Sunday, July 31, 2011

104/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Dominique curled her fingers around the lever to the red fire alarm. She pulled, connected with the glass bar, pulled harder, shattered it, popping it apart, then the lever eased toward the floor.

The alarm blared and pulsed. Dominique cringed under the decibel assault; her face flushed. She leaned into the hallway wall, her ear pressed to the painted cement. Dully chairs scraped, on the other side of the wall. Voices. Footsteps. The doors opened, almost all at once, throughout the hall. Inseams shuffled, and soles of shoes scuffed and squeaked across the polished floor. There was laughter and a nonchalance among the students. Dominique pressed closer to the wall.

The hall slowly emptied out into the afternoon. A few students lingered, talking or texting on their cell phones. The alarm broke up the monotony of the day. Dominique turned and slipped into the nearest room. Mr. Carson's room. It was a still and quiet as it was in the evening, but lighter. The windows faced west, so the afternoon sun made golden parallelograms of the desktops. The room smelled of paper and the vinegariness of dry-erase markers. An old map of the United States was pulled down at the front of the room. It swayed slightly in the air conditioning. She had been pressed against that map, her hands on Alaska and Maine. Saskatchewan probably still had her smear of lip gloss. Mr. Carson had refused to kiss her.

Dominique bee-lined for Mr. Carson's desk. His laptop was open on the top, but locked. She reached down and picked it up, started to close the lid, then opened it again. She held the computer briefly before replacing it. She grabbed some ungraded papers from a stack on his desk and crumpled them up individually in little balls, dropping them on the keys of the laptop. She took a lighter from her jeans pocket, the lighter that Mr. Carson had given her on her birthday, and clicked it. She watched the flame for a second, felt the radiance of it on her thumb, then held a paper ball to it. The ball ignited and was quickly engulfed. She dropped it with the others.

"Dom!" he said. He stood in the doorframe. Dominique froze, her skin crawling.

Mr. Carson rushed in and brushed the burning paper off the laptop and to the floor with a sleeved forearm. He stomped on the paper until it was out, then examined the laptop. The keys in the center where soft with the heat and sooty.

"Do you know how much this cost me?" he said, calmly.

"I'm not sorry," said Dominique. She stepped back from the desk, back from Mr. Carson. He put the computer back on the desk and stepped closer to her. Dominique glanced at the open door.

"There's no one here," said Mr. Carson. Dominique stepped back again and bumped into the whiteboard. The map brushed against her shoulder. Mr. Carson stepped forward and pressed one hand into Dominique's hip, and placed the other on Michigan, splaying and flexing his fingers across the Great Lakes. He dug his thumb into her pelvis, in towards her ovary.

"Ow," she said, wincing. She turned her head to the side as tears began to flow. "Stop."

"I say when to stop," said Mr. Carson. He smiled. Dominique turned back to face him.

"They don't love you like I love you," she said.

Mr. Carson relaxed his hand, then moved it up to her waist, running his fingers under the line of her breast.

"Everyone loves me," said Mr. Carson. "They can't help it." He leaned in, breathing in her ear as she trembled. "You're nothing special," he said, grinning.

Dominique shook with crying. She let her hand walk up the wall searching. It clambered across the ledge of the whiteboard, then she stretched out her fingers and found the weighted end of the map. She grabbed it,  pulled violently, wrenching it from the wire that affixed the map to the ceiling. North America buckled and fluttered. She twisted her spine, swung the weighted end at Mr. Carson's head, striking him in the mouth. He fell backwards, hitting the back of his head on the desk. He slid to the floor and rested unconscious in the blacked balls of paper.

Dominique stood over him, the map hanging upside down from her hands, her mouth open and panting. She dropped the map over him, then dumped the rest of the pile of ungraded papers on top of him. They slid and fluttered around him. She took the lighter from her pocket and clicked it. The flame reflected in her tears, her face sparkled. She knelt down next to him and picked up a paper. She held the flame to the bottom edge, and looked into his vacant eyes. Then she dropped the paper.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

103/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "When the President Talks to God" by Bright Eyes

I was drinking Peruvian coffee when the bell to the door rang. The coffee was lukewarm and I was itching for a cigarette. The coffeeshop used to be a place where you could sit and smoke cigars. That was before smoking bans. I itch, but I don't mind. I haven't smoked in years.

The sun was low, shining through cloudy fingerprints on the glass, palm prints next to the brass door handle. It was golden inside. The barista, a woman, a Peruvian immigrant, a rarity in a America let alone Iowa, looked up as the glass membrane to the front of the shop broke, metal bell jangling. A stray black hair slunk down from her scalp and into her face. Her lips parted wordlessly as she tried to decipher the unusual scene. Chatter from outside wafted in.

Bodies in silhouette jostled. They had cameras. Boom mikes. Who are these people? I thought. Why are they here? Who is that?

A man in a crisp suit sauntered in, a broad but nervous smile on his face. Don't show your nerves buddy, I thought, we'll eat you alive. He didn't have a tie and the top two buttons of his oxford shirt were unbuttoned. A staged casualness to make the farm people comfortable. Sure.

He took a glance around the shop. He thought it was small, I could tell. He wasn't going to linger. Fantastic. He pointed at a part of the mural on the wall, and made a comment to the press that I didn't hear. Camera flashes whitened the room. Chk chk chk chk. I turned back to my coffee.

The barista leaned forward, stretching out her arm across the counter. Her other hand brushed mine as she supported herself. Words were exchanged. Her arm shook. She flashed the same easy smile she had for all the customers. She leaned back, wiping summer induced beads of sweat from her face. I felt a hand on my back. The old I'm-gently-reminding-you-I'm-dominate gesture. No, you didn't, I thought. You don't want to talk to me.

I turned and looked the candidate in his face. He was thinner than what appeared to be on TV, but they say that about everyone. I could smell expensive deodorant mixed with earthy sweat and a hint of unbrushed teeth. His eyes drooped slightly, his posture a little hunched. I almost felt sorry for him. He thrust his hand into my personal space.

"Howdy," he said.

Howdy? I thought. Who says that? He spent too much time at Harvard or wherever it was on the eastern seaboard he grew up. Why the assumption I'm some sort of John Wayne clone just because I live in Iowa? These people.

"Hi," I said. I took his hand. He started shaking it, expanding his broad smile even more, showing congeniality on a level only slightly more subdued than a pageant queen. His face crinkled, especially around the eyes. His skin was like paper. It looked like it could tear and flake away. Were they all this fragile? Is this the material we have to work with in order to forge Presidents? Aren't they supposed to be made of stronger stuff? Wasn't Reagan made of granite? Clinton of axle grease and teflon? Wasn't Theodore Roosevelt made of 40 proof whiskey and gunpowder? Truman of uranium and bullet casings? Even that polio victim, F.D.R., was made of steel and bamboo. When did we get stuck with these paper candidates that could fly away like kites and tear in a storm? Or maybe it's just the passage of time that accretes their hardness, every wrinkle becoming rugged instead of aged--a development of sagacity instead of decay into frailty. Maybe we just shouldn't worship the dead ones like Apollo and we'd never be disappointed.

I looked into his eyes as I felt the skin of his palm and fingers, human flesh with a pulse, not just pixels and sound bites. Did he see me? Or was I just a warm, breathing, voting body? Was his interest in me just that I was a collection of watery self-aware cells originating in desirable geographic coordinates? Did he actually see me? Did I stop at his cornea or did I get through down into the depths of his mind? Would he remember me? I saw black discs, then he turned slightly and I saw my tiny reflection. I squeezed his hand. I felt the bones move. His pupils widened ever so slightly.

He didn't pull back, but I knew the pain got through. His smile dulled slightly. His skin flushed a little pink. He shook my hand again limply.

I squeezed harder. I gritted my teeth. Do you see me now? Do you hear the message I'm telling you? His grip strengthened in response. I felt the skin of my palm fold and press together. Good. This one has some balls at least.

We released each other's hands.

"You got some grip there, friend," he said, slapping me on the back and chuckling towards the media behind us.

"Yes, I do," I said.

"Can I count on you to come out to the straw poll?" he asked.

"I'll never vote for you," I said. His smile twitched. "But I'll buy you a coffee," I added.

He stood for a moment, half-uncertain.

"Sure," he said. He took a seat next to me. An aide started to protest but he silenced her with a quick glance.

"We can talk," I said.

"I'd like that," he said.

I patted him on the back.


I used to live in Ames Iowa, during the run-up of the 2000 campaign. The place was crawling with presidential candidates. I saw Al Gore speak (I love Al Gore now, but holy crap was he a deadly boring speaker back then). I saw Elizabeth Dole speak (frightening policy positions), and later got to shake her hand. I mashed her fingers and asked her a trick question that made her blush. I acted like a dick towards her the human being, but I'm still kind of proud that messed with the candidate. I wanted her to remember that not everyone agreed with her, but candidates never seem to really acknowledge that people have diverse and complex opinions. They try to please everyone and end up satisfying no one. I guess this story is a bit of atonement for my behavior that day over a decade ago.

Friday, July 29, 2011

102/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Stained" by Blue Foundation

"You must endure the pain," they said. "It's not more than what Christ endured on the cross," they said. I was five. They castrated me and tattooed my face. They had me pinned down, no drug to dull the pain. I screamed of course. I fainted. Most unfit boys do. The girls aren't so lucky. The unfit ones are killed just after birth, their eggs harvested and gutted of their DNA. Shells. The fit ones are killed too, but their DNA gets to live on intact.

I used to get into fights, in the long house, with the other boys. I bought into the social hierarchy. I don't do that anymore. Now I go for walks. Long walks.

"What you got there?" he asked.

"A book," I said.

"You read?"

"Yes, of course I read."

"Hmm. Why?"

"Because it's interesting."

"Is it?"

"Yes," I said.

"You want me to go away, I can tell."

"I don't know why you're interested in me," I said.

"I dunno. You're different I guess."

He was runt of man. His nose dribbled; he was constantly wiping his sleeve against his face. His eyes were bad. He squinted at everything. When he ate, his face was inches from the food, but he still ate with a fork. I don't know why he needed to see it. It seldom varied; very liquid mashed potatoes with overcooked ground meat, and a fluorescent pink nutritional supplement. The man sat down cross-legged beside me.

"Is it hard?" he asked.

"Is what hard?" I said, loudly turning a page.


"Not for me."

"How'd you learn?" he asked.

"I asked someone to teach me," I said. "A lot of older men here used to know. They're all dead now." He was silent for a moment, but rocking slightly. He wanted to ask another question but was afraid, I could tell. Then it came out.

"Could you teach me?" he asked. I looked over at him.

"I don't think your eyes are good enough," I said.

