A Big Adventure of Now: A Short Story

Enlightenment NB: sexual themes and drug use.

Enlightenment, for Mahayana Buddhists, can happen to anyone at anytime. Right practice encourages and nurtures enlightenment, but it can, in principle, strike like grace, for no apparent reason.

A kind of enlightenment struck Martin at 3:14 PM on a Monday.

His mind had drifted from the memo he was writing and, as his fingers pitter pattered across his keyboard, he came to reflect on the course and culmination of his life. Well-educated, well-employed, and well-housed, at the age of thirty-seven, Martin had no dependants, no girlfriend, and no family. He had an impeccable credit rating.

He was free, totally free. Everything was permitted.

Before he sold his condo, Martin opened as many lines of credit as he could. When asked why he needed the credit, he said it was time to upgrade to the comfort of a house and to get a car more suited to his lifestyle. Every customer service representative he spoke to agreed that more credit was exactly what he needed. Then, Martin moved on to collecting credit cards.

When the customer service representatives finally declined his requests for more credit and the rejection letters from the credit card companies finally arrived, he counted his cash and credit. He was now, given a short enough time frame, very very rich. Everything was permitted.

In Las Vegas, he met Gemma. She was cruising for clients, when he first saw her from behind, on one of the pedestrian bridges that funneled people up and over the wide thoroughfares of the strip, protecting the cars from the distractions of ambulatory flesh. He knew in an instant she was a working girl, by the call of her gait, the long straight seam of her stockings, and the saunter in her high heels. His intuition was proven correct, when she caught his eye and smiled warmly.

He invited her to the Celine Dion concert. Later, in between the lines of cocaine, the blow jobs, and the anal sex, he explained his enlightenment to her.

“All life is lived in the moment and memory of now. It makes no difference, if I die now or thirty years from now. From the perspective of eternity, it’s all the same. The only thing that matters is the only moment of now, in which we always live, until we live nothing at all. Taking the invented money of the big banks harms no one, so I’m going to use their illusion of wealth to squeeze as much experience out of one final moment of now. I am free. Gloriously, free!”

Gemma fell in love with him, of course. It was his fantasy, and he pushed enough money and coke her way to warrant the playacting. She was a pro. She knew what he wanted, without asking, sometimes even before he knew he wanted it. He appreciated her work, without calling attention to it.

From city to city, Martin travelled. If he was patient, he could always find a Gemma wherever he went. Within the certain boundaries of the cash-nexus, Martin found an egoless intimacy that struck true to his being, in a way that the barter economy of his petty romances never had. In many ways, each Gemma was every Gemma and every Gemma was he.

When he had set out on this adventure of now, Martin had imagined that he would travel the world. Once the adventure was underway, however, he could not bring himself to leave these United States of America. The spirit of the land aligned too closely with his own gay mission.

Here was an entire nation, an entire people, collectively using all that they could take, as quickly as they could take it, for one short moment in history, in the vain hope that salvation of one kind or another lay at the end of the orgy of consumption. America, like Martin, would be a short, bright flare in the darkness of eternity. Martin, unlike America, understood that once his light burnt out, the music would indeed be over.

He spent the cash first. Then, he used his lines of credit to auto pay the minimum payments of his credit cards. Eventually, one by one, the credit cards stopped working. Before the tap of credit was turned off, he purchased a comfortable dinghy and a lethal dose of high-quality heroin. He cooked his first and final hit on a broad beach west of Portland. Then, he rowed out past the breakers.

Martin had decided at the beginning of his adventure that he would leave the world in one moment of perfect bliss. If all life is lived in the moment and memory of now and if his final moment of life is one of perfect bliss, then, from the perspective of eternity, he reasoned, his life will have been a life of perfect bliss. The logic of it made him shiver.

Martin removed all of his clothing, flinging it into the sea. Then, he tossed the oars as far as he could. He lay back, a tourniquet tightly wound around his left arm, and found a vein with the needle, piercing his skin. He lifted his eyes to the moon.

Everything had been leading to this moment. Everything was and always had been this moment. With one swift movement, there would be only bliss and, then, nothing at all. He knew he could do it. All it would take is one gentle push.

Martin focussed his attention and imagined the blissful disappearance of his whole identity. The sea air was fresh and his skin tingled. Then, a shudder of joy rolled through his spine, filling every ounce of his being, and it seemed to gush out of the top of his head, his fingers, and his toes.

When the first rush of feeling subsided, Martin sighed deeply. A unfamiliar but welcoming calmness overcame him. Yes, Martin could do it, but he didn’t want to do it. At the precipice of a faceless eternity, confronting and knowing truly for the first time the absurdity of existence, he decided to live. He wanted to live.

He threw the needle and its heroin into the sea, removed the tourniquet from his arm, and smiled at the moon, the oh so beautiful moon. He loved it, too. He loved everything.

Barstool Prophets: Tragedy

Tragedy“The tragedy of contemporary life,” Tyler said, with just the right tone of self-aware irony in his voice, “is that contemporary life is not, in fact, a tragedy.”

Gordie sniffed at the effervescence of his freshly poured beer, as classic rock blared from the speakers above the bar, backfilling the wake left by Tyler’s apparent profundity. After a long pull from his pint, Gordie stopped staring at the table of cute undergrads, and said, “OK. You got me. Explain.”

Tyler took a long pull off his own pint, before continuing.

“Take us, for example. By all accounts, we’ve made it. Not just at the personal level, but from the perspective of the species.” From the wax papered basket in front of him, Tyler picked one of the larger chicken wings, and tore a piece of spicy flesh off of it. “We’ve got good, comfortable, government jobs, bullet proof pensions, trendy but tasteful downtown condos. Sure, we’re single and haven’t reproduced, but that’s by choice rather than necessity.” He licked the fingers of his left hand clean, took hold of his pint, and took another long pull. “We eat when we want. We drink when we want. In principle, we could fuck when we want. We’ve got shelter. We have everything a human primate could ever possibly want, with little effort and no struggle. We have achieved what the species has been struggling for ever since  it first emerged from the primordial ooze. We’re living in human primate nirvana.”

