to take a bite out of this orange, though. Not now; not with the stories.
No one knew where it had come from, or why it floated, but Parker had given up wondering. He had heard the stories about the orange and its mystery since he was little. Having grown up in its shadow, it had long ago lost any wonder for him. To him, it was just one more tourist trap on a road of many. He wondered if the people who grew up near the Winchester Mystery House felt the same way.
“’Scuse me, sir?” Some college girl taking the tour. “Sir?”
Parker looked over at her. “Yes?”
“Looked like you were going zombie over there,” she said. “You okay?”
He smiled. “I’m fine. Thanks for your concern, though.”
She shrugged. “No problem.”
Parker strained his eyes to catch a peek at the tour guide. The guide looked awkward in his bucket hat and khaki shorts, like a man who wanted to think of himself as a fisherman but didn’t own a rod. Parker had only actually seen him three times so far on the tour, and had listened to him even less; he knew the place well enough not to need the guide.
He kept looking around people for a glimpse of the gazebo where the orange hung. It was a big crowd today, though, and he could barely see around them. Just his luck.
He fiddled with the change in his pocket and waited for the tour to reach its pinnacle. The image of Eliza’s face floated up in his mind and he shut his eyes, grimacing. It had been two years, yet it still hurt every time he thought of her.
“Creepy,” the college girl said. Involuntarily, his eyes flicked over to her. He returned his glance. Damn it, now you have to say something, he thought.
“What’s that?” he asked, with little else to say.
“Aren’t you listening?”
He shook his head a little. “I’ve taken the tour a lot,” he said. “Don’t really hear it anymore.”
She shrugged. “Why take it if you know it all?”
“Something to do, I guess.”
“Yeah, I guess.” She glanced away. “I’m here from Barlow County. Spring break for us. Heard a lot about this place, figured I’d check it out.”
“It’s…interesting.” It’s insane, came Eliza’s voice in his mind. He took a pained breath as he remembered the day she’d said it. The only time she’d taken the tour. Their first date.
“Creepy, though, like I said. What happened to that guy?”
“Which one? Smyth or Graham?”
“Who’s Graham?” she asked.
He held up two fingers. “Two slices gone: two men took them. Richard Smyth and Andrew Graham. And we don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”
He refrained from rolling his eyes. “What caused it. What really happened to them.”
“Jesus.” She looked ahead to the gazebo. “How’d it get there?”
They had found Smyth completely catatonic, eyes wide open and an insane grin on his face. He’d been in the hospital ever since that day. Tests hadn’t shown any traces of orange in his system.
Graham had been found three days after taking his slice, wandering through the forest and eating moss. He’d gone completely blind, and the only intelligible thing he’d said was “station.” He died a week later of internal hemorrhaging.
No one knew what had done it. Neither one had any orange in their systems, even though they had both been found with a section of orange peel in their hands. People argued that the orange might have left Graham’s body in the days leading up to his reappearance, but even in that case, traces would have remained.
“Who was Graham? He talked about Smyth but-“
“He’ll get to it. Just listen.” Parker turned away from her. Jesus, no one shuts up these days.
Sure enough, the fisherman-guide began Graham’s story, and when that was done they’d reach the gazebo itself. Parker had at times doubted whether there even was a Smyth or Graham, whether they were just clever marketing tools invented to drag out the tour so they could charge more for it. He’d rejected the theory in recent years, but the way they built up to the gazebo, taking an hour when all they really needed was fifteen minutes, made the idea seem more plausible.
Idly, he began to count the clouds in the perfect blue sky, a habit he’d had since childhood. He reached fifty before hearing the tour guide say something about approaching the gazebo, and managed to count three more before they entered the wooded area and his view of the sky was cut off. He shifted his gaze back to the tour and saw the gazebo on its hill at the end of the path, less than forty yards away. There we go, he thought.
The orange hung there in the air, silent and enigmatic, a mere golden dot against the leafy background at this distance. Everyone in the crowd strained to get a look at it, and as they did, Parker slipped away into the underbrush. From behind a thick tangle of growth, he grinned in spite of himself and fingered his pocketknife as the people passed by. In his head, Eliza’s voice congratulated him.
He peered through the leaves and toward the gazebo. Not a soul in sight now. He checked his watch; it was 12:41. The next tour didn’t start for nearly an hour. He had time.
Parker slipped out of the brush, trying to make as little noise as possible, and walked along the turf toward the gazebo.
You’ve lived near here your whole life?
Yeah. You’d be surprised how little people talk about it anymore.
He winced again. Another snippet of conversation between he and Eliza from that long-ago day. He’d agreed to show his boss’s daughter around town, hoping for a promotion. He ended up falling in love almost instantly. Had it really been twenty-six years ago? Was it possible?
In the end it made sense, what he was doing. It had begun here, after all. It was the only happy place left for him since losing her. His once-blonde hair had faded to gray after only two years; his somewhat handsome face was now scruffy and haggard. Would she still have wanted him, had she seen him? He didn’t know, but he thought she would. It was one of the reasons he’d loved her in the first place.
