Order.

If you expect me to tell you my name or give you more than the scantest of details in my background, then you must be crazy. Reason for that will become self-evident as I explain how I turned my town’s police force against me.

My story begins with a crowd-funding scheme, wherein I would get neo-nazis and their sympathizers to help me self-publish a novel, that would then be given free to students across the country. I typed up a chapter that I, honestly, half-assed as proof-of-concept, got myself a six pack and put myself to the task of working the usual haunts. From MRA forums to 4chan, I made sure I spread awareness of my project as much as I could to raise fifty thousand dollars. A modest sum that I thought I would be able to turn to much better use.

After I had my advertisements circulating, I started to work them. My friends and family assure me that I was much less than pleasant during the month that I conducted this experiment, and I know that, if I get out of this alive, I’ll have to swear off alcohol for good. And when I say that I worked them, I mean that I worked them. And you can fuck off if you think I didn’t earn every thin dime of the sixty-four thousands dollars that I eventually had directly deposited into my bank account. I then razed every single bit of evidence that I possibly could and went about my life, swearing off of ever interacting with that subsection of the country ever again.

To say that it happened over a short span of time is a bit of an understatement. The emails were pretty instant. I had to cancel and set up new email accounts for nearly an hour before I finally had one that was secure. And then the phone calls came. Each one was more angry than the next, to the point that it was impossible to block every single phone number that was incoming.

Now, I don’t know what they were expecting to happen, at first, that I would turn their money back over to them? The crowd-funding website that I used stipulated that every dollar given to the project was then the property of the crowd-funder. The money was mine by right, and I honestly thought that there wasn’t a court in the country that would convict me for ripping off people like this.

I honestly didn’t know how much bravado I had, or how fool-hardy I could act. This went on for days into my semi-retirement before the mail started to come in. That’s when I knew that this could have serious ramifications on my life. But, did I go to the police? No, I didn’t. Honestly, I thought that I was capable of self-protection, and that letters aren’t really as bad as it could get, I reasoned. Unfortunately, I was right.

It wasn’t even a week later that my car alarm went off in the middle of the night. I knew it was mine because of how piercing and high pitched it is. Believe me, if you heard this alarm from two miles away you would do whatever possible to turn it off. So, I went to get my keys, stepped out onto the landing of my apartment and got ready to press the button to turn it off when I saw the group of black hooded strangers clustered around my car. They all looked up at me as if they were a single being while swaying their arms to and fro. Each of them was armed with a blunt weapon.

I turned, ran to my door and turned all of the locks. After putting the chain in place, I grabbed my book case and leaned it up against the door. I was only just in time as they began to hammer at my door. None of them said anything, which made the entire thing even more terrifying than I thought possible. I then ran to my bathroom, closed the door and braced my legs against it so that I was pinned between it and my toilet. My hands were shaking so badly that I dropped my phone twice before I could dial in 911.

By the time that the police arrived, my front window was broken and the strangers were wandering around in my apartment. There was no way that they didn’t know where I was, and yet they didn’t do anything but walk around, from the sound of it. They had to break the door down, due to the bookshelf, and charged into the living room. There was a hushed conversation between one of the strangers and a police officer. It took a little less than a minute for the cop to get to the bathroom door.

He knocked and I called out in response, “Yes, officer, I’m in here.”

“Could you please step out here, son?” The officer said in a clear, authoritative voice.

“Did they leave? I called out, my voice quaking.

“Come out, or I’ll take the door off its hinges, your choice.” I wanted to vomit.

I got up and, with a shaky hand, grabbed the door knob, twisted and walked out into something that was worse than any nightmare I’ve had. There were four of the hooded figures, it turns out. They all had their masks off now, and were standing next to four police officers. Each of them then introduced themselves, by name. The hooded figures were the children of those cops.

What could I do but stare in wide-eyed horror. I knew that extremist groups had infiltrated police agencies and had been inside of them for years, but I never knew it could be this bad. I never wanted to believe that it could be. Not my town, not where I live. That, I thought, was impossible.

They then, in no uncertain terms, explained to me that I should hope to never need police protection ever again, because they were everywhere. In every police house, in every precinct, they were there and they all knew who I was. No matter where I went, I was on my own from that day forward.

What did I do? What could I do but sink down onto the floor as if I weighed a quarter of a ton and watched as they left my apartment, peaceably and calmly.

It’s been six months since then. I live on the other side of the country from where I grew up, and I live in fear that I’ll ever need a police officer. Every time one appears in my rear view mirror, I wonder what will happen, if anything. And every time they pass by.

I don’t know what to do, I’m at my wit’s ends at this point. It turns out that I accidentally picked a fight with the law, and the law won.

Friendly.

It was an ordinary day in June when Danny Nuell watched his ceiling fan spin fruitlessly. The heat of the month seemed inescapable and oppressive, even making the air feel capable of burning. All Danny could do in response was lay on top of his sheets, listening to Minor Threat in his underwear, wondering if a cold bath was in his future when his phone rang.

“Danny, give me one good reason why you shouldn’t come and see the Upper Class Brats tonight.” Came the voice on the other end. Joseph was on the other line, cutting straight to the good part as always.

“You know how my mom feels about going to punk shows, man.” Not only did she dislike how he came home covered in sweat and smelling like the cigarettes everyone smoked, but she also fretted that it made him an even bigger target of the police even though he looked like any other teenager on the street before or after.

“Your mom probably just wants some peace and quiet. Look, doors open at seven and if you aren’t there, then you aren’t there.” The line went dead and Danny was left looking for his pants.

Dressed in what he hoped was a respectable outfit of a black t-shirt, black jeans and work boots, Danny went out into the living to find his mother. She was asleep with a box fan next to her, a wet washcloth on her forehead and her shoes off, reclined completely in her arm chair. He felt bad about waking her, but knew that she really would be happy to have a quiet apartment for the night.

He cleared his throat, and gently asked for her. But when that didn’t work, he tapped her shoulder. “I heard you the first time, I was just hoping you’d give up and go back to your room.” She wearily sat up, still recovering from an early morning nursing shift. “Where are you going, and how much do you need?”

Danny fidgeted awkwardly, “Going to see the Lower Class Brats with Joe, and the door will be ten dollars.”

She sighed heavily and went to get her purse, “Danny, I mean it. You need to at least be trying to find a job if you aren’t going to go to school in the fall.” Danny opened his mouth to say something, feeling his heart lurch in sympathy, “Don’t say anything, just promise me that you’ll be hitting the streets tomorrow.” She held a twenty just out of reach from him.

“I promise, mom.” He said, and he meant it. His mom deserved more than she had, and he knew he had to start contributing in some way.

She handed him the bill and smiled kindly at her son. “Please be careful out there. I don’t want you getting snatched up on the way there or back, and don’t get hurt while you’re at the show.” She looked as if she might be seeing him for the last time, as she almost always did before going out.

He hugged her tight and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be careful, mom. I promise I will.” She ruffled his close-cropped hair and sent him on his way.

One of the only advantages afforded by living in a building without air conditioning, Danny thought to himself, is that you don’t have to adjust when stepping out into a hot day. It’s just a different kind of heat, such as the oppressive heat that pressed down on him as he began the walk towards the Factory. He felt that he could make the walk there with his eyes closed from all the shows that he’d attended in the last few months, and his mind wandered.

High school was rapidly becoming a distant memory and there were no experiences in it that really gave Danny what was referred to as a ‘direction’ in life. Tradition would demand that he consider the military, and he honestly did, but the recent invasion into Iraq made him rethink it every time the subject came up. Did he really want to die in the desert? Did he really want to kill people who hadn’t done him any personal wrong?

What other options were there? Who was he, at the end of the day? How could he say? He was just a young punk, and even that part of his identity was new. Fast food was a fast track to nowhere; his uncle Brandon had been working at McDonalds for five years before he even got promoted to team lead and didn’t know when he’d become assistant manager, let alone general manager. He’d never get into a college with his grades, and community college? He’d never be able to tell you what subject he found most worthy of his attention.

He stopped for a moment and looked around. The sun had been higher in the sky, or least that’s what he thought, only a moment ago. He didn’t recognize any of the streets around him, which didn’t seem to be even remotely possible since he’d lived in the area for all of his life. He began to walk down the, surprisingly empty, streets faster and noticed in an abstract way that the shadows seemed to be much colder than the area that surrounded him.

Danny felt his chest get tighter as he passed by a Denny’s that seemed to serve as a line of demarcation between the city and a suburb that he didn’t know even existed the day before. He scratched his head and looked around at the charming neighborhood that somehow existed in the middle of the city. There were picket fences and trees that jutted out from perfectly maintained lawns with the sun setting behind the towering surrounding buildings casting the small valley into deep shadows.

The mystery suburb was one thing, the strange shadows were another, but it was the quiet that really disturbed him the most, and caused him to run down the streets in a near panic. It was only when he took a sharp turn and nearly ran straight into a young woman that he began to get a grasp of his senses again. “Oh, Jesus. Finally another person.”