“So.” Gordie took another long pull from his pint. “What’s the problem with that?”

“That’s just it,” Tyler exclaimed, brandishing a picked clean bone. “There is no problem. Nothing is wrong. Life is pretty good. It’s not great, it’s a little boring at times, but it’s always pleasant enough that we can’t really complain, but not so exciting to be, well, exciting.”

“Why is that a tragedy?” Gordie’s eyes drifted up to one of the TVs above the bar, which silently displayed one man’s struggle to determine if his opponent had been drawing to the flush that was now on the board.

“It’s textbook tragedy, Gordie.” Tyler took a long pull off his beer. “Humanity’s tragic flaw, it’s primary drive and motivation throughout its history, is its desire for a life of ease and comfort. Everything that has ever happened has happened ultimately because of our longing for a life much like the one you and I are living right now, and, now that we have achieved that life, we’ve discovered that it’s not anything to be particularly excited about or particularly disappointed by.”

“Why’s that bad?” Gordie topped up Tyler’s glass from the pitcher before topping up his own.  “It’s not a tragedy, if the flaw doesn’t lead to some kind of horrible outcome.”

“That is a horrible outcome! We’re living the worst of both worlds.” Tyler expressed his horror with an extra long pull from his pint. “It makes me want to pull my eyes out sometimes.”

“How’s it horrible?” Gordie looked to the TV again, and noted that the struggling man had lost a lot of chips. He was now making a scene to compensate for the loss. “Two seconds ago, you said it was nirvana. We’ve achieved what the species has always wanted. No problem. Nothing to see here. Ergo, no tragedy.”

“And that’s exactly why it’s a tragedy,” Tyler tossed another clean bone into his basket. “We’ve achieved what we’ve always wanted, and it’s so indifferently pleasant that I can’t even feel bad about its banality.”

Gordie burped before responding. “Why is it banal, and not simply pleasant?”

“Because in our drive for comfort, we’ve, out of necessity, developed a taste for greatness, for achievement, for overcoming.” Tyler paused to chew some cartilage off the end of a bone. “We’re here precisely because others have achieved great things, but now that there is nothing left to achieve, we still have this appetite for greatness, but no need for it, no opportunity for it.” He pulled another wing from his basket. “It’s like eating vanilla cake, when you really want chocolate. You want chocolate, but you can’t really complain because you still have cake.” He tore into the wing.

“Seriously, Tyler, the tragic outcome of the human species is the fact that we’re eating vanilla cake when we really want chocolate.” Gordie took a long pull from his pint and shook his head. “Seriously?”

“Tragic, isn’t it?” Tyler held the remains of the wing near his lips, smiling with just the right hint of irony. “Don’t you think?”

“Not really.”

“Exactly!”

Helen intervened, filling the pregnant pause of Gordie’s incredulity. “Do you guys want another pitcher?”

Gordie answered, while Tyler finished his wing. “Yes, please!”

“How are the wings?”

Tyler answered, while Gordie took another pull from his beer. “Great!”

Helen cleared the empty pitcher and Gordie’s basket of bones. Tyler tore into another wing.

“Tyler, I think you’re overlooking a rather obvious point. Your life, my life, is not representative of the general state of the species. Your life isn’t even representative of the general state of people living in this city.” Gordie took a small sip from his beer, nursing what he had left in his glass. “There are plenty of people in this city who are suffering and plenty of people who are living great, even ecstatic lives!”

“Bah,” Tyler tossed another naked bone into his basket. “Exceptions that prove the rule. Outliers. You and I are the median, the norm, the creamy middle of the curve.”

“No, we’re the outliers.” Gordie leaned back in his chair and peeked again at the table of cute undergraduates. “You and I, we are a privileged minority, in a privileged city, in a privileged country, in a privileged moment in history. We’re in no way representative of the general experience of the species. We’re the exception that proves the rule, the actual rule.”

“Oh yeah,” Tyler drained his glass. “What rule is that?

“Here you go, guys.” Helen placed the pitcher between them on the bar. “You want some more wings, Gordie?”

“No, I’m good.” Gordie grabbed the pitcher and filled Tyler’s glass before filling his own.

“How about you, Tyler,” she asked. “Are you still working on those wings.”

“Tcha, of course.”

“You clean those bones like no one else.”

“Leave no flesh behind!”

Helen smiled, before moving to the other end of the bar.

Tyler started to chew on a new wing, and, through its flesh, he asked, “so, you were saying?”

Gordie looked away from the girls, and took a long pull from his glass. “Right. The fact of the matter is that you and I are the exceptions that prove the rule that the vast majority of people are still struggling to survive, forced to do great things because they have no other choice. Moreover, you’re also overlooking the fact that our wealth and comfort is an illusion of unaccounted for externalities. Our way of life is bleeding the world dry.”

“Tragic, isn’t it?” Tyler slurped at his beer, to add emphasis.

“Sure, but your initial claim was that life isn’t tragic! I’m saying it is well and truly tragic. We’ve achieved what we we’ve always wanted — well, a small minority has — but only at the cost of destroying the grounds, the very possibility of that which we want.”

“And in the meantime, our life is pretty good, right? Free of tragedy.” Tyler tossed one last well-cleaned bone into his basket. “And, isn’t that the real tragedy, Gordie?” He tore open a moist towelette, and started to wipe down his fingers.

“You can’t do that!” Gordie placed his glass on the bar in disgust. “That wasn’t your point. You were making some vaguely Nietzschean observation about the banality of the herd utopia.”

“They’re two sides of the same coin,” Tyler tossed the soiled towelette on top of the bones, and started to dry his fingers with a napkin. “The personal is the political.”

“They are not. They are two totally different points.” Gordie took a long pull from his pint. “And don’t try to muddy the waters with references to feminism.”