He stood before the steps of the gazebo and looked up at the orange that floated in midair at its very heart. The orange was roped off, of course, but that was no matter. He pulled out his penknife and opened it, stepping up onto the first stair. He hesitated; his fingers slipped, and the knife fell to the worn planks with a disproportionately loud clatter. He cursed and bent to pick it up, hand trembling. It took him a few seconds before he could grip it again.
He took the last two stairs as one and stepped up to the guard rope, running a finger along its rough surface as he remembered Eliza’s perplexed gaze when she saw the orange for the first time. He’d laughed, and she’d slapped him playfully on the shoulder. Parker had kissed her impulsively when the tour was done, a move he hadn’t planned to make until that very moment. Rather than pushing him away, she’d kissed him back, and then fled to her car. He’d smiled the whole drive home and called her the next morning.
And now, here he stood in the same spot where they’d begun their journey into love, twenty-six years after that meeting – two years after the cancer had robbed him of her. He’d gone by Jim in those days; now, he was only James. Nicknames were meant for happier times.
Parker gained control of his fingers and gripped the rope. He slipped easily under it and straightened.
He reached out a hand and placed it on the orange.
It felt strangely warm to the touch, and the place from where the slices had been taken was not dried out and shriveled as it normally would have been, but in all other respects it was a normal orange. He gripped it and rotated it in the air so that the gash was facing him…
As soon as he let it go, it swiveled back to its original position, the gash once again on the other side. He laughed humorlessly and walked around it.
His hands, strangely, were now completely steady. He gripped the orange with his left hand and, after a moment, plunged the knife into the peel. He sawed downward until he held his own slice in his hand, thin and fragrant. The juice dripping into the cup of his palm stung slightly.
I don’t know what you are, he thought, looking at the orange. I don’t know how you exist. But I think you see me, somehow. I don’t think you’re really an orange. I don’t know who you are, but now that I can touch you, I can feel you. What are you?
He thought for a moment and then laughed.
I’ll never know what the hell you are.
Parker took a deep breath and dropped the knife. “I love you, Eliza.”
Author's Note: There is a constant struggle between the things you have to do and the things you want to do. Fortunately, encouragement comes from the strangest places, like maybe your last two customers of the night. Even though everything doesn't always work out, you know you must be doing something right.
Rebirthed Like a Phoenix Through The Spirit of The Beat
by Pierce Lydon
The walls are sweating. I’m sweating. I’m stepping on someone’s broken beer bottle and a large plank of wood just fell from the ceiling. Feedback rips through the room. The basement is packed like the E train during rush hour. A broken chair, a mop and scraps of duct tape litter the floor. They used to be a mic stand. The crowd looks on expectantly, straining to see over each other. I quiet them down.
“There’s only one line in this song. Ok?” A few heads nod. “The only line is ‘I wish I could fall out of love.’ I wanna hear you guys sing with me. Ready?”
My band waits for my mark. I give the signal.
“Can we lock the doors?” I ask my manager Eric.
“Come on, it’s only 10:58. We’ve still got a whole two minutes of business left.” He continues eating. It’s his second meal this shift. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.
“It’s dead in here. My tables are practically stocked and my side work is almost entirely done. I wanna get out of here before the porter comes in.”
“Take a look at the door. You’ve got customers. Go seat them,” he says with a mouthful of our famous Original Hamburger joining in on the discussion.
I’m one of only three servers left in the fake “1940s hamburger and malt shop.” They make us say that. It really just looks like a ‘50s diner but it sounds like Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees are keeping it all really authentic. There is an older couple looking around.
“Hey folks. Welcome to Johnny Rocket’s. My name is Pierce. I’ll be your server. You can sit right here.” I seat them in my section, right near the front door. I wish I hadn’t just restocked that table. “Can I get you anything to drink while you look at the menus?” I flash that shit-eating grin I’ve had permanently plastered on my face for the last 6 hours.
The man answers, “Yeah, uh, two Diet Cokes. Thanks, boss.”
I return with the sodas and place them on the table. I twirl the straws in the straw holder. The man stares straight at this menu.
“You guys got lucky. You’re the last table of the night.”
The woman is admiring the store. She’s got to be in her mid-50s but she dresses like she’s in her early 40s and she talks like every Italian woman in Queens does. She was definitely pretty once. She probably really loves The Sopranos.
“Oh, you guys must be busy all the time huh?” she says motioning to my dirty apron.
“Not really. I just got into a fight with a bowl of chili and lost.”
“Hey, I don’t usually see you here. Are you new?” Uh oh. She’s a regular.
“I’m seasonal. I go to school upstate. I’m just here during breaks or whenever I need some extra cash.”
“That’s good. That’s good. What are you studying?” She is ignoring the menu now and all the cooks are waiting impatiently for me to put in my order.
