Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hot Date

[As seen projected in a large auditorium during Los Angeles's annual Symposium for the Advancement of Human Convenience]
Are you tired of all of these online dating websites and applications leading you... astray? Don't you want to find affection and genuine compatibility with a face that you feel like you can trust? Or maybe you don't feel like spending another lonely night without a new, exciting person to share your bed with?

Hi. I'm Lars Fague (pronounced like "vague") from Affection Incorporated, and I completely understand. That's why, with the help of a staff of highly knowledgeable engineers- some who are themselves customers, I have developed an all new program in the form of a brand new intuitive application, called FagueDate. With a monthly subscription, you can be a member of a new wave of people who are on their way to their own pure joy and amorous gratification!

In the most typical of coffee shops, two people- male and female- have just met in person for the first time after communicating on an older dating app produced by a popular internet interaction aggregator. The program, called "LettusMeat" is a quirky spin on the usual format for arranging dates between strangers that actually sets people up based completely upon restaurants and cafes that both participants frequent. The people in this particular instance are both wielding separate types of hot drink as they wrack their brains, desperately seeking valuable conversation. The female looks up to see a friend of hers at a table in a different section of the cafe. "Oh! There's one of my friends, she also comes here often". She quickly excuses herself and begins a hasty conversation with her friend: "Oh my god, this is fucking stupid. This guy is an idiot. He clearly used an old ass picture of himself and he keeps asking me if I've read something called The Carrier Dove Chronicles". Her friend peers over to look at the man, laughs, and says, "ohhh, Mel... Do you want me to help you? I can tell him that you're already taken.. that I'm your girlfriend". The woman, apparently named Mel, pauses. "Is it that bad?" she asks in a whisper. This particular moment is resolved by Mel walking to her date and apologizing, "I should get going.. Thanks for the coff-coff!". The two women walk outside to smoke and eventually agree to get drinks later on, to forget the ordeal.

On the walk to the bar from the parking lot, Mel and her friend were still kind of dwelling on the event. Her friend, whose name is now Lara or something continues to repeat the same information about an entirely separate dating service that she fully endorses: "I'm telling you, this one is legit. Do you remember Ving? That guy I went to see the Muzz show with? I met him on there". "Ving? was he the guy that wore the purple blazer that one time?"
"No, no. I don't know if you met him or not, let me see if I can pull up a picture of him."

The two spent about fifteen minutes or the duration of two cigarettes each trying to figure out if Mel remembered Ving.

"Well, anyway I met him on there."
"Are y'all still together?"

Later that night, Mel is three drinks deep and makes it home safely. Almost immediately, she plugs in her phone and after about an hour she remembers to search for that dating program that her friend suggested. She has almost completely forgotten its name at this point, Figuring it can't be that hard to find another decent dating application, she continues the search, This is how Mel found FagueDate.

My program is incredibly simple to use. If you are familiar with the modern standard for online dating, then you can basically pick up the concept in no time at all. However, what this extraordinary contribution to technology brings to the table is truly astonishing.
Sir! Come on up!
What do you look for in companionship?
Ha ha! I don't blame you!
And tell me, how often do you come across someone with these specific attributes on any of your previous dating websites, or.. even in person?
Allow me to unveil my creation before I get ahead of myself! Sir, take this device and scroll through this catalog of eligible companions picked from near, far, anywhere...
Found one?
Ok, now, here's what you do... Ok, fellas, bring it out!

Marcus just downloaded the application. He was anxious to scroll through the girls within the ten mile radius. Soon enough, there she was. The girl that asked him for the wi-fi password at the sandwich house. He clicked confirm and brought his tablet to the machine and plugged it in. Nearly two hours later, she was fully manifested. Printed out, lying on an aluminum slab. Later in the evening, Marcus would work up the nerve to touch her hair. Realistic.

It's specifically not a clone! She is not an automaton, nor is she a doll. It is very simple. You plug your phone or other device into your nearest 3D printer, and there you have it! Your perfect date. But tell me-  how many of you out there are just like me? I mean, to be honest, my taste in a partner tends to change with the season. Haha. Well, that's also not a problem- you have many options! Your FagueDate is made of a reusable material that you can easily place back into your machine to be used on your next companion!

Mel barely read the terms and conditions. She skimmed through the instructions and became quickly frustrated. Throughout the rough work week she had almost forgotten about the app in general. She dismissed the buzzes and beeps of the notifications, assuming they were just spam from having signed up and registering her information. Eventually, she realized it wasn't quite the service she was looking for. By Friday afternoon, it had been uninstalled.

Saturday is Lara night. That's when Mel and Lara go hard. Together, they're fierce and can't no one stop them because they're the most sassy and spicy chicks at the bar, or club, or whatever. They quickly seek out a small table in a corner of the room. They have their drinks: Mel has some kind of stout that she heard about a while ago, and Lara has a brown well drink that no one can remember the name of. For the first twenty minutes they're moderately self-conscious, which they subconsciously attribute to not having had enough drinks.

Mel excuses herself to buy something a bit stronger. On the way to the counter, she notices that guy from last week. That weird fucking chump. He is with some other girl that has her back turned to Mel's field of view. That guy's name is probably Ross or Russ, or Rust for that matter. Ross totally doesn't see Mel, so she avoids the situation and quickly approaches the bartender and orders drinks for Lara and herself. By the time she gets back to the table, Lara is talking to some guy. She is talking to literally the "some guy" you would expect Lara to be talking to. "Hey.. Who's this?," Mel politely asks as she hands off a drink to her friend. Lara replies, "This is Donegal, he just moved here. He was telling me about some [lame shit] he was working on". Of course Donegal has some vague, potentially fake accent and asks what Mel is drinking. She tells him, but cannot be heard at this point in the night. He points to his drink and offers a taste. "It's called Scary Garrett's Three-horned Cider". She peacefully declines the sip and continues to drink her own.

