I first met Nora in a secondhand bookstore when we both reached for the last copy of Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” After several minutes of insisting the other person take the book, we wound up co-purchasing it and discussed how we would share it (should one person read the book in its entirety, or would we do a handoff chapter by chapter?) over lunch, which turned into several dates, that appeared to have deeper undertones, ones that could have led to something a little more serious.
The problem, at least on my part, was that I was an open book, while Nora avoided revealing herself to me. That was until one drunken evening when she finally invited me up to her flat and I discovered she was a writer. Curious, I pulled one of her novels off her bookshelf and she tried to snatch it from my hand, claiming that it was a first draft, just broad strokes of the story and she was still fleshing out the details.
I told her not to worry, that I’d turn off my inner critic and view it as a work in progress. But as I skimmed through the book, her entire attitude toward me changed, and I instantly regretted plucking the book off the shelf, because it turned out to be a serial killer story that described in detail how she planned to murder me.
Dr. Heburn’s expression was serious yet sympathetic as he delivered the news, “Your daughter is currently in a state of unarousable unresponsiveness.”
“You mean my little Hayley’s in a coma,” Mildred Runyon said, rising to her feet and bracing herself for a hard dose of reality. “No need to sugar coat it, Dr Heburn, tell it to me straight. I need to know how severe her condition is, what treatment courses you’re planning to take, and what I can do to help.”
Heburn outlined the standard evaluation and treatment options for comatose children but chose, at this stage, to withhold the facts regarding increased neural plasticity during childhood, associated with the acquisition of motor skills, learning a second language or recovery from injury or sensory loss, which could open the door for severe neuronal hypoxia, a decrease of oxygen supply to the brain, and depolarized synaptic membranes that triggered calcium entry into neurons and a cascade of intracellular events, which could cause cell death by apoptosis or necrosis.
“As for what you can do to help,” Dr. Heburn said. “Talk to Hayley, let her know you’re there and that she is loved. Help her find her way back to you.”
Which was exactly what Mildred did. Every day she took her daughter’s small and fragile hand into her own and reminisced on all their happy memories and when those eventually ran out, she began creating new memories, future memories, of the wondrous times they would have together when she returned. And in the midst of researching coma patient therapies, Mildred fell down an internet rabbit hole and somehow learned about mind palaces. When she visited Hayley the following day, she told her daughter about it and how to build one of her own.
Unknown to Mildred, Hayley heard her mother’s voice and found the concept of a mind palace fascinating. She followed her mother’s instructions to the letter, and began decorating her mind palace in a TARDIS motif, based on her favorite tv show, and filled it with artifacts and treasures from all her mother’s imaginary adventures, in a layout that twisted upon itself in a way that would have driven MC Escher insane with jealousy.
One day, while strolling through her mind TARDIS, Hayley spotted a breadcrumb on the floor, and another not too far away, and another one after that.
The little girl thought, “Hmmm. I wonder where they lead to?”
Joanna Tenenouser, a retired librarian from Petaluma, California, passed peacefully in her sleep the day before her ninety-eighth birthday from an unexpected heart attack. Even though a failing heart took her away from this world, her loving heart left a beacon of light for all in the community.
Joanna loved spending time in the kitchen, creating delicious meals for the neighborhood children, who would gather around the kitchen table for after-school cookies and loved listening to Joanna’s stories about her travels. She was a skilled piano player and filled her home with classical music. Most weekends were spent as a volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
Joanna will be honored in a beach-side celebration of life next Friday. Visiting hours are from 6 – 9 pm, with a short ash scattering ceremony at sunset.
Joanna’s only living relative, Joel Arnott, knew his great grandmother to be a saintly woman who led a quiet life, or so he thought. In going through her possessions, deciding what to donate and what to keep, he came across a padlocked steamer trunk.
When he clipped the lock and opened it, he was hit with the scent of old tobacco mixed with saddle soap, and inside were several beautiful vintage circus posters of the bearded lady, the sword swallower, and one featuring his grandmother, who was not only a big top hoochie-coochie girl that went by the stage name, Hannah Hoagie, but according to several yellowed and brittle newspaper clippings, was also a member of the Beautiful Bordello Bandits, the notorious all-female bank robber gang that somehow managed to evade the authorities and capture during their sixty robbery run.
Marcus had been waiting for this moment since he first spotted Chyler across the room at the fundraising gala last year. She was so incredibly popular that he found it impossible to get close enough to introduce himself, but he was determined to let her know that he existed and was definitely interested in getting to know her better.