“I’m a journalism major. I mostly want to do entertainment journalism though.”
“Oh wow that’s really great.” She looks down at the table now.
Her date interjects, “Ok. I’m ready to order. I’ll have two Rocket Singles and an order of fries.”
“No problem sir.” I write down his order on my pad. “And for you ma’am?”
“I don’t know yet. Haha. I haven’t even looked at the menu.” She scans the menu quickly and turns it over a few times.
“Come on sweetheart, don’t keep the man waiting.”
“Oh ok ok. I’ll just have an Original.”
“Ok. No problem folks. Coming right up.”
The other servers are counting their money. I’m the only one with a table. I punch in the order and get an order of fries complete with two ramekins sporting ketchup grins.
“Here you go guys.” I leave the fries on the table. “And here is your ketchup with a smile.”
“Aw that’s so cute. So you want to be a hard hitting news journalist?” she asks.
“Um, not really. I mean ideally I want to be in a band.” I always like when I can talk to a table about something that I like. I tend to get better tips when I can talk to little kids about Spider-Man.
The man perked up. “I used to be in a band. Yeah. I play the drums. What do you play?” I believed him. He had those big forearms that drummers tend to have despite the fact that he looked relatively out of shape.
“I’m afraid I don’t play anything. I just sing. A couple of friends and I have a band together so I let them do all the work. I’m too uncoordinated to actually play an instrument.”
This is entirely true. I was awful at piano when I took lessons. A guitar has too many strings for my alien like fingers to comprehend. Drums would require the combined effort of all four limbs as opposed to just two so that’s out of the question.
We’re only in high school. We’re graduating in a few months. The band that should’ve beaten us in the battle of the bands is playing. They have one song left. I pull back the curtain to watch them. There are over 1000 kids there. The gym is packed. Parents are watching from the bleachers. My grandma is here. She doesn’t know what to make of this.
My band, my best friends, go out on the stage before me. The curtain rises. We worked in a Metallica intro for our drummer because we told him we couldn’t cover any Metallica songs. We’re just not that kind of band.
They get near the end of the intro. I run out on stage.
“Archbishop Molloy! How are you doing tonight?” The crowd cheers. I stand above them. The lights illuminate us in multicolored iridescence. We can’t stop smiling. This is it.
Our drummer counts it off.
“Honey, let me see your hand.” The woman stretched out her hand, palm up, and without protest I placed my right hand on top.
She sandwiched my hands between hers and began feeling each of my fingers one by one. “You have very long fingers. I’m surprised you don’t play anything. You know, they say that people who have long fingers are more talented than those with short fingers.”
I took back my hand. The man spoke up. “Well, that can’t be true. I mean, he has longer fingers than me but I’m better at drums.”
“No. If he played drums, he would be better than you.” She shook her head at him. She was completely serious.
“I definitely can’t play drums. Don’t worry sir. I’m sure you are better. What kinds of bands were you in?”
“Oh just a few bar bands with some friends. We got paid to play covers. You know. It’s never something I could make a career out of.” He looked down while he said it.
“But why couldn’t you?” the woman was incredibly interested now. They were obviously on a date. They didn’t know each other very well.
“Well, eventually I had a family and a real career and there was just no room for it.”
“But if it was something you really wanted to do, like this young man here, why wouldn’t you just do it? Don’t you think he should follow his dreams?” She was almost offended. I stood there, the topic of discussion, completely silent.
“I did do it. For a while. Then reality just caught up with me.”
“I don’t think you should have ever given up. You could have made it!”
“I don’t think so. It’s not that easy.”
“PIERCE!” The cooks were calling. “FOOD’S UP!”
I excused myself from their debate to grab their burgers.
“Alright, folks. Here’s your food. If you need anything else, just let me know. I’ll be around restocking and everything.”
“Ok thank you. But let me tell you something.” The woman put her hand on my arm. “Don’t listen to this guy over here. You just do it. You just go for it because you never know.” She looked me straight in the eyes.
After that, they were just another table. I came back a few times to check on them. The bill came to 26 bucks. They left me four. Thought I’d get more.
“This is our last song. This is our last show. Thank you all very much for being here.”
Steve just isn’t into it anymore. Phil doesn’t want to play this kind of music. Derek sort of just agrees with the both of them.
No four count this time, just tired looks. This is how a dream dies: Tired, sweaty and passive aggressive with guitars and drums as silent observers. This could never happen again.
Drumsticks are dropped to the ground. The song is done. The crowd is reverent.
This hurts my throat sometimes. But it’s alright on my heart.
Author's Note: This poem is an ekphrasis poem, which is basically a poem that describes a photo or painting or sculpture or any sort of work of art, and I wrote it about how Francis Bacon created this painting (Editor's Note: painting is below and its name of the painting is, surprisingly, "Painting"). He said in an interview that the painting "came to me as an accident" and that he was actually trying to "make a bird alighting on a field," but "suddenly the line that I had drawn suggested something totally different . . . It was like one continuous accident mounting on top of another." My idea for the structure of the poem was to reflect Bacon's unconscious brush strokes and how he blindly created a work of art true to his form.
