Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Letter to my cold

Dear random virus,

I don't know what I have to do to put the message out that your kind is not welcome around here. I've been staying away from the sick people. When a client says "I feel like shit" I get up and move to the other side of the room. I don't play with the little kids and hold their hands in karate. And I sure as hell don't hang out in the doctor's office any longer than I have to. How much vitamin C, Zinc, sleep, vegetable soup, orange juice, hot tea and warm blankets is it gonna take to get you to move on?

I'm sure there are a lot more bodies out there that would be a much better home for you. People with bigger mucus membranes and smoker's lungs and deteriorated immune systems just putting out the welcome mat for you. Go see them and leave me the fuck alone!

Hoping you fuck off and die,
Bev

Friday, September 25, 2009

On getting Black Belt

I’ve got to say, I thought this would be bigger. Much like graduating college or finally moving out of my hometown the events leading up to it were bigger than the emotions that came at the time. I remember myself sitting there some-odd years ago and watching my fellows go up to get theirs and thinking “I can’t imagine…” while at the same time wondering if that could be me. Could I survive a 29 hour test? Could I remember all those forms? Could I manage to break a board with a spinning back kick or remember Korean terminology or score high enough in sparring to achieve that? I had such awe, such childish amazement.

After all these months of teaching and being part of the crew and practicing the new form and knife defenses and everything else that goes along with black belt I realize that the transition happened some time ago without me realizing it. They always told us it was just a belt but I never thought I’d feel that way. Surprisingly enough, I do. I became a black belt before today. Now I just have the accessories.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Adult-hood?

With the ever- expanding social awareness of different lifestyles I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing something. It used to be that the path to adulthood was a well paved, meticulously constructed, clearly labeled and well-lit road. You grew up, went to school, got a career, got married, had kids, retired and died. Your kids would do the same, usually before you kicked it. Rinse, lather, repeat. Sure there were some variations. You didn’t have to go to school: you could take over the family business or you could do hard labor- but the job was always in there. And marriage was pretty much a non-negotiable. And everyone who didn’t fit the mold- the perpetual bachelors, the divorcees, the barren- they were all cautionary tales kept on the outskirts to warn growing children of what sad outcome awaited them if they didn’t stick to the path.

Don’t get me wrong- I certainly do not miss those times. I’m glad that people are able to get out of bad marriages. (Granted, I wish they put more thought into getting into them, but still.) I’m glad that people are allowed to be happily single or single parents or cohabiting without marriage or decide not to have kids. It’s good to have choices without being judged for making them. And even if it’s not by choice, things are different. Nowadays the divorce rate is high enough to make most young and reasonably in love people get commitment phobia. It’s more and more common to live with your parents until you’re thirty, forty and so on. It’s not atypical to struggle with dead-end jobs for years while waiting for your ‘career’ to take off because the economy has been ruined by generations before us and no one wants to hire. And you can’t afford a house- another typical adult milestone- because you’re paying student loans you took out to get said career which you’re waiting for.

And what about the people who don’t fit the mold from the beginning? What if you’re born with a physical disability and you can’t work? What if you develop schizophrenia when you hit puberty and your plans get derailed? What if you don’t get the typical opportunities because of your race or ethnicity? What if a million other possibilities interrupt what you’re told life is supposed to be? Is there a plan for those people who don’t fit the mold? I don’t know of any.

So without those milestones which you can’t reasonably expect, how do we know we’ve reached adulthood? I always thought that when I truly became an adult I’d look different. Like there are some genes that take a while longer to mature and when they do you are able to balance check books, keep houses and laundry and dishes clean, keep groceries in the fridge and just basically appear adult. But that’s just what the commercials tell me adults look like, right? It’s capitalism. And with the economy the way it is that definition won’t stand much longer either.

So how do we know? I think that somewhere in the desperate attempts to free ourselves of the fixed cookie-cutter molds that used to keep us in line we lost our gauge. And it’s not just us, either. I used to think that maybe it was just an American thing. Like, if I grew up in Australia or Africa or China things would be clearer. Go out into the outback with some peyote, hunt something on your own to feed your tribe, sit in a tent during your “moon time” and listen to stories from the elders, dance with the other adults around the fire, join another household in marriage, etc. A single ceremony and poof! You’re an adult. But now other countries seem just as screwed up as we are, don’t they? Tribes the world over have gone the way of endangered species and been replaced by cities and businesses and international retail chains.

So what are we left with? When do you know you’re an adult? Is it just something you decide to be? I think I am an adult, therefore I am? And for that matter, when do you know that you’re in any other phase of life? We act like adults when we’re children, we act like children until we die, we joke about being middle aged when we’re in our twenties, we talk about being as young as we feel at fifty, we get more adventurous when we’re seniors and we don’t admit to being old until we can’t move anymore. So when or what, exactly, is the lifespan?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cindi's Call- Part One

Ladies and gentleman! Without further ado, I present to you my very first serial!


“So what’ve we got here?” Brown asked, reaching for the folder.

“Missing person with a twist,” Sykes replied.

“Let me guess, she was just seen by several people the day before her disappearance.”
“Nope, do you want to keep guessing or do you want me to tell you?”

“Just tell me, I’m too tired to do the guessing game tonight.”

“Her personal trainer reported it.”

“So, where’s the twist?”

“Look at the name of the personal trainer.”

