Thorned feelings skitter across the earth, caked in glitter, hollow words fly, away they flitter; nothing more than sound litter
And, on the tongue, taste lies, bitter, a mind filled with idle chatter, empty chitter, stimulated blood, she'll shake, she'll jitter like a caffeinated bad news transmitter
But somewhere below the surface, balanced upon the edge of truth's precipice, is where trust and insincerity crookedly wed
Tear-soaked pillows and sheets composed of leaves from weeping willows, a burning mattress, vows mispracticed make this marital bed
Distantly plays the violin, off in the shadow of lurking sin, sending chilly shivers dancing atop my skin like winter nymphs skating pond ice, crepe paper thin
Iridescent feelings twist and spin across my face, dripping from my chin, twitching on the dry floor, emotion grows fin: scaled and cold; a coelacanth twin
But oxygen it cannot breathe, pale and aquatic, beginning to teethe upon the things that, beside me, seethe, reaching for their swords, slipping from protective sheath
There is no part that does still believe that to our love I shall continue to cleave when you said you wouldn't, but, regardless, did leave, I'll follow you to the ends; it's my heart I must retrieve
So draw the curtains against the day, I don't want to see the gold of sunray, when imp-like misgivings emerge to play and light and innocence are falsely portrayed
I know that I have reached a line drawn in the sand, I see it, though it's fine, hands behind my back, bound with twine, I step over it into darkness; no illumination to shine
No stars, no moon, no streetlights to see and that means that, here, no one and nothing can see me, in the velvet black, I can finally sleep, away from dastard and bleak blue secrets you keep
And though those tears for you still seep, I refuse to emit sound, I will not utter a peep, I would sooner approach a cliff and from it, blindly leap than feed you my suffering, the pain is too steep
For you to stomach, if you only knew, but, oh, the terrible torment my pining would put you through, the longing has simply melted my heart to cardiac goo and shattered my existence beyond the repair of any philosophical glue
What I felt with you was the most true, until you took an axe to it, splitting pure beauty into two screaming fractures of mutated love and trust turned to ashes rising to the sky above
If this is what happens when push comes to shove, I won't even cover my tracks, won't wear a single glove, when I strangle what's left, snuff our impassioned dove and bury it beneath the cold, dead ground
Sounds and sirens swimming around and moonflowers open on another planetary mound, sparkling clarity is nowhere to be found; we have been convoluted
How was our connection polluted?
Somewhere along love lines, the transmission was muted; bad or good, I wanted it confuted and I guess it was, however transmuted; rewired, misfired, but never rebooted
And in the end, the champagne was fluted, tinted with an emerald oil, jealousy undiluted, my words from before, though transfixed, I've refuted but that we've been broken cannot be disputed
Chapter 19: Secrets Spilled in Darkness
Finding the doctor wasn't as hard as Gareth had feared. With Wren to guide them, now back in his disguise as Dr. Connors, they found him easily, tied up and gagged in a broom closet, only a few doors away from his office. The bonds were tied up in a sloppy way and it wasn't hard for Gareth to untie him.
Your hands are so big, Olban said. Are all humans in your world so... clunky?
"I'm going to ignore that," Gareth snorted, rolling his eyes. "My hands work just fine."
Only because the bonds are so loose. Wren really is rather incompetent, isn't he?
"Jeez, Eloise, no need to be so rude. Wren's on our side now, and he's helped us so far. Besides, wasn’t taming him your idea?”
Sorry, Eloise said, sounding genuinely remorseful. You’re right.
When the doctor saw Wren behind them, he was stirred into a panic— probably because Wren looked like his doppelgänger.
“Uh, Wren, you might want to shift into a different form. You’re scaring the doctor,” Gareth muttered. “Man, this is gonna be a weird conversation.
“It’s too bad, I kind of like this form. It suits me.”
Dr. Connors moaned his dissent, his eyes rolling to the back of his head.
“Ah well,” he said. As they watched, he changed from Dr. Connors, to a formless monster, and then into a middle aged woman with big ears and greying hair.
“Tina?” Dr. Connors whimpered, the gag finally off his mouth. “Why are you…”
“Relax, dude,” Wren interrupted, his voice now high pitched and feminine. “I’m not actually Tina. I just look like her. My name is Wren.”
“Oh,” Dr. Connors said, gulping so loudly that it sounded as if he’d swallowed his Adam’s apple. “I- I see.”
“Why do you have to be someone he recognizes?” Gareth asked.
“I can only shift into someone I’ve seen before. Currently that list is very short, especially with my memories mostly gone. He’s gonna have to live with Tina.”
“Gareth… what’s going on?” Dr. Connors asked, finally recovering enough consciousness to speak.
“Dr. Connors… we’re here to tell you about magic. Although it seems you’ve already had your first encounter.”
“M-magic? But, Gareth, that’s…”
“I know how it sounds. But you’ve seen Wren. It’s obvious he’s not from our world… and that’s why I’m here. In order to properly do what I need to do, I have to make you understand what’s happening.”
“Why? What’s… what’s going on?”
“You might want to sit down, Wren said with a dry chuckle. I’m sure these travelers have quite a story. After all, if the Nameless One wants them dead, they must hold monumental power.”
“I… I think I’ll sit down,” Dr. Connors agreed.
Is this a good idea? Olban asked. After all, this could be another minion. Wren could be leading us into a trap. Do we really want to reveal everything?
Olban has a point, Eloise says. I hadn’t thought of that.
Maybe just leave out a few key details. And whatever you do, DON’T tell them about the armbands. This kind of power is best kept hidden. Explain as best as you can.
“Jeez, you guys are so paranoid. Whatever, I’ll do it. I see where you’re coming from, anyway.”
