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

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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 . . .

Bundts and Bolts, Part 1

bernicons            Bundts and Bolts is the name of the bakery downtown that’s been getting a lot of hype lately. It almost went out of business not two years ago, back when it was known as No Bundts About It when some cyber chick freaked out when she found an actual lug nut in the cupcake. Everyone else found it to be hilarious but the cyber community freaked the fuck out. The owners almost went bankrupt with the legal fees. Yet, somehow, they pulled out of that shitstorm and were now the talk of the town. People line up around the block for an over-priced mini cupcake. They renamed the place to the aforementioned establishment as a not-so-subtle screw you to the cybers that wanted the place shut down.

So why do I even care, you ask? Why am I trying to break into the kitchen at Bundts and Bolts? I need a small cake for my little sister’s birthday. It’s already 4pm and there’s no way I’d get something if I went to the back of the line now. Even then you’re more likely to see me lick a pastor’s boot than see me pay over $60 for cake. I told Clare that I could get her a much bigger cake from the corner store and she could eat at least twice as much but I knew what she was thinking. She passes the bakery everyday on her way to school and all her classmates talk about having been there for a home-made, old fashioned, artisan crafted-bullshit, confectionary treat, everyone but her. I can’t afford to get Clare much, I can barely afford the studio we live in, but I can snag a cake for her. It’s what I do best after all. Yeah, okay, people don’t like thieves, but if that bitch with the moped wanted to keep the damned thing, she should have tried harder.

Across the street from Bunts and Bolts I see a group of cybers sneering at the place. One of them’s got a robo third eye embedded into the middle of her forehead with e blinking bindi  between her eyes. Flannel shirts, fake flowers braided into their hair and beards, listening to music from a dubstep group you know you’ve never heard a song from. All three of the lady’s eyes stare me down as I walk into the back alley behind them. I swear, if Clare ever comes home asking for some kind of cyber augmentation I will personally move us out into the country and get us as off the grid as we can get… okay not really. No one lives in the sticks but new-age hippies with gardens for front yards who then complain if someone like me takes an eggplant…

Out of sight, out of mind. I climb up the fire escape to get a lay of the land as I continue across the power lines toward Bolts, it’s cool, nobody ever looks up anymore so nobody even sees me. At a glance, the place looks pretty under-secured but at a closer look… it’s exactly like. I’m really surprised actually, you’d think that they’d have this place locked up a little tighter. A lot of people say it’s the bakery’s new lead baker that’s so masterfully brought this place back up into the public eye, a baker that doesn’t like the public eye and thus has never had an interview. What? Has nobody ever even tried to break in? I land just outside on the docking bay where I guess they must unload all their flour and sugar and whatnot. They’ve got a combination lock- a combination lock. I’m insulted. My laser bolt cuts make quick work of it and I manage to lift the door just enough as to not make so much noise and wiggle my way in.

I hear people in the front room, trying to haggle the price of an almost day-old cannoli but it’s surprisingly quite back here. I mean, I know that it’s close to closing time but wouldn’t some people be runnin’ about trying to get their last orders filled? I shrug and continue on. In and out with the cake, that’s all I need. Turns out that the kitchen one door down from the loading bay. There’s someone in there for sure, I can hear them humming, so I open the door just a crack to get a peek and see what I’m up against.

Icing squirts out of two of its fingers, creating two separate rings of  decoration on the outer lip and middle of the cake. It does this without even turning the cake on a lazy susan because its elbow just turns in the socket with such automated swiftness I almost missed it. When it’s done it spreads its fingers out so that a thin lining of metal can connect the fingers together forming a kind of spatula to smooth out the frosting on the sides. Its face is a black screen with big, yellow, digitized eyes inspecting its work closely. Then a small smile forms on the screen below the eyes. Its happy with its creation.

My mouth falls open. A robot is the lead baker? I must be leaning against the door to much because it opens just a little more and the fucking thing squeaks. The robot turns its head toward me with a surprised look on its digital face.

“Can UB help you, human?” it asks.

Must Be This Tall to Ride, Part 1

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The Number 14A was late. The Number 14A was always late.

Artino had taken to calling it the “Number Late-Teen A” in his thoughts but the extra twenty minute wait at the stop honestly wasn’t the worst thing in the world. He always left an hour early, just in case, and the extra time to himself was always a nice reprieve from the twelve hour shifts and the monotony of home. Still, it would be nice if the bus could come on time, at least once this millennium.

