Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 5)

   “The color I chose for the 'circuit board' as you so call it,” said Cezar, “is the color of a special type of gas used by a research arm of the US government. Alone, it's simply an unhealthy hallucinogen, but in conjunction with very specific moderated doses of psychological suggestion, it can implant certain . . . even nonhuman, thoughts and behaviors. Whatever is perfected here, goes to be used on the public. These cabins are the testing ground.”

    Penny had no response that wasn’t bemusement, so she politely froze.

    “Sorry,” said Cezar. “I should have gone into that with a lot more disclaimers than I did. Things like 'You're not going to believe this at first' and 'I know this sounds crazy but . . . ' I apologize. But before you ask any questions I have a confession.”

    He took the metal ring off his head and meticulously unhooked all the wires from his arm until he was no longer attached to any machinery. He leaned forward and took a deep breath, then peered into each of Penny's eyes.

    “You might be okay, for now,” he said. “But they've definitely got you.”

    “You don’t . . .” said Penny, pointing to Cezar’s discarded machines, “need those.”

   “Standing sounds great right about now,” Cezar said. He stretched, elongated like a cat and paced in a few circles, then leaned his hands on the back of his chair while he spoke to Penny.

    “I'm not really sick,” he said. “Nor am I a grant student writing a book on researching some disease. I find what the government has been up to awful and I want the world to know. My device there is a monitor of sorts. There's more to it than that but anyway . . . the fact that that symbol is in your head, that you knew how to fix it, that you've seen it before, means that you've already been in an installation and tested.”

    Penny shivered. “That's fucking impossible,” she said. “I've been here the whole time.”

    “Sure, I'd vouch for that,” said Cezar. “But obviously you know things that you think you don't. They haven't got to me because they only test the fit.”

    “This could all be art,” Penny said. “What if your thing doesn't do anything? Please don't fuck with me like this. Did you know what Frank was up to last night? You're all fucking crazy.” 

Cezar held up his hands. “Please,” he said. “If you want to leave, leave. But I'd ask that you hear me out completely first. I'd say look it up, but our wireless is suspiciously unreliable,” said Cezar. 

    “Well, what are we doing here then?” asked Penny.

    “They must have tweaked the program somehow,” said Cezar. “I've applied numerous times under various fake identities, with histories and not. Must be testing a new phase because no one here is very prominent . . . no offense.”

    Penny shook her head. “What proof do you have? This is all just a bunch of stories. Maybe you programmed that thing to respond to that design. Artists are so weird.”

    “Now you're just listing every possibility,” said Cezar. “I have no reason to mess with you or anyone. I want to stop this. Maybe someone else knows the design, would that help?”

    “What about the emerald mountains?” asked Penny. “I went looking for Ryleigh earlier and Yaser had no idea who I was talking about. Then Dani invited me in to see her. Well, or at least one of them was being cagey.”

    “Stop right there,” said Cezar. “See how scrambled your memory is? They stood right next to each other with conflicting stories?”

    “Yes,” said Penny. “Ryleigh was there, in the back. Or at least, that part I'm unsure of.”

    “Penny,” said Cezar. “I told you all this with little forethought, but I still stand by the fact that more information is better than less. If we could pretend we're still ourselves for a little bit, that would be good. For me at least. I could continue to get work done.”

    “Are the mountains real?” asked Penny.

    Cezar was quiet for a moment and then shrugged. “Ryleigh wants you to think they are. I personally find their color distressing.”

Holy Books - XV: The Tax Man

1 It’s only a matter of time before they start coming to your door again. 

2 Unmistakable in poofy red velvet shoulder pillows. Giant black leather book with a quill pen. What are they writing in there? 

3 They don’t appear for the purposes of taking notes on your sorry existence. They come for the tax. 

5 Those of us old enough remember the unmistakable perfume they wore. It carried on the breeze before they arrived, and even though they knew it gave us time to prepare for their arrival - hiding our assets, relatives, means of income, extravagant luxuries, recreational substances and outfits and devices - they wore it anyway because  the attitude of their office is more important than reporting the truth.

6 When the motorcades receded in the distance, a collective sigh of relief settled over the towns. They never arrived in a motorcade. Only left in one. 

7 No one has ever heard a single one of their cars, only the collective. And those scholars, trained in perfect pitch, prodigies from birth to whom even the slightest breeze is a symphony, cannot place the tone of their vehicular mass. The term Auto Group has been added to the lexicon of musical theory, but that is about it. Definitions remain elusive and argued over, as well as arguing over the merits of arguing over them.

8 Academics place the Auto Group in the same category as the infamous word Fortiboulneimb, which everyone learns and no one knows what it means. 

9 When adults use it around children, the children pretend to know and the adults overhearing this exchange shake their heads in shame. Who is so under-confident that they would purposely use a word for which no definition exists, just to sound smart.

10 Attempts to look up the word only lead to other books and websites promising the definition which leads to more of the same. And yet, there it is in the earliest curriculum as one of the primary vocabulary words.

11 The closest we’ve come to defining it is in medical circles, where the utterance of the word brought forth a splatter on someone’s lab samples. Initially distraught at the damage to their research, like all great scientists they studied the dishes under a microscope just to observe the extent of contamination and came up with a new subset of mucoproteins. These remain the only specimens ever discovered and, although many attempts to recreate the circumstances of the mucoprotein’s birth, they remain a single unique entity produced by a single unique utterance.

12 But I was just talking about the tax man. Yeah, fuck those guys.

The Comedian's Notebook: Into the Tryphon Design

~ Do I attract weird people? Someone at the show tonight (an open mike I went to by myself, thank you very much, I can't stalk Verena as a full-time job) was wearing a shirt with an overview picture of our fair city. It (the shirt) looked homemade, or home silk-screened, whatever you call it, and had points labeled on the city with arrows leading outward. Each arrow said something. Palace. Pyramid. Sun Tower. I forget the others.

    We were standing at the bar and a very drunk Dude-Bro in front of us was ordering drinks for like, ten people. Maybe it wasn't that many but he was having trouble enunciating and the other guy saw me staring at his shirt. So on a whim I asked him about our local geography.

    “Not geography,” he said. “Locational Iconography. That's what I call it.”

    “So there's a bird I noticed recently, in a building that I frequent,” I said.

    “Marieke Shem,” he said, interrupting me. “In the Rasmus building, yeah, that's famous. But subtle.”

    “Can't believe I missed it for so long,” I said.

    “That's its purpose,” he replied. “In the story taught to 5th degree Blaanid's, the bird flies the world through space, so they symbolize it by subtle placement.”

    “I understood only the second third of that sentence,” I said.

    “Second third,” he nodded. “You a comedian?”

    “Well,” I gestured around, “isn't everybody?”

    “I'm just here for the architecture,” he said, “meet some buddies later and we walk a path.”

    I nodded, then glanced back at the bartender who gazed at us with pained longing.

    “That guy?” said the shirt-wearer, pointing to the Dude-Bro, “he's from The Committee.”

    “What?” I asked. It was the only thing I could say.

    “They know I come here to wait for something with very specific timing, and they're trying to thwart me,” he explained. “But what they don't know is,” he raised his voice and leaned toward the Dude-Bro, “I'm early as shit, dumbass.”

    I turned away, hoping that my body language might not give away that I was just talking to this guy. The Dude-Bro froze for a moment, then regained his drunken posture, grabbed whatever glasses were in front of him and walked away. We got to the front of the line. I immediately shook it off as coincidence, or that the shirt-wearer was just fucking with me.

    “What'll you have?” he asked. I liked him. He was chubby, with dark hair and a beard and glasses. Somewhat darker. Reminded me of a young Fidel Castro almost. Still, he seemed awkward yet forthcoming in a way I found amiable. That last sentence doesn’t sound like me.

    “Oh uh, Jack and Coke,” I said.

    He ordered his drink and then doubled both of ours. “Don't worry about the tip either,” he said. “I got this.”

    “Thanks,” I said, “I was planning on staying for most of the sets, um you're meeting - ?”

    “Yeah, but I don't know when,” he said. “Let's grab that table over there. I always watch the show until it comes time for walking. Of course, I'd love to go up there myself, but I got nothin' to say.”

    “Hold on,” I replied, “you just told me a mouthful about . . . hang on, Localized Iconography. That's something.”

    “Yeah, but it's not funny,” he said.

    “Oh, people will laugh,” I replied.

    “That's probably very true,” he said. “Maybe I should just go up there and be totally honest about my interests, and that'll make me the best comedian in the world.”

    I sipped my drink. Strong. Good. “Best don't mean shit,” I said. “The best comedian is fucking hoeing a field somewhere. No one will ever hear him . . . or her.”

    He nodded. “You signed up tonight?”

    “Nah,” I said. “Still doing research. I've got a . . . date with a friend for when we're gonna go up. At Inderjit, I think.”

    “First time for both of you, huh?” he asked.

    “No. Not for her. She's been doing this for years. I think. First time for me. I been working on stuff for quite a while, though,” I said.

    “Nice. Don't worry. I'm not gonna ask you to try out material on me,” he said. Then he pointed. “You see that chandelier?”

    I made the affirmative gesture with my head which irritates me when I see it written in books.

    “That's a design following the Tryphon patterns. He was an ancient Greek mathematician/occultist. Known for kind of, jumping the gun on stuff. He talked big without knowing much and reached insane conclusions without any evidence. However, someone traced these drawings of his in an unlabelled notebook and well . . . people who claim to have done that, or be involved with it in some way mysteriously vanish. Theories vary from the designs being so strange that they scramble your brain, or that they're passages to other worlds that no one can come back from. You notice how no one stands directly underneath it.”

    “Yeah, well, it's a chandelier,” I said. “People notice that it's extremely jagged and instinctively don't want to be vulnerable.”

    “But look,” he insisted, “there's always a clear circle underneath it. That can't just be reptile-brain activity.”

    “Why not?” I asked. “It explains a lot of what we do.” I sipped more of my drink, which was now half-empty. “Check out Dude-Bro dancing.”

    “What?” he asked. “Oh, him.”

    “Sorry,” I said, “that was how I labeled him in my head. Hey, wait a minute. What's your name?”

    “What's my label?” he asked.

    I thought for a moment. “Fidel.”

    He laughed. “Okay okay, that explains the behavior of airport security around me.”

    “You really get stopped?” I asked.

    “Commonly enough that I have to plan ahead for it,” he said.

    “So what's your name,” I asked, “is it suspicious at all?”

    “Linos,” he said. “It's Greek, but that doesn't matter to some hillbilly TSA agent. If it ain't John or Mike, then it's suspicious.”

    “Alright, Linos,” I said. “What's all this about The Committee?”

    He leaned forward as if discussing something confidential. “The Committee is an affiliation of people designed to . . . cause unrest.”

    “Like, incite riots?” I asked.

    “Far more subtle than that,” he said. “They trace people's movements, and then hinder them by inconvenience. They'll send cars to make sure you don't cross the road in time for your bus. They'll have people wait in line,” he gestured to Dude-Bro, “to make you late for something else. The more ballsy ones will remove objects from your pockets or backpack that you purposefully packed for a certain outing –”

    “Hang on,” I said. “The resources to pull this off would be tremendous. How come no one's talking about it?”

    “We're talking about it,” he said.

    “But . . . but the sheer number of people who would have to be in-the-know about this . . .”

    “It's staggering, I agree,” he said. “But think about it. The vast majority of people who go to college never graduate and end up stagnating at some job that they hate. Tons of people think that they're geniuses and don't go to college at all and somehow expect the universe to recognize their greatness and take care of them. As life grinds these people down, they use the internet to search for, um . . . unconventional lines of work. Nowadays, it’s just an app. The assignments start simple. Usually driving. Good salary. For instance: Be at this intersection at this time to make sure this person is on this side of the road. If they are, you get a bonus.”

    “Look,” I said, “your logic of down-on-their-luck people taking immoral jobs I have no problem with. It's just again, the scale of this operation. And you said a salary. Who funds this?”

    “Money comes from way up top,” he said, lifting his hands. “But they don't really know what it's for. Politicians, lobbyists, rich power-players who for some reason have noticed that by funneling money through these routes, power is sustained, or even increased. Eyes are not focused on them the more people's petty problems consume them.”

    “So, Dude-Bro is here, getting paid to mess with you . . . and now he's just fuckin' around on the clock?” I asked.

    “I don't work for them,” said Linos. “His assignment was compromised by me not being in a hurry.”

    “So why are you a target?” I asked.

    “Because I noticed,” he said.

    “Sounds like confirmation bias,” I said. “You want to see a pattern, so you do.”

    “Well then finding confirmation bias is a result of the same fault,” he said, sipping his drink.

    There was something wrong with his statement, but I wasn't sure what, nor did I want to argue with him. He was friendly and interesting. Instead, my drink gave me an idea.

    “Want me to get rid of him for you?” I asked.

    “Excuse me?” he replied.

