Friday, March 14, 2014

I Am a Wolf

I died of melanoma.

I was young, in my mid twenties. I hadn't accomplished anything extraordinary. There was no legacy to remember me by.

Death has an interesting way of preserving our best qualities in memories.

My friends recall me in their dreams. I serve as a guide, an ally, a guardian, a lesson, a moral, a story. The memories my friends tell serve as a metaphor for life.

I like to watch my friends experience my memories. Maybe they realize I live vicariously through them.

I was a chemical engineer. My professors gave me an honorary degree as I wilted away my last semester.

My friends were never the same after I left them. Their sense of justice was diminished. They couldn't understand why the good died and the bad lived.

They wanted answers where there were none.

I was the oldest of my friends. I was there surrogate older brother. They looked to my good examples. Following in my footsteps was supposed to lead to a good life.

Then life was gone.

I appeared in a dream. He searched for his spirit animal, so I came to him as a wolf.

Gandalf was with me too. I always liked Lord of the Rings.

There is pain in his soul every day, and he cannot face it but in dreams. I try to carry him while he walks, and I manifest when his subconscious calls for me.

I died in my mother's house.

I missed living with my friends. They were my brothers. Life was normal, and cancer didn't exist.

We partied every night. They don't party anymore.

Recalled memories of me are a sad life story. Cancer was part of my identity.

I signed them up for college. They never got their diploma.

I lived with cancer for seven years before it won.

My life was not defined by cancer. I was not cancer.

I am the hand on their shoulder when the stress feels like too much.

I was me, and my life was normal.

In meditations I relax their soul. They are filled with memories, and their negativity drains away.

I lived as if I had more time like anyone else.

As my memory lives through experiences together, I walk alongside them.

I protect them, guide them, show them, help them.

I defy cancer.

I am preserved. I am a memory.

I defy death.

I am a Wolf.

Author's Note

      This 2014 hybrid narrative piece was inspired by the format of the book "This is Not a Novel" by David Markson which kind of reads like a super condensed Wikipedia book about artists and mostly how they died with bits of metafiction thrown in. It was also inspired by a story told to me by a friend. This is probably the only piece I've ever wrote that didn't have any planning go into it; I just wrote.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Doctor's Visit

      Hot water rained on my head and rushed down the curve of my spine, washing away the events of the past 5 hours. I scrubbed the platinum shampoo into what was brunette hair, while wondering who I would see when I looked into the mirror with freshly blonde hair. The doctor had access to expensive materials normally reserved for celebrities, wealthy businessmen, and government officials. Some materials I understood how she acquired, but how did she have such expensive, obscure, hair-color changing shampoos? Not only were they rare, but highly frowned upon to own. It was considered suspicious activity to have the means to change your appearance from shower to shower.
      I stepped out of the shower and wiped a section from the steamy mirror to stare at the person I no longer recognized. Those were my eyes: mossy green and guarded, but they were framed by light eyebrows I almost couldn't see and hair that looked like the sun. It was bright for an undercover look, but it wouldn't be what they were looking for. For a moment I felt like an alien in my own body, and wondered how I'd come so far so quickly. Was I the same person anymore, or had I lost myself somewhere along the way? The scrapes and burns on my face, abdomen, and legs I'd gotten from the smoldering train tracks stung from the hot water and soapy scrubbing, snapping me back to the situation at hand.
      Grabbing a small tube from the counter, I cautiously applied the cool gel to each cut and burn and watched in both disgust and fascination as blood congealed and turned into solid scabs as if I were watching a time lapse video where days turned into minutes. Yet, instead of being floored by the miracle of the technology, all I could think about was the fortune I'd just smeared onto my body, provided generously by the doctor whom I'd just met a minute prior to the luxurious shower.
      I roughly brushed my shaggy bob with my finger tips until it looked as best as I could manage, got dressed in clothes laid out for me—black slacks and jacket with a white shirt, all too large for me—and emerged into a quiet hallway where I heard the quiet murmurs of Ryan and Dr. Kaylee Reynolds. The hallway, the room they sat in filled with supplies in every shelf, behind every closet door, none of it was visible when we'd entered the doctor's office. This was all just a small piece of another location on the globe, separated by both hundreds of miles, and by one, measly little dimensional Rip that connected two locations by an immeasurable, imperceptible piece of space we merely had to walk through to get there.