But today it wasn’t and after an hour and ten minutes Artino was starting to get a little antsy. If he showed up more than fifteen minutes late at the office they would dock his day’s pay and still expect him to finish the shift. Not only that, he’d have to speed through cleaning the first two floor’s bathrooms and bins. Not something he ever looked forward to, though doing it faster wasn’t that much harder than doing it slow.

If only there were jobs closer to home; the only work for Altairians was in the city as cleaners, janitors, dishwashers, and bellboys and that meant taking the bus. No one would hire one for anything else, especially out in the suburbs and honestly, the work was pretty well suited to his kind, if degrading. Standing about three feet tall on average, their race had fallen right into the roles of servants since they’d landed on Earth thirty years ago. Not that any of those from that first wave were left alive, what with their lifespans lasting only fifteen to twenty of the local’s years.

Scratching his left hind ear Artino thought of his grandfather Marcina, one of the original scouts for the first landing ships. He remembered how the old one would complain endlessly of the life they’d found here. He’d talk all day about how desperate the command crew of the massive generation ship had been and how they’d picked this planet as the only inhabitable one in range as the stocks ran low. Of course even that had been many generations before grandpa; at least 100 of the Earth years.

Second Grandmother Icknaria, though, would always stop him and say how grateful they should be that the humans had taken them in at all, what with their desperation, but then First Grandmother Asnap would scream and yell and flap her four arms about how this was no heaven, how they were all slaves, etc. etc.

Sometimes Artino was glad the old cunt was dead.

Number 14A Bus is canceled for the next two cycles due to mechanical difficulties.”

The words started to scroll across the top of the stop as Artino was lost in sight and on the second pass he noticed them, only to stand with attention. If the bus was canceled he would not only loose his pay for the shift but he would end up being docked for the week. An entire week without pay would mean he, his three parents, two di-wives, and six children would go without food for the meantime.

Two other Arturians stood up at the same time and began to fidget nervously, edging closer to the electric rails which the buses rode on, eyeing each other and looking up at the sky as if the weather might somehow affect the bus schedules. The weather on their home world, though no Arturian had seen it in millions of their own years, had harsh enough weather to imprint on their instincts even now.

Looking to his right he noticed that one of the others on the platform was dressed a little shabbier than those who were obviously here on their way to work. That one was dressed in the same humanistic clothes as the rest of them but his were festooned with little splashes of color and a head scarf of brilliant red geometric patterns. The styles of their home world were catching on with a part of the youth, Artino had heard, especially those in the new movement for Arturian rights.

What ones weren’t imprisoned or “disappeared” by the humans.

The Number 14 bus though, rolled right in on time as they fidgeted and when it did the couple of humans waiting patiently on their own bench stood up and started to walk toward it, making a point to not look down at the aliens or notice their presence at all, much less their anxiety.

Artino looked at the screen on the side of the bus emblazoned with number 14 and the time, doing the math in his head as he figured that if he could somehow take this bus he would make it on time to work, but barely. Of course he wouldn’t be allowed on the 14 bus proper, that was only for humans, but maybe they would listen to his plight. Maybe this once, he’d even pay double the Arturian fair. Surely they’d take that since the human buses were free.

Rushing toward the door as it whooshed open he stood behind the two humans and after each walked aboard he lifted his small left feet to put them upon the bottom step. Mid way through though, the bus driver, an older human woman with dark skin, stood up and shouted down at him.

“Hey, don’t y’all see the goddamn sign?”

Of course Artino saw it though, that sign that he’d seen so many times in so many variations. Must be this tall to ride, the words emblazoned in red against a marker at roughly three and a half feet.

“But I really have to get to work and I–” His voice the deep monotone of his race, was cut off by the woman before he could finish.

“Yeah yeah, and don’t be tellin’ me that shit. Sign say’s y’all can’t get on so back off before I call the cops.”

“But I–”

“Hey, stumps, let me tell you–”

And quicker than either one could register there was the one in the shabby clothes and the Arturian scarft between the two of them staring up at the woman on the steps with her angry eyes and shouting in the same deeply baritone voice as Artino, “Who you callin’ stumps, huh sec-mo fucker?”

“Y’all better back off ‘fore the cops get here. I just pushed the panic button and you. . .”

