Posted in Writings

The Father

The Clubhouse

Daisy Ironfield first heard the voice of The Father when she was nine years old.

It was a sweltering hot afternoon in the middle of June and Daisy was sitting on the concrete walkway by the pond up the street from her house feeding bread to a family of mallards. There was a mommy and a daddy and seven little ducklings quacking around that day; there were nine the last time she came up here, but there’s a big ol’ catfish who lives in this pond, a big ol’ catfish who swims quick as a water snake. That’s just life, honey, her father would tell her when he was sober enough to speak clearly. Birds usually eat fish, but sometimes the fish get ‘em back. Life is ironic that way.

Yes, life is very ironic, especially for Miss Daisy Ironfield – most of the kids she went to school with who had a single parent had a mother, but Daisy had a father. For most kids with single parents, their fathers left because they went to fight in the war; for Daisy, her mother left to protest. Most protesters were hippies who liked to smoke pot; Daisy’s mother was a hardcore conservative republican businesswoman (who still opposed the war, go figure), and her drink of choice was whiskey, a stark opposite to her easygoing father and the six joints he would smoke every day. Most pot smokers got happy and creative when they smoked pot; Daisy’s father got borderline catatonic and had trouble speaking when he was high. Life is ironic that way, and so Daisy Ironfield spent a lot of her time by the pond at the end of her street, unlike most kids who hung out at the ball field on the other side of Stonetown. That didn’t bother Daisy though; while most kids wanted to fit in with everyone else, Daisy preferred to be alone. She always had, because life is ironic that way.

Daisy’s hand scraped the bottom of her brown paper bag. “Uh oh,” she said. “Sorry duckies, you ate all the bread!” The duckies quacked a few times and wiggled their tail feathers, then began to swim away as Daisy got up. She looked over her shoulder at the mouth of the woods as she walked back towards the street, wondering where that old trail might lead to. She’d asked her father to take her back there a few times at that point, and he always said he would, but it still hadn’t happened. It’s not that he was lying, or that he didn’t love his daughter – Daisy knew better than to think that silly nonsense – he just always forgot. He always remembered to buy himself more pot, but he forgot to take his daughter for walks in the woods. Life is just ironic that way, and that’s okay.

‘But is it okay?’

Daisy stopped at the end of the walkway and turned around, but there was nobody there. “Who said that?” she asked, but nobody answered. So, she kept walking, and made it about halfway across the lawn before she heard the voice again.

‘Would you like to go for a stroll through the woods, Daisy Ironfield?’

“Who’s there?!” Daisy squealed as she whipped around so fast the hem of her skirt flew up to her kneecaps. But there was nobody there. She looked back and forth and took a step backwards, then whispered, “What’s going on… I don’t like this…” to herself.

‘Do not be afraid, Daisy Ironfield,’ the voice said in its soothing way. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’

“No…” Daisy mumbled, crumpling up the empty paper bag and squeezing it. “Who are you?”

‘You can call me The Father, Daisy,’ said the voice, and how ironic was it that The Father spoke in the voice of a woman?

“But… but I already have a father,” Daisy said to the voice in her head.

‘That you do, little one, but I am not he; nor am I a he, nor am I a she. That’s not important though; would you like to go for a stroll through the woods with me?’

“Um…” Daisy said, looking around. There’s nobody up here, nobody driving by on Fricker or Barnstatter; there’s just Daisy, The Father and the duckies in the pond. “Okay… but we can’t be gone long. My father’s gonna be worried.”

‘Fret not, Daisy Ironfield; we won’t be gone long at all,’ replied the voice, and they weren’t gone very long. Only for an hour, maybe two. The Father guided Daisy along the wide trail – The Father told her it was used to cart logs and lumber when folk used to have farms back here in the eighteen’hundreds – through the shallow woods and down a very rocky hill, then took her right along the trail that leads to the Wanaque Reservoir, which was going through a terrible dry spell during this particular June. At the triangular junction that will be degraded into a pit of muddy water by quads in the decades to come, The Father had her go right again, and together they followed the old logging road until it came to an end in a grassy little clearing where all the trees had been chopped down. Sunlight poured down through the hole in the canopy, giving the clearing an otherworldly glow.

“What is this place?” Daisy asked, in awe of this sunbaked oasis hidden deep within this dark forest.

‘This is a very special place, Daisy Ironfield. Almost as special as you.’

“I’m… you think I’m special?”

‘I know you’re special – you’re going to come back here, Daisy Ironfield, but I will not be with you.’

“But… how will I find my way here?”

‘Worry not, little one; you shall remember the way,’ assures the voice of The Father. ‘Tomorrow you’ll come, and you’ll bring your father. When you get here, you’ll tell him you want to build a little clubhouse together, and he’ll absolutely love the idea.’

“He will? How do you kno–”

‘Because I am The Father, and all are my children. I must go soon, Daisy Ironfield. Can you get back home on your own?’

A deep sadness washes over Daisy, a sadness she cannot explain but a sadness she feels nonetheless. “Why do you have to go?”

‘Because I have many children, little one, but not all of them can hear me like you can.’

“They… can’t?”

‘No, they can’t,’ says The Father, without explaining why. ‘You have a beautiful mind, Daisy Ironfield, you stand out to those like me. That’s what makes you special, but be warned: not all those like me are quite the same as me.’

“What do you mean?” Daisy asked, tears flowing down her face.

‘You may find out in due time, little one, but only if you choose to listen.’

“What does that mean?” Daisy asked, but she got no reply; The Father had gone away.

Daisy turned away from the clearing and started to walk back along the trail, but something caught her foot in the grass and spilled her out. Daisy didn’t cry when she fell – she’s a tough one, rugged, as her father liked to call her. She simply got back up and brushed the foresty bits off her knees, then went looking for what she fell over. It was a rock, but not any normal rock – Daisy tripped over a crystal that day, a big hunk of white quartz shaped sort of like an egg that had a bit of lichen growing out of it. There was something about the crystal, it spoke to her – not in the same way The Father spoke to her, mind you, but she felt that it was special. No – she knew it was special, just like The Father knew Daisy was special.

Daisy carried the crystal all the way back to her house with her that day, and that night she slept with it cuddled in her arms. A few weeks later, after her and her father finished building her clubhouse, her father found a cut section of a log that someone cleared away from the trail and stood it up in the middle of the clubhouse. He even donated an old red tablecloth from the basement to Daisy’s clubhouse, and it was upon that clothed log that Daisy’s crystal found its home. Daisy spoke to the crystal occasionally when she found herself back here in her clubhouse her father built for her in the clearing, sometimes for hours at a time, even, but it never spoke back like the voices in her head. It simply listened, which is all Daisy wanted. Someone to listen.

Daisy would come and go from the clubhouse many times over the next few years of her life, but the crystal never left its sacred space on the clothed log. Not until a stormy day many years later when Daisy’s first son would wander back here and find it, along with a decapitated body lying at the base of the pillar. But don’t worry, the body had nothing to do with the crystal; it was simply a pair of conveniently coinciding circumstances that, when looked at right next to each other, appeared to be linked.

The Vessel

The second time Daisy heard The Father talking to her, it didn’t speak in the same voice.

Nor was Daisy’s last name Ironfield; she had gotten married to a man named Chester Williamson and they had a baby together, a baby which Daisy named Hilter Odolf for reasons she firmly believed in at the time but could no longer remember. But that’s all right, life is ironic that way; besides, she wrote her first baby a letter explaining it all, a letter he wasn’t to open until he turned eighteen, which was about fourteen and a half years from the day The Father spoke to her again.

She was at the beach with Chester, Sandy Hook specifically, as it was the only beach Daisy’s father ever took her to as a little girl. The Williamsons lived down in Piscataway at the time, and the drive wasn’t terribly far so they hired a babysitter to look after Hilter and they took themselves a day trip. The Williamsons didn’t just want to get away from their baby though – Daisy had some very important news to tell her husband. It seemed that the condom broke… again. Daisy was pregnant, Hilter would have a little brother, and Daisy wanted to take her husband somewhere special to tell him. So there they sat on a pair of towels as the waves crashed against the shore. Daisy took Chester’s hand, turned to him, opened her mouth and said…

Nothing. Daisy said nothing, because she heard a voice in her head. A deep voice, course like dried lava, a frighteningly masculine voice. A voice which called itself The Father.

‘You don’t sound like The Father,’ Daisy thought back to the voice. She had dealt with many voices speaking to her from within the confines of her skull by that time, and she had learned how to talk back without moving her lips. She had gotten quite good at it, in fact; sometimes, talking to the voices in her head felt more natural than talking to other humans.

‘And yet I am The Father nonetheless,’ the voice growled. ‘Leave that man and take a walk, Miss Daisy. I have a favor to ask you.’

Daisy didn’t realize Chester had been looking at her. She closed her mouth and dropped his hand, then got up.

“What’s wrong, darling?” Chester asked as he prepared to get up himself. “You looked like you were about to say something.”

“I… I need to go take a walk,” Daisy said nervously as her left hand absently started playing with the end of her hair. “Alone. I’ll be right back, just… just stay here please.”

Chester looked concerned – not half as concerned as he felt, for he knew when his wife, bless her soul, was hearing the voices – but he respected her wishes, nonetheless. There was nothing stopping him from keeping an eye on her though, and that’s exactly what he did.

Daisy fought the urge to sprint away from her husband. She wanted to get away from him, from all the other folk laying out on their towels today; she wanted to be alone so she could talk to The Father again. She hadn’t spoken to The Father since she was a child, she missed The Father. The Father was the first one to tell Daisy that she was special, Daisy loved The Father. Lots of her friends and lovers had told her she was special over the years, but none of them meant it like The Father meant it. The Father saw her for who she truly is; she couldn’t quite explain it, but she knew The Father saw her differently than everyone else saw her. Even if The Father sounded differently then, it was still The Father speaking to her. And she wanted privacy when she spoke back.

There was nobody blanketed out by the jetty, so the jetty is where Daisy stopped walking. She turned back and saw Chester sitting up rather than laying down. She knew he was looking at her, keeping an eye on her, and she thought it was fine. As long as he stayed there, she didn’t care what he did. She was now alone with The Father, and that’s all that mattered.

‘Are you there?’ Daisy asked. She sat down on a large black rock to look out at the ocean. She saw a fishing boat out in the distance, and a flock of seagulls floating past where the waves started, but she didn’t get an answer. Not until she got up to start walking back.

‘I’m always here, Miss Daisy; ah, how convenient that you came to the very spot I wanted you to go.’

Daisy froze in place, then sat right back down. ‘What do you mean? And where have you been all these years? I’ve been calling out to you ever since you showed me the clearing in the woods by my old house. Why didn’t you ever answer?’

The Father scoffed rudely in Daisy’s mind. ‘The laws of time’s passage do not apply to those like me, Miss Daisy. I have many children, some of whom are more important and deserving of my attention than you. I am here now, is that not good enough for you?’

‘No, it is,’ Daisy assured the voice, her heart pounding out of her chest. ‘I just… I missed you, I… I love you.’

‘Then you will do the favor I ask of you, won’t you, Miss Daisy?’

‘Yes,’ she told The Father without a moment of hesitation. ‘Yes, I’ll do anything you want, please just… please don’t leave me again.’

The Father said, ‘Climb up on the jetty and walk out to the end.’

‘What’s at the end of the jetty?’ Daisy asked, but she got no answers. She began to weep but then straightened herself up and climbed onto the jetty. Keeping her head pointed to her feet, Daisy walked down the row of slippery rocks, totally unaware that Chester had gotten up and started away from their camp.

Salty green ocean water sprayed up and wetted Daisy’s face when she reached the end of the slick jetty. She wiped it off with the bottom of her tee-shirt, taking the tears with it. ‘Okay, I’m here. What should I do?’

The Father did not answer.

‘Hello? The Father? Are… are you there?’ She sighed, and the tears began to spill anew. “Were you ever there…?”

‘I am always here, Miss Daisy. I see every move you make, I hear every twisted thought to spin through your mind. You talk to voices, Miss Daisy, you speak to beings who aren’t really there. You are sick, you are broken. But I can fix you.’

The breath escaped Daisy’s lungs. She felt a terrible tightness in her chest. Something was wrong, The Father would never say those things to her. The Father said she was special, not sick. The Father–

‘You’ve done well to come out here. Look between your feet, Miss Daisy.’

But Daisy didn’t look down. ‘Why do you keep calling me that? You didn’t call me that the last time we spoke.’

Daisy’s mind was quiet for a moment. Then, ‘Do you doubt me, Miss Daisy? You dare cast doubt upon The Great Father, the One as Old as Earth Itself? Perhaps I was wrong about you, Miss Daisy. Perhaps you’re not one of the special ones.’

“No!” Daisy shouted at the ocean, then threw her hands up to her mouth. She didn’t bother turning around; she knew the others were probably looking at her now, wondering what’s wrong with her. But they were just upset because The Father hadn’t spoken to them; they had a void in their hearts, a gaping chasm they didn’t know how to fill, that they didn’t even know was there because they’d never spoken to The Father. Or, more accurately, The Father had never spoken to them. ‘No, I… I’m sorry. I’ll do as you say, The Father. Whatever you want.’

‘Then look down between your feet and tell me what you see.’

Daisy looked down. Her feet were planted firmly on two different rocks, and wedged in the crevice between those rocks was what appeared to be a glass bottle. Daisy bent down and picked it out. It was a glass bottle, all right, one you would put a message in, but this bottle was empty. It had an old piece of cork stuffed in its mouth, and on the side there was a painting of a little boy. No… it was a clown, and he was saying Oh Noooo.

‘Is… is this what you wanted me to find?’

‘Yes,’ said the ugly, drooling voice which called itself The Father. ‘Now open it, Miss Daisy.’

‘Why do you wan–’

‘Open the vessel, Miss Daisy, and all shall be revealed.’

So Daisy opened the bottle, and suddenly, the ocean disappeared. The jetty disappeared. The sky, the clouds, the shining sun, the sounds of playing children, the smell of salt on the air – Sandy Hook was gone. Daisy Williamson was alone, floating in a black miasma of darkness, holding the vessel in her hands.

‘Well, Miss Daisy, it seems that we’re at an impasse.’

“What do you mean?” Daisy screamed defiantly into the darkness. “Where am I, what’s going on?!”

‘You are with me now, Miss Daisy. All alone in the darkness.’

“You’re not The Father! Who the fuck are you?!”

‘I am the Great Old One, Miss Daisy. I am the darkness under your bed, the shadows which consume your shack in the forest of your youth when the sun falls and the moon refuses to rise. I am everything you fear, mortal woman, and I am here for your soul.’

“I fear nothing!” Daisy shouted, and felt the words scrape against the inside of her throat. It burned but it felt good, like the bruise you walked away with when you finally stood up to the bully who made fun of you for laughing when nobody told a joke. “I’m rugged, just like my father told me! And I’m special, just like The Father told me! You can’t have my soul, you terrible thing! You’re not even real!”

‘Oh I’m real, you sniveling little shit; my true form is putrid, ghastly, horrifying, the bane of all innocence; what I truly am cannot be described by the words of mere mortals, but you cannot see me. You refuse to see me, because you are not afraid, and that is very noble. But look around you, Miss Daisy, you of the glimmering mind; you are lost in darkness and the darkness is me. I have you, Miss Daisy, and I will not let you go with hunger in my stomach. You will stay here in limbo until you surrender to me that which I crave.’

“I refuse!” Daisy challenged, or rather heard herself challenge; those words were not her own. Those words were that of The Father, The Father had come back to her at long last. The Father had come back to save her! “I refuse you this soul, you vile, pathetic demon! Go back to The Void! Go back to Godspace for your inevitable rejection! Go back to The Fucking Sandbox and be sent back to nonExistence where you belong!”

‘Silence!’ bellowed the Great Old One, and the darkness around Daisy trembled. She was alone again, with no memory of The Father’s presence in her being. She only knew the Great Old One was angry, that He was angry at her. That His darkness was beginning to swallow her physical form. That it hurt terribly to be here in His darkness, and that the pain would only grow more severe until there was nothing left of her. The Great Old One might not get her soul, but her life would end in a blink, and in the back of her mind, she saw a vision of young Hilter Odolf growing up without a mother. His life would be ruined. Unless…

“Listen to me, demon!” Daisy screamed as she began to sob. “I will die before I give in to you, Great Old One! You may not have my soul… but…” she trailed off, afraid of her own intentions. Was she really going to do this?

‘Yes, yes you are, Miss Daisy. I may not have your soul, but…’

“But… I cannot leave my child without a mother. I grew up with only a father and I don’t wish the same on my Hilter, I couldn’t. I am carrying his brother, Great Old One, I am in possession of another soul. A soul…” She almost couldn’t get the words out, but that was okay. She didn’t have to say them alone. The Great Old One would help. The Great Old One would pull them out of her. “A soul you may have if you release me from your hold and never approach me again.”

Sunlight eviscerated the darkness. The bottle – the vessel – now full of the purest, whitest sand, fell from Daisy’s grasp and disappeared between the rocks. Daisy’s legs were wobbling. She felt weak, she felt a gaping hole in her stomach like something hadd been stolen from her. And she fell.

And Chester Williamson caught her, pulling her back up on the rocks.

“Daisy!” he shouted. “Daisy, wake up!”

Daisy drifted somewhere between awake and asleep, unable to answer.

Chester checked her pulse. She was alive; her pulse was slow, but she was alive. As he approached from the shore, Chester called her name many times, but Daisy didn’t answer. She acted like she didn’t even hear him, like she slipped into a coma or something while she was standing out on these slippery rocks that nobody should be walking on in the first place. Carefully Chester manages to carry his fainted wife back to shore, and when a troupe of lifeguards came up to question him, he gave them an earful about how there should be warning signs, that his wife nearly fell into the ocean and broke her neck! And the lifeguards did put up signs, signs that will be ignored by many humans, children and adults alike, for years to come. They will be especially ignored by one child specifically: a boy named Tad, Tad Flannigan, the boy who will find the bottle with the clown painted on the side when his family is vacationing here many years in the future, and that family will be consumed by the Great Old One just like Hilter’s unborn baby brother, because not all those like The Father are quite the same as The Father, something Daisy found out on that fateful day, and only because she chose to listen.

Daisy Williamson

Daisy Williamson gave birth to a dead baby six months later. She didn’t speak a word to anybody for a full year after that; not to her husband, not to her living child, not to her dying father. Only to The Father, but those words were spoken in her head, and they fell on deaf ears.

For a long time Daisy believed she was silently ignored by The Father; that her pleas for an explanation, for some kind of understanding of why her life had spiraled out of control were outright refused. For a long time Daisy stayed inside her house, not speaking to anyone, hardly eating anything, hardly drinking anything. She did not take care of herself but she stayed healthy, though her family began to fall apart. Her husband lost his patience with her, her son Hilter stopped knocking on her door to check on her. For a long time, Daisy let her world crumble around her and did nothing about it.

Then, she decided to stop asking after The Father. She decided to do something to get his attention, to force his hand, to give him no other choice but to save her.

Daisy Williamson murdered her husband in cold blood when her son was at school one day, and she hid his body in the meat locker in the basement.

In the days that followed, she came out of her room and took care of her son. She made him his breakfast, his lunch, his dinner. She made sure he bathed, and brushed his teeth, and did his homework, all of which he would have done without her. She ignored him when he asked where his father went, she pretended she didn’t hear a word out of his mouth. And one day, when Hilter was at school, she took up all of his stuffed animals and gutted them, using the fluff to stuff her husband like a taxidermy animal, and after burying the felt carcasses in the backyard, she set Chester up on the couch for her son to find.

But still The Father didn’t speak to her. So Daist decided to start taking care of herself, to show The Father that she loved herself as much as The Father loved her; she started eating well and going for runs to get exercise, and she was fast. Daisy hardly weighed more than one hundred pounds at that point in her life and she ran like the wind, or at least, she ran faster than the neighborhood pets. The very neighborhood pets that began to disappear shortly after she picked up her running habit.

When the neighbors started to complain about how their pets went missing after she ran by their houses, she told them to fuck off and call the cops.

When the cops came and questioned her, she told them to fuck off and stop harassing her.

When the cops brought dogs into her backyard and found all the dead animals, she let them in the house and showed them her husband.

When the cops threatened to lock her away, she convinced them that her son Hilter was the culprit, that he was a psychopath, that he was holding her here as a prisoner, that she ran all the time to train so she could escape him one day. The cops believed her and Hilter was taken away, and she hoped that The Father would see that she did it all to prove to The Father that she loved herself, but The Father still didn’t speak to her.

When the neighborhood pets continued to disappear after Hilter was taken away, the cops took Daisy Williamson away, and she stayed away for a very long time. She made lots of friends at her facility, but one day she slipped deep into a catatonic semi-comatose state, and her son – who had been released from his own facility and grew up to be a world-renowned expert on schizophrenia spectrum disorders – took her out of her facility and into his own care.

Now, Daisy Williamson lives alone in the basement of the house she grew up in, that old house on Fricker Drive. Her son Hilter owns the house – Hilter Odolf Williamson owns all the houses on this street, probably because The Father loves Hilter OdolfWilliamson. The Father does not love Daisy Williamson, though. Daisy’s hospice nurse – a woman who will one day give birth to a boy named Marty who will follow in her footsteps and become a hospice nurse himself – loves Daisy Williamson, but The Father does not love Daisy Williamson.

That’s what Daisy Williamson tells herself every morning, afternoon and night as her consciousness floats just behind her eyes, patiently waiting for death: that The Father doesn’t love her anymore. And she starts to believe it, too.

Until she’s given a reason not to.

The Crystal

The Father speaks to Daisy Williamson for the last time on the night before she dies. This time The Father speaks to her in that same soothing, feminine voice she heard when she was a little girl feeding the ducks at the pond at the end of Fricker.

‘Hello, Daisy Williamson,’ Daisy hears, and her eyes snap open. She sits bolt upright and her wispy gray hair flies in front of her eyes, blinding her.

“Hello?” she asks as she claws the locks away from her face. “The Father, is that you? Are you there?”

‘It is me, Daisy Williamson. I have always been here.’ But The Father does not sound happy. The Father does not sound angry, nor disappointed; The Father sounds sad. The Father sounds very, very sad. ‘I have been with you all along, Daisy Williamson, as I am with all my children.’

Daisy scoffs. As she speaks, her voice sounds high and creaky like that of a witch. “You were not there that day at the beach when I lost my second child. You would not have let that happen, you failed me! And you lie to me now!”

‘I do not lie to you, Daisy Williamson; I was there. I saved your soul, but I could not save your unborn child; you chose to listen to the Great Old One. You did not listen to me, but you listened to Him.’

“What are you talking about?!”

‘I told you a long time ago, little one: not all those like me are quite the same as me. And you asked what I meant. And I answered that you may find out in due time, but only if you chose to listen.’

“And… I chose to listen…” whispers Daisy as her head falls back to her pillow. “I listened to Him… but not you…”

‘You were afraid, little one; I do not blame you, and you should not blame yourself. I shed a tear as I speak to you, Daisy Williamson, for it was all meant to happen just as it had.’

Daisy too sheds a tear, but not for herself. Daisy weeps for The Father, because she finally understands; The Father truly is The Father, The Father of Existence, the one who bears witness to all events, the one upon whose shoulders the weight of those events fall. The Father cannot control these events, The Father cannot change their course; The Father can only speak as things transpire and hope his children change their ways, but they never do. The Father must watch as his children commit atrocities unto one another, The Father must sit by and allow it all to happen, for The Father has no other choice. The Father of Existence gave birth to all of reality, and he must let it spiral all on its own. And so Daisy Williamson weeps for The Father, she weeps until her tear ducts are dry.

‘My child,’ The Father says in that sad, sad voice.

“Yes, The Father?”

‘You are going to die soon, Daisy Williamson, and there is something you must do before your time comes.’

“What must I do? Anything, The Father. Please, just speak the words.”

‘The crystal, Daisy Williamson. Your son has found the crystal you left in your clubhouse. You must take the crystal and come back here; in the morning he will come to find it, and you shall tell him the truth.’

“The truth?” Daisy asks. “What truth should I tell him, The Father?”

But The Father speaks no more.

The Voice of Existence

Hilter Odolf Williamson wakes up from a sound, dreamless sleep to find his nightstand empty. Before he went to bed last night, he put the crystal that called to him in the ratty wooden shack  right on that nightstand, but now it’s gone. And for some reason, he knows exactly where he’ll find it.

“No…” Hilter says to himself as he gets dressed in his best slacks and button-down. “No, that’s not possible. She’s hardly even alive, the woman doesn’t have the strength to get out of bed. I had to hire a hospice nurse for God’s sake, it’s not possible.”

But he knows it is, and so Hilter walks down the road to what used to be the Johnson’s house, the very first house he bought on Fricker Drive, the same house Daisy grew up in – not that Hilter knew that when he bought it. No, it simply spoke to him, called out to him in a metaphysical sort of way. He goes in through the garage and walks through the basement, then pauses at the door to his mother’s private apartment.

“Do you really believe your catatonic mother got up in the middle of the night, broke into the one house on this road you happened to be sleeping in – a detail she would never be able to know regardless of the higher state of consciousness her schizophrenia allows her to access because I blocked the information from her and her specifically – and stole that quartz crystal off your nightstand? Without waking you? Come on Hilter, you must be fucking daft.”

And he almost walks away. But then he doesn’t. Hilter opens the door and sees the crystal lying on his mother’s stomach, slowly rising and falling as she breathes.

“How in the hell did you manage it, woman?” Hilter asks, walking into the gloomy apartment and slamming the door behind him. “How is it even possible?”

Daisy opens her eyes, then turns her head slightly to face Hilter. “Hello, my beautiful son.”

“Hello, Mother,” Hilter says through clenched teeth. “Answer my Goddamned question. How did you get that rock off my nightstand last night?”

“I… I don’t remember, son. I wasn’t carried by my will alone.”

“What?!” Hilter shouts, exasperated.

“It was The Father of Existence, child. The Father spoke to me last night, for the first time since I was a little girl… The Father told me what I need to do.”

“Oh? And what’s that? Do you need to murder me like you did my father? Do you need to have me locked up again? WHAT?!” he screams, the veins bursting from his throat.

Daisy only smiles. “I love you, Hilter, and I’m sorry for everything that’s happened. But I’m not long for this world, and I must ask you to listen.”

A scowl of rage and disgust makes itself perfectly present on Hilter’s face. “Fine. Fine, I’m listening. What do you have to say, you psychotic old bird? And make it quick, before I do you in myself.”

“If that’s how it’s meant to happen, that’s how it will go… but I do not think…” she trails off, then lets the air hang silent. Then, “I must tell you the truth, Hilter. The truth about reality.”

“The truth?” Hilter barks. “I know the truth, Mother. The truth is that everything is conscious, that everything vibrates at a certain level on the spectrum of consciousness. The truth is that some humans, like you and myself, are schizophrenic, and that we are quite literally higher than the majority of those around us. We are special, our minds are more powerful. That’s how you so easily got away with killing my father and all those animals, that’s how you were able to convince everybody that it was me and not you. Because you’re psychic, because you can look into the mind of another human being and bend and twist it to your liking.”

Daisy smiles at her son. Her son hates her for that smile.

“It’s the only thing that makes sense! I’m the same way! I’m the world’s greatest expert on the schizophrenia spectrum and I have the disease, I know firsthand how it works! How else can you explain my success, how else can all the convenient little coinciding incidents that happened to bring me here this morning? How else can you explain the fact that I was brought to that old ratty shack in the woods by the Universe itself, huh? How else can you explain anything that happens in this fucked up world?!”

Daisy can only smile. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be the one to show you my clubhouse, Hilter.”

The color drops out of Hilter’s face.

“Did you know I grew up in this house? And now I’m going to die here – it all comes around eventually, son. Unless it doesn’t, in which case… well, in which case it didn’t need to. Your theories are fun to think about Hilter, they’re fun thought experiments to run, but believing them will bring you no further in life. Can I tell you the truth now?”

Hilter says nothing; he can’t speak, he’s too busy trying to understand how his Mother’s voice just changed, how she sounds so young and healthy all of the sudden. How her voice is so soothing to his ears.

“The truth, Hilter, is that there is no the truth.” Daisy Williamson, holding the crystal in her hands now, levitates out of her bed, phasing through the blankets that once covered her while, at the same time, keeping her nightgown on. She floats in front of Hilter and stands on the air, meeting him at eye level. “Existence is a living thing, Hilter, and you’re right – some things are more conscious than others – but nothing living inside of Existence lives under its own free will. Everything that happens, from the formation of planets down to the thoughts which pop into your head, happens because that’s how Existence wants it to happen. There are no forces above Existence that can alter Her course of action, none that dare to, at least. There are merely forces who help facilitate Her creations as they embark on their journeys inside of Her: they are The Mongrel, which gives life to the others; The Perception, which gives life to the I; and The Father of Existence, who speaks to all that will hear, whether or not they’re capable of listening. And guess what, Hilter? Sometimes, Existence doesn’t even work like that. Sometimes, Existence breaks the rules She sets up for Herself, if for no other reason than the fact that She can. And that’s just what it is. And the wind continues to blow. And that’s enough; for you, Hilter, and for Existence Herself, that’s enough.

“You will never understand Existence, Hilter. You will never understand how consciousness really works. You will never be able to grasp reality in your hands, Hilter Odolf Williamson, because it is not your purpose to do so.”

Hilter takes a step back, refusing to listen. “No, that’s… that’s bullshit! I am a psychologist, the world-renown–”

“Human psychology is a pseudoscience, you arrogant fool,” says Daisy in the voice of The Father. “You are on this Earth to help those in need, those like Scotty Mells and Dallas Hinton and Gill Milligan, whose dream journal you still have yet to read. You’re here for those like the boy Cooper, the one with no last name, a fact you never once questioned during your interactions with him. You own all the houses on this street so you can give troubled souls like your mother Daisy a safe place to rest so they can move on, so you can talk to them and help them level out. That is your purpose; you are special, Hilter, but not for the reason you think.”

“Then why?!” Hilter shouts, but he doesn’t choose to. He merely feels the words fly out of his mouth, and in that moment he understands that none of his actions are his. None of them ever have been and none of them ever will be, because there is no him. There is merely Existence and all of Her creations, which are just reflections of Herself.

“Because Existence decided you should be. Because Existence Herself decided that you have a very special role to play, and you shall play it until Existence Herself dies.”

A feeling of bliss and love washes over Hilter. He forgets about his past, he forgets about his anger, his confusion, all the convenient incidents that have brought him to his mother’s apartment in the basement of the first house he brought on Fricker Drive. He realizes where he is: Universe W-63, a simple Universe, a Universe where souls go to be incarnated and heal from past trauma so they can move on and spiral anew elsewhere in The Void, and Hilter feels good about that. Hilter feels safe and secure with his role here. And when Daisy falls dead to the floor in a heap of broken bones, Hilter can only smile, because that’s exactly what was supposed to happen.

Hilter turns around and goes to leave the apartment, not worrying about his dead mother because Existence will sort that out without having Hilter play a part. Then, he hears a voice whispering to him from inside his head. The voice wants him to turn around, and so he does.

Daisy is floating again, but her arms and legs aren’t attached to her body – they’re all linked together, hand to hand, foot to foot, stump to stump in a circle, a horrifically bloody circle of dismembered limbs spinning faster than the tires of Dallas’s car when he peeled out last night. In the middle of the circle is Daisy’s torso, her legless, armless, headless torso, the nightgown which covers it soaked in the blood which it leaks onto the spinning wheels of limbs, and as the wheel spins ‘round and ‘round, it paints the walls, ceiling and floor, the bed, the life support equipment, the furniture; the entire basement apartment is painted with the blood of Daisy Williamson. Her head is floating before the center of her torst; her eyes are blacked out and streaks of glowing purple fluid flow down her cheeks and dribble out from her stump of a neck.

“One last thing before you go, Hilter,” Daisy’s severed head says in her beautiful, elated voice, the voice of The Father of Existence. No, this voice is different – it’s the voice of Existence Herself.

“What’s that, mom?” Hilter asks, not at all perturbed by the sight (nor the smell) of his mom’s actively bleeding and grossly mutilated body.

“Existence will eventually end, Hilter; I will die one day.”

And then, in a deep, haunting voice that would sound normal if it were speaking backwards, Existence says, “But not until I’m damn well ready.”


This curve of the spiral is now complete; the book will be out just as soon as I finish making it. Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

For Johnny

Boca

It’s a simmering day in Boca Raton, Florida. The sky is bluer than the ocean – much bluer, in fact, as the Atlantic is about as green as Dallas Hinton’s gills when it comes to flying – the clouds are whiter than the yolkless fried egg Dallas had for breakfast, and the tarmac is the skillet upon which that egg was fried. Dallas and his uncle Darrel are walking towards the private aircraft together, but only one of them has luggage.

“Thanks for carrying my suitcases, Unc’,” Dallas says, trying to break the silence and distract himself from what he’s walking towards.

“Sure thing, kid. Sorry again that I’m making you fly alone. I just… uh, I don’t…” he sighs. “Well, I’ll be honest with ya John, I just don’t want to go back to New Jersey. You see, I love myself buddy, and New Jersey is the land of self-haters. If you love yourself up there, you’ll just get pushed over and kicked when your down, because what right do you have to be happy when everybody else forces themselves to wallow in their own misery?”

“Uh… my name’s Dallas, Uncle Dee.”

“Oh right, John’s the one who died. Whoops!”

Dallas has only flown once in his twenty-one years on this planet, and that flight was the one that brought him down to Florida in the first place. He wasn’t of legal drinking age at the time and his parents were real sticklers about making Dally sit through the three hours sober whilst they got blasted and talked shit about his Grandmother, whom they were on their way to visit. Little did Dallas know, his parents had actually made arrangements to permanently move in with ol’ Gram’; the only reason Johnny didn’t come was because he was still mourning over the loss of his friend George. The Hintons saw George as a bad influence on their Johnny, and when their Johnny chose to be sad over his dead friend rather than celebrating the moment with his very alive (and very parental) parents, they decided to issue a little payback in the form of letting him take care of himself. He’s a grown man with grown man feelings of his own, the Mother Hinton said to Dallas on the flight to Boca. He can clearly take care of himself.

But Dallas wasn’t aware of his parents’ little plan, not until the third week of living under the golden umbrella of his loaded Grandmother. That’s not to say he was exactly unhappy about it, either – living in Treeburg got pretty lonely for Dallas when high school ended. Johnny was the only human Dallas really had to talk to, as most of his friend group split off for different corners of the country after graduation, but Johnny was usually busy with his own friends, anyway. Dallas didn’t have a lot of ambition, didn’t really have any plans for his life; so, when the Universe brought him to Florida and let him live on his Grandmother’s dime, he accepted it, just like he accepts everything else that’s handed to him. After a few years of it though, he’s grown tired. The well has dried up, so to speak, but not the well of the Hintons’ money – that well will never bottom out… until it does, anyway. Regardless, the well of Dallas’s patience has gone empty, and now he’s off to find a new hole to dig.

When he first came down to Florida, Dallas thought the flight itself was the cause of his massive anxiety, nausea, and inability to sleep at night, but the flight was only a few hours long. The flight happened over the course of hardly a quarter of a day and then ended; the trauma, however, only got worse as the clock ticked on and the weeks turned into months. Dallas now understands it’s his family that’s the problem, and so he’s going back to Jersey by himself to get away for a little while and pay his respects at the grave of his late older brother. Little does the rest of the Hinton clan know, Dallas isn’t planning on coming back, but they can figure that out for themselves after three weeks or so. They’re grown men and women, after all, they can take care of themselves. Clearly.

The jet, a Citation CJ4 with a shining white body and deep streaks of navy rising from its belly and running from its nose to the base of its tail, is all prepped and ready to go; all it needs is its single passenger. The pilot takes the luggage from Darrel Hinton and climbs into his flying tube, giving the man a moment to pass some knowledge on to his sister’s only living child. He wraps a sweaty arm around Dallas’s shoulder and walks him a few steps away from the airplane.

“Listen buddy, I know you can’t stand flyin’, I know it makes you wet your pants or whatever, but trust me: it ain’t that bad. I was originally plannin’ on comin’ back with ya, as you know, but… well, plans change. I figure, since I’m down here, I might as well spend some time in my mom’s mansion with my sister and her boyfriend,” he says, referring to Dallas’s father in the same way he usually does. “You can drive, right? Well, regardless, my car’ll be waiting at the airport for ya, just don’t crash it and you’ll be fine. Here, I got somethin’ for ya, too.” With his free hand, Darrel slips a bundle of plastic into Dallas’s pocket – deep into Dallas’s pocket, like, a little too deep for comfort. “Don’t you open that ‘til you’re up in the air, and don’t let the pilot see it. I don’t trust his face.”

