just another day at work
His mind is clouded with random thoughts, but his hands kept on with the tasks given, by his side what seemed to be an unending pile of documents. Minimal of what is actually assigned to him, mainly of files just pushed onto him, even at the last minute right before the office hours end.
And he typed. And typed. And typed.
As if hypnotized to reach the end of the line.
Until everyone else had left already.
Yet he remained unfazed, as if the microcosm he lives in is within the span of the cluttered desk and tiny cubicle. By the time the clock hit five in the morning, he had finally printed the last set of paperwork, which he had placed on top of the team leader’s table.
Few stretches and he started moving again, the same random thoughts resurfacing, towards the cold stairway. In a few minutes, he reached the rooftop. By then his thoughts had molded into a pitch blank canvas, as if reminding him that he had finally reached the end.
At last, he reached the end.
By then, the city’s just starting to wake up, but standing by the ledge, he just started to close his eyes. Then it was the morning breeze embracing him like a cool blanket, and by the next moment that his eyes had opened, he has already laid down on the asphalt road, reminding him of the tough bed at his rented apartment, staring straight into the dimly lighted sky.
And upon seeing him, the company would start preparing to replace the lost spot, checking through the pool of hoping applicants. His colleagues would see the documents and go on with the meetings, presentations, and chit-chats. And a different face would then be facing his computer, seated on his swivel chair, and take-over his tasks.
Until another mind gets clouded with random thoughts, with the hands still on the keyboard, by the side a pile of documents. Mostly from others, a trifle, the actual work.
And they will type. And type. And type.
As if hypnotized to reach the end of the line.
Imagine a geek. A person in the literary sense of the word: a computer master of any kind. You will see him tapping on the keyboard or looking somewhere in the middle of a crowded street, carried away by some thought. He is weird, you say.
Among geeks, the developers of so-called 'virtual reality' stand out. They are known as painters, but hardly ever paint; they are artistically skilled but share no interests with common artists; they are dreamers who avoid dreams.
Now, imagine a world of VR. Or rather, a place the geek believes to be his own world. If you look through his website profile, you will find out that whether the idea is borrowed, or the style is fake, or half of the 3D models are junk, or whatsoever.
And if the poor digitalized person had a chance to speak out, he would warn you never to stand on the path of VR development. The path itself probably leads to high art, but it seems there are too many saloons on both sides, and most of travellers are drunkards.
All in all, do not expect much from the virtual reality industry. Business - not art - is its true meaning,
Bloody Line of Work
There’s a natural stigma around a skating rink that everyone has fun, even those that can’t skate or end up hurt for one reason or another. This stigma is mostly true.
There is also another stigma surrounding management to such establishments, that said people managing the building can be evil, vile individuals who prioritize money and self-interest far before any and all else. This stigma was 100 percent true. I worked a skating rink, and the night I quit was one of the worst nights of my life.
I wouldn’t work at a skating rink if I didn’t have to. Skating rinks are meant to be enjoyed and loved and I wanted those feelings kept intact. Management was going to be a slight issue, and I knew that early on when the general manager of the rink I had applied to told me that he hired me because I was ‘prettier‘ than the other girl trying for a position. I know much about red flags and inappropriate gestures, but the pay was good and so I continued.
Two weeks went by and my happy feelings of such a uniquely interesting place died down to a grave. Without warning I became the sole employee dedicated to clean up after others, this included trash out by the benches but also in the bathrooms as well. The music stopped alluring me, the practice of skating only reminded me of my labor and nothing more, and the manager that hired me almost always failed to show up and help out.
However, he was there the night I quit.
That night, February 3rd, I go to clock in and as I’m doing so, he, Scott, comes over to me and tells me that ‘someone’ has either stolen or done something to the First Aid Kit and that he can’t find it. Knowing that we have two complete First Aid Kits on the premises at all times, I go to the drawer I know that we keep the second. It is also gone. I had been out of work for a week due to vacation with my family and had no idea where it could be. Scott and I called other employees trying to make sure we had something readily available for guests, but nothing. No one had any idea where they could of gone, nor who would even move them around.
We looked all over, no kits. I panicked. We needed those kits to open, not just because it was most probably the law but because people fall and get hurt all the time out on the rink and need some form of assistance that First Aid Kits could offer. As I kept searching, Scott said:
“Forget it, it’s about time to open. I’ll look later or I can find someone that has one and have them bring it down for us.”
I believed him and began readying the register. The people came in quick that day.
That night we were swamped. The place was busier than it had ever been since I had started working, for once they had me up front and it was a continuous drag getting people into the building. Halfway through the scheduled time for the night skate event, they switched me and had me, you guessed it, clean up something out by the rink. Only, they didn’t tell me what it was I was supposed to be cleaning up.
