Charles sat, his head resting awkwardly against the cool porcelain toilet bowl. A strand of vomit and saliva succumbed to gravity, landing in a growing pool on the few exposed tiles between Charles’s legs. He reached for and tore off a wad of toilet paper, dabbing half-halfheartedly at his open mouth. The words he had just heard wouldn’t leave his head.

Hey honey, guess what? I’ve got great news!

He made an attempt at standing but found his legs preferred the floor for the time being. A migraine moved down from his eyebrows to the space directly behind his eyes. His hands groped first for his second favorite orange bottle. After deciding that it was probably by the kitchen sink, the hand switched targets and honed in on the light switch. It made contact, hooked one finger around the plastic nub, and let gravity do the rest.

 

An hour ago Charles had been, in his mind, a different person. Before falling into his bed for a much needed nap, he would have told you, if you asked, that he could handle any reasonable problem that came his way. Now he sat on the eggshell tile floor in almost complete darkness. A bit of light from the life waiting outside the bathroom was creeping in under the door. Charles closed his eyes in an attempt make the light stop existing.

 

It was 5:30, give or take five minutes, when Charles removed his glasses and spread out across his bed. Light seeped through the curtain-less window and Charles soaked it all in. For the past week his only sleeping companion was a large stuffed dragon, won from a crane machine over the course of six drinks and a half hour.

On the bedside table was a poorly framed photograph from the night of the crane machine. In it was a woman, one hand out of the shot holding the camera, the other supporting the dragon by one of its four wings. Holding the other side of the stuffed animal was Charles, looking mildly drunk and very happy. The bottom of the picture frame had a rough, hand-made engraving: 7/5/2011

 

Charles double and triple checked the alarm on his phone. It was set to go off after ninety minutes.

In two and a half hours, the girl in the framed photo would be arriving at the train station. If you stepped into Charles’s apartment there would be no fewer than three reminders of this on any given surface.

Maybe that’s hyperbole.

The calendar pinned to the cork board on the bedroom door had today circled in red ink, like you might see in a movie. Under the circle, making the last week of the month useless, were the words K GETS HOME!, also in red ink.

 

Aside from the alarm and any incoming calls from two privileged contacts, the phone would remain silent. A white number in a red circle counted up the influx of unacknowledged emails for the day. On a normal day, Charles’s main priority, after making breakfast for himself and the woman in the picture, was keeping that number as low as possible. At least until lunch.

 

Charles heard a faint vibrating from just feet outside the door. Six, then seven buzzes. A moment of quiet, then a final buzz, taunting him and creating another new white number somewhere on the face of the phone.

Charles’s hand moved with purpose once again. Reaching above him now, it grasped a deep, royal purple towel and again let gravity bring it down.

The towel fell from its resting spot of seven days onto Charles’s head, draping part of itself on his left shoulder. In his mind he imagined how comfortable it might be to form into a pillow and lay down for the second time this night, this time, instead of a stuffed dragon, he could stare into the rubber face of his plunger.

He imagined this, but had neither the ability nor the desire to make himself more comfortable.

 

For the past three days Charles had eaten all his meals standing up. The table was set with a pair of candles, a bottle of expensive cheap wine, and a note – half typed, half handwritten. In the days between setting the table and now, Charles had slowly curated a playlist of, what he considered to be, the optimal music for the occasion.

Two hours before falling asleep he decided that music would clutter up the air too much, and stored it away for some other time.

 

The dream Charles had was a great one. One for the books, if he kept books of such things. Like all great dreams it left him feeling slightly hollow when he woke from it, though arguably less hollow than what it would have two years previous.

 

A moment after the towel settled in across Charles’s upper body, he felt something odd on the left side of his head. Something that most certainly was not a deep, royal purple towel. Something that most certainly was a folded piece of notebook paper. Formerly bound in a spiral.

 

Charles was trapped when his phone began buzzing erratically. Trapped between the comfort of a denim pillow and the soothing claws of the stuffed four-winged dragon.

After the first buzz he prayed that he had forgotten to silence texts. Something that he could, in good conscience, ignore. After the second buzz he entered into denial. It was just a part of the dream. Nothing to worry about. The third buzz finally received some validation, in the form of a disgruntled noise from Charles. The fourth buzz only lived half of its life before it was tragically cut off by a sleepy “Hello?”

 

The line of light under the door was joined by a new line of light. This one perpendicular, and widening quite rapidly. Charles tested his legs. The right one finally seemed willing to cooperate, though he was weary of the left, as it had been wedged under his weight for several minutes.

Charles slid one leg away from him, until it broke the bottom light line, eventually reaching a smaller, more manageable source of light than the one he had created by opening the door. The leg hooked around the phone and dragged it back. After two attempts it lightly thudded off the carpet and onto the tile. The same hardworking leg closed the door, plunging the room into mild darkness for the second time in four minutes.

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Shift

!

A centipede briskly maneuvered between the toes of a sleeping girl. It chased its prey up her ankle, finally skewering it between sharpened mandibles just as it reached her knee. The girl did not stir. If you came across her, you’d probably think her nothing more than a corpse. If you were living in a civilized world this occurrence would probably bother you, and you may make a ruckus. Fortunately for the girl, and probably unfortunately for you, the world is no longer civilized.