None of his friends knew much about Chyler, and the people she had been entertaining that evening weren’t very forthcoming, either, which Marcus understood, as his direct approach might have come off a bit stalkerish, or even axe-murdery. So, he tried a subtler approach when he contacted the gala organizer to see if she was registered on the guest list. There he learned her full name and was able to procure her telephone number after spinning a crafty untruth involving the return of an item of a sensitive nature.
His second lie, which he claimed would be his last, came when Marcus cold called Chyler, pretending to have met her at the gala and enjoying their conversation so much that he wished to continue it over lunch sometime, at the public venue of her choosing. Chyler apologized for not remembering either Marcus or the conversation, but their interaction over the telephone intrigued her enough to accept the lunch date.
Marcus was certain that Chyler said yes just to get him off the telephone, but when he arrived at the outdoor restaurant, there she was, looking as beautiful as the night he first saw her. Her eyes caught hold of his soul, the breeze passing gently through her golden hair produced the sweetest of melodies. All the flowers in the vicinity leaned in her direction for Chyler was the sun.
But the moment Chyler opened her mouth, Marcus’ brain felt full of static, like an old cathode tube television set that lost its signal. His inner voice screamed at him to turn around and flee, because this drop dead gorgeous woman’s breath…smelled like a monkey’s handbag.
It was at the 92nd Annual International Science Conference, held in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Jonathan Krendler and Senator Emily Simmonds first met. They were the key speakers in the debate of the use of an experimental drug on convicted felons condemned to die by lethal injection.
Dr. Krendler, a renowned dimensionalogist, had discovered, and supposedly perfected, a way to isolate criminals from our timeline, essentially removing them from our reality without actually killing them. His solution to the death penalty involved the use of a two-part chemical solution, called the timeline dissolution cocktail, that once injected into the individual, rearranged their chronal DNA and slowly shifted them from our reality into another dimension of existence.
“This is a far more humane way of removing unredeemable elements from our society,” Dr. Krendler said. “Leaving no blood on our hands.”
“No blood? How can you be certain of that?” Simmonds asked. “Have you seen this other dimension these criminals are being sent to? Do you know for sure this process of yours even works? That your test subjects aren’t just being atomized instead of relocated? And for the sake of argument, let’s say there actually is some other dimension, do we know that humans can safely exist there, and if they can, do we have the right to dump our problems on some poor unsuspecting society? How is that not a form of cruel and unusual punishment?”
Dr. Krendler shook his head at the audience comprised of scientists and researchers, sighed, and said, “Senator Simmonds, are you attempting to derail these talks with groundless hypotheticals?”
“Yes, and here’s another one for you: What if the condemned wants to die in our reality, so their families can mourn and move on, and the victims and their families can see justice done and finally get some closure in their lives?”
“It never ceases to amaze me how you liberals are never satisfied with any progressive scientific achievements,” Dr. Krendler responded. “You think the lethal injection barbiturate, paralytic, and potassium chloride cocktail is Ineffective, don’t you? Because it doesn’t get the job done fast enough for your liking.”
“Fast enough for our liking?” Simmonds rolled her eyes in disbelief. “It takes 20 minutes to kill the average inmate!”
“Only in rare cases. The majority of the executions were conducted without a hitch,” Dr. Krendler said proudly. “However, I am willing to concede that subjecting anyone to twenty minutes of chemical torture, even in a low percentage rate, is totally unacceptable, which is why I built a better mousetrap.”
“A better mousetrap?”
“Yes. You can nitpick at my solution all you like but in the end, I’m sure you will come to see that my timeline dissolution cocktail is the perfect way to carry out a painless, and less dramatic, execution.”
“And you feel not one ounce of remorse for being the man responsible for dissolving a human being’s entire existence as if they were never even here?”
“Remorse for what? No one’s dying because of my procedure. They’re being relocated, perhaps even to a better life. Isn’t that better than murdering a fellow human? As a liberal, aren’t you opposed to the death sentence? Doesn’t this take care of that?”
“I’m opposed to inhumane killing. If you came up with a completely painless way to implement a death sentence for a monster that couldn’t be rehabilitated, then I might be willing to accept it as a viable solution. But what you’re doing goes beyond the realms of nature and reality. You’re eradicating their very soul from our universe, and I can’t explain why, but I find that thought sickening.”
