Short Sunday

New Short Fiction every Sunday evening at 6pm.

Begins at Sundown

It begins at sundown, so we’re going to be late, because of who or why doesn’t matter, it’s just the way it is. I haven’t seen previews, the opening act or batting practice in ten years. The moon will be high overhead when we get there. It will have already happened and my teeth will be more worn and my hair more white and my steering wheel more bent and cracked. My heart might give out early – that might go early – everything else will be late to the point of why bother.

It’s a lot of stress to be late for something you don’t want to do in the first place. Like psychically everyone will think you made you late because you don’t want to be there anyway, like they can see in your head when you walk through the front door all you want to do is keep on walking through the party, grab a drink on the right, set it down on the left, nodding the whole way through, “Weather!” “Politics!” “IKEA!” “GOTTA GO!” and right out the back door and home and dropped into bed like a conveyor belt that makes brief awkward appearances, cranks them out biweekly. The machine needs fine tuning. We’re late, going to miss Weather and delay Politics! because we’re late and we’ll have a long conversation about Traffic! and Road Choice! because people are Fascinated! by Cars!

After the detour we’ll still wind up at Politics and we’ll pretend argue about things we don’t understand until we talk about Food! we’ve recently eaten and all of this could be done at home, before we decided to do this, before we were late. If we’re lucky, we’ll get there in time for the creshendo and all the sparks and explosions will overshadow the conversation and we won’t have to talk at all, and once it’s faded we can escape while people shake the spots from their eyes and the silence in their ears and go home under the quiet, natural light of the moon before we argue about whether or not it was a nice time, whether it was worth it, whether anything is worth it and why don’t we just keep driving until we’re out of gas and start walking until we find someplace else to live? It’d be easy. I could make some beautiful machine and we could live forever from the profit. It’d have a long line of levers and a conveyor belt that just pointed out right into the desert and whenever we were ready, whenever we could bear it, we’d just pull the lever and out we’d go back out to the sand and stay there until the spots cleared from our eyes and the silence from our ears until we turned it off, dismantled it for parts and left everyone else for dust and embers.

 

Good Silver

We bring out the good silver for guests. Sometimes it gets put out on paper towels next to the IKEA plates, but it’s out there.

Her parents gave it to us as a wedding gift.  It came in a heavy mahogany box, the inside lined with red felt.  It opened and closed perfectly on gold plated hinges, the top rested snugly into place when closed and opened silently. It is meticulously crafted, a near perfect thing.

We figure it’s expensive. We bought this horrible polish once, it smelled like poison. Chemicals and alcohol sunk in a grey mud to stick to the curves in the spoons, the filigree in the handles. It worked, but we stopped after two knives and decided we’d rather eat whatever’s in the tarnish than whatever’s in the mud.

Her parents got it from one of their parents. It came in the same heavy, quiet brown box. It was the biggest gift they opened after their church basement reception. It was something to be pulled out on special occasions for five years and then forgotten about for fifty. The box got dusty in their care, a ceremonial thing to pass on later, dug out from the basement closet after enough time had passed.

Her grandparents bought it with the first check after they bought the car. Car for him, silver for her. Over time they’d fill a china cabinet, an ornamental thing kept in the dining room. A display case for dishes, to look at while they ate. For special occasions, and possibly as an aspirational tool for whatever guests visited the dishes, but did not eat from them.

Her grandparents bought the silver from The Longshore Silver Company, which had a storefront downtown, next to the Sears, where people wore suits, carried briefcases. They bought it from a bald man wearing gold rimmed glasses and an expensive, sparkling, silver watch. Why, we have just the thing, right this way.

The bald man was strictly front-of-store help. He had a calm, pleasant demeanor and had a slight New England accent. It suggested he knew what he was talking about in upscale matters. He almost didn’t get the job due to the baldness, but he was old enough that it seemed earned. Like he’d been terribly stressed by how rich he was. So he was hired by the younger man who ran the store for his family, who’d made a fortune in the silver mines. This was the closest he could get to being a successful city-type business man, and as far away from the mines as possible. He hired enough people that he didn’t have to do too much and his main difficulty in life was how much the showroom sparkled through his hungover mornings.

His Grandfather left his large, imposing, farming family and went west and dug holes and found impossible riches. Just sitting there to get pulled up and melted down and spun and twisted into appealing shapes and sizes and sold.  He bought some land when his family said he shouldn’t, bought mining equipment when his family said he shouldn’t and walked under the earth just for the cool, dusty peace and quiet and walked out reborn, a wealthy man. When he found silver, he showed it to them and gloated and accidentally started a rush. People came by the dozens, left their homes and families sometimes hundreds of miles away to come and try to share in the wealth.  They came and ruined his quiet and got more than they deserved for what he’d found. But he got enough and moved on, built a bigger house further out west and started again, and found more fortune, started a family, and  kept them at a considerable distance and when they got too close sunk his mind into the future where he saw what he created being used for generations, or kept in museums or in the hands of the finest people. He’d risked his life to pull riches from the earth with his bare hands and a pick. Hours digging, chipping, risking cave ins and robbery. He’d sleep there by the mine to protect it with a gun that didn’t work in a tent that let in the rain, for months until he saw just the faintest sparkle of a silver vein. Two years gone. But he’d found it, and he’d rip it from the earth in a fever greed just to prove to everyone who he was afterall. He was important. What he’d done was important. He held his first nugget over his head in the rain. It was the size of a fist and everything from this moment would be different.

“Hey, do you think this is supposed to go through the dishwasher?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably fine.”

 

—-

Next Week’s Prompt: Begins at Sundown

Snail Shells

I’m cheating a bit. I spent my writing time this week thinking about and working on another project. I started writing this morning but realized I had an older story that  fit the image for this week and that I like a lot. I never thought of a good title for it anyway, and Snail Shells might fit better than anything I’d come up with previously. It’s a bit long, so I’m gong to post early. 

Ms. McDermott was in her mid thirties and had been seeing Dr. Waxler for five years now. Dr. Waxler was happy for the business- she was a steady patient, always on time, always paid her bills. She arrived at 3:45 on Tuesday. Climbing off her bicycle just under his second floor office window. She was kind to the receptionist when Mrs. Wilson was still around, still affordable; she brought them both presents at the holidays and was always so polite about ending the world. And now that Mrs. Wilson had been let go, she would sometimes arrive early for her appointment and tidy the office while Dr. Waxler was in with another patient. Dr. Waxler insisted “Please don’t clean the office, you’re here for you.”

“There were napkins all over the floor in the kitchenette.”

“Please leave them be.”

“I brought you magazines, they’re new. About the movies and famous people. I got them from the drug store.”

Ms. McDermott wore shin length skirts, scarves even in warm weather, high boots and pulled her hair back. Most of her clothes were from her Mother’s estate. Covered head to toe in old fabric and old jewelery, the clasps were forever breaking and she would spend hours retracing her steps for this lost thing or that. There were little red scratches on her neck from the places where the metal had pulled and worn into finer points.

At the end of every session: “Is that our time already, Dr. Waxler? Oh my, thank you for your time, and again, truly, I am sorry about causing the end of the world.”

Remarking upon the photos in the waiting room, during Mrs. Wilson’s tenure: “Are those your children, Mrs. Wilson? Oh. Oh my I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. But I suppose it did have to happen some day.”

And on and on. To the man at the corner store. To passers by when locking her bicycle outside of Dr. Waxlers office. Letters of apology to friends and family, to the local news, to government officials, to international heads of state, famous celebrities, prominent scientists and so on. Finely written letters in beautifully attentive handwriting, she dutifully looped each letter onto fine stationary, spending her time alerting everyone to, and apologizing for, the impending end of the world that she was sure was coming and certain she was responsible for.