* * *

      “What is this place?” I gasped out between breaths. I was vaguely familiar with dimensional Rips, but this place was something different. It was an outdoor restaurant by a set of train tracks that reminded me of quaint, suburban America, but there were pockets of charred, flaming, and smoldering remains everywhere, littered amongst the pristine architecture. Smoke penetrated my lungs and I coughed, teary eyed, desperately trying to keep hold of Ryan's arm.
      He remained stoic, but I thought there might've been a glimpse of worry in his eyes. I didn't know if I should feel relieved that we felt the same way, or hysterical that even he was scared, which he never was. Operatives had been hot on our trail, and the Rips we were using were ones that they'd claimed. They weren't familiar to us, and they were guarded heavily. Well, they weren't familiar to Ryan. I had didn't know about any Rips. They were highly coveted secrets people guarded insanely possessively, and I was new to the game.
      “Some Rips aren't clean cut, Alice. The locations overlap. Meaning this place is two places at once,” his icy blue eyes were scanning the area, but his hand came up and squeezed mine for a split second of comfort. “I just don't know where.”
      Shouts of “There they are!” sounded behind us and there stood the Operatives in suits, glasses, and guns.
      Ryan grabbed my arm and we ran—straight for the smoldering pockets of earth around the train tracks of the suburb. I could smell wood burning a second before we ran through it. Flashes of burning trees and brush fires filled my vision, like a movie reel where two movies were spliced together, each taking place on every other frame. I saw the outdoor restaurant against a blue sky and fallen trees smoking against a black, ashen foreground flashing together in my vision simultaneously until we entered the burning region overlapping with the suburb through the jagged Rip.
      I had no idea where we were, but the world was aflame. The air felt like a giant, dry oven: staggeringly hot and inescapable. It was a forest, with giant flames licking the sky and smothering all life. My body was slick with sweat within seconds, and my eyes watered. Smoke burned my lungs.
      “Come on!” Ryan demanded and we jogged as fast as we could manage through the burning world. We lept hand in hand over fallen branches and logs and piles of glowing coals. I coughed and staggered and hung heavily in Ryan's grip. I had no idea how close the Operatives were behind us, or if they would even follow us into this hell hole. As we ran a branch reached out and lashed my face. I knew I was moving far slower than Ryan could because he kept pulling, and for a the first time I thought he might leave me. We hadn't been work partners for long, but I'd been by his side for months. He was a different person at work—so different that I realized I didn't really know him at all during those months before—and it put doubt in me. Finally we hunkered down behind a large fallen tree that was a thin black shell, thoroughly done burning except in a few spots nearly burned out, in a fragile state before it would collapsed in on itself. I tried to catch my breath, but only coughed more. The air was so toxic it felt impossible to breath.
      “There's a Rip just ahead, back to the tracks. They'll be waiting for us, but those two Operatives are sure to have followed us inside,” Ryan explained. I couldn't help but wonder how those men in full suits could stand the heat of this place, or why they wore something so expensive that was just going to get ruined. “When we don't come out, they'll come in from that direction, too. We need to catch both groups by surprise and take out one from each before their partners notice us. We only stand a catch if we each deal with these guys one on one.” He meant I only stand a chance against one. We both knew he could face multiple targets and come out unscathed; that was his profession, after all. And now it was to become mine, too.
      I nodded in reply, as I felt talking would only send me into more coughing fits. Ryan looked deeply uncomfortable, removed his jacket, and began breathing through the fabric. We pointed to where we'd wait. I went over and hunkered down in my designated spot, only to lean against a section of burning stump to my right and burn a large section of my leg. I let out a quick yelp, then gritted my teeth in hopes no Operatives heard. I waited. Nothing.
      To my left a log hid me from view. I peered over to cautiously to watch for the Operatives.

* * *

      The room smelled of leather and sterile cleaning products. I was seated next to Ryan, with my hand placed protectively on his. This doctor friend of his was very pretty, and she was familiar with Ryan in all the aspects of his life that I was not. It felt petty, however, as there was no difference in the interaction between the two of them, and she and I. She was gracious, kind, calm, and generous, but I couldn't help but wonder how they'd met.
      They were discussing our last mission, which was ultimately a failure, despite our survival.
      “I have a rat in my crew, and he sabotaged us,” Ryan grumbled irritably. Our target was supposed to be eating at that restaurant, but he never showed and there were Operatives waiting for us. The payment for our services was the information and specific locations on the unusual Rips in that area. The price was always worth it if the payment was a new Rip. That's how Ryan knew about so many of them. That was his price, and he always got the job done.
      “People talk, Mr. Husk. Even the most diligent of people have friends they talk to. I'm surprised this kind of thing hasn't happened to you sooner,” Dr. Reynolds said soothingly. She had a way of talking that always made her sound right without being pretentious. “Do you think Gustov told anyone?”
      “No, I've worked with him in the past. He knows not to tell anyone,” Ryan murmured, his eyebrows drawn together in disturbed contemplation.
      “I can vouch for him personally,” Dr. Reynolds agreed. I hated the way her eyes lingered on him even though I hadn't interjected yet.
      “He does have those two close accomplices, right?” I finally found my voice, if only to assert myself as an important member of the team.
      “Adrien and Frederick?” Ryan responded, turning to look at me, and not at miss Ph.D Kaylee.
      “You think he said something to one of them?” Dr. Reynolds inquired to me. Her auburn bob was styled too perfectly, the tips of her hair a perfect line around her jaw bone. It was professional, sleek, and sophisticated, and I didn't care for it. My bob was a shaggy wet mess that resembled a mop made of hay.
      “I doubt he would,” Ryan said, “but it seems like the only possible explanation.”
      “Adrien knows about my doctor's office, Mr. Husk,” Dr. Reynolds said, her voice finally showing signs of stress.
      “And the Rip leading to this room?”
      “No. No one outside of this room knows about it,” she said implying the three of us, even though I had just learned about it today.
      I stared at Ryan longer than I intended, but I could feel the anxiety growing in my chest like a stone. I lingered on his blue eyes, his strikingly dark hair, his pale skin, his faint stubble. He reached over and put a hand on my thigh, sensing my stress and knowing the physical contact would help. I mustered up a small smile in return.
      Something caught the corner of my eye and I looked over at a small device sitting on top of Dr. Reynold's desk. I pointed. “Hey, what does that light mean?”
      Dr. Reynolds stood up quickly and Ryan immediately sat straight up, looking alerted.
      “What?” I insisted.
      “It means someone's here,” Ryan said. “At the doctor's office.”
      “It's a motion detecting speaker,” Dr. Reynolds added.
      A knock on the doctor's office door came through the speaker.