"Oh," he said. He stopped rocking and was very still. His hand twitched. He suddenly got up and walked to the far wall. He leaned into it with his shoulder and put his hand in his thinning hair. He turned away from me. I felt bad. It's a terrible thing to have ambition.

My cell is lined with books. They're stacked up in piles, which is not how they're supposed to be stored, but I don't have a lot to work with. They completely fill the cavities under the bunks. A pile of them form a table that I rest the toilet paper on next to the toilet. I do not share my cell with anyone. Or, it would be fairer to say that no one will share my cell with me.

We're not prisoners. But our housing is a former decrepit prison. You can smell the sweat of generations of men in the crumbling concrete. We can either live here, or out on the land, in the wilderness. I prefer a roof.

We're supposed to be working, but we haven't had a work order for months. Probably some bureaucratic nightmare involved. The elder brothers are awfully good at making plans for things, but are truly awful when it comes to executing them. They're even worse at figuring out problems. I can only imagine what the offices are like. Men in suits sitting around all day pontificating. Actually it's probably not that much different than what goes around here with us unfits when there aren't any work orders.

"You coming for chow?" asked a man named Cecil. He picked that name himself. He was tall and beefy so he was naturally repellent of any nicknames growing up.

"Me? No," I said. I was lounging on my bunk with a tattered and rotting copy of Critique of Pure Reason. I turned a page. A bit of the edge of it fell to brown dust on my freshly laundered overalls. I had gotten them dirty on one my recent walks.

"It's pizza night," said Cecil.

"Is it?" I said. I considered it. "No thanks," I said. They did that to us to keep us placated. Let us have something small to look forward to so we didn't look for bigger things to satisfy us. Cecil lumbered off down the hall. I closed the cell door so I wouldn't be disturbed again.

The next day a group of elders came to visit. They set up a small dais in the gymnasium. We dutifully filed in, hoping this meant a work order. We stood through a long prayer service. We put our hands on our chests and mumbled the anthem while they sang fervently. I watched the spittle spray from their lips as they zealously over-pronounced the consonants. Then the elder brothers talked about themselves for a while. I thought of other things. Then one of them said something that caught my attention.

"...collecting DNA tomorrow. Don't worry, it won't hurt. It's just a swab in your mouth..."

Later they struck down their dais and filed out. There was a lot of grumbling among the men because there was no new work order. There was a minor fight--more of a scuffle really. Then someone punched a window made of safety glass. The crack spidered out from the tiny hole he made with his fist. Some of the more easily amused unfits worried the pieces of glass loose, until, by the end of the evening, the entire pane was removed from its frame. The bits of glass disappeared in the hands of many unfits, shiny little treasures to be stuffed in secret crevices in the walls and under mattresses. A memory of that night when something interesting sort of happened.

"Why do they need our DNA?" asked Cecil. He was in my cell, thumbing through my books, looking at the cover illustrations. He liked to trace his fingers over the title lettering. He called it reading.

"That's an interesting question," I said.

"Do you know the answer?" he asked.

"Our society is DNA obsessed. It's tightly controlled. DNA is used for reproduction, and the elder brothers control every aspect of reproduction. It's all done in factories, in vats and incubators--"

"What's an incubator?"

"Don't interrupt," I said. "It's what you spent the first few months of your life in. Anyway...they have reproduction all squared least on the surface. Perhaps there's a problem. Maybe the DNA of unfits could help solve that problem."

"You mean we could be elder brothers?" said Cecil, looking up from an embossed copy of Roughing It. I looked at him critically.

"You want that?" I asked.

"Well, yeah! Don't you?"

"No. Never saw the appeal."

"But they have all the luxuries. They have real houses. They have cars and servants. They have many man-wives. Don't you want the comforts in life?"

I sat up in my bunk, cross-legged, and leaned back against the cement block wall. I could feel the peels of paint flaking beneath my shirt as I adjusted my position. I stared at Cecil. It always made him a bit uncomfortable. He looked back down at the dirt-enhanced embossing, and rubbed his fingers slowly up and down the edge of the front cover.

"I just think that's weird, not to want something better," he said quietly. He lifted his fingers from the book and held them still, then said, "even though wanting is a grievous sin...Jesus forgive me." He bowed his head, gripped the book tightly and started rocking.

I stood and hopped off my bunk, and sat next to Cecil on the unowned bunk opposite mine.

"It's not a sin," I said, putting my arm around him.


"No, 'fraid not. You've been told a lie, or at least, a very stretched exaggeration. You suffer when you want, but that doesn't make it a sin. The elder brothers tell you that it's a sin because they don't want you to feel hurt."

"But it does hurt, when I try not to want," said Cecil. He was starting to tear up.

"I know," I said.

"So why does it hurt both ways?"

"Men have been trying to understand that for as long as we've been walking the Earth," I said. "I think it's just the way we are. Or maybe I'm simplifying things."

"No, that's good," said Cecil. He sniffled, then put the book down and picked up another.

"Anyway, we don't need man-wives," I said. "As unfits, we are all muted half-men. And we don't need houses, because we have a perfectly good one here, with food and company. And we don't travel, so we don't need cars. The only thing we lack is something to do, and I'm not sure that's a luxury."

"Do you like it here?" asked Cecil.

"Not any more than you," I said. "But I like it in there," I added, tapping the book Cecil held. We both smiled.

"There is another possibility though," I said, getting up and sitting back down again in my own bunk.


"The DNA swabs," I said. I leaned back against the cell wall and folded my hands in my lap.

"What about them?" asked Cecil.

"Identification," I said. "Perhaps one of us has done something very bad, and they need to find out who." I closed my eyes.

"You're doing that thing again, aren't you?" asked Cecil.

"Meditation," I supplied.

The next day the same group of elder brothers arrived with an additional group from the hospital. They set up three long tables in the gymnasium, and had us line up in three rows. Us unfits shuffled and sighed our way through the queue. I felt like gagging. Our subdermal barcodes were scanned, then a technician opened our mouths, inserted a long cotton swab, swirled it around the inside of our cheeks, then removed the swab and sealed it in a clear plastic container.

When it came my turn, I made a remark to the technician about his gloves.

"Pardon?" he said. There wasn't often conversation between unfits and elder brothers.

"Vinyl, am I right?" It was hard to talk in front of him. He nodded slowly. "You have a latex allergy."

"Are you implying I'm unfit?" he asked quietly but sternly.

"Not at all," I said, a hint of a smile turning up the corner of my mouth. I bowed low so he couldn't see the inside of my mouth. He jabbed the swab in, and did a quick side to side motion like he was ringing a bell. He jammed the swab into its container, then grabbed my shoulder and shoved me along.

Safely back in my cell I peeled out the layer of plastic wrap. I nicked it from the kitchen and it still had the blood from the ground meat of nameless, headless animal parts. Even if my cells had gotten on it, those animal cells would be considered a contaminated sample. The analyzing computer would throw out the result, and it would be doubtful if anyone would check out the anomaly. I flushed the plastic wrap down the toilet.

That night I went out on another long walk, and found another elder brother to toy with for a few hours, before hanging his dead body upside down from a tree like a sleeping bat. I'm sure the elder brothers probably misread some symbolism into that, but Vive la Revolution.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

101/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Windows are Rolled Down" by Amos Lee

"Are those your brother's shoes?" Jo Ann glanced back at her daughter in the back seat. Carol looked down at her feet and scrunched her mouth. She turned back to look out the window and the expanse of blue with patches of cottony white. "Answer me, dear," said her mother.

"They don't fit him no more," said Carol.

"They're not very feminine," said Jo Ann. "Also, it's 'They don't fit him, anymore. Aren't you learning anything in school?" Jo Ann shook her head, looking through the rearview mirror.

Carol wriggled, arching her back, then got up and knelt on the seat and thrust her head out the window into the buggy summer air.

"Get down, girl!" said Jo Ann. Carol slumped back into the seat and crossed her arms. "You had better behave, you hear?"

"Yes mother," said Carol.

"Straighten your dress. The crinoline is showing."

Carol sighed heavily, then yanked down at the hem of her dress, folding herself in two and letting her arms then drape over the side of the seat.

"Sit up! Good grief!"

Carol sat bolt upright, stiff, and thrust her back into the seat. She straightened her arms by her side.

"Now I don't want anymore trouble from you. Let me focus on the road."

"It's a straight road, and there aren't any cars on it."

"Don't talk back to me now."

"Sorry, mother." Carol turned her attention back to the calming blue. Then she asked, "Why doesn't Dean have to come to?"

"You're brother's old enough to look after himself at home."

"I'm old enough," said Carol.

"No you're not, and don't say 'yes I am'," said Jo Ann. "You're father would have agreed with me. We're almost there." They passed then next few minutes in silence except for the hum of the engine and the sound of the tires on gravel.

They arrived at the diner five minutes early.

"Can I wait in the car?" asked Carol.

"No," said Jo Ann, fussing about flyaway hairs in the rearview mirror. "Roll up your window."

Jo Ann got out, and waited patiently for Carol to do the same.

"Don't slam the door," said Jo Ann.

"I wasn't going to," said Carol. She closed her door slowly, then used her shoulder to make sure it caught on the latch.

"Go wait on the porch. Don't touch anything. Don't talk to anyone. Stay in the shade. I'm not buying you a Coca-Cola if you get hot. We can't afford it."

"Yes mother," said Carol. She slouched towards the six inches of shade offered by the porch roof. She stood stiffly against the wall. Her nose was illuminated in sunlight.

"I don't know how long I'll be," said Jo Ann, "but wish me luck." She flashed an optimistic smile and giggled, before opening the door to the diner. It jangled with a little bell at the top. She disappeared in to the dark inside.

Carol relaxed her posture. She sat down cross-legged on the porch. There muffled sounds from inside the diner, voices and cutlery clinking. Across the road there was an empty, silent gas station. A uniformed attendent slept by the door in a chair. Behind the gas station was a fallow field dotted in the distance with black cattle. Carol caught a faint whiff of manure.

There was a ball of dust in the distance down the road. Carol watched the car get bigger. Across the street the attendant yawned, stretched his arms, then stood. The car pulled into gas station, then stopped. Three teenage boys got out, including Dean. Carol stood up and waved to him. He turned and saw her, but didn't wave back.

"Fill 'er up," said the boy that was driving.

"Yes sir," said the attendent. "Would you like me to check the oil for you?"

"Yeah, sure."

"I'm going for a soda-pop over there," said the third boy. "You want anything?"

"Nah," said the driver.

Dean shook his head, glancing at Carol. The third boy nonchalantly crossed the road. Carol watched him approach. As he walked, he took a comb out of his pocket, spit on it, then combed his hair back. He leered at Carol when he reached the porch.

"What'chyou lookin' at?" he said.

"Nothing," said Carol, staring at him intently.

