Monthly Archives: November 2018

26 Stories

26 Stories: Peddling Ascension

Hot off of a revision of a story about an elevator ride that felt like it would never end is a story about a staircase. This one is an odd bird; it came from a dream I had last week. 

In that dream, I was going to Hogwarts, which was located past a secret entrance at the back of an ice cream store in the retail district of a semi-futuristic city. There were a lot of odd thing about the dream: it was only 24 miles away and I decided to run there in 30 minutes. The ice cream shop had Dumbledor on the marketing. I could fly, encounters were triggered like video games (I play too many video games), and Hagrid–played by Gerard Butler–really didn’t want me to know about the staircase in the back that went up forever. 

Well, I distilled all the Harry Potter and video game references right out of that, and this story was left. 

Enjoy!

Peddling Ascension
14th Floor

“Do you want to know a secret,” the guy at the ice cream joint asked me. He’d already asked me if I thought that the ice cream was “magical,” evidently the tagline for the shop. I had agreed, albeit awkwardly. To be fair, the ice cream at “Cream-o-mancy” was incredible. The wizard on the shop’s signage, with his traditional pointed hat replaced by a waffle cone, seemed to think that the cream was pretty special. The guy behind the counter was buying into the theme, too, though his long gray hair and scrabbly beard were both wrapped in nets, spoiling the image.

               “Uh.” Nothing good ever came from a strange bearded man, peddling sweets, and offering secrets. I was a little old to be lured into the back of a van, but the guy’s excitement was nearly manic.

               “Come on, man… not everyone knows about this secret. It’s cool.” His eyes were also a little bloodshot. Maybe he’s going to offer me drugs? In that case, I was a little interested.

               “All right, I’ll humor you.”

               “In the back, waaaaay in the back, there’s a staircase that goes up forever.”

               This was significantly less interesting a revelation, though I was right about the drugs.

               “Okay.”

               “Nah, really! It’s, like, you can see it going up, but it doesn’t stop.”

               “Haven’t you ever walked up it?”

               “Fuck no! But one guy that used to work here said he did. Said he walked up it for at least half an hour, and when he gave up to turn back, he hadn’t gone up more than one or two steps.”

               I laughed. How could I not?

               “Your friend sounded like he was on some good stuff.”

               “Not him, man.”

               “Okay, well, in any event, the ice cream was great, but I—”

               “You wanna see it?”

               I considered carefully. Should I deny a guy clearly strung out on something, or should I take my chances in the back with mister wizard here?

               “Fine.”

               “Yes! My man, you aren’t going to believe this shit.” He took off his apron and walked into the back without so much as a check to make sure there weren’t other customers. I followed, through a swinging door and into the cold of the storeroom. He led me past empty tubs of ice cream, beyond the large walk-in freezers and their noisy generators, and out the back door.

               The shop was in one of those galleria malls downtown. Going “out back” didn’t put us outside, but in some featureless white hallway. Back doors to other businesses flanked us, and the place held the faintest smell of old produce.

               “So, we gotta go back this way a ways. This place it like a maze, man, all twisting and turning and shit.” I followed trippy Gandalf as he took us around a few turns, down more featureless corridors, and through at least four more swinging doors. He wasn’t kidding; in short order, I was lost. I had tried to keep track of which mechanical room doors we passed, where the electric boxes were, and how many exits signs I counted. All the while, the running commentary from my guide in this demented quest got less and less coherent. The smell of rotting produce got stronger, and then faded, turning musky. We were still somewhere in the interior alleys of the city—we had to be—but it felt like we’d been winding around for a long time.

               We continued this way until we emerged in the galleria.

               Or rather, a completely empty portion of it. I’d been in the galleria a few times over the years, but this was completely new to me. New and deserted.

               “Is this part being remodeled?” I asked.

               “What? Nah, they just forgot about it.”

               “Then why does it still have electricity and,” I noticed, “muzak?”

               My guide shrugged.

