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.

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.

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.

A Mind is a Terrible Thing, Part 2

bernicons            The voice sliced through the chaos like a hot knife through butter. Madeline stiffened up, whipping her eyes all over the cafe. No one was looking at her, safe for the little poodle tied up to a lady’s chair outside.

Heh, no. Not the dog.

Madeline closed her eyes and took a deep breath, like her therapist taught her. Calming her mind, slowly peeling back every layer until it was just her. She opened her eyes. Where are you?

In the cafe, like you. I’m rather surprised. You’re not at all what I pictured in a fellow telepath.

            Madeline could barely keep her heart from fluttering out of her chest. How do you mean?

            Well, you’re nothing like me.

            Madeline’s brow furrowed. How so?

You’ll see.

A man, maybe a year or two older than Madeline stood up and Madeline caught her breath in mid gasp. He was tall, with spiky black hair and light, gray eyes set in a thin face with a strong chin. He caught Madeline’s eye and gave her a grin before pulling on his green jacket. He walked over to leave his mug in the dirty dishes bin and walked toward Madeline.

Madeline’s heart was stuck in her throat, she barely knew what to say. She finally released her clenched fingers and reached out to shake his hand.

Not quite.

The man stepped past Madeline in favor of the threshold of the front door. He glanced over at Madeline’s extended hand but with a quick shake of her head, she withdrew and smiled nervously to cover her embarrassment in vain. The man was bewildered and thought Madeline was a little bizarre.

Hahaha!

Face flushed red, Madeline snapped her head toward the cafe crowd again, searching for anyone that might be visibly giggling. Her eyes narrowed at a single pair of shoulders convulsing joyously about three tables down from her. She stood up and marched toward that person, with the pastel yellow cardigan and back towards her.

“Madeline?” She’d past by Jackson holding their drink as she made her crusade forward. She reached her hand out.

Wait, no! Don’t!

Choosing to obey her rage, Madeline pulled the chair back so she could see the face over her aggressor- and then the anger fell as quickly as it was kindled. The woman had a young face, though flat and wide, with a flat-bridged nose and slightly slanted, warm brown eyes. Her black hair was kept neatly, in a pretty circular pattern, set in by cornrows. Her tongue hung out slightly from the corner of her frowning mouth.

Can I help you?” came another voice. Mouth agape, Madeline looked up to the other side of the table where another young woman sat.

Madeline’s mouth was still open, but she could barely make a sound.

Wrinkles formed on the woman’s brow, too many for her age. “Did you just march yourself over here to gawk at my sister?” She stood up, towering over Madeline. “Yes. She has Down syndrome, and isn’t hard enough without people like you making a scene of it.”

  1. The woman in the yellow cardigan could barely make an audible sound and tried to wave her arm, signaling her sister to sit, to calm down. She didn’t pay attention.

“I-I’m so sorry,” was all Madeline managed to blurt out.

“Yeah? Isn’t that nice,” the woman turned to the counter. “Can I speak to the manager please? I’m not standing for this kind of harassment.”

A hand grasped Madeline’s arm. “Hey there, I’m very sorry about that.” It was Jackson. “My girlfriend hasn’t taken her medicine yet today. She’s very compulsive otherwise.”

“Medicine?” the woman asked, unconvinced.

“Yes, see we were supposed to get it earlier today but the pharmacy hadn’t filled it yet and we came here while we waited,” he explained. “She’s not normally like this, I promise.”

She crossed her arms and frowned, glaring at Madeline. “Just keep your goddamn hands to yourself. Okay?”

Madeline nodded to so quickly, the tears that rested at the brink of her eyes leapt from her face into the air. Jackson nodded apologetically. “Thank you, we’ll leave now. Thank you.”

Jackson turned Madeline around and brought them out the door, but not before she heard the voice again. Look, we’ll be at Washington Park tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to talk more then.

The feeling hadn’t quite returned to Madeline’s being after that bout of shock, but she managed a reply. Yes. Yes of course.

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.”

Meet Janice, Part 3

bernicons            “No, Michael,” sighed Janice, “He’s not in.” She nodded, to no one in particular and took down a note. “Yes, yes, of course I’ll give him your message. Yes. Good. Thank you too.” She paused. “Oh and can you tell your brother not to call me back again? Thank you.”

