StuartJWarren
Author of the mundanely profound. Weaver of stories for Eowyn. Writer of Novels. www.stuartjwarren.com @StuartJWarren #SpiritOfOrn
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Written by StuartJWarren in portal Fantasy

Black Magic

"So," Hornnettle began, swirling his coffee counterclockwise in its mug, "How was the weekend?"

"If you count the botched job is Sudan, mostly okay," Pommesblossom replied. "The agency doesn't take kindly to fuck-ups now that everyone has a cell phone camera and a personal blog. Fairies running False Flag operations in this day and age?"

A buxom woman passed them in the break room threshold, holding close to her chest a ream of papers, earmarked and scored with highlighter amendments and Hornettle and Pommesblossom covertly glanced over.

"Don't even think about it," Hornettle spoke up, raising his cup to take a sip. "For god's sake your prick is so tiny it wouldn't work out for either of you."

"One day we won't be needed, and it's not bad to have a contingency plan when we are all disavowed," Pommesblossom replied, bobbing in the air restlessly.

"We should have never left the forest," Pommesblossom continued glumly. "We used to get so much tail there."

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Write a 10 sentence fantasy story.
Written by StuartJWarren in portal Fantasy
Black Magic
"So," Hornnettle began, swirling his coffee counterclockwise in its mug, "How was the weekend?"

"If you count the botched job is Sudan, mostly okay," Pommesblossom replied. "The agency doesn't take kindly to fuck-ups now that everyone has a cell phone camera and a personal blog. Fairies running False Flag operations in this day and age?"

A buxom woman passed them in the break room threshold, holding close to her chest a ream of papers, earmarked and scored with highlighter amendments and Hornettle and Pommesblossom covertly glanced over.

"Don't even think about it," Hornettle spoke up, raising his cup to take a sip. "For god's sake your prick is so tiny it wouldn't work out for either of you."

"One day we won't be needed, and it's not bad to have a contingency plan when we are all disavowed," Pommesblossom replied, bobbing in the air restlessly.

"We should have never left the forest," Pommesblossom continued glumly. "We used to get so much tail there."
7
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1
Juice
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Written by StuartJWarren

The Expectations of Pushing Stone

Pushing Papers like stone up the deceptive asymptote. Holden punched, well-intentioned, an array of dizzying numbers into a cheap plastic calculator. A line of patrons hedged in his cubicle swaying languidly, gripping checks hatefully. At the end of the day he would go home to end it all but remained convicted that his work was at least important enough to remain accurate and composed. The end of day climax, orgasmic and warm, he craved the moment of release, to walk through the doors, now, one last time. Passing through, a stone fell. Holden was crushed to death by a gargoyle.

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Written by StuartJWarren
The Expectations of Pushing Stone
Pushing Papers like stone up the deceptive asymptote. Holden punched, well-intentioned, an array of dizzying numbers into a cheap plastic calculator. A line of patrons hedged in his cubicle swaying languidly, gripping checks hatefully. At the end of the day he would go home to end it all but remained convicted that his work was at least important enough to remain accurate and composed. The end of day climax, orgasmic and warm, he craved the moment of release, to walk through the doors, now, one last time. Passing through, a stone fell. Holden was crushed to death by a gargoyle.
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Written by StuartJWarren

Briefest Lives: Mike Shinn

A wheel spins made of plywood and supplied from the local hardware store, painted in primary pastels, culled from an era where men wore sideburns and shouted to a hungry audience, “Cash! Prizes!” A crowd of distracted workers huddle around the bell, peeking over shoulders to glimpse the results of the ticking wheel, clicking noisomely, winding down to the final slot. He stands remote, looking satisfied, arms folded authoritatively, occasionally glancing toward the dispatch terminal. The hive murmurs, his workers summoning their gifts on demand, every greeting warm and friendly, smiling through the phone. Tangible levity elevates the room, plastered with kitschy bric-a-brac, like a tech-themed diner in the obscure Midwest. As the spinner lands the final blow, he nods with approval at the fateful result. The president of sales howls a cry for victory, and the rabble disperses quietly hoping for a puppy party or go-karts this time. Mike returned to his desk, burrowed into a cozy dark crevice at the heart of the company, keeping it warm with cheer, and jotted down the result in his mail calendar. Moments later an email would circulate throughout the office, announcing the pending decision: a company event in celebration for landing another contract. Mike scrolled through his unread messages, bobbing his head side to side, humming a ditty culled from broadcasting history, a blithe tune indistinguishable from the hundreds before and after. A crudely rendered, yet charming printout from a LaserWriter is mounted beside a Linnea Pergola print of Sunset Boulevard at the threshold beside the door, visible from the exterior, nearly obscured by the suspiciously emasculating antivirus mascot that absconded to the office after the previous month’s V.A.R. conference. An eclectic mix of pop singles from the most recent decades played low, masked occasionally by his typing, precise and confident. Mike read back a sentence and raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise. He hammered the backspace key with his middle and ring fingers, depressing with the appropriate severity and intensity, loud enough to indicate that an error was made, rhythmically consistent to demonstrate his handle on the issue. The volume of the outer space ebbed and flowed like the tide, cresting at 10 am and waning between 2:45 and 3:20 pm. When the volume increased, when the salutations grew ragged and thin, a stronger hand was required. Subordinates and superiors, passing between one another as a red light was erected to declare violence, Mike subsisted amidst the fervor, arms folded, glancing up at the alert triage, directing with a firm and steady hand. And when the day is done, when there is nothing left to do, he departs, bicycling home beside disgruntled commuters and sexually frustrated housewives. Mid-century modern, Ranch-style homes, each cut nauseatingly specific, one of four styles, over a two-hundred unit swath, line the causeway, situated over what once was a marshland extending to the sea. Convincingly normative and eclectically contorted to eke out an approximate variety. Mike’s mother-in-law, come over early, pulled up curbside, ready to relinquish his children into his care, eagerly thanks him and departs and, in some respect, he is relieved. Alex and Michael busily regurgitate their day, pointing to their matching bracelets, applied by their eco-conscious teachers in memory of democracy. When the door shuts, it is final. The moment of catharsis that purges the day’s concerns and challenges, until the next arrive tomorrow. The couch feels his body sink in a few moments later, as sugarplum animations dance on the LED screen and submerge him into a blissful stupor.