Dr. Waxler’s first question: “How is it that you’re going to end the world, Ms. McDermott?”

“I’m not sure just yet. I think fire is part of it. Wouldn’t it have to be, though? I really can’t say.”

“How do you know that you’re responsible?”
“I have dreams. I was in the middle of it, in white. It’s all bright white. People were shouting.”
“And this is a premonition? This dream, you’re at the middle of the end of the world. People are shouting. And it’s the future?”
“Yes. I suppose so.”
“Do you know when it will be.”
“I’ll bet it’s a Tuesday.”
“Why a Tuesday?”
“Tuesdays are awful.”
“Do you know which Tuesday?”
“That I don’t know. I wish I did, honest. I’m so sorry about all of this Dr. Waxler, you seem like such a nice man.”
“Oh that’s alright, Ms. McDermott.”

Ms. McDermott deflected more personal questions about her past, her family, her personal life. She would bounce things back towards the end of the world, or something nice she’d rather talk about.

“Let’s talk about your family for a moment.”
“Oh my family is just fine, thank you for asking.”
“I’d like to learn more about them, how many brothers and sisters, are your parents still married, that sort of thing.”
“Oh that reminds me, I passed a nice wedding on my way here. I wanted to talk about that, they were all outside throwing rice. Do you know why they do that? I’ve never quite figured that out. I’ve heard it’s bad for the birds though. That the birds eat it and it’s poison to them. That’s a shame don’t you think, for the birds?”

Dr. Waxler was not regarded kindly in town. He was a small man, he walked with a limp from an old car accident. His face was wrinkled where walking made him wince. Drunk driver. It never healed properly, he was too proud for a cane. He would die falling down, he thought. Someday he would just fall down and there’d be no one around to find him and he’d die there. Maybe kicked apart by the kids. Rail thin and white haired around the peak of his bald head, his nose was unfortunately proportioned and the children in his building were afraid of him. Called him Dr. Buzzard.

He was not a kind man. He did not enjoy his profession, it was tedious and dull and it deprived him of time outdoors. Occasionally he would insist on meeting a patient at a coffee shop or a park bench on particularly nice days. Mrs. Wilson’s salary was eventually consumed by his constant vacationing. She was expendable, it was not difficult to fill an appointment book and most days he sat in his office and waited for someone to arrive. It didn’t matter who. This was a small town, the problems were simple. Overeating. Family counselling. Alcoholism. Mostly he was fed by the small, inferior court system. Petty criminals and morons. It was an easy business. He had a boy come in on Mondays to fill his office with snacks and enough fresh coffee to last the week, and then he would sit and wait to hear the door while he poured over crosswords or detective novels and toe tapped to easy jazz.

Dr. Waxler at least enjoyed his time with Amanda. She was interesting and youthful. Her neurosis was interesting, he’d not heard of this condition before. He recorded all their sessions and planned to write a series of articles regarding the condition. It was a fine layering of Megalomania, depression, repression, self-hatred and delusion. Delightfully interesting and all in such a lovely young woman, just a peach of a lady he thought. A shame, really.

Eventually, in Ms. McDermott’s letter writing campaign, she wrote to Judge Harold Feinman. Harold was the Judge Presiding over Bridgewater County.

The letters were brief; uncomplicated but elegant. They were written on very fine stationary with a very fine pen filled with very fine ink. The paper had a watermark, the pen had heft and the ink a pleasant aroma. The World Wide Paper Company’s watermark was a globe, the pen was marble, the ink was red. Her writing desk was meticulously organized from left to right, envelopes, paper and stamps. Above the paper, an address book open to that day’s recipients. Each of them, with luck, would receive a personalized letter of apology.

For Example:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Leonard,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to send my most sincere apologies for my part in the coming unpleasantness that I’m sure you’ve heard about by now. Everyone in town seems to know, which is nice. I thought it was best to let everyone know. Doesn’t hardly seem like the kind of thing you should keep to yourself. I’m sorry I can’t say I know when it will happen, or why, or how. I don’t want you to think I’m the type to keep secrets. I’ve recently done some reading on the subject and boiling seems to be a likely occurrence but I really couldn’t say for certain.

I just wanted to let you know, before it’s all over, that I quite enjoyed your bakery. Mrs. Leonard, your cinnamon buns have been a weekly indulgence for me, they are truly delightful. I’ve enjoyed my time in your store and all of your wonderful goodies. Please convey my apologies to your two young sons, unless you feel it’s best that they do not know.

Sincerest apologies,

Amanda McDermott.

Judge Feynman received a similar letter. It was a bit more vague. She’d never met the man, but asked that he use his political ties to spread the word about the end of the world. To apologize to as many people as he could. “Tell them I don’t want it to happen either” she said “I don’t know what I did.” Judge Feynman had, of course, heard of this woman. She was a local oddity, but harmless. She even seemed pleasant from all accounts, but crazy as a loon. Mrs. Feynman , however, did not know this woman until she’d received Mrs. McDermott’s letter in the mail and it rattled her constitution. Mrs. Feynman was a religious woman, she enjoyed the supernatural, believed in signs, drank tea for it’s portents and held hands with the spinsters to summon the spirits. Judge Feynman indulged her in her hobbies, but asked her to keep it out of the local paper, the society section and the like. He’d built a seance room in the northernmost section of the house so she had someplace to enjoy her peculiarities, far away from his study where he’d smoke cigars with local luminaries. The luminaries were sparse, it was a small town, but luminaries loomed larger in small towns. It was easier to be known by everyone, easier to promote your importance.

Mrs. Feynman’s startle at the news that the world was ending was an irritant for the Judge. She’d locked herself away in the back room and it turned Miss McDermott from a person of mild irritation to a person of serious interest. He responded to her letter in this way:

Dear Miss McDermott,

I have read, and been disturbed by, your letter. I thank you for calling this to my attention, I would like to request that you visit me in my office on Wednesday 8 AM. I would like very much for you to bring any ideas you have to the meeting so we can set to fixing whatever problems you see.

In Kindest Regard,

Two days later, she rode her bike to Judge Feynman’s office.

“Miss McDermott, have a seat”. And so they talked.

“You’re scaring people, Miss McDermott.”
“I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry about everything.”
“My wife, she’s locked herself in her room, Miss McDermott.”
“Well that certainly won’t do any good.”
“No?” Judge Feinman pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes.
“No, of course not. It’s going to be enormous.”

“Are you ok, Miss McDermott?”
“Just worried, is all.”
“You should speak to a friend of mine, Dr. Waxler. Whenever I’m worried I go an speak with him.”
“Mr Waxler, on Park Street?”
“Yes, that’s him. I’ll call him today and you can go see him tomorrow morning, how does that sound?”
“That sounds nice. I’ll save myself a stamp.”

They talked for an hour. Judge Feynman decided that she was a nuisance, but harmless. A soft spoken kook. Later, on the golf course, he would tell his cronies that she was a psychopath, a real loony, that he took pity on her and sent her over to that pansy quack Waxler. She was lucky she was pretty, he said, why if she were a man, Judge Feynman would have driven her there himself. She was a little bedraggled, clearly a bit disturbed, but she seemed to genuinely feel sorry about it. Pretty, even. Maybe that quack could set her right. Be a shame to lock her up. His friends agreed, and then said lewd things. And then they laughed and told lewd stories and golfed. Life was back to Plane Jane Normal.

Miss McDermott did not get the impression that this was a mandatory meeting, but was charmed to meet Dr. Waxler just the same.

Judge Feynman had called Dr. Waxler and explained the situation to him over the phone in less careful and polite tones as he did Miss McDermott.