* * *

      Both our guns had been flung out of view as we struggled on the smoldering ground. The Operative was sitting on my chest, coughing against the intensely smokey air, his hands wrapped around my throat. I struggled to keep my eyes open as my lungs screamed for air and my head turned hazy. I mustered up as much energy as I could manage and threw a punch as hard as I could at the Operative's temple. He fell to the side on top of coals hidden under ash and I jumped on top of him only to see him at the last second pulling out a knife. I jerked to the side, but managed to get a deep graze in my ribs. As we stood up to face off again, my fists up, him with a knife out, suddenly there was a loud BANG! and half of the Operative's head went missing. He dropped like a bag of bricks and his skin sizzled. Ryan was standing diagonally behind him, gun in hand. He put it back in his belt and looked me up and down. I had burns all over my arms and legs from rolling around on the ground, and cuts in numerous places, both shallow and deep. He had a tuft of hair out of place. He held out his hand to hold mine.
      “Well the good news is you killed one of them and stayed alive. But next time, your homework is to not get slashed.” He was trying to be good-natured, but I could feel a pout on my lips.
      He kissed my cheek and said, “Don't worry about it, Alice. I think it's time you meet my friend. She mended plenty of wounds on me my first year on the job.”

Author's Note:

      This is my first crack at a true SciFi story. The idea actually came to me in a very vivid, exciting dream that I was sad to wake up from and had to write the outline for immediately. This calls for a much longer story with more world building, but I had to get it done for a class to get workshopped, so a mere section would have to do. Regardless, I'm pretty happy with it, and would love to go back and do a lot more with it.

The Message

      The message came to him in a dream that he was unconvinced was merely fiction. It had the vivid quality of an experience happening in present time, not the hazy quality of a dream that felt like a movie remembered rather than a movie watched. Come to Centralia. It's here waiting for you. What was waiting for him? Everything my life was ever worth. It's in my study. In this book. Come to Centralia and open it. But Centralia was burning from the inside out. It had been for the past decade. But something about the way Darian's uncle beckoned him and showed him images from inside the old house in Centralia in his dream felt more like a demand than a request, and one not worth ignoring.

