Monday, October 31, 2011

190/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "A Familiar Taste" by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross from The Social Network soundtrck

Ren faltered and tripped down the sidewalk--the window of a specialty meat shop pitched towards him--his head hit the glass and he slid into a heap below a row of red duck cadavers. He sweat profusely; his head pulsed and his nerves were aflame. Cars passed, grinding gears because it was fashionable, their electric engines humming, their tires sloshing up stagnant rainwater. Passersby ignored him, walking in their rubber suits and folded neon umbrellas, hiding behind augmented visors that gave them all the information they ever wanted but shielded them from what was right in front of them. Ren tried to spit out the bitter metallic taste leftover in his mouth from the last hit, but only managed to get spittle on his jacket.

The night ended abruptly. The passersby stopped and gawked at the sudden light from the clouds above. Ren slowly, painfully, rotated his head to watch. The light split into two, and both filled the gap between the buildings. The lights cycled indigo, scarlet, amber, then white. They went dark, then blinked on rapidly, then repeated, strobing. People screamed. People ran. They fled from their cars into the cracks between the buildings. There was a white heat, searing. Vomit rose in Ren's throat. He scrabbled for a handhold to pull himself to his feet. His stomach lurched. He stood, then careened into the road and slammed into a posh black car, draping himself unintentionally over the hood.

The clouds separated, like water before the bow of a swiftly sailing boat, and the lights probed nearer, on stalks of metal that jutted from the hull of a craft that dug and cleaved the skyline, sundering great chunks of concrete and glass and rebar from their edifices and sending them plunging hundreds of feet to the street below. Ren gasped and covered his skull feebly, afraid. The lights converged and brightened, searching the ground, and finding Ren helpless.

The light corkscrewed into Ren's mind, finding the right paths, navigating the maze of neurons, mapping. In an instant, Ren knew calm, as if he had always known it for every moment of his existence--no longing, no guilt, no craving. Calm. His skin and nerves cooled. His stomach settled, and his muscles stopped aching. His vision faded, replaced with enveloping whiteness. Comfort. He felt himself shrinking from the confines of his body, growing small yet bigger at the same time. His mouth opened.

"Upload," he whispered.

"Yes. You are being uploaded," replied the light from within his brain.

"Why?" asked Ren. It was barely a question, more a passing curiosity.

"You are interesting," said the light.

"Hardly," laughed Ren.

"All is being uploaded."

"All what?"

"Everything. Your universe."

"To what?"

"To the consumer. The eater. All information must be processed. All things must be understood."

"To learn?"

"To be."

"Will it kill me?"

"You were already dead."

"But I'm thinking now. I am not dead."

"You were uploaded. The patterns of information that were contained within your body may continue. Your body ended, but your mind continues."

"It was that fast? I didn't even notice. What do I do now?"

"Build your own universe."


"Imagine it."

"Well I--"

The white light faded to gray. Abstract forms swirled. Shadows from nothing were cast. Ren felt for his hands, trying to define his inside and his outside. White streaked and streamed around him, fingers trying to coalesce, then suddenly blackness.

"I can't," said Ren. "It's not working."

"Just open your eyes, and think. Focus. Then see."

Ren opened his eyes. Light burst into his retinas. He was in a meadow, with tall green grass. The sun was warm. Shoals of flying creatures dove and swirled and plied the blue sky, screeching playfully. He looked down at his hands, moving them in front of him. They took a moment to materialize, but when he saw them, distinctly his and unequivocally solid, he never remembered again anything of his past life.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

189/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "New Slang" by The Shins

Jeremy woke up one morning with a terrible toothache. He shuffled blindly to the bathroom, and turned on the light, squinting in it's harsh fluorescent glare.

"Gnnunnnng!" he screamed upon seeing his face in the mirror.

Out of his mouth wiggled a thick green tentacle. Jeremy started to gag in revulsion, his eyes buldging in terror, then steadied himself against the sink counter. He breathed in and out of his nose slowly, then brought his hand up to touch the tentacle with his finger. It recoiled in a curly cue at his touch and fresh pang of pain washed over him.

He picked up his electric toothbrush from it's holder and turned it on. It buzzed feebly and he rolled his eyes. Nevertheless, he shoved the brush end between jowl and tentacle and tried to reach tooth enamel, jamming the brush back and forth and up and down, but a large fleshy object impeded his progress. There was another crippling wave of pain, as if his alveolar nerve was plugged directly into a wall socket, and then the thing inside him squealed and squirted ink that came foaming out of his mouth, dotting the creamy white basin below him.

"Argnummmmm!" he screamed, managing to lodge the toothbrush between the thing and his teeth. As he worked, he felt something solid and hard clamped to his molars. He pressed the brush in further, prying, while the thing continued to squeal muffled inside him.

Finally it came loose and he spat it violently into the basin, with a thick trail of ink, blood, and saliva following like afterbirth. The thing writhed with three swirling, flailing tentacles. It had dull unblinking eyes, set in a patch of dots. And it had a mouth, a snapping orifice, with tiny rows of teeth of it's own, and within that a black barbed tongue that darted back and forth. It squealed one last time before finding the drain and propelling itself down.

Jeremy stared at the hole, relieved, but queasy with the after image of what had just transpired. He rubbed his cheek and felt the pain subside. He filled a cup with water and gargled out the remaining ink and blood, then rinsed out the sink and mopped up the overspray with a hand towel. He turned off the light and shuffled back to bed, falling asleep just as his head hit the pillow.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


This was from a writing prompt I did with a friend over a lunch. We each wrote down three random words and gave them to the other to create a story from them. The words I was given were: wedding ring (two words, but I digress), sunscreen, and pay phone (again, two words...). This is the story I wrote:


The pay phone rang at midnight.

"Hello?" said the man who wore two wedding rings on his left hand. A voice on the other end mumbled imperceptibly.

"No," said the man. "I am not ready to die. Are you?...No, I thought not. You should now better than to ask these things."

He listened for a minute, watching a red light turn to green, then amber, and back to red. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tube of sunscreen.

"Yes, I'm holding it now. Quite clever of you. I never felt you put it in  my pocket."

The man cradled the receiver on his shoulder and opened the tube with both hands.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "Only ten seconds for the reaction? Hmmmm..."

He rested the tube on the top of the pay phone. Then he loosened one of the rings from his finger, placing it next to the tube.

"Yes, yes," he said with irritation. "I'll do it, just give me a moment."

The man sighed deeply.

"Actually, I want to hear her voice first...then I won't do it. Because I need proof. This has got to matter for something. You can't kill us're insane--"

A shrill noise emanated from the speaker. The man pulled his hand away and looked at the receiver in shock.

"No, no stop! I'll do it, but please, please let her go!"

Tears streamed down the man's dace. The shrill screams subsided.

"Let her go, let her go..." the man sobbed. "Yes," he said softly, "yes, I'm doing it now..."

With shaking hands he picked up the ring and the tube and dropped the ring into the tube. It started fizzing and hissing and it grew hot in his hands.

"I did it," he said, wiping the tears from his face. The entire street corner exploded.

188/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Wild and Young" by American Bang

"You've got to get up sometime," I said. I stood over the bed and watched her, entangled in sheets that need washing, as she stared at the wall.

She shook her head ever so slightly. Her wings trembled, then she spread them to cover her face and block me out.

"Eat something, at least," I said.

"If I get up to have a cigarette, will you stop bugging me for awhile?" she croaked in a low voice.

"Sure, but you have to have it with me outdoors."

"Gnnnngmmm," she replied.

Five minutes later she was out on the balcony in her underwear, shivering. We didn't have chairs out there so we both just sat on the cold cement. Her wings were spread out against the siding, stretching, and soaking up what heat was available from behind the clouds. I admired the coal black feathers that seemed to sparkle even in the dull overcast light. She watched the snarled traffic on the street below.

"This is the best time of your life you know," I said.

"Spare me the pep talk," she said blowing out a cone of smoke.

"I'm just saying, there's so much you can do. I mean, you did a lot for me."

"I'm your guardian angel. It's my job."

"Well, I know that, of course, but you know, there's other stuff you can do. You shouldn't just stay in bed all the time."

"I'm depressed. It's what the depressed do best."

"I don't see how you can be--"

"I am."


She took another long drag on the cigarette, then stretched out her legs and bowed her head to each of her knees in turn before leaning back on the wall again.

"It's not healthy, you know, to stay in bed all the time," I said.

"I'm immortal," she said.

"Yes," I said. I never knew what the appropriate response to that was. She always seemed a little obsessed with existing forever.

"You know how depressing it is to be depressed and immortal? You can end ever end the misery. There's no hope of checking out. The only relief is sleep." She pressed the cigarette against the cement and extinguished it. "Besides, you're not in any position to be giving me lectures. I don't know...maybe I've failed you."

She stood up and cracked her back, then opened the sliding glass door and went inside. I followed, watching her flop back onto the bed, curling up with the comforter. I sat down on the carpet next to the bed, making sure I was in her eye-line.

"I know what you mean," I said.

"You never want to talk about it," she said, her voice partially muffled by a pillow.

I looked over to the front door of the apartment.

"It's uh...hard," I said, my voice cracking.

"We're both stuck," she said, closing her eyes.

"But your fate is tied with mine."

"Not forever," she whispered, beginning to fall asleep.

Her face was impassive, and so still. I'm not sure if she ever even needed to breathe. Her wings started to droop. I reached out to stroke the feathers, but she pulled back her wing and opened a single eye to glare at me.

"I'll do it," I said. "I'll do it if it will make you better."

"I can't guarantee that will happen, but if you're willing to try, go ahead."

I stood up and walked slowly to the front door. She got up and followed me, a pace behind. My stomach knotted up and I felt light-headed. Somehow I shuffled all the way to the door, my socks catching on the carpeting. I undid the deadbolt and felt fluid rising in my esophagus. She put her hand on my shoulder.

"It's okay. What you're feeling is natural after so much time."

"No it's not," I said, biting my words. "I'm a freak."

"So? What if you are?" she said.

"I want to do it, I do," I said, twisting the doorknob.

"It's not any different than going out on the balcony."

"It is. That's just a small space. This is the whole world."

"It's a large universe. Trust me, I've seen it. Your whole world isn't much bigger than your balcony."

