July 24

Brakes

The day her brakes failed was the day my life came to a standstill.  She was rushed to the hospital, operated on, put in some care unit that had her hooked up to dozens of different beeping machines and fluid-carrying tubes.  I wasn’t allowed in the room at first.  Had to look at her through a window.  I wanted to hold her hand and brush her hair back with my fingers, but I couldn’t touch her.

Eventually, she stabilized a bit, and they moved her to another room.  I could visit, and I could finally feel the sensation of my skin touching hers.  Even though it was as simple as putting my hand on her cheek, it felt like I’d finally been given a torch in my pit of darkness.

But she was still out.  The doctors didn’t know when she’d wake up.  She probably would, they said.  There was no physical reason she couldn’t.  It just hadn’t happened yet.

The days were full of impatience – waiting to see her after working eight hours at a job I didn’t care about.  And the nights?  Well, those were torture.  I’d memorized the imperfections on the ceiling of my bedroom.  Didn’t bother setting an alarm because the nightmares always woke me up at least an hour before it ever went off, and there was no point in trying to go back to sleep.

My weeks were blurs of loathing the world.  Sometimes specific things, sometimes myself.  I began to lose track of when Saturdays turned into Sundays.  It was all the same to me.  Just another day without her.  Just another day spent telling her that I missed her and loved her, hearing nothing in reply, and not knowing for sure that I ever would.  The calendars said months passed, but time was frozen for me.

Her parents thanked me for coming at first.  Thanked me for caring about their daughter.  But as time passed, they grew worried about me.  They’d always liked me.  Treated me like one of their own, even.  That’s why they told me maybe I should let go.  “Move on,” I think is what her dad said when he pulled me aside and asked to talk.  As if that had ever even been an option.  Like I stood there every day in hopes that I could have his permission to move on.  It was almost an insult to me, but I knew it was my loathing of the world getting in the way of any rational thought processes that I had left.

Her birthday fell on a Tuesday, and though I’d gotten used to absorbing myself in work so I could possibly have some semblance of a normal day, it wasn’t happening.  All I could think of was the party I’d thrown her last year.  The one where most of our friends showed up and ate chicken fingers and cake and drank vodka and rum until the sun had circled the planet.  She said it was one of the best nights of her life.

And now, a year later, she was confined to that bed in the hospital.  There would be no party.  There may be a trickling of friends throughout the day.  I wasn’t sure.

There were roses on my desk that I planned on bringing to her after work that day.  She didn’t like roses.  She said there was no point of being given a beautiful flower if she couldn’t touch it.  Normally, I gave her chrysanthemums or lilies, but every time I’d tried to bring flowers to her hospital room, I couldn’t bring myself to buy those.  They reminded me too much of her plucking them out of her vase and taking a big whiff.  Roses seemed more appropriate.  They were dangerous and beautiful, just like love.  A perfect symbolic flower, perfect for a situation where the thorns would never reach her delicate fingers.

I sometimes thought how funny it would be if she woke up and found that I’d brought her roses.  She’d probably act mad, but have that cute smile on her face that showed appreciation and thankfulness.  Thinking about that smile was something that kept me going, something that made me give a shit about a life that seemed so completely pointless without her.

I went over to the hospital after work, holding the roses in their ordinary glass vase and silently praying to myself that she’d wake up when I walked in the door, just like I hoped and prayed for every day.  But she was sleeping, and she stayed sleeping even as I set the vase down on the nightstand too hard, even as I gently stroked her hand and said “happy birthday.”

For a moment, I thought I heard her voice, but I was used to imagining things.  But then I heard it again.  It was soft and gentle, just like I’d remembered, even though it had been months since I’d heard her utter a word.  But it sounded atmospheric.  I looked up, but her face was still frozen in slumber.

My face contorted in confusion as I struggled with the harsh reality that I might be going crazy.  Again, I heard her calling out to me.

“What is this, what is going on?” I called out, yet her voice continued to echo in my ears.

I didn’t understand.  She was there, in front of me, lying lifeless.  Was it truly going mad?  Did I actually have that little sanity left?

I fell to the floor and stared down at my hands until tears started to fall onto my palms.  I didn’t care anymore if I was going crazy.  It didn’t matter anyway.  I lifted my hands up to my face and cried into them as if it would make anything better.

Then, the blackness was lifted from my eyelids as they slowly opened.  My hands were at my sides, and I was lying down.  Something was wrong.  The room was different.

But suddenly, memories came flooding back to me, and there, standing over me, with tears in her eyes, was the girl I couldn’t live without.

I had been the one in the wreck.  I had been the one that couldn’t wake up, and the world I was living in was all just a fabrication of my unconscious mind, while she had been awake the whole time living out my nightmare.

I couldn’t believe it as she held me, crying, telling me she loved me.

A year she’d waited for me to wake up.

