Poem – When I hit the wall

When I hit the wall

I tried to push through it
I leaned into it with the determination
Of a child yet to experience
The teeth of the world

Every day I placed my hands on it
Pushed and prodded for any loose brick,
Any instability, Any insecurity,
The twist of the logic puzzle

To expose where we all went wrong—

When the point became about
Holding up the wall
Instead of trying to get around it—

Because we all forgot that the person
Obscured on the other side was actually
our brother, sister, mother, cousin, father,

And while I’m banging my fists and head
Trying to be heard, trying to show
That I’m listening, trying to reach
My hand through, trying to grab

Your hand your head your heart

To bring us back together because
This isn’t us anymore.

Every brick that’s been mortared
Between us is an instrument of
A creature which thrives off the division
It has erected and now sustains.

Because when we can’t
see each other’s eyes
Or hear each other’s voices

It is too easy to succumb
To the binary scroll of
allies echoing our outrage
Or enemy agents sewing sedition,

And so all of us are reduced
to slinging pixels, pathological,
Trying to defend a mechanism
Which has already betrayed us,

Set us against each other
A wall of bodies inanimate
Deaf and dumb and unread
Complacent except to repost.

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Story #56 – Five Witches

Five Witches 

It was almost time. In the center of the dim cave, illuminated only by the fire beneath it and the faintest glimmer of moonlight wafting from the nearby craggy entrance, the ancient cauldron had just begun to steam.

Glender peered through the shadows, searching out her sisters. About ten feet to her right Isobel leaned on her broom. Glender always admired the curve of her older sister’s hunched shoulders and the way her chin jutted forward to a point. Isobel was the oldest sister and would be the last one to add ingredients to the frothing decoction they had gathered to create. She looked tired. Indeed they all were. The ingredients for this spell were the rarest any of them had ever had to procure.

10 feet beyond Isobel, young Anne was leaning on a boulder behind her. She was holding her phone up, trying to get reception. Even through the darkness Glender could make out the green ringlets of her hair and her baleful eyes. Her phone battery would die before she got a signal in here, but it wouldn’t stop her from trying. Anne was the youngest of them by several hundred years, pretty in a mortal sort of way, but also sharp as a badger tooth.

Speaking of badger teeth, Glender had the hardest time getting the three necessary for her contribution to this particular spell. It was barely Spring and all the badgers were still hibernating deep in their holes. Badgers could be uncooperative in the summer months, but grab a grumpy groggy badger by the tail? And then try to pull out a couple of its razor sharp fangs? Glender had scratches all over her thighs! She would need a healing salve when she got back to her condo in the morning.

To Glender’s left, also the requisite ten feet or so, Aradia was doing a little shimmy. She probably had to pee. She always had several flasks of herbal tea with her. She felt drinking the various distillations helped maintain her internal balance. Of course, it also led to an extremely full bladder.

“Hafta pee then, Rad?” Glender quipped.

“Shut it!” Aradia snapped back, shimmy undeterred.

“Quiet now, Ladies.” Isobel crooned. “Tis almost time to commence the ritual.”

Isobel sang the last word. She loved cauldron nights. They seldom performed these sort of rites anymore. There wasn’t much need in the modern world. They had their medicine cabinets stocked in their respective houses and could maintain themselves with small spells well enough on their own. Pretty much all of them except Isobel were quite content to go about their lives as independent agents. The type of threats that required covens simply didn’t exist anymore.

Oh, back in the dark ages, the sisters would gather weekly to conjure together. They would cast spells to ensure bountiful harvests. They would conjure fog to confuse wandering bandits and send them on their way. And, when occasion demanded, they would transmogrify into a ferret whichever petulant oligarch was threatening the progress and liberty of civilized society.

But not so much these days. Anne almost didn’t even come to this one, despite the global emergency. If her bestie’s roommate hadn’t contracted the novel coronavirus from a park bench while walking his schnauzer, she might have stayed home and binged Love is Blind. But she made it. And her phone must have finally died because she had turned her attention to dislodging cave grime from under her perfectly manicured nails.

Isobel smiled in the dimness, apparently satisfied with the current position of the full moon now hovering just outside the cave mouth. 

“Okay, then ladies. Shall we begin?”

Finally!” came her fourth sister Morgen’s voice. It sounded boxy and muffled from beyond the cauldron. She still had her N95 mask on.

“Would you please take that off?” Isobel nipped.

I will not! We don’t know that we’re immune. I don’t know your habits. I don’t think Anne ever washes her hands for fear of ruining her nails,” came her boxy reply.

“I wash my hands!” Anne took a step in Morgen’s direction.

What are you doing?! What are you doing?!” Morgen shrieked. Everyone was indeed a bit on edge. There had been reports via crystal ball and Tarot Express that some witches had been unable to stave off the sickness with ordinary magick.

“ENOUGH!” Isobal commanded. 

When the eldest witch sister raises her voice, even the spiders stop and listen. Isobel’s broom quivered in her shaking grip and Glender and her sisters righted themselves.

“There isn’t time for this nonsense. You think my feet don’t hurt? You think I don’t have to pee too?” Isobel shot her eyes around the room. They landed on Morgen. “Morgen, you know the words?”

Morgen nodded.

“Go ahead, then. You can leave your mask on.” Isabel let her eyes unfocus as her vision tuned in to another time and dimension.

Morgen stepped to the cauldron. In the orange glow of the fire, her mask was bright white under her raven-black pixie cut. She began the incantation, “Slithering slander Swiggin Pond Swagga. Me Maga pum basta cheeky cheeky wag shasta.

“Ridiculous,” Anne said softly.

Morgen extended her arm into the steam. In her hand were the bark shavings from a yew tree, the shed skin of an Egyptian asp, two toes of newt, and a chicken nugget. She shook her fist three times and released the ingredients into the bubbling base. She had it easy. No badger scratches for her.

Isobel, the whites of her eyes peaking from under her wrinkled eyelids, nodded and Morgen retreated to her place in the shadows.

The ten-feet distance was a hindrance. They usually joined hands for the rituals, but social distancing made it untenable. Isobel assured them that they would still be able to summon the necessary spirits, that their energy was enough, in so far that they put their hearts into it and mixed the proper elements into the grand old cauldron.

Next was Aradia’s turn. Thighs pinched together, she shimmied toward the cauldron with her handful of ingredients. Her face became illuminated and Glender marveled at the beautiful spray of warts adorning her cheeks, nose, and chin. So much beauty and power; she could have any man or woman she wanted. Glender, herself, only had one wart on her whole body and it was on her thumb. It only helped with hitchhiking. 

Aradia spoke her portion quickly, “Scabble drabble nift and nimble, pouncey chowders flounder kibble, coffee moffat chocolate riddle, shifty paddle faddle fiddle.”

She waved her handful of ingredients in the steam and Glender watched as she dropped them in one-by-one: a waxy ball of bat droppings, three whiskers from a one-eyed cat, leather from a little league mitt, and a strip of red silk peeled from the tie of an aristocrat.

Glender had some extra cat whiskers at home and hoped that Aradia hadn’t gone to too much trouble to find the one-eyed cat. Of course, in a pinch a two-eyed cat could be made into a one-eyed cat. But that was also messy and usually met with an upset neighbor.

Aradia waddled back to her spot and it was now Glender’s turn.