Janice was all too eager to let the phone drop back into its cradle. Then it rang again. “Hello?” She cringed. “Goddam- Gabriel I told you he’d call you back when he got back. Not before.”

The room grew hotter and Janice felt relief swell in her. “Hold on, Gabe. I think he’s-”

When Satan entered, it didn’t look good. He was still dressed in his suave designer suit, but his shoulders were slumped low toward his chest and his black eyes were focused on the ground. He barely gestured to Janice in his passing.

“Gabe? He’s going to call you back.” Despite Gabriel’s cries of protest, the phone was set back on the receiver. “Satan?” Satan had left his office door open, waiting for Janice to follow. And she did, with clipboard in hand.

He fell back into his chair, his eyes were distant. Janice tried to ignore it. “You have 47 missed calls, most of them from Gabriel, so you shouldn’t have much trouble with-” she eyed him. “Did your lunch not go so well?”

Satan shrugged.

“I’m going to need you to communicate in words,” sneered Janice.

“If Jehovah can be indirect with his answers, then I can be too.”

Janice let her arms fall to her side and rest on her hips. “You’re not getting on about your Daddy issues again are you?”

His eye twitched and Janice noticed it getting warmer in the room.

Janice stepped into Satan’s line of sight. “Talk to me. With words.”

Satan’s lips were caught in a pout and he said nothing. So, Janice slapped him.

Satan’s flesh dipped into a deeper shade of red, almost as black as his eyes. He stood up and towered over her. Suddenly it wasn’t warm at all, but bitterly cold. “You. How dare- you haven’t done that-”

“Since the last time I slapped you,” Janice said coolly, head cocked back to glare into his big, black eyes.

The room gradually returned to a reasonable temperature. Satan stepped back, slumping into his chair. “That was ages ago,” he sighed.

Janice nodded, “Yes it was.”

He glanced up at her. “You went by another name then.”

“I did,” she smiled, “But Janice has a better ring to it. For a secretary.”

“You’re much more than that,” said Satan.

“And you’re much more than a son looking for Daddy’s approval.”

Satan smirked. “That’s Gabriel’s job, isn’t it?”

“Isn’t it, though?” Janice paused, “I know you well enough to know that you asked the Big Guy about Mrs. Timely.”

He nodded.

“And I think I know him well enough to know that he didn’t really give you any real answers.”

He nodded again.

“So now you’re worried you don’t have any answers for her.”

A third time.

“You know, you don’t need to have them.” Janice looked out Satan’s window. “Sometimes you can’t explain something away to a person, they need to walk the path themselves. You’re going to need a very specific skill for that. You’ll need patience.”

Satan smirked. “Kind of like Jehovah?”

“Kind of like him.”

 

“Mrs. Timely?” Janice stood at the open office door, letting the heat of the flames mess up her hair. The little woman walked up, cautiously. She clearly didn’t want to be back here, but she had nowhere else to go. Janice smiled. “Welcome back.”

Satan was waiting for them in his office, he smiled. “Good to see you again, Mrs. Timely. Please take a seat.”

July 28, Part 2

bernicons            “The military leaders of UK’s armed forces have met today with leaders from France and Italy to discuss strategy for the impeding war with Germany. We have with us former General Nathan Howe and diplomatic correspondent Maria Chavez to enlighten us further on just what this means. General Howe, Ms. Chavez, thank you for coming to the studio today.”

            “Of course, Rachel.”

            “So Ms Chavez, what do you think the of the likelihood that the UK can persuade the United States to join their cause?”

            “To be honest, Rachel, it’s very touch-and-go at this point. UK leaders are wary to make any sort of military alliance with the United States ever since the early 2000s when they did nothing to stop the turmoil that the US tangentially set into motion after their War on Terror campaign. Luckily, we’ve been in an extended period of peace so there’s been no real need to bring up these concerns. President Michelle Obama-Johnson expressed in a White House meeting that her nation’s government feels for their ally and does indeed want to help, but the King is hesitating to reply. Although he may not have that option for long.”

            “Are there any other world powers you can think of willing to help in this fight?”

