Friday, September 30, 2011

159/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Objects of My Affection" by Peter Bjorn and John

The mud was eight inches thick and Archibald Colton sank into it, gasping, his left hand caught on the razor wire, preventing his head from sinking all the way into the mud. A bullet tore through his exposed hand and he screamed. There were drums in the distance, and the smell of sulphur hung in the air.

The hail of bullets slowed, then paused. There was chatter in the trenches. Colton breathed in ragged gulps.

"Help me," he whispered, barely able to speak.

The flesh of his hand slowly gave way, ripping a red line up to his knuckles. Colton absorbed the pain and closed his eyes.

A decade earlier, Colton walked into the town of Benton, which was comprised of dots of closely placed small houses, seated around a curve in a river unimaginatively named Bend. The residents of Benton eyed him with suspicion as he inquired around for lodging. He was a tall, young man, thin, and obviously not a farmer. He was in the middle of a conversation with the proprietress of a vegetable stand when he blacked out.

When he came to, he was encircled by twenty or so of the townsfolk. The whispered quietly to one another until he opened his eyes. No one offered to help him up.

"I'm alive," he said, with his back firmly on the ground. "Who are you?" he asked the circle at large.

"Who are you?" asked the butcher.

Colton blinked three times then furrowed his brow.

" odd."

"Who are you?" repeated the butcher.

"He had a seizure," said a woman.

"No, I haven't but...this is very strange. I remember you all."

Colton sat up and rubbed his forehead. He looked around the group, and they eyed him back with frowns.

"Very strange..."

"We haven't seen you before."

"No, you wouldn't have..." Colton held his arms out before him. He examined his left hand. "Amazing..."

"What?" asked the butcher.

"I'm more alive than I was then...or will be. Wow." Colton stood and grinned broadly. "I remember when...oh, the colors, so vivid. I can hear the birds singing, the crickets. I can see the pollen floating in the air. It's beautiful." He looked back down at his hand and a tear rolled down his face. "How did I miss all this before?"

"I don't understand. Who exactly are you?" asked the butcher.

"Archibald Colton. And I'm not going to live my life the same way twice."

He slapped the butcher on the back and promptly turned around and left the town, heading towards the border. He whistled while he walked.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

158/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Venus" by AIR

The saw-buzz of cicadas tore through the air, and the church in front of me rose in a ramble of crumbling sandstone. I unholstered my gun and stepped forward, grinding my foot into the gravel. Was it here? Was it really here...

I walked forward slowly, my gun hand out in front, wavering slightly. I took care to avoid the shadow of a dead joshua tree. My radio crackled on my belt.

"--you will be healed--" it was the voice of an old-time revival preacher. Static.

"--today we will have rain--" the voice of weather announcer.

"No we won't," I said under my breath. There was static, then silence.

"--it--comes--for--take--you--" it said in it's halted, borrowed voices.

"I don't think so," I said.

I scanned the church with just my eyes. There was no apparent movement. I stared into the windows that were like the pitted eyes of a rotting, desiccated skull. The air wobbled with heat. Then the cicadas stopped. My skin dimpled with gooseflesh.

"--careful--...--the sun--"

"Come out," I commanded.

"--we could--...--be a--illusion--"

"Your time is up, fugitive," I said.


"Nope." I knelt down on one knee, careful to keep the darks of the windows in sight. I steadied my gun, then dropped the other knee, and pulled up a length of the thick electrical conduit that linked my gun with the generator in the semi truck.

"--you can't--...--there is nothing--"

I slowly slid down onto my belly onto the rough ground. I flicked the recursion switch on the gun and it started to rev up. The air around me got icy cold, but my hands remained warm.

"--you have--...--nothing--nothing--...--nothing--"

"I have a lot of nothing." I nodded my head to flick down my opaque visor and pulled the trigger.

The beam instantly vaporized the church and whatever was behind it for five hundred feet. After twelve nanoseconds a tight gravity vortex formed in the center of the beam. The gun automatically switched off after three picoseconds more. I pushed up the visor.

The remains of the church was a lump of molten glass--bright white. In front, sprawled on the dirt, was sprawled the fugitive, stunned and breathing shallowly, his tattered clothes steaming. I quickly got up, reholstered the gun, and ran to the extraction point. I pulled cuffs from the back of my belt, then rolled the fugitive over onto his back using my the tip of my foot. My shoe grounded the excess electricity that didn't know quite where to go. I bound his hands, frisked him, then turned him back onto his back.

"Please don't," he pleaded. The radio spat out a staticky echo.

"You confuse me for someone who cares," I said.

"I had to do it, I had no choice--"

"Don't care buddy. Sit up."

"I can't," he said.

"You can. You did it once before, when you leapt through, and I know you're not as weak as you look."

Suddenly he jumped up and started running towards the road to the west.

"Get back here you moron!" I yelled.

He quickened his pace, and jumped over a small barrel cactus.

"You can't catch me! You'll never catch me!"

"Well, maybe not." I unholstered the gun and held it in his general direction. I turned my head one hundred and eighty degrees away, pulled the trigger again and let residual charge find its way to the fugitive. When it was done, I went back to the cab of the semi and drank thoroughly from a bottle of water. Another lucrative bounty vaporized. I ruminated on the rising cost of gas.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

157/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Shape of My Heart" by Noah and the Whale

Richard Smith stared up at the blue-dotted letters that floated above him:


Once again the audio-visual projection loop started up inside his goggles--five hours of shots of babbling brooks, snow blowing off mountain tops, lambs cavorting in a meadow full of flowers, an eagle hunting over a lake, and campers singing around a campfire with animated forest animals. Richard sighed.

A flavorless wad of food pushed its way into his esophagus. Richard owned only half a tongue so a machine swallowed the food for him. The oxygen machine blew air into his remaining lung and sucked it back out again. Richard closed his eyes and calmed his thoughts, and entered a hypnotic half-dreaming state. The audio-visual projection faded then shut off entirely.

Richard listened to the liquid that surrounded him. It was silent, but occasionally he could hear movements from outside his tank. He hoped it was day and that enough light could make it through the tank walls, the antibacterial fluid, and the lenses of his googles. He opened eyes. There was some light, but blurred. Richard kept his thoughts calm so the audio-visual wouldn't kick back on.

He twisted his head as much as he could move it, and tried to look down at his body. He saw the roiling tubes he had seen so often before, pouring out of his hollowed chest, but now there was something else. He tried not to panic. There was a growth. He was growing around the tubes, fleshing them out with thick blood engorged umbilicals reaching upward, their ends curling and...reaching.


Lambs cavorted to Beethoven. Richard tried to relax again, but didn't try to put himself back in the dream state.

It had been eight years since he was crushed (or at least that's what he was informed of from periodic updates to the blue-lettered feed), then rushed by ambulance to the facility. He didn't really remember his life before the tank, other than the heavy weight pressing down on his body and that he once had legs. Richard cried.

Richard woke with a start from a dream about drowning. Nine years.


He calmed his thoughts. The audio-visual faded and ended. He waited for his eyes to adjust, then he looked up. The umbilicals had reached the top of the tank. He smiled with the remaining half of his face. Richard pushed out, pressing, pressing...the seal of the tank popped. The pressurized liquid fizzed out of the tank. Richard felt himself rising, getting lighter. Suddenly the oxygen from the machine wasn't enough and he started gasping. He spilt out over the top, using the umbilicals to pull himself out. He landed on the floor in a slippery thud. The tubes slithered out of his body, spraying blood. His breathing stopped. The last ventricle of his heart stopped.

An alarm sounded--it hurt his tender, cosseted ears, as it hurtled directly through the air instead of solid and liquid. Footsteps. Voices. Other humans were near. He retracted an umbilical towards his face, and awkwardly pushed off the goggles. The light burned his eyes. Figures moved above him, blurred. Someone slipped and fell and hollered out in pain. Richard tried to speak out but could only move his upper lip. A face hovered over him.

"Don't worry, sir! We'll save you!" said the voice.

There were spots over his vision, then blackness.

Richard Smith's eyes opened.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

156/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Coffre-fort" by Etienne Charry

Sally woke up, floating on her back. She stared at the kitchen ceiling. The florescent lights above her hummed vaguely.

"Why is it wet?" she asked herself. She tried to stand up, but instead rolled over and started to sink up to her nose. She flailed and remembered how to treat water. She righted herself and bobbed up above the surface. "This is really hard...It's like honey or something. Why is there this much water...oh...oh no."

She looked up and around and saw the kitchen distort around her.

"That's--that's glass. That's a rim of glass. No. It can't be."

Something nudged against her foot and she screamed, looking down. A large orange blob swam underneath her, with a gaping toothless mouth it gummed at her feet and legs.

"Gaaaaaaaarghhh!" she screamed again. "Get away! Go away!" she kicked her feet at it, hitting its nose. It retreated but continued to look on with interest. "Oh, this can't can this be?"

She looked down and saw a bed of blue gravel and a large treasure chest emitting bubbles.

"Oh dear God," she sighed. "I have to be dreaming." She closed her eyes tight and held her breath and went still. She started sinking again, and then opened her eyes wide and started treading water again.

"Can't be. Can't be." She pressed her lips together and furrowed her brow. The orange blob started circling closer. "You stay away!" she yelled. She kicked out again and it held it's place, languidly flapping its fins.

"Okay think--think what happened? What did I do?" She focused on a spot in front of her nose for a few seconds. "I put my hand in to scare the fish. What happened? I don't remember. Something must have happened. Oh! I touched the treasure chest! Was that it? I don't remember anything else. Oh. Would that be it? Why would that be it?"

Sally treaded in silence for a few minutes, watching the orange blob and half wishing someone else was home to help her (and half grateful no one was since it was unbelievably embarrassing to get trapped in a fishbowl when you're a grown human).

"This is hard," she sighed, as her limbs grew progressively leaden with the effort of treading through powerful surface tension. "How do you do it all day?" she asked the orange blob. "I never realized you had so much work to do all the time."

"Okay. I'll give this a go. This is stupid, and it won't work, but I'll give it a try."

Sally sucked in a deep breath, then pursed her lips shut. She dove under the surface and fought downwards toward the treasure chest. She dodged silvery air bubbles, and pushed further down. She tried not to worry about the goldfish. Finally, when her lungs were burning, she touched the chest with her hand and grabbed ahold. Nothing happened.

