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.

The Isle Charon

This post is a response to March 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.


After the darkness ended, I was greeted by a light. It wasn’t the kind of light I was expecting, as this pale chartreuse aura did not match the splendor of the spring sunlight I had woken up to yesterday morning. I remember groggily climbing into my car, turning up the heat to defog my windshield, pulling out of my drive way, and getting on the highway. From that moment until now, all I have is darkness.

Beneath my feet, the ground moved slowly and purposefully. Silver and gold handrails adorned either side of my path. I couldn’t see the ground itself, as the yellow-green aura kept me from seeing beneath my knees. But I felt it moving steadily forward. I couldn’t turn back.

Through the misty surroundings, a small island began to appear. Atop the island sat a large gazebo made from cherry wood. The gazebo was flanked by six dogwood trees, one for each of the structure’s six sides. The flowers of the trees were in full bloom, with the occasional petal falling to the ground below. The closer I got to the island, the more the aura faded away, allowing me to see that the ground was nothing more than a transparent walkway carrying me above a pristine lake. Beneath the walkway, dozens of fish swam happily along, darting to and fro within their schools.

When I was a few feet from the island, two women in simple silk robes exited the gazebo and began walking toward the edge of the land. The first woman was tall, lanky, and pale, with her flaxen hair tied up in a tight bun atop her head. She wore an indigo robe, while her counterpart wore a bright yellow one. The second woman also appeared to be taller than me, though shorter than the first woman. Her skin was much darker, with her own ebony locks also tightly and carefully positioned against the top of her head. As the walkway deposited me on the island, the woman in the yellow robe spoke to me.

“Welcome to the Isle Charon,” she began. “Do you know why you’re here?”

“No, I don’t,” I replied.

“Your name is David Jennett,” continued the woman in the yellow robe. “You were involved in an automobile accident. You fell asleep at the wheel and careened off of a bridge into a gorge below. You died instantly.”

“And who are you?” I asked.

“We’re known by many names,” said the woman in the yellow robe. “I am Elu, the keeper of what humans consider life. This is my sister, Eterna, the keeper of what humans consider afterlife.”

“What do you mean, consider life and afterlife?” I questioned.

“To Elu and I, life is one continuous line,” replied Eterna. “Humans see life and the afterlife as two separate things because your consciousness can’t handle the experience of death that occurs between the two.”

“I see.”

“We are the guardians of this passage,” continued Eterna. “We are responsible for the existence you experienced before arriving here, as well as that which you’re about to undergo after leaving Isle Charon. All experiences on Earth, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through Elu’s creation. I am the creator of all things in the world to which you’ll be venturing after this visit. All experience in the afterworld, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through my creation.”

“I’m sure you have many questions of us,” interjected Elu.

“So many. So very many.”

Elu chuckled to herself.

“Humans always do,” she stated. “There’ll be someone in the world created by Eterna that will help you adjust to your new life. I assure you that most of your questions will be answered there.”

“So what is this place then?” I asked.

“The Isle Charon is where every recently deceased soul comes to handle the complexities of their unfinished business,” replied Eterna. “For some people, they never got to say goodbye to their family. For others, there’s a feeling of not having accomplished everything you could have while on Earth. Elu and I will help you work through those feelings so that you can be at peace once you leave here.”

I stood there staring at Elu and Eterna, combing through every place in my brain I imagined unfinished business to be stored. Nothing. Not just unfinished business, but no memories. The mental block I’d hit was overwhelming. I could feel that I was me. Beyond that, there was just emptiness.

“What were those pieces of unfinished business I had on Earth?” I asked.

“Let’s have a seat and talk you through them,” said Elu.

“Coffee? Tea? Cocoa?” asked Eterna.

“Those things exist after death?” I inquired.

“Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have to suffer through not having coffee,” replied Eterna.

“Coffee sounds nice,” I answered. I wonder what happened to the coffee I’d brought with me in my car. It probably exploded all over my windshield during the crash.

Eterna walked over to a cabinet on the far size of the gazebo. She reached opened the door and reached inside, producing a piping hot mug of coffee. She walked back over and sat it back down in front of me. Despite me giving no question nor command, Elu answered the question that was on my mind.

“Don’t think about it too hard,” she said. “The rules of this world don’t work the same as yours. We keep our coffee out of sight, be beyond that, we can get it whenever we want.”

“Huh,” I said, still surprised that a wooden door held steaming coffee behind it.

“You’re an uncommon one, David,” Eterna stated. “When many people come to the Isle Charon, we talk with them about their family and friends. Sometimes there’s a moment of disappointment of not achieving fulfillment with someone’s career.”

“We even had a gentleman the other day that just needed to see his rare ornamental bulbous plants bloom,” interrupted Elu.

“But your mental block that’s keeping you from moving into the afterworld is not what you had in life. It’s what you didn’t have.”

“I don’t follow,” I said.

“Let me give you an example,” stated Elu. “A few months ago, your girlfriend moved in with you. Things by and large were going fairly well for you, but you two fight a lot. When you fight at night, what do you go to sleep thinking about?”

“How much I wish we hadn’t fought?” I questioned.

“More specific than that.”

“How I wouldn’t be fighting if I was with someone else.”

“Exactly,” answered Eterna.

“Here’s the thing, David,” continued Elu. “It’s not true. No matter who you would have been with, you would have fought with them.”

“But what about that soulmate that’s out there for everyone?” I asked. “That one person that changes your world and makes love perfect.”

Elu sighed heavily.

“We both hate that concept,” Eterna replied. “It’s flawed in so many ways, not the least of which is that the idea that a perfect love exists without any frustration or anger is unrealistic.”

“Let’s try this,” said Elu. “Your relationship with your girlfriend, Arryn, is one that grew out of a friendship, right?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Alright,” Elu continued, “now of all of the women you ever wanted to be with — regardless of whether you dated them or not — who was the most perfect person for you in your mind?”

Without skipping a beat, I blurted out the name of the only woman I never failed to fumble over my words in front of.

“Julie Soria,” I replied. “We were friends in college. She’s pretty much the only reason I stuck with my history minor.’

“And what made her so perfect in your mind?” Elu inquired.

“She was kind and caring. She had this very open mind, to the point where she took being humbled when she was wrong as a learning experience. Julie had these gorgeous green eyes that she always wore blue contacts over, making it look like she had either cyan or teal irises, depending on how the light hit them. And she always had the most wonderful smelling something for her hair. No idea if it was shampoo or what, but it made her lovely red hair that much better.”

“And why didn’t you guys date?” Eterna asked.

“We hung out here and there, even alone at times,” I replied. “She always invited me to church, but I never saw the appeal. After a while, she just stopped talking to me.”

“That church she went to was a cult,” Elu said. “Forty-six people, including Julie, killed themselves as part of a ‘religious experience’ or something.” Elu make giant air quotes as she said religious experience. “Had you gone with her to that church more than a couple of times, the two of you would have dated, but it would have ended with you bring brainwashed and being another death.”

“Holy fuck!” I exclaimed. “How do you know that?”

“This is literally what we do,” answered Eterna. “We know all, we see all, we help people move on from every possible permutation of their lives.”

“Okay,” I responded, “but what if I would have stayed with my high school girlfriend?”

“You two would have divorced six months into your marriage and you would have committed suicide,” replied Elu dryly.

“Do I always die young?” I asked.

“You always arrive in the afterworld young, regardless of the choices you made on Earth,” said Eterna. “But I promise it’s better there.”

“How do you know?” I shouted. “You’re not even there.”

“Because we created both worlds,” answered Eterna.

“And what if I don’t want to go there?” I asked.

“That’s not a choice you have,” answered Elu. “You have notahtame haeave to go farem.”

“What”?” I asked.

“I said it’s noth yarr cohiecth. Yoafa have moatame haeave feam.”

The chartreuse mist was beginning to engulf the gazebo and everything in my sight. Eterna and Elu faded into the distance, but I could still hear Elu talking to me, though I couldn’t understand what she said. As the mist grew stronger, I felt a searing pain in my legs, along with a massive headache forming around my eyes. The mist shifted into darkness, leaving me with nothing but pain and the echos of Elu and Eterna’s voices.

I woke up atop a hospital bed in a dimly lit room. I looked around, slowly moving my head as the painful headache was still there. It took me much longer to scan my surroundings than normal, but I found that I was alone. Outside my room, I could see a coffee cart. From my angle, I could see the elbow of the person behind the cart, but not much else.

“Hey!” I yelled, my voice straining as I did so. “Can you hear me?”