      Regret settled on Darian's chest like a boulder crafted from horror-movie-fears and paranoia. The street leading up to Centralia, Pennsylvania had a hellish smoldering crack splitting it apart so that his car could go no further. He bundled up his coat and continued on foot. A deep, unsettling silence almost made Darian feel as if he'd gone deaf. The town was coated in a murky haze mixed from soot, snow, and low-hanging clouds. Despite this obscuring fog, every detail Darian could see jumped out in startlingly detail. Every flake of snow glinted sharply, every outline of a building or tree had a depth of spirit that Darian could swear had manifested itself into reality within every leaf, every inch of stucco, and every roof tile. Where the snowflakes met steam from the burning strip mine under the cracks of earth, they melted into rain before hitting the ground and sizzling away.
      He almost couldn't remember the incident that claimed the life of his uncle anymore, Darian realized as his feet crunched on the dirt path of the main street in town. He had been young enough that the loss didn't hurt him his the way it did his mother, and he had adjusted to a new town after the evacuation with ease. Yet, his feet seemed to know exactly where he was going. Not even the unfamiliar piles of rubble blocking parts of the road deterred him. He turned left at the church whose walls were peeling away. Not a single stained glass window remained intact, and the door was carelessly boarded up. He stopped to look up from the base of the steep stairs when suddenly his right foot started to feel hot. He looked down and saw a filmy white liquid pool at the base of the stairs touching one of his shoes. And then the rubber started melting away and smoking.
      Darian reached down and violently ripped off the shoe as a nauseating panic rose into his throat. He tossed the shoe away and watched the rubber and fabric disintegrate into nothing. The side of his foot was red and blistered. He gazed up from the viscous pool and saw that streams of the stuff was sliding down deep gulleys in the stair case, which was cracking and crumbling away around the edges of the canyons. He leaned over and peered into one of the gulleys in which the liquid flowed and thought he could see straight through to the burning strip mine underneath, a glowing red sliver peaking through the crack in the earth.
      He hurried on with surprising speed, considering his blisters and lack of footwear. But the adrenaline coursing through him said to get out as soon as possible. He took a right at the school, which had a hundred black, empty windows staring out at him. No one had been there for years and years, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. He started jogging, his steps uneven and his foot aching. Finally his uncle's house seemed to burst out of the concealing haze and without rational thought he slammed into the front door, thinking it barricaded, as if he were trying to escape a pursuer, but it swung open with little effort and he tumbled into the house face first with an aching shoulder.
      Behind him the door slammed shut, and a suffocating darkness settled. With shaking breath Darian stumbled through the house, his fingertips gliding along the wall, making his way up a staircase. Something pushed him forward, something he couldn't place his finger on, even though everything else inside of him was screaming to leave.
      The door to the study creaked open at he neared it and he slid inside. There were shelves upon shelves of books that smelled old and musky. A heavy black dust was layered on everything. There were books flung cross the floor in various states of deterioration, yet despite the hundreds of options, Darian found the book his uncle had showed him in his dream. It was thick and leather bound. He pulled it out slowly, his hands shaking, his pulse rapid, and flipped it open. It was hollow on the inside, and contained a piece of folded up paper.
      Darian unfolded it and squinted to try read it in the dark. There was one sentence: You never found me. The book melted in his hands and he felt the thick, viscous liquid eat away at his palms. His screaming couldn't drown out the sounds of dripping as all the books started to slide away into corrosive puddles on the floor. Darian tried to run but the door to the study slammed shut. And no one ever found him.

Author's Note:

      I feel like if for some reason Chris Wooding ever reads my blog, he's going to notice that I steal the first names of all his characters. Oops. Anyway, this is a 2014 hybrid fiction piece that I wrote combining a quote from the book Ice by Anna Kavan about a deserted town being eaten away by a white corrosive liquid, and the fact that Silent Hill was based on a real town in Pennsylvania named Centralia that's been burning from the inside out for over 50 years. I'm such a sucker for horror stories.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Photo 1: Dingy convenient store. Adam leans against the door frame of the entrance.
      Sometimes the way he looked at me made me suspect he knew something. Of course he couldn't; he was the trusting sort who was convinced life was one big adventure. Maybe in a way that's true. It sure as hell is for me. But regardless, the way he squinted his eyes at me—or maybe it was against the sun--made me think he was hearing the thump-thump-thump of my heart beating against my ribcage. Or was that the rhythmic drumming of the music on the radio? I never could tell; they were both so loud.
      “You want anything?” he asked me as I waited in the car for him to finish pissing and buying a drink.
      “No, I'm good. Thanks,” I replied smoothly and turned up the radio.

Photo 2: A rocky desert scenery. Adam in hiking gear, sans a shirt, a backpack slung over one shoulder. He stands atop a boulder, looking pumped.
      “Hell yeah, man! We did it!” came the celebratory cheer from Adam, who was making ridiculous manly faces at the camera to show his badassery at finishing the hike.
      “Yeah. Good job, dude.” My voice remained as calm and sultry as ever, as I was not one to get overly excited one way or another. My taste in exciting occasions were selective and... eccentric. I glided my tongue over my chapped lips under the brutal afternoon sun and gazed intently at Adam's dances meant to mock the surrounding scenery that he bested. “I'm parched. You want to go grab a beer?”
      Adam turned to me, his eyes filled with youthful, energetic life. They were dazzling. Hypnotizing. Enticing. “Fuck yeah, let's do it!” he exclaimed like it was the best idea he'd ever heard.

Photo 3: Adam partially submerged in a lake, walking further in. No other people around. Greenery surrounds lake tranquilly.
      The curves of his muscles ripple through his back and I watch the water lap at his skin like a thirsty hound. Setting the camera down gently, I descend into the water behind him, watching him play and splash around. He looks at me with perfect ease on his face, a look of blissful innocence matching the quiet scenery. Or is that ignorance I see smiling at me through his teeth?
      With slow, assured steps, I traverse the watery plane towards Adam. His body is broad, strong, and wet. I think he's taunting me with his slick, glistening body, moving it this way and that. He takes a few bold strokes through the water, tells me how great the water is.
      “Where did you find this place? It's amazing! And total privacy. This is the perfect camping spot.”
      “I've been coming here for a while. It's my regular spot. Never seen another person here my whole life unless I brought them here. It's been so long since I first needed its privacy...” I can feel the tangent threatening to spill off my tongue and reveal to him all. I see the confusion in his eyes piercing into me. I can't take the accusatory look of that beautifully innocent face.
      I grab him and push down. I think he's laughing. He thinks it's a game. Then he doesn't. He signals that he's done with his turn being pushed under, but I hold steady. Then come the panicy spasms. And thrashing. Rays of sun bounce of off his convulsing back side, gleaming on the flawless skin. I admire the power under my hands and my ability to crush it. He tries to scream, and for a moment I think the popping bubbles say “Why?” Or is it “Please?”
      I hold tighter until every spasm stops and no bubbles pop.

