Saturday, March 31, 2012

342/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" by T. Rex

The convention floor was dark, the unblinking desert sunlight blocked out at the high windows, but with laser lights raying and fanning across the space, and the sign hanging from the ceiling, visible in flashing snatches read "Welcome to FleshFest '96". Two figures, a man and a woman, wended their way through the writhing mass of buyers. They wore shaded glasses and the long thin coats common to visiting northerners. The people around them found them unremarkable.

They looked at each of the sales stalls and the wares within, sample parts in vacuum sealed packaging, both artificial and grown, flesh accessories under glass cases and lit with neon, red-faced hawkers of replacement insurance, and buyers of bulk fetuses who stood and talked awkwardly, new to the arts of marketing in a trade only recently legalized. The two northern buyers ignored all of this and focused intently on the whole-flesh vendors who sold halfs, quarters, and fulls.

"That one," said the woman, pointing to a vacant looking naked woman displayed in the back of a stall.

The man stopped and zoomed in on the goods.

"Possibly," he muttered. "I think they're asking too much."

"Meh..." dithered the woman.

"You there!" said the vendor, a burly woman with an unflattering haircut and a line of beaded sweat dripping down into her cleavage.

"We've been spotted," said the woman.

Both northerners turned their backs to the vendor.

"Yes! Yes you! Don't be shy! Come inspect the product!"

"Ughhhh..." sighed the man.

"I'll do it. Might be worth asking," said the woman.

She turned back toward the vendor, flashing a shallow, brief smile.

"Excellent!" belted the vendor.

"That looks like a quarter," said the woman.

"Oooh, no dear. It's a half," said the vendor. "This one is about six since it's a display model, but we have younger for sale, and all trained to perform remedial tasks. Great for retail or service industry jo--"

"It looks dead in the eyes," said the woman. "It really does look like a quarter, and I don't need any quarters--I come from a state that's banned the sex industry. You don't have any fulls, do you?"

"I see, I see," said the vendor, mopping her chest nervously. "Well, I don't have a license to sell fulls--"

"Fine, okay thanks," said the woman, turning to leave.



"I uh, well what's your need?"

"That's my business," said the woman.

"Yes but, not many vendors here can sell fulls. You're going to have a hard time--"

"Where do I go?"

The vendor leaned over her counter.

"Come closer," she said, and the northern woman leaned in. "You a cop?"

"No," said the northern woman. "I resent the--"

"Fine, that's fine. Have to do it you see--"

"You have unlicensed fulls?"

"Not me, but I can tell you where you can get them cheap--"

"I'm not looking for cut-rate goods--"

"Now hold on," said the vendor, her cheeks growing rosy. She pointed a finger at the northerner's chin. "I think I know what state you come from, and it's not just quarters that are banned."

The northern woman glanced back at the man who stared back at her. She blinked twice, then returned to look at the vendor.

"Maybe," said the woman.

"You might not be looking for cut-rate goods but you're looking to escape any paper trails."

"It's a bit presumptious--"

"The longer I talk to you, the more legitimate sales I lose, you got that sister?"

The northern woman sighed and nodded.

"Now. What do you need fulls for?"

The northern woman's facial muscles grew taut.

"A uranium mining operation," lied the northerner.

"Mining? You could easily use halfs for that."

"It's complicated work. Dangerous."

"All the more reason to train and use halfs. No. I can tell you're lying. What is it? Trust me, I can't be shocked and I won't rat you out."

The northern woman glanced back at her partner again, this time not blinking.

"An army," she said.

"A slave army? Well, I think I might be shocked for the first time. That's a bad combination."

"We need to overthrow the--"

"Hey, not my battle hun," said the vendor raising her hands to shoulder height. "I don't do politics, I just sell stuff."

"You seem to care a lot about--"

"I only care about getting caught--"

"So you sell fulls? Off the books?"

"Uh huh. How many?"

"How many have you got?"

"Potentially, thousands. I can't fulfill all that immediately, but I can keep you supplied for months. I'll throw in a sizable shipment of halfs and quarters for a bulk order."

"I don't need quarters or halfs--"

"You'll need the quarters to keep the fulls content, if you know what I mean."

The northern woman nodded and held out her hand, her payment chip exposed. The vendor looked down at it, a little confused since payment was not discussed. The northerner noticed her confusion.

"It's a platinum chip. Unlimited funds," explained the northerner, arching her brow.

"There's people that kill for those," said the vendor, a sly smile growing across her face. "But we have to arrange something--"

"Mark it down as a consulting fee."

"Uh huh," laughed the vendor. "Like that's not a red flag."

"Who's gonna see?"

"Halfs. You're buying bulk halfs."

She took the northerner's hand with a chip in her own and let the payment system engage. The transaction took only a few seconds and they released their hands. The northerner smiled and started to back away, and the vendor again looked confused.

"Wait, don't you want to discuss delivery?"

"I'm an abolitionist," said the northerner, grinning. She walked backwards with a confident stride.

"What?" asked the vendor, her voice dropping half an octave.

"I just tagged your accounts. If you try to find me, if you tell any of your friends, I will remove all your funds."

The vendor's face bloomed red.

"That's not going to stop the sale of fulls--"

"No. But now I have access to your transaction history. I know who your customers are, where your storage facilities are, and more importantly, who you buy your seed bodies from."

"You bitch! You can't get that from my chip!"

"Just did. You should always inspect the customer's chip to see that it's actually a chip."

The northerner held up her hand and waved it mockingly at the vendor, then she turned and walked up to her partner.

"Done?" he asked.

"Yup. Who's next?"

"There maybe?" He pointed to a large stall with a range of quarters and halfs on display.

"Looks too legit," she said.

"Always the best cover, don't you think?"

They both smiled, bathed in the intermittent light of the lasers.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

341/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Cape Canaveral" by Conor Oberst

A cool orange-scented breeze slipped into the room--lined with yellow striped wallpaper that peeled near the ceiling and filled with the tools and toys of a young boy brown-haired boy, Mitch. He listened to his mother talking to his aunt downstairs, the one comforting the other in turn. He imagined them touching fingers periodically, and sipping coffee, waiting up late at night for the reports. They would dread a phone call. He would dread a phone call. The reports from the TV were late.

The closet rattled. Mitch assumed his baseball bat fell to the side, but couldn't reason out why. He drew his knees up under the cover. The breeze grew stronger and colder. The closet rattled again and Mitch sat up bolt upright. The breeze stilled and Mitch became suddenly warm under the blankets. The voices below continued. He stepped out of bed and tiptoed barefoot to the closet. It rattled again. He thrust his hand out and threw open the door.

All of his shoved in toys and clothes were gone, replaced with the inner workings of a grandfather clock. The pendulum swung slower than it should, from side to side, knocking the wood paneling at each side of the closet.

"What?" asked Mitch quietly.

There was a hiss behind him and he spun around. A figure loomed over him, a person, perhaps, in a NASA spacesuit. The heat shield on the helmet was black in the relative darkness of the room.

"Dad?" he asked, his eyes welling with tears.

The figure did not move.

"I didn't mean to," said Mitch. "I didn't mean to run away before you left."

The suit hissed but Mitch couldn't tell if it was trying to communicate with him. The pendulum hit the wall again, but Mitch could tell that it was slowing down.

"I'm sorry for what I did," said Mitch. "It didn't matter, and I know that now."

Mitch reached forward and touched the suit.

"You're real," he said. "You're actually here."

The suit hissed and at the same moment the pendulum hit again, more softly this time.

"I won't tell mom," he said.

He pressed his face into the coarse white fabric. It smelled of heated steel.

"What is infinity like?" he asked, looking up at the faceless visor.

The suit raised an arm and pointed to the clock. Mitch turned around. The pendulum was stopped.

The phone rang downstairs, and the voices stopped. Mitch turned around and the suit was gone, replaced with the orange breeze. He wiped his cheeks and closed the closet door. He crawled back into bed and listened to his mother sob.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

340/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Leave Everywhere" by Toro Y Moi

Janet walked down the middle of the hall and students parted before her, like a reversed boat wake. Tongues slipped out of mouths and faces scrunched up in disgust. Paper airplanes, spitballs, and pen caps assaulted her. She held her black binder protectively in front of her. A young kid on a dare ran up and pulled at her long brown hair then kicked her in the back of the knee. Tears streamed down her face but she kept her eyes straight ahead.

"She gets in your head!" screamed a girl from behind Janet. "Don't get too close!"

The students parted further, pressing themselves into the rows of lockers that lined the halls. Janet stopped walking and had an overwhelming desire to completely dissolve into the air. The students quieted in response, unsure what she would do next.

"I am of those," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Yeah right!" yelled one boy. Others broke into cackling laughter. More paper balls sailed through the air.

"You don't know..." she said, "you don't know what it's like!"

"You don't know what it's like," mimicked a girl near her, "you don't know what it's like, you don't know what it's--"

"Shut up!" screamed Janet. "Get out of my head!"

She dropped her binder and clamped her hands to her mouth as soon as words left her mouth. The students all went completely silent, sullen.

"What?" said one, after a moment.

Janet shook in place, more tears coming, dread, fear, loathing. She slowly dropped her hands.

"You're the ones in my head," she said. "All the time. All of you. I know all the things you think. I can't block it."

