1. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.

    Past Contest Submissions closed for short story contest #166: theme "progress"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Nov 15, 2014.

    Short Story Contest 166
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Progress" courtesy of @Storysmith

    Submissions will be open for 2 weeks.


    If you wish to enter the contest post the story here directly in the thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    This contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will link to this thread from the voting thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may also PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 30th of November, 2014 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets [xxx words] at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation). After the voting ends, posting in the thread will re-open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member @Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Thanks, and good luck!

    Be sure to preview your entry before you hit 'reply'.
    Check italics and bolding as sometimes the end code for bold or italics doesn't copy/paste affecting large stretches of text. If you need to fix the formatting, hit 'control a' to 'select all' and clear all bold and italics code. Then re-add it back in using the board's font controls before you hit 'post reply'. Same thing with extra line spaces, delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.
  2. qp83

    qp83 Member

    May 21, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Sisters [words 746]

    Belle was sitting on the couch watching her favorite show on tv, when her bigger sister, Lucy, came into the room.

    "Move over!" Lucy demanded in her usual bossy voice, which she always had when she wanted Belle to do something.

    Belle, knowing full well, it was safer to just do as being told rather than facing her sister's tantrums, scuffed over to the other side of the couch. In the progress, she also hid the remote under the pillow.

    "Where's the remote? I don't want to watch this kiddie-stuff!" Lucy said. Her eyes searched the table, the couch, and then landed upon Belle, who looked like a hare stuck in the headlights of a car.

    "I-I, don't know..." Belle said, grasping the pillow.

    Lucy shot an inquisitive look upon her little sister. If there was something she knew about her little sister, was that she always lies. Like that time when she had entered her bedroom and broke her favorite doll. Well, maybe not her favorite, but it had become just that, after it was broken.

    "Maybe you're sitting on it?" Lucy said and moved closer to her sister. "Get up!"

    Belle refused and clenched her fingers deeper into the pillow. "I'm not sitting on it!"

    "Girls! Will you quiet down!" their mother shouted from the kitchen.

    "Get off the couch!" Lucy shouted.

    But Belle wouldn't move. Lucy stood up from the couch and moved over to Belle. She grabbed her leg and starting pulling her off the couch.

    "What are you doing!? Stop!" Belle screamed, futilely, as her bigger sister dragged her off the couch. Still grabbing onto the pillow, the remote was revealed as she landed on the floor.

    "I knew it!" Lucy said, and grabbed the remote. She looked down upon her sister, lying on the floor, holding the remote like a trophy, and grinned.

    But suddenly, to her suprise, the remote was pulled out from her hand.

    "Enough, you two!" their mother shouted at them. She had moved into the room and was now standing behind Lucy, holding the remote. "Why are you two always fighting? What's wrong with you?"

    "S-she started it," Belle whimpered, still lying on the floor.

    "W-what! If you had just-" Lucy began to object.

    "Enough! Go to your rooms!" their mother shouted and pointed down the hallway, which lead to their rooms.

    "B-but, I didn't do anything." Belle complained.

    Her mother grabbed her by the arm and lifted her up from the floor.

    "Ouch! It hurts!" Belle cried.

    "You!" her mother began, her eyes filled with hatered, "Y-you're just like your father. Always complaining about, how it's not his fault. It's the job. It's me. It's the liquor. But I've had enough with the excuses! That's why I left him! Either go to your room, or get out of my house! You can stay with your father, if that's what you want!"

    Not sure why, if it was the unfair treatement or her words about her father, her eyes began to well up, like they had done many times before.

    "I hate you!" Belle shouted to her mother, and ran out to the hallway and out through the door, making sure to slam it as hard as she could before she ran off into the neighbordhood.

    Tears escaping into the wind from her cheeks, she ran. Past the Johnson's family, the Kruger's family, and that big house at the end of the street, where Jesssica and Bryn from her class, lived. She ran onto a small dirt trail, which lead through a small huddle of trees and up to the old water tower. She noticed the trees' branches and twigs that had been stripped naked from the late fall's cold, and continued running.

    Eventually, she arrived at the water tower. She stopped, and climbed the rickety ladder up to the top.

    Standing on the narrow landing, she saw the white houses and the planted huddles of trees that made the suburbs where she lived.

    She looked down at the ground, which was probably 12 ft below her, and thought: Maybe if I jump, that will teach them a lesson. Maybe then, they will understand me and how I feel.

    But her thoughts were broken off.

    "What are you doing?" Lucy, asked, as she stepped off of the ladder.

    "I-I'm..." Belle's tears broke the dam and began flowing down her cheeks.

    "You're so silly, my dear sister," Lucy said, and embraced her, "... and you're just like me."
    vinato likes this.
  3. Chrisebi

    Chrisebi New Member

    Oct 16, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Run Phoenix Run (words 981)​

    I scanned through the swelling crowd of children for the little boy I want to call Phoenix. I don’t want to disclose his identity, especially since his story is speckled with every human emotion out there.

    When I met Phoenix he was only five years old. He was like any five year old except he had seen things even grownups with mental and physical strength cringe.

    When he was born, he had a mother and a father. He learned to crawl, walk and endure the brutality that was life. Plagued with poverty, abuse and a weak mind, his mother ended her life with her belt. This didn’t help his alcoholic father. He spiraled down a bottomless pit of drunkenness and lost his job. His whole life looked like an angry hot mess. He misdirected his anger on the little boy whose debut into the world changed the rhythm of his life.

    Four-year-old Phoenix was not fed. He was given handouts by neighbors who were growing tired of sharing their limited resources. At that tender age Phoenix had a job – he had to get ahead of the line at the local bar and get his father a drink real quick. If his dad was happy with the speed at which the liquor appeared before him, little phoenix got Rs.10. That’s enough money to buy biscuits to sustain him until the next day. If the booze was produced late, the angry father beat him up.

    Phoenix learned to buy food with extended shelf life. He figured out that saving the change he got could help him stay alive. He knew the trashcans near bus stops and train stations have the most uneaten food. Unattended jackets could keep him warm on nights when his father would have accidentally locked him out due to his inebriation.

    On days when he was not trying to outrun dogs and dodge traffic, Phoenix, wondered what it would be like to go to wear a uniform, comb his hair, have a woman fix is tie as he climbed a bus. He probably would never know how much a backpack weighed, feel socks on his feet, carry a lunchbox and resist eating it till lunchtime.

    A little before he turned five, he found his father sleeping longer than he should. At first he enjoyed it. But when it was time to get the older man his drink and his own food money, the man refused to wake up. This had happened before, but this time his father was unusually cold. He alarmed the neighbors.

    After his father’s death, Phoenix had no place to go. He missed the man whom he thought was of no use to him. Without his father he didn’t have a home or food. He made the bus stop his home until someone chased him out. When people didn’t offer him food he competed with dogs for food thrown in the trash.

    He spent all his time in crowded places yet was the loneliest little boy in the world. He had a few friends from his old neighborhood but their parents didn’t allow them to talk to him.

    He was overcome with hunger one morning and went looking for food in the trash. There was one dog scouring the place for leftovers. Phoenix jumped into the pile and started to search. He didn’t notice the big dog snarling and foaming at its mouth. The dog charged at him and bit Phoenix on the leg. As he screamed for help, passersby threw stones that hit him and the dog. The dog took off leaving Phoenix bleeding.

    An ambulance took him to a nearby hospital where he was recovering. Caring nurses and doctors, timely food, a soft bed, Phoenix was enjoying it here. He didn’t mind the big chunk of his calf muscle bundled in stiches if this is life.

    Upon learning about his condition, a local NGO took him into their home for battered children. Phoenix’s medical report disclosed several broken bones that had healed over time. The child didn’t know a day without being hit, beaten and ill-treated.

    The home was a clean beautiful place. There were many children there. They went to school. Some of them played musical instruments, read books, laughed and wore clean clothes. Phoenix was fascinated to see food served on a plate, kids waiting to pray and thank God for the food, chewing it slowly and eating quietly without looking over their shoulders.

    At first he had trouble fitting in. He was told not to explain the dog bite to anyone. He was asked to tell them that he fell off his bike. He was taught to clean up his language. Some words were completely off limits. He had to shower everyday. Haircuts and nail clipping was mandatory. He had to sleep in his bed and use only the things provided to him. It was hard following these rules. But Phoenix learned them eventually. He liked the people who were running the home. They were kind and generous. They gave him love and attention. When he cried they wiped his tears. When he laughed they laughed with him.

    He was doing what many children in India don’t get to do – go to school. Phoenix is in Grade 4. He is the fastest runner in his class and sort of a sports hero among elementary level children. Despite his general naughty nature, he is a favorite to all his teachers. This little boy works harder than all the children in his class – he has so much to unlearn on his way up.

    Today he is singing in the Christmas Choir. Standing in a crowd of children, Phoenix blends in. He could be anyone in that crowd. He looks and behaves no differently than the doctor’s son, the millionaire’s son or the Pastor’s son. He is Phoenix – the face of progress.
    vinato likes this.
  4. lustrousonion

    lustrousonion Contributing Member

    Oct 7, 2014
    Likes Received:
    The Last Rabbit [2934 words]

    Day one.

    The rabbits bounce forward to push their little noses and paws through the holes in the chicken wire, trying to get at us.

    "They're so cute," I say and waggle my finger through the wire at the closest bunny. "Do we let them out?" I ask.

    "I wouldn't think so," he answers.

    "You want to feed them?" Hope is evident in my voice.

    "You go ahead."

