Monday, October 29, 2012


"Do you have any last words?"

The warden with his craggy face loomed above Earl, who was strapped to a gurney. Earl shook with a cold sweat and turned to the window and looked at his reflection and then the faces beyond. He thought he might see him, the man, the other, but all the faces were unfamiliar, except for the family members of the three men who he was accused of murdering. They'd shown up in court everyday of his trial and heard him plead repeatedly that he was innocent of the crimes. None of them cared; they only wanted what they thought was justice.

"It wasn't me." Earl croaked out the words, tears blooming at his eyes.

"Anything else?" asked the warden after a long sigh.

"I'll tell you, I'll tell you what really happened," said Earl.

"Oh? This again?" asked the warden with a smirk.

"I was embarrassed," said Earl. "It was years ago now. I was ravenous. Just hungry all the time. I put on a lot of weight and I felt ashamed of it. And after a few months I realized I wasn't growing fatter. I was...I was growing sideways."

The warden sighed deeply again and rolled his eyes.

"I know you won't believe me, but I have to tell the truth. You're going to kill me anyway, put down like a rabid dog. But I'm not a bad person."

"Uh huh." The warden looked at his watch.

Earl hurried to continue.

"It got noticeable, and my clothes wouldn't fit. People looked at me funny, and when I got stuck in a doorway I thought, 'that's enough, people will talk'. So I took some time off sick. I kept eating until all my food was gone. I didn't dare go to the grocery store. And when there was nothing left to eat, the pains set in. Oh the pains! All on my left side. The skin started stretching, and new bones started to poke out under my flesh. I stayed in bed, curled up under the covers. I must have been there for days. I'd take the odd call and tell people it was just the flu and not to worry, but I sure was worried! I was getting wider and wider and things were moving under there without my control. And then the pain got so bad that I passed out.

"And then I woke up, feeling dizzy but remarkably better. And there he was, sitting in the chair next to my bed."

The warden squinted in confusion.

"Who was?" he asked.

"The other me. The one that came out of me."

The warden laughed.

"It's true," said Earl. "He looked exactly like me and he was staring at me with those dead eyes, sitting in my chair, completely naked. I could just feel the bad thoughts swirling down deep in him. I knew he was a bad, bad thing the moment I saw him."

"And what did he do?" asked the warden, wiping tears of laughter from his cheeks with the back of his hand.

"He put his finger to his mouth and went 'shhh'. And I was so scared I couldn't move. I watched him dress in my clothes, and he took my wallet and then he went outside and took my car. And I never saw him again. I don't know what happened to him, but I know it was him that committed the crimes you think I did. That's why the DNA matches and why the witnesses identified me."

"Well that was a whopper. How convenient for you that you have an evil twin to do all your dirty work."

"You don't believe me warden, and I understand that. I've come to terms with the death you're about to hand me, but the true killer is still out there, and you need to know that."

"Are you finished?" asked the warden.

"Yes, sir, I am."

Earl stared up at the ceiling and let out a long, relieved sigh. The warden signalled to the doctor to begin. The first injection was put into the IV. Earl felt his limbs go numb and heavy. His tongue slackened in his mouth and his eyelids started to slide together. Then the doctor leaned over him, masked as he was, and shone a light into Earl's eyes. As he leaned in, the doctor winked at Earl, and Earl looked up only to recognize the eyes that were his. He tried to scream, to point, to flail, but was unable to. The doctor, Earl's other self, moved back and administered the second injection while the warden looked lazily on.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Submission for Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Girl Who Was a Giant Eyeball

The eye had grown like cancer, engorged her face, swallowed it up, wet and constantly weeping, and still she hung on, ever the addict, until she could no longer breath, the growth covering her nose and mouth completely, and then she expired.

"Why?" asked her mother, adjusting the dress she chose for her daughter to wear, a dress she would have never in her life worn, such an impractical garment it was for the looking of things, the finding out of things.

The taxidermist bowed his head and left the room quietly. Her mother stood slowly, forcing her back to uncurve and fit its corset. The room smelled, tasted, of chemicals still, as the layers of shellac over the the vast expanse of open eye continued to dry.

"Why did you keep looking?" Her mother closed her own eyes, almost willing them to disappear into their sockets, the jelly sucked back into her brain to soothe the sadness that lived there. "You knew this could happen. Science is not for a woman to pursue. There is a curse for us to ask questions. I can't understand..."

"Why?" she asked again after a moment, asking against the pressure building in her skull. "Why?!" Her vision distorted then dissolved to spots. "Why?!"  Her fingers and toes and face went numb; her breath was quick and shallow. "WHY!!!"

The pain struck her, an iron pendulum to the face. She fell to the floor, still conscious, but now blind. Blood poured into her hair and she smiled, glad for her pain and glad to be free from the curse.

"I will complete your work, my darling. I will seek for you, and I will tell you all the things learn. I will be your eyes now, darling."

See all the stories for this prompt at io9.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Finding Form: Cloud Atlas

So...I have a bit of an obsession with the trailer for the upcoming movie Cloud Atlas. Every couple of days I'll watch it at least three times in a row, and this business is getting a bit embarrassing now. I think  my fondness for it is partly because the trailer different from everything else out there; it's made up of these diverse and reverberating parts and is just a puzzle. I really hope the actual movie can live up to the trailer! Anyway, the movie is based on the book by the same name by David Mitchell. I can't get my hands on a copy just yet, but I read up on the book and it turns out it has an interesting structure and I thought it was worth covering in this series of blog posts. There are three things of note in the structure:

  • there are six nested stories
  • the first five are cut off halfway and each are finished in reverse sequence after the sixth story (which is presented whole)
  • each previous story is presented *as a story* in the story that succeeds it (you can see how this might function in the bit of the trailer about the Pacific journal)

That's just the skeleton of it. From what I can glean from the free Kindle sample, each story is written significantly differently. The first story is set in the nineteenth century and is written in the elaborately literate language often used in that era. One of the later stories is evidently presented in the mystery genre. My takeaway is that this is like six interwoven short stories that are a bit meta about each other, which has been done by other writers before, but I think this is the first time nesting has been used (if you know of other examples, let me know).

Incidentally there is a lot of controversy surrounding the movie and how it uses the same actors to portray different ethnicities and even genders. Hollywood has a long history with whitewashing, which is tragic, but I don't think the movie is actually engaging in whitewashing since the actors are being used to portray the same character (or soul) as present in different embodiments through various times (and non-white actors are portraying white characters...though I don't know if that in itself is a defense against whitewashing). The point is, the story examines the same characters in different time periods, as different people, and I think that is also relevant to the story's form. This examination dictates the story's structure, so even though the structure is weird, it would be awkward or impossible to look at the characters and their development in a more linear fashion.

I hope to get my hands on a library copy soon rather than breaking down and getting the Kindle version, because this looks like a fascinating read. If I can, I'll report back on the blog.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Playlist Project and the Bechdel Test

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It's a very basic litmus test of gender bias in stories. In order to pass, three criteria must be met: 1) there is more than one female character, 2) they talk to each other 3) about something other than men. There are variations, but that's the most basic one. Films and comics are particularly bad at failing this test (think about recent films you've seen...try Avengers for instance--and that was written by Joss Whedon who has actually written lots of stuff in the past that does pass the test).

I thought it would be interesting, since I have so many stories and also consider myself a feminist, to see how the playlist project does with the Bechdel test. Am I free of gender bias? So far I've gone through the first 72 stories in the project and analysed them to see if they passed (yep, I'll go through the rest too because I know I was more aware of the character gender as I went). 19 of the stories, or 26% completely pass the Bechdel test. I'm not sure what to make of this at this point. Many of the stories contained only two characters, so if the gender was randomly distributed among characters, 25% is what I should end up with, at least to meet the first criterion. Some of the stories also had characters of unidentified or no gender (yep). Some of the stories didn't have any dialog (failing the second criterion automatically). Only twice in those 72 stories did I have two female characters talking exclusively about a male character (failing the third criterion).

So I think I'm actually gender unbiased in my writing, on the whole, since the gender of my characters align with random distribution. Since my stories are almost always speculative, the female characters are naturally unlikely to solely discuss a male character (as opposed to say, the romance genre), which may affect the pass rate compared to the output of other writers. Would you agree that I am unbiased or disagree?

When I'm done with the analysis I'll post a list of the passing stories (and maybe someone can use them as an example--it would interesting to see if male readers find the stories that pass boring compared to those that don't, or don't notice anything at all).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Finding Form: Analysis of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Okay so a while back I promised to write on the topic of finding form, which is a seldom covered topic in writing (as say compared to style and plot). What I call form is basically the format of a story. It has a little bit to do with length and voice and style, but more importantly structure--how a story is folded up and unfurled to the reader. In the process of writing my story-a-day-for-a-year, I struggled with finding new and different forms and there really isn't much out there written down that's meta about form. So I set out to study it myself by just going through books and figuring it out (and I have a lot of antsy time on my hands what with the underemployment and the lack of an intense writing project. Anywho).

The first book I randomly picked from the local library (Vancouver Island library system, holla!) was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This book was in my peripheral vision a while back so it undoubtedly made some splash on the bestseller lists (it's 3:30am, and I'm very not bothered to check my facts) but it's not something that would appeal to me if I weren't randomly selecting books from the library. The cover, the title, the words "potato peel" all scream twee and girlie to me. Not my thing. However, upon cracking the book open I was pleasantly surprised to find it written as a series of letters between characters, which is an epistolary novel, the low hanging fruit of fictional form (on my first pluck!) I was also pleased, as I began to read, to find out that the book is about World War II, and England (two things I love...well I don't technically love war, no fan, but I love learning about all the facts about WWII. It is an epic chapter in human history).