Sally screamed with fury, letting loose all over her breath at once. The bowl shattered and Sally found herself on the kitchen floor in a puddle of water. Her clothes were dry except for a thin misting; the water that soaked her in the bowl no longer had enough surface area to soak her expanded size so it snapped into millions of tiny water droplets. She was stunned.

The goldfish flopped on the floor beside her. She scooped it up and ran to the sink. She took a glass down from the cupboard and filled it with lukewarm water and slid the fish in. She leaned down to look at the fish.

"You did that, didn't you?" she said. The fish opened and closed its mouth, pushing water through its gills. It stared at her with unblinking eyes. "No, of course not. Fish can't do anything." She stood up straight and looked back at the glass and mess on the floor, then looked leerily back at the fish. "Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. I'm not entirely sure what just happened. But in case you did, I'm sorry. I know I've teased and taunted you and called you stupid, and I'm sorry. Maybe you're not so stupid...or something. I don't know. If you did this to teach me a lesson, well, let's just say, lesson learned. I won't bother you again. I won't tap your glass. I won't threaten to flush you down the toilet. So...truce, okay?"

The goldfish continued to open and close its mouth. Then suddenly it started to swim a circuit of the glass, and returned to its initial position.

"Hmmm. I'll take that as a yes. Don't make me small again!"

Monday, September 26, 2011

155/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Osmose" by Etienne Charry

Robert, a man of six feet three inches, stood in front of his living room window, dressed in blue sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt that were a size too big for him, which is the way he liked his clothes. He wore one loose sock, and the other foot was bare. He emitted a high-pitched humming noise and rocked gently back and forth as he tapped his forehead with his fists. The other side of the window was covered with the dead little bodies of thousands of blue butterflies.

The room was dark, even though it was midday.

"Mom!" shouted Robert. He stopped rocking in order to listen better. The house was silent except for the constant pitter of little impacts on the window. "Mom!" he repeated. He turned around and shuffled to the doorway that led to the kitchen. He gazed tearfully around that room. It was at it always was, clean but a little cluttered, accented with a slight aroma of cinnamon, with the kitchen tap dripping slightly. "Mom," he whispered. He turned slowly back to look at the darkening window. He leaned against the doorframe, clutching it so that his fingernails etched the paint, digging into the drywall, and he started to sob violently.

"What did she say?" he asked himself suddenly. He straightened his posture and rubbed his eyes. "What did she say? Mom said 'stay in the house Robert. Stay in the house.' 'Where are you going?' 'I'm going outside to see what's wrong,' that's what mom said. That's what she said. She said to stay inside and not go out because she was going out to fix the butterflies. No, she didn't say fix. You said, 'Will you fix the butterflies? Why are they dying?' and mom said nothing. Mom went out the door and closed it behind her. And I can't follow her because I don't have a key so I can't get back in if I go out, so I have to stay inside. Mom said to stay inside, and I want her to fix the butterflies."

Robert breathed heavily and shuffled back to the window. He put his hand on the glass and tapped his fingers.

"Fly away butterflies, I'm fixing you now. I'm fixing you. Fly away."

Robert tapped for a minute, then slowly dropped his hand to his side.

"Mom said not to go outside."

Robert looked at the front door.

"Mom said not to go outside."

He looked at the door, then the doorknob, then the deadlock, then the potted plant next to the door.

"Mom said not to go outside. Mom didn't say she would fix the butterflies. Mom closed the door and didn't come back."

Robert put his index finger in his mouth and started rocking again. He sucked on his finger and closed his eyes and started to cry again.

"Where's mom?" he sobbed. "Where's mom?"

With his other arm he pulled his finger out of his mouth.

"Mom, is outside," he said with confidence. He shuffled to the front door and carefully grasped the doorknob. He turned it with a lurch and the door popped open a crack. The blue creatures swarmed in and Robert batted them away from his face. He pulled the door open farther and dragged the potted plant over to prop open the door. He looked out, and on the stoop laid his mother, covered in the creatures, their three wings slowly beating.

"Mom!" screamed Robert in a high pitch. He hugged his chest waiting for a response, but she didn't move.

The creatures started landing on him, biting.

"Ow! Stop that, butterflies! Stop that! It itches!" Robert smacked them where they landed, pulling away a stinging blue goo. He looked at his hands and started hyperventilating. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I don't mean to kill you! Stop touching me!"

Robert started to pull the door shut again but stopped when he saw his mother's body. He let go of the door and kneeled down beside her covered face. He brushed the creatures away from her face and saw her familiar features.

"You don't touch my mom!" he screamed.

He took her left arm and scraped off the creatures, then pulled her limp body over the doorframe and into the living room, then ran back, pulled away the potted plant, and slammed the door shut. He ran back to his mother, and started scraping her whole body free of the creatures. Other creatures still flying around the house descended on the bare skin that he exposed.

"Stop that! I'm angry now. Why won't you behave? Why aren't you being nice? I'm killing you and I'm not sorry."

Robert worked steadily to clear his mother's body completely, and after a half hour there were no more creatures alive in the house. Robert sat back and watched his mother's face.

"Mom!" he yelled. He watched her. "Wake up!" he commanded.

She did not move. He got up and walked to the kitchen, and pulled a roll of paper towel free of it's dispenser. He returned to his mother and sopped up as much of the blue goop as he could, then piled the used paper into the fireplace.

"That's not where that goes. Bad Robert. Don't burn things. Mom would be mad. I'm not going to burn it."

He pulled the paper from the fireplace and stuffed it behind the sofa, then went into the kitchen to wash his hands. He used three pumps of soap as he usually did, and held his hands under the water for two minutes, timing himself by the clock on the microwave, as he usually did. He turned off the tap and stared at the remaining water swirling down the drain.

He shuffled back to the living room and held his index in his finger, sucking. Suddenly he ran to the bathroom and looked intently at the bathtub.

"No Robert, no hot water. Don't turn on the hot water."

He reached down and turned on the cold water tap. He watched the water swirl out for several seconds before putting the plug in. Then he watched the water fill the entire bathtub to the rim. He turned off the water. Robert shuffled back to the living room, bent down, and picked up his mother under the armpits. He dragged her into the bathroom and pulled her into the bath, displacing water all over the floor. She was half in, face first, when he started screaming.

"Bad Robert! Bad! You've got water all over the floor! You're going slip and kill yourself and mold is going to grow everywhere! Bad Robert!"

His mother started twitching. She exhaled large bubbles into the tub, and slid the rest of the way in.

"Mom!" screamed Robert. He rapidly tapped his fists against his head. "Mom! I'm sorry about the water! I don't know where it came from. Mom? Mom?"

He reached in and pulled her head up by the hair, twisting her around so he could see her face. She gasped and coughed up water.

"Hold me up!" she slurred.

"Okay mom," he said. "I'm sorry about the water on the floor."

She smiled weakly.

"It's okay, baby," she said, beginning to shiver violently.

"What's wrong, mom?"

"I'm cold," she said, "but leave me in the water. It's helping. I can't feel my body very well. I'm all pins and needles."


"You saved me. You saved my life. My baby boy. My lovely baby boy."

"You were outside and you didn't come back in."

"I know. And you went out there and got me. And they couldn't hurt you. Do you know why?"

"Because I'm special?"

"Because you're special. Because you're mine and I love you and you're special."

Robert blushed and looked at the sodden floor.


"Yes, baby?"

"Are you going to be okay?"

She looked up at the darkened bathroom window, then to Robert.

"I think so. For now."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

154/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Infinity (Klaas Vocal Mix)" by Guru Josh Project

Araka wove with her twenty appendages--existing beyond and between all the dimensions of time and space, she stitched together all the universes in the multiverse wherever they threatened to come apart. For each universe that came into existence, she replicated herself and remained forever entangled with her children. Darkness lurked at the edge of the multiverse.

"Someday the multiverse will grow too large for you to stitch back together. It will pull apart and I will eat the untethered universes," whispered the darkness.

"As the multiverse grows larger, I will create more children to help me," said Araka.

"It will grow too fast for you, and neither you nor your children will be able to weave fast enough," said the darkness, "and I will eat it all!"

"You will not," said Araka, "for I can bear an infinite amount of children for the rest of time."

The darkness began to get restless; it swirled and vibrated.

"The multiverse will begin to grow so fast, and stretch so far, that light itself will stop reaching your eyes. You will become blind and you will no longer be able to weave!" hissed the darkness.

"That will not happen," said Araka.

"You have no real answer for that!" laughed the darkness.

"Oh, yes I do," said Araka. She started biting at the darkness, clipping off bits of it until all of the darkness was dismembered and silent, then placed them in the centers of all the galaxies in all the universes in all the multiverse. "And you will help me pin everything in place while I weave."

She looked at her work and smiled.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

153/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Tree By The River" by Iron & Wine

Kenneth pulled up on the hand brake and rested his left boot up next to the driver's side mirror. He listened to the engining ticking as it cooled before he spoke.

"It's still there you know," he said.

"What is? What are you talking about?" said Marianne sleepily. Fumbling with fingers that didn't quite respond yet she unbuckled her seatbelt and shifted her position to look at Kenneth. "Why'd we stop?"

"Out of gas."

"Out of gas?"

"Out of gas."

"You said that. Why didn't you get gas at the last gas station?"

"It was closed. Thought I'd try the next one. That was closed. Then we ended up here."

"Oh. Well that's a problem."

"Someone will come along."

"Might be a while. We always get stranded in Nevada. Why is that?" Marianne shifted again to shove her torso out her rolled down window.

"It's Nevada," said Kenneth. He leaned over and pulled Marianne back into the car.

"Hey! I'm just taking a look."

"You don't know what's out there."

"I don't think there's anything out there," she said, sighing deeply then yawning.

"You always want to see stuff."

"Yeah, so?"

"There's not much of anything anymore. Not anything worth seeing at least."

"That's a sad thought. But you're sad, sad, man."

Kenneth was silent. He glanced at the rearview mirror, then unrolled the sleeves of his checkered cotton shirt, smoothing them down, then buttoning them neatly at the cuffs. Marianne observed him from the corner of her eye.

"Stop looking at me," said Kenneth.

"Wasn't," said Marianne. Then she turned to face him again, gently touching his shoulder with her hand. "You said something, just now. What was it."

"I don't know."

"What's still there?"

"Oh," said Kenneth. He took her hand from his shoulder and placed it on the dash, patting the top of her fingers. "The tree. The tree by the river. It's still there."

Marianne sucked in a tiny breathe, the pupils of her eyes widening.

"When did you go back?" she whispered.

"On Friday."

"This past Friday? Our Friday?"

"Yes," said Kenneth. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see it one last time."

