And No Voice Strong Enough

Her chest was rising just as it was falling. The key, in her hand. The car, right there. Breath, hot on the back of her teeth. No license.

The brother, up on the porch, watching, his face relaxed beyond the register of emotion. One finger, then two into the yellow jar of goo he cradled in his arms. Slipped them into his mouth, lips folding out and she remembers sucking fingers, but it was only a stale memory.

A man walks by with his dog. It was a short leash. She wanted to scream at him, or at the brother or at someone because that’s what she had always been good at. She could make anyone cry, and if they cried she could smile. But not here. No license to speak.

She’d come, some words on her side and no voice strong enough to speak them. She’d come all for the hope that a man she had once loved had not changed. Though she had changed. Her hope had never gone away. But when she arrived he had not been waiting for her like he promised. His brother had been in his place.

At first she thought he has simply grown a beard, maybe let himself go in her absence. Their faces were so alike even after he spoke, and even after she surveyed the clothes he worse, and even after he led her to the car in silence, a bitter look on his lips, she felt a little unsure.

They drove in silence. She spoke a few words of greeting in his language. He said nothing in response. His beard was an old mans’. It was hiding something.

“Scott… going… country… all shit… I… you… fucking shit.”

She stared ahead, but didn’t like reading the signs. It made her head hurt. She looked down at her phone. No service. At least she could read the menus.

He pulled the car over at a drugstore with a green sign. He said nothing, sighed, and left the car.

She stared and waited. Her arms nestled closer to her chest. The sky was overcast and she felt it would rain. Then a drumming at the window.

Her tongue was dry. Her whole self was in her throat.

A man wrapped in chains was rapping his knuckles against the glass. His long gray hair covered his eyes, but not the volcanic landscape of his cheeks. He spit and then beat the window with his elbow. She held her breath.

“Lollipop! Lollipop!” he belted before stumbling away.

He fell to the ground at the brother’s feet. The brother was now carrying a small plastic bag. He stared at the man in chains and then put his hands together, fingers pointed up towards the sky. He smiled. A real smile. Like he’d just bought a new pair of shoes. He smiled all the way home.

She refused the food. It was green and wet. It reminded her of the countryside. The soup was purple, thick, lumpy. Bled warts. She’d watched him pour some yellow gue into it. Watched him lick his fingers. She sat in front of the food in silence while he forked the mulch into his mouth.

She felt an ache in her heart. The brother’s eyes were the very ones she’d fallen in love with. They were a crystalline green. They were unending. She’d fallen in long ago, and now she was staring at them again. Only how could she if she were still inside? Her eyes tickled with a burn. The forehead, the nose, it was all the same.

He grunted, cleared his throat violently like a cat and then rose. He picked up her fork and lifted a pile to her face. Around in circles. She looked to the side and a soft cry escaped her lips. She wanted her phone. She wanted to talk to her friends. She wished she could tell someone. She wished she could tell him. The brother laughed and walked away.

“Stupid,” he said.

He disappeared behind a door at the end of a long hallway. The old wooden clock above stopped ticking. Soon a low wailing could be heard from behind the door. The wooden floor, so modern, so polished, creaked.

She stood and the chair reluctantly slid away from her, groaning. She heard a pounding.

There was a knock on the door. She stayed low and approached the window above. It was a man with long curly hair, looking up at her expectantly with a piece of paper gripped in both hands. It read, “Is Scott home?”

Strangely there was a stack of paper and a marker next to the window. She carefully wrote, “No” and held it up to the window. They continued to stare at each other for a short time. He then jotted something down and held it up.

“Everything all right?”

She continued to hold up her paper. She knew she should hold her breath, but what was the point. He threw his thumb up and walked away.

She sat on the couch, thinking she had better wait. She talked to herself in the words she knew. It should have eased her heart, but there was no one to receive them. They even sounded strange here in this glossy home. The wailing stopped and the brother returned. He didn’t look at her. He faced away and kneeled on the floor. He whispered and bowed his head to the floor. He rocked back and forth on his head until finally he lifted himself off the floor and stood on his head, still whispering.

Then he came down and his face was red, and his eyes were puffy. He’d been crying. And she felt nothing. It was a mask.

“Go away,” she said, and she ran down the stairs to the door. She grabbed the keys and ran out to the car. “Where is Scott!”

And her chest was heaving. And she didn’t care that she had no license or that she knew nothing of the town. She wanted to go. But where she wanted to go no car could take her, and her breathing grew soggy and the lines of her face brittle.

And the brother stood up on the porch, watching her with a face no words in her tongue could describe, his beautiful eyes finding a gleam under the porch light’s glow.

