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Copyright 2014-2016 Indie Bard
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June 2, 2015
“Here, boy. Take it.”
Jazza produced a thin package, which A’Dan slipped it into the waistband of his ragged trousers.
“Do you understand what you’re to do?” Jazza asked.
“Alright, then. I’ll have a bed waiting for you, provided you’re not escorted by guards.”
Jazza watched A’Dan scamper away and into the Tavern’s Watch crowds.
Good kid. Too innocent for this place, but a good kid.
Dapple felt the carriage gain weight. She whinnied in protest, but Zuiwe’s whip commanded silence. She plodded to the gate, where she was stopped and rigorously searched. Dapple was accustomed to the Tavern’s Watch treatment, but she didn’t like it. As the guard continued to the carriage itself, she felt a tug on her breast straps. She looked down and into the eyes of a scrawny boy crawling along her stomach. A whinny rose in her throat, but was silenced by a sugar cube from the boy’s pocket. Dapple slurped the cube and watched the boy sneak away in silence.
Dwarden’s arms prickled. War instincts took hold, and he swung to catch the lad sneaking through the back of his smithy.
“Whatcha stealin’, boy?”
The young lad shook his head furiously, waving his free arm.
“Speak up, boy.”
The boy patted his lips with a flat hand.
“You a slave?”
The boy shook his head.
“If ya ain’t, who took ya tongue?”
The boy pointed across the street, where Caliente argued with a foreign merchant over some jewelry.
“Ah, well that makes a lick’a sense, dunnit? Someone oughta warned ya. What’d ya do to ‘im?”
Dwarden let the boy’s arm go, and the lad fell to his knees with arms cupped forward.
“Come on, now, lad, ya shoulda known better n’ beggin’ fer scraps from ‘im. He’s not ‘xactly the givin’ type.”
The boy stared. Dwarden met his eyes, then heard the polite cough of a waiting customer.
“Get on, whicha, now. Get on.”
The boy scampered away.
“Bloody rascal, don’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’. I wouldn’t bother Caliente with a hammer n’a army, “ Dwarden said, reaching for his belt-tongs. His hand found empty air. After a moment of surprise, he slapped the anvil and chuckled.
“That lil’ bastard!”
“Something wrong?” the customer asked.
“…Na, what kinna do fer ya?”
Hurbin jumped as A’Dan burst through his shop’s door.
“Bloody hells, A’Dan, what’re you doing? You’ll scare away the customers!”
A’Dan peered around the empty antique store.
“Okay, well there might have been. Come to visit?”
A’Dan pointed to the roof.
“Is that all I am to you? An easy access to the roofs? Where’s the ‘Hi, Hurbin. How’s your shop going? Could I do anything to help, since you’re the only person who doesn’t literally kick me to the street?’”
A’Dan shrugged, tapped his lips with his fingertips, then smiled.
“Go on, then. You working?”
A’Dan brandished a thin package as he bolted up the stairs.
It’s good to see the boy focused. It wouldn’t do to dwell on her… or on him.
Hurbin walked back to his shop—pushing the jeweler from his mind—and began pulling more interesting items to the front of his shelves.
Now, where’d that belt go? That was a surefire sale.
Iselle straightened her legs and crinkled her toes. It’d been a long day, she had a long night ahead, and the warm bath was loosening muscles she didn’t know were tense. She’d just closed her eyes when her bedroom window shattered. Iselle screeched, glaring in shock at the young boy who tumbled through and into her bed.
“Get out! Get out, right now!”
The boy raised his head, his face stricken with apology.
“A’Dan? What are you doing?”
A’Dan waved, his hands flying side to side. He pointed downstairs, clearly desperate to be understood.
“If you wanted something from the bakery, you could have used the front door!”
He waved his hands again, held one straight, then swooped the other underneath. Iselle used the moment to climb from the tub and wrap herself in a towel.
“You can’t use the tunnel. It’s for… it’s not for you.”
I wish Emma had never told him. There are just some things you don’t tell your son.
A’Dan retrieved his package, then swung it under his arm as well.
"What is-- no, wait, I don't want to know. Just leave. I want nothing to do with your smuggling."
A’Dan started for the door, but tripped. He grabbed for Iselle, but caught only a fistful of towel and ripped it away from her as he fell.
Hells take me, I do not need this right now.
A’Dans hands started to sign what she assumed was apology, but Iselle shoved him out with her foot and slammed the door behind him.
She started for the bath, but glanced at the clock and thought better of it. She began to redress.
I’ve half a mind to smack the little tramp, breaking in here like that. Not to mention the view he got for it. If it’d been anyone else, I’d have beat them with a pan.
Iselle bent down, looking for the elastic, form-showing belt she favored. She laughed, her mouth twisted.
He probably wouldn’t know what I’d hit him for. Poor thing. No mother to care for him and no father to teach him. No one should grow up like that. Naivety gets you nowhere here.
Yazmine heard a knock at the tunnel door. She pulled her blouse a little lower, turned her skirt to show more thigh, then jerked the handle. Behind it was a small boy—homeless by the look of him.
“Are you lost?”
The boy shook his head. He pointed behind her.
“Honey, you’re way too young to go back there. Do you know where you are?”
The boy swallowed, and, after a moment, nodded.
“What’s your name?”
He signed several symbols in the air. Yazmine gasped.
“A’Dan! You’re… you’re Emma’s son?”
“Oh my gods, I… I’m so sorry. We did all we could but, um… we couldn’t…”
A’Dan dismissed her apologies with a wave. Tears were in his eyes, but his face was firm. He pulled a thin package from under his shirt.
"Oh, I thought you-- um, okay. Is that for me?"
A’Dan shook his head, then signed a name.
Burn me, you can’t be serious.
“Are you sure?”
A’Dan unwrapped the package to reveal a gleaming, white-iron dagger. The boy hefted it, tears falling from his eyes. He looked at Yazmine and nodded.
Yazmine stared. Her mind raced: the screaming, the unnatural blood, the jeweler’s filthy gold, the body, the “inexplicable” death, the month of extra guards. Her eyes came into focus on A’Dan—the little son of a whore with no one to go to—then walked to a door and knocked twice.
“Sawdra, honey, come here for a second.”
“What the hells, woman! I paid for her!” a voice said from inside the room.
“I know, sir,” Yazmine said. “My sincere apologies. Tonight is on the house for the interruption.”
A moment later, Sawdra appeared at the door. Yazmine pulled her out, and beckoned A’Dan. The boy wiped his face with the back of his shirt. When he reappeared, his face was cold stone. He slipped inside and Yazmine closed the door behind him.
“Emma’s A’Dan?” Sawdra asked.
“He’s… He’s so small,” Sandra said.
“He’s big enough,” Yazmine said.
They looked at one another, then turned their backs to the door.
A’Dan leaned against the wall of Jazza’s room, chewing a thick loaf of bread. The merchant was discussing the night’s unfortunate news with Guado over a game of cards.
“So how did they find him?” Jazza asked.
“Blindfolded and bound with belts, throat slit, and tongue caught in a set of tongs… on a shelf across the room. He was stuffed behind his shop counter.”
“Does the Council know who did it?”
“Well the tongs were Dwarden’s and the belt was Hurdin’s, so they’ve both been arrested. Both claim the items were stolen, but neither knows who took them.”
“They’ll be released for sure. Both have witnesses that can vouch for them. Do you think… Do you think it was the Council?” Guado asked.
“Think about it! He had a dagger; we’re certain of that.” Guado looked at A’Dan. A’Dan smiled. “What if they caught him with it, then decided to make an example of him? You know how seriously they take the weapons ban.”
“If it was an example, it would have been public. Look, it’s not my practice to dip into the affairs of patrons. The man requested a dagger; I provided. It’s no matter of mine if he can’t handle it from there.” Jazz looked to A’Dan—now sketching on the bread-cloth with charcoal. “Perhaps it was our dear smuggler here. He’s capable of bondage, torture, and all sorts of evils.”
A’Dan looked at Jazza… then everyone burst out laughing.
“I kid, lad, I kid. What do you have there?”
Jazza rose and approached A’Dan, who lifted his drawing.
“Well, well, lad, that’s quite the woman you’ve got there!”
Jazza laughed and Guado came to inspect the drawing.
“Quite the woman, indeed! What’s with the bathtub?”
August 18, 2014
Your motives behind the events of Friday, October 12th, remain a mystery. The ruthless disposal of me -- a beloved member of your immediate family -- is a decision that has no doubt plagued your mind. One less forgiving might hold a grudge, but considering your actions were ultimately for the betterment of myself, I will attempt benevolence.
When your brutish hands assaulted me on the morning of that fateful day, I chose to remain silent. Little Johnny -- my dear and loyal friend -- would never have acquiesced to such treatment, so I deduced he was either incapacitated or absent. Cries for help would have fallen on deaf ears. The instinct to struggle was painfully difficult to suppress, but had I relented, you no doubt would have completed your task using less blundering means.
Despite your initial mistake of assuming my slumber, your decision to use The Pipeworks for your nefarious plan was far more fortuitous. Apparently, unbeknownst to you, I am a fantastic swimmer, so surviving The Pipeworks was quite simple. However, as perhaps you had considered, surviving The Great Beyond is a near impossibility by oneself. It is only through the help of a shark, a group of school children, and a mustached man with a hook that I write to you today from my Caribbean sanctuary.
May you find peace and love within yourself,
Bubbles the Goldfish
April 22, 2016
“Would someone get over here and help me?” Gareth asked. He threw his weight into the pile of steel and tile blocking the bathroom exit, but nothing moved.
“Shut up, Gareth. You’re not shifting two tons of rubble with your shoulder.” Britt winced as she pulled shrapnel from the side of her knee. She pressed a shredded roll of toilet paper against the wound, while Misha tied it in place with strips from her lab coat.
“Guys! Now is not the time.”
“Go to hell, Misha.”
“Leave her alone, Gareth,” John said, leaning against the remains of a metal stall. “Besides, Britt’s right. None of that’s moving without power tools.”
“You’re a ray of sunshine, John. A real optimist. I see where your brother gets it.”
“Leave Brandon out of this.”
“Leave him out? We wouldn’t be here without him jacking the reactor.”
“It was necessary.”
“Was it? How’s that artificial intelligence working out? Takes nuclear fission to boot up, so surely it’s worth something, right? Where’s the great Singularity’s brilliant escape plan?”
Everyone turned to the robot. It tucked its dread-like cords further into its rasta cap, a task made difficult by the clamps it used for hands.
“I’m Deca. Ten of ten. Singularity came first.”
Gareth growled, returning to the rubble. John stood to move between the two. He wiped the dust from Deca’s glowing blue eyes, then bent to eye level.
“Don’t piss him off,” John whispered. “He’s bad enough without it. Besides, he’s right. We need to escape.” Deca nodded, his eyes dimming softly. John stood. “Alright, let’s—“
The sound of metal shearing metal pierced the room. The ceiling tiles buckled and collapsed as a ventilation pipe fell through.
The pipe smashed into Gareth’s skull, throwing his body to the ground. John and Misha rushed to the pipe. John lifted, and Misha shrieked as broken arteries sprayed her lab coat with blood. Britt pulled her away, eyes locked on the spreading pool of red. John let the pipe fall. Britt hugged Misha, tossing the soiled lab coat away.
“What do we do? Is he… do we do something… with him?”
John laid his head against the wall, breathing heavily.
“We have nowhere to go, and even if we did, what good would it do?” John stared at Gareth’s body. “Jesus Christ. The guy was a jerk, but he didn’t… no one deserves… God help us.”
Deca pulled Misha’s lab coat toward the body, mopping the pool with its feet. Its cords fell loose from the rasta hat and clanged against the hollow pipe. John crouched at the base, looking through the pipe into the ceiling.
Deca pushed the now-dripping coat toward the body and moved to stand beside John.
“Can you see where this goes?”
An overhead grate fell into the office, quickly followed by Deca. It peered around the room—everything relatively untouched by the earlier explosions.
John dropped into the room. He held out his arms to catch Misha as she fell. Britt waved him away and dropped heavily onto the carpet, wincing as she put weight on her knee.
