Category Archives: 26 Stories

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

 

 

26 Stories: In Golgotha, the Dead Bear Many Scars

Imposing a deadline on myself has had an interesting side-effect. The story I am about to post has had two very recent edits, the last completing, oh *checks watch* ten minutes ago, maybe? This is a story that I think I could edit into oblivion. The initial version was overly wordy, and I decided to make a shorter version (ostensibly to meet a word-limit deadline for a contest put on by my current favorite serial fiction podcast, The Magnus Archives, which you should absolutely go and listen to immediately). Ultimately, even though I missed the deadline for that, tightening it up made for a better story… or, beginning to a story. But it was still wordy. My favorite editor, Farah, and I both independently determined that I had too many artificially drawn-out sentences, redundancies, and unnecessary prose. So I chopped it down again. I am certain that it could use even more chopping, but my own deadline is here. So, with that, I give you a story with a long and wordy title, “In Golgotha, the Dead Bear Many Scars” (working title… I need something better) that may or may not need more work.

Enjoy!

In Golgotha, the Dead Bear Many Scars

Second Floor

In Golgotha, the dead bore their Scars openly. More than the ghosts of past injuries, Scars were manifestations of deep trauma. They were a lingering and twisted homage to the dead’s greatest shames in life, which in turn bound them to a hollow eternity in the desert of ground bones that was. The Scars shaped the shades into, at best, imperfect self-reflections of the humans they once were.

At worst, it turned them into something else entirely.

Golgotha was the dead’s land, and it reached out into infinity, at least as far as any of its residents knew. It had a sky, but how far it extended beyond the sickly yellow hue of daylight or the inky violet of night was another mystery. If stars hung in the firmament or a moon orbited Golgotha, there were no signs. Occasional flashes of light hinted at tumultuous storms, but never brought rain. Thunder, or something like it, often boomed across the wastes, thundering and groaning like the grind of a great and ancient machine. In those echoes, a keen ear could pick out the screams of the Lost. The dead were all lost, of course, but they were not all Lost. These were distinctions that mattered when nothing else did.

The lost and the Lost; scars and Scars.

Rabia wandered Golgotha alone. Her sandaled feet had learned to accommodate for the shifting of the white sands. Winds blew clouds of dust and bone across her skin, causing an abrasive agony that she had, nevertheless, learned to tolerate. Despite its outward appearances and similarity to human myth, Golgotha was not Hell. It did not serve to punish with lakes of eternal fire or sadistic torture from twisted demons. The torture of the Golgotha was self-inflicted. Beyond that, Golgotha just was. Rabia’s Scars made it impossible to avoid the unceasing sand-blasting. Not her mundane scars, the pockmarks from the acid that had burned her face when she had dared to remove her niqab in a public square. The acid scars and memory of the pain that created them were barely noticeable compared to her Scars. Those she had to endure in this place as a reminder of her debasement.

Not debasement for defying her husband or the patriarchal society that forced her to hide all of her features but her eyes behind a faceless black robe. What she carried—what shamed her most—was that she had capitulated after the attack. In the confines of her mind, she had screamed at herself to continue to defy the culture she increasingly felt had devalued her contributions. She desperately longed to be a hero and agent of social change like Malala Yousafzai or Mukhtār Mā’ī. Instead, she had retreated behind the safe anonymity of her niqab. She had felt pain and fear, and rather than make a stand there and free herself or die a martyr, she gave in to the oppression.

In the end, the acid hadn’t been enough, and her husband and his brothers had felt that she had to die to restore her husband’s “honor.” He had debased himself in the eyes of others by marrying an upstart of a woman, and only a public stoning would make it right. For him.

Rabia’s Scar was her niqab, fused forever to her body in Golgotha. More than fused, in fact, the niqab became her skin. She took on the haunting shape of a specter robed in the black and purple of bruised flesh. Her face displayed no nose, mouth, ears, or hair; only her muted amber eyes remained inside the borders of a rectangle of pale flesh. She had changed from a figurative facelessness woman to a literal one. With her robe now her skin, and her skin her robe, every grain of sand forced over her dragged its way along a body of raw nerves disguised as what would be protective clothing otherwise. Each gust brought fresh pain. But again, she had learned to accept it. What else could she do?

And so it was that Rabia traversed Golgotha, with little direction or destination in mind. There was no call for either, here. Golgotha held no logic or reason, no natural cycles like the movement of the tides or the rising of the sun. Night and day came and went at the whims of some unpredictable force. Direction, both in terms of navigation or purpose, was an illusion. A futile attempt to find order where there was none.

In time, Rabia found herself at a crossroads. A solitary structure rose like a tumor, diverting the winds and forcing them around it, piling dunes against the building’s windward side. Rabia saw the building as a seedy inn from the more questionable neighborhoods of Peshawar. To others, it would be different. A North-American roadside motel in disrepair. A European flophouse. A Chinese opium den from an older time. Regardless of how it appeared, it was a collection of empty rooms for travelers passing in need of a brief respite from the wastes. Relieved at the prospect of getting out of the stinging winds, she entered the building with little worry for safety.

