Simulation 26, Part 2

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“Why do you do this to yourself?”

 

***

 

You’re cowering in the closet again. Eyes tightly shut, face pressed as close to the wall as you can get it. There’s a crash, the sound of broken cookery and smashed items from beyond the door. Before, before you would have gone to see, to check and make sure. Now you just bury your nose deeper into the corner.

 

Outside the screaming continues, inaudible yet you know its vicious and hateful. You don’t need to hear the words to know the tone. It’s the same song and dance day after day.

 

Feelings are hurts, words are used as if they are just sharpened knives, and gapping wounds are made.

 

On and on it goes. Endless it seems until it’s not. Silence reigns and continues to grow. Cautiously you pull away from your corner. Ear pressed to the door you listen, silence.

 

You go into the kitchen. It’s vacant. Strewn around are the remnants of a once immaculate table.  With an air of long practice and light feet you begin to pick up the pieces of your life.

 

***

 

“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen”, you count quietly under your breath nails digging into your thighs.  Four bloody trails roll down the slope of you body, pooling in the crease of your groin.

 

“Twenty.” Slowly your fingers relax their grip.

 

You stare at you bloody nails frowning. Meticulously you begin the clean up. Using your thumb to clean the moist blood and flesh from under your nails. One hand at a time wiping every so often at a near by tissue. Four tissues later you fingers are as immaculate at they will be.  You should get a manicure soon; you frown down at your ragged cuticles.

 

Peroxide next, you don’t want the cuts to get infected, infections lead to sickness and sickness leads to questions. And you have too many scars and not enough good answers.

 

You bite your lip at the burn of it but not bloody, not anymore you’re an old hat at this now.

 

***

 

The you that stares back in the mirror doesn’t look like what you think you look like.  This person has to be you though. This weak, sad, pathetic creature is you. This pale, shallow skinned, limp haired, sad sack of flesh is all you’ve got.

 

You purse your lips and try to image what it’d be like to be attractive. You can’t. You try to smile bright and huge like you’ve seen others do, you grimace. Your teeth are crooked and stained yellow, your lips too thin on the top and too puffy on the bottom. You look like a crazed person, the kind people move across the street to avoid. No, smiling won’t make you more attractive.

 

You away from the mirror and flop backwards, just short of missing your bed. Your ceiling is far more attractive than you are.

 

Suddenly there’s the sound of a door slamming into a wall, the bonce back and it slamming shut. You freeze, deer in headlight stupid and in the way. Maybe if you don’t breath no one will know you’re here.

 

Hold it.

 

Hold it.

 

 

Hold it.

 

 

Hold it.

 

 

 

Hold it.

 

Door slams.

 

You breathe again. No you think you need to be braver first.

 

***

 

“This is so I never forget”

 

. . . Terminate Simulation 26 . . .

Signing off for a while.

Hello everyone,

I’m sure you have noticed that we’ve been MIA for the last week or so. I regret to inform you all that Short Story Salad will be shutting down for a while. We cannot say when we will resume our story telling, I apologize. Everyone is well, but different commitments in life have pulled us away. We will try to post up the last of our stories soon.

Though this site has only been up since Fall 2013, we were writing on our other websites since the summer of that year.We thank you all for your interest and for coming with us this past year of storytelling.

Take care,

bernicons

Bundts and Bolts, Part 3

bernicons            Of course I make a break for it, but I slam right into a the largest pair of tits I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. Jessica, as it turns out is a lovely woman, towering at nearly six feet tall with a wide build like some valkyrie or something. Jessica grabs my arms and twists them behind my back.

            I wince. “Hey! Be gentle, gorgeous.” I can at least get the satisfaction that I made her blush.

            Still, Jessica’s grip is as strong as iron and she removes my sister’s cake from my grasp and passes it to Agatha.

            “Creator Agatha, be careful with the costumer,” says UB and I’m almost touched.

            “She’s not a customer, UB. She’s a thief,” her words drip with loathing and her breath smells of burnt sugar. “Who are you?”