“Where are we?” Misha asked.
“Executive office. Julia’s, judging from the pictures.”
John turned the door knob and pushed. Nothing moved.
“Is there anything we can use to pry this open?”
Everyone moved around the office, Misha lifting the framed pictures from the desk, Britt flinging drawers open.
“Aha!” Britt yelled. She pulled a laptop from beneath the desk, opened the lid, and was greeted with a corporate login screen.
“Do you know her password?” John asked, leaning over Britt’s shoulder.
“No need. IT credentials unlock everything.” Britt logged in. “Gimme a minute. There’s no telling what condition the satellite receivers are in, and the local servers are a crapshoot with all this destruction. If I can access the network, I should be able to contact rescue services, but… we’ll see.”
John stepped back. Misha sat in a visitor chair, staring at Julia’s family photos. John took the seat beside her. Deca sat cross-legged in the floor.
“We’ll get out of here,” John said, smiling at Misha. She looked up, sniffing and wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“Yeah, I just…” Misha swallowed. “Long day. Do you have any family?” she asked, waving the framed picture.
“Wife and two daughters. Well, ex-wife, I suppose.”
“It’s complicated. You?”
“Just my par—“
“Guys, you are not going to believe this.”
John and Misha rushed to the computer.
“I can’t get access to the satellite receiver, but I do have access to local diagnostics. According to this… the reactor is fine.”
“The surrounding rooms are demolished, but the reactor is undamaged. Fully operational, though it’s running a bit hotter than the listed average.”
John grabbed Deca.
“You said it exploded!”
Deca held up his clamps.
“Something exploded. Whenever there’s a reactor, that’s the logical guess.”
John ran his hands through his hair.
“I have to get down there. Brandon might still be alive.”
“You’re missing the point! If the reactor’s fine, what caused this?”
John ignored Britt, and started pacing around the room. Deca watched John, his eyes glowing pale blue under the bright fluorescents.
“Can you find me a path to the reactor?”
“Absolutely not. Even if the reactor’s functional, the rest of the facility could collapse anytime. I’ll connect to—“
The floor fell beneath them.
John, Misha, and Deca climbed carefully out of the rubble. Misha tumbled and fell, clutching her thigh where a foot-long shard of rebar had pierced it. John rushed to her side.
“Misha, I don’t think… I don’t know if we can take that out.”
“Where is Britt?” Misha asked. John looked back. No signs. No sounds. “Is she—”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Can we… dig her out, or…”
“Not with your leg in the shape it’s in.”
“We can’t just leave—“
“We have to, Misha. We have to. It’s the same as Gareth. We can’t do anything.”
Misha broke down in sobs, and John held her to his chest. The space they were in was dark, but large, judging from the distant, flickering glow of fire.
“Deca. Do you know where we are?”
Deca’s eyes lit the area around them in deep blue light. He pointed into the darkness.
“Warehouse. Reactor’s that way.”
“How do you know where the reactor is?”
“I share the memories of my ancestors. Brandon tested Duo’s walking capabilities here, and let Quinta do inventory counts.”
“Alright, then. Lead on.”
The group walked into the darkness, John supporting Misha as she hobbled. The relative silence of the room was punctured by sharp intakes from Misha. After a few feet, Misha collapsed.
“I can’t do it. I can’t move anymore.”
“Sure you can. Come on, you can make it,” John said, pulling on Misha’s arm. She didn’t move. “Misha, you can’t just sit here. It isn’t—“
An explosion registered in the distance.
“See. Something exploded.” Deca’s eyes flickered and went out. Its body fell lifeless to the floor.
Deca’s eyes sparked and glowed, but weakly.
“I’m not very power efficient.”
John tugged Misha’s arm, but she would not move. Water rushed into their feet.
“Reservoir,” Deca said. “Must be punctured. I don’t do well in water.”
John lifted Deca to his shoulder, and turned so the weak light from Deca’s eyes shown on Misha, now unconscious face-first in the rising pool.
“I.. I can’t carry her. I…” John turned away. “I can’t.”
The door hissed as the seal compressed. John placed his hand to the cold metal.
Deca pulled the rasta cap away, letting its cords fall.
“Yes, but a flooded reactor kills everyone.”
John’s head fell. Tears rolled down his cheek. He wiped his eyes with his shirt collar, then turned to face the blue light of the reactor.
John circled the reactor. Deca stumbled to a panel on the side of the central column.
“Brandon!” John yelled, growing more anxious with every empty corner.
John rushed to Deca, who held open a panel on the reactor. John bent down to look inside. There was a slight pinch at the base of his neck, and he fell to the floor, paralyzed. Deca rolled John onto his back.
“I’m sorry, John.”
Deca plugged its cords into the panel and entered a code. Its eyes erupted in brilliant white light. It sat cross-legged on the floor, eyes burning into John’s retinas.
“From the way Father Brandon spoke of you, I thought you’d be great.”
John struggled to move, but nothing below his neck was working.
“What are you talking about? Where’s Brandon?”
“You’re a terrible hero, John. You wait for the goon to move the rubble. You wait for the techie to hack the satellite. You wait for the damsel to fall unconscious. All you do is wait.”
“Brandon!” John screamed. He felt pins and needles in the tips of his fingers, but nothing moved.
Deca tapped its head.
“I know a lot of stories, everything Father Brandon could find, and I know a good hero takes the initiative. Father Brandon wanted intelligence; he made it. Father Brandon wanted me to tell stories; he made me. Father Brandon didn’t like my stories; he tried to stop me. He was a good hero. You, not so much.”
“What are you saying?” John’s pinky twitched. He strained, and it twitched again.
“I gave you every opportunity. You don’t try to escape. Boom, clear path. You don’t take charge. Boom, you’re the leader. You don’t make friends. Boom, the girl needs you. I very nearly drained myself holding your hand. I’m not going to do that anymore.”
Deca rose, unplugging himself from the reactor. His eyes returned to a vibrant blue.
“But, I am going to recycle. Father Brandon always said recycling is important.” Deca’s eyes flickered and an explosion echoed in the distance. Deca’s eyes dimmed, and the panel beeped: three long, three short, three long. “When the rescue team arrives, you can be a character in their story. A different role, but maybe one you’re better suited for.”
John lifted his hand toward the panel. Deca brushed it away, then retrieved a thick cable from the reactor. Deca leaned down, and John felt another pinch at the base of his neck.
John’s eyes dimmed.
October 18, 2015
INT. SUBWAY CAR – NIGHT
The WITNESS steps through the train doors and sits on an empty bench, tucking their backpack between their legs. To their right, a MUSICIAN reads a book, her trumpet case propped against the railing. To their left, a BUSINESSMAN types on his phone, an ELDERLY WOMAN sits wrapped in shawls, and a FATHER plays with his BABY in its stroller.
Two tones sound and the doors close. Before they shut, a HOMELESS MAN leaps between them. They bounce against his chest as he slips inside. He bends, breathing heavily, sweat dripping from his matted dreadlocks, soaking his off-white shirt, and running down freshly-scabbed arms.
The homeless man takes a deep breath.
HOMELESS MAN: Ladies n’ gentlemen, forgive me for disturbin’ an otherwise peaceful ride, but I have some unfortunate news.
The business man dons earbuds retrieved from his coat pocket. The elderly woman eyes the homeless man’s scabs, then closes her eyes. The father and musician ignore him. The witness stares at the ground.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): I was recently the victim of a tragic fire which burned my home and everythin’ in it. My wife does not have the medication she needs, my children do not have clothes to wear, n’ none of us have much to eat.
The homeless man pulls a wrinkled cup from his pocket.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): Please help me n’ my family get back on our feet. Any little bit helps: a dollar, a quarter, anythin’ at all. God bless.
He moves between the passengers, pausing a moment in front of each, cup outstretched. The father waves him away, the elderly woman and businessman ignore him, the witness shrugs, and the musician shakes her head. The homeless man shakes his own.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): Nothin’? Nothin’ at all?
The homeless man turns, surveying his crowd.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): Now, people. I know you got somethin’ for a man down on his luck. My kids are in desperate need of medication, c’mon!
The homeless man waves the cup. Everyone ignores him, apart from the witness, who watches carefully from the corner of their eye. The homeless man approaches the businessman.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): Sir, surely you got a little to spare. Sir?
The businessman continues to ignore him, engrossed with his phone. The homeless man pulls the earbuds free by the cable.
BUSINESSMAN: Hey! What the hell?!
HOMELESS MAN: Sir, could you spare some money? It looks like you got a lil’ extra.
BUSINESSMAN: I don’t have anything. Back off.
The businessman tugs on his headphones. The homeless man tosses them in the businessman’s face.
HOMELESS MAN: Unbelievable. Unbelievable! Nobody’s willin’ to share.
The homeless man stares at the passengers, hands outstretched.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): I’m not askin’ for a lot! A dollar. A quarter! You all tellin’ me you ain’t got that?
The homeless man turns to the witness and points at their backpack.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): You know what I’d do for that backpack? Hmm? You have any idea? I got no clothes, people!
The witness tightens their grip on the backpack. The homeless man turns to stare at the elderly woman.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): Look at that. Wrapped up, all warm n’ cosy. More layers ‘n a fuckin’ onion.
The elderly lady scrunches her eyes tight, head bowed in pretense of sleep.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): What about you, granny? Got anythin’ to share?
The homeless man lifts the edge of her shawl. He taps her shoulder lightly, then harder, nudging her to the side.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): I know you ain’t asleep. Open up! Give a fuckin’ bread crumb to the needy!
The homeless man taps the side of her face. She buries her head in her chest, eyes squeezed shut. The homeless man smacks her across the cheek, the force laying her flat on the bench. The father stands and moves between his stroller and the homeless man.
FATHER: Hey! Get away from her!
The homeless man turns.
HOMELESS MAN: Well look at that. Now you got somethin’ to contribute!
FATHER: Just, leave us alone.
The homeless man pockets his cup and moves toward the father til they are inches apart. The father pushes the homeless man away. The homeless man grabs the father and flings him into the pole. A dull ping echoes through the car as the father’s head makes contact. The musician gasps.
HOMELESS MAN: Tough crowd. Am I just not enough for you? Maybe I need a lil’ help.
The homeless man lifts the squalling baby from its stroller.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): Here we are. How’s that? Don’t we look so helpless?
The father holds his hands up from the car floor.
FATHER: Please, please don’t. Put her down. Whatever you want. I’ll give you whatever you want, just give her to me.
The homeless man backs away from the father, cooing to the baby.
HOMELESS MAN: Ain’t really charity if you ask for somethin’ in return, is it? No it ain’t. No, no, no.
The homeless man looks at the baby.
HOMELESS MAN: I see how it is.
He tosses the baby at the elderly woman, whose eyes are still closed tight. The baby screams as it bounces off of her crossed arms and lands in the floor. The elderly woman’s eyes pop open and she gasps, carefully lifting the screaming child. She holds it to her breast, streaming apologies at the father.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): I got to sing for my supper! Okay, all right, I can do that. I can do it.
The homeless man belts out an off-key tune, hand pressed to chest like an opera singer.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): How’s that? I can do a lil’ showbiz.
The homeless man performs a farce of a tap-dance. The father grabs his child and moves to the other end of the car. The elderly woman follows and presses the “Call For Help” button.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): I can do a lil’ dance. I can do all kinds o’ dances.
The elderly woman whispers into the speaker. The homeless man leaps and slings himself around an aisle pole. His foot slams into the trumpet case, spilling him and the trumpet into the floor. He grabs the instrument ahead of the musician.
MUSICIAN: Leave it. Don’t—
The homeless man wets his lips and buzzes into the mouthpiece. The trumpet emits a off-key, crackling sound. He flings it at the wall, denting the horn. It lands in an empty seat, saliva dripping from the mouthpiece.
HOMELESS MAN: What about now? Huh?! What about now?! Have I earned it?!
The musician rises and steps toward the homeless man, who pulls a switchblade from his pocket and flips it open. The musician holds up her hands and backs away. The witness pulls their backpack to their chest and hugs it. The businessman hurries to the other end of the car.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): You see this? You see it? This is what you making me do! This is it! This is you. I don’t want this. I don’t wanna have to do this!