And a man with a dog walked by, staring. His dog heaved against the leash, but the man just smiled. She looked up at the brother and his eyes latched onto her heart. She was sure they were the same as the brother’s, that they were only a mask. They had never been anything more. And now here she was.

Where the Water Goes

If my feet are on the ground, am I grounded?

If I’m on a boat am I then flying?

These fish are flying which is why I won’t catch them. They laugh at me, but I couldn’t hurt a fish. They are too precious. They have a life as good as mine.

What makes a life good? Is it the air we breath, the blood that flows through our veins? The things we spend our time on? Those we spend our time with? Can those make a life bad? Or can only you do that?

I have to make a living somehow and I like seeing the fish, their smiling faces, so I work on this boat. I clean the halls, wash the dishes. At night I stand on the deck and watch for the fish. I can’t see them, but I think they are there. I sing to them because they need someone to keep them company through the long night. The others are asleep, not around to laugh. My flying voice meets these flying fish. And we rock through the night.

Every night it goes like this. I suffer through the day until the night comes and the fish feel safe. They know I won’t catch them. I can never see them, but I can hear them down below, churning the water. Why couldn’t fish dance the same as us?

I think about the land sometimes, but I have nowhere to go. No money, like I said. Besides I think the fish find comfort in me.

I’ve worked on the boat for many seasons, but tonight was the first night the boat touched ground. When I came out of my cabin the ocean was gone. We had soared all the way to the floor of the sea. I saw the fish and the seaweed and the corral, but there was no water. I sang like I always do.

A large fish flew to me and began to speak to me. He wondered if I didn’t want to join him where no one talked and everyone smiled. He said that I was the only one who ever cared for the fish. He opened his mouth for me to climb in. He was large, and I fit nicely. And the water came back, and the boat lifted up with the waves once again, only I was down below. From my new home I could sing all day. But there was no ground to stand on.

The Will of Jeff

Alegro finds himself in a hallway. It twists and it’s lit by deep purple lamps that swing like there’s wind. Darkness ascends like heat, and there’s no roof to hold it. Rather, an anti roof. Alegro spends a few hours trying to wrap his head around it.

Alegro finds himself in front of a door. It seems familiar. There’s a soft sweet feeling as of beautiful words, but also an aching of the eyes. The door opens and there’s a short roman buttress holding up a mixed drink. It has a little folded-like-a-tent card in front of it that reads: Cowardice w/ a touch of chives. Alegro moves forwards and takes the drink. The door shuts behind him. The drink tastes about how he’d expect. Tastes green, with a bite.

A squad of curtains open around Alegro. Alegro tastes stage fright in the back of his throat. It’s not at all like he imagined being on stage would taste like. Tastes halfway between Banana Orange and Purple Mountain’s Majesty. There’s so many buttons and pleasantly smiling faces. It’s exactly like he imagined being on stage would be like: the bright light of the control tower where little bug men play with switches stops you from seeing anything. He’d had that streamed to him before.

There’s a laughter around him, and Alegro takes a smile. He looks down and sees that his pants are wet. Alegro crumples to the floor. A bald man in a light blue button up shirt steps on to the stage, right over Alegro’s form. He looks 51, well preserved. His belt buckle looks like a million bucks.

“You want this End?”

“Yes,” says Alegro.

“And where would you like that End shipped? You can sign in for one click shopping. Would you like free two day shipping with that? We can give you free two day shipping if you sign up with us.”

“What are you talking about.”

“You can also take forty dollars off your order right now, easy peasy, if you sign up for a credit card through us. You’re over 18, aren’t you.”

“Yeah.”

“Excellent!”

The bald man bends his torso down to lower his head down to Alegro while keeping his legs completely still. His head seems to float around in Alegro’s suffering vision.

“Excellent!” he repeated.

Alegro backs away on his hands and knees.

“No. I don’t want it.”

“If you could just put in your shipping address here…even if you don’t want it, it’s really best if you put in your shipping information here, just for ease of use later…”

“No!”

Someone cheers from the audience, and that’s when Alegro notices that they have stopped laughing.

The creature before him bends upright to his full height. Then he cocks his head to the side.

“Perhaps you want a tablet?”

Alegro stands and runs to the front of the stage, and it is there that he is captured by the magnificence of the world before him. He can’t see any of it, but somehow he can feel it in his stomach. Some emotion he doesn’t understand begins to rise in his gut and makes his liver sing a happy, jaunty tune. Increasingly his heart skips a beat which he thinks may be unhealthy. Lowering from the rough wooden parapets above, a few hooks latch into his shoulders, piercing right through the bone, and lift him up in transcendental ecstasy!

“I am a free man,” he says as he rises. “I need no river to bring me happiness. I need not mechanical wings to bring good tidings, for good tidings are here. Indeed I am the messenger. I am the angel. I do not need your credit card information or your shipping information. Everyone gets free two day shipping! I see the path before me.”