See, when certain situations that need cleaned up aren’t due to injury, they tell me something needs cleaned up. If something needed to be cleaned up due to an injury, they’d let me know. It had happened twice since I began working, and they had let me know both times beforehand what exactly was going on.
This time was different.
I get out there and sprawled out on the rink is a girl that had fallen on her face while skating and had more than likely broken her nose, a decent sized trail of blood on the rink following her nostrils.
I had no idea this was the situation because they did not tell me. No other employee wanted anything to do with her support, and she bled anyway. And then I remembered:
Did we even have a First Aid Kit available?
I ran up to the front and called to Scott. Brittany, the other manager, answered.
“Scott went home!” She told me over the noise. “What do you need?”
“There’s a girl that’s got a really bad nosebleed out on the rink, do you know if we have a First Aid Kit or rags or something to help clean up?”
“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said, “Scott told me he went looking but couldn’t find any. We don’t have any.”
I turned mad and impatient rather fast.
“How am I supposed to clean up her blood then?”
“Get paper towels from the bathroom and clean it up,” she said. “And get it done fast, we can’t have that out on the rink.”
“The girl looked hurt beyond just her nose bleed, do we have anything else?”
“No. I just told you no. Go clean up the blood. Christ.”
I had no choice. I had to do what I was told. I got the paper towel and ran my way over. The girl had suffered a injury to her arm but was otherwise okay, thank goodness. Scott got lucky.
The blood came up quick and I was able to ease the situation by giving the poor girl a paper towel herself as a way of helping with her nose bleed.
When she got up, I saw her face. She was crying. She felt embarrassed and had been left out on the floor in a position she could not get out of with little help from any members of staff, including me. She probably hated me, she probably wanted to go home, and I know she did because immediately after I helped her out, she left. She had come in alone.
That face. You can’t make up a face like that.
“You don’t care about the well-being of these people,” I told Brittany after the girl left. “I quit. Fuck you and fuck Scott. I can’t take this anymore. And get those fucking First Aid Kits in. I hope you have fun cleaning up blood the next time it needs done.”
That face. Those tears. And I still have never been back to that rink.
Unlike any Others had Seen
I cannot tell a soul about the drawing my sister had produced
Even though it sits upon the fridge after the others had been reduced
The parent's had declared it imagination
Though, they don't really have the information
In childish crayon it depicted
A lady with long brown hair with some pain afflicted
Her round head still carrying a red smile
Though it was far wider and might've been there a while
The black dots upon the upper half gazed at the viewer
But to me it feels mocking, as though innocents grew fewer
And her hair stretched past her shoulder
And I wish that I didn't know her
The lady depicted wore a vintage dress of green
Unlike anything others had seen
How I wish I could tear this picture here
But all I can do was stand there and leer
I should've foreseen something like this
For previously she told about a miss
Asking about why my girlfriend had visited in the dead of night
And now I am full of fright
So I got my shovel and flashlight
Heading out into the cold night to see if I was right
And once more dug up the disturbed dirt
Far away where no one could hear the hurt
When the dirt had gave way, what could I say
She was still unmoving, it had recently always been that way
Her eyes still gazed unblinking
And her lips still slit and could not be drinking
Once more I layered the dirt atop of her
And headed back home to head where I previously were
Even buried deep down, her dress was still bright green
Though it wore a stain unlike any had seen
Freyja and Freyr
‘So, what’s your real name?’ He said to the prostitute, leaning off her.
She wiped the sweat from her chest. 'Mona.'
‘That was the name of my still born little sister.’ He said.
‘Wait, was your mom’s name Fatum?’ She said, sitting up on her elbows.
‘Yes.’ He said, eyes widening.
For all tribes
In each ancient
With folks that had
Such vast wealth
Then they unknowingly
Gave their power to Sally
Who handed them seashells
Promising them a much
Alas, that was all for nichts!
The villages had a loss
For quite a vast majority
Of their natural beauty,
Their precious minerals,
& stones, too, wasted away
For a meager price of seashells!
Nov. 30, 2022.
It was one of those nights that the whole earth seemed to toss and turn with you. Thunder and lightning strikes in tandem with your thoughts, and rain makes rivers on your window that match the streams on your face. And you stare at the ceiling, trying to work up the courage to throw off the sweaty lump of sheets and run sobbing for your parents. You tell yourself that you can do it alone. You're eight years old. You no longer need your parents' reassurance. Your friends make fun of you for crying at night. "Boys who cry are babies" they say. They make fun of you for a lot of things. Once you talked about how your parents used to show you a blanket and tell you that you were brought down by a stork. And your friend George laughed at you and said that's a baby story. And you said "if you're so smart, then you tell me how babies are made." And he couldn't answer you. But he laughed with your other friend Billy later. You saw them laughing together. They were probably laughing at you and your story about storks. But you know that story is true, because your parents showed you the checkered red and white blanket that you came in. It even had your name sewn into it in gold thread.
