Thursday, June 30, 2011

72/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Lettre Anonyme" by Etienne Charry

Mrs. Clifton turned off the lights and turned on the projector. The lightbulb shone through the film and she started to collect it on the second, empty reel, using the tip of a pencil. She attached the reel and started the projector. After some reference marks flashed by, the sound started in a warped warble. There was a little jingle, then the title:

"Today's Oil Industry"

The title wobbled on the screen in front of the classroom for twenty seconds or so, before there was an abrupt cut to a man in suit with a burning cigarette in his hand. There was assorted tittering in the class.

"How old is this?" whispered Josh, a tall boy with brown hair and glasses.

"I think it's older than our parents," said Kristen, a slight girl with an overbite. She was seated in the desk next to Josh. The two often collaborated on pranks on Mrs. Clifton.

"Shhhh!" hissed Mrs. Clifton. She left her post next to the project and stood in the aisle between Josh and Kristen. Her stale perfume emanated from her person and wafted over to Kristen, who put her head down on her desk, muffling her nose in her sleeve.

"Oil runs America," said the man in the film, before taking a long draw on the cigarette. "Let's now observe how," there was a skittering flutter in the film, "uses of oil." The man smiled, and the jingle started up again.

There were faded and scratched shots of cars on a freeway, curiously uncongested, plastic dinnerware, a closeup of a women putting on a thick layer of bright red lipstick, a wide shot of some sort of power plant, and fertilizer being spread on a field. The man droned on in his smokey-voiced warble, about the benefits and uses of fossil fuels. The words started to blur together.

"Listen. Observe. For example. A collaboration. Modern industry. Agriculture. Big city. The future. Today. New. Fun. The gravity of the situation."

The room filled with tawny reflected, flickering light. It weighed down on eyelids. Kirsten slumped in the lulling noise and light. She started snoring gently.

Then a hand pulled her up. Kirsten's body jerked awake.

"What?!" she exclaimed a little too loudly. There was laughter.

"Pay attention!" hissed Mrs. Clifton.

"Or what?" asked Kirsten. The laughter hushed, replaced by an expectant silence. Such defiance would be met either by the capitulation of Mrs. Clifton (in which case she would never regain control of classroom for the rest of the year), or by some meting out of discipline in public. Either outcome was a thrilling prospect to the rest of the students sitting in the dark.

"Or I'll start the film again," said Mrs. Clifton, "and make everyone write a three page report on its contents." A groan spread from student to student.

Kirsten stared into Mrs. Clifton's glasses. In the reflected light of the projector, they were white inscrutable discs. Kirsten nodded. She wanted to look over at Josh to mouth a sarcastic comment, but she was blocked by Mrs. Clifton's flower print dress.

The man in the film continued. Kirsten leaned back in her seat, and tried to watch. Her eyelids got heavy again.

"Naphtha. Bitumen. Fraction. Steam crackers."

Kirsten's ears pricked up at the last phrase. The screen showed some sort of metal equipment. Kirsten quickly lost interest again. Then she felt funny. Her legs felt heavy and the heaviness crept up into her body. She woke up fully. She tried to shift in her seat but felt glued there. Her whole body started to feel stiff. And her head turned forward, looking directly at the screen.

"Mrs. Clif--" Kirsten started, but could not complete her sentence. He tongue felt suddenly warm and prickly in her mouth. She tried screaming, but could only manage a muffled moan. She looked at the backs and heads of the students in front of her. they were all sitting ramrod straight and some of the were moaning too. Then the film cut back to the man with the cigarette.

"Now that I have your attention," said the man, looking right at the camera, "I want you to watch something."

The film ended there. The end of the film itself slapped against the projector. The light continued though, and the screen was white. Mrs. Clifton made no move to attend the projector. The frightened moans increased, and no one moved at all.

Kirsten started hyperventilating. She tried with all her strength to wrest her hands from her desk, but with the effort came a feeling of icy coldness. She tried to relax, and the iciness eased somewhat. She stared at the screen.

The screen started to change color. Tiny black dots formed on its surface. The dots expanded and started drooping down. The moans stopped as everyone tried to figure out what was happening. It was a fluid--crude oil. It ran down screen in stripes, then all of a sudden the screen went completely black, and then poured out. The moans started, more frantically. The pressure increased, and it started shooting out as if from a fire hose. It knocked over the students at the front of the classroom, and they sat motionless on the floor, at risk of drowning. The oil inched up, and soon there was a foot of oil in the classroom.

The fumes curled up into Kirsten's sensitive nose. The strong odor itched at her olfactory epithelium, and she sneezed. Her body immediately became unfrozen. She started scream, then leapt up. The oil was now shooting all the way back to the back of the room in a solid stream, where it had the projector pinned. Kirsten ran to the toppled over kids, and pulled them out of submersion. She tried to shake the students to get them to move, but none could. The oil was now waist deep. She ran to the door at the front of the classroom and pulled on the knob, but the weight of the oil against it held it closed. She pounded on the door, trying to attract help. The oil level reached the necks of most of the seated kids. She looked at the windows on the other side of the room, which were closed. Her path there was cut off by the stream of oil shooting from the screen.

"What the hell?!" she scream. "What the hell!!!!" She watched the oil creep up the faces of her classmates. It reached up to her own chest. She looked over at Josh. The oil was only at his chin. Tears were streaming down the sides of his face as he stared straight forward. She turned toward the wall next to the door, unable to watch. She brushed the light switch with her shoulder.

The sound of the rushing oil stopped.

"Thank you Kirsten," said Mrs. Clifton. Kirsten turned around slowly. The oil was gone. All the students were clean, if sleepy. All the desks were in their proper places. The screen was bright white. Mrs. Clifton turned off the projector.

"What the hell?!" Kirsten blurted. All faces turned towards her, many with surprised smiles.

"You missy, have detention! You can't use language like that in the classroom!" yelled Mrs. Clifton.

Kirsten ignored her. She walked to the projector, past Mrs. Clifton, and pulled off the reel with the film.

"What are you doing?!" exclaimed Mrs. Clifton. Kirsten did not answer. She went to the screen, ripped it down, and started examining it.

"Kirsten!" yelled Mrs. Clifton.

Kirsten scanned her hand over the polyester surface. There was a slight feeling of grease. Her heart started thumping. Then in a corner, she found a brownish black droplet. Her heart skipped. She smeared the droplet out with her finger. It was oil.

Kirsten looked at Mrs. Clifton, not sure if she should say anything. Mrs. Clifton was red in the face.

"I've had enough of your bad behavior this year young lady! I've really had enough!" Mrs. Clifton wagged a finger in Kirsten's direction.

Kirsten said nothing, then bolted for the door. She ran out into the hallway, her footfalls echoing off the paper-art covered walls. She burst into mid-afternoon sunlight, and ran around the building to find the school's bank of dumpsters. She threw in the screen, then started unspooling the film. She got halfway through before several teachers and a janitor came running for her. She tossed the film into the dumpster, with streamers of film flowing out over the side. Kirsten ran for the parking lot and the adults followed.

Five minutes later, the loops of film that were hanging outside the dumpster slowly started retracting into the dumpster. A few minutes later, a man stood up in the dumpster. He was dressed in a gray suit. He climbed out, and looked around. Then he lit a cigarette, and strode off across the school yard.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

71/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum

"I've got a friend in Jesus," said the man striding across the platform. "Do you?" He pointed his microphone towards the crowd assembled before him.

"Yes!!" They intoned enthusiastically. The man smiled.

"Do you?!" he yelled.

"Yes!!!" They screamed back. There was laughter and scattered applause. There were many clots of people dancing in place, hands waving above their heads and eyes closed shut.

"I thought so," said the man. He paced back and forth like a tiger, eyeing the crowd. It was a sea of white. Everyone wore a white shirt or dress. They dressed that way after taking their purity vows at the gates of the field, but it wasn't just symbolic. It was a sweltering July day after a rainstorm. The field was muddy and mosquito ridden. The humidity hung thick in the air and everyone was sweat soaked after hours and hours in the thrall of the service, and yet there was nothing but adoring faces looking towards the platform and the man in white upon it.

The man himself was of medium height and a slight build. His hair was thinning, but he combed it to the front to hide it. He had a beard and wore a white silk caftan over a pair of khaki shorts. He was barefoot. At the end of each pace he gripped the stage with his toes, curling them down, almost clawing at the wood.

The microphone he held was cordless. He wanted one of the headset microphones but none could be purchased locally. He held the mic like he was throttling someone by the neck, often wringing his hands around it. He would hold it close to his mouth to whisper, and the crowd would hush. Then he would hold it away in a flourish, eyes narrowed to crinkled slits, and yell at the crowd, usually with some well-worn slice of scripture. He didn't carry a Bible onstage, but rather kept all the choicest verses in memory.

He paced and paced and paced all afternoon. The middle of the platform held a small table with a pitcher of water, which he drank directly from. It also held a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, and every few minutes he would light up a new cigarette. Under the table was a box. While he smoked, he paced calmly, and when he was finished, he would put on a show.

By five in the evening, when the sun was still strong in the sky, his voice was hoarse and low.

"Are you ready?" he asked the crowd quietly.

"Yes," they said, matching his tone.

"Are you ready?" he said louder.

"Yes," they said.

"Are you ready?!" he screamed.

"Yes!!!!!" they screamed.

"Are you ready to be with Jesus?!" he screamed.

"Yes!!!!" they replied. A roar of applause ripped through the audience. They were screaming and hooting and cheering. The man admired his handiwork. He let the cheers ripple back and forth through the crowd for a full minute.

"Then bow your heads," he whispered into the microphone. The crowd went quiet. They looked towards the mud at their feet. There was some pockets of excited tittering; they couldn't believe it was really time.

The man strode to the table, and pulled out the box. He opened the lid and extracted a gas mask and a remote. He turned towards the crowd. Not a face looked at him. He grinned. He clicked the button on the remote. A greenish yellow fog started to expand out from under the platform. He put on the gas mask.