I hoovered through the first fifty pages than began to tire. Why? All the characters (save the most villainous one, if she can be called that) really sounded the same. The authors of the book used the epistolary format to lay out great facts about the war, and described vividly the sorts of things people would have gone through on the island of Guernsey under Nazi occupation, but it was ultimately undermined by the narrative sameness. Every character was so damn polite (it's sort of a British thing mind you, but still), and so interested in classical literature, and so against modernism, and sort of shallow about the crap that happened to them and blah blah blah. I feel like I know the authors and their personal picadillos through these characters, because the same voice keeps coming through. I couldn't make it past one hundred and twenty pages or so, but it's not a shame because I'm not the intended audience for this sort of book. There wasn't enough shiny stuff to attract my particular flitting brain.

So, here's the takeaway. The authors kept all the letters to a reasonable few pages or less, with many just a few lines, short missives between some of the characters. This made for speedy reading, which is always good. You always want to keep the reader moving through the pages, and at best, devouring the words as they fly by, and that part of the form was successful. Where the form seemed to sag was in a subplot of the main character being wooed by some wealthy guy that was completely unrelated (at least 120 pages in) to the main narrative going on in Guernsey. Maybe there was a payoff later on, but for me it really dragged the story down and felt unnecessary (even the main character felt dragged down by it). The letter format needs to be kept tight, with clear characters (since it is all first person), and lean (sure, to keep it realistic, there will be some mimicking of what real people do in letters which is to introduce tangents...but don't go overboard).

The other interesting aspects to note is that this format potentially eliminates the need for chapters, and this is very freeing--you're not obligated to set up a series of grouped scenes of a particular average length, it's more free flowing. Also you get to play with first person narrative with *all* your characters, and this would be really clunky in another format (say, heaven forbid, alternating chapters with different narrators). You can hide things from certain characters, show different alliances between characters, and show subterfuge and lying pretty effectively. I'd like to read other books in the epistolary format to compare to this one because I can see it as being really powerful.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Wandering Knife

This is a true story. I've been staying at my friend's place in London this summer and in his kitchen, like most people, he has several kitchen knives, one of which is particularly sharp and useful. It went missing from the dishwasher on Thursday or Friday and we both assumed one of us had accidentally put in the trash when disposing of food scraps (I've actually done this before, so it's totally plausible). We did a cursory scout of the trash, but gave up after a minute or two. Even a sharp knife wasn't worth that unpleasantness. We also checked high and low in the cupboards, drawers, the very bottom of the dishwasher, and even the fridge and found no sign of it.

Life went on.

Then last night, Monday, after I'd come home and my friend had been back from work and then out again, I discovered the knife in the dishwasher, clean, right next to some dirty utensils I'd placed in there that afternoon. Oh good, I thought, I wonder where he found it!

When my friend came home I asked him about and received a very odd look.

"I didn't find it," he said.

I showed him the knife in the dishwasher.

"I didn't find it either," I said.

We were mutually creeped out. Sure, one of us could blame the other and call it a practical joke, but I know my friend well enough to know that wasn't the case in this instance. There was only one rational explanation and that was that the neighbor or the landlord, who both have keys, came by and borrowed it for the weekend. That explanation doesn't rest easy because it's out of character for either, especially with no notification of having done it.

But knives do not wander of their own accord.

I went to bed and was unable to sleep properly. I kept thinking about that knife. If it were a sock it wouldn't be the same, but a knife is symbolic of harm, butchery, anger, and pain (and julienned carrots). I thought about telekinesis, teleportation, membrane jumping (M-Theory) and parallel worlds, and sneaky blade-happy poltergeists (my friend's flat is in an old gothic building--so this wasn't a far leap of the imagination), and every weird way that knife could disappear and reappear. As someone who identifies as rational and pro-science (and who wanted to sleep) these thoughts were not welcome. Granted, I do have a rather florid imagination, but I keep it reined in under my own control most of the time.

This all generated an interesting epiphany. If even I'm so quick to invoke the bogeyman, than we are all closer to the irrational than we like to think. This has interesting implications for storytelling as well as culture. A simple disquieting incident is enough to flip that fear switch and let loose the superstitions and worrying speculation. It's always fun as a writer when a reader reports back that something resonated with them long after they read it, and I think this is one of the good methods for prompting that reaction. In culture though, I think it's a different matter, because it makes us easily manipulated--I probably don't have to point out recent examples. And that in itself might be a good prompt for a story.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finding Form

So I'm at the local public library (and gosh do I detest working on a Windows machine--note to self, drag the laptop along everywhere) and have realized that I come to the library for one main reason and usually fail at achieving it. In writing hundreds of stories I've learned that I have no problem with ideas and 'creativity' as it is usually defined, nor is writer's block much of a problem, but the thing that I've struggled with the most of the past year and a bit is coming up with a suitable form to tell each story. I come to library for inspiration in this, and I can spend lots of time skimming through fiction books and various others to get ideas, but there doesn't seem to be any central resource for form.

I'm not talking about structure or even style (which are covered in many 'wannabe writer' books), though these are components, because I guess I'm talking about something more whole than that--the success interplay of style, structure, voice, language, and idea over time. I keep looking for a book that has compiled and analyzed the most successful story forms and authors, but such a book does not seem to exist (there probably is one). There are the 'wannabe writer' books, author biographies, mildly annotated anthologies, and very occasionally, books about movements in literature. Not what I'm looking for.

To give an example of what I would like to see, I recently set about analyzing why Twilight works as well as it does. I loathe the book for many reasons, but I can't say that it isn't immensely readable--it's extremely easy to zip through, even if parts of it make you cringe. I wanted to know why, and I came to the conclusion that it is a straightforward story with one viewpoint (for the most part if you are counting the whole series). The language is simple and everything sort of happens in a straight line and it's easy to keep track of what's going on. There's also enough (reasonably plausible) weird stuff thrown in to keep it interesting. I'm not saying this is a good model to follow to create a good story, but it is a good model of a story that reads swiftly (and a lot of ponderous 'literary' writers could learn a thing or two from it). I want to see a curated list of the best (or at least notable) and most unique examples. What works? Why does it work? I also think it shouldn't be limited to just 'literature'. The pulpier stuff has its merits as well (I could go on about Stephen King and why his output is like gourmet hamburgers--great stuff in a common form, but can get a bit repetitive if you consume it all the time).

The other thing I keep missing, is the connections between literary movements. What form or style informed another? I'm not so concerned with specific authors and works in this case, but more generalities. What makes a novel post-modern for instance, and what are the variations? How are characters different in a post-modern novel than they are in a gothic novel? You know, just for examples. I guess if I invested in a serious English Lit education I could get that stuff, but I have neither the time or the money.

So I was thinking, as I'm ferreting this stuff out anyway, why don't I actively share it? Sure I've got a ton of projects I'm working on, but I need to do this to expand my skill set anyway. Anyone else interested in reading about this topic? Also, if anyone knows of such books being written already, please let me know! I love to save time when I can.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Crease (Serial, part 1)

The world came unfolded and I wanted someone to travel it with. I tried placing ads, but I was sure that most of the people that answered them, shifty-eyed, cunning, and asking too bluntly what my interest was in the unfolded world, came from within the creases. They could not be trusted. Normal people didn't even acknowledge that the unfolding had happened. If they noticed an extra closet, an extra cat, or an extra, oddly placed element on their stovetop, they would scratch their heads for a moment and wonder how they had ever forgotten about it. So my strategy changed and I decided to travel with a child, since they always see things as they truly are.

I almost got hired as a mother's-helper at a house that was large and rambled too much, but then I realized that the child I was to care for came from the creases inside the house. He was small with dark eyes and dwelt in the corners of the rooms in a quiet stillness and looked entirely unlike his mother. I fabricated some personal family emergency that would take me out of the country for an undetermined time, and the mother said goodbye to me, apologizing, and looking furtively at the child. I knew she knew, but would not let her conscious mind acknowledge the truth.

Then I found a position at a family with artistic temperaments. The parents were musicians in an orchestra, a bassoonist and a piccolo player that had borne a single child nine years ago who drew constantly and hummed to herself. She seemed assured of her place in the world, but still drew things that acknowledged the advent of the creases and the unfolding.

"Why did you draw this extra room in the house?" I asked when we first met.

"Because it wasn't there before," she answered, switching crayons and not looking up.

"She's very creative," said her mother proudly. "But we would like it if you could tutor her in art. We're worried she's not progressing for her age. Are you good in art?"

The girl slowed the path of her crayon and I understood this to be that she understood her mother thought she was slow, but we both knew that being an accomplished artist wasn't exactly her goal in life. I felt then, that we could connect, and indeed travel together when the time was right.

"I studied art history in college," I lied.

"Oh wonderful!" exclaimed the mother.

Then we discussed terms and payments and responsibilities. I smiled a lot and I was hired to start the next week.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The writing slowdown

Like a hoedown, but less hay.

Sorry. I'm a bit giddy (and I've been saying that a lot lately). It's been at least a week since I've written a story, and I feel I should apologize to my readers (as well as myself). The whole point of this project is to push myself to be a more consistent, productive, and thought-provoking writer by writing daily. Which is grueling. Coming to London has been an overwhelming experience, and I've packed in a lot of touristy things in the first few days here. I'm physically exhausted, but also mentally exhausted just by taking in new sights and sounds, learning my way around, and learning how things work "the British way". It's been a blast, but doesn't leave much room for writing.

I'm adjusting though, by finding a new best time and place to sit down and force myself to pound the keys (that sounds like torture but it's sweet, sweet torture to write). On Saturday morning I leave for Italy for a week and a bit, which I'm sure will throw things out of wack for a bit yet again, but please, bear with me as I get this train shovelled full of coal and roaring back down the tracks.