“Oh, just talking to myse— haha, wait. No use lying anymore. I guess I’ll start with that. Dr. Connors, I don’t have Dissociative Identity Disorder. The person in my head— well, I guess it’s people now— they are real, and they are both from different universes. Wren is from Olban’s world, and Eloise— she’s the new member— is from a world similar to mine.”
Dr. Connors looked completely confused.
“But… what… how…”
Maybe tell him to save his questions for the end, Eloise suggests. Otherwise we’ll be here all day.
Gareth continued, and soon he’d gotten the whole story out. Well, almost the whole story. Per Olban’s request, Gareth removed a few key details whenever he could, just to be safe. Dr. Connors, understandably, had many questions, and Gareth did his best (with help from Olban and Eloise) to answer. Even so, some confusions would never be cleared up. Dr. Connors, by all accounts a practical man, would never be the same.
And as Gareth and Wren returned to Gareth’s apartment, Dr. Connors got up and did something he hadn’t done in over a decade.
He went to church, and he prayed.
Gareth and Olban slept easily, but Eloise was trapped in some realm between consciousness and sleep. She couldn’t really be awake, because her host body was asleep, but she couldn’t sleep, either. It was a dangerous line, although Eloise had no way of knowing that. And in this blurred realm between dreams and reality, the Nameless One crept silently into her mind.
Do you want to know a secret, little girl? it’s voice asked, shrill and wispy in the fogs of Eloise’s fragile mind.
Who are you? Eloise called out. Olban? Gareth?
They cannot hear you, the Nameless One hissed, horrifying laughter emanating from everywhere at once. You are alone, Eloise, as you will always be.
You’re wrong, Eloise shouted. When this is all over, I’m going to go back to my body and everything will go back to the way it was. To the way it should be. Her voice broke into whispery sobs. All along, she’d been harboring her regrets, nursing her doubt, her anger, her pain. Why did I have to try and kill them? Why couldn’t I have just left it alone?
But are you certain, little girl? Are you certain that you will be allowed to return?
Of course I will! Olban and Gareth are making the rings to transport us all!
She realized her mistake a moment too late, clapping a hand to her mouth.
The damage had been done. The Nameless One now knew what the three of them were up to. And, worse, he knew about the rings.
It seemed to become a great snake in the darkness, curling tighter and tighter around her as it laughed.
Ah Eloise, said the Nameless One, his voice as raspy and dry as a snake’s hiss. Suddenly he sounded so much clearer, as if he were speaking right into her ear. As if he were more real now, more solid. So young, so naive… what are you doing here, in this world of monsters and magic? You don’t belong. You can’t belong.
Leave me alone, Eloise sobbed, her voice suddenly small and insignificant. Please, just leave me alone.
They plan to trap you in Olban’s world. Out of place, out of time. They believe you are a danger to everyone around you. A threat to the universe itself.
Eloise’s breath caught in her throat.
No, that… that can’t be right. You’re lying.
I am not, it said, almost sounding offended at the accusation. Why would I lie to you, when the truth is more damaging than any lie?
I refuse to believe it, Eloise cried. You’re wrong. You’re evil and you’re wrong!
The serpent laughed as it retreated, formless, back into the darkness and the mist.
Think about what I’ve said, little girl. And the next time you are alone and awake in the night, I will return.
Despite the violently churning thoughts in her head, Eloise found herself slipping, falling, into a dark abyss of dreamless sleep. Deeper and almost evil, somehow. The kind of sleep that felt like death.
And from the shadows of a distant void, an ancient evil laughed with scornful glee.
The cool pop music played on a jukebox next to a pair of blue flute glasses. A precarious neon sign hung so low that it threatened the forehead of anyone even remotely presumed tall. 'The Lion & The Sea' glowed in red. Pretty women were dancing and swinging on the dance floor. Well-dressed men moving their hips in place around them, tapping a foot.
There was a smokiness to the room. A mixture of tobacco, unrequited love, and fatalism. A place where no decent, god-fearing man or woman would want to venture in. No, the good people were already in bed. Ready for work in the morning. Raising a family.
‘You want another?’ Said the bartender from across the bar. Breasts in a raised corset bra with a peacock feather tattooed on one side.
He nodded and she poured him a rye bourbon with a dash of bitters and a torched lemon peel.
‘Not a lot of people ask for that. It’s an old school spirit. But anyway, you new here?’ She said, cleaning the dark wood bar top with a white towel.
‘Yeah, just flew in from the West.’ He said.
‘The West?’ She said in astonishment. ‘That’s like a three light-year space trip!’
‘It’s about two if you catch the causeway before the asteroids hit Goliath’s Belt.’ He said, taking a sip. Damn, that’s some good stuff.
‘Isn't that about a thousand in our years, right? How do you pass the time?’ She said mesmerized.
‘A lot of people choose to sleep floating in a water chamber. It would only seem like the blink of an eye. A few like solitude and are willing to change. In fact they seek it.’ He said, glancing to the side as a woman in a short red dress and long auburn hair walked by.
‘What did you do?’ She said.
‘I stayed among the stars. In perpetual space. A hundred years would pass before I would see a single thing. One time I sat under a Bodhi tree for forty nine years in the ship's garden.’ He said.
‘What was the hardest thing about it?’ She said as she leaned over. A bead of sweat running down the phases of the moon on the other side of her breasts.
‘My dick.’ He said.
Chapter One: While They Were Gone
“Mama, I’m hungry.”
“I know, honey,” says Carla Raymond, stroking her thin daughter’s hair. The year was 2221, and Carla, along with the other families, were counting down the days until their significant others would return.
Carla bit at the chance to use her knowledge and skill to board the ISS when Phil made her the offer, but she stressed demands to take her daughter along and that she wouldn’t be a bother or get in anyone’s way. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be allowed by any means, but times then were no longer classified as normal. But it would give her the chance to see Clint when he docked at the ISS and introduce him to Maria.