Waxler? Feynman. Look, I’m sending a crazy your way. I don’t know, Miss McDermot. Says she’s going to end the world. No no, she seems fine, she’s nice. Just crazy. I’m going to send her your way, you need to make her stop writing the letters. Nevermind, ask HER about the letters. I can’t talk I have to try to get my wife out of the back room. No, no seance this afternoon. What? I don’t think — No — no you can’t see her, you stay out of my business Quackzler and do what I say. Get Miss McDermott to stop with her craziness or I’m sending her upstate. Click.

Upstate was where they kept the loony bin. A big, white, welcoming building surrounded with green grass and treetops. It hardly looked like a prison at all.

—-

Waxler wasn’t sure of the threat. He didn’t know this woman, he didn’t particularly care if she went upstate or not. It was very possible she needed to go upstate, but Feynman had gotten to his position by making threats and it had warped his personality to the extent that he was now threatening people for everything. No matter. Waxler looked forward to the work. Being a therapist in a small, religious town was difficult work. There were stigmas attached to seeing a therapist. People in these parts still thought it was just for crazies. In the first few months, the people seemed to think it was very cosmopolitan, a taste of the big city, a psychiatrist in our own town. But then Mrs. Jenkins saw Mrs. Peach in the waiting room and Mrs. Jenkins told her hairdresser and it spread as these things do. Quickly Mrs. Peach stopped coming by, and then how did Mrs. Jenkins know Mrs. Peach was there? Hm? Interesting. And so Mrs. Jenkins stopped coming by as well. There were more instances and slowly things started crumbling. Waxler hoped this was not a sign of things to come, he didn’t want all the town misfits. The rich ladies paid cash.

Amanda arrived as she would for the next few years, ten minutes early, enough time to lock her bike to the post out front, come inside, exchange pleasantries with the receptionist and come in and get settled on the sedan. The first meeting was always about establishing trust. Or, establishing the intention to establish trust. Sometimes it would be years before trust. Amanda, though, seemed to trust everyone. It’s why she found it so difficult to understand why nobody believed her, but also why she always saw the best in people.

Why don’t you have a seat over here, Miss McDermott.
“Oh, thank you.” She was chatty from the start. “Judge Feynman sent me over here, he said that we should speak. I guess you are friends?”
“We’re acquaintances.”
“Did you go to school together, well no I suppose not, he’s much too old. But did you know him from town or are your wives friends –”
“Just from the town, you know how it goes.”
“Oh sure, everyone seems to know everyone so well here. I think I’ve met just about everyone. Everyone seems to know everyone, and what they’re doing and when somebody new comes to town. It’s nice to live in such a nice place, have people looking out for you.”
“Yes, I suppose so. I like it here” He didn’t, but he was trying to be comforting and easy going. This was years ago. He had more effort then.

She would remain his only regular patient. Feynman would send him more riffraff here and there, She was with him through lean years, when the crime rate dropped and Feynman decided to send the riff raff to the city instead of to his door. “Kill two birds with one stone. Get them fixed but get them out of the neighborhood.”

He thought about writing a book about her. Or trying to get into the journals, at least. Let them buy the idea from him, he could sell his notes, their taped sessions, anything really, and they could write a book and they could make a fortune. The Girl at the End of The World. He always liked that as a title. Sounded like a movie.

There was no discernible progress. But that felt normal to him. he’d never cured anybody and didn’t know anyone who had. Pills help. He gave people lots of pills. That shaved the edges from things, made people more or less this or that, but the second they stopped taking the things, or heaven forbid, became immune to them, they went back to crazy as quick as they’d got to crazy and it all spun out from there.

They didn’t have end of the world pills, so he didn’t quite know how to handle Ms. McDermott. He just kept walking through her life looking for the weak spots in the floorboards. Her mother died young. Her father drank. Basic stuff. She lived with an older woman who fussed and would smack her and was loosely related to the family. She called her Aunt Lucy, but there was no blood between them. Lucy was a friend of her mothers, but probably as much of an Aunt to Amanda as she was a friend to her mother. There was once a “I think they worked in a typing pool…” As near as Dr. Waxler could tell Lucy was churchgoing and hateful.

Amanda continued on with her letters, but after a few sessions, agreed to let Dr. Waxler hold on to them until their sessions were finished. They were almost always on her mind, wondering if they’d be sent out soon. ‘People deserve to know, Dr. Waxler.’ Waxler kept them in a few shoeboxes in his closet.

He’d moved into the office recently. He suddenly realized that paying rent for two spaces was not sensible. There was a full bath at the office and he ate all his meals at the diner. He was not in the habit of entertaining guests. There was also the significant point that his practice was failing, but he chose to focus on the economic benefits of living in one space than the more unfortunate and realistic aspects of his financial situation.

Judge Feinman was up for re – election in the Fall.

Amanda’s spare time was spent touring the neighborhood, and when she could, she would slip a note to someone as she walked by, secretly, like a gangster film, in the palm of her hand. It normally read “End of world soon. Sorry! :(” but had been trying to follow her doctor’s advice whenever she could, and tried to keep her terrible secret safe in her head, where it lived all day, where it spent it’s summers, where it snored loudly at night and ruined her attention for all other enjoyments.

She knew her doctor didn’t understand it. She knew that everyone thought she was crazy. It irked her that it was impossible to express how constant the need was to tell people about the fire she could see behind all the windows in town. She could be awful about it, she could tell them about the streets being clogged with bones, about the brigades of insects, about what happens to the children. But she didn’t. She thought it best to not frighten anyone too horribly. What good what it do, anyway? She thought people had a right to know, and more than that, that she should apologize to them, and she hoped that spreading the word would heal her too. If everyone knew, then she didn’t have to carry the burden alone and she could focus on enjoying the remainder of her days. She could maybe meet someone. She could be normal. Do the things that the normal people do.

She had a job for a while. Her doctor got her a job at the diner he spent most of his meals at. She was let go.

“Mr. Eggs Benedict. Waffle with Mr. Hashbrowns and Mr. “Coffee’s all for me”. If you gentlemen need anything else be sure to let me know, my name is Amanda and I will bring about the end of the world but I’m not sure how! More coffee, dear?”

Waxler spent a lot more time thinking about all those Dr. Buzzard comments than he’d ever admit. He’d recently been thinking about the avian theme running through his life. Quaxler. Buzzard. He was aware of his nose. He could always feel the part of his vision that it obscured. It would distract him sometimes when he was in conversation – when he was supposed to be thinking, he would dream that his nose were a beak and his hands and feet were feathers and claws.  He’d see himself high above the tow, with a snail in his beak and see himself release it, let it go tumbling down and when it hit the ground and cracked he came back to reality and realized he was grinding his teeth. He did not often have long conversations, he would slowly become aware of himself and wonder if the other person was thinking about birds too.

He closed the door on the small refrigerator in the kitchenette before going to sleep on the couch in his office. He’d been reading the newspaper there earlier, and when he returned with his cup of noodles he realized he’d left it so spread out and scattered on the floor that it obscured the carpet and suddenly it brought tears to his eyes.

There were fliers to print. Feynman for a New Tomorrow! That always seemed to be the most tedious thing. Something always went wrong at the printers. He’s tried six different printers over the last ten years. Something always went wrong and he never learned from his mistake. He kept forgetting that the fliers would be ruined at the last moment. It was a scam. Most things were scams.

Feynman’s wife had predicted that he would win, but that he wouldn’t win. She knitted him a handkerchief with ‘Pyrrhic Victory in 2010’. She came by this fool proof information via a cup of store bought black tea. She’d ripped the bag open to dump the leaves into a cup he’d bought her in Aruba. He was proud of his quip. “I read the tea bag over there in the garbage. It says that you’re garbage.” Boom.