Brown opened the folder and looked over the report. The call had come from a c-170c version holographic in-home personal trainer calling itself “Cindi”. Brown laughed to himself. It was exactly what he needed, another computer assuming it knew protocol better than he did. He was so not in the mood for this tonight.

“Baker pass this down to you?”

“Nope, came straight from the captain,” Sykes replied with an irritating smile.

“The captain? Why would he care? Where is he?” Brown peered around his filling cabinet (electronic filing system my ass, he thought) to see the captain inside his office with the door closed. Looking through the window he could see that he didn’t have anyone in there and decided to chance it.

“I’m gonna ask him,” he said, pushing up from his desk.

“Ok, your funeral,” Sykes warned.

“You just don’t have my skills of persuasion,” Brown said with as much cockiness as he could manage without laughing. Sykes raised an eyebrow at him as he walked away to what he could only assume would be a much-deserved chewing out.

It was the sixth case like this they’d received in two months and it seemed like the frequency was increasing. The last time they’d managed to get off the case by procrastinating their closure of one involving real people but Brown knew that kind of shit wouldn’t fly more than once. He didn’t think he’d have to be brainstorming all these new and ingenious ways to get the cases shifted to other people but the skill was becoming a necessity. Tonight he planned to employ his laid-back “buddies” approach with the captain. It could be a risky move depending on how bad things had gone downtown but he was banking on the captain’s new girlfriend he’d seen stop by for lunch to keep him in a good mood.

Brown knocked on the door quietly but insistently. No answer. He peered through the window and smiled at the captain who ignored him. He knocked again. The captain looked up from what appeared to be a non-interstation report and looked at him with an irritated expression. Brown smiled, waved and motioned that he come inside. The captain seemed to deflate as he sighed and waved him in.

“What do you want?” he said with the same irritation Brown had seen on his face.

“Nothing, nothing- just wondering why we’re wasting time on a paranoid android,” he said in his best good ‘ol boy voice.

“Which reason do you want? The fact that in order to maintain good public relations and try to maintain our budget we have to be seen as respecting all lifestyles including those with are not biologically alive? Or the fact that the alternative intelligence society is on our ass for ignoring the last call from an artificial intelligence housecleaner that turned out to be a real lead?” The volume of his voice was growing slowly but noticeably and Brown was quickly realizing how huge of a mistake he’d made by coming in here.

“Captain, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

“Or hey, here’s a good one,” he cut him off angrily. “How about the fact that since several members of this department including yourself are already under scrutiny from the commissioner due to suspected discrimination on casing we can’t afford to pass up a single lead; especially one coming from a detective who has conveniently been detained on other cases and been unable to follow up on leads from A.I.’s in the past?”

“Captain, I assure you I-“

“Do you really want to interrupt me right now? Really?” He squinted at him. Brown looked down to try to avoid eye contact and noticed the papers the captain’d been reading. Divorce papers. Fuck. He promptly shut his mouth, set his jaw tight and stood there.

“That’s what I thought. Well to make sure that you leave here with a perfectly clear understanding of your assignment since that is obviously so important to you I have one final reason.” He paused, waiting for Brown to interrupt again. Brown looked him straight in the eye, pushed back his shoulders, and said nothing.

“I’m your boss and if I give you an order, you follow it. Got it?”

Brown nodded at him with his jaw set in a firm but submissive line and waited for a sign that he could leave.

“Any other questions that just can’t wait?”

Brown shook his head, just once. He couldn’t be seen as angry at the reprimand, sympathetic for his personal life or anything else even remotely emotional if he wanted to get out of here alive. So he strove for unreadability. Not that he expected to fool him, but he had to at least make the effort. The captain looked him over thoroughly and waited for him to make a sign that he was pissed, or defiant, or anything else. But he was working really hard to keep it all under the surface and he decided to reward him by excusing him.

“Go do your job,” he dismissed him with a firm wave of his hand. Brown didn’t quite bolt but made his way out of the office in as quick a professional walk as he could manage and quietly closed the door behind him. He made his way back to his desk, slapped the folder down on the table and grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair, shoving his hand into the sleeve violently.

“Let’s go, Sykes.”

“That good, huh?” he smirked.

“Don’t,” he said with as much rage as he could put into one syllable. The smile vanished from Sykes' face instantly and he grabbed his jacket to follow his partner out of the station.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Magic Teapot

Thanks to Shelly for this idea!

Susanne had never really given much thought to where the mice and gerbils and other small rodents and reptiles in the pet shop came from. Or, for that matter, where the little turtles and snakes came from. All she knew was that every Thursday Bob, her boss, would ask her to come to the back room to pick up the newly arrived rodents and reptiles and deliver them to their respective tanks.

When she first started she did find it slightly odd that the animals arrived in a cardboard box instead of... well, whatever you would ship rodents and reptiles in. And also odd that the exact number they needed to refill the tanks would arrive- three gerbils, two teddy bear hamsters, a turtle, the rare chinchilla. Never a bulk supply. She had once asked him if it wouldn't be safer to buy a shipment of, say, ten. All he'd said was "It's taken care of, no worries."

She also found it odd that all they sold in the store was small animals instead of dogs and cats which seemed to be more common in other pet stores. But Bob had explained that it was a bit of a specialty shop in that respect. "I figure the dogs and cats are covered," he'd said. The logic was reasonable enough that she didn't question it. Besides, it was just an after school job, anyway. The unanswered questions weren't enough to keep her interest when her line of questioning got her nowhere.