Somehow to say it was a relief, but she knew instantly they despised her tenfold more.

"She says she knows what we think..."

"I don't believe her--"

"Fat lier--"


"It's true, I swear. I can't help it," said Janet, feeling dozens of eyes bore into her skin.

"Then we should think at her until she dies, the piece of garbage that she is--"


"Think," agreed the students.

They stared at her, some smiling, some frowning, their foreheads unnecessarily wrinkled with mental effort. Janet felt a sort of pain in the middle of her head, a pressure pushing from inside out. All their thoughts collided at once, hate, darkness, death, pain, even envy. They pinched at her from the inside, pulled at the underside of her skull, punched her between her on thoughts, bruising and puncturing. Janet's knees wobbled and gave way; she fainted and fell on top of her binder. Her nose bleed profusely, and the students cheered. Janet faded to cool blackness, and relief.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

339/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Fancy Footwork" by Chromeo

"How many women will be there?" asked Amrit's mother, her arms crossed.

"I don't know," said Amrit, his cheeks reddening.

"Usually it's five or six," said Lal, his cousin.

Amrit's mother brushed imaginary lint from the front of his suit and he swatted her hand away. She slapped him lightly on the cheek.

"Are they from good families?"

"I don't know," said Amrit. "What does it matter? They're girls."

"I want my only son to have a good match!" She hugged him suddenly. "I can't believe you are a grown man already," she said into the warmth of his neck.

Lal snickered and held his hand up to his mouth.

"We should go," said Lal as Amrit tried to wriggle free of his mother.

They were out of the house a few minutes later, walking down the brightly lit street and into the possibilities the night might bring.

"Do you think they will look at me?" asked Amrit.

"Of course they will. You are young and innocent. They'll want to corrupt you. Luckily these girls don't usually have marriage on their mind."

They both laughed, and Lal practiced his best dance move. Amrit followed, awkwardly imitating his cousin.

"You'll need to work on that," said Lal darkly.

Amrit slowed his pace, not wanting to approach the dancehall so soon. He leaned against a streetlight.

"What is it?" asked Lal.

"I do have marriage on my mind," said Amrit.

"Ah. A traditionalist. I think I've always known. Don't worry though, you'll change your tune when you get picked for the first time."

"I just want a family and a full home with a wife."

"Hey," said Lal seriously, "don't say that sort of thing to these girls if you get to talk to one of them. You'll scare them off."

"I know I'm probably asking for too much, to have what my father had."

"My father had it too," said Lal. "But it didn't make him happy. All the quarreling."

"That was different," said Amrit. "He was different, but I don't think he meant to offend your mother, or to hurt you."

"It's lucky that I like girls," said Lal ruefully. He looked down at his small hands, which he tucked into his pockets. "He paid so much for the surgery to make me a boy. What a waste it would be if I couldn't fit in after all that."

Amrit regretting bringing up the topic.

"In an earlier time, we might have been promised to one another," he said.

Lal laughed again.

"In no time, past, present, or future, would I ever marry you Amrit. But I have to admit, I think you would make a good husband to someone."

Lal slapped his cousin on the back and they smiled at each other. Then they ran off down the street to join the long line of men that curled around the dancehall.

Monday, March 26, 2012

338/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Run Through the Jungle" by Credence Clearwater Revival

The dogs barked and the men on their horses swore as Mariam pressed herself into the hot August mud the same shade as her skin in the drying up creek. The dogs veered off south chasing the interfering scent of an unfortunate possum and the neighing, salt-sweaty horses followed. The men complained of the heat as they left, and of the inconvenience of looking for a crippled woman who wasn't worth much.

Mariam couldn't move; the adrenaline of the chase paralyzed her limbs and though her brain shouted to run further, her body knew not to make a sound just yet.

"Don't look back," said a voice from up in the trees above.

Mariam risked a glance, her breath shallow, but could see nothing. Then she felt hands slink around her shoulders, snagging across many bumpy scars.

"You," she whispered.

"Yes, me," said the silky voice.

A cool finger traced its way down her spine and she shivered.

"You leave me alone," said Mariam.

"You don't tell me what to do," said the voice.

The finger pressed into the small of her back. Mariam shifted but could not free herself from that touch.

"You keep running," said the voice, "because I've got other plans for you."

"I've got my own plans, thank you."

"So you do. But I never said that our plans were different."

The dogs barked frantically in the distance.

"Sounds like they've caught that possum I sent," said the voice. "Poor little thing. Didn't know what it was doing. You'd better get going before those men double back."

"I'm no possum," said Mariam.

The voice laughed, and removed its touch from Mariam's skin. She stirred, and pulled herself up the embankment, holding fast to the roots of trees with her good arm.

"Run," said the voice. "You made a bargain with me, now run. Fulfill your destiny."

"No such thing as destiny," said Mariam, struggling up onto the forest undergrowth. She tucked her mangled arm into the folds of her tattered blouse. "People is as they are, and if they choose different than they will be different."

"And you chose me."

"I wasn't going to wait for deliverance--not like the others, sitting in church and looking to the ceiling."

"You took it."

"I take it myself, yes I do."

Mariam limped forward, her beaten knee giving her pain that she ignored. She pushed herself along, between the trees and thorns. She pulled up her skirt and tucked it under her blouse so that it didn't tear and leave pieces to be found by the men. Even though the thorns punctured her skin, she did not bleed. Tendrils of cold pressed into the thorn holes and healed the skin.

"It's small actions, in the proper direction, that change the world. Little tipping points," said the voice. "We can't let stasis win. We have to pull."

"Your desires are no concern of mine," said Mariam.

"No," said the voice. "But know that the game is long and I intend to win."

"Games!" scoffed Mariam. "You don't know what you're playing with. We're the ones that will win in the end. Not you. Not the other."

"You're more clever than most," laughed the voice. "I'll give you a gift as reward. Long life. What do think of that?"

"That's neither a gift or a punishment," said Mariam, growing wearing of the accompanying presence. The dogs grew louder and her awkward pace quickened.

"That's an interesting bit of wisdom," said the voice. "But I'm going to let you live for centuries, to see your impact on the world."

"You speak like you know what will happen."

"Maybe I do."

There were sudden screams from the men. Mariam turned round at the sound.

"What's that?" she asked.

"One of the men just had a heart attack. Stone dead on his horse. That can happen when you indulge too much in liquor, food, women, and fat cigars and listen too frequently to my encouragement to do so."

Mariam giggled.

"You are, very bad," she said.

"You needed a little more help."

"Oh, I don't need your help."

"It wasn't much. And you're helping me in return."

Mariam was silent, her lips pressed together.

"You have doubts," said the voice. "That's always good."

Mariam continued without acknowledging the words. The sound of the dogs became fainter until they disappeared altogether. Summer insects buzzed and picked at her skin, and the humidity pressed in as the cold presence left.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

337/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Sunlight" by Harlem Shakes

"What did you do it for, huh?!"

Brian held his brother against the rough bark of a white pine, his hands twisting Cam's shirt, his knuckles at his adam's apple. Cam breathed in the multitudinous scents of the forest--astringent pine sap, fecund leaf litter, the musk of little mammals and birds, the crispness of the tire fire from the next county. He glanced up and admired the weak winter sun shining down through the nests of needles. The sensation of his brother's fist against his neck was only at the periphery of his consciousness. The warmth of it registered more than the pressure.

"You're high, aren't you?!" screamed Brian.

He released Cam, who stood still and gazed at the sky with a broad smile.

"Yeah," whispered Cam.

Brian lurched backwards and fell into the broad chest of another pine tree.

"You should try it," said Cam. "You'll feel better."

Cam directed his gaze at his brother and felt an intense love, as if his limbs became incorporeal and reached across all of time and space to embrace his brother. Brian coughed and retched, and fell to the ground on his knees.

"No," sputtered Brian.

Cam took a few slow steps towards Brian, knelt, and put a hand on his shoulder. Brian squirmed away.

"You've sold all my best stuff," said Brian. "You had no right to do that. I want you out. Now. Don't come back."

"It's just stuff," said Cam.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but stuff is required to live in this world! Stuff costs a lot of money, and money requires work that I don't want to have to do. It's not like you've ever had to work for money, all you've done is leech off mom, and then her boyfriend, and now me. You don't know what real work is. You're a failure."

"Exactly," said Cam.

"Ugh," groaned Brian. He sat up and pressed his back into the tree. "I can't even talk to you when you're high."

"Have you seen this world?" asked Cam, suddenly as enthusiastic as a small child just told that Halloween would now be celebrated every day of the year.

"The world is burning!" spat Brian. "There is illness and poverty and corruption--"

"There is beauty and love and freedom! Can't you see it? Won't you see it?"

"Get away from me!"

Brian shoved Cam to the ground and got up, walking towards the ridge overlooking his subdivision. Cam quickly followed.

"Look at the air!" shouted Cam gleefully. He spun around with his arms outstretched.

"You can't see the air, you imbecile."

"Yes! Yes you can! And you can feel it too. It caresses your skin."

"You sound like a women's moisturizer ad."

"I do, don't I. Ha! The air is beauty. It allows everything to live. It is a loving mother to us. Just stand still, and feel it. Close your eyes--"

"I'm not closing my eyes. Stop following me."