Danny was struck by the woman that stood in front of him. She had light skin and thick dreads that tumbled down her shoulders with multicolored thread strung through it. She had a warm smile and a Dead Kennedys shirt on, “Another person?” She asked with a quirked, and pierced, eyebrow.

Danny looked around and noticed that the streets were teeming with people once again, with plenty of traffic running through the roads as thousands were still struggling to make it back from work. He wiped a thin sheet of sweat from his forehead and looked back at the eerie neighborhood then back at her, “Uh…nevermind. Just took a wrong turn somewhere.” He said sheepishly, feeling a blush rise on his cheeks.

“You gotta be careful. Who knows what could come along and swipe you off the streets!” She said with a faux-sinister overtone that put Danny at ease. She fished a pack of Kool’s out of her tight jeans, lit it and offered Danny one, who refused it. “Where you off to?”

“Uh…the Factory? It’s on Lincoln and ninth?” He thought about offering up the band name, but he had a good feeling she’d have no idea who he was referring to.

“Going to see the Lower Class Brats?” She said with a smirk on her lips and a glint in her eye that Danny didn’t quite trust.

“Yeah! You know them?” When she held up two tickets, Danny felt like he could be knocked over by a feather.

They walked together to the Factory, making small talk and getting acquainted. Her name was Myra, she was nineteen and visiting from ‘out of town,’ the location of where that constituted, Danny didn’t press on her. She wasn’t really doing anything to speak of, just ‘laying low’ as she put it and keeping her mind clear, letting herself be ready for whatever came next. Danny felt himself admiring her point of view as they gravitated closer and closer to the show.

When the Factory came into view, Danny spoke up. “Who are you meeting here?”

“No one, apparently. My friend pulled out at the last moment. I was going to just scalp his ticket and go by myself.” She looked over at him conspiratorially, “You want it? Free of charge.”

Relieved that he wouldn’t have to spend his mom’s money, he smiled broadly and nodded before he dialed it back a little. “Sure! I mean…if that’s okay by you, of course.”

She laughed, which somehow disquieted Danny just a little bit, and handed him her spare ticket as they crossed the road onto the street that the Factory was on. Joe was waiting outside by with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Hey man, where have you been? It’s almost eight!”

Danny cast his eyes at the sky, distantly wondering how it was even possible for him to have not noticed how long it was taking them to arrive at the venue. “That’s…weird? I thought I left at half past five.” He chewed on the inside of his cheek as he continued to look up at the sky as if the solution to his question floated in the clouds somewhere.

“Dude, just…it’s okay. The warm up bands weren’t all that good anyway.”

“They never are.” Myra spoke up in her clear, strong voice. “You must be a friend of Danny’s.” She said as she strode up to Joe and confidently wrapped him up in a tight hug.”

Joe’s eyes went wide over her shoulder. “Well, aren’t you friendly.” He stated as she took a step back.

“Very friendly.” She said with a wink, and they all walked in together.

To the uninitiated, a punk show is little more than chaos. Hundreds of brightly colored youths struggling against each other, raised voices and barely skirted fights. The postured violence would be seen to be real and the ironic sneers and screams of condescension makes this enemy territory for many. The music, largely consisting of three chords and shouted, barely intelligible lyrics, would do the rest of the job, sending outsiders running for safety and solitude.

What the three most recent entries saw was something totally different. Hands reaching out to catch people that are knocked down, kind words to people who need them, who are struggling with their lives. They would see togetherness and brotherhood, a home for people who aren’t welcome anywhere else, often not welcome in their own houses. A place where they could be whoever they want to be, even for a little bit.

Danny was able to pretend that his problems didn’t exist as he moved urgently to the beat of the music, crowding and shoving the rest of the people in the pit. One moment he had seized another punk in a vice-like hug, another he was shouting lyrics along with someone else, their faces bare inches from the other. Nothing else existed as he joined hands with one person, then was helped to his feet by another. The invasion into Iraq was miles away, his impending job was just a rumor and his lack of options was the least important thing in the world.

All too soon, like every other escape from reality, the music was over and the band was clearing the way for the next opener. With two other bands to go before the Lower Class Brats took the stage, there was a near-stampede to the exit as some went to get water and others went to feed vices that weren’t available inside of the Factory. One such vice-seeker was Myra, who was shadowed by a very sweaty Danny, as she pulled a crushed pack of cigarettes from her pocket. Danny wondered where she was able to hide them in her pants, and nearly missed it when she held her pack out to him.

“No thanks, I don’t smoke.” He said in a friendly, but firm, tone of voice. “How are you able to dance when you’re breathing in that stuff?”

She lit her smoke and exhaled before facing Danny with a smirk. “You’d be surprised with what you can get used to.”

Danny shrugged and leaned against a wall to look out at the parking lot. As he took in the night scene around him, he noticed that every street light that he could see, as well as the lights inside of the surrounding buildings, was starting to flicker. “I guess the power grid is overloaded.”

Myra continued with her cigarette, as if she hadn’t heard him speak. “Nice weather for this time of year.”

Danny arched an eyebrow as he wiped off his forehead with the back of his hand, “Relative to what, the ninth circle of hell?”

Her lips curled into a wry smile as she stepped up to him, where he was only then able to notice that her eyes wouldn’t meet his, “Well, you know what they say. If you can’t stand the heat…”

“Whoa!” Came Joe’s voice as he casually walked up to them. He held his hands up as if to ward away offense. “Don’t mean to break up the Kodak moment, but the next band is coming on.”

“Go on without us, we’ll be right behind you.” Said Myra, as she looked two inches to the left side of Joe’s face.

Joe hesitated for a moment, “Okay, Danny?”

Danny, whose only thoughts were that a pretty girl wanted to hang out with him, merely smiled and nodded his head towards the door. “We’ll be cool out here, man.”

Joe shrugged and went back into the Factory, as Myra slumped against the wall that Danny was leaning against. A beat passed, and then another, as the music from inside picked up intensity.

“So…you go to school around here?” He asked helplessly.

“Closer than you think.” She said, turning to face him. “Say, you want to meet a friend of mine? Ian’s really cool, and I’m sure he’d love to meet you.”

Danny blinked a little, “But, the Lower Class Brats will be on in an hour.” He wouldn’t give voice to the concern that the electric grid may not be operating right.

“We’ll bring him with us. Don’t worry; I’m sure Ian would love to meet Joe as well!” Without waiting for Danny’s ascent, she began to walk in the direction she needed to go.

He struggled with indecision for a moment, unsure as to whether to rejoin Joe in the show, or to go with Myra. He could hear the second to last warm up act playing, and, assuring himself that he would be back soon, followed after her. “Where’s this Ian guy, anyway?”

“Denny’s. He’s about ten minutes away, I promise.” She was walking much faster than she appeared to be, like her feet didn’t completely touch the ground.

There was an awkward silence as Danny struggled to keep up with her, that was broken when one of the street lamps off in the distance burst with a shower of sparks and broken glass. Danny jumped backwards and put his hand over his heart. “Jesus!”

Myra turned to look at him, “If you’re afraid of the electric grid fucking up, you can go back.” She said dismissively, unimpressed by Danny’s yelp of fear.

“No no, I’m good. I just wasn’t expecting that is all.” He said quietly, rubbing the gooseflesh that erupted across his skin for reasons that he couldn’t name. “Where are you from?”

They crossed the street as Danny’s question was asked. They continued on before Danny tried again, only for her to cut him off at the beginning of his sentence. “It isn’t far now.”

He looked around helplessly, now no longer convinced that he was making the right decision as they began to walk into the disquieting neighborhood that he had accidentally walked through earlier in the evening. He looked for street name as they passed the sign, but when he didn’t see one, he glanced backwards and saw the world falling into darkness. His eyes went wide and he tapped Myra on the shoulder.

She looked back, nonplussed, and then turned to Danny, “Look. You wanna go back to the show, go back to the show. It isn’t a big deal.” He didn’t like the way she looked at him, as if he was small, less than she was.

He squared his shoulders though, bringing himself up a little more. “Is that the Denny’s over there?”

She nodded, simply turned around and began to walk in the direction of the building. “Yeah, Ian’s going to be so excited to meet you!”

As Danny got closer to the front door, the more he was aware of lights going off behind himself. But, if he just kept walking forward, just keeping his eyes on the diner, he wouldn’t have to pay attention to that. All he had to watch was Myra hold the door open to an inexplicably empty and quiet sales floor. A sales floor that was occupied by only one customer, in the furthest back booth.

Danny couldn’t keep his brave front up any longer. “I need to go. Now.” He said to Myra, turning back to face her. He felt his bravado disappear, though, as he saw a thick and fathomless darkness outside.

“You have all the time in the world to go back, Danny. Come now. Ian is very friendly.” She corralled him and walked him towards Ian.

Danny looked around frantically, trying to step away, trying not to look at the void where Ian’s face should be, trying not to acknowledge that lights inside of the restaurant were going off, trying to ignore the increasingly sharp nails pressing into his shoulders as Myra’s true form was revealed…

-End

Science.