Maria Raymond, Carla’s daughter, had almost no memory of her father other than what she told her. Her early childhood memories of her warm, kindhearted father were being replaced by hunger and the cold, steel walls of the containment center. And Clint hadn’t yet known he now has a daughter. The pregnancy came as a surprise to her about five weeks after Clint left for space. Now, as things stand, he may never see Maria alive.
“Mama, when do we get to go home?”
Carla didn’t answer. She’s busy thinking about her husband, but more than anything, she’s thinking about the zombies, and the delayed supply ships.
We don’t have much time left, she thinks, looking around at the dozens of haggard, starving faces. What if there’s nothing for him to come back to?
Just a little longer, she counters. We can go just a little longer.
She’s not so sure she’s telling herself the truth.
She looks back down at Maria. The youngest. Her baby. She couldn’t let her die. Not yet.
Her sons, Andy and Zach were with her parents on earth and prayed every day and night they were all safe. The devastation caused by the zombies drove them and her parents into an underground shelter that at one time, people laughed at her father as he built it himself.
“Laugh,” he said, “but one day this may save our lives.”
Carla hoped every day he was right.
Her sons weren’t little boys any longer. They are young, strong men but how long could they hold out? How long could anyone with what has been happening? There had been a few times bile would rise at the thought of her family being eaten alive and then becoming like them.
She should never have agreed to this. Never. She should have made Clint stay home where he belonged. With his family.
She wondered if they’d ever feel like a family again. Julie was never ready to be a mom. Clint had asked, and of course, she’d said yes. She could never say no to Clint, and had never really wanted to. And she’d done okay, with Clint by her side. But without Clint… she felt like she was letting her children down.
To Telos. That’s what they started calling it. Fitting.
Because she thinks she might be nearing her end. She’s given every scrap, every ration, to Julie. She’s always been on the heavier side. Even now, after a prolonged period of near starvation, someone looking at her might call her overweight. Her mama used to tell her she was built different. It didn’t matter what she ate, she was always teased. Always ridiculed. So many people might have been jealous of her. At this moment, she looked like she was well-fed, and of course, that made the rumors fly.
She paid no attention, merely kept stroking her youngest daughter’s hair. Their words didn’t hurt her. She had a wonderful husband.
A wonderful daughter and two fine sons. She had her life, and she didn’t care what anyone else thought, because they couldn’t take that away.
She looked up from her occupied lap at the man before her. It was the brother of one of the crew members, she recognized him from the liftoff. She hadn’t really talked to him before, but she always felt like he was a nice guy. She hoped he was a nice guy.
As it turns out, Mark Caruthers, brother to Dale Caruthers, was a nice guy. But he was also a coward.
And so, when the rest of the ship voted, he was nominated to act.
“We know you’ve been stealing food,” he says. “Eating more than your share.”
“I have not,” she says, keeping her voice steady. “I’ve been giving every bit to Maria, and I certainly would never deprive you or your kids, either.”
Now, she loses it, standing up and pushing Maria off her lap.
“No! Don’t you dare say my name like that. I’m not fucking lying, Mark!”
Mark stared at her, his face filled with pity. “Carla, we know this is hard. It’s hard for all of us. But you’re only making things harder by lying. We have an eyewitness.”
“An eyewitness? Liar! Whoever they are, they’re a liar!”
“Mommy, what’s happening?” Maria asks, tugging at her sleeve.
“Nothing, honey, don’t worry about it…”
Maria doesn’t believe her Mama. She wonders what Mama is hiding, and why nobody tells her anything.
She lunges for the bigger man standing next to Mark; she doesn’t know his name.
“Get away from my mama!” she yells. “Stop being a meanie!”
No one saw who shot the bullet. No one saw any smoke, or a gun.
There was only the earsplitting sound, and Carla Raymond crumpled to the ground.
“What have you done?” Maria whispers. “What have you done to my mama?”
She lunges, tears stream down her face at Mark, and all hell breaks loose. A second shot rings out and Maria slumps to the floor inches away from Carla.
Mark and the larger man just stood there, perplexed looks on their faces as if sorting out what just happened.
From behind them, a man and a woman snuck away. Right before everything got lethal, they crawled away, and they hid.
Their names were Darryl Addams and Elana Mycrovitch.
Written By: WhiteWolfe32
“I saw Wires again..?” Isaac murmured, mostly to himself.
“...What did you just say to me..?” replied his father, still drunk from the previous evening.
Isaac focused on his hands clasped tightly in his lap, knowing better than to look up as he tearfully whispered, “He was tasting again.. it hurts.”
“You listen to me now, boy. You hear? There IS no “Wires”. The only thing in that damned closet is your momma’s dress and I’ll burn the damned thing if you don’t stop your lies! Now, quit your crying and go comb your hair. It’s sticking up.”
“But there is! Wires is in there, I promise! He comes out to taste!”
“Shut up now, boy! I don’t want to hear it! You do as your daddy says and go comb down your damned hair!”
“... But it hurts.. my head..” Isaac cried.
