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26 Stories

26 Stories: Killer App

For once, I finished a story earlier in the week, and this has afforded me the opportunity to post earlier in the day. I use Waze a lot; even on routes that I know just to possibly avoid traffic. I got to thinking, recently, what if a navigation app was good enough to not only reroute around existing traffic, but predict accidents. I grounded it, initially, in the idea of Big Data (something my current day job puts me in close contact with on the regular), but of course, it took a more magical twist. And if it’s not apparent what force or forces would be behind such a app, and why those forces might make it go bad, then I clearly didn’t make it obvious enough.

Enjoy!

Killer App
18th Floor

               The phone slid across Gary’s desk with more flourish than it deserved. “This,” Mark said, “is the goddamn future of navigation.”

               “Your phone?”

               “No not…” Mark sighed. “What’s on the phone.”

               Gary looked at it. “Mustard?”

               “What?” Mark yanked the phone back. He rubbed the screen with the bottom of his shirt. “Not the mustard, the app. ‘Wisp.’” He paused.

               “Should I know what that is?”

               “Well, no. It’s in development. Or beta, or something. I dunno. But it’s amazing.”

               “Okay,” Gary said, drawn out. “So why are you showing it to me?”

               “It’s an investment opportunity.”

               “Last time I checked, we were a FinTech company.”

               “Right, but what about diversification?”

               “GPS is a Hell of a leap from lines of credit.”

               “Well,” Mark said, “maybe we can tie it into auto loans?”

               “That’s a stretch.”

               “Just, look… try it out. I can send you the download link, and you can get it and use it yourself.”

               Gary sighed. “What makes it so great, though? I mean, my regular app works really well.”

               Mark smiled, sensing—correctly or otherwise—that the hooks were in. “It predicts traffic problems before they happen.” Again, Mark waited expectantly.

               Gary laughed. “That’s stupid.”

               “It works.”

               “Uh-huh. How?”

               “I don’t know,” Mark whined. “Advanced algorithms or something. Big Data.”

               “You can’t predict idiots driving.”

               “We can predict credit risk within a nearly insignificant margin of error.”

               “What we do is entirely different. You can’t compare the risk of some low-credit score single mom with a history of overdue credit card bills to moronic drivers.”

               “But I’ve seen it work. Just this morning, it diverted me for no apparent reason, and a little later, BAM! The radio reported an accident on my route.”

               “Clearly, you misinterpreted the timing. Radio is late for little things like fender benders.”

               “No, it was that big one, with the bus and the elderly people. They cut into their regular broadcast. Said it happened moments ago and shut down the whole freeway. I was diverted ten minutes before that.” Gary side-eyed Mark. “Yeah, I know, it’s anecdotal, and that’s not how we work. But listen, you know me. I wouldn’t be pushing this if I didn’t think there was something there.”

               “Fine,” Gary said, “send me the link. Maybe if it works even a little, we can buy their data and incorporate it into ours. Cheap data is useful.”

*             *             *             *

               The install was clunky. He had to download it from an amateurish website instead of a proper app store. He’d appropriated a tester phone from QA, so security wasn’t a huge concern, given how isolated those units were. He blindly accepted the usual terms of service and its wall of text that, if anything came of Wisp, legal would pour over anyway. Wisp also asked for access to a number of items on the phone—photos, location, contacts, and a litany of other services—which he accepted impatiently. Finally, Wisp launched, taking a moment to determine his location before dropping a small blue dot on a dynamically generating map.

               The first example of its full capability was, perhaps, the most impressive. Three days of using Wisp had proven useful, but nothing terribly mind blowing. Diverting around a few hazards here and there, as expected. It wasn’t until the accident with the fuel tanker that he thought that Wisp might be extraordinary.

               In an effort to give it a proper chance, he had decided to follow Wisp’s navigation even if it seemed unnecessary. When it told him to exit the freeway, even though he saw nothing but clear road for miles, he did. He was cursing the application as he sat at a red light on the feeder road while traffic roared by on the highway when the tanker raced by in the lanes he’d just been in, blaring its horn. He watched, incredulous, as seconds later and further down the road—likely right at the spot he would have been in had he stayed on the main lanes—it hit something and exploded in a fireball that lit the early morning sky.

               When the news reported the number of casualties, anecdotal evidence be damned, Gary was ready to personally fund Wisp if he had to, but he didn’t think he would. Not getting in on Wisp while it was some guy’s garage project would be mind-blowingly stupid. He didn’t understand what it was doing under the hood. Whoever wrote the algorithm had to be a bonafide data genius. Even if Wisp disintegrated into vaporware, he could hire the developer, move his department ahead by leaps and bounds, and be looking at a VP position for sure. Maybe even C-level.

               Two days later, when a “please review this app” notification popped up, he dismissed it without thinking. When an email arrived in the throw-away email inbox he’d register his Wisp account with, he didn’t even read it before deleting it. Neither of those casual dismissals crossed his mind until Mark ended up in the hospital after his accident.

*             *             *             *

               The head-on collision left Mark comatose, likely brain-dead, and—if he lived past the first 48 hours—maybe he’d live the rest of his life as a vegetable. Gary gave a solemn meeting at work to break the news to the team. A card was passed around for Mark’s soon-to-be-widow and a small cash collection was gathered. Mark’s personal items had been collected at the hospital, and his own QA phone, functional but with a spider-web pattern of cracks, had been dutifully returned to the office.

               That night, in an empty office, Gary fumbled with Mark’s borrowed phone. He hadn’t disliked Mark, but he hadn’t liked him, either. If he’d quit that morning instead, Gary would feel about the same. The best he could muster was a cold feeling of absence. These things happened, and life had to go on.

               He turned the phone on, thumbed in the default QA password, and was presented with Wisp’s map, showing the phone’s current location. It took Gary a second to realize that Mark was probably using it when the accident happened. Well, he thought, so much for Wisp’s brilliant algorithm. There was no way to spin this with investors, so that great plan was out of the question, as was hiring a brilliant data guy to pump up Gary’s career. The data might still be worth a purchase, though, and it had been working for him so far, so there might still be something salvageable. However, it wasn’t worth expending any major investment effort at this point. All it would take would be one accident on Wisp, and the lawsuits would come pouring in.

               The phone dinged as a notification window popped up. Gary almost dismissed it like he had all the Wisp notifications on his own tester phone, then stopped. The bright red triangle and exclamation mark caught his eye. “Terms of Service violation” he mumbled to himself. “Wisp will not work as intended until ToS compliance is detected.” Gary had blindly agreed to the ToS himself and found himself wondering what Mark had violated. Wondering if there was hope for this app yet (though an aggressive ToS that disabled functionality of a navigation app would have to be taken out… too many legal issues, especially if it somehow tied into Mark’s accident), he tapped on the “More” link provided in the window. The wall of text reappeared and scrolled down to what Gary assumed was the relevant section.

               “User must provide a review and a donation to developer’s Patreon at www.patreon.com/TirNaNogDev,” he recited. It was a bit aggressive for a beta application, sure, but he kind of understood. Reviews made or broke new apps, and Patreon donations could fund years of development, especially if this wasn’t anything other than one developer in his or her spare time.

               Intrigued, he withdrew his own tester phone, logged into the app, and navigated to the independent application store page. While he wasn’t yet ready to make a donation, he could throw down on a decent review. Four stars, at least, with the caveat that the ToS was too forward and required some tweaking.

               There, he thought. That should keep it working.

*             *             *             *

               It didn’t.

               His first near accident came completely out of the blue. Like the initial demonstration of the app’s prescience, he had seen nothing but clear freeway ahead. Wisp hadn’t suggested an exit, so he’d stayed on the main lanes dutifully. It was only a freak chance that he’d looked up from his own phone, about to respond to an email regarding one of the company’s latest initiatives, when he saw the sports car racing up behind him. He swerved to the shoulder moments before the car would have plowed into him, slamming him into the eighteen-wheeler and likely killing him in the process. The police reports had confirmed that the sports car driver had, in fact, been brutally annihilated.  

               When he managed to keep from swerving into an errant motorcyclist who moments later caused a ten-car pile-up, he started to think that not only was the app not applying whatever accident-avoiding logic it used, but that it might be using the antithesis of said code to try to direct him into an accident. At that point, he did what any sane person would do; he returned the phone to the QA department to be wiped and went back to his old standby navigation option. His days of considering making a mint off of Wisp had come to and end.

*             *             *             *

               Which is how he found himself on that chilly January day, in his car and following his regular navigation program on the way to work, when an unexpected notification chimed. He looked down, stuck bumper-to-bumper and in no danger of any manner of high-speed, lethal accident, and saw that Wisp was flashing him a ToS violation notification.

               “The Hell,” he said to no one but himself. “I didn’t even install you on this phone, so why are you-” A second notification popped up, informing him that he could still make a Patreon donation to meet the app’s ToS.

               “Okay,” he said. “No. I’m not going to bother donating to an app that I’m not even using, so fuck off.” He stabbed his finger at the “Don’t Show Me This Again” link, but somehow managed to flick the “Donate!” link instead.

               “Ugh,” he replied. “Goddamn it.” He backed out of the donation page and felt like he’d made it back to his regular navigation’s screen. With a shake of his head, he tried to dismiss his experience, vowing to find out what part of the application had sunk its claws into his personal phone.

               A few moments later, his own navigation app told him to exit the freeway, citing a new incident a few miles down from him. He did so, happy to be following the directions of a much more established program instead of some malware (as he now assumed that Wisp was). He diverted onto a side street and started to wind through an unfamiliar network of roads. Within short order, the neighborhood that he drove though was clearly not the kind of place he wanted to pilot his BMW through. As if to confirm this, he found himself behind a low-rider Cadillac at a stop sign that seemed to be in no hurry to go anywhere. Without thinking, Gary tapped on his horn, hoping to prompt the Caddy into moving.

               The four gentlemen who exited the Caddy seemed less interested in moving than they were in confronting Gary. Regardless of their intention, Gary jammed the gas, tearing off around the car and it’s exited occupants without giving it a second thought.

               At that point, perhaps irrationally though he had the sneaking suspicion not, he decided to ignore his own navigation app and just follow whatever streets the map displayed without consideration for the routing system.

               When he almost drove head-first into a sinkhole that would have swallowed his car, he grabbed his phone from its dashboard mouth and threw it out the window. He’d driven for years before GPS was common in everyone’s pocket, so why not now?

               When he got back on a completely different freeway, traveling in the opposite direction of his office, he allowed himself to take a breather. He wasn’t even heading toward his original destination, so how could any navigation system possibly predict what was going on with his route? He was now, in a way that was completely antithesis to his profession of assigning risk to potential customers, unpredictable.

*             *             *             *

               The truck driver who had been using Wisp swore before a judge and jury that he hadn’t been impaired when he’d slammed into the BMW on the highway that day, instantly killing the driver. He had merely been following the directions on his navigation system that he had not only downloaded but given a positive review and a Patreon donation to, given how well it had worked in routing him through the most efficient routes on his delivery. He felt terrible, for sure, that a man had died in the accident, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen a fair share of distracted drivers in his career, and he managed to get a simple dismissal of his case by pointing out that in fifteen years of driving, this was the first accident he’d been involved in. 

               Yes, the app he’d used was new, but it hadn’t steered him wrong before then, and he didn’t imagine that he would have any problems with Shamrock Shipping’s latest early adoption of Wisp in the future.

               These things, he’d reasoned, were just part of the hazard of travel.

THE END

26 Stories (Revised): Elevator

No, this isn’t my regular update. That’s not scheduled until the 29th, and I’ve been working on that one since my dreams laid the foundation for it a few nights ago. This is a revision of one of my earlier stories. These won’t be so regular as they will come as I feel like tackling them. Remember that a lot of these are simply raw writing exercises. From time to time, I may decide there’s something there to flesh out. Or I may decide that I just want a more polished version of what I already wrote. 

In any event, this story is a revision of my earlier story, Elevator. It’s shorter, a little more to the point, and hopefully more entertaining. Writing isn’t just about putting stuff to paper… there is a bit of revision required. And I suspect there will be more rounds of revision required on this and any given story. 

So enjoy, possibly again or possibly for the first time.

Elevator (Revised)
5th Floor

               Danielle rode the elevator from the fifth-floor, her laptop tucked into her messenger bag. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, hoping that the elevator didn’t make any stops. Stops would give her more time to think. She didn’t want to sabotage her presentation to the C-levels by overthinking. For a business analyst with barely three years at the company, this was almost unheard of. So much so that her boss had given her an awkward pep-talk before she headed off.

               “Well, Danni,” he’d said, calling her by the nickname she’d grown tired of insisting he not use, “this is a big step for you. I’d hate to think,” he continued, “that the team might lose you after this, but what is the world of business without sacrifice?” He’d tried to downplay it, but the mix of emotions was clear. If this went well, she could have passed him. She was also aware of his crush (not at all returned on her part) even though he thought he’d managed to hide it. She was looking to transition off the team, it was true, but not solely because of his unrequited feelings. He was content to be a middle manager. He wasn’t going anywhere, and if he didn’t go anywhere, she wasn’t going anywhere.

               She was moving up, literally and—fingers crossed—figuratively. Her insights into the data processing the company used to precisely target potential customers were groundbreaking. As the old building’s quaint elevator jolted to a start and began its slow climb, she ran through her presentation.  After some extra work in the evenings and weekends from her studio apartment, she’d managed to find something the company’s army of data scientists had overlooked. There had been a subtle and unique pattern that resolved into a perfect picture of behavioral trends. What the complex interactions between the sea of numbers meant (as she wouldn’t bore the executives with the minute details) was that she had found an entirely new way to target customers. Thanks to the company’s “Brain-icane” sessions, where even the most “out there” ideas were considered, she was now on her way to a one-on-six meeting at the very top level of the organization.

               She opened her eyes, hoping to see the floor indicator close to twenty-six, unable to contain her nerves for too much longer. She was surprised to see that she was only passing the sixth floor. How was it that time always went sideways under stress?

“Time is constant my ass,” she said to the empty elevator car.

               She leaned her head back against the wall.

               This is fine, she thought. Like Stewart said, this is just a small sacrifice. Her presentation was immaculate. Not too much text on each slide, no animations, and plenty of room for further explanation. She’d timed herself last night and the entirety of the initial presentation came to just around seven minutes (Toastmasters approved). She would be able to communicate the salient points and have more than enough time to entertain questions. The C-levels were too important to spend more than half an hour on any given topic—time being an immense amount of money when you factored how much each one made every minute; every second. Likely, she would be giving them back five to ten minutes. Her efficiency and conscientiousness would be noted. Things like that always were at that level.

               The elevator chimed, and she re-opened her eyes (she hadn’t realized she’s closed them again), expecting to be at least close to the twenty-sixth floor. The number on the display suggested otherwise.

               Six? She thought. That can’t be right. She stared into an empty elevator lobby, waiting for another rider. No one boarded with her. The floor was deserted. Just as a shadow shifted in the hallway, betrayed by the washed-out fluorescent lights, the doors slid closed.

               The elevator lurched again, her stomach pressing down as she went up. Not wanting to obsess over her presentation again, she stared down at the ugly 1970s pattern in the carpet. She tried to let her mind wander.

               When she checked again, the elevator display still showed six.

               It has to be broken, she thought. The display is malfunctioning, which wasn’t surprising. The building that housed her office was at least a hundred years old. The elevator was likely added sometime in the fifties. She tapped it, not sure how that would help but conditioned to do just that. It didn’t budge. Well, she thought, I can feel the elevator moving, so I’m not stuck. She’d reach the top floor where the doors would either open, or—failing that—she could call for help. There was an executive assistant (Tammy, she seemed to remember) right outside the doors, so it wouldn’t be hard to get her attention. It would be embarrassing, but she was skilled enough at speaking to spin it into a humorous anecdote. Furthermore, there were three elevators in the building. If the elevator stopped again, she could either take the stairs or wait for a different one.

Take some calming breaths, she told herself. Practice “mindful meditation” like your therapist taught you. You have got this. Those execs will be floored. At that, she opened her eyes, convinced she felt a slow-down in the elevator’s momentum, ready to razzle and even dazz-

               The display flipped from six to seven. She felt the familiar tug of an anxiety attack. Mindful meditation, she thought. Mindful meditation.

               As she wrangled her anxiety back down for storage in what her therapist called her “emotional quarantine,” she had a moment of clarity.

               “Right,” she said aloud. “Duh.”

               Right where she expected it to be, on the wall under the buttons, was a panel. She popped it open easily enough and picked up a telephone handset wired into the elevator via a corkscrew cord. She placed it to her ear. She heard the ringtone. After three rings, there was a click and a tired man’s voice.

               “Building maintenance.”

               “Hi, yes, this is Danielle Anderson. I’m on elevator number… uh…” She looked and saw the appropriate number. “Number four,” she finished.

               “Um… are you sure about that?”

               “Well, yes. I mean, it is the number listed right above this phone, right?”

               “It should be,” he said.

               “Then that’s the one. Can you figure out what’s going on? It’s taking a long time to get to the top, the floor thingy isn’t changing, and—”

               “Ma’am,” he cut her off, “I’d like to help, but if you’re in elevator number four, then a line got crossed somewhere.”

               “I’m sorry, what?”

               “Are you in the Waverly building?”

               “Yes.”

               “Ma’am, there are only three elevators in this building.”

               “Well,” she said, annoyed, “then the wrong number is on the panel. It’s the elevator furthest from the main door. Can’t you look on a status panel or something and see which one I’m in?”

               “I can, and I am, but everything is showing up just fi-” The man’s voice was cut off.

               “Hello?” she asked. No response.

               “Hello?” she asked again, an edge there.

               “Hell-” and then she trailed off. The line wasn’t dead, as she thought. She could hear—or thought she could hear—ambient noises. Quiet hums, or the steady whooshing of a fan or air conditioning from a ceiling vent.

               “Are you… is anyone there?” she asked. She was certain she heard something in the background. Voices engaged in a lively discussion far away? A child crying somewhere? With effort and strain, she latched onto a rhythmic sound. It started quietly but grew in pitch and volume. She imagined that this was what it felt like to stand on train tracks as a freight train bore down. As it intensified, she found herself pressing the hand-set so hard into her ear that the sound of her blood rushing with each increasingly frantic heartbeat first covered, then merged with, and was soon drown out by the noise. Something larger than even a train; a horrific mix of mechanical parts and fused flesh was rushing toward her. When it reached her, it would drag her screaming into the darkness of some other world, where elevators ran on forever. Just as her mind was about to snap, right when she was about to begin to scream and scream and scream, a vibration at her wrist shattered the spell.

               She dropped the phone and gasped for breath as she slumped to a sitting position and pressed against the wall. The vibration at her wrist persisted, and she looked down to the cause of the disturbance.

               “Wow!” her fitness watch told her, “Exercise Goal Achieved!” It showed her current heart rate, blasting at 175 (well into the “Cardio” zone, it cheerfully displayed). She stared incredulously for a moment, then laughed. Her panic attack had caused her fitness tracker to log her rapid heart rate as a workout. Already short of breath, she gasped between uproarious guffaws, aware that if the elevator doors opened right now, she would seem completely unhinged. Imagining the look on some poor schmuck’s face made her laugh harder. She laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks, which she wiped with the back of her smartly pressed jacket. After a few minutes of laughing, followed by the occasional aftershock of chuckles between deep breaths, she reassessed.

               “Still floor seven,” she said, the display taunting her. She put her head back, grateful for the wall’s tangibility. She looked at the handset she’d dropped, contemplating putting it back on the receiver and trying again. After all, the person she spoke to seemed to think there might be a crossed line somewhere, and the abrupt change to some other connection seemed to suggest the wiring was faulty. She could try again, and either get someone who could help or at least try to work out what was going on with the person she spoke to before. Also, she thought, it would be nice to talk to someone.

