The Restaurant

(This is an old story I’d written maybe five or six years ago. I figured I’d post it and maybe that’d get me motivated to actually write some new stuff?)

“Well.” I took a sip of my beer. It was a Stella; this place always has Stella on special. It was a special so frequently I assumed it was because they couldn’t sell any. To me it seemed more like a permanent clearance sale than a proper ‘special’. Either way, Stella is classier than Bud Light (or is it Bud Lite?), so let it be a perpetual special – I didn’t mind saving a few dollars. I took another sip.

“It’s something new and something I don’t understand yet.” My friend Jeff looked around while he thought. We were at our typical hangout where once a month, more or less, we go out for food and drinks. It was a typical restaurant with the typical fare of burgers, steak, and chicken dishes, usually visited by families, couples, or friends/groups celebrating events that aren’t worth celebrating. Jeff and I were a couple of guys sorting things out, not like a couple on a date with their trivial matters or people “celebrating” some mundane event. Nevermind that our “sorting things out” never actually sorted anything out.

“You’re good at all sorts of things.” Jeff said. “Why would you decide to write?”

“It’s new and artistic.”

“You’re a good artist already. You used to draw, and you can write decent music. You could do those instead of trying to write can’t you? Build on your current skills rather than learn new ones.” Jeff is endlessly curious. Not so much curious about new, unknown things, but curious about the task at hand, the current pressing matter. He won’t go out of his way to learn about some topic on the news that he doesn’t understand, but if someone close to him brings up a topic, he analyzes it like a detective would analyze a case.

“I don’t know man. Writing seems…more mysterious – less dictated by formula, more creative in a way. I mean art, such as painting has tons of mystery to it, but telling stories, or fiction, with just words, seems crazy. That it’s so mysterious makes it even more interesting to me. But you know what Jeff? I have no fucking clue what I should write about. Like how do you just sit down and write a fucking story?”

Jeff thought about this but didn’t have to think long. Music was his life, it was his art, and putting writing and music together was a natural marriage; songs tell stories too. I knew where his line of thought would take him.

“Well, don’t you just write about what you know? That is what I usually read in all the musical biographies. They write about what they know. You know Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” right?”

He knew that I was aware of the song. I gave a quick affirmative nod. It is one of the best songs ever written.

“That is a classic song, and it’s more or less a narrative about his bar playing days. He wrote about what he knew and it was a hit.”

“Well ok, but what the fuck do I know?” I laughed. “I lead a boring life, I have a girlfriend, I work, I smoke weed, hell even sometimes I lift weights at the gym. I’m not complaining about anything, ya know I’m happy, but my life isn’t exactly story material. Maybe I should write about waking up, doing the same thing everyday and then…going to work? Fucking that would be a wonderful book, huh? I could write about being stoned and confused by music lyrics but that’s been done millions of times.” I took an aggressive drink of my beer and shook my head. “It’d be the most boring damn book ever. If anything I’d write a book about nothing, because life is pretty much nothing to write about.”

Jeff laughed and said, “A book about nothing? That’s what Seinfeld was. Well, not a book but a TV show about nothing.”

Dammit, Jeff, such a sharp person. In trying to go on about life not having anything to really write about, being about nothing, he brings up one of the best (if not THE best) show ever created. I dropped the point before he had to prove me wrong.

“Yeah, Seinfeld was a show about nothing. And somehow they made it good.”

Taking a drink of his margarita (yes, margarita), Jeff jumped right into his analysis. “Seinfeld was good because it was about nothing. I mean most people, including myself, feel life is nothing. At least partly. But Seinfeld took these nothing moments that we all know and understand and made it relatable and funny.”

“And without a strict plot too, right?” I added, trying to play an active role in the conversation. I always assumed a story would need some form of structure and a story without a plot seemed like a terrible idea.

“Well,” he paused and plotted out what he was about to say, “the show did have a plot in each episode but no real plot tying the shows together. They had their separate jobs that we constant in a season, but outside of that, you’re correct, there was no plot.”

I sighed. “But it was good. Now I can’t do the same damn thing, even with a story. It’d be a blatant ripoff.”

“Thats where you need to put your own flavor in.” Jeff instructed me.

I drank some more beer, finishing my glass and setting it on the edge of the table so the waitress knew I wanted another. She quickly and silently brought me another drink without me even being aware of it. My last beer was number two, a 20 ounce glass, so really three and a third cans of beer. Cans are the definitive measurement of beer consumption and 40 ounces equaling 3.33333 beers had been established a long time previous. I was feeling good.

We both sat there thinking of our conversation and where it should lead next. I thought of writing what I know (being typical everyday stuff) and Seinfeld’s masterpiece in turning the trivial into something special. Every artform I could think of built itself on its creator’s personal knowledge. Chekhov was a doctor; anyone could tell this by his stories. C.S. Lewis was a passionate Christian and is why Aslan was basically Jesus, Orwell had some career in analyzing politics or something and it was obvious that he hated communism, Twain knew of the river and slavery, Vonnegut was in Dresden and most likely abducted by aliens…all of these are evident upon reading their works. I found one exception, one of many it seemed.

“Ok. You say they write about what they know, right?” I set up the statement for Jeff to agree too, so I could present a counterexample. A quick flash of Socrates standing in a robe flashed in my mind.

“Yeah.”

“What about…uh…the dude who wrote Lord of the Rings? What the fuck was his name? Tole-key-an? Tole-i-kan? Something like that. I mean did he know trolls, kings, dwarves, and elves? It looks like he just pulled Middle Earth right out of his ass.”

“I seen the movies when they came out and haven’t seen them since.” That had to have been quite some time ago, my drunken self concluded. It was too hard to anchor the movies and their releases to a year, especially since I’ve watched them many times since. “I’m guessing he just used his imagination and created something new. And I bet if you dug deep enough into his stuff you’d find something relatable to what his interests were, or points he was trying to get at,” Jeff finally concluded.

He had a point. I bet if I reread his stuff again I could find something that brought the story back to his own life in someway. I nodded. “Yeah…yeah, that is a good point.” Maybe I would do that sometime soon. Too bad the book takes forever to read.

I thought for a moment and took a drink. Jeff pretty much escaped the point I was trying to prove. My drunken mind moved on quickly as if not wanting to dwell in silence for very long.

“You know what else would get me? Ok, I just read The Hunger Games, you haven’t read them or seen the movies have you?”

“Nope.”

“Well it’s a trilogy, and it covers, like, obviously three separate stories but they all tie together, like a story arc I guess. But if I wrote the books I wouldn’t know where to end the thing at. Life doesn’t really end. Katniss, she’s the hero person, she doesn’t just ‘live happily ever after’ after the end of the book. Shit in Panem – uhhh, the setting of the story – sorry Jeff, will just keep going. It’s not like shit happens to her and then she’s done. But the books are done. They finish, because they have to end. Where do you put a book’s ending when nothing really ends? I’d end up ending the ‘trilogy’ with about 20 books where the last five she just gets old, gets Alzheimer’s or some other incurable disease and dies not remembering a thing. And her grandkids hate her for being bad at technology or some other reason.”

Jeff laughed, obvious taken by surprise at my alcohol-fueled rant. He quickly recovered for his chuckle and regained his words. “I guess it’s the same as any other forms of art. You write a song and it has to end somewhere. Personally, I would end it after the main story is over. It’s obvious and exhausting when a story just keeps going on and on and just drags. I actually think it’s rather obvious when a story is supposed to end.” Jeff seemed to be losing interest in my writing curiosities while I found the topic even more fascinating the further we talked and with the more I drank.

One example jumped into my mind from high school. It was one of the two or three books I remember from way back then: the mandatory books we had to read. “Like Huckleberry Finn? Mark Twain didn’t know how to end it so it was just Huck and Tom and their slave buddy – Jim? – hanging out in a shack for months or something. Wasn’t that how it went? At least that’s what I remember. But like let’s say I write a story about us in this restaurant, where and how would it end?”

“That would be a boring story.” Jeff chuckled and took a drink of his girly drink. Damn right it would be a boring story, but what happened to the ‘write about what you know’ idea? I know us drinking and talking about random stuff; couldn’t that make a story?

“But really how would it end?” I laughed, joking around with him although being a bit more serious with my question. I knew it would take a long time to find a halfway decent ending and wanted to see what terrible ending he would throw out with some prompting.