    It's the first day of a week long house-sitting. His sister's family are away, gone to the gray, rocky seaside for their summer vacation, leaving the two of us in charge of their rustic, three story house and a menagerie of animals to care for. The bunnies are just the tip of the furry iceberg. Altogether there are seven creatures to care for: three rabbits and a guinea pig in the covered cage in the backyard; a sweet hamster in a small glass cage, nothing more than a tiny ball of silky fur with a white belly and a dusting of brown on its back, who I've decided to call Tiramisu; and a pair of distant, cross-eyed Siamese cats. In exchange for the daily feedings and biological waste disposal, we are allowed what, by our own meager standards, are luxuries: a large bed, a fully stocked kitchen and, best of all, access to the private sauna.

    I point to the gray rabbit, the one gnawing on the wood of the door. "Look at him. He is determined," I say. "He will break free some day."

    "Like the Count of Monte Cristo," he replies, and I give him a squeeze of appreciation.

    We go inside and take off all our clothes. Giddy and naked, we descend the steps into the basement. Past the bar, past the washer and dryer, past the litter box corner for the cats, and into the sauna.

    It's a small wooden chamber, heated by hot stones. The warmth is delicious, but, unaccustomed to the experience, my bod simply refuses to sweat. When my heart begins to feel like it will beat of my chest, I escape to the haven of a cold shower.

    We crawl into bed to discover it's actually two beds pushed together. So we sleep on opposite sides, a vast space of a bad marriage that isn't our own separating us.

    In the darkness, I hear his voice. “These sheets are scratchy.”

    I chuckle, then drift off to an uncomfortable sleep.

    Day two.

    I have a moment of disorientation. He's not in bed with me. I have fuzzy memories of the alarm, the shower making noise, a kiss, and the sound of the door.

    Padding on bare feet, I go into the kitchen and turn on the coffee pot. I look at the post-its stuck on the counter. Instructions. Cats: Feed one and a half cups per day. Hamster: Two spoonfuls of food every two days. Rabbits: Fill all three bowls. Give three handfuls of hay two times daily. I wonder if she means to feed them food and hay twice a day, or just the hay.

    I grab the giant bag of hay, two bags of food, and the water can from the shed and trudge into the vast bunny encampment. They scamper close as they hear my approach, so close that I can barely get in the door without being overrun by rabbits. Only the threat of physical human contact causes their retreat. The guinea pig is more cautious. It pushes its nose out of the box lets out a bubbly squeak.

    After they're fed, I sit on the tree stump in the middle of the cage and watch them scamper. The white one that looks like the Easter Bunny allows me to stroke its silky ears for about a minute before finding its courage and hopping away.

    I've got the whole day to myself. Unsure of what to do, I open my computer and check my email. Hey. It's been a few years since we last talked. How are things?

    That's it. That's the whole message. I close the computer.

    "Hello?" he calls from the hall.

    It's later. The sun has set and the house feels enormous.

    "In the bath!”

    He enters and checks that I'm telling the truth. "Ah-ha."

    "Coming in?"

    "I don't think there's room for the two of us."

    "Will you sit with me?" He smiles at the request. "And bring whisky?"

    I rest the glass on my wet knee, put my face in my other hand and look at him. He sits on the bathmat outside of the tub and tells me about his day. The drink is peaty, smokey, and starts a glow in my stomach. The night, the alcohol, and the bath cause a familiar contemplative collapsing feeling inside me and usually precedes some sort of violent, emotional outburst. But not tonight. Tonight I look at him and feel warm and smokey and peaty inside. Things seem wonderful.

    Day three. Disaster.

    He opens the door and I run to meet him. He thrusts a bottle of Chianti at me but I wave it away.

    "What?" he asks, looking at my scrunched face.

    "I can't find a bunny."

    He grins. "The Count of Monte Cristo?"

    "No!" I cry, giving him a light smack on the arm. "It's the black one. I went to feed them and it was gone!”

    We move together to the kitchen table. He takes off his work bag and jacket. He looks tired but beautiful. I move forward to wrap my arms around his waist and we go quiet. For a few minutes, we only stand there.

    "What do I do?"

    "It's probably in the rabbit hole," he says.

    "I hope so."

    "Or maybe they fooled us. Maybe there's a secret tunnel down there that leads to China."

    Nothing else to do, we make dinner. On our second glass of wine, he speaks up.

    "My dad hinted at me taking over the business again. We're by his big new car, he said something like, 'And this could be yours someday.' As though a car is going to entice me."

    "They must know,” I reply dumbly. It was always a thing between us, the promise that we would get away.

    "You would think. I could get a job. A different job."

    "You could do that." The idea has occurred to me before, much like marriage and vasectomy have occurred to me. And yet, I don't speak. I don't know what he should or shouldn't do, and I'm afraid. But I know I don't want to get trapped in this town. I don't want to live in a big house and sleep on scratchy sheets every night.

    "I never meant for us to stay here for so long," he admits. I reach across the table and take his hand.

    The whole thing is so grown up. We're at a table, drinking wine and worrying about the future, like real, honest-to-god adults.

    I open my mouth, as I have been doing for the past day and a half, but unlike before, this time the words find egress. "Do you remember that guy? The one I used to dream about? Well, he wrote me."

    "What's with this dream guy again?"

    "He's...I suppose he's the symbol of a lot of bad feelings I had about myself from that time.” That time means the entirety of my childhood: the time of fear, of alcohol-induced rages finding me in the one place that was supposed to be safe, of disappearing into a dark space inside myself. “He's nobody, really. But somehow, for some reason, it all got grafted onto him." I'm smiling as I say it, hearing it as though someone else is speaking, and I think that proves more than anything else that I am in fact getting older and—maybe—letting go. He tops off my glass with the rest of the wine.

    "Do you think he's the symbol of all this stuff or did a therapist tell you that?"

    "Well, it's not hard to figure out. They're horrible dreams. But a therapist did agree with me. Said it's my way of making it all easier to cope with.” Even though he knows all this about me, I wish a could run an eraser over my past. I wish, for his sake, I was a clean slate.

    Suddenly his eyes go wide.



    I turn in my chair to look out to the backyard. There it is, a big black rabbit nibbling grass, outside of the cage.

    A little tipsy, we creep out.

    "How the hell did it get out?" I whisper, because I'm not sure if rabbits are scared of loud noises.

    "My sister said that sometimes they get out."

    "You didn't tell me that!"

    He shrugs. "She said not to worry."

    I roll my eyes in the dark. Beneath my feet, the grass is wet. It's been a cold summer.

    We move towards the grazing animal. It hears, or maybe senses, our approach and freezes. I can't help but giggle a little.

    "What do we do?" I ask.

    Without answering, he moves. Together we circle, trying to place our bodies as obstacles in its path. The rabbit, quivering slightly, stares off into space. Inch by inch, we move closer.

    We don't have a chance. When it senses our approach has crossed a certain lupine threshold, it's gone almost before we can see it move, and a black rabbit in a black night is impossible to find.

    "It'll come back tomorrow for food," he soothes.

    "Why would it come back for food? Grass is food and there is grass everywhere."

    "It'll come back."

    Day four. I realize rapidly that I'm ill. My throat is sore and I have a headache. I lie in bed and look at the ceiling. I lie there. But the animals need to be fed, so I pull myself up.

    When I come back in, the clock on the oven tells me it is a little after noon. I make soup and eat it from a mug in front of the television. I check my mail. He was only being nice, I tell myself. None of it was his fault. But I don't reply.

    The moment he comes home, I start to cry. I don't know why, but I'm sobbing, gasping. "You can't go tomorrow. Isn't there anything I can do? I need you here. I'm all alone."

    "Okay," he says, but I'm not sure if he means it. I continue to cry and hold my pounding head.

    Day five. I find the guinea pig dead in the cage.

    My body jerks involuntarily when I see it, grasping the bag of hay tighter and sloshing water onto my pants. Its stomach has been ripped out and is now a bright red splash among the brown tones of the cage. I look away, but, needing to confirm it, I force myself to look again. Its little face is dead in that rodent way, how they seem to die with everything they have. It's as if the moisture has been sucked from its body. Its mouth is slightly open and one paw is raised higher than the other as though in supplication.

    The two rabbits aren't moving very much, but they certainly don't appear disturbed to have a corpse lying in their midst. The white bunny, Easter Bunny, has a patch of pink-tinged fur around its mouth.

    I set everything down right there on the ground and walk back into the house.

    He's at the kitchen table with his back to me. “Um...” I say.

    We go out together. He makes a gagging noise and starts to laugh. "Oh my god. That's horrible!"

    I sit on the grass. "Did I do something? Is this my fault?"

    "How could this be your fault?"

    "Maybe I haven't been feeding them enough."

    "How much have you been feeding them?"

    Nervously, I tug on leaves of grass. "Just what your sister said! Or what I think she said."

    "So it can't be your fault," he reassures.

    "What do we do? We'll have to tell her. This is two now. Black bunny hasn't come back, and this one..."

    "Should we do something with it? They might eat it."

    "They've already eaten it!" I exclaim and hold my head in my hands. My headache from the day before lingers, and this certainly isn't helping. "The little cannibals." As I say it, as if in answer, the gray bunny begins to gnaw on the wood of the door.

    Days six and no sight of the black bunny. After a discussion with his sister about where to put it, we are charged with burying the guinea pig in the yard. We mark the site with a big rock.

    She is very understanding about it, his sister, and I know that he included himself in the blame despite the fact that I have been solely in charge of their care.

    I try to tell myself it's not so bad. Pets run away and die, that happens. And the cats are fine, Tiramisu is fine, the Easter Bunny and the Count of Monte Cristo are both fine. That's an okay percentage of living pets.

    Day seven. The last day.