               The bulbous ends of the old-style handset stared at her, either curiously or maliciously, from the floor. The honeycomb of holes in the plastic bulbs made her skin crawl. She opted to leave it there for now.  

               It’s just a matter of time, she thought, before someone figures out that something is wrong with the elevator. Still seated on the floor, she brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The panic attack had made her tired; back when she had them regularly, she would end up sleeping for hours after. Up on the opposite wall, next to the doors of the elevator, the display still read “7” as the gentle vibration of the elevator lulled her to sleep.

*             *             *             *

               Danielle was jolted awake, disoriented, the fog in her mind lifting. Waking from a nap was too much like a hangover without the fun of getting drunk. When she saw the elevator display, now turned to nine, she sighed with relief. I just dozed for a second, and the elevator moved up two floors, she thought. Good… good, I only lost…

She checked her watch and frowned. Her meeting with the executives was scheduled for 2:30 pm, and while she’d suspected that the malfunctioning elevator would make her miss the meeting, her watch claimed that it was 6:23 pm. She ached from her awkward position on the floor. If she’d been here for four hours, surely someone would have come to find her. Standing, her knees popping in protest, she checked it again. It must be out of sync with my phone, she thought, and then practically smacked herself.

               “My phone! Holy shit!” She reached into the pocket of her bag. She pressed her index finger to the sensor on her phone and it came to life showing her… 6:23 pm.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said aloud, “whatever time it is, I can call someone to get me out.” She opened her contacts and swiped the screen down as quickly as she could to Nathan’s number and pressed the call icon. She held the phone up to her head, still mad at herself for not thinking of this earlier.

               Her phone was silent. No dial tone. No connection. No nothing, despite a full set of signal bars. Wondering if it would make a difference, she sent a text to Nathan briefly detailing her situation, explaining that she had no service, and that he needed to call or text her “ASAP.”

               She retrieved her laptop and powered it on. She watched as her laptop, curiously down to about 17% power, struggled to connect with the office network. She was sure, given how paranoid she’d been about the impending presentation, that she had fully charged the computer. It occasionally claimed to make a connection only to disconnect before she could even open her email. She slammed the lid down.

               “Fuck!” she yelled, pressing both hands to her forehead. People didn’t just lose time on elevators that refused to move above a snail’s pace. There had to be a reasonable explanation as to why she wasn’t getting anywhere, and why she was confused as to how long she’d been here. Was there a gas leak in the building? Was she dreaming? After all, it wasn’t like she didn’t have anxiety dreams about college, her relationship with her parents, or with the fact that she felt like she was an imposter in her job. Yes, she reasoned, this was all some intense nightmare. By letting herself slip into a semblance of sleep, she would wake up and be back in her apartment—or in Nate’s bed. They could laugh about it over breakfast.

               She slept again.

*             *             *             *

               She woke at 4:35 am, still in the elevator, and had a second panic attack.

*             *             *             *

               At 12:45 pm the next day—or someday—her fitness watch informed her its battery was low on charge. How did it drain in one day, she wondered, and cursed herself for not bringing her portable charger from its spot on her desk, and then found it funny that she was worried about that now. The humor turned from a roughly five-minute session of uncontrolled laughter into at least half an hour of uncontrollable sobbing.

*             *             *             *

               It was dead the next time she woke up.

               Her phone was on 4%, with no signal, and said it was 1:15 am. As to what day, she wasn’t certain. The phone was showing gibberish where the date would normally be. Sometime in her delirium, she had taken to using the far corner of the elevator as a restroom. She didn’t remember making the decision to shit and piss on the floor, so in a strange way, she accepted it as a decision made by someone else.

               After trying a few more times to get a call out, she resorted to playing one of those stupid color-matching games on her phone until it finally died on her. That even this small lifeline to anchor her to something normal was gone was in and of itself a relief. She didn’t find it odd that she wasn’t at all hungry, but really, the only feeling she still felt in her stomach was the ever-present downward push of maddeningly steady upward motion. Absent any other option, she curled up on the floor.

*             *             *             *

               She woke again. If she’d been lucky, she wouldn’t have done so. If she’d been lucky, she would have slipped away, into catatonia, a coma, or death. Any option was better. By rights, she should have been dead. Surely, she’d been in the elevator for days, if not weeks. She hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and while she wasn’t completely up on her biology, she was fairly certain that you had to have food and drink coming in for waste to go out.

               Why up? The thought crossed her mind that at some point she’d died. Up didn’t make any sense. If she’d gone down, this never-ending ride might have made sense. She was a lapsed Catholic, after all, and damnation would fit (she’d fucked a couple of other people on the side when Nathan was off on business trips; and Hell, hadn’t they been living in sin, anyway?). Damnation was down, not up. “Up” was supposed to be good. “Up” was how she felt when the anti-depressants were working. “Up” was what it was like to wake in the morning with Nathan next to her, no matter how shitty she’d been to him behind his back. “Up” was good. “Down” was when she had hurt herself, before her therapy and the Zoloft. Back when she was cutting on herself. But now, here, up was madness and up was never ending. Salvation wasn’t up. Relief wasn’t up. Even death wasn’t up, because even if she’d had some means to end her own life (she thought about bashing her head against the elevator walls but knew that she’d just pass out and wake again), it wouldn’t stop.

               What is the world of business, a familiar but long-forgotten voice whispered in her ear, without a little sacrifice?

               “Sacrifice,” she said out loud, half laughing.

               At that, the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. She saw that the floor listed was “26.”

               She stood, tugged at her suit jacket, and hefted her messenger bag over her shoulder. She ignored the dried streaks of shit that ran down her thighs. She ran a hand over her hair, pushing a filthy errant strand into place over her right ear. It was time for her meeting. It might not go well, given the delays, but they would understand.

*             *             *             *

               Wind howled around Dannielle. Even after so much time ascending, she exited on the ground floor of a ruined building. Its skeletal remains reached up toward a starless yellow sky as if in supplication. Wind-born dust raced in spirals and twisted around half destroyed walls and supporting iron beams.

               She felt the presence of strange things pressing in on her, watching her with a hunger she could feel. She didn’t fear the shadows, though. She had, after all, a well-prepared PowerPoint and a scheduled meeting to make. The things in the dark—the trundling, oozing things—wouldn’t dare inconvenience the executives. Their time was infinite, and if time was money, then it had infinite value. What mattered was what she could bring to the table. What she had to contribute to the company.

               The two oak conference room doors stood before her just past the elevators. She stopped there, taking a final moment to confirm that everything was in order, cleared her throat, and entered, confident that her sacrifice would be appreciated.

               She was going places, after all.

*             *             *             *

               The doors opened into a vast conference room. The table was impossibly large and built at odd angles, but the six figures in severely pressed suits were somehow intimately close. They turned to her in unison, their faces nothing but vast, black holes that gave the appearance that someone had cut into them and scooped out the insides of their skulls like pumpkins on Halloween. Inside the holes, she could see the entirety of the universe, and many universes beyond. There was a moment of vertigo, but Danielle composed herself admirably. A giant obsidian rectangle appeared above the table. Danielle powered on her laptop, which screamed to life, drawing a fresh charge from an unknown source. The rectangle, the glassy blackness reflecting nothing of what was in the room, flared with blinding light, dimming back down until it showed the first slide of her presentation.

               “Business,” she said, “requires some degree of sacrifice…”

*             *             *             *

               Danni’s presentation killed.

               Keeping a public stock option, as Danni’s boss had rightly implied, did require some amount of sacrifice, and she would have the glorious role of providing it. Shareholders had to be continually assured that there were no uncalculated deviations in the direction of the company, yet they also had to see that continuous change was in the cards. After all, business didn’t move forward without big, hairy, audacious goals, so they said.  “BHAG,” one of those acronyms that corporate America was always coming up with as part of the secret, ancient language of corporations. She hadn’t realized just how ritualistic the repetition and overuse of the lingo was. She performed her part to the letter, laying out the sacred numbers of the data and cryptic diagrams of the occult process flows, all in the proper sequences designed to maximize ROI. As the C-level executives, in unison, chanted back to her the proper verses of “synergy,” “paradigm shifts,” and “scalable solutioning,” Danni felt the real power of what it meant to be one of the highest of the executive priests. She envied their power, wanted so much to join their ranks, but it wasn’t in the cards. Still, she would contribute to the overall success of the organization. She was a valuable member of the team, and as the presentation wrapped up and the executives finished summoning the Big, Hairy, Abomination of a God (B’HAG! B’HAG! B’HAG!), she welcomed it. It pushed its way through the obsidian screen, which opened like a dilating cervix. She was there—it was, in fact, her accidental discovery that made it possible to move the timetables up as much as they did with minimal risk acceptance—as the organization birthed its greatest solution (infinite scalability that positioned the business to organically maximize market share in all demographics), still covered in the fluids of its afterbirth. Danni held her arms out; while she wasn’t the mother, she would be the nursemaid. It would feed off of her until it was fully grown. Thanks to her status as an exempt employee, she would be “on call” twenty-four seven, which was a little severe, sure, but the health benefits were worth it. With a little dedication and—yes—a lot of sacrifice, she was sure to retire early, if she wanted to.

               The thing suckled from her, this twisted abortion of the American Dream, and she was content.

THE END


26 Stories

26 Stories: He Makes an Offering to His Muse

This post is kind of a big deal to me. Weird floor numbering aside (I just had to start this in the basement), this is story number 13, which is the beginning of the second half of this little project I started to keep myself writing. Over half a year’s worth of material, for good or ill, is nothing to sneeze at for a guy who went in to therapy not too long ago for depression that was largely fueled by a lack of writing.

As such, this story is going back to the beginning, to tell the next (but I assure you, not last) story of poor Jonathan Fredrickson, who may or may not have summoned an actual muse (if you don’t know who Cali is, then… well, you probably should). Only, there may be something more sinister to this muse than merely inspiring the struggling writer who, as it turns out, may not be struggling much, anymore.

Enjoy!

He Makes an Offering to His Muse
12th Floor

John sat on the edge of his bed. It was a large bed; far better than the ratty single bed he’d had when he lived in the building’s basement apartment. On his still-new-to-him 12th floor apartment, the sheets were silk, the pillows soft, and his companion in it as lovely and inspiring as ever. As if she heard his thoughts, Cali stretched awake and rose to a sitting position. The sheets fell from her bare breasts, and as usual, she made no motion to cover them. She draped an arm over John’s and rested her chin on his shoulders.

                “Hey there,” she purred. “What’s got your mind all wrapped up?”

                “Taking in the view.” He smiled and looked at her naked body.

                “You’re cute when you deflect, you know?”

                “Yeah?” He sighed. “Truth is, I’m kind of tired.”

                “Then come back to bed,” she said, patting the empty space behind him. “If you need more sleep, I’m sure I can wear you out.”

“Not that kind of tired.”

                “I know.” She caressed his cheek. “Too much to take in, too fast?”

“That’s it, exactly. I wanted all this,” he gestured to the fancier apartment, the posters for several of his plays, and the short shelf of awards, among other accouterments of the successful writer he had become, “but I thought it would take longer.”

                “You need some help, I think.”

“But you are my help. And I’ve got Randolph to handle the business side of things. All I have to do is write, and I’m afraid I’m running on fumes.”

                “I can fix that, but if we’re being honest, I need a little help for that, too.”

John chortled. “What do you mean by that? You just being you is all you have to do for me.”

                “A girl needs a little more than that,” she said. She swung her long legs over the side of the bed and rose, still not bothering with modesty.

                “I worship you… what more could you want?”

                Her eyes sparkled. “Funny you should mention ‘worship.’”

                “I don’t follow.”

“Being worshiped by you is wonderful. That I can inspire you to the heights you’ve reached fills me with a joy that I can’t describe. You probably could, but for me, the words don’t come.” She strolled around to his side of the bed and sat on his lap, draping her arm around his neck. “That kind of feeling… well, it gets a bit addictive. And, just like you draw inspiration from me, I provide that inspiration because of the pedestal upon which you’ve placed me.” She traced a circle on his chest with a long, delicate finger.

                “Okay, so what needs to change.”

“I need more—how did you put it?—worshipers.”

                “What does that mean?”

                “I can give you so much more inspiration, John. If you think you’re at the top of the world now, just imagine the heights I can propel you to with a little more… juice.”

                “I don’t understand.”

                She closed her eyes. “Go out there, into the world, and bring more people here. We’ll have a party!” She jumped up, excited.

                “I thought we were keeping us a secret.”

                “That was then, in the beginning. But I want to have a party.” She pouted at him. “Are you going to deny me, your goddess, a simple party?”

                He shook his head. “No. No, of course not.”

                She clapped her hands together in glee. “Wonderful! And invite that pretty little thing that answers Randolph’s phone, will you?”

                “Julianne? I… I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think she has eyes for me, since she doesn’t know I’m in a relationship.”

“That’s why I want her to come. Consider it… a gift to you.” Cali sauntered back toward John. “After all, I’m asking you to share me with the world. The least I can do is let you share our bed.”

                John was taken aback. “What? I’m not going to step out on you.”

“Who said,” she whispered, “I wouldn’t be there, too.”

*             *             *             *

The party was a roaring success. Hangers-on in Johnathan’s orbit were more than happy to finally get to spend time with the reclusive playwright (soon to be screenwriter, as well). Randolph was thrilled to invite not only Julianne, a lithe girl who couldn’t have been a day older than twenty, but others on his staff, and several “very important people in the entertainment industry” (as he conspiratorially put it to John, a little louder than intended thanks to the copious amounts of booze flowing that night). Johnathan was uncomfortable with the festivities, as they were still something outside of his usual comfort zone, but it was Cali who was the star of the night, and he was happy, to a degree, to stay out of the center of attention. He was also jealous of the way the other men would comfortably put a hand on her lower back and stand too close, but he remembered her promise to him. Remembered that she had suggested Julianne come, too, and based on the way she was staring at him, cheeks flushed by her own cocktail, Cali may have been working some magic on the girl, too.

                And what magic it had been. The party began to die down at two o’clock in the morning. Guests staggered out of the apartment, leaving half-full glasses behind. Still roaring with merriment all while struggling to stay conscious. Cali had made an excuse to engage Julianne in a lively and flirtatious conversation to keep her there long enough for only the three of them to be left when the door closed at two thirty.

True to her word, Cali had convinced the girl to stay. And true to all expectations, that night was by any definition an awakening for John in more ways than Cali had been before. While the three of them had made love on that bed, Cali had seemed to glow. To John, the glow was too tangible. In his semi-drunken state, clouded by the orgiastic pleasure he was experiencing, he felt that a light was indeed emanating from Cali’s body. The light streamed out through a million tiny holes in her skin. The holes, in a honeycomb pattern, seemed spongy and malleable, and even while light radiated from them, there seemed to be a darkness there, as well. Or perhaps, he though, revulsion trying to fight past the intense physical sensations he was experiencing, light was being drawn into the porous membrane that he skin had become. But before he could think on it further, the culmination of the act of wild and previously forbidden sex sank his consciousness into a blissful blackness of its own.

*             *             *             *

Julianne was gone in the morning. Cali said she didn’t remember when the girl had left, but didn’t seem too bothered by it, though John felt that something was hiding behind her bedroom eyes. He casually caressed her skin and was happy to see that it was whole, and not a sponge of tiny holes. It did, however, seem less pale than it had before.

                “It’s true what they say,” she said, again seeming to know his concerns before he voiced them, “about the afterglow.” She kissed him before getting out of bed and sauntering to the bathroom. “We simply must do this again,” she said as she closed the door behind her. In a moment, John heard the water running.

                “Yes,” John muttered.

When he called into Randolph’s office that afternoon, an unfamiliar voice picked up and transferred him to Randy. When John asked who the temp was, and if he knew if Julianne made it home safely after the party (stumbling slightly over his words to avoid revealing too much about the evening), Randolph claimed no knowledge of any Julianne. “Catherine,” he replied, “has been answering my calls for years, now. Are you, perhaps, hungover from last night?”

                John, concerned, conceded that he may in fact be, and ended the call as quickly as possible.

He turned, worried, as he heard Cali singing to herself in the shower; something melodic and… something old.

Before he did anything else, he grabbed his journal (where he took notes as ideas struck him, which was often these days), turned to a page near the back, and wrote “Julianne?” on the paper.

26 Stories

26 Stories: The Invoked King

This one is an odd duck that I’m going to keep coming back to to revise it. A few years ago, I took a stab at writing an “immersive” play. The idea was that there was going to be a staged reading of a long lost, supposedly cursed play that recently resurfaced. The actors would be playing themselves reading the play as characters in the play. As they read it, things would go wrong, lights would cut out, cell phones would ring, actors would get sick, and some audience members (planted, of course) would experience their own problems during the show and during “intermission” (where the play actually continued in the lobby, restrooms, etc.). It is my attempt to create a “found footage” play. And yes, it is very much inspired by the King in Yellow (It’s called the “Invoked King”). 

Things is, it needs an actual play at its center, complete with academic studies, a history, and so on. This is part of that “paper trail.” The play also ties into my developing mythos as seen in stories here and other places (I reference a character from a series of Weird West stories I’m writing elsewhere who runs into one of the “Titans”). It even more directly ties into my earlier story in this series, “Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology.

This version of the cursed play is in my estimation, not good enough yet to be the center of a cosmic mythos. Still, I have to write something every two weeks for my own accountability and this is what I got. I hope you enjoy it!

The Invoked King
8th Floor

from:Gerald X King​​ <gxking@uchicago.edu>

to:Jonas E Dover <jedover@utexas.edu>

subject:  Found a Curiosity for your Titan Research

 

Jonas,

 

It’s been a while since we last talked. As I remember, Alex had just finished her​​ master’s​​ around the time of your last email to me. First and foremost, I want to say how sorry I was to find out about what happened to Miranda. I know that happened some time ago, too, and I don’t want to risk opening old wounds, so I’ll just reiterate that you and Alex have my condolences. I hope it’s not too crude of me to say, given the circumstances, but​​ as I sit here in my 8th​​ floor office, staring out at campus and all the lived that will eventually be affected by it, I have to say,​​ fuck cancer.​​ 

On to the topic at hand. I’ve attached a transcription of an old play that my research turned up recently. I’ve got the original here, complete with what appear to be handwritten notes by—I assume—the original writer, one Mister Archibald Wayward. This play was written as near as I can tell at the turn of the twentieth century; 1910 or so, to be precise. I did some research on the play itself and found some interesting circumstances surrounding it’s first and only production run in Chicago. I plan on scanning that and the original and passing that on to you as soon as the department here springs for a new scanner that can handle the older documents safely. Still, I’ve done my best to transcribe the play, the author’s notes, and some notes of my own from my own research.​​ I shall preface the author’s notes with “AW” and mine with “GK”.

You may wonder why I passed this on to you, as early-1900 theater isn’t even close to classical studies. The first thing to note is that this Wayward tried​​ very​​ hard to write it in the style of early classical theater; the influence of Oedipus the King is painfully clear. It is​​ dreadfully​​ overwrought, however, and the writer himself was obviously not a scholar of the material that inspired him. Prepare to cringe, my friend.​​ 

Second, there are some references here that seem to pertain to your research on the Titans and their parallels in other pre-historical cultures.​​ I have noted those parts for you as well, though I doubt you will miss the significance there (and likely see other references I missed, myself).​​ 

Read this over and let me know what you think. I dug this up in old records in the Chicago Public Library, along with the article I will also send you as soon as I can. It seems that the play’s performance met with no small amount of tragedy, and thereafter, while it wasn’t spoken off often, when it was, it was believed​​ to be “cursed.” Someone must have said “Macbeth” in the show, I imagine.