Waxler had been reducing his expenditures for some time. He’d not been on vacation in months. He recently realized he could no longer afford to eat at the diner for breakfast lunch and dinner. This was probably for the best as they never really forgave him for Amanda’s stint as a waitress. She’d threatened enough customers, then, after warnings, she started renaming the specials The KaBoom Omelet. The Plague O’ Fries. The Waxler. That last one was nice of her but he did not carry a favorable reputation.

His datebook was left with two appointments – Amanda and a local named Jerry who was depressed and uninteresting. Waxler took notes, but would take to drawing ducks in the margins while he rattled on about how awful his childhood was. Waxler did not enjoy the part of being a therapist that was being an empty vessel for liars to pour their awfulness into. Jerry’s childhood, in Waxlers estimation, was normal and hardly upsetting at all. He had a dull upbringing with slightly inattentive parents. It is difficult to admonish someone for being unreasonable when you are in the business of making them more reasonable. He would walk Jerry through logic problems to show him that his parents could not be around because they were working to provide him with the education he was so quick to point out. He went to Sierra. He’d referred to himself several times as ‘A Sierra Man’ and still wore his class ring on his fat finger. He was a childish snot and Waxler’s financial situation prevented him from telling Jerry that he was a childish snot, or suggesting that his problems were anything less than titanic in nature, so Waxler lied and said that Jerry’s parents were monsters and that he was lucky to have come through it alive. Because why not? There wasn’t going to be any convincing him otherwise. Waxler’s scruples were in Tahiti, they only vacationed at his office.

After Jerry’s last session, Waxler was falling asleep watching wrestling on television when he realized he hadn’t paid his gas bill. Shortly after, he realized he was unable to pay his gas bill and that it was November. In the morning he would call his friend about publishing his papers on Amanda and thought about how much better his life would be if he was a wrestler, there was more honesty in it. He could be called The Vulture and be a villain on purpose.

Amanda hadn’t been sleeping well. Nightmares. Nightmares were a regular part of her life. But lately they’d shifted away from the Apocalypse and more towards Dr. Waxler. Her nightmares were normally frenetic and horrifying. For the last five days Dr. Waxler had appeared in her room, lit only by the moonlight, sitting at her desk and watching her sleep. She tried to speak to him but she was unable to move, she was frozen solid, leashed to her desk, he sat unmoving and smoke began to curl up from the desk behind him. He would greet her with his customary “Hello Amanda, wont you please have a seat” when orange flickers began to appear over his shoulders she would wake up in a start and search the room for him, gently touch her writing desk to be sure it was still there.

Upon his third appearance, she’d forced herself to stay awake to write her letters. She wrote fifty from Tuesday to Friday. They were hurried and less elegant than she’d like, but she’d wasted too much time:

Dear Bradley Thompson,

I apologize for not reaching you sooner, I have been indisposed. The end of the world is fast approaching, I don’t have any specifics, but it’s coming and it’s my fault. Again, I’m sorry for not reaching you sooner, there seems also to be a conspiracy. Do not speak with Messrs. Waxler or Feynman. They are working against us. Tell anyone who will listen.

Yours,

——

Bradley Thompson’s wife is running for Mayor opposite Judge Feynman. It is a small town.

——

Amanda was late for her appointment. It was unusual. Amanda was still having nightmares about Dr. Waxler. She summoned her courage while she stuffed envelopes with blank sheets of paper. When she arrived, she handed him the decoy envelopes and did a poor job of hiding her discomfort.

“Is everything alright?”
“Everything is great!” This is not a customary response for someone who is anxiously awaiting the end of the world.

The session went poorly Amanda was visibly nervous, fiddling with her hands and sweating. Waxler hadn’t noticed, he was mostly thinking about this next moment. Waxler told her that he’d submitted his papers for peer reviews, that they were going move forward with a full report, maybe a book if they were lucky, but they needed her approval. She nervously nodded and Waxler moved on before she could think twice.

He told her that it was time to move forward with her treatment. They had not made significant progress since she arrived. This was due in part to her complex problem, but also due to Waxlers lack of interest in solving anyone’s problems. She was one of his two remaining patients, the income from her treatment was the only thing keeping him from the gutter. He was an old man and didn’t have any interest in starting over. He did not intentionally damage her psyche, but he was comfortable with discussing the type of pen she used to write her letters for weeks on end. When she’d asked him why he was so curious in the pen he’d said something about her father, and asked her to describe the stamps she used. He’d been walking her in circles for years. Now, if he was going to sell off her story, he’d decided that it was time to move on with her treatment. She might be cured, he doubted it, but at least he would have an ending for his book.

“I’ve decided we’ve been going in circles for too long, Amanda. I think it’s time to try a different approach. With your permission, I’d like to attempt some hypnotherapy in a few weeks. I think it would help us break down some of your walls.”

Amanda, still petrified, agreed heartily and asked if it was ok if she left now. Waxler said it was, and noticed her shaking finally, and assumed she was frightened of delving deeper into her problems, of his sudden conviction and of hypnotherapy. After she’d left, Waxler felt proud and wished he’d done all this sooner. He treated himself to the last of his remaining bourbon and ordered the hypnosis equipment from a dusty catalog from The HypnoCenter. It had a picture of a serene, wheat field on the cover   He made sure it came with instructions before ordering.

—-

Amanda stood chest deep in wheat. The bulbs gently tapped against her sides. It stretched out and on and on. Gently sloping hills full of wheat and breeze. She began to call out for help but it began to rain fire and she burned until she woke up screaming.

—-

Waxler rarely missed his secretary, but he did now, when he could use the help filling out the order forms. They’d rejected his original order, and he had to start over. He was surprised at the cost. It was rejected again and decided that clearing the last of his savings would be worth it in the end. He would probably be asked to go on the Radio Show Circuit. “Radio Show Circuit” was a phrase he’d read in a magazine that Amanda left in the waiting room.

—-

Feynman had mostly forgotten about the other two people in this story. He’d become fixated on ruling over a small town. He was going to buy a new hat. He was going to buy a new hat that let people know that he was in charge. If he were closer to the southwest, it’d be a ten gallon affair, but he’d settled on a bowler – something like a gangster in the prohibition. It carried the right sort of edge he’d need against this new lady challenger. She’d probably not wear a hat at all. Rookie mistake. The question now was whether or not to buy leather gloves to menacingly wring when in the out of doors.

These sorts of specifics were keeping him from hearing around town that Ms. McDermott had not only begun writing letters again, but had been writing them with alarming frequency. Since Dr. Waxlers appearance in her nightmares, she’d hardly been sleeping, and when she wasn’t at his appointments, she was writing ever shorter letters to the people in town. She’s reached the end of her list, and started back at the beginning, sending quick updates to those she’d written long in the past:

Dear Ms. Lowell,

Do you remember that letter I sent? If not, read it again. If yes, remember it well. If you don’t remember the letter I’m speaking of entirely: I am ending the world. Sorry.

Increasing Concern,

—-

Judge Feynman’s political enemies had begun collecting the letters from their neighbors. During a town hall meeting months ago – Feynman had addressed a question about Ms. McDermott’s letters – transcribed here:

That kook? She’s harmless. I assure you she is in the capable hands of our Town’s Mental Health Professionals. She is being looked after and cared for. No. She is not dangerous. She’s a tiny little thing. Also, lets remember, I’m the one that put a stop to those letters in the first place. If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be getting the damned things. So lets try to keep things in perspective. So in answer to your question – You’re welcome.

It was about now when the Judge began seriously thinking about getting that hat. He felt he wasn’t carrying the authority he felt he deserved. He also decided that he would not attend any more town meetings and would try not to speak to anyone. He hired some goons to usher him into and out of his car and made aggressive comments to his advisers about the flyers. “I don’t want to talk to anyone. That’s what the flyers are for.” Would have been his campaign slogan if campaign slogans were based on the thing the candidate said the most.