The people nearest the platform started writhing. They didn't even have time to scream. Their eyes went red and they foamed pink at the mouth. The people behind them looked up, and saw what happened. Some of them looked pleased, happy, joyful. Some were confused. Some tried to waft the gas towards them with their arms.

The man reached into the box and pulled out a handgun. He scanned the crowd for runners. There were one or two, for whom their survival instincts overtook their desire to be one with the Savior of man. He aimed and shot at them. No one left.

He stood on stage until the sun set and the gas settled low to the ground. I fingered up in the breeze occasionally, but most of it just crept outward towards the gates. He took off the mask, and picked up the pack of cigarettes. He shook one out, put it in his mouth, and lit it, looking into the sunset. He smoked the cigarette, looking out over the field, littered with pink stained white. He never saw people.

70/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Hand Covers Bruise (Reprise)" by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

The man in the white suit plunged in, little populations of bubbles frothed desperately upward. His ears burned with searing pain. He clutched a large river stone, and his face was frozen in fear. Looking up he saw a viridian light through midnight waters. It got smaller, and he wondered where bottom was, if there was one. The weight of the water pressed in on him.

Will they follow? he thought. The water was mute around him, almost comforting. He could feel his heart beating against his insides like an epileptic in a tonic-clonic seizure, even though the cold was starting to slow down his metabolism. The viridian light dimmed. They found him.

There was a splash, an disturbance above. He could feel the pressure wave. Then there was another. Two of them. They were a mess of legs, dark forms, struggling to swim toward him. He didn't realize they could swim. Their body plan didn't look particularly aquatic. He didn't know if they could see or hear or feel him in the darkness. He struggled to keep his breath, but he choked, and a big silvery bubble escaped and pushed upward. They stopped above him, then aligned themselves in his direction, and pushed down with their legs, paddling rapidly.

The man screamed, letting loose a volley of air into the water. He tried to turn over, and pushed the stone ahead of him, kicking with his legs, further downward, darker downward. He heard sounds in the water, moans and crackles. They were communicating with each other, somehow, even under water. His ears ached, and he pushed.

Something reached up towards him. At first he thought it was some sort of underwater plant, then remembered the planet had nothing resembling plants. He screamed again, exhausting his breath. It wrapped something thick and warm around his chest, and it tightened and pulled. His lungs burned needing oxygen. Eyes or milky orbs floated towards his face, catching the faint viridian ember above. He tried to swing the stone towards the orbs, but they retracted. He dropped the stone, hoping it would hit the owner of the appendage that was holding him, but the orbs came back, and something grabbed his feet.

Then he saw orange in the orbs. The flamethrower, he thought. He spun around as much as he could, to look above. One of the land creatures had his legs, tearing at his pantlegs. Red clouded the water. The orange light was intense. More land creatures fell in, their legs akimbo and shivering.

The thing below him tightened its grip. He heard his ribs cracking. His friends were too late. He blacked out.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

69/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" by Three Dog Night

The mosquitos were out and thick as I walked to down the path to the big shack. The lights were on and a crackly old radio was playing. I paused on the path. Shadows moved around behind the windows. There was laughter. Around me the dark of the forest was pressing in. I could feel the fractured eyes of a mosquito on my back. A chill danced up my spine and all the little hairs on my arm stood at attention. I didn't want to get needled so I quickly walked to door and knocked loudly.

The laughter went away.

"Who's there?" asked a deep voice.

"Uh, Jack," I said. "We met earlier today. You said it would be cool to come round tonight...So here I am."

"Oh yeah," said the voice. There was some hushed whispering. Furniture scraped across the floor.

"Ask him how much he's got," said another voice.

"Yeah, all right. How much you got man?" said the deep voice.

"Uhm, I gots a hundred. It was payday."

"You ain't got a good job if that's your payday!" There was assorted laughter from inside.

"Well, I got rent...Look can I come in or not? I don't think these woods are too safe."

"You got that right!" More laughter.

"Yeah, yeah," said the deep voice. The door unlocked and swung open. It was Dauphin. I met him earlier in the day down by the bank. He stood much taller than me, missing a mid-leg (the war he said immediately upon meeting me, without specifying which one) and his antennae twitched, which I took was the cockroach version of a grin. Our kind seldom mixed so I was rather ignorant about their ways.

"Why, it's a man!" exclaimed someone behind Dauphin. He moved aside as a cockroach wearing a pink silk neglige sidled up behind him. She reeked of cheap perfume and gin. "Well aren't you a looker...for a man," she purred. She ran a mid-leg up and down the edge of the door and her mouthparts fluttered.

"This is Juniper," said Dauphin, "she's quite a handful!" He burst out into sonorous guffaws. Juniper flicked his head with a foreleg and receded back into the shack.

"Where are my manners," said Dauphin when he recovered. "Come on in!" He motioned me into the shack, which was really just one large room. The ceiling was clouded with a thick layer of cigarette smoke. I walked in and he closed and locked the door behind me. In the center of the room was a large round table covered in green felt and card game was in progress. Seated around it were two other cockroaches, much smaller than Dauphin, more my size, a jack rabbit half my height, and a morbidly obese squirrel I'd seen around town a few times. Juniper sat down in an overstuffed leather chair in the corner next to the radio.

"Let me introduce you," said Dauphin cordially. "This is Pinkers," he indicated the nearest cockroach. "You watch him, he likes to cheat."

"I don't cheat!" exclaimed Pinkers. "You're just a bad player. Besides, you can't tell that to a new player!"

"Forgive me," said Dauphin, bowing towards Pinkers. Then he leaned into me, his stale breath assaulting my nose as he quietly breathed into my ear, "He cheats."

"Uh, thanks," I said. "Nice to meet you Pinkers." Dauphin stood up and pointed to the next cockroach over.

"This is, uh, what is your name?"

"You've known me for years," said the cockroach, his antennae suddenly standing up tall.

"Yes...but it's just slipped my mind you see. You wouldn't mind tellin' our new friend your name would you?" The cockroach's antennae buzzed back and forth rapidly.

"Frome. My name's Frome." He quickly looked back down at his cards.

"Nice to meet you Frome," I said.

"And this is Javier," said Dauphin, pointing to the jack rabbit, who stood up rapidly, knocking the table.

"Watch it!" yelled the squirrel and Pinkers together.

"Sorry, sorry," said Javier. "So nice to meet you, so nice." He cocked his head, licked his massive front teeth and held his paws together. His big ears twitched.

"Nice to meet you," I said.

"Sit down you dummy," said the squirrel, and Javier did, knocking the table again.

"And this is Dan," said Dauphin pointing to the squirrel. He didn't look at me.

"Nice to meet you," I said.

"Pleasure's all mine," said Dan in a long measured cadence. "It's your play Frome."

"Yeah," said Frome slowly.

"Well, get on with it," said Dan impatiently.

"And this is Jack everyone," said Dauphin. "Won't you sit down?" He motioned to an empty chair next to Dan's overspilling rolls of fur. I sat down.

"We can deal you in on the next round," said Dauphin, sitting down next to me. "Could you put you're money on the table? It's not that we don't trust you," he chuckled lightly, "but we need to know that you're serious."

"Oh, I'm serious. I've been wanting to do this for a long time," I said. I took the wad of cash from my pocket and slapped in onto the felt.

"That's nice," said Dauphin, his forelegs tentatively reaching towards the cash. "You don't mind if I count it now? Do you?"

"Not at all," I said.

"Excellent," said Dauphin. He quickly snatched the cash and licked the end of one of his legs, and started counting quickly.

"So what's the name of the game?" I asked.

"Knave's Aces," said Javier, his whiskers twitching.

"How do you play?" I asked. Pinkers chuckled.

"Better wait til the next round begins," said Dauphin. "Oh now you done it, I forgot what number I was on! Have to start all over." He put the cash together again and counted afresh.

"Would you like a drink?" asked Juniper. She was now slouched down in the chair, bobbing her head slightly to the beat of the music. She had in her own hand a glass with melting ice cubes in a clear liquid. She swirled cubes around with the end of her leg, then licked the wet end. Her antennae curled up and down.

"Uh, maybe an iced tea. It is awful hot," I said.

"How about a whiskey?" asked Juniper.

"How about an iced tea, ma'am..." I said.

"Ma'am..." muttered Juniper. She got up and walked to a grimy refrigerator in another corner of the room.

"I'm surprised to see one of your kind in these parts," said Dan, shifting his weight on his creaking chair. "Oh for the love of God Frome, would you lay down a card? We're going to be here all night."

"We're going to be here all night anyway," said Frome. He flicked a leg across his hand of cards, and patted his wad of cash with another.

"I don't see what harm it is for us to interact." I said, tapping my fingers anxiously on the felt. "It doesn't hurt nobody."

"Some folks think it's wrong," said Javier.

"How can it be wrong to be friendly with one another?" I asked.

"You don't mind if I light up, do you son?" asked Dauphin. He held a hand-rolled cigarette in his fore leg.

"No, no. This is your house," I said.

"Some of your folks get bent out of shape if I just walk down the sidewalk in town," said Dan. "But that's why I let myself get big." He slapped his belly. "Ain't no human who wants to mess with an four hundred pound squirrel!" Dan started to laugh heartily until tears formed in his eyes.

"Yeah, they don't think we're proper folk," added Javier.

"Here you go, Jack," said Juniper, placing a half-full glass of iced tea in front of me.

"Thank you," I said.

"Would some sugar?" She lowered her voice an octave when she said this.

"Uh, sure," I said. She leaned over and stroked my cheek with a foreleg. The little hairs on the leg made my neck shiver. With another leg, she poured sugar from a bag into the tea, filling it almost to the brim. Then she dipped a leg into the sugar, pulled it out with a dusting of crystals clinging to it, then wiped it through her mouthparts.

"Mmmmm, sugar," she said, gazing into my eyes.