The girl’s name, in this case, is Mel. She last ate five days ago, is missing two fingers, is deaf in one ear, and hasn’t had a pair of shoes since she was ten. The deafness is inherited from her great-grandmother, who left nothing to Mel except for an MP3 player whose volume was stuck at high, and was filled with nothing but punk-rock and poorly written erotic Batman fan-fiction in audio format. Oh, and a katana.

Mel’s missing fingers consist of the middle finger on her left hand and the middle finger on her right hand. She lost these in a fight with a largemouth bass when she was thirteen. The bass had eaten half-a-dozen worms from her hook, and in her frustration she decided flipping it off was the best course of action. The bass, finding this extremely rude, abandoned the safety of the water and leapt mouth-first onto Mel’s raised finger. The bass had a brief moment of satisfaction before having its brains bashed in by a cinder block.

The other finger was lost a half-hour later due to a celebratory bottle of whiskey and a cleaver.

@

Mel awoke to a light tapping sound on the roof of her makeshift hut. First she felt annoyed. Why would someone be bothering what was clearly a very convincing corpse? When the tapping not only continued, but also increased in intensity, she panicked.

Rain!

The weatherperson hadn’t said there was rain in the forecast! The weatherperson of course didn’t know shit about how to predict the weather, as the weatherperson happened to be Mel. She bolted out from under the hut and began rummaging through her packs.

After a frantic minute of searching Mel produced a collapsible water bottle, a disposable filter, and a funnel. After setting the bottle up and making sure that it wouldn’t fall over, Mel retreated back to her shelter. The rain wasn’t acidic, but it certainly was not healthy, especially for hair. The last hard rain caused Mel to shave her head after clumps began falling out. She had only recently gotten back to a length that she could do anything with. As valuable as water was, her hair was far more important.

#

A purple splotch had formed three days ago under Mel’s right eye. It didn’t hurt to touch, but it seemed to quiver ever so slightly when exposed to bright lights. She decided the best course of action would to wrap it with bandages and hope it went away.

As stated earlier, Mel’s feet were bare. They had been bare for quite some time. The small toe on her left foot was especially bare, as the toenail had fallen off due to a harsh winter when she was fifteen.

As far as potential coverings for her feet, Mel had repurposed, discarded, or otherwise made unusable all that she came across. There were steel-toed boots that held a beehive for a season. Knee-high socks were torn apart, scattered among a gas mask, earrings, smoke bombs, and ravioli. Only one sock had survived that past decade. It was red, small, and had six reindeer (poorly) stitched into the sole. Mel had certainly attempted to destroy the hideous thing when she found it. She had been tripping on homemade acid at the time of first contact. It was in the drawer of a pine desk, in the corner of an executive’s office, on the third floor of a crumbling skyscraper, in a city that used to hold an annual celebration of a long deceased barn owl.

The sock, it turns out, teleports anyone who wears it to the main island of Japan. Mel has yet to put it on.

 

$

Mel wore a bow in her hair these days. She didn’t care much for how it looked, but it was the only bow she had come across her whole life, and was in almost brand new condition. She kept it on the off-chance that she ever crossed paths with someone who fancied bows. She kept it in her hair because it would take up far too much space in any of her packs.

 

%

Ten hours after being awoken by the rain, fourteen hours after having a centipede crawl up her leg, and eighty-seven hours after the purple splotch appeared, Mel was leaning over the railing in a parking garage stairwell, puking her guts out. The sounds that came from the stairwell could be heard from three blocks away, although no one heard them.

Mel had stumbled into an aquarium just hours before. Most of the tanks were broken, empty, or completely filthy, and all of the former inhabitants had long since died. Most of the tanks, but not all. The squid tank, situated in the basement next to the jellyfish exhibit, was fully operational. Only a few squid were still alive, but they had become plump and lazy. Mel hadn’t the slightest idea of how to cook them. She gave it her best shot, she can at least say that, but at the end of the day, they won.

 

^

Moisture flowed down Mel’s leg and onto the dark tile floor. She had gotten greedy. There was a working toilet in this building, one that she had used several times before. But this time there were people guarding it. Mel was not shy, but most people she had encountered in the past ended up trying to steal from or kill her. The matching leather jackets that they wore, embroidered with “CERTIFIED RAPIST”, did little to make Mel think they would be any different. She waited in the room across from the toilet. She could see them through a hole in the wall. She assumed that they would move any time, but they just stood there, as if programmed to do nothing other than guard the toilet from anyone seeking to relieve themselves in a civilized fashion.

Pants ruined, bladder empty, and temper rising, Mel unsheathed her sword, and marched purposefully towards the two men. One had a baseball bat, the other a screwdriver. Bat approached first, saying something that Mel couldn’t understand. The tone of his voice and expression on his face conveyed the meaning quite well though. Four feet behind Bat, Screwdriver cracked his knuckles. Mel would feel no guilt for what would happen in the next two minutes.

 

&

Mel sat with her back against the wall. Blood covered the majority of the bathroom. She thought a rib might have cracked, but the fresh pair of pants, functional screwdriver, and warm jacket that now read “RETIRED PACIFIST” were more than worth it. Her ear was ringing. It turns out Screwdriver had an air horn in his pocket. He blasted it several times before Mel could disarm him.

It took five minutes before Mel heard anymore voices or footsteps. She wasn’t sure if Screwdriver had been using the horn as a message or a weapon. Turns out it was both.

Who were these people? Why had she never seen them before now? She could hear six distinct voices headed her way, there’s no way a group this big could be in the city for this long without crossing her path.