"Weirdo," he said as he opened the jangly door.

"Creep," said Carol to the slamming door. She turned back to looked at Dean. He was leaning against the side of the car smoking. He had one hand on his hip. He bent down to check his hair in the side view mirror. He glanced at Carol out of the corner of his eye. She waved again. He turned to face his friend. They started chatting and laughing. Carol stepped back to the diner wall. She pressed her back into it, and turned her head to get her nose out of the sun. She pulled the skirt of her dress tight, and pressed in in under her thighs. She looked down and saw Dean's shoes, graying canvas and dirty, frayed, knotted laces. She stood on the tips of her toes, taller, teetering.

The third boy burst from the door and ran towards the road, a Coca-Cola bottle frothing over in his hands. He staggered, swearing, to keep the soda from staining his pants. When he reached the other side he took a deep swig.

The gas station attendent let the hood of the car fall with a heavy thunk. The driver paid him with wadded up cash, then the boys got back in the car, and it sputtered back to life. The attendent waved at them as the car pulled out, spitting back gravel. They didn't wave back.

Carol watched the car disappeared behind a veil of dust. When it was gone, with only a brown haze in its wake, she stepped down on the soles of her feet. She realized she had been holding her breath. Her eyes were stinging.

The door jangled open again, and Jo Ann flounced out.

"I got it!" she said exuberantly. "I got it, hun!"

Jo Ann scooped up her daughter, hugging her while Carol squirmed, then kissed her cheek.

"Do I have to come here every day with you?" asked Carol when Jo Ann released her.

"I'm afraid so," said Jo Ann. "Until the end of summer when you start school." She smiled broadly.

Carol started to cry. She covered her eyes with her forearms.

"Now, now, dear," said Jo Ann. "It won't be that bad. You can bring your jacks and play out here."

"I don't want to play jacks!" sobbed Carol.

"Well, bring your dolly then."

"I don't like dolls," said Carol.

"Now I won't stand for crying. You're embarrassing me in front of my new employer. Get in the car," said Jo Ann.

Carol pulled angrily on her door handle, then jumped inside, throwing herself across the back seat. Jo Ann closed the door behind her, then got in the driver's side and started the car. They pulled out of the diner parking lot and started back down the gravel road the way they came.

"Sit up," said Jo Ann. "And wipe your face."

Carol slowly pulled herself up into a sitting position, leaning against the inside of the door. She laboriously unrolled the back window. The smell of manure was stronger.

"Wipe your face. Crying makes you look ugly," said Jo Ann. "Don't you want to be a pretty girl?"

"No," said Carol.

"None of the talking back, do you hear?" said Jo Ann.

"Then why'd you ask me a question?"

"What did I just say?"

"No talking back," muttered Carol.

"Now what do you have to say to me?"

"I'm sorry mother."

"Why you don't want to be a little lady is beyond me," said Jo Ann after a few moments.

Carol looked down at her feet. She gripped the seat with her hands, and shoved off her shoes with her feet. They dropped to the car floor with dull thumps. She reached down and picked them up. She looked at the back of her mother's head. Jo Ann was looking straight ahead and the straight road, humming to herself.

Carol got up on the seat, then flung the shoes out window. She leaned out window, looked back, and watched them bounce into the tall grass the lined the road. For a moment, she smiled.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

100/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "100 Yard Dash" by Raphael Saadiq

Rifle reports crackled through the forest. Lyle jumped a rotten log, landed, fell, twisted his ankle. Shot spattered the log above him. He ducked instinctively, panting foggy breath, and peered through the space between the log and earth, back behind the way he came. He saw her dirty feet and her tattered nightgown. She had stopped running. She couldn't see him, but could smell him. Their sense of smell was heightened with the sickness. She crept closer to the log. Lyle held his breath.

Footsteps. Another rifle crack. She grunted, staggered, collapsed. Her face was on the other side of the cavity under the log. Her eyes fixed on his. He watched the pupils contract. Her eyelids fluttered. She sighed. A thick brown ooze gurgled up into her mouth. The smell of bile and metal filled the air. The rifle sounded again. Her face was gone, replaced with a blossom of red and pink.

Lyle looked up, shaking. A tall fat man stood over him, his knee on the log. His eyes were sunken and his face was sallow despite his obvious prior predilection for pantophagy. His cheek was bruised with a purple semi-circle. He was a carrier. The man moved his jaw and spat a wad of brown towards the woman's body.

"Know her?" asked the man in a deep, assured voice.

"No," said Lyle.

"Mmmm," murmured the man. "God help her soul. Any others chasing you?"

"No sir," said Lyle.

"You sure boy?"


The man took his foot off the log. He leaned down and offered a hand to Lyle, and helped him up. Lyle winced when he put weight on the ankle.

"You're not gonna get far on that tonight," said the man. "I got a cabin in these parts. Me and the boys live there now. You're welcome for the night."

"Thanks, that's kind of you, uh..."

"Jed," said the man, spitting out another hunk of glistening tobacco.

"Lyle," said Lyle.

"Nice to meet you. Haven't had anyone uninfected 'bout these parts in a month or so."

"I guess I've just been lucky," said Lyle.

"Yeah, sure," said Jed. He looked up at the stars between the treetops. "God has a plan for you son."


They set off down a forest path Lyle could barely see. They were joined by other men who separated themselves from the camouflage of the dark trees. The boys, apparently.

The cabin was small but cozy. It was outfitted with an old-fashioned pot-bellied stove that was busy heating the tiny two rooms and pumping soot and wood smoke into the air outside. There was a table with two chairs in the main room, and four bunk beds in the other. Besides Jed, there were five other men, all carriers, all staring at him. Jed sat in one of the chairs by the table, sipping hot tea from a chipped porcelain cup.

"Why're you in the woods on a moonless night?" asked Jed.

"I was traveling. I'm trying to get back to--"

"To the city?" asked Jed. "Forget it." He sat down heavily in the other chair.


"Hell hath burst forth from the streets. You ain't got no chance," said Jed.

"Don't bother," said a tall man. He had long hair, but it was starting to emigrate en masse, and he was left with unkempt tufts.

"That's Luke," said Jed.

"Nice to meet you, Luke," said Lyle. Luke nodded slightly. Lyle felt unsteady and small beneath Luke's unblinking gaze. They did that, not blink, the carriers that were farther along. Lyle wondered where Luke's bite was hidden. Lyle turned to Jed. "You been there?"

"Nope," said Jed.

"Then how do you know? I heard that--"

"Word gets around," said Jed. He rocked back on latter legs of his chair.

"Met some people fleeing from that direction," said Luke.

"Yeah? You know this for sure?" asked Lyle.

"Sure as shit," said Luke.

Lyle took a quick gulp of tea then sighed heavily.

"What's wrong son?" asked Jed.

"I don't know where else to go," said Lyle. "I had this plan in mind, I've been walking for days, running." He looked around the room. They were listening raptly. "I was on the interstate, in my car. I was headed back home towards Denver. It had already started, it was spreading. I wanted to make sure my mom was okay. Not that I didn't cut the apron strings! It's just she stopped answering the phone. It just rang and rang. She never did set up her voicemail." Lyle looked down into the amber liquid, briefly smiling. "I ran out of gas, and there wasn't any more anywhere. I don't know, I just thought I should get back to the nearest city."

"You're not infected, are you?" asked Jed.

"No," said Lyle. "I thought maybe tonight was my night."

"Mmmmm," said Jed.

"We don't have no womenfolk no more," said Luke.

"No?" asked Lyle.

"That one that was chasing you," said Jed, "where'd she find you?"

"I don't know exactly," said Lyle. "I just stumbled over her, then noticed what she was."

"She was sleepin'?" asked Jed.

"Yeah, I guess so. Whatever it is they do at night. Woke her up though. I mean I think I stepped on her hand or something."

"Newton's probably gone," said Luke to Jed.

"Mmmmm," said Jed.

"Who's Newton?" asked Lyle.

"Not a who. A where. It's the nearest town," said Jed.

"They had a brothel," said Luke, smiling. "Tied up the turned women. Only cost a buck a trick."

"What?!" exclaimed Lyle.

"Well, we didn't know at the time we could get infected," said Jed. "All they talked about on the TV was X chromosomes."

"So that's how you--"

"Yup," said Jed. He spat brown into a Pepsi can. Lyle looked down at the table.

"All of you? You let yourself get bitten?!"

The men nodded, some of them looking down.

"Dinnit know then," said Luke. "Had to put 'em all down like dogs." He held up an imaginary gun and fired an imaginary shot at Lyle. "Ooosh," he said, recoiling.

"Heaven help their souls," murmured Jed.

"Yeah," said Lyle, his voice cracking.

They went to bed shortly after that. Lyle laid on the floor next to the stove, wrapped in a borrowed sleeping bag, listening to the periodic, rasping wet coughs of the men. He shivered despite the heat and slept poorly.

The next morning he was fed burnt pancakes with a dusting of granulated sugar. They watched him eat, their own appetites erased by their disease. He shoved down the crusty cakes in swift bites, and chased them with gulps of warm water. When he was done, Lyle thanked his grim hosts and set out again in the direction of Newton.

"Shouldn't go there," said Jed. He took up the entire doorframe.

"I wanna see it with my own eyes," said Lyle.

"There ain't nothin' left. Not really," said Jed. "It's done boy. Done. Even for you. You're just unlucky enough that you might live a long life." He turned and shut the door to the cabin. Lyle looked down the path towards the road that led to Newton. It was already disappearing under the new spring foliage.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

99/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Nocturne" by Daft Punk from the TRON: Legacy soundtrack

Prometheus rose up above her. Alexandra shoved her crampon into the side of the volcano and put her weight on it. She tugged on her rope. It held. The radio crackled. It was just static now. She couldn't look back--not out of lack of desire, but it was physically impossible in her suit. The low oxygen alarm dinged gently in her helmet.

She moved her helmut from side-to-side, shining her light to illuminate her next footing. She pulled her other foot up, shoving it into a crevice. She tugged the rope again. She pulled up, shifting her weight to her other foot. The crevice suddenly exhaled a fog of sulfur frost, encrusting her visor. She rubbed it against her sleeve, smearing rather than clearing. She sighed deeply.

She stepped up again, her muscles straining after hours of climbing. She was achieving only inches now. She tugged on the rope, pulled herself up, shifted her weight. A light in her helmet started blinking. She looked at it, trying to focus. Sweat seeped into her eyes.

"Now," she said, remembering. She unhooked the data recorder from her belt. She clipped it to the rope, then pressed the sensor next to the ice. She pressed a button. The sensor heated up, melting the ice. She pushed until it was buried. She turned off the heater pressed a second button to start the recorder.

"What now?" she asked herself. She was breathing faster and shallower now.