The musician trembles under the threat of the knife, and begins to sob. The homeless man stares, laughs, then flings the trumpet down the length of the train.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): Get out o’ here. Goddamn it, move!
The musician stumbles after her trumpet, retrieving it and joining the crowd. The homeless man chuckles in a high pitch. He sits on an empty bench across from the witness.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): I don’t wanna do this.
HOMELESS MAN (CONT’D): But you making me. Goddamn savages, all o’ you!
The homeless man runs the flat of the blade down his arms, slicing away the scabs covering them. Drops of blood trickle from his arm. The elderly woman whimpers into the speaker. The witness raises their eyes to find the homeless man staring at them intently. Eyes locked, he smiles, then turns the blade into his wrist, carving away a chunk of flesh and spilling his blood onto the floor. The other passengers gasp. The witness remains quiet. The homeless man closes the switchblade and tosses it at the feet of the witness.
He leans back, closes his eyes, and shakes his cup. Everyone watches silently as the shaking slows, slows, and stops. Blood continues to pool on the floor. The witness stands and moves to the train door, carefully stepping over the pool of blood. The passengers stare from the car’s opposite end.
The doors open. The witness exits, looking back to see three policemen rush inside.
INT. SUBWAY PLATFORM
The witness walks slowly to the exit, listening to the conversation inside the car.
POLICEMAN (O.S.): Okay people, I need you to turn over anything he may have come into contact with. Blood and possible drug involvement make this a biohazard concern.
FATHER (O.S.): Biohazard?! He touched my baby!
POLICEMAN (O.S.): It’s just a precaution, sir. I’ll need you to come with me.
BUSINESSMAN (O.S.): These are expensive headphones.
POLICEMAN (O.S.): If there’s no contaminants, they’ll be returned.
BUSINESSMAN (O.S.): And if they’re not? I’m not in the habit of giving away my stuff.
POLICEMAN (O.S.): Well, you may have to chalk this one up to charity, sir. Let’s go.
The witness breathes in slowly, exhales, then climbs the stairs to the exit.
April 3, 2015
Pillows beckon softly. Body collapses rigid.
Labored breathing quickens. Time slows.
Vision with blur. Sound with static.
Heat without sweat. Touch without memory.
Shaven head, buried. Quivering arms, wrapped.
Pacing legs, twisted. Calloused feet, twitching.
Fetal rocks. Winterless shivers pause. Fetal rocks again.
Countless careers provide. Few careers enlighten.
Seeming mutual exclusivity. Indecision reigns.
Money whispers. Money screams. Money antagonizes fulfillment.
Grasping for impossibilities. Hypothetic iteration reigns.
Are dreams realized? Are nightmares considered?
Doubt mutilates hope. Depression reigns.
Cracked portholes creak. Murky depths rise.
Decided questions resurface. Blackened skies rain.
Decisions claim immediacy. Worthless souls procrastinate.
Control flees. Mind follows. Incoherence prevents discussion.
Reason refutes ambition. Reason denies experience. Reason becomes tyranny.
Body rocks. Eyes roll. Devastation begs relief.
Indecision breeds uselessness. Time remains precious.
Depression equivocates weakness. Happiness demands faith.
Enraptured community suggests. Ageless tradition demands.
Search holy scripture. Words reveal truth. I Am is.
Books remain paper. God remains silent. All remains lost.
Spouse demands action. Need dictates participation.
Location determines destination. Sleep provides clarity.
Pleasant greetings exchanged. Tragic stories told.
Regulatory medicine prescribed.
Pressure. Doubt. Panic. Clout. Reason. Define Ultimatum.
Try. Fail. Lose faith. Seek help. Depression ad infinitum.
December 11, 2014
Chatting filled the hours, but didn’t make time or the bus go any faster. He sat next to his wife, listening to topical rants dredged from her phone. His ears were clogged from drowsiness and his head felt as if it were made from the pillow he wished he had. He forgave himself the lack of attention. It had been a long ride.
A woman behind them spoke, disturbing his trance. He turned to find a buxom, but slim woman, wearing a loose, ripped, grey t-shirt/hoodie that inexplicably accentuated what most would call perfect figure. Her beauty was so stunning, he was compelled to explain; it never occurred she might be aware. It was a fumbling mess of introduction and stuttered conversation, but the woman smiled at his earnestness. She slipped under his arm, sliding hers around his waist. When she tugged her neckline, he dimly realized his bumbling attempts to explain her beauty had been… effective. He became uncomfortably aware of his wife’s proximity, but she was engrossed with her phone, oblivious to the strange interaction.
Suddenly, his companion’s smile turned to terror as she pulled herself to his chest. She pointed, and through the windows he saw only empty air. The bus perched precariously on twisted road painted on a cliff side. Long from home, the road felt oddly familiar, as if travelled for years when young. It was dangerous, but navigable in sober hands. He told the woman as much. Tension fled from her shoulders but her arms kept the embrace. The two stared at one another in the aisle, lost in each other’s eyes and thoughts.
The bus tipped, to a degree no sensible road would ever take. As gravity took hold, the woman screamed, burying her face into the man’s shoulder. He clutched her tighter. His mind made way for instinct, steeling itself from psychological shock as they tumbled from the cliff side…
And splashed into clear blue waters. The woman pulled out of his hands and spun into confusion. The bus evaporated, leaving its occupants spinning at the bottom. The man shouldered his need for air as he desperately searched for his wife amid a stunningly beautiful ocean floor. He kicked hard, pushing through the strangers around him. A woman held out her child, wordlessly urging it to safety. His conscience tore, but he passed her by. Somewhere, his wife was waiting for him. He would not leave her.
He struggled through patches of grasping seaweed to find the ocean floor deserted. Its tragic visitors had vanished: to rescue, evaporation, or some horror, he couldn’t know. Even in perfect clearness, his wife remained invisible. He rose to the surface and into a cacophony of chaos. Emergency vehicles, crowded families, officers draping survivors in rags and blankets. His wife sat on the ocean’s edge, speaking calmly to another man dripping beside her. The woman. Where was the woman? Gulping air, he submerged.
Within tiny coral mountains and valleys, he found a cave shining with dull yellow light. He swam through. The darkness at the back brightened to reveal the woman: shoulders drooped, head nodding, eyes closed. Defeated. Bubbles still rose from her lips, so he rushed toward her, pulled her close, and tilted her head back in hope of consciousness. His motion dragged her eyes open. Seeing him, she smiled and moved toward him as if for a kiss. Her lips parted, the remaining air rushed from her lips, and he held her as she spasmed her life away.
When he emerged again, his wife rushed to greet him. She babbled about her experience, her rescuer, and plans to invite him for dinner. The man responded with defaults, but his mind strayed to the body he had left. He walked to the emergency vehicle lost in thought. If he had held on a little tighter, if he had swum a little faster, if he had trusted his wife to the rescue of another, would they have set places for four?
April 30, 2016
I was angry. I said something, and I didn’t mean it, but she thought I did, even if she shouldn’t have and I shouldn’t have and the whole thing shouldn’t have happened. But it did, and no amount of quick-step backtracking stopped her from stomping through the front door, bag in hand, friends already dialed and waiting. I picked a seat on the couch to watch the door slam shut, then fell back for a much-needed nap.
I was worried. She should have been back by then, but she wasn’t, and none of her friends or family were answering. Surely at least one had a phone within reach, and surely at least one had escaped her tattletale calls, but none of them had or none of them did and I waited and nothing happened. I tried calling my friends, who always answered, but this time, they didn’t. I needed to leave, to go somewhere, anywhere. I slammed the door shut behind me.
I was angry. She’d returned before I had, but with a group of giggling idiots in tow. They were where and when they shouldn’t have been, and I knew that she knew that that would make me angry. Everyone knew the story she’d told about me, the terrible something I’d said, and I didn’t think they’d have cared had they known I hadn’t meant it. It was infuriating, so much so that when her BFF was drunk enough to confront me in front of everyone, he was verbally escorted and I was physically thrown through a door that slammed shut behind us.
I was worried. I couldn’t go back, but I had nowhere to go, as everywhere I went I wasn’t welcome. Her friends, my friends, their friends, and their friends, everyone knew that horrible something I’d said. How could they trust me? How could she trust me? How could I trust me, when I’d said I didn’t mean it, but anyone and everyone knew that I had? It shouldn’t have happened. Did it even happen? If everyone thought, and she thought, and I thought that I’d said what I’d said and I’d meant it, did it matter?
I was… I was something. Homeless. Bitter. Sad. Too much pressure when my heart beat, too little air when I breathed, too big a world for such a small, small person. Everyone I knew wished they didn’t know me and I wished they didn’t. I wished the whole thing hadn’t happened or if it had to happen, I wished I knew why. I wished things were the way they were before. I wished I had someone else to be.
I was alone. She found me by a pillar in the food court of a mall, small and without food and without anything to hold me up. We’d never met, but she’d heard of me, of my infamous something. To her, that something could have been anything, and tales could be truths or not, and she asked me to wait until her coffee shop shift was done. She gave me a tall latte, a bite to eat, and a chair in the back behind the counter, away from customers who’d heard of me and the things I no longer had.
I was hopeful. She drove me back to my backwater hometown, where accents ran slow and news ran slower and yet, somehow, everyone was quick to point, quick to judge, quick to laugh at how far I’d fallen from the height I hadn’t deserved. She left me on the side of a side road leading to church I couldn’t enter: sinners and somethings like me and mine were unforgiveable, so say the good people and their book. Alone in a ditch with weeds that itched and scratched and whispered when the wind blew through them. Who was I? Now? Then? When I was angry and worried and angry and worried and sad and alone, I was only one thing, and I hated that thing, and if that’s all I was, should I be?
I was… I was dying. Waiting for a train to come fast and strong and sweep me away to nothing. I waited. I waited. The train came slowly and weakly, putting and puffing to a coughing stop. It had travelled too far and too long and had too far yet to go. I knew I’d waited for nothing, and with nothing to wait for, I climbed aboard. Past the people from other places who’d no doubt heard of me and my something, I sat in a seat at the back beside a woman strangely familiar.
I was beside her. I said something, everything. I told her everything, and she said something, and neither of us remembered what I’d said to start, but something was strange about the whole exchange, and we knew it. Wasn’t it odd that every voice and every word and every something said against me was said with the same cadence, the same form, the same pitches if I’d hum. I hummed in my head and I hummed in my throat and I hummed on the train and I hummed in my bed and I hummed in my real head and my real throat and my real bed where there was no train and no people and no something and everything was something my real brain had thought it saw while I had been… sleeping.
I was awake, and she was asleep beside me.
October 22, 2014
Tick tock. Years training. Months planning. Weeks preparing. Days implementing. Hours driving. Minutes waiting. Fifty glacial seconds to the completion of a decade-long daydream dedication.
Tick tock. Piercing eyes. Prominent brow. Salted hair. Peppered beard. Crooked nose. Straight teeth. No sweat. No shake. No swearing. No display of tension.
Tick tock. Cotton undershirt. Silk button-up. Fitted jacket. Cotton undershorts. Wool thermals. Fitted pants. Leather gloves. Cotton socks. Fitted shoes. All black. Flawless.
Tick tock. Four hundred forty millimeters wide. Three hundred seventeen millimeters tall. One hundred millimeters deep. Washed leather. Faded stitching. Worn handle.
Tick tock. Overweight mother destined for medical bills. Sprawling brat consumed by headphones. Feeble man, buried beneath airport luggage. Open seat.
Tick tock. Principles of Modern Chemistry. David W. Oxtoby. Hastily torn pages. Peeling edges. Oft read. A professor’s obvious companion.
Tick tock. Stacks of stapled essays: variety in name, length, competency. Blood red criticisms. Life-drained pens shaken, then replaced.
Tick tock. Temper tantrum tilts the case. A firm hand steadies. Mother apologizes, failing to control the tirade.
Tick tock. Brenden. Craig. Lana. Families left forever. They understood. They understand. They will understand in time.