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Written by StuartJWarren
Briefest Lives: Mike Shinn
A wheel spins made of plywood and supplied from the local hardware store, painted in primary pastels, culled from an era where men wore sideburns and shouted to a hungry audience, “Cash! Prizes!” A crowd of distracted workers huddle around the bell, peeking over shoulders to glimpse the results of the ticking wheel, clicking noisomely, winding down to the final slot. He stands remote, looking satisfied, arms folded authoritatively, occasionally glancing toward the dispatch terminal. The hive murmurs, his workers summoning their gifts on demand, every greeting warm and friendly, smiling through the phone. Tangible levity elevates the room, plastered with kitschy bric-a-brac, like a tech-themed diner in the obscure Midwest. As the spinner lands the final blow, he nods with approval at the fateful result. The president of sales howls a cry for victory, and the rabble disperses quietly hoping for a puppy party or go-karts this time. Mike returned to his desk, burrowed into a cozy dark crevice at the heart of the company, keeping it warm with cheer, and jotted down the result in his mail calendar. Moments later an email would circulate throughout the office, announcing the pending decision: a company event in celebration for landing another contract. Mike scrolled through his unread messages, bobbing his head side to side, humming a ditty culled from broadcasting history, a blithe tune indistinguishable from the hundreds before and after. A crudely rendered, yet charming printout from a LaserWriter is mounted beside a Linnea Pergola print of Sunset Boulevard at the threshold beside the door, visible from the exterior, nearly obscured by the suspiciously emasculating antivirus mascot that absconded to the office after the previous month’s V.A.R. conference. An eclectic mix of pop singles from the most recent decades played low, masked occasionally by his typing, precise and confident. Mike read back a sentence and raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise. He hammered the backspace key with his middle and ring fingers, depressing with the appropriate severity and intensity, loud enough to indicate that an error was made, rhythmically consistent to demonstrate his handle on the issue. The volume of the outer space ebbed and flowed like the tide, cresting at 10 am and waning between 2:45 and 3:20 pm. When the volume increased, when the salutations grew ragged and thin, a stronger hand was required. Subordinates and superiors, passing between one another as a red light was erected to declare violence, Mike subsisted amidst the fervor, arms folded, glancing up at the alert triage, directing with a firm and steady hand. And when the day is done, when there is nothing left to do, he departs, bicycling home beside disgruntled commuters and sexually frustrated housewives. Mid-century modern, Ranch-style homes, each cut nauseatingly specific, one of four styles, over a two-hundred unit swath, line the causeway, situated over what once was a marshland extending to the sea. Convincingly normative and eclectically contorted to eke out an approximate variety. Mike’s mother-in-law, come over early, pulled up curbside, ready to relinquish his children into his care, eagerly thanks him and departs and, in some respect, he is relieved. Alex and Michael busily regurgitate their day, pointing to their matching bracelets, applied by their eco-conscious teachers in memory of democracy. When the door shuts, it is final. The moment of catharsis that purges the day’s concerns and challenges, until the next arrive tomorrow. The couch feels his body sink in a few moments later, as sugarplum animations dance on the LED screen and submerge him into a blissful stupor.
5
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Juice
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Written by StuartJWarren

Briefest Lives: Mr. White

A jacket is draped over the coat rack at the corner, drenched in sweat and productivity. The extra-large article is straight and hollow, taking on no particular shape, tailored to fit a man of no particular taste. The navy blue threads are well preserved, as the jacket is only worn in the company of others the like to wear jackets, and talk about where they got them from, and where they have them made. It is one of two. The other is for formal events, namely weddings in barns, where the bride and groom wear Hawaiian t-shirts and cut pineapple cake. A sticky, oppressive atmosphere is pushed back by industrial floor fans outfacing from the front door. A pool of water has formed by the central air conditioning unit, as two undocumented immigrants hired by the maintenance company repair the glycol gaskets. The condensation off the pipes, and onto the floor, reminds Mr. White of his refrigerator growing up, dripping, coating the floor in a sweet sticky resin that smelled like apple juice and fermented fruit. A regimented array of cheap, fizzy beer crafted for the unsophisticated and undemanding tastes of the middle American worker lined the top shelf, positioned strategically toward the back of the fridge to ensure a constant and steady temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. White lingered in the hallway watching the workers continue. The walls of his house were crowned with pictures of family and friends, awards and trophies, of a lifetime of “job well done.” A crowded family photo of a wife, two boys and a daughter stared back at him in the dim, quiet stillness. He glanced across the living room, peering outside to a patio and a pool and a grill, like the one he always wanted. He walked to the pantry and took out a couple of juice boxes—it was all he had—while the other, more appetizing drinks disappeared questionably, usually between the hours of 10pm and 4am, when he was asleep and the house was stirring with scavenging parasites. He took them to the workers and passed them around with a smile and a pat on the back. Mr. White was over generous with his affections, willing to dole out in excess. His co-workers noticed that about him. He always had a story or some deeper lesson in his staff meetings on the oil rigs, always willing to take longer breaks to go over proactive maintenance sheets and identify negligent workers for forgetting to lock-out-tag-out an open butterfly valve. Manuel and Carlos, with silver and gold plated smiles received the drinks agreeably and went back to work. Mr. White walked out, passing again through the kitchen, where a wretched, depressed Exotic Shorthair languished in the heat, shaved unscrupulously close, leaving only its face remaining, a wincing old man. Stepping outside, he was assaulted by the stagnant, damp air and waddled his way to the garage. In the kitchen, a phone rings, and rings, and rings, and rings, and a message plays over the outward speaker phone. A gruff, low voice, enunciates the new correctional facility regulations in regards to the “previous incident.” No hugging, no touching, even during sessions. His badge would be ready later that day and could be picked up with the Warden’s assistance. Mr. White entered the ashy, dusty interior of the carport. In the corner, hedged between two rusty mountain bikes and a gun safe, was a broken weedwacker. On top of the safe, a green, paint chipped tool box, elegantly decorated with swaying cursive, with wide and unbroken Honeymooner charm, was open filed with cobwebbed tools. They stank of cigarette smoke, of fear, of regret, of heartache. Underneath the lid, a faded patch, threadbare and bleached, an eagle perched on the face of the moon, was epoxied underneath, the gold lettering nearly faded after the forty-six years since. Mr. White took from the box a wrench and began to fix the weedwacker, humming blithely.