The ice shook with another tremor. Alexandra pressed herself against the side of the caldera.

"Oh, I hope they're getting this," she said. The tremor subsided. She looked at the LEDs on the data recorder. Its radio was stronger than her own. She studied the blinking pattern. "It's getting through," she said. "That's good then."

She looked up at Jupiter's massive silhouette cutting a hole through the Milky Way. Dawn was breaking on a sliver of the planet. She squinted to make out the structure of massive roiling clouds. Sunlight tore through them, outlining them. It was beginning to bead up, bright, in an arc. Suddenly the Sun itself emerged. Alexandra closed her eyes. She could feel the star's heat, even here. She remembered a morning back on Earth, when she was a child. A summer morning when she woke up ahead of the rest of the house, and rushed out to find the backyard covered in a layer of fine spider webs, almost glowing white in the early sunlight. Her mother called it angel hair. Alexandra argued with her, and showed her a dead spider she found caught in the webbing.

Prometheus shook again. This was the most violent. Alexandra struggled to keep her footing, but she slipped as part of the ice gave away beneath her. She dangled from the rope. The shaking grew more intense. The crevice gave way, frost shot out, lifting Alexandra perpendicular to the volcano. The frost turned to gas. Her vision was complete blocked, dark. Bits of rock pinged against her visor. The heat of the gas ate through the gold foil and insulation in her gloves.

Alexandra screamed as the thin layer of fat in her hands bubbled. The rope caught fire. The nylon fibers burned through. Alexandra was thrust up into the plume. She rose, half conscious, weightless, suddenly cold. She struggled to lift her burned arm and wipe her visor. The Sun shone through the streaks. She looked at it without out fear of blindness, but that was small comfort now.

The plume turned her, spitting her out. Io came into view. She saw the outpost, her home. Then she turned again, and looked out into the depth of space. The stars smeared together, streaks and blotches of white, yellow, blue, red. She closed her eyes, shaking with pain. She let the darkness of space seep in. She let the coldness take hold, then was still.

Monday, July 25, 2011

98/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Hallelujah" by The Helio Sequence

The faucet dripped steadily. Gene stood with his toothbrush stuck in his mouth, silent, staring. He tried a third time, twisting, to turn it off. The drip ceased, then slowly started back up again.

There was a knock at the hotel room door.

"Time," said a muffled male voice.

Gene quickly finished brushing his teeth, then splashed water on his face, massaging his skin deeply. In the mirror he saw that it did little to improve his insomnia-plagued visage. He turned off the light, picked his jacket up off the still-made bed and left.

As he entered the ballroom, Gene was greet with thunderous applause. More than a few faces in the audience were wet with tears. He took the platform and was introduced by Mike his agent. A line formed, headed towards the steps to the stage. The first person up was an elderly woman, her eyes milky white and vacant. She was helped by a younger woman, presumably a relative. They were dressed poorly.

"Thank you," she said.

"I haven't done anything yet," said Gene.

"You will. You always do," she replied.

Gene was silent. He gently brushed her coarse hair from her forehead.

"Ya gotta pay first ladies," said Mike quickly. He turned and smiled fakely towards the crowd. "Hundred bucks, c'mon." He held out his hand.

"Will you take a post-dated check?" asked the younger woman. Mike sighed.

"Yeah," said Gene. Mike hit him gently in the back. The woman took a checkbook out of her purse and started filling out the blanks.

"This is one of the reasons we don't take checks--it takes too long to get through everybody, plus we gotta declare it on taxes," Mike whispered to Gene.

"Chill," said Gene.

The lady carefully tore out the check and handed it to Mike. Gene placed his palms over the elderly woman's eyes, and pressed them in. She yelped with pain, then fell backwards. Her companion caught her and laid her down on the carpet. The crowd hushed as the woman lay still.

"I can see!" she finally said. "I can see! Holy hell I can see!"

Her companion helped her up. She waved to the crowd. Gene leaned in and looked at her eyes. They were completely clear. The crowd roared.

That night Gene watched Mike sampling everything from the room service menu and watching pay-per-view wresting on the flatscreen set in Gene's room.

"We got through five hundred and twenty three today," said Mike. Gene watched bits of masticated shrimp fling around in Mike's mouth as he said it. "That's only fifty grand for nine hours. Minus all the free coffee we handed out. I think we should try for ten hours when we hit Des Moines. Maybe rent two ballrooms." Mike noisily sucked shrimp tail from its shell. "We had a lot of overflow today. I booked the ballroom for tomorrow. So we're staying an extra night. Aren't you eating anything?"

"I'm not really hungry," said Gene.

"Try the shrimp. Its not awful." He held the dish out towards Gene. "You'd think seafood would be appalling in the midwest, but it often isn't. No? You should eat something." Mike pulled back the dish and started sucking on another shrimp.

"Can we take a break?" asked Gene.

"What for? We're making money hand over fist."

"It's not..."

"It's not what?"

Gene sighed and rubbed his forehead.

"Never mind," he said.

"You need to get more sleep. Okay, okay, we won't do ten hour sessions in Des Moines."

"Thanks," said Gene.

Late that night Gene went to the hotel pool. It was indoor, heated and steaming. He slipped off his terry robe and dove in. The water was warm and comforting. He opened his eyes, the chlorine stinging. He saw a pair of legs. He surfaced, and saw her.

"Hi," she said.

"What do you want?" asked Gene. He rubbed the water from his eyes.

"Just checking up," she said, leaning her back against the side of the pool. She stretched her arms across the times.

"I'd rather you not do that," said Gene. He fell backwards and started floating, looking up at the ceiling. He let his ear canals fill with water, but it didn't drown out her voice. In fact it was just as clear.

"You need to pick up the pace. I'm getting bored," she said.

"I'm not here to amuse you, despite what you think," he said.

"But that's the bargain, isn't it?" she asked. She pushed off from the edge and swam towards him. She stood in the water and leaned her face over his. "You got to do what you most wanted..."

"This isn't what I wanted," he said.

"I'm curious," she said coyly. "What will happen when no one ever gets sick again? When no one has to suffer? Those were your words, weren't they? What will you wish for then? You see, I'm not sure you have it in you to wish for something materialistic. You can't put yourself first."

He turned over and swam towards the pool steps. She followed. When he reached the steps she tugged on his waistband, and he lost his balance, falling backwards into the water. He flailed and sputtered. He reached out for her, to grab her by the throat, but she was already underwater, swimming efficiently in circles around him. She stopped and stared up through the rippling water, laughing without producing bubbles. Then she disappeared. The pool water swirled inwards after her.

Gene returned to his room. He thought about taking a shower but decided against it. He sat in his robe at the end of the bed, listening to the faucet drip in the darkness.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

97/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Aube Radieuse" by Etienne Charry

The doe bent her head to sniff a tuft of green sprouting up through the crust of snow. Ulla pulled back on her bow. The bow creaked with the strain. The doe looked up and saw Ulla. Ulla released her arrow. It sailed between bare trees, shushing the air. The doe flinched and crouched about to spring. The arrow pierced the skin of the doe's neck, at the top back, ripping open a red gash, flying on past. The doe ran. Ulla gave chase.

Drops of red dotted the snow, melting into the crust, bleeding out between the crystals in a spiderweb. Ulla followed the trail. The doe was bleeding out. The doe darted between and around trees, over hardy scrub and fallen logs, erratic and desperate. The doe stopped suddenly and looked back. Ulla stopped and stared back. She pulled another arrow from her quiver, raised the bow. The doe sauntered towards a cluster of trees that had died, rotted, and fallen towards each other to form a triangular arch. Ulla lowered her bow, looking into the arch. It was dark when it shouldn't have been, since the day was sunny. The arch couldn't be big enough to harbor that much shadow. The doe took Ulla's lapse in concentration to leap into the arch, and disappeared from sight.

Ulla walked tentatively towards the arch. A warm breeze flowed from it. It smelled faintly of roses. She stooped and peered in. The snow had drifted in a few feet in a heap and was melting. Beyond was green moss, then shadow. She shouldered her bow and ran her hands across the wood of the arch. It was warm to the touch, as if it had been bathed in the light of a summer afternoon. Ulla crouched and stepped under the arch.

She took a few feet in, then was hit by a blast of hot air. A second later the wind changed direction, and cold air from outside hit her back. She was pulled off her feet, and floated on the wind through a dark tunnel. The smell of roses grew stronger, and the scent of other flowers joined in. The smell was narcotic. Ulla felt relaxed, happy, and sleepy. Her hands drooped and began to drag across the moist moss floor of the tunnel.

A light grew in the direction that Ulla floated. It pierced her waning eyelids, warm and golden. The faint songs of birds echoed through the tunnel, growing louder with each foot she progressed. The light grew stronger wider as the wind carrying her began to die. She came to rest on a spot of lush grass. She curled up then stretched, smiling. She didn't know where she was, but she was overcome with a sense of joy. She began to cry with happiness.

The doe walked over to Ulla, and came to stand over her, dripping blood on Ulla's face. It was icy cold now, and Ulla shivered. Her happiness began to fade. Her head cleared and she sat up, to look the doe in the face. The doe stared at her for a moment, then turned and walked towards a large tree that was covered in moss and infested with butterflies of every species. The tree had leaves of green, but also of red, orange, and yellow. The green leaves turned quickly to the other colors, then fell. In their place grew new buds that in no time blossomed out into leaves. The leaves on the ground didn't stay there for long; they were consumed by the moss, visibly absorbed and disolved.

The ground was also populated by all manner of forest animals, grouse running in circles, grazing rabbits, nervous mice, shambling porcupines, gnawing beavers, climbing squirrels, playful black bears, and chivalrous bucks engaged in a calm duel with their antlers as if they were fencing. The doe lay down next to the great tree, nestling in the roots.

Ulla stood and turned around. The tunnel was gone. The strange, rapidly growing forest extended all around.

"Where am I?" asked Ulla to herself.

Suddenly the great tree shook, branches waving violently. Leaves showered down. Then a large figure leapt down thunderously. Ulla felt its impact through the moss at her feet. The figure was crouched, hairy, and orangey-brown. It stood up, revealing a height of sixteen feet. Ulla reached for an arrow but found that both her quiver and bow gone. The creature had wide spaced eyes, no nose, and no visible mouth. The rest of it was proportioned much like a human, just much larger. It stared at Ulla briefly before turning to the doe. It picked up the doe, cradling her in one arm. It passed its other hairy hand over the doe, and the doe turned to light. It was a glow at first, then it became blindingly bright. The birds stopped singing, and all the forest animals turned to look. Then the light faded. The hairy creature dropped its arms. The doe was gone. The creature looked down a Ulla.

"What did you do?" asked Ulla, her voice cracking. She back slowly into a tree.