First thing’s first, I suppose. My name is Marten Randall, and I’m not quite sure what you should call me; there’s a patent silliness and pretension behind words like ‘wizard’ or ‘magician.’ I do not wear peaked hats, nor do I pull rabbits out of hats. I’m even uncomfortable with calling what I do ‘magic,’ because there’s a certain connotation that goes along with that term, making it sound miraculous or unsystematic. Rather, call me a scientist in the proper sense of the word. After all, my studies are certainly systematic and if I’m not peering into the mysteries of the natural world, no one else is.

Of course, scientists like myself don’t just emerge from the ether, rather, I was raised into a proud family tradition of exploring what my parents called ‘the tear.’ The current prevailing theory is that what laypeople would call ‘magic’ is merely the manipulation of rents into the fabric of the universe where different realities overlap with each other. Just as with geologic phenomena, where rock layers can become plastic due to heat and pressure such is the same with ‘magic.’ These rents or tears are what are commonly ley-lines which are unobservable through traditional methods, and have to be sought out through specially made glasses and measuring tools. Once on these ley-lines, using ‘sensitive’ parts of traditional reality, and with the right arrangement of signs and figures, we can bypass the traditional laws of physics and manipulate reality in ways that we see fit.

So, don’t think of magic wands or top hats, think of studious, careful and rigorous examination that has all the vigor of astronomy but with, let’s say…less traditional methods. By way of example and explanation, I want to explain my first experiment.

The family’s line of work was well known to me, and wasn’t something I was shielded from. However, the basement was strictly off-limits until my tenth birthday, a day that I doubt it’s possible to ever forget.

It was an unseasonably cold October morning. I woke up early because my parents had scheduled the day off months in advance with my school, and realized when I got out of bed that I had forgotten to feed Harry, my pet rabbit, at the time I was supposed to. In a panic, I ran downstairs, remembering my parents solemn warnings that, “If you want a pet, it’s your responsibility and yours alone.” That was two years ago, and I hadn’t forgotten to feed Harry a single time, and changed his bedding every day. So, you can imagine my near panic when I got to his cage and saw that it was empty.

I cried out for my parents, only to bring my dad walking calmly into my room with Harry in his arms. Even though he usually didn’t like to be held, he sat quite comfortably in my dad’s arms, his eyes open but his breathing steady and calm. Dad stroked his pristine white fur as gentle as could be as he approached me. “Looking for someone?”

I reached out for Harry, who was my only confidant due to being quite unpopular at school. Even at that age, I knew that his cognition wasn’t nearly on the level of ours, and that he didn’t have the affection for me that I had for him, but that didn’t help my distress at all. “Come downstairs, Marten. Your mother and I wish to talk to you.”

“I’m sorry I forgot to feed him this morning! I didn’t mean to sleep in!” Tears were streaming down my face, terrified that my best friend was going to be taken away from me. Dad saw the look on my face and his was crossed with a look of sorrow. He patted my back and herded me down into the living room. This is when I realized that they were both outfitted in their labcoats and scrubs, which wasn’t unusual since they both worked from home, but they tended to work late at night when the boundaries between realities is at its weakest.

“Please don’t take Harry away from me!” I cried at my mom as I ran into her arms.

She soothed and stroked my back, telling me over and over that everything was okay, that everything would be okay. After my tears had stopped, she got down on my level, and wiped away the residue that they left on my cheeks. She kissed my forehead and smiled a sad smile, “Today is a very special day, Marten. Today is the day that you’ll start helping your father and I in the lab.”

I caught my breath, let it out slowly and looked up at her, my mother who always had a hug, kiss and smile for me, who would never tell me that things would be okay if that was a lie. “So why does dad have Harry?”

She stood up and put her hand out for me, “Come down to the lab with me, dear heart.”

Their lab was what you would expect from any other science lab: spotless, stainless steel and glassware filled with various liquids. Refrigerators, freezers and other storage lined every wall but one, which was brickwork. There were chunks of raw chalk on a table at the center of the wall, along with some diagrams. I was shepherded towards the table, and mom clasped my shoulders from behind, directing my attention at the blank brick wall. “You know how hard mom and dad’s work is, and that it takes a lot out of us, right?” I nodded my ascent, “And you know that we would never pressure you into following in our footsteps, and that your happiness is the most important thing in the world to your father and I?”

“Marten, you can always turn back, but in order to really get you up to speed and at our level when you reach our age, we need to begin your training this year.” This was said by my father as he brought some large, black nails and a hammer over to the table with his free hand, holding Harry in the crook of his elbow with the other. “Neither of us would ever lie to you, and I’m being very serious when I say that this is the hardest part to our work.”

The emotions that were roiling through my young mind were varied and complicated, far beyond what a boy of my age should’ve been feeling. I was excited and scared to begin my family’s work, I was happy that my parents were being so gentle and considerate with me, but beyond those was my concern and confusion for my poor rabbit. “So, why is Harry down here?”

“Marten, you know how we talked about ghosts when you were younger? What did we tell you?” Now it was dad’s turn to get onto his haunches and meet my eyes.

“You said that consciousness creates ripples in reality, and that ripples can affect the rest of the world and create long lasting impressions in it.” I repeated, from heart.

“And that these ripples interact with each other and create bonds between different consciousnesses?” He was walking me through the process, making sure that I knew every part of the experiment before it began. All I could do was nod, still far away from understanding what, precisely, was happening. “Our work depends on those ripples, because that’s what’s used to manipulate the ley-lines that rest under our home. So, when those ripples act with each other, we can then tear them apart which will send such a shock through the ley-line that we can manipulate it in specific ways. Do you understand?”

Horror spread across my face. I clasped my hands over my face, as if I could ward off what they wanted me to do, but when I withdrew my hands, they were still there.

“This is part of what makes our work so difficult, dear heart. There are other ways to manipulate the lines, but the most effective, the most potent way, is to create a strong emotional bond with…” my mom’s face creased in consternation and her eyes reflected heart break. “With a sacrifice.” She let those words sink into my mind as I struggled at speech. “Once again, Marty, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. This is going to be incredibly hard, and it will hurt you very deeply. Your father and I will support you, no matter what you do, and if you want to take Harry back upstairs, give him his breakfast and just enjoy your day off, then that would be okay with us, I promise.” The looks on their faces confirmed that she wasn’t just saying this.

I looked from my parents to Harry, my best friend, my only friend. His wide, innocent eyes and his soft fur. I wanted to cry, but I knew I had to be strong. That if I wasn’t strong, this wouldn’t go the way it needed to. In the end, even though the very thought of doing it still hurts me, I nodded and reached for Harry. “What’s the experiment?”

Dad handed Harry to me while mom brought the rest of the equipment to the table. “First, you need to pin Harry’s paws to the wall with iron nails, then you cut him from the throat to the rectum with a silver blade and then use silver pins to hold his chest open. The elements are very important, as they amplify the waves you create through the action of killing Harry. After that, you’ll see for yourself.”

It took a half an hour, all told, but it felt like a small age as I inflicted the worst pain I could imagine on my friend. I could barely see straight from the tears that I shed, and my hands shook with each action. Gratefully, my parents helped with the nails, and they held and soothed me when it got to be too much. I insisted on pressing on, knowing that this was my duty, that following in the family tradition was important to me and that, once the first nail went in, there was no turning back.

After I stuck the last pin into his still body, blood coating everything that I’ve touched and Harry’s white fur stained a livid red, the air thrummed like a string was plucked. Where there was a gory, awful hole in Harry’s chest, I could now see a star field that stretched into infinity. Dad placed his hand on my shoulder and said in a gentle voice, “The hard part is over. Now, all you do is reach into his chest with both hands and keep pushing in.”

I did as I was asked, choking down vomit as I did. But instead of feeling rabbit organs, and instead of touching the back of his insides, I reached farther and farther into the cosmos until I felt something grab me. I looked back at my parents in a panic, but they stood back by about twenty feet. Dad’s arm was around mom’s shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, Marty. I promise.”

All at once, I was pulled through Harry’s body, and emerged into the impossible. I gazed out as the universe stretched on beyond me. I looked backwards, and stumbled backwards. If my heart was pounding fast before, now it felt like it was going to explode. I wanted to scream, I wanted to run, but all I could do was trip over my feet and gaze up at a creature that defies explanation. It gazed at me dispassionately with its numerous eyes and charged directly at me with a speed that would have seemed impossible yesterday.

It seized me with its appendages and gasped in pain as tentacle cups lined with needles dug into my arms. Its horrible face, asymmetrical and multifacted like a diamond drew closer to me and I felt the world that I used to know die around me. I trembled as the collected knowledge of every member of my family was forced into my mind while the thing in front of me worked its many jaws, drool dripping over its thousands of teeth. I began to seize up as the information overload increased, but it didn’t let go.

I could see the Earth as it was crossed with hundreds of lines, all glowing bright green. I could see every inhabited planet throughout the universe, countless diagrams and the ways that all of the elements work with consciousness. All of this and far more, stretching and distorting my young mind beyond anything that should be possible. As the information load increased in speed and the horror of it all reached its apex, I couldn’t help but lose consciousness.