Glender had gone over her portion of the spell so many times her eyes had temporarily uncrossed. It was a new spell for them all except to Isobel and the words had to be not only perfect but deeply felt.

As Glender approached the cauldron, she felt the heat warm her face and hands. From the lip of the rim, ancient etchings of the large pot’s provenance swirled downward. The oldest and most revered names were at the top. The first were unreadable, in languages long forgotten, letters like pictographs, swirls and eddies. Her and her sisters’ names were there too closer to the bottom, and as they passed on they would induct new witches into the winding swirl of mystical names. There was a question of what would happen when the magic cauldron ran out of space for names, but that was a conundrum for a much later generation of witches.

Glender began her part, “Ramp Raucous Caucous, Piggy Wiggy Wampus, Lockness jaundice chalk dust, puss and beetle bondage.”

And she gave a silent thank you to the toothless badger hopefully sleeping in its burrow as she dropped her ingredients into the bubbling brew: tarantula tongue, goose pimple, clam feather, san pedro cactus flower, three badger teeth, and a tablespoon of spray tan in sheepskin condom.

As her last ingredient hit the surface, a puff of orange smoke took shape before her. It resembled a howling face of troll before it evaporated into the dusk.

The spell was working.

Next would be Anne, Youngest before oldest. Glender could tell from the way Anne tip-toed to the cauldron that she was nervous. Who knows how long it had been since they had last conjured together. Glender couldn’t be sure that Anne even practiced Magick anymore. How could one find time in a modern landscape of social media apps, reality TV, and online shopping?

Anne got to the pot and lifted her handful of ingredients. Glender could see she was breathing heavily, mascara-rimmed eyes wide and plangent. She was shifting from one Converse to the other. She also wasn’t saying her part.

“Uhmm…”

Isobel’s eyes unreeled from their celestial view and became daggers aimed at Anne. She hissed at her like an angry lizard and Anne jumped a little.

“Piston pants an… antlers dance…” Her hands here shaking.

“Go on!” hissed Isobel. 

Morgen was probably grinning beneath her mask. She loved to see Anne reprimanded by Isobel.

Anne sucked in a breath and spat, “camphor langour  bandersnatch… ummm…”

Even Glender became worried. The scratches on her legs ached and she dreaded the notion of reawakening the badger again tonight for fear it had learned new tricks. This spell was too important.

“Ummm…”

Isobel mouthed tumba and Anne’s eyes grew even wider as her short term memory apparently kicked back into gear.

“Tumba roomba brogue consuma, cassandra mantis atlantis bonanza! Yay!”

Isobel exhaled a deep sigh as Anne dropped her contribution to the simmering stew: lace from the bodice of a Danish sex worker, an olive pit spat by Vladimir Putin, the eyes of an African killer bee, a serial killer’s lip gloss, and a lock of hair from a goat’s genitals.

With the addition of these ingredients, the pot seemed to leap into a ferocious boil. It shook slightly on the iron cradle which held it over the coals generating a thrumming clanging like a phone ringing somewhere in a dungeon deep below..

Anne, immensely pleased with herself tittered back to her boulder. The smile she cast around the room, however, was not met with equanimity, especially from Aradia who may have begun to piss herself.

Regardless, the cave became immensely still as Isobel approached the clattering vat and began her portion of the spell:

“Shivering livers, bitter beginnings, bastards wither with sheepish snickers,
switches swatches pox and postures, pustules pop as puppets ponder,
the pressure, the nectar, the never, the somber sucker whose song is fettered,
fetid, festering flesh of devils indebted, disgraced and doffed, the scrapes of a scepter,”

As she spoke, she raised both her broomstick and her fist which tightly enclosed the final secret ingredient.

“A specter, specious in speech, precious enough to impeach the endless reach of greed.
The feed we’re fed, noxious trends, distraction dissembles the process to mend.”

And Isobel’s scratchy voice rose in pitch and fervor as she entered the final stanza of the mega spell which would bring an end to the current age of plague and violence.

“To meld!” she screeched, “to tighten the belt, to lighten the load for the vulgar aggrieved and bereft, we gather to clear the air, the breath, we breathe, we scream to blow off the stench!”

And on her last word she opened her fist revealing the final ingredient, the most mystic artifact of modern times, capable of such good and such evil: a Tide Pod.

The five sisters screamed as the pod fell to the boil and froth. As their voices rose and harmonized in a D minor 7 chord, the fire suddenly and completely extinguished leaving the five sisters illuminated only by the faint blue light of the coming dawn and Anne’s cell phone as she marched toward the cave’s exit.

“Finally!, God!” she said as she disappeared out into the cool morning.

The remaining four sisters chuckled and embraced.

Their work was done. 

The cauldron was empty.

And it smelled like Spring Fresh Laundry.

 

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Story #55 – Koan

“It feels like a dream, doesn’t it?

She stared off into the clouds but I knew she wasn’t talking about the clouds. Still I wasn’t sure what to say. I looked at the green river flowing far below our dangling feet. It looked like a shiny rope pulled tight against the earth. It looked like it was pulling tighter every second.

“Like, how could any of this be real?” She continued, now leaning back and glancing down the train tracks streaming off in either direction from our perch on the bridge. “How did we even get here?”

I shook my head and spat. We both watched it fall. The wind pushed it first in one direction then a little back. It fell for maybe ten seconds before it smacked into the river. The tiny sound gave me goosebumps. I’m not afraid of heights, but it was still chilling.

She spat too then. It was smaller than mine, and more watery. It slipped from her little lips like spider silk and blew in the wind before it finally broke away and flailed downward, more confused about its fate than my mighty hork.

She giggled and so did I.But it didn’t last. The silence was too dense for us to compete with. At least that’s how I felt. It was admirable how she kept pushing her sentences out. She was like a mother bird nudging her fledglings from the nest. Somehow she knew they would fly. The other possibility was too bleak to imagine even on a day like this.

The sun was high and I was sweating. Every now and then a cloud would drift by and offer some fleeting shade. She would look up at them and they would move on and I would start sweating again. She didn’t seem to be sweating, despite her efforts to thwart the silence.”Have you ever had a dream that you thought you would never wake up from?”

Now she peeked over at me. She squinted and pushed a brown lock out of her face. “Not like a nightmare necessarily. Just a dream that went on too long. Like nothing was happening, just you doing something you might do while you’re awake but never really getting anywhere.”

Now that she was looking at me I couldn’t look away. I didn’t remember if I ever had a dream like that, but I nodded anyway. She pinched a small smirk and continued.”Like you were walking down the hallway of a hotel. The ugly rug smelled like ancient cigarettes. And you kept peeking in the doors of the empty hotel rooms. None were locked. And room after room was clean and neat, beds perfectly made, with bright sunlight flooding through the windows. You passed a maid’s cart but saw no maid.

“At the corner you turned and kept walking, opening every door you passed, all the same. It’s like you were hoping one would be locked, like that might mean that someone else was in the dream with you, someone who could tell you why you were there and when it would end.”

She paused and tapped her bottom lip with a sharp little finger.

“I think dreams like that are the scariest. Like in a monster dream, you would probably wake up from fear. You would feel the monster somewhere behind you, just beyond the corner you just turned, maybe sniffing around the maid’s cart, clawing at the towels, wondering how much farther ahead you are. Maybe you would hear it’s strange shuffling as it got closer.

“And you would wake up, scared, but relieved it was just a dream.”

