Holy Books - XVI: Government Spooks

1 The Employee rested his head upon the tactile grass as The Resident said he had to pee. 

2 Pieces of their board game teetered like colorful ruins on the patchy slope. 

3 It would be annoying to interrupt the work going on inside the nearby dwelling, but The Resident kept having to go. Nervous. 

4 Looking sideways, The Employee’s vision split by towering green fronds, an older Resident that the Employee hadn’t noticed before came outside. 

5 Time to mow the grass. 

6 Leaving the board game for the devouring cyclone of the mower, The Employee went inside. 

7 He found them in one of the back bedrooms. The Technician was halfway into the wall. The access panel like a giant pixel leaning at her side.

8 The attic lived on the bottom floor of the house and was used as a storage space. The Employee had seen it before the remodel. Before it housed a junk pile of splintered timber, dusty with neglect, like the room was used to collecting decades in a single afternoon. Before, it had housed horses.

9 The Regional Manager approached The Employee during his reveries, tapping him on the shoulder even though that was against protocol in situations such as these where heavy equipment was in use. Engines like barely restrained dragons.

10 “Hey, it’s really good to see you,” said The Regional Manager. “Do you think you could work somewhere in the cities this afternoon?”

11 “I was assigned out here and my car’s in the shop,”  The Employee replied.

12 “Right,” said The Regional Manager, who then picked up a conversation with the Resident who had appeared in the hallway. It was this kind of conversational multi-tasking that made a good Regional Manager, The Employee had been told. The ability to write patchwork books in the air that no one would remember. Words like frightened flies, as fleeting as the dust in the attic was permanent.

13 It was the third time today The Regional Manager had asked The Employee that question, but The Employee forgave him because he was a busy man.

14 Darkness flooded the house after the departure of the Regional Manager. “Shit,” muttered The Technician from the other room. 

15 The only light gathered in foggy orbs around the windows, as if afraid to traverse further. 

16 Everywhere The Employee turned, something sharp in his hair prevented further movement. A clump of leaves. Sticks, like roaming fingers of the dead. Bored by eternity. 

17 “Anything I can do to help?” asked The Employee.

18 “I got a report from your car guy,” said The Technician. She put down her drill. At least, The Employee heard her put down her drill.

19 The silence of empty holes.

20 “Just a minute here, I gotta make sure the door is . . .”

21 The repeating factory clang of a sliding garage door.

22 “Now I can’t see anything, but there’s a light here somewhere, I always do this . . .”

23 Beep.

24 “Here’s another announcement from your car guy . . .”

25 This would go on forever. So even though the reaching boughs of darkness-invisible trees willed it not, The Employee went out through the back door. 

26 Solar fire expanded through all means of perception. The Employee flailed his hands around and knocked the door shut behind him. His feet sank in the organic softness of the lawn. His fingers, like swimming fish before his eyes as his sight recovered.

27 The Resident stood in the backyard. A lone figure on an expansive but pathless plain. He held a map. “We have an appointment,”  said The Resident. “With her. The Eye Lady.”

28 “We can’t show that to her,” The Employee replied. 

- - -

29 They had a table reserved at the back of a nearly empty cafe. The Eye Lady - you wouldn’t know her by looking at her - sat alone, doing a puzzle.

30 “You can’t show that to me,” she said. You wouldn’t know this from looking at her, but she had the eye implant. 

31 The Employee had seen an early implant put in. Someone he worked with volunteered. The Surgical Unit showed up and performed the operation right there. Although they did set up a kind of booth, the one curtain was dollhouse tiny and the screaming was heard throughout the Retail Center. 

32 A quarter of The Co-Worker’s face was taken up by machinery and the ‘implant’ was more of a six inch telescope sticking out of his eye. He never spoke a regular word again, just noises. But the company had to keep him on. Most of the time, he stood outside the building where black windows reflected back at you and he stared at them, getting some kind of stimulating visual feedback known only to the processors which now formed his personality. 

33 Who you are is your means of perception.

34 In contrast, the Eye Lady’s implant was invisible. But she knew what it summoned.

35 “Government spooks,” she said.

36 The Employee and The Resident went over their route. 

37 “We’ve been very careful,” said the Resident. “Leaving no trace.”

38 Aside from the trail of roughage left from the hair of the Employee when he left that house. 

39 Something that would happen in a cartoon: A large branch on the sidewalk swoops up beneath the handle of a door, preventing it from movement. 

40 Trapped inside the back room of the cafe, awaiting judgement.

The Comedian's Notebook: A Few Routines

~ Stafford takes the stage and his large confident demeanor crumbles into itself. I swear he shrinks three inches. He holds the microphone close to his downturned face. A montage of phrases everyone knows better than the inspirational stuff they shove down your throat at school and church.

    “It's important every morning to look in the mirror and remind yourself that you are the worst person who ever lived.”

    He paces from the left to the right of the stage and then settles in the center.

– How fat can one person get?

– You're a burden on everyone who knows you.

– You're the worst, you're the worst. Shut up shut up shut up!

    He lifts his head and waves around some jazz hands, then starts skipping to the left and to the right while always facing forward and singing.

– Your parents contemplate suicide / at the very mention of your name

– Everyone else can see / despite your stupid clothing / what a repulsive monster you are.

The crowd is loving this. People cough up their drinks.

Stafford draws out the bridge.

– Everyone hates you / and everyone / is a person except for you.

Wrapping it all up.

– The thought of you doing anything sexual . . .

                            / is so laughably disgusting . . .

 everyone is holding their breath. Even the servers have stopped moving.

/ that even pedophile priests thank the lord for their condition.

                    “Thank you good night!” he says immediately after finishing the song. The crowd bursts into applause while hanging on his every word. “Stick around for the debut performance of Samuel Sardine.”

    Stafford puts the mike back in the stand and shakes Sam's hand and whispers in his ear, “Lubed up the crowd for ya.”

    “I don't know whether to thank you or punch you in the face,” said Sam. “How am I supposed to follow that?”

    “Just be confident,” said Stafford. “They're very receptive right now.”

    The word 'receptive' sets something off in Sam, as if a hypnotist planted that word as a trigger. He freezes and stares up at the lights and a slow grin forms on his face. “Yeah,” he whispers, almost to himself and he crosses the stage and stands in front of the microphone.

    “How about a . . . little romance?” he croons into the microphone while tipping it like a dance partner.

He’s got a series of one-liners about not enough love in the world, too many children, and the fact that we all live in a giant haunted house. 

  He grabs the mike, comedian-style and says, “you ever see those haunted houses? Everyone just leaves each other for dead in there. And there's plenty of dead to go around, in fact, we're all dead.”

        Quick as before, he re-adopts his crooner stance. The audience is silent during his outburst and then rejoins him as if nothing happened.

    “Before I go,” he says, bringing it down to a snap, “I think we've all learned something tonight.”  Cheers from the crowd. He walks off, forgetting to introduce me.

    I take the stand anyway and say, “Last one, I promise.” Their laughter seemed a bit exhausted so I decided to give them a momentary break and do some crowd work. “You there,” I point to a guy in the front row. He nods at me.

    I squat in front of him and look him in the eye. For some reason, I feel very physically comfortable so I stay kneeling. He looks at me. Challenge accepted. As slowly as I can, over the course of minutes, I turn my face into what I call “Goofy Corpse.” 

Laughter starts from the back of the room and spreads. I can see that he’s holding his breath and victory is within my grasp. He breaks out into coughs and then has a laughing fit which disables his ability to look up.

    “Nice to meet you,” I say. I pace the stage a bit and stare into the eyes of a pretty girl. “Hello there.”

    She starts to talk but can’t, she breaks right away. 

    “There's been a lot of talk tonight about empathy. Understanding the human condition, but I'm not talking to any of you. I'm talking to them.” I point to the bald children. Two or three of them standing between every table. No wonder the servers can't get anywhere.

The Comedian's Notebook: Entrance to the Underground Temple

~ We are gathered here today . . . in the green room before the show. Me, Linos, Pete, Stafford - who signed up because I was the only other person he knew that would be here tonight -  at Pablo Lily 82. On 82nd street, predictably enough. Yaqoob and Sverrir (Jake and Sam) are supposed to be here soon, but Linos doesn't like them or me using their real names.

    For some reason, we're allowed to smoke back here and Linos lights up a joint, but Stafford vapes and Pete shares cigarettes with me. I don't smoke, haven't for years, but for some reason it seems fitting tonight like it's a special occasion.

    Linos explains – they designated this as a special smoking room because when they broke ground, it smelled like incense. He says you can go into the basement, and we will later, and they stopped digging when they encountered strange ancient bricks, which were the remnants of a temple. According to traditional archeology, there weren't supposed to be ancient brick temples in this part of the country so the city made them stop digging and not say a word about it. Maybe there was something underneath the temple that they were looking for. Maybe it’s waiting for just the right words.

    “Got this flavor when I was talking to my banker today,” says Stafford, blowing out a cloud of smoke. “It's from that new ice-cream company Silly Sunny. You were at that tasting,” he says pointing to me.

    I mutter to myself, “That can't be what they're called.”

    “They're makin' vape flavors now,” he says, “or at least, thinkin’ about it, this one's called,” he glanced at the bottle, “Kitty Smiley Go-Go Puff.”

    “I don't understand a word you just said,” said Linos. “Except 'banker.' What are they like?”

    “Oh, mine is awesome,” said Stafford, “he was just the first guy I got when I walked in with a question about a new high-interest savings account. That was years ago. We've hung out since then. He's a big fan of playing it safe, and I never have, so we balance each other pretty well. I just recently started an IRA. He gives me advice on having a secure ground, and I let him know that it's okay to stay up late and come to work tired every now and then.”

    “My job just does all that for me,” I said, “. . . I assume.”

    “Plus,” said Stafford, “your job isn't sitting all day and has okay hours for late-night.”

    I nod. “Sure.”

    “I'm learning that it's totally possible to make a living as a comedian pretty early on, if you're single, no kids,” he puffs, “you could even start without a car if you live in a big city and stay local for a while. Man, I'd love to get out more often.”

    Sam and Jake are shown in by a bouncer.

    “Woah,” says Sam, waving smoke out of his face. “It's like a sauna in here.”

    “You guys goin' up tonight?” asks Linos.

    “He is,” said Jake.

    “Sverrir takes the stage,” said Linos. “I approve.”

    “I'm not going by that name,” said Sam.

    “Why not?” asked Linos.

    “Because, no one will remember or pronounce it,” said Sam.

    “No one will remember 'Sam' either,” said Linos.

    “So I'll go by . . . Samuel Sardine or something,” he said.

    Stafford coughed out a fit of laughter. “Please let me introduce you like that.”

    “You going first?” I asked.

    “Totally,” he said, “It would be an honor to open for all of you.”

    “Is it just us three?” I asked.

    “Yeah,” said Linos. “Warm-up for the band. Luckily, no one wants to see the band so if we –”

    “Announce over and over,” said Stafford, “that there's going to be loud, live music after three comedians, everyone will stay until we're done, and then leave. Brilliant.” He reflected a moment. “Samuel Sardine.”

    “I could go on right after you if that would make it easier,” Sam said. “I'm pretty new to this.”

    “Yeah, fine, the line-up is not set in stone,” said Stafford.

    “Unlike the Drzji vows carved in the dedication of the Community College Science building,” Linos and I say in unison.

    Pete, Sam, and Jake all clap twice in unison and perform a simple circle with their clasped hands.

    “What're you guys like a . . . triple-act?” asked Stafford. “They're hard to maintain due to egos, but man, once that gets sellin' it's hot.” He takes out his phone and checks e-mail. “On in five,” he says.

After the set, Linos leads everyone into the underground temple. The bouncers won’t throw anyone out because technically, the temple doesn’t exist. Dude-Bro is in there, and has come back from somewhere awful.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 10)

 After a few minutes of running uphill, Penny stopped to catch her breath. Looking around, she was no longer on any path but spied the roof of one of the cabins. She headed in that direction. The closer she got, she recognized the second cabin. This time, she would not be shy about entering. There was no reason for anyone to hide anything, plus, she wanted to see Ryleigh's room.

The candles on the chopping block were still there, a few had fallen over and the sand garden had toppled as well. Penny gave it a wide berth. Careful of crunching leaves, she tiptoed around the front. Would it be better or worse if the cabin were occupied? Yaser was unaccounted for and Dani may have come back. Penny checked her phone and saw, impossibly, that the amount of time which elapsed between her leaving with Ryleigh and now was only five minutes. Clearly impossible if she had gotten their departure time right. Just the walk down took around twenty minutes. Not even factoring in time spent and time returning.  

She'd been standing outside the cabin for a while contemplating this and felt a sudden jolt of panic. If anyone was home, they hadn’t noticed her. She crept onto the porch and tried the knob. The door was unlocked and she stepped inside the second cabin, and beheld a torture chamber.

Nothing resembled a living room or kitchen here. Just dark stone walls, which had to be pretty thin considering this was a wood cabin from the outside. When Penny stepped forward, clouds of fat flies circled her feet like dust before settling down again. In a corner sat a stool with a triangular top. The chains trailed off it, streaked red. At the tip, dark red chunks sat like dirty mountaintops. A few brave flies nested along its sides, stuck in the oozing sap. Red and brown stains alternated down the legs of the stool. 

A steel bed complete with shackles and armlocks stood against the wall. Layers of black crusty old blood spread along it like islands on a map. At the base of the steel bed lay the barbecue tools used last night along with saws of different lengths. A moldy apron hung from a hook by the steel bed. 

In another corner, a giant bellows sat next to a feeding tube packed with broken glass. The glistening tip of the bellows was crusted with glass particles. Above a sink clogged with moss or hair, a small mirror closet was open which revealed vials of liquid, some of them smoking, and bottles of pharmaceutical pills.

Penny crossed the room, not getting close enough to touch anything and froze at the sound of a muffled voice. A low male voice, which spoke with such regularity and confidence that she thought it must be an advertisement. Regaining her confidence, Penny continued to the hall to a closed door, the muffled voice emanating from behind it. She placed her sweaty hand on the knob and twisted slowly. It was unlocked, and the voice never changed rhythm. She counted to three under her breath and pushed the door open.

The Silly String Defense

The prosecuting attorney leaned over with his hands behind his back, widened his eyes and asked the witness, “Is the one responsible in this courtroom today?”

The witness nodded.

“Would you point him out to us?”

-twwwwiizzzzz- a ream of green silly-string flew over the crowd like a gymnast-worm and landed looping itself around the necks of the prosecuting attorney and witness. They stared at each other like inseparable lovers, afraid to move. 

Gasps from the crowd, followed by the turning of heads to behold Ted Homeson, a camera around his neck but no press pass, standing and holding the offending can.

“Order,” His Honor banged the gavel.