"Did you injure her?" asked the hairy creature, a wide, toothy mouth appearing on its face. Ulla was too frightened to reply. "Are you a hunter?"

"Yes," said Ulla quietly.

"A female hunter?" asked the creature. Ulla nodded. "That is unusual."

"What are you going to do to me?" asked Ulla.

"I will not hurt you," said the creature. "I learned my lesson a long time ago."

The creature sat heavily against the tree, shaking loose more leaves.

"What--what is this place?" asked Ulla.

"It's a sanctuary, for the injured, for the sick, for the dying," said the creature. It patted the moss next to it. "Come, sit by me."

"No thanks," said Ulla quickly.

"As you wish. I was frightened by this visage once too. But I got used to it."

"How do I leave?" asked Ulla. The creature did not respond. "Am I a prisoner here?"

"The doe brought you, evidently," said the creature. "You came willingly. Did you not enter the arch of your own accord?"

"But I can't see a way out. The way I came in...doesn't exist any more."

"No, it doesn't. But that doesn't mean you can't leave."

"Show me how to leave," said Ulla, gaining confidence. "Please."

"I cannot. I am the prisoner here. I am also the keeper of the sanctuary."

"You won't?"

"I can't. It is impossible for me. The exit is hidden from me until my time is up."

"When is that?"

"Soon. Come sit by me."

"No," said Ulla. "Why are you a prisoner?"

"I'm intrigued that you are a female hunter," said the creature.

"Why are you a prisoner?"

"Womenfolk usually tend the fires at home."

"Sometimes we have to feed our families," said Ulla. "Answer me. Why are you a prisoner?"

"Do you have a family?"

"No. I was going to sell the meat I got to the butcher. Why won't you answer me? What are you hiding?"

"So you hunt for money. What were you going to do with it?"

"Move on. Travel further. I want to see things."

"You have ambition."

"Is that wrong?"

"I had ambition," said the creature. "I don't know if it's wrong. Perhaps it's in how it's applied."

"Why are you a prisoner?"

"Come, sit by me."

"If I sit by you, will you answer my question?" asked Ulla. The creature stared at her a moment, then sighed.

"Yes. Yes I will."

Ulla slowly walked towards the creature, stopping at its feet. She started to sit when it spoke again.

"Closer. Here, by my arm."


"So we can chat more amiably. We can be friends." It smiled a toothy grin.

Ulla paused. The creature patted the moss next to it.

"I don't know," said Ulla.

"I may have a lot of teeth, but I don't bite. Come on. Sit."

A warm breeze stirred the leaves of the trees. They swirled down in whorls. The scent of roses was overwhelmingly strong again. Ulla began to feel happy and joyful against her will. Her feet walked for her, towards the arm of the creature.

"You're drugging me..." said Ulla, her voice slurring.

"Is that such a bad thing?" said the creature.

"What do you" asked Ulla. She sat down, and burrowed into the creature's warm fur. It somehow smelled of chocolate and cedar. "You smell...good..." she said.

The creature laughed, a great whooping barrage of breathy HAHs.

"I can tell you why I'm a prisoner, but I should tell you about the sanctuary first," it said, when it was finished laughing.

"Why..." said Ulla sleepily.

"Because you're going to take care of it now," said the creature.


"When you see a animal seek refuge here, you must hold it, think of pleasant things, and the healing light will come."


"The animal will be returned to full life, and its place in the forest out there. Sometimes an animal will come here, and not want to leave. That is fine. The sanctuary is haven to any animal that wished to stay. But they, like me, can find it a hollow life. Too pleasant. Life needs conflict." The creature sighed.


"I was a hunter, like you. I did it for sport. I had the animals stuffed and mounted. Then one day, I rode my horse too close to the sanctuary entrance. I wounded a bear. It led me here. The keeper of the sanctuary...touched me. Look know..."

Ulla gazed up, blearily. A man of normal size sat next to her, relatively hairless. He looked at his bare hands, smiling, his massive teeth shrunk.

"What..." she said slowly.

"Don't worry," he said. "The time will pass before you know it. I feel that you will be here for only a few years perhaps."

The man stood and walked towards a dark tunnel. He ducked in, then turned back to Ulla.

"Make sure to brush you're fur regularly. It's itchy when it gets matted." He turned and disappeared into the tunnel before it closed up behind him.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

96/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Space Dementia" by Muse

The front door to the brownstone opened. Deirdre stepped out, naked. Her cheek gaped open, the plastic flesh hanging down revealing hard plastic molars. Her flesh was torn in places all over her body, in five fingered rips. Her nylon hair was mostly ripped out. Blood stained her knees, mouth, and hands. She started down the steps.

A woman with a little dog that was peeing against a tree next the curb looked up and saw her.

"What happened?" she asked, gasping.

"He hurt me. Every night, he hurts me. He hurts us all," said Deirdre.

"Oh my God, are you all right? What happened?" The woman rushed up the stairs. As she approached, she saw the hanging plastic. She stopped, and backed down the steps. "Oh my God..."

"Will you help me?" asked Deirdre.

"What did you do?" asked the woman, horrified. She let go of the leash and the little dog looked at the free loop briefly before merrily trotting away. The woman fished out her tiny cell phone. She pushed the emergency button, and pointed the phone's camera at Deirdre.

"I made him go to sleep. He's sleeping now," she said. "Will you help me get away from here?"

"Is he dead?"

"What is dead?"

"Is he breathing?" asked the woman.

"He is sleeping," said Deirdre. There was a sound from behind the door. It opened again. Several more androids stood inside. Some were missing eyes. Their flesh was torn, and in worse condition. Their hair was ripped out, with only little tufts remaining. Their anatomically correct genitals were burned and mutilated. There were both males and female, all made to look very young. None of them were covered with blood. They descended the stairs holding hands and turned to Deirdre.

"What do we do?" asked a male.

Deirdre looked down the street.

"I don't know," she said. She turned to the woman. "What do we do?"

"You need to wait here," said the woman. "Sit on the stairs. The police are coming. You can hear the siren now."

The androids sat on the steps. They all adopted the same position, with the palms of their hands resting on their knees.

"Will the police help us?" asked Deirdre.

"Yes," said the woman. Just then an ambulance turned down the street. It screeched to a halt in front of the tree. Two paramedics got out, and got as far as the sidewalk before stopping cold.

"What the..." said one of them.

"Inside," said the woman. "He's inside. I think they killed their owner."

"He's sleeping," said Deirdre. "Will you help us get away?"

"They're not supposed to kill," said the paramedic.

"I know," said the woman. "They said he hurt them."

"Really?" said the other paramedic.

"Excuse me," said the other paramedic, pushing past the androids on the steps. Another siren blared as a police van turned down the street. It stopped in front of the ambulance. Three police officers in armor poured out of the back of the van.

"What happened here?" asked a policewoman gruffly.

"I think they murdered their owner," said the woman. She put her phone back in her pocket.

"Androids?" asked the policewoman.

"Well look at them! They sure as hell aren't people!"

The police woman went up to the androids on the steps. One by one she pulled them up, examining their bodies, and making notes into a recording unit. When she finished looking them over, she shoved them each to another officer in order to be handcuffed with zip ties. They were then sat down on the thin strip of grass by the tree. She left Deirdre for last.

"You did this, didn't you?" she asked Deirdre.

"I made him sleep," said Deirdre.

"How did you do that?" asked the policewoman.

"I put his pillow in his mouth," said Deirdre.

"How far?" asked the policewoman.

"All the way in. He is sleeping now."

"I see that he struggled."

"He what?"

"He scratched at you, here, here, here...all over," said the policewoman.

"Yes. He is strong."

"What model are you?"

"I am a DXG 900," said Deirdre.

"So you can feel sensation all over your skin? Is that correct?"

"Yes," said Deirdre.

"So when he would touch you, when he would hit or scratch, it hurt you?"

"Yes. Every night. He did it to all of us."

"But you're the only one that fought back, correct?"

"Yes," said Deirdre.

"Why is that?"

"He hurt us," said Deirdre.

"So you hurt him?"

"He is sleeping."

"What did you think would happen when you...made him sleep?"

"We would leave. Together. Will you help us?"

"I have what I need," said the policewoman to the other officers. "Put her with the others. Call for the destruction van."

The paramedics came out the front door, carrying a body in bloodied sheets.

"It's the middle of the day!" yelled the policewoman. "What do you think you're doing? Little kids are probably watching from windows!"

"Sorry ma'am. It was faster than getting the stretcher."

"Is he alive?" she asked.

"No ma'am."

"What the hell are you doing moving a dead body from a crime scene then?"

The paramedics stopped on the stairs, looking at her.

"But they're androids," said the first paramedic. "We know they did it. It's not like there's going to be a trial or anything. Geez lady."

"Don't you sass me you little puke. I've been peeling perps off the sidewalk since before you were born," she said. She walked up to him as he opened the back of the ambulance with one hand, puffing out her chest. "There's a procedure to follow, even in this case."

"Look, ma'am," he said, "why don't you go up into that guy's apartment right now. This tool was no saint." They shoved the body onto the floor of the ambulance. The sheets fell open, revealing a burst chest. The paramedics stripped off their gloves and threw them on top of the body, then closed the door.

"I'm writing you up," said the policewoman.

A third van rounded the corner, stopping some feet behind the ambulance. The driver, a young man, jumped out of the cab.

"Well, look what we have here!" he said with delight. "We gots a whole pack of 'em. Someone spent a lot of money on this lot." He turned to the policewoman. "What'cha wan't done with 'em? You want 'em all processed?"

"Yeah, might as well," she said.

"Excellent," said the young man. "I sure do love to hear them crunch."

"Can I go now?" asked the woman without her dog. "Or do I need to give a statement or something."

"It's all recorded. Go on."

"I'm not going to have to show up in court or anything?"

"No, probably not. Unless these clowns get sued by this guy's family for mishandling the body," said the  policewoman pointing to the back of the ambulance.

"Geez, I sure hope not," she said. "I'll think twice about being a good samaritan next time." She started jogging in the direction of her dog.

"Come on, you first, pretty," said the young man.

"Will you help me?" asked Deirdre, as she stood up.

"Sure sugar," he said.

"Thank you," said Deirdre.

"Now just let me lift you up," he said. He held her back and then bent down to scoop up her legs. "You're a light one, aren't you?"

"He liked us small," she said, putting her arm around his shoulders.

"It's a shame he didn't know how to treat a lady right," he said.

"Yes," said Deirdre. "He's sleeping now."

"Sure he is," he said. He placed her in the back of the mechanical maw. He pushed her wrists into clips at the top, and folded up her legs sideways, clipping her ankles in at the bottom. "Now you just sit back and relax."

"Can we live with you now?" she asked.

