Tilt

This summer Mummy, Daddy, Bunny and I are going to visit Grandmammy in her house by the sea. We don’t visit Grandmammy often. Mummy says it’s because she lives so far away.

When we visit Mummy lets me and Bunny play at the edge of the water near Grandmammy’s house. Bunny gets all fat and bloated and then Mummy has to put him out to dry. Mummy says best friends can’t be stuffed toys but I know she’s wrong because Bunny is mine. He always wants to play the games I think of and he never laughs at me like the boys in school.

The last time we visited Grandmammy I was only in kindergarten. Grandmammy told me she’d buy me a chocolate sprinkle cone if I tell Daddy that I want Grandmammy to live with us. Mummy was angry when she found out. I didn’t get ice cream and we came back three days early.

I like looking out of the window to see the big trees at the side of the road. There are only small trees where we live. Mummy points out pretty birds and a little monkey sitting on a rock. The monkey acts very funnily, jumping about and scratching itself. I yell out, “Mummy, it’s touching its bum!”

Mummy says the monkey is acting in this Shameful Way because it isn’t intelligent like me. I look away quickly from the monkey which doesn’t know not to show its Private Parts in front of others.

We finally reach Grandmammy’s house. When I enter Grandmammy smiles and says, “Who is this handsome young boy?” I laugh and run to the other room to sit on the bed and watch Scooby Doo while Daddy and Mummy talk to Grandmammy.

During dinner, Grandmammy puts rice on my plate and says, “Such a shame that he has to grow up an only child.”

Daddy says, “We’re a happy family of three.” I feed Bunny some of my rice.

“Those who cannot do better must be…” Then Daddy is yelling at Grandmammy and Grandmammy is yelling back. Mummy is

trying to get Daddy to sit back down. Bunny falls off his seat.

Daddy goes straight to bed without clearing his plate. I ask Mummy if Daddy wants to play I Spy but she says no, not right now. Grandmammy says she can play with me, but I say no, thank you and sit with Mummy and colour my notebook.

On the last day of our visit, I make sandcastles till Mummy says it’s time to pack. I run in, put my clothes in my blue sailor backpack, and try to run out but Mummy stops me. I have to wait there while she and Daddy carry our bags to the car.

I sit on Grandmammy’s blue sofa and swing my legs. Grandmammy keeps strange things on the side tables – little stones from a riverbank, a mood lamp, a prayer wheel from Tibet. Grandmammy doesn’t have any toys or comics.

Bunny and I are playing cross and noughts with my red jumbo crayon when Grandmammy comes into the room. She starts taking out jars and boxes and putting them noisily on the table. Mummy says it isn’t polite to make so much noise but I don’t say this to Grandmammy because I don’t want her to feel bad.

I know I have to listen to Grandmammy because she’s older than me. I stop and make more crosses.

“You’re acting like a cat in heat,” Grandmammy says in an odd voice. She’s looking at me strangely. I look down at my notebook paper. I wish Grandmammy would go back to moving the jars. I wish Mummy would come back into the room.

I try to focus on my notebook. But Bunny falls off the sofa and I’m trying to win the game and I’m used to shaking my leg when I sit.

Grandmammy is yelling at me now. “Stop it! Shaking your legs means you want sex. Is that what you want?”

I stop doing everything at once.

I feel like when Vicky from class hit me on the head and I couldn’t breathe or think, I just waited silently for Mummy to come get me. My eyes are burning. I nod like a puppet.

Grandmammy said the s-word.

The Dirty and Wrong Thing you shouldn’t say.

The Secret Thing grown-ups do in movies after they take off their clothes, even though you should never show anyone your Private Parts.

The Very Shameful Thing you cannot say.

The Chinese paintings on Grandmammy’s walls are tilting. It makes my head hurt. I want Mummy to come and take me away like she did after Vicky hit me. I want to go far away from Grandmammy who says these Terrible Things.

But my arms and legs aren’t working so I just sit there.

Mummy and Daddy come to take me to the car sometime. They say bye to Grandmammy. I say bye to the plant next to Grandmammy’s feet. Grandmammy says she hopes we visit again soon. I hope Daddy forgets the way to Grandmammy’s house.

The small pebbles in front of Grandmammy’s house are jumping. My Lightning McQueen sandals are tripping over them so Mummy takes my hand. My eyes are open too wide and I look at the dancing pebbles so Mummy doesn’t notice and make me repeat the Bad Thing Grandmammy said.

In the car I open the window and look out. Mummy asks me if I want to sing a song. She asks if I want to play I Spy. I pretend to sleep and she stops asking.

I feel like I’ve fallen in a very muddy and smelly puddle. I don’t touch Mummy’s hand when she gives me a sandwich so the dirt won’t get on her too. When we get out of the car to go home I see the sandwich fallen on the floor.

Only at night, when I’m pouring shower gel and water into my ears do I realise that I left Bunny behind.

Ashira Shirali is a high school student from Gurgaon, India. She loves books, music, good food and the colour blue. Her work has been published in Teen Ink and Moledro Magazine.

Visual Art by Paulina Otero

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Sea Cucumber

When I was little, I only ate cucumbers. My mom tried to put them in salads and on sandwiches, but I’d pick them off and eat them alone. He asks me why I’m talking about cucumbers. I kick my shoes off the side of the couch and rub my toes against the fabric. I tell him his couch is the color of a peeled cucumber and I think about the way food tastes with pill coating in my mouth.

The air in his office smells like sea salt and onions. Sometimes, I tell him, I think about drowning myself. I tell him that everything happening has happened before, and that I watch myself contribute to it. I inhale salt water, and he asks me if I’m breathing heavily because I’m agitated, and that agitates me.

In the bathroom, I gargle a handful of sink water. I see a different person in every mirror, but if I could cut the skin off my face I’d find myself. I’m a product of my repetition. Back in the office he offers me coffee, tea, and I think about what fish drink. If you put them in a tank of beer, would they get drunk? If you walk sixty steps from the left wall, you can make it to the right one, but he calls this pacing. I stopped counting out loud. Eighty-six weeks ago I would have called it crazy, but now I’m just waiting for a finger to tap against the glass.

I tell him that I lost my virginity sitting on a baby changing station at a truck stop, and when it was over I felt like a mother and a fetus and a whore and a queen. Is the predominant difference between a sea cucumber and a land cucumber that one can sustain itself and the other needs a vine? He doesn’t answer. I lie on my back on the love seat across from him and wonder what his home life is like, even though I’m not supposed to. If I stare at the ceiling for too long, I start to see big gold triangles and when I close my eyes, they stay there and glow. In my dreams I swim out of my skin, but when I tell him about them he calls them nightmares. Sometimes I’ll look up and see the sun behind a skin of waves.

He taps his pen on his clipboard and I ask him what his ideal day would be. He asks, without answering, what mine would be. When I say a day underwater he asks how often I think about killing myself.

“How often is too often?” He writes this down. I bring my knees to my tummy and hug them—fold my chin into my chest. “Did you know that fish never close their eyes?”

“Hmm,” he says, and looks at me like I’m leaving something out.

I tell him about when I was thirteen and tried to make soap. I dumped a pot of boiling water on my foot and I had to use a fake name in the emergency room so that they couldn’t bill our house. He asks if that upset me and I feel inhuman. I try to count how many seconds I take on each breath to gauge my agitation.

I ask him to identify key differences between happiness and unhappiness. They say I have a chemical imbalance. Fish can sing, you know, I say, and he nods–hits his pen against his chin. He asks me how I occupy my time here outside of our sessions. If something could make me feel anything, I tell him, I’d do it every day.