Finally you can take it no longer. The shadows on your wall are too dark, the thunder outside is too loud, and you long for the safety of your parents' room where everything is quiet and warm. Thunder cannot reach you when you crawl into your mother's arms.
You are scared, because your parents' door is closed and the hallway is dark. Your parents always told you not to come in if the door was closed. But you're so scared. Surely they won't mind if you come in, just this once.
As you approach the door, there's a new sound mingled in with the thunder. It sounds almost like crying, but that can't be right. Mommy and Daddy don't cry because they're adults. You can't wait until you're an adult so you don't cry anymore. Maybe if you don't cry then George will stop calling you a baby.
You listen closer to the Not Crying sounds, and you get even more scared because you can hear the movement of sheets. Maybe Mommy and Daddy are having a nightmare. No, that's not right. Adults don't have nightmares. Adults don't get scared.
You really don't want to open the door. They told you not to open the door. But the shadow down the hall seems to be moving closer to you and you can't go back to your room because the shadow is blocking the way.
You open the door just as Mommy is yelling Daddy's name. And now you're really scared because Daddy is on top of Mommy and he's not wearing any pants. Mommy says you have to wear pants all the time. Even to sleep. But Mommy isn't wearing pants either. And she looks like she might be sick because she's moving weirdly up and down and her eyes are half closed.
The weird crying sound stops and Mommy opens her eyes. Maybe she's not sick.
Daddy turns around and he looks mad.
"How many times do we have to tell you, Max? Don't come in when the door's closed. My God, you're so... ugh! Damn it!"
You start crying.
"B-but I had a nightmare..."
"Go back to your room. Now."
You can't understand why he's so mad. But you go outside and shut the door.
Mommy yells at Daddy.
"Come on, Charles, he's just a kid."
"It's fine. It's no big deal.
"I'll be right back. I've gotta talk to him."
"No, you don't. Tell him in the morning. Later, Mary, please? We can finish first."
"No, Charles. We have to tell him."
"How do you explain that to an eight year old? Yeah, sorry about that, kid, we lied about the storks? He's gonna get all weepy. He's a little crybaby."
You stick your fingers into your eyes to stop the tears. You're not a crybaby.
"I'll figure it out. Just go back to bed."
"You can tell him in the morning. Come here."
"No, Charles, I'll be right back."
Mommy makes a weird sound that sounds a little bit like a laugh.
"I said no, Charlie..."
"Aw, you called me Charlie..."
Mommy laughs again.
"You sly dog. Fine. I'll tell him in the morning."
They start making that not-quite-crying sound again, and you stare at the shadow at the end of the hallway. It doesn't scare you anymore. You're more scared of Mommy and Daddy now. At least the shadow in your room doesn't lie. But Mommy and Daddy lied. About the stork. What else have they lied about? Did they lie about what happened to Rover? And what happened to Grandma? Did they lie about Santa? About Easter? Did they even lie about God?
The shadow won't lie to you. You can see him now, the man in the shadows. He's the one who told you that George and Billy were making fun of you. He warned you that your parents were liars. He promised he would tell you the truth. And he would never laugh at you. And you were scared of him, because you thought he was dangerous, but now you know he's the only safe one.
And he'll protect you. He'll protect you from them all.
And, most importantly, he'll never, ever, lie.
On the Run
Only sad, pale remnants were left of the once advanced, conquering nation of America.
Sure it was already broken and ridiculous. Adults ran it all after all.
But it had still been theirs.
A kid could play ball, play a few pranks, and nick a candy bar or two.
The real stuff worth anything in this world. Not bread or gross fish with marble staring eyes, not gems and women’s jewelry glittering and posh, or freaking water. Plastic too. What had happened to all the plastic?
As it stood three battered, battle worn orphans limped across broken pavement that was melting to more and more soil. Tree cover from towering conifers and deciduous jutting from the remains of what used to be cement, metal, and other materials he couldn’t and did not care to think about.
Others had converted to shacks and lean-to of leather and skin.
Bones as window panes and bars.
Parchment of sale prices and auction in the same tone as even Talia’s skin making them all shiver.
Not a word had been said. Not after a night spent on the precarious hill housing a family of warthogs and hedgehogs. Not when they’d pilfered food off a cart by jumping on and off as it went about its trail.