June 16

Green-gray

The world was tinted green-gray as Kale stared out from behind the polarized lenses of his sunglasses. The leaves in the trees were rustling, vocalizing wordless songs and sharing them with him, should he care to listen. Perhaps this all would’ve been beautiful enough without her, but seeing Celia on the swing, knees up against her chest and smile on her face – that was what made the scene so picture perfect.

“Hey, look,” she said, pointing up at the cloudless sky. Kale traced a path from her finger to the sky and found the thing that had drawn her attention.

“I haven’t flown a kite in a long time,” he said. “Good day for it, too.”

“Too bad I don’t have one for us to fly.”

“It’s okay. I’d rather watch anyway.”

“What fun is there in watching someone else fly a kite?”

Kale got up and walked over to the swing, taking a seat next to Celia.

“Anything is fun with you,” he said.

Celia laughed. “Oh, shut up.”

Kale grinned and pushed off with his foot to get the swing going. “This is nice.”

“Anything is nice with you,” she said, the mockery apparent in her voice.

Kale laughed and playfully nudged her. “Stop making fun of me.”

“And do what, instead?”

“Kiss me?” he said.

Celia grinned and brought her face up close to his. “You don’t have to ask me twice.”

June 8

Don’t Say the Word

The room drowned in silence as Paul approached me.  I’d known him for years since he was my girlfriend’s brother, but I didn’t understand the look on his face – the intense sorrow in his eyes, the way his lips quivered and his hands shook.

“Nate.”  It sounded painful for him to say.  His voice was on edge and about to fall off.  My heart sank.  Why was the mood so off-putting?

“What’s wrong, Paul?”  The sudden uncertainty made me nearly choke on the words.

“I just hung up with my mom,” he said, taking short pause to perhaps collect his words or gather his strength.  “Rachael was in an accident.”

Every hair on my body stood on end as goosebumps raced across my flesh.

“She’s…” he trailed off as a tear formed in his eye and made its way slowly down his cheek.  He didn’t have to finish.  I already knew what he was going to say.

May 4

The Day He Saw the Helicopter

The view out of the seventh floor meeting room window was of skyscrapers against a backdrop of sky so cerulean that it looked like the ocean had changed places with the heavens.  It would’ve been so much better to be out there in the beautiful spring weather.  Perhaps riding around with the windows down, his favorite song pumping out of the speakers.

His phone suddenly buzzed on the table.  He looked down and read the notification.

“I’m downstairs.  Can you take a break?”

“You mind if I get out of here for a few minutes?”

“Sure thing.  I’ll just keep working on this part while you’re gone,” the man said, not looking up from the laptop screen.

Be there in a sec.”  he texted.

The stairs were more effort to go down, but the elevator was a big risk.  Two of them were broken, leaving only one to serve seven floors of employees.  The last couple of times he’d taken it, the car had stopped on every floor up and every floor down.  Completely unacceptable.

He took the stairs, bounding down at a faster than usual pace.  Between the stuffy meeting room and talking to his sister outside under that magnificently blue, clear sky, he’d take the latter any day.

The air outside hit him like the smell of a fresh pie baking in the oven.  He savored it, almost able to taste how much sweeter it was.

“Hey Zane.”

“Hi Analyn.”

“What are you doing here in the middle of a weekday?”

“I called in sick this morning.”

“You’re so bad.”

Analyn chuckled.  “Just a little bit.  I mean, come on.  It’s too beautiful outside to work today.”

Zane gazed up at the sky almost emotionlessly.  “Yeah, you’re right about that.”  Without looking down, he continued, “So what brings you to visit me at work?”

She held up a plastic container.  “I was bored and made lunch.  Spaghetti and meatballs.  Thought I’d be nice and bring you some.”

“From scratch?”

“That’s the only way I make it.”

“Wow, awesome.  Thank you!” Zane said, accepting the proffered container.

“Were you busy?”

“Nah.  Just in some stupid meeting with a guy from another department.  He doesn’t really need me.”

“Wanna go take a walk then?”

Zane glanced over his shoulder.  “Sure, but I might have to duck into the bushes or something if my boss suddenly appears.”

“You don’t have to if you’re gonna get in trouble.”

He laughed.  “Nah, it’ll be fine.  I need a break anyway.”

They headed down the sidewalk toward the garden.  There was an archway, and above it a sign lettered in Gothic font on a wooden base, painted black and forest green with gold filigree adorning the border of each character.  It read “Towncenter Park,” the name of the business complex in which Zane’s employer rented its office space.

“You have any plans tonight?” Analyn asked.

“Nah, I’ll probably just be hanging around the house.  You?”

“Same here.”

Zane laughed.  “We really need to make some friends.”

“We’d probably have more incentive to do that if we didn’t have built-in friends in each other.”

“Well if you wouldn’t have followed me here…”

“Oh, don’t start that again.”

Three years ago, Zane landed a new job – his current job – while at the same time, Analyn graduated from college and happened, only by coincidence, to get a job in the same city.  It was the second closest major city to where they grew up, but still a good three hour drive.  It worked out well though, in that they had the ability to pool their resources and rent a nice house in a good, safe neighborhood that was not close, but not particularly far from where either of them worked.

