There was no denying it all went wrong the day she met The Antisocial. Her marriage, her life, her reality. He stepped into the confidence of her world and slowly altered her polarity, molecule by molecule, turning her into the world’s biggest human misery magnet. How could she have been so blind? He was a super-charged lightning rod of suffering and unrest and she jumped in feet first and grabbed the rod with both hands.
How? The Burning Bush chiseled this question into the stone tablets of her grey matter. How and why? How had it happened with such severity? And, why The Antisocial? He was nothing she had ever been attracted to in her life. He was slight and pale and short. Three things she couldn’t stand in her men. And when they met, she was married. Very married. Endlessly she would extol the virtues of her Husband of the Round Table who sat in the Siege Perilous.
She and The Antisocial even began on the wrong chord. Their first conversation was over the phone. An argument. A full-fledged war of words and attitudes, waged on the fiberoptic battlefield, with no quarter asked and none given. Hatred festered between them, growing like mold on stale bread, infecting whole city blocks at a time.
Then came the inevitable: the first meeting.
She was geared for the worst, armed with a wit-sharpened tongue and poison-dipped fingernails. The Antisocial tricked her. His subterfuge included tactics of kindness and depth. She wasn’t stupid, she kept her guard, but The Antisocial had existed for centuries and knew how to ply his trade well. Exorbitantly, he picked the locks of her defenses and let himself into her heart. She was still Very Married.
The Antisocial never used ordinary tactics. He would insult her, then apologize with poetry. Something her husband had never done. He would put the boots to her during weak moments, and when she retaliated, he simply walked away. She threw herself at him, and he stepped aside. She showed him the knife he drove into her heart, and he twisted it. She threatened to walk out on him, and he opened the door. Crafty, crafty, was The Antisocial. Unprepared, unprepared, was she.
When she first started dating The Antisocial—convinced that she was still Very Married—she was a strong and proud princess of unshakable faith and optimism. The world catered to her whims. Whatever words she spoke became law, and she enforced those laws on everyone around her. Everyone obeyed the princess — except The Antisocial. That was the beginning of her ruin. He had planted the seeds of self-doubt. He confused her with contradictions, battered her with male logic and left her alone to wallow in the mire.
What confused her most were the contradictions. He claimed to love her strength, then proved that strength to be a lie, just to teach her how to be strong. Where was the sense?
The Antisocial also worked on her morality, dragging her down the path of decadence. Once she had assimilated, and even grown to like it, he turned cold and led her back up the path to friendship. What good would simple friendship do her now? She had already begun peeling away the facade of her Very Married home life, hacking rifts into the armor of Husband of the Round Table, besmirching his character so that the Siege Perilous was no longer a safe seat. What good was going back to the old fractured lie that was her fabled life? What good were rose-colored glasses in the pitch dark?
The Antisocial laughed. He knew these truths to be self-evident.
Her life with The Antisocial became a long list of Could-Nots:
She could not talk to him unless conversation was pleasant.
She could not be in his company unless she was happy.
She could not ask him questions that angered him.
She could not ask him why he was angry.
She could not see him while he was angry.
She could not try to take the anger away.
She could not expect anything from him.
She could not make demands on his time.
She could not interrupt his solitude.
She could not experience his personal side.
She could not include herself in his plans.
She could not discuss their future.
She could not coax him to make love to her.
She could not display intense emotions around him.
She could not ignore the things that made him happy.
She could not share the things that made her happy.
She could not talk to him about anything relevant.
She could not love him anytime he did not love her.
She could not take it any longer.
The Antisocial could not have cared less.
She would have left, but it was too late. He had destroyed her, tainted her to the point where no one else wanted her. He had taken her like a lump of mud and molded her into his ideal mate. There was no more of the original her left. She ate the loneliness he fed her and wore the sorrow overcoat he bought her. After a while, answering to the name Mrs. Antisocial had no effect.
They say there was someone out there for everybody, whether that’s true or not, she found her niche… loving The Antisocial.
About Loving The Antisocial: I write copiously daily. I’ve learned that if I don’t write regularly with some sort of goal, my writing becomes stale and disinteresting in the process. My current writing regimen, at minimum, is five thousand words every day.
I’ll start a story off with great ideas, excitement, and plans for some sort of magnum opus. The ideas and prose flow along at a satisfying pace until it doesn’t. Then I’m often visited by the bane of my existence, my old pal, writer’s block.
To beat my nemesis into a bloody pulp, I write. Doesn’t matter what, as long as I keep my fingers peck-peck-pecking on the keyboard and them cute little letters keep dancing across the computer screen.
I write silly nonsense and observations, science fiction dogma, horror rhetoric, humorless jokes, movie and television rants or whatever else comes to mind. Just as long as I keep things moving forward. It’s my writing calisthenics. This story was the result of a question:
What does a person do when their significant other begins doing things that are completely out of character?
Kadari hunkered down in the space between the commode and the wall, knees hugged to his chest. He rocked slightly and muttered a prayer under his breath as the sound of heavy feet dragged their way closer to the bathroom. He knew this day wouldn’t end well.
The youngest of triplets, he was the clear runt of the litter and no one ever allowed him to forget it. His brother, Nodj—the creative one—had inherited their mother’s height, while Unane—the prodigal son—was gifted with their father’s strength. If fear and puniness were distinguishing characteristics, then they were Kadari’s stock in trade.
In addition to his innate artistic ability, Nodj also acquired their mother’s affliction. Kadari first recalled being aware of it one summer’s midday when the twin suns spiked through the jostling leaves of a bunak tree. As a hearty gust of wind bent the bunaks back, displaying their bright red bellies, Kadari watched his brother’s sanity peel away like so much dead skin.
Kadari lost something, too, that day. The sun, the bunak trees, even the summer never looked the same, nor held any peace or calm for him.
He felt somehow responsible, Kadari did, so he visited Nodj every day as he convalesced. He brought Nodj’s favorite foods and sat bedside and spoke only happy remembrances and tamped down memories of how his brother had been viciously cruel to him on occasion. He wasn’t certain whether it was his condition that made him tyrannical or just one of the character traits that went part and parcel with being an older sibling. Perhaps a bit of both.
Nodj no longer lived in the house but visited as regularly as his mood cycles and medication allowed. His presence always altered the mood of the regularly somber house. Their parents avoided each other normally. “A kept distance was a kept peace,” his father would whisper when his mother was otherwise occupied. But Nodj required their attention and when they were forced to occupy the same space for great periods of time, the battles began. All the resentment, all the things left unsaid, aired themselves as they traced the roots of insanity down both sides of the family tree in order to assign blame.
Kadari fortified himself against the hatred in the bathroom, holding his head under the running shower nozzle. The high-pitched whistle of the hot water offered him a personal refuge against his parents’ screams. Neither seemed to notice or care that he constantly went missing for most of Nodj’s home visits.
On occasion, they needed a break from one another—his parents—and left Nodj in his and Unane’s care with a list of special instructions if an incident occurred. And as soon as they left the house, so would Unane, who left his runt brother to look after his mad brother with nary a thought to possible consequences.
This wouldn’t have been an issue under normal circumstances, but their parents’ constant bickering stirred an agitation in Nodj that unnerved Kadari, so he retreated to the bathroom and prayed for the best, which in this case was that Nodj’s medication would allow his brother to sleep until someone, anyone came home.
The insistent pounding sounded like someone was throwing slabs of meat at the door and the message was all too clear, Nodj wanted in. He shouted that he needed to use the bathroom, then he pleaded, then he whimpered. A debate waged in Kadari’s mind, caution versus guilt. His brother’s ability to manipulate situations as well as to do mischief to himself and others was legendary but even still, he was no animal and had not deserved being treated as such. In the end, guilt won out and Kadari opened the door.
The realization of what a fool Kadari had been hit him when his brother pounced on him like a starving beast. The runt was once again the mad one’s prisoner.