The trio hang out for a moment; they are each making pretty lackluster jokes, talking about some compelling drama series, and explaining the phrase, "on fleek" or some shit, After a while, Lara and Donegal are basically competing to see who is louder, funnier, and more provocative. Mel is a little bit more reserved than the two, but she still chimes in on a few gross topics to prove that she has a similar sense of humor. They are having a great time. At one point, Donegal looks at his phone and blurts out something about a friend of his that is supposed to be here, on a date. Mel doens't think twice about the statement and jokingly asks if they met online. "Yeah, something like that," he says, as he recedes from the table and begins looking for his friend. A moment later, Mel hears his stupid accent shouting, "yo, Russ! Get over here, mon!". She immediately gets a stomach ache but realizes that there's nothing she can do. Lara is already fairly deep and probably couldn't retain the situation enough to offer any help. Mel is ready to sprint to the bathroom, just as Donegal arrives at the table. He starts waving his friend over. At first, Mel is moderately embarrassed, until she looks at the girl that Russ is courting. She is horrified to realize that his date is an exact replica of herself.

Eventually, what we want to do is create a fully customisable personality based on your own preferences. Full conversation. No conversation.

Also, I would like it to be known that this plot is entirely independent of the whole sex doll or robot thing. I know those stories exist, but I have not been directly exposed to any of those previous works and I don't find any particular interest in that area of fiction.

Marcus spent that night tearing that ass up. He originally tried to feign an actual courtship in the confines of his bedroom, but the idea that no one was watching him had overtaken his thought process. That night, he stayed up until about 4 am enjoying an entirely unique situation in which he was free to act upon what was essentially a human being in any way he decided. I imagine it was either relatively gross or remarkably mild because of the kind of guy Marcus is.

Around 6 to 7 am, Marcus woke up and saw her stooped over the edge of the bed. He shouted, "oh my god!" and quickly got from beneath the covers. Hoping that he had simply forgotten the position she was last in, he gently put her back into bed. After putting her back, he plodded toward the bathroom. He took a urine, and realized he still had a potential hour or two left of sleep. When he got to his room, the synthetic woman was flailing across the room in several impossible postures for a real human being to be in. She knocked over his humidifier. Marcus, purely afraid of what he was witnessing, panicked and ran down his hallway- stubbing his toe in the process. For about half an hour he coward in the living room, nearly falling asleep until he worked up the courage to go back to his room/pleasure palace.

This time around, he watched the flailing body prance and spread its limbs to impossible lengths. Her fake bones had ripped through her vinyl flesh in some spots. Apparently, this copy had been constructed entirely wrong. Marcus approached the fidgeting body and she immediately turned her upside-down face directly at him. It immediately started to bubble and melt into a dark brown, reddish goop. Soon, the body became engulfed in flames and started popping and shrieking. The remaining skeleton of a face stared directly at Marcus, making what sounded like an attempt at speech, saying something like "Nektus grechtu eshtu" followed by more shrieks. Realizing he was not going to be able to put out this fire, Marcus attempted to escape from his second floor apartment.

When Marcus's body was found amongst the smoldering ash and bricks, the pieces of his skin that were not charred were covered with unexplainable lacerations that looked almost as if they were designed and etched by a computer.

Now, I ought to mention that in the early stages of this product, you may want to keep your date away from hot or moist environments. I know you may plan on getting steamy and that is fine, but please limit it to body or room temperatures! Haha, let's continue...

By this time, Mel is basically hysterical. I'm sure, to everyone else in the bar, it just looks like some intense drama is going on. Lara is shoving the nameless suitor and is confused as to whether or not she should shove the replica. The girls are yelling but can not find a proper conclusion to come to in this bizarre situation. Donegal is entirely confused, so he backs off and talks to people at a nearby table as an onlooker while he sips an "Angry Shelf Hot Hop Brash". The situation is intense, and you get the idea- the girls get kicked out and probably spend the next day regretting and commiserating. This is just one of the many stories that have happened here as a result of the Fague Experiment. I mean, all over this isolated college town, this kind of junk is going on.

...FagueDates should be released in its entirety this fall. Haha, just enough time for you to bring someone home to meet your parents on Thanksgiving. In the meantime, we will be doing test runs of the product in a few select cities. Join my mailing list for more details!

Theoretically, the story would end here. The rest is to further this story's association with previous stories of this season of Terror Keyboard

"So, Arnold, where were these two particular stories taking place, again?"

"Well this is isolated footage from the Groever Jurisdiction. I was responsible for following these characters specifically; I'm watching their individual experiences with the Fagues."

"Hah, I've been pronouncing Groever wrong this whole time."

"Yeah, it's understandable. 'Grevver' or 'Grey-ever'. It doesn't really matter. I mean these Fagues have proven to not really work. We're going to have to wipe out the rest of the subjects,"

"Makes sense. How?"

"What's gonna happen is that we're just going to round up them up in a concentrated area- heavy traffic or something and clear them out. I mean clearly these Beta versions are combustible, so we can use that. Just one major, slick event to rid this company of liability."

"Nice. Want to go play frisbee?"

Magnet Island

My first day on Magnet Island was more like the first day of school.  From the moment I stepped out of the ship onto the lush green grass I was guided through an overwhelming orientation of my new life.
"What's your name?  Are you Thomas?" A man dressed entirely in white shouted at me.
"Yeah that's me."
"Welcome to Magnet Island.  What's it like experiencing real gravity for the first time?"
"It's fine," I replied, breaking eye contact.  He slapped me on the back and guided me away from the ship.  He didn't say another word, but instead just pointed his narrow finger at a large white cube in the distance.  I grabbed my bags and started walking.

Magnet Island had a long history.  I was due for endless tours nonstop lectures on the "beauty" and "perseverance" of the human spirit.  My mind, of course, was elsewhere.  I wasn't interested in the boring history of the settlement, or how long the New Pilgrims fought to make the land habitable.  All I could think about was Abigail, and the few nights prior when we had shared our final kiss.  But that was in heaven, not only in my mind, but it was quite actually in heaven.  I left the satellite 8 hours before and was now walking beside massive trees down on Earth because that’s where I was “needed.”  Whatever reasoning they gave me I wouldn’t stomach it.  I belonged in the stars.