“I have no idea, maybe you could make some people break in to rob this place…” Jeff suggested. I smiled, suppressing a laugh as my mouth was full of beer. Jeff was off to a hilarious start and my imagination quickly gave visuals to his words. I imagined the two of us with Tommy guns, wearing hats like the mobsters wore in the 30s, and pumping the walls of the restaurant with lead as we fended off the never ending army of robbers. Luckily I was able to swallow my beer halfway through my thought. “…and we save everyone. We become heroes and…”

“Is there anything else I can get for you guys today?” The waitress, as usual, did a wonderful job at sneaking up on us. Me and Jeff looked at each other, I tallied up my beers, and feeling satisfied gave a slight shake of my head. Jeff also felt the same; we were here quite a while and it was time to move on with our day. 

“Umm, nope. We should be good.” Jeff said. I usually stayed quiet and let him do all of the official talking.

“Well here’s your check guys. There’s no rush and you let me know if you need anything else, okay?” Our waitress said as she left the check and walked off. It’s amusing and pathetic to see a waitress blatantly being kind, sweet, and even flirting simply to earn a tip. It’s about as subtle as a good analogy about being subtle. Luckily, this girl today seemed genuinely kind to us with no ulterior-tips motives. These are the people that get the best tips.

I sighed. Our tasty food, intoxicating drinks, and good conversation were obviously over. I had about half a beer left and drank it down in a few large gulps. “I’ll get the check.” I figured I’d be nice and treat him this time.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, you can buy next time if you want.” I dropped a 50 dollar bill on the table giving our waitress around a 25% tip. I told myself, knowing it’s a false hope, that if I tipped like this I could change the world for the better.

“Alright. I’ll get you next time.” Me and Jeff put on our jackets. “Hey, about an ending to a restaurant story, we could just put on our jackets and leave.” He laughed, obviously joking with me. “Nah, I’m sure you’d come up with a better ending than that.”

“I sure hope so, that one would be awful. Sorry buddy. Well,” I sighed again, vaguely aware how stiff my legs were and how full my belly was. “Let’s go.”

We stood up and walked out of the restaurant.

The Virus (Part Two)

A typical trip to the store during a pandemic.

Note: This is a continuation of The Virus (Part One). I orginally planned for this to be a two-part story, but it looks like it’ll be a three-parter.

Who is infected? Who isn’t? You can’t tell: treat everyone as a hazard. The six-foot rule? No, give people ten or twenty feet, as much as you possibly can because your life is at stake. The virus is small, invisible, and deadly. Walking corpses of the future pumping respiratory failure into the air with their still-functioning lungs. I picture the air currents and the wind stirring the invisible death into the air, swirling and making beautiful unseen vertices mixing virus and atmosphere together.

A man is riding his bike along my side of the road. I’m upwind of him, and picturing the air leaving his mouth and swirling around his cheeks and chin, around his neck, and into the slipstream he’s dragging behind him. He’s not a threat with the air currents today. Any death he might be carrying blows the other way and I’m safe. As safe as can be in this world at least.

The rest of the trip to the dollar store was uneventful, at least as uneventful as you could expect in these times. A few gunshots and screams rang out in the distance, punctuating the silence of our new world with reminders of the horrors occurring nearby. A drive-by shooting a mile ahead on the road I was walking along; I could see the car slow down and the crack crack of gunshots delayed by five seconds, and the small group of people walking on the side of the road fleeing and collapsing. I couldn’t tell if murder was involved from this distance.

And clouds of smoke rose up to the east, near downtown. More fires, more rioting, more unrest. It was all so uneventful that I didn’t pay it much mind. This was the world now.

Finally I arrived at the store, but as I reached the front corner I noticed something. Blood, a lot of blood on the sidewalk and road that led around the side of the store. The blood smeared towards the back as if someone was dragged away; the streaks leading around the back corner of the store.

My choices were laid out in front of me in a mere fraction of a second. Continue on into the store and pretend that I didn’t notice the blood, cower my head and flee, or investigate the scene. My heart started pounding and I began to shake with adrenaline once again filling my body. Fight or flight? Decisions had to be made even if adrenaline cripples logical thought. Before I realized it my knife was out and I was turning the corner to the back of the store. The choice was made, but seemingly not by me.

The path of blood led to the store’s dumpster area, a tiny fenced-in area to hide the trash the store accumulates daily. The gate was slightly propped open and the path of blood welcomed me through the gate. One new problem now; there was a second path of blood leading from the other side of the building, two streaks of blood from each side of the store. What awaited me along with the pungent smell of trash and refuse?

I slowly peered around the gate with knife in one hand and pepper spray in the other, my body permanently shaking from what might greet me. I was relieved to find two bodies, one with their neck slit wide open and one with a myriad of gunshot wounds in the chest. Relieved because dead bodies weren’t a threat to me, only a sign of a threat, a threat that wasn’t in my immediate area. The shaking still continued though; the mystery still hadn’t been solved.

A weapon, a gun, anything? The man whose neck that was slit open — both of them armed guards popularly employed to stop robberies and hostage situations in these troubling times — had no gun on him, with his holster strangely empty with the strap open. The other man, the one with the gunshots, still had his weapon. I quickly changed my gloves and took the firearm. It would serve me better than it would serve him. Crouched down, I noticed bloody footsteps leading to and from the dumpsters and back around to the front of the store.

Another conflict arose within me between fighting or fleeing, but the new weapon in my hand urged me on. I took a guard’s gun which was a crime itself, and what if I was charged for these murders? Nothing to worry about though, more crimes were more important to investigate even if the law could eventually catch up to me. Once all of this shit was over they could charge me. That was later, in the indefinite future, and I was determined to survive until that day.

Once again, before I knew it I was standing next to the double glass doors at the front of the store. The world was silent — too silent — and time seemed to stand still. I could feel the sun creeping slowly across the sky, my shadow passing as a sluggish sundial on the sidewalk. More choices — act or flee — but here I was: why run now? Everyone fantasizes about these do or die moments where logic doesn’t apply; what you think you’d do you’d never do and my intuition to flee was countered by this chance encounter to finally do something. Face your fate. Confront the demon in the store whose bloody footprints lead directly to his lair, because the alternative was boring everyday life. Escape it even if it means likely death.

The first door opened quietly as I gently eased through it. And the second door? One of those damn bells to notify the store employees when someone entered. Even though I tried to open it slowly, the bell still jingled making a piercingly loud sound in the silence of the world. No sound answered the bell in return. Everything was silent, still, and oppressive.

But not totally silent as I discovered upon entering the store. Strange muffling arose from behind the counter. I stood there for a moment to gauge the layout of the store and listened for any sounds from the beast that might be lurking in here. Still and silent. Only the rustling behind the counter gave my senses something to latch onto. I glanced over and an employee was seated on the floor, gagged and tied up with the look of sheer panic on her face. She appeared unharmed and nodded her head towards the back of the store, with unintelligible grunts accompanying each motion. The beast was back there, she was saying.

More oppressive silence. It was lurking, hiding, stalking me. I crept forward with my finger on the trigger ready to defend myself and the helpless employee if I needed to. Creeping forward step by step until I reached the end of one of the aisles where I hid on the other side of the end cap. 

This time faint footsteps were heard. Cautious footsteps at the opposite end of the aisle. I looked around trying to formulate some plan of attack, some plan for defense, shoot to kill or shoot to wound? Too many thought racing through my head to make sense of anything. And…and above the door was a mirror: one of those spherical mirrors that allows you to see nearly the entire store in a tiny glass ball. Distorted perspectives but the human eye is sensitive to motion, and at the end of the aisle I was lurking at, a shape moved.

I waited until the shape was halfway down the aisle and peered around the racks to get a glimpse of whoever was stalking me. Gunshots immediately rang out in my direction, some missing down the aisle and shattering into the main door while others slammed into the shaving behind me. This man was unhinged, not even paying attention or deciding if I was a threat or not. Instant firing to kill, reckless firing, and my mind was made up: Kill or be killed. There was no reasoning with this person. Shoot first and enjoy your life if you still had it after time ceased to be frozen.

More creeping from the man towards me. I cleared my throat and said in a weak and shaky voice, “Alright. Let’s talk about this. Okay?” There was no reply besides the footsteps creeping towards me. In the mirror he was three-quarters of the way down the aisle, about fifteen feet away from my location. In the distorted mirror I could see his arm extended with the firearm poised to fill my body full of lead.

“Come on, let’s talk. I’m not a cop. I’m…nobody.” No reply. Unhinged. Unreasonable. Off the rails. And he was almost here.

I shot out from behind the endcap with my arms extended. The man with wild eyes seemed surprised, as if he could sneak up and kill me and I wouldn’t bat an eye or fight otherwise, the finger on his trigger poised, but I was quicker. Filled with adrenaline from the past ten minutes of stopped time, my body was as tense as a compressed spring, and at the tip of the spring ready to snap was my finger. The trigger jarred back and forth an indefinite amount of times before time unfroze and the moment was over. The man lay on the ground ten feet from me, slightly quivering extremities until all motion ceased.