"Ugh. Now I'm going to think about it on our anniversary. I've never wanted to go back to see it. I mean, I guess I would be frightened...if it wasn't there. Like it had gotten up again or something."

"The bones are there. The ground was frozen all around, and a nasty thorny thicket has grown up from it. I don't think anything normal and nice can grow on that spot. But yes, it's definitely gone." Kenneth smiled weakly.

Marianne slumped back down into her seat and sighed again.

"Do you remember, how no one believed us?" asked Marianne. Kenneth nodded. "You believed me though."

"I did. I always did."

"That's why I love you," said Marianne, smiling warmly. "You believed. And then you saw it too."

"Yes." Kenneth put his right arm around Marianne and she leaned into him.

"That thing was living in the walls, lurking and breathing and feeding on my dreams, and you pulled it out, from under the windowsill, pulled it out of my head." Marianne grimaced and gestured towards her head with crooked fingers. "And you dragged it all the way down the hill to the river and drowned it. It was amazing. Absolutely..."

"You believed in me, so that's how I could do it."

"I did. I do."

"That's why I love you."

They smiled at each other. Then they leaned back and watched the sunrise through a dusty windshield.

Friday, September 23, 2011

152/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "C.L.U." by Daft Punk from the TRON Legacy soundtrack

In January of 1756 Mr. William Frost, just a day new to the colony, undertook a survey of his newly acquired patch of land twelve miles outside Concord accompanied by his indentured servant Bramwell. After walking arduously through three feet of crusted snow for an hour Frost came upon a small opening to a cave. He broke a branch from the lower limb of a nearby tree and started clearing away the entrance.

"An animal might be wintered up in there sir," said Bramwell, shivering, for he had only a light jacket and a woolen scarf for warmth. "It mayn't be prudent to go poking into its living quarters."

"If there is an animal there Bram, we shall kill it and eat it for dinner," said Frost, grinning. His face was red with the day's exertions, and he dug vigorously into the snow. "Help me Bram, for you've excited my curiosity even further! We shall have meat, Bram, we shall have meat tonight! Help me!"

Bramwell reluctantly removed his hands from their opposing armpits and broke another branch from the tree. Together they worked to clear the snow down to the frozen flora at the base of the cave.

"There Bram, we have done it. You shall go in now, and scope out the creature's den."

"Me, sir? You want me to go in there?"

"Why yes, Bram, I do." Frost stood with one hand on his hip, and the other smacked the branch against his velveted thigh.

"Sir, I will gladly forgo a meal of meat tonight if I can escape the fate of entering this cave."

"Nonsense!" laughed Frost. "You shall go in and pull out whatever beast lives within. Pull it out by the toes or the nose--by whichever end you encounter first."

"Sir, I shall not, for I fear I will get the biting end of it first."

"Are you afraid of teeth Bram?" Frost gnashed his teeth and curled up his lips, then he slapped Bramwell on the shoulder hard enough for him to lose his footing and fall down into the snow. Frost offered his servant his hand and pulled him to his feet. "Fear not Bram," Frost continued, "for a hole of this limited diameter could not possibly contain anything large enough to devour a whole man."

"It's not the devouring I fear, sir, but the chewing, and a smaller animal could certainly chew enough of me to--"

"Bram, Bram, Bram," said Frost, "you fret too much and it tires me."

"Sir, if you are so eager to see the inhabitant, why don't you go in yourself? You are a far braver man than me."

"You appeal to my vanity, Bram. It is a low move, and how can I resist?" Frost chuckled with delight. "I am a man of action. I have sailed all the oceans. I have slain men with my fists alone, in the name of His Majesty during the crucible of war. I slew a man with a cutlass too, but that was over a woman named Lil. Ah yes. And I have dined with knights and barons. I have endured storms and illnesses and the wrath of scorned women. And what have you done with your life, but get yourself so far in debt that you had to sell yourself to me? You've scratched but a ghost of a life from this earthly plane. So yes Bram, I am a braver man than thee, a hardier man than thee, a stronger man than thee. I shall enter the cave myself, and bring out the beast within. I shall Bram, I shall!"

Frost unbuttoned his frock coat and threw it and his hat to Bramwell. Then he rolled up his sleeves to the elbows and got on his hands and knees. He squeezed threw the opening to the cave and began to inch along its dark wet corridor.

"Do you see the beast?" yelled Bramwell.

"It is dark and it smells," replied Frost. "I feel no fur or talon."

"Then you must go further," said Bramwell.

"I shall," said Frost, his voice muffled now.

Frost crawled forward, over sharp shards of shale and discarded bone. The floor of the cave began to decline. Frost continued tentatively, but soon started to slip. He grasped frantically at the walls of the cave but they widened away as Frost fell lower and lower into the chamber. Frost managed to turn around to slide feet first, and he looked back up to see the opening of the cave recede to a white dot. When it was nearly gone, he finally came to a rest at the back of the cave. He panted with adrenaline, and tried to climb back up but slipped back again and again.

"Bram!" he shouted, "You must fetch a rope and throw it down, for I am trapped!" There was no answer from above. "Bram! Do you hear me?"

Then to the left, a rock shifted. Frost stilled himself to listen more acutely. There was the raspy breathing of a second mouth. More rocks moved in the darkness.

"Ah, the beast presents itself!" remarked Frost. He pulled a knife from his boot and held it in the air in front of him.

"I am no beast," said a small voice.

"What manner of creature speaks to me? What sort of trickery is this?"

"I am no creature," said the voice, "for I came to be...outside of creation."

Frost reached into his vest pocket and withdrew a match with a shaking hand. He struck it against the side of his rough face, and the cave chamber lit up. Looming over him, inches away, was a large, eyeless head, with a mouth and slitted nose, but instead of a proper body underneath, it was supported by fifteen ropey tentacles. The mouth was ringed with feelers, like that of a catfish. Inside, the mouth was carpeted with needle-like transparent teeth. Frost dropped the match, extinguishing it.

"Bram! Help me!" screamed Frost, clawing at the inclined wall of the chamber. "I am nearly in the clutches of an unholy beast!"

A tentacle flung out and grabbed Frost's calf. It pulled Frost back as it retreated further back into its lair.

"Get off me!" Frost frantically stabbed at the air with his knife. Finally they stopped moving and the tentacle slid away from Frost's leg. Frost started to stand, but then he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen. He felt down with his hands and came across a cold thin appendage, inserted into his muscles just above the navel. Then the pain was replaced with a dull numbness. Frost swayed, then fell forward. The appendage withdrew and returned to its owner. Frost fell asleep within seconds.

"Eat, my children, eat. For the winter will not last much longer," said the small voice. Five mouths began to chew on Mr. Frost, first ripping away his fine clothes, then tearing hungrily into his well-fed flesh.

Above, at the entrance to the cave, Bramwell looked over the pockets in Frost's coat. In the left breast pocket, he pulled out the deed to the land. He smiled, and shoved the deed back in, then donned the coat and hat of his master. He bent down and worked to cover the hole to the cave with branches, rocks, and packed snow. When he was satisfied with his handiwork, he continued the survey of his land.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

151/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Pink Moon" by Nick Drake

"You can't do that?"

"Why not?" I asked, my back still turned to him.

"Because...there are things!" he sputtered. "In there! You don't know what they could be!"

I pulled off my jumpsuit and threw it against the descent ramp, next to my discarded boots.

"There could be things, sure," I conceded. I whipped my t-shirt over my head and turned around to face him.  "But that's the fun of it." I winked at him. He flailed his arms and let his hands rest over his face. "Come join me."

"NO!" he said, removing his hands from his face overly-dramatically. "I'm not, repeat not, going for a skinny dip in an unknown ocean, with THINGS in it, on an alien planet!!"

"Suit yourself." I walked down to the edge of the lapping ocean. The sand was made up of highly reflective crystals that sparked in the light of dual moons. When the water washed away the crystals aligned and became a perfect mirror for a moment until the surface tension of the remaining water broke. I wondered if the crystals were alive, and if I was crushing them, but they radiated a gentle warmth and I felt welcome. There was a gentle breeze that carried  a fragrance similar to strawberries with a hint of lemon and vanilla. The ocean stretched out, flat in the distance, dark, and unobstructed by anything organic or technologic. It was an unspoiled nature and I vowed to keep it a secret.

Another wave lapped up and licked my feet. More warmth. The edge of the wave didn't foam like ocean water back on Earth; it was just like a thin glucose syrup. Glassy. I walked slowly in, feeling for my footing, even though I could see my feet just fine in the moonlight. I could see my reflection both on the surface of the water and under it. The water receded and both reflections shattered into a buzz of light. I waded in further, to my knees, to my waist, to my chest. John was yelling at me, from back at the ship.

The water was highly saline, like the dead sea. I floated easily on my back. I sipped in a bit of the water to taste it. John screamed at me. I'm sure his face was red, but I ignored him. I pressed my head back and water filled my ears, and I entered a sort of silence. I could only hear the waves lapping. The moons shone above me, big and bright, filling a full quarter of the sky. One of the moons had blue oceans, and the other was dead. I stared at the ocean in the sky and wondered what life lived there. Was it related to the life that lived here, or were they of completely separate origin? If our civilization had grown up on either this planet or its fertile moon, seeing the details of either by telescope and seeing that it was similar, would we have made it to the stars more quickly than we did? Would we have skipped over the skygods, the myths, the astrology, the wars and territorial infighting? We would have had our answer sooner about what was out there, waiting for us.

Was that what happened to the civilization that had left its mark on this planet? I hoped that they were so eager to leave that they all left, but I knew that probably wasn't the truth.

"Come on!" shouted John, as I lifted my head from the water. I had floated out a bit, and he was now a tenth of his usual size, pacing the shore. I waved back to him, the poor man. Smart, but a little dim, in a way. I rolled over in the water, and poked my head down. I could clearly see the sandy bottom. It was dotted with tree-like growths that looked dead but probably weren't. They were only a few feet under. I dove with force, and clutched a thick branch of the nearest tree. I kicked my legs frantically for several seconds, then pulled myself further down to the base of the tree. I curled my body around it gently as my lungs started to burn. The base of the tree pulsed with warmth. Ectothermic. I looked up at the fertile moon through the shifting water. It was like a mirage. Its image merged with that of the dead moon, finger slices of light fusing then pulling apart.

There was dull thrashing near me. A dark shadow loomed above and blocked the moons. A face and hand reached down. I let go and let myself bob up.