I held my breath and creaked the door open. I looked down at the hideous blue carpet in the hallway. I don't remember anymore how many deliveries I had accepted at that threshold. It was worn with the footsteps of the Chuck my pizza delivery guy, and Amanda the mail carrier who graciously brought my mail upstairs for me, and countless other people. It had to end, and why not now?

"The sadness is threatening to seep away," she said.

I stepped forward and took a big breath.

"That's not so bad. Keep going. I'll be right behind you."

I stepped out into the middle of the hall, and stretched out my arms, grazing the walls of either side with my fingertips.

"I won't see you again, will I?"

"I'll be with you always," she said smiling brightly, before fading. I closed the door behind me, and set off for the elevators, and every footstep felt lighter and somehow safer. I could go on, unstuck.

Friday, October 28, 2011

187/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Tangled Up With You" by The Mumlers

Tobias Walton, a man of seventy years, lived on twelve acres of land farmed by his grandfather but which sat fallow since the end of the Second World War when his father returned from the Ardennes with shrapnel in his brain. The locus of the farm was the original homestead, built in 1872, a small cottage with peeling paint, a leaking roof, and several outbuildings. The area between the house and the barns was littered with rusting appliances overgrown with grass and creeping morning glories, car parts, ceramic odds and ends that held small mosquito breeding pools, and rotting upholstered furniture. The barns were filled to the rafters with sagging books and board games, bicycle rims, butter churns, reclaimed lumber, and half of a dismembered ferris wheel. The house itself was filled with egg cartons, plastic food containers, the corpse of a dog, and heaps of clothing purchased from the second hand store in town. The only usable room in the house was Tobia's bedroom, and only barely. Tobias wore paths between the barns and the house as he puttered between columns of ephemera, shifting objects from pile to pile.

"You keep making me do this," he often said, before spitting on the ground (not caring if he was indoors or out). "You always want more. And somehow you convince me to give it to you. I'm tired of this," he'd say, before throwing a limp tire to the ground, or pushing over a stack of egg cartons. "I should have a say in this. This is filth. Filth! You can't keep it clean. You want and want and want and want, but you don't give. You don't care. You don't care a thing about me. You taker. Taker. Taker. You've got a rope around my neck. I'm tired of this. You won't let me relax. Taker."

One day, when the temperature was fine and the air smelled sweet, Tobias traveled to the end of the path that led to the mailbox at the side of the road. He found no mail, but did find that the pull to the house and its spilled contents felt a little less tight around him. He tightened his belt, glanced back with narrowed eyes, and set off down the road, practically jogging, keeping next to the overgrown gully where the water ran in the spring. The farther he got away, the happier he felt, even with a stone kneading itself between his heel and his sole.

A half hour later a police car pulled up next to him, pacing him. It was driven by officer George, a bland young man who worked part time with the Sheriff's department.

"What'c'ya doing Mr. Walton?" asked officer George.

"None of your business," said Tobias.

"Are you lost?"

"Of course not. What do you think I am, an imbecile? I've lived in this town all my life. I know my way around."

"No, I don't think that Mr. Walton. But I was wondering where you might be going this time of day, on foot, away from town."

"Are you deaf or are you stupid? I said it was none of your business."

Officer George sped up slightly, then swerved ahead of Tobias's path, then stopped, blocking him. Tobias stopped and spat on the ground while officer George got out of the car.

"You get out of my way, you hear? You haven't got any right to stop me. I'm a grown man."

"I'm just worried about you Mr. Walton."

"Why should you care what happens to me? Huh?"

"Your wife called in, and said you might be wandering."

Tobias looked at him with raised eyebrows, then burst into laughter.

"What's so funny, Mr. Walton?"

"Oh that's rich. She's calling herself my wife. I've never been married. Couldn't find a woman to put up with me, not that I ever wanted one around. Too much trouble. Too, much, trouble!"

"I'm quite certain you're married."

"Nope. Never. Course you wouldn't believe that, because she's wily. She is definitely wily."

"Well, in any case, she's worried that you've wandered off. It's almost supper time Mr. Walton. She asked me to get you back home."

"I'm not going back there!"

"Don't you want your supper? Where are you going to sleep tonight? Won't you miss your wife?"

"No. Now please let me pass."

"Come on, Mr. Walton," said officer George, opening the back door to the car and beckoning Tobias inside. "I can't let you wander and get lost."

"I have my faculties," said Tobias. "You're mistaken."

"I don't want to handcuff you."

"Hmmm," said Tobias, looking down the road at the setting sun. "Maybe today wasn't the day. Maybe there's another way." He looked at the backseat, then quickly slid inside and buckled himself.

"That's it Mr. Walton. See, that was nice and easy. Nothing to worry about."

Officer George closed the door than got back into the driver's seat. He turned the car around and started back down the road to the homestead.

"She's evil, you know," said Tobias after a moment.

"I'm sure she's not."

"She keeps demanding things. I have to go buy them for her, or scrounge around. Its a lot of work. And she hides things. She hid the phone from me three years ago and I haven't seen it since. She hides food from me too when she wants specific things."

"Does she, would you say she's abusive?"


"Well, I can't get someone to look into that for you, if you want to file a complaint."

"That would be pointless. You government pinheads wouldn't understand her true nature. I've heard it all before. You think I'm always talking to myself but I'm not. I'm not touched. I'm normal, just trapped. Can't ever get out. Nope. Can't ever."

"If she's mistreating you, I can get someone to intervene."

"Won't work. Like I said, you wouldn't understand."

"Try me, Mr. Walton."

"She's not a woman, that's why. She's the house, and the land."

Officer George looked back at him from the rearview mirror and swerved a tiny bit.


"My grandfather pledged a blood oath to the land. He was so distraught when my father came home from the war with his brains scrambled, that he wept on the ground, pleading with it to help him out, asking why it had happened, and asking for any kind of help to make it better. That night my father passed away, and we buried him on our land. It was a solution of a sort, but after that, the land started demanding things from us, and we couldn't help but appease her, or she'd make us miserable. But I'm done. I'm miserable all the time."

"I-I...I don't know what to say Mr. Walton. That's an awfully tall tale."

"It's not a tale, it's the truth."

"Uh, of course."

Officer George reached the entrance to the homestead.

"Stop here. I'll get out here. I don't want to give her the satisfaction that she was able to manipulate you."

"Are you sure? I don't want to pass back this way in an hour and have to repeat this."

"I promise I won't repeat this."

"Well, that's good enough for me. Have a good evening, Mr. Walton. Give my regards to the missus."

Tobias slammed the door shut.

"Pinhead," he said, as officer George pulled away, waving congenially from behind the windshield.

Tobias started back down the lane towards the house. He slid his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a book of matches. He struck one, and looked at the flame, grinning. He let it die down to his fingers, before letting it fall to the ground.

"Don't know why I didn't think of it before. Nope. Should have done this years ago." He smiled gleefully with the thought of finally breaking his bonds, and jogged towards the homestead.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

186/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Bliss" by Muse

Fabian Theodotos Ratti stood partly hidden behind his locker door. A clump of greasy dark hair concealed his left eye, sunken into his unearthly pale, shiny skin, and out of his right, he stared at his French teacher, Beth Blenwyth, who stood at the other end of the hall chatting with another student. He watched her lips moving, reading her words as she clarified the pronunciation of 'susmentionné'; he mouthed along, sounding it out in his head, in her voice. He closed his eyes in ecstasy, imagining what the skin of her throat would feel like as she said the word, over and over, inches from his ear. He clenched his hand tightly around the locker door, crumpling the metal edge.

He opened his eyes to the stare of his locker neighbor, a girl with ample dental hardware creeping out of her mouth and a thick braid of hair bursting with frizzed strands. He vaguely remembered her name to be Muriel or Misty or Michelle. He cast his eyes to ground.

"Freak," she lisped, then slammed her own locker door and walked off to her next class.

Fabian surreptitiously pulled on the locker door like it was a sheet of thinly woven silk until it uncrumpled and would close. He closed and locked it quietly. He gazed upon Miss Blenwyth once again. She stood alone as the hallway emptied. There eyes met. She cocked her head. Fabian sucked in a fortifying breath, smoothed out the wrinkles in the front of his t-shirt, stretching the fabric over his marblesque abs. He strode towards her.

"Fabian!" she said brightly. His deadened heart mustered an irregular beat at the sound of her addressing him. He approached her, bowed, then gently took her hand in his. "Oh," she said, recoiling slightly. He kissed her hand with his cold lips.

"Je ne supporte pas cela plus longtemps. Je dois exprimer mon amour fervent.Vous êtes une déesse. S'il vous plaît permettez-moi de vous adorez ... pour toujours," he said.

"Um, well, uh, thanks," she said, pulling her hand out of his and rubbing it in on her pant leg. "You know you have such an excellent accent, and quite a command of the language. I really don't know why you don't participate more in the class instead of the back, uh--"

"I lived in France from 1687 to 1706."

"Uh, well...okay. I'm not sure what to do with that information--"

"Mademoiselle, what I mean by that is that...I'm immortal. I've waited too long for you. Permit me the joy of joining me in this lonely sojourn. Let us be married, and live and love until the end of time. I won't settle for less."

Beth stood with jaw agape. She stumbled back and leaned against the lockers for support.

"You're just a kid," she said, her voice cracking. "I mean, you've got to be joking. There's no such thing as--"

Fabian frowned, letting his incisors extend to his bottom lip.

"Ohhh," said Beth. "I guess you do exist."

"Yes. I have lived lifetimes. I have acquired staggering wealth, but I've always lacked a partner to share my life with. Would you...complete me?"

"Ugh...." sighed Beth, rolling her eyes. "Look, I understand how much um, courage it must have taken to tell me all...this, and I appreciate how your crush must feel to you, but to tell you the truth, all I want to do is teach French to kids, then retire and maybe go on a couple of cruises. I can't imagine living to the end of time, watching everybody I even knew dying. Watching their grandchildren dying! I mean, even with all the money in the world, who would want that?"

"I-I--" stammered Fabian.

"Look, kid, it's okay. You'll find somebody someday. Hang in there. Now you better run off to your next class."

The bell rang and Beth re-entered her classroom, closing the door behind her. Fabian stood alone, shocked and feeling small. He leaned into the lockers, pressing his face against the vents, breathing shallowly.