    It's raining. I make coffee and sip on a cup before it can't be put off any longer and I have to brave the weather. I grab the half empty hay bag and one bag of food. I go to feed the remaining bunnies, but the door to the open-air cage is open. They're gone. And I think to myself, he's done it. The lock has been chewed around, leaving the door free to swing open.

    Calming breath. "All right," I say and grip the bag of food. I don't know what it is, corn and vitamin pellets, but they seem to like it. I creep towards the rabbit hole and shake the bag.

    "Bunnies?" I plead. "Bunnies?"

    A gray head pops into view.

    "Yes! Okay, baby, come on in." With movements that are glacially slow, I enter the cage and pour out an extreme amount of food, then I stay still and wait as the Count of Monte Cristo decides whether it is safe to enter. At long last, he does, going straight for the food.

    "This is your doing, isn't it?" I accuse.

    I leave and close the door on him, push a brick up against the bottom of the door. It's no security, but it's better than nothing.

    I'm wet, and I go inside.

    He's on the bed, on my side. Sometime during the night he made his way over and found me.

    I sit on the bed and bury my face in my hands. It's getting ridiculous, comical even, but I'm about to cry. My lip trembles.

    It wakes him eventually. "What?" He holds me tightly. "What happened?"

    I can't answer. I don't want to answer. I just cry. When I'm finished crying, I lie down with my eyes closed. "The door was open."

    "They're gone?"

    "Easter Bunny is gone. I can't find it."

    He goes out. While he's gone I get up and blow my nose. When he finally comes back in, he's soaked to the bone.

    "Did you find it?

    "Nope. But I did find the escape route."


    He takes off his damp shirt. Towels off. "There's a hole behind their house. Must go into the neighbor's yard."

    "And that's how they got out?"

    "I would think so.” He says, "don't worry."

    "How can I not worry? I'm never going to be invited back here!”

    We stare at each other. "Hugs," he says. I smile slightly, let myself laugh at it finally, and comply.

    I've made a decision. I open my computer.

    For a fleeting moment I imagine what I could say. How am I? he asked. How am I?! Good god, how could I be? There are bunnies on the loose!

    But in the end, I write something else. I'm doing pretty well, all things considered, I say. And I think that's true, even with bunnies.

    We sit together in the sauna, breathing through our mouths due to the dry heat. It's the last day. Our last chance to use the sauna.

    "I'm really sweating it up this time."

    "I can see that," he says and rubs my slick back.

    "You really do get used to it. Are you looking forward to going home?"

    He cracks open an eye at me. "Are you kidding? I'm never doing this again."

    "'Cus of bunnies?"

    He smiles. "It didn't help."

    I let myself get good at hot. If I focus on getting through fifteen minutes of heat, I can forget about other things. When the sand has run out, I'm good and cooked.

    I wrap myself in a towel and go upstairs. My skin is letting off steam and I go outside. It's cold but the sun is shining, and if I close my eyes, it feels like I'm at the sea. I take in a deep breath and slowly let it out.

    On bare feet I walk across the grass. I crouch. The last remaining rabbit, the Count of Monte Cristo, greets me as energetically as ever. But when he realizes I come empty-handed, that have nothing to better occupy his busy jaws, he returns to the arduous task of chewing through what remains of the door.

    “All right,” I say to the last rabbit. “I give in.”

    After my skin cools, I pick myself up and return to the house. Behind me, the door to the rabbit cage is ever so slightly ajar.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2014
  5. Lancie

    Lancie Contributing Member

    Oct 20, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Birmingham, UK
    Dark Satanic Mills (1145)

    Metal, grinding against wood, chugged back and forth in a rhythmical, intense din. The scurrying hands and bodies whipped in and out, under and over. Then, the noise ceased.

    The children, like rodents in their dark brown clothes, scuttled beneath the machines with their brushes, skidding backwards on their elbows and knees through dust and slick oil. The machinery above their heads hissed and jolted back to life, skimming the tips of their cloth caps. Churning forwards once more. The battalion of scavengers retreated, gathering the cotton thrown off by the quaking vibrations in small fingers, as though it were spun gold, in a basket behind them.

    Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep. Don't fall asleep.

    Little tired hands, furiously shuffling in time with the pounding and hissing. Forwards and backwards. Forwards and backwards in the haze of dust and cotton.

    I'm sleepy. I can't fall asleep.

    The machine pulses, vibrated, hissed a final time. Then, a new noise. Not mechanic. A scream ripped over the usual clatter. The machines didn't fall silent straight away, not until another scream, then another began to drown it out.

    Robert bolted to the gaggle of squealing children. The cotton threads, thousands of them, strung out on the Mules, were red. He pushed them all back, “away now, come away, what's gone on?” he forced his voice to steady, but he knew what he'd find. He'd seen it before; a little body tangled in the machinery. He turned and bellowed, “Turn them off! Now! Get these little'uns out of here!”

    A few hours later, the silence had drawn in the master, bursting in, fine boots clicking quickly against the door. “Who ordered these machines off? Millwright? Where are you?”

    “Here, Master Enoch,” Robert removed his cap and crunched it so tight that his knuckles turned white.

    Master Enoch squared up, his slight body against that of Robert, broad and stout, forged in the machinery of the mill. A snarl passed over the masters lips. “And why have you stopped my machines?”

    “Milly Stott was killed in the machinery this morning, sir.”

    Master Enoch raised a bushy eyebrow. “Who?”

    “One of the scavengers, sir. She was eight.” Robert's fists began to shake. Master Enoch turned to the smart gentleman behind carrying a ledger.

    “Send Powell to the workhouse and fetch a replacement apprentice,” he said. The man made a mark on the paper and nodded before gliding away. “Is that all millwright? Can we get my mill running within the hour?”

    Robert's throat went dry. He squeezed the rough fabric of his cap until the weave imprinted on his fingertips. Quietly, voice cracking, he uttered; "yes, sir,”. He watched Master Enoch turn on his heels and stalk from the room.

    His appetite didn't return later that night as thick broth was spooned into his bowl. The smell torched his nostrils and he pushed the bowl away.

    “What's the matter? Are you still thinking about that poor girl?” his wife lightly touched his shoulder but he flinched.

    “Aye, I can't get it out of my head. It was just like...” he tailed and scrunched his eyes tight. The images were never far away, no matter what he did or where he went.

    A boy, on his knees, scuttling back and forth with the Spinning Mule, the juddering juggernaut machine that never tired. Row upon row of giant spindles producing fine thread, producing thread far finer than that made by hands alone. Or so the factory owners boasted.

    The machine was hungry. It maimed and swallowed the children sent beneath to gather the fallen cotton. Robert remembered it with crushing lucidity. Like the tide, the waves of small bodies went under and brushed back. He worked with Thomas, side by side, back and forth like clockwork. But there was a loud cracking sound, a gargle, and nothing more. Thomas did not emerge from the Mule. And the machines did not stop to mourn.

    Robert opened his eyes and shivered. “They didn't care. He didn't care. It's not even been recorded.” He rose to his feet. “I'll be back,” he muttered and left the table.

    “Where are you going?” his wife called.

    “I'll be back.”

    Robert stormed through the streets of the village, down the slopping cobbles. The factory loomed tall in the darkness like a fortress, with sentinel chimneys standing strong. Robert turned the corner and carried on down. He knew Master Enoch would be dining at his long table on his fine plates, drinking this port and wine from silver and crystal cups.

    He paused outside the big house, clenching his fists. The cook was sweeping and humming outside the servants entrance. Robert dipped and slithered through the iron railings. The cook looked up a moment before returning to her hum. Robert kept his back to the bricks and edged round her into the courtyard. The evening was cool for spring and inside fires were blazing in grates. He looked carefully about and carefully, slowly, lifted up a window. Once inside he closed it gently so it made no sound.

    He slipped through the dimly lit hallway to where Master Enoch dined alone as usual. The man had no family and kept only a skeleton staff to service his house. Robert entered the dining room and closed the door softly. Master Enoch looked up, a crinkle of a frown appeared between his eyes, spoon poised mid air.

    “Millwright? What are you doing here? Did I send for you?”

    Robert stepped around to the head of the table. “No,” he snapped shortly. His hand shot out, smacked the spoon to the ground and, as Master Enoch's eyes widened. Before the confusion could settle to anger on his face, Roberts course hands gripped the masters throat.

    “You listen to me you snivelling little whelp. You and you're kind will not use the children of this land like rubbish to discard, do you hear me?” Rage steadied his voice as he hurled Master Enoch to the floor. With his free hand Robert reached for the fire iron and raised it above his head. Master Enoch wriggled but he couldn't move from Robert's grip.

    “What are you doing?” he wheezed, kicking out his legs, though it made no more difference than a fly in a web. “Get off me!”

    “You don't even know my name. You don't know any of their names. A child died this morning, in your factory, and not for the first time. You don't care when your workers get hurt in those damned machines,” Robert pointed the fire iron at Master Enoch's head. “Mark my words, there will be change. There will be change.”

    Master Enoch tried to gasp. He gargled and spat, “You'll swing for this!”

    In his broad Yorkshire accent, Robert snapped, “go to hell, murderer,” he raised the fire iron and smashed it down.
  6. DarkTesseract

    DarkTesseract New Member

    Nov 24, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Abbie - 685 words

    Kevin sighed, tired. Only two hours into his shift, he was mentally lying on the couch in front of the TV, flicking through the rubbish he spent so much time with. He signed a few forms and washed his hands, the water momentarily drowning out the yapping and screeching, then pressed a button so the receptionist would let the next customer in. A minute later, a young man entered. He had brown hair, muscular arms and a deadened look in his eyes. Kevin leaned over and shook his hand.