“We should try going out to a club or something instead of sitting around tonight,” Zane said as they passed under the floral arch.

“It’s so hard to make friends in a club, though.  Too much noise.”

“True.”

“Haven’t you made any friends at work yet?”

“No, they still haven’t replaced Dan.”

“After two years?”

“Yeah.  I’m still the entire department.”  Zane brushed his hand against the velvelty petal of an amaryllis.

“Oh, that sucks.  I thought I’d heard you mention another person you worked with.”

“Shannon?”

“Yeah,” Analyn said.

“She’s just a lady from accounting that has a bit of a crush on me.  I don’t work closely with her, though.”  Zane paused, then continued, “What’s your excuse for not having made any friends at work?”

“Still no one my age,” she said.  “I mean, I like my coworkers, but they’re all in their mid-40s and married with kids and responsibility and stuff.  They don’t have time to hang out.”

“Guess it’s just me and you then.”

Without looking at Zane, Analyn nodded.  “It’s not so bad though.  Either of us could be alone in this city.”

“Yeah.  I guess it’s also lucky that we get along pretty well.”

Analyn laughed and took an extra long step to avoid a crack in the sidewalk.  Overhead, they could hear the sound of a helicopter’s rotors fluttering as it raced across the sky like a supercharged ant – black silhouette against blue sky, all details hidden by the intensity of the sun.

“I guess I probably need to head back to work,” Zane said.

“Sure.”

They circled around the garden and back down the Towncenter Park sidewalk.  The helicopter was almost out of view, but Zane could still just barely make out the deceivingly small dot in the sky that represented something like two tons of metal and plastic.

“Thanks again for the food,” Zane said, holding up the container.

“No problem.”

“See you tonight.”  He hugged her.

“Later.”

Zane took one last breath of the fresh, sweet air and headed back inside.  He exhaled, then inhaled some of the stale air in the lobby of the building.

“Hey Zane.”

He looked up and saw Wendy from human resources.

“Hey.”

“She was beautiful.  Girlfriend?” Wendy said.

“No.  My sister.”

“Oh, that’s Analyn?”

“Yeah.  She came to bring me some food.”  Zane held up the container.

“How nice of her,” Wendy smiled.  “You should’ve brought her in and let us meet her.”

“Sorry, maybe another time.  It completely slipped my mind.”  Zane flashed a smile and continued to the stairs.  It was a long climb back up to the seventh floor, so he took it easy.  No point in getting all tired or out of breath just to get back to a boring meeting.

His conversation with Analyn lingered in his mind as he climbed.  It was true that neither of them had made friends.  In high school, they’d each had plenty of friends.  They were pleasant people to be around, or so he thought, but the problem seemed to be more in meeting the right people.

Zane had usually been pretty good at being able to figure people out, too.  He could tell when his sister was annoyed, and furthermore, he knew better than to do anything to exacerbate the condition.  People used to come to him in high school when they had problems, when they just needed someone to talk to.  Not necessarily for advice, just when they needed a friendly set of ears and a warm pair of eyes.  There were lots of times when he wanted to offer advice because he empathized or sympathized so well with whatever issue the person had, but he held his tongue.

His entire world had almost been defined by that trait.  It’s how people knew him, and it was all lost when he moved.  Without that reputation, he was just another normal guy trying to fit in with the world around him.

When he reached the fifth floor, the muscles in his legs were starting to complain.  Zane considered this and silently wished the elevators would be fixed soon.

By the seventh floor, he was breathing heavily but knew he’d recover quickly.  He stared at the door that would lead him back into the hall that ended at the meeting room.  Being able to see the beautiful view again would be nice, but it would only serve to make him envious of his sister.  She got to be out there under that sky, and he had to be inside, behind glass and metal and concrete and plaster.

Zane pulled out his phone and started writing a text to Analyn.  “We’re going out somewhere tonight.  No complaints,” it said.  He reread it and pressed ‘send.’

Satisfied, he took a step toward the door, smiled, and said, “We’ll make friends somehow.  I promise, Analyn.”

April 20

Creation

Morgan’s hair was streaked pink and blue and blonde that morning.  It looked like cotton candy or bubble gum or birthday party streamers.  Cal had seen her the day before when her hair had been all one color –  bright red, but still one color.  He would’ve been more surprised if her hair stayed the same color for longer than a week than he was at seeing this new cacophony of color.

He could have the same conversation he’d had with her back when they’d met in college – that she was too old to be doing things like that; that she wasn’t a skater punk.  Nine years later, he’d long given up on that and gotten used to her eccentric hair.  Maybe he’d even grown to like it.

“How’s the research going?” Cal asked.  He flipped through a notebook with hand-written diagrams and symbols and scribbles of things he only barely or partially understood.

“Decent,” she said.  “I was up until three trying to make sense of Martin’s notes, but I just don’t get this neuroscience stuff.”

“What’s decent about that?”