Guards burst into action. The clicking of guns followed by “Drop your weapon!” “On your knees!” “Hands on your head!” Don't move!” Men in blue pushed their way through the crowd with riot shields.

“I said order!” repeated His Honor.

Ted looked at the can of silly string as if it were a stranger but the sound of bodies being stomped by the police on their way towards him brought him back to reality. “No!” he said before turning around and leaping over the - pew? - was the only word that came to mind. 

The people in the row behind him actually parted, holding the cops at bay for a moment before being leveled with billy-clubs. Ted jumped over two more rows before he was at the back of the courtroom. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his phone and waved it above his head. “Everybody stop!”

They did. Which had been what he had hoped for but not what he was expecting. The policemen hit the floor and hid behind civilians, one of whom yelled “Don't kill me!”

“It's just a phone,” Ted answered, then looked at His Honor from across the court. “Your Honor, whoever 'Blade Berkely' is, told me to do this. He lives in my phone.”

His Honor slowly took his glasses off and said in increasing volume, “What the devil are you talking about?”

A policeman shot up. “Your Honor, get down,” he said while facing Ted and firing off a taser.

Ted dashed out the courtroom door. He ran through the hall and into the lobby and looked outside to see a line of police cars, sirens shimmering.

“Fuck,” he mumbled as shouts echoed towards him off the marble walls. His phone vibrated in his hand. Stairs, it said.

There was a grand staircase to the left of the front desk which led to other courtrooms and offices upstairs. He ran up it. His phone vibrated when he was almost at the top.


Down the hall, rows of doors, some open. A guard up ahead who showed concern as soon as he saw Ted running.

Stop. Door 00X.

Ted stopped and heard a crackle in the guard's radio. The guard put his hand on his gun and started trotting. To the left of Ted was a door that looked like any of the other courtroom doors but this was was indeed marked with a 00X. It opened onto a narrow staircase leading down. Ted closed it behind him and there was even a lock. Lucked out for once.

Continuing down the stairs, his phone told him to Keep Going. At the bottom, an open closet full of cleaning supplies and a door to the boiler room. Closet. Ceiling Vent. Ted looked up. Tell them you're going to blow up city hall.

Ted looked down at his phone. “What?”

Into the vent. Yell.

Ted sighed and turned his head towards the vent and said, “I'm gonna blow this place to fucking hell!”

Good Enough. Boiler Room.

In the boiler room Ted could see through an eye-level grate onto the street where there were numerous cop-cars, caution signs, and the sound of a helicopter.

Now we have all the time it takes for them to evacuate the building.

Ted nearly collapsed, allowing fatigue to catch up with him. “Alright,” he said, “but you owe me an explanation.  Please tell me what the fucking point of all this was.”

His Honor knows me.

“I didn't get that good a look at him, but he seemed as confused as everyone else.”

I'm supposed to be a secret.

“What do you want?”

East Wall.

“I don't know which way that is.”



Face it and stand to the left of the beam.


Hold your left hand above your head and knock on the wall for a hollow brick.

Ted knocked along the wall, moving his arm up and down in a spiral. He was about to give up when an unmistakably different sound followed his knocking. “Hello,” he said and pulled on the brick which turned out to be a drawer. Inside was a small rolled-up yellow parchment.

That's it!

“Oh, you didn't mean the other hollow brick?”


“I can look at it, right?”

Well, you don't have to. They'll come down and arrest you eventually.

“Who's the smartass now?” said Ted, unrolling the parchment. It looked like an old legal document, complete with remnants of a wax seal on the bottom. The handwriting was illegible to Ted. “What is this, man?”

A document of eternal servitude.

“Looks pretty old.”

His Honor has enslaved my family for generations. He's involved in drug and slave trafficking. We keep him safe.

“What? You're saying he's hundreds of years old?”

No. He's 64. Our binding goes back that far though.

“How did you get into my phone?”

I was the first successful spirit to infiltrate satellite signals. Sort of a transcendental hacking.

“So there'll be more?”

Presumably, once my case gets heard.

“Okay okay, what do I do?” asked Ted, looking back outside the grate at police officers, leading crowds out of the courthouse.

Upstairs, hold the document up. He won't let anyone hurt you.

With the phone in one hand and the document in the other, Ted headed out of the Boiler Room and back up the stairs. The hall was empty and all the doors were open. He made it to the grand staircase and walked to the empty lobby below. Papers scattered the floor and the doors were still open with police standing, facing the crowd behind caution tape. Ted saw His Honor standing to the side, eyes glancing over and over the building until they caught sight of Ted, almost out the front door.

“There he is,” said His Honor, pointing.

Ted walked out the front door and held out the document. Police clambered up the steps towards him.

His Honor's face paled and pulled taut. “Don't touch him!”

The police froze and the chief at the bottom of the stairs looked at the judge and said, “Your Honor? He's the bomber.”

“No. He's worse, and if anyone touches him I'll have you all on a chain gang digging yourselves to hell.”

“Yes sir.” The chief motioned for his men to stand down.

The Comedian's Notebook: Performance Enhancing Rants

~ Steroids in sports. Who fucking cares? 'But kids look up to them!' Kids look up to all sorts of people. Rock stars, movie stars, politicians (yes, some kids want to be senators) all of whom, incidentally, can have sex with as many children as they want. The pedophilia rings in Hollywood and politics are disheartening, to say the least. ‘Open drug abuse is worse than secret pedophilia' seems to be the underlying morality.

~ On that subject, all these teen girl pop stars are actually doing nothing new. If you put their lyrics side by side with Motley Crue and Poison, an uninformed observer would not be able to tell the difference. I'll bet you could even do this with The Beach Boys a lot of the time as well. The lyrical topics in pop songs, as well as popular hip-hop, are the same lyrical topics that have dominated chart-topping songs since people started keeping charts. Seventy goddamn years ago.

    In fact, there's a lot less today of the type of song that goes: “Oh she's barely sixteen but I'm gonna maker her mine, nothin' she can do about it . . .” for some reason we don't put up with that anymore. It’s got to be secret. {See entry above}

~ Back to steroids / performance enhancers in sports. Everyone knows they're doing it. Why the facade? We could have two leagues, the non-drug league, and the drug league. Guess who's going to win every time? Yep, the drug league. People don't want to watch healthy competition. They want to watch monsters beat themselves to death.

    Who benefits from the laws against drugs? Certainly not the whistle-blowers who point out their use. They just get sued into oblivion. Laws against drugs only hurt the honest people. And the battle in sports really is between the honest and the dishonest. 

Spoiler alert: Guess who always wins? Of course, we teach our kids that it's 'how you play the game’ that matters but if you're looking for success in sports that's not what matters.

    Honest people will not cheat, no matter how many others are cheating, and dishonest people will always cheat, no matter how many laws against it there are.

~ Cat ownership will be the gun control issue of the future. Sure, right now people like cats. Cat video film festivals are actually a thing. People who used to be publicly shamed for taking their cats out on leashes can now parade like celebrities.

    But the truth is slowly coming out. There's article after article about how cats give people toxoplasmosis, all the psychological mayhem they wreck on their owners, the weird history of how they domesticated themselves. Not the way dogs did. Dogs and people interacted through a symbiotic relationship before totally co-mingling. Cats just decided to walk on in, and through psychological trickery, get all the benefits of people by doing none of the work.

    The next barrage of articles is on how environmentally destructive they are. Oh sure, it used to be cute that they'd catch birds and mice and what have you. But with cat cams and increasing ownership, entire ecosystems have been destroyed. We always knew they were crazy, but their craziness is so far above all previous estimates. Soon ownership will be limited, and people who didn't grow up with cats will be wondering what all the fuss is about.

    Cat owners will have to register them, only be allowed to have them outside in certain places. They’ll have to pass mental health screenings which will drastically curb cat ownership. They'll complain that the government is going to take their cats every time one gets away and steals the breath from a newborn baby. Not like I really care, because pets are kind of a burden, but I would like credit as the first person who saw this coming. And no, I don't think it's preventable. Cats will continue to walk all over us until we forcibly do something about it.

   ~ then forever will I wander like a stabbed clown, gasping for breath and gripping an unsuspecting bystander's shoulder with my sticky glove and when they turn I will burp blood into their faces from my cackling hemorrhaging lungs –

The Comedian's Notebook: The Story of Linos

   ~ Linos lives in a basement apartment. The religion some of his parents practiced kept a lot of things in the basement. (I can't tell if this is a routine or not.) 

    Some of his parents?

    He had quite a few. Many even looked the same as his original mom and dad, or the earliest mom and dad that he could remember. 

    When did they start changing?

    Around first grade. His kindergarten ended at noon, but first grade went until three, like all the other big kids. It was then that he came home to different parents.

    How different were they?

    Quite physically different. Mommy's eyes were not the same color. Daddy had much larger feet. They made Tuesday's dinner on a Monday. They tried to play it off as normal, but Linos could tell he had caught them in a lie.

    Their religion was largely the same. Hours spent in the cramped basement. A man in a beige suit would arrive and they would go over pamphlets upon pamphlets all about long words that Linos was too afraid to try and pronounce.

    It got so hot in the basement. Linos always knew what time it was by watching the sweat-stains on the beige-suit-man's armpits. By the time he couldn't see the edge of it anymore because the stain had spread to the man's back, they were almost done. The man never looked happy to get there. He was much younger than Linos' parents. All of them, but he seemed dedicated to what he was reading.

    Every morning before school, they would ask Linos things about the previous night that he could never remember.

    What kinds of things?

    Did he remember changing into a rat and feeding off of the dead birds in the rain gutter?

    What was his birthday?

                                         (Always in the spring. But dates varied. Late March-Late April)

    Who was he?

    Their son, of course! He thought that was silly. But every time he said that, his parents shook their heads and said 'no, he was many different people.'

    Who else was he?

    He was a wise monk. Living in the pipes of the neighborhood. No one misbehaved when he was on the prowl. If the houses were creaky, people would ask questions about the universe and he would answer them by banging on the pipes.

    He was in the holy books. But there he was a bad man. No one wanted to hear stories of him from long ago. Sometimes, these stories were performed for him until he screamed so loud and for so long that he would get dizzy and vomit himself to sleep. Stories of brutality and nakedness involving all manner of living things in all stages of life. It was after those stories that his birthday changed.

    How often would his parents become new?

    Hard to tell. Time is so strange as a sheltered child. Probably once or twice a month. As soon as he thought he could count on routines again, they would change.

    What about the man in the beige suit?

    Rumor had it that he made a lot of money sermonizing to people like his parents. That's why he put up with hours in a cramped basement. Rumor had it that the government had him by the balls. Rumor had it he was a substitute teacher under an hypnotic state and could recall none of this. Rumor had a lot of things. He stopped coming around after Linos hid from him.

    Where did he hide?

    There must have been a scheduling mix-up, because one day, Linos came home from school to no parents. It was about time for them to change again, so he figured the new ones would arrive momentarily. They were probably just familiarizing themselves with the neighborhood.

    Did he know any of the neighbors?

    Oh god, no. Everyone was instructed to keep to themselves, is what he was told. He never saw anyone outside who was not in a car. And he never remembered dispensing information through the plumbing either. 

     What happened on the Night with No Parents?

    He ate junk food after dark. And a carrot out of guilt. He had no idea which light switches turned on which lights, or if some of them were for power outlets or fans . . . because he had never touched any of them. When it got dark, he turned on no lights. But his eyes adjusted and the glare of headlights pulling into the driveway startled him. His stomach hurt from all the junk food. He kept picturing a bubble in his stomach. A brown translucent bubble that he just wanted to pop with a pin. That would give him relief. He clutched himself into a ball underneath the dining room table.

    The front door opened and the man in the beige suit was talking to someone on a radio. “Negative. No signs of breaking and entering. I think they flew. We'll have to check with WP and get an Override.” He peeked around a corner, one hand in his pocket, one hand on the radio. His feet got closer and closer to the table and Linos was as quiet as he could be until . . .

    'Pffffrrrroooot,' said Linos' butt and Linos started laughing.

    “Holy fucking god,” yelled the man in the beige suit. He dropped his radio which shattered into pieces on the dining room floor. He started gagging. Linos laughed harder. The man crumpled onto the floor, puking a watery fluid, he turned to see the child laughing at him from under the table and slid himself against the cupboards, screaming and choking on his vomit.

    Linos crawled forward. The man kept screaming and kicking out his feet to keep Linos at bay. Pamphlets showered upon the floor. He tore a device from beneath his arm and pressed a red button over and over. He kicked Linos away and Linos heard loud thumping sounds coming from overhead so he scrambled into the cupboards beneath the sink where he stayed.

    The front door burst open and he heard the sound of many stomping feet. A quick bang and a flash and the man in the beige suit became quiet. Linos grabbed three of the nearest bottles he could find and took their caps off.

    “Where is he?” a voice asked.

    “I'm getting some heat under the sink,” said another.

    “Get the shot ready, he'll probably fight,” said the first voice.

    The cabinet door opened and a man head to toe in black kneeled in front of it. Linos poured the contents of all three bottles on his face. He jumped back and screamed. A gas cloud rose from where he had been. Linos threw all three bottles forward and used the gas as a cover to crawl into the living room.

    “Egress, egress, other side,” said a voice from the kitchen.

    “Let's get some light in here,” said another voice.

    “No, you idiot!” someone shouted.

    But it was too late. The living room lights were switched on and it was swarming with soldiers. Linos crawled in the middle of it and three of them dove upon him, guns drawn. He felt needles in his stomach, chest and arms and the world vanished.

    And that was how Linos' town changed. He found himself in an identical house, with identical parents, well . . . as identical as different people could be, except he went to a different school. They kept telling him it was the same school, but he knew different because everyone insulted him with different nicknames than they used to. And that couldn't have just changed overnight.

    Did the religion alter at all with the geographic change?

    His parents changed more often when they found that he was unable to scream himself to sleep anymore. During school, he would draw the shapes he saw in the pamphlets and compare them to school architecture, which got him in no end of trouble. He was told that he had no eye for art or design. Still, the horrors perpetrated in the basement bored him to such an extent that he was able to sketch the entire basement from memory, except for the people in it. He only drew rooms without people. And he only saw places as if they were empty.

Years passed.

    One night – after Daddy had filled the corpses of three mice with his cum, then put them into Mommy's mouth and made her drink the insides through the mice's assholes – he became so angry at Linos' lack of reaction that he squeezed Mommy's face until she couldn't breathe anymore and smashed it ten times against the altar.

    'You broke the rules,' Linos pointed out.

    'Motherfucking worthless piece of shit!' yelled Daddy and he grabbed a knife and lunged at Linos. However, he stubbed his toe on the altar and dropped the knife. Linos picked it up and swiped it down on Daddy's still spurting cock. A fountain of blood flew against the wall, but Linos knew to get out of the way.