Photo 4: Lips to a puddle of water on a dirt path, drinking.
      I feel the intensity of the physical exertion from dragging the body. Due to the concern of it floating on the lake's surface, I relocated it, like the others, to a destination where not only will it never be found, but where it ultimately will be consumed. Who am I to deprive hungry wildlife from free game? Regardless, I trudge along a dirt trail back towards wherever it is I left my car. The afternoon sun chaps my lips. I run my tongue along them. They taste like accusations and blood.
      A pool of water in the dirt trail catches my attention, and without a second thought I kneel down to drink like I may never see water again. It rushes through my system and I feel rejuvenated. In fact, I feel elated. Accelerated. Excited. I take large indulgent gulps, and in a fit of pleasure dunk my face in. I alternate between wiping off my face and hands—wiping off the innocence, the ignorance, the pleads for mercy I still feel vibrating in my palms.

Photo 5: Gas station and prices, midday, people filling up their tanks.
      I will drive. The wind will feel freeing in my hair and the air will smell like adventure and gasoline. People will smile and nod in a sense of camaraderie as we share the open road, and pull over together to share the same bathrooms, same gas stations, and same restaurants. I'll go hiking and meet someone new and make a friend and we'll take an adventure together, and it will be very exciting and very eccentric.

Photo 6: From the freeway, the 170 Hollywood Freeway sign, North.
      I will take a hike in Los Angeles to meet my new friend.

Author's Note:

      This 2014 assignment for my Advanced Narrative Fiction class required me to choose 6 out of 10 photos provided to me by the teacher, and to write a story around them. I couldn't change the presented order of the 6 photos I chose, but I was allowed to change the timeline of the story, telling past, present, or future for any given photo. She encouraged us to play with time and POV. So while I did experiment with time and tenses, I didn't with POV because it didn't work for me for this story. Because this story was getting workshopped by the whole class, I put a little extra effort into it. I was inspired by the combination of serial killers, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. I purposefully left the gender ambiguous because I liked the idea of the reader not knowing, and letting their own judgement decide for them. I used a bit of gender bending, hinting towards both genders in different ways, and I like the sexual ambiguity you see in Anne Rice's vampire stories and in some cases of serial killers. Does the line between sexuality and killing blur for the killer? If I changed anything, I'd love to go back and add the "thump-thump-thump" towards the end, or some kind of other onomatopoeia throughout for repetition's sake and for the sake and showing more how the narrator thinks. Anyway, I had a lot of fun with this despite the restrictions, and my class seemed to absolutely love it as well, which made me happy.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Virtual Reality and Love

      Her hair was like wavy auburn silk, bouncing and shining in the lights of the house with absolute perfection. With light hazel eyes, she glanced at the camera bashfully, a smile lighting up her perfect face, she her perfect teeth, and perfect dimples. She crinkled her nose like she always did when she laughed too hard to control herself. The shot was too enticing to make it into the final cut. Dave quickly edited it out of the main cut to make sure it wouldn't make it onto the air.
      Dave wasn't an extraordinary human being by any standards. A flawless criminal record, average grades, a diploma in Liberal Arts. His work wasn't rewarding, but neither was it the monotonous, soul-sucking office job of an accountant or some other such job. He edited the footage of a reality TV show, filtering through what was exciting and what was boring for their teenage audiences.
      There were plenty of moments where the girl he loved could have made it into the final cut going on television, but that would attract too much attention to her. He couldn't allow the love of his life to face ridicule for getting angry with all those of heinous women on the show, but neither could he edit in too many videos of her looking so beautiful, smiling, laughing, teasing.
      “Hey Dave, when are you gonna be finished with this week's footage?” Dave jumped slightly and turned towards his co-worker.
      “Soon,” Dave responded quickly, turning in his chair to cover a majority of the screen he was staring into. “Probably another couple hours, give or take.”
      “Okay. Be sure to send it to me as soon as you're finished so we can give it a final look through.”
      “Sure. Will do.”
      As soon as his co-worker left, Dave sighed with relief and turned back to look at the love of his life. Lizzie. He had to protect her from all those desperate men who'd come knocking at her door if they saw her the way he saw her. No one could resist falling in love with her, he was convinced.
      And one day he'd gather up the courage to talk to her. He let a finger slide down the screen shot of her shining hair, caressed her colored cheek. Some day soon he'd introduce himself to her, and he'd say all the right things. He knew her likes and dislikes, what kind of jokes she liked. Lizzie once said chivalry was dead, so he'd make sure to open every door, pay for every meal, get her flowers for no reason. He'd even lay down his coat for her to cross a puddle when she was wearing heels in the rain.
      Lizzie didn't know it yet, but her knight in shining armor would come swooping into her life soon, and all she had to do was open her arms to his love, and they would live happily ever after. “You and me forever, Lizzie, my darling...” he murmured quietly to the computer screen.

