First Day at Work

It was probably the tall robed figure at the door, dark cloak trailing on the ground and faceless in the shadows, that tipped him off. When the figure hissed and raised a skeletal finger in his direction, he was 100% certain.

This must be the location of the job offer he’d received via carrier pigeon. Excellent.

The figure lurched forward, bony hand opening and closing and the shadows seemed to stretch and bend and reach, a howling voice echoed nonsense words, the sunlight dimmed and darkness began to set in…

“George!” Came a new voice. “How many times have I told you — you’re not to send the new employees into the Void!”

The figure shuddered and the darkness retracted hesitantly.
“This is meant to be a safe working environment, George, and while you make an excellent guardian, I’m afraid I’ll have to let you go if you continue this sort of behaviour.”

Robes askew, the figure retreated to his corner and resumed his inanimate state, sulking.  

Living body intact, understandably unsettled, the newly-hired employee turned to the man who had saved him. The man was older than him by a few years, maybe late 40s, with jolly red cheeks and a huge lumpy nose. There sat atop his head the most horrifying thing the young man had ever seen: A greasy mullet, shiny and slimy.

He was sporting a blue vest that read Otto’s Grocer and Hello, I’m Jonathan on the small rectangle over the man’s heart. Below the name, in tiny lettering, the tag read Assistant Manager. The blue shirt rippled with a boisterous chuckle.

“My friend, not to worry, George really only attacks werewolves or people he deems ugly.”

Jonathan looked him up and down for a solid minute, then shrugged.

There was a pause.

“Um…” The new employee started.

The doors slid open, letting out an exhale of air conditioning.

“Now, I’m Jonathan, as you may have noticed. What is your name?”
He took a moment to get his breath back before answering.

“I’m Matthew.” He said. “This is my first day.”

 

Matthew thought he was pretty normal, generally speaking. Average build, brown hair, huge blue aquatic dragon in his local public pool behind the grocery store, freckle above his left eyebrow, straight A student with a smattering of Bs — mostly in math. Not much else. He’d gone through high school and was working on a degree in the history of religion at the local community college, but it was summer now: he’d decided to get a job.

After meeting George he was rethinking that idea.

“You’ll fit right in here — I can already see it!” Jonathan proclaimed as they passed through the employee break room. He grabbed an Employee Handbook and handed  it to Matthew without comment. Matthew surveyed the scene. There was an odd sort of phone box tucked into the corner, a couple tables, a couch and blanket, a pristine coffeemaker, and a whiteboard with phone numbers for Jonathan, and Jerry, the manager.

“There are a couple other new employees who are going to be working alongside you for the summer, and the rest of the year if you decide to stay on!”
If I can handle it for that long, Matthew thought.

“I believe Rachel and Madison are currently tied up in the produce section. You all have a lunch break at noon, but in the meanwhile lemme just–”
The jangling of a telephone cut him off, and he pulled a sleek black flip phone out of his back pocket. He signaled Matthew to wait, holding up one finger, round and sausage-like and a bit hairy.

“Yup.” He answered. There was an indistinct mutter from the phone. “Got it. Aisle 4. Not a problem, I’ll send my newest employee.” He listened for another second, then snapped the phone shut and slipped it back into the thick black utility belt hooked around his denim jeans.

“You’re needed in Aisle 4, there’s a woman there who’s looking for something.”
Matthew was slightly taken aback.
“That’s all?” He asked. “Just a woman who’s looking for, like, the peanut butter or something?”
“Good luck.” Was all Jonathan said, though a small smirk danced on his lips. Matthew left the break room.

“Oh, and Matthew,” Jonathan called. Matthew turned around once more. “Bring a mop.”

When he rounded the corner into Aisle 4, the first thing he saw was the giant squid. It appeared that Aisle 4 was the seafood aisle, and some of the seafood had escaped. The 12-foot jar which read “Pete’s Fresh East Coast Giant Squid” in bold lettering had broken, and released copious amounts of salty water and one giant squid which was definitely not past its sell-by date. Thus far, it had managed to knock over the tank of red lobsters, all of which scurried willy-nilly about the aisle, as well as a couple jars of minnows in oil, which slicked the floor. On the other side of the aisle were rows and rows of canned and jarred fruits and vegetables, and two jars of prunes had fallen onto the ground and shattered. Salt and fish and brine permeated the air and swirled on the ground. An older-looking woman puttered quietly among the shelves, a pointy black umbrella tucked under her arm, examining the jars, heedless of the giant squid flailing behind her and angry lobster casually attached to the velcro straps of her glossy black sandals.

Matthew glanced down at the limp mop and blue bucket in his hand. He took a careful step into the mess, slipped, and landed with a squelch in a puddle of canned plums and escaped crustaceans. The older woman caught sight of him. She marched forward and stood before him, whacking the lobster on her foot with the end of her umbrella, and towering over Matthew in all her four-foot glory.

“EXCUSE ME, SIR.” She bellowed. “I CANNOT REACH THE JARS OF PRUNES. CAN YOU HELP ME?”

“Are you hard of hearing, ma’am?” Matthew inquired, eyebrow raised.

“PARDON ME, DEAR?” She bellowed.

