Wednesday, August 31, 2011

132/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "With a Little Help from My Friends" from the Across the Universe soundtrack

"He's still warm," said Joe. He looked down at the body, emaciated and pockmarked with weeping sores. A bat cracked and the and the half-filled stadium crowd on the television roared. The Nationals were playing the Rockies.

"It's a slow day. I think people are hanging on just to watch the playoffs," said the EMT, an older man who showed only a few red spots. He zipped up the body bag. "We're gonna get a rush once the series is done. That's my bet. New Year's last year was slow, although back then there weren't so many dying. I guess people really wanted to make it to 2015. Just another day though. Would'ya help me get him on the gurney?"

"Yeah, sure." Joe carefully lifted the body by the shoulders off the sofa as the EMT carried the legs. They carried the body around to the gurney parked behind the sofa. Joe felt something pop in his back and immediately worried if it was a progression of the disease.

"Oh man, you're gonna want to get that dry cleaned," said the EMT. He nodded in the direction of the sofa cushions, soaked with blood.

"That's not mine."

"Oh, I assumed you lived here."

"No. I'm just his drug dealer."

"Really? What do you sell?"

"I used to sell only marijuana, back before I was legit, but now I have a license to distribute Ox and morphine."

"Oh, you must be raking it in."

"Well, my customers keep dying. I'm too tired to get new ones. Too much driving these days."

"I hear you. You're getting far along though. What'cha got left, six, seven months?" asked the EMT, adjusting his hat and smiling. Joe glared at him.

"I'm holding out for a cure," said Joe. The EMT burst into laughter.

"Good luck with that!" chortled the EMT.

"Don't laugh," said Joe. He balled up his fists.

"It's fucking funny dude!" laughed the EMT. Joe swung at him and landed a punch in the EMT's soft belly. The EMT wheezed and doubled over; his face turned red. He gripped the metal edge of the gurney and sank to his knees. Joe backed up against the living room wall. He looked at his fist. The sores on his fingers were ripped open and bleeding.

"I'm sorry," said Joe quietly.

"It's all right. In a year it's gonna be all Beyond Thunderdome around here. I might as well get used to it."

"It's not all right." Joe slid down the wall and sat on the carpet cradling his arm.

"Dude, I pack up dead bodies all day, every day. Forgive me if I find death funny. I can take a look at that if you like."

The EMT picked up his medical bag and sat down next to Joe. Joe was silent. The EMT changed his gloves then started swabbing the wounds with antiseptic.

"What's your name?" asked Joe.


"I need a friend, Walter."

"You're asking me?"

"Yes. I don't want to die alone," said Joe. Walter stopped swabbing and rested his hands.

"I have two years," said Walter. He put his hand on Joe's shoulder. "Two years man. You got six months. Most of you all got less than me. I'll get to watch everyone die. I get to watch everything fall apart. I've got no choice. I will die alone buddy." He removed his hand from Joe's shoulder and continued swabbing.

"I'm sorry," said Joe, his voice cracking.

"Doesn't really bother me."

"I wish none of this ever happened--"

"That some idiots never tried to cure skin cancer with a live virus that no one has any immunity to? I wish that too, but it doesn't change anything. You know what? Just put it out of your mind. Don't think about your mortality. Go watch this travesty of a game." Walter pointed at the TV. "The Nationals are winning. The Nationals! They're going to take this game and then they're going to play Detroit. Detroit! And you know what? The Nationals are going to take the series because they have a bunch of healthy teenagers they recruited halfway through the goddamned season." Walter ripped off his gloves with a snap. "This is not baseball, it's heresy. But you know what, you should watch it. Take your mind off yourself."

Joe stared at him.

"Thanks," said Joe.

Walter stood.

"I gotta wheel this guy out of here," said Walter. He coughed and rubbed his eyes, smearing tears across the back of his hands. He pulled the gurney through the open door and into autumn sunlight.

"See you in six months," said Joe, calling after him. He pulled up his legs and rested his head on his knees, and listened to the final bat crack and the jubilation of the Nationals.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

131/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "New Born" by Muse

The deer looked up. Her nostrils widened. Her front knees trembled. She turned her head to eye the rusted, overturned logging truck covered in moss and fallen trees, not know what it was. The forest on this side of the mountain became quiet. The deer's heart beat with fury even as she tried to still her trembling, to be invisible.

She bolted.

Her hooves threw up dots of dirt and shreds of half-consumed leaves. Her heart thumped against her aching lungs. Others joined her. Deer, rabbits, birds, mice, a lumbering moose. They fanned out away from the truck, like trees at Tunguska.

The forest was still again.

The soil eased apart under the rusted truck, and it sunk in, with its long-forgotten occupant, now just a skeleton, deep underground.

Five miles away, in a plastic hutch, a seismometer needle scampered across graph paper bleeding furious inky jags.

Metal fingers the size of tree trunks, covered in whirring saw blades, ripped up through the roots of trees, spraying vast arcs of soil and stones skyward. Hands followed, pulling, ripping, pushing. The maw of the creature emerged, spitting up dirt, screaming with a thousand blades running at a thousand revolutions per minute. The fingers unrooted trees and shoved them whole into the maw. The belly of the creature filled with woodchips and it belched sawdust. With new energy it pulled the rest of the body up from the earth. A heart beating with gasoline, lungs that expired carbon monoxide and black smoke, legs made of hundreds of oiled steel pistons, an outer skin made of lines of chainsaw blades--all pushed up.

It stood, eyeless, and screamed. Everyone in logging towns for miles around heard the echoes of straining blades and chains.

It ran. It's hands scraped up trees like they were pondscum, and shoved the vegetation up to the maw. It's feet dug craters into the earth. Its belly glowed with incendiary wood, and it left a trail of thick white smoke. It ran and screamed and ran until it came to the edge of the town in which it had last lived as a man.

It stopped at the side of the road, it's blades and chains and many workings revving down. Opposite was the town's one restaurant--a rundown diner. Just beyond was the motel where the itinerant loggers lived while they worked this patch of forest. The few people inside the diner stared out the window, frozen. One logger held a forkful of pancakes mid-way to his mouth, dripping maple syrup down his flannel shirt.

The creature moved its hand to its maw. It motioned frantically, scraping blade to blade and chain to chain until it discovered the right frequencies to mimic speech.

"Whhhhhhy....." it whirred. "Whhhhhhhhy...."

The creature coughed and belched black smoke.

"Whhhhhy....." Then it screamed, and the windows to the dinner shattered inward, spraying the people inside with slivers of glass, gashing their hands and faces. They screamed and cowered.


The creature stopped moving. When it was still for a minute, one of the loggers inside called out.

"Why did you what? What are you trying to say?"

Its blades whirred up again,


"Lur? Love? Why did you love? What?" yelled out the bravest logger.


"Okay, not love then." The logger looked around at his bloodied up companions under their tables. "Anybody got any idea?" They shook their heads furiously. "We don't know what you're trying to say!"




"Lurvimur? What?"

The creature balled up its fists, then leapt on top of the diner, swing it's arms through the structure, including the people within.

"Furrrrrrrrrr...chchchch....uuuuuuuuu...." screeched the creature, before it ascended back up the mountain to rest.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

130/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Modern Guilt" by Beck

The letter read:

You have been sentence to indefinite imprisonment. Please use the form on the back of this notice if you wish to file an appeal.

Jake looked at it blankly and scratched his neck. He stuffed it carefully back into it's white windowed envelope.

"What'cha got there neighbor? Another bill racked up by the missus?" His neighbor laughed at his own joke as he sprayed his Volkswagen with a jet of hose water in the later afternoon sun.

"I'm not married," said Jake, not looking up. He shuffled back up the pathway to his door from the mailbox, and tightened his bathrobe around his chest. Once inside the door he leaned heavily against the hallway wall and let out a long, slow breath. He dropped the letter on a pile of similar envelopes on the hall table.

Jake looked down the hallway towards where the kitchen had been. A black chasm had been growing inside the house, and it moved around slowly, eating furniture, the wooden floorboards, the walls, everything, molecule by molecule. When it passed, it left a portion of the elements it had consumed, rearranged. The kitchen now looked it had been constructed by honeybees. The walls were at severe angles, the appliances still recognizable, but unusable, warped and brittle, stuck into the walls. The metal from the old wiring was stripped and curled. Useless, but pleasantly ornate in its rearrangement.

The chasm now sat in the middle of the hallway. The oak floor eroded away into matte blackness. Jake did not know how far the chasm extended into the basement. He reached up and pulled his weight onto the length of clothesline he had rigged up on the wall with nails and brackets. He brachiated passed the chasm, careful to raise his toes up so he wouldn't loose his slippers, and landed on the staircase. He took the steps two at a time and ran into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. He slept the rest of the afternoon and night away.

He awoke to dull, jagged morning light invading his window. He squirmed under his blankets, trying to block it out. He felt a tug on his sheets. He pulled. It pulled back.

Jake bolted upright and pressed his back against the headboard. He immediately started sweating. At the foot of his bed was a shard of the chasm, floating mid-air, slowly sucking in his sheets. It was slightly transparent, in the beam of direct sunlight, showing a criss-crossed of denser, more opaque structure. Jake picked up his long-unplugged alarm clock from his side-table and threw it at the shard. The clock grazed the top of it, but the shard caught the cord like glue--the clock bounced and swung down. The shard slowly slurped the cord in along with the sheet.

Jake opened the drawer of the side table and pulled out a pair of slender scissors. He leapt up and cut the sheets and blankets free, balling them up and throwing them in the opposite corner of the room. He stood up on the mattress and looked down at the shard.

"Go away!" he screamed. It didn't.