Author's Note:

      So I hope you read that in the creepy voice it disturbs. This 2014 assignment was again for my Hybrid Narrative class where I write a story inspired by the combination of a quote (from The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by Aira) and a fact. Even just writing this creeped me out, which makes me laugh. Again my significant other helped me come up with the premise (it was mostly his idea) but the writing is all mine, at least. I can only come up with so many short stories before I run out of ideas. Anyway, my classmates laughed and liked the piece, but recommended I add a scene with dialogue where Dave has an imaginary conversation with Lizzie. This cracked me up, as I imagined him staring into the mirror as he did it, practicing what he'd say to her. They also recommended I elaborate on how Lizzie is a shallow girl who doesn't deserve Dave's affections. I'd have to somehow manage that while still keeping the "unreliable narrator" voice of Dave, who sees her as exaggeratedly perfect. But I'd love to go back and add a little more to this piece, just cause it's so fun and silly and creepy.
      By the way, the quote is: “He watched them talk, his attention waxing and waning at irregular intervals, as a result of which the two enthusiastic and youthful—almost frenetic—faces he had so close to his began to seem unreal. And they were, he had no doubt about this, though only up to a certain point; because they did belong to two human beings of flesh and blood. The intensive use of hidden cameras in the last few years (in order to pull off all kinds of pranks, but also to catch corrupt officials, dishonest business-men, tax evaders, and criminal infiltrators into the medical profession) required using up actors at a phenomenal rate, for they could never be employed a second time because of the risk of blowing their cover. They had to always be new, debutants; they couldn't have appeared on any screen before, not even as extras, because given the high degree of distrust that had infiltrated society, the least hint of recognition was enough to ruin the operation. And that same, constantly increasing distrust forced actors to be constantly getting better, more believable. It was astonishing they didn't run out of them.”
      And the fact is: "Both sides involved in the Cold War used spies from all types of background. The ability to seamlessly blend into the background was vital. The Soviet Union also employed men from Britain to spy on Britain – men who had become disaffected by the British way of life and looked to the east. The most famous were the ‘Cambridge Five’ – graduates who as a result of their background had got into high positions in the British Establishment. Throughout the era of the Cold War information covertly acquired in Britain ended up with the KGB. British agents in the Soviet Union paid a high price for their betrayal."

Ugly Beginnings

      Olive and Thaniel had the exact kind of trepid, rocky relationship anyone would expect two inexperienced young people to have when they're still learning how to be with another person, rather than fulfilling their own selfish wishes without a second thought. It started quickly and ended quickly, going from best friends to sworn enemies to strangers in practically the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. They weren't bad people, they were just stupid kids, as we all were at one time or another.

      Olive sipped her coffee in one hand with a copy of Persuasion by Jane Austen opened in the other. It was the trend to go to the local coffee shop to be studious, so that way everyone could witness one another's accomplishments. And Olive could understand the motivations behind the trend. Trying to do homework at home was one of the most distracting, unproductive things she'd ever experienced. For some reason the coffee shop with its elevator music and steady stream of strangers walking in and out provided her with a more calming atmosphere where she could focus instead of chatting with her friends via Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, text, Skype, Twitter, and e-mail.
      “Yeah, could I get a grande soy mocha latte?” came an uncomfortably familiar voice from the cash register. Olive looked up from her book only to jerk it immediately back into place in front of her face like a shield. Her cheeks flushed and she was holding the book way too close to her face to actually be reading it. She fiddled with her hair to try to look busy and important, which really sent the opposite message, to no avail. The awkward fidgeting drew the attention of the boy waiting for his vegan latte, who strolled up to her.
      “Hey, Olive,” came the smooth voice of Thaniel.
      Olive made sure to make a big show of looking up from her book and being completely shocked to see Thaniel standing there. “Oh, hey, Thaniel! Wow, it's been a while, good to see you!”
      “Yeah. It is. Mind if I sit?”
      “Uh... yeah. Sure! Totally.” The lady doth agree too much.

      “So... was that good for you?” Thaniel's voice was soft yet hopeful. The couple sat side by side, half their clothes situated back on, Thaniel looking at Olive, Olive looked ahead. She was attempting to put her hair into a bun and had a look of muted focus on her face.
      “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, of course, baby,” Olive stammered.
      Thaniel's smile dropped quickly and his brows knitted together. He looked down into his hands and picked at a cuticle. “Oh,” was all he said in reply.
      “Oh, baby, I'm sorry. It's just all so exciting and new. I'm not sure how I feel, is all. But you were wonderful. I promise,” Olive said while putting a hand on his arm.
      Thaniel managed another meager smile at her in response, and then an awkward silence sat between them as they tried to figure out what to do next.