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Written by StuartJWarren
Briefest Lives: Mr. White
A jacket is draped over the coat rack at the corner, drenched in sweat and productivity. The extra-large article is straight and hollow, taking on no particular shape, tailored to fit a man of no particular taste. The navy blue threads are well preserved, as the jacket is only worn in the company of others the like to wear jackets, and talk about where they got them from, and where they have them made. It is one of two. The other is for formal events, namely weddings in barns, where the bride and groom wear Hawaiian t-shirts and cut pineapple cake. A sticky, oppressive atmosphere is pushed back by industrial floor fans outfacing from the front door. A pool of water has formed by the central air conditioning unit, as two undocumented immigrants hired by the maintenance company repair the glycol gaskets. The condensation off the pipes, and onto the floor, reminds Mr. White of his refrigerator growing up, dripping, coating the floor in a sweet sticky resin that smelled like apple juice and fermented fruit. A regimented array of cheap, fizzy beer crafted for the unsophisticated and undemanding tastes of the middle American worker lined the top shelf, positioned strategically toward the back of the fridge to ensure a constant and steady temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. White lingered in the hallway watching the workers continue. The walls of his house were crowned with pictures of family and friends, awards and trophies, of a lifetime of “job well done.” A crowded family photo of a wife, two boys and a daughter stared back at him in the dim, quiet stillness. He glanced across the living room, peering outside to a patio and a pool and a grill, like the one he always wanted. He walked to the pantry and took out a couple of juice boxes—it was all he had—while the other, more appetizing drinks disappeared questionably, usually between the hours of 10pm and 4am, when he was asleep and the house was stirring with scavenging parasites. He took them to the workers and passed them around with a smile and a pat on the back. Mr. White was over generous with his affections, willing to dole out in excess. His co-workers noticed that about him. He always had a story or some deeper lesson in his staff meetings on the oil rigs, always willing to take longer breaks to go over proactive maintenance sheets and identify negligent workers for forgetting to lock-out-tag-out an open butterfly valve. Manuel and Carlos, with silver and gold plated smiles received the drinks agreeably and went back to work. Mr. White walked out, passing again through the kitchen, where a wretched, depressed Exotic Shorthair languished in the heat, shaved unscrupulously close, leaving only its face remaining, a wincing old man. Stepping outside, he was assaulted by the stagnant, damp air and waddled his way to the garage. In the kitchen, a phone rings, and rings, and rings, and rings, and a message plays over the outward speaker phone. A gruff, low voice, enunciates the new correctional facility regulations in regards to the “previous incident.” No hugging, no touching, even during sessions. His badge would be ready later that day and could be picked up with the Warden’s assistance. Mr. White entered the ashy, dusty interior of the carport. In the corner, hedged between two rusty mountain bikes and a gun safe, was a broken weedwacker. On top of the safe, a green, paint chipped tool box, elegantly decorated with swaying cursive, with wide and unbroken Honeymooner charm, was open filed with cobwebbed tools. They stank of cigarette smoke, of fear, of regret, of heartache. Underneath the lid, a faded patch, threadbare and bleached, an eagle perched on the face of the moon, was epoxied underneath, the gold lettering nearly faded after the forty-six years since. Mr. White took from the box a wrench and began to fix the weedwacker, humming blithely.
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Written by StuartJWarren

Briefest Lives: Jared "Desmond" White

In the summer of 2012, I watched him enter the cabin, navigating the small, intimate space ungracefully like a bull in a china shop, carrying haphazardly a six pack of beer and some bratwursts from the local supermarket in town. Desmond resembled a bear, covered in thick body hair, earning the moniker, “Jear-Bear” or “Bear-Bear.” Though, truthfully he was not much like a bear at all. Bears to me are loaners, right-wing nut jobs, living in seclusion to cultivate a safe interior world within the greater, unstable one that advanced without paying heed to their objections and idiosyncrasies. Jared—that is, Desmond’s given name—allayed any suspicion of malevolence with his wild, joyful presence, warm and inviting like a cozy fireplace on a cold winter night. His frame was massive, though not barrel chested, not quite obese, but robust and full figured, towering over most of his contemporaries, a bespectacled giant. Calm hands unpacked the food, steady and methodical. Inside the fridge, an array of scattered, half eaten food lie fallow and disorganized, though a particular order governed the contents, assuming categories associated by meal and time of day. One bed in the cabin, dressed with one ratty comforter and scattered clothing suggested there had been no one else living there prior to my arrival, save him and the occasional weekend guest. Below us, accessible by a roughhewn step ladder through a trapdoor a hobby room contained a small desk, a pool table, and a reasonable bookshelf. Well-worn spines, outward facing, arranged in order topically, then alphabetically spanned the shelves, some paying respects to classical poets and others to modern film writing. Yellowed pages stained with water spilled over the boundaries of the desk, filled with scant etchings of plots and characters from his myriad projects in process. A beaten, ragged chair, assaulted by hours of supporting Desmond’s genius was neatly pushed into the desk’s interior, an ingrained habit instilled from oversea boarding schools across the South Pacific. A daily itinerary, taped to the wall with blue painters tape, was filled out with a disciplined schedule. Letters from home, opened at the top, earmarked for future perusal were stuffed under the papers, should the time allow for such things. A second bathroom, covertly added on by his father, adjacent to the hobby room was full of board games of varying degrees of complexity, designed by complacent grunge era computer scientists to be played when the weather prohibited venturing out into the world. Hand painted miniatures shared the space, like sentries guarding a vault of precious belongings. In previous months I had added to the collection of warriors, goblins, spacefaring marines and makeshift terrain, contrasted from reclaimed refuse and dollhouses. My gaze was fixed to a single ogre, a green faced abomination burdened with appropriated bits of plastic representations of military equipment fastened to its body with hobby glue, unlike the others, lean and bent over with scatterings of acrylic blood on their dry brushed lips. Upstairs Desmond called me with his lumbering steps, and my focus was unmoored. As tradition dictated, we both were due for a hike to Strawberry Peak, and the sun was soon to set.

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Written by StuartJWarren
Briefest Lives: Jared "Desmond" White
In the summer of 2012, I watched him enter the cabin, navigating the small, intimate space ungracefully like a bull in a china shop, carrying haphazardly a six pack of beer and some bratwursts from the local supermarket in town. Desmond resembled a bear, covered in thick body hair, earning the moniker, “Jear-Bear” or “Bear-Bear.” Though, truthfully he was not much like a bear at all. Bears to me are loaners, right-wing nut jobs, living in seclusion to cultivate a safe interior world within the greater, unstable one that advanced without paying heed to their objections and idiosyncrasies. Jared—that is, Desmond’s given name—allayed any suspicion of malevolence with his wild, joyful presence, warm and inviting like a cozy fireplace on a cold winter night. His frame was massive, though not barrel chested, not quite obese, but robust and full figured, towering over most of his contemporaries, a bespectacled giant. Calm hands unpacked the food, steady and methodical. Inside the fridge, an array of scattered, half eaten food lie fallow and disorganized, though a particular order governed the contents, assuming categories associated by meal and time of day. One bed in the cabin, dressed with one ratty comforter and scattered clothing suggested there had been no one else living there prior to my arrival, save him and the occasional weekend guest. Below us, accessible by a roughhewn step ladder through a trapdoor a hobby room contained a small desk, a pool table, and a reasonable bookshelf. Well-worn spines, outward facing, arranged in order topically, then alphabetically spanned the shelves, some paying respects to classical poets and others to modern film writing. Yellowed pages stained with water spilled over the boundaries of the desk, filled with scant etchings of plots and characters from his myriad projects in process. A beaten, ragged chair, assaulted by hours of supporting Desmond’s genius was neatly pushed into the desk’s interior, an ingrained habit instilled from oversea boarding schools across the South Pacific. A daily itinerary, taped to the wall with blue painters tape, was filled out with a disciplined schedule. Letters from home, opened at the top, earmarked for future perusal were stuffed under the papers, should the time allow for such things. A second bathroom, covertly added on by his father, adjacent to the hobby room was full of board games of varying degrees of complexity, designed by complacent grunge era computer scientists to be played when the weather prohibited venturing out into the world. Hand painted miniatures shared the space, like sentries guarding a vault of precious belongings. In previous months I had added to the collection of warriors, goblins, spacefaring marines and makeshift terrain, contrasted from reclaimed refuse and dollhouses. My gaze was fixed to a single ogre, a green faced abomination burdened with appropriated bits of plastic representations of military equipment fastened to its body with hobby glue, unlike the others, lean and bent over with scatterings of acrylic blood on their dry brushed lips. Upstairs Desmond called me with his lumbering steps, and my focus was unmoored. As tradition dictated, we both were due for a hike to Strawberry Peak, and the sun was soon to set.
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Written by StuartJWarren

100 Followers? Thank you!

I am humbled by your recognition of my work. My wife and new-born thank you.