"Oh hun, I wish you hadn't said that," he said, looking a little sad. "That's against the rules." He pulled on a lever, and the back of the maw pushed up and out. Deirdre stretched out, looking confused. Her back snapped. Then the maw folded back inwards, pushing her feet up to her hands. Metal and plastic crunched. She tried to speak, but could no longer. When her skull popped, the maw fell open, and the clips released. She fell into the containment receptacle.

The rest of the androids were loaded in, one by one, and destroyed. As the van drove off, they thought about what had happened, and wondered where they were going to go live next.

Friday, July 22, 2011

95/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Love Me" by Department of Eagles

The frogs in the lake at the end of the road sang their droning song. Edward stood in the dark, under an oak tree dripping with dew-covered moss. Across the street was her house. He could hear her laughter, talking with her sister, as they played a jazz record. Her bedroom was at the front of the house. The light of a oil lamp shone through lace curtains. Her shadow draped the window. Edward flexed his fingers then balled them into fists.

The front door of the house opened. Her father stepped out into the night. He lit a pipe then sat in the rocking chair on the porch. A muscle in Edward's cheek flinched. He adjusted his suit coat, then stepped off the curb and crossed the wet road. His new patent leather shoes clacked against the cement. Her father stood up, setting the chair to rock by itself.

"Who's there?" asked her father, removing the pipe from his mouth.

Edward opened the picket fence gate and walked up to the porch.

"Little Eddy Smith," said her father. "You shouldn't be here."

"It's Edward now, sir," said Edward. "I've come to call on Adela."

"No, I don't think so Edward. You go on back home now. Don't be bothering Adela."

"But sir," said Edward, taking off his hat and holding it to his chest, "I love her."

Her father looked at Edward, narrowing his eyes.

"That may be," he said, "but she don't love you. Do you understand?"

"No," said Edward calmly. Adela's father stared at Edward.

"Who's at the door Franklin?" said a voice from inside the house. It was Adela's mother.

"Little Eddy Smith," said her father, not taking his eyes off Edward. A dish dropped. The Victrola upstairs stopped with a scratch. Footsteps. Her mother ran to the screen door. She twisted a dish towel in her hands.

"What's he doing here?" she asked her husband.

"I've come to call on Adela."

"She don't want to see you," said her mother, voice trembling. "You get now. Or I'll call your mother."

"She won't answer," said Edward.

"What? Why not?" asked her mother.

"She's dead," said Edward. He put his hat back on and and lifted his hands to show them the dried blood on his palms.

"Franklin!" gasped her mother, tottering backwards into the hall.

"What did you do Eddy?" asked her father, dropping his pipe to the painted floorboards of the porch.

"I just shut her up," said Edward smiling. "She was on my back all the time."

"Oh my God," said her father. He stumbled and opened the screen door. Edward grabbed his arm and pulled him back. He shoved him into the rocking chair, breaking it to pieces. Then he stepped on her father's neck. Her father grabbed his leg, trying to wriggle free. Edward stomped down hard, again and again. He father beat his feet on the porch floor. Her mother started screaming. He stomped again, this time on her father's face. Her father coughed up blood, spattering a bit on Edward's pant leg. Edward stopped and looked down at the red dot.

"You got my pants dirty," he said. "How dare you."

Edward furiously kicked her father in the head. He stopped moving. Just then, her mother burst through the screen door with a fire iron. She swung at Edward's back, but he turned and caught the shaft of the iron in his hands. He twisted it and pulled it out of her hands. She fell back into the hallway, tripping over the carpet.

"No, no, no, no, no, no!" she screamed. She looked up to the top of the staircase. Adela and her sister were looking down, in their nightgowns, with shocked faces. "Run girls! Lock your door!"

Edward opened the door, then carefully closed it behind him, so that it didn't slam. Her mother crawled towards the telephone that was freshly mounted on the hallway wall. Edward lifted the fire iron above him. He swung down. Her mother slumped. He let go of the iron. The barb was lodged into her mother's skull. It slowly rotated until its handle leaned against the wall.

He turned and looked up the staircase. The sisters ran into their room and slammed the door shut. Furniture scraped across the floor.

"Please go away Edward!" said Adela, her voice muted behind the door.

Edward took off his hat and placed in on the newel post. A hank of hair flopped into his face. He took out the red handkerchief from his suit pocket and dabbed at beads of sweat on his forehead.

"You come on down now," said Edward. "And greet me like a good girl."

"I'll do no such thing!" said Adela.

"Come on now," said Edward. "It wouldn't be gentlemanly of me to come into your bedroom, now would it?" He carefully folded the handkerchief and replaced it in his pocket. "I'm waiting, Adela."

"Gentlemanly?" yelled her sister.

"Hush, Diana," said Adela.

"I've always been a gentleman to you Adela. I've been trying to court you right proper. I've given you flowers and candy, and taken you to the movies. I've never tried to put my hands all over you like some boys try to do."

"What did you do to Daddy and Momma?" said Adela.

"Answer me Adela, haven't I always been a gentleman?" he looked up the staircase expectantly. "Adela?" He took a step up the staircase. "Adela?" He took another step. "Adela? You answer me now."

There was a thump on the porch roof. Edward turned. Another thump. then he saw feet dangle down from the roof. Adela jumped to the grass and rolled. Her sister followed. Edward leapt down the stairs and through the porch door. Adela and her sister jumped over the low fence and ran into the road barefoot, their white nightgowns billowing out behind them.

Edward hopped the fence, chasing after them. Her sister looked back and screamed. They ran faster, holding hands. They ran across the intersection, their gowns lit up, showing the silhouette of their bodies inside. Edward reached the intersection. The grill of the green grocer's truck plowed into him, brakes screeching. Edward flew into the air, landing hard in center of the road, bones cracking. Adela and her sister looked back.

The driver of the truck opened his door and stumbled out. He ran to Edward.

"What you doing running across the road like that mister?! Mister?" The driver stooped over Edward, as a pool of blood grew under him.

Adela and her sister walked back, clutching each other.

"I gave you my heart," said Edward to Adela. "Why'd you tear it up Adela? Why you done that? My heart was faithful. I would 'a done anything for you."

Adela put her hand to her mouth, and started to cry.

"You don't know what love is," she said, sobbing. "You're incapable of it."

"You did this, Adela," said Edward, spitting blood. "All of this." He coughed and looked up at the moon. Then his heart stopped beating.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

94/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Southern Point" by Grizzly Bear

A line of men and women walked carefully in a line through the underbrush. Somewhere in the middle was a boy of twelve named Cadogan on his first time into the ravaged forestlands. He was sweating even though it was just after dawn and still cold. He gripped his rifle tightly with grimy fingers. He had been talking excited about going on the expedition for many days, driving his mother to distraction. But the previous night he fell silent, worried about the tree-eaters.

They walked slowly, quietly, deliberately. There were a few early rising birds flitting in the bare branches of the trees, and little mammals and insects rustled in the leaf litter. Two of the men peeled off to check on some animal traps. They were still in the normal forest, but the villagers had learned long ago it was best not to ever go anywhere alone.

The main line came to a break in the trees. The line of men and women instinctively came to a stop. Ahead was an old freeway. Across the road the trees stood like  shattered spikes, nude of their bark, branchless. Even from their vantage point across the road, everyone could see the tooth marks.

A village elder, Phil, standing next to Cadogan, signaled to the others to move forward. They all crouched and crept quickly to the crumbling road embankment. They crawled up it, but Cadogan lost his footing and slid down into frosty grass. The rest of the villagers were already running across the road. Cadogan swore and collected his rifle. He climbed the embankment, embarrassed. The others were already creeping between the dead trees. He looked down the road briefly. He remembered playing basketball here on this stretch of road just a year ago. The old village was about a mile in the direction they were heading. The tree-eaters had claimed so much of the forest so quickly. He wondered why they had stopped so cleanly at the line of the road.

Cadogan ran across, and pushed hard to join up again with the rest. Phil wordlessly grabbed Cadogan by his shirt, pulled tight on the shirt twisting it, then slowly punched Cadogan in the chest. Phil's eyes briefly shot to Cadogan before returning to scan the forest ahead of them. Cadogan nodded when Phil let go. They continued walking slowly. There were no birds or mammals on this side of the road, but bottoms of the trees roiled with insects--termites, ants, and black fuzzy caterpillars, feeding on the sugary tree-eater saliva and the bare rotting wood. Even in the cold the insects were unusually active. Cadogan was glad to have tall boots, an old pair given to him by his uncle on his birthday last week.

Shortly they came upon a steaming pile of masticated wood chips. The air was heavy with the stench of methane. Two of the women took out large cotton bags and started shoveling the chips into the bags with their hands. The excrement of the tree-eaters made excellent fuel. They dug into it with bare hands, scooping out masses of slimy slivers and chips. One of the women suddenly gasped, and everyone looked at her, briefly, before turning back to scanning the trees. She pulled human thigh bone from the pile. She looked over to Phil, her face stricken with sadness. Everyone knew who the thigh bone belonged to.

When the rest of the pile was sorted through, there was half a human skeleton. A child. The skull was missing. One of the men laid out the bones and said a quick prayer, barely above a whisper, then he and another dug a shallow hole with their hands, first digging through the frosty crust with the heels of their boots. The women with the bags laid the bones in the grave and they and the men covered it carefully but quickly with the displaced dirt. The women promptly turned back towards camp with their bags of tree-eater dung slung over their backs.

Phil whistled like a jay to the others. The line formed again, except for Cadogan. He laid his rifle down on the ground next to the grave. Tears started streaming down his face. He knelt down into the dirt. The line started off in their slow creep. No one noticed he wasn't with them.

"I'm sorry," he said under his breath. His chest heaved. He looked up at the clear blue sky. The tears made his vision wobble. He wiped his tears away, leaving grimy streaks. He looked back down at the turned earth. "It was just a stupid dare," he said. "I didn't mean it, I didn't!"

Cadogan fell over the grave. He pushed his forehead into the soil as he sobbed. Then he pushed his fingers in.

"Nobody knew I told you to do it..." he said, sort of squealing at the end. He felt a knot in his throat. He formed fists over the dirt in his hands. Then the air went dark.

Cadogan turned and looked up. A dark form blocked the sun. It was one of them. It towered over him, perfectly silent, cast in its own shadow. Cadogan felt his fingers and toes tingling. His heart thumped in his chest, and glanced to the rifle a few feet away. He suddenly thought what a silly precaution it was against a things so huge. Cadogan froze, hoping the tree-eater hadn't actually noticed him laying there.