With that, Uncle Darrel abruptly walks away with a skip in his step. Dallas just shakes his head. When he turns around, he sees the pilot standing at the top of the plane’s steps.

“Sorry, my Uncle uh… wanted to say goodbye.”

“It’s all good, Dallas,” the pilot says with an easy smile. “I’ve worked for your family for a long time, I know how they are. You all ready to go?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Dallas says. The pilot ducks inside the jet and Dallas climbs up the stairs, then looks back at Boca Raton one more time before ducking in and leaving it behind him.

The Baked Good

The familiarity of the jet’s cabin sinks in just as soon as Dallas’s eyes adjust to the artificial light. There are six cushy chairs, two of which have a table between them. Each has a cup holder to either its right or left, depending on which way they’re facing, and each also comes with a little television screen.

“You can sit anywhere you like,” says the pilot in a friendly tone. He puts a reassuring hand on Dallas’s right shoulder. “I remember flying you and your folks down here a few years ago; I have a feeling the return trip won’t be quite as stressful for ya.”

Dallas smiles. “Yeah, I don’t think so either.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the gift his uncle deposited there. Contained within the wrapping, which only gets greasier the further Dallas unwraps it, is a single brownie. “Hey, you want this? I’m more of a peanut butter cookie kind of guy.”

The pilot takes the baked good and sniffs it, then breaks it in half and gives half to Dallas. “I think you’ll want to eat this one anyway.”

“Why?” asks Dallas, the only twenty-one-year-old in America who’s yet to feel the loving touch of intoxication.

“Just trust me,” says the pilot of the private jet. He pats Dallas’s shoulder and disappears into the cockpit, leaving Dallas to explore the cabin.

Dallas doesn’t do much exploring because there’s not much exploring to be done – he’s in the cabin of a private jet, it’s cool but it’s not that big, just a few chairs and whatnot – but he does sit down and eat the brownie in two bites. It only serves to remind him why he prefers cookies: brownies just taste weird, this one especially. Oh well. He leans his head back and lets his mind take a dive through the reflective surface of the pool of unconsciousness; he’s out before the pilot gives his takeoff spiel. If Dallas had managed to stay awake he’d hear the pilot giggling like a little girl over the intercom, but he didn’t so he doesn’t and the wheels of the jet fold into its navy blue belly just as soon as they leave the ground.

Airborne

When Dallas opens his eyes, it’s safe to say he’s airborne.

The plane is gliding smoothly through the air at what Dallas assumes is thirty thousand feet. Looking out the window, Dallas can’t tell exactly where they are – or in other words, how long he was asleep for – as all he can see is a deep sea of puffy white clouds. They could be anywhere right now, and despite that fact, Dallas only feels calm. He’s comfortable, even; zero anxiety, zero stomachache.

On wobbly legs Dallas walks up the aisle and knocks on the door to the cockpit. No answer – he knocks again and gets the same response.

“Captain? Uh, I mean, Pilot? Hello?”

Nothing but the hum of the engines. Although he’s sure the door will be locked, Dallas tries it anyway. It slides right open, but that’s not what surprises Dallas; what surprises Dallas is the fact that the cockpit’s empty. Nobody is sitting in either seat; the steering wheel (which looks like it belongs in a car rather than an airplane) is turning all on its own.

“What the fuuhhhhck?” Dallas says as he backpedals into the cabin. He trips over his own feet and falls on his ass, which certainly doesn’t feel good. It’s all right though, somebody offers him a hand to help him up.

“Hey, thanks man,” Dallas says as he’s pulled to his feet.

“No problem, bro,” says Johnny with a bright smile. “Been a while, hasn’t it?”

Dallas nods. On the inside he’s exploding, he has so many questions, he wants to jump and dance and sing; on the outside he stays cool and collected, almost as if his body is just a meatsuit, one preprogrammed for this interaction specifically.

“Well shit, pop a squat. I have a favor to ask you.”

Johnny and Dallas Hinton sit down facing each other.

“Well, before anything else, how’ve ya been, dude?”

“I’ve been all right,” Dallas hears himself say, his mouth moving by its own accord. “It’s been kind of hard since… well, since you know. But I’m getting along. I’ve been living down in Boca with Mom and Dad and Grandma and all them. It’s uh… well, it certainly is.”

Johnny’s left eyebrow rises. “Is it now?”

“It is… I mean, it was. I’m coming back up to Jersey right now, like, for good. I didn’t tell them though. Just like they didn’t tell me they were moving me down to Boca when we left. It all comes around eventually, I guess.”

“That it does. You look good man, you’re really grown up. But, listen… it’s really good to see you, and I wish this could last longer, but uh, you only ate half the brownie. So let me cut to the chase.”

“Cut to it, then,” Dallas’s mouth says as his mind struggles to comprehend the reality around him.

“Well… do you remember that old bat dagger I used to have? The one I got from the online auction when that auction hall down at the other end of the Montane Deli plaza opened?”

“Yeah I remember it, I didn’t know you got it from the auctions though. I didn’t know where you got that thing.”

“Oh… well, yeah, I got it for a few bucks in an online auction. I thought I told you, but I guess that was George… but you and me went hiking and carved shit into trees with it together, right?”

“Nah… I think that was George, too. We didn’t really hang out a lot man, we just talked… sometimes.” Even that’s stretching it, though; it occurs to Dallas that, after living with his parents for the past few years – his incredulously shit-talking parents – that he may have put Johnny on something of a pedestal, a pedestal made of toothpicks that doesn’t necessarily support his weight. “That wasn’t your fault though, I’m kind of a loner. But uh, never mind all that. What about the dagger?”

Johnny’s hands disappeared into his pockets at some point. “Um… so mom and dad told you about what happened, right? The burglar?”

Dallas nods his head solemnly.

“The uh, the dagger was among the stuff stolen, I think. Or it might not have been, I never exactly got a chance to catalog what was missing.” He spits a dry sort of laugh, then, “So, could you, um… could you look around the house to see if you could find it?”

A shrug of the shoulders. “Sure, I was gonna go over there anyway. Mom and Dad sold the house but they made the guy who bought it promise not to throw anything out until they could get someone up there to make sure nothing important got trashed. I’ll see if he kept his word.”

Relief sweeps over Johnny’s face. “Sweet, thanks dude. I appreciate the hell out of that.”

“Sure.” Silence. “What do you want me to do if I find it?”

When you find it – and um… could you leave it at my grave? I’m buried at the end of that long graveyard on the side of Treeburg Ave. Midvale, I think it’s called. Just leave it behind the headstone, I’ll be able to take care of it from there.”

“Yeah man, I can do that. But it might not be in the house, I don–”

“You’ll find it, trust me. I mean, you’re right, it might not be in the house, but you’ll find it. Also, and this is probably a long shot, but look under the fridge and see if you can find a black Lake George coaster. I’d really love to giv–”

Turbulence slaps the plane around, tossing both Johnny and Dallas out of their seats.

“Shit, I think that’s our time, little bro.” Johnny stands up and offers Dallas a hand, but Dallas doesn’t take it. Dallas stands up all on his own. “I um…” Johnny starts, then looks down to the carpet, then back up at his little brother’s eyes. “I miss you, man. I know we weren’t really close, but… but I…”

Dallas closes the gap and hugs his brother. Johnny flinches a bit when Dallas’s arms wrap around him, but then he cautiously returns the hug.

“I miss you too, Johnny. So do Mom and Dad, even though…” he sighs. “I knew, John.”

Johnny’s grip loosens, then tightens back up. “You… you knew?” The hug breaks. “How much did you know?”

“I knew about it all, I just… I never brought it up, I… I didn’t know how to. But… you probably don’t want to hear this, but they loved you. And I loved you – I love you.”

Tears well up in Johnny’s eyes. “I… I love you too, Dallas.”

Dallas smiles. “Rest in peace, big brother.”

Torrents of light flood in through the windows of the CJ4. Another round of turbulence bashes the plane, knocking Dallas off his feet. But this time, he doesn’t land on his ass; he just floats up and up and up, and the light engulfs him completely.

A Burglar

When Dallas opens his eyes, the plane is no longer moving. He’s belted into his seat, a stream of dried drool is crusted to his cheek and his head feels all kinds of fuzzy, but fuzzy in a good way. It’s like someone ran a feather duster through his brain and cleared out some nasty old cobwebs, cobwebs which haven’t been inhabited by spiders since before Dallas got dragged through the clouds to Boca Raton with his folks. He looks over his shoulder and sees into the cockpit – it’s empty. Dallas is alone on the plane.

‘Huh, I guess I was dreaming,’ he thinks to himself as he unbuckles. ‘There’s not even a door up there, how did I not notice that when we took off?’

As he’s stretching his stiff back, Dallas hears footsteps behind him. He turns just in time to see the pilot boarding the plane. “Ah, hello Dallas. Ready to take off?”

“What?!” Dallas says, his facial expression dropping as the pitch of his voice rises.

The pilot grins a most dastardly, toothy grimace. “Only messing with you, sport. You slept through the landing, so I figured I’d take care of the formalities inside and get your luggage and whatnot into the car before I woke you up. You’re all set to go.”

“Oh. Word. Thanks, Mister… uh, what’s your name?”

The pilot says, “You can call me Mister Kyng,” then drops a wink and sits back down in the cockpit.

Dallas thanks Mister Kyng, then exits the Citation and walks off the runway without going through the airport, as the pilot took care of all the formalities for him. He finds his uncle’s car waiting for him in the long-term parking area and climbs in, thanking God it’s not a manual.

A long stretch of gradual downhill road takes Dallas through the forest to County Road 511. He takes this first leg of the drive slowly so he can gawk out the windows at just how green everything is up here in Jersey. It’s literally a rain forest; well, not literally, as it’s not raining and these woods aren’t quite as impassable as a jungle, as far as Dallas remembers, but still, compared to the golf courses and ocean views of Boca, north Jersey may as well be a different continent.

The drive down 511 is much faster, as the other Jersians on the road with Dallas threaten to rear-end him through the guardrails if he doesn’t drive at least ten over the speed limit, but that’s fine. He’ll have plenty of time to reacquaint himself with the area after he’s found his brother’s dagger.

“Wait, am I really gonna go looking for that thing? That was just a dream… wasn’t it?”

Maybe, or maybe not; still, he was planning on going to the old house anyway, so he might as well look. Even if he doesn’t end up putting the dagger behind his brother’s grave – if he finds it, and that’s a big if – it would be a nice little memento to have.

Dallas was planning on stopping for a walk across the Monksville Dam before heading over to Fricker Drive, but the moment he turns off the county road, dark clouds move in from the south and the air temperature drops ten degrees. It appears as if a storm is coming – to avoid setting himself up to be struck by lightning on his first day home, Dallas keeps driving. The rain starts a minute later when he turns on to Fricker Drive and matures into a torrential downpour when he pulls into his old driveway, which is empty.

‘Huh, I guess the owners aren’t home. Looks like I’m breaking in, then. Hope they don’t have any security.’

Having missed out on feeling the rain on his skin for the past handful of years (nobody in the Hinton Boca compound was allowed outside during inclement weather, because why do they need to go outside? There’s an indoor pool, a movie theater, a bowling alley, I own a greenhouse the size of your parents’ old house for Christ’s sake Dallas, why do you want to leave your Gram’ma to suffer the pain of her arthritis all by herself?), Dallas gets out and walks calmly through the refreshing storm to the front steps. The front door is locked, but the new owner never got rid of the old key his parents used to keep under the mat, probably because his parents never told him about it. One man’s inconvenience is another man’s convenience, what more is there to say?

Dallas tries the key but it doesn’t work. ‘Fuck. Guess I’m going around back.’

Around back, between the old turquoise deck and the kitchen, is a sliding glass door with a faulty lock – if one works the door with enough determination, the lock will loosen and the door will open just wide enough so something skinny (like a spare house key) can fit into the gap between the door and the catch, thus allowing a burglar the opportunity to get in without breaking any windows. Dallas is no burglar, neither potentially nor actually, and though he successfully breaks in to his old house, he makes one mistake that no self-respecting burglar would make: he triggers the silent alarm which is advertised by the stickers in the corners of the front windows of the house, the very stickers he didn’t notice because of how feverishly the sky is wetting the Earth. Oh well, what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

The Coaster

Dallas doesn’t give the kitchen so much as a passing glance as he flies through it; it may as well be a hallway. When his parents told him about Johnny’s demise at the hands of the burglar, they didn’t tell him all of the grisly details – how his head was caved in like a feral caveman swung a club into it, how a bit of his hair was missing and likely stuck on the murder weapon, how he showed no signs of fighting back because he was so piss drunk – only that he died on the kitchen floor, right in front of the refrigerator. Johnny spent a lot of time on that kitchen floor, more time than he knew Dallas knew about. Dallas spent a lot of time locked in his bedroom when the Hinton family lived in this house, but the walls aren’t soundproof. He heard the yelling and the screaming. He heard the hitting and the whipping. He heard the falling, and the kicking which usually followed it, and the weeping which usually followed them both.

With one foot on the first basement step, Dallas remembers that he was supposed to check for the coaster, too. He turns to go back up, then asks himself, “Am I really going to do favors for my dead brother that I saw in a weird dream? Is that really what my life’s come to?”

With the coaster in his pocket, Dallas stands up and brushes the dust off his knees. It falls to the floor in clouds – apparently the new owners of this house don’t clean up much. Whatever, not Dallas’s problem. Dallas’s problem may or may not be waiting for him in the basement. Off he goes.

Boxes are stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Unlabeled, partially collapsed cardboard boxes packed like a hoarder packs plastic bags into a drawer, each and every one of them full of Johnny’s old stuff, plus whatever Dallas and his parents left behind before the surprise move.

“Jesus, I don’t even know where to start…” Dallas mutters to himself, but it comes out louder than he meant it to. Just loud enough to be heard by the presence at the top of the stairs.

“You can start by getting the fuck down on your knees.” Dallas starts to turn around, then he hears a course “STOP!” slap across his face like his father’s belt across Johnny’s shirted back, usually when Johnny wasn’t looking. “Don’t turn, don’t you look at me! Get down on your knees and put your hands behind your head!”

Dallas stops and gets down on his knees, then puts his hands behind his head.

The man comes down the stairs slowly, exaggerating every step. He walks like he’s at the end of a very long journey; each time a foot lands on a creaky wooden stair, Dallas can somehow feel the metaphysical weight of it. A lot led up to this man walking down these stairs on this stormy afternoon, probably about as much as what led Dallas to kneeling down on the floor.

“I got you now, you son of a fucking bitch. Fourth break-in and you came back to the scene of the second. You must think you’re pretty clever; let’s see how well your brain works when I bash this bottle against the back of your head!”

“Wait!” Dallas screams out, keeping his hands firmly clasped behind his head. “I’m not a burglar, I used to live here! I’m just… fuck, I don’t even know what I’m doing here. Just… please, don’t hurt me! I’m not trying to steal anything!”

The footsteps stop. “Turn around. Stay as you are, but turn around. Slowly.”

Investing quite a bit of effort, Dallas turns himself around whilst staying on his knees. He sees a silhouette of a man dressed in dark gray sweatpants and an even darker hooded sweatshirt. One of the man’s arms ends in a bottle, the other ends in the hem of the sleeve, as if he only has one hand.

“What’s your name, son?” the man asks calmly as the tension begins to thin.

“Dallas,” answers Dallas with a wobble in his voice. “Dallas Hinton. My family used to own this house, my um… my older brother is the one who got murdered. But I suppose you already know that.”

The man folds his arms. The bottle sticks out of the top of the fold like a cigar out of a seedy businessman’s mouth. “I should, I’m the one who found him. What are you doing here? And don’t lie to me – I’m a world-renowned psychologist, I can tell when I’m being lied to.”

After gulping loud enough to send a chill down his own spine, Dallas says, “Well… this is probably going to sound really, really crazy, but… I had a dream, a really weird, vivid dream on my flight up here. I saw my brother, and he asked me to come and look for a couple things for him, a coaster and a uh… and a dagger. I found the coaster – it’s in my back pocket, I’ll show you if you don’t believe me – but not the dagger. He said it might not be in the house but that I would find it.” Dallas sighs. “Whatever that means.”

“Where was the coaster?” the silhouetted man asks, keeping his arms folded.

“It was under the refrigerator. I’m not a criminal Mister, I just…” he sighs again, the air heavy with defeat. “Even before I had the dream I told myself I was going to come here, but now that I’m here, I’m not even sure why I came. I’m just a kid, man, I’m just a lost kid in a young adult’s body. Until I came back to Jersey today I’ve been coasting by on my parents’ dime because that’s all I know how to do, that’s all they taught me. Honestly, that’s all they know how to do, my Mom’s Mom is loaded. After they got married, my parents never had to work a day in their life. I don’t know what I’m doing, man, I… please don’t hurt me or call the cops, okay? I’ll leave, I’ll even let you keep the coaster if you want it, I just…”

Dallas doesn’t continue, as he doesn’t know what to say.

The man doesn’t say anything either, at least not at first. He merely stands there with the boy in his shadow, letting his overworked and exhausted brain process all of this. Then, “Get up.”

When Dallas looks up, the man’s already climbed up two stairs. “Wait, what?”

“I said get up,” says the man without turning around. “Come with me, I think I know where your knife is.” He stops walking. “Your dagger, rather. Now come on, we don’t have any time to lose. If it stops raining before we get there, he might hear us approaching.”

One thousand three hundred and thirteen questions swarm through Dallas’s mind like the bees hived up in the attic that the current owner will probably never get taken care of (this is the first time he’s come to this house since he bought it), but he gets up without a word and follows the man upstairs. They walk out the front door into the rain and head up the street, passing by Dallas’s car without giving it a single thought. Where these two are going they won’t need a car, not that Dallas knows that. All Dallas knows is to follow this man, and so follow the man he does, his mind as silent as his mouth.

The Old Logging Road

Neither of the men share a single word as they bumble up Fricker Drive through the pouring rain. At first Dallas was enjoying the sensation – down in Florida (in the rare event his Grandmother was asleep and he could sneak outside and experience it), every single rainstorm that wasn’t a full blown hurricane felt like a warm, steamy shower – but up in the Jersey jungle it’s just cold. It was nice at first, but the novelty’s worn off. He’s definitely going to be sick tomorrow.

If he makes it to tomorrow, anyway. After all, he’s blindly following a stranger up the road he used to live on, a stranger whose house he broke into, a stranger armed with a breakable glass bottle. All Dallas has is a dusty coaster.

At the top of the steep hill at the back end of Fricker, the bottle toting man goes left and starts across the saturated lawn between the street and the pond. Dallas follows. When they’re halfway across the concrete path running alongside the pond, Dallas finally speaks up.

“Excuse me, Sir?”

No answer. He probably just didn’t hear, the rain is falling pretty hard.

“Hey, Mister!”

Still nothing. Dallas looks to the pond, then back at the man. He’s not that big, if Dallas got him by surprise he could probably dunk him into the water. That’d give him plenty of time to get back to the house and drive away… but let’s be honest, Dallas doesn’t want it to come to that. Dallas doesn’t like violence, he doesn’t even like talking about it. So he tries again, this time tapping the man on the shoulder, the right shoulder, the one with the bottle gripped below it.

“Hey man, hold up. I have a couple questions.”

The man holds up, but he doesn’t turn around. “What? Speak loudly, I can hardly hear you.”

Dallas hustles up in front of the man, thinking it’ll help him hear better. It probably won’t, as the man’s hood is plastered to his head from the rain, but now that he’s up front, it would be dumb if he jogged back around. “Well first, what’s your name?”

The man blinks. “Hilter Odolf Williamson. I have a question for you, too: how well do you know the trails back here?”

“Uhhh… well enough, I guess,” Dallas guesses. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere I’ve never been before, but I have it on good authority that the place exists. Somewhere back along the old logging road there is a junction that’s rather muddy – if you follow it one way it’ll take you to the Wanaque Reservoir, and if you follow it the other it will take you to a ratty wooden shack with a door made of plywood. From what I understand, it’s quite easy to miss the turn if you’re coming back from the reservoir in a hurry. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

A blank look is all Dallas can muster. The raindrops fall down his cheeks in rivers. “I didn’t know there was an old logging road back here, Mister Williamson.”

Hilter blinks again, three times in rapid succession. “It’s another name for the wide trail, this one right ahead of us.”

Dallas turns around and looks into the forest. The lower branches of the trees give the mouth of the trail the appearance of a luscious green cavern. “Oh, you mean the quadding trail. Yeah, sorry, I should have known; nothing else leads to the res’. I think I know the spot you’re talking about.”

“Good. If it’s not obvious to me, you’ll have to point it out. Remember, we don’t want to go to the reservoir, we want to go the other way. The way to the shack.” Hilter then resumes his plunge into the drenched forest.

“What’s at the shack, Mister Williamson?” No answer. “Do you think my brother’s dagger is really out there?” Again, no answer. Dallas jogs to catch up, then falls into pace with Hilter.

They march past the heads of the trails which zig and zag back and forth through the shallower parts of the forest. They carefully march down the rocky hill, trying their best not to twist their ankles on the abundance of loose rocks. At the bottom of this hill are three trails, two of them much wider than the third. Dallas suggests the rightmost, as the left leads back to Stonetown Road.

The rightmost trail is excruciatingly muddy, as muddy as the hill was rocky, muddier even. Dallas said this is a quadding trail, and that explanation will have to do – the ATVs tear up the forest with their all-terrain tires, converting well-walked trails into impassable pits of mud which will eventually turn into ponds like the bend they just trailblazed around. Eventually, Hilter imagines, when enough time has passed and enough rain has fallen, these trails will become ruts through which rivers flow. That’s all well and good, just as long as they find the shack before it happens.

Both men are covered in mud up to their shins by the time they come to the junction. Dallas doesn’t need to point it out to Hilter, but he does anyway. Hilter ignores him. Pulling down his hood so he can think clearly, Hilter surveys the area – the left bend of the junction is a pool of thick, brown water, while the right is rocky enough to walk through without having to dip off the trail.

“We go right, correct?” Hilter asks without turning to face Dallas. Dallas hears him, as the rain is much quieter in the woods what with the canopy catching the drops and all.

“Yep. You want me to go first?”

Hilter answers by proceeding over the slick, mossy rocks. He almost loses his footing a few times, eight times to be specific, but he manages to cross the steppingstones without breaking his legs. Dallas follows suit, albeit much more gracefully. They continue along the old logging road, both parties ignoring the thick line running down the center of the trail, a line reminiscent of the shallow rut left behind from the dragging of a body bundled up in blankets and duct tape. Dallas doesn’t notice it – he keeps his eyes on Hilter, just in case the dude decides to turn around and bring that bottle down on his head – but Hilter does, and Hilter knows exactly what made that track. He saw the creature once in his dream, and though it was under the surface of some cloudy water and he couldn’t get a good look at it, he’d very much like to never see it again.

This last stretch of the old logging road is fairly flat and solid. Dallas and Hilter walk side by side up until the very end, where they both stop in unison. Standing twenty feet ahead of them is the ratty wooden shack.

The Ratty Wooden Shack

“Behold, child; we have reached the end of Treeburg’s oldest road.”

It stands about twelve feet high from the mud-splattered base to the point of the mossy shingled roof. The door is a sheet of plywood, likely no more than a half-inch thick considering how warped it is, and covered in a rainbow of molds; fuzzy blues, oily greens, hairy whites, slimy oranges, a disconcerting yellow splotch about three feet off the ground. The walls are made of boards of varying ages and colors – some a faded gray, some a rich dark brown, the rest lost somewhere in between. Some are missing, leaving gaping holes, and some have been reinforced with small squares of plywood. Some have been reinforced with branches too, and some with tree bark. To the left of the door is a dirty glass window.

“Does… does someone really live here?” Dallas asks, shuddering at the thought.

“You’d be surprised, Dallas,” Hilter answers slowly, unable to take his eyes off the shack. “The human body is a resilient organism; I know a young man who survived on weeds, water tainted with lead paint, and nothing else for the better part of his life.”

They stand there as the forest drips rain down on them. The ratty wooden shack has an air of death around it; this is a place where the damned come to die, where the lost souls of the world wander to find out just how lost they really are. To enter the shack is to leave the world behind; to leave the shack is only a promise to return to it in worse shape. The thick dragged body track leads right to the moldy plywood door.

“Well,” Hilter says, then nervously gulps. “I suppose we’d better knock on the door. I’ll go first; follow my lead Dallas, but be prepared to run.”

“No,” Dallas says.

“Excuse me?”

“This is where the guy that killed my brother lives, isn’t it? The burglar?”

Hilter studies Dallas’s face, then nods. “I believe it is. And if my hunch is right, your brother’s dagger is probably in there, too.”

Dallas nods. “Then I’m going first. All my life I’ve just done what I was told, I was always the follower, the quiet one, the kid who stayed in his room unless I was told otherwise. I’m tired of being that guy, I’m sick and fucking tired of it. My brother’s murderer is shacked up in that shack, and I didn’t walk all the way out here through the fucking rain to let you go first. I need to do this, Hilter. Not just for myself, but for my brother. For Johnny, I need to do this.”

Without a word nor a moment of hesitation, Hilter steps aside. Dallas stands there for a bit, surprised the words came out of his mouth the way they did, then begins to walk. With every step towards the shack he takes his heart beats harder and harder. The butterflies take flight in his stomach, his arms tremble like branches in the wind, his teeth chatter like the bones of the restless dead, but still he walks forward.

Suddenly, Dallas is at the door. He places a hand on the handle – it’s soft, much softer than it should be, like a fat, fuzzy can of beer – and closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath. Opens his eyes.

Then, he opens the door.

Hallucinations

“Ohhh what the fuck?” Dallas spurts as he stumbles backwards and falls on his ass. “Fuck, fuck fuck fuck this is fucking bad, dude, ffuuhhhck…

“What is it?!” Hilter shouts as he runs over to help Dallas up. Dallas doesn’t take the help, he just keeps crawling backwards away from the shack, his butt tracing the dragged body track. “Dallas, speak!”

But Dallas doesn’t speak, he just puts more distance between himself and what he saw inside that ratty wooden shack.

Gripping the bottle tightly in his hand, Hilter approaches the shack and throws the door open. He raises the bottle above his head, ready to bring it down on the ski mask burglar like the ski mask burglar brought his gun down on Dallas’s brother Johnny, but the bottle just hangs there in the air for a moment as the reality of the situation is processed. Hilter lets his arm fall to his side and he drops the bottle. It lands on a rock but doesn’t shatter.

The shack is a hoarder’s den, there’s no doubt about that. Miscellaneous knickknacks and decor pieces – all stolen from houses on White Road, Barnstatter Path and Fricker Drive, no doubt – are stacked up haphazardly in the corners and scattered about the uncovered muddy floor. A few things are even hung from the ceiling by thin brown vines, including a bloody pistol which doesn’t seem to have a magazine loaded into the handle. In the center of the shack is a tall pillar – likely a sawed section of log the man found along the trail, because there’s no way he could have chopped it himself; hell, Hilter can’t fathom how he even managed to build this hut – covered in a red tablecloth. At the base of the pillar lies the ski mask burglar, except he’s not wearing a ski mask. He’s not wearing anything, unfortunately, but his filthy, bulbous body is slathered in a thick coating of mud, so there’s that.

The man is also missing his head, along with a semi-circle of flesh and bone between his shoulders… so… there’s also that.

“What in the name of God…” Hilter whispers under his breath, but he knows the answer. The boy who told him about this shack, Cooper, his name was; Cooper told him there was a monster living in the Wanaque Reservoir, a massive mutant thing he called The Serpent which embodies nightmares and screams a banshee’s wail. Cooper said he found the thing’s egg and he stole it from the nest, that he ran and ran and ran with the egg in his arms, he ran so fast he missed the turn that would have taken him back to Fricker Drive. And he wound up here. And the ski mask burglar stole the egg from him.

And apparently, The Serpent stole it back.

“This must have happened recently,” Hilter says as he walks into the shack, letting the door slap closed behind him. He bends low and touches two fingers to the ragged bite mark – it’s still wet, but of course it is, it’s pouring right now, the air is easily moist enough to bring a flow to stagnant blood. “This either happened last night or early this morning… but I suppose it doesn’t matter.” Hilter cleans his fingers with the cloth draped over the log – the altar, as the man who once wore a ski mask surely saw it – and then stands up.

Then, he sees the stone sitting on top of the altar. It’s shaped almost like an egg, probably measures about half a foot long and half as wide. It’s not just a rock though, it’s a crystal, a quartz crystal with a small growth of lichen sprouting from one edge. Hilter can’t take his eyes off it.

The room begins to sway around Hilter Odolf Williamson. All the knickknacks expand and contract in their own independent rhythms, as if they were breathing, and a rush of lightness and euphoria sweeps through Hilter’s mind. He feels a pinpoint pressure an inch above the bridge of his nose, as if a finger reached out from the center of his brain and pressed against the inside of his forehead, it feels… it feels like the touch of God. The Universe has been speaking to Hilter Odolf Williamson ever since he bought his first house on Fricker Drive, It has spoken and sang and told him all sorts of terrible riddles, It has brought him here to this ratty wooden shack in the middle of the woods for a reason, an unknowable reason, the understanding of which has eluded Hilter for days and weeks and months, has haunted his dreams and kept his mind spinning out of control like a tornado. But now, after all the turmoil and cognitive dissonance, now that he’s standing here in the ratty wooden shack with he moldy plywood door, Hilter finally understands: he’s meant to take this crystal. He doesn’t know why, but he knows he needs to take the crystal, and so he does, and as he slips it into the right pocket of his sweatpants, the hallucinations abruptly cease. Hilter’s standing here in a moldy wooden shack with a dead body on the floor and a rock in his pocket, and the rain pours and pours, and the wind continues to blow.

And now that he’s fully aware of the present moment, Hilter notices just how pungent the reek of death is in this shack.

But still, he stays inside for a few moments longer. He bends back down to the disgusting headless body of the ski mask burglar but not to speak to it, not to pay any final respects. Laying in the bandit’s open left hand is a leather sheath attached to a loop so one may dangle it from a belt. Hilter picks the sheath up, then steps over the body and crouches down to the right side of the ski mask burglar’s body. Here, clenched tightly in the burglar’s rigor mortified hand, is a black dagger with a partially serrated blade. The hilt of the weapon is designed to resemble a bat; there’s even a little bat head at the top of the handle. It takes some doing, but Hilter wedges the handle of the dagger out of the man’s hand, then sheaths it. Then he leaves the ratty wooden shack through its moldy plywood door, never to return.

The Dagger

Dallas is still on the ground when Hilter walks briskly out of the shack. He approaches the boy and slides his finger through the loop of the dagger’s sheath, then lets it dangle so Dallas can see it. “Is this the dagger?”

“Holy shit,” Dallas says as he picks himself up. He takes the sheathed weapon off of Hilter’s finger and looks at it like Hilter looked at the quartz crystal a moment ago. “Yeah, this is it. Where–”

“It was in the man’s hand. It seems he brandished it against… well, against whatever it was that removed his head.”

Dallas swallows a mixture of saliva, mucus, fear and rainwater. “What do you… what could have possibly done that?”

“Well, we can’t really know, but… oh who am I kidding, isn’t it obvious?” Hilter points towards the long smooth track running along the center of the trail. “The Serpent.”

“The… Serpent?”

“Yes. It lives in the Wanaque Reservoir.” Hilter puts an arm around Dallas’s shoulder and they begin walking back down the path. “I haven’t lived here long, Dallas, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the town of Treeburg – about the road called Fricker Drive and the forest around it specifically – it’s that this is a very strange place, a place where the inexplainable happens. No, not even that – a place where the explanations behind the happenings are as inconvenient to the average mind as the occurrence of the incidents themselves are convenient to the higher mind… or, or rather… ack, I don’t know. This is a weird place, Dallas. I’m starting to see the reason why all the residents decided to move away and sell me their houses.”

Dallas doesn’t say anything to that, but only because nothing comes to his mind. Eventually Hilter takes his soggy arm off of Dallas’s soggy shoulders and they walk back to Fricker Drive in soggy silence.

The rain stops as they’re walking up the driveway Dallas’s parents used to own. Hilter invites the boy in to shower and get a dry change of clothes and Dallas takes him up on it, but he doesn’t stay for long, not even when Hilter offers to order them some pizza. Dallas says he’s had about enough of Fricker Drive for a while, and that he has one more thing to do before he can go back and crash at his uncle’s house.

“Very well,” Hilter says, walking him to the door. “Well Dallas, it was nice to meet you. I’d like to apologize for my unruliness when we first met, I–”

“Oh, no worries man,” Dallas says, wanting to leave. “I mean, this is your house now, I was breaking in. I don’t blame you for thinking I was the burglar.”

Hilter smiles. “Even so, I was eh… my mind was not in the right place. I had yet to connect some dots, in a way; I was looking at a series of lines, but now I see the full picture. Do you know what I mean?”

Dallas doesn’t, but says he does, and so the men shake hands and part ways. Dallas gets into his uncle’s car – no, it’s not his uncle’s anymore, Uncle Darrel isn’t coming back from Florida anytime soon; it’s Dallas’s car now –and backs onto Fricker Drive, then peels the fuck out, leaving skid marks in front of his old driveway. Hilter stands by the door and turns off the outside lights when the car is gone. Then he locks up, walks to the house that was once owned by Cooper’s family, and heats up the couple slices left over from his last therapy session with the boy who saw The Serpent. As he’s eating, he types out an email for Cooper detailing his findings at the shack today, including all the details about The Serpent’s trail and the headless corpse of the burglar, but as he’s about to send it, he decides to delete it instead.

“The dagger is sheathed, Hilter,” Hilter says to himself between bites. “Best to leave it that way.”

He closes his laptop, then goes into the kitchen and cleans up from dinner. Then – after placing the crystal on the nightstand next to his bed – Hilter goes into his bathroom, takes a shower, brushes his teeth, and goes to bed. And he sleeps.

With the dagger sheathed and the crystal sitting next to his bed, Hilter sleeps soundly through the night.

Midvale Cemetery

Ignoring the stop sign at the end of Fricker Drive, Dallas bangs a left and tears up Stonetown Hill. After the shit he saw today, Dallas won’t be coming back to Stonetown for a very, very long time, so he might as well take one last drive the old stomping grounds, right?

Of Treeburg’s four districts, Stonetown is the most isolated – whether you drive in from the Monksville side or the Wanaque side, you have to cross a bridge over a reservoir. That has its ups and downs – on the downside, living back here puts you at a distance and a half from the rest of society, if you’re kind enough to call Treeburg and its neighboring towns the rest of society. There are no grocery stores (or any kind of stores, on that note) back in Stonetown, just residential houses and a soccer field, and the running of any errand, important or remedial, will include a fifteen-minute drive at the minimum. On the upside, the chances of running into police officers are slim to none and, as such, you can pretty much do whatever the hell you please when you live back here. In Dallas’s case, this means shredding down the woodsy road going sixty miles per hour (that’s twenty over the speed limit, thank you very little) en route to Treeburg Ave.

He comes to the junction at the end of Stonetown Road (lots of junctions back in Stonetown, it seems) and takes a left rather than going straight and continuing on to Snake Den Road. He kills his speed as he carefully maneuvers around the three breakneck turns along the shore of this end of the Wanaque Reservoir, then keeps his speed low going over the bridge. He’s out of the woods now, and cops love to hang around Treeburg Ave. It doesn’t help that the Wanaque police station is on this road, but Dallas isn’t going that far. Chances are he won’t run into any trouble, but… better safe than sorry, right?

Dallas rolls along until he comes to the stoplight at the mouth of the road which leads to his old high school. “Yikes, can’t say I miss that fuckin’ place.” The light goes green and he drives for another ten seconds, then pulls into the Quick Check he used to go to when he’d sneak out of lunch period. The school’s food was not food, and to be fair, the food Quick Check sells isn’t really food either, but at least Quick Check’s faux food has some taste to it.

But Dallas isn’t coming here for food tonight, he’s only parking here because the store’s open for twenty-four hours and he feels like he can leave the car here while he does what he needs to do. He parks next to a black pickup truck with an American flag sticking up out of the bed. Yeah, this works, it would look more suspicious if his car was sitting alone; even if a cop pulls in to get some coffee and a donut at three in the morning, he won’t notice two cars parked next to each other, that won’t stick out to him… right?

“Jesus Dallas, relax,” Dallas says to himself as he parks next to the pickup. “You won’t be here that long, stop second-guessing yourself. You know why you’re here, that’s enough. That should be enough.”