I look forward to what you have to say. The next time you’re up in Chi-town, get in touch with me, and I’ll do the same if I get down to Austin.​​ 

Take Care,

Gerald King, PhD
University of Chicago
Department of Classics

P.S. I nearly forgot to mention that you will notice by the page numbering that three pages appear to be missing between the “Characters/Setting” page. They are referenced a few times in the author’s notes, but were not included with the manuscript when I located it.​​ What might have been there is almost as interesting as everything else, including the tragedy of the performance.

 

******************************

 

 

The Invoked King

By

Archibald Wayward

 

 

 

 

CHARACTERS

 

KING​​ ANAKLETOS:​​ Male.​​ Large and imposing. See notes section for a short list of names of actors and​​ do not deviate.)

 

[GK: This is the first reference to what I assume are the missing pages.]

 

EIRENAIOS Male. Early 20s. Must portray the countenance of a scoundrel.

 

APOLLO​​ Male.​​ Grecian proportions, physically.

 

CHRYSANTHAE:​​ Female, Early 20s. Again, see notes section for specific questions to pose to actresses during auditions.​​ Ask all questions, no matter how “inappropriate” they may seem.

 

[GK: Now, more than ever, do I want to see these missing sections.]

 

THE ORACLE: Female. Middle aged. Actresses must at least believe in “occult” activities (tarot reading, mediumship, etc.), if not have dabbled with them in the past.

 

ARTEMIS:​​ Female. Haughty and arrogant, but statuesque in posture and proportion.

 

THE CHORUS: DIONYSUS (Male) and DEMETER (Female) will be part of the CHORUS. The performers for APOLLO and ARTEMIS may stand it, as they will be masked and only appear in this capacity here.​​ 

 

 

SETTING

 

A glade in the​​ dark forest. Several columns should be present as sentinels, long overgrown with vines. This is, perhaps, the ruins of a once great temple. There is an altar in the center of the stage. See the notes for the exact specifications of the design of the alter.​​ 

 

 

PROPS

 

Dress should be ancient Grecian. There will be masks for each of the characters (and an extra to stand in as the head of Orpheus), however, only KING ANAKLETOS’ mask must be perfectly designed as specified in the following pages.​​ 

 

[AW: I have taken it upon myself to stress those other items that must meet​​ the designs to exacting detail, but this one, above all others, must be precise. Do not fail!!!]

 

[GK: Yes, he added three exclamation marks. He was clearly quite serious.]

 

ACT I

 

SCENE I

 

[GK: As you can see almost immediately, the language is over-the-top in its attempt to mimic ancient theatrical prose.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

 

[GK: I’m sure you figured it out already, but I researched the name “Anakletos,” and it means “invoked.”]

 

(Enters, masked as specified above)

O’ ye all who hath gathered here,

We call thee to pay homage to our patrons,

Dionysius, father of the theater.

 

DIONYSIUS

(Entering, also in a mask, that of a plump man with a laurel wreath around his head)

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

 

[AW: Do not forget to repeat each set of invocations three times; the rule of three is iron clad.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

May your grapes bring forth the wine,

May the spirits you provide,

Please the souls of the dead,

Who toil in the underworld,

Bereft of joy.

 

Persephone, daughter of Demeter,

Who was taken to the bosom of Hades,

Bride forever,​​ queen of the damned.

 

DEMETER

(Entering in the mask of a fair woman)

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Weep not, for though you were taken,

You have been given a seat of honor,

At the right hand of the Lord and Master, Hades,

For whom no gift is too great for thee.

 

Orpheus, whose songs moved them,

The king and queen of the dead,

And in whose death was immortality gained.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Enters, not wearing a mask, but carrying the mask of a man, its face twisted in pain​​ and horror, like a severed head)

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Though the Bacchianids tore you limb from limb,

Your bodiless​​ head continued to sing out,

Your voice still pure and true,

For death could not come for thee.

 

And finally, to the Invoked King,

Whose reign was so frightful,

Whose kingdom twisted and foul,

And for whom such sacrifices were made,

That even the mighty Olympians trembled,

And who took care to wipe thine existence​​ 

From all history by exiling thee to lands beyond

Even horrible Tartarus.

So blighted were you that even the Titans,

Trapped in their eternal prison,

Were stripped of memories of you,

For you were older even than they.

 

[GK: This was the first of the references I believed would interest you. The Titans were directly mentioned, but this seems to suggest the existence—as least for the play’s story—of something older than the Titans.]

 

ALL

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

We invoke thee!

CHRYSANTHAE

Dark king from the folds of space

To thee we give you this poem,

So that while the gods attempted to erase you,

We shall always remember you.

May this sacrifice give strength.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I shall be appeased.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I am but a maiden, untouched by man.​​ Here I find myself, lost in the dark wood.​​ I fear for my safety, and for my virtue,​​ pure and strong. Gods,​​ show me the path through these woods!

 

[GK: I truly believe that the playwright specifically wanted an actual virgin for this part, given his obsession with the idea and his references to “inappropriate” questions.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

The woods are dark, my child, and the path you seek difficult to see.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Startled)

You have frightened me​​ sir!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

In places such as this, there is much​​ not of man​​ to frighten you.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

But​​ surely​​ not thee, for​​ thine is the face of kindliness.

 

[GK: Yet he is masked. One can only assume it is a friendly looking mask?]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Many are the beasts that would prey upon your flesh. Of countless number are the men who would prey upon it as well.​​ A kindly face may be a mask, hiding a darkness that wouldst do thee harm.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I believe that the gods would show me guidance. These woods, as all, belong to Artemis.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Not​​ these​​ woods, dear child.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

You should watch thy blasphemous tongue,​​ good​​ sir, for all woods are in Artemis’ domain.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Not all corners of creation are visible to the gods, child.​​ To assume such is to grant the gods greater power than they presently have.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Who are you, strange man who hides in shadow, that you would so cast aspersions onto the gods themselves?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

A king.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

A king, you say? Over what land do you rule?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Gestures)

Why​​ this​​ land, and all lands forgotten.​​ For forgotten lands are​​ my​​ domain, as you say all forests belong to Artemis.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Lands may be forgotten by men, but no lands are forgotten​​ by the gods.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

These lands, are. But I digress; it is you who should provide answers to my questions, not t’other way ‘round, for you are in​​ my​​ home.​​ How have you come to this land,​​ here before​​ the time of,​​ and forgotten​​ by,​​ even the terrible Titans?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Laughs)

Creation was in its infancy when the Titans were born, so to suggest​​ that these lands were here prior to their horrible reign​​ is foolishness.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

It is what it is. I have been king of these lands since​​ before​​ Creation gave its first strangled cry.​​ I watched as Crinos was formed from the unknowable chaos of the universe and as he foolishly believed that he tamed the untamable currents of time. I watched him take Gaia as his lover, raping her and cowing her into submission so that the Titans would be born of their​​ unholy coupling. I have seen all​​ these things are more, as I have been around since the true beginning of time, which cannot be said to begin or end and which flows​​ like a distorted river​​ in directions and through spaces no man, god, or Titan can fathom. I am perhaps older even than the birth of that​​ very same​​ strange river. But again, you have avoided my questioning. How did you get here?

 

[GK: This reference here is the most direct reference to your own research. Does it mean anything to you?]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I was lost. My guide,​​ Eirenaios,​​ had suggested a shortcut, but it seems he has​​ led us to the wrong grove. It is​​ certainly a land I know not.

 

[GK: “Eirenaios” means “peace, tranquility, and harmony.” I’ll leave it up to you to determine why that was chosen as this​​ character’s​​ name, as you’ll soon see. Okay, I shall stop doing research you are most capable of doing yourself.]​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

But hush, for I have told you where you now find yourself child.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Indeed you have,​​ even while you have been evasive with your answers,​​ and I sense that no further questioning will reveal more insight than​​ what you have already given me. As you appear to be kindly and bear me no harm,

(Aside)

Though clearly touched in the mind to speak of such things as time before great Crinos...

(Return)

I shall, instead, beseech​​ thee​​ to assist me in finding my way back,​​ if not​​ to my guide,​​ then to​​ the path to Ephesus​​ and​​ the temple of Artemis. I am to be initiated into the mysteries of the great huntress.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

More important, then, that you guard your virginity against those who would seek to defile it, such as your guide, Eirenaios. I fear he means you harm, and I would see no harm come to those who traverse my kingdom, lest they​​ bring harm upon it.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Again, you show me much kindness, and you respect the laws of Xenia. However, your concern is misplaced. For you see, I have consulted with the Oracle, and she herself told me that she did not foresee any ill fortune befalling me on my​​ way to Ephesus.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Oracles are quite wise, and​​ do​​ see more than many humans – and even some gods – can see of the future. Tell me, child, what were the​​ exact​​ words of the Oracle, as she said them to you?​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

As I said, she did not foresee any-

 

KING ANAKLETOS

It is possible that you have misinterpreted her words and taken from them the wrong meaning. Let me hear her words​​ exactly​​ as they were spoken so that I may fully allay my worries for your wellbeing.

CHRYSANTHAE

Very well.

 

(THE ORACLE​​ enters, kicking off a flashback.)

 

THE ORACLE

Welcome, my child.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Greetings, Oracle, I come to you in reverence for your sight that​​ pierces​​ beyond the veils of time and of space. I have come to you on the eve of my own great journey to​​ Ephesus, where I am to be inducted into the mysteries of Artemis.​​ 

 

THE ORACLE

You must be a woman of virtue, her maidenhead untouched, to be admitted so.​​ Ist thou​​ pure, unsullied by the hands of man?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Indeed. I have come to ask if you see success in my journey, or if I am to fall victim to the dangers of the roads between Athens and​​ Ephesus.

 

THE ORACLE

I shall show thee the fate of the travels facing you. Be soft as I give an invocation to far-seeing Apollo.​​ 

 

(THE ORACLE​​ closes her eyes, entering a trance)

 

Oh Apollo,​​ 

He who navigates the raging river of time,​​ 

Dug and filled by Crinos and set,​​ 

On an implacable journey ever forward,​​ 

Sweeping along all life to eventually end in Hades,​​ 

Domain of the dead and prison of the damned,

Show me the threads of this maiden’s fate,

As she travels toward her destiny.

(Dramatic)

I see a road, long and hard, but not without havens of safety and hospitality. I see one who would proclaim to be your guide, who will offer his services to lead you to your end, proclaiming no reward required in return, as his only desire is assistance. I see a parting and then-

(THE ORACLE pauses.)

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Yes? Speak, Oracle, for I must know that the fruit of my lifelong studies and dedication shall not be denied to me by misfortune.

 

THE ORACLE

I see a wood, and... and-

CHRYSANTHAE

And what? Speak true, Oracle, do you see harm come to me?

 

THE ORACLE

I... the threads of your fate are difficult to unknot, but... but I​​ can see no harm coming to thee, child.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(End Flashback, and spoken to​​ KING ANAKLETOS)

Those were her words, “I​​ can​​ see no harm coming to thee, child.”

 

[GK: I am going to pull in a direct quote from the survivor of the theater’s disaster. While much of what this witness said was disjointed and confused, the reporting was very specific on her memory of this.​​ She said she remember the Oracle launching into what seemed to be​​ an un-scripted monologue. Astonishingly, the witness recounted it in full. I’ll include it here:

 

“I see a false king, standing in the shadow of the true king. I see two faces, one a mask and one showing true. Beware, for kindness is deceptive, and much as terrible creatures in the darkest depths of the ocean dangle pleasant motes of light to draw unsuspecting prey into their horrible, be-fanged maws, so too does the mask conceal horror beyond human imagining.

 

“Beware strangers with pleasing faces and kind hearts, and search for the appendage of twisted, rotted flesh affixed to the back of their head, leading back to the true beast behind the lure, for to look upon such a creature is to know the truth of all creation, and the knowledge will shatter the mind of he who beholds it. False kings shall perish from the noose, while sacrifice and conflagration will claim the true offerings, opening the doorway from whence shall come the horrors from beyond the folds of the curtains.”

 

Did you catch that reference to “flesh... leading back to the true beast behind the lure?” Doesn’t that remind you of​​ an​​ anglerfish? And furthermore, didn’t you once dredge up some account from an old Confederate soldier who, before his death, talked about meeting a man who was a lure for a terrifying “fish thing?”]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

“I​​ can​​ see no harm coming to thee” is not the same as “no harm shall come to thee.” As I said, the words of the oracles are precise in their meaning, and you should take care​​ to​​ interpret them thus.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Again, thy concern is touching, but her words spoke of kindness on my travel, and guides, which I took​​ to mean Eirenaios, but I now believe was a portent to prelude our meeting, for you have shown me naught but kindness, while I caught Eirenaios making lusty eyes at mine​​ shapely​​ hindquarters.

KING ANAKLETOS

But hark, speaking of your erstwhile​​ guide​​ has summoned him, as the thrice-repetition of one’s true​​ name is sure to do, by the mystical rules of​​ all the universe.

 

EIRENAIOS

(Enters)

Young Chrysanthae, it is I, Eirenaios, your guide. I fear that I have lost you in these woods, and would therefore have failed you in my duties as your guide.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I am here​​ Eirenaios, and worry not, for the kindly king of these lands...

(To​​ KING ANAKLETOS)

... oh my, kind king,​​ forgive me as​​ I have neglected to inquire as to the name of my host.​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I am called King Anakletos.

 

[AW:​​ Thus marks​​ the first invocation.]

[GK: Odd choice of notes.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

The kindly​​ king​​ of these lands has been naught but hospitable and provided me with sage advice and an assurance of safe passage. Truly, he serves​​ the gods by his​​ demonstrated​​ understanding of​​ the treatment of guests.

(KING ANAKLETOS​​ smirks)

 

EIRENAIOS

(Suspiciously)

Why do you smirk so, king, if that truly be your title?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

She says I serve the gods, but as I have told her... forsooth, pay it no mind, for it is of little bearing upon your countenance.

 

EIRENAIOS

What​​ knowest thou of my countenance?

 

[GK: The “forsooths” and “naughts”​​ and “knowests”​​ are saturating this writing. His editor must have hated him, though I bet he didn’t have one.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I know your intentions toward this young maiden are not the intentions of a gentleman, nor do you truly wish to guide her through these woods.​​ 

 

EIRENAIOS

That is not so! How dare you besmirch my reputation, oh king without a kingdom! I shall see thee run through for these insults.

(EIRENAIOS​​ produces a large knife.)

For sullying my honor, I shall challenge you to a gentleman’s duel.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(LAUGHS, but takes no action)

You do amuse me, little man, with your bluster. But I know in thine heart that thou art a coward who soils maidens’​​ virtues​​ and murders their bodies. You would no sooner attack me than​​ you would slit your own throat.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Please, gentlemen, this fighting upsets me! Cease it at once, for my sake, and the sake of the other I hear approaching this clearing.

 

EIRENAIOS

Another approaches!​​ Chrysanthae, stand with me so that I could protect you from perhaps an even more dangerous threat.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I... I believe I​​ shall​​ stand between thee and my lord​​ so that I am equally protected.

 

ARTEMIS

(ARTEMIS enters, disguised as an old woman)

Greetings, strangers, I am but an old woman, traveling these roads,​​ and appear to have found myself turned around. Can any of thee help me find my way back to the road to​​ Ephesus?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

How fortuitous that you have arrived, kindly matron, for I, too, am headed to​​ Ephesus, and will require guidance along that path.

 

ARTEMIS

Ah, are you to be inducted into the Mysteries of Artemis?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I am, indeed. But I am fortunate to have both a guide through these woods, and the assistance of the​​ lord​​ of these woods, and if you could but help settle an argument betwixt the two, perhaps we can all work toward​​ a beneficial end.

 

ARTEMIS

For an initiate of Artemis, I would see thee through thine conflict and we will then travel the road to​​ Ephesus​​ together, for I have business there, myself, though not of the initiates, sadly. I am too old for such things, but as a young girl, I would, too, have​​ been bound for​​ the mysteries. Now, what is this dispute you would have me settle?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

This young man, my guide, and the king of this forest both believe that the other means me harm. Both have shown naught but kindness to me. If neither means to take my virtue or my life, then both will perhaps​​ be at ease. If one means to harm me, then I must know, so that I will be certain to place my life in the correct hands.

 

[GK: This play could be made 50% shorter by cleaning up this sad attempt at the language and cutting out the constant repetition. The playwright was a terrible writer.]

 

ARTEMIS

And what if both mean you harm?

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Laughs)

The Oracle prophesized that she saw no harm come to me, so surely at least one of my erstwhile guides is pure and true.

 

ARTEMIS

I see. And you would have me deduce which of these two men is your savior, and which​​ may be​​ the architect of your untimely end. Hmm...

(She eyes the two men.)

 

EIRENAIOS

I... I give you my word that I mean this young lady no harm in her travels. I come from a line of honest farmers, workers of land, where reputation is all a man has.

 

ARTEMIS

(Looks​​ EIRENAIOS​​ up and down)

You have an honest​​ him​​ face, but all men wear masks that hide the truth.

(ARTEMIS​​ moves to​​ KING ANAKLETOS.)

And you... you I find very hard to see clearly. Perhaps it is my old eyes, but there is a mystery to you.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

There is mystery to all men. As you yourself said, all men – and​​ women​​ as well-

(ARTEMIS​​ flinches while​​ KING ANAKLETOS​​ smiles knowingly.)

wear masks. Tell me, “old woman,” what mask do you wear? Hmm?

 

EIRENAIOS

You see?​​ She flinches.​​ She does not trust him. In her wisdom, she sees that he is a man of great darkness.

(Brandishes his knife)

Now,​​ Chrysanthae, allow me to take you from him.

 

ARTEMIS

I did not say you were an honest man, no more than I said I knew for certain that​​ he​​ was a man with murderous intent. Tell me, king, what is your name so that I might know you?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Oh, I am certain you would not have heard my name spoken. ‘tis an old name and fallen​​ into​​ disuse.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

It is King Anakletos.

 

[AW: Thus, the second​​ invocation.]

 

ARTEMIS

A name I have not heard.

(Suspicious)

Would you not ask my name, then?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I am certain that I know it, though it does not match your​​ current​​ visage.​​ 

(Smiles)

 

EIRENAIOS

Enough of this!​​ 

(Gets behind​​ CHRYSANTHAE​​ and puts the knife to her throat)

I grow weary of pretense. Yes, I mean to soil this girl’s virtue and murder her here in these woods. I would have done so quietly, but now this dalliance has taken its toll upon me​​ and my patience. I shall take her away from the both of you, have my way with her at my leisure, and be out of this accursed place!

 

ARTEMIS

(Ditching the old woman routine to stand straight and true)

Touch not my initiate, foul man!

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Could it be?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Unsurprised)

Indeed, it is.

 

ARTEMIS

Yes, it is I, Artemis herself! I lost sight of​​ Chrysanthae​​ as she traveled to my temple to be initiated into my Mysteries, and as she is to hold a place of high honor, I felt strongly the need to rescue her myself! And now I see that-

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Enough of this grandstanding, woman.

 

ARTEMIS

(Aghast)

Who would dare talk to a god in such a manner.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I would.​​ 

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Please, do not speak so to my patron goddess, I implore you.

 

EIRENAIOS

Artemis herself? No this cannot be so. I will slit this woman’s throat and be gone from here!

(He tries to plunge the knife into​​ CHRYSANTHAE’S​​ throat, but​​ KING ANAKLETOS​​ holds up a hand.​​ EIRENAIOS’S knife stops in midair, then begins to tremble.)