               The storefronts were all staples of the malls of my youth; stores like KB Toys, B Daltons, and Sam Goody. Doors were all open and shelves stocked, but there wasn’t a single person in sight. I got the feeling that I could have walked into any one of those stores, taken what I wanted, and no one would have stopped me. There was no one to care.

               “C’mon, man, it’s just over there.” I suddenly felt like an idiot.

               “That’s an escalator, dude,” I said, nodding to the moving staircase he’d pointed to. “It goes around and around, not up forever. Jesus, man, I have to admire your commitment to a joke.”

               “Huh?” He was confused. “Oh, I get it. Maaaaan, that would be a good joke. Like, a total play on, like, expectations or something. But that’s not it. It’s up the escalator and at the end of the hallway.”

I nodded, a little disappointed that this trek wasn’t over. “Oh. Okay, well, let’s go, then.”

               “Dude, I’m not going up there. This is all you, now.”

               “What?”

               “I told you, I don’t like it. And, like, when you see it, I wouldn’t do anything but look.”

               “You’re… you’re at least going to wait here, right? I don’t think I could find my way back.”

               “Sure, sure,” he nodded. He pulled a joint out of his pocket and stuck it between his lips. “I’ll be right here when you get back.”

               I’m not sure why I did it, but I stepped on the escalator. Fluorescent lights and the incessant tunes of synthesized Celine Dion followed me as I went. The walk was a little longer than I expected—clearly, my guide’s definition of “just ahead” and mine were different—but I went on. Sunk cost; I’d gone this far and could go just a little farther for what was sure to be some kind of drug-addled misunderstanding of how stairs worked.

               I was at least a few minutes down the hall before I noticed that the shops and storefronts. The stores of my youth were replaced with less familiar ones. Gadzooks and Camelot Music and Kenny G muzak. Then to Contempo Casual and Casual Corner with versions of ABBA and the Bee-Gees. And on to Chess King and Kinney Shoes. The muzak eventually faded out altogether, replaced by the distant calliope of a carousel.

I was already starting to believe the ice cream wizard’s story by the time the storefronts were nothing but displays and rows of window displays of staircases. All the store names were stair themed bastardizations of the mall stores of the past—KB Stairs, Pepperidge Stairs, and so on. Kiosks advertised nothing but rotating pictures of stairways. Stairs spiraling up (or down, depending, I suppose, or your perspective). Grand staircases in plantations style homes and concrete steps in parks nestled in hidden corners of the country.

The last staircase at the end of this maddening walks was the one the ice cream guy was talking about. There was no mistaking it.

               He wasn’t wrong; it was unsettling. I felt like its impossible length was a trick of perspective, and that it really didn’t go up forever, but just got smaller in scale as it went up.  I thought about turning back at that point, but it seemed like I could no more do so that no breathe. If he really had a friend who had at least tried walking up the stairs only to turn back and leave, that person had more will than I did.

               And so, up I went.

I didn’t decide at any point to turn around. I was in it for the long haul, so to speak, and I wouldn’t stop—couldn’t stop—until I reached the top. Whoever it was that was my wizardly guide here, that dark practitioner of the ice cream arts, had to know that I wouldn’t be coming back. But I think he didn’t expect me to come back.

               I think he knew that he was leading me to a path without end. An escalator ride that never looped around.

THE END

26 Stories (Revised): Elevator

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

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

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

Elevator (Revised)
5th Floor

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

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

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

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

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

               She leaned her head back against the wall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

               “Building maintenance.”

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

               “Um… are you sure about that?”

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

               “It should be,” he said.

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

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

               “I’m sorry, what?”

               “Are you in the Waverly building?”

               “Yes.”

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

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

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

               “Hello?” she asked. No response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*             *             *             *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

               She slept again.

*             *             *             *

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

*             *             *             *

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

*             *             *             *

               It was dead the next time she woke up.

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

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

*             *             *             *

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

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

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

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

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

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

*             *             *             *

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

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

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

               She was going places, after all.