    “Dude-Bro,” I said. “Look at him. The guy couldn't be more clueless. He's dancing alone, and not in the cool Billy Idol way. He's a joke and everyone can tell.”

    “He'll never admit to being part of it,” said Linos.

    “Oh, I know that,” I said, “because it backs up your story. I have a better idea. Wait for me.”

    I got up and walked across the dance floor. Apparently this was not a sacred space that would push away people like me who have never danced. There was no Cool-People-Only bouncer. No one even noticed.

    Despite what I thought of him, Dude-Bro looked like a successful person. Sure he had the douchy hair, but he was clean-shaven, his clothes were nice, his teeth were white. Every move seemed so effortless. He was probably buff. Someone whose self-image consumed their almost every thought. I wished I could look like him. I wished I wasn't embarrassed to take my shirt off in front of people. I am by no means fat, but I'm not toned. I wished that people wanted to be me, the way I wished that I could look like him.

    He was occasionally flailing in ways that made other dancers give him a wide berth. I tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey Dude-Bro,” I yelled into his ear.

    He turned to me and smiled. Actually smiled. “What up man? You lookin' to party, I ain't your dealer you might have me confused with someone else, but best of luck to ya,” he turned back to his invisible partner.

    “No,” I yelled, grabbing him by the shoulder. He turned around, his face a mask of fury. “Look up there,” I pointed.

    While he was distracted I pulled him three steps forward to directly underneath the chandelier. I couldn't quite bring myself to look up as well, despite the silliness of Linos' warning. Dude-Bro froze and went slack. His jaw drooped and his head lolled forward slowly. I didn't even think about it then, but I'm sure all the music stopped. It was like I turned off a robot. He stopped breathing. I involuntarily followed his gaze down just in time for him to lift his leg and stamp on my foot.

    “Motherfucker,” I screamed into the echoing unfocused silence and I involuntarily looked into the design of the chandelier.

    The clanging began all at once. My head was full of marbles trying to escape and the sound skipped around like static on the radio. I felt myself falling off a ledge and I stepped back, and was back on the dance floor. Normal music, normal feeling, normal . . . everything. Except that, Dude-Bro was gone.

    I looked around, saw enough to notice that I was on the edge of a circle on the dance-floor that no one was occupying. Linos half-got-up out of his chair. I practiced walking and found I could do it. 

Linos seemed cautious of my presence. He waved his hand in front of my eyes. “Hey. Can you hear me? Don't go anywhere, I'll stop you, I swear.”

    “I'm not . . . I'm fine. I'm not leaving. Why would I leave?” I said, surprised I could talk.

    “Dude-Bro took off,” he said. “It all happened so fast that no one noticed, but I saw you pull him into the Tryphon Design. You looked too. What happened? You actually pulled him, like, he had his heels up and everything but when he saw it he almost knocked you over fleeing. But you looked too.”

    “It's just loud in here,” I said. “He stomped on my foot and it hurt more than I was expecting. That's all. But, it turns out, we're both still on this mortal plane. So, no passage to other worlds, eh? Too bad.”

    “I dunno man,” said Linos. “He looked pretty freaked. I got a few pictures of him, so we'll see what happens?”

    “What are you expecting to happen?” I asked.

    But Linos was looking behind me and waving to his buddies. They joined us and my adventure will continue but goddamn my hand is tired.

The Comedian's Notebook: The End is Everywhere

~ Today I had to deliver some emergency ink to an office building. The person who delivered there before me had forgotten the ink, and it was a rush. I’d delivered to this building and this company countless times before, but failed to see that there was no floor number written on the invoice. So, on autopilot, I went there, expecting to be the big hero.

    They moved. The lobby was empty. I walked in off of a busy street into a nearly deserted building. It was cold and rainy outside and normally even the homeless people frequent lobbies such as these. But no one was in there. Or so I thought. In the far corner, on a park bench was an Indian-looking woman holding a stone tablet. I walked over to her, expecting to maybe find elevators, but they had been walled over. 

    The woman looked up at me as I approached. I don't think she could see, even though she had gorgeous eyes.

    “Can you . . . read?” she asked, holding the tablet up to me.

    There was something wrong with her fingertips. They looked black and blistered. I touched the tablet and looked at it. Various symbols that didn't mean shit to me adorned it.

    “Um, sorry, but I don't understand them,” I said.

    She raised her hand in the air and then lowered it onto mine. Her fingertips felt like rocks. She gently ran my fingertips along the symbols carved in the slab and said some words aloud as she passed over them. Words I could not understand.

    Once we hit the bottom, she said, “It only affects my people. This is the perfection of their weapon. It is the end. Our time is over.” She let me go and leaned back, cradling the slab like a baby.

    “Do you . . . do you need some help?” I asked. Not sure what I meant. But I did have a cell-phone.

    “Everywhere I go,” she said, “it will be the end. There is nothing more. Thank you.” She became so still I was afraid to move. Her eyes darted up at me like startled birds. “Talk about me if you must,” she said and waved her blackened fingertips like she was painting in the air. “You may go.” And she returned to her statuesque demeanor.

    I reverse-wheeled my hand-truck of printer ink out the door. My phone rang immediately. Yeah, they moved. Yeah, no one told me. Yeah, it was all fine.

~  In order to persevere against impossible odds . . . having an Indian woman tell you it's all over for her people doesn't help. Heck, even a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, heterosexual, cis-gendered, American male has problems. Maybe he was abused as a child. You know, he was born a boy and his parents actually raised him as one . . . You hear that silence? That's the sound of a million Trigger-Warning's cocked and loaded and aimed at my head.

    I need a smoother transition into the child-abuse joke, but it's a start.

~ Changing a tire and driving a stick-shift are HUGE points of pride for people who know how to do them. Despite their continued insistence on how easy they are. 

‘Kids these days can’t even change a tire.’ 

‘A stick-shift is a modern theft-prevention device.’ 

What kind of asshole takes pride in making fun of other people for not knowing how to do things they were never taught? How many of these stick-driving tire changers can churn butter? What? You don’t know how to churn butter, or use a well? When I was your age I knew how to churn better and use a well. That must make me a better person. What I didn’t have is a nice climate-controlled vehicle to get to work and back and go on vacations with.

These car-people are really just jealous because what the kids today have is access to all the finest pornography worldwide, for free. They can just hang out with their friends, learn about and have all the great sex they want; instead of trying things you saw in a magazine in your dad’s shoebox that was printed thirty years before you were born.

So have fun playing with your stick and jacking your rod!

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 4)

The ready heat and adjustability of the shower made Penny again feel guilty for staying in the woods with all these luxuries. She kept it short, and wondered if Cezar or Frank ever bathed.

Cezar probably had some apparatus to zap off the daily grime, molecule by molecule. Frank would sleep the day through. Chinonso was probably used to bathing by hand and Penny was surprised to see her in the living room with a bag full of traditional female bathroom accouterments.

“What?” Chinonso shrugged. “I am a lady too.

“It's all yours,” said Penny. “I doubt the men will be using it anytime soon.

There was coffee in the cupboards. And filters. How thoughtful. Wherever people were expected, so was coffee. She took a cup with her to the porch. Her next plan was to locate the trail from yesterday.

She saw the waste bins behind each cabin. Five of them, shut and locked tightly, each for specifically labeled things like garbage, recycling, cleaning and sanitizing products. Any sort of strong smell would attract animals.

What she'd assumed would be an easy trek confounded her on the very first step. There was no discernible path. Ryleigh had no trouble finding it. Maybe knocking on the other cabin's door would be rude at this time. Whatever time it was. She wasn’t going to go back inside and check. 

The slope was gradual. She was glad she hadn't brought her coffee along. Farther down, a patch of bushes blocked what would have been the easiest route. Loose rocks dominated the steep sides of the hill and Penny stopped, wondering where she could go. To the left and to the right, the steepness only increased and the path she had walked down with Ryleigh had been fairly straight. On this side of the mountain she had to watch her every step. If she walked to the left she'd eventually be behind the other cabin and she was sure the path had been between them. The only explanation was disorientation.

Penny gave in, heading to the other cabin. Yaser sat on the front porch, sipping coffee, much like she had been a little while ago. He turned when he heard her footsteps.

    “Good morning,” said Penny, waving.

    “Hello,” said Yaser, and waved back.

    Penny stepped onto the porch. “So, you guys were given coffee as well, huh?”

    “Yes,” said Yaser. “The first thing we did together was go through all the drawers and cupboards like we had snuck into someone else's house. Why do people do that?” he asked himself and shrugged. “It was exciting anyway.”

    “Great,” said Penny. “I noticed that no one put anything in our cupboards. Weird isn't it? We can't wait to look at all the space we have, but then we don't know how to use it.”

    “Well,” said Yaser, gesturing to the forest, “at least all this is being used well.”

    Penny nodded. “Totally agree. I was just out walking and . . . is everyone up?”

    Yaser raised his eyebrows. “Everyone?” he asked. “Dani went out a while ago, I don't know, hiking or . . . bundling. She took some string or twine with her.”

    “What about Ryleigh?” asked Penny.

    Yaser looked confused, then said, “Her name's Dani, is that right?”

    Penny nodded. “Dani, yes, but I'm asking about Ryleigh. She showed me a path last night that I was sure I'd be able to find again, but today I couldn't.”

    “Ah,” said Yaser, “too bad. No street signs, eh? Maybe you're just good at following people.”

    “Well,” said Penny, “I'd like to ask her myself, is she in there or –?”

    “No one's in there,” said Yaser, staring into the woods.

    “Oh, did she go hiking with Dani?” Penny asked.

    Yaser shook his head. “I already told you, Dani went off alone. Gathering wood, maybe? I don't know what she planned on tying up, but we haven't had a fire out there yet.” He pointed in the direction of Penny's cabin which had the fire pit in front of it.

    “Yeah, that would be nice,” said Penny, “but you don't know where Ryleigh is?”

    “There's Dani, ask her yourself,” said Yaser, pointing.

    Dani was indeed walking toward the cabin, emerging with two large bundles of sticks under each arm. She had a small sack attached to her belt-loop as well, which bulged.

    “Hey guys,” she said. “What's up um, Penny, is it?”

    Penny nodded. “Yes, Dani, right?”

    “Right,” said Dani, smiling. She leaned the bundles against the wall and opened her sack. Carved chunks of a spongy white substance popped out of the top. “Lion's Mane,” she said. “Grows in the wounds of trees. Totally edible. But I'll cook it in something. Do we have any pans around here?”

    Dani directed this question at Yaser who stared back at her for a moment then shook his head.

    “That's so cool,” said Penny. “I'm sure we can find something if you guys don't have anything.”

    Yaser was still shaking his head.

    “Well, too bad,” said Dani.

    “Have you seen Ryleigh today?” asked Penny.

    “Of course,” said Dani. “She's probably reading on the couch or something.”

    “Nope,” said Yaser. He stood up and began examining the bundles that Dani had brought.

    “Did . . . she leave?” asked Penny.

    “I'm sure she's here and would love to see you,” said Dani, stepping aside from the door.

    Yaser stood next to Dani. “No one's here,” he said. 

    Dani stood by the door with her hand on the knob, prepared to open it. Yaser stood next to her, waiting for Penny's next move.

    Penny uttered a less-than-half-hearted-chuckle. “I'll just . . . come back later.”

    “I'm sure it's no trouble,” said Dani.

    “No one here by that name,” said Yaser.

    “Okay, uh, later,” said Penny, her smile breaking under Yaser’s stare. She almost headed back to her own cabin before deciding to check for a path. 

Their cabin had the exact same waste bins as she did, but above was a black window. Something white ran along the inside sill, a little mouse maybe. Penny took a few steps closer and gazed into the window, slightly above her sight-line. The white shape pressed against the bottom of the glass and slid out of sight. 

When she got back, Frank was outside with coffee. The wrinkles in his face resembled an eroded cliff. His eyes were half-shut but he grunted an affirmation as she walked by.

    “Morning Frank,” said Penny.

    “Ugh,” said Frank. “It is a good morning, just not for my body. No one was supposed to know I'd be hittin' the sauce, but I guess someone found out.” He held up his bandaged arm. “Don't remember this one bit.”

    “Yeah, well . . .” said Penny, not entirely believing him. “You found the coffee at least.”

    “That was you?” he asked. “Thanks. Maybe I'll clear my head in the fresh air once I get the strength to walk.”

    Chinonso's voice rang out. “You just be careful about getting dirt in it. It’s important for the wound to breathe, but not to get infected.”  

Inside the cabin, Chinonso sat on the couch. In front of her, the radio lay strewn about the coffee table. “It's completely fried.”

    “Well, I guess that's not surprising,” said Penny, gesturing outside to Frank. “Considering the flash. Do you need something? I'm sure we can use . . .” she stopped, remembering her altercation, “. . . the other cabin's. Hopefully, they wouldn't be weird about it.”

    “It's no big deal,” said Chinonso. “It was just ugly in its charred case. I'm going to hide it in a cupboard somewhere. Maybe we don't get charged for it.”