            “As you know, the Ethiopian government was eager to send aid after the bombing of Fort George Alexander Louis- but they may not officially issue military help just yet. China is also staying on the sidelines for now. Many are in the face of Germany.”

            “Bloody cowards.”

            “Do you have anything to add about China, General Howe?”

            “None. I’m talking about the Germans Miss Carter. But the bloody Germans are cowards though.”

            “Why do you say that?”

            “The EMP bombs they drop in the battle field short circuit soldier’s implants-“

The nurse lowered the television volume so that it could barely be heard. Sam grimaced, the subtitles were moving much too slow for him to care to keep up. “I was watching that,” he said.

The nurse smiled sweetly. “I’m here to prep you for surgery, Mr. Vance. You won’t see the end of the program anyway.”

“But Richard hasn’t come yet.”

“Your family will need to hurry up then,” she said chipperly, “There’s a list of soldiers waiting for cybernetic prosthetics and today is your day.”

Sam checked the time. “But it’s two hours away.”

“Prep takes a while, Mr. Vance. I’m sure your husband will be here shortly. Now please sit up.”

She pulled away the sheet that covered Sam’s lower half and though he didn’t want to look, he did. He had been forcing himself to look at his legs; what was left of them, as they ended mid-thigh. He had been very lucky. Much luckier than Sgt. March or Lt. Colonel Whittaker or really anyone else. Sam was one of three survivors of Fort George Alexander Louis.

“Sam!” called a familiar voice. Sam looked up and felt Richard’s lips lock on his. Richard then pulled away out of breath. “Sorry I’m late.”

“You’re right on time, Mr. Vance,” noted the nurse. She eyed the two. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

“It’s not like there’s much privacy to be had here, ma’am,” observed Richard. The large room was just partitioned off to make little ‘rooms’ for the recovering soldiers.

“I’ll be back, soon,” she said in an octave lower than her regular voice as she stepped away. It was a Terminator VIII that had come out last year. Had Sam known any of this was going to happen, he might have taken Richard out to see it.

Richard sat beside Sam, holding his hand. He was somber. Sam rubbed his husband’s hand in his. “I can’t just sit on the sidelines, Richard.”

“Paul wouldn’t want you to do this,” he said, not looking Sam in the eyes. “Not to just look for him.”

“I know he’s out there.”

“No, you don’t.” Richard’s voice was much more stern. “I don’t like this idea of you getting these legs so you can go to a warzone and find Paul.”

“What am I supposed to do, Richard? He’s MIA behind enemy lines!”

“Do you really think your superiors are going to let you go on a wild goose chase to find Paul?!”

“He’d do the same for me!” Sam had yelled too loud, he could see it in Richard’s face. Sam reached out and pulled Richard’s face toward his, resting it forehead to forehead. “I’m coming back baby. I promise.”

“Sam, don’t-”

Sam pulled Richard in for a kiss. “I promise.”

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…”

Please Don’t Go, Part 3

bernicons            “FUCK!” she swore.

“One more!” encouraged the doctor.

With a final, horrible scream, Gwen pushed, grasping Rodney’s hand. A moment ago she wasn’t sure who would faint first, her or her boyfriend but now all she cared about was the screeching of an infant. Gwen wanted to take a breath but found her lungs would not obey; her throat tightened as did her grip on Rodney’s hand as she brought herself as high up as she could to see…

“It’s a boy!” declared the doctor, holding up a tiny person with a thick mess of black hair crowning his tan head.

Rodney smiled and kissed Gwen’s forehead. “Not a fawn…” she breathed. No one seemed to notice.

Hours later, Gwen held her little boy in her arms and kissed his head. “You’re fucking beautiful,” she whispered.

Grandpa Pat yawned. “You both are.” He stood up from his chair in the corner of the room and came around to Gwen’s bedside and brushed the hair from her face. “I’m going to get some coffee. Rodney, want to stretch those legs?”

Grandpa Pat had caught Rodney in mid-stretch. Rodney grinned and looked to Gwen, “You need anything?”

Gwen shook her head. “I’m fine.” Rodney kissed her and walked out with Grandpa Pat. Gwen looked around and sighed. She wished her parents would have come, but they had been so furious… It was pointless to think of it now. If they wanted to see their grandson, they’d have to come around eventually.