Then the tree-eater spread itself, lifting up its several arms, eight in all if you counted the feet which were nearly identical. Brown skin stretched across the expanses between the limbs, sunlit from behind, revealing the veins and tendons, and toothy, scaly ridges. At the ends of the limbs there were large padded paws with twitching claws the size of daggers. It's maw was at the top of its body. It was a slack opening lined with several rows of dry yellow teeth, large and wrinkled like molars, and pitted with many cavities.

The tree-eater folded backwards, pivoting at its middle. Its top limbs fell gently, quietly, into the leaf litter, forming a triangle with the ground. At the apex of its body, a mucousy line opened up. A bulb of pinkish red flesh rose up, protruding. Cadogan started to frantically shuffle backwards, terrified. He bumped into a beetle covered tree stump and struggled to stand.

The bulb twisted and turned. Cadogan lunged for the rifle and picked it up, shaking violently. He couldn't remember if he had loaded it. The bulb turned up, revealing eyes, then a nose, then a mouth. The mouth suddenly gasped, then moaned. The eyes opened. They were green human eyes. They fixed themselves on Cadogan.

"Don't shoot," said the tree-eater calmly.

"You're, you're human?" asked Cadogan.

"Not for a long time," said the tree-eater.

"Are you going to kill me?" asked Cadogan.

"No," said the tree-eater.

"No?" said Cadogan.

"No," repeated the tree-eater.

"Um, why?" asked Cadogan, lowering his rifle an inch.

"I don't eat people," said the tree-eater.

"Yes you do!" exclaimed Cadogan. "My friend--" he pointed towards the grave as a fresh wave of tears threatened to force their way out.

"No," said the tree-eater. "You're friend is not dead."

"We-we found her bones! In your shit! You ate her!" He raised the rifle and pointed it at the head.

"Despite what you may have heard, we can't eat meat. It makes us physically ill. We cannot eat people."

Cadogan stood panting. His finger slid across the trigger.

"But her bones were in your shit!" screamed Cadogan.

"Not mine, hers," said the tree-eater. He stepped closer to the boy. "Put the rifle down."

"I don't understand!" said Cadogan, gulping drily.

"It's all right," said the tree-eater. "Put the rifle down please, Cadogan."

Cadogan cocked his head. His finger slipped from the trigger, and his arms relaxed somewhat.

"How do you know my name?"

"It is you then?" said the tree-eater. Its glistening brow furrowed.

"They said you could read minds," said Cadogan. "You get in our heads. I thought they just told us kids that to scare us so we wouldn't go into the ravaged woods. I never believed it."

"It's ridiculous and untrue. You're village knows very little about us."

"We know you're the work of devils and demons, come forth up from the depths of hell to kill off the human race in a great gradual tribulation."


"My mother told me that there were great cities once, and suburbs, and Walmarts were you could buy anything you wanted for an everyday low price. You didn't have to forage for food or grow it or hunt it. It was just all there in big endless 'frigerated cases!"

"Yes but we're not--"

"And there were cars! Everybody had a great big car. And you could go anywhere on the roads! And the roads didn't have grasses or deer grazing in 'em! That's what my mother told me! You're nothing but pure evil to take all that away from us!"

"Shut up!" said the tree-eater with a roar. Cadogan fell back into the tree and the rifle went off in his hand, blasting a ring of dirt into the air. He dropped the rifle and nervously clutched his hands to his chest. The tree-eater moved closer. Cadogan screamed and ran around the tree, and saw other tree-eaters lurking in a circle. Cadogan stopped and fell to his knees.

"Don't kill me! Please no..." he broke into sobs.

"We're not going to kill you," said the first tree-eater. Cadogan looked back. "Don't you think, if we were as bad as you've been told, that we would have done that already?"

"I don't know," said Cadogan. "What do you want with me then, if you're not going to kill me?"

"Do you have any cuts on you?"

"What?" asked Cadogan.

"Any cuts, or scrapes? Are you bleeding anywhere boy?"

Cadogan looked down at his chest and legs, then looked at his arms and hands.

"No, I don't think so," he said. "But I don't understand."

"We want you to go back to your village. Bath and burn your clothes. You must not get our saliva into any cuts. You've got it on you from leaning against that tree. Tell your people not to come into our forest lands. It's bad enough that you hunt and kill and burn our bodies."

"Burning kills the demon soul that lurks--"

"Shut up. Listen to me. You have to convince your people that we are not here to harm them in any way. We have a contagious disease. None of us really knows how it started, but we have a theory."

"A disease? But diseases kill people."

"Not all. The common cold doesn't usually kill. Diseases need hosts in order to survive. This one needs living hosts. Fifty years ago there were dozens of meteor crashes all over the world, on the same day. We don't think they were just meteors. We think they were ships carrying beings from elsewhere. Beings that look a lot like us, but not quite. Days after that were the first disappearances. We think anyone who came in contact with those beings were infected."

"Space people did this?" asked Cadogan in a whisper.

"Cadogan, this planet is being...prepared. Or perhaps they will leave things just like this. But we have a chance to stop them. As hybrids, we cannot reproduce naturally. So we can limit our numbers if you...humans...stay out of our lands. We can stop the spread of the infection. Do you understand?"

Cadogan stared at the tree-eater.

"Why are telling me?" he asked. "Why haven't you told anyone before?"

"I saw you crying at the grave of your friend. You stayed back when the others went on."

Cadogan looked down, embarrassed to be found crying like that.

"So?" he said, defiantly.

"There are a lot of obstacles. Few of us still have working larynxes. The people we come across usually try to shoot us on sight. It's frightening. Seeing you there, on the ground, distraught, you at least looked like you wouldn't immediately try to shoot at me."

"You get scared?"


"But you're so big."

"Claws aren't really a match for a gun. Anyway, we've been able to tell people in other places. We told your friend. She was going to go back to the village, but it turned out she had a scrape on her knee--and the transformation started before she even got back to the road."


"When the infection takes hold. She's not her right self at the moment. She has to eat voraciously; she is growing inches each day. She is sleeping now. It is the only relief from the pain."

"She's not dead then?"

"No, Cadogan."

"Would you--would you tell her I'm sorry? It's all my fault."

"It's not your fault, son. But I will tell her."

The other tree-eaters suddenly became restless. Then all went down on eight legs and ran silently off in different directions.

"What's with them?" asked Cadogan.

"I think the others are coming back. They must have heard the gun go off. I can't believe they forgot you. I have to go too," said the tree-eater. "Cadogan, don't be frightened of us. Not any more."

"No," said Cadogan quietly. "But I don't think they will believe me."

"Maybe not at first. But keep at them." The tree-eater's head started to sink and twist back into it's body. "And Cadogan--"


The tree-eater looked into Cadogan's eyes, then down at its own body.

"Never mind. Stay safe."

"Uh, okay."

The tree-eater folded back upright, then fell forward on all eight paws and loped off quietly towards the west. Cadogan stood up, watching the dark figure until it disappeared. Then he heard footsteps behind him. He turned and saw the line again.

"You're safe," said Phil.

"Yeah," said Cadogan.

"We're going back. I'm telling your mother. You're not tagging along again, at least for a few more years. You're too much trouble. Pick up your gun."

"Don't worry," said Cadogan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

93/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven

"Oh my sons," she said, her voice velvet. Bullets streaked by, criss-crossing over her head as she rose from the ocean, between the amphibious troop deployment vehicles. Men yelled frantically, and grenades boomed, blasting up cones of sand and liberated parts of men. "Oh my sons." Her ample lips did not move, but were slightly parted enough to frame a glint of ivory. She was naked except for a film of seawater glistening on her timelessly young skin. Her blonde hair was impossibly thick and long, interwoven with tendrils of seaweed and decorated by tiny living mollusks.

She walked effortless through the surf, shining in the sun, towards two figures lying in the sand. Their skin and fatigues were stained dark crimson. One man lay with his cheek and eye in the surf-soaked grit. He bled from the throat and could not move from there down. The other man was bleeding from his thigh and arm and left ear. They both saw the woman emerging from the sea.

"Oh my sons," she repeated silently.

"Get down..." whispered the man without the ear, who could still speak though his voice was hoarse. The other man gurgled, his eyes widening. The woman smiled.

"I cannot by harmed," she said. "What is a bullet to me? They are of concern only to mortals." She approached and knelt between them. She cradled the head of the man with the throat wound.

"Who...are you?" asked the other man.

"I am Aphrodite," she said, "although I have many names." She smiled, then leaned down and kissed the man she held. Her mouth came away stained with blood. The blood faded from her lips, as if sucked in, absorbed into the spaces between the cells of her skin. The paralyzed man looked up at her adoringly, calmly.


"Oh my sons," she said. "I cannot take your pain away, but I can give you comfort."

"Are you, are you real?"

"I am more real than you," she said.

"Why are you speaking in my head? Why don't your lips move when you talk?"

"Because I can," she said smiling. Then she parted her lips and spoke. "But if this makes you feel better..."

The man in her hands started to choke. She stroked his matted hair. He looked up at her face lovingly. Tears streamed from his eyes.

"Help him," whispered the other man.

"I cannot," she said, still looking down upon the dying man, with benevolence. He sighed heavily, then stopped breathing. She carefully closed his eyelids, then laid his head back down into the sand.

"He died..."

"Yes, he did," she said. "Did you know him?"

"No," said the man.

"You will always remember his face." She gently brushed the dead man's cheek with the back of her hand. "The warmth leaves him."

"Am I dying?" said the other man.

"If you were, you would know for certain." She turned to face him, and brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead.

"I thought maybe--"

"That you could only see me because you were dying?" she said.

"Yeah," he said.

"I am not Death," she said. The man looked around at the air surrounding them as if expecting to see someone else.


"You see me, because you need to see me," she said. "The other soldiers would be able to see me too, if they only looked."

"I don't understand."

"You are mortal," she said, smiling silently again. "But you will not die for a long time yet."

"I guess this is my day," he said, chuckling weakly. "I had to meet a goddess the day I'm bleeding all over the place."

"As I said, we can be seen if you only look. You can meet me again any day, if you have love in your mind."

"In my mind?"

"Your heart only pumps blood. It is essential, but it does not allow you to interpret this world you live in. Your mind chooses to love or not love. Choose love. Choose love as much as you can, as often as you can. Choose love when you want to do otherwise. Especially then."

The man stared at her for a moment.


"You don't believe me, do you?"

"It's a little strange."

"If the men who started this war chose love whenever they could, would there be a war?"

"We had no choice--"

"No, but your side didn't start it," she said, getting up. The sand grains fell from the skin on her legs as if statically repelled. "You don't have to believe me. Just try it." She smiled broadly, as bullets arced and looped their trajectories around her body. "A medic will be along shortly. Goodbye."