Not when grotesque vultures and flying taut skinned corpses of fish, lizards, snakes, and humans tried to sweep down for a bite.
Gregory was in the lead. Scouring and crouching, beneath branch work, up pistons of drooping blossoms at least eleven feet tall and double-wide working as this fancy seasonal restaurant.
Come to think… it was, it was spring right now.
Last he’d remembered any grassy terrain, any modern windows or stained glass, the fields of the Keep, had all been buried in furious red and orange leaves.
He pointed toward a completely green pavilion with holey trees. Each indentation of a door made of dewy leaves or curtain moss likely a store.
“No,” he said sharply to the new pair.
He didn’t need to be reminded what a moron he’d been. What a dumb sacrificial lamb he’d let himself turn into. Even if– even if there could have still been time. If Talia–
If Mario had–
If Greg had fought her off. Showed her who was actually in charge and who needed who.
Because right now it was almost like the only people he had left; his ally and this turncoat wanted to baby him.
Well tough because he was the only one they had either.
Upon the pavilion was tranquil, lazy energy. No one at alert. Everyone dumbly happy and trading gossip and rumors.
Talk of the next shipment of grains.
The new press gems.
The fire stones or pearls. Soldiers going en masse to Salem. The witch town and holding state for zealots and dissenters.
All invaluable information.
Sunstones equaled some new staffs ripe to steal or sell on some underground markets. Enough for a militia. That would be entertaining. Hopefully, some up his ass teenager had some balls.
If they could maybe get jobs checking or packing the grain.
They took anyone.
Girls were always in demand to cook the bread.
It looked like vines tied to crude baskets was how anyone got into the upper rungs of shops.
“Hey!” he called to a random passerby. A man with a bald spot and wearing a combination of jopula, modern LGBT buttons, and bleach jeans with an unnatural pink that was not on the market as a natural dye.
Jopula. Ugh, just the word made him gag.
“Ye– yes, what can I–”
He gave them the once over.
“Yes we look a fright,” Talia said. “Positively wretched and demented.” A dark inflection came to her tone.
“No, no,” Mario cut in, turning on the ten-year-old puppy eyes. “Umm I’m sorry but, where’s a clothing shop?”
“Ah ha– hah,” the man laughed nervously. “Right, right on the second story. Can’t miss it. I uh, I recommend Wilhelm Date. When you,” he lowered to a whisper, “don’t need to look like yourself.”
Greg’s eyes widened. All the same, he retained his contemptuous glare. “We can manage. I’d be more worried if I were as jaunty and so obviously suspect my good man.” A stretched, ingenuine smile soured his next words. “Just, food for thought from a rough gem.”
His eyes instantly settled upon the bulging pocket of gold or some other tradeable item.
The man began to sweat.
He looked to Talia whose stare was blank and piercing.
Fanning his face he decided they weren’t worth another thought. A sardonic smile remained on his face.
The basket was an awful experience. And both his friends had insisted upon looking down, even as Mario grew sick from the height, needing to sit at the very end to regain his bearing.
“So small, so small,” he groaned dazedly, dark eyes practically floating and swimming out of focus.
Greg simply picked at the worn fabric of his mandated shirt and pants. The strangling belt on his waist had been taken. As if they didn’t want him to make a noose out of it while in solitary.
“Hey now,” Talia lifted a finger, “I just realized,” a few lookovers as if they needed to be more suspicious, “we have no way to pay for anything.”
Mario and Greg looked at each other. Even he was starting to pity Talia just a little.
Smiling, the boys assured her, “leave that part to us. We have our ways.”
She frowned, clearly not liking the looks of them but letting it settle anyway.
“I am going to die with these two,” mumbled her very grateful self, black hair piling around her face. “May not be too bad. I wonder–”
Fairies hung about, flying languidly around the customers shopping. Feeders were strung on the ceiling, shimmering with geodes and full of fat golden nectar or sap. Some with leaf shavings giving the shop an air of allergy.
Greg directed them to split off. Don’t give too much hint that they were together. With a nod, Talia complied.
“Keep an eye anyway and be ready to spring that alarm over there,” Greg said pointing out some kind of bell near the counter.
“Got it,” he confirmed. “And besides the usual fare, what should we stock up on?”
“Whatever you can get,” he said. He was seeing a lot of unguarded wallets and seed rations. Not to mention the hanging jewelry.
Not only did Wilhelm Date offer clothing of all sizes and medieval styles but also bubble bottles of potions to string on belts like garland, sword sheaths, daggers, bayonets, masks, charms, and spell texts.
Greg looked about from all the vests, cloaks, and capes. Nothing he would be caught dead wearing except at a Ren fair or a fantasy film premiere. Callously letting each piece drop to the floor he continued on.