Mel attempted standing, slumped back down, and attempted once more. She used her sword as a crutch, moving out of the bathroom and into the hall. She had half a minute to make a choice, if she were lucky. She could make a run up the stairs, lose these people in the cubicles and offices upstairs, and then leave town when the sun went down. Or, she could put on the sock. After five seconds of deliberation, Mel’s laziness (although she will claim it was her sense of adventure) won out.

Mel disappeared from sight, not in the blink of an eye like she expected, but in the slow closing of the eye of a drunken frat-boy who is desperately trying to stay awake, because he knows when he dreams, the booze and sex will be gone, replaced by the nightmare of his reality. He knows he is going nowhere in life, and rather than fix it, he sinks further into debt, and continues a lifestyle that will kill him. Unless he kills himself first.

That is how Mel disappeared.

 

*

Rows of shelves lay flat on the ground, pools of liquid and slime puddled around them. Mel marched up and down each row, gently lifting brains off of the floor, picking out shards of glass before tossing them into a burlap sack.

The shelves had stood, proudly untipped, with glass jars resting on them, proudly un-shattered, for years. The brains floating inside the jars had been hooked into a Japanese super-computer since the end of the civilized time. They were originally charged with the task of solving Japan’s energy problems, a problem that became much simpler when the population dropped into triple digits. Having accomplished their primary purpose, the brains split their focus between logarithmic calculus and particle physics during the week, and the translation of hentai into a series of increasingly complex languages on the weekends.

Mel ate like a queen for a month after the brain incident. She collected two dozen to sustain her for the coming weeks, planted three as an offering to whatever god had led her to such a bountiful feast, and left two shelves standing, as an emergency supply.

The two remaining shelves, realizing that their computational power had been reduced to a fraction of what it was, altered their weekly plan: Every week for the foreseeable future would be dedicated to revenge.

The third Sunday of each month would still be used to translate hentai.

 

(

Mel came back into existence as slowly as she left it. Time and space flowed around her like alphabet soup and semen, things she had very limited experience with, and neither of which she particularly enjoyed at the time. Visions of brains and shelves filled Mel’s mind, and an intense hunger grew in her stomach.

These visions passed after several minutes, allowing the Japanese countryside to come into focus. The sock had disappeared, leaving an imprint of six reindeer across Mel’s ankle. She swore profusely at the new tattoo, contemplating cutting off the offending foot. Before she could come to a decision however, the universe, in a completely unoriginal use of tropes in fiction, gave Mel a severe nosebleed, and forced her to pass out.

Seeing its “Fuck with Time Travelers” quota filled for the day, the universe promptly returned to shitting all over some endangered species of space goose.

 

)

In the grand scheme of things, the gods have been much more successful at killing humans than humans have been at killing gods. But Mel didn’t care about the grand scheme. In her mind she was ahead. In her two-ish decades of life Mel had killed exactly one god, and the whole shamble of gods had killed exactly zero Mels.

In her travels Mel had encountered three gods. One existed as a hole in the road in Mel’s hometown. This particular god remained docile, eating whatever happened to drunkenly stumble into it. The third god gave Mel a sweet-sixteen present in the form of a set of prosthetic middle fingers. While Mel treasured the thoughtfulness of the gift, she had grown accustomed to her eight-fingered lifestyle. She still wore one of the fingers on a necklace, and had given the other one to a raccoon.

The second god is the one that Mel killed.

It happened about two and a half hundred weeks prior to the brain incident, in the bathroom of a strip-club/movie-theater somewhere in the Midwest. Mel was passed out on the blood-stained floor after a month long binge of crack cocaine, speed, and Vicodin. Mel was slumped up against the south wall of the bathroom for five days, an IV drip keeping her alive while her body worked overtime to flush out everything that contaminated it. During these five days, Mel dreamt up an entirely different life for herself.

Blatant Lies

The pills sat on the desk, where they had been sitting for the past week. Dan eyed the bottle from across his bedroom.

Not tonight. We can get through tonight.

“FUCKING WHORE!”

A scream from down the hall.

Dan winced, turned back to the TV in the corner of the room. Not tonight.

On his desk, alongside the unopened bottle of mystery pills, was a laptop and a broken pair of headphones. High-quality, noise-cancelling headphones. Dan had broken them, on accident, a few weeks ago. They had been a birthday gift from his sister, along with the TV and PlayStation that were now struggling so desperately to keep his mind off of the screams. And the pills.

If we get through tonight, things will be better in the morning.

They usually were. This sort of thing happened every few weeks. The screaming that is. Not mysterious pills given by a mysterious middle aged woman. That was new.

More than anything, Dan wished his headphones weren’t broken.

In the past, whenever the screaming and shouting started he could retreat to his sister’s room. After she moved out last year her room was converted into an oversized storage closet. The last time Dan was in there he thought he saw a spider eating a stray cat.

The TV screen displayed GAME OVER for the umpteenth time. The pill bottle was in Dan’s hand without him knowing exactly how it got there.

He hadn’t left his chair, had he?

The pills have that effect sometimes. They can work retroactively, messing with a person’s mind before they take them.

Dan tossed the bottle behind him in the general direction of the desk. The sound of plastic on wood told him he hit his target, and a few moments later the softer sound of plastic on carpet told him he would have to find the bottle before morning.