    The next day, Linos had new parents and a job. He got home from school and was told to report to the nearest Pizza Hut by 4 pm. Life got strange after that.

    Were there any repercussions?

    Since Linos had no friends, he worked and graduated high school and saved his money and got an apartment. He had very specific demands of the architecture, but this current place met his standards, and he hasn't seen hide nor hair of any 'family' since. He has met others, though, plenty of others.

    ~ At this point I sat in one of five chairs in Linos' living room and he was standing on a makeshift stage. I clapped when he was done because I assumed that's what he wanted. Linos waved dismissively and stepped off the stage and sat next to me.

    “You don't understand. That was my audition for you,” he said.

    “Well, um, look,” I said, “do you want any pointers? I'm not exactly a professional here –”

    He shook his head. “What this really means is: we gotta get you another show.”

    “I gotta get a real website,” I said. “I've just been telling people to look up my name on - .”

    “Well, have they?” he asked.

    “I think so,” I said. “I keep getting friend requests from people with the word 'Fake' before their name.”

    “That's good,” Linos nodded. “Man, I'm really gonna miss these moments when you take off.”

    I patted his shoulder. “Your confidence is touching, but I see a pretty modest future in my future.”

    “Well you must not be looking through the right gargoyles then,” he said.

    I had been home for hours before I started wondering what that meant.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 9)

During their walk back, the sky dawned gray. There were lights in their cabin indicating either an early riser or an all-nighter. Cezar opened the door just as a tea kettle started to whistle. Chinonso got up from tending the wounded Ryleigh on the couch and went to turn off the stove.

    “Ryleigh,” said Penny, and knelt beside her.

    “She's still asleep, probably,” said Chinonso from the kitchen. “She ran in here last night and slammed the door. Woke me up. I found her peering through the windows like something was chasing her. She could barely stay awake after I sat her down on the couch and mended her cuts. Was she attacked by an animal?”

    “Yaser cut her,” said Penny.

    “Well,” said Frank, “I think that's open to interpretation.”

    “What are you talking about?” asked Penny. “You were all involved in –”

    “I don't care,” said Chinonso, sitting down with a cup of tea and handing it to Penny, wordlessly acknowledging that Penny needed it the most. “Everyone has their own crazy shit they do which causes harm to others. Who else wants tea?”

    Cezar turned to Frank. “So show me this broken radio.” The two of them went into Cezar's room after Frank had fished out the debris.

    Chinonso sat next to Penny, both of them looking at Ryleigh. “They were cutting her?” asked Chinonso.

    “Yes,” said Penny. “Some sort of ritual that I interrupted and scared the crap out of them. They thought they had summoned a demon or something.”

    “It looks strange to an outsider,” said Chinonso, “to have so much modernity, and then through a mockery of ancient customs, make a mess of all of it.”

    “Well,” said Penny, “everyone has their own crazy shit.”

    Ryleigh stirred on the couch.

    “She must be from the other cabin, yes?” asked Chinonso.

    “Of course,” said Penny.

    “Okay, you don't need to snap,” said Chinonso, “I don't recognize everybody when they come in bleeding.”

    “She was outside last night playing . . . never mind,” said Penny. “Is she going to be alright? I thought she would need emergency care before now.”

    “All the bleeding is taken care of,” said Chinonso. “I just wish she'd wake up so I could rehydrate her. She's going to be very thirsty. Hopefully, we have some bagels around here as well, something simple like that to slowly wake her stomach up. Bagels and jam would do the trick.”

    “Once Cezar and Frank fix the radio,” said Penny, “then we could get help.”

    “I wonder if that's what they want,” said Chinonso.

    “What do you mean?” asked Penny.

    “Someone has to answer for her condition,” said Chinonso.  “You said that Yaser did this. Where did he go?”

    “He ran off,” said Penny. “We thought we saw him in their cabin right before heading here.”

    “I'll bet they don't want anyone to see what goes on in that cabin,” said Chinonso.

    “How bad could it be?” asked Penny. “We're only here for a few days.”

    “If the time is right,” said Chinonso, “it doesn't matter what time it is.”

    Penny looked puzzled.

    Chinonso laughed. “Don't worry about it dear, sometimes I express myself poorly. Drink your tea, come on.” She got up to fix another cup.

    Ryleigh stirred and Chinonso was back instantly with a glass of water. After Ryleigh drank it she sat up and burped.

    “Good to have you back,” said Chinonso.

    Ryleigh turned to Penny and smiled, “Hi, where are we?”

    “We're in the first cabin,” said Penny.

    “First as in, built first?” asked Ryleigh.

    “No,” said Penny, “as in, the bigger one. The four-bedroom as opposed to the three-bedroom.”

    “Three-bedroom,” Ryleigh echoed. “What's that like?”

    Before Penny had a chance to answer Chinonso was back with a refill of the water. “Drink this more slowly,” she said, “we don't want you throwing up, and watch your arm.”

    Ryleigh winced as she lifted her heavily bandaged arm, “Thanks,” she said. She turned around and sat up like the rest of them while sipping at her water.

    Frank and Cezar came out with the radio looking brand new.

    “Guy's a fucking Tesla,” said Frank. “Two seconds, he saw what was wrong, decided the original design sucked, re-wired it with half the technology, and even had spare hardware for a case.”

    “We still have to turn it on,” said Cezar, “but I don't foresee this draining the lights at all.”

    “Doesn't even plug in,” said Frank.

    Cezar sat the radio on the table and flipped a switch. No pop or static that anyone could hear. He fiddled with some knobs. Still silence.

    “Shit,” he said, “there's probably a manual here somewhere with the right code names to use or whatever, but anyway . . . um, Base, we're up at the cabins on top of the mountain, checking in. Do you copy?”

    A voice, clear as day with no static at all answered. “Yes, we hear you. Perfect signal. Good to know our old stuff still works. How's it going?”

    “Okay, okay, um,” said Cezar, “we were just calling to request . . . and this isn't as bad as it sounds, but we need some more first-aid equipment. Um, one of our own had a run-in and well, nothing serious but –”

    “Nothing serious?” asked Penny.

    Cezar lurched over the radio, blocking Penny's access. “We just wanted to let you know that we used some of the first aid supplies.”

    Penny glared over at Chinonso who just shrugged and went back to stirring some tea for Ryleigh, whose head was down but was still awake.

    “Copy that,” said the radio-voice, “just take precautions to prevent the cuts from getting infected and you should be fine.”

    “Thanks, Base,” said Cezar.

    “Base out.”

    “How the fuck could you –?” asked Penny.

    Ryleigh flinched.

    “I'm sorry,” said Penny, lowering her voice, “but really.”

    “Really what?” asked Cezar, lowering his voice to match hers.

    “You totally lied to them,” said Penny.

    “We can't trust them,” said Cezar.

    “Penny?” Ryleigh kept tugging on Penny's arm.

    “What?” asked Penny.

    “It's that time”, said Ryleigh. “We should go for a hike.”

    Penny looked over to Chinonso for approval. She nodded.

    “Are you sure you're okay to walk?” asked Penny.

    “I'm great,” said Ryleigh. “The time is perfect.” She slowly raised herself out of the couch.

    “A walk would do you both good,” said Cezar.

    “A fucking nap would do me good,” said Frank. “Wake the old fart if I'm not up by noon.”

    Chinonso nodded again.

    Once outside the cabin, Ryleigh started along the path right away.

    “So what sort of markers should I look for when going on this path?” asked Penny. “Why couldn't I find it the other day?”

    Ryleigh shrugged. “It doesn't make a whole lot of difference anymore,” she said. “You're here now.”

    “Ryleigh you got cut pretty bad,” said Penny. “I'm sure Chinonso cleaned you up well, but maybe you should shower when you get back. If you start to get tired at all, let me know. Why did you let them do it to you?”

    “Do what to me?” asked Ryleigh. “Because they brought me here. It's not that bad. I'll heal.”

    “What were you all trying to do?” asked Penny.

    “I thought it was silly,” said Ryleigh. “You can't send them back. And even if there was enough power in this little universe to do it, the bridge wasn't even open.”

    “Look,” said Penny. “I'm trying to be serious here. You can't let men treat you like that. You should press charges.”

    “Weren't you there too?” asked Ryleigh.

    “I stopped them,” said Penny.

    “No,” said Ryleigh. “They're all still here.”

    “What can I do?” asked Penny. “We're alone.”

    “You're so funny,” said Ryleigh. “We're anything but alone.”

    During their conversation, the fog creeped all around them. Snaking its way in between the leaves and branches like soldiers.

    “Okay,” said Penny, “what brought you up here? What project did you get approval for?”

    “I'm your project,” said Ryleigh. “How much do you remember from the last few days?”

    “I mean . . .” said Penny and she slipped on some loose leaves and flailed and caught herself, straightening up. A few more feet and she'd have slid down the hill which disappeared into the ocean of fog below. Looking straight ahead, the range of Emerald Mountains shone in the distance. “Ryleigh . . .”

    But Ryleigh kept walking forward and slid straight down the hill. Penny leaned down to look after her. Ryleigh's arms shot up after a few moments when she reached the edge of a precipice overlooking the fog and then she vanished.

    Penny yelled after her, looking for a way to climb down without slipping. There were patches where it wasn't even clear where the hill ended and the fog began, like a wave breaking along a beach. Penny sat down and contemplated sliding down the hill when she heard a steady rhythm come up from the fog as if Ryleigh were beating a drum.

     The fog rose on either side of Penny. Way beneath her, a lone human figure, Ryleigh, rode on the back of a white camel. A stone road appeared under the camel’s hoofs just long enough to support its next few steps. Either that, or the hoofs cleared the fog around them. Higher up, the sun peeked through and illuminated the green mountaintops which were dotted with irregular pockmarked square crags and occasional spiral towers on its higher peaks. Impossible to tell if they were structures or not.

Penny felt in her pockets and was elated at finding her phone. She took it out and turned on the camera. She pointed the phone at Ryleigh’s progress, but she was too far gone. Penny lifted the phone to the mountains in the distance and slipped on the leaves underneath her. She fell on her back and heard her phone sliding away. She grabbed it like it were a falling child. Hanging on to the side of a tree, she pulled herself to her feet and realized that her own path would disappear and she would find herself lost in the woods. She stood up and watched the last of the mountains vanish, taking Ryleigh with them, then she ran back toward the cabin. She kept as much of the path in sight as she could, as the leaves spread over it , like someone closing a shade.

The Cauldron

A single electric camping lamp illuminated the tiny unfurnished cabin. Maria stared at the ceiling, one hand stuck in her knotted hair while pulling herself tighter to ward off the cold. Lying on the floor next to her, hands clasped behind her head and equally staring at the ceiling, laid Kelly.

Maria looked at Kelly, lying there in a rag bikini top and jeans that were cut off just below her knees. Kelly met Maria's gaze.

“Dr. F taught me how not to be cold,” she said, turning her eyes back to the ceiling which was just a pool of dark which was as easy to get lost in as closing her eyes. Maria wrapped her arms around her knees.

Kelly continued. “I was always so cold . . . in all the other ways,” she said and forced out a soft laugh that sounded more like a cough.

“I don't want to be cold anymore,” said Maria, looking at the light in the center of the cabin. “But I think I am.” Following the shadow that the lamp cast to a spiderweb in the opposite corner. “I'm still learning.”

In a single motion, like she was being raised by a crank, Kelly propped herself up on her elbows. “What happened to you?”

Still looking at the spiderweb, Maria leaned her head sideways into her palm, turning the world by ninety degrees. “Guess I can tell you.”

Silence. A breeze rose up, died. Snow flurried by the window. Three metallic clanks sounded from outside which must be Dr. F, working on how he was going to hang the cauldron.

“I ran away because . . . they said I killed my brother.” She pulled her gaze from the spiderweb across the splintery floor of the cabin across Kelly's torso and stared at her own feet. “He was really sick though, I didn't know what to do. They left him with me. And he . . . coughed and coughed until he couldn't breathe. And there was a final . . . expulsion, from him, of guts and stuff.”

Kelly put her arm on Maria's knee. “Take it easy.”

“I brought him outside, because it stank. My parents didn't come home till night. There's no phone in the cabin.”

“And they blamed you?”

“They didn't seem . . . surprised, at all. Just kept saying I'd have to come to terms with what I'd done.”

“They lied to you.”


“Used you as an alibi.”

“They were so forgiving.”

“You'd be in jail if you hadn't left.”

“But they were so comforting.”

“Then why'd you run away?”

“Because,” Maria said but stopped as a more wind bansheed through the cracks of the cabin. She shivered. Kelly remained motionless. “He turned into a wolf.”

“Who did?”

“My brother. We hadn't had wolves around the cabin in years. But after my brother died, a wolf started following me wherever I'd go. If I stopped moving he'd stop. My parents never saw him, but he was outside my window at night. He knew just where to stand so the moonlight would shine off his eyes and I could see his shape.” Maria placed her hands on the sides of the corner she was leaning against as if to push them apart.

“So you ran away to the city and met Dr. F?” Kelly asked, then answered, “Of course you did. He finds us all that way.”

“Why are we all separated into the different cabins?” Maria asked.

“Because when we come together, later tonight, we'll be strong. Dr. F has an amazing gift, as I'm sure you've seen. He sees right into you.”

Maria started to speak but let out an enormous yawn, which brought a timid smile to Kelly's face.

“Relax, everything is being taken care of.” Kelly pat Maria on the head.

“What's with the cauldron?” she asked.

“He got it from his mother. Said she was a witch and, that with our help, he can activate it to gain great power. Although he has pretty amazing power already. I guess he just needs enough to convince other people – people besides the desperate with nothing to lose – that he's worth listening to. He can really change things.”

They both looked out the window where the clanking of metal could be heard through the howling wind.

Dr. F shifted his grin from one side of his heavily bearded face to the other rapidly, like he was being shot through with electricity and stared at the group of girls huddled together before him. “It's a beautiful day, eh?” he said.

The night was black and still, although given to sudden gusts of wind. He'd stolen as many blankets as he could (being very heavy to carry back) and the girls would just have to share them. Next to him, the cauldron was hanging from two metal stands he'd altered over a pile of wood. He'd cleared away all the snow from around the cauldron and had been drying the wood for days in his own cabin.

The girls seemed unresponsive so he took off his leather jacket and handed it to one of them, then took off his shirt and threw it on the ground, and leaned back into a pile of snow like it was an easy chair. This brought a few smiles and a few stares of amazement at his level of comfort.