Tick tock. House torched. Aliases burned. Everything gone. Everything must go. Everything will be gone soon.
Tick tock. A hand found writing. Dear Lana, This is for the best, I promise.
Tick tock. Let anger escape you. It achieves nothing. Use your passion for greatness.
Tick tock. Let sorrow leave you, as a bird set free from capture.
Tick tock. Let terrible times wash over. A rock in the wave.
Tick tock. Have pride in yourself. Have faith in your family.
Tick tock. Do not forget. I do this for you.
Tick tock. A familiar ringtone, lost among the noise.
Tick tock. Case, steady. Hands, steady. Mind, ready.
Tick tock. Vibration shuffles through inner pockets.
Tick tock. Deep breath. Slow exhale.
Tick tock. It is time.
Tick tock. Flip. Ring.
Tick tock. Ring.
October 21, 2015
Lenny woke. He scanned the room. His covers were wrinkled, but present. He looked left. No one else in the bed. You’d think you’d get used to that, but you don’t. He peered right. Bible on the nightstand. Lamp off. Wait! He gripped the sheets. He didn’t bring his dentures! He never did that. “Don’t want wet carpets,” she’d say. He would have left them in the bathroom. His eyes snapped shut. The ghost was back.
Lenny reached for his bible. Ghosts couldn’t touch you if you had your bible. He pulled it close, searching the covers with his free hand. His fingers closed around his glasses. “You’ll lay on them and break them,” she’d say. He set them on his nose.
Lenny caressed his bible. It wasn’t an angel. When angels show, they’re carrying a message from the Lord, and they don’t waste time. His suit hung from his chair. How long had that been there? He hadn’t worn that musty thing since… probably his wedding day. Adrenaline ran down his spine like a cool shower. The ghost.
Lenny couldn’t look away. What did this thing want? Dentures? A suit? Why just drop it like that? Why take it out of the closet at all? Lord, was it a demon?! Surely not. He’d be possessed, howling and screaming. He remembered stories she’d told when they were little. Still gave him shivers. No, not a demon.
What could he do? He clenched his hands around… nothing. He gasped. He looked left. The bible was laid out next to him, open.
“Lord, help me!” he cried, leaping from bed. Back against the wall, he wheezed. Ghosts don’t mess with a man’s bible. He knew that. Ghosts… His forehead crinkled. Ghosts couldn’t. He shuffled back and leaned over the book. She’d been big on highlighting, but there was only one line here. “He who finds a wife finds what is good.” His breath caught.
Angels always carry some kind of message. “You here for me, baby?” he whispered. His doorbell rang. He popped his dentures into place and smiled. “I hear you, honey.” He shed his pajamas and donned the suit. There was a knock at his bedroom door. His smile grew. “I’m coming, babe! Got to look good for you.”
Teeth white, suit tucked, bible under his arm, Lenny opened the door to find… a stranger.
“Who are you?” Lenny asked.
The man sighed through a plastered smile.
“It’s me, Dad.”
Dad? He didn’t have kids. “Children?!” she’d say. “When do I have time for children?!”
“Get out of my house!”
“Dad, it’s me.”
“I don’t know who you are, sir!”
“Dad, come on. Look, let’s get you out of those—“
Lenny woke. He scanned the room. His covers were wrinkled, but present. Wait! He gripped the sheets. He didn’t leave his glasses in the bed. He never did that! “You’ll lay on them and break them,” she’d say. His eyes snapped shut. The ghost was back.
January 21, 2015
Bartholomew was lounging in the moss when he heard a gunshot – loud and immediate. Lenny’s body exploded in a shower of red, dowsing Bartholomew with gore. His legs reacted, launching him into the forest.
In his younger years, Bartholomew might have screamed, might have bellowed in torment for the loss of his friend. No longer. Sound drew attention.
Bartholomew sought the hole he’d dug two nights past. It was shallow, but it was hidden under a thicket of thorn bushes. It was the best he could do at the moment.
Shots ruptured the silence of the forest, and the dirt by his foot erupted as if tossed by a mighty quake. He leapt to the side, but did not stop.
In his younger years, Bartholomew might have been paralyzed with fear, might have cowered before the mighty man. No longer. Fear was for the dead.
He spotted his hole and dove. The man was following, of that Bartholomew was sure, but had he spotted the thicket?
Bartholomew held still. The slightest movement could shift the dirt and rouse suspicion. He breathed deep, trying to calm his racing heart.
Footsteps crunched nearby. Through the thicket, Bartholomew saw thick boots come to rest. Black-soled and camouflaged, with ripped ties and blood-stained toes. His foot began to twitch.
The boots shot out, shaking the thicket side to side, front to back, up and down. Every ancient instinct in Bartholomew’s mind was screaming. Run! Run, you fool! The twitching intensified, shifting the dirt. He tried to steel himself, to stop that infernal movement that would ruin everything.
The man backed away. For a moment, Bartholomew earnestly believed the man had given up. Then, the man whistled and dogs barked in the distance.
In his younger years, Bartholomew might have underestimated the hounds, might have dismissed them. No longer. Dogs were death.
The twitching would not cease. The man was a leg-length away; he was sure to hear it. Bartholomew swallowed a curse. He wanted to scream. He had to move. The dogs were coming and dogs were death. If he was quick, if he was ever so quick, he could trip the man and sprint for the deeper forest. He had friends there, waiting with deeply-dug shelters and warm embraces.
Bartholomew stretched his arms and flexed his toes in the dirt, silently finding purchase. Inhale.
Bartholomew leapt from the thicket and crashed into the man, but the man was too large to topple. The man grasped with thickly-gloved hands, but Bartholomew was quick. He dove into another thicket, but did not pause for rest. He sprinted for the darkness of the woods as thunder pierced the silence and buckshot whipped his hair. He pumped his legs, old but powerful, and quickly outdistanced the man – so unfamiliar in this territory.
In his younger years, Bartholomew might have thought to weave, might have ducked, dodged, and circled back. No longer. Bartholomew’s mind was filled with thoughts of home, of friends, of a cozy nook by his grandchildren.
The shot ripped through him, flinging his body to the ground where it slid, then was still. As blood leaked from his broken spine, Bartholomew idly wondered if there would be someplace he could see Lenny again. It would be nice if there were.
The hunters gathered their prize by the ears, wiping the leaves from its fur. Tsk. This one was too old, too tough for cooking. They flung the body into the woods and moved on.
September 24, 2014
Liam let the driver seat fall flat. Drops of rain tapped the Cadillac’s canvas top. The soft pitter patter would have been a soundtrack for sleep were it not a reminder of his idiocy.
“She’ll forgive you,” Wil said, lounging in the passenger seat. “You’ve been married for over a year. If something were to break you up, it’d take more than this. Besides, the Camaro was terrible. A V6 will never be a classic when there’s a V8 version, the radio was a high-school, LED lightshow, the speakers crackled, the trunk floods were biblical, and there were enough dashboard warning lights to read by.”
Wil surveyed the car.
“This, on the other hand, is a beautiful machine. A proper V8, candy paint, low miles, and – above all – a true American classic. I don’t know how anyone could not love this car.”
“If it ruined your life,” Liam said, rubbing his temples.
“I think you’re being a little melodramatic. It’s not like that money was doing any good in your savings. The interest rate at your bank is practically nothing, her job won’t be giving her a vacation any time soon, and you needed a new car.”
“I didn’t need a new car. The Camaro was fine.”
“Did you not hear me? The Camaro was scrap. How many times has it broken in the last three months?”
“I don’t rem-”
“Six times! If you’d kept replacing parts, you would have spent far more than you did today, and for what – a valueless heap? Jim was generous to give you the trade value he did. I’d take it and be happy.”
Liam sighed. “That money was for our future. I’m graduating next month. I’ll need to move to the city, where living costs are ridiculous, the cost of raising children – which she wants – is even higher, and I don’t know if I’ll get a job before my student loans repayment begins.”
“You’re seeing this the wrong way,” Wil said. “This car is an investment. Keep her clean, and this car is one of the best money can buy. Value only goes up with time. Besides, pragmatically, your Camaro wouldn’t have worked with kids. The backseats were basically useless, and even with a car seat made from titanium, that rust bucket was a rolling safety hazard.”
“I could have bought something cheaper, with better safety ratings and better gas mileage.”
“And way more boring. I really don't understand your buyer's remorse, Liam. You basically stole this car -- far and away the best choice. Jim said so.”
“The dealer says whatever you want to hear.”
Wil laughed. “Well, you got me there.” He reached into the backseat, returning with a bag of chips.
“She loves you,” Wil coughed between mouthfuls. “I’m incredibly proud. This was your dream and you followed it. Not everyone has the guts to do that, and I respect you for it. She will too.”
Liam turned to stare at the upstairs light. “I wish you would leave.”
“You always convince me these things are for the best, and look at where I’m at: in some cheap upstairs flat, with no money, no job, and a wife that’s counting on me to contribute.”
Wil smiled. “But you have a nice car.”
Liam turned back to the window.
Wil’s smile faded. “Look, Liam, if it weren’t for me, you would still be in your parent’s house, asking your Mom for supper. You would be stuck in some two-bit community college, instead of a prestigious institution. You’d be learning some country bumpkin trade instead of a craftsman’s art. You’d probably be single, and even if you weren’t, you definitely wouldn’t be with the beautiful, intelligent creature you are now. Not to mention, you now have a car worthy of trade-shows. Everything good in your life, you owe to me. I’m the best part of you, and yet, every time I convince you to do something amazing, you regret it. I’m not some demon, hell-bent on ruining your life. I’m trying to help.”
“This was too far.”
Wil scoffed. “It’s a car! Not a house. Not a wife. Not a career. It’s a bloody car! If you’re so remorseful, take the thing back. Here, give me the keys. We’re taking it back.”
Wil reached for the keys, but Liam shoved him away.
“No. I’ll tell my wife, talk it through with her, and then decide the most rational way to deal with this. You’ve done enough.”
“No. Go away. I’ll handle it.”
William climbed out of the car, straightening his hair and carefully brushing the crumbs from his shirt. He’d need to look presentable for this.
October 9, 2015
“Those bastards cut our funding!” Baxter flung his laptop at the cabin wall, just missing Gill’s head.
“This is why we buy the ‘rugged’ version,” Tom whispered, returning the laptop to Baxter’s desk.
“Did you not hear me? We’re finished!” Baxter stormed around the room. “Twelve years researching the ocean’s greatest mystery only to be cock-blocked at the finish line. Unbelievable.”
“It’s been less than ten, and—“
“Almost a decade, and for what?!” Baxter sat down hard, his chair creaking. He opened the laptop and clicked furiously on the trackpad.
“And we’re nowhere near the finish line,” Tom continued. “Government funding only lasts while you make progress. Gill’s work on the suit has been phenomenal, but we’re no closer—“
“Why not?! Wasn’t that the point? We make room for scientists and their gizmos and they take us deeper.” Baxter slammed his index fingers into the keyboard. “I’m tired of promises and progress reports and fucking computers you can’t get into!” Baxter flung his laptop into the waiting hands of Tom, who passed it to Gill.
“Calm down. We know this means a lot to you, and—“
“To me? Well, I’m sorry I’ve been taking up your time! I didn’t realize a two-hundred-foot disc at the bottom of the goddamn ocean was of no interest. Feel free to get the hell off of my boat!”
Gill placed the laptop, now successfully logged in, on Baxter’s desk, then filed out of the cabin behind Tom. Baxter slammed the door behind them, then stared at the open email.
“How the hell… do you even… prototype, my ass, this is a nightmare,” Baxter grumbled as he squeezed into Gill’s diving suit. He tucked his beer belly under the zipper, careful to avoid chest hair. He worked flippers onto his feet, rattling the dive room’s crowded shelving.
“You’re the best crewman I’ve got,” he said, pulling complex components from a mannequin. “Remind me to give you a raise. Well… someone will give you a raise.” Baxter hauled the oxygen tanks to the boat’s edge, then dropped into the dark Pacific.
The water was calm. Baxter closed his eyes, feeling the eddies tug his feet. Enjoying the quiet, he flipped a switch on the side of his helmet and hi-beam lights illuminated the water.