One perfectly ordinary Thursday afternoon at precisely four forty-nine she was minding the front register and wondering how much neater the counter top could be until she conceded defeat to her efforts of procrastination and gave in to her calculus homework. It did not bode well for her future work in the subject that she found herself considering cleaning the tanks sooner than get started.

"Suzanne, could you come back her for a minute?" Bob called from the back room. She glanced up at the clock. Precisely five pm. 'Saved by the bell', she though to herself. Bob was nothing if not a creature of habit. It was time for the weekly delivery.

She went back expecting to be greeted with the usual assortment of cardboard boxes containing the usual assortment of small animals but was instead greeted by Bob, sitting contently at the desk, with a teapot in his hands. She'd seen it before, sitting up on the shelf above his desk. She'd assumed it was a gift from his mother or something like that because she'd never actually seen him drinking tea around the shop. She had lots of gifts from her mother taking up space on the shelves in her bedroom because she didn't know what to do with them. But as he sat there he seemed like he intended to use it.

"I didn't know you drank tea," she said.

"I don't," he replied as if it was obvious.

"Well, then- what's with the teapot?"

"I was hoping I might talk to you about your... well not career, I know you're going to school in the not too distant future and I'm glad that you'll be studying something more useful than how to run a pet shop. But you've been pretty reliable here over the past year and I was thinking that you might be ready for some more responsibilities."

"Um, ok? What exactly do you mean?"

"Well, I know we don't have many other employees here but I was thinking of offering for you to be manager."

"Really, I didn't know places like this had managers. I mean, not that I don't want to be manager- I totally do. I mean, as long as it's not going to interfere with school."

"No, no- your hours won't change, you'll just be in charge of some more things around the store."

"Like what?"

"Well, first and foremost, this," he said as he placed the pot on the table in front of her.

"...ok? You want me to guard it or something?"

"No. Well, sort-of. It's a very important teapot. It is, and this may sound a little crazy but just bear with me, a magic teapot."

"Uh-huh..." She couldn't hide the doubt in her voice even though she knew it was probably bad etiquette to let your boss know that you think they're crazy.

"Well, maybe you're not ready for it," he said, picking it up and turning back to the shelf.

"No, wait- I can handle it, I just... I've never seen any real magic. I'm sorry, I really want to know. I just... you know," she said, trying desperately to make up for her obvious faux pas.

He paused, turned back to her and put the teapot back on the table.

"Do you believe in magic?" he asked, completely serious.

"Um... I don't know. I guess I sort-of thought that it wasn't real in real-life. I mean, the movies and books and stuff, yeah. But everyone tells you it isn't real, you know?"

"They're just trying to keep you from asking questions. That's one of the things you don't learn growing up- that some people will try to keep you from growing. But it's true, unfortunately." He seemed sad as he said that last part. And the look in his eyes made her think that he'd come across a lot of people who hadn't wanted him to grow. She'd never thought of him in that way before and now that she did she felt closer to him, somehow. She thought she'd never regretted anything more than making fun of him for trying to tell her something obviously important to him. Well, no. Burping in front of Bobby Benson on their first date was her biggest regret. But this was up there.

"I'm sorry, really. I promise i'll believe you."

"I'll tell you what. You can know the secret of the pot, and you can be in charge of its safe keeping and even use it if- and only if- you can answer one very important question for me."

"Anything!"

"Never say that until you know what 'anything' is."

"I'm sorry, I mean, I'll try."

"Ok, here's the question. Are you- and you have to answer this with complete honesty so consider it carefully before you answer- a good kid?" He put a lot of emphasis on the 'good' as if it meant something really important.

She did what he asked, she thought about it very seriously. She didn't really know how to answer. What makes someone "a good kid"? There were a lot of things she did wrong, she knew. She had just as much self doubt as the next teenager which was quite a lot so her appraisal was probably a bit off. But she listened to her parents, most of the time. She'd never gotten in any real trouble. And she did, in general, consider herself to be very loyal. So... maybe?

"I... I think so."

He considered her for a moment. His gaze seemed to be studying her character, judging whether or not she was worthy. Her heart went up into her throat as she waited for his verdict.

"I think you are, too," he said with a suddenly large and genuine smile on his face. She let out a big breath and smiled back.

"Ok, here's how it works," he said placing the teapot back on the table. "Now, the first rule for now, is that you must always do this with me present- never on your own. Or at least not until you've gotten the hang of it. Understand?"

"Yeah, don't do it unless you're around. Wait- do what?"

"This," he said placing the top on the teapot. She waited expectantly. Nothing happened. She was about to ask what they were waiting for when steam started coming out of the spout. She couldn't really believe her eyes. Here it was, that thing that everyone'd told her wasn't real: magic! But what magic?

"Is it making tea?"

"Nope, I don't drink tea, remember?"

"Well, then what's it doing?"

"Just wait."

After a minute the steam died down and was replaced by... squeaking?

"Is that pot... squeaking?"

"No, not the pot," he said removing the top and reaching inside. "It's this little guy," he said as he removed a small, gray mouse.