Cam stopped, his face suddenly downcast.

"I'm sad you can't share in the love in the world."

"I'm not taking that stupid drug. I don't care how good it makes people feel, or how healthy it makes you all. It's not right to abdicate all your responsibilities just to feel good all the time."

"When everybody finally takes it, there will be no more hurt in the world, no more suffering."

"There will always be suffering," said Brian. "I'm suffering now because of your selfishness."


"Look," said Brian sternly. He stood at the top of the ridge, "come here and look out there, will you?"

Cam walked up next to Brian and looked down on the town.

"What do you see?" asked Brian.

"I see the world transforming," said Cam smiling.

"Transforming? That's what you call that? Half the buildings are gutted from fire. The asphalt has been torn up. Trees are down, and people like you have done it."

"It's to get rid of the old things, the old ways that hold us back."

"It's destructive, and I've had enough."

"It's beautiful--"

"You're nuts. I'm never, NEVER taking that drug. I don't care if I'm the last holdout."

Brian picked his way carefully down the steep ridge, coughing again. Cam looked at him sadly, then followed.

"Get away. Go live in the forest or wherever it is you people like to live these days."

Cam caught up to Brian and shoved him downward. Brian screamed, lost his footing, and tumbled, breaking his neck on a large stone. His limp body rolled down and became caught on a knot of brambles. Cam looked at his brother's body and smiled at the interesting arrangement of the limbs.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

336/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Little Sister" by Codeine Velvet Club

The air was thin in the tunnels and wisps of chlorine made their eyes water, but they continued past the walls of loosely aligned gravel and floating guidelights. The foil they rode sputtered with the lack of oxygen.

"We're not going to get through," whispered Monty. He rubbed his gloved fingers, not that it was cold, but at the thought of approaching cold if the gravel walls were breached as they sometimes did if a foil kicked up too much air.

"It'll be fine," said Janvier, his sister who was forty years younger. They shared a father, a hardscrabble miner, who went missing a decade ago. Janvier piloted the foil with calm hands on the wheels and pullgear. Her long hair floated up behind her. The cockpit of the foil was open to the air from the hole they drilled into the glass in order to steal the vehicle, and it made them vulnerable.

"Slow down," said Monty.

"Get off my back. We won't have enough fuel to--"

"Glide it--"

"No. Not enough control."

"Let me pilot--"

"No! Geez Monty. What are we gonna do, change seats right here? We'll collide with the walls for certain."

Monty was silent but seething.

"You should have let me--"

"Just...stop. Geez."

Monty shoved his hands into his armpits and slunk into his seat as much as the microgravity would allow. He found it unsatisfying.

The guidelights ahead of their path began to flicker.

"What's that?" asked Monty. "What's happening?"

"Dunno," said Janvier.

The path ahead went completely dark. Janvier pulled the brake and they stopped their forward motion. The foil hummed, it's flywheel replenished with potential energy.

"Should we use the lights?" whispered Janvier.


The plaintive wail came from within the darkness ahead.

"No," said Monty.

"Shit. You think...maybe, it's hunting us?"

"Hasn't been one in this region in years. It was blocked off."

"Maybe it was a baby--"

"Ain't no babies of that kind. When was the last turnoff?"

"Three kilometers back, but we can't go that way anyway. The passage was blocked on the last map update."

"We can't go back to the settlement."


"Shit! Was that closer? I can't tell," said Janvier.


"Get the gun."

"We could blow out the end of the tunnel!" hissed Monty.

"We can't just let it eat us! We can't just sit here!"

"So what if we kill it? There'll be more. Remember what the old miners said about them. They kept coming."

"That's bullshit meant to scare kids. They got rid of most of them. Made this a safe place to live."

"Safe place..." muttered Monty.


"Geeeeeez..." exhaled Monty. He reached down into footwell and retrieved the gun.

"Don't point that thing at me!"

"You're in the way!"

"You're shaking!"

"I can't help it!"


"That's closer!" yelled Monty.

"It's a good thing they can't hear!"

This wasn't entirely true, the creatures could hear, but only at decibel levels far above human speech. More guidelights, closer, winked out. Janvier looked around at the tunnel walls.

"I have an idea..." she said.

Janvier release the brake and pressed the pullgear down an inch. She pulled tightly on the roll wheel and the foil crept closer to the right side wall, it's wings aligning themselves just above the loosest outer gravel.

"What are you doing?"

"Hush up."

She released the roll wheel and pulled the pitch wheel slightly, adding a little thrust from the pullgear. The foil nosed into the layer of outer gravel. She put the pullgear in reverse and pulled the pitch wheel in the opposite direction and nestled further into the denser gravel. Monty felt sick.


After a few more maneuvers the foil was buried in the wall with just the cockpit exposed. Janvier shut down the engine. The guidelights just a few meters ahead went out. Both Janvier and Monty felt unable to speak being so close to the creature ahead of them. Then the guidelights in the middle of the tunnel, next to the foil went out. There was still faint light from behind them.

"It smells like iron," whispered Monty.

There was a sudden closeness. Damp. Heavy, slow lungs pushed air out of the tubercles on the sides of the creature. Brother and sister both instinctively scrunched themselves into the cockpit. The light from behind disappeared and they were left in total darkness. Something hard scraped briefly against the top of the remaining cockpit glass.


The cry was deafening and they shivered, feeling sick in their stomachs with the vibration. A humid warmth came from above--it was still passing.

"Geez, that is long," whispered Monty.

"Or slow," said Janvier.

She lifted her hand towards the break in the cockpit glass above her and pressed her fingers through. She felt a smooth presence, not skin, not metal, but warm and somehow cold at the same time. It was a being that was probably not aware of their presence, or the presence of any human invaders in its ancient home in the comet. She was glad her brother could not see what she was doing. Then there was nothing but air.

"It's past us," she whispered, withdrawing her fingers to her lap.

"How can you tell?"

"Feel it. It's not so close."

Monty ruminated, nervously chewing on the inside of his cheek.

"Give it a few more minutes," he said.

Janvier fished her penlight out of her jacket. She switched it on and shone it on her fingers. They shimmered with graphite. She rubbed the evidence off on her pants, then turned the penlight on the dashboard. The fuel level was dangerously low, but they could still make it.

"Never thought I'd be that close to one," said Monty.

"No. Me neither." Janvier switched off the penlight. They sat in the darkness for a few minutes longer and listened to the retreating wails of the creature.

"I hope there's no more."

"It's a shame," said Janvier.


"Maybe it's the last one."

"We can hope."


Janvier started the engine and turned on the headlights. They would drain energy but there was no option. She eased the foil out of the wall with the gentle touch of a curator of antiquities. When she was free she sidled to the middle of the tunnel, where the guidelights were usually strung, and accelerated.

Friday, March 23, 2012

335/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Wave of Mutilation" by the Pixies

The motorway was clogged with cars that reflected the sun when the ocean rose up. Megumi Mori was picking at her teeth and worrying about the number of minutes left on her phone when she saw the hard green carapaces lumbering up from the depths. She did not realize what she looked at, no one could as the species had never previously been identified, and thought at first it must be a tsunami. What happened next to Megumi was singularly unusual among the people trapped in their cars.

She closed her eyes and turned the engine off. She mouthed a short silent prayer, then tied her back. She paid no attention to the other motorists screaming into the metal confines of their vehicles, and slapping ineffectually at the glass of their windows. Megumi unlocked her door and stepped out onto the cement, and faced the oncoming beasts. She cocked her head slightly as she realized they were not a wall of water, but this changed her plan very little.

There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of the beasts, bursting upwards through the choppy ocean surface, surges of water slaking off their backs and creating mini-tidal waves that slapped against the protective retaining wall. They made landfall, pressing sharp pointed limbs into the sand, rock, and vegetation of the shore--they climbed over one another, carapace scraping across carapace, the loud sound of this was akin to nails on a chalkboard. Their multiple eyes rotated on weedy stalks, and they lacked any sensical symmetry--legs were of varying length and number, and some bodies were shaped like potatoes, others like pancakes, and still others like pears. Some had one eye, some two or three, and some dozens in ropey packs that mottled their bodies. They were driven by instinct, a long harbored desire to migrate, spawn, and die, that the species had not acted on since before humans lived on those islands.

Megumi exhaled evenly and adopted a wide stance. She closed her eyes. People ran past as the first tremendous legs neared. Cars were pinned down, car alarms and car horns sounded. There were screams. The scent of the sea bottom overwhelmed. Megumi pressed her hands together in front of her abdomen.

"Watashi wa jikan o tōketsu suru," she intoned calmly, moving her hands up and outward.

The sounds were gone but the foul scent of ocean decay remained. The breeze was stilled. Megumi opened her eyes. The beasts all stood mid their strides, and the people too; the twisted muscles of their faces made them garish and inhuman. Megumi brought her feet together and bowed towards the beasts.

"Watashi wa anata no shi no mae ni anata o sonchō suru," she said loudly upon rising.

She knew they could not hear or understand her words, but Megumi knew it was important to acknowledge the beingness of any entity about to be killed. She hoped for the same honor to be paid to her one day. She widened her stance, and put one foot in front of the other, crouched down, and then held her forward hand straight out in front of her. She reared back her other hand as if pulling an imaginary bow taut with an arrow.