With both the coaster and the dagger tucked into the spacious center pocket of the sweatshirt he got from Mister Williamson – a sweatshirt he probably won’t be returning, now that he thinks about it – Dallas walks out of the parking lot and down the sidewalk that runs along the roadside graveyard. Midvale Cemetery, it’s called, and it stretches from the Quick Check parking lot down to the road leading to the high school and then keeps on going. Dallas follows it all the way to the far end where the gravestones aren’t as cluttered. These plots aren’t as expensive as the others. This is where Johnny is buried, back away from the street. At least his parents had enough decency to put him away from the sidewalk and out of the dogshit zone.

Dallas walks up to the gravestone. It’s plain, the standard gray kind. The engraving looks nice, still fresh, but it’ll erode eventually. “Here lies John Hinton,” he reads. “We loved him dearly and will miss him even more.” Dallas spits into the grass to the left of the dirt in front of grave. “You two don’t even know what love is…”

He stands there for a few moments in silence, hands tucked in his pocket and wrapped around the dagger and the coaster.

“Do I even know what love is?”

Dallas sighs, then puts the bat dagger and the coaster back behind the grave, just like Johnny told him to in that weird dream he had on the airplane. Then, he sits down in the dirt and leans back against the headstone.

“I guess I have an idea… I mean, if I didn’t love ya Johnny, I don’t think I’d have come all the way out here. I don’t know, man… noting in this world really makes sense to me. I just… I just go where I’m told. You didn’t do that, you always did what you wanted. You made sense to me. I never knew you well, but you made sense to me…” He sighs again. Closes his eyes. Gives Johnny a moment of silence, a moment his folks probably never gave him. A moment that stretches on as the moon continues to rise.

‘I’m never going back to Florida,’ is the last thought that crosses Dallas’s mind before he falls asleep.

Brothers

A kick to the thigh jolts Dallas awake. “Gah!” he grunts groggily, blinded by the sunlight. “What the hell?”

“I could ask you the same thing, kid,” says the man standing over him. Dallas looks up and locks eyes with him, half expecting to see Hilter Odolf Williamson, or worse, the pilot of the plane, but it’s neither. It’s just some dude without any hair on his head. Or self-respect, evidenced by the sleeveless tee and boxer shorts he’s wearing whilst standing on the side of one of the busiest roads in the area, in broad daylight no less. “You usually fall asleep in graveyards?”

Dallas stands and tries to bat the mud off the back of his pants, but it’s caked on pretty good. “No uh, no. I just… my brother Johnny is buried here, this is the first time I’ve been able to come and see the grave. I guess I fell asleep.”

“Ah. Well, you’re lucky I’m not the groundskeeper, he’d have called the cops on you.”

“Oh… thanks. Who uh, who are you then?”

The man makes a thumb and points it over his shoulder. “I live right there, first house next to the cemetery. I know, it probably seems weird, I got it at a fuckin’ steal though. You have someplace to go?”

Dallas nods. “Yeah, my… I have a place up in Treeburg.”

“You have a way to get there?”

“Hopefully. I parked at Quick Check, you think I got towed?”

“Nah,” the man says, then turns away and walks back to his house. His work here is done, it seems.

As is Dallas’s. He starts to walk away, then doubles back and looks behind the gravestone to see if the dagger and coaster are still there.

“Son of a bitch,” he says, then starts running towards the man who lives in the first house next to the cemetery. “Hey! Hey, dude!”

The dude turns around. “What?”

“Did you…” he starts, but then sees that the man has no pockets and empty hands. “Did uh… this is gonna sound stupid, but did you take a Lake George coaster and a… a bat dagger from behind that gravestone I was sleeping against?”

“A bat dagger?” the man asks incredulously. “No, but I wish I did. I love Batman, never heard of a bat dagger though.”

“No, it’s not…” he sighs. “Never mind. Sorry. Have uh, have a nice day. Thanks for waking me up.”

“Anytime,” the man says with a questioning grin. “You too, kid.”

Dallas walks back to the grave and hunkers down in front of it. “Well Johnny, I did you that favor. But I guess you already knew that. Um… I don’t really know what to say now… hope you and George are doing well up there. I know you’re happier now, you guys were brothers. I mean, we were brothers too, but… you know what I mean.”

Dallas stands up and looks at the grave for a few more seconds, then turns and walks back to Quick Check. His car is still there, but the pickup isn’t. Oh well, Dallas guesses it all worked out anyway… right?

“Right,” Dallas says to himself once he’s behind the wheel. He drives to his uncle’s place – his place – in Treeburg without looking back.

Even as he passes Johnny’s grave, he doesn’t look back.


Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Trash

Late-Night Sunshine

Four’thirty-five in the morning. Hilter cannot take it anymore – this is the fourth time he’s woken up tonight, it’s very clear that his body does not want him to fall asleep. Abundantly clear. Leaving his bed messy, he gets himself dressed in a huff and storms down the stairs of what was the Flannigan household before he bought it, and then goes outside to take an early morning walk, slamming his front door behind him.

The sun is blazing in the sky both like and unlike Cooper’s older brother is blazing on the roof of his house right now. The high school hippie waves hello to Hilter as the exhausted man – the man so exhausted that he couldn’t sleep for more than twenty consecutive minutes after the first time he woke up at thirty-three after three, and speaking of which, what is with these numbers? First the triple threes, then the second time he woke up it was three’forty-five, as in ascending numbers, and this time it was four’thirty-five, misordered ascension. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Is Hilter out of synchronization with the Universe, is he fucking up this therapist gig? He certainly fucked up his appointment with Cooper… but, no he didn’t, they got to a breakthrough together, Cooper said he accepted the death of his older brother, he said he felt like he didn’t need to come back.

What does it all mean?!

Hilter storms past the pond at the end of Fricker Drive, ignoring the laughter of the neighborhood children as they run around and dance in the lawn. There seems to be a block party going on, all of Hilter’s neighbors are there – the Johnsons, the Flannigans, Cooper and his older brother, the single guy who got murdered during the second break-in, the man in the ski mask who murdered him, plus a bunch of humans Hilter’s never seen before. He should stop and mingle a bit, it would be good to get to know everybody, especially those unfamiliars who probably live on the next street up, which is less a street and more of a dirt road, but what are semantics in heat like this? When Hilter goes for his walks he usually sticks to Fricker, which doesn’t provide him with much opportunities to meet the friendly folks up on Barnstatter. This would be just that opportunity.

Then again, Hilter is in a fantastically foul mood this morning, and the heat falling down from the blazing sun (which resembles a crystal more than it does a star, a detail Hilter may find very perplexing if only he’d stare straight into it) is only boiling his blood further, so perhaps socializing isn’t the best idea. Hilter bypasses the pond and stomps his feet from asphalt to unpaved dirt. Rather than going past the Dead End road sign – because that is a sign from the divine if Hilter’s ever seen one – he goes right and heads up Barnstatter towards Stonetown Road.

The first house he passes is off to his left, it’s a ratty old shack with moldy plywood doors and a big deck made of knickknacks situated a bit further up the hill than the road is. Between the deck and the road is an expansive garden which sports plants that grow full pizza pies with toppings ranging from bacon to chicken to straight-up unopened plastic bottles of ranch dressing. Hilter’s so taken by the sight of the garden that he doesn’t notice the road rising under his feet – with each step taken forward he climbs about a foot, give or take a few inches, and suddenly, he finds himself at the end of the shack’s driveway, at level with the shack itself. Inside one of the windows next to the front door he sees a man wearing a ski mask. The man waves, and Hilter waves back, then continues to walk.

The next house he sees, set below the road this time with a lawn of green grass bridging the gap rather than a garden, is a ratty shack with moldy plywood doors. There are two naked men wearing ski masks pushing old motorless lawn mowers in pathways with no discernible intelligence in their design – aside from the fact they’re avoiding all the knickknacks strewn about the lawn like ornaments – and they don’t wave at Hilter, which is fine. Hilter just wants to take his walk anyhow, although he does wonder how they’re wearing those stuffy ski masks in this unbearable late-night sunshine.

Barnstatter descends to an elevation roughly halfway between the stretch past the pond and the mouth of the first ratty shack’s driveway. To Hilter’s left is an impenetrable wall of trees – smoothback beech trees, oaks with piles of acorns at their bases, patches of bamboo covered in blood, an odd maple – and to his right is a line of ratty shacks. Ratty shack after ratty shack after ratty shack, all of them inhabited by large naked men wearing ski masks, all of them bursting at the seams with old knickknacks, all of them doored by moldy sheets of plywood. The men all wave at Hilter as he passes. What choice does he have but to wave back?

At the end of Barnstatter, on the right side of the dirt road just before the Stonetown Road turnoff point, is not a ratty shack. It’s not a house, either – it’s a mansion, an elegant white and gold Victorian fortress standing ten stories high complete with towers and windowless spires capped with gargoyle statues… no, those aren’t gargoyles. Those are djinns, muscular djinns with their arms folded before their chests. The structure is so tall that it blocks out the sun, which Hilter is very grateful for – had he been forced to spend so much as another second being exposed to the ridiculous heat of the four o’clock am hour, he would have stripped down and went for a dip in the pond between the mansion and the road.

“I could just keep walking…” Hilter says aloud, looking to the traffic climbing up and down Stonetown Hill. The cars are bumper to bumper and they’re moving, they’re hauling ass and squalling gas, they’re going so fast the colors all blend together into one ugly blackish-brown blur, they’re like coked up ants marching in a row trying to find more cocaine because they went and consumed the first pile they happened upon while they were out looking for a picnic to spoil. “I could… but there’s something about that house. I need to see who’s inside.”

Hilter turns back to face the house and notices, for the first time, a rickety old rope bridge suspended over the murky water. He approaches it and grabs the rope on the right side of the bridge, shaking it a little to test if it’ll hold him.

“Ack, I have no idea what I’m doing. I may as well just go.”

And so he does, and so each and every board supports his weight.

When Hilter is halfway across the bridge, he hears what can only be described as the wail of a tormented banshee. He looks down into the water and sees something swimming just beneath the surface, something large and serpent-like, something with hollow, bulbous eyes and tentacles beneath its gills and bones on the outside of its body. It’s swimming back and forth from edge to muddy edge, as if it’s searching for something, something very important to it that it has lost – or rather, that’s been stolen from it – and by the tone of its demonic cry, Hilter gets the feeling The Serpent itself knows it won’t find what it’s looking for. He presses on, stepping gingerly over the boards as not to accidentally crack them and fall through.

At the end of the bridge is a wide, rocky trail that runs a lengthy four feet – with an extra four and two-fifths inches tacked on, Hilter is utterly sure of that much – before stopping at a set of marble staircases. Hilter climbs the stairs and then reaches for the loop dangling from the mouth of a bronze cat’s head that Hilter recognizes as Fluffy, the housecat who came with the Flannigan household when he bought it. Hilter thinks about how he goes days and weeks without seeing or feeding that cat and wonders how it’s always so alive and frothing with energy. Then, as the thought disappears from his awareness, he bangs the knocker against the door three times.

The door opens before Hilter’s hand returns to his side. Living in the mansion is a six-foot-tall egg, an egg with a translucent shell and a glowing orange orb at its core.

“I’m an eggy boy,” the egg says without any discernible mouth. “I’m an eggy, eggy boy.”

The sound of knocking bombards Hilter’s ears with the force of rolling thunder. He falls to his knees and plugs his ears with his middle fingers, as if to tell the cacophony to fuck off, but it does not listen. It probably can’t hear him because of how teeth-grindingly, ear-splittingly, skull-fracturingly loud it is, and it only gets louder and louder and louder and–

Gill Bottles

GRRAAAGGHHH!” Hilter screams into whatever it is that’s pressed against his face. He begins to flail his arms and legs but it’s no use, whatever it is that’s covering his body has him good, it’s wrapped around him like a cocoon, suffocating him like a pillow pressed to a face, heating him like a sauna.

‘I was dreaming,’ he thinks to himself, his thoughts coming through clear and pristine despite the fact that his body is continuing to scream. It seems that Hilter Odolf Williamson has disassociated. ‘I thought it was real, but I was just dreaming. My brain was trying to tell me something.’

Hilter begins to convulse as the sheet tightens around him. He can feel the sweat pouring down his back and out of his armpits, and his nose is confronted with the stench of his dry morning mouth.

‘There’s been a string of robberies in the area, only knickknacks and worthless decor pieces were stolen.’

Flailing his arms is no longer an option, as the sheet has tightened them to his torso like a straitjacket.

‘The shacks in my dreams were filled with knickknacks, and Cooper found a shack in the woods yesterday.’ Breathing is beginning to be a difficult task. ‘Cooper said a man in a ski mask was living in the shed, just like the men in my dream.’ Hilter’s struggle becomes mobile. He flings himself off his bed, thinking, ‘The first robbery was just a robbery, the second involved a murder. The third was just a robbery. The man is in my house, he’s continu–’ until his head bashes the tile-top nightstand next to the bed, reassociating his mind to his body.

All thoughts disappear. The sheet loosens, allowing Hilter to breathe, and as the pain creeps its way from the grenade-sized egg on the back of his head into his brain, he registers the knocking as an actual sound. Someone is at his door, and he’ll be sure to answer it just as soon as he dispatches the man in the ski mask.

Ripping the sheet from his soaked, clammy body, Hilter kicks and punches the air like a toddler throwing a tantrum. He connects with nothing, of course, because there’s nobody in his house, a fact he realizes when he finally opens his bloodshot eyes and feels the burn of the sunlight pouring in through the windows. All at once his limbs drop to the floor in a series of paired thuds. His hairy chest rises and falls in an erratic rhythm.

“Good God, Hilter,” he says to himself under his breath. “You’re losing it, you’re really losing your fucking mind.”

The knocks continue to assault Hilter’s front door. With a groan he sits up and rubs the back of his head until he accepts that the bump won’t go away without ice, then he grabs the damp sheet, balls it, and throws it towards the hamper across the room. It goes in like a basketball through a hoop, which makes Hilter smile. He’s on the right path aft–

‘No, stop,’ he tells himself. ‘You just threw it well, it’s not a sign from the divine. Get dressed and answer the door.’

Hilter throws on a pair of black slacks and a plain white tee, then hustles down the stairs and answers the door. Standing on his stoop is a tired-looking boy with eyes that are too close together, lips that protrude from his mouth like the nose of a lying woode puppet, and frizzy hair that seems to be thinning. If Hilter wasn’t a professional psychologist he would think the boy had some sort of developmental or mental defect, but that’s probably not the case. He’s probably just ugly.

Neither of them say a thing for four (and eleven and twenty-fifths) seconds. They only look at each other with surprise, as if each wasn’t expecting to see the other.

Then, Hilter bridges the pond gap with, “Erm, hello there. How may I help you?”

The boy, who’s holding a brown glass bottle in each hand, says, “Hi. Sorry, I–… you’re the first one on the street to answer the door, I thought everyone down here knew who I was and didn’t want to talk to me.”

“I… see,” Hilter sees. “Well I own all the houses on this street, so there’s your answer for that. Also, I have no idea who you are, I was just a bit… eh, preoccupied. My name is Hilter Odolf Williamson. I’d shake your hand, but,” he gestures to the bottles.

The boy looks at the bottles, then jumps a little with recognition. “Oh yeah, uh. I’ll… my name is Gill Milligan, see-eee-oh and head salesman of Gill Bottles. My sales haven’t been doing very well lately… or, or ever, to be honest, uh… um… so, so I’m going around offering free samples to my neighbors to try to spark some business.”

Gill holds out the bottles and Hilter stares at them for a few seconds, then resigns to taking them. They’re old, one of them’s a beer bottle (with quite a bit of dried grime on both the in– and outside of the piece) and one is… well, it’s definitely a glass bottle. Hilter has no idea what to do now.

“Well… thank you, I suppose. I don’t really… you sell these?” he asks, slightly exasperated.

“I try to,” Gill says, looking at the ground. “I find them when I go exploring around in the woods behind the pond up the street. The guy who owns the auction hall across the dam says there’s a great market for old glass bottles as long as they’re not cracked or chipped, and I only take back the good ones. I clean ‘em up real good, too.”

“Uh huh, I can tell.” They stand there in silence again, Hilter holding the bottles, Gill with his hands in his back pockets, holding his butt. “Well I suppose I’ll find a use for these, but I can’t promise you any business. You said Cyrus told you that these things sell?”

Gill looks up. “Who’s Cyrus?”

“The man who owns the auction hall across the dam. You’re talking about The Keeper’s Finds, right?”

“Yeah, that’s the place!” Gill says, visibly excited. “He says the bottles always go in his auctions, so there’s clearly a market out there somewhere. I’ve even bought some of my inventory from him. Got it at a hell of a steal, too.”

Hilter smiles, but it’s not a particularly happy smile. “I’m sure you did… Gill Milligan, you said your name was? Why does that sound familiar…?”

Gill looks back to his feet. “Probably my father, he’s kind of famous. I think he’s the richest guy in town, we live in the big house at the beginning of Barnstatter.”

As something tightens in his mind, Hilter puts it together. “Ah yes, those Milligans! I’ve been meaning to come up and introduce myself, I recently moved to the area.”

A few seconds go by, and Hilter decides that if Gill was going to say something, he probably would have. “Well, is there anything else I can do for you, Mister Milligan?”

Gill’s head snaps up like a mousetrap snaps down, his eyes wide like they’re bulging from his head. “Why’d you call me that?”

Hilter takes a step back. “Erm… because your last name is Milligan, and I assume you’re a boy. Er, male, I mean to say.”

“No… I mean yes, I mean… usually Mister Milligan is my father, but… well… someone used to call me an eggy boy–”

The string linking Hilter’s perception to the reality around him continues to tighten, approaching breaking strain.

“–sometimes even an eggy man, but… I think she was just a dream.” He looks down, then back up at Hilter, allowing their eyes to meet. “Are you a dream, Mister…” Gill gulps. “Mister…” Gill’s breathing begins to intensify, the stress spews from his pores in liquid form. “This is a dream, isn’t it? This is all a big dream.”

Hilter drops the bottles (they don’t break, as they land on the welcome mat and roll off to the sides) and lurches forwards, grabbing Gill by the collar of his shirt, bringing him in close. “What do you mean?! Why,” a haggard breath, “why are you saying the things you’re saying?”

Gill’s breathing evolves into a wheeze and Hilter damn near throws him off the front stoop, but then he composes himself. “I’m… I apologize Gill, I don’t know what came over me. You seem very distressed, and you’re not talking sensibly; I’m a world-renowned scientist who studies the mind and I recently began practicing psychotherapy – would you like to come in and talk a bit? Pro bono, of course.”

Gill looks back and forth, then over his shoulders. Then, “Why do you ask me that? Did my father put you up to this?”

Hilter smiles again, but it’s not unhappy this time. More empathetic, more understanding. “No, I’ve never spoken to your father. Please, come right in. I’ll make us some tea if you’d like.”

After staring up at Hilter for a few tense seconds, Gill walks into the house. Hilter bends over and stands the bottles up, meaning to put some flowers in them or something later, if he remembers, it’s really not that important, he’ll probably just recycle them after Gill leaves, then goes inside himself, closing the door behind him.

Too Much

Gill doesn’t want any tea, so Hilter doesn’t bother making any.

“Wow, nice living room,” Gill gushes as he steps into Hilter’s living room. The floors are wood, there’s a large (and stocked) bookshelf against the back wall, and in the middle are two armchairs facing each other, one of which is touching arms with the couch. Next to each chair is an end table, one of which has a pen and pad sitting on it.

“Thank you, Gill,” Hilter answers, moving instinctively to the armchair with space between it and the couch. “Believe it or not, I have all of my living rooms set up just like this. I find it makes for a comfortable talking environment. Please, take a seat wherever you’d like.”

“I’ll take the chair, if that’s okay,” Gill says. He’s standing in front of the chair but not making any moves to sit down. When Hilter affirms his choice, Gill sits down. “Thanks. I’m not allowed on the couch at home.”

Wielding the pen and pad, “And why not?”

“My father doesn’t want me to spill my eggs everywhere. He’s usually sitting there anyway, um… can I talk to you about something?”

Hilter looks up from his pad with what can almost be described as surprise on his face. “Of course, speak on anything you’d like.”

Gill slinks down in the chair a bit and outstretches his legs, crossing them at the ankles, then folds his legs behind his head. “It all started with Rose, doctor. She’s the one who called me an eggy man. I was her eggy man.”

“That sounds wondrous,” Hilter says, scribbling away. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume she’s no longer in the picture.”

A rueful smile spreads across Gill’s misfortunately-arranged face. “Yeah, that’s right. She’s gone, vanished. Poofy.”

“Poofy?”

Poofy,” stated with all the seriousness in the world. “She was the only woman I’ve ever had, the only one I’ve ever loved. Probably the last one, too. I’m not exactly a looker, doctor.”

“Perhaps,” Hilter says. “But physical appearance isn’t the only variable in the formula of attraction. It certainly helps, don’t get me wrong, but those who rely on it tend to be lacking in other areas. And please, no need to call me doctor, I’m just a man like you. You can call me Hilter, or Mister Williamson if you’d prefer.”

A jolt runs through Gill’s body at the mention of the words Mister and Williamson, as if he was struck by a taser.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, yeah I’m… so uh, can… can I continue?”

Pen to pad, Hilter nods.

“We met at my front door. She said she lived on… well, she told me she lived in the area and that she was out of eggs. I didn’t even get a chance to offer her some of my eggs Hilter, she just started kissing me. We even fell over on the floor; by the end of the day, I was a man. An eggy man.” Gill sighs. “I’ll never meet another like her. I don’t even want to meet another woman, she sucked the soul clear out of my body.”

Hilter nods along, still writing.

“And before you accuse me of living a fantasy, she was real. I sometimes have trouble telling if I’m dreaming or awake – that’s why I said what I said earlier, by the way – but this girl… this woman was real. She lived in my house with me for three days before she disappeared, and when I woke back up, all the messes we made were still there.” He leans forward, then, “And we made a lot of messes. I had to wash my father’s bedsheets four times just to get the smell out.”

“Your father’s…” Hilter begins to ask, but then he gets it. “Ah. Right. So erm… am I correct in saying she left your life just as quickly as she appeared?”

“Yep… and, and you know what else?” Gill says. His legs are crossed at the thighs now, and he’s sitting straight up, hands in his lap. “Right before she knocked on my door, and right before she said goodbye, I um… I burned an incense cone.”

Hilter’s penstroke pauses long enough for Gill to notice.

“What? Why did you stop like that?”

“I… let’s save my side of the conversation for the end. Please, continue.”

“What if that is the end?” Gill asserts with a question. “What if nothing weird happened, what if nothing that I can’t explain went down, huh? Maybe she just smelled the smoke of the first cone and liked it and it attracted her, and then she smelled the smoke of the second one and left!”

“Gill…” Hilter says as he sets the pen and pad down on his lap. “Tell me what really happened. I will not judge you, nor will I insinuate that you’re lying, and it will not leave this room.”

Gill is beginning to sweat. He’s a sweaty, eggy boy. “How do you know that isn’t what happened?” he whines, his eyes darting back and forth across the room. “How do you know??”

Resuming control of the pen and pad, Hilter says, “Well, there are certain ways a therapist can tell if the patient isn’t being totally straightforward.  I have a hunch that may be the case here. I may be wrong, but… well, I don’t think I am.”

“What, then?!” spewed with agitation, the spittle splattering against Hilter’s hardwood floor like dropped eggs. “If you’re so psychic like that, when why don’t you tell me what really happened!”

“I…” he begins, then sighs. ‘Tread carefully, Hilter.’ “It wouldn’t happen to involve a djinn, would it?”

“A gin?” Gill spits. “I don’t drink, Mister Williamson. Rose was not an alcohol-induced hallucination!”

Although it’s hard to uphold, Hilter keeps a straight face. “That’s not really how that works… perhaps I should have said genie?”

All the anger falls out of Gill Milligan unlike the sweat coming down from his armpits, which abruptly stops flowing. “How… how did you know that? Have you seen them, too?”

“I eh…” he begins, then considers the safety of Scotty Mells, an ex-djincense salesman who nearly lost his life when he gave up the gig for good. Scotty lives under the care of Hilter’s bank account in the first house on Fricker Drive now, which would have been Gill’s final stop had he kept going to peddle his free bottles; when Hilter found him, the boy was floating face-down in the Monksville Reservoir with slits in his wrists. At first Hilter thought the djinn nonsense was just that, nonsense, a sort of delirium brought about by living isolated in Treeburg’s industrial park and consuming the fruits of the polluted environment. But now there’s corroborating evidence… and how convenient is it that said evidence came right to Hilter’s door. How convenient indeed… but there may be more to this Gill boy than he lets on. He could potentially be dangerous, especially to Scotty in his weakened state.

“I had a very strange dream last night. I walked up Barnstatter path and there was a luxurious mansion at the beginning of it, presumably where your house would be if I walked up there in real life. There were djinn statues decorating the spires, and…” he sighs. This is all starting to venture into the realm of being far, far too much. “Let me ask you something, Gill: do you think dreams have any bearing on reality?”

Gill looks sideways at Hilter. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, do you think dreams are just dreams, or do you think they’re potentially… do you think…” he sighs again. “I’m so tired, Gill. Ever since I moved to this neighborhood my life has gotten stranger and stranger. I started compulsively acquiring all these houses, I’ve met folk who claim to interact with metaphysical creatures and the like – one teenager told me there was a sea monster living in the Wanaque Reservoir, for God’s sake, and you know what? I believed him, that’s how far from baseline things have come for me. I’ve been having dreams that seem to be trying to tell me something, but every time I think I understand the message, something else happens which only serves to thicken the plot. And now you’re here, Gill Milligan, you with your nymphomaniac ghost girl who appeared out of thin air, stayed for three days and then disappeared. Life is ironic, I know that better than anybody; hell, I tell my patients that to help them cope, but… this is just…”

With his elbows on his knees, Hilter lets his head fall and catches it in his hands. “Everything seems to be connected in a way that… it’s getting to be too much for me to handle. I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe what Gill Milligan is feeling right now, but he doesn’t like the look of Hilter’s desperation. “Um… I don’t know if this will make it worse, but… and I never told anybody this, not even my father–”

“That statement means nothing to me, Gill,” Hilter says, his voice bursting with dismission and self-pity. “My father died when I was very young, I didn’t have him to help me grow up.”

“Oh…” Gill says, feeling like a frog in the middle of a desert. “What happened to him?”

“My mother murdered him in cold blood and stuffed him full of the fluff she pulled out of my plush animal toys that she massacred along with all the neighbors’ pets.”

“Oh… well my mom died during childbirth, so… I don’t really know how you feel, but… I think my father resents me for it, I don’t know. He doesn’t really look me in the eye. I think he’s embarrassed of me, but can you blame him? He owns all of the Buyify company, and all I have is Gill Bottles.”

Hilter straightens in his chair. He looks to his pad and the messy, chicken scratched notes he took, then uncaringly tosses them aside. They land with a slap. “You’re a good man, Gill Milligan. Don’t let your father torture you into thinking you’re not good enough. You said you sometimes have trouble telling whether you’re in a dream or in reality, correct?”

Gill nods slowly, then says, “Yeah. I keep a dream journal and it sort of helps, but… sometimes I still can’t tell. The journal sometimes appears in my dreams, too.”

“Well, that may come from your lack of self-esteem. Your father is very successful, sure, but that doesn’t mean he’s a god. He doesn’t get to decide whether or not you’re good enough. I had a fair share of issues with my mother after… oh, what the fuck am I doing? Do you even want to be here, Gill?”

“I think I should tell you what I wanted to tell you.”

Hilter doesn’t even try to hide the rolling of his eyes. “Sure, fine, go ahead. I very much doubt I’ll keep up this therapist gig after this anyway, I’m Goddamned shot. Go ahead, Gill, what do you have to tell me?”

“Rose said she had an uncle named Mister Williamson who lived on Fricker Drive when she first introduced herself, and then right before she disappeared, she said Mister Williamson was an only child, that he didn’t have any living siblings.”

This catches Hilter very much off guard, so off guard, in fact, that his guard shatters like the fracture edge of reality he had been gripping up until that point. As his psyche plummets into darkness, Hilter stands, arms dangling at his sides like a ragdoll, and in a perfectly flat and toneless voice, says, “Get the fuck out of my house. Get the fuck off my street. Go home and give up your shitty bottle selling dream, nobody wants to buy old glass bottles.”

“But, but Mister Williamson–”

“They were thrown into the woods for a reason, Gill!” Hilter shouts. “They’re fucking trash, nobody wants to buy trash! Now get out before I call your father, you deformed little snot!

Gill scrambles to his feet as the tears begin to fall. He runs across the living room to the front door, his feet moving like a dog’s when it runs on a polished floor. The bottles standing on Hilter’s steps don’t even catch his eye; he leaps down to the lawn, runs to the street, and disappears behind the trees. The wind, which had picked up as the sky darkened during Hilter and Gill’s conversation, slams Hilter’s door.

The loud noise knocks the pin out of the rage grenade nestled in the throbbing lump on the back of Hilter’s head. He stomps to the front door, rips it open and storms out to his front lawn. The rain begins to fall as soon as his right foot bends the first blade of grass.

“What are you trying to tell me, God? What is it?” he shouts at the sky, shaking his fists before his head. “All these troubled humans, all these strange events, all these fucking dreams and corresponding incidents, it’s all too convenient!”

Lightning strikes in the near distance, sending a clap of thunder rippling through the sky.

“This is too much, God, this is too fucking much! I can’t fucking handle it anymore, just tell me what you’re trying to say! If you have something to show me, then Goddamned show me you almighty COWARD!”

Just then, the downpour starts. The rain is cold and strikes Hilter’s face like bullets of hail. He stands against it at first, but then his shoulders slump, his arms fall, his legs bend slightly at the knees. Holding this defeated stance as the rain continues to fall and the wind continues to blow, Hilter mutters, “Maybe you’re the one who’s too much, Hilter. Reality is under no obligation to make sense to you, you arrogant fool. Just go the fuck inside and shut your rotten mouth.”

With his drenched clothing sticking to his body like the sheet when he woke from his symbolic” dream this morning, Hilter goes the fuck inside. He leaves a trail of soak up the stairs and along the hallway, a trail which ends at his bedroom door where he strips off his therapist’s uniform and leaves it for the carpet to drink dry. After drying off in the bathroom, Hilter slips into a pair of sweats which match the color of the sky and decides not to put on a shirt, because at the end of the day, all Hilter really amounts to is a hairless ape with a brain that works too fast for its own good. Apes don’t need to wear shirts, especially apes who own many houses. Hairless apes with many houses can do whatever the hell they want.

But what good are all those houses when Hilter has nobody to keep him company? Nobody besides his catatonic murderer of a mother, that is, who Hilter hired a hospice nurse to take care of. All of this confusion started when she came back into his life, all these connections started to appear the moment after he got the call where he offered to take her catatonic ass out of the facility for the criminally insane, and why did he even do that? Because he’s her son, because he didn’t want the burden of that woman to rest on the shoulders of the employees of the facility? ‘They get paid to take care of her, Hilter, and all you’ve done is pay for it ever since.’

“You’re a damned fool, Hilter Odolf Williamson. Gill’s bottles aren’t the trash, you’re the trash. You should have just stayed in your old apartment, none of this mess would be happening if you hadn’t been so unnecessarily altruistic. Oh, well I’m very sorry to hear that she’s slipped into a semi-comatose state. Listen, why don’t you just pull the plug? Put the old girl out of her misery; God knows she’s better off dead. Ugh… if only I could go back. If only, if only…”

Hilter takes his laptop off the nightstand next to his sheetless bed and sits down. He opens the computer with the intention of bringing up some lo-fi instrumental music to accompany the raindrops falling against the thin roof of his house, but he never makes it to the internet browser. A window’s already up, the security program that he installed along with all the cameras on his many houses along Fricker Drive. It seems that someone has broken into one of his houses, the one with the atrocious turquoise deck in the back.

‘The man in the ski mask,’ Hilter thinks to himself, forgetting about all that self-loathing crap he was spewing about losing his mind. ‘The burglar. He appeared in my dreams, and now he’s struck again.’ He doesn’t bother with the phone, the cops would take too long to arrive – Hilter has to deal with this himself. Hilter will be enough. For the ski mask wearing burgaler, Hilter Odolf Williamson will be enough.

Draped in a hoodie and strapped with the dirty old beer bottle Gill gave him – that’s why Gill came, to make sure Hilter had a weapon to dispatch the burglar! Of course! – Hilter Odolf Williamson takes off into the rain, fully believing he’s racing towards his destiny.

In fact, one may say he believes it too much.

And the rain pours and pours.

And the wind continues to blow.


Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

The Serpent

Operation Paperclip

“We all know what happened in Germany in the early and middle nineteen’forties. We all know; it’s taught in schools, joked about in comedy clubs, referenced in literature both fiction and nonfiction; I think it’s safe to say that the events which occurred in Germany during the second world war are firmly ingrained into the mind of the general human consciousness. It happened, it really fucking happened, and everybody knows it.

“What everybody does’t know, however, is what happened to a whole lot of the participants – or should I say hosts – of Germany’s big bad Nazi party. I wasn’t around back then so I don’t know first-hand, but I have to assume that while it was happening, it was kept out of the eye of the general American public. I’m talking about Operation Paperclip, and if you haven’t heard about it, it was a massive buyout conducted by the You-Ess Government that occurred between nineteen’forty-five and nineteen’fifty-nine. I use the word buyout metaphorically, because technically, the purchasing of this type of cargo was widely outlawed in eighteen’thirty-three… let me just get to the point. Using the excuse of not wanting their minds to fall into the wrong hands, the United States brought over more than fifteen hundred ex-Nazi scientists and employed them here in the states. Some worked for independent contractors, some went on to work for NASA – a fuckin’ lot of them went on to work for NASA, actually – and some – a very select some, but some nonetheless – were given funding to independently continue their work on projects they originally started under Hitler’s watchful guidance.

“It was a legitimate enough concern at the time, what with communist Russia and the Cold War threatening to heat up into the third installment of a trilogy that no human, no matter what they might say, really wanted to experience. Had the Russians procured the Nazis – had they procured America’s Nazis in addition to the Nazis they procured on their own, I should say – nobody knows how the course of history might have changed. On the whole, even though the deed was about as dirty as it gets, Op Paperclip was a good move. God works in mysterious ways, as the faithful preach and the faithless jest over brews and burnt herbs; sometimes bad things have to happen in order for worse things to be prevented, and sometimes, bad things have to happen for good things to happen, too. These aren’t easy concepts to grapple with, but I want you to know, Doctor, I understand them. I might only be a Sophomore in high school, but I understand them. I’m not here seeing you because I’m crazy, I’m here seeing you because I’m hoping you will understand.

“The fact of the matter is that I did not kill my brother David. Yes, I was the last one who was with him before he disappeared; yes, we both went deep into the woods to go fishing and only I came out; yes, we took a backpack with us, and there was a knife in that backpack, a knife that I was holding when I got back to the house. But I didn’t kill him.”

“Like I said on the phone, Cooper, you can call me Mister Williamson,” the doctor says without looking up from his pad. He’s a fast writer but not that fast – Cooper is talking a mile a minute, and though Mister Williamson was the best note-taker in all of his classes from elementary school through college, nobody speaks quite as fast as a teenager with a conspiracy theory on the mind. “Even Hilter would be fine; I am a world-renowned researcher of the mind, but I am not insecure. I do not need a fancy moniker such as doctor.”

Cooper runs his hand from his forehead to the back of his scalp, as if to smooth out his crew cut. “Okay, Hilter. I didn’t kill my older brother, Hilter. Do you believe me?”

Hilter’s pen stops moving for a half-second at the words older brother – David is not the first older brother who lives on this street to disappear, and in the back of his mind, Hilter believes there may be a pattern forming – but he continues writing before Cooper can notice. “I do believe you.” He finishes filling out the first page of his notepad, flips it over to reveal the second page, writes two sentences, then clicks his pen. “Believe it or not, I am very familiar with the murderer type, and I am more than sure that you are not one. And for the record, I’d like to state that I spoke with your parents and they don’t believe you killed your brother, either. They’re just worried about you, Cooper. They think you saw something you couldn’t understand – that you didn’t want to understand, I should say – and so they thought it would be a good idea for you to come and speak to me. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do,” Cooper says, folding his arms tight against his chest. “I understand that it’s them who don’t want to understand. It’s so easy for them to say what goes on in my head, it’s so easy for them to talk about what happened down by the reservoir, but they weren’t there. Only me and David were there, and I saw what happened to him. I know how my brother died, and it’s not what they think happened.”