“I don’t think we have to understand it to get Kytara to function at a basic level.”

“Martin’s research was pivotal to understanding any of this,” Cal said, gesticulating at the server cluster behind her.  “Kytara is dead in the water without him.”

“Not necessarily,” Morgan said, shuffling through another notebook that she’d seemingly pulled out of nowhere.  She stopped on a page and her face lit up.  “Ah, here it is.”  She handed the notebook to him.

“Kytara…revision…99…”   Cal looked up from the page.  “What does this say?  Martin’s handwriting looks like chickenshit.”

“Neuralware unnecessary for Kytara project.  Revision three of Kytara OS software with standard neuralware has 99.5% probability of compatibility.”

Cal froze.  “You’re kidding me.”

Morgan shrugged and pointed at the words in the notebook.  “Martin said it, not me.”

“How could standard neuralware possibly handle that much throughput?  The synapse translation algorithm would burn a hole in your head.”

“I don’t know, but Martin’s notes from the few days preceding his death show that he definitely thought he was on to something.”  Morgan grabbed a datacard off of the desk and handed it to Cal.  “Check out the one that smells like coffee.”

“All of Martin’s files smell like coffee.”

“Not on that card,” she said, making a face.

Cal took the card and held it flat against his fingers.  The data instantly transmitted to Cal’s neuralware and assigned the proper receptors to each file.  Some were named like traditional computer files, such as “March 12th research data.”  Other bits of data only had smells or colors or warmth.

“Fuck, everything on this card smells like pot,” Cal said.  “Was he doing all of his work stoned?”

Morgan shrugged.  “Probably.”

Cal continued sifting through the data until he finally found the only one that smelled like coffee.  It was lukewarm and held no identifiable data other than the standard timestamps from its inception and modification.

He opened it up and took a look at its contents.

“Whoa.”

“Found it?”

“Yeah.”

“Saw the part about data streamlining?”

Cal flipped the datacard around in his hand and held it out to Morgan.  “The entire thing was about data streamlining.”

“I mean the part that’s relevant to Kytara.”

Cal grinned.  “I know.”

“So what’d you think?”

“If we can seriously solve this with code rather than beefier hardware in our heads, we’d be 100 years ahead of anyone else on the planet.”

“They already have functioning AI in a few of the western European states,” Morgan said.

“Yeah, but have you ever tried one of those?  They are artificial, and they are intelligent, but they’re intelligent on the level of an orangutan or a dolphin.  If the Kytara project bears fruit, we’ll have an AI that’s intelligent at or beyond a human-like level.”

Cal pulled a datacard out of his pocket and bent the corner, simultaneously activating a fingerprint encryption algorithm.

“Hold this.”

“Got something on there you don’t want me to see?”

Cal grinned.  “Maybe.”

Morgan reached out and flattened her fingers on the half of the card that Cal wasn’t touching.  There was only one file she could access.  Cal had turned the rest of them into gibberish – smells and colors and letters that had no meaning whatsoever until they were decrypted.

“What is this?  An awkward proof of the Sullivan Construct Theorem?”

Cal laughed.  “Look closer.”

Morgan arched an eyebrow and further examined the data.  This file was mostly text, a few pictures, and a poorly recorded video in measly 4k resolution.  Normally, this data would’ve taken hours to sift through, but with the neuralware reading the datacard and dumping it directly into her brain, it took only a few seconds.  The only thing that really took time was analyzing the data.

“No, no way.  You wrote this?” Morgan asked.

Cal nodded.  “Martin suggested that I do some research on some data of his – the video and pictures that you just saw – and that’s what I came up with.”

Morgan stared awestruck and dumbfounded.  “You reproved the Sullivan Construct Theorem using Calloway computational standards after adding a feature shell and removing a complexity layer?”

“I did,” Cal said, flattening the corner of the card by pressing his finger against it, simultaneously decrypting the entirety of the data on the card.  “Check the rest of the data.”  Cal let go of the card.  She took it out of his hand and analyzed it for a few moments.

“That magnificent son of a bitch…” Morgan gasped.  “He had us each working on complementary halves of the same puzzle.”

“It appears that way.”

“How did he know?  And why didn’t he tell us?”

“I don’t know,” Cal said, “But if we’re right…if Martin was right…this is the beginning of a new software age.”

April 17

I Will Take Time

It has been four months since I’ve last seen her, and her absence is like a crater in my heart.  At night, I lay awake staring at the ceiling and feeling phantom sensations of her fingertips running across my chest and the warmth of her breath condensing on my neck.

I feel like half of a person without her.  Less than half of a person, even.  Like perhaps a past version of myself would not even recognize what I have become.

There was nothing harder than to say goodbye to her, so I never vocalized those words.  I held on to that hope for so long that she’d come back, but I watched her walk away, and I think I knew.  I was fooling myself, but I knew she wasn’t coming back.