*             *             *             *

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

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

*             *             *             *

               Danni’s presentation killed.

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

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

THE END


26 Stories

26 Stories: Flesh of my Flesh

The second half of this effort begins now with more goopy body horror elements. Also, I’m relatively sure that my sexual imagery is less subtext and just plan old text. I wonder what my therapist would say about this story?

As always, enjoy. Or be grossed out.

Or both!

Flesh of My Flesh
13th Floor

              “Is this one of those ‘War of the Worlds’-type things? It has to be, right?” Cal asked, fiddling with the antique radio.

              “This?” Martin replied. “These fire-and-brimstone preachers have been on these AM stations since Marconi played the mamba.”

              “Who did the what, now?”

              “You are so young.”

              “I’m not that much younger you. I’m just more cultured.”

              “The devil walks among us, children,” the radio preacher’s twang sounded like an angry child talking through a tin-can phone.

              “Grandpa used to play that shit all the time on this very radio. I wonder if he would find it ironic that it’s probably what made me gay.”

              “We are at war!” the Preacher shouted. “The communists, the freedom-hating liberals-“

              “Here it comes.”

              “The gays and their homosexual agenda.”

              “Nailed it!” Martin said.

              “The only thing on my agenda,” Cal said, “Is to eat. Aren’t you supposed to be making dinner?”

              “Crock-pot,” Martin said. “Been cooking for three hours.”

              “Oh,” replied Calvin.

              Martin kissed the top of Cal’s head. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”

              Cal stood, listening to the radio preachers continue his diatribe on the gays and the atheists and Democrats. “How did you survive growing up here?”

              Martin shrugged. “Deep closets.”

              “Speaking of closets, where are we going to start?”

              Martin scanned the living room of the ranch house. It was in remarkably good shape already on the outside, but too cluttered with kitsch and a hodge-podge of different eras of style. Martin also assumed that the details that were hidden in the walls would prove to be worse. Ancient pipes, bad wiring, thin insulation, and who knew what else waited for the tear-down. The storage company would be coming out in a few days to take the furniture away that they wanted to keep, the charity would come a few days after that everything else salvageable, and the waste management company would park a large bin outside for the refuse.

              “The bathrooms can be cleaned out pretty easily, but I suspect that’s where we’re going to find the most problems.”

              “Get the worst out of the way, then?”

              “Yeah, I think that’s the best approach.”

              “Okay,” Cal said, brushing off his hands. “You tend to that dinner and I’ll see what we’ve got in the master bathroom.”

              Martin left the room.

              “Temptation leads to damnation,” the radio preacher said. “When the merging comes, when the great Beast is birthed, the world be remade in its image of eternal Flesh.”

              “No gays though, I imagine,” Cal said to the radio.

              “All are welcome in the now world,” he said.

              “Yeah, I bet,” Cal walked away.

              “All, Calvin.” Cal froze.

“The change will not come in fire,” the preacher continued. “It will come in a rain of flesh and a changing of the body!” When the radio did not address Calvin again by name, he pressed his fingers to his temples. Convinced that he’d misheard, he continued on his way.

*            *            *            *

              Cal laughed over his half empty beer glass. “I can’t believe that he actually said that to you!”

              “I know, right? Straight guys are so awkward when they try really hard to be accepting. I guess I’m his gay friend he can use to prove his liberal street cred.”

              “We’re not exactly shattering the gay stereotype with all this catty talk, are we?”

              Martin laughed. “I guess not.”

              “Brothers and sisters, hallelujah!” a tinny voice said from the living room.

              “Didn’t you turn that off,” Martin asked.

              “I thought you did.”

              “Not me.”

              “Praise be unto Him, for I come with good tidings.”

              “I’ll get it,” Cal rose and headed to the living room, leaving Martin to take another sip of his Scotch.

              “Children,” the preacher said with a patronizing concern, “I know that I often talk about who stands against us; who we oppose. But make no mistake… this is not about hate. We hate no one.”