But that really didn’t matter anymore.  I was an Earthling, or so my welcoming committee told me.  Then again these were the same people that destroyed the planet in the first place, so what can I really believe?
The entire afternoon I was led through pristine marble halls and obnoxiously lush gardens.  I was introduced to statue after statue of brave men & women who re-colonized islands like the very one beneath my feet.  We were living in a “new Eden” they kept telling me.  The woman (again, clad entirely in white) who was guiding me through this labyrinth wouldn’t hesitate to use the word “perfection” to describe the Earth’s current state.  In fact they stressed this point so severely it made me uneasy.

“The generations that came before us had to hide behind closed doors when the sun set,”
Everything they told me faded into white noise.
“For fear of the dark, and those who lurk in it,”
And I was drifting off into that deep unending white,
“But we are not like the people of the old days,”
Like I was slipping into a dream,
“Are we?”
Flying far above this island,
“For we have achieved paradise.  But it comes at a cost.”
Back to the satellite where I belong, and with who I belong.
“Just remember what we have told you today.”

Obviously I didn’t remember, because I didn’t listen.

That night I was laying on my back in a deep soft bed of grass.  Above me were tall beautiful trees that stretched toward the distant stars.  On the rolling green hills were the sleeping bodies of everyone who lived on Magnet Island.  The breeze ruffled through the grass at an even tempo, which occasionally matched the gentle rhythmic breathing of those surrounding me.  It was truly lovely, and like nothing I had ever experienced on the satellite.  I began to notice small blinking lights landing on the blades of grass around me, and I had no idea what they were.  But I suddenly heard the echo of some recent memory ricochet in my brain,
“After the sun sets you’ll see small glowing creatures flying in the darkness.  We call them lightning bugs.”
Of course, this was one of the little details they told me on my tour of the island.  The lightning bugs gave me a sense of peace.

As my eyelids began to flirt with the concept of sleep, I felt like a real human for the first time.  Every one of my senses felt entirely organic, fluid, and bizarrely electric.  I was apart of a herd, and it was beautiful.
But… some other distant words called out in my mind.  A memory from today I was only in that nocturnal moment truly hearing for the first time.
“Beware, newcomers.  When you lay in the grass to sleep, you must immediately fall asleep and not wake until the morning light-“
But I couldn’t remember the rest.  Either way, it would have to wait until morning because I was finally falling asleep.
Or was I?
I was suddenly jolted awake with a very intense sense of fear.  I kept my eyes tightly shut but listened intently the noises around me.  I could only hear the gentle breeze and the familiar sound of people sleeping.  My sudden fright gradually left me, and I was left to my own thoughts once again.
“No matter what you hear, do not open your eyes-“ but once again I could not remember any more of what they told me.  Was there something I was supposed to fear?
My heartbeat exploded in speed, but I kept my eyes barely shut.  I had heard something my conscious mind could not yet render.  There was nothing immediately around me I could sense, but I was overcome with unrelenting dread.
Then I heard a foreign sound.  It was like a finger slowly rubbing over a wet surface and joined by a low animal hum.  Through my squinted eyes I could see all the lightning bugs had vanished.  The opaque melody was nearing me.
My adrenaline brought back all the words I had drowned out and spelled it out for me with insulting clarity.
“We do not know what they are but you cannot let them know you are aware of them.  If you wake up in their presence or view them with your naked eye you will be immediately slain, and strung out raw and flayed like a slaughtered animal.”
This was it, yet I had ignored the warning.
Very carefully I peeked open one of my eyes to get a panicked look at what might be near me.  I took ample time to separate my eyelids so that no beast around me would notice my subtle movement.  Through the foggy obscured lens of my eyelashes I could only see the familiar shapes of those sleeping around me.  I wondered if my imagination was getting the best of me.  But in a horrific moment of realization I understood I was wrong.
There was a large headed creature looming over one of my sleeping neighbors.  It had two of it’s long insect like arms caressing the temples of a young man just a few feet away from me.  Its other hands and arms were exploring the deep grass and swaying bodies of those around me.
My mind careened back into absolute horror.  I wanted to get up and run but I knew there was nothing I could do.
The very second I saw the creature it immediately stopped what it was doing and hovered over to me.  It began to let out a long and loud human sigh that did not end.  I did not feel it touch me, but I could feel its presence directly in front of my face.  The sigh was growing louder and angrier as my panic grew.  I was paralyzed in fear.  It could sense my fear, and must have known that I was awake and aware of it.  The sigh was slowly becoming a scream.  My mind scrambled to find any serene thought to calm me down.  I had to quell my fear.
It’s fingerless hands gripped my temple with an incredible and deliberate strength.  I tried to remember my home on the satellite.  Its hot breath was erupting from the sigh onto my face and went shooting down my nostrils.  I tried to remember the happy days of my childhood. 
Its lips wrapped on my forehead.
I remembered Abigail.
It stopped moving for a moment.
I remembered our final kiss before my departure.
It loosened its grip.
My heart slowed to a relaxed beat.

A moment later I was softly placed on the grass like a child.

I was alone again.  The sleeping around me was still undisturbed, and the lightning bugs returned to their nightly routine.  I stared above at the stars, wondering which white light was my satellite.  Suddenly I missed home more than ever before.

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Exaggerated Retelling

Working in this coffee shop is a joke.
People either don't understand what decent coffee actually is or they're far too particular about it. Of course, that concept can't be a surprise. I'm sure everyone is aware, right? Then, there's countless couples on dates, which is fine, but this place seems to be like a prominent hub for blind dates and other sundry casual meet-ups. I can tell. They all look overly presentable on the outside, but they are the worst kinds of wrecks on the inside. I know it. Some people have the inability to immediately know when someone has toxic character traits. That's all I'm trying to say.

I was almost finished with my shift about a month before the Grey Event. A dad walked in with three children, all wearing goofy clown makeup. The dad had only limited his makeup to the rosy cheek dimple things that most people associate with clowns. I had to pretty much stare at this guy's face for five minutes as he ordered like five 12oz hot chocolates. His red paint dimples were starting to crust over and were probably going to leave his cheeks dyed a faint red the next day. I don't know, that guy wasn't the problem. I just remember that it was close to the time that I really started getting irritated.