John grabbed me under my shoulders. He was breathing heavily, but not yelling.

"I'm all right," I said.

"What?" he sputtered.

"You can let go," I said.

"No!" he said, pulling me onto shore. He stumbled to the ramp, dragging me, and flopped down on it, making sure not to touch any of the alien sand. I stood and started to dress, as John held his chest.

"Don't do that again," he said, panting.

"I'm the captain," I said.

"We never agreed on that," he said.

"Sure we did. When we were back in the bar and you were drunk and I paid for the ship."

"It was my money. You just counted it out and handed it over."

"I piloted it here."

"I paid for the fuel."

"No, that we stole."

"Oh, yeah," said John, sitting up and draping his arms over his knees. "But you're distracting from the point!"

"Which point? There are lots of points."

"Wha...that it's not prudent to go into a strange ocean! You got pulled in by something! You proved my point!"

I laughed, and sat down next to him to put my boots back on.

" did that on purpose? You faked it?" I smiled. "Why? Why would you do that?"

"To get you in the water; to prove my point."

"What point?"

"That not everything in this universe is out to destroy us. In fact, I would argue that the universe is very unconcerned with us."

John rubbed his face vigorously.

"Does everything have to be philosophy with you?" he said.

"Sometimes. Not always. Often." I smiled and put my arm around his shoulder. "But the point is, my point, is that it gives us a very interesting sort of freedom. Especially with this old heap to roam around in."

John shook his head.

"Don't call it a heap," he said quietly.

"Let's go there now!" I said, pointing up at the fertile moon, grinning. "Because we can."

John looked at me with raised eyebrows. Then a smile built slowly, and progressed. We took each other's hand at the same time, got up, and ran up the ramp.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

150/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "3:14 Every Night" by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from The Social Network soundtrack

Mike stared at the bed, with his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. He was still. The bedcovers were unwrinkled. The room was dark, but the bed, dressed in white, shone in the light from the bathroom, and taunted him.

He slowly resumed brushing. He turned his back on the bed, a chill rising up his vertebrae. He spat out into the bathroom sink and ran the water to rinse out his brush. When he was done, he placed it carefully in the brush holder, then mopped up errant drops of water around the sink with his embroidered hand towel. He replaced that carefully as well, and when it was set, hanging straight and folded evenly, he stroked it as if it were an obedient pet, a thing alive.

He turned off the bathroom light and let his eyes adjust to the complete dark. The bed was still visible, almost glowing. Muhammed let his hands hang by his sides, and he shook his fingers.

"Please not tonight," he whispered to the room.

The room expanded ever so slightly, expanding, then contracted again. The curtains shrouding the window fluttered.

"I beg you," said Mike in a louder voice. He balled up his toes.

The room expanded again, larger, and became suddenly cold.

"Get in," whispered the room in a deep voice that Mike didn't hear, but rather felt in the middle of his chest.

Mike didn't move. His flesh dimpled up.

"Obey," said the room.

Mike leapt to the bed, threw back the comforter, and slid inside the lofty white folds of fabric.

"Please let me sleep," said Mike.

"You are sleeping," said the room, sighing again.

"Am I?"


"This is not sleep then."

The room was silent. Mike listened, but there was nothing. After a minute his muscles began to relax again. His eyelids drooped. The fabric was warm. It moved about him like a tropical current. It caressed him with its heat. Mike felt the gentle heartbeat of the mattress, thrumming and thrumming against the small of his back. Darkness began to descend upon his mind.

Cold. Mike work, his breath hung above him, a little frozen cloud. Above that hovered the comforter. His lungs did not move, and his heart did not beat, but he felt. He moved his arms, touched his chest, and discovered he was naked. He moved his hands underneath himself, and discovered he was floating.

"Wake me up, please," said Mike.

"No," said the room.



Mike pivoted, and tried to right himself. He fought to move his chest upright, and force his feet down to the mattress. He brushed against his cloud of breath, and it shattered, exploding into dust that fell down onto his legs with icy little stabs. He stood with just his toes on the mattress, trying to balance.

"Please," he pleaded.


The sheet below him, on the mattress, began to tear in two, down the center, exposing the mattress's heart.

"Do you see this?" asked the room.

"Yes," said Mike.

"This is you."

"No, it's not me."

"It is. It breathes your breath. It pumps your blood. It is you."



Suddenly Mike slid upward towards the comforter. It wrapped around him, cocooning him. It heated up. Muhammed struggled, punching out his legs and arms, but the comforter wrapped tighter until he couldn't move at all.

"I am not it!" he moaned.

The room pressed inward, it's wooden infrastructure creaking, plaster falling, and paint peeling along rupture lines.

"Let me go!"


The warmth of the comforter started to burn into his skin and so he screamed. The comforter fused with large areas of his skin. It tugged at his muscles, pulling them apart from the bones.


Mike gasped, but the air refused to enter his lungs.

"No," he managed weakly.

The cocoon suddenly dropped to the mattress. The threads of the mattress top began bunching up and spreading apart, creating a threadbare space in the middle, where the heart lived. It was made of the same fabric as the top of the mattress but woven more densely. It throbbed rapidly with anticipation.

"Eat," said the room.

The edges of the mattress that surrounded the heart rippled up like puckered lips and sucked in the cocoon, folding it in two. It pulled it into the depths of it's matting, swallowing. When it was done the threads realigned themselves, and the mattress was smooth again, although bulging and beating. The mattress spent the next month digesting Mike.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

149/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Nine Lives" by Dystopia

Ziva sat on a bench, lacing up rented skates with sparkles in the wheels, almost disappearing beneath a thick halo of black curly hair and an oversized sweatshirt handed down from her brother.

"What are you doing here, bitch?" It was a tall girl with silky straight blonde hair. A girl named Lysandra, who was a year older than Ziva. Lysandra smirked at the figure on the bench.

"Leave me alone," Ziva muttered, bowing her head lower, hunching forward further and focusing on the fibers in the lace and hoping Lysandra wouldn't spot her dirty fingernails and cracked polish.

"I bet you can't even skate." Lysandra shifted and flung her weight to her other hip.

"Leave me alone."

"They might as well put the hazard cones out for you. I bet you'll be a disaster. I mean, look at your hair. Do you even know what conditioner is?"

"Leave me alone."

Lysandra licked her teeth, huffed, then passed by, making sure the clean white skates she held in her hand grazed the Ziva's head. Ziva stared at her through narrowed eyes as Lysandra met up with a gaggle of friends. When she thought she was suffiently re-invisible, Ziva stood and took three shaky steps to the side of the roller rink. She held tight to the rink wall. A waft of stale hot dog scent floated past and she felt briefly nauseated.

She raised her right foot, and placed the wheels down onto the rink surface. The two objects connected as if both were magnetic. The light dimmed, the music changed and had a throbbing beat, and the disco ball in the center of the ceiling started turning, throwing discs of colored light across the cavernous room. Ziva pushed off with her other foot and she glided to the center of the rink. She put her feet into a T to stop.

A handful of skaters went around in the same direction along the outside of the rink. Ziva turned a full circle, watching them. Then she looked up at the disco ball. She closed her eyes and a flood of warmth filled her. She smiled.

Ziva stretched out her arms like a professional ballerina, tilted her head back, and pushed off. Her eyes were still closed, but the lights of the ball still penetrated her lids. She skated towards the far end of the rink, and turned abruptly when she was a foot away from the wall skaters, still blind. She skated faster and faster, parallel to the others, in a tighter loop. She made a complete circuit before she switched feet and started skating backwards in the same direction. Some of the skaters braked and paused to watch her. She skated even faster, switched position again and again, deftly threading her feet one over the other. She spread her arms and twisted her feet outwards and started skating in leaning circles, like she was sliding effortless along the surface of an invisible cone. She pulled her arms in and spun tightly. She pushed out and crouched down on one foot. She stood again and looped the rink, skating so fast that her huge mop of hair pulled back from her face, and glowed in the disco light, like a halo.

Lysandra stepped out onto the rink, her eyes glued to the spectacle circling the rink. Her front skate slipped and she fell against the rink wall and landed with legs splayed. Her mouth slightly open, she kept staring at Ziva.

As Ziva came near Lysandra, she opened her eyes, smiled broadly, and winked.

Monday, September 19, 2011

148/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service

"Well, you see it uses Bluetooth--" said doctor Bess, his hands animated in wide loops.

"Can't you just tell me in English?" Elaine Farber was growing angry.

Doctor Bess chuckled under his breath, and quickly snuck a look at his wrist watch.

"It's perfectly safe," he said.

"Once the surgery is done," said Elaine.

"Well, yes, but it's fairly low risk--"

"You're going to go into his brain to implant this thing--"

"Mrs. Farber--"


"Ms Farber, let me be blunt. Your son is a severe depressive. He's been institutionalized on and off since he was twelve. He's made three, legitimate attempts to take his life. Compared to the risk that he will eventually succeed, the risk of this surgery is very minimal."

Elaine stared at him, refusing to shrink back into her chair. Doctor Bess was used to getting his way--he was somewhat of a celebrity in his field, and if he had not been so famous and self aggrandizing, complete with a daily blog that extolled his own accomplishments and virtues (ranging from making perfectly browned toast, to growing replacement neurons from stem cells and repairing brain tissue in coma patients, and to his current invention which he intended to test for the first time on her son), she would never have found out about him.

"Doctor, let me be blunt. If you hurt him, if you cause a stroke on his right side or just a persistent eyelid twitch, I will hold you accountable. I might have signed a waiver, but that only protects you from legal action."

"Are you threatening me?" Bess leaned back in his chair, and let his hands drape over the arm rests.

"You think about it a bit," said Elaine, clutching her purse a little too tightly.

Bess leaned forward, smirking at her.

"Anyway," he said dismissively, "the implant attaches to the vagus nerve, deep inside the brain. The implant will receive a blood supply, and it uses glucose for energy so there will never be any need to go back into his skull to change batteries. The implant is capable of electrically stimulating the nerve, which will spur the rest of his brain to produce what I call, happy amounts of neurotransmitters."

"Happy amounts?"

"Yes," said doctor Bess. "That would be the layperson's term for it."

"Don't patronize--"

"Are you a medical professional? No, you are not. Let's stick with 'happy amounts' so I don't have to waste twenty minutes trying to explain how brain chemistry works."

"You know you're asking a lot of people to participate in these experiments--"


"Experiments. You could put in the effort to be nice. To be grateful."

"But I'm helping you."

"Are you so confident?"