            “Does that really matter? You caught me. Call the police already.”

            “Don’t you worry about that.”

            “Yeah? Just know you’re ruining a little girl’s birthday!”

            UB’s digital face drops into a frown. “Birthday?”

            “Yeah, my sister’s!” I turn to Agatha, “Look, you’re prices are too high. But that little cupcake you’re charging through the nose for would make her entire year. So let me have it.”

            Agatha rolls her eyes so deep into her head I think she’s about to faint. “You know we sell day-old goods at half price, right? We even donate the majority of our leftovers to charity. You went through a lot of extra effort just to get yourself into jail. Why should I buy your story.”

            “Because I wouldn’t be in a ten block radius of your little bakery otherwise! I think you’re smug little operation is stupid, and now I know why you all keep you’re chef here a secret. You can’t really sell the ‘old family recipe’ crap with a robot.”

            “Is there something wrong with your food?” asks UB. Man, that things was just a little too considerate. I look up to speak but catch my breath when I saw how disappointed it is.

            “They are family recipes for your information,” said Agatha. “UB here just makes things more efficient.”

            I glance over at UB who stares at the cake it was just decorating with this immense sense of disappointment. “Look, man, I didn’t mean it-“

            “Hey, don’t talk to him!” Agatha pinch the bridge of her nose with frustration. “Jessica, tie this fool to the post over there. Grams will figure this out.”

            Jessica brings me over to a pillar at the side of the room and secured me with one of those zip tie things. She pauses. “How old is your sister?”

            I smile. “10.”

            She nods and looks away before following Agatha out the kitchen. I hear the sad hum of UB approaching and I halfway wonder if I’m just projecting the sadness in its movements.

            There’s a fork of cake in front of my face. “Wha-?”

            “Has this human tried UB’s creation yet?” it asks me.

            I shake my head. “No, I haven’t.”

            It’s digital yellow face appears determined. “Then you will!” It pauses, “Is this human allergic to any standard baking ingredients?”

            I shake my head again and before I can even say no, the cake is in my mouth. I almost cough it out because of the shock of the moment but the luscious creaminess that is the frosting overwhelms my gag reflex. Shit this is good.

            I don’t even need to say it, UB can see my approval in my expression. “Good. Another!” This goes on for like at least another minute and I’m full of cake. It’s only when Agatha comes back with Jessica and Grams does UB stop.

            “Looks like our baker has taken a liking to you,” says the little old lady with missing teeth.

            “Yeah-” my words are lost between the confectionary chewing.

            “Tell me,” she begins, “Is that you said true, that you wanted a cake for your little sister’s birthday?”

            I gulp the cake and nod, staring the old woman in the eye.

            She appears unimpressed but nods. “So be it.”

 

            My little sister likes to visit me when I’m working at the bakery. This is the deal we worked out with the Bundts and Bolts family; I work off my debt and promise not to tell anyone about my new buddy UB. Jessica is taking me out on our second date this Wednesday, UB wants to bake a cake in celebration. Typical.

Bundts and Bolts, Part 2

kellyiconThe robot stares at me with two yellow, digitized eyes. Are those even its eyes? It looks more like a display, like one of those faces they give robots working in construction and road work to make them seem more human. If that’s the case, than whoever built this thing fucked up royally. It was short, about five feet tall. The robot stood on one, thick metal leg, which was probably motorized to let it get around. The torso – if you could call it that – was made up of a rotating selection of spatulas, knives, various cups probably used for measuring, and any other tool for baking you could imagine, like the Swiss Army knife of baking. The robot probably attached and detached them from his hands as needed. On top of this was the screen that made up its face. The screen’s expression was pleasant enough, a bemused smile, but put the whole thing together and it was like a machine out of a nightmare. A cake-baking nightmare.

“What the actual fuck,” I said. I still hadn’t moved from my spot at the door. Too busy gaping at the world’s first baking robot like an idiot.

“Can UB help you, human? Perhaps you would enjoy one of our many types of baked goods?”

