Friday, April 15, 2016

Up in Arms

                When I woke up, the white light overhead made me close my eyes to a sliver. A burning ache tore through my body a second later.
                Through the glow blocking my vision, I heard a click. Then, a voice.
                “Hello, Mr. Wright. How are you feeling?”
                I blinked. My eyes adjusted and I spotted an older man robed in a white coat. He had paused in front of the door he had closed ten feet away from me. A bristle of short hair haloed the bottom of his face as he looked over me.
                “Where am I?” I struggled to push myself up, but something held me back. I looked down at my body to find out I was dressed in a disposable paper gown.  Black restrains snaked around my waist, arms and legs.
              “You are in a hospital, sir. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Dr. Asher.”
“A hospital?” Rage washed over me. “What the hell am I doing at a hospital? Let me go!”
“Relax.” Dr. Asher stared into my eyes until I reclined backward from my restrains. The soothing fabric on the hospital bed enveloped my tired body.
The man turned his back to me. For the first time, I noticed a large glass overlooking a busy hallway. Nurses breezed past in a flurry of magenta and blue scrubs. The wrinkled hand of Dr. Asher reached toward a hanging cord above him and sliding blinds filed to cover the large window.
                I watched as the doctor dragged a small chair to the side of my bed. “We’re going to get you the help you need, Mr. Wright.” He wavered on frail legs before lowering himself onto his seat.
                “Help? I need you to leave me alone, that’s what I need.”
                The older man patted my hand with a delicate touch. “I will. I just need you to answer some questions and then I’ll leave you be, okay? The faster we get through this, the better.”
                As if I can do anything else. When I didn’t answer, the man looked to a clipboard on his lap. Papers were flipped over the rigid top edge before his eyes settled on a page. “Let’s start with some basic orientation questions. Can you tell me your first name?”
                I stared at the man. “Are you serious?” When he only gazed back, I sighed. “I’m Avery.”
                “What is the date?”
                “I don’t know. I’m not a calendar.”
                The doctor hesitated. “Tell me the day of the week, if you don’t remember.”
                “Right.” The man nodded. “Okay.”  He reached over to my arm, the one closest to him. The smell of disinfectant washed over me as he drew closer. I watched him unravel the blanket of gauze encompassing my arm. His eyes widened as he caught sight of the deep open gash on the inside of my elbow.
He replaced the gauze over the wound, his eyes still trained on mine. “Does it hurt?”
                “A little. It just aches.”
                “Mr. Wright, why did you do this?”
                “I already told you. That arm isn’t mine. It doesn’t belong to me. I want it gone.”
                “Explain to me.” The man leaned forward and propped his head on his fist. “Help me understand.”
                My stomach twirled when I caught sight of my right arm again. I looked away in disgust. “If a roach is on you, you get grossed out and try to shake it off. Same thing. Only in my case, it’s attached and everyone thinks I’m crazy for it.”
                “I see,” the low murmur responded. He tapped his chin with a finger. “Is your left arm bad as well?”
                “No. Left one feels fine. The right one feels different. Off.”
                A loud creaking interrupted my words. We turned toward the door to see the tall figure of my mom propped against the door frame.
                “Anna, I’m still talking with your son.” Dr. Asher looked to her with the passive stare of a cat before turning to the papers on his lap. “Please wait in the lobby and I will—“
                “You told me that an hour ago.” My mom’s voice wavered as she glared at the older man. “I want to talk with him, like you had promised. Now.”
                With an audible sigh, the doctor used the rails of my bedside as a cane to stand up. He motioned toward me. “Go ahead.”
                My mom only crossed her arms.
                “Alone?” Dr. Asher gave a patronizing shake of his head. “Healing him involves talking to me.”
                “I won’t ask you twice.” Her eyes burned with anger as she watched the ambling figure brush past.
                “Okay,” he chuckled, raising his hands in defeat. “I know not to fight with a mother. But afterward, he needs to be seen with me.” He paused in the hallway and gave me a last look. “We’ll talk later. Take it easy, Mr. Wright.”
                I heard the man’s shoes clack down the tile hallway. As soon as the sound of footsteps became softer, my mom closed the door and whirled around.
                “Avery, honey, how are you doing?” My mom’s sped to my side and her eyes jerked over my face.
                “I want you to get me out. Now. I hate how they’re talking to me, mom. Like I’m insane.”
                 The haunted look on her face surprised me. “You’re not insane.”
                  I  laughed. “Look at me! I’m tied up like a madman. Everyone else sure thinks so.”
                “I know you’re not.” Her head turned to the closed blinds. Flouncy brown hair swung from the movement as her green eyes scanned between the gaps. Then, she lowered a knee on the floor to look into my eyes. “I’ve been meaning to tell you something for a really long time. I think you should know now.”
                My mom was almost in tears by this point. I wanted to pull away from her emotional gaze, but my right arm would move along with me. So I stayed still.
                “That arm isn’t yours,” she sobbed. “You’ve been right this whole time, Avery.”
                A slender hand raised to wipe the tears that ran down her face. “Do you remember those pills you used to take as a boy? The ones you still take?”
                “Those are immunosuppressants. Your right arm is a transplant.”
                “No!” My revulsion exploded and chills ran over me. I screamed and struggled to break  from my restraints as my mother’s crying filled the air.
                “I'm sorry I didn't tell you! You were just a baby! I didn’t think you would remember!”
                “Hey, what’s going on here?” The screams died in my throat as Dr. Asher glowered at my mom. “I knew letting you in was a bad decision. Look how wired you got him. Step out now or I will call security.”
                I saw my mom lower her head in defeat. She lay a hand briefly on my head before she walked the expanse of the room. I saw her hesitate in the hallway but Dr. Asher slammed the door in her face.
                “Good riddance.” He shook his head. “Try to do some good and it backfires. Ah well. Now Mr. Wright, tell me more about your arm. Any idea why it feels off to you?”