The lobby was sparsely decorated. An empty vase sat on a weathered coffee table. Moth eaten chairs surrounded it. A broken hookah nestled uselessly in the corner. Attached to the lobby was an open space, occupied by several tables and an uneven distribution of chars to go with them. No one was at the front desk, so she passed the ruined chairs and walked into the inn’s dining room.

This area was open on the inside, reaching up three floors worth of rooms arranged in a square around the “atrium,” as it were. Dust hung in the air, and week light filtered in from a skylight that was somehow still intact. In the rear of the room, she saw a bar, and behind it, the man who she assumed was the innkeeper.

He was a large brutish man with a ruined face pressing through the jagged hole of a shattered car’s windshield that was as much a part of his face, now, as Rabia’s niqab was her flesh. It looked like the violent crowning of a baby’s head, ringed by javelins of glass that drew dark red canyons across his cheeks, forehead, and the bridge of his nose. Tendrils of flesh uncoiled from his abdomen and wrapped around the bar, becoming a part of it. Some of them had also latched on to bottles of old liquor, suckling at them and rippling with peristaltic waves as they moved the bottles’ contents into the innkeeper’s body. She didn’t inquire as to the nature of the man’s Scars, as it was often seen as impolite. It was rarely difficult to interpret them, however. Scars were not intended to be subtle.

Their interaction was brief and silent; she couldn’t speak, and he seemed to see no need to. There was only one reason she would have entered the inn, and there wasn’t a reason for the innkeeper to do anything but turn his ponderous bulk to a row of hooks, take a room key, and pass it over to her. She took it from him, and their brief transaction was completed.  She was not charged in any currency, though something less tangible and more ephemeral was exchanged. Even in Golgotha, there were prices to pay. Whatever it was that passed between Rabia and the innkeeper—the cost would find her later—she felt that it would be worth it to spend a night in a private room with a bed, sheltered from the winds and the sand of bone therein.

She made he way up to the second floor and, without sparing a moment to inspect her room, sank slowly onto the rickety bed.

*             *             *             *

She woke the next morning to a rising commotion. Like the Illusion of the need for a bed for the night, sleep wasn’t necessary. She had slept because she did so in life. Sleep had been her escape; the only time where she wasn’t her husband’s property. Sleep brought dreams where she was the woman she’d wanted to be. Waking then had been a cruel interruption to her fantasy world. Now, it was just another moment in time, for there were no dreams in Golgotha.

She didn’t know why she left the room and walked to the landing overlooking the atrium. The concerns of others weren’t hers; this was a hard lesson she had learned both in life and in death. Something, however—some unidentified pull—guided her there to the railing, staring down at the small crowd that had gathered below. They appeared to be arguing in hushed tones that occasionally rose in intensity and with a growing fervor. She recognized the owner of the inn immediately not only by his hulking size, but the flesh fettering him to the bar.

With him was a small man who appeared to be another traveler just in from the wastelands. Clouds of bone-dust puffed off him with every gesticulation. The traveler’s arms appeared to be scaled by overlapping disks of metal that clanked with each of his excited movements.

Rabia moved toward the staircase to the ground floor and approached the impromptu quora. Overturned chairs rested on at least half of the old tables that she passed on her way to the small meeting. She moved smoothly with a practiced elegance that made her appear to float across the uneven wooden planks. She eased into the huddled group that consisted of the innkeeper, the traveler, and the third speaker, likely one of the innkeeper’s employees. She was an older woman with an opened chest cavity that revealed a cold gray nestled partially within her ribcage. None of the others spared more than a passing acknowledgement toward Rabia. She was not interesting at all. Being unnoticed had been a necessity life a part of a culture that preferred its women to be invisible.

What was more interesting than the gathering was the small person who was the apparent focus of their discussion. Curled up on the floor, seemingly asleep, was a child. A girl of not more than 10 or 11, sleeping deeply despite the din above her. She had locks of dark, curly hair, lightly powdered with the same ubiquitous dust. Her clothes were similarly clouded, but the colors in her summer-style dress held a memory of vibrancy, sharply contrasting the muted gloom of her surroundings.

It took Rabia some time to realize exactly what it was about the girl that was different.

She had no Scars.

Scars were never hidden. They were reflections of regret and shame, forcibly exposed in the Golgotha. Rabia could no more easily throw a second robe over her body and cover her Scars than the old woman could put a shirt over her chest, or the innkeeper wear a cowl in front of his ruined face. The traveler couldn’t cover the scales on his body, which she now saw were tarnished coins. It was not the nature of the place to allow one to hide one’s Scars. And yet, this child had no visible Scars, which meant she had no Scars at all.

“I’m telling you,” the traveler said, exasperated at having to explain this yet again to his disbelieving audience, “she’s not from here. Can’t you see?”