But she went silent when the other one’s second left arm came out holding the gun and reaching out toward her head with the barrel pressed nearly against her cheek.

“What now, whistle?”

 

The Hill, Part 1

bernicons9:13 pm

It accorded to Jasmine that her gasping for air could easily give away her position as she trotted down the steep hill, Mausmi slung over her shoulder. For every step Jasmine took, Mausmi’s body bounced limply in reply. Jasmine could feel Mausmi’s breath, hot  on her arm, doing nothing to relieve the sweat beading and rolling down her weakening arms. There was no time to stop and catch her breath. No time to try and wake Mausmi up. Barely any time to run, but it was all Jasmine had.

Roots seemed to cruelly pull themselves up from the ground to try and trip Jasmine as she fled the scene. For every step she took her feet sunk a little deeper into the freshly rained on mud on the hillside, and with every step she heaved a little harder to make her way. From what little light Jasmine saw filtering in through the autumn canopy, she figured the storm was finally passing.

Howls of angry hounds echoed behind Jasmine. Her heart leapt into her throat almost so completely she couldn’t breathe. No, they couldn’t have come-to already. She glanced behind her and could hardly see the faint glow of torchlight over Mausmi’s thigh.

That was when Jasmine’s foot slid under a thick, gnarled root that had been dug out after the fierce rainwater tore at the ground only a half hour earlier. First she felt the pain of her ankle twisting and she wondered briefly if the weight would be too much and it would break or hold and it would only be severely sprained. Then she realized that in her shock, her grip on Mausmi’s limbs had given way and her body flew from her shoulders. Happening far too fast and yet disgustingly slow, Jasmine reached out for Mausmi’s hand. Looking at her face, she could tell that Mausmi still hadn’t regained consciousness, but if she could just grab her arm, her hand‒ perhaps could avoid snapping on the trunk of the tree she was headed for.

 

5:36pm

Mausmi patted the bark on a sturdy oak. “This one. I like.”

Jasmine let out a half-laugh, mostly to try and mask her winded breath. “Alright, Yoda… why?”

“Why? Isn’t he a beaut?” Mausmi stretched out her arms and took in a long deep breath of the air. The sun made it still yet warm even at this hour, when the chill in the fall air should have nipped at them unpleasantly. She was enjoying this, which made sense, she was an out-doorsy type.

Jasmine could claim no such title. She pulled off her hoodie, expecting it to be soaked in sweat, and was surprised when it wasn’t. She shrugged and wrapped it around her waist. Mausmi was waiting for her at the crest of the hill, and clapped encouragingly as Jasmine finally reached her girl. Jasmine collapsed on the grass, eyes closed. “Leave me, I can’t go any farther.”

Mausmi giggled. “I’d never leave a soldier behind!”

Jasmine opened one eye, peering at Mausmi. “Careful there, you sound like your Dad.” Mausmi playfully kicked Jasmine’s side. Jasmine grabbed her torso and cringed as if she was in great pain. “Ahh! Why would you hurt a man when he’s down! It’s unsportsmen like!”

Mausmi knelt down and pushed Jasmine to sit up. “Shut up and look at that view!” Jasmine had her eyes screwed shut. “C’mon!”

“Fine, fine,” relented Jasmine. She opened one eye tentatively, then the other and smirked a crooked grin. She could see for miles out into the valley. She could even see the little town with the little Victorian B&B they were staying at. The hills that lead into the mountains were washed in waves of lush, warm colors. There were some storm clouds starting to roll in over those mountains, but other than that, it was all so picturesque. “Alright, yes. This is beauti-”

Mausmi pulled Jasmine toward her and kissed her lips. Jasmine returned the affection, with interest.

A hound’s bark interrupted the moment. Mausmi looked up and blushed, Jasmine turned toward a woman staring at them with a grey hound dog at her side. Jasmine scratched her head, coughed and waved at the new party. “Hey there, friend.”

First, Do No Harm, Part 1

kellyiconThe receptionist-slashed-counselor ran her long, manicured nails through her hair, thoroughly fed up that I was taking up her time. An hour had passed by since I stepped into her small office, and since then the meticulously put-together and initially polite woman now looked like she was at the end of her rope.

“Mr. Jones, we’ve been very clear about this,” she said, and to be fair, even though her lips were pursed so tightly the skin around them was white, her professional tone never faulted. I wondered how many angry family and spouses she had dealt with as part of her job. “We don’t typically allow significant others or even family members to see the patient at this stage.”