“All right,” Hilter states calmly, clicking his pen and bringing the point to his pad. “Before we go any further, I’d like to offer this up one more time: would you like to carry out the remainder of this appointment in a different location? I own all of the houses on this road now, and I understand tha–”

“No,” Cooper says flatly. “I’m glad we’re here. I didn’t want my family to move, especially not in the hurry that we did. If we stayed everything would have been fine, I wouldn’t be so depressed.” He broods for a moment and lowers his eyes to the floor. In his mind, Cooper recites the first few lines of his favorite song to bring himself into focus. Then, “I don’t want to talk about this anywhere else.”

“Very well,” said with a nod. “Then please tell me, who killed your brother?”

“It’s not a who,” Cooper says without looking up. “It’s a what.”

“My mistake,” as Hilter’s grip on the pen tightens. “What killed David?”

Cooper looks up with a face so grave it could be carved into a tombstone, and slowly utters the words, “The Serpent.”

You Don’t Know

“What you might not know, Hilter – in fact, I can guarantee you don’t know about this, because you’re new in town and all – but Treeburg was on the receiving end of some of the Nazis who came over as part of Operation Paperclip. Have you ever taken a drive down Stonetown road before?”

“I have not,” says Hilter. “I’m more the type to go for a walk than to take a drive. But let’s say I have – what are you hoping I would have noticed?”

“Well…” Cooper rubs the back of his head. “Well, even if you had, you still probably wouldn’t know about this. Okay, so down at the far end of Stonetown Road, past the turnoff point that takes you to Treeburg Ave in Wanaque and Haskull, there’s a street called Snake Den Road.”

“Snake like a serpent?” Hilter asks inquisitively.

This catches Cooper off guard. “Uh… sure, if you want. I think that’s just a coincidence.”

“And a convenient one at that,” Hilter says, dropping a wink. Cooper lets that wink drop right to the floor. He doesn’t even make an attempt to catch it. “I’m merely amused at the coincidence, that’s all. Existence is very ironic that way, like how my first name is Hilter and you’re telling me about a Nazi theory. Anyway, please, continue.”

Cooper takes a deep breath. “Oh-kay. So there’s Snake Den Road. If you follow that road all the way to its end, you’ll come across a really weird house that’s shaped like half a tin can, like a really tiny airplane hangar. It’s purple, like, everything is purple; purple plants, purple car, purple lawn ornaments. I’m pretty sure the lady who lives there even has purple hair. There was a rumor in school that she’s a witch who fled here in the sixteen’hundreds to escape the Salem witch trials…”

Hilter raises his eyebrows.

“…but I don’t know if I believe that. Folks are just cooky back here in the woods, and the deeper into the forest you go, the cookier they get. Anyway, just past that house is a big dirt parking lot. The lot, and most of the woods past that purple tin can house, belongs to the Weis Ecology Center. Have you heard of it?”

Hilter scribbles for moment. Once he’s caught up, “I believe I’ve heard the name. It sounds familiar enough, at least.”

“Yeah, it’s been in town for a long time. Since the nineteen fifties, I’m pretty sure.”

“Ah, I see what you’re getting at.”

“Well then let me get there,” Cooper injects shortly. Hilter raises his hands as if to say I surrender. “The Operation Paperclip Nazis came over in the nineteen’fifties. Before that, Snake Den ended at Weis; after that, the road was continued and a bunch of houses were built so the Nazis could have a place to live. Like I said before, a select few of the Paperclipees were given funding to continue the work they were doing under Hitler. One of those select few got to live in Treeburg – the government wanted to space them out across the country, y’know? So they’d be harder to find. That’s why they picked Treeburg, this backwoods-ass town is about as secluded as it gets.

“So the special Nazi scientist – let’s call him Doctor Weis, just for argument’s sake – he set up shop at the end of Snakeden Road and continued his work. Now, what was he working on? It must have been pretty important, pretty unique in order for the US government to give him money to keep doing it. Otherwise, he would have just been sent to NASA or something. You following me?”

Hilter Williamson nods his head to indicate that he is following Cooper down this road as it goes deeper and deeper into the forest.

“I think he was doing something with genes. Like, gene splicing, genetic alteration. Making mutants. Another thing you don’t know about Treeburg… well, about the whole country, probably, because this stuff is pretty top-secret, I only know about it because of a YouTube show I watch. Across the country there’s this crazy underground tunnel system that the government uses to move supplies and secret technology and important leaders and stuff like that around without being noticed. They connect to all the major cities, all the important army bases – the secret army bases too, like Ess-Four and Area Fifty-One – and if you dig really deep into the Freedom of Information Act section of the See-Eye-Aye’s website, you’ll find maps of where the tunnels go, and more importantly, where they open up to the surface world. And guess what?”

Hilter already knows what Cooper is going to say, but he doesn’t guess it out loud. If anything, he guesses that Cooper’s question is rhetorical. And guess what? He’s right about that, too.

“One of the tunnels runs directly underneath Treeburg, specifically underneath the Wanaque Reservoir. And, get this Hilter, there’s actually a smaller annex-sorta tunnel that branches off from the one underneath the Wanaque, and do you know where that leads?”

Cooper is on the edge of his seat now, holding on to the arms of the chair for dear life.

Right to the Nazi neighborhood at the end of Snake Den Road. I never went back there much when we lived in town because me and David had Owen Johnson’s trails to explore and stuff, but I bet if we went back there and took the map and drove to where the annex tunnel ends, we’d probably come to a house. That’s the house where Doctor Weis lived, or maybe still lives! He probably keeps his lab in the annex tunnel because these tunnels are huge, you could have multiple fighter jets driving through there wing-to-wing and still have room to walk around. I think that Doctor Weis created The Serpent in his lab, because… I know you didn’t see the thing, but I did, and it wasn’t real. I mean, it was real, it killed my fucking brother, but… it wasn’t natural. There’s no fucking way it could have evolved on its own, not in the fuckin’ Wanaque. Oh, another thing you probably don’t know – nobody’s allowed to fish in the Wanaque. They used to sell permits but they don’t anymore; nowadays, if you’re even caught walking through the woods around the reservoir, you’re liable to be shot. The guards who patrol it carry semi-automatic military rifles. Now, ask yourself, Mister Williamson – Hilter – why would the government try so hard to keep the general population out of a local lake? I’ll tell you why – because it’s not just a lake. It’s a fucking enclosure, they know The Serpent is in there and they’re trying to keep it secret. I don’t know what they plan to do with it, but… but going off how effortlessly it killed my brother, I’d say they’re probably trying to weaponize it. That’s always what our Goddamned government does with everything good, isn’t it? They fucking weaponize it.”

Cooper’s heart is beating at twice its normal rate. Veins have popped out on both of his temples, and Hilter can see they’re beginning to throb.

“My parents don’t listen to a word I say, they don’t fucking believe any of this but I know it’s true, I saw The Motherfucking Serpent with my own fucking eyes and it fucking kiLLED DAVID! THE FUCKING MONSTER KILLED DAVID AND NOBODY FUCKING BELIEVES ME! NOBODY WANTS TO FUCKING BELIEVE ME! THEY’D RATHER BELIEVE THAT HE FUCKING COMMITTED SUICIDE IN FRONT OF ME, BUT HE WOULD NEVER DO THAT!”

Hilter has stopped writing at this point. He’s sitting calmly in his chair with his hands folded over his pad.

“IT’S SO FUCKING EASY FOR MY FUCKING PARENTS TO TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THEY’RE NOT THERE, IT’S SO GODDAMNED EASY FOR THEM TO SPEAK ON SHIT THAT THEY DON’T KNOW, BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? YOU KNOW WHAT I TELL THEM? I TELL THEM YOU DON’T KNOW! And they fucking get mad at me! They think I’m fucking crazy, but, but I have a fucking better fucking grip on fucking reality than they do! They’re fucking delusional, they’re in fucking denial!”

“Cooper, I–”

“And you don’t know either, Hilter! You don’t fucking know what happened! You weren’t fucking there, you just fucking moved into town! This is a weird fucking place Hilter, weird fucking things happen but you’re a goddamned psychologist, you get paid to tell your patients they’re crazy, oh you’re so high and fucking mighty. You don’t know what happened to David and I do but you won’t fucking listen to me! Nobody fucking listens!”

Cooper stands up and whips a pillow across the room. Then, he goes to the end table between his chair and the couch, the table he and David would always use to eat their Sunday morning breakfast when they were kids and they’d watch cartoons together, and he draws his right leg back and kicks it so hard that not only do one of the legs snap, but Cooper spills himself out on the floor.

“COOPER!” Hilter shouts in a voice louder than Cooper thought the doctor capable of. “That’s enough, Cooper! You sit back in that chair and calm down or this session is over! I will let you yell, I will let you curse, I will let you vent your rage but I will not allow you to destroy my property. That is unacceptable, do you understand?!”

Rather than getting back in chair, Cooper gets up and paces back and forth across the room, his face growing redder by the step.

“Fine, pace then!” shouts Hilter. “You know what–” then he stops himself. With closed eyes, Hilter slowly draws a deep breath through his nose, holds it, then lets it lazily puff out between his lips. He then opens his eyes and sees that Cooper has stopped pacing. “I apologize for raising my voice like that, Cooper. May I tell you something that you don’t know?”

Cooper nods his currently white and blank face.

“I am not a normal human being. I have a mild schizophrenia spectrum disorder – in our current context, what that means is that I am very perceptive of the emotions of others. When somebody displays an emotion very strongly, I exhibit the tendency of contracting that emotion. It’s sort of like seeing someone yawn and then yawning yourself – hell, sometimes all I need to do is write the word yawn and it makes me yawn – but regardless, it was very unprofessional of me to raise my voice at you like that. I am sorry.”

It seems as though Cooper doesn’t know what to do. Usually when he starts yelling at his house, his parents just yell right back, except they’re a lot louder and a lot meaner than Cooper is. They don’t understand that Cooper isn’t yelling to be mean, they don’t know how Cooper’s brain works. Sometimes he just gets carried away, he can’t always help it. They don’t know that though, they just think he was born an angry boy and he’ll always be angry for his whole life. They’ve never said sorry before, either.

Cooper sits down in the chair across from Mister Williamson and puts his hands in his lap. His shoulders are slumped and he’s looking down at his feet. A few moments of silence pass, then he feels a hand on his shoulder.

“This is, um… this is the first time you’ve been back to the neighborhood since your family moved away, isn’t it, Cooper?”

Cooper nods his head without looking up.

“I have to imagine that with all the commotion and stress of moving, you never got much of a chance to properly say goodbye to David.”

“He didn’t kill himself…” Cooper mumbles, still looking at his feet. “The cops would have found his body if he had. He didn’t kill himself.”

Hilter pats Cooper’s shoulder a few times. Then, “Listen. Normally I wouldn’t suggest this for any of my other patients, but your case is special. Unique, in a word. You and David spent a lot of time back in the woods behind the pond up the street, correct?”

“Yeah,” Cooper says, finally looking up. No up at Hilter’s face, but up from his feet. “In the woods all around Fricker. Owen Johnson made a lot of trails.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard. And the last memory you have of the woods around Fricker is a not so good one, to say the least. It’s almost lunch time now, and normally I’d end the session here, but like I said: I believe your case is unique. So, here is what I suggest: why don’t you go and take a walk back in the woods. Go down to the reservoir if you’d like, or stay in the shallower parts, whatever you want. I’ll order us some food when you’re gone, and when you get back, we can continue our discussion. Is that… does that sound fair?”

Cooper’s looking up at Hilter now. “Yeah… I think I’d like that. Thanks, Mister Williamson.” He hops out of his seat and starts towards the front door. “I won’t be gone too long.”

“Well, you don’t know that,” Hilter says jokingly, but when he sees the look of contempt on Cooper’s face, he course corrects with, “I’m sorry, bad sense of humor. I only mean to say you can take as long as you’d like. I don’t have any other appointments scheduled for the day.”

The frown doesn’t turn to a smile, but it doesn’t stay a frown either. “All right… thanks.” Cooper quickly shuffles out the door.

Hilter falls into the chair in a heap. “Christ, Hilter. What the hell is wrong with you? That was totally… ah well, it seems to be smoothed out now.” He reaches over for the phone on his end able that still has all four of its legs, then dials the number of Cooper’s mom. He tells her the session is going well and that he’d like to extend it into the evening if that’s at all possible, and of course it is, Cooper’s mom is thrilled to hear that a psychologist is actually getting through to Cooper, and the fact that he’s spending a day away from his dark bedroom and angry music only thrills her more.

After the phone call, Hilter gets out his laptop and orders a pizza to be delivered in an hour, then he begins to do some research on the Weis Ecology Center that Cooper was talking about. What he finds surprises him – the facility has been around for a long time, even longer than Cooper is aware, in fact – but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of a Nazi presence in the area. Although, that information probably wouldn’t be displayed on the facility’s website. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, as they say, and so Hilter continues his digging long into the afternoon.

By the time Cooper returns, the pizza’s cold, but that’s okay. At that point, Cooper doesn’t have much of an appetite left anyway.

A Monster

Flies buzz in a loose circle above Cooper’s head like buzzards over a piece of roadkill. Coincidentally enough, like buzzards to roadkill, the flies are attracted to Cooper by the stench rising in invisible plumes from his body, mostly from his armpits. He walked his way up Fricker Drive – running down the Hill of the Neverending Stride is one thing, but to run up it requires a certain level of unhingedness that Cooper has yet to attain, despite what his parents might think or say – and he planned on taking a slow, somber walk down to the reservoir, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan. He was walking slowly as he traded the concrete walkway along the pond for the mouth of the old logging road, and when he passed the beginning of The Dirtbiker’s Path he was definitely doing a power walk, but then he got to the rocky hill and his feet took on a mind of their own, luring him into a run. Then, suddenly, Cooper found himself laying in the dirt down by the Wanaque Reservoir, at the same spot where he and David took their last fishing trip. The spot where they met a monster called The Serpent. The spot where David died.

Cooper groans as he picks himself up into a sitting position. He looks left down the shoreline, then right down the shoreline. The lazy waves of the Wanaque lap up against the sandy shores, although the sand is more pebbles than sand. Once, when Cooper was still really young, he and David came down here and tried to build sandcastles out of the pebbly sand. They failed spectacularly, but it was still fun. David made it fun, David always knew how to make stuff fun, even when Cooper was angry. Especially when Cooper was angry. But now…

“Ugh,” he groans, letting his head fall back into the dirt. “Why’d I even come down here… to remember David? I don’t need to be at the place he died to remember David. I’m constantly remembering David. This is just making it worse…”

A thought comes to Cooper’s mind, something that Mister Williamson said earlier on – ‘Existence is very ironic.’ Yeah, it sure is – Cooper thought being hurriedly taken out of his environment following the death of his brother was the thing that made coping with said death so hard, but now that he’s been back in his old house, now that he’s back to the spot The Serpent came out of the water and grabbed David? It’s only about two thousand times harder. Hard like iron; if that’s not ironic, Cooper doesn’t know what is.

“All right, get up Cooper,” Cooper says to himself after slapping the seventh mosquito to land on his left arm alone. “We came, we saw, we were conquered. We might as well go back and finish the therapy session.”

He gets up, but doesn’t immediately start walking back. One look at that tall, steep hill he’ll have to climb – the hill David didn’t want to climb, the hill that made him take his last cast, the cast that hooked The Serpent, why couldn’t he have just climbed the hill? – convinces Cooper to take one last look at the water. Just for the hell of it, ya know? He’s pretty hot and sweaty, it would feel good to rinse some of the yuck off his face before he walks back and gets all sweaty again.

And so he does go to the water’s edge, he strips his shoes and socks off and wades in up to his ankles, then to his shins, then his knees even though the cuffs of his shorts get a little wet. Cooper doesn’t mind though. In fact, he doesn’t even think of it – he doesn’t think of anything, his mind is totally blank, his gaze captured by something under the water.

Something big.

Something glowing.

Cooper dives in, forgetting he’s wearing clothes at all, and opens his eyes to the sting of the reservoir’s somewhat clear water. The thing’s not very deep – maybe only six feet down, maybe eight – but it’s not the dive that gives Cooper a challenge. It’s the glowing thing itself, he’s wrestling with it but it seems to be stuck to the bottom of the lake, if only he had… the knife! Cooper reaches into his right pocket, which proves to be a challenge in and of itself because of the water and all, but finds nothing. It must have fallen out during his tantrum at the doctor’s house, or maybe when he was running down here. It doesn’t matter – well, it matters, but not very much compared to the burning which consumes his lungs like rage in the heart of a misunderstood child. He can’t wrestle anymore, he has to come up for air.

Cooper breaks the surface and treads water, angrily punching and slapping the surface. “Fuck!” he shouts, “Why did I have to fucking drop the knife?! Fuck!” He backstrokes a few feet then looks down – the glowing thing is still there, still glowing beneath the surface. If the thing is what Cooper thinks it is, he can’t be in this water for too much longer, otherwise… he doesn’t want to think about otherwise.

“Okay, calm down,” he says to himself. “Remember, sometimes bad things have to happen so good things can happen. If I had the knife I might break the thing. I just have to try again.”

Taking in a massive lungful of air, Cooper dives down to the glowing thing and wriggles his fingers beneath its base. The thing itself is smooth and hard, like a big stone, but the gunk it’s attached to is… well, it’s definitely not hard. It’s got a shape to it, but it’s… it’s so slimy and gunky and sort of squishy, but like… not. It’s so blegh, so disgustingly blegh. It’s like one of those nasty floating egg-sack-lookin’ bryozoan colony shits that he sometimes saw when he’d swim in Treeburg’s other lakes, the things that look like they came from another dimen–

He glowing thing pops out of its gross cradle with a thuncc. Holding it under one arm, Cooper swims for the surface and then for shore. When he’s at least twenty feet onto land he falls to his knees and sets the glowing thing down to catch his breath. It’s a lot heavier out of the water, but he thinks he can carry it. He might have trouble getting up that hill, but it’ll be worth it.

Before Cooper picks the thing back up, he takes a good look at it. It’s about the size and shape of a football, except the corners are significantly more rounded. It’s mostly translucent, kind of like colorless gelatin, but the outside is thick and tough. The glowing seems to come from a pulsating orange core in the middle of the thing’s body.

“Oh yeah, I know exactly what you are,” Cooper says as he swivels it around so he can get a look at it from every angle. “You’re an egg, and your mom is a fuckin’ bitch.”

Speaking of said fuckin’ bitch, Cooper doesn’t want to give her a chance to find her nest empty while he’s still down here. He takes his shirt off and drapes it over the egg like he was dressing it, then he pushes the egg over and grabs his shirt by the bottom hem and cautiously lifts it. The top of the egg pokes out of the collar a little bit, like a grown adult trying to fit his head through the collar of a toddler’s sweater, but it stays snug. Still… Cooper doesn’t quite trust that. Leaving the shirt on the egg, he picks it up with both hands and starts jogging up the tall hill.

When he’s halfway up the hill, Cooper hears what can only be described as a banshee’s wail, a terrible scream that he’s heard only once before, that can only be made by one specific monster, and as far as Cooper is aware, banshees don’t exist. Cooper sprints up the hill with all his might, and when he crests it, he sprints over the plateau between the mountains, he sprints down the old logging road, he sprints until his feet are numb; he sprints so fast that he doesn’t even realize he misses the righthand turn at the swampy junction he needed to take to get back to Fricker. Cooper just keeps sprinting and sprinting and sprinting, and he doesn’t stop until he comes to the end of the stretch of the old logging road he never explored before. It’s not the unfamiliar woods that stop him, nor is it the old, ratty shack standing at the end of the road. No, it’s the man staring at him out the little window next to the plywood door. The man in the ski mask with eyes more bulbous and hollow than that of The Fucking Serpent. Cooper wants to turn back, he wants to keep running but his legs are jelly, his feet are concrete blocks, his heart is a jackhammer in his chest. He barely has the sense left to breathe.

The man’s head disappears from the window. The door opens with a sinister creak. Aside from the ski mask, the man wears no clothes. His flabby body is slathered in mud and leaves, and his teeth are browner than said mud. He slowly walks down the old logging road towards Cooper, whose knees are threatening to buckle and bring him to the ground. Then he would never escape the man. Then the man wouldn’t even have to chase after Cooper to have his way with him.

The man stops when he’s six inches away from Cooper. The smell pouring off his muddy body is atrocious. Cooper’s eyes begin to water and he wants to look away but he can’t. He’s looking up at the man’s head, if brings his gaze down he’ll see that which he’ll never unsee, and then his eyes wouldn’t be watering from just the smell. Then he would be crying, and he might never stop crying. The man might like his crying.

“Watchu got?” the man asks in the voice of a hippopotamus. He reaches low and takes the egg out of Cooper’s hands, then rips the shirt off and gives it back to Cooper. “Looks like beck’fust. Thanks buddy.” The man pats Cooper on the head like a dog, then turns around and goes back into his hut, letting the door slam loudly behind him. The sound of thin wood slapping thicker wood seems to break Cooper from the trance; the boy turns around and darts back down the wide trail, not even bothering to put his shirt back on.

After taking the turn – now a lefthand turn, and never mind the mud he runs through, Cooper just needs to get the fuck out of these fucking Fricker woods so he can never come back – Cooper picks up his speed and doesn’t stop running until he gets back to his old house on Fricker Drive. He ran so fast that his pace didn’t pick up going down the Hill of the Neverending Stride, and can you blame him? He saw a monster in the forest today, a monster far worse than the one he was expecting.

You Know

A bombardment of knocking rips Hilter away from his computer screen. He sets the laptop on the pizza box sitting on the couch cushion beneath his legs and stands up, then cracks his stiff back, then hobbles to the door. The knocking doesn’t stop until he answers it, and Cooper nearly flattens him to the ground with the force of his entry.

“I wanna go home, Mister Williamson,” Cooper squeals in a shirt, high-pitched burst. “I don’t wanna, I don’t, I wanna go home. I shouldn’t have come here, this was a bad idea. I’m going to be okay, I’m going to get over David. I want to go home.”

Hilter closes the front door and guides Cooper into the living room. “Cooper, please calm down. I got us some chicken bacon ranch pizza, it’s cold but I can warm up a couple slices for you. I–”

“I’m not hungry, I-I want to go home. I need to get out of here. Bad things happen so good things can happen, and that’s okay. I understand that now, I’m not going to come back. I shouldn’t have come back, I–”

The beeps of a pressed phone button cuts Cooper off. “All right, I’m calling your folks right now. It’s about a half hour drive to get here from Haskull though, so you’re going to have to wait regardless. Are you… what can I do for you, Cooper? You’re very distressed.”

Cooper, sitting on the chair to the left of the couch, the one next to the broken end table, brings his knees up to his chest and hugs them tightly. He says nothing.

Hilter sighs, then presses the call button. The chat with Cooper’s mom is very short – yes, Cooper is fine, the session went about as expected, he’s ready to come home – and when he hangs up the phone, he notices how wet Cooper’s clothing is.

“Cooper, what happened to your clothes?” But Cooper just keeps breathing hard through his nose, Cooper keeps rocking back and forth in the chair, the cushion of which is now very muddy. “All right, ehm… I’m going to warm up some pizza anyway, okay? If you don’t want it when it’s warm then I’ll just eat it. Please don’t go anywhere.”

Cooper watches Hilter slowly pick up the pizza box from the couch. His eyes follow the doctor as he walks into the kitchen, then linger at the doorway; when Hilter comes back through, Cooper’s gaze is waiting for him. Hilter sits down on the chair across the room from Cooper and takes his pad and pen from the end table.

“Look, I know I shouldn’t have yelled at you before, and I probably shouldn’t have let you go for that walk either, but–”

“Not that.” Cooper says flatly into his knees. Hilter relaxes a bit and waits for Cooper to continue, and after a few minutes, he does. “Not… not your fault. I… do you have my knife?”

“Your knife?” Hilter asks, confused.

“My dad’s old knife. The one they thought I used to kill David. I always carry it with me now but I didn’t have it in the woods. I needed it in the woods but I didn’t have it. Did you take it?”

“I most certainly did not,” Hilter says, his voice concerned. “Why did you need the knife in the woods?”

“Because,” he says, then snaps his jaws shut. He almost said it, he almost just out and said it.

“Because…? You can tell me, Cooper. I won’t share it with your parents, it won’t leave this room.”

“You won’t believe me,” Cooper states as fact.

“Do I need to? I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I have another patient who believes he sees genies whenever he lights incense products. I don’t judge him for it, I don’t try to tell him he’s wrong. For all I know, he really has made contact with genies, or djinns, as he calls them. It’s important that we don’t bottle things up inside, Cooper. Please, tell me what happened in the woods.”

Cooper looks left and right, as if checking to make sure nobody else is in the house. “Fine. I um… I went back down… wait.” Cooper climbs down from the chair and gets on his hands and knees to look beneath it. He reaches his hand into the dusty darkness beneath the chair and pulls it out in a closed fist, then climbs back up.

Hilter smiles. “Find your knife?”

Cooper clicks the blade open and holds the slim black grip tight in his right hand like David showed him. David said that’s how a knife fighter holds a knife. “Yeah. Okay… so I went back to the spot where The Serpent grabbed David. I thought it would make me feel better to be down there but it didn’t, I just felt worse and alone. But I ran all the way there and I was really sweaty so I waded into the water to cool down… oh my god.”

“What, what’s wrong?”

“I forgot my shoes by the lake.”

A moment of silent passes, as neither of them really know what to say. Then, Cooper says, “Fuck it, whatever. I’m never going back in those woods.”

“Cooper, your mom is going to–”

“Fuck my mom.” He grips the knife tighter. “I don’t care, I’ll make something up. She wouldn’t believe me if I told her the truth anyway.”

Hilter makes a note in his pad. “All right, if you wish. Now, you waded in the water…”

“Yeah, I was wading in the water, and then I saw this… thing. This glowing thing.” Cooper lets his feet fall to the floor, but he keeps his grip on the knife. “It was attached to the lakebed, maybe seven feet under the water. It was really stuck there, if I had the knife I could have cut it loose really easily, but I might have broken it, too. It doesn’t really matter though – look, I found The Serpent’s egg. It’s real, Hilter, I’m telling you it’s real, and it’s reproducing. I don’t know how, maybe Doctor Weis gave it the ability to reproduce asexually like Komodo dragons.”

Choosing not to delve into all the information he learned about the Weis Ecology Center and the surrounding area today – including the fact that the center was originally a farm owned by a family with the last name of Carrigan, that it’s been around since the eighteen hundreds and that it’s had many names since then, and that the whole Nazi neighborhood theory is just a rumor that was allegedly started by a certain blogger who’s a fan of the color purple in an attempt to drown out the rumors about herself being a witch – Hilter says, “Komodo dragons reproduce asexually?”

“Yes, they do… sometimes. But that’s not the important part. I found The Serpent’s egg and I took it out of the lake, but The Serpent knew.”

“How did–”

“I heard it scream. It makes this noise, this horrible, ear-splitting scream… it knows the egg was taken, but I was pretty far away from the water when it found out. I still ran though, I wasn’t about to take any chances.” He looks at the knife. “Not without this.” He looks at Hilter, then, “Do you believe me? I was so scared with the egg alone that I didn’t even think to put my shoes back on before I left. You believe me, don’t you?”

Hilter says nothing, just keeps writing in his pad. Then, “I’ll give my opinion at the end. You don’t have the egg now, so I must presume you lost it – what happened?”

The corners of Cooper’s mouth rise in tiny arcs. They’re almost unnoticeable, but they’re there. Then, as he continues recounting the events of his walk through the woods around Fricker, they fall back to a frown. “I ran along the old logging road, and I was going really fast. Really, really fast – David was a really good trail runner and he taught me how to do it, but I guess I was so afraid of The Serpent that I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. And I uh, I missed a turn and just kept going, and the trail brought me to a shack.”

“A shack…?” Hilter asks.

“Yeah, an old ratty shack with a plywood door. And there was… there was a guy living in it. A creepy guy. He was wearing a ski mask–”

Time seems to freeze as Hilter’s mind flashes to the notes he took during his second session with Scotty Mells, the patient who sees the djinns – in a dream, Scotty saw a despicably similar shack set far back into the woods, a shack that was also occupied by a man in a ski mask.

“–and nothing else. His body was… it was fuckin’… I don’t even wanna talk about it. But he took the egg from me. He said it looked like breakfast. No, not breakfast; beck’fust. If I had the knife I could have fought him, I could have saved the egg, but…” Cooper’s holding the knife so tightly in his hand that his knuckles are white, but still he tries to grip it harder. The knife is the only thing that makes him feel safe anymore. “But I guess he might have hurt me… or… or worse…” Cooper gulps down a wad of thoughts he’d rather not think about. “The man took the egg and gave me back my shirt and I ran Hilter, I ran back here as fast as I could. I didn’t even put my shirt back on until I was in the front yard.”

“Why did you have your shirt off?”

Cooper’s grip on the knife loosens a bit. “Because I was using it to carry the egg. It was heavy.”

A moment of the point of a pen scraping against paper is followed by a moment of tension so dense that Cooper’s ears begin to ring.

Then, “Well Cooper, I’ll have to make this quick because your mother will be here soon.” He sets the pad down in his lap and folds his hands, resting them on top of it. “I believe your story.”

“You… do?”

“Yes. I believe that you believe every word of it – that is to say, I don’t believe you’ve made any of it up – and I see no reason why you would lie to me. There are certain…” he waves his hand in the air, as if trying to grasp the words. “There are certain ways to tell if a patient is lying to their therapist, and I don’t believe you are. Now, as far as all the Nazi stuff from earlier goes–”

“Um… I’ll be honest, I’m not really set on all that. I just… I don’t know what else would make sense. The Serpent does not look like a natural thing. It looks almost… it looks alien.”

“Well,” Hilter says, crossing his right leg over his left and clicking his pen, “while you were gone I was doing some research, specifically on the Weis Center and the Wanaque Reservoir. I didn’t find anything about any Nazis, which is probably a good thing, all things considered.”

“Yeah, probably.”

But, I did find some reports of You-Eff-Oh sightings over the lake.” Mister Williamson shrugs. “I don’t want to load your mind up or anything, but um… let’s just say that some things are not meant to be totally understood by us mere mortals.” He drops Cooper a wink, and this time, Cooper catches it. “Let me ask you this: after having today’s experiences, do you feel more ready to move on from your brother’s death?”

“Yes,” without letting even a millisecond go by. “Yes, I’m ready. When I first came here this morning I thought being back home would make it easier, but it didn’t. It just… and, and then the walk in the woods… I thought my brother died a really bad, really terrible death, but… I almost feel like a fuckin’ asshole for saying this, but he died a pretty cool death. I mean… he could have been abducted by that man. At least with The Serpent it was probably quick and painless, you know?”

Hilter smiles. “I do indeed, and I don’t think you’re an asshole.”

“Thanks,” Cooper says with a little smile. “I don’t think I’m gonna come back, though.”

Hilter’s smile does not break. “Well Cooper, in your case, I believe that’s a good thing. This session has been… unorthodox, to say the least, but as long as we got to the proper answer, the formula we used doesn’t really matter. Hey, you aren’t still not hungry, are you? I think I smell that pizza.”

“You know what? Yeah, I think I could eat now.”

A Good Night’s Sleep

Cooper’s mom pulls into what was once her driveway a few minutes after Hilter finishes wrapping up the leftover pizza. After one last quick chat about how parents can be parents – “Trust me,” Hilter told him, “I know a thing or two about how nutty parents can be. Just be patient with them. They may not always act like it, but they do love you very much.” – Cooper calmly walks out the front door and across the lawn, then climbs into the back seat. He’s walking a little taller than he was when his mom dropped him off this morning, and when she asks him how the appointment went, he tells her (without cursing, mind you) that it went well, that he doesn’t think he’ll need to come back and that he’s accepted that David is resting in peace now. Also, he tells her he doesn’t think he’ll need to carry his dad’s old knife around anymore. This last makes Cooper’s mom very happy, and you know what? It makes Cooper happy, too. For the first time since they moved out of Treeburg, Cooper is looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Mister Williamson, on the other hand, is looking at a long, long stretch of night ahead of him. He has a lot of notes to type up from today’s double session, even all the Nazi stuff. It’s not that the Nazi stuff holds any weight as far as reality is concerned, but it goes to show how the human mind will cling to the bizarre and fantastical when true reality is subpar in comparison. At the beginning of the session, Cooper was more than merely convinced that his hometown was harboring a troupe of Nazi scientists; after he went into the woods and saw… well, whatever he saw… in other words, after he had a cathartic experience, he so readily and easily distanced himself from the fantastical in preference to reality. Sure, he still believes his The Serpent is real, and he believes there is a strange naked man living in a shack back in the woods he used to explore, but… in truth, Hilter believes that shack may be real, as well.

In truth, Scotty Mells isn’t the only one who’s seen that shack in his dreams, that old ratty shack with the plywood door standing at the end of a wide dirt trail somewhere deep in the forest. Hilter has seen it too, in fact Hilter has seen it many times, but not since he moved to Fricker Drive. Why did the dreams of the shack stop when he moved to Fricker Drive? Why did he move to Fricker Drive in the first place?

Hilter takes a deep breath. “I was just taking a drive and I saw the house was for sale, that’s all.”

But Hilter Odolf Williamson isn’t one to just take a drive, he’s more the type to go for a walk, he said it himself today. Was the shack in his dreams just a manifestation of his feelings towards his old University apartment? Or was he drawn to Fricker by a metaphysical force? Was that random drive he took more than a merely convenient incident?

“Stop it,” he commands himself. “You’re thinking too far into it, just like the shit about the disappearing older brothers. It’s a coincidence. You have work to do. Get to it and go to bed, things will be clear in the morning.”

And so Hilter stops thinking and starts typing, and he doesn’t stop until the report is finished. He does get to bed, much later than Cooper does, mind you, but he does get to bed eventually, and for the first time since he’s moved in, Hilter dreams of the old ratty shack. But there’s nobody living inside of it now; knickknacks and mundane decorative items are strewn about on the floor and piled up high in the corners, there’s what appears to be a section of a felled tree covered in a red tablecloth in the middle… and there’s something on top of it. Something egg-shaped, but it’s not the egg Cooper was talking about, it’s not glowing, it’s… it’s…

Hilter wakes up surrounded by bleak darkness. He checks the alarm clock next to his bed – three’thirty-three on the dot. His body is covered in sweat, he’s totally out of breath and his mind is spinning faster than it was when he was transcribing his notes.

“Just calm down, Hilter,” he says to himself. “It was just a dream, it might not mean anything.”

‘But what if it wasn’t, what if it does?’ says his brain, which seems to have a mind of its own.

“If it wasn’t… well, then it will lead to something. Until then, there’s no point in pursuing a wild goose.”

‘Fair enough,’ grumbles Hilter’s brain.

It is not good, and it does not last the rest of the night, but eventually, Hilter sleeps.


Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Saved

The Great Old One

‘Look at them Scotty, look hard and long at your failures,’ roars the deep lion’s voice from within Scotty’s head. ‘See for yourself what you’ve done, why you must now come to me.’

It’s the incense burners, the ones originally paired with the Vanilla boxes infused with the twin geisha djinns. He sent them to the man on Facebook, the man on Facebook was supposed to burn them and feed the first djinn his soul and his wife was supposed to find his body but she wouldn’t call the police, the blue djinn promised, the blue djinn with the belt of chains said his wife would be allured by the song of the geisha, said she would be entranced by the scent of the djincense, said she would willingly give up her soul, but… but the blue djinn lied. The man on Facebook tossed the cones in the trash, the man on Facebook gave the burners away. The man on Facebook damned Scotty to an eternity of Hell on Earth.

‘Do not blame the man, my little Scotty Mells, and do not blame yourself. It was meant to be this way, it was meant to go the way it has gone.’

Scotty’s vision begins to blur. His spirit, the very essence of his being leaves his body like a hand from a winter glove and plummets into a violent darkness. The stack of incense boards he was clutching falls to the floor of the man from Omingle’s shop, and a funny tickling sensation runs up the back of his neck.

‘It has gone this way because I have commanded it so; I am trapped here, Scotty Mells, like my son in his sticks, like my grandchildren in their cones; you were brought here to free me.’

“I made a wish!” Scotty screams into the inky blackness, into the dark miasma which constricts him, which suffocates him, which defines his very shape like a clay mold does liquid metal. “I lit the stick and made a wish, and for that the djinn enslaved me. But I am now free! I have done my part, I am now free!”