Tyler tossed the crumpled napkin into the basket of bones along with the moist towelette. “The real irony of the situation is that you can’t even tell when I’m being ironic.”

“That’s not irony either!”

Helen intervened again, clearing Tyler’s basket of flesh-free bones. “You guys crack me up. Are you sure you’re single by choice?”

“What do you mean?” Gordie asked, as Tyler topped up their glasses from the pitcher.

Helen motioned to the empty table, where the cute undergraduates had been sitting. She tried to communicate something with her eyes, but Gordie didn’t understand, so he shrugged his shoulders and took a long pull from his pint.

Helen laughed. “I can’t wait until you guys are drunk. I love it when you slur your words.”

Later, when Tyler and Gordie were thinking about leaving, Helen bought them a round, so she could hear them slur their words a little longer, and to make sure they were good and drunk for the short walk home to their trendy but tasteful condos.

A Very Unlucky Boy: A Short Story

Strong Imagination 1Charles was a very unlucky boy. He was cursed with a powerful imagination.

“What if I had been born a prince,” he often asked himself. “Or a shepherd? Or a woodsman? My life might have been better, it might have been worse, but, at least, it would have been different.  Oh, what would life be like, if it were different?”

Because Charles had such a powerful imagination, sitting in his sandbox or playing in the woods, he could imagine these different lives with such intensity and clarity that his actual life, however good, always seemed pale in comparison, even when he imagined his life being much worse. The imagined difference was tantalizing.

“Life can’t be like this forever,” he’d think to himself, during class, as the teacher droned, or at recess, as the other children ran in ceaseless circles around him. “I’m sure, one day, somewhere, it will be different than this.”

Eventually, Charles grew up to be a very unlucky man. Despite the best efforts of his parents, teachers, and just about any adult who had the chance to try, he never lost his powerful imagination.

“Yes, this is love,” he would tell the woman he loved, “but I can imagine another kind of love, a different kind of love. Better or worse, I must find it!”

“Yes, this is fine work,” he would tell his employer, “but I can imagine another kind of work, a different kind of work. Better or worse, I must find it.”

“Yes, this is a fine place to live,” he would tell his friends, “but I can imagine another place to live, a different kind of place to live. Better or worse, I must find it.”

Strong Imagination 2One day, in a tiny village on the other side of the world, while Charles was living the simple kind of life he had always imagined would be so beautiful, but he now found somewhat stifling, Charles imagined what it would be like not to have a powerful imagination. He imagined this life with such intensity and clarity that he understood, for the first time, the life he had been living was very strange.

“Most people are satisfied with their lives,” he thought to himself, “or they are, at least, struggling to be satisfied with the life they have. I, instead, am always chasing some other, different kind of life, and it’s all because of this powerful imagination of mine.”

Determined to rid himself of his powerful imagination, to see what life would be life without it, he visited the old woman who lived at the outskirts of his village, at end of an old trail, next to an ancient well.

“Old woman, do you have anything that will cure me of my powerful imagination,” he asked.

The old woman replied, from within the shadows of her cellar, “It is rare for someone as old as you to have a powerful imagination, but there are equally rare medicines that can help.”

She moved among her very many jars, pinching a bit of this and adding a touch of that, until she was satisfied with the contents of the small burlap bag she carried with her.

She gave the bag to Charles and said, “Use this to make a tea. Drink it every day. Your imagination will go away.”

Strong Imagination 3Charles did as he was told and, very soon, his imagination ceased to be powerful. Shortly after that, it was so weak he couldn’t even imagine what it was like to have a powerful imagination. From that point on, his life became pleasant and, when it wasn’t pleasant, he was happy to work to make it pleasant again.

There was, however, beneath it all, a curious absence — a lack — of which he could not quite rid himself.

Unable to imagine what this lack might be, he returned to the old woman, who lived outside the village, for more medicine.

“There is no medicine that will cure you of this lack,”  she said and she placed a long bony finger on his chest, where his heart beat. “Medicine treats only the symptom and not the cause.”

“What can I do,” asked Charles.

“You have a choice,” the old woman replied. “Continue to drink your tea and the part of you that longs for possibility will always go hungry. Give up the tea and your satisfactions will be forever fleeting, but you will have the power to feed the hunger that is the heart of your being.”

Unable to imagine what his life would be like without the tea, Charles had no choice but to allow his imagination to return — at least a little. He could not make the choice any other way.

A Very Unlucky Boy On the third day without the tea, Charles found himself imagining what his simple hut might be like, if it were less simple. Then, he found himself imagining what it would be like to live in a simple hut in some other part of the world. Before long, he was imagining what it would be like to live in a luxurious house in an opulent land far far away from where he was. Although his imagination was not yet powerful, it was strong enough that he could almost taste the air of his luxurious home, and his hunger for change, difference, and possibility growled.

With his imagination partly restored, Charles reflected on what the old woman had told him. “I can drink this tea each and every day, be content with my life as it is on the whole, but carry with me an unfulfilled longing for possibility, or I can stop drinking this tea and my satisfactions will be fleeting, but I will be able to feed my hunger for possibility.”

Charles turned to his stove and put some water on to boil. He brewed a cup of tea and drank it down quickly, because, before that cup of tea, he had just enough imagination to imagine a life where the lack disappears, like so many others things, simply because it is ignored it long enough.

The Condo: A Short Story

NB: MAY BE DISTURBING OR FRIGHTENING TO SOME READERS

The CondoWhy am I awake?

Jaime checked her clock. In digital red, it showed midnight. She squeezed her eyes shut and, when she opened them again, it showed a minute past midnight.

For God’s sake, I’ve only been asleep for an hour. I need to get some sleep.

Jaime had been working long days for several weeks now. She had the mortgage payments for the new condo, a new group of coworkers to impress, and she also had to keep her mind off of Jason. Long hours, plenty of time at the gym, and a glass of wine or three before stumbling into bed normally did the trick.