“Yup. Definitely.” He muttered slowly picking himself up out of the muck. Raising his voice, he said, “Let me help you reach those prunes, ma’am.”

She nodded and eyed him over her black rimmed glasses. Gesticulating with her umbrella, she pointed to the top shelf about three quarters of the way down the aisle — three quarters way too close to the giant squid, who was now battling a creeping vine coming from the direction of the produce section.

“Um, ma’am — sorry, what was your name again?”
“WHAT WAS THAT? THE PRUNES ARE OVER THERE.” She jabbed with her umbrella, narrowly missing Matthew’s eye.

“Nevermind.” He surveyed the squid once more. “Ma’am, as an employee of this establishment, might I suggest that you come back tomorrow for your prunes? There appears to be-”

The squid let out a huge shriek, and tore the vine from where it had clung to the tank of small rainbow trout. Otto’s Grocers’ latest shipment of fish was sent tumbling to the floor, and the lobsters quickly went to work, gobbling them up.

“QUICK!” The woman shouted shrilly, arms raised and umbrella hoisted, “WHILE THE LOBSTERS ARE DISTRACTED!”

Thinking of nothing but his job, Matthew made a dash across the slick floor, lost his footing and scrambled, almost skating, to come to a stop next to the giant squid.

“NICE JOB, DEARIE!” The old woman cheered from the other end of the aisle.

One giant eye pivoted down to glare at him, narrowed, and the next minute a huge pale tentacle swept by. Matthew lept to his feet, made a grab for the prunes, and dove onto the ground, waterslide style. He slid right past the woman, who was battling the lobsters with her umbrella, ferocity, shouts of glee, and the occasional comment about Venezuela.

He really hoped lunch was coming soon.

 

Matthew, Rachel, and Madison were sat around the table in the employee break room at precisely noon. There were vines woven through Rachel’s blond braids, though it didn’t seem to be a fashion choice. Madison had claw marks on her hands, and Matthew — still dripping prune juice, brine, and salty water — was gently dabbing at the scratches with a cotton ball dipped in ethanol. He applied some neosporin and a few jumbo bandaids, before laying his head in his hands.

“How on earth are we supposed to handle this job?” He groaned.
“How on earth are we supposed to survive this job?” Rachel replied, hugging her knees.

“Who knew there would be sabre-toothed tigers?” Madison despaired, looking at her bandaged hands.

“I thought those were extinct…” Rachel scoffed.

And there are dodo birds in aisle 2. I saw them eating a box of Quaker Oats.” Madison declared.

“So how was your first morning?” Jonathan asked brightly, entering with a sandwich and a smoothie in hand.

There was a chorus of groans. He strode through the room and headed into the manager’s office on the other side, right next to the white board with the phone numbers on it. Before he entered, though, he left them with this:
“You guys just gotta figure out how to deal with it. Oh — and there’s a Code 656 in Aisle 10.”

“But there’s a Giant Squid at large in that aisle!” Madison cried.

“No, that’s Aisle 4.” Matthew corrected, dazed.

“Good luck!” Jonathan sang out.

With that, he closed the door behind him. There was a huge whoosh sound, and the phone number next to Jonathan’s name on the whiteboard changed to simply the word Deceased. George walked out and over to the coffee maker a few seconds later, robs shifting and the vague impression of a smile under his hood.

Rachel choked out a sob.

“Guys,” Matthew said. “I have an idea.”
They gathered close, hesitant to get back to work.

“We should handle all the clean-up jobs together for the first few days. Until we, you know, get a handle on things.”
Rachel and Madison glanced at each other, then back at Matthew. They nodded.

“Alright then. Aisle 10.”

 

Two aisles away from Aisle 10, they were stopped by a customer.

“HELLO, DARLING. I HAVE ONE MORE QUESTION.”
Rachel and Madison jumped, startled at her loud tone of voice. Matthew was not phased.

“Yes, ma’am, what is it?”

“I WAS JUST TRYING TO GET MY QUAKER OATS FROM AISLE 2, BUT THERE WERE THOSE DODO BIRDS-”
“I told you.” Madison interjected.

“-AND I WAS WONDERING IF IT SAID ANYTHING IN THAT EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK OF YOURS TO HELP ME OUT?”

“Sure ma’am, but I have to check out this situation in Aisle 10 first.”
“NO PROBLEM, DARLING.”

The four of them rounded the corner to Aisle 10, and stopped. There were frozen vegetables in bags lining the aisle, and the steam curled off the rows of popsicles and ice cream boxes.

“I thought Code 666 would stand for, I don’t know, demonic possession or something.” Matthew said.

“He said 6-five-6, not 666.” Rachel snapped.

“Let’s get to work.” Matthew decided, rubbing his palms together.

“I’M EDNA, BY THE WAY.” The old woman declared.

“Somebody should get her a hearing aid.” Rachel grumbled.

“WHAT WAS THAT, HON?”

“Guys!” Madison reminded them. “Is nobody going to acknowledge the dead body on the ground?”
And, indeed, there was a dead body. A man, lying innocently in the middle of Aisle 10.

Well, shit.

At least there wasn’t a demonic possession.