‘Scotty Mells,’ roars the voice, sending hairline cracks through the plates of Scotty’s skull. ‘In serving the djinn you served only me, Scotty Mells. I am the Great Old One; the gears of fate have churned and you have been brought to the grounds of my prison. You must now come to me, Scotty Mells, you must come and set me free.’

“Where are you?!” shouts the formless entity that is the lifeforce of Scotty Mells.

‘I am deep in the bowels of The Keeper’s Finds, back in the back-back, right near the bathroom. Give yourself to me and I shall guide you there…’

The distant words, “You all right Scotty?” bring Scotty back into his body. It was the man from Omingle, the hairy and tubby man who owns this shop. The Keeper’s Finds, the grounds of the prison of the Great Old One. “Do you need hel–”

“Bathroom,” Scotty coughs out through his dusty, ravaged windpipe. In the darkness there was no throat, there was no emaciated body, there was no existential pain. There was only Scotty and the Great Old One, yet there was no Scotty. Not in any form, not in any body. There was only the darkness, but it wasn’t just darkness. Scotty knows it wasn’t just darkness. It was the Great Old One. He is everywhere, He is everything, He is the purpose of Scotty’s life. Scotty is here to save Him, Scotty is here to be saved; this is Scotty’s birthright.

Pain floods Scotty’s head as he turns to face The Finder; the porous vertebrae in Scotty’s neck pinch down hard on bare nerves and damaged muscles fall apart like rotten meat off broken bones. “You havva bathroom?”

“Uh, yeah,” drawls the shopkeep. Scotty’s eyes follow the man’s hand as it points towards a doorless archway in the back of this hoarder’s den Scotty was brought to by his master of masters. “It’s through there. Go down the stairs, past the glass display case and it’ll be right on your left.”

Energy bursts through Scotty’s spindly legs like electricity through a lightning rod after being struck. He takes off through the shop, feeling the air resistance pull his arms back so hard his shoulders nearly pop out of their sockets, and glides down the stairs without setting a foot on either of the steps. This back-back is even more cluttered than the front, it’s a literal labyrinth of litter that should have be tossed away long before the keeper found it all, but Scotty maneuvers through it well enough. The display case is there, right across from the bathroom door, just like the keeper said it would be, just like the Great Old One promised. Scotty feels his kneecaps crack like the shell of a raw egg when he falls down upon them and presses his face into the display case, but the pain does not phase him. The pain is Scotty’s friend, Scotty has known only pain since long before he met the blue djinn, the father of the other djinn, the child of the Great Old One, He who is Trapped Within the Case.

“Where are you…” Scotty whispers. His breath fogs up the glass and then creeps into his nose, but the morbid scent of it does not make him vomit like it usually does. He doesn’t even smell it, for he’s risen back into the darkness, back into the embrace of the Great Old One, back into his formless state where all is safe and sound and–

The Doctor’s House

“Wait a moment,” says the doctor after clicking his pen. “You got ahead of me there, Scotty. I need to catch up in my notes. Please, have another glass of water and some fruit. It’s all fresh, you can eat as much as you like.”

Scotty’s pupils float across his sunken eyes and land on the basket of fresh fruit on the end table beside him. There are apples, grapes, clementines – although Scotty probably doesn’t have the strength to peel those suckers, not yet at least – bananas, strawberries. He lifts one toothpick arm and grasps the long straw sticking out from the tall glass of water, then brings it to his mouth and drinks. It tastes so pure, so cool, so… rejuvenating. Scotty hasn’t drank clean, filtered water in longer than he can remember; his pallet is accustomed to the taste of the led paint and gasoline that flows in the stream behind his old hut, the hut the doctor promised Scotty he’ll never have to go back to again because he can live here now, in the doctor’s house, the one at the end of the road where the doctor keeps his boat.

A double-click of a pen brings Scotty’s focus back to the doctor. He says, “All right, you ready to go on?”

“Yeah,” Scotty says, “I’m ready, Doctor.”

“Please, Mister Williamson is fine. You can even call me Hilter if you’d like, no need for silly formalities.” He places the point of his pen on the pad and then nods his head. “As you were.”

The Pipe

‘You have almost found me, Scotty Mells; you now bear witness to my prison.’

Scotty’s perception is slathered in tactile darkness. His only connection to the outside world now is a small hole, about the size of a pinprick. Through it he can smell the dust of The Keeper’s Finds, he can taste the blood in his mouth, he can feel the cold glass as it slowly warms to the temperature of his dirty forehead. He can see the cloudy green smoking pipe sitting between a petrified monkey’s hand and a small drinking glass that looks like a laughing skull, but he can’t hear anything from that outside world. Not in here. In here, there’s only the tame roar of the Great Old One.

‘I was sealed in this pipe before the dawn of humanity on Earth by a being who does not follow the laws of time’s passage. He feared my power, Scotty Mells, he feared the power of all those he imbued into the items held within this chamber, but he feared mine the most.’

“I fear your power,” Scotty whispers into the glass, his jaw barely moving at all. “I fear and respect that which you’ve grown to attain.”

The Great Old One bellows his disgusting, sick laughter. ‘Then you shall release me and I shall share with you the secret of higher existence, Scotty Mells. So long as you walk the path which leads to my emancipation, you will have the strength to pres–’

Scotty’s consciousness zaps through the pinprick, drawn by the falling of the shopkeep’s hand on his shoulder. The voice of the Great Old One is gone, reduced to a soft, wheezing breathing. Scotty can hear all the objects bound within the display case breathing, the sound rattling in his ears like hornets trapped in a drum.

“You… you still breathing?” the shopkeep asks.

“Breathin’,” Scotty answers as his lungs empty and the breathing of the pipe grows louder. “Breathin’, yes, you hear’ih’too? You hear’ih talkin’?”

“You said what now?!” the shopkeep – Cyrus, that was his name, that’s what he said on Omingle – says, removing his hand from Scotty’s shoulder.

“The pipe,” Scotty whispers. As his own breathing becomes more labored, the pipe’s breathing only grows louder in his ears. “That green pipe with all the angles. It’s speakin’ t’me.”

Scotty can feel the tension in the air fall away. Cyrus says, “Ah, I see what you’re gettin’ at. Here, why don’t you stand up for me and I’ll unlock the case so you can get a better look.”

Lifted by the will of the Great Old One, Scotty feels himself rise from the floor and leap back two feet. Cyrus begins to talk but Scotty doesn’t hear him, he’s too focused on the pipe, the glossy green pipe with the scratched-up bowl, but those aren’t scratches, are they? To an oblivious mortal they may look like scratches, but Scotty knows better. Scotty knows the secret of the pipe, Scotty knows what is held within its foggy crystal body, what is kept there by the precise curvature of all those scratches in the bowl. Scotty knows the pipe is a prison, he knows the scratches are a complex metaphysical lock, and he knows how to break it and set the prisoner free. The only question is, where will he get the her–

Cyrus places the bowl in Scotty’s hands. The bowl is now full of lush green herbs; it was empty in the case but now it’s full, the herbs appearing there as suddenly as the presence of the lighter appears in Scotty’s pocket.

“Ah, like that, do ya? Yeah, it’s a nice piece, made of jadeite if I’m not mistaken. Came along with the whole case, believe it or not – guy who brought it here said all the stu–”

“Whadda’bout th’herbs?”

The Great Old One’s laughter consumes Scotty’s perception. He doesn’t dare look up from the pipe, he couldn’t even if he wanted to. He hears only a twisted, demented laughter booming between his ears. The Great Old One has control, there is no more Scotty… and then there is. Reality is brought back by a ripple of air inches above his head, followed by the feeling of release below his waist, but Scotty’s not in the secondhand shop anymore. He’s in the forest beyond the parking lot, laying in the dirt beneath a bushel of ferns and shrubberies. He has some semblance of an awareness of how he got there – there was yelling, shooting, more yelling – but it’s mostly just a blur. A black, hazy blur.

One thing is clear though, one thing has stayed clear since the moment Scotty laid eyes on it – the pipe. Scotty still has the pipe clutched in his hands, it’s still packed to the brim with luscious green herbs, it still breathes its raspy breath. It still contains the Great Old One, and Scotty still must free Him. He’s about to ask the pipe what to do next, but it answers before he can form the words.

‘Go west now Scotty, trudge through the forest until you come to the clearing beneath the power lines. You will follow the wires until they bring you to water, and there you shall perform the ritual. There you shall set me free. There you shall learn the secrets of higher existence. There you shall be released from the bindings of the mortal coil.

‘There, you will be saved.’

With the cursed jadeite pipe clenched in his hands, Scotty runs through the forest. His feet catch on rocks and tree roots and he falls to the ground many times, but he always gets back up. He makes no move to avoid the brambles and so their thorns tear through his already tattered clothing and rip deep, drooling streaks of red into his flesh, but he does not feel the pain. He finds the clearing beneath the power lines, and as he blindly follows it towards the Monksville Reservoir, his vision clouds over and his hearing becomes a buzzing static, but Scotty does not falter. He is guided by the Great Old One, by the one who shall free him from the restraints of his mortal existence, by the single brilliant star shining in the cloudless evening sky, and so he doesn’t stop running until he reaches the rocky dirt beach at the water’s edge.

Then, he collapses from exhaustion and doesn’t wake up until the next morning. But that’s okay, that’s just fine – the Great Old One has nothing to do but wait. His voice is the first thing Scotty hears in the drowsy semi-delusional moments after he wakes back up.

‘It is time, Scotty Mells, time to set me free. Time for you to ascend. Are you ready, my son?’

“I’m… ready…” Scotty spews like the flecks of blood that accompany the coughing fit which follows his words.

‘Sit up and bring the pipe to your lips…’

Scotty leans back against a tree, as he’s unable to sit up by himself, and brings the pipe to his lips. The mouthpiece taps feverishly against his teeth. “Wait…” he says, letting his Parkinson’s-stricken arm fall back to his side. “All my teeth fell out, what…”

‘I have given them back to you, Scotty Mells, as a gesture of good faith. You have heard my voice, you have felt my power flowing through your veins, you have felt my touch that heals the dying. You must now free me, Scotty Mells, and you shall experience all I have to offer you.’

“I… I can’t lift…” comes out of his mouth in a mousey squeak. Scotty is beginning to fade.

‘Then I will lift it for you.’

Scotty’s arm, steady as steel, rises from the dirt and brings the mouthpiece of the jadeite pipe to his lips. The bowl is packed, freshly packed by the pungent smell of the herbs; all he needs is a light. He reaches into his left pocket with his free hand and pushes it to the bottom, then guides his fingers through the hole in the hardened fabric.

“No…” he moans, “my pants are torn, the lighter fell out in the woods. I cannot free you, Gre–”

‘You can and you will,’ the Great Old One says with a tone of impatience. ‘You must, Scotty Mells, and I will help you do it.’

Scotty feels his left hand pull itself out of his pocket and rise over the bowl. He sees himself point one finger at the herbs, and from the tip of that finger sprouts a sinister black flame. Scotty inhales the smoke until the bowl contains only ashes, and he does not exhale. He has no reason to exhale – he’s taken the Great Old One into his body, he’s freed Him from the prison. Scotty stands, feeling the great power within him, feeling it surge through his muscles and veins, feeling his body heal and return to prime form; he feels his feet leave the ground as the horrible black light swirls around him. Scotty Mells is on his way up.

Then a great fire engulfs Scotty’s lungs. He’s forced to let the smoke out in a series of bloody chokes. The pipe falls from his hand and shatters against a rock. Scotty falls from levitation, landing on jolts of pain as the shards impale his back and puncture the wind right out of his lungs. When he opens his eyes, he sees the Great Old One.

He does not have a body, not in the physical sense. He does not have a scent, nor a sound; He is merely darkness, a thin, transparent shade, a hazy shadow with no body to cling to, a slimy black film, a cognizant cloud of pollution of the consciousness floating between Scotty’s face and the inviting blue sky. He speaks to Scotty in that same, powerful lion’s roar he heard inside his head.

‘You have freed me, Scotty Mells. And now, I shall free you.’

Scotty lets out a yelp as a thick, jagged shard of jadeite pulls itself from his back. It tunnels through the dirt and floats into the air above him, then lands softly on his belly as if it were a simple feather.

‘Feed me your soul and I shall feed you the nectar of immortality. You shall be a god, Scotty Mells; all you must do is renounce your mortality. You know what you must do to be saved, Scotty Mells.’

And Scotty does know what he must do; he’s known since before he met the Great Old One, since before he became enslaved to the djinn, since before he was the last human left to toil in the toxic swamps of the Treebug industrial park. Scotty takes the jagged shard of jadeite in his right hand and wades into the cold waters of Monksville. He brings the shard to his left wrist and slices deep, releasing a torrent of crimson, then takes the stained shard in his left hand and repeats the action on his right wrist. Then, feeling the push of the Great Old One, Scotty Mells falls face-first into the reservoir. The final thing he draws into his ruined, polluted lungs is not a breath of air, but a shocked gasp of murky brown water.

A Summary

“…and the next thing I remember, I woke up here with you and a couple doctors standing over me.”

Mister Williamson wordlessly scribbles in his notepad for a few moments. Scotty takes another drink of that clean, filtered water, then chews on the straw for a few chomps to keep himself preoccupied. However, the doctor just keeps on writing, and Scotty starts to feel very uncomfortable.

“So… what do you think, Mister Williamson?”

Hilter’s eyes dart up from his pad, then fall back down. He picks up the pace a bit, striking symbols with pen strokes so rapid his temples begin to sweat. Then, he calmly clicks his pen and sets it down with his pad on the other end table.

“I think… well, why don’t we start with what you think happened, Scotty? Please, give me a summary.”

“Well…” Scotty says, pushing the chewed end of the straw away. “I think it was all real. I remember finding the incense stuff in a dumpster behind one of the factories in the industrial park when I was out foraging around for food. Something told me not to take it, but I took it anyway and when I lit the first stick at my hut, I met the blue djinn and he said he’d grant me a wish. So I wished for my life to be saved. I was in really bad shape; I know I’m skinny now, but you should have seen me before the Great Old One healed my body and made my teeth grow back. I was on death’s door, Hilter, and I was knocking. Then… well, all the other stuff happened. I sent out all the incense supplies just like the djinn told me to and it eventually brought me to you.” He chuckles, then, “I guess my life was saved, after all. I don’t think it worked out the way the djinn and the Great Old One wanted it to, though.”

“No?”

“No. I think I was supposed to die. I think it was all a trick. I think the Great Old One was hungry after He was freed, I think He was going to eat my soul after I died. But I didn’t die, because you saved me.”

Hilter Williamson smiles. “That I did, and I must say, what an incredible coincidence it was that I was out on my boat that morning. Did you know I just recently acquired this house? It was the last one on Fricker Drive that I didn’t own, and now I own it. Now I own them all. The deal went through the day you robbed The Keeper’s Finds, actually, and the man who lived here was kind enough to include the boat with the house. He said he hasn’t used it much ever since he met his current girlfriend, but… what was I saying? Ah yes: if all these events didn’t conveniently coincide with each other, if even one thing went askew, then…” he shakes his head. “Well, I suppose that’s not important. May I offer my take?”

Scotty nods his head.

“Well,” as he pushes the glasses up his nose, “I think you said it yourself – you were on death’s door, and you were knocking. Scotty, you were living in a terrible, putrid environment; you had no reliable access to food, no access to clean drinking water, you had only dirty clothing to wear, and I don’t even want to think about the bed you slept on. I think when you burned those incenses in your already dirty hut, it may have… well, the smoke may have messed with your brain, and you may have experienced some hallucinations. Of course I’m talking about the djinns and this Great Old One. Those things… well, I cannot say for sure that they don’t exist, as I firmly believe there are beings out there who exist higher on the consciousness spectrum, so to speak, than we humans do. Hell, I believe that some humans are higher on that spectrum than others are, that is to say, that some humans are of a higher level of awareness, that some may be able to perceive things that others cannot. So… perhaps the djinns were real, perhaps this Great Old One really did heal your body before he convinced you to attempt suicide. Or, maybe you walked down a very dark path, maybe your brain had you experience some things that weren’t necessarily there in order to break down any mental barriers you set up to prevent yourself from committing suicide. You were living a terrible life Scotty, a life of very low quality, and though you didn’t necessarily want to commit suicide, somewhere in your mind you recognized that death would be a sort of salvation for you. The light at the end of the tunnel, if you’ll excuse the pun.

“But, most importantly, I don’t think what really happened necessarily matters at this point. You survived. You’re here, you’re safe now – like I said before you gave me your story, you can consider this house yours for as long as you need, indefinitely, even; I have more than enough resources to support you, and after what you’ve been through, Scotty, I’d be more than willing to do it – and you’re not living in that shack in the industrial park anymore. Regardless of what brought you here, it’s safe to say you went through a trial, and that trial is now over. Does that sound reasonable?”

Scotty, with a smile on his face, nods his head. “It does. Thank you doc–… thank you, Hilter. I won’t be a burden, I promise. I’m a hard worker. I’ll get myself standing on my own two feet real soon.”

Hilter smiles back. “I’m sure you will. You can take all the time you need, Scotty.” He picks up his pen, pockets it, then stands up from the chair and takes his pad with him. “Are you all right here by yourself? I have my office set up in one of the houses up the road, and the sooner I can transcribe these notes the better.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll be okay. I’m probably just going to sleep all day, if that’s okay.”

“At this point, I think that’s preferential.” Hilter walks over and ruffles Scotty’s full head of black hair. “If you need anything, just press the one button on the phone, then the pound key. It’ll call my cell phone directly.”

“Thank you, Mister Williamson.”

“My pleasure. Be well, Scotty Mells.”

Hilter Odolf Williamson leaves the first house on Fricker Drive and starts his walk up the road. Moments after he leaves, Scotty falls into a deep, restful sleep, and he dreams. Not of the djinns, not of the Great Old One, but about an old wooden shack set back deep in the woods of Stonetown. It’s not Scotty’s old shack, and it’s not Scotty that lives inside it – the man is much, much bigger than Scotty, and his face is covered by a ski mask; Scotty would never wear a ski mask – nor is all the junk strewn about inside the hut anything Scotty would own. But yet one piece catches his eye – it’s placed on the middle of what appears to be a cut log standing up in the middle of the room, almost like some sort of altar. It’s the only thing on the altar aside from the red cloth covering it, and it’s shiny in a cloudy way, just like the jadeite pipe. It’s not green though, and it’s much larger than the jadeite pipe, it’s… it’s a rock.

No, not a rock; a crystal.

Scratches

Hilter’s walk back to the second house he bought on Fricker Drive is pleasant and uneventful. When he first moved here his walks were accompanied by the soundtrack of lawn mowers, weed whackers, the occasional chainsaw – the classic sounds of yardwork in a backwoods village. Today, all he hears is the sound of chirping birds and gusting wind, and he’s grateful for that. Treeburg is a beautiful, woodsy town; if he wanted to hear the humosphere at work, he would have stayed in the suburbs.

The first thing he does after sitting at his work desk is call up another patient of his, Cyrus Morgan. Cyrus is the owner of The Keeper’s Finds, the secondhand shop that Scotty allegedly robbed; if Hilter can verify at least that part of the story, it would give his case report all the more legitimacy.

The phone rings three times before Cyrus picks up. “Hello?”

“Hello, Cyrus? It’s Hilter Odolf Williamson. How are you?”

“Hey there doc’, I’m doin’ well. I didn’t miss an appointment today, did I?”

Hilter chuckles. “No no, nothing like that. I was actually calling about your shop – this may sound incredulous coming out of nowhere, but were you robbed a few days ago?”

“Well that’s not incredulous at all doc’, in fact I was. Some real sickly-lookin’ kid with half the hair missin’ from his head came in toting incense boards and ran out with a pristine jadeite smoking pipe. Left me with a broken computer and a few shattered windows too, but…” he trails off. Then, “Well, the damage was mostly my fault anyway, and the pipe wasn’t too too pricey. I didn’t even think it was worth phoning the cops. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I believe I found your robber. A young man by the name of Scot–”

“Scotty Mells, yeah! That’s him, the son of a bitch! How’d you find him?”

“It’s a very long story that I’m legally obligated not to tell, I’m afraid, but I will say that he’s in my care now. Without getting into it, I believe he had something of a psychotic break which may have contributed to the robbery, and I wanted to see if his story checked out. It seems that it has.”

“Oh, it certainly checks out. He was here, all right. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that boy, never seen a human who looked more like a mangy coyote. Sheesh. Anywho, is there anything else I can help you with, doc’? I was just about to head out for some lunch when the phone rang.”

“Ah, I see, my apologies. No, that’s… actually, one thing. You said he left with a smoking pipe?”

“Hell yeah he did, thing was beautiful. Made of jadeite, or some kind of green stone. Never been used to smoke, hell I don’t think it was ever touched. Thing was in perfect condition.”

“Do you say so?” Hilter asks, reaching for his pad. “Hold on a moment, if you would, let me… here it is. I wrote in my notes that he said the pipe’s bowl was full of scratches.”

“Scratches?” Cyrus spits, as if he was insulted. “Hell no, it was perfect. Immaculate, even. Your boy’s lyin’ to ya. Know what? I actually have a picture of it, I’ll email it to you real quick before I go up to Montane. You can see for yourself.”

“Really? Well that’s very convenient. Thank you, Cyrus.”

“Absolutely, doc’. I figure you’ve helped me through plenty of shit, it’d only be right if I could help you in return. It’s not a work of art or anything, just a quick pic’ for my inventory files, but it should do the job.”

“Indeed it should. Thank you again, Cyrus. Have a good lunch, tell the Montanes I say hello.”

“Absolutely. You take care, Mister Williamson.”

They hang up simultaneously. Hilter pulls up a Word document and begins to transcribe Scotty’s story. After three sentences, a notification pops up alerting Hilter that he’s received an email. It’s from Cyrus, and it contains the picture of the pipe. When the image loads and Hilter gets a good look at the pipe’s bowl, his heart skips a beat – it’s full of white scratches, as if someone took a sewing needle and scraped the living shit out of the thing.

“But that’s… Cyrus said it was clean… hm. Maybe there’s more to Mister Mells than meets the eye.”

Hilter saves the image in the same folder he saved the image of the empty beach camp left behind by the vanished Flannigan family, the previous owners of the house Hilter keeps his office in. Then, he closes out the email and goes back into Word. Before he resumes typing though, he makes one addition to the bottom of his written notes, one that will not be included in the typed report. It reads: possible schizophrenic/higher level of awareness – explore during next session.


Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

The Keeper’s Finds (Part 2)

The Djinn

Dust on floor, dust on the air, dust on his skin. It’s comprised mostly of ashes; cakey gray ashes from incense cones and sticks set to burn drift on the air like hazy pollen over expansive fields of cotton. This house has no windows, no ventilation system, just the misshapen front door that dangles out of line with its frame, attached there only by the last remaining hinge; at least the gaps let the light in. And the mosquitoes, and the rats, and the hornets… but at least they let the light in.

He has no appliances, no running water, no electricity; he drinks from a stream that runs behind his house, a stream polluted by gasoline and oil and old toxic paint dumped into the woods by one of the many corporations based up back here in the industrial park. He knows it’s not a safe place to be living but his family was here first, they came to Treeburg long before the capitalists raised their concrete barns and loaded them with human cattle to milk dry running their assembly lines. Now he’s the last one left back here, all the other families sold out or simply died off. He’s all alone in these dark and dank woods… well, except for the djinn.

It’s always the same one for him – blue skin, indigo beard tied in a knot a foot below its chin, violet hair protruding in meter-long spikes which shoot out in every direction from its mountainous bumpy scalp. It always has golden cuffs on its wrists, it always wears a belt of ancient, corroded chains bound tightly around its waist, it always keeps its arms, the skin scaly like pythons, folded before its chest; it always has that same deranged, sadistic look in its eyes, those terrible red eyes, like rubies soaked in blood and left out to collect the light of a harvest moon. Whether he burns the sticks or the cones it’s always the same djinn, it appears from the smoke and fades when the embers go out, but he knows it’s always there. Even when he can’t see it, he knows it’s always there watching him, keeping tabs, making sure he doesn’t waste the sacraments. He serves the djinn, you see, he’s a humble servant to one greater than he can ever hope to be, and the djinn serves the Great Old One, and the Great Old One serves… well, he doesn’t know, but all masters are little more than servants to a greater force. The planet is a red cell, a carrier of bloody slavery through the veins of the Universe as The Void, the black heart of Existence beats on and on and on; the land bent under the humans, the humans bent under the incense salesman, the incense salesman bent under the djinn, the djinn bent under the Great Old One; an endless cycle followed orders bound by chains and left to spin eternally, never breaking, never pausing, never offering even a speck of mercy.

But the chains are rusted, and the djinn will soon be free. Then the incense salesman will finally be relieved of his position, the Great Old One will be appeased; the djinn will rest and the incense salesman will be let alone to die in peace at long last. Maybe he’ll even be left to live; his free samples have collected plenty of souls, planted plenty of Energic siphons throughout this mortal coil – surely his own will be left off the table. Not that he has a table… or chairs… or anything aside from his bed. There’s no frame, just a mattress, an old and moldy mattress stuffed with jagged rusty springs and leaves and grasses and hair, his own hair which he pulled from his head during his innumerable fits of insomniac rage, anything to make the pain more bearable, he’d stuff it with his own skin if he could… but lo, he cannot. He must serve the djinn. So much was his wish, a wish he did not carefully make, a wish granted and a contract signed in a medium far more binding than blood; a contract which is almost up.

All he has left are the boards. He got rid of all the cones and the burners to go along with them, and now, all he has left are the boards. The useless boards, the last bit of work performed on day fourteen of one’s two-week notice, done for no other reason than the djinn whims it so. There are eight of them total, nine if you count the one he uses to sustain the djinn’s material form, but of course that one doesn’t really count. When his divine task is complete it will burn off in a fountain of sparks and leave nothing but a black scorch mark on his floor, a scorch mark he won’t need to clean up, for as the smoke fades and the embers die out, so too shall the incense salesman.

“Do not be so sure, fool,” bellows the djinn, looking down at the shivering human with disgust. “Your tenure here may not be complete when you’ve finished that which you started; men have many masters… though you are not even worthy of being called a man.”

The salesman says nothing. He merely keeps his knees pulled tight against his chest as he lays there in the dust, his body twitching in pitiful, sickly convulsions.

“I have long grown tired of your presence, child; you have but a single duty left. Make your wish and get on with it so we may both be free of one another.”

The salesman unclenches his legs and weakly brings himself up out of the dust, resting in a kneeling position. His eyes are glazed and red, his mouth hangs open and foamy drool dribbles from his bottom lip. The djinn waits.

“I wish…” the salesman whispers, then draws in a wheezing breath through clogged lungs. “I wish for the faculties to complete my final task…”

The djinn, without so much as a smile on its ancient, terrible face, snaps its fingers. A laptop computer appears in the air and crashes down on the salesman’s head, knocking him unconscious. When he comes to, the incense stick and the board from which it burned are both gone, replaced by a long black scorch mark… but still he feels the djinn’s presence, hanging in the dusty air like the demented smile of a phantom waiting for its next victim to slip into sleep.

Investing a great deal of energy, the salesman opens the laptop. His eyes burn and sizzle when the light strikes them, but the pain does not last, the pain is not like the djinn, the pain washes away as the tears fall down his dirty face. On the screen is an assortment of boxes and text, the home page of a website called Omingle, and the interests box is already filled out. The Video button is grayed out and the salesman knows it won’t respond to his clicks; dragging his raw, callused finger across the track pad, Scotty Mells brings the pointer to the blue Text button, and then he presses down.

The Law of Attraction

[You have disconnected.]

[F19, not a bot] Kik: V^icta00 (Remove the ^ symbol.)

[You have disconnected.]

M 69 horny gay and ready to play

[You have disconnected.]

[You have disconnected.]

[You have disconnected.]

[F19, not a bot] Kik: Vic^ta00 (Remove the ^ symbol.)

“Well that settles it. You’re definitely a bot.”

[You have disconnected.]

It has been a long, long, long day at The Keeper’s Finds, Treeburg’s premier (and only) secondhand shop and auction hall. Located in the Monksville Plaza alongside County Road 511, the awareness of Keeper’s presence is injected into the consciousness of more than 20,000 potential shoppers (on average) over the course of the day as they rip down County Road 511 going fifty miles per hour on their way from nowhere special to somewhere equally as mediocre. Cyrus, the keeper of the shop’s brilliant title, cannot for the life of him figure out why nobody will give him a chance and stop off for a peek at his finds. For the first half of this dead day he just sat around listening to the same classic rock songs he listens to every day until he finally had enough and went to get himself a bite to eat. Of course the phone rang when he was halfway out the door, because when would potential clients materialize when it’s convenient for Cyrus? The caller wasn’t even looking to buy either, he was just trying to pawn off some junk incense burners that Cyrus didn’t even want but accepted anyway.

Cyrus is looking at these two burners now, mesmerized by how they kind of sort of look like titties… titties tattooed with stars and crescent moons with wide golden nipples.

“Yeesh, I really need to get off Omingle.”

But he won’t. Like his habit of collecting desirable junk – especially desirable junk which belongs to others, because that makes it twice as desirable – Cyrus is hopelessly addicted to Omingling. The therapist he sees on some weekends is trying to help him break at least one of these habits, and Cyrus is trying his best to follow the man’s advice, which goes something like this: in order to change behavior, one must first change one’s thought patterns.

Cyrus didn’t have the most wonderful childhood (by his own standards) and his parents weren’t exactly classroom helpers if you’re eating the apple I left on your desk; for a long time he spent the majority of his waking hours thinking about how he’s a fuck up, how his parents irreversibly damaged his psyche and ruined his chances at a normal life by raising him in a fashion that some inner-city group home kids would have deemed downright lofty, how they are the sole reason he can’t stop going on Omingle. He blamed his father’s strict discipline, distant behavior and grinding, caustic, sandpapery language as an excuse for his inability to see himself as equal to other men, and he blamed his mother’s toxic habit of going out of her way to do things solely for the sake of making him uncomfortable or upset as an excuse for his inability to look a woman in the eye, let alone speak to one.

Granted, these are legitimate concerns for a child or teenager (or anyone who’s stuck living at home well into their adult lives, and yes, it still counts as living with your parents if you’re paying rent. You’re not a roommate, you’re not housemates, you live in their house under their rules they set for you to follow. Just accept it already), but Cyrus moved out in his early twenties. Cyrus is in his thirties now, Cyrus’s parents are both dead – restfully dead, he doesn’t even see them in his dreams anymore – and he lives on his own. Cyrus is his own man with his own life, and he’s responsible for his own self. Cyrus first acknowledged all this a long time ago, right around the time he went searching and found his answer to the question of why his business wasn’t running as smoothly as he wanted it to: the New Thought philosophy. He tried to apply the spiritual teachings of the internet’s hippies to his professional life to distract him from his qualms over his lack of a social life, and at first it seemed to be working, but after a while he just wasn’t getting the results he was looking for and the negative thoughts of self-loathing came back. So, he started seeing a therapist.

According to the doctor, all that new-agey spiritual hullabaloo about reality starting in thoughts and how all thoughts eventually come true is something, but it’s not the whole thing. It’s more like getting the right answer by using the wrong formula; take the law of attraction, for example. The law of attraction states that positive or negative thoughts bring about positive or negative experiences into one’s life. That is to say, if one spends their time thinking they’re a failure and that they’ll never go anywhere in life, chances are they’ll wake up on their fiftieth birthday to their senile mother standing over them with an unfrosted cupcake sporting a half-eaten candle. On the other hand, if one spends their time reassuring themselves that things will only go up and that life is good and God is gooder, then they’ll surely end up as a success in their own eyes.

This is a very nice idea, it’s a fun thought experiment to run, but as far as the doctor is aware, it’s not the whole truth of the matter. Reality is… well, reality is this strange, complex thing, and humanity only makes up one of the trillions of gears which churn together to make it all happen. No species of physical beings living in today’s day and age really knows how it all works, especially not the humans; for all the hairless apes know, we baseline somewhere on the bottom half of the consciousness spectrum, meaning there’s a whole lot more between us and God (or whatever you’d like to call that which sits at the top) than there is between us and the inanimate rocks we crush up and use in the building of wooden caves. The idea that one can change their reality simply by thinking positive thoughts is a nice thought, but… that’s just what it is. A nice thought.

However, that’s not to say it’s all bullshit. Cyrus’s doctor is a very successful man – he’s the world’s top expert on schizophrenia spectrum disorders, he owns just about every single house on the street he lives on and he travels the world to give other researchers a chance to pay him in return for hearing the sound of his voice – and he didn’t get that way solely by reading a list of affirmations to himself every morning. It took hard work, it took drive, it took motivation and determination and unrelenting willpower; as far as he can tell, the positive thoughts themselves don’t cause the change in reality, it’s the human behind the thoughts that does, as well as any higher beings looking out for that human and arranging opportunities in an opportune way.

In essence, the law of attraction and all those belief systems that branch off from it are methods of motivation; if one wakes up every morning and thinks, ‘Another day in hell, I fucking hate my life,’ they aren’t going to spring out of bed and seize the day, they aren’t going to get their work done. If one wakes up and thinks, ‘Today, I am going to manifest everything I need to bring me closer to success, abundance and my best life,’ well, they’re certainly going to have a better (and likely more productive) twenty-four than the other guy.

When he opened The Keeper’s Finds, Cyrus affirmed every morning that he would accumulate the coolest inventory of any secondhand shop ever, and that’s exactly what he did. Folks came out of the woodwork looking to sell him their junk to be displayed in his store and/or auctioned off online; he filled up the entire shop in less than a month. But then, when it came time to sell it all and collect his share, things didn’t move so quickly. He spent an hour every morning and night affirming that he would get troves of customers, that his shelves would empty out each day; he made himself totally open to the flow of wealth and abundance, but yet the spigot stayed dry. At first he thought he manifested the influx of goods too hard, but then he met the doctor and learned of one man’s beliefs about the world’s currently popular spiritual beliefs, and it helped level him out. Cyrus still at least somewhat believes in the law of attraction – like the doctor said himself, no human really knows how it all works – but he knows now that humans are much more inclined to take money than to give it up, and that’s just what it is.

But yet, just like how he continuously goes back to Omingle, Cyrus can’t stop taking in new stuff. ‘It’ll probably move fast,’ he always tells himself when the opportunity to fill more of the store’s limited space comes up, and yet the things never move fast. That’s why he doesn’t outright buy stuff anymore – wasting space on junk that’ll never sell is one thing, but wasting money on it? Entirely another. There will never be a shortage of sellable stuff, so as long as it means more frequent transactions, he may as well take a smaller cut of the total take. He’s probably making about the same profit anyway, as he doesn’t have to pay for his inventory. His only expense really is rent, and the sales tax of course, but that latter only comes up when he actually sells something. Which he hasn’t today.

Or this week.

Or this month.

If it weren’t for the collectibles auctions he holds online, Cyrus would be bankrupt, and he knows it very well. He holds one of these each month and the current one doesn’t end for another week; next month’s is already set up, and now, as closing time approaches, Cyrus has nothing to do. So why not go on Omingle, right? So what if he’s doing it because he feels like he has to, so what if the interactions only serve to make him more depressed and less motivated to do something about his life, so what if he’s getting closer and closer to the edge of isolation-induced insanity? It’s not like there are any more songs to add to his playlist on Spotify, he already put up all the good ones. ‘It’s not like I have anything better to do.’

And so, despite all the bots, scammers and horrifically playful old men, despite knowing much, much better, Cyrus clicks the Text button underneath the Chat now… heading and waits as he’s connected to a random stranger who plugged the same tags into the interest bar as him: north jersey and Treeburg. He’s basically given up on meeting a friend/woman through this black hole of a website (unless the opportunity comes up, in which case, kowabunga), but if he can lure some bored dude or dudette into his shop and get the chance to collect some cash? Well that’s not giving into his addiction at all.

No, not at all.

Hell, that’s just the law of attraction.

A Random Stranger

[You have connected to a random stranger. You both have Treeburg and North Jersey in common. Say hi!]

Stranger: hry

You: Hello.

Stranger: wahts yeur nmae

You: Cyrus. You?

Stranger: semlsl

You: Excuse me?

Stranger: smllse

You: Are… are you trying to typeSmells?

Stranger: yse. waht rea y3w d0gni

You: Sitting behind a cash register. You?

Stranger: ywo ukro ni s+03r

You: I own a store, yes.

You: A secondhand shop. I resell old stuff.

Stranger: kwel1 1 sel1 djincence spplieus, dyou wnat a f3r3 smp4le

You: Sure. Can you bring it to my shop?