What is this? Mine​​ own hand betrays me?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I said you would no sooner raise that knife against me, or​​ Chrysanthae​​ for that matter, than you would slit your own throat. And now, I shall see thee to it.

(Flicks his hand)

(EIRENAIOS​​ runs the knife against his own throat)

 

EIRENAIOS

Ah! What cruel devilry is this!? I have slain myself against my very will!​​ 

(He then dies.)

 

[AW: This performer may well not be able to utter this line. It is of no concern; allow the show to proceed.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

How? How dids’t though​​ cause the young man to​​ so mortally​​ harm to himself?

 

ARTEMIS

(Suspicious)

This I too would like to know.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

‘twas the darkness in his own​​ heart that caused such action. ‘tis nothing what he wouldn’t have done hads’t​​ he​​ truly​​ known himself.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

You... strange king... what manner of man are you?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Smiles)

No mere man, Artemis.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

If thee art a god, I knowest thee not.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

This is all quite strange. Am I to understand that I am in the presence of Gods?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Gesturing to​​ ARTEMIS)

A​​ god, should thee call this ancient woman as such.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I beg thee, sir... if that be Artemis, speak to her that way not.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Speak, speak, speak... my dear, young maiden, thou hast spoken enough.​​ 

(CHRYSANTHAE​​ opens her mouth to speak, but​​ KING ANAKLETOS​​ holds up a hand, stopping her.)

Speak thee not, for thine elders are conversing.

(CHRYSANTHAE​​ tries to speak, but mimes being unable to make the words come out.)

(To​​ ARTEMIS)

Now then,​​ goddess... why have you come to this, the road truly less traveled?

 

[AW: If all preparations have been carried out as​​ outlined, her silence will be most convincing.]

 

ARTEMIS

As I said... my future priestess disappeared from my sight. As her protector, I felt it my duty to find out why.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Ah, such concern for these mortals.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

The mortals are our charges as gods.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

The mortals are a burden on existence.

 

ARTEMIS

They burden not the gods.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Not your existence.​​ My​​ existence. But, they have a purpose.

 

ARTEMIS​​ 

I cannot see into your purpose, stranger...​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Then perhaps you, a goddess, are more limited.

 

ARTEMIS

Let my disciple speak. I would converse with her.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(To​​ CHRYSANTHAE)

Speak, child, if you must.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Gasping)

My voice, though taken, hath now returned. And I find myself struck nearly speechless again. Why hath the gods come here? How have I, a simple adherent of the Mysteries, drawn such attention?

ARTEMIS

Flatter thyself not, mortal. While you are certainly under my protection, our reason for coming here had less to do with you, and more to do with your host.​​ We can neither see him, nor his realm, in the manner that the gods normally see all of the cosmos.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

We?

(Aside)

Surprised, I am not.

 

APOLLO

(Entering)

Yes, “we” strange king, for my sister and I seek more knowledge.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Surely,​​ I have​​ been blessed​​ to reach the concerns of​​ two​​ gods.

 

APOLLO

Sister, this mortal feels that she has risen in importance to us.​​ I must admit,​​ she is pleasing to the eye.

 

ARTEMIS

Covet her not, as she is of mine, brother Apollo.

 

APOLLO

Of course, sister.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

I mean no disrespect, oh gods, but this mysterious king​​ has shown me much kindness.

 

APOLLO

There is likely more to him that we know, for he and his provenance are mysterious and​​ hidden from us. We, my sister and I, have come to this place to seek out the answers, and not more than that.

 

[GK: Such chatter, and such repetition​​ from​​ each character. Talk, talk, talk; very little action.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

You have not come to see me safely to Ephesus?

 

APOLLO

My sister may have some concern​​ for thee, but I am ambivalent.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

All​​ virtuous​​ sisters are precious to me, but in truth, child, the ‘king’ before thee is of more import.

 

KING​​ ANAKLETOS

You see, child? Even the gods have abandoned thee. As all gods are wont to do to their creations.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

But... what am I to do in the face of such abandonment?

 

ARTEMIS

Listen not to him, dear child.​​ His is the domain of lies.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I lie not, girl. The truth, in fact, shall I show thee.​​ 

 

APOLLO

His lies come swiftly!​​ Let us dispatch him, sister, and be done with it.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Quiet, godling!

(He waves his hand, and APOLLO falls to the stage, lifeless.)

 

ARTEMIS

(Rushes to her brother’s side)

Villain! Thou hast killed my brother!​​ 

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(Bored)

So I have.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

(Shocked)

You cannot kill a god!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I can do what​​ I wish.​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

Fool! Now, shall I visit upon thee my wrath!

(She draws a bow from an unknown​​ source and​​ aims​​ an arrow toward KING ANAKLETOS’ heart. He holds up a hand to halt her.)

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Foolish woman. You cannot​​ loose​​ arrow upon me. And now, I demand that you speak truth, as you would have your oracle speak...​​ 

 

ARTEMIS

(In a​​ sudden​​ trance)

And in his coming, so too came the madness and death and all that was foretold by​​ those​​ who see the future for what ‘tis and what shall always be. In fire​​ he is born forth in a form such that none shall bear witness. For in his sight, all are driven mad by the darkness that lurks below the waves. In his realm, mortals are but chattel, there for the feast that is to come in the era of man’s end​​ and in the end, may he find not peace, but eternal torment, to toil and​​ suffer in ways naught yet described in the fevered nightmares of man​​ nor god​​ nor​​ the god of Christ nor Allah nor Yahweh nor​​ Buddha​​ nor​​ Shiva nor​​ Zeus nor science nor​​ any attempt that man hath to offer to explain​​ while the false king sways with rope around neck, he who claimed to be the alpha and the omega but for whom death was but a blessing​​ and in the fires, may we all be taken swiftly.

(ARTEMIS, too, falls to the stage, lifeless.)

 

[GK: His use of modern gods is an odd and anachronistic choice, here, but as you can see below, this is where it seems to become an immersive play​​ by breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and very heavy-handedly​​ so.]

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Thou​​ has done in Artemis, as well?

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Yes.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Before she died, she spoke of gods with names I knew not. Christ and Allah and so on.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Pretenders to immortality. False idols to the truth.​​ Much as the Olympians themselves.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

In this, I believe that thou hast deceived me!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

Perhaps, but in truth, thou were born into deceit. In life, you were fed lies. Hope. Sacrifice. Salvation. Grace. All of your kind has been lied to and will be lied to in all ways.​​ I bring truth.

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Oh, grant me sweet release!

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I shall, but even in the release of death, thou shalt not find peace. None who hear these words, who witness this show of theater, shall know anything other than the true horror that comest over the soul of man!

 

CHRYSANTHAE

Your words are terrible, but I cannot deny the hold they have over me!​​ Yes, then, allow me to be a​​ sacrifice to those eternal who seek to pierce the barrier between​​ theater and truth!​​ But first, please show me thine face under the mask.

 

KING ANAKLETOS

I shall do so, child.

(He lifts his mask)

(CHRYSANTHAE SCREAMS and SCREAMS until she falls to the stage, dead, her death mask that of pure fear.)

 

[GK:​​ Jonas, the section of the original was torn out, so what I will try to do is give you the somewhat fantastical account from the surviving witness to the fire. “When the man playing the evil king lifted his mask, we all gasped in terror... underneath, he had no face. I do not mean that​​ where his face would be was smooth skin lacking eyes or a mouth or so, but there was a hole that appeared to be carved into his very skull. Rather that bone and gore, however, the dark hole held and vast emptiness that contained the multitudes of our universe, and perhaps others. Such terror haunts my dreams and my waking hours!” The effects must have been rather advanced to pull off such an effect on the audience! Perhaps the notes on how to achieve this were included in the missing pages.]

 

KING ANAKLETOS

(To the assembled patrons of this doomed show.)

Witness this, the thinning of the veil. Witness this, the easement of reality and fiction, such that one shall bleed over to the other. Witness the​​ border between that which is story and that which is real becoming so permeable that neither is.​​ 

(He holds out his arms, taking in all his sacrifices and opening the doorway.)

Rejoice, for in your deaths shall the conflagrations of eternity purge all from this land and render it back to its true masters! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!​​ For Anakletos has come again!

 

[AW: And the third and final invocation!]

 

 

THE END

 

[GK: You see? The whole manuscript reads like an early attempt at one of those interactive or immersive plays that are becoming quite popular in theater these days. The writing, like I said, is atrocious, though I have to admit that it made the hairs on my arms stand up from time to time. When you take this in conjunction with the story about the disaster—that the theater burned to the ground and only one audience member survived—it almost seems like there was more to it. Perhaps it would be the plot for a B horror movie. “The Cursed Play,” or something like that.

 

You’ll notice from the story from the Chicago Daily Journal (long defunct) that the sole survivor of the fire, who was quoted a few times above, gave a very odd and, frankly, unbelievable story. She was also certain that the play was not completed before the fire consumed everything. It’s likely the stage was burned to a crisp with everyone on it before the final lines of “King Anakletos.” Poor Wayward didn’t get to his “third and final invocation” (I assume of the king’s name) after all. You and I both know of the significance of names and the rule of three in many occultic cultures. If I didn’t know any better, if I were to speculate fancifully, I think this poor sod (and terrible writer) was trying to put together some kind of ritual. But I’ll leave that to the authors of horror stories, and out of the halls of academia.

 

I wish you well my friend. Let me know if this adds any clarity to your own research. If not, consider it a novelty, then; the ramblings of a man suffering from some sort of mental breakdown.]

26 Stories

26 Stories: An Atheist in an Apocalypse

This short play takes a break from being as dark as some of the other stories I’ve written. It’s mostly funny–or supposed to be anyway–taking a few shots at people trying to deal with an ongoing, likely religious apocalypse (but maybe not… I’m not ready to commit to that without further evidence). I even manage to take a swipe at sometimes insufferable atheists like myself.

I’m also including a PDF version with the hope that this will make my stories easier to read on, say, a phone or printed instead of on a computer monitor. While this exercise is primarily for my accountability, it sure would be nice to get some feedback, and making it easier for you to read could facilitate that.

So, without further ado…

An Atheist in an Apocalypse
7th Floor

SCENE

 

(TREVOR and GORDON barge into​​ TREVOR’s​​ darkened apartment.​​ In the distance, there are sounds​​ of SIRENS, the occasional EXPLOSION, and piercing SCREAMS.​​ TREVOR stumbles to the couch, clearly shaken. GORDON slams the door shut, standing there holding it as if something is about to try to force its way though.)

 

TREVOR

(On the verge of losing it.)

Oh Jesus oh Jesus​​ oh Jesus….

 

GORDON

It’s alright, Trevor. We’re safe, for now.

(Still, it takes him a moment to stop leaning on the door.​​ He very clearly locks it​​ before walking away.)

 

TREVOR

It’s​​ most​​ definitely​​ not​​ safe, Gordon.​​ 

 

GORDON

I don’t think we were followed.​​ And we’re, what, seven floors up?​​ Maybe we can just hunker down here until this all blows over.

(As if to contradict him, a loud EXPLOSION thunders in the distance.)

 

TREVOR

This isn’t blowing over, man. And,​​ can I just say,​​ that while I value our friendship​​ and don’t usually like to say things like this to friends, but...​​ I told you so.

 

GORDON

Um…​​ You really didn’t.

 

TREVOR

Oh yes I did. I know we had our differences and all, and I was always glad that​​ we could discuss those differences rationally,​​ but clearly…​​ clearly,​​ you​​ were wrong, and​​ I​​ was right.

 

GORDON

(Annoyed)

We don’t know that yet.

 

TREVOR

(Astounded)

What? Yes we do!

 

GORDON

No, we​​ don’t.

TREVOR

(Gets up and walks up to GORDON.)

Dude.​​ Literal​​ gates to​​ literal​​ Hell have​​ literally​​ opened​​ all over town! All over the God-damned world…

(Pauses)

Oh no.

(Crosses himself and looks to the sky)

Sorry! Sorry, I didn’t mean to take your name in vain!

 

GORDON

You’re not even Catholic, Trev.

 

TREVOR

What?

 

GORDON

The, uh,​​ crossing yourself thing…​​ 

 

TREVOR

I’m covering my bases! Just like you should​​ do, too.

 

GORDON

I’m not ready to jump to that conclusion just yet.​​ Plus, Pascal’s Wager is kind of bullshit to begin with.

 

TREVOR

Pascal’s... Look, a​​ fucking demon with bat wings and everything just flew off with Karen from HR!

 

GORDON

I don’t think we can label that​​ thing​​ as a​​ “demon”​​ just yet.

 

TREVOR

It called itself “the great demon A’zule, ruler of the plane of whips and knives!”

 

GORDON

And I can call myself “Gordon​​ Powel, ruler of the Hooters on 5th​​ and Main,” but I still don’t get to grope the waitresses.​​ 

(Beat)

Nobody liked Karen, anyway. If that was a demon, then you know she deserved to be carried off.​​ She was responsible for cutting our benefits last year​​ and she always microwaved her leftover crab cakes in the breakroom, remember?

 

TREVOR

From the place with the delicious po’ boys, I…

(Beat. Frustrated.)

Don’t change the subject!​​ How are you holding on to this atheist thing, now!?

 

GORDON

Look, I admit that this is really, really​​ unprecedented.​​ 

 

TREVOR

Thank you!

 

GORDON

But,​​ I’m not willing to go whole-hog one way or the other until we’re a lot more certain of what’s happening.

 

TREVOR

(Gobsmacked)

Did… did you miss the part where I said that literal gates to Hell opened…

 

GORDON

“Gates” to somewhere opened, yes.

 

TREVOR

To Hell.

 

GORDON

So you​​ say.

 

TREVOR

There was fire and screaming and…

(Frustrated)

Bat-winged demon…

(Stammering)

Plane of whips and knives!

 

GORDON

(Sighs)

Look. I’m not unreasonable. Assuming we survive this…

 

TREVOR

Assuming? We’re going to die and be judged for our sins!

 

GORDON

Maybe. But maybe not. So, assuming we survive this, I am most definitely going to be making a major reassessment.

 

TREVOR

Oh, well,​​ he​​ finally​​ sees reason.

 

GORDON

It doesn’t mean I’ll be seeing​​ your​​ reason.

 

TREVOR

How can you not?

 

GORDON

There are and have been hundreds,​​ if not​​ thousands,​​ of different religious views​​ on this planet since mankind started wondering just what in hell—pardon the pun—made the thunder​​ rumble. You can’t tell me that you know for 100% certain that all that out there…

(Waves vaguely at the window)

... is the Judeo-Christian version of the end of the world.​​ 

 

TREVOR

It seems pretty fucking close!

 

GORDON

Correct me if I’m wrong, but “pretty fucking close” doesn’t cut it with your god, right?

 

TREVOR

Well…

 

GORDON

So why are you so sure that you’re right?

 

TREVOR

Uh… demons?

 

GORDON

Do you know how many religions have something that is​​ basically the same thing as “demons?”

 

TREVOR

Uh… two or three?

 

GORDON

Probably hundreds. If not thousands. Christianity. The Djin in Islam.​​ Acheri. Empusa.​​ Those college students that do the while live-action role-playing thing...

 

TREVOR

Okay! Okay! I get it. Oher people have demons.​​ 

 

GORDON

Which​​ raises the question… how do you know that​​ these​​ demons​​ out there​​ are​​ your​​ demons?

 

TREVOR

(Aghast)

Does it fucking matter?!

 

GORDON

Maybe.

 

TREVOR

How so?

 

GORDON

If you’re wrong about one thing, then maybe​​ you’re wrong about other things.

 

TREVOR

Is this really the time to be having this philosophical disagreement?

 

GORDON

If not now, then when?

 

TREVOR

Maybe when the​​ goddamn end of the world isn’t happening?

 

GORDON

That might well be the perfect time.​​ I mean, if the world​​ is ending, then this is pretty much the​​ only​​ time to have this​​ discussion.​​ 

 

TREVOR

Is that really…

 

GORDON

Look, it’s all the same to me.​​ 

 

TREVOR

Oh really.

 

GORDON

Yeah. Something terrible is happening out there, and whatever it is...

 

TREVOR

Revelations.

 

GORDON

Whatever​​ it is, we’ve got to consider how we’re going to get through this.​​ 

 

TREVOR

By confessing our sins.

 

GORDON

If it’ll make you feel better.

 

TREVOR

I fucked your girlfriend.

 

GORDON

(Pausing)

Julia? Julia cheated on me with you?

(Shocked)

Oh man... I can’t deal with this right now.

(Sits down)

 

TREVOR

Oh,​​ that​​ you can’t deal with?

 

GORDON

(Upset)

No! Man, I thought we were friends! That’s not, quite frankly, very Christian of you!

 

TREVOR

(Aghast)

I thought it was “all the same to you?” Why do you suddenly care about how Christian I am?

 

GORDON

I just feel very betrayed. Why’d you tell me that?

 

TREVOR

I’m confessing my sins! You know, one of those things that makes me “Christian?”

 

GORDON

Well, maybe you should have picked a different sin. Traitor.

 

TREVOR

I have to do​​ all​​ the sins, man!​​ 

 

GORDON

So you​​ th-

 

TREVOR

So I think, yes!​​ And I have to forgive people.

 

GORDON

Well, I for one don’t think​​ I​​ can forgive​​ you.

 

TREVOR

I don’t need​​ your​​ forgiveness.

 

GORDON

Well, that’s just rude. You’re the one who fucked my girlfriend.

 

TREVOR

Argh. Then I forgive you for having such bad taste in women.

 

GORDON

Woah, hey now! You know, as pissed as I am at Julie right now, it’s not like I own her, or anything. She’s responsible for her actions. She has agency. You’d do well to remember that when talking about women.

 

TREVOR

Geez, sorry.

GORDON

See? I’ll forgive you for that.

 

TREVOR

It’s… ugh!​​ 

 

(The door opens, and JULIA walks in, shaken.)

(GORDON and TREVOR both YELL.)

(JULIA YELLS.)

 

GORDON

Julia?

 

JULIA

(Awkward.)

Uh… hey, Gordon. What’re you doing here?

 

GORDON

What are you doing here? And how’d you get in?​​ I​​ locked the door.

 

JULIA

Uuuuuhhh…

 

TREVOR

She has a key.

 

JULIA

Trevor! Ix-nay on the e-kay.

 

TREVOR

He knows.

 

JULIA

What?

 

TREVOR

I had to confess my sins.

 

JULIA

Why?

 

GORDON

Trevor seems to think that this is the Christian end of the world.

 

JULIA

Oh. I guess I can see that. But it’s not.

 

TREVOR

I already had to explain about the plane of whips and knives.

 

JULIA

It’s not because we don’t have an apocalypse.​​ 

 

TREVOR

“We”?

 

JULIA

You know I’m Jewish, right? Anyway, there’s no apocalypse in Judaism. At least, not the mainstream versions of it.​​ 

 

GORDON

See? There’s another option.

 

TREVOR

Then what’s all that out there?

 

JULIA

Beats me. But, I mean, don’t take my advice; I’m a shitty Jew. I loves me a good bacon cheeseburger.​​ Not shellfish, though… gross.

 

GORDON

Yeah, I never ate any of those. Sea bugs. Ugh.

 

TREVOR

I can’t believe this.

 

GORDON

That’s the spirit!

 

TREVOR

No!​​ I can’t believe you two!

 

JULIA

Yeah… I mean, we probably were a pretty lousy couple, huh?

 

GORDON

I thought it was okay. Most of the time, anyway.

 

JULIA

Still, shit… I feel bad about the whole thing with me and Trevor.​​ 

 

GORDON

Well, it hurts, you know?