The Techs - The Newest Culture

              Throughout my career as a journalist, I have happened across many interesting sights, smells and experiences that have enriched my life. However, the most refreshing was my visit to the isolated island of Router. I had the pleasure of meeting the fascinating people who call themselves the “Techs”. Curt in talk but cordial in nature, they eagerly introduced me to their religion and as a student of the world, I listened.
                One aspect of the Tech people’s religion is their scripture. Written in the special language of Binary, they write repetitive symbols resembling the ones and zeroes of the English language. How close the symbols are to one another form complex messages. The sacred text of the Techs includes the myth of the deity Da Inn Ternet, the god of knowledge. It is believed that Da Inn Ternet was the entity responsible for gifting the Techs with the ability to stop thinking by providing them with his own knowledge. This led to the Techs’ ability to create an easier life for themselves. According to the scripture, the Techs would have been completely hopeless without Da Inn Ternet.  In lieu of this concept, the Techs have dedicate a holy period to Da Inn Ternet called “Ev Ree” day. In this day, Techs are to do absolutely nothing except to give thanks to Da Inn Ternet.
I also learned about rituals. Since the religion lacks sacred worshiping grounds such as temples, they make up for it through frequency of rituals. One that was constantly performed during my stay required the aid of a square digital apparatus they called “Tee Vee”. The Tee Vee is a symbol of the amazing knowledge bestowed on the Techs by Da Inn Ternet. This ritual was commonly performed with company, usually an entire family unit. Potato chips and sodas are the sacred food brought to the ceremony. Despite eating and drinking—the means of demonstrating happiness for Da Inn Ternet—the ritual is otherwise performed wordlessly. I once tried to comment on the marksmanship for the Tee Vee, but I was hushed and glared at before devoted eyes swung to the apparatus once more. The Tee Vee ritual was the most common but also the most lengthy, resulting in hours upon hours of intense staring and mindless eating.
One of the most important parts of a budding Tech’s life is the rite of passage. This rite is commonly initiated when a young girl or boy gains a significant amount of weight as a result from the Tee Vee ritual. Seen as the ultimate sign of devotion from a child, the young one is ready to demonstrate a trial of adulthood. He or she is placed into a chair and given a test: to sit for an entire month and do nothing else except watching Tee Vee. The parents of the child will occasionally check in during this time and must refill the child’s desires of potato chips and soda at request. When the time is over, the parents embrace their child and celebrate with an extra dose of high-calorie foods. This rite of passage is commonly ended when eye drops are administered to soothe strained eyes from the Tee Vee ritual.
Magic is also a great part of a Tech’s life. Using miniature devices of Tee Vees called Labb Topse, Da Inn Ternet is summoned through elaborate displays of screen-staring and finger tapping on the surface of the devices. A Tech is then able to inquire Da Inn Ternet about anything his or her heart desires. I was urged to be a part of this magic and despite my initial trepidation, I decided to give it a try. I asked a question I knew the answer to as a test. To my great surprise, Da Inn Ternet correctly answered how many planets exist in our solar system and even elaborated on specifics about pluto being a dwarf planet. I came to find that Da Inn Ternet was a very wise entity indeed. It became apparent how Da Inn Ternet gifted his people with the luxury to not think anymore through his large expanse of knowledge and information.
There are no priests but the powerful religious specialist of the Techs are respectfully titled “IT Guye”. Whenever the magical portal to Da Inn Ternet is severed with the demise of a Labb Topse, the IT Guye uses special magical knowledge to reconnect the spiritual and physical world once more. The family unit then bestows the IT Guye with gifts of gratitude, usually entailing a hefty sum of potato chips and soda. The IT Guye gratefully accepts and heads home to perform his own ritual of appreciation through a lengthy Tee Vee ritual.
Although Techs dutifully worship the entire span of their lives, they have great excitement for the afterlife. According to the scripture, the ultimate goal of a Tech is to waste enough time to earn the ultimate respect from Da Inn Ternet. The entrance to the afterlife is a symbol of having repayed Da Inn Ternet’s great gift of knowledge by living a long life of obedient worship and sluggish mind.
A last important element of the Tech religion that I should mention are the taboos. As an ignorant visitor, I was fiercely chastised for talking about my travels. I didn’t realize until later that it is an abhorrent sin to talk about any part of your life without mentioning Da Inn Ternet. The one note of comfort I will add is that the Techs are so absorbed in the Labb Topse and Tee Vee rituals that they rarely resort to violence other than a disgruntled stare.
Because of my thought-provoking time in the island of Router and the wonderful Techs that reside there, I recommend travelers to visit. There is nothing more eye-opening than learning about a new people and culture. However much I greatly value my ability to think, I have only great things to credit the Techs, including my new and broadened perspective of the world around me. It is with confidence that I say that my experience with the Techs is one I will carry with me for the rest of my life. And hopefully in time, other travelers will be able to say the same.