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Written by StuartJWarren
100 Followers? Thank you!
I am humbled by your recognition of my work. My wife and new-born thank you.
16
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Juice
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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by StuartJWarren in portal Simon & Schuster

A Mass Turquoise the Size of the Sea

In the sea there is a vibrating stone.

I'd seen it as a child, at the beach where my parents were born. In the early morning, when the sand is a pale grey, I would walk out and see it. It would haunt and hover over the waters like a solitary spirit. The hide was leathery like a sea tortoise, ribbed with smooth stone-like mounds the size of seashells. There are no eyes, mouth, anything distinctly denoting an animal or otherwise. But there was a sentience burdening the creature.

I told my therapist a year or two ago that when I saw the creature I never fully convinced myself that it was from another world, that it was some creature come from distant worlds to make contact with another race. It was from Earth, from the waters. I knew it. Standing by the water, I saw that it would try to speak to me on the winds. Whispers and sighs hanging on the air like the flapping wings of a seagull.

Now that I’m older, I’ve come back to the shore hoping to see the creature again. It’s been 40 years since I last saw it. But I’ve lost hope. That’s what happens when we grow older. The wonders of the world diminish and what impressed and amazed slowly becomes rote and familiar, like waves eroding at the proud cliffs above the beachhead. It all comes crashing down as year after year disappointment and reality sets in. My faith in the creature, whatever it was, has waned too much. And it won’t come back for me, take me away from this place that I loathe, that I desire to escape. Take me to the depths, underneath the waves to the center of the earth!

I remember the time when I was 8 years old. I was running on the beach. Once, it was early in the morning. I had gotten up to see the stone that hung in the air. It was floating close to the waves, sprayed with white foam. Birds of the air had gathered on it. Pecking its hide for parasites and other food. I approached, wading in the frigid waters up to my waist. The stinging cold hardly dissuaded me, soaking me to the bone through my pajamas. I reached up and touched it, the stone. A fire burned in it, a warmth that I cannot, to this day, describe rightly. A primal passion of the world, of life in all its wide spectrum, for all history. I wanted to be with it, to love it, to never let go. The creature vibrated at different frequencies attempting to communicate to me something deeper than any philosopher had ever spoken, but it was all lost on me. The creature lifted higher, beyond my reach, and flew away. I wept in the water. I didn’t want it to go. It left and I never saw it again.

I take my family to the same beach now that I’m older. There’s a campsite above it and a trail that runs down to the waters. Sandstone, so brittle and fragile, makes it easy to descend. Easy enough for a child. My son is old enough now to understand the beyond things, and I wonder if the creature has appeared to him yet. But now I can see it in his eyes: the unsettling realization of otherness. One year I resolved to stay up the entire night to watch him. I hid waiting in the darkness sipping coffee, watching my breath steam in the cold night. My son got up once, about 3 AM. I followed him down to the beach, and watched him wait, looking disappointed.

I realized, grasping part of the railing leading down to the beach, that in my selfishness I had deprived my own son of another moment of magic. So I turned around and walked back. It wasn’t until I was back to my tent when I heard my son speaking on the winds. I closed my eyes and began to sob quietly. That night I got little sleep.

It's so clear in my mind, the massive shape of turquoise like a wall of sound, a ward against suffering and discomfort and confusion. As I reflect on it, I grow less certain if I ever knew what it was: the consequence of age, really. Memory is so unreliable. “It must represent some trauma from your youth,” my therapist told me in a session recently. Frankly, she doesn’t understand why I keep bringing it up. She looks at me like I’m crazy sometimes. She doesn’t understand.

I asked for my inheritance early from my father so I could buy a house on the beach last month. Construction on the plot of land begins in two months. I think my wife suspects something but she remains quiet.

As I grow older I’ve considered that the blue-grey mass represents death. The impregnable vale of the unknown. The creature accepted me once, and thoughts of suicide made me consider that I could see it again. Not even the love of my son can hold me back. I must know! I must know…

It’s okay, it’s okay.

Everything will be okay.

The mass is waiting for me, and it will take me away from all of this.

It will vibrate me away, back into the sea, subsumed into the turquoise.

Everything will be okay, again.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by StuartJWarren in portal Simon & Schuster
A Mass Turquoise the Size of the Sea
In the sea there is a vibrating stone.

I'd seen it as a child, at the beach where my parents were born. In the early morning, when the sand is a pale grey, I would walk out and see it. It would haunt and hover over the waters like a solitary spirit. The hide was leathery like a sea tortoise, ribbed with smooth stone-like mounds the size of seashells. There are no eyes, mouth, anything distinctly denoting an animal or otherwise. But there was a sentience burdening the creature.

I told my therapist a year or two ago that when I saw the creature I never fully convinced myself that it was from another world, that it was some creature come from distant worlds to make contact with another race. It was from Earth, from the waters. I knew it. Standing by the water, I saw that it would try to speak to me on the winds. Whispers and sighs hanging on the air like the flapping wings of a seagull.

Now that I’m older, I’ve come back to the shore hoping to see the creature again. It’s been 40 years since I last saw it. But I’ve lost hope. That’s what happens when we grow older. The wonders of the world diminish and what impressed and amazed slowly becomes rote and familiar, like waves eroding at the proud cliffs above the beachhead. It all comes crashing down as year after year disappointment and reality sets in. My faith in the creature, whatever it was, has waned too much. And it won’t come back for me, take me away from this place that I loathe, that I desire to escape. Take me to the depths, underneath the waves to the center of the earth!

I remember the time when I was 8 years old. I was running on the beach. Once, it was early in the morning. I had gotten up to see the stone that hung in the air. It was floating close to the waves, sprayed with white foam. Birds of the air had gathered on it. Pecking its hide for parasites and other food. I approached, wading in the frigid waters up to my waist. The stinging cold hardly dissuaded me, soaking me to the bone through my pajamas. I reached up and touched it, the stone. A fire burned in it, a warmth that I cannot, to this day, describe rightly. A primal passion of the world, of life in all its wide spectrum, for all history. I wanted to be with it, to love it, to never let go. The creature vibrated at different frequencies attempting to communicate to me something deeper than any philosopher had ever spoken, but it was all lost on me. The creature lifted higher, beyond my reach, and flew away. I wept in the water. I didn’t want it to go. It left and I never saw it again.

I take my family to the same beach now that I’m older. There’s a campsite above it and a trail that runs down to the waters. Sandstone, so brittle and fragile, makes it easy to descend. Easy enough for a child. My son is old enough now to understand the beyond things, and I wonder if the creature has appeared to him yet. But now I can see it in his eyes: the unsettling realization of otherness. One year I resolved to stay up the entire night to watch him. I hid waiting in the darkness sipping coffee, watching my breath steam in the cold night. My son got up once, about 3 AM. I followed him down to the beach, and watched him wait, looking disappointed.