“Then what’s your solution, Senator? No lethal injection, no electric chair, no gas chamber, no hanging, no firing squad, or drowning or stoning. How do we deal with the monsters that can’t be rehabilitated?”
“I don’t have an answer,” Simmonds admitted. “But until we find one, I intend to block the use of your cocktail.”
“Good luck trying to stop me. This country has elected and nominated conservative Republicans to all three branches of government for the past 50 years, and they all support my agenda.”
Simmonds remained silent for a moment before slamming her fist on the table and leaving the conference abruptly.
To those adults who hold on to their virginity as a point of pride, we salute you! This message is not intended for you. If, however, you are among the twenty-nine percent of the world population gagging for a shag but find yourself taking up permanent residence in the friend zone, we might have just the solution for you!
At The Sextraterrestrial Experience, we know that today’s men and women are faced with far more difficult sexual choices than ever before. The spectre of rejection, virginal ridicule, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancy looms large in a society where people display not only their own lives, but yours as well on social media.
Sexually inexperienced adults today need new choices that reflect the reality of their complex lives. Abstinence is often preached by the self-righteous them-what-knows-what’s-best-for-your-life pundits, but that’s simply not a realistic approach to modern day sexuality. To hear the marriage-first-nookie-later brigade, you’d think even masturbation would lead to the end of civilization.
But there is a way to stop shy, socially awkward virgins from transforming into frustrated InCels and mucking up life for the rest of us. Now anyone, and we do mean anyone can enjoy rich and satisfying sexual intimacy without risking rejection based on appearance or personality.
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That’s right, extraterrestrials have grown bored with secretive farmland abductions and nonconsensual probing and are now eager to explore human relations in all its various forms. Best of all, these curious visitors from a distant star are not compatible with humans on a procreation level, so no unwanted pregnancies, are not capable of transmitting any earthborn sexual diseases, have no racial, age, or gender bias, and they do not blink at kink, so you can feel free to experiment and if you discover that you have a freak flag, let it fly with confidence.
Nothing’s too foreign for the foreignest of them all…Aliens!
Disclaimer: The Sextraterrestrial Experience is not a bordello, it is a matchmaking organization for intergalactic species singles looking to engage in consensual, guilt-free amorous congress. Applicants should not be married or in a committed relationship, do not necessarily need to be virgins, but must be 18 or older. Although The Sextraterrestrial Experience, LTD, makes it their business to thoroughly screen participating extraterrestrials for all known planetary sexually transmitted diseases, we strongly advise the use of protection as we assume no responsibility for any off-world diseases contracted from any contact, intimate or otherwise, with an alien lifeform.
After an extended drought of blackout nights, Vidalia was dreaming again, but nowhere near ones of the ordinary variety, especially for a person of her kind. These dreams were filled with murky, ever-shifting shapes, people she knew in the waking world, but who tried to obscure their identity, as if they were in a dreamland witness protection program.
She knew, in that way the unknown became known in dream logic, that the people were pixelating themselves because of something she did. She had inadvertently given birth to an idea that was so next of kin to chaos in The Dreamorium, that it made her persona non grata among the inhabitants.
Fearing for her safety while existing in dreamstate, Vidalia had no other choice but to pay a visit to the ruler of The Dreamorium, in order to convince him to take her sleep-wandering soul under the wing of his protection, and make it known to all, that anyone who attempted to do her harm would be severely dealt with.
As her visit to the DreamCore was unannounced, Vidalia arrived while Morpheus himself was asleep, and found it difficult to approach the monarch, because she was forced to wade through his own dreams; the images flowing from his mind were thick with nastiness and liquidy with sin, and they wanted ever so much to enter her, to drown the very essence of her being.
Vidalia’s head bobbed just above the surface of the dreams that threatened to drag her into their undertow. While she struggled to stay afloat, her eyes kept returning to Morpheus’s sleeping face. How could this peaceful-looking man have dreams filled with so much rage?
In her battle to avoid drowning, Vidalia uttered a shriek that woke Morpheus from his sleep. His eyes opened and the dreams evaporated instantly. When he yawned, the air became warm and heavy with welcoming scents: freshly cut grass, and old books, and Christmas morning.
Morpheus, unsurprised by Vidalia’s presence in his boudoir, smiled and sauntered over to her, taking her face in both hands and kissed her. Although the kiss landed on her forehead, she felt it on her lips, and it tasted of chocolate made from cacao and cane sugar.