I am a half-dead fish, floating on top of the water, watching patterns of pelicans. I’m waiting for one to swoop me up and cradle me in the bath of its beak. I sink further into the crease of the couch cushions and feel like I’m in a cucumber coffin.

I think about killing myself three times a day, exactly three, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s why I don’t snack. He writes this down, and I take a deep breath.

 

Alexandra Lewis

Alli Lewis is a high school writer from Michigan and Ohio, and she goes to Walnut Hill School for the Arts. She would like to dedicate this piece to her late feline companion.

Artwork by Diana Ryu

 

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Robin the Noble

My dearest Princess Delilah,

            I have been watching you for months through this window. I know that sounds a little creepy, but I promise that I looked away every single time you were changing out of respect. That being said, I think you look beautiful every time you dance quietly to yourself in front of the mirror, or read that one text book on molecular biology, and that little twitch you’ve got below your left eye is just adorable. I love you dearly, and I think that if you consent to marrying me, I could make you very happy. If you’re interested, I will come at once to your aid and rescue you from the tower. Please send word immediately through this carrier pigeon.

                        Yours truly,

                        Robin the Noble

 

Dear Robin the Noble,

            Thank you kindly for your letter. I think its sweet of you to like the twitch below my left eye. I’ve always been self-conscious about it and I haven’t been able to leave the tower to get it checked out. Before you come to rescue me, though, I would like to know a little more about you. Like, I don’t know, what do you look like, and what’s your favorite color, and what would name a pet guinea pig, and so forth.

            Sincerely,

            Princess Delilah

 

Dearest Princess Delilah,

             I have brown hair and blue eyes and white skin, and all ten fingers, and all ten toes. My favorite color is fuchsia, and as for the guinea pig I would name it Cornelius Bernard. I would want to endow a guinea pig with a magnificent and noble name in order to make up for the poor animal’s size, and the seemingly insignificant, perhaps even embarrassing, role of being one’s pet. I would always address it by its full name, saying “Here is your breakfast, Sir Cornelius Bernard,” or “Do let me clean out your cage, Sir Cornelius Bernard.”

 I hope this letter has served well enough, and I do hope you are still interested.

            Love,

            Robin the Noble

 

Princess Delilah was, of course, still interested, and sent word right away that she would most definitely like Robin the Noble to rescue her from her tower. Princess Delilah waited many weeks for her sweet Robin, and was beginning to become a little doubtful, when she finally heard a knock on her bedroom door.

“Just a minute!” she said, and ran to the mirror to fix her hair before posing herself perfectly at her desk, molecular textbook in hand, angling her face towards the door in such a way that she was sure, would display the twitch below her left eye. “Okay, okay, come in.”

And there he was, inside of her room, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, and he would’ve probably had white skin too, had it not been for the scorch marks all over his face and arms.

“Princess Delilah!” he said, and got down on one knee to bow to her highness.

“Robin, my most noble!” squealed Delilah, throwing the book to the floor and jumping with glee. “You’ve made it at last!”

But the man rose, scratching his head. “Robin? I am no Robin. My name is Prince James. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with another?”

Princess Delilah did not understand. “Another? What other?”

“Well, princess, I know you can’t see because your little window points conveniently in the opposite direction, but the front door of your tower is guarded by this huge fire-breathing dragon. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with a suitor who failed to get past it. Either way, I got past the stupid dragon and so technically, I am to marry you.”

Princess Delilah clasped her hands as tears welled up in her eyes. “But… My dearest Robin… Do you mean to say that he is dead?”

“I know not this Robin, but I saw the dead scorched bodies of many men lying along the pit that leads to your front door… I’d say if he hasn’t come yet, he’s probably dead.” At this, Princess Delilah collapsed the ground and began to sob into her hands.

Prince James got to his feet and found himself standing awkwardly in the room, not quite sure how to go about cheering up his bride-to-be.  “I mean—I’m not so bad, am I? I’m rich, charming, handsome” At this, Princess Delilah cried even harder. “Geez,” he said, scratching his head. “How do you know this Robin anyway?”

Princess Delilah lifted her face, wiping away tears, still beautiful despite the blotchy redness of her tear-stained face. “He- He sent me letters.”

“Well how much can you really tell about a person from a letter?”

“Well, he’s funny and smart and loving and accepting, and and and his favorite color’s fuschia.”

“Fuschia?”

“It’s like a pinkish-purplish-blue.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of girly?”

“A color’s a color. Besides, what’s wrong with girly?”

Prince Harris chuckled. “Well, no girly guy’s gonna be able to get through what I just got through back there with that dragon.”

“And why not?”

“C’mon, don’t make me explain.”

“Well, what’s your favorite color?”

“Blue, I guess.”

“That everybody’s favorite color. What would you name a guinea pig?

“I don’t know, Fluffy? Squeakers? Miss Piggy?”

Princess Delilah sighed again.

“What’s wrong with those names? What else would you name a guinea pig?”

At that point, both Princess Delilah and Prince James heard footsteps running quickly up the tower stairs. Princess Delilah jumped to her feet. “Do you hear that? It must be Robin, coming for me now!” Prince James rolled his eyes. He thought about bringing up the whole first-come-first-served rule, then drew his sword instead in order to challenge the oncoming suitor. But Princess Delilah didn’t even notice, for she was too busy staring at the doorway. They both stood staring for several minutes, until Robin finally made it all the way up the winding stairs and into Delilah’s room, at which point Princess Delilah let out a gasp and Prince James dropped his sword. For there was Robin, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, perfect white skin, visible even beneath the ash and bloody wounds, but Robin was a woman.

Princess Delilah and Prince James stayed frozen in shock, their eyes fixed upon Robin, whose body was covered in steel armor save for the helmet which she carried with one hand. Everything else was caked with soot or blood, but there she stood, ready to battle a thousand more dragons if they got in her way. Then, she turned to Prince James and recoiled, dropping the helmet.

“Seriously?” she said. “I’m second?” But they merely continued to stare. “I—I spent so much time training. I swear, princess, I’ve tried to beat that stupid dragon of yours thirteen times, but I barely started fencing a few years ago, and well I could get past it sure, but killing it was a different story.”

Killing it?” said Prince James. “You killed her dragon?”

“Yeah. That’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Kill the dragon, marry the princess…”

“I thought it was just get past the dragon, marry the princess.” They both turned to look at Princess Delilah.

“R-Robin? Is that you?”

“It’s me.”

“But-but you’re a…”

“A what?”

Prince Jamess, suddenly regaining his confidence, laughed a little. “Why, you’re a woman.”

“Yeah, I’m a woman. I didn’t think that would be a—wait—is it a problem?”

Princess Delilah nodded slowly. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t—I mean I just, I’m just not… like that.”

“Like what?”

“Well, I don’t really… go for women.”

“Go for… Oh, you mean you…” Robin suddenly understood, but the lump in her throat grew so large she could hardly speak.

“I’m sorry.”

Robin looked away, trying to hold back the tears welling in her eyes. “It-It’s fine, I mean, maybe I should’ve put that in the letter. I guess I just assumed…”

Prince James laughed again. “Why would you just assume something like that?”

Robin’s face turned red as she stood ashamed and embarrassed in the middle of the room, her heart ripping to shreds. She turned to leave, but before she started walking, she twisted once more to look at Princess Delilah. “Your, um, your little eye twitch… It’s even more adorable in person.” And with that, Robin turned to walk back down the stairs from which she came.