“Yes,” the innkeeper said, “I can see that, and you have said that, many times. However, she is here, and nothing has changed.”

“We should take her in,” the older woman said, a tremble to her voice. “We should take care of her.” Reflexively, she reached into her chest and put an aged hand on the cold stone lodged in place of her heart.

“And what then? What would we do with a child?” the innkeeper asked.

“She’s not just a child,” the traveler said. “She is something new. She might have… value.” At that, his coin scales rippled and clanked along his arms. Rabia saw a haunting emptiness in his eyes.

“She has no value,” the innkeeper scoffed. “Nothing has value.”

“We can’t leave her,” the older woman said, pleading in her voice. “The Lost will get her.”

“Ain’t no one seen no Lost here in ages,” the innkeeper replied.

“I’ve seen the Lost,” the traveler said.

“You’ve not,” the innkeeper said, but his conviction wavered.

“I have,” he insisted, that empty look deepening. She’d seen that look once before, and it hadn’t ended well. She feared the traveler and his intentions not just toward the child, but to everyone.

As the trio continued an argument that could have easily carried on for as long as the Golgotha existed, the child stirred. She whimpered softly, a dream of some kind running through her subconscious mind. Rabia thought that there was a warming effect, being near her. Something about her was more substantial than anything she had ever encountered in the years (ages? Eons?) she had wandered. As she stared, the child’s eyes fluttered open. While the others were still trying to determine what to do with this discovery or if the Lost were closing in on the crossroads inn even now, the only eyes that met the bright blue of girl were Rabia’s amber irises.

“Who’re you?” the child asked, unaware or indifferent to her surroundings. Rabia tilted her head at the girl’s question. There wasn’t a hint of fear in that small voice. Rabia smiled; or imagined she did as her mouth was permanently closed behind the flesh-cloth of her Scar. She put a hand to the space where her mouth would be and shook her head sadly.

“You can’t talk,” the girl said more than asked. Rabia nodded.

“Oh,” the girl replied. It was at this point that the others noticed.

“Well,” the innkeeper said, “she ain’t dead.”

“We’re all dead,” the traveler said.

“She ain’t any deader, then.”

“She spoke to this woman,” the older woman said. She addressed Rabia, directly. “Is she yours?”

Rabia shook her head.

“’Course not,” the scaled traveler said, nearly hissing. “She’s not yours because she’s mine. I found her! Finders, keepers!” He moved to scoop the girl up into his arms, but even as the girl shrank away from him, Rabia interceded, imposing herself between the scaled man and the girl. “Out of the way,” he said, but without the confidence to back it up. Rabia felt the child press against her leg, peering out at the man. With her arms outstretched, her robe-like stretched out like black bat wings. He was already mousey and small, and Rabia’s posture was clearly intimidating. He thought about pressing the issue and spared a look toward the innkeeper and the woman. The innkeeper, satisfied that the matter was solved, turned away and trudged back to the confines of the bar he could hardly travel far from anyway. The old woman’s gaze was locked on Rabia, her hand still clamped tightly on the stone in her chest. There was hope in that pleading look, as well as pity for the child (and perhaps, regret?). The traveler knew that he would find no support there for his claim. His scales rippled and noisily clicked in frustration.

“Fine,” he said, “you can have her. She has no value to me. She’ll have none to you, either. Something like that only brings trouble, you mark me.” He skulked away, sitting down at a table near the back with a grunt of disgust. Rabia lowered her arms, turning away from the traveler to look down at the child.

“Thank you,” the older woman who said it. Her eyes were wet with welling tears. “She wouldn’t have been safe with him.” Rabia felt that the child wouldn’t have been safe anywhere and was not certain that she was any safer with her. However, it was clear that the girl was her responsibility, now, like it or not. A part of her, quite a large part of her, in fact, regretted the decision to seek shelter in the inn. It was the traveler’s insinuation that the child was property that had set her off. That this child—this girl—was something traded down the line, and not a person in her own right.

Her Scars itched, and it was decided.

*             *             *             *

Rabia once again crossed the Golgotha, but this time, she was not alone. The Scarless girl traveled with her. Both now braved the stinging winds of the desert, still with no specific destination in mind. And yet, Rabia felt that her wandering now had purpose, though she didn’t yet know what even that purpose was.

Perhaps, she thought, Golgotha has borders after all.

THE END?

 

26 Stories

26 Stories: Confessions of a Mad God

My second effort on my personal writing challenge is a theatrical monologue. If, for some reason, you’re not familiar with the format, good news! I generally am not, either. I mean, I know what a monologue is (one onstage actor/character, lots of lines, etc.), but I’ve got no actual practice writing any.