After, that I swept up a bit. There was a homeless guy sleeping on one of the recliners. Next to it was a side table with a green apple and what I assume is his notepad. He was sleeping, and I was planning on quitting, so I snatched it and read it in the bathroom for like 8 minutes. I like reading this kind of junk. One page said, "the muscles of terror and fear," circled and underlined. I skipped some blank pages, which kind of bothers me because there's no realistic reason to have that much space between notes. Another page had some mundane grocery list that was baffling in its own way. He even included honey baked ham on the list, which must be some kind of pipe dream if he thinks he's going to get enough money from panhandling to buy that kind of feast. Two pages later just had some stuff about a red cloud approaching and then the words, "Carrier Pigeons. Doves". I think this kind of nonsense is amusing, so I posted a picture of it online.

Back at the front register, another fucking couple came in and the guy ordered for the both of them. I tried to remain nice as he asked me about which of the drinks came with steamed milk. Like, I mean, dude, I really have no idea. He ended up ordering a plain coffee but his date was in the mood to drink something sweet, though. After two minutes of deliberation, he ordered her an iced latte with pumps of vanilla flavor squish. It was iced because he was very insistent upon the drink not touching the fucking steam wand.

Now here's the weird part. After I posted the picture of the scribbled notebook, a friend of mine sent me a message, telling me that the picture was rather significant. He, no joke, offered me a thousand dollars for the notebook. I just replied, "sure, whatever". An hour later, he came in, nervous. He told me that he was just killing a few birds with one stone and just checking out this shopping center. It really came across like he didn't care that he was dropping a thousand dollars. He's a weird man, but he gave me a lot of money. Of course this meant that I had to hand the notebook to him under the table. For a while, he hung around in one of the seats, writing his own notes in a separate notebook. Then he left. I haven't seen him since then because he doesn't go out a whole lot.

I don't know.

I left work and it was night time. I headed toward the bus. There are patches of darkness in the center where there aren't any street lights. Of course it was in one of these that the homeless man from earlier was standing. I avoided eye contact but I still nodded and smiled at him. Just as I was sure he was out of my sight, he grabbed the back of my shirt and I was pissed. "Give it back. Click clack." I said "you're a dumb old cunt, fuck off". He grew. He had several voices and yelled "The notebook. Where did it go? Clickle clackle and es at". How did he know I took it?

I told him to back off because he smelled funny.
He turned into a beast and ran off with my money.
I shouted, "come back here, come back with my ca$h"
He'd better come back before I beat that fat ass

When I caught up to him
His eyes had turned blue
He had crusty skin
and smelled of mildew

He slashed my face and cut me up good
My shirt became bloody and my skin was bruised
He ripped my lapel and clasped my left foot
I quickly fell down and my face hit the soot

I was dragged by a demon into the forest
I grew mold on my scalp and was bashed on the forehead
That cunt took my money and beat me to death
I threw up my lungs. Raekwon the Chef
I'm kidding.

I know now that he wasn't the same man sleeping in the cafe. The guy that beat me was one of them. One of those creatures that haven't yet been revealed in these stories. I was being watched. That kinda sketches me out. But whatever. I didn't have the notebook anymore. He left me alone after I told him who had it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Almost Done on the B Shift

     For the third time in less than an hour, Andrew Rilobit is pulling a long viscous thread of yellowish organic material from his tear duct. The process is less than painful, but the soggy strand, whatever it is, clings to the inner passages of his lacrimal sac so that his lower eyelid is constantly pulling away from the white of his eyeball with wet, minute smacking sounds.

     This discharge began yesterday, according to the logs I read earlier, while Andrew was walking home from the grocery store. He had been on an empty bike path that skirted around the industrial kitchen fan bolted onto the back of Groever High School's cafeteria building, five bulging plastic bags dangling from each hand, pulverizing his knees. He had suddenly lost sight in his right eye and knelt to investigate the cause. When his hand reached his cheek, it closed on a writhing knotted string, soaked in some sort of sputum. After pulling it out in a state of shivering agony, he could see again. He hurried home, and hasn't left since then.

     Now he's sitting on a wobbly stool next to his kitchen island. He's got a frosted glass bowl in front of him, now filled nearly halfway with these dull snotty excreta. They look like earthworms, but thinner, with segments of varying width and texture from one tip to another. They're competing with each other to burrow to the bottom of the bowl. From where our capture device hovers, just beyond the cusp of Andrew's left ear, the microscopic microphone registers a thin squealing sound coming from the squelching yellow mass below.

     The kitchen, as well as the rest of the house's interior, is completely soiled. It would appear that a bag of flour has been thrashed and ripped apart while moving from room to room. According to the logs, the groceries from yesterday's shopping trip didn't make it safely into the refrigerator. The waste pisses me off; I'm surviving on animal crackers and old wholesale boxes of discontinued microwaveable popcorn. The former gleam of the cherrywood cabinets above the sink has been powderpuffed to an ashy hue that reminds one of my coworkers of the sight of skin-stripped muscle after it has been exposed to weeks of sandblasted sunshine in the eastern Sahara. That's what he told me as I was taking over his shift this morning, anyway, but that's Farley's opinion. And Farley is a dangerous sociopath.

     Andrew is now standing up and approaching a sliding glass door that he has previously been facing away from. We get a good look at his backyard as the sun is rising. He's got a collection of old suppurating washing machines stacked three-high in the center of a patch of dead whitish grass. There is an old faded doghouse made of red clapboard in the corner of a high wooden fence with its small opening pointed up at the sky. I haven't noticed a single pet since I sat down and began watching this scenario unfold four hours ago.

     The subject draws the glass door back and steps out onto his lawn for a few minutes. When I accelerate the capture device in pursuit of him, I discover that it is drizzling and am forced to retreat back into the house. He approaches the washing machines, further away than I would have liked him to be, and starts kicking their corroded white panels, glancing back over his shoulder every now and then. I can hear a rising whine coming from the kitchen island. The worms in the glass bowl seem to have registered what Andrew is doing, and this is what appears to be a vocal reaction. He is kicking the washing machines with more violent swings of his emaciated legs. Their aluminum casings, scrawled with streaks of weeping rust, are beginning to implode a little bit.