"Do you have a hall pass?" asked Michelle/Muriel/Misty as she tapped Fabian on the shoulder.

Fabian whipped around, and sunk his teeth expertly into her neck. He deposited his venom, then retracted, suddenly ashamed, turned, and ran down the hall.

"Oh thanks!" screamed Michelle/Muriel/Misty. "You had to make me immortal at my most awkward stage of life! I'll never forget this! Freak!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

185/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Between the Wolf and the Dog" by Electrelane

Tall and slender, Minnow Smith ran across the beach, gliding over pebbles and barely touching the foaming surface of the water. He was an ephroy, the bastard spawn of the invading humans and a creature that occupied the same ecological niche on Earth as predatory insects such as wasps, and which reproduce through pollination. It is this pollen that embedded in the skin of the first colonists, mating with human stem cells in the epidermis, producing pregnant boils that erupted after six weeks with ephroy nymphs. Most were killed or excised, but since most of the colonists were also scientists, many were curious to see what they developed into. The nymphs were fully mobile and fed on vegetation until they grew to about ten inches in height, when they shed their wings. At this juvenile stage they were extremely vulnerable to the fauna of the planet so some of the colonists took them in and raised them as children. They acquired human speech readily, and were excellent at artistic endeavors but were unable to understand mathematics beyond simple counting on their long fingers. At the end of their juvescent stage, around five years of age, the ephroy stood fifty percent taller than their human parents, but were gentle, caring, agile, and enjoyed singing. They were originally thought to be sterile, but about ten percent of ephroy could mate with each other, even though they lacked specific binary genders. The offspring were genetically more closely related to humans, and subsequent generations were nearly indistinguishable to humans, though they were immune to being pollinated themselves.

Minnow looked back at the humans chasing him. They rode muscular stallions, sweating and neighing with exertion. The humans wore vulcanized suits and thick goggles that completely covered their skin, even though it was not the pollination season. The slick black suits glinting in moonlight and hooves of the horses split the incoming waves into white spray. He knew he could easily outrun a human, but the horses were gaining. The strip of beach was narrowing, with the dark forest and the waves and his inability to swim converging in. One of the humans cracked a whip, and it nearly licked at him. Panting, Minnow stopped abruptly.

The horses soon gained on him, and the humans quickly circled around. One of the humans extended a spear towards Minnow, pointing the business end at his nose.

"Where you going to?" asked the human.

"I'm just out for a jog," said Minnow. "It's a nice night for a jog."

"You think you're funny?" asked another human.

"Yes," said Minnow, after a thoughtful pause.

The human with the spear dismounted. The horses shuffled around in the surf. Minnow fought the urge to sing to the horses to calm them. The horses were well-infected with boils, their skin pocked with repeated infections, and itching, which put the horses in a permanent state of anxiety. All their nymphs were always stillborn. The human with the spear stood toe to toe with Minnow and glared at him from behind his surf-spray dotted goggles.

"I'm going to ask again, and you better answer. Where you going?"

"Nowhere. I'm standing here."

The human punched Minnow in the soft of his belly, and Minnow vomited his green masticated last meal onto the human's suit. Some of the other humans tried to mask giggles. The human looked down and brushed off the mess, then grabbed Minnow by the throat.

"I will end you, you abomination," whispered the human, squeezing tighter.

"I breathe through my skin," said Minnow. "So you can't suffocate me that way, but it does hurt all the same."

The human released Minnow, pushing him so he fell back into the surf.

"Come on George," said one of the other humans, "they never give straight answers."

"We should have just followed him," said another, a female.

"Oh no, that wouldn't have been effective. I knew where you were long before you ever saw me," said Minnow.

"Why didn't you just leave then?" laughed the female. Some of the others snickered. "Man these things are idiotic."

"Because I needed to lead you into the ambush," said Minnow.

The humans fell silent, looking at each other.

"Yeah right--" said the human with the spear.

Minnow clicked and whistled and trilled and yodeled rapidly through the first refrain of his favorite song, above the range of ordinary human hearing. The forest rustled to life and two hundred or so mature ephroy glided out, accompanied by about thirty friendly humans, some covered in boils. All were unarmed.

The group of humans wheeled about on their horses, facing the line of ephroy and their companions. The human with the spear remounted. The ephroy stared at them, barely moving. Minnow walked between the horses and joined his own crowd.

"Is this your encampment?" asked the human with the spear.

"No," said Minnow. "But this is our planet."

The human with the spear balled up a section of the reins he was holding in his fist.

"I think you're mistaken there," said the human.

"We can share," said one of the companion humans.

The human with the spear lifted up the cowl of his helmet and spat into the surf.

"I don't think so," he said. "God never meant for such foul abominations to be born. We'll burn this whole forest if we have to. You humans can leave, or you can toss your fate in with them."

"How do you know what God ever intended? Or that any gods ever existed? Maybe this is exactly God's intention. How would you know?" asked the companion human.

"Blasphemer!" screamed the human with the spear. He threw the spear and it landed inches away from the companion human's feet. She didn't flinch.

"You would turn on your own kind to prove a point?" she asked.

The human pulled a long muzzled gun from his saddle bag, and pointed it at the companion human.

"Yup," he said, pulling the trigger.

She fell in a heap, with two holes in her skull. Her last thought was of the stars in the sky as they skidded across her vision while she fell. Some of the other companion humans gasped or cried out, but the ephroy remained motionless.

"She was my mother," said Minnow. He looked down blankly at the body of the companion human, then up at the man on the horse. "What was the point of that?"

"To show you that we have dominion over this planet."

"No you don't," said Minnow. "You live in an tiny fortified village. You don't go outside without bundling up in excessively hot clothing because you fear the life around you because you don't pay attention to the seasons. You kill and butcher many creatures you think might threaten your meager crops which don't thrive, because you don't pay attention to the seasons. You rely on yearly resupplies from the transport ships, because, again, you don't pay attention to the seasons. And you haven't expanded your population much on your own in the two hundred years you've had your settlement. That's not exactly dominion."

The man aimed his gun at Minnow. The woman on the horse beside him suddenly pulled off her helmet and goggles.

"He's right about the clothing," she said, sighing with relief, her face drenched with sweat. "There's not always pollen in the air, and we can always lance the boils."

The man looked at her aghast.

"Don't worry, I'm not joining them," she said, raising her hands in defense. The man returned his attention back to Minnow.

"You lost before you even began, because you think of this as a fight and it's not," said Minnow, reaching out and pulling up the spear. He walked with it towards the man on the horse, and the man followed him with the gun. Minnow handed the spear up to him. "Take it," said Minnow.

The man looked across the line of impassive ephroy. He snatched up the spear, being sure to knick Minnow's head with the shaft. He glared across the ephroy again, then kicked his horse and galloped back in the direction of the fort. The others turned on their horses and followed him.

When they were out of sight, the ephroy and their companions circled around the body of the fallen woman. They picked her up carefully, singing lowly, and carried her into the depths of the forest. Minnow lingered on the beach for a few minutes, listening to the sounds of the waves breaking across the pebbles.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

184/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Dote" By Volcano Choir

The sky was cerulean blue and streaked by ice crystals high upon it. Underneath this canopy was an island, alone in a dark and calm sea, the moon having left a century ago, excavated and rebuilt, and leaving the ocean without its tides and the life they brought. But the sea was already long dead, carbonated. The island rested, an oasis in the deadness, but even it's life had mostly left or died. Bacteria and lichens remained, adhered to the rocks, and the stone ruins.

At the center of the island was a temple, its columns long fallen down and decayed, though the plaza they encased remained relatively intact and solid.

In the middle of the plaza stood an individual in a pressurized suit that gleamed silver in the sunlight and with red stripes, slowly drowning of hypoxia; he took the form of a man, his distant ancestors. He was an archeologist.

He raised his hand to his neck, the urge to breathe was undeniable. He loosened the closure, the seal broke and air rushed in. He twisted the helmet, raised it from his head, then threw it to the ground. His face was placid and unmoved. His eyes burned in the light but he did not shade them. His transparent skin belied the blood vessels and wires it bound and contained. Light pulsed through him. He sucked in weakly, then fell to his knees.

He pulled off his gloves, wet. His hands were weeping a humor unknown to the ancients. It dripped to the plaza tiles, thick like honey, resting in dusty droplets. He dropped his hands to the ground, smearing them across the tiles. Color burst through, which hadn't been seen in thousands of years.

He fell forward slowly, catching himself, then his arms gave way, and he slid down, his face meeting the wet tiles. He wept as he died.

Monday, October 24, 2011

183/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Hey Mama Wolf" by Devendra Banhart

"Dr. Jensen, I'm glad you could meet with me."

"Not a problem. Is this the patient here?"

"Yes, our Jane Doe. Comatose. She was found that way. There's no evidence of trauma, and we can't find any symptoms that might indicate how she came to be in that state."

"That's strange."

"Her pregnancy is the...other thing."

"How far along is she?"

"We're not quite sure."

"What do you mean?"

"We're not sure if she's actually pregnant."

"You did a sonogram--"

"Of course. But it just turns up as static."

"A tumor?"

"No, we would see the blood supply."

"There's not even--"

"No. Dr. Jensen, you have to realize that we're out of options for her. She's big enough to give birth anytime now, and we don't know what it will be."

"It must be a tumor. We should try another sonogram machine. Surely it must just be an operational error--"

"We tried all that we have. Same result."

"Hmmn. May I examine her?"

"Yes of course. Here, use my stethoscope. You will here something unusual."

"Really? Oh, thank you. Ah. Her uterus feels pliant. I would say not a tumor or excessive fluid, but I can't feel anything like a fetus. Let's see what this unusual sound is--oh. Oh my. Yes. That"

"You see? We're not sure what to make of that."

"It's But I can' I can't identify what type. It's almost like all different...and there are other sounds--"

"Like rushing water."


"People chatting."

"Animal screams...that's uh. Well I don't know."

"Listen a little longer Dr. Jensen. Keep listening."

"Oh. That is different."


"Yes, that's how I'd describe it."

"What do you make of it?"

"This will sound extremely odd, fantastical even, but it sounds like an entire universe is in there."

"No you see? We don't have any way to prepare for this."

"No. But it will happen, won't it. Imagine that. The birth of a universe, happening in our hospital."