The merchant from the coffee cart peeked into my room and smiled at me.

“I don’t think you can have any coffee, man” he said. “I can flag down a nurse for you.”

“Nah, I’m good,” I replied. “Have I been here long?”

“At least since I got here Tuesday morning. It’s Friday now.”

“Shit. Any chance I can use your phone?”

The coffee cart man walked over and handed me his phone.

“Just don’t take more than a half hour,” he said. “I’ve got to head upstairs at 6:30.”

The coffee cart man unlocked his phone and left the room. I opened the keypad on his phone, only to realize I didn’t know Arryn’s number. It was always in my phone, so I never had to memorize it. I dialed the only number I could remember — my dad’s work phone. It rang multiple times before the voicemail picked up.

“Hey dad,” I said. “It’s me. I think I got in a car wreck. I’m at…where am I?”

“Cedar North Hospital,” the coffee cart man shouted.

“Cedar North Hospital apparently. When you and mom can, come see me. And if you could call Arryn and tell her…I don’t know where my phone is. I love you. Bye.”

I sat the coffee cart man’s phone down on my chest and closed my eyes. All I wanted was to go back to sleep. As I began to drift off, I could see the chartreuse mist in the distance, beckoning back to the Isle Charon. I didn’t want to go back, even though I knew I’d see Elu and Eterna again eventually. With any luck, I’d wake up to see my parents or Arryn, even if it was only for a few minutes before I had to go back to the island.

Time Crunch

This post is a response to February 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.


Shit, shit, shit. I’m going to miss my plane. Why do they have to put the gates so far apart? I only have a half hour to make it all the way across the airport to the C terminal from the far end of the A terminal. I couldn’t have done that in my youth, let alone now.

Where’s the cart man? There’s always one around except when you need him. If I could only see past the aquarium that’s ahead of me. Who puts a giant fish tank in the middle of an airport? Is it supposed to be art? That’s not where fish live. I don’t care if it’s unorthodox or it’s kitschy. It’s an eyesore.

The lady at baggage check in Denver got all upset that my checked bag was over weight by one pound. One pound! She tried to make me pay for it. I wasn’t having that, not when I can wear all my hats on my head and put my handbag in my carry on. Oh the hubris of my morning self, always thinking I can do more when I have energy.  Two in the afternoon me hates that person and wants to give morning me a piece of my mind. At least there’s only three hats this time. Last trip it was four.

I ran by a baby in a stroller, my rolling bag careening perilously close to taking out the sleeping child. That’s the life. You get to lay and sleep in public whenever you want, all while having someone take care of you and watch for your safety. I don’t miss doing taking care of my children that way, even if I do miss their childhood. Pretty soon, I’ll have them take care of me. Not because I need it — you don’t run through airports at my age because you’re frail — but because I want to see the look on my daughter-in-law’s face when she has to regularly interact with anyone she sees as old. Selfish harlot. She only married my son for his money. Joke’s on her. He’s a compulsive gambler.

Up ahead, I see a cart. The man driving the cart is waiting as a woman in this lovely flower print shirt is slowly climbing onto the back of the cart. Her cane is dangling on the edge of the handrail of the cart, mere inches from falling to the ground. Fall! Fall you wooden trinket! It’ll keep the cart man from leaving until I get up there.

The cane didn’t fall. I start waving my left arm frantically as I drag by bag with the right.

“Cart!” I yell. “Don’t go! I need a ride!”

My top hat comes flying off my head as I pass an open seating restaurant. The brim lands directly in the middle of a pregnant woman’s fruit plate, knocking her assorted berries to the floor. At this point, I have a choice to make. Do I go back for the hat and miss my cart or do I keep running forward and leave the mom-to-be with my good sun hat? While time suggests I should ignore the hat and keep going, the data behind how infrequently my family calls me would dictate that my kids can pay to rebook my flight if I miss it and they really want to see me.

I slow down and turn around, running back to grab the hat. The woman has the hat extended out to me in advance, fully seeing that I’m in a hurry to go somewhere. If she knew I was going to South Carolina, perhaps she’d be inclined to help me avoid the trip.

When I turned around, the cart had begun moving. I shouted after it, but the cart driver didn’t hear me. The lady on the back of the cart did. She turned and looked at the cart driver, then turned back to me, raised her wrinkly arm to the sky, and flipped me the bird.

I need a drink. Family can wait.