On the wall behind her were several medical degrees in dour, professional-looking frames. A betting man could make good money wagering on how many of them came from the internet.

“The patient is still too unstable to receive visitors at this stage, and Dr. Lowe…”

“Wouldn’t want me calling my lawyer after seeing how you people operate?” I said, cutting her off. Whatever sympathy I had for her was cut short by the fact that she was standing between me and Emily. “You might be seeing a lawyer at this rate as it is. I don’t think I have to remind you that the last case brought against people like you did not end favorably.”

“Mr. Jones, there’s no need to threaten legal action. Miss Benson was fully aware of the full range of consequences of the procedure and consented willingly.”

“Ma’am, I know that at this point there’s little legal action can do. It won’t be for Emily, you see. It’ll be for me and the joy I will get from watching you and your boss being dragged kicking and screaming into court. Everyone knows that you people prey on the grieving. Do you really think any jury is going to be sympathetic to you?”

Now the woman’s face was completely white, liked someone had sucked the blood from her skin. Her frustration and professional tone were gone, and her hand shook as she reached for her phone.

“I’ll get the doctor for you.”

“Thank you.”

Twenty minutes later she led me down a hallway. It looked just like a proper doctor’s office if you didn’t know what was going on here. Besides the receptionist office, there was an examination room, a recovery room, and a room for X-rays. Beyond that, though, was a larger room behind two double doors. An audible hum came from behind the doors. The receptionist didn’t lead me through the doors, though. Instead, she turned left and led me to the office of Dr. Lowe. She hovered just outside the door and knocked lightly.

“Dr. Lowe, the fiance of Miss Benson would like a word with you.”

Dr. Lowe was a handsome man, with wavy brown hair curling around his chin, warm brown eyes, and a professional-looking lab coat. He looked up from his paper work covering his desk and frowned.

“You know we don’t see family until after the procedure is done, Brittany.”

“Yes, Doctor, but Mr. Jones was quite insistent.”

Dr. Lowe let out a little “ah” and waved her away. He motioned for me to come inside. He leaned back and rested his arm over the back of his chair, his eyes roaming over my face as if he could figure out what I was here for if he just looked hard enough. I took every fiber of my self-control not to throttle the smug-looking bastard.

“What seems to be the problem, Mr….Jones, was it?”

“I think you know very well what the problem is. I demand to see my fiancee.”

“You can demand all you want, sir, but we can’t let you see the patient until the procedure is finished. She’s too unstable. Upsetting her now could cause permanent damage to her psyche.”

“And removing her soul somehow isn’t permanent damage?” I said. “You hacks have stolen my fiance from me, and I’m here to save what’s left of her.”

Dr. Lowe’s eyes flickered and stared at something over my shoulder for a minute, and I didn’t have to look to know Brittany was probably there, her finger hovering over the button to call for the cops.

“Insult my profession all you like, Mr. Jones. As much as you would like to believe it so, we never deceive our patients. In fact, we try our very best to convince them to pursue less drastic means of dealing with their emotional pain. But for some, like your fiancee, find that traditional therapy and psychiatric treatment does not work. Instead of living with so much unnecessary grief and emotional torment, they turn to us so they can go back to living productive lives.” Dr. Lowe spread his arms wide and smiled. “We don’t remove people’s emotions to be cruel. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s a mercy, if you think about it.”

July 28, Part 1

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London

28 July 2114

The Government of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland), not having answered in a satisfactory manner the note of July 23, 2114, presented via electronic message by the British consulate in Berlin, the Royal Government of the United Kingdoms are themselves compelled to see to the safeguarding of their rights and interests and, with this object, to have recourse to force of arms.

The United Kingdom consequently considers herself henceforward in state of war with Germany.

Herbert Abu Lughod

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

“What the hell?”

Sam blinked the image away from his eye and looked at Sgt. March. The Sergeant blinked his own left eye too and looked back at Sam and the other privates, knowing that each of them would have had the same message showing on their own implants, sent by the command.

“They can’t mean that? War with the Germans? What about the rest of the damn EU?”

March cleared his throat and stood up from the mess hall table, his chair screeching across the smooth cement floor as he did.

“It appears they have boys, and what the other Peons do is up to them. I suppose old France will step in beside us and the Italians as well. God knows what the rest will do.”