This also touches on some of the more metaphysical concepts that constantly float around in my brain despite being a pretty staunch skeptic and atheist. But just because I don’t subscribe to religious or spiritual ways of thinking doesn’t mean that I don’t find the subject fascinating and great sources of story ideas. In this story, it’s about what it would truly mean to be omniscient. We short-lived, narrow-focused humans can’t truly grasp what it means to know everything when most of us can barely handle the small subset of data that we do know. This story at least touches on the idea of what it might do to a sapient mind to be truly omniscient.

In this case, the character is a homeless man who believes he is god, or rather, God occupying the body of a homeless person. Either way, one of them is mentally ill… or you are. Or we all are (spoiler alert, I am). As you read this, if your’e not familiar with the stage play format, it should be pretty easy to follow. Text in parenthesis are stage directions (and “(beat)” merely means a pause). Imagine a single actor on stage, addressing “Robert” on the street outside a building that at bare minimum, makes you a bit uneasy.

Confessions of a Mad God

First Floor, Street

SCENE

(A street in front of an imposing residential building, somewhere in a busy city. A stoplight or stop sign is the only defining characteristic. As the lights come up, GOD—disheveled and homeless—sits with a cardboard sign that says something Biblical. It doesn’t matter if it actually means anything; that’s unimportant. For a number of reasons.)

GOD

(After a moment, to an unspecified person walking by.)

Spare some change? No? Okay, fine.

(After another moment, to someone else.)

Anything for someone to have a hot meal? No? Okay, bless you.

(And again)

What about you, Robert? Something for a hungry old god?

(Beat)

Yeah, you. Robert.

(Beat)

You’re trying to figure out if you know me. I assure you, you do and you don’t. Don’t-

(Excited)

Don’t! Don’t walk away. Listen to me for just a second, okay? You’re weirded out, I get that. “Hey, who’s this homeless guy who knows my name,” you’re thinking. And that’s fair. Who am I? I mean, aside from God…

(Pleading)

Wait, wait! I know that sounds out there. Please!

(Reaching out)

Please. Don’t leave yet. Hear me out. Hear me out and you can go on your way and live your life and not think about the lunatic who accosted you on the street today. I know how this looks. Believe me, I know exactly how this looks, in more ways than you think that I know. It’s not everyday that you meet God, and not only does he claim to be God, but he seems to know things like your name, Robert, or things like how…

(Desperate, as the target of his pleading seems to be wandering off)

… you’re currently afraid that you’re a terrible husband to your wife Lucy, or a bad father to your daughter Sarah. But you’re not. They both love you, even if you doubt yourself. And believe me, the desire to mate and run off? That’s a completely natural thing that almost all other animals hew to, but most of your kind don’t give into it.

(Pauses, then smiles a little)

Yeah, that struck a chord, didn’t it? Wanting to run away and leave it all behind isn’t something you’ve told anyone, not even your therapist, because you’re afraid she’ll judge you. It’s okay, though… no one who matters is going to judge you. Well, except me…

(Puts his hands up)

Kidding! I’m kidding! I mean, I’m not, but I am. I’m a lot of things at the same time. It’s kind of nuts, you know? Of course you don’t know, but maybe I can make some sense of it for you, if you’ll just take a second?

(Beat)

Okay. Okay, this is progress, Robert. So you want to know, “why is it that this crazy God is pretending to be a homeless person?”

(Beat)

No, I assure you, it’s not the other way around. I-

(Taps his chest)

-am a crazy God, and I’m… not so much as pretending to be a homeless person, as I am occupying one. Let me ask you a question, to start: what are the major characteristics that you know about me… by which I mean “capital-G” God?

(Listens, and holds up one finger, then another, then a third, responding to Robert)

Right, “omnipotence,” “omniscience,” and “omni-benevolence.” Two of those aren’t one-hundred percent correct, but hey, in the words of the immortal Meat Loaf, “two out of three ain’t bad…” or… I guess, one out of three?

(Shakes his head)

No, I’m getting confused again. Okay, look: Omnipotence is out, because of the whole “can God create a rock so heavy even he can’t move it” paradox. The answer is no, because I’m not actually all-powerful, so it’s not really a paradox. I am very powerful, sure, but even I have limits.

(Beat)

Next, am I all good, or all loving, or all just or whatever you want “omni-benevolent” to mean? No. Fuck no. Evil exists. If I could stop evil then I clearly haven’t, which ain’t very “good,” which also reinforces the not all-powerful thing. Tapeworms exist. Kids die all the time, and kids don’t deserve anything bad. Fucking Nickleback exists. So that nixes omnipotence and being the ultimate goody-two shoes. Which leaves?

(Expectant)

That’s correct! Omniscience! I do, in fact, know everything.

(Beat)

Oh yeah, it’s super great. Uh-huh. Knowing everything. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Are you envisioning what you would do with that power? Why am I even bothering to ask, because of course I know that’s the first thing you thought about. Some shit where you know the results of sporting events or the next big company to invest in while they’re still working out of a garage. Yeah, that’s not what “everything” is. That is an infinitesimally small subset of everything. Here… let me explain to you what “everything” means.