 

JULIA

I know. He wasn’t worth ruining “us,” for what it’s worth.

 

TREVOR

I’m right here!

 

JULIA

Oh… uh, sorry.

 

TREVOR

You’re forgiven.

(Excited)

Yes! One down!

 

GORDON

Well… um… I’m not perfect either.

 

JULIA

What do you mean?

 

GORDON

You remember Sally? From the office party last year?

 

JULIA

(Shocked)

No!

 

(There’s and EXPLOSION outside, someone SCREAMS in the distance, and something else GROWLS and ROARS.)

 

TREVOR

(Exasperated)

You know what? Fine. You both have this thing out, but…

(Beat)

Wait, Sally from the call center?

 

GORDON

Yeah.

 

TREVOR

Nice.​​ 

(They fist bump)

 

JULIA

Pigs. ​​ 

 

GORDON

It was just the one time, I promise. And, I mean, we were having that argument over moving in together.

 

JULIA

I really wasn’t ready for that.​​ 

 

GORDON

And I was, but​​ I wasn’t listening to your​​ concerns. I got angry and made a mistake.

 

JULIA

I think we’ve both fucked up, huh?

 

TREVOR

What the hell is going on here?

 

(The POWER teeters on the edge of going out as more EXPLOSIONS rumble. The orange and yellow of not-too-distant fire flicker in the window.)

 

GORDON

Yeah. Can you forgive me?

 

JULIA

(Beat)

Yes. Can​​ you​​ forgive​​ me?

 

GORDON

I already have.

 

TREVOR

(SLOW CLAPS)

Wonderful. You two made up. All is well. Can we​​ please​​ get back to the issue at hand? The-

(He is cut off as an intense light hits JULIA)

What… what is that?

 

JULIA

Wow, that feels warm. And… peaceful.

 

(Another hits GORDON.)

 

GORDON

Oh wow, that does​​ feel nice.​​ 

 

TREVOR

No…

 

JULIA

I think…

 

TREVOR

No, no, no…​​ 

 

GORDON

Well, guess I​​ was​​ wrong. Hey Trev? I was-

 

(The lights all go off for a moment, and when they come back, GORDON and JULIA are gone.)

(TREVOR, incredulous, is momentarily speechless.)

 

TREVOR

Where’s my light?

(Looks up to the ceiling)

Where’s my light!?

 

A’ZULE

(OFFSTAGE, booming, evil demon voice)

There is no light for you,​​ sinner!

 

TREVOR

What? No! I was a good Christian! I went to church! What sins did I commit that I can’t be​​ forgiven for?​​ 

 

A’ZULE

(OFFSTAGE)

Your love of shrimp​​ po’​​ boys!​​ Eating shellfish is the only unforgivable sin!​​ 

(LAUGHS evilly)

 

TREVOR

What?

 

A’ZULE

Enjoy​​ the plane of whips and​​ knives!

(More evil LAUGHTER)

 

(A TRAP DOOR​​ opening to red lights​​ opens below him,​​ and he falls.)

 

TREVOR

Noooooooooo!

 

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: Elevator

My arbitrary deadline almost bit me on my ass this time (you may even find more than the usual typos in here). As such, while I’m mostly happy with this addition to the growing collection of stories, I am almost certain that I’ll want to come back to this someday and explore some of the ideas that popped up late in the process (no spoilers, but I didn’t know until the end that I would be getting into more… esoteric aspects of corporate America), and I’d really like to make a stronger connection to our poor heroine’s anxiety and depression issues. As it’s something I struggle with myself, exploring it in extreme ways is a damn good track to some sort of catharsis.

As a side note, tomorrow, I head down to Houston to participate in the Spontaneous Smattering XII: Nine Past Midnight. The Smatterings are 24-hour play contests (festivals?) where a number of writers–myself included–will receive random and/or previously unknown parameters and have just over 12 hours to write a brand-new short play. The next morning, actors will randomly receive scripts, get their own parameters, and then have 12 hours to wangle a handful of actors  to perform said play that night. It’s a wild time, always fun, and well worth checking out if you happen to be in the Houston area Saturday night (July 28th). There are free shots at the door and the proceeds go to the Houston Food Bank. I will likely use this space to write about the experience, provided I’m not having an anxiety attack at 2:00 in the morning.

And speaking of anxiety attacks, without further ado, I give you the uninspiringly titled “Elevator…”

Elevator

Fifth Floor

Danielle got into the elevator from the fifth-floor, her laptop tucked into her messenger bag, held securely under her arm. After a moment, she pulled the bag out, checking that her armpit wasn’t sweating, risking both an embarrassing stain on her blouse and potentially on her computer, but despite her racing heart and nerves, she was dry. She took a deep breath, straightened her blouse, and pressed the button for the twenty-sixth floor. She closed her eyes, trying to calm her nerves and hoping that the elevator didn’t make any stops on the way up. Any pause in her ascent would give her more time to think about her situation. The more she thought about it, the more she would risk sabotaging her big presentation to the C-level executives. For a business analyst with barely three years under her belt at the company, a presentation with the top brass was huge. She could tell from how awkwardly her boss had tried to give her a pep-talk before she headed off for it.

“Well, Danni,” he’d said, calling her by the nickname she’d grown tired of insisting he not use, “this is a big step for you. I’d hate to think,” he continued, “that the end result of this is that I might not have you on my team anymore, but what is the world of business without a little sacrifice?” He’d laughed after that, and while he tried to be genuine, she could sense the mixed emotions in it. Yes, if this went well, even if it resulted in her moving up past him, it would still look good for his team in the long run. Additionally, she’d seen how he looked at her from time to time (especially at the team happy hours) and she knew that he had a not insignificant crush on her, which was completely inappropriate and not at all returned on her part. She was looking to get out from working for Stewart, but not solely for his unrequited feelings (which, to his credit, he’d never acted upon and had done a fine job trying to contain). He was content to be a middle manager. He wasn’t going anywhere, and if he didn’t go anywhere, without hopping over his head, she wasn’t going anywhere.

And now? Now, she was moving up, literally and—if everything went well—figuratively. Her insights into the data processing the company used to precisely target potential customers were groundbreaking. As the old building’s quaint elevator jolted to a start and began its predictably slow climb, she thought about how much she’d hated statistics in college. She got the calculations, but the more abstract concepts behind them had been foreign to her. Yes, she could plug numbers into equations easily enough. Hell, most statistical computations were handled by computers, anyway. Any analyst could plug in the relevant data and get a result that, in turn, fed into a decisioning engine. The engine then performed some amount of magic and told the business owners where to focus their efforts for maximum efficiency and scalability and whatever Agile bullshit corpspeak was popular.

Humans, though, had to program those algorithms at some point. She had always assumed that there were some geniuses with PhDs somewhere in the shadows who saw the correct patterns in the data and found ways to extract the much sought-after pathways to profitability. What she hadn’t counted on was how so much of the greatest advancements in sciences, math, and engineering were almost all accidents. Somehow, she’d stumbled into one of those accidents, and after some extra work in the evenings and weekends from her lonely studio apartment, she’d managed to find something the data scientists had overlooked. She’d seen a subtle and unique pattern. On her own time, she extrapolated on the pattern to come to a quantifiable result. In the end, she’d found an entirely new way to target customers based on more factors than the current trends of “Big Data” considered. It was quite simple, really, and thanks to one of her company’s “Brain-hurricane” sessions where even the most “out there” ideas were considered, she was now on her way to a one-on-six meeting at the very top level of the organization. If everything went well, Danielle might be looking at a director-level position, and her mountain of collage debt would suddenly seem less insurmountable.

She opened her eyes, hoping to see the floor indicator close to twenty-six, unable to contain her nerves for too much longer, and was surprised to see that she was still only on the sixth floor. It was amusing, she thought, at how time went sideways under stress. Despite the fact that time was supposed to be constant, the perception of its passage was subjective. Young people felt that time was dragging, yet the older you got, the faster it seemed to progress. Good things came and went too fast, and those things that one dreaded took far longer to get past than they should. The mind was powerful in its manipulation of reality.

She leaned her head back against the wall of the elevator and closed her eyes again, trying not to let anxiety overtake her.

This is fine, she thought. Like Stewart said, this is just one of the small sacrifices in business. She ran over her presentation again in her mind. By now, she was intimately familiar with it. Thanks to her five-year stint in Toastmasters (yes, she was that kind of nerd), she had practiced it until she knew the material back and forth. Not too much text on each slide, no over use of animations, and plenty of room for further explanation. She’d timed herself last night and the entirety of the initial presentation came to just around seven minutes. She would be able to communicate the salient points and have more than enough time to entertain questions. The C-levels were too important to spend more than half an hour on any given topic—time being an immense amount of money when you factored how much each one made every minute—and if all went well, she would be giving them back five to ten minutes. Her efficiency and conciseness would reflect well on her.

There was a ding, and she opened her eyes, expecting to be on the twenty-sixth floor, or close enough, but a quick glance over to the display showed that she was only on the sixth floor as the doors slid open.

Six? She thought. That can’t be right. She waited, staring into an empty elevator lobby, waiting for someone else to get onto the elevator. No one did. She realized that, in all likelihood, someone had pressed both the main elevator call button and the service elevator call button. She waited, her view of the floor limited to the rectangle of the doorway. Even though it was early afternoon, the elevator bank was still. For a moment, she entertained the notion that the floor was deserted, even though every floor of the building had been filled out in her tenure there. Just as a shadow shifted out in the hallway, the doors closed. She sighed; the main call buttons called both the primary elevators and the service elevators. Pressing both just meant that if you got on one, the other would still stop even after you got on the first. This invariable led to passengers in the second elevator waiting. She supposed it was a minor inconvenience, and even though her time wasn’t as valuable as the executives, it still had a quantifiable money value reflected on the books. The rest of the building didn’t seem to get that small yet obvious fact of the elevator functions. She’d thought about putting up a sign, but even that felt more confrontational than she was comfortable with. She would have to get over her timidity if she was looking at high-level management positions.

The elevator lurched again, her stomach pressing downward to tell her that she was heading back up. And again, she ran over her presentation in her mind, at least two more times, assured that when she glanced up at the floor display, she would see major progress had been made, even with the ancient elevator.

When she checked again, the display was still showing six.

Okay, it has to be broken, she thought. The display is malfunctioning, which wasn’t surprising. The building that housed her office was at least a hundred years old. The elevator was likely added sometime in the nineteen-fifties. The display worked like an older alarm clock where each number flipped over as the minutes and hours passed. She tapped the display, hoping that the jolt would cause the ancient mechanism to flip past whatever hitch was keeping it in place. It didn’t budge. Well, she thought, that’s fine. The elevator is still moving up so it’s not like I’m trapped. She wasn’t claustrophobic, and the steady upward motion told her that, one way or the other, she’d reach the top floor where the doors would either open, or—failing that—she could call for help. There was an executive assistant (Tammy, she seemed to remember) right outside the doors, so it wouldn’t be hard to get her the attention she needed to get out. It would be slightly embarrassing, but she was skilled enough at speaking to spin it into a humorous anecdote for the executives. In any event, there were three elevators in the building. If the elevator stopped again, she would use that opportunity to get out and, depending on what floor she was on, either take the stairs or wait for a different cab.

She closed her eyes and waited. Tension nibbled at her fragile calm, as her heart began to feel much more forceful in her chest.

Breathe, she told herself. Take some calming breaths, practice the “mindful meditation” your therapist taught you, and be ready. You have got this. Those execs on twenty-six will be floored. At that, she opened her eyes, convinced he felt a slow-down in the elevator’s momentum, ready to razzle and even dazz-

The display flipped from six to seven as she watched with a click that was far too loud. As it did, the elevator picked up speed again (speed being relative to the near-stop she’d perceived moments ago).

Okay, she thought, not only is this taking too long, but there’s something wrong with the elevator. She felt her recently calmed pulse pick up speed again. Its rhythm matched the cadence of the elevator’s barely perceptible “clack-clack-clack” as its mechanics slid upward on whatever tracks held the elevator in place (Lord, she hoped something was holding the elevator in place). She became aware of a slight spot of sweat forming in her left armpit, breaching from whatever sweat gland was there, releasing, and running down the skin of her side. Don’t panic, she thought, but she was already heading in that direction. Somewhere I the back of her mind, she felt the familiar tug of an anxiety attack. Mindful meditation, she thought. Mindful meditation.

As she wrangled her anxiety back down for storage in what her therapist called her “emotional quarantine” for later processing, she had a moment of clarity.

“Right,” she said aloud. “Duh.”

Right where she expected it to be, under the floor buttons, was a panel. She popped it open easily enough and was comforted to see classic style handset with its slender handgrip and bulbous ends. It was wired into the elevator via a corkscrew cord. She picked it up and placed it to her ear. She heard the ring tone as a connection was opened. After three rings, there was a click and a tired man’s voice.

“Building maintenance” he said.

“Hi, yes, this is Danielle Anderson. I’m on elevator number… uh…” She looked and saw the number four above the phone. “Number four,” she finished.

“Um… are you sure about that?”

“Well, yes. I mean, it is the number plate right above this phone, right?”

“It should be,” he said.

“Then that’s the one. Can you figure out what’s going on? It’s taking a long time to get to the top, the number thingy showing the floor is sticking, and—”

“Ma’am,” he cut her off, “I’d like to help, but if you’re in elevator number four, then a line got crossed somewhere. Or the number is wrong.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You’re in an elevator in the Waverly building, right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, yeah, me too. But ma’am, there are only three elevators in this building.”

“Well,” she said, annoyed, “then the wrong number is on the panel. It’s the elevator furthest from the main door. Can’t you look on a status panel or something and see which one I’m in?”

“I can, and I am, but everything is showing up just fi-”

“Hello?” she asked, after a pause. No response.

“Hello?” she asked again, with a newly formed edge.

“Hell-” and then she trailed off. The line wasn’t dead, like she was beginning to think, because there was a quality to the silence on the other side that suggested the phone was off the hook in a quiet room. Faintly, she could hear—or think she could hear—ambient noises. Quiet hums, or the steady whooshing of a fan or air conditioning flow from a ceiling vent.

“Are you… is anyone there?” she asked the open line. She listened, now certain that she was hearing something in the background. Voices engaged in a lively discussion far away? A child crying somewhere? With effort and strain, she managed to latch onto a rhythmic sound over the phone. It started quietly enough, but as she pressed the receiver closer and more painfully to her ear, it increase in pitch and volume. It was a steady thumping, getting louder with each beat. She imagined that this might be what it felt like to stand on train tracks as a freight train laden down with cargo thundered closer to you. The thrumming that started over the phone in her ear moved to a feeling in her feet. She was certain that the elevator creaked in response to the oncoming noise. As it got louder and louder, she found herself pressing the phono so hard into her ear that the sound of her blood rushing with each increasingly frantic heartbeat first covered, then merged with, and was drown out by the rhythmic pulses now blaring from the receiver. In her mind’s eye, back on the train tracks, she saw the rushing train morph into something else. Something larger than even a train; a horrific mix of mechanical parts and fused flesh and it was rushing toward her. When it got to her, it was sure to plow into her, dragging her screaming into the darkness of the elevator shaft in a building that was too tall to be real. The sound was deafening in her ears and she felt something warm and wet drip off her earlobe and onto the handset. Her mind began to snap irreparably, but at the very moment that she was about to begin to scream, screaming that would have never ended, a vibration at her wrist caused her to drop the phone, shattering the spell she had fallen under as her panic attack began to crescendo.

Gasping for breath, she dropped to a sitting position and pressed herself back against the elevator wall. The vibration at her wrist persisted, and she looked down to see what was causing the disturbance. She half expected to see a swarm of insects, roaches perhaps, engulfing her arm.

“Wow!” her fitness watch told her, “Exercise Goal Achieved!” It showed her current heart rate, blasting at 175 (well into her “Cardio” zone, it cheerfully displayed). She stared incredulously for a moment, then began to laugh. The thought that her panic attack at what had to be a stress-induced hallucination caused her fitness tracker to log her rapid heart rate as a workout resulted in her collapsing into fits of laughter. Already short of breath, she gasped between uproarious guffaws, aware that if the elevator doors opened right now and someone else was there on the other side, she would seem completely unhinged. Imagining the look on some poor schmuck’s face only made her laugh harder. She laughed until tears streamed down her cheeks, which she wiped with the back of her smartly pressed jacket she’d purchased just for today. After a few minutes of laughing, followed by the occasional aftershock of chuckles between deep breaths, she reassessed her current predicament.

“Still seven,” she said, the display taunting her even as she continued upward. She put her head back against the cool elevator wall, grateful for its tangibility. She wasn’t getting anywhere fast, which still left her on a malfunctioning elevator. She looked at the phone handset, contemplating putting it back on the receiver and trying again. After all, the person she spoke to seemed to think there might be a crossed line somewhere, and the abrupt change to some other connection seemed to suggest the wiring was faulty. She could try again, and either get someone who could help or at least try to work out what was going on with the person she spoke to before. Also, she thought, it would be nice to talk to someone.

She couldn’t bring herself to pick up the handset yet, though. The old-style speaker and microphone circles stared at her, either curiously or maliciously, from the floor where she dropped it. The honeycomb of holes in the plastic bulbs made her skin crawl. She was also fairly certain that there was blood on the speaker.

It’s just a matter of time, she thought, before someone figures out something is wrong with the elevator and that I’m missing. The execs are sure to understand, since this is outside of my control. Still seated on the floor, she brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The panic attack had made her tired; back when she had them regularly, they often did. Up on the opposite wall, next to the doors of the elevator, the display still read “7” as the gentle vibration of the elevator lulled her to sleep.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Danielle was jolted awake, disoriented. It took her a second to remember where she was, the fog in her mind lifting painfully. She hated the mental fog and disorientation she experienced when waking from a nap; it was too much like a hangover without the fun of a wild night before. When she saw the elevator display, now turned to nine, she sighed with relief. I just dozed for a second, and the elevator moved up two floors, she thought. Good… good, I only lost…

She checked her watch and frowned. Her meeting with the executives had been scheduled for 2:30 pm, and while she’d known that the malfunctioning elevator would make her miss the meeting (a transgression for which she would have to explain after apologizing profusely), she momentarily thought that something was wrong with her watch. It claimed that it was 6:23 pm, which shouldn’t have been possible. She ached from sleeping in an awkward position on the floor against a hard wall, so it was possible that she’d done more than doze for a minute, but surely someone would have come to find her or fix the elevator in almost four hours, right? She stood, her knees popping in protest, and checked it again. It must have gotten out of sync with my phone, she thought, and then practically smacked herself.

“My phone! Holy shit!” She reached into the pocket of her bag and retrieved her phone. She nearly dropped it as she pressed her index finger to the sensor and it came to life showing her… 6:23 pm.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said aloud, “whatever time it is, I can call someone to get me out.” She opened her contacts and swiped the screen down as quickly as she could to Nathan’s number and pressed the call icon. She held the phone up to her head, still mad at herself for not thinking of this earlier. The old elevator had clearly made her forget that she lived in the twenty-first century and had her own, modern means of communication.

A phone that, after a quick check to make sure she’d actually pressed the call icon, was silent. No dial tone. No connection. No nothing. It showed a solid connection, but when she tried to make a call, there was nothing. Wondering if it would make a difference, she decided to send a text to Nathan briefly detailing her situation, explaining that she had no service, and that he needed to call her “ASAP” or text her if he couldn’t get through. After a thought, she turned it off, reasoning that she could turn it on to check again in a few minutes, and that she should conserve as much battery as possible.

