lobby

Lazari

Oh God help me with these dreams
Of one hundred million souls washed away

-Strapping Young Lad, "Devour"

I'd seen movies like this, as a child. It was hardly the first time movies had predicted reality, but certainly no one had seen this coming. Zombies, for god's sake! Zombies crawling out of their graves, smashing open their coffins with dirt-etched fists. Astounding.
Not the mindless brain-eating zombies we all were afraid of at first: many of them were actually still quite conscious and sensible, even well mannered, in their way. The more thoroughly rotten ones--of those well-enough together to rise up at all--just stumbled about catatonically. The lively ones, though! Ah, they were something. They thought and talked and communicated as well as ever; they still had personalities. They still had opinions and preferences and some hazy recollections of once being alive, before. Before. That was how they referred to it. They weren't dead, and they didn't come back. Everything was Now or Before. They had no memory of what was in between, no concept of being gone, elsewhere.
I'd heard about the zombies before I saw any. We're all victims of a news culture; nothing ever just happens anymore. It's all live on 37 networks around the globe, with uninformative commentary from a panel of experts. So before I had a chance to experience the zombies for myself, I had already seen them on 5 different stations, shambling around with their big weird grins and dull oily eyes. I'd already been assured that they were no danger, no one was being eaten, or brutally torn apart. They were conversing, for god's sake! Fucking zombies on talk shows. By the time I drove out to meet them for myself, all the tension and suspense, not to mention the excitement, I might have had upon meeting one of the undead had been entirely drained from the experience.
If my county excels at anything it is empty space, so I had a good drive out to find the dead. We share our cemetery with three other towns. The dead had been risen for four days when I managed to get out there, but I was sure there were still plenty of them milling among the graves. They had no pressing appointments to keep.
I drove my car through the cemetery gate, wrought iron fencing swirled in flowered designs over a grid of stately curve 8 feet high, electronic eyes somewhere seeing to open it for me, and down the path I drove. The sunlight wove through the trees erratically, casting fluid geometric figures across my windshield, shapes of white and yellow. This was not a path for the dead, or the mourning; this was Little Red Riding Hood walking to grandma's house unmolested by fear or wolves.
I parked in the shadow of a looming evergreen and walked through its sweeping needle curtain to the graves. And there they were. Ashen grey skin streaked with gangrenous ruddy streaks, muddy green splotches, loosening shocks of dirt-matted straw hair. Blind eyes, empty sockets, sepulturous cracked-jaw mouths. Embalming fluid leaked from nostrils and ears. Torn limbs. Palsied hands. Festering ripped skin. Rot. Ruin.
There are some things TV does not show us.
The film at 11 had been of dusty tired men who had crawled out of the earth to somberly contemplate trees and sky. They wryly brushed worms out of their hair and straightened the tattered remains of suits. By and large, the lucky few who had emerged so well intact had moved on, having no more inherent interest in graves and waste than their departed mourners.
Those who remained did so largely out of necessity. They were not equipped to deal with a physical visceral world that could shatter and rend their fragility. They stayed and paced the graves and watched the sun shine through their translucent flesh--paper skin and tissue muscle. They cast bone shadows, dark skeletons following them, reminding them of the precipice they somehow exist on.
As the weeks went on, the spectacle diminished enough for perspective to emerge. Concept became story. The initial terror that had quickly become joy had given way to something sadder. Pity, perhaps. Horror movie zombies they were not, but neither were they Lazarus returned bodily in perfection from the hereafter. The lepers did not die, but they were not healed. Mysterious rots afflicted them, they wasted away, they were weak and fragile, insects and filth burrowed and infected, strange parasites clung to their tongues and gnawed out their eyelids. It was degradation, simply, not a miracle. Their minds did not fare better: most were lost, confused, vacant, prone to bouts of screaming and fits, paroxysms of inexplicable dread. Most tragic to those still alive, they had not been granted a 2nd chance so much as a 2nd start. They carried no clear memories of past, of their relations, beyond simple comprehension that They Had Been. They emerged from their burial mounds with personalities, but often not the same ones they had died with.