“Would you like another drink?” says the bald man below.

“I think it’s your turn to drink this time, Jeff.”

Then the hooks rip through Alegro’s body and he falls to the ground in a bloody heap. He is saved only by the quick response of a team of medical drones and the will of Jeff.

This one has Chris Pratt in it.

I walk through halls of white effervescent walls, humming…the walls hum. I don’t. I’m just quiet. There’s a breeze. It’s warm. There shouldn’t be a breeze down here. I’m underground. It’s numbly lit down here.

I might be going to a pool. The bleached walls say pool. There’s a door with a little black plaque over it that reads, “01”. Also on the door is a window lined with metal bars. Past the window it’s dark. There’s a rumble. I think the breeze might be coming from back there.

My feet keep moving, but it’s hard to tell if I’m going anywhere. It’s just white walls everywhere. It smells like hot chlorine.

There’s a girl now. A girl with ruby colored hair down on the ground. Did she fall?

Now, I’m walking out of a bar. I didn’t get any drinks, but my parents did. They have come to visit me. Or maybe it’s spring break. Chris Pratt brushed by me on my way out. I couldn’t place his name. I think I said something to him. He was nice.

Why is the girl with the ruby colored hair on the floor like that, in this place that may lead to a pool? She’s laying so that her back is lifted off the ground, so that she’s made a little bridge with her head and her hips. She’s looking up at me through square glasses. Her eyes close and open. Close and open. She’s got a bag. It’s down on the floor too. I wonder.

She’s like an anime character. She twists her head. If she had bigger eyes she’d be an anime character.

I’m down on the ground now too. I’m kneeling. I can’t remember if we say anything. I think we do. I know her. She knows me. My mom is there. I say, this is X-san.

She’s different than normal. I kiss her like that, with her head upside down, or is it mine that’s upside down? I kiss this girl who doesn’t kiss boys. I never wanted to kiss her. Not really. Not especially. But it feels right, even after.

But the wind doesn’t stop. I can still hear the rumble. My mom is talking to Chris Pratt.

I ask X-san when she got here. She’s not supposed to be here. She said that she’s going to be coming over more now to take a swimming class. They have at least two olympic sized pools where she comes from. Why come here? I can’t complain.

My mom says that it’s time to go now. I’m touching her hand, and I’m feeling her plump belly through her shirt. Why is she on the floor.

Silly silly silly. Just like you Drac. Just like you to want something you could never have. Silly silly silly.

i’m feelin fine

twirling twirling twirling! layers of magic. Magical Cartwheel. are you looking. look! look! LOOK! jump. unicorn over to there, under those twisty branches.

ok now you ask me a question. hurry hurry! the magic shield isn’t going to work much longer. look at that wizard over there reading the spellbook. he is doing his part! so come on! we have to help him! I know the answer! I know this one! Indian Ocean!

hands rubbing together and the sticks crumble. crumbly dusty pile at my feet and it goes in through my toes like little bits of food stuck in teeth. Ew at dentists. wiggle wiggle wiggle my toes feel free.

Hop hop hop! LOOK see it’s working. we can stay out here forever and ever now. Right, look. big bad lizard monsters stay out! And now we can live ever after like we’re all happy princes and princesses. doggeee! can we go pet the doggeee? good doggeee. hi! yummy yummy fur wrapped around my fingers! oooh wet licking on my face! hehehee. that’s my face! i’ll lick back, you know!

bye bye! look the wizards leaving. he doesn’t look so happy. did we do something wrong? oh well! Uh uh, you see, Garlack the Destroyer is coming back with even more powerful magic. won’t be easy next time. can’t just wait and and time to go. no its not. and look.

hand over hand up into the tree. my big boots are good for climbing. thats why we picked um. up and up. that’s where i have to go to get the best spot. i have to collect the sunrays like a big sunflower. just like mrs. Garfield says. and oooh there’s the sun. don’t worry i got it. don’t worry! im not that high! stretch stretch. more powerful than ever. there’s doggee out there. he’s like a big plane in space. fine. down down down. woah, world fall. sucked away. knee part open. rip open. ow.

oh Garlack! you evil man got the tree to bite me! i wanted to trust you treeeeee! why treee! this place isn’t safe anymore. can we go somewhere else. bad tree. bad.

lifted up by Beautiful One. like skies fingers up there, but bad! i just see the tops of the big boxes where i can’t go. i get big sloppy kisses. ewww. i don’t want um. tree must have poisoned me, it still hurts, still sings like pain. i don’t like that song. It’s like Daddy’s songs.