How to Stop a Barking Dog


            Okay, so here’s the deal.
The couple next door had the marvelous idea of buying one of those mean dogs. It has the flabby mouth of an in-law, an ugly grey color and a side of never-ending barking to sweeten the deal. I would have been happy with a herd of elephants, or maybe a boring cat. But no, they had to ask Satan for a demon dog.
                Not that the couple is any better. They make the day after work pretty eventful (read: painful).  They sometimes blast weird rock and roll crap at night and yell at each other like toddlers without animal crackers. Oh, and use language only a trash can could love. Yup. If that’s not a G-rated atmosphere, I don’t know what is.
                None of that mattered to me though, I swear! In a small little apartment with only enough money left over to kill your taste buds with instant noodles and soda, you learn to suck up every bad thing thrown at you. Broken air conditioner. Busted bike. Bad neighbors. Now, the only thing completely tipping the scale for me is the stupid mutt. I thought night was for sleeping but demon dog thinks it’s for driving me into a fetal position with a pillow over my head.
Man, I can never win at life.
I think I’m going to bed. I’d like to stay up and chat, believe me, but I’m just too tired.


So it’s five in the afternoon from where I left off last night. A long day and a bike ride to my apartment later, the dog’s still barking.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m dumb for putting up with all of this.
I don’t blame you, I totally get it. But I’ve tried everything, believe me. Food. Yelling.  Loud noises. Spray bottle with water. I even bought a dog whistle. That’s a lot of devotion for a college kid. I could have used that money for pencils. Or soda. Or more noodles.
No ringing the cops either. My name coming up for something like a doggy complaint is the last thing I want. I’m not exactly in good terms with them.
Don’t ask.
So I’m out of options. If I had wanted a child from hell, I would have adopted a dog too. But there’s a reason I haven’t. And the reason is next door. And the reason is also through the hours of searching by internet only for it to spit out “Have you tried a steak?”
Wait. The neighbors started yelling. I guess they find the dog’s woofing cute and they’re singing along—
Was that a frying pan? I looked outside my window just now and I think these next-door morons just threw a frying pan at him. I can’t believe it!
I mean, I give credit where credit’s due. It sure shut him up. But he started barking again. Only more high-pitched and whiny. So much for that.
Ah well. At least it delayed my foreseeable deafness for about five seconds. Better than nothing.
See? I told you I can’t win at life.