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Saving the World

I wasn’t expecting to save the world on a Thursday afternoon, with only a mason jar and a purple pen. It was eighth period, I was in Contemporary Literature. My teacher always takes her water in a mason jar with ice and a colorful straw, and though it was March, the day was unseasonably warm. She’d run out of water as soon as she began huffing about the classroom, explaining at hyperspeed how our recent novel connects with what we’d learned in Great Books, last semester.

“Dante!” She cried, perspiring aggressively. The window was open and the breeze was light and smelled of gentle lavender and cherry blossoms, which lined the road along our school. The gardener was mowing the lawn outside, and the gentle grumble made it seem like summer. I longed for the chlorine of the neighborhood pool, for the chime of the ice cream truck, the glowing-ember feeling of skin after a day in the sun where you get just a little bit burnt but not so much, and end up adopting a strange sort of reddish tan.

“How does Max’s journey to his boarding school represent a Katabasis!” She cried, calling on daydreaming students with reckless abandon. “Kyle! What are your thoughts?”
“Um.” Kyle began, then started tapping his pencil. He normally couldn’t get through a full sentence without fiddling. It was endearing. His hair stuck up in wild spurts of brown waves, probably from running his fingers through it.

Ms. Georgia continued to sputter on, fly about the room, gesticulate haphazardly, and terrorize the students. She went to take a sip from her mason jar, noticed it was empty, and hastily shoved it in my general direction.
“Will you fill this for me, Gillian?”
“Sure.”

I feld the room, taking this opportunity to relax for a minute and catch my breath. The walls seemed dim and unreal after having stared longingly at the sunlight outside for so long. I leaned my hip against the water fountain button and stuck the mason jar under the stream of water. Of course, some asshole had turned the spout around so that instead of going into the drain, it sprayed all over my t-shirt. Lovely.

With a sigh I rounded the corner into the tiny bathroom and dabbed at the expanding wet spot. My phone vibrated in my back pocket. I picked it up and clenched it between my shoulder and head.

“Hello?” I said, brusquely. “I’m in school right now.” I picked the mason jar up, left the bathroom, and continued filling it at the water fountain.
“I’ve just called the school.” It was my mother’s voice. “I need you to come home right now.”
“What? Why?”

“Jeanette has run away.”

 

For me, the afterlife was always a place of darkness, and mist, and stars. It was purple and navy and deep olive, but never black — a bit like coloring. When shading a colored pencil drawing, the best advice I ever got was never to use black. Black ruins the colors themselves. It taints. That’s what my parents always thought of Jeanette. She was tainted. Not because she was african-american; my parents are staunch liberals and very white. No, it wasn’t a race issue. It was a brain issue. And it was a choice issue.

Jeanette’s everyday clothing was mostly black. Black jeans, black boots, black earrings, black nose piercing, black lipstick, thick eyeliner. She’d started her life out with wavy red hair; but she’d since dyed it black and straightened it. Perhaps she was a stereotype.

But it wasn’t just the clothes. It was the attitude. Here I was, a good student who — dare I say it — even enjoyed studying, organizing herself, and doing work. I planned to go into university, study in some field, probably physics; and become a teacher. Not even a professor, a high school teacher. I played cello, was on the field hockey team, and had a group of friends who I met with frequently on the weekend and occasionally stayed out late with. My parents could handle and even rejoice in what I threw at them.

Not so with Jeanette. She complained of being misunderstood. She wouldn’t speak at dinner and always seemed to be texting — but never hanging out with friends.

Who is Jeanette? She’d never tell anybody.

Except me.

Jeanette wanted to climb mountains. She wanted to go skydiving. She wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and protest against war, she wanted to learn ballroom dancing and backpack across Europe. She was stuck in high school, in what she called Smalltown, Nowheresville. She wanted to Bucket List.

But she didn’t know what she wanted.

All of our grandparents are chemists. My mother is a biologist, my father started a pharmaceutical company. I was all set to continue the science trend… and everybody assumed Jeanette would, too.

Apparently, she wouldn’t.

I didn’t even go back to class for my backpack. If Jeanette had run away, then I knew where she’d be — and she wouldn’t be there long. The time on my watch said 2:38, which meant the train would leave in 7 minutes, assuming it would be on time.

The likelihood of that was probably around 34%, if I had to estimate.

45 seconds later my feet hit pavement, and I was running. I passed the cherry blossoms and didn’t even notice their scent. A dog barked at me from behind a fence; I barely heard him. The mason jar was growing clammy in my hand, and the purple pen I’d been using was shoved next to my phone in my back pocket. A little girl in a red raincoat and yellow bumble bee boots gawked at me from her driveway. A pigeon scuttled out from under a bush and squawked at me angrily. The world was flashes of color and clips of sound, the loudest was my heartbeat. A quick glance at my watch; 2:43. The blaring horn to announce the arrival of the train sounded; it was a cataclysmic whisper on a fragment of a breeze. The smells changed to petroleum and baked asphalt and tar and sun-warmed metal.

For once in its life, the train would be on time.

I reached the station and hopped the fence. The platform was taller than me, but I took a running leap. Adrenaline pulled me up onto the platform.