“Uh, yeah, actually,” I said, and eased open the door; the robot’s big yellow eyes followed me as I closed the door behind me, so maybe it really did see through the TV screen it called a head. I glanced this way and that, checking to see if anybody living was waiting to jump out of a corner and bust me. It looked clear enough. This was going to be the easiest robbery in history. “Do you have one of those little one-serving cakes? Strawberry with cream cheese frosting?”

“Indeed we do, human!” The robot sounded excited, but they were programmed to express – simulate? – positive emotions when helping humans. I always thought that just made them creepier.

The robot puttered over to a large, industrial size wheeled shelf and picked up a tray of small cakes. Bigger than you’re average cupcake but still meant for one person, the little things were the rage of all the town. Expensive as all hell, but treating them as a special treat just seemed to make people love them all the more.

The robot picked up the little strawberry cake so gently it reminded me of someone picking up a small kitten.

“Here you are, human,” it said, a digital smile now plastered over its face-screen. “Would you like UB to box this for you? Extensive research into our customer response surveys has shown that many humans enjoy being presented this cake as a gift.”

“No thanks, robot,” I said. I took the cake from it. It was really a thing of beauty. The frosting was white and smooth cream cheese, and someone had drawn a strawberry onto it with strawberry topping, and the whole thing was topped off with a little pink frosting flower next to the strawberry.

“Did you make this, robot?”

“I did, human. It brought me much satisfaction to see many humans enjoy this one’s creations.”

“Satisfaction? You’re programmed to feel pride of your work?”

The robot didn’t blink, but if he had working eyes, the silence that followed my question made me think it’d be blinking.

“That question does not compute, human.”

“I mean – “

“Oh, shit!”

I whirled around to see a woman in a white baking apron standing at the door I had just walked through. Her eyes were huge with shock and her mouth kept contorting from anxiety to anger and back again.

“What the hell are you doing here?” She practically yelled at me, so I guess she settled on anger.

“I, uh…”

The woman slammed the door behind her, and the resounding boom that echoed off the walls filled me with a pit of dread, like I had stumbled into something I wasn’t supposed to see. It occurred to me for the first time that there was probably a reason why they had never made their robo-baker public.

“Is something the matter, Creator Agatha?” the robot asked.

“No, nothing’s wrong, UB. Everything’s fine,” the woman said, waving away the robot’s question. She stormed past me toward the front of the store and stuck her head through the door that separated the store front from the kitchen.

“JESSICA! Get your ass in here! We have a problem.”

Game(Rules) Part 2

berniconsI nod, washing the oil and dirt away from my face. Waking up can be the hardest part but I got up. And I will have a piece of leftover ice cream cake as reward for level one. When I bring my eyes back up to the mirror, she stares at me. It’s a hard, well weathered stare. She tells me that I have to do this. Every day, wake up, repeat the rules, go through the day, get home, sleep and repeat.

 

You know what you did. And I nod. And for that, I live on repeat. But at least I live, I can’t say the same for-

 

You can’t say their names. Not out loud. No, never out loud. It’s not a rule but it’s Breaking something none the less. I shut my mouth and she nods at me. Yes. This is what needs to be done.

 

There’s a single mountain of ice cream cake swimming in a lake of cream speckled with the chocolate crunchy insides sitting in my bowl. Time must have past because I don’t remember sitting down to eat this slice at all. I’m late. I slurp up the cream and crunchies, toss the bowl into the sink and rush out the door. I start to form the reasons in my head. The bus was late. I forgot my cell phone. I saved a cat from a tree.

 

I go with the cell phone excuse and they seem to believe me. They care more about a game coming out in the fall and something about who they are going to date in which play through. I want to join in the conversation. I remember I used to play games like that, read books, watch movies. I liked stories. Before the breath leaves my lips, I see her in the faded reflection of the vending machine. She shakes her head. I know she’s right. It’s hard enough to keep my own Story straight. I don’t need others to confuse me.