I dream of seeing her, being with her, but even my dreams pull her away before they end.  I can feel my own passion erupting in the air around me so thick that I can’t breathe, and then I wake up in a cold sweat clutching the sheets of the empty bed beside me.  I wonder, how do you feel without me there?  Is it anything like I feel?  Is it anything like you’d hoped it would feel?

Even during my waking hours, I can close my eyes and see her there.  I see the same scenes playing out over and over and no matter where I am, I break down – fall to my knees and suddenly taste the salt of my own tears.

You were never supposed to leave; never supposed to do this to me.  You didn’t even have the decency to leave me in one piece, so how am I supposed to put myself back together when I am scattered apart like so many petals of a rose?

April 13

Judging

I wish I could get inside your head,

See the world from the goggles of your judgement,

Part the weave into threads,

See what makes you treat others like dirt,

Take it all apart and find out why you always feel so hurt.

Why do you bicker?

Why do you start fights and condemn?

With an attitude so damning,

You must think yourself a divine authority,

The judge, the jury, and the executioner,

The fire, the fury, and the persecutor.

But you are no better than anyone else,

You are no more than those you torment,

And hopefully one day you’ll learn that

the best way to spread your message is by setting an example worth following.

Category: Poetry | LEAVE A COMMENT
April 3

Chapter 1 – Narrator: ??? – Add ‘Em Up and Knock ‘Em Down

This is a rewritten version of the prologue of my first novel, “We Put the ‘Dual’ in ‘Individual.'”


 

“Bet you wish you’d been quiet earlier, don’t ya?” the man said from the front of the van.  I couldn’t tell if I sensed sadistic glee or annoyance in his voice, but either way, I didn’t like it.  It scared me how unreadable the guy was; scared me that I was at his mercy and that I still didn’t know what he wanted from me.

The van hit a bump as it took a turn, and I rolled into the wall and knocked over something that had been hanging up.  I was disoriented and slightly sore in multiple places from having taken a few similar turns, and there was enough stuff lying around back there where I simply couldn’t tell what I’d knocked down or what half of it even was.

At first, I’d wanted to cry, but the longer the ride, the more angry I became, and the more adrenaline that surged through my body.  I hated this man for kidnapping me.  I hated him for taking me away from my happy life and getting me involved in whatever misunderstanding this was.  I was only 18, I had no enemies, and as far as I knew, my family didn’t either.  What had I done to deserve this?

The van slowed down and the light faded down into shadows.

“Home sweet home,” the man said as he killed the engine.  At the very least, I was glad I wasn’t getting thrown around anymore, but at the same time, I still had no idea what was in store for me.

He got out of the van and slammed the door.  It was getting hot already, but maybe it had been hot all along and I just hadn’t noticed.

How would I get out of here?  How would I escape from this psychopath?  Was he going to torture me?  Kill me?  I had no clue.

The back doors of the van swung open with a metallic creak.

“Alright Debbie,” he grinned, “let’s get you down to the basement.”

Debbie?  Who the heck was Debbie?

With my mouth gagged, I couldn’t protest.  He grabbed me, drug me out of the van, and slung me over his shoulder in one fluid motion.  I already felt a little sick from rolling around in the back of the van, and tossing me around didn’t much help.

We were in a dark garage.  It smelled like dust and paint, and all of the windows were covered over with thin sheets of plywood.  I didn’t get to enjoy the lovely scenery for long though, as the man carried me through a doorway and into a kitchen.

“If you start making a lot of noise, the gag is going back on.”

He set me down on a chair and removed the gag from my mouth, but left my hands and feet bound.

“Thanks,” I muttered.

“You better not be too thankful yet,” he said.  “Wait for your parents to give me what I’m asking for, and then you can thank me.”

Was he suggesting that if he got some sort of ransom, he’d let me go?  Even after I’d seen his face?

But what could my parents give him anyway?  We were just a normal middle class family with a mortgage and bills to complain about.

“What do you want from my parents?” I asked, even though speaking should’ve been against my better judgment.

“What do you think I want?” he scoffed.

“Money?”

“Of course.”

“What makes you think my family has any money to give you?”

“You expect me to believe that the family of Marvin Kirkman isn’t loaded?”

“Who is Marvin Kirkman?” I asked.

The man laughed.  “Playing that card will get you nowhere.”

“Look, I don’t know who you think I am, but I am obviously not that person.  I don’t know any Marvin Kirkman, and my name isn’t Debbie.  It’s-”

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut your mouth.  I won’t be hearing your lame excuses.”

“My driver’s license, you can check it.  What did you do with my purse?”

“Hell if I know where your purse is, kid,” he said.  My heart sank.  How could I prove who I was?  Or, at the very least, that I wasn’t who he thought I was.

“If you’d just-”

“Kid, just shut up.  The gag is about to go back on if you don’t quit your yapping.”  He knelt down and untied the rope around my feet.  “Now, get up and get through that door.”  He gestured with a head nod over to a slightly ajar door that clearly lead down a flight of stairs.

I kept my mouth shut and did as he told me.  My stomach did flip flops as I descended the stairs.  How could this be happening to me?