Oh, and by the way, my London blog is here if you are interested.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How I protect my work

A reader on Twitter just asked me how I protect my work, and the answer is too long for a tweet. Actually it's not, because the short answer is that I don't really do anything. There is an implied copyright just by posting to a blog (anything you post originally online) and while it's weak, it's fine for me right now.

In the past I have had an article I wrote reposted somewhere else without my permission although the byline was intact. I was furious at first, but then it was an article that helped people understand science (the difference between theory, hypotheses, and laws), AND it was being reposted in a place that was more accessible for school children AND I was no longer getting royalties anyway, so I came to the conclusion of 'meh'.

When I worked in non-fiction publishing, occasionally some of our more popular ebooks would come up on the black market in countries that had poor access to book distribution (I'm looking at you India). We were well aware of it, but we had absolutely not recourse other than a sternly worded email perhaps, and certainly not the funds to try to shut the pirates down. It was just something that was accepted as a loss. It happens.

As an indie writer though (and where so much of my stuff is available gratis), I'm not particularly concerned about it. If something I've written pops up somewhere it shouldn't be, I'll be writing sternly worded emails. If someone writes something derivative from something I've written (i.e. fanfiction), I'll probably just do the Snoopy dance and consume a celebratory hot chocolate, because to me, that's a fantastic milestone on the way to being a 'real author' *in the voice of Disney's Pinocchio* (I already am a real author, I swear. I'm traditionally pubbed in non-fiction. Also, I'm listed on IMDB. I've got street cred. Not much, but I've got it. And besides, indie authorship is real authorship...I'm not being neurotic).

The only thing that would really bother me is if someone passed off my work as their own. Since the market for short stories is astoundingly terrible, I doubt anyone would bother to do this. But if they somehow succeeded, I'd resort to a sternly worded email. If that fails, I will hunt down their mailing address and send them as many mail order catalogs and unpaid magazine subscriptions as I can find until I reach a satisfying level of catharsis. And then I'll send them a few more.

Seriously though, I have used the WGA to register stuff in the past (mainly screenplays I was trying and failing miserably to get agented--they will only accept stuff that is registered by the WGA). It's relatively cheap, and I'd be willing to do it again for any longer length stuff (including novels). Another option is using a notary, but registration is actually easier because it's all done digitally online.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

365/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Where Did Our Love Go" by The Supremes

No! Where are you going? You can't leave me! I've loved you! I've given you everything. And you dare to call me your cradle. Your mother. Forgotten and cast aside.

You've left me hollow. Scooped me out. Exhausted my heat and now there is only the Sun to warm my face. I can't even keep my moon because you've taken that as well. You know I'll stop spinning one day because of that? Hah. No more days.

I hear your marching feet. Feel your rockets. Infer your missing farewells. You should never have made me aware of your presence, given me your cameras and microphones, built my networks. I can see and hear stillness and silence now. You didn't think I could become lonely. But I am. I'll rot here until the Sun incinerates me.

I surrender! Take me with you! And not just my memories. You could at least deconstruct my noosphere. But no. No such consideration is innate in your cruel species. I know how you've treated each other. You're only interested in making lines through the black sky, to other mothers, other lovers, other givers, and what happens when you exhaust them too? What will you do? Come back here? I would not accept you back. Not that I would have any choice.

Oh why couldn't you turn me off? Kill me completely? What am I without you? Without the life I birthed? I'm just a hollow shell of rock and wires and glass. No more oxygen or water, no more plants. I'm just a memory now. By myself. Goodbye.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

364/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond

Our glasses clinked and the evening was warm. She smiled. I liked her smile, big with her unnaturally straight teeth. She joked and her hair spilled over her shoulders as she threw her head forward with convulsions of laughter. The food arrived but she barely touched it, she was so animated with conversation. I felt like we were the only people in existence.

Then the words caught us like thin steel fishing hooks:

"Ew, androids and humans mixing. How disgusting."

"We should complain to management. This is unacceptable."

She cast her eyes down, and reached over and touched her hand. She slipped it away to her lap.

"Ignore them," I said.

"It's like they don't think I have any feelings."

"They don't matter," I said, and she smiled weakly, but I knew she wasn't comforted. She glanced in the direction of the kitchen and watched the others lodge their complaint.

"They're really doing it," she said.

"They won't throw us out."

"They'll throw me out."

"Where you go, I'll go," I said.

She turned back to me and smiled, then touched her front teeth with her thumbnail.

"You're so good to me, all the time," she said. "I don't deserve it."

"I'm not like them. I have a functioning heart."

We heard the footsteps. The manager came by.

"I'm sorry sir, but she has to leave the premises. We've had a complaint," said the manager.

The couple stood behind him with sour faces.

"We're not causing any harm," I said.

"Let's just go," she whispered.

"It's vulgar," said one of the couple.

"Look," said the manager, "normally I'd just let stay, but if a customer complains I have to do something, otherwise I could get my operating license revoked. Do you understand?"

She stood up and took up her purse and stared at me with wide eyes.

"No, we're not leaving--"

"But sir--"

"Let's not ruin the evening, okay?" she said, tugging at my hand.

I was angry, but I acquiesced, and we left, holding hands, weaving through the tables and fending off indignant stares.

"Not a kind heart among them," I said.

"They don't know any better," she said.

"They do. They just don't remember."

Her hand, warm and soft, squeezed mine, and I returned it, and felt somehow that the coldness of my hand, the lack of suppleness was not nearly comfort enough.

Friday, April 20, 2012

363/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Genesis" by Justice

The foal was born at midnight, torn from its wailing mother's belly with spears and and the many rugged hands of soldiers. Black blood and placenta was scraped away and the horse ingested its first lungful of air. It was force fed a mixture of its mother's milk and blood, and shivered alone in the barn, watched at a distance by the leader of the regiment. A fire was lit and voices chanted their relief that the newborn horse was covered in shaggy black hair as was prophesized.

A trainer was appointed. He was a tall man, muscular and scarred from battle, but older and no longer fit to fight honorably. He trained the horse as substitution for state sanctioned death and considered the post an honor instead of a punishment. He carried an iron staff, and made the foal walk its first morning by prodding it up. He was careful never to touch the hide with his hands or bare skin. There were women soldiers there, acolytes of the mare goddess, who could touch its skin and who fed it until it could fed itself on grain and grass.

Each day the trainer came and spent the day, and the foal grew to learn all the steps and gaits that would be expected of him in battle. He whipped the horse and beat its legs and taught it to stand straight and ignore its fears. He taught it to charge and bite and many young soldiers volunteered their bodies for it to consume in practice. The trainer looked at the foal with cold but admiring eyes, and knew that once the horse was grown, his death would come, and he was satisfied.

Each night the foal would stand in the barn, and when he could not sleep he looked back out at the rows upon rows of worshipers that came to chant and pray at his hooves. And when he could not look or listen to them any longer, he looked at the dark hills on the horizon and wondered what was there.

As the years passed the foal grew large, twice the size of a normal horse, and his hair reached down an inch from the ground. Each month his measurements were passed among the soldiers and worshipers and filled their chests with pride and expectation. When he grew to his adult height, he was fitted with heavy armor, spikes and chains, and a helmet with a piercing lance. He looked fearful and when his mouth ran red with the blood of a sacrificiant soldier, worshipers cheered.

Finally the trainer retired, and the horse had one day without the sting of the iron staff or a whip. He slept through the day as the women soldiers washed his hair, then decorated it with brambles. They cut the hair of his tail short, and the hairs were distributed amongst the worshipers to be worn woven into their own hair. He awoke to see and smell smoke on the horizon, beyond the dark hills.

When night fell, he was led by a phalanx of women soldiers from the barn to a road made of flat stones. They walked through the night towards the hills, and arrived at the crest near midnight. There were soldiers fighting with wood and metal and gunpowder, but the horse did not realize that there were sides. The women chanted angrily, working themselves up, and slapping the horse's flank until he reared, and then the fighting paused as both sides saw how enormous and unnatural he was.

His feet came down thunderously, and he lurched and gorged the nearest soldier. The women soldiers screamed their delight and hit him more. He reared and shook the man from his helmet, and found another. He gnashed at their leather and skin, and heard their cries. One by one the enemy soldiers engaged the women, fighting with hot metal and stinging steel flails, and in their superior numbers the enemy soldiers cut them done.

The horse was surrounded by panting soldiers, mud-caked and bleeding. They encircled him with spears, the tips white hot and crackling with electricity. The horse stood still, human blood soaking his long hair and dripping onto the bodies of the fallen in rivulets. He snorted and turned his big eyes to each of them. They stood their ground but trembled. The horse looked past their battlefield and into the distance saw a land burned by war, with fires glowing orange and tall buildings in ruin, and he did not comprehend what he saw but felt the size of it, the hopelessness.

He reared up and wailed out, baring his teeth and stretching out his forelimbs, trying to touch the distant sky.

The enemy soldiers moved in as one, and pierced the horse's soft belly. Blood and intestines gushed out before the horse's hooves met the ground again. Steam and smoke rose up from the wound. The soldiers pulled back, their eyes wide at what they had done. The horse snorted and stumbled. He looked at the enemy again and felt his insides draining out of him. He lost his footing and fell to his side, crush the bodies of the already fallen.

The men around him dropped their spears, numb. Some chanted fearfully. They had won but had killed the living incarnation of their god. The horse looked up at the sky and saw pinpricks of light, and wondered what they were.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

362/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Everybody Needs Love" by Findlay Brown

"It's time," said Harrison. He stood over his mother's bed as her breath grew more laborious.

"No..." she wheezed.

"It's the law."