Isaac’s father had reached his limit with these lies. He propelled himself across the expanse of the small kitchen table, one hand on each side of Isaac’s little head, “BOY! I’LL GIVE YOUR HEAD A REASON TO HURT! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT PAIN IS, JUST YOU-” and stopped as goosebumps traveled up his arms and neck. He swallowed hard. The back of Isaac’s head, beneath the point at which his hair was disturbed, was warm and it.. it was wet. “What the…?” his father began to question as he pulled his hands swiftly away from Isaac. His right hand was glistening and he vaguely noticed a familiar smell. He stood up and slowly walked behind Isaac. What he saw had an entirely sobering effect and he was horrified. There was an injury to the back left side of his son’s head. The hair had been removed and where there should have been skin, there was an area of exposed skull. It was the edge of the wound that brought the vomit to his mouth.. It looked like someone had taken a large pencil eraser and had effectively erased away a section of Isaac’s scalp, leaving a wide hole with a red, raw edge. No.. No, it was something else.. It looked more like when a predator with a rough tongue just licks and licks its lifeless prey, clear down to the bone. His father went pale as he recalled what Isaac had said just moments earlier; “He was tasting again..” He walked shakily to his son’s room. The nightlight was still on and from inside the closet, he heard the distinct sound of wire hangers scraping along the bar as the door softly closed.
“Daddy..?” came Isaac’s tiny voice from the hall behind him. “Did he taste you, too?”
Earthbound: 2222 A.D.
This is the third group collaboration I have taken part in. First and foremost, I want to extend my thanks for the following writers who have put in their time and I daresay, fantastic effort with this novella. Without them, of course, there would be no story to put here, and obviously, I wouldn’t be writing all this.
Not counting myself, you will find their names at the end of each chapter.
If you like zombie or undead stories, then this is right up your alley. So, kick back, relax and enjoy.
This is where I would say turn the page and start reading, but instead, scroll down.
"Command Center? This is Captain Clint Raymond. The crew is set in their pods for our return to earth and once our communication is completed, I will enter my pod. All geo-computer systems are supporting full functionality and are programmed to open the pods once we enter earth's atmosphere. We will then dock at the Space Station to refuel one final time and will make contact from there.
“Meantime, all 243 samples are stored and accounted for from Mars and Neptune. The scientists will have a field day with all this stuff.”
"Star Ride 12, sounds like a go then. Contact us the minute you enter the Space Station, and then our air space. We will begin preparations to extract you from your landing base.”
“Phil? How’s the weather back there? Please let my wife and kids know I should be back there within four years. The crew also asked me if you would inform their families as well.”
“Clint, weather here is cold as ice. Winter’s here since your take-off has been brutal. With any luck on your end, you might get back here sometime in the spring or mid-summer. But, will do. One we end transmission; I will start making calls.”
“Roger that. It is going to feel good to be back on earth.”
“Clint, there have been some changes since you have been gone. First, once you are extracted, you will be held in solitaire for thirty days for medical evaluations. We have been hit with a severe pandemic while you were away. Not just here either. It’s global. Well over four-billion lives have been lost to what they are now calling, To Telos. It’s Greek for the end.
“But your family is fine, just as the crew's families are as well. They have all been inoculated, so not to worry there. You guys may not even recognize them as they have grown in the last couple of years you have been away.”
“I had thought about that myself, but the other stuff sounds bad.”
“It is, but that is only half the problem now.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. What’s the other half?”
“This Covid strain is changing people.”
“Did you ever watch zombie movies?”
“I’ve seen a few, why?”
“That’s what some people are becoming. Right now, we have things under control with the military being involved, but it’s as if each day that passes, they kill fifty and another hundred are spawned.”
“If it were anyone but you telling me this I would laugh, but I’m not laughing. Phil. I need to end this transmission as we are approaching Vectore-2273, and if I don’t get in my pod soon, the velocity of speed Star Ride will maximize to will crush me like crazy.”
“Roger that, Clint. We’ll talk more after you have returned. Make your crew aware of the situation here so there are no surprises.”
“Will do. This is Star Ride 12, signing off.”
Clint flipped the switch off, removed his headphones and headed for his pod. He couldn’t help but smile at the thought of people becoming zombies but at the same time, the picture of his wife Carla, and his two boys, Andy, and Zach, being eaten alive was nothing to smile about.
Reaching his pod, he slipped inside, and gave out his last command for the moment.
“Anita, open my pod once we reach the outer perimeter of the Space Station.”
“Certainly, Captain Raymond. Arrival time will be four years, two months, three weeks, thirteen hours, fourteen minutes, eleven seconds.”
As the cover descended over Clint, he smiled. Anita is such a punctual computer.
On Earth, September 17, 2218, large masses of undead were scouring the cities and countryside intent on one thing: devouring anything that moved.
Military units and the National Guard were deployed in various sectors, but the obvious was soon to become not so obvious. It was getting where there were more undead than ever before. The military in most citywide areas were overrun and they either retreated or were eaten. Members of the National Guard, many of whom were young, bolted in terror when they would see hundreds of lifeless eyes approaching them, and when they, like the military, fired on them, they kept coming, not caring who fell or where. By the end of the year, cities such as Los Angles, San Francisco, Detroit, Dallas, New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia would be lifeless. Washington D.C., had already made plans for evacuation, getting the president, vice-president, members of Congress and other federal staff workers to safe houses below ground until things were firmly back in control. The only problem with that; no one had an idea when control would be back.
The United States wasn’t the only situation though. All throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and Africa, human remains could be found wasting away rotting under extremely hot temperatures.
As one person put it, “In the movies, you could shoot them in the head, and they would fall down and die. Not so much now. Shoot’em in the head and they just get up and keep coming. That’s not how the script was written.”
The door unlocked and Clint was awakened by a familiar voice.
“Captain Raymond, it is now March 16, 2222, and we are forty-five minutes away from docking with the International Space Station. Would you like me to awaken the rest of the crew?”
Sitting up, blinking away the sleep from his eyes, “Yes, Anita, and tell them to meet me in the command room.”
Stretching, he then swung his legs to the side and stood, slowly making his way to the command center. His first thoughts as he made his way there were the last words he heard from Phil. This would be the first thing he would talk to the crew about.
Five, good, smart people, each with a unique specialty in the sciences, but neither he nor them would have any clue how to combat what is happening on earth.