                Gravity works. There’s a ceiling above my head. And yeah, I can barely sleep. Things go on like they always do.  
                Couldn’t they have just bought a pet rock or something? I just looked at my clock and it’s around two in the morning. I should probably mention I have earplugs on. And the noise machine can’t tune out the barking with river sounds. And the windows and doors are completely shut. I even have a towel lining the bottom of my door but that’s not working either.
                Okay, that’s it! I have to do something about it.
Hey, no biggie. I’ve been dealing with this for about a month now. I’m a grown man. I can handle it. I just need to go try something before I sleep. Hold on.

                Okay, I’m back. Can’t hear anything now. Now, should I enjoy it awake or asleep? I bet you can guess which one I’m choosing.


Guys, I can’t believe it! I just woke up and I don’t want to jump off a cliff first thing in the morning. Why? Because there’s no barking. None. My idea worked!
I can totally get used to this.
My ears are not bleeding from noise. I don’t feel like crying into my morning cup of instant noodles. I feel great! Weird, huh?
                I always wake up pretty early, but that never stopped demon dog from barking it up in the AM, like always. I didn’t even know birds existed but now I can hear them. I used to think birds singing was just a myth.
I just went to go check things out the neighbor’s yard to see what’s up. Even looking over the wall between us, nothing seemed too different from the last time. I was still able to see the brick I threw over the wall before going to sleep. I spotted the dog’s motionless figure next to his dog house.  Small rivulets of blood stained the dirt around its head. Things were exactly the same as last night.  
For the first time in the past month, I caught myself smiling.
It’s nice to be a winner for once.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Grey in the Middle

Skylar gasped as the ground rushed to meet her and whisked her breath away.
Great. I’ll never hear the end of this. After a few moments, she regained her breath and pushed herself up from the ground, prepared for the taunts from her friends.
“If you guys crack one joke, I’ll shove someone!” Skylar laughed but the noise died in her throat the moment she lifted her head.
A large expanse of grey extended in front of her. There were no carnival rides. No groups of people to shove or run past. There were no overwhelming smells of cooking foods. Only a far-extending blankness of grey.
The sounds of people talking and laughing were gone too. She picked herself up from the ground as her stomach began to churn. What the hell?
“Hello?” Her words did not linger and cut off the moment she stopped talking. The unwelcoming atmosphere prompted chills down her arms. She stared and hoped for an end, but the large expanse stretched endlessly.
She swiveled around to a more alien sight. Greyness spanned on either of her but a rectangular projection of the carnival stood ahead. The rectangular image was a strange island in the deserted landscape.
Skylar drew closer. As she walked forward, she recognized the scene in the rectangular frame: the exact place she had tripped in the carnival moments before. She watched in awe as people ambled past her on-screen in leisurely pace. Small but muffled voices arose from the screen.
Hope flitted in her chest. Was this a portal? With unease, she extended her hand in front of her. Each step seemed like an eternity before she closed in on the image. Her fingertips extended toward the projection but met resistance. Her hand jerked backward at the unexpected surface. Then she placed her entire hand on it. It was like a thick glass. But it was not cold or hot. It just was.
The teenager dropped her hand from the screen in time to see a group her age come into view. The bright-colored clothing and distinct appearances were instantly recognizable.
The girl leaped toward the group. In the next moment, she harshly encountered the hard surface of before. Lowered voices from far-away became audible as she recovered from the blow.
“Skylar? Skylar, where are you?” A boy from the group craned his neck to stare past the bustling crowds.
“Over here!” Skylar lunged at the image once more and encountered the surface again before she pounded with her fist. “Hey!”
“Maybe she ditched us again.” The group slowed to a stop just twenty feet away. “You tried calling her, right?”
“Yeah.” A tall boy raised a cell phone to his face. “She hasn’t called me back either.”
Catching sight of the device, Skylar looked down and patted her jeans, feeling her horror deepen as hands ran smoothly over her pockets. Her eyes scanned the scene of the image until she spotted a single item near the place she had fallen. The pink cellphone reflecting the flashing carnival lights cemented her dread.
A short girl in the group shrugged. “Let’s just go. She’s probably home by now.”
“No!” Skylar’s shout was thrust in the grey emptiness surrounding her as the group began to retreat from view. She struck the screen and yelled, helplessly watching as the figures became smaller and smaller and were swallowed by the bustling masses.
Her hands soon burned after minutes of hammering on the display. When she paused for a break, the anxiety of the encompassing gray surrounding her spurred action once more. A numbness settled over her hands that caused them to feel like heavy burdens at the end of her arms. 
                Skylar stopped when her energy began to wane. Resigned, she lowered her hands and felt the effects from her intensity. Fatigue washed over her like a wave. The girl sunk to the floor, using the projection as a pillow for her head and closed her eyes to avoid the cold span of land that thrust her in loneliness.