He stepped down off the mattress and backed towards the bedroom door. The middle of the door was rearranged, with bits of chewed up wood sticking up out of painted portions. He flung the door open and it fell off it's hinges--the wood there crumbling to dust. The staircase was canted, rippled, tracing the path where the shard had detached from the main body of the chasm. The chasm itself had grown overnight--or thinned and spread--to encompass all the visible floor below. Jake crossed to the other bedroom, which was empty except for piles of unread newspapers and his ex-wife's ample magazine subscriptions. He closed the door and sat against the opposite wall, under an unblinded window, staring at the door. He clutched his angry-hungry stomach. The room was still and became hot. He fell asleep.

There was chattering. It was midday. Jake's eyes fluttered opened. He coughed and then listened. The chattering was from outside. Jake turned around, knelt, an peeked out the bottom of the window. There was nothing but blue sky, so he sat up on his heels to look down. There were three children standing on his lawn, conversing with punctuations of laughter.

Jake stood up and tapped on the glass.

"Get off my lawn!" he yelled. The children looked up at the window. "Get off my lawn!!" Jake screamed. The children stared and didn't move. Jake struggled to open the window, which was partly sealed by a poor paint job. With a jolt, the entire window dislodged and fell to the ground. "I'm coming to get you if you don't get off my lawn right now!" The children screamed and ran off.

Jake looked down at the window opening. Tiny shards of the chasm dotted the wood of the casement, like spots of mold. He backed up, and picked up a folded up newspaper. He pushed the end of it it into the wall next to the window opening. The wallpaper gave way. The wall behind it crumbled. Dots of light from outside poked through. Jake tightened the sash of his robe. He slashed at the exterior-facing walls of the room with the newspaper again and again, dislodging the eroded bits, until only a latticework dotted with black remained.

He opened the door to the room. The chasm was right outside, filling up the door frame completely.

"Go..." said Jake softly. "Go."

The chasm flexed then relaxed, showing what looked like the outlines of large matte crystals.

"Fine," said Jake. "Then you have to let me file an appeal. This isn't fair you know. It doesn't matter what I've done."

The chasm did not react.

"I won't do it. You can eat this whole house, but you won't eat me. I'm not guilty. I'm not ashamed."

Jake stared at the blackness, then grimaced, and slammed the door shut. The wood turned inside out. Black crystals shot through the door and into Jake. His eyes widened and his mouth gurgled up blood. The crystals pulled him through the jumbled wood of the door. His hands went limp and his head lolled backward as his body was reeled inward.

Down on the sidewalk the mailman whistled out of tune as he deposited a white envelope in Jake's mailbox.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

129/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Summertime" by Scarlett Johansson

Three cocooned figures walked down the ramp. Rose colored alien sedges rose up around them, almost to the full height of the tallest two figures. The air was filled with spores and pollen floating lazily on the breeze.

"What do you think, son?" his voice clicked on and off over the radio.

"I feel like I've forgotten something, dad," said the shortest figure. He stood ahead of the others and looked side-to-side, his helmet glinting in the starlight.

"It's just a bit of disorientation from the faster-than-light travel," said the woman. "You'll feel better soon." She put a heavily-gloved hand on her son's shoulder.

"I dunno. Something's not right. I can feel it." His parents behind him exchanged silent glances.

"Well, what shall we name this planet?" said the father. "Your choice."

"Don't I always name the planets?" The son turned around awkwardly to look at his father directly.

"Not always," said his mother. "Don't you want to go off exploring? I bet there's all sorts of exotic animals out there."

The boy looked at her with brow furrowed, then turned forward again and took a few bouncing steps before stopping.

"It just, it feels like we've done this a million times. I dunno, it's kind of boring."

"Nonsense!" said his father, walking up to join his son. "You've always wanted to do this--be a famous explorer of planets. We suddenly got the technology to do it, and you leapt at the chance. You love doing this!"

"I guess. It's just that it all seems so similar. I kind of miss life back on Earth. I just--I want to grow up like a normal kid. And somehow--I don't know. Something's wrong. Something's off. I feel like I should be grown up by now."

"Sweetie," said his mother, "it's just the travel. Many more years have passed back on Earth than you've lived through. I think that accounts for the--"

"Accounts for the what?" asked the boy. He stared out at the rippling pink sedges waiting for an answer. He thought for a moment that his radio had gone out, and he turned around. His parents were gone. "Mom? Dad?"

He traced his path back through the sedges to the ship. The ship was gone but the ramp was still there, violating the law of gravity by leaning up towards nothing. His heart raced. The inside of his helmet started to fog with his rapid breathing. He looped around the ramp, waving his hands around where the ship should have been. He met only the resistance of air.

The boy ran up the ramp to the top and hopped, but the ramp didn't collapse. He jumped off and landed on his knees. He fell face forward then rolled onto his back.

"Mom? Dad? Where are you? Come in!" his voiced trembled. One of the planet's stars started to set rapidly and afternoon turned to evening. The breeze stilled.

He sat up, and reached for the latch on his helmet. He held his breath. He fumbled, then popped the latch. Earth air rushed out to the lower pressure outside. It was a subtle, gentle difference. He twisted the helmet, then removed it and cradled it in his lap. His lips were still pressed together. He exhaled slowly then inhaled sharply.

The humid air was fragrant, even spicy. The boy let his breath normalize. He unzipped his gloves and wriggled free of their bulk. He fiddled with the radio inside his helmet. Something hooted in the distance. The boy looked up, his face drained of blood. The sedges in his peripheral vision rustled. He stood quickly and circled around. Always the grass just at the edge of his sight moved. A chorus of chirps warmed up.

"Stay away you all! I've got a laser gun!"

"No you don't," said a deep voice within the veil of pink grass.

"Who are you?"

"I'm not a 'who' little human."

"Where's my parents?"

"You know where they are." The sedges right in front of the boy shook.

"You took them."

"No. That would be physically impossible."

"They can't just disappear! Where are they?!"

"Where they always are."

"Where's that?" asked the boy, his voice cracking.

The grasses parted and a short figure stepped out in front of the boy. Its body was painted with red mud and it wore a cloth made of woven grasses about its waist. Its eyes bore into the boy.

"You're human..."

"Very observant."

"You look familiar."

"I should."

"You''re me? Older?"

"Not older. More experienced. More aware."


"I don't really know the answer to that." The other boy, the painted boy, took the boy's hand in his own. "Come with me. I have a fire. It will be night soon. It get's cold."

The painted boy pulled the other along through the grasses and away from the ramp.

"I don't want to get lost," said the boy.

"You can't get lost, not here."

"I want my parents to be able to find me. I should stay by the ship."

"There is no ship."


"Trust me. There is no ship."

"Of course there is a ship! How else would I have gotten here?"

"You often feel confused."

"Yeah, it feels like I've just woken from a dream. Mom says it's the faster-than-light travel."

"It's not."

"Well, this isn't a dream."

"No. At least not quite. I haven't figured that part out yet."

"This must be a dream. I'm talking to myself."

They arrived at a crackling fire in a pit in a clearing. There was a small tent to the side of it. The painted boy sat down cross-legged on the ground. The boy stood and watched him.

"Is this where you live?" asked the boy.

"Yeah. I like roughing it." The painted boy poked a stick into the fire, stirring up sparks. "Might as well sit down, dummy."

The boy squinted at his counterpart, then sat down next to the painted boy.

"How did you get to this planet?"

"Same way you did," said the painted boy with a tone of amusement. "That's really the question you want to ask?"

"Well, you're human. My dad and I built the first faster-than-light spaceship in our backyard. No one else has our technology. I'm curious how you got here."

"Wow," said the painted boy, laughing. "You know, we'll need to work together to get out of here. And you need to retain information better."


"Your brain's a sieve. Or maybe that's the wrong word."

"I don't understand."

"Something happened tonight--or whenever this is," said the painted boy. He stood up quickly, cocked his head, then dove headlong into the grass and disappeared. The boy stood up.

"Hey--you! Whoever you are!" There was silence, then suddenly a struggle. Something squealed. A loud crunch. The grasses moved and the painted boy walked back into the clearing holding something scaly and limp in his had. He tossed it onto the fire and sat down again.

"I call them alligator toads. I mean they aren't toads, but close enough. The meat's stringy but they're not bad eating. Really dumb suckers. Easy to catch."

The boy looked at him unblinkingly.

"Well, sit down," said the painted boy. The boy sat down and looked at the little body roasting in the fire. Small appendages were starting to curl up in the heat.

"I'm not eating that thing," said the boy.

"More for me. Do you remember who I am?"

"I don't know," said the boy. The painted boy sighed. "How did you get here?"

"Same way you did. I'm you, dumbass."

"What? How can you be me?"

"I dunno, I just am. I think I'm the part with the working memory. You got short-changed."

"Are you me in the future? Does this planet have a timeloop? Maybe that's what my parents disappeared into."

"This isn't a planet. I'm not in the future, although maybe a timeloop is a sane way of thinking of things. Your parents, our parents, haven't disappeared. Let's just say they're not visible in this reality. If they come back, I'll disappear."

"How did you get here? We have proprietary technology."

The painted boy grunted and stood. He kicked a stone into the fire.

"Listen, I know it's not your fault you're like this, but you gotta try to concentrate for me, will you?"

"Don't push me around," said the boy, lowering his voice.

"Let me make this more concrete for you," said the painted boy. He closed his eyes. A low buzzing sound started up all around them. Darkness pressed in. All the stars blinked out, and in ten seconds there was nothing but black above. The sedges melted away. The tent folded in on itself until it disappeared. Then four round lights lit up behind the painted boy. An engine roared to life. The painted boy smiled and opened his eyes. He leaned down to the boy and offered a hand. The boy took it and the painted boy pulled him to his feet.