When I awoke, my parents bent over me and looked down at my still body as I met their gaze from the floor. My hair had turned completely white, and I wasn’t able to speak for a week, but the ordeal was over. I looked back at the brick wall, and saw that Harry had vanished and the brickwork looked as if nothing had happened to it. My parents gathered me up and told me that they were very proud of me while they carried me back to bed. I lay down and fell asleep, trusting that the terror was over, but it was actually just beginning.

Class.

To whom it may regard
You’re probably wondering what it is that you’re holding in your hands. I gave my confession when I was arrested, and I made it clear that I don’t want a priest in my cell or attending my execution, so what is this if not a confession or a ‘come to god’ sort of thing? Well, the answer is pretty simple. I’m not letting anyone write the ending to my story except for me, and I’m certainly not going to allow the media’s narrative against me to go unanswered.

To set the record straight: I never said that I was anything other than one hundred percent guilty of all the charges against me. Murder in the first? Obviously true. Breaking and entering? Also true. Why go through the list? You all watched the court proceedings. So, what is there to clear up? Let’s start at the beginning.

 

I was born in a union household in St. Francis. Like most everyone else in the town, my parents were employed by Mr. Frederik’s company, Rodion Solutions. Times were good and St. Francis thrived. Property values were high, but not too high so as to keep middle class families from purchasing homes, and there were always enough jobs. We even saw the owner, Mr. Rodion, in town on a frequent basis. He insisted on being called by his first name, Richard, by everyone, even his employees, and patronized local businesses on a frequent basis. That isn’t to say that the man is a saint, but it isn’t my place to tell stories out of school. This is about me and Richard’s son, not me and John’s father.

We’d hear rumors now and then, about automation coming to Rodion Solutions, but Mr. Rodion swore that his factory would automate when it’s owned by someone else, and not a moment before. It wasn’t just talk, either, it was a stance that he stood resolute on. As a result, we had a beautiful and bustling main street, local scholarships, and a thriving arts community, proof that college towns don’t have a monopoly on culture. We’d hear rumblings about how unhappy John was with the state of his inheritance, or how deeply he disagreed with his father about his stance on automation, but Richard was resolute and firm. Due to Rodion Solutions being a privately owned company, with all shares owned by Richard, he had absolute control over how things were run. There was talk about making the company completely employee-owned, but…no one’s perfect.

Time went on. People moved, people came in, stores opened and stores closed, but Rodion’s gates were unlocked on weekdays and unemployment within St. Francis was all but completely unheard of. That is until Mr. Rodion ‘s health started to fail. It wasn’t as if we weren’t expecting it; he was a five pack a day smoker during downtime, and would be even worse during busy periods. Rather than spend the last few months of his life on chemo, only to get a trache and a lung removed, he chose to check into hospice to die as comfortably as possible in the town that he had built.

The change happened faster than any of us could believe. John was smart enough to know not to make any major changes while his father was still alive, so he waited until the day of Richard’s funeral for him to make Rodion Solutions into a publicly traded corporation. Within a month, the lay-offs started. The people of St. Francis did what they were able to, but the damage was done and could not be rolled back. All that needed to be done was for the right people to think the wrong thing about what happened to the jobs (immigration and outsourcing, not automation) and any effort to rally St. Francis against John Rodion was utterly undercut.

Unemployment exploded throughout the country and only got worse over the next two decades. With less middle class jobs, there was less money to spend in the area, which led to even more job losses. Soon enough, there were more boards across windows on Main Street than not, which resulted in an exodus out of the county. With less tax payers and lowering property values, our schools got worse and the Richard Rodion Excellence Award was dissolved, along with the rest of the philanthropic efforts headed by the fallen patriarch. St. Francis was a miniature of Detroit over an accelerated period of time. Quiet nights became filled with police sirens, and then when the local police station had to cut their budget, the sirens stopped by the need for police just grew.

I was luckier than most of my friends. We lost our house, of course, but we were able to sell to a manager that was coming into Rodion to watch over the new robots and to supervise the maintenance crew. As they were moving in and we were moving out, my parents (who were so maligned by the press, and who didn’t deserve any of their blame) drew me aside and told me not to resent them. I still remember my dad’s words as if they were seared into my mind, “Don’t blame them, kiddo. It’s not their fault, they need a job as much as anyone else, and they’re qualified to do it. It’s John Rodion and his stockholders who are to blame for this, not the people who were hired on after we were all laid off.”

That money helped us to stay afloat for awhile, but with store after store closing down in the area and major chains hesitating from opening up due to declining population numbers and household incomes there was a lot of hesitation. The press chose to paint my dad as a drunk, which was literally true, but such a term is only ever used as a character judgment which was completely unearned. It wasn’t his fault that he was totally unqualified for any other job after he worked at that factory since the day he graduated from high school. The darkest day of his life was when he took a position as a greeter for Wal-Mart. My father, the kindest, warmest and most intelligent man I’ve ever known, fell into a despair that he couldn’t climb out of after his first day in that uniform. My mom was a housekeeper for hire, and between their combined income, we were able to pay for everything but household necessities. My father cried when we had to apply for government assistance, like all of his friends eventually had to.

My parents kindly, but firmly, instilled into me a very strong work ethic as well as a large amount of respect for education and, as my dad called them, “The people who make the gears of the world turn” by which he meant public employees, retail workers, manufacturers, etc. The people who don’t wear a suit to work, unless it was bought at Goodwill. However, they never allowed me to take a job, telling me that my biggest responsibility was getting grades good enough to leave St. Francis and never come back. So, even after my dad finished off a six pack of Milwaukee’s Best, he still sat with me in the kitchen, both of our eyes straining because we only dared to turn on one light in the kitchen to keep the electric bill low, until I finished my homework. When he would have to work overnight, it was my mom that stayed up with me.

My friends were not so fortunate, though. Not everybody can stand up and stare down darkness like my parents can, and not everyone who needs chemical assistance to get through the day was able to stay themselves with their favorite substance flowing through their veins. There were adult suicides, teenage suicides, domestic abuse of every stripe and a surge of opiates methamphetamines into the area. Plenty of people did really well after our town disintegrated, just not any of the original citizens of St. Francis.

On the day of the eighth anniversary of the factory’s closure, I sent off an application to Chicago state for law, thinking that I would be able to fight for people like those hurt by the death of manufacturing, people like my parents. It wasn’t easy, between my father’s worsening alcoholism and my mom’s failing health due to the stress of cleaning every day, I wanted more than anything to return to help. To send them money. But my dad made it clear that he’d throw me out if I tried to come back. “You earned that scholarship, now do something with it.”

And so I did. Years of hard work, years of study. Years more of criminal defense so that I could set up my own practice eventually and all that I ever saw was more people like my parents, my friends and my parents’ friends all crushed by forces out of their control and merely trying to live, trying to get through their day. I put all of this out of my mind and put my nose to the grindstone until John Rodion stood in front of me, which set me on the course that I’m on now. The conversation that followed was a test of my mettle more than anything else as every class-shaming comment and remark he made served to make me angrier and angrier. That is until he made the job offer. He said I had a keen intellect, that I had risen out of squalor, that I beat all the odds and that I defied expectations when he made the squalor, when he set the odds on the table and when he decided that St. Francis’ expectations were only worth diminishing. What could I do but accept the offer?

With the money I made as a corporate lawyer, I was able to buy my parents a home and get my dad the help that he needed after AA failed him for the fourth time; he couldn’t bring himself to believe in a higher power after his best friend and my godfather died of a heroin overdose. Soon, that proved to not be enough. Even after donating most of my income to St. Francis’ public schools and doing everything else that I could for the community that created me, I still felt a hollowness that I couldn’t fill. I carried this hollow feeling with me for months, into the court, into meetings, into doc review and business lunches until I needed John’s signature on some contract or another, it isn’t important, and his secretary was away from her desk. I knew he was in his office, so I just let myself in and continued the chain of dominos falling when I saw his secretary on her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks as John Rodion, the son of a man who created a fabrication and manufacturing conglomerate out of nothing, pulled his pants back up.

I froze. What else could I do? I was reminded of when dad told us that he lost his job; my mind was unable to fully grasp what was going on in front of me. John told his secretary to go back to her desk and she passed me with my mouth wide open while he told her to close the door behind her. The ‘conversation’ that followed, he was the one that spoke while all I could do was nod or shake my head, was full of ‘it isn’t how it looks,’ as he assured me that ‘this can stay between us’ and ‘there’s no reason why any of this needs to leave my office.’ This impromptu ‘meeting’ ended with him, unbidden, doubling my salary and telling me to take the day off. To say that work never went back to normal was an understatement.

I deserve an award for not letting my façade slip over the next few years. John considered me ‘made’ after covering for whatever the hell was going on with his secretary. I felt like I was betraying yet another person for just ‘allowing’ her to think that I was complicit with whatever was going on, but it was necessary as I was allowed into John Rodion’s circle. I met his closest friends, I met his family and his children. I even met two of his mistresses. All for him to totally drop his guard around me, and to allow me to gather what I needed from him, slowly, bit by bit, to bypass the security at his house, and to know when his family will be out of his mansion. From there, it was a matter of time until my parents passed on. If that sounds morbid, it wasn’t meant to; I just didn’t want them to think of their only son, the person who they were more proud of than anyone else, as a murderer.