    “You must be Jaime?” he asked, smiling. Jaime grunted, fiddling with the end of his top. “And I hear you’re interested in a dog?”

    Jaime scowled. “My mum wants me to get one.”

    “Have you ever had a pet before?”

    Jaime looked up. There were bags under his eyes. “Yeah, a collie. He was run over.. must be five years ago now.”

    “I’m sure that must have hurt.”

    There was a string protruding from the top that Jaime wrapped round his finger.

    “We have many breeds here. I’m sure you’re aware that dogs are very high maintenance-”

    Jaime’s arms clenched tightly on his chair. “I can look after one!”

    Kevin smiled kindly at him. “I’m sure you’ll make an excellent and caring owner.” He turned towards the cages. “In fact, I think I have just the one..” Reaching up, he gently took down a cage. Inside was a border terrier, curled in a sleeping position. Kevin slowly placed it on the ground and opened the cage. Tentatively, it stood up and walked out. One side of its face was badly scratched and burned and it was missing a hind leg.

    Jaime laughed scornfully. “Look at it! It’s useless!”

    Kevin shook his head. “Abbie’s a very special dog. Apparently an unwanted puppy, she was found hiding in a bush in an estate two years ago and brought to us. We nursed her to full health and, though shy, she’s a fine dog and an exceptional companion.” He handed Jaime a small plush ball. “She loves to play, give her a try.”

    Jaime threw the ball at Kevin, tears in his eyes. “Fuck you and your shitty dog!” he said angrily, voice and body trembling. The ball rebounded off Kevin’s face and bounced awkwardly into a corner. Abbie half ran, half hopped over to it, picked it up and brought it over to Jaime as fast as she could, leaving it by his chair and looking patiently at him.

    “The man that found Abbie was adamant that we didn’t put her down,” said Kevin quietly. “We assured him that we do all we can to ensure that step isn’t reached, but he still called every day and visited once a week.” Jaime’s face was contorted with anger, tears running down his scowl. “Abbie was loved, and in return she is now an incredibly loving creature.” Kevin threw the ball up again. Abbie followed it with her eyes and went for it as soon as it hit the ground, returning it to Jaime’s side again.

    “What are you looking at?” he shouted at her. Abbie waited patiently at his side. He picked up the ball and flung it onto Kevin’s desk. Abbie scratched at the leg, but this unbalanced her and she toppled. She got up and continued to scratch, falling every few seconds. Eventually, she started to push the desk with her head, and it inched slowly outwards. The computer began to lean into the wall as the wires strained. Kevin gripped the desk and placed the ball back on the floor.

    “Abbie’s been here longer than any animal before,” said Kevin, as she placed the ball next to Jaime and rubbed his foot with her snout. “But she’s also the one we’re most fond of. She’d make an excellent pet - for anyone.” He reached down and picked her up. “What do you think?” he asked, placing her on Jaime’s lap.

    Jaime looked at Kevin through his tears. Saying nothing, he slowly turned his wheelchair and left a smiling Kevin behind, Abbie curled snugly on his legs.
  7. BeckyJean

    BeckyJean Member

    May 4, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Corpus Christi TX
    Rescinded Man (3187) - Language

    I hate being outside. More than that, I hate saying that I hate being outside. Because there was a time, a not so long ago time when I loved it. I used to crave it; sneaking out, skipping school, heading to the park as often as I could, short of failing classes. Mrs. Hampton, my hipster art teacher, was pretty cool about it, hers being the class I usually skipped. I was off drawing or painting anyway, so she was generous, giving me a break more times than she probably should’ve. She told me I was talented – “a free spirit and natural born artist” she’d said (I’m neither of those things now). Mrs. Hampton was a free spirit, too. She understood my need for lush trees, moving water, for golden sunshine.

    It hurts my eyes now, though; the sun does. I’m sure it hurts everyone’s eyes. We can’t get used to it, how it’s changed…its color, the dingy, moss tinted glare it casts on everything. I loathe the green, vapor-like rays… how they make me feel – unsettled, undone, agitated. Something about them vines up under my skin, like a parasite.

    I’m not the only one, either. Aggression, frustration, violence has become the go-to emotion for most that are left. Just yesterday a slight woman in dirty denim coveralls and horn-rimmed glasses crashed her grocery cart into mine because I was taking too long in front of the bottles of drinking water on the drink’s aisle.

    I could tell she was barely hanging on. There was a loony, rabid madness lurking in her eyes – like she was begging me to object, make a scene, yell at her so that she could go off on me. Her rage was so near the surface, I could practically see it thrashing against her skin.

    Something in me fed off her hostility, too, making me want to ram into her cart, tell her to fuck off, get in her face and finger-jab her scrawny chest – poke, poke, poke! – and then break her stupid glasses; those dumb, wanna-be trendy horn-rimmed glasses. It boiled up in me so quickly, I barely had time to recognize it, much less reign it in.

    But somehow, incredibly, unbelievably… I did.

    My ribs remember the force of my heart pounding against them… so fast, so loud I half expected it to leap out of my chest and flop around on the floor, like a fish drowning in air. But then something internal, something hormonal or chemical rose up like a giant blanket tossed over a fire, and Whoosh! That fiery-anger was out.

    I’m not sure how or why, but I’ve been lucky that way. Not everybody is. The blare of police and ambulance sirens throughout the city is proof of that. They’re constant now, marking the days and nights with bursts of violence.

    My eyes averted, I grabbed eight plastic bottles with faded Desani labels; reused bottles that have since been filled with what they tell us is safe water. Then I went to the check-out line, leaving Miss Four-Eyes and her weird glasses to taunt somebody else.

    On my walk home, bathed in those hideous misty-green rays, I see three kids no older than nine kicking another kid – a much bigger kid – down on the ground, hands over his face, trying in vain to block their Converse clad blows. The three doing the kicking look up, glaring at me. I keep moving.

    I watched a balding senior citizen – a man that could’ve easily been my grandpa before he died – peer around before reaching into some fool’s open car window to steal a heavy, canvas bag on the passenger’s seat and then keep walking.

    I continued watching as said-fool slammed out of his apartment, saw that his bag was gone, and started running in circles around his Ford Focus, waving his hands like a lunatic, screaming, “I’m gonna kill you, man! I’m gonna fuggin’ kill you!” to no one in particular. He didn’t see who’d taken it, so he had no idea who to kill.

    The old man strolled down the street, an eerie, self-satisfied glint in his eye, clutching the bag to his belly like a prized sack of goodies. For a just a second our eyes met, sending sickly shockwaves into my core. The gratified pleasure on his face shook me. It was clear – he’d crossed a line… and he liked it.

    I’m seeing these kinds of behaviors too often. I try to keep my head down, stay out of the fray and just mind my own beeswax, just like at the grocery store. But I don’t know how long that’ll keep me safe.

    This much I’ve learned; this much I now know – the days of human excellence, the era of progress for mankind is at its end. Humanity has hit its biological expiration date, like a carton of milk or package of beef, our time on earth rescinded. Whatever’s happening – however it began, whatever it is – we as a race are devolving. And I’m trapped in the middle of it.

    Stepping into shoes, I prepare to leave my house. It’s almost dark, and I still have an errand to run. I tuck four bottles of water into my backpack and head down the block, to my neighbor Evelyn’s house. She’s about the same age as the thief with the newly acquired bag. They could’ve been husband and wife in another life. Odd to picture that.

    Like me, Evelyn rarely ventures outside. In fact, I don’t think she’s left her house in over a year. She has no trust of food that's been produced after the sky turned, so eats only canned tuna, Vienna Sausages and Campbell’s soup with Saltine crackers – stuff she’d piled into her sewing room over many years “for that damned apocalypse!”, she’d said. She ran out of clean water after the first year; which is why I share mine with her.

    She pretty much lives in her bentwood rocker, looping her collection of old Bette Davis and Clark Gable DVD’s, her black Teacup Chihuahua, Rocky, permanently in her lap. He eats Campbell’s soup, too – from the same bowl, at the same time; a bizarre bonding ritual. I think it’s gross, but Rocky is Evelyn’s only family now, so I keep my trap shut. The way things are deteriorating, we all need to find our own road to happy.

    Our friendship, odd as it is, was a side-effect of circumstance. With both our families gone, it seemed a natural, albeit curious progression. Being from the same neighborhood, we’d always been cordial when running into each other at Molly’s, our corner market. But then the sky changed, lives were lost, and this unusual friendship emerged, despite the age difference or having little in common.

    Honestly, I think we both just needed someone – and there was nobody else.

    Sometimes I catch her looking at me, a question lingering around her mouth, as if she’s weighing whether to reveal some deep, dark family secret. She never does. We always revert back to superficial small talk, and I’m fine with that; relieved, in fact. I don’t want to be burdened with her dark family secrets. They’re hers. Let them stay hers.

    Evelyn’s husband, Brad, her sister Suzanne, and her niece, Emily – they all died the day the sky changed. It happened the same with my family. My parents, my sister Mallory and two brothers, Dean and Christopher – they all died, too.

    They died in the worst best-way… in their sleep. The worst because I never had a chance to say goodbye or tell them I loved them. The best because they simply never woke up, and who wouldn’t want to go out like that?

    Two thirds of the world never woke up on that day. We still don’t know why, and nobody’s trying to find out anymore. It's related to the shift in our sun, that much is understood. I believe it's dying and taking us down with it. But any efforts to learn more were stalled after the first twelve months.

    Fast-forward three years and it’s as if nothing ever happened, like none of those dead ever existed. They are forever absent, less than zero. People have moved on, and it didn’t take most of them very long. Forgetting who we loved is just one symptom of what's happening… part our devolving process.