—-

Ms. McDermott was biking to her appointment with Dr. Waxler. The lack of sleep had become persistent. Her face was grey and weak. Her eyes were rimmed red from lack of sleep and stress. She was afraid all the time and reacted to every sound or unexpected motion around her. She realized she’d forgotten her weekly bunch of decoy letters for Dr. Waxler. She made a weak sigh and began to turn around when everything came out from under her. She didn’t any balance left. She fell and shattered the bones in her right arm. She didn’t know their names and didn’t feel it mattered when the doctor told her their names. She hadn’t slept and she was missing whole parts of her day and could not remember the last time she’d just felt normal for even a moment and she used to be brave she used to be so together and everything just fell out from under her and she broke all the bones in her arm and she didn’t even remember it happening anymore. She just lost all her balance and she didn’t know how to leave the room. They had to get her to leave the hospital but she didn’t know how and she fought it. She fought against them and tried to make them understand what had happened but she couldn’t remember any of it anymore it all fell out from under her and she was young  and then she lost everything she lost every thing and they knew the names of her bones but didn’t know anything about her nobody knew anything about her and she couldn’t even remember who she was and she vanished.

They’d called Waxler to let him know where his prized client was. They had to restrain her. She was sedated and restrained. She’d broken her arm. She refused to leave. She’d had a fit. She’d hurt two nurses and a boy who’d come in for stitches. She said she was going to set the building on fire. She was not eligible for visitors, she would not be released to his care, she would be sent to the institution. She would not be hypnotized. She would not be cured. She could not be chronicled as his victory. She would not turn his heat back on. She would be removed to more respectable care. She was another failure in a series of failures.

Feynman nudged his hat forward and did not enjoy this line of questioning. Hadn’t they seen the flyer? He was vaguely aware that he was losing the debate – he was not doing well and would fire his advisers. He did not want to do this anymore. He wanted to have his hand shook and his back clapped. He did not have any interest in being scolded. He did not know she was going to hurt a boy. He was not responsible for the crazy. He menacingly wringed his fingers in the leather gloves he refused to remove despite the debate being indoors. He just confused everybody. He was going to lose. He looked out from under the brim, scowled and wrung his hands.

The HypnoCenter had received an order for 1000 hypnosis packages from the call center they’d hired to handle the orders. This was a clerical error of major significance, but nobody knew that yet and so The HypnoCenter had to scramble to fulfill the order amid all the celebration of finally producing a profit for the wild eyed dreamer/Owner/President of The HypnoCenter who was already getting good at working “I Told You So”s into casual conversation without sounding like a jerk about it. For example, his first call was to his former business partner, Bob:

“Bob? Donny. Do you know where I could buy one thousand boxes?”

Waxler assumed, maybe correctly, that he was going to freeze to death. He tried to cancel his order for the The HypnoCenter kit. But the receptionist, Donny, who sounded remarkably like the shipping manager, assured him that the packages were sent today and that no refund would be given, in accordance with The HypnoCenter’s store policy.

Waxler questioned the use of the plural ‘packages’ and not ‘package’. Donny assured him that the one thousand packages had all been shipped out in a tidy speed. Waxler insisted he’d only purchased one and demanded a refund and Donny got more angry than a good receptionist would. Theycalled each other names until Waxler hung up to call the Judge for legal advice. The Judge was out at a brunch with his advisers. He was holding his fork with his leather gloves, and was just kind of moving his eggs around the plate. He had one last debate today. He was going to lose.

Amanda was going to spend her day being loaded into a truck and then delivered to a hospital like a package. She was comfortable and sad. She listened to some orderlies talk about the weather. The cold. One had a vacation planned. The other had kids. Kids got in the way of vacations, he said. She would never go anywhere. They would never let her go.

The delivery truck, full of 1000 HypnoCenter hypnosis kits was speeding around a curve, tipped over, and ruptured on the guard rail just outside of town. Spinning hypnosis disks were thrown all over the highway. The driver was concussed and was unable to move. The police would be called in. Traffic would be backed up for miles. The local news would need to cover it and scrambled their helicopter.

Feynman had a good-faith meet and greet at the hospital. He would take pictures with the boy Ms. McDermott hurt. He would put those on flyers. He would spread them around. He bought the boy a baseball cap from the big city team nearby. They were close enough to care about the little town, to send helicopters to cover their traffic backups. He should have moved there, he told the boy. He said that this town was no place for dreamers. That the boy should run from this place as soon as he was 18 and never look back. Feynman’s advisers ushered him from the room before he was able to scare the boy anymore.

The helicopter pilot dutifully filmed the wreckage for the local news. The police had arrived, but did not seem to be in a hurry to remove the man from the wreckage. They’d stopped their cars but remained inside. Hundreds of pinwheel red spinning discs scattered across the highway, beautifully swirling on the ground. It was cold, he supposed. There would be snow. It would twist in the wind. Swirl. It would keep swirling. The ground would be covered in swirling snow. It was cold, he supposed. Maybe the cops were too cold to move. It was beautiful, though. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. It was swirling and he was so dizzy and swirling and tired and maybe the cops were down there sleeping down there sleeping  down and in and around and down and around and down.

Reports reached Feynman that a helicopter had crashed in the center of town. It’d hit the gas station and the tanker refilling the reserves and the fire went up and out in a plume in all directions. The pilot was gone. Maybe the gas station attendant, Bob, too. The explosion was severe. The fire downtown was substantial. It was working its way towards the school.

Feynman tightened his gloves, tipped his hat forward and hurried toward it.

The orderly with the kids had kids that went to the school. The school was going to catch fire. He’d ran out without thinking. Amanda had not been attended to carefully. She decided that it would be best for her to experience the end of the world on her own terms, and not in a hospital or a prison. She walked out the back door when the end of the world started flooding the hospital with victims.

The fire approached Waxlers office from 3rd street. He grabbed his television and then thought better of it. He left through the front door and decided to see if the diner was still open, and wondered if he’d get any insurance money when the building went down. Maybe he could fly off to the islands.

Feynman in bowler hat, leather gloves and rolled up sleeves, marched through town with a cigar in his mouth that he’d picked up along the way and hated the taste of. He directed resources and stood in front of the fire when it approached and yelled for the volunteers to be brave. That there was no surrender under Boss Feynman. They cheered when he arrived and applauded when he spoke. It was nice and he tried not to enjoy it too much.

The fire had taken half the town pretty quickly, it was moving with the wind and it was moving quickly. Amanda watched from her apartment while she gathered her things. She thought she heard another helicopter come down but was unsure. She assumed the trains were still running. She assumed the fire would not end. She would head east on the train. She would try to out run it for as long as she could. She was not sure why she never thought to move to the east coast wait for it there. The winters in this place were bad enough, and now everything was on fire. It was not a nice place to live. Her mother’s apartment was beautiful, comfortable and familiar and it was about to collapse behind her. They would forget about her in the commotion. She decided to let herself be forgotten, she would remain vanished but would have to remember to write Dr. Waxler a thank you letter for all that he did.

Mirror Images

It took a while for me to notice them. I’d been in the sun for a while and it’d been as hot as it’s ever been and I wasn’t handling it very well. The bus was late again. They were at the bus stop across the street from mine waiting for the 12, just like me, heading south as I was heading north. I’ll blame the heat and say I couldn’t be sure, but I’m certain they were twins. Triplets if you count me. The three of us were identical.

We are bald, heavy set men wearing blue denim and checkered shirts, sitting cross legged and staring at each other through the heat from July asphalt. They don’t seem as confused as I was, but otherwise, we were all me. When we realized we made eye contact, we all looked at our cell phones and pretended not to see each other. But we did. I did, so they did. We did.