I realized, grasping part of the railing leading down to the beach, that in my selfishness I had deprived my own son of another moment of magic. So I turned around and walked back. It wasn’t until I was back to my tent when I heard my son speaking on the winds. I closed my eyes and began to sob quietly. That night I got little sleep.

It's so clear in my mind, the massive shape of turquoise like a wall of sound, a ward against suffering and discomfort and confusion. As I reflect on it, I grow less certain if I ever knew what it was: the consequence of age, really. Memory is so unreliable. “It must represent some trauma from your youth,” my therapist told me in a session recently. Frankly, she doesn’t understand why I keep bringing it up. She looks at me like I’m crazy sometimes. She doesn’t understand.

I asked for my inheritance early from my father so I could buy a house on the beach last month. Construction on the plot of land begins in two months. I think my wife suspects something but she remains quiet.

As I grow older I’ve considered that the blue-grey mass represents death. The impregnable vale of the unknown. The creature accepted me once, and thoughts of suicide made me consider that I could see it again. Not even the love of my son can hold me back. I must know! I must know…

It’s okay, it’s okay.
Everything will be okay.
The mass is waiting for me, and it will take me away from all of this.
It will vibrate me away, back into the sea, subsumed into the turquoise.

Everything will be okay, again.
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Written by StuartJWarren

Quarantino

In the dense custard interior of my apartment I watched my wife breathe gently, her lungs pushing down into the uterine wall holding back our unborn child. A sealed myth awaiting release by a lone adventurer seeking renown and fortune. Her belly rose and fell like waves on a restless sea. It protruded like a well fed man. I gazed, marveling at the mass of flesh and bone, gestating a life from formless atoms. It made me hungry.

Without pause, I sought my pants, which I grabbed after like a lascivious ape, palming a grip of denim draped over an heirloom chair. Around my torso, I covered my chest in a soiled undershirt, thinking only of the greasy reward awaiting me six blocks away: a wasting hamburger. The sum of its parts in disarray, lounging in stainless pans, shivering in cold storage, dismembered on the block. My immobile spouse, eyed me in jealousy. I declined to convey to her grasp the sought prize. “It would be cold,” I said meekly, slipping on my socks. I truth I was complacent, living out the curse of Adam.

I gazed upward into a tree, bending against the demanding wind. Positioned at a corner, two blocks from my aging apartment, I was fixed, frozen in my steps, keenly suspicious that, somehow, the universe had appointed me a special privilege. An altercation fomented. Opposing one another, two men were enthralled with rage, gasping for breath between insults and jibes. Their coordination, serendipitous and immaculate, gave my heart pause, and I basked in their tomfoolery like an art gallery patron admiring the work of long dead masters.

“Fuck you looking at?” A stretched, tall man-boy, reaching indecisively for his man-bun. Fingers poised to disassemble the knot of greasy hair, to be draped over patchouli stained shoulders, barely covered by a two hundred dollar shirt made by the desperate poor. His wife was awkwardly positioned near, standing mute. I could not see her face, if she was embarrassed or frightened. There was no context her demeanor could offer me, save her folded hands crossing her hips protectively.

Opposite him, a kitchen worker, clothed in food stained cotton, obsidian like his heart, dispirited and crushed under the burden of Maslow’s second necessity. He did not hear the jibes at first. His gait slowed to a stop, as he realized that he was being verbally assaulted behind two fences.

“ Fuck you.” I heard the stroller pushing yuppie, his words apathetic as his footed feet.

The other, stopped, his body hunched and bent with exhaustion, craned his neck with exhaustion “What?” He called out, throwing his arms up indignant.

“Fuck you staring at, punto?”

The obsidian urchin began to walk back toward the street corner.

“Where you going, punto?” The yuppie called out shaking his fists. He raised the other, lifting his middle finger against the weight of his burden.

“What the fuck? Fuck, man! Chingada güey!” the urchin cried out, his chest puffed out like an ape perturbed, striking it with his fists.

Each were poised, the safety of half a block between them, railing insults at one another.

My pace was set, I would not interfere. My eyes stole covert glances at the belligerent knights acting in the manner laid out by Ramon Lull. But I could not defend the quixotic display, so antiquated and barbaric. In my own heart, I raged against the wind. My breathless voice cried out insults, and still I could not speak. I realized then that my own courage waned until it was nothing, in the face of these two stupid, brave men defending their honor.

“The fuck is your problem man?” The urchin angrily approached, hesitantly, only before stepping back again. “Chingada punto.” He thrust his hands toward his pelvis suggestively.

I watched the stroller yuppie grip the aluminum frame of the stroller tightly and dismissively cast off the urchin with a wave of its hand. As quickly as the bizarre altercation began, the two chicanos established an unspoken détente. The urchin go back his way, shaking his head despairingly in frustration. And as my eyes lingered, I hoped , desperately, to see the man continue their argument, or behold an act of domestic violence against the other. But as I passed the cracked concrete retaining wall, buckling under the rotting infrastructure of municipal neglect, nothing of the sort happened, and all hope of an explanation of the random act of violence passed, like the lights of oncoming cars in the twilight.

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Written by StuartJWarren
Quarantino
In the dense custard interior of my apartment I watched my wife breathe gently, her lungs pushing down into the uterine wall holding back our unborn child. A sealed myth awaiting release by a lone adventurer seeking renown and fortune. Her belly rose and fell like waves on a restless sea. It protruded like a well fed man. I gazed, marveling at the mass of flesh and bone, gestating a life from formless atoms. It made me hungry.

Without pause, I sought my pants, which I grabbed after like a lascivious ape, palming a grip of denim draped over an heirloom chair. Around my torso, I covered my chest in a soiled undershirt, thinking only of the greasy reward awaiting me six blocks away: a wasting hamburger. The sum of its parts in disarray, lounging in stainless pans, shivering in cold storage, dismembered on the block. My immobile spouse, eyed me in jealousy. I declined to convey to her grasp the sought prize. “It would be cold,” I said meekly, slipping on my socks. I truth I was complacent, living out the curse of Adam.

I gazed upward into a tree, bending against the demanding wind. Positioned at a corner, two blocks from my aging apartment, I was fixed, frozen in my steps, keenly suspicious that, somehow, the universe had appointed me a special privilege. An altercation fomented. Opposing one another, two men were enthralled with rage, gasping for breath between insults and jibes. Their coordination, serendipitous and immaculate, gave my heart pause, and I basked in their tomfoolery like an art gallery patron admiring the work of long dead masters.

“Fuck you looking at?” A stretched, tall man-boy, reaching indecisively for his man-bun. Fingers poised to disassemble the knot of greasy hair, to be draped over patchouli stained shoulders, barely covered by a two hundred dollar shirt made by the desperate poor. His wife was awkwardly positioned near, standing mute. I could not see her face, if she was embarrassed or frightened. There was no context her demeanor could offer me, save her folded hands crossing her hips protectively.