A cloud passed over the sun and she shot it a scornful look. I put my hand on the train rail even though I knew no train would come. It was warm from the sun. I looked back at her and she was staring into the sun. I had already forgotten what her eyes looked like. I kept watching her, waiting for her to push another thought into our strange world. When she did I wasn’t ready.

“If there’s no monster, then you just have to wait for something in the real world to wake you up. But that might never happen.”

It was a ridiculous thought and I decided to tell her so. But when I opened my mouth nothing came out. The silence was too dense,

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Covid update.

Are you hitting a wall today? It’s okay. You’re not alone.
 
What we are all going through is unprecedented. We’ve never undergone something as close to wartime conditions in our country as right now. Our lives, dreams, ambitions, personal progress, nearly every aspect of our lives has ground to an
 
unanticipated
incomprehensible
aggravating
HALT.
 
We’re stuck in our houses and apartments.
We wake up every day to the same little routine.
Everything we’ve been working on, Everything we consider as “normal” is gone. We’re caught in a loop like “Groundhog Day” and every day there’s some new conflicting information about how much longer we will have to endure this, if we will have to endure it again (and again and again?), and how it will affect the global economic system as we know it for the rest of our lives.
 
It’s okay to feel a little down, to find yourself inching towards Depression. For some of us this is a new feeling. For many of us it’s an uncomfortable indicator of a road we have travelled and continually endeavor to avoid. There is an inherent sadness we associate with stagnation. And we are unavoidably stagnant right now.
 
And even with all our little pet projects, the pile of books we’re finally digging into, the podcast we’re finally editing, the Christmas cards we’re getting done now because we have time– We find ourselves losing motivation every day as our forced isolation continues.
 
There are some silver linings:
We’re getting to spend time reflecting.
But, regardless, and the point of my little note here, is that it’s okay to feel sad.
If you’re feeling a little stuck right now,
If you’re feeling a little lost,
If your motivation is low and things are looking a little gray,
You’re not alone.
Leave a comment if you’re feeling a little down today,
and then come back later and see how many other folks
are hitting the same wall
and then we can all smile knowing that we’re in it together.
Sending love to everyone.
(PHOTOGRAPH BY STEFANO UNTERTHINER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC)
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Story #54 – my earliest memories

My earliest memories are of Brazil. This makes sense because I lived in Brazil from 1980-1984. I was aged 1 through 3 years old and somewhere in that span my consciousness really spun up and started weaving electricity in my little dumpling head.

The first memory that always comes to mind is of Chicklets. Chicklets was a little box of little chips of color that were actually gum. For a toddler they were glorious. The box made a nice shaking sound and, instead of a boring stick of gum, I could masticate a mouth full of pebbles into a sweet chewy lump. I did this and then I ate it. I was, after all, too young to heed the warnings of how long chewing gum (pebbles, rock, or stick) could live in one’s tummy. I think it was Halloween.

Funny enough, even though it was Halloween, I don’t remember any of the other candies or my consume—Just trick or treating in the “super block” apartments we lived in and then swallowing a mound of gum. I was probably dressed as an army man. I was really into camo at the time.

I was so into camo that one year I got camo underwear for Christmas. I didn’t have any camo shorts so I made the logical assumption that if I wore my camo undies over my tightie whites they would magically become shorts. They did not, and I was late for pre school that day.

Another memory from that time is of my “Big Wheel.” For those yet uninitiated, a Big Wheel was a lowrider plastic tricycle often modeled after something that kids like. There was probably a yellow Tonka truck edition and a My Little Pony edition. Mine was the black Knight Rider “Kit.” The hood of the famed talking car was molded between the handle bars, the fluctuating red light an awesome sticker. I rode that shit everywhere.

I have distinct memories of riding that Big Wheel through yellow brown mud puddles, creating cascading waves like wings in my wake. I have a foggy memory of being wet afterward.

I had a giant yellow metal Tonka truck too. It was a popular toy and was a hell of a lot of fun in the sand box. It was freaking huge, matching my girth and maybe a third of my height. I would fill up its cargo bin with sand and then empty it. Such a beautiful game of logic for a three year old!

One bright morning I was “driving” this bad boy to the sandbox. By “driving” I mean I was leaning far over it as I pushed it through the hallways of the apartment building on the “highway” to the sandbox. Everything was awesome until I tried to go down the stairs and somehow rammed my chin with the big yellow metal truck.

My exact next memory is staring up at the lights of a doctor’s office as a thick dark thread was sewn through my chin. My mother tells me that I didn’t even cry. I was probably more upset that I didn’t get to truck any loads of sand around that day, enjoying the satisfying logical progression of filling up a thing and then shortly thereafter dumping its contents elsewhere. I still have the scar on my chin, though it’s now obfuscated by a graying beard.

I’ve actually met many folks in my life with the exact same scar on their chin. Perhaps you have one as well? Whenever I am made aware of one of these shared scars I immediately believe that is it from a similar Yellow Tonka Truck accident. And you can’t tell me otherwise.

Shortly after the Truck incident and my celebrated show of stolid bravery, my pops must have gotten a promotion because we moved out of the tall and crowded Superblock and into a house with a pool! It must have been a nightmare for my parents, but I had a great big sister to help keep an eye on me. She is ten years my senior, and back then I was quite an annoyance to her burgeoning teendom.

I couldn’t swim yet, but I had water wings. They were bright orange and I quickly learned to inflate them myself just enough to squeeze onto my baby biceps and have a dip. So I was probably actually very much a nightmare for my parents and sister.

One day my mother took me along with her to the grocery store. It was called “Jumbo” and had a big elephant for a logo. Jumbo seemed like a perfect name for an elephant to me at the time. As a name for a grocery store it was acceptable as well. It was after all a huge grocery store! I quickly learned where the toy section was and would lead my mother there should she be foolish enough to loose me from the cart seat.

On this day in particular, I somehow managed to get to the toy area ahead of her and open, not one, but two plastic bags of little plastic soldiers. They were different colors, so of course I had to open both to confirm it wasn’t some trick of the plastic container. My curiosity payed off because she ended up buying me both of them! I think I was too young for her to try to make a lesson out of it, so I got some little army men instead. Little did I know that having two different colors of army men meant that war was inevitable.

On the way home I watched a sea of brown faces outside our VW window. Their hands would press against the glass and their sad eyes would dart past me before focusing on my mom. She would always roll down the window and give them some change. This was something I did not ask about, but I thought about a great deal.

I’m still thinking about it right now as I stroke my graying beard over a hidden scar. I’m thinking about bravery.

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Story #53 – The Meteorite

“No more Vacancies!” Jeremiah said without looking up when he heard the bell over the office door jingle dingle. “And I’m closing up for the night.”

“But we have a reservation,” came a timid girlish voice. “We made it a week ago.”

Jeremiah looked up to see that ‘we’ was a young black woman and her tall blonde girlfriend. The tall one was wearing the type of sunglasses people his age wore. They were excessively dark and covered half of her face. Below them, her lips were pressed together as if she were fighting not to say something dreadfully important. She had her hands shoved into the pockets of her impossibly tight blue jeans.

The black girl stepped up to the counter and stood on her tippy toes to meet Jeremiah’s gaze. “We couldn’t miss this!” she added and her blonde friend nodded her assent.