The sun beat down much in the same way it had all those many summers ago. Nodj marched Kadari out of their home by the nape of his neck. Parked in front of the house—or better yet, abandoned—was an old skip vehicle, a line of sight teleportation car that hadn’t run in years. Kadari avoided it like the plague because of the memories associated with it. Memories of Nodj locking him in the trunk and cranking the engine, threatening to skip the car off a cliff or worse yet, set it to materialize inside a solid object like a tree or boulder. His struggling increased, though it chafed his neck and resulted in meaty slaps to the back of his head, the closer he got to the trunk.
Nodj stopped and made Kadari study the car as the mad one detailed the specifications of the engine which transformed into a rant about technology and how it was slowly murdering the deities. Manufacturers were the assassins of religion and the deities needed proof that their race was still worth saving so a sacrifice had to be made. Fear whispered in Kadari’s ear that he was destined to die today and that no one would ever find his body.
Nodj dragged Kadari to the skip vehicle’s trunk—then past it—marching him over to the park instead. The runt stared at the tager trees and the omye trees that lined the park’s walkway. The tager tree produced the most succulent fruit and its jellied pit was considered a delicacy. The omye tree grew tart figs that were best when dried and ground into spice, though the juice could be used in combination with herbs to create ailment remedies. Not many used it for medicinal purposes since a large amount of figs were required to yield the smallest amount of juice. It simply wasn’t worth the effort.
At the bend in the park path, there was a brackish pond in which nothing lived and from which no creature drank. Nodj flung the runt into the shallow waters and jumped in after him. There were no thoughts only instinct as Kadari’s vision went from trees and sky to briny water. The taste of salt ran through his mouth and nostrils as his head was forced beneath the surface by the powerful thrusting of his mad brother’s arms. Once, twice, thrice. The runt breathed in hard through his nose and then was marched further underwater, deeper into the pond. There was a thrashing of the water and it turned from white to grey before going dark. Kadari felt death. He swallowed it in huge gulps instead of air. Tarter than the omye, saltier than the pond water. He didn’t like it and thrashed harder.
The pressure on the back of his head, where Nodj’s hand had been, suddenly disappeared. Kadari broke the pond surface, coughing up water. When his eyes could focus, he saw the sky and the trees and Nodj holding his bloody lip, curled in a smile.
In his wild thrashing, he must have hit his brother and broke the hold. Nodj laughed and couldn’t stop. Not as Kadari lunged for him. Not as Kadari swung for his face and chest. Not as Kadari pushed him back onto the walkway, forced him down to the ground, straddled him and pounded on his flesh.
Kadari hit Nodj for all the times he had taken abuse, for all the times he was made to feel powerless and afraid, for all the guilt that he carried for a person who cared nothing for him.
“That is enough, Kadari.” A hand grabbed Kadari’s wrist. Unane’s hand. He was also smiling as he pulled the runt off Nodj. “I think Nodj has had enough.”
Kadari’s coughing fit died down. He spat the last of the salty taste from his mouth. His neck hurt, as did his chest, lungs and knuckles. None of this made sense.
Unane helped Nodj to his feet and checked him for injuries. The mad brother assured him he was fine. Hurt, but unharmed. They both stood shoulder to shoulder, their arms folded across their chest, with a strange look in their eyes. A look Kadari had never seen from them before. Admiration.
The youngest triplet’s realization was a rusted, squeaky gate that hung on a broken hinge that opened slowly and with great effort. But it had opened, eventually. And his brothers waited patiently as Kadari sussed it out.
“You think I do not see the fear in your eyes when you look at me?” Nodj asked. “No brother of mine should be afraid of any man, not even his own brother. Do you understand me, runt?”
It took a moment for things to settle on Kadari. It had been some sort of test, a rite of passage, staged by the pair. “I am not a runt!”
His brothers laughed but not in a mocking manner. “No, I suppose you are not.”
They clapped him on the back and walked back home as equals. No, better than that, as brothers.
About Runt: The original version of this piece was written back in the dark ages when people didn’t have personal computers. Scribbled in the 80’s in a notebook with a pencil, then typed into manuscript form on a manual typewriter.
It was inspired by my then girlfriend who met up with her two estranged sisters when she went back home to bury her father. She never really got along with any of her family, her sisters especially, but attending her father’s funeral served as some sort of closure for the feelings she had for him.
The youngest of the three, she was constantly abused by her sisters, which is why she left and stayed away, and sure enough, when she returned, so did the abuse. Until she gave back as good as she got. Which earned her a little fearful respect.
I swapped genders, rolled back the years a bit and tried to write a coming of age story. Tried.
Dissatisfied with the result, I put the idea aside for a long time and came back to it only last year. A good friend who is a voracious reader often leafs through my box of regret and plucks a story out.
This was her latest find and she told me that I was being too judgmental and the story was fine as it is.
Ya Jiji was nestled on the peak of Muntanyes Oraș, a tiny tourist town with one road in or out and that road was always the scene of an accident which meant it was always choked with traffic. Antiquated traffic. Perambulators. Bicycles. Velocipedes. Motorcycles. Monocycles. Boneshakers. Wagons. Go-carts. Scooters. Skateboards. Any wheeled vehicle not pulled by a beast. Skip cars were banned on the winding mountain road that, at its widest was barely two-laned, and at its narrowest, well, where did you think all the accidents occurred? Besides, a line of sight teleportation car wasn’t of much use if you couldn’t see around the never-ending bend.
It was a two-hour trip down the mountain and another hour to Golainbale where the moon jitney traveled to the nearest natural satellite, Waioni. As we left the quaint town, the road—amazingly smooth and unmarked—opened up a bit. Before we left, we hit a convenience store and were absolutely fleeced out of our local currency for heater meals and MREs. At least the clerk did it with style. He was nothing but politeness and smiles before, during, and after he fucked us.
When we arrived in Golainbale there was a great deal of negotiating, which translated to me having to pay. I paid a man, paid the man who knew the man, paid the man who knew the man who knew the man, and finally, I paid the man who employed all the men. Fucking governmental red tape blew dead bears no matter what planet you were on. The first man returned with a wad of receipts and boarding passes, stapled six times. We boarded the jitney and waited for a solid half-hour before being told the rocket was being taken out of service to undergo routine maintenance. I started to argue if the maintenance was routine, why had we wasted half an hour gnawing on tasteless MREs, but thought better of it. We were all so very far from home and running aground of off-world travel authorities was a notoriously bad idea.
So, instead, we hauled ass to board a second jitney scheduled for departure. The boarding staff was nice enough to hold lift-off for us. That last sentence was dipped in heavy sarcasm and spat through a gritted-toothed grin, in case it wasn’t obvious. As we settled in, my travel companions drifted to sleep immediately. I envied people who could sleep anywhere. Sadly, I wasn’t blessed with that mutant ability.
As we reached escape velocity, out of the window I saw bodies that floated in space like flotsam. Men. Women. Children. Pets. So many lined in a row they almost formed an organic ring around the planet. From a seat somewhere rows behind me came a rhythmic muttering. I caught the eye of an older gentleman across the row and chanced a question, “What’s he saying?”
“It’s a song to open the gates of the afterworld,” the old man said. “To allow the souls of the illegal immigrants jettisoned in space to move on to their final resting place.”
“Do you know the words?”
“I don’t speak Shadese. Sorry. I only know about the song because it’s a local custom and I’m here on business often.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a space marshal.”
He nodded. “In accordance with the Intergalactic Space Travel Securities Act, I carry out my duty of committing to space any person or persons who illegally board any transplanetary vessel—otherwise known as stowaways—and lack the money to pay for passage and proper identification with which to travel.”
He said it so matter of fact as if he wasn’t talking about human lives like his job entailed nothing more drastic than taking out the trash. There was no challenge in his tone, nothing that suggested that he dared me to question his profession.