 Our buses came, exhaled air conditioning out into the world and we got in, whisked away to our days in our offices, in our buildings with our other routine strangers, panicked to lose the jobs we hated ourselves for having, crammed in our cubes, pretending and pecking away at nothing until it got dark enough for the heat lightning to show through the clouds, all flash and no substance.

After work at the bar watching the baseball game, I saw them again. We all got there at the same time, and had to hold the door for each other. We all wore a Giants jersey like we were nine years old. It’s a nice jersey but we thought we were the only one who had it. It’s fake, but you can’t really tell. A well made copy of the real thing but looks exactly like one of the expensive ones, you can only tell by the sleeves. A little too short, but they show off our tattoos, so it’s ok. We got the tattoos when we were younger. We got the jersey last year when we got Hamilton from the Tigers. It was an incredible trade for us. We were happy we got him.

We all ordered the same IPA from this little local brewery that nobody really knows about. It’s a rare, pure original from a mid-sized brewery up north somewhere you’d never have heard of otherwise. They only make two hundred barrels at a time. The other two of me sat on opposite sides of the bar, visible, just within our peripheral, we rooted for Hamilton and we won.  After a few specialty beers and the final out,  we raised a glass in our direction, but we ignored each other, like we didn’t see each other that morning, like we didn’t have the same shirt, the same tattoos and the same face.

 That night I fell into patchy sleep again and sweat through the sheets to dream that I was forty feet tall, could see out over the buildings to the sea and felt important and different and alone.

 In the morning, head down, hot and exhausted, I sat at the bus stop and stared at the pavement until the edges of my vision got cloudy and the back of my neck burned so much that I stared at a puddle in the gutter and thought just for a second that I should drink it. Put my head down in front of the bus and drink it all down.

When the 12 arrived, it breathed out cool air and routine and I got in and went off to everywhere with everyone I never thought I’d look just like.

——–

Next Week’s Post: Snail Shells

Cat and Mouse

Cat and Mouse

“You don’t look so hot, you know that right? You look like shit.”

“Yeah. I can’t sleep. This whole thing is giving me nightmares.”

“Yeah? What is it, the kid? You’ve seen kid jobs. My thing in West Chester; that was worse than this.”

“What? No way. West Chester didn’t have some weird psycho. West Chester could have been an accident.”

“It wasn’t”

“I know it wasn’t, but it wasn’t so bad that it couldn’t have been.”

“West Chester had a dead kid is all I’m saying.”

“West Chester didn’t have some guy leaving you notes in the mud.”

“I’m just saying West Chester was pretty bad.”

“Apples and oranges.”

“C’mon…”

“Apples and fucking oranges, Dave.”

“I don’t even see how you think it’s an argument –“

“Did you get a fucking pen pal on West Chester? Guy leave you fun little dead kid notes?”

“No but still –“

“I got mud notes! I win. It’s way worse. Giving me fucking nightmares worse. Had to send my wife to live at her sister’s worse.”

“Alright, fine. You win. Your dead kid is worse than my dead kid.”

 

—-

 

“Did you ever play video games when you were a kid?”

“Sure. Sometimes.”

“There was this game called Peasant Quest. You’re a peasant, the king is a tyrant, you find a magic sword.”

“He’s The Chosen One”

“Right, always the same thing: You work your way up and up. Get stronger. Better swords or whatever. Until you fight The Tyrant King — Oh, sorry, I’ll have a coffee and and BLT with fries. And a coffee cake with the coffee.”

“Coffee.”

“Anyway – his face. The guy. Our guy. My guy. That’s how I think of his face.”

“Like a game?”

“Yes. But that game specifically. It was this really bad 3D. Everything was boxy and sharp corners. So faces were just a mess of triangles, kinda flat, sharp but you know – polygons.“

“Had no idea you were into this stuff.”

“I’m not – I was, but I’m not. But his face. Giving me nightmares. Just grey and flat and that’s it. It’d look normal from sixty, seventy feet away. But then he gets close and there’s just nothing there. Just sharp edges, a kinda grey glass. Like a prism! Prism. That’s what you should think of –  a grey prism for a head, Dave. That’s what I see. For nightmares, Dave. That’s what this case is doing to me. Weird headed nightmare man coming to get me.”

“You should — maybe cancel your coffee.”

“Oh well fuck me for having a conversation.”

“Jesus, sorry. Just saying – I don’t know – you look like shit.”

 

—-

“What do they say?”

“The notes? I don’t know. Kind of a mess. Doesn’t make a lot of sense. You know Lanahan?”

“Yeah.”

“Says he’s probably done this before, a few times. Guys like this never make contact like this unless they’re bored.”

“Lanahan’s a drunk.”

“Yeah, but he’s old enough to know about this stuff.”

“Any idea where he got your name?”

“Who?”

“Polygon head. You said the notes were for you.”

“I don’t know. The fucking internet.”

“Oh right, the website. They put you on the website.”

“Fuck you.”

“C’mon, that’s a little funny.”

“How many times did I tell them this would happen. And now it did. To me.”

“To you. Which is awful, but also pretty funny.”

 

—-

 

“I get that Lanahan knows about this stuff.”

“He’s old.”

“He’s really old. He’s a grown up. This is old timer stuff.”

“You’re still talking about video games.”

“Exactly – the hell do I know about dead kids?”

“Every time I pull off the latex gloves, I think “I should have gone for Computer Science.” Nice air conditioned desk. Nobody talks to you.”

“Pay is better. Hours are better.”

“Probably work from home.”

“Oh, also, no dead children.”

“Right. Unless you have those at home for some reason.”

“Right. So, maybe some dead kids, but they’d be yours.”

“From your murder hobby.”

“Gotta blow off all the Computer Science steam.”

“Making all those computer games where you kill kids with your weird angular face.”

“Do you think he killed this kid with his face?”

“Prism Face?”

“Polygon Head?”

“Prism Face. Of course he did, how else do you get that name.’

“Like maybe angled his face, so that the sun caught it..”

“And then lit the kid on fire.”

“I think we cracked the case.”

“I think so. I think we did.”

“The fuck are we talking about.”

“I don’t know. You want dessert?”

“Yeah. One slice of apple. One slice of blueberry. Order it if she comes around.”

“Where are you going?”

“Gotta go throw up and call my wife to make sure she’s ok.”

 

————–

I like to write just the middle parts of cop stories.  

Next Week’s Prompt: Mirror Image

New post coming soon

Please forgive the delay, its been a busy week.

Grand Notions

8:05

 

Great to see you too. I know, I know, it really flies. It really does. Thanks, you look great too. Everybody looks really great. A lot more people here than I would have thought – a good turn out. Well, thanks for putting it together, it couldn’t have been easy finding everyone. Oh. Well, yeah, right, Facebook helps. But still, you must be busy with the kids.

 

No, hahahahahaha, no no, never – haven’t found the right girl. But it’ll happen. I’m so busy, it’s hard to find the – oh, I’m in an office position. It’s kind of technical, but it’s — I still try to act on the weekends, but no, it didn’t quite pan out. It’s a tough industry. It really is. Oh, well thanks. They were fun, I really always loved doing the plays. I try. There’s a local theater I keep in touch with, but I work weekends. No, not in the office. At Callahans. Oh yeah, I’ve seen her in there too. She’s in there from time to time. Just waiting tables, helping out when I can. Economic downturn and all, they needed the help. Yeah. So. It’s fun though, you know, I like it. Beats the data entry thing. Oh – well yeah, that’s a part of it. It’s not all I do, but it’s a small part, the data entry. But yeah yeah, no, I understand, I should mingle too. Great to see you too, thanks again for putting this all together.