Jeremiah scratched the stubble on his chin. He looked behind him and confirmed silently that he had given over all the keys. Indeed, since the thing fell from the sky he could barely keep a room open for more than a few hours. He had even hired a second maid–himself being the first maid–to help keep things running smoothly with the continuous glut of customers.

“And how did you make it?” Jeremiah asked.

“Well, your website was down, so Krystal here called and spoke to you.”

Krystal nodded. She must have used up her monthly quota of words to make the reservation.

“Phone, eh?” Jeremiah mulled as he flipped through his notepad. He didn’t get many phone calls these days. People seemed to prefer to conduct business online which he didn’t mind since it gave him more time for his tv-program binging. Still, he didn’t remember receiving a call a week ago.

“I don’t think–”

But then he saw it, Amber Butler reservation for two, written in his own tiny knotted cursive. He had the type of handwriting a drunk arthritic doctor might have. It was unmistakable. He paused and scrutinized the note he didn’t remember taking as if it were in hieroglyphs. It was always off-putting to encounter tangible evidence of one’s own impending dementia.

“You found it?” The black girl asked, smiling with relief.

“You’re Amber?”

“Amber Butler! Yes sir!”

“I guess I did,” Jeremiah sighed. “However, somehow this didn’t make it into the actual calendar.” He paused, hoping it might sink in and that the girls might disappear. They didn’t.

“Oh,” she said, staring at him with eyes like saucers. “Shit. What should we do?” Her friend slouched and kicked at the threadbare carpet.

Jeremiah was startled at how well they were taking it. It was, after all, his fault that they were currently without lodging. He clicked through the calendar on his IBM.

“I have a room for tomorrow night! I assure you the meteor will still be here.”

Amber leaned in and propped her elbows on the counter.

“But we need somewhere to stay tonight,” she said. “We came all the way from SLC.”

Salt Lake was a ten hour drive south of his motel and the shit township that stole his taxes every year. It was at least an hour drive to any other hotels. His ranch was secluded, which had almost killed it until the space rock fell in the woods behind the building. Now people were flocking to spend a night so they could get a look at the strange light it radiated at night and to hear the ethereal humming it emitted during the day and to run their hands over it and pray and make wishes and cry.

“Salt Lake City, huh? That’s a long drive!”

The tall girl nodded slowly. Her hands were still stuffed in her Jean pockets. Jeremiah imagined them as wads of balled-up skin and bone dried up like owl pellets. The strange image surprised him.

“You sure there’s nothing for us? I really don’t feel safe sleeping in the car again.”

Jeremiah looked at her and her friend and imagined them sleeping in their car. He had a niece their age and he would never want her to have to do that.

“I have a small cot in my apartment. You could share it I suppose, or one of you could sleep on the couch.”

Amber suddenly looked so happy she might explode. Her friend even smiled. She had perfectly white perfectly straight teeth like the grill of an ancient car from another dimension.

“Really!?” Amber bounced back from the counter and did a little spin. “That would be so great!”

“Don’t get too excited!” Jeremiah chuckled. “It’s just an efficiency and I’ll still have to charge you for parking.”

“Oh that’s fine! Thank you Thank you Thank you!”

“Lock that door behind you, if you would.”

Krystal engaged the bolt.

He lifted the hinged part of the counter and the girls ducked in. He waved them toward the back and led the way. The room was pretty much as he described it. There was a sparsely furnished kitchen / living room area and then a small bathroom directly adjacent and then the door to his small bedroom.

As they silently followed him in, he realized that they were the first guests he’d had there in many years. Suddenly much of the maculation was more apparent. Coffee stains mottled his couch. Crumbs were scattered across his coffee table. Dirty glasses hid in the shadows. In the sallow lamp light he noticed that the TV, aside from its nobs and switches, was covered in a film of dust.

The girls didn’t seem to notice, though. Amber strolled in and bounced onto the couch. Jeremiah grabbed a few of the dirty glasses and carried them to the kitchen sink, clinking them down and rinsing them out.

“This is great! This is perfect! Isn’t it, Krystal?”

Krystal smiled and walked over to the window. Outside a green glow filled the forest.

“You see Krys here really needs to see your rock tomorrow. It’s been visiting her in her dreams. She thinks it has something to tell her.”

Jeremiah had been having strange dreams lately too. In his dreams he was an ant carrying a chunk of hard candy past giant rocks and stalks of green. He passed other ants heading in the opposite direction, their antennae flitting at unseen electricity. Suddenly he plunged into darkness and was tunneling underground, clambering over other ants in the gloom. The sound of insect legs was a manic scuffling. He could taste the sugar melting in his mandible. Somewhere below him in the twist of tunnels he could hear the subterranean warble of the Queen Ant singing.

He looked at Krystal, still staring at the green-tinged night through her sunglasses. Her silence was unearthly. Amber was still bouncing slightly on the couch.

“Are you girls thirsty? I have Kool Aide,” Jeremiah offered.

“You must feel so lucky that thing landed in your yard!” Amber said, nodding. Krystal didn’t move. Jer poured three glasses anyway.

“Lucky? Well, yes, I suppose. This town is pretty dried up. I was lucky to get a customer once every month or so. Now, as you can see, I’m booked solid. I’m lucky to get a night off.”

“That’s great for you!”

Jer smiled and carried two of the glasses and put them on the coffee table. “Well, for the first time in a long time, money isn’t a problem. The problem is that I’m now too old to enjoy it.”

“How old are you?”

Jeremiah did a quick tally in his mind. He was old enough not to count birthdays anymore, and he didn’t have friends or family to remind him. He was old enough to qualify for a discount at the movie theater when they still had one which was some years ago.

“In my seventies, I think,” he said.

At this both girls giggled. Amber had a high pitched girlish laugh. Krystal had more of a husky cough which she directed at the window.

Then, as if being reminded of his age also reminded him of how exhausted he was from living so goddamned much, he was hit by a wave of fatigue.

“I’m sorry, girls. Suddenly I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“That’s okay, Jeremiah. We’ll see you in the morning,” Amber said.

Jeremiah shuffled back to his bedroom and barely got his shoes off before falling down the dark hole of sleep. His last thought was, When did I tell her my name?

To be continued.

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Story #52 – Woodpecker

Trevor was getting too old to cut down trees. He had done it his whole life, from the time he first picked up an axe his parents had him out in the forest working with his father. When he was young, his father Ander would cut down the trees and Trevor would do the work of cutting the fallen into firewood.

Back then, he really enjoyed it. He liked being in the woods with his father, using his muscles, sweating and grunting the hours away. It was satisfying work, too, the way he would start with a huge fallen tree and chop his way through it until it was something completely different. He cut it into the size and shape his father had showed him, but sometimes he would imagine what would happen if he kept cutting forever and ever each piece in half and in half again until he was surrounded by dust.

“Because who says we must have the patience to wait for Time to have its way with us?” was a koan his father had given him repeatedly until Time had its way with him.

Now Time had had its way with Trevor too. He was well past his father’s age from his most distant memories of when he first joined him in the woods to chop firewood. Trevor’s own son and daughter had gone off to college. They got jobs in medicine and computers respectively and he was proud that they didn’t have to sweat and grunt their lives away chopping down trees.

He was also lonely. His wife was gone. Her ashes slept on the mantle above his fireplace. Most nights he would stare at her modest urn and try to hear her voice and the songs she had sung to him. Some nights he still could.