My mind was a wasp’s nest of questions and emotions, buzzing to know how this man justified his actions, how he slept at night if he was a religious man and if he was under any delusion that God approved. I tried to express my shock, my outrage, my disapproval, or even simply voice my personal opinion, but the words failed me. I felt my mouth opening and closing, wordlessly.
Stunned and silent I sat back in the chair and stared at all the wasted life that drifted in the inky sea outside. An abyss dotted with stars that once had names like Peter and Elizabeth and Scott, stars that once breathed air same as I had, stars that ate food like me. Some so distant they had to crowd together to be seen in the endless black. Clouds of flesh, oceans of skin. Further from life but closer to the universe than anyone had ever been.
When the jitney touched down on Waioni, the marshal said goodbye. I pretended not to hear.
My travel companions and I checked into our hotel rooms. It would be another eighteen hours before our return flight home. They wanted to spend the time getting rat-arsed in the hotel bar but I went for a walk outside. It always helped clear my mind. I walked off the paved paths, far from the obstruction of man-made lights and checked the sky.
Stars. So many stars. Some of them falling. Making the trip back home.
About The Trip Back Home: A few years ago, I wrote a manuscript which never got published. It was sort of a vacation scrapbook in outer space, detailing the travelogue of a man who hated to travel but got roped into a sweepstakes interplanetary cruise by his best friends. They’d travel in style and want for nothing—once they made it to the starcruise liner that was on the other side of the universe.
As I said, the manuscript didn’t get published. Because it was never quite what it needed to be. Not quite ready. This aspect needed tweaking, that aspect needed editing. Two years into the editing process, I decided I needed a break from this manuscript to write something else. I was too involved with that manuscript.
I have no idea whether it’ll be salvaged or chopped up into bite sized bits and shopped as short stories, or reworked into other projects.
This slice was the first bit of writing that inspired the idea for the novel.
Connie screamed and hurdled down the flight of stairs like she was on fire. She made a run for the front door, fingers frantically fumbled at the night latch, deadbolt and lockset. Head on a swivel, she tossed panicked glances over her shoulder at the middle-aged black man bounding down the stairs toward her.
The final lock tumbled, she grabbed the knob and tugged but the man rushed up from behind and slammed the door shut. He spun the whippet-thin woman around as if she weighed nothing, took her by the shoulders and pressed her against the door. Connie let out an ear-piercing screech that he cut short by clamping his massive hand over her mouth.
“Stop it, do you hear me? I’m not trying to put on a show for the neighbors, so I need you to stop screaming. Just. Stop.” He held her there for a long moment and leaned in uncomfortably close so she could see the seriousness of his intent. When she calmed down a bit, “I’ll take my hand away if you promise not to make a sound, deal?”
Connie nodded her blonde head helplessly. The man removed his hand and she stifled the urge to yell again. She tried to back away from his face that was far too close for her liking but there was nowhere to go.
“L-let me go. Please, let me go.” Terror cracked her voice.
Still pressing her against the door, the man reached over and secured the locks. “You can’t leave, not yet.”
“Don’t hurt me, mister! I-I’ll cooperate…do anything you want, I swear!”
Connie flinched in revulsion when he reached for her and lightly brushed the hair from her face. His expression softened. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, Sarah, I would never hurt you.”
“Sarah? You’ve got me mixed up with somebody else. I’m Connie, Connie—“ she struggled to remember her last name. Tip of her tongue. Something that began with a W.
“No, you’re Sarah. You were born May 4th, your favorite color is plain yellow though you tell people it’s chartreuse, your favorite book is Beloved, you love okra, God knows why, and you have a birthmark on your—“
Connie struggled with this. The things he said, the things she could remember were true but how did he know? And why couldn’t she remember her last name? W-I– it just wasn’t coming. “Look, mister, I don’t know what’s going on here, but—”
“Stop calling me mister, my name is Kurt.”
“Kurt.” She spat his name out like a curse.
“You know, maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t know what’s going on. I didn’t consider all this might be new to you.”
“What are you talking about? What do you want from me?”
“You said you’d do anything for me. Did you mean it? Anything?”
Anything suddenly seemed like a dangerous concept to her. “I don’t know you and I’ve never done anything to you. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Don’t you see you don’t have to be afraid of me?” Kurt scanned her eyes, searching for something. It unnerved Connie. “It’s not what you think. I don’t want to hurt you. I just want you to do me a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
“My wife, she’s sick, very sick. I mean, she’s been sick for a long time, only I didn’t know it, but now it’s worse…and I’m so lonely.”
No. This was going someplace bad. “What? I can’t—‘”
Kurt took hold of her tiny wrist and pulled her to the staircase. “Yes, you can. Come with me upstairs.”
“You promised to do anything I wanted as long as I didn’t hurt you, right? Have I hurt you?”
“No.” At least she didn’t think he did. Surely she would have remembered that, right?
“Then do what I ask and I’ll let you go. But you can never tell anybody about this, understand?”
“But you’ll let me go? You promise?”
“You have my word.”
The two walked up the flight of stairs, Kurt in front dragging a reluctant Connie behind.
“Where are we going?” Connie asked although she guessed the answer.
“To the bedroom.”
She thought she could be strong, go through with it, let him have his way, but the closer they got to the bedroom door, the more Connie resisted. “I don’t want to go in there!”
“Because I don’t belong here!”
“Yes, you do. And if you quiet down and listen to your inner voice, it’ll tell you you’re doing the right thing.” Kurt opened the bedroom door with his free hand and gestured inside.
“Step into the room.” He gave her a gentle shove.
The room smelled of the instant after a lightning strike, the air rich with the scent of ozone. Connie entered cautiously and froze. The man hadn’t been lying. There was someone here, a black woman in the bed, roughly her same age, wearing an identical sundress. She would have thought the woman dead if not for the slight rise and fall of her chest. “Is that–?“
“My wife,” Kurt nodded and closed the door behind him, guarding it.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Hate,” he grunted.
“I don’t understand.”
“She was the victim of a hate crime.”
“What happened?” Connie asked.
“She was on her way home from work one night,” he answered. “It was late and normally I meet her at the train station, but that night I got caught up running errands. What’s funny is I remember not being too worried about it. I mean, it’s a quiet neighborhood and nothing bad ever happens here. But that night, she ran into four white teenagers on a stroll, who, I guess, were just looking for trouble.”
Kurt’s face flushed, his hands clenched and unclenched in an unconscious gesture of pure rage. “And they beat her. For no good reason other than the color of her skin, they beat her. She never hurt a soul in her life and they beat her to the point where I barely recognized her. They beat her…and they left her lying in the street like she was trash.”
“Oh my God, mister, that shouldn’t happen to anybody and I’m sorry it was your wife, really I am, but I don’t understand what this has to do with me.”
“Look at her. Can’t you see it?”
“What, that she needs medical help and maybe you do, too?” She regretted the last part before it finished clearing her lips.
“I was hoping seeing her up close might clear things up.”
Connie glanced at the woman’s face. “No. I’m still in the dark.”
“And me? You don’t remember me at all?”
“I’ve never laid eyes on you before.”
“Then how do I know so much about you?”
“I don’t know, maybe you’re a maniac-stalker-psycho with a taste for white meat?”
“Don’t. Don’t say that,” Kurt grimaced.
“Why? Because the truth hurts?”
“It’s not true!”
“Then why am I here?” she asked.
“Look around you. Doesn’t any of this bring back memories?”
“Why should it?”
“You lived–we lived here for years. I’m your goddam husband.”
“What? I – I would never marry somebody like you.”
“You’re black,” she said, not bothering to spare his feelings. She couldn’t help how she felt.
“Sarah! Stop it! Stop. Please, stop. I can’t take this right now.”