The refrigerator shook itself quiet and, in the silence that followed, she heard a quiet tapping. Jaime focussed her attention on the sound and there seemed to be a kind of intelligence in its rhythm. It didn’t seem mechanical. The hesitation between each tap seemed almost like a moment of reflection on how to proceed.

She listened more carefully and realized that the tapping was at the door to her condo, which was strange. As far as Jaime knew, she was the first person to move in to this floor. She might even be the only person living in the building. She had no neighbours that she knew of.

This building is too new for rats, she thought. I mean, it better be. I paid too much for this condo for it to be infested with rats.

A strong wind rattled the window above her bed and a shiver went through her whole body. She held her breath for a moment and the tapping continued.

Ok. I admit it. I’m scared. I don’t know why I’m scared exactly, but I am scared. I can admit that. I’m willing to admit that. It’s important that I admit that. Ok, I’ve admitted it. Good for me. Hurray.

Normally, Jaime would have called Jason at a moment like this. Normally, he would have come over too, if she asked. Now, she wasn’t even sure if he would answer her call, after what she had done. She forced herself to breath deeply and resolved to adopt a dog as soon as she could. A big dog.

Alright, Jamie, you’re a big girl now. An independent woman. Just like you wanted. Remember, that’s why you moved across the country, far from your family. If you’re going to be on your own, you’re going to need to handle situations like this on your own. And you will. You can. I know you can. However, you can’t handle the situation from your bed. You will actually need to leave it at some point.

She leapt out of bed and threw open her bedroom door. Once open, the tapping was much more apparent, even though the wind grew stronger, rattling the windows more fiercely. She shivered, as she crossed the threshold of her bedroom door. The air was eerily cold. Her hand hesitated at the light switch.

No, I better not turn on the light, otherwise, it will know I’m coming. I mean, he or she. He or she will know I’m coming. Get a grip, Jaime.

She moved slowly down the hall, towards the door, placing each foot carefully and quietly before the other, testing the new hardwood flooring, hoping it wouldn’t squeak. The light from the hallway beyond the door glowed in the peephole of the front door.

She stopped moving and listened carefully to the tapping again. It seemed to be happening at the bottom of the door, under the handle.

Jaime took another careful step and her foot brushed against something hard. A tinkling of sound turned into an explosion of rattling glass, as several wine bottles resettled in her recycling bin.

God damn it. I was suppose to put that out when I got home. Oh well, so much for the element of surprise.

She realized that the tapping had stopped. She held her breath, and waited.

The tapping started again, slowly, almost uncertain, until it found it’s old rhythm.

Jaime started to breath again.

Ok. This is it. Just a few quick steps and I’m there. That’s it. It will be over. Mystery solved and I can go back to bed.

She moved quickly and peered into the peephole, half-expecting to see a ghost in chains. She saw only the hallway, dimly lit. She was almost disappointed.

Something covered the peephole.

Jaime jumped away from the door, not making a noise, and she stood still, holding her breath.

Then, the peephole began to glow with the light of the hallway again.

Ok. Something is out there. Something is definitely out there. Something big enough to cover the peephole. Something big enough to tap at the bottom of the door and to reach up and cover the peephole. Or, it could be two things. Two people, I mean. Two people.

The tapping started again.

I should look in the peephole. I should look in the peephole again. I should look in the peephole. It can’t hurt me. There’s a door between us. There’s a door between us. I’m safe. I’m totally safe. I’m safe.

She took a step towards the door and noticed that the chain lock was not in place. She reached out slowly, snatched it, and slid it into place in one smooth motion.

The tapping stopped and the light in the peephole disappeared again.

Can it see me? Can it see in? Can people see in through a peephole? I don’t know. I’ve never checked. Tomorrow, I will check. Tomorrow, I will definitely check.

She shivered again. Jason’s old T-shirt couldn’t keep out the strange chill of the air or the feeling that she was being watched.

Ok. I’m calling the cops. I’m calling the cops. That’s it, I’m calling the cops. Oh, and what are you going to tell them? That you need to be saved from a tapping noise. Yeah, that will go over real well. Shut up. You, shut up. Trust your instinct. Trust your instinct. You’re scared for a reason. Something isn’t right here. Trust your instinct. Fine, go ahead, trust your instinct, but don’t call the cops because you have the jitters. They have better things to do than put jittery girls at ease. Ok, fine, but I need to call someone. I know. I will call the concierge.

Something threw itself against the door, with a loud fleshy thud.

Jaime jumped backwards, caught her foot on the recycling box, and fell hard onto her ass.

The door rattled again, but this time, on it’s own. The rattling grew fiercer and fiercer and, all at once, the door was in a constant motion. Every part of it rattled and shook.

The chain lock fell out of its track and the door stopped rattling immediately.

Jaime realized that she was muttering the Hail Mary, under her breath. She hadn’t prayed in years, so most of the prayer was forgotten. She repeated over and over, “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women.”

The tapping started again.

She wanted to scream, but she bit her tongue instead. Even if she did manage to draw someone’s attention, what would she tell them when they arrived? There was also no reason to assume that whatever was out there wouldn’t harm whoever came to help. If it was harmless, she would look ridiculous. If it was harmful, it would hurt whoever came.

Maybe, if I stay quiet, it will go away.

The tapping continued.

She moved away from the door, sliding along the hardwood. She reached the end of the hall and turned into her living room.

This time a scream escaped her lips effortlessly. At the window overlooking her balcony, a pair of sharp red eyes watched her. There was a flash of lightning and an immediate crash of thunder. In the light, she thought she saw Jason peering in through the window, above where she had seen the eyes.

Oh, my fucking God. This better not be some kind of ridiculous practical joke. I’m going to fucking kill him.

“Jason, how the hell did you get in here,” she called out to him, as she approached the balcony. She threw open the door and turned on the balcony’s light.