He didn’t need to cut wood for money anymore. He owned his cabin and his land and his kids took care of themselves. He pretty much just went into the woods every day because it was all he knew how to do. He rested his axe on his shoulder and walked down a little rocky path that was as worn into the forest as it was in his memory. And he would either finish chopping up a tree he already fell or he would find himself a new tree to take down.

This particular day, he was looking for a new tree. His shoulders ached from work the day before, but he knew that warming them up on a new project would be just what the doctor ordered.

“Now let’s see,” Trevor said to the quiet forest.

He shifted the axe to his other shoulder and scanned the forest around him. He didn’t want to clear out too many trees from any one area. There was no need for another grove. He liked the forest as it was and definitely didn’t want to damage the structure and integrity Mother Nature had blessed it with. He enjoyed the paradox of being both an agent of protection and destruction at the same time.

He always looked for old and sick trees first. When he took them down, he felt assured that he was fulfilling a duty to the forest, clearing away the old and rotted-out so that new seedlings would have a chance to grow. But sometimes he found himself with a strange craving to tackle a tree that was still vibrant with life.

“There is such a thing as too much beauty,” he reminded the forest.

And so he kept walking. It was still early and his belly was still warm with the morning’s coffee, and his feet felt strong today in his well-worn boots. Off in the distance to his right, he saw a patch of forest illuminated with a warmth swath of sunlight. Little purple flowers speckled the ivy. It looked like a magical place so he turned off the path onto an animal run, kicking a few stones out of the way and heading in the direction of the glow. As he blazed this new trail, he relished the cold air spiking it’s way into his lungs and the sound of the underbrush shushing his heels.

“Shhhhh,” he agreed.

Somewhere above him a woodpecker set to work knocking down the door to its dinner. Trevor imagined the sound as if the tree were giggling as the bird tickled it. It was a warm and happy sound that he had known all his life. He looked up to echo-locate the manic bird and saw streams of yellow sunlight piercing the canopy high above.

Then a familiar haunted tickle arrested him and stopped him in his tracks. The ghost caress crept across his face and arms and spun a chill up his spine the same way it had since he was a kid. Walking through a spider web is something you never get used to. It pricked awake a primal terror and he immediately set about wiping away the phantom garment.

He dropped his axe and ran his hands over his exposed forearms. Then he patted and swatted his way down his chest. He ruffled his hands through his hair and over his ears and neck, all the while wiping and pulling at the alien fibers now entangling him. His above him a woodpecker pecked and the trees giggled at his funny little dance.

And as he smacked and slapped himself back into a spider-free surety so too diminished his hushed curses and grunts.

“Ah! Ah! Dammit. Shit. Ungh. Mmmph.”

Until he stood there panting and strange, the forest resolutely oblivious to the trauma surmounted.

And as his breath returned what remaining wits the old man retained after years of axe swinging and bourbon swigging, Trevor was suddenly self-conscious. The eyes of the forest, his oldest and most trusted companion had bore witness to his silly fit. His shaking and flapping like some fallen fat bird wrestling with its broken wings.

And he was suddenly furious. And in his fury he lunged down and grabbed his axe. And he raised his axe with a wounded yell and cast his gaze about the stoic grove.

“AAAAAAaaaaaaaaHhh!” And then, pulled down by the weight of his trusted tool, he fell backward into the mud with a mighty splat.

The earth knocked the wind out of him.

When he opened his eyes, little white spiders blinked across his vision.

High above him the popping work of the woodpecker echoed his own ramped up heart beat. He squished his fingers into the mud and for the first time in his life felt like he was a part of the woods. He lay at the bottom of this thought for some time, letting his body come back to him.

And when it finally did, he giggled, realizing that the forest had made a good point.

When he eventually pulled himself from the mud and leaves, he left the axe where it lay. His tree-cutting days were finally at and end.

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Story #51 – He spends his time

He spends his time riding the subways, walking from car to car, preaching the Gospel. His black suit soaks through with the spirit, his body on fire with passion for his Lord.

Jesus died for your sins! He gave his life so you could be here now, riding this train to your air conditioned office. He was hung from a cross, steel spikes driven through his palms and feet. He endured torture for you. Brothers and Sisters! Can I get an ‘ Amen?’

Reginald doesn’t often get an Amen. Even from the riders who nod to him politely, from the ones who don’t actively ignore him, even from the church-goers, he seldom gets a vocal response, but he is not discouraged! He has the Love of his Lord flowing through his veins. It is hot within him. It dispels his hunger. It quenches his thirst. It drives him forward to deliver the Gospel.

And when sweat gathers at his temples and streams into his eyes, he does not blink it away. He welcomes the fresh burning tears as penance for his own sins, a reminder of his plight as a mortal who must beg forgiveness daily, who must give himself to God’s Love so that he can also keep on the good path, each step in the light of the Lord a blessing.

Are we not all sinners, brothers and sisters? Do we not covet daily? Given to horrible temptations? How many lies tear through your throats as you labor? It is okay! Beg forgiveness from Jeeeeeeee-sus Christ! He can save your soul! But you must do it before it’s too late! The Devil devours every second you hesitate! Your indifference feeds his evil plans, fuels the hearts of his demons!

Reginald speaks with absolute certainty. He knows the demons that must be conquered. Even now with God’s Love swollen in his guts does he feel the demons tittering in the shadows, just outside of his vision, just outside of the reach of his sermoning. Sin and Temptation are constantly on his heels and the gaping maw of damnation is always just a misstep in the wrong direction.

As his passion swells and his voice rises, he sees a bearded white man tap his headphones turning up the volume to drown him out. A young sister doing her best to keep her nose in her book shoots him a disdainful look and shakes her head. He knows she is reading the same page again because he is distracting her. He is undeterred. They are upset now because they see him as an inconvenience, but he knows he is saving them!

The Word of the Lord is NEVER an inconvenience. Even as my sermon falls upon some deaf ears, I am inching you closer to salvation! I am wrapping your souls in a protective armor against the sin that surrounds us. Do you not see that we are riding through the belly of the beast? This is Babylon, my friends! Fifth Avenue is the Devil’s driveway. Time’s Square is a playground for vagrants and thieves! Tell me you haven’t seen the vacant eyes of the runaways! The swaying slouches of the junkies! These are your brothers and sisters and you walk by them as if they were already GHOSTS!

Reginald knew this because he was one of those ghosts once. Before he had been saved by Jesus’ love, resurrected into the Light, born again forgiven and put forth on his mission to save others from similar fates! His veins still itch for the fire of Hell. He still goes to sleep every night craving the demonic push.

It is prayer that protects him. Prayer is the only thing that holds together his tattered heart, that kept the nightmares from springing to life before his eyes. His days in the gutter aren’t that far behind him, so he prays to push them away, to make them feel farther than they actually are. He fills his veins with God’s Word so that they stop their screaming for the other, so that the monster that sleeps inside him will never stir again. He roars the Gospel to drown out its infernal purring.

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! We MUST–

“Man! Please just stop!” The bearded young man took out a headphone and glared at him. “Please. I’m just trying to relax a little on my way to work. I don’t want to hear it.”

Young man, I’m trying to save you. Don’t you understand?

“I don’t need you to save me, man. I need you to leave me alone. Just move on to the next car.”

But have you found Jesus, my brother?