“I told you before, I’m not Sarah! My name is Connie, Connie Wil- Wilk–”
“Wilkinson, that’s your maiden name. Your middle name is Connie, and you hate it. You were named after an aunt you hated because she beat you when your mother wasn’t around.”
“I don’t have an aunt named Connie.”
“In fact, Sarah isn’t even your birth name. It’s Bonnie. And that was just another reason to hate your middle name. Going through school with the name Bonnie Connie was torture, so you used the name of your favorite aunt, Sarah, and legally changed it when you were old enough.”
Connie waved it off. “This is ridiculous. I’m leaving now.”
“No, not just yet!”
“You said I could leave once I did what you wanted me to do. You wanted me to see your wife. Well, I saw, now I’m gone!”
“No, you didn’t really see, otherwise you wouldn’t be acting like this. Maybe– maybe you need to look closer…at her face.”
Connie stared at the woman and this time something nagged at her, something familiar.
“Your face, my thane, is as a book…” Kurt recited.
The tiniest fraction of a memory tickled her mind. “What was that?”
“You know. Finish it.”
As if an unseen force had taken control of her mouth, Connie spoke. “Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men may read strange matters.”
“Shakespeare. You used to say that all the time because I have a horrible poker face.” He smiled. “You remember that, don’t you?”
“No. Yes. You’re confusing me!”
“All right, let’s forget about that for now. I’d like to ask you a question, though, before you leave. Is that okay?”
“Do you believe in wishes?”
“What, you mean like genie-rub-a-lamp type stuff?”
“I mean the power of a wish. Do you believe that a person could make a wish with all her heart and soul and if she left no room for doubt, not one iota, that that wish could come true?”
“I don’t know, maybe. Depends on what she wished for.”
“To be white.”
It took a moment for the scope of it all to register with Connie. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t think that I’m–“
“The physical embodiment of my Sarah’s wish.”
“That’s crazy.” She shook her head.
“Crazy? Okay, where do you live?”
Connie pondered that a moment, another fact that eluded her. “I’m not telling you!”
“You can’t tell me because you don’t know. Come on, ask yourself, if you don’t live here, then why are you in this house? How did you get here?”
Again, memory was not her ally. “I don’t know. You’ve got me all spun around and nothing’s making sense right now, including this bullshit story about your wife wishing herself white. I mean, what sense does that make? Why would she want to be white? Aren’t you people big on that pride thing?”
“Yeah. Black, colored, African-American, people of color, whatever you’re calling yourself these days.”
“I can’t believe you come from Sarah.”
“Because I don’t.”
“It’s like everything that made her unique was just stripped from you. Not only her color but her heritage as well.” Disgust played on Kurt’s face. “And she thought being white might entitle her to a better life.”
“I wish I knew. She took the attack hard, hell, we both did. But even after her body healed, her spirit and her mind never did. She began to see the world as an ugly, hateful place, especially for people of color. She started to pull away from me and became more and more distant. And in the depths of her despair, she made a wish.”
“To be white. To be me, essentially, right?”
“Look, I don’t blame you for not believing me, I probably wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes.”
“Sarah make the wish. I stood here and watched you rise up out of her body like steam. And as insane as it sounds, you became solid right before my eyes. You simply popped into existence, took one look at me, and ran out of the room screaming bloody murder. I’m lucky I caught you when I did. If I’d been one second slower, you would have been gone, probably forever.”
“Okay, let’s approach this from a different angle. Even if I were to believe you, which I don’t…so–?”
Kurt was confused. “So?”
“So, your wife made the wish, right? I mean, no one forced her, am I correct?”
“No, no one forced her.”
“And you said yourself, it’s what she wanted, right, with every iota of her being?”
“Then why are you holding me here? If this is God’s will, if this is her wish–“
Tears flowed down Kurt’s cheeks. “Because she’s going to die soon, I just know it. I was hoping that maybe with you in the room, she’d wake up long enough, for me to tell her that I love her, for me to say goodbye.”
Connie wanted to console Kurt, but it was difficult, strange and uncomfortable for her. “Hey, hey, don’t do that, okay? I’m sure she knows all that and who knows, maybe she’ll get better? We can call a doctor or something.”
“Why don’t you just go?” he said, turning back to her. “Go live your half life.”
”Not even that. You’re just a shade of a person. You’ve got no family, no ties in this world. Because it’s not your life, it’s hers. And mine.”
“Then we’re done here? I can leave now?”
“Connie,” she corrected.
“I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to my wife. I know she’s in there somewhere and if you can hear me, honey, you’re wrong for thinking that being white will entitle you to a better life,” he said over his shoulder and walked over to the bed.
“You think this body’s going to have an easier existence? Good luck to you. You’ll need it because the very best part of you is lying on this bed. And when my Sarah passes, you’ll be none the richer for it. You’ll discover a gaping hole in your soul that you’ll never be able to fill even if you live a hundred lifetimes. So yeah, we’re done,” Kurt said in a low voice. “Now, why don’t you get the hell out of my house.”
Kurt sat beside Sarah in bed. He held her hand gently and leaned in close to her face. “You’re not the only one with a wish, you know. I wish that I could turn back time to that day and make it so the attack never took place. I’d convince you to call in sick and we’d play hookie and spend the entire day in bed and I’d do my best to show you how much I really love you. But there’s no chance of that one coming true, is there? Because unlike yours, it’s not my one true wish. You are.”
Connie made it as far as the doorway before she stopped and sighed, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
For reasons she couldn’t explain, Connie found herself kneeling on the side of the bed opposite Kurt. “One wish. All my heart and soul. No room for doubt. Not one iota.”
She took Sarah’s free hand and knew at once it was a mistake. Pain split her head like an ax. Her vision swirled and swam in streamers, her stomach clenched and heaved sending a surge of bile to the back of her throat. Dots of light raised from her exposed skin like goose flesh. She screamed and the bedroom exploded in a white light bright enough to cut the eye. When it faded, the scent of ozone filled the air.
Connie was gone.
Sarah’s fingers twitched and slowly wrapped around to squeeze Kurt’s hand. “Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men may read strange matters,” she said in a quiet voice.
Kurt looked up into Sarah’s face, her eyes slightly opened.
“Are those tears for me?” she smiled, struggling to sit up.
“Sarah? You’re back?”
“I never left. Because you wouldn’t let me go. You stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I–“ she sighed. “Thank you.”
Kurt pulled his wife into him and held her with every ounce of love he possessed. But he couldn’t push reality out of his mind. He had seen a side of her that he never knew existed. A contempt, the seed of racism she held, and he knew it wasn’t over by a long shot. It would happen again. And for the first time, he wasn’t sure his love was greater than or even equal to her self-hatred.
But in this moment, he made the decision to let that future take care of itself. He was happy to have her back home, warts and all.
About Wishing White: This story originally began life as a short screenplay I wrote during my brief stint hanging around a small group of actors and crew looking to shoot their own material.
One of three shorts that were written overnight, I can’t tell you how inspired I was to produce new material on short notice. The air was rich with creativity.
It was also filled with petty squabbling, some of which I sadly was the cause of, so this was one of the projects that were rehearsed but never shot.
It came into being because of a conversation with a friend that remained in the back of my mind, in which she said, “I wish I was white for a day just to see how it felt.” Which of course sparked a conversation.
While I don’t necessarily agree with her thought process on the subject, I can respect that it was her wish and she felt comfortable enough to share it with me.
As she explained her logic to me, this was the scenario that ran through my mind.
When the delivery truck pulls up outside the shop, neither of us look out the window ’cause we know exactly who it is. 12:15 pm on the dot means Department of Tissue Waste Removal. Light load today. Driver only schleps in one body bag.
“You’re up, Mickey.” Jhonni nods my way. “Snag ‘n tag salvageables and dip the rest.”