big red cage with choking that smells as much as Sandy’s mom that zooms. no. back in is not what i want. i just want my knee to stop singing. do you know a spell like that? back home! no! the backyard is boring! i feel fine. look, it’s not bleeding. see all dried up cause i told it too. i can get leaves and things and make a cover too.

were moving in the gray now. and it’s loud and it’s rumbly. i smear my hand in the red. i lick it. that’s how i get my power back. that’s what Jade said. its good, i know it’s what is right. i don’t like the rumble in my belly. i don’t like the sound of other cars whooshing past. i don’t like hearing the honking. i like looking up at the big sky ocean and watching the pretty white bird fish swimming and i want to be up there too and i think that if people are good then they get to go up there with the birds i think someone said that but i wasn’t listening too much oh well i can up there if i want everybody says so.

yeah. how much longer? bounce bounce bounce. i’m feelin fine.

That Which Smears Fair

I

Karl Better lived with his mother in an apartment he couldn’t seem to shake. And why would he want to? He could keep to himself, play his clarinet when he wanted to and spend hours surfing internet message boards without anyone telling him that he was wasting his time. His room was on the west wall of the building – as far from the other apartments as he could get. He had a rather large room in which he could keep the various drum machines, mixers, microphones and other recording devices he liked to have around piled around the room without fear of tripping.

His mother, Elizabeth the second, stayed out of his way mostly, as long as he accompanied her on walks. She liked living with someone stable, someone who kept a routine, and she liked having him all to herself. He’d tried to move out years before, but it hadn’t worked out. It had been hard on the both of them, but especially hard on Elizabeth.

The day before, Karl had heard a bout of commotion in the hallway, but Karl had simply turned up his music and made nothing of it. His mother told him on their morning walk that a new girl was moving into one of the neighboring apartments. People were always moving in and out of the apartments, and he often questioned why more people didn’t simply stay put.

Karl, continued on his chosen path, mixing new sounds and melodies to create pastoral skylines, and verdant landscape sound collages. He cut, screwed, mix, mashed, and morphed orchestral triumphs, against raw 80’s synth and created something new. He filled his days with his creations as he always had, but they were becoming boring, stale. Not, perhaps, because of their inherent staleness, but because there was no audience for them. Out of the few songs he’d released, one had received a torrent of views from the indie electronica enthusiast scene, that song being Asiatic Antonin. But, abrasive as the internet is, the experience left him scarred, and unwilling to share any more of his music with the world who wouldn’t appreciate it.

One day, while slumped in the chair before his computer, idly clicking through things, he noticed a new device on the apartment’s shared network entitled “Emily-PC”. Karl snarled to himself at the crass unoriginality with which everyone named their computers. Then without realizing what it could mean, he clicked on it. A series of folders appeared in his browser, and he clicked through to the “Public Pictures” folder, marked by a little flower icon.

Karl had seen his fair share of naked women via scandalous internet sidebar ads, and pop ups, not to mention the few internet porn sites he’d visited out of curiousity when his mother went out of town, but he’d never seen anything like this. Before him were dozens, if not hundreds, of jpegs named in a harmless serial like fashion, containing somewhat grainy, provocative nude webcam pictures. After cycling through the first few, Karl landed on what he believed was a modern wonder of the world. Basked in the golden light of the sun, Emily’s figure was spread across her bed completely buck and completely beautiful, her frame smeared with a thick brown paste. A bottle of nutella completed the picture by covering her most intimate details.

Karl checked over his shoulder to see if his mother, or anyone could see what he was doing, but his room door was closed as always. He returned his gaze to the picture which seemed to ravish his mind like nothing he’d ever seen. It touched him in a way that nudity had never managed. His mouth curled up, and his tongue sought something, almost like it was searching for a clarinet; his fingers too began to quake, and they fell upon the buttons and knobs of his synthesiser with unprecedented ease and passion.

“Karl!” There came a banging at the door that snapped Karl out of his dreamlike state. “Karl!!!” yelled his mother for a second time.

Quickly, spastically, Karl closed the picture, but then, thinking on his feet, copied the entirety of the devilish collection into a new folder lest he be deprived of them in the future. As he rose from his chair, Karl could only think of the beauty of what he’d seen, and not of the bizarre chance of fate that lead him to it.

“Yes, mom,” said Karl opening his door.

“Lunch is ready,” she said.

“Oh. Actually I think I might go for a walk.”

“Be careful! It’s not safe out on the streets!”

And so did he take to the streets with a quick, rash step. Coming down the steps of the apartment complex, however, he ran into the girl – Emily. Seeing her with her bag of groceries, and fully clothed at that, put him in state of shock. She glanced up, met his eyes, and then simply smiled at him as his feet stood stock still in their place.

“Hi!” she said.

Karl swallowed a great deal of fear and was able to mutter something small in response as she walked by.