And I realized I had killed a man. A fellow human being. Kill or be killed, right?

More footsteps sounded from the rear of the store, somehow quieter than the man’s careful steps moments earlier. I held the gun up again, unsure of how much ammo was left, but there wasn’t time to do anything about it. Bluff if necessary; the gun looked fully-loaded anyways. Recite the mantra again: Kill or be killed.

Around the end of the aisle shuffled a girl, maybe five- or six-year-old. She looked at me, down to the man on the ground, and then looked back at me. She walked over to the man and sat down cross-legged next to him. There were no tears or cries or shouts or curses, just a glazed look on her eyes. The same glazed look the man on the floor had.

“Da…daddy?” she asked the man bleeding on the floor.

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Anna of the Woods

Strange things happen while camping in the woods…

Note: Hopefully my writer’s block is over. I’ve been finding a ton of inspiration and motivation lately: use it while I have it, right? This is a mostly fictionalized account of my time trying to live in the woods.

I was lost for sorts. Not physically lost but mentally lost. Lost in life. Depressed. A drunkard to cope with being lost. Being drunk lets you feel okay with being lost, with having no idea what you’re supposed to do, because it shrinks reality into the present. All you must deal with is the here and now and people are always happier when they pay attention to the here and now. The trouble only begins when you dwell on the past or look forward to the future, traveling the x-axis too far. Regret, anger, helplessness, dread, and anxiety all seem to come from either looking backwards or forwards too much or too desperately.

To find my place I set out for the woods. That was the plan. I was drunk again and it seemed like a great idea. I gathered all the supplies I casually thought about over the past few months in case I ever became crazy enough to actually do it. Cans of coup, a can opener, tent and sleeping bag, a few tiny cans of Sterno, rice, cans of beans, a knife, cigarettes, everything I could think of I put into my car and set out. And alcohol of course. And some drugs in the form of my trusty cough medicine dextromethorphan, DXM. Something to help oil the gears within my mind. Something to let my mind expand outward along the y-axis of whatever you’d call it. Space. Time. Peace. Nirvana. Whatever. I’d felt it countless times but it always escapes grasp.

I went to a local park; an isolated park, not too popular but also not totally forgotten. It was a popular area for disc golfers as there is a course there, but disc golfers are there to golf and not to hike. That was part of the appeal, to hide in plain sight in a park populated by disc golfers who didn’t care much for exploration in the woods. Up a path into the trees I went for a quarter mile in dark, then turned off and walked another few hundred feet. Located close enough to the path for convenience but far enough away that I was fairly hidden. It took three trips to haul all of the supplies to my new home.

I sat in the tent and cracked open a beer. The trusty thought that I always dwelled too much on reared its hideous head: So now what?

I texted some friends and no one replied. I tried to start a fire but the wood and twigs I could find were soaked from days of rain. Even the air seemed chilly and thick with too much water and a faint mist seemed to envelop the woods. Not that I could tell because it was dark; only the lights from the city reflecting pale off the clouds provided any illumination. The tiny candles I had did little to push back the ever present darkness around me.

I was alone. Utterly alone. I checked social media for signs of life and found only ghosts, only the faint images of real life that people wanted others to see. Memes shared, political opinions posted, happy family pictures and dinners. Picturesque to a tee. No, there was no life there at all, and if anything this made me more depressed. Trapped in my mind and isolated left me gasping for anything to hold onto. Some sense of peace. There was no answer from the woods. Only the scraping of tree limbs in the wind replied. Maybe a creature sounded in the dark, but they stayed far enough away from the deadly human trespassing in their domain. Silence. Loneliness. And the time crept ever so slowly. It was only one in the morning. So, now what?

I thought as I drank and made no progress. The same issues over and over. The same flawed person thinking their regular flawed thoughts endlessly. But maybe I needed to go deeper, really get down into the nitty gritty of my mind. Have an experience. Steal some insight forcefully from the universe as if it was mine by right. I popped open my cough syrup bottle and began to drink. The stuff was horrendous and I drank beer and medicine back and forth, desperately trying to clear my tastebuds from the twisted flavors of each of them.

I did some math about how much of the sticky, bitter stuff to actually drink. I came to about half a bottle, but as boozed up as I was wasn’t very confident in my math. Who the hell knew. I guessed. I’d either end up not feeling anything or transcending reality. The stuff tasted disgusting and after 75% of the bottle I gave up the whole project. I wasn’t feeling anything and it was time I tried to get some sleep. My math was probably wrong so I put the cap back on and regretfully laid down for the night.

Sleep. Sleep? No. Music. More infernal music, something I had heard in the past ages ago. Or maybe the future. I sat up and looked at the candle feebly flickering in the tent. And. Fire. Fire. That’s what was missing tonight. This morning. Time didn’t mean anything — the world simply spun and only us humans put meaning on it — and that was fine. Everything was fine. But, fire. Fire makes us human, right? There I was in the woods as a prehistoric human, nothing more than a caveman who happened to have a phone and internet with him. I didn’t have fire. Until I had fire I wasn’t enlightened. I could never be at peace living as a slovenly creature in the woods.

In the tent I said aloud to no one in particular. “I want fire. I will make a campfire. If it’s the last thing I do, I will have fire.” I stood up, grabbed my cigarette lighter, a beer, hobbled a bit, and stepped out into the damp and chilly air.

Sticks. Wood. Kindle. Start small with dry stuff and build up to larger branches. Until you had logs. A self-sustaining fire. A fire hot and fierce enough to burn anything liquid thrown into it. Sure the branches were wet, but with a blazing fire they’d dry and burn like everything else did in the world.

I gathered my piles into categories based on how large the branches were. Twigs, here. And there, larger sticks. And here, branches. The only thing missing was grass, something small and dry that would easily light. But I had paper towels and a nearly empty case of beer; maybe that would suffice? I grabbed the towels, emptied the box, and started tearing the shreds of paper into smaller and smaller bits. I would have fire. It was the meaning of my life in the all-consuming present.

Onto the ground they went into a small pile. I then made a tiny tent of twigs and smaller sticks on top of the pile. I rolled up a tiny bit of paper on the end of a stick and dipped it in the liquid candle wax: a tiny homemade torch. It took fire easily. And this went into the bottom of the tent of twigs.

And fire! It smoked, glowed, sputtered, and then went out. I hopped onto my knees to blow on the remaining feeble embers only to have them die. I tried again. And again. And there was no fire. I was still a dumb caveman who’d never be enlightened and wise. I’d never cook meat, have crops, smelt metal, or build cities. Left in the woods to die and discovered thousands of years later like Homo Neanderthalensis.

I stood up, looked around, and nearly gave up. A tiny bush next to fire seemed to taunt me but I didn’t know why. It was a strange plant, a bush that was only a bush only when you looked at it. Because when you looked away and viewed it out of your peripheral it took on a humanoid appearance. This bush was something human, or humanlike, and it taunted me. It stood over my pile of sticks that refused to burn and made them refuse to burn. It’s name, because it did have a name, was Anna.

I stared at the bush again, knowing who it was (but not what), and said, “Anna, please let me make a fire.”

She stared at me silently, reverting into a form or a bush depending on if I looked directly at it or not.

“Come on. Why? Why do you do this to me?! I just want to make a fire.”

I set back to work. Anna wouldn’t stop me.

More timeless time passed and nothing happened. I came close, once or twice, where flames licked the sticks for nearly ten minutes before it smoldered into nothing.

“Anna. Anna, why?”

Reality came back in waves where I realized I was talking to a bush. A plant. Nothing more and nothing less. I was in the woods trying to build a fire and I couldn’t and I was talking to a plant. Begging the plant to let me make a fire. I felt like I was losing my mind. Nothing made sense. Who was Anna and why was that the plant’s name? Why was I stumbling around? Why did the bush appear so lifelike at times? My thought came back to an old Stephen King story I had read. Something about a hotel room that a totally skeptical guy wanted to spend the night in. And in the room he slowly goes crazy. The room itself was a malevolent being that degrades your sanity causing you to question everything. Until you lost it. Until you went mad. Until the room killed you.

And, what?

I remembered old stories about this park: many people in my city say it’s haunted. My cousin, a supposed ghost hunter, claims she’s seen ghosts in this very park on countless occasions. Right where I was trying to spend the night and seek some solace. There were no ghosts, obviously, and I was a skeptic. Maybe it was just her imagination? There weren’t any ghosts here.

But what if there was.