Mickey. Only other person to ever call me that was my pops. I hated when he did it and I damn sure hate that my boss somehow exposed that raw nerve. He only does it to get a rise outta me, but I ain’t bitin’ so I let it slide this time. My mistake? Tellin’ baldilocks here I prefer bein’ called Michelle.
Snag ‘n tag means I gotta dissect the corpse for salvagables, which are any organs that ain’t completely shot to shit and dip whatever’s left over in the chemical vat for DNA repurposin’ — usually either cosmetic skin grafts, lifelike mannequins for movie stunts or some other bioengineerin’ bullshit I don’t really understand.
I sigh, chuck the rest of the deck onto my game of solitaire — cards weren’t cooperating, no how — and walk over to the body bag. I ain’t squeamish about dead bodies or puttin’ the blade to ’em, but I do have one hangup…
I hear myself mutterin’ before I have a chance to stop it, “Don’tbeadudedon’tbeadudedon’tbeadude…” and when I unzip the bag, guess what? A dude. So’s we’re clear, I gots no prob flaying a man, it’s just that chick thing that does me in. You gals know what I’m talking about.
Every man a woman meets, she sizes him up and decides if she’d break him off a piece. Sex, I mean. Young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall… alive or dead, you rate ’em. Would you do ’em, could you do ’em and under what circumstances? A dare? Boredom? For the story? Only me, I got this vivid imagination, see, and when I come across a mutilated dude, I see myself having sex with him. And no, I ain’t no nekkidphiliac, they’re very much alive in my scenarios, just all banged up, pardon the expression.
This one, Ethan Garner, by the toe tag, was tore up from the floor up. Anythin’ worth savin’ would be an innard and not one that’d bring high market value, either. Somethin’ nickel and dime like an appendix, spleen, or some shit.
The fluorescents buzz overhead and sweat breaks out on my forehead as I hear Ethan groan beneath me in my mind’s eye. Think of a dude I know, think of a dude I know. No good. Where’s my iPod? I need a distraction.
The cause of death is listed as Industrial Misadventure which meant poor old Ethan was mangled by machinery, probably one of them press and fold jobbers. His body looks like a bedsheet fresh out the package, tucked up all tight into a tidy square. How the hell am I going to get inside to harvest organs?
I put a little elbow grease into it, dig my fingers into a crease — an armpit, maybe? — and try to pry it apart. Bones creak and skin pulls apart from skin with the sound of moist velcro. I’m sweatin’ buckets now, cause in my head, Ethan is givin’ me the workout of a lifetime, only I can’t see his face so it’s like doing it with a Hot Pocket with a hard-on. Focus, Mickey! Focus! Damn, now that bastard’s got me doin’ it.
With the back of my blade I scrape away the dried blood, which there’s plenty of, and I find a seam. That’s right, a goddammed seam! Now, I wasn’t exactly top of my class in Biology, but I’m kinda certain the human body don’t come equipped with seams. But I’m curious about this so I make my first cut along Ethan’s unnatural hem.
My fingers move into the cut and part skin. I tilt the swing arm lamp to get a better view and the light catches somethin’ that makes my stomach hitch. Whoever bagged this on scene fucked up big time, which I suppose is kinda sorta understandable, given the unusual nature of the cause of death, but if I reported it, it’d probably cost that slob their job. The Office of Forensic Affairs forgives a ton of infractions, unfortunately body count ain’t one of ’em. This was incorrectly listed as a single, when Ethan here, is wrapped around a whole other body.
The second body’s a smaller one, a girl, judging by the tiny pink-painted fingernails, and in the middle of a splatter of brain matter is a child-sized tiara, pressed between them like a flower in a book. The sex visions with Ethan stop instantly and my stomach heaves as I try not to hurl.
My jumpsuit is dripping with sweat and it clings to my clammy body to the point it makes my skin crawl. And then my trusty dusty brain, with its wonderful imagination, kicks into overdrive and I play the story of their final moments.
Ethan works — worked — works in laundry services. It’s bring your daughter to work day. Maybe he’s a weekend dad that doesn’t get to spend enough quality time with his baby girl and he fights the court order and pushes for this until he’s able to negotiate terms.
So he brings her to his job and she insists on wearing the little princess halloween costume, the one with the tiara, and he can’t say no because she is his little princess. Things are going great and he tells her to be careful and stick close to him, but he gets distracted for a moment, maybe by his boss about special instructions on a rush job or somethin’.
The little girl tries to be good and listen to her daddy, but curiosity gets the better of her and she climbs on a piece of machinery she shouldn’t be climbin’ on and Ethan’s dad-alarm goes off and he spots her, losing her balance and he runs for her… runs and dives with no care for his own safety and he manages to grab hold of her but it’s too late and they both fall into the machine before his coworkers can hit the shut off switch.
So, Ethan does the only thing he knows to do… he wraps himself around the little girl and folds her in his love, as the machine does what it’s designed to do.
It probably ain’t even in the same neighborhood as the actual events, but even though my story is most likely bullshit, it’s still real to me. it’s what I choose to believe.
And it breaks my heart ’cause that’s how I wish it was with me and my pop, but after moms died, we can’t be in the same room for ten minutes without it breakin’ into some big production. I know he means well, but who the hell is he to give me instructions on how I should live my life? Holder of the Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award, is who.
I carefully harvest the tiara and clean body residue out of every nook and cranny. Then I place the plastic jewelry on a towel and carefully fold it into the best presentable package I can manage.
“Fuck’re you doing over there, Mickey?” Jhonni says over his shoulder.
And suddenly I can’t do this anymore, not just Ethan and this nameless little girl, but any of it. I peel the sopping wet jumpsuit off me and throw it at my boss. “Quitin’ is what I’m doin’.” Correction, my ex-boss.
I take the tiara package over to the phone and search the directory for Forensic Affairs. “And it’s Michelle, by the way, you fat piece of garbage. Call me outside my name again and somebody’ll be unzippin’ you from one of those bags.”
I expect a response, an argument, a something… but he just sits there and takes it quietly. Makes me think this isn’t the first time somethin’ like this has happened.
I dial the number. Do I feel sorry for the person about to lose their job? Sure, but fuck ’em. There’re more important matters at hand. There’s a family that needs reunitin’.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make another call after this one. It’s been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.
As Amantha carefully diced the spleen, she caught herself. Lost in the preparation of the meal, she absently sang a song under her breath. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem but she was doing it in her native tongue, a dead language that might have revealed her true identity, had anyone heard it. Not that they’d have been able to pinpoint what she was exactly, but they would have sussed she wasn’t what she appeared to be.
She bit the inside of her cheek as she marinated the kidneys, the pain and the coppery tang of blood in her mouth served as a reminder to be more cautious. The head that had been severed and chilled on ice overnight to preserve its freshness, was placed in the stewpot to dissolve in a broth that smelled faintly of sulfur. She would have to remember to do the same with the hands and feet and all the other body parts that couldn’t be disguised as normal cuts of meat.
Anal to a fault, Amantha arranged all the innards neatly on the countertop and went to work on deboning the torso and limbs, the bones of which would join the head in the liquefying broth. She knew she had plenty of time to get rid of the evidence, but she also wanted time to get dressed and made up before Onathan arrived. It was their one year anniversary and she wanted the meal to go without a hitch because she suspected he was going to propose tonight.
“He’s going to propose tonight,” she let slip aloud as she slit open the intestines to clean them. If only she had studied the language better, none of this food preparation would have been necessary.
Onathan’s mother was an important figure in his life, more a best friend than a parent, and he wanted to include her in the anniversary celebration, which Amantha had no problem with because she enjoyed the old woman’s company, she just wished he had phrased his wish differently.
His exact words were, “Do you mind if we had Mom over for dinner? It’s a special night that I want to share with her. Since Dad died, she’s been alone in that house and it’s not good for her.”