"Look," said the painted boy, with a flourish of his hand. A red car materialized behind the two pairs of headlights. The painted boy led the other one around the car, a convertible.

"Wow," said the boy. "A Ford Fairlane. Is this how you got to the planet."

"Sure," said the painted boy without missing a beat. "Why don't you get in?"

The boy opened the passenger-side and slid inside. The painted boy got into the driver's seat and adjusted the rearview mirror.

"How does a convertible work in a vacuum? How do you fly it without all your guts being sucked out of you?"

"Uh, force field." The painted boy put the car in drive and gunned the gas. He sped away from the fire and into the pressing blackness. The lights lit up cones of dark gray. "Listen to me carefully. Look around you. What do you see?"

"Um, nothing. Why is there nothing? Where did all grass go?"

"This is the natural state of things. There is no planet. There is not faster-than-light travel. No spaceships. Definitely no laser guns."

"Where are my parents?"

"I'm not sure exactly. They're not here all the time. They can't be here because they're really elsewhere. I want to join them, but I can't. You need to ask them about that when they come back. You need to remember that."

"You're driving too fast," said the boy, gripping the thick wall of the door.

"Don't worry. You can't ever come to harm here. You're safe. Listen, you have to remember to ask them. It won't be long. I can...feel it. Promise me you'll--"

"Everything all right son?" said the father over the radio.

The boy stood amongst trampled pink sedges in broad daylight. His helmet was firmly in place. He turned and saw his parents, smiling at him through the plastic of their helmets. He looked down at his gloved hands and swayed, dizzy.

"Something's not right," he said.

"Everything's fine," said his father.

"Don't you want to go exploring?" asked his mother.

"This isn't real," said the boy. His mother and father looked at each other quickly.

"Of course it is," said his mother.

"You're not really here. You're in my head, aren't you?"

The boy's parents wore expressions of shock, then both smiled widely. His father walked up to him and held him by the shoulders.

"Son, when did you...when did you come to this conclusion?"

"Just now, though I think I've been thinking about it for awhile. In the back of my mind."

"We should tell the doctors," said his mother.

"Shush!" said the father with slight anger. "Maybe we shouldn't tell him anything."

"Tell me what?"

"This is a milestone honey," said his mother. "I think we should let him know."

"It's too much of a shock."

"This isn't satisfying to him anymore," said his mother, waving her hand at their surroundings.

"He might not remember what we tell him."

Suddenly the boy hit his father in the chest with the palm of his hand.

"What's going on?!"

"Sweetie," said his mother, kneeling in front of him and taking his hand, "you're very sick. Part of your brain is gone."

"Don't tell him that part!"

"There are doctors trying to rebuild it. It's experimental."

"It'll work, son. It's just taking time."

"Your brain is in a device that reads its electrical activity."

"It's all very sophisticated, son. Basically it reads your thoughts, and uh..."

"Reinforces them. And we're in the same type of device. We're all hooked up together, sharing our thoughts. That's how we can be here with you."

"You went away."

"We had to talk to the doctors. We thought you were getting sicker."

"But you weren't. It seems like you're getting better."

"What happened to the car?"

"What?" asked his parents in unison.

The boy turned around and walked further into the grass. His parents warily followed. They came to a clearing with the red Fairlane.

"That's not in the simulation..." said the father under his breath.

"We can do anything, right?"

"That's not how...I mean, we should tell...honey?" The boy's mother looked at his father with worried eyes.

"Can one of you teach me how to drive? When I'm better, and awake, I'd like to know how to do it."

"Sweetie," said his mother, "you already know." She folded her arms awkwardly across her chest.

"You're right. I think I do know," the boy caressed the chrome on the driver's side mirror with a gloved hand. "I crashed. That's how I got into this mess."

"Yes. But you don't have to remember that," said his mother.

"But not a classy car like this. I'm impressed with your taste. The detail is remarkable."

"I made a model of it, when I was younger."

"Yes you did," said his mother.

"When will I wake up?"

"When you're ready. We'll be there, right by your bed sweetie."

"Mom, dad--thanks."

"Our pleasure, son. Now are you going to take us for a ride or what?" They all laughed and climbed into the car. The boy revved the engine and drove off, leaving a wake of pressed-down pink grass.

Friday, August 26, 2011

128/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Possibility" by Lykke Li

Watch a live version of this song (not quite the same as the version I wrote to).

A fine grain of ash floated above the city, summoning water molecules to it with static attraction. A drop formed, with the grain in the center of the globe. The light from the explosions below shot through the globe, turned, bent, flipped, exited, like a camera obscura. The globe gained weight, deformed, started to fall.

Water stained hot cement. The drops evaporated until they cooled the surface enough to collect. A rivulet snaked down the cement, dripped, tap-tap-tap through layers of shattered wood, paper, crushed and melted office furniture, twisted rebar, and more cement, cracked and crumbling and dusty with fractured grit. The water rolled down, pulled by gravity, gathered up dust and ash until it ran thick as chocolate syrup. The water dripped thickly on a human forehead.

Her eyelashes fluttered. Rona woke, coughed, felt pain, felt the pinning weight on her legs, felt the lingering heat. Daylight found it's way down, diminished but present. It let everything in monochrome gray. An alarm still blared from somewhere beneath her. The sludgy water rolled between her nose and left eye. She smudged it away and saw her hand, missing two fingers, the stubs burnt--cauterized. She looked at her hand as if it wasn't hers. She let it rest out of sight.

More water rushed down, less viscous, clearer. Rona let it run into her mouth. Someone near her muttered loudly. Someone else screamed.

Hours passed. Darkness came and went and came again. The water rolled down again, and Rona woke and drank. The others stopped making noises.

Another day. Sounds overhead. Helicopters, dogs, human feet in heavy boots. Radio squelches. Hands shifting debris.

"Help," she said, her voice barely above silence.

Darkness came again. Rain again, clean and cold. Rona shivered. Her heart skipped beats. Her breathe was shallow.

"This is not it," she said quietly.

Rona cleared small bits of debris from her chest. She pushed and pulled, screaming against the angry resistance of fractured bones and freed her other hand, ripping at the skin on her arm, and vast red scratches formed. She reached above her and pushed apart large chunks of wall, and made the opening where the water dripped down wider. She found purchase against a stubborn protrusion of rebar above her. She pulled, and put her weight in it. She wriggled her hips setting her nerves on fire. the fabric of her jeans resisted the rubble. She unbuttoned, reached again for the rebar, and pulled, wriggled, and slipped from the grip of the collapsed building. She pulled up again on the rebar, and forced her way through the opening.

The cavity above was three feet high, and was once a full story. Rona slipped in and crawled past a crushed human skull that stank of rot already. She crawled following the path of the water, soaked into maroon carpet. There was another opening, but nothing to pull up on. She gathered her bare abraded legs beneath her, screaming, and pushed herself up into the next cavity, defined by five feet of rubble. She climbed up, then laid out on the old roof of her building.

The rain hit hard and cold. It washed her body free of the grit. Flashlights crisscrossed, shone into her eyes. Voices, shouts.

"This is not it," she said.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Replacing Dave

This is a story I originally wrote in 1998, at the beginning of a cubicle job.


"Hey Dave, remember we have that kickoff meeting in five minutes." Bob had poked his head round Dave's cube. "Unfortunately, Marci is going to be there, but I hear there's some free food, so maybe it won't be so bad."

"Somebody should put her in the zoo, she has enough hair on her body to pass for a chimpanzee." Mark said from the next cube. He rolled his chair out to face Dave and Bob. "At least, someone should clue her into waxing her face and arms, I don't think shaving is working too well for her."

"Guys, don't you think you are being just a little harsh? She's not that bad." "She has, like, no personality, and no sense of humor. And she hardly ever looks directly at you." said Bob.

"She's also this weird conspiracy nut." added Mark. "Not the government cover-up and aliens type, but if you ever try to have a conversation with her, she goes on about 'they' and 'them'. It's a little disturbing frankly."

"Come on," said Dave, "She's good at what she does, and she never slacks either."

"You've got to admit though, she is weird and ugly as sin; you've got to be uncomfortable around her."

"Yes, I'm uncomfortable, but I'm not about to crucify her; it's not like she's done anything wrong. It's not like she bites the heads off small mammals or hoards empty tuna cans in her cube or something. Anyway, we're going to be late for the meeting if we keep chatting about her. Come on Bob."

"Have fun with Marci!" said Mark, rolling back to his computer screen.

As a mental note, Dave promised himself to smile at Marci in the meeting, and maybe talk to her later. That would show the guys that she wasn't some hideous thing to be shoved with repulsion into a dark corner somewhere, and forget the little fact that she was still human. As they walked into the meeting room, he saw that Marci was sitting quietly off by herself.

"Hey, Dave, we've got subs today. This is great." said Bob smiling. "What do you want, roast beef, italian, or chicken salad? It looks like there is only one chicken salad here."

"I'll go with the chicken salad."

"Is roast beef too manly for you, huh?"

"No, I just had a roast beef sub yesterday for lunch, but you go right ahead and make yourself as manly as you want to be." Dave noticed that Marci didn't have a sandwich. "Hey Marci," he called out, "would you like a sub?" Bob gave him a bug-eyed look.

"No thanks," she said "I'm vegetarian."

"Um, okay."

"Hairy and vegetarian...sounds like a chimp to me." whispered Bob under his breath.

"Hey now, we don't need to go there. Besides, chimps aren't necessarily vegetarian. In the wild they've been known to hunt prey and-"

"Okay people, let's get this meeting started. We're here to kickoff the Petersen project. I'm happy to say, wegot full funding, and there will be bonuses for beating our milestones..." The project manager droned on in the usual corporate manner for an hour and a half. Practically the entire time, Marci just diligently wrote down notes on her legal pad, hardly ever looking up. Everyone else either just looked bored, or was barely disguising their boredom.