“PLEASE STATE YOUR NAME.”
“Jesus Christ!” Baxter’s hands rose, ready for the invisible attacker.
“NAME NOT RECOGNIZED. PLEASE STATE YOUR NAME.”
Baxter tapped the side of his helmet. The speakers inside crackled.
“PLEASE STATE YOUR NAME.”
“LOGIN SUCCESSFUL. YOU HAVE… ONE UNREAD MESSAGE.”
“So this is what Gill does all day. Stuffs computers into helmets. Real fucking innovative.”
“YOU HAVE… ONE INCOMING CONNECTION.”
“Wait, you have internet down here?”
“Baxter!” Tom’s voice filled the helmet.
“What are you doing?!”
“I’m going to the disc. I’m not wasting the rest of my career hoping some rich punk takes an interest before I die. The government isn’t funding. The scientists aren’t helping. I’ll do it myself.”
“What do you mean the scientists aren’t helping? Did you not—“
“This suit should be enough to get me there. If there’s still internet, I’ll try to—“
“Bax!” Tom slammed the table; feedback pierced Baxter’s ears. “Did you not get the message?”
“YOU HAVE… ONE UNREAD MESSAGE.”
“They’re nothing but shit news. I don’t—“
“Forget the goddamn messages! Can you turn this thing off?” Baxter ran his hands over the helmet’s exterior.
“MESSAGE FROM… OPTIMUM MARINE RESEARCH. HELLO MR. MCKINLEY. THOMAS FENKE HAS INFORMED US OF YOUR RECENT MISFORTUNE. TO FURTHER GILL’S RESEARCH AND REWARD YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED PARTICIPATION, WE’D LIKE TO INCREASE OUR CONTRIBUTION TO COVER ANY LAPSE IN FUNDING, PROVIDED ADDITIONAL RESEARCH PARAMETERS ARE MET. PLEASE REPLY AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE FOR FURTHER DETAILS.
Baxter fell through the darkness in silence.
“Bax, are you there?”
“Can I make it?”
“To the disc?… No. The suit’s not ready for that.”
Baxter stared into the infinite ocean.
“Yeah, that’s… yeah.” Tom sighed. Baxter looked down at the suit’s array of panels and wires.
“I need your help.”
“What can I do for you, Bax?”
“What can you do?! Get me outta here! No fucking way you see the disc without me. How do I operate this thing?”
Tom laughed, his voice shaking.
“Right, okay then! Inflate your belt for starters.”
Baxter twisted a dial at his hip. His belt ballooned and his fall slowed. He started to rise.
“Okay, how much oxygen do you have left?”
“There’s no dial.”
The microphone scraped across the table.
“Hello Bax. Oxygen levels.”
“Gill, is that—“
“OXYGEN LEVELS AT… 37 PERCENT.”
“Crap. Um, I don’t suppose you brought a spare tank?”
“Oh my god, you know what, Gill? I did bring one. Must’ve forgot with all the commotion.” Baxter winced as feedback slammed into his ears and the mic was drawn across his desk.
“Bax, this is not the time. Help Gill help you.”
Gilled coughed nervously. The mic slid back.
“Um, hello again.”
“I don’t have a spare tank.”
“Are you carrying anything extra? If so, drop it.”
Baxter looked at the suit.
“I have no idea.”
“Um…” The typing continued.
“Dammit, Gill, you’re the world’s biggest nerd and this thing looks like a fucking space suit. You’re telling me it doesn’t have jet thrusters or something?”
“Well… not jet thrusters, but something comparable.”
“I knew it.”
“But you can’t use them. They need pressurized gas and you don’t have an extra tank. Not to mention they’re for returning the suit, not people. They’re way too powerful.”
Baxter looked at his arms and legs.
“Where are they?”
“They’re attached to your harness.”
Baxter slid out of his harness and turned to look at it. He found the thrusters behind the tank, extended like wings.
“You can control my suit from there, right? You can talk to it?”
“As long as the speaker’s working, yes. Why?”
Baxter pushed his legs through the harness. He wrapped one hand in the straps and grabbed the oxygen hose with the other.
“Gill, I have no idea what I’m doing and this is taking too long. Use the jets. Bring me home.”
Baxter sucked air, then pulled the hose from his helmet. He jammed it into the thrusters’ port and wrapped his free hand into the harness.
“Bax. Bax! Shit. Uh, activate thrusters!”
Baxter woke to white light. He blinked. His arms and legs were on fire. His gut was clenched. His head was blinding pain.
His eyes focused. He was in a hospital bed full of wires and surrounded by his crew. Tom leaned into vision.
“How do you feel?”
Baxter raised free hand. Thumbs down.
“That’s expected. Oxygen deprivation, inhibited blood circulation, and a bad case of the bends. You must be invincible.”
Baxter tried to speak, but his words were garbled. Gill appeared.
“Try not to speak. The whiplash did a number on your neck. I’m so, so sorry.”
Baxter held out his hand to Gill, who grabbed it and smiled.
“There is a silver lining.” Tom set Baxter’s laptop on a side table, opened his email, and read aloud. “Hello Mr. McKinley. Thomas told us of your rigorous experiments with Gill’s prototype, and of your enthusiasm toward our efforts. Your demonstration has convinced our board to begin funding immediately, pre-acceptance of terms. Please reply at your earliest convenience.”
Baxter smiled. Thumbs up.
September 20, 2014
Baxter fell through darkness. The radio hissed, and Tom’s voice penetrated the silence.
“How are you feeling?”
“Sick. Very sick.”
“You knew that would happen. At that depth, I’m surprised you’re still alive.”
“Prototype suit, eh? Give Gerald my thanks.”
“You know I won’t do that. It’d crush him, knowing what you’ve done with it.”
Baxter twisted. The air tanks resisted, but he moved into a slow, relaxing spin.
“What did you take with you?”
“Just the apparatus. All of my journals should be beside the monitor.”
“Okay… I see them.”
Baxter tightened the straps on his face mask.
“I’m sorry, Bax. I knew they’d cut the funding weeks ago. I was afraid to tell you. With how dedicated you are to this, I knew it’d break your heart.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I was afraid you’d do this. I mean, not this, but something.”
“Can you blame me?”
“Blame you? Of course I can blame you! I don’t care how much time you’ve invested. No sunken wreck is worth a suicide dive!”
“Do you blame me?”
Tom paused. “No.”
Baxter felt the currents slide along his back. It was strangely comforting.
“Did you talk with Macy?”
“There’s no need. She knows what I would have said, and if I’d said it, everything would’ve been worse. This is for the best.”
“She deserves to talk to you, Bax. I understand avoiding your children, but Macy needs this.”
“Tom, I know her better than anyone. Trust me.”
“How can I?”
Baxter paused. “You can’t, I suppose.”
Baxter checked the meter. Currents had pushed him a few meters off course, but considering the size of his target, that mattered little.
“Another minute?” Tom said.
“Thereabouts,” Baxter replied. “Do you think the com system will still work that deep?”
“Who knows? It’s never been that far.”
Even with the suit, Baxter was starting to feel pressure.
“Do you think this will set any records?” Baxter asked.
“I don’t see why not. I’m sure some blogger somewhere will look it up.”
“Do you care to take a look? I’m interested now.”
“Bax, this isn’t the—”
“Please, Tom. I’d like to know.”
The com went silent.
Baxter twisted, stopping his spin. He checked his display, then corrected his angle. He was tempted to flick the lights on, but there was limited power, and he wanted to get the longest look he could.
“You’ll miss the record by twenty meters. You’d have to return to the surface for it to count, anyway.”
“Oh, well then.”
“Bax, I need to say something.”
“I know, Tom. You don’t have to –”
“Shut up, Bax. Let me say this.”
Baxter adjusted the belt, speeding his descent.
“We’ve been working on this project for thirty-five years, most of it on a ship or in a lab. I’ve spent more time with you than anyone else in my life. I have no girl, no kids, no family, nothing. Your family was my family. You and Macy were always so good to me. Too good to me.”
“Tom, please don’t.”
“I slept with her, Bax. Every time I stayed over, and I didn’t feel a thing. You’re my best friend and I –”
Baxter turned off the com. The last thing he wanted right now were details. He’d known. Of course he’d known. His marriage was based almost entirely on text messages and hurried phone calls. They’d married in passion, then lived in civility. She’d raised his children single-handed. She was entitled to whatever pleasures she wanted. Baxter’s passions had moved elsewhere long ago.
He flicked it back on.
“I’m here, Tom.”
Tom sighed. “Thank god.”
The pressure was starting to addle Baxter’s mind. He was having an increasingly hard time staying awake, and his stomach was trying desperately to heave.
“Why’d it have to be a circle?”
“Why’d it have to be a circle?” Baxter repeated. “If it’d been any other shape, I’d have glossed it over. I’ve seen thousands of wrecks, and passed them by. Why’d this one have to be a bloody circle?”
Baxter took the silence for agreement. All forms of treasure hunting were fulfilling, but nothing had ever fascinated him as much as this sonar-detected circle on the ocean floor.
“Take care of her.”
Tom’s cries were cut short as Baxter flipped the switch for the last time. He unhooked the com system and let it float away. With the pressure building, he took a deep breath, then flicked on the headlamps.
September 4, 2015
INT. DARK ROOM – DAY
BERNS, 47 in a crisp police uniform, and ROGER, 50 in a suit and tie with a “Hopkins” name clip, stand in a dark, back room. Berns clasps Roger’s arm.
BERNS: Don’t worry, sir. After this, you’ll never see him again.
ROGER: Just get the confession. I want this… this thing…
Roger sniffs. Berns turns to the door.
BERNS: Will do, sir.
INT. INTEROGATION ROOM – DAY
A metal table and two metal chairs reflect in a wall-length mirror. MICHAEL, 55 and disheveled, is handcuffed to the table. Berns enters.
BERNS: Michael Fischer.
Berns smacks a folder on the table.
BERNS (CONT’D): 6’1”, 230 pounds, author of New York Time’s best seller, Killer in Queens.
Berns sits. He opens the folder, and slides large photos toward Michael as he talks.
BERNS (CONT’D): I’m Detective Berns of the 107th precinct, and you murdered Mrs. Jay Hopkins, 4:35 PM yesterday afternoon, in her home.
The photos show a bloody body, fingerprints, hair samples, and other evidence.
BERNS (CONT’D): We have enough evidence to convict a thirteen-year-old nun, let alone a divorced washout who famously fantasizes about reckless crime.
Michael raises his head.
BERNS (CONT’D): So, how about you confess, so we can skip the lengthy trial, and go straight to you rotting in prison for the rest of your miserable life?
MICHAEL: Reckless doesn’t suit me. This kill—in my educated opinion—was beautiful.
Berns taps the photos.
BERNS: You call this beautiful?
Michael taps the photos.
MICHAEL: I call this art, a public installation you can frame on your wall. Family photos? Get those out of the way. This is what you advertise on the mantle.
Berns collects the photos into the folder. Michael watches.
MICHAEL (CONT’D): Blood on the walls. Streaks on the floor. Broken post from the bed. It’s perfect. Textbook. Not a thing missing.
Berns sets the file aside.
BERNS: Led us straight to you. I don’t know if I’d call that the “perfect” crime.
MICHAEL: It did everything it was meant to do.
BERNS: So you wanted to be caught?
MICHAEL: I wanted to be Stephen King with a trophy wife in Beverly Hills, but…
MICHAEL (CONT’D): We rarely choose our own path.
BERNS: I can choose to not kill an innocent woman.
MICHAEL: … Congratulations.
Berns open the file to a blank page and retrieves a pen from his pocket.
BERNS: Was anyone else involved?
MICHAEL: Homicide is rarely a one-person affair.
BERNS: … Did anyone aid you in the planning or execution of this murder?
MICHAEL: Was there evidence for anyone else? Any fingerprints, hair samples, DNA? Anyone else at all in the house?
Berns flips through the file. He reads, then turns back to the blank page and writes.
MICHAEL (CONT’D): Art, as I said. More than one person complicates things. Crowds the stage. Changes monologue to dialogue, and that just makes it harder to remember your lines.