Doctor Bess looked at the door, both hoping someone would open it and that Mrs. Farber would leave. She crossed her arms.

"Well," said Bess, pausing to gain a warm demeanor, "I am confident. I'm one of the best surgeons in the world, and I and my team will not give you any room for any non-legal retribution, so let's just leave it at 'mutually assisting one another'. Your son will get better."

"Fine," said Elaine after a moment.

"Now, this device," he said, pointing to a small object resting on his desk, "is the key to this working effectively. If the implant were to just give periodic pulses to the nerve, it feels a bit unnatural for the patient. This will be yours. Click the button, and it will send a signal to the implant if you are within a few feet of your son. Do it when you are feeling happy yourself, or find yourself in a situation that makes you happy. This will help train your son to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and happiness in pleasurable circumstances. He will be more likely to seek out those situations on his own. Whatever you do, don't click it during stressful, displeasurable, or painful situations."

"Why not?" asked Elaine. "That seems like it would be the ideal time to do this."

"It's confusing, good grief. Have you no common sense?"


"I'm sorry," said doctor Bess, moving his hands over his desk like he was smoothing out a bed sheet. "We can't be happy all the time. It wouldn't be special then, would it?"

Elaine stared at his eyes, then looked down at her hands, still strangling the top of her purse.

"I'm always stressed out, or unhappy, or in pain," said Elaine slowly. "It's something I passed on to Jimmy--but he got it harder than me. I would give anything to get rid of it. I've had enough, and so has Jimmy."

"Mrs. Farber--"

"No, but I understand what you're saying." She slowly released her grip on the purse, and red surged back into her fingers. "I think I can fake it." She reached to the object on the desk and picked it up. She brought it back to her chest and examined it. She clicked the button a few times. She smiled wanly. "Too bad it won't work on me."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

147/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Plug In Baby" by Muse

FYI that song title is misspelled. It should be "Plug-in", based on the context of it's usage in the song.

Three young men stared at the device, lying on the floor of their dorm room, atop a tangle of electrical cords, her naked limbs straight and rigid.

"Is it on?" asked Jeff.

"I don't know," said Scott. He nudged it in the face with a socked toe.

"It says here," said Matt, pointing to large unfolded sheet of instructions printed in 17 different languages, " that it's voice activated. If it's holding a charge we should be able to talk it to get it to, uh, do stuff."

"What do we say?" asked Jeff.

"Uh, try this," said Matt. He pointed to a tiny line of print.

"I can't see what that says," said Jeff. "Why do they have to print it so small? Friggin Swedes. Just a sec. Let me get my glasses." He rooted through the stacks of papers and academic cruft on his desk and found a scratched pair with thick lenses. He put them on.

"Why don't I say it?" asked Scott.

"It's my, um, toy," said Jeff. "Hands off."

"You might want to keep some Purell around..." said Matt. "Just in case." Jeff laughed.

"Hey!" said Scott.

"Okay, so this line here," said Matt pointing again. Jeff mouthed the words silently.

"Really?" said Jeff. "That's something I would say to my grandmother."

"Just say it, okay? I want to see what this thing can do."

"Fine," said Jeff, then he straightened his posture, looked down at the figure, and enunciated, "Hello, darling."

They waited a few seconds. They leaned in.

"Did it work?" asked Scott.

Suddenly, she spoke, but her mouth moved slower than her syllables.

"他妈的我更难," she said. The men all jumped back.

"Wait, what was that?" asked Matt.

"Chinese, maybe?" said Scott. Jeff scratched his head.

"Let me try again," said Jeff. "Hello...darling!" He spoke louder and clearer, almost chomping on his consonants.

"Hello," she said. Again, her mouth moved out of sync with her words.

"Well okay, that's English at least, but what's next?" asked Jeff. He and Matt scanned the instruction sheet.

"It says here it's supposed to prompt you through the setup process," said Matt.

"How though?" asked Jeff.

"Hello...DARLING," said Scott.

"Hello, master," she said.

"Hah! See?! She recognizes me as master!" said Scott with a big grin.

"Yeah, big accomplishment," said Matt.

"Would you, like to, give me, a name?" she said in choppy cadence.

"YES," said Jeff and Scott together.

"Please say name now," said a deep male voice.

"Oh no," said Matt. "That just sounds wrong."

"What should we name her?" asked Scott.

"Thank you, master for, naming me, 'Ohno'," she said, with the last word a parroted recording of Matt's voice with an overlay of static. Jeff and Scott stared at Matt.

"Don't look at me! They need to write these instructions better!" said Matt.

"Idiot," said Jeff.

"Would you, like to...set the time?"

"Why would you need a clock in one of these things?" wondered Scott.

"No," said Matt.

"Please say the time now," said the male voice.

"What? NO." said Jeff.

"I'm sorry, I did, not understand, your answer. Please repeat, your answer."

"NO. No we would not like to set your clock," said Jeff, getting a bit annoyed.

"The time, is now set, to seven...AM."

"That's not the right time," said Scott.

"No, we DO NOT want to set the time," said Jeff.

"I'm sorry, I did, not understand, your request. Please repeat, your request."

"I can't believe they licensed this technology from Apple," said Matt. "This is worse than trying to get a real girlfriend."

"Would you, like me, to be, your...girlfriend?"

"Uh, yes," said Jeff.

"There are other options?" whispered Matt.

"You have, to say, my name."

"Ohno, yes," said Jeff.

She was still and silent. The men leaned in over her again.

"What the hell?" asked Jeff.

"This is stupid," said Scott.

"Hello, OHNO," said Jeff. There was silence. He clapped his hands loudly next to her face.

"Maybe her ears aren't up there," said Matt.

"What?" asked Jeff. "Of course she has ears--"

"I meant the microphone," said Matt. "Let me see if it's indicated anywhere on the diagram."

"I am, fully-charged, master. Please unplug me, so we, can play."

"Oh. No okay," said Jeff.

He crouched under his desk to reach for the cord, but was struggling through the tangles and the small space.

"Thank you, for"

She pulled up her legs, sat up, then stood up in a distinctly non-human, not very wobbly way. The cord tightened.

"Wait," said Jeff.

She stared blankly at Scott, and put her arms around his neck.

"Ohno, wait," said Jeff.

"Ohno, yes," said Scott, smiling.

She opened her mouth into an O shape and wiggled her tongue.

"NO, wait! I can't quite reach the--"

Scott leaned in, closed his eyes, opened his mouth wide, and touched his saliva enrobed tongue to hers.

Sparks flew from the electrical socket, the lights flickered then went dead, Scott lurched backward and fell on a pile of magazines, his heart stopped. She collapsed to the floor and twitched and jabbered violently before going silent.

Jeff stood up. Matt let the sheet of paper drop from his hands and flutter to the floor.

"Oh, no," said Jeff and Matt together.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

146/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Vaporize" by Broken Bells

I don't think the world has room for me. When I see a pregnant woman, I think of the snakes that give birth to live offspring--a tangle of ropey bodies sliding against each other inside mucus and membranes. There is something off-putting about the human body, the corporeal form and the transformations it must make as it lives and then dies, and ends. I feel like a being trapped in a body, a meat enclosure, a mortal coil, wrapped around me, suffocating me--and I cannot connect with the other beings in the other bodies.

"You need to use a number two pencil," says Mrs. Grafton, looming over me, in a flowered dress that stretches against her ever-expanding bulk. Her perfume makes my nose twitch. We are alone in the room.

"It is," I say.

"No, dear, that's a red pencil crayon. I know you can't see colors, but you need to remember to read what's written on the side."

She's right. I can't see colors, at least not the way other people apparently do. It baffled the doctors when I was little. I'm a defective human.

"It's all I brought," I say.

Mrs. Grafton sighs.

"Fine," she says. "I'll lend you one."

She totters off back to her desk at the front of the room. I watch her open the top drawer. Her eyes are turned away. I shut my eyelids and relax. I feel the air pressing in on me, getting colder. The atoms are slowing down. I unhook myself from the nerves in my skin, the outer layer of the carriage I ride around it. The unfriendly sensation is gone, and I'm free to push further. I stop breathing. I open my eyes.

Mrs. Grafton is frozen, stuck in a single frame. I guess it would be completely dark to a normal human, but I can see everything, because I can sense everything. All the fizzing atoms, jostling and wanting to move, that make up the room. The windows are opaque to me, in this modularity, and look, what I would term white. I can feel the structure behind all things.

I force my body to stand. It resists of course, glued to the same frame that Mrs. Grafton currently inhabits, but I force the body to move. I leave the desk behind. I float up to the lights in the ceiling. I grab them, touch them, the slide my hand into the series of metal slats. It feels good. Satisfying. I slice into the fluorescent tubes. I free the gas inside from the frame, and it travels into me, and I start glowing. I want to fill the whole room with light. My concentration waivers. Gravity pulls at me gently. I feel heat. My stolen time is up, and a feel sad because I haven't found a way to extend my excursions forever--

Mrs. Grafton screams.

I am in my desk again, eyes still closed, but the light above me explodes and I'm showered with glass.

Friday, September 16, 2011

145/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "We Can Work It Out" by Stevie Wonder

The room smelled of pizza boxes, stale coffee, and sweaty socks, and Senator Johnson was snoring loudly, reclined in his chair with one arm folded over his ample belly and one with his knuckles touching the gray berber carpet at the nadir of each exhale. Senator Wrayworth stared at him from across the wide oak conference table. She tugged on her bright blue jacket front then fluffed her hair unconsciously, while staring daggers at the honorable, snoring, gentleman from South Carolina.

"Have another," said Representative Reilly, a wiry, somewhat dimwitted but reasonably charismatic thirty-year-old, the son of a California dairy owner, seated to her left, who slid a half-empty pizza box in her direction.

"No thank you," replied Senator Wrayworth.

"We should have ordered more sausage," said Reilly, pulling the box slowly back into the orbit of his spidery hands, and actually licked his lips. Senator Wrayworth bit her acid tongue and ordered her mind to be as calm as a glacial lake. Her former life on the stand-up circuit often wanted to burst through in her career in the Senate, but it would serve no purpose here and now. Wrayworth was the only woman on the eight-man comittee: four Democrats and four Republicans.

"We need to get back to the matter at hand," said Wrayworth, in a loud authoritarian voice, but no one listened. The two co-chair chairs were unoccupied. Senator Thompson and Representative Martelli were still off in the rest-room. Wrayworth assumed they were discussing their golf games.