“Your name’s Emily?” he said, now that he only had her backside to watch.

She turned, ruining the illusion, “Yeah. How did you know?”

Karl felt his face rise to the color of a rasberry sherbert.

“Oh, I think I…saw it…somewhere…”

“And what was your name?”

“Oh, Karl Better.”

“Karl better what?” She waited for a response, but there was none to be had. “Well. Nice to meet you!” she said, and then she bounced up the rest of the stairs and disappeared.

Karl waited a moment and then immediately returned to his computer.

He found, over the course of a few days, as he looked through the pictures of Emily that he had acquired that she was a model of sorts. One of her pictures held a link to a website that she modeled for. You payed a little fee to watch her on her webcam, and she would perform for you and chat with you. Every day Karl neared clicking the ominous “Join Chat” button, but refrained.

Perhaps if he composed a song just for her. A song that could capture everything he felt about her. Maybe then he could reveal himself to her, or at the very least just be free of her commanding presence in his mind.

II

Emily Enticing, as she was known online, was despite all her online acts very much a normal girl trying to make it in the big apple. She had just so happened to have found a niche in the erotic food market that treated her well. But it was just another stop in the road for her, just a temporary bump. Emily was headed real places, everyone that met her told her how beautiful she was and how destined for the screen she was!

There were girls on hottiesfromhellskitchen.com that strived and worked hard for the kind of action they got on the webcam shows, but not Emily. She grew up in a small town, with no place and no time to learn such a trade. A trade which she fell into by chance, and with ease, but one in which she knew she was not destined.

One day she accepted a webcam request from Shyguy380 and started her now tired routine. But her guest, Mr. Shyguy380 told her to stop emphatically. He said that he just wanted her to listen to a song and tell him what she thought of it. So she listened to it like she asked since it seemed like a harmless enough thing. And when he asked what she thought of it she simply said, “Sounds like a bunch of techno bullshit to me!”

Loving Brother

The man is silent in his home. A mug full of cold, dark liquid rests on the edge of his coffee table. Today’s paper is open on the table, splayed with no modesty. It’s a wonder that he can read it at all at his age. His finger slides along the passage another time.

Loving brother. Dead. Yesterday. He’s not alive. Not anymore.

But he doesn’t feel different. He wonders, briefly, if the paper might be right. Maybe he really is dead.

He gently pushes his cold cup of coffee to the ground with the back of his hand. Could a dead man do that? No. It was a silly thought.

The man watches as dirty water sinks into his carpet. The pool seems to stretch out beyond its means. Each tendril wants to get away. Let that be a problem for the living.

The man gets up and looks at the mess in his sink. It’s terrible, and he won’t let it be his problem. He should have left when he had the chance. The man slowly revolves, peering out of the kitchen window into his sun-soaked garden, brown from negligence, green in spots out of heavenly defiance. His cupboards are simple and clean. They’ve never been a problem. The dining table is set for guests as it has been all these years, although these days he wouldn’t know what to cook if anyone did come over. The tile was scratched in places like placards of existence standing stoically in a forest of equally traveled paths. He should write a book. He should tell people about the paths he didn’t go down. Roads not taken. A spider crawls its way along the wall, and it continues past his foot and around the corner. Finally the mug on the carpet. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

The man grabs a rag off the counter and sets his knees against the ground. Childish to think it would go away. He bends over the spill and drops the rag to the ground. He picks up the mug and feels a creak in his back muscles as he lifts it. The muscles around his neck contort as he sets it on the counter. Then he presses his palms into the rag. He can hear a raggedness in his voice, deep in his throat that he remembered hearing from his own father, and grandfather before that.

He wonders what they’ll do when they all figure out that they don’t have a body to put in the ground. When they realize they bought a coffin for nothing.

He rises to his feet and decides that something has to be done. He picks up the phone and dials his sister. He gets some sort of sound he doesn’t recognize coming through the line. No, wait, he does recognize it. It’s happened before. He must have forgotten to pay. Maybe it’s best if she figures it out the hard way. He sets the phone down on the counter and lets the sound run. He can hear it cycling as he walks away.

He munches on his teeth as he watches his sports. He doesn’t do much, never really had, he knew that, but he could keep track of his teams. His mother had always told him not to grind his teeth like it was going out of style, but he knew better. He liked to think about what the boys did in the dugout. He wanted to know if they talked to each other, or if they just sat there each in their own thoughts too worried about the game to talk. He liked to think that they shared pictures of their babies and wives and grandparents. He liked to think they talked about which was the better soda: Pepsi or Coke. He bet big baseball stars had big opinions. He liked to think they shared industrial sized bags of sunflower seeds of all different flavors. There is a lot of time to think about little things during a game.