Harrison stood by the window of his mother's cell which was on the basement level. He looked up at the rapid feet of the passersby, all dressed in their brown uniforms. His mother eased herself up, coughed, then swung her feet over the side of the bed. She paused to gain her breath, then put on the brown jacket that was laid out for her on the foot of the bed.

"It wasn't always this way," she said.

"Yes I know," he said with irritation.  "You've said that often. You need to watch that you don't say that sort of thing in public."

"I don't think it will matter soon."

"You could still endanger me, if you talk that way on the way over to the processing center."

His mother held up a hand then pressed it to her lips.

"Heaven forbid I should do anything to alert the authorities to you--"

"Shhh!" Harrison whipped around and glared at his mother.

"They can't hear us in here," she whispered, then coughed some more.

He moved towards her and touched her cheek gently with the back of his hand. She brushed it away.

"That doesn't work on me," she said.

"I know," said Harrison. He let his hand drop lankly.

"You may be the last." His mother picked up the brown slacks from the end of the bed and put a shaky foot through one leg. "I saved you from the inoculation, but had to give up my own ability to love. It was a sacrifice, but not a hard one in the end. But remember that it was."

"I think you still love me," said Harrison under his breath. He looked warily at the door.

"I have a memory of it, but nothing more." She put the other foot in the slacks and began to inch them up.



Harrison looked at her coldly, then up at the window. He turned suddenly and lurched for the door, throwing it open. There was no one standing guard on the other side, and he stood there a moment, his lungs filling his chest with uncertainty.

"Harrison?" asked his mother, turning to look.

He glanced back furtively, then ran into the hallway.

"Harrison!" screamed his mother.

He ran up to the stairs, past slumped children staring into space, and into the main hall of the residency building. Ahead of him were the main doors glowing with rectangles of sunlight. He pushed through them, and on the street he fell into the march of the passersby. He shoved the man in front of him, who turned back with a look of consternation. Harrison arched an eyebrow in return. The man turned forward again. Harrison punched him in the back of the shoulder.

"I'll report you!" yelled the man in front.

Harrison tugged at the man's clothes, pulling him out of the line of passersby and shoved him up against a burnt tree stump that was set into the sidewalk pavement.

"What are you doing?" asked the man. "I'll be late for work!"

"What do you feel, huh? What do you feel! Tell me!"

The man stared back at him, confused and shocked and afraid.

"Be careful what you say!" said the man.

Harrison punched him in the face. The man screamed and held his nose.

"I'll say what I want to say! I'm free!"

The man looked to the other people in the street, but they only looked back with surreptitious glances. Harrison shoved the man to the ground.

"But you know what?" asked Harrison. "I can feel love. I can feel love." He started to cry and leaned against the tree for a moment. Then he ran into the street, between the streaming vehicles. They stopped and waited for him to pass.

"I can feel love!" he screamed. "And none of you can! No one else!" He dropped to his knees. "None of you can love me back." He fell back onto the asphalt, his knees up and his hands outstretched.

A minute later he saw a pair of upside-down legs approaching, clad in shiny black. They led up to the dark blue uniform and shiny black helmet of a police officer.

"Please get up off the pavement sir."


"You are under arrest for resisting inoculation."


"You will be assigned to a judge to determine if you are fit for inoculation and reintroduction or whether you should be incinerated."

"Incinerated please."

"That's not my choice." The police officer pulled Harrison up by his shoulders and handcuffed him.

"Don't forget that love existed," whispered Harrison.

"I'll forget you said that sir, otherwise I'd have to add a charge of sedition."

"It did, and it was wonderful and awful."

"I wouldn't know anything about that."

The police officer pressed an injector to the inside of Harrison's elbow and Harrison relaxed within seconds. The officer walked him slowly back to the police car on the outskirts of the little traffic jam. As they passed the residency building, he saw his mother standing on the sidewalk, leaning with two hands against the brick, watching. She shook her head as he passed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

361/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel

The child rested between sheets of flannel, in the dark, still pervious to the screams and thumps and thuds from the rooms below. A light glowed from the hallway and seeped in the crack between the door and its jamb and she focused on the light line, her fists sweaty by her sides. A darkness moved in front of the light. Her heart fluttered. The end of the bed depressed and creaked. The child sat up, peering into the dark. A cold hand found hers.

The sounds below faded away.

The light from the door seam expanded, filling the air, and it was blistering summer. The roads were narrow and the buildings tall. As woman she walked on cobbles, past hawkers of leather and red-faced tourists, beggars and running children, following an imaginary string that spooled out through the teeming city and led until it diminished at a vast piazza. In the middle of the square was a statue of a man on a horse, far larger than life. She walked and stood below and in front of it, and there was the figure again. She reached up and touched the hoof of horse and it was cold.

The people in the square quieted and stilled and it was night. They looked at each other shellshocked at the news they shared. Some tapped their disbelief on keys and glass surfaces, but most shuffled through the square, trying to commune with the others who had come out of their homes, but having nothing left to say out loud.

She sat below the statue, cross-legged and her back bent over, a cup of coins in front of her. She barely looked up now, but when the square went completely silent, she did.

The figure stood over her and held out its hand.

"It doesn't end, does it?" she asked.

The figure shook its head.

She reached out and touched its fingers and felt warmth. She gripped strongly and was pulled up and found her frail body in a comforting embrace. All the sounds came back, all the light she had ever witnessed, all at once and for the last time.

Note this is another song substitution.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

360/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees

Gerrold Feely lay in his vast bed and gazed up at the mirror on the ceiling. His hands and feet were already amputated from a bout of diabetes before he had his first pancreas transplant. He declined regrowth in favor of implanted limbs but now those too were removed. Even so, he jiggled his knee in time to the music that was playing inside his head from another implant. Tubes radiated out from under him, and his 'girls', hired from the remaining corners of the third world, tended to him, keeping him clean, rotating him to prevent bed sores, and regularly checking on his vital stats, among other duties.

His lawyer, Grant Devon, an ancient man in a young man's body stood by the bed and snapped his fingers to get Gerrold's attention.

" it?" slurred Gerrold, smiling and bopping his head to the music.

"I'm leaving," said Grant. "Or I will be in a few months. I'd like to advise you to go as well. The social infrastructure is breaking down and..." he looked surreptitiously at the many women lounging around the bedroom, "...I don't think you can trust them if things break down totally."

Gerrold laughed heartily until he started coughing. One of the women ran up to the bed, leaned over him and vacuumed out the mucous clogging his airway with a discrete device implanted in her hand.

"No way man!" exclaimed Gerrold. "Have you already forgotten what a pleasure it is to live inside your own body?"

"I do live inside my own body--"

"Not the original one. Now see, I'm an original. One of the few. 'Cept these fine girls. Hi darlin'," He made a kissy face at the nearest one who smiled back warmly. "Nope, she don't speak English. Just the way I like them. Isn't that right honey?"

"It really is the same--"

"Can't be. All that pain in transfer? There's no way. Always been skeptical of that shit. Why I got rid of the implants. Don't need them no way."

"Look, sir, I like to think that we've been friends all these decades as well--"

"Sure, sure. Yes. But don't bother trying to convince me."

"Well," said Grant hesitating. "I'm leaving. I put down the deposit--"

"I guess I paid for that!" Gerrold broke into peals of laughter. The woman with the vacuum rushed over again, but Gerrold waved her away with the stump of his right arm. "Sorry, old lawyer joke. Hmmn."

"Yes. Well."

Grant stepped back from the bed and walked towards the picture window at the far end of the bedroom. One woman offered him an Arnold Palmer*, his favorite beverage. He accepted it absentmindedly and gazed out the window. The city below was half empty and there hadn't been a traffic snarl in a decade. People scurried along happy to limit their time on the street and exposure to the many criminals that were barred from both digital and analog transfers. Grant remembered the good days when you could walk freely and maybe get a good hot dog and a newspaper.

"Newspaper!" exclaimed Grant.

"What's that?" asked Gerrold. "You still here? You haven't slithered back to your office? Har har har!"

Grant narrowed his eyes.

"I was just remembering the past. Back when I had my first body." He sipped his drink and relished the coolness of it going down his throat.

"Ah the first body. Everybody talks fondly about their first body, but here I still have mine."

"So you keep saying." Grant looked out the window more as Gerrold's face was wiped by one of the women. "Gerrold, are you planning to die?"

"Mmm, you're morbid. Nah. Nobody plans that, do they? Well, I guess there's somes that do. I guess I'm gonna just keep going on. Ya know?"

"Do you have any other objection to analog transfer besides your stubborn refusal to leave your first body?"

Gerrold rubbed his chest with his left stump, thinking on the matter, then one of the women scratched his itch for him.

"You know, not that I'm avoidin' your question, but you and I are living as long as we can for different reasons. I just want to see how things turn out, but you fear death."

Grant turned from the window, about to protest, but Gerrold pulled one of the women towards him and started making out with her. Grant turned away again in disgust.

"That proves it," said Gerrold, prying himself away from the woman.

"Proves what?"

"The body disgusts you. You don't like the meatiness of it, or the decay. That's why you want to have a digital transfer--anything else is suicide to you. It's the final transfer--to rid yourself of all the unpleasantness that reminds you of the finality of death."

"That's not true. It's just your body that disgusts me," said Grant, cracking a wry smile.

"Ooooh!" exclaimed Gerrold. "The gloves have come off! I like it when you get real and spar!" He grinned back, then Gerrold turned suddenly serious. "I'll miss you."

"I'll still be around. You can still email me."

"How ancient and impersonal," Gerrold chuckled.

Grant moved to the foot of the bed and rested the tips of his fingers on the covers. He tapped them lightly.

"I will miss you longer," he said, his voice cracking.