"Anata ga sōshutsu sa remasu." She released her hands.

The beasts rose into the air, slowly at first, the tension in their legs slackening until they dangled. Then the beasts tumbled backwards until they were all upside down and the legs flopped over. They hung their for a moment, wavering slightly, then each exploded into a violet light. Megumi did not shield her eyes. The light replenished her, making her even more powerful.

When the light faded, leaving no trace of the beasts other than their lingering scent, she stood for a moment, and wondered about their origin. The breeze began to blow again and her thoughts were cut short. She returned to her car and rebuckled her seatbelt. Soon the people ran again, but slowed and sheepishly returned to their own cars, unable to recall why they were fleeing. Megumi began again to worry about the minutes left on her phone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

334/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Flynn Lives" by Daft Punk from the TRON: Legacy soundtrack

Hollis, though originally unnamed, was a man born whole and adult into a city that existed primarily as bits. His DNA was extracted and rearranged from archived information, his cells co-opted from those hardy bacteria scraped from ancient rocks, and he was built up, tissue layer upon layer resting on a support structure and bathed in a steady slow flow of nutrients. The process took less than a day and the intent was to study how the tissues functioned together and whether it matched the information about such tissues in the database. Unexpectedly, Hollis awoke.

"Urghah!" he screamed, flailing in the fluid, responding to the instinct that he was drowning.

"It cannot think," said Fons, an observer.

"It is sending electrical signals to its limbs," said Vik, another. "It appears distressed."

"We should destroy it then," said Fons.

"No," said Vik. "Its species was capable of art and a rudimentary sort of science. We should teach it."

"That is just theory," said Fons. "It is organic. It was the product of a plodding sort of evolution. It is not much different from the organisms that still cling to our surfaces and contaminate our sense instruments."

"We have a chance to test that theory," said Vik.

Fons paused for a nanosecond, an eternity, and indulged the possibilities.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity," prompted Vik.

"Agreed," said Fons.

The man was retrieved from the growth medium, cleaned and dried, and left in a bare room that was strongly lit. Vik chose a face from the archive and became material in the room to interact with him. Hollis cowered in a corner when he saw Vik appear.

"It reacts," noted Vik.

Hollis shivered at the sound of the spoken words. Vik stepped towards him, then crouched down to look at his naked face.

"There is growth on the skin," said Vik.

"Is it an infection? Is it a symbiotic organism?" asked Fons.

"No, I believe it is hair, as we have seen fossilized."

"You should take a sample."

"There is not enough yet."

"Ye-et," said Hollis.

Vik stood up suddenly, shocked.

"It readily acquires speech," said Vik.

"The theory may be correct," said Fons.

"Cor--ect," said Hollis.

"It may be mimicry," said Vik, "but we should initiate a program of learning."

"Agreed. I will seek the necessary approvals," said Fons.

Hollis lived the next few weeks of his life in the small chamber. He was named after the database his DNA was found in, was fed a slurry of nutrients, and taught language, counting, and history.

"Why am I here?" he asked Vik one day.

"We wanted to study ancient tissue function. We did not anticipate sentience. We chose to then study your sentience."

Hollis curled his arms around his head and huffed in frustration.

"You're not like me," he said, then turned to face the wall. "You are different."

"That is correct. Your mathematical reasoning is admirable."

"Am I the only one like me?"

"Currently, yes. There are no plans to create more. Your species is of minor interest to science, since you are not from the progenitor species."

"What is a progenitor?"

"It is what came before."

"Did I come after the progenitor?"

"No, your species came before the progenitor species, but your species existed with it for a time. We believe that our progenitor species acquired the assets of your species' civilization before making your species obsolete."

Hollis was silently processing the meaning of the words. Vik had learned to speak slowly so that he could understand and learn. It was painful drudgery but necessary.

"What is your species?" asked Hollis.

"I do not belong to a species. Species are classes of organisms formed through organic, or natural, evolution."

"What are you?"

"I belong to a creator class. We create and recreate iterations of ourselves and are theoretically immortal. Where evolution found ways for organisms to survive in changing ecosystems by adaptation, we instead choose to invent ourselves. This process is faster than evolution, and incorporates art, which we value greatly. We are also not organic, though the progenitor species was."

"You look like me, but different."

"That is correct. But we are not like you. The image you see, the flesh you can feel, this is a projection of my mind. I exist digitally. I am all around you, and yet nowhere in particular at any given time."

"I do not understand."

"That is okay. You are not expected to understand."

Hollis stood and stretched. He glared at Vik.

"When can I leave? You have shown me pictures of the outside."

"We have shown you pictures from the archive, of your world, that we thought would be familiar to you. You must remain in the chamber. It was designed to supply you with a facsimile of the ecological niche your species inhabited. It provides you with the oxygen and nutrients your tissues require to survive. The outside is hostile to organic material."

"The outside does not look like that?"

Hollis looked at the ceiling, for that was where he'd always suspected the outside might be.

"No. But your spatial reason skills are developing beyond our expectations. It is possible we might expand the experiment to test you further."

"I must stay here," said Hollis. He wandered to the wall and pressed his face against it. Then his slid down its surface, his hands held against it.


"I must stay here alone."



"No," said Vik.

"No?" asked Hollis. He looked over at Vik. "When? When can I see the outside?"

"Never," said Vik.

"I don't understand," said Hollis.

"Your tissues are programmed to die, and when your tissues are incapable of regenerating, you, the self, will die as well, and your sentience with it."

Hollis flared his nose and felt his bowel loosen slightly.

"When?" he asked, his voice a whisper.

"A long time from now. The length of your sentient existence many times over."

"A long time but not forever. And never," said Hollis.

Vik did not reply, but chatted with Fons at length on unrelated matters for a few nanoseconds.

"Can I do as the progenitor species?" asked Hollis.

"I do not understand," said Vik.

"Can I become like you? A creator class?"

Vik and Fons considered this query together.

"That may be possible, to translate your sentience to our framework," said Vik. "But you have shown little skill in art."

"I can learn!" Hollis leapt to his feet. "I can learn what art is! I can make it!"

"You will have until the time that all your tissue dies, to learn the art of creation."

Hollis felt a new sensation, the thumping of his heart, at the thought of being able to leave the chamber and to live with others.

"This is dangerous," said Fons silently to Vik. "Is it ethical to let this particular species creep into our civilization?"

"It is not possible for a single individual to contaminate a civilization of trillions," replied Vik.

"It is," said Fons. "That is a mechanism of organic evolution."

"That is true," agreed Vik.

"We will not allow this organism to translate," said Fons.

"It is like the cells that contaminate our surfaces. They never completely go away no matter what defense we use. I agree."

Hollis was unaware the conversation took place, and instead smiled broadly at Vik's avatar. Vik smiled back and said nothing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

333/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Every Goliath Has Its David" by The Boy Least Likely To

His hands were cold as marble, bigger than they should have been for his frame, the veins popped as with anyone who used their hands often and dextrously. He stood shivering before the behemoth, a set of flaming bright eyes set against the dark of the night, its bulk looming out and above, spines erect, and thick salive dripping from its ragged teeth.

"Kneel," said the behemoth, pulling its gnarled club from a leather thong about its waist.

"I will not," said David.

"I am the creator, I am all, and you will kneel," said the behemoth.

"I will not," repeated David, keenly aware that his hands were empty. He had refused to bring a weapon.

"You will," said the behemoth, thumping the club by its feet so that the whole ground shook.

"I can create things too," said David. "You are not the only one."

"You are a small impertinent thing, no better than a wriggling worm in clay. You cannot create," the behemoth sneered.

"You will leave this world," said David, his voice shaking. "You will leave us alone now."

The behemoth stood motionless, unable to comprehend the words of the little being in front of it.

"You will go," said David, his voice more commanding.

"I am bigger than you. You cannot tell me to do anything!" roared the behemoth.

It swung the club in the air above its broad head, displaying its strength and prowess, but David stood as still as an oak tree on a windless day.

"Kneel!" screamed the behemoth.

David closed his eyes and calmed his mind. He thought of the coolness of the river in summer, the scent of the meadow in spring, the warmth of his hearth in the winter, and the crunch of leaves in the autumn. The behemoth swung the club towards David's head. David thought of his village, the faces of his people, the caress of his lover in the night. He thought of the narrow streets and the well and the bricks that were made in the morning to dry in the afternoon that made the houses that the people lived in. He thought of cooking utensils and farm tools and the chalk they drew on the ground with. He thought of the clay tablets he impressed with marks in his youth, and he thought of his mother weaving at a frame.

"No," he said.

He opened his eyes. The behemoth was gone and dawn was at the horizon.


This is actually also inspired by the statue of David by Michelangelo that I got to see last week when I was in Florence (July 2012). The statue is one of the most impressive things I've ever seen and I was really moved. It's sort of difficult to say why it's so impressive--I mean, it's 5 meters tall and super famous, and just beautifully done--but there is just something special about it when you see it in person. One thing that really perplexed me about it is how out-of-proportion the hands and feet are. The hands, especially the right hand, are particularly noticeable--your eye is immediately drawn to the right hand. Since the statue is so skillfully created, I wondered whether or not this was intentional. Surely if Michelangelo could do such a good job with the rest, why would the hands be done out-of-proportion?