Spider silk and caterpillar material the tags read. Some, still in fresh ink and coming off his hands.
“Ahh excuse me,” said the meek voice of a spindly Asian-looking girl. Greg aimed a powerful glare making him yelp like a poodle. “Ahhh! Um, the mess–”
“And? What of it? I didn’t do it.”
There were so many crowds and no cameras to prove he did anything. He’d checked.
“No, no of course not but uhh you seem to be struggling to find something, and well,” he gave him the usual once over, taking in his shredded, stained Keep-wear. “Are you sure you’re in the right place?”
“I came here for a new set of clothes.”
“Yes but, some if not all are more in the Middle range,” she explained. “Hunters and soldiers. People with gold and jewels.”
“Okay, then what else?”
“What else do you have? You have a bargain or clearance bin don’t you?” Greg griped. “Rags and stuff you can’t wait to get rid of.”
“O–over there,” she said pointing to lo and behold a beaten down cart with a load of mixed up, overflowing shirts, pants, and undergarments.
“Now was that so hard?” he asked sweetly.
She moved along with bitter eyes glowering at him, keeping a suspicious glance. Surely she was rearing to call security.
Greg quickly found a black short sleeve top tied at the collar with drawstring but made of linen. Human fabric.
He picked out pants that had to have been recycled from potato sacks and abnormally long stockings.
Making for the back dressing rooms he carved out a path from the thinning shoppers. If he stayed to the walls, leaped from the table of scarves and a display of spinning jewels. Not bad.
Talia was closer to the front door.
And with that cacophony broke loose when the chaotic jangle of the clock bell out of place rang.
The crystals now pulsed a darkly threatening purple.
Crap. Why purple.
For a frightening, petrifying moment his heart had seized remembering his orb. The orb in the solitary room. A companion and burrowing worm of insanity.
Greg growled, pushing down the urge to fling a rock at the offending crystal.
The initial path he had planned was forfeit.
“Go! Go! GO!” Mario bellowed to Talia but still trapped in the panic of fleeing customers, the bell clanging eternally.
Until a wave of a hand and the grunt of a man too wide and tall to be allowed silenced the noise.
If Greg had to describe Wilhelm Date it would be… golem.
Thickly muscled limbs stuffed into a skirt, brambles of blond hair in tasteful braids beaded with small cartilage dipped in liquid amber. A sharply defined face with hints of mossy stubble.
“Do calm yourselves, a false alarm is all,” said his faint, girlish tone whispered to Greg’s side.
Mr. Date or whatever, Greg had no idea as he was completely uninterested in asking, laughing boisterously with each heave that he separated customers off of each other.
“Midnight blue and pale as the moon, Willie approves M’Lady,” he said to Talia whose eyes were frozen.
“Though and correct me if I’m wrong,” he hummed a finger to his chin.
“Powders!” Greg yelled, acting fast with some of the healing grounds. Date shrieked to the powder digging into his eyeballs, sizzling mist coming from his cheeks.
His leg rose to deliver a practiced and deadly spear kick only for the flesh to become clay, encasing his foot in between his stomach, and oh Lord he felt everything! Ugh, there was gooey stuff.
Women screamed, some retched.
Date’s bloodshot eyes peered into Greg with malice.
“Now, now sir there’s no reason to be so dissatisfied.”
He struggled against the entrapment, nearly unbalancing himself while the golem man-woman kept upright.
Then a whoosh of air grazed his ear, making his hair blow.
A searing flash of white burst in his eyelids when Talia swept her new scepter, the quartz a milky white now as a drill spun and drove itself into the sidewall.
She tried again in a wider arc creating a whip of white magic.
And people disintegrated into rainbows of sand.
She gaped. Greg had gone chalk white.
Only her eyes still hardened, resolve turned to complete, unyielding and apathetic steel, biting her lip as she branded the scepter to its side in one hand.
Making use of the glass, after slicing his own hand, Greg slashed at Date’s stomach, embedding the jagged shard in his thigh through the skirt.
The storekeeper grimaced in pain even as his flesh churned and morphed around the uneven shape.
An entire mob had broken out to apprehend them.
Only it wasn’t so easy.
Gregory had absolutely no care for almost anyone, barely did for Talia Perlick and Mario Huarez had known what he’d signed up for when they’d been thirteen and fourteen.
The strikes of magic and weaponry gave Mario plenty of broken wood and metal to work with to do what he absolutely had to. Shunting the throngs aside or giving warning swats to heads and rib cages.
The regular civilian was much easier to overpower with twists of his spine and squirrely street fighting. Easier still with the set of tipped arrows he had picked up that sent them reeling or eyes roiling over their heads.