(Deep breath)

So let’s start with a baseline. In theory, I know what every single living being is thinking and doing at any exact moment, right? And I know how that’s going to turn out and know everything that lead up to that thought and everything that results as a consequence of it. So that’s billions of beings right this moment with a myriad of thoughts doing more than a few things at every discreet instance of time, and I can see the outcome of those events as they are happening, before they are happening, and well after they happened.

(Beat)

It does sound like a lot. Just that right there should be enough to be overwhelming. There aren’t entire computer networks that can handle that much information. Now, expand that. Every living thing at some level has what you might think of as a “thought” is in there, too. The amount of biomass that is aware and taking actions based on that awareness on this planet dwarfs just you. There are hundreds of millions of insects alone for every one of those multi-billion of your kind. Add the other animals. Add the fungus and bacteria and viruses and you can only imagine how many things’ thoughts and actions, and the knowledge of the consequences of those thoughts and actions, are running around up here!

(Points to his head, getting agitated)

And it doesn’t stop with living things! I know everything! I know when every single pebble rolls down a hill. I know how that pebble will careen off of other pebbles, causing other pebbles to roll down the hill in different directions. I know how each molecule of air will move across this rock, and how that movement will affect other molecules, which will affect other molecules, and on, and on, and on!

(Even more agitated)

And that’s just on this planet! If you count the number of molecules in not just the solar system and galaxy and universe, that’s close enough to infinity to your mind, but-

(Yelling now)

-I can count each and every single one!

(Spittle flies as he continues)

Every single motion of every single molecule and every consequence of every molecule’s motion from the beginning to the end of time is RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD RIGHT NOW!

(Breathing rapidly, he moves around the stage, as if chasing “Robert”)

And it doesn’t stop there!

(He pauses, taking a deep breath.)

Do you remember Heisenberg? The guy who said you can’t know both the position and speed of an object?

(Beat)

No, wait… of course you don’t. What was I thinking? Wrong… wrong audience. Well, nonetheless, that’s something that your kind can’t observe, but I CAN! Both properties of each and every particle in all of existence at the exact same time!

(He laughs)

And you know what? You know what the icing on this cake is?

(Laughing again, nearly maniacal.)

There. Are. An. INFINITE. Number. Of. Universes! So all of that knowledge that I know? It is infinite! I know that there are universes where Heisenberg discovered that there are more than two properties of a particle you can’t fucking know, and I know all those right now, too! There are universes where that Heisenberg guy is a semi-sentient collection of atoms that are almost-but-not-quite Helium that doesn’t know shit about shit! So you’ll excuse me if I’m a little! Fucking! CRAZY!

(Panting now)

(Takes a moment to center himself)

Okay… okay, sorry. That’s hardly your fault. That’s not even my fault, even though it is entirely my fault.

(Beat)

Yeah, it’s “weird” alright. So fucking succinct. So fucking your kind.

(Beat, listening)

What do you mean, “what do I want?” To tell you about it, that’s what.

(Beat)

“Why?” Fuck, man, I don’t know…

(Expecting Robert to get the joke)

Do you get it? “I don’t know?” And I just got through with all the omniscience stuff?

(Exasperated)

 I’d like to say I gave you a sense of humor when I made you, only I didn’t really make you on purpose. You just sort of showed up in this reality. Not all powerful, remember? I mean, I can make life, and I have made life, but you really, really don’t want to meet the life a crazy god made intentionally…

(Spaces out)

(Snaps, remembering)

Oh! That’s what it was! That’s why I was trying to talk to you or someone who would listen.

(Intense)

The other things? The things I did make?

(Beat)

They’re coming. They found you, and they’re coming, and they are not at all going to be happy when they get here. They worship me, too, for some stupid reason, and right now, they think that I like you better, and they are petty beings.

(Pause)

No, they’re not demons. Your “demons” are cute, they really are. With the tails and the horns and the rawr

(Chuckles)

These are something else entirely.

(Deadly serious)

They’re something else that you can’t even fathom. And when they get here, they are going to do horrible, horrible things to all of you. Your imagined eternal torment and lakes of fire are going to seem so blissful when the end comes. But the end is going to take a very long time.

(Beat)

A warning? Well, I guess you can see this as a warning, but what are you going to do? Leave? They’d find you. They’ll find you here and in every reality where you flourish, and some where you can’t. And besides, whatever it is you think that you can do, even in the realities where you can get others to listen to you, it doesn’t matter. See, that’s the thing about omnipotence and near-omniscience. I created these things almost perfectly, but not quite. And I can tell you this…

(Motions ROBERT closer)

I know the outcome. In every version of every reality it all comes crashing to an end because of them. Because of what I made. And you can’t change it.

(He laughs)

I made something just heavy enough that I can’t lift it… I can’t hold it up…  and it’s going to crush all of you—and likely me—with it. And maybe then…

(Beat)

Maybe then, I can die.