    “I doubt that'll happen,” said Penny. “It's their responsibility to make sure we have one of those. Who knows? Maybe they've wanted a new one for years but couldn't get money from the state. Now they can.”

    “He did them a favor,” said Chinonso. “Who could have guessed?” She picked up the debris and went off.

    Penny planned on going to her room but saw Cezar's door was open so she poked her head in. “Good morning,” she said.

    He nodded back at her, then resumed whatever it was he was doing. He wore the same clothes as yesterday and his bed was perfectly made. Maybe, like Frank, he also had some secret chemical means of operation that he wasn't telling anyone about. Penny thought he was going to snap at her, but instead he said, “The possible number of combinations that might fix what is wrong with my virtual circuits is around um, fifteen . . . followed by eighteen zeros.”

    “Oh, I was hopeful for a second that you said –”

    “Yeah,” said Cezar. “Me too. Even if I could do one per second, it would take over the age of the universe to try them all.

    “Virtual circuits?” asked Penny, nudging her way beside him to look at his screen.

    “Please don't take offense to this,” said Cezar, “but I was searching for a much simpler concept to illustrate what I'm actually doing in order to help you understand.”

    “Oh, that's fine,” said Penny. “I appreciate it. So you're just rearranging these . . . little wire things into the spindles around the holes?”

    Cezar paused. “Among, other arrangements yes, that's part of it.”

    “I like the evergreen color you've chosen for the board,” she said. “It reminds me of . . .”

    “What?” asked Cezar.

    “Can I try?” Penny asked, slowly moving her hand toward the touch-pad. “I don't wanna yank out your cords or anything.”

    “No, go right ahead,” said Cezar. He moved his chair to the side and Penny sat on her knees in front of the screen. “I'm very well attached. Maybe you'll chance upon . . .”

    “One in . . . ten to the eighteenth?” she asked.

    Cezar nodded. “One quintillion,” he said. “Very good.”

    “You just mentioned it thirty seconds ago,” said Penny. She wasn't even watching her fingers, but they picked up on the intuitive nature of his set-up right away and began forming the design in her head out of the virtual electronic pieces. Once she had used every piece she sat back.

    Cezar gave a tiny laugh and pressed a combination of keys on a separate keypad. A few sounds happened and lights lit up and he leaned back, speechless.

    “I got it right?” she said.

    Cezar poured over her design for a few moments. “There's no way that would have been part of a systematic series of options I created. Where did you get that?”

    “I'll show you,” she said. “The color you chose for the 'circuit board' reminded me of the color of some mountains I saw yesterday but couldn’t find again this morning, but I realized that they look like . . .” she stopped, seeing the look on his face.

    “I'm blathering,” she said. “Never mind. I'll get you the design.”

    “Oh, I understand probably better than you think I do,” he said.

    When she returned with the paper she told him about the sand dunes on her wall and how she had traced the image from them. The negative space of the emerald mountains.

    “Has anyone else seen these pictures?” asked Cezar. “Of the sand dunes?”

    “Frank has,” said Penny. “I remember him looking in and saying, 'weird.'”

    “That doesn't prove what he actually saw,” Cezar mumbled.

    “What was that?” asked Penny.

    “Nothing,” he said. “Listen, I'm going to close my door while we talk, is that all right?”

    “Of course,” she said. Although she wanted to help, it seemed important for him to close the door by himself. He was clearly quite weak, and he gave two suspicious glances down the hall before returning to his seat.

Story Starters for Kids

Once upon a time there was a baker. He shared a shop with a butcher and a candlestick maker. (Bloody bread and wax, eh? You get me son?) The fair was in town that week and each of them had arranged a day off to spend riding rides, petting animals and playing games.

On the first day, it was the butcher’s turn. ‘You know those games are all rigged,’ he said. He went to the fair, spent all his money and didn’t win anything. He even got sick on one of the rides.

The next day it was the candlestick maker’s turn. ‘You know those rides are not safe,’ he said. And he spent all his money and got sick from a hot dog stand.

‘That wouldn’t’ve happened if they were my hot dogs,’ said the butcher.

The third day it was the baker’s turn. He loved the tents, smell of sawdust and most of all, the gathering of community. The very first game he tried, he took aim at the floating cup and, woah, he won a shot of scotch for your old man!

- - -

. . . but the owl who refused to hoot would not budge. ‘Hooting for no reason keeps other creatures awake,’ he said.

His mother tried to explain that hooting deepened the night and made a restful sleep possible for the other creatures but the owl did not understand. So, without him knowing, she signed him up to lead the forest May Day Parade.

‘It’s an opportunity for everyone to see what you can do,’ she said. She didn’t have to tell him that the forest community were all wondering what little owl’s purpose was since he never hooted at night. 

(Don’t they eat mice or something? Why is there a mouse in a goddamn royal guard uniform?)

‘And I don’t have to make a sound?’ asked little owl.

‘You just lead with the baton,’ answered mother.

And on parade day, little owl marched with the other critters all around the forest paths, gathering more celebrants as they went. (That’s a big word for a kid’s book). They marched along the brook, through the meadows, over the edge of the valleys and it was a beautiful day. 

Little owl enjoyed leading, never having to say a word, only gesture with his baton the direction they were heading next while behind him the animals sang and danced.

It was almost too soon (but not really) when he saw the end of the parade route, and at the end, waiting for him, was a shot of scotch for your daddy!

- - -

. . . toot toot!’ said the flute

and the horse danced around with glee

the only noises he’d ever made before 

was a snort, a neigh, and winnie

the flute he’d found beside the brook

must have been used on the last holiday

but no one he found, as hard as he looked

so by himself he had to play

‘You know’ thought the horse

‘there’s never enough days where we just celebrate,

if I could always make up my own

no one would ever have to wait’

he galloped along, home to his friends,

with news he could not wait to share

everyone would be invited - 

Badger, Owl, Snake, Mouse, and Bear

the horse found his friends sitting on a downed log

just staring at the forest floor

when they saw his excitement they said

‘hey didn’t we send you to the liquor store?

where’s our scotch you french-burger piece of fuck!?’

- - -

. . . and once more, the alien missed and Teresa’s shot flew right past him into the goal. She hadn’t even broken a sweat. 

The alien sulked. “By now you must realize I’m not much of a soccer player.”

“That’s okay,” said Teresa. “Maybe you enjoy other things the way I enjoy soccer.”

With a glint in his eyes, the alien said, “that’s what I’ve decided to tell you. I’m not really a soccer player. I’m a spy.”

Teresa’s eyes widened. “A spy?”

The alien nodded. “On my last trip to Earth, we parked on top of a restaurant. I was fascinated by all the smells. So every night, when the others were asleep, I would sneak into the restaurant and play with the ingredients. I got quite good if I do say so myself.”

(I’ll bet that place got shut down right quick.)

“Oh no,” said Teresa. “Was it called Ed’s Eats?”

“Yeah, that’s it!” said the alien enthusiastically.

“But that’s where my daddy used to work. It got shut down because it was so messy!”

(Thanks Obama, higher minimum wage, a tip jar AND a place for tips on the check!?)

“Oh no,” said the alien. “Do you think that was my fault? How can I ever make up for that?”

“You could . . . “ said Teresa with a grin, “let me try some of your recipes.”

“Yay!” said the alien. And the first thing he did was take Teresa under the bleachers with a bottle of scotch. No, not like that you pervert! Jesus, what the hell is wrong with my kid?

The Comedian's Notebook: Memmeroids

  ~ Verena and I are at an ice-cream tasting today. It’s more of a promo thing for a new shop, not hoity-toity like wine tasting. No spittoons as far as I can see. However, more strange animals. I don't ask, mainly because I don't want to look stupid in front of her, or like I buy into something I don't.

    The tasting is held in the middle of a massive outdoor market, but you had to pay to get into this area. At the gate (I say gate, I mean, roped-off entrance) there was a statue of a giant fire-breathing horse rearing up on its hind legs. No one else commented on it. I didn't say anything to her because I figured everyone else would be talking about it, but no one else was. How frustrating.

    We get in and looked at their menu which is laid out like an altar, although she thought it was a compass. What was the company's name again? South of Salvation? Nah, couldn't be . . . but something like that. Putrid Corpse Peanut Butter is the first one I try. Then she has Burn In Hell Roasted Banana. I hate bananas. Fruity ice-cream I think defeats the purpose. Raped By Spikes Strawberry Chocolate is the one she likes.

    She runs into a fellow comedian, a guy, but he’s fat, so I figure not a threat. Neither am I, but that's just how my brain has been operating lately. I never knew I could be so competitive.

    He runs an open-mike every other Thursday at a place called Inderjit. Pretty modest about it, which impresses me. He said anyone could do that so don't get the impression that people who put together shows are anything special, which is good because I was getting that impression. I wondered if Verena ever fucked her show-runners. But of course not, she's so sweet. But there's this late-night side to her that I've never seen. After her last set, we just parted ways. The weakness is all within me. Her laugh melts me.

    Melted, like this tiny bowl of Mammary Vivisection Vanilla Mint that I've forgotten about. Delicious. An employee comes up to us with a clipboard and asks us what flavors we've tried and our various opinions of them. I ask her about the mural hanging behind the tasting table with the company name on it.

    “Mural?” she says.

    The tapestry of burning babies pissing on a third-world mass grave, I reply. Maybe I don't say it quite like that.

    “Oh, it's not actually the company logo,” she says, “but we like his work so much that the owner said we could hang it here. He's really concerned about where society is heading which is why we only use local, free-range, cave-aged, organic, natural, barrel-molded, dolphin-safe, artisanal, sustainable –”

    “Please feel free to come by and do five minutes whenever you feel like it,” says Stafford. (Verena's friend.) “It's not exactly Lavish, but you'll get honest feedback without people being dicks about it. Honestly, they'll just ignore you if you don't grab their attention. Which is exactly what you want. You'll know what's bad, and no one else will remember. The only reason I started this thing is so I'd have a place to try material at least once a week. I go to other open mikes but this one is my real testing ground and it helps so much you wouldn't believe. I'd love to have more regulars.”

    “Thanks,” I say, shaking his hand, “sounds like a good place to start.”

    “You want to really shake on it?” asks Verena.

    “What do you mean?” I ask.

    “Two weeks, okay, three weeks,” she says. “I've got a few new things I want to try, if you can have a solid five minutes in three weeks, we'll conquer Stafford's Stage.”

    Stafford laughs. “Why the fuck did I not think of that?”

    “You're too humble,” says Verena.

    “I'm calling it that from now on,” Stafford asserts.

    “You are not you fucking coward,” says Verena.

    “See what she does to people?” Stafford turns to me and asks.

    I reply, “All the time.”

    He wanders after the clipboard girl saying, “This Zen Cushion Coconut is amazing.”

~ My first attempt at comedy was around age ten or eleven. Probably the most common age for people to claim certain things occurred at, but fuck it. I did a week-long performing arts camp of some sort that my parents drove me to every day during summer vacation. Maybe it was two weeks, time is so strange at that age. I was the only one who choose to do comedy as my end project. My first bit was a fake commercial I stole from a kid's show that I liked. No one cared. My second bit I made up. I asked my parents about an embarrassing adult disease.

    “Hemorrhoids,” my mother immediately answered.

    The bit I came up with was about a disease called Memmeroids, which created false memories of great accomplishments. You talk about your great accomplishments, only to be force-fed reality by your gleeful friends/family/spouse/exes . . . Only, when I went to perform it, I said Hemorrhoids each time until the end, when I realized I'd been saying it wrong the whole time. So I changed it to Memmoroids at the last minute. No one got it. Everyone clapped because they're sympathetic adults. Life could be worse I suppose.

The Comedian's Notebook: Impressing the Fuck Out Of . . .

    ~ Sitting with Verena at Vicario. Comedy night . . . and pasta. They have happy-hour Italian dishes like Sacrilege Spaghetti, Anti-Christ Antipasta, and Blasphemous Bruschetta. I almost can't believe this place is real because during the day it's supposedly very upscale and isn't even open between 3 and 6. Then they have the dinner seating and that ends at 9. Then . . . this.

    There's traditional religious imagery on the walls. Virgin Marys, crosses. Although the strange shapes adorning the heads of many of the saints, I find out through Google, are pinecones.

    “What're you doing?” asks Verena.

    Oh shit, I'm not even fucking paying attention to her even though her douchy boyfriend is on a trip somewhere.

    “Pinecones,” I say, pointing.

    “What?” she asks.

    “All of these,” I find a picture on the drink menu, “weird dotted hats are actually pinecones.”

    “Oh,” she smiles and nods.

    I'm boring her. Does she already know this? 

“A lot of religious traditions use it to represent, um, enlightenment, spiritual achievement. Aloofness.” I close my eyes and lay my hands out by my sides. When I open my eyes it looks like she's genuinely laughing. I dig deeper.