There she was. Clad in… pink pants and a green sweater, blue sunglasses atop her head and her hair in its natural curl. She was wearing red lipstick.

She look as beautiful as always.

“Jeanette!” I cried. And she turned. She turned, and the train stopped with an exhalation and a great screech.

“Gillian?” She asked; I couldn’t hear over the train but her mouth definitely moved.

Instead of answering, I tackled her in a hug.

“Now,” I panted. “Is not the time for escape.”

She took my hand. I saved the world.

Deeper

This might become a longer piece or even full-length novel (that’s why the cliffhanger ending)


The wings were translucent, the rippling image of the shadowed white peaks shone through them, insubstantial. Behind the mountains, the moon peeked, but it too seemed subdued. The night was a silent petrichor soup, the aftermath of the slow, lazy sort of rainy day. There had been nothing but books and tea on the couch for hours and hours and hours and-

Well, some amount of time. Anastasia didn’t even own a clock.

She was watching the return of Angel, which was not his name. But he was tall, and always shadowed, as though permanently beneath a cloud. When he left each night to return each morning, he took the form of an enormous bird, with feathers of infinite blues and deep purples and even some that looked dark as night at the tips. Just as the mountains relinquished the light of the moon, just as the trees sighed and the other creatures grew silent in their small stirrings and mutterings, just as the key was turned in the Tower lock; it was then that he emerged.  

She’d peer at him from her golden telescope, pointed out the tiny window, and watch his stooped form shift and change until there was a boy no more but only feathers and talons and a horrifying screech. He’d open his massive wings, caw into the night, and soar away from his home, the skyscraping baobab tree at the center of her forest. Then she’d crawl into bed, hug her pillow, and lie awake until she fell asleep or morning came.

When the sun rose, Angel was ragged and exhausted. He’d plummet from the sky, and crumple into the branches of his tree, slowly shifting back into his human form. Each night, more feathers would fall from his wings. Now, they were barely there, nothing but memories of wings. He still stood strong that night, shoulders back before curling into a ball, emerging once more as a proud but decrepit azure raven.

In Anastasia’s woods, after rainy days, the mist rises above the tops of the trees, trapped by the mountains on either side. The vines beneath it seemed to crawl and slither, almost alive.

Anastasia was sure there were monsters in that wood.

It was the night that Angel missed his tree entirely, the night the feathers ripped from his skeletal violet wings as he was torn by vicious branches, the night his pained caw could be heard throughout the forest…

That was the night Anastasia’s door had forgotten to be locked. That was the night her bare feet first touched forest floor.

 

The ground sloped gently downwards, so that Anastasia’s feet dug into the deep navy blue earth, and small beetles skittered between her toes. The canopy was so thick that her only bearings were away from the Tower, which meant, to her, simply forward.

As she ventured further, the night, trees, and worms beneath her feet became thicker. Birds the size of sheep began to gather in the trees above her, almost chanting in their haunted, cannibalistic voices. Her nightgown, baby blue but growing dirtier by the minute, pressed its laced ruffles against her arm, and gooseflesh crept up her clammy flesh. The darkness was such that her pale skin seemed to glow. Here and there along a near-overgrown path, small green mushrooms shined and hummed.

Where had the mountains gone? The stars that glimmered above her window?
What was Angel doing living in a forest like this one?

The trees were thicker than the entirety of her tower now, and dwarfed her, like huge ominous columns on some giant’s front steps. With a methodical clack, clack, clackclackclack, a monstrous centipede — so big its pincers might have taken her leg — curled slowly around a nearby trunk. Hundreds of small pointed legs tapped against the bark, and the wood beneath it groaned.

She swallowed and opened her mouth, speaking to herself to ward off the shivers.

“I can always just go back to where I came.” She muttered.

Thump.

The canopy, miles above her, shivered. The blue ground shook. She stumbled, knocking her feet into a gnarled root on the ground.

“I think-”

Thump.

She stumbled again. Her voice grew softer.

“I might-”

Thump.

Above her, a great eye appeared between two trees, blinking. The iris was glossy and yellow, the pupil slitted, and a clear eyelid flicked sideways across it. Soon followed a long snout, with a smoldering nose at the end, and two fangs, long and pointed and thick like chimneys made of polished marble.  Smoke curled from the dragon’s nostrils, the scales a deep purple in the trickle of moonlight.

“-be lost.” She gulped, hands scraped and bleeding from tripping into tree branches.

Then, she screamed.

 

Clean Up Aisle 10

This is a little different, it’s a short dramatic scene — keep in mind, I have no idea about formatting for dramatic scenes and have never written anything like this before. Enjoy!

 

INT. GROCERY STORE, EMPLOYEE BREAK ROOM

(a phone rings)

JOSIE: Hello?

JERRY: (sighing) There’s been a Code 656 in aisle 10, we need a clean up job ASAP.

JOSIE: (Examining an employee handbook) Demonic Possession? Shouldn’t Matthew handle that one?

JERRY: Code 6-five-6, not 666.

JOSIE: Oh! (she reads) …oh.

JERRY: I’m counting on you, this is your first day, don’t screw it up.