 

Three events finally broke Dan down. Three events all happening within a few seconds of each other. First, Dan lost once again in the game he was playing. Second, the song he was listening to through shitty earbuds ended. Both of these things resulted in a moment of silence. Third, a shriek from down the hall, followed closely by the slamming of a door and the breaking of glass.

Without thinking, Dan strode calmly to the corner of his room. After a moment of groping under the desk he found the bottle. In seconds it was open and pills were in the palm of his trembling hand. A brief moment of lucidity reminded Dan that the woman had also given him dosage information. She had been very clear that he follow the directions. Those directions were still in Dan’s backpack, which was in the kitchen, which, as luck would have it, was down the hall. He thought for a moment about going out there.

Another scream made up Dan’s mind for him.

 

If anyone had decided to enter Dan’s room in the next half hour they would have found him twitching on the floor in a puddle of his own urine. If they had entered in the half hour after that they would have found him cowering on the bed, determined to not let the things on the floor touch him.

Approximately ten minutes after this phase Dan would get up, go calmly to the bathroom that was adjacent to his room, and begin writing letters on the mirror with his own blood. He was of course only following the directions of the dark thing on the other side of the mirror.

Before passing out on his bed, Dan opened five different music applications on his laptop, set them to all play different songs, and turned up the volume till his speakers began to crackle. If Dan had the ability or desire to speak to anyone at the time, he would have said it was the most beautiful sound in the world.

The Chicken or The Egg?

Two men stand over the corpse of a dead girl.

One of them was eating pancakes at a 24-hour diner.

The other was snorting coke with a prostitute.

In front of them now is the body of Stacy Roberts. Above them is the sixth-story roof that she was pushed from.

The first man’s watch reads 3:06 AM. The second man’s watch has both hands pointed up.

The men do not know each other, or the girl. They both wear collared coats to protect against the autumn air.

The man with the digital watch lights a cigarette, replacing the lingering smell of maple syrup on his breath with the stench of tobacco.

The man with the analog watch accepts a cigarette from the man with the digital watch.

They smoke in silence, each taking care to not let any ash fall on the body.

The man who exchanged money for company reaches into the girl’s pocket, extracting her phone.

The men both look at the phone. The phone rings. The caller ID says ‘Dad’.

The man whose eyes are bloodshot hands the phone to the man who is balding.

The man with the thick-framed glasses answers the phone and listens. He nods for dramatic effect. He hangs up.

The man who holds the phone slips it into his pocket while the man who doesn’t retrieves an envelope from his own.

The man who has a wife and kids hands the envelope to the man who was always too busy to settle down.

The man who has never been on a plane counts the contents and nods, again for dramatic effect, while the man who has never ridden a train looks at his still broken watch.

Both men leave in silence as a light rain begins to fall and a raccoon takes a half-eaten burrito from the dead girl’s hand.


 

Thanks for reading. If you want to read other things I have written, check out  this article, or break into my room and steal my class notes. Both are rad!

Cold (Part 1)

Sounds like a lot of garbage if you ask me…”

“No one was asking you grandpa. Now could you quiet down, I want to hear what they’re saying.”

Lenny turned the TV up, anticipating what the woman on the screen would say next.

“We received this transmission late last night at the Rocky Mountain Galileo Observatory.” Bianca Reutuer paused, took a drink of water, then continued: “The signal was also received from many of our partner observatories around the world. We are collaborating with leading world experts to gather more information as to what the signal might mean.”

“See! They don’t know anything, now go play so I can get back to the game.” Lenny’s Grandpa had taken back the remote from a transfixed Lenny. Lenny prepared to protest, thought better of it, and went outside to get his dog.


 

If Bianca could hear Lenny’s grandpa 4,000 miles away, she probably wouldn’t disagree. They had no clue what the signal was. The only thing that they were certain of was where it originated. Hell, saying ‘certain’ was a stretch.

Oh Lord, here comes the carnival.

Several news reporters and bloggers were pushing past the security rope to try to ask questions. Everyone wanted the exclusive soundbite that would reveal just how much the government was or was not hiding from the public.

Bianca turned to face the approaching crowd, clearing her voice to make a statement.

“The memo for this announcement specifically said that we would not be answering questions.” She paused a moment, looking over the faces, some disappointed, others sneering, already thinking how they would spin this against her. “Especially from people like you.” She pointed a finger at a man near the back, trying to hide now behind his phone. His name was Jeremy Moye. He had written more spin pieces and flat-out lies about Bianca’s department than anyone else in the press. She had no idea why.

Before anyone could protest further Bianca turned, swiftly walking toward her office.


 

Lenny reached into the cookie jar, keeping his eyes on his grandpa, now asleep in his chair.

Drat, he moved them…

Lenny hopped down from the stool, returning it to its proper corner by the stairs.

“Come on girl, let’s see what Frank and Tee are up to.”

Lenny, wrapped in his warmest coat, headed out the back door. He left a note on the table when his grandpa woke up.

The Alaskan air hit Lenny’s face just as hard as it had for the past three years. He grew up in New Mexico, but because of his father’s job, they had to move here. He didn’t really know what his father’s job was. Something to do with studying the environment or oil or something. The only thing that Lenny and his grandpa agreed on was that Lenny’s father had no business being in Alaska. Of course they both had different reasons for their feelings.

After ten minutes of walking, with one break to throw a frozen bone for Sasha, Lenny could finally see the lights of Frank’s house.