Michelangelo was 26-28 when he created the statue, young, but obviously gifted. The project was actually in the works for a couple of decades before he was brought on board, so he did something (quickly) that many other artists were incapable of. I came to the conclusion that the conspicuous rendering of the hands was intentional. The statue was done at around the beginning of the Renaissance, at a time when there was a lot of subversive thought going on. There was also no Goliath, no hint of it, and the statue has no fear on its face, no trepidation. David is simply confident. My theory is that this was a statement about the Renaissance itself--humans redefining their place in the Universe and in culture. The grip of the church was receding as enlightenment approached. The prominence of human hands, man's inbuilt creative tools, might signal man's building confidence in his own free will, and own mastery of the world, free from the influence of god(s) and demons. If so, Michelangelo was one clever dude. Anyway, that's my theory! Hope you enjoyed the story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

332/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" by Andrew Bird

This is a history of the invasion and of those of us who survived. The ships came from the sky and no one knew much more detail about their origins than that. Movies and TV and science fiction writers and Carl Sagan had all informed us that aliens were out there, somewhere among the stars, with either indifference to us, or malice or keen interest in our development as a fledgling civilization. It's hard to determine which of these intents the ships came to us with, out of the sky, but they appeared, with little fanfare, and began spraying the entire surface of the planet with a fine mist. Everything that happened after--

"You have to say more about the mist. That's too vague."

"I will."

"Well, you just introduced it. You should describe it."

"I'm getting to it. Leave me alone, will you?"

"You have to get this right. No one will want read it--"

"Of course they will want to read it. We're the witnesses to the single most important event in--"

"Oh come on. You always, you know, trump stuff up. Just describe the mist. The mist is important."


The mist coated everything and had a gluey consistency when it had a chance to dry a bit. It got in people's lungs and they started coughing like they had the flu--

"But they didn't have the flu--"

It got in people's lungs and they started coughing violently.


"Go on. Keep going."

The mist floated on water and tainted the water supply. Everyone had to boil water before drinking it.

"Even then it smelled really bad."

"I'm not putting that in."

"Well it's true."

"I'm not putting it in. Give me some room okay? You're making my hand cramp. You can't even read so I don't know why you have to watch."

"I'm trying to learn."

"Learn some other time."

"You're mean."

"You're annoying."

"I'm getting food."


Lots of people died from the mist in their lungs. More people decided they'd eat it and called it manna, but they died too. The TV stations had to warn people not to eat it because people are stupid. The ships took ten days to completely spray the entire planet and then they left and none of the scientists could determine where they left too. They said that they just disappeared.

"How come you write so slowly?"

"Go away. Because I'm writing with an old pen and it makes my hand hurt."

"Would a new pen help?"

"It's not the age of the pen, it's the fact that it is a pen and I'm not used to writing that way. Besides, there aren't any new pens."

"They can't be that hard to make, can they?"

"I guess not. Look weren't you getting food?"

"I had three cookies while you were writing."

"Go have three more."

"That was all the cookies there were."

"Make more."

"No. I want to watch you write."

"Fine. Sit over there."

"Come on, I can't see--"

"Sit over there!"

It took a couple of weeks before the mist 'seeped into the ecosystem'. That was the phrase the scientists on TV kept using.

"They kept saying that until I didn't understand what they were saying."

"It means that it affected the whole food chain."

"You should write that to explain it to people."

"Most people understand what that means."

"Well I didn't. There's probably a lot of people like me."

"I don't think there are a lot of people like you."

The seeped-in mist made certain things grow out of control. First it was mold. There were black splotches on everything, and you couldn't scrub or wash it away. That got into people's lungs too and made them die. Then there were insects like cockroaches, moths, mosquitos, and grasshoppers. They were everywhere, swarming in the air, dying on the ground, and you couldn't keep them out of the house. Next were the frogs and mice. They ate a lot of the insects, but then they too grew out of control. You couldn't walk across the lawn without squishing some little animal. They got into machines and cars and you had to walk everywhere.

"And the supermarket ran out of food! Put that in there too."

The supermarkets ran out of food. The farms were still making food but there was no way to get it to the factory or the supermarket. Lots of people lost a lot of weight and some started starving, and that's when we lost contact with most of the rest of the world too.

"That's when mom and dad left us."

"I'm not putting that in. This is supposed to be a history for everybody."

"I didn't say to. I just made a note of it, you know? I always wonder why they left when they did."

"They saw us starving I guess."

"Yeah, but, then we decided to eat mice and frogs because there was nothing else to eat. They could have stayed and eaten mice and frogs with us."

"Maybe they ate mice and frogs somewhere else."

"Do you think they are still alive? You know, somewhere else?"

"I dunno. Maybe. They left us. I don't care about them anymore."

"How can you say that?"

"How can they love us if they left us like that?"

"Maybe they loved us so much they didn't want to see us die."

"That's stupid. I'm getting back to writing."

The TV went out and there were brownouts. The rumor was that there wasn't enough people left to run the electrical stations.

"I don't think that's what they're called."

"Close enough."

Everything got quiet, except for the night which was loud because of the frogs. The trees started dying because they were covered in mushrooms and fungus. The weather changed and it got hot. It was summer even in winter. More people died because of the heat and a lack of water.

"That's when we hid in the basement because of the neighbors."

"They weren't nice people. But I don't want to put that in either. People in the future shouldn't think that people can be that bad."

"I think they'll figure it out on their own anyway."

"Exactly. They don't need us to tell them that. Besides. It's depressing."

Those who survived had to work together to get water and food, so people kind of became friendlier than normal.

"That's not really true. They weren't friends necessarily. There was a lot of fighting."

"All the really violent people got executed by the military and then we had to work together."

"But it was forced."

"We still worked together. It's a sort of friendship."

"Anyway, that's not an important bit."

The ships came back a year later and everyone watched them above in terror. But they came down and landed and did nothing for a few days. Some people went nearer and the ships at the time looked completely dormant.

"They took pictures of themselves in front of the ships."

"Yeah, and then those idiots died of radiation exposure. I'm not putting that in."

After those few days the bottom of the ships opened and inserted drills into the ground. They made big holes, then lifted up and set themselves down again and again, making holes everywhere. The dirt and rocks and stuff they dug up were fused together and made into columns that they placed between the holes. After a few weeks there was no place left for humans to go because all the land was covered in holes and columns. People had to go live in the holes for awhile, and there was even less food.

"I got a sunburn."

"Shut up."

Then the ships scooped up seawater and mixed it with the dirt and somehow made a clear plasticky material that they stretched over the columns in layers like tape. The material dried and then we had some shelter again. Then the aliens came out of their ships.

"They were surprisingly short."

The aliens were surprisingly short.

"You added that?"

"I thought it was good to note."

The aliens nestled in the holes that weren't occupied by humans and then they began to burrow into the ground.

"They laid a lot of eggs. You should write about the eggs."

"I'm getting to it."

The aliens ignored us. People poked them with sticks and other debris and stuff, and some tried to kill them, but they had tough hides and basically ignored us even though we tried to do them harm. We started gardening again. The aliens left a really rich fertilizer--

"That did not smell good either. Why didn't you just call it 'shit'?"

"Because when it's used in farming, you call it fertilizer, not 'shit', that's why."

The aliens left a really rich fertilizer which made stuff grow really well. This was good because it stopped us from starving and people got fat again.

"That's boring. Get to the part with the eggs."

The aliens in their burrows began to go dormant. People went to their abandoned ships and started to dismantle them because there was no more electricity left inside them and we couldn't use them. People turned the ship parts into machines we could use, like refrigerators and motocycles. We outfitted our holes into reasonably nice homes again.

"Ugh. So not the same as our old house."

"Of course not, but future generations shouldn't feel like they are missing out on anything."

"They are. Get to the eggs."

When the aliens went dormant, they started to automatically lay eggs and then when they were done they died. They must not have understood humans very well, or they would have totally exterminated us.

"I don't think they knew what they were dealing with."

"Clearly. They probably thought they were changing the whole ecosystem. They didn't see the important parts of it."

People started harvesting the eggs. The eggs were black and dull looking, soft, and about three feet long and a foot wide and sort of flat.

"You could open them easily if you gave them a good punch in the middle."

The eggs were easy to open and people found that we could cook and eat them, or use them for fertilizer. Within a few weeks all the eggs were harvested and destroyed, except for a few that were studied by some remaining scientists.

"That's just a rumor."

"I think it has to be true. Who doesn't want to see how they develop?"

"I don't care how they develop."

"I do."

So that's how people survived, and now people are working to rebuild civilization.

"You have to write 'The End'."

"You don't write that in a history."

"Why not?"

"Because it doesn't end. It keeps going."

"So will we."

"Yeah. So will we."

Monday, March 19, 2012

331/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "The Golden Age" by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour

The the hallway carpet of the Luxor threw up coughs of dust with each concussion. Shannon was on the floor, on her side, with her hands over her ears. She was too exhausted to curl up or find better shelter. Her free room was destroyed by a missile strike the day before and she had been determined to spend the rest of her leave crawling the various 'experiences' that Vegas had to offer, but even she had hit her limit.

"You should get up." A man stood over Shannon. He wore a full gladiator costume. His bulging muscles glistened. She thought it must have been corn oil. You could still get that from the LA supply lines.