She stared in shock for a full minute trying to grasp what she'd just seen. A perfectly ordinary china teapot with little purple flowers painted on the side had, of it's own devices, made a mouse. She'd seen the inside before he put the top on. It'd been empty. And yet there Bob sat with a smug look on his face, holding a little, squeaking gray mouse.

"Oh my gosh! How did you do that?"

"I didn't do anything, it was the pot. I told you it was magic."

"Well, yeah but- how? How do you do make it do that.?"

"I'm not entirely sure," he said, his smug look replaced with one of confusion. "All I know is, I think of a gray mouse, and there's a gray mouse. If I thought of a gold teddy bear hamster, there'd be a gold teddy bear hamster. Whatever I think of, there it is. And that's where all the animals in our store come from."

"Well, what else can you make? Can you make money?"

"Nope, just animals. I haven't any clue why. But magic doesn't come around that often, so you try not to question it too much when it does."

She considered the teapot, and the mouse that had come out of it. And all the other animals she'd brought in from the back over the past year which had apparently been brought about by the same method. And then she thought of something. Something terrible. Something absolutely horrible that she wished she hadn't thought of.

"What happens when you think of a cat?"

Bob got a pained look on his face and looked down.

"There's a reason we only sell small animals," he said, very quietly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stalled

We like to think we make progress. We like to think that we, at the very least, change. That we grow into something better. Maybe not that different, maybe not wise, but something better.

And maybe we do change. maybe we see things slightly differently. But what if we haven't changed, what if just our surroundings have? What if we are, despite the years and the challenges and the supposed strength and the introspection and the purposeful, conscious behavior changes... What if underneath all that we're still the same?

Fearful, reactionary, neurotic, impulsive, naive, self-loathing... not really any different. Maybe in a different place. Maybe looking a bit different on the outside. Maybe with a nicer title or more stuff. But deep in the eyes there's still that little kid peering through and wondering what's gonna happen next.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Story Idea thanks to Shelly

The city had been floating for as long as anyone could remember. No one quite remembered why it started, or how, or where it had departed from. Sure, there were the elder scrolls which told of a time when the city was earthbound and it’s inhabitants farmed and fished and great tunnels from which they pulled stones of value. And there were those couple of epic poems that talked about sailing on great oceans and being attacked by winged beasts that only the heros could reason with. But everyone assumed they were just stories from the religion. All of their Gods had wings, afterall. And the king’s family line was said to have to started from the union of a winged God and beautiful mortal. But no one really believed the stories, they were just part of the mythology of the culture: things that had always been there and which you didn’t question unless you wanted trouble.

No, no one living in the city had any memory of a time when the city did anything more than float, lazily and somewhat drunkenly through the sky too far above the clouds for them to see land. And no one really noticed when the city started to sink, either. It had been submerged in clouds before and, much like fog, they came and went with little more than a few random complaints from the air-born urbanites. But when the city emerged from the cloud cover below the line of clouds and land was seen for the very first time there was an explosion of panic from anyone who’d peaked over the edge.

To be fair, the citizens reacted like any civilization before them had when faced with an apocalyptic scenario. They got really, really stupid. After the failed attempts at decreasing the city’s weight by pushing everything not nailed down off the edge, they turned to more conventional measures. There was mass religious hysteria complete with human sacrifices aimed at appeasing the Gods, suicides, murders and people ranting in the streets. And overall, there was fear.

Fear of the strange new sounds emerging from below, of the change in temperature, of the winds and most of all of the fact that no matter how many ceremonies, prayers, chants, sacrifices and desperate attempts at redemption were made the city continued to sink.

It dropped down alongside a long line of mountains scattered across a vast, strange landscape and veered dangerously close the side of a particularly sharp slope. But despite millions bracing for impact, it did not hit. There was a collective sigh of relief from those still conscious.

And then a shadow fell. A shadow in the shape of a very tall, very steep, very hard peak.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Promise of Fall

Nothing's actually changed and yet today I feel different. Not a lot, no sudden mood change lightening my view or making me less cynical than I have been, nothing magical. Just..is it hope, maybe? Lord knows I've been missing that lately.

I'm wearing a sweater which is, in my humble opinion, the greatest article of clothing ever invented. Would that I could knit one for myself... And yeah, I'm a little warm, but it's just cool enough that I can get away with it. Most people (at least the ones I tend to encounter) hate the cool weather. They crave sunlight, look forward to summer, and actually have the nerve to say that it's too cold out whenever the temperature drops below 60 degrees. I always tell them to move to Florida or shut the hell up.

There's the faintest scent in the air, carried on the ever so slightly cooler breeze, that reminds me of fall. Not real fall when the grain is harvested and the scent of apples, pumpkins, baked goods and leaves is crisp and sharp in the cold air. But ever the slightest hint of something that I haven't smelled in months. Something vaguely bucolic that brings up images of harvests and farms.

The days are getting noticeably shorter and I can't help but be reminded of the fact that Halloween is coming. Is there any greater holiday? I used to think it was Christmas but that's been so commercialized that it's hard to feel quite as passionate about it. But Halloween? To me that's still sacrosanct, even with the capitalism.

And even my job in which I've become inured to hopelessness doesn't bother me quite as much today. Again, not because there's any real sign of change. But perhaps because fall is coming and it reminds me that the year will end I feel ever the tiniest bit of hope for change.