Finally, the time came. The guard allowed me into his neighborhood to ‘drop off some contracts that couldn’t wait until the office opened.’ Then I used the keys that I copied to get through his front door and the security code to keep the alarm from going off. Everything now depended on me taking my time, and making sure that he knew full well what was going on when I sent him to hell.

He was a heavy sleeper, which was highly conducive for when I slipped the first knife into his soft body. He screamed, because who wouldn’t, but with a totally empty manor that could fit three separate low-cost living apartment buildings in its environs there was no one anywhere near that would care in the least bit. The first knife was just a rude wake up call, as well as sending a ‘I’m not kidding’ message.

I’ll say this much for the dearly departed; he got the situation and was on the wagon right away. With a bottle of smelling salts in my pocket to keep him awake, and a hand on the first knife to twist, I let him know why I was there.
“St. Francis.” I said clearly, my eyes boring into his face.

His eyes searched all over me, unable to find anything to say.

“When your father was alive, the population was ten thousand higher than it is now, the schools were performing better and there was no crime, drugs or suicide to speak of. Have you been there lately?”

He didn’t reply, and I twisted the knife, which produced a cry of “NO!” He struggled to get his breath back, “You know as well as I do what a dump that place is.”

“Thanks to you!” I shouted, spittle flying in his face. “Thanks to you. Killing all those jobs has consequences, John, and I am those consequences.” The second knife slipped into him as easily as you would expect, as much as I paid for them. After he calmed down, I smirked down at him, “Funny thing about knives and stabbing, so long as the attacks avoids all major arteries and organs, it’s very hard to die from a knife attack. Not that you will, of course.”

“Killing me won’t bring those jobs back!” He yelled. “Nothing will! They’ll never come back!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that, “You think that’s what I think will happen?” I leaned in close, as if there were other people in the bedroom. “This is revenge.”

“Revenge?” He coughed and blood drooled out of his mouth. “You hold yourself up as some avenger while leaving my wife and children without me! Just over a business deal?”

I couldn’t help it at that point. I just cut his throat open, “I’ll make sure to leave the phone numbers of your secretary and mistresses. Maybe they’ll help.”

 

You all know what happened after. The arrest, my confession, everything else. And here I am, waiting for my execution date. I know that this won’t fix anything, and I know no one’s shedding any tears when I go in the ground, but at least he didn’t get away with it. Now the hollow feeling is gone. Now I can sleep at night. That’s enough.

Couple.

Trigger warning: this story contains frank language describing on-the-job sexual harassment, emotional abuse, casual racism and deals with rape.

“Wendy, would you mind taking table seven?” Veronica wasn’t typically in the habit of giving away money, especially this close to the end of the month, so Wendy peeked up from the register to scan the table. Recognition crossed her face, “Oh, don’t tell me you know them.”

“Is that a problem? I mean, I don’t know all of them, but Sean is Tom’s best friend.” Wendy indicated who she meant with a subtle movement. Veronica’s face went white at that, which made Wendy ask, “What’s the matter? What happened?”

Veronica just shook her head, “We’ll talk later. I’m going to do my side-work, cash out and have a smoke. Think the rest of your tables will be done in an hour?” She also had to do her silverware rolls, which would take up the lion’s share of her side-work. “I’ll even do rolls if you take this table?” She practically plead.

Wendy nodded, “Sure, but I need a full report after I cash out.” She checked her pens, book and name tag, then went back out onto the floor.The table of four was raucous, and refused to pay attention to her despite her repeated attempts to introduce herself. She took a deep breath, wondering why the worst table is always the last of the day, and went into the server’s station so that she could return with ice water for the table, which was usually a successful way to interject as she needed to.

She returned, cleared her throat and introduced herself again, then started to hand out the water until she was rebuffed with, “Excuse me, sweetheart, but we didn’t ask for any water.” Sean’s friend said.

Her face went red and her pulse raced, not knowing what to say or do, still holding the glass of ice water. The man who had interrupted her sighed, rolled his eyes and made room for his glass of water. From here, she was able to get through her greeting, and take drink orders. She didn’t bother to act as if she knew Sean, since he made no indication of that. She simply took the drink order to the register to order it up, wondered who drank long island iced teas for lunch, especially a business lunch as they were all dressed to the nines.

Shortly, she returned to the table and handed out the drinks. Sean’s friend again made his presence known, this time in a way that he probably thought was subtle, by tracing his eyes over her body and then winking when she sat his drink down. “Hey, sweety, how old are you?” This came from another of Sean’s friends. Internally, she was hoping that Sean wasn’t close friends with any of them, due to her not wanting Sean to be a bad impression on Tom.

She cleared her throat and began, “Have we all decid-”

She was neatly cut off, “Hey, I know you aren’t educated enough to work a real job, but my friend asked you a question.” This was from the third person at the table. Thus far, only Sean hadn’t said anything aside from his drink order.

At this point, now feeling very small, she was beginning to understand why Veronica gave up this table, especially to someone that the rest of the staff had generally seen as fairly unshakable, a part of her reputation that she was clinging on to. She cleared her throat, “I’m 29, sir.” She kicked herself for how small she sounded.

“Baby, you have got to get-” The third guy began.

She forced a big smile, “Have we all decid-”

“Look. I don’t know how you were raised, but my parents drilled into our heads that you don’t interrupt or try to speak over a man when he’s talking. Now.” He produced his wallet and pulled out a few five dollar bills and laid them on the table. “From here on out, every faux pas that you make, we’ll deduct a bill from your tip. Right now, you stand to make twenty dollars. And if you even think about handing us off to another server, they won’t get anything in the form of a tip.” She looked helplessly at Sean, who was intently watching his friend. “Now. As I was saying, with a face as pretty as yours, and an ass like that, you really should get yourself a sugar daddy. Get yourself off of those feet. Maybe learn some manners, too.”

Wendy made a fist inside of her apron, over and over as she counted to ten and tried her best to calm herself and to slow her breathing down. Her smile was gone. “I’ll take that under advisement, sir. Now, are we all ready to order?”

The man with her tip drew a bill back. “You should smile, sweety. You look so much prettier when you smile.”

This drew a laugh from the entire table, including Sean. At this point, she wanted to crawl into a hole and die. She was somehow able to smile. “Are we all ready to order?”

Their orders were simple enough, and gratefully the rest of the meal went off without too much of a problem and were low maintenance enough that she was able to do her side work as she kept watch over the table. They all left within an hour of sitting down, didn’t leave a mess and she was relieved to see the full twenty dollar tip in the check presenter. That was, until she pulled out the credit card slip, which she would have to give to her manager before she could leave for the day. At first, it was a relief that Sean was paying, and that he was using a credit card, but when she looked at it, she nearly started to cry as she read, “Whenever Tom’s not around, you should have me by for a good time.” There wasn’t anything else there to indicate who wrote it. For all anyone could guess, Wendy herself had written it.

She swung by the table that Veronica was seated at, all of their silverware rolls taken care of. “Lemme go cash out and I’ll be back.” Veronica nodded, chewing on her fingernails and looking like a frightened cat. Wendy wondered how she, herself, looked as she entered into the manager’s office to complete her day. “Um, Benjamin? I was wondering if we could talk.”

“Of course! Step right in and close the door behind you.” He said in his usual, avuncular way. “What’s the problem?”

“That last table, the four-top at table seven, were harassing me throughout my meal. They demeaned me, condescended to me, and look at what they wrote on the credit card slip!” She exclaimed as he went through her proof of sale and slips.

“Well, that seems friendly enough. What was so wrong with what they said?” The usual, smiling face that he wore shined up at her.

“I…what? He insinuated that he’d like to sleep with me behind my husband’s back.”

“But he used your husband’s name. It must have been a joke, that you just aren’t taking well.” He was now using his shaming voice, which he often employed to diminish people’s confidence and make them feel as if they were on the spot. This tactic was working exceptionally well at the moment. “So, what I guess I’m saying is, ‘do you have any proof of what you’re accusing?'”

“Well, no, but-” She began.

He cut her off neatly, “So, you’re just trying to slander four of our customers because they didn’t tip you?”

“Well, no, but-” She began again.

“So they tipped you well, and you’re trying to chase away business because…” He waited a beat before he said, “Well?”

“I can’t prove that they had a shitty attitude or that they were a bunch of misogynistic assholes!” She couldn’t control her words or the volume of her speech at this point, but just the same couldn’t help but notice the way that he rolled his eyes when she said ‘misogynistic’.

Benjamin raised an eyebrow and smirked in a way that she instantly recognized as being the look he takes on when he’s won. “Well, that just sounds like your opinion, sweetheart. Maybe you should get better at taking compliments?” He held out the money she had earned that day, “Carry on.” He motioned her away after she took her earnings.

She opened her mouth, then shut it and stomped out of the room. She swore that she would update her resume and get out of this store, but just like every other time that Benjamin had been pointlessly cruel to her, she knew that she’d be back the next day for more.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here.” She said to Veronica after she had punched out.

They were soon seated in Veronica’s car as Wendy’s knee bounced up and down. She chewed on her lip and looked outside as her friend studied her. “Smoke?”