Wrayworth sighed. The others still at the table were Representative Gableman, a former corporate lawyer from Florida, who was engrossed in playing Pig Swap Deluxe on his phone, biting his lower lip during particularly tricky moves. There was also Representative Payne, who was true to his name when he had to interact with anyone who disagreed with his narrow (unsupported by statistical reality) but popular views. Wrayworth thought he looked like an angry squirrel, with thinning, wispy red hair, coiffed into submission with what was probably a full can of hair spray each morning. He was incapable of speaking without exclamation points, and during the majority of the time he spent in the room he stared at Wrayworth, unblinking, at her mouth, which did not unnerve her, because she had spent many nights hazed on stage by hecklers. Finally, on Wrayworth's side of the table was her fellow Senator Long from Oregon. He liked to steeple his fingers, touching the tips to his mouth, attempted to appear profounder than he was at all times, and spoke in convenient soundbites. Wrayworth knew he had more depth and intelligence than he actually used, and was disappointed that he almost never did.

Wrayworth tapped her fingers on the table. Reilly munched, Johnson snored, Gableman worked on his high score, Payne glared at Wrayworth's lips, and Long absently doodled on his legal pad. The wall clock at the front of the room ticked the seconds away audibly, slicing off more and more of the time left until their deadline.

Suddenly the doorknob turned and clicked, breaking the silence like a sledgehammer. Thompson and Martelli re-entered the room, slapping each other's shoulders and mutually guffawing. They chatted some nonsense about a sports game while taking their seats, then sighed at the same time, their conversation finally ended.

"We were discussing the EPA," said Wrayworth, consulting her notes. Thompson sighed again, threw an annoyed glance at Martelli, then swatted Johnson on the wrist. Johnson sat up, opening bleary eyes, but not focusing on anything in particular. "I was saying that cutting the budget by a specific percentage is inadequate to--"

Johnson started violently coughing up phlegm. His face turned red as he fished around his various suit pockets for a handkerchief. He finally found one, and covered his mouth with it.

"Those tobacco lobbyists that have you in their pocket working out for you there?" said Wrayworth under her breath, under the sound of the labored coughing. Finally it subsided, and Johnson returned to half-asleep stupor.

"As I was say, a specific percentage is too vague too--"

"Excuse me, Lila," said Thompson with a smirk. "I think we've heard enough of your specifics for tonight."

"It's like an endless list," added Martelli.

"You need to give it a rest," said Thompson. "Let the big boys handle this one." He smiled broadly, glanced over at Martelli, and they shared a chuckle. Wrayworth nearly swallowed her tongue in order to keep it at bay.

"Sure," said Wrayworth.

"We moved on to the NES, actually. Thompson and I agreed that a twenty percent cut across the board, plus moving of pensions to 401Ks, should shed about thirty million over the next five years," said Martelli.

"Write that down," said Thompson, lazily pointing his finger at Wrayworth's note pad. She laid her pen down on the table, straightening it to align in parallel with the pad. She looked at Thompson with her poker face.

"Where did you get those numbers?" asked Gableman, just as a tinny pig began to squeal out the chorus to "Ode to Joy". He did not even glance up as he thumbtapped rapidly.

"You know..." said Martelli.

"What?" asked Wrayworth, who was ignored. Gableman continued.

"Moving pensions isn't necessarily going to save--"

"We can work out the details, after the fact," said Thompson.

"That's the problem," said Wrayworth.  "I mean beyond our inherent, party line disagreements about policy, we're not actually dealing with--"

"Shall the issue defeat the party, or shall the party defeat the issue?" asked Long, arching an eyebrow dramatically.

Wrayworth sighed deeply.

"We need to--" she started.

"We need to cut the EPA entirely!" exclaimed Payne.

"No--" said Wrayworth, as if mollycoddling a child.

"The EPA is the enemy of capitalism! It dampens the engines of our economies!"

"Don't they clean up toxic spills and stuff?" asked Reilly.

"It is the right of the corporations to do as they need with their industrial byproducts!" shouted Payne. "Who are we to say, 'no, you can't make money because your factory killed some trees'?! A tree is not protected under Habeus Corpus. This is America! Cut it 100%!"

"It would mean we wouldn't have to haggle over the details," said Gableman calmly but tapping frantically.

"Now, now," said Thompson. "We have to give and take with the other side, Fred. A bill that cuts the EPA entirely will never pass the--"

"So?! It would be gesture! A signal to the silent voter that they've been heard!"

"Do you mean deaf voters?" asked Reilly.

"A vote cast is a vote counted," said Long, slowly nodding his head.

"There are consequences, Fred," said Martelli. "As you know, we only have thirty six more hours to come up with a comprehensive plan--"

"Consequences? Consequences?!" exclaimed Payne. "Why, the very future of our great nation is at stake! We must free the corporations from their bondage! We must draft an amendment to the constitution that will permanently ensure that--"

"Shut the fuck up!" screamed Wrayworth. She shed her suit coat and thrashed it against the edge of the table. Then she climbed up, and stood on top of the table, looking down at the other committee members. "Are you kidding me? All of you! All of you are insane!"

"Get off there!' shouted Thompson, standing up in indignation.

"No!" yelled Wrayworth. She kicked the pizza box at Thompson. "You're going to listen to! For once, you're going to listen to me!"

"You must listen before you can be heard," said Long.

"Shut up!" said Wrayworth, pointing a finger at Long. "All of you! I have the floor!"

"We're not on--"

"I said shut up!" Wrayworth started striding across the table, looking at each one of them in turn. "This is what we're going to do. We're going to spend the next thirty six hours going through each of the major projects of each department, and we're going to aim for a 10% reduction overall. Some we'll reduce more, some less, but there will always be a coherent reason for why! From here on out, I'm leading this god-damned committee. You can take the credit, I don't care. Do you understand?!"

A pig squealed. Wrayworth leaned down and snatched the phone from Gableman's grasp and threw it into a corner of the room.

"No playing with toys, no bathroom breaks longer than five minutes, and don't travel there with a buddy. And no falling asleep! Got it?"

No one nodded.

"Got it?!" screamed Wrayworth.

They nodded in unison.

"Excellent," said Wrayworth. "Let's get down to some real work." She did not descend to here chair.
FYI the actual supercommittee is composed of twelve members (only one of which is a woman).

Note to self: title this one "That's What She Said"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

144/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Here to There" by "Sonya Kitchell"

The subject is trembling, ever so slightly. "Step inside the chamber," I say, in a calm voice.

"I have a question," he asks. He stands there, on the cleanroom floor, in his blue paper jumpsuit and booties, his fingers twitching at his sides. It makes me think that maybe he really wants to take a smoke, and I'm annoyed, because I explicitly told my grad students to filter out any smokers. I don't like their breath.

"What is it?" I say.

"Will it kill me?" His eyelids flutter when he says it.

"No," I say. "It definitely won't kill you."

"But," he stutters, "will I still be me, on the other side?"

"You will always be you." I say. I don't particularly care if I comfort him or not, I don't care one iota about this guy, I just want him to get into the chamber so I can collect my data.

"I mean, maybe you don't understand, but will my soul be in my reconstituted body? On the other side?" He motions with his hands. I don't know how to respond, but I do anywhere.

"There's no such thing as souls," I say and he blanches. "What we, well, what people like you think of is a soul, is just the emergence of the mind from the brain." He opens his mouth as if to speak but then doesn't. His cheeks and neck get red. I continue, "since the mind is emergent, and your brain will be exactly, exactly, identical after the experiment, then your, as you call it, 'soul', will still be intact."

"Oh," he says, looking confused and unconvinced. He turns around and looks into the chamber, his hands clutching either side of the door way.

"Look," I say, "you can be a pioneer. You'll be in the record books. You get to do something no one in history has done yet. You, sir, are the first. That's wonderful, don't you think?"

"I dunno," he mumbles, not looking at me but at the floor of the chamber. I look at my watch. "Why don't you get in it then, if it's so great?"

"I'm conducting the experiment. It's scientifically irresponsible to experiment on yourself." I tap the floor with my foot and flash him an in-genuine smile.

"How do you know it's safe?" he says. I feel like rolling my eyes. I regret not having one of my grad students deal with this guy.

"We've teleported dozens of animals, objects, and computers. Everything comes through just fine. We just now, finally," I emphasize it, because the government nearly shut us down, until the last election when we got a much more forward thinking president who was able to whip Congress into shape and repeal that ridiculous anti-teleportation bill, the troglodytes, although frankly I think the oil industry lobbyists were behind that bill, "got legal permission to run human trials. Otherwise we would have been done with this a decade ago." And it feels like I've been mollycoddling this ignorant nimrod for a decade already.

"They come out exactly the same?"

"Yes," I say. Is he hard of hearing, I wonder?

He closes his eyes and exhales deeply.

"Okay," he says, "I'll do it."

"Excellent!" I say. "Now just step inside please."

He gets in. I strap down the restraints, which are meant to prevent him from moving during the scanning process. I can feel him shaking. I smile warmly at him, but he doesn't seem to calm down much. I shut the hatch and give him a hands up signal through the thick glass porthole. I leave the containment room, and walk to the adjacent observation and control room where one of my grad students is sitting (Charles or Jim, or Kip, or some similar upper middle class name that always makes me think his parents must have met while playing tennis at the local country club on a Saturday afternoon--I have no idea what this one's name is. I give all my students B's because I can never tell who's who, and well, it just means I don't have to bother grading them on anything).

We've got an excellent view of the containment room, through a one-way mirror, which was probably unnecessary, but I had an extra couple thousand dollars to spend from my research grant. The teleportation chamber sits in the middle of the containment room, with it's power supply and feeding down into it from a hole in the ceiling like a thick umbilical cord.

I nod to Kip or whoever. He types in the command to initiate the quantum scan. The chamber lights up green. The green light isn't necessary because the scan is invisible, but I thought it would be useful to show definitively when the scan is happening.

The subject suddenly starts screaming. I can't hear anything, since there is no mic in the chamber. I'm not sure if he's in pain, or just has second thoughts. I all of our animal experiments, the animals never showed any signs of stress, so I assume it's just the latter, and I make a note to ask him by phone when he arrives in the companion chamber in Singapore in a minute or two.

The scan completes, and the chamber fills with a brief burst of blinding white light. That is real, because it's the actual destruction of the subject, and why we have to contain everything in a chamber in the first place--so that the intense radiation doesn't leak out. The chamber is filled with hydrogen, helium, and a little bit of lithium residue, which will need to be cleaned out before the next teleport.

I prompt Kip to call Singapore, and he does.