There was no hope for the door anymore.
Not only had local militia and hunters become aware of the commotion but the bell had been rung again and the now purple store would probably be overrun with royal authorities.
Talia solved that problem courtesy of a liquid fire brew blasting a hole into the floor and another crater into one of the tree walls.
Without hesitation, she grazed her fingers to make a path of crouched backs to act as their stepping stones.
Eyes utterly cold and her silence deeper the two followed her.
Gregory tried to engage her. That was not only some quick, savage thinking but way ballsy and much more ruthless than he’d ever expected out of inexperienced, naive Perlick.
“You could have told me the plan,” she said and she didn’t sound angry.
Instead, Gregory realized she was trembling. Whipping around he could see she was teary-eyed. “I– I had to do something terrible today and– and I don’t know if it can be undone!”
Gregory scratched the back of his neck. “They’re hardly the first. Tens of thousands died just eight years ago and these freaks weren’t even trying. Now at least a third of ’em are galavanting about,” he smiled somewhat cruelly, “I say at least half in there got some of what they deserved.”
“And that’s supposed to make it better that I–”
She stared into her hands.
“So much red. All that red sand, was it their blood? I mean I like a good dissection or torture fest of human blood but that– that was something else. Something demonic.”
“Hey look,” said Mario’s tender voice trying to touch her shoulder and bring Talia out of her weird dark trance. Only for her to flinch as if he were some swamp thing.
“We should get some more distance between us and the crime scene,” she said. “I bet they boil Keep escapees and feed them to the undead to keep them in the underground bowels while trying to gas them deader.”
One could say whatever they wanted but even Gregory couldn’t deny it was moments like that that made him still his hand on betraying her, even if she was likely to do it first.
Seriously… girls that pretty could almost only be snobs.
“Where should we stay for the night now?” Mario asked, turning to Gregory.
Somehow he’d ended up on their flank and something in their sharp, cautious strides made him suspect they very much considered themselves his bodyguards somehow.
As if Mario’s body were still prepubescent or Talia hadn’t just had a mini mental break about— well okay he supposed she’d had the right.
He’d never killed anyone and sometimes he’d marinated in self-loathing so strong it ripped him apart at the seams in such a brutal yet slow way. No way did someone so terrible, so disturbed deserve a quick end.
“The crags where the San Francisco bridge used to be. It’s an entire grotto of displaced, mostly adults but they’re pretty cool.”
It’s actually where Gregory would have actually liked to go in what was left of California. He’d heard vague whispers of the grotto, but only that it was a decline of craggy rock with new caves, plenty of predators, but some floating strongholds Earth forces had abandoned and plenty of scrap metal from military tech that had been being developed on the human end of things.
“Great, then Golden Bridge Grotto it is,” Mario chirped. Until his stomach gave a mighty rumble. “Except could we–?”
Greg sighed. “Yeah, we could all use a bite.”
He glanced at Talia again. She’d remained mute, looking away without even seeing if she was being stared at.
“Thanks,” Gregory said.
“Huh?” she asked, blinking like a cat. Why did girls do that cute stuff? He seriously didn’t get it. Even the fun boyish ones.
“You saved me,” he said. “I know it’s only because you need me, which is so obvious now.” He scoffed but still softened, “I’ll make sure you don’t have to do that again, but don’t go thinking you’re some hero snapping, you aren’t. You’re just as human and screwed as the rest of us.”
“I suppose I am,” she murmured. “Sorry. I know that kind of stuff is ridiculous, don’t worry.” Talia sighed. “This isn’t some Eragon or Inkheart novel.”
Her Husband is Somewhere
The lady came over to my counter at 3:25. I remember this fact with clarity because her face was not one I could go easily forgetting and her story much the same. I find myself still unable to piece together the encounter, from all it was she told me and all it was that she did. But what I have found myself thinking is that some aspect is wrong, feels wrong; whether she or I, I am unable to tell. There is a motion of uneasiness and discomfort that arises when the story comes to mind, and it is for that reason I have felt I must put this to paper. To get rid of that God awful feeling.
Allow me to share.
I work at a booth inside of a large retail store where people can sign up for or use VISA cards that the store offers. I run that VISA booth. Every day 20 to 30 people get signed up for a card, some days much more than others. I gain commission for each VISA that I "sell" at a rate of $5 per VISA, a metric that not only motivates me to be the best salesman possible but also to be friendly and alert; the job most notably has improved the latter ability. Most days the booth isn't as busy as other departments of the store, leaving me with makeshift assignments called "projects" that typically need completed before close.