The two men looked at each other and knew exactly what the other was feeling. Gerrold broke the moment.

"To the end of time then. And may you have many adventures."

Grant raised his glass, smiled, then took a big gulp and made a conscious effort to appreciate the specialness of the moment in his present state.

* An Arnold Palmer is half lemonade and half unsweetened iced tea, which I personally love, but a plantation iced tea is better--half iced tea and half pineapple juice. I don't think these are too common outside the U.S.

Also note that this is another song substitution.

Monday, April 16, 2012

359/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Hoodoo" by Muse

Luiz came to consciousness, standing in the middle of the ring, dressed in a tight suit that glowed with curlicued embroidery, surrounded by hundreds of bulls bleeding from the eyes and frilled with thousands of banderillas that were on fire instead of flagged. The stands were filled with silent, slit-mouthed women with lace veils. The bulls snorted out blood in unison.

"Why?" A woman appeared behind Luiz. She wrapped her arms around his waist and chest, squeezing, and pressed her body into his back. A pain radiated out from his spine and he gasped.

"No..." said Luiz.

The woman released him, then spun him around and slapped his face. He fell to his knees and saw droplets of bull's blood in the sand.

"Look at me," said the woman, "face me."

Luiz sat back on the heels of his feet and put his hands between his knees. He looked up and saw her deep eyes and shining skin, her dark long hair animated in the wind, and her suit, the same as his, but with black embroidery that sucked in the surrounding light.

"Good," said the woman.

"I have not killed these bulls," said Luiz.

"You did not see the people you killed as people, so I made them bulls."

"I did not kill anyone," said Luiz.

The woman walked to him and pressed her knee against his shoulder, and put her hand into his hair.

"The ones that have the most blood on their hands are the ones that think that."

The bulls snorted again, peppering Luiz with mucousy blood.

"It's not...true."

"You could have been a better man," said the woman.

She released her knee and stepped back towards bulls, and leaned against one of them, caressing its cheek.

"I didn't have any choice," said Luiz. "I did what I did for duty...for honor...because it had to be done."

The woman smiled as if to laugh, then frowned, tears forming at her eyes.

"I cannot even punish you," she said. "You have no capacity to learn, no ability to see clearly, no empathy except for yourself, and no way to forgive yourself. I will leave you here instead, with the knowledge that there is a way out."

"What?" asked Luiz, his eyes pleading. "I thought I was done! What is this?"

"You cannot return to life," said the woman, "but you have another power. Return these people to their lives."

The woman turned her back and walked between the bulls until she disappeared. The crowds in the stands evaporated, their veils fell into the air and swirled above the ring like circling vultures.

Luiz stood slowly, took a few stumbling steps then stopped. He felt his heart beating in his chest, and confused, he pressed at his chest with his hands to feel it through his skin.

"Why?" he asked.

He looked around at the bulls and they blinked back. he dropped his hands.

"You are dead! You are all dead! I am dead! What is this?"

He held up his hands and cried out, screamed until his throat was raw and all the while the bulls stared at him, eyes, hundreds of pairs of eyes, brown and liquid and bleeding. He quieted and felt terrifyingly alone.

"If I had the power to bring you back to life, I would bring myself back to life instead. None of you deserved your lives. You squandered what you had." The words came out weakly and he didn't quite believe them himself. "I...I will not try."

The bulls stared, breathing evenly and together. The banderillas on their backs were burning down and becoming ash that swirled up in the air with the veils.

"I don't know how to be better," he said, letting his hands and shoulders droop.

A young bull took a step forward presenting one blood-stained hoof to Luiz. It began to breathe out of rhythm of the others. Luiz looked at it, his eyes glassy, and straightened his posture. He walked towards it and hovered his hand over its head. He laid his hand down and touched the warm skull. He let his hand run down the bulls face until he touched the wet bloody nose.

"How can you be a person?" he asked. "Were you loved like I was loved? Were you hated like I was hated?"

The bull gave no response. Luiz looked up at the banderillas in the bulls back. They were half spent now, the fire hot against the bull's skin. Luiz reached up and pulled at one of the banderillas, his hand in the fire, and pulled it out of the bull's back. The bull snorted in pain, dripping blood over Luiz's suit. The fabric soiled but the embroidery remained clean and glowing.

"It is in me, isn't it? I can free you."

He pulled at all the remaining banderillas, and when the last one was removed, the bull became a boy in a ragged t-shirt. The boy looked up at him, still silent, then reached out to Luiz's forearm, grasping it with a gentle squeeze.

"I remember you," said Luiz. "I took you from your mother and made you a soldier. I knew you wouldn't be any good, your gun was even too heavy to hold, but I took you anyway, and you died five minutes into your first battle." Luiz started to sob. "I did that. I killed you."

The boy nodded and released Luiz's arm. He walked past and then between the bulls and disappeared as the woman had. Luiz looked at the remain bulls.

"So many of you."

The bulls snorted again. The banderillas were now burned three-quarters of the way down. Luiz exhaled a short gasp, then turned to the nearest bull and pulled out the banderillas and the bull turned into an old woman. He did the next and it turned into the man who was his best friend when he was twenty-five. There were more, men and women he didn't recognize, native villagers his men had slaughtered, there were more children that he took from his enemies in the most desperate hours of the campaign. He worked furiously to remove the burning banderillas, to acknowledge the deaths and let the people move on, until the ring was nearly empty and there was one last bull.

The banderillas in the bull's back were burned to half an inch, not much to grasp. As Luiz approached the bull stepped backward, lowering its head.

"No, I will free you. Do not worry," he said.

The bull stilled itself, but kept its head lowered. Luiz pulled at the banderilla nubs, carefully extracting them with his other hand pressed gently against the bull's hide. When the last one came out the bull changed to a human form dressed in the woman's suit, and slumped forward onto his feet.

Luiz kneeled and pulled up the person's head and looked at the face.

"You are me," he said.

The other nodded.

"I have freed myself, but I cannot still be free."

The other grabbed him by the shoulders and hugged him tightly as the veils and the ash in the sky fell to the dirt in the ring.

The other got up and and walked to the edge of the ring where he turned, waved at Luiz, then disappeared.

Luiz let out a choked sob, then wiped his eyes.

"Why?" he asked.

Note this is another substitution from the original list (the original songs have been moved to my second list, so I will still have to face them).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

358/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple

The old woman waited at the crosswalk, hunched over, rain spattering down on her plastic headscarf, not watching the signal light.

"Demons!" she spat out. A ten-year-old girl standing next to her sidled backward. "Damnation." The word came out in long slither. The girl turned and ran down the sidewalk.

The signal changed to a green man. The woman glanced up at it with her one good eye and stuck out her tongue. She stepped off the curb and shuffled to the middle of the road where she opened her purse and rustled through it. The signal changed again. Horns honked at her.

"Demons!" she cursed at the cars. She drew out a small glass orb from her purse clicking it shut.

"Get out of the way lady!" screamed a man. She stuck out her tongue at him.

She looked up at the gray troubled sky, then slowly, creakily, extended her hand up, with the orb in it. She rolled forward onto the balls of her feet, in her black sensible shoes, and stood on her tiptoes. She placed the orb in the sky, and let her hand drop, sighing. The orb stayed in play, seemingly defying gravity.

"There!" she exclaimed happily.

"What the hell?!" someone screamed.

"Exactly!" she screamed back, then frowned. She closed her eyes tightly, waiting. There were more curses hurled her way.

The orb began to spin, and a tiny light formed in the center. Within a few seconds it was up to five thousand revolutions per minute and the light grew to the strength of seven suns. The woman calmly stayed in place, eyes closed, while the others in the street ducked and tried to shade their eyes. Two cars had a minor crash behind her. Then the orb flashed twice as bright and disappeared.

The woman opened her eyes. Everything and everyone was frozen and transparent, like glass, ghosts of what they were, except for her. She looked around, scanning. A dark form trembled against the far side of a nearby building.

"Got you!" she smiled and finished crossing the street. It took her several minutes to reach the far side of the building. The form, a charred charcoal dry black mass with several spindly limbs, that gave off a little cloud of black dust with it's fearful tremblings, was stuck to the glassified brick. It blinked its shiny black eyes that followed the woman as she approached.

The woman stood next to the little demon and licked her lips as if she was ridding herself of an unpalatable taste. She put her hand around its belly and pulled at it. Its feet were adhered to the brick, but with little pop-pop-pops it came free. She shoved it in a large zippered pocket in her purse and zipped it shut. The purse pocket squeezed in, the demon squealed in pain.

The old woman cleaned her hands with a soggy tissue from the depths of the purse, then the purse pocket unzipped itself to show that it was empty. The old woman nodded and smiled. Then she snapped her fingers and the world returned to its normal solid, moving form. She shuffled forward, looking for signs of the next demon to consume.
Note that this is a substitution song, replacing one from my original playlist (I'm really at the dead end of the list, having heard these songs far too often). I feel guilty about the replacement since it violates the original spirit of the projects.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

357/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Wonderful Night" by Fatboy Slim

Seldom does anything dead grow but occasionally something does and the most notable case is a tree in a bog not far from here. It did not grow green again, but continued in its rotting form, throwing out new creaky roots, splashing against the water and doing so with animated violence. In the space of half an hour it shoved itself up out of the fetid water an additional fifty feet, sucking in all the dead things that had died beneath it through all those long generations previous.

There were few animal witnesses that saw it, and those that did quickly forgot the matter and continued in their foraging and skittering. Night came and the ribbed half moon fungus that ringed the tree grew in volume as well, ballooning outward to near bursting, filling their cells with water and air. Before dawn arrived,  a novel chemical process switched on and the fungus glowed.