Author's Note: "Eternally Perplexed" was my first attempt at writing a Shakespearean sonnet and actually won me second prize (out of about 100 entries) in a contest at my college. It runs with the idea that the world screws you beyond repair sometimes. The latter piece, "The Restroom," started with just that first line. The creative writing class I was in at the time wanted to see where it could go. Enjoy!
I’ve breeched the boundaries time and space endowed
No longer, within bodies, do I roam
A habit of old habits lingers on
As I shall always wonder what went wrong
My bowels erupted and war was declared in the second story bathroom of Bloomingdale’s. The trainwreck in my intestines began in line, as my wife paid for her 42nd pair of designer shoes. It can wait, I thought. I’d been out all day and often feared the unknown horror that hid in public restrooms. But soon, I would create a new generation of public-potty-phobics.
I could’ve made it safely home if it hadn’t been for that damn fountain placed behind the checkout counter. “It’s so pretty,” she said, as I wiggled nonchalantly, adjusting my position to compensate for the coming panic. “I think it’s time to break my record,” I muttered, and sprinting in short strides with my cheeks clenched, I moved towards the elevator, advancing with choppy, robotic movements.
I jabbed the “up” button a hundred times waiting for that geezer of an elevator to make it’s way down and when I stepped inside, a lady and her son followed. I was practically dancing at that point, the intensity in my abdomen rising every moment. The child mocked me, squirming and wiggling, alarming his mother. She rightfully smacked his behind, purging tears from his chubby little face. And of course, the tears set me off more than the fountain had moments earlier.
The doors finally opened and the little boy’s wailing faded as I picked up the pace. I could see the glorious doors in sight. I was running in such a way that you would’ve thought my jeans were too tight, but I was almost there. I reached for the handle. NO! It was locked! My lower lip quivered.
The door behind me opened up, it was the ladies room. Did I dare? I had no choice. I peered around to make sure no one was looking, slipped quickly inside and relieved myself in an utterly disgusting fashion I refuse to describe.
Authors' note: -- The story of Whistle Pig, a book by Chris Fafalios of the band Punchline and his good buddy Tony Hartman
Chris and I describe Whistle Pig as “a children’s book for people who used to be children”. I think this is as accurate a way to describe the book as it is a very cool sounding/looking sentence. We started writing Whistle Pig as a way to join creative forces on a tangible product, the way we had on several Youtube projects for Chris’s band Punchline and our own cartoon series “Texas Toast” over throughout 2006 and 2007. We decided a book would be a great outlet for such silliness. We wanted it to be in “children’s book” style, the way books by the likes of Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl were, while having content and situations we have found funny from our youth to where we are now: hangin’ out in our mid-twenties.
The book has poems about things both children and adults love: wrestlers, punk bands, gnomes, heroic uncles and several other topics. It has essays about funny events from our childhood that people will either relate to or feel refreshed they were never in the same position. And being as how the book is called Whistle Pig, you can bet there’s some fables in it as well.
The title “Whistle Pig” comes from the street slang (or field slang, which may be more appropriate since it refers to an animal) for Groundhog. My roommate Matt and I discovered this one night while looking at information on Groundhogs on wikipedia (which I’m sure everyone has done with their roommates at some point). When Chris and I first started writing a children’s book for people who used to be children, the first poem written was called “Oh, Whistle Pig”, and it’s intended to be an awkward tale about an Englishman who has done much with his life, but has never seen a whistle pig climb a tree (as their wikipedia page insists they can until they get “too big”). The closing poem is about an aging whistle pig that overcomes his fear of being too big to climb a tree so he can live to see his beautiful rabbit wife he was brave enough to pursue in the first place. Sounds like a pretty good message to me.
Whistle Pig is now available at www.whistlepigbook.com. You can check plenty of info on the book itself, blogs and other fun things. We will be adding more readings and song-versions of the poems over the next few months. For now, check out “that first kiss” as rapped by Chris Fafalios and one of our first celebrity readings from Whistle Pig: director/comedian David Wain (Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten) reads “Pregnant Guys”. --
Below, find the cover of Whistle Pig and a couple of illustrated poems in .jpg form. Click on the little yellow bar and they should enlarge for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
(The cover of Whistle Pig was done by Justin Will. He's the perfect guy if you're in the market for some cool illustration for your comedy poetry book, prom or cd cover. Email him at email@example.com for some samples and info on how he can change your life with his gorgeous drawings.)
Author's Note: Sun and Moon is a small segment of a novel/short story anthology I've been working on tentatively titled Doppelganger, Beartrap. It was one of the easiest, most cathartic pieces I've written thus far and really got my creative juices flowing for the rest of the book. It pretty much stems from all the times I've been screwed over and had my heart broken but haven't had the guts to say anything about it.