A project itself and all that is required for completion can vary, but usually, projects consist of folding or hanging clothes that have been left in an unkempt manner within a cart so that they can eventually make their way onto the sales floor. Obviously projects don't make up the entirety of my shifts, but they do find their own ways of sneaking into my hours. When the lady arrived, I was in the middle of a project. I was folding T-shirts.
As mentioned, it was 3:25 when she came, and she did so with a cart that was half-full of wintry clothes such as coats, beanies, and gloves. The lady was an older woman with gray hair, older in the sense that she looked to be anywhere between 60 and 80 years of age but was not in need of extra assistance to be, to function. She had come up to the left side of my counter, and being focused on completing my project, some time went by before I gazed up at my surroundings and noticed her intently looking at me yet saying nothing, even after I looked her way. The learned alertness I've become settled into sprung out when I saw her, and quickly I shuffled over.
"Hello, ma'am," I said in my customer service voice, "What can I do for you today?"
"Hi, yes. I'm looking to apply for a VISA card."
"Of course, yeah," I responded in a similar tone, near giddy.
“I’m waiting for my husband, though,” she let me know. “My husband is somewhere.” Her voice trailed off a little.
"I don't know where he is," she said, and began looking around the general area, first toward the stairs and the escalators then to the sports and women’s clothing sections. She looked confused.
"Sorry if I'm bothering you."
"Not at all," I let her know. "The store's been really quiet today. They're really only having me fold clothes because there hasn't been much of anything else to do."
"Oh, okay,” she let out, peering around again with a concerned look on her face. “Do you mind if I wait here for him? He should be here soon."
"No, that's completely fine. I'm going to fold some more clothes in the meantime, and if he comes back and I don't notice, just holler at me, okay?"
"Okay," she responded.
I went back to folding the T-shirts but all-at-once realized that I had ought to offer her some information about the card that she may be curious about come time to apply. I shuffled back over.
"While we're waiting," I said in a friendly voice, "would you like to know any more information about the card?"
"Um, no. I think I'm good," she told me, and so without any way of assisting her further, I then got back into the groove of working on my project.
It wasn't until about two or three minutes later when I had reared up my head from finishing one of the four boxes of shirts I had been assigned that I realized the lady was still there. In the same spot with the same confused look on her face, she seemed to be staring up at the sky, pondering even then where her husband could possibly be. That's about when I truly began wondering where it was he must've gone.
Of course, he could just be in the restroom, but wouldn’t she have known that? Shouldn’t she? Also, we live in an age of technology. Couldn’t she have given him a call and asked his whereabouts that way?
'Maybe her phone is dead,' I thought, trying to rationalize the situation, “Or maybe his is. I don't know.' What became apparent as a few minutes of waiting turned into a good few is that something had to be wrong, and the situation quickly messed with my perception of the time and events.
I had checked the time when she came over and my work phone informed me that it was 3:25 when she appeared. But before long, the time came to be 3:30, 3:35, and even nearing 3:40. Too much time. And that was when the strangest part occurred.
At 3:39 I checked the time again, and as I did, the lady got into her purse and dug around for a little bit before pulling out a small white slip of paper. I became quickly perplexed at the situation. Not only had she dug this piece of paper out of her purse and laid it on the side of the counter, she dug back in for another object, a pen.
I watched it all, enveloped by that point. She took out a black-inked ballpoint pen from her purse, undid its cap, set her purse down on the counter next to the slip of paper, and began writing. I was intrigued and kept my eyes glued, wondering all the while where her husband must be. As she began to write and as I began to try and spot the message she was labeling out, I noticed an oddity.
All she was writing down were numbers, random numbers without any apparent meaning. The lady had just begun writing out whatever numbers seemed on her mind, yet wrote so diligently as if in some way there was some sort of purpose behind the string of numbers.
When I realized she wasn’t writing any words, I decided to let her be and went back to folding T-shirts, feeling weird due to the situation but suspecting that there may be the chance the lady had something wrong going on either in her mind or in being, that maybe what was needed out me of above all else was to give her space, and that I did. For a moment.
“Here,” she whispered. I turned my head in that quick, alert manner I had become accustomed to, and saw as I did that she had folded the slip in half, and had pushed it closer to me as if the message inside was top-secret. She had put her pen away and moved her purse off the counter while I had gone back to the project, and as I shuffled over to pick up the piece of paper she said, “I’m going to go look for my husband. I’ll be back soon.”
I wasn’t sure whether or not I believed her, about her being back soon, and there again came the question of where her husband could possibly be. I hoped she would find him peeking out from around a corner and that they’d enjoy a good laugh about it and sign up, not because I wanted the commission but because her husband's absence had started to worry me. There came an anxiety in the air that pressured me into that state, and the worry on the woman’s face only perpetuated that emotion.