"Yeah, just now. Do you have him?" he asks, perfunctorily. "Yeah. Should be. About twenty seconds ago. Yeah. No."

"What is it?" I asked. I'm annoyed he didn't use the speakerphone.

He swivels around in his chair and looks up at me, eyebrows furrowed. I furrow mine back.

"He hasn't arrived," says Kip.

"What?" I say.

"He's not there."

"Tell them to check their buffers," I say.

"That's what they're doing right now," he says. "Oh wait...oh...okay, yeah," he says to the phone. "Their computer was in sleep mode. It missed half of the transmission, and then it threw an error because it was incomplete."

"Oh," I say. "You had the subject sign the waiver, didn't you?" Kip looks at me like I just strangled his dear old grandmother with barbed wire. "Didn't you?" I repeat.

Kip nods.

"Okay then, let's bring in the next subject."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

143/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Everyday" by Vetiver

Just FYI, this almost became a Voldemort/Bellatrix fanfic.

"Go away woman! Let me sleep!" Lord Avarice Smelting, fifth Baron of Castle Widowframmeling, deep in the mountains of the high country, pulled his black satin sheets up over his head and closed his eyes tightly, willing the last shards of evening twilight back.

"But master, it's time to go hunt the people in the village!" said his housekeeper, Miss Grimheidle Groaning, leaning in, and saturating the air above Lord Smelting's covered face with the rank odor of of wet ferret fur and dead stinkbugs.

Lord Smelting gagged. He threw the sheets back and sat up, distancing himself from the blackened and rotting orifice that was Miss Groaning's ancient mouth. She smiled a wide, dark smile, dotting with the odd yellow tooth canted at a dentally unfit bad angle, her eyes bloodshot and gleeful. She admired him deeply. She loved nothing more than to serve him faithfully, in all his bad, bad deeds. Had five hundred and twenty years not separated their horrible births, she would have pursued him as one of her husbands, but alas, the age difference was too great.

"It's night sir," said Miss Groaning, twitching her fingers. "I have a cup of warm blood for you, freshly drawn from the litter of kittens in the second cellar." She handed him a clattering teacup on a saucer.

"Baah!" bellowed Lord Smelting, swiping the back of his hand at the teacup, and throwing it out of Miss Groaning's hands, and into the stone wall of his bedroom. The contents dripped down thickly, and splotched the dense purple carpet.

"Are we going to throw a fit tonight, master?" she asked. Miss Groaning clasped her hands together and continued to smile at him.

He narrowed his eyes at her, then suddenly leapt out of bed, seemingly more lithe than his muscular bulk would suggest he was capable of. He snatched up his fur lined dressing gown and flung it over his shoulders as he strode to the wide window that looked down upon the village. He tied the sash of the gown, made of the tender hide of wolf cubs.

"This is such a burdensome obligation," he said, then sighed. He traced the outline of the village on the glass.

"Master?" prompted Miss Groaning, confused.

"I was born to this position, Grimheidle. I cannot escape it, even for a single night. Every night is the same. I go down to the village on my red-eyed steed, Hellsbane, with swords and maces, or whips and guns, and I terrorize the people down there, kidnap at least one, then come back here to commence torturing said individual in the dungeon, then drain their blood and burn their flesh, and eat their innards."

"Yes!" said Miss Groaning brightly, letting her inner eye drift off in lazy contentment.

"No!" exclaimed Lord Smelting, whipping around, and taking hold of her fragile, wiry shoulders. "Why should this be? Why should I do the same thing over and over again? For two long centuries now!" He released her, and slumped to his knees. He leaned his shoulder against the wall under the window.

"But master, it's your duty, to your departed father and mother, and all your ancestors!"

"No," whined Lord Smelting.

"Shhh!" said Miss groaning, holding a shaking finger up to her mouth, "they will hear you!"

"And what if they do!?" he bellowed. "Curse their disembodied souls!"

"Master! They will hear you and throw all the knives and skewers in the kitchen into disarray! The last time they got upset, I had to replace all the cupboard fronts. Of course, then I got to cook the carpenter and his apprentice, and they certainly made tender morsels--"

"Grimheidle!" screamed Lord Smelting.

"Yes, master," she said, bowing her head as the cartilage in her back produced a series of sickening cracking sounds.

"I want to go on vacation, at the very least," said Lord Smelting.

"Ah, you have sophisticated tastes master!"

"What do you mean?" asked Lord Smelting with suspicion.

"You want to try foreign food. Perhaps some hot-blooded Spaniards? Or maybe chilled Himalayans--or slow-moving scientists in Antarctica with a side of penguin guts!" Miss Groaning rubbed her hands together and visible salivated.

"No! Not at all Grimheidle! You don't understand--that is precisely what I want to get away from, the constant killing. The mess. The smell. The physical exertion." He sighed deeply and closed his eyes. "I want to sun myself on a beach in the Riviera. I want to stroll through museums. I want to smile at people without them running away in terror."

"Well, what about a nice war? There are always several going on, you could have your pick of geography. You could take Hellsbane with you, you know how he likes to graze, and have a right good time feasting on the fallen bodies of soldiers and civilians alike, without any of the effort of having to kill them yourself. Wouldn't that be nice?"

"No," said Lord Smelting, his voice cracking. "That's not what I want at all, Grimheidle." He looked at her sideways, deciding whether or not to speak further. "I...I want to have ice cream!" It came out in a rush, and he held his hands to his mouth immediately after he spoke.

"Ice--ice cream?" stuttered Miss Groaning. She stumble a few steps back, absolutely horrified. "Ice cream?" she repeated.

Lord Smelting nodded silently.

"Ice cream..." The color drained completely from Miss Groaning's face.

"I've always wanted to try it," said Lord Smelting. "Ever since I was a little boy, back when father showed me the proper way to gut an newborn baby. It was a tepid day in summer, and all the children were eating ice cream, when we swooped down to select our catch. Before we moved in, I saw the children laughing and cajoling and enjoying themselves...and I wanted to be like them."

"But you're not like them, not at all!" screeched Miss Groaning. "Ice cream won't change you into a simpering, weak human!" She spat out the last words, drenching Lord Smelting in thick droplets of rancid, yellow saliva.

"RAAAAAAAAGH!" snarled Lord Smelting baring his enormous teeth and jumping up to tower over Miss Groaning. She hissed at him and scratched the air between them with her long, tattered fingernails. "LEAVE ME!" he bellowed.

Miss Groaning shuffled out of the room, glancing back at Lord Smelting with acidic anger. When she slammed the door, and went off down the corridor muttering loud epithets, Lord Smelting returned to his massive bed. He slumped down into the soft center of the bed, pressed his lips together tightly. He wiped away a single tear with the thick collar of his dressing gown.

Monday, September 12, 2011

142/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Breeze" by Apollo Sunshine

Sara slept in her yellow penguin pajamas, in a tangle of sheets and blankets, on an Ikea bed, in a darkened room without any discernable interior decorating and littered with discarded clothes, when it happened. The clock by her bedside, with it's red staring digits, read 11:53pm. The room burst with light and Sara shot bolt upright. Her synethesia interpreted part of the light as a high-pitched buzzing sound in the middle of her head. She scrambled to the headboard and clung to it, shaking. The blackout curtains on her window were transparent, like rendered-down onions in a frying pan. her pupils shrunk to millimeters and she instinctively squeezed her eyes shut, but the light came through orange, outlining all the tiny capillaries in her eyelids. The sound took on an addition low tone. She held up her arm, and peeked, and saw the bones as dark masses in the middle of transparent orange flesh. A moment later her son, in the second bedroom, in his new big boy bed, started to scream.

Sara leapt up, tripped over clothes, and found her way out of her bedroom. She ran to Tommy's room, down the brown carpeted hallway, feeling with her toes and arms out, her eyes shut to the light. She found his doorway, and stumbled to his bed.

"I'm here!" she announced. Their arms found each other. They embraced. "Don't look," said Sara, pushing Tommy's forehead into her chest. His face was already wet.

"I can't see!" wailed Tommy. "What's happening?"

"I don't know," said Sara. She noticed that the room was getting hot. The buzzing started to oscillate, leaping from ear to ear inside her brain.

"I'm scared!"

"I know!" Sara thought about saying 'It's okay,' but she immediately recognized that it would be in-genuine. Instead she pulled him off the bed and carried him into the closet with her. She closed the door tightly. They sat on shoes and army men and balled up socks. The sound faded to an intermittent beeping, like a very slow clock alarm. Her eyes remained closed, but the orange of her eyelids faded to green afterimage. Tommy whimpered, but then there was total silence outside Sara's head, and just the beeping remained.

She opened her eyes. The closet was completely illuminated, just from the light pouring through the cracks around the door, as if it were noon in the tropics. Stuffed animals stared at her with dead eyes. She looked down at Tommy. He was sweating, and his thumb was shoved deep into his mouth. Normally she would have corrected him, but thought the comfort of it was more important.

"Open your eyes, Tommy," said Sara gently. He did. "Can you see now?" Tommy nodded, then looked up at his mother with questioning eyes. "I don't know what's happening," she said. "I'm scared too."

"Is it morning?" asked Tommy.

"No, I don't think so," said Sara.

"Is it the moon?"

"No, no it's not. At least I don't think so," said Sara, temporarily entertaining the idea that some rogue state had somehow nuked the moon into total oblivion. Then she thought that maybe it was nuclear bomb, just closer to home. She quickly went back to thinking about the moon. "No, I saw the moon during the day, so it wouldn't be the moon." She looked down at Tommy, he still looked at her, waiting for any kind of substantive, clear answer. "If we see the moon during the day, we won't see it during night, and if we see the moon at night, we won't see it during the day, because it orbits the Earth."

Tommy squinted his eyes briefly, then turned to look at the crack between the closet door and the doorframe.

"Can we go out and see what it is?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Sara. The house hadn't yet been blown to smithereens from a pressure wave, so Sara cultivated the idea that maybe it wasn't a bomb. "Maybe in a few minutes." Tommy rested his head against her neck. A cramp started to developing in Sara's right calf, right where an army rifleman was embedded, smothered in her skin.

They waited.

Sara estimated that an hour had passed, and yet the light still had not diminished. They waited another hour. The phone rang from within her bedroom. Tommy looked at her expectantly. Sara smiled at him and ruffled his hair. The phone kept ringing. Tommy looked at the door, then back to Sara. The phone stopped.

