Good or Bad?
"So, do you want the good news first or the bad news?" She asked.
However, I couldn't help but take notice of her tone. It wasn't the light, airy, melodic tone she usually spoke with. No, this was... different. Darker.
I watched as she wrung her pale, slender hands in front of her body. Her head swiveled left, then right as she tried to look anywhere but directly at me.
And that was when I saw it. It was barely visible at first. In fact, I was sure I'd have missed it entirely had I not been watching her so intently. But slight as it may have been, it was there. Her entire body trembled as if someone had set all of her motor functions to vibrate.
I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't. The only hint of light on this damned desolate ship. The bright, bubbly woman I had grown to look up to, was terrified of something. And I was willing to bet that it had something to do with whatever it was she came to tell me.
"What's the bad news?" I asked.
Living in New York has taught me the value of my own time. Other cultures (European, Californian, etc.) have often critiqued New Yorkers for "always being in a rush." Some have said that New Yorkers speed walk through their lives. However, I just see that as prioritizing efficiency, which is why I've always preferred receiving bad news first. If there's a problem that needs to be solved, I can figure it out during the time it takes for you to tell me the good news. My therapist says that this is a way to "postpone my own happiness" or whatever that's supposed to mean. I started seeing her as a way to help with my depression and anxiety. Being depressed can make getting out of bed feel like an insurmountable task. Putting on my bra can be as draining as trying to watch the first 2020 Presidential Debate sober. My mentally healthy roommates find it hard to understand why my room is perpetually in a state of disarray and my laundry bag overfloweth. However, I think it's even harder for them to understand why I'm still unemployed. I don't really get it myself, but I learned in college that the television industry is a little tricky to break into. When I graduated I assumed that it would take two, maybe three months to get a job but I quickly realized that I wouldn't be able to speed walk into a writer's room. Over the past six months of unemployment, my preference for hearing bad news first has developed into a need. Every new job posting is a vehicle for the waning hope I have for my career. Therefore, the sooner I get rejected the sooner I can get back to scouring jobs on Indeed and LinkedIn. The amount of time it takes for me to overcome disappointment is the same amount of time it takes for me to write another cover letter.
Oh It Was Once Called Home
There was a little thing that sat in our house
It mostly was ignored though it tooted quietly from time to time
Most ignored it,
The mules in house brayed as they talked and bantered in congress
The little trunked beast yowled of its colors
Of Red Blue and White
The mules so similarly bedecked scoffed for so colored were they
Oh the white oak and dogwood sheltered them all in the house
But in its roots nestled the fox
The fox tired of roots as a bower hatched a plan
Into the house, it would sneak and feed little long-nosed beast
Day in day out the fox did just that and as it did the beast grew
All of the house ignored what was in the room though it got bigger and bigger
MY COLORS MY COLORS! The beast would call for that was all it could say
Ignored as it was it wrecked the house
Too big it blocked said Mules from banter and congress
The fox now prowled the house freely speaking for ignored pachyderm
HIS COLORS! He would cry though now
Black Red and Gold it shoved in all the mule’s aside
Too big now for the house
Now no animal except the fox could move
So it claimed the house as its own
Transmissions Scout Stokes listened attentively as the call of a distant-sounding voice rose just above the roar of static on the net.
"Charlie-6, this is Red Horse. Break. We are not alone. Over."
Stokes pushed his headset into his ear with one hand and feverishly scribbled the message down with the other.
"Copy, Red Horse. What is your grid?"
Stokes waited a few seconds for a reply, but heard nothing more.
"Red Horse, I say again, what is your grid? Over."
This was his first night on watch, and Stokes was already on edge. Had he done something wrong? He checked his notes. He had done everything correctly. Why didn't Red Horse respond?
Stokes looked over at Sergeant Riley's tent. The words, "Don't wake me up unless it's life or death," ran through his mind. Sergeant Riley was a stickler for the rules, and that was rule number one.
After a few seconds of contemplating the severity of the situation, Stokes decided it could indeed be life or death, and went over to wake Sergeant Riley.
"I don't hear anyone dying. This better be good."
"That's precisely it, Sergeant," Stokes stammered. "I don't hear anything."
"Of course you don't hear anything, you dumb sh*t. We're here to maintain the post. This net is only used for training exercises. There aren't any exercises scheduled for at least the next two months."
Stokes' eyes opened wide. Then who was on the net?
"I have you monitoring the net just for sh*ts and giggles. Captain O and I thought it would be good for you to get in the habit of standing a watch, but clearly you can't even handle that without a hand to hold. You're never going to-"
Stokes started to look pale.
"Ok. That's it. You're off the watch. We'll have to tell Captain O. He's gonna be pissed, and I won't be able to save you."
Sergeant Riley snatched Stokes up by the collar and marched him over to Captain Ortega's tent.
"What in God's name were you two yelling about over there?" Captain O growled as he stood up.
"This piece of sh*t can't even stand watch right, Sir. Now he's looking all sick like he's gonna just die on us."
Captain O looked at Stokes, then at Riley.
"Stokes, why are we awake right now?"