    “The reason it occurs in so many cultures who never contacted each other is that the human pineal gland,” I touch the back of my head, “which serves various purposes in various creatures looks kind of like a pinecone.”

    “How do other creatures have a human pineal gland?” she asks.

    Still waiting for food, but at least we're talking. I hope to keep this up until our server comes back.

    I shake my head. “That's not what I meant. Other creatures have a pineal gland. Birds, reptiles. They just use it for different shit, or it uses them . . . or something.”

    “What does it do in people?” she asks.

    “It's supposedly our dormant third eye,” I say. Her reaction is not generous.

    “What does it really do, though?” she asks.

    “Melatonin,” I say, surprising myself. “Sleep stuff. That's melatonin, right?”

    She nods and sips her soda. “I think so.”

    We should really start drinking. “You want a real drink, I mean when our server comes back?”

    “Like what?” she asks.

    “Like . . . whatever you want,” I say. “I came here to see you, just pretend you've got an expense account.”

    “Oh, come on,” she says, “you don't have to pay for everything.”

    But then it won't look like we're on a date. “It's okay, I want you to be comfortable.”

    “Yeah, this is great,” she says. “I've never performed here so I'm a little nervous.”

    “Don't be,” I say. “Are any of your friends here?” I immediately regret this just in case she jumps up to talk to someone else.

    “No,” she says, “but they probably wouldn't show up for another hour or so, if any of them signed up. I don't know that many people. Still pretty new here.”

    I see our server approaching from behind and ask Verena – as friendly as I can muster – “Where's Angelo?”

    She finishes her soda and shakes her head. “He's on a trip, California, chronicling four immigrant families who work extremely long hours for little pay for the families of politicians with strong anti-immigration platforms.”

    What a huge piece of shit. Another globe-trotting do-gooder with a pretty and talented girlfriend. The payoff for being a good person your whole life is enormous. I don't care what anybody says. It's us narcissists who have to fight the real battles. Still, I got the answer I wanted. He's gone.

    “That's so great,” I say, nodding.

    Our server arrives, just in time for me to change the subject. I ask Verena about her schedule, how she works hours similar to mine but still manages to perform and see other shows. Where are the good places? We make promises that next time we'll definitely perform together.

    I wonder how long her boyfriend will be gone. I need to impress the fuck out of her with a routine before he gets back. Deadlines are good for you I hear. We eat and have a cocktail. She goes on stage, one in a long line of sign-ups. She's better than I thought. I feel bad for thinking that. I wonder if I'm reading too much into the blasphemous imagery all around me.

~ Impress the fuck out of someone really has a double meaning doesn't it? Is that person withholding 'a fuck'? I think they are. We're all withholding 'fucks' from each other. Each of us has our own combination. The one that will release the 'fucks'. But there are shortcuts aren't there? Sometimes attempted burglary of ‘fucks’ occurs with alcohol and drugs to blow the safe. No one’s impressed by those fuckers though.

Holy Books - XIV: The Speed Round (Part 2)

A Biblical Epic in Six Parts (4-6)

Inheritance Floor

1 None of the kids determinately knew if the adults allowed them to peek onto the Inheritance Floor or not. 

2 No adult would admit to having done so before their time, but that didn’t mean they weren’t lying. How could you resist the temptation your entire life? With the floor so near and accessible? 

3 Some people’s parents lived a long time and you wouldn’t get to see your Inheritance Floor until your were too old to make use of it. Or until everything that it could tell you about life had happened or you knew already.

4 Weighing the options, Lorenz decided that looking was better than not. 

5 The not-knowing would trouble him for life, and after all, his parents were fit and healthy. 

6 What could be so bad in your future that knowing it would ruin your life? Terminal illness? Some horribly early demise? And if you knew, then maybe you could prevent it or act differently.

7 Lorenz spoke his plans to  friends at the dinner table. It was his little brother Marco’s birthday, but Lorenz was allowed to have friends over as well. He spoke plainly to all, but none of the adults could understand or keep up with the slang adopted by the kids these days. And all the kids kept quiet about it, even though few, if any approved.

8 “They have to know that it could happen,” said Lorenz, when his brother confronted him after dinner. “The room isn’t guarded at all.”

“You gonna let anyone else see?” asked Marco.

“I dunno,” said Lorenz. “There’s gotta be something in it for me if I do, though.

9 One of the other dads walked by, coming back from the bathroom. Had he actually taken his beer in there with him?

10 “Don’t you kids go outside and play anymore?” he asked. “Looks like a . . . Parliamentary meeting in here. Let’s see some action.” And he wandered off to sit in the living room.

11 “It’s now or never,” said Marco. “They’ll get suspicious the more we huddle up like this.”

“Do you think we need anyone to run distraction?” asked Lorenz.

“Nah,” said Marco. “We just need to disappear.”

12 Lorenz kept the question to himself as to why his brother was now suddenly into this idea whereas before he had sensed nearly universal dissent. Maybe because Marco felt there was nothing at stake for him and would gain some cheap excitement.

13 To make small talk while walking along outside the house, Lorenz asked the other boys where their Inheritance Floors were. 

14 I think mine’s in the attic.

Under the pool.

The door next to the bathroom medicine cabinet.

Somewhere in the garage. Haven’t really looked because there’s so much junk. Could be behind any number of piles of boxes.

15 Lorenz’s was in the basement. A side door which lead beneath the lawn. The front area had a dim lightbulb which illuminated gardening tools and pieces of old lawn equipment. 

16 An innocuous door, the same dirt color as the wall, lay in the only corner where the light failed to reach. You could almost think it was just an old door that someone propped in a corner, and didn’t actually lead anywhere.

17 As a single unit, the group took steps forward like they were exploring an ancient pyramid. Lorenz put his hand on the knob and gave one last glance to his brother and his social group.

18 The knob turned easily and Lorenz took a deep breath and glanced in with one eye. Then the rest of his face, and then his entire head. The group had collectively stopped breathing behind him.

19 After a few moments he leaned back out and looked at them.

“What is it, what did you see?” asked Marco.

20 Lorenz’s expression gave no indication of his future. Instead, he slithered around into the Inheritance Room and slammed the door shut behind him.

21 Marco rushed forward, but the knob wouldn’t budge. He banged on the door and yelled for his brother as all his friends scattered, but there was no answer.

Roses and Flame

22 One way to rid the disease was by smell. 

23 While germ theories of old ridiculed this notion, it was an indisputable fact that within the town square, where the pink flames were kept lit, no one caught the illness, and those who had symptoms found them abated.

24 The rose rocks which generated the flames had been collected by Tlalli for her grandmother’s jewelry shop, merely for their aesthetic value. They were particularly popular with athletes, for the rocks responded to body heat, and gave off a pleasant odor. 

25 Any who attributed actual health benefits to the rocks were derided in the mainstream. But Tlalli’s family remained okay, those who stayed near the rocks. 

26 It was her idea to burn them indoors, and when the sick got better, she and a small group collected more rocks and burned them in the town square, taking advantage of the breeze that bottlenecked through alleys leading to widespread dispersal of the smell.

27 Most of the town had fled due to the plague. It is mankind’s nature to leave areas where great danger is perceived rather than find a solution to that danger. Most danger is more powerful than us, despite all our accomplishments.

28 A general premise of Tlalli’s grandmother was that solutions to problems are found either around or within the problems themselves. Like is with like, and nature is not thrown together as a hodge-podge with related things spread unconnected to each other. 

29 Tlalli knew that as long as she could keep the flames burning, she would not get sick. Even if the rest of the town deserted her she would stay here and tend to the fire. 

30 She had it pretty good what with being able to go outside. There were many shelters around her. The rocks burned long and she knew where to find more.

31 Even with more villagers heading out. Some to seek the feral children and join them, some to seek the hunters of the feral children and join them.

32 Eventually, a traveller would come to her. Maybe a band of them, sick and dying and she could cure them with the flower-fire. And news of a possible end to the plague would blossom.

33 Even with the strange machines flying overhead going toward the distant castle, Tlalli would stay well as the rest of the world went collectively mad.

Timepiece’s Whispering Blight

34 This one has to be the best I’ve ever done, thought the puppet-maker. 

33 Are we sometimes too unique for our own good? Despite increasing evidence to the contrary, I believed that the world would remain somewhat similar throughout the years as I practiced and perfected my craft. That by the sheer singularity of my direction, all eyes could not help but focus upon me in wonder. 

34 But no one cares. And why should they? I resent their normalcy and they resent my difference. They resent my lack of attention and I resent theirs. 

35 No one wants reminders of how easily controlled they are. Such reminders are dubbed archaic and cumbersome. And those doing the reminding are derided as being controlled themselves by the very thing they claim to be acting against.

36 I’ve gotten rid of clocks if you must know. Sure, most of them don’t audibly tick anymore, but some do, and they were the first to go. The ticking is there, whether you can hear it or not. 

37 I wonder if time itself is the cause of all the rot in the world. When did we notice this happening? The notion is so insidious it must have snuck in before language. 

38 Maybe that’s why people instinctively give up on puppet shows. The mechanisms are too obvious. In fact, the only reason puppet performances ever get praised is due to the artistry of the operator. 

39 We’re just so damned clever that we have to appreciate how it’s done rather than what it is. Because ‘how it’s done’ has an end, and ‘what it is’ is eternal. Hence the very particular tense.

40 I’ve become so relentlessly hypnotized by the concept of linear change, and its reflexive perception as ‘decay’ that even the absence of reminders of time are unable to totally clear my vision. 

41 The day itself seems to expand indefinitely, but all the external trappings are still there. 

42 Anyone can experience this at night, when the anxieties disturb one out of sleep, and the very notion of time seems fearful. We can make use of that in a positive way during the day, but does anyone want to hear about that? No. Because it reminds them too much of the existential night terrors. 

43 No coincidence that many fears in darkness and sleep involve dolls and puppets and clowns and such. Ultimately, the fear of your fears ravaging you. Strip that away to what it really is and you’ve got the fear of being buried alive, which is really the fear of death. Like death somehow is like being awake, only trapped in a dreamless sleep forever. Awake with the echoes of your own thoughts. This is of course, irrational madness because your thoughts end and do not exist in eternity. If time applied to you after death . . . that’s the real worry.

44 But ultimately, there is no such thing as death. It’s an arbitrary line between two states, when in fact, everything is fluid. Is the leaf dead when it loses its color? Or when it falls from the tree? Well, which is it? 

45 Many leaves remain on the ground carpeting it in vibrant autumn flare. An artwork in itself. That’s a leaf fulfilling its being, and we would have declared it dead months ago! 

46 Dry leaves sit for fucking ever, and then slowly turn back into the dirt to be transformed into other things. And the cycle of a leaf is nothing compared to the cycle of a person. 

47 So where does its ‘leafness’ go? It’s always there. Whatever we determine to be its ‘leafness’ was there before it and there after it. It’s eternal. Timeless. We just named it wrong.

48 The puppet maker glanced back over the preceding pages in which he meant to document his latest and last creation. 

49 Blast! he thought. This entire journal has been nothing but a cleverly disguised paean to the notion of time. All the materials gathered, how I fashioned them and put them together. Experiments in their use. But all is not lost. For the world is ending and maybe within this problem is its solution.

50 Perhaps the family/friends/neighbors are right and I just need to get out more. 

51 Me and my puppet (I’ve spent my life making them, who really controls who here?) we shall trek north, to the most timeless place I can imagine. And maybe the world will continue changing, but not us. 

52 Because you make deals when you work with dolls, and they say more than you think. And their deep dead eyes share secrets when they get bored just sitting on a shelf.

53 I shall dismantle this shed and take it with me. Set it up in the frozen north, a final home for my puppet, and he will point me in the new direction.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 3)

 Dinner with Cezar was uneventful. She didn’t want to ask him endless questions about his childhood so she mainly just talked about herself in response to his questions. Guilt followed about being so easily self-involved. After dinner, Penny retired to her room but couldn’t bring herself to try and sleep.

For the third time, she checked her itinerary on the airline's website when the wireless went down. She'd done as much as she could on her spreadsheet regarding her finances, but she really needed to check the airfare and hotel rates. The lights flickered fifteen seconds later. Doing this was boring and the only reason she'd tried is because there was wireless up here. This was her being responsible on her trip. 

She kept hearing electronic noises which she assumed was Cezar's life-support equipment, but when the rattling happened outside her door she went to check on it. 

Squatting in the hallway, feeding a wire through a bored hole in the wall was Frank. He froze, then said “Hi.”

    “What are you doing?” Penny asked. “I thought that was Cezar's equipment making all the noise.”

    “I'm uh,” said Frank, looking down. “Mmm.” He waved his hand at her and she caught a cloud of booze-breath.

    “Frank, did you bring alcohol?” she asked.

    “I'm uh . . . whew,” he said and pulled the wire out of the wall. It had a tiny lens on the front of it.

    “Were you –?”

    He held his hand up in a stop motion and slammed his face into the wall, presumably looking down the hole. “What's on . . . blocked.”