After the meeting, Dave started to get up, intending to make an effort to talk to Marci, but a wave of nausea overtook him and he slumped back down in his chair. He rested his head in one hand and covered his mouth with the other. A sharp pang rolled through his stomach, like a biker gang through a small town, depositing a trail of dull radiating aches as it subsided.

"You all right man?" asked Bob, patting a hand on Dave's shoulder.

"Oh. I don't think that sub set too well with me." He looked up and around the room. "Did Marci leave?"

"Yeah," said Bob. "Maybe it was her though and not the sub." He whispered, smiling.

"Enough." Dave was annoyed. "I think I'll just take the rest of the day off and go home. Luckily I don't have any more meetings today."

"Good plan. Want me to drive you? I could stand to get out of a meeting or two."

"No, I'll be alright I think." Before he could make it to his car, Dave spent a good ten minutes curled around a toilet bowl in the men's room. After the chicken salad exited his body, he began to feel much better, but he felt warm and remained moderately queasy. The clinical coolness of the smooth ceramic that he gripped with white knuckled fingers helped him feel a bit better, but it didn't compare to the thought of slipping into bed with some ginger ale and watching some 80's rerun sitcoms on TV.

The entire time he drove home, he tried not to throw up on the dashboard, it would be a shame to ruin his new car, even if it was the cheapest one on the market. He had saved up for two years to pay for it in cash, and had only gotten it last week. When he got to his apartment he had to park a few hundred meters from his entrance, which was blocked by a fire truck and some related vehicles; it looked like some idiot had started a grease fire in his kitchen. It was certainly a common enough occurrence in this complex, so it was a good guess. Dave wondered what prevents people from learning the basics of cooking and cooking safety, before they embark on culinary conquests. As he walked slowly and uncomfortably to his apartment, he silently cursed the would-be chef for his incompetence.

As Dave got to his apartment, he noticed that the door was slightly ajar. He froze up, trying to remember locking the door in the morning. He could indeed picture the entire moment in his head. He started to panic a bit, but he had recently given his girlfriend a key, and it might have been she who had left the door open, though he had not ever known her to be forgetful about closing the door. Or perhaps it was the manager finally getting around to fixing his leaky shower.

He moved closer to the door, listening to determine whom, if anyone was inside. He could hear the faint murmur of the TV; it sounded like it was either a sporting event or a game show, judging by the periodic cheering noises. His heart began to beat faster, his queasiness fading as adrenaline pulsed through his body. He fumbled around for his cell phone, but he had left it in his cube when he went to the meeting. He paused, then took a deep breath, and slowly swung the door open.

He couldn't see anything immediately out of the ordinary in the entryway. He checked behind the door, in case someone was lurking, but there was nothing there but a dust bunny composed primarily of his girlfriend's long red hair. He stepped into the entryway, and was amazed at what he saw next.

It was a man in a purple jumpsuit. The man did not see him, but was adjusting the position of a small potted rubber tree pant in the living room. Dave had never owned a rubber tree plant, nor ever had the desire to do so. It was so odd that he just stood there, mouth agape.

Another jumpsuited man came around the corner from the kitchen, with some paperwork in hand, about to give it to the rubber tree man, but definitely saw Dave.

"You're not supposed to be home yet!" he exclaimed. The rubber tree man looked up startled. Two other jumpsuited men appeared in the living room.

"You're not supposed to be in my apartment!" exclaimed Dave. Another jumpsuited person came to the living room from the bathroom, shortly followed by another from the bedroom, then another, who was carrying Dave's favorite sci-fi poster. "How many of there are you?! And what the hell are you doing?"

Dave walked further into the living room, and saw a man he had never seen before, dressed in jeans and a t- shirt sitting on his sofa, intently watching a football game. "Who's he?!" Dave said, pointing to the man on the sofa.

"Look, please calm down. We just have a job to do. You're not even supposed to know we are here." said the second jumpsuited man.

"Get out of my apartment now! I'm calling the cops!" "I'm afraid that won't do you any good, you don't really have a choice in the matter."

"What? What are you talking about? Of course I have a choice. You broke into my apartment. You are messing with my property. That's illegal, and I'm calling the cops!"

"It's not your apartment anymore."

"It was most certainly my apartment this morning when I left for work. My lease isn't up for another 2 months, and I've never had a noise complaint filed against me. I don't see how it could suddenly not be my apartment."

"I'm sorry mister, but you are being replaced. I'm sorry you had to find out." "What?! What on Earth are you talking about?" "Look, we've had some complaints about you." "Who is we, and what kind of complaints are you talking about?"

"We, you know, 'WE'." The man gestured emphatically with his hands.

"They...?" Dave asked incredulously.


"You exist?"

"No, THEY exist. WE are THEY."

"You're kidding."

"We don't kid."


"And to answer you're other question, we've gotten some complaints from you're girlfriend, your mom, and a coworker named Bob."

"Like what?"

"Your mom complains that you don't call enough, and that you haven't visited her in years. Oh yes," he said referring to his paperwork, "and she's also complained that you haven't given her any grandchildren yet."

"What, did she file those at the department of THEY?"

"No, those were phone conversations with you."

"You've tapped my line?!"

"No, 'tap' is such a primitive word...we have access to all phones all the time."

"What? I've never heard of such a thing!"

"Well, don't think about it and you won't have to worry about it." Advised the man.

"I don't believe this. Well, what about my girlfriend then?"

"Well," he said, looking at his paperwork, "She thinks you're kinda boring. You spend too much time with your computer, and not enough time with her. She says you are also too sensitive and she is suspicious that you are being facetious. Also, she really hates it when you brush your teeth and get droplets of water on the mirror in her bathroom. She says that that is her all time biggest pet peeve."

"Well, if she doesn't like me that much, why doesn't she break up with me?"

The man looked at his paperwork some more, shuffling the leaves. "Oh yes," he said, tapping a page, "she says that she would feel too guilty to break up with you, and desperately wanted you to break up with her instead, so you could feel guilty, and not her."

"Oh, please, that's such a cliché. That's not logical at all."

"I'll remember to make a note of that in her file."

"Do you keep information on everyone?" Dave thought about all the mean things his coworkers had said about Marci.

"Of course."

"Why? What would be the purpose?"

"We can't reveal that information."

"Why not?"

"It would reveal our purpose."

Dave paused, then decided not to further pursue his query. "Well, what does Bob have to say about me?"

"He is unhappy that he can't talk to you about sports, since it is his favorite subject. Last week, you annoyed him when you hummed a Village People tune in your cube, over and over for almost 2 hours. He doesn't like it when you whine about your girlfriend, he doesn't like to get involved with that sort of thing."

"That bastard. I don't 'whine' about her." Dave didn't remember humming, but he did like the Village People so it was possible.

"Well, your opinion of what you do doesn't matter here."

"I can't defend myself?"


"Why not?"


"Because why?"

"That's just not how it works."

"So how does it work?"

"We can't say."

"Say what?"

"How it works."


The man looked at him with an annoyed expression. "Well, then it wouldn't be mysterious if I told you how it all works, so stop asking me stupid questions!"

"Do you even know yourself?"

"Look mister, I didn't even need to tell you everything that I did tell you. I just felt sort of sorry for you, that's all."

"Well, I don't need your pity, but I do need you to leave my apartment. I don't believe anything of what you've said." Dave was beginning to gain some confidence after seeing the man get flustered. "All of you. Scat! Now."

They all stared at him, except for the man on the sofa. There was an uncomfortable pause. Dave gripped his stomach, the pain was beginning to resurface. The crowd cheered on the TV.

"Yeah! Go TEAM!" the man on the sofa exclaimed, thrusting his hands in the air. "Wooo!"

Dave looked at the man on the sofa. "That's not supposed to be my replacement is it?"


"You're kidding. It looks like he has an IQ of 5."

"We don't kid." Dave turned very pale. "But, but...but what happens to me?"

The jumpsuited men started to close in on him ominously. Dave panicked and shrieked, and ran out of his apartment. He started running down the hall, but his stomach cramped up, and he ended up lurching out of the building, doubled over, clutching his stomach. Sweat was pouring off his face. He thought about Marci, and wondered if they had tried to replace her too. He though about his neighbor who burnt his food, and wondered if they knew that he had complained in his mind about him. If they somehow had access to all the phones, maybe they had some sort of mind reading technology too. Maybe every bad thought that every person has ever had gets logged in some computer somewhere that they control.
Dave was beginning to feel a little dizzy. The grass around the complex looked brown, and he thought that this was a little odd. He stumbled towards his usual parking spot, but his car wasn't there.

"No, they took my car! They took my new car!" Dave spun around on the pavement, stumbling and trying to regain his balance. A tangerine woman and her child were walking to a nearby car. The woman tightened her grip on the child's hand, and tried not to make eye contact with Dave.

"Help me! You have to help me!" he pleaded with the woman. "They're after me! They took my car, and they took over my apartment! They did it to a friend of mine too! They wear purple jumpsuits!"
"Mommy, mommy, that man is ranting!" the tangerine child exclaimed, pointing at Dave.

"Shhhh! Get in the car now!" she opened the door for her child, and shoved her in, keeping an eye on Dave. She locked and slammed the door, then got in the car herself. She fumbled with the keys, and Dave lurched toward her door. He slapped a sweaty palm on her window, letting it slide down, leaving a smudgy trail.

"Why are you orange? You have to get help! Please!"

"Get away from us you pervert! Go away now!" the woman screamed through the glass. She started crying, and fumbled around for something in her car.