“I’m cool, man.” He put his headphone back in. A young woman next to him caught Reginald’s eye and looked away like a flash of lightning. Other eyes were on him now too, accusing him of being an imposition on their heresy. They were the same eyes that were blind to him when he was on the corner, nodding off in a cloud of beautiful numbness, when every day was a funnel into that cloud, a cloud that got thicker and heavier every day, a cloud that pushed away all the pain and guilt and fear and let him float downward, forever d–

A stream of hot sweat hits Reginald’s eye and slaps him back to the moment. He starts ambling to the next car as the train stops and some people file off to be replaced by other tired-looking commuters.

Jesus loves you! Ask his forgiveness and his love will fill you and protect you! Give yourself to The Lord and you will be saved!

Silence rushes into the subway car and is quickly replaced with the rumble of the train car and the screech of the brakes as the subway pulls into the next station.

And in the next car he preaches louder. He preaches loud enough to keep the demons at bay. The devil is on his heels.

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Story #50 – An excerpt from “The Ghost Port”

Dear Readers,
First of all, thank you for subscribing to my Blog and reading my stories! Every notification I receive that someone has read one of my posts is encouragement and inspiration. I know many of you are writers as well, so I appreciate your time and comments so much.

#100Stories is a challenge I put upon myself to craft a story every day for 100 days. (Don’t trouble yourself with checking to see if I’ve cheated–I have. However I plan on finishing the challenge even if I don’t perfectly adhere to my own expectations. This is what writers do, no?). Most of the stories are crafted quickly, drawing either on a memory from my life, or preferably a moment from my day. I think it’s important for us all to look at each day to excavate the moments that affirm our role in the grand drama of life. Even in our most mundane-feeling days and weeks, there are moments hiding that remind us that life is a complex puzzle that we have a rightful place in.

#100Stories is my attempt to remind myself to keep my eyes open for them every day. It’s also a chance to practice crafting a narrative on a dime.

So that brings me to “THE GHOST PORT.”

“The Ghost Port” is a novel I wrote about 2-3 years ago. It is currently in the hands of a literary agent who is doing her damndest to get it published. In it a young girl named Nina goes out one night to experiment with a new technology which allows them to astral project. When her spirit returns to reclaim her body, however, the grimy underground joint is on fire and her body is nowhere to be found. It’s the story of her quest to find her body, her friend Syrah’s quest to find out what happened to her friend, and the story of the family who sold her body and why.

In celebration of reaching halfway to my goal of #100Stories, here are 2 chapters from the forthcoming novel. In this section, Wong, whose plant store was accidentally burned down with the Ghost Port, is helping Syrah find a body for her friend’s spirit to “borrow.” She was trying to get information from him at the charred facade of his store when she collapsed from an infection she got from scraping her hands on the dirty Chinatown/Little Italy streets the night before. Syrah has opted to trust him for the time being because he just saved her life.

Thank you for reading and being a part of my journey!

-brokeMC


 

The pedestrian entrance to Mount Sinai Hospital in Little Chitaly was lit with a large HD sign depicting patients in various stages of content convalescence and the slogan We Make You Better flashing up at the end of the cycle.  Baggy pants swishing in the cool night, Syrah quickly realized that, though she had passed it many times, she had never actually been inside this hospital.  Wong led the way.

Once through the facade, they strode up a moving walkway through an ad-tunnel featuring flashing advertisements for every sort of over-the-counter and under-the-counter pharmaceutical currently on the market.  An ad flashed up and followed them showing a whole familyFather, Mother, son, daughter dressed in dirty grey clothes standing in the middle of a three-ring circus looking miserable.  A grizzly bear rode a little tricycle past them.  A monkey juggled cupcakes and ate one.  The family just glowered.  Suddenly a clown somersaulted in front of them and offered up a handful of pink and yellow pills.  The father reached down first and everyone in the family followed suit.  Wong scoffed.

Stupid, he said.  “Capitalism and Medicine should be kept as separate as Church and State.  It’s all about the bottom line here so western medicine only treats symptoms.  It doesnt even try to cure cause then no one would pay for treatment.  It’s business.  All business.  People these days—Theyre tired, sad, cant get up in the morning.  They pop pills to feel normal and end up getting pushed deeper into the shitter.

In the ad the family was now in fun circus clothes, doing cartwheels.  Wong continued, Walk into a hospital and they’ll find a pill for you.  Unless you got no money.  Then, maybe youre healthy.  You can come back later when youre richer and tired.

Wong scoffed and shook his head.  Behind him, in the ad, the young son was eating a cupcake with the circus monkey.  Syrah wasnt sure what to make of Wong.  The karma thing was a little random.  But, then again, so was the whole out-of-body friend apparently flitting around them.  Wong wanted to portray himself as some genteel herbalist, but there was something about his tough Brooklyn accent and the way his lean muscles throttled under his skin that made her wary.  At this point, she had no other leads, though, and the prospect of being able to talk to Nina was an undeniable lure.

The hospital lobby was all fluorescent lights and glass, white walls and inoffensive art.  The air smelled like antiseptic and the temperature was cool enough to both keep germs at bay and extend the life of the vases of flowers threefold.  Wong beelined straight for the elevator.

Syrah always felt weird in hospitals.  Everyone was either sick or assisting a sick person, so it didnt seem fair to galavant around, flaunting her health and vigor in front of so many suffering and afflicted people. 

They passed a wrinkle-and-bone woman scraping forward with the aid of a walker.  A young woman by her side was staring off into the distance, ostensibly engrossed in some information feed generating itself across her field of vision a dating site or shopping cart most likely.  The old lady smiled at Syrah and she forced a smile back, moving quickly so to avoid conversation.  They were, after all, on the sketchiest mission ever concocted.

Wong was chivalrous.  At the elevator, he held the door until everyone was in.  Once the doors had slid shut, he pressed the button for the 12th floor where the recovery zone was.  Boring muzak wafted out of the elevator speakers.  It was the type of music created to be unobtrusive.  The kind that you werent supposed to notice, but would be missing if it wasnt there.  The problem with this correlation is that if you are the type who notices things, you are doomed to endure the piquant diddling every time.

As the elevator rose, Syrah thought about the assholes who wrote and recorded this music.  Had they once actually given a shit about making music that people wanted to hear?  Not everyone can diddle with such precision and cunning.  But what drives someone with enough passion to dedicate herself to mastering the language of music to abandon that passion altogether and trump up elevator noise?  There must just be a lot of dopes out there bestowed with mediocre skill and indelible ambition.

The elevator stopped at several floors letting out everyone but Wong and Syrah.

This music—” Syrah started.

Yup, Wong cut her off.  There was an inventor who created an algorithm in the late 2000s that could compose shit like this.  Funny enough, the muzak it generated was neither better nor worse than the crap they already had on loops in every elevator on the planet.  It was exactly the same.  So no one ever bought it.  The skeleton of the code eventually was repurposed for automated political punditry.

At the twelfth floor the elevator doors swooshed open and Wong led Syrah to a couch where they both sat down.  She slouched low in her seat; he sat upright like the president of the posture club.  The nurses behind the counter were busy enough with computer tasks and actual patients that they didnt even glance in their direction.

They waited there for maybe four minutes until an Asian nurse in a perfect starched outfit and holding a clipboard walked by briskly.  Nina saw her and Wong exchange the slightest of glances and Wong stood up casually, touching Syrahs forearm to indicate for her to follow, and they walked behind the nurse casually, calmly, silently.  Her nurse heels clicked and echoed around them in the hallway like a clock ticking down to something.