But before Robin could go down a couple of steps, she was stopped by Princess Delilah. “Wait!”

Robin halted. “Anything you wish, princess.”

“Maybe we can start over, huh Robin?” Princess Delilah smiled shyly. Maybe we could just be… friends?”

Robin smiled sadly and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”

“How would you like to be my lady-in-waiting?”

Robin thought about it. She would be around the ever-gorgeous Princess Delilah every single day, doing anything in her power to make her life a little easier, to make her a little happier. It was all she ever wanted. She accepted the job immediately. Princess Delilah then ran back up the stairs to Prince James and agreed to marry him as Robin stayed halfway below on the same step, drawing sloppy hearts on the soot of her helmet.

 

Sabrina N. Melendez

Sabrina Melendez is the 2013-2014 senior editor of Parallax Literary Journal. She enjoys writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, dramatic fiction, and songs. She is  from El Paso, TX, but likes to identify as a Puerto Rican because Puerto Rico is a far cooler place to be from than El Paso. Aside from writing, Sabrina likes to play piano, sing, spend hours in the ceramics studio, and make puns that inspire others to leave the room. 

Art By Eunji Kang

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The Enchanted Family Forest


Visual art by Brent Terry. 

A man in the throes of middle age sat at his study going over his bank reports. Every note told him the same story: too much output, not enough input. There was enough to last ten years if the man dug himself a very big hole, maybe fifteen. The man picked up a fountain pen and bled the ink onto the yellow paper he had used to tabulate his financial ruin.

 

     “I can’t believe he’s missed another dinner!” Greg explodes in a whisper to his wife, Cheri, in their kitchen. The family has just gotten back from dinner in town.

     “I know, but.”

     “But what? What’s his excuse?”

     “But what did you expect? Did you really think he was coming this time?” Cheri asks, setting ten birthday candles on a cake too big for eight people who were filled with expensive pasta. There will be leftover cake, and Cheri reminds Greg, “It’s been nearly a year. If he was going to show he would have months ago.”

     Greg roughly plants four wine glasses on the old serving tray he hates. The tray has a nineteen fifties style Coca-Cola Ad painted onto the metal. Cheri loves it. She picks up the tray while Greg grabs the red and white from the fridge. They don’t need two bottles of wine for four people. Wine doesn’t pair with children’s birthday cake, but they don’t drink beer. Greg trails behind his wife into the living room with his dripping bottles and a corkscrew, a birthday present from his mom right before she died at sixty-four. Cheri sets her metal tray on her Pottery Barn coffee table and asks everyone what they want.

     “Don’t forget you have to drive me home,” Cheri’s mother, Delilah, laughingly warns her husband, Mike. She glances at Cheri and stops jabbing, “I’ll have the red tonight dear.” Mike asks for the same but, after a surreptitious look from his wife, changes his order to the milder white wine.

     Two years ago Mike was driving home from an outdoor music show Delilah dragged him to, and he fell asleep at the wheel for what he swore “could not have been more than five seconds.” Delilah threw a fit that effectively startled Mike’s eyes open. Now Delilah strictly monitors how he drinks in her company.

     Greg and Caroline, Delilah’s other daughter, are poured red. Cheri doesn’t have any. She only drinks white, and she refuses to drink the “hippy wine” her sister brought.

     Cheri asks her son, Jason, with a large smile, “Okay, cake or presents first?” It’s hard to tell if Cheri is faking the large smile. She doesn’t blink enough, but there aren’t any children around to notice, besides Jason and his younger cousin, Lulu.

     Jason laughs as he chases after Lulu. He yells, “Cake!” over his shoulder as the cousins playfully run into the largely lived-in family room.

     The kids have to put up with these unfailingly frequent family dinners and have learned to mostly ignore them. Jason’s real birthday party will be with his friends playing laser tag, and at least they have each other for escaping their parents’ purple teeth parties (a name Lulu gave these sorts of events after a secretly viewed rerun of Cougar Town).

     Cheri disappears into the kitchen as Greg dims the dining room lights. This is their signal for cake time. Caroline pulls her video camera out of an over-sized red purse that is propped up against the couch, while everyone moves into the dining room. Cheri calls out from the kitchen, “Is everyone ready?” And Delilah yells for Jason and Lulu to come get to the dining room.

     When everyone is settled, with Jason at the head of the solid mahogany table, Cheri walks through swinging doors holding the lit up cake. Jason cringes when he sees the candles. He is getting sick of trying to blow out novelty candles that have to be thrown in his water glass to be extinguished. Jason is a little insulted that his parents thought he wouldn’t recognize the candles after years of dirtied water.

     Cheri and Greg worry a lot. It happens with only children. Carcinogens in plastics, violent video games, not being socialized enough, too much socialization, brain development: Should he play with toys marked in his age range? Toys above? Will that shatter his confidence?, his school teachers – qualifications and temperaments, healthy cafeteria lunches, the right friends, family time, pesticides. Their most recent worry is Richard, Jason’s grandfather. When Richard stopped calling and stopping by after his wife died Cheri and Greg worried. They worried how this would affect Jason’s emotional development: the sudden loss of two grandparents. Greg worried about what Jason would do when it came time to build that family tree in school. Cheri worried how Greg’s reaction would affect Jason.

     Jason doesn’t like how much his parents worry. Sometimes it’s okay, not too big a deal, like the constant quiet hum of classical music that runs through the house and their insistence that Jason wears his bike helmet, a problem simply solved by taking his helmet off once out of his parents’ sight. Other things make Jason feel smothered, make his skin itch, like the time he couldn’t go to the school’s end-of-the-year party because there was a trampoline and “Your third cousin twice removed broke his elbow on one of those.”

     Between mouthfuls of coffee and hash browns the next morning Greg makes an announcement, “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m gonna go see him.”

     Cheri, who had given him one of her knowing looks right around “thinking about this for a while”, doesn’t like this idea. “Why all of this right now? Where is this even coming from?”

     “Where is this coming from? He just missed his own grandson’s tenth birthday! I just kept thinking about him and thinking and thinking. I was just sitting around here for almost half a year now acting like this helpless, pathetic victim.”

     “You didn’t do anything because it won’t be good for you, or any of us. He stopped coming by. He made it clear he didn’t want to be bothered when he stopped answering your calls and, hello, changed his number.” Cheri hates how Greg can’t let things or people go and how, as soon as an idea comes to him, he has to jump and see it all the way through.

     Greg grabs his coat off its wooden hook and leaves Cheri in the kitchen as she warns him, “You’re picking a scab!”

     Cheri huffs when she hears the garage door slam. Jason is sleeping in, enjoying his first Sunday as a ten-year-old. Cheri goes into his room to wake him up for breakfast.

     Greg boils on the way to his family home. He actually doesn’t know if his father still lives there, but the thought never occurs to Greg that he might not. To Greg, the house that is now a fifteen minute drive away is the only place in the world for his father.

     “It’s open,” Richard calls in response to the obtrusive doorknocker’s obnoxious sound. Richard hates the noise the doorknocker made. It is made of iron and in the shape of a lion’s head with serious teeth. His late wife, Clarice, picked it out.