"Sir, I received a transmission. From Red Horse." Stokes whispered shakily. "They said 'we're not alone', but they never gave me a grid, and they never came back on the net. So, it was probably nothing. I'm sorry."
Captain Ortega stared at Stokes and Riley in disbelief. After several seconds of silence, the older man's expression hardened, and he addressed the young men in a somber tone.
"Well, boys. Do you want the good news or the bad news? Honestly, you probably won't believe me either way, but here's the short version: 'Red Horse' was the call sign for a platoon that went out on patrol from this post and never came back."
Stokes and Riley exchanged glances.
"No bodies, and no engagements reported. A lot of people lost their careers over the whole thing because nobody could figure out what the hell happened. That call sign was retired years ago. The good news is that they're still out there. The bad news is that if they're not alone, we're not alone either. Boys, we're all on watch tonight. I'll call it in to headquarters and see if we can get some backup. I'm afraid this is just the beginning."
Jirting is gone
The Wintlow has won. It's over. Nothing can get better.
The Wintlow was a group who destroyed, smashed, and defeated everyone. Now the choice was hanging in the air. Go join them and live, my family and friends safe or stay and risk dying and family and friends might get killed.
I thought. Biting my nails, twirling my hair in between my sweating fingers, trembling from the cold winds brushing my entire body.
I decided: I would join....
I walked to their meeting place. The place they told hostages, like myself, to meet if they change their minds. The night was starting to fade. I ran and ran, panted and sweated, even in the cold. Tears flowed from my eyes everytime I thought of my partners.
"Your safe now Rynta." said a voice as I entered. As his face and body were in view, I gasped. He was my dead friend Fienly. I nodded cooly as he said, "I know. I'm sorry. Really, you are safe though."
"I thought you died. I cried for weeks!" I said tears now spilling from eyes onto my cheeks. He looked ashamed of himself and hugged me.
The morning rose. People started trooping down the halls, opening doors, greeting others, and going to the training area.
"TRAINING AREA IMMEDIATELY!" boomed a voice, flooding the halls with it's echo. Whispers filled the space and footsteps walked towards the door.
I followed, not really sure what I was doing. The room was incredibly big, bigger than our training area. Rows and rows of guns, swords, clubs, and daggers were spread on the floor, one on each circle three feet apart from the others. I picked a club, not seeing how dangerous it could really be.
"So! Want the good news first or the bad news first?" said a voice laughing. He walked out in full body suit that was black with X's everywhere. Nobody had the chance to answer as he said, "Good news.......WE WON!!!!! Jirting is GONEEEEEE!"
Cheers and applauses were the only sounds now. A heartbreaking, melancholy feeling washed over me. But some happiness was inside of me as I thought of how I got away and how now my family is safe. As I was about to smile, I remembered about what was to happen. Now the bad news....
"Bad news. Captain Likiv, Fring, Sequi, Wefy, and Vilg have sadly passed away...our best warriors!" he looked bummed as he said it and so did everyone. I was kinda happy, but didn't let it show.
Later everyone started swinging clubs, slashing invisible people with swords, stabbing the air with daggers, and shooting with the guns onto moving targets. I swung my club as hard as possible, remembering that people only win if they knock out the opponent, not if they won.
"LAST MINUTE THING!" shouted the same man, running in from the door. "NEW ARMY! NAMED GIRFY! FIGHTTTTTTT!"
Girfy!!! GIRFY! I glanced at Fienly who smiled at me innocently. Girfy was our backup plan in case anything happened. We trained our best warriors for it, so in case the not the best warriors die, we have extra and better warriors.
I snuck out the window with Fienly and joined Girfy, smiling as I ran to them and hugging my partners.
NOW. We fight. As one.
Lucas and Bailey
Bailey’s been chained to the fence for hours. She’s all I can think about. Well, other than him of course.
Outside the window, I can’t even see one star twinkling in the cold October night sky.
Hot tears fill my eyes and I fight hard to quietly blink them away. Hiding my face behind a curtain of my long blonde hair, I desperately search for a distraction. Him. It’s always him.
Perched on the edge of my chair across the table from Lucas, I blush when he catches me staring into his bottle-green eyes and, when I feel the heat bloom across my cheeks,
I lower my gaze to his calloused hands stained with grease and motor oil. Lucas fixes cars for a living, and I’ve been told he makes money hand over fist, even though he’s only nineteen.
My moment’s slashed away when a guttural bellowing makes me flinch.
“Somebody go kick that mongrel in the head and tell it to stop its damn barking.”
When earlier today my Aunt Vera returned on her loud motorcycle madder than a swatted hornet, because the newly inked scorpion on her giant hip didn’t turn out the way she wanted, it was like sticks of dynamite blew up our house. Which is also her house, technically, because she hasn’t any place to live and my mom, her older sister, took mercy on her and invited her to stay with us.
One night I dreamt the Harley she straddles, like a cow on top of a mound of manure, sent her wheeling into the air, high above the moon, and then crashed into her green, brown, and rust‑orange body as it landed back down to earth, onto the pavement.