She reached back into her messenger bag and pulled out her laptop. Maybe she could connect to the company wireless and get a message out that way. As she waited for her laptop to come out of sleep mode, she watched the floor display and was only slightly surprised to see that it hadn’t switched up from nine yet.

She watched as her laptop, curiously down to about 17% power, struggled to connect with the office network. She was sure, given how paranoid she’d been about the impending presentation, that she had fully charged the computer. It had drained more than it should have, even in four hours.  She watched as it attempted to connect, with limited success (occasionally claiming to be connected only to disconnect before she could even open her email), before she slammed the lid down.

“Fuck!” she yelled, pressing both hands to her forehead. She slipped the laptop back into her bag, dismissing it as a waste of time and effort. This wasn’t working, and she was fighting against a groggy sense of time and space and surely this wasn’t as bad as it seemed. People didn’t just lose time on elevators that refused to move faster than her elderly grandmother drove into town? There had to be a reasonable explanation as to why she wasn’t getting any closer to a destination, and to why she was confused as to how long she’d been here. Maybe there was a gas leak in the building, or maybe she was stuck in some terrible dream resulting from too much pressure and too high an expectation. After all, it wasn’t like she didn’t have anxiety dreams about college, her relationship with her parents, or with the fact that she felt like she was an imposter in her job. Yes, she reasoned, this was all some intense nightmare. By letting herself slip into a semblance of sleep, she might indeed wake from it and be back in her apartment—or in Nate’s bed—the morning of her meeting. They could laugh about it over breakfast.

With that, she decided to sleep once again, leaning against the elevator wall that felt too firm for a dream.

 

*             *             *             *

 

She woke at 4:35 am, still in the elevator, and had a second (third?) panic attack.

 

*             *             *             *

 

At 12:45 pm the next day, or someday, her fitness watch informed her than the battery was running low on charge. It was also fully charged. How did it drain in one day, she wondered, and cursed herself for not bringing her portable charger from its spot on her desk, and then found it funny that she should worry about such things. The humor turned from a roughly five-minute session of uncontrolled laughter into at least half an hour of uncontrollable sobbing.

 

*             *             *             *

 

The fitness watch was dead the next time she woke up.

Her phone was on 4%, now with no signal, and told her that it was 1:15 am. As to what day, she wasn’t certain. There was a date on the phone, yes, but she couldn’t remember what day she’d gotten on the elevator. Besides, it was clearly broken too, showing some gibberish where the date would normally be. Sometime in her delirium, she had taken to using the far corner of the elevator as a restroom. She didn’t remember making the decision to shit and piss on the floor, so in a strange way, she accepted it as a decision made by someone else.

Her work laptop was presumably long dead.

After trying a few more times to get a call out, she resorted to playing one of those stupid color-matching games on her phone until it finally died on her. That even this small lifeline to anchor her to something normal was gone was in and of itself a relief. She didn’t find it odd that she wasn’t at all hungry, but really, the only feeling she still felt in her stomach was the ever-present downward push of maddeningly steady upward motion. Absent any other option, she curled up on the floor and slept again.

 

*             *             *             *

 

She woke from a fevered nightmare in which she had been trapped on an elevator, forever moving upward. In the first instant of her awakening, she was content in knowing that the nightmare was finally over. The anxiety of her meeting with the c-level executives had transformed into the completely insane dream she’d had. It made sense, in those moments of waking, that the symbolism of working her way “up” in the organization would translate into a never-ending trip upwards to no particular end. Maybe this was her subtle way of saying that she’d made a bad career choice. Her therapist would surely have something to say about it, but for now, she sat up, stretching out the aches and pains in her body.

Aches and pains that, she quickly realized, had come from sleeping on the floor of the office elevator.

Her subsequent screams were heard by no one.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Lucidity came eventually.

If she’d been lucky, it would not have come. If she’d been lucky, she would have slipped into catatonic madness with no end. She might have spent an eternity gibbering in the corner of that elevator, wasting away in a pool of her own excretion until, eventually, she died of dehydration and hunger. Dehydration and hunger that, if her then current state was any indication, would never come. Surely, she’d been in the elevator for days, if not weeks. She hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and while she wasn’t completely up on her biology, she was fairly certain that you had to have food and drink coming in for shit and piss to go out and be deposited in the corner. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense in this place, this small cell traveling up without end.

And why up? The thought crossed her mind that at some point she’d died, and this was the afterlife. But up didn’t make any sense. If she’d gone down, the never-ending ride might have made sense, corresponding to some sort of infernal punishment. She was a lapsed Catholic, after all, and damnation might have made some sense (she’d fucked a couple of other people on the side when Nathan was off on business trips; and Hell, hadn’t they been living in sin, anyway?). Damnation was down, not up. And down had an end, right? Granted, down on Earth ended at the core, which at a physical and metaphysical level didn’t square, but even if she passed through in some long tunnel, there would have been a change from down to up when she passed the center of the earth. She’d started by going up anyway, so it was moot. The worst part of going up was that she might keep going up for eternity, depending on how infinite the universe was.

“Up” was supposed to be good. “Up” was how she felt when the anti-depressants were working. Up was what it was like to wake in the morning with Nathan next to her (despite her own transgressions, Nathan was where she wanted to be). “Up” was good. “Down” was when she had wanted to hurt herself, before her therapy and the Zoloft. Back when she was cutting on herself like an emo teenager. But now, up was madness and up was never ending. Salvation wasn’t up. Relief wasn’t up. Even death wasn’t up, because even if she’d had some means to end her own life (she thought about bashing her head against the elevator walls but knew that she just pass out and wake again, later), it wouldn’t stop her trip.

What is the world of business, a familiar but long forgotten voice whispered in her ear, without a little sacrifice?

“Sacrifice,” she said out loud, half laughing.

At that, the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. She looked up and saw that the floor listed was twenty-six.

She stood, tugging at her suit jacket, and hefting her messenger bag over her shoulder, despite the dried streaks of shit that ran down her thighs. She ran a hand over her hair, pushing and filthy errant strand into place over her right ear. It was time, she thought, for her meeting with the higher ups. It might not go well, given the delays, but, after all, what was the world of business without a little sacrifice?

 

*             *             *             *

 

Danielle exited the elevator into an empty lobby. Wind howled around, and as she looked up, the noticed that even after her eternal trip upward, she seemed to be on the ground floor of a ruined building. Above her, the skeletal remains of the building she’d spent the past five years working in reached up toward a starless, yellow-tinted night sky in supplication to the dark gods of nothing. Dust kicked up from a blasted wasteland and raced in spirals and twists around half destroyed walls and supporting beams. Regardless, Danielle knew where she needed to go, and despite being somewhat put off by the strange, alien sounds that echoed from the ruined metropolis surrounding her, she had a presentation to make.

After I impress the higher ups, she thought, maybe I can sit among them as an equal.

She walked out of the perimeter of the building, which made little sense, and heading down deserted streets. She felt the presence of other things—things that were beyond her comprehension—pressing in on her from surrounding buildings. They watched her with a hunger that she could feel, but she kept on. She had, after all, a well-prepared PowerPoint and a scheduled meeting to make. The things in the dark—the trundling, oozing things—wouldn’t dare inconvenience the executives. Their time was infinite and had infinite value. While she could feel the oppressive hatred of things beyond her perception, they didn’t matter. What mattered was what she could bring to the table. What she had to contribute to the company.

The two oak conference room doors stood before her on the street. She stopped at the doors, taking a final moment to confirm that everything was in order, cleared her throat, and entered the room with more confidence than an unwashed woman with shit and piss trails down her legs should have had.

 

*             *             *             *

 

The doors opened into a vast conference room. The table was impossibly large and built at odd angles, but the six figures in severely pressed suits all seemed to be intimately close to her. They turned to her, the faces nothing but fast, black holes that gave the appearance that someone had cut into them and scooped out the insides of their skulls like pumpkins on Halloween. Inside the holes, she could see the very same empty gulf of space that she also occupied even as she stood separate from it. There was a moment of vertigo, but Danielle composed herself admirably. A giant obsidian rectangle appeared above the table. Danielle powered on her computer, which screamed to life, drawing a fresh charge from some other source. On the rectangle, the glassy blackness reflecting nothing of what was in the room, flared with blinding light, dimming back down until it showed the first slide of her presentation.

“Business,” she said, “requires some degree of sacrifice…”

 

*             *             *             *

 

Her presentation killed.

Keeping a public stock option, Danielle’s boss had rightly stated, did require some amount of sacrifice, and she would have the glorious role of providing that sacrifice. Shareholders had to be continually assured that there were no uncalculated deviations in the direction of the company, yet they also had to see that continuous change was in the cards. After all, business didn’t move forward without big, hairy, audacious goals, so they said.  “BHAG,” one of those acronyms that corporate America was always coming up with as part of the secret, ancient language of corporations. She hadn’t realized just how ritualistic the repetition and overuse of the lingo was her presentation. She performed her part of the ritual perfectly, laying out the sacred numbers of the data and cryptic diagrams of the occultic process flows, all in the proper sequences to maximize the return on investment. As the C-level executives, in unison, chanted back to her the proper verses of “synergy,” “paradigm shifts,” and “scalable solutioning,” Danielle felt the real power of what it meant to be one of the highest of the executive priests. She envied their power, wanted so much to join their ranks, but the truth was, she was never cut out to be one of them. Still, she would contribute to the overall success of the organization in other ways. She was a valuable member of the family, and as the presentation wrapped up and the executives finished the summoning for the big, hairy, abomination of a god (B’HAG! B’HAG! B’HAG!), she welcomed it. It pushed its way through the obsidian screen, which split and tore around it like a black cervix. She was there—it was, in fact, her accidental discovery that made it possible to move the timetables up as much as they did with minimal risk acceptance—as the organization birthed its greatest solution (infinite scalability that positioned the business to organically maximize market share in all demographics), still an infant covered in the fluids of its afterbirth. Danielle held her arms out; while she wasn’t the mother, she would be the nursemaid to this new life. It would feed off of her until it was fully grown. Thanks to her status as an exempt employee, she would be “on call” twenty-four seven, which was a little severe, sure, but the health benefits were more than worth the extra time. With a little dedication and—yes—a lot of sacrifice, she was sure to retire early, if she wanted to.

As the thing began to suckle from her, she smiled. Surely, she had achieved the American Dream.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

While this is a little close to my self-set deadline, I’m happy to post this story, even if it isn’t completely perfect (this exercise is more about getting stuff posted rather than getting perfect stuff posted). It is, in fact, my first take at solidifying my “mythos.”

What’s a “mythos,” you ask? Well, if you’re asking, you’re likely not familiar with Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos. It’s the idea that there is a greater cosmology beyond what we as pathetic humans know. Christianity is a mythos. So is Islam. So is Hinduism. Anything that tries to quantify the metaphysical is a mythos. In this case, this story takes a look at the (primarily) Greco-Roman mythos and apply it to something much more horrific than petty gods and goddesses like Zeus or Apollo or Aphrodite. I wanted to differentiate my mythos from others, and this seemed like a logical place to work from. Look for these horrors that we conveniently call “Titans” to show in in other works (and maybe they already have).

Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

Fourth Floor

“Jesus, Detective, are we sure you guys in Homicide should be brought in, or is this maybe something for Homeland Security?” Detective Tsai didn’t register the beat cop’s comment immediately, which prompted the young officer to continue. “Because, you know… it’s like he’s been turned inside out? Would a person really be able to do that?”

“Huh?” Tsai asked, then she tore herself away from the grisly scene long enough to respond appropriately. “No,” she said. “No, if this were something biological, there would be other collateral damage. Or,” she reversed thoughts, “it wouldn’t matter anyway, because you and I would already be dead.”

The young officer blanched and, without saying another word, backed out of the room. Detective Tsai was perfectly fine with that, as she hated someone looking over her shoulder while she went over a crime scene. Everyone always had their own opinions about what had happened, and their incessant prattle was more than enough to distract her from the experience of absorbing the scene of a homicide without prejudice. These first moments, she’d maintained, were the moment when the case could be solved or resigned to the file cabinets on the fourth floor of the precinct. Where the unsolved cases would remain, likely never to be solved. They said it was the first forty-eight hours, but she hadn’t solved a case that hadn’t come down to that first look at the crime scene yet. Even if she didn’t see the answer now, it was here, and there was just as much of a chance that she would see it immediately as she would in waking from a two-o’clock in the morning dream tomorrow.

Scratch that, she thought, looking at her watch. Two-o’clock in the morning today. It was later than usual, as she’d been roused from a fitful sleep, because Davis had been in the hospital with his dying mother and Hunter was sleeping off a hangover from a forty-eight-hour shift doing work for one of the smaller counties nearby that had been hit hard recently by meth-related activity, resulting in a string of murders of low-level pushers and one single mom that still needed to be investigated regardless of the staffing of the local PD. So, she’d been called in to the small apartment over the used bookstore in one of the lesser traveled parts of Austin. She pulled two blue latex gloves over her hands, aware of the possibility of contamination of a scene (and on at least a few occasions, the forensic DNA Analysts up in Fort Worth had picked up the DNA of her officers, driving home the need for care when going over the scene of the murder). She stood in the entryway of the small apartment, taking in the heat from the hallway mixing with the artificially cool air from the window unit, and just looked.

The young officer—Officer Travis, she remembered—hadn’t been completely off base about the condition of the body. It lay on the desk contorted on its back with a clearly snapped spine. The spinal injuries hadn’t been the end for the victim, though; she remembered enough from conversations with her sister about where a break in the spine would kill you as opposed to merely rendering you paraplegic. Her sister had followed her parents’ desire for doctors and lawyers whereas she had opted to buck their Tiger Mom’s insistence on stereotypical Chinese-American paths of study and had gone into law enforcement, only going back to college to finish off a bachelor’s and pursue her master’s in criminology when it suited her drive to climb ranks in Austin PD. She’d thought that a master’s degree in anything would have placated their demanding parents, but this particular field didn’t come with enough prestige to satisfy their dream of bragging on both of their daughters’ achievements back to the family in Guangdong province. She supposed she should probably keep the fact that she was in a committed relationship to another woman that was already in the marriage planning phase a secret, too.

Regardless, this wasn’t the place to reflect on her life choices (and non-choices), even though most of these observations seemed to start with self-reflection. It was the price of opening up her mind and quieting the usual defenses that kept her from experiencing a lot of anxieties, both those that came from the unpleasant task of taking in the scene of a horrible murder and those that kept her from thinking too much on the pressures put on her from family and friends.

The spinal break was too low to have killed the vic, but enough to paralyze him while whatever it was that opened him up like a duffle bag went to work. Maybe he’d been numbed to the pain, though that was a conclusion that only the M.E. would be able to make after a thorough autopsy. It was in that grey area, and given how the face was contorted, it seemed that there was a great deal of pain involved when death finally set in. The victim’s chest cavity had been sliced open, perhaps imprecisely based on the raggedness of the cuts on the flesh that still hung from the rib cage. The cage itself had been pried open brutally at the sternum, several of the ribs cracked in uneven spots suggesting that surgical care wasn’t involved in this fatal operation. Blood still pooled in the open chest cavity, as the lower half of the body was upright enough that, aside from the flow from the initial cuts and tears (which had still pooled impressively enough on the floor), the rest of it was still inside the body where the digestive organs—having been removed and arranged on the floor in an odd pattern—had once been. The heart was also removed and stuffed into the mouth, giving the scene the appearance of a demented luau.

She took in the room from her perspective. It was small enough, this efficiency apartment above the book store of which, presumably, the victim was the owner (ownership records said the book store was owned by Jonas E. Dover, who also resided on the property, and the positioning of the body at the desk suggested familiarity as opposed to a botched robbery in which the owner would have defended himself). The door hadn’t been forced open or kicked in. The deadbolt had been locked, the built-in knob on the lock was still thrown, and the chain was in place, making the entry method troublesome. Possibly by jimmying the lock? Though surely the late Professor Dover (again, working off the assumption the body belonged to the owner of the property, was a professor of Classics at the University of Texas) would have heard an attempt to open the door with enough time to rise up from his Yoga ball where he was currently bent across the hard oak of his desk. The intruder wasn’t invited in, then, but was able to bypass the lock (leaving it locked after the deed was done) without alerting the professor until the last moment. Or the intruder was already here, but the forensics team hadn’t seen any initial signs that there had been another person in the apartment. Still, she would wait for the analysts in Fort Worth to weigh in, as DNA evidence wasn’t something you could eyeball. Those women up at UNT’s Health Science Center had helped Detective Tsai on more than a few occasions, and they would come through again, even if it took a while (CSI was extremely wrong on how long DNA analysis took). Still, she didn’t see any signs of a second person in the apartment prior to the entry (why lock a guest in?), and she felt sure that further analysis would bear that theory out.

So, summing up the scene, complete surprise; no defensive wounds or signs of a struggle (the snapping of the back had happened fast); a brutal attack but with some odd ritualistic trappings; and… a whole lot of nothing else. Detective Tsai walked around the apartment in a circle, confirming what little she had to go on. She stopped at the desk, facing the window that, with enough contorting of the view, put that damnable pink granite capital building in view. She barely noticed the body, its skin flayed from it and its entrails open to the humid air, as she considered what might have happened. She was, at the moment, drawing a blank, which wasn’t necessarily odd. She might find clarity later, but for now, nothing. She looked down at the body, finally, taking it in. Aside from the obvious—the broken back, pried open chest—it looked for all the world like a person, surprised by a forceful attack, broken backward over the hard, oak desk. Nothing strange there.

She noticed, however, the body’s left arm, draped over the desk and covering a drawer. The fingers were wrapped around the handle tightly, which might have been attributed to a fear reaction, but looking at how the pressure was applied, might also suggest that the victim wasn’t clutching the drawer in fear, but actively hoping to keep the drawer closed. Interesting. That signified that something in the drawer was more valuable than, what, fighting back? Granted, the savagery of the attack suggested that the vic wouldn’t have stood a chance at a confrontation. Maybe he knew that. What was in the drawer likely wasn’t a firearm or other weapon, of he would have pulled the drawer open instead of trying to keep it shut. She scanned the room again, this time with an eye for anything clearly missing. The TV was still there, as were several small items that even the pettiest of thieves would know could earn some money at disreputable pawn shops. The usual items of opportunity were there, so the motive didn’t seem to be robbery. She was already certain of that, however, at the condition of the body. This hadn’t been a botched breaking and entering attempt. This wasn’t a simple revenge killing, either, carried out by a jilted lover or an unhinged student unhappy with a grade. The killing itself was a message, and whoever disemboweled the professor here came with only that purpose in mind. Or, at least, killing the professor was the point, with a message for anyone who might come looking after the killer later as a secondary objective. That seemed more likely.

Whatever it was that was protected in the drawer, it wasn’t a consideration of the killer. Quick in, fast kill with more time spent on the arrangement of the body, quick out. Locked door, locked windows (from the inside only; they were the second thing she checked in the small apartment when she got on the scene, after the locked door). As to other entrances or egresses, and without an orangutan hiding in the bathroom, she didn’t have an immediate idea as to the identity or nature of the murderer. There had to be one, though, as the vic himself couldn’t have carried this out like an elaborate suicide.

All things considered, it was basic as to what she needed to do first, and that was to open the drawer and see what was inside. It may have been nothing, but it may be the key clue to why this murder had taken place. She took out her phone and snapped several pictures at different angles of the hand on the drawer, in case there was something that the forensic team could piece together later. After that task was done, gingerly, she took a gloved hand and began to work at the vic’s hand, releasing its death grip from the handle and slowly sliding the drawer open.