For all the zombies now roaming, there were still far many more dead who remained beneath the dirt. People with visions of long-ago victims buried alive, found asphyxiated with shattered worn hands, had quickly moved to dig up all the dead and ensure their comfort and survival, such as it was. Despite the occasional protest of disturbing sacred ground (a curious thought at this point), the necessity of this was accepted and the digging began in earnest: full-scale excavations of graveyards, family plots, old tombs, and battlefields. As feared, people were found who had not been able to make it through to air; they were suspended in the ground, arms splintered or worn down past the wrist, lungs full of dirt. Some were still moving, eyes frantic with their aloneness. Some had seemingly given up and retreated to whence they had come, leaving a husk as dead as it had been.
One man was found with the earth dug out above his coffin in a thin tunnel, leaving him room to stand, stretch tired limbs among the tree roots and worms, and drift away, leaving his body with face held upwards as if basking in bright sun.
Those in the tropics were especially bad; the heat and humidity engendering far more rot than in dryer areas. Most of what was found there was too molten distended to be called human. I was thankful I did not have that to confront me, wandering here in the Cemetery. These horrors of normal decay were more than enough. I can't imagine. I tried to speak to some, and largely did not receive viable responses. They would glare and mutter, or simply turn and shamble away. One I found sitting under a tree, eyes closed. He looked like he was taking a light nap. Part of his jaw was missing and a large rent wound its way across the top of his head. He opened his eyes at my approach and smiled beatifically. A small bramble was stuck under one of his eyelids, distorting the orb.
"Zhha?" he lisped out softly.
"Hello," I began. "Will you talk? None of your friends will talk to me." I watched his eyes closely, trying to imagine how I must appear through an eye pressured almost into concavity.
He tilted his head slightly, producing an audible click of shuffling vertebrae. "Koan. Jzduuuo, Hehlloa. Hello. Koan."
"Koan?"
"Koan," he answered, with a slight raise of his eyebrows. I was not sure if this was communication or parroting. I sat on the spongy damp moss, facing him, and spoke. Said nothing in particular, I was merely trying to get a response. Over the course of a plodding hour he was able to speak at a better level. He seemed somehow slow, perhaps from some brain trauma. Perhaps burrowing beetles.
I asked him about his memories, about what he knew. About death. His answer was all spasmodic words tumbling out, like some abstract poem. "Dark... yellow down up white black dig. Very! of is, for in out." Here he made a sliding gesture, like planes taking off. "Koan. Here for, is. Let of think for line line on line no think up down up no white red no think line black line, all..." He didn't stop talking so much as stop breathing, the words gusting out on a final crest of air to drift off to shore. I nodded, and stood up. It was too dark for nonsense, even from the dead. I had come to visit, and had found not pleasant corporeal ghosts but rotten jack-o-lanterns still full of pulp. I walked out to my car, under the clattering branches of dark gaunt trees.
Thus did the situation stay for a time, with people bereft of their loved ones who yet walked, left to mourn not a body but a mind. Our pity became disdain, and casual rage. These slovenly wretches, losing themselves as they slowly dissolved, leaving shards of bone like breadcrumbs from the soles of their feet, they were a blasphemy against the human condition and our reverence for lost loves. They were destroyed, filth with form, golems in the skins of our memories.
Crowds gathered. Mobs formed. They fled the cities, in their slow half-hearted way, and retreated to hills and forests. They slept in riverbeds and fields, were eaten by carrion birds. They did not weep and did not sigh, but their groans echoed up from the fringes to enter our world again. My Koan friend remained beneath his tree. Sometimes I drove back, to see that he was not chased away. His eye had come undone, a burst jelly cocoon spread down his cheek and dried there. He twittered at birds, unawares. Sometimes he spoke, sometimes not. Sometimes he spoke clearly, often not. I would still always ask him the same questions. Life. Death. Memory. Before. Now. During. In. Gone.
His answers to these were always inscrutable.