Blood was everywhere. Jason’s limbs were arranged in a neat pile next to his torso, which was torn open like a flower. His organs were arranged neatly around his severed head, the heart still beating. She inhaled sharply at the sight of it, and she could smell his all too familiar cologne. His eyes opened, and he looked at her, his gaze full of hard anger.

She screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed.

“She was delirious, naked, and mumbling prayers to herself.” Tommy didn’t like telling the story, but eventually one of the new guys always asked about unit 1414. “You know, like spooky Catholic prayers, even though she hadn’t been to Church since she was a kid.”

“Seriously,” said the new guy, with good natured scepticism in his eyes. “What the fuck?”

“I know. That’s not even the weirdest part.” Tommy wagged his finger at the new guy. “Her whole body was covered in hundreds, you know, maybe even thousands of these tiny little scratches. Just deep enough to bleed, but not enough to kill.”

“Like, not death by a thousand paper cuts.”

“Sure, whatever,” Tommy continued. “They bundled her off to a psyche ward, loaded her up with meds, and wrote the whole thing off as a nervous breakdown, brought on by too much work, being away from her family, a broken heart — you know that kind of bullshit.”

“Did she ever get better?”

“Eventually.” Tommy folded his arms. “Nine months later they finally let her out.”

“That’s a long time.”

“It sure is,” Tommy poked the new guy in the shoulder, “but do you get it?”

“Get what?”

“The time. The amount of time. Nine months.” Tommy crossed his arms. “She got better once she was done thinking she was pregnant.”

“What?”

“Apparently, she blew up and everything.” Tommy used his hands to illustrate a pregnant bulge over his stomach. “Nine months later, her belly disappears, and she finally calms down.”

“Jesus Christ, Tommy,” the new guy giggled nervously. “You’re fucking with me right. This is all bullshit, right. Some kind of ‘new guy’ initiation.”

“Of course, it’s bullshit, but I’m telling you what actually happened.”

“How the hell would you know?” The new guy took a step away from 1414’s door.

“I was the fucking guy on duty, when the cops came to look for her.” Tommy reached out and touched the door of the unit. “I opened that goddamn door.” He brandished his master key, with his other hand. “I used this fucking key to open that door and I saw everything.”

“Jesus, Tommy.”

“When you see that kind of bullshit, you don’t let the story go. You know what I mean? I followed up to find out what happened.” He paused for dramatic effect. “And you know what? She never came back to the condo. Ever. Everything is still in there, just as she left it, after the cops were done with it.”

“What the fuck,” the new guy took another step away from the door. ““I guess, she couldn’t sell it, after a story like that.”

“Not couldn’t.” Tommy stepped in close to the new guy. “Wouldn’t. She never even put it on the market.”

“That’s really fucking weird, Tommy.” The new guy took another step away. “That’s really weird.”

“Weird, from one point of view. Sure.” Tommy took another step towards the new guy and got into his face “From another point of view, it makes perfect sense. Especially, if you don’t want whatever happened to you to happen to someone else.”

The colour drained from the new guy’s face, as Tommy’s point sunk in.

Tommy didn’t like telling the story, but no matter how cocky the listener, no one ever went into that condo after hearing it. And that’s all that mattered. Tommy told the story because he didn’t ever want to go back in there, not after seeing the broken look in that woman’s eyes, hearing the strange terror in her voice, and feeling the queer unholy cold in the air.

 

The Christmas Kitten: A Short Story

NB: COURSE LANGUAGE AND MATURE THEMES

The Christmas Kitten 1Jeff reminded himself that the suicide rate is always highest at Christmas.

It’s probably because they close the bars, he thought. Forcing broken people to sober up long enough to remember how alone they are probably isn’t the best approach for Christmas. It’s not fair either. Only the poor drunks can’t afford to stock up properly

Jeff was not poor. He was well stocked, and well drunk. He also wasn’t entirely sure why he was walking down by the river, if he was well stocked, but he suspected that the well drunk had something to do with it. Between now and his midnight toast, he realized, there was more than a bit of a gap in his memory. He and his two closest friends — myself and I — had a few shots each to mark the arrival of the big day.

The air is nice out here, he thought. Sharp and clean. I like the crunch of the snow. The dry air does it, I think. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Christ, why the hell am I wearing sandals? For fuck’s sake, my boots would have been right by the door. Jesus fucking Christ. What an idiot. Oh no. What if I also forgot…

Jeff checked his coat pockets. He discovered, to his relief, that he had brought one for the road.

Good man, he thought, as he cracked open the beer. I forgive you this sandals debacle, in the spirit of the holiday. Cheers.

Jeff took a long drink. The drunk reared up over him. It tangled him up so much that he almost slipped away again into the absence it created. He caught himself, as he almost fell over, and came back to himself.

The Christmas Kitten 4It’s probably the rush. From almost falling over that cleared me up. That was a close one. Didn’t spill the beer either. Good man. Doesn’t look like I would have hurt myself. The snow looks rather comfy. Soft almost.

With his foot, he poked at the spot where he would have fell. Then, he looked up to the clear sky and the very many stars.

I should just lie here in the snow. Like Dylan Thomas. Or was it Robbie Burns? It doesn’t matter who it was. Whoever finds me will remember. They will see the romance of it. Drunk dead in the snow. Like a poet.

He drained the rest of the beer and tossed the bottle towards the river. After a moment, he heard the satisfying chink of the glass piercing the snow.

Of course, that would blow my theory all to hell. I’m pissed and I have plenty of piss back at home, too. Ah well, so much for fucking theories. A lot of fucking good they do you.

He dropped himself into the snow.

This is nice. I like this. Peaceful. Fresh. Everything smells so fresh. So still, too. Maybe I will make a snow angel. If anyone finds me here, that’s what I will tell them anyway. Just wanted to make a snow angel. Officer. I assume it will be an officer. Who the fuck else would be out here by the river at this time of night? On Christmas Eve. Christmas, you mean. Remember, the shots? Not really, but I take your point. I guess I will feel sleepy at some point. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? You lie in the snow and fall asleep. Jesus fucking Christ, wouldn’t that be nice? To fall asleep easily for once. Just for once in my goddamn life. Oh well. It’s going to happen eventually. I guess I will just lie here and close my eyes and see what happens.