She looked out her window into the hazy wetlands in the distance. It was just a dream, just a strange, strange dream of another place. Gwen had hear that women went though some crazy hormones during the entire 9 month journey. Maybe that was all it ever was.

“Hello, Gwen.”

She gasped and turned, seeing the handsome young man she had met eight months ago. “Isaac?”

He smiled and his piercing blue eyes twinkled, “You did very well, he’s beautiful.”

Gwen brought the baby closer to her. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come for my son.”

“He’s not yours,” hissed Gwen, “I’ve only ever been with Rodney.”

“Ours is not the kind born of lust, Gwen, we select a vessel to carry our young,” Isaac approached. “And I chose you.”

Fury welled up inside her, “You- what?! Didn’t I have any say in this?”

Isaac appeared perplexed, “You accepted my invitation. You didn’t say deny me.”

“I didn’t say yes either!” the baby began to stir in her arms. Gwen looked down and began to rock him as gently as she could with her rage beginning to boil over. “Get out! I never want to see you again!”

“I can’t leave without my son-”

“He’s not yours!” Gwen reached to her side and grabbed the nurse buzzer. “Get out now or I’ll get someone to throw you out!”

Isaac looked at her sympathetically. “It won’t work, Gwen.”

“What-?” Then Gwen saw them. The ferns growing on the floor and creating a lush carpet of flora beneath her. “RODNEY!” she cried but the hospital room melted away revealing a surreally beautiful forest. The sun hurt her eyes. She wasn’t in her bed any longer, but standing in the woods with her babe in her arms. “Take us back!

“I can return you to your world, Gwen. You are the mother of my child, I owe you that much.” Isaac approached, his arms extended. “But first I must have my son.”

Gwen spat in his face. “Fuck you!” And she turned to run.

Her legs were weak and she soon found it hard to breathe. The baby woke up in the chaos of the run and started to wail. “Shhh, please baby. Shhh!” Gwen try as she might to sound calming, the panic in her voice betrayed her. Her feet were stabbed with twigs and stones but she kept running.

A shadow leapt over her and the power figure of Isaac in his stag form cut her off. Gwen slide to a halt and scrambled to turn another way. But Isaac was quicker and again stopped her escape. Tears welled up in her eyes. “No!” she screamed, “No please!” Isaac backed Gwen up into the board trunk of a tree. “Not my baby! Please, no!” Gwen choked on her own tears.

Isaac the man stood before her again and his face almost read of pity. “My people are in dire need, Gwen. They need our son.”

“But- Rodney- no, please! Not my baby!” She searched Isaac’s eyes for any sort of compassion, but found no such thing. She was washed away in the blue of his eyes.

 

 

Gwen sat in her hospital and for a moment it was as if she had never left. She just stared blankly out in front of her. Then she heard the gentle coo of her baby. Her eyes darted toward the window, where Isaac stood, holding her baby and smiling at him lovingly.

“NO!” She spilled out of her bed, crawling toward Isaac.

Isaac frowned. “Please, Gwen, don’t hurt yourself.”

“Don’t pretend you care!” she could hardly make her arms obey her. “My baby-!”

“Will be safe with me,” Isaac knelt down beside her, “I promise.” He meant it. She knew he did. “Goodbye, Gwen.”

Isaac turned from Gwen and took a step toward the window.

Gwen reached her hand out toward him. “…please don’t go,” she wept. Isaac paused. “Take me with you…”

His hand was cool to the touch, just as it had been eight months ago. And they were gone.

Pineapples, Am I Right?, Part 2

bernicons            Elizabeth sat up with her knees to her chest, a bundle of plaid flannel as she kept an eye on Mr. Piddles on the other side of the room, clawing aimlessly at his cat-scratcher like nothing had happened. Her hands shook as she hit the icon of a young Asian woman with her cheeks blown up like a puffer fish on her phone’s screen.

Elizabeth?” An audible gasp escaped Elizabeth’s mouth at the sound of Mr. Piddles’… voice. “Elizabeth, I’m still hungry. Really I am.