Groups of them were rounded up by the angry and disgusted. They were shot through the head and reburied. They were already dead, after all. Was there a second death, no longer reserved for cowards?
Koan one day was not beatific. He did not twitter at birds. He did not watch the sun. His one eye saw me and closed. He spoke many words I had heard from him before, but now joined by a slow becoming of awareness. He remembered. I stayed with him that night, asking questions and observing, and simply being present. He spoke of terrors and black visions. His eye flickered, watching indescribable fear descend upon him. His gnarled hands clenched and groped the darkness. His torn brow dewed with blood-flecked sweat and he recalled to me the noise of god. The god he had met was no being, nor concept; pure clamor and screech and wail spewing out sourceless and reverberating off every atom of the cosmos.
These memories returned to many who remained, who had survived and lasted. They came back now to the cities, eyes cleared of loss but dull with fear, and told us what they had known. The world awaiting us, the one they had returned from en masse, was nothing like we had imagined, or could. It was shadow geometry, the mercurial whims of abstraction, of other. Our embodiment of fear was not death, or life in death, but this awaiting strangeness apart from life and recognition. We quaked at the fractured descriptions, and avoided those remaining who did not speak.
Hope was found in those who had not risen. During the grave excavations, and then during the reburials when the dirt of our past was placed back in respectful row after row, like fields of withering grain, many were found who had made no effort towards escape. They were not frantic frenzied, they remained calmly asleep. Some remained in repose as buried, lying in state. Perhaps there were other worlds as well. Many had shifted, rolling over with a yawn to find a more comfortable position. Maybe like Heaven and Hell, or Charon wary on Acheron and Styx. Pillows were shoved aside, jackets and shoes were removed. We no longer had guides of our eternity; only the destitute had returned. Some looked happy in their rest, peacefully smiling, small crinkles at the corners of their softly closed eyes. Holy books were consulted and dropped. Some were resigned, content, settled in for a rest in warm earth and a journey in strange territories. Relics and totems were eyed critically, hopefully, longingly. Some were simply there, placidly inscrutable, buried sphinx.
lobby

Abstractions

You would feel skittish. If you had been sitting at your window and watched the same car pass by four times in as many hours, slowing as it went, you would feel skittish. The man in the passenger seat had binoculars, it looked like. What could they be looking at? Would you go outside and look at your house to see if there was anything glaringly amiss? or would you be too scared to unlock that thick front door and venture out? Maybe you would decide to just keep sitting by that window, with your jelly sandwiches and vacuous Tom Clancy novel, in case they drove by again.
But they won't, and eventually you will get bored and fall asleep by the dull light of sitcom pratfalls. Don't be too startled when you are jerked awake at 4:21AM by an intense young man hawking the technological revolution of a new style of lawnmower. Just change the station and drift back to sleep.
The next day, driving to work, you will suspect you are being followed by a yellow cab. There is one trailing behind you, but it turns down a side street. Next thing you know, there in your rearview mirror, idling lazily in midday traffic, is a yellow cab. Is it the same one? Who can tell? A few blocks later, it stops to drop off a passenger, an old woman who threatens to be blown over and shatter on the sidewalk at any moment. Do you have the presence of mind to realize you have been studying the rearview too intently? Keep your eyes on the road. Don't watch the cab. Don't see a man sprint (gracefully) from the 7-11 parking lot to hop into the cab, which pulls back into traffic six cars behind you.
What sort of work do you do? Is it intellectually stimulating? Are you fulfilled? Do you sit behind the counter at a convenience store and read magazines? Is your boss an asshole who changes your schedule to suit his whims, and glowers when you can't (or won't) come in for your new shift. Perhaps you accomplish great things, cure diseases and untangle intractable philosophical problems. Most likely, you work to make money to buy food to eat to stay healthy to go to work. Do you watch a lot of TV?