    I’m unlike most survivors. I think about my family every day; missing them, wishing I were with them, imagining where they are, if they’re together, wondering why I was left to live here, alone and afraid. Even now, on this short stretch of sidewalk, I can’t wait to get home to the safety of my latched windows and locked doors. I don’t feel secure unless cocooned behind the four walls of where grew up. I can’t really breathe anywhere else.

    People are less and less able to control their urges. They’re no longer rejecting that little devil on their shoulder whispering for them to do bad things. Everyone’s becoming unstable, some much quicker than others. I often wonder if those are the people born with an already thin conscience; folks that never cared about right and wrong anyway. The kind that lived, even before the world changed, forever in the gullibility of the gray-area.

    And those of us who do resist; are we more intact, less broken, somehow more whole? If so, how will we survive among the others? Can we?

    Humans have always been a fickle bunch. I despise that about us. It makes us dangerous. But it’s much worse now. I have a recurring nightmare of humans digressing into some warped version of caveman or Neanderthal - our ability to reason lost, becoming nothing more than meat suits functioning on knee-jerk impulses.

    Shivering at the thought, I begin a plan to run away if I need to (where to hide, what to take, how long I can realistically hold out) when I arrive at Evelyn’s house. Her door is ajar – a door that stays locked with three deadbolts, and at the end of the day, a Big Jammer Door Brace. Evelyn and I are the only ones with keys.

    “Evelyn?” I call timidly into the opening. Her TV isn’t on. It’s too silent, too still in there. Oh God, what if she’s hurt, or worse? I wait on the porch, my feet unwilling, unable to go inside.

    “C-C-Celine…” Evelyn finally croaks out, her voice a strained groan. “Celine…”

    “Yes, it’s me, Evelyn… are you okay? Why is your door open?” I ask in a rush. My heart is pumping like a Mexican Jumping Bean. Hearing her call my name is somehow worse, making me feel terribly inadequate. She’s in trouble. Bad, bad trouble. And still, I can’t move.

    “C-Celine… d-d-don’t…”

    “What? Evelyn – what?” My hand on the doorknob, I take a single step, partway inside. The familiar scent of microwaved soup, stale coffee, and the ever present backdrop of mothballs drifts out. It smells as it always does, but feels all wrong. And did she say ‘don’t’?

    “D-d-don’t …” Evelyn repeats.

    There’s the shuffle and creak of her bentwood, the sound it makes on the back end of rocking. And then silence.

    I’m knocked backwards by a flash of black dashing through my feet, out into the yard. It takes a second to recognize the blur as Rocky. I’d never seen him off of Evelyn’s lap, much less running. He crouches under the boxwood, trembling and vibrating like a battery charged toy, his long expired tags jangling.

    “Rocky, come here, boy.” I say softly. He watches me cautiously from under the bushes. What horrible thing is in there that has him so frightened?

    Evelyn?” I whisper helplessly, looking into the gap from the open door. It looks like overstretched jaws in mid-yawn. I glance down as something brushes against my ankle. It’s Rocky. He’s shaking and quivering, making small, whining chirps, but he lets me to pick him up.

    “I should go in, shouldn’t I?” I ask him. He stares mutely at me, trembling in short bursts. I try to see something, anything inside. It’s so dark. Like a tomb.

    I desperately want to run away – back to safety, back to my house. Every cell in me is screaming DANGER! GO-GO-GO-GO!! But I can’t… not without making sure. What if she needs my help? What if I’m all that stands between life and death for her? I couldn’t live with not knowing.

    “Okay,” I sigh, “I’ll go.” I brace myself, push open the door and step inside.


    With Rocky against my chest, I step into the foyer and wait for my eyes to adjust. I can make out the bowed glass of her television, her TV-tray in front of it, an empty soup bowl on top. I see her bentwood rocker, expecting her to be in it – possibly slumped to the side, unconscious. But it’s empty.

    Rocky starts barking, his high pitched arfs! almost comical, like an irate Alvin-the-chipmunk. From the kitchen there’s the scuffle and scrape of something heavy being pushed across tile. And then another sound… a frightening, hacking sound. Trying to quell Rocky, I place my hand over his nose and mouth and look around the door.

    It’s the old man – the thieving senior citizen from yesterday. He’s hunched over Evelyn’s butcher block - most of her wrinkled body draped onto the floor; her thin, pale, half-severed arm on the cutting board surface - muttering Bitch!Bitch!Bitch! with each strike. He’s chopping through her bones with such contempt, spittle flies out of his mouth in heavy spatters. I stop breathing. Poor, sweet Evelyn. She deserved a better death than this.

    He looks up, sees me. A depraved grin stretches across his face. It takes up half his head, like an open wound. Did he look this crazy yesterday? No, he didn’t, which is almost more alarming than what he’s doing. He’s devolving faster than anyone I’ve seen yet.

    I turn back and run the way I came. I get to the front door and pull it open, prepared to sprint. I can outrun him. He’s old, frail. Or at least he seemed so yesterday. Now I’m not so sure. But I can outrun him. I think I can.

    Except when I open the door, somebody’s standing there, blocking my path. I know her… I recognize the horn rimmed glasses and the dingy denim coveralls. Her glasses are cracked now, parts of one lens missing. Her eyes look wilder, more insane than yesterday. And I can see - she recognizes me, too.

    Rocky barks fiercely, snapping at her long brown hair. She snakes out her arm and wraps a dirty hand around his head, somehow avoiding his needly teeth. Then, with a grunt and the dip of her shoulder, she twists her fist. There’s a startled yipe and a snap, and then Rocky is quiet.

    Trying to push past her, I realize I’m screaming, an uncontrolled, terrified scream. But she’s strong… stronger than I ever would have thought. Like a brick wall strong, immovable. I step back, thinking I’ll go around the kitchen; get to the laundry room, to the back door. It’s always locked, but I know where the keys are. They’re hidden in the middle drawer of the pie safe, next to the pantry.

    I bolt through the living room, peeking quickly into the kitchen. The old man isn’t there anymore. Where’d he go? I creep toward the pantry and get the keys. Then I slink past Evelyn’s limp body, sidestepping the pooling blood. I take a moment to lay Rocky’s limp body next to hers, nestling him under her chin. Their faces, how they look together… it’s almost peaceful. Maybe they’re together now, I think. I hope they are.

    I reach the laundry room and look in. Empty. I move past the locked wooden door that leads into the basement. I’ve never been down there. It always scared me, like a monster or Evelyn’s dark-family-secret was chained up and living in its shadows.

    I get to the back door and work the keys as fast as my hands allow, trying the silver one first – the main key that opens the front door, hoping it opens the back door, too. It doesn’t. I try the bright brass one next. It goes in but won’t turn. Finally I try a worn and dull brass key. It slides in easily, the lock already turning before I apply any pressure.

    Just as I’m pulling the door open I feel a puddle of moisture spread across the back of my blouse. Then there’s a searing pain. I reach behind me. My fingers brush against something sharp; something metal… it’s sticking out of me. My knees start to buckle, the floor suddenly slanted and uneven.

    As I turn, I see him… his leering grin floating in circles, like the rotating prisms of a kaleidoscope. My mouth opens and closes – ironically, like a fish drowning in air… just like I pictured my heart doing yesterday. My God, was that just yesterday?

    I drop to the floor, the keys still in my grip. Small, nimble fingers peel it open. I catch a glimpse of dirty denim as she takes them, selects the shiny brass one and inserts it into the basement’s lock. The door swings open.

    “You got it, Emily?” I hear the old man say.

    Emily? Emily? Wasn’t that Evelyn’s dead niece’s name? Isn’t she dead? Could Evelyn have lied to me about her? About the others? Why would she do that?

    “Yep, Uncle Brad… got it open. Why did we wait so long to do this?” She lets loose a giddy, slightly unhinged giggle. “We’re lucky no one else knew it was here. Like this bitch friend of hers.”

    “It just didn’t feel right until now,” he says. “But now the ol’ bat is finally dead, and it’s all mine.”

    I can hear the smile in his voice.

    “You mean ours,” Emily says with an edge.

    “Yes, yes – that’s what I meant.”

    “Wait. You want it all for yourself, don’t you?”

    “Don’t’ be ridiculous. I’ll share it. I told you.”

    “You’ll share it?! It’s half mine! I fucking earned it!”

    “Don’t take that tone with me, Em.”


    “No… I’m warning you. Don’t.” He’s perched at the top of the stairs, practically begging for what came next.

    “Screw you, old man!” Emily shouts, shoving his back, sending him reeling. She barks out a “Hah!” as he plummets to the bottom. Her laughter is cut short when I wrap my hand around her ankle. I muster every molecule of strength and yank hard. With a surprised gasp, Emily falls forward, down the steps, tumbling, tumbling – joining Brad at the bottom. And then, nothing.

    Sprawled on the tile floor, I’m struck by how freezing cold it is. I would shiver if I had the energy. But I’m depleted and fading fast, unable to manage a simple smile. In my mind, though, I’m laughing; amused at the irony of what I see…Emily’s stupid, broken horn rimmed glasses on the floor before me.
  8. jaebird

    jaebird Active Member

    Sep 7, 2014
    Likes Received:
    United States
    Subject 44 [1,331 words]

    “Relax. We’re making progress.” Garrett smiles up at me with that same crooked grin, showing the chip in his left canine. It’s got to be the most annoying thing about him, that smile. I grunt and shuffle farther down the lab table, trying not to meet his cocky gaze.