              “Sure,” hand on the dial.

              “The gays and their illicit lovers, living in sin,” Cal turned the knob to the left, diminishing the hateful voice almost fast enough, but not quite.

              “Fixing up the old farmhouse together. Making a ‘bed and breakfast’ to lure more of their kind to our good community. To pervert it. But we don’t hate them.”

              “Martin,” Cal called.

              “Yes?”

              “I think the radio preacher is talking about us.”

              “Not ‘about,’ Calvin. To you,” the preacher said on a clearer signal.

“What did you say, Calvin?” Martin asked from the doorway. “Did you decide that you still wanted to listen to that?”

              “I…”

              “Go ahead, Calvin. Turn it off. It won’t silence me.”

              “Did you hear that?”

              “Yeah, and if this guy is just going to repeat shit about the gay illuminati, he’s going to lose his followers to boredom.” Martin exaggerated a yawn.

              “No, I mean-“

              “Ugh,” Martin reached over and turned the radio off.

              “There. You coming back to the table?”

              “I told you,” the preacher said through the dead antique, still with a high-frequency hum. “You can hear the Word now, Calvin. You won’t be able to stop hearing it.” Calvin abruptly grasped the old power chord and yanked the plug from the wall. The action triggering a sharp pop and flash of a spark. Lights in the house flickered.

              “The wiring is going to be a real bitch to fix,” Martin said.

              “Yeah,” Calvin muttered.

              “The Word is truth, Calvin,” the preacher continued. “The truth of the Flesh is next.”

              Martin put a reassuring hand on Calvin’s shoulder. “Are you feeling okay? You look pale.”

              “What?” Cal asked, and then, “No, yeah… yeah. I’m just… tired. Too much beer, maybe.”

              “Don’t I know it,” Martin said. “Okay, we can get to work tomorrow.” He set his glass down on the top of the radio and planted a kiss on Cal’s lips. “Thank you,” he said.

              “Filth,” the radio said.

“For what?”

              “For helping with this.”

              “Sinners.”

              “Of course…” Cal tried to block out the voice in his head.

              “C’mon,” Martin said, taking Cal’s hand and leading him toward the bedroom. “Let’s go to bed.”

              “Fornicators.”

              “Sounds good,” Cal replied.

              “This is not how the Flesh is joined,” the preacher said to Calvin as the two men left. “But you will know soon enough.”

*            *            *            *

              Calvin stood on a vast expanse of skin. Tumorous growths rose around him like termite mounds, mottled pink, black, and blue. Scabs partially covered oozing sores. A fetid wind blew and carried with it the smell of putrescence. The land under his feet swelled and sank at regular intervals. He knew it was a dream instantly, albeit, it was a dream with a different quality than he was used to.

              “Calvin,” his father said, “I will not stand for this.”

              “Dad,” he replied, “it’s not like it wasn’t obvious.”

              “It wasn’t obvious to me!”

              “I played catch, dad! I dated girls. I did everything you wanted.”  

              “And yet you still fuck other men!” His father’s features ran and melted, oozing like putty left in a hot sun.

              “Daddy?”

              The puddle that was once his father reformed. The waxy pink fluid ran backwards, like a video reversed. As it took shape, Calvin stood face-to-face with man of about his father’s age, wearing a robe that wasn’t quite like a preacher’s vestment, but close enough.

              “Your father is with the Flesh, now. We all return to the Flesh. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… flesh to flesh.” The preacher reached out and put a hand on Cal’s arm. Where his fingers touched Cal’s skin, cancerous masses, red and angry, erupted. Fire burned under his skin as his flesh twisted and his bones were broken, liquified, and reformed. Into what, he didn’t know, as the dream faded.

*            *            *            *

              “Slime mold,” Martin said, standing in front of the hole he had hammered into the bathroom’s drywall. Glistening, biological goop had glommed on to the wall studs. “I knew there would be something disgusting back here. We did get masks, right?” Martin waited. “Right, Calvin?”