The woods did seem very silent and malevolent. And I was losing my mind. Was it that far-fetched to believe that I was surrounded by a horde of ghosts or worse, demonic beings that wanted to claim me as their own? I started to panic at the thought. Anna, the bush three feet from my tent, was one of them. A spirit of some long lost and forgotten soul who for some reason haunted in the park I was in. She probably died in a fire, which explained her stopping me from making mine. Even in death she was scared, or even protective of me. Or not. Maybe she was trying to drive me insane, to get me to hang myself off a tree? Or do something crazy. What would happen if I chopped my hand off with my hatchet? Where did that thought even come from? What would people think and say if I came out of the park after one day and had to be hospitalized and institutionalized for hacking my hand off? What if I was going crazy?

No. No way. It was the drugs. Didn’t I drink a bunch of cough medicine ages ago? But, what if it wasn’t the drugs? What if they only allowed me to perceive the unknown? As my mind raced I desperately tried to get a hold of it and keep it under control. Think happy thoughts. I gave up on the failed fire, got into my tent, and finished off the last few beers of the twelve pack.

I awoke a few hours later once again feeling lost, this time mentally. I questioned where I was and what I was doing there. Rain was soaking in through my tent that I was in, my sleeping bag was damp, and I was freezing. My head hurt — the familiar feeling of the hangover — and time would only make it worse. My mind turned back to the previous night which felt like a dream. The demons, the demons that weren’t there but seemed to be there at time, had haunted me and now they were gone. I opened the door to my tent and looked out. I was in the woods and I was certain of my place in space this time. Birds were chirping, the wind wasn’t blowing, and the only sound was the rain in the middle of the forest. Despite my brutal confusion and hangover, there I was. Maybe I wasn’t lost.

And Anna stood by the failed fire. Still a tree but as I looked away there was a person there. I was sober. I wasn’t high. But…the bush was a human. A person. A spirit. Something. I stepped out of my tent and grabbed a couple of beers to think about the situation. I didn’t feel threatened, just confused with this presence still there. After a beer and a half I walked over and grabbed my hatchet which I tossed aside early in the morning into a pile of mud for some reason. I wiped the blade off and it glistened as well as it could under the cloudy and dreary day. I walked up to Anna.

“Anna. You need to leave. You’re disturbing my peace. This whole thing, this whole adventure, was only meant for me to find peace. So, please leave.”

Anna stood there.

I sighed. “Alright, have it your way. I’m sorry.”

I swung as hard as I could drawing all the strength from my body. I waited for a cry or a shout or anything from Anna, but there was nothing. Just the dull plop plop plop of the hatchet striking branches over mud. Eventually Anna toppled over right on top of my aborted bonfire.

And as damp as it was the night before, and as much as it was raining at the time, the fire started to smoulder and burst into a large blazing flame. Here was my fire, here was my peace, here was me transcending my primal spirit.

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Search for The Truth

My submission for some Wattpad contest.

At least I can give some background behind this mess of story here. Wattpad sent me a message about some 500-word contest for something called Home Before Dark. Luckily, I have no idea what it is even after writing my submission. The challenge was to…well, I’ll just post the message itself:

We’re reaching out to you because we’ve just launched a writing contest with AppleTV+, and we thought you might want to enter! Wattpad has teamed up with AppleTV+ and Home Before Dark to bring you an exciting writing challenge that encourages you to share your truth with the world! Just create a 500-word letter about a time you stood up for the truth for your chance to win a Mystery prize pack!

This was like a week ago. 500 words is nothing — about five measly paragraphs — and I had no fucking clue if I wanted to even try writing a submission. I suck at stories, especially stories with a purpose and a theme, so I’m about 99.5% sure I’m not going to win. But why the hell not write something? After about 25 minutes of writing and editing it down below 500 words I ended up with this story. Enjoy!

The world blurred and my thoughts shifted without any conscious effort on my part. They flowed like a river, in one shape initially, a memory of something fond, into the next shape, a hideous and malformed entity of the past. Fond memories naturally hold negative aspects. Loss. Regret. The ever marching force of time. Change built into the nature of the universe. What is real? What is true? What can you hold onto when everything shifts and morphs? Even the most sluggish river still flows and changes with time.

It was the drugs to be sure, a strange concoction of whatever I could find hours ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time, like everything usually does, but now there was regret. But still the regret flowed into other forms — my past self had decided this was the best place for my future self to be — and wasn’t there something I was seeking? The shadow of introspection and self-discovery hours ago loomed over me and shifted into regret, and then back again into hope. There was something to look for, some reason, some concrete realness to myself, and maybe I could find it

Bad vibes swirled around me, torrents of a bleak river grabbing my thoughts, thoughts of safety and fixedness and concreteness, and wrecked them. Anything I could find to grasp was ripped away from me before I could take solace. Nothing was fixed, nothing was firm, and everything was framed by mindset.

Then the crux of the problem finally reared its head: Was I even real? What did ‘real’ even mean? Real. Reeling away from reality, but there it was, staring me in my twisted and drugged up mind. And if reality was this question, that of even being real, what did that mean?

The thoughts drifted again without any power from myself and I realized the question was pointless to begin with. What we experience is real. If a person thinks they’re losing their mind: that’s their reality. That’s their truth. The outside truth of someone else — that they’re crazy — is not the Truth of the suffering person. A billion truths, maybe more, all swirling around and changing in every conscious being in the universe. A multiverse within a multiverse, a billion worlds, all unable to be explored by being self-contained. Beauty. Glory. Sadness. Regret.

My universe is chaos. An inability to hold onto thoughts, to form them, in the torrent of the river of time. I don’t even know why I do what I do. I have no idea why I write what I write. Adrift in the sea, river, ocean, air, whatever you’d like. A thought appears and I have no control over it. Where did that come from? And why did I take a ton of drugs? I’m a robot controlled by a program I didn’t even make. These thoughts aren’t my own; there are no thoughts to take ownership of. And…and now what? Now what?

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Clubbin’ in The Skooma Den

Pip the Argonian goes on a violent rampage in The Skooma Den.

Note: I don’t usually post chapters from my Morrowind fanfic here, mostly because it’s over at Wattpad, but I think this chapter came out fucked up enough to serve as a stand-alone story. If you’d like to read more of it, here’s the link.

The skooma den only a few buildings down from The Eight Plates didn’t have a proper name: only The Skooma Den. It was known to everyone in the city certainly, but the official view of nearly every inhabitant of Balmora was to ignore its presence entirely. The locals who lived quiet and happy lives gave the place a wide berth, barely even glancing in its direction as they passed by. Imperial law enforcement didn’t want anything to do with it despite it breaking countless laws, mostly because their jobs were supported by it. The lowlifes that inhabited the place surely caused trouble elsewhere, usually minor crimes like thieving, stealing, or selling their drugs outside of the establishment, and the Empire was happy to crack down on those poor souls. This way they didn’t have to deal with cutting off the head of the monster whose tentacles inadvertently paid their salaries. And the local Dunmer house in charge didn’t want anything to do with the place either due to the countless higher ups within House Hlaalu having very important obligations to the building and its business. The pockets of corruption are always deep and widespread and it’s best not to get tangled into the web too much if you valued your life.

The inhabitants of The Skooma Den were the lowest that Tamriel had to offer the world. Those well over the cliff of addiction, those who had thrown all aspects of their lives away in chase of the ever fading high they couldn’t live without. In fact, the high was their life and they accepted it for better or for worse (mostly worse). It’s noble in a way to accept what your life is or isn’t and these people surely woke up one day, well down the skooma hole but still grasping desperately at a normal and happy life, only to finally accept their fate. Looking in the mirror they would eventually say a variation of this: I am a skooma addict: this is who I am.

The place was part skooma dealing, part partying; a safe zone for the skooma junkie to let their inhibitions loose with other like-minded individuals. The floor was littered with the corpses of old and busted glass skooma pipes and alcohol bottles, and no one seemed to care about walking around barefoot on the sharp shards. Skooma dulls the nerves and leaves you feeling wistful and undefeatable: to them the glass slicing their feet with every sloppy and misplaced step only seemed some abstraction of the mind because their minds were Truly Free. There was no need for physical distractions from their consciousness, at least the bad physical distractions.

And the back room was called “the orgy room” for obvious reasons. It was a constant naked, hedonistic, and fluid-stained room with no policy to participation at all. When you felt the urge to partake you went into the room and did whatever the skooma told you to do in the moment. And when you finally got your fill (were filled or did the filling, it didn’t matter) you left. No one cared anymore about the vague ideas of love or partnership. Everything was temporary and they all grasped at the temporary pleasures whenever they felt like they needed them.