    “You’re only gonna get lonely down there,” he calls, tilting his head and pretending he’s had to strain for me to hear his voice. I ignore him. He chuckles and turns his attention back to the small body cut open before him on the table. Bloody hands protected by thin gloves grip a scalpel that disappears inside the dark cavern he’s sliced down the stomach.

    It used to be a dog. A Jack Russell Terrier, to be exact. His name was Buddy.

    Now it’s Subject 44.

    Garrett grunts and drops the scalpel, reaching up to adjust the round light hovering over the table. I pretend to be monitoring the computer screen’s steady beats. He picks up a set of tweezers from the tray and inserts them into Buddy’s—Subject 44’s gaping wound. I watch the animal’s steady breathing, eyelids closed and lined with beautiful lashes. I bite back a round of tears.

    He used to sleep in my bed every night, curled up at my feet and snoring ever so slightly. When the bombs began to crash to the ground in quaking explosions, he’d crawl into my arms and whimper with me until I fell asleep. We would go for walks in the dog park every afternoon and watch the ducks quack in the pond. When it was safe to venture outside, anyway. You had to be alert for another rebel attack, which they said could come at any time.

    He’d eat anything I offered him, from cereal to baby carrots, but cheese was his chocolate. I taught him to roll over with a single slice of Kraft Singles. He’d hear the sound of the plastic tearing and come running for the kitchen like his tail was on fire. Even when he’d just had surgery to remove a growth on his shoulder, he’d lifted his head, ears pricked, and wagged his tail in anticipation. He made my apartment a less lonely place.

    Until the day the test results returned. It was only supposed to be a simple trip to the vet—a routine check up, and that was it.

    Subject 44’s body trembles and my heart lurches. Garrett doesn’t budge, but in a second the dog’s body is still once more, and I try to recover from my burst of panic.

    “I said, relax, Hannah,” Garrett says, his gaze on the slit in the dog’s abdomen. “You’re gonna get me nervous.” His eyes flit to mine for the briefest of moments. “And we certainly don’t want that.”

    I bite my lip and resist the urge to slap him across the face. It’s his fault, anyway. No, really it’s that horrid vet’s fault. Him with his excited eyes and thinning hair. “It’s truly remarkable,” he’d said, fingering his fat glasses while he stared down at the print out.

    “What is?” I asked. But he only grinned wider and moved his hand down to cup his cheek.

    “Excuse me, I have to make a call,” he said, whirling from me to disappear into the back room of the vet’s office. I should have followed him. I should have ripped the phone off the hook and scooped up my dog and ran out of that place like my tail was on fire.

    But no. No, I let him make his call. Let him put my tiny friend in a wire cage and ship him to the very lab where I worked. A gift to me, they said. For donating him. I let them run their tests and watched his wide eyes silently call for me. Beg for me.

    So really, the blame is mine.

    Garrett finds what he’s looking for and lifts his hand out, the tweezers clutching a small metal disc in their grasp. He holds it, glistening with blood, to the light for me to see. My stomach threatens to revolt.

    “There it is,” he says in awe, his grin stretching wider. I wish he would wear a surgical mask. If nothing else, to hide that stupid tooth. He never was one to worry much about germs. He looks at me, blue eyes twinkling.

    “This, my friend,” he waves the tweezers, “is going to make us more money than we ever imagined. And it’s been sleeping in your house every night!”

    I feel sick. Garrett continues his glorified speech. “I mean, think about it. One test shows something strange, and when they investigate, look what they find! This could change the course of history!”

    I slowly move my eyes to his. “Are you done?”

    He grins. I try not to look at his teeth. “Come on, Hannah, it’s just a dog. You got him at a shelter. Who knows where he really came from. How he got…” he twists the tweezers so the metal disc reflects the bright light, “this lovely thing inside of him.”

    I should have run. They would have followed, but I would have hidden him so deep they’d never find him. I could have done it. The people who hid the disc in his body certainly tried. They figured he’d be safe. That we’d never find their secrets. But no, I thought that maybe—just maybe something good could have come out of it. Looking into Garrett’s lustful eyes, hazy with desire as he stares at the metal disc, I know it will bring nothing but evil.

    “Imagine it, Hannah,” he breathes. “In this little disc, lies ultimate power. The formulas to fixing half of Earth’s problems, hidden right here in this tiny thing! Secrets to crops and vaccines and clean water! Bombs and weapons and diseases!” He shakes his head. “All blended together with living tissue, meshing and growing to create the ultimate power. This silly World War Four business will be over before those rebels can lift another finger!”

    Finished with his verbal worship, Garrett carefully drops the disc into a round silver container and presses the lid shut. He slips it inside his lab coat pocket and runs for the door, excitement following him down the hall.

    Leaving me to stitch up Subject 44.

    When I finish, and he finally begins to come around, I see it in his eyes. A deadness. The removal of the disc took more away from him than even Garrett would have ever known.

    I wait for hours, sure he is completely lucid, before I carefully tuck his tiny bandaged body between my arms and carry him all the way home. Through the dog park. Past the pond. Up the stairs. Into the kitchen where his doggy bed sits in the far corner. I place him carefully inside, wrapping a warm towel around him.

    They will come. They will want to take him away again. Garrett will spout his doctrine so well he should be in a pulpit, and I will finally punch that chipped tooth straight out of his mouth.

    I move to the refrigerator. Reach for a slice. He hears the rip, I know he does. He barely looks at me, his vague eyes filled with pain. I hold out the cheese, but he doesn’t even sniff. I let it fall to the floor and clutch my face with both hands, sobs wracking my body as I sink to my knees.

    When I finally look out from behind my fingers, my eyes swollen and wet, he’s turned his face away from me. His body is strangely still. I watch him for a long time, but he never moves again. Never breathes.

    I push myself to my feet, knees stiff, and look down at his lifeless body with what honor I have left and try to convince myself that it wasn’t for nothing.

    After all, we’ve just made excellent progress.
  9. Keitsumah

    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

    Aug 7, 2012
    Likes Received:
    We of the Fallen (Words: 2911) (Language)

    Sometimes life isn't all that you expect it to be. One minute you're floating in some dark abyss, all quiet and peaceful... then it's shredded and you're in the thick of battle against mankind's worst nightmare.

    My beak closes over a Howler's torso just before it can spring at a boy no more than twelve, and I slam it into a nearby tree. The thing screams like an infant being torn to pieces, and my talons pulverize it's head, then crush it along with the upper portion of it's body beneath my heel. In my first life I remember we had to be at least eighteen before we could go to war. Now look at us. Swarmed by monsters in a world we have polluted beyond no return. If you've survived this long, no matter what age you are, you're given a weapon and expected to fight.

    Black blood flows across my tongue, thick with oil, and I drop the corpse before lashing out at the next one. Gunfire explodes in my left eardrum, but I don't even flinch. At least I know these pups are fighting back. Considering that there's only a few hundred of us left in the world, we need to represent mankind's final stand well.

    Oh yeah. Name's Orion Schmiddt: nickname's Black Hawk. And no, I ain't human. Not in your sense of the word at least. I've got my original brain all the way back from life one, but as for the rest of me... well, let's just say I'm the kind that is only considered cute by their mom.

    I slam my wing into the next Howler to charge and watch its mis-matched, too-long teeth splinter before my bladed feathers cut through the back of its skull and sends it flying. “Damn it Tyson I told you to hold the line! Where's Star Stealer?”

    The comm tied to my head buzzes for a moment, then a high-pitched voice responds. “I'm doing what I can, and Stealer is caught in the backlog. Looks like his group found a Host and they're short one frosty. Do you think you can lend 'em a hand?” The prattle of a machine gun being fired echoes back over the line.

    “Would if I had one.” I joke back. A third Howler leaps from the underbrush, it's oily hide glistening before its poked full of holes. Tyson doesn't respond, and I spread my wings to take off in the next instant. We both know a Host is bad news. Even worse than a nest of those skinny, twisted creatures that were once Bambi. And without a frost gun or any sort of weapon to chill the air, Stealer and his men could be done for.

    Imagine a human being, all nice and pretty, and then stuff it full of tiny black spiders. And I mean chock full, like a balloon about to pop. Those things will eat you inside out and, when they're all done and looking for more food, control your husk and move around in one ugly package. That is called a Host. And without a Host, the spiders have no constant source of nutrition. They die within a few minutes once they run out, but it only takes one to start a mass infection and then eradicate an entire camp. I've seen it happen before and it ain't pretty.

    My wingtips brush the dense jungle canopy and I glance at the tracker screen that covers my right eye. Thirty red dots are scattered in different areas on a map, split into three groups of ten, and each group is headed by a larger blue dot. The tracking chip they put in the leader. There's only one purple dot, moving south-east across the map at a rapid pace. Me.

    How few we have become -chased into the remains of the world's rainforests to try and find the cure for something we all secretly know we will never be able to stop. It was our responsibility to protect the world we lived in. Now we are reaping the benefits of our lax guardianship.

    The comm buzzes again. “It's a mean one, Orion. I swear to god these things are getting smarter.”

    I grimace when Stealer finishes and glance at my back to double check the fuel pumps strapped there. Three quarters empty. I'll need to be sparing and strike at the exact right time for this to work.

    I hear gunfire before I see them, and when I burst through the canopy and dive in there's already three men on the ground, swarmed by tiny black dots. Only one is still screaming, about to shoot himself in the head and end it all. I open my jaws and freeze him solid with a blast of sub-zero air not a moment too soon. So long as only his body has been invaded, he can be frozen and preserved while killing off those demonic bugs at the same time. Doc can figure out what to do with him from there –we need every man alive that we can get. Or at least every brain. Somehow we've mastered the art of brain transplants into both human and animal bodies, but we can't figure out how to replicate a human egg.