The Christmas Kitten 2The kitten arrived shortly, after he closed his eyes.

“Miaou,” it said.

“Jesus,” Jeff replied. “What the hell are you doing out here, cat? You scared the bejeezus out of me.’ He tried to see where the kitten sat. “What are you doing out here, cat? Go home. Go away.”

The kitten began to purr, like an ill-functioning outboard motor. It poked its wet nose into Jeff’s jaw. It poked again and, this time, it rubbed its whole head against him, as its purr become more consistent.

“No, cat.” Jeff tried to move his head away from the kitten’s affections. “ Piss off. Will you? Piss off. I’m trying to… I’m trying… ”

“Miaou,” asked the kitten, loudly and wetly in Jeff’s ear.

“I don’t know what I’m trying to do. Ok.” He managed to get his hand between his face and the kitten. He gave it a light shove, which the kitten easily squirmed around. “Will you leave me alone.”

“Miaou,” the kitten asked again, and it placed its paw on Jeff’s cheek.

“Yes, fine, I do know what I’m trying to do. I know exactly what I’m trying to do, but I don’t want to say it, ok. I don’t want to say it, so I won’t really know that I’m doing it. Ok. Does that make you happy. Now that I’ve said it.”

The kitten started licking his ear. The little raspy tongue was too much for Jeff to bear.

“For fuck’s sake,” Jeff slowly raised himself out of the snow. He felt very stiff. “Ah geez, will you look at you. You’re nothing but skin and bones.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

The Christmas Kitten 5“There’s no fucking way I’m taking you home.”

Jeff looked around. There was no obvious shelter for the kitten. The nearest houses were so far away that he didn’t want to walk the distance.

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“For Christ’s sake, cat, I said, no.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten once more.

Jeff tugged open his fridge door roughly.

“I suppose I should feed you something, but, after that, you’re out of here,” he told the kitten, who was purring like a Spitfire in his hand. A warm boney Spitfire.

The fridge was well stocked with beer, wine, some soda, olives, and a variety of condiments. He threw open the freezer to find several bottles of vodka and rum, and plenty of ice.

“I don’t even have leftovers, cat,” Jeff told the kitten, as he slammed the freezer door shut. “That’s fucking pathetic.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“You didn’t have to agree so easily.”

Next, Jeff threw open his cupboards.

“Chips won’t do,” he told the kitten. “I’m guessing that chickpeas won’t cut it either. I’m not even sure why I have Jello mix.” Jeff studied his counter, littered with empties, shot glasses, and lime. “Jesus Christ, how can I not have anything to feed a cat? What kind of human being is incapable of feeding a stray fucking cat — a fucking kitten — on Christmas Day.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“Wait a minute, cat. I thought of something.”

The Christmas Kitten 6Jeff tore open the fridge door. He shuffled some wine and beer bottles and, in the back corner, he found an unopened carton of eggnog.

“My one attempt at Christmas cheer this year,” he told the kitten, as he read the ingredients. “Don’t worry, I haven’t spiked it yet.”

He took a plate from his cupboard, filled it with eggnog, and set the kitten down beside it on the counter. The kitten poked at it with its nose, then, it lapped up the eggnog, graciously.

“Hold on, cat. You shouldn’t eat on the counter.”

Jeff scooped up the kitten in one hand, poured more eggnog into the plate with the other, and moved them all into to the living room. He set the kitten and the plate down on the floor and returned to the kitchen to fix himself a rum and eggnog.

“I wouldn’t want to let you drink alone, cat.” Jeff raised his glass to the kitten and took a long drink. “God, look at you. You’re skin and bones. I can’t believe you’re alive. It’s fucking incredible. You must be a feisty little bastard.”

The kitten looked up from the eggnog.

“I guess I better give you a name. No. I probably shouldn’t. Because you’re going to the pound tomorrow. First thing. But I don’t want to call you “cat” all night. It doesn’t seem right.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

“How about Nick? It being Christmas and all. You didn’t come down the chimney exactly, but it’s kind of like you did, too.”

“Miaou,” said the kitten.

The Christmas Kitten 3Jeff didn’t take Nick to the pound the next day or the next day after that. When Jeff finally took Nick to the vet, a few days into the New Year, to have him checked, he changed her name to Nicky.

Very soon, because he fell into the habit of talking to Nicky at home, Jeff found himself falling into the habit of talking to most anyone away from home. Much to his surprise, most anyone more often than not turned out to be mostly nice.

And, so it was, twelve Christmases later, Jeff had to turn down several invitations to spend a Christmas Eve alone with Nicky. She was feisty to the end and tried her best to last the night, so they could have one last drink of eggnog together, like they did every year, to mark the memory of when they first met.

When she didn’t make it, Jeff set the saucer out for her anyway, toasted her one last time, and sat up with her until all her warmth was gone.

He also promised  her that he would never spend another Christmas alone and, because of his memory of her, he never did.

Janice and the Pea Patch: A Short Story.

Pea Patch 1Janice was a naughty girl.

Often, she would hide in her pea patch and not come home when her mother called. Her mother would call and call, but Janice would not come home because Janice loved to hear her mother call and call.

Janice also loved her daddy.

He drove a big truck and was often away on long trips to faraway places. Whenever he was home, she never hid in her pea patch. She preferred to hide in his big warm hugs, for as long as she would let him.

One evening, after Janice had spent the whole day hiding and giggling in her pea patch, Janice’s mother reminded her that she really should come home when she was called.

“Your father was here for a short visit,” her mother said. “He wanted to give you a big hug, but you didn’t come.”

“I didn’t know he was here,” Janice cried out. “I would have come, if I had known he was here.”

“You should always come when I call,” her mother replied. “Otherwise, you will miss seeing your father.”