“I've thought, I been thinkin', I know that what we,” he shook his head and pointed upwards, “what they do in the stars, makes me feel a little funny sometimes.” Looking back at the girls, he had their full attention. “I fell from the stars man lemme tell you. But so did you. And so did Mr. Price, the Chief of fucking police. Man seen more a' me than my own mother. But she with me, she with us'all right now.” He went to push himself up out of the snow like it was a chair but only sank back deeper into it. Flailing his arms he shot himself into a standing position. “Pheeeeeeew,” he said, brushing snow off his chest. The girls giggled and he looked at them and wiggled his grin back and forth. “Forgot that, well, she'll hold ya'up, Earth'll do, but don'tcha ever forget that or she'll drop, well she won't drop, but you'll let go and then whose to blame for you fallen from the stars, uh?” He walked over to the cauldron and looked inside. “My mother,” he said to the black space. “My own . . . fucking . . . mother.” He reached in and dragged his arm out, now covered in black goo, gripping a bundle of long bones and held them up to the sky. “Where're you now? Let's see what you got.” He banged on the cauldron like a drum solo and created sounds that vibrated the heart. Most of the girls put their hands to their chests. “Mmmmmmm-mmmmmm-mmmmmm,” he said, in time with the intensity of the vibrations. “Get up and dance. Mmmmmmmm-mmmmmmm-mmmmmmmm . . .”

One of the girls stood up, raising her hands above her head and slowly spun like a lily reaching for the sun. She lowered herself down and took the hands of the two girls next to her and brought them up, twirling each of them until they were able to be let go and they both spread to the edges of the group. Seeds in the wind. As they trailed, the girls behind them stood up, some sharing blankets and moving together as if they were separate veins in the same leaf.

All the while, Dr. F kept drumming the same rhythm on the vibrating cauldron and keeping up his baritone hum. A bone in his left hand cracked and he jumped back and held them in an X above his head. The girls all froze in position. Dr. F brought the bones slowly down by his sides in a circular motion and the girls silently sat. He dropped the bones back in the cauldron goop and turned his attention to the wood-pile beneath. Raising his arms above his head, he waved them around and the girls formed a close circle around him and the cauldron.

“Hey hey hey, don't need to trap me up in here,” he said, still staring at the logs. He produced a match from his pocket, struck it on the edge of the cauldron, and threw it into the pile which lit instantly. He had soaked it in gasoline earlier. “Now ya gotta let me get back. At least that's what the cauldron wants. The breath of nine maidens,” he said while walking backwards in a crouching position. The girls parted to let him through and he disappeared behind them as they focused their attention on the fire and began to blow.

“Slow-ly, stea-dy. Slow-ly, ste-dy,” he intoned from outside the circle, moving his arms like he was conducting an orchestra. He stood up and walked around them, gesturing in rhythm to their breathing, sometimes falling back into the shadows, sometimes stepping forward. He tried to see inside the cauldron, but there was only the same blackness. He started running around the group in circles. Form his point of view, they looked like a globe he had set to spin really fast. Still no change from the cauldron, then he remembered something. Kicked up a flurry of snow at his sudden stop.

“Which of you is of the moon?” he asked, and three of the girls stood up. “The cauldron is ready for you.” The three of them simultaneously stuck their hands down their pants, and brought them back up dripping red. “Just a quick flick,” said Dr. F, opening his hands like tiny explosions. The three girls stood closest to the cauldron and flicked their blood into it at which point it began hissing and boiling. The bones rose to the top immediately and Dr. F watched in fascination as it bubbled over and the girls ran out of its way but a pop of boiling black pus landed on the face of the one called Maria and she sat for a moment, then stood up and looked Dr. F in the eyes and started screaming. This set off the other girls who backed away and ran towards the cabin.

“No way, none of you leave,” said Dr. F, who had taken his eyes off Maria long enough to lose track of her. Shaken by her gaze. He turned his attention back to the cauldron. “This was supposed to be for me you bitch,” he said and reached his hand in and grabbed some goop and slathered his face with it before he registered the burning pain. His own screams drowned out the noise of the girls around him and he ran towards a snowbank and dove in head first. It was then he realized that he was still seeing in a way. He felt his eyes shut tight, but he saw a world of green. Pond-green, and he reached in front of him, even though he could feel that he was torso-deep in snow, he saw his gnarled brown hand, like a living tree-trunk reaching into the pond-green world and grasping a veil of moss. He pulled it away with all his might and his branch-hand was sucked into cool mud. Bubbling up around him and pulling him under, soothing his burns and he noticed green worms wrapping themselves around him and forming new skin and when they got to his eyes it was the endless pop of boiling bubbles.

The Comedian's Notebook: Children's Poetry Pamphlet

~ When I was younger, I thought it was admirable to hold the view that most people are cardboard cutouts. I thought I could write fiction, but my characters were all so boring. I tried to make them interesting, then I tried making them caricatures, then I tried adding random affectations that I'd pick up from observation of crowds. Nothing worked. So I came to the conclusion that the problem wasn't in my writing ability, but that people as a whole are just boring.

    It's hard to keep that mentality after working several dead-end jobs just waiting for the right inspiration to strike. Everyone from entry-level to CEO is bound by their ideas of what a perfect world would be. And that the only system they can work under will never produce that perfect world and is, in fact, antagonistic toward it.


~ I was on my merry shopping way, head in the clouds, when up ahead I saw a person standing with a clipboard looking out for other people. You could see the force-fields of the passers-by going up as they walked past this person. Everyone knows how this works. Avoid at all costs. They talk to you for a while about the environment, politics, starvation, medicine, really worthy stuff, then ask for money, and you say 'sorry, but I don’t have time' or 'no I would not like to sign up for more information.’ They force you into a place of saying and acting like the biggest jerk imaginable, and then you're on your way, and after a moment you turn back to them and say 'good luck' and then a moment later realize that that was the worst possible thing to say. End Scene.

    I hadn't been spotted so I decided to cross the street. Hell, I needed to cross the street anyway. An identical green-shirted version of the activist was on the other corner. Fuck. I couldn't well go back on my original path because the light was changing. I had to cross, and there was no one on the other side. I mused on the poetics of the situation as I crossed the busy intersection. By cleverly avoiding the guy that everyone else was avoiding, I had fallen into the trap of his side-kick on the deserted side of the street.

    “Excuse me,” he said.

    I looked at him and smiled as if I knew exactly how this was going to go. I'd swear it was the same person.

    “Do you have a moment for children's literacy?” he asked.

    “For you, I got two,” I said and must have grimaced horrifically because he backed up a few steps before continuing.

    “Well, um, a few of us have put together this collection of children's poetry . . . that is, poetry written by children, all local, and we're looking for help to publish and hold an event. We thought of using online crowd-funding, but that seemed too impersonal.”

    He went on asking for name and e-mail address and all that shit. Not asking for money at all, but his shirt's logo caught my eye. As he was talking, I reached out and traced the designs on his chest. His speech slowed to a crawl.

    “Um, if you'd . . .” he said.

    “What does this mean?” I asked. “It comes from a stone tablet, I'm pretty sure.”

    He stopped talking and looked to the left and to the right. It really was odd how alone we were on this stretch of sidewalk. He turned the clipboard around and there was more of the same symbols carved on the back of it.

    “This is the most dangerous place in the world right now,” he said.

    I reached out to trace the symbols but he hugged the clipboard to his chest and pulled out a pamphlet from his pocket, handed it to me, and then took off at a speed-walk in the opposite direction. I turned to follow him with my eyes, but he had vanished among the crowd which had seemingly formed out of nowhere but had probably crossed the street while we were talking.

    As I headed toward the store I looked at the pamphlet which contained samples of the children's poetry.



by Marcy Van Breda 

age 8

worthless rude nasty filthy threatening jealous lumpy annoying yucky distress unwise lose eroding angry banal tense yell vice enraged lousy immature cruel evil slimy menacing apathetic old collapse pessimistic nondescript revenge shocking junky contradictory suspicious vicious hostile harmful messy prejudice unlucky dismal quirky perturb hard-hearted bemoan scare


by Bernice Ramos

age 8

My baby brother

lives in the car

doctors pried him out of

my mother's arms

we waited so long

to see him born

but after two hours

breath left his form

mommy and daddy

get mad when I'm talking

to him, but since he’s dead

he's always mocking

us for still living

and doing so well

he's waiting to torture us

forever in Hell

and . . .


by Samuel Tritton

age 6



BlAnKeT of FliES

GaS out PipES

HaNd ovEr EyES

SliCE and SEW

You to A PIG

I stuffed the pamphlet in my pocket and continued to walk to the store when up ahead of me, I saw another greenshirt. Was it the one from the other side of the street? I couldn't be sure, but he looked right at me and had his arm around one of those bald children from the club. The child was dressed entirely in navy blue garments and I couldn't tell if it was a one-piece or not. Both of them stared at me.

“Look, I'm already on your, mailing-list or whatever,” I said as he started to talk to me.

“Nothing to do with that,” said the greenshirt. He tore off a piece of paper from his clipboard. “I just want to know when your next show is.”

I looked down at the bald child who opened his mouth and almost bit the arm of the activist. “Hey,” I yelped.

“What?” asked the activist, looking at me.

“Nothing,” I said, “your friend there . . . never mind. You saw me?”

“Yeah man, that was great. You ever perform at Lavish? Dumb question, probably all the time,” he said.

“Actually never, that was my first set,” I said. “Really glad you enjoyed it. Surprised anyone remembers it.”

“That stuff's pretty rapid fire I agree man, but you really stood out, anyway, anything planned?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I said, “I guess at Lavish I'd have to do the open-mike thing again –”

“Yeah but it's way cooler,” he said. “More people, comedy experts, it's important to support the smaller venues too, but Lavish is where it's at.”

“Well um,” I said, “why don't you look me up and I'll start advertising once I set a date.”

“Oh don't worry man, it's cool, we'll know,” he said, “I won't clog up your news feed.”

He waved goodbye and started walking away leaving the bald child by my side.

“Hey,” I called out, “you left . . . something.”

He ignored me but the child slowly raised his head to mine and tugged twice on my pant leg. I was about to say . . . something, I don't know what, when it . . . he or she, ran into the road and crawled underneath a bus. It slid on its back and crawled up in between the pipes. When the light turned, the bus continued on its way. At the next light, I heard people coughing. The bus was belching out clouds of red smoke and its engine made a squealing sound until the driver turned it off. He exited the bus and waved some of the smoke away and called for help. The angry passengers disembarked.

~ Halter nods with a furrowed brow and mumbles, “Yes, that’s insightful, but it’s not really a poem, is it? You’re just using aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meaning without the conventions of traditional grammar and syntax.”

The frantic note-taking of the class creates enough scratching to cause skin-rashes three classrooms down.

“The greatest poems,” Halter continues, “are the ones which overstate the understated. Descriptions of nature are, for this reason, anathema because they perform the exact opposite function. We might say that poetry is trying to speak the unspeakable and thus, is always doomed to failure, but that is something that bad poets say. Think of these words: A duck. That doesn’t describe a fucking duck at all!”

At this point, Halter stands, facing the blackboard, his deep breathing evident in the raising and lowering of his shoulders. His body becomes clenched as the feelings clog the spaces in between his muscles, too thick to move.

“In fact,” he says to the board.

The students all push their desks two feet back.

“In fact,” Halter turns around a vein in his head throbbing so largely it becomes its own blood blister. “That phrase makes me sick with rage!” He balls up his fists and shakes himself to his knees. His entire body inverts in a massive seize and there’s a crack from inside his mouth. The pool of sweat at his feet is running in rivulets to the door of the classroom. He pushes himself up, his broken jaw hanging down like an old porch-swing. In order to talk he breathes through the top of his mouth and keeps his tongue against his upper teeth.

“In order to write poetry,” he says, “every single one of you must succeed where I have still failed. You must slay the duck.” He leans a wet hand agains the chalkboard and sinks down, his fingertips leaving trails of blood against the forest green. He becomes comatose, sitting on his knees, and the students leave for the day.

The Comedian's Notebook: The First Five

 ~ So the day is finally here. After weeks of time slowing down to the point where tasks at work that used to fly by simply dredged. After many endless mantras of 'this will NEVER end.' Here we are: Verena and myself, at the club. Inderjit, Stafford's place. Well, not his place, but his bi-monthly open-mike.

    “There's no way I can go after you,” I'm saying. “You're a pro.”

    “Oh yeah, a real pro,” she replies, stirring her drink.

    “Your car has heated seats,” I point out, “that's show-biz living.”

    “It's a totally random selection each hour,” she says. “When you sign up determines the hour you go on, or if you're early enough, you can choose, but normally not. We'll probably be separated by like, ten people. It'll be fine. No one will remember a thing.”

    “That's not true,” I reply. “I'll remember stuff.”

    “Your set?” she asks.

    “Of course,” I scoff.

    “Well then, that's all that matters,” she says and leans forward (I swear) to pet my hand but thinks better of it. Goddamn, I am so awful. But my nervousness is genuine.

    Not that there's any doubt that I'll go through with this, it's just so new. I tell myself that it's just like learning a new job. People will show you things and then you'll catch on. There's always an awkward transition and before you know it, you're bored of the whole thing.

    I see Linos come in from the front room. He got a beer at the outer bar and Sam is with him. They look around for a table, and there are two right by us. I get nervous because he inspired some of my routine. I'm not going to make fun of him or anything but . . .

    “What's up?” says Linos, raising his hand.

    I wave back and say, “Hey man. Sam.” I gesture to the empty table. “Have a seat.”

    “You do go to a lot of shows,” says Linos.

    Verena stands up because her drink is empty. “He's actually going on tonight,” she says and smiles at me. “No backing down now, I'll be right back.”

    “My co-worker,” I explain after she's gone. “She's real into comedy. Performs all the time. We made a pact to play here tonight. Her friend runs this whole deal.”

    “Cute,” says Linos. “Don't worry, I won't move in on your game. And Sam's married.”

    Sam holds up his ring like he was a guard showing off muscle.

    “Ah, she's got a boyfriend,” I say resignedly.

    “Who is he?” asks Linos. “There's gotta be something wrong with him. He's not here. Working?”

    “Working,” I confirm. Then I think for a moment. “You know what? I've never actually met the guy, or seen a picture of him.”

    “You think she's making him up?” asks Linos, starting to chuckle.

    “Get this,” I say, “he's a professional photo-journalist who is always,” . . . Linos starts laughing louder as I go on, “always on location somewhere, doing something amazing. Right now he's documenting immigrants in California who work for anti-immigration politicians.”

    “No fucking way is that real,” Linos says. “She's makin' it up. That's like, grade-school level lying.”

    Sam moves his chair closer. “But isn't it worse if she's lying about it?” he asks. “I mean, wouldn't you want her to tell you she's single if she really was.”

    “Goddammit he's right,” I say, pointing at Sam.

    “He always is,” says Linos.

    Verena sits back down. “Are you sharing your routine with them?” she asks. “Must be pretty good.”

    “Um, we were just speculating on the architect's idea of what a comfortable room should be,” said Linos. He stuck out his hand. “I'm Linos, and I find boring things very funny.”