     He tires quickly and reenters the house. There is a sheen of rain flashing on his tight bloodless forehead. He is now facing the camera head-on and I am distracted for a moment by his t-shirt: a disintegrating cotton rag with the fractured line profile of the Packard Bell head logo, with its abstract contours denoting the bridge of a nose and the junction between a neck and a shirt collar.

     This causes an emotional reaction in me that, according to company policy, entitles me to five minutes of silent reflection; so I press a green membrane switch on the control desk in front of me, which puts all of the monitors in hibernation mode, and spin around in my chair so that I'm facing the bare brick walls by the entrance of the room. I take a swig of lukewarm coffee from a styrofoam cup that I have nestled in the armrest. I hear the muffled conversations of my coworkers through the ventilation shaft in the bottom of the surveillance room door. I catch an excerpt from one of these exchanges:

     "...Christ, you printed her out? Of all the templates available, you really figured that she was the one to go for? And you're surprised that she ate your dachshund, Mark. Honestly, man, I just... wow..."

     And the five minutes is over. I swivel back to the desk and power the monitors back on.

     Andrew is back on his stool, once I activate the capture device's tracking feature and get him centered in the frame. He has his hands clasped around the lip of the glass bowl. Drops of sweat are falling from his nose into the host of slithering worms below him. To my great dismay, he seems to be speaking to them now, and they are responding to him in a poorly synthesized automated voice:

     "...And I've got $576 in my checking account. Maybe that's not what you had in mind," Andrew says.

     "It is a start. Take it out of your banking account when you go downtown later today."

     "And what do you want me to buy?"

     "For now, you should visit a hardware store and purchase five buckets of mulch. Then you install us in the mulch so that we can breathe and generate further instructions."

     The subject nods at the contents of the bowl and begins to stand, but he sneezes onto the worms as he is swinging his legs out from under the lip of the island's stone counter, eliciting what sounds to me like a very low-quality computerized scream. Eight bits or less, I would say. The audio signal temporarily shorts the circuitry in the capture device, nearly resulting in a loss of control, which would have sent it plummeting into a nearby pile of spilled peanut-butter flavored cereal. I notice that I'm grinding my teeth because I have a great fear of peanut-butter flavored breakfast goods.

     Andrew has toppled into the stove and is now sitting on the floor, clawing at his eyes. Between the webbing of his fingers, I see multiple strands of these damp excretions raveling one around the other, then unraveling. He eventually summons the discipline necessary to begin the slow process of removing these new worms from his tear ducts. The automated voice reverberates once again off of the concave interior of the glass bowl across the room.

     "Critical Error. Please reevaluate your protocols before continuing your current task."

     And the door to the surveillance room swings open. And my shift is finally over. I relinquish the control desk and brush past Arnold Fest, who is tying his long aquamarine hair back into a frazzled ponytail as he approaches the drying chair I have been sitting in. We say nothing to each other and then I'm tossing my empty styrofoam cup into a tiny brown plastic trash can sitting just below the light switch.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Free Ride

To whom it may concern:

Hi! My name is Jeremy Lolux, I'm a regular patron of the Groever City Transit System. I had never been much of a complainer, but I feel like now is the time that I ought to finally bring pen to paper and contact whoever is in charge of the code of conduct for the bus and rail lines. Now, I've seen a few oddities going on with other passengers throughout the past months, and all of those things have really just subsided in my mind. No big deal. However, within the past week, not only did one of your buses pass me at a bus stop entirely- which I am willing to understand because I was in a darker colored work uniform- but also I encountered a situation that I feel needs some attention. I would like to call attention to it because I feel like the driver of this particular bus did very little to control a a concerning incident.

As I was boarding the the 252 bus from Atkins Parkway @ Lago Street, two young men were also getting on. Behind them was an older man who had allowed another person to go ahead in front of him. I was barely paying attention until one of the younger men yelled "what did you say?" and continued to shout at the old man. My only guess is that the young man understood the older man's motive as him putting distance between himself and the younger men because of their apparent sexual preference. Maybe he said something about it, I can't tell. I could see why they would be defensive, but it also just as easily could have been a misunderstanding. Still, for my remainder of the trip, I the boys continued to taunt to older man as he stayed silent. During this, they made pretty audible threats toward him about what he should look out for if they happened to get off at the same stop. This was none of my business, though, but I think that your driver could have done a little more to ensure overall safety or at least quiet down the two rowdy gentlemen. I really don't know what became of this situation after I left, but I figured I'd take the time to let you know what I witnessed.

Thank you,

Dear Jeremy,

Here at the Groever Transit Authority, we fully value your opinion and thank you for your feedback. If you are not already aware of the situation in question, the driver is currently suspended and the two men have been apprehended. 

We are very sorry for missing you at your bus stop and we would like to offer you a month of paid bus fare, on us! Thank you for being a valuable passenger of the Groever City Transit Authority.

Keith J. Williams

Dear Mr. Williams,

I truly appreciate your consideration and I thank you for this month's free bus fare. It has helped me a great deal. Unfortunately, I do have another issue that needs to be addressed. We are still in the middle of summer and the air conditioning on the trains is not very satisfactory. Please get back to me as soon as you can.

Jeremy L.

Dear Keith Williams,

I am not entirely sure if you received my last letter but I am very disappointed. I have called the main office but they have offered little to no actual help about the air conditioning situation. I will have you know that my month of paid fare is almost at its end and I am not sure if I would like to continue using your services any longer, under these circumstances. Please, let me know what you can do to resolve this situation.


Dear Jeremy,

We apologize for the late reply. If you would check your email, you will find two more monthly bus fare vouchers. We are working on the air conditioning at the moment, sorry for any inconvenience. Let us know if you have any further issues.

Keith J. Williams

Dear Keith J. Williams,

I was a passenger of the route 15 "grey event" that has been in the news lately. I am sure you know what happened, but as a very aware passenger, I would like to point out a lot of the things that your staff and railway operator could have done to improve the situation. First of all, the air conditioning has not been fixed. Summer is drawing to a close, so I won't dig too deep into that, but I definitely feel like it was a majorly frustrating factor in the event. I mean, not only was it hot and stuffy and on the train, but it had a very odd odor that I would rather my clothes not continue to smell like. Still, that is obviously the smallest of concerns.