(Beat)

You? Your kind? Well, if I hadn’t made those things, then maybe you would have eventually understood what it meant to be me, so consider yourselves lucky. But I always make those things, every time, without fail. It’s something in my nature I guess. No, those things are going to come for you, and you will weep, and beg, and plead for me to do something, but I can’t. Or I won’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. No, Robert, this is all I can say…

(Staring)

The Humans are coming, and they are not merciful.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: He Summons His Muse

I feel like I have to edit this post, at least so that I can clarify what, precisely, this is. It is the first part of a story that I am choosing to put “out there” for general consumption. It is part of a greater story that has to do do with muses and inspiration. It is, as is consistent with me, not something with a happy ending. I.e., it will end up dark eventually, just give it time.

I felt like it was appropriate to start out this endeavor, by a character who is clearly not me in any capacity whatsoever (he totally is) doing something drastic, albeit unintentionally, to find his inspiration. Bear in mind that I look at the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses as something beyond human, though more like a force of nature and less like a capital-G God one might be familiar with.

He Summons His Muse

Part 1

The glass shattered against the poster hanging on the wall with a ferocity that would have surprised anyone other than the person who threw it, had there been anyone in the room with John when he let it fly. The bourbon it contained, as expensive a version as John had been able to afford, which wasn’t saying much, ran from the point of impact and down the poster, drawing damp amber tears on the stylized flapper’s face that leered out at him from the poster, forever frozen in time. The gloomy basement apartment, barely lit by only a few electric bulbs and weakly warmed by a stuttering radiator, was a stark contrast to the look of unrestrained, hedonistic joy that had been forever captured by the third-rate poster artist he’d commissioned to promote his one and only successful endeavor.

John put his head in his hands, his bangs spilling over them and dangling there, greasy and slick, his hair (in addition to the rest of him) having gone for days unwashed. He sighed, drawing the breath from somewhere deep within his lungs and letting it out with a full-body shudder. The typewriter on the desk in front of him was stoic and unyielding, presenting a stark-white sheet of paper hiding the ghosts of stories that would, at this rate, never be told.  John picked his head up and rubbed at his eyes, bloodshot from too little sleep and too much of that cheap bourbon now puddling on the floor. He stared at the typewriter, looking at it as if hoping to see the words he sought there on the blank page; words that he had yet to write and would likely never write. He cast his gaze back toward the poster he had just defaced, the flapper still enraptured, the booze seeping through the paper, weakening and thinning it to the point of tearing. “The Bandleader’s Muse,” it said in a bold modern font, and below that, “A Play by Johnathan Frederickson.” He sighed again, watching as the liquor stained the paper, disturbed on some level that his poster for his play was now defaced, but unable to summon the will to care.

“Consider those necessary libations for you, oh muse,” he said to the poster with a degree of bitterness that surprised no one. “And give me some fucking inspiration, would you?” he added.

With another sigh, he pushed his damp hair back from his forehead. He shook his head, regarding again the typewriter, and slid his chair out from his desk. He stood, absently pulling the slacked suspenders up over his shoulders. He walked around his desk to the floor in front of the poster, jamming his hands into his wrinkled pants pockets. Shaking his head in defeat, he bent down to the floor to collect the broken shards of glass from his tumbler. The glass, a gift from his closing-night celebration, was one of the last extravagances he owned, and it was now fragmented and scattered across the floor. As he collected the shards, he yelped and yanked his hand back, a sliver of glass embedding itself deep into his palm. The pain only somewhat deadened by the alcohol, he took in the damage the glass caused, a miniscule javelin pressed deeply into the skin. A small piece of it jutted out, exposed above his clammy palm, glinting in the faint light of the room. He raised his hand to his teeth, grasped what he could of the glass knife between them, and pulled. The shard was either deeper or more substantial than he had anticipated, because as he felt it slide out, it brought with it agony. He hissed and spat the shard to the floor as blood welled in his palm, a stark red against the pale white of his skin. He looked at it stupidly as he turned his hand over, watching the rivulet of blood trace a lazy path along his deep palm lines, down his wrist, and underneath the sleeve of his shirt. He swayed, and instinctively reached out to steady himself, pressing his hand to the poster. He pulled his hand away, leaving a red handprint on the neck and scandalously exposed, plunging neckline of the woman.

“Shit,” he managed to mutter, looking from his bloody hand to the poster, unable to process how he had managed to deface his own poster twice now in one evening, with both booze and blood.

Beaten and exhausted from fighting with his writing and his continually slipping sense of self-worth, he turned back to his room and froze.

The woman in his bed stirred, stretching with the languished ease of a housecat awakening in a small square of afternoon sunlight streaming through a bay window. After a long, satisfying reach toward the ceiling, she rose up onto her elbows and looked lazily around the room. Inexplicably, she wore the same outfit as the flapper on the poster, complete with a garish, glittering headband and a loose string of pearls strung around her long neck. The feather nocked in the headband shifted as she took in her surroundings with an otherworldly ease and grace. Finally, after another stretch and a yawn, her eyes locked onto John’s.