"Please, they're coming after me! They're going to erase my identity! Everything that is me is going away! I think it is already beginning to happen. You have to help!!"

Dave thought the woman looked a little more composed now. She unrolled her window a crack, brought up a canister to it, and sprayed a fine mist directly in Dave's eyes. He screamed and fell backwards. It felt like red hot ants were crawling all over his face and eyes, biting and chewing and spewing forth formic acid. He curled up on the pavement, trying to wipe the vile liquid off his face. He started to retch and throw up again. He writhed in the pool of acid, until his body just gave up and he fainted, face down.

A few minutes later, a van labeled "John and Sons Plumbing" pulled out of the complex. Inside, were several men wearing identical blue work jumpsuits.

"You know," said John to his eldest son, also John, "that guy sure was gullible."

"Yeah," replied John, "we'll have to remember that for next time."

"It was too bad you made me put back that poster Dad. I really liked it." said a younger son from the back of the van.

"Well, we can't have them actually see you take things from them now. That's just bad business." said the elder John. They drove for awhile in silence. "You know," he said, "one thing I can't figure out, is that if the guy who came in didn't know the guy watching TV, then who was he? Cause I just thought he was a roommate or something."

There was another long pause, as they all thought about it. "Well," said one of the other sons, "at least we got rid of that hideous rubber tree that Gramma got us for Christmas. But Mom's gonna be furious when she finds out it's missing."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

127/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by You Were Too Old for Me" by Pas/Cal

"I'm sorry for your loss," said an old woman to the widow. Sean looked on from across the room. He slugged his glass of wine and turned towards the wall and it's bubbled-up wallpaper. He rubbed his eyes with the cuff of his sleeve. When he turned back the widow looked at him, glaring. Sean pushed through the crowd of mourners and out the front door into the hot summer evening.

Summer break. The idea of it filled him with dread for each of the past three years. Now it was the last. Cars packed the narrow street with their wheels angled. The professor's house was up a hill dressed with mature poplar trees. Sean walked down the hill, towards Welling Hall. There had been a storm that afternoon and the air was stultifying. Sean loosened his tie as he walked. His lungs ached and his throat was swollen. The wine dulled his brain, but not enough. He breathed hard and scratched his head intensely even though there was no itch.

The doors of Welling Hall. Sean stood in front of them, trying to still his breath. This is where he first saw the professor, standing, talking to another student, a girl dressed in a plaid mini skirt and a white polyester sweater. She batted her eyes and said something funny. The professor laughed congenially, then placed his hand on her arm and squeezed gently.

"Man, he's too old for her," said his buddy. Sean couldn't remember which friend was with him, but he remembered what was said.

"Yeah," said Sean.

"Why can't the girls go for us? Why do they always have crushes on the teachers?"

"Maybe you should become a college professor," said Sean.

"Me? You. You could do it. That'd be a laugh, wouldn't it?"

And that was it. He only admired the professor then, with his well-groomed, sage-like white beard and tan corduroy jacket with the patches at the elbows.

Sean mounted the steps and pushed through doors that were always unlocked. The hall inside was dark, lit only by exit signs reflecting on the white linoleum. His heels fell hard and reverberated against the walls. Twenty-nine steps and he was at the door he'd stepped through hundreds of times. He pressed his hand around the brass knob. He stood frozen, holding it until it was warm. Tears ran freely down his face in the privacy of the dark. He stared at the black letters on the door's window that spelled out the professor's name and position. He turned his hand.

The office. It smelled like aged paper, old coffee, dead plants, and cigarettes. The professor was a chain-smoker. It's what did him in. Two days ago he laid on the floor, grasping at his chest and grasping for air like a goldfish spilled out of its bowl. Sean stood over him, watching him writhe. The professor begged and pulled on Sean's pantleg, unable to articulate what was said urgently in his watery eyes. Sean sipped from his mug of coffee. His face was impassive. The professor thudded his feet against the carpet desperately, like a toddler pitching a fit. Sean stepped over the professor, leaned towards the door and twisted the lock. Then he crossed to the lonely window and stared out at a stream of chatty students breaking the early evening sunlight as they traversed the quad, headed towards the pubs.

"I'," the professor wheezed in a tiny voice.

"Too late," said Sean. "The deadline has passed. I did everything you asked. Everything. And you pass me over. You've fucked up my career."


"Whatever you say, sir."

"You...want...this? You...could...have a in...industry...lucrative...Urgh!"

"No, I wanted to be somebody. Like you." said Sean. He turned back to look at the professor, his left eye twitching. The professor arched his back, gurgled from the mouth, and his eyes rolled back as his fingers scratched into the carpet, pulling up tufts of wool. Then he flopped down and was still. Sean suddenly felt cold. He lost his balance and stepped back, his weight went onto the window and the glass cracked. He dropped his mug and lurched for the rotary phone on the professor's desk. He dialed zero and mumbled a stream of words to the operator. His hands shook. He dropped the handset and jumped over the professor's body--unlocked the door and ran into the hall, bumping against the far wall. He yelled out, perhaps not words. People came out of their offices. He pointed to the professor's door and started hyperventilating. Someone ran past. Help came.

The professor's office. Sean stood in the dark doorway, inches from where the professor had lain. He kneeled down and felt the area on the carpet. He put his forehead to it, feeling the scratchiness of the old wool. He smelled in the odor of death.

"I can't say it. I can't. I'm not sorry. It was wrong, but I'm not sorry. Damn you!"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

126/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Fitz and the Dizzyspells" by Andrew Bird


When I woke up I didn't  remember anything about being a pilot. I guess I was knocked out pretty good. All there was above me was the cracked window of the cockpit and a bright blue sky. It gave me vertigo, like I was looking down instead of up. I was lying on my back still strapped in, like they did in the space shuttle when they were waiting for take off, but I wasn't going anywhere. There was a metallic bump-bump-bump as the plane got buffeted gently by waves. The dash was leaking engine oil through the instrument casings onto my chest and legs. I was soaked through. There were a surprising number of flies and they congregated over my left knee and probably elsewhere. I let them be. In the back of my mind I remembered that maggots were good for cleaning wounds of bacteria. I didn't know where I was. I figured pretty quickly that I'd been there a good while, and if I'd been there a good while then there probably wasn't any help coming for me any time soon.

I remember the bad smell, the smell of rotting meat. I figured it wasn't me, despite my bashed up knee. I unstrapped and had to grab the stick to keep from sliding back. I remembered how to open the door, but that's not hard I guess. I kicked it open--the plane wobbled and slid a few inches and came to a crunching stop. Water sloshed. I maneuvered around and looked down, towards the back of the plane. There was another row of seats with two passengers submerged.

"Oh shit," I said. Their faces were already bloated and ghostly. It was a man and woman, probably kind of young. I pegged them as honeymooners. I guess I was taking them somewhere. The woman had orangey hair that flowed around her in a halo. Her eyes were closed. The man had his head split open and his brain was swelling out the side of it.

I climbed down. The plane was wedged between tall wet igneous rocks. I stepped down onto a flattish one. I still had my shoes on back then or I would have cut my feet on the little broken glass-like bubbles on its surface. The plane was missing one of the wings, but the other still looked good. The tail was crumpled into the depths of ocean water between the rocks. There was a rainbow sheen on the surface. It was probably a miracle the whole thing didn't explode on impact. I must have been a god awful pilot.

The rocks were in a lagoonish area protected by a distant reef. The waves crashed white on it. The noise of it was constant but I got used to it. And then there was the island, about a hundred yards from the crash. I eased into the water. The bottom was sand mixed with rocks and coral but I was mostly able to walk to shore.

I sat on the beach for a while that first day. There were some trees right down there and I sat under them. I knew the island wasn't big and I wasn't optimistic. My lips were cracked and bleeding and I knew the first thing I was supposed to do was find fresh water, but I didn't want to look because I was afraid there would be none to find so I sat and looked at the crumpled plane and wonder who the people inside I killed were.

But I did get up and I did find water--always look for places that could collect rainwater--and I found trees with fruit, and plenty of crabs. I collected a lot of crabs, from on trees and right on the ground, and I bashed their little brains in with a rock, right between those black pin needle eyes.

The days moved on. There was a spectacular tropical sunset every night where the sky got pink and purple and the clouds on the horizon looked like they fluoresced. I did get maggots in my knee. The feeling was...interesting, but I knew they were doing important work. When everything looked healthy pink I picked them out one by one. I thought about eating them, but ended up tossing them into the ocean. My knee healed up pretty nice.

Eventually I went back out to the plane. The stench was unbelievable and I vomited up crab and guava a couple of times. I pulled the plane down on its side, which took at least an hour. The water drained out and pulled the bodies out. I floated each one back on their stomachs so I couldn't see their faces. They got buried under sand that I dug out with my hands.

Back in the plane I retrieved their luggage, and I pulled apart whatever looked useful from the plane. I had handfuls of wire and pieces of metal and dials for things. I ripped out the front two seats and they made good bedding for a couple years before they finally disintegrated. I tried yanking apart the fuselage with sticks and my hands but it was futile. I soaked up as much oil as I could into my shirt. I used it to help me get a fire going the first time. You know it's really a bitch to get a fire started with sticks and tinder. You've got to keep it going always or it's a huge time-wasting hassle to deal with. I had roasted crab a lot before I got sick of it.

The luggage was interesting. It confirmed they were honeymooners. Jean and Michael James. They were packed light. I guess they expected to be wherever it was they were headed for only a few days. Michael's crap fit me pretty well, and better as I lost weight. I used the thread from Jean's clothes to make tools and a fishing net, and I no longer was stuck eating crab. The lagoon was just crawling with life, so I never really went hungry. It was a lot of work, but I would dive under, into relative muteness though I could still hear the crashing waves at the reef, and I'd watch the fish, all sorts of colors, darting around, and I'd just scoop them into the net like I was capturing them to be sold at some exotic fish store.