I'd catch the dust deep in my throat like tiny spores of dandelions sticking to your linen dress, and in the field that once was as beautiful and lush as your blonde locks that descend down in wavy spirals that smell of exotic fruits I'd never taste or see in my short lifetime and come to a rest on you at the top of your dress on your pale chest. I'd run my hand with all three fingers up your leg and ask what happened to us, what happened to this place.
I've done my best to be the man you've twice denied to marry but never thought twice to lure me in your bed with legs spread. The guns that hang from my belt have become show, trophies of a time I once was known but forgotten long ago.
I want to scoop my guts off the floor with clawed hands but they fall between the missing stubs and right under your stiletto heals where you can stomp and twist them into the ball of clay you've made of me. I want to take my face from your shoulder, I want to take you by the neck and shake you.
"With him? What the hell does he have that I never gave you tenfold!" I'd shout, my mouth so close to yours I could reach out and cut your pink lips with my sharp tongue and I could mash my teeth into yours and split your gums and scope my tongue down your throat and into your increasingly hollow chest to see what color your heart beats. I'd count the skips and come up with zero for every time I told you I love you and I'd watch it increase when we fuck where you shout those desolate sentiments and dig your red nails into my back so you could reach bone, crack spine and drink and dine on what was once mine but I so desperately wished to share with you in its entirety.
"I can feel him inside of me," You say with a shrewd grin, pearly whites like ivory piano keys that play tones that break my heart in the key of bullshit. You'd breath your scintilla cinnamon fire-breath on my ear and tell me about the times you've opened your second heart adorned beautifully at your hips above expensive looking knock off lace that was pulled down and welcome him with open thighs in the church confession booth on Saturday night. I'd feel your tongue hitting the roof of your mouth and the back of your teeth as if to let me know what I could have had only if you weren't the teasing, conniving and disgustingly desperate ice queen that you are.
I'd feel the cold grip of the pistol butt in the palm of my hands and using my middle finger I'd rest it on the trigger like a lion in the bushes watching a baby antelope struggle to find it's newfound sense of balance and lick my chops at the thought of cutting a life so short and letting my incisors tear and rip at the meat on your tiny frame and bring you back home for my young. I hold the gun to your face and laugh as I explain that I'll count to six and watch Dusty Simon find the corks to discarded whiskey jugs to plug up the holes and stop the blood flow.
I grab your sleeve and pull you through the drought raped field and kick dust on your fancy shoes and listen to the fabric of the dress tear and expose and I'd yell for you to hurry on up to watch hubby bite the bullets and give you the chance for some fantastic fuck-like(cause)-you'll-never-fuck-again sex. I kick down the wooden door and our gaze meets at the hollow tube of the gun shaking in my mangled grip and I'd watch him bite his lip till blood stains his shirt and I'd listen to you cry and beg for me to not do this. My middle finger will pull towards me and I'd listen to the crack of the gun and the snap of his collar bone and I'd pour his old, warm whiskey on the wound to clean it up as he takes final breaths with is head in your lap (again).
But I don't, because I can't hold all that courage with these three fingers, and my chest is heaving with disappointment in myself for being so stupid and so fucking useless and I'd cough up the dust bowl as my tears invade the tiny stitches of your dress.
And I'll be the Jesse James to your Robert Ford and watch you wait with baited breaths for me to turn my back so you can shoot your break up bullets into the handles of the thousand knives you've left there over our time together.
Author's Note:The following actually started as small bits of writing throughout one of my notebooks. The words were all written between 2002-2005. I noticed one day while flipping through the pages that there were a handful of pieces that had a certain flow to them and when put in a certain order, almost told a story. The beginning and the end were defined; the in-between needed a little something else. At this point, I wrote a few more pieces, inserted them into their proper place in the 'story' and thought I was done. I had written the prologue on the front of this particular notebook after reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and as I was typing these up, I decided I wanted to borrow it from Mr. Eggers and use it as my prologue. I thought it was a great yet simple way to kick the story off. I then decided to name each chapter, and after debating for a long while on a title for the work, I was not content with any of the ideas and decided to leave it without a title. At this point I was done, and to this day I feel like it contains some of my strongest writing.
by Crit Obara (with exception of "Prologue" by Dave Eggers)
first of all:
i am tired.
i am true of heart!
you are tired.
you are true of heart!
chapter i: 4am
we talk every night.
the sentences are long
the punctuation is rare
and the laughter is constant
but the words are nothing more than dancers
with no ground beneath their feet.
i say this every night in so many words: be the dance floor.
the (search for the) beat goes on.
i am the future.
you're my newest friend.
you're my most trusted friend.
let's talk about the past
and make plans for the future
but live today like it was our last.
i feel the beat.
get on the floor.
we are the future.
chapter ii: a secret
how long until this gets out?
this will get out.
are we alone? are we together?
i'm dying to see the look on your face
and the look on hers too
when she hears the news.