The camera went careening after a ball as it flew into a blue, silent sky. He looks out his window and saw his own blue, silent sky. He gets up and walks out the door. The air outside nestled into the crooks of his skin and found a way to comfort him in its touch. Small hairs on his lip drifted along with the wind up his nose and into his lungs. He kept his steps small and gentle, the way he’d always walked with others. It was just him now.

He squints against the day’s crowded beams of light. Couples, no more than outlines, walk past him smiling to each other, and he smiles at them. A boy plays fetch in his front yard with a small brown and white dog that never actually catches the frisbee in its mouth. His eyes follow this dog and this boy for a few minutes. He counts four cars go by behind him, and the smell of his own car returns to him like an old friend who got put in the gound when he wasn’t looking. His driveway was empty now. So was his wallet. The frisbee falls to the ground at the man’s feet and the dog runs to him. He bounds and leaps, nothing but a ball of thin, shiny skin. It retrieves the frisbee, dragging it along the ground as heavy as it was. The man’s eyes lift to the boy, but the boy only has eyes for his dog.

The man smiles and makes the return journey to his home. The baseball game was still on in the living room, and he could still hear the slight drone of the phone off the hook. He chews on his teeth a little and walks to the kitchen. He finds in his drawers a package of chocolates all for him.

He sits again in front of his game and munches on the chocolate. His mother had always told him not to eat chocolate like it was going out of style. With a flick of his wrist he turns off the sound and just watches. A slight, heavenly glare smears the part of the screen with the scorecard so he can’t see the score. His team was winning.

At the commercials, the man rises and checks on his coffee spill. He retrieves the rag and tosses it into the sink. Remaining is a dry, light stain. A mark unlike any other. He welcomes the spot to his home. Then with scissors in hand he cuts out the small chunk of newspaper with his name on it. He then carries it to the corkboard he’d hung over the fire and pinned it up so he would remember. Yesterday he’d died. And from where he was standing, things weren’t too bad.

 

Internal Politics

“Carla!” yelled Sam. “Would somebody get me Carla please! I can’t walk into that meeting without knowing what He dreamt about!”

The office was swarming with bodies moving any which way. Toby and Brad brushed by Sam. No one had time to stop and chat.

It was 6:27 ante meridiem and He was still asleep. That was a problem because He needed to catch the bus in twenty minutes.

Getting Him up, moving and out the door was Sam’s job. He was the executive director in control of His mind.

“Carla!” yelled Sam scanning the room. A folder of papers landed in Sam’s hand, and he looked down. Carla’s small frame looked up at him meekly. “When did you get so short?”

“You’re thinking of Christie,” she said. “She’s the tall one.” Sam started to walk towards the Sleep Hall. He didn’t have time to stand around and chat. It was already 6:28. Carla kept pace with Sam saying, “You’ve been running this place for three years. You think you could at least get your underlings sorted out.”

“Underlings,” said Sam perplexed at the choice of words. “Yeah. I, uh, got it. Will do.”

Then Sam broke away from Carla walking into the meeting room and opened up his packet. It was dated December 20th. There was a big seal marked DoD at the top. The Department of Dreams. What did they have in store for him today?

Sam found his seat, and spread out the files in the packet. He didn’t have much time. He’d have to skim.

It was 6:29.

The file concerned a certain dream about a certain girl that Sam had been working tirelessly to make Him forget. Can’t always win those fights though it seemed. Sam began to slowly sip at his coffee, but when the door to the meeting room burst open, the coffee in his hand jostled forward spilling out onto his unsuspecting tongue. His tongue. The one that was now a burnt tongue. He had to hold in the yell that would have ended the meeting before it began.

He tried to smile, and stood up. He shook hands with Gale, head of todays imaginatively named “Committee on Sleep and Wellness”, and nodded to Gale’s three lackey’s. He glanced down at his file to make sure Carla had given him their names.

She hadn’t. Guess he’d just have to wing it. They all sat and Sam pulled out a fresh sheet of paper for notes. He clicked a pen on and without skipping a beat moved into his speech.

“Alright Gale, He’s slept in the last two days, and been late to school. What the hell do you think you’re doing to the guy? He can’t keep getting these tardies.”

“You know I just want a few more minutes.”

“Yeah, but that’s the way it is with you people!” Sam scratched his neck. “I mean come on! You tell me that you want just a few more minutes and by the time those minutes are up we’re here again and I hate to say it, but it’s like I’m trying to put cats out to pasture with you here! Now I’ve been running a pretty tight ship here, Gale. He’s been in bed before eleven every night. How many guys do you think can say that?”

“You’re very conservative.”

6:31

“Conservative my ass! Now you listen up. You get him up right now, or I will sick the Education Department, the Club Committee and the GJD on your ass all day.”