Dale Caruthers is the onboard mechanic and all-around Mr. Fix it, inside or outside the ship. Strapping man, nearing forty, played college football at Ohio State as a tackle and still in good enough shape that he could knock you down in a heartbeat and never break a sweat.
Jules Verone, a mild person with a penchant for archeology. Short, a bit on the heavy side, but rarely speaks unless spoken to, or has an interesting find.
Brad Marconi, navigator, and this is his eighth trip into space but the first, like Clint and the others, to have gone as far as they have. As Brad put it, “Virgin territory.” This is also Brad’s last sojourn as he plans to retire from NASA when he returns home. That is, if there still is a NASA.
Margo Jessup. Teacher, archeologist, recorder. Divorced, late thirties, and at one time for a few years a professional wrestler if you can believe that one since she’s barely 5’4” and a hundred twenty on a rainy day. Jet black hair and deep-set eyes though give her the appearance she could put you down easy enough—man or woman.
No one on the team had recent military experience and when he explained what was going on with earth; he knew there wasn’t much if anything they could do to avert the situation.
Arriving at the command center, he took his seat, placed the headphones over his ears and radioed a signal message for pick up from the Space Station. Since the radio frequency bounces down to earth and back to the Space Station, any of the four men currently stationed there, can pick up a message through a ham radio. From the corner of his eye, he could see the crew entering as each took their seats.
“I repeat, ISS. This is Star Ride, and we are approaching the docking area for refueling. Do you copy.”
All he could hear was nothing but static coming back.
“Is anyone there? Come in. We are awaiting clearance to dock.”
“Ye-yes, I am here. I will program Robonaut-17 to prepare docking for you but …”
The pause had Clint worried.
“There are only two of us still alive here. The others have died from malnutrition, and I can’t tell you how much longer we may be alive as we have eaten the last of the rations, I think, four days ago. The last supply ship left here eighteen months ago and hasn’t returned.”
Clint knew something was seriously wrong. Supply ships come out to the station every six months with food and new crews. It made him wonder why Brad never said anything.
“Who am I speaking with?”
“Darryl Addams. The other person with me is Elana Mycrovitch.”
“When did you last hear from Nasa?”
“A long time. Not since the last supply ship left here.”
“Then Darryl, get the dock ready. We have an ample supply of food and water. Hang in there. We should be there within minutes.”
After signing off he turned to his crew.
“I have some not so good news to tell all of you.”
Written By: Danceinsilence
They came at night, calling it beautiful, how it “glowed”… storybook. It was fate did it, some said, and I believe they were right. They used all kinds of nice words before leaving and never coming back, unnerved by the strangeness of it, but I knew there was nothing to fear. I had been here to witness it all.
Our worries turned to him when she finally passed. We watched with some alarm as Grandpa held the canning jar to her lips and nose, sealing the openings between them the best his crooked fingers could until her struggling breaths ceased. Ever-so-quickly then he screwed the cap, shutting it so tightly that the rubber washer squeaked with displeasure from the force of it. Then he cradled the thing to his chest as though it were alive, carrying away what he believed to be her, leaving the rest for us to do with what must be done.
I will admit it was odd how you could see the jar on his bed stand in the dark of night. It did not glow of course, how could it, but the glass outline caught every gleam of any vestige of the faintest starlight when all else in the room was blotted by blackness, leaving the impression that the jar was in fact glowing. And every so often he would wake breathless, his bony fingers dousing the gleam as he touched “her” reassuringly, the feel of the familiar, knobbed glass allowing his slow, even breathing to resume.
And how quickly he descended once she was gone. It was only three weeks later that we were gathered around him, holding back tears, offering up our assistance as he used the little strength left in him to press that glass jar to his shaking lips.
At the very end it was I who twisted off the lid, and held the jar’s opening to his face. His eyes flared open one last time when I did. Tired lungs sucked hard at the jar’s mouth and it was done. There were no last words. Those had already been used on her.
We buried him beside her. On a whim I tied the jar between the headstones with a tight string, so that it floated and swayed between them, the jar connecting them in death as their love had in life, glowing between them in the moonlight… well, maybe gleaming, and not glowing.
After all, an empty old canning jar couldn’t possibly glow.
Half My Life a Dream, I Long for Fallen Blossoms
Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow.
It is at the cusp of a lonely road that I find myself, meandering there towards the end, where at the beginning I ran, half my life now gone like a dream, a dream that seemed so grand and noble, but could not be fulfilled by a will so weak. Where once a child wanted to save the world, to a failure of a man at the end of the lonely road, standing there as the gods look on and say, o’ the sham, how did we waste such a strong and healthy body, such an inquisitive mind, on a soul so pale and pathetic?
Even the wind seems quiet here. The distant stars seem ever more impossibly far and cold, and beneath my feet a crumbling façade of a dream falls into an abyss of time.
I look back once again at the road behind that led me here, at that childhood dream of a free world. The way twists and turns, and parts of the road are still covered by the debris of ambiguity, by my lack of courage and the inability to find closure.
But ahead of me at the end of this road, there is no mystery, no opaqueness, and the way is clear. In that endless pit of time I will reside as a failure, and there my destiny I will meet.
Inspired by My Thirty-Three Year's Dream by Tōten Miyazaki
Odie and the Extremely Long Business Trip
I knew my wife was heartbroken the day I told her those words:
“Penelope, I’m sorry; I’ve been asked to travel on a business trip with Aj and Mede to Troysburg to promote the company.”
“Well, if you insist! Go! Pack your things already! What’s ten weeks when I have a mother-in-law and a nanny to help me!”
“Thanks Penelope, I knew you’d understand,” I smiled as I kissed her on the cheek.