“But–”

And the rest of the mess hall, each private, NCO, and officer slowly coming to the realizations which the message brought, stood up and began to shout, began to talk all as one. Some yelled encouragement and cheered, others began shout disbelief while a few stared gently off into space, lost in thought.

“Goddamn Germans, you know this has got to do with Israel–”

“Yeah, we may be declaring war on them but god knows they started it stepping up to Israel’s plate after they nuked the goddamn Egyptians–”

“Fucking Sand Niggers had it coming, you ask me–”

“But what about the Ukraine? They have to come in–”

“Oh god, and the Russians. What the fuck will they–”

“Always the fucking Jews innit–”

“Hey, shut up you fucker. Jews ain’t got nothing to do with it. Those Israeli assholes can fuck off and I won’t be dumped with ’em–”

Sam looked down at his own hands and thought of his brother in Jerusalem, or somewhere outside of it, working on a kibbutz. Of course all the bother over Israel had been all over the news but who could have known that there could be a war? And between the civilized states. Over Arabs.

“See what the Chinese do, that’ll be the decidin’ factor, you ask me. Goddamn gooks’ll–”

“Oh, but you know the damn Yanks ‘ave a hand in it too.”

“Ten, hut!”

The Lt. Colonel walked smartly into the mess hall, his adjutant at his side. All in the mess hall stood at attention and as a unit became silent. Colonel Whittaker was not known for his forgiving tendencies.

“Gentlemen, as you all have been made aware by the high command, we are in a state of war. I am sure that many of you have been following the appropriate news channels and are aware that we may be at war with many states but at the moment it is sufficient to say that is of no matter. All feeds are being cut off as of now. Your services will go silent shortly, so I suggest you use them while you can.”

The room remained silent of words then but there were gasps and squeaks of surprise. Many in the room had never in their lives been completely cut off from the web. Many were terrified.

“Further, to those of you who may have kin in the German Republic, do not worry. This is not a shooting war and there is little to worry about at this juncture. That being said, we will start now on high alert. Let it be known that–”

Sam looked up then, along with every other face in the room including that of Colonel Whittaker. The distinctive sound of one of the new Eurofighter Toureg fighter-bombers shattered his thoughts as surely as it shattered the commanders words and it was only in the briefest of moments that he realized the sound he’d seen in so many videos, the sound of that plane with the strange new hydrogen turbine engine, was above and in multitude.

It was the sound of that engine that overwhelmed even the sound of the shrapnel and rubble of the far side of the mess hall exploding.

Meet Janice, Part 1

bernicons            The phone had been ringing in a low, calming beeping noise for the past three minutes. Janice raised an eyebrow; there was only one entity that would be willing to be that persistent. She took the phone off the receiver. “Satan’s Office.”

She nodded cool and took some notes, “I’m sorry, Jehovah, but Satan’s in a meeting right now,” She massaged her wrinkled temples, “No. He’s not always in a meeting… Yes, I’ll personally tell him you called.” She hung up.

Janice glanced at the clock and sighed. It was already fifteen past three and there was still so much to do. She got up and straighten her pencil skirt, then proceeded, clipboard in hand to the front door which read;

sign

Janice braced herself and then opened the office door. A wave of heat crashed over her, throwing back her graying brown hair into a wild frenzy  and forcing her blazer to dance to and fro. She adjusted her spectacles. “Mrs. Timely? I have a three fifteen appointment with Mrs. Timely?” she shouted into the flames.

There was a general chorus of screams, groans, growls and crying, but no response to Janice.

“Mrs. Timely?”

“Present!” came a reply.

Janice turned to greet the woman, and raised an eyebrow. She was used to seeing faces down here that didn’t necessarily match the condemned-for-all-entirety profile, but sometimes she was still caught off guard. Mrs. Timely was a head shorter than Janice, with long brown hair that looked like it needed a good brushing. She was old enough to have laugh lines on her face, but too young for wrinkles of any other sort. Janice nodded. “This way.”

  1. Timely followed Janice into the office and breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh! It’s so cool in here!”

Janice put on her work-smile. “Yes, we fixed the AC last week. It was torture otherwise. Please, take a seat.” Mrs. Timely did as she was bid. “Satan will be with you shortly, but first I must clarify your visit.”

“Alright,” said Mrs. Timely, rubbing her hands together.

Janice took up her clipboard. “I already have your name, so… age upon death?”

“35.”

“Religion?”