“Please.” Officially, Wendy had quit smoking years ago. And she kept that as the official line, regardless of how many smokes she had bummed off of various friends at times. So long as she hasn’t bought a pack, she is an ex-smoker.

“Benjamin didn’t believe you or care?” Veronica said as she lit her friend’s cigarette.

“You tried to tell him, too?” Wendy said, emotion missing from her speech.

“He asked me why I was making shit up, and trying to scare away good business.” She took a drag and blew the smoke out of the window, cracked just enough in the cold February afternoon.

“Basically what he said to me.” She sighed and drew her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them. “So, you said you’d tell me what happened after everything was done.”

Veronica used the dead cigarette to light another. She pitched the butt outside to join all the others in the employee parking area. “That guy you said was named Sean? He picked me up at a bar last night, and forced himself on me when we went back to his place.”

Wendy felt numb and cold all over. She almost dropped her cigarette on the floor of Veronica’s car. “…what?” She couldn’t help but ask.

“So, I went out to have some drinks last night and settled down at a place I hadn’t been before. They were advertising lady’s night, and were offering two-for-one margaritas. I had that really shitty party yesterday that only tipped me ten percent, so I needed something to make myself feel better, right?” Wendy nodded to show that she was still listening. “Sean was there, and he bought me my drinks. He was easy to talk to, and I thought I’d like to see him again. Soon enough, he’s gotten enough drinks into me, and had me buttered up enough that I accepted when he asked if I wanted to come over. Whatever.

“We get to his place, and right away he tries to shove his tongue down my throat. I thought he was just a little aggressive, and since he has such a nice place, I kind of already assumed that he would be. I push him back a little, which made him push me against the wall. I tried to tell him to stop, that I wasn’t comfortable with what he was doing, and he did it anyway.” There was silence for a moment before she said, almost as an afterthought, “Bastard even had a condom and lube to keep from leaving any evidence. It would be my word against his if I tried to bring charges against him.”

The car was silent until Wendy reached over the center console and gave Veronica a tight hug. Neither one of them said anything else before parting, not knowing what else could be said.

Wendy compromised with herself, saying that it was just going to be one pack, and that it didn’t mean anything. That she would be sure to go to the gym five times the following week to make up for it, but just the same, she was two into a fresh pack of cigarettes at the townhouse she shared with Tom by the time he came in. She ashed her smoke in a bowl nearby, as he greeted her.

“Bad day?” He asked tenderly.

“Like you wouldn’t believe.” She rested her smoke on the bowl and ran to her husband. She burrowed into him, and resolved not to say a word about what had gone on. She wanted to leave work at work, and try not to let any of it bother her.

Tom could tell that something was going on, so he did his best to help her out. He helped with dinner prep, and regaled her with tales from his office, along with a generous helping of gossip. She could feel her anxiety melting away as he insinuated himself behind her as she chopped carrots. He rubbed over her stomach, which was the best way to soothe her nerves. “So, Sean told me that he dropped by your restaurant today, and that you were fantastic. Said he’d be back next week for sure.”

Her knife held still above the remains of the carrot, while distantly she was aware that the sauce reduction needed to have the heat turned down. She broke away from Tom, and futzed with their dinner, before he put his hand on hers, “Hey, you gonna tell me what’s wrong?”

She shook her head a little, once again kicking herself for feeling small again. “I really would just like to put this day behind me and not worry about it again.”

“Come on, it must’ve been a bad day if you bought a pack of cigarettes after we quit together at the engagement party. You remember that, right?” As if she could forget. He was so mindful of how she felt when he presented her the ring, not wanting to put her on the spot or make her feel embarrassed, while also inviting only their closest friends to be witnesses. Large crowds and all of that always made her feel nervous.

She sighed heavily began to recount her day off to him, busying herself with their dinner as she did, so as to not have to look at him as she told her husband about the way her husband’s friend had allowed and later joined in on her harassment, and then dovetailing it off into Veronica’s story. When she was finished, she was taken aback to see that her husband was wearing a very nonplussed face. “What? What’s that look for?” She asked.

“Well, I think you should just be a little more patient with these guys. I mean, it sounds like they were just having some fun and blowing off steam.” He said in a blase tone.

“More patient? They were-”

“Honey, they didn’t touch you and they gave you a big tip. I don’t see what the problem is. Besides, you know how these finance guys are, it’s a big boy’s club! They just forget where they were at the moment.” He went to give her a hug, but she placed her hand on his chest and looked up at him, confused and hurt. “What? What’s the matter?”

“You don’t believe me?” She nearly squeaked.

“I didn’t say I don’t believe you, just that you should know how to take a joke by now. I mean, you’ve known Sean for years by now.”

“And he’s never acted like that around me by now, Tom!” Her face was turning as red as it was when she was taking the table’s order. “And he said that he wanted to sleep with me!”

“Actually, you said that there wasn’t a name that went with the message, so you’re just accusing him of stuff as far as I can see. Did you bring the slip with you?” He was wearing a condescending smirk, one that she’d only seen him employ when talking to an especially thick child.

“You know I didn’t! You know I ca-”

“So, you really are just accusing my friend of harassing you and trying to get into your pants. How is that any different from your friend claiming that he raped her?”

The world dropped out from beneath Wendy, “Claimed? Veronica wasn’t ‘claiming’ anything. She didn’t want to fuck him, and he did anyway!” Dinner was now forgotten at this point.

“Well, does she have any proof?” There was that condescending tone again, and Wendy wanted to scream. Who was this that she was talking to? Where was her husband? The man who held her and soothed her and comforted her after their miscarriage last year, and who had even said that it was ‘their’ miscarriage.

“He didn’t leave any proof! I even mentioned tha-”

“Well, that just sounds very convenient to me. The way that you’re trying to throw Sean’s friends under the bus like you are. Trying to get them banned from a restaurant just because your little friend regretted being easy.”

Wendy’s head was spinning. “None of this is convenient for either her or me! What if it was me, Tom? What if I was raped? Or would I need two male witnesses to back up my testimony?”

He tried to soothe her by touching her shoulder, which she withdrew as if his hand were on fire. “What is this all about, honey? I’ve never seen you get so worked up.

“Answer the question!” She struggled to keep her volume under control. She could feel her cheeks heat up and her vision started to blur with tears which she cursed herself for.

“Well, I…I would have to weigh up the evide-”

“Seriously?! You wouldn’t trust me?”

“I mean, we’re supposed to be impartial in crimin-”

She backed up away from him fast enough that she nearly knocked a pan, which was now issuing smoke, off the stove. “Do not. Do not dare give me any of that ‘devil’s advocate’ bullshit. We aren’t talking about an abstract or anything like that. What if we were talking about me, and not my friend?”

He looked bewildered, as if he were totally lost in the woods, “Can you just please calm down and try-”

“Weigh your next words very carefully. If the next thing that comes out of your mouth is ‘be rational,’ then I’m out of this house and I won’t be coming back.” He didn’t say anything and she swept her hair out of her eyes, passing her palm over her forehead. “Funny how quick you were to believe all of Clinton’s accusers-”

“And you didn’t?” His exasperation didn’t escape her notice.

“Bill Clinton wasn’t running for president! We-we are not having this argument again. I have made peace with your Trump vote, and now I’m seeing if I can make peace with this.” She reached for her phone and unlocked the screen, creating an audible ‘click.’

“Who are you calling?” He took a step towards her, with a look in his eyes that made her back up. She felt as if she were in the Twilight Zone, that her husband had been replaced with his evil twin.

“I’m calling my mom. I’m done. I’m leaving before one of us says or does something we can’t take back.” She put her phone up to her ear to start the call, but he snatched it away from her. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

He backed away with the phone in his hand, “Honey, I think you need to calm down. You’re blowing this out of proportion.”

She narrowed her eyes on him, “I’m blowing my friend’s rape out of proportion? Because of your shit-bag friend who you know, for a fact, made a pass at me during our Christmas party?”

“He was drunk and you know it! We, all three of us, talked about it afterwards and there was no hard feelings afterwards!” She was liking his tone less and less.

“No hard feelings from you or Tom, I just said that so that the two of you would leave me the hell alone. And now you just hand wave at my being objectified and demeaned at work, and try to tell me that Veronica was just impugning your friend’s character because, what, she just wants to ruin some rando’s reputation? Am I blowing that out of proportion, or is am I blowing the fact that you snatched my phone out of my hand while I was calling my mom out of proportion? You’re going to have to be more specific, since I’m so poorly educated, and because I only good enough to be a trophy wife, according to the people who you’re defending?” She had to scale her neck up to meet his gaze, but she did it just the same.

“I’m not giving you your phone until you calm down.” He put his phone in her pocket.

“Then you can keep the phone, and I’ll walk over to Veronica’s place.” She walked over to put on her shoes and jacket, but he was quickly standing in her way.

“Please just slow down before you do something that we can’t take back.” He put his hands up as if to ward her off, but she advanced on him, forcing him to back up. As she put on her shoes, he turned to lock the door out of the apartment.

“Do you intend to keep me here as a prisoner? I can call the police for that. Are you going to move out of my way?”