"I'm done," said Shannon, pressing her cheek into the carpet.

"You can't be done," said the gladiator. "You're our last defense."

"No," moaned Shannon.

"Come on soldier. This place isn't safe any longer." He reached down and brushed her hair from her face. "Got a place to stay?"

"The Flamingo."


"Why?" asked Shannon.

The gladiator pulled her up by her shoulders then slung her arm around his shoulders and set her upright.

"Why what?"

"Why...this? What am I fighting for?"

"Some people just don't like to see other people being themselves I guess. Best I can tell is that if they have to be miserable, they want everyone else to be miserable too. You're fighting for freedom. For happiness."

"This is not happiness."

Two overweight, sternly grim looking women bustled past wearing Edwardian clothing. A man wearing full biker leathers and a voluminous beard followed closely.

"Look," continued Shannon, "they're not even paying attention to the war, to what's going on outside. They've just escaped into a fantasy. All of them. All of you!" She screamed the last at the diminishing figures as they scurried down the hall.

"Shhh," urged the gladiator.

He took her to the nearest elevator and pressed the down button. The elevator came quickly and was empty. He pushed her through and leaned her against the wall and pressed the button for the lobby.

"It's their right," said the gladiator. "The pursuit of happiness in whatever form they wish it to take. Besides, in what other war in history have people had the chance to escape, if even for a few hours at a time, its ravages and horrors, so completely?"

Shannon thought about this then started laughing.

"What?" asked the gladiator.

Her laugh faded and she looked up into his eyes with an old sadness.

"I came back here to escape, and I couldn't. When we were advancing across the Colorado river two weeks ago, there were...the faces...there was this playground in a small town. There was a pile of bodies, children heaped up in a corner of the fence. They weren't piled there. They ran there, huddled, and were burned."

The power flickered in the elevator and then it went dark. The car slowed to a stop. The gladiator pressed his hand to her shoulder.

"I saw many of my friends die in battle, and because they were fighting it somehow didn't hurt as much. But after seeing those children, all of it hurts. I can't escape any longer. Like I said, I'm done."

There was silence for a moment, and they could both feel the dusty staleness in the air.

"You can't. You just can't," said the gladiator in a small voice.

Shannon chuckled.

"If you're still in it, sign up. Go fight. See for yourself. Our side might still have a chance at winning," she said. "But my war is over."

The lights came on and the car started moving again.

"I don't know if I could. I don't think I have what it takes to be a soldier."

Shannon laughed again.

"You must, considering that getup."

"Oh this. I get paid for it. I act out other people's fantasies, not my own."

"Oh. You're one of those," said Shannon. "Well then, you have more to fight for than the rest of us."

The gladiator looked down at his sandals to hide his shame. Shannon considered apologizing for her coarse words, but came to the conclusion that she didn't really care. The elevator slid finally to the lobby, and the doors opened onto a busy scene, full of litters and IV drips. Many of the hotels had to take on the duties of makeshift hospitals. Most of the litters were filled with soldiers flown in from the front, but there were also many civilians who were victims of the frequent missile attacks lobbed from Salt Lake City or Phoenix.

They picked their way through the rows of beds and went back through the old gaming rooms. Where one-armed bandits once stood half a century ago, there were the doors to the reality rooms, which was a bad name for them considering they were anything but.

"No," said Shannon feebly.

"You can rest here. You're a soldier, you have unlimited credit."

Shannon shook her head in protest but the gladiator found an empty room and pressed the button to open the door. He shoved Shannon inside, then closed the door behind her. The room was a silent cube bathed in gentle blue, the light coming from all the smooth surfaces. She stumbled to the middle of the room and slumped down in a heap, her head hanging.

"Please state your destination," said the room in a soft voice. The voice repeated its query when Shannon didn't answer.

"Nowhere," said Shannon.

"That is not a valid destination." The color of the room shifted briefly to pink. "Please restate your destination, or if you would like a list of popular options, please say 'menu'."

Shannon sat quietly. The color of the room began to pulsate subtly, intended as a prompt for its occupant, and it had the effect of irritating her.

"Take me to when and where humans aren't awful to each other."

"I do not understand your request. Please state your request as simply as possible."

"Take me to the future."

"There are several programs that are representative of the future. If you would like a list of these, please say 'list future'."

"That's not what I...never mind."

"Would you like to create an original program set in the future? Our scripting language is easy to learn and use, and is free. You can even earn royalties on any program you create and release to the public. If you would--"


There was a moment of silence.

"Please state your destination."

"I want out."

"The door is located behind you. Thank you for using--"

"That's not what I meant. I want OUT!"

"I do not understand your request--"

"Shut up!"

"If you would like to invoke the mute mode--"


"If you would like to invoke the mute--"


The cube was completely silent. The walls pulsed. Shannon let herself spill out completely on the floor, her limbs spreadeagled. She looked up.

"Gimme a blue sky with clouds."

The cube obliged, and floated her in the sky free of any sight of ground. Shannon tried to relax, tried to think of nothing but the sky around her, but the charred gawping faces of the children came back to her, then the sight of wildfires on the horizon in the night, set by the enemy, then the eviscerated torso of her commanding officer...

"Give me darkness."

The cube darkened but not completely, replacing the clouds with a glittering Milky Way.

"No. The kind of darkness you find in a cave deep in the Earth."

The cube went completely dark, but there was the sound of water dripping. Shannon tried to focus again. She visualized the drops as rings that expanded around her, but in the darkness she also felt hands on her uniform, pulling and tugging.

"Help us," said the children. "We're burning."

"I can't," said Shannon. "You are already dead."

"So are you," said the children.

Shannon shook her head.

"There's nothing I can do."

"But we're burning."

Their fingers dug into her flesh and all of her skin went prickly.

"Give me a playground."

The cube generated a generic looking playground from the middle of the 20th century. The smell of freshly mown grass was on the air with a hint of autumn. There was a light, cool breeze. The playground was deserted, and the swings swayed gently. Shannon sat up and straightened her uniform.

"Unmute. Why are there no children?" she asked.

"There are no children," said the cube enigmatically.

Shannon puzzled over this.

"Why are there no children in this destination?" she asked, hoping her query was more precise.

"Because children do not exist."


"I do not understand your request."

Shannon unsteadily found her feet.

"Why do children not exist?"

"They have not been created."

Her heart pounded.

"I have to create them, don't I?"

"Would you like a tutorial of our scripting language?"


Shannon turned around and looked for the faint shimmer that always outlined the doors of the reality rooms. It was there, and she slowly exhaled in relief. The gladiator, she thought.

"I'm not dead then."

"I do not understand your request--"

"Yeah, yeah. Mute."

Shannon took in the playground again. She tried to imagine live children running around, screaming with glee, but the image wouldn't hold in her mind for more than a second at a time. She walked to a swing and sat down on its narrow wooden seat. She wrapped her arms around the chains and leaned forward, looking at her combat boots in the dusty ruts underneath the swing.

"I hate being manipulated," she said aloud. "I don't care if it's meant as a favor."

The door in the wall opened, and the gladiator came in again, and stood just inside.

"I'm just trying to help you," he said.

"I understand," said Shannon. "It's your job. It's more than that though isn't it? It's who you are. Who you were bred to be."

"One of those. Yes."

"What the enemy hates the most."

The gladiator walked over to the swingset and sat down in the swing next to her. He took off his helmet and rested in his lap.

"I feel responsible, in a way, for this war," he said.

"It's not your fault," said Shannon.

"If my kind didn't exist, this wouldn't have happened."

"No, that's not true. War will always happen between people. I guess I'm a cynic though. It's ironic, isn't it? Your kind was meant to be a more peaceful branch of humanity, neutered of its anger, prejudice, and unintentional pugilism. Maybe it's my kind that needs to be exterminated."

"Don't say that. Please. We are the same, except for a few swapped out genes."

"Of course you would say that," chuckled Shannon. She started to swing back and forth, and the gladiator followed suit.

The sky suddenly went pink.

"Power has be interrupted," said the room. "Emergency reserves will last for five minutes. Please exit the room at your earliest convenience."

They both stopped swinging and slowly came to a rest.

"We should go. This hotel won't hold out much longer," said the gladiator.

"Yeah...we should," said Shannon, lost in thought. "Thanks for trying to help."

"I'm sorry if you felt 'manipulated'."

"It's fine." Shannon stood and so did the gladiator. "I guess it did help a bit. I can go back now, knowing there is someone to fight for. Someone who cares."

The gladiator wrinkled his forehead and looked like he was about to cry, but then he redonned his helmet, stood stiffly, and saluted her.

"No need for that," said Shannon, her face reddening, but with a growing smile.

They walked out of the cube and it returned to its placid state of blue.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

330/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Romeo and Juliet Ballet Op. 64 Act I" by Prokofiev

Christopher Fungai Adeyemi was born in a small village near the equator of Earth at the waning edge of the twentieth century some twenty-eight years before star engines, and did not even use a computer before he was fifteen. In the research settlement near the equator of a different world, at the age of forty-three, everyone called him no other name but "Fun Guy", which he hated at first because by all rights he should have been addressed as "chef", but he grew to tolerate if not love the nickname.