Sam stood up, and gathered his files. He’d made his point. Time to move on.

“Just one more day,” said Sam. “Then it’s winter break and I’ll let you guys have it.”

Gale smirked. “You say that now.”

“Yeah, I do.”

Sam walked out and met Carla who handed him a thicker stack of papers. Carla’s blonde bouncy hair distracted Sam as he tried to skim through the stacks.

“When did you get so tall Carla?”

She sighed. “It’s Christie, sir.”

“Oh,” Sam looked up at her. Christie. Christie, he repeated in his head. “Right. Where did…?”

“She went to help out Richard. He needed to pull some old testimonies or something.”

“Right. Where am I headed?”

There was a clunk sound like a brick of metal was dropped into a lake and then the lights were on. He was up.

Suddenly the office turned into utter chaos, as thousands of workers checked in and found their offices.

Carla – Christie! Damn it. Christie – definitely not Carla – smiled at the lights. He needed more sleep.

“Christie what’s next?”

“These are the files that the Caffeine Commission wanted to look at. Their waiting for you in the Frontal Lobe Complex.”

Sam tucked the papers under his arm and started off.

Christie called after him, “Oh. And the stimulants sub committee is there too!”

Not those guys, thought Sam. And the day had been going so well.

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Control

This is the seventh in a series of short stories written to music. Control was written while listening to The Olivia Tremor Control’s album Black Foliage: Animation Music, Volume 1

Jimmy: Short. Eh. Five foot six, let’s say. Yeah. Blue button up shirt. Brown khaki pants.

Jimmy just got out of a meeting in which he was offered the job of his dreams. A coding position at Smarple, a tech giant in the Greater Bay Area.

He put each foot out in front of the other, taking massive steps because he was feeling grand. This was the moment his life had been leading up to.

He’d grown up in the 90’s. His first love had been Windows 95, C++ his sexy, complicated mistress. He’d never had many friends in school. His favorite subject was math, an area in which he surpassed his teachers abilities by the 9th grade.

He learned to express himself through code, building elaborate interactive stories and prank programs for his friends. By the tenth grade he wasn’t doing math homework anymore because he’d constructed a program that would do it for him. He was still forced into math class because the American school system is a broken system of misery.

But now he was out, and now he’d be doing what he loved. Full time. All the time. Jimmy loosened his tie. Stopped by a bakery: Gluten free. Made it home quick.

The traffic: Light.

He crashed into his chair: Red. Velvety. Wide arm rests.

His TV: 48 inch. Flat. LCD. His Tuoko box turned on and gave him his options. He cycled through them. What looked least soul crushing: Some new NBC comedy. He’d already forgotten the title. It was probably garbage.

It was, and Jimmy found himself wishing he’d had something better to do. Halfway through the show his Tuoko box glitched out.

On the screen: Green text. onload agitate()

The screen refreshed and it was gone. He shook his head and figured he’d been staring at code too much recently. Jimmy shut off the TV and went to his computer. His copy of Visual Studio was still open.

Jimmy rubbed his eyes and then stared at the screen closer. He’d never finished the writeOn function on the graphics program he’d been working on. Jimmy sat down and put his fingers to the keys.

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Empty Wrapping

This is the sixth in a series of short stories written to music. Empty Wrapping was written while listening to Public Enemy’s album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back

 

Come on, turn it up

Can I get a crowd to turn up

Making the music for none

Rocking and rolling my way through the slums

The way I act you could say I ain’t a nun

Fucking bitches making um want more of um

Me

That’s what they see

When their heart goes flutter

Sticky sticky in my butter

Yeah they all know me but her

friends are all lauging bout it though

wanna make um wait until they see my show

maybe then they won’t boo no more

 

Jared’s felt something on his arm, and he swiveled his body around. There was this guy with his hand out. Jared took one of his earbuds out playing the Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe instrumental that he’d been rhyming with.

“You’re good,” said the man. Deep lines in his brow showed age.

Jared looked up and down the alley. He didn’t think anyone else hung around here. He didn’t like other people listening to his unfinished… whatever, he just had to get out of here.

“Do you have any change?”

Jared shook his head. God this was really bringing him down. This what fiends look like?

“No, course not. You’re all rapping about money and women so fleetingly, and none of ya’ll got a piece for Al.”

“Whatever, man,” said Jared. Just looking at the guy made Jared squirm. He was ready to get out of here.

“Why don’t you take a hand at talking about something else for once? Why don’t you,” he said sticking his finger into Jared’s chest, “say something decent.”

“The hell you talking to me anyway?”

“Who else am I gonna talk to. I figured I might as well try and help someone out before I go.”

“What you got the bug or something?”