                “Hello? Hey, wake up.”
                Skylar felt another tap on her shoulder. She opened her eyes and when she looked up, she gave a shriek.
                “Can you save the drama?” Skylar watched entranced as an older woman straightened from the stooped position in front of her. “The faster we get rolling, the better.”
                The older woman stepped away from the dazed teenager. Skylar rose to her feet and watched as the woman surveyed the now-darkened projection. People were no longer walking. The carnival lights had been dimmed and the former cheerful place now looked deserted.
                “I can’t tell what this is.” The woman squinted as her nose wrinkled with the action. “Was this some kinda concert you young ones went to?”
                “No. It was just a carnival.” Relief flooded Skylar like a warm embrace. The presence of another person was comforting. “Who are you?”
                “You’re still stuck in that?” The woman rolled her eyes as she regarded the teenager. “Names aren’t important with no one to say them. So I forgot mine a long time ago. I’m me.”
                “Are we alone? Is there more of us?” Skylar looked around but grayness spanned as far as the eye could see.
                “Don’t get too hopeful now, kid.” The woman chuckled with a superior tone and scratched her face with a hand. “You’re the only one I’ve found in twenty five years.”
                “Don’t be too sad either. At least your last memory was a good one.”
                “Last?” A cold began to seep through Skylar. She lunged toward the woman. “Get me out. I don’t want to rot here.”
                “And you think I do?” The woman’s question was met with submission as Skylar retreated. “Okay, look, here’s what you do. Have you tried hitting that thing?”
                “Yes.” Skylar watched as a soundless breeze swept through the image, causing abandoned paper cups to stir from their places.
                “Have you tried getting people’s attention through it?”
                “I did.”
                “Did anything work?”
                “Great!” The woman smiled with glee. “You’ve tried everything you can. You give up and get to walk with me now.”
                “Give up? There has to be some other way.”
                “If there was, I would have been out of here long ago. It’s easier to lose hope, trust me. See if there’s more souls out there! Better than being alone. What do you say?”
                Skylar thought for a long time and felt the woman’s expectant gaze on her. The girl sighed, trying to settle the fluttering in her chest. “You’re right.”
                “I’m right!” The woman cackled. “Great! Okay, choose the way. I’m tired of leading myself.”

                Skylar stared into the infinite gray that stretched in every direction. My new home. Her eyes scanned the endless dull horizon before she pointed. “That way.”
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Friday, April 8, 2016

A Desert of Emotions

“You got written up for showing emotion. Again. Didn’t you?”
The air was still and silent. A strong firm voice punctured the room as the man crumpled the paper in his hand and eyed the boy shuddering on the sofa. “Are you crying while I’m talking to you?”
                “I can’t help it, I swear!” Gregory looked up at his father’s blank expression. “What’s so wrong with—“
                “Stop crying and stop shaking!” The shout quieted the younger into a silence. He lowered his head and raised the end of his shirt to wipe away tears.
The older man reached toward the coffee table nearby. Gregory raised his head at the heavy sound of his father’s hand picking up the remote control from the surface.
“Son, I need to show you something.” Gregory expected the man’s neutral voice to become overpowered as he raised and pointed the device. But the living room was just as silent when the television turned on.
Gregory lifted his eyes to look at the screen. The small icon for the mute mode was displayed in the top right corner.  The channel was set to the local news. He waited for the channel to be changed, but his father’s figure only relaxed on the couch. Confusion wormed through Gregory’s mind.
Both people sat in silence. The brilliant light from the television painted tints and shadows across the living room walls. Minutes passed as they continued to stare at the screen.
The silence took a toll on Gregory’s nerves. He battled between making noise and not disturbing the imposed quiet.  
Finally, the young boy looked at his dad. “I can’t even hear—“
“I don’t want you to hear. I want you to look.” The older man never took his eyes off the screen.
Gregory balled his fists and willed himself to turn back to the television again. He joined his father in observing the figures on-screen. A pretty woman mouthed words and shifted as she talked before the camera panned to a male pointing at weather charts and a large map. Clips were shown the same news anchors. A small notion of understanding began to go through his mind.
Gregory suddenly sat up.
“Do you finally see it?”
“Yeah. Their faces. They’re blank. No emotion.”
“You got it.”
“But what’s the point of that?” Confusion swept over the young boy as he reclined on the sofa.
The older man cocked his head. “You know how guys are supposed to be ‘strong’? And girls are made fun of because they cry all the time?”
As Gregory nodded, the man continued. “Have you ever seen Henry Mason smile or frown?”
The boy thought about the wildly popular celebrity three years strong. “No.”
“What about Sylvia Benny?”
The richest woman in the world never displayed an ounce of passion. He shook his head again.
“Can you think of any celebrity who does?” When the boy was silent, the man sat back, satisfied. “That’s why they’re successful.”
“But why do people hate emotion so much?”
The man sighed. A single click resounded across the large room. The action threw them into complete darkness as the television turned off. But it was comforting to Gregory as he heard the words across from him.
“Son, it doesn’t matter why. Only that it does.”


“Hey dad!”
Gregory snapped out of the memory. He opened his eyes to watch as a pink shade came to his view. The small girl toddled forward in the flowing bright-colored dress as she greeted the inclined man in a camping chair. “A butterfly right there,” she said as her finger pointed to a nearby dandelion.
“Yes.” Gregory nodded as he watched the animal open and close its wings in an invisible beat. “Did you know they used to be called flutterbies, Jade?”
“Flutterbies!” The girl chirped. The voice caused a waver in the flower that propelled the animal into action.  Bubbly laughter permeated the air like a perfume as she pranced through the grass after the wavering creature. “Flutterbies!”
Gregory straightened from his chair. “Did I just catch you smiling?”
 “No.” The girl stopped her running and whipped around to look at him. The small voice was paired with wide eyes as she looked to her father.
“I better not. We’ve gone over this before, right?”
The small girl sighed and hung her head as she approached the talking figure. “Because it’s rude.”
“Then don’t do it again.”
“Okay.” The small girl’s face assumed a plain demeanor. “I won’t. I promise.”

“Atta girl.” He said, reaching to rub a hand over the short silky hair.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Modern Mind Control

“Magazines control the world. You know that, right?”
                “No.” She looked up from the silky flimsy pages to her anxious brother sitting nearby. “What’s been with you lately, Michael?”
                “Please, listen!” He grabbed the woman’s occupied hand. The wild movement caused the flopping of the article onto the wooden table.  She looked around as coffee shop customers glanced at them from the outburst.
He peered into her face. “These magazines are controlling people, Cynthia! I might sound crazy, but I need you to listen to me.”
                The man’s composure threatened to break as he spoke through a wavering voice. Her calm expression wilted and was replaced with a frozen smile. “Okay. But you need to be quiet.” Her hand retreated from his grasp.
                “Look,” the man continued. “I know I sound insane but just hear me out for once.” Michael’s chest swelled as he took a deep breath. “People don’t buy things they want, okay? Just things they think they want. Brains get hacked through repetition, right?”
                The young woman nodded, her wide blue eyes enveloping him.
                “Okay, great!” He straightened in his seat with a smile. “Then you’ll get this next part.” The man glanced around before leaning toward the woman with excitement. “Magazines are meant to distract. That’s what they want, zombies. We all focus on different things. For women, it’s clothing and maybe men. For men, it’s sports. And women,” he added with a shrug. “You fill in the blanks. But they want zombies. Don’t you get it?”
The woman’s head tilted. Cynthia was silent as her eyes jerked to study the man in front of her. “Why are you telling me all of this?”
“Because I don’t want you to be like them. I want you to snap out of it and save everyone else. To stop it with that,” he said with a glare to the item on the table.
The woman was silent for a few moments. Then, she spoke in a slow and deliberate manner as she leaned forward and patted his hand. “I know you have been stressed lately, Michael. But I need to ask you something.”
Relief flooded through the man. “Anything. I’m just glad you’ve listened.”
Cynthia nodded. “I’ve listened. But I want to know if you’ve been taking your medications.”
                Michael sighed. “Yes, I’ve been taking medication.” He hung his head, placing a hand over his forehead. “Forget it. I should have known I was wasting my time. You’re just like everyone else.” He rose from the seat with a dejected look as he turned to leave.
                “Michael? Hey, wait!”
                He paused before whirling around to the concerned face on the woman.
                “Talk to me if you need, anything, okay? I’m really worried about you.”


A young head rose above the grey cubicle wall in response. In the next moment, the well-dressed man padded away from the compartments, a questioning look overcoming his face. “Yes?”
“Come speak to me in my office please.” A figure stood in the middle of the hallway, regarding him with a grave stare.
A look of shock swept over Michael’s face, but it dissipated just as fast. He reached a hand to straighten his tie as he marched to the awaiting man.
The taller man simply turned his back and continued walking when the subordinate was only steps away. Michael faltered at the unfriendly greeting before sidling up beside his superior. “Sir, is anything the matter?”
“I said speak to me in my office, Michael.” A terse gaze from the dark-set man cut into the other. The remaining twists and turns as their shoes clacked on the tile were met with silence before they faced the front of a mahogany door.
Michael stood still as his boss stepped forward with a grim look fixed on his face. A series of beeps were heard on the keypad before the older man stepped aside with the large door ajar. Michael couldn’t help holding his breath as he brushed past the serious presence.
The creaking of the door that shut behind him increased his anxiety. Alone, with his boss.
“You seem absent-minded lately.” The commanding voice rose behind him. “Is there reason I should worry?”
After the pause was met with silence by the lower-ranked, the man continued. “You know why you’re here, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Michael lowered his gaze to the floor. His lip curled. “I do.”
“Look. People don’t want to be helped. No matter how hard you try, we have them under our control. They can’t ‘wake up’, as I’ve heard you say in the past. The way you’ve been looking, I can tell you tried again.” The man regarded Michael with a passive look. “Who was it this time?”
“My sister.”
The older man grabbed the pen from his breast pocket. He lifted it to his mouth, poked the surface under his lip and began chewing. Small cracks were heard as the noise permeated throughout the room. Michael respectfully lowered his gaze before turning his head.
Suddenly, the cracking stopped. His boss was done thinking. Michael looked in time to see his superior stride toward the large windows that lined his office. Light cascaded through the blinds and striped the man’s pants as he walked. “Come here, Michael. I want you to look outside with me.”
The younger man joined the journey across the large room. As he neared the windows, gaps between the blinds formed a blurred picture of the world outside. The pair of eyes were drawn to the street three stories underneath. Michael scanned the countless people that formed a single animated carpet along the sidewalks, straying in unique paths like lost ants.
“It took years to get where we are.” The boss gave a meaningful glance to the shuffling man beside him.
The young man continued to regard the street. Finally, his shoulders slumped and he broke the intense stare with a sigh. “I know. I’m done trying. They can’t be saved.”

 “Good!” The boss stepped away, a large smile playing over his face. “A major perfume company wants our magazine to advertise and they’ve offered large incentives. I trust you won’t stand in the way.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Ride to Fear