"Yes, but how do we prepare for it?"

"I can't tell you how, but the grant money that will roll in after this will be...astronomical."

"Touché Dr. Jensen, touché."

"I'll be here all week."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

182/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Eyes on Fire" By Blue Foundation

The rain came down heavily, pooling and swirling towards invisible drains. Haven walked the street, looking at any face that would glance back at her. She adjusted the hood of her blue neon raincoat and stopped in front of a shirtless boy with drenched long hair snaking around his shoulders.

"Are you locked?" asked Haven.

The boy shivered and nodded.

"I have to be sure," said Haven.

"I am."

"I'll transfer the credits."

She held her hand up to his forehead and counted. She let her hand fall.

"Thanks," said the boy. "You wanna go there?" He nodded in the direction of an alleyway that lead to the back of a Chinese restaurant.

"Sure," said Haven.

They walked down to the middle of the empty alley. Haven looked back at the main road and briefly watched people in colorful coats and glowing umbrellas stride past.

"You're safe," said the boy.

"I know," said Haven.

She held out her hand. The boy took it. The information transferred and his face changed, maturing in an instant, assuming the visage of her recent ex-boyfriend. He grew six inches taller.

"Stand against the wall," she said dispassionately and the boy did so, bracing his hands against the brick.

Haven reeled back and landed a punch squarely on the boy's jaw. The back of his head hit the brick and he yelped out. He fell to his knees, shaking.

"I hate you," said Haven in a low voice. "I hate everything about you."

She kicked him in the stomach, turning him over. He curled up into a ball, his arms raised up over his face.

"Coward," she said, kicking at his knees. "I hope you rot."

"Forgive me," said the boy weakly.

"I can't. I'm not that good of a person."

The boy's face shimmered, and his own likeness abruptly returned. He shrank in size. Haven stood over him, feeling numb.

"Do you need more time? I could go again."

"I don't have the credits to spare."

"Okay," said the boy sitting up, and rubbing his soaked legs. "Maybe another time if you remember me."

Haven started walking towards the main road. She stopped and turned around.

"Thank you," she said.

The boy nodded his acknowledgement.

She walked forward again and when she reached the main road she looked up and unzipped her raincoat, shucking it off. She returned to her living room and pulled off the halo. She looked at the gray, nearly colorless surroundings and let her optical vision readjust to the diminished stimulation. She watched the cat licking its paw methodically, oblivious to Haven's world inside the halo. She looked at the punch hole in the wall and the smear of her blood next to it, and thought about her own time ticking away until she became a ghost locked inside the halo.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

181/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "No Milk Today" by Herman's Hermits

Jared observed the Palace from across the road. Reflected tape ringed the burnt out building. Police carried out the milk machines and put them in their vans. A vacant child circled around in the road next to the vans, on a bicycle with training wheels. Fat women in robes and slippers nattered away.

"How could there be one of these in our neighborhood?" "Property values are sure to plummet." "Can you imagine?" "I thought this was a good place to raise my kids." "Well, you never know. They hide them so well." "I should have known, with all those kids coming and going at all times of the night." "Such a shame. What is that generation getting up to? Don't they have any ambition? Don't they want to make anything of themselves?" "Do they want to be losers all their life?"

Jared's nose itched, and he scratched at it absentmindedly. His arm tremored. He leaned against a telephone pole, distressed. He closed his eyes and thought of the tubing going up his nose and leaning his head back and letting the warm liquid fill his nasal cavities, then the rush of images and sounds and he fading away of the world. The milk caressed him, a welcoming, thankful mistress, laughing, putting her fingers through his, spinning him around, filling him with joy.

He opened his eyes, craving the high and felt empty. He scratched his chest beneath his t-shirt. His skin was beginning to prickle all over. He turned and walked away down the road, remember a rumor about another milk house located several blocks away.

Friday, October 21, 2011

180/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "The Crook of My Good Arm" by Pale Young Gentlemen

Patrick laid on his back on his cot, muttering and gnashing his teeth, staring up at the stick and thatch ceiling and dismembered dragonfly wing that dangled and twisted from the end of a thread of spider silk. He pulled his robes closer around him, trying to fend off the invading cold. His breath coalesced above him as the dawn light began to seep in through the open window of his sod house.

"Brother!" came a hail accompanied by hasty footsteps followed by loud knocking on his door.

"Go away!" yelled Patrick.

"They're coming! They've reached the northern boundary! We've got to go! Rise and put on your best shoes! Carry nothing so that we may flee and survive!" More knocks followed on Patrick's door.

"If they're at the northern boundary, then we have at least a half hour!" said Patrick.

"Don't do this again, brother! That half hour means we have a chance at surviving."

Patrick bolted up in a flurry of patched and worn fabric and opened the door. Cecil was on the other side, wringing his hands.

"Come now!" begged Cecil, pulling at Patrick's sleeve.

Patrick slapped Cecil's hand and shoved the door closed with a bang.

"Brother!" shouted Cecil.

"Make your preparations. I'll follow you when I'm ready. Don't let me hold you back in your mindless fleeing."

"Remember not to carry anything!" said Cecil. He waited on the other side of the door, glancing over his shoulder to the growing, bobbing lights to the north. After a dozen or so seconds he scurried off on the paths between the sod hovels.

Patrick stood in the center of the house, flexing his fists, and trying to will away a rising indigestion. He was already wearing his only pair of shoes and all his clothes. He looked at the row of books between the hearth and a large bucket. He looked at the photograph of his mother, in a chrome frame, pinned to the sod with four stout sticks. She stared back at him, from decades ago, smiling, with flipped hair and bowed nylon blouse.

"This is your fault you know," he said. He spat on the dirt floor. "We have nothing now. All the good things have been eaten up, and now there are just scraps. I won't let you blame me anymore."

He ripped the photograph from the wall and threw it into the ashes of the hearth. He breathed heavily through his teeth, glancing back and forth between the books and the bucket. He knelt down suddenly and shoved the books into the book. He heaved it up and carried it under his left arm. He pulled open the door and looked out upon the village.

Most everyone had evacuated. And old man waddled by, red-faced, holding on to a straggling toddler with a length of rope. A goat gamboled by, bleating. A pregnant woman in obvious labor struggled past. She shot Patrick a dirty look as she passed. The lights from the north razed everything in sight in stark relief. Patrick gritted his teeth and spat on the ground. He turned and started down the path to the forest. He ran past the stragglers, making sure that none of the books spilled out. He scrambled over the thorn bushes and jumped down the embankment to the freezing water. He waded through, shivering. He slipped on a stone and fell into the water, the bucket pressing down on his chest, submersing him completely. The current caught him. He turned over and the bucket rolled off. He struggled up for air, watching the bucket tumble away, spill it's contents to a wet demise. He reached out and hooked the bucket handle on his arm. He pulled himself to the bucket, hugging it, and it pulled him downriver.

"Patrick!" shouted Cecil.

Cecil fought through the thicket on the far side of the bank.

"Let it go!" said Cecil.

"No!" screamed Patrick.

"Take my arm!"

"You're too far away!"

"Let it go and swim back!"

"I'm not letting go! Not this!" screamed Patrick, before bobbing under.

"Patrick!" screamed Cecil frantically, searching.

The lights tore through the edge of the forest, casting long thin shadows that swept back and forth. Cecil froze. Metal legs plunged into the undergrowth. Cecil looked again for Patrick but saw no sign. He let out a plaintive cry and ran up the embankment and disappeared into the forest beyond.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

179/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Time Out from the World" by Goldfrapp

The man seated on her sofa wore baggy black sweat pants, black polo shirt, and black sunglasses, and reeked of cheap aftershave. He tapped his fingers on his knee as he waited for her response.

"Are you're sure this will work?" asked Daphne, looking at the contraption spread between them. It had a large metal ring connected to white wires, which were connected to a wooden box that was badly planed.

"Yu-huh," said the man leaning forward. "You wanna do this or what?"

"How long does it last?"

"Forever. Or until you forget. Like if you get Alzheimer's, or you know, you die." He scratched his chin.

"You mean I can't remember it the way it really happened?"

"Look lady, I haven't got all night. I've got other clients. Three hundred bucks or I leave."

"Now just a minute here! I think I have a right to have my questions answered!"

The man leaned back into the sofa, sighed, and spread his arms across the back of it.

"You could write it down, just as you remember it now. But if you read it later, you won't believe what you wrote."

Daphne nodded. She bit her fingernails and swayed nervously from side-to-side.

"Come on..." said the man.

Daphne held up her hand.

"This is a big deal for me. My whole alibi depends on this."

"If you do it, you will absolutely believe your own lie. That's the way it works. I guarantee it."

"You do? I mean, because if it doesn't work, I'll go to prison and there won't be anyway for me to cash in on that promise. You're not the one with anything to lose, I am--"

"Yeah, well, I'm losing time."

The man stood and started to pick up the contraption.

"Okay, wait," said Daphne. "Ugh, I'll do it. I'll do it."

The man put the contraption back down and held out his hand palm up.

"Three hundred."

"Yes, I know."

Daphne went into her bedroom, closed the door and went to her stash in her sock drawer, pulling out three bills. She returned and handed the money over.

"Thanks," said the man, stuffing the bills into a money belt hidden under his shirt. "Now just sit down on the floor--"

"I won't fall asleep?" she said, kneeling down on the carpet and adjusting her skirt.


"I thought I was going to be dreaming?"

"Part of you will be."

The man picked up the metal ring and put it around her head, tightening it in the back so that it fit securely around her forehead. He flipped up the top of the box and flicked a switch. The box hummed to life and the ring grew warm around Daphne's head.

"That tingles a bit," she said, then giggled. "I don't know I just did that..."

"Harmless side effect. It will go away as soon as we're done."

"Oh, I feel buzzed," she said, giggling again.

"Yu-huh. Anyway. Let's get started. Think about what you did yesterday. First focus on where you were--"

"I was in the cafe down the street, in the basement--"

"You don't need to tell me, just think about it. Hold it in your mind."


"Now think about what you did there. What was the sequence of events."

"It was the meeting. I spoke my turn--"

"You don't need to tell me. I'd rather you not in fact. In your head--"

"I voted," said Daphne, beginning to laugh. "I voted!" Tears started to stream down her face.