Also in the luggage was a book. I guess it was Jean's because it was a romance novel. The cover had a swirling pink title, with a mediocrely painted couple entwined in each other's embrace. I let the book dry out over a couple of days. The pages were stiff but the print was readable. I read the thing because there wasn't any other entertainment around.

The couple was Leo and Lucy, and Lucy had time-traveled to the Bahamas of 1775. It wasn't clearly explained how. It was really a story about how a modern age woman, lamenting a lack of chivalry in society got to experience her fill of it from an earlier time. Apparently she didn't missing indoor plumbing (which I sorely did right about then), modern medicine, or civil rights. Leo was a tall dark and handsome brigand with a tortured soul. There were sex scenes on pages 49-51, 78-79, 92-94, and 120-125. I turned down the corners on those. By the end of the book Lucy decided to stay in the past and get married to Leo. Leo changed from being all dark and brooding and crime committing, to an optimistic, loving, respectable plantation owner. They swanned around in period clothes, watched sunsets, and drank iced tea (which I believe was anachronistic for the era). The was an epilogue that promoted the next book in the series with a teaser of dark things to come to Lucy and Leo's Bahamian plantation, including a slave revolt (I'd be cheering for them), a plague of locusts (also cheering), and a new interloping brigand threatening to tear Lucy away from her beloved Leo.

I didn't touch the book again for a couple of weeks. It sat out in the sun getting all faded and bleached. I fished, I ate, I slept, and I watched the horizon for planes and boats. I tried to remember my past and who I was and what I did, but it was all very patchy. I taught myself how to climb palm trees. I collected fruit seeds and dug in the dirt and planted them. I remembered the story about the Easter Islanders, Rapa Nui, I remember that, about how they deforested their island to make those rock heads. So I decided to grow trees, even if they wouldn't be grown while I was still there. Mostly I was bored out my mind.

I read the book again, skipping over the boring paragraphs. I tried to imagine Leo and Lucy in the next book. I invented new characters, the slaves who revolted. The new brigand I relegated to a minor role. He killed Leo and kidnapped Lucy and the slaves got to live in the big house. They decided to plant food instead of sugar and started running their own commune. A missionary wandered into their milieu and he taught them how to read and write, and then he went away and spread communism to the world a century early and radically changed the global timeline. I had men and women landing on the moon in 1880 rather than 1969, and they stayed and built moon colonies, with glass domes and moon buggies and monorail. I named the first babies born on the moon Jean and Michael. They were twins.

After a few days that story just fuzzed out, burdened by it's own grandiosity. I swam out to the reef and examined the open ocean beyond. I scanned the beaches of the island in detail, and scooped up a great pile of broken, worn plastic. None of it was particularly useful, it was just the dregs of civilization. I sorted everything out by color and size and decided to make a mosaic, but I couldn't think what to make it of. After a few days of mulling I decided on a sunset. I mixed crab juices with fruit pulp and made a sticky paste. There was a relatively large flat rock near the middle of the island where I could work in the shade so I used that as my canvas. The mosaic ended up looking like the handiwork of a kindergartner, but I left it alone. The glue held pretty well and the mosaic survived several rainstorms.

I read the book a few more times. I mostly read the pages with the folded-down corners to be honest. I put the book away between the folds of Michael's remaining clothes in the luggage. I took it out again once and tore out several pages, thinking they would make better toilet paper than leaves, but it wasn't that great. Days later I thought about what I'd done, and got into a downright funk, like I had sullied a Gutenberg Bible or something. I leaned moodily against trees, sat and picked at my toes, and pitched rocks into the ocean. I couldn't get away from myself.

The book ended up on the mosaic, like it was an alter. In the late afternoon the light hit the book and lit it up like it really was a sacred object. I sat and looked at it, with my hands folded in my lap. I don't know, it was sort of peaceful, and I felt like I was restoring somehow. At night I gently put the book to sleep inside the luggage case, and in the morning I brought it out again and carefully carried it to the mosaic. I'd leave it there during the day when I went to gather water or food. I never actually read it again.

One morning I left the book on the mosaic as always, and went away and came back to sit beside it and watch it, but it was gone. Just gone, like it had ascended to heaven of it's own accord. It wasn't a windy day and there were no large animals on the island. I was scared, a little bit. I looked down crab holes. I looked all over. I couldn't find a single page.

I didn't sleep that night as a thunderstorm brewed and crackled with light on the horizon. I watched it drift from east to west, missing me and the island. I looked again the next day. I looked in the luggage. I had all it's content laid out on the said, each item apart from all the others, making sure I hadn't missed the book somehow. It was there or anywhere.

A few days later is when you came in your boat.

"How long do you think you've been here?" It was the man with the beard who identified himself as the captain. They were from a science vessel of some sort, or so they said, but they looked a little too scraggly and I fantasized they might be smugglers.

"Months, maybe a year. I don't really know," I said.

"We saw your plane," he said.

"Yeah, it's still there."

"We got the serial number from the tail. We ran it over the radio and it turns out nobody ever reported it missing."

"Well, I don't know what to say about that. I guess my employer must be pretty shoddy."

"Hmmm. And you say you can't remember who you are?"

"Not a clue. I didn't have any identification."

"Hmmm. Yeah." And the captain goes and talks to one of his guys. They're eyeballing me and talking quietly. The captain walks back to me.

"We're going to Fiji. We'll take you, but you're on your own from their. It'll be about ten days. We're low on food and water, so..."

"So don't feast like it's 1999. Got it."

"Yeah. And don't touch any of our instruments. Our investors put a lot of money into this survey."

"Investors? Are you guys real scientists? What exactly are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?" I said. And the captain squints and grimaces, exhaling stale breath into my face.

"You'd have to have a couple of PhDs to understand. Don't bother my crew."

Who knows, maybe I did have a couple of PhDs, but I let it slide. The captain looks like he might have an advanced degree in mafia interrogation.

"Well I'm pretty good at doing nothing all day."

On board and underway, I mainly lied in a bunk, looking up at boards painted a slick white that serve as a ceiling. I luxuriated in the warmth and softness of a polyester blanket. I slept a lot. I learned that the bathroom is called a head. The crew didn't speak to me. They looked and kept their distance, even after I finally shaved and cleaned up and stopped looking like a resident of the neolithic age.

The ship zigzagged around, and they would stop every few hours to dive and collect water samples. The samples were put into freezers. There was a computer room that was closed off from me. They somehow processed the samples there.

On the last day before Fiji, I went to the head, and there it was, sitting on the floor next to the toilet. The Leo and Lucy cavort in 1775 book. The cover was faded and bleached, and the sex scene pages were folded down. I turned to the middle where I'd torn out pages for toilet paper. And they were there, resurrected and complete. I threw the book to the floor and told myself it had to be a different copy. I laid in my bunk and pulled the polyester blanket over my head and tried to think about what Fiji would be like and if anyone had ever missed me.

I went back to the head and the book was still there. I took it, and shoved it in the folds of Michael's clothes, in the luggage case. I closed the case and stared at it. I thought maybe I hadn't ripped out the pages after all, and maybe the science vessel was around my island long before they approached me. Maybe they thought it would better to leave me to die there. Who were these people? I watched the crew go about their business with suspicion, but I was too afraid of them to ask questions.

In Fiji I was left along with customs officials. They were congenial and a lot more relaxed than the so-called scientists. I felt better. They said they didn't have any clue who I was either. They said there was no record of the plane (according to them it never existed), and no missing people called Jean and Michael James.

They gave me a place to stay and food to eat. I took out the book. It looked newer. The cover was more colorful, and the pages less worn. I made a place for it in the center of a table in my room. I positioned it so the afternoon light would frame it. I would sit each day in front of it, from the time when the rectangle of light first touched it to when the light faded to sunset, and watched it. I didn't touch it other than to dust it.

The scientists left port again. The captain came to visit me beforehand.

"Did you watch me?" I asked. The captain stared at me. He scratched his face.

"No," he said.

"What is it that you do?"

"You know, I told myself I shouldn't come to see you, but if I were in your place, I'd want an explanation."

"What do you mean?"

"You didn't exist until a year ago."


"You don't remember anything."

"I have amnesia."

"No, you don't."

"But how can I be a fully-grown human being...what about Jean and Michael?"

"They never were alive."

"That's ridiculous, that's--"

"Listen, calm down. We've been tracking a...well a phenomenon. A potentially lucrative one, but that's beside the point. We came across you, because you were on the path the phenomenon took."

"What the hell--"

"You know that mosaic you made? Out of washed up plastic bits? Just like those bits, the source came to your island."

"The source? And you're looking for the source."

"Yes. The source that generated you, so to speak."

"Generated me? Out of thin air?"

"Well, yeah. Kind of."

And I throw up my hands and put my hands to face and I sigh deeply, but it's a mask. The captain assumes I think he is delusional, and that's partly true. My heart's really beating and I'm sweating, and what he says feels like it could be true. We're sitting outside so he can't see the table.

"Thanks for the visit," I say quietly.

"Well hold on now. About the novel. You say it just disappeared?"

"I thought you guys had snuck around and took it."

"Hmm. No. We would have still been a couple of days out from your location."

"So, you think that's your source?"

"Well, maybe it is, maybe not. Do you remember the title and author?"

"No, actually I don't."

"You said you read it several times."

"My memory is patchy."

"Hmmm." The captain stood up and held out a hand. I took it and shook it. He squeezed down on my digits hard.  He let go and started down the stairs and said "Have a good life."

"You too."