“I am heartily sorry for disturbing your sleep, sir,” Vidalia said, humbled suddenly by the nearness of him. “But I was drowning in your…“
“Nightmares, I know,” Morpheus nodded. “I daydream as many as I can manage to spare you mortal lot their pain and anguish.”
“My name is…“
“Vidalia,” Morpheus finished. “From the tribe of secret dreamers known as the Moemoeā, and in addition to being the strongest, smartest, and most beautiful of your sisters, you are the seventh daughter of seven daughters, and you have come craving a boon.”
Vidalia tried to step back, to remove herself from his sphere of influence, but Morpheus clasped her shoulders and held her to the spot.
“Your loneliness is like a beacon in The Dreamorium,” he said. “It calls out to me and confesses your secrets. I know your crime.”
“Then you must despise me, sir,” Vidalia turned her face away from the Lord of Dreams. “And I was foolish to travel to this place in search of a compassionate ear and perhaps aid in the form of a possible solution.”
“How can I offer aid without a request being made?”
“I have done a thing here in your realm and it has grown beyond my control,” Vidalia said, not quite able to meet his gaze.
“And you have come to me seeking to make your error mine own so that I might repair the damage you have done?” Morpheus raised an eyebrow.
His fingers gently caressed her chin and he turned her face so that their eyes met. “Tell me, mortal, do you think me so weak of mind that I cannot detect when I am standing in the presence of a falsehood?”
Vidalia brushed his hand away. “How am I false, sir?”
Morpheus leaned in closer, their noses almost touching. “I see in you so many levels of deception, it is quite fascinating, actually. But you cannot bury the truth deep enough within your lies to hide it from me. You will reveal to me, child, what you have done.”
When Vidalia offered no response, Morpheus circled her slowly, whispering in each ear as he passed, “I can feel it, this thing you have loosed in my realm. It salivates at the very thought of me. It aches to sip the wine of life directly from my throat.”
“So, you desire the truth?” Vidalia asked.
“As near as you can manage.”
“Very well. I gave birth here.”
“You gave birth in The Dreamorium?”
“I was impregnated here and delivered here. A first to my knowledge.”
“A surface lie,” Morpheus scoffed. “Try again.”
“The thing that seeks you out, I am responsible for its presence. You have said that I am the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter, and that is true but it was my mother who was impregnated here, by an idea made flesh. And I am the result of that union.”
“And what was the fertile idea?”
“It was not so much an idea as it was a truth,” Vidalia said. “Now is the time of women.”
Morpheus smirked. “And you believe that you alone can unthrone me?”
“I know that I will unthrone you. And since you favor truth, the simple truth is that I am never alone.”
Behind Vidalia, women began to materialize. Her mother. Her sisters. her aunts. “We are a tribe, as you have mentioned,” she said. “A tribe of experienced dreamers and we believe ourselves capable of holding mankind’s nightmares at bay.”
“Your number has grown from one to fourteen, that is still not enough, I assure you,” Morpheus said dismissively.
“Peer outside your window, great king,” Vidalia stepped to the gossamer drapes and pulled them aside.
When the Duke of Dreaming cast a glance at the grounds beyond his keep, he witnessed an impossible gathering of women.
“Those women stretch as far as the eye can see and even farther still. It is the Moemoeā and we are legion.”
“The first of our kind inhabited this place since its infancy and we have watched your rise to power with much admiration,” Vidalia continued. “But the world beyond this place is changing and dreams are too, becoming darker, some taking on the quality of nightmares.”
“It is more than one man can bear, even a man such as yourself. We wish to offer you a respite, carry the burden for you now.”
“If your intentions were noble and your cause just, why then approach me like sneak-thieves in the night?” Morpheus asked.
“Would you have granted us audience if we made our intentions plain? No, you would not.”
“Foolish women, I shall oppose you.”
“You will try, and you will fail. You know this to be true but pride demands that you defend your throne. But this need not end in senseless violence,” Vidalia placed a hand on Morpheus’ chest, his heartbeat betraying his calm demeanor.
“It can be gentle, peaceful, and sweet,” she whispered as her lips brushed his mouth. “Why sip wine from your throat when your lips, far more desirable, would achieve the same goal?” She kissed him hard and full and he groaned pitifully.
There was a weight to Vidalia’s kiss that he struggled against, unaware her lips were siphoning his essence at the same time.