One day an Argonian walked into The Skooma Den from the Balmoran streets. He had never been there before but had heard whispers of the place since he had arrived weeks ago. And he didn’t have a reason to go there or to not go there besides some vague curiosity. Pip, as his name was, didn’t do any drugs passionately and certainly wasn’t the type of person to find The Den an appealing place to be. That would require having purpose, the purpose of living your life as a lost addict. Even a twisted and flawed purpose was still purpose and Pip didn’t have any.

No one noticed Pip as he walked in, his scaly Argonian feet being immune to the blood stained glass that littered the floor. The addicts were all too blasted out of their mind to notice him. Pip looked around, slowly pulled out his two meter long silver staff from his back, and held it poised to strike.

Pip walked up to a man on his hands and knees screaming, occasionally looking at his bloody hands laughing for reasons only he was aware of. And then he struck him over the back lightly. The man giggled. Pip swung again, this time harder than before. The man laughed even more. One more strike from his club with as much Argonian strength as he could muster — enough to break bones if hitting the right spot at the right angle — knocked the man down to the floor, his hands sliding violently over the shards of glass as he collapsed. He rolled over, looked at Pip, pointed, and started laughing so hard he began crying. His body was dead to any physical pain.

Pip thought this was the perfect place for him. 

He walked into the central crowd of people smoking, talking, laughing, screaming, making out, whatever it was that the skooma addicts were occupied with. And he started swinging as hard as he could at anyone within reach of the massive staff. Surprised looks from the junkies: where was this Argonian before? Some people took the bludgeons from the Argonian as a friendly challenge — another skooma head looking for a fight — and tried to tackle him. Pip knocked them down viciously as each charged him. He wheeled and danced around the room swinging his club, knocking people down, raising bruises, removing teeth, and snapping bones like some twisted and graceful ballerina of pain, his club using the force of its length and angular velocity to inflict massive damage to anyone it connected with. The dance only lasted ten minutes before everyone was lying on the jagged floor, dried blood from the past mixing with fresh blood from Pip’s outburst. The blood was black in the strange red and blue lanterns that lit the smoke filled room making the scene appear as a dream.

Pip did the same thing in the orgy room, but this time the occupants seemed to take pleasure from all the pain, it all being the same in their state. Blood mixed in with the various fluids on the bed, chairs, and floor until everyone lay silent, bludgeoned to the brink of their lives during their orgy.

“Clubbin’ fun for Pip. Me do again tomorrow.” And he left.

Not that he killed anyone: Pip wasn’t that viscous. And not that he had any negative views of the skooma addicts. No, he only chose to beat these people within inches of their lives because he could. No one would notice, no one would care, their families and loved ones discarding them long ago. And they could always get healed, either via the Temple, the Cult, or from alchemists and Mages’ Guild restoration magic experts. As their drug wore off and the pain became impossible to ignore, they’d surely crawl, hobble, and limp their way to a healer and beg for something to be done to help them.

As Pip walked in the following day he was greeted with a cheer. They knew him this time and they couldn’t wait for their beating to begin.

“Come on, you can’t do shit to me today! Let’s have a brawl!” On Imperial challenged.

“You got me in the ribs yesterday, get my face today!” A Dunmer exclaimed.

“End my life; I am miserable. I want to die!” screamed one Khajiit in pure joy.

And Pip obliged them all (except the Khajiit), dancing like a ballerina for the second night in a row, beating them all to a pulp once again. Twirling, swinging, clubbing. Some people, before collapsing from the beating, even slipped a few septims into Pip’s robes. They were huge fans of him and his dancing.

Pip showed up for the third night to even more passionate cheers. But this time he was bored with it. Clubbing was only fun for a while and sadly for Pip these people enjoyed it a bit too much. It wasn’t spontaneous anymore. He had a crowd to please, an obligation. It was a job. It was required. And what would he do now that his two days of clubbin’ in The Skooma Den was over before they had even begun?

Pip silenced the expecting and elated cheers with only a few sentences.”Pip no club tonight. Pip no club anymore. Pip bored. Pip have mission to do. Ald’ruhn. Hmm. Pip go find Funny Head. Yessss.” He turned around and walked out of The Skooma Den never to return again, the disappointed howls, screams, and protests following him out the door and into the barren evening streets.

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The Virus (Part One)

A typical trip to the store during a pandemic.

Note: This is totally unrelated to the other stories I’ve been working on. I think I need to branch out into making separate short stories instead of trying to piece together a novel. As always, I have no plans so whatever I post is whatever I post.

Early May and not a cloud in the sky. The temperature outside was in the 70s — the lower 70s probably — and a slight breeze blew out of the east. The humidity also wasn’t too bad either; maybe I could drag myself outside and go for a bike ride? Or maybe do some yard work? Gardening always needed to be done. The crops were very important this year.

I made some coffee via a pot on the stove; the electricity wasn’t working again and the few solar panels I had couldn’t supply the power to run a coffee maker. Pour the boiling water into a mug and dump the coffee grounds in. It makes a sludge but if you stir it enough the grounds eventually sink to the bottom. Coffee is coffee and depending on how the day is going you can always opt to slurp the sludge from the bottom when the drink itself is gone for an extra jolt of stimulants. This is what I did today.

And no eggs in the fridge either. No bread. Nothing. All the canned beans have been eaten weeks ago. And then the rice. And then the frostbitten meats in the back of the fridge. I had been in the phase of forced caloric restriction for weeks but soon I would graduate to forced fasting. Before I did anything, especially physical yard work/gardening, I’d have to go to the store, or try to at least. I hope it wouldn’t be another day where I’d be forced to feast on dandelions and mulberries from the yard. No mushrooms until the fall, so that wasn’t an option. There were always the five or six stray cats outside or squirrels and groundhogs. But it wasn’t bad enough for that. Yet, always a ‘yet’. One of the cats was pregnant and that wasn’t an option either, not a wise one at least. The smart move would be to wait until the kittens become adults and then see what needed to be done to survive.

I went downstairs and got dressed. New t-shirt, a pair of dirty pants, socks, and shoes. Loop the belt through the pant’s loops and give a thought about hanging the thing from the ceiling with my neck in it instead of pants and my waist. Once again: not yet. Someday, but not yet.

Grab the two pocket knives and place one in each pocket. Grab two bottles of pepper-spray: one clipped to my belt and the other in the pocket for a reserve. I purchased an entire ten pack of these spray cans when things started to go downhill. When was it even? A year ago? No. Just a few months, but the year felt like a decade thus far. Everyone I caught a glimpse of seemed to have aged as well as if the five months of the year really were a decade. Wrinkly skin, sagging collagen draped over bony frames along with grey, unkempt, and dirty hair. Even if the hair wasn’t actually grey, the hues always seemed slightly and tinged towards dreary and earthy tones. Dark circles and bags around and under every eye and even worse, a hopeless, blank, and dead look peering through the masks.

And back upstairs to find a bag. A black bag from the gas station would suffice. Weeks earlier it had held cheap liquor that wasn’t cheap cost wise. Alcohol was in high demand at the time for various reasons. Disinfectant, intoxication, fuel, whatever would kill and burn was needed. Malt liquor supplies were forcefully redirected to distilleries to make sanitizer. Hell, even E85 blend of ethanol/gasoline was being used as a makeshift disinfectant and was more expensive than gasoline for the first (and probably only) time in history. Some heathens with a death wish were even drinking the stuff or attempting to distill it. The news, whenever it was on, would occasionally mention the home fires/explosions due to these activities. Amateurs, I’d always think.

Take the bag, cut two holes in the side, and find some hemp cord. Place the bag on your head and adjust properly: one hole at your mouth and the other at your eyes. And then some fabric for a filter: this time an old dishrag. Place the rag inside the bag over your mouth and tie the hemp cord around your head accordingly. Everyone was using this technique or variation of it: cover your face, nose, and mouth at all costs. Hide your identity in case the worst should happen. In case survival boiled down to instinct. The killing of your own species in order for your own life to continue on. The world was a cruel place and spiraling downwards still. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the perpetual ‘if’ of life was really a ‘when’.

And how could I forget my own sanitizer? Grab a spray bottle of that before I leave. Homemade from a shitty still and a bunch of wine I had brewed up years ago. Put anything with alcohol into the metal pot from Walmart rigged with copper tubing from the hardware store and cook it on top of a stove or any other available heat source. Water and ice to cool the vapor and you’re left with pure alcohol. Add some water to dilute it down to 70% and you have sanitizer, even if it wasn’t a gel like the fancy store-bought stuff. And it was drinkable: a sanitizer/coping mechanism even if you need to weigh the pros and cons of each. Alcohol is limited and you can get drunk or sanitize. Pick your poison — a zero-sum game — would you like your world to be Clean and Safe or would you prefer a mind that can cope, if only temporarily? A little of both was always a valid option. I opened the bottle and took a drink and sprayed my hands after putting the cap back on.