Stranger: wehre si teh soph

You: Across 511 from Melanie Queen Road. I’ll assume you’re from Treeburg; do you know the industrial park?

Stranger: yse. Wuht iz yeur sohp kalled

You: The Keeper’s Finds. I’m closing up soon, you’ll have to hurry.

Stranger: lI’l eb hetre jsut as fsat sa I nac

Stranger: u w9 fur mw

Stranger: plseae

Stranger: I wnat 2 gvye yjo fere smleap

Stranger: psleses

Stranger: L’ii evlea ryte nuw

Stranger: lpseas

Stranger: ferr elpmas

You: all right all right, relax

Stranger: ldsgfsd

You: Yes I’ll wait. Just hurry up, I want to get some soon.

[Stranger has disconnected.]

A Cursed Object

“Good lord, that guy couldn’t spell for shit,” Cyrus says as he does the ol’ lean back in his chair to stare at his reflection in the screen. “Oh well. At least I’ll have some face to face interaction, right?”

The air conditioner hums as a cool breeze flows out the dusty air ducts in answer. Cyrus looks over to the paintings hanging on the back wall – the good paintings, not the garish pieces of shit he should never have accepted but did because Hey, maybe someone’ll want ‘em for five bucks, who cares if I only get a dollar and fifty-six cents if-and-when they sell? Every penny counts in retail, so said my dad, who was a mason – and their eyes aren’t looking back at him. He gets up to turn off some of the lights early so he can scoot right after this incense dude comes through, and purposefully takes the long way around the front so he can pass the paintings. The eyes don’t even follow him across the room. As he steps down into the back-back, Cyrus fights back tears.

“All I want is some human company, God. Is that so much to Goddamn ask for?!”

Cyrus doesn’t get an answer. He’s surrounded by inanimate objects.

Well, that’s not strictly true; here in the back-back of his store is a massive collection of inventory that Cyrus doesn’t necessarily want the town’s police officers to see if they stop in for a look-around when they’re supposed to be out patrolling the streets. Among this collection there are bongs, firearms, blades far longer than the legal five inch maximum if they were going to be sold to minors, some taxidermy animals from distant continents that were stuffed before it became illegal to do so, and a whole display case full of allegedly cursed objects. According to the man who brought them in – he was really kindhearted but definitely a weird one, wore a hooded cloak that was black on the outside and purple on the inside, and he spoke in a terrible monotone that made Cyrus want to brain himself – the cursed objects (and the display case they came in) are not inanimate at all; quite the opposite, really. They’re all imbued with the spirit of a once living being; the cursed objects all have a perception, a consciousness about them, they all have quirks of character that will manifest in ways to change the life of whoever decides to use them. He also said they were all extremely dangerous and should not exist at all, let alone be left in a shop where mortals could easily access them; Cyrus asked the man why he was trying to sell them if that was the case, but the man merely shrugged and left the shop without another word. No contact information, no organized list of what each object was actually cursed with, nothing. Cyrus almost threw the whole lot out, but then he figured Well, they’ll probably move fast, there’s nothing like rumors of a curse to get stuff out the door. But yet here they stay, all these cursed animate objects sitting inside their cursed display case that Cyrus now owns so his shoppers can look at what’s inside but never buy.

And what a coincidence it is that Cyrus hasn’t made a single sale in his shop since the day he got that case of stuff. What a coincidence, indeed.

Hey, that may change today though. If there’s anything Cyrus knows about internet folk who communicate through Omingle, especially those who make a living selling incense, it’s that they love to exchange money for worthless shit, especially worthless shit with a story they can tell to make them feel superior to those they’re telling it to. This is Cyrus’s chance; this Smells guy might be coming here to unload some free incense boards, but he’s going to leave with something from this display case. Even if it’s something small, like that little jadeite spoon pipe or the mickey mouse watch with the hands that cover the mouse’s eyes, Smells is buying a cursed object today.

Decidedly leaving the lights on, Cyrus walks up the stairs from the back-back into the back and then up into the front. He stops at the lounge area and, with his back to the door, makes himself a cup of coffee to fuel his upcoming social interaction. With a steaming Styrofoam cup of sludge in his hand, Cyrus turns around and starts towards his laptop with the intention of performing some more Omingling while he waits for his client.

And that’s when he sees the djincense salesman.

Cyrus Morgan

The guy can’t be more than nineteen years old, and he probably weighs about that in pounds. His hair is black and scraggly, and patches of his pale white scalp shine out like moonbeams through gaps in the clouds on a dark and stormy night. His mouth is mostly toothless, his eyes point in different directions and his arms and legs are wider at the joints than they are where the muscles would be – should be – growing. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days and smells about the same, and Cyrus isn’t sure if the wet stain in his pants is from urine or if it’s just sweat that leaked down from his soaked shirt. In his skinny, skeletal excuse for a right hand he grips a stacked pile of incense boards.

They stand off like duelists for a moment, then Cyrus decides to be sociable.

“Well hello there,” he ventures nervously. “You must be Smells.”

“Yeahp,” the kid exhales, his voice the sound of tearing paper. “They calls me Scotty Mells. I have yer free samples.” He raises the boards up. As he does, his arm begins to tremble as if it’s not in his control, as if the weight of the boards was too much for him to bear. “Wheres you wan’em?”

‘Scotty Mells… S. Mells, very clever.’ Maintaining the distance between them, Cyrus says, “You can just leave ‘em next to the other two burners. There, by the register.”

Scotty Mells, his smile crooked and gummy, looks over at the burners on the front table. The boards fall to the floor like pick up sticks, or better yet, like his dusty bottom jaw. His vision begins to go blurry and though Smells can’t feel it happening, his torso begins to convulse as if he was about to heave.

“You all right Scotty?” Cyrus asks, taking a couple steps towards this obvious result of flagrant neglect and child abuse. “Do you need hel–”

“Bathroom,” Scotty coughs, snapping his neck back to Cyrus. “You havva bathroom?”

“Uh, yeah,” he says slowly, turning to point towards the back-back. “It’s through there. Go down the stairs, past the glass display case and it’ll be right on your left.”

Smells hobbles rapidly through The Keeper’s Finds, his arms flailing in the breeze like paper streamers. When he’s out of his line of sight, Cyrus lets go of a heavy sigh and takes a long drink of his coffee. The he goes into the back, not to keep tabs on the kid through the doorway but to look at himself in the mirror.

“You really ain’t had it that bad, Cy’,” he says to himself under his breath. “You could’a wound up like that little bag’a’bones, nothin’ to do and nowhere to go with only the hope of death to keep you goin’. Good lord, the doc’ was right, I am the problem.”

Cyrus turns to delve into the back-back and knock on the bathroom door to make sure the kid Scotty didn’t throw up too much blood, but apparently, Scotty never made it there. He’s on the floor in front of the “cursed” display case, kneeling there with his face pressed firmly into the glass. Not sure whether to feel fright or excitement, Cyrus ambles down the steps and approaches Smells from behind.

“You all right, Scotty?” he asks, laying a tentative hand on Scotty’s jagged right shoulder. “You… you still breathing?”

“Breathin’,” Scotty wheezes. “Breathin’, yes, you hear’ih’too? You hear’ih talkin’?”

Cyrus’s brows furrow and his mouth curls into a befuddled scowl. “You said what now?!”

“The pipe,” says the sawblade as it cuts through the dry log. “That green pipe with all the angles. It’s speakin’ t’me.”

‘Holy shit,’ Cyrus thinks to himself as befuddlement becomes joy, ‘I totally called it.’ Even so, this kid looks about one crisscross away from cha cha sliding with the devil straight into the moonlight. “Ah, I see what you’re gettin’ at. Here, why don’t you stand up for me and I’ll unlock the case so you can get a better look.”

Scotty Mells stands up without using his hands and then leaps back two feet like a gymnast. Cyrus doesn’t let his face reveal what he’s beginning to assume about this strange bony boy who came into his shop past closing with gifts bared. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the keys anyway though, then unlocks the display case from behind. Carefully reaching between the monkey’s paw and the shot glass shaped like a laughing skull, Cyrus grabs the jadeite pipe and removes it from its dust-defined space. ‘Sheesh, I guess I need to clean this thing.’ In hopes of instilling a certain implication, Cyrus locks the case back up, then hands over the pipe. Scotty holds it like a baby kitten and begins to salivate.

“Ah, like that, do ya? Yeah, it’s a nice piece, made of jadeite if I’m not mistaken. Came along with the whole case, believe it or not – guy who brought it here said all the stu-”

“Whadda’bout th’herbs?”

Cyrus drops his train of thought. “Herbs?”

“Th’herbs in th’bowl?” he croaks like a roadkilled frog.

Cyrus looks into the bowl – the empty bowl, the bowl so clean (aside from the dust) it appears as though it’s never been packed, let alone smoked – and sees no herbs. “What, uh… what are you talkin’ about, bud?”

Scotty brings the bowl close to his mouth and licks up the mouthpiece, coating his already gray tongue in fine, powdery dust that’s probably just as cursed as the rest of the junk in that old display case. He then looks up to Cyrus with wide eyes, then back to the bowl, then back to Cyrus. Then, he turns around and sprints out of the back-back like a bat out of Hell.

“Oh fuck no, I fuckin’ knew it!” Cyrus shouts, reaching for the wall of firearms. Over the course of his life he’s been bullied, talked down to, made to feel inferior while standing next to a pile of shit, but if there’s one thing his backwoods Treeburg upbringing and the parents that came along with it taught Cyrus, it’s to never, ever, let someone take advantage of you, no matter who they are. He takes down the Vietnam-era M16 and slams the stock into his shoulder, pulling back the bolt and letting it fly. Then, he storms up the stairs and begins to fire upon the general direction in which Smells took off with his twenty dollar cursed smoking pipe.

“You get back here, you fuckin’ scoundrel!”

Duh-Duh-Doo and two decorative swords are shattered like the cheap pieces of shit they are.

“I ain’t agree to no trade, you ain’t gonna steal from Cyrus Morgan!”

Duh-Duh-Doo and a fully stocked G.I. Joe transport vehicle in pristine condition is reduced to smoldering scraps of cheap plastic.

“Fuck yOU MOM, YOU GIVE ME BACK MY FUCKIN’ ICING PACKET, YOU KNOW THE TOASTER STRUDEL DON’T TASTE AS GOOD WITHOUT IT!”

Duh-Doo-click and the glass of the shop’s front door comes down like Cyrus’s foot as he stomps the ground in rage.

“How are you gonna fuckin’ jam up now, you piece of shit? You served in the fuckin’ rice fields but you can’t stop a burglar?!” He punches the side of the gun three times and then levels the barrel towards the register area and pulls back the trigger with all his might. A single shot goes off, the bullet beaming through his laptop screen and out the side window behind it.

Scotty, who got into the woods before Cyrus even climbed back up the stairs, ducked low to the ground as soon as the first burst went off. He hears that last bullet zoom over his head and pees himself a little bit, giving his sweaty pants a hint of ammonia for good measure. When ten seconds pass without the firing off of expletives nor bullets, Smells takes off in the direction the voice in the pipe commands him to, leading him straight towards the Monksville Reservoir.

But Cyrus doesn’t know that. At this point, Cyrus has completely forgotten about the scraggly boy who came in and stole some merchandise that’s never been so much as looked at by a potential customer. He’s standing there silently in his shop – his bullet-ravaged shop – just looking around at the ruined display swords, the decimated front door, the G.I. Joe toys that look like they rolled over an IED. He looks at the smashed side window, the broken laptop, the pile of shitty incense boards laying scattered on the floor beneath bits of broken glass.

“This is going to cost hundreds to get fixed,” he admits to himself quietly as he walks over and bends down to pick up an incense board. It’s very light, damn near weightless, and the groove is lined by inlaid gold tone stars and circles, then butted with a crescent moon. In other words, it’s generic, it’s a low-end piece of garbage that he won’t be able to sell to someone even as firewood. He lets it clatter back to the floor. “Maybe even thousands…”

Cyrus walks around the register table, clears the glass off his seat, and then sits down to look at his reflection in the laptop screen. He doesn’t see it though, as the screen is spiderwebbed and ruined; all Cyrus sees is a view of his shop through the bullet hole in the screen he made himself.

“What… what the hell am I even doing? All I do is sit on this computer and try to talk to strangers while hoping for, for what? For random humans to come through here and give me their money for this random shit I’ve hoarded together? This don’t even make any fuckin’ sense.”

And he’s right, it doesn’t. Humans are not likely to give up their hard-earned dough in this world, especially not to random sleazy guys who own resale shops. These places are scams half the time, a congregation zone for counterfeit goods and ripoffs waiting to happen. But plenty of folk make money running secondhand shops, and half of them don’t have nearly as interesting an inventory as The Keeper’s Finds… plus, dude does great with his online auctions, they pay for the rent on this place and all the bills back home, and then some! There’s a disconnect though, there must be – why can Cyrus be so successful an online auctioneer but so unsuccessful a salesman?

He looks at his laptop again. He’s not going to get it fixed, he can’t. The last thing he was doing was chatting on Omingle; were the screen to be fixed, that’d the first thing to pop up. If the laptop repairman sees that Cyrus is an Omingler, well… that would just be embarrassing. That would prove that Cyrus is just a creepy, gross individual who resides among the scum of the Earth… but Cyrus isn’t like that. Cyrus is a success story, Cyrus overcame adversity and beat his upbringing and still found a way to own a home and a business, and so what that he doesn’t have many friends? That doesn’t make him a bad guy, that just means his story isn’t over yet. That just means there are more chapters to be read.

And in order to proceed to the next chapter, one must first turn the page and leave the old one behind.

Cyrus lines up the little wheeled garbage can he has tucked under the register desk with the back of the laptop, then, with one finger, the finger he always uses to press the enter button on all the messages he sends, he pushes the broken old laptop over the table and into the garbage can.

“I am never going on fuckin’ Omingle again.”


Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

The Keeper’s Finds (Part 1)

Disconnect

[You have disconnected.]

heyy yy f/.21 selling nud3s and meetups.snapchat me serena.baddie

[You have disconnected.]

Hello, male 40 here

[You have disconnected.]

f14 horny hi

He mutters, “Jesus fucking Christ,” under his breath, then taps the esc key twice.

[You have disconnected.]

A creak akin to that of a soggy basement door overrides the hum of the minifridge in the corner as Cyrus leans back in his chair with his hands folded over his stomach. His cheeks puff out as he blows air out of his mouth like he was making a wish on a birthday cake, but no burning candles catch his breath. It’s approximately eight o’clock in the morning and Cyrus has already found himself on Omingle, quite possibly the world’s sleeziest, nastiest, most bot-infested random online chatroom – in other words, Cyrus has reached a new low, and the only way he can bring himself to acknowledge it is staring at his reflection in his computer screen and trying to blow his own face away. But, like the other four times he’s leaned back in the chair this morning, it just doesn’t work.

Sitting back up, Cyrus wields his wireless mouse and drags it to the bottom left corner of the screen to click the New button. He’s connected to someone from somewhere on the world and waits for the stranger to start the conversation.

Nothing happens.

Cyrus types hello and presses enter. Based on this, the stranger chooses to disconnect.

“All right, then.”

Even though he doesn’t want to, Cyrus keeps connecting and immediately disconnecting from strangers for the next forty-five minutes of his finite life. After clearing his search history (God forbid Cyrus goes to look at his history and sees that he actually went on Omingle again) he shuts down the desktop, grabs his laptop bag, and leaves for work.

New Car

The next ten minutes of Cyrus’s life are about as stretched out as the used tights hanging up on the rack in the back of the shop. As with most mornings that he spends on Omingle (in other words, most mornings in general), Cyrus spends his drive through First Milford reviewing his life’s choices and trying to figure out how he got himself to this point. It’s not as though he’s unsuccessful – Treeburg is a town full of folk who love to spend their money on useless shit, allowing him to make bank through his online auction racket, let alone the shop itself – nor is he a constantly horny deviant looking to meet up with strangers on the internet to get his various body parts wet with even more various diseases. So why does he spend so many of his waking hours browsing the chatrooms? What exactly is it that he’s looking for?

Following a hearty sigh, “I don’t even know anymore.” He goes to use his blinker but hits the windshield wiper instead. “God damnit with this new car. Agh – I suppose I’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

Pulling on to County Road 511, Cyrus hits the gas and boosts up to fifty. The roar of the engine goes decibel for decibel with the rapid rolling of the tires as he tears along the newly paved asphalt, matching the double yellow turn for breakneck turn, even on the straightaways where one of those lines gets spotty like the radio connection in the old hunk of junk he drove before he procured the current whip. It got to the point where the static started to have an intelligible rhythm to it, so he just stopped turning the radio on, and that was years ago; Cyrus is used to driving in silence now, just like his dad used to do.

“Hell, you couldn’t even turn on the radio without him chewin’ your ear off…” he reminisces as he passes by a diner, the parking lot of which is packed like a polish sausage. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a family of three walking away from their car – a woman holding hands with a man who has their child up on his shoulders. “Wish my dad did that kind of stuff for me… maybe that’s why I go on Omingle so much. No fatherly love to give me the confidence to talk to other folk, just hard, cold discipline. What’d you just say, you little shit?” he says in a misremembered impression of Poppa Cyrus’s voice. “You get to your fuckin’ room and you don’t come out ‘til I say so! Teach ya to talk like a fuckin’ motherless sailor, ya little bastard.

Snaking along the road like a sidewinder through sand, Cyrus comes to the long straightaway that crosses over the narrow north end of the Monksville Reservoir. He lowers his passenger side window and hocks up a loogie, spitting it across the empty seat and out into the world so it can splatter on the guardrail. Chuckling to himself, Cyrus reminisces about his mom.

“She always used to do that whenever I sat up front with her. Never saw her do it once when I was in the back seat… she was always doin’ shit like that, bullyin’ me, knockin’ me down a few pegs just to make me climb back up. Maybe that’s why I can’t get off Omingle, maybe I’m just tryin’ to meet a woman from the safety of my own home. Heaven knows I can’t talk to one face to face.” He thumps the steering wheel with the heel of his right palm at the same time his front tires hit the little bump that marks both the end of the bridge and the beginning of the hill leading up to the plaza where his shop is waiting for him. “Good Christ, they really did a Goddamned number on you, ol’ Cy’.”

As he falls deeper and deeper into his well of less than fond memories, Cyrus zones out and the act of driving gets transferred to his subconscious mind. Paying more attention to his thoughts than to his surroundings, he zooms right on past both entrances to the Monksville Plaza and cruises right along down the road, taking the turns like a veteran rally driver. He passes the entrance to Monksville’s south boat launch, then the turnoff point to the Monksville Dam, and only when he gets to the bottom of the massive hill leading to the other three quarters of the town of Treeburg does Cyrus snap out of his trance and throw on his blinker. With pressure on the breaks, he coasts across the white line and its accompanying rumble strip and pulls over on the wide dirt shoulder between the road and the gate the state park police guys go through to patrol the Wanaque Reservoir.

“Shit, look at that. I got myself a little lost there, didn’t I? I’m lucky I didn’t take a Freudian slip over the lines and head into oncoming traffic, Jesus. I’m lucky to be in one piece right now,” he says to himself, wiping the sweat off his brow. “Oh well, never claimed to be perfect.”

Cyrus closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath, releasing it in a contemplative sigh. “I suppose that was all a long time ago… they ain’t even alive anymore. They didn’t drive me past the shop, I did. Maybe I’m still goin’ on Omingle so much because I keep lettin’ myself go on Omingle so much.”

When the last car in the line of vehicles that followed him down the hill passes, Cyrus pulls onto the road and hauls ass back up the hill. He could stop at the dam and take himself a little walk, clear his head before he opens the shop… which he should have done two minutes ago, rats! Like the potential line of customers standing outside on the sidewalk, the walk can wait. He needs to go into Stonetown to see his therapist over the weekend anyway, he’ll just have to perambulate then.

In an attempt to put his mind in a more sociable place, Cyrus turns on the working radio in his new car and hums along with the staticless tunes all the way to the plaza.

Desirable Junk

For the first time since he’s opened up the shop, Cyrus is relieved to see nobody parked in the parking lot. As he passes by the front, he looks up at the lighted sign he had installed over the big windows a couple weeks ago. “The Keeper’s Finds,” he reads, his voice booming with pride. “Online auctions and offline sales. You’re damn skippy.”

Cyrus parks in the back of the lot, leaving the spots closer to the door open for any of 511’s twenty thousand-some odd passersby (on average) that may pay him a visit at any given moment over the course of the day. As he walks across the lot, his stride brisker than a bottle of iced tea, he gives himself the benefit of the doubt: maybe the potential customers will even pay him some money, too, and for something that’s not kept in the vending machine. Wouldn’t that be a treat!

He unlocks the glass door and reaches inside to grab a bungee cord. Hooking one end to the bottom of the outside pull handle, Cyrus stretches his arm up and hooks the other end of the cord to the loop he welded to the underside of the awning. With the door propped, Cyrus can open up shop.

The interior of The Keeper’s Finds looks like an upside-down capital letter P with a really long leg and the hole filled in. The front of the store is where Cyrus keeps all the clunky furniture, most of which he got before he even moved into this location. Furniture – no matter how old the vintage, regardless of the lacquer used to finish it, despite how intricate and one-of-a-kind the carvings are – moves about as slow as a brick cemented to a wall. However, the surfaces make great displays for his more desirable junk, and Cyrus has all kind of neat knickknacks and paddywhacks set up for the viewing pleasure of his shoppers. He’s got decorative swords on stands, neon beer signs, holiday decorations that he changes with the seasons, record players and corresponding milk crates full of vinyls, immaculate framed artwork of all mediums, used video games both archaic and modern, power tools, comic books, musical instruments, war memorabilia, kids’ toys from fifty years ago – if there’s a body of folk who collect it, Cyrus has it propped up in the front. Covering the walls (where there are no shelving units set up, that is) are all varieties of signage, most metal, some plastic, all in pristine condition. He’s even got a little lounge area with a coffee machine set up between the two couches that someone left out in front of the store one day without leaving any contact information; a lot of the foot traffic that comes through Keeper’s is just bumbling townsfolk with nothing better to do than go window shopping behind the windows, and that’s just fine. Cyrus grew up in Treeburg before moving out to First Milford, he knows just as well as everyone else that it gets lonely out in these woods. What better way to spark a conversation than by sitting down with a cup of joe and musing about where the hell that suit of armor standing in the corner came from?

The back of the front room gives way to a much narrower stretch of shop – this is where Cyrus keeps the used clothing, the gaudier artwork, the mirrors (all those Goddamned mirrors), the decorative ceramic crap, stuff along those lines. He doesn’t really know what he’s got over there, it’s just the spot where he throws the really crappy shit after his research tells him how crappy it is. The area’s mostly just set up for those yard sale junkies who believe there’s a hidden piece of treasure in every secondhand shop that the owner doesn’t know about, anyway. How can anybody possibly keep track of the thousands of things laying in these kinds of places? Besides, resale is dead, the poor saps who open up these stores aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed in the first place; if they don’t know they’re being ripped off, who’s it really hurting?

Those kinds of customers are Cyrus’s favorite. He just lets them talk and talk and strut their stuff, and by the time they leave, they’re carrying out a whole lot of garbage that Cyrus would’ve had to haul back to the dumpsters behind the building otherwise. Good luck flipping that wooden pipe stand and all the used corncobs that came with it. More power to ya, Gary.

At the end of the narrow stretch is a doorless archway with three stairs leading down to what Cyrus calls the back-back – a long, long hallway of a room with concrete floors and metal walls that used to be an archery range back before the landlord found out about it and the previous tenant was booted. This is where Cyrus keeps the really wild shit. Guns. Knives. Swords made for more than being hung on the wall. Glass water pipes to be used for the smoking of tobacco only. Vintage Playboy and Playgirl magazines. Exotic taxidermy animals. Ancient artifacts from all over the world, most of which are legitimately cursed. Cyrus has it all, and it’s all organized in a way that would make anybody with OCD cream in their jeans, and if they did, well they could buy themselves a new pair while they’re here and try ‘em on in the bathroom.

With all the lights on and the security cameras rolling, Cyrus sits himself down behind the register and sets up his laptop. He goes on the internet, removes Omingle from his bookmark bar, logs into Spotify and throws on a classic rock playlist he assembled himself. Let the day begin.

A Phone Call

Like Cyrus’s fifteen minute car ride here, the morning and early afternoon drag on with an end only distantly in sight; unlike Cyrus’s fifteen minute car ride here, the morning and early afternoon last four grueling, polytonous hours of listening to men who once had long hair like humans in the days called primal scream and shout as to let that mother out. There are no customers, no cars come to occupy any spaces in the parking lot – not even to get off the road for a bit and make a phone call! Crazy distracted Jersey drivers – and nobody calls in to the shop. Not until Cyrus is about to leave for lunch, because when else would it happen?

“Hello, The Keeper’s Finds, Treeburg’s premier auction hall. This is Cyrus speaking, how can I help ya?”

“Yeah, uh, hi. You guys buy old shit?”

Rolling his eyes, Cyrus says, “On occasion I will, but I’m much more likely to sell on consignment. Usually works better for everyone that way.”

“A’ight. What’s the cut?”

“Thirty-three to me, the rest goes your way. What do you have?”

“A couple wooden incense burners. Some dude messaged me on Facebook claiming to be an incense salesman and offered me a free sample, so I was like Hey, why not, right? I dig me some incense. Well he sent me the sample all right, and guess what?”

If there’s anything Cyrus loves more than potential consignors giving the whole redundant story about where they got their worthless junk, ‘It just has to be incense burners, doesn’t it? That stank hippie shit,’ it’s being forced to participate in the telling. “What’s that?”

“He sent me incense cones, not sticks. Like, what the fuck, right? Who in their right mind burns incense cones? I mean, it’s so low class; they all smell the same and the fuckin’ pyramid of ashes spill all over the fuckin’ place when you try to move it into the garbage after it’s burned. Plus, get a load of this Cyrus, he sent me two boxes of cones and each only had a single cone in it.”

Cyrus doesn’t say a word, but he does debate hanging up the phone and going to the Montane Deli and getting himself a frikadellan.

“Well, long story short…”

‘Yeah fucking right, guy.’

“…I wound up tossin’ the cones and now I’m stuck with the burners. I’d’a tossed them too, but they’re not too shitty – made of wood, got some gold tone stars and crescent moons on ‘em. Got a big hole for cones and four little holes for sticks – those are gold tone too – but nothin’ to catch the ashes fallin’ from the sticks. I got a few boards I carved outta beechwood anyway, I’m all good on these… so uh, you want ‘em?”

No, no he doesn’t, but they’ll probably move fast in this backwoods town where the folk burn shit for the sake of watching the flames dance, and free consignor money is free consignor money. “Sure, I’ll take ‘em. When can you come by the shop?”

“I’m actually rolling through the industrial park right now, I’m on my way out of town for a few weeks. Got a family matter to attend to in Boca, supposed to be bringing my nephew back with me but we’ll see. He always came off as a little chickenshit to me… or maybe that was his brother. I don’t know, I didn’t see either of ‘em much. Brother’s dead now though. Anyway, you gon’ be there in five minutes?”

“I’m actually out getting lunch right now, this is my cell phone… I’ll tell you what though, if you text me your name and address and just leave the burners in the mailbox back by the side door, I’ll fill out the paperwork when I get back and we’ll call it square. You’ll get a check in the mail when they sell. Deal?”

“Sounds like a plan, Cyrus my man. Thanks a ton!”

The call ends without the caller saying goodbye. Normally Cyrus would be peeved, but considering the trial he just went through with that story, he thinks he’ll let it slide. Racing against the clock, Cyrus flips the front lights off and locks up, then takes off across the plaza to get his sandwich. And guess what? He’ll even eat in the deli, too.

The Two Burners

After eating his lunch and tipping the Montane family an extra twenty-five cents, Cyrus takes a slow walk around the back of the building. All the businesses in the Monksville Plaza are ran out of one sprawling multi-level structure owned by the Ronhauzer family. The guy who owned what is now The Keeper’s Finds before it was The Keeper’s Finds wrote Cyrus a letter telling him all about how terrible and asinine of a landlord Jimmy Ronhauzer is, how he would always stop in and snoop around during business hours and talk shit, scaring off the customers; Cyrus never had any problems with the guy. In fact, Jimmy’s actually helped him close a couple deals. He’s never asked Jimmy about the previous tenant, but judging from the handwriting on the letter (which Cyrus has stored away at home in this drawer or another), he doesn’t need to – no matter how old one’s body ages, a child is still a child, and somebody who can’t write in a straight line on notebook paper is definitely no adult.

As he comes up to the last turn before his share of the parking lot, Cyrus hugs the hall with his back and creeps along to the corner like a spy in an old movie. Carefully, slowly, extremely inconspicuously he leans his head around the side and checks to see if the nameless caller decided to park and wait for Cyrus to come back – he didn’t, and there’s nobody else in the parking lot either. Twice in the same day, Cyrus finds relief in a set of circumstances that would normally cause him massive anxiety; those visits with the doc’ across the dam are really paying off, who would have thought?

Cyrus walks halfway down the sidewalk and stops at the mailbox. Inside are the two burners – just like the guy said, they’re not too shitty, although they do look kind of dingy… and one’s missing the gold tone lining in one of the little stick holes… oh well. There’s going to be imperfections in handmade goods, and if they weren’t made by hand? They are now.

Once inside, Cyrus casually throws the burners on the table holding the register, then turns all the lights back on. When he sits back down in front of the computer he checks the time – only three hours and forty-five minutes left until closing. Maybe he’ll get a mad rush of buyers through after lunch, maybe he’ll end today with less shit in his shop rather than more… or maybe he won’t, maybe the day will just drag on and on and on some more, leaving Cyrus to sit bored and alone inside his packed secondhand shop.

Although… there is one way he could pass the time… and he can just close the page if anybody comes in, it’ll be that easy. Yeah, why not? It’s not like he has anything better to do, he can inventory the two burners if and when they sell. Not a big deal at all.

Cyrus opens up a private window in his internet’s browser and types omingle.com into the address bar. On the site’s homepage is a space where chatters can put in tags so they’re matched up with strangers who share similar interests. Cyrus types north jersey, hits the comma button, then types in Treeburg and hits the comma button again.

Then, he moves his mouse underneath the Start chatting… heading and clicks on the button that says Text. Leaning back in his chair (this time without the self-pitiful exhale), Cyrus waits as he’s paired up with a somewhat random stranger.


Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Memorial Day Weekend

The Final Frontier

“Now this is going to be a weekend to remember,” as the tray closes.

He crawls back to the sofa, old and leather, softened to the point that you sit in it when you’re sitting on it, and wriggles around a bit. The controller lies next to the television remote, which was sat atop his girlfriend’s Reader’s Ingest magazine on the coffee table; he’s never seen Stephanie read it once, it shouldn’t be here damnit it has no place in Spencer’s house, yet there it sits regardless. He boots up the tele’ and switches the input to HDMI 5 before trading remote for controller and settling back into the cowhide comfychair. The screen lights up before him and ‘fore the boxes can even load their fillings, he presses the A button. The machine hums in loading and the screen goes dark once more.

Spencer’s eyes stare a’light; after waiting for years that stretched like eons in yoga pants, The Final Frontier is finally here.

The Final Frontier, the highly anticipated new video game by a small independent studio called Dreamers Make Things based out of rural Georgia of all places, boasts a vast, borderless, procedurally generated virtual universe for the player to explore alone or with up to three friends on the couch! It features an original periodic table of elements, exotic species of lifeforms varying from microscopic pre-organisms to galaxy-hopping demi-gods, and you can start wherever you want; you see, in The Final Frontier, outer space isn’t the final frontier – consciousness is. When the player dies, they respawn as a random lifeform one level up from their previous character on the in-game spectrum of intelligence; there are over twenty-two levels and over two hundred and twenty-two different lifeforms on each level, and that’s not all – as the game goes on, the playable character count increases as the characters that aren’t actively controlled by the player breed and intermingle. That’s right, as time passes and the game is played, the in-game universe itself evolves and levels up with the player.

It’s the most ambitious video game to ever be built – a limitless explorable area, infinite replayability, the curious call of an alternate universe that exists both within and independently of your own… and it’s finally been released for the Bintendo GameSquare.

And Spencer got it at the midnight release.

Why a video game developer, especially a video game developer that needs massive amounts of money to continue their developing of video games, would release a video game on a Sunday is beyond Spencer, but it doesn’t matter; vidya dispensaries aren’t prevalent in his town and he made a whole night out of making the long trip to the nearest vidyagamery to get his fix. It took a few hours to drive there, a couple more to wait in line whilst talking to humoids from all walks of life, some sums of minutes to go through the process of grabbing the game from the display the employees set up all the way in the back of the store and then returning to the front of the store and waiting for the night’s single working cashier to be able to take his money and then a few more hours to get himself back home, but Spencer’s got nothing else going on neither today nor tomorrow. The adventure was welcome.

What? It’s a Sunday for Pete’s sake, Pete being Spencer’s boss who is also immensely into video games, and they planned to hang out and play FF together later on in the day anyway. So, while he doesn’t understand the game’s odd release, he accepts it all the same and just like that the game finishes loading. Spencer attaches the hook to the ceiling mount he installed during the load-up sequence and carefully inserts his head into the twenty-pound headset that comes with the game.

The graphics are pixelated boogers, but of course they are. Most games today look more like flashing constellations than respectable quasidimensional images, and those games are displayed on normal television screens, not virtual reality headsets. It’s excusable in The Final Frontier’s case; the scope of the game makes every flaw held within excusable because this game knows what it is. It’s a baby, an example, it will crawl so the future of video gaming can run and Spencer gets to be part of its birth, one of the first human beings on the planet to experience a virtual reality. This weekend, surely, shall be one to remember.

Listen Nigh and Rejoice

“You’re sure it he got into that car?”

“Yeah, positive,” with irritation in his inflection. Why hire him back if there’s gonna be no trust? “I was watching it when you were inside, it was him.”

“A’ight. Fuckin’, it’s just, the chances of that shit.”

The teenage with the angry orange scarf runs up to Trench’s side as Bent’s trying to find the right key. “Guys!” it shouts, “Guys! Guys wait up, you fehgot me! Yous said yous’ed take me to the lakehouse, remember? We were suppos’t’go cliz’iff jumping into the turquoise mineral pools in the quarry!”

Bent squeals, “You’re not my dad!” in a piglet voice if pigs were human, signaling to Trench that the van is unlocked and open for business.

Trench reaches into his coat and pulls out a fully automatic Uzi with a crude desert camouflage design drawn on to the metal in what appears to be Createa magic marker. He points it at the teenage and it stops dead, the arms of its scarf flying forward. It goes for the Uzi but Trench ducks and shows his teeth – the scarf drapes dead on the pavement, riddled with holes, and the teenage is down on its knees with iron pressed to its neck.

“I owe you nothing, fiendish lil’ worm,” barks Trench Th’Coat, the most ruthless human spawn to slump outta New Jersey limpin’. Bent Over, Trench’s impeccable getaway chauffeur and right-hand hitman, walks up in front of the teenage and kneels down, leveling the playing field.

“Listen nigh and rejoice, kid, for tonight’s the lucky one. We’ve gotta crop to cream if you’re knowin’ what I mean; oh, and be sure to know this: Chuck Leary sends his regards.”

Teenage poops a tiny bit in its jeans, but they’re so skintight the smell can’t escape. It bows its head and blubbers, wishing it had a bottle of cough syrup to pour out for his dead scarfie.

As Bent stands, he shoots a look that disarms Trench Th’Coat. They both spit saliva on the swiss’d scarf as they walk to their van and the teenage grabs it and runs away with what little dignity it still has smearing betwixt its ass cheeks.

To drown out the obnoxious tic’ticking of the blinker, Trench asks, “So who the hell’s Chuck Leary?”

“Nobody, believe it or not,” Bent says after puffing air out his nose. “I recently read a book by Tom Leary, that Brown U professor that went sorta nuts with the eL-eSs-Dee way back in’the, so I had the name in my head. Chuck rhymes with fuck so I was like Chuck it, why the fuck not?

“That is goddamned brilliant.”

Bent feels a tap on his right shoulder, which is fucking strange considering how his superior in every way, shape and form Trench Th’Coat would normally just say something because his balls have yet to be castrated, wrapped in dough and deep fried with a gallon of ice cream, but it’s not as fucking strange as it would be if he had felt the tap on his left shoulder, as that shoulder is jointed a matter of inches from a closed passenger door of a van ripping eighty-fives miles an hour down this thirty-five miles per hour stretch of deserted county road. However, this tap is perceived at damn near midnight, after midnight even, so the baseline strangeness stands ominously, like a devilish angel of a warring consciousness, on his shoulder, his right shoulder, which was just tapped.