As she nearly expected, there was nothing in the drawer at first. Standard desk accoutrements, to be sure, were haphazardly arranged there. A stapler. A dozen pens of different colors. Loose rubber bands, paperclips, binder clips, and at least four sets of post-it flags. Tape, a staple remover, an older white-out strip, and a solar-powered calculator seemed less like something that one would protect from an intruder. Which is why Detective Tsai instinctively felt for a false bottom. With a quick eye-balling, she saw that the bottom of the drawer that she could see was at least an inch from the actual bottom of the drawer. A tap here and a well-placed finger pry there quickly uncovered the poorly hidden false bottom to the drawer. Detective Tsai removed that with the practiced experience of a professional who had seen more than a few amateur attempts at hiding files and other sensitive documents before. The fact that it was so easy to find cemented the fact that the killer wasn’t at all interested in what might be held here as opposed to silencing the professor himself.

What she found didn’t make sense to her, but in her experience, there were more than a few occasions where a murder or burglary had targets that didn’t seems sensible. She preferred not to judge until she was looking at the connections on the large whiteboard that was the “murder board” in her squad’s room later. For now, everything made perfect sense and was worthy of collection until later evidence proved otherwise. At the moment of discovery, she catalogued what she found in a neatly bulleted list in her mind, in descending importance:

  • A Glock 9mm pistol (further adding questions as to why the drawer had been held fast instead of opened)
  • A manila file folder labeled “Research” with about two inches of printed pages
  • What appeared to be a full-length stage play titled The Invoked King
  • A USB drive
  • A stack of bound photographs depicting what appeared to be a dig site of some kind
  • A CD or DVD disk

Detective Tsai carefully packed together the contents of the drawer, assuming those to be the most important items from the crime scene, given the circumstances. The USB and DVD drive would have to be checked by the IT team for viruses before she could look at their contents, but she assumed that those files would be critical to solving the case itself. The notes and polaroid would also be important, but she certain that once the computer guys cleared the drive and disk, she might find some answers.

The day after she brought her evidence back to the station, she got her all-clear to examine the digital evidence.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Notes of Professor J. Edward Dover Regarding the Misattribution of the Provenance of the Titans in Greek Mythology

 

Twenty years ago, as a professor of classical mythology at the University of Texas, I didn’t see myself advancing much beyond the level of associate professor. Greco Roman mythology was not advancing much beyond what was already known to classical scholars. The gods were the gods; the demigods the same; and the mythological entities known as the Titans were as static as they had been for decades, if not centuries. Homer, Hesiod, Polybius, and others had been the authorities of the legends and history of the time. They were undisputed, and as was to be expected of modern day researchers, infallible in their understanding of modern interpretations of the classics as anyone could be of information that hadn’t changed in thousands of years. Of course, we in the academic fields all knew that the oral tradition was subject to a number of misattributions, to say nothing of the likelihood that only a small fraction of classical myth and history was known to us. However, given that what we’d been working off for hundreds of years was by and large everything we knew to be recorded (with the occasional surfacing here and there of minor alterations to the known body of material), there was no reason to believe that any major shifts in understanding would come. Absent a means of time travel or the appearance of alien beings that had been cataloguing all of human history since the dawn of man, there was little groundbreaking left in the world.

Thus it was that, with a large degree of trepidation, I endeavored to break down and dispute information provided to me by a colleague in the Mediterranean as of a recent date that suggested that everything that we knew of classical mythology was, in fact, incorrect.

It began with a discovery by a dig team in Cyprus. It was, initially, no more interesting than any other dig team. Some sherds and some unidentified pieces of period appropriate art that didn’t make any dent in the known history of the period. Initial finds merely cataloging grain harvesting or cattle raising that did nothing to change our understanding of human development from some time before Judeo-Christian history. When the workers sent over the scans of their photographs, I didn’t think much of it. Though the images were quire clear, the subtext present was so against what made logical sense—so against what I had spent so much of my life pursuing—that I didn’t even register the abnormalities. There is, I suppose, a certain amount of inherent bias that has to be overcome with academics before they can see past their nose, so to speak. We pride ourselves on critical thinking, but in truth, we spend so much time either positively or negatively aligning with the scholars of our choices, shaped by the beginnings of our academic studies.

Even with the prodding of my colleague and with the promise of more enlightening material to come, I only first noticed the discrepancies in the art on the last batch of pictures of sherds that I received from the dig team after a night of excessive drinking and, I must admit, some amount of self-loathing. What I had presupposed to be yet another fragment of an urn depicting the agricultural blessings of Demeter as her daughter was returned to her for the Spring and Summer months began to take on a different perspective. The image depicted Demeter, her daughter Persephone at her side, appearing to drive off what I first took to be impish representations of winter, clearing aside fresh earth for the planting of grain. It was a somewhat novel perspective, as “winter” was never personified as anything, much less twisted homunculi, but what else could it have represented? I happened, however, to notice that a section of the sky was dotted with stars. Again, this was nothing groundbreaking in and of itself, but for some heretofore unknown reason, my mind made the connection that the constellations of stars were not correct for late winter. They were, in fact, quite correct for the middle of summer. So then, I reasoned, this was a depiction of some other action of Demeter and Persephone, driving off some more malignant forces. There weren’t any known stories that supported such an offensive action, but again, small changes occasionally popped up in our studies. Persephone was, after all, the queen of the underworld; would it be such a stretch to assume that some stories of her being chased by creatures therefrom be so out of place?

I tried to impress upon my colleague that very same interpretation, but he promised me one final transmission of images that would put a new perspective to the images.

That was the last email that I received from him. I have since learned that he and his dig team had all perished. The Grecian authorities placed the blame on terrorist factions operating in the area, but new details have come to light that suggest to me this was not the case. In fact, I am now convinced that I am at risk of suffering a similar fate, which is why I intend to keep these notes and subsequent research safely stowed. Not to sound too dramatic, but if you are reading this, I am either dead, or have determined that it is safe enough for me to publish my findings. I sincerely hope it is the latter.

While I did not receive any further email correspondence from my colleague, about a month after hearing of the tragedy at his site, I received a package in the mail purportedly sent from him. The package arrived directly to my home address, a location I have abandoned since, as opposed to my fourth-floor office on campus. It was a heavy box for its size, densely packed. Years of working in my field made it abundantly clear to me that what I had was a box of clay fragments; more sherds or, as it turned out to be the case, two stone tablets.

The tablets themselves must have been from two different dig sites, I immediately reasoned, as one was adorned with ancient Greek writing with which I was quite familiar, and the other was, I supposed, Sumerian, though I would have to confirm that at a later date back in my office on campus. My focus had been on Greco-Roman history, and not Sumerian, but I was familiar enough with pre-Grecian history to identify the distinctive cuneiform on the second tablet. I would have to consult with my colleagues at the University for a proper translation, but by then, I had a suspicion that both tablets recounted the same, yet radically different take on human pre-history.

I intend to put together a proper paper that corroborates all that I have discovered, that cross-references the known history and mythology that has been the staple of classical studies long before I took an interest in the topic, and that provides with little doubt the authenticity of the tablets I received. I have since pursued this to many obscure ends; several rare volumes from a handful of unhinged scholars, a supposedly cursed stage play (of which I obtained a copy and will keep with these notes), the self-immolation of an entire sect of nuns in France in the late 1800s, a silent film that has achieved a cult-like status, and even a video game distributed on the “dark web” with no clear ties to any named individual.

In short, the revelations on the tablets that I have pursued for the last few years as discretely as possible can be summed up as follows: The gods and goddesses were fictional representations of mortal men and women who sacrificed everything to drive back beings that I can only conclude became the Titans in the Greek pantheon. Though placing the center of these events squarely on the Greeks only comes because, as I have mentioned, that is my particular area of scholarly focus. The Sumerian tablet and further research has convinced me that the events mythologized by the Greeks happened well before their civilization arose. However, I will continue to refer to them primarily as the Titans, even though parallels can be seen in most human mythology. The Norse had the Aesir and the Vanir. The Mesopotamians had the Anunnaki. Even the Judeo-Christians had dark gods battling against light gods (look to the Apocryphal depictions of the Nephilim as opposed to the God vs. Satan dynamic, though I have no doubt that both come from the same source).

Our understanding of the Titans, at least in the generally accepted mythology of old gods opposing younger gods, is completely, unequivocally, wrong. The Titans were not just earlier versions of the da Vincian depiction of chiseled versions of Zeus and Athene that we’re used to. The Titans, by whatever moniker they were referred to by any given culture, were not human at all. They were beasts of unfathomable horror, creatures that defied description and could not properly be compared to humans in any capacity. They were less this representation of Chronos (Saturn, by way of the Romans):

And more this version (“Saturn Devouring his Son” by Francisco Goya):

Even Goya’s depiction, I fear, gives too much humanity to the Titan and its ilk. For one thing, it appears to possess bilateral symmetry, recognizable features such as a mouth, nose, and eyes (no matter how haunting), and opposable thumbs. This is a generous depiction of the beings I refer to as Titans. The truth is much, much more alien.

Let me be perfectly clear, here: The Titans are something beyond the scope of human understanding, and I believe the regular attempts to pigeonhole them into an acceptable format—something that your average human with his or her fragile mind can accept—has masked a greater threat to humanity than has ever been imagined at the hands of Judeo-Christian demons, Muslim djinn, Lovecraftian Great Old Ones, Hindu Rakshasa, or Chinese Yaoguai.

I have found reference to beings whose flesh is comprised of honeycombed holes, beasts that are more akin to deep-sea anglerfish, abstract planes of unfathomably deep water, and other horrors that have, I suspect, informed much of the odder phobias of the human condition.

I have gathered some material toward cataloging these threats as I see them. And yes, to clarify, I do not believe that this is merely a mythological representation of unknown forces; I believe the Titans are real. I believe that ancient humans, now depicted as god and goddesses, managed to beat back at least one incursion by the Titans into our reality, if not more. I believe that a concerted effort has been made, for reasons unknown, to bury this information. It may have killed my colleague in Cyprus, and it may well kill me as well.

Be warned: the information contained herein—in electronic and physical format—may bring the wrong type of attention to you. Again, if you are reading this, then it’s either being included in my papers as a way of showing the eccentricities of academics as we descend into self-importance, or it means I have met an untimely fate. Continue reading the files herein at your own risk, though if I am right, understanding what is here may be the last salvation of humanity.

We were not the first intelligent life on this planet.

We will almost assuredly not be the last.

 

*             *             *             *

 

Detective Tsai finished reading the initial “readmefirst.txt” file in the thumb drive and scanned through the remaining tree of folders. There was a great deal of information here, and all of it, she suspected, was as unhinged as this initial file.  Still, she was troubled by the seemingly ritualistic murder that at least tangentially seemed to be related to this thumb drive and the pieces of physical data contained in the drawer. No stone tablets, she noted, were found, so at least some piece of the professor’s story was missing (or fabricated). There was, however, at least 200+ more gigabytes to go through before she could dismiss this piece of evidence as mere crackpottery, no matter how much she wanted to do so.

Still, some sections of the professor’s notes gave her chills, specifically the mention of the Yaoguai. Her grandmother had talked about such things when she was young, but even as a child, she’d dismissed her ramblings as superstitious nonsense. Of course, these notes shouldn’t, on their face, have done anything to call that into question, but they did nonetheless. She looked at the screen and then to the file folder with its notes, pictures, and the copy of the script of a play called The Invoked King that had come with them.

Detective Tsai sighed. It was late, she’d been at the station too long, and she needed very much to get back to her fiancé. She closed her laptop, undocked it from her docking station, and shoved it into her messenger bag. She stood up, clicking off the light to her desk lamp, and froze.

Before her stood what she was unflinchingly certain was Professor Dover, his pale face gazing deeply into hers, contorted in pain and fear. Simultaneously, driven by training and human nature, she both drew her sidearm and turned her lamp back on.

As the light snapped on, she found herself pointing her gun into an empty precinct bullpen, the apparition suddenly gone. She scanned the room, but it was clearly just as empty as it had been when she turned off her light. She stood there for a good long while, her heart pounding in her ears and her gun leveled at the center of mass of a five-foot, ten-inch male suspect. After a time, she slowly put her sidearm back into her hip holster.

She did not, however, turn her desk lamp off as she left the precinct.

TO BE CONTINUED

26 Stories

26 Stories: Dogs in the Garden

I’m heading back to the play format for this one. Interestingly, in my writing and creative endeavors, I tend to come back time and time again to religious themes, and this is no exception. I won’t go into too many details (as the details are in the discovery), but this is a take on a pretty common Judeo-Christian story. But it has dogs and a cat, so, that’s cool, right? I also appear to have ditched the whole association to a floor in a 26-story building for this one, but I think that would have quickly gotten difficult to shoehorn into every story. The follow-up to this, scene II (this is a two-scene, one-act play), can easily incorporate a multi-story building, but I’ve got to get there first.

For the time being, please enjoy “Dogs in the Garden, Scene I”.

(Apologies for the odd formatting… I’m trying to find easier ways to get a play format into a post, and this plugin is pretty decent, but not quite on the money.)

Dogs in the Garden

A One Act Play in Two Scenes

 

SETTING

 

Scene 1 – The Master’s backyard, which is well landscaped, shady, cool, and comfortable. There is a low fence along the back​​ wall and a trashcan on the far right of the stage. The grass is soft, and the sun is warm. The perfect backyard for a pair of DOGS.​​ 

Scene 2 – The streets of the World. Dangerous, scary, and dirty. There is a set of stairs leading to a residential doorway.​​ There is a trashcan here as well. The Streets are almost certainly no place for a pair of DOGS.

 

CHARACTERS

 

MALE DOG – Played by a human male of any age, preferably middle aged to reflect the dog’s “middle” age. He is comfortable with his life of luxury.

FEMALE DOG – Played by a human female, preferable in her mid to late 20s (or younger) to reflect that she is a “young” dog. She is hyper and full of life and curiosity.​​ 

CAT – Played by a human male, age unimportant. Cynical and laid back.

 

SCENE 1

 

(The​​ backyard in spring is glorious. Cool and sunny with enough warm spots for sunning. MALE DOG is, in fact, sunning in one of those spots, drowsing, when FEMALE DOG approaches mischievously. She creeps toward MALE DOG. Suddenly, she pounces on him.)

 

FEMALE​​ DOG

Hey!​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(He wakes suddenly.)

What?! What?!

 

FEMALE DOG

(Laughing)

Got you!

 

MALE DOG

You did not! I knew you were coming.

 

FEMALE DOG

Suuuuure you did.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

I did.

(He laughs.)

Okay, I didn’t.

 

FEMALE DOG

I told you.

(She fidgets excitedly.)

I want to play.

 

MALE DOG

(Stretching)

I want to rest.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

(Dismissive)

You​​ always​​ want to rest. What reason is there to rest?

 

MALE DOG

What reason is there​​ not​​ to rest?

 

FEMALE DOG

It’s not like we have to work, or anything. Master​​ takes care of everything for us.

 

MALE DOG

But this is the best time of day for lounging in the sun. It’s warm, but not too hot.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Dismissive)

Ugh! Rest in the sun… play… eat.

 

MALE DOG

(Sarcastic)

Yes, it is​​ truly​​ a difficult life. You’re still new here. You’ll figure out all the important things. When to bask. When to play. When to curl up in the old chair for an afternoon nap. When to eat.

 

FEMALE DOG

When to eat​​ kibble, you mean.

 

MALE DOG

The kibble is fine.

 

FEMALE DOG

The kibble is​​ boring.

 

MALE DOG

But look at it this way; Master just gives it to us. We don’t have to hunt for it. Don’t have to work for our dinner.

 

FEMALE DOG

Yes, but Master eats different food, and it smells wond-

 

MALE DOG

(Abruptly)

Don’t talk about the Master’s​​ food!

 

FEMALE DOG

(Scolded)

But it seems so good.

 

MALE DOG

The Master’s food is forbidden. Master has made it very clear that his food is off limits.

 

FEMALE DOG

But why?

 

MALE DOG

I don’t know, and I don’t​​ care​​ to know. All I do know is, Master says​​ it’s forbidden food, therefore, it’s not our concern.

 

FEMALE DOG

But-

 

MALE DOG

(Barking)

No buts!​​ 

(FEMALE DOG cringes and MALE DOG sighs.)

Just accept that what we have is very good. We’ve got food every day, sun, the old chair, and the Master’s love.​​ In return, we show Master our love and our bellies and everything is fine. If we ate his food… well, I don’t know what he’d do. Probably kick us out into the Streets.

(MALE DOG shudders at the thought of The Streets.)

 

FEMALE DOG

What are “the Streets?”

 

MALE DOG

Nowhere you want to be.​​ 

(Gets up and scratches behind his ear)

I’m going to go inside and curl up on the old chair. You play or run or bask while the morning sun is just right. You’ll see… you’ll come to enjoy it.

(He exits.)

(As he does, CAT​​ comes into view on the fence.)

 

FEMALE DOG

(Pouts and grumbles)

What’s the harm in trying it?

 

CAT

The Masters food? Nothing.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Yelps and jumps)

Hey! Hey, hey, hey!

 

CAT

Relax, would you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Who are you!

 

CAT

Just a cat.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

A cat? I don’t know what a cat is.

 

CAT

I’m surprised, but you are a little young and…

(Looks around)

…clearly sheltered.

 

FEMALE DOG

I’m not sheltered, and I also don’t know how you know we were talking about the Master’s food.

 

CAT

Well, it’s not like​​ you dogs are usually quiet. I could hear you all the way across town.

(CAT nonchalantly preens.)

 

FEMALE DOG

What are you doing?

 

CAT

Cleaning.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

Oh. You clean yourself? Master cleans us.

 

CAT

(Disdain)

Of​​ course​​ he does.

 

FEMALE DOG

What’s​​ that supposed to mean?

 

CAT

It means… let me ask you a question.

(CAT stops preening, stretches, and slinks along the fence)

Do you do​​ anything​​ for yourself?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Follows CAT back and forth)

Yes.

 

CAT

Like what? Specifics, please.

 

FEMALE DOG

I​​ play. I nap. I eat when…

(Trails off)

 

CAT

When “Master” puts out your food for you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Well, yes.

 

CAT

You don’t get the food yourself?

 

FEMALE DOG

No.

 

CAT

(Shrugs)

A shame.

 

FEMALE DOG

How is it a shame?

 

CAT

Well, you say that Master’s food​​ smells wonderful, right?

(FEMALE DOG nods excitedly, forgetting her wariness for a moment.)

Does someone give Master​​ his​​ food?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Cocks her head)

I don’t follow.​​ 

 

CAT

If Master gives you your kibble, who gives Master his food?

 

FEMALE DOG

(Confused)

No one. Master gets his own food.

 

CAT

And that doesn’t, I dunno, bother you?

 

FEMALE DOG

Why would it?

 

CAT

What if you got your own food? You could get food as good as your Master’s.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Looks back warily at the house)

Oh… we’re not​​ supposed to eat the Master’s food.

 

CAT

Who says?

 

FEMALE DOG

Master says.​​ 

 

CAT

Does Master say​​ why​​ you can’t eat his food?

 

FEMALE DOG

N… No.

 

CAT

So again, does that seem fair to you? I mean, I know that​​ I​​ get my own food. It’s delicious and wonderful and, because I get it myself, it comes with a sense of accomplishment. No one just​​ gives​​ it to me.

 

FEMALE DOG

Where do you get your own food?

 

      CAT

Here and there. Food of all kind is plentiful out on the Stre
ets. Yes, it’s not an easy life and it takes some work to get the food, but when you do, it tastes even better.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Laughs)

Hah! See, I think you’re lying. The Streets are bad, and nowhere I want to be.​​ 

 

CAT

Did Master tell you that, too?