    “This is Sam,” I say, introducing him.

    “Hi, I'm Verena,” she says.

    “Well, it's very nice to meet you,” said Linos. “So, both of you are going up tonight?”

    She nods.

    “Any idea when?”

    She shakes her head.

    “It's random,” I say, “but we'll both be going up within the next hour.”

    Verena is looking around. “What's up with the architecture?” she asks.

    “Well,” says Linos. “Thereby hangs a tale. First of all, the mirrors on the side walls are clearly meant to create a more spacious feeling, but the mirrors on the columns simply create spacial distortion. I wouldn't point this out unless you asked because, in my opinion, it becomes impossible to unsee.”

    I glanced at the pillars as he said this. Anytime a server walked behind one it was like she vanished through a suspended water bubble. Although my eyes were clearly doing their best to discriminate the background against objects - when I wasn't focusing on things - the pillars stood out like twisted puzzle pieces.

    “I'm assuming the lights will get dimmer,” Linos continues, “but that's just the start. The way this whole room was designed is skew-wise. It's a style I would call Zhalkavian, and yes I know that sounds like a bad sci-fi alien but it's really Czech, so, you know, comedians don't have to make fun of absolutely everything.”

    “But what does it mean?” I ask. “Is it like a Tryphon Design?”

    Verena looks totally lost.

    “Are you going to talk about Tryphon Designs in your act, buddy?” asked Linos. “Because I'm no Leno, but that'll fall flat . . . unlike a Tryphon Design.” He slaps his knee is slow motion. Behind him, Sam suppresses giggles.

    “How are you feeling after that anyway?” Linos asks.

    “I feel totally normal, man,” I say, and wave at him, “now tell us about your . . . Zhalks, or whatever.”

    “Zhalkovian Tilti,” he says, accenting, “is what this room's drunk designer was thinking of but didn't bother to research. It's supposed to lead the eye in a never-ending Mobius Strip type thing if you were to look at a wall. But your eyes get tired of doing that really quickly so you'd concentrate on whatever you came in the room to do, have a conversation, eat a meal, see a show,” he gestures to the stage. “That way, you have the feeling or, interior knowledge, of infinite space without having to rely on cheap visual stunts like mirrors.”

    “But mirrors aren't always stunts,” I say, “and one could easily argue that designing a room to fool your eye is just as much a 'cheap stunt.'

    “The room is supposed to be used as a room, and the design helps with that,” Linos counters. “Likewise, when a mirror is being used as a mirror, then it's not a stunt.”

    The lights dim and all conversation quiets down and Stafford goes up and doe five minutes before reading off the first few names. He’s not bad, although his self-deprecating persona doesn't really fit with someone running a show. Maybe comedians are used to that, though. Your stage persona isn't who you are in real life. It seems to me that people are too sensitive nowadays to tell the difference, but I'm open to pleasant surprises.

    He reads the names of five people who are then instructed to stand in a line by the stage and introduce themselves to each other so they would know in which order to stand. I like it.

    It's gotta be so hard to be the first person up there. I sense a certain reluctance from the crowd to laugh. The first girl has timed her set for laughs, but the laughs don't come. One of her punch-lines leads us to the conclusion that she’s a lesbian. Hardly shocking. I don't mean that she looked like one (although she did) but that: what sort of payoff was she expecting? The next guy has a similar problem, his attempted payoff was that he moved to this city for the only reason for people to move to this city . . . unexpected rehab. No one laughs. Then he stoops to making fun of the hot girls up front and tells them he would waterboard them. Although he really meant motorboat, so that was kind of funny. Anyways, he didn't seem like the kind of guy who would be feeling any shame at all after this. The guy after him said he would smoke meth in the van with a corner of the room that seemed to find him really funny. I am unable to stop killing fruit flies. It seems like they’re not bothering anyone else.

    After that, it’s all just a blur. I'm surprised that no one came up with the same jokes or premises. Although, maybe if the foundations were deeply explored, more similarities would surface. I guess it isn't that surprising, after all, most bands don’t accidentally come up with the same songs.

    Pete shows up and Linos waves him over right away. Then Verena gets called, and I’m not in her batch. Of course, as smitten as I am with her I pay very close attention as if she were a pro. Compared to me she is, but some of these people probably do this several nights a week.

    As far as audience reaction was, she did just fine. Although it was pretty obvious which bits were new and which ones she had worked on. I guess I would have preferred an entirely new set because it seemed like she fell into her old material out of awkwardness and wanting something that worked. But I swear, even if I did not know her at all, I would think she was better than most of them here.

    She comes down from the stage and we have no time to talk because the rest of her group went and then I get called. It actually happens. I’m the last group before the first break. So what does that mean? Are people paying more attention? Or less? I keep reminding myself over and over that none of this matters.

    Every trace of our universe ever existing will vanish. As it expands faster and faster, galaxies will pull themselves apart approaching the speed of light. Whatever advanced computer we upload our consciousness on, will be consumed by the invisible monster of dark matter.

That's how I start I think I remember.

    But none of that seems important in light of the fact of everyday people who get together to conspire to make our lives a living hell. Yes, you asshole who's telling the gas-station cashier that he should register to vote, I'm talking to you, and I wouldn't be, if you weren't in my way.

    – A little something like that.

Someone outta choose who to get rid of. Say what you will . . .

and that led nicely into my 'Baby Hitler SIDS Time Traveller' bit. Which is what the track will be labeled on my special. Otherwise, you’re just going back in time to kill a baby . . . dropkick motion . . . - It was a ginger anyway, better luck next time. The world is not kind to red-headed men. At least women can get away with calling themselves ‘strawberry blonde.’ 

‘I’m a strawberry blonde.’ 

Meanwhile all the men are thinking ‘Hmm, she’s got boobs, which means she might sleep with me, so I’ll just stay on her good side. Yep, [earnestly nodding] strawberry blonde is totally a thing.’ 

Have you ever seen what color a strawberry is? Nature doesn’t do light reds. Except for sunburned skin. Another characteristic of blondes. ‘Hey, I’m a sunburned blonde’, ‘Oh really? I couldn’t tell due to the redundant nature of your statement.’

    There was a bit more, but it's blurry. I mean, my sight got blurry and the mirrors caught my attention. I think I stood there drooling and gazing at them. From on stage, there was near perfect symmetry in this room that Linos had taken such care to criticize. My eyes crossed and the vision in the mirrors doubled and doubled again into numberless versions of themselves.

. . . dimensions un-notateable in mathematics. Every artifice created by human hands reveals our cosmic abortion in all its blended and chewed up glory. I wonder how easy it is to become a substitute teacher? (Got the most laughs from that line, although there are few memories to compare it to. When did this become the past?) Probably pretty simple. Our schools are atrocious. What am I doing up here when I could be regaling young minds? Thanks for your attention, goodnight!

    I stepped down from the stage on the opposite side of the one I got up on, just because I saw a stairway. Disoriented, I tried to locate my table, but I kept bumping into people. A line of bald children stood in front of me every way I turned like they were painted on a pair of glasses or something.

    The one in front said, “Some of us are open to learning. 

He grabbed my hand and said, “Great set buddy, come here often?”

    I vaguely shook my head. Words were hard.

    A bald child stood underneath him and opened his mouth as if to chomp on the person's arm, but I yelled something and the child looked at me like I was the weird one. “Life outside the mirror is scratchy,” the bald child said to me.

    I bumped into someone else, it was Stafford, making his way to the stage to announce the break, he shook my hand and said, “Dynamite debut buddy, stick around, I'll have a drink with you and Verena.”

    “Sure, thanks for . . . the invitation,” I said.

    He pointed behind me and Verena was waving me over. Linos, Pete, and Sam were getting up. It was a race to the outer bar which would be flooded by everyone refilling their drinks. I got up to them and Verena gave me a surprisingly strong hug. I'm not saying she looks like a weak girl, although she does, and I'm so glad she pulled away when she did because I felt myself getting hard right away. Thankfully, it died as soon as her touch left me but I was reminded of various first and second dates I'd been on when just holding hands with a girl was like flying to the moon.

    She told me how great she thought it was and I shrugged it off, “Obviously needs more work,” and I kept trying to steer the conversation to her set, which was much more professional, but Linos kept tugging at my arm. At first I thought he was one of the bald children, but when I saw it was him I caved. “What? We're in line, booze will come, my friend.”

    “No,” he said and pointed upward. “The lights.”

    I looked up and too late, thought he was trying to trick me into entering another Tryphon Design, but what he was pointing at was the underlying pattern on the roof in between the light fixture.

    “How often have you been here?” I asked.

    “A few times,” he said.

    “So you've seen this before,” I said.

    “Never,” he replied.

    Drawn in between the light bulbs embedded in the ceiling was a giant red scimitar. We were standing by the handle, but the whole thing was impossible to miss on one glance.

    “You've just never looked . . . right?” I asked.

    “It wasn't here last time,” he said. “It wasn't here tonight, and now it is.”

    “So . . . maybe something broke in the ceiling,” I said.

    “Have you been visited by anyone wearing this emblem?” he asked, like a school principal.

    “What, fuh, no,” I said, feeling the need to lie for some reason.

    Linos caught on right away. “We're going to meet again, before the next time you perform.” He scribbled things on a piece of paper that he then handed to me.

    I gulped. “Mmm-hmm,” and took the paper. “No, uh, excuse for the phone dying?” I weakly smiled.

    “Let's just get a beer and relax,” he said.

    I glanced around for Verena who was talking to someone else in the line next to us.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 8)

A chair underneath the window gave away Cezar’s escape route. Penny stuck her head out into the quiet and empty forest. It wasn't a far jump to the ground, although it couldn't have been easy on his computer. There were drag marks where he landed and she followed the trail.

    As she approached the other cabin, she saw the dim glow of a fire. Human forms gathered around a chopping block which was covered with candles. Maybe they were just getting stoned and didn't have enough to share. Penny felt guilty for sneaking up on them and considered turning back. However, the white camel kept asserting itself in her mind. That could be a conversation starter.

    Everyone except for herself and Chinonso was there. Ryleigh leaned against Yaser who kept moving her arm over the fire as if feeling the temperature through her. After this, he lay her down behind the rest of them. The group waved their hands in a synchronized spiral motion and muttered together. Then Yaser lifted Ryleigh again to the alter. Blood gathered at her fingertips which Yaser shook onto the candles. Sputtering flames shot jets of steam skyward. Ryleigh's pale face matched the color of the candles and so did her eyes.

    Cezar opened the side of his computer and took out a sack. He undid the string and poured three shiny green rocks into his hand, which he placed on top of a small stand in the center of the candles. Penny leaned over and saw that it was a mini sand-garden. It was during this lean that the light caught her face and Frank saw her.

    He swore and jumped back, causing everyone to look. Yaser fell backwards over Ryleigh's supine body. Cezar crouched behind his computer and stared in horror. Dani dove behind Frank, who kept backing up.

    “What the fuck is that?” asked Frank.

    “Hold on, don't panic,” said Cezar.

    Penny looked at the altar and then tried to see Ryleigh. “What are you guys doing to her?”

    Dani screamed and placed her hands over her ears, Frank winced and Cezar scrunched his face and took several steps toward the altar. He cautiously floated his hand over the stones.

    “Don't do it Cezar,” yelled Yaser, struggling to get to his feet. “We have to send it back.”

    “That's what we were trying to do,” said Cezar. “Don't make it –”

    “What the fuck are you talking about?” asked Penny.

The various members of the group covered their ears and tucked into themselves.

    “Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck,” said Cezar. “Don't make it talk.”

    Penny looked behind her and saw nothing. Cezar kept his hand over the rocks.

    Yaser stood up and yelled, “I got this.” He hoisted Ryleigh to her feet and her unconscious form leaned against him. Her clothes were tattered. Yaser took a knife from his belt and held out Ryleigh's arm and made incisions up it, starting at the wrist and moving toward the shoulder. 

Penny ran at him. 

Yaser took giant steps backward. “Here guhl, pay attention, look at me, look at this. You want some?” He dragged Ryleigh’s body, continuously cutting her.

   “Put her down you fucking monster!” yelled Penny.

    Yaser jumped, taking a chunk out of Ryleigh's arm and dropped her and the knife on the ground. He covered his ears and took off running into the night.

    “Yaser, come back here,” yelled Cezar. “We need everyone to banish it.”

    Frank and Dani moved behind Cezar on the other side of the altar.

    “You said this was a banishment,” said Frank. “That we'd be free after this.”

    “Even experienced handlers can only perceive and use maybe one percent of what these things are made of,” said Cezar.

    “Is it going to eat her?” asked Dani. She pointed to Penny.

    “I don't know,” said Cezar. “Does it look red to you?”

    “A little,” said Frank.

    “What does color matter?” asked Dani.

    “Everything,” said Cezar.

    Penny turned to the group who cowered back in fear. “We have to get her to Chinonso.”

    Again, everyone covered their ears. Dani started sobbing. “It hurts so bad.”

    “Oh for fuck’s sake,” said Penny to herself. She stood up and went to the alter. Frank and Dani continually backed up, but Cezar held his ground. 

    “I think it got him,” Frank whispered to Dani.

    “We've gotta get out of here,” she said.

    “And go where?” he answered. “There's nowhere to go, except for wherever Yaser went. Dude's gonna fall off a fucking cliff.”

    “It's okay guys,” said Cezar, “I think it wants to tell us something without speaking.”

    Making sure she had his gaze, Penny raised her finger in front of him, then lowered it to the sand garden. She moved the rocks to the four corners and traced a portion of her symbol in the white sand.

    Cezar gazed at it, then worked his eyes up to meet hers. His mouth opened slightly and he lifted his hand and touched her finger. “Penny?”

    She nodded. She sensed a look of recognition in his face and she asked in a whisper if she could talk now.

    Cezar turned back toward Frank and Dani. “Do you guys see this?”

    Frank looked up and squinted, Dani was too afraid. “No shit,” said Frank.

    Cezar motioned for Penny to talk.

    “We have to get Ryleigh some help. She's bleeding to death,” said Penny.

    Dani stood up and rushed over to Penny. “Holy fucking shit,” she said, “you have no idea what just happened here.”

    “I saw it. Yaser was cutting Ryleigh. You guys were doing some chanting –” she  was silenced by a fierce look from Cezar. “We have to get Ryleigh help.”

    “There's no one there,” said Dani, pointing to the spot where Ryleigh had been a moment ago.

    “Maybe Yaser took her,” said Frank. “They like each other.”

    “We have to find her,” said Penny.

    “Nobody's going anywhere until it's safe,” said Cezar.

    “Safe?” asked Frank. “You asked us for help and we almost died. I've never seen such crazy shit in my life.”

    “Maybe you should explain what you were doing,” said Penny.