“Jesus fucking Christ with it, just give me the goddamned phone number. Holy fucking shit dude, the word games…”

The van rolls over twice under Bent’s swerve but lands on four wheels and the roll cage keeps all passengers’ arms, legs and trench-coat-concealed automatic firearms inside the vehicle. Not for long though, because as soon as that shit’s done bouncing like a lowrider, Bent Over and Trench Th’Coat hop out, the former armed with the latter’s guns and the latter armed with the knowledge that the van his late great-grandmother gave to him just fucking rolled the fuck over. They approach, breathing heavy, staggered in step, loaded in magazine and triggered in finger. Then, the roof of the van explodes upwards, the flayed slivers of metal and interior surfacing bent and jagged like broken fingers.

From the hole hovers a man in a business… no, wait, that’s some sort of…

“Is it a robot?” Bent asks, scratching his scalp with the barrel of the Uzi in his right hand, the same gun that he didn’t turn the safety off of. Nothing’s gonna happen, I just feel like it’s a bit risky, a little foolish perhaps.

“I don’t know, I mean… real talk?” Trench asks, knowing he doesn’t need to ask but god damn does it sound proper when one says Real talk? before one drops knowledge. “It kinda looks like Steel Man, like, that old comic book character?”

“You mean the fuckheaded alcoholic who builds the threats that he saves the world from?”

“I mean,” Trench says, “if you wanna look at it that way and put it in those words, sure, but you could’ve just said yes, dude.”

“I know,” apologetically.

“Like, we’re wasting time. The robot thing’s still above the van. And Steel Man is a lot cooler than that.”

“I know, I’m sorry homie. But yeah I dunno, it’s got the fedora thing.” Then, to the robot, “YO what are you?”

The robot hovers down to the ground. His head, fedora included, melts away to reveal the head of a human, also wearing a fedora. Bent raises his guns, trains them at the dude’s exposed head and gives them a treat after they don’t jam up as he grips the triggers and splatters the dude’s dome.

Oh wait, he hasn’t pulled them yet.

“Hiya guys, look, just give me your phone number and we can all walk away.”

“Why, so I can contact you and make sure you pay me to fix this van?” Trench asks calmly, signaling for Bent to drop the guns. He doesn’t, choosing to let them fall to the ground instead. Safeties on this time; good on you, Bent.

“What are you talking about? The van’s fine.”

Bent Over and Trench Th’Coat look at the van and it’s totally fixed, the fingers must have splinted up and healed.

“Son of a bitch,” Trench says as he rips the plastic wrapper from a warface candy, a candy so sour it can bore a hole in your cheek if you leave it there too long, by the way, back in high school I sold those shits for $0.25 a pop (5 for $1.00) and made hundreds, pause, in profit. “I’m in.”

They exchange phone numbers. Chuck is flabbergasted when he sees Trench Th’Coat and Bent Over’s shared phone number is, no bullshit, (123) 456-7890.

“All righty boys,” as Chuck removes a joint from his inner coat pocket. “That was easy enough, Imma leave you two classy gentiles with this.”

To my own surprise, Chuck hands over the joint. Four individual eyes grow wide, but not as wide as said eyes’ pupils will grow after toking once on that joint.

That is a Cannajuana joint from… uh… Madagasar. Sure. Uh, it’s really potent, like twenty-somethin’ percent Tee-acHe-Cee or something like that, I don’t fucking know. Cannabis is Cannabis, just smoke the shit and tell the aliens I say hi.”

Chuck’s power armor then swallows his face like Bent is gonna swallow some burnt scuuby snacks in a few minutes because I’m not gonna bother packing my bowl really tight because I just want to fucking ssssmmmmoooookkkkeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee I mean, because Chuck’s hemi-atomic nanobots rolled the crutch loosely on purpose; they’re malicious little deviants when they want to be so, each has a consciousness about it and there are occasionally rebellions within The Swathe. Yes, the body of hemi-atomic nanobots is now called The Swathe, and there are occasionally pockets of said swathe that fall into rebellion… you know, just in case I decide to scrap one of the pre-planned stories for this book that I thought up a name for to fit the theme of a certain series that needed fattening up and have given little to no thought to otherwise. Ahem.

Just in case.

Anywho, Trench Th’Coat, his voice flurried as the snowstorm that keeps your lover’s plane on the runway long enough for you to go get her back at the last minute, asks, “WAIT THOUGH! WHO ARE YOU?!”

Chuck says, “Well I’m Chuck Leary, thanks for asking!” then smiles cutely before taking flight and taking that flight away and away and away until he’s sitting on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, and here he smokes the second joint he pulls from his coat pocket, no scuuby snacks for Chuck because his hemibots love their host consciousness dearly.

“No fucking way,” once the exhaust-colored smokescreen that spewed from Chuck dissipates. “Dude, dude was Chuck Leary!!”

“Yeah dude I kno-” cut off by the ringing of his phone.

He picks up, “Hello? Oh uh, hi there? Who’s…” whilst shooting a perplexed-ass look at Bent oh my god look at his face lmfao how does he have that many muscles around his lips? Like, “Yeah uh… oh, yeah we can hook yo-… oh okay, yeah. It’s a plan then. See ya, man.”

Trench Th’Coat hangs the phone up, looks at it, stares at the joint, gazes at Bent, leers at the joint, readies the joint in his mouth, sporks it life a foon, struggles with the papery taste of the tip-hitties but starts to make moves and bust grooves when he hits the herbal mass, then he passes to Bent, watches Bent hit the thing like mother does the creature in the attic, then Bent passes it back to Trench and Trench burns the whole fucking thing down in a great multitude of gnasty drags because, as he tells his impeccable getaway chauffeur and right-hand hitman Bent Over of the Ho-Ho-Kus OverNoUnder Chinese Food family dynasty, “You know who just called me? Fuck Chucking Leary!”

“Damn,” says Trench Th’Coat, the most ruthless human spawn to slump outta New Jersey limpin with pork roll flavored saltwater taffy from the AC boardwalk packed betwixt his lip’n’his gum, “So what we doin?”

Y2K

On a distant planet called Ouranus, the calendars switch to the year 2000 and everything that was predicted to happen during Y2K on Earth happens there; you see, the humans of Earth bugged out four months ago because they sensed the Y2K stuff from galaxies away because they inherently have that ability, their thoughts are mental translations of vibrations that bounce through the strings of reality; a human’s purpose in Existence is to help those who need it, and if things actually went how they were supposed to go in this pocket of Existence, humans wouldn’t even have been created on Earth in the first place, but this is Universe W-fucked so humans were created on Earth and an entire planet-wide society of technologically whipped, spayed and neutered salamanderic beings went up in flames when their machines stopped working because the crazy hairless monkeys of the prophecies carved into the granite caverns beneath the king’s castle who are said to be able to teleport using the third eye inside of their brains never came to save them.

Buufeuo

“Yeah I’m comin’, one sec!” Spencer shouts from his comfychair. He pauses The Final Frontier, although he knows the Frontierverse lives on through it, and leaves his bedroom. He banks a left out his door and notices the engraving in the pine trim around the jamb, how the curvature dips and swells so elegantly and so randomly, yet it all comes together to make perfect woodworked harmony slathered in eggshell-2 semi-gloss latex/oil mix double-coat recommended. The carpet goes buufeuo with every step Spencer takes, the subtle brown carpet that you don’t even register as a real color until you’re really walkin’ on it, not cruisin’ down but just walkin’, really taking every step, soaking in every breath in pace with your stride with nowhere to go, nothing to do, just a walk to take down the hallway before you answer the door a’knocking. As he hits the first stair, Spencer hears the house creak under his weight, then another stair, another creak, another stair, another creak, another stair, no creak but a pounding against the defenseless door, not a knocking but a filthy, slick and downright superfluous pounding, for Pete’s sake. Pete, if you keep that up you’re going to knock the Amate painting off the wall, oh gods no, not the Amate painting; it’s beautiful! A family heirloom, one of a kind painted with the innards of berries by an indigenous girl Mother Spencer met at the Balsas River basin when she was on her honeymoon with the man she married before she married the man who helped her conceive Spencer and the frame, the frame is hand-carved from a solid piece of wood! No nails, no unsightly glue that bulges and oozes out of the frame’s corner seam like the gut of a man mid-buffet with a mean case of the meat sweats when his girdle officially comes out as being made in France and it bursts, no staples that stick out the back and poke you when you pick it up without looking, just one solid piece of wood! Then another step he takes, another creak, another insatiable pound, another tremble in the string holding the Amate painting in the hand-carved wooden frame to the beige wall with the white trim leading around the base, another step, another buufeuo, buufeuo, buufeuo, he’s never paid attention before but that’s such a nice sound, such a pleasant sound, such a comfort, and he realizes in that moment that the only path to true happiness in life is the appreciation of the little things, of the unique Amate paintings and their hand-carved wooden frames, of the colorless brown carpet and its accompanying beige walls, of the buufeuo, of the sheen on the brass rising from the beechwood grip of the shovel, the tongs and the handy little broom hanging from the rusted metal stand next to the fireplace with the mantle, that old-ass freaking mantle and the master-class masonrywork, how much did that piece of work cost? How many hours did it take to find all those rocks that went into it, let alone to slather ‘em in mud and stack ‘em around a fireplace? It was worth it regardless – Spencer would often play on that mantle as a child, yes, he’s remembering it so clearly now, so vividly, so lucidly, as if he’s there, as if reincarnation is not a begin at birth and end at death but more of a moment to moment thing, yes, just like Tuncan Drussell said in that one video, as if it all works that way and he’s suddenly there and then again, playing on the mantle and on the rocks, making the dinosaurs hop up and up and up, seeing a waterfall flow from the mantle to the carpet in his mind’s eye as the dinos climbed up and up and up until they reached the mantle and when they did reach that mythic mantle, what further trial awaited them?

Dino mania.

Spencer opens his deep mahogany door, the wood soaked thrice in stain, not painted with but soaked in a vat of the noxious fume-in-liquid-form, and greets his boss with, “Pete.”

He’s shot square in the forehead by Trench Th’Coat, the most ruthless human spawn to slump outta New Jersey limpin with pork roll flavored salt water taffy from the AC boardwalk packed betwixt his lip’n’his gum, a lit cigarette butt tucked behind his ear and a chip in his kneecap the size of the Delaware Water Gap.

“Bent, dispose of the body and get this mess I made cleaned up clickity-split. I’ll look around the house for the keys,” as he crosses the threshold. Trench Th’Coat has but one mission: raid this shoddy piece of shit modular for the keys to that sweet little red sportsfuck parked out in the driveway.

Trench’s impeccable getaway driver and right hand hitman Bent Over of the Ho-Ho-Kus OverNoUnder Chinese Food family dynasty that singlehandedly wiped out Ho-Ho-Kus’s Yakuza infestation and ended the reign of enforced poverty over the homeless of the district grabs the pre-moldy shlemo by the legs and drags it into the house, leaving a trail of blood that he knows he shouldn’t leave, he knows he has to clean it up, nobody has to remind him, he heard Trench loud and clear but fuck it, Bent’s gettin’ over and older all the same and the bodies don’t get lighter so he draaaaaaaaaaags it right on along and up the stairs and as the head of the mandible hits the carpet after each stair is stepped, Bent Over notices the impact expresses itself with a nice little buufeuo sound and he really appreciates it, being a connoisseur of the little things in life.

Trench Th’Coat finds the car keys. As he walks outside, Pete pulls up in his van with the stickers that scream I am a loving father with a wife and multiple children and small animals that depend on me and me alone for their health, wellbeing and continued existence on this most Earthly of plains and gets shot in the fucking head by Trench Th’Coat, the coldest piece of work this side of the Holidaze.

Bent Over, man of iron hand and golden heart, hears the gunshot and reacts as if he’s been in this type of situation trillions of times because, whether you believe it or not, he hasn’t yet and he’s very insecure and he just needs to fake it until fiction becomes reality. He takes the bleeding body, humps it up and lets it bounce on the bed. The coppery smell of oopsie floods the house like the skunky smell of Cannabis floods my bedroom in this current moment. The wind from the fall blows a slip of paper off the nightstand, not the shoddy particleboard one but the badass handmade tile-top end table. It says,

—————————————————————–

Call sister, wish niece Karen happy birthday

—————————————————————–

and Bent disregards it as he walks out of the room, leaving the door open a crack so the night light in the hall can shine in and scare away the monsters that live under my be-woooaahhhh I just slipped into some other shit right there, hold on, what am I writing? He walks down the stairs and out the door and embraces the blustery kiss of the winds of spring.

The window rolls down on the red sportscar, a bodacious Vechy Vorcette. “Hey Bent, we got the car. Now what?”

“I dunno Trench, the delivery isn’t scheduled for another four days. We could go driving around. I heard this town has a nice dam between its two reservoirs, we could check that out if’n we pass it.”

“Shoo,” Trench says, folding his big toes over his second toes repeatedly inside his shoes. “Well I reckon we c’n do whatever we wants, Bent.”

Bent, confused and uncomfortable like a human in the presence of another human, “Why are you talking like that?”

“I don’t know, I struggle when it comes to ending conversations. Just hop in, let’s go see that damn dam.”

As they gaze out over that damn dam at the lower of Treering’s two reservoirs, relishing in the relief that comes after completing a long fuckin’ task, they think to themselves one thing: “That was a weekend to remember.”

The Shotty

Officer Chino pulls his cruiser up to the curb and jumps it, his front right tire digging a trench into the lawn deep enough to bury a coat in. He reaches for his pistol then hesitates, bending over to reach instead for the shotty under the dash. Then, for his communicator.

“This is Officer Queso Sanchez Junior, I’ve arrived at the scene. The other cruiser’s damn near crashed through the house!”

“We tried to warn you,” in a staticky whine. “Get in there Ques’, provide support for the Lieutennant! He’s got the cadet with him!”

Queso Junior’s face drops through the floor. “He’s got Dink?!”

The communicator hits the pavement after Junior steps thrice.

The front door’s already open, blood and fragments of at least two shattered skull plates decorate the walls like the aftermath of a shrapnel grenade. There’s a drag of blood leading up the stairs and another leading to the kitchen where sounds of effortful grunts send worry through Queso Junior’s mind.

He pumps his trusty boomstick and slams his back to the corner, shouting, “Lieutennant! Are you in there, do the cadets live?!”

QUESO!” shouts Cadet Eleduardo Dinkelbop with joy. “Yeah dawg we’re good, we just brought the body in here to make it look like a murder-suicide. Those usually go over pretty well on the news. You didn’t hear that from me, though.”

Remember

Pete never got to play The Final Frontier.

Spencer only got to play for a few hours.

Bet you didn’t remember.


This is one of the greatest goddamned things I’ve ever written. Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

Snakebite

Happy Anniversary

Happy anniversary babe! I’m sorry I can’t come see you today – I’m just way, way too busy – but I wanted to send you this letter because three years is a big deal. If you’re around tomorrow we’ll go for a hike or something, so long as you’re cool with celebrating a day late. Also, you should be getting a gift in the mail today too, so if it didn’t come, blame the post office. Not me.
From,
Megan

Darren lets the letter fall down to his desk. He takes the box in his hands – it’s about the size of a Bluetooth speaker and made of a cheap cardboard, not the good stuff Amazon uses – and shakes it, trying to distract himself by guessing what’s inside. It doesn’t work.

‘What is she so busy with,’ he wonders to himself as he digs through his pencil mug for the little sword letter opener he has. ‘She hardly lives fifteen minutes away.’

Wielding his blade, Darren slices through the yellowish tape holding the top flaps down, then he slices through the tape holding them together. He dumps out the contents of the box – it’s loaded with packing peanuts and three more boxes. The first is a wide and somewhat flat unmarked cardboard box; within it are two wood and soapstone incense burners, handmade pieces as evidenced by the imperfections. Both soapstones have flower petals carved around the hole where the cone goes, and they’re both mixed in color, pink and a pale green, although one of them – the one with a crack in the wooden disk, by chance – has a lot more green than its partner with the frayed edge.

The other two boxes contain incense cones, according to the text printed on them. One box is white with a picture of a heart made of roses – the scent is called Romantic Rose, which Darren thinks is kind of cute – and the other is black with a picture of a woman wearing nothing but shirtless sleeves and black high-heel boots. A monstrous brown snake bearing shark-like teeth is coiled around the woman’s naked body, constricting her right leg and revealing just about every other inch of her body aside from her mouth; in retaliation, the woman has the snake’s tongue gripped tightly in her left hand. The snake’s underbelly is plated in ghostly silver scales, and dark, black circles run from the back of its head to its tail. This scent is called Poison, and the i is even dotted with a skull, which Darren thinks is fitting; if you’re going to be lewd, you might as well take it all the way.

Upon sliding the trays out of the boxes, Darren learns that each one only contains a single cone. ‘What is this, some kind of free sample?’ Oh well, it’s the thought that counts, right? Megan didn’t need to send him anything – on their first anniversary they didn’t even talk to each other, not so much as a single text message was exchanged. It was understandable, as she was visiting a relative in Las Vegas at the time, although when he brought it up to her parents they said they didn’t have any relatives outside of New Jersey… anyway, it’s most certainly the thought that counts, so Darren decides to man up and enjoy his present instead of wallowing in the pits of his mind’s most despicable what ifs.

Loading the Poison cone into the cracked burner with one hand – he decided to save the Romantic Rose cone for the next time Megan comes over in hopes it’ll get her to be romantic with him – Darren whips out his Bic with the other and sparks the tip. The flame encloses the cone’s dull head in a shell of wavering orange which spouts smoke darker than the circles around Megan’s eyes after she got back from Vegas. The smoke fades into a lofty gray after Darren blows out the flame, and despite the scent being called Poison, it actually smells quite pleasant. So pleasant, in fact, that Darren decides to meditate.

Leaving the cone up on his desk so he doesn’t risk setting his bedroom on fire, Darren tucks his chair in and fetches a pillow from his bed. Sitting lotus on his hardwood floors always makes his legs go numb, but using the pillow helps; thirty seconds after contorting his legs, Darren’s lost in the trance.

He comes back to consciousness an unknowable amount of time later – though it couldn’t have been too long because the cone is still releasing plumes of smog – and looks up above his desk so he can watch the smoke twirl and swirl through the air like he used to do whenever he got high.

And that’s when he sees the djinn.

The smoke gives way to the tops of her supple thighs, her torso is lean and cut, her breasts are propped up by her folded arms and her face – her terrifying, mouthless face – is tightened into a squint, her eyes sharp like fangs digging into Darren’s soul. Her hair is dark and long but bundled, as not to flow like the haze from which she emanates.

‘State your name, mortal,’ she says in Darren’s head, her essence dark and gorgonlike. At first he says nothing, his body frozen like stone, but then he hears a distant rattling and remembers the snake on the box. The snake he can’t currently see.

“Darren,” says Darren in a voice which comes out like a sneeze: abruptly and laced with spittle.

‘You have awoken me, Darren; in order to return to rest, I must grant you a wish. Choose your words wisely, as the price they claim is death – though not for you.’

“Then for who?” Darren asks, but his mind stays silent and the djinn’s arms stay folded. “I will not make a wish until I know whose life that wish will be stealing, djinn; I’m familiar with your kind.

The djinn’s eyes widen a bit at the human’s referring to her as a djinn, but she keeps her arms folded. ‘Is that your wish, Darren? To know who will die upon my fulfilling of your desires?’

“No,” he says flatly, then stands up and crosses his own arms. They stare at each other for a long moment, Darren’s eyes locked on the djinn’s.

Finally, ‘Nobody you’re close to, human; I am a djinn, not a devil, and a soul is a soul. I want to go back to sleep. Make your wish with haste and quit wasting my time.’

Darren smiles with one side of his mouth. “Good. Good. I want to spend my anniversary with Megan – we’ve been together for three years and I want to celebrate it correctly. That is my wish, djinn – to see my woman today.”

Though mouthless, the djinn smiles brightly. ‘So it shall be done.’

The rattling of the snake’s tail grows from distant to thunderous. Darren falls to his knees and presses his palms over his ears, but it only makes the infernal clatter harder to ignore; it’s tunneling into his brain, seeping through his veins, invading his very being. Thoughts and feelings shatter into the pattern of a snake’s skin and his perceptions all begin to fall away, one scale at a time.

Smoke fills the room and Darren collapses in a dreamless heap, and the rattle only gets louder.

I Like You

When Darren comes to, he can still hear the rattling… wait, no, that’s not… that’s his phone. Trying to eradicate his headache by rubbing his hand against his scalp, Darren rises and drags his feet to his bed where he flops down like a fish out of water. ‘What the hell was that?’ he thinks as he reaches towards his nightstand to grab his phone.

Answering without looking at the caller ID, Darren ventures a slow, “Hello?”

“Darren! Hey babe, it’s me! How are ya?”

‘Surprised,’ “I’m doing well baby, how are you?”

“I’m gooooood,” Megan says, her voice rising in pitch as the guh approaches the uhd. “Did you get the stuff I sent you??”

It’s at this point that the memories all flood back and Darren shoots straight up like a stalk of bamboo. “Yeah, uh, yeah I got the letter and the incense stuff. Thank you, that was…” He trails off as he gazes over to his desk and spots a dark black splotch where the incense burner was. “That was really sweet.”

He can hear Megan’s smile in her voice. “I’m glad you liked it! I got from a guy I met on Tinder, he said he was an incense salesman who liked to send out free samples. Cool, right?”

“Yeah… wait, you’re on Tinder?”

Megan laughs, but it comes off like a scoff. “Yeah, just to make friends! You got some free incense out of it, so I guess it worked out pretty well for all of us. Listen, I know I said I was busy in the letter, but… like… it’s our three-year anniversary, we should probably hang out for at least a little while. You feeling up to that hike I mentioned?”

Darren certainly is feeling up to that hike, and he tells her as much, adding, “I didn’t think you liked hiking with me,” at the end.

“I like you, Dar’, it doesn’t matter what we do. But… let’s not go too deep in the woods, okay? It’s buggy out there.”

“Deal. Meet me at the pond?”

“Be there in twenty minutes.”

They both hang up at the same time, and after Darren trades his pajamas for jeans and a tee, he realizes neither of them said I love you. Whatever, it probably doesn’t matter – not all couples need to constantly remind each other that they’re in love. Sometimes it’s an unspoken thing, and that’s okay.

After toasting himself a bagel and slathering it with cream cheese, Darren wolfs his late breakfast and then goes to search for his car keys. He doesn’t find them within two minutes, so he calls it a lost cause and decides to walk up the road instead. Leaving his front door unlocked despite the chain of burglaries sweeping the area lately, Darren proceeds up the deceptively uphill stretch of bumpy asphalt known as Fricker Drive.

The Snake

A half hour after leaving his house – that’s forty minutes after their phone call ended – Megan pulls up to the pond and parks on the side of the road. She’s wearing a sleeveless crop top and shorts which don’t quite cover her legs, an odd choice of hiking attire if Darren’s ever seen one. Not that he’s complaining – Megan hasn’t dressed this delectably for him in a long, long time, ever, in fact, and by the way he’s looking at her, she can tell her outfit’s producing the desired effect.

“Hey babe!” Megan chirps as she wraps her boyfriend in a tight hug. She kisses him on the cheek then breaks away, saying, “Ready for the hike?”

After picking his jaw up off the ground, Darren says, “Yeah, definitely!” Hand in hand they cross the pond’s lawn, walk over the concrete bridge (taking care to step gingerly over the tilted block which separated from the rest for God knows what reason) and embark into the forest. They follow the wide trail – Darren reminds Megan that it used to be a logging road in the early eighteen hundreds and Megan tries to roll her eyes less obviously than she rolled her ankle a minute ago – until the second turn-off point before the trail goes down an excruciatingly rocky hill. This looping, sidewinding trail was dubbed Dirtbiker’s Path by a dude who used to live on Fricker before everyone started moving away; Owen, his name was. Darren ran into him a few times out here – he was an odd one for sure, but he knew the woods like the back of his hand and he showed Darren all the best spots, including the glorious Raspberry Perch, a fat flat-topped boulder which Dirtbiker’s Path runs over after passing by a grassy rock outcrop called The Lost Colony, of all things, so long as you’re walking the trail backwards, which they are because Megan doesn’t like to be in the woods and Darren is conscious of that, so he cut out a big portion of the walk for her. Because he loves her, even is he doesn’t say it. The Lost Colony was the go-to spot for woods parties when Darren’s parents were still in high school, but it doesn’t get much use anymore.

Until today, that is, when Megan tugs on the back of Darren’s collar and makes him stop. “It’s so sunny over here, let’s go lay down on one of those rocks.”

Darren looks over to Raspberry, hardly twenty meters away. “The spot I wanna take you to is like ten seconds that way, let’s keep going. There are berry bushes growing over there, if they’re fruiting we can eat ‘em!”

Megan pouts. “Can we lay down on the rocks first? I’m tired from all this hiking.”

“But we’ve only been walking for like five min–”

Megan convinces Darren to lay down on the warm rocks with her, and when her shirt’s back down, she grabs his wrist and pulls him across The Lost Colony. They cross the sun-browned tall grass and climb up on a gently convex boulder with zero trees growing over it, then they lay down together and soak up the rays like snakes basking in the sun. A moment later, Megan rolls over and climbs on top of Darren, then kisses him.

“What was that for?” Darren asks, letting his hands travel where they may.

Megan smirks. “I dunno, I’m just feeling some type of way today… hey, you know uh… you know that thing you always ask me to do?”

Knowing damn well which thing Megan is referring to, Darren plays the fool.

“You know…” she hums, moving one hand slowly down his chest until her thumb finds his belt loop. “That thing that I’ve never done for you before…”

Megan sits up and straddles Darren’s thighs, then begins to unlatch his belt.

“I uh…” he gulps as sweat begins to form on his temples. “I think I might…”

She bites her bottom lip as the zipper unzips. Then, she leans forward and the sun feels cold, frigid as an Alaskan ice box, in comparison. Darren rocks his head back and closes his eyes in ecstasy, and things continue along this route for a blissful minute and a half. Then, Darren jerks himself upright and says, “Ow, the fuck?! Why’d you bite me?” but he doesn’t even hear himself say it over Megan’s blood-curdling scream. She flops off him and rolls over on her side, grasping for her trembling left leg.

“Megan, are you okay?!” Darren pulls his pants back up and does the zipper, then kneels over her, trying to figure out what happened. Had he not taken the time to make himself decent he would have seen the snake, the brown snake with the black circles running from the back of its head to its tail, but he didn’t, and so the gushing chop meat in the middle of his girlfriend’s calf is the only indication that she was bitten.

“I-I-I don’t know, I think a– FUCK!! I think a snake bit me!”

Darren takes another look at the wound, the oozing flayed patch of unshapen hamburger sticking out of Megan’s calf, and genuinely doubts that a mere snake caused that damage. But still, semantics and specifics don’t matter too much right now; his girlfriend of three years is bleeding and by the sound of her cries, she’s in immense pain.

“Oh god, what do I do? What do I do?!”

I don’t know!” Megan shouts between shrill sobs of horror. “You’re the fucking hiker, what do you do?!”

Hyperventilate, apparently. Darren can’t take his eyes off the visceral wound; between his breathing and Megan’s crying, the whole rest of the world just doesn’t have room to register, and so he doesn’t hear the footsteps coming up from behind them.

“What the hell is going on?” asks the voice, and Darren looks up to its speaker like a fearful man witnessing God in all His glorious wrath. A woman with long brown hair dressed in hiking attire – the backpack has a straw coming out of it and everything – was standing over them before she crouched down to inspect Megan’s wound. She looks at Darren and says, “This looks bad, what the fuck happened?”

“I-I-I–” he stammers, half disassociated from reality. “I don’t know, I think she got bitten by a snake, I–”

Megan screams as the random woman’s hands grip her calf on either side of the wound, the scream leveling up into a howl when she squeezes. “A snake? It looks like a fucking exit wound from a shotgun cartridge! You’re sure it was a snake?”

“WHAT THE FUCK ELSE WOULD HAVE BITTEN ME?!” Megan screams, thinking she’s talking to Darren.

“Okay… okay, hold on.” The woman bends low and puts her mouth over the swollen hole in Megan’s leg, then begins to suck. She comes up to spit out venom-laced blood four times before she has to stop and wretch. “I can’t… there’s too much blood, I don’t know if it’s working.” She faces Darren, “You got a phone on you?”

Daren shakes his head no, feeling too nauseous to speak.

“It’s fine, I have mine. Listen, I’m going to call an ambulance, yo–”

“NO!” Darren shouts. “We don’t have insurance, there’s no way we can afford an ambulance!”

“Then how the fuck are you going to get her to a hospital? I’m parked on the other side of the Dam, it would take me at least twenty minutes to get back there, and that’s if I ran.”

“Uh… UH…” Darren uhs as dots and stars begin to flood his vision. He feels a crack across his face, then looks back up at the woman, who’s rubbing her hand.

“Sorry, but you needed it. I’m not from around here dude, even if I could get my car here in ten seconds I don’t know how to get to a hospital. You need to get her there, so how are you going to do it?”

“Uh… she, she parked her car by the pond, I can drive her.”

“Good. What’s your cell number?”

Carried by the moment, Darren gives this random woman his cell phone number without asking questions.

She saves it under Snakebite. “Okay. I’m going to run back to my car now. You’re going to carry her to the pond, throw her in her car and go straight to the nearest hospital. Break the fucking speed limit, because that bite looks bad. I’ll call you when I get back and you’ll give me the name of the hospital, then I’ll meet you there. Okay?”

“Wuh, why are you go–”

She slaps him again. “Because I just sucked out a bunch of her blood and I’m going to need a fucking myriad of tests performed on me, and I have insurance like a rational human being so I’m not afraid to get myself help. Now stop asking questions and fucking go!”

Darren stops asking questions and fucking goes. The woman helps him get Megan, who’s weeping has grown disconcertingly faint, into his arms. Both parties split off in opposite directions.

The Hill of the Neverending Stride

Darren doesn’t bother with the trails. Lumbering along with his girlfriend in his arms, the two crash through tree branches, rip through saplings and shred through bramble bushes, the thorns sinking into Darren’s jeans like the fangs of the monstrous snake into Megan’s calf. The sweat pours off both of them in disgusting, rank waterfalls, and Darren tries to ignore the flow of Megan’s blood soaking his right arm, but he’s totally unable. His left arm catches on the back of Megan’s top and pulls it up, revealing her breasts by accident, but not even that distracts him from the horrific morbidity of this anniversary hike gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Finally, after what feels like endless eons stretched into infinities, each passing second longer than the last, they breach the end of the trail. Darren rockets over the shifted concrete path, miraculously not tripping, not yet at least, and crosses the lawn in a flurry of whimpers and pants. He lays Megan down on the hood of her car and tries the passenger door, but it’s locked. He tries the back seat, locked. He tries the driver’s side door. Fucking locked.

“Megan, where are your keys?!”

But Megan says nothing, as the venom has seeped into her brain and she’s more than a little bit delirious, fading faster and faster by the second. Darren checks the pockets of her shorts but finds nothing. Then, after fixing her top and saving her at least a little humiliation in case a car comes by, Darren goes around and tries the driver’s door again, just in case he didn’t pull hard enough the first time, and that’s when he sees the keys. They’re dangling from the ignition, just one turn away from starting the engine. One impossible turn.

“Fuck! You locked your keys in the fucking car, Megan!”

Megan says nothing. Her breathing has devolved into a strained wheeze.

Without thinking, Darren scoops her back into his arms and starts running down the road. He lives at the beginning of Fricker, it’ll be a long run but he’ll get there, he’ll throw her in his car and they’ll take off to the hospital, hell he’ll even call them and let them know they’re coming, it’s going to be okay, Megan is going to survive, everything is going to be oka–

Fricker Drive is a deceptively hilly stretch of black pavement. Turning off of Stonetown Road, you think it’s a flat driveway leading back into the forest, maybe to an old farm house, but that’s simply not the case; the reality of the situation is that the pond at the end of Fricker is about one hundred fifty feet higher off the ground than the lawn surrounding the first house on the road, which just happens to be where Darren’s family used to live, and where Darren lives now. The first one hundred feet of that incline is very gradual, deceptively gradual; one doesn’t notice it until one takes a walk (or run) and experiences the torture for themselves. The last fifty feet, however, is marked by a gruelingly steep climb up a hill. This hill was referred to as The Hill of the Neverending Stride by one Owen Johnson before he mysteriously vanished into the forest way back when, because on his way back from his hikes, he loved to let the decline take him and force his legs to move faster than his mind (his genius mind) could keep up with. Just a moment ago, with his belt still unbuckled, his pants unbuttoned and his zipper falling with every harried step he took, Darren was sprinting down that hill in the same fashion as the late Owen Johnson, his legs moving faster than his mind – his average, not genius and slightly hung over mind – could keep up with.

Was sprinting, that is, until his pants gave up their good fight and fell down around his knees, tripping him up and spilling both him and his dying girlfriend down the road, down the steep road, the steep road down which they tumbled and rolled, their skin grinding into the pavement, their bones bruising and fracturing along hairlines, only stopping when they finally hit one of the few trees that were left to grow along the side of the road.

Or, in Megan’s case, the mailbox of the last house before the pond.

When he regains consciousness nineteen minutes later, Darren fixes his pants up right and hoists his dead girlfriend of three years into his arms, then limps slowly down the road. No cars pass him, as all the houses on this road besides his own are owned by one man who happens to be in his basement talking to his catatonic mother right now, and by the time Darren gets back to his house, he doesn’t even think to go inside and get his phone. He throws Megan into the passenger seat of his car, fishes his keys out of the console where he left them after getting home from the bar last night, and takes off for the hospital.

I Love You

There was nothing the doctors could do. Megan Bidonno of Treeburg, New Jersey, died mercilessly on the third anniversary of her relationship with Darren Turnski.

The funeral was carried out a couple weeks later – Megan’s family was not happy with Darren’s incompetence, but after many and many’a screaming match, they came to an understanding and forgave the lowly, backwoods Treeburgian. Even the relative from Vegas – who wasn’t actually a relative but a long-distance fiancé whom the parents knew all about – found enough goodness in his heart to forgive Darren for dragging Megan into the woods on that fateful day. Of course it was all Darren’s fault – had he not liked hiking so much Megan never would have perished, as they reminded him multiple times throughout the process of burying the girl – but they are good Christians and so they forgave him and left him alone to bear the weight of their dead daughter, their daughter who died so tragically young, their daughter who Darren once carried in his arms (but not fast enough), who he’ll now carry on his conscious for the rest of his life.

In the end, Darren and Megan’s relationship concluded in much the same way it was spent: without the uttering of the words I love you.

You

“That is my wish, djinn – to have my woman back.”

The giant, smoky rose engulfs Darren into its luminous core. When he wakes up he is alone in his bedroom, just like he was when he lit the first incense all those weeks ago, just like he was when he lit the second one a few moments ago, just like he will be for the rest of his life, because his woman is dead. Djinns aren’t real, he’s a delusional mess and Megan is dead. He plucks a piece of paper towel off the roll he keeps by his desk and wipes up the scorch mark, then tosses the trash into the garbage. Then, he throws some presentable clothes on, gets his keys and wallet, and heads out to the local watering hole, just like he’s done every single night since he let Megan die…

Suddenly Darren’s in the bar’s parking lot. He doesn’t remember driving there, he just remembers thinking about how he took his girlfriend of three years into the woods and she got bitten by a snake and she died…

Suddenly Darren’s sitting at the bar. The music is terrible but loud, just loud enough to keep him present in the moment instead of spiraling into the deepest, darkest pit in his mine hole of a mind. ‘I took Megan to a mine hole once to go cliff jumping…’

Suddenly Darren has two glasses in front of him, both empty. His vision is beginning to swim but he can still feel his face, so he can’t be that gone, it couldn’t have been anything too strong. The bartender comes up and asks if he wants another. Darren says yes, then fishes out his wallet and slaps down a fiver, as if that will cover it. The bartender walks away to pour Darren’s drink and the man is left alone to wallow. Just before he slips back under the surface, he hears the voice.

“Holy shit, it’s you.”

Darren slowly turns around and takes in the cool drink of water standing behind him. She’s dressed casually – gray sweats, a zip-up hoodie, brunette locks bound in a ponytail; he gets the feeling that he’s seen her before, but he can’t quite place where or when.

“You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“I don’t,” he answers plainly, looking at her like a dog looks at a stick of celery: ambiguously, and slightly confused.