The stairs ended in a sea of green shag carpet and bad interior decorating.  There was a bright red couch over by the back wall that almost took your attention away from the magazine cutouts of Madonna taped over the peeling floral wallpaper.

“Make yourself at home,” the guy said, and pushed me toward the couch.  I was so scared that I could barely detect the sarcasm in his voice.

“Isn’t there something we can work out?” I asked.

“Yes.  Your parents give me my $2 million bucks, and then I get the hell out of here, and you never see me again.”

“My parents don’t have that much money,” I pleaded with him.  “They don’t even have enough to send me to college without me taking out loans.”

He scoffed and turned around.  “For your sake, I hope your parents are smarter than you are.”  He started up the stairs.  “If not, they’ll be minus one daughter come noon tomorrow.”

I don’t know when I started crying.  It could’ve been when he closed the door at the top of the stairs behind him, it could’ve been a few minutes after that, or I could’ve been crying since I’d first gotten dragged out of the van.  I realized that I had never known true fear until then as I sat there trying to figure out how my face and shirt had gotten so wet.

My hands were still bound, and I guess the man had a reason for that, but he’d locked me in a room with no windows or weapons, so I wasn’t sure what he was expecting me to do other than pace in circles or cry.

I didn’t have a watch on, and there was no clock to be found.  Seconds, minutes, hours – I had no idea how much time was passing.  Was it still daylight outside?  Was I gone long enough yet for my parents to realize it and start looking for me?

I walked over to the couch and sat down to try to clear my head.  There had to be a way out of this.  I pulled my legs up in front of me and wrapped my arms around them, not caring that my feet were on the sofa or that my legs were dirty with what looked like grease and dirt from having rolled around in the van.

My thoughts were a mess.  I had to clear my mind and focus.  I closed my eyes and pushed everything away – the musty smell of the room, the footprints I could hear above me, the salty taste of the tears I’d swallowed.

What could I do?

My mind drifted off in thought, and suddenly, I was staring at a boy my age.

“Hi,” he said.

Had I fallen asleep?  What was going on?

“Who are you?” I asked.

He smiled in a most charming way and said, “I’m sure you have many questions, but I only have a few answers.  Are you certain that’s the question you’d like to ask?”

I churned this over in my head.  “What is going on?  Why is this happening to me?”  I don’t know why I thought this boy had the answers to those questions, but for some reason, it made sense to me that he would.

“It is unfortunate that fate has chosen you, but it is fate that has brought you here.”

“What do you mean?  I was destined to be kidnapped?”

“You should already know that your situation is much worse than that,” he said.

“So, what, I’m going to die in some lunatic’s basement because he thinks I’m someone else?”

“It’s not that simple.  The girl that you are being mistaken for is very important.  Without her, I wouldn’t exist, and neither would my sisters.”

“And what makes you so important?” I asked.

“Don’t misunderstand,” he said.  “My life is no more valuable than yours is.  However, as you can see, I am standing here before you.  That means that I exist, and because I exist, my mother must not die before she conceives me.  Therefore, she’s important to the future.”

“It sounds like you’re saying that I have to die so that you can be born,” I said.

“I am only saying that it is fate that my mother is going to live, and the proof of that is that I exist.”

“If you aren’t born yet, then how can I see you now?”

He smiled.  “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this isn’t exactly reality, but I can assure you that everything I’m saying is real and true.”

“How do I know this isn’t just a dream?”

“You will know soon enough.”

“I don’t like the way that sounds,” I said.

“I could sugar coat it, but that would only make it harder to accept the truth.  The fact is, you will see me again soon under a completely different set of circumstances, and when you do see me, you will know that all of what I’ve said is true.  However, I didn’t come here to tell you that.  I came to offer you…a job proposal.”

“A job proposal?  What does it even matter if I’m about to die?”

“Trust me,” he said, ignoring my question, “it is something you will enjoy, and I hope it will at least make up for these unfortunate circumstances in some small way.”

I sat there, silent, unable to comprehend anything that was going on.  What was all of this about fate?  And a job proposal?  I was going to die, so why should I even care?

“You do have a choice,” the boy said.  “My job proposal isn’t compulsory.  Once you understand the details, you can choose to accept or pass on it, but I think it will give you some feeling of purpose and closure.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I nodded.  The boy looked at me, smirked, and nodded back, as if he completely understood what I was feeling.

Then, suddenly, he was gone.

“Wake up!”

I opened my eyes and found my kidnapper staring down at me, his black leather boot in my face.  How had I ended up on the floor?  I didn’t have too much time to waste thinking about it, though.

“Your parents didn’t come through,” he said.

“Huh?”  It was all I could muster.  Was he saying that it was noon of the next day already?

“I gave them an extra hour.  Not even a word from them.  They must not care too much about you.”

“Mister, I don’t know how to get this through to you.  I’m not Debbie, my name is-“

I was interrupted by the man putting a handgun in my face.  He raised it up so fast I barely even realized what was happening.

“Enough,” he said.  “This is the end for you.”