Moments before the actual event, I was sitting a few seats away from a heavyset young man with a volunteer name tag that seemed to read, "Gorlop".  I don't know what that means. He was with a group of three or four young women, including a girl with funky-colored hair. I'm almost sure that this group was somewhat intoxicated, and this group kept looking in my direction nearly the entire trip. I didn't take any offense to it, it seemed harmless at the moment. I admit to looking in their direction as well because they were wearing top hats and goggles and stuff. Other than those few things, I remember having a particularly comfortable seat, though.

Later, I began to overhear that same group of friends talking about old and vintage computers and using the word "steam" a lot. That's around when the train actually did somewhat appear to be acting up. There was an unfamiliar screech that doesn't usually happen, even when slowing down. At that moment, I considered writing another one of these letters until I noticed the kid named Gorlop was clutching his heart and making funny sounds. I was alarmed, but it was none of my business. His group of friends just continued to laugh as if they weren't even able to register that their pal was in pain! Another woman shouted when she noticed what was happening, but I stayed in my seat. The lady asked him a few times if he was ok and attempted to approach him for some type of CPR tricks but then the girls he was with quickly grabbed the woman and threw her away from him. I was making a point to keep to myself, during all of this. The girls began frantically stomping up and down the aisle as the train became a lot less stable and even missed a couple of stops. I was getting particularly frustrated about the heat on top of being totally confused. Plus I didn't want them to stomp on my groceries and crush my carton of eggs. I started to smell melting plastic or something and then things got even more odd. The young women began flailing around in almost impossible ways, so I almost assumed it was a part of some weird performance art piece. They would take turns shouting weird words that sounded like "Pepto!" and "Shrek 2! Shrek 2! Freon!". I looked at the fat guy and he was nearly on the floor, still struggling. The rails screeched and the last thing I remember seeing before all of the power went out was some black goop in the trail of where the two girls were walking. Actually, now I really don't remember much happening after it got dark.

Anyway, I figured you would like to hear about this. Your staff could be a lot more attentive to these kind of things. I definitely would like some sort of compensation for this experience.

Jeremy L.

Dear Jeremy,

I am sorry for the troubling experience. However, I have been informed that there absolutely no survivors of the grey event and unfortunately we are unable to give any compensation at this time.

Thank you.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

DJ's Disappointment

The right side of his face was hot.  Even though DJ was all the way over in the HOV lane, he could still feel the intense heat from the burning car lying upside-down on the grassy incline beside the road.  He saw the smoke from a mile away, but refused to believe the possibility that there just might be a dreadful situation ahead.  Now it was directly to his right, completely engulfed in flame.  Only the skeleton of the car remained as the last bits of metallic skin fed the inferno.  Occasionally DJ heard the loud pop of some inner mechanism exploding.  He involuntarily blinked every time the car shouted another death sigh.  Above his head cars were speeding by on the bridge, only glancing down at the source of the smoke.  DJ pieced the simple story together.

Someone went careening off the bridge.

The line of cars ahead of him had slowed to a crawl.  Everyone had to get a glimpse of the scene, hoping to see a violent sprawl of death and destruction.  DJ was getting extremely frustrated and had to wipe ice cold sweat from his incredibly hot neck. 
"Fucking GO!" he shouted at his steering wheel.  No one was moving.  This only escalated the panic in his brain because all he wanted to do was put this mess behind him.  Any second now the gas tank could explode and spread the fire to his car, trapping him in a burning prison of steel & glass.  He couldn't stop thinking about the possibility.  Every time he played the images in his head they would become more intense.  While his death was constant in every instance, the details were increasingly gruesome.  Other cars crushing him and shattering all his bones, his internal organs boiling like small pillows of ravioli.  The final image was a massive crow flying away with his charred black skull crammed in its beak.  He nearly passed out from the stress.

No car ahead of him budged.  ”MOVE!" he screamed, rolling down his window.  The couple directly in front of him put their car in park.  The passenger seat window rolled down and he saw a woman's arms extend out holding a disposable camera.  A flash popped from the camera seconds after the inside of the burning car emitted its own pop.

“Dios mío, are they snapping pictures?” DJ whispered in disbelief.  His right hand slowly raised to his mouth, trembling the entire journey.  The woman even stepped out of the car, extending a long beautiful leg that absorbed and reflected the light spewing from the burning car.  If this had not been such a nightmarish situation, DJ might have yelled something like “Hey baby, lookin’ hot!”, but this was not the time or place.  He did make a mental note to use that joke in the future.

The woman pulled her sunglasses from her eyes and placed them on her forehead, as if to get a better view of the blaze.  DJ saw her mouth form the words “Holy… fuck,” and she captured another moment in disposable film.  He could hear the click of the camera from inside his car.  Out of curiosity, DJ tilted his head to the right to get a better view of what was engaging this woman.
Before his head could come to a rest his entire field of vision turned white.  It was simultaneously blinding and dim.  Accompanying the intense whiteness was an extremely loud clap seconds later. 

The flaming car exploded.
After his mind had been treated to this feast of auditory and visual delights, an intense heat began to wash all over his body.  It was like being tucked into a giant warm bed.  Every inch of his body was ignited.  Flaming covers & sheets draped over him in a slightly comforting fashion.  This was short lived, however, as he could then feel his skin peeling off. 

This was DJ now.  Roasting and catapulting backwards like a red hot peeled apple.  By the time he hit the cement he was only raw meat but still very much alive.  He could feel every minute detail of the gravel beneath him, and it was so intense he attempted to scream.  As he opened his mouth nothing came out, but a small trail of flames led by gasoline entered in. 
This was what DJ did on the afternoon of October 10th.

Massive chunks of his burnt skin were flopping around the cement like a dying seal.  He still wasn’t screaming.  For DJ, this was pure horror and pain mainlined directly to his brain.