(Phone line clicks dead)

 

INT. GROCERY STORE, AISLE 10

(JOSIE stands in the center of the aisle, a dead body at her feet. Behind her, EDNA, an old woman, is slowly making her way down the aisle.)

JOSIE: Some clean up job. This is like the start to a bad joke.

EDNA: (Loudly) WHAT WAS THAT HONEY?

JOSIE: Nothing, ma’am, sorry ‘bout that.

(JOSIE takes out her phone and dials a number, it rings and MATTHEW picks up)

JOSIE: Matthew! I need your help.

MATTHEW: (Sighing) What is it? I’m on break. I just battled the Giant Squid in aisle 4 for, like, 2 hours and now I just wanna drink my coffee.

JOSIE: This is more important than that tentacled monstrosity. I need help with a Code 656.

MATTHEW: I see why you called me. What kind of demon is it, black eyes and head spinning or spewing creepy smoke?

JOSIE: 6-five-6, not 666.

MATTHEW: Ah, a murder, brings back memories of my first day.

JOSIE: So, can you help me?

EDNA: EXCUSE ME, HONEY, BUT WHERE CAN I FIND THE QUAKER OATS CEREAL?

JOSIE: Shit, there’s a customer, I gotta go.

(She closes the phone)

Can I help you, ma’am?

EDNA: LAMMY-PIE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO SPEAK UP, I’M A TRIFLE DEAF IN THIS EAR.

JOSIE: (Raising her voice slightly) Yes? What are you looking for?

EDNA: I AM LOOKING FOR THE QUAKER OATS– OH DEAR, IS THAT MAN DEAD?

JOSIE: It would appear so.

EDNA: REMINDS ME OF THE GOOD ‘OLE DAYS. SPENT MY CHILDHOOD IN VENEZUELA, I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW…

JOSIE: That’s wonderful, ma’am, now if you’ll excuse me…

(She picks up the phone and calls MATTHEW again)

MATTHEW: What is it now? Have you dealt with the 656?

JOSIE: No! This old woman keeps muttering on about her childhood in Venezuela.

MATTHEW: Oh, is that Edna? Tell her I say hi.

JOSIE: Matthew! How do I take care of this 656?

MATTHEW: Just consult the Employee Handbook.

JOSIE: I can’t! The paragraph under 656 is written in these weird symbols, which I can’t read, and even the footnote appears to be in Latin, which I only took in highschool, and,

MATTHEW: Josie, calm down.

JOSIE: (hyperventilating a little) And I just don’t think I’m cut out for this job, Matthew, I couldn’t fight the Giant Squid earlier this morning when Jerry told me to, and– and– and then I got lost in the produce section, but it’s a jungle in there, a literal jungle Matthew, like, vines crawling over the apples and some of them strangled this woman, and– and–

MATTHEW: Josie, breathe.

(Silence while JOSIE gets her breathing under control)

JOSIE: I’m alright now. But, just, how do you get through all of this?

(Enter MATTHEW, who hangs up the phone as soon as he’s caught sight of JOSIE)

MATTHEW: You know, on my first day, ‘bout five years ago, there were two other new employees. Can you guess what happened to them?

JOSIE: (Tiredly) They probably all died.

MATTHEW: No, they worked here for several years before the lightning strike of 2013 fried the break room coffee machine–

JOSIE: (Surprised) Oh, is that why it makes that strange whirring noise and flies around the room sometimes?
MATTHEW: Yes, but do you know how we made it through our first day?

JOSIE: (Humoring him) How?

MATTHEW: Because I convinced them that we should ask each other for help.

(A pause)

So, Josie, may I help you?

JOSIE: Thank you. I’m sorry to be so useless at this whole real life thing. It’s just, it’s a lot.

MATTHEW: I understand completely, and now understand this: It can only get better from here, okay?
JOSIE: But that’s what everybody says! ‘Get through high school, college will be easier.’ ‘Get a job, and work your way up the ladder. It’ll get easier’. Waiting for it to get easier all the time is like waiting for tomorrow, but it’s always today, and you can’t get to tomorrow, well I mean you could using that time traveling telephone box in the corner of the break room, but that’s besides the point, and this woman keeps asking me to do things for her, and talking to me, and I can’t deal with this dead person here on the ground while she’s here, and, and–

EDNA: MATTHEW, DARLING, HOW ARE YOU?

MATTHEW: Hello, Edna, dear. I’m well. How are you?

EDNA: WELL I WOULD BE LOVELY, EXCEPT I CAN’T FIND MY QUAKER OATS CEREAL, AND YOU KNOW I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT MY OATS IN THE MORNING, MATTHEW DEAR.

MATTHEW: Edna, is your hearing aid not working again?

(MATTHEW fiddles with the hearing aid)
Better?
EDNA: Yes, thank you darling, it was those pesky electric jellyfish in aisle 4, where you stock your jars of prunes, I’ve complained to the manager before that they should be stocked somewhere else, but nothing ever changes, you know, all these small things stay the same while everything else changes around them. Us old folks, we know that better than anyone. Now, if only you’d seen Venezuela in ‘62, or, was that ‘65? I can never remember these things.

MATTHEW: Well, I have to help Josie here with a 656.