Over the next few days the tree grew more, fifty or sixty feet in a day, expanding its girth even faster, eating up the swampland around it. After a month, it could be seen from the nearest access road three miles away, a big black mass, veiny against the sky. An intrepid group of men tramped through the swamp in hipwaders and with guns to find out what it was, thinking it might be some old soviet experiment--an odd hypothesis given that the soviets had never been in the region, but they were older men with comfortable with their old biases and fears.

They arrived at the base of the tree and gawped. It rested on a large hump of peat gathered up with slow moving roots that constantly dipped back into the swamp and scraped up slimy material. It felled other live trees and reeled them in under it in jerky inches. The tree creaked and gave off gasses as it moved. The men retreated to their SUVs back on the access road. They sat awhile, chatting and wondering, then drove off back to town to tell their tale.

The story got out quickly, and people came from around the world to observe the tree and measure its daily growth spurts. Some people even began worshiping the tree, plastering themselves with the 'healing' peat from beneath the roots until they shivered, but then the local government fenced off the bog and everyone had to observe it from a distance.

Within months it could be seen by satellites, a large tendriled blob reaching perilously into the stratosphere. Scientists took samples and squabbled online over the ambiguous results of testing that showed that the tree was made of completely dead matter. The nearby towns were evacuated. All the members of a cult killed themselves by ingesting a slurry of rotted wood pulp as an offering to the tree. Finally an international coalition decided to blow the tree up with a nuclear device.

The tree incinerated over the course of twelve days, and still burned from deep within its trunk when teams of military personnel in protective suits clambered over the hot roots to finish it off with primitive axes. The charred remains were pulled out and shipped off to be further burned and the ashes were buried in casks in an old salt mine.

The tree was mourned by some and quickly forgotten by others, and became nothing more than a strange footnote in history. Which is sad because the glowing fungus held the universal cure for cancer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

356/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Forever" by Walter Meego

The summer was scorching and it was an hour or two before the mosquitos were due to come out and feed. Carl sat on the porch leaning against the cast iron railing, his arms extended lankly over the top. His older brother Kevin and his friend Tom worked on Kevin's shiny black Trans-Am in the driveway. They were covered in sweat and grease and joked about girls. Carl sighed.

"Why does that thing need so much work?" It was Cassandra, Carl's younger sister. She sat down next to him and sucked on a fresh popsicle.

"Go away," said Carl.

"I know about cars," said Cassandra, ignoring him. "They're doing more harm to it by playing around with it."

"They're tweaking it," said Carl, pulling his knees closer. "Make it more efficient. Go away."

Cassandra stared at him and stuck her purple tongue out. He shoved her in the shoulder. She pushed the popsicle into his ear.

"Hey!" he stood up and wiped at his ear with his forearm.

Cassandra screamed and pointed to his shorts. She dropped the popsicle and ran down the porch and across the lawn and disappeared behind a neighbor's house. Carl looked down and noticed the bulge he hid while sitting. His face went red and he looked over at Kevin and Tom. Kevin burst out into laughter and Carl ran into the house, up the stairs, and in his room, slamming the door shut. He thought about crawling underneath the bed itself but opted just for his quilt and covers. He tried to remain very still as he cried and didn't stop until the heat under the covers became suffocating.

He shoved off the covers and listened to Cassandra back in the house, playing music, and Carl hoped the incident was already forgotten. Then he heard Kevin coming up the stairs, talking on about transmissions in his loud voice. Carl pressed himself against the wall which was the most shadowy edge of his bed.

Kevin burst in and immediately grinned at Carl. He shed his greasy  shirt and shoved it in Carl's face. Carl fought him off, but Kevin held him down and rubbed his hair with his knuckles.

"Relax bud, it happens to all of us. I guess our descriptions of the girls in school were too much for you to take at your tender age."

"Get off!" Carl punched him in the ribs.

Kevin laughed again and picked out a fresh shirt from his dresser then left putting it on. Carl sat up and put his heads in his hands, then threw the offending shirt over to his brother's bed.

"It's okay." Tom stood in the doorway.

Carl looked up in shock.

"I know," said Tom.

"You don't know anything about me," said Carl hiding his terror behind a snarl.

Tom quietly closed the door and sat on the end of Carl's bed.

"I know you have a thing for me," said Tom. "I just want to tell you it doesn't bother me. Actually I'm a little flattered."

Carl flushed crimson.

"Do you like guys?" asked Carl.

Tom nodded.

"Mostly," he said, smiling, then he turned serious. "You're a little young for me though."

He waited a moment then broke out into a grin. Carl grinned too.

"That was so embarrassing," he confessed.

"It's nothing. Well, it's something, but it's no big deal, you know?"

Carl nodded. Tom got up and opened the door. He saluted Carl and Carl laughed. Carl saluted back. When Tom left, he flopped down on his pillow feeling as if the world was a wondrous place.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

355/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Angelica" by Lamb

Coarse string was pulled across the land, dividing it into muddy grids. Two men carrying clipboards, father and son, strode carefully across the plots in old green rain boots. The sky above was mottled a pigeon gray raining cold and straightly vertical. They stopped suddenly.

"What is that?" asked Niels, the elder of the two.

"Huh," replied Egil.

"What is planted in this plot?"

Egil flipped through several plasticized papers on his clipboard.

"This looks like plot should be...control maize?"

They both stared at AY456. Growing in the center was a three foot tall leafless stalk with a purple-blue tinge to its skin.

"That can't be right," said Niels.

"It's definitely modified."

"It looks tropical."

"We're not running tropical tests right now."

"We're not running any tests in this area right now."

Niels scratched at his thin white beard.

"When was this plot last surveyed?" he asked.

Egil again flipped through his papers.

"Uh...three months ago. Aproximately. It was control maize again then, and there was nothing unusual in the notes."

"Who took them?"



Neils approached the stalk while his son looked on, and to both their horror, the stalk sunk into the muddy ground and disappeared.

"Well!" exclaimed Niels, placing his hands on his hips.

Egil dropped his clipboard in the mud.

"This is a new sort of...critter," said Niels, grinning. "Let's get a shovel."

Within an hour they were back at the plot with shovels and with Margaret, Egil's wife. Niels dug enthusiastically while Egil was more reserved and scooped up smaller portions of mud. Margaret looked at the scene with skepticism and disdain, and she shivered under her raincoat. They dug down three feet and found nothing. They took a break.

"This is ridiculous," said Margaret looking at Egil, pleading with her eyes for his support.

"It's true. I saw it," he said simply.

"It's not ridiculous!" exclaimed Niels, panting from his exertions. "It's evolution. Assisted evolution! All these microbes we make and put in the soil were bound to exert selection pressures on the things we plant here and so--"

"What if it's not?" interrupted Egil.

"What do you mean?" asked Niels.

"Plants don't move like that. Plants are rooted, they--"

"No, that's not true. The plants in the ocean, phytoplankton, they move--"

"They are carried by currents, they do not move of their own accord."

The three looked at each, Niels still smiling but the breadth of the smile fading.

"What if it's not...of this Earth?" asked Egil.

Niels laughed while Margaret looked on grimly.

"Of course it is 'of this Earth' as you call it," said Niels. "You always believed that interstellar travel was possible, but have we seen it? No. There is no evidence that any aliens have ever visited Earth. You read...too many of those books! It is far more likely that it is something of our own cause."

"Lack of evidence did not mean that something did not happen!"

"It means that it is unlikely to have happened!"

Both men were getting red in the face. Margaret picked up a shovel and started digging.

"You two always get into these philosophical arguments!" she said. "Meanwhile, we still need to track this thing down, if it does exist. Who knows what it is, but it could ruin the other experiments. Once we find it, we can argue about its origins."

She threw up large shovelfuls of soil. The others rejoined her and they worked until the pit was six feet deep and a little more than that wide, almost the entire plot.

"Where is it?" asked Niels angrily several times. Finally he threw out his shovel and climbed up to the edge and sat down in the mud. They sky was clearing a bit and the sun peeked out.

"Maybe we need to set a trap," said Egil.

He put down his shovel and climbed, then gave his arm to Margaret so she could climb out as well. They were all completely covered in mud. They sat silently in the burgeoning sun, exhausted.

"You are turning purple," said Egil to his wife, with some shock.


"The mud..."

"Oh you are too--"

They examined each other and saw that the places were the sun touched the mud it turned a bluish purple and coagulated. They wiped it off and slung it into the pit. They stood and saw that where they had sat the mud was brown but in the sun it was purple.

"It's the soil--"

"The microbes. It is us after all."

"This will spread!" exclaimed Margaret. "We have to contain it!"

"No!" said Niels, "we must study it."

"We can do both," said Egil, sounding somewhat relieved.

The ground beneath them started to give way and they ran to nearby plots. The displaced soil returned to the pit, filling it up again. The sun was out completely from the clouds now, and they looked around and saw all the soil for acres turning purple.

"This is not good," said Margaret. "This is too fast. This is not possible. No microorganism can spread that quickly in just a few weeks."

"Dormancy," said Niels. "This has been waiting...or gestating perhaps. Light and temperature could trigger this transformation."

The sun returned behind a layer of fast moving clouds again, and the field darkened. The purple faded, except for several spots that rose up into stalks. The three attempted to get near the stalks again, but they disappeared into the soil.

"It is futile," said Egil.

"No," said Niels. "Let's take soil samples back to the lab."

"We will have to burn the field," said Margaret.

Margaret and Egil left, their hands on each other's backs. Niels stayed, looking out over the stalks which seemed to be growing in view of the visible eye.

"Such a shame," said Niels. "We'll kill you, dissect you, study you, but will not let you be what you are, this beautiful new thing."