Soon, the others joined in, touching and kissing the Lord of Dreams and soothing him into submission, into surrender. His defiant roars transformed into desperate pleas as he begged them to stop but they paid him no heed.
And when he was but a shade of his former self, a ghost who was evaporating at Dawn’s approach, the women praised Morpheus, killing him with kindness until he was no more.
Vidalia led the women in prayer after his passing before demolishing all he had built.
Now, the difficult work began, devising a new way for mortals to dream and a new way to filter out nightmares. Peace might not be achievable in the real world but Vidalia and her kin strove to make it a reality in The Dreamorium.
John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself,” but this was not true, not in Winston Brooke’s case, at least. He spent the majority of his days chipping away at the connection, until he was not “a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” as the poem suggested. He was born alone, lived his life apart from others, and would surely die in the same manner.
This did not mean that he hadn’t had encounters. He found love once and he fell completely head over heels. But she hadn’t fallen, neither head nor heel, so she departed, leaving him oh so utterly alone, thus cementing his decision to cut ties with anything remotely resembling society.
But even as an island, he still received reminders, things that washed up on the shore from the life he left behind; old love letters rolled tight in bottles, forgotten memories carved onto driftwood, secrets whispered into conch shells, and so many pieces of his broken heart that arrived every single day.
As he had no further need for these keepsakes, no need for companions, no need for rescue, Winston tossed the flotsam of his former existence back into the sea, and kept his island deserted and camouflaged from the notice of humankind.
Many years later, the infamous she, the breaker of his heart, rowed her boat ashore, after realizing her mistake and returning to make amends, found Winston’s desiccated remains. His independent island had become his silent grave, and now the acre upon acre of desolation and loneliness belonged solely to her, as the certificate of ownership changed hands.
Lonnie Hatch took his usual morning stroll to the local bagel joint, when a taxi driver lost control of the wheel, hopped the sidewalk and struck a fire hydrant, breaking it free. The water pressure sent the hydrant flying right into Lonnie’s face, killing him instantly.
It was labeled a freak accident by the press, but that moment had been planned from the moment Lonnie took his first breath. It was written beside his name in the Book of Life.
Normally, Lonnie, having lived a righteous life, would have met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, but somewhere along his transition, he was rerouted to an orientation room, and seated along with one hundred and fifty thousand freshly transitioned souls.
“Welcome, Heaven Seekers,” said the orator, who appeared in front of the gathering, from seemingly nowhere. Although Lonnie had never seen one before, he knew that it was an Ophanim, an angel in the form of a wheel with spokes and a rim covered with eyes all the way around.
“Some might have realized this already,” the Ophanim said. “But for those who have not, allow me to confirm that you are dead, or more properly stated, the life you grew accustomed to, no longer exists.”
The Ophanim waited for questions, and when none came, continued, “Your entry into the Kingdom has been postponed because Heaven needs your help. The Earth has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, and while this is certainly not the End Times, the scale balance has tipped in a way not favorable or conducive to our cause, and we are now looking to hire, for lack of a better term, a staff of volunteers with excellent credentials to return to Earth in completely new identities to assist in the de-escalation of the devastation to come.
“As you let this request sink in, we hope that you will join us in our efforts to help both the Earth and Heaven, if not return to status quo, then at least usher in a new, more manageable normal. Keep in mind that deciding not to return will not affect your acceptance into Heaven, but becoming a volunteer does have certain benefits, none of which I am at liberty to discuss at the moment.”
This wouldn’t have been that hard a choice, if Lonnie was still alive, he would have simply pulled himself up by his bootstraps and got on with the work that needed to be done. But being this close to Paradise, being able to finally rest, was such an enormous temptation, which made him wonder if he and the others were being tested. The final exam question that determined one’s grade, and decided their placement into Heaven, Limbo, or Hell.
Things were never easy, not even in the afterlife.
The world had seldom witnessed a woman as simple and complex as Eleanor Fetsbury of Cranford-upon-Reslington. A working single mother, she was extremely unpleasant in the most pleasant manner possible, deeply spiritual in an atheistic fashion, and so very fortunate in a There-But-for-the-Grace-of-God-Go-I sort of way. She loved to be hated, and hated to be loved, but I loved her anyway, because she was my mother.
What other choice did I have but to love a woman who would not show me an ounce of affection, but would battle a regiment of armed soldiers single-handedly in order to keep me safe?