The sprinting man who got into the cab was not in fact following you; he had been unsuccessfully trying to hail a cab for twenty minutes and was afraid he would be late to a romantic encounter with a tall woman he had met in a Taco Bell. He settled into the seat cushions with an exaggerated sigh of satisfaction, content in his having conquered city travel. He would arrive for his date three minutes early (they were meeting at a bar, both in the hopes that the other would drink more than they would), but the woman was seventeen minutes late. Six years later, they will have forgotten each other's faces.
The old woman who had exited the cab was following you, because she believes she loves you, but she had to stop for a more prosaic reason. She went into the gas station across from the 7-11 and asked to use the restroom. The clerk told her it was for employees. His voice had no inflection, and the scar on his left arm came from attacking a man attempting to mug a young couple in the alley beside his store (he saw them through a security camera).
When you decide to leave work early, two hours and 36 minutes after your lunch break, you do not stop to confer with your boss. Normally this would not bother him, as he is a genial man (with a wide grin and thinning hair), but he is having frequent fights with his boyfriend (his hair was not always thinning) which cause him to resent anyone he perceives as being more easy-going, and therefore happier, than he. He equates outward manner with inner mood, the irony being he will not express his displeasure with you or anyone else until six weeks later when he screams at an intern. The intern changes her major to Zoology shortly thereafter. She will never do anything noteworthy in this field, but is very happy with the work.
You drive home very slowly. There is no one following you, and nothing good on the radio.
Have you put up the new shutters yet? You really lucked out, finding them at the Home Depot on Railf St, in the exact same shade of blue as the rotted few you are replacing. Buy extra, the others won't last long now. The shingle that fell off your roof last month during the rainstorm is still sitting on your driveway. You should reapply it soon; in three days it will be taken as a relic. They are getting bolder. You don't yet notice that your trash is gone when you get home, but tomorrow you will. You will call the City Sanitation Dept, in case they maybe changed the day they come around. But no. You will be perplexed, and eventually, uneasily, chalk it up to hoodlums.
People are walking around the city with your refuse in their pockets, clutched as talismans. You don't know this yet.
Every Thursday around 7, you meet a few friends for pizza and beer, at Celita's On The Corner (not as highbrow as the name may imply). This is a tradition that started in high school, when your friend Malcolm's parents began going to motels every Thursday to "rekindle the magic." Of course, nothing so structured and orderly could emulate romance, and they eventually settled into their dusty lives, but by then you were all old enough to drink anyway, and needed no clandestine privacy.
Celita's is packed today with families, young children running and shouting. Your friends are annoyed, but you find it all charming. Are you still nostalgic for the vitality of youth? Allen has brought a friend, a woman who looks about 23. Her name is Elizabeth and she has looked about 23 for the past four years. She is distinctly aware that she is at a table with seven bachelors. Do you see how her eyes keep coming back to you?
Erik, as usual, is furious with his coworkers for all their slights and cruelties. They all take him at his word, but in truth he simply has an overabundance of dignity. When he is sated with listing his grievances, he lapses into silence as everyone else tells stories of the good old days, the mildly pleasant young days, and the neutral days as yet unborn. On nights like these, your future is as sharp as your past.
Four pizzas and many drinks later, you are suddenly disturbed. Elizabeth, giggling absurdly at Matt's punch line to Larry's joke ("You're an asshole, Matt." "You shoulda told it faster; I was getting bored."), let's out an "oh lord!" and then falls silent, blushing and intently looking at not you. You look at her, wondering-- what? She is crying now, trembling, and runs off in a blind panic to the restroom. You look around the table, imploring your friends to explain this spasm. They are all surprised; only you are shocked. Your eyes don't cut the uncomfortable silence fast enough to see, in the reflection on Larry's glasses, the man at a nearby table get up and sullenly follow Elizabeth into the bathroom. Her mother would receive a letter months later, saying she had joined the Hare Krishnas and would no longer acknowledge her family. It was written in her handwriting, but not by her.
That night, in bed with your questions, you can't remember who said what. The information all comes from an amalgamation of friend: "She wanted to... she begged me to come, man... when she heard... I mean, that we KNOW you, cuz... lord she said, is why... you don't know?... of course he doesn't... so yeah, she asked to be... more than asked... