Vita in Morte Sumus

This post is a response to August 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this story comes both from my song of choice, as well as a comment made by John Green on a recent episode of “Dear Hank and John“. My choice of the three songs listed in the post was “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire1I had originally written a story based on “Atlanta” by Stone Temple Pilots that dealt with the current climate towards legal and illegal immigration in parts of the USA. Upon re-reading the story, as well as a day spent with family members whose views on those topics are diametrically opposed to mine, I decided that my story needed more research prior to publishing. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, as well as one I feel like I presented from the correct point of view. That said, after seeing the venom and hatred that some people feel towards those who are different from them (not to mention how certain people think that splitting up families is a joke), I want to be certain that there are no factual inaccuracies in my story. Not because the people I was around deserve it — but because the people living through the hell that is being an immigrant in the USA today deserve my story to be as accurate of a representation as possible..


“Wake up! It’s finally here! Today is here!”

Maddie rolled over and placed her pillow atop of her head, cuddling her skull into the mattress beneath her. For a few seconds, the silence around her gave her hope that sleep was coming. But that hope was quickly shattered by her roommate, Cruz, shouting at Maddie again in her melodic, soprano voice.

“Maaaadieeeeee,” she sang. “It’s your special day!”

“Then why are you waking me up?” Maddie mumbled back from under her pillow.

“Because it’s your last chance to do anything you want!” replied Cruz. “You don’t want to miss out on that.”

Maddie sat up in bed, then threw her pillow at Cruz with a swift-moving left-handed toss. The pillow missed wide, bouncing off the wall and landing harmlessly at the foot of the bed.

“What if all I want to do all day is sleep?” asked Maddie. “I’m dying today. I should get to do whatever I want. And maybe I just want to curl up in bed and dream about sleeping while I’m sleeping.”

“But…” Cruz stammered. “What about spending time with your best friend?”

“My cat’s dead,” Maddie deadpanned.

Cruz picked up the pillow off the floor and playfully tossed it at Maddie’s head. Her throw flew truer than Maddie’s, striking Maddie’s hands just as she got them up in front of her face.

“Bitch,” said Cruz.

Maddie climbed out of bed and walked toward her dresser. She pulled out a pair of baby blue leggings, pulling them onto her legs and over her hips.

“I’m really sorry, Cruz,” stated Maddie as she dug through another drawer looking for a shirt to replace her sleeping shirt with. “What would you like to do today?”

“It’s not my day, Maddie. It’s yours. Whatever you want.”

“But I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m not spending this day wearing a bra. Fuck that noise.”

“Then let’s go get some coffee and figure it out from there.”

Maddie and Cruz left their apartment and walked to the nearby coffee shop they had frequented numerous times over the three years they’d lived together. Upon entering, they were greeted by Cline, a burly middle-aged man with a graying beard and a blue bandana covering his balding head.

“Good morning, ladies,” Cline bellowed out from behind the counter. “The usual?”

“That’s fine for me,” replied Cruz. “But we need to make something special for Maddie. It’s her day.”

“Oh, yay!” Cline exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”

“Not her birthday,” retorted Cruz. “Her day.

“Oh…” said Cline as his voice trailed off. “Um…well, what would you like, Maddie? It’s on me.”

“You don’t need to do that,” replied Maddie.

“Please?”

Maddie sighed. “Fine. A small decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel is butter.”

“Go have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”

Maddie and Cruz walked to the far side of the coffee shop, taking a seat near an large window that stared out to the shopping center behind the building. A small emerald green sedan rolled slowly through the lot between the coffee shop and the shopping center. Its back and sides were covered in bumper stickers of all sizes and shapes and colors. One of the largest stickers — a bright yellow sticker with bold, black font — read “EXPIRATION DATES ARE POPULATION CONTROL”.

“I hate seeing people like that out in the wild,” said Maddie.

“Why?” Cruz inquired.

“Everything is a conspiracy theory to them. I get there there are actual conspiracies out there, filled with shady people doing shady things. But most of the time it’s just people upset with something that’s out of their control.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Being upset isn’t bad,” replied Maddie. “Shouting as loud as you can about something you know nothing about is. Especially when there’s impressionable morons who will believe anything they hear.”

Cline walked to the table, a drink in each hand and a plate balanced on each arm. Cruz and Maddie reached out to take the plates from him as Cline carefully placed the drinks down on the table.

“Decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter for you,” he began. “And a blueberry coconut Italian soda with a slice of lemon pound cake for you.”

“You’re the best,” Cruz said enthusiastically.

“You’ve been getting that flavor combination for nearly a year now and I still don’t understand it.”

“Have you tried it?” asked Cruz.

“Yep,” replied Cline. “It’s one of the few times in life I’ve regretted something I ate.”

Cruz shrugged. “More for me, I guess.”

The sound of sleigh bells hitting a glass door announced the arrival of new guests at the coffee shop.

“That’s my cue,” said Cline. “Maddie, if there’s anything else you want, just tell me or come help yourself. Okay?”

“I will,” she replied. “Thanks.”

Cline walked back to the front of the store where he began to make drinks for a young couple struggling to corral the three young children that had arrived with them.

“Is there anything you feel like you’re going to be missing out on?” asked Cruz, her mouth half full of pound cake.

“Nothing I’m not over,” Maddie answered. “I mean, I would have liked to have been rich and famous. But it’s hard to get either of those things by the age of twenty-six.”

“It’s not fair though. Not the not getting to be rich and famous. But you’re only twenty-six. Most people get to be around until they’re in their eighties or nineties. You don’t feel anything’s wrong with that?”

“Not really,” said Maddie. “There’s still a lot of people who think a sky spirit pre-ordains when it’s their time to die, even if it’s an untimely death. I don’t see how this is any different.”

Maddie took a drink from her coffee, closing her eyes and savoring the taste of the coffee in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.