Berns finishes writing, his brow furrowed.
BERNS: Why’d you do it?
MICHAEL: There’s the big one. Why would a guy like me do something like this? Why would anyone?
Berns and Michael stare at one another.
MICHAEL (CONT’D): People kill for money. Feed the family at home. But that doesn’t fit, does it? Why kill to feed a cable connection that holds your ex-wife hostage to the television? Why murder for a daughter’s tuition that holds her financial future ransom? Besides…
Michael points to the folder.
MICHAEL (CONT’D): Who would pay for her murder? No, that’s not it.
Michael shrugs, rattling his handcuffs.
MICHAEL (CONT’D): People kill for power. To gain it, keep it, keep it from others. You want people to notice, to watch, and people are always watching.
Michael gestures to the mirror. Berns eyes shoot to the mirror before returning to Michael.
MICHAEL (CONT’D): Even now. But that doesn’t work! Killing a housewife with a piece of wood? That’s no power play. That’s no display of strength.
BERNS: So, why’d you-
MICHAEL People kill for love, Detective, or lack of it. Passion is the number one motive, right? But if I were to target anyone, why not my ex-wife? If I’m as psychopathic as you may think I am, why not my daughter? … Because those two are already destined for a life in the dark, far from anything good. They’ll die without my help.
BERNS: Mrs. Ja-
MICHAEL: So why Mrs. Jay? Sweet, lovely, monogamous Mrs. Jay Hopkins, why would an assumed stranger want to kill her? … People kill for love, Detective… Or lack of it.
Berns closes the file and stands. He gives Michael a disgusted stare, then turns for the door. His hand grasps the handle.
BERNS: Don’t move, you piece of shit.
Michael casually salutes.
INT. DARK ROOM – DAY
Berns approaches Roger, who is staring through the two-way glass with watery eyes. Berns places a hand on Roger’s back.
BERNS: I’m sorry you had to hear that, sir. I… I know this isn’t easy.
ROGER: I’m all right. Let’s just get this done.
BERNS: I need some water. You want anything? Coffee?
ROGER: I’m fine.
INT. PRECINCT 107
Berns closes the door, then approaches two nearby OFFICERS. He grabs one.
BERNS: Listen carefully. I need you to locate Anna and Jasmine Fischer and place them into protective custody. A threat has been made on their life, and I don’t want to take any chances.
Berns pushes the officer away, and grabs the other by the shoulder.
BERNS (CONT’D): I need you…
Berns looks at the door to the dark room.
BERNS (CONT’D): I need you to arrest Officer Roger Hopkins for the murder of his wife, Jay Hopkins.
January 24, 2015
Universe cares not if Galaxy collides, Star explodes, or World slips.
Molecule cares not for Protein’s reactions, Cell’s reproductions, or Fish’s machinations.
We alone see war as failure.
We alone see creation as genius.
Time cares not if Art speaks, Music feels, or Stories remember.
Death cares not if Eyes open, Tongue tastes, or Hands hold.
We alone see thought as value.
We alone see iteration as progress.
Universe cares not of exploration, Molecule cares not of manipulation.
Time cares not of measurement, Death cares not of interruption.
We alone see existence as meaningful.
We alone determine its purpose.
June 9, 2016
INT. OLIVER’S APARTMENT – LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
OLIVER, 22, thick glasses and fidgety, paces around his living room: a stark space with a desk, folding chair, trash can, and bookshelf. Oliver’s mother barks from his phone.
MARGARET (V.O.): How’s your work? Anything I’d understand?
Oliver lifts a book from his desk: Economic Theory. He glances at his bookshelf and grins.
OLIVER: Probably not. If you’re interested, we could start with the Goldbach-
MARGARET (V.O.): I’m not really, dear. How was your party?
Oliver slides the book into its slot on the shelf. Oliver hears a loud THUD outside his apartment and glances at his front door.
MARGARET (V.O.): Last time we spoke, you said someone from your school had-
OLIVER: Right, I remember. I didn’t, uh… It was good.
Oliver lifts another book: An End to Panic: Breakthrough Techniques for Overcoming Panic Disorder. He drops it into the trash can.
MARGARET (V.O.): Good. That’s good. You need to get out of the house more often. Did you meet anyone nice?
Loud, angry voices argue outside. Oliver scrunches his brow and steps lightly toward the door.
OLIVER Mom, I’ve got to go. There’s someone at the door.
Oliver silences his mother with a BEEP. He leans toward his door’s peep hole. A gunshot CRACKS outside his apartment. Oliver jumps back. Outside, a child screams.
OLIVER (CONT’D): Jesus Christ.
Oliver swallows and dials 9-1-1 with shaky hands. A soft female voice answers.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Nine, one, one. What is your emergency?
OLIVER: (whispers) There was a gunshot outside my door, like right on the other side, and it sounds like a kid is crying.
Oliver hears someone shush the kid. The crying fades.
OLIVER (CONT’D): Or they were crying. Someone’s shushing them.
TIFFANY (V.O.): What is your name?
OLIVER: Oliver Thompson.
Oliver rushes toward a door at the end of his hallway.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Okay, Oliver, where are you?
OLIVER: Five-five-seven Saint Olive’s Court. Brooklyn.
Oliver reaches for a small chest of drawers, the only piece of furniture apart from the bed.
TIFFANY (V.O.): What’s the nearest cross street?
Oliver pulls a bottle of pills from the top drawer. He unscrews the lid and pops a pill. He shudders, then returns the bottle, hands slick with sweat.
OLIVER: Uh, Churchill. I think. I don’t really know.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Can you see if anyone is hurt?
Oliver closes his eyes. He inhales through his nose, then exhales through his mouth.
OLIVER: Hang on.
Oliver tiptoes toward his living room. He mutters under his breath.
OLIVER: (to himself) It’s okay. I’m okay. Everything is okay.
Oliver looks through the peep hole.
INT. APARTMENT COMPLEX – FOYER – NIGHT
ISAAC, 34, Dominican, wife beater over prison muscle, stands over a woman’s body. He holds a phone to his ear, and a gun hangs in his waistband. Blood pools from the woman’s head.
BEN, 5, tiny with watery eyes, stares at the body.
INT. OLIVER’S APARTMENT – LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
Oliver whispers to his phone.
OLIVER: Oh my god.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Oliver?
OLIVER: There’s a man. Mid-thirties, African American or… or Dominican. He’s wearing a wife beater and jeans. There’s a little boy, and…
Oliver swallows. He closes his eyes and leans his forehead against the door. Sweat drips down his nose.
OLIVER (CONT’D): And a body. A woman… Jesus.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Okay, Oliver, we’ll send the police right away. Can you stay on the line?
INT. APARTMENT COMPLEX – FOYER – NIGHT
Isaac speaks calmly into his phone.
ISAAC: I can’t… No, I can’t just leave her. It’s the main part a’ the buildin’.
Ben sniffs. His lower lip shakes. He waddles to Isaac and buries his face in Isaac’s leg. Isaac pets Ben’s head and looks at the building’s main door.
ISAAC (CONT’D): No. Main door goes to the street… Ya.
Isaac turns toward a smaller, windowless door. Lettering reads “Maintenance Only”.
ISAAC (CONT’D): Nevermin’. I got it… Ya… Okay, Da, see you soon.
INT. OLIVER’S APARTMENT – LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
Oliver backs away from the door. He runs to his
And pulls open his chest of drawers.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Oliver?
Oliver fumbles the bottle of pills from the drawer. He opens the lid, tosses it aside, and shakes another pill into his hand. He swallows it, then shudders violently.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Oliver?
OLIVER: He went outside, through the maintenance door.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Do you know where that leads?
Oliver scrunches his eyes.
OLIVER: (to himself) It’s okay. I’m… Everything…
Oliver wipes the sweat from his face with the bottom of his shirt.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Okay, Oliver, I need you to know… with a child involved, we’re treating this as a hostage situation.
TIFFANY (V.O.): And every little bit helps.
Oliver lifts the bottle of pills and stares.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Oliver?
OLIVER: Hang on.
Oliver shoves the bottle back into the drawer. He strides into the
Where he pauses in front of a window. Oliver runs his fingers through his hair, flicks the sweat from his wrist, and slowly cracks the curtain.
EXT. ALLEY – NIGHT
Isaac drags the body down the cramped alley toward a dumpster at its end. Ben follows.
ISAAC: I’m a good Da, ya? My Da was good to me and I’m good to you and Mamma wasn’t, was she?
Isaac props the body against the dumpster and lifts the lid. Ben glances at Oliver’s window.
ISAAC (CONT’D): She was tryin’ to take ya away from me. She was tryin’ to take ya away, and I wasn’t havin’ it. Ya don’t want to go away, right?
Ben shakes his head. Isaac lifts the body into the dumpster.
ISAAC (CONT’D): We’re goin’ to stay with Grandpa for a few days. Ya like Grandpa, right?
Isaac wipes his hands on his shirt. He looks at the blood stains and tugs it off.
ISAAC (CONT’D): Speak up, boy.
Isaac tosses the shirt into the dumpster. Ben nods and cries silently.
ISAAC (CONT’D): Good… Come here.
Isaac opens his arms and beckons to Ben. Ben hesitates, then shuffles toward Isaac, who wraps him in a bear hug.
ISAAC (CONT’D): Understand Mamma ain’t comin’ back, right? She gone.
Ben stares at Oliver through the bars on his window. Oliver moves back, but watches, phone to his ear. Isaac pulls away from the hug.
ISAAC (CONT’D): Just me n’…
Isaac notices Ben’s stare and quickly turns to Oliver’s window.
INT. OLIVER’S APARTMENT – KITCHEN – NIGHT
Oliver jumps away. He inhales through his nose. CRACK. A bullet shatters the glass and buries itself in the wall above his refrigerator.
ISAAC (O.S.): Whatcha lookin’ at, huh?
Oliver scrambles away from the window.
OLIVER: Oh God, he saw me. He shot at me.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Are you hurt?
Isaac smacks his gun on the window bars with a CLANG.
ISAAC (O.S.): Who ya talkin’ to, boy? Ya best keep with ya own business.
OLIVER: No, I’m-- He’s hitting the bars with the gun. I can’t-- Where are the police?
TIFFANY (V.O.): Move away from the window.
Oliver skitters into the
Where he collides with his chair and falls.
OLIVER: Where are the police?
TIFFANY (V.O.): They’ll be there as soon as they can. Do you have anything to defend yourself with?
Oliver’s door BOOMS and RATTLES.
ISAAC (O.S.): Ya better hang up, boy. We goin’ to have a talk. Hang up the phone.
Oliver stays on the floor. His body shakes. He rocks back and forth on the floor, head on his chest, hands behind his neck.
OLIVER: (to himself) I’m not okay. This is not okay. Everything is… I’m not… Jesus, help me.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Oliver!
OLIVER: (to Tiffany) Help me!
TIFFANY (V.O.): Listen to me. Do you have a way to protect yourself?
Oliver grips the leg of his folding chair. The door BOOMS and RATTLES. Oliver shuts his eyes and whimpers.
OLIVER: No, I don’t. I can’t. I have a-- but I can’t...
TIFFANY (V.O.): Is there a window without bars that you-
The door BOOMS and the hinges CRACK. Oliver yelps, runs to the
And buries himself behind coats and boxes. He shuts the door.
TIFFANY (V.O.): Oliver, what’s going-
Oliver jabs at his phone. BEEP. The door BOOMS, slides inward with a SCREECH, then falls with a deep THUD.
ISAAC (O.S.): Where are ya?
Oliver drops the phone and cries into the back of a winter jacket. He tenses his body against contractions. He rocks back and forth, fists by his ears.
Isaac circles the room, gun in hand. He points to the floor beneath Ben.
ISAAC: Stay there.
Isaac glances down the hallway, then strides to the coat closet. He flings the door open: just coats and boxes. He turns toward the kitchen.
ISAAC (CONT’D): I know ya here. Ya really wanna play this game with me?
Isaac opens each cabinet as he walks past.
ISAAC: (sing song) Don’ make it hard on yaself. (regularly) My Da always told me, ‘Every second ya run away is another lashin’ with the belt.’