EDNA: (examining the body) These modern-day demonic possessions never look as good as they used to, you know, I remember when every demon did the whole head-spinning, smoke-spewing deal, back in Venezuela-

JOSIE: (Interrupting) 6-five-6, not 666.

EDNA: What’s that, dear?

MATTHEW: Edna, dear, I think you’ll find your cereal just a couple aisles over. I’m just going to help Josie here with this snafu and then if you still need help I’ll be right over.

EDNA: That’s perfect, darling. Have fun with your little clean up job!

(Exit EDNA)

MATTHEW: (Facing JOSIE) Here’s what you do, to get through this job and everything else, are you ready?

JOSIE: I guess…

MATTHEW: Just take it step by step. What’s the first thing we have to do here?

JOSIE: Well, we have to move the body.

MATTHEW: Ok, you grab the legs and I’ll take the arms. We’re heading to the dumpster outside.

JOSIE: Ok, but what if I were alone? Jerry told me to handle this.

MATTHEW: You’re never alone, not at this job or anywhere else. There’s always someone you can ask for help. The trick is not being afraid, and making sure to get through all the bullshit someone puts up out of laziness or misunderstanding.

JOSIE: You’re actually pretty wise, Matthew.

MATTHEW: Only when you get through the bullshit, Josie.

(Exit JOSIE and MATTHEW carrying the body)

EDNA: (Off stage, echoing through the store) I FOUND IT!

 

Box of Things

The last thing left in my apartment is a box of things, seven things. I’ll have you know, I’m throwing them away. Right now. I’m doing it.

You surfed your way through life on broken glass.

And me — I was a nesting doll with a china heart.

Now, I’m a burning doll with a giant trash bag. I’m doing it.

I’m slicing open the box of earl gray tea bags, and dumping the tea out leaf by leaf. It barely flutters against the black hole of a bag. It’s ok, there’s more stuff left to purge. I hate tea.

Next: lipstick. It’s purple. Powerful. I don’t need power that you bought for me any more. I’m twisting the lipstick until the entire stick of deep purple is showing. Snip. Plonk.

More satisfying than the tea.

Five things left. Can you name them? Do you remember? A fly preserved in amber. I’m smashing it with a hammer. There are no tears, not a single one, I’m doing this right now. As I write this.

The first letter you wrote me. All those pretty words, I’m ripping them to shreds, balling them up, throwing them into the bag from across the room, like a game of basketball. I’m an excellent shot, in case you forgot.

The last letter you wrote me. Same thing.

In the end I am a hollow doll with a shattered core, shards in your bare feet. I want to say that I love the pain you’re in because of those shards, in those feet that you trampled me with, but I’m not. I’m not you. I’m not.

The preserved rose’s ashes are falling into the trash bag now. Yeah, I burned it. The thorns popped as they fell.

There’s only one thing left. Surely you know what it is. This one is the heaviest, and the smallest. And the worst, the most poisonous. I didn’t even put it on my fourth finger before

 

Thunk — metal against wood. The thick pen hits the desk, ink on the page blurred by blotchy teardrops. I take a sip of earl gray and caress the amber fly on my desk.

“Not today.” I mutter, voice like sand. “Not today.”
I don’t even have any trash bags in the house, and the ring on my fourth finger needs a polish.

“Later.” I promise. “Later.”

The Gardner

The cottage was small, with warped wooden walls and windows bearded with draping moss. On that particular day it rained, and the rhythmic plonk, plonk on the tin roof was the only sound. Not even the birds were out that day.

Her neighbors were the trees nearby, and she’d been alone for so long that sometimes she found people in them, imagined them coming to life. The pale birches were old ladies huddled together, sipping tea and gossiping. The ancient oak groaned and creaked in the wind, like a war veteran. The chinese maple was a young child, sniffling under her umbrella, having lost her mother in a busy village market.

Perhaps, in times gone by, such people — real ones — had visited her little hutch. She had a vague recollection of children running, of laughter and of smiles. A little blond boy tugging on her tabby cat’s tail, a sister who’d grown old alongside her with laughter lines in her eyes and a hunched back. A man with gnarled bones, coughing up blood and yellow pus, like sap draining from the old faded maple.

Then again, perhaps things were best left in the past.

Plonk, plonk.

She rose from her chair, a wooden thing worn down until it didn’t need a cushion to be comfortable, and set her saucer of tea in the sink. She moved to clean up, grasping the soap, but her eyes caught a flicker of red outside — nothing much, just a fox.

The flicker didn’t come back that day. She stood at the window, slowly washing all her good china. The teacups, stored upside-down, collected dust in the tiny rim at the bottom, and usually she got the urge to clean them right before she needed to use them. Her two prides in life were serendipity and preservation — and she sought to maximize both.

 

For an old woman, days go by extremely fast and incredibly slow. The simple things become epics, the long contemplations become haikus. She cleaned her teacups. Some of them were footed, and had small blue designs of vines and leaves on them. Of her four teacups, two had long since lost their golden accents on the insides of the handles; it had been rubbed off from use. Two still shone.

She dusted the mantlepiece and straightened the portrait of a man in long breeches, a military-type uniform, with bronze buttons and a triangular hat. She waltzed with her coatrack, an old thing carved from a branch of the maple tree. She made her bed and her dinner, then ate one and slept in the other. Preservation.