    “You could have told me men were down, Kyle!” I growl, though the words come out more like a screech. The backdraft from my wings causes every plant and small tree within ten meters to bend backward under the force of gale-like winds.

    “I don't fucking care at this point, Orion. Get the damn Host before it infects more of us!” There's the ricochet of gunfire against the trees, then a hiss. Not a sound that the spiders make themselves, but the sound caused by thousands of tiny legs and bodies the size of peas brushing against one another. I turn my head when I land, catch sight of the abomination on legs, and instantly want to hurl.

    Female. There had been a damn female human alive someplace, and we didn't find her in time.

    She's wobbling around on torn, swollen legs that have been blasted apart by repeated gunfire. As if that's going to slow her up. Skin and bones are all that remain, the spiders creating a network and linking to each other to control their Host as she moves. Glazed grey eyes that I can see were once sky blue turn in my direction and her bruise-purple lips open. Darkness. I catch a glimpse of the tiny highlights on each arachnid as thousands of little carapaces swarm in her throat.

    There's no use for remorse now. She is not what she once was. She will kill us all if given the chance, I tell myself. I turn fully and spread my wings to pump air around my body. Her head turns in my direction, blind eyes seeking prey, but she follows scent. And I reek of humans.

    Mouth opening and closing, she stumbles in my direction.

    Perfect. My nares widen and I take in a deep breath, spread my legs, and open my beak to send out another stream of chilling death.

    But nothing emerges. Like a gun clicking, empty and without ammo, so the pipes rigged to my throat sputter and cough.

    “Orion?” The Host takes a step closer, mouth opening and closing in a gruesome imitation of chewing. Stealer's voice comes in from not the comm, but behind me. “Orion. Come on. Freeze it already.”

    But I can't. Fuck, I can't. I take a step back, fear crawling up my spine to coil around my throat like a deadly necklace. The Host takes another shaky step closer, and I see the two bodies lying on the other side of the clearing begin to twitch.

    Images. Memories. Blood streaks the walls like paint, and the screams of the injured ring in my ears for what feels like hours. I can't make sense of anything. Can't even walk. One moment I was in the capitol building, then the next the bomb had gone off and I had hit the floor. When I try to move, pain lances through every part of my body until I'm sure someone's doused me in oil and lit me aflame.

    Someone's begging for it to end. For them to just die so long as the pain would stop. Me?

    Voices. Sirens. Someone's feet come to a halt close to my face. A hand brushes my forehead and someone tells me everything will be okay.

    My eyes close and darkness envelops me.

    I was the only one who survived. Or rather, was brought back from the dead.

    I shouldn't be alive. Shouldn't be here...

    “Run.” The word slips out unbidden from my beak, yet I can't deny it. My claws dig into the earth; our polluted, disgusting earth which we have destroyed, and I prep my wings for take off.


    “Run.” My voice is as close to human as it has ever gotten, trapped as I am in this bird body. Damn the Doc and his experiments. I shouldn't be alive. Shouldn't have been pulled from oblivion to see the country I grew up in and fought for –gave my life for– had been destroyed along with the rest of the world. I should be back in that darkness.

    At least there it was peaceful.

    The Host's skull caves with a dull crack when I slam into her and an animal scream that I don't recognize as mine tears from my throat. Her body feels like slimy moss, and her skin tears even more easily. My vision closes in. All I see is my target. All I feel is the urge to destroy.

    The body explodes and a dark cloud of spiders envelops me. But I don't hesitate. I shake off the parasites just enough to see my next two targets. Men I have fought alongside, now turned to Hosts as well and soon to rise. I won't give them that chance. My claws rake across their torsos and crush their ribcages, the squelch of collapsed lungs between my toes the only thing I hear besides the angry rattling of the spiders. Yet I feel nothing. I am positive that they must be biting me, but I feel nothing. I turn and watch the last of Stealer's group flee into the underbrush, heading back to camp, then launch myself into the forest and away from the other groups.

    “Orion! What happened? Doc called and--”

    I cut Tyson off with the dreaded words. “I'm infected.”

    It is only then that I feel the pain -like a thousand iron needles being stabbed into me, hot from the forge. The spiders burrow under my feathers and into my skin, and I swear I can hear them chewing at my flesh. That thought alone is what drives me mad. I flap my wings and beat the air, clawing at myself and trying to rid my body of these parasites. The urge to destroy ebbs away and is replaced by the need to get them out. Out. Out. No matter if I had to flay myself and score my body with inch-deep welts. My vision clouds and I slam into trees repeatedly, but over everything else I know I must get away from the others. Tyson and Kyle are shouting over the comms, and then I hear a third voice join in. But everything has faded into the background. I can't tell up from down. The scream builds up in my chest and when it's released is like the tearing of steel.

    Sky. I've burst from the uppermost canopy. The air is acrid and filled with smoke, and I struggle for breath. To see where I'm going.

    The last thing I see is the sun, a blinding, blood red color as it peeks between the folds of black air, and it's there my memory stops.

    "Easy... easy...There. Now start his heart and remove the L-S. He should be up in about thirty minutes."

    "I certainly wasn't." I watch the doctor with bleary eyes from where I'm sitting on the counter as the rest of the med team cleans up. I never realized how foggy human vision is compared to that of a Roc's. Or rather the eyes of the eagle that had been 'donated' for my second body.

    "Well, you're case wasn't as easy to manage. You weren't frozen instantly. I'm surprised you're even alive, but then you are the one that has responded the best to my efforts to begin with." The Doc turns to face me and I'm reminded again of how shockingly old he is. He's bowed over a cane, thin, almost skeletal limbs trembling. But somehow he's lasted longer than any of us at this game of cat and mouse. He's the one who's developed our weapons, learned what new monsters we have to face from the scouts and devised their weaknesses accordingly.

    But the most amazing, and terrifying, thing is that he can bring back a person who would otherwise be dead. So long as their brain is preserved from a fight, frozen instantly, he can place it in a new body created by bits and pieces of others, or even made in the large tubes along the walls, rig it to an L-S, and then wake them up again.

    I growl and look at the row of tubes along the wall -each containing a new, modified version of what humanity will become. What I already am. "You didn't need to save me."

    "Hard. I'm rather obligated to keep my son alive. If it's one thing I can't stand, it's outliving all of my children." he replied. I growl and clench one clawed hand. He just shrugs and shuffles to one of the tubes along the wall to tap at the keypad attached to one side.

    "What is the point of all this?" I ask finally. "We've been beaten. There's no way we can restore Earth."

    "No. Not to the state it was before. But then progress is funny that way."


    He stops tapping at the keyboard when the creature on the table groans. "Fuck me. I didn't think this would hurt so much..."

    "Quit being a wimp and try to move your toes Kyle." I snap before my father can speak. The old man shakes his head at me and turns back to tapping at his keypad.

    The creature on the table looks nothing like the man used to. Over seven feet in height, with a long body and four arms and two bowed hind-limbs. His face is somewhat humanoid, but it's molded to be more streamlined, as is the rest of him. The wings attached to his back give all the reasoning behind that choice. Then I realize what progress my father meant and anger flares.

    "You mean to evolve humanity by your own hand, and 'speed it up' right? Well hate to burst your bubble, pops, but we can't reproduce! Every human female on Earth is dead, and without them we don't have any human eggs!" My jaw clenches suddenly, trembles wrack my body. "Nor do we have anyone to keep us sane..."

    "But we will. That's just the thing. You know that Host you attacked? I sent out a squadron to fetch it. But of course you didn't hear me over all that jabber on the comms, so I had to go and save your royal arse."

    My eyebrows draw together. "It's just a body. Those parasites wouldn't leave any bit of flesh intact unless it was skin and bone."

    "Apparently they only do that to males. There's more to these creatures than we initially believed, Orion. I've been studying them for a long time. And my research has just told me, as well as reality has told me, that I am holding a human egg in this vial, in the palm of my hand."

    Doc opened his bony fingers, and there, like some obscene kind of diamond, a thin vial filled with clear liquid rested. Floating inside was a small black dot barely the size of a period.

    I jumped when Kyle rolled over and slammed into the floor, clawing his way toward the Doc in a mess of tangled limbs to stare at it in amazement. And dare I say it? Hope?

    "A-are you lying? Are you fucking lying right now? If you are, I'm gonna kill you, damn the consequences." Kyle's voice is low, raspy in disbelief. My father clutches the vial and turns to put it in some machine he's built.

    He sighs when the door closes, and the machine begins to hum quietly. "I'm not. And it's going to be female. Your daughter, in fact, Orion. I've wanted a grandchild since you kids were old enough to move on, but..."

    I stiffen. I should be pissed. I should tear him apart for making this my responsibility. A baby girl has no place out here, where we could all be destroyed in an instant. How are we going to take care of her? How am I going to protect her, from both the monsters outside and our own monsters within?

    But one look at him tells me that we both have the same feeling. It's his granddaughter after all.

    His voice is shaky when he speaks. "Because above all, humanity must survive. It is our duty as a race to use every last resource to make sure we survive. Besides...

    How else can we continue our current progress?"
  10. davidm

    davidm Active Member

    Jun 12, 2013
    Likes Received:
    I Am the All-Powerful Time [About 2,000 words]

    Borges once invoked Chesterton: there is nothing more frightening than a labyrinth without a center.

    But perhaps even more frightening is a labyrinth with neither a center nor an entrance nor an exit.

    Thus did Borges postulate his Library of Babylon, which was exactly that, a maze with neither center nor entrance nor exit.