Isaac steps into the
With his gun drawn.
ISAAC: One… Two… Three…
Isaac counts with each step.
Oliver bites fabric. Veins stand out on his forehead. He screws his eyes shut, and tears run down the back of the jacket. His fists curl in his hair. His body jerks. He whimpers softly with each exhalation.
Isaac drops to the floor and aims his gun under the bed. His brow furrows.
ISAAC: Where the hell ya go, boy?
SMACK. Isaac hits the chest of drawers with the butt of his gun. The pills inside RATTLE.
Oliver inhales through his nose. He loosens his eyes and shoulders. He unclenches his teeth and exhales through his mouth.
Oliver shoves the coats aside and lurches out of the closet. He grabs Ben and flings the child over his shoulder. Ben screams.
ISAAC (O.S.): Ben!
Oliver runs over his front door.
Isaac sprints down the hallway. He waves his gun.
ISAAC: Stay away from him! Stay away from my boy! I’ll kill ya!
INT. APARTMENT COMPLEX – FOYER – NIGHT
Isaac runs into the foyer. Red and blue lights reflect on the walls. He lifts the gun.
Blood sprays the wall behind him. Isaac falls. His gun CLATTERS on the floor. Ben screams.
EXT. CITY STREET – NIGHT
POLICE OFFICERS, in uniform, exit the apartment complex. Police cars block the entrance. Ambulances sit behind them in the street. A crowd gathers outside the perimeter.
A PARAMEDIC, 27, fit and in uniform, clears equipment from the open back of an ambulance.
PARAMEDIC: Here. Have a seat.
OLIVER: Thank you.
Oliver sits. The paramedic wraps a trauma blanket around his shoulders.
PARAMEDIC: Are you hurt?
OLIVER: No, I’m fine. I mean, I’m not…
Oliver shudders. He blinks tears away from his bloodshot eyes. He hugs himself. Inhale. Exhale.
OLIVER (CONT’D): I’m okay.
Oliver watches the onlookers film him with their phones. The paramedic slips a blood pressure cuff onto Oliver’s arm. Oliver wrings his hands. He mouths, “I’m okay.”
PARAMEDIC: Stay still, if you can.
OLIVER: Sorry… Uh, can I borrow a phone?
The paramedic reaches past Oliver, into the ambulance, and pulls out a phone. She hands it to him. Oliver dials and holds the phone to his ear.
MARGARET (V.O.): Hello?
OLIVER: Hey, Mom.
MARGARET (V.O.): Oliver, do not hang up on me again. You know I hate-
OLIVER: Look, Mom, this is a borrowed phone. Can you just meet me somewhere? Maybe the diner on 7th?
MARGARET (V.O.): Borrowed phone? What’s wrong with-
OLIVER: Can you meet me?
MARGARET (V.O.): I suppose… If you’re sure that’s okay. What about your condition?
Oliver watches the sea of uniforms, cameras, lights, and chaos in front of him.
Police officers place Isaac’s body in a bag.
Ben screams and reaches for Isaac.
Some police officers talk to onlookers, while others hold them back.
OLIVER: I think I can handle it. See you soon.
Oliver ends the call and hands the phone back to the paramedic. She smiles.
PARAMEDIC: You okay?
Oliver rocks slowly back and forth. He bites his lip, then smiles.
OLIVER: Yeah… I’m okay.
September 1, 2014
The Rogue exited the tavern. His hair caressed the bottom of the low-hanging sign, and he once again thanked the gods for his short stature. He swayed down the steps, smiling at a passing barmaid. She smiled back, his feet betrayed him, and he toppled into a nearby puddle, soaking his clothes in mud. Cursing softly, he staggered into an alleyway to fix what he could.
Suddenly, powerful hands threw him against the wall and he was met with a handsome glare.
“Where is Lord Evil?! I know he is hiding nearby, and I will find him.”
The lad wore weathered leathers; judging from the older military styling, his fathers. His hands weren’t calloused or broken, yet the worn sword spoke of age and professional use – also Dad’s. He had effortlessly-spiked auburn hair, piercing blue eyes, and perfect teeth.
Oh dear gods. I didn’t even know there was a Storyline in play.
“I don’t suppose you’re visiting with your parents?” The Rogue asked.
“No, my parents are dead. My mother was killed during the destruction of my forest village, and my father was killed during the war.”
Oh bloody hell. A Hero. This is what I get for skipping the papers.
“Lord Evil?” The Hero resumed. “Surely you know something.”
The Rogue assessed his situation: the darkened alleyway, the hunt for the villain, the shady informant. Oh come ON! No, no, no, this cannot be happening to me! I’ve dodged the last four heroes; don’t bed me with this one!
Struggle was useless, and he knew it. The Storyline had him.
My whole life I’ve dreamt of being a proper rogue: theft, debauchery, adultery, murder (if called for). All I wanted was a little jingle in my pockets and a little lovely on my lap. Is that too much to bloody ask?
“Excuse me?” The Hero interrupted.
Of course I know where Lord Evil is! I had tea with him this morning. He’s a fantastic bloke, more fun than you could ever know. If I stabbed you right now, he’d set me up for life in a nice townhouse with a bevy of beautiful women.
“Why are you looking for him?” The Rogue stalled.
The Hero launched into a tragic tale of hometown decimation and war atrocities, but The Rogue wasn’t listening. I have a freshly-sharpened dagger in my boot strap that could open his throat. I could toss his body into the pig sty, and he’d be eaten by morning. The Hero paused.
“Beg pardon, what did you say?” The Rogue asked.
“I asked, ‘Have you dealt with the Empire here?’”
“The Empire? Never heard of them.”
The Hero eagerly dove into an explanation of The Empire’s struggle to overthrow The Kingdom, while The Rogue dove back into his thoughts.
I’d die, though. I’d almost certainly be killed in some horrific manner. The Storyline no doubt has two or three backup Heroes at the ready, just waiting to pitch someone into a volcanic pit. But… I could probably manage a few years of comfort and enjoyment. Would it be worth it?
The Rogue sighed.
“What’s wrong?” asked The Hero.
“Oh, it’s just… devastating… to hear about The Empire’s nefarious plans. Please, go on.”
Let’s look at this logically. Never mind how great Lord Evil is or how annoying this Hero will be. Ditch morals and look at net profit. There’s no feasible way to escape this without picking a side. The Storyline would never allow it. If I kill The Hero, I’ll be wealthy and content, but I’ll die before my time. If I help him, I betray everything I’ve ever believed in, but, things tend to fall in line for Heroes. After The Good Guys inevitably win, village women practically fling themselves into heroic bed chambers, and I could still manage the occasional burglary, as long as I keep it clandestine.
“Do you have anyone to help you in your valiant quest?” The Rogue interrupted.
“No one other than this girl I met on the road. She’s no doubt gotten herself into…”
The Rogue stopped listening. It’s still early in The Storyline. With a bit of work, I could land The Sidekick, which isn’t a bad gig. It’s not exactly what I’ve been working toward and the last thing I want right now is to babysit some heroic brat, but I’ve got a decent backstory for it. Plus…
“Excuse me, lad?”
“What do you plan to do with Lord Evil once you find him?”
“He burned my village, murdered my mother, and slaughtered my father in the war. When I find him, I will make him pay for the hurt he has caused me. Once he’s dead, I’ll burn his body and disperse his Legions of Terror. I’ll tear down his fortress brick by brick and take back the enormous wealth he’s stolen from the people. I’ll…”
The Rogue smiled.
“Oh, that Lord Evil. Right this way.”
August 18, 2014
“Come now, Brutus. It shouldn’t be difficult,” Vespin sighed.
“She’s a bloody dragon! Do you even see how —”
“She’s only ten feet. Besides, she doesn’t breathe fire, and that’s the worst bit.”
“Lightning’s no better!” Brutus exclaimed.
"Aren't you wearing the rubberized plate mail Aunt Darcy sent you? She'll be so upset if --"
“Actually,” the dragon interrupted, “rubberized materials don’t prevent all of the lightning from seeping through. There’s still quite an electrical current.”
“YES!” Brutus shrieked.
“That is fascinating!” Vespin replied. “How’d you manage that?”
“Well,” the dragon began. “The infusion of –”
“Vespin!” Brutus cried. “Now is not the time! “
“Quiet, Brutus! The last dragon who offered scholarly input was silenced mid-speech by your quivering sword hand, and I won’t have it again. Apologies, miss. Please continue.”
“As I was saying, the infusion of my innate magical aura gives the lightning penetrative properties, rendering most types of non-magical armor useless. In order to be truly repellant, you’d need some kind of enchantment.”
“You see, Brutus. That’s just one example of invaluable knowledge gained by taking a moment to listen. Brutus? Bah, what a useless dragonslayer! Can’t even handle one talon to the throat.”
April 5, 2015
Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans.
Tears run slow streams as She runs from the store.
Car door rips open, slams shut, waves Spectator’s hair nearby.
She screams, Spectator looks, She wails, Spectator looks away.
She bludgeons the dash with vicious swipes.
Her knuckles crack, the dash cracks, Her face cracks and floods.
Spectator watches—a helpless stranger watching helpless strange.
She clutches her phone, Her lifeline and torment, Her fingers flash over numbered keys.
The car and She sputter to life, screaming as they careen away.
Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans.
Eyes dry, cheeks puffed, She speaks to the man behind the counter.
Her voice shakes, her timbre shivers, and her words pierce Spectator’s ear.
She speaks, Spectator listens, She walks, Spectator walks behind.
Black Hair Lollipop and Long Hair Trucker Cap stand by.
Lollipop sucks, Trucker Cap speaks, She waits.
Spectator watches—a harmless watcher watching.
She clutches her television, Her gift and joy, Her smile splits shuddering sighs.
Her crew and She chatter and laugh as Spectator drifts away.
Curled, red hair covers pale, freckled skin under soft, brown blouse and ripped, blue jeans.
Her presence lingers where She does not.
Trucker Cap and Wife Beater dodge Spectator in the aisle.
Wife Beater points, She receives, He rages, She recoils.
He bludgeons the air with vicious swipes.
His knuckles crack, Spectator turns, Trucker Cap tries to still the waters.
Spectator watches—a puzzled stranger watching puzzle pieces fall.
Security trots past, toward Her screech and His voice, their eyes peeled wide.
Spectator disappears down the aisle, He and Them and They and She mixing in his mind.
November 24, 2015
“Are you serious?”
“A real, 100% functional teleporter.”
“Well, 100% may be an over estimate, but—“
“Can it teleport things?”
“Yes, theoretically, but I haven’t—“
“That’s amazing. Do you have it here?”
“I do, but I haven’t—“
“You have to show me. Where is it?”
“Rafael! I haven’t tested it! If my calculations are correct—“
“Of course they’re correct. You’re… you’re the thing with the science.”
“Yeah! You’re a space engineer! You probably had a hand in building my ship!”
“I almost certainly didn’t, unless the model is—“
“Well, you do stuff like that, and if I didn’t already own one, I’d be buying yours.”
“You hardly even know me!”
“Are you kidding? We’ve been friends for years.”
“We were friends years ago. It’s not—“
“Stay here. I’m going to get you some funding.”
“I don’t need funding, I need test—“
Rafael stood and hopped away from their table in the corner of the bar. Konogher swallowed his protests under a shot of whiskey. Rafael slipped into a cramped call booth. According to the schedules, direct connect was available, but the ships were moving out of range. He’d only have time for one call. He dialed. The phone signaled connection success.
“Hi Mom. Listen, I—“
“Is this an emergency?”
“Yeah, kind of, depending on what—“
“Are you in mortal danger?”
“Well, no, not—“
“Then why are you contacting me?! I made it abundantly clear that you are on indefinite suspension after—“
“Mom, you have to—“
“I don’t have to do anything for the child who messed up passive relay on a ship I gave him. Passive relay, Rafael! You plug in a server and fly where we tell you. You’re not man-handling the data packets. You’re not inputting data. I didn’t even realize—“
“Mom, you’ve said this already.”
“I didn’t even realize you could mess that up.”