     Richard is sitting in an over-stuffed chair in his sunlit family room when Greg storms in like Dr. H. H. Holmes’ tax collector. Richard sets his newspaper on a nearby side table as Greg begins, “Look, I know that you don’t want me here, you’ve made that clear enough, and maybe, for you, it’s just fine to seclude yourself and ignore your family. And maybe you are too good for us; I can’t walk into any restaurant in town and just say, Put it on my tab, and I can’t take Jason on the kinds of trips you took us on. But I couldn’t live with myself anymore knowing I never stood up to you. See, first, I thought that it was just because Mom died, and you wanted some time to grieve. After about two months and zero contact I should’ve gotten the hint, but yesterday I realized that I’d been lying to myself.” Greg pauses to take a breath and lets out a mouthful of air. Seeing how close he is to Richard now, Greg backs away. “I bet you don’t even know what yesterday was.”

     “It was Jason’s birthday dinner, seeing as his birthday was last Wednesday,” Richard calmly replies in his familiar voice.

     Greg is thrown off for a moment, but he quickly moves on and continues, “If you know, why didn’t you come?”

     Richard opens his mouth to respond, attempting to push himself up in the chair to sit up straighter.

     “No, I don’t care. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I am here, so I can talk. It’s been too long for that. What I really want to say,” and then he repeats, “what I really want to say.” Greg’s mouth hangs open until he snaps it shut.

     “If there’s something you really want to say, you should say it,” Richard nudges in a way that reminds Greg of the time when he was eight and Richard bought the wrong detergent and Greg broke out in hives.

     “You’ve lost touch. All that talk when I was younger about how important family is, and when you’re dealing with Mom’s death you don’t bother coming to us? You just decide that doesn’t apply to you anymore and you hide? I lost my mother just like you lost your wife. Did you think I wouldn’t understand? Well, I don’t understand now, and I’m not here for an explanation. I’m just here so that you know that what you did has consequences and repercussions and.” Greg’s palms have begun to sweat, and he wipes them off on his pants.

     “And?” Richard rests his temple against his fist.

     “And I won’t bother you ever again. I just hope that one day, when you’re sitting in your big house reading your newspaper or lighting cigars with money or whatever it is that you do, that one day everything will hit you, and you’ll know that it’ll be too late. You’ll know that your family isn’t there for you anymore,” Greg finishes, red in the face and out of breath. He feels a wave of relief wash over him and crisply walks out of the house he grew up in.

     “Good-bye,” Richard says to his son, who didn’t notice his father’s complexion or how thin he’d gotten. With shaky hands full of protruding veins, Richard returns to his daily saver but can’t stop staring at the food stamps hiding underneath it.

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Warm Smoke in November

Visual Art by Kumi Sweely

It had to happen. Eventually, it had to happen. You knew it, and I knew it, and last week it finally did. You made it seem so easy, so flawless, so… perfect. I do hope it was easier for you than for it’s being for me. You were always so scared of that moment, but when it finally came you performed as if you had been rehearsing for it your entire life, behind everyone’s back. But I know it was as unexpected for you as it could have been for anyone else. I know because I could see the turbulence in your eyes when you knew it was going to happen; I could see it as clearly as the fog that used to escape your mouth when you sang to me in the cold. It sometimes seemed as if it were your soul, which you were singing out. But it was just water vapor, and the turbulence in your eyes was nothing more than tears pouring out. I tried to dry them, but they only kept coming back. So eventually I just held you in my arms and wished that you would give me some of your grief; that we could maybe split up the sorrow so that you wouldn’t have to deal with all of it, because like the groceries that you brought home everyday and the way that you so incessantly insisted in carrying all the bags at the same time, it was too much. And when you looked into my eyes and said thank you, a brief moment of happiness came over me like a lonely patch of blue in a cloudy sky, because I knew that was your way of letting me know that I had helped, with some of it, at least. Still, the tears kept pouring out.
After that, you tried to be brave. You stopped showing your fear. I could still see it, but I guess that is only because of all the years I have spent with you. In some ways I understood why you did this. You had, after all, quite some pride. But on the other hand, the whole world would’ve understood if you had cried yourself dry, and they would’ve brought you buckets filled to the brim so that you could keep going. Because at night, when you lied in that white bed thinking that everyone else was asleep, I could see the glistens of the drops that roamed in your face, sliding from your eyes as if they were cars driving full speed towards the dead end of your hand wiping them away.

You used to wonder how they were able to do it. Breaking it to someone, just like that. And not just anyone, either; we had been going there for at least 6 months before he told you. Before he told us. But those 6 months meant nothing when he walked into that sterile room to announce that the ghosts of those cigarettes before, during, and after the concerts had finally returned to haunt you and we didn’t even need to ask when before he said that that November, that cold November in which the trees had lost their shame and had grown nude in the bone shattering cold, that November would be the final twist, the demolishing epilogue for the novel that your life had become.

Now you’re buried 5 feet under the soil on which I stand, and I would’ve cried myself dry had God not sent this rain so I could keep going.

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He Who is Birthed from Suicide’s Loins

 Visual art by Yulia Kuan

VIGNETTE ONE

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

Please pardon the smudges, as writing this is making me tremble.  In a few hours from now, you will walk into the house like always.  “Honey”- you will call- “Darling we’re home.”  Without my response, you will tip-toe around the house, assuming I’m already asleep.  However, No-Doz has put me in an eternal slumber.  I know this news will bring you great misfortune.  Please recognize that this is not your fault, but his.  You have always been the happiness in my life.  Let my ashes swim with the dolphins.

Love Eternally,

J

 

THE PILLS

She looks at us with her lusty eyes.  Lightning tears make war with us, melting us into her.  Slowly, we become her, one by one.  As we individually make our way down her larynx, we are greeted by the residues of her dinner.  And like sugar cubes, we dissolve into her hot lava blood stream.  We float through her, changing her, polluting her.  We graffiti our chemical identities in her brain.  In her, we exceed maximum occupancy of “one every three hours”.  Our colony over-populates her adolescent form.  Slowly, we kill her.

 

No-Doz

Mom’s overdose

Hospitalized

Pumped clean

Saved from her ghost

The hospital- where she met my dad

Alchohol- induced psycophrenic

Tragic

Iliad

Dad’s disease made him call himself Jehova

Mom and Dad fuck

Backseat

Toyota

Positive test

Deciding what’s best

Mother torn

Adoption, abortion, life

Baby me born

VIGNETTE TWO

 

Please refrain from judging my following words, as exposing my soul to a stranger comes with great reluctance.  I pray your promises of confidentiality are legitimate, as only the night sky knows my secrets.  I am writing this in the solace of my four-walled bedroom. I would have no need to write this if not for he, the cause of my recent metamorphosis from lover to single mother.  Looking out my window, I can see the leaves are turning that venom piss color, not unlike the hue of his booze.

Seasons change with love’s rolling tides.

And within my soul, a lost identity hides.

Unwillingly Yours,

J

 

MARAJUANA

We are the shit that turns fathers into criminals.  We tempt the youth generation with our promises of social acceptance and popularity.  We produce burnouts, high school drop-outs, addicts, abusers.  We produce users.  We live in their lung lobes and modify their brains.  We are the writers of tragedy and the murderers of identity.  We bomb their brains with false imagery.  We develop synthetic serenity and plastic euphoria.  Encripting dream-like visions.  Phantasmagoria.

Dad chooses drugs.

The real one he loves.

Paper wrapped green.

Crumbled love dream.

Scream.

Dark.

Moon beam.

 

VIGNETTE THREE

 

Every day, I disappear deeper into my bed of petunias and daffodils.  My tattered comforter provides no comfort at all, as these feelings of inadequacy are becoming me.  These feelings are engulfing me.  Perhaps even killing me.  My caccoon is inhibiting my true-nature as a butterfly. This sorrowed bedroom of lavender and gold suppresses my identity with the passing days.  My son’s eyes are searching for his inadequate mother trapped in hybernation.  And my little boy fears that he’s the cause of my tears.