Frank was a fisherman’s son, a year younger than Lenny. He was Lenny’s first friend after they moved to Alaska. Frank lived in a modest house. There was a small basement that could only be accessed from outside. This is where Lenny spent most of his time when he wasn’t in school.

Lenny let himself in, first checking the main floor. No sign of Frank or his father. The lights were on though, so they must just be downstairs. Lenny took a moment to grab a glass of orange juice for himself and a fresh bone for Sasha. Frank’s dad loved Sasha. He said that she reminded him of his own childhood dog, so she was always welcome whenever Lenny came over.

Sasha, content with her bone settled into a corner in the kitchen. Lenny, content with his orange juice headed back out to the basement door.

The basement consisted of two rooms: the main room, currently occupied by three space heaters, an old CRT television, a Nintendo 64, a bag of potato chips, and one human named Tee. The second room was a small bathroom, which had been occupied for the past half hour by another human, this one named Frank.


 

Bianca shuffled some papers around on her desk, partly to get things organized for tomorrow and partly to look busy. Her boss, Isaac Rickson, was standing just outside her office. A quick look at her watch told Bianca that she only needed to get through another 45 minutes. She had already told Isaac that she would be coming in late tomorrow. It was the New Year after all, she had plans tonight, and nothing, not even a garbled alien signal would get in her way of enjoying herself tonight.

“Hey, Bianca, good work on the announcement.” Isaac had finished with whoever he had been talking to outside, and had let himself into Bianca’s office.

“Thanks.” she replied, unenthusiastically. Bianca knew that Isaac only came into her office when he needed something done. Something that, in this case, would probably keep her at work for another three hours.


 

Don’t eat the potato chips. Frank thinks something is wrong with them.”

“There is something wrong with them! I haven’t been sitting here for the last hour by choice!”

“It’s only been 30 minutes you baby!” Tee threw the half empty bag of chips at the bathroom door.

Tee was Lenny’s age. Her full name was Theresa. She was half Inuit, half Russian.  She and Frank had grown up together, their fathers both worked on the same fishing boat. And she quickly became Lenny’s second friend.

Lenny picked up the crumpled bag of chips, cautiously removing one, and, after smelling it, ate it. Tee looked mildly amused.

“Well, I hope you don’t mind running back into the cold when your bowels give out. Frank is probably gonna be in there for another hour.”


 

 

See you tomorrow night Benny!” Bianca waved to the night-shift security guard as she walked to her car. He was cute, and she wouldn’t mind staying to talk if it were any other night. But tonight she had plans.

Her sister had gotten married just last month. Bianca couldn’t make it to the wedding. There weren’t any hard feelings. Bianca had deadlines to meet that couldn’t be pushed back any further, and the price of a plane ticket to London and back was more than she wanted to spend at the time.

Instead they agreed that after Jill had gotten settled into married life, she would take some time to see Bianca. They would celebrate her marriage the same way they celebrated all their major life accomplishments together: cheap alcohol and dumb television.

Jill had arrived in town around noon. She had a key to Bianca’s house, and had visited twice before, about a year ago. This meant she knew where all the best liquor stores were, and therefore was in charge of preparing for the party. If you could call it a party. Two women getting drunk and watching Battlestar Galactica reruns is not what most would consider a party, especially on New Year’s Eve.


 

 

So did either of you see the announcement about aliens today?” Lenny waited till Frank finished clearing out his stomach to bring up the topic.

“Nope” and “Nuh-uh” were their responses. A moment passed before Frank asked “what happened?”

“My grandpa kept complaining, so I couldn’t hear it all, but I guess observatories and listening station all over the world picked up an alien signal.”

“Did they play it?” This time Tee was asking the question.

“Yeah, but it just sounded like a bunch of static and garbled noise”

“Hmm…so what do you think of it?”

“I dunno.” Lenny’s enthusiasm was draining as he realized there wasn’t much to be said about the announcement.


 

 

So you just stayed?” Jill paused her interrogation as she downed another beer. “You need to stand up to that jerk. Spending time with your big sis is much more important than whatever project he has you doing now.”

“He isn’t a jerk. Just a workaholic, and he expects that the rest of us are too. Which to be fair to him, I normally am.” Bianca took a swig of her drink. “Besides, it doesn’t matter now, we’re both here, and th-”

Bianca was cut off by a loud ringing coming from her pocket. Her phone. It took her a moment to figure out why it was ringing and not vibrating. She never had the ringer on. She then remembered that emergency calls were set up to always ring.

“Hello?”

“Bianca? Thank God.” It was Isaac. “You’re the only person who has answered”

Bianca was about to ask what was so important, but Isaac didn’t give her time.

“There’s a fire at the lab. Are you sober enough to drive up here?”

“Umm…” She glanced at the beer bottles scattered on the table and floor “…not exactly.”

“Fine. It’s fine,” Isaac seemed to be talking to himself as much as Bianca now. “I’ll come get you. Benny can keep things under control here till we get back. You still live on East Maple, right?”

“Yeah, but I-” CLICK

“That your boss again?”

“Yeah, a fire at the office. I don’t know what use I’m gonna be, but…” Bianca trailed off as she put on her hat and coat.

Jill, seeing how shaken up her sister was, didn’t protest. “I’ll just crash on the couch then. See you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.” Bianca stepped outside to wait for Isaac. She looked for any reports on the fire on her phone, but no such luck.