     “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she asked and raised her voice, purposefully looming over his hunching form. “Trying to put cameras in the walls?”

    Frank kept lowering his arms, wanting her to lower her voice. “Not just you.”

    “Does anyone else know about this?” she asked.

    “It's what we're supposed to do,” said Frank.

    “Who's 'we'? What's 'what'?” asked Penny.

    “C'mon,” said Frank. “You've gotta know about all the parties up here. It's what we're supposed to do.”

    “You keep saying that like I understand,” said Penny.

    “It's like the Olympic Village,” said Frank, covering one eye. “You know? 'We all know what goes on but won't say anything' type of deal, you know?”

    “I'm calling Ground Base,” said Penny. She headed off to the living room, assuming the radio was in there.

    “Careful,” said Frank.

    “What?” she turned to look at him and almost tripped over another wire.

    “Aha!” said Frank. He burped and his cheeks bulged. A moment later he continued. “And there it is. All you young artsy beautiful people think you're so free and accepting of variety. But when it really shows up you're all . . .” he waved his finger back and forth while blinking his eyes and drinking a cup of pantomime tea. “Seriously, what was I supposed to do? I needed to work from home to support my ki- my children. The ex-wife is gone. We fought, alright? Sue us. Our relationship wasn't perfect. It was real easy for me to tell when I'm being sneaked, so I started doing the sneaking. Sorry, that doesn't leave me enough time to become Ken Burns. You want a drink?”

    “No,” said Penny.

    “I was just trynna do somethin' different. I thought everyone was here to party. But you're all so fucking serious. Here, I'll take it down. You call if you want to, fuck it.” Frank picked up a wire and trailed it to a tiny box which sat beside the leg of a chair. Penny would never have noticed it. “Lemme see here,” he said and a flash of white filled up the room with the smell of rotten eggs.

    Penny shielded her eyes and still only saw white when she closed them.

    “God fucking Jesus dammit!” yelled Frank and he kicked over the chair and fell backwards into the living room couch. Smoke poured from his arm and he waved it around while smacking it with his other arm. For some reason, the lights stayed on.

    “Woah, what happened?” Penny saw his skin already blistering.

    “Fuckin' shit, I blew something up,” he said.

    A door slammed  and Chinonso drifted through the smoke, holding a box. She placed herself on her knees in front of Frank.

    “Electrical burn, I think,” said Penny.

    Chinonso set the box by her side and took out paper towels and unlabeled glass vials. “This is going to hurt for a moment,” she said, “but that is just the disinfectant. Then I'll put something soothing on right away, okay?” She raised herself to her knees, staring Frank right in the eyes. “Okay?”

    “Yes ma'am,” he said.

    “Now look away,” she said and as soon as his head was turned she grabbed his elbow and pressed a wet paper towel against his blisters. He hissed, his entire body tensing except for the arm she held and she counted backward, not in English. Then she switched hands and placed another paper towel on there. Penny could swear she heard the sound of steam, but maybe it was just Frank’s sigh of relief.

    Chinonso balled up the first paper towel in her hand. Red-yellow blooms covered the entire thing so that it resembled a shredded piece of skin more than an absorbent sheet. She forced it into an empty beaker and capped it with a cork; all with one hand while still holding the soothing towel on Frank.

    “What is that . . . kit from?” asked Frank.

    “I assume there's one in every cabin somewhere,” said Chinonso, “but this one is mine. I've built it over the years. It's not the same one, obviously, from my childhood, but the contents are all the same. These jars are much nicer and the products are much purer.”

    “You a doctor or something?” asked Frank.

    “No,” Chinonso replied. “But people get sick and hurt themselves often. I just learned how to fix them. Maybe not heal, forever, like a doctor, but fix a lot of problems.”

    “Didn't you work with doctors, though?” asked Penny.

    “That was how I got to leave my farm,” Chinonso replied. “Helping other families, and then volunteering with the doctors.”

    “So they didn't pay you?” asked Frank.

    “That's not exactly what I meant,” said Chinonso. “I left the farm and worked with them and travelled from battlefield to battlefield until I was asked to come to America and I ended up in here, working with you.”

    “Well, thanks,” said Frank.

    “Now, how did this happen?” Chinonso asked.

    “He's been . . .” Penny made a drinking motion, “and playing with wires.”

    “I noticed you do things with lights,” said Chinonso, “very pretty. You should maybe restrict your drinking to when others are present.”

    “Thanks mom, will do,” said Frank.

    “Be nice, she's practically a trauma surgeon,” said Penny.

    “I was being nice,” said Frank, “just joking around a little.”

    “The worst drunks,” said Chinonso, “are the ones who never stop working. Alcohol is practically unnecessary guilt in a bottle. So maybe you take it easy and relax, okay? Your work begins later.”

    “Thanks,” said Frank, mostly to Penny. “I will.”

    Penny realized that she was jealous of Chinonso. Jealous that this woman had had such a hard life and the worst was over now. She secretly wished that childhood friends who contacted her on Facebook weren't doing so well so she would look better by comparison. Jealous when others got recognition for their deeds. Upset that she hadn't done their deeds.

    Penny distracted herself from these negative thoughts by staring at the dune photos in her room. Strangely enough, the sky was the most prominent part of the pictures. Maybe because the dunes themselves were the color of her wall and the sky in them was a vibrant blue, even the night photos. When her eyes relaxed she noticed that pieces of the sky fit together. She tilted her head sideways and tried it again. No doubt about it. Maybe it was just human pattern-finding, but the jagged edges of the sky and the dunes resembled puzzle pieces.

    Finding some paper from a notebook she never used, she pressed it against one of the dune photos and outlined it. After a moment, she saw a dune which fit in the empty space. The fitting photos weren't always close, but each piece suggested the next. 

She tore out several sheets of paper and cut them into photo-sized rectangles with the nail scissors from her bathroom bag. When enough of a pile was assembled, she traced the edges of the dunes from each picture, creating her own puzzle pieces.

When she was done, she had assembled an intricate and jagged symbol. The lines within suggested other shapes, or characters in a foreign language. Every picture on the wall was used. She wondered what would happen if she started with a different dune. 

After shuffling all the papers, closing her eyes and starting with a fresh piece, she quickly reassembled the same symbol. She'd chosen the same dunes to fit together each time, not on purpose, but because that was where they fit.

    The concerns of Frank's attempted spying left her at this point and she knew that his failure would have been inevitable. She would never have ended up as jerk-off fodder on someone's lewd website because Cezar was here monitoring things. Because Chinonso was here making sure everyone was safe. But ultimately, because Frank was a fuck-up and a drunk. She tried to feel sorry for him, but his disposition seemed inevitable and only changeable by his own actions. She fell asleep in a nest of dune drawings.

The Comedian's Notebook: Killing Hitler

~ Say what you will about Hitler, but he did kill Hitler. Would you kill Hitler? That's always the time-travel question. Most people say 'yes' but the right answer is 'no.' Hear me out! You're being asked to go back in time and kill a baby. With no knowledge of what the actual consequences would be. The only way saying 'yes' would be the moral choice is if you were assured that the only consequence of killing Hitler would be that The Holocaust never happened. In which case, there would probably be no Israel, but that's another story.

    You'd have to make it look like an accident because, how many of you, taking home a bundle-of-joy from the hospital would relinquish it to some nutcase in zany clothes with a strange accent claiming he's from the future and needs to kill your baby in order to prevent a genocide? 

‘So there’s the explanation, we cool? Cheers.' Dropkick motion.

Maybe the 2,500 cases a year of SIDS are just time travellers from the future preventing genocides. There's so many because killing one changes the continuity and new cases keep arising. C'mon future! Get your shit together. 

The real reason no one's killed Baby Hitler is because of all the nuclear testing we did in the forties. Messed with the atomic structure of the universe and any time travel before Hiroshima simply isn't safe.

    This will definitely need to be trimmed, but there're some keepers I think.

~ There's a giant bird with a sphere on its head carved into the wall right above the Rasmus Building elevators. I'm in there sometimes three times a day. How have I never noticed that before? It’s just carved into the wall and not colored in or anything, but it doesn't even have the Rasmus logo on it. Maybe it was there before they moved into the building.

~ Adding 'like an animal' to the end of stuff seems to get a laugh most of the time. For instance, 'I don't turn my phone off when I go to sleep like an animal.’ Maybe think of something more snooty and unexpected.

~ First staff meeting today and it was fucking torture! Do people do shit like that all the time? They must, I deliver things to them. Staples, paper, hardware . . . Apparently PantherFootWork has these meetings every quarter. That's their way of making it sound like less than four times a year. 

    Engman talked for fifteen minutes straight about how he felt he was getting shafted out of his break by two minutes a day because a lot of times he has to wait longer for the freight elevator. Marty was apologetic and explained the time-clock system (as if Engman doesn't know that) and outlined other possibilities for break options other than going all the way downstairs (yes, there are stairs as well) then asked if he had answered Engman's question. Engman then said no, he felt his question hadn't been answered and then started to repeat his initial monologue. Luckily, Marty interrupted him and said they could talk after.

    Oh shit, how could I forget this? Leo was wasted and had to leave. Holy fuck. His shift and mine normally only overlap for an hour or two so I don't see him that often. But when I saw him today I said, “Hey dude,” and waved and he looked at me without saying a word, then tucked his head into his shoulder and continued walking toward the meeting room.

    “You gonna stay awake for this?” I asked. ((So fucking sue me, I'm not a good conversationalist. I know I bitcha lot about what other people say, but this was just the spur of the moment because Leo was acting weird. Maybe I'll add things I say to my list of Things That Aren't Funny. Would that make you happy?))

    Leo mumbled something totally unintelligible and I got a blast of booze-breath right in my face. I was thankful that he sat at a far table. Unfortunately for him, he kept speaking up at different times. Marty stopped the meeting and asked him if he was okay. This actually happened two more times before Marty took him outside and sent him home. I guess he got a cab or took the bus or something. Marty assured us that he wasn't fired or anything because he wasn't technically working even though all of us got paid for being there.

    Marty seems to be at pains a lot of the time to not seem like he's got a corporate stick up his ass. And he doesn't seem that way to me anyway. I guess I don't really find him that approachable, but that's just because he outranks me in so many ways. Anyways, that was today.

The Comedian's Notebook: Things That Are Not Funny

~ Things that are not funny:

1. Saying ‘it’s not even funny.’

2. Happy Friday! (I swear, every office I deliver to people say this and get genuine laughter as a result. I assume these people know each other because they have similar schedules and maybe even see each other every day, and for some reason for them - IT NEVER STOPS BEING FUNNY.

3. Adding to someone’s hypothetical punchline with ‘or not’ and then laughing to yourself.

~ This will come as a great surprise to all of you but . . . I know a chick. And she's really hot. She's also really cool. But on a cold day I get confused because she looks hot, says she's cold, but I know she's cool. Women! I'll never understand them.

~ My horoscope told me today that something might happen. Maybe possibly anything! But then again it might not so I should be open to new possibilities. I must not be doing this life thing right because it's the same horoscope day after day after day . . .

~ I've heard that Lavish does some sort of comedy every night and that it's actually a good place for open mikes. The reason for this is that everyone is there to see comedy and the audiences are pretty forgiving. At least, that's what Verena told me. She said she wants to get a really good solid three minutes before going up there though, and that makes sense. What I didn’t say is, if the audience is forgiving, you'll never know what actually didn't work.

    Haven't really gotten into the swing of staying out late yet. I get home at around 4 am at the very latest, then I still have five hours until I have to be at work. Showering and eating takes time, but so does sleeping. I feel more awake if I don't sleep at all than if I just get three hours, but that isn't something I can realistically do five nights a week. Ugh. Just need to make a schedule and stick to it.

~ The words ‘monosyllabic’ and ‘polysyllabic’ have the same amount of syllables.

~ Some Creationists believe that everything was created 6,000 years ago and nothing has changed since then. These people, of course, will be born, hit puberty, grow old, get sick and die. Biology happened to them too! How can you possibly claim that God created everything except for the life process? Isn't that what God is supposed to do? And who created the life-process then, Satan? According to their assaults on teaching biology in schools you'd think so. This, however, could be the founding of a new religion: CreataSatanism. Eat that, grow up and get out!

Holy Books - XIII: What the Dead Care About

the missing chapter thirteen

1   Companions lifelong, the only best friends are the dead. Every year the graves move a little closer together. Despite seismic activity which would tend to cleave them, the dead’s connections are deeper than dirt. But rest assured, the dead care not about you. What do the dead care about? Their favorite birds?

2   No. Definitely not you. It doesn’t matter how many horror movies there are where the ghost performs seemingly only for the audience. The dead do not care about you. Or your date. So what do the dead care about?

3   We don’t know. Yeah yeah, we get it. We’re a holy book, we’re supposed to know everything, but we don’t really know what the dead care about. We were not written by the dead. I mean, at some point, we will be. But not right now.