I watched him until he was out of sight, then I went inside and looked at the book on the table. It looked completely new. I picked it up and riffled through the crisp pages. The once turned-down corners were uncreased. I sniffed it, and it had the reassuring scent of freshly printed and bound paper. I thought about slave revolts and moon babies.

I observed the book closely over the next few weeks. I had to attend hearings and meetings and the like to sort out my identity. I carried the book with me, concealed. Finally a judge just gave me Fijian citizenship and let me pick a name. I chose Wright Smith, like the Wright brothers, but with a nod to my unknown origin. Over this time, the book changed further. The print inside faded. The embossed covered flattened, and Leo and Lucy became the ghosts of their own story. Within six weeks the there was just a white glossy cover over 130 pages of blank pulp.

When everything was finally gone from it, I walked down to the beach with the book. It was night and I walked into the surf. I submerged the book until it was soaked. It turned transparent and floppy in my hands, and then it twitched and my heart jumped. It shuddered and flipped open, and then jumped out of my hand and, well, swam away. Who knew.

Monday, August 22, 2011

125/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Young Folks" by Peter Bjorn and John


A lone figure stood at a city bus stop. Rain pounded down in a comforting haze of white noise. Her dark hair matted against her head; a car drove by and a wake of water leapt up to drench her further. She shivered.

Another figure joined her--a man dressed in a long blue coat and yellow plastic hat. He carried an unopened umbrella. He stood next to her and was silent.

"Hello," she said.

He turned slightly, looked at her quickly with ice blue eyes, then looked forward. "Not many people say 'hi'."

"No, they don't apparently."

The man shifted his feet, stood still listening to the rain, then opened his umbrella and held it over the woman's head.

"Thanks," she said with a tone of surprise. "Although I'm already completely soaked."

The man smiled briefly, then started to withdraw the umbrella. The woman reached out and held the shaft, pulling back. The edges of their fingers touched. They looked at each other directly.

"It's chivalrous. I think," she said.

"It seemed like the right thing to do."

"Maybe so."

The man forced a brief smile, then broke his gaze and looked at their connected hands.

"Could I ask you your name?"

"You could I suppose."

"Would you? Would you tell me your name?"

"How about 'Vanessa'?"

"You don't sound sure."

"You could be a rapist."

"I could be."

"I could be a serial killer."

"You kill people." There was a pause between them, with slight bluffing smiles.

"Haven't yet. Thought about it a lot, but I guess everyone does."

"Not usually."

"And yours?"

"Oh, let's see, how does 'Milton' strike you?"

Vanessa laughed.

"Hey it's your name. My opinion shouldn't enter into it."

"I guess not." They both laughed. Their hands crept closer together along the shaft of the umbrella. Vanessa bit her lower lip. Milton looked out at the aquatized traffic. "How long have you been waiting here?"

"A long time. A very long time."

"The buses always seem to take forever. It's like a purgatory."

"This is different." Vanessa moved closer to Milton. He put his arm around her and felt her shivering. "What are your sins Milton? Tell me your sins."

"My sins. That's an interesting question to ask someone you just met."

"But it cuts right to the center of a person. No veils or masks or psychoanalytic acrobatics. No social kabuki."

"Yeah, I see. But it's not my sins you want to know about. You want to know about my crimes."

"I do? What's the difference?"

"Crimes are what you do to other people and things--mostly to other people. Sin--well sin is what you do to yourself."

"I'm not sure most people agree with you. A lot of people have a very rigid idea of what sin is--what you call crime."

"They don't have to agree with me."

"You're a very intriguing individual, Milton. I wouldn't have guessed it from that hat."

"Gee, thanks." They chuckled. Vanessa leaned her head on Milton's coat and listened to his heartbeat. He kissed the top of her head. "So, uh, you want to know my crimes?"

"No," said Vanessa. "I want to know your sins."

"I don't have many."

"Only a truly good man or a man with a large ego would be able to say that."

"Actually, I think most people have few true sins."

"Vices, then?"

"No, sins. Vices are just tendencies. Sins are the acts that mark you permanently. Still want to know?"

"I'm trying to think of mine now. But, yes, go ahead."

"I've never told anyone this--I told myself, all the time, that no one would ever love me."

"That's it?"

"That's the big one."

"But how would you know that?"


"Wow. Now you're going to say that Jesus loves you, and then I'll slowly inch away as you try to convert me."

Milton laughed.

"No. That's not true."

"That's a relief."

"What about you? What's your one big sin?"

"Well, interestingly enough, given your example, I would have to say that I've always told myself I was too selfish to love. To really love. You know, in a Robert Heinlein sort of way."

"That is interesting."

A bus splashed up to the stop and squeaked to a halt. The doors slid open and a dour bus driver glowered down at the soggy pair.


"Yes Vanessa?"

"This has been quite the moment we've shared."

"It has."

"Come on people, getting on?" interjected the driver.

"Were you waiting for this bus?"

"No," said Vanessa. "I was waiting for you."

Milton stared at her and pressed the back of his hand to her cheek.

"Geez people, hurry up," said the driver, gritting his teeth and leaning over his big black wheel.

Vanessa took Milton's free hand and kissed his knuckles.

The bus driver angrily pulled the lever to the door and stomped on the accelerator, and the bus lurched away.

Vanessa and Milton turned, still holding the umbrella together, and walked off, disappearing into the veil of rain.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

124/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Green Grass of Tunnel" by Múm


The feeding tube itched against Brian's parched lips, but he couldn't adjust it. The late afternoon sun shone directly at  his eyes but at least he was still able to close his eyelids. The warmth made him sleepy. Cartoons on the TV chattered on, unaware of his presence. His mother shifted in her chair and cleared her throat. She was reading a novel to herself, thinking that Brian had fallen asleep.

There was a noise at the window. Brian opened his eyes. In the light stream through, he could see fingerprints and dust on the inside of the window and dried dusty raindrops on the outside. A dot darted about the window, almost next to the opening and fresh air.  It was buzzing. A fly, thought Brian, for he could not speak. It bounced against the glass, audible knocking. So much noise for such a small thing.

Brian closed his eyes, but the buzzing held his attention. He looked again. The fly was a little closer to the opening, but still couldn't find it. Down, thought Brian. Go down damnit! How there are so many of you, I do not know. How does a creature so stupid survive for millions of years?

The fly rested on the window. Brian squinted and thought he saw it rubbing it's legs together like it was hatching a diabolical plan. It walked a few millimeters, then took flight into the room. It circled the ceiling once, above Brian's bed then immediately landed directly on the tip of his nose. He could feel it's little feet touching the minute clear hairs on his nose. His eyes hurt looking at it, but he couldn't look away. It turned to face him, it's two unblinking compound eyes staring, almost taunting. It stuck out it's tongue. I knew it. You're rubbing it in, aren't you? You can move all around and I'm stuck here. You're saying you're better than me, aren't you?

The fly did not reply.

Screw you.

Brian closed his eyes tight. They burned and became wet. He thought of the fly, and felt it still there, resting and hatching plans. Brian felt a sensation of rapid vibration, all around his body and then he saw the room, fractured into hundreds of little rooms. He tried to blink to clear his vision, but he couldn't. He worried that he'd lost control over his eyelids--his eyes were his last method of expression left to his brain. He fluttered and stretched, his body oddly divided in new senses.

And then he realized he inhabited the fly. He saw his own face in the center of his vision.

Well now...

He felt the urge to rub his hands together, and so he did. He wanted to smile but couldn't. He could feel his pectoral muscles wanting to contract, and he let them, and he rose into the room.

That's...interesting. That's right, their body plans are flipped from us. I remember reading that somewhere.

He landed again on his own nose. He walked around in what felt like a crab walk, and looked at his mother. She scratched her chin and turned a page, completely unaware of the utter miracle unfolding before her.

Let's take this for a test drive.

He rose and turned, then wobbled forward and hit the glass of the window.

Ow. Though that's a lot less painful that it should be.

He settled on the glass and saw the room sideways. He walked slowly down. Each foot felt like it was attached by velcro to the glass. He passed onto the wooden part of the window and walked towards the opening. A light breeze curled up over the wood and buffeted his wings. He leapt into the stream of air, then pushed against it, and passed beneath the window. He stuck out his tongue and smelled flowers and grass and something enticingly rotten to the left.

I want to see things. Let me see things, won't you?

He couldn't tell if the little body understood. It veered to the left. He tried to correct it, to go straightforward, towards the sun, but the little body kept pulling to the left. Pulling and pulling...

He could feel the tube moving in his throat. He wanted to gag. The fractured outdoors snapped away and were replaced by the orange flesh of his eyelids. He opened his eyes. The nurse pulled the end of the feeding tube out of his stomach.

"You had a blockage," said the nurse. He placed the tube on a metal tray, then roughly wiped Brian's mouth.

"Sorry to wake you, hon," said his mother.

Brian blinked twice. No. She smiled and brushed the hair off his forehead. He knew she thought he meant 'no problem'. It didn't matter. She'd never believe he'd just been in a fly.

I wonder if I can inhabit that nurse.

He closed his eyes tightly...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

123/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Hand Me Down" by Tin Star Orphans

There was a dim brown light. Ray's head pounded.

"I'm not going away," whispered Felicia. A faint whiff of her perfume lingered in the air.

"What?" asked Ray, his voice cracking. There was no reply. He blinked and his vision cleared. He focused on the source of light. It was coming from down the end of a dark hallway. He realized he was sitting down on something soft and cool. He put his hand down and felt pliant grass. He shook his head and looked down, then around.