Whatever the reason, i'm grateful.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mooby's Story

They told her he was just a stuffed animal, but she knew better. Not because he didn’t share the characteristics of a lot of stuffed animals. He was soft and had quickly become her favorite bed-time companion- a clear stuffed animal characteristic. And not because he wasn’t terribly cute like a stuffed animal because, although a monster is not a typical shape for a stuffed animal, there was nothing horrifying about him. And certainly not because he didn’t have that same disposition as many stuffed animals- the ones that safeguard you from the things that go bump in the night. No, it was because unlike everyone else, she saw him.

She saw that smirk and knew that it signaled more than just a pleasant disposition. She saw him dancing to bad disco music when no one else was watching and laughed and giggled as he intended her to. And she saw him sneak up under the covers to pounce on her with a big, soft glomp. She had the sight that only the innocent possess and she didn’t listen when her parents reminded her “He’s just a stuffed animal, sweetie”. She knew he was more than that. But she had no idea how much more.

Not until the zombie apocalypse came. She’d believed in that too, even though the same people had told her they were just movies. And that first night when the screams awoke her from her slumber she feared them the way that only true believers can. And that’s when her Mooby finally showed her what he really was.

As the large, decaying, violently strong undead burst through the door of her bedroom her Mooby grew to three times his size and gobbled up five of them in one huge bite. She was so stunned that she had no idea what had happened until more burst through her door and she saw them get gobbled up just the same. After a wave of them came on the heels of those she started to process what was happening.

Her purple furred, three eyed, two horned, clawed and fluffy monster friend could eat zombies. Not only could he, but he was skilled at it. And not only was he skilled, but he seemed to enjoy it. He turned around after he’d gobbled up the final wave and rubbed his tummy in satisfaction. And then he let the loudest, most earth-shaking and horrible smelling fart she’d ever been exposed to. Had his butt been facing her at the time she probably would have melted. As was the hallway behind him exploded.

He gave her an embarrassed smile and a garbled, deep “Excuse me.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bohemian Rhapsody

Having never been drunk before, Josh wasn't entirely sure how it all worked. So he did what most people when they haven't the foggiest idea what they should do: every single thing he shouldn't have done. When his friend offered him wet for the first time he said "OK". When he was asked for a ride home from a friend he said "why not?" And when someone not quite as inebriated as he was pointed out that he shouldn't be driving he said "No worries, it's cool."

It wasn't that there was no forethought at all, it was that the thoughts that occur all left out the logic sober people are capable. 'If I was really that out if it,' he reasoned, 'wouldn't I feel it?' He felt fine. A little hot body-temperature wise, which he found slightly odd since it was October, but fine. Besides- it was a crowded party. Anybody'd be a little hot.

He made it to his friend's house with little incidence. They joked for longer than his girlfriend liked and made plans to hang out the next day. As he walked back to the car he smugly took note of the fact that he was perfectly in line with the curb. He gave his girlfriend a big, wet kiss as he got and was quickly reminded of why it'd be a good idea to get home fast as his pants got a little tighter. Bohemian Rhapsody came on the radio as he started forward and he turned up the radio to sing along.

He and his girlfriend sang along joyfully, loudly and terribly out of tune. Both were "in the now" and totally unaware that his speed had increased with the volume of the radio and their voices. He belted out the lyrics- or as many of them as he could remember- at the top of his lungs and when the famous guitar solo came on he did what anyone of his generation would do. He head banged.

He didn't feel it when the car slammed head first into the a large oak tree at 83 miles an hour. He didn't feel it when the windshield shattered and sprayed him and his beautiful girlfriend with broken glass. Nor did he feel when the air bag deployed and slammed his neck back into the seat with enough force to break it. And he certainly didn't feel anything when he passed out.

What he did feel was sticky, wet drip coming from somewhere around his right hand. Having been unconscious for a good chunk of time he wasn't aware of what that feeling might be from, nor could he turn his head to find out. He was only vaguely of losing consciousness again.

It wasn't until a large unfamiliar man was shining a flashlight in his eyes that he had any awareness of his surroundings and even then all he could make out was noise, lights, chaos and pain in every part of his body. It was entirely too much input to sort out so his mind went into hibernation figuring it'd sit back wait and sort the whole mess out later. He watched as the firemen worked the jaws of life over the door thinking nothing other than 'so that's what one of those things looks like.' He watched as they pulled his body out onto the gurney with total detachment to whose body it was. And he witnessed the trees overhead as her rolled to the ambulance with a vague interest in the way the moon streamed through the leaves. Everything else was beyond him.

He was slightly irritated as his gurney was jostled into place in the ambulance and his eyes caught sight of something large and red on the side of him. He couldn't turn his head to look as it was safely braced and secured, but he could reach his hand over and feel as a blind person would. He felt the same sticky wetness that had awoken him in the car earlier and could tell that it was covering fabric and skin but that was all. Until he felt the bracelet.

It was a small, sterling silver bracelet with a turtle emblem that he'd given his girlfriend for her birthday a couple of weeks earlier and for reasons he didn't understand or question he'd become very fond of staling it from her to play with the turtle's head and spin it around in his fingers. He felt that head now and he realized who was under all that dark, sticky wetness.