After another two hours, both were sound asleep, still bathed in light. It was sweltering. Both were soaked through with sweat. A wind kicked up outside the house. The joints of the house began to creaked. Sara woke again. Tommy was slumped down in her arms, his head lolled, leaking saliva. The light had finally lost some of it's intensity. Sara carefully laid Tommy down in a pile of laundry and stuffed toys. She stood, aching, and squeezed through the door, trying not to let anymore light in than necessary.

She held her arm over her eyes again, but did not see bones. Tommy's room itself was very bright, as if several outdoor spotlights were all focused on the tiny little area. She could see the air littered with dust, and every unvacuumed particle and hair in the carpet. The beeping was more distant now, hollower, with a hint of an echo. She padded to the bathroom, and out of habit turned on the light, but it added little to the ambient light flooding in from the rest of the house. She turned on the cold water tap. Water ran, but it was warm. She filled the glass to the brim and drank the whole thing. She filled it again, not quite to the top, flicked off the light switch without thinking, and walked back to Tommy's closet. She opened the door slowly.

"Tommy," she said quietly. "Tommy?" He stirred, and held his hands over his eyes. "It's okay now. You can look. It might hurt at first, but you can uncover your eyes."

Tommy did. He squirmed and stretched.

"Is it morning?" he asked.

"Soon," said Sara. "Here," she said, squatting down next to him, and holding out the glass. "You have to drink this, okay?"

He grabbed the glass and drank as greedily as she had.

"What happened?" he asked, after he had powered through half the glass.

"I still don't know honey," said Sara. "Maybe we can find out."


They both stood and Sara drank the last of the water in the glass. She took Tommy's hand, and they walked out of the room and down the hall. Sara headed for the living room and the TV, but Tommy pulled her towards the front door, insistently.

"It's out there," he said, pointing and pulling.

"I'm not sure that's a good idea--"

"It's out there!" yelled Tommy.

"Alright," said Sara. She yielded to his pull.

Tommy had almost reached the doorknob, his hand up--

"No, don't touch it!" cautioned Sara. "It might be hot. I'll do it."

Sara unbuttoned the bottom two buttons of her pajama top, and putting her hand underneath it, she touched the doorknob. There was no additional heat. Then she touched it with a bare finger. It was warm, but that was okay. She grasped it fully, and turned, remembered the deadbolt, unlocked that, then opened the door slowly.

Blinding light assaulted them. The buzzing spiked up. Sara tested it again with her arm. No bones. She lowered her arm. Tommy groaned in pain. Both looked at the ground, the cement of the stoop, hyperlit, their bare feet like luminescent alabaster. Sara stepped out onto the stoop. It was warm, hot even. She looked around slowly. The light was coming from just above the treetops on the other side of the cul-de-sac.

"Betelgeuse!" yelled a male voice to her left.

"What?" asked Sara.

"It finally went," said the man. Sara turned her head in his direction. She saw her neighbor sitting in a lawn chair, in shorts and a t-shirt, his back to the light, and a shoebox in his hand, into which he was staring intently.

"The star?" asked Sara.

"Yes," said the neighbor. He turned to look at her. "Come over. You can see it."

"It's hard not to see it. Why is it so bright?"

"It novaed," he said. "Come over, I'll show you."

Sara took Tommy by the hand and they walked over the grass to the neighbor's yard.

"What's that?" asked Tommy, pointing to the box.

"It's a camera obscura," said the neighbor. "I made it for my daughter when we had that solar eclipse about twenty years ago. Look the light goes in here, this tiny pinprick, and it shows a little image of the sun, or in this case, the nova at this end here. Clever isn't it?"

Tommy nodded. The neighbor gave Tommy the box to hold and look at.

"Are we in any danger?" asked Sara.

"Hard to tell. The light will fade, and will go completely dark again. It might takes weeks, or months. We might have some changes in the weather, just from the extra heat, but I don't really know. I'm not an expert."

"What about radiation? Don't they give off radiation?"

"Yes, photons and electrons, light and electricity, and the electrons won't reach us for awhile, and they'll make some interesting northern lights when they get here, but I think we're generally safe from anything harmful. Again, I'm not an expert."

"Betelgeuse, you say," said Sara. The word started repeating in her head, softly, murmuring. She looked down at the image in the box. It swirled and moved on the cardboard.

"One less star in the heavens," said the neighbor, sighing. "All things die, in their own time." He looked down at his hands, every wrinkle highlighted, his parchmenty skin a sea of whitecapped waves. "It will set soon though, and the sun will come up. And from where we live, it will be day for the next few weeks at least. But the light will fade. The last gasp. The angry cry out, the death rattle. Then nothing."

"And night will return," said Tommy.

"And night will return."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

141/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Around the World" by Daft Punk

The heart started beating with the empty needle still plunged deeply, pumping the violet inllux fluid through the semi-transparent body, shaped roughly like a human woman but much taller than average. The sacs and cavities in the body filled, and glowed pinkly in the darkness. The thoughts of the being activated silently in all of it's cells, but there was yet no movement.

"Come on," said Benjamie. He stooped over the table, in a blue jumpsuit and moth-eaten sweater, barefoot, his mask hanging around his neck. "Live."

Benjamie was alone in the shabby room with the body. The inllux was stolen from Fermilab, long abandoned, fifty miles away. Benjamie was careful not to get any on his hands when he injected it into the heart. He shuffled towards the smooth head and checked the body's eyes for movement.

"I don't know what I could have done wrong," he mumbled slowly. He waited and watched for an hour, then retired to a comfortable chair by the room's lone window. He fell asleep.

"Wake up," she said.

"What?" asked Benjamie.

"You heard me."

Benjamie opened his eyes. She stood in front of him, naked and intensely pink. He could see the lines of inllux circulating around her body.

"It worked," said Benjamie quietly. It's beautiful, he thought.

"What did?" she asked.

"You did."

"I don't understand," she said.

Benjamie lifted himself out of the chair, while not taking his eyes off her. He moved towards the old desk, and waved his hand over it. The three dimensional display came to life above it, in a flurry of tiny text.

"I'm supposed to show you this." He pointed to the words.

"What is it?"

"You. Your mind. What you are programmed to be," said Benjamie.  "And who you are meant to mimic." He swallowed hard at the end of the last sentence.

"I'm not me?" she asked, stepping closer to the display.

"You," said Benjamie, touching her shoulder lightly, "were born just now. Whenever it was you woke up--oh, I should have marked that down. Oh well. But anyway, you are modeled on a real person. Well what I mean is that you are real, but you have a template. A predecessor. She requested that upon the moment of her death, the activity and structure in her brain be recorded and analyzed, and that at a time where it was technologically feasible, that her mind be recreated. This is that time, and you are that recreation."

"Oh," she said blankly.

"You can read her will here," said Benjamie, waving his hand again, scrolling through the files.

"I can't read."

"Yes you can. Just think hard. It's all inside you."

She sidled closer to the desk and lifted her hand, tracing the lines of text with her fingers.

"These are letters," she said. "I know that. And they make words.  I know that." The inllux began to dim slightly.

"You are remembering," said Benjamie.

"Will I have her memories?" she asked, still staring at the text, her face illuminated by it.

"No, you won't," he said. "It's not physically possible."

"But I remember things. I can read this now." She smiled and shifted around to get a better perspective on the floating letters.

"You were programmed with a lot of embedded functionality so you wouldn't have to endure a lengthy learning period, as I once did."

"School?" she asked with a laugh. Benjamie didn't respond.

She waved her hands and scrolled through more documents and as she did she grew dimmer and more opaque. Her skin solidified to a milkiness.

"I am not her," she said suddenly, standing up straight and looking at Benjamie with sadness. "She was a great woman. A great mind."

"And you have it," said Benjamie. "What will you do with it?"

"Go out into the world," she said, turning to fix her gaze out the window.

"There isn't much left out there," said Benjamie in a monotone.

"Why not?" she asked, moving around the desk and towards the window. "It's all gray out there."


"That's ash, isn't it?"


"It's in drifts. Fascinating. What happened?"

"Unchecked ambition in a closed system," said Benjamie.

"Is this still Earth?" she asked.


"Did we leave? I mean, did the humans leave, like I, like she wanted?"

"In a sense, yes."

"What do you mean?" she faced him, with a slight smile at the corner of her mouth.

"Your predecessor hasn't lived for thousands of years."

"So you would never have met me? Her? And a lot's happened since then..." she said down in the chair and pulled up her legs, tucking them under herself. Benjamie handed her a blanket. She wrapped it around herself, shivering. "So tell me, what happened?"

"You did," said Benjamie. He leaned against the desk.

"I did? Me now, or me then?"

"Tell me first, what are you going to do out there?"

"Continue my work," she said.

"And what is that?" asked Benjamie.

"That's for my to decide," she said with agitation. "I need a cigarette."

"They don't exist."

"Any form of nicotine would be acceptable."

"It's just a phantom of your programming. You are capable of willing the urge away."

"I think I'm the one who can say what I'm capable of doing and what I'm not capable of doing. Don't think you know what's going on inside me."

"I know exactly what's going on inside you," said Benjamie. With one hand, and not looking, he reached back to drawer in the desk and took out a small case. He held it hidden in his left hand.

"What do you have there?" she asked pointedly.

"In a manner of speaking, it's a box opener."

"Why do you have it in your hand? What are you going to do with it?" she looked at him suspiciously.

"I'm going to use it to execute a decision," he said quietly. "Or not. But tell me, what do you plan to do? What do you most want to do?"

She twitched her long neck and looked briefly down then back up at him, fixing her eyes intensely on his own.

"I will remake--" she paused, forcing a tiny smile, "but you haven't told me what happened."

"Humans evolved. They were well on their way when your predecessor died. They wanted to live forever, so they figured out a way to do it. It cost...a lot. And Earth was spent--continues to be spent."

"Then they went to the stars? They started colonies like I--"

"I was hoping you would be a unique creation, but I had to hew to the letter of the will."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because I was bound to her. It's in my programming. But now I've fulfilled my indenturement."

"What? You aren't human?" she asked, standing suddenly, and adjusting the blanket so that she wore it as a cloak.

"Not even close," said Benjamie. "I couldn't kill her, and by the time someone else did, it was already too late."

"You wanted to kill me?"

"Yes. I think if you had fully had your way, all the matter of the Earth would have been used to construct and supply large interstellar ships. All of it."

"All of it, yes. It only makes sense."

"You destroyed a viable healthy world just so you could seek out other viable healthy worlds?"


blech -- have to stop, literally can't type and I'm nodding off...more later...