After turning down several identical hallways bathed in sterile light, passing doors with little plaques reading things like Radiology and Nanotech, they finally followed the nurse into a dim room with three beds separated by blue curtains.  The sound of pulse monitors and artificial breathing machines created a new, electronic music backdrop only slightly less unnerving than the elevator.  The nurse closed the door and turned to Wong who greeted her in Chinese.  They appeared to extend short greetings pierced with small short smiles before Wong switched to English.

This is my friend Syrah, he said, motioning in her direction.  And this is Mei.

Hi Syrah said extending her hand, which Mei shook lightly.

Hello.

So you have someone? Wong asked, motioning to the room.

What is this for? Mei asked, not moving.  You said youd explain when you got here.  In English, Meis soft voice vibrated like a reed instrument.

Show us the body, Wong said sternly. Please.

Mei walked over to the farthest curtain by the window.  “‘Body sounds so grotesque.  Hes just in a coma,  Mei said, drawing back the curtain to reveal a man of about twenty-five, blonde hair and blue-eyed with an auburn beard.

You said you had a woman!

Her brother is visiting right now.  I was not expecting him.  This is the only other patient who met your criteria.

“My criteria was a woman, preferably a black woman”

Oh, man, Syrah said, raising her eyebrows.

What? Mei asked, raising her arms and then letting them fall to her sides.  What difference does it make?  What do you need him for anyway?

Does this one have visitors? Wong asked.

His name is Brendan, and no.  His mother is the only one who visits him and she is in Europe for the next three months on business.  Why?  What is going on?

Wong turned to Syrah.  She should try it.

Dont tell me, Syrah said looking up around the ceiling.  Nina.  Try it.  Like you did with me.

Mei looked up where Syrah was looking and then back between the two of them.  Nina?

Can you disconnect the equipment without raising suspicion? Wong asked Mei.

Yes, but—”

Do it, he said giving her a hard look.

But —”

He took a step toward her and switched to Chinese again.  He was standing so close, Mei had to crane her head up to meet his eyes.  Syrah didnt know what he was saying, but it sounded serious.  It started off like a scolding and evolved into a subdued threatening tone.  Meis breathing turned shallow and she nodded and went about the process of removing and shutting down all the life-support monitors.  Syrah wasnt sure what to make of it.

Mei was just removing the heart rate monitor from the mans finger when he opened his eyes and sat up abruptly.  Mei jumped back and bit a scream in half.  Wong put his hand on her shoulder and motioned for Syrah to step toward the man.

What should I do? she asked Wong.

The answer came from a groggy hoarse voice she didnt recognize.

Syrah? the man said.  He looked around the room and then down at himself.  Holy shit.  It worked! he croaked.

Nina?!  Is that you?  Syrah took a step closer.  She was shivering violently.

Syrah!  The man said and leaned up to embrace Syrah in a warm friendly hug.  He started crying, Syrah!  Oh god, Ive been so scared!  Ive been following you since you went home.  I didnt know what to do!

I didnt either!  What happened?  Do you know?  Syrah was crying too.

Mei, eyes like lightbulbs about to burst, looked from Nina embracing Brendan to Wong.  What the fuck is going on?

Ill tell you.  But first, does he have clothes nearby?

In the closet behind you.

Great, Wong said, opening the closet and retrieving a garment bag with Brendans name on it.  Girls, he said to Syrah and Nina, We need to keep moving.  Nina, how do your legs feel.  Do you think you can walk?

Nina wiped the tears from her face and looked down at her new male body.  She wiggled her toes and bent her knees.  I think so.

Hes pretty new.  His muscles shouldnt have atrophied, Mei said.

Syrah was staring at her blond male friend.  This is too weird, she said.

Nina looked back at her, Youre telling me!  Im white! she said.

And a guy.

And at this Nina reached down under her gown to the unfamiliar appendage between her legs confirming the accusation.  An expression of non-plussed astonishment white-washed her already pale face.

Wong, though slightly amused, knew they still had to get out of the hospital so he tossed the clothes over to Nina.  Get dressed, he said.  We dont have time for this now.

Nina shook off whatever thought avalanche she was enduring, started to get out of bed and halted.  Can I get some privacy, I guess?

Wong nodded and they all took a step back.  Mei closed the blue curtain and turned to Wong again, initial shock replaced with a fresh sense of confounded urgency.

Please tell me you’ll bring him back,  Mei said to Wong.  She had adopted an air of dread, as if the worst possible thing had just happened to her.

Wong put a hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t worry.  I’m not one of those and this isn’t that.  We’re just borrowing him.  I promise.”

Mei searched his face.  The smile he proffered had little impact on her tangible concern.

Can I have a glass of water please? came the hoarse voice from behind the curtain.  My throat is really dry.

Mei nodded, and while she procured some water from a nearby mini-fridge, Wong humored her.  He did his best to explain the girls ghost porting and the burning down of the port and his shop, of his meeting Syrah and treating her infection and the short possession of her body, and of their trip to the hospital as an unlikely Hail Mary.  Meis brow remained furrowed, three little pinches of skin in the middle of her forehead, for the tales entirety.

25

As Nina removed her hospital gown, she relished the feeling of goosebumps.  She had been without skin for so long that it was suddenly novel.  On top of that, she was experiencing a bunch of sensations she had never felt before; the top-heaviness on the male form, the lack of hip flexibility, the extra hair on her legs and chest, and the strange pendulous weight between her legs.  At first, she thought she would respect the guys modesty, but practicality took over and she gave the guys package a good look. 

It was the fourth penis she had seen in her life.  She had vague smeared paint memories of her fathers from bath time as a baby.  She had seen a neighbors little dick when they were both in second grade in an innocent game of show me yours…”  And, most recently, she had invited a boy over who she liked and had given him the shared gift of their first blow job. 

She gave it an innocent tap to see how it would respond and suddenly found herself getting hard.  This was completely new to her.  She had no idea what to do!  Again she tapped at the rising thing but it just bounced up a little bigger and harder.  She tried squeezing it, but that actually felt kinda good and also seemed to fuel its engorgement.  She thought about asking for help, but quickly thought better of it.

She did her best to pull her boxers on over the protuberance.  They tented out awkwardly, and when she moved, the thing bobbed back and forth like a bobber on fishing line.  Then she pulled her jeans on flattening it against her belly, and pulled on a t-shirt which she attempted to pull down over the bump.  Hopefully it would deflate on its own sooner than later.  There was also a corduroy jacket she slipped on.

Satisfied that she looked more or less like a normal boy, she opened the curtain.

Wow, Syrah said with a giggle.  Hottie alert.

Shutup! Nina said with a deeper, fuller giggle.  She shifted her weight, her member still trapped at attention.

“Wait, do you have a hard-on?” Syrah.

“It’s not my fault!” Nina countered awkwardly.  “I guess guys really can’t control this thing.”

Wong and Mei blinked in unison.

Do you feel weird? Syrah asked.

Kinda.  Like wonky.

What about that? she said, lunging playfully for Ninas crotch.  Can I see it?

No! Nina squealed deeply and they fell into another round of curious giggling.

Please be quiet! Mei interjected, hushing them.