               “Shh,” the boy hissed. The sharp noise contrasted over the singing crickets that dotted the grass field. He sunk to the ground with a crouch lower than before and whipped his head to look behind him. “Can you guys make any more noise?”
                “And shushing helps a lot, doesn’t it?” A teenage girl crawled forward with an annoyed glance to the leading boy. “Where’s the bus, Liam?”
                “Over there.” Liam motioned with his head to a building that stood ominous under the dark sky. “Just around that corner.”
                “Look, I’m just going to head back.” Liam and Margaret turned to the voice behind them. “You guys have fun with the reward money.”
                “Get down, idiot!” Liam grabbed a hold of the smaller boy’s arm and pulled downward. As the teenager fell to the ground with a grunt, the warmth of a whisper tickled his ear.
“We should have known better than to bring you out, Alfie. But if you get caught, we all do.” Liam’s eyes wandered from the face to the building plagued with peeling paint and cracked wooden boards. “Besides, I want to buy the new microphone with the money.”
“Then hurry up!” Liam and Alfie lifted their gaze to see Margaret padding toward the building, her black hair swinging like a large pendulum. With a quick glance to the other, the boys rose to their feet and began to follow suit.
“If you guys hadn’t fooled around back there, we would have caught her in the act already.” Margaret greeted the boys that alighted by her side as she peered past the corner of the building to the bus that stood alone. Her slender hand disappeared into a small pocket swinging by her side only to reappear with a disposable camera.
The dark object gleamed in the moon light. Liam smiled and the object that swung from her hand reflected in the teenager’s black eyes. “Perfect.”
Alfie stepped away, doubt ridden over his face. “It’s only a rumor that the bus driver sells that stuff at night. You don’t know it’s true. And why a stupid old bus, of all places?”
“Well, that’s what we’re going to find out. And you’re going to be out of two thousand dollars while Maggie and I cash in.” Liam held out his hand and Margaret handed the camera over with a flourish. “Be useful and shut your trap.”
Margaret and Liam lapsed into silence, scanning the area with perceptive eyes. Without a warning, they took slow and careful steps toward the dull yellow bus that stood twenty feet away. With a last glance around, Alfie sighed and followed, cautious to step on only wet mud that muffled his footsteps.
“Have your finger on the shutter.” Alfie heard Margaret’s murmur feet ahead of him. “We go up the stairs as quiet as we can, take the picture, then hide behind the building first, okay?”
“Got it.” Liam’s eyes ran over the length of the bus that now towered over them. He regarded Margaret with a quivering finger over his mouth, before giving the same gesture to Alfie behind him. A soft clicking was heard as he wrapped his fingers on the device and stepped forward.
The group made their way around the front of the old run-down bus in a soundless manner. The young eyes were fixed on the expansive windshield that reflected the darkness in the sky.
The three paused in front of the bus steps. The folding transparent door gaped wide open. Margaret reached to tug on Liam’s jacket sleeve in warning. Alfie couldn’t help but notice fright in the larger boy’s eyes as he nodded. Soon, he tensed and alighted on the first step. After a breathless moment that proved the action was silent, the boy climbed the rest of the steps and immediately turned to peer down the hallway of the bus.
A brilliant flash illuminated the ceiling and walls inside the bus. A sharp snapping sound was followed by a whirring. Alfie squinted and barely made out Liam’s figure visibly slumped as he lowered the camera to his side again. “No one’s in here,” the voice called from inside. A dull thudding could be heard as footsteps began to retreat further inward and the boy disappeared.
“That can’t be right.” With a growl, Margaret leaped two steps at a time and sailed inside. She followed Liam to the far back of the bus. When she neared the end, she hopped on to a seat and observed as he huddled underneath the seating. “See anything, Liam?”
“Not a single thing here,” said the stifled reply.
“Maybe Alfie’s right, no one was ever here.” A sharp thudding sound began to be heard, echoing across the bus in a strange rhythm. Margaret sighed, pulling herself higher from her seat. “Shut up, Alfie! Don’t rub it in our faces.”
                “That kid’s always making trouble.” Liam rolled his eyes before straightening up with a grunt. “Maybe they—“
                A larger thud slammed into the bus, bigger than the taps from before. Liam whipped his head to the front of the bus with a growl. “Alfie!”
                Margaret and Liam spun in time to see Alfie frozen to the spot he was standing with wide eyes. They followed his gaze to a bus seat near the front of the entrance where he had stopped.
                His eyes rose from the green seating to the duo. “The noise. It isn’t me.”
                “What?” Mark gave an incredulous look to the boy. Near him, Margaret stared in silence at the frozen boy.
Suddenly, a lurch wracked the bus. The teenagers were tossed into nearby seats as the vehicle became plagued with a powerful jittering.
“What the hell is that?” Margaret screeched. The sound of fingernails scratching over green leather resounded as she fought for a better grip.
Alfie’s shout pierced through the air. “It’s coming from the bus seat!”
All eyes turned to the single bus seat that Alfie had stared at as his hands gripped a nearby rail.

The sound of ripping fabric pierced the air.