“Just bring home the moola, honey,” Penelope called back.
Odie set out with his managers, Aj and Mede, as well as many other salesmen to promote their company and sell items. They conquered the meeting and made a fortune in those ten weeks. Yet on their way back, there was a terrible tornado that picked up their car and flung them about for nine hours until they crash-landed in a junkyard in the city of the Cicones. After taking three days to recover in a hospital, they ravaged the nearest grocery store for supplies since most of their stuff had been hurled out the window while they were in that tornado. They nearly bought the store out of stock when the employees chased them out by throwing outdated produce and leftover samples.
The businessmen left the grocery store and hopped back in their dilapidated car. Odie turned the keys, yet the car wouldn’t start.
“It did get beat up in that tornado. I don’t think it will even start. We’ll buy a new car,” sighed Mede.
“We used up enormous amounts of money at the grocery store! How will we afford a car?” protested Aj.
“We’ll just rent a car. Follow me everyone. There’s a car rental just down the street. Let’s pick up our things and walk over,” decided Odie.
So the businessmen walked over to Polyphemus Car Rentals. While they were waiting, some of the men helped themselves to some cheese that the store offered for customers. While they were eating, the manager, Paul Phemus, saw them.
“Hey! It’s those businessmen who bought nearly everything in that grocery store! When I entered the store, I found they were all out of cheese! Now here you are, eating all the cheese we have left! Lock the doors! No one leaves this building until I’m finished with them!”
The employees hurriedly obeyed.
“Please, sir, we just want to rent a car. Then we’ll be on our way,” defended Odie.
“You shall be enslaved as employees for me until you pay off the amount of money you wasted eating all my cheese!” boomed Paul.
“Noooo! Sir! Please, spare us!” cried Odie.
Paul grabbed two of Odie’s businessmen and gave them nametags with the company symbol on it.
“They now belong to me!” decided Paul.
“No! Not Aj and Mede! Please, friends, turn from this wickedness! Don’t join his side!”
“Odie, I’m sorry, but I can’t help it; I was given a name tag. I must work for Paul now!” confessed Aj.
“Can't...resist, must….work...for Paul!” admitted Mede.
“You see? They can’t resist. Once a businessman, always a businessman. They are now...car salesmen!” declared Paul in his deep voice.
“NNNOOOOO!” screamed Odie as he fell on his knees and wailed at the ceiling. “Why? Why did this happen to me?!”
“Odie, you are now the head manager of the company. Make me proud!” whispered Mede as he disappeared into the EMPLOYEES ONLY room, never to be seen again by Odie and his businessmen.
Paul enslaved two more of Odie’s men the next day. However, when Paul was asleep, Odie snuck the keys of two Maserati car rentals. Then Odie and the businessmen drove away.
They drove all day, though by night both cars were low on gas. They pulled over, and Odie walked to a nearby gas station.
“Please, do you have any gas cans you can give us? Both cars are low on gas, and we need to return to the city of Ithaca as soon as possible.”
“Ah! You’re in luck! I have a special type of gas for you. If you use it for your cars, they will drive on forever without needing a refill. Yet whatever you do, don’t drink it, or you’ll be up all night.”
“Why would the drinker be up all night?” asked Odie.
“Son, trust me, you do not want to know,” sighed the man.
“How much is it?”
“Well, it’s pretty pricey, yet I’ve heard about what you did to Paul Phemus, the car rental salesman. Since you outsmarted him, I’m going to give you both cans for free! After all, he cheated me on a car awhile back, so this is my way of declaring ‘Take that!’”
“Thank you..uh..what’s your name?”
“Aeol. Here are your special cans. Pleasure doin’ business with ya!”
Odie walked back to the cars and filled them up. He didn’t fill all of them all the way though, he wanted to save some for his wife’s future golden Mitsubishi Chariot. As they continued to drive that night, some of the businessmen grew exceedingly thirsty, but Odie didn’t want to pull over because he was intent on arriving home. Unfortunately, they became immensely thirsty and tired and began to crave the cans of special gasoline. In fact, two of his men drank the remaining gas and soon became severely sick. They began to feel fatigued and nauseous. What started as coughing, turned into vomiting the gas they drank out the window. Since this was special gas, their symptoms were not minor. The two men were up all night sneezing and coughing extensively as they spun the car in all sorts of directions until Odie and the other driver were completely lost. Some news reporters saw the incident and decided to name a disease after it: Corona Gasolineria.
The two cars ended up at a mansion in the middle of nowhere. They asked the residents, Mr. and Mrs. Antiphate, to let them stay the night. Yet the couple turned out to be cannibals and Odie and most of his businessmen barely made it out alive. They sadly lost a few of their men. Thus, they hopped in the car and drove to the nearest police station to report what had just happened. Then they fell asleep in the car while Odie and the other driver continued to drive on. Along the way, they stopped in for a bathroom break when Odie and his men saw the Lotus Casino across the street. They were desperate to stretch their legs. So they walked in and ate and drank to their heart’s content. Little did they know that they are wasting weeks in that casino and gambling away all their money earned from the business meeting. After many weeks, Odie asked a fellow businessman in his company:
“Hey, do you know what time it is?” asked Odie.
“Time? Why should we care about time? We’re having a blast here at the Lotus Casino!”
“Well, I was thinking, we need to head back home now. Surely we’ve been here long enough, and I don’t know how much longer our money will hold out.”
“We still have plenty of money left. Just relax, Odie, and have fun!” he smiled as he rolled his die.
Odie observed everyone and found they were completely unaware of what was going on.
“I must get to the bottom of this. I need to make them stop eating the lotus flowers.”
