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!
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 family—Father, 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 doesn’t even try to cure ‘cause then no one would pay for treatment. It’s business. All business. People these days—They’re tired, sad, can’t 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 you’re healthy. You can come back later when you’re 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 weren’t supposed to notice, but would be missing if it wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 Syrah’s 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.
“So you have someone?” Wong asked, motioning to the room.
“What is this for?” Mei asked, not moving. “You said you’d explain when you got here.” In English, Mei’s 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. He’s 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.”
“Don’t 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.
“Do it,” he said giving her a hard look.
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 didn’t know what he was saying, but it sounded serious. It started off like a scolding and evolved into a subdued threatening tone. Mei’s breathing turned shallow and she nodded and went about the process of removing and shutting down all the life-support monitors. Syrah wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Mei was just removing the heart rate monitor from the man’s 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 didn’t 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, I’ve been so scared! I’ve been following you since you went home. I didn’t know what to do!”
“I didn’t 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?”
“I’ll 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 Brendan’s 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.”
“He’s pretty new. His muscles shouldn’t have atrophied,” Mei said.
Syrah was staring at her blond male friend. “This is too weird,” she said.
Nina looked back at her, “You’re telling me! I’m 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 don’t 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. Mei’s brow remained furrowed, three little pinches of skin in the middle of her forehead, for the tale’s entirety.
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 guy’s modesty, but practicality took over and she gave the guy’s package a good look.
It was the fourth penis she had seen in her life. She had vague smeared paint memories of her father’s from bath time as a baby. She had seen a neighbor’s 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 Nina’s 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 Nina’s 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, “We’ll 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 Mei’s hand. “I’ve 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. “Let’s just get you all out of here.”
“Where are we going?” Syrah chimed in.
“The lady who ran the Ghost Port’s got a brother. He runs a restaurant called Lu’s Bright Future Dim Sum Karaoke Hall. I’m sure he’ll 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.