“Hey there, Johnny,” she said.

“Uh,” was all that he could manage in reply.

“I get it,” she said, “it’s a little odd for a gentleman to suddenly find a woman in his bed when he was certain that his bed was empty.” She looked at him appraisingly, “Which is a shame, to say the least. You look like a man who should regularly wake up with different women, and I dare say, you shouldn’t be too gentle.”

“I…”

“You’ll want to know who I am, right?” John’s non-answer was all she needed. “Well,” she continued, “you can call me Callie.”

“Is that short for something?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, “but what it’s short for is a little too ‘on the nose,’ if you understand.” She followed it with a light tap to her nose with the index finger of her left hand. “Therefore, we can stick with ‘Callie’ for now.”

“You’re right, I don’t understand,” he said.

“You’ll get it later,” she said, taking a second and longer look around the apartment, as if to find some sense of familiarity there. She then sighed, much as John had sighed earlier, before the strange woman—Callie—had appeared in his apartment. “I,” she said, “am your muse.”

“My muse?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Did I… did I drink too much to remember you coming back here?”

“No,” she replied. “Or rather, you may have had too much to drink prior to my coming here, but you finding me here in your bed is not related to that. Give it time, though.” She swung long, olive-skinned legs out from under the moth-eaten sheets and onto the floor. She wiggled her toes as if discovering them for the first time and smiled. “It’s nice to have these again,” she said.

“Feet?” he asked.

“Feet,” she agreed, and flexed her fingers in front of her face. “Fingers. Ears. Eyes.” She looked down the neck of her blouse appraisingly, “breasts. Presumably a pussy.”

John blanched.

“Spare me your false Protestant modesty,” she said. “I know how men think. I’ve known how men think for quite a long time.”

“I…” he stammered.

“Human sexuality is more natural than you care to admit. You have been tainted by centuries of belief that such things are ‘forbidden’ or ‘dirty.’ Where I come from, the human body is nothing at all to be ashamed of. My pussy, your cock and balls.”

“My co— Where do you come from?” John asked.

A coy smile was her only reply.

“You’re not going to tell me?” he asked.

“It’s a bit difficult to explain, Johnny.” She thought about it for a moment. “Let’s just say, as painfully clichéd as it is, that I come from both somewhere deep within you and far away.” She swept her arm dramatically to emphasize some great distance.

“Europe?” He asked.

“You’re funny.”

“You’re not making much sense.”

“You know,” she replied, “back when I was the bee’s knees, I wouldn’t have been questioned quite like this.”

“I really,” he said, “don’t understand what you’re getting at.”

She smiled, halfway between a smirk and a frown. “It doesn’t matter. The thing is, you needed inspiration. I… I inspire.”

“A muse,” he said, repeating her earlier assertion.

Le Lotto,” she replied. “Or, I guess, ‘bingo.’”

“So, some whore who I found and—” his throat suddenly constricted, cutting him off. She marched close to him as he struggled to breathe, staring with the intensity of an angry predator facing down its cornered prey moments before pouncing.

“Not” she said, angrily, “a whore. And I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head, John, as we go forward.”

He gasped and choked. She relinquished her stare, and he collapsed to the floor, sucking in a lungful of air.

“Being comfortable with sex does not make me a prostitute who, by the way, would still deserve your respect for the essential services provided. A whore is something different,” she said, leaning down to where he suddenly found himself.

He tried to respond, gagging against the release of the crushing pressure against his windpipe.

“I am your muse,” she said, “and you should treat me as such.”

“What,” John managed to stammer, “does that mean?”

“It means,” she said, her earlier benevolence returning, “that I am here to help you.  But you,” she punctuated with a sharp finger, “must respect me. Agreed?”

“That’s an odd demand,” John said, ill-advisedly, “coming from a woman who appears to have shown up in my own bedroom without my foreknowledge or consent.”

She smiled down at him, genuinely. “See, that’s why I like writers. Wit in the face of death. John,” she said, “I’ve been around longer than you know. I’ve been here,” she tapped a slender finger against his forehead, “since you were barely a trickle of your father’s seed on your mother’s thigh.”

“Hey!” John shouted, before Callie raised her hand, halting him.

“We are all, at some point,” she replied, “not but cum dripping out of the cunts of our mothers. It is the way of life.” John flinched at this, turning his head away. With a kindness that belied her previous aggression, she approached and put a gentile hand to his face.

“John,” she said, “please. Don’t find in my visit a reason for fear or mistrust.”

“But,” he replied, “how can’t I? You just… showed up here. I know I didn’t bring you here, but here you are.”