“Of course I don’t mind,” Amantha answered, playing the question over and over in her mind. “If you’re sure that’s what you want.”
“You’re amazing. I can’t believe how understanding you are.” Onathan pulled her into him and gave her the biggest kiss. Surely, she had gotten it right this time. The kiss made her confident that her first interpretation was accurate.
Amantha called Onathan’s mother over late last night after he had gone to bed and she came without question or hesitation. Either she was the most selfless person on the planet or she truly was lonely in that big house all by herself. This would be a good thing.
No stranger to the procedure, Amantha treated her hopefully soon-to-be-late mother-in-law to refreshments laced with a two-part toxin. The first substance was mixed into the pâte sucrée and would have passed through her system harmlessly, had it not bonded with the chemical placed in the sherry. Death was instantaneous and painless.
The phone rang not a few seconds later. It was her mother. When Amantha relayed the news and what Onathan asked and what she had done, there was silence on the other end of the line.
A chill ran down Amantha’s spine. Before her mother said a word, she knew she had gotten it wrong once again. English was such a bastard of a tricky language.
“These humans, they’re not like us, Ammie,” her mother said. “Relatives do not sacrifice themselves for celebration feasts nor do they feel pride in eating kin.”
“But what am I going to do, Mother?” the rising panic made her body quake.
“Are you sure she’s dead?”
Amantha prodded the old woman’s arm with her shoe. “No doubt about it. I followed your recipe to the letter.”
“Looks like you have no choice but to tell him the truth.”
“The truth? I can’t do that! Hi, honey, remember your mother? I killed her by mistake last night, sorry. He’ll never marry me now!”
“Then play ignorant,” her mother suggested. “Human females do it all the time.”
“And what about the body?”
“It isn’t a body anymore, it’s evidence. If you intend to live a lie, you’ll have to get rid of it.”
“I can’t move the body, somebody will see me!”
“Who said anything about moving the body?” her mother said nothing further, waiting patiently for her daughter to catch on.
“You mean cook her?”
“You were going to do it anyway.”
“I–I can’t. That would be wrong.”
Turned out she could. After hours of playing out scenarios in her head, she decided she couldn’t live without Onathan and he wouldn’t want to live with her if he found out the truth.
The difficult part was hiding the body until Onathan left for work in the morning. Amantha thought she had tipped her hand when she rushed him through breakfast and out the door. One of his mother’s earrings was on the kitchen floor, right beside his shoe! It was so close that if she made any move to retrieve it, he would have noticed.
But all that was behind her now, as she opened the refrigerator to get the older woman’s eyeballs to mash into a jelly topping for the dessert. But they weren’t there. She searched everywhere she hid body parts, everywhere they could have rolled but there were no eyeballs! She distinctly remembered plucking them out of their sockets last night.
How could she have misplaced them? Amantha knew she had to find them before Onathan came home in two hours. She threw herself into overdrive and tore the house apart, all the while cursing herself for not being more careful. The last thing she wanted was to have Onathan accidentally stumble upon one of the elusive orbs. He might not recognize it as one of his mother’s, but at the end of the day, it was a human eye and while she didn’t completely understand human culture, she was sure finding random eyeballs in your house wasn’t a common practice.
Amantha finally found them, yes, in the refrigerator. They somehow managed to roll off the saucer and landed in the crisper. She breathed a sigh of relief… until she looked at the clock; Onathan was going to be home in less than an hour, and she not only hadn’t finished dinner yet but now the house was a complete mess.
She prepared the dessert in record time then hopped on the massive chore of tidying up the house. Just as she put the finishing touches on her makeup, the doorbell rang.
Amantha sat on pins and needles the entire dinner. What if he recognized his mother’s taste? A silly concern but it plagued her nonetheless.
Onathan seemed nervous as well, his eye constantly checking the wall clock or shooting over his shoulder to the front door. It didn’t stop him from enjoying the meal and he ate everything placed before him. At the end of the meal. he accidentally knocked his fork on the floor. Amantha was about to comment on how clumsy he was when he came up on one knee with a ring in his hand. “I was going to wait until mother arrived, but I feel now’s the perfect time, after the perfect meal.”
And that was all it took. The dam of emotions she tried to suppress all evening burst wide open and Amantha began to cry uncontrollably.
“D-did I do something wrong?” Onathan said, confused. “I thought you wanted this?”
“No, no, I do want this,” she said, her breath hitching. “Just not this way.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s not you, you’re fine. Really, really fine. It’s me. I have something to tell you.”
For most of my life on your world, I have made my living working in an elegance palace. Before you ask, my place of employment is really nothing more than a bordello. I do not know who invented the name elegance palace, but I must tell you, neither I nor any of the other employees working there find anything elegant about it.
The elegance palace is hidden in plain sight amongst neighboring office buildings, yet secreted behind its by-appointment-only financial institutional facade lies a towering empire of adult-themed enterprises. From boutiques to restaurants, bars, clubs and pleasure suites, if it is something even remotely related to sex, an office is listed for it in the directory. I call it prex melata, which in my native tongue translates loosely as ejaculation building.
The thing I hate most about the prex is that it only has one entrance and one elevator. Yes, you heard me correctly. One. Elevator. When my shift eventually ends, no matter how carefully I time it, I always manage to get trapped in the elevator with potential customers who know who I am because I am the only person on the planet who looks the way I do…
The thing that does not belong. The piece that does not fit. I have no idea how you ply your trade, but put yourself in my missionary position for a moment and try to imagine that after an arduous day of ending the lives of concupiscent individuals through intercourse, that you now have to ride in a crowded box with clients who have just engaged in the sexual practice of their comfort level or financial ability, all of them eyeing you and imagining themselves to be the one who could probably beat the odds and survive.
I hate it. I hate the looks, I hate the arrogance, and I hate the sameness of it all. Eventually, they all will come to see me. Eventually, they all will die.
At least in the elevator there is hardly any conversation. I envy the employees who do not have to speak to the clients they service. I, on the other hand, am legally obligated to strike up conversations with everyone interested in sleeping with me. I am the only elegance employee that comes equipped with a Surgeon General warning. Sleeping with me will kill you. You must be made fully aware of that and sign legal documents to that effect.
Occasionally, though, I will encounter a client that asks, “Do you work here?”
My initial response leans toward the sarcastic, but I always answer, “Yes.”
“I’d like to visit you. What’s your name? What floor do you work on? Do you see clients outside of here?”
I want to tell him not to come. Tell him that I do not want to see him. That I do not talk to, let alone service, clients outside of the prex, especially those who have not paid to talk to me.
Some clients do that, the smart ones. They come in and lose their nerve and I do not blame them. They are still contractually obligated to pay for my time but I cut them a discounted rate. And while I do not enjoy talking to people who view me as a sexable piece of offworld flesh, I take pity on the ones who back out at the last minute. It must be similar to talking yourself down off of a ledge.
If I do happen to get a talker on the elevator, I do not smile or make eye contact. I simply answer their questions as curtly as possible and walk away abruptly when the elevator doors open. This usually avoids them feeling comfortable enough to follow me onto the street. It is the thing that scares me the most about the job, honestly.
I have a friend who prefers to be identified by the gender-neutral pronouns they, their and them, well, they are more of a colleague, in the business we call them sexociates, and I do not know if it is a vibe they give off or what, but they attract more gawker stalkers than all the rest of us combined.
Gawker stalkers are the creepers who lurk around the prex exit and watch the girls as they leave the building. It’s gotten so bad that Tawni, my sexociate, not their actual name but I doubt even I know their real name, has a taxi on call that they run into every night as soon as the elevator doors open.
Gawker stalkers never do anything to the sexociates, to my knowledge, they just watch. But it is still creepy. I get chills thinking about the possibility of some strange creeper following me home. They should just commit and pay the fee and get to play a little bit rather than being a loser that skulks in the shadows and goes home alone, unsatisfied.