“Maybe. Listen, all I’m trying to say is that if you want your work to mean something you gotta put something real in it. You feel me? It’s gotta be one hundred percent you.”

He rammed his finger into Jared again.

“And,” he continued, “if you ain’t real enough to put yourself out there, then who’s gonna fuck with you?”

“Yeah, cool man. Whatever.”

Jared shook his head and popped his earbud back in. He bobbed his head and tried to get back into the rhythm.

#

“Naw, man,” said Carlos laughing. “Naw, naw it’s like he’s just sitting there with this like mound of coke just staring into the camera. It’s whack.”

“Yeah, yeah. Hey did you see Nikki’s new video. It’s, Jesus man, you see the way Drake was looking at that booty! Ooooh, boy looking like he praying to god.”

The room bust into laughter. This place was their sanctuary. A red walled room filled with junk, empty wrappers, and comfy enough chairs.

“Anyway, you brought a new beat right Chris?” said Jared.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Chris. “You know I got some new synth kinda work I got in there.”

Chris jacked his laptop into the sound system. Then the beat started. Bass rumbled through Jared’s system. He closed his eyes and listened for the boom bap. Feel it. He tapped his foot along. He found the beats groove. It was alright. He could jam to it, but he wasn’t sure it was good enough. It was kind of flat. It didn’t have that kick that the best beats brought.

“Dude, this is awesome!” said Carlos slapping the arms of his recliner.

“Um,” said Jared.

“Yeah, we’re def using this,” said Jay.

Chris grinned and bobbed along with the song.

“So Chris, you still got that connect right?” said Carlos.

“It ain’t no fucking connect, just a fucking dealer dumbass,” said Chris.

“Yeah, I know you know but it sounds real cool when we call it a connect. Like all Reasonable Doubt or whatever.”

“I’m reloaded!” yelled Jay.

The room bust in to laughter. Jared smiled and shook his head.

“Whatever motherfucker, yeah I got your ‘connect’,” said Chris waving his hands in the air. “Hungry motherfuckers.” He chuckled.

As Chris handed a package out to Carlos and Jay, Jared thought about their set. What the hell were they doing.

“Hey, what do you guys think about rewriting some shit.”

“Huh?” said Carlos.

“Like all our songs are about the same shit. I’m thinking we should like just change it up a bit.”

“What are you talking about?” said Jay.

“I mean, like how we gonna get noticed if we’re just like everybody else.”

“Listen motherfucker you wanna write some new shit do it some other time,” said Jay. “I got us a show tonight, not next fucking week. We on stage tonight baby!”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Jared. “Just an idea I guess.”

#

The Chronic wound down and Jared stuck his earbuds in his pocket. This was the place. The stone here in the alley was old. Jared really didn’t know anything about the history of the city.

Jared looked around. He didn’t know why he thought that old dude would be here again. He probably didn’t live around here anyway. Jared kept his head down and went on down the alley.

“Yo motherfucker give it up!”

Jared froze. He heard the sound of a beat down. A scream. He turned his head to look. Two guys were beating on somebody.

“Come on motherfucker! Think you can put one over on us!”

Jared’s heart was on overdrive. Every scream put him on edge. He couldn’t take his eyes away. The old dude was here. He was on the ground. Getting pulped. Jared swallowed hard. His body was telling him a million things at once. Run. Fight. Everything in between.

Jared wished he could do something, but he knew that wasn’t him. He’d never been in a fight in his life, and he wasn’t going to start like this. Jared’s feet won out. His heart clenched. He dashed out through the alley. He didn’t look back, but his mind wouldn’t stop going over it. He didn’t stop running.

#

“Yo motherfucker where you been at?” said Carlos.

“Shit look at this motherfucker thinking he so cool he can show up whenever,” laughed Jay.

Jared kept his head down, his hands in the front pocket of his hood.

“Yo… what’s up,” said Carlos.

“Nothing,” said Jared.

“You ready to tear it up out there, hey! I seen plenty fine bitches out there you know?” said Carlos.

“Yeah boy!” said Jay dropping into a stance and throwing a few punches.

“Nah,” said Jared. “You guys go on. I just came by to tell you guys, I’m out.”

“What?” said Jay.

“The fuck you talking about?” said Carlos. “You the best rhymer in the group. I got this gig showing um your cut you pussy bitch.”

“I can’t rap those fucking lines,” said Jared. “their fucking shit. I don’t know about you but I never been in a fight. I’ve never held a gun motherfucker. Those rhymes aren’t me, you feel me.”

“Their lies? Whatever fucker it’s what they want to hear,” said Carlos.

“Hey, yo, you guys have a good show.”

Jared turned around and smiled. He through up his hood and walked out.

Now he just had to figure out who he was.