Opposite him, a kitchen worker, clothed in food stained cotton, obsidian like his heart, dispirited and crushed under the burden of Maslow’s second necessity. He did not hear the jibes at first. His gait slowed to a stop, as he realized that he was being verbally assaulted behind two fences.

“ Fuck you.” I heard the stroller pushing yuppie, his words apathetic as his footed feet.

The other, stopped, his body hunched and bent with exhaustion, craned his neck with exhaustion “What?” He called out, throwing his arms up indignant.

“Fuck you staring at, punto?”

The obsidian urchin began to walk back toward the street corner.

“Where you going, punto?” The yuppie called out shaking his fists. He raised the other, lifting his middle finger against the weight of his burden.

“What the fuck? Fuck, man! Chingada güey!” the urchin cried out, his chest puffed out like an ape perturbed, striking it with his fists.

Each were poised, the safety of half a block between them, railing insults at one another.

My pace was set, I would not interfere. My eyes stole covert glances at the belligerent knights acting in the manner laid out by Ramon Lull. But I could not defend the quixotic display, so antiquated and barbaric. In my own heart, I raged against the wind. My breathless voice cried out insults, and still I could not speak. I realized then that my own courage waned until it was nothing, in the face of these two stupid, brave men defending their honor.
“The fuck is your problem man?” The urchin angrily approached, hesitantly, only before stepping back again. “Chingada punto.” He thrust his hands toward his pelvis suggestively.

I watched the stroller yuppie grip the aluminum frame of the stroller tightly and dismissively cast off the urchin with a wave of its hand. As quickly as the bizarre altercation began, the two chicanos established an unspoken détente. The urchin go back his way, shaking his head despairingly in frustration. And as my eyes lingered, I hoped , desperately, to see the man continue their argument, or behold an act of domestic violence against the other. But as I passed the cracked concrete retaining wall, buckling under the rotting infrastructure of municipal neglect, nothing of the sort happened, and all hope of an explanation of the random act of violence passed, like the lights of oncoming cars in the twilight.

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Tell a story through a list: 1) It can be broken by numbers or bullet points or commas or something else. 2) It can be a collection or sequence or whatever you want. 3) Winner gets 50 coins.
Written by StuartJWarren

Listless Advice on Happy Living

Step one to a happy life is forgetting expectations and seizing the real—what’s there right in front of you. Too long do we clamor for something that is approaching, something that is just over the horizon, waiting for it to appear long into the twilight while the world spins on, and on. Triceratops waded in the marshes under an eerie, approaching glow, bright as phosphorus, casting a glare through choking air—and they thought about another meal, but gagged on hellish fire. Quartos etched in tear soaked ink incorrectly prescribed courtly love to satisfy the heart’s desire: a little known fact, it killed Poe and left him in a ditch. Quinceaneras everywhere crown the budding beauty, unfinished prequels to white weddings and honorable endings that may never come. Sex offers a brief inquiry into the possibilities of happiness but finishes in sweaty defeat, giving up ones seed in exchange for magic beans. Severance from the notion that we can predict the future a priori ensures a bright future of aimless bliss—the fool, though who dances in the field naked, eventually burns his skin. Ate, Adam did, from the apple and fucked Eve over, siring life coaches, financial planners, therapists, and preachers, ready to lead the blind. Finely mix advice with will and live with lungs full, alive. Tense living begets worry, and tomorrow has enough worries of its own. 

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Tell a story through a list: 1) It can be broken by numbers or bullet points or commas or something else. 2) It can be a collection or sequence or whatever you want. 3) Winner gets 50 coins.
Written by StuartJWarren
Listless Advice on Happy Living
Step one to a happy life is forgetting expectations and seizing the real—what’s there right in front of you. Too long do we clamor for something that is approaching, something that is just over the horizon, waiting for it to appear long into the twilight while the world spins on, and on. Triceratops waded in the marshes under an eerie, approaching glow, bright as phosphorus, casting a glare through choking air—and they thought about another meal, but gagged on hellish fire. Quartos etched in tear soaked ink incorrectly prescribed courtly love to satisfy the heart’s desire: a little known fact, it killed Poe and left him in a ditch. Quinceaneras everywhere crown the budding beauty, unfinished prequels to white weddings and honorable endings that may never come. Sex offers a brief inquiry into the possibilities of happiness but finishes in sweaty defeat, giving up ones seed in exchange for magic beans. Severance from the notion that we can predict the future a priori ensures a bright future of aimless bliss—the fool, though who dances in the field naked, eventually burns his skin. Ate, Adam did, from the apple and fucked Eve over, siring life coaches, financial planners, therapists, and preachers, ready to lead the blind. Finely mix advice with will and live with lungs full, alive. Tense living begets worry, and tomorrow has enough worries of its own. 
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Written by StuartJWarren

The Mirror in the Nave

There is a cathedral in the void, between spaces, nested in the primordial ether that is massless and firm. Belethor walks the cobblestone paths between the hedgerows sweeping the fragments of space time off the walkway. The stone he walks upon is not actual stone. It’s a representation of stone, the essence of stone, something that is firm and hard, which has purpose for enduring the weight of creation. Moss grows on the stone. But it is not living. It is like the stone, bearing characteristics of moss, green and moist with the dew, bathed in endless twilight. None of it is real, save Belethor. He walks, sweeps, walks, sweeps, walks…

Belethor does not know how he arrived at the cathedral. For billions of years he has swept and walked the paths, explored the cardinal points, perceiving the cathedral to be practically endless. Every stone, every leaf, every blade of grass Belethor has named. An open courtyard in the center of the abbey yard, accented with rose bushes with pink and white pedals, remains the only permanent place, with a fountain at the center, bubbling with what could be water, but isn’t.

In the beginning, Belethor saw the earliest lifeforms in the gallery. He discovered it early on, exploring the damp and musty interior of the cathedral. A long corridor of mirrors and paintings, lifeless and immobile, separated by geometric tapestries, was situated above the nave where the side aisle met the narthex. Spatial anomalies, the viewings of other dimensions, broadcasting across the reaches of space, the portals conveyed to him the habits of lifeforms. Many of them he first perceived from below, spectating from the reflection in a pool of water, or in the sheen of icy caverns. And though time did not proceed with him, it did in the portals. Life changed, grew complex. They began to speak, to utter sounds, then words, then sentences, asserting their existence boldly to any who would listen. Belethor would stop his work and sit, to listen. It was the conversations he enjoyed most. Those came later, much later.

Seated on the cold stone Belethor sat, his legs crossed with the broom straddling his thighs. He was smiling, watching Will, Colt, Jessica, and Marcos, talking about the other night. They were his favorite. He had watched Jessica grow up, from birth to adulthood. He knew her well, and regarded her as a sister, at least what he understood a sister to be. Her friends were charming and witty. He watched them travel and grow with her, true companions in a companionless world.

“How did your interview go?” Marcos asked, leaning back into his hard plastic seat in the diner. It was candy apple red, cracked and cracked at the corners from decades of customers.