“In fact,” Maddie continued, “it’s a better situation. I get to know when I’m dying. I could choose to ignore it, live life on the run, and then die anyway. Or I can have my shit together, say my goodbyes, and live my life the best I can in the finite time that I know I have.”

“But what about the people that’ll miss you?” asked Cruz.

“My adoptive family hasn’t spoken to me in years. My parents gave me up as a baby and I haven’t heard from them since. My group of friends has been dwindling the more people I tell about my expiration date. My cat’s dead. It’s pretty much you and the service workers I interact with that’ll notice I’m gone.”

Cruz clenched her lips together, contorting them to the side as she bit down on them from the inside. She took a deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale.

“I’ll miss you a lot,” stated Cruz.

“I know,” Maddie replied. “I’m sorry. You can keep as much or as little of my stuff as you want. Whatever helps you.”

“I appreciate it. What time is it?”

“A quarter to eight.”

“You have to be there at nine, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get going then.”

Maddie and Cruz took the last few bites of their food, then packed up to leave the coffee shop, their drinks in hand. Cline waved at them from behind the counter, though only Cruz returned a wave, albeit a half-hearted one.

The Expiration Bureau was a large sandstone building on the edge of the downtown area. It has previously been a bank, as well as a hotel before that. But with the formation of local Expiration Bureau offices by the National Board of Human Services and Well-Being, many cities found their largest — and often most well-known — buildings converted into Expiration Bureaus.

Maddie and Cruz entered the building and proceeded to a large reception desk with several employees seated behind it. After a short wait, they stepped up to a middle aged man wearing a cobalt blue suit.

“Your full name and birth date, please?” he asked, not bothering to look up from the screen he was about to enter the information into.

“Madeline Niko Raymond. Born November 1, 2084.”

“One moment,” said the man.

Behind her right shoulder, Maddie heard Cruz begin to sniffle. She reached back and grabbed Cruz’s hand, grasping it tightly in hers.

“It’s okay,” Maddie whispered.

“No it’s not,” Cruz whispered back.

“Do you wish to submit a final will and testament, Ms. Raymond?” asked the man.

“I do,” said Maddie. “I wish for all my possessions, physical, digital, and financial, to be turned over to Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega.”

“Is that who’s here with you today?” inquired the man.

“It is,” replied Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man, “please state your name and date of birth so that the system can locate you and complete the final will and testament process.”

“Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega,” stated Cruz. “Born January 11, 2086.”

The man waited for the voice verification system to process Cruz’s information. He scrolled through the prompts that followed, tapping various boxes and radio buttons as he did so.

“Would you like any final pictures taken prior to processing?” the man asked.

“No, thank you,” replied Maddie.

“Any pets, children, or non-emancipated robotic beings where custody would need to be transferred to a family member, domestic partner, or other willing and financially responsible entity?”

“No.”

“Do you wish to opt out of the national organ donation program?”

“I do not.”

“Do you have a preferred method of processing?”

“Can you make me famous?” asked Maddie.

“I cannot, Ms. Raymond.”

“Then just make it painless.”

The man tapped at more options on the screen, his eyes glancing back and forth as he read through the various prompts on the screen.

“Do you need more than legally required hour and a half of visitation to say goodbye to friends, family, or business associates?”

Maddie looked back at Cruz. As Cruz stared at the floor in front of her, she shook her head slightly from side to side.

“No,” Maddie murmured. “I do not.”

The man motioned for Maddie to place her hand in a translucent blue box in front of her. The box felt warm around Maddie’s hand. After a few moments, she felt a gelatinous fluid filling the box around her fingers. The fluid filled the box nearly completely, though just as Maddie started to feel pressure from the fluid building on her hand, the box began to buzz and the fluid began to recede. The fluid completed its escape, the box stopped buzzing, and Maddie’s hand was freed from the box. She pulled it away, her hand covered in a pale white powdery film.

“Go down the door on the far end of the lobby,” said the man as he gestured toward the door with two fingers. “Place your hand under the scanner and wait for the door to open. Follow the purple line to the visitation area if you so desire. After your visitation ends, you’ll follow the white line back to your room. Do you understand, Ms. Raymond?”

“I do,” said Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man. “Once visitation ends, advise one of the attendants that you’re Ms. Raymond’s primary heir. You’ll be taken to handle any and all final arrangements for Ms. Raymond, as well as to process her will. Do you understand, Ms. Ortega?”

Cruz nodded.

“Ms. Ortega, I need verbal confirmation,” the man stated.

“I understand,” replied Cruz between sobs.

“Thank you both. You’re free to go. Welcome home, Ms. Raymond.”

Laramie

This post is a response to July 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


For reference, here is the song that was picked to use as inspiration for this month’s story1I ran a poll on Twitter in mid-July between four songs that had been stuck in my head recently. This song won after round robin coin flips following a three way tie.

The register of Grant’s cries burned at his own ears, stabbing harder at his ossicles than any noise he’d heard before. It wasn’t as though the sounds were any louder or more percussive than jet engines or fireworks, yet his own wails pained him far more. As tears trickled down his face and onto the steering wheel of his car, their landing slowly changed from a splatting to a splashing as the vinyl exterior covering his airbag was wetted.


It’s one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine minutes — more or less — to drive from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to Laramie, Wyoming. During his nearly thirty hour marathon drive, Grant could only feel that it was more than worth his time. The lack of sleep, the copious amounts of caffeine and fast food, the never ending white lights charging towards him on the interstate, the cramped car without air conditioning; all of them would be worth it. On the west side of Laramie, there was a hotel room for two waiting.

Nine years is a long time to wait for something to change. It’s even longer to wait on a person to change. Grant knew that. Yet he was committed to the wait, whether it be for two years or twenty. Candice would get over her fear in time. She had promised him that much.

On a Thursday evening nine years prior, Grant was settling into his seat on a tiny aircraft that would take him from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Chicago. He’d then board a plane bound for Boston, from where he’d get his car out of the Logan Airport parking garage and make the dark drive back home to Rhode Island. Even though it was in his best interest to get some sleep on one of the two flights, too many people on the plane would have their window shades open. As they should, Grant reasoned. It was still early evening, which coupled with a time zone difference meant a plane full of people who didn’t want to sleep.

Grant pulled his hooded sweatshirt off of his torso, rolled it into a ball, and placed it between his head and the wall of the plane. He closed his eyes and began to focus on his own breath, hoping his meditation would cause the sounds of others boarding the plane to fade away. For a few moments, it worked. But then Grant felt a hand forcefully lean against him. He opened his eyes to find a young brunette woman in a University of Wyoming hoodie struggling to hold herself up as she placed her bag in the overhead bin above them.

“You need a hand with that?” Grant asked.

“As long as you don’t plan on moving in the next five second, I should be fine,” she replied.

“Don’t worry,” answered Grant. “In a previous life I was a support column for a building.”

The woman chuckled as she finished stowing her bag and took the seat beside Grant. For the hour long flight from Cedar Rapids to Chicago, Grant spent time getting to know this woman who gravity had assisted him in meeting. Candice was a graduate student and tennis player at the University of Wyoming. She was back in Cedar Rapids to visit her family. Grant was amused to learn that Candice’s cousin was the receptionist at the Cedar Rapids branch of his company, while Candice found it funny that Grant attended the graduated from the same university during the same year as her current roommate (though they didn’t know each other). It was a small world, particularly considering Grant had never been to Iowa before that trip.

When they parted ways in the airport, Grant and Candice exchanged phone numbers and went on their way. They kept in touch via text over the next few months. As Grant’s next trip to the company’s Iowa branch loomed closer, he was overjoyed to learn that Candice would be back in town too.

They met up on a Tuesday night, spending the evening drinking at a bar with narrow chairs and overpriced cocktails. As the night progressed, both Candice and Grant began flirting with each other more aggressively, eventually leading to a night of passionate romance in Grant’s hotel room. The next morning, Grant woke up with a pulsing headache to find Candice gone. The only trace left of her was a hastily scribbled note written on hotel stationary.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

Grant texted and called Candice, trying to get to the bottom of her early morning disappearance and her note. Days and weeks passed with no word back from Candice. Initially it was upsetting, but after a few weeks, Grant slowly began to feel better. It was a good night they spent together. Everything was consensual. He just go ghosted. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. It likely wouldn’t be the last.

About three months later, Grant woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of his phone buzzing, rattling against the glass of water on his nightstand.

“Hello?” he mumbled groggily.

“I didn’t want to just leave like that, you know.”

“Candice?”

“I’m engaged, Grant,” Candice replied, “and I made a mistake.”

Grant sat up in his bed, leaning against the headboard and wall behind him.

“Look,” Grant began,  “had I known that you were with someone, I wo…”

Candice cut him off. “No. I made a mistake getting engaged.”

“Then leave him?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Why not?” asked Grant.

“When will you be in Cedar Rapids again?”

“Not for six weeks or so. Why?”

“How’s Rhode Island this time of year?”

Ten days later, Candice showed up at Grant’s door, a backpack full of clothes clutched close to her. She spent the weekend mostly in Grant’s arms, talking about how she desperately wanted out of her engagement, but how she didn’t want to hurt anyone. Her parents — who already weren’t doing well financially — would be out thousands of dollars they insisted on putting into her wedding. Her fiancee, AJ, had already been left at the altar once before and she didn’t want to make him hurt again. Grant largely listened, not knowing what to say in response to most of Candice’s concerns. He had begun to care for Candice, but knew it wasn’t right of him to try to convince her to call off her wedding. Emotions got the best of both of them, leading Candice and Grant to sleep together again. While Candice called AJ and continued her lie that she’d need to spend more time with her family in Iowa instead of with him in Wyoming, Grant defiantly told himself that she’d end up coming clean with AJ and ending their relationship.

Eight years and sixteen days ago, Candice and AJ married in a church just off of the campus of the University of Wyoming. In that time, Candice had met up with Grant hundreds of times by Grant’s count. Sometimes she flew to meet him in Rhode Island. Sometimes it was on one of Grant’s business trips to Iowa where Candice would conveniently also be in town to see her family. There was even a time where Candice flew to Las Vegas to meet up with Grant while he was at a conference for a weekend — just because she wanted to feel like they got to take a vacation together.

For Grant’s part, the initial mental struggle and concerns about his part in Candice’s infidelity soon gave way to apathy and acceptance. Grant loved Candice completely and irreversibly. If Candice had to borrow time from her life with AJ to be with him, Grant was willing to accept that. But with each passing visit, Grant wanted nothing more than for Candice to surprise him by saying that her marriage with AJ was finally over. Every time the thought of asking Candice to leave AJ crossed Grant’s mind, he got a little more courage towards asking her. Yet each and every one of those times, Grant chose not to say anything. For eight years and sixteen days since the wedding, and in nine years since Grant had met her, Candice was someone else’s — even if she was a very intricate part of his life.

This drive would change that. It had to. There’s no way that Grant could drive across nearly the entire United States in an effort to convince Candice to leave AJ, only for Candice to reject the plan completely. Candice loved him. She made a point to make sure to tell Grant that every single day, be it via text, via phone, or in person. Grant had told Candice he was going to be in Laramie. He told her where he’d be staying. All he had to do was to tell her that he was coming to take her away from her life with AJ so that they could be together. After all this time, it’d be a great relief to both of them. It had to work that way.

When Grant looked out his hotel room window and saw Candice’s baby blue sedan pull into the hotel parking lot, parking beside his own car, he sprinted out onto the second floor walkway. He met Candice at the foot of the staircase leading from the ground floor up to his hotel room, embracing her tightly. Candice didn’t hug him back though. Her face was tear streaked and somber, her eyes red and puffy.

“What’s wrong?” Grant asked.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Candice replied.

“That’s why I’m here! You don’t have to. We can leave and go back to Rhode Island.”

“No.”