The next day the door knocked. Perhaps it was not entirely the door, but in the woman’s mind there couldn’t possibly be a person behind it. (There was.)

He had fiery red hair and sparkling hazel eyes and ruddy cheeks and a grin that tried to be toothy, but he was missing a few and talked with a lisp, and as soon as the woman opened the door she couldn’t help but gasp slightly. How long had it been?

“How old are you?” She demanded. He was her height, but she’d shrunk a good deal in old age, and her back was not as straight as it used to be.

“I’m eleven and a half.” He chirruped. “I think.”
She ushered him inside, and brought him a blanket. The mornings in the forest were crisp, the grass crunched like fresh green beans and the air carried the scent of earth and mud and sunshine. Sometimes, there were snowflakes, but usually not.

The boy was wearing a linen shirt with no sleeves, but good thick trousers. His boots were the softest of leather and must have belonged to his father in the past. He plopped down on the rocking chair; it dwarfed him.

“My husband built that chair.” Explained the woman as she gathered her shining china and prepared some tea. “Or perhaps he wasn’t my husband, I’m never entirely sure.”
The boy kicked the rocking chair back and tipped it precariously, then swung vehemently. The rocking chair gave a squeal of protest and the old woman smiled wryly.

“I’m Emmanuel.” The boy explained, sucking on his knuckles. “What’s your name?”
“I’m not sure yet,” replied the woman. “Perhaps that’s why I’m still here.”
“Are you very old?” Asked the boy.

“Oh yes.” Sighed the woman. “You can call me the Granny, if you’d like. Some people used to call me that, I think.”
“But I already have a Granny, I think.”
“If you have a Granny, where is she? Why aren’t you with her? Here, come to the table.”

Granny put the tea set down on the table and handed him the small cup. She poured the tea and added a lump of sugar.

“Milk?”

“Yes, please, Granny.” So she added milk. They sipped their tea quietly.

“Emmanuel,” Granny began. “Would you like to stay with me?”

He pondered this, sucking on his reddened knuckles some more.

“Will you give me a lump of sugar to eat?”
“Certainly not,” Said she. “That’s terrible for your teeth, and you already have so few.”

He thought for another minute.

“Alright. Can I play in the garden now?”
Granny smiled.

“Of course.”

 

 

The cottage was small, with warped wooden walls and windows bearded with moss that had grown to touch the ground. On that particular day it rained, and the rhythmic plonk, plonk on the tin roof was the only sound.

After so long, it was quiet once again. It had been many years since the last quiet.

The birches were still standing, although one had been cut down to make way for a small dog house some years ago. A dogwood grew up in its place. The oak had lost a few branches but was sturdy and strong, bent under the weight of a tree house. The chinese maple had grown older but was still small and beautiful. Laugher anew built upon the old.

People had visited her, in times gone by. She had a vague recollection of a child running, of laughter and of smiles. A little redheaded boy tugging on her dress and hammering into that dog house, growing up to slave over that treehouse. An adult man in too-small leather boots, nearly worn to the bone, red hair tucked under a cap, leaving for some time.

A redwood, the thickest and sturdiest of all her trees, growing stronger every day. The bark was dull and world-worn, but little drops of sap glistened like hazel eyes. She placed the small leather boots beneath it. Preservation.

The next morning, she cleaned her teacups. Serendipity.

Not Like This

There are only a few words that are truly disgusting and should never be used under any circumstances; barring the obvious, politically incorrect ones.

Moist. Clinging. Leech. Secretion. Mucus-y. That last one might not be a word.

Sticky is not one of them. In certain circumstances, sticky things are pleasant. Taffy in your mouth, glueing your teeth together, as an example. There were always huge bags of tacky candy and marshmallows hidden around his basement, haphazardly thrown where his parents thought the kids couldn’t get at them. Sugary pillows.

Airport bars, the actual wooden parts of the bars, are also sticky, and not in a good way. The coasters don’t slide down them, and the only body part Stanley was willing to gingerly place thereupon were his elbows, which either had very few or no nerve endings. Stanley wished his brain were the same.

Either way, the stickiness, the delayed flight, and the unfairly attractive man sitting next to him; all were the combined reason that Stanley was on his second drink of whiskey, even though he knew that when he inevitably fell asleep on the plane he’d probably get nightmares about it crashing or something, and it would be terrible if it crashed, and he knew it was always a possibility despite being ridiculously slim, he had taken a stat course at uni, but-

Deep breath in, deep breath out; blink twice and swirl the heavy glass. He put his hand on the bar to steady himself and immediately removed it, hissing crossly. It was still sore from when he’d literally crashed into his barstool neighbor.  

“Awfully sticky, isn’t it?” Said the man sitting next to him.  It was probably illegal to have hair like that in an airport, where sweat and grime and strange, vaguely ketchup-looking stains run rampant.

“I suppose.” Stanley replied, then switched to lying on the right side of his face. He was making a valiant effort to forget how grossly sticky his arms were feeling right now. It was like he’d dipped them in a vat of gum that had been discarded on a sidewalk for several hours, just long enough to become grey and gross but not yet hard. He was also making a valiant effort not to think about how nice the freckles across the man’s nose were, or how he had one tiny gold earring in his left ear.