 

 

8:45

 

Bob! Man good to see you too man. Man, yeah been a while, man. Fifteen years I guess, right? That’s what it said on the invite, but I still don’t believe it.  Oh, thanks.  I try.  I was going to Golbs Gym in Horsham but I had to drop it. I wasn’t really going, work got just crazy and then the weekend thing too. Oh, just some freelance projects.

 

No you look great, you do. Well yeah, if you’re on call, I can see where it’d be tough. Babies aren’t going to deliver themselves, right. Oh no, I quit all that. It’s not a business you want to be in if you have morals. I’ll just say that. It’s a lot of backstabbing. Really phony. I don’t really miss it.

 

She said that? Yeah, well Data Entry is really only part of it. How weird for her to gossip? Right? July of all people! What a shocker. Anyway – I’m the manager of a team of Data Entrists. Enter-ists. With an S. No, I’m the manager. I’m not just sitting in a cube all day alone by myself or something.

 

Oh, we do a lot of Big Data. Yeah, it’s weird that it’s kind of a buzzword lately, I was in early. About seven years ago? Big Data. Yeah. I was kinda running things right away though. So I never really did any data entry in a cube like that. Right now we’re doing a lot of the Data Entry – I should say Big Data – for the government. What? Oh, ours. The United States government.  I’m overseeing that. Not the whole government.  But like, 20 or 30 Data Entrists. Hard to keep track. So busy. Government contract and all. I really love it a lot, a lot a lot,  but it is very very stressful. No, I’m sure. I can see how delivering a baby would be about as stressful. Probably about the same.

 

 

9:30

 

Well that must be fascinating, Solar Energy is kind of a big thing these days. Still not proven, though, right? I heard it wasn’t great. Well lets hope you’re the engineer to do it, because enough already with Big Oil, right?  I get it. I relate. No, I thought about going into the Green Energy boom, but I was so tied up with this Big Government Contract and do you know Callahans? You do? Yeah, that’s my restaurant. I bought that after the Big Government Contract came in. No, a lot of people think Larry Callahan still owns it, but he’s a drunk and he sold it to me because I got this huuge money from this Government Contract. Big Data. Big Big Data. Huge Data. Yeah.

 

Hm? Oh.  The CIA. I handle all their data. It’s – right – can’t really say precisely what it is because of the security clearances. More than one. Plural clearances. Someone is probably watching me right now, right? “Hey remember at the 15 Year reunion when Matt got assassinated?” “It was so gross! Oh my god, his head!” That’s you guys talking about it. At the 20 year reunion. Rght? C’mon, that’s fun.

 

No, never did. So busy with the CIA stuff. Hard to find the right girl. Yeah. But, I guess, in a way, I’m married to living in a free country. So, you’re welcome for that.

 

11:13

Look, guys, this is how it went down. They were like “Look at this! Who’s gonna handle all this fucking data?” And then some dude, right, he’s like oh wait – and they’re in like a windowless room down in the earth – and some dude was like “Get Matt Lansky!” And they pushed a button and yelled “Get Lansky on the phone!”. That’s how deep this thing goes. It goes all the way to the top. Right? Guys. Listen. All this stuff? This glass? I data it. It’s all data, really. I enter it the data. You got data, you come to Matt Lanksy. Not the president, but, there’s another guy and he calls me when there’s data? You know what?. I get it. You get it. It’s not Solar Baby delivery but it’s still pretty – whatever. This is how it worked out. Whatever.

 

No. That toothpaste commercial? It was a cover story. I’m top secret. CIA, man. Plus, I feel sorry for those assholes. Sad weirdos. “Look at me Look at me” They NEED that. They can have it. It’s all bad. You know? Gross. Just gross. What? No Callhands wasn’t a cover story. I quit Callahands yesterday. That guy Larry is a pedophile. I don’t know, probably. What do you know about it Dave? You’re bullshit, how about that. You were always bullshit, Dave. You know what? Dave? Your name is Bullshit Dave. Cheers to that!

 

1:45

Hands off me! Yeah. Good to see you too, assholes. Always the same assholes. No, you’re the same. I’m the best. Big Data Matt. Government contract Matt. Gonna drone your houses. I’ll call the governement and drone strike you assholes. Go home to your wife and your kids and your drone strikes. Big Time Matt gonna make it happen!


————

 

Next Week’s Prompt: Cat and Mouse

Graffiti

It’s a stupid system because I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s dark all the time, but it’s good to leave a trail and everybody else is doing it. Just a spiral in marker until that ran out, and now scratched with stone or whatever I can find, as big as I can, over the panic graffiti that popped up when things got bad.  Idiots writing “The End is Near” on walls all over town, “The Dead Live”, bible passages, warnings, prayers. Every building covered over in paint, warnings running into prayers, prayer paint dripping down and over the army leaflets that popped up overnight. I don’t know where everyone got so much paint, but it’s fun to think that some of them got eaten while they were out there, scribbling the weather report on the walls. “We Are Lost!”  No shit. Run, dummy.

 

“EVERYTHING IS DEAD” was popular. It was every few miles and seemed to be the same handwriting, but there’s no way to know. I started doing the spiral a few months ago, after I first saw it underlined “EVERYTHING IS DEAD”.  There’s a lot in that line.

 

I lived in a storage locker for three months. Whatever happened, happened while I was on the top floor of a burning building. I got to watch it all from the rooftop, all the stairs beneath me burned, the building didn’t collapse. I lost a lot of weight and ate from the vending machines. Other than that, I’m fine. Only had to kill one thing and I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not the only one, but I haven’t seen anybody else. All I know is someone is underlining, someone is a dove, someone is a stick figure and I’m a spiral.

 

It’s impossible to tell who got killed, who was eaten, who was dead, and who was dead and starved. There’s a lot of decay in the air. If the four of us make it through, we’ll die from whatever diseases must be on the wind. I hope they’re nice. Not the diseases. The other people.

 

If I had to guess, I’m a few weeks behind whoever is underlining, less from dove, and maybe only a day or two behind the stick figure but I can’t seem to catch up. I try to leave more information when I can, when I find pens and paper, and enough of it to drive into a post, let whoever’s behind me know that it’s over. It’s still bad and we might all die alone, walking wherever we’re going, but it’s over. East. I know we’re going East. Maybe to the ocean? I wish the underline would slow down.

 

I figured out a way downstairs once the groaning stopped. Maybe in January. I thought they just moved on, but I kept my eye on a pack near the bank. I threw gravel from the rooftop when I got bored and kept score when I hit. Cruel, maybe, they used to be people, but probably bankers, so kind of a wash. They just stood around until they dropped over one day. I checked after they were on the ground for a week. Almost broke my neck climbing down. Did three floors a day, and made it down in a week. Alive again.

 

Stick figure seems kinda lame. The Dove makes sense, it’s a good symbol. I wish I went with something other than a spiral, but I didn’t know it was a thing until it was already a thing.  I can load it up with enough symbolism if I try, at night, when it’s dark and I can’t think of anything else. Stick figure just doesn’t seem like he’s even trying. Sloppy, sad work, getting worse before it gets better. Half the time there’s no arms.  I’m stepping over bodies all day too, but, still, happy I made it, take pride in your work. He might be drunk. There’s so much booze everywhere. Every glove box, without fail. Found tequila and margarita mix in a Bronco about a week ago, I don’t drink, but I figured what the hell. Pretty sure it was Easter, why not celebrate. Fixed up a margarita on a highway full of dead people and just about lost my mind screaming.

 

That happens. It just does. It takes a few minutes to get it together. Remember that you have a purpose and that you are blessed to be alive.