“I’m not married to Rhode Island. I’m at the point where I can freely transfer wherever. There’s Cedar Rapids if you want to be near your family.”

“No.”

“There’s San Diego if you want to be somewhere warm.”

“No. Grant.”

“Hell, if you really want to get far away from here, I’m sure we could go to Amsterdam or Auckland.”

“Grant!” Candice screamed. “Stop. Please.”

“I’m just trying to give you options,” Grant retorted.

“I don’t have options!”

Candice reached into her purse and grabbed a plastic baggy from in it. She handed it to Grant, being sure to have the readable side of the pregnancy test inside face up.

“You’re pregnant?” Grant said, stunned.

“Yeah,” sighed Candice.

“Is it ours?”

“It might be. It might not be.”

“We can raise him. Or her. I’m guessing it’s too early to know?”

“No,” replied Candice. “We can’t. I can’t do this anymore.”

“What if the child is mine?” Grant asked.

Candice wiped tears away from her face, though she struggled to keep her face dry as they formed quicker than her hands could move. She leaned in and kissed Grant on the cheek.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

Candice pulled away from Grant and sprinted through the hotel parking lot and into a field that separated the hotel from the highway that ran behind it.

“Candice!” Grant yelled as he started to give chase. “Where are you going?”

Grant initially gained ground on Candice, but his lack of physical activity meant that Candice quickly pulled away from him. Candice continued her charge toward the highway, seemingly picking up speed the closer she got. Grant slowed to a fast walk, panting and huffing as he did so. As Candice neared the highway, Grant let out a strained shout.

“Candice!” he yelled. “Come…come back!”

Candice ran onto the highway at a point where an on ramp merged into the interstate, doing so at the same grade as the land beside the road. A car coming down the ramp saw her and swerved onto the shoulder, avoiding her before darting back into its lane. A second truck — a large moving van towing a small hatchback — wasn’t as quick to react. The vehicle struck Candice at full speed, launching her into the air before skidding to a stop on the side of the road. As Candice came crashing to the ground, Grant collapsed in the field, sobbing into the grass beneath him.


The chime of his car signaling that it was low on gas brought Grant’s head up from the steering wheel. It had been hours since he had talked to the police and paramedics about why Candice had run into oncoming traffic on the interstate. Since he wasn’t family, they couldn’t tell her anything more about her condition — merely the hospital she was taken to. Despite wanting to go and to be there for Candice, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the hotel parking lot. In between bouts of crying at the top of his lungs, Grant had dozed off, exhaustion both mentally and physically getting the best of him.

Grant put the car in reverse and drove along side streets from the hotel to the gas station on the other side of the highway. As he parked his car and got out to pump gas, a white pickup truck pulled into the station, parking at the pump across from him. Grant began to fill his gas tank as a tall man in a white cowboy hat exited the truck. The man began to fill his own tank while talking on his cell phone, leaving Grant to hear a one-sided conversation.

“That’s what they told me,” said the man to whomever he was on the phone with. “The cops were saying it was lover’s quarrel gone wrong.”

He paused.

“I figured it was bound to happen sooner or later. Her running off, that is.”

He paused again.

“Yeah, it’s morbid, but what in the fuck else is there to say?”

The pump clicked on Grant’s car, indicating it was full. He returned the nozzle to its latch, shut the gas tank door, and got in his car. Grant drove to the hospital, hoping that somehow, someway, Candice would still be alive when he got there.

Grant walked up to the front desk at the hospital, only to find it unstaffed. After a few seconds, an elderly nurse in pink scrubs walked around the corner and behind the desk.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Um, yeah,” Grant stammered, “I’m here to see Candice Hopewell-Ravinia.”

“Are you family?”

“Not exactly.”

“Are you on her allowed guest list?”

“I’m not sure?”

“What’s your name, hun?” asked the nurse.

“Grant Lazar.”

The nurse typed Grant’s name into the computer, slowly reading over the results on the screen.

“Room 2904,” she said. “Though visiting hours end in 35 minutes, so you can’t be up there long.”

“Thank you,” replied Grant.

Grant ran off to the elevator, frantically pushing the button to get the car to come down to him. Though the hospital was nearly empty as midnight neared, Grant stared down the hall towards the building’s full emergency room. A screaming child from the other end of the hall masked the sound of the elevator’s arrival, causing Grant to have to quickly throw his arm in the door opening before it closed and left without him.

Upon arriving on the second floor, Grant followed the meandering hallway to a room where he found Candice in several casts, her left leg in traction hovering above the bed. A young doctor was looking over Candice when Grant entered.

“Hi,” Grant stammered.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Thomas. You must be AJ.”

“No, Grant.”

“Ah, okay,” replied the doctor, “Candice’s mother said you might show up.”

“How’s she doing?”

“I can’t share any specifics with you, but we’re keeping a close eye on her. If her family decides to share more info with you when they arrive, they can.”

“I understand,” said Grant. “Do you care if I stay here with her for a little bit?”

“Not at all. There’s a chair in the corner that you can wheel over if you want.”

Dr. Thomas left the room as Grant brought the chair over to the side of Candice’s bed. Grant carefully placed his hand on her partially exposed fingers, holding them lightly. He began to sob, tears trickling down onto the bed beside his hand.

“I love you,” said Grant. “I’m so sorry this happened. If you never want to see me again, I’d understand.”

Grant felt Candice close her index and middle finger around his hand, clutching them as tightly as her cast allowed. As he tried to move away, Candice close the grip tighter, pinching his fingers against the cast. Grant moved back to his original spot, kissing Candice’s exposed fingers to let her know he was staying. The cast cut into his fingers, blood trickling down onto the sheet below. Yet Grant didn’t move. In this moment, perhaps for the first time, Grant felt like he could see Candice for who she truly was. He wasn’t leaving that moment.

Earth: A Study in Simulated Planet Behavior

This post is a response to June 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


DR. XZENEEBIA SARUTUNE: They really are peculiar creatures, the Homo sapiens. Despite the individualities each of them try to express, there’s so much that ties them together. Take for instance the behavior of defecation and compare it to a species they find themselves superior to — felis silvestris catus.