Surprisingly enough, I have not crossed social paths with too many prudish types. When most people find out what I do for a living, they seem so fascinated with the concept of bartering intercourse execution for currency. I almost regret letting people know because all our conversations after that point turns to them pumping me for kinky or weird-but-true stories.
And that is when my relationships begin to die.
I do not have any eccentric stories. My sex organ forces orgasm and death, and if that is not enough to interest you, then what else do we have to talk about? My life is boring, really. So boring that no one wants to hear about it.
The first he had known nearly all his life, from age four, if a proud mother’s braggadocio was to be believed. The second he only recently discovered, when he first laid eyes on The Woman. As was his nature, Evan quickly tabulated the absolute value in his head to assess his chances with her. The figures hadn’t added up.
The Woman, obviously accustomed to being the object of men’s stares, avoided eye contact with every XY chromosome in the room as she stood in the doorway and scanned the tables for a place to sit. There were so many free spaces, Evan hadn’t given the possibility of her settling next to him a second thought… until she did just that.
Suddenly the nearness of her had Evan checking the computations of his existence and wondering how he came to live a life so cruel as to deny him the reality of waking up beside The Woman every single morning. The closer she stepped, the more he realized just how lacking he was. The more he examined himself, the further away he pushed the percentages of the two of them spending the rest of their lives together.
But even though he knew down to his square root that nothing could ever have existed between them, he couldn’t let the thought of her go. He wracked his brain trying to suss out what needed to be done to correct their blaring parities.
What charismatic calculus would he have had to perform in order to make the possibility of a relationship between them a reality? What was he lacking that could have been excavated from the untapped depths of his soul in this limited time they cohabitated at this table, these minutes that were passing far too quickly, that would have given her pause? What prime number would have made her consider the impossible? Convinced her to go against every single internal voice and take a chance on a fractioned man well past his sell-by date? A man who needed her greater than she would ever have needed him?
Instead of coming up with solutions to solve the theorem, he vapor locked. He went to the place where he should have found inspiration and courage and instead stood staring down at a dry well.
If this were a movie, a romantic comedy following a by-the-numbers formula, this would have been their meet cute moment, where though she had no time for him, Evan would somehow have found the nerve to punch above his weight class, as he swung for the fences, until he stumbled upon that one right sentence, quite by accident, that would have opened the door of their budding relationship just a crack.
But this wasn’t a movie in which Evan had access to some writer, a prince of prose, to whip up a witty bit of icebreaking banter, which meant he sat there quiet as a church mouse as the woman of his dreams failed to acknowledge his presence as she sipped her small yet overpriced mall beverage and worked her delicate thumbs across her smartphone keypad.
Perhaps he had approached it wrong. His shyness and lack of confidence in this situation was the problem, but all problems had a solution, so if he somehow broke down the math of the moment, he could not only solve the equation but restructure the formula to his benefit.
And so he began with
He was absolutely enchanted by this stranger, who, when she left this table, wouldn’t have known him from Adam due to his insecurities. And while the thought of either tricking or forcing her to have affection for him against her will was a repulsive notion, he wanted to at least put forth the concept of a relationship between them.
The left-hand side of the equation needed to describe the geometry of the manifestation of what a man considered love and the lengths he would go through to achieve it. The right-hand side needed to reflect the concomitant swirling curvature of a woman’s nurture and passion weighed against the romanticized notions of love.
Evan pulled a tattered notebook from his backpack and wrote the equation. Front and back on all the blank pages. On the backs of pages containing non-related items. In the margins. On every napkin he laid his hands on. and finally on the table itself.
He wrote and wrote until his brain collapsed under the sheer weight of computations, then he wrote some more. He continued to write until he finally discovered…
Evan straightened his back, turned to The Woman, cleared his throat and said in a voice squeakier than he would have liked, “Excuse me, Miss. Hello, my name is Evan.”
Not my actual name, mind you, but there is no real reason for you to know me by anything else. I was born—well, that is not important either, is it? All you need to know is that I am an alien—the extraterrestrial kind, not the immigrant kind—we can engage in intercourse for a fee, and you will most certainly not survive the experience.
Upon entering my boudoir you will undoubtedly notice the notches on the posts of my ornate bed. Your first inclination might be to assume these markings to be sexual conquests, and you would be severely mistaken. They are actually deaths. The number of grooves carved into the wooden headboard is one hundred and ninety-seven, at present, but the actual number is at least four times that. Only the deaths I regret have been engraved here. The rest received precisely what they came seeking and ultimately deserved.
A bit harsh, I realize, but how could you expect me to pity or mourn the passing of those who have tossed away so many possibilities, so many futures in search of la mort parfaite?
But I digress.
Due to the residency protocols of your Office of Planetside Security, the majority of my life was made an open book, yet there are certain things that remain hard for me to discuss. It is known that I was charged with treason back home for defending my personal beliefs—which remains my concern alone—and because my mate stood by my side during the trial, we were both exiled from my homeworld.
Set adrift in space, my people chose to let the universe decide our fate. If we were intercepted by a space vessel and taken aboard or found a world that would permit us to stay, then we were fortunate and were surely meant to live. If not, we would die on our craft when the life support and/or provisions ran out.
We traveled for what seemed like an eternity and never crossed paths with another vessel. Eventually, the ship malfunctioned and crash-landed on your planet. Only I survived, pulled from the twisted wreckage of my prison ship by a farmer who hid me away and chained me in his barn like an animal. He hosed me down and threw me scraps to keep me alive. What I did not know was that he was mustering the courage to have his way with me.
When I realized what he had in mind, I tried to warn him but I didn’t speak the language yet. I’m not sure even if I did that it would have made a difference. He forced himself on me and upon orgasm, promptly died.
My race can only mate with one partner in our entire lifetime. The first union sets into play a biological defense against infidelity by secreting a vaginal toxin that forces orgasm and subsequently death.
I was later discovered by one of the farmer’s neighbors, set free, and promptly handed over to Planetside Security. There I was taught the fundamentals of English and given an aptitude test to determine if there was a place on Earth for me. It was grueling and humiliating. And when I was finally issued a caseworker, she sat with me and explained that the only opportunity available was in legalized prostitution. I was insulted and furious and baffled by the thinking behind this. Did they not understand that of all the professions they could have handed me that this was by far the worst possible choice? Then I stepped back to look at the bigger picture. The planet was overpopulated by indigenous humans and the influx of extraterrestrials and what better way to cull the population than to tempt the thrill seekers who wanted to risk death? To treat terminal patients who wanted sweet release?
So, I embraced my role in society and performed my duty and was dubbed the “Whorebinger of Death” and the “Grim Raper” by the press. And naturally, because humans are bizarre creatures, there were ladies who worked the same profession who envied me.
I have yet to warm to this planet and it does not resemble my homeworld in any way. My assimilation was slow to nonexistent and this was primarily my fault since I declined to undergo the genetic surgery offered to offworlders to make us appear more human. Though the human form is better suited for the physicality of this world and less cumbersome and my world has turned its back on me, I am still proud to be of my race.
The more time I spend here, the less confident I am about my appearance. On occasion, I have watched a television show or movie, or glanced at an advertisement, thinking the models to be a proper representation of the human race. I have since learned that there are those among you who feel your appearance does not measure up to the so-called perfect people placed on display. If you are one of these people who question their beauty, I ask you to consider this: at least you are of the same species.
I stand at the edge of acceptability, balancing on the fine line of grotesque fascination and physical revulsion simply because my eyes are not the same color or shape as humans, and my hair, what little I have in places considered odd by your lot, was actually tufts of fine fur.
I also need to be aware of my nails and keep them within an acceptable length to where they were not considered claws. The same with my smile. Apparently, when I bare my teeth it triggers a fight or flight response in most people.