“Mom, I… look, if you’d raise the engine output, the ship could handle two servers—“
“You mixed the relays, Rafael! The power ratings are there for a reason! Product ships have weight limits. Personal transport has population capacity. Neither of those are nearly so simple as ‘plug it in’, and yet my other captains seem to manage just fine.”
“I still think it’s a good business mo—“
“Good business?! You went to Titan! The gap between Jade Empire and those corporate money grubbers is the shortest since mankind made it to space, and you betrayed me. You took money from my competitors, and for what?”
“Double the efficiency, but that’s not the point! Mom, I’ve found—“
“Well, if it’s double the efficiency, it must be a—“
“Mom! I have a teleporter.”
Silence. Rafael couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d heard his mother manage it.
“Are you serious?”
“A real, 100% functional teleporter.”
“Yes! Well, it’s not been tested yet, but—“
“Come on, Rafael, is this what you called about?”
“Absolutely. You remember my friend, Konogher, from—“
“No, I don’t, and you’re suspended. Don’t call me.”
“Mom, I just need—“
Click. Rafael sighed, and checked the schedules again. He’d have to be quick. He dialed. The phone signaled connection success.
“Hi Mandy! Listen, I—“
Click. Rafael ran his fingers through his hair. In fairness, the Titan PR Director had also said not to call her, ever again, but this was important. His mother was set in her ways, but Mandy was open minded. He’d convinced her double servers was a good idea, mostly, so this was bound to peak her interest. Rafael had grown up in Jade Empire—and technically he was its heir—but healthy competition is good for everyone. He’d have to visit Mandy in person.
Rafael squeezed out of the call booth and trotted back to Konogher.
“Great news!” Rafael said, returning to his chair. “I’ve found someone who’s sure to invest, but she’s going to need confirmation of your teleporter’s capabilities.”
“I know, that’s what I was saying. I need—“
“You need testers, so what we’ll do is teleport me onto her ship, and—“
“Wait, are you—“
“And that’ll be enough demonstration to—“
“Wait!” Konogher yelled, smacking his palm on the table. The bar quieted; all eyes turned to him. He blushed. “Sorry, everyone. Sorry.” Once the normal bustle returned, Konogher turned back to Rafael. “Please, let me get out everything I need to say, then respond. Okay?”
“Thank you.” Konogher sipped his whiskey. “One, are you agreeing to test my machine? Two, if you are, there’s a mountain of documents you’ll need to sign and I’d rather do it in a lab where I can control things. Three, if you insist we test in the field—which I feel like you will—do you have permission to board her vessel unannounced like this?”
Rafael waited. Konogher exhaled, drained the last of his whiskey, and nodded.
“First, I’m absolutely going to test your machine. It’s going to revolutionize the interplanetary shipping industry for—literally—ever. Second and third, yes, no, yes, and I just called her so it’s hardly unannounced.” Rafael extended his hand over the table. Konogher eyed him for a moment, then shook Rafael’s hand.
Rafael hid in a closet. On one hand, he felt prior business partners should have free passage on Titan’s ships. His prior business was very much classified, but it was Mandy’s ship, and she was the one who’d buried it in the first place. On the other hand, the manner in which he’d arrived might be better revealed without security.
Rafael waited until the footsteps passed, then peeked out of the closet. Clear. He trotted down the hallway toward the cabins, checking labels as he went: Lead Pilot, Head of Security, Director of Public Relations. Bingo. He slipped inside and locked the door behind him.
Her cabin was nice: full bed, overhead storage, even a personal bathroom—the door of which opened in a cloud of steam. Mandy stepped out, noticeably naked apart from the towel she’d wrapped around her hair. She reached for the cabinets over her bed. Rafael politely cleared his throat.
“Ahem. Hi Mandy! Listen, I—“
Mandy shrieked, pulling the towel from her head.
“Yeah, sorry about that, listen—“
“Come on Mandy, don’t do th—“
“Why are you in my room?! How did you—“
“I teleported! That’s what I’m here—“
“Why are you naked?!”
“It’s part of the process, the teleporter—“
“—is only calibrated for human cellular data—“
There was a firm knock at the door, followed by a low, gravelly voice.
“Is everything okay, ma’am?”
“Yes, everything is fine! Listen, Mandy—“
“No, get in here! There’s an intruder!”
The door shook as an enormous fist struck the other side. Rafael moved away from the door toward Mandy.
“You must not have heard me. I have a teleporter! I teleported onto your ship from my ship over a kilometer away.”
“Rafael…” Mandy backed away, holding one hand between two of them and using the other to hold her towel over her body. The bracelet on Rafael’s wrist didn’t look like a weapon, but with him… “Stay back. You’re… I’m not sure what’s going on, but we’ll talk about it, once security-”
“Great! So you’re interested?”
Mandy glanced at the door as it shook under the impact of a heavy shoulder.
“Yes. Despite your abysmal track record and your mother’s death threats and the fact you’ve trapped me naked in my bedroom—I am, but I need my clothes—“
“Don’t bother. You can’t use them for this.”
Rafael leapt toward Mandy. The towel dropped as she raised both hands in defense. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulled her close, and pressed the button on his bracelet.
Rafael and Mandy tumbled out of the teleporter’s tiny capsule and spilled onto the floor. Konogher jumped up from his seat near the controls, and gasped.
“You brought her with you?” he said, wrapping his lab coat around her.
“Yeah! Human tissue only. I think she counts.”
“Wait, where am I?” Mandy asked, pushing her arms into the over-sized coat.
“You’re on my ship, and you got here by teleporting.” Rafael gestured to a large, glass capsule beside a tangle of wires and boxes, then to Konogher. “This is Konogher—lifelong friend, genius space engineer, and now, confirmed inventor.”
“Um, thanks. Do you want your—“
“His invention is going to revolutionize the interplanetary shipping industry.”
“Rafael, do you want your—“
Mandy stood, coat now cinched tight in semblance of a dress. Her eyebrows had returned from her hairline, but her eyes were still wide—now staring at the teleporter.
“Is this what you called me about?”
“Do you want your clothes?”
“Yes,” Rafael said. Konogher offered him a bundle, but Rafael stepped past. He pulled Mandy toward the machine. “Once Konogher builds another one—“
“—we’ll be able to hop between teleporters, but for now, it targets the nearest power source—in this case, your ship.”
“I’m not building another one of these. Do you have any idea how long—“
“How does it work?” Mandy asked, stepping away from Rafael toward the controls.
“It’s easy. Just step inside the capsule and press the button.”
“It’s not that simple. There’s an enormous amount of calibration still—“
“Then you press this button on the strap to bring yourself back. Imagine an enormous version of this, used to instantly transport terrestrial product from Earth to… wherever!”
“Rafael, it’s… I’m sorry, ma’am, he’s grossly oversimplifying the—“
“Can I see the wrist strap?” Mandy lifted Rafael’s hand and slid the bracelet off. Rafael smiled. Konogher’s eyebrows knit in confusion.
“You’re actually interested?”
“Of course. Kidnapping aside, this is amaz—“
“Wait, you kidnapped her?!”
Rafael held up his hands in defense.
“Kidnapping’s a strong word. I don’t think—“
Mandy leapt toward Rafael, shouldering him into the capsule. She smacked the console.
Rafael hid in a closet, a different one this time. He waited until the footsteps passed, then peeked out of the closet. Clear. He trotted down the hallways, checking labels as he went: Kitchen, Common Room, Call Booths. Bingo. He slipped inside and locked the door behind him. He dialed. The phone signaled connection success.
“Rafael, I swear—“
“I’m trapped on a Titan ship belonging to their Director of Public Relations, who is actually in charge of my ship at the moment, which includes a 100% functional, tested teleporter, the scientist who created it, and my clothes.”
Silence. Rafael cleared his throat.
“I think this is an emergency.”
May 24, 2015
You sit at the bottom of a well in the midst of an arid desert.
The depth holds a darkness the sun reaches only at its zenith.
The wet pulls at your clothes with a weight beyond your strength.
The stone bricks bruise your bones, leaving skin untouched.
What water remains is undrinkable.
What sunlight arrives carries no heat.
What sounds you manage go unheard.
Your clothes melt in the brine.
Your nails break, scrabbling on rock.
You’re really quite lucky.
There are those in the desert who’d kill for your water.
There are those in the desert who’d kill for your cold.
There are those in the desert, but you’ve never met them.
You’re well and truly alone.
If you could stand, there’s nowhere to go.
If you could climb, there’s nothing beyond.
If you could escape, there’s only another problem.
There was a time when you stretched.
There was a time when you screamed.
There was a time, once.
You can’t really remember it, Time.
You could summon a second wind, but where would it blow?
You could remember a loving friend, but where are they now?
You could keep living, but where would you be?
Sitting at the bottom of a well in the midst of an arid desert.
There are many types and degrees of depression. This is mine.
January 11, 2015
In the bottom of the trashcan, rolled into a ball, was a Skunk.
At least, he was reasonably sure he was a Skunk. He’d previously identified as Rabbit, but following a series of uncontrollable, odor-related incidents, he’d scrapped the idea.
His claws twitched, clinking against discarded cans.
If he was honest (as he often was), this discovery terrified him. A Skunk of all things!
He stretched his legs, wiggling his toes in the crumbs of a bag of crisps.
He could still follow the Rabbit motif. Extended mastication. Frequent copulation. Predatory death. It was all very simple. But he wasn’t a Rabbit. Not really.
He absentmindedly scratched an underarm itch, nudging aside a magazine.
He’d met Skunks. They were generally pleasant, but their lives consist primarily of ruining everyone’s olfactory glands. Honesty in mind (as it should be), he wasn’t really into that.
He flicked his tail, sweeping aside several business reports and bits of a broken cell phone.
He could stay here. It’s warm (usually) and cozy (if a bit cramped), and eventually the Machine would arrive and carry him off. But to where? The Land of the Stink? No-sir-ee.
His back-hairs bristled as a cold draft entered through a rusty hole.
A thought occurred.
How many Skunks were like him? Did they know?
He rustled the garbage.
He supposed he should, at the very least, notify them. It gave him something to do, and if he was honest (which he tried to be), the trashcan wasn’t particularly comfortable.
September 28, 2015
Pastiche Poem: Use the same punctuation and words per line as the original.
Original: [+ http://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/poems/komunyakaa/my_father%27s_love_letters.php+]
A woman sits inside a small cardboard box
In an alley in the rain,
With a man who shivers and thanks her and promises
A beautiful home to keep her
Warm and dry. The next day,
He grabs and stacks garbage
Bags. He fills the alley
Side to side, a fortress wall
To keep his lady safe, to keep her
Protected from the street thugs
And anything that might hurt her.
An elderly passerby threatens him
And his wall, a safety hazard
And an eyesore if he’d seen one
And it wouldn’t stand.
But the man worked for her
And only her: Sharer,
Helper, Muse, Companion.
He gave her a roof overhead
And soft floors beneath and in between,
Everything she needed…
The woman watched as smoke rose
From the cardboard top
Like a chimney
Pushing back the cold of winter.
Crackling fire stormed the walls
And melted their sides and broke them.
The woman listened to him
Scream within, pleading for her to come
Save him from his house
As he burned. The rain,
Returning to douse the city
And its people, washed the house
And the woman as she walked,
Face dry under her box, lit
Cigarette protected from a strangely persistent storm.
Indie Bard Short Stories is a collection of 23 short stories, poems, and scripts written between 2014 and 2016. They cover a range of genres: high concept, high fantasy, science fiction, thriller, comedy, tragedy, introspective, and more. This collection includes the following stories: A Tavern’s Watch Smuggling, Bubbles, Deca Ex Machina, DeKalb To Canal, Depression Ad Infinitum, Dreamscape: Drowning Strangers, Dreamscape: Unforgivable, Final Moments, Ghost Of A Man, Hunted, Impulse, Into The Deep (Comedy), Into The Deep (Tragedy), Killer Confession, Lonely Perspective, Panic Relay, Rogue’s Fate, Scholarly Discourse, Spectator, Teleport Authority, The Bottom Of A Well, To Be A Skunk, and Under The Rain.