[Camera cuts to a COMMON HOUSE CAT in a litter pan]

DR. SARUTUNE: When domesticated, felis silvestris catus will commonly use a small container filled with clay pellets or sand as a disposal location for its waste. While the location of the act does differ depending on the animal’s environment, even the young of the common house cat will make the same motions. After completion of excretion, the front paws will kick back whatever substance fills the container, covering the fecal matter.

[Camera cuts back to DR. SARUTUNE in her office at The Grand University of Nebulon VI. DR. SARUTUNE is a large, blue, oval, blob-like creature with five eyes running down her right side. Her mouth runs perpendicular to the third and fourth eye, with purple-red lips.]

DR. SARUTUNE: We’ve theorized based on observation of non-domesticated cats that this behavior is retained from a time where the majority of cats lived in the wild and that covering the smell would deter the attraction of predators. Why this behavior has stayed into the modern day, particularly when so many cats are cared for by a creature such as the homo sapien which is not predator towards them is something that warrants further research.

[Camera cuts to B-roll video of Earth spinning in space before zooming in on the east coast of the United States, presumably near Boston, Massachusetts]

NARRATOR: Dr. Sarutune’s studies embedded her within a small tribe of humans on the North American continent of the planet Earth. Though the primitive technology of the planet did not allow her to make direct contact with any lifeforms on the planet, she was able to observe them in their most private moments.

[Camera cuts back to DR. SARUTUNE]

DR. SARUTUNE: In my studies, humans were not quantifiably different when it comes to waste excretion behaviors than cats in most situations. While the literal locations were varied purely due to the size of the creatures involved, most mammals, at least for our purposes of study, have similar rituals.

[Camera cuts to INTERIOR, HUMAN BATHROOM. Camera focuses on an empty toilet paper roll hanging from a dispenser on the wall]

DR. SARUTUNE: There is, of course, an exception to this phenomenon.

[Chryon along the bottom of the screen reads “DRAMATIZATION”]

DR. SARUTUNE: Many of the Homo sapiens choose to utilize a cleansing wipe once they have completed their defecation. Whether this wipe is wet or dry is largely up to personal preference, however the lack of access to that wipe creates a critical moment for Homo sapiens that choose to use it. If the human has planned well, it’s merely a matter of accessing a nearby stockpile of additional wipes and moving on about their sol.

[Camera cuts to a HUMAN MALE, white, in his mid to late 40s. We see him from the middle of his chest up. He is wearing a white t-shirt covered by a buttoned blue dress shirt with the top button undone. His hair is greying.]

DR. SARUTUNE: For the unfortunate individuals who did not plan ahead, a terror spreads over there face once the realization that they lack their toilet tissue hits. The exact methods from which the specific tribe of Homo sapiens I was embedded within leave their porcelain repository varied, however there was usually a slow, shuffling waddle to wherever the wipes were stored.

[Camera cuts back to HUMAN MALE, this time viewed from the back. We see his pants around his ankles, with the tail of the dress shirt covering his posterior]

DR. SARUTUNE: Once the tissue is retrieved, the more intelligent or diligent planning humans will procure extra tissues so that their serene moment isn’t interrupted in the future. Some Homo sapiens, however, never learn from their mistakes. Instead of identifying the stimulus of their situation, the cycle repeats in the future. Waddle after waddle, shuffle after shuffle, the impetus of cleaning fecal matter from their anus drives them to walk in foolish ways, hunched or clenching in uncomfortable ways. With a bit of planning this problem could be solved, though as is the case with any creature, the intelligent and strong adapt and survive. The weak are relegated accordingly.

[Camera cuts away to B-roll of humans milling in the streets of New York City. Show’s bumper music plays.]

NARRATOR: When we return to Earth: A Study in Simulated Planet Behavior, Dr. Ahweiey Jizsbalzsah discusses the sociological phenomena that are Terran restaurants. From food carts to high-end establishments, the homo sapien have taken the necessary delivery of nutrients and turned it into a cultural experience. Can we learn from them?

[Camera cuts to B-roll of Napoleon Bonaparte prior to the battle of Waterloo]

NARRATOR: And later, what the fuck was this guy thinking? All to come on Earth: A Study in Simulated Planet Behavior.

Carroll and Carroll

This post is a response to May 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


“There should be a reservation for two under Carroll down for 7pm,” said Troy.

The maitre d’ scanned through the book at the host’s stand, his eyes darting back and forth across the scribbles on the page.

“Ah yes,” the maitre d’ said, “I see it right here. Good evening Monsieur Carroll.”

“Good evening,” replied Troy. “Is Gustav around? He usually waits on me whenever I have dinner here.”

“I’m so sorry. Gustav won’t be in for a few weeks.”

“Is everything alright?”

“He’s fine. I believe he’s home taking care of family. His daughter got hurt by an escaped kangaroo at the zoo last week.”

“I didn’t realize that was here!” Troy exclaimed. “If you talk with him, please let him know that I’m happy to help him out however we can. My firm has some fantastic injury attorneys if he’s in need of one.”

“I’ll be sure to do so, Monsieur Carroll,” replied the maitre d’. “Please, let me take you to your seat.”

Troy followed the well-dressed host to a white linen cloth-covered table about two-thirds of the way back in the restaurant’s main room. The maitre d’ pulled out a chair, offering Troy to sit down.

“Thank you,” said Troy. “My other party should be here soon. If you could bring them back when they arrive, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

“But of course.”

Troy had been coming to this restaurant for years. His father had helped him to make reservations here for a pre-prom dinner with friends back in high school. Since graduating college and joining his uncle’s law firm, Troy had brought countless clients and dates here. Most of the client dinners were successful — he wouldn’t have worked his way up to being a partner without at least some positive meals. That said, the dates were hit and miss.

He was hopeful for tonight though. It was a blind date, yes, but Troy trusted the instincts of his assistant, Monique. If Monique said someone was a good person, they nearly always were. Her faith in this date gave Troy confidence. He needed it. It had been months since he’d had anyone to cuddle up with, let alone have a serious relationship with.

After a few minutes, the host led a tall man in a dark grey suit back to the table.

“Monsieur Carroll,” the maitre d’ said, “your guest has arrived.”

“Thank you very much,” replied Troy as he stuck out his hand to shake. “Troy Carroll. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Asher Wetzel,” the man in the dark grey suit mumbled back in a gravelly voice.

Troy and Asher sat down at the table and began looking at their menus. A waiter came by and began filling their water glasses.

“If you’re looking for something off menu,” said the waiter, “the chef’s appetizer for the night is honeydew chunks with a sweet and spicy lime drizzle. The soup of the day is chicken and escarole. The entrée of the is our Friday standard, Matzetti’s famous prime rib with glazed carrots, grilled asparagus, and a potato puree. And, if the mind or the body desires dessert, we have freshly made carrot cake or tiramisu. Might I bring you two some wine?”

“I’m fine with water,” Asher quickly responded.

“Are you sure?” asked Troy. “It’s on me.”

“I’m sure,” he replied.

“Just leave us water for now,” continued Troy. “Perhaps we’ll decide on some wine once we’ve decided on food.”

“Very good, sir,” replied the freckled waiter as he turned on his heels and walked away.

Asher picked up his menu and held it closer to his eyes. Troy gave him a few moments to review the menu before breaking the silence.

“Monique has told me that you’re quite the exciting person.”

“She said that, did she?” retorted Asher.

“Indeed,” Troy replied. “She said you’re the regional vice president of sales for your co…”

“Vice president,” Asher interjected. “No regional. It can’t be regional when your region is the entire world. Why have the extra words at that point?”

“I…I guess that would make sense. That’s pretty exciting.”

Asher flashed a small smile towards Troy and went back to looking at his menu. In his suit pocket, Troy felt his phone buzz. Likely Monique checking in on how the date was going, Troy figured.

“So,” continued Troy, “what do you do for fun?”

Asher looked up from his menu, his face covered in a perplexed and frustrated look.

“Do you run all of your business meetings like this?”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s a reputation to the firm name Carroll, Carroll, Holmes, and Trumbull,” said Asher. “If you need a shrewd, hard-ass lawyer to protect you or your company from an untimely downfall, that’s how you contact. It doesn’t matter why, they’ll take care of you. That’s what everyone told me. Yet here you are cozying up to me like two teens at a slumber party.”

“I…”

“I’m going to step away and use the restroom. Either have your shit together when I get back or I’ll become someone else’s client.”

Asher got up from the table and walked across the dining hall toward the corridor that housed the restrooms. Once he was out of sight, Troy grabbed his phone from out of his pocket and peeked at the screen. Sure enough, Monique had sent a simple ‘good luck’ just a few moments prior. Troy quickly unlocked his phone and dialed his assistant.

“Hey!” Monique shouted excitedly on the other end of the line. “Aren’t you on your date?”

“I am,” replied Troy.

“Then why are you calling me?”

“Because he doesn’t seem to think this is a date.”

“What?”

“Asher. He thinks this is a client mee…”

“Ohhhhhhhh fuck.”

“What?”

“Oh fuck,” repeated Monique. “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.”

“Got it. There’s a lot of fuckery going on,” Troy stated. “Care to let me in on it?”

“You and your uncle both had things at 7pm tonight. Your date is supposed to be with a guy named Paul.”

“And I’m going to guess Asher is my uncle’s business meeting?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, this is easy enough to fix,” said Troy. “Is Uncle Rick here?”

“He should be,” answered Monique. “Do you see him?”

Troy stood up from his chair and scanned the room. He knew his uncle’s face anywhere, what with having seen it on a near-daily basis for the past forty years. Yet picking out one bald white guy in a suit in a sea of bald white guys in suits wasn’t nearly as easy as he expected it to be. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Asher making his way back from the restroom.

“I’m not seeing him,” Troy said, his rate of speech growing faster as he began to panic. “What’s Paul look like.”

“Taller guy.”

“Everyone’s sitting, Monique.”

“Right. Latino, I think? Curly black hair. Probably the only non-staff member there under 40.”

Troy scanned the room and quickly noticed Paul, as well as his uncle.

“Found them.”

“Good!” Monique replied. “Now just go over and explain the mi…”

“And now they’re kissing.”

“Wait what?”

“They’re kissing.”

“I…I’m sorry. I’ll sort this out.”

“What should I do about Asher?” asked Troy.

“Tell him there was a mix up and that he was supposed to meet with your uncle? Offer to comp his dinner and tell him that we’ll sort it out on Monday.”

“And how do I get the image of my uncle making out with someone thirty years his junior out of my head?”

“I’ll send you some kangaroo mating films,” deadpanned Monique.

“I’m not sure that’s an improvement. I need to go.”

“Okay bye.”

Troy hung up his call and watched as Asher sat down at the table across from him.

“Are we ready to talk business?” asked Asher.

“Yes,” replied Troy. “Well, no. I’m very sorry, there’s been a mistake.”

“How so?” asked Asher as he raised his water glass to his lips, the small ice cubes floating within it clanging against the walls of the vessel.

“I’m one of the Carrolls of Carroll, Carroll, Holmes, and Trumbull. I’m Troy Carroll. I just called my assistant and it sounds like you were supposed to meet with my uncle, Richard Carroll.”

“That would make a lot more sense. So where is he?”

“He wasn’t able to make it,” replied Troy.

“So they sent you in his stead?”

“No. I was here waiting on my date. A blind date. That I wasn’t given a name for.”

Asher sat his glass down and began to chuckle to himself. After a few moments, his light chortle grew to a hearty, full-bellied laughed that nearly brought Asher to tears. He did his best to regain his composure and talk.