“Mǣnōn concede to me the quietude to recognize the effects I should not alter; the bravery to transform the conditions I am able to; and the insight to recognize the distinction,” he leaned against the chain link fence, covered in less blood than he first imagined and prayed to the moon.
Not the Moon, not Luna, the
other one, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon that sat back and to the left, that was
only visible every four years on the twenty-ninth of February.
never been so disappointed in himself as he stared at the nubiles sauntering in
and out of the afterhours bars and nightclubs that lined the strip. The
passersby, those who bothered to toss him a sideward glance, sussed him as an
alcoholic, but his problem was far more severe than that.
His affliction stemmed from the
fact that everyone had two sides, no matter how open and honest they appeared
to be. There was the side they showed the world and the beast side that only
revealed its face when they were all alone. And it wasn’t necessarily as evil
as it sounded, but it was there nonetheless. And there was no way of really
knowing someone’s true nature unless they revealed it to you.
But he saw it. On this night, with
the gift he had been granted by the Goddess of a moon visible to no one but he,
which wasn’t a present as much as a curse that gnawed at his sanity. He saw the
true faces of evil that hunkered down within the tall brush of fashion, cosmetics,
and innocence. And sometimes the evil saw him.
He caught sight of a woman as she
appeared from one of the clubs, ultraviolet stamp still moist on the back of
her hand. Ten years his junior, she was stunningly beautiful in an exotic way
that unsettled him. Her auburn hair cascaded over the shoulders of her white
satin dress and gave her the appearance of an old-world masterpiece come to
She walked past a Chinese take-out
joint and the exposed ATM before she realized she was being followed. When she
turned, he knew she had seen him for what he was as clearly as he had spotted
her. Her countenance shifted from serene beauty to that of a woodland creature
frozen in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. But it wasn’t fear that
registered in her eyes—she was making a decision, flight or fight.
The moment her face tightened with
determination, he knew she would rabbit. And she did. She spun on the balls of
her feet, kicked off her heels and bolted out into the street, dodging cars as
she ran against the traffic, inhuman toenails ripping into the tarmac.
He grinned as he whipped out past
the parked cars; he loved it when they ran. His reflexes, sharp normally, were
amped under the light of the illusory moon and hope blazed in his mind as he
was about to overtake her easily. In this mode, before what had to happen
actually happened, he saw himself as a savior. What he had to do was in
everyone’s best interest, even hers. He would not fail this time. He intended
to honor his duty. And as he was about to lay his hand on her shoulder and set
things right—he heard a wet thumping sound and felt pain down to his marrow as
a car bumper made contact with his hip and sent him sprawling into a lamppost.
Nausea and blood mixed in his mouth and as he looked up through blurred vision he could just make out her lithe frame turning down a side street. A voice cried out amidst the murmurs in the background, I’m sorry! it said. You came out of nowhere! I didn’t see you in time!
Voices shouted and people rushed to
the scene from both sides of the street. He fought the pain and forced himself
to his feet. He had to leave before the police showed up. Too many witnesses.
He couldn’t have explained why he was chasing the girl in the first place. Who
would have believed him? To bystanders, he surely must have looked like a
psycho ex-boyfriend or worse, a perverted sex deviant.
He kept his head low and shielded
his face from camera phones as he pushed through a crowd of people asking if he
was okay, hobbling towards the side street, hoping against hope that he hadn’t
lost her trail.
He still couldn’t fathom why he was chosen. Had he been a cop or any other branch of law enforcement, this might have been so much easier. Easier to pursue, apprehend and deal with a special brand of evil one night every four years. But as a thirty-seven-year-old accountant, what was he supposed to do? How long could this go on before he was caught, or even worse killed? He had no social life and how could he? This thing made him unfit for human consumption. And what if he managed to hook up with a woman only to see, come February twenty-ninth, what sort of demon lurked beneath her cool surface? He knew he had to quit at some point. Maybe tonight, if he was able to resolve this in time he would petition Mǣnōn to find a replacement.
Along with his heightened abilities came the urge. He needed to scour the streets and rid the city of pestilence on this very special of nights. It was a basic bodily function to him, as much a part of his continued existence as breathing.
He limped around the corner, his
pace picking up as his fractured bones knitted themselves back together and his
muscles and internal organs returned to their optimal state. The neighborhood
wasn’t the safest to begin with and those with sense stayed on the strip in
crowded well-lit areas. The side street was dark, streetlamps busted on both
sides, which was probably why she chose it to escape into, to hide in.
He moved into the street and swiped
a finger across a bit of dug up tarmac, touched it to his tongue, and smacked
his lips, processing the taste of her. Motionless, twilight settled on him as
he cleared his mind—then he picked up her trail.
don’t have to do this,” the woman called out from somewhere in the dark.
“Yes, I do,” he stood at the mouth
of the alley and scanned the blackness as his eyes adjusted to the starlight.
She was well hidden.
“I haven’t hurt anyone.”
“Yet,” he spat. “You should come
out, you really should. It’ll be so much easier for you than if I have to tear
this alley apart to find you.”
The woman eased herself to her feet,
stepping from a darker shadow within the shadows, shaking off the alley debris
like an octopus coming out of hiding.
“Please, let me go,” her voice, as
soft as a butterfly’s footfall, was the sincerest plea he had ever heard from
one of these demons. She stared at him, eyes watering, lips pursed into a small
quivering bow. It was clear she wanted to live.
“That isn’t the way this works. The
earth must be cleansed of all unnatural beasts.”
“W-wait…” her shaky hand reached
down to fumble at the clasp of the handbag slung across her shoulder.
He thought she was going for some sort of weapon but what could she have been carrying in such a tiny purse that could hurt him when he was like this, at the zenith of human abilities? Although he wasn’t afraid, his body tensed reflexively, ready to pounce. And he was hit with that thought again, of how incredibly stunning his prey was even in her beastly form. Her hair, slimy from alley gunge, hung in her face like a tangle of dead eels but it couldn’t hide her eyes which were larger than he had ever seen on a living creature.
“All beasts must be cleansed? No
exception?” she asked.
“Have you seen yourself?” the woman
pulled a compact mirror from her bag and held it up, catching the faintest bit
of night light.
His expression shifted from
predator to absolute horror. His jaw clenched, clamping down upon a shriek, and
the grip loosened on his anger. He dropped down on his haunches. She was right.
In the reflection, he could see that he was a beast, no different than she. It
took a beast to catch a beast, he supposed. And he did the only sensible thing
he could have thought to do.
Up against the chain link fence, he
dug his claws into his own chest and tore out his heart, marveling at how little
blood there was.
“Living one moon at a time;
enjoying one solstice at a time; tolerating adversity as the conduit to
tranquility; acquiring, as you do, this aberrant humanity as it is, not as I
would wish it; believing that you will set all things right if I submit to your
command; that I may be satisfied in this life and rewarded with you forever in
the next,” his guttural voice trailed off to a whisper.
And when he had completed his prayer, Mǣnōn, the
illusory moon, embraced his spirit with open arms.
story inspirations, come from the unlikeliest of places and often strike when
you least expect it. This one came about while I was viewing a trailer for the
Kevin Costner movie, Mr. Brooks, that begins with him reciting the
Serenity Prayer while staring at bottles of liquor on a shelf, so the logical
assumption is that he’s an alcoholic but his actual problem runs along a
different, darker line—if you’re interested in the true nature of his problem,
view the trailer, the movie isn’t the subject of this introduction, the thought
that it inspired is.
The trailer made me think about the
dichotomy, the two mostly equal parts of peace and war, love and hate, and
the black and white delineation of so-called good and evil that exist within us
The story itself doesn’t really
tackle or explore the characteristics of duality but that’s the nature of an
idea, isn’t it? It never ends up on the page the way it began life in your grey
matter before being put through the meat grinder process of dramatic structure.