The walls of the hall were made out of clothes. Above him the clothes curved over in an arc. Immediately behind him Ray stood unsteadily and looked closer. They were Felicia's clothes, all spread out. He looked down the length of the hall--everything she had ever worn apparently. He pressed his hand to a pink t-shirt he remembered her wearing to a picnic last summer. She dribble barbecue sauce on it when she ate ribs. She laughed about it instead of getting upset. The wall gave slightly at his touch. It was all clothing.

"Felicia?" he asked.

"I'm not going," she said. He turned around three sixty but her body did not accompany her voice.

"Where are you?"

"You know where I am. You put me there."

Ray gulped and held his forehead.

"Did that really happen..."

"You were bad."

"It...was an accident I think."

"No. You were bad."

"I didn't mean--"

"You did. You did. You did..." her voice grew tiny and vanished.

"I didn't," said Ray. His face flushed. "I didn't." He wiped a tear from his his face with his sleeve.

Ray walked down the length of the hall towards the dim light. There was the hat she wore playing softball. He pulled it from the wall and ran his fingers across the brim. She'd wind up her arm and stare down the batter. When a teammate once remarked that softball was sexist compared to men playing baseball she said flatly, "Women have the bigger balls," and this in front of her mother when she was sixteen, but everyone laughed.

He continued walking, and saw the blue dress she wore for prom. Her grandmother sewed it for her, and it had a pouffy skirt and a high-cut, frilly collar. Felicia looked like a wet cat in it, but she went to prom without complaint. Ray saw her there with a smuggled-in pyramid riveted belt across her middle and clunky black combat boots replacing her blue slippers. She was sitting at a table laughing with her other ironic friends as he danced with his girlfriend.

Then there were the old scruffy jeans she wore to prowl the forest near their house between the ages of nine and twelve, before her growth spurt. They were his jeans as well, but she snatched them when he complained to his mother about a hole in the knee. She never cared about such things. In the summers she would shove them on in the morning after breakfast and stomp out the door and wouldn't be seen again until dinner when she returned covered in dirt, pine needles, tree sap, fresh abrasions, and an enormous grin.

He walked further and came to her red swim suit. Somehow it was still damp. He withdrew to the other wall and felt dizzy and flush. She lived in that suit, the past couple of weeks at the end of her last summer. They were surrounded by friends in their back yard pool. Her friends wore Hawaiian shirts and old-fashioned sunglasses and sipped colorful virgin margaritas; they fanned themselves with chinese folding fans and discussed early modernist literature, probably without knowing much about it. His friends guzzled contraban beers and yakked about intramural sports and complained about how hard math was. She came up to Ray and slapped him on the back, then pinched his beer and sipped it trying not to laugh. He snatched it back, then she lunged and then he pushed her in the chest, and she fell into the water but her head didn't. He remembered seeing her eyelids squeeze shut as the back of her head hit the concrete edge of the pool. She was still smiling.

One of her friends screamed as Felicia slumped fully into the pool. Her arms and legs spread out lazily in the water. Tendrils of red curled out into the water. Someone pulled on his shirt and he fell backward onto the grass, and she fell out of sight.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said.

"I know," he whispered.

He reached the source of light. It grew brighter, and her bedroom resolved around him. Their mother stood in front of him.

"It's okay if you don't want to do this now," said his mother. "I know it might be a bit soon to donate her clothes. But I'd rather do it now." She put her hand on his shoulder. He touched it lightly with his fingers and saw that he was holding Felicia's hat.

"I want to keep this," he said. "Do you mind?"

"No, of course not. You should have something. You were totally different, but you were so close."

"We'll always be close," said Ray. "Always."

Friday, August 19, 2011

122/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "I Wanna Be Like You" by The Morning Benders

Listen to the song here


Uncle Teddy's face turned purple. His sister-in-law, aunty Jane just finished speaking, and from the look on her face we all knew she immediately regretted opening that can of worms at Thanksgiving dinner. Aunty Jane looked intently down at her plate and scooped up a forkful of marshmallowed yams.

"There are children present," said Teddy. There were. I was one of them, but I was the only one old enough to know what was about to happen and I looked on with glee at the other end of the food laden table where all this was unfolding.

"Now, now," said my mother. "Anyone want more string beans?" We were all guests at uncle Teddy's house this year, but my mother was always in hostess mode. She liked to keep the peace. My aunty Abbie, Teddy's wife, put her hand on my mother's wrist. In Teddy's house, Teddy ruled. My mother let out a silent sigh and slumped in her chair.

"Yes, I know children are present, but there's no need to shelter them from this information," said Jane, still looking at her yams. Her fork vibrated. I could see my father grinning behind the shield of his napkin. He caught my eyes and I nearly burst out giggling. Aunty Jane was his sister and we were both familiar with her world view.

Uncle Edward suddenly jumped up to his full, burly, six foot four height; his beer belly knocked the table and set the dishes rattling. With his thick orange beard and ample chest and back hair peeking out from his collar, he could be easily mistaken for a Sasquatch in clothes.

"You may have been, but I am NOT descended from a monkey!" bellowed Teddy, pointing his fork at Jane. She flinched with Teddy's volume, but she softened her expression. My three year-old cousin Willy (yeah that kid's gonna get teased when he hits school in a couple of years) looked like he was about to burst into tears. He was right next to me and I hugged him.

"No, we are not descended from monkeys per se," said Jane. "We do however share a common ancestor--"

"You will not talk about this in my house!" yelled Teddy, with bits of mashed potato escaping his mouth.


"No! None of that business!"

Jane thumped her palms down on the table and shoved her 98 pound, five foot two, frame up. She balled her fists up and held them at the sides of her skirt.

"You're wife asked me what I was working on at work. I merely told her, and only mentioned the word 'evolution'. It's not exactly a swear word."

Uncle Teddy stared at her. He threw his fork to his plate and ripped out the napkin he had tucked in his shirt. My mother squirmed in her chair and started to speak.

"We brought homemade pumpkin pie. Anyone want--"

"Lies. All lies! I will not have it at the dinner table!"

"Oh come on! I'm a molecular biologist! All I do all day is study evolution!"

"There is no such thing!"

"Just because you want something to be true, doesn't make it so!"

"I could say the same for you!"

"Oh for the love of Pete, you won't even listen! It's like you don't own a pair of ears!"

"I'm not the one not listening!" He knitted his hairy brow momentarily to make sure he'd gotten the phrasing of it right.  "End of discussion!"

Just then a plate whizzed past my nose and landed in the excavated anal cavity of the turkey (well that's what it is--just because you've cooked it doesn't mean the animal's anatomy has transmogrified). Everyone looked to my end of the table.

"I didn't do it!" I shouted instinctively. I felt a tug on my sleeve and the imprint of a face on my arm. Willy was trying to hide behind me. I saw that his place setting was missing a dinner plate.

"You know," said my father, somehow with a straight face, "that's just what monkeys do." Teddy shifted his eyes and glared at him. My father raised his left eyebrow and tried to hide a smirk. This apparently was all the time that Willy needed to muster a fresh round of courage.

"You stop yelling!" he yelled at his dad.

"Willy!" exclaimed Abbie in horror.

"Yelling's worse than words!" said Willy.

"From the mouths of babes," said my father. He looked at Willy proudly and smiled, then winked at me.

Everyone started to talk at once.

"Say you're sorry!" hissed Abbie.

"Don't yell at him!" I said.

"He's just upset, that's all!" said my mother.

"Let's watch the game--" said my father.

"If you would just listen to me for five minutes I'm sure you'd change your mind about--"

Then uncle Teddy, well, he growled! It was something deep and guttural and then he gnashed his teeth and pounded a fist on the table, knocking over his glass of milk (he was and still is a teetotaler). And then he regained the use of his higher brain functions and spoke again.

"My house!" he wailed.

It wasn't much of a functional recovery.

Willy picked up a handful of cold cranberries and lobbed them towards his father but they end up on my father's sleeve. My father stared at Willy, who clutched my sleeve with renewed vigor and let out a tiny whimper. Everyone went silent. Aunty Abbie's jaw dropped and now she looked like the one who was about to burst into tears.

My father picked up a handful of green beans and threw them at my face. I was too stunned to dodge. I picked up some warm yams with my fingers and threw them at aunty Jane. My aim was true and the yams dribbled down her face and steamed up her glasses. She took them off carefully and wiped her face with her napkin. She looked at my father in icy silence.

Then my mother thrust her hand into the bowl of stuffing (prepared separately from the turkey because Abbie was petrified of listeria poisoning). She grabbed out a fluffy fistful and completed Willy's intent by hurling it at Teddy. Much of the stuffing lodged in his beard. Teddy was her older brother and she was the only one at the table that could get away with attacking him in any format.

Willy burst out laughing, then dumped the rest of the cranberries on my lap. I picked some up and smeared them on his face. My mother then assaulted Abbie with sliced carrots. Abbie gritted her teeth, then picked up a glass of ice water, pulled open my mother's blouse, and dumped the entire thing down the front of her chest. My mother gasped and my father started to laugh so hard he was tearing up.

As the laughter lulled, Teddy picked up the hot, half-carved turkey and held it in front of his chest. We all looked at him in horror--if he threw that, it would hurt! But he didn't throw it. He inserted his hands into the cavity (yes I know, quite an image), grunted, and ripped the bird in two with multiple crunches, and the two halves bounced back down on the table, disturbing multiple plates and glasses. It was oddly gruesome to watch.

He looked at each one of us in turn with a steely gaze.

"I've always wanted to do that," he said quietly, then broke into a broad smile.

"Well done sir!" said my father, raising his glass of milk to Teddy (he was not a teetotaler, but well, he was in uncle Teddy's house).

Volleys of food were exchanged every which way across the table, and although Jane couldn't convince Teddy of evolution and Teddy couldn't convince Jane of his views, we at least didn't have to take home any leftovers that year.