“Uh… yeah,” Cal nodded.

“Good. If this is here, you can bet there’s black mold and we sure as shit don’t want to breath any of that in.”

              “I’ll get them,” Calvin said, anxious to leave the room. In addition to grabbing a set of mases, he snagged the box of latex gloves, too. I’m not risking touching that.

Martin had started music on his phone. “Thank you!” he chirped, taking a mask and the box of gloves from Calvin. Martin slipped on the mask, pulled on the gloves and made a lewd gesture in Calvin’s direction. When Calvin didn’t laugh, Martin pulled the mask down.

              “Are you sick, or hungover?”

              “I didn’t sleep well. Nightmares.”

              “Oh. Well, they’re just dreams, right? Can’t hurt you and all that?”

              “Thanks dad… er… mom.” Calvin’s stomach churned with the memory of the dream.

              “Mmmm-hmmm,” Martin replied. “Does princess Calvin need a nap? We’ve got work to do, and good music to keep us awake.” The current song—some EDM music that Calvin never got into—ended.

              “Hello Calvin,” the preacher’s voice said from the phone.

              Martin smiled, “That’s my jam!” He started to dance to an unheard beat.

              “No,” Cal said. “No, no, no…”

              “Yes, Calvin. You cannot escape the Word.”

              Martin frowned. “I know this isn’t usually your music, but we can play your depressing rock songs later.”

              “I don’t want to hear this.”

              “Okay, Jesus.” Martin stopped the music. “What the hell got into you?”

              “The Word is inescapable. The Flesh is inevitable.”

              “Leave me alone!”

              “Leave you alone? Calvin, you have to be sick.”

              “Your father is here, Calvin,” the preacher said. “And he’s felt the change.”

              “My father is dead!”

              “Calvin?” Martin, concerned now, stopped the music. “What’s going on? Are you… do you need help?” He held Calvin’s face in his hand, turning to look into his eyes.

              “Yes, let him take you in his arms. Be of the same sinful flesh. Your father understands, now, the pressing and melding and joining of flesh. He doesn’t hate you anymore.”

              “Stop!” Calvin yelled, pushing Martin away.

              “Stop what?” Martin replied.

              “Why, you and your father could become close, Calvin. So much closer, if you just accept the Word and embrace the Flesh.”

              Calvin ran.

*            *            *            *

              He ran into the countryside until his lungs burned and his legs gave out, where he finally collapsed. He tried to rise, to run more, but cramps rendered his legs inoperable. So he lay there, on the ground, and cried.

              When he stopped, twilight had set in. He didn’t remember when he’d left the house or how long he had been out. He knew, at least, that there was no radio out here to talk to him. No phone to tell him lies. He took deep, hitching breaths, and tried to center himself.

              Ahead of him, above a cluster of scrub brush, a radio tower loomed. The tower. Its blinking red lights glared down at him. Each a malevolent eye. From somewhere ahead, a speaker whined.

              “Brothers and sisters our newest sheep has come to join the flock.” Calvin rose slowly to his feet. He trudged forward, toward the tower and the voice, not fully in control and too tired to fight it anymore. “He has heard the Word, the Word of the Flesh, and has come to us to find salvation.” As he pushed past the cluster of scrub, he saw the small steel shack with its single metal door. There had once been a chain-link fence around it, but it had long since fallen. Faded warning signs tried to turn him away, but he ignored them.

              “He comes to be cleansed of his sin, the sin of impure Flesh. The sin of order.” Calvin pushed open the steel door, which screeched in protest on rusty hinges, but opened none-the-less.

The gurgling screams of his father welcomed him.

*            *            *            *

              When Calvin returned, Martin was pacing on the porch. He rushed down the stairs to him, wrapping him in an embrace.

              “Oh thank God, Calvin. You scared me! Where did you go? I thought you were hurt or…”

              “I had to take a walk,” Calvin said.