 

 

Sasha had disintegrated her bone and was fast asleep by the time Lenny, Frank, and Tee came up for more food. Frank stood in front of the fridge while Tee juggled golf balls and Lenny watched.

“What are you hungry for?”

“What do you got?”

“Ham, pizza, wait, no. Not pizza.” Lenny heard several slices of pizza go into the trash. “Chicken nuggets, some waffles…That’s about it.”

“Chicken is fine with me” Tee replied.

“I second that” Lenny said, joining Tee in juggling, although doing a much poorer job at it.


 

 

Bianca, escorted by a fireman, gathered her things from her office putting them into a box. The fire was only in the basement, but the fire department hadn’t finished assessing the structural damage that it may have caused. She didn’t mind the escort. There was nothing she had that was classified, at least not in plain view. Some of the files on her hard drive had important info. Projects and papers that were not yet published. Data that, if a competitor got it, would set Isaac’s team back several months and almost a million dollars in paychecks and research funding.

She looked over the room once more, making sure she hadn’t missed anything. She generally kept her office fairly clean. Most of her work lived on the computer, and she wasn’t too big on personal decorations. There was a picture of her and Jill at Jill’s graduation from university, and an old cigarette lighter. She hadn’t smoked since moving to the states, but she kept the lighter, just in case.

Isaac looked relieved when Bianca returned, box in her arms, with the fireman close behind. She knew him too well to know he didn’t care about her, but about the hard drive that was safely in the box. No, that wasn’t fair. He cared about his team, but he had no reason to be concerned about her now. All that mattered was that their work was safe.

“You reckon this is related to what y’all reported on today?” This was the first time the fireman, Leland, the name tag on his uniform read, had spoken to Bianca. “I saw the announcement. Something about an alien signal?”

“I, uhh, I doubt it. Plenty of people have the signal now. It wasn’t a particularly isolated incident. And we have other more valuable work.”


 

 

Guys, I think we should start heading back. The chicken is going to be done soon, and my dad said-” Frank was cut off by a snowball whizzing by his face. “Hey! Not cool!”

Another snowball, this one thrown too hard, went over Frank’s head. Lenny and Tee waited to see if Frank would retaliate. He glared at them for a moment, turned around, and started following their tracks back to his house. Tee glanced at Lenny, shrugged, then continued in the opposite direction.

Lenny weighed his options. Frank had food, and his house had much needed warmth, but he couldn’t let Tee wander around out here alone, especially in the dark.

“Tee! Wait up!”


 

 

This was the second time Bianca had to talk to the press today. They kept trying to get her to reveal something juicy about the fire.

“How far does this set you back?”

“Will repairs be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets?”

“Was it an accident or intentional?”

“Who might be responsible?”

Bianca had answers for most of these:

A month, probably. No, insurance and private investors would cover the cost. Intentional.

But “No comment” was all she said out loud.

On the way over Isaac told her what he knew so far. The fire was started by some sort of improvised explosive lodged under one of the lab tables. Benny hadn’t let anyone into the building after Bianca left. Security footage confirmed this, and showed no sign of someone breaking in anywhere else in the building. This meant that the bomb was placed there earlier in the day, possibly earlier in the week, no one was sure yet.

What bothered both Isaac and Bianca the most was that last question. Who was responsible? Neither had any idea.


 

 

Lenny saw it first, a soft glow hovering in the air. It was hard to tell how far away it was, but both Lenny and Tee were determined to see what it was. Frank was much more reluctant. The chicken would be done before long, and it was dark and cold outside.

Lenny was having second thoughts after Frank decided to turn back. Tee kept going though, either out of curiosity or stubbornness, Lenny didn’t know which. He suggesting going back a few times, at one point stopping to see if Tee would stop or even notice if she were suddenly walking alone. Her stubbornness won out though and Lenny caught back up.


 

 

Frank tried dismissing the light, he wanted to believe that it was the Northern Lights, but he knew that this was something different. The way it pulsed and shifted in the air was not natural. He tossed another chicken nugget to Sasha and nervously glanced out the window.


 

 

We can’t even see Frank’s house anymore. And we aren’t getting closer to this thing either.” Lenny gestured at the light, his voice a mix of anger and fear. “Let’s just go back, get something to eat, and we can worry about this tomorrow if it’s still here.”

Tee silently agreed and turned around, pointed her flashlight at their footprints, and started the trek home. Lenny, feeling relieved, turned to follow. He took three steps before vanishing.


 

 

Isaac’s apartment was smaller than Bianca’s house, which surprised her, as she figured he made at least double what she did. She kept these thoughts to herself while he made coffee for them both.

“Sorry to interrupt your celebration. You said your sister is in town?”

“Yeah, but she will probably end up staying for a week or two, so it’s not a big deal.”

Bianca found the TV remote and began flipping between channels, curious to see if the fire was being reported anywhere. She stopped on a 24-hour news channel when a headline caught her eye.

THREE CHILDREN MISSING IN ALASKA

On the screen were pictures of the children, along with their names and ages:

Franklin Ernmill, 12

Theresa Kennedy, 13

Leonard Migson, 13

The Christmas Splooge

Pietro, armed only with a rusty fork, half a pack of cigarettes, and the clothes on his back, takes to the streets. Most of the city is busy preparing feasts and exchanging gifts. Even many of Pietro’s ilk, what the rest of the city refers to as “The Homeless Problem”, have found a shelter or soup kitchen to stay for the night. Pietro envies them. They know not what horror comes to the city. If Pietro does his job right, they will not know for many years to come.