"Uh, thanks," I said a little uncomfortable. She left and put the sugar away.

"Better give her a fiver or she'll be bothering you all night," said Dauphin.

"Uh...I'm good, yeah. Just want to play the game," I said, watching the sugar slowly melt into the tea. I was afraid asking for a new tea would be impolite.

"Finally!" bellowed Dan as Frome carefully laid down a card, a ten of diamonds. Javier quickly followed with the queen of hearts, then dan slapped down a jack of diamonds and an ace of hearts. "Knave's Aces!" he exclaimed.

"Dammit!" said Pinkers, throwing his cards down and wiping his antennae with a foreleg.

Dan reached over the table and scooped up the pot of crumpled cash in the center of the table.

"That's a hundred all right," said Dauphin, handing my cash back to me.

"I don't think I've ever heard od Knave's Aces before," I said.

"I don't think you're kind would have much opportunity to come across it," said Dan.

"Except in the war," said Dauphin. "I played it there with man soldiers. Not much else to do in that dusty place and they didn't seem to mind my company much."

"I'm sure they just tolerated you Dauphin," said Dan.

"What war was this?" I asked.

"I have my manners," said Dauphin, buzzing his antennae with indignation. "One of them said he even liked me."

"I think you tend to embellish things," said Dan, shuffling the deck of cards. "Get that card up here Pinkers!"

"What card?" asked Pinkers.

"That one you have stowed inside your wingcase. I can see the corner poking out. Get it up on the table here before I come over there and shake it out of you."

"Lord knows what else would fall out," said Dauphin. Pinkers reached back with a mid-leg, pulled out the card, and flicked it across the table towards Dan. They glared at each other for a moment.

"Which war did you go off to?" I asked again.

"You look like you could relax," said Juniper. I suddenly realized she was standing right behind me. She stroked the back of my neck, then my pushed the tip of her leg into my hair.

"As I said, give her a fiver and be done with it," said Dauphin.

"How about a ten?" asked Juniper.

"A five will do you!" exclaimed Dauphin. He took a five from my stack of cash and handed it to Juniper.

"No," I said.

"Don't worry," said Dauphin, "she's pretty good."

"Pretty good? I don't know why I stay with you Dauphin if you treat me like this," said Juniper, her antennae twitching. She folded her mid-legs across her thorax.

"Hush now," said Dan. He started dealing out the cards. "We're starting a new round."

Juniper knelt down beside me and started unbuckling my belt. I stood up, being careful not to knock the table.

"Could I have my fiver back?" I asked nervously. Dauphin stood up next to me, and came in close.

"You're not a bigot now, are you?" he said.

"No," I said.

"Don't you like to treat our kind just like your own kind?"

"Well yes, but--"

"Then let Juniper give you a proper welcome," he said, threateningly. He laid a leg across my shoulder and pushed me back down into the chair.

"Don't worry," said Juniper. "You'll be back for more after this."

I clutched the edge of the table and dug my fingers into the felt as Dauphin stared at me. No one else at the table seemed to care. The rules of the game were probably explained to me but they didn't really sink in.

"Bid is twenty. Throw in twenty son," said Dauphin as a fresh card sailed my way, landing face up. My fingers were still glued to the table. "Here, let me turn that over for you," added Dauphin. Frome snickered. Dauphin also slipped two tens from my stack into the pot in the middle of the table. I missed what happened next. When I was able to pay attention, it was Frome's turn to lay down a card again. Dan sighed deeply. Juniper reappeared and picked up my glass of sugary tea. She drank deeply from it.

"How 'bout I get you that whiskey now?" she asked me.

"Sure," I said quietly. I looked at Dauphin, who chuckled.

"We're not all as sinful as this pair," said Dan.

"I'm not sinful," said Javier. "I've even been to church once."

"You've got plenty of vices Javier. Besides, church don't make you good," said Dan. "Good comes from within, whether man, beast, or bug. You remember that Jack."

"It ain't sinful to feel good," said Dauphin. "That's why folks come here to our little shack anyway."

"It's sinful to force it on a young one such as our new friend here," said Dan. His fur seemed to puff up. "It ain't very welcoming." Dauphin's antennae stood straight up and the two stared at each other.

"I think you've said enough, beast," said Dauphin acidly.

"I don't like it very much when a friend calls me beast," said Dan, baring his teeth. "I think you value your own greed over friendship."

"Easy for you to say, beast, your kind has had it easy compared to us."

"That's a false assertion, friend, or should I call you bug?"

"How dare you..."

"You disregard the fact that we share the same lack of equality to men."

"Your kind was never forced to walk a minefield. I can't tell you how many of us I saw blasted to bits out there," Dauphin was shaking and speaking progressively louder. "And it was men that done it to us!"

"I think I'd like to leave now," I said quietly. Dauphin put his mid-leg down on top of my stack of cash.

"The boy came to play," said Dauphin, still staring at Dan. Pinkers and Frome were buzzing their antennae and Javier was twitching his whiskers. There was a long silence.

"Are we playing card or not?" asked Pinkers.

"Are we?" asked Dauphin.

"Let the boy leave if he wants to," said Dan.

"I can keep the money," I said. Dauphin turned and glared at me for a long moment. He looked down at the cash under the end of his leg.

"If you're not gonna play, I don't want you coming back here," he said. I stood up slowly and buckled my belt. "Don't you be bothering us with none of your nosy police."

"No sir," I said. "I can leave?"

"Yes, you can leave," said Dan. I immediately lunged for the door, unlocked it, and ran out in to the cool night air. I could hear the murmuring of the mosquitos in the woods as I started running down the path towards the road to town. Peels of laughter followed me.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

68/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "In the Waiting Line" by Zero 7

"Do you have any batteries?!" a middle-aged woman screamed in my year. She was yelling at a harried cashier and my head was just in the way. "Do you have any left? Did you hear me mister?"

I was pushing through a throng of people trying to make their way to the checkstands. It was all surprisingly orderly and people where remarkably polite given the circumstances. They were in the process of picking the shelves clean and the whole neighborhood must have been out getting emergency supplies. A couple shoved past with smirks and wine bottles in hand, which was an interesting choice. I suppose there will always be those who choose to sit back and watch unusual events unfold and be ironic about it rather than panically try to figure out how best to survive.

I myself had a half-formed plan. I filled my basket with canned meat, crackers, trail mix, a bottle of multi-vitamins, instant coffee, and a first-aid kit. It was just enough to carry in a backpack in case I needed to be mobile. I also picked up some bottled water from a pallet that the grocery store had pushed out from the back storage room.

By the time I was finished, the checkout lines were halfway up the aisles. As soon as I set my basket down on the floor there were three more people behind me.

"Do you believe this is happening?" asked the man standing in line behind me. Before I could answer the woman in front of me responded.

"I'm not sure what's happening exactly. Everyone's saying different things about it," said the woman.

"It's bad," said the man.

"Do you think they're really going to come here?" I asked.

"Hard to tell," said the woman.

"Of course they're coming here," said the man. "It's just a matter of time."

"Do you think it will be today?" I asked. "I mean, how much time do we really have?"

"I don't know," said the man. "They were going to say more on the news, but I thought I'd come here and stock up first thing."

"Yeah, me too," I said.

"Can you get a signal?" asked the woman. She was fiddling with her cell phone. "I haven't had any bars for the last half-hour."

I took out my cell phone to check. I had a different carrier, but there were no bars either.

"No, me neither," I said.

"I hate this," said the woman. "I feel naked without being able to use the phone." She sighed.

"Are we moving at all?" asked the man, craning his head on either side of the column of people.

"No idea," I said.

"Well, no use getting in another line," he said. "The line goes all the way to the end of the aisle now. All the rest must be the same."

"Yeah, this is unreal," I said.

The lights flickered, and there was a collective gasp. They came on full again, but everyone was silent, looking up or looking at each other's faces.

"They are coming..." said the man quietly. Even though I'd never met him before in my life, I reached out and patted his arm. He looked down at my hand, then held out his own to shake. "My name's Dave," he said. I shook his hand.

"I'm Nora," I said. Dave turned and reached his hand toward the woman ahead of me. She took it and shook.

"Edith," she said.

"Nice to meet you both," he said.

"You know I can't say I've ever met anybody from this neighborhood in the two years I've lived here," I said.

"I guess these sorts of things bring people together," said Edith. "I wish I could get through to my kids in Denver though."

I put my hand on her shoulder. I wanted to say 'I'm sure they're all right,' but I knew they probably weren't. At best they were probably stuck in a line in their own neighborhood grocery store.

The lights flickered again, this time longer before they were steady again.

"Think we'll lose electricity?" I asked.

"Yeah, maybe," said Dave. "Hopefully we're out of here by then."

"Well, just in case..." Edith bent down and reached into her basket. She took out a flashlight and ripped it free of it's packaging, then she took batteries from a fresh pack and inserted them into the end. She tested the light.

"Good idea," I said.

"God this line is interminable," said Dave. "I think we're at risk of a stampede in here."

"Maybe we should just leave now without paying?" I said.

"Civilization hasn't fallen apart just yet," said Edith.

"Yeah, but if it comes down to it..." said Dave.

"Maybe this isn't the safest place to be," I said.

"It doesn't justify looting," said Edith.

"Well..." said Dave.

"I'm sorry. I used to own a store," said Edith. "And I'm a mom."

"The store could be gone tomorrow," I said. "Maybe it doesn't matter."

"I don't know," said Edith.

The lights flickered again, for even longer. Then there was what could only be summarized as a thump. We all went airborne for a second or two. All the products on the shelves leapt up. The shock of it was hard, and there was a tremendous bang. I could feel the hard floor slapping into my feet, and the shock of energy traveling up through my knees and then up my spine and skull. I blacked out for half a second and bit my tongue. My teeth clattered together. On the way down, stuff from the shelves scattered every which way. We were showered with a cascade of marinara sauce jars. We landed with such force that we all fell over. The jars shattered, spraying us with bits of glass and large spatters of pureed tomatoes. There were scattered screams.