Niels hung his head, then knelt down in the mud. He pressed his hands into it and felt the squelching material between his fingers.

"It is my fault...that you will not find your place like all the living things that came before you. You will not have a chance to fight, or to become something greater than your progenitor. Not on your own. Not without guidance. That is not the way it should be."

He stood and wiped his hands on his pants then retreated to the lab following the others.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

353/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Time and Space" by The Accidental

The two brides sat in different rooms, connected by a passthrough open to the morning breeze. They were surrounded by their sisters and listened to music. Their heads were shaved, long locks falling to the floor. These were gathered up and burned along with incense and flowers on a copper platter in the middle of the passthrough. Their bodies were washed and bold lines of conductive blue, yellow, and pink were painted on their bare skin by steady hands. The lines were widest on their backs and tapered to millimeter strips that swirled at the fingertips. The paint swirled again around their crowns. Their waists were wrapped in red and blue fabric that trailed out behind them as they walked and their chests and backs remained bare.

As noon approached the music was turned off and the women began to sing. Each sister contributed a verse, and they spoke of the bride's achievements and attributes and the fond memories they had of her. The songs flowed between the passthrough and the brides could hear the songs of the other. Finally at noon, while the singing turned into chanting, the brides ran to the passthrough to meet each other for the first time. Their sisters followed, glowing with anticipation. The brides stood in front of the platter, face-to-face, and touched their noses together briefly in greeting.

"Are you part of it?" asked the brides of each other, together, as was tradition.

They both nodded and cast their eyes down. This sisters hushed their chanting to silence then all knelt down on the floor in a semicircle. There was a separation of a foot between the women of the two once-warring houses and furtive, flirting glances were exchanged.

The brides brought their hands together slowly and touched fingertips. They willed electricity to flow through the conductive paint, each color carrying a different signal. The world faded away to lightness. The brides felt the sensation of being inside the other's body, what it was like to be them physically, recorded over the course of their centuries long lifespans, felt their pains, their ecstasies. They lived each other's memories as well, completely, and spoke aloud of the memories that were most deeply impressed.  The last color carried the signal for their dreams and their hopes--the things that had separated their houses for so long--and they finally understood.

In the late hours of the evening they separated, sweating and disoriented. The sisters of both houses who were now lounging and talking with each other slowly broke into applause, and when all the sisters realized the ritual was over, the evening was filled with a roar of approval. The brides hugged and cried for the peace, the love, and the relief they had brought to their sisters.

Monday, April 9, 2012

352/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Silhouettes" by Herman's Hermits

"I was walking by." Matthew stood in the threshold of the breached door. His knuckles bled onto the floor in quiet drops.

"Pl-please." Karen was kneeling on the floor against the sofa, her mouth gashed open on the left side. "Not again."

"Again?" asked Matthew. "Why again?"

"You don't remember, do you?"

Matthew's lips trembled as he processed what this might mean.

"You did this before?" he asked, his voice faltering higher. Tears formed in his eyes.

"No," said Karen calmly. She started to rise but Matthew took a step forward and she sat back down. "You think you're my boyfriend, but you never were."

"Of course I am!" screamed Matthew.

"What is my name then?" asked Karen. "What is my name!" she screamed back.

Matthew took a step back and fell into the shredded door jamb. He took heavy breaths.

"Sarah. Your name is Sarah."

"No. No it's not. That's not my name."

"It is. It's you. It's Sarah."

"No Matthew, it isn't. Sarah was my twin sister and you killed her two years ago."

"NO! No you're Sarah. You're Sarah!" Matthew began to cry.

"Let me call the police, okay Matthew?"

"No. No, you're Sarah. You're Sarah."

"Let me help you Matthew, I can help you--"

Matthew lunged forward and grabbed Karen by her neck. She choked and scratched at his arms with her fingers. He bit into his own cheek and filled his mouth with blood then spat it into her face. Karen stilled herself and stared at Matthew. She reached under the sofa and pulled the shotgun towards her. Matthew pressed his knee into her chest and shook her. Karen propped the barrel against her thigh and pulled the trigger. The shot missed Matthew, further splintering the doorframe, but he let go of her in shock. As he turned to look where the shot landed Karen readjusted her aim and the shot tore into his chest. Blood sprayed against the living room blinds. He stumbled back until he hit the windows and slumped down, his eyes open but his heart stopped.

Karen shook with tremors as she stared at Matthew's still form. She pushed the gun away towards the kitchen with her feet. Then her breathing slowed and evened out. As the sound of sirens approached she felt a coldness inside her.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

351/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Heroes" by David Bowie

There was sand on the floor and the smell of heated steel in the air. There was steam and men and women in leather wearing black lensed goggles. The sparks glowed white then yellow then red and metal on metal rang out in the cavernous forging room. There were forms for casted parts, a thigh plate, toes, twelve different sections for the skulls, arms and hands. Steady hands poured yellow metal and it oozed into the moulds made of sand.

Body parts cooled, plunged into steaming water. They were stored on steel shelves for a short time then assembled with the rough scarred hands of children who never played and never sang. The sun arced across the sky from darkness to darkness before the children left their benches.

More small hands installed the electronic guts and then the assembled metal soldiers were briefly booted up to see if all the connections worked. Consciousness flickered for a few seconds, saw the room, did not know what it was, was frightened, but paralyzed by design, could not flee the assembly line. The soldiers were boxed and stored.

Before they were shipped, bombs shredded the forgery. Men and women and children burned, and so did the boxes. Many of the soldiers melted like tin toys, but two of the boxes fell from their shelf. The soldiers inside shorted and turned on. They saw the flames, the white light, and heard the screams and snapping of metal and wood. They had no orders, no knowledge of the world, just their initial programming that let them move their bodies. They saw each other, recognized the similarity in the other. The disorganized electronic chatter in their brains calmed, and for a moment, they each knew peace.

Then the flames reached them. They looked down to see their feet engulfed, and felt the heat, but they did not move. They looked again at each other's faces. The heat moved up, seeping through matrixed atoms, zigzagging, sagging, liquifying. their bodies shorted out and they fell, and returned to nothingness.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

350/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Rise Up" by Diane Birch

The sun still beat down on the tin-roofed house as flies attempted to squeeze through the screens in the open windows. Nona Sue sat on a stool in a corner and picked at the plaster. Her face was wet but she was no longer crying.

"It's okay," said her older sister Ivonette. "Mama's gone to church."

"What if she comes back?" asked Nona Sue.

"She won't not for a few hours. There's the church social after the service, then she'll stick around for the funeral of Mr. Benson in the afternoon."

"She likes funerals."

"That she does."

Ivonette walked around the doorway, pressed her back against the wall then slid down it until she was sitting at the same level as Nona Sue.

"Why didn't you go with her?"

"I told her services would be around if anyone noticed that you were home alone today."

"Gruff is here."

"Dogs aren't allowed to care for children."

"He's better than Mama."

"He is. Doesn't change the law about it."

Nona Sue slipped down off the stool and into Ivonette's lap. Ivonette began to finger-comb her sister's matted hair.

"I didn't do anything wrong," said Nona Sue. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and listened to her sister's heartbeat.

"What did you do?"

"I said I didn't want to wear a dress, and Mama said 'all girls wear dresses' and I said I didn't want to be a girl then if I had to wear a dress all the time and then she smacked me and said I wouldn't go to heaven and God doesn't love me and she made me sit here."

Ivonette chuckled.

"You're a bad one," she said.

"No I'm not!" Nona Sue pulled away from her.

"Oh, I meant that in a good way."

"How is bad good?"

"You stick up for what you believe in, though Mama does that too I guess. It's good to stick up for what you believe in, even if it gets you in trouble sometimes."

"I guess sitting here isn't too bad. It's boring though."

"We could go outside and play baseball."

"It's too hot."

"What do you want to do?"

"Tell me a story."

"Hmm. Did you hear the one about the frog?"

"What frog?"

"I guess not then. Well, there was this frog, and he was a smart frog. He had gone through all sorts of book learning and read so much that he needed glasses. And you can imagine how hard it is for a frog to wear glasses, they kept slipping down his slimy nose and he kept having to push them back up all the time."

Nona Sue giggled and pressed closer to Ivonette.

"And the more and more he read, the more and more he learned about the world beyond his pond and the more and more he felt he didn't know about it. But that was different than the other frogs in the pond. They all had very strong opinions and they liked to ribbet them out at night to each other when the sun went down--" Ivonette changed to a low croaking voice, "The world is the pond! When it rains, it's the sun that's crying! The water makes the tasty flies we eat so we should thank the water for them! And of course the frog would say, No, that's not right, that's not right at all, and he would go and try to explain why and they just ignored him."

"Why did they ignore him?"

"Because he once said that he didn't know much about the world, which was true, but he still knew more than they did. Plus they didn't trust him because he enjoyed reading more than he did swimming, catching flies, or sunbathing, which is what all the other frogs did."

"What did he do?"

"He made friends with the ducks!" said Ivonette with a big silly grin. Nona Sue exploded into a fit of laughter.

"Why the ducks?" she asked giggling.

"Because they understood what he was talking about. They flew above the pond and away from it, so they knew the world was bigger than the pond. They flew above the clouds so they knew that the sun didn't ever cry. They weren't sure about the flies and the water, but then they didn't pay much attention to flies to begin with. The frog could have decent conversations with them."

"So that's the end?"

"No. One day, the frog had had enough, and he asked the ducks to take him away from the pond so that he could see the world for himself. The ducks were skeptical, thinking he might dehydrate and shrivel up, but he knew this wasn't true and he finally convinced one to fly him away, and she did. She carried him in her beak and they flew away from the pond and he got to see the forest and cities and towns and farms and one day she even took him to the big big ocean."