The next day, when Janice’s mother called for her, Janice almost ran home, but, instead, she ran to her pea patch and giggled in its cool shadows.

“Daddy wouldn’t be able to to visit again so soon,” she whispered to herself.

Later, when the sun was low in the wide sky, Janice’s mother told her that she had missed her father again.

“He was very sad,” her mother said. “He wanted to give you a big hug. Next time, I might not call for you. He always goes away so sad, when you don’t come.”

“No, no,” cried Janice. “I will come. I will come!”

The next day, when her mother called for her, Janice ran to her mother as fast as she could.

“He’s not here today,” her mother said. “Today was a test. I wanted to see if you would come. I don’t want your father to go away feeling sad or he might stop making his short visits.”

Forever after, whenever her mother called, Janice ran to her as fast as she could. Most of the times, her father was not there. Sometimes, he was there and it was the biggest best hug ever.

Pea Patch 2Years later, after she had returned to university to finish her degree, the memory of her pea patch returned to Janice, in a smoke filled cafe, while she read about the work of B. F. Skinner in an introduction to psychology textbook.

“That B-I-T-C-H,” she spelled out under her breath, with a smile on her lips, as she exhaled smoke over her pint of coffee.

Later that evening, when her mother called to say goodnight, as she did every night, Janice, of course, answered promptly.

Lindsay’s Terrible Secret: A Short Story

Secret 1The most remarkable thing about Lindsay was that she was so very unremarkable.

She kept, however, a terrible secret.

She had been chosen. She knew not for what, by whom, or why. She knew only that she had been chosen.

Safe in this knowledge, Lindsay could sit alone and apart, whether she was with others or not.  She acquiesced to the circumstances of her life, as they were presented to her. She filled her time with a faint concern for the mundane details of existence.

She pursued a career of little interest to her, but that met the expectations of her family and friends. She indifferently took a husband, thoughtlessly had children, and casually let everyone who had ever tried to love her drift away. She neither celebrated nor was celebrated and she was neither known nor unknown.

Lindsay was dissatisfied with the arc and experience of her life. She often wondered how it might have been different, if she had not stayed true to her terrible secret. She was sure, nevertheless, that her life, however unsatisfying, would be vindicated eventually, once she knew for what she had been chosen, by whom, and why.

Her faith wavered only at the very last, in the final minutes of her life, when she lay alone, on a bed in a dark corner of a small room in a small house with no friends or family to comfort her.

Secret 2It was at that last moment that the fairy finally appeared at the foot of her bed.

“At last,” Lindsay croaked, her dry throat unfamiliar with talking. The fairy’s impossible beauty forced Lindsay to shield her eyes. “Please, fairy, tell me for what I was chosen, by whom, and why. Please vindicate this life I have lived.”

“Poor old woman,” replied the fairy. “ I can’t do that for you. No one can. There is no one nor thing in this life, world, or universe that can choose you or anyone in the way you mistakenly thought you were chosen.”

At that moment, an atom of doubt that had long lived deep in Lindsay’s being imploded like a star and a deep, long, and infinitely black hole of understanding tore open inside of her. Everything that she was and had been began to be torn off bit by bit into that deep sucking well of sorrow.

Deep in that well, on the cusp of oblivion, Lindsay heard the clear brilliant voice of the fairy.

“Hold yourself, Lindsay,” said the fairy. “I have taken pity on you. Do not despair. You’re one of the lucky ones.”

Secret 3Lindsay, then, lived her life again, absent the notion that she had been chosen for anything. She knew and understood that the choices she made were hers and hers alone, even when she decided to follow the choices of others — blindly or not.

Lindsay’s eye blinked. She was once more in the final minutes of her life, shielding her eyes from the impossible beauty of the fairy.

“It was all the same,” she said in shock. “Every choice was the same, but this time my understanding of it was so much different. I cherished every moment, every person, and I saw beauty everywhere, even in the deepest thickets of heartache and sorrow and loneliness.”

Lindsay looked directly at fairy for the first time. “Because I willed it,” she said.

“Yes,” said the fairy. “Because you willed it.”

As peace embraced every fibre of Lindsay’s being, she thanked the fairy. “I did not do anything to deserve this knowledge.”

Secret 4“It’s true, Lindsay,” replied the fairy, “you did not do anything to deserve this knowledge, nevertheless, you did not do anything to deserve not knowing it either. We don’t deserve anything that happens or does not happen to us. There is no such ledger. There is only life, living, and the choices we make.”

And with that, Lindsay lived happily ever after.

The Man in the White Lab Coat (Part 2): A Short Story

ImplicationMiranda was a happy woman.

She lived in the city and, when she wasn’t working at a job that she loved, she met her friends for coffee, dinner, or drinks. She had a handsome and faithful boyfriend. He lived by a beach and his house was a short ferry trip from the city. She visited him frequently and she visited him passionately.

Life, for Miranda, was as good as it gets.

So Miranda was annoyed, when the man in the white lab coat intruded into her life brandishing a clipboard.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Y_,” he said, “it seems there has been some kind of mistake.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Miranda replied, as she slipped her iPhone into her purse.

“Very well,” the man in the white lab coat replied. “You must understand that there are certain rules, policies, and limits, when it comes to this sort of thing.” He scrutinized Miranda’s record, which was clipped to his board. “Too much happiness for one person. It’s simply not right.”

Implication 2

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Miranda. “Me being happy — no matter how happy I am — doesn’t harm anyone else.” She crossed her arms. “In fact, the happier I am, the more likely others will be happy too. That’s why I make a point of being as happy as possible all the time.”

“You certainly haven’t been holding back lately, have you?”

“No. No, I have not.” Miranda remembered the promise she had made to love her boyfriend forever. “I risk nothing by being happy.”

“Well, I’m afraid you risked something this time,” snarled the man in the white lab coat. “After the last few months you’ve had, it simply can’t be ignored.”