4   The longer you wait to read us, the more likely it is that we’ll have been written by the dead. So maybe just have a little patience, hmm?

5   What if . . . hold on . . . what if the dead don’t care about anything? You know, being dead? 

6   Which would make this entire chapter a blight in an otherwise perfect masterwork which dissects and then reveals all the mysteries of existence.

7   Ah yes, it’s all there. You just haven’t looked hard enough. Dear Reader. That’s why this chapter is appearing to you. 

8   Those who have seen, do not need this part. Maybe, those who missed the entire book are the true seers. Most of the world.

9   That can’t be right, you say. Most of the world are idiots. Yes, but most of the world are dead. And they don’t need this chapter. 

10   We’re writing these words in the present, while still alive. Maybe we’ll edit them soon. Even divine inspiration can benefit from a once-over for clunkiness. You wouldn’t think so from reading other holy books, but seriously folks . . .

11   For many readers, this chapter on death will not appear. But nonetheless, they will claim to have read it. In fact, we predict that entire volumes of holy books will be dreamed up by people claiming to be in on some secret ‘know.’

12   But it all started here, with the missing chapter thirteen. At the back of everyone’s mind. Hovering over their life like a translucent shawl in the breeze. Waiting for the moment, that mis-timed refle, that heartbeat just a little off. The stray piece of material that’s going to wind up stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be.

13   Oh, you mean like this chapter, you say? Ha ha. We’ve heard that one before.

14   But the real joke is on you. Dear Reader. Spending your life in the service of the dead. Your entire world is built by and on the dead. All the techniques you know, taught by the dead. 

15 Here’s some advice since you’ve stumbled upon the missing chapter thirteen. If indeed you are intended to be the prophet of a new age - and believe us, we’re not happy about it either - swallow, rather than swim in your own darkness. 

16   And definitely don’t take advice from holy books.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 2)

    Penny unpacked her vital things and then went out. The rain which assaulted them on their way up had stopped. In fact, the afternoon was humid and seemed to be getting warmer. In front of the cabin was a small porch which looked out onto the fire pit. Circular and square grills lay to each side of the metal cylinder. Hopefully, the group would get to use them and have some camaraderie-time before retiring. 

The hill sloped downward but Penny decided not to explore those paths. She wanted to know what the others were up to. The wind whispering through trees gave way to unearthly sounds emerging from the forest. Tones of a bell. Individual plucks on thick string followed by a shimmering whine. Music that wasn’t coming from a speaker. How typical. She gets stuck with the boring people and the other cabin already sets up music.

    Around a corner in the path, she saw the tall head of an instrument. Penny pressed herself behind a tree, taking careful glances. Dani and Yaser stood almost together in front with Ryleigh a few feet behind them. The two instruments that Dani held were square contraptions with a bell in the middle of them. They were connected with a piece of metal that zig-zagged and produced a wavy sound, like an 80s synth. Dani occasionally turned a knob with her fingers on top of either square which produced a ring from the bell. 

Yaser's instrument was half the length of his body and resembled bellows for a fire, although without the bag. Hanging off of either handle were two metal devices that looked like tuning forks and sang when swayed. Chirps, like a combination of bird and cricket sounded when he squeezed. 

Behind them, Ryleigh held a stool with a triangular top. Running down each side was a chainlike string tied to the legs, which made sounds like a bass underwater. In timed intervals, she produced a thin piece of metal and struck the top of the stool to produce a hollow ping, in stark contrast to the vibrating depths of the chain-strings.

    Penny watched as the group played on, either practicing something pre-rehearsed or just improvising. Eventually she felt guilty. Maybe they were going to surprise everyone with an impromptu performance later on. Her mind occupied itself with the question of how they brought such enormous pieces of equipment up here without anyone noticing. And if they did bring them up here, where was their camping gear? Surely they couldn't have brought both. The judge in her head told her that she was dumb for not recognizing the culture these instruments were from. 

    On the way back, Penny realized that her wishes for a communal dinner were unrealistic. It was still too wet and everyone was getting settled. Maybe someone in her cabin had brought a game or a deck of cards. That hope was dashed as well when she saw that the windows were dark. She went inside and found the switch for the front room. There was a couch, a table and some fold-up chairs in the far corner. The kitchen had an electric stove next to a slim counter. A coffee machine plugged in beside it. No microwave, but a small fridge. The ranger was right. Young artists were too spoiled to be camping out here. This couldn't even accurately be called camping.

    Penny noticed flickering lights coming from underneath one of the bedroom doors. Was someone watching a movie? If you're not gonna accurately camp, then you may as well go all out, she thought. She knocked on the door and Frank answered. “Occupied. I mean, working in here.”

    “It's just me,” said Penny, hoping the fact that she was a girl held some sway. “What're you doing?”

    “Art,” Frank replied. “I've spent a long time setting this up and opening the door would ruin the illusion. Please don't mess with it. Thanks.”

    “Sorry,” she muttered to herself and turned away. “Artists.”

    Down the hall, Cezar's door was open. At least, she assumed it was his and that Chinonso would have taken the far room closer to Penny's. She poked her head in. Cezar sat in front of a computer display although it was not a television or movie, but rather a digital representation of circuits and meter readings.

    “Hello,” he said, not turning his head. A metal contraption was attached to either temple and wires ran up both arms.

    “Is this a –?”

    “No. You may come in,” he said. “I have a genetic condition I've been battling my whole life. Which funnily enough was not expected to exceed seven years.”

    “Wow,” Penny said. “So you're some sort of medical miracle?”

    “Hardly,” Cezar replied. “I became enamored with electricity at a young age and read all the medical literature I could. All of these monitors are of my own devising. My parents thought they were toys and paid them no mind until the doctors pointed out that I should be getting much worse.”

    “That’s pretty amazing,” said Penny.

    “I apologize for my triteness,” said Cezar, “I've just recited that little speech so many times.”

    “Of course,” said Penny. “But you can't blame people for being interested.”

    “And I don't,” said Cezar, “which is how I got the grant. I'm seeking others with my condition, or similar and see if I can partake in some controlled trials.”

    “Well,” said Penny, really wanting to ask how he transported all this equipment through the rain without damage, “everyone else seems to have disappeared. If you want, I could cook us up something to eat.”

    He turned toward her. “I would like that. Thanks. I'm not picky, so please, whatever's easiest for you.”

    “Sure,” she nodded. “I was prepared for crap, but there's a stove and fridge here.”

    “Yep,” said Cezar, “not to mention complicated medical monitoring equipment. We're really roughin' it like the pioneers.”

     Penny went to the living room when outside movement caught her eye. Through the window, she saw Ryleigh, pacing aimlessly around the fire pit. Penny went outside.

    “Ryleigh,” she called.

    Ryleigh turned to her, saying nothing.

    “Ryleigh, it's Penny,” said Penny, extending her hand.

    “Of course,” said Ryleigh, “I figured you'd come out here sooner or later. I was afraid you'd disappeared for the night after your afternoon stroll.”

    “So you . . .” said Penny.

    Ryleigh nodded. “Yes, we were playing together earlier. It seems so long ago now.”

    “We're about to have dinner,” said Penny,  “Well, some of us and you should–”

    “I want to show you something quickly,” said Ryleigh. She pointed down a path behind the cabin. “It's down that way, and it won't be for long.”

    “Like an animal? Or -” asked Penny.

    “Whatever,” said Ryleigh. “But you need to see this.”

    She started down the path and Penny followed. At some point, a faint fog had settled. Or else it was creeping up to them from down below. Ryleigh knew exactly where she was going, twisting and turning with the expertise of a bat. The fog became thicker and they ended up at a grove of trees with a missing part of its circle. Ryleigh pointed ahead. “See them.”

    Penny looked and realized in her gut that somehow, they were standing near the edge of a cliff. In front of her was a lake of fog and no more trees. But something peeked through the fog and the harder she concentrated on it, the clearer it became. At first she thought it must be more forest and she was subject to some illusion. Specks of green poked through the clouds. But the specks became peaks of far away mountains which grew. As her eyes adjusted for perspective, she found herself staring at a range of emerald mountains, raising through the fog as if sitting on top of a cloud.

    “What a view,” said Penny. “Should've brought my phone.”

    “It wouldn't show up,” said Ryleigh.

    “Of course they would,” said Penny. “Why wouldn't they?”

    “Have you ever tried to take a picture of the sun, when it's a red ball behind a cloud? Or the moon during an eclipse? It just doesn't work right,” said Ryleigh.

    “Maybe we can see them better in the morning,” said Penny. “What range is it? As if I know the names of any ranges around here.”

    “Their name is probably unpronounceable,” said Ryleigh. She pointed at the bed of fog which now resembled jagged rocks. “We were playing for it earlier. We'll know soon enough if it heard our song or not.”

    “That's really beautiful,” said Penny, again feeling dumb that she didn't understand whatever cultural reference Ryleigh was referring to. “Thank you for showing me this.”

    “Oh, I had to,” said Ryliegh. “Because no one else -”

“What were they all too lazy?” asked Penny, still staring ahead.

 Ryleigh pulled on Penny’s arm several times before Penny shook the trancelike hold of the peaks.

What the Caterpillar Calls the End of the World

The shell-shaped leaf glides along the sidewalk 

Solid from the cold 

skittering like a pebble along a frozen lake 

Landing against a worm 

the worm pays it no mind 

and the wind moves the leaf along

A brown curled puzzle piece 

Once a part of something grand

 Between many shuffling feet. Impatient with frost 

Nothing is more patient than frost

An edge, caught in the nick of a wooden power pole 

Fine, just fine 

No wind can release the leaf from its catch

and, invisible to the traffic-dampened ears of humanity 

the leaf waits, attuned to the breezy symphony 

from trees across the land 

 borne by a hungry and restless wind 

The current creates eddies around the phone pole 

many leaves missing orbit, shot out into the road 

knocked into the mulch of a freezing ditch 

Fossilizing before the eyes of a populace that knows 

with certainty that everything takes too long 

A populace constantly in the grips of plan making 

Impossible plans with timelines resting on certainties 

supported by nothing more than 

delusional blind faith 

But for every dozen lost leaves, a catch 

A sibling slides into a crack and stays 

They speak in flutters, only when the wind lets them 

but that is all they need to say 

It has begun. 

Over many days, they are joined 

A leafy base at the pole, like a bird’s nest 

Some days, the wind stops entirely. 

Some leaves are lost to a clumsy foot, an irritated shove, playful dogs 

But they still build. 

The stronger their base, the easier the capture of newer leaves 

Fresh green ones, lost in the clearing of a yard. 

A child wonders, how did all these leaves get to covering half this pole? 

A mother shrugs. The wind. The wind. 

A curious city official investigates. It’s not an invasive plant. 

Just leaves 

To take them down would create a greater mess, and we’ve got garbage cans to empty. 

People complain if their garbage does not disappear instantly. 

The leaves here are climbing the pole, not gathering in rotting clumps on the street. 

 Sensing danger, the leaves connect 

their veins peeking out of the margins like curious hairs, finding each other and lacing. 

Once one pair does it, they all learn 

and spend the next week latticing and gathering other brethren to reach the top. 

A curious populace notices something new. 

Undifferentiated, the green pod seethes with life. 

Dark vibrant green, with hints of flowing fluid throughout.

It breathes.

No one wants to touch it.  

The power company must intervene. Scientists petition to stop this. A barricade is formed. 

This enormous cocoon covering the pole, glowing green and ready. 

Concentric circles surround it: 

civilian protestors 

scientific researchers 

government plants claiming to be scientific researchers and protesters.  

City landscapers and the power company, ready for . . .  

Days and nights pass 

Barbecues set up on the street. 

People camp in cars. 

Music plays, tasers are fired. 

One afternoon, from the tip of the cocoon, a sprout 

Is it an antenna? A proboscis? 

A thousand cell phone cameras point as the shooter reaches upward 

and one spark. 

A ripple down the cocoon followed by tearing followed by an expulsion of burning jelly. 

The smell of searing pans 

flying globs of white hot pus spatter over the populace, burning faces irreparably. 

a mess of organs and fine fur spreads like a blanket

A sharp crack and the phone pole splits toward the roof of the nearest shop. 

sparks fly from adjacent poles as the wires fall to the ground, like spasming worms themselves. 

Police move in, riot gear to get the hurt protestors out of the way. 

Everyone steps in muck. 

Green skin floats to the ground like slimy feathers. 

Fires start in buildings three and four. 

The mob scatters, many stealing bits of the animal for themselves. 

People fleeing with hands full of burning guts. 

No vehicle can move until police barricade the area and scatter the last of the civilians. 

The power company gets to work and anyone with a cell phone near the barricade

 is threatened with deadly force. 

The remains cleaned, sent away, studied in an invisible lab. 

That part of the city razed, rebuilt, gentrified. 

And still the leaves skitter and dance, hearing music meant only for them.

Here's the Thing about Grandpa's Stories . . .