“Oh, that’s so good,” Asher said between breaths. “My daughter is prophetic about these kinds of things.”

“I’m sorry,” replied Troy. “I don’t follow.”

“Every time she sees me in a suit, she asks me if I’m bringing her home a new mommy or daddy.”

“Did something happen to your wife?”

“No, my wife’s usually in the room when she says it. I just have a snarky grad student for a daughter.”

Asher lifted the water glass to his lips and downed the remainder of the drink before setting the glass back on the table.

“Listen,” said Asher, “I’m sorry to interrupt your date. Have your uncle give me a call on Monday.”

“Would you like some dinner?” replied Troy. “I’m terribly sorry for the confusion. It’s the least I can do.”

“I’m going to get a greasy hamburger on the way home. It sounds better than chicken and escargot or whatever the soup was. Good luck on your date.”

“Thanks.”

Asher shook Troy hand, then walked toward the exit of the restaurant. Troy reached into his pocket and grabbed his phone, hoping to tell Monique that everything was alright. As he did so, he felt a hand touch him on the shoulder. He turned to see the curly haired man who had been sitting with his uncle a few minutes prior standing next to him.

“Hi,” he said, “I’m Paul. If you’re half as fun as Monique has said you are, this will be a great evening.”

The Order of the Sacred Jade

This post is a response to April 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


Matthew and I joked about it regularly throughout middle and high school. The sacred jade pendant and all of its mystical powers. It was silly, childish stupidity where we attempted to mock the absurdity of religion without actually being good at doing so in a nuanced manner. Matthew’s grandmother had given him this necklace with a triangular jade pendant hanging from a black rope. He wore it somewhat regularly, particularly during track season where it served as his good luck charm before races. It was a cool piece of jewelry, as well as the start of a great joke, but that was the extent of my attachment to it.

While I was in Manila for a work trip last fall, I visited one of the large local markets near my hotel. In one of my previous trips to the Philippines, I had purchased two pairs of knock-off Converse high tops, one in the iconic black and white and the other in a forest green and construction orange combination that further served to show these weren’t the real deal. I went back to the same market, hoping to find an equally absurd pair of shoes. Instead of the shoes, I walked away with a jade necklace — its pendant shaped in an acute scalene triangle similar to the one Matthew had owned — and a tin toy jeepney for my daughter.

I’ve been back in the states for six months now, frequenting my usual brunch spot on the weekends and driving my daughter, Valerie, to her hockey games on weeknights. Valerie typically joined me for my Saturday morning visits to the cafe, though my parents had her for the weekend. A little time with grandma and grandpa always provided me with a welcome mental reprieve from the job of being a single father. The downside was that I had to spend the next two weeks dealing with the after effects of Valerie’s exposure to my mother’s smoking and my father’s inability to filter out his cursing when around a nine-year-old.

I stared out the window into the foggy Ohio morning. It seemed like every September morning was filled with a fog so thick that machetes struggled to dent it, only for the clouds to burn off by nine or ten in the morning. Today was one of the few days where the mist persisted as the afternoon neared. Though I was parked right outside of the window, my car’s headlights taunted me through the fog, laughing at me for venturing out in this mess.

Behind me, I heard the front door of the cafe open. A tall, raven haired woman walked through the door and directly to the register, her outfit from head-to-toe doing its best to match her midnight locks. Though her smooth, straight hair flowed down to her shoulders, it was held back by a black headband with tiny silver accents. The chill in the air necessitated her donning a black fabric trench coat which ended just below her knees. Her long coat blended into her black stockings, which themselves transitioned naturally into her black, thick-heeled shoes. Her attire was so monochromatic that I wouldn’t have paid such close attention to it were it not for one lone pop of color that caught my eye.

A triangular jade pendant hanging from her neck.

It had to be a weird coincidence. She’s just a woman who really like jade. And why wouldn’t she? Jade is quite the beautiful mineral, be it on its own or inset into something else. She was a woman good taste and nothing more.

“Excuse me?”

I broke my trance-like stare into the distance, only to realize the woman had left the cashier and was now standing just a few feet in front of me.

“Excuse me?” she repeated. She was staring intently at my own jade pendant. “Is this a safe place to talk?”

“I…what?” I stammered.

“Is this a safe place to talk?”

“I’d imagine so. I’ve come here most every Saturday for ten years and haven’t been yelled at once for having a conversation.”

The woman leaned in closer to me.

“I don’t mean to chat,” she whispered. “Can they hear us?”

“Who hear us?” I said at a normal volume. She slapped my leg.

“Keep your voice down if it isn’t safe. Come to my car with me. It’s safe there.”

“I don’t even know who you are.”

“I’ll explain there. Just trust me.”

“Can I bring my bagel and coffee?” I asked.

“I don’t care what you do as long as you come on,” she said.

We walked out of the cafe into the dissipating fog. She pointed to a blue sedan with darkly tinted windows. With a push of a button on her key chain, the doors sprang open. She motioned for me to get in the passenger’s side. I did, shutting the door behind me. I didn’t feel great about getting in the car with a strange woman, but I didn’t see a better alternative without causing a scene.

“Now that we’re in the car, will you tell me what’s going on?” I implored. “And who you are for that matter.”

“Communications jammers are still booting up,” she said. “You can call me Keri.”

“Okay, Keri. Why am I here?”

“Eat your bagel and wait ten seconds, would you?”

I obediently took a bite out of my bagel, trying hard not to get crumbs on her seats. Keri grabbed my coffee from between my knees and placed it in the cupholder between our seats, just in front of her own cup.

“Clear,” she said. “What is your name?”

“Yancey,” I replied.

“Not your public name. Your cloak name.”

“My what now?”

“The jade,” Keri said, pointing to my pendant. “Your pendant signifies you’re an elder of the Sacred Jade.”

I began laughing hysterically, nearly dropping my bagel in the process. Keri, clearly trying her hardest not to slap me, gave me a half smile while I composed myself.