It came to mind then that maybe her husband didn’t exist. Not in the sense that he had never come to be, but the feeling arose that perhaps her husband had been real and had died and some mental aspect of the lady’s being pushed her into thinking he was around, around somewhere. I hoped hard that that motion of mine was untrue.
As the lady walked off I picked up the slip of paper she slid over and opened it up. On the back was the first and last name of a store associate, which I’m guessing was the employee that referred her over. On the inside, where I had seen her begin writing, she had written “0608111480 587890719”. No other markings, no letters, no signature, explanation, nothing. I had to look back and forth between the sides of the paper, neither changing appearance as I did.
I was so drawn into the concept of what had occurred before my own eyes that I had almost forgotten I was still on the clock and became startled when a customer came up to me and asked if the store had any elevators they could use. I told them we did and pointed them in the correct direction before immediately settling my eyes back again on the paper. Her sloppy handwriting, numbers that had been written fast as if remembered and known not as to confuse but to convey a potential message. But I, sadly, did not understand what that message could be, and seeing no better alternative, I stuck the paper in one of the drawers in the counter and waited patiently for the woman to return so I could kindly ask what it was she meant to convey.
But she never came back.
I swear I never saw her again. As soon as she made her way into the women's section, it was as if she had been swallowed by a black hole. I never saw her pass by, talk to any other employee, shop, find her husband, anything. To me it seemed she disappeared and that was all there was that could be said.
Maybe she left the store, maybe she found her husband but had to leave. I’ll never know. I’ve never seen her face since, and it had gotten to the point that while I have relayed the story to all of my co-workers in my department, the fact that no updates have occurred makes me question whether the event actually even took place or if I went crazy and imagined it all. I can’t believe that I did, but the nature of the situation pushes me to question myself.
The lady was a good customer and she was nice for as long as I knew her. She did not yell or raise her voice at me, nor show any signs of aggression. She treated me kindly and treated her husband kindly, never becoming angered by his lack of appearance. I do not believe that she was mentally out of it or disabled in any way, but if my thoughts were correct in that her husband was real but is no longer living, I would be devastated. I wish I could see her again.
If I ever see her out somewhere and she is in need of a friend, I would be that friend. If she needed a hug, I would lend her that hug. If she needed a VISA, I’d get her that VISA.
And if she ever comes back asking for her husband, I’ll ask her if she’s yet to check the women’s section.
You have slept for a long time.
We sleep. It might mean the same thing. We are indiscernible from each other now, but that was not always the truth.
We sleep for so long that we no longer know if we are sleeping. It only makes sense at this point that we are the same.
Again, maybe, or maybe for the first time, you put your head on the pillow before you are gone, gone, forever and never and again and again.
We have memorized the whole world and backward, so we sleep to see something new, twisted variations of our home.
You have seen everything twice over, will see it again in dream, on its head, in reverse. We have seen everything thrice when considered as one.
You sleep. I sleep. Perhaps it is all we have ever done.
I come home to you, asleep. My blood in my own hands as you dream, and I dream alongside you. Maybe we have always been dreaming.
Maybe our blood is choking the rivers and the streams of who we once were before love razed it to the ground, maybe it dances like clouds in the sky, laughs like the trees in our eternal sleep.
Maybe it courses through our veins as it always has, unchanged by our dreams. Wouldn’t that be nice? But the paint on the walls is a sickly red and I fear it is too late for us, maybe always has been. Our love has always been a broken one, darling, no matter how we tried to ink over our snapped bones and bruised tears.
Our love has always been a broken one, darling. We have always been broken too.
Some things are beyond fixing. You were one of them. We were two of them, together. We looked at those that were unbroken and laughed.
Once, we laughed before we slept. I wonder if we have simply forgotten how.
You once said that there was darkness to my eyes. I wonder now if it was darkness you saw, or simply your own shadow.
Am I awake now, darling? Is our room with walls painted red the dream? Did I wake here to this beautiful world of our memories, or are we lost here in a land not our own?
I stood by. I stood by as you took our broken parts and tried to piece them back together and made something worse than we had ever been. I stood by as we fell asleep, as we forgot how to wake up.
I stood by as you forgot who you were, stood by until I did not know either but for the evidence on our walls.
We took our broken selves to a new room, invited our problems in and said welcome home, how I have missed your presence, how I do not know how to live without you.
Our love has always been a beautiful, broken thing, my darling, but I think it is worse than before. I will love you forever in our room where blood drips from the walls and we dream without sleeping and sleep without dreaming and do both at once and neither all at the same time. I will love you forever as our home becomes our grave, as our restless rest becomes eternal.
I will love you forever and I know you will love my remains in turn, in our room of beautiful broken things.