“But you did bring me here, only not in a way that you think you did. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. Do you know,” she said, “that blood has been a part of the rituals of so many cultures throughout the ages? So much so, that the idea of a blood offering is built into at least one ritual of every major religion. Even the Christians have it, though they substitute wine for blood.” She laughed, distracted. “It amuses me that they are unknowingly giving praise to an entirely different god with that, but” she shrugged, “everyone forgets or ignores the origins of their deeply held beliefs.”

John looked to his bleeding hand and up to the poster where his crimson handprint stood out brightly on the muted colors of the poster.  “That… summoned you?”

“Not on its own, no. See, that’s the part that so many of those rituals get wrong. The blood is a symbol of sacrifice. Of the supplicant’s willingness to give of him or herself. Which is why those cultures that sacrifice others or livestock are missing the point, to a degree. The livestock is important, to be sure, but the bleeding of the beasts is incidental to the smoking and offering of the aroma….” She stopped. “But look at me, reminiscing on old times. It’s not the blood or the alcohol on their own that carry the power. It is the speaking of the words that convey the intent and the earnestness of the sacrifice.”

“So,” he said, “when I said the thing about the ‘libations,’ that did it?”

“It was more the ‘give me some fucking inspiration’ that caught my attention. Across the gulf of nothingness and oblivion, the desperation was a beacon in the darkness. That and not many of you call out to me or my sisters these days. Pickings are slim.”

“Your sisters,” he asked.

“The others of the nine. Which, at this point, if you don’t know what I am, I’ll never get through to you. In any event, you called out for inspiration, and I answered.”

“I need to write,” he blurted. “I need more of that,” and he jabbed a finger accusingly at the poster soiled with blood and liquor.

“And you can have more of that,” she said, “with my help.”

“Okay,” he said, rising and quickly moving over to his typewriter. “Okay, then let’s begin.”

She shook her head, “We can’t start with that yet. We haven’t come to an agreement.”

He frowned. “But the blood and the… the words?”

“Those merely called me.”

“Do you need more blood?” he asked. “Because I can open up more wounds for you. I would bleed myself until I was an empty husk if it meant I could write again.” He looked around, finding another knife-like piece of glass, picking it up, and holding it to his palm before she held out a hand to him, stopping him.

“I don’t need more blood,” she said, kindly.

“Then what do you need?” he asked. “Whatever you need, I’ll give it to you.”

“I need,” she said, “adoration.”

“You’ll have it,” he said, desperately.

She moved closer to him. “I need you to venerate me.”

“Of course,” he gasped.

“Give yourself to me.”

“I will.”

“Above all else,” she said as she closed the distance to him, pressing close to him, her lips inches from his. He could feel her breath playing gently across them, carrying a slight hint of ambrosia with it.

“Yes,” he said.

“I need you to worship me.”

“I will,” he managed before pressing his lips against hers.

She sank into his body, pulling away from his kiss just enough to whisper, “then a deal is struck.”


To be continued…

What is 26 Stories?

26 Stories

26 Stories is, at its core, about exercising my writing muscles with a dose of accountability. In short, I intend to post some piece of writing (or similar) here every two weeks for at least a year. At the end, there will be twenty-six stories for you to enjoy (or not). Because this makes me think of a building, I’m going to try to shoehorn fit the thematic device of floors of a building. “Stories,” if you will.

Brace yourself, folks, for more “clever” wordplay like that. It’s my jam, what can I say?

This exercise is more about forcing myself to write something—anything—to try and get back into a groove. A rhythm, baby. The somewhat steady pattern and cadence of storytelling.

What will I write? Whatever comes to mind at the time. Short stories. Poetry. Parts of longer works. Short plays. Weird concept pieces. Who the Hell really knows? I might even delve into a few podcast like tales, carried to you on the sweet, dulcimer tones of my own voice.

It’s about a creative jumpstart for the dead battery that is my idiot brain.

Look for the first story in the next few days. And to be honest, it’s going to be a bookend story of sorts that will continue on and off throughout this exercise, in addition to closing it all out with a bang. Or possibly a “splat.”

Obligatory warning: I’m not straying away from any topic, no matter how controversial. Violence. Horror. Sex. Politics. The unholy and truly fucked-up practice of putting pineapples on pizza. I will try my best to provide trigger warnings, but odds are I’ll touch a nerve with someone. Apologies in advance, but I’m not censoring myself; at least, no more than I would normally censor myself.

So, welcome to the building. The neighborhood is a little run down, the alleys are dark, and the stray dogs are a constant problem that Animal Control can never seem to deal with (and the shits they leave that smell like sulfur are pretty off-putting). Some of the tenants may seem a little eccentric, but you might find it’s the overly friendly ones you have to watch out for. I highly recommend not doing your laundry in the basement after dark, and never, ever put your ear to the air ducts, even if you swear you can hear children laughing.

In any event, here are your keys. Oh, and those mewling, slobbering noises that come from behind the landlord’s door? Don’t worry about those. Maintenance issues will be dealt with, usually while you sleep. If you wake, keep your eyes tightly shut, no matter which lost loved one you hear begging you to open them.