Here’s the thing about war. It’s a laugh riot. None of the other soldiers’ll tell you this. I saw Johnny - you’ll love this - I saw Johnny, you know, we all called him ‘Horse Knees’, I saw ol’ Johnny Horse-Knees stab at the enemy with an imaginary bayonet when he got too close. A bayonet! We haven’t put bayonets on guns in decades. But the enemy, he stumbled back just like an actual knife had been shoved in his face. An actual knife, but there was nothing there, and he stumbled back, stumbled into - the enemy, I swear to God they’re just like us but you don’t have time to think about that on the battlefield - stumbled into a bog of swamp-muck that let out a fart sound so loud a flock of birds took off and a screeching monkeyed with its family. Both the enemy and Johnny looked up, looked up at the canopy for a moment - it’s hard to laugh during war, you don’t ever feel like it but by golly I did then, we all did - and Johnny took his chance, stumbled forward toward that enemy stuck in the muck and Johnny, with a flying leap straight outta the pictures, like an arrow attached to a person, like a person riding an arrow, took a flying leap right into the enemy’s chest and he - you’re never gonna believe this - he bounced back, ol’ Horse-Knees was flung back by the enemy who couldn’t move in the muck, sprung like a spring, and Johnny fell on his ass and boy we where whoopin’ and hollerin’ just like those birds - you remember - those birds scared of the fart noise, you know some people eat things that’re so smelly that birds fall out of the sky? anyways, Johnny lay there, expectin’ to be killed because he lay there huffing on the ground, just trying to breathe, huffing and he looks up and the enemy is trying with every bit of muscle, and veins too, look like thick snakes, red snakes crawling along his forehead, trying to rush out of that quicksand, but unable to move a single . . . goddamn . . . leg, and Johnny here, ol Horse-Knees himself, he remembered that his gun hadda, gosh darn it gets me every time, he remembers his gun, the gun right? has a trigger - it ain’t got no bayonet on it mind you - but it’s got a trigger, and just laying there, stupidest you-know-what that ever lived he was, he pulled the trigger and the recoil, it’s basic physics, if that ain’t blasphemy to be taught in schools these days, guns fire forward and push back, and the gun rapid fired itself, pushing right into that nose-bone what have you - I know that noses don’t have bones, anyway, the handle, the butt, shoved itself right into Johnny’s face, splittin’ his skull wide open, but he got that sonuvabitch he did, ol Horse-Knees was the best shot in the platoon he was, and every one of those bullets tore that limey limb from limb but he wouldn’t fall, and - you’re not gonna believe this - but the swamp-muck had eat him up to his knees and he couldn’t bend backward no more like one a them, uh, I don’t know, those inflatable punching things only this one you could shoot, boy howdy we tried to lead every enemy to that patch after that I tell you -

Here’s the thing about raising a kid. It’s easy. None of the other parents’ll tell you this. But just you look around. Watch parents with their children. They clearly spent no time on that. I remember it so well. Having a party. That’s all a kid is. People expect you to be all tired and worn out, but hell, the kid’s the one doing all the running. I can’t believe no one’s caught onto this. Like jet-lag. You tell the kid ‘oh I’m tired ‘cause of jet-lag’ but the kid says he’s tired and you point out, you just sat on a plane for hours, what you got to be tired about? and the kid doesn’t know that you’re full of shit yet, it’s fucking great. All your friends think you’re doing something right. That’s what life is all about, they tell themselves. And then they have kids, and they feel guilty about how easy it is, and that’s how the whole charade continues. Sure they’re a little gross at first, but you all keep pets, don’t you? People still have farm animals. A kid’s really no different than that. They pick it all up on their own. We let ‘em go run around shrieking. Everyone says, isn’t that cute? Everyone except the teenagers. Something about teenagers they see right through that shit. All that guilt, all of it’s for nothing. That’s why we make them get jobs. Can’t have a whole demographic of people in the prime physical condition of their lives and not enslave them. Otherwise the rest of us wouldn’t have it so easy. 

Here’s the thing about being the President. There is no president. We made it up. Other world leaders, you ever watch the news? Countries, entire countries in the grip of poverty yet somehow their leader wears a suit to all the international meetings? I don’t think so. It’s all made up. They’re actors. What do you think happens to all the actors? All them who become president, ego-maniacs. Borderline sociopaths. Some a’ them full-blown. When they find out that there is no such thing as the president, the last thing they want is for everyone else to realize that. So they pretend it’s all hard. Dye their hair gray. But the day they step outta that office they’re all back to normal. When I was in the military, they’d tell us the president was coming to see us and I’d think bullshit, the president got killed four days ago, and my buddy down in the other squadron would say nah, that was the other guy, the president visited us yesterday, and he’s scheduled to tour the other coast squadrons next week. And then the briefing for the mission would say ‘due to the murder of our President’ right as the president was shaking hands with someone at the end of the line. They’d flub up like that constantly. But it don’t matter that we all know there is no president. The story will always be that there is one. But they’re actors. They’re all actors. Which begs the question about warring nations, but that’s another story . . .

Holy Books - XII: The Speed Round (Part 1)

A Biblical Epic in Six Chapters (1-3)

Clue of the Cold Puppet

1 Jenny and Josh took the rolled up badminton net to the shed. Their grandparents told them to be careful of spiders. Why couldn’t the adults do it? Because it was the children’s job to clean up the mess. Even if it was an adult game, like badminton. 

2 Josh struggled with the rusty lock on the door. Like it hadn’t been open in decades, even though, according to their grandparents, the net had only been set up this afternoon.

3 “It’s freezing,” said Josh.

4 “Stop being such a sissy,” said Jenny.

5 Josh turned around, arms crossed. “So you can call me a sissy and I can’t file a hate-language report?”

6 Jenny stuck out her tongue. “Those rules only apply in school. And you know the drill, we only use them against teachers.”

7 Back to the lock. “I know, I know,” said Josh. “All against the elder. Which brings me to another confusing point . . .”

8 Throwing the net down onto the grass, Jenny stomped over. “Just let me do it. And we’re doing what they want because we can’t fight all the time. Do you want them to feed us or not?”

9 Josh was about to point out that parents had to feed their kids because it was against the law not to, but Jenny got the door open right away, squeaky hinge and all.

10 Sheepishly, “I loosened it for you,” he said.

11 Together, they picked up the net and took it into the shed when Josh abruptly dropped it and screamed.

12 “What is it?” yelled Jenny, rushing forward.

13 “Cobwebs,” said Josh, “holy shit, loads of them, wire-thick . . .” he flailed, caught.

14 Jenny grabbed his arms and looked at the strings enveloping him. “They’re not cobwebs you dolt. Stand still.” She moved her hands up to his shoulders to steady him.

15 Breathing heavily, Josh froze as Jenny untangled the strings around his arms and hair. “What are you stepping on?” she asked.

16 A wooden cross beneath Josh’s feet was the source of the strings. Together, their eyes followed the strings up to the ceiling where they lead to a block of ice. Impossible in the summer heat, but unmistakable. And once they saw it, they could feel the cold wafting down, fighting for its own dominion through the humidity.

17 “What is that?” asked Josh.

18 “Looks like it’s screaming,” said Jenny.

19 Within the block of ice, a string leading to each appendage, was a marionette, an old man dressed in rags with a long warty nose, face contorted into a howl of agony.

2099: Necrosis

20 The Grand Adjunct stared from his tower at the creeping blight scouring the land approaching closer with every day. “It’s up to us to begin the world.”

21 “I don’t like this,” said the Queen. “How do we know they’re not starting already?”

22 “They’re just a bunch of kids on the run.” The Adjunct closed the window and moved toward the center flame, rising out of its stone circle like a lonely flower. “When they do try to reproduce, they won’t know how to do it. Carry a child to term, I mean.”

23 “Certain young women aren’t affected by the necrosis,” the Queen pointed out.

24 Taking her by the hand, the Adjunct led her toward the stairs. “I’d like to show you what we can do about that.”

25 The Queen refused to face the Adjunct. She did not want to know what he had downstairs. Rather, she did not want to see it. 

26 “I forgive you, you know . . .” he said. 

27 She put her hands over her face, as if that would block out the memory. 

28 The Adjunct said, “It was the right thing to do . . .”

29 She believed herself to be the eldest NonAffected. Likewise, with him. But she wouldn’t have him. She wouldn’t bring up a child in a dying world. But when all the other children ran away, possibly becoming feral savages, she could not bear to die alone either. Being the last of anything . . . 

30 All the blood, and they both still lived through it. As if the Necrosis was a stasis of death after a certain age.

31 “There’s plenty downstairs,” he said, taking her by the waist. “I just want you to see . . .”

32 Together, they descended the stone steps to the castle basement. One. By. One.

33 “Those that didn’t get away . . .” he said.

34 He knocked on the large wooden door. Slow echoing footsteps approached and the door creaked open, revealing Dr. Block. Unshaven, wild-haired Dr. Block. Insisting on the white lab coat when its color was now anything but.

35 “Has she agreed?” he asked.

36 “Willing to see . . .” said the Adjunct.

37 The delighted doctor led them through the torchlit hall into his lab. Glass jugs covered wooden tables, with tubes exchanging fluid between them. In each glass jar, an organ, sometimes enveloping a barely human shape.

38 “I apologize for the smell,” said the doctor, “but whenever we find a fresh one, we need to harvest the uterus as soon as possible, and well, the wild animals haven’t been coming as quick as usual . . .”

39 “I understand, doctor,” said the Adjunct. “But my question remains the same. Are they viable, and can she support one?”

40 He placed his hand on the Queen’s belly, feeling even through the gown, the rough scar of her self-vivisection. The same scar he felt between his own two legs.

Ice of Flight

41 It seemed there were endless layers of sky. That’s what they were told in the academy. Levels of fire and ice. So cold up there, and gravity had such little effect, that ice would form and just stay, however, the light would refract through the layers in such a way that tremendous heat could be generated rapidly. 

42 Depending on what level you were flying at, you could be underwater, in an ice-storm, surrounded by flame, or in a calm zone. Likewise, each of these levels had differing degrees of severity to them. 

43 The ships could withstand most anything, and the battle-flyers biggest problem was encountering enemy ships. 

44 As usual, other people ruin everything.

45 Most no one had even seen the ground for years. Maybe their entire lives. A flyer took to the air and stayed there. It’s a hard but swift adaptation that takes away the urge to live any other kind of life. Shuttling cargo and people from place to place. 

46 The ever-constant battles meant there was always a host of wreckage flying around. Much of it salvageable. Some flyers didn’t even have their own ships or suits, but survived merely from wreckage-hopping and cobbling parts together. It tended to limit your mobility, but it could be done and was a cheap way to live. 

47 Is it really more dangerous to live non-fighting and without protection than to constantly be fighting with protection? Different answer every time.

48 Some people, those without ships, were rumored to have traversed the layers of wreckage all the way back to the original ground level. Any number of stories about the ground made their way up. 

49 That a regular human society lived there with no knowledge at all of the layers of sky. That they believed something entirely else was up there. That a plague had ravaged the ground, making all life impossible. Most likely a combination, depending on where you touched down at.

50 How futile had things gotten down there that a large chunk of society had taken to the sky permanently? A reflection of that question passed among the lips of pilots at various watering holes. What is the point of the never-ending war up here? Where no one knows who is fighting whom? And if it has gotten that out of hand, should we try the ultimate adventure and take to the ground?

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 1)

 On fallen logs, the group sat and kept their belongings close until the ranger showed up. When he did, he ushered all eight of them onto the tram. Young writers and artists and documentarians. A contrast to the usual forestry workers and red-state hunters who predominated during this time of year. Although most of the group tended on the young side, there was a middle-aged man. He was the only one dressed - like the ranger - appropriately and not making any concessions to fashion.     

“Alright,” said the ranger, taking a last look out the door. “Everyone got everything? 'Cause we ain't goin' back.”

    The group glanced around each other and gave a collective shrug.

    “What're ya goin' for, a whole week?” asked the ranger to himself, smiling. “Aw, you guys get less fun every year. Put away yer damn phones. Nothin' to see, yet.”

    He closed the door and the tram moved upward. Within a minute they were in the fog, heading toward a base where they would then hike up with mules. A majority of the group checked their phones once they realized there would be no view. The ranger counted down on his hands. The moment everyone lost their signal was the moment he hit zero. 

“Yep,” he said. “Happens every time. Don't worry, though, there’s wireless setups at those cabins. Installed 'em four years ago maybe. I didn’t - someone who knows about 'em did.” No one answered him again.

    Penny took in the group. The older man, Frank, stared out the window. Dani and Ryleigh sat next to each other. Ryleigh rooted through her backpack for something and Dani applied skin cream to her face. Chinonso wore a brown robe with dark yellow diamonds across it. While counterintuitive for hiking, the robe seemed to adapt itself to whatever posture she took. There were two other men besides Frank. Yaser, who was very well dressed for this occasion, and Cezar, who had mysterious bulges under his shirtsleeves. Penny kept hoping someone else would break the silence beside the ranger. Eventually, Frank did.