how long until this gets out?
how long until i get there?
we're not alone. we're not together.
note to self:
remember to breathe.
chapter iii: found out
word travels fast.
you thought you knew
well who are you
and just where did you hear that?
the public eye never blinks
and it watched me catch my breath this time.
i know you know.
you know i only hide when i have to.
her room is where you'll find me.
the door is open.
chapter iv: revolution
i hear the revolution
every time she opens her mouth.
i feel the revolution
every time our lips touch.
a whisper in the wind.
a kiss in the dark.
something is tapping at my window.
the revolution is on her tongue.
the revolution is coming.
chapter v: lgfuad
"we'll lie about
and be home just before sunrise."
that's all it took.
walk in. scan the room. fair enough.
i remember telling you that you were the prettiest girl in the room.
you laughed at me and laughed at me
as if i'd told a joke.
maybe i had.
i remember entering the room upstairs with you.
you laughed at me and laughed at me
as if i'd told a joke.
maybe i had.
i do not remember what i said to him
but i will never forget tasting blood and hitting the floor.
as if i'd told a joke.
maybe i had.
chapter vi: the icu
the promise ring i mailed to you
hidden in that lousy note
filled with prose. overdose.
memories are all you have when you're lying in a bed
in a place where people come and go for good.
i was asleep but i heard you whisper "goodbye."
i wasn't gone. i'm not gone. i'll never be gone.
i'll check out on my own terms or not at all.
you're my oldest friend.
you're my most trusted friend.
i'm sorry. i never meant it. let's go home.
chapter vii: 1+1=1
train take me
away from you.
red and yellow
green and white
they spell out your name
if i try hard enough.
shining at me.
pining for you.
lonely leaf flutters across this empty road.
one lonely letter.
this winter better be.
it meant so much two years ago.
now it's as good as ash.
this feeling is not a new one
and yet i'm still readjusting.
collecting thoughts, blood and stones.
the 'me' in the story is now 'you'
and yet the 'me' is still intact.
in fact, it's better than ever.
having 'me' and 'you' as one.
chapter viii: voice box collapse
i don't care. we can break the laws. become lawless.
i don't care as long as you're here.
we can run through the streets and scream.
wake the sleeping children.
hoot along with all the owls.
sing along with the incoming tide.
ocean crashing waves that hit the sand.
all it really is is dirt.
you are here and so am i.
you show me who i am inside.
i can't ignore this feeling anymore.
i don't care. we can make a life here. become secluded.
i don't care as long as you're here.
rock and roll all night.
sleep away the day.
rest our inner demons.
i'll play for you bleeding fingers.
i'll sing for you til voice box collapse.
your face shows you like my song.
i hope you like this song.
you are here and so am i.
you show me who i am inside.
i won't ignore this feeling anymore.
chapter ix: distance pt. 1 (dream big)
one word at a time
one letter at a time.
it depends on the machine.
i could make all the right strokes
with no hint of emotion.
i could speak into one end, listen to the other
and know that each word is bouncing off a satellite.
the words lose intonation on the way up
and sincerity on the way down.
that satellite feels closer than you.
i'll write it in a letter.
chapter x: distance pt. 2 (act bigger)
i wrote another letter today.
it was addressed to you
but of course i didn't send it.
that's three in three days.
plus that one last week.
year to date: 37 letters written,
not a single one stamped and sent.
chapter xi: sick
a drunken night: a tally mark.
your wall is full.
no one ever said moving out meant moving on.
i got your message.
"be ready for me and my bottle.&"
i'm not. you're not. they're not.
you've convinced yourself.
i'm calling in sick.
you're just running away from your face.
so run away.
you're just making another mistake.
make it fast.
the hate in our words is a sign of the times.
i dare you to make this last.
i'm calling in sick of you.
chapter xii: complex
so i'm just a page in the book
but i'm giving you this whole chapter
and i'm dying to come up with a hook
just so he can sit at home
and get real high
and call you up
and sing this to you
every time the radio plays it.
i never said i was better than vengeance.
i never said "i'm better than you."
but you did.
i wanted to ask "who the fuck do you think you are?"
but i knew you didn't know the answer.
your ego's a burden i just won't bear.
three months from now you won't even care.
not you. not god. not anyone.
you're a bad, bad influence
and everyone's under you
but baby, i'm over you.
three months from now you won't even care.
not you. not god. not anyone.
chapter xiii: sleep at last
the next time i break into your house i hope you're not there.
i'll sleep in your bed
and not just because you never let me.
i just want to be like you
and feel nothing at all.
is this breaking you?
this is not breaking news.
this ends tonight.
if only i could see your face
when you find me
and my still heart.
the fountain of youth
or maybe it was wealth.
it's always one or another or another.
the hate in your words is a sign of the times.
frame by frame of reference.
i cannot feel a single thing.
this is what it's like.
dead and dreaming.
the (search for the) beat stopped.
i cannot feel a single thing.
this is what it's like.
i just wanted to be like you
and feel nothing at all.