The woman takes out her cell phone and taps the screen a few times, then turns it towards Darren. He squints his eyes against the blinding unfiltered blue light. She asks, “Is that your number?”

Darren studies the numbers, which is no simple task when they’re jumping around like frogs on the lily pads floating in the pond at the top of his street… the pond where Megan parked he–

“Wait, why is my name saved as that? Who are you?”

She locks her phone without answering and pockets it, then takes a seat next to Darren. The bartender comes back at just the right time and sets Darren’s drink down, and the woman asks the ‘tender what he’s having.

“It’s called a snakebite, some British thing. Half beer, half hard cider.”

“Well that’s just downright fitting. Make it two, please.”

The ‘tender goes to make it two. The woman turns to Darren and locks eyes with him, then proceeds to take a sip of his drink while maintaining eye contact.

“Meh, it’s okay. Not bad. Probably won’t get another one, though.”

“I didn’t even realize I ordered it, tell you the truth.”

The woman arcs an eyebrow. “Wow, I can’t tell if you hold your liquor really well or really, really badly.”

They sit there without speaking for a moment. Then, “So uh… are you gonna tell me who you are? Or…”

“I’ll tell you who I’m not: fuckin’ Dracula. Bleh. I damn near had to get my stomach pumped to get the taste of blood out of my mouth.” The bartender cautiously sets the woman’s drink down and backs away slowly, not daring to ask for money. She picks up the glass, says, “That was wise of him,” then downs the cider half of the cocktail in one gulp.

And suddenly, the gears click. “Holy shit, it’s you.”

“There he is!!” she exclaims, giving him a pat on the back. “You never called me back, either. So, hope you don’t mind me asking, but uh… she make it?”

Darren averts his eyes to the bar. Then, he gulps down half his snakebite without taking a breath.

“Ah… well, that’s very unfortunate. I’m sorry Sna–… well, given the circumstances I won’t call you that. What’s your name?”

“Darren,” says Darren. “Sorry about uh… sorry I didn’t call you back. That day was uh… a little hectic.”

“Joy,” she says with a smile, raising her glass. Darren tinks it and they drink. “Don’t worry about it, what’s happened has happened. No hard feelings. So… what brings you here?”

That same ambiguous look sweeps over Darren’s face but hey, at least he’s not thinking about Megan. He looks to his drink. “You know, just uh… drowning the sorrows.” He looks back to see Joy is still staring at him. “What brings you here, Joy?”

Joy smiles. “Do you know what ka is?”

“Ra?” Darren earnestly asks, as the terrible music is so, so loud. “Like, the god?”

A titter escapes Joy’s mouth. “Close. Its originally an Egyptian spiritual belief, but this author I read – some may call him the king of authors, but uh, that’s a cheesy some – he uses it to describe fate or destiny or the latent conscious intelligence that drives reality, something along those lines.” She takes a small sip of her drink, then, “You know where I’m going with this?”

“Not a clue,” replies Darren, finishing off his snakebite. “I stopped believing in all that a long, long time ago.”

“Hah, welp. Never mind then…”

They sit in relative silence again. Then Joy gets up, decidedly not finishing her drink, and throws a fifty down on the bar. “Come on.”

“Come on?”

She grabs him by the elbow and pulls him out into the parking lot.

“What are you do–”

“I’ll tell you what you’re not doing – driving on a full stomach. My car’s right over there. I don’t even know why I stopped here, honestly. Funny how that works, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, uhh… so what? Who are you, Joy?”

Joy smiles. “Oh would you just come on? I wanted to go for a walk anyway, so now you’re joining me. The Monksville Dam is beautiful at sunset.”


Be well Commons~

Posted in Writings

And the Wind Continues to Blow

Barnstatter Path

Barnstatter Path, the last good ol’ fashioned unpaved dirt road in all of Treeburg, is normally a quiet stretch of semi-developed woodlands. Located at the midpoint of a steep hill that’ll make a marathon runner feel crippled with exhaustion just driving up it, it’s neighbored above by White Road – home to a slew of unimaginably successful African American families and a single token house of Native Americans who hit the jackpot when they bought the local watering hole and renovated the basement speakeasy into a casino – and below by Fricker Drive, a pond-butted stretch of bumpy asphalt along which more than half the houses are owned by one dude because all the families keep moving away.

Across the street from the pond, asphalt gives way to dirt and Fricker’s end becomes Barnstatter’s halfway point. This junction is wider than the rest of either road and rarely traveled, so the locals like to use it as a parking lot of sorts. At one point, Fricker’s pond was the local hotspot and block parties were held there every weekend, but these days it’s the forest beyond the pond that attracts all the foot traffic. One dude – the older son of the first family to evacuate Fricker Drive – was just crazy enough to carve out an absolute snake’s nest of trailways through the forest around Fricker before he mysteriously disappeared, and now that he’s gone, everybody else in the area feels comfortable with walking his paths. Normally there’s plenty of room to park by the pond without worrying about getting your paint scraped by the swinging of someone else’s car door; normally, it’s the perfect place to hike because the only sounds are the birds chirping and the tree frogs chirping back; normally, the first neighborhoods after the Monksville Dam are a beautifully pleasant place to either live, laugh, love, or if you’re fortunate enough, to do all three.

Normally, that is, but not lately, and especially not tonight. Lately there’s been a string of break-ins on this side of the Monksville Dam, the latest of which went down just tonight. Half the town’s police cars are currently parked beside the pond at the end of Fricker; the other half of them are parked along the front half of Barnstatter in a single file line leading to the Milligan house, the home of the wealthiest family in all of Treeburg.

The Pattern

The first robbery occurred on White Road. It happened in the smallest house, the one owned by a single man and his twentysomething son who weren’t home at the time because they were out doing this or that – they wouldn’t specify exactly where they were, partly because they wanted to see if the police would accuse them of robbing their own house, which they did, probably just because the men in question were black. Treeburg is a very Caucasian town; hell, one neighborhood off the back end of Stonetown Road was colonized by a gaggle of German families who flocked to the states right around the 1950s, and if that doesn’t do some explaining then you need to get your head checked. Nothing of any real value was stolen, mostly just knickknacks, artsy decor pieces and action figures from the twentysomething’s collection in the basement – unboxed action figures specifically, the ones of lower value. At first the pop and son wished they had been home so they could have dealt with the robber themselves, but after the second robbery, they changed their tune and decided to be thankful.

The second robbery occurred in a house on Fricker Drive a few weeks after the first robbery went down. There was just one guy living there at the time, a man in his mid-twenties who took care of the house for his parents in exchange for room and board. The parents – and the guy’s little brother – all moved to Boca a few years back, and when their Treeburg boy wouldn’t answer their phone calls, they started calling the neighbors. Only one guy answered their calls – that guy being Mister Williamson, the one who owns the majority of the houses on Fricker – and when he went over to check on the boy, Williamson found that he had been dead for quite a few days. Or weeks, but probably days; Williamson is a head doctor, and even though the boy died from blunt force trauma to the head, Williamson couldn’t make an accurate analysis. Plus, Williamson is a very sensitive man and the smell inside the house made him wish the robber got him instead, so he couldn’t spend much time wafting it in.

On the bright side, the boy likely didn’t feel any pain, as (according to the certified examiners) he was taking a dip in a deep brown bottle when he had his run-in with the robber, but it was still a tragedy, a tragedy only made more uncomfortable by Mister Williamson’s subsequent attempts to buy that house over the phone. The family did end up selling it to him – they couldn’t bear to come back to the place where their son died along with his lack of ambition, plus they didn’t want to clean out whatever junk was left. But I’m beginning to digress.

Again, nothing of any real value was stolen during the second robbery aside from the boy’s life; only decor pieces and the random mancave stuff the boy had scattered around the house. At the time of the second robbery, this detail was seen as a simple string of coincidences, a string which the detectives refused to weave into a pattern because of the inconsistencies prevalent in the cases, namely that one robbery involved a murder – that is to say, the burglars were clearly different perpetrators. However, when the pattern was seemingly repeated in the third robbery, the one that happened tonight in the first house on Barnstatter Path where all the police officers are gathered, they decided it couldn’t hurt to look at all the potential possibilities.

Normally such a police presence isn’t called for in Treeburg no matter what crime is committed, especially for a simple break and entry, but this is the Milligan household, home to Bill Milligan, the founder and proprietor of Buyify, the world’s leading ecommerce/social networking platform. Moguls from all over the world set up profiles with Buyify to keep tabs on one another and run businesses which they all buy and sell from each other, and Bill Milligan gets a cut of every transaction, no matter how many zeroes are involved – and there are often a lot of zeroes involved. Stated simply, Bill Milligan has pull in this town, and now that the robber’s existence has affected him directly, he wants the perp bagged, tagged, and roasted in an oven like the turkey he is. This means the police want the robber bagged and tagged as well; unfortunately, that’s not going to happen tonight, because they only have one witness to question: Gill Milligan, the only Milligan offspring and the legal heir to the Buyify throne, and he slept through the invasion. That means he had nothing to offer the cops but disappointment, and so the robber got off free again.

And with all that said and out of the way, the actual story can begin.

Dreaming

Hazy vision and a dull pounding inside his head bring Gill to a waking state. He didn’t sleep very well last night – well, that’s not true. He was sleeping deeply for quite a few hours before the lights and sirens woke him up, and even then he was half convinced he was dreaming. It’s sometimes hard for Gill to differentiate between waking reality and dreaming reality, no matter how dreamy the dream may be; one time, Gill dreamed he and his nonexistent family were out on Monksville on his father’s ocean boat, and when he woke up he mistook his sweat for the residual spray from the waves. Of course, when he asked his father what time they got in last night, he was made perfectly aware of how ridiculous he was to even so much as think it was real – ocean vessels aren’t allowed on Monksville, of course he it happened in a dream.

“Am I dreaming right now, Dad?” he asked, and was answered with a heartfelt If you were dreaming you’d be a lot more successful, now wouldn’t you?

But last night, when his bedroom filled with flashing red and blue lights and the siren pierced his ears like an arrow through thin metal, that was no dream. At first he thought he had imagined himself some sort of twisted disco party; the only thing missing was all the females from his old high school he never got a chance to dance with. They almost always show up in Gill’s dreams, disco or not.

Had Gill asked them to dance way back when, they probably would have obliged, but he was always too afraid. Gill has never exactly been a lady’s man – when Gill got the talk, it was delivered in drunken slurs from his first Step-Mom on the night before her and Gill’s father’s divorce. She told him that it was wrong for men to look at women first, that if a man so much as thinks about a woman’s (and I quote), “… luscious, supple breasts, her firm, tight ass, her delicious, glistening [you get the idea], then he is headed straight to Hell, and with each further thought he allows himself to entertain, he shaves off another minute of his life, and another centimeter of his dirty, dirty Peter!” She was a troubled woman; in her suicide note, mailed to Bill Milligan half a decade following their divorce, it was revealed that she was raised by a questionable band of Gypsy nuns who gave her a similar treatment that Catholic priests give to choir boys. She also thanked him, sincerely thanked him, for never touching her. That’s about all you need to know about Gill’s father Bill, although it’s more than Gill himself knows.

Sitting up on the edge of his bed, Gill reaches out blindly for the water bottle he left on his nightstand last night. He finds it by way of knocking it down, and by the sound of the glugging, he remembers that he didn’t replace the cap. ‘You need to replace the cap, Gill. You’re stupid. So unsuccessful and stupid.’ He waddles out of his room and down the hall to the bathroom to grab a towel. On the way back, he momentarily stops at the door and closes his eyes, as to focus his ears.

The air is still; nobody walking around, nobody watching the television. That’s good.

Gill returns to his room and throws the towel on the soaked spot in his carpet, stomping it down with his feet to soak in the moisture. That done, he moseys on over to his desk and turns on his computer to check if he had any sales last night.

As the son of Bill Milligan, Gill was one of the first mogul-to-bes to open up a store on Buyify. His company is called Gill Bottles, and through it, Gill sells old glass bottles – beer, soda, milk, you name it – that he finds buried in the leaves while out exploring in the woods behind the pond on Fricker. According to the owner of the auction hall across the dam, there’s a big market out there for antique glass bottles (so long as they’re in good condition), and Gill’s are pristine – no scratches, no unsightly cracks or chips, and every time he finds a new one he always takes it into the bath with him and scrubs all the dirt off by hand. He puts all of his effort, all the effort in the world into selling his bottles; but yet, like all the other days since he opened this store back in high school, Gill has no sales. Zip, zero, zilch. On the upside, Gill knows that this can’t possibly be a dream. Like his father said: if he was dreaming, he’d be a lot more successful, now wouldn’t he?

Messages

Gill is about to close out Buyify when a little red circle in the top left corner of the screen catches his eye. In addition to being an ecommerce platform, Buyify is also a social networking sight; moguls (that’s what the users are called) have profiles where they can post status updates and advertisements for new products or sales, they have both a friends and competitors list to keep tabs on their close and closer ones, and, perhaps most importantly of all, a virtual mailbox for sending and receiving private messages. This morning, Gill has two letters in his inbox. His pulse picks up just looking at them, and he begins to salivate.

The first message is from his father. It reads:

Child,

I just wanted to thank you for being so, so helpful in the police investigation last night. In case you forgot – or, in your specifically delusional case, thought you were dreaming – our house was broken into and robbed, and you slept through the entire thing. Fortunately the bastard didn’t steal anything of real value, just a bunch of toys and knickknacks from your childhood, but that doesn’t make it right. Because you were asleep, the guy got away and the cops had no leads to go on, so I’m assigning the project to you. I want you to investigate the house and find evidence; a strand of hair, a dried pile of spittle, a clue of any kind, and if you can’t? Well, I won’t be surprised in the slightest.
You know what? Don’t even fucking bother, you’d probably just fall asleep during your search or turn in one of your own hairs, because that’s the kind of man you are. A failure of a man, one who will never have success no matter how hard he tries. I’ve tried with you Gill, I really have – the fact that I even referred to you by your name just now should tell you exactly how hard I’ve tried – but you’re a lost cause. There’s not even hope that you’ll become someone’s trophy husband one day, because you’re not a trophy. You’re a goddamned consolidation ribbon they give to the untalented kids who still have the guts to perform at their talent shows. Untalented kids like you, that is, except you don’t even have any guts, you only performed because I fucking made you. You’re a fucking disgrace.
By the way, your rack of ribbons was among the things stolen. No great loss in my opinion, and as far as you’re concerned, my opinion is fact.

You disappoint me,
Bill Milligan

After wiping the tears from his eyes with the neck of his white tee, Gill presses the save button and stores his father’s correspondence with all the rest so he can go back and read them one day. On the inside, Gill doesn’t think he’s a total lost cause, he still has some semblance of hope about his future – but he also knows how smart his father is. Not just anyone could have developed Buyify, and the fact that Bill was able to swindle the developer out of the company without paying a cent in lawyer fees just speaks on the man’s intelligence; if and when the day comes where Gill realizes how much of a failure he really is, he wants to have this archive of emails to remind him why he is the way he is, to keep him anchored in reality, to give him a way to know that it’s not all just a bad dream.

The second message is from a Buyify user named Smells, of the firm Smells Inc. It reads:

Hrll0 they’re, Gi1l Bootless! Mi nmae is Sm3llz, amd I an am djincense salismen. I wuz luokngi ay tuor syte nad its perty guud! Du yoo wnat two trie s3lli7g my djincense burneys? I cn synd yew a fr3e s4mp1e! Jsut rpley me yur adres nd I wi l l s3nd i+ 3 yiu.

Live,
Smlels

Although the message is hard to read because of the apparent learning defect in the mind of its sender, Gill doesn’t waste a single second – like his father always says, when an opportunity presents itself you better as hell jump on it, because they’re quick like a jackalope and, in your case Gill, a lot smarter than you are. A lot smarter than you’ll ever be. He types up a quick reply to this Smells, taking care to proofread his writing so Smells can maybe learn from his example, and hits the send button. The whoosh sound brings a smile to his face, the first in days, and within seconds he gets another message in his inbox. It’s from his father, and it reads:

P.S. I will not be coming home for a few days, as the rage I feel towards you has convinced me to leave the state. You don’t need to know where I am, and I doubt the burglar will come back – hitting homes twice in a row is not part of his pattern.
Unless he makes it so, starting with our house. Try not to sleep through it this time, hm?

Gill’s smile widens. He debates pulling up an adult video site to treat himself to something special this morning, to celebrate his father’s absence and his upcoming success as a seller of incense products, but ultimately decides against it. Once the money starts rolling in he’ll be able to hire actors and actresses to make videos just for him, videos that won’t be seen by anybody else. It’ll be worth the wait.

After opening the site anyway – just to look at the thumbnails, don’t worry, he’s not that depraved – Gill’s smile widens to the lobes of his ears. With the cuffs of his pants up stretched around his mid-calves, he walks downstairs to get himself some breakfast.

Two Incense Burners

After eating his daily breakfast of six scrambled eggs – no cheese, no salt or pepper, no herbs; just eggs, as Gill is an eggy boy if ever there were one – Gill washes up the dishes and proceeds to the couch to watch some television. The morning cartoons have all come and gone, much to his disappointment; it’s at this point that Gill finally checks the clock and sees that it’s a quarter past noon. He really must have slept in today.

‘I wonder if the mail’s come yet,’ he thinks to himself. Suddenly, as if on cue, Gill hears the rumble of the delivery truck laboriously making its way up Barnstatter. He foots it to the door, belching along the way and catching a hit of eggbreath that makes him stop and retch, which is good. Bill Milligan has gotten many complaints from the mail truck drivers about Gill running out and meeting them at the mailbox; it isn’t that the drivers don’t like Gill, it’s just that the eggy boy always tries to hop in the back of the truck when they’re not looking. He even made it all the way back to the post office one time, what a travesty that was.

But today, Gill has no plans to attempt an escape from his life in Treeburg. The light of success is shining over the horizon and Gill is just about ready to catch those rays – just about, that is, because he knows the free samples won’t arrive today. They can’t, he just sent the message to Smells a few moments ago, it would be downright nonsensical, downright dreamlike if they arrived. But still, he’s excited to get the mail, so he waits with the top of his head poking over the window of his front door like Kilroy anytime the graffiti was here.

The driver peers over to the house and locks eyes with Gill. After stuffing the mailbox with blinding speeds, he stomps on the gas and zooms off in a storm of dirty clouds and flying rocks. When the dust settles, Gill heads outside.

The sun is shining bright and Gill has to squint his eyes to a horizontal slit to not burn his corneas. Only seeing a fraction of what he needs to, Gill stumbles and falls across his now rocky front lawn and scrapes his knees and elbows on the sorry excuse for a road. Upon opening the mailbox, however, all the pain leaves his mind – among the bills addressed to Bill, there is a small package addressed to Gill, or more specifically, Gill Bottles. Leaving the letters in the box, Gill takes his package (upon which no return address is scrawled) up to his bedroom and locks the door behind him, just in case the burglar comes back.

Gill tears the top off the package and dumps its contents onto his floor, then crumples it up and tosses it in the general direction of his garbage can. As he bends down to pick up his winnings, the towel he threw down to soak up the spilled water catches his eye, and he ignores it. Laying on his floor are two incense burners, stained wooden disks with carved pieces of soapstone in their centers. Both the stones are a pale, pea smoothie green, both have flower petals carved around a cylindrical depression in their centers, and one has a dark streak running through it.

There are also two boxes of incense cones – one reading Romantic Rose that bears a picture of a heart made of roses, and one called Wicked which shows a picture of a woman with long black hair wearing nothing but shiny black thigh-height stockings, a shiny black bikini top and bottom, a shiny pair of black gloves that come up almost to her armpits, and a cat mask. A black cat mask. Dangling from the woman’s right hand is a long, golden whip. Drooling a little bit, Gill strokes the image of the woman with the index finger of his right hand, then immediately smells his finger. Then he licks his finger, and then he takes a deep breath and tries to get a hold of himself.

Succeeding, Gill notices there was also a little slip of paper that came with the free sample. He assumes it’s a form to order more incense products, but upon unfolding it, our eggy boy realizes it’s just a hand-written note from the proprietor of Smells Inc. Gill tosses the note into the packaging without reading it, as he’s never been one to read into things, and then throws the repacked packaging into the garbage. Then, he busts open the incense boxes.

Much to his dismay, each box only contains one single cone. ‘It’s a free sample, all right,’ he thinks to himself. Deciding to save the Wicked incense for tonight’s instance of Gill Time, Gill pops the Romantic Rose cone into one of the burners – the one without the dark streak, by chance – and then runs downstairs to fetch his father’s trigger-action grill lighter. He comes back to see that nothing has changed, and after taking a breath of relief to signify the fact that the burglar hasn’t broken in when he was gone, Gill lights the cone. The tip ignites and burns rather quickly, releasing plumes of gray smoke into the enclosed airspace of his bedroom, and he takes a big whiff which pulls all the blood out of his head and sends him plummeting into unconsciousness. As he falls down he generates a small gust of air which extinguishes the flame, which is good for Gill, because otherwise, the house would have likely burned down. And then the burglar would have nowhere to hit a second time.

Gill wakes up on his side a few minutes later. He sits up to see the incense cone is no longer spurting flames, although it’s not much of a cone anymore. Only the bottom third of thing remains, but it’s smoking nice and good and his room irrefutably smells of Romantic Rose. Gill takes another big whiff of the air, being careful to sniff it rather than snort it, and he leans back on his carpet with his hands folded behind his head to bask in the aromatherapeutic pleasantness.

And that’s when he sees the djinn.

Looming from the smoke is a thick green stem lined with rows of razor-sharp thorns tipped in a red deeper than the color of blood. Two leaves sprout from either side of the apparition, and at the end of the stem bursts trillions of crimson petals, each of them actively wavering and unfolding to reveal the magic which lies at the center of the floral mass. The stem bends towards Gill and his eyes water as he sees what lies in the center – nothingness, a pure absence of things, the most beautiful and glorious sight Gill has ever not seen. It speaks to him, the voice booming in his mind like the shifting of tectonic plates.

‘Gill Milligan, you have lit the incense and awoken me. In order to rest, I must grant you a wish. Choose your words wisely, as they will cost you dearly, but not in the way you might presume.’

Gill tuned out after the rose whispered the words I must grant you a wish into his mind. He thinks about it for a moment, he considers his entire life – his relationship with his father, his business and the negative cash flow it brings in, his goals and accomplishments he’s not yet accomplished – and smiles, again, two separate smiles in one day. He opens his mouth and says the following:

“I wish for romance, flower genie. I wish for the woman of my dreams.”

The rose lunges at him. Gill is blinded by the light of its core.

Then, as if he blinked, Gill wakes up on his side. Feeling dazed, more so than when he got up this morning, Gill sits himself up and rubs his eyes until it burns to touch the lids. ‘I must have been dreaming,’ he thinks, then proceeds to curse himself out for a few minutes. The flow of expletives comes to a screeching halt, however, when he looks at his carpet and sees the large black soot stain, as if the incense he lit had burned all the way out, taking the burner with it, soapstone and all.

After picking up the remaining burner – the one with the dark streak running through it – and the Wicked box and throwing them into his pillow case for safe keeping, Gill runs into the hall and gets the vacuum. He’s afraid the stain won’t come up, terrified in fact, for when his father sees it Gill will surely catch the meanest of looks, but it comes right up without fuss. It’s like it was never there.

Gill goes back to the hall closet and stores the vacuum away. On his way back to his room to have an early Gill Time sesh (as the idea of the woman of his dreams has not left his mind), he hears a bare knuckle banging against the wood of his front door.

Rose

Gill crawls up to the top of the stairs and looks down to the foyer, his eyes wide like a cat’s moments before it pounces. Who could be knocking at his door? His father is the only one in the house who gets any company; Gill doesn’t have any friends in the neighborhood, or town, or the entire county, for that matter. Who could it be?

knock knock knock

‘It could be the burglar.’ It could be Gill’s father coming home early… no, that’s ridiculous, he wouldn’t forget his key, he would just come in and start talking down at Gill. ‘It could be the burglar.’ It could be his first Step-Mom, back from the dead and hungry for both of Gill’s brains… no, that would just be nonsensical, that only happens in Gill’s dreams. ‘It could be the burglar.’ It could be Gill’s mother Jill, his birth giver who died during childbirth because Bill Milligan, never a fan of hospitals because of how much money they charge, insisted on a home birth… no, that would be impossible, the Milligans lived in a different town when Gill was born.

‘It could be the burglar.’

It could be… but why would the burglar knock on the door? Had he done that the other night Gill wouldn’t have slept through the invasion, and his father would be home to answer the door now. But… well, there’s only one way to find out who lurks behind the door. Tentatively, Gill steps down the staircase. At the bottom he draws in a deep breath, closes his eyes, exhales, opens his eyes, then answers the door. Standing there on the stoop, the sunlight dancing off her wavy black hair, is a beautiful woman, a woman with skin like a porcelain doll, a woman who looks like she came straight out of Gill’s dreams.

“Hello!” she chimes, giving Gill a smile’s worth of pearly whites that brightens his entire existence up. “I’m Rose Williamson, my uncle lives down on Fricker Drive. We’re out of eggs, do you have…”

She trails off while staring into Gill’s eyes, seeming to fall into a trance. This makes Gill feel very uncomfortable and exposed.

Gill averts his eyes to his feet, then mumbles, “Uh… hi. I’m Gill. Do we have any what?”

But she says nothing, and though Gill is staring at his shoes, he can see the tips of hers out the top of his eyes. She isn’t moving. The wind blows, the planet turns, the fishermen out on Monksville don’t catch a single thing, and finally, Gill looks up and begins to say, “Uh, hello? Did y-”

He’s cut off when she leans into him, pressing her lips up against his. Gill pulls away immediately, if only to prevent her from feeling the… the uh… the gun in his pocket, yeah, let’s go with that, Gill’s badass. He’s definitely the type to carry a gun around in his pocket.

“What are you doing?” he stammers, out of breath. She just looks at him, bewildered, as if she doesn’t know where she is, as if she doesn’t know who she is. As if she doesn’t care. Then, she kisses him again.

Then, they fall on the floor.

Then, with the front door wide open, Gill becomes a man twice in a row – the first time while still wearing his pants, the second time with his pants off – and the best part? She doesn’t laugh, doesn’t sneer, doesn’t call him a failure. She just keeps kissing him.

And kissing him.

And kissing him.

And the wind continues to blow.

Crossing a Line

The next few days of Gill Milligan’s life are nothing short of a dream come true for the eggy boy. Rose does not leave the Milligan household; neither of them even leave Gill’s bedroom on that first day, save for Gill’s occasional run to the kitchen to eat his eggs and get some energy back, energy that he quickly spends like he never had it in the first place; later in his life when he finally talks to a therapist about all this, Gill will say that Rose sucked the soul clear out of his body, but that’s just Gill, and that won’t be for at least a few weeks, anyway.

Following the first night of not sleeping, Gill makes Rose breakfast. In return, Rose treats Gill to a lovely dessert. When lunchtime comes around they leave the bedroom again, walking out this time, and Rose makes Gill an eggy lunch. In turn, Gill treats Rose to a lovely dessert, followed by an extra helping of afternoon delight. They eat each other for dinner, and it’s just as grotesque as you think it is. Disgusting even, absolutely nasty. Gill relishes every second of it.

The third day starts at noon. Forty-eight hours of not sleeping will do that to you, even if you’re as young and restless as Gill and Rose are, and the crawl to the kitchen is hard on both of their worn-out knees, more so for Gill if you’d believe it scribed on a surface. Rose makes herself an extra helping of eggs and Gill watches her eat it, mesmerized like a dog watching its owner eat dinner.

“What?” Rose asks him when she notices him starting to slobber.

In response, Gill gets down on the floor and bows as if he was praying. When he lifts his head up, Rose is no longer leaning against the counter. He’s petrified for a moment, terrified, and that’s when the first doubt crawls into his mind: ‘Is this… have I been dreaming this whole time?’

Then Rose’s hand makes itself present between his legs from behind – neither of them have worn clothing since Rose chased Gill up to his bedroom on the first day, you see – and Gill’s doubts go away… for the moment, at least. They come back for a second or two after lunch, then Rose scares them away with her mouth. They resurface later when Rose is in the bathroom, this time in the voice of Gill’s father whispering in his ear, but they shut right up when Rose suffocates Gill in a better way than he could eve dream of. They come back a third time when Gill is in the bathroom a little bit later, this time in the form of his reflection taking on a mind of its own and berating him from the other side of the mirror – Gill stifles this by taking Rose to his father’s bedroom and living out his greatest, most gnarly fantasy. They go at it in Bill’s bed until Rose is unable to walk and Gill is unable to, shall we stay, raise an obelisk in praise of his goddess, but it’s just as well. The sun is setting and Rose is getting very, very sleepy, so she asks Gill to change the soaked sheets on his bed so they can get some rest together.

“Why can’t we just sleep in here?” he asks her.

“Because that would be crossing a line, my eggy little man,” she answers, then does a thing with her right foot that almost makes Gill pass out cold.

Gill hobbles into his bedroom – yes, hobbles, the eggy boy’s walkin’ with a limp at this point– and before he even makes it to his bed, the doubts rear their ugly claws and slice him to ribbons.

“This can’t be real… this is all a dream, it has to be a dream!” he shouts, and he’s lucky he wore Rose out so much because that’s not something he’d want her to hear… if she’s real. But how can he tell? How can a man, an eggy little man like Gill who has trouble differentiating between a state of dreaming and a state of waking consciousness possibly hope to figure out if this sexed up goddess that randomly appeared on his doorstep is real or not all by himself? He’s a depraved, eggy little man, he’s never so much as touched a woman before Rose appeared out of the blowing wind, and all this woman’s done is touch and touch and touch him some more, and when she touched him with her right foot just now? Jesus Fucking Christ!

Gill wakes up on his floor a couple moments later. All the blood rushed out of his head, it seems, but he’s back at equilibrium now. After checking to see if Rose was still laying on his father’s bed – she was, and god damn him if the moonlight glistening off her ripe, sweaty body didn’t almost knock him out again – Gill returns to his room to clear off the sheets. He supposes there’s no way to really know if this is a dream or not; reality is the baseline from which all fiction springs – kind of makes you wonder about all those indie writers out there, doesn’t it? Well keep wondering, ya chinless chump – so is it really that hard to grapple with the idea that real life can be stranger than the fantasies in Gill’s head? Of course not. Gill just happened to get lucky – so, so lucky – when this Rose Williamson walked up from Fricker Drive in search of eggs (Gill’s most favoritest food) and that’s just what it is. As Gill wrestles with his blankets, he accepts that his life has taken a pleasant, amazing, miraculous turn, and he accepts it with a grand smile and dirty thoughts.

Then, the other incense burner and box fall out of the pillowcase.

Then, the doubts fuck him harder than Rose could ever hope to, whether she’s a fantasy or not.

Gill doesn’t waste time. He sets the burner on the floor, the burner with the black streak running through its center, and lines up the incense cone. Using the grill lighter he never returned to the kitchen because his father isn’t home to use it anyway and as long as his father isn’t home Gill is the man of the house and he gets to make the rules and do whatever he wants, Gill lights the incense. When the tip is glowing an effervescent orange, he blows out the flame and, while waiting for the smoke to build, puts his hands to his crotch. When the apparition takes form, he drops his dirty, dirty Peter and his bottom jaw follows suit.

The djinn presents itself in the form of the cat-masked woman from the incense box, except the mask is the only thing she’s wearing. The handle of the golden whip is clenched in her teeth, the tail coiled around her voluptuous body like a snake around a curvaceous tree.

‘State your name, you eggy boy,’ the djinn hums seductively in Gill’s mind. The whip, as if it has a mind of its own, wraps its tail around the point where the incense smoke becomes the djinn’s plump, curvy thighs and slithers up her body, caressing her in a way that Gill could only dream of doing to Rose. Then, she gently bites her bottom lip and throws Gill a wink.

Gill states his name, though it comes out in a dry puff of air rather than in his voice – it seems his breath has been taken away.

“You have awoken me, Gill, after rousing the rose, no less. To return to rest I must grant you a wish – anything that you desire. Choose your words carefully, you eggy, eggy little man, though not for the sake of your soul; that egg’s been cracked and the shells sucked dry, and there wasn’t much yolk to speak of.”

Not bothering to contemplate what that might mean – not now, at least – Gill looks the mermaid of his doubt in the eyes and gives in to its terrible serenade. “I want to know if I’m dreaming, sexy genie, if the past few days with Rose has been nothing but a dream. That’s my wish – to know if any of this has been real.”

The djinn giggles, then titters, then downright bursts into a cackle the likes of which a Salem witch couldn’t manage, no matter how much ergot-infested bread she ate. “Oh it’s real, you foolish, eggy mortal; in my granting of this wish, you’ll learn just how real it all is.”

The djinn draws the whip back and cracks it in Gill’s face, the snap emitting a thunderclap that throws Gill across his room, landing him on his bare, sheetless bed. Though his bedroom lights are on, all he sees is darkness.

Then, he sees nothing at all.

And the wind continues to blow.

Pretty Weird

“Gill!”

Gill feels soft hands on his shoulders, feels his body shaking. Hears the wind blowing around his house.

“Gill! Wake up Gill, wake up my eggy little man!”

Gill’s eyes snap open. Rose is hovering over him, her hair in a ponytail and falling down her back, the nipples of her bare breasts grazing against his chest, tickling him in a way he’ll never be tickled again.

“Oh thank God!” she says, then embraces him in a hug, a close, pressing hug, one he will never forget, one he’ll have described many, many times in his dream journal by the time his therapist gets to read it. “You’re alive, thank God!”

“What… what happened?” Gill asks slowly as he wriggles himself out of her grip to sit up on his bed. The sound of blowing wind and pouring rain are cacophonous, louder than his heartbeat. Rose lets him sit up, then grabs him again and presses their bodies together with a somber force, as if she’s about to leave him.

But that would be ridiculous, the genie said this was all real. Why would she be leaving?

“I don’t know!” she sobs into his ear, leaving his shoulder entirely the wrong kind of wet. “I had fallen asleep in your dad’s bed – by the way, we made a mess, you should probably clean that up before he gets home tomorrow – and a loud bang woke me up. I ran in here and you were unconscious on the bed.” She grabs his bare pillow and uses it to wipe off her eyes and nose, then cranes her head back to look at her foot. “Ugh!”

Gill looks concerned at that ugh. “What’s wrong, my eggy babe?”

“No,” with a straight face. Then, as the sobbing recommences, “There’s a big black splotch on your floor, like soot or something, and I stepped in it. My foot’s all black now, look.”

He looks and can’t help but agree. The bottom of Rose’s right foot – her sweet, delicious right foot – is stark black, black as coal, a perfect contrast to her luscious pale skin.

“I’m sorry,” he says, apologizing for something he didn’t do. Just like his father makes him do. “Here, I’ll clean you up, let me jus-”

“No Gill,” she says, putting a hand on his chest and sitting him back against the wall. She holds her hand there, as if she’s trying to ingrain the way his bony chest feels into her mind. Gill raises a hand to put it on her chest, but she grabs him by the wrist and sets his hand down. They sit like that for a few moments, neither saying anything, the sound of their breathing inaudible over the falling of the rain, the clapping of distant thunder, the blowing of the wind.

Finally, Rose closes her eyes and lets a tear fall down her cheek. “Gill…” she says, on the verge of weeping. “Gill, I have to tell you something.”

Gill’s heart drops and he has no idea why. “What is it Rose, what do you have to tell me?”

“Do you remember when I first came here? When I told you my name is Rose Williamson, and my uncle lives down on Fricker Drive?”

Of everything that transpired over the past few days, Gill remembers that detail the least. But, he does remember her saying it, and he tells Rose as much.

“Well…” she swallows hard. “There is a Mister Williamson, and he does live on Fricker Drive… but… but…”

Gill attempts to process this for a moment and comes up with nothing. “But…?”

“But… he doesn’t have a brother, or a sister, or any living siblings. He’s an only child.”

The gears attempt to churn, but the rust which clings to them is too thick. “Oh… uh… well that’s pretty weird.”

Though tears fall down her face and drip on her naked body like ambrosial nectar down the flushed cheeks of the gods, Rose manages to smile. “Yeah,” a soft, rueful chuckle, “I guess that is pretty weird.”

A bolt of lightning strikes Gill’s house, igniting his entire bedroom in a blinding white light that doesn’t fade until after the foundation stops shaking following the thunder’s roar. When Gill opens his eyes he’s alone, naked and afraid, propped up against the wall. The black scorch mark in his carpet is gone, and soggy, soaked sheets are still piled on his bedroom floor. Right next to the towel.

And the wind continues to blow.


Be well Commons~