Jessica pursed her lips, indecisive, a corner forming on the side of her mouth. “Eh, okay, I guess.”

Colt, glanced at Marcos sidelong and took a sip of his soda. “They didn’t like your presentation? That was a part of the interview right?”

Jessica disagreed, shaking her head.

“Nope. That was the accounting firm.” She replied.

“They did like the presentation,” Belethor whispered, his face pressed against the mirror. “You prepared all night. Don’t say that…”

Will had been silent for most of the breakfast. His mother had died in a car accident earlier that month. The funeral was lovely. They had all been there sharing in his grief, a community shell-shocked by loss. He busied himself with cutting a piece of beef hash and stabbed it with a fork lazily.

“Something will happen,” Marcos said, winking at Jessica. “You’ve got great references and experience.”

“Yeah,” Jessica replied absently.

“You had that job as the executive assistant,” Belethor chimed in emphatically. “That was so hard on you. But you grew!”

As if Jessica had heard Belethor through the ether, she nodded, agreeing with herself. Hugging the portal, Belethor sighed in relief.

Time slowed to a crawl as Belethor experienced their world. Their lives, fraught with complexity, joy, and sadness, he yearned to understand them. He yearned to be understood by them. A week later, he celebrated with them, dancing in the cold corridor in silence as Jessica and her friends visited a night club in Santa Monica. Jessica had gotten a job as an office assistant at a real estate company. Even Will was able to forget a little about the death of his mother, and the legal battle over her estate. They got drunk together. Jessica slept with Colt, and their friendship ended soon after, stymied by the unforgiving closeness they experienced.

Though Belethor had lived interminably, he accepted for the first time in his life the feeling of loneliness and despair. He would go everywhere with them. Live with them. Talk to them. And with glazed indifference they would talk over him. One night, Belethor, with tears in his eyes, pounded against the mirror glass, crying out into the cavernous air, “Know me, please!” But they would carry on without him, as if he was never there.

What he estimated to be months later, Jessica and Colt aired their grievances and began seeing each other. Marcos came out as a proud gay man, and Will received a weighty sum from his mother’s inheritance, who had been a television actress when she was younger. Belethor watched all of them take their places in the diner, surrounded by kitchy bobs and trinkets: farm houses made from chicken wire and sculptures of tiny dogs wearing red bandannas. Belethor sat close to the mirror, watching them sift through the menus tentatively.

“So,” Jessica said. “What’re we having?”

“I’ve got this covered guys,” Will interjected. “It’s on me.” He patted his chest agreeably.

Marcos brimmed. “Aww, thanks Willy!”

“Yeah,” Colt spoke up, still looking at the menu. “Thanks.”

Colt sat up and pointed at the center of the laminated paper and nodded. “Burger. Stick with what you know.”

“They do have good burgers here…” Jessica mused.

Belethor agreed. “Like that one you got up in San Francisco when Colt asked you on your first date,” Belethor murmured nostalgically. He realized he had never had a burger before in his existence.

“Can you believe what he said this week?” Marcos said, irritated. “He’s such a pompous asshole. Our president should be shot…”

“Hey!” Will said nervously in a hushed voice. “You can’t say that. Doesn’t the secret service have the right to detain people that say things like that?”

“I’m not on the news honey,” Marcos replied. “I swear, every time I go online I just see his face. Ugh! So annoying.”

Belethor nodded. He had learned much about American democracy over the centuries. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You have no idea how fast 4 years fly by.”

As the four placed their menus at the corner of the table, a flighty waitress emerged into the frame and took their order. Jessica ordered the green chili egg whites omelet. Colt, at the last minute vacillated between ordering his burger or a corned beef hash, but ultimately settled on a barbecue bacon cheese burger. Marcos ordered chilaquiles and chorizo. Will decided on two eggs, sunny-side-up, and two strips of bacon with a side of hash browns.

Many lifeforms expressed their cuisine in different ways. Belethor marveled at the modular quality of human food, the culinary theories of flavor, the difference between sweet and savory. He longed to taste their food, but there was nothing to eat on the cathedral grounds, nor any reason to for that matter.

“All this talk about surveillance has got me thinking,” Jessica mused. This peaked Belethor’s interest. He leaned in closer, the daylight of the portal illuminating his face like an enraptured human child.

“They say that hackers can use the microphone in your phone to listen in on conversations,” Jessica said.

“Yeah, that was in the news, wasn’t it?” Colt said, glancing at Jessica.

“It’s old news you know,” Marcos interjected dismissively. “Don’t you watch spy movies? Hollywood is the way the government lets us know what they can do.”

“Okay, conspiracy nut,” Will said looking up from his phone. “I think you need to lay off the mescaline.”

Belethor watched his friends longingly and sighed. He closed his eyes, weary and frustrated. He pounded the mirror with one fist and cried out. “Why can’t I know you?” Belethor stood up and paced in front of the mirror. Adjacent to the mirror, in a gouache painting, a lively boy from Sierra Leone was balancing a football on his head. The boy’s name was Unisa. From the corner of Belethor’s eyes, he saw the waitress bring plates of food. He turned and saw them hold hands and bless the meal, out of respect for Marcos, who was catholic. Belethor, with his fists clenched, so lonesome, he cried out again.

“It’s not fair! Why can’t you see me? You know me!”

And Belethor charged the mirror.

On the other side, Belethor was blinded by the daylight, stronger than any light he had seen. He was covered in food, which smelled unlike anything he had even smelled before, overwhelming him with pleasure. Speechless, Will, Marcos, Colt, and Jessica gasped in horror, seeing Belethor’s disintegrating body, unable to maintain its corporal form in the physical world. They screamed loudly, backing away. Belethor turned his head and looked into Jessica’s eyes kindly and smiled, and for a moment Jessica desperately attempted to grasp what had happened.

Marcos cried out, “Es el Diablo!” And crossed himself.

Only slightly aware of his fading consciousness, Belethor began to laugh dryly, and passed on in bliss.

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Written by StuartJWarren
The Mirror in the Nave
There is a cathedral in the void, between spaces, nested in the primordial ether that is massless and firm. Belethor walks the cobblestone paths between the hedgerows sweeping the fragments of space time off the walkway. The stone he walks upon is not actual stone. It’s a representation of stone, the essence of stone, something that is firm and hard, which has purpose for enduring the weight of creation. Moss grows on the stone. But it is not living. It is like the stone, bearing characteristics of moss, green and moist with the dew, bathed in endless twilight. None of it is real, save Belethor. He walks, sweeps, walks, sweeps, walks…

Belethor does not know how he arrived at the cathedral. For billions of years he has swept and walked the paths, explored the cardinal points, perceiving the cathedral to be practically endless. Every stone, every leaf, every blade of grass Belethor has named. An open courtyard in the center of the abbey yard, accented with rose bushes with pink and white pedals, remains the only permanent place, with a fountain at the center, bubbling with what could be water, but isn’t.