Unwillingly Yours,

J

PROZAC

We inhabit the bodies of mental hospital patients and housewives.  We create mannequins out of men and fabricated females.  We are the craze of the crazy.  We are guilty murderers with innocent labels.

Tin-foil wrapped wishes

Hershey’s Kisses

Codependent candy dishes

It’s daddy she misses

Diamond tears

I fear those diamond tears

 

VIGNETTE FOUR

 

     Perfect specimen

Absent father, bound with aggression

Bed-trapped mother, lost in depression

Shit births obsession

Compulsion

Disorder

Whorish hands

OCD demands

Tapping

Brain trapping

Checking the lock on the door

“Go do God a favor”

“Die”

“Gay whore”

Peace no more

Afraid of loss

Tap the possession

Anxious obsession leads to depression

Meditation versus medication

Prozac

Remeron

Abilify

Chemical shit gets me by

 

 

 

Now, I’m becoming what’s prescribed to me.  Truth be told, the apple doesn’t fall far from the family tree.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rebellion

Visual art by Caine Wong.

The nurse closed the hatch and sped away. You aren’t supposed to touch things in museums. But she had. Rebellion. A psychologist would say that it’s because she didn’t do drugs in high school and she lost her virginity on her twenty-fourth birthday. But she knew why, it was because things made by humans were meant to be touched and used. In a thousand years, the scale in the ER she worked in, that hundreds of people stepped on everyday, would be placed behind glass as a valuable untouchable thing. The old footprints on it were history and the new ones would be destruction. And yes, ruining that fifth century BCE artifact even just a little bit made her feel bad. Who knows what she might do next? She smirked and wondered if she could get a way with masturbating while lying down on a sarcophagus.

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No Place Like Home

Visual art by Jing Li

People have a tendency to forget things. They forget things they learn, they forget things they say, and they forget the friends they’ve made. In a world where materialism is the norm, the more we have, the easier it is to forget.

Lately this thought had been rambling around my head a lot. It’s funny, how when you think about something for a long time you start seeing it everywhere you go. In reality, that something has always been there, but it’s not until you think about it that you actually start acknowledging its existence.

Lately I have been noticing people forget. Sometimes they forget who they are, or where they come from. They forget about their true friends and end up abandoning them. Other times they forget about a nonsensical love, or a broken heart. A myriad of people have told me about the feeling one gets when one finally forgets someone who has caused pain, of someone who has harmed. They said they had finally realized how idiotic they were, how, if given the choice somehow, they would never repeat their actions. I nod and agree; only really interested in the landscape passing by the window. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy stories passionately, but after a while of hearing the same things over and over again, even the most interesting fables can turn into tedious sermons. People, for some reason, have a tendency to trust me, which I do not understand. Is it that they pity me? Is my face a trustworthy one? I don’t know. All I know is I’ve been a runaway for about 5 months now. I have hitchhiked about 1,200 miles, and every time I get into a car, or van, or truck, I have had to listen to someone’s story. I haven’t shaved, but thanks to my wondrous age of 15, my facial hair can easily be mistaken for the dirt on my face. I guess people aren’t used to seeing someone as young as me hitchhiking, so they feel sorry for me. I believe they use pity as an excuse to unburden themselves onto someone, anyone, even this dirty 15-year-old kid.

This last ride has left me in the middle of a highway right before a road division, somewhere in the state of Nevada. The sun’s heat has made me regret taking my fur-lined leather jacket. But it has served me well. After all, when I left Milwaukee it was still winter, and the snow and cold would have been a problem if it hadn’t been for this jacket. And to be honest, it wasn’t like I had any other type of clothing I could have packed. But now my long-sleeved shirt smells of sweat, and I finally decide to take it off, not giving much importance to sunburn.

A car drives by, the driver ignoring my signal for him to pick me up. As I walk, I think about the last person that let me hop in.

She was a middle aged woman, with skin as white as milk, like an angel. She drove a green pick-up and spoke with a beautiful southern accent. If I hadn’t been in a different place mentally, I could have had a crush on her. She told me the story of her life, of how her two boys grew tired of her and abandoned her. She told me, with light in her eyes, how she used to play with them when they were younger and all the fun they had. She told me how on stormy days, they would stay inside watching movies, putting quilts over the windows, making forts out of pillows, pretending they were in a theatre. But it all changed when her husband left them. He had grown tired of his daily routine. He thought that if he managed to escape his boring life, he would be happier. She told me how later she would walk with them to the town square in a futile effort to forget what had happened, and she began crying when she remembered how they could escape their reality on those afternoons as they ate ice cream on Main Street. But her boys had grown up to be very independent and had moved away. Although they had kept in touch with her for a while, they eventually stopped talking to her. According to her sons, she was the reason their father had left. She would never be forgiven. But something had come up, and her first son had called her. She was ecstatic to hear her son’s voice, but the happiness didn’t last long. Her smaller boy was in the hospital, and from what she told me, it was really bad. Pneumonia or something like that. Real sad. I had a cousin who once died of pneumonia. Her death shocked me; I had never had anyone close to me die.

     A sudden breeze of cool air snaps me back from my wandering thoughts. Drivers keep passing me by, but my arm aches so I stop making signs. As if they would actually stop to pick me up again. As if anyone really cares I am here. As if anyone really cares for me. Is that reason enough to run away? I don’t know. It was for me, but someone else might swallow it and learn to live with it. But I refuse. I want to live somewhere where people care. Where they care about what happens to me. I want to matter. I wanted to matter. To make a difference. I don’t care now. Things change, people forget, people forgive, and people die. People find a way, or they lose themselves. People have a way of making things different.

My friends all vanished, disappeared under a thin veil of nothingness. Some found a passion in underage drinking. The adrenaline of being above the law combined with alcohol filled them with euphoria. Others moved. They wanted to become rock stars and photographers, but I knew, as everyone did, that it was just a waste of time and that their trip to Hollywood was nothing but misused money. My dad vanished too. He got a promotion, and stopped coming home for weeks at a time. Since it was just me at home, I had to survive on Mac ‘n Cheese and Cocoa Puffs. I started skipping school, and the more I got away with it, the more I enjoyed my new freedom. My mom died when I was very young. I can’t quite remember her, but my dad used to say she was wonderful, so I just believed him. Suddenly, I wished I had known her. A feeling of loneliness began to soak me, but the paradoxical thought that this might get me attention from someone somehow, made me not want to dry it off. After a while I grew tired of this, and figured that if I could make it here, without a father, I could make it anywhere else. And I had made it all the way to this hot, wild, tomb-like desert.

The heat is overbearing. Sweat falls to the road and quickly disappears. Cars do not pass by anymore. Or at least that’s what I think. I have stopped paying attention to the road. The rock I was sitting by lent me her shadow, but it’s noon, and all the shade is gone. I put my sweaty shirt over my head, hoping it will ease my heat. My shoes are destroyed. The only reason I have kept them is because the ground would cook my feet. “Oh well, I’ll take them off when I’m hungry.” I say out loud, and surprise myself. Am I really going crazy? I must be. I must find a car. I have lost the strength to get up, and honestly I don’t think I would get picked up anyway. Maybe I should put my shirt back on. I traveled 1,200 miles with my shirt on. But the heat is suffocating, so I decide I’ll put it on later. For now, I’ll just stay here, next to this rock. A loud car passes by, it’s roaring engine driving my attention back to the road. But the more attention that I give the driver, the more he seems to ignore me. Drivers probably think I’m dead by now. Abandonment. The story of the milk-skinned woman hits me, and I suddenly realize my situation. The human body can only stand a number of days without water. My sweating like a pig will only make dehydration quicker. I only hope death will be brief.  All motionless, all beat up. I made it all the way to this desert but what has changed? Why has luck suddenly flown away from me? Or have these past six months been only a dream? Could this be just a nightmare? I wish it were. I wish I were still home, with the people I loved. What have I done?