      “What have you been up to, Olive?”
      “I'm getting my Masters in Literature at Cal State Hayward, so I read a lot of classic literature and analyze it. Pretty exciting.” The last statement was said half-heartedly as Olive waved her book around in her hand as her example. “What about you, Thaniel?”
      “I'm still working on my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly,” Thaniel said with a nonchalant shrug, even though Olive knew he should've had his Bachelors already.
      “Ah, cool,” Olive replied with an awkward nod, playing with the corners of the Austen pages.
      “Olive, I think I should tell you something,” Thaniel said in the same tone he used when he was nervous or unsure. Quiet, awkward, shy.
      “I... slept with someone before you.”
      “WHAT?” came the harsh reply before she could even think about what she said or how she said it. A bunch of coffee shop customers looked over at them and Olive managed a forced smile and blushed at the attention. “I'm sorry...” she murmured quietly under her breath, “but what?”

      “This was your first time, right?” Thaniel asked gingerly, putting his hand on Olive's.
      “Yeah. Yours too, right? We both waited until we found someone we loved,” Olive answered for him in reply, looking up into his eyes naively.
      “Right,” Thaniel responded.
      Everyone has lied in a relationship before to save the other persons feelings. Thaniel and Olive weren't the first and wouldn't be the last to think a white lie was acceptable rather than the truth, and due to their lack of honesty, their relationship would turn into more fights than conversations before long.

      “I'm so sorry, Olive. I know it doesn't matter now. It was so long ago. But I feel bad for lying to you. I didn't want to hurt your feelings.”
      “Well good job,” she snapped back, exacerbated. She sighed deeply and rolled her eyes, flipping the pages of Persuasion back and forth, listening to the sounds of the pages scrape against her thumb. Olive felt the old feelings of frustration forming into a lump in her gut, but knew they were based on nostalgia rather than the current situation. “I mean, I guess it's fine. It doesn't matter anymore anyway.”
      More awkward silence filled the ever growing void between them. Thaniel got up to grab his soy latte and made a motion to leave. “I'll leave you alone so you can get your homework done.”
      “Wait, hold on.”
      Thaniel stopped.
      “I... well, I kinda lied to you, too.” She shifted uncomfortably in her chair and avoided his gaze.
      Thaniel sat down next to Olive again, giving her his full attention.
      Olive smiled awkwardly and opened to mouth to talk, but found nothing came out. She was such a coward sometimes. Thaniel was still attractive and soft spoken, but she also remembered him from so many stupid arguments. “You weren't my first, either, Thaniel.” She buried her face in her book so she didn't have to see his reaction.
      “What did you say?!” He sounded genuinely upset. “Who did you sleep with?!”
      “Pipe down! Jesus, Thaniel. Don't let the whole coffee shop in on my dirty laundry.”
      “Tell me, Olive! Who else did you fuck?”
      She scoffed at him and furrowed her brows in irritation. “Don't be rude. You fucked someone else too and I didn't throw a bitch fit. This was years ago, in case you didn't remember.” Thaniel's gaze just continued to bore into her like a silent interrogation. “Okay! It was Tim Michaels.”
      “Tim Michaels?!” a scoff from Thaniel. “I can't believe you!”
      “And... Danny Boomer. And Alex Estrada. And a couple guys you never met from summer school.”
      “Five?! Did you say FIVE?!”

      “You were looking at her!” Olive screamed at Thaniel. They picked a fight with each other over everything and nothing. Thaniel protested that he wasn't, Olive let her insecurities get the better of her, and they turned personal quickly as they pointed out how the other was selfish, unmotivated, and lacking in pretty much every way. Neither of them were proud of the teenagers they were at the time, the monsters they became in their relationships. It was like seeing a different person and realizing they had their own faces.

      “I didn't want to hurt your feelings. You were so insecure about being inexperienced. I wanted you to be comfortable,” Olive said as soothingly as she could muster, thinking she had done him a favor.
      “You... you were a little slut!” Thaniel half yelled at her, drawing more stares from the coffee shop patrons.
      “Me? You're the slut! I've seen your Facebook page. You're with a new girl almost every week. You're never going to grow up, Thaniel. At least I have a long term, serious boyfriend now. I got my shit together. You're still trying to get your undergrad.”
      “Fuck you.”
      “Fuck you back!”
      Thaniel stormed out of the coffee shop.

      Olive and Thaniel were good people, but they always brought out the worst in each other.

Author's Note:

      This is a 2014 piece written for an Advanced Narrative Fiction class. The assignment was to play with both manipulation of time and the point of view. So I came up with a very simple plot that my significant other helped put a little spin on. Since playing with the way a story is constructed is difficult for me to do, I wanted to avoid a complex plot, because I didn't think I could focus on plot and construction at the same time. I prefer to just let a story flow, and let the time and POV work itself out naturally. But my classmates laughed a lot at this story and enjoyed it, so I must've done something right.
      P.S. The name Thaniel comes from the book The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding. I wasn't clever enough to come up with my own awesome original character name.