A slow mix of emotions crossed his face. He went from concern to confusion and settled on anger, which she had rarely seen on his face. “You’re going to call the police? On your husband?”

“If my husband continues to try to detain me in my own home, I certainl-” She was on the floor, and her ear was ringing before she could even see his hand raise from his hip and go across her face. She looked up to see her husband’s face, now a mask of panic, as tears ringed her eyes. She promised herself that she would never cry for him again as she stood back on her feet. “Give me my fucking phone and get out of my fucking way.”

He remained standing in the way of the door, and was showing no sign of moving until smoke began to trickle out of the kitchen, “Oh, you better go get that. Your dinner’s going to burn.”

He hesitantly went to the kitchen, still with her phone in his pocket. He turned before he entered the room completely, plaintively saying, “Please don’t go anywhere.” By the time that he returned to the living room, she was gone. He sat down heavily on the ground, buried his face in his hands and just stared at their creases as the phone in his pocket vibrated, knowing that it would eventually stop.

Help.

Preface: This is a little something that I’ve been working in my head and in notes for the past six or so years. It’s finally time to stop delaying. The first draft, in parts, will be posted here with a compiled ‘final’ draft done afterwards, and posted on Amazon. So, without further ado:

Help.

Yesterday, promises were made. And on those promises, business was created. A way-station for trappers or loggers, the reason isn’t important anymore. With those businesses came homes that housed their workers. The houses led to more business and bigger buildings and eventually, factories.

For a time, success ran up and down the streets. People looked up into the sky and felt the promise of what tomorrow would bring. The streets seemed to be paved with gold, and on those streets, houses were replaced with apartment buildings. And when the bright and clear promise of yesterday faded into today, Jude Jameson moved into one such apartment building. And today, it was snowing.

There was something about the first snowfall of winter, whenever it happened, that reminded him of what it was like to be a child. Even now, as he walked from the sofa to the living room window, carefully navigating around his furniture in the still dark of early morning, he could feel himself smiling. It was a curious sensation, as he put his back to the few possessions he had that he hadn’t pawned off. He wrapped his robe more tightly around himself and rubbed his arms, feeling a little cold even inside his warm apartment.

He went to the kitchen and began his day, brewing coffee first, while he listened to NPR’s forecast. He listened intently as he was told that it would be a heavy snowfall for the next day or two, and that school closures will be very likely, the following day. His coffee was done after a few minutes, and as the forecast turned into an update on a local referendum on school zoning and what it could mean to a nearby habitat, Jude switched the radio off and instead chose to listen to the silence that always came with a snowstorm.

With coffee, comes cereal, Jude thought to himself. He opened up his cupboard, trying his best not to wince at how empty it was. With his breakfast in hand, he turned to his laptop, sitting on the kitchen island to scan through Craigslist. He crossed his fingers as he scanned through the jobs listings with the criteria of ‘open interviews.’ Before he was finished with his breakfast, he had his list for the day.

“Hey. I can hit all these places on foot,” He mused to himself as he sipped at his coffee. He looked outside and stroked his chin absent-mindedly. The previous winter had been so atypically dry; it had been more than a year since he got to tramp through snow like this. “Alright. Looks like I’m walking today.”

 

Jude hummed softly to himself as he walked through the heavy snowfall. He was cheered by the small amount of street traffic that he encountered due to his increased appreciation for solitude. The town was always at its most quiet during storms like these, as he’d learned. Since moving there, a handful of years ago, he’d come to grow quite fond of the area.

He passed through neighborhood after neighborhood, the houses all standing in stark contrast to one another, showing the deep history that he was surrounded by. Businesses stood between houses, and apartment buildings jutted out at irregular intervals. Some of it was due to the town’s past with industry, affordable housing being needed by low-level workers, some of it was due to the college that stood at the center of it all and the rest was garden variety family housing.

As he stepped onto Main Street, the street lamps turned on. He looked at his phone to check the time, and saw that it was already veering towards sunset on top of the nearly impenetrable cloud-cover. He was making good time, and smiled in appreciation of that fact. He had a good feeling about today, and thought he was past due for a good turn.

Really should’ve applied for unemployment. He thought to himself. He could hardly blame himself for how long he’d gone without work. There just weren’t that many jobs left in the area, and the diminishing population was a reflection of that. He shook his head ruefully as he thought of his last job and his disastrous last day. How he had mixed up the time that he was due in, ended up being an hour late and asked to leave almost immediately upon arrival.

He took a deep breath of the cool air and let it out slowly. He closed his eyes and pushed those thoughts out of his head. Can’t think of that right now; one foot in front of the other. And so, he pressed on towards his first stop of the day.

 

Open interviews often run the gamut of actual, in depth conversations with actual employers, or the distinct feeling of being looked over like a pig at a fair. Just surface glances over your appearance, a few quick questions and then on to the next contestant. Regardless of which of the two approaches employers took, none of them lasted very long, with the walks between businesses taking the longest amount of time so that, when he was finished for the day, his phone displayed “7:00.”

He hadn’t eaten since noon, and the cold and snow was beginning to lose its luster. As he stood in the awning of the doorway that he had just walked out of, he thought about his options. He could either return to his apartment and have a frozen dinner, or he could get a burger. He hadn’t gone out to eat in a week or two, and besides, he had done great work today. Why not top off what was proving to be a nice day with a treat?

To assuage his guilt at spending money that he really didn’t have, he decided to go with fast food. Something cheap, hot and greasy would go a long way towards something like a reward. With that in mind, he stopped in at Apollo’s, and ordered his favorite: a double cheeseburger and Cajun fries. Just as he was about to tuck in, however, his phone began to buzz in his pocket.

“Judith, what are you doing?” Daniel said over the din of bar music.

“Dan, aren’t you supposed to be working?” Jude said as he casually began to eat his fries.

“That would be the ideal situation. However, the bar is totally empty. Not a soul in sight, and bossman wants us to stay open until two ‘just in case.’” Daniel’ bar was around the halfway point between Apollo’s and Jude’s apartment, so swinging by wouldn’t be too much of a labor.

“I’m not sure, man. Money’s really tight, and I don’t think I can really excuse going out to drink, especially on a weekday.”

“Right, like you have anything else better to do. First couple are on me, is that fair?”

Gotcha. Jude thought to himself. “Alright. Fine. Let me finish eating and I’ll be there in twenty.”

 

The road traffic had slowed down from a crawl to a near total stop. The plows hadn’t yet gone out, and the drifts were growing more and more as time passed. He would’ve continued on, not stopping to become even more wet and cold, had he not heard something that he couldn’t quite assign a distinct feeling to. It was a saxophone, being played out into the cold, winter night. There was always something slightly melancholic about a saxophone without accompaniment, and on a night like this, that melancholy was even more profound.

He walked towards it until he found its genesis, someone practicing from their apartment situated on top of a storefront. The light that beamed out of the apartment contrasted with the music, a feeling of home next to a feeling of isolation. Being lost in the wilderness. He shivered a little, but not from the cold, and finished the short distance to Daniel’ bar.

O’Malley’s was usually one of the busiest bars on Main Street, especially when the semester was in, but it was desolate when Jude entered. “Boy, when you can’t even attract college kids…” Jude said as he stripped out of his gloves, jacket, hat and scarf. He place his gloves in his hat, his hat on the bar and the scarf over both as he draped his jacket over the bar seat. He sat down heavily, and Daniel poured out a pint.

“There are bars that don’t require a drive, or a mile’s trek. I just wish Greg would let us close down, there’s no way that anyone’s coming in tonight.”

The beer was cold and refreshing, washing away all of the concerns that hit Jude on an almost daily basis. Would he return to school? Would he finish his degree? What about rent or a job? When would he be able to pay for the repairs that his truck needed? None of this seemed to matter to him as he sat in the comfortable bar, chatting about not much of anything for the next hour. Then another hours passed, and another.

Jude fished his phone out and, when he saw the time, did a double take. “You let me stay in here until eleven at night? Man, I’m not twenty-one anymore.” His head was swimming, and he knew he’d stagger when he got up. “What’s my tab?”

“Forget it. You did me a favor tonight, just toss me a five for pouring beer and we’re square.”

Jude thought this over for a moment, seriously debating the merits of paying a tab, when the option existed not to, on pure principal. “Are you sure, man? Greg won’t get angry?”

“We’re trying to get rid of the keg that you’ve been drinking all night. You’re one of three people that drinks it, so we’re phasing it out as soon as it’s empty. Honestly, you’re doing us a favor by getting rid of it before it goes bad.”

“Beer goes bad?” He furrowed his brow a little, his mind working at this small conundrum far harder than it ought to.

“Dude, go home. Want me to call you a cab?” Travis asked as Jude began to haphazardly dress himself.

“No, no. I’m cool, man. It isn’t far back to my place, and if I get tired, I can just lay in the soft snow until the sun rises.” He flashed Daniel a grin and went out into the storm.

The enthusiasm with which he met the coming storm in the morning had all but vanished as he pushed his way through the streets. Still no plows anywhere in sight, the snow was now coming up to his knees. He rubbed his hands together, trying to warm them up in gloves that were becoming more and more threadbare as the days went by. Can’t remember the last time I saw snow like this, he muttered to himself.