For years afterward he would re-live that moment in dreams having forgotten just about everything else about the accident save for confused snapshots of scenes he never really understood. But the feel of that damned bracelet was burned into his brain stronger than any evolutionary imprint.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Music of my Heart

"Good morning Mr. Jasper. How're you feeling with the new pacemaker?"
"Horrible, I want you to take it out."
"I'm sorry?"
"I said, I want you to take it out. I feel horrible."
"Well, your EKG came back perfectly normal and all of your post-op tests are good. How are you feeling horrible?"
"I feel physically fine, that isn't the issue. The issue is that I can't play."
"What do you mean you can't play."
"I'm a pianist, right? I need to be able to play piano in order to be a pianist and I can't play."
"Okay. I'm confused as to how the pacemaker prevents that."
"Have you ever played the piano?"
"Not since grade school, I'm afraid."
"Well, remember when you very first learned and your piano teacher or the school music teacher would start up the metronome so you could play in time?"
"Metronome- that's the little wooden thing with the upside-down pendulum?"
"Exactly."
"Okay. Go on."
"Well, when you start playing, that's what you need. You can't feel the rhythm yet so you need the pendulum to keep you on time. But when you start to get good, you start to feel the music. Not like you feel the keys or the petals or the vibration of the strings, but actually feel the music."
"Okay..."
"Well, I felt the music. I lived it. I was it. Ever since I got the pacemaker it's like I'm playing to the metronome again. I can't feel a goddamn thing."
"Well, how can you be sure it's the metron- the pacemaker, I mean?"
"Because that's the only thing that's changed."
"Well, that's not true. Your body's been through a pretty big shock with the heartacttack and you've been laid up for a while. Are you sure you're not just out of practice?"
"I'm sure."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I've been playing for 47 years, I'm sure."
"Alright, that's your opinion but-"
"It's not my opinion, it's the truth. If you played you'd know what I was talking about."
"Listen, I don't doubt that I can't understand what it's like to feel the music, as you say. But what I do understand is your risk of death if you don't have that pacemaker. That's the whole reason we put it in. We discussed the risks before the surgery."
"The risk to my health, not to my career. This isn't just a hobby for me, doc. This is my life. This is who I am. I can't live if I can't play music. I want it out."
"I'm afraid I can't do that. Your heart wouldn't take it. You've already put a huge amount of stress on your system with the surgery and now it's adjusting to the pacemaker. If we take it out now it's highly unlikely that your heart would be able to take the strain and you'd probably go into cardiac arrest right there in surgery."
"Probably, not definitely, right?"
"Not 100% definitely, no. But I have to advise you against taking that extremely slim chance. It's my duty as your doctor."
"Look, I know my rights- I have the right to refuse medical treatment if i'm in my right mind, and I am. I'm aware of the risks and I want it out."
"Listen, it hasn't been that long. Two months is not a long time when you're talking about that kind of adjustment. Your body needs time to heal. Who's to say that with a little practice it won't come back to you?"
"You don't know how this feels, doc. I play every single day. It's how I greet the day in the morning, it's how I think through everything that's wrong, it's how I say goodnight to my wife, it's my very soul. If I can't play I can't live. I've been dead for two months already."
"You're telling me that you would sooner die- never see your wife again, never play with your grand kids, never do any of the other things your pacemaker allows you to do than to wait six months for your ability to come back?"
"Yes, that's exactly what i'm saying. You may think i'm nuts. Maybe if I was in your shoes i'd think I was nuts too. But I know what I need and I want it out."

After signing more legal disclaimers than one signs before entering boot camp Mr. Wallace Jasper had his pace maker removed. He did not die on the table. He did not die in post-op care. And a month later he was not only still alive, but he did his first concert in a year and performed to standing ovations.

The critics claimed that his near-death experience brought a new level of 'soulful empathy' to his music and hailed the performance as 'the most moving of an already remarkable career' as a performer. Although his health suffered tremendously he told interviewers that he had no regrets.

He died two months later after suffering a stroke.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Feel of Fear

They say that animals can smell fear and it's no wonder why. It's a terribly physical state. Not in the way that everyone thinks, though. People are used to anxiety and panic attacks. They read about it, talk about it, watch daytime talk shows about it. Most people know what it looks like and probably have met someone who's had one and loves to talk about it: "I couldn't breath and I felt like I was literally having a heart attack!" But that's panic, not fear. Fear is something entirely different.

Fear is like one of those internal parasites that you pick up from exotic locations like Africa or the Amazon jungle. It lives inside you, feeds off of everything you take in, grows bigger and spreads before you even have any idea that you're carrying it. That's real fear.

You don't become aware until you start having indigestion with seemingly every meal or an itching under your skin that you can't pinpoint the start off. You don't start to think that's somethings wrong until you notice the trend- the stomach pains gets worse, your skin starts to chafe. And even then you figure it's nothing that some pepto bismol or neosporin won't fix. But it doesn't.

So you finally go to the doctor but your symptoms are so nondescript you still don't really understand what's going on. And so it gets worse. And you count the hours, the days, until you get your diagnosis.

And by this time, it's infected your whole system. You noticed because of the pain it caused, not because of the billion little annoyances and uncertainties that preceded it. But they were there all along, priming your system, And now it's been completely taken over.

Now you can't look at a new situation or person or event without that instantaneous twinge in your gut. Now you can't make that minor mistake without that wave of self loathing washing over you. The one that's become so comfortable by this point that you hardly even notice it anymore. Now you can't face life- every day, simple, mundane life- without fliching just a little.