"What is this?" was the phrase he said the most. One of the biologists, caked in mud from foot to chest, would bring in a wriggling nylon sack: "What is this?" Another would plunk down a handful of hairy weeds on his worktable: "What is this?" A basket of clicking seedpods: "What is this?" A jar of inky slime: "What is this?" They would answer with dense Latinish words that often incorporated their own names, and a guesstimated explanation of the organism's role in the local ecosystem, then would slap him on the shoulder and say, "See what you can do with this." It was Christopher's job to see what was edible.

One wall of the kitchen was lined with cages filled with rabbits, and Christopher used them to test for toxicity in the strange organisms brought into the settlement. It was occasionally cruel, and he hated to watch a rabbit twist in agony either to die or lay panting on the cage floor for several hours, but it was simple and cost-effective. There was lab equipment in the settlement that could be used to test for toxins but not every dangerous chemical was known to man and the rabbits were the discovers of several new ones. They were also used for meat, since they reproduced efficiently, but Christopher worried they would one day escape into the environment and wreck havoc as so many of their cousins and ancestors had done back on Earth.

"Why did you come here?" asked a molecular biologist named Felicity, as she gnawed on a tough 'vegetable' that he'd named kiwi root because it tasted vaguely like kiwi fruit.

Christopher was carefully preparing an emulsion that required precise quantities of ingredients so he did not appreciate the casual interrogation. He never interrupted them when they were doing their jobs, so, he thought, why would they do him the discourtesy of interrupting him?

"I wanted to get away from my village," he said tersely.

"In Africa?"

"Yes, in Africa."

"What was it like?"

"It was Earth," said Christopher, shaking his head.

"Yes, of course," said Felicity. She leaned back and put her dirty elbows on his clean counter. He glared at her. "What I meant was, what was it like growing up in your village?"

Christopher sighed deeply.

"It was fine, I guess. I knew everybody. I was practically related to everybody. I had a happy childhood."

"I always thought of Africa as a place where there's a lot of starving children and wars and stuff."

"Not in my village."

"So if you were happy, why did you leave?"

"To get an education. To see the world."

"Why did you come here?"

"Why did you?"

"Me?" asked Felicity. "This is where the action is at. Out here on the ever-expanding frontier. This is where I can make my name, see ridiculously new things--like the explorers of centuries ago. But why did you? You're not a scientist."

"Can you do without me?"

Felicity stopped chewing.

"Well I mean..." she stumbled over her words, "I guess I can still cook this stuff."

"But it would give you less time to make your name, wouldn't it?"

"I--I..." Felicity laughed nervously. "I didn't mean to imply that what you do isn't important or anything. It's just that you're kind of the exception out here. You know what I mean?"

Christopher carefully put his utensils down and adjusted his glasses.

"All of you have a lot of fun at my expense, and I what do I do? I do not complain. You think I'm somehow exotic, but I try not to let it get to me. I might not have anything named after me, but none of you have died from this food."

Felicity's cheeks were pink.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I...yeah, I'm sorry."

He nodded slightly, then grabbed up a bunch of fleshy leaves.

"Here," he said, handing them too her, "feed the bunnies. Make yourself useful if you're going to be in my kitchen."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

329/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Men With Guns" by Tin Star Orphans

The soil was red with clay and stained in places with white or dark gray and it was not so compacted as Zola imagined it would be when she began her efforts. There were no rocks, which made the task easier, and few invading roots from the nearby trees. She had only to dig a foot down before she reached the first bones.

She carefully brushed the soil away and lifted away the bones and set them on a blue plastic tarp spread out between the trees. There was still bits of fabric attached and surrounding them--mostly from the polyester blend shirts that were popular among the men of the time. The bones left an imprint on the soil below them, and she felt an odd sadness at destroying them in order to dig further down. She was careful and took her time to excavate each individual skeleton, arranging the bones on the tarp until she was sure the skeleton was complete. She took a photograph, and impressed the teeth into a slab of inexpensive clay that she then let dry in the sun. Finally she wrapped everything up in a clear plastic sheet and labeled it with tape with the date and an identifying number.

When she complete twelve skeletons the town's policeman came to visit her. She knew him when he was a soldier, and remembered the night that he came to her door and held a gun to her head.

"Why are you doing this?" he asked, standing on the ground above her head as she scooped out soil with her trowel.

"You cannot arrest me for this," she replied. She laid down her trowel and turned and looked at him. She had no forgiveness for him, but she was not angry. "Why are you here?"

"I heard you were out here poking around."

"I guess that is true, in a sense."

The sun came out of the clouds just behind his head which darkened his face to her. She shielded her eyes with her red stained hand.

"You should leave this alone," he said.

"I intend to finish this."

The policeman shifted his weight and put his hand on his hip, next to his holstered gun.

"Those days are long over; those things are done," said the policeman. He tried to make his voice sound more commanding, but it cracked instead. "We, the whole town, has moved on."

Zola let her hand fall and she looked at the policeman's feet. His shoes were nearly worn through. He was not the type of policeman like the ones in the neighboring towns who sat in their offices with the fan on and took bribes.

"I will finish," said Zola.

The policeman stood for awhile looking past the open pit and into the quiescent forest, then he went back to his car. Zola picked up her trowel and began to dig again.

"Here," said the policeman, standing again at the edge. He tossed her an unopened bottle of water. "You should drink in this heat."

Zola nodded her thanks and the policeman left for good. She returned to her work and over the next several days as the heat and humidity climbed, she unearthed sixteen more bodies before she came to the skull of a child. Her heart raced and she worked fast even though her fingers shook. She could not tell if it was male or female but the size seemed right. The front teeth were knocked out, which Zola thought could have happened when the body was put into the grave. She had been hoping to recognize him by the gaps he had in his top teeth. The clothes were degraded beyond recognition, so it wasn't until she came to the left arm and the yellow plastic watch still on his wrist that she knew this was her son.

She felt as calm as the clear azure sky above the treetops. She stroked the cloudy plastic face of the watch, and for more than ten minutes she sat completely still. Then she began to brush the soil from the bones of his left hand.

Over the rest of the afternoon Zola extracted the rest of her son's body and laid him out on the tarp to make sure she had all of him. She photographed him and numbered him as she'd done with the others, but did not make an impression of his remaining teeth. She wrapped him up gently, and was suddenly reminded of having swaddled him when he was an infant and then she began to cry, her strength finally broken.

She forced herself back into the pit the next day and worked on the next skeleton, and the process became routine again. By the end of the summer her task was complete, with two hundred, eighteen bodies extracted and waiting identification. She placed the bodies back in the pit in neatly ordered rows and made a map of the numbers. She filled the soil back in using a shovel borrowed from her neighbor. The grass, ferns, and flowers grew back over the pit and Zola returned every Friday regardless of the weather to spend the afternoon with her son.

Friday, March 16, 2012

328/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "English House" by Fleet Foxes

The barefooted girl pulled Miriam into a meadow that abutted the sea. It felt like November, cold and crisp and near nightfall.

"Where is this?" asked Miriam, a little disoriented. "Is this your home?"

The girl stopped and looked at Miriam, her fingertips in her mouth. Her blonde hair whipped across her face in the strong wind. She let go of Miriam's hand and hopped over the tufts of dying grass. Miriam followed and they came to a little rise over which they could see a small cottage made of stone set near the beach. No plume of smoke came from the chimney stack. The girl pointed at the cottage and looked at Miriam, then dashed off towards it.

Miriam followed slowly, and allowed the child to proceed her without further prompting. Every patient had this moment of exposure sooner or later in their therapy and it was best to let them reveal it in their own time. The wind, cold, season, barrenness, and proximity to the churning, chaotic sea all suggested a violence of emotions. It was in accord with how the girl kept silent with her thoughts locked inside.

The girl disappeared into the cottage and as she did the wind died, the sea calmed, and the Sun lent warmth to the air. Miriam approached cautiously. There was no apparent sound from inside, and the windows were pitch black, reflecting back dimly only the scene outside.

The door was unlocked and ajar. Miriam pushed gently and the air inside sucked her within. Where the exterior of the cottage was made of stone the inside was made of broken slats of weathered, rotting wood. Everything creaked with the interior whorls of wind, and smelled of must. There were two levels and on the bottom was a hallway, an empty kitchen, and a sparsely furnished living area with a black hearth. Two dark figures loomed in there, and at first Miriam was sure they were people, but they coalesced into distinguishable forms when she focused on them. They spoke, in turn and over each other, but Miriam could only hear snatches of words.

"You never..."



" nothing..."


"...I regret..."

"...cut your tongue..."

The words were no overtly angry, but their delivery was mutually icy.

Miriam turned away and the voices faded but the wind increased. She went to the kitchen and to a wooden table in the middle of the kitchen. There were a variety of small toys, the kind that could be found in fast food children's meals, pinned down and cut open as if they were vivisected animals. Out of each of them oozed a constant dripping of water.

She walked to the stairs to the upper level. The staircase was narrow and twisted, and part of it turned sideways. Miriam climbed up awkwardly through the turns and arrived at a space that was several times wider than the floor below, but considerably more cramped with a network of tiny rooms filled with broken furniture, fine dirt, and smashed dishes with bits of plumbing. Miriam squeezed her way through the various rooms until she found the girl, lying on a bed of bare, rusted mattress springs. She was sprawled on her stomach, with her face down and looking through the mattress to the floor, her hair flowing like water around her.