I put a baseball cap on my head over the black bag, along with some aviator sunglasses. Even during the crisis you needed to look somewhat stylish. The hat had a yellow sun with a silhouette of a tree on it with the words ‘Life is Good’ below the design. Time to go outside, to go to the store. Time to see what horrible things the day held for me and society in general.

The world still looked the same. The birds were chirping, stray dogs and cats roamed the streets, yards, and sidewalks, and the squirrels acted as jittery and flighty as always. The sun was still bright in the sky, the clouds still provided rain and storms, and the flowers and plants were joyfully growing. Trees were as stoic as trees always were and nothing was obviously wrong with the world. You needed to pay attention to other details: subtle details. The lack of litter around the neighborhoods. The quietness of the roads with only a few cars passing here and there. The smoke and scent from the fires. The vividness of the night sky when the power was out. But mostly it was the silence that was strange. Humans are loud, society is loud, motorcycles and cars and semis fueling leisure and the economy with perpetual sounds. The drunken shouting of the nearby bars, the endless drones of the TVs and music from homes. Nothing anymore. It’s dead quiet.

The grocery store was only a half mile away, a peaceful walk on this sunny and pleasant Thursday in May. Was it Thursday though? Luckily, I had a ton of cash saved up and it had benefited me greatly in the past few months. The agreement as society spiraled was that cash, US Federal Reserve Notes, are still worth something. Even as the economy shuts down like a patient being taken off life support, the forces of supply-and-demand and The Market are still enough to hold the Federal Reserve Note as the de-facto lifeblood of the economy. As others steal, kill, and maim to survive I could still live in a somewhat civilized manner. None of that for me yet, although I’ll l do whatever I need to survive and defend myself. I double checked the location of my pepper-spray bottles and adjusted my shopping bag facemask for comfort.

Another subtle thing that isn’t really that subtle — just ever-present now to a degree that people don’t notice much — is the stench. As the hospitals filled and as crematoriums ran at capacity and as society collapsed around us the infected had nowhere to go. The doctors eventually began turning sick people away; there wasn’t any way to treat the amount of Diseased People with our medical system’s limited capacity. So back home they went, usually to die. It attacks the lungs causing difficulty in breathing until you suffocated painfully in your own fluids. It’s a painful and slow death, one you can feel coming in the next day or two but have no way to avoid it. Some energetic people would put a bullet into their heads, or dangle themselves from the ceiling or a tree, but most clung to the slim hope of survival. Instinct is strong and hope is stronger, even if there is no hope. Knowing they’re going to die, most people hung onto life and suffered until their bodies regretfully shut down. Luckily the screams and gasps we’re faint enough; you only heard them if you were directly outside their homes.

But the stench — the ever-present stench of rotting and decaying bodies holded up in their former homes, now their temporary caskets — permeated the atmosphere. Those without families or friends. Those that would rot indefinatley until society pulled itself together enough to clease the homes. You never knew which homes had corpses in them either, the smells of the bodies intermingling indiscriminately in the wind. A few bodies hanging from trees had been picked clean by mice, birds, maggots, and anything else looking for an easy meal, their skeletons hanging by tendons until even those couldn’t support the weight of the bones. Skeletons in yards under the trees, sometimes the skull and vertebrae still hanging from the branches. It was a grim sight but I was used to it by now despite a vague knowledge of the trauma I’d surely carry around with me for the rest of my life; I would be another survivor of a war stricken with PTSD and substance abuse issues. Curious glances at the remains now and wondering how their final moments were. What would my final moment be? How far away was it? Yet? If? When? Not thinking, I pulled my homemade sanitizer out and sprayed my gloved hands.

Around the corner at the end of the block I ran into a group of three teenagers. I knew they’d be an issue as soon as I saw them. Out to cause trouble for no other reason than to cause trouble with law enforcement either non-existent or busy doing other more important things. Cleaning the dead bodies out of the homes, protecting businesses being robbed and picked clean, or battling the periodic riots. No one cared about some punks beating innocent people up. It was every man and woman for themselves in this world.

They eyed me suspiciously as I tried to ignore them by casually walking past them. Finally one, after looking back and forth to his friends spoke up. “Hey friend, what are you doing today? Out for a peaceful walk?”

“Yes. It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?” I replied, once again trying to mind my own business.

“Where are you going? Huh?” They walked closer to me as I walked along the side of the street.

“Just running errands. No big deal. To the store. For food.” I shrugged and walked past them. As I passed them I turned my head slightly to the side to keep their vague shapes in my peripheral, acting as though I was looking at the homes to my side.

“Hey, where are you going? We want to talk to you. Don’t be rude,” one of them said.

And another said, “Yeah, get the hell back here. Fucking punk. Rude ass.”

And then I heard them walking towards me. Vague shapes moving in the blurry corners of my vision. And without thinking my hand was on one of my bottles of pepper-spray. I knew what was about to go down and I was ready. I had plenty of perfect practice over the past few months; you got your ass kicked a few times and you learned quickly.

One mistake the teens made was not wearing glasses of any sort. A rookie mistake really. My hands would be full if they had their eyes covered, but they didn’t and I realized this fact as soon as I saw their group. I’d be fine. As soon as they were behind me, pounced and tensed to strike, I turned and released a fiery spray of concentrated capsaicin completely taking them by surprise.

At first I sprayed each one in the eyes as quickly as I could. Just a small amount to neutralize the threat and cause them some intense burning and pain. Not surprisingly, they started to scream and flail and were no longer a threat. Eventually they became disoriented and fell to the ground a few feet apart, crawling, screaming, writhing, crying and wondering what the hell they were supposed to do next. What went wrong? They thought in bursts of thought interspersed in tiny gaps of the intense pain.

One thing about the lawlessness in the world is that it works both ways, a fact forgotten by any would be criminal punks looking to fuck someone’s day up. And I wasn’t just some innocent victim acting in self defense here, no, these fuckers wanted my blood; I was their prey. But now I was the predator. In this new society you need to teach lessons where lessons need to be taught.

So as they laid there squirming, I walked up to one of them and hosed him in the face with the spray for a few seemingly endless seconds. While the first spray was for self defense, this was for blatant offence. It was to hurt, to cause harm, with zero regard for these people as fellow human beings. His eyes wouldn’t work for another hour now. And then I crouched down, held the can up to his screaming and foaming mouth and sprayed some more down his throat. The cry that came out was from an animal, an animal that had no idea what was going on. His friends heard and started screaming in sympathy and fear over what was happening to him, and what would soon be happening to them. 

I calmly proceeded to the other two and did the same thing to them. More animalistic shrieks and squirming. They tried to pierce some sense of sympathy into my mind. No, it wouldn’t work. Nothing personal, this world was a cold world where justice was in short supply. Sometimes you need to exact cold vengeance on people that deserve it. They would learn if they haven’t learned already.

More hand sanitizer and adjusting my facemask. Just a tiny bump in the road, no big deal, for the current situation in the world. And onward to the store with the screams behind me turning into sad whimpering and then fading with distance. I wondered what chaos awaited me there.

Read The Virus (Part Two), the obvious second part to this story, if you’re interested.

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Chapter 9

Just finish the story. Just write. Just write something. It doesn’t have to be good. The whole point of this adventure was to write without thought and now you’re thinking about it. And thinking about it way too much. Defeating the entire purpose of the project. Right?

People want plot, and world building, and characters, and character development; the story has none of that. No overarching goals, points, themes or anything. It’s all a goddamn mess that doesn’t make any sense. I don’t even know what it means. What’s the point of writing if you yourself aren’t aware of what exactly it is that you’re writing?

The goal here was to farm the subconscious and to hell with a plot. To hell with making sense. Life doesn’t make much sense. What’s the point of writing a cute, tidy story with a hero who saves the world when there are no cute and tidy stories within the actual world? There are no heroes. Everyone likes to be the protagonist in their own stories, but if everyone is a protagonist, who are the villains? We all play each role — protagonist, antagonist, supporting chracters, and nobodys — and we’re nearly unaware of it. Stories are all lies painting the infinite color in life as shades of grey with no basis in reality, and they’re disorienting in their cleanliness. Stories make too much sense. Even the most unhinged horror stories have a plot, an antagonist, and a hero. Even the most unhinged stories and shitty romance novels are cut out of the same essential fabric. Different types of cookies cut with the same Christmas tree shaped cutter. Different flavors, same shape.