    Today, HeadSpace, the successor to its primitive ancestor, the Internet, and its later incarnation as the Internet of Things, is a labyrinth without a center, and soon, for me alone, a labyrinth without an exit. When the time comes that I cannot find the exit, I will know for sure that I have gone mad, and thus my job will be done. In the far future they will build monuments in my name, if we can make sure that our future still exists. Big if.

    HeadSpace is what we have now that the Internet has been taken off computer hard drives and high-speed fiberoptic cables and server stations and also out of physical things of all kinds and put inside our heads instead. Cyberspace inside HeadSpace. Technological mental telepathy -- seemingly magic! -- but not magic at all. Just the latest, greatest technological advance in a world that is dying. HeadSpace came officially onheadline on April 1, 2036, but its antecedent dates back to the summer of 2014, when direct brain-to-brain communication was first demonstrated. From my capacious and seemingly bottomless memory banks I can summon the article in ScienceDaily from that era, an article I am able to remember even though I never read it:

    We wanted to find out if one could communicate directly between two people by reading out the brain activity from one person and injecting brain activity into the second person, and do so across great physical distances by leveraging existing communication pathways, explains coauthor Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. One such pathway is, of course, the Internet, so our question became, Could we develop an experiment that would bypass the talking or typing part of Internet and establish direct brain-to-brain communication between subjects located far away from each other in India and France?

    It turned out the answer was Yes.

    It turned out that the answer was Yes. That longago article is here.

    Holy Shit.

    The was indeed a Holy Shit moment in human history. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    Again like Borges with his Aleph, which was the one spot on the earth that showed all other locations simultaneously, I am in all other locations simultaneously. But more: I am in all other times, past and future, simultaneously; I am inside all others' thoughts, dreams, fantasies, fears, hallucinations, and they are in mine, simultaneously. We are all in this together, like a worldwide band of Broadband Borges Borgbots.

    The World Wide Web of the psyche, of the ego and the superego and the Id; woven on wings of light.

    And more yet: I am in touch with all counterfactuals; with the way the world could have been but was not, and the way it might be but will not be. It might be a world that includes humans, but it won't, except (maybe) for the chosen few on the Ark of Fire -- me among them, because I have an indispensable talent.

    My talent is navigating HeadSpace allwheres and and allwhens. Few can do it. Most go mad at once. I, too, shall one day break under the strain; but for now my task is clear: I must help decide what we take to the far future, on the Ark. Unlike Noah and his two of a kind of every animal, we, here, the people of the Ark of Fire, can only take a vanishingly small sliver of the total cosmic consciousness. There is just no room on board for ALL. Our boat is not big enough.

    I am in New Haven, Connecticut, in April 1860, when a young, sinewy, beardless beanstalk version of Abraham Lincoln has the crowd rolling in the aisles with laughter and shooting to their feet with applause in honor of Lincoln's devastating critique of slavery, which he compares to "snakes in the beds of children." I am in the distant past, when dinosaurs seemingly a mile long and a mile tall thunder and plod across the earth like leviathans in a fever dream, the ground shaking under each reverberant tread. I am in Dallas the day that Kennedy was shot, the side of his head exploding like a firecracker while Jackie screams, "Oh my God!" I am present at the fall of the Twin Towers, like double towers of Babel cut down by the wrath of God, and I am in the year 2270, viewing the ruins of San Francisco through a sulfurous haze of unbearable heat. For God had made a covenant not again to kill the world by Water, but He had said nothing of Fire.

    A mere slight turn of the head, a motion to left or right, makes the kaleidoscope of history past, present and future wildly wheel and vastly and violently veer before my eyes, landing me here, putting me there, everywhere and everywhen, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, the physical, tactile experience of it all shifting from place to place and time to time, from modality to modality, in glimmering instants. It is hallucinatory and overwhelming, the opposite of a sensory deprivation chamber; everything happening all at once. It is this experience that drives most Archivists mad, but strangely I am immune, so far, to the insanity-inducing terror of experiencing everything that is, was, will be or even could be, all at once.

    I see -- no, I AM -- Napoleon's armies retreating from Russia, and later Hitler's armies treading the same sorrowed slog back into the heart of harrowed hallowed hollowed Holocaust Europe. I am a random blob of spit on the sidewalk, expectorated by a neatly dressed passerby wearing a bowler hat and smoking a stogie on 42nd Street and Broadway in New York City three weeks before Pearl Harbor. I AM Pearl Harbor. I am every couple in the world in coitus. I am the whole world pullulating with the violent vigor of endless sexuality; a crackling, burning, buzzing subterranean electric tension, a galvanic current that manifests itself from time to time in explosions and volcanoes and fireworks and even rape. A current veneered over by the muffling scelrotic niceties of civil behavior, yet ever able to break through to the surface and blow to pieces our civilizational artifices and pretensions, rendering our neutered rationalism a pathetic Potemkin Village and an existential pomo joke. I am James Joyce's dog with seawardpointing ears, when Stephen Dedalus was walking into eternity along a spit of sand before a tidethunderbooming sea. I am Jesus Christ on the Cross, crying out to high heaven as a wound in my side bleeds; as my hands and feet bleed and the rivulets of blood pool on the rocky outcroppings of Golgotha. I am a movie, a play, a book, a webcam, a website, a virtual reality simulation. I am those stabbing moments in history that change everything, and influence us even before we were born: I am Bobby Kennedy sprawled on the floor of that hotel kitchen after being shot, a paralyzed arm shot outward and a busboy holding up his bleeding head. As I lay dying. I am Russia under Stalin. I am a colony of ants busily bearing dismembered insect parts into the the little raised sandcastles of our earthen nests. I am armies bivouacked on a distant shore, campfires flickering under a bejeweled night sky, the moon an eye without a pupil, that hood of bone staring stupidly and blindly down at the earth on which it sheds its lurid light. I am the Wandering Jew. I am Africa. I am Mesoamerica, conquered by the goldaddcited monsters of Spain, my people branded on the face and forced to work in the gold and silver mines to enrich the imperial shits of Europe. I am a lion (what did Wittgenstein say about lions? If they could talk?) crouching, preparing to pounce on a sword-wielding gladiator in the Roman Colosseum circa 150 A.D. I spring forward and sink my teeth into patches of skin showing through his armored raiment, and he screams and I am his scream, I am him, but I am also the lion, savoring that succulent human meat. Shall we take this, too, to the future? Shall we record all human atrocities for our spare posterity? Or shall we present humans in a flattering light? With a simple blink of the eye, I can efface Hitler's Holocaust as if it never happened. No one will ever remember it. Shall I rewrite the Book of Life so that our descendants, whomever they might be, are able to flatter themselves that they, and we, are not the odious beasts that we actually are? The beasts who have destroyed the world?

    I am the top of the eighth inning of Game One of the 1954 World Series. A stretch, a pitch, the crack of the bat on the ball, the ball soaring heavenward and then arcing downward in the deepest depths of the illshaped Polo Grounds. Willie Mays sprinting, sprinting like a two-legged panther, reaching over his shoulder and snagging the cannonshot just before he hits the wall, and then swiftly bending round and cannonshotting the ball back toward the infield, saving three runs after sprinting into eternity. Yes, we'll take The Catch into Tomorrow. That's a keeper. Thanks, Willie.

    That makes us look good. So does Beethoven, Mozart, Einstein, Newton, Galileo, Van Gogh, parts of the Bible (Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Jesus), Lincoln, Aristotle, Plato, Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr., Krishnamurti. It is surprising and depressing how few people and few events flatter us. We are a beastly species, our nearest relatives the chimpanzees, who castrate and cannibalize rival tribes. That's us. Which is why he had to build the Ark. Because we fucked everything up and now we are toast.

    "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice," Martin Luther King Jr. said.


    Better: "History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness." By Benno von Archimboldi, circa 2666.

    Bolaño wrote: "And Cesárea said something about days to come ... and the teacher, to change the subject, asked her what times she meant and when they would be. And Cesárea named a date, sometime around the year 2600. Two thousand six hundred and something. Why this particular date? Perhaps it's because the biblical exodus from Egypt, a vital moment of spiritual redemption, was supposed to have taken place 2,666 years after the Creation."

    How we all greedily and erotically and baby-like sucked on the tit of Time, of Mother Progress, and in the end we got not milk, but metaphysical cyanide instead. Cyanide and suicide, like Goering on Death Row at Nuremberg. We are all him, in all his fat evil sneering jollity, winking and mocking at God from the abyss while cheating the hangman by biting down on a cyanide tablet.

    A clock does not progress. It simply returns to where it started, Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence. Like the snake eating its own tail. The Ouroboros, the Sign of Time. History does not happen. Like a labyrinth, it simply is. It is Minkowksi spacetime, the metaphysics of Parmenides.

    Progress? The Underground Man said that if the Crystal Palace were finally built, he would smash it … out of pure spite. That if necessary, he would revolt against twice two makes four, for revolt is man's only freedom.

    I am sometimes tempted to sabotage the Ark of Fire. I have that power. My superiors don't know that.

    But I do.

    I have hacked HeadSpace. I can topple the whole thing like a house of cards.


    I, I alone, can suicide our species, to spare it the harms and horrors ahead. Many of which are already here, as the water laps at our feeble fortresses and as the Great Dust, The Sandman, roams and romps over the world, effacing it like an eraser obliterating chalk, chortling as He does so, shrouded in His yellow cowl of sand, face black under it, except for a white grin made of salt. The Sandman throws salt and sand on the land. Like Rome effacing Carthage. He effaces the world like the Word blown particulate from the furious mouth of God. Lay this desert down.

    I am The Sandman. Sand through the hourglass.

    I am the all-powerful Time, which destroys all things. I have come here to slay these men.

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