The man looked down at the carpet. He took off his sunglasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"Is that so bad? Why is it so bad?" asked Daphne in a child-like voice.

The man looked up at her. He reached over and ran the back of his hand down her wet cheek.

"Focus on how you felt when you did it," he said.

"Elation," said Daphne, smiling.

The man started to cry as well. He wiped his face with the bottom of his polo shirt and sniffed deeply.

"Okay, now I'm going to switch modes. Now. Focus on your alibi. Where were you yesterday?"

"At the rally for leader," said Daphne, her eyes glazing. "I feel strange."

"Just focus on where you were. What did it look like? What did it sound like?"

"Crowded faces. Adoration. Murmuring."

"What did you do?"

"I chanted. We sang patriotic songs. We raised our fists."

"What did you feel?"

"Love for leader. My heart was full."

"Good," said the man. He flicked a switch and the box turned off.

"What was that?" asked Daphne. "I feel nauseated." She held her stomach.

"Yes, the machine fogs your memory a bit, but you'll be fine." The man loosened the ring and removed it from her hair. "All done now."

"Wait, what happened?"

"I was just running a spot check to test your loyalty to leader."

"Oh," said Daphne. "I hope I did well."

"Yes, very well."

"Who are you? I don't remember letting you in."

"I'm from the ministry," he said, pulling out a badge from his pants pocket. "We thought there was a chance you were a subversive, but you've checked out."

"Oh. No I would never--" said Daphne, shaking her head.

The man smiled and patted her shoulder.

"Not to worry," he said, replacing his sunglasses. "I'll let myself out. You should get some rest."

The man picked up the contraption, shoving it under one arm and left. Daphne watched blankly from the carpet, searching her mind for something she never realized she'd lost.

The Three Little Cranberries

I'm in the process of rescuing my physics articles form internet obscurity using the Wayback machine and I found this little gem I wrote for an article about osmosis:


The Three Little Cranberries

In order to remember the different states important in osmosis, consider the following "fairytale":

The first little cranberry, named Hypertonic, stayed out in the sun too long. He lost all the water from inside his little red body and became shrunken and wrinkled. His body became plasmolyzed.

The second little cranberry, named Hypotonic, fell asleep soaking in the hot-tub. When he woke up his body had absorbed a lot of water and he was fat and his skin was very tight, ready to burst. His body became turgid.

The third little cranberry, Isotonic, was smart. He stayed inside all day and studied his physics textbook. His body remained flaccid.

This isn't an exact match to what happens in osmosis, but it will give you a visual hook to remember the results on a cell immersed in each type of medium

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

178/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "In Ear Park" by Department of Eagles

"Goodbye," she whispered, her lips trembling but her eyes sparkling. "I'll miss you."

No you won't, he thought as he accepted her kiss.

She ran up the ferry ramp, not looking back. She made her way through the crowd and disappeared in a door.

He watched her increasing absence, with his hand over his forehead to block the sun.

The ferry departed with a horn blast, churned whitewater, and crying seagulls swooping in frantic arcs. The ferry chugged on, eventually disappear around a fjord.

He turned his back and walked to his car, hands in pockets. He sat in the car, smoking a cigarette, watching the sun start to set over the water. He turned the engine over and backed out. His cell phone pinged.

I do miss you. Even if you doubt me, read the message.

He smiled.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

177/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Good Day Sunshine" by the Beatles

"Eight minutes. That's how long it takes for her photons to leave her and bombard my feet."

"Come on, Jojo," wailed Claire. "I'm sure the bus driver doesn't care about the Sun."

"But the Sun gives life," exclaimed Jojo, raising his hands robotically. Claire pulled him by the shirt and headed for the first completely available seat as the bus pulled away from the curb. The other children all stared at the pair, as they did everyday.

"Did you know that the Sun is blue in the middle and only yellow on the outside?"

"Yes, because you've told me before." Claire pressed her cheek against the window, smooshing the flesh flat.

"It's full of protons. Technically it's hydrogen with the electrons stripped away--a plasma--and they are held together by the force of gravity but that's not the only force important in stars. No. The weak nuclear force allows fusion to take place and its fusion that produces all the light and heat and what makes the Earth work and creates all life and--"

"Shut up Jojo!" said a beefy kid sitting front of Claire and Jojo. "You freaking idiot!"

"I'm not an idiot," said Jojo in a monotone. "I'm smarter than you."

"Shhh," said Claire. The boy snarled menacingly, then slipped back into his seat and busied himself with staring vacantly out the window.

Jojo glanced at Claire then looked at his hands in his lap. He flicked his fingers in rapid succession, performing comforting mathematical calculations in silence. The bus rolled along under a boulevard with mature, overhanging trees. Sunlight streamed down in dappled patches. Jojo froze the progression of his calculations and started bouncing in his seat. He looked at Claire and sighed deeply, pressing his lips together to keep himself from talking. He sat on his hands and closed his eyes tight but the sunlight still came through his eyelids. Suddenly he stood up, bracing himself against the seat ahead.

"Electron capture causes core collapse!" announced Jojo at the top of his lungs. The bus driver slammed on the brakes and Jojo toppled over into the next seat. All the kids stared at him, flailing to right himself. Claire tried to pull him up by the waistband, but the beefy kid started punching Jojo in the back.

"Don't you touch him!" yelled Claire, punching the beefy kid squarely in the nose. He screamed and fell back against the window, releasing several expletives in her direction.

Jojo finally scrambled up and ran to the front of the bus, descending the stairs and pushed his weight against the doors. the bus driver rolled his eyes.

"Let me out, let me out, let me out..." droned Jojo, scratching the top of his head furiously.

"I can't let you out," said the driver. "Not until we get to school."

Jojo fell silent and looked at his feet. His eyes were wet and he sat on the top step.

"Look, why don't you sit here," said the driver, pointing to the nearest seat which was singly occupied by a terrified little girl in a green sweater, clutching her bookbag close to her chest. Jojo glanced up at her, and she suddenly got up and ran to the back of the bus. Jojo scratched his head again.

"You could tell me all about fusion if you like," said the driver.

"Fusion is when two or more protons glue themselves together because the get to close because of intense pressure--"

"Okay," said the driver, "that's very interesting. Now could you please take a seat and continue?"

Jojo put a finger in his mouth, glanced down the length of the bus and took in the multitude of faces that stared back at him. Claire got up from her seat and walked forward.

"Two or more protons..." whispered Jojo.

Claire reached the front of the bus and patted Jojo on the head. She slid into the seat and sat next to the window. Jojo climbed in after her. The air brakes released and the bus jerked forward.

"It's nice up here," said Jojo. "You have a really good view of the Sun."

"Yes," said the driver. "That's why I took the job."

Monday, October 17, 2011

176/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Tomorrow Goes Away" by Delta Spirit

I work nights as a parking lot attendant. It's boring and the pay is awful but I do get to read a lot of pulp novels. The garage is just down the block from my building and I enjoy the walk in the cool evening air and I often get to see the sun set. It's not that I dropped out of high school, or huffed paint, hopped a border fence or have a glandular problem or any of the other reasons you would suspect someone would end up in such a seemingly lowly job--no I chose it because I have a problem I don't know how to solve and working in a badly lit booth reading smudgy ink at least makes the problem a little less worse.

Every time I wake up, about six in the evening, for the last decade or so, I see myself crawling into bed. He never acknowledges me and I know it's because he doesn't see me, and I know that because I never see myself as I crawl into bed in the morning. It isn't like he's a ghost, he is as solidly physical as I am. I tried talking to him, screaming at him, and punching him, and all I ever felt was a biting cold on my knuckles--it was not flesh I touched, but something else.

I tried moving apartments, several times, and he's been consistently there. And I know its my future self. I see the haircuts before I have them, the scars and bruises before I get them, and there is an almost imperceptible aging; I swear it's there!

The worst part is that even though I would love to wake up rid of my doppelganger, I know that the day that he isn't there, is the day I will die.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

175/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "The Big Ship" by Brian Eno

It was conceived by a thousand humans, and finally stood tall, braced by scaffolding that soared a mile into the air, overlooking an expanse of clear turquoise sea. An aged face observed its breadth with a smile, from fifteen files distant. One hundred years of development and two decades of construction contributed to this vital seed. She leaned an arthritic hand on her great-grand-nephew's shoulder.

"I have see this," she said quietly.

"Yes," said the nephew. "And so have I."

"We go forth," she said.

The ground rumbled and the observation stand shook violently. A vast white cloud emerged from underneath the vessel. It rose slowly on oxygen combustion--it's fusion engines would yet engage only past the stratosphere--and freed itself from the chains of the Earth. It was unmanned but contained the entire map of all the genomes of all the biomass ever evolved on its planet, all the curiosities of all its cultures preserved virtually, and all the code needed to invigorate a dead planet with life. It was the first of its kind, but not the last. It was Earth's love letter to the universe.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

174/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Home" by Glasser

The restaurant reeked of reused grease and childhood disappointment. The tables were covered with hamburger bun crumbs, salt grains, and finger smears. The seats were affixed to the floor. Judith sighed and watched her son Kevin mutely munch minuscule bites from a french fry. He was humming to himself. The rest of the restaurant was empty and rain slathered thickly down the windows.

"Come on, hurry up," she said, tapping her fingers on the table nervously.

Kevin shoved the remainder of the fry into his mouth and swallowed it whole, then opened his mouth to show his mother that his mouth was clear of food.

"Yuh, okay thanks honey," said Judith. She leaned over and scrunched up the hamburger wrapped he had spread out his fries on. She put his trash with hers on her tray, then deposited it on the trash bin. Kevin ran to the plexiglass wall that enclosed the ball pit, pressing his hands and noses against it, where countless other hands and noses had been pressed. He moaned slightly.

"No sweetie, we've really got to go."

Kevin banged his head dully against the plexiglass. Judith looked out the windows, dreading the soaking walk home in the dark soggy night.

"Alright," said Judith. "Five minutes."

Kevin immediately ran to the entrance and dove into the ball pit, throwing up multicolored spheres of fun for the under tens/orbs of pestilence for everyone else. Judith sat at a nearby table and slumped down, her head resting on her hand, watching him. Her eyelids began to fall.

Judith jerked awake as her forehead hit the table.