Suddenly, Odie spotted a woman gazing down on everyone from a balcony. Odie figured she was the manager and the one behind everyone losing their awareness of what was happening. He rushed to the door that read: EMPLOYEES ONLY. It was locked. This was not a problem as Odie rammed a chair into the door and barged in. It was the manager standing on the balcony, her name was Circe.
“Well, well, well, I see you’ve figured out my evil plan!” she chided.
“I demand you stop whatever plan you’re using on my men and allow us to leave!”
“You think it will be that easy? I will free you and your business team if and only if you beat me in a game of wits. I have this poison here; it is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. I will pour it into one of the two cups of wine. If you drink the right cup and don’t die, you and your men will be free. If you die however, your men will be trapped here for eternity! Wha-ha-ha-ha!”
Odie thought about it long and hard.
“Well, Circe, you drive a hard bargain, but I accept. Pour the wine!”
She did and made sure Odie wasn’t peeking while she poured the poison. They sat down across from each other. Odie observed each of the cups. They were identical. Just as he was about to choose, he heard a voice from far away. He turned around to notice a man wearing sparkling boots with wings attached to them whispering from outside the room.
“Odie! My name is Hermie, and I saw which cup Circe put the poison in! Don’t drink the one on your left! It will kill you!”
“How can I trust you?” questioned Odie.
“You can’t,” smiled Circe. She hadn’t heard Hermie.
“You need to trust me, Odie. Don’t you want to reunite with your wife and child again?” asked Hermie.
Yes! Odie badly wanted to return home. He picked up the cup on the right and drank it. He felt fine and Circe grew furious.
“I can’t believe you won! How did you know?”
“Are you going to stay true to your word?” reminded Odie.
“Yes, yes,” she replied in an annoyed tone. She pressed a button and spoke into a microphone.
“Please bring me Odie’s business party.”
Down below, employees heard Circe’s command and gathered Odie’s men. They left the casino only to run into an old, blind man named Tyrone who had a prophecy for Odie in an alleyway.
He told Odie that he will save his wife and son from many door salesmen trying to sell her products that she does not need or want. They will bombard their house because Penelope recently received a large sum of money from her dead mother-in-law’s will. Many people wanted her money and were desperately trying to sell their products to her. In order to prevent this from happening, he and his men must resist petting the fancy, pampered poodles of the famous millionaire Surya. As Odie and the others were leaving, many old, blind, hobos and beggars crowd around Odie to talk. Some wanted to buy his clothes right off of him; others wanted to sell them junk they had collected. To be kind, Odie stayed a while longer and listened to their stories on how they had become homeless.
Afterwards they drove on, and along the way sirens blared loud advertisements in their ears. Odie was extremely annoyed and wanted to destroy those sirens.
“AAHHH! This song will not leave my head! All I want to do is buy bubblegum and back scratchers! Make it stop!” shouted Odie.
“Odie, just keep driving and forget about those catchy advertisement songs. All they want is your money anyway,” urged a fellow businessman in the car.
However, as they’re driving through the towns of Scylla and Charybdis, Odie’s men couldn’t resist the temptation and begged Odie to drop them off so they could buy the products the advertisements were blaring out.
“We want Palmbrellas! We want Palmbrellas!”
Reluctantly, Odie let everyone who wanted Palmbrellas out and made the journey with one car now and his few businessmen left.
They drove on, only to pass by Surya’s mansion. The businessmen peered out the window only to notice the lovely green lawn full of fancy, pampered poodles. They begged to be let out of the car too so they could stretch their legs. Yet while Odie shut his eyes, the businessmen petted the fancy, pampered poodles. Instantly, Odie remembered the prophecy, and to his devastation he saw the men were transfixed in petting poodles.
“No! Stop! Don’t touch them! Do you want my wife to be swarmed with door salesmen?” cried Odie.
But it was too late. The sky grew dark and the businessmen transformed into poodles. Surya walked out and laughed wickedly.
“More poodles to add to my collection! Yes! Now I have 101 fancy, pampered poodles! Wha-ha-ha-ha!”
Odie knew there was no way his men would return. He sadly drove away. Once a poodle, always a poodle. There was no turning back.
When he reached the city of Ogygia, a new law had been announced that everyone must be quarantined due to this new infectious disease called Corona Gasolineria. Odie was forced to stay at Lady Cally’s house for many miserable and boring months. Lady Cally, however, was extremely enchanted with Odie and begged him to stay even after the quarantine. Yet Hermie, who apparently stalked Odie the entire time, convinced Lady Cally to help Odie sneak out of the house during quarantine. She gave him the keys to her third favorite car and he drove away.
Along the way, all four tires popped thanks to Percy, the father of Paul, who had hated Odie for outsmarting his son, the car salesman. Luckily, a car mechanic named Imellia was hitchhiking nearby and ran to Odie’s rescue and fixed his tires. She pulled new tires out of her magical purse. Just in case Percy were to sabotage Odie again, she let him keep the purse until he made it to the next gas station.
Odie drove until the tank was empty and then dropped off the purse by the side of the road for anyone to pick up later. The gas station was called Phaeacia’s Perfect Palace. Odie walked in to buy gas and Phaecia asked him to stay and talk of his journey and whereabouts since quarantine had given her fewer customers and less to do. Odie stayed and talked about everything that had happened the last year.
Afterwards, she gave him gas and Odie reached Ithaca City.
Meanwhile, Marcus was two years old and Odie had long missed his first steps. Penelope, desperate to give Marcus a break from the salesmen, decided to enroll Marcus in a daycare. He met a toddler his age named Pablo and together they explored the playground to their heart’s content. However, he noticed his mother was missing and tried to escape so he could join her, yet the caregiver caught him and brought him back to the playground.