      Julian's office building was like the rest of the world: bright, distracting, happy. The full spectrum of the rainbow was splashed across everything. The staplers were pink with green staples, polka dotted beanbags were the chair of choice, circular rugs were yellow smiley faces. Motivational posted were hung up on the wall telling cheesy jokes such as “Why don't cannibals eat clowns? Because they taste funny!”
      He walked past a group of his coworkers who were sitting around a large round table, their laptops all open in front of them, which was the preferred method of getting work done. In a group, never alone. They were all laughing as one of them shared photos of their cat on the office chat box. A woman looked up from her computer at her coworkers and said, “And this one is of my cat sitting in a box!” with a roar of laughter from the group in reply.
      Leaning in to one of his coworker's computer, he investigated the picture of the cat. It looked apathetic, staring up blankly at the camera, sitting in a normal cat position, but in a box. The look on Julian's face was similar to the look on the cat's. “That's not funny,” he stated blankly. Everyone stopped laughing and looked up at him. Nervousness flickered across their gaze. They all looked at each other, fear in a few of their postures. Then one chirped up, “Well, to each their own!” follow by more giggles and relieved smiles.
      Julian continued over to his Papasan chair, which was a solitary bowl where only he, and he alone could fit. He worked without the small permanent smile on his face that all the commuters on the street had while they walked, that all the billboards showed of models smiling and laughing as big as they can manage. Julian wasn't like everyone else. He valued productivity first, happiness second. Intellect over humor. Self awareness over social interaction.       Something dark flickered out of the corner of his eye. He looked just in time to see a shadow disappear around one of the rounded walls of his office. This was happening more often, yet as he was aware of it, he couldn't seem to get rid of it.
      The specialized advertisements on the edge of his social networking page said, “Affordable Happiness Rehab—Get That Smile Back TODAY!” Another told him, “Control Your Thoughts—Don't Let Them Control You. Free Anti-Depressants!” As he scrolled through his News Feed, he saw that no one posted about a loved one's disappearance anymore. Reading such posts created negative thoughts in the minds of readers, which spread like an infection.

      At home, Julian's apartment was painted in neutral colors such as beige and subtle greens instead of the neons and pastels everyone else was so fond of. The TV was filled with comedies of all varieties, but he flipped from channel to channel apathetically. He wasn't really watching.
      The lights flickered in his apartment. A shadow slowly crept out of his living room instead his bedroom, and he thought at the last second it turned to stare at him—or rather, into him. It had no real shape—it was always changing, but he always recognized it. Julian tried to ignore it, but he felt adrenaline release into his system. His heart beat faster, his toes and fingers tingled with fear. His neutral lips began curling into a frown.
      The TV shouted at him, “Alone tonight? Don't be! Go out with friends! Keep yourself positive!” Julian flipped off the TV to black. The advertisements always told you what to do—never what not to do. They were too scared to mention fear, sadness, depression, and the consequences of it.
      Julian got up from his chair and walked towards his bedroom. What are you doing? he thought. Negativity bred on negativity. He knew that. Get out. Stop the cycle. But nothing was truly funny. What made others happy just seemed trivial and childish to him. Julian had never really fit in, and what made him happy was different from others: accomplishments, solitude, the outdoors, poetry, introspection, catharsis.
      Ever since childhood, Julian had been different. He'd cause other children to become bored, angry, or scared. This in turn led to other parents becoming scared of him breeding unhappiness in their children, and even his parents to become scared of him. They were able to keep up their pleasant charade for a number of years, but over time, they were consumed by their unhappiness, their fear... their thoughts.
      But a deep curiosity pushed him forward. Step by step his heart pumped louder until he was sure this it was audible beyond his chest. More lights flickered until one by one they started to turn off. His television sputtered to life and flickered between white noise and black. His frown deepened. Julian knew to turn away, but he had to see what the manifestation of his negativity looked like. He put a hand on the edge of his bedroom door, took a deep shaking pause, and walked into the doorway.
      His eyes scanned the black room. The last thing he saw was The Shadow mid-leap. He didn't even have time to scream as it enveloped him, and consumed him.
      Julian Blackwood became another number in a list of disappearances that no one would ever hear about, talk about, or even acknowledge lest they risk the same fate. In a world where thoughts became reality, no one felt safe.

Author's Note:
      This is a 2014 experimental piece I did for a class called Theories of Fiction. The assignment is a "Fiction Lab" which is supposed to purposely be unrefined and raw and push your boundaries as a writer. I decided not to push my boundaries too much and chose to do horror from the options my professor gave me, because it's one of my favorite genres of fiction and makes me pretty comfortable. I actually absolutely love the idea for this piece, but I wrote it so rushed that I didn't do it justice at all. It needs to be longer, and I'd love to further explore Julian's psychological state of mind, slow down his spiraling depression, and explain why he his emotions finally got pushed so far now instead of any other time in his life. It needs more scenes, action, build-up, ect. So at some point I'll definitely go back and rewrite this story and give it the attention it deserves.