In the Old Language, the creature is known as _____, but Pietro has come to calling it the Christmas Splooge, due to its viscous, creamy appearance. The first sign of its arrival is obvious. Really, you couldn’t miss it. Every year, without fail, the Christmas tree outside town hall combusts. Every year it is blamed on faulty wiring. In reality, this is the Splooge crossing into our plane.

Most beings that want to come in to town take the highway. This sets the Splooge apart from most beings. It is a drama queen. This has also been Pietro’s only advantage for the past decade.

The combusting of the tree starts a countdown. A countdown that lasts exactly nine minutes and two seconds. Pietro doesn’t know whether this time is significant in any way, and he doesn’t particularly care to know. He just cares about doing his job.

He stands outside a small deli, eyeing a particularly old looking sandwich. He figures he can strike a deal with the manager, she always seems to appreciate what he does to keep the block clean. However before he can enter, sirens fill the air around his ears, followed closely by their source: a crimson fire truck.

“Motherfu-” Pietro stops himself mid swear as a mother and her young child hurry past. He tries giving them a friendly smile, but it comes off more as creepy than friendly. He can never catch a break, Splooge decided to come early this year. He breaks into a jog, unlit cigarette in danger of falling out from between his lips. He lost his lighter a few nights ago in a bet with Eddie, another vagrant. Luckily for Pietro, he knows where Mason, a non-vagrant, keeps his weed reserves, and there is usually a spare lighter in with it. It is a block out of the way, giving the Splooge a few minutes head start, but there was no way Pietro was going to fight Splooge without a goddamn cigarette. He tried that two years ago. It was awful.


 

Fifteen minutes later Pietro arrives at the freshly extinguished tree, reeking of tobacco and cheap marijuana. The mayor and fire chief are sharing a laugh out in the snow. After all these years, the combustion of the tree has become tradition for them. Idiots.

Pietro knows that he is running late for the second sign. It may have already happened. If so, this night is going to be a hell of a lot harder. With most of town hall’s staff either gathered outside, or already home, Pietro has no trouble walking in and up the service stairs to the roof. The brisk air whips at his neck. He wishes now that he hadn’t given away his scarf to Layla. She probably sold it for her daily dope fix anyway.

Two cigarettes later Pietro decides he has missed the second sign. Oh well, not the first time this has happened. He turns back to the stairwell door when he hears it. A grin spreads across his face and he lights another cigarette in celebration. The sound is nearly impossible to describe. When Pietro drunkenly tells someone about it he describes it as “how I imagine deaf people imagine firecrackers”. Most people have long since stopped listening to him by this point.

The sound is coming from the East. This means that the Splooge is somewhere in the West, possibly North, but probably West. Pietro secures his remaining five cigarettes in his pants pocket, throws the pack off the roof onto the sidewalk below and heads for the stairs.

“This time I’ve got him. I’ll take care of this in an hour and still be able to get a bite to eat somewhere pleasant.” Pietro tells himself this almost every year. He has too. He has to believe that this time things will go a bit better. He learns something new each year after all. Last year it was that the Splooge can control people’s minds, but only if the street that they are on contains exactly two vowels. The Splooge is fucking dumb.

A twenty minute walk later, Pietro finds his first clue that the Splooge is nearby. There are shadows moving in the street and alleys. Shadows that have no owners. Either that, or the owners of the shadows are invisible. Either way, the Splooge is behind it. Pietro glances at the street sign: Om Str et.

Damn.

Damn damn.

The first ‘e’ is missing from Street. Pietro figured he best be on his guard. While the name technically has three vowels, the sign only displays two. This is probably good enough for the Splooge, or whoever gives it its powers.

He waits. He waits for it to make the first move. He waits for it to show itself. Except it doesn’t. Instead a young boy comes out from a house. He isn’t any older than Pietro’s own daughter, probably fourteen or fifteen. Pietro pushes the thought of his family out of his head. He has time to cry for them later. Not now though.

The boy approaches and, with a voice that cannot possibly belong to him, speaks: “Hello Peter. It has been too long.”

In the time that it takes the boy to say this he is within lunging distance of Pietro. His grip on his fork tightens.

“Leave these people out of this _____, you tried it last time. It didn’t work then.”

The boy changes into a bookshelf and pounces at Pietro. This…is unexpected. Pietro sidesteps. Bookshelves are tricky. They have very limited mobility in the air, but their recovery time, as well as swivel speed is unnatural.

Pietro makes a break for an alley. If he can trip the shelf up, get it stuck in a dumpster perhaps. That will save the boy and remove one headache from tonight. Getting to the alley isn’t hard, but the shelf stays at the edge of it, rocking from side to side, daring not to approach Pietro on his home turf.

Pietro takes this opportunity to light a new cigarette. Only two left. Some must have fallen out, or he stopped paying attention to how many he was smoking a while ago.

After a moment of semi-awkward silence the shelf seems to chuckle to itself. Pietro’s eyes narrow, trying to figure out where this fucking shelf gets off. Pietro’s question is answered almost immediately when something heavy knocks into his back, catching him flat footed, and nearly knocking him to his knees.

Pietro turns 180 degrees, now face-to-face with a washing machine.