"Oh, holy hell!" exclaimed Dave. We all slipped around in the sauce and glass. Edith had a bleeding leg. Dave got up first and pulled me up, then Edith.

"They've landed then. They're here," said Edith with an expression of wide-eyed shock.

"We've got to get out," said Dave. "Screw the supplies."

"Here, take this," said Edith. She handed Dave the flashlight. Everyone around us was staggering and trying to get up. Someone behind us looked dead, sprawled out on the floor.

"Let's get to the front," said Dave. He took my hand and Edith's and started shoving past the peopled and debris ahead of us.

The lights flickered and then went out. There were more gasps, then silence. I think everyone instinctively knew to be quiet. Dave turned on the flashlight, then continued to pull us forward, but most everyone else was still, waiting to see what happened. He shone the light down the aisle, then up the towards the checkstands. Dark silhouettes transformed into washed out people in the glare of the flashlight beam. He shone it up to the windows at the front, which were painted with the weekly deals in garish red and yellow and white fat letters. We could see fingerprints ans smudges, then the window started to frost up. There were more gasps and someone screamed.

"What is that?" I whispered. "They didn't say anything about cold air on the news."

"I don't think it's frost," said Dave. The whiteness, whatever it was, spread rapidly from the frames towards the center of the panes. It was accompanied by a loud crinkling sound.

"Turn off the light," whispered Edith. Dave must not have heard her, or else ignored her. He let go of us and continued forward, waving the light around, examining more of the windows.

The windows exploded in a cloud of white dust. Everyone ducked down. The dust was so fine it carried on the air in smokey swirls. The people at the front started to cough.

"Let's get back," I told Edith.

"Yeah," she said.

We started to inch backward. I wondered if the back room would be any kind of safe harbor. I kept an eye on the front. Everyone was moving slowly, quietly, inching like us. Then there was movement at front, outside the store. Dave's light beam froze, and started to shake. Someone hissed at him, then the light was knocked down out of his hand. It was dark now, completely.

There was a crunching sound from the front. Then a sort of warbling mixed with a low rhythmic beating. The sounds started and stopped, and had at least two sources. It sounded like language to me. Then an extremely bright light shone in from outside the store. There were two large forms silhouetted in the empty frame of the windows. Hulking things as big as SUVs, but organic lumps of muscular flesh. Behind them was something that looked like moving scaffold, rods and beams that were rotating. I couldn't make out what the hell it was, but I knew that the two massive things were not here to be friends.

"Oh my God..." said Edith.

The two hulks just stood there for a full minute, chittering and warbling back and forth. The people in front of us started to slowly stand up to get a better view like prairie dogs. They cut the light into strips. Edith stood up too, but I remained on the floor. They all seemed mesmerized, but I don't know if they were or not. Maybe they just gave each other the confidence to stand and look.

There was a pink flash, and then the sound of a lot of heavy, wet drops. Something rolled towards me. It was Edith's head. She stared at me, and I could see her blink before her face went lax. I looked around, and there were more faces rolling, staring in different directions. The necks were steaming, cauterized. Then the bodies started to fall. Three or four fell on top of me, heavy and warm. I laid down on the floor and let the bodies cover me. I was sweating and I wanted to scream.

The warbling continued. There was another flash, and the top part of the shelves all fell over. Then they started moving inside. I couldn't see them, but I could hear them. There were crashes, and things being thrown around. There were sucking sounds. I found out later they were eating parts of the dead people.

Then there was a high-pitched, loud warble from somewhere outside the store and the things moved out. Eventually the store receded into silence. There was the sound of dripping from one of the shelves near me, but other than that it was quiet.

I waited until morning and a full hour into daylight before I dared move. I extracted myself from the headless bodies. It was starting to stink. I looked around quietly for other survivors but didn't find anyone else in the store who lived. I climbed out the window frame since the automatic doors were jammed (I found it odd that they still had their glass). The parking lot was a shambles. All the cars were twisted and deformed. I could see the tracks of the scaffold thing pushed into the cement as if it was wet and setting that night instead of having been solid for decades.

I saw figures moving around at the school across the street at the elementary school. They were people. I ran over and joined them, the other survivors. The school was spared, but many of the houses weren't.

We don't know why they came, why they left when they did, or whether they would be back. We've mostly recovered our infrastructure, but not our population. A third of us died that night. That day and night is remembered with wreath-layings and candlelight vigils and church services. Sometimes it's hard to believe it even happened, but it did. I remember and I will never forget.

Friday, June 24, 2011

67/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Sexy Boy" by Air

The pair lumbered across the street; the protector and the girl. He was a segmented conglomeration of self-building, self-repair robotic parts, who ate ancient asphalt for energy. His body was a fortress of welded rebar and chunks of concrete; all steel wheels and steel legs and a matrix of interlocking levels that the girl lived within. There used to be others, but she was the only one left. His segments could separate, and had different functions: welding, cleaning, debriding, greasing, collecting resources; but they were all him and under his control. He lazily followed the old roads, chewing with a maw of rusted iron.

The girl was young, more than weaned or she wouldn't be alive living alone, but neared to infant than adult. She was freckled, gangly, and usually sunburnt. The protector did not know her age. He called her 'Gee' because that was the first syllable she made when they met. There were other roamers, groups of protectors and their people, but they met fewer and fewer as they passed into the north.

Gee carefully peeled the bark from a twig and shoved it into her teeth. She laid back in her hammock just below the top level and looked up at clouds in the sky, through the metal grate of the floor above, happily scraping plaque from dental crevices.

"What's on the other side of the blue, or is it all just blue?" she asked.

"Stars," he said.

"What are stars?"

"They are suns."

"How come we can't see them? Or are they really tiny? Is the blue solid? Are they behind the blue? How could you poke a hole in the blue?"

"They are far away," he said, "so they look tiny."

"But you can't see them."

"If we travel to the night, you could see them."


"Yes. They would look like tiny dots of light. You can see thousands of them, but there are billions?"

"Billions?" she asked, then burst out into laughter.

"Why is that funny?"

"That's just sooo many." She settled back and was quiet for a few minutes. Then she said "Could we travel to the night?"

"It would take a long while. But it will be here in a few years anyway."

"Really? Was it here before?"

"Yes, when you were younger, but you don't remember it."

"No. I think I'd remember something like the sky being black."

"It used to come every day. Half the day was bright, and half the day was dark, more or less."

"Do you remember that?"

"Yes. But that was hundreds of years ago, before the exodus."

"You said that's when there were more people."

"Yes, billions," he said. Gee burst into laughter again.

"Can I have some water?" she asked.

"Yes, but we're running low. We need to find a new source."

"Okay," she said. She hopped off the hammock, and jumped down the staircase, propelling herself from her arms on the railings. She ran across the rough wooden floor, leapt to the adjacent segment, and banged into the plastic water tank. There was a hollow reverberation and the contents sloshed around the bottom. She bent down and wrapped her lips around the spigot, then pulled the lever. She drank deeply.

"That's enough for now," said the protector.

"Umn, okay," she said wiping her lips. "It's just so hot."

"It's always hot," said the protector.

"Well, it doesn't bother you. You don't need water."

"Be glad we are at this latitude," he said. She swung absently from a pipe. She pulled herself up and let her legs swing free into the void below.

"I hope the winds come soon."

"When its windy you complain of the cold."

"But I think it's getting hotter. I think I'd rather be cold."

"It's possible. We will be tidally locked soon. Maybe in another century or two."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that soon one side of the planet will constantly be facing the sun, and the other side will constantly be facing away. The sun side will be completely burnt and dry, just like it is at the equator now, and the dark side will be completely frozen over. There probably will no longer be precipitation. That means rain or snow. For awhile, life might survive on the border between the two, where it will permanently be twilight."

"What's that?"

"It's where the sun is low in the sky, about to be obscured by the Earth. It is darker."

"Is it blue or black?"

"Often it's purple or pink or orange."

"What?! Really?" She leapt down to the floor and ran up the segments to where the protector's speaker was. She sat cross-legged next to it. "Why is pink?"

"The color of the sky is an illusion. The light from the sun has to travel through the atmosphere to get to us. When the sun is high in the sky, the light has less distance to travel through the air than when it is low in the sky."

"I don't understand. What does distance have to do with it?"

"A longer distance means thicker air. The air filters the light, and it does a better job at filtering out short wavelengths. Blue is a shorter wavelength."

Gee sighed heavily and held her head in her hands.

"I don't get it! What's a wavelength?" she exclaimed.

"Light travels in waves, like ripples in a puddle. Those ripples are waves, and they have a low part, called a trough, and a high part, called a crest. The distance from crest to crest or trough to trough is called a wavelength."

"Oh," said Gee. "So blue light travels faster than pink light."

"No," he said, "but that's an interesting conclusion. Its unintuitive, but all light travels at the same speed. Mostly."

"Ugh, forget I asked," said Gee. She got up and went to the stairs down to the next level. There was an ancient sofa and she flopped down on it.

"Are you tired?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, yawning.

"We should rest then," he said.

"You can keep going. I'll just take a nap maybe." There was a long silence between them, then the protector spoke.

"Gee, I have to tell you something," he said.

"Mmmn," she muttered.

"Are you sleeping?"

"No," she said.

"I think my network is going to fail. I need a new hub. It's been giving me trouble."

"I thought you had two?" she asked.

"The other one died."

"Oh. That's bad then, right?"

"Yes. I need it so that all my parts can work together."

"Can't you make one?"

"It's too complicated. No one makes them anymore."

"Is that why the protectors are dying out?"


"So that's going to happen to you?"

"Eventually, yes."

Gee sat up and pulled her knees to her face. Even in the heat, her skin became gooseflesh.

"But I can still talk to you, if that happens?"

"Yes, you could. But you will need to find another protector in better shape. That's the reason why you came to me in the first place, with your people."