 

I can’t help it but I’m always shocked when I hear the names. They were common enough names, people aren’t all that creative so of course I’m going to hear them. Today is a Not Good day. There’s a Matthew, an Amber and a James in the store. A group of kids that are just goofing off and chatting it up but I couldn’t help it. I jumped when I heard Amber. My coworker laughs at me and I laugh it off, saying I thought I saw a hornet or something. Game face back on. I don’t need her to remind me to do it.

 

Late lunch, more like a dinner. But it’s a sub so I count it as a lunch. I scribble it down in my notepad. If someone asks about it I tell them I’m just keeping up with my daily purchases. Satisfied that it’s not some kind of diary they leave it alone. The sub as avocado on it. It’s a nice treat. One of the few.

 

It rains on the way home but I don’t mind. I only Broke one rule today, and just barely. I get to do a little yoga and play online checkers online with strangers. People that I’ll never know and they’ll never know me so I’ll be able to rest easy when I go to bed. The clouds are heavy overhead, it’s dark. I can see her in the dark reflections of the windows I pass. I don’t want to look but I know she’s nodding in approval. Another day, another Round won. If I can keep this up, maybe… There’s no maybes. Just Rounds, just days.

 

I’m tracking rain into the hallway of the apartment building but there’s little I can do. It’ll dry up, and by the looks of it, I’m not the first person to have trudged through the hall like this. For some reason my keys are always hard to find and they never open the door well, always getting jammed. I wish they stayed jammed this time because when I open the door I look down and see a sheet of paper on the ground, laying in the place where the mail slot would have left it. Still wet from the rain outside. I know about Matthew, Amber and James is scribbled hastily on the surface. I don’t need a reflection to know she’s glaring at me.

Guest Writer 1

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So we promised guest writers and we have started! Welcome Imani! Our first guest writer!

Here’s a brief write up from our special guest:

Mostly Imani just thinks she’s awesome. She has a mostly boring life however that says otherwise but everyone’s got to have dreams. Imani in turn has a cat, a five year plan, student loans out the wazoo and a fondness for 2nd person fiction. She can be found here on twitter (displaying her not so hidden love of Calvin & Hobbes or here at the blog she never updates because her life really isn’t as awesome as she likes to tell people it is.

Thanks for joining us this week, Imani!

Game(Rules), Part 1

guesticonYou play this game with yourself. It’s not a fun game – and to be fair it’s less of a game and more of a set of rules but really who’s to stop you from calling it a game in the comforts of your own head? This is a game you’re long since familiar with. Each day is a new day of play. Your game is a solitary one but then again most of your life is. You’d say you prefer it that way but that’s a lie and you do your level best not to lie to yourself, you lie to too many other people about too many other things.

 

You keep the rules of your game (your life) simple less you forget them; trying to remember things is part of the game as well. Level one goes like this (rule one:) If you get up without hitting the snooze you can eat whatever you like for breakfast, no one will judge you. Rewards are key to success, keep all rewards equal to in value to the task accomplished.

 

Level two (Rule two:) Game face must be worn from the second you step foot out the door till the second you return at the end of the day. You don’t want anyone to know that what you’re saying on the outside doesn’t match what you’re thinking on the inside. When you were younger – naive and foolish and oh so much younger – this was a hard and you lost this level a lot (broke this rule a lot). It was even harder back before when you lived with other people the space that made up “safe space” and “every place else” was a lot smaller. There was less down time, you slipped a lot, gave away things, said little things you thought were okay that were definitely Not Good. Older you, current you, you don’t live with anyone, you’ll never make that mistake again. A Good Day earns you…well this earns you nothing but the lack of stress and in turn if you fail the stress to be Better is it’s own punishment.

 

Level three (Rule three:) write everything down. Where you’ve been, who you saw, what you’ve told them, if you ate today, what you ate today, did you wear that shirt this week. Everything because details are important and getting tripped up because you can’t remember the details would be the most shameful way to get caught. And getting caught forgetting isn’t something you ever want to image the ramifications of. If you go the day without messing up, without having to confer with your notes in an obvious way – because what would be the point of keeping notes if you didn’t look at them? – you gpet to go home and do nothing. Absolutely nothing and it is the most glorious thing to do, your most favorite thing to do. If you fail however the punishment is to put yourself through your paces. To go through your notes and study, everything until you know it so well you dream it.