Meanwhile, Penelope tried to get rid of the many door salesmen that surrounded her house. They kept banging on the door, the windows, even tried to talk to her through the vents of her house. There was hardly any privacy. Often Penelope would find herself locked away in her room to catch a breather from them. Yes, she had tried ignoring them, yet they knew she was in her house nonetheless. All the while she heard screaming men shout:
“Buy one Tandem Beer Mug, get one free!”
“Wooden saws! You know you want one!”
“Silverware made from rope! Everybody needs woven silverware!”
“If you buy this hairy plate in the next 24 hours, we’ll give you three more for free!”
“High tide heels, it’s the new trend!”
“Palmbrellas! Buy one now and receive the next one half off.”
“Ugh! Just leave!” screamed Penelope covering her ears. She finally ventured out and asked for more time to decide which product she wanted to buy, when truthfully, she didn’t want any.
Marcus walked around the playground asking for volunteers to help him escape the daycare and find his mother. It was going well until two kids saw a daycare worker blowing bubbles for some other children. Mesmerized by the floating, shining, and wonderful smelling bubbles, they run over and join the others to pop them. More and more saw the bubbles and joined in as well. That left Marcus and Pablo right where they started. With nothing better to do, they sat down and drew with chalk.
When Odie arrived home, he saw to his dismay his house was overrun with door salesmen.
“Alas! The prophecy became true!” he cried. “I need help if I want to save my poor wife and son from these annoying men. I must be stealthy if I want to catch these door salesmen by surprise. I better lay low and find some help,” mused Odie.
He walked down the neighborhood to Elijah’s house, who had been a loyal friend and helpful neighbor for many years. Odie knocked on the door. Elijah quickly opened it and didn’t recognize Odie because he was weathered down from the journey. Plus, Elijah and Odie had not seen each other for over two years because Odie’s business trip was longer than expected.
“What can I do for you, kind sir?” asked Elijah.
“I noticed the house down the street was overrun with door salesman. I was wondering if you could help me rid them from the house?” replied Odie.
“Why should we bother with that mess?”
“I have not been in the neighborhood long, but I want to be a friendly neighbor to Penelope and her household. Surely, you agree?”
“Yes, of course! However, I have no idea how to rid the house of door salesmen.”
“Well, I have no experience in vanquishing salesmen…” lied Odie. “Yet I once rid the house of a mice infestation by setting out a large plate of cheese. While the mice were eating the cheese, I quickly threw a cage on top of them and caught them all!”
“Bravo, sir! I think I'm beginning to understand your plan. Only instead of cheese, let us steal the money from the door salesmen while they sleep. Next, we’ll put it in a huge chest and put it in the center of the neighborhood. When they run up and start to fill their pockets with money, we shall capture them in the largest cage we can!”
“Excellent! You work on the cage, and I’ll work on stealing all their money tonight.”
That night, Odie snuck all the money from the door salesmen as they camped around his house. He placed all their money in a chest and put it in the center of the neighborhood. After that, he helped Elijah strap the cage to a tree over the chest. This way they could pull a string and the cage could fall on top of the door salesmen. Then they would call the police.
The next day, as the door salesmen were waking up and eating unhealthy cereal for breakfast, Odie climbed on Elijah's roof and shouted: “Hear ye! Hear ye! For all you door salesmen out there! There is a ginormous chest full of money in the center of this neighborhood. Claim it now while you still can!”
As soon as the door salesmen heard ‘ginormous chest of money’ they sprinted towards the center of the neighborhood. Elijah was waiting for them, ready to pull the rope and trap them. Penelope, Eulalie, and Marcus woke up to the noise and rushed outside to find the door salesmen running away.
“It’s a miracle!” screamed Penelope. “They’re all gone!”
“Who’s that funky looking man on your neighbor’s roof?” asked Eulalie.
“Why, if I didn’t know better I’d think it was Odie, but it can’t be because he’s still gone on a business trip,” sighed Penelope.
When Odie heard that, we climbed down and ran to Penelope.
Penelope was extremely relieved and overjoyed at her husband’s return that she didn’t know how to respond and broke down crying. While Penelope, Odie, Marcus, and Eulalie were catching up, Elijah had captured all the door salesmen and called the police.
Odie and Penelope would never worry about door salesmen anymore because no businessman would ever forget who Odie was. Odie became a legend from his two year journey. Odie became the head of the company as well. He hired new employees and expanded the business. He and his family became wealthy and lived in a rich mansion of their own. No door salesman ever bothered them. Marcus grew up and pursued a career path similar to his father. He enrolled in college and studied business for his major. Eulalie decided to live with Odie’s family, where she cared for the three of them. Thus, they lived happily ever after.
Point for Inspiration
I would strike the idea of determining fairness down as a null point regardless of the outcome of any debate. The concept of advantage and disadvantage implies unfairness, inequality, disproportionate odds of success; however, fairness, or the lack thereof, has little consequence in the universe we live in. But someone clever once wrote about how creativity thrives on limitations, and though their name escapes me now, I am reminded of the contents of that article.
For instance, if a group of filmmakers only has one day to make a ten minute film that only uses ten words with a limited budget, they sometimes create a masterpiece because of how much extra thought and consideration is required to accomplish the task with the time and resources available, but if you give the same group a year to make an hour long movie with a limitless budget and no restrictions, you might well end up with a billion-dollar flop because the artistic vision of the group relied on the limitations to give them focus and direction.
That was the gist of the article and the evidence presented in it. One could certainly argue that the original group was at a disadvantage to the later group as far as resources, but they were ultimately more successful anyway. I find it curious how disadvantage can actually stimulate success in the realm of art. On the surface it is a great contradiction to what we've learned about the nature of success and fairness, but culturally speaking, it makes sense. Why else would we always root for the underdog? To triumph in the face of insurmountable odds is an inspiring notion, and inspiration can tip the scales in all kinds of unexpected ways.