People want to escape from life. They want the stories to make sense to escape the life that doesn’t make sense. The themes in the stories speak to something deeper within them. And within all of us. People live in chaos and crave order, some semblance of meaning and clarity that simply doesn’t seem to exist. People want a happy and clean fictional world and I can’t do that. I’m uncreative. I can’t conjure up fantasy worlds and tie the plot into a nice little story. I can’t find an ending to any story. I’m uncreative. I take what I see, copy it nearly word for word, action for action, tweak it a little bit so it’s not blatantly stealing, and that’s what I write. The world doesn’t make sense and that gets copied and pasted directly into the drivel that I write.

But what’s so wrong with people adding their own meaning to the mess? Even if what you write is life as unaltered as it could possibly be, and it doesn’t make much sense, isn’t this like a puzzle for other people? Think of it as a blank sheet of paper: you can do whatever it is you’d like with it. If you want the story to make sense and find it a mess then take the paper and light it on fire. If you think the story needs tweaking, then cut the paper into shapes that you prefer. If you think the story needs some piecing together, fold the paper into an origami frog. If you read if and enjoy it without much thought, take the paper, fold it into an airplane and let it ride along the air currents. Do whatever you want with it: paint on it, write a love letter on it, wipe your nose on it, use it to soak up spilled juice with. As blank as a piece of paper is, let the story be the same. It’s blank, but it doesn’t mean it’s useless.

And you know what else you can do with a blank piece of paper? Write a story on it. A story that is about whatever you want it to be about.

…the Dancer in the Field

And so without a choice I nervously walked over to her. I didn’t know how to explain what I felt. I had a purpose. I had a goal. Something clear I couldn’t deny or fight against. On rails with only one direction to go, no stopping, slowing down, or altering my course. I did what I had to do and walked up to her. Upon seeing me she stopped her twirling and dancing, faced me, and smiled.

“Would you like to dance?” she asked.

“I don’t think I’m a good dancer. I’m clumsy. And…there’s no music. I really don’t think I could dance if there wasn’t any music.”

“There’s always music. Don’t you hear it?”

“No.”

“Well, just listen. Don’t force yourself to hear it but allow yourself to hear it.” Immediately all conscious thought disappeared for a moment and I heard…something. But as soon as I heard it and brought my attention to the sound — if it was even there in the first place — it was gone.

“You heard it, didn’t you? Didn’t she tell you that before? To stop trying so hard?”

“Who?”

“That’s also the key to dancing. James, right? The key to dancing is to not think about it. It’s an expression of yourself. The more you think about it the more detached you become. You come between your body and your soul. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“Yes. How do you know my name?”

“Close your eyes and hold my hands.”

“What?”

“Close your eyes and hold my hands.”

“Okay,” I said and followed her instructions. Her hands felt chilly, but in a comforting way. We stood there a foot apart holding hands. My mind began to wander. This was a dream, right? What was I even doing here? If I was lucid, why wasn’t I flying or doing whatever I wanted to do? Why was I standing here with my eyes closed holding this woman’s hands? Why was I playing along perfectly with some unspoken plot? And if I was dreaming and wanted to hear the music, why couldn’t I just hear the music?

And then it happened. There was an intricate drum beat that sounded miles away but ever present, not forceful or too dramatic, just a mellow rhythm in all things around me. And while sounding distant at first, the sound seemed to grow closer even though it still had an airy quality to it. And then other instruments joined the subconscious rhythm — violins, flutes, bass, chellos, along with countless other sounds that I couldn’t identify — with the music swirling around me. If I only opened my eyes, I knew I could see colors and sounds swirling around me. The violin was purple, the deep color of twilight. And the bass a deep navy, the ocean depths. The flute a bright yellow and sprightly: the color of the springtime sun on daffodils, happiness itself. The sound and the colors the same thing, aspects of the same beauty : inseparable and indistinct. It was deeper than anything I had ever experienced and I wondered why I never realized that sound is color and color is sound before. I let go of my consciousness and the world’s music washed over me and filled my soul with love.

And I let myself go even further and with the music and colors working through my body, the dancer and I began to spin. Around and around endlessly. Holding hands for a little bit and then letting go. We twirled, dipped, seperated and danced on our own for a few moments with the sounds and colors swirling around us, spinning us like leaves drifting in a stream, and we’d find each other perfectly as if we’d never been apart. Lost in the music I found my hands in hers over and over again. My arms around her and her arms around me embracing as we twirled. Apart and together, hugging, spinning, drifting away and back without choice. The dance seemed to last for hours, but no exhaustion was apparent; the entire moment felt perfect in every way. And at the perfect moment for the dance to come to a close the music faded away as if driven by my own thoughts. The dancer and I faced each other holding hands and opened our eyes. Love flowed between our gaze and through our locked hands.

“You see why I dance now.”

“Yes.”

“Would you like to sit with me?”

“Yes.” We sat down in the grass facing each other.

“I’m glad you danced with me tonight. I’ve seen you around many times and you always glance over at me but never say ‘hi’ or anything.”

“You know who I am? I’ve never seen you before.”

“Yes, I know you. And you must know me, at least some part of you must.” She seemed thoughtful for a moment, like she knew something I didn’t and was debating whether to tell me or not. “We used to play together as kids, James. Jimmy. I used to call you Jimmy. You don’t remember that?”

“Not really.” I thought about what Luna said what seemed like hours or days earlier. “Something about you does seem familiar. Like a scent that reminds you of something deep in your past that you just can’t pinpoint. I know you mean something to me, but I just can’t pinpoint it.”

“Are you dreaming? Right now?”

“Yes, I think so.”

She looked thoughtful. “Hmm. Maybe that’s why. I never remember my dreams either. And if I see you here and you’re dreaming, then…maybe that’s why I’m a stranger.

“We used to play as kids. You were shy and I had to get you to open up, but then we became friends. It’s been so long ago that it’s fuzzy to me. But I remember you clearly: the awkward haircut, constantly avoiding eye-contact, always fumbling and fidgeting with your hands. But always well-meaning and kind. And you really haven’t changed much either.” She smiled, “Well, your hair isn’t as awkward anymore.

“But then you came around less frequently. And as the years passed it was like you barely remembered me. You’d say hi and wave but eventually the waves looked like the hesitant ones from a stranger. I guess I stopped even trying one day. Just accepted you as a stranger who was once a friend.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.”

“You seem more coherent lately. You look over at me. And I smile and nod but never wave. But you look like you’re thinking or remembering something. And…I’m glad you came over and danced. It gives me hope.”

I glanced over at the three people around the fire. “You need to give them credit. She told me to come dance with you. I told her I was dreaming and she didn’t question it at all. She knew what was going on somehow.”

“Who are they?”

“I don’t know. Part of my dream I guess.”

“Well if this is your dream, what if they’re just a part of you? Something you’ve forgotten? Remember how I said to properly dance you need to not think about dancing? That’s how dreaming is; it’s your soul dancing. It’s your consciousness dancing. It’s doing what it wants to do while perfectly in touch with the universe. Maybe some of these things, and people, are just a part of you.”

“What about you? What if I made you up too?” I was joking but she still looked thoughtful.

“I can’t prove you wrong, but I will say this: this world feels real to me. I’m real. When I dream I go someplace completely unlike this one and it’s always vague and shimmery where strange things happen. This world is…real. It’s hard to explain. And…oh…”

“What?”

“You’re leaving.”

“I am?”

“Yes. You look…shimmery. Sunlight reflecting off water.” I looked around to the trees and into the nearly dark sky above me and everything seemed to dissolve and become dull. The trees blurred to where they appeared to be dark blobs against the slightly lighter sky behind them.

“I want to stay here though. I want to remember this. Can I? What if I forget? I don’t even know what your name is.”

“James, can you please remember me? Come find me next time, okay? Please try?”

“I’ll…yeah…try. We can…dance some more…right? I want to…dance again. And I…promise…to…”

As a Kid

Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep I would call my grandma and tell her so.

I’d call her, she’d answer, and I’d say, “Grandma, I can’t sleep.”

She’d say, “What’s wrong? Why can’t you sleep?”

“I don’t know. I just can’t.”

“Well just try to relax, close your eyes, and maybe you’ll fall asleep.”

It very rarely worked, but somehow I’ve made it to the age of thirty-five. Even while struggling to sleep almost daily time kept marching on with no one noticing as it usually does so. While I don’t remember what Little Jimmy did to sleep, especially not having access to benzodiazepines, alcohol, or antihistamines as a child, he somehow found the ability to sleep. The thirty-five years seemed to pass in an instant but only in retrospect. Grandma’s advice never seemed to help at the time — just relax — but Jimmy found a way.