People have a tendency to forget things. We forget things we learn, we forget things we say, and we forget friends we’ve make. We forget the love others feel for us, and we forget the love we feel for others. We forget the good times, but we keep the bad times, as if they were an excuse to justify our actions. People forget. I forgot. I forgot all the warmth of my home. I forgot about my dad, and how he always called me when he was away. I forgot my friends, how they phoned me worried when I skipped school and how they cried when they had to move.  I forgot how they wrote home every day. I forgot about all the parties I attended myself. All the fun I had had with my friends. I forgot about my place on earth, and now it’s too late. I forgot about home. I forgot that there’s no place like home.

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Boyd Fortin

When I own a gun I can shoot the snakes right off the ground. Pick them off when they slither out of the grasses, collect their bodies and sling them over my shoulders like belts of ammo. I’ve been in Texas forever, collecting rattlesnakes like clues, but they’ve never told me anything. Creeping up on them where the grass grows high, jump on their backs and slice off their heads before they can twist around and bite you. Stick the knife in and rip through the scales, direct as silver, though you’re only using steel. I carry them home in the red dusk, when it’s too dark to see the snakes flicker in the grass. More likely they get you than you them if you’re killing in the dark.

When I was six, my dad bought me a plastic toy gun. Orange-tipped, with rounds of caps like plastic flowers. He bought it at the hardware store, and whenever he went back for replacement drill bits, he’d buy another pack of caps. I’d shoot almost all of them, until I had one round left, which I’d save until he bought another set or left for good.

I’ve killed a lot of rattlesnakes. I don’t know how many. I started when I was eight and haven’t stopped since. I’m thirteen now. You can’t see them when you look out at the grass from the porch. It looks like a wasteland, flat and lifeless. But I haven’t run out of snakes in five years. I don’t even have to walk far to find them, behind my mother’s house where their thick bodies coil in the dust. I thought they would be gone eventually. I thought if I just killed enough of them I could wipe out the species. Or at least scare the rest of them out of Texas. But I guess I should know by now that you can’t make anything go away. Things leave if they want and stay if they don’t. Doesn’t matter what you do.

My dad left when I was seven and three quarters. Nearly two years after he bought me that cap gun. Nearly two years of saving the last round, but it was only a precaution, really. I never thought I wouldn’t get any more. But then he packed his worn-out shirts and jeans in two plastic drugstore bags, the red Thank Yous gleaming absurdly down the bulging sides as he slammed out the front door, screaming “Fuck you!”

The first time I killed a snake was at the 1974 Rattlesnake Round-Up. Everyone in Sweetwater goes to it. A hundred some people in white aprons with dark purple blood smeared across their cheeks, hands clutching the limp carcasses of snakes like ice cream cones. I killed my first snake, sliced its head clean off and gutted it with the same knife. Tore its body straight down the middle the way the barber from Main Street instructed, as he stood over the cooler of beer and 7Up, cleaning the dried blood out from under his nails with a toothpick.

After my dad left, my mom lost about half her body weight. Looked like a stork with her skinny legs and a throat that always looked too tired to eat even if she tried. Flaps of skin hanging from her chin to the tendons in her neck, which always seemed over-stretched, like it might collapse, crushing her windpipe till she gasped like a fish out of water and died contorted on the floor with her face mottled blue. I dream that a lot. My mom dying like a fish.

I can’t imagine dying though I’ve tried till it made my chest ache. The closest I came was the summer of 1978, when a snake bit me on the inside of my arm. It was the only time I got bit. Jumped on its back, but my grip on the knife was loose, and the snake swung its head round at me before I could cut it off. I screamed till my voice cracked and cried though I was twleve years old. My mother came running ‘cause I was only a few yards out from the back porch and got me to the hospital in my dad’s old pick-up truck, so I never saw my life flash before my eyes like they say you do. Or maybe I did, and I just couldn’t tell the difference between the grass plains and red dust sliding past the car windows and that lightning synopsis of my life, since they’re really just the same thing.

My parents moved to Texas from Nevada, where my dad worked at a hotel in Las Vegas. He said it was no place to raise a kid, so they went to Lubbock while my mother was pregnant, then Sweetwater once I was born, though she didn’t want to. I think about how the Texas dust is ingrained in my skin in a way that soap and water can’t wash off and how the desert has curled up inside me with the other things that eat me from the inside out. But my parents aren’t even from here, and still the place is in my DNA as much as they are. No one ends up where they were born, but somehow I don’t think I’ll ever get out.

When I was bit, I had to stay in the hospital four days. Rolling Plains Medical Center, second floor. I mostly just remember it being dark and feeling like I was in a movie. People think of hospitals as white, but this one was a disappointing beige, with blankets the sick yellow of pus. It was the same hospital I was born in, and I thought it would be symbolic to die there too, but I didn’t. I wrote my name on the bed post, ‘Boyd Fortin’ in silver Sharpie, then wished I hadn’t. I didn’t want to trap myself in there. Maybe I had a premonition of my return without realizing, and that’s why I wrote it. But when I went back a year later it was gone.

I found my old cap gun the night before I left in my closet. I wrapped it in the apron from my first Round-Up, the one I wore every time I killed snakes, but didn’t need anymore. I wanted to do something symbolic, burn or bury it like a corpse, but those things are always meaningless. I look for symbols everywhere, but mostly I just believe in chaos. Everything’s a mess, spinning in space towards a black hole, a great empty cavity like the one in my liver that forced me back to this hospital. And the whole universe is moving so fast, the earth spinning and the cells disintegrating in my guts, but you wouldn’t know it, in this cinderblock room where everything seems still. They repainted the walls. Still beige.

They found the tapeworm three months ago, a few days before my thirteenth birthday, which I spent in an X-ray machine. I’d been nauseous for weeks, living on ginger ale and children’s Tylenol ‘cause my stomach hurt too bad for anything else. At the time, I thought it felt like needles stabbing my side, but now I imagine tiny teeth chewing at my liver. There’s a hole there, and lots of pus. The doctor showed me the slides. Gray smudges of organs around a skinny white slash that dictated my future. That’s the worm, he said, watching my face as I nodded.

If everything really is pointless, and I think it is, I wonder why the snakes are still here. If I look carefully, I can see them out the window from my hospital bed. It hurts, propping myself up on my elbows enough to look over the sill, but if I’m sick anyway, it hardly matters. They blend in with the dust, but I’ve learned what to look for. Flickers of sunlight on the scales, slight stirs of grass. And if they’re out there, alive, and I’m in here, dying, I could prove that the world is ruled by chaos, ‘cause I could kill them. I could slice their heads off and gut them. I could if I could only lift myself from this bed. But sometimes, I think that worms and snakes aren’t so different, and then I wonder if there is such a thing as fate.

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DOOR 29

Visual art by Shusu Hsu.