 

Your game is simple and it keeps your life uncomplicated and you protected. You exist within the parameters of your game and you find great comfort in knowing that these are things you’ve done and can continue to do.

 

Once back a long long time ago you tried to think of a way for your game to end. You tried slowly once to ease out of it, to do what other people seemed to do but it left you feeling….wrong. Too many comments were made, about your pyshical state of being, your mental state of awareness and really just all the things you want people not to look to hard and long at.

Excuse Me, Princess, Part 1

kellyiconThe church bell rang in great, thundering tones, the bellows of a giant echoing across the city. The whole capitol was in a frenzy; along with the church bells belting out that ungodly racket, there were the shouts and curses of the city guards, the barking of excited dogs, and the clattering of hooves and cart wheels against the stone streets. Winona imagined the city – built into the side of a hill and crowned by a castle built of stone so white to this day the people swore it was built with magic – as a great anthill, all its workers running around in a panic at the behest of its queen.

Every single one of them was looking for her.

To be more specific, they were looking for what she had just stolen. The princess sat obediently on the horse, hand tied to the reigns and dressed for all the world as a simple peasant’s daughter. Winona led them down the dirt path leading away from the capitol, trying not to smile at her latest success. God, she was good. It would take the guards ages to search the city and realize the princess was long gone. By the time they had realized the princess was gone, Winona and the princess were already on their way to the next town.

“You’re a villain,” the princess sniffed. She had the most miserable expression on her face, and she had looked that way ever since her last escape attempt. She had slipped off the horse and ran to a traveling merchant ahead of them, begging him to believe she was the princess. Winona had simply apologized to the man for her ‘younger sister’s’ wild imagination, and explained that the girl was just a tad touched in the head. He had smiled at them, handed the princess a bright red apple, tipped his hat and went on his way. Winona made sure the girl was tied tight to the reigns from then on.

“Guilty as charged,” Winona said.

The princess apparently didn’t know how to respond to such a confession of Winona’s moral failures. They traveled in silence for the next mile, where they came upon a fork in the road. Winona took them off the main Royal Highway and onto the little dirt road that would lead them to one of the smaller villages far from the capitol. They were making good time, and less than two days away from their destination.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Money.”

“For such a reason you’d kidnap me? Your queen’s daughter?”

“Your mom’s no queen of mine, princess.”

“I have a name! It’s Rosa!”

“You can call yourself Sweet Pea for all I care,” Winona said.

“What’s your name?”

Winona suddenly had a vision of the next twenty miles being nothing but a game of Twenty Questions with an indignant fourteen-year-old.

“You can’t be stupid enough to think I’d tell you that.” The princess huffed, and probably would have crossed her arms if she could have. Winona wondered what it must be like living in a castle, filthy rich and with a small army of servants catering to her every will. Well, after this job, Winona would have the money and the servants, too. Two out of three wasn’t bad.

“What will happen to me?”

Winona glanced behind her. The girl’s face had fallen, all haughtiness forgotten.

“I hand you off to my employer, he pays me, he sends a ransom note to your dear mama, your mama pays it, and we all go home happy and filthy rich.”

“Do you promise?”

“Promise what?”

“Promise me I’ll be okay?”

Winona didn’t glance back this time. Instead, she kept her eyes focused on the road.

“Yes, I promise.”

* * *

The inn wasn’t pretty, or spacious, or even particularly clean. There was one bed and one thin, ratty blanket, and Winona could hear the wind whistling through gaps in the walls.

“You can’t expect me to sleep there,” Rosa said. She looked at the bed like one would regard a mangy, rabid mutt.

“Either that or the floor,” Winona said. She forced off her boots with her foot and crashed onto the bed. “Here, you can even have the blanket. Just remember, if you try to escape, that these roads are full of bandits who’d love to get their hands on a pretty girl like you.”