    Everyone looked at Cezar who held up his hand. “One thing at a time,” he said. “Penny, I'm afraid I haven't been entirely truthful with you.”

    “Yeah, something's up,” said Frank, pointing to Cezar's knocked over computer. “You're not wearing your Techie-Man suit.”

    “That whole thing was a ruse to get up here,” said Cezar. He turned back to Penny. “This is one of the most magically charged places on Earth. During the westward expansion, the number of disasters that happened here caused the state government to seal it off and only send the condemned up here, never to be seen again.  I'm actually a paranormal investigator and I lied my way in here to find some real magic, but I am, and we are all, in way over our heads. I was cocky, and I'm sorry. But we can work together to get out of this.”

    “Can we even last a few more days, with those things on the loose?” asked Frank. “I think we really pissed 'em off.”

    “I don't know what their game is,” said Cezar. “I doubt we can even perceive what they are.”

    “What exactly does that mean?” asked Frank.

    “He said they're pure magic,” said Dani.

    “It's too complicated,” said Cezar. “These incomprehensible beings come from these incomprehensible worlds. Like, you see a single mushroom but underneath, it's connected to all the other mushrooms and this single mushroom is a tiny aspect of an enormous single organism. Only, in this analogy, the root system extends into dimensions that even the chemistry of our thoughts couldn’t create without dis-existing.”

    “But how'd they get over here?” asked Dani.

    “This is just one of those weak spots in-between,” said Cezar, shrugging. “Maybe that's why our consciousness evolved here. There's so much spare magic lying around like fertilizer.”

    Frank stood up. “But all this is completely contrary to what I was told, man.”

“Yeah,” said Penny. “Me too.”

    Cezar raised his eyebrows. “Who told you what?”

    “I made a deal . . . with them,” said Frank, pointing to the sky. “That's why the government let me in here. I made a deal with the aliens.”

    “You've been contacting the government?” asked Cezar.

    “Fuck, not anymore,” said Frank. “The radio's fried.”

    “How did the radio get fried?” asked Cezar.

    “Overload,” said Frank.

    Penny burst out. “He was trying to set up webcams to spy on us and make us have orgies and shit.”

    Everyone stared at Penny and Frank burst out laughing. “Good fucking god. I just made that up on the spot. Thought it was a little less fantastical than the truth.”

    Cezar stormed up to Frank. “You were setting up cameras?”

    “Chill man, the government told me how to do it, but I'm no Tech-Head like you. Maybe I shoulda' asked you, come to think of it,” said Frank. “And you're not one to be giving me attitude. Sure I fucked up and fried the radios, but you could fix it. You could set it up for me. After all, you're clearly one of them.”

    “One of who?” asked Cezar.

    “The aliens,” said Frank.

    “There are no aliens,” said Cezar.

    “Oh excuse me,” said Frank, feigning drama. “Mister Magical-Beings-From-Other-Dimensions says there're no aliens. Well, that solves that.” He became serious. “Fess up man, you've lied to everyone here all the way up, numerous times, and now you're just doing it again.”

    “Fine,” said Cezar. “I'll fix your fucking radio. It'll give me something to do while we wait for the marida to shred our souls for fun.”

    A light turned on in the cabin next to them.

    Dani whispered, “Yaser.”

    “With Ryleigh?” asked Penny.

    “I'll take care of it,” said Dani and broke from the group as if whisked away by a light breeze. She made no sound against the leaves.

    “Tricky little fuckers,” whispered Cezar. He motioned to Frank and Penny. “We have to go.”

“What about getting Ryleigh some help?” asked Penny.

“She’s in too deep,” said Cezar. “Yaser and Dani know that area better than any of us. We should rest.”

Rules for Modern Life

For some reason, everything interesting only happens to other people. Witness this scene the other day.

A: I can’t talk to L anymore because L totally monopolizes conversations. We get it, members of your family that you see once every five years are doing amazing things. But what about you? Don’t ask L that, because then it’s just ‘Well first I did this, and then I did that and then I did this other thing because I am just so interesting and multidimensional.’ It’s always all about L no matter what was going on beforehand.

B: I know why K doesn’t talk, because K is an attention-seeking narcissist in the guise of an introvert. By trying to appear silent and on the fringes of conversation, K is just trying to project an image of being somehow above what is going on. But all it is is willful ignorance masquerading as concern or . . . compassion for . . . I don’t know what. There’s no such thing as an introvert. Introverts are just the highest form of attention-seekers.

C: J asks loads of personal questions and pretends to be interested in your accomplishments, but it’s really just creepy. Why can’t J let other people do their thing and not make it about them? Training yourself to show genuine interest in other people isn’t genuine.

D: Creating something is supposed to speak for itself and not exist solely to draw attention to the creator. Every time I brings it up it’s just to complain about personal problems and some kind of lofty suffering. Getting attention from your work is an act of narcissism and privilege. You know there are loads of people in student debt, right?

E: It’s hard to talk to, or even be around H when H is always looking at you. Does H realize how uncomfortable it makes people to be looked at? Why don’t you work on your own appearance instead of noticing everyone else’s? It’s not impossible to make an effort, you know.

F: When G notices me approaching and purposefully looks away, it’s still obvious what is going on. Don’t ignore people! It makes them feel invisible and no one wants to feel invisible. Not looking at someone because you don’t want to be perceived as leering is a ‘you’ problem and is just as awkward as staring and drooling! If G is a leerer, then don’t be a leerer. It’s that simple.

G: F inconveniences everyone by not having the latest technology and means of transportation. We all work together here. No one cares, F, how many things you get rid of. And the fact that you took a lower paying job and live in the country is just an elitist way of showing status. There are people who are trapped out there who want to move to the city but can’t due to government and social repression and F moving out there on purpose is a big middle finger to them.

H: No matter how ignorant E pretends to be, we do have a pop culture which has an effect on society. And the only way to stay in touch is by living in a large metropolitan area. You know? Where real people live and work? The only reason E finds social media and city life so distressing is because E has no social skills. 

I: The way D shows off all the latest technology is not efficient. You know it’s full of bugs and security flaws, right? That’s why they come out with new versions. And anyways, don’t always have the new thing and then complain about how poor D is. You know there are actual poor people? Like, there are people who actually take the bus.

J: Riding your bike and taking the bus everywhere makes you late and everyone despises you for it. C is just doing it to get attention. People go to gyms to stay fit. You know, people who can actually follow a schedule instead of insisting that everyone wait for them while their bus arrives or they change after their bike ride? C should really bring new clothes everywhere C goes on that bike. In fact, everyone should shower after sweating the tiniest bit. I know it’s bad for our skin and all the chemicals we put in our hair just causes us to need more chemicals, but it’s more important to appear clean. This is real life we’re talking about.

K: Keeping up with pop culture is not nearly as important as keeping up with who is involved in making it. B needs to stop telling me about content that I find problematic. B should know that I won’t watch or listen to or read the latest anything if anyone even remotely involved in the production or distribution or commentary has ever done anything that anyone on Earth living or dead would ever have found even slightly morally objectionable. B should know that their choice in content has a traumatic effect upon others.

L: People communicate on social media, and not being constantly active is coping out. A claims to have ideas but where are they? Does anyone share them? No. Political discussion is vital for an open society. We are all activists! No one cares that A doesn’t post. Plus everyone sees what an out-of-touch loser you trying to disguise yourself as some kind of enlightened elite. It’s escapism, really.

Don’t worry, there is a test. And yes, YOU ALL FAIL. Even though failing is being abolished in the system because it leads to low self-esteem . . .

The Comedian's Notebook: Observational Comedy

~ I was walking down the street the other day and heard some observational comedy. What a load of shit! ‘I’m such a wacky person that I noticed X.’ What’s the deal with music not sounding like its name? Jazz? What the fuck is up with that word? It’s more of a smooth sounding word that can just trail off forever. Jazzzzzzzz . . . And of course, can be infinitely dirty. 

‘Who’s your favorite jazz musician? The one with the best fingering.’ 

‘When I was young, my parents caught me jazzing. They told me that’s the devil’s activity!’ 

‘When my friends and I get together, you know, away from the wives, we just hang out and jazz all night.’ 

‘The music teacher raised his baton the room filled with jazz.’

Rock and roll? How did that get started? Probably as some kind of dance but it still makes no sense. Maybe rocking is okay, but where does the roll come in? Then that spawned heavy metal. I think we call it heavy because of the downward motion in strumming a chord or hitting a drum, but metal doesn’t sound like anything. You have to hit two pieces of metal together to create a clanging, but that’s just percussion. And who the fuck came up with bluegrass? That’s a type of fantasy plant which has no sound. Zydecko is a word from Dr. Suess, Be-Bop and Rocksteady are from the ninja turtles. R&B is especially problematic. All music has rhythm, and R&B really has nothing to do with the blues. Ska sounds like the call of a really annoying bird. And then there’s the word itself . . . Reggae, now we’re getting closer. Reggae you can say slowly kind of in the rhythm of the music it’s describing. Rap and hip-hop are both bullet-sharp sounds which pretty accurately describe the vocal stylings. Then there’s blues, which more describes the lyrical content but is still pretty accurate. So there you go: reggae, rap, hip-hop and blues. Only black people can accurately name music. Most of the time. Zydedco and R&B are still iffy.

~ Let’s see what’s funny in the news today: child abductions - nope, child abandonment - nope, child rape - nope, child brainwashing - nope . . . And that’s just the front page of {Redacted}

Maybe {Redacted}.{domain extension redacted} Racist cops - nope, racist politicians - nope, racist textbooks - nope, racist colleges/faculty/students/teachers - nope, `actually, a few thoughts on that. Does any protestor against offensive speech today think that they will be viewed kindly by generations to come? The answer is: No you will not. If all of history up to your birth is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic, etc . . . Then so is everything you do now. Future generations will decry your hypocrisy at driving gasoline powered cars while fighting against global warming. Living in a society that eats factory-farmed animals will be seen as your fault. Living in a society where homeless people, starving to death on our city streets our ignored will be seen as your fault. Your kids will hate you just the way you taught them to hate.

~ Thoughts about work: There is no happiness to be found at work. You see that guy with the nice car, nice suit (even if you think suits are stupid)? He goes into the office building and sure he has some dumb office job but it clearly pays better than anything you’ll ever conceive of doing. Sure he sits at a desk, but he looks out a window. He takes an elevator. Ain’t that something? Hey Mr. Server-Aspirational-Barback, you take an elevator? No. You take loads of shit. And so does anyone working a day job who has dreams. The only reason that ritzy guy’s job looks nice is because you have no emotional attachment to his life. Even if you could see his day, you’d still be watching it like a sitcom. Oh the grumpy boss, the dirty secretary, the insane co-worker down the hall. The flirty bathroom attendant. I’d put up with that if it meant that paycheck.

Here’s why that doesn’t work. Here’s why you want to quit every job you’ve ever had for the same reasons. There’s a pathology to any organization put together by human beings. From a hippie commune to multinational oil company. The problems are identical. The people at the bottom do not understand why their lives make no sense. Why do they eat all the shit and do all of the work that makes all of the money? 

Because the people at the top make decisions in their own best interests, and when the ripple effects of those decisions reach the bottom, the pattern has dissolved into randomness. 

But don’t worry too much my friend, you’re the ‘people at the top’ in some aspects of your life. Not giving money to the homeless person you see every day is in your own best interest. The way you raise your kids is in your own best interest. Even if you eat like shit and are lazy, it’s in your own best interest. 

There is no satisfaction to be found in the world of work, or the world of socializing, or the world of family, or the world of solitude. The seeking of happiness is the human pathology. A chronic and unavoidable dissatisfaction which will only grow worse until the few moments before death when we are rendered numb by the fact that all that striving was always for nothing.

The Comedian's Notebook: A New Character

~ During work today I checked back on the Rasmus building. Nothing has changed. Maybe no one knows it’s empty. Maybe everyone assumes it's just another forbidden lobby of some ritzy group of lawyers. Why is it empty? Where would I go to find that out? The bench was still there, but no old Indian woman. So I sat on the bench.

    Was I still at work?

    “You're probably wondering why I've called you all here tonight,” I said to the empty room. “It's because, frankly, I am sick and tired of these fucking rainbow-colored flowers everywhere. What is this, kindergarten? Seriously. Grow up people.”

    When I stood up to leave I beheld two gargoyles over the front doors that I had never noticed before. They could have always been there, I'd just never looked up.

 The Committee broke my sock drawer this morning. I still managed to make the bus, but only at great embarrassment. I huffed and puffed and had to look in every jacket pocket before finding my wallet with my bus pass. I only made it because the bus was late. Someone from The Committee probably got reprimanded for this oversight.

    I had it timed perfectly. Finished my coffee, all my work stuff was by the door and ready to be picked up, just had to put my shoes and socks on. I pulled out my drawer and . . . as if pushed from behind, the entire thing fell on my foot, which immediately started bleeding. Motherfuckers!

    What's more, they knocked a sandwich out of Verena's hand today. Now it's personal. She was walking to wherever she usually eats lunch (I'm not THAT much of a stalker) and one of them was hiding behind the copy machine because he reached out and snagged the edge of her sleeve on the printer tray which yanked her hand from underneath her plate and all her food fell into the carpet. Probably got a promotion for that one. However that works.

    The gargoyles were on either side of the doors and each one was too high to get to. But I simply had to get closer. Outside, were benches chained around the caged trees. I peeked out the glass doors like a suspicious neighbor and my gaze zeroed in on two Jehovah's Witnesses. Or maybe they were Morman missionaries, I can't tell the difference. Two guys in suits who clearly aren't businessmen.

    “Excuse me, fellas,” I jumped out of the door right as they were passing by. Unfazed. Impressive. “I stopped by to do some work right above the inside of those doors right there and I was wondering if you could maybe help me move this bench to just inside the lobby.”

    “Isn't this bench city property?” one of them asked.

    “Probably but I don’t think they're attached and anyway we'd be moving it a grand total of seven feet. I could do it myself, but it'd be so nice to have a bit of help. Just hold the door or something and then you can be on your way. I'll get it back outside.”

    The first one looked to the other, obviously the leader and the leader shrugged. An affirmative response. The bench was indeed chained to the tree, but only decoratively it turned out. We slipped the chain over the foot and slid the bench across the sidewalk. Follower-Mormon-Witness held the door open for me and I pulled the bench in. For some reason, I wanted confirmation that what I was doing was . . . normal. So I asked.

    “Does that look normal to you?” I pointed at the gargoyles. Follower-Mormon-Witness stepped inside with me. As soon as the door closed behind him he became visibly nervous without his partner. I stood, pointing until his gaze followed my finger.

    I whispered in his ear, “Listen, I know that your people were dosed with copious amounts of radiation during the nuclear testing by the US government, and I understand how that would make anyone want to live in space, but I've got a better offer. You like to laugh at all?”