You are a rat in the machine. You are running.  Run you bastard rat run. You have always been running like this. Always been scrabbling along the constantly turning wheel, claws slipping on the grease. Can you even remember how it was before you started running? Oh how they taunt you. They wave success before you. Münster success. Dangling on fraying rope. You can almost taste the sweat dripping from the cheese. Taste it between your razor sharp incisors. It will be delicious. Then they inject you again. It hurts. It burns. It burns like… It burns like the last shot they gave you. The last boost of steroids they sent coursing through your blood.  That is all you know anymore. The way your muscles tense. The way they spasm. The searing in your chest as you run. One day these shots will let the military men in the middle east shoot one more civilian before they curl up to die in the dust. But how could you know this? You are a rat.  Why should I tell you this story? I do not want to talk to a rat. You do not care.

 

Run. Cheese. Run. Run. Cheese.

 

Now you are Mrs. Brown. This will be much more fitting. You are as simple as your name. You are of medium height, medium stature, and moderate temperament.  Your hair is brown. Short cut. So you do not burn it off in a cylinder of hydrochloric acid.  You like to keep your hair in relatively nice condition and are hoping to seduce a man that works in communications. You never will. I can tell you this because it is a given. It is no surprise. You wrap your coat around yourself. It is white and reaches down to your ankles. Something else to do with hydrochloric acid. The safety procedures are all that matter anymore. If you keep safe then you will be able to spend another evening defrosting a Kids Meal while watching Desperate Military Wives. You feel empathy for them, but you are more desperate than any of them, Mr. Brown will never come home.  He will shit himself dead in a small outhouse in Afghanistan. Gonorrhea. A warrior’s death.

 

Maybe you now know who you are. Know the semantics of Mrs. Brown, and thus can be told your relation to the story.

 

You wake up and brush your teeth. Tom’s All Natural toothpaste. It tastes like acid rain but you do not care. It is healthy. You edit that statement. It tastes like Hydrocloric acid. The PH of rain is not nearly high enough to affect the taste buds. But, acid on the other hand. Oh how you love the acid. You hang your chemical proof trench coat over your shoulders. Safety first kids.  On the walk down to your car you pause. Today feels like a good day to stay home. To sip a mug of cocoa in front of the telly. Your intuition is usually very good. But. You have never missed a day of work before. Your car is a grey one. It is made by Toyota and promised to be able to handle in the snow. A pair of small fluffy dice dangle above the dash board and the oil hasn’t been changed in months. You have only crashed it twice. A record. The dents barely show anyway. Neither do the coffee stains on the upholstery. You fire up your car and drive to work. Poor Mrs. Brown. You should have stayed home today.

 

You walk into the laboratory. Everything is starch white. It reminds you of a movie  that played last night on the SyFy channel. Everyone except the main character died. The main character then realized he had become part of the system and hung himself in the starch white laboratory. The movie made you cry for three hours. You walk down the hallway and notice a sharp smell. It must be a new cleaning solution. Gleaming before you is the number 29. That is your office. You open the door and scream.

 

That is all you need to do. Scream.

Run. Cheese. Run. Cheese. Cheese. Run.

 

Now, and you will like this part. This part is exciting. We look back roughly two hours. 120 minutes. 7200 seconds. You are now a man named Paul Schneider. I will call you Paul. Not because you have any more right to a surname than Mrs. Brown, but the name Schneider catches the tongue. Catches it like a noose. You have a bristly mustache, much like your father did and live a slightly more exciting life than Mrs. Brown. But you do not need to know this. All you need to know of yourself is that you are very timely. You have a small green Swiss Military Watch. Not only does it tell you the time in 30 different countries but it also tells you the temperature in Mumbai and whether there will be rain or fog next week. It is a shame for you that it does not tell the future. You just had to come early didn’t you Paul?

 

You wake up at 6:30 in the morning.  Still rubbing sleep from her eyes your wife complains about you getting up so early. She looks beautiful like this, trapped in a cocoon of sheets. You pause momentarily to stare at her, feeling a momentary pang of guilt. The guilt passes. You remember what she looks like. Who she is. She is only beautiful because you can not see her through the royal crimson sheets. You had hoped the sheets would add spice to your crusting sex life. It only gathered more dust. You had married her for convenience anyway. You have been splitting the rent with her for the past two months, but she will leave you soon. It is not even a guess. It is a given. Your savings have been exponentially decreasing. You even  drew out a small graph of the practical half lives of your wealth. It did not help you save any money. You can attribute the impending poverty to the bike insurance you have been paying out your ass.  BUT. You had to have the Kawasaki. It goes so fast. And the looks women give you are so fresh.

 

You take an hour long jog, checking your cardiometer every 10 minutes. You want to be in top condition. After your jog you fire up the Ferrari. It rumbles in the most pleasing way. You drop by the florists briefly on the way to work. Despite the protests of the florist, you buy a bushel of aging roses. You deny the discount she offers you for the wilted flowers. A matter of pride. You do not know much about flowers anyway. You don’t think Mrs. Brown does either. You know courting Mrs. Brown will only serve to damage your relationship with the wife further. I can not fathom what it is, but you see something special in the stupid scientist.  You don’t have very good taste in women do you Paul?

You drive to the laboratory. You unlock the sliding glass doors at the front of the building. You want to go through the front door today. Stride in your moment of triumph. If only you had taken the side entrance. You would have noticed that the side door was slightly ajar. Would have saved so many lives.

 

You walk down the gleaming hallway to a door marked 29. You remark how unimpressive the bronze numbers look. They haven’t been polished in days. This is Mrs. Browns office. It is also where they keep the rats. You hate the rats. You and Mrs. Brown both. You work with them in the name of science however. The stupid creatures could rot otherwise. The door is locked. Mrs. Brown has not been here yet.  The keys work for all the doors however. An oversight of the management. You step into the office. Something is wrong. You know it but you haven’t placed it yet. You set the roses down on Mrs. Brown’s desk and stare at them briefly. Maybe one day the two of you will call it love. Spine still crawling, you look upwards at the ceiling of the dark room. A single empty noose recedes from the gloom. The rats are in a frenzy. You tense.

 

The chloroform works so fast.

Run. Cheese. Run. Cheese. Cheese.

 

You might be confused at this point. Might wonder of the fates of Paul and Mrs. Brown. Neither of them mattered. But you are empathetic. Human. You are not the only one that is confused. Detective Ramiro is confused. You two must briefly inhabit the same space to understand the minutia of the next part. You are Detective Ramiro.

 

You pour over your notes and try to ignore the bustle and commotion of the scientists around you. None of it makes any sense. You never wanted to work in Criminal Investigation. Hell. You wanted to be a pilot. You were nearsighted. Your notes are written on a small pad of carbon paper. The lab provided it for you. You have been trying to work on your organization. They say it is a necessary trait for detectives. You still forgot your pen, however, so your notes are scrawled in a glaring yellow highlighter. Three names are written on the page with a single phrase next to each. Brown: Death by acid burns. Schneider: Death by hanging. Revere: Death by hanging. It looks like suicide. You want it to be suicide. You know it is not suicide. As a detective you rely more on your instincts than intuition. You fancy yourself more of a Marlowe than a Sherlock. You do not realize that you are neither. You are a failed CU Boulder student. Your parents provided for you since. They even bought you your position into the police force. You are a trust fund detective. You hadn’t wanted that. You had wanted to fly. Wanted to spread your wings and soar through the desert skies, raining destruction from above. You had dreams of glory back then. They had kept you going those aspirations, gotten you through all the doldrums of your mediocre high school education. But then they had dubbed you 20/70. Blind, naive child. Now, you think you are Marlowe. You think you are a fictional character and nothing anyone says will convince you otherwise.