I felt like crying, but I couldn’t.  I’d only been alive for 18 years, and now I was going to die?  The past year of my life was spent planning for college, taking the right classes, applying for scholarships – all for a future I wouldn’t have?

When I was 15, my dad got a job that forced us to move around a lot.  I rarely stayed in one place for more than a year, and because of that, I never really had a whole lot of time to meet people or make friends.  In fact, I’d only been in my current city for four months.  I had always felt like such a loser; 18 without ever having a boyfriend, but most people only barely got a chance to know me and find that out.  They told me I was sweet and beautiful and that I’d find someone one day, but I guess they hadn’t foreseen my imminent demise when they made those predictions.

“Goodbye, Debbie Kirkman.  May God have mercy on your soul,” the man said.

He pulled the trigger, and I heard the sound of the firing mechanism, but by then, I couldn’t register what had made the sound.  I slumped to the floor in a pool of my own blood, dead at only 18 years old.

Whoever Debbie Kirkman was, she’d live to see another day.

But I wouldn’t.

March 30

The Highers and the Lessers

“He broke one of the only rules we cherish more than our own vanity,” Onel said.  He deftly raised his hand and slicked back his short black hair.

Your own vanity,” Twinel corrected him.  Onel shot her a stare that she scoffed at, but it only made him grin wider.

“He has to be punished,” Onel said.  “That is not up for debate.”

“According to the rules, that is so,” Throvian said.  “But perhaps the rules are what is broken.”

Onel scoffed.  “The rules are what have protected us and our ancestors for millennia.  You dare question them?”

“Those rules are as archaic as they are unfair,” Throvian said.

“Throvian, let’s be level-headed,” Twinel said.  “The age of the rules does not decry their validity or authority.  Perhaps in this case, though, an exception should be made.”

Onel glared fire at Twinel and Throvian.  “A singular exception to a perfectly good rule will lead to further exceptions being made, thus causing the rule to become multilaterally worthless.”

Throvian rose to his feet.  “There is simply no arguing with you, Onel.  This is why the elders do not respect you.  This is why I do not respect you.”  He snatched a manilla folder from the table and stormed out of the room.

“You will not defeat me in such a way,” Twinel said, seemingly disappointed in her cohort’s exit.

“Are you aware of the exact wording of the rule of which I speak?” Onel asked.

“Of course.  ‘Let not your heart be captured by one of lesser descent.  To fraternize with the lessers shall mark the beginning, to become intimate with them shall mark the end.'”

Onel frowned.  “Then why do you still argue?”

“Setestrian has brought no harm to us.  He has only brought great heartache to himself for having fallen in love with a lesser.”

Onel groaned and angrily swiped the air in front of him.  “Nonsense!  You speak foolishness, my dear sister.”

“Onel, you lack compassion.  If you yourself had fallen for a lesser, you would understand Setestrian’s plight.  The problem is not my words, but your lack of empathy.”

Onel slammed his fist down into the table, but Twinel didn’t as much as flinch.

“Control your anger, brother.”

“You are only siding with Throvian on this issue because you’ve loved him since we were children!”

“While the latter part of that statement is true, I simply am following what I think is right in this situation.”

“I’ve had enough of this drivel,” Onel said.  “Where are Fovea and Fivoria?”

“Who can be sure?” Twinel said.  “But certainly, those two would side with Throvian and myself.”

“Then Sikal?” Onel hissed.

“Though I’m sure Sikal does not have more important things to do, he is not here,” Twinel said, leveling her gaze at Onel.  “You are defeated, brother.  We are the only ones here, and you know that if it comes to blows, I will be victorious.”

Fire raged in Onel’s eyes, both out of anger for being defeated and frustration in knowing that she was right.

“You win this round, dearest sister, but beware any future discussions we may have on issues on which I require your… allegiance.”

Onel’s words would’ve made any lesser shudder, but Twinel laughed at his pissant attempts to stir fear in her.

“Of course, dear brother.  As it always is.”

March 28

Hiding, Part 2

“Why are you following me?” Melody asked.

“I’m in your next class too, you know,” Ian said.  Melody, in fact, did not know.

“Oh.”

She wanted to listen to her music and ignore this guy, but it was too weird, and he had this sneaking suspicion that something was off about her already.  This was not something she could just block out with her music and ignore.

“Can you sing?”  Ian broke her train of thought.

“Huh?”

“Can you sing?  You seem to love music so much and you have a pretty speaking voice.  I was just wondering if you can sing well.”

“Um, I don’t know.  I guess.”

“Will you sing for me?”

“Dude, I don’t even know you.”

“Oh, come on.  It’s not like I’m asking some great favor or anything.”

“If I sing for you, will you leave me alone?”

Ian laughed.  “For a little while, maybe.”

“Fine,” Melody sighed.

They continued walking until Ian quickened his pace, turned around, and walked backward in front of Melody.

“Well?” he said.

“What?”

“Let’s hear it!”

“Like, right now?”