On he went, though. Unrelenting as the snow and wind at his back, he was soon enough in eyesight of his apartment building. If apartment complexes had parents, only they would love the squat, brown pile of bricks that he walked towards. It was old, but at least it was sturdy. He was certain that a tornado could come through and not even the windows would rattle in its four-floor façade.

With the practiced ease of someone who had done this often, he took his gloves off, then his keys out of his pants pocket, then put his gloves back on. He opened the outer door, and was careful not to let it slam shut, for fear of waking the elderly woman who lived right next to it.

He shook himself, hard, to get some of the snow off of himself before he began to strip off his snow clothes as he walked towards his apartment. Taking his boots off first, to rest outside of his doorstop, he went in. He felt his foot slide against something just inside of his living room, past the door, but ignored it. It will be there in the morning, he thought to himself as he began to undress for bed, I’m done with today.

Boston Marathon and Conspiracy Theories

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Last week, according to the evidence that’s available at hand, a pair of Chechen immigrants (who, once again, according to the available evidence, both emigrated to America legally) used several bombs to attack spectators and runners in the Boston Marathon. Three people are, as a direct result, dead and many more are injured. We have since captured one of the bombers while the other was killed in their attempted apprehension.

All’s well that ends well, right? Unfortunately, there are certain elements in our society that will seize on anything in order to either pursue an agenda or to make a few dollars off of the credulous. Alex Jones is precisely one such person.

Mere moments after the attacks, he was using his Twitter account to espouse theories on what was ‘really’ going on, when there was little to no information available. This is irresponsible at best and destructive at worst. I try my best to take people at their words and believe what they’re saying as being their genuine thoughts and values. When it comes to people like Alex Jones, I really can’t do any such thing. He’s made a very successful career out of sewing discord, enmity and distrust by making incredibly paranoid and totally invalid opinions readily available to people who are ready, willing and openly desirous of having those opinions fed to them.

As I’ve said in previous postings, I love conspiracy theories. The reason why I love them so much is because of the opportunity that they present to learn more about how the world works. Take, for instance, the 9/11 Attacks and the conspiracy theories that surround it (theories that I won’t dignify by referring to them as they want to be, with the word ‘Truth’ attached). These theories operate on people not understanding the entire attacks, or being too ready to seize upon an anti-government mindset rather than being willing to suspend an opinion until they’ve weighed up all of the facts. Since researching the conspiracy theories that surround 9/11 I have learned quite a bit more about engineering, psychology and physics than I had before. It’s actually an incredibly interesting line of inquiry, if you’re willing to have some of your pre-existing opinions challenged.

That really isn’t the case when it comes to the Boston attacks, where the conspiracy theories rely on people already having an overwhelming sense of suspicion about everything that surrounds them. These conspiracy theories rely on people being ready to leap to conclusions and then rejecting any sort of evidence after having arrived at that conclusion. This is because there is no direct evidence, or any other kind of evidence, that lends their theories any sort of credence. These theories are built around drills being conducted in the area as well the presence of trained professionals at the site. From these facts, we then make any number of assumptions to then arrive at a conclusion that isn’t supported by any facts. As a rule, when it comes to critical thinking, we have to outright reject any sort of theory that requires us to make any assumptions, not just assumptions that aren’t supported by any facts. This is what’s required as magical thinking, where a theory starts with evidence A, adds it to assumption B to arrive at conclusion C. For instance. I go out to a restaurant and order a hamburger. I didn’t see the hamburger made in the kitchen, but the hamburger is in front of me. I walked into the restaurant with a conclusion that food that’s served at the restaurant is beamed into the kitchen from a flying saucer that has avoided detection. So, I have my conclusion (C), and then I get my burger (A), which I make my assumption about (B). Once I’ve formed that line of reasoning, even if I’m showed the kitchen, there are any number of justifications that I can make that will continue to support my unsupportable theory.

Now, the rejoinder to my thinking will of course be, “What’s the harm?” This is often said whenever anyone tries to debunk or dispel any sort of subject whose harmful consequences are not readily apparent (opposition to inoculations, astrology and homeopathy being three good examples). This is usually because we give an air of credence to any party that seems to be in an underdog position, because we don’t see a ready reason for why people would run contrary to the ‘official story’ if they weren’t right, or if there wasn’t an aura of truth to what they’re saying. The problem could run from feeding into a conspiratorial mindset that could then lead to disastrous consequences to people being swindled out of money. But sometimes the harm could be as simple as someone suspending their rational judgment to believe something that has no empirical evidence to support it. Whenever we suspend our rational judgment, we run the risk of that suspension forming a pattern that could be hard to break out of. Once you’ve started down the path of assuming something that we have no reason to assume, it becomes easier to continue to do that until we only have a passing relationship with reality.

Generally speaking, a doss of healthy skepticism and an incredulous mindset towards ideas and concepts that have no support will never lead you astray. After all, the real world is already a fabulous place to live in, and anything that expects you to believe ridiculous things will detract from your ability to absorb the wonder and the mystery of that real world.

Telemachus.

When you have a child, you put your hopes into him.

That new life lays in your hands and wriggles and screams, being brought into this veil of tears. It’s unfair to that child, heaping the responsibilities of life onto them, but it’s too late to undo. And so, you place a certain amount of your hopes into him.

And how could you not? After all, not one person who has ever lived has drunk life to its lees. Every person who has lived has failed to live up to their absolute potential, but you think differently of that life in your hands when it’s brand new. You see far beyond this day and into the infinite future. You see that the child in your hands will aspire to be all that you want him to be, regardless of anything that you tell anyone else. He will not fail where you failed. He will go beyond your successes. He will be everything that you were and are not.

That life then spirals out of your control almost immediately, denying you of everything that you’ve ever wanted for him. Not one actuality is as good as the potential, after all, no matter how much we might want it to be otherwise. And though we may tell ourselves differently, and though we may lie to others, all of those differences, all of the times that he diverges from the path that you want him to walk down is a disappointment. It’s pain, and it’s the denial of your own self. What about what you wanted? What about what you hoped? What about the life that you failed to live and the ways that your child would fix all of that?

He walks, but not the way you want him to. He talks and says the words that you don’t want him to say. He doesn’t want to wear the clothes you get for him, and if he starts potty training himself, it’s before you want him to and if you have to start it for him then it’s an imposition of your time. But there’s more to it than just that, and you know that there is. There’s the denial of your own great journey, your path stopping abruptly, forever altered and never able to be swung back on track.

He holds you back and you resent him for that. He takes away your hopes, he takes away your dreams and you put all of them into him. You make your life into his life, and you live through him in all the ways that you wish that your life had been different and that’s the disappointment of all of it and the part of your life that you find the hardest part to live: the knowledge that so much of it is completely out of your hands and that’s there’s only so much control that you ever have over it, and that level is so vanishingly small that you face your own utter insignificance every time that you kiss him goodnight.

So you sign him up for soccer, but he wants to play baseball. You buy him art supplies and he wants to read. You buy him the brand new clothes that he picked, despite wanting something different than what he wanted, and he comes home with mud on every square inch of it and you smile and you laugh and you sigh exasperatedly, but inside you wail and you gnash your teeth. What about your life? What about what you want? What about what you hoped to be that you will never be now? How dare he impose himself on you so much and how dare you just go along blithely with it?

His grades are never what you want them to be. If he fails his classes, then he’s a failure. If he gets all As then he’s a teacher’s pet who never questions what he’s told. If he gets anything in the middle then to some extent he is not applying himself to the extent that he ought to be and how dare he? You’ve invested so much time in his education! You got him all of the right supplies and you made sure that he was able to read and do mathematics before he even got into Kindergarten. You stayed up late doing research on the internet and spending money that you don’t have on all of the best material to raise your child to be what you always wanted to be and never were. And he’s spitting in your face every single solitary day and he’s doing so with a blithe little smile on his face as if he’s the greatest thing to happen to you even though he’s the worst.

What about Stanford? What about Harvard? What about Chelsea, she was such a nice girl! Why spend so much time with Harmony? She’s such a bad influence on you. Why won’t he date who you want him to date and if he does why can’t he just cut the apron strings and do what he wants to do? How could he be so stupid to get in trouble the way he did and why doesn’t he ever stand up for himself or live life dangerously? Why does he never question what he’s told and why does he have to be such a constant contrarian? Who does he think he is to come home at the hour that he does and why doesn’t he have a life of his own?

He’s a disappointment when he does and a disappointment when he doesn’t. Nothing satisfies you whether you admit it or not and you want him to just be like you regardless of how much you say otherwise. He’s your chance at immortality and he’s wrecking all of it. He’s besmirching your good name and he’s spitting on it and taking all of it away from you. And the worst thing of all is how you lie to yourself about it. How you tell yourself that it’s okay, that this is what you wanted and this is what you want and that you couldn’t be happier. You lie to yourself just like every other parent ever has, and he’ll lie to himself when this tragedy repeats itself.

When he puts all of his hopes into his child.