You consult your notes one more time. The murders must have come from within the company. There is no evidence of a break in. There are too many people around to concentrate. You begin to pace, lost in thought. You turn a corner into a deserted hallway. A figure appears at the end of it. You squint at them but cannot make out a face. A true detective needs no glasses. The figure begins to walk towards you, pulling an indistinguishable object from its pocket. You squint. A shot rings out. It begins. But you do not care.

 

You are in too much pain to care.

It begins.

Run. Cheese. Run.

 

But it begins to soon. So many more voices need their say.  How can you truly understand what happened if you do not listen to the screams?

You must now go back in time roughly four hours. Mrs. Brown and Paul have already fulfilled their respective destinies. You are now MR. Revere. Do not worry. This one will be short. Rather like Mr. Revere’s life.

 

You are part of the cleaning crew. You get spit on just like the rest of maintenance. You hate everything about your job. It has aged you prematurely. A scraggled beard clings to your face and your skin is simply asking for skin cancer. You think you will die of said cancer. You are wrong. But had things gone differently, you probably would be right. You are planning to quit today. To slam your papers down on your managers desk and begin your life anew.  Maybe you will go to Hawaii. Buy a small yacht. Live a life of leisure on the high sea. Doesn’t that sound majestic? Yet, some things are just not meant to be. You believe in heaven however. Subscribe to all of the churches whims. You even have a small Jesus that dangles from your third ear piercing. By your beliefs, this will be the greatest favor you have ever received.

 

The sun has yet to rise. It is maybe 8:00. Fuck winter. You walk up to the front of the laboratory. Something catches your eye. A massive luminescent sign pulses slowly above the doorway. It reads Los Alamos Laboratory. A dark shape swings peacefully from it, framed by the neon light. You take a step closer. It is a body. You panic. You run. It is what any animal would do. You needn’t be ashamed. But. You run into the laboratory. That is stupid. You should be ashamed. Panic has such a persuasive voice. You practically run into my arms. It is as though I have beckoned you to me. I do not want to kill you. You hate the place as much as I do.

 

Sacrifices have to be made.

Run. Cheese. Cheese. CHEESE.

 

Can you see yet? You with your all seeing eye? you who has seen through the eyes of the murdered? Can you hear how the swine squeal? Do you not loathe them as well? These men of the new millennia. These fathers of a new era of science. You have seen pathetic lives. They are just a few examples. The first few brave raindrops that spatter against the pavement before the storm. Don’t you want it to rain? I promise, it will be refreshing. But first. You must see I am not heartless. I gave them a chance to repent. You must walk now as my herald. You are Gerald “Jerry” Graves. Your story starts the evening before the unfortunate demise of Mrs. Brown.

 

You can not sleep. The Nyquil, the sleeping pills, the crying, the masturbation, none of it will sate you. But why should it? You have been spared. You know you have been spared. He had come up to you, the only man who had really, truly, been  your friend. He had told you of the day you would die. You toss again, entangling your legs in your sheet. Sleep will not bless you tonight. You have been spared. You have been warned. But it brings you no solace. Somewhere in your body you yearn to be the savior. Too be idolized as the hero. You are not to fault. For your whole life you have had more nicknames than friends. AT first you considered them one in the same. It was all In jest. A cruel jest, where you were forced to play the clown. Yet you feel no resentment.  You feel no need for vengeance, you only want acceptance. That is where we differ. You run your eyes over the assorted The Amazing Spider-Man first comics you have treasured since your childhood. They are devoid of their usual entertainment. Dead to you. You never really grew up did you Jerry? I suppose you never will.

 

You rise from bed the next morning and report to the lab an hour later than usual. Exactly as instructed. You wear all black. You turn your Cartman and Kenny shirt inside out to hide the logo. You would never do that. But you are not really yourself anymore are you?  Your compatriots barely notice you in the bustle of the day.  They barely even register the events of the morning. To wrapped up in their own personal agendas to take their eyes from their work for but a moment to feel mourning for Mrs. Brown. True humanitarians. It strikes you as strange, that they are still working. Working as though nothing happened. It does not matter. You know how they will die. Miss Beryl, a woman you have always felt a strong attraction to walks by. She is wearing tight shorts and a tank top. You feel a tear on your cheek. She will die at twelve o’ clock. This knowledge terrifies you. Harold. Smugs. Peter. You watch them all walk by. You knew each of them personally. You want to do something about it. You want to go up to them and warn them. Tell them to run. Fear paralyzes you. You cannot move. Your tongue lies limp in your mouth. It reminds you of one of Doctor Octopus’s severed bionic arms. You wish you were a superhero in this moment. Wish you were more than a boy trapped inside a man’s body. You wish you could scream and tell them to run. Beautiful Miss Beryl will die at twelve 30 and 48 seconds. You begin to break down. The clock rings the hour. 
In thirty minutes and 46 seconds Miss Beryl will die. You can almost hear the thunder in the distance. You raise your hand to stop her. To tell her. You can be brave. You can be the hero. BUT. You are a coward.

 

Miss Beryl will die.

Run. Cheese.

 

Now we must dance in the rain together. You must be me. You must be me after I have rolled in the blood of the fallen. Be my Joy. Be my victory. My friend. We are the murderer. We are glorious, glowing, a practical deity. Is our power not astounding. Just look at all we have accomplished.

We sit cross-legged in the chemical closet of room 29. The dark drapes over us. It is cool and quiet. Rats are nuzzling at a corpse beside us. We begin to shake.

They have mistreated us for so long. Us, and the rats as well. They hired us to care for the rats. To administer the steroids into their heaving skin. To hear them squeal in pain. The rats hadn’t yielded the results they needed however. They turned to us. At first they offered us small reparations, good medical insurance, the kind of things that any sane man would take a shot or two for. How easily a shot becomes three however. Then four. Then five. Then the payments began to drain away, replaced with zealous chatter. With idealistic expostulations that, We, We were the new age of science. We were the new frontier. We had had enough. Now we sit beside their corpses. The world comes full circle. Beautiful justice.

We are triumphant my friend. Immortal.

We have followed them all for so long. Planned for so many days. Watched their movements. Calculated their breaths. When they come for us. With their guns and their badges. They will ask why we did it. And when they do we will smile and we will tell them why. We will say. Because They Were Mortal.

 

Run. Cheese.

You are confused. You are running away. You are not sure who you are. You can remember having a family. All you want is to get back to them. To find them to protect them. You hear more gunfire and run around a corner. You hide. Door number 29 stands before you. You know where you are. If you turn left you will find an exit. You remember your daughter. Lilly. She likes videogames. A real tomboy. You want to play videogames with Lilly. You still cannot remember your name. But you remember Lilly. You hear a door opening. Run. Your body screams at you to run. You freeze. A torrent of rage and fur comes pouring from door 29. Rats. You tell yourself they are just rats. There are hundreds of them. They stream around you, a wall of teeth and claws. They are not just rats. They are Armageddon. You hear the gunfire coming closer. You Scream.

 

That is all you get. A single scream.

RUN. CHEESE.

 

That is your first thought. There it is before you. Cheese. You have been running for that cheese your whole life. There it is. There are hundreds of you. Loud noises are booming around you. Rats everywhere. Your sensory organs go into overload. You cannot think straight. Run. Cheese. Sex. Run. You begin to quiver. Clawed feet scraping against the varnished floor you run, spattering through the thin veil of blood that settles in crimson pools around you. And there is the cheese. It smells delicious. You rear above it and bite downwards. Sink your teeth deep into its succulent flesh. It is delicious.

 

CHEESE.

 

 

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