“Catholic, or I was born into it,” she smiled nervously, “I never really practiced.”

“Few do.” Janice smiled reassuringly, “Finally, cause of death?”

“… Suicide.”

Janice nodded without batting an eye. Mrs. Timely almost seemed surprised. “We don’t judge here, Mrs. Timely, we just take what comes in.”

“Ah,” nodded Mrs. Timely, but it was clear that she didn’t really understand at all. “C-can I ask you something?”

Janice checked her wrist watch. “Hm?”

“Why was I asked here? I’m not sure what procedure is down here, but I-”

When the hand hit twenty past the hour exactly, she gestured for Mrs. Timely to stand up. “Satan will see you now.”

Janice lead a shaking Mrs. Timely into the next room. Satan liked a simple, sleek decor, much to Janice’s disapproval. The room was laid out in black and white, both colors making a bold, artistic statement against each other. Satan, a lover of dramatics, had his chair facing away from the door and out toward the fiery canyon beyond his window. All that could be seen of him as his obsidian spiral horns that crested over his chair. “Please, make yourself comfortable, Mrs. Timely.” His voice was deep and cold, almost like thick snow crunching together.

Per the norm, Janice had to lead, almost drag the woman to the flush chair in front of Satan’s desk. When Mrs. Timely sat, Janice patted her on the shoulder, trying to give her some reminiscence of strength.

“Thank you, Janice,” Satan turned his chair around and Mrs. Timely gasped. Janice knew that sound and it was one more so of surprise than horror. Satan’s skin was a deep, blood red and his eyes were completely black, as black and shiny like his horns. His face was narrow and came to a point at his chin where he wore a goat-like goatee. Janice liked to joke that it was the goatee that they gasped at, but no, rather, it was how kind his face looked. Everything else aside, it was hard to be frightened of Satan. Unless, of course, he wanted you to be.

Satan looked at Janice with an eye that told her she should linger at the door, so she did. Then he turned his attention to the shivering woman. “Welcome, Rebecca, I hope you’re well.” Timely seemed to shutter at her own name. She almost spoke but her words were all mumbled.

“I see.” Satan placed his hands on his desk, “Do you know why I called you here?”

“Because… I took my own life?”

“No. I mean, that’s the reason why you’re in this general area, yes, but not why I set up this appointment.” He cleared his throat, “Rebecca, there are two kinds of people who come to Hell, you see. Those who deserve to be punished for whatever time is necessary… and those who believe they belong here.”

Janice stood ready; this didn’t always go was well as Satan had hoped.

“Rebecca, you belong in the latter category.”Timely looked up, confused. “B-but I took my own life… that’s a sin.”

Satan nodded. “You’re right, that’s a sin. One really shouldn’t squander the gift of life, but we need some context first before we proceed.” Mrs. Timely tensed up. “You killed yourself for a reason. Can you tell me what?” Timely’s breath became audible and shallow. She couldn’t keep looking at Satan and just focused on her shoes.

“Should I start?” asked Satan.

Timely froze. “You know?”

“I know that you were married for six years, Rebecca, to a man that thought he was ‘fixing’ you.” Mrs. Timely grasped the arms of the chair, bracing herself from her own convulsions.

“I know that you fell in love with someone, someone who wasn’t your husband, because you never really loved him.”

Timely threw her head up and protested, “I loved Henry!”

Satan looked her dead in the “But not in the same way you loved Samantha.”

“Timely threw back the chair she was sitting in. “Is this what you do here?! Is this another form of torture!? You’re just rubbing it in aren’t you?! The reason why I did it! The reason why-!” Mrs. Timely suddenly collapsed and held herself tightly. “I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t. But she seduced me! She knew my weaknesses and… and I was happy with her! Happy!”

Janice ran to Mrs. Timely’s side and knelt beside her. “Mrs. Timely?”

“Henry found out… Henry knew what I had done and told me of my sins. I knew I was dirty. I was horrid. There was no hope for me. None… so… I…”

Satan put a hand on Rebecca’s shoulder, and she stopped shivering. “Loving someone is not a sin, Rebecca,” he said firmly, “But you have to believe that to get out of here. Otherwise you’ll just linger…”

It took Janice thirty minutes to collect Mrs. Timely together and send her away with another appointment within the week. “It was good to meet you, Mrs. Timely,” said Janice.

“Meet you…” Mrs. Timely echoed as she left.