“Why not?”

Melody raised an eyebrow.  “Because we’re walking to class and surrounded by people that will think I’m nuts.”  She also didn’t want to attract any attention, but kept that to herself.

“You shouldn’t keep your beautiful voice all to yourself.”

“You don’t even know what my singing voice sounds like.”

“I already know it’s beautiful.  I’m just waiting for you to prove it.”

Melody rolled her eyes.  Was Ian hitting on her?  Or was he just crazy?

“Not now.”

“Then when?”

“I don’t know.”

“How about at five o’clock in the park by the lake?”

“I’m not meeting a stranger in the park.”

“I’m not a stranger.  I’ve already introduced myself.”

Melody groaned and stared down at the sidewalk, narrowly avoiding stepping on a crack.

“Fine, whatever.”  The park was public, after all, and usually was filled with college students studying under the cool shade of the trees and families taking their young ones for some outdoor fun.

*     *     *

Melody stood under the shade of an oak tree whose branches stretched up over her head and just reached the shallowest part of the lake.  The wires of her earbuds dangled down the sides of her face and traced a line back to her pocket.  She was listening to the song she was going to sing for Ian.

“Where is he?” she muttered, removing her phone from her pocket to check the time.  It was 5:10, and Ian was nowhere in sight.

The song played on in her ears, and she listened carefully to the singer’s voice – how she carefully controlled her intonation and always let the words leave her mouth with just the right feel to them.

“Melody!”

She turned around.

“Hey, sorry I’m a little late.”

“It’s okay.  Let’s just get this over with.”

“You don’t sound too excited,” Ian said.

“I’m not.”  Her reply came both coarse and flat.

“I will find a way to fix that,” he said.  “But go ahead, let’s hear this voice that you are too embarrassed to share with others.”

Melody groaned and took a swig of water from the bottle she’d been holding.  It was warm and did very little to refresh her.  She took a deep breath and began.

“Ever since you walked out the door

My feelings have been left scattered on the floor

And I know you don’t care,

But I just wanted to remind you…

I’m still here

I’m still here

I’m still here….”

Ian stood there unable to speak.  Melody stared at him, unsure if he had figured out her secret yet or if his mouth was agape for some other reason.

“Amazing,” he said.  “Incredible.  Stupendous.  You sing beautifully, Melody!”

A faint smile emerged on her face.  “Thanks.”

“Please, please sing something else for me.”

She was unprepared for a second song, and she knew that Ian wouldn’t leave her alone unless she did it.

“Fine,” she said, doing her best to sound annoyed.  “What should I sing?”

Ian thought for a moment and then responded, “How about ‘Clicks’ by Number 7?”

Melody froze.  He’d guessed?  Or was this some cruel coincidence?

“I don’t know that one,” Melody lied.

“What?  How could you not know Number 7’s greatest hit?  That’s like the biggest pop song of the past decade!”

Melody shifted her feet.  “I’ve heard it.  I don’t really like it enough to know all of the lyrics.”  Would that work?

“Just sing the part you know, then.”

She was stuck.  She could continue to lie, but he spoke truth.  No one didn’t know ‘Clicks.’

She took a deep breath and prepared for the inevitable.

“Your smile washes over me

Hanging on to every word you breathe

To be alive here with you

Yeah, you make me one happy chick

With every step we take, we just click, click, click

We just click, click, click.”

Melody took a breath and sighed.

“Ho…ly…shit,” Ian stammered.

It was completely inevitable now.

“You…you’re Number 7,” Ian said.  “You’re the biggest pop star on the planet!”

Melody gave him a serious glare and said, “You can’t tell anyone.  Anyone.”

“I won’t,” he said.  The look on his face screamed out disbelief.

“My identity is supposed to be a secret.  No one can know who Number 7 really is,” she said.

“I know, I’ve seen the television specials and read all of the speculation blogs.  I’m surprised your identity has been kept secret this long.”

“So if it leaks, I’ll know it was you, and I’ll find a way to throw the trail off of me.”

Ian smiled.  “You’ve got nothing to worry about.  I’m a trustworthy guy.”  He traced an X over his heart.  “Promise.”

Melody smiled.  “Wow, it feels kind of weird to share my secret with someone.  I always try so hard not to stand out.  It kind of hurts sometimes, but I love singing so much.”

“Why are you in school anyway?  There’s no way you’re worried about getting a degree to support yourself.”

Melody laughed.  “You’re right, but I can better myself as an artist.  That’s why I’m getting an English degree.  Taking classes in creative writing and analyzing the stories and poems of famous authors inspires me.”

“Why are you in chemistry then?”

“I have to take a science.  I chose chemistry – and don’t laugh – because I wanted to be able to make a song with clever puns about romantic chemistry and scientific chemistry.”

Ian stared at her for a second and then completely lost it.

“Hey, I told you not to laugh!” she said.

“I can’t help it,” he said.

Melody grinned.  “You know, we may have just met, but I think you and I may just have fantastic chemistry ourselves.”