My bedroom as a kid had these strange sliding accordion doors — I don’t even know what their proper name was and I’ve never decided to learn as an adult. It made my room seem fancy apparently; a few of my elementary school friends said so. The white wicker furniture on the porch also made out house seemed fancy. A few of them even mentioned that “Jimmy’s family must be rich!” but little did they know we were poor as hell. I didn’t even know how poor we were at the time. We might’ve looked rich on a superficial level, at least to other ten-year-olds, but we didn’t own much of anything. The bank owned most of the important things like our car and the house while credit card companies owned most of the remaining possessions. In fact looking back, I think my parents were perpetually in debt; they literally didn’t own anything. But as a nine-year-old you’re not aware of these things unless your parents were arguing about money, which they often did.

I had sliding doors on my room. Accordion doors. They had these slats on the bottom half of the doors, and smoked glass on the top half. Even though the glass gave some visibility into the living room, you couldn’t see much. You could see shapes through the glass, but nothing definitive. For some reason the left side — from the perspective of someone inside the room — was never moved. If you needed to get into my room you’d move the right side three-paneled accordian door. Never the left. The left panels were always as straight as could be, like they were a wooden and glass wall, and even if they could be physically moved were never actually moved. I didn’t question it: it was a rule. Well, not really a rule, just how things worked. The doors at the time were slightly cracked open. The cat named Patches (the cat I’d sometimes throw off the basement stairs) liked to sleep in the bed with me. He pushed the right-sided panels open just enough to sneak into my room. The right-sided panels were always open enough for an average-sized black and white cat to enter the room. He loved me even if I tossed him off the stairs weekly.

I couldn’t sleep at the time. I would toss and turn in my bed. But then I stopped tossing and turning. I found myself lying on my right side — facing the slightly opened accordion doors to the living room. My room was also next to the front porch with a lone window shining pale, yellow, incandescent light into my room. It almost made a welcome mat in front of the accordion doors, the pale yellow trapezoidal shape of light on carpet. And I layed there. Just existing during another night of being unable to sleep. You could see a tiny bit of the couch through the slightly-cracked door. Patches slept near my ankles.

I went to call my grandma, to complain as I sometimes did, but I felt like I wanted to be totally still this time. Perfectly still for just a little longer. It’s hard to explain. I wanted to call her, but something compelled me not to. While I could move I didn’t want to move. I stared through the tiny gap in my door and looked over the shape of the couch.

I felt dread. I felt death. I laid still and felt something so damning, terrifying, and unholy that I could only stare. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t do anything. I was locked in place and facing something that only I could explain years later as death: this was what it felt like to die and not to die but to actually be dead. A perfect stillness and comprehension of the darkness behind everything you see. A perpetual “thereness” of a perfect void, of an absolute nothing. Behind every object, person, color, emotion, or anything there was this nothing: this void, this color blacker than black. There was nothing scary to behold visually — just the dark living room lit up by the weak porch light — but something about it felt so ominous that it was beyond explanation. Like there was a dark shape or entity creeping just around the corner, just barely out of sight. Even if you could feel it and know it was there it wasn’t visible. I don’t know how long I laid there or what happened to release me but, as stated, I’m now thirty-five years old and whatever happened that day decades ago remains as vague as any decade-old memory can.

I’ve never experienced it since. But sometimes if I lay very still in bed and keep my eyes focused on a certain point about eight meters away I start to feel that creeping dread. The all-consuming stillness, the background darkness and void that is behind every person, object, and thing. The black shape creeping in my room just barely out of sight around the corner. Something so still and dark and permanent and real that it drills its fear deep into consciousness. If there is anything to fear it is this. I don’t know what it’s called, but that’s the only thing to fear in life…and what exactly would you call that?

If the feeling threatens to wash over me I’ll I take a sleeping pill. Or something. Drugs are a fix-fall for nearly every problem in life and Jimmy didn’t have this option. A half-milligram of xanax scares the demon away long enough for me to not worry about it. As for my grandma? Well, I can’t call her anymore. I’m thirty-five years old. My grandma isn’t around anymore.

Introduction

It’s an introduction, what else is there to say?

Note: I’m creatively burned out. As much as I want to create something new, I find I have no inspiration currently. I’m pissed off about it, but what can you do? I’ve found myself editing chapters and doing the hellish work involved with trying to be a creative writer and while I despise it it needs to be done. This is the introduction to my Apex Story, and while it isn’t riventing might be a good way to get back to the grind.

This story is a fiction story, just to make that clear from the get-go. I remember hearing something about a book that was written — some nonfiction book — where the author who wrote about drugs appeared on Oprah or something. Apparently there was quite a bit of fallout over this because somehow it was realized that it wasn’t all true. Most of it, the structure, the tone, and the lessons were probably true to some degree but somewhere along the line the author fucked up and exaggerated a bunch of stuff. And so he got demonized by marketing a fictionesque book as a nonfiction book. He didn’t quite suffer in the way he had written and got shit upon for it.

This all seemed stupid as hell to me. The line between a nonfiction biographical book and a completely fictitious one is tenuous to begin with with reality informing the fiction and nonfiction possibly being “artistically flourished” to some degree. Why, I thought, wouldn’t you just call the book a fiction book and save yourself the trouble? You could write an autobiography as true as anything, call it fiction, and you’re free to exaggerate or mess up the fine details all you want with zero repercussions. There is no liability in writing a fiction book because it’s understood to be a creative work. Even if it isn’t fake and you add in some flourishes that really didn’t happen, no one will care. Hell, people don’t even like nonfiction books and label them as “boring.” So to save myself the problem of writing a “factually true” story I’ll just say it’s fiction and let the reader determine what is real and isn’t. But probably most of it is real because I’m not a very creative writer.

This book is intended to be a collection of memories, stories, and amusing occurrences from one of the stupidest jobs that I have ever worked. The job was stupid in a way that was different than the rest: I worked at a Target distribution center and that job sucked because the work was mindnumbingly boring: I had to stand in aisles literally for hours at a time while picking products during a twelve-hour shift. I also worked at a Sam’s Club and that job sucked because the company is shit and part of Walmart: just imagine how working at Walmart would be. I also had to deal with the general — and entitled — public. Corporate would shit on management who would in turn shit on you and the average customer would also shit upwards on you. Because shit rolls downhill. Because the customer is always right and their shit rolls uphill for some reason. This is the usual complaint issued by any standard retail or fast-food worker. I’ve noticed that past a certain age, some people just don’t deal with the public anymore. At least not the general public. I think people just get sick of it: they finally realize they don’t have to put up with peoples’ shit working for minimum wage pay. Although I do feel bad for the old people you see working fast food or retail; you know they made some bad life choices and are paying dearly for them.

I also worked at a McDonald’s and the “general public are a bunch of fucks and that’s why I hate the job” applies there. Nothing new to note here.

In contrast, Apex Logistics sucked for a whole new reason that was new to me: the company was incompetent. My fellow workers would fuck things up, management would fuck things up, upper corporate management would make zero sense with their demands, HR (human resources) was clueless, and you couldn’t get a firm answer about any questions you had. They talked a tough game but failed to actually follow through with any of it. “We’re a team and if you don’t want to work as a team you can leave now,” they’d say. But then if you didn’t act as a team nothing would actually happen. Shit like that. Endless shit like that.

The types of people you meet at any job are what makes it either terrible or enjoyable. Most places have such a wide variety of people you’re bound to meet quite a few along the spectrum. There are the cool people that you have some indescribable bond with, there are the people you despise even if you can’t explain why, and there are people you are indifferent about. Apex was no different and had some interesting, cool, and unique people that worked there; I’m sure many of them still work there. Apex was unique in that the people at the ends of the “coolness spectrum” were strongly at the ends of the spectrum. I’m talking very end of the inevitable bell-curve that depicts distributions. Three standard deviations above average in terms of coolness and three standard deviations below average in terms of terribleness.

I guess I also intend this to be a farewell to the place — a sort of obituary for me working there. Inevitably when leaving a job you feel a sense of defeat. Either you quit out of an inability to continue working there or you are fired; either way it’s a negative feeling. (I haven’t been able to quit a job yet for “bigger and better things” yet.) As a way to cope or to process my feelings, I tossed around the idea of writing a book about the place; a way to capture the unique people that I met there, or to bitch about how awful of a place it was to work, or to just give the place a sendoff. A sort of “farewell” to Apex Logistics.But remember this is fiction. If I quit, or haven’t quit, or Apex Logistics doesn’t really exist, and there is no Rockford, Illinois, then you won’t have to worry. Because as true as this all sounds, it’s fiction. It’s made up. There is no Bumblebee. There is no Tuna Fish, or Grizzly Bear, or Elrod. Forklifts don’t punch holes through semi trailers and tug tractors don’t get stuck in the mud. There is no such thing as a Boeing 767. And if it did exist, it really doesn’t hold 24 pallets on the main deck.