What's so scary is the realization that all of these symptoms were there from the beginning. And that all this time you've been eaten alive. Maybe if you noticed, maybe if you asked for help, maybe if you pushed yourself harder then it wouldn't be so dire now. It wouldn't hurt so damn much and you wouldn't feel quite so out of control.

Maybe then just the power of positive thinking or a change of sleeping habits would have done the trick. But not now. Now it's too late for such passive methods. Now you practically have to attack yourself to try to rid your system of the thing that's hijacked you. The thing that you didn't even know was there. It's like cancer in that regard. It grows and grows and now with as much pain as you're in, as difficult as getting up in the morning has become- now the only thing left to do is poison yourself with chemo or radiation and hope to kill it before you kill yourself.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scene from a random movie

The soft glow from the tv illuminated the living room in mostly shadows, hiding the secrets of the scene. Earlier, whispered conversations were spoken before the glow. A couple made out and got handsy on the couch. The houses inhabitants slept, snoring lightly to the background noise of whatever channel had been left on. Showings of late night sketch comedies or even porn greeted whoever would post themselves on the couch in front of it. A thousand different every day occurrences took place in the soft glow of the t.v. Earlier.

Now the shadows seemed to hug the area around the couch tighter than normal and the darkness seemed unaffected by the tv's light. Only closer inspection would reveal the slight texture of the floor, revealing not the soft cotton stubble of carpet, but the thick liquid covering of blood.

Tuesday at the Supermarket

He checked his wrist watch for the thirteenth time that hour. He normally wasn’t this antsy only half way through the shift but he wanted that mint condition 1848 Liberty Seated half dollar so bad he couldn’t think about anything else and the e-bay auction was ending at 8am. Besides, he thought to himself, if Sparkshollow41 beat him out on another rare piece he was going to hunt him down and kill him.

He’d finished with all the facing two hours ago and because the new trucks didn’t arrive until tomorrow there was little to do. So he stood at the register cleaning up random receipt rolls, dusting and checking his watch.

He found himself daydreaming about the possibility of nearing the completion of his half dollar collection by acquiring this new piece as he mindlessly hummed to himself. It was in this state that he found himself singing along in a terrible falsetto to “Girls just wanna have fun” without even noticing that an actual customer had approached his isle and was unloading their things. It wasn’t until his repletion of “They just wanna, they just wanna” was interrupted by an unassuming but distinct throat clearing that he even looked up.

He was greeted by a raised eyebrow from an older gentleman who was holding out his pricechopper card to him. He instantly stopped singing and reached for the card to scan. Upon returning it to the man he felt an inexplicable need to defend himself.

“What else are you gonna do at 2:30 am on a Tuesday night?” he asked.

The man looked back at him with a slight smirk and answered “Fair enough.”

Friday, September 4, 2009

Porn of the Dead

The title had technically already been used but with only one worthwhile scene in the whole movie he figured that the genre was ripe for a sequel. So with the help of a few technically-minded friends, about $300 worth of video equipment, some vaguely dramatic friends, and some wanna-be porn stars he'd recruited from Craig's list he got started.

Porn of the Dead was going to revolutionize the industry and usher in a new era of undead erotica. He could envision not just movies, but magazines, novels, internet shorts, sex toys, edibles, and a whole world of erotic storytelling in which the decaying body parts of the human form would take on a whole new sensuality. He was one of the faithful who not only believed in the project, but believed in the ideal and carried the purpose of expanding the minds of his fellow peoples.

But all true believers have to encounter some ignorance on the way. To say that the movie did not take off would be an understatement. Even with endless possibilities of random viewers on YouTube the movie'd only gotten 324 hits after a full month online. He couldn't understand why. Sure there was a severe lack of exposure, but he reasoned that if people would willingly watch video tutorials on how to floss a cat's teeth then surely SOMEONE would want to watch Zombie porn. It was porn, afterall. And the internet was an endless world of sexual deviants. So what was the problem?

The problem, he learned from his newly matriculating film student friend, was that he didn't have a trailer. He informed him that no movie, no matter how bad, with a trailer ever failed to be viewed. Especially since there was a good five minutes of intro before the first sex scene, no wonder no one was talking about it. The collective attention span of 99% of web surfers was about two minutes so he was way over par.

He put together a full minute and 23 second trailer including some of the racier bits from the film with some bold fonts and dramatic music and posted it. Within three days the movie had well over 2 million views and was an instant viral classic. It was talked about on every blog from right wing republicans denouncing the depths that human morality had sunk to all the way to underground sexual revolutionists praising the expansion of creativity in erotic storytelling. Within a month Howard Stern was interviewing the porn stars while the viewers of Attack of the Show got to see the man behind the myth.

He was fully under-prepared for this level of exposure but he reasoned that it would die down soon enough. Within the popular media it did. But not until after movies, books, magazines, toys and more than he could have ever imagined emerged. He had successfully sparked a new genre of erotica and felt satisfied in his creation. He slept the sleep of a man who had made a distinguishable impact on the world.

That's when the fan mail started.

He'd gotten a whole host of e-mails from fans before. Especially after he appeared on television. Apparently there were a whole lot of women in the world with somewhat twisted sexual turn-ons that found him devastatingly attractive. But their attentions, too, died down in time. But this was different.