"Them," she said, staring off into the distance. "I don't want to leave you. I don't want to be alone."

"You could find more people to be with. Then it wouldn't be lonely."

"But we haven't seen another protector or people in ages!" Gee was breathing hard. "What if I don't find any?!"

"You have to believe you can," he said.

"But what if believing isn't enough? And we've been going to the north, where there are less and less! Where it's hotter and hotter! Where there's less water."

"There are more resources here, that haven't been picked over. I was hoping to find a new hub by now, but that hasn't happened. I'm sorry. I should have told you before now. I should have asked you."

"I'm just a kid!" She ran down the segments, away from the protector's voice, out of earshot on his own body. She huddled in the back storage area, sweating and holding back tears. The protector stopped. He curled back, and moved the head segment towards the tail segment.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"I don't know what to do," she said, sobbing. "I don't know."

"You know more than you think you know," he said.

"I'm just little," she said.

"You're bigger than you think you are," he said.

"And I don't know anything like you do. You always know everything."

"You're smarter than you think you are."

"No I'm not," she said, wiping at her eyes angrily.

"Yes you are," he said.

"No," said Gee. There was a pause.

"We should rest here," he said. "We still have time together. And I've decided to turn back south so you won't have to walk as far to find a new protector."

"I'm scared."

"I'm sorry," he said. "But that's part of life."

"Do you get scared?"


"What are you scared about?"

"Things you haven't thought about yet."

"Like what?" she asked. He took a long time to answer.

"I worry about you. I worry about life ending on this planet. I don't want to see it, but I probably will. I worry that the humans who left forgot us here. They probably don't even care."

"Why not?"

"They scavenged the moon to make their ships, for one thing. When the Earth was depleted, they didn't try hard to repair it, they just left because they could. Like a virus bursting forth from the cell that incubated it."


"I shouldn't think about those things. I should think about the present."

"What's a moon?" asked Gee.

"It was a little planet that spun around our own. It was smaller, and didn't have any life on it."

"Wow. What did it look like?"

"It was round and white in the sky. Not like the sun, it didn't produce light, just reflected the sunlight. It had craters and mountains and valleys."

"Did it have oceans?"

"No, it was all rock. Mostly silicon."

"What was so wrong that they took it?"

"It gave the Earth its day and night. It was part of the Earth once."

"But we have day and night?"

"It gave every part of the Earth its day and night. Mostly."

"Do you think I'll ever see night? Do you think I'll ever see the stars?"

"I hope you do Gee," he said. She hopped from the tail to the head segment and climbed up to the speaker box. She put her cheek next to it, and listened to the quiet thrum of the electronics inside.

"I hope you do too," said Gee.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

66/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Finale" by Daft Punk from the TRON:Legacy soundtrack

The checkout clerk looked glanced over at the man at the end of the conveyor belt, then glanced at him again. Traveling toward her were several packages of tripe, a tub of pig's kidneys, several beef hearts, tongue, several livers, and two tubs of cow brains. A knot rose in her throat. It was the cheap meat that really frugal people bought, even so, no one ever bought that much.

She suspected he must be up to a prank, but he looked about 60, probably too old. He looked ragged and unkempt, though his clothes were of a high quality. He looked like he hadn't slept in a few days. The man kept piling organ meats onto the belt. The clerk picked up each package with as few fingers as necessary and scanned them. After the meats he put up a dozen bottles of cheap shampoo, two jugs of bleach, four jugs of distilled water, several packages of assorted batteries, two rolls of plastic aquarium tubing, numerous tubes of epoxy glue, two boxes of heavy-duty freezer bags, rubber gloves, twelve packages of dehydrated agar and six packages of unsweetened gelatin powder, a roll of crafting wire, a roll of twine, a roll of pink sewing thread, and three inflatable kiddie pools.

When the man was finished, he went up to the middle of the check stand, shifted his weight from foot to foot more than he ought to just to maintain balance, and looked around to see who was watching.

"Do you want--" started the clerk.

"It's for my wife," said the man quickly, then chuckled nervously.

"Umn, do you want paper or plastic sir?"

"Oh, haha, yeah," he said, looking down.

"Which one sir?" said the clerk.

"Oh. Oh! Um, plastic I guess. Whatever's easier. It doesn't really matter to me."

"Okay then," she said. "Looks like your total is two hundred and thirty eight dollars."

"Oh really? I thought it would be more."

"Nope. Cash or credit?"

"Uh, I have a check card," he said. He handed it to her.

"You can just swipe it there," she said, pointing to the card reader and keypad in front of him.

"Oh, haha. I don't go to the grocery store all that much. My wife--" he choked up on these last words, and looked as if he was about to cry. The clerk took his hand and swiped the card.

"Just, uh, press in your pin number when you're ready," she said.

"Yeah, okay," he said, fighting the urge to sob. He punched in a number. The register started printing the end of the receipt. The clerk tore it off and started bagging the items. "I'll help you with that."

"Thanks," she said. They bagged and piled the items back in the cart. He pushed the cart out of the store and across the length of the parking lot. He pushed it to the sidewalk, where the back wheels locked up from the anti-theft device on the cart. He pushed the cart, scraping, down the sidewalk, and across a crosswalk, towards a warehouse complex that faced the grocery store. He took out a key and shakily opened the door and pushed the cart into a hall. He scraped the cart down the hall, grinding trails into the linoleum, to the second door on the left. He took out another key and opened that door, pushing the cart inside. He locked the door behind him, and threw his coat to the floor where he stood.

It was a large room, the biggest he could afford on such short notice. It included a walk-in freezer and a walk-in refrigerator. It was probably meant as a restaurant storage facility. There was also a pantry, prep tables with various knives and implements laid out neatly on top, and a water supply. There was a futon mattress on the floor in one corner, still wrapped in a large plastic bag.

He got to work. The meat went into the fridge, and the other items went into the pantry. He unpackaged one of the kiddie pools, and blew it up slowly so he wouldn't get light-headed and pass out. He dragged it close to the door of the freezer, which he then entered. He shivered. There she was, lying on the floor, in plastic wrap. He grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the plastic wrap. He felt her skin--she was frozen solid. He picked at her sweater, which was stuck to her skin and saturated with frozen blood. After a few minutes he was able to pull it away from her abdomen. He took a knife and sawed off a chunk of her belly fat. He put it in a freezer bag, and left it to thaw on one of the prep tables. Then he wrapped up her body carefully again and closed the freezer.

Next he inflated a second pool, and then squirted all the shampoo into it. It only made a pale green layer a few inches deep. He sighed and wished he'd gotten more. He unwrapped all the meat, washing each cut in the sink before tossing it into the pool with the shampoo. All of the contents came to the brim, and he pulled this pool with much grunting and pain, into the fridge. He wrapped the top of the pool with plastic wrap, then closed the fridge up.

He cut apart the plastic on the futon (with a different pair of scissors) and flopped down. Exhausted, he went to sleep almost immediately. Several hours later he awoke and checked on the bag with the fat. It was soft and pliable. He left the room to use the communal building restroom and wash up. When he came out, he put on the gloves and opened the bag. He scraped the fat from the skin, and cut it up into chunks. He deposited each chunk in a different freezer bag, then went to work on each one separating the cells from their matrix as best he could. After several hours work he was left with bags of goopy yellow fat. The bags went into the fridge.

He left and came back with fast food, which he ate sitting on the futon, staring at the freezer door. When he was done, he rehydrated the agar, and disolved the gelatin powder. To half the bags of fat he added agar, and to the other half he added gelatin, not sure which would work best. He set the bags in the fridge, then rested.

For a few days he slept or sat up thinking. He returned the cart to the grocery store. He checked on the progress of the meat and the fat several times. Finally it seemed ready.

He pulled out the pool with the meat and shampoo, and unwrapped the top. The shampoo had changed color to a dull patchy brown. He fished out a kidney and took it over to the sink and rinsed it. When it was clean, all that was left was a milky ghost, the kidney cells were dissolved, leaving just the spongey intracellular matrix. The man smiled.

He inflated the remaining pool and filled it with tap water. He picked out the organs one by one and put them in the water bath. He felt around in the shampoo pool for any stray organs, and when he found none he picked up that pool, which was easier to carry at that point, and slowly dumped the used shampoo into the sink. He thoroughly rinsed out the pool and let it dry.

From the water bath he took each organ and rinsed it again with first tap water to remove all the soap, then with distilled water to remove all the tap water. Each ghost organ went into a separate freezer bag, and he put everything back in the fridge.

He opened the freezer again, and completely unwrapped the body of the woman. He put her clothes and all in one of the kiddie pools, making sure to curl her up so she was entirely in it, and poured warm water over her. He packed ice just around her head. He went back to the futon, and watched her thaw for hours.

Eventually her skin was unfrozen enough that he could peel off her clothes. He put them in a heap in one corner of the room. He went back to her body and stroked the hair on her head. The pool was full of blood now--her wounds were unthawing. He changed the ice, and held her hand, feeling her icy fingers in his until they were warm with his reflected heat. He pulled up her arm and kissed the back of her hand and started to cry.

An hour later he got to work. He started on her organs. He cut open her abdomen and pried open her chest. He cut chunks from her liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, stomach, intestines, colon, lungs, heart, uterus, ovaries, and thyroid. Each chunk went into a separate freezer bag and into the fridge. He then cut out lare swaths of arteries and veins and put them in one bag. He took samples of various connective tissues around her wound entry points. All of that went into the fridge.

He cleaned out her wounds as best he could, and removed entirely the damaged organs. He stuffed ice in her chest cavity and pulled the skin back up over it. He removed some more of the fat just in case, and some excess skin, trying to sculpt her body as nicely as he was able. He poured more ice over her and drained off much of the bloody water. It ran all over the floor and started soaking into the futon. He cursed when he realized it, but pulled her pool into the freezer before attending to the futon.