Author's Note: I started writing this piece to profile a childhood friend, and in the process realized that she'd been writing my story the entire time I'd known her. And because I've always known that both of us needed saving, I wrote this with my heart. (Also, if so compelled, check out Courtney's band Crimes of Paris - link is in the replies.)
The bottoms of Shell’s feet are dirty, but she doesn’t seem to mind. They are propped up on a stained oak coffee table. The rest of her body is sunk in the depths of a once-white couch. She’s smoking a cigarette and she’s not moving, even relocating the ashtray so that she doesn’t have to reach forward in between drags. She is watching a PBS movie about Henry the 8th . I am running around in the background picking up the pieces.
It’s impossible to tell whether it was her doing, or the work of her year old mutt, but it seems that Shell’s entire wardrobe has been scattered throughout the house. It blows my mind how such a small space can accumulate so much - thongs and dog toys, empty plastic bags and expired lighters. Beside the recliner there is a box, the cardboard packaging for a toaster we don’t have. Inside it are scraps of cotton, craft supplies, glass bowls and pictures. Trash.
“I might need it one day,” she says.
I am holding more items than should reasonably fit in a person’s arms, a collection of things that she might one day need. I stack them individually in front of her door hoping she’ll note the symbolism for their inconvenience in our home. But an hour later, when the program on the King is over, she knocks the wall and crawls into bed in broad daylight, tired of sitting up straight on the couch. Now I can vacuum without disturbing her.
How did we get here. We were inseparable, not one without the other. When we made the move from Lynchburg, Virginia to Wilmington, NC our lives had completely entwined for the past seven years. We’d been neighbors and friends, trapped in the same small town. Misery brought us together, brought stacks of pictures out of what we considered a monumental friendship. Even still, plastered on my wall, are frames of us, side by side, grinning ear to ear. But we were younger.
Shell’s boyfriend is named Michael. He is the third roommate of a house we can’t get out of. He works to pay the better third of the rent we should split evenly. When he gets home tonight, he’ll be bombarded by Shell’s usual questions.
“What are we having for dinner?”
“What’s coming on television?”
“What did you get to drink?”
We take turns doing household chores - washing dishes and cooking when we’re all home at the same time. We alternate who mows the lawn. It was Shell’s turn to mow two weeks ago, she finally broke down and did it yesterday. Plowing through the fenced in jungle of our back yard required refilling the gas in our 1989 mower three times. She splashed gasoline in her eyes and ran in through the back door screaming, convinced that she was blind.
“What if I never see again?” she asked, looking into the mirror.
“You’ll be fine,” I say. I hand her Visine and head back to my room. “Did you finish mowing?”
Her eyes are hurt and maybe, just maybe, it explains why she can’t stray from the couch or the bed today. She’s now watching The Lion King, smoking a joint. She knows I’m cleaning, and as I walk by her room, she calls out to me.
“Hit this,” she says, her arm outstretched through a cloud.
It makes the cleaning go by a little easier.
Michael will be happy to see the house clean, but it will diminish quickly upon seeing his lazy lady reclined in their bed. Tonight, he’ll find the only sports game on TV and watch it till the usual questions still. They’ve dated half a year and he knows nothing more than the color of her hair and her address. Then again, this shade of Shell is one I’m unfamiliar with, encompassed by. I can’t help but rewind.
For as long as I can remember growing up, Shell was in the center. She was the burst of light that stunned the room, her black hair cropped above her shoulders. She smiled just to smile, laughed just to hear it. She could make you feel as though no one else existed, a feat for someone who barely topped five feet. She’d tattooed the word HOPE on her side when we were seventeen. She drove me to school every day.
On my sixteenth birthday she attempted suicide, was hospitalized for overdosing on a combination of sleeping pills and Tylenol. She had friends and family members relay to me that her condition was simply a heart palpitation, something gone awry in the stream of every day life.
Years later, upon addressing my family of how I knew about the truth, they advised that I not spend time around Shell. My loyalty only grew, with the knowledge that I could help boost her into better, hold her hand as she crept through the halls she feared. I believed that we could do anything together.
She had bipolar disorder, and like anyone with the condition, her happy moments were among the best in the world. The same for the sad - tragic and lifeless, extremes someone like myself is not used to. That day I sat in a hospital for hours. I did crossword puzzles and read the heart monitor and three days later she went home.
Tonight, it’s different. This time, the shower is running and the music is blaring and its four o’clock in the morning. This time, I’m holding the limp body of my roommate while she’s coughing and mumbling in my arms. And there is no hospital. I imagine that the aerial view of this would be lovely - two people entwined at the heart of their being, surrounded by empty prescription bottles and caps, sprinkled with the pills themselves. When Shell breathes, her chest rises to the wake of the skylight, and flash floods of light float off her necklace. It’s mesmerizing, and it almost makes me forget that she needs to be saved.