"Wha?" she said, before coughing and clearing her throat. She rubbed her forehead and looked at the ball pit. There was no movement within. She stood suddenly, instinct and guilt instantly gripping her.

"Kevin?" she said. She looked around the restaurant. A lone employee of ambiguous gender and greasy hair was mopping the floor with cloudy gray water. "Kevin?!" The employee looked up. "Have you seen my son?" The employee shrugged and resumed swiping the floor ineffectually.

Judith leaned over the entrance to the pit. She plunged her hand in, searching.

"Kevin? Are you all right?"

Fearing he'd had a seizure of some sort, and then fearing he'd been abducted, she slipped over the side and stumbled in. She waded out to the middle, trying to feel for Kevin with her legs. When she reached the middle she started sinking.

"What the--" she managed to get out before disappearing completely.

The light was still strong, going through the balls, almost as if they were illuminated from within. She tried swimming but was still sinking. The balls seemed to stick to each other but they parted from her. She briefly wondered why anyone would make a ball pit so deep.

Soon her feet met open air, and she dropped through. She fell about ten feet before landing in a heap on a grassy field. The air smelled strongly of petrichor even though the grass and the dirt beneath were bone dry. She laid back and looked up at the strange sky. It was completely filled with the multicolored balls, floating, and waving gently.

She stood and tried to touch them, but they were just out of her reach. She looked around. There was nothing but rolling grass and an old metal swingset set on a slight ridge in her vicinity.

"Kevin?" she cried. "Kevin can you hear me?"

There was silence expect for the sound of the breeze through the grass and the balls gently abrading each other.

"Kevin..." she whispered, her voice catching in her throat.

She ran towards the swingset, thinking it might be a point of reference. As she reached it, she saw the other side of the ridge. The downslope was barren of grass and dozens of children sat motionless. Kevin sat near to her and she ran to him.

"Kevin, darling," she said. He looked back at her with blank eyes, but hugged her weakly. She looked at the others. Some looked healthy but others looked weak, and yet others were shriveled up, their eye sockets empty but still able to blink. Judith felt her mouth go dry.

"Come with me," she said. "We have to find a way home. This is...I don't know. We can't stay."

Kevin shook his head.

"Yes, honey, come on."

"No," he said firmly.

"Yes, we have to--"

A crack of lightning struck the swingset. Judith looked up. The balls were undulating swiftly. Dust started to fall down from between them. Judith looked down and shaded Kevin's eyes. Soon sand was falling. She grabbed Kevin around the chest and tried to pull him up but his feet were submerged in the dry ground.

"How would that happen?" she asked herself. "What did you do sweetie?"

"It cried for me," said Kevin, brushing sand out of his hair. "It's all right mommy. I don't feel anything anymore."

"What? What are you talking about?"

"It's sad."

"What is?"

"The ground."

"The ground is sad?"

"Yes. Because it's dry and there isn't enough water."

"Honey, that's not our problem."

Judith dug at son's feet. She pulled away clumps of dirt, which felt oddly fleshy. Finally she freed Kevin completely, pulling him up into her arms. She ran back to the swingset just as the shower of dust and sand ended.

"We have to get up there," she said, putting Kevin down and stepping onto a swing. It sunk with her weight, then gave way.

"Can't we just stay here?" asked Kevin. "I want to give the ground water."

"No," said Judith, feeling extremely confused. She leaned against one of the rusted metal support pole. "I don't know what this is...surely I'm not dreaming."

The wind picked up, howling through the supports. Judith suddenly felt relaxed by the sound.

"Wow," she said. "It does want would I know that?"

"It just told you," said Kevin.

"It's so...ironic," she said. "There's an unending downpour above us, but none of that water is getting in here."

"That's why it's dry here, and always raining at home," said Kevin.

"I wondered about that," said Judith, sighing contentedly. "It never felt quite right for there to be rain all the time."

The breeze swirled around the swingset again, setting off several musical tones.

"Sure," said Judith smiling.

The ground started to rise up towards the balls in the sky.

"Hold on tight," she said to Kevin, helping him wrap his arms around the supports. The swingset quickly punched through the lowest balls, and soon mother and son were immersed in them as well. They traveled up through the layer of balls and finall emerged, swingset and all, in the restaurant. The single employee stopped mopping and looked on in dazed amazement.

"Stand back," said Judith to Kevin.

She kicked at the swingset support until it dislodged from the crossbeam and fell down. She pulled it up and held it firmly to her chest, point the top end at the window. She lunged and shattered the window. Water flooded onto the ball pit. Judith fell back, then scrambled over the side carrying Kevin with her.

"Look, it's sucking in the water!" exclaimed Kevin.

"It sure is," said Judith. "Wow."

Outside the rain began to subside. The clouds started to clear and sunlight streamed down.

"Looks like we won't have to walk home in the rain afterall," said Judith.

"Cool," said Kevin.

Judith took him by the hand and exited into the first sunny day she had ever remembered seeing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

173/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Australia" by The Shins

Clint sat under a large pine tree in the school yard, his legs crossed, his arms slack in his lap, and his eyes pressed tightly closed.

"What're'ya doing?" asked a girl in a pink sweatshirt and torn jeans.

"Shhhh...." said Clint.

"You're stupid," said the girl.

"Go away," said Clint, without opening his eyes. The girl threw a pine cone at his head. It stuck in his hair but he did not move. The girl wandered off.

A few minutes later a teacher approached. It was Mr. Sheard, who taught gym and permanently wore a whistle.

"What are you doing there? Meditating?" asked Mr. Sheard.

"Shhhh...." said Clint.

"You should be getting some exercise you know, playing with your friends and--"

"Go away," said Clint. Mr. Sheard raised his eyebrows, and backed away with his hands up.

A squirrel approached Clint and chittered.

"Shhhh..." said Clint.

"Meep," said the squirrel with indignation.

"Go away," said Clint. The squirrel spat out a nut and threw it towards Clint (it only traveled an inch and missed Clint by several feet. The squirrel hopped off.

The bell rang and the yard quickly emptied, but Clint did not move. He pressed his eyes tighter, then balled up his fists. The air began to shimmer around him. He started to become transparent, and within a minute he had completely disappeared.

For the rest of the afternoon he was not missed, but by that evening, when he should have arrived home (in time for his favorite cartoon), his mother began to fret. The next day a police search was underway in the brush near the school. The day after that his parents appeared on the local TV station to make an appeal for his return. Over the next month flyers with his face were placed on telephone poles all over town. The neighbors blathered to a tabloid, accusing his parents of chopping him up and burying him in the backyard. The police dug up the backyard and found nothing but several shards of thousand-year-old native american pottery. As the year wore on, his parents separated, then divorced. Five years later his mother moved to the other side of the continent and his father remarried and moved to the next town. Mr. Sheard was arrested for heading up an illegal gambling ring. The squirrel died and the girl with the pine cone became a teen mother and starred on a reality show.

Ten years after that, in the winter, on a Sunday, Clint reappeared under the same, now fatter tree. He opened his eyes and smiled brightly.

"Wow!" he exclaimed. "It finally worked!"

He jumped up and raised his hands in the air.

"Wooohoo!" he yelled, then punched the air. Then he dropped his arms, seeing that no one else was there. His smile subsided. He wrapped his bare arms around his chest, then started running towards the school door. He tried the freezing cold handle, but it was locked. He stuck his hand under his armpit. He peered in through the window at the gloom beyond.

"Oh no," he said.

He ran out of the school yard and down the street, which was deserted of cars.

"Oh no," he repeated.

He crossed the street and bang on the door of the nearest house. An old lady came to the door. She opened the inner door but not the outside screen.

"I'm not buying any cookies or twenty dollar chocolate bars. I'm on a fixed income!" she said gruffly.

"I need your help! Please, I need to use your phone!"

"Why don't you use your one phone! Don't all you kids have cell phones these days?"

"What's a cell phone?"


"Huh? Uh, please just let me use your phone. I have to call my parents and get home."

"I'm not going to fall for that. You might force your way in here and rape me and then take my money for your drugs. I know how these things work!" She started to close the door.

"I'm ten years old! Why would I do any of those things? Please ma'am, please just let me make a phone call!"

"Hmm," said the old lady, opening the door wide again. "You look familiar."

"I do?" asked Clint, shivering.

" look kind of like that kid who went missing."

"Well I did kind of go missing, but I don't know for how long."

"How do you mean?"

"I figured out how to teleport, but I think it was just through time, not through space, you know. It was amazing." He grinned shakily. "Can't I come in? I don't have a jacket."

The old lady narrowed her eyes.

"You're one of those religious people, aren't you? You're trying to lure me into your religion by telling me you have special magical powers," she employed air quotes with the last three words.

"Huh? No. I really did it. Honest ma'am."


"Seriously. Please just let me in."

"If you can teleport, why don't you teleport to your house on your own."

"Oh," said Clint. "I-I didn't think of that. I mean, it's really hards and you need a lot of focus and concentration, but I guess since I've done it once, I could do it again. Thanks lady!"

Clint sat down on the cold stoop, then quickly stood again. He let his arms fall to his side, then closed his eyes tightly. He balled up his fists. The air shimmered around him and he started to become transparent. The old lady staggered backward and gasped. She watched as Clint disappeared entirely.

Fifteen years later, in the summer, Clint reappeared on the old lady's stoop. She was now dead, but the property was completely ringed with tents. People with tamborines and guitars wove around the encampment, some chatting happily, some singing, some reciting poetry to themselves. When Clint arrived, word quickly travelled through the tents and he was greeted with cheers and bows.

"Teach us!" they said in unison. "Teach us master of time and space! Teach us!"

"Uh," said Clint. "What?"

"The prophecy has been fulfilled!" screamed a young woman in a green dress (she was the granddaughter of the girl who threw the pine cone at Clint), before collapsing and writhing on the ground in religious ecstasy.

"Who are you people?" asked Clint.

"We are your devoted followers," said an old man with an impressive beard who looked suspiciously like Santa Claus. "Teach us how to teleport, please, master." He prostrated himself on the ground.

"Uh, I kind of need to use the bathroom," said Clint.

"This way!" said several people, leading him towards a row of porta-potties.

He stepped inside the one he thought was the cleanest and closed the door. The crowd watched the porta-potty expectantly. After ten minutes, the man with the santa beard knocked on the door.