He wanted to be something scary for the Halloween party but this was a little much.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The SCSI Temple

     The first time I met Ada Klesco, she caught ahold of my hand and held it for a very long time. At first, I assumed that it was just a handshake, but there was no particular movement involved. We just stood there, in the living room of a house on Lago Street that our mutual group of friends tended to drift in and out of, palms warped inwards onto one another. I began to panic after a few seconds and attempted to retract my hand in a way that could still be interpreted as polite, but she strengthened her grip. I recall a feeling of resignation as I let my arm go limp. Everyone else was in one of the back bedrooms at the time, crowded around someone’s computer, watching a music video or something. Neither of us said a word. At some point, our hands just loosened and fell apart. I’m coming up blank about the rest of that night.
     I happened to see her nearly every single day during the following three weeks. Ada would miraculously appear in the chip aisle while I tormented myself over whether I should buy aged cheddar chips with a waffle cut or go the kettle-cooked-salt-and-vinegar route, and she’d pluck a bag of chips from the shelves without so much as a glance towards the brand name or flavor. I would be with someone like Gary Leqat, or maybe Sylvan “Gorlop” Tidd, walking around Groever Plaza in the early afternoon; that person, whoever he was, would get a text from her, and the three of us would go to a restaurant and eat a meal together. She would always sit by herself on the other side of the table or booth. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember anything she said during this period of time. I used to come away from these lunches and dinners with a terrible headache, though, and the impression that she had had a shrill voice and had spoken incessantly. In any case, I made it a point to seem undisturbed whenever we would cross paths. Eventually, I got so used to perceiving her in my immediate environment that I began to forget she was there.
     Then it was the 10th of October. I was back at the Lago Street house, sitting in a corner of its huge living room. Gary was there. He looked very pale and seemed to have some sort of ketchup stain at the corner of his mouth; his girlfriend, Janet Cund, had gone missing two nights before and his mental state was rapidly corroding. Kestor Philips was there that day, as well, wearing a new variation of his experimental saran-wrap clothing. He sat in the center of the bare hardwood floor near a clean space where there had once been an entertainment center and tapped on a small pair of bongo drums. And then there were two or three other people I didn’t know very well, all wearing jerseys, who were standing together in the doorway leading into the kitchen, talking about something idiotic, like maybe the World Cup.

     It was about three in the afternoon and we had nothing to do. The day was unusually warm and bright. The wallpaper in the living room was curling up at the seams from the constant humidity and I was starting to feel somehow asthmatic. There seemed to be cake mix sprinkled all over the baseboard near where I sat. I closed my eyes for a long time once I’d noticed a pile of empty Corn Nuts bags crammed into the corner of a windowsill.

     Twenty minutes must have passed before I opened my eyes again but, when I finally did, it was just in time to see Ada sidestepping through the front door with a bottle of cheap vodka nestled in the crook of her arm. Everyone in the room turned to look at her for a split-second, but no one said anything. She stepped over Kestor’s legs and pushed past the sports guys into the kitchen, where I heard her fixing a drink. She came back out with a cloudy tumbler full of nothing but the vodka and immediately sat next to me. I started to say hi, but gave up when she turned her head towards the rest of the room and swallowed half of what was in her glass. Gary was staring at her for some reason. I think his hands were trembling.

     Then she turned around so fast that the tips of her pale green hair stung my corneas.

     “Here, have some,” she said with the glass held out and sloshing under my nose.

     I was suddenly relieved by the possibility of getting drunk while the sun was still out, so I finished her vodka in a single gulp. My chest blossomed with the wormy heat of the alcohol.

     “Thanks,” I said, “that’s exactly what I needed.”

     “Yeah, I know. That’s why I came,” she said.

     Under other circumstances, I would have been frightened by such a response, but I was somehow already tipsy. I began to really pay attention to Ada in a way that my sobriety had deterred me from doing before, taking in everything she said and did with a drugged sense of humor. She sat there in front of me on that sagging corduroy couch for the next hour, telling things to me. I don’t know if they were anecdotes about herself or regurgitated news headlines. It could have been anything. I just don’t remember. Although, I do remember suddenly snapping into an intense focus halfway through something she had been telling me about broken piano wires and noticing for the first time that she always wore various shades of yellowing beige. She was wearing khakis and a puffed-up Members Only jacket with thick, finely woven cuffs. I studied her technically unattractive face, with its lunar surface of chicken pox scars and its rectilinear nose. She seemed to me the type of girl who was really quite mentally dangerous, who might be into some hellish secret hobby. I was beginning to see how she might be somewhat desirable in the right context.

     While this was going on, the house began to fill up with people. I found it hard to pay attention to what they were doing. I vaguely recall that someone started bickering with Kestor about how loudly he was playing his bongos. Someone else brought in an old CRT television and began to hook up a Nintendo 64; later I heard the muffled clank of the giant mechanical fish in that one level of Banjo Kazooie, swimming around in the abyss.

     After about two more tumblers full of the cheap, silty vodka, Ada stood up and asked me if I wanted to walk to a cool place that she had found out in the industrial developments by the mall. The heat in the living room had grown extreme as more people flooded in; I agreed with almost no hesitation. When the slightly cooler air from outside hit me on the doorstep, I realized that my clothes were entirely saturated with sweat.

     Out on the curb by the mailbox, I saw Gary sitting with his head in his hands, leaning against the crushed bumper of a white Corolla. He was very still. In fact, looking back, it was almost like he wasn’t breathing, but I hardly registered any of that. We set off down the street, the legs of our pants catching seedlings from the bobbing yellow weeds poking up through cracks in the asphalt.

     We must have walked for hours—this is another span of time that seems to be completely erased. My memory comes back in at the point where we were standing in front of a towering warehouse that I had never seen before. Its outer walls were dizzying expanses of corrugated aluminum that could have been miles wide. The sun was setting and dyed the sky purple and orange as it sunk below the horizon. There were narrow windows that formed unbroken vertical lines up the several floors of the building, starting at the junction between the narrow lawn and the concrete foundation and ending at the very edge of the diagonal roof. Bright white lights were on inside. I could see people in pressed work shirts and suspenders, weaving past each other, carrying manila folders and coffee mugs.

     “My dad works here, actually,” Ada said.

     “What? I thought you had just found this place.”