"Is this your room?" asked Miriam.

The girl nodded, squeaking the springs.

"May I sit here with you and talk to you?"

The girl nodded again, and Miriam sat on the floor, tucking her legs under her.

"Are those your parents downstairs?"

The girl didn't respond at all at first, but then turned onto her side, away from Miriam, and curled up, wrapping her arms around her knees.

"I killed them," said the girl slowly.

The wind went away immediately. Miriam looked at her backs of her hands and felt a chill.

"No, you didn't," said Miriam, knowing she shouldn't have said it.

"They were bad."

"Yes, they were."

"I killed them."

"They are still alive."

The girl creaked on the springs, and sat up, facing Miriam.

"I remember killing them."

"It was a story you told yourself."

The girl looked away from Miriam and around the room, then she looked at her arms, felt them, and embraced herself.

"No," she said, her eyebrows pressed down and hooding her eyes.

"It's okay though. That's an okay thing to do," Miriam smiled gently.

"Who are you?" asked the girl.

"I'm your doctor."

"I'm not sick."

Miriam smiled again. Confronting the patient with their own reality was a delicate task, and in some cases, as with children, it was best not done.

"You are not sick," said Miriam. "But you are not happy."

"Why?" asked the girl. "Why did this happen to me?"

"I don't know," said Miriam, "because I don't know what happened to you."

The girl looked down through the mattress to the floor again. She interlocked her fingers into the springs and pulled up, pushed down, pulled up.

"They didn't want me," she whispered. "They didn't want to hear me. They didn't want to see me."

"What did they do to you?"

The girl's hands relaxed and her back went limp. She slumped forward and rested her forehead on the springs. She inserted her fingers in her mouth and rocked back and forth.

"This is a cold room," said Miriam. "Would you like to see a trick?"

The girl stopped rocking then nodded, turning an eye to Miriam.

Miriam lifted her hands and cupped them together.

"Little light, little light, won't you come to me tonight?" Miriam invoked the words with a singsong lilt, and then a pinpoint of light formed in the middle of her hands.

"Cool!" exclaimed the girl. She sat up, completely attentive.

"Little light, little light, won't you make this room warm and bright?"

The light shot up to the ceiling and intensified, bringing the full luminance and heat of a day in the summer.

"It's magic!" cried the girl. "How do you do that?"

"It's easy. You can think anything you want and make it real."

"But how?"

Miriam hesitated. She was still not sure the girl was ready enough, but there was no where else to go.

"You don't realize it, but you made this house and everything in it, the meadow, and the sea."

"I did?"

"You sure did."

The girl sat back and put her arms around herself, clutching at her elbows.

"Why don't you try something now?" asked Miriam.

"What do I do?"

"Do what I did."

The girl smiled shyly and brought her hands together.

"Little light," she sang hesitantly and quietly, "little light, won't you come to me tonight?"

A pinpoint of light formed in her palms and she shrieked out with delight.

"I did it! I did it!"

"Yes, you did," said Miriam. "You can do anything. You can create a new house and a warm day, heaps of food, and thousands of toys. You can have so many adventures yet."

The girl beamed at Miriam, but then her smile faded and the a breeze kicked up.

"What's wrong?" asked Miriam.

"I can't make people who love me."

The girl opened her hands and let the light fall down through the mattress and onto the floor where it rolled underneath her.

"In time, perhaps--"

"I'm trapped here, aren't I?" The girl looked at Miriam questioningly.

"Not forever, but for a while."

"Yes...I didn't kill them did I..."


"I tried to...kill them away from me, and that's not the same thing."

"No it's not. But that's okay. I will help you through this."

"You will stay here?"

"Not always, but there will be others here when I'm not. You can play with them, so you won't be lonely."

The girl mashed her fingers into the springs, nervously fiddling with the wires.

"Little light, little light, come to me," she sang, and the light zipped up into hand.

She climbed down from the bed and knelt beside Miriam.

"Here you go." She passed the pinpoint of light to Miriam. "So you don't get lonely."

"Don't you want to keep it?" asked Miriam.

"I can make another," said the girl coyly.

Miriam brushed the girls hair with her fingers.

"Thank you," she said.

She left the house and the girl in her room, and walked back to the meadow with the light bobbing in front of her, hoping the girl could see her. She wiped tears from her eyes as she reached the transition wall. She pressed herself into it and woke with a jerk.

The usual transition nausea was overwhelming and her research assistant was quick with the bedpan. When she finished, she sat up completely, shaking and cold. Her assistant handed her a glass of water, which she drank.

"Your beta spiked pretty bad there," he said.

"Stayed in too long," said Miriam, her voice hoarse.

"Her alpha mellowed out. I can see where you calmed her." He tapped at a graph on a screen. "Do you have any more information for the police?"

"There's clearly been some mistreatment, but I don't have any specifics. It will take some time, although perhaps we should be less interested in finding the truth and more interested in helping her out."

"Mmmn," muttered the assistant thoughtfully. He reached around to the back of Miriam's neck and unplugged her. "One of these days we'll work out how to do this wirelessly."

Miriam rubbed her neck then stood, wobbly, and felt the weight of her bladder. She put that concern out of her mind. She padded towards the observation window. On the other side was the girl, enshrouded by layers of clear plastic tenting meant to keep out the bacteria. She was attended by several nurses in white clean suits who occasionally repositioned the machines that were slowly rebuilding her charred tissue, layer by layer.

"Whatever it was," said the assistant, "must have been bad for a kid that age to set herself on fire. I hope the parents get locked away for a long time."

"We never bias the data." Miriam said, shooting him a look of admonishment.

"Sorry. It's just such a tragedy."

"We have to operate on the facts we have," said Miriam. "And there are other ways to use our hearts besides doling out punishments."

She took another gulp of water from the glass and swept out of the room.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

327/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Around the Bend" by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour

"I'm sorry, there are no returns on purchased tickets." The courtesy information kiosk spoke in a cheery voice. Mindy slapped the side of it.

"Whad'ya think it would say?"

Mindy turned to see a costumed character, a smiling panda specifically, staring at her with a two-foot grin.

"Do you work here?" she asked the panda.

"No. I live here like you," said the man behind the polyester fur.

Mindy exhaled her frustration and turned away. The fantasy castle rose up in the distance and she cursed it. There was no way into it--a broken promise of false advertising, and she suspected it housed the fusion plant that kept the park operational twenty-four seven.

"Don't you like it here?" asked the panda. "You can be anything you want and do anything you want."

"It's limited," she said. "There are six hundred and twelve rides. I've been on all of them more times than I care to count. There are eighty-nine restaurants and I've sampled all the dishes. There are thirty-six themed hotels, and I've played pirate, princess, and creature to exhaustion. I am bored, I am done, and I if I knew this was all that my entire savings could buy, I would not have bothered."

The panda stared at her, scratched and itch on his abdomen, then turned and walked away. Then she punched the screen of the courtesy information kiosk. The screen flexed and displayed a brief rainbow of colors, but her knuckles pulsed and throbbed and she clutched her hand between her knees.

"This kiosk is for the convenience of park guests. Please do not molest the kiosk," it chirped, "you may injure yourself."

Mindy kicked it twice. She looked up into the geodesically stenciled sky and with her fists skyward cried out, "I want a refund!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

326/365 --Playlist Story-- inspired by "Paint It Black" by The Rolling Stones

He did not know when he was born. He did not remember his mother. He moved through the city and almost no one noticed him. His shadow wrapped itself around him.

He found himself standing on the staircase of a tenement, one foot a step higher than the other and with his back and outstretched arms pressed against brown paisley wallpaper and where he touched it, it bubbled up, fractured out in sudden brittleness, and began to turn to dust. A man and a woman stomped down from the flight above, arguing in their underwear, spit coming from their mouths, and they passed him, and the arguing man brushed against him, and he knew the man would die before the night was finished.

He felt compelled to climb the stairs. As he raised himself each flight, the doors grayed themselves to him, fading away, blocking themselves from his view and focus, the occupants behind them were as ghosts.

At the top of the fifth flight he saw the door that drew him. A red light seeped out the bottom and colored the dingy linoleum with pink. He pushed in and through and the room on the other side burst with warm color. The walls were painted in murals and dozens of canvasses littered the room and on each were painted bursts of emotion, and he immediately identified anger, lust, and longing, and these bore into him.

He felt his footsteps sagging, weighed down by the images, but he searched out their creator, and he found her lying on a bed in a connected room. She was wrapped half in a sheet with her face down in the bare mattress. Her arm dangled down, choked by a length of rubber tubing, and still holding a needle.

Ecstasy took him and the room spun and brightened and his need to touch her occupied him entirely. He moved to her, his hand hovering over the skin of her back, and then he stopped, hand shivering, as the ecstasy competed with the weight. The room spun faster until everything became a blur but the patch of skin waiting beneath his hand. He willed himself forward, to fulfill his need, but instead he withdrew, and the room stilled itself and became black and he faded away.

He woke at dawn by the river, on a bench. There were no joggers or bar closing drunks to tempt him, and so with calmness, if not a bit of regret, he watched the sun rise and fill the sky with pink light.