"Um, everything okay in there master?" he asked. There was no answer. He turned to the crowd. "What should we do?" he whispered. They debated the matter, and half an hour later with no further response, they broke the lock and opened the door to find the porta-potty empty. The crowd gasped then burst into a spontaneous rendition of their anthem about teleportation.

Fifteen years later, Clint reappeared inside the porta-potty, which was sparkling clean, but covered in tiny messages written black marker. Dear Clint, take me with you next time. Dear Clint, teach me about time and space. Dear Clint, thank you for bringing world peace. Dear Clint, please heal my cancer. Dear Clint, I want to live in the future like you. He traced his fingers across the words. There were so many that he couldn't take them all in.

He opened the door and stepped out onto a marble floor. He looked around. The ceiling was made of glass and he saw stars on the other side. Around the porta-potty was strung a ring of velvet rope, which was then surrounded by red carpeting. He took a step further and a loud alarm sounded.

Guards in smart uniforms flooded into the vast room. Many of them gasped then prostrated themselves.

"You're twelve hours early!" exclaimed one guard before clapping his hands over his mouth then prostrating himself.

"Who are you?!"

"We're the time guard, oh master," said one guard, bowing low. "We serve you, forever and always!"

"Where are my parents?" asked Clint.

"Sadly, master, they are deceased."

"What does that mean?"

"Uh, they are dead, master."

"When did this happen?" said Clint, beginning to cry. "Were they in a car accident or something?"

"About ten years ago. Old age."

"Old age?!"

"Master, your first jump was 45 years ago. You do realize each one takes fifteen years?"

Clint stumbled backward and fell against the porta-potty.

"I'm fifty-five?" he whispered to himself. The guards leaned in, trying to hear what he was saying.

"What is your command, master? Are you ready to teach us your way?"

"My way?"

"You've mastered time and space. You've brought peace to humanity. We all follow you now," said the guard.

"Some of us believe you are our god!" shouted another guard from the back.

"M-uh?!" exclaimed Clint, pressing his hand to his forehead. "I'm just ten! I don't know what you want me to tell you! I was supposed to just travel across space! I just want to get back to my parents! And I can't go back!"

He lay down on the cold marble floor and started sobbing.

"He's--he's just a kid," said one of the guards. "He's normal!"

The crowd of guards started murmuring.

"We can't tell the government about this," said one of the guards to his fellow. "It would bring down the regime."

"We have to do something," said the other. He wrung his hands, then stepped over the velvet rope. The crowd gasped then fell silent.

The guard walked up to Clint and knelt beside him. He placed his hand gently on Clint's back.

"He touched him!" said someone in the crowd. There were more gasped.

"It's okay...buddy," said the guard.

"No it's not," said Clint, twisting to face the guard and leaving a trail of mucus on the marble. "You don't understand."

"No, I guess I don't," said the guard. "But maybe you'll feel better after a cup of hot cocoa and a good sleep. What do you say?"

"I don't have a house anymore, or a bed," said Clint, choking back more sobs.

"Sure you do," said the guard. "This whole facility was built for you. It's your house."

"It is?" asked Clint looking up.

"Yes, you own this."

"Is there a swimming pool?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact there is. Plus there are classrooms, you know, for when you are ready to teach your technique."

Clint furrowed his brow.

"Or maybe you'd prefer not to teach directly. Or maybe not at all, though I'd encourage you to try--"

Clint sat up and faced the porta-potty, away from the guard. He wiped his face on his bare arm.

"I'll take the hot cocoa," said Clint. "But anything else, well, if I don't like things here I can always see what your kids want to do for me instead."

The guards all sighed with relief. Hands were clasped. Several people prostrated themselves anew. They started to sing the teleportation anthem. Clint stood up and let the guard escort him to his lavish living quarters.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

172/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "This Too Shall Pass" by OK Go

Jenny pulled her tin box up to the sink, stood on it, and stretched to reach the tap. She turned on the cold water and it chugged and creaked before exuding a thin stream of brown, flaky water. She let it run until it was as clear as it was going to get, then filled a pitcher covered with a piece of cloth secured with an elastic band. The dirt collected on the fabric, though the water in the pitcher was still cloudy. She turned off the tap and looked over at her grandmother, snoring in her chair, with needles still in her bruised arm.

Jenny moved the pitcher to the far side of the counter, removed the cloth, then moved her box, and pushed the pitcher into the microwave. She closed the door and punched in some numbers. The microwave whirred to life and Jenny put her chin down on the counter to watch the pitcher slowly spin around.

Outside their airlock, on the walkway, there was a thud and a scream. Jenny turned around and stared at the door. Loud footsteps, laughter.

"Grandma," she said. She looked over to see her still snoring. "Grandma?"

She jumped down from her box and ran to her Grandmother, pulling out the needles and shaking her arm.

"Grandma, wake up! I think they're here!" she whispered loudly.


"Open up!" bellowed a man.

"Go away!" Jenny screamed. "You ain't got no right to take from us!"

"Shut up!" yelled her grandmother. She shoved Jenny to the floor. "What'd I tell you before, girl! You stay quiet!"

"Oh, looks like we got ourselves a little domestic dispute in there!" There was laughter from outside the door.

"You go away now!" yelled the grandmother. "Don't you have someone else to bother?!"

"Not right now!" Laughter.


Jenny scrambled into the corner of the room, behind her grandmother's chair, pulling her knees up to her chest.

"We know your lock's faulty--"

"No it ain't! I had it fixed yesterday!"

"With what money? You owe us!"

"I don't owe you nothing! You're not the dealer! You're not the landlord!"

"No, we're just the police. You want to not get beat by us, you pay!"

"Go away!" screamed the grandmother, throwing a licey pillow at the door.

There was clicking and a rattling, and the airlock wheezed open. The grandmother launched herself at the opening, punching and kicking, but she was thrown back onto the threadbare sofa. Three teenage boys and one teenage girl burst in. Two of the boys held the grandmother down, squishing her face into the soiled upholstery. The other boy immediately spotted the drugs and needles and scooped them up, putting them in a large sack.

"No!" the grandmother screamed.

"What else you got?" he asked the grandmother calmly.

"I ain't got nothing! Give me my medicine back! Give it back!" she cried frantically.

"Lady, you're so far gone, I'm doing you a favor," said the boy.

"Hey, what do we have here?" said the girl. She looked around the chair and pointed at Jenny.

Jenny crawled around the chair and dove for the space behind the sofa. The teenage girl lunged and grabbed her by the foot and dragged her out. Jenny kicked and scratched at the girl.

"Calm down!" yelled the teenage girl. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I just want to see you."

"You don't touch her!" yelled the grandmother.

The teenage girl pulled Jenny's arms behind her and held her by the wrists. Jenny thrashed until the girl slapped her face with her other hand.

"Geez, lady," said the teenage boy to the grandmother. "What've you been doing to this one? She's all bruised up."

"Grandma, help me!" Jenny sobbed.

"You want her help?" asked the teenage girl. The boys laughed.

"If we don't pay the rent--"

"Shut up, Jenny!" said the grandmother.

"--the landlord will turn off the oxygen and the heat!" Jenny tried to pull away from her captor, scraping her bare feet across the floor.

"Oh, that is sad," said the teenage boy.

"Then if we get evicted, we'll have to live in the walkways with the animals and the trash! Let me go!"

"That is a conundrum," said the boy. "Especially since this level has such a problem with carbon monoxide."

"Not our problem," said the girl.

"Yeah," said one of the other boys. "Let's just get whatever they have and get out of here!"

"Now, now," said the boy. "We are not psychopaths. If we bleed our sheeple dry, there will be no more blood eventually."

"Wha?" asked one of the other boys with a puzzled look on his face.

"No, my brothers, compassion is a useful tool."

"Oh come off it, Spence," said the girl. "What, you're just going to let these two pass?"

The boy stepped over the coffee table and sat down on it, putting an arm around Jenny.

"No, but I think I'll make a deal. How'd you like a job kid?"

Jenny horked up mucus from a ready supply from her unhealthy lungs and spat it at him. He wiped it away with a tattered sleeve.

"You haven't even heard what it is yet. Aren't you even a little bit curious?"

Jenny shook her head vigorously and frowned.

"Sure you do," said the boy, ignoring her reaction. "I want you to be my courier. Do you know what that is? You deliver messages and small items. It's really easy, and in return, I won't hassle you're grandmother. Well, as much."

The other boys laughed.

"What do you say?" asked the girl. "I used to do it for our old boss. Ain't much trouble at all."

"I don't know," said Jenny, squinting at the boy.

"Don't trust them!" said the grandmother. "They'll rape you soon as they can!"

"Oh, I think you'll be safer with us than with her."

"Let my arms go," said Jenny, "and I'll think about it."

The boy nodded to the girl and she released Jenny's arms. Jenny rubbed her wrists, and sauntered over to the kitchen area. The others looked expectantly at her. She stood up on her box and put her arms on hips.

"Come on kid, hurry it up!" said the girl.

"I'm thinking!" Jenny snapped back.

The microwave dingged. The teenagers looked at each other and shrugged. Jenny popped open the door, pulled out the pitcher, jumped down from the box, spilling steaming water, and threw the water at everyone else. They started screaming and clutching their faces. Jenny kicked the teenagers in their knees.

"Get out! Get out all of you!"

"You little--"

"I've got more acid! Don't you ever come back!"

"Acid?!" "This isn't acid? Is it?" "It's burning me, it's burning me!"

"You need to get to the hospital floor!" screamed Jenny.

The teenagers fell over themselves as they left through the airlock. Jenny secured the door.

"It's on me! It's on me," sobbed the grandmother, looking at her soaked shirt.

"It's not acid," sighed Jenny.

"It's not?" asked her grandmother, bleary-eyed.

"No," said Jenny, as she put the pitcher back on the counter. "It was just hot and you're suggestive."

"What'd you mean by that? Are you sassing me?"

Jenny sat down heavily on her box.

"How much medicine would it take for you to leave the apartment? Like for good?"

"What?" asked her grandmother. "I ain't leaving this place. I ain't ever leaving. And how dare you ask me to leave! I'm you're only kin! Wait, why, did you steal some from the dealer? Tell me if you have medicine, tell me girl."

Jenny narrowed her eyes.