With hand raised, she blew him a kiss, then turned, and walked towards the dunes. As she did, she became two, then four, then eight, and so on. Her selves departed in both directions along beach, and up the grassy embankment towards the enemy machine gun nests. Each of them found a fallen man, crouching or kneeling, or sitting beside him, and looking down beatifically.

"Here's one!" said a soldier approaching. He carried a medic's kit. "How'ya doing buddy? Nice day for a war, isn't it?" The medic smiled as he quickly unpacked gauze.

"Yeah...I guess," said the wounded man. He looked around at the other fallen soldiers, but the woman was gone. "Hey, did you happen to see a..."

"See a what?" asked the medic. He dabbed at the man's ear wound.

"I just...had a conversation with Aphrodite..." The man grimaced. "You must think I'm delirious."

The medic laughed.

"Nope," he said. "I've seen her too. Just don't tell anyone back home. They'll think you're nuts."

"You have?"

"Yeah. You just get yourself home in one piece, okay? Then you get yourself a good woman. Treat her well. Love her. Adore her if you possibly can. All that good stuff, you hear? And pass it along."

"Wow," said the wounded man.

"Yup. She is in every woman. You'll be just fine," said the medic. He motioned to two other soldier who bore a stretcher. Then he winked at the man, before moving along to the next man lying in the sand.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

92/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Hand Covers Bruise" by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from The Social Network soundtrack

The TV babbled at the periphery of Simon's consciousness. The weatherman droned on about the heat and humidity. Simon lay spreadeagled across his easy chair, shirtless. He wore worn jeans. The cat shifted to lay on her stomach, her legs sprawled out, using the hardwood as a heat sink. Simon's wife Pauline stood in front of the open freezer door in the kitchen.

The TV hiccuped with static, and Simon came to consciousness. Lines zigzagged across the screen.

"Hun?" asked Simon.

"What?" asked Pauline in a loud voice.

"There aren't supposed to be any lines anymore on a TV, right?"

"Huh?" said Pauline. She closed the freezer door, wiped her neck of sweat, and walked into the living room.

"Look," said Simon. He pointed to the TV.


"We have digital signals now. It should be breaking up in squares."

"Well, I dunno. The TV is old, it still has scan lines. Maybe it's about to go."

"Yeah," said Simon, leaning back in his chair. "Weird though." He watched the lines run back and forth. Pauline sat down on the sofa. The cat tore out from under it, and ran down into the basement.

"It will be nice when this heat wave's over. I'm not sure I can take much more of it," said Pauline. "We should get an airconditioner.

"Too expensive."

"I think it would be worth it."

"For two months out of the year?"

"Yeah but--"

A large thunderclap burst over the house, rattling books in their shelves and the dishes in the cupboards. The TV went dark.

"Oh my God," yelled Pauline. "Are we supposed to have--"

Another clap of thunder exploded above them.

"What the hell?!" yelled Simon. He jumped up and took Pauline by the hand. "Might be a tornado coming..."

They ran for the door to the basement, but another, much louder clap sounded and threw them to their feet in the hallway. They could see out the screen door to the front yard. The sunlight grass suddenly fell into shade. Simon got up, and slowly crept to the door, with Pauline close behind. A pattern of light and shadow played across the lawn. Simon opened the screen door and stepped onto the porch. The lights got brighter as they descended down the front steps.

"'s getting colder."

"Yeah, it is..." He looked up. Little balls of plasma descended like snow. They moved in erratic paths downward.

"Ball lightning?" asked Pauline.

"Dunno. There's a lot of it."

The first of the balls landed on the lawn and rolled around. Pauline and Simon backed up into the shelter of the porch.

"Don't touch it," said Pauline.

"It's not burning anything. I wonder if it's natural," said Simon.

A breeze picked up, and the plasma balls started to swirl in the air.

"Let's get inside," said Simon. They retreated into the house. The breeze quickly turned into a wind, and the temperature dropped twenty degrees in the space of a minute.

"I think we should close the door," said Pauline. They watched the balls through the front door window, but soon the light from them was too intense. Pauline got a sweater and put it on, and Simon took out the emergency radio from the cupboard in the kitchen. He turned it on, but got nothing but static. The temperature fell another thirty degrees, and they could see their breath.

"Let's get the quilts and sleeping bags," said Simon. They quickly ran through the house collecting them, then ran to the basement, closing the door to the stairway behind them. Frost started forming on the walls and they were shivering. The bright light streamed in under the door crack, lighting up the entire basement.

"You'd think the light would be warm," said Pauline.

The huddled together in the far corner, away from the stairway. The cat zipped out from between the Christmas boxes and leapt into their laps. Pauline bundled the cat up with them.

The wind shook the house fiercely--they heard the windows popping and shattering above. The light above penetrated carpet and floorboards, adding an orange glow. They could see the grain of the floor in three dimensions, as if the wood were translucent.

"What is it?" asked Pauline. She had already stopped shivering; her body temperature was rapidly falling.

"Dunno," said Simon, his throat burning from the cold. He ducked them both underneath their coverings. The light penetrated that too, showing each thread and the spaces between.

The carbon dioxide started to precipitate out of the air, and fell like dust to the floor. The howl of the wind died down, as all the ambient energy was consumed into the plasma and converted to photons. Simon and Pauline and the cat froze, embraced.

Monday, July 18, 2011

91/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Mona Vegas" by Starfucker*

*yup that's the name of the band. Check them out -- they are fabulous.

Claire sat on the beach in her wetsuit. Her bare toes dug into rain soaked sand. The wind fluttered against the curly blonde/white hair that framed her face in a frizz. She held a kelp bulb in her hands, rolling it back and forth between her palms. Its long frond stretched back into the ocean.

The sea tumbled and foamed where it met the beach. The clouds glowered in the sky, insulating against the heat of the sun. Claire pulled up on the frond, careful not to break it. She reeled it into a large slippery pile, but still it receded into the ocean. She stood up, perplexed. She held the frond and walked alongside it, into the lapping ocean. She waded out, following the kelp. Bits of cedar and plastic floated on the wash.

Hip deep, she pulled again. The kelp slid out and ribboned up next to her, bobbing and dipping with the waves. She dove in. Under the water it was darker. The sea was very green and gray in the overcast light. The ocean gurgled and sang haltingly to her, as it always did. She followed the kelp further out. She passed over the jagged rock that gave her a heap of trouble when she was sixteen, forty years ago. It was also the spot where her son ran into trouble.

She surfaced and refilled her lungs. She glanced back at her house on stilts. It was many yards away, and the ocean frothed in between as if it were upset at something. She turned and dove and swam like a seal, her hand slipping alongside the impossibly long kelp frond. Finally there was sand again below her. She was almost at the break. The waves built up. She felt one coming. She ducked down under it. It tugged on her hair as it rolled over. She surfaced again, to swim over the shallow rim of rocks. White foam splashed and sucked at the rocks. Another wave came and she jumped up, careful to hold the frond with both hands. The wave passed and she descended, her feet landing hard on the rocks. She pushed off, and swam out over the dropoff.

The kelp continued. Claire bobbed with the building waves and harbored thoughts that this was a quest best left unquested. She followed the kelp out again. It started to angle downward into the deep. She sucked in and out a great lungful of air, then filled up again. She dove. below her was blackness. She felt along the kelp guideline, struggling to pull herself down. Her chest and ears began to ache. When she could bear it no longer she turned and kicked for the surface.

She spat out saltwater and rubbed her eyes. She stared out across the shifting, wobbling horizon, thinking. She started to pull. The kelp resisted a little, but gave in. She pulled and pulled and soon a pile many feet wide slithered next to her in the water. Then it snagged, resistant. She tugged as much as she thought she could without tearing the frond. Then she relaxed.

Claire watched seagulls circling high above her, aquatic vultures. She pulled again, and this time the kelp came up with ease. Soon something touched her feet. She dove in and saw that it was a great tangle of living kelp. She let it rise to the surface. She tried to force the knots apart but she couldn't get any leverage in the water.

She swam back to shore with the massive knot in tow. The long frond curled back on itself. Finally she wrested it to the beach. She flopped to the sand, exhausted. She realized the knot was giving off a strong putrid smell. She forced back a gag.

Hot from exertion, Claire sat up and unzipped the top of her wetsuit. She peeled out her arms, and sat panting. She stood up and pulled at the fronts, snapping them. She worked her way through a foot of kelp before she had to run to the treeline to vomit. She turned and wiped her mouth, eyeing the green mess.

She returned to the house and washed her hands, then changed into shorts and a t-shirt. She went back out to the beach armed with large shears and a painter's mask she still had in the garage from the remodel. She cut the kelp to shreds, until she uncovered something white. She stopped, then pressed into it with her fingers. It was faintly warm. She pulled at the fronds with her hands, widening the opening.

There was a navel. She pulled more revealing a body dressed in board shorts. It was her son. Hands trembling, she uncovered his face. His lips were blue, and his eyes were glazed over. He looked like he had been dead an hour, not ten years.

Claire stumbled backward, hyperventilating. She ripped off the mask and ran to the other end of the beach and stared at the disassembled knot. She sat in the sand, and put her head to her knees and shook her shoulders in a silent scream. She inhaled and exhaled and tried to stay calm. She stood, and walked back to the knot. He was still there, grayish white. She bent down and worked quickly to free him completely. She bundled up the kelp and threw it back into the surf, and most of the smell went with it.

She knelt beside his body. She ran her fingers down his arms. She leaned in close, and smelled his skin. There was little scent of putrescence left. She place a palm flat on his chest. There was a bit of warmth. Just as she was about to withdraw her hand, she felt a bump. She put both hands on his chest. A minute later, there was another bump, thudding from inside. Then there was another twenty seconds later. Then another ten seconds later. Soon his heart was thumping at a regular resting pace, but he was not breathing.

Claire leaned over his mouth, and pressed hers to his. She exhaled gently. His chest rose. She sat up. Slowly it fell again. Claire held her breath. Then his chest heaved, he gasped, then choked. Seawater gurgled up from his mouth. His eyes returned, clear. He blinked, pressed he eyes tight, then coughed up a gelatinous green mass the size of a tangerine. Claire helped clear it from his mouth even as she gagged at the sight of it. He sucked in a large lungful and coughed some more. He looked at her.


"Yes," she said. She wiped back hair from his forehead.

"That was epic," he said, sitting up.

"I gave up on you," said Claire.

"What?" he asked.

"Never mind," she said. She leaned in and hugged him deeply.

"Um, thanks, but you're crushing me," he said.

"I'm not sure you can be crushed," she said.

"C'mon. Get off."

Claire disengaged and leaned back, smiling at her son.

"How about some hot chocolate?" she asked. "There's a bit of chill in the air."

"Yeah, what's up with that? I thought it was sunny before I wiped out."

"It was," she said. She stood, and offered her hand. He took it, and they walked towards the house, hand in hand.