              “A walk?” Martin pushed back. “You ran out like you were being chased!”

              “I had to talk to my dad.”

              “Your dad’s been dead for years. So, okay, new plan. We’re going to get in the car and go home. You need to get out of here. We can go to that brewery you like, and—“

              “Home?” Calvin said. “I am home.”

              “That was never the plan. You know that. Home is back in the city. We’re just fixing this up.”

              “Home is here. Home is where the flesh is.”

              Martin withdrew. “You need some rest, and we need to get you out of here. Let’s go inside and pack a few things.”

              “Yes,” Calvin said as he followed Martin across the porch and into the living room. “We can listen to the radio.”

              “That thing? I’ve had enough of that. It’s unplugged, anyway, remem-” The radio came to life, a soft glow behind the dials and display.

              “…sins of the Flesh. These are the sins that our lord warned against. The sins that both corrupt us, and cleanse us.”

              “What the Hell,” Martin said.

              “Not Hell,” Calvin said. “The living Flesh is so much more than that.”

              “Calvin, stop. Please. You’re freaking me out.”

              “He’s right,” the preacher said.

              “What? Who?

              “He’s the prophet,” Calvin replied.

              “How did that nutcase know my name?”

              “I know all about you, Martin, and your life here.”

              “I don’t know what kind of bullshit you’re pulling Calvin, but this isn’t funny.”

              “I know about your fumbling with the boy in the neighboring farm.”

              “That’s… stop it.”

              “He wasn’t even gay.” Calvin said.

              “You can’t possibly know about that. Please stop.”

              “He raped a girl to prove it to himself.”

              Martin hit Calvin with a closed fist. “I said STOP!”

              Calvin reached out, despite the discoloration already forming on his jaw. “It’s okay, Martin.”

              “It is, Martin,” the preacher’s voice said calmly through the radio.

              “You didn’t know.” Calvin continued.

              Martin began to cry. “You… both of you… please stop.”

              Calvin held out a hand. “You can be cleansed, Martin. When he comes… when flesh becomes flesh; when all is fused, we can be joined.”

              “What are you saying,” Martin asked, desperation in his voice.

              “We can be one in ways we never could have before.”

              “Listen to him,” the radio said.

              “I…”

              “Please, Martin,” Calvin continued. “Come with me.”

              Martin took Calvin’s hand.

              Calvin led Martin to the bathroom. Inside, in the hole Martin had bashed into the wall, the slime mold had grown. It had taken over the whole wall, spreading fleshy, throbbing tendrils. There was an opening, now; a vertical slit by angry red tissue and living tumors. Calvin stepped into it with one foot and turned back to Martin.

              “The choice must be yours,” the preacher’s voice said from nowhere and everywhere. “Do you want to know the Word and the Truth? Do you want to be one with the Flesh?”

              “Yes,” Martin said.

              “Then follow. In your sin, you shall be remade clean and whole.”

              Calvin fully penetrated the threshold, and Martin followed.

*            *            *            *

              A world of pain and cancer and fire awaited, yet to Martin, the pain was blissful. He was one with his husband. Their bodies merged, no longer in the figurative sense that had been part of their wedding vows. On the plane of skin and tissue, in the realm or tumors and yellow puss, the two men melted into each other, and in doing so, became one.

              “Flesh of my flesh,” the voice of the preacher of the Living Flesh said, “blood of my blood.”

              And so it was.

              And so it would be.

THE END

26 Stories

26 Stories: He Makes an Offering to His Muse

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

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

Enjoy!

He Makes an Offering to His Muse
12th Floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not that kind of tired.”

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

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

                “You need some help, I think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

                “I don’t follow.”

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

                “Okay, so what needs to change.”

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

                “What does that mean?”

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

                “I don’t understand.”

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

                “I thought we were keeping us a secret.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*             *             *             *

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

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

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

*             *             *             *

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

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

                “Yes,” John muttered.

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

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

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

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