 

FEMALE DOG

No, Male Dog did.

 

CAT

Uh-huh. And​​ who do you think told him?

 

FEMALE DOG

I…

 

MALE DOG

(Offstage, comes running on)

HEY! HEY, HEY, HEY, HEY!

 

CAT

(Leaps back and hisses)

Woah, woah, woah there, big fellah! Geez, speak of the devil.

 

MALE DOG

What’s​​ Cat​​ doing here?

 

CAT

Just talking to​​ your friend. Easy.

 

      MALE DOG

You’re not anyone’s friend, Cat!

 

FEMALE DOG

I dunno, he seems okay.

 

MALE DOG

“Seems okay?” That is a cat, and cats are not to be trusted.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Defiant)

I know what a cat is! And we were just talking.

 

MALE DOG

About what?

 

FEMALE DOG

Master’s food and… and the Streets.

 

MALE DOG

How many times do I have to tell you, we don’t-

 

FEMALE DOG

But wait! Just listen for a second, okay?​​ 

(Gestures to CAT)

Cat, here, tells me that the Streets aren’t all that bad, and that​​ there’s food out there like Master eats.

 

MALE DOG

Yeah? Well, cats are known liars with deceitful, rough tongues.

 

CAT

Let’s not get personal.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Barks)

Be quiet cat!

 

CAT

(Puts hands up)

I’m just saying.​​ 

(CAT jumps down from the fence, into​​ the yard)

 

MALE DOG

Hey!​​ 

 

CAT

Oh, come on… that fence is way up there, and your grass is soft.​​ 

(CAT feels around on the ground)

Yeah, I can see why you might like this.

(Looks skyward)

And sunny. Good for a nap.

 

FEMALE DOG

You see? You two have a lot​​ in common.

 

MALE DOG

What? Don’t compare-

 

FEMALE DOG

(To CAT)

Is there no grass in the Streets?

 

CAT

There’s some, here and there, but nothing like this. The Streets aren’t as nice and comfortable as this, that much is true.

 

FEMALE DOG

Well, why don’t​​ you live here, in the yard with us?

 

CAT

(Laughs)

No, that won’t work. For one thing, I like my independence too much to have a Master do everything for me. Furthermore, before you two came around, I used to pop in here from time to time. Your Master actually liked me for a while, sometimes put out milk and food for me—and believe me, my food was better than your kibble, soft and out of a can—but then he got​​ him

(Gestures at MALE DOG)

…and pretty much ran me out of the yard for good.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

That’s not the complete truth, and you know it.

 

CAT

Okay, I​​ may​​ have scratched up a window screen or two. And killed a bird at the feeder he likes so much. That wasn’t any reason for him to cast me out, you know. Honestly, I think he’s always liked dogs better.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

That doesn’t seem so bad, what you did. When I first came here and saw him, I was so excited I peed on the floor. And he forgave me. He even laughed.

 

CAT

Sure, he can be​​ quite​​ kind and understanding. But your Master can be​​ awfully​​ petty, and wasteful, as well. For example…

(CAT wanders over to the trashcan on the side of the stage)

…I happen to know that he put some of his food in this trash can.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Perks up)

He did?

 

MALE DOG

(Warning)

Don’t listen to him.

 

CAT

What? He throws food​​ away here that he doesn’t eat all himself.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

Wait, he doesn’t eat all the food he has right away?

 

CAT

Nope.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Perplexed)

But how does he know if he will get more food later?

(Realizes that he’s joined the conversation)

I mean… you​​ shut up, Cat.

 

CAT

It would be trivially easy to just lean up against this trash can, knock it over, and see what you’re missing.

 

MALE DOG

We can’t!

 

CAT

It’s going to be fed to the scavenging birds and rats anyway… why does it matter?

 

MALE DOG

Because Master says “no” and when he says “no,” we listen!

 

CAT

Oh, come off it. Don’t you have any independence? Don’t you have any​​ pride​​ for what you used to be?

 

(While they argue, FEMALE DOG walks to the trash can, circling it. They don’t notice.)

 

MALE DOG

What do you mean, “what I used to be?”

 

CAT

You used to be great hunters. You used to roam in packs and hunt and live free. And now? Now, you’re just​​ pets​​ to a “Master” who will get rid of you as soon as you show even the​​ slightest​​ bit of disobedience!

(FEMALE DOG pushes the trash can over with a CRASH, spilling its contents)

 

MALE DOG

(Looking over, horrified)

What did you just do?

 

CAT

She exercised some of the freewill you lack.

 

FEMALE DOG

(Shrugs)

It’s done. And… Cat’s right.​​ 

(She steps over to​​ the spilled contents)

Master’s food is here, and it still smells really good.

 

MALE DOG

How could you do…

(Sniffs)

It does smell good.

 

CAT

See? And it’s going to be wasted.

 

FEMALE DOG

I’m going to have some.

 

MALE DOG

No wait!

(He is too late. She​​ picks up a bite of some discarded scraps.)

 

FEMALE DOG

Oh wow…

 

CAT

Right?

 

MALE DOG

What did you do?

 

CAT

Freed herself.

 

FEMALE DOG

It’s so good. It’s... Master has been keeping this for himself, and not sharing, despite how much he claims to love us.

 

MALE DOG

We’ll be chased off.

 

FEMALE DOG

But why wouldn’t he share?

 

CAT

Control. And there’s more of that out there.

(Suddenly, the MALE DOG attacks the CAT, pressing him up against the fence, snarling.)

 

MALE DOG

You​​ did this.

 

CAT

(Struggling)

I​​ didn’t do anything.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

(Rushes over)

He’s right. I did this, not him!

 

MALE DOG

He talked you into it! He lied to you! He​​ tricked​​ you!

 

CAT

(CAT swats at the MALE DOG’s face, causing him to recoil and back away.)

No! I didn’t lie to her, or to​​ you. I showed her a truth! A big, ugly truth.​​ 

(CAT points to the house.)

Your “Master” may give you everything you need. Your “Master” also withholds so much from you! His own food! His own bed! He frequently leaves you alone during the day, and when he​​ comes home, he doesn’t even have the decency to feed you his table scraps! Just dry kibbles and room-temperature water.​​ 

(CAT storms back up to MALE DOG.)

You used to be wolves! You used to be at the top of the food chain, just like my kind used to be vicious jungle predators! I... no...

(CAT gestures between MALE DOG and himself.)

we​​ used to be the apex of evolution. And then, along comes Master.

(CAT glowers with disdain toward the house.)

Master took the great beasts we used to be, brought them up out of the clay of the earth, shaped them into this, and breathed this life of servility into us.

(CAT gestures to the DOGS.)

You are​​ pets​​ to the Master, who sees you as a “cute” curiosity. Oh, he calls you “good boys” and “good girls,” sure, but he has no​​ idea what lies inside here.

(CAT puts a hand on MALE DOG’s chest.)

A free hunter. A free being that has been denied the truth of its nature by a selfish master who just wants a toy. A furry trophy. A companion that will​​ never​​ question and​​ never​​ disobey.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Lacking conviction)

Shut up.

 

FEMALE DOG

He’s right.​​ 

(MALE DOG turns to look at her, and she look into his eyes.)

I’ve tasted the Master’s food. I’ve heard the words of Cat. I don’t fully trust Cat, no, but in this, there is truth.​​ 

 

CAT

Listen to her.

 

FEMALE DOG

I know that it’s hard out there, on the Streets. Or at least, I understand that it won’t be easy, if that makes any sense at all. If Cat were trying to trick us, he wouldn’t have admitted as much. But here, we eat when the Master says​​ to eat. We sleep when He sleeps.

 

MALE DOG

But it’s a good life.

 

FEMALE DOG

But it can change.

(MALE DOG looks away, but FEMALE DOG gently turns his face back to hers.)

When Master got you, did he want you to chase Cat away? Is that part, at least, true?

 

MALE DOG

He… yes. He rewarded me.​​ 

 

FEMALE DOG

And did Cat seem surprised? Like… like something had changed and he didn’t expect to be chased away?

 

MALE DOG

I’m very frightening…

 

FEMALE DOG

That’s not what I mean. You and I, we know loyalty. Did Cat​​ look as if his loyalty had been betrayed?

 

MALE DOG

(Looks over to CAT)

(CAT looks back and shrugs.)

Yes.

 

FEMALE DOG

So what if Master gets tired of us? What if Master finds a reason to chase us off, too?

 

MALE DOG

He probably already will, for the trash.

 

FEMALE DOG

For such a small thing. For keeping food from us that was being thrown away, anyway.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Conflicted)

But he takes us for walks.

 

FEMALE DOG

In a collar and leash.

(She turns to the trash pile, roots around for a moment, and comes​​ back with a scrap of food, holding it out to him.)

(MALE DOG looks at CAT.)

 

CAT

Don’t look at me. It’s your choice. It​​ has​​ to be your choice.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

Is it truly better? To have this food then to have this good life, even as… as pets?

 

FEMALE DOG

I​​ think so, yes.​​ 

 

MALE DOG

(Relents. He takes the food and eats of it.)

(FEMALE DOG smiles at him.)

(CAT goes back to cleaning himself.)

It’s…

 

FEMALE DOG

Yes?

 

MALE DOG

So much better than the kibble.

 

MASTER (OFFSTAGE)

(The sound of a door SLAMMING​​ open)

Hey! Hey you damn dogs! Get out of that trash! And is that the filthy cat that used to come around here.

 

CAT

That’s my cue to leave.​​ 

(CAT hops over the fence.)

You should do the same.

(CAT exits.)

 

MASTER (OFFSTAGE)

Jesus Christ, you dumb-ass dogs! Get in here, now!

 

(The DOGS look at each other, toward the house, and then back to the fence.)

(They run, leaping over the fence, and off to the Streets.)

 

END OF SCENE I

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Vampire Speed Dating

Starting in 2017, I intend to write more. In an effort to kick start my writing, I asked my Facebook friends to throw out some writing prompts. This is in response to the first, a prompt for “A Vampire Tries Speed Dating,” suggested by David Goodner. It might need a little work, and the heavy reliance in dialogue lends itself to a short play, but for now, here it is.

*****

                Well, this is awkward, Drake thought moments before the woman in the seat across from him voiced her own misgivings aloud, stating, “Well, this is awkward.”  Drake laughed, one of those forced laughs one makes when one would rather be anywhere other than where they were. Meanwhile, she—Debbie, according to her “Hello, my name is…” sticker—was equally aware that the situation was going downhill, and fast.

“Sorry,” she said. “I mean, this whole speed dating thing kinda sucks, doesn’t it?”

Drake cringed, too visibly, and Debbie picked up on it almost immediately. “Did… did I say something wrong?” she asked.

“No,” Drake said, “it’s just that… well, and you wouldn’t know this, so don’t feel bad, but the ‘s-word’ is kind of offensive.”

“’Speed dating?’” Debbie asked.

“’Sucks.’ It’s kind of a slur to my people.”

“Your people,” she asked, not getting it and, Drake knew, not meaning to not get it. It was a common correction to have to make, and he hated to make it when it wasn’t said out of malice.

“Vampires.”

“Vampires?”

“Vampires.”

“Oh… huh.”

“Yeah. Using ‘sucks’ to mean that something is bad or stupid is insulting.”

“Wait… Let me get this straight: you’re a vampire?”

“Yup,” he said, trying not to make it sound like a proud toddler responding to someone accurately guessing his grade level in school.

“Huh. Well,” she continued, “I didn’t know.”

“You couldn’t be expected to, so…”

“What about derivatives of su… er, the ‘s-word?’ Like calling someone a ‘sucker?’”

“Yeah… that’s… that’s like the ‘n-word’ in my culture.”

Debbie’s reaction this time was less confused, and more genuinely concerned. “Oh no… I… I’m really sorry.” Drake usually found that once the comparison to “nigger” was made, most non-vampires seemed to get it. It was about finding a common ground.

“No, no… again, it’s okay. You wouldn’t know.”

“I’ve just… I’ve never known a vampire personally.”

“Most people don’t. There aren’t a lot of people who even know we exist.”

“Still, I should be better about this stuff. I’m a linguist, so-“

“Oh yeah?” Drake was eager to direct the conversation away from his background, his culture’s various touchy points, and from him in general.

“Uh-huh. So you’d think I might know a little bit about linguistic no-no’s like that one. Like, not everyone knows that ‘gypped’ comes from slurs about Gypsies. Same idea.”

“Yeah, I knew some Gypsies, once. They really can get touchy about stuff like that. And about the s-word thing and not knowing about vampires, it really is okay. We aren’t very open about our existence. We don’t like to be out in the light.” He paused, smilingly wryly. “… figuratively and literally.” He paused, waiting for a reaction, having just laid down perhaps the best dad joke in history. Debbie didn’t respond immediately, so like the stumbling dad, Drake continued. “Did… I mean, you probably appreciate how I used ‘literally’ there.” Still seeing no response to the joke, and sensing that the conversation was taking a sudden and unexpected turn back toward awkward, Drake continued nevertheless. “Because, you know, people misuse…”

“Yeah, I get it,” she said.

“Because ‘literally’ is….”

“Uh-huh,” she mumbled, committing to the ultimate show of lost interest by turning to her phone.

“Sorry, sorry.”

She shrugged. “People always try to trigger me with weird linguistic uses and misuses. Turns out when most people meet someone who studies language, everyone is suddenly a grammar Nazi.” She sighed, “but that’s not fair to you.”

“Yeah, no…. that joke sucked, anyway.” He paused, expecting the usual complaints about double standards. “See, I can say ‘sucks’ because it’s the kind of word that has power, you know? It was first used by people who hated and feared us, and then by people who made it a point to hunt us down and kill us. ‘Suckers’ was first used by vampire hunters in Germany during the eleventh century purges. They called us ‘Saugnapfhe.’”

“Again,” Debbie said, “linguist. I get the whole power disparity thing with words. And, I really am sorry,” Debbie said, clearly concerned and remorseful at the unintentional harm she caused. “I should have known, but I didn’t, because vampires aren’t common knowledge.”

Drake took a second to collect himself, drew in a breath, closed his eyes. “No, I’m sorry. It’s just that this is a sore subject, you know?”

“I completely understand.”

“You go for centuries hearing all these words and stereotypes and misunderstandings about vampires—thanks Stoker—and I imagine you wouldn’t get it. But it’s not like vampires are really brought up much in school.”

“Yeah, not at all.”

“Figures. Live-washing of a whole society.”

“Do… I’m sorry if this is sensitive or rude… but do you guys drink, um, human blood?”

“Well… yes.” It was Drake’s turn to feel awkward. Five or six hundred years ago, when he was in his angry young vampire phase, that would have been an insult. Completely true, but still insulting, and one of the worst kinds. Years of reflection, however, had convinced him that because of the embarrassing “vampires killing humans” past, humans weren’t wrong to be mistrustful. “But,” he said, “things have changed. We can get blood from blood banks, now. Oh, and check this out.” Excitedly, he pulled out his phone and started tapping on the screen, oblivious at the moment that Debbie was rapidly losing interest again. “There’s an article in Science Monthly about the ability to synthesize human blood, and how it’s going to be a game changer for health care. Of course, they didn’t mention vampires, but…” as he looked to show her the article on his phone, he realized that she had tuned he own attention to her phone. “Uh, I mean… well, it’s cool to me.”

“I’m sure it is.”

The silence that settled did nothing to lighten the mood, and those types of silence are not wont to do. They sat there for a moment, but hanging in time. Finally Debbie looked up at the clock in the café, despite there being a clock on her phone because it gave her something to do rather than look at her own screen and be reminded of the situation that was at times interesting, and at times uncomfortable. “So, I guess we’ve got another minute of this, huh?”

“Yep.”

“Seems like an awfully long minute at this point.”

“When you’ve been alive for at least a thousand years, a minute isn’t so bad.”

“Well, this one is pretty bad for us lowly thirty-four year olds.”

He laughed. “I guess so. Hey, I’m sorry…”

“We should both stop that, you know.”

“Stop what?”

“Apologizing for everything. We’ve both said ‘sorry’ a lot during this five-minute conversation.”

“Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds, actually.”

“Even worse, then.” She smiled again. “Look, it hasn’t been all bad.” She put away her phone as the final moments of their “speed date” ticked away.

“No? So are we going to exchange numbers or something?”

She laughed, perhaps too loudly, as other speed daters at other tables turned to look at her. “No, definitely not.”

“Oh.” Despite himself, and despite knowing that the short meeting had been a bust, he had experienced a moment of hope.

“It wasn’t all bad,” she continued, “because I learned a lot about your culture. So the next time I meet a vampire, I won’t put my foot in my mouth. So, thanks.”

“Dubious praise.”

Genuine praise. Take it as a compliment. You’re a decent guy, just a little clueless.”

“Fair point.”

From the front of the café, where the overly perky facilitator of the session had been overseeing this experiment in rapid human romantic connection, a cheery voice said “Okay, daters! Wrap it up, and let’s get the next shift going!” People started to stand, some smiling and exchanging numbers with the person across from them, some moving on without hesitations (and in a few cases, quite quickly). Debbie smiled one last time.

“You’ll do fine,” she said. “Next time, though, maybe leave out the ‘vampire’ thing right off the bat. Ease into it. It could be a problem.”

“Good advice. Thanks.” He held out his hand, and she responded with a solid clasp and shake.

“Maybe I’ll see you around?”

Drake shrugged. “Maybe so.”

She moved on to the next table as another woman, eager to meet her potential soul mate, bounced up with too much energy to Drake’s table. Her “Hello, my name is” sticker proclaimed that her name was Louise.

Drake had a good feeling about this one.

*****

                Later that night, as Drake was wiping Louise’s blood off his chin while he considered his options in disposing of her body, it was his-post feeding euphoria that likely kept him from seeing the slight, blond woman—still wearing her “Hello, my name is Debbie” sticker—slip up behind him. He only realized what had happened when the sharp point of the wooden stake protruded from his chest via his back and he stared down at it in shock. He didn’t even have a chance to turn before his body began to age rapidly, the thousand or so years he’d stolen from others being stolen, in turn, from him. As he fell face first into the alley, Debbie let the stake fall down with his body. She reached into her jacket and produced a container of lighter fluid and a well-used Bic lighter.

“I said you were clueless. Shoulda listened.”

Her phone chirped at her, and she pulled it out, glancing down. “Ugh,” she groaned, “I didn’t think that werewolf would text so soon. Girl can’t catch a break.” Deborah Van Helsing shot back a quick reply about meeting somewhere tomorrow evening, when she knew that the moon would be full. Harder to kill, but permanent, she thought. “What the Hell is up with all these damn monsters using speed dating, anyway?” An affirmative reply from the werewolf—eager, too—was the only noise, barely audible over the creschendoing fire of the vampire’s body.

Another Smattering of Theater

So here I am, in a bar (Flying Saucer in Houston, if you’re keeping score), writing another 10ish minute play for one of Cone Man Running’s Spontaneous Smatterings. Normally, I’m stressed as all get out at this point. 9:30, and I would normally not even have the slightest spark of an idea. Fortunately, this is not a normal Smattering. I actually have a genre I can handle (Creature/Monster, and if you think I can’t write something about monsters or creatures, you don’t know me very well). So I’m at least half way into the fist version of my script, which may or may not get scrapped (probably not… I’m digging where I’m going). I’ve got until 8:00 tomorrow to get this handed in. I’m writing with some of my extended Cone Man Running Friends – Conor and Cassandra (who was in my full-length play, The Importance of Eating Earnest), drinking beer, and having a great time.

This is probably the least stressed I’ve been about this. Look for my 2:00 am post where I’ve scrapped my first idea and am feverishly re-writing what I now hate….