Satan sighed and leaned on his desk with a long, sad look on his face. “Did I miss any calls?” he said finally, trying to let the stress of the appointment slip away.

“Jehovah called-”

“Christ!” he swore, “I forgot today was our coffee day!”

Janice pinched her lips into a tight smile. “Yes. He wasn’t too pleased…”

Parchment – Part I

tjiconThe paper was old, like actual papyrus or parchment, not just made to look like it. It seemed out of place in this day and age, like it belonged in a museum or some ancient, undiscovered crypt of some important dead person. The writing was even stranger. It looked like it might have been Elvish for all I knew. It was unintelligible, loopy and elegant in its execution, but for all that it mattered, they were scribbles. Also, spotted across the paper, were drawings of symbols and shapes and what might have been some form of hieroglyphic. One of such drawings was like a cube with all the lines visible giving the illusion of three dimensional transparency, but instead of six sides, it had perhaps twenty (What would that make it? A decahedron? A dodecahedron?). Another was a like a pentagram, but with seventeen points, etched inside the pupil of an eye.

“So,” said the old man whose hand was holding the paper, “can you help me?”

“Huh,” I said, “oh, yeah, yes sir.”

He wanted to make scaled down copies of the strange document. It was about 11×17, scaled down to 8.5×11… it was roughly 64%.

“Thank you,” he said, taking his copies and leaving.

I assumed he was some kind of professor or archeologist, but I secretly believed he was some kind of occult priest or wizard. Turns out I wouldn’t be too far off on either account.

The rest of my day wasn’t remotely interesting: helping people make copies and prints, trying to convince them it was more beneficial to get their flyers printed in color and on heavier paper, refilling the machines with paper while the more experienced employees printed signs and banners on the giant printers, mounted posters on sturdy foam boards, and spiral bound booklets with black backs and frosted covers. They sent me home thirty minutes earlier because it was slow (but really because I was new and didn’t know shit and they didn’t feel like showing me).

I wasn’t thinking of that strange paper at all as I walked to the bus stop (I was actually thinking of playing Skyrim because I finally bought the Dawnguard DLC and hadn’t got to play it yet) but I kept seeing the strange writing in floating on the edges of my vision like an overlay across reality. I rubbed my eyes, thinking maybe I was just tired, but it didn’t help.

Maybe this was some weird symptom of going blind. My parents always told me not to sit so close to my computer screen. I would never hear the end of it if ended up needing glasses. I only had a about a year left of being on their insurance though, so if I did need glasses, it would be best to get them now.

My vision wasn’t so bad that I didn’t see the piece of paper tacked to a utility pole. I thought it was just in my head at first, but after a double take, I could see that it was one of the copies the old man had made. I stared at it for probably longer than I should have. The words and symbols slowly began to glow different colors and seemed to rise off the page. I shook my head and kept walking.

I stopped at some random café and got a sandwich and a coffee, thinking maybe my blood sugar was low or that I was just really tired (or I was going crazy, but at that time, I didn’t want to fully consider that as an option). While walking out of the café, on the other side of the road, I saw a kid drop a ball. The ball rolled into the road. The kid set off after it. Of course, she didn’t look both ways.

Time seemed to slow down as I saw the car barreling down the road towards her. And the strange writing emerged again, colorful as the floated through my field of vision against the backdrop of reality that had, without notice, become near grayscale. Lines began to draw themselves across the road, from buildings to other buildings at seemingly random angles, from the car to the girl chasing the ball, and each accompanied with the illegible words and strange symbols that so resembled that sheet of paper.

And though I knew not what any of it was, or what it meant, I somehow knew what to do. I reached onto the plate of a man eating at one of the tables outside of the café and took his fork. Before he even knew it was gone, I threw it at the car that was know only a yard or two from the girl. The fork speared the car’s front tire through the spokes of the rim. The effect was near instantaneous.

The wheel locked up for a split second, which was enough to make the car go out of control. It swerved to the side, fishtailing, before flipping off of its tires and into the air. It somersaulted over the girl just as the bent down to pick up her ball, then it landed, rolling a few times before coming to a stop.

The girl’s father rushed into the street and scooped the child up in his arm. The lady driving the car stepped out, seemingly unharmed save for the look of utter and complete shock on her face. The lines and words and symbols slowly faded from view, and when reality came back into color, I realized that everyone was staring at me.