Rosa slipped into bed a few minutes later, and Winona blew out their bedside candle. Winona didn’t stay awake long enough to know if the girl hard fallen asleep; when she had finally drifted off, Rosa’s breathing was still curled into a tight little ball and her breathing was harsh and shallow. Was she crying? Winona dismissed the thought. The girl would be fine; hell, she’d be back home and under her down-feather comforters in less than a week.

“Help!”

Winona started awake to find a knife held against her throat. A man – or woman, she couldn’t tell in the darkness – stood over her, holding the knife, while someone else pulled Rosa toward the window.

“Help me! Please! You promised!”

Simulation 14, Part 1

raboicons

I miss him.”

* * *

The bowl shatters across the wall and sends porcelain shards and noodles in a cascade against the tile. Each piece, as it flies away and begins falling to the floor disintegrates into nothingness as it gets further from Jeanette, as if it is falling away into pixels. She doesn’t see that though, or notice it. It’s not a part of the memory; it’s part of what’s left of it.

“How could you fuck her? How could you do that to me?”

He’s looking at her from across the counter, his eyes full of a rage as vivid as the one she feels. She knows there will be hell to pay for the broken bowl but the time for that is later. She also knows that if she doesn’t express her anger somehow now there will be much more than broken bowls tomorrow.

“It just happened. You were gone and–”

Her hands fly from the counter where she’d rested them and she pulls her eyes away from him to look out the window behind her. There is no landscape outside but her eyes don’t tell her that, only that this is what she sees. A featureless landscape of a color that is less than white and more than nothing.

“I was gone for a week! While I was telling my mother how much I cared about you, you were fucking her! You were inside her and I was gushing over how in love we are. How is that okay?”

“Look, I know. It’s not okay but you have to understand.”

She looks at him then and she sees that he’s crying. She sees that his knuckles are white against the pale brown counter as he clutches the edge and she’s no longer sure who carries more rage or desperation.

She reaches across the counter to touch his fingers.

* * *

His hand is like a white hot iron across her face and as her head cocks sideways she can feel the imprint of each fingertip across her cheek and know that there will be an outline there tomorrow. The skin stings and burns where his hand has left her face but the pain of the second slap is far worse.

“Baby!”

The words are more squeak than a voice as they come out but they’re drowned out by the smack of his palm on her cheek again. She can feel him pulsing inside her with each contact and each searing spasm means she can feel herself contract around him.

“That’s too hard. Please. . .”

She presses her knees to his sides as hard as she can as she rides him and starts to squirm from the pain. The tear of her bottom lip leaves a streak of red across his palm and she sees the blood as his hands reach to her hips and pull her down harder on him, lifting her and bouncing her body off of him.

“No.”

And then she’s on her back and he’s holding her down. His giant hand is wrapped around her wrists above her head and his body is on top of her, pushing against her. His other hand wraps around her neck and starts to squeeze as he pounds into her, pushing her head against the wall as she chokes under his fingers.

* * *

Each drop of blood that falls from his fingers seems to be accompanied by a tear falling from his eyes but not a single drop of fluid touches the ground, instead seeming to disappear. Each splotch, red or clear, never forms on her dress or on the floor but Jeanette neither notices it or sees it. That’s not part of the memory. It’s part of what is left of it.

“Baby, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I made you so angry.”

“My hand. . .”

His hand is a mangled mess and around them on the floor she can see the shards of the mirror. Small slivers are stuck in his knuckles and she turns his hand over in her own, examining it. The wounds are shallow and it doesn’t seem broken.

“I’m so sorry baby, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean to do it. . .”

She wraps her arms around him and gently pulls his injured hand behind her as she does. His body is wider than her own but she manages to surround him and his head falls against her shoulder and begins to weep.

Each of his tears soak into the sleeve of her top accompanied by her voice.

“It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.

* * *

How can you say that? After he hurt you so much.”

But that’s is. When he hurt me was the only time I felt real.”

. . . Terminate Simulation 14 . . .