I sobbed when I woke up.
But at least Lucas is here having Thanksgiving dinner with my family of fourteen parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins. No kids though. Aside from me, they’re all adults ranging from the ages of thirty-eight to sixty-two. Except Lucas of course, but he doesn’t count because he’s in no way related to any of us.
I watch half-heartedly as he shuffles his deck of playing cards, fanning them out, turning them over in his palms, cutting them in half and waving them in front of people’s faces.
“Please sign your name right across this ten of spades Mrs. Dixit,” Lucas tells my mom.
He slides the card into the middle of a full deck, snugly into the depths of it, packs it in so it’s swallowed up, hidden. Then he immediately pulls a card off the top of the deck, turns it faceup, and shows us that’s it’s my mom’s card. There are oohs and ahhs all around.
He then folds it in half, putting a bend into that signed ten of spades and shows everyone the slight dip when he places it flat onto his hand. We can all see the card is now signed and bent. He asks my mom to slip it randomly somewhere in the very center of the deck. Again, he uses one finger to pull it off the top of the deck. Same signed and bent card.
Eyes open wide, lips curve upwards, they all want more.
Aunt Vera is sprawled out in a chair right next to me, her long, massive legs stretched wide underneath the table, her rancid sweat glistening on her upper lip. Fascinated by Lucas’s card tricks, she seems to have forgotten about my little dog.
Bailey is a mini-Eskimo with the softest, most kissable fur I’ve been pressing my lips to since I was ten years old. I’m sixteen now.
I continue watching as my uncle reluctantly tears a big chunk off the corner of a twenty-dollar bill. Lucas takes that corner piece and eats it, he literally chews it up, and swallows it down. He then places that same twenty in his mouth where the tear is.
When he slowly pulls it out, voila, the corner is back. The bill is intact once again.
“How the fuck did you do that, you snot-nosed kid?”
Aunt Vera is going to be relentless now.
“A magician never reveals his secrets,” Lucas winks, placing her under the hypnosis of those exquisite eyes.
“But don’t worry Ms. Dankworth,” he says, “there’s much more to see, so relax and prepare to be entertained,” he points to our family room with rows of chairs and a makeshift stage we set up earlier today.
Just like magic, Aunt Vera shuts her mouth for once.
Dinner winds down and Donna, our housekeeper, clears away dishes and offers coffee, dessert, or brandy. Everyone agrees they’re full and will wait until after the performance.
I barely touched my food.
Yesterday, I hid outside, watching in horror at the things my aunt did in our kitchen.
She placed a bowl of dogfood on the floor and when Bailey began eating, Vera’s leg shot out and kicked her right in the face. My angel squealed in pain and jumped back.
Before I could react, Aunt Vera offered the food again. This time when Bailey timidly approached the dish, she roared and kicked her in the ribs. That’s when I barged in, begging her to stop like my life depended on it.
“We were just playin’, weren’t we, mutt?” she cooed like she’d done nothing wrong.
“I’m just tryin’ to teach it obedience Jaimie, don’t be such a baby.”
I shudder at the memory and my tears fall again when snowflakes dance down from the moonless sky.
For his next trick, Lucas asks quote the most beautiful girl in the room, Miss Jaimie Dixit to assist him on the mock stage. I walk carefully so as not to trip over my own two feet.
Lucas requests the assistance of six volunteers and has me place them all behind the black curtain.
“My dear guests, tonight for my next magic trick, I feel like I need a mesmerizing and lovely shot of inspiration,” he announces, his voice more quiet than usual, and yet so deep and smooth, I want to savor it.
It’s my turn to be spellbound when he pulls me in.
Something bubbly shoots through my stomach and a tenderness bounces like sunlight along the surface of my skin. His lips brush mine and his tongue pirouettes in my mouth. I’m dizzy with rivers of champagne fizzing through my bloodstream. It’s my very first kiss, my sweet-sixteen kiss. It’s daring and warm, and I never want it to end.
Sadly though, the show must go on, I can hear the din of various reactions mixed with impatience resonating from the audience.
Amidst all of that, I’m suddenly reminded that the tips of Bailey’s ears and her sweet little paws could be frostbitten by now.
My heart is no longer in the magic though I do my part until Lucas opens the curtain to reveal all six volunteers… gone.
“Where are they?” asks my grandfather, wheezing with concern.
“They’re ok sir. Everyone, please come down now,” Lucas calls out and, one by one, they descend our spiral staircase.
But someone’s missing.
A search of the entire house turns up nothing, she’s nowhere to be found.
“Lucas, can you make her reappear, dear?” asks my mother.
“I’m afraid not Ma’am, I’m pretty sure this might be… permanent. Unless maybe she just went for a bike ride…?”
“Maybe,” says my mom absentmindedly.
There’s a lightness in her voice when she claps her hands and sing-songs “Now, who’d like coffee and dessert? And Donna, could you please go fetch our darling Bailey from the backyard, and feed her the turkey leftovers in the kitchen by the warmth of the fireplace?”
Good news first. Hearing bad news first makes it impossible to enjoy the good news.