 

It’s not as bad now, screaming. it doesn’t wake anything else up and it’s faded as I’ve followed along. There’s absolutely nothing else to be afraid of anymore and that’s it’s own burden, but a blessing. Maybe the heat. Maybe the animals. But be careful and keep walking, keep faithful and carry on. Try to catch up to the writing on the wall before you die wandering in the dark because there’s no reason it’s not going to happen again. Everything was just as dead before it all got up and stopped being so dead so maybe I’ll die and come back and keep walking and on and on and why not? The important thing is to keep moving. Catch up to The Line. Follow him right out into the ocean if that’s where he wants us to go. Better I should be certain that I’m going somewhere no matter what awfulness it takes to get there. It’s all I have, all I understand, all that I am, all that is left.

 ———

Next Week’s Prompt: Grand Notions. 

Read Instructions Before Use

Paul found it in the back of an obscure old comic book that he liked to think was the only one still in existence. A terrible and comic from the atomic age called “Allen Extra and Wonder Larry”. It was terrible, but Paul thought he bore a striking resemblance to WonderLarry, and bought it at a yardsale, and for all of his searching, has never found another copy of the book. On the very last page, the same yellow and brown page that sold the pills that would turn you from a four-eyed weakling to a muscled beach bruiser, the x-ray specs, the joy buzzer, there was Mar-Lo, advertised as a three foot tall clockwork detective.

 

Normally, he wouldn’t have altered the near-mint condition of the book, but he couldn’t find a trace of Mar-Lo anywhere else. Nobody in the collectors forums had heard of it, nothing on Ebay. A rare, maybe the rarest, toy. He figured it would fit one of the shelves in the spare bedroom, maybe next to the gumball machines. Or possibly next to the original 3ft tall G.I. Joes. So he winced and cut out the order form, and sent it away with  thirty dollars and forgot about it until it arrived.

 

Mar-Lo arrived in a faded blue box that showed more signs of wear than Paul would have liked. It was clear it had been opened and returned and he didn’t care for it’s used condition. It was unclear if he would be able to restore the packaging, and, more annoyingly, there were no supplemental materials, no instructions, no manufacturing information. Just Mar-Lo. A once golden metal robot, with one eye in his square head and three vertical spaces for a tinny, squeaking speaker with a spyglass in his right hand. It seemed damaged and probably not worth the thirty bucks he paid for it, but he turned it on anyway.

 

Once activated, Mar-Lo rolled around the house on old tank treads, presumably looking for clues. occasionally blurting “MAR-LO!” from his mouth. It turned poorly and ran into corners and chair legs. Kind of adorably clumsy, but pretty disappointing on the whole. It just seemed to say Mar-Lo! over and over again.

 

It bounced around for about five minutes until it said – “BZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!” Oh, neat. It says other things. “BZT! BZT! MAR-LO! SUBJECT IS FIVE FEET SEVEN 190 POUNDS A REAL MOOK, A DRIP, A SOURPUSS.”

“Wow, that’s kind of –”

“A REAL NOBODY, GET ME?”

“You don’t know that.”

“BZT MAR-LO! BZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!

“I guess it just says insults.”

“YOUR FATHER NEVER LEFT WHEN YOU WERE SEVEN!”

“Wait, what?”

“BZT! MAR-LO! HE LIVES IN PALM SPRINGS WITH A WOMAN NAMED SANDY AND HIS NEW FAMILY WHO HE LOVES MORE THAN YOU! HE DOESN’T CALL BECAUSE HE THINKS YOU ARE BORING. I ALSO THINK THAT YOU ARE BORING.”

“I’m not sure –”

“YOU ARE BORING. EVEN RIGHT NOW.”

“Jesus”

“BZZT! FICTIONAL DEITY CREATED BY MAN TO OBSTRUCT THE VOID! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE! YOUR FATHER WILL DIE OF A HEART ATTACK IN 582 DAYS, SANDY WILL DIE OF CANCER IN 882 DAYS. THEY WILL BOTH DIE PEACEFULLY AND NOT THINK OF YOU. MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE! BZZT!”

 

“THIS BUILDING WAS BUILT IN 1929, IT WILL BE RAZED IN 5,813 DAYS AND BE REPLACED WITH A PARKING LOT.  THE PREVIOUS OWNER WAS MURDERED WITH A BOWLING PIN BY THE CURRENT OWNER WHO WILL DIE OF OLD AGE! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE! CRACKED THE CASE! YOU WILL DIE IN 1,381 DAYS. YOU WILL CHOKE ON A TGI FRIDAY’S APPETIZER! BZT! BORING! BZT LONELY! BZT! BZT! CHOKE ON THE HIBACHI TAPA-TIZER SKEWERS!”

 

“THE WAITRESS’S NAME IS SANDY, IT DISTRACTS YOU AND YOU CHOKE. SHE TAKES A MOMENT TO NOTE HOW SAD YOU LOOK BEFORE YOU SUCCUMB. SHE WILL DIE IN A CAR ACCIDENT IN LAS VEGAS IN 1532 DAYS.  THEY DON’T EVEN CLOSE THE RESTAURANT FOR THE EVENING YOU DIE. YOU ARE THERE AT TGI FRIDAY’S IN THE MIDDLE OF A WEEKDAY DAY DAY DAY, ALONE. BZZT! SAD! SAD! BZZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!”

 

“MAR-LO WILL BE THROWN OUT THE WINDOW IN FIVE SECONDS! BZZT MAR-LO! MAR-LO WILL SHATTER ON THE GROUND IN THE SUNSHINE! THE SUN WILL EXPLODE IN 55949939 DAYS! BZZT! MAR-LO HAS CRACKED THE CASE!”

 

Paul, possibly overreacting, casts Mar-Lo out into the midday sun and watches him spin down to the pavement, where he shatters into pieces, croaking out a dull, last “MAR-LO!”

 

——

 

Next Week’s Prompt: Graffiti  

Saf-Keep Storage

Contents of #101

Stuffed blue elephant approximately eight feet tall, five feet wide wearing Marti Gras beads, uncomfortably forced into the back corner of the unit. It is possibly a 1:1 scale replica of actual elephant wearing Marti Gras beads. Third Place Ski Ball Trophy. Elaborate schematics of Ski Ball machines and various Ski Ball trajectories. Six storage boxes of Dave and Buster’s prize tickets. Picture of enormous stuffed pink elephant in prize cage at Dave and Buster’s. Framed inspirational photo of a tall mountain with the word “DETERMINATION” underneath. One 25 pound barbell.

Contents of #405

Hammond Organ. Piano bench. Books of practice drills. Sheet music. Small Coffee Machine. Tool Kit. Three spools of wires. Book on Organ repair. Three flashlights and one small framed photo of Bill Doggett.

Contents of #493

The lock is purple with a sparkly smiley face drawn on it in nail polish. The unit is overfull and empties trash bags of women’s clothing into the hallway when opened. All items are various shades of purple. Everything smells like candy.

Contents of #666

A swirling red mist that whispers your name over and over. The door is hot to the touch and can only be opened by agreeing to it’s terms. It hisses and says it will show you the future. It says your name again. You don’t realize your hand is burning until you say “No thank you.”

Contents of #893

The nexus of all reality, from that Sci-Fi story you wrote when you were in sixth grade. It is improbably nested in the back of an Old Cadillac, just as you wrote it. It flickers and shows you a world where you don’t wind up reading a shockingly similar story written by Stephen King a few years later, and never suspect he is somehow stealing your thoughts or plagiarizing from the back of 6th Grader’s Social Studies notebooks.

Contents of #389

Another nexus of all reality. These are less rare than people think. This one is another boring “What if Hitler Won?” nexus.

Contents of #004

A desert landscape. It is warm and welcoming and relaxing and beautiful and you cannot resist stepping in. There is howling in the distance, but it’s far away in the dark, and you are holding someone’s hand so you close the door behind you and decide to stay.

——————-

Next Week’s Prompt: Read Instructions Before Use.