These were long, soul-bearing letters. She not only praised his creative genius and his dream of changing the pornographic landscape. She praised him, as a person. She made great assumptions about the thought, feeling, and sexual exploration that must have taken place in him to come up with such a great cinematic masterpiece. She cursed the others who came after him for making pale imitations of his opus. She empathized with the level of loneliness he must feel to know that he was the only one in the world who could feel that level of attraction for the deceased, but assured him that he was not alone.

He closed every website, blog, e-mail address and fan site he'd ever had.

That's when the pictures started coming by mail. They were tame, at first. Fully clothed, then scantily clothed, then partially clothed, then nude but tastefully posed, then full frontal, then in various sexual positions, and so on. He hadn't thought much of it at first, but when he got the first roll of her in various sexual positions with what was unmistakably a cadaver he changed his address.

It stopped. For about a month.

Then he got the video. She had remade every sex scene of his entire movie with her as the star. And since she wanted it to be authentic, she used real bodies. They didn't shamble or attack like the actors in his movie had. But their decaying parts looked a lot more real.

He gave it to the police, along with every other piece of of correspondence he'd ever gotten from her, and filed a detailed report about how long it'd been going on. They assured him that they would keep on eye on the online community for someone fitting the profile of this sicko and he felt a brief twinge of relief. Then he came home to a box containing a decaying penis with a love note about what she'd like to do with it. To him.

So he gave that to the police, and moved to a new town. He wasn't about to uproot his whole life for one crazy bitch, so he only moved half an hour away. But his new apartment had a programmable key code that he could change as frequently as he wanted to with little difficulty, and a security guard in the lobby. He developed an intricate routine of thoroughly inspecting his mail before bringing it up to the apartment and made the guard open anything from an unfamiliar address. They didn't find anything for a full two months, and he started to relax.

Then one evening, after he'd gotten used to entering his apartment without checking the door for marks of a break-in or checking behind his shoulder for shadows of a passerby, he came home to his dark apartment and put his bags down on the side table. As he turned on the light he felt a sharp prick in his neck and reached up to find a dart which must have been shot from close up. He turned and saw her lying seductively on the couch, relaxing back with the shooter pulling away from her mouth.

He felt a sense of overwhelming anger at himself for letting his guard down as his body slid to the floor, pushing the door closed behind him. He couldn't scream, he couldn't blink, and he couldn't do a damn thing to stop her as she came to stand over him with a lazy, seductive smile.

"Don't worry, Curtis. I'm not going to kill you."

Somehow he didn't find that very reassuring.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Outside the comfort zone

The temperature in the room seemed to shoot up 30 degrees in a split second. Her clothes suddenly seemed a lot more insulating than she’d remembered them being when she entered and a ring of sweat instantly burst into existence around her collar. It felt like all eyes were on her although chances were at least a few of them were looking at their computer screens or paperwork. Didn’t matter. The eyes she was concerned about belonged to the judge, and those were fixed on her.

“I’m leaving this up to your considerable experience and asking you if you think she can do treatment.” he said, the same authority in his voice he used for the courtroom.

She paused, unsure of where to go. Luckily she was bought some time by the interruption of the reliably loose-lipped probation officer who desperately tried to remind the judge of the more convoluted facts of the situation.

“We know all that, that doesn’t change it,” he cut her off. “Whether this is a delusion or we’re looking at a pathology the options are still the same. Either, we’re going to let her go back to that same environment we took her out of or we’re going to keep her there and try treatment.” He stopped, seemingly to make it sink in. “I’m asking the therapist what we should do. Can she engage in treatment?”

If he had any idea how unsure of myself I was, he wouldn’t be interested in my opinion, she concluded to herself. Why is it that everyone always seems to have so much more faith in me than I do? I’ve never encountered this sort-of thing before, I don’t even know if I’ve read about it. We haven’t even had the psych eval and he’s asking me to make a call about her status in the program.

She took a deep breath, placed her hands flat on the table, and forced herself to look up and make eye contact. “The honest answer is I don’t know. But I think we’ve got to try.”

She guessed that it wouldn’t work. Certainly that there wouldn’t be progress to report any time soon if at all. But she couldn’t write it off when she had no idea what the hell she was dealing with yet. Even if it ended up being another mistake that she would look back on later on in her career as she explained how she learned to make the judgment calls she would be making then, hopefully with more confidence and trust in herself. Give it a try, learn. And she knew with certainty that this was one of those moments when she knew what it meant to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recession Ending

I know how to fix the recession. It's so obvious when you think about it, I don't why it didn't occur to me sooner.

The answer is: Therapy.

The economy's in the shitter because of the market, right? The market's in the shitter because people are scared. Where do you go to get your phobia treated? To the therapist.

We could do widespread exposure therapy for everyone on Wall Street and teach them basic coping tools to handle fear, stress, uncertainty and help them build confidence.

They, in turn, could act as peer counselors to their investors, giving them soothing words of advice when their stocks are fluctuating. The investors are calmed, keep their money put, and experience growth.

The rest of the world, experiencing a confidence boost themselves from this, buy more shit. This creates jobs giving more people money to buy more shit. And then we're back where we started.

Long term, we keep the assholes in Wall Street in therapy so that this shit doesn't happen again in another decade. Problem solved.

In the words of Will Ferrel as George W. Bush, "You're Welcome America!"