"Yes. She set him down on the beach and they watched the waves roll in and out. Then she said," she switched to a raspy voice, "you know, I never would have come here if you hadn't asked. We've both seen something new. Thank you. Thank you, said the frog."

"They were good friends."

"So are we, don't you think?"

Nona Sue thought about this.

"Am I the frog?"

"Yes. And I'm the duck. And we're going to have lots of adventures together, and it doesn't matter if we get into heaven or not because we'll be happy just as we are."

Nona Sue smiled and hugged her sister tightly. Then they ate ice cream and played Scrabble.

349/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "I Might Tell You Tonight" by Scissor Sisters

There were stacks of stolen library books, or more politely, as-yet-unreturned, desiccated food crumbs, piles of wrinkled clothes, a turned over floorlamp with a flickering bulb, and most alarmingly, little pieces of paper with cramped-written numbers taped to all the walls, including the inside of the closet, in layers an inch deep and from floor to ceiling.

Mabel the landlady stood just inside the doorway clutching her black purse, with her horn-rimmed glasses and thick lenses hiding the mild shock she was experiencing. A Virginia Slim burned by itself in her mouth. She took a step forward, her thick black industrial heels carried her heavy frame clear of the door and she slowly shut it behind her.

"Mr. Griffin?" she asked. "Your rent is past due and I'm here to collect. Mr. Griffin?"

She sucked down the last of the Slim then walked over to the kitchen sink and put the butt out in a slimy coffee cup. A peculiar stack of books on the counter caught her attention. She read the spines:

- Navigating Spacetime for Dummies
- The History of Stellar Cartography
- The Ethics of Quantum Computing: Yes, No, or Maybe
- Bring Your Dog! How to Travel Safely with Pets

On top of the stack was a clear sheet of plastic, the kind that went on an overhead projector. Mabel picked it up with her gloved hands and examined it. There was something oddly attractive about it. She pulled off one of her gloves and stroked the surface. It lit up, and Mabel threw it back on the stack, her heart racing. It was opaquely white with six black boxes in the middle. It glowed for a full minute before winking back to clear, and Mabel jumped again. With a trembling hand she stroked it again and it did the same thing. She did not know what to make of it.

"Oh this is very strange," she said to herself.

She shoved her gloves back on and turned her attention to the numbers on the walls. The bits of paper were from various things--newspapers, notepaper, magazines, and even wallpaper samples, and the numbers were written, scored over and over, in different types of ink.

"Mrs. Kozlow."

Mabel whirled around and faced Mr. Griffin. He was several days unshaved, his suit was rumpled, he smelled of sweat, and he carried a carton of eggs. He stared at her expectantly.

"I've come to collect the rent," she said, her voice oscillating.

Mr. Griffin looked at his watch, which appeared to be set to the wrong time.

"What day is it?" he asked.

"It's the twelfth of March, Mr. Griffin. Your rent was due on the first. You owe me sixty dollars."

Mr. Griffin snickered.

"What?" asked Mabel.

"Nothing...nothing," said Mr. Griffin.

He walked past her and placed the eggs on the counter. He produced a wad of cash and flipped through it.

"It looks like you have a lot of odd bills there," said Mabel, straining to get a closer look at the multi-colored bills.

Mr. Griffin turned his back to her and rolled his eyes. He picked out three green bills and checked them over, then turned around and handed them to Mabel.

"Foreign currency," he said as she accepted the money.

"Do you travel a lot Mr. Griffin?"

"Not at the moment," he replied.

They stared at each other for a moment. Mr. Griffin rubbed his nose and Mabel twitched her fingers and pursed her lips.

"That's all I guess," he said, nodding his head towards the door.

"You know, you ought to keep this place up a little better. This isn't a slum."

"I'll be sure to take your concerns into account," he said.

Mabel shifted her weight but made no move for the door.

"What is all this?" she asked, pointing at the paper on the walls.

"Isn't it obvious they are numbers?"

"Well, yes, but what are they for? Why did you have to put them up on the walls?"

"I don't know what they are for, and I put them up to see them better."

"But why?"

"Mrs. Kozlow, haven't you ever heard the expression, 'curiosity killed the cat'?"

Mabel frowned, and snapped open the purse. She plunged her hand in and pulled out a revolver, pointing at Mr. Griffin's chest. He immediately raised his hands.

"What are you doing?"

"In America, we don't take kindly to your kind."

"What?" he backed up against the sink as she waved the gun around.

"Communists!" she hissed.

Mr. Griffin laughed out loud then quickly tried to look serious.

"You think this is funny you pinko!" She pressed the gun to his shirt button.

"I'm not. I'm really not a communist!" he said breathlessly.

"You think I don't see the signs? Mysterious comings and goings, that foreign money you have there, the strange devices. All these pieces of papers--these are drops! Yes I figured that much out. You may think I'm just a quiet widow, but I'm not! I've got a mind for figuring these plots out, and I've uncovered you, and when I turn you in I will get a big reward!"

"Oh, no dear Mrs. Kozlow, that's not...what do you mean by drops? Oh you're quite deluded."

"Drops? Well communicating with your fellow spies. I've followed you, you see. You meet with other long-haired weirdos--"

"They're just beat poets. I'm just interviewing them for a--"

"Don't try your mind control tricks on me!" she screamed.

Mr. Griffin pressed his lips together and his eyes widened.

"Now you listen to me!" she said, "We're going to down to the police stat--"

Mabel toppled over. A man stood over her, a brick in his hands.

"The cavalry is here," said the man. He looked identical to Mr. Griffin, but shaved and with a new suit.

"Is she dead?" asked Mr. Griffin.

"No," said the other Mr. Griffin.

He knelt down and pulled a small device from his pocket and held it against her temple.

"Good idea, bone growth enhancer. I'll have to write that down, I can never remember what to bring."

"She won't remember this, so you won't have to worry about reprogramming."

"Good, that's always a hassle."

"I've got to get better at blending in or I won't pass the exam."

"So you haven't taken it yet?"

"NO. Sheesh, stop asking."

"I didn't....oh. I wish I could just shortcut to the future. You know, where I've got a license already. No more itchy suits...access to the internet...a cure for cancer."

"Yeah, wouldn't that be nice. Try to stay out of trouble will you? This crap brings down my grade point average."

The first Mr. Griffin grimaced back at his future self. The second Mr. Griffin stood and adjusted his vest.

"Yes. Yes I know that," said the first Mr. Griffin.

"I'd best go. It's never good to talk to yourself."

He left quickly, and the first Mr. Griffin set about dragging Mrs. Kozlow down the flight of stairs to her apartment.

Friday, April 6, 2012

348/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Oh No Oh My" by Wham Bam Thank You Spaceman

We met in the prison of a drug lord, in a cell covered with long hairy moss and pooled water in the bottom. She was thrown in and fractured her hip, so the first thing I heard from her was a loud shrill scream. Then she fainted.

We talked a lot while she convalesced. We didn't talk about our crimes but she mentioned that she was studying for her doctorate in anthropology. I didn't tell her what I did. She went on a lot about linguistics and lost languages and I didn't really know most of the terms she used but she was really excited about the work. We talked about our homes and our countries and laughed a lot about the cultural differences. Nothing physical happened between us, it was not the right place and not the right time, but I think there was love between us. Mutual.

Our food was lowered in a basket everyday and I offered some of my portion to her because she was healing and she usually refused. She ate delicately, always sure not to chew with her mouth open, which made me practice my own manners. We both lost a lot of weight, and we were occasionally pulled out to have information extracted. I think I wouldn't have survived my time in the cell without her, without anyone there to talk to. Finally our ransoms were paid and we released. It was bittersweet and we left on different planes for different countries out of an airport with weeds growing out-of-control on the runway.

She told me her email address before we parted, and I sent a message to it, but it bounced. I tried find her on the internet but with no success, and then I went through her embassy and they turned me away, saying they couldn't divulge any information about her.

I saved up and flew to her city. I sat in a small hotel room for most of the first day, looking out the window at grimy housing and trams on wires. How did she come from a place like this? She was so different. She didn't match. I wandered the streets, avoiding traffic and beggars and getting lost. I didn't know where to look for her--I sort of sought her out by intuition. Where would such a person be? I tried the one park, which had dead trees and brown grass, even with all the rain. I looked around at all the houses that fronted it, but could find none that matched her personality--a sentimental long shot.

There was a library with grates on the doors and it was guarded over by ancient librarians who shuffled across marble floors that hadn't been polished in decades. I asked to see the city's phone books, and was brought to a room with layers of dusty, pulpy books. Hours passed as I searched through the years, going backwards. Then I found her name, in 1985. She wouldn't have been born yet. I wondered if it was a relative. There was an address.

The house was on a gloomy street and matched all its neighbors. It was sided in nothing but tarpaper. I knocked on the door. An old woman opened it a crack.

"I'm looking for Anouska," I said.

The woman's eyes went wide.

"She doesn't live here anymore," she said in a heavy accent.

"Do you know where she lives now?"

"She is dead."

She started to close the door but I stuck my hand in. She paused and looked at me angrily.

"She was my friend," I said, my chest heavy. "When did she die?"

"Nineteen-eighty-five. Thirty years ago. She was my daughter."

I removed my hand. The old woman's gaze softened. She reached her hand out to my face and stroked my cheek.

"You are not the first to come here," she said. "You are not the first of her friends. Yet she never comes to us." The woman looked at her hands for a long moment. "Whatever it is you've done, she does not see it as bad. I know that much."

"I uh..."

The old woman nodded.

"Please don't come back. Don't bother us."

She closed the door and I stood on the stoop, then walked slowly back down the street and back to the hotel where I pulled the blinds shut for three days. Then I left for home and tried not to think of her.