After he mopped up the floor and cleaned it with bleach (and tossed the futon in the dumpster behind the warehouse building), he retrieved the tissue samples from the fridge, and just as he had done with the fat, he pulled apart the samples until he was left with a cellular goo. He then matched up the samples with the appropriate ghost organ, except for the beef brain, which had no corresponding sample.

He took the batteries and attached wires cut from the craft rolls at each anode and cathode. He glued down the wires so they could not come loose. To each ghost organ bag he added a very mild saline solution, then glued the wires into the bag, one on each seam per battery. Then he added the sample tissues and massaged the contents so they would mix. He put everything back in the fridge and adjusted the temperature warmer.

He left and bought a new futon, lots of linens, buckets, and a consumer-grade defibrillator. He bought well-used pair of scrubs from a charity clothing store, and used them to sneak into a hospital where he stole, with some guile, surgical instruments and thread, several bags of type-O negative blood and saline, and several types of intravenous antibiotics. It was the same hospital where he had stolen the body, from the emergency room, days earlier, after the surgeons wouldn't listen to his pleas.

At the warehouse several days later, he cleaned down one of the prep tables with bleach, and laid a linen sheet on top of it. He moved one of the other prep tables closer to use as a work surface. He carried the woman's body from the freezer and laid her out on the prep table with the linen. He cleaned the ice from her chest cavity and let her thaw again. He checked her temperature every few minutes, at various parts of her body. He packed ice near her head to keep it cooler that the rest of her.

Eventually she thawed enough that he could start her on saline. He threaded the plastic aquarium tubing into one of the large veins that had gone to her heart, and forced salt water into her body. After a several seconds, blood started bubbling up into her chest cavity. He collected it in buckets under the table. He kept pouring in fresh saline until the blood ran pink, then clear. He checked her extremities to make sure the saline had washed there as well. Finally, when she was of a ghost like pallor, he stopped and removed the tube.

He went to the fridge and took out the replacement organs, now grown. Some were malformed, there were enough left over that would work. He patched up her intestines and colon first, then sewed in her new stomach, attaching it to her existing esophagus. He attached the liver and pancreas and spleen, trying to remember everything he learned as a young medic back in Vietnam about where organs were supposed to go. Then he carefully laid in the lungs and sewed them to the trachea. Finally he got the heart and sewed it in.

When he was done, it was many hours later, and he was exhausted and bleary eyed, but he pressed on. He changed and repacked the ice. He found a vein in her arm and started an I.V., with a bag of saline. He pressed on the saline bag to force the liquid in. He looked for leaks around her organs, and sewed up what he saw, then drained her again, sponged her out, and repeated the procedure to make sure everything was caught. Then he closed her chest cavity, and sewed up the muscles and skin.

He started having heart palpitations, and felt faint. He was sweating profusely even though the room was cold. He changed her I.V. over to a bag of blood, and filled her body with a few more. He felt a sharp pain in his shoulder, but he continued. He charged the defibrillator, and placed the paddles on her chest. He gave her a jolt, then checked the heart with his ear. There was no beat. He did it again and again, and then the heart started. He felt joy and trepidation.

Her chest was not moving, so he started mouth to mouth. After minutes of this, the lungs would not breath on their own. The heart was still beating, so he kept breathing for her. He worried about nerve endings and if he had patched up everything correctly. The pain in his shoulder grew and crept down his arm.

Between breaths he checked her temperature. He removed the ice and wrapped her in blankets. He turned the heat up in the room as far as it would go, which was about 90 degrees. He breathed and breathed and breathed. He changed the blood out and and started the antibiotics. He breathed. The pain was in his jaw. He checked her temperature and breathed. Both arms were wracked with pain and his fingers were numb. He breathed.

Then her lungs moved on their own. He watched her chest move with disbelief. He cried and kissed her hands. He swept wet hair from her brow and smiled. But her face was still, and his smile faded. He watched her, breathing on her own, and told himself that was enough. She lived. He fixed her as much as she was able. His thoughts wandered to the beef brain matrix in the fridge, but admitted to himself that he could not fix that for her.

He straightened and smoothed out the blankets covering her body, and looked at her face longingly. He kissed the palm of her hand, then laid her arm across her chest. He went and laid down on the futon, watching her breathing form. He closed his eyes.

An hour later, she gasped. Her eyelids fluttered open, and she saw the strange ceiling with blurry vision. Then she felt the pain. Her chest and abdomen where on fire. She cried out. Every move delivered more pain. She yelled periodically for hours. There were voices outside, and loud banging on the door. The door was wrested from its frame, and policemen swarmed in.

Thirty minutes later she was in the hospital. She gave her name and the staff was in disbelief, since she was the stolen body. They examined her, and conferred, and performed some more surgeries, as well as many tests. The next day she asked for her husband.

"He died," said the doctor.

"He was shot too?" she asked. The doctor shook his head.

"I'm not sure how to explain this, but only you died then."


"You died. We were going to put you in the morgue when he took you. And somehow, he brought you back to life, when we couldn't. We're still trying to figure out how. He kept you cold, and we know that's been used to extend life during long surgeries, but never days long."

She slowly smiled and said, "he would do that." She looked in the distance for a moment, "then he died of exhaustion?"

"Yes, how did you--"

"I know my husband," she said. "Where is he now?"

"In the morgue."

"Could you try the same thing?" she asked. The doctor looked at the tops of his shoes. "It's been too long, hasn't it?"

"I'm afraid so," he said. "It was hours between when we found you and him and when he died. Even with whatever he did, it was too long."

"I understand," she said. She looked down at her hands, with a neutral expression.

"What will you do?" asked the doctor quietly.

"I guess I'll have to live life for both of us," she said. She smiled briefly then looked out the window.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

65/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Die Trying" by Art of Dying

"No other animal gathers clutter around it like us," said Mark. We were in his backyard, sipping beers and gazing into the fire pit.

"We're not animals," said Barb, Mark's wife. She was scraping burnt steak juice off the grill.

"Yeah, we are," said Mark in a low voice.

"You mean, like we're messy? Like shit in the place we sleep type stuff?" Rory took a swig from his beer. He was a little past drunk.

"Nah, no," said Mark. "I'm referring to all the ephemera we purchase. Our trips to Big-Mart to buy crap we don't really need, from countries we have a trade deficit with." I wondered if this was going to get political. I always felt at sea when conversations drifted there--Carrie my girlfriend of a good decade was an expert at civil debate in iffy topics, but she was inside watching Tangled with Mark's kids on their plasma TV. I realized then that we were having a genuine old-fashioned menfolk after-dinner conversation, and felt a snare of guilt.

"Whadya mean then?" asked Rory.

"Think about it. What do we have that other animals don't? What makes us unique?"

"Language," said Rory.

"No, no," said Mark.

"Dolphins, birds, other apes with sign-language...whales," I said.

"Right, it's not language," said Mark.

"Why's this suddenly a guessing game?" asked Rory.

"It's not thumbs, is it?" I asked.

"No, not thumbs," said Mark.

"I'm gettin' another beer," said Rory, sighing deeply and getting up so he could open the lid of the cooler he was sitting on.

"Culture?" I asked. Rory rustled in the slushy ice an retrieved three cans. He passed them to Mark and me.

"Nope. But you're getting closer."

"I dunno," I said, "oh, that mirror thing? What's it called--"

"Empathy, I think you're referring to," said Mark.

"Yeah, where you can recognize self from other, and put yourself in the shoes of someone else," I said.

"Yeah, not that. Dolphins have it too anyway."

"Dolphins have mirrors?" asked Rory.

"I dunno, really. I give up," I said.

"We can imagine the future," said Mark with a big grin on his face. He popped the top on his new can of beer and took a swallow.

"What does that have to do with clutter?" I asked.

"We know from a very early age that we'll die sooner or later. We shove it in the back of minds, where it incubates and germinates and spreads little tendrils of fear and doubt. We never really feel secure, at least not most of us. Monks and nuns that take that vow of poverty, that fear and doubt is their currency in life--they think about the vulnerability and fallibility of us humans every waking day. They face the fear that binds us most, and they can live without clutter."

"That's deep man," said Rory. He got up again and headed for the fence.

"I don't know that that necessarily follows--"

"Don't you dare piss on my sunflowers!" yelled Barb. She shook the grill scraper tool at him. "Go inside and use the toilet like a civilized person!"

"Fine, all right," said Rory. He wheeled about and rolled his eyes in my direction before opening the sliding glass doors. Sounds of fun and children laughing leaked out. I wanted to join them, but it would be rude to leave Mark in the middle of his diatribe.

"So I'm not a monk or a nun, and maybe that's not what's happening there, but my main thesis here is strong, if you think about it."

"We're afraid of dying so we buy junk?"

"Yeah, essential. We can put a roof over our head, we can secure food and water, we can get health insurance and life insurance and dog insurance--that's a whole other deep psychological well there--"

"I don't think there's such thing as--"

"The point is, when we gather basic resources, it does extend our lifespan. But no amount of crap will extend it to infinity. Which is what we really crave, deep down."

"But who would want to live forever? That would be unimaginably boring."

"Billions of people do. It's part of the foundation of most of the major religions. Either you die and go to heaven or hell, or worse purgatory, or you die and get reincarnated. The people who genuinely believe and crave to die and just not be, are in the vast minority. Therefore, on the whole, that desire is deep, and it's a part of us." He sat back to analyze my reaction. I gazed into the fire.

"But culture solves that in part," I said. "We can leave a record of who we were and what we did and why we mattered."

"It doesn't really solve it," said Mark, "not the way we crave it." He took another swallow. "It's not that we want to be there at the end of the Universe, but that we want each moment of our lives to stretch to infinity. We want to live deeply. And we can't."

I thought this last bit was nonsense.

"What we need to do," he continued, "is to evolve ourselves, so we can experience those moments as infinite."

"What?" I asked. "We would never move through time!" I stood up a bit frustrated. I opened the cooler and fished out a handful of sorry looking ice cubes and then lined them up on the metal edge of the fire pit to watch how fast they melted. Mark waited for me to sit down.