     “I mean I found out about it. But, come on, we should go inside. It’s fucking nuts in there.”
     At this point, I was still tipsy, but I was suddenly starting to feel very unwell. I figured that it was probably the vodka roiling in the empty pouch of my stomach, but I think now that it must have been some suppressed instinct to sprint away from the place at top speed. Instead, I took great care not to upset myself further as I followed her up a long incline of concrete stairs. We reached the entrance, which was a set of glass doors that led into a long dark brick hallway with a funky carpet, whose pattern hadn’t been changed since perhaps the early 90s, complete with abstract polygons and renegade yellow corkscrew designs on a deep purple background.

     Ada took one of my hands in hers and wove her fingers through mine. With her other hand, she pulled on the chrome door handle, which gave with a ratcheting screech as if it had not been used in a long time. When we began to walk down the hallway, I realized that there were no lights on at all, at least not on that floor of the building.

     “Hey, do you even know where you’re going?” I asked.

     “Yeah, it’s pretty easy to figure out. We just need to go into the big room. It’s like an indoor courtyard. You’re not going to believe this.”

     “Believe what? Is there something you haven’t told me?”

     The tone of Ada’s voice shifted in her response; she had caught on to my growing unease.

     “I’m just doing that thing people do when they want to sound like they’re saying something exciting. Let’s just keep going. This is a fun adventure.”

     Eventually, I lost visibility altogether as Ada dragged me along at a kind of terrifying pace through the blind chaos of the muted halls. We would suddenly turn a corner as if she could see in the dark. We never even came close to clipping the walls or anything. Along the way, her hand was beginning to tighten and hurt me a little bit, but I was still inebriated enough to ignore the discomfort.

     We went along that way for a long time, maybe a half-hour or even more. My legs became very sore and began to lose feeling. Towards the end of this mystifying passage, the toe of my sneaker slammed into something hard, which shattered, permitting my foot to collapse into the interior of whatever it was I had accidentally kicked. It seemed to be a conglomerate of plastic and metal on the outside, because I could hear its angry clattering against the bald carpet. Based on its dimensions around my foot, I would guess it was some sort of computer monitor. Only there was another texture I became aware of as I thrashed around trying to free myself. Something cold, stringy, wet, spongy, sticky. Like a cadaverous organ that had chilled on the coroner’s table. I somehow decided that laughter was the best response, but the understated bark that shot out of my mouth was a pathetic lie, and Ada saw through my pose. Her grip clamped down on my hand, harder than ever before. I thought I felt something prick my skin for a moment.

     “Fuck, that hurts. What is that, a thumbtack or something?” I asked.

     “Sorry,” she said. She didn’t say anything else.

     We kept going and, a little bit further down that last stretch of hallway, we stopped in front of what turned out to be a set of wide plexiglass doors. I could see a blue glow on the other side through the scuffed translucent material. Then Ada was suddenly behind me. She pushed me into what she had earlier referred to as the “big room.”

     This is the part of the story that I have the most trouble remembering as a coherent whole, but I have managed to retain certain mental snapshots of what followed:

     1)      An indoor chamber that is at least one square mile in area, with a ceiling that seems to go up several floors higher than the exterior of the building would let on.

     2)      The blue glow coming from old computer screens with rounded corners, which are embedded in a jagged spire rooted in the center of the big room. The base of the spire is at least 300 meters in diameter, choked in a tangle of what at first seem to be tree roots, but are not; are instead thick bundles of grey electrical wire.

     3)      Ada standing within the perimeter of this glow. Her eyes seem to have a light all their own. She’s holding both of my hands in this snapshot. But her hands are not really hands anymore. They’re hard and blocky with glinting shelves of metal poking out of what used to be her knuckles.

     4)      A blurred struggle. Glaring white lights have come on in the room. I may be falling to the floor because Ada is looking down at me. My hand is in front of my face. There is a neat rhomboidal grid of fifty holes that has been punched clean through the meat and bone

     5)      Almost a mile away across the room, humanoid figures with harsh angles in their shoulders and heads that almost blend into the white interior of the room, except their outer shells are a little bit dimmer, almost yellowed, as if they’ve been in an airtight room full of cigarette smoke since George Bush Sr. was in office.

     6)      I’m back in the dark hallway in this one, but I can see ahead of me since there are several sources of the blue glow at my back, throwing my shadow in a hundred different angles across the awful pattern in the carpet. Almost out of range of this glow is the thing I think I had kicked going in the other direction. It really does seem to be a computer monitor of some sort, but it’s got an odd fluted curve followed by a swooping bulge in its side that is oddly reminiscent of a skull. These contours flow seamlessly into a laser-cut fan vent. A thick maroon liquid has hemorrhaged from this vent.

     7)      Back outside of the warehouse. I’m near the side of the building, passing closeby one of the windows on the first floor. In the melee of my escape, something has collided with it, creating a radial pattern of cracks in what turns out to be an LED screen of astronomical resolution. The bustling businessmen are frozen in the middle of their tasks, stuttering between two frames of the video feed where the pixels haven’t gone dead.

     8)      I’ve rounded a corner of the building and am looking over my shoulder. I see Ada clearing the corner as I struggle to get away. One of her arms has swung out in front of her. At the end of it is the reinforced plastic base of a computer cable of some type. Her hand has become some sort of pronged interface port. It is covered in drying blood. I presume it is my blood.

     9)      This is the final snapshot—something shiny and plastic hurtling toward my face. I can’t determine what this object is, and it almost dominates the entire mental picture, but I can see just below its blurred outline scores of beige plastic feet, some of which are covered in mud and clumps of grass.

     That’s all I have left of the experience, really. That and a huge hospital bill to look forward to. As I type this account into my laptop, I’m lying in a bed in the Groever Life Center. The doctors say I have suffered a subarachnoid skull fracture and that I’m lucky that I even know who I am anymore. Oddly, they’ve said nothing about the holes in my hand, even though the nurses appear to be cleaning it and replacing the bandages while I’m asleep.

     I’m starting to notice something kind of troubling, though. Even though I’m pretty sure the things I remember from that warehouse are probably just confusions caused by my head injury, the holes in my hand are definitely there. And now the veins in my forearm are starting to straighten out and form right angles where they branch off.

     I’m not sure who I should talk to about this.