“Oh…oh god,” I said, wiping tears away from the corners of my eyes. “That’s something I haven’t heard in a long time. How is Matthew?”

“Who?”

“Matthew Henson. He clearly put you up to this to fuck with me. Classic Matthew.”

“I don’t…”

“How has he been? I haven’t heard from him in years! Are you his wife?”

“Yancey!” Keri shouted, visibly growing impatient with me. “Are you an elder of the Sacred Jade or not?”

“Considering how serious you’re taking this, I’m going to guess I’m not.”

“Fuck.”

Keri started the car and began pulling out of her parking space. Very quickly.

“Hold up. Where are we going?” I asked.

“I went to the wrong fucking cafe!” she screamed. “Again! This can’t be happening again.”

“What’s going on?”

“My name is Li-an Ke’ri Balmi. Guru and protector of the Order of the Sacred Jade. And you’re clearly not Elder Rathsuman.”

“Now that we’ve sorted that out, can I go?” I wondered aloud, hoping Keri would let me out before she pulled too far away from the cafe.

“No time,” she said. “The Agate Templar is coming after him.”

“The who?”

“Do you know how to use a gun?”

“What?”

“A gun. Bang bang you’re dead. Rooty tooty point and shooty.”

“No!” I yelled. “Why would I know that?”

“Doesn’t matter,” she replied. “You’re going to get a crash course in about six minutes if our timing is bad.”

Keri pointed to the dashboard in front of me.

“Open the glovebox and hit the blue button.”

I followed her instructions, causing a panel to rise out of the dashboard, producing a pair of handguns.

“Keep them on your person at all times,” said Keri. “And pray to the Sacred Jade you don’t need them.”

“Who is the Agate Templar? Why am I here? What is the Sacred Jade?”

“You ask a lot of questions for someone who got into the car with a strange woman after asking so few questions.”

She wasn’t wrong.

“Crash course me then,” I said. “What do I need to know to not die in a few minutes?”

“The Order of the Sacred Jade is an organization committed to the protection of the world’s greatest scientists and scholars. All of the scientific advancement that has been made in the past two millennia has been made thanks largely to our protection of the brightest minds in the world. Our elders help identify the minds that are considered to be lynchpins to society. From there, we protect them from whoever may come after them. Governments and corporations are more likely attackers in modern times, but they’re relatively easy to deal with. The Agate Templar is a rival group who thinks their science is better than our science. They’re much less fun to come across.”

Keri pulled her emergency brake and turned abruptly into a parking lot, leaving her car parallel to the building she parked near. She opened her door and motioned to a man inside wearing a similarly shaped jade necklace. Just as the man opened the door, gunfire rang out.

“Automatic protection mode engaged!” the car said through its speakers. The driver’s door slammed shut, the windshield blackened, and a fine pink mist began to fill the car. I clawed at the door handle, trying my hardest to open it, only to find the door locked. I began to feel dizzy and the seat became infinitely more comfortable.

I woke up and found myself leaned up against the wall in a chair back in the original cafe I had been sitting in earlier that morning. I looked around, baffled how I had gotten back there. I yelled at the cashier to get her attention.

“Maddie. When did I get back here?” I asked.

“What?” she said.

“How long wasn’t I here for?”

Maddie walked out from behind the counter and came closer to me.

“Are you feeling alright, Yancey?” she inquired.

“Yes?”

“You’ve been here all morning.”

“No I haven’t,” I insisted.

“Yes. You have. You dozed off about twenty minutes ago and have been leaning against that wall ever since.”

I stared at Maddie, confused why she was telling me all of this. I was in a shootout earlier. Or at the very least shootout-adjacent. There had to be some evidence I could show her to prove my point.

“You haven’t even touched your bagel,” Maddie continued. “It’s probably cold now. The butter won’t melt on it.”

I looked at the bagel on the plate beside me. It was still whole, albeit it cut into two halves, its open parts staring back at me. I know what I had seen.

“Was there a woman in here earlier by the name of Keri?” I asked. “Tall, slender, wore all black?”

“There was.”

I knew it! I hadn’t been making it up.

“Did you know her from somewhere?” Maddie questioned. “I didn’t call out her name when brought her pastry to her.”

“What about her coffee?”

“She didn’t get anything to drink.”

This wasn’t making any sense. I touched at my neck, comforted to find the jade necklace was still there, the pendant hidden beneath my shirt.

“I think I need some air,” I said.

“When you come back in, I’ll make you a fresh bagel and get you some orange juice,” Maddie replied. “It’s on me.”

“Thanks.”

I walked outside into the foggy September morning. The parking space where Keri’s car had been was empty, with no sign of a burnout anywhere near the spot. My own car was in the same place it had been since I got to the cafe, the low-hanging clouds slowly condensating on my windshield and windows. As I watched the fog hang in the sky, I felt a hand tap me on the shoulder.

“Glad you made it out of there alive.”

I turned around to find Keri, this time dressed in a police uniform, standing behind me.

“What? Where did you come from?”

“We’ve got to get you into protection, Yancey,” Keri stated. “You’re a more valuable asset than you realize. Go back in and get your food. I had Gail make you a few meals for the road. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.”

“Who’s Gail?” I asked.

“Gail. Taryn. Maddie. Tashia. Whatever she goes by in this town. It’s hard to keep track of when she’s been moved so many times.”

“Where’s my daughter?”

“On the way to the safe house too,” Keri replied. “We’ll rendezvous with my partner there. She’ll make sure you and your daughter are safe while we arrange safe transport to your next location.”

“I thought the Order of the Sacred Jade only protected scientists and scholars,” I said. “I’m a low-level supervisor at a data analysis company.”

“You’re the Agate Templar’s next target,” answered Keri, “but it’s not because of you. It’s because your daughter has the mind that could save the world. Or end it.”

“Valerie does?”

“Yes. Now go grab your food and let’s go. I only bought us so much time earlier today.”


Featured image used under a Creative Commons License. Image by Maureen Didde.