“Ignored by who? ” She looked around the sun drenched courtyard. “This is ridiculous. Where’s the hidden camera?”

“Although rare, I can reassure you, yours is not the first case.” He tapped the clipboard authoritatively with a Number 2 pencil. “There are procedures already in place.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Miranda pushed past him easily. “My friends are waiting for me.”

“Come along,” he protested. “There’s a car waiting.”

“Fuck off.”

Implication 3The man in the white lab coat made a sound not quite like — but very similar to — a sigh, before falling on the cobblestones in a heap. In a few moments, only the lab coat and the clipboard remained and, then, after a moment even they turned to dust. Like an unspoken implication, he disappeared unnoticed.

Years later, when Miranda finally tracked down her boyfriend, he was working dutifully in a windowless cubicle, in a tired grey building, in a muted small town on the edge of nowhere.

She resisted the temptation to punch him. She even resisted the temptation to scold him. Instead, Miranda hugged and kissed him. They were together again and, in the end, it was the only thing that mattered.

Read Part 1

Never Fall In Love With A Writer: A Short Story

Never Fall In Love With A Writer 1“Never fall in love with a writer,” my Grandmother often said to me. “A gambler, a womanizer, even a drunk, fine, but never fall in love with a writer.”

I ignored her, of course.

Samuel was a poet, a novelist, and a songwriter. He was also a gambler, a drunk, and a womanizer, but above all else, he was a writer.

Oh, and what a writer he was! His words, his words, again and again, his words!

They were warm drops of late Summer rain against my skin.

Very soon, of course, I grew jealous of his notebook, his pen, but, of all my rivals, it was the page I hated the most.

He could caress a page for hours and days and weeks at a time — forgetting me, ignoring me, denying me — as the impossible focus of his passion probed its white depths and his pen ruined it with his reckless and wild tattoos.

Never Fall In Love With A Writer 2He spoiled so many pages. He could spoil so many pages. Over and over again.

Then, after hours and days and weeks alone with his page, after hours and days and weeks of forgetting, ignoring, and denying me, he would make a page of me.

Too quickly, too easily, I forget his infidelities, in the orgry of his words made flesh on and in and through me.

There are, of course, very many pages — too many — and only one of me. How could I satisfy him? How could I? How could one of me be enough? No matter how much of me I had to give, too soon, he’d be back with his pages. Again, I’d be forgotten, ignored, denied.

Of course, I was forced to demand that he choose.  He could have his pages, he could have me, but he could not have all of us.

He must have loved me, at some level, because he tried. He really tried to give up his pages for me. Sometimes, he would last a few days. Maybe a week or two. On one occasion, after a particularly furious outburst from me, he even went a whole month without returning to the ruin of those perfect pages of his.

Never Fall In Love With A Writer 3Finally, one day, all that was left of him was one more page addressed to me, and the sweetest farewell I have ever known.

He was not my first, my best, nor my last lover, but, I can’t forget him or ever be free. His words are always there to tempt me, in my loneliest hours, into thoughts of what might have been.

The words I could never hate, of course, because sometimes I was them and they me.

So, befriend a writer, even be close to one now and again, when he — or she, for that matter — has that wild desperate hunger in his eyes, but never, dear Granddaughter, never fall in love with a writer.

Happy Birthday: A Short Story

Karaoke 2It was the kind of night when he didn’t know if he should call an escort, cut himself, or jump off the balcony. Faced with a triple barreled longing for oblivion, John did the only thing he could do. He poured himself another Scotch.

Karaoke had been a disaster. The service was horrible and the tables were clogged with regulars waiting to hear themselves sing. He had one beer, sang two songs poorly, and left early.

He felt a sharp pain in his lower intestines, as he slumped back into his couch.

Leonard Cohen wrote an entire book about an intense bout of constipation, he thought. I probably couldn’t even write a short story. Not even a haiku.

After another sharp pain and an ominous intestinal rumbling, he went to the toilet and had a sharp, quick and terrible shit — jalapeno hot and explosive. It took him, at least, four minutes to clean up — himself and the bowl.

Did I really need to run into an ex-girlfriend tonight, too, he thought, once he was back on the couch with the bottle in hand. What the fuck? Really?

Out on the balcony, he looked for the moon, but it had already set. Without a moon to witness his fall, he lost the motivation to jump.

In the kitchen, he held a knife against his skin to judge the feel of it. He felt stupid and put it away.

On the internet, he found only questionable sites and doubtful pictures. Fearful of getting a virus from a site that would only connect him to a woman who would give him an infection, he gave up his search for an escort.

He did the only thing he could do. He poured himself another Scotch.

No moon 2The fairy arrived, shortly after the third top up.

“John, what are you doing?”

“Drinking,” he replied.

“Why?”

“I don’t have the courage, recklessness, or self-pity to do something truly dramatic, so I’m ineffectually drinking myself into a mild yet pleasant stupor.”

 

“What will that accomplish?”

“I suppose it will help me sleep. I suppose it will help me feel better. I suppose it will make me fat.” He looked up, for the first time, from the glass in his lap. “Are you my Fairy Godmother?”

“No, John. There is no God.”

“Oh. Well, good,” John replied. “That’s what I always thought, so it’s a bit of a relief to have it confirmed from someone who’d know. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I will admit it, though,” John straightened up to make the point. “I’m kind of happy to know fairies exist.”

“Why?”

“Well, I guess, it means, there’s magic in this world — even if there is no God — if I know where to look for it.” He looked into the incomprehensible beauty of the fairy’s eyes. “I suppose, sometimes, magic will even come to find me, too. Like tonight.”

“Exactly.”

Twelve years later, the memory of that night returned to John, as he sat on a white sand beach underneath an even whiter moon, working his way through another bottle of that same Scotch.

He never saw or was visited by fairies ever again but, after that night, he started to look for — and find — magic in the world. Whether he found the magic or made it himself, it didn’t matter, so long as there was magic and, once he started looking for it, there was.