The phone was ringing. Mr. Piddles was still staring. Elizabeth told herself to calm down. That she was a grown woman for Christ’s sake… switch was awkward because she didn’t rightly believe in Christ. Until a few minutes ago she didn’t believe in talking cats either but here she was now. “Maybe my cat’s possessed by a demon-”

“Uh- is that you ‘Liza?” It was a man’s voice on the phone.

Elizabeth was confused for a moment, looking to the side. “Oh, that’s you Ian,” she said finally.

“Yeah, Rache is on the toilet,” he said, “She’ll be out in a sec.”

“Oh. Good. Yes,” stammered Elizabeth. “Yes. Good.”

Ian laughed. “So what’s this about a demon?”

“Demon!?” Shit. Mr. Piddles had disappeared from view. Elizabeth climbed up higher on her armchair.

“You ok?” asked Ian.

“Fine!” she blurted.

“Yeah… hey! Here’s Rache! Bye, ‘Liza!” he sounded all too glad to hand over the phone.

“…Stop making faces, Ian. Hey, Elizabeth?” This was Rachel. “What’s up?”

“L-look I need to ask you something,” Elizabeth was still scanning the room for her large, misplaced tabby, “And it’s going to sound crazy.”

“Okay. What is- hey stop it, Ian!” Rachel was giggling.

Elizabeth knew that giggle. It was the same giggle Rachel always had when she and Ian were ready to go home after a night downtown. They weren’t going to bed. “Can you two stop screwing around for two seconds?!”

“Geez, Elizabeth,” sighed Rachel, “Can you calm down?”

“No I can’t calm down! I have a crisis on my hands!”

Meeeooorrrw.

Elizabeth snapped around in the direction of the sound but Mr. Piddles was nowhere to be seen.

“Crisis? What sort of crisis?”

“Do you remember that show, Sabrina the Teenage Witch?”

“Yeah? So?”

“You remember Salem? That talking black cat?”

“Yeah, he was great. What are you getting at, Elizabeth?”

“… do you think cats can talk?”

A roar of laughter exploded out of the phone, so sudden Elizabeth almost dropped it. Rachel tried to talk through her gasps for air but failed. That failure only lead to more giggling her part. Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed as she heard the panted breathing of her friend between what she assumed was Ian’s kisses. “…Ian…” she breathed.

That was enough of that; Elizabeth promptly hit the end call button and sighed. “Gross.” Maybe it wasn’t so gross. It had just been a while for Elizabeth. Too long. This wasn’t helping, especially not with her crisis.

So are they actually a couple or just fuck-buddies?

Elizabeth screamed, jumping up into the air and tumbling herself and the chair over onto the floor, knocking over a lamp. Elizabeth rubbed her head and was glad not to feel any blood.

Are you alright?

Elizabeth sat up. Mr. Piddles was right in front of her, his tail playfully swishing back and forth. Her mouth was open but she didn’t know what to say.

Do you need more pineapples too?” he asked, “The effect doesn’t last very long, does it?

“The… effect?” Elizabeth pondered this for a moment. “The pineapple make you talk?”

Mr. Piddles licked his tiny paw at the end of his chubby leg and wiped down his forehead. “Isn’t it obvious? What, did you think that I was going to turn you into a Sailor Scout or something?

Elizabeth’s eyes went wide. “I love Sailor Moon!”

I know!” Mr. Piddles chuckled to himself. “But I’m too old to be Luna.”

“Ah… I see,” Elizabeth was little disappointed. Then she figured it was perhaps a little too much to hope that a woman her age could go traipsing downtown in a miniskirt fighting the forces of evil. That kind of stuff only happened to teenagers… with attitude. Then Elizabeth’s mouth pinched together in a determined pout. What was she thinking? ‘A woman her age’?! She was in the prime of her life! Living on her own and her freelance web design was really beginning to pick up! She was not only her own boss but the boss of her own life! She looked down at Mr. Piddles and smiled; heck she was more or less a teenage witch anyway.

So what are they, anyway?” asked Mr. Piddles.

“Who? Rachel and Ian?” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “They say they aren’t putting labels on anything yet, but they practically life together.”

Mr. Piddles nodded pensively. “Seems silly.”

“Tell me about it.”