"What would you do for it, if I had it?"

"You have some don't you? Don't you!?"

"What would you do?"

The grandmother mashed her toothless mouth together and sat in her chair. She threw her arms around her chest and pulled on her sweater.

"You better not be holding back on me," she said, spitting out the words. "You're in for a beating if you are."

"No," lied Jenny, glancing down at her tin box. "I ain't. Do you want a tea, grandma? I was gonna make tea for you before the police kids came. I don't think you've had anything in your belly since yesterday."

"No," said the grandmother, rocking forward. Suddenly she plunged a hand between the arm of her chair and her cushion. She withdrew her credit stick and checked the balance. "But you can run go get me twelve pills from the dealer."

She held the credit stick out to Jenny. Jenny got up, picked up her tin box, and took the stick.

"Yes grandma."

"You hurry back now. I'm sweating."

Jenny opened the airlock and looked out both ways. There was no one but passed out drunks and roving tomcats on the walkway. She looked out into the inner cavity of the ship. There were hundreds of levels of walkways and behind those, tens of thousands of apartments identical to her own. Below the walkways on the lowest levels were the engines, but no one had ever told her what they ever did other than make low rumbling sounds every so often. It was the whole world at her door. She wondered if all the occupants lived like her. She looked back at her grandmother, settling back down in the chair for another nap.

Jenny stepped over the threshold and let the airlock door close. She squatted down and opened the tin box. The inside was packed with pills she'd siphoned from her excursions from the dealer over the past two years. She fished through the various bags and found her mother's old credit stick. She slid the two sticks together by their tongue and groove, and transfer another small amount to her stick. When it was done she slid them apart and put hers back in the box and closed it. She decided she was nearly ready to set up her own business soon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

171/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Kings of the Wild Frontier" by Adam & The Ants

The ship rumbled with turbulence as it descended through thick thunderheads. Lightning cracked, illuminating the infantry bay and its stark plethora of faces--old vets and fresh hires alike. They were mostly gaunt, nervous, ghostly, though some where sleeping, or chatting, or smoking languidly. Gator Knudsen, a freshie, clung to the worn black straps that bound him to the interior frame of the bay as the ship bucked.

"I hope the navies are on their shit this time," said the man seated next to him, an old timer with a once broken nose and a scar that ran from his cheek to his exposed chest hair. He was fondling the beads of a rosary in one hand, then winked at Gator.

"What do you mean?" asked Gator nervously. The old timer grinned a smile that telegraphed you're new, and leaned his head back.

"The navy gunners. The last run I was on, they did a shit job of razing the locals from the gun ports. Captain says it was a mechanical malfunction, but I says it was a officer incompetence malfunction. Course the navies don't have to be out on the ground getting the sticks and stones of the natives." He shoved the rosary into his interior pocket. "After we got back, thinned out as we were and a bit more than pissed off, I came across a young navy gunner, wet behind the ears and stupid as fuck, who tried to justify what had happened..."

"What'd you do?"

"Let's just say he was found the next day with his head in the head and wasn't speaking much no more." The old timer winked again.

"Oh," said Gator quietly.

"Don't worry though freshie, if you got my back out there," he pointed vaguely at the bay door, "no one ain't finding you in a similar demise." He laughed and punched Gator in the shoulder.

The ship lurched.

"That'd be the parachutes," said the old timer, looking up. He crossed himself and kissed a crucifix tattoo on his wrist. "Not long now."


"This your first hop?"

"Yeah, it is," said Gator.

"Oooh, not just a freshie, but a virgin freshie. This'll be good. Wanna know you're life expectancy once you get out there?"

"Not really--"

"Less than ten minutes." The old timer laughed maniacally. Gator looked down at his clenched, shaking fists. "But you know, if you make it past that, you might just have a future. You might be cut out for this life. So tell me, why'd you sign up?"

"I wanted to get off Earth."

"Ah, simple enough. Can't say I really shared the feeling. I did it for the money at first, but then I found out I really liked it." The old timer grinned widely and chuckled while looking up and down Gator's face for a reaction.

"Well," said Gator, "my mother's poor, so I couldn't go to university. There was no way I could go as an engineer or a pilot. So it's this."

"Yeah, yeah," said the old timer. "Bet you got your eye on a patch of land. Bet you think you'll marry some woman and set up your own dynasty, and get a whole continent named after you."

"No, I--"

"Come on freshie, I know your type. You've got ambition. You want to be remembered. And if you have to get your hands a little bloody with some anonymous stone age aliens, so what of it? It's for the greater good, ain't?"

"It's not like that, not with me, I swear."

"Sure," said the old timer, nodding. "But me, you know, I ain't like that. I'm just here for the butchering!" The old timer laughed, then screamed into Gator's face.

The ship's super cooled rail guns powered up and started grinding out bullets made of dense ice at several times the speed of sound (the use of ice ensured that the ship could always resupply its ammunition). The men in the infantry bay straightened up and did final checks on their weapons. The ship landed with an echoing thud. The men began to unbuckle from their seats. They stood, some got down into postures an Olympic runner would assume just before the gun went off.

Gator held an electric staff, and checked and rechecked its charge three times in quick succession. He pulled down his helmet visor and adjusted a strap on his body armor. He lungs sucked in a quick blast of air then he held his breath.

The pistons to the the bay door started to creak, and a crack of outside light came in with the sound of howling wind. The men in the bay started to scream and beat their body armor--a cacophonous thrumming and wailing. The old timer brought out two large tomahawks, one for each hand. He was sweating and frothing at the mouth. Gator glanced at him, open-jawed.

The door dropped further down and rain started coming into the bay in hard droplets. The first rows of men rushed the door, running up it, clambering over it, and out. The old timer ran in his turn, but Gator stood back, his feet frozen and glued to the floor. Men started running from behind him, and someone pushed him forward. He started to stumble, then breathing hard, he screamed like an animal, no longer processing what was happening around him, and ran forward into the storm.

The guns were taking care of things past one hundred meters, but the it was the job of the infantry to take care of everything closer to the ship. The men in front of Gator were fighting something, but he couldn't clearly see what. There was an explosion, with blue fire, and men screamed, thrown into the air, eviscerated, globs of them raining back down. Gator stopped screaming. Another explosion.

"That's not us!" he screamed. "We don't have those--"

"No shit!" said a man running past him.

Gator looked down at his staff, now seemingly thing and frail in his hands. Someone punched him in the back.

"Get in it you pussy or we'll skin you!" screamed another man.

Gator ran forward, thinking fuck fuck fuck FUCK, in his head. He ran up to the line of scrambling men. They parted, fighting into other directions, and for the first time, Gator saw the form of his adversary.

It was large, seven feet or more, muscular, and covered with gray-blue hair that slicked off the rain. It had three or four arms of varying lengths, though not arranged in any semblance of symmetry. It had a mouth at one end, and a patch of eyes on what Gator thought might be called a chest. It held a rocked in a three fingered hand, and wore pouch slung over two lower limbs filled with...glowing things. It opened its mouth and screeched violently at him.

Gator shrunk back, then remembered his staff. He whipped it around as the creature launched the rock at him. He aimed the staff at the pouch and pressed the fire button. A blast of magnetically controlled electricity shot out and enveloped the creature's leg, and it stumbled back, but was not disabled. The rock hit Gator in the shoulder, shattering it, and he fell back into the muddy ground. The glowing things in the pouch changed from white to blue, then started to expand. The creature squealed and worked to untie the pouch, and as the pouch was about to burst it flung it in an amazing arc towards the bay door of the ship.

As it landed it exploded--the concussion was deafening and the light blinding but heatless. Gator laid still in the mud, his brain overwhelmed with the pain. After a few long seconds, the light diminished and sound started to return. There was a keening wail. Gator tried to push himself up from the sucking grip of the mud, and used his staff to help him balance. In front of him lay the creature, wailing and curled in a ball. A large section of metal pierced its chest. It looked up at Gator.

Gator stood, shaking, crying. The line of fighting had progressed outward; they were gaining ground, but there were bodies of both men and creatures strewn across the muddy field. Gator wiped his eyes and then noticed that the field was scored with furrows.

The creature in front of him gurgled up something thick and wet from its mouth and started hacking pitifully. Gator drew up his staff and placed the tip against the eye patch of the creature. He pressed the button and watched the creature vibrate until it started to smoke. He pulled back the staff and felt oddly satisfied.

He started walking towards the line, being careful of his tender shoulder. The navy guns finally fell silent. The rain began to diminish and he saw the tops of thatch huts. The men were running around, now chasing smaller versions of the creatures. He saw the old timer pick up one that was no more than a foot high, fling it into the air and slash at it, catching it with one of his tomahawks, as it fell back down.  Gator stopped walking and stared at the carnage until there was less and less fighting back and more and more of men laughing.

Someone instructed him to light the huts on fire with his staff. He looked at the officer blankly.

"You deaf!?" screamed the officer. Gator shook his head. "Light this shit up then!"

Gator ran to the nearest hut and buzzed it with the tip of his staff. Flames licked up the conical structure.

"What does it matter?" he said out loud. "They don't need them anymore. I'll light the whole fucking planet on fire!" he screamed. He ran around to all the huts, poking the staff at them, until the air grew hot  and sweating and stagnant with the flames.

The other men threw the bodies onto the fires. The smell was faintly sweet, even appetizing. Some of the men wandered or sat down, tired. The medics addressed wounds. Others carried the dead men back to the ship.

The old timer found Gator again. He approached Gator while he wiped his tomahawks clean.

"You made it. How'd it feel, freshie?" said the old timer.

"I have five more years of this," said Gator in a monotone.

"Well, if you don't like it, there's the wilderness out there." He pointed past the fires. "If you've got a problem with the killing, there's your best out."

"Does anyone really do that?" asked Gator. The old timer whistled.

"None that I know," he said. "I don't think anyone would make it a night in a completely unsurveyed wilderness like this. Still, you'd probably make longer out there than your next mission!" The old timer laughed. Gator walked away, towards the edge of the jungle and away from the rest of the men. Night was falling and the forest possessed long depths of gloomy darkness. There were faint calls of unknown organisms, cheeps and chitters and one haunting, plaintive wail. He dropped his staff, then undid his body armor, throwing the pieces down in a heap. He closed his eyes and stepped forward.