    He lowered his gaze to me. “Actually, I'm a Ceremonial Speech Instructor.”

    I flinched. “Lose the dignifier, dude. No one needs to know your religion.”

    “Well, it's . . . who I am,” he said, and pointed at the gargoyles.

    “Bullshit, you're more than that,” I explained. “Sorry for my language.”

    “What were you going to do with those?” he asked.

    Leader was staring through the door as if he couldn't see us.

    “Those?” I said, “are for seeing. Here, I'll go first.” I stood on the bench and was face to face with the gargoyle. It was a bit awkward, but by squishing my cheek against its mouth, I could get both of my eyes into the eyeholes. I was looking into an empty club. Not one that I'd seen before, although maybe I have. All the lights were on, but all the seats were empty. There was no microphone on stage, nor any sort of backdrop. Not a menu or drink adorned any table. An empty house.

    “Are we in a lobby or something?” I heard him ask to no one.

    “Woah,” I said. “Heavy. Hey dude,” I called down to him. “Maybe you can relate to this.”

    “I want to look through mine,” he said and pointed to the other gargoyle.

    “All right,” I said, “but we gotta slide this bench.”

    Follower-Morman-Witness seemed thoroughly uninterested in the fact that his Leader was banging on the doors and pulling at them, trying to get in. Not a sound was heard from our end. Leader cupped his hands against the glass and pressed his face to it. He became increasingly frantic with his pounding and glanced behind him more and more often. I noticed the crowd on the sidewalk all seemed to be running from something and the sky had taken on an eerie sick yellow color.

    Sometimes, right after a rainfall, and directly preceding sunset, the whole world turns a pumpkin shade.

    Leader's face grew slack and pale, then sweaty. As he sweat, rashes spread over him. Members of the rushing crowd started collapsing and scratching themselves bloody. The sickness from the sky spread to the ground in a gaseous haze. The only sound I heard was the sound of Follower-Mormon-Witness screaming as he looked into the eyes of the gargoyle.

    I grabbed his pant leg. “Goddammit man calm down and let me see,” He didn't get down off the bench but stepped to the side and faced the interior wall of the building. The vision through the gargoyle was the sightline of Leader. Standing right outside the building. He checked his watch, glanced at a pretty girl, then glanced at his feet quickly. I turned back to Follower who had taken a seat on the bench and was rubbing his eyes. Glancing back outside, the day went on like any other.

    “Tough truth,” I said, “but it's over now. The only question is: what are you going to do next?”

    He looked up at me, almost in tears. “But I really believe in my religion,” he sputtered.

    “According to that,” I said, pointing to the gargoyle, “you've been wrong about quite a few vital things in your life.”

    He was on the verge of total collapse so I grabbed his shoulders and knelt in front of him.

    “Look, that's no reason to just abandon everything,” I said, “you ever been to court?”

    He shook his head.

    “Of course not,” I answered, “stupid question. I had to go to court as a teenager for . . . I don't even remember now,” which was absolutely true, “but I stood in that courtroom and saw other kids my age stand before the judge and answer questions. He caught one of them in a lie, then moved on. But every time this kid would protest his innocence, or the severity of his punishment, the judge responded with 'I already caught you lying earlier, so now I don't have to believe anything you say.'

    “Now I'm sure that being a judge is hard, especially to teenagers who hate your guts, but I still thought that was unfair. Does that sound unfair to you?” I asked.

    Follower nodded.

    “In the same way, just because you were wrong about a major life choice,” I said, pointing up to the gargoyle, “is no reason to believe that you'll always be wrong about everything. All I'm asking is for you to live with me . . . for just a few moments if you can . . . in 'What-If?'.

    He seemed to calm down and then looked out the window at his Leader.

    “I'm not gonna stop you, you wanna finish your day with him,” I said. “In fact, I gotta get back to work myself.”

    Follower stood up and opened the door.

    Leader looked back at us. “What're you guys doin' in there? Everything working out?”

    “I just want you to look at something if that's alright,” said Follower.

    “Oh yeah?” Leader took a step inside the door and rounded the bench. “Gruesome, what're these for, a theater?”

    Follower motioned him onto the bench and said, “Just look inside that one.”

    Leader stuck his face to the gargoyle and after a few moments said, “Yeah? What'm I looking for?”

    “What do you see?” asked Follower.

    “Just the darkness, which I'm assuming is the wall,” said Leader. He stepped back. “You want me to check the other one?”

    “Yeah, would you?” I asked. He stepped down and we moved the bench. He got a similar sight from my own gargoyle.

    “Just the wall, is that what I'm supposed to see?” he asked.

    Follower and I looked at each other and shrugged. “I guess it is,” I said.

    “You're exactly where you're supposed to be in life,” said Follower.

    “Yeah I know,” said Leader.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 7)

   The front door opened and Frank came out with plates of raw and seasoned meat on it. “You, are just in time -,” he said. When he saw Penny looking at the raw meat with revulsion he laughed, “- to help me get started cooking. Go inside. Chinonso will hand you stuff.” Penny went inside and participated in the assembly line which brought out more plates of meat, ears of corn and various root vegetables.

    “I couldn't get enough water boiling for all of them,” said Chinonso, “so Frank said we'll just eat them raw.”

    “They're better that way,” yelled Frank as he came back in.

    “I made several pots of tea and poured them in this jug,” said Chinonso. “Be careful, I filled it too full so you have to tip it to get a cup. It won't burn you, but it will spill.”

    “Here, let me get that,” said Frank and he took a cup from the side of the sink and grabbed either side of the jug with his hands.

    “Be careful you shouldn't do that,” said Chinonso.

    But Frank wasn't listening. He lifted the jug and tipped it forward so carefully that a thin stream of tea poured right into Penny's cup and he filled it without spilling a drop. He set down the jug and walked over to the sink. “Are these the tools from Yaser?”

    Chinonso nodded. “I don't know what they were covered with, rust or something. They looked like they had been used in war surgeries,” she laughed, “but they're clean now.”

    “I realized, in my infinite wisdom,” said Frank, “that I brought virtually no utensils. Same rookie move I made when I moved out of my parent's house to go to college. Luckily, Yaser said he and Dani had tons of random stuff. Maybe their cabin used to be an equipment shed or something.” He gathered up the collection from the sink and walked outside.

    Penny was going to follow him and ask him about Ryleigh, who was no longer by the campfire, but she heard a noise behind her. Cezar's door creaked open and he hobbled out of his room, carrying a laptop attached to a dark box. Wires of different colors ran up his arms and into his headpiece.

    “Do you want help?” Penny asked.

    “Thanks, that would be great,” said Cezar, “just be careful not to disconnect anything. Not the end of the world, of course,” he gave her a glance, “but annoying to put back together and reset.”

    “Heck I'd probably get it right the first try,” she said, helping him move down the hall. He didn’t laugh. When they got outside, the rest of the group applauded. Dani put down her instrument and rushed to the patio to move chairs for Cezar.

    “Thanks,” he said.

    “We didn't think we'd see you at all,” she said. “Moving must be such a pain.”

    “Totally worth it,” he answered. “The temperature out here is perfect.”

    “We're thinking of sleeping outside,” she said.

    “Who is?” asked Cezar.

    “Well,” said Dani, gesturing to the expanse of wilderness around them. “Anyone who wants to I guess.” 

With deliberate artistry, Frank arranged the corn and the meat leaving enough room to turn and flip them without hitting each other. 

    When he was almost done, the band laid their instruments down. Everyone moved closer to the fire - even Cezar - and they shared stories about what they had done to get the grant and what their dreams were afterward.

    “Still,” said Frank, “I guarantee that none of your teenage selves thought you'd be here right now.”

    “Is that supposed to be good?” asked Yaser.

    “I guess I'm speaking for white America here,” said Frank, “but my teenage self would never forgive me the life I lead. I was supposed to be a famous director by the time I was twenty-two. That was going to be my peak year I decided. My breakthrough into the Oscars. And anyone who didn't live their dreams was clearly lazy and shallow and had no higher ambitions other than to be a Middle-Aged Boredom Junkie.”

    “What's that?” asked Cezar. “Exactly what it sounds like?”

    “More or less,” said Frank. “I came up with that caricature when I was a teenager, of course. I assumed that all middle-aged people did was sit at home all day and do nothing until their kids came home and then grill them about every aspect of their lives because the kids were so much more interesting than the adults.” He waved some smoke away from his face. “But lemme tell ya, middle-age ain’t as glamorous and easy-going as I thought.”

    “You make it look easy,” said Penny. “Chopping wood and cooking and cleaning and knowing all the tools . . .”

    “Aw shucks,” he said in a mock-hillbilly accent. “Having kids makes you multi-task. Doesn't give a damn that science says it ain't possible. When there's no other choice, you learn everything. But shit, Chinonso probably knows that better than anyone.”

    “No reason to put me on a pedestal,” she said. “People treat me with kid gloves everywhere I go once they find out where I'm from. There's no need for it. All our lives are different.”

    “Why aren't we all able to switch lives yet?” asked Yaser. “I mean, with virtual reality, to see what a day in someone else's life is like?”

    “Why don't we have white camels?” asked Cezar, staring directly at Penny.

    “Well, there'd be privacy issues,” said Dani.

    “We wouldn't watch 'em use the bathroom,” said Frank, surprising Penny.

    “But that's a huge difference in the way that other people live,” said Dani. “We'd have to.”

    “People would volunteer to do that,” said Chinonso.

    All conversation stopped and turned toward her. She shrugged. “I'm just saying. At the college that my first, well, the doctor I volunteered with, worked at, I met people who were doing studies on sex. There are certainly people who want the world to study their own shit.”

    The group burst out laughing at hearing Chinonso swear. Frank pulled the rest of the meat off the grill and served everyone seconds. Since no one thought to bring Graham Crackers and marshmallows, Frank took out several chocolate bars and held them close enough to the fire so they melted onto pieces of bread. 

    Cezar's machine emitted periodic beeps. Penny helped him back inside to his room. Once inside he said, “Do you remember what I asked you out there?”

    Penny just stared, unsure of what he was talking about.

    Cezar shook his head, “Never mind. I'm just tired. Thanks for all your help.” He closed the door.

    Penny adjusted the patio chair as far horizontal as it would go. The temperature had not dropped at all. Yaser slept by the fire, curled up on a tarp in front of a lawn chair. Someone else's feet were visible on the other side. Probably Dani.

    In Penny’s half-dream, someone opened curtains in her room, trying to get her to wake up. She opened her eyes. Everything was much darker than she remembered and she blinked until the roof of the patio came into focus. She sat up a little and had a crick in her back which meant it was definitely time to stop sleeping this way.

    The sound that woke her happened again. A cautious rustling of leaves became more steady. Flushes of fear bloomed in her upper chest before her brain spoke up. The noise was probably any number of squirrels or groundhogs looking for leavings. The fire was down to a dim red glow in the base of the pit. She couldn't see if Yaser and Dani were still there or not. Penny stretched and stood up which was when she saw it. Walking from the path they had hiked in on, passing right by the fire pit, was a white camel. Cezar's question came back to her like someone swinging a baseball bat through wind-chimes.

Much taller than a person, it ghosted through the campsite. Bobbing its neck like a pigeon, the camel turned slightly and headed in the direction of the other cabin. During its turn, Penny saw that it was wounded on its side. But not really, something was drawn or burned onto its hyde. Some type of symbol that she couldn’t see too well. She didn't want to move and freak the camel out, so she waited for it to leave. It continued on its way with the calmness of an animal trained for new riders. When she was reasonably sure she couldn't see it anymore, she went inside.

    Penny didn't expect Cezar to answer her knocks, but she also didn't want to wake anyone else. Assuming he was awake, she pushed down on the handle and opened the door. His room was pitch black. No lights from his various computers shone. In fact, his computer was gone. The box that he had brought out with him tonight was missing also. So were the usual wires she had gotten used to seeing right by his door. Moonlight shone through the open window and his bed looked exactly the same as it always had, untouched. She whispered his name and flicked on the light, her eyes confirming the truth she already knew. Cezar was gone.

Based on the . . .

The Happy Heart Doodle Cloud is a series of children’s books featuring several colorful bear-like creatures that can draw on their chests in order to express deeper emotions and thoughts than their linguistic skills, which are intended for a pre-K age range.

There’s Aply, Beebles, Cadrick, Dempsy, and Zwip, Yerk, Xevon, and Walri. The latter alphabet letters introduced a higher vocabulary and more difficult concepts.

The plot of each book tends to focus on one of the characters exploring a new segment of the Doodle Cloud, and then trying to find the right expression for that new segment. For instance, in book 9 of the Cadrick  series, Cadrick must deal with a broken cloud. He’s never encountered jagged edges before and the other members of the group initially think that he broke it until he draws the path he took earlier on in the day on his chest, thus giving him an alibi. The group is thus forced to deal with the fact that things decay and can break on their own.

It was this book which gave the impetus for a television program. Early attempts at pitches were unsuccessful due to the lack of dramatic structure inherent in stories for pre-K. However, once the notion of decay was introduced, it was off to the races.

The prolific appearance of the books granted early seasons of the show much fodder to work with. However, subtle changes began to appear. Sickness was introduced in one episode, as well as little cloud creatures that became pets that gradually died. Possessions became important as the characters began to steal each other’s pens in order to make other characters do what they want.

The overall tone of the show remained joyous and innocent, the occasional blips of darkness serving only as a discord right before the happy song resolution where things return to normal. 

When rights to the film were bought, a series of writers came along to try their luck at this lucrative project. The end result being the film we know so well as Double-H-DC.

While the story maintained the tone of the show and the themes dealt with, it was the computer animation and character redesign that brought the most criticism. Gone were the simple colors with the white chest for writing on. Each bear was densely shaded, closer to a real animal, and each had a piece of metallic apparatus which caused its pen to work in different ways. Zwip’s helmet used the pen to draw where its eyes went whereas Dempsy’s gloves gave each finger a pen.

The film also introduced the iconic villain., Cloud Developer Irick, who flattens clouds for parking lots. It is unclear if he parks cars from Earth or from some unseen celestial realm.

While reviews of the film were harsh from initial fans of the show - and their parents - a new generation who had not grown up on it drove the toy sales. A video game soon followed which took place in Irick’s dark realm. The bears each were granted a special ability as well as the mechanics given to them by the movie. Aply could build helpful structures for climbing or hanging from and Xevon could breathe underwater.

The ending of the video game hinted at further development by showing stills from an upcoming comic series about the life of Irick. A former gas-attack soldier from WWI, his eventual goal was to flatten all clouds since clouds were what killed all his friends.