In the beginning, Belethor saw the earliest lifeforms in the gallery. He discovered it early on, exploring the damp and musty interior of the cathedral. A long corridor of mirrors and paintings, lifeless and immobile, separated by geometric tapestries, was situated above the nave where the side aisle met the narthex. Spatial anomalies, the viewings of other dimensions, broadcasting across the reaches of space, the portals conveyed to him the habits of lifeforms. Many of them he first perceived from below, spectating from the reflection in a pool of water, or in the sheen of icy caverns. And though time did not proceed with him, it did in the portals. Life changed, grew complex. They began to speak, to utter sounds, then words, then sentences, asserting their existence boldly to any who would listen. Belethor would stop his work and sit, to listen. It was the conversations he enjoyed most. Those came later, much later.

Seated on the cold stone Belethor sat, his legs crossed with the broom straddling his thighs. He was smiling, watching Will, Colt, Jessica, and Marcos, talking about the other night. They were his favorite. He had watched Jessica grow up, from birth to adulthood. He knew her well, and regarded her as a sister, at least what he understood a sister to be. Her friends were charming and witty. He watched them travel and grow with her, true companions in a companionless world.

“How did your interview go?” Marcos asked, leaning back into his hard plastic seat in the diner. It was candy apple red, cracked and cracked at the corners from decades of customers.

Jessica pursed her lips, indecisive, a corner forming on the side of her mouth. “Eh, okay, I guess.”

Colt, glanced at Marcos sidelong and took a sip of his soda. “They didn’t like your presentation? That was a part of the interview right?”

Jessica disagreed, shaking her head.

“Nope. That was the accounting firm.” She replied.

“They did like the presentation,” Belethor whispered, his face pressed against the mirror. “You prepared all night. Don’t say that…”

Will had been silent for most of the breakfast. His mother had died in a car accident earlier that month. The funeral was lovely. They had all been there sharing in his grief, a community shell-shocked by loss. He busied himself with cutting a piece of beef hash and stabbed it with a fork lazily.

“Something will happen,” Marcos said, winking at Jessica. “You’ve got great references and experience.”

“Yeah,” Jessica replied absently.

“You had that job as the executive assistant,” Belethor chimed in emphatically. “That was so hard on you. But you grew!”

As if Jessica had heard Belethor through the ether, she nodded, agreeing with herself. Hugging the portal, Belethor sighed in relief.

Time slowed to a crawl as Belethor experienced their world. Their lives, fraught with complexity, joy, and sadness, he yearned to understand them. He yearned to be understood by them. A week later, he celebrated with them, dancing in the cold corridor in silence as Jessica and her friends visited a night club in Santa Monica. Jessica had gotten a job as an office assistant at a real estate company. Even Will was able to forget a little about the death of his mother, and the legal battle over her estate. They got drunk together. Jessica slept with Colt, and their friendship ended soon after, stymied by the unforgiving closeness they experienced.

Though Belethor had lived interminably, he accepted for the first time in his life the feeling of loneliness and despair. He would go everywhere with them. Live with them. Talk to them. And with glazed indifference they would talk over him. One night, Belethor, with tears in his eyes, pounded against the mirror glass, crying out into the cavernous air, “Know me, please!” But they would carry on without him, as if he was never there.

What he estimated to be months later, Jessica and Colt aired their grievances and began seeing each other. Marcos came out as a proud gay man, and Will received a weighty sum from his mother’s inheritance, who had been a television actress when she was younger. Belethor watched all of them take their places in the diner, surrounded by kitchy bobs and trinkets: farm houses made from chicken wire and sculptures of tiny dogs wearing red bandannas. Belethor sat close to the mirror, watching them sift through the menus tentatively.

“So,” Jessica said. “What’re we having?”

“I’ve got this covered guys,” Will interjected. “It’s on me.” He patted his chest agreeably.
Marcos brimmed. “Aww, thanks Willy!”

“Yeah,” Colt spoke up, still looking at the menu. “Thanks.”

Colt sat up and pointed at the center of the laminated paper and nodded. “Burger. Stick with what you know.”

“They do have good burgers here…” Jessica mused.

Belethor agreed. “Like that one you got up in San Francisco when Colt asked you on your first date,” Belethor murmured nostalgically. He realized he had never had a burger before in his existence.

“Can you believe what he said this week?” Marcos said, irritated. “He’s such a pompous asshole. Our president should be shot…”

“Hey!” Will said nervously in a hushed voice. “You can’t say that. Doesn’t the secret service have the right to detain people that say things like that?”

“I’m not on the news honey,” Marcos replied. “I swear, every time I go online I just see his face. Ugh! So annoying.”

Belethor nodded. He had learned much about American democracy over the centuries. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You have no idea how fast 4 years fly by.”

As the four placed their menus at the corner of the table, a flighty waitress emerged into the frame and took their order. Jessica ordered the green chili egg whites omelet. Colt, at the last minute vacillated between ordering his burger or a corned beef hash, but ultimately settled on a barbecue bacon cheese burger. Marcos ordered chilaquiles and chorizo. Will decided on two eggs, sunny-side-up, and two strips of bacon with a side of hash browns.

Many lifeforms expressed their cuisine in different ways. Belethor marveled at the modular quality of human food, the culinary theories of flavor, the difference between sweet and savory. He longed to taste their food, but there was nothing to eat on the cathedral grounds, nor any reason to for that matter.

“All this talk about surveillance has got me thinking,” Jessica mused. This peaked Belethor’s interest. He leaned in closer, the daylight of the portal illuminating his face like an enraptured human child.

“They say that hackers can use the microphone in your phone to listen in on conversations,” Jessica said.

“Yeah, that was in the news, wasn’t it?” Colt said, glancing at Jessica.

“It’s old news you know,” Marcos interjected dismissively. “Don’t you watch spy movies? Hollywood is the way the government lets us know what they can do.”

“Okay, conspiracy nut,” Will said looking up from his phone. “I think you need to lay off the mescaline.”

Belethor watched his friends longingly and sighed. He closed his eyes, weary and frustrated. He pounded the mirror with one fist and cried out. “Why can’t I know you?” Belethor stood up and paced in front of the mirror. Adjacent to the mirror, in a gouache painting, a lively boy from Sierra Leone was balancing a football on his head. The boy’s name was Unisa. From the corner of Belethor’s eyes, he saw the waitress bring plates of food. He turned and saw them hold hands and bless the meal, out of respect for Marcos, who was catholic. Belethor, with his fists clenched, so lonesome, he cried out again.

“It’s not fair! Why can’t you see me? You know me!”

And Belethor charged the mirror.

On the other side, Belethor was blinded by the daylight, stronger than any light he had seen. He was covered in food, which smelled unlike anything he had even smelled before, overwhelming him with pleasure. Speechless, Will, Marcos, Colt, and Jessica gasped in horror, seeing Belethor’s disintegrating body, unable to maintain its corporal form in the physical world. They screamed loudly, backing away. Belethor turned his head and looked into Jessica’s eyes kindly and smiled, and for a moment Jessica desperately attempted to grasp what had happened.

Marcos cried out, “Es el Diablo!” And crossed himself.

Only slightly aware of his fading consciousness, Belethor began to laugh dryly, and passed on in bliss.





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