I think I know a place we can go to get some information about what happened to your body, Wong said, looking hard into Ninas blue eyes.  Suddenly brought back to the gravity of her predicament, Nina sobered and gulped heavily.  This body, as ridiculous as it was, was only a rental.  She would treat it with respect and return it in the condition in which it was. . .taken? 

Wait, Nina said.  How will we bring this body back once we find mine?

This caused Mei to raise eyebrows and turn to Wong.  Apparently this detail had escaped her as well.

It will be taken care of.  Right now we need to gather more information and your ability to speak and recount the events from that night are more important.  Just not here.  Then he turned to Mei and said, Well bring him back.

Mei took a deep breath.  It was amazing that she would go out on such a limb for them.  Wong must have some serious sway.  Nina could see she was conflicted.

Thank you, Nina said, taking Meis hand.  Ive been terrified.  I just want my own body back.  I promise to bring this one back in perfect condition.

Mei just nodded quickly.  Okay, she said quietly bewildered.  Lets just get you all out of here.

Where are we going? Syrah chimed in.

The lady who ran the Ghost Ports got a brother.  He runs a restaurant called Lus Bright Future Dim Sum Karaoke Hall.  Im sure hell have some information for us.

Outside the window, a low rising sun painted all the buildings a glimmering orange.  The remaining life-support machines pumped and beeped their otherworldly accompaniment as Mei led Wong, Syrah, and the freshly corporeal Nina out to the hall in the direction of the staff elevators.

As Nina walked, she regained some of her equilibrium.  She found her shoulders swaying a bit.  It was dizzying being a foot taller than she usually was, but less-so after flitting around heightless for the past 24 hours.

When she looked down at her white hands, a strand of blond hair fell in her eyes and she pushed it back.  It wasn’t her hair.  The hands weren’t her hands.  Her heart strummed up to a quicker tempo and her chest tightened.

I am me, she thought.  I’m Nina Matthews.  I’m still me.  This body is temporary.  It’s like clothes, like a fancy gown I’m wearing to a party.  I’ll walk a little different.  I’ll talk a little different.  I’m Cinderella.  Once I find my glass slipper, I’ll be me again.  It’s just a white guy suit;  Like a new skin in VR.  I’ll try to enjoy it.

It’s like a game.  I’m already on my way home.  Nothing has changed. 

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Story #49 – saving the Princess

My friend Hal always called it “Saving The Princess.”

I was fresh out of college and I would spend a fair amount of time playing role-playing games on my computer. The premise of these games was often complex and epic, but there was also usually some aspect of a damsel in distress. Hence Hal’s snark.

I understood his intent, though. He was helping me realize that as I wandered around these fantasy worlds discovering magic weapons in caves filled with monsters, I was missing out on some actual real life experiences.

Keep in mind, we had just moved to New York City from Florida. There was no reason a 23-year-old should be cooped up in a loft in Brooklyn playing a hyped up version of Dungeons and Dragons by himself.

I could have been working on my music. Or I could have been out exploring the New York Experience with him.

One night he brought some of that New York Experience home with him and I listened to them bounce and wail through  the thin drywall. Prior to meeting him I had seen it as a nuisance to have to overhear friends and roommates having sex. He advised me one day that it always made him excited for whoever he was listening to. He said he would quietly root for whichever friend was making the score, so I learned to do the same.

“Goooooo Hal!” I whispered. Then I put my pillow over my head and went to sleep.

The next morning I realized he had been banging Lara, an old friend from Florida who was visiting for a week. She had long blond hair an big eyes and was a yoga instructor. She was exactly his type. I mean she was anybody’s type.

Lara smiled at me and said, “Morning, Joe,” and I did not need any coffee that day at the office. My heart was still thumping that evening when I got home and Lara was on her way out—alone.

“Why don’t you come with?” She said.

I tore off my tie and I went with.

Now, it should be said for the uninitiated, there exists a code among males who are friends that dictates that we do not boff each other’s lady friends. It’s about as big a no-no as exists. 

Hal and I were friends, too, but I was at a point where I was starting to not like him so much. He was a little too casual with his flirtations and affairs and the way he spoke about the girls he slept with left a sour tinge in the air. He came off as fairly entitled, and portrayed most women as objects which he would use until he grew bored.

Lara was very attractive and was maybe feeling some of the sparks that I was, so “the code” went out the window. I wasn’t setting out to steal the girl from him, but I wasn’t going to fight nature at this point either.

So I ditched my tie and jacket and threw on some sneakers and followed her out into Brooklyn.

She took me to a small party in a strange squat. There was a lot of raw plywood and the furniture had most likely been acquired from the curb. It wasn’t entirely dissimilar from my own Brooklyn loft.

We drank beers and passed a joint. We also passed a guitar and traded songs. We got high as the lights of Manhattan out somewhere in the distance, our heads just as clouded. 

Her friend Danny who lived there sang a few songs. He had a great voice and I watched Lara watch him sing and I took bigger swigs of my beer to try to drown my jealousy.

But it was cool because soon enough her hand was on my thigh and then so was his and then he was leading us back to a cubbyhole situation where he had a few pillows stacked into a lumpy bed. Lara took my hand and we followed him and climbed onto his pillows and it must have been a closet for real because I’m pretty sure he slid the door closed and we were swallowed by a deep blackness.

And then I was kissing Lara and clothes were coming off and hands were everywhere, hands and hot breath everywhere, and I was hard and wondering how I ended up in this sensory deprivation closet with Lara and Danny and how exactly it was all going to go down because I had never had a threesome before. I had also not intended for my first threesome to include another man, but I suppose that’s pretty chauvinistic. But he also kept trying to get me to touch his dick so I decided it was time to split.

I slid open the door and rolled out of the closet and stumbled back toward the living room in a spinning world.

When I got outside I trudged through a cold breeze toward the subway feeling drunk and high and hoping my hardon would deflate before I offended anyone.

And Lara came up behind me.

“Hey! You okay?”

“Oh! Hey, yeah, that just wasn’t really my thing.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t really know it was going to go that far.”

“It’s cool. I had fun. Danny’s nice.”

“Not that nice,” she said.

She took my hand again and we rode the subway back to my Brooklyn loft and then I’m pretty sure Hal had to listen to us banging the night away from his side of the thin drywall.

I wondered if he was rooting for us or if he recognized Lara’s moans.

He certainly wasn’t rooting for us the next morning when we walked past him on our way out to brunch. His eyes were little icy balls of hate from what I remember.

Lara and I had a great day. We wandered the West Village, in and out of record shops and Tibetan stores. We went to Central Park and ran through the ramble. And when the sun set we headed uptown to a bar where some friends were meeting. Hal just happened to be there too.

“What the fuck bro! That’s my girl” he said as he advanced on me and pushed me.

“Yo chill man,” I said, forever the eloquent diplomat.

“Fuck you man! I can’t believe you! You knew she was mine!”

He pushed me again and I let myself be pushed. From a caveman’s perspective I had indeed fucked his girl. But in real life she wasn’t his belonging and we both knew that. She had fucked me fair and square and she would probably do it again even if I didn’t punch Hal in the face for being a ninny. She was her own woman and us fighting would have little to no effect over which of us she preferred to spend time with.

This time it was Hal who was divorced from reality. There was no screen or keyboard, but he was still not really enagaged with anyone around him. He couldn’t see past his own privilege and expectations. He was too preoccupied with saving the princess.

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