At the beginning of our moving to this state, this town, this household, I was overzealous. I walked around singing tunes to fill the air and she would tell me to shut up. I was an extra in the film of her life, unnecessary to her and her boyfriend. Her love was focused and driven, mine was everywhere. I’d shut my door, close off from the rest of our tiny house.
Tonight she’s slammed the door and Michael has to bust through it to get inside. Rather, he gets to. Once he discovers that we have to go to these measures to get to her, he starts ransacking the house for a mallet, a machete, whatever seems most fitting for breaking down a door. “Don’t we have a sledgehammer around here?” he asks.
I just look at him then try again to dismantle the catch in the door with a credit card.
This, to him, is saving Shell. She is a damsel locked in a tower and he is a guy running around looking for a sledgehammer. This would be poetic, heroic, like a fairy tale, except for, in the stories I used to belong to, the princess wasn’t bipolar. (I don’t think.) I’m torn between letting him actually crack the door in two or climbing through the window from the outside but before I can even move, Michael has kicked the door in, and the handle rolls on its edge once it reaches the floor.
But the story isn’t about him.
She’s lying on the linoleum, the centerpiece of a prescription mosaic, an artifact of my past, a stranger. In all likelihood, this is a cry for attention, but it’s been taken too far. We’ve no idea how much she’s had to drink, how many pills she’s taken. She’s asking for her new friend Molly, a girl I don’t know well. I’ve only seen them in the back yard, blowing bubbles and flying flimsy dollar store kites. Playing like children play. Aside from this, I can only gather that the combination of the two girls is rather opposed to the mother figure I’ve stepped into since things have gone downhill. I see them together, its like watching reruns of life in Virginia. When she’s asking for Molly, it is that specific, but it’s not just Molly that she really wants to get a hold of. She’s asking for a version of me I could only have provided seven years ago. Though I know nothing more about Molly, I know that this is no time for her to see this side of her new friend Shell. This is the side only to be seen by those who stick by her unconditionally.
When she realizes Molly is not in the cards, she asks for me to sing to her. This is all she can say, her only request, and I oblige. A Flaming Lips song comes to mind, "Do You Realize?" I hum the words I don’t know. Right now, in the depths of this bathroom, I am the enemy and the soundtrack. I make her drink water and stay awake. Let her sleep once her breathing regulates. I’m singing all the while.
At eleven in the morning, all is quiet in our house. Shell is standing on the tiptoes of her very dirty feet, looking in the mirror. Her eyes are fine. Her hair is sprayed to bob in the back a little and her bangs are straightened out. She’s applying waterproof mascara and she’s crying. Not weeping, just a gentle stream rolling down her face. Her only knowledge of last night is what Michael and I have opted to tell her swirled with her looming hangover. I am cooking breakfast and I’m picking up the pieces. I do little to show the inconvenience of things scattered in our home. Two eggs scrambled and two over easy, both of us can have one of each as usual. Seven grain wheat toast with strawberry jam. I make Shell a tall glass of chocolate milk and set it on the dining room table. She sits down beside me and smiles.
We don’t talk much anymore.
She resides with a new roommate on the other side of this city. Someone with new dishes and an unmowable backyard. Now the antidepressants are setting in. Now, our differences are miniscule, laughable. By her prescription diet, we are both allowed to roam the earth with quiet jaded eyes.
This is what I miss.
I miss that adventure that overwhelmed our friendship at its peak. I miss how wide our eyes would get, how wide our smiles would spread. How reckless we were allowed to be.
Shell is smiling in the apron of a downtown restaurant, her tables have no idea who she is. I hear her say “My name is Shell” before I turn and see her face. She sets a coaster on their patio table, an extra one flies off into the street. Watching her from this distance, she doesn’t see me, and that song pops into mind. "Do You Realize?" I think of hope for the hopeless and how it is imbedded in ink on the side of her body. I’m convinced that she is blind.
Maybe you've had a piece you were especially proud of. Maybe you want some people to read it and give comments. Sadly, until now you may have lacked a proper venue to achieve all this.
Ta-Da! All of you problems and fears have just vanished in a waft of metaphorical smoke!
It is with great pleasure that we are announcing the revival of AbsoluteINK, AbsolutePunk's outlet for creative writing. This blog is a place AP.net members, band members, industry honchos and even AP.net staff members can submit pieces of short creative fiction, non-fiction or poetry. Each new entry will be publicized on the site's main page, through myspace updates and facebook messages.
Now you can submit this work, which can be anywhere from less than 1 page to around 6 in Word (12 pt. Times New Roman, single spaced). Take a look at some of the articles posted during AbsoluteINK's first run to get a gist of the length constraints. The topic can be anything under the sun. We may stifle your word count, but we will never tell you what to write about. If you have parts of a larger story and want to post them as such, drop us a line and we can try to work something out. Obviously, not every piece will be approved for posting, but we do hope to give as many people a chance as we humanely possible.