    “You know, my wife always said that sex was like a rainstorm. You never know how many inches you'll get and how long it'll last.”

    The swaying of the tram imitated the chirping of crickets.

    “Sorry,” said Frank, clearly not sorry. “I forget everything's so PC now. Well, to make you all feel better, it was actually my ex-wife who said that.”

    The ranger laughed at that.

    Yaser spoke up. “I read that Snoop Dog purchased an umbrella Fo'Drizzle.”

    “Oh my god,” said Dani.

    “I didn't understand a goddamn word of that,” said the ranger.

    “I got hundreds of 'em,” said Frank. “Not to sound like an old man but . . . back in my day, a friend of mine would research jokes about certain classes we hated in college. We'd get into the classroom early and write them all on the board. The teacher would get there and be annoyed, but have to read every one of 'em because it's his subject, you know? Anyways, it always killed a few minutes. Sometimes the favorites would stay.”

“So you go to class early just to kill time?” asked the ranger.

“That uh . . . didn’t occur to us,” said Frank.

    The tram screeched to a stop. The ranger got out and told everyone to wait a minute while he freed the mules.

    “Do those animals just live up here and lug people's shit all day?” asked Dani.

    Chinonso got up and took her only bag down from the rack. “So many animals for so few people. One of my neighbors bought a donkey and spent four years in debt for it.”

    “Are they that expensive?” asked Dani.

    “She is very poor, but the donkey more than paid itself off eventually,” said Chinonso.

    Dani put away her skin cream. “And she farmed by herself?”

    “Many of the men leave for the cities,” said Chinonso. “The majority of farming families I knew are run by women.”

    The ranger poked his head back in. “Alright, load 'em up.” He wore an earmuff hat like Elmer Fudd.

    There were four mules for the eight of them so each person walked on either side of a mule. The trail pointed upward and the shrubbery was so dense that anyone brushing a bush would cause a ripple effect and dump water from the trees above. Everyone had a poncho from the ranger and kept their heads down in a one-step-forward stasis. The trees thinned and the group was at the mercy of thick sheets of sleet.

    “Whooeee, lookit those treetops way down there,” the ranger yelled, presumably pointing. “Almost at the top now.” He rolled a cigarette as the wind worsened.

    The group rounded a few bends and entered the woods again. Even though it was still raining the difference was like entering a shelter, and some even took off their hoods.

    “Right up there.” The ranger fell behind the group so he could smoke. One cabin was visible on top of a small hill. He pointed to a trail that lead from the front of the first cabin. “Other cabin's just down thataway. Things'll dry up right quick so don't you worry about that. The generator's all full so,” he started counting on his fingers, “lemme see you got, power, heat, plumbing, wireless, all the shit ya come up here to get away from,” he cackled. “Nah I'm just jokin' you kids are doin' great work. See ya in a few days.”

    He helped them unload the mules onto the porch, then led some of the group to the other cabin. Finally he took the mules, all tied together in a line, back down the trail. The group in the first cabin unpacked in their living room.

    “What a psycho,” said Cezar.

    “Yeah,” said Penny, “but at least he's not critical. He could have blasted us for being 'on vacation' while he's at work.”

    “True,” said Frank. “He didn't seem bitter at all. Just an old dude who's happy to wake up in the morning.”

    “So who else is with us?” asked Penny.

    “Cezar, and Chinonso,” said Frank, reading from a sheet of paper. “Although I don’t suppose it really matters.” 

    “Oops,” said Dani, “I'm supposed to go to the other cabin with Yaser.”

    “Did he go there by himself?” asked Frank.

    “I don't think so,” said Penny.

    “Hang on, there's . . .” Frank counted then shook his head. “I'm too tired to do high single-digit counting. How many of us are there Cezar?”

    “Too early to tell for sure,” said Cezar.

    “Yeah, I try and make bad jokes too,” said Frank, slapping Cezar on the back. “Oh shit, sorry, I forgot you've got a . . . thing.”

    “It's fine,” said Cezar, “just a blood chemistry monitoring 'thing' as you put it.”

    Penny spoke up from another room. “Holy shit. Hey, guys? Have you checked out your rooms yet?”

    “Nope,” said Frank.

    “Are there pictures all over your walls too?” Rows of them from ceiling to floor on each wall except for the entrance. Every photo had as its subject: sand dunes. She couldn't tell if there were any duplicates yet.

    Frank peeked his head in. “Weird,” he said. “I'm sure you can take 'em down, though. Last person was probably too lazy.”

    “Nope,” said Penny. “They're glued on or something, I'd have to rip them off and that would leave things looking worse. I'll bet that crazy ranger would have known who left them.” But she was talking to no one as Frank had already gone to explore his own room.

    Some of the pictures were faded as if older than others or exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. The style of all of them was similar. Always photographed from below, and each dune rose into a piercing blue sky.

The New Nature Writing

We’ve got plenty of time out here in the ways of the woods. Not like in your putrid cities, where everything’s a rush. People who walk slow in cities are openly mocked. One day, a worm became my pet. It crawled in between my toes like a piece of string. This worm had been broken by the hobby fisherman’s attempts to uproot its entire valley via steam-shovel. When will people learn? Then, the worm became two. Buried beneath this dirt, was a treasure-trove of inexhaustible consciousness. The worm speaks to the dirt which is the source of all that grows. The dirt transports nutrients to the roots which transmit their needs based on their relationship to the sun. I named him Herbert. It’s a male name with the word ‘her’ in it. His other part I named Herman. Turns out, after enough rehabilitation, worms can fly. When the birds get ahold of them. 

I am a tree. Sometimes, right-wing militias hang out around me. Sometimes hippies. Both bang their own drums. Although for this purpose I am pretending to understand and care about human culture, I have never known who the President of the United States is, or even, what the United States is. Great Britain. Nigeria. The Philippines. I have friends in all these places. We talk differently than the way mushrooms do, but we still talk. Having been made into paper, please allow me to point out something. None of your writing agrees with each other. Maybe this is old news to you, but then why do you persist? ‘It’s a tragedy the trees are being cut down’ you write on the corpses of trees. It’s a tragedy either because the loss of a natural ecosystem is a threat to the global climate, or everything is being paved over for low-income housing for immigrants. There are two irreconcilable schools of thought here stemming from the same agreement.

I am a building. Rumor has it, buildings like me are not supposed to exist in this area. Lack of stable ground, lack of resources, interruption of the natural air flow.  Sometimes, people advocate for flushing all of my toilets at the same time. That’s supposed to cause an apocalypse or something and make a point. Look, do what you want. You always do. But might I just ask a question before the inevitable dirty bomb explodes in my lobby or envelopes of white powder are mailed to the executive suites? (I mean the dangerous white powder and not the usual white powder which flows through these hallways smoother than oil) Why are you more secretive about your bathroom habits than you are about engaging in the exploitative materialistic consumption that you hate so much which requires the construction of buildings like myself?

The golden sun sent piercing phosphorescent beams through the emerald canopy. A diamond panorama of criss-crossing brilliance, sliding off the arabesques of curling bark. Wet earth breathed a ponderous silence, room only for the chirping of birds, the calls skating across the surface of sound which hid a language older than any ‘God’ dreamed up by humanity. A stream. Tickled by the tips of rocks as its babbling laughter swept along rafts of sticks and the delicate grace of skidding spiders. Minutely existing whirlpools form and dissolve around the edges where everything comes together in a vortex of play. To the careful observer, the whirlpool may vanish, but the circulation continues.

The photons bent by the cornea and received by the cones of the human eye had a dominant wavelength between 570 and 590 nanometers. The canopy of photoautotrophs absorbed the photons through their chlorophyll, distributing it among the organelles where the carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide was processed into oxygen and glucose. The mostly lignin exterior tissue was shed due to insufficient moisture and seasonal revolution. The interaction between the pedosphere and hydrosphere created the odor of petrichor, whose odorants bound to specific sites on olfactory receptors within the nasal cavity. The avian syrinx resonated with sound waves made by membranes vibrated with forced air. A specific magnitude and direction within the flow of dihydrogen monoxide, when met with sufficient obstacle, and/or opposing currents may produce a whirlpool with sufficient downdraft to draw in localized organic matter.

If the writers of the preceding two paragraphs ever met in public, they’d fucking kill each other.

I am an alien. Not like those illegal people you’re all so fond of. I believe the politically correct term would be extra-terrestrial. Upon my observations of life on Earth (I really came here to observe eclipses. You have no idea how fucking lucky you are to have eclipses!) I made a bizarre discovery. Life exists in symbiosis for the most part. Things eat other things, things grow and die, patterns emerge, recede, repeat. We all know this. The weird part is the human narrative. Every single human being does the exact same things, lives the exact same life, 99% of the time, and yet you all hate and fear each other. Why is that? You all eat, sleep, copulate, work, raise families, play, and this encompasses the VAST MAJORITY of everyone’s life. And yet . . . a few disagreements on pieces of paper is the sole reason why peace is impossible? The reason that neighbors who live EXACTLY THE SAME LIFE can hate each other is due to abstract written concepts?

Maybe you should stop cutting down so many trees.

I Laugh in the Face of Death (Conclusion)

Today's incident happened after I took the bus to the bank in order to inquire about my new credit card. My old credit card will expire in a week (although that doesn't much matter now) and I have yet to receive a new one in the mail. 

I was waiting in line for a teller when a voice shouted, “Alright everybody down!” followed by a gunshot to the ceiling. I hit the floor with everyone else while the shooter paced back and forth and told us what to do. First of all, be quiet or he would kill someone. I was worried about laughing. The gunman told the teller to call the cops. He explained that he didn't want money. He wanted to go to jail for the health care. Although to get there he would plan on executing tellers for working for such a corrupt institution.

“I used to be somebody!” he insisted.

Laying on my stomach with my hands clasped over my head, I snorted laughter into the floor. Reflexively I sucked in the drool and turned over to wipe the slobber off my face. The robber was infuriated and pointed the gun while ordering me to stop laughing. I tried to explain in between breaths, but the robber just stared, his face becoming more confounded by the second.

He turned around when a fat banker charged him with a three-hole-punch. The robber shot the fat man in the chest. The hole-punch fell to the floor and the banker clutched his wound. Gasps surrounded me, but I laughed even harder, folding forward. The robber repeated the word 'shit' over and over again. He turned back to me, waving the gun around. He told me to stop laughing, it wasn't funny. I said, I know.

The windows shattered all around us as police burst in. The startled robber pulled the trigger which fired upon someone on the ground. A bloody pile of skull, fingers and hair remained.

Meanwhile, the customers were all getting up and running toward the police, despite orders to the contrary. My chest convulsions were getting more piercing every second. Something landed at my foot and hissed out a white cloud. This happened at a few other points throughout the bank. Through my tears of laughter, I saw row upon row of customers running toward the police and then falling. I almost fell over laughing and had to steady myself on a post while slipping in the blood of civilians.

Holding my breath was the only way to regain composure. I headed toward the interior of the bank. Plenty of chaos back there too, but fewer smoke bombs. A young lady ran into me. Instead of apologizing like intended, I brayed into her face. She pinched her nose as if I had bad breath. Always time to be rude. A bullet whizzed over my shoulder and got her in the eye. I covered my mouth in order to avoid accidentally drinking her fountaining blood. She slumped down and from behind me I heard a familiar voice. “There he is!”

Looking in the direction of the voice, I saw a cop pointing at me. The cop, in fact. He had recognized me by now from previous incidents. Two other cops emerged out of the smoky haze of the lobby. Instinct would demand that I run, but all I could do was lean against a desk and laugh. They stared at me. 

As I laughed, a loud crack came from above us and a chunk of ceiling, turning sideways as it fell, embedded itself halfway into the first cop's head. Another round of full-bodied bellows came from me as the cop spasmed and flung his gun-arm to the side, shooting one of his companions in the neck. A stream of blood shot into the third cop's eye and he fell to his knees. My laughter finally died down, but it was still a good fifteen seconds before I had regained my breath and started to run.

I became lost in the interior of the bank. It seemed deserted aside from an occasional person hiding under a desk. Eventually, I found a door marked 'exit' and I took it to the alleyway between the bank and the next building. To my right were police cars. I exited the alley to the left and saw my bus just pulling up to the stop. Apparently the whole area had not been closed off yet. My transfer ticket was still good. The bus passengers wondered what all the commotion at the bank was about. Someone said that it was probably nothing since it's impossible to go ten minutes in the city without hearing a siren.

The first thing I did when I got home was close and lock all the doors and windows. I'm writing this in my bedroom, which is farthest from the front door. Since I've managed to tell the whole story it occurred to me that I might be overreacting. Maybe security cameras linked to large computers haven't traced me back to where I live. But I hear sirens getting louder. They're pulling up in front of the house. That's the door being broken in. I've been spotted. They're telling me to surrender or they'll shoot. It's difficult to keep writing when I'm laughing so hard.