“Jesus…” Pietro sighs. Washing machines generally only have one good hit in them. After this they tend to take several minutes before even moving. Pietro stabs the fork into the top of the machine, leaving it in there for good measure. If this is the sort of thing that the Splooge has in store tonight, then a fork isn’t going to be much more good.

Turning around reveals that the shelf has retreated back into the street. As soon as Pietro sees it, it turns back into a boy, and as soon as it turns back into a boy, it falls to the ground.

What happens next is not pleasant. The Splooge is not kind to its meals. It does not follow any rules of decency. It is quick however. The Splooge comes in from the right side of the street, where it had been waiting, just out of Pietro’s sight. It then hovers mere inches above the boy. The boy’s nervous system is removed instantaneously. It settles first at the top of the Splooge, then slowly forms the words “Hello Peter, Merry Christmas” in comic sans font.

“Bastard” Pietro mouths. “Let’s end this.”

Pietro has no idea how his last cigarette has gotten into his mouth, or how it lit itself, but he doesn’t care. He is just glad to have its sweet aroma before he metaphorically dives into the literally mass of goo.


 

Planets whip by. They are the size of marbles. Pietro lands in an infinitely large white landscape. Before him are shapes, similar to what a baby may play with. The shapes are massive, and miniscule, at the same time. He touches one. A cube. It is the absolute worst feeling that any human has ever felt. The edges are too real. They dwarf him, and he is scared of crushing them.

The shapes are replaced by a long hallway. Pietro has no time to look behind him, but he knows an alligator is chasing him, eating the floor behind him. He must run. The end of the hallway is a chasm. Yellow fog is at the bottom. The hallway continues about fifteen feet in front of him. He knows that he won’t make the jump. But he tries anyway.

A field. Jolted awake. Pietro hears laughter. A young woman. He does not recognize her, but immediately knows he loves her.

“You’re silly” she says, lying next to him in the tall grass. “Let’s follow the path a bit more, maybe we can get home in time to see a movie.”

Hours pass in the span of a few minutes. Everything, all of the worries, all of the pain, is all gone. This moment is perfect. She grabs his hand as they enter a movie theater. Joy.

The movie starts. Pietro hears shouting. He is in his bed. No, he is in a bed, but does not recognize it. Nor does he recognize the shouting voices. Upon closer listening, only one voice is shouting. The other is pleading; crying.

Pietro is back in the theater. He knows that it won’t last much longer. He tries to hold onto the feeling for a moment more, but decides to let it go.

Awake now, in the strange bed. Crying. No shouting though. A bottle of pills on the desk, half empty now. A shadowy man is in the mirror, in the bathroom, writing letters in blood. Pietro sees it happening without having to leave the bed. He sees another taller shadowy figure at the end of the hall. He suddenly realizes how thirsty he is, but knows that the water is in the closet at the end of the hall.


 

Pietro finally jolts back to reality. He is crying in the alley, slumped against the washing machine. Turns out it was a young woman, probably in her early twenties. She is passed out, but still alive. Pietro wipes away the tears, searches for a cigarette to no avail. He finally recognizes the alley. He has porn hidden here somewhere. After a few minutes searching through garbage cans he finds it: the 1989 Christmas issue of Quackers.

Pietro exits the alley onto the street where he did his battle. The Splooge is gone. Defeated for another year. Pietro’s mind goes back to his family for a moment. He imagines them huddled around a fire right now, his daughter might have a boyfriend by now, and her mother has probably found a better job since he left. These thoughts bring more tears to his eyes, and he quickly casts them aside with another glance at the filthy magazine. Another year complete. Just a few more to go.

Bubbles: Part 1 (of 1 (for now))

Okay, so the bubbles have stopped, right?

Correct.

And you still have air? How much?

I don’t know, probably thirty seconds. Maybe forty.

Rad. There’s no way he’s going to keep holding you for that long.

You’d better be right about this. I have plans tonight. Tonight would be a really bad time to die. And not just for me. It would really inconvenience quite a few other people.

I dunno man, I’ve heard that drowning is peaceful, like euphoric or something.

…Are you even listening? I’m not saying that I am upset with the method of dying, it’s the timing. The timing is just horrible.

Oh, well-

But for the record, I don’t care how euphoric it may be, drowning sucks. Just ask the guy on the floor over there.

Fine. Point taken. Can I talk now?

Yeah, go for it.

Okay, well it’s been ten seconds. Any change on the big guy’s grip?

Nope. He’s still doing his thing, holding me here.

Hmm, maybe this wasn’t the best plan of action.

If you have another idea, I would love to hear it. We tried the struggling thing for about five seconds; that didn’t get us anywhere. Did you get a good look at the guy on the floor? He was probably twice my size, and based on all the water on floor, he struggled the whole time.

Hmm…how are we doing on air?

Probably twenty seconds left. Though I may start struggling again soon.

Understandable.

Wait, I think I feel something. Rather I feel the lack of something, namely our mystery assailant’s grip.

Awesome. Now I vote we wait for a few more seconds, if at all possible. Give him enough time to vacate the room.

I agree.

Hmmm…Okay, I think you are clear.

Here goes nothing

He’s gone!

High-five Mr. Voice-in-My-Head! We’re alive!


Thanks for reading

If you enjoyed this, I recommend checking out the writing of Chris Bucholz on Cracked.com. I used a similar style to what he does in some of his columns, and he does it better!