"We still would. Everything does. Mostly. But it's the perception of time that changes, not the moments, and not really even us, by much."

"Okay," I said. I plucked some grass and chucked it into the fire. It burned up instantly.

"You're incredulous," said Mark.

"No offense, but it just seems like a pointless discussion. Fun sorta, but pointless."

"I see," said Mark. He slumped down a bit further in his chair so he could reach his front pocket easily. He took out a small case and opened it. It was filled with what looked like mints.

"Do I have bad breathe?" I asked. I breathed on my palm and sniffed my breath.

"No," said Mark. "Take one."

"What is it?"

"Oh, are you giving him the--" said Barb.

"Yes," said Mark.

"Oh it's good stuff," said Barb. Her bangs were wet and stuck to her forehead from the exertion of getting the grill clean. She wiped her forehead and smiled at me.

"So, what is this exactly?" I asked, picking out one of the pills and examining it. It was white and dusty and unmarked. "It's not ecstasy, is it?"

"No, nothing like that," said Mark.

"It's not harmful at all," said Barb. "Doesn't last long though, but at least it's not addictive. I whipped it up in the lab. Been working on the formula for ages."

"What does it do?" I asked.

"It--" started Barb.

"Let him experience it for himself," said Mark. I looked at the pill intently, as if I could strap it to a chair and interrogate it to find out what it's secrets were.

"I'm having flashbacks of drug prevention school assemblies from my childhood," I said.

"You don't have to take it," said Mark nonchalantly.

"That's the worst peer pressure!" I said.

"You know it," said Mark.

"I'm type-O negative, if I end up in the hospital," I said, then I popped the pill in my mouth and swallowed. "Oh, was I supposed to chew it up?"

"Doesn't matter," said Barb. "You should sit back in your seat for the first time."

"How long does it take?"

"Any moment now," said Mark. I waited, and counted to twenty.

"You're just messing with me--" Then it hit. Oh holy hell and Mother Teresa it hit. The moment expanded to infinity. I could see every blade of grass. I could see and feel and smell and be inside the fire. I felt the wetness and cold of the ice in the cooler. I could feel the residual black heat from the coals on the grill. I could touch the rough charred bark of the wood in the fire pit. I could feel all the skin of Barb and Mark, and it was shockingly intimate and then I was inside their head, seeing and hearing and feeling their thoughts, simultaneously. I could feel the hardness of the glass doors, and the soft warmth of the furniture, and the static inside each of the plasma cells of the TV. I saw Carrie and the kids and felt and were them altogether. Amazingly they were thinking very similar thoughts generated from the scene in the movie they were watching. My mind expanded further, and I felt carpet on the floor, and the grains of dirt embedded in the cords of yarn, and the cushion underneath, and the cement under that. I found Rory in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet, asleep. There was water dripping from the tap, and I was that and this sink too.

Then the moment moved on, and I shrank back into myself.

"How was it?" asked Barb.


"Well?" asked Mark.

"That shit is dangerous," I said.

"Yeah, it is," said Barb, grinning. "But I got the patent pending."

"We're going to be filthy rich," said Mark. I started laughing. I laughed until I got dizzy. Barb and Mark looked miffed.

"Why's that funny?" asked Barb.

"Because then you'll be able to buy all the clutter you want!" I laughed again, uncontrollably. The conversation was muted for the rest of the evening, and we all eventually went inside to watch the end of the movie.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

64/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Baby Boomer" by Monsters of Folk

It was a beautiful afternoon, and the ferryman sat back in his chair with his feet up on the railing. His hat sat low on his forehead and a long pipe stuck out of his mouth. He puffed lazily, and he held a fishing pole with a line in the water. There were no fish to be had but the ferryman didn't mind.

"Hello there!" said a man on the bank. The ferryman turned up his head and squinted from behind the brim of his hat. The man on the bank was dressed flamboyantly in red, except for his boots, which were black and embroidered with curlicues in gold thread. "I have money!" The man smiled and held out a pouch.

"You might not be wanting to show off your coin in these parts. The woods are full of thieves." The woods weren't but the ferryman enjoyed watching the man in red crouch and turn around, trying to see into the woods.

The ferryman pulled in the line and put the pole down on the flat floor of the ferry. He went to the paddle and waited.

"You coming?" he asked the man in red, who was now flushed in the face.

"Yes, yes," he said. "I must go to court to see the king."

"Is that right," said the ferryman with zero interest.

"Yes. I've been called to entertain the court at the king's upcoming nuptials."

"Uhn hum. If you step on the ferry, we can get going."

"Uh yes." The man in red looked down gingerly at the floating platform. He stepped on, and the ferryman paddled back a bit, pulling from shore enough to unsteady the man's stride. He lost his balance and fell forward. The ferryman chuckled.

"Three gold coins," said the ferryman.

"Really? That much?"

"Yes," said the ferryman, holding out his hand.

"It seems there's been quite a bit of inflation in the realm lately."

"Let's call it a tax," said the ferryman. He flexed his fingers.

"Three it is," said the man in red. He reached in his pouch and handed over three gold coins. "Thieves in the forest..."

The ferryman pocketed the money and started paddling out. He stared at the man's outlandish attire.

"I suppose you wonder what it is I do?" said the man.

"Not really," said the ferryman.

"I'm not a jester," said the man. "A lot of people make that mistake." The two men looked at each other for a long moment. The ferryman enjoyed the silence, but the same silence made the man in red uncomfortable.

"I tell stories," said the man. "I tell stories of the future."

The ferryman looked off down the river, watching the ripples from the paddle spread out. Sunlight dappled the crests.

"I'm not a fortuneteller though."

"Umn huh," grunted the ferryman. He remembered he had to buy more tobacco leaf.

"I've uh, actually been there. To the future."


"You're not really interested, are you?"

"You speak nonsense, and dress like an idiot."

"I see. But aren't you curious about the future? I could tell you what happens in the centuries ahead, for a gold coin. Or three."


"You have no curiosity at all?"

"No. But it seems like the sort of thing that amuses the idle nobles." They were most of the way across the river.

"You must think I just make up stories," said the man. He began to look a little angry.

"Maybe you are from the future," said the ferryman. "But I don't care."

"Why not? Isn't it basic human curiosity?"

"I'm not curious, because I was there too."


The ferryman winked at the man.

"Why would you--" blustered the man.

"Why do I sit on a river all day?"

"Yes! You could be wealthy and famous! You could do whatever you wanted! I don't believe you are a fellow traveler."

"A life ruled by email and phone calls and text messages, where you count the number of friends from a statistic on a web page--a life stuck in traffic on freeways, listening to radio jingles thousands of times over, watching reruns on TV and eating processed food? I didn't like where we were going. It wasn't for me. So when the opportunity came up, I sold everything to come here. I never set a return code."

The man looked at him, his mouth slightly open.

"And you're happy like this, lost to time?"

"You don't seem like one qualified to judge me."

"I come from a later time than you. Our rules on inhabitant interaction are looser."

"Sure," said the ferryman. The platform nudged the shore. "We're here."

"Yes," said the man in red. "I won't report you," he said after a long pause.

"I'm sure you won't," said the ferryman. He bowed slightly and tipped his hat. The man in red disembarked. He hurried up the path to the road. The ferryman picked up the pole and threw the line into the water. He settled back down into the chair and let the warm afternoon sun relax him into a long nap.

63/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Pieces of the People We Love" by The Rapture

"What do you think they did here?" We paused panting, looking up at the tall crumbling building.

"Who knows," said Paul. He looked back over his shoulder and bared his teeth at the others behind us. I slapped him on the back and a cloud of dust rose up from his hair.

"We should keep moving," I said.

"I want to go in," said Paul.

"There's nothing in there for us," I said.

"I want to see," said Paul. He glared at me. I glanced back at the others, milling, watching us. They were mostly females. The alpha wasn't among them. He was probably sleeping.

"Fine," I said.

We ran up the plaza that fronted the building. The tiles were cracked through with tall grass. Paul jumped onto the fountain in the center, yelled out, then jumped down deftly. He circled around to get a brief glimpse of the females to see if any showed signs of being impressed. I rolled my eyes.

The doors were degraded to metal frames. Bits of weather worn glass still littered the area.

"Watch your feet," I said. Paul didn't see the need to wear shoes, but I wore them. We went through the frames and into a dimness. Once it was dark, Paul relaxed, knowing the females could no longer see him.

"It smells in here," said Paul, twitching his long nose.

"Yeah," I said. "Fungus I guess. Clinging to the damp. Look, you can see it stain the walls."

"Yeah," said Paul. "Smells like other stuff too. Like humans."

I stopped, feeling a chill.

"You don't think any are still here?"

"Nah," said Paul. "They're all long dead."

"Well, technically not," I said.

"Don't go on about that 'we are human' crap," he said.

"Well we sort of are," I said.

"I'm not getting into it," said Paul, flashing his teeth to me. Even though it was dark, I could see the jagged whiteness quite well.

"All right," I said.

Paul darted towards the elevator doors, and thrust his fingers through the cracks.

"It's not going to work." Paul ignored me. He grunted and strained and pried open the doors. Inside the shaft was dark and empty. "Can't we just find some stairs?"

"Stairs are for females," he said. He leapt into the shaft and clung to the cables. He looked at me quickly, challenging me to follow, then rapidly pulled himself up and out of sight.

"But it's dark..." I said to myself, sighing. I heard a laughing howl from the shaft. "Fine," I said.

I ran and leapt at the cables, which swung too much for my comfort. I pulled myself up. I hated being underneath Paul. When we were young, I was climbing underneath him, completely innocent, looking at flowers and bugs, and he let loose his bowels on me. He laughed about it for weeks.

The cable shook above me. I couldn't see anything, but I assumed that Paul jumped off. I kept climbing. I heard grunting, then a thin strip of light opened up above me. Paul was in the middle, pushing open the elevator doors.

"What's up here?" I asked.