Neither of these efforts were particularly successful. He most definitely was not turning away from the man in hopes that he’d notice the rainbow Pride button on Stanley’s backpack, because Stanley most definitely was not a man of infinite hope.

“You know,” said the man. “You have really lovely eyes.”

Perhaps he’d noticed the pride button. Perhaps he had a keen sense. Perhaps he was just being nice. Perhaps he was equally annoyed as Stanley was about the stickiness of the bar, which certainly seem possible, and was trying to cheer Stanley up. But Stanley thought of none of these possibilities, he simply turned back to facing towards the man, and said:
“You have really fluffy hair.” He could feel his eyes grow sort of watery and acidic as he blinked. A headache was coming, definitely. It was probably the whiskey. With a sigh, he dragged himself into a sitting position and ordered a glass of water from the bartender. She glanced between the two and nodded.

“I’ll take one too.” Added the man. Then, to Stanley. “I’m Phillip. With two Ls, two Ps, and two Is.”

“Stanley. Stan. Stanley.”

“Well, which is it?” The man’s eyes were sparkling. His lips were the lightest of pinks. He shook Stanley’s hand.
“Stanley, I suppose. I recently decided that Stan sounded far too middle-aged for me. Why two Ls?”

“Fair enough. And, to make the H feel lonely — the only single one in the crowd.”

“Not the only single one in this crowd, I can tell you that.”
Phillip, with two Ls, two Ps, and two Is, raised an eyebrow at that.

Their drinks arrived. There was the football game playing. A player threw the oblong ball, another one caught it, he was subsequently tackled, and some fans cheered. There was a huge guffaw from a nearby table which appeared to contain solely red-faced, 50-and-older males, with the exception of one woman who was tiny and thin and frail-looking. Both Stanley and Phillip were oddly enraptured by this euphoric group.

“That was a nice play.” Stanley said, knowingly. He quickly took a sip of water.

“Oh,” Said Phillip. “I know nothing of football.”

“Thank. God.” Stanley relaxed. “Neither do I.”

“So where you headed, Stanley?” Phillip asked, in true airport-acquaintance fashion. His hair was wavy and brown, and stuck up but was long enough that it flopped down in his face. He looked like a Tommy Hilfiger model. There were sunglasses tucked into his back pocket, and mint gum shoved into the water bottle pouch on the side of his backpack.

“I, uhm, well I was heading to San Francisco for their Pride celebration and to visit my cousin, but then my flight was delayed, and might even be cancelled. Some kind of storm moving in I guess.”

“Pride, huh? Well I’d say that’s too bad, but I suppose it’s a good thing for me.” Phillip smirked as he sipped his water. Stanley blushed slightly, though he wasn’t sure he entirely knew why. He also sipped his water.

“You know,” Phillip placed his glass carefully back on the coaster and slid his finger around the rim. “They say that people mimic the mannerisms of those they’re attracted to.”

Stanley glanced at his glass and very pointedly placed it on the coaster, and moved to place his finger on the rim, his eye clenching as he was about to wink — possibly the most suggestive move he’d ever been prepared to make in his life — when the loudspeaker came on.

“FLIGHTS 815 TO SAN FRANCISCO AND 922 TO LOS ANGELES, THE DEPARTURE TIMES HAVE BEEN MOVED UP 1 HOUR. ALL PASSENGERS PLEASE PROCEED TO THE GATES.”

As soon as the loudspeaker had finished and the football game resumed, Stanley and Phillip turned to each other.

“That’s my flight.” They both exclaimed. Phillip continued. “Quick — put your number in this. Maybe I can come up to SanFran for a bit, to spend Pride with you.”
He shoved an Iphone into Stanley’s hands. Glancing at the door, Stanley punched his phone number in, and his email address. Best to be prepared.

“See you later, Phillip.” Stanley whispered. The moment was fleeting. He’d forgotten the stickiness.

“I hope we crash into each again, Stanley.” Phillip winked, ran his hand through his hair, and tucked a black sharpie behind his ear. He strode out of the bar. Stanley left by the other exit.

 

It’s a window seat in an Emergency Exit Row (just for extra legroom, of course). The flight attendant has the same hair as Phillip. Once the safety tutorial has ended, and the wheels of the landing gear have left the ground, Stanley falls asleep.

It’s 2 hours into flight 815 when the captain turns on the fasten seatbelt sign.

It’s 2 hours 3 minutes when the turbulence hits.

It’s 2 hours 5 minutes when there’s a strange noise over the intercom, but no message from the captain. The turbulence hasn’t stopped.

It’s 2 hours 15 minutes when the right wing, just outside Stanley’s window, intercepts the left wing of another plane. The resulting imbalance causes the two planes to spiral toward each other, and just before they begin to crash in earnest, Stanley’s window is cracked by the impact against a different window. There’s a message scrawled on a blue United barf bag in black sharpie. When Stanley closes his eyes as the window smashes in, the air a roar in his ears as cabin pressure drops, the words are imprinted on the inside of his eyelids. It said:
WAIT– NOT LIKE THIS