After the successful run of Irick’s origin story, a noted YA author (who is actually six people all writing under the same name) got the rights to the book series and continued the further mechanization of each bear. Gone were their life on the clouds and they descended to a hellscape Earth, inhabited by roaming bands of technically literate early teens while the ruins of cities housed the analogue and dictatorial adults. While each bear had an adventuresome series, after a while the fans began to question what the bears were doing down there in the first place. The series ends with the bears vanishing into a fog. Said author’s contract was not renewed so the franchise went back up.

The marketing of the final film was a viral hit as bits of bear machinery began to appear on what were clearly movie posters. Short pre-trailers began to show a disfigured Irick huffing a noxious gas like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. The dystopian imagery of the books was present, although society hadn’t degenerated quite as far, and the kids were replaced by adults.

Cloud was revealed to be the title, with a bloody heart as the O and the plot centered around a group of scientists experimenting with the gasses found inside of mummified WWI corpses. It turns out, these gasses housed the bears who were put there by Irick to stop them from running havoc all over the world. The bears would murder people with their pens and machines and then the people’s spirits would communicate their eternal agony on the bears’ chest pieces. The bears fed off of human agony, being created by gasses meant to poison and kill people. The only way to trap the bears was to trap a person there with them, engaging in eternal battle and Irick is that person.

He is hesitant to admit this at first, being given a new lease on life, albeit in a dying world. But once he sees his duty, there is no alternative.

The film itself got favorable reviews as being thought-provoking, suspenseful and ultimately, compassionate. While clearly an R-rated horror film, development execs began to wonder, maybe with the violence and stakes toned down a little, you could possibly make a kid’s book out of it.

The Comedian's Notebook: Porn, finally!

~ Every sound we can make will eventually have to represent a number since numbers go on forever. There's a numerical value to that last sentence. And this addition, and this one, and this one . . . 

~ Things that are not funny:

4: ‘Tell us how you really feel.’

5. Putting the word ‘porn’ after everything. I guess this is more an attempt to sound . . . observant more than funny but it’s still wicked annoying. ‘Competence Porn’ to describe movies or TV shows that depict someone doing a specific job really well. ‘Natural Porn’ which is probably a real form, but in this case showing people living nicely with the smallest possible carbon footprint. ‘Apocalypse Porn’ is certainly a thing since everyone secretly wants to live in a world where their mistakes will all be magically erased someday . . . Spoiler alert: you already do, but that eraser just takes slightly longer than you have to live. ‘Poverty Porn’ is similar to this, where people guilt themselves over how badly other people have it. This is more a form of masochism, but I suppose that still counts as sexual. 

This has gone on far enough. Not everything that people enjoy watching or talking about is a form of pornography. Underlying all this is, of course, the assumption that enjoying pornography makes you evil, or at least dumb. Even with all these sex shops popping up and the ‘sex-positive’ movement, pan-sexuals, polyamourous, and the new openness of BDSM culture. Sure you’re an enlightened couple who can play with your sexuality but if you watch a recording of others doing it, you’re an agent of oppression and an accessory to exploitation. Maybe the word ‘porn’ will go the way of the word ‘rock star’ which now just means someone who’s really good at something. I guess ‘rock star virtuosity’ is just a euphemism for ‘competence porn.’ 

The Comedian's Notebook: So what do you do all day?

~ Work has been busy and I haven't said much to Verena in the past few days. But today, she was all chatter. To the point where I thought we might get in trouble. 

    She seems somewhat disaster-prone in her everyday life. She loses and/or breaks: computers, lamps, chairs, shoes, desks, rugs, glasses, cups, necklaces, jewelry, phones, her car, garbage cans, bottles of bleach, the bathtub, guitar strings, drumsticks, cardboard animals, slabs of sidewalk, a whole turkey  . . .

                                She mentioned not wanting to speak at her brother's charity event. He wanted her to introduce him, not in a comedian way, but just say a few nice words about nice things. She's felt awkward about her brother's religious favoritism and how his charity only works with church-based organizations and she'd have to keep the tone religious in nature which she assures me she's not so . . .

                                     pens, an elevator, cookie jars, the racist bits of Fantasia, a treadmill, free weights, mouse holes, bells, the dry-cleaning, hyphens and other rarefied punctuation, the fridge, hummus, a copy machine, ointments, socks, propellers . . .

                                            I tried to assure her that it was okay. Although this always gives religious people hate-fuel when a non-religious relative can't see that 'family is more important.' Oh yeah? Tell that to Abraham! And while we're at it, why don't you lead a Muslim prayer at my wedding? I don't follow Islam, but I just want to see you squirm.

~ What if all these fake debt collectors that try to get money out of gullible people, are really people driven mad by fake debt collectors themselves? Say that your partner answers the phone (you still have a landline) and that person makes a bunch of shit up and says the police are on their way unless you give $500 right now, blah blah, and s/he hangs up. But now they know that people live there and call back several times every hour, from different phone numbers. Some of them are phone numbers you recognize so you answer. The police can do nothing about this because it's all so broken up and may be based internationally where there are no laws to prevent it.

    Your partner, even though s/he knows it's not real, cannot stand being home with this phone that both of you need. So you get really mad. Who are these fuckers? And you call back and harass them. Only the numbers you call are all the fake ones they've been using and you're inadvertently perpetuating the cycle.

    Of course, the flaw in this is that you don't know how to disguise your number. So maybe you look up how to do this. Maybe you just restrict it every time. Maybe calling and threatening complete strangers is lots of fun.

~ There are some bizarre religions out there. I think the founders of this city followed orders from things that have never been named.    – Verena just called. My stomach jumps for joy when I see her name on my phone. Reminding me about the show. Of course, it's all I ever fucking think about! What else is there? My five minutes are set in stone [much like the Drzji vows carved in the dedication of the Community College Science building] and if Verena never wants to speak to me again afterward, well, at least I didn't offend her at work.

    That's never going to happen, though. Girl spends so much free time at comedy shows and never once has she come off as overly sensitive. I wonder if her boyfriend died? Hopefully of some bowel disease carried by those immigrants he's working with just kidding! just . . . kidding . . . !!! . . . Maybe we'll leave that part out of the routine.

    I wonder if people being helped wonder about the social lives of those helping them. Is my volunteer doctor a cheating card player on the weekend? Does the emergency vet who saved my cat's life free of charge masturbate to hugely illegal pornography? Maybe, the worse people's secret bad habits are, the better they behave in public . . . that's why I'm such an asshole, because secretly, I'm a saint.

Pieces of a Sand Story (Part 6)

    Penny returned to her room and re-read the brochure for this trip and the grant information that preceded it. The information was comforting, and it reminded her of discovering the program. How she see-sawed back and forth about applying. Her first stint abroad had been paid for initially by her own savings. Once there, she got a part-time job for an American non-profit. 

    If the wireless lasted for more than minutes at a time, Penny could probably debunk everything Cezar had told her with a few clicks. Although he could then take the conspiracy-theorist’s path that all information which countered his theories was, in fact, disinformation. There were also questions that Penny couldn’t answer. She couldn't explain how she'd found out the code of his broken device. Maybe he'd planned it all in advance. Maybe there were a few right ways to do it and she'd just gotten lucky.

 At any rate, hanging around in her room on a gorgeous day was pointless and would only serve to strengthen Cezar's case of an imposing and conspiratorial world. Why was she reading the brochure that got her here when she was, in fact, here? Penny set the papers down and left her room. 

Chinonso puttered around in the kitchen sorting through pans and utensils. She turned on the water and started rinsing and seemed so absorbed that Penny didn't want to ask if she could help. Also, she didn't want to help.

Outside, Frank was no longer on the porch. The wind picked up, causing a ripple along the trees as if all of the leaves were waving. She watched their colors shift for a few minutes before becoming aware of an intermittent cracking sound. She followed the noise behind the cabin and there was Frank with an ax. He kept his wrapped arm closer to himself, like a T-Rex.

    “Did Chinonso send you out here about the thawing meat?” he asked while setting up the half-log he just chopped. 

    “I know nothing about that,” Penny said.

    “Thawing meat tends to look questionable,” said Frank. “But I always forget that she grew up without much technology. Probably didn't even see a refrigerator until after she left. One second.” He swung the axe. “I brought quite a bit of meat which was in the freezer and now it's thawing in the sink. I told her if she needed the sink she could set it in a pot filled with water somewhere.”

    “That's probably what she did,” said Penny. “She's rinsing dishes.”

    “Yeah, I should probably check on that,” said Frank. “But I'm almost done here. Definitely a fire night.” He looked to the treetops.

    “Can I, um, help with anything?” she asked.

    “This ax probably weighs more than you, no offense,” said Frank.

    “I thought that no one put their food away,” said Penny. “Guess I didn't look in the freezer.”

    “Yeah, I didn't want to say anything,” said Frank. He moved several logs from a woodpile closer to the stump he was using as a chopping block.

    “Where did all the wood come from?” Penny asked.

    “There's a shed to the side, attached to our place,” said Frank. “So I'm kind of cheating.”

    “There's no 'kind of' about it,” said Penny. “We're all cheating. Hot water, heat, plumbing, waste taken care of, electricity, I can't believe we're not rioting over the shitty wireless.”

   Frank lifted another log onto the stump.

    “When did you learn to chop wood?” she asked.

    “Oh, just growing up,” said Frank. “Plus, I always lived kind of far away from people. All the neighbors were spaced out. It was good property, and I got to live a more-or-less outdoorsy type of life while my ex-wife jet-setted around the world in her cor-por-ate jet.”

    “So the kids stayed with you?” asked Penny.

    “Most of the time,” said Frank. “They were in school, of course, and I got to be a house-husband. Anyways, long story short – too late, I know – the pressure just ate her up and I didn't really notice. She was drunk every time she came home. Eventually, fifths were hidden under couch cushions and behind the toilet and in her makeup case and all that. She disappeared somewhere into her parent's neck of the woods during our divorce, but it's finalized and everything. I haven't had any contact with her since. I got the kids, that's how fucked-up she was. Judges do not normally reward the man with much.”

    “Where are the kids now that you're here?” she asked.

    “They're staying with a neighbor. Good friend of mine, they get along with his daughter and they love his house. He's a weirdo with vintage tastes. Really good with memory and stats so a few years ago, he quit his job to play cards for a living. Online mostly. Still hasn't matched up his old salary but enjoys the freedom and loves taking impromptu trips. They'll be fine with him for a few days. Hell, probably forget all about me.”

    He set up more pieces of wood. “Listen, I don't remember much about last night, so I'm real sorry if . . . well.” He rubbed the bandage on his arm. “News to me.”

    Penny shrugged. “You don't remember, at all, running into me in the hallway? Right before you burnt yourself?”

    “Not a moment,” said Frank. “I don't drink much anymore, but when I do, it seems to be all or nothing. I foolishly thought that the change of scenery and being surrounded by new people would keep me responsible, but . . . I guess not. I've never been a violent man . . . right?”

    “Oh god no,” she said. “You were just . . . playing with wires and it was scary. I mean, we're not completely cut off from civilization, but help wouldn't come fast in an emergency.”

    “I know,” he said. “But hell I've said sorry and not meant it so many times in my life. Anyways.” He raised the ax. “Why don't you just relax? Maybe the Bionic Man in there needs something. Aw, that's not very nice of me. I gotta stop giving people nicknames in my head.”

    “What am I?” asked Penny.

    Frank shook his head. “Shit. Stock White Girl #1,” he said. “Two and three live over there.” He pointed towards the other cabin.

    “Well it's good to be number one, I guess,” she said.

    “Yeah well, don't let your head explode, it's only because we're chance roomies.” He continued to chop wood. Penny headed back inside.

    Cezar's door remained closed, so Penny helped Chinonso sort dishes for a while and then asked if she wanted to go for a hike. Chinonso declined, preferring to tidy the kitchen. She had some food of her own that she was going to prepare as well so Penny took a few nutrient bars from her room and hiked to the other cabin. No one in sight although she thought there were noises coming from within. Bangs and scrapes of people moving around. Maybe they were all fucking and that was the party cabin that Frank should have been a part of. Hadn't Frank mentioned two girls living in the second cabin? Why did Yaser and Dani act so weird upon her mentioning Ryleigh?

    There was no sign of Ryleigh’s path to the emerald mountains. Thoughts of Cezar's theories kept punching through Penny’s brain. Were they even on government land? What would it be like, to have memories operating on you that you didn't know you had?

    While ruminating, she heard faint sounds of that strange music from yesterday. The sounds grew clearer as Penny neared her cabin. Ryleigh stood around the fire-pit. Her stool was much shorter and missing its triangular top. The chains still hung from its sides but extended much farther.

    “Hey stranger,” said Penny, trying to be amicable. “Where've you been all day?”

    Ryleigh swung two of the chains back and forth so the bottoms rapped against each other, occasionally missing. She raised her head with almost comic slowness and met Penny's gaze.

    “Yes?” she said.

    “I, for the life of me, cannot find that path you showed me yesterday,” said Penny.

    Ryleigh's smile widened, with the same slowness. “Oh hi,” she said. “It's so nice to see you.”

    “Yeah,” said Penny. “I've just been out, exploring. Just on the path we came up on because –” she gestured behind the cabins.

    “My opponent,” Ryleigh whispered, putting her hand to her lips and then speaking again, “is working with prosperity.” She clanked her chains a few times and shook her head back and forth like a child.

    “Ryleigh,” said Penny, “who is your opponent?”

    “We're all winners,” said Ryleigh, looking around. “I think the gig's starting soon. I'm sure the food afterward will be scrumptious.”

    “Even though no one's looking at us,” said Penny. “I'm going to whisper something into your ear, is that alright?”

    Ryleigh rested her head on her shoulder.

    “Are we not supposed to talk about the emerald mountains?” asked Penny.

    “Why would you want to go there?” asked Ryleigh.

    “Because they're amazing. Very pretty. I want to take pictures,” said Penny.

    “But you can't take pictures,” said Ryleigh. “Didn't we go over this?”

    “Yes,” said Penny, “but I can at least try. Tell me how to get there, where's the path?”

    Ryleigh lowered her head again and swayed her chain back and forth. “No one claps for me,” she said. “Strive for leverage and . . . what?” she asked.

    “I don't know what you're saying,” said Penny. “Come back to me. Where were you when nobody knew where you were?”

    “You just answered your own question,” said Ryleigh. “And if they find me, I'm in trouble again. But for right now? I'm free.” She looked up at the treetops. “Please . . . don't give me away . . . I can barely walk . . .” she leaned backward against one of the sitting logs and hoisted herself onto it like an old woman. She picked at the gloves she wore before going back to swaying the chains.

    “Ryleigh, aren't you warm?” asked Penny.

    Ryleigh looked to the ground and shook her head back and forth. Penny tried a few more times to get her attention, but she continued shaking her head. Penny thought that Ryleigh must be really high, maybe even on LSD or mushrooms. Not wanting to be responsible for a panic attack, Penny left Ryleigh alone.