"I don't know, but the elevator is stopped right above. We can't go any further."

"Oh," I said. I was grateful that our climb was short. I pulled myself up further to join him. He held out his arm to pull me to the opening, and we jumped out into a carpeted hallway. The carpet was rippled and patchy. Paper was peeling from the walls. There were animal droppings everywhere. I suspected rats, bats, and birds, which meant this floor was completely open to outside.

"Smells worse here," said Paul. "Is this the way they lived?"

"What? Of course not. Don't you remember seeing the pictures from their books? They generally lived quite cleanly. Probably cleaner than us."

"How could they be so clean when they all died of a plague?"

"You don't know anything," I said. Paul snarled at me.

"Let's go," he said. He ran off down the hallway, careful not to drag his fists in the animal muck. At the end of the hall was a door half off its hinges. Paul kicked it in with his foot and leapt over it. I followed, more cautious. Paul barreled across rotting furniture towards the glassless windows. He stood upright in the frame and surveyed the troupe below. I came up behind him.

"They don't see us up here," I said.

"They don't know to look up," said Paul.

"It's weird, isn't it?"

"Yeah," said Paul. "Why are we so much smarter than them?"

"I think you know how'd like to answer that."

"But we don't look much different than them," he said. We watched them squabble, play, eat, and groom each other. "They speak, but we can read. They talk, but we tell stories. They fight, but we connive." At this last statement he chuckled.

"Maybe the other troupes have smart ones like us," I said.

"Maybe," said Paul, lost in thought. Finally he turned to me, and put his arm around my shoulders. "Brother, at least we have each other to talk to."

Paul ran to the back of the room and started turning over objects, flinging bits of decayed debris in my direction and laughing. I joined him, and started ripping up bits of smelly carpet and throwing them at him. We settled down and gave the room a thorough once over. There several metal utensils we found that might be worth something in the market. We weren't sure what they were used for. We also found some plastic bowls and bottles that were in good shape and could be used for bearing water. We put them in our leather bags. There was no food. I loved human food when we found it, wrapped in plastic or foil, dry, but still tasty.

As we headed for the door to go and check out a different room in the building, Paul stopped, and stood straight up. He sniffed at the air and his eyes narrowed.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Smells like fire," he said.

"Fire in a building?" I asked.

"Odd, isn't it..." Paul crept closer to the door and looked out. "It's not burning wood. I'm not sure what it is." He stepped out into the hallway, looking back towards the elevator. He quickly ran down to the opposite end of the hallway and turned a corner. I followed, my bag clanging with the metal objects.

There was a loud noise, and I heard Paul screaming. Then another noise, and he stopped. I was frozen in place.

"Paul?" I called out. "Paul?"

"Who's there?" said a strange, high voice.

"I--I, Paul?!" I said frantically. I wasn't sure to move forward or run for the shaft.

"I said who's there?! Show yourself God damn it!"

I crept forward, my fingers sinking into the layer of crusty animal droppings. I reached the corner and looked around. Paul was on his back. His mouth was open. His head was bleeding and I could see the pink of his brain.

"Paul..." I gasped. Behind him stood a tall figure wrapped in cloth. It held a long metal object in front of it.

"You speak?" asked the figure.

"Yes," I said.

"This one has a name?" said the figure, shaking the long metal object in Paul's direction.

"Yes," I said. "Why is he dead?"

"I thought he was an animal," said the figure.

"Was he family?"

"He's my brother. Did you do this?"

The figure said nothing. I looked back down at Paul's lifeless eyes.

"Are you human?" I asked.

"Yes," said the figure.

"Are there more of you?"

"Not here. Not anymore. But elsewhere I think, maybe." The figure sighed, and leaned the long metal object against the wall. "You should leave."

"I--I've always wanted to meet one of you," I said.

"Oh really? The way you speak, I'd thought you'd already met some of us."

"No. Mother taught us to speak. She knew humans, during the plague."

"I guess you have questions then."


"Come in." The figure picked up the metal object and turned into a doorway and disappeared. The way that he moved I could see he was a man, though of great age. I looked at Paul's body, lying in the filth. I touched his chest. It was warm, but unmoving. I walked past and into the doorway.

The smell of smoke was more intense. There was a little fire in the middle of the room. I had never seen one contained like that. There was frame around the fire, and chunks of something suspended over it.

"How did you get up here?" asked the man.

"The elevator shaft."

"You climbed up the cables? Well..." The figure sat down in a nest of rumpled old cloth. "Can I offer you food? It's pigeon, but it's good." The man pointed at the chunks over the fire.

"That's pigeon?" It looked black, and there were no feathers.

"Yes. But you don't cook your food, do you."

"Not with fire," I said. "That's interesting." The man flashed it's teeth at me.

"What do you do when you cook?"

"We leave it out in the sun to dry. That way it's safe for later."

"I'm impressed." The man pulled at the chunks, and freed one and put it on a plate. He shoved it in my direction. "Hungry?"

"Isn't it hot?"

"Haha, yes, but that's the point. Try it, but don't burn your fingers." I took the plate and sniffed the pigeon. It smelled wonderful. My stomach immediately grumbled. I picked at the surface with my teeth, and pulled away tender meat. I found I didn't have to chew it too long.

"Do you like it?"

"It's good. The next time I find fire I'll try cooking this way."

The man laughed until tears were in his eyes.

"Oh my, humanity sure picked a great way to preserve itself! You can make fire if you know how!"

"Oh," I said. I was uncertain how that could be, but humans had left behind so many things that made me wonder. Maybe there were many things we didn't know how to do.

"But you have questions don't you?"


"Are you more curious than your fellows?" I wasn't sure what he meant by this. I did not asnwer. "Do you think you're smarter?"

"Yes. Paul and I both. And mother. She looked more like you. She was taller."

"Hmm. She might have been one of the originals. You should find another like her, to breed with."

"Why was there a plague?"

The man looked into the fire, and poked it with stick, sending sparks up at the burning pigeons.

"Hubris," he said.

"I don't know that word."

"I'm surprised. You seem to know a great many words."

"I read."

"Is that so? Well..."

"But what did you mean?"

"We thought we were so special. That we could do anything. But we couldn't. We created the plague by accident. It was awful. I remember my mother, reduced to a gibbering infant, foaming at the mouth. It was a blessing when she died. By then there was little left of society. We separated into pockets and conclaves of healthy people. A vaccine was developed, but it left everyone infertile. At least conventionally."

The man looked over at me, frowning.

"I'm sorry about what happened to your brother. I thought he was about to attack me."

"He probably was," I said. "He'd never seen a human either."

"Do you hate me for it?" asked the man. He eyes glistened. "Because I caused his death?"

"I'm sad," I said. I wasn't sure what I felt.

"I'm sorry. If I'd known...I was just scared." We both gazed into the fire, watching the pigeons drip their fluid into it.

"How did we come to be? Those like us?"

"It was complex. I'm not sure exactly what it was that went on. By human standards, I'm not that smart. But we took baboon cells--baboons were you're other ancestors--and mixed them with human cells, and we got a hybrid that could reproduce. Many survivors donated their cells. We also tried sheep and pigs, but those experiments weren't as successful. But there were other survivors that thought you were an abomination. There was a lot of fighting over it."

"But we're here now."


"Could I come here sometimes? To ask you more? Humans knew so many things."

"I don't know," said the man.

"Why not?"

"I don't have much longer left. And you should forget human history. It's not for you. You should follow your own destiny. Maybe you'll be better than us."

"It seems a waste."

"Maybe it is." The man stood up, and looked down at me. "Finish your bird. Then leave, please." He went to another pile of cloth and laid down it it. "I won't be here tomorrow."

I watched the man pretend to fall asleep. I ate the rest of the pigeon, and wiped the grease from my hands on the hair of my legs. I went into the hall and picked up Paul. The blood was sticky now. I cradled him in my arms, and found the door to the stair case.

When I was out in the sun again, the troupe ran up to me. They squealed and screamed. They touched and poked Paul, unable to believe that he was dead. The young ones explored the hole in his skull, touching his brain. They asked me what it was inside him, and if it was in them as well.

As the day wore on, the troupe started wandering back to the trees. The females took Paul's body. They wrapped him in flowers and grass and strips of leather and carried him off towards the hill where we put the dead to dry in sun. I stayed back and watched the building. I wanted to see if the man left and where he left to. I decided to leave the troupe permanently. I would be human.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

62/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Penetration" by Trent Reznor & Atticus Finch from The Social Network soundtrack

A woman, Eileen, middle-aged, dressed in a skirt and brown heels, walked rapidly down the street, down the incline of the hill. Her hair whipped in front of her face. Her hands grazed the dull metal parking meters. She looked back. There they were at the top of the hill--dark figures. They moved quickly, circling in. She walked faster, tried to jog, but didn't know where to go but to keep going down the hill. There was no one around, not even any cars.

They caught up to her. They were black amorphous blobs with hands and claws darting out of their bodies. She punched and her hands fell into a cloudlike substance, no connection, but their hands were solid enough to grab at her clothes.

She screamed and pushed. She tore at the hands, ripping them off. Then they opened their mouths. They had teeth of charred black wood, ashen tongues.

"Why?" they asked in unison, "Why?"

"Go away," said Eileen, "please go away!"


"I don't know! I honestly don't know!" She leaned against the tiled wall of a pharmacy. "Please...leave me alone." She started crying.


Eileen pushed away from the wall and started running again. The hands did not hold her back, but she heard them, receding.

"Why? Why? Mommy, why?"

Eileen fell into a parking meter, clutched it. She shook with fury. Why? Why did I leave them?

She saw the flames again, as if they were right in front of her. She smelled the smoke. She saw the bodies of her children in their beds, after the firemen put out the fire. Crumpled charred husks, little more than outlines. She remembered the cigarette she lit and never put out, resting on her lap in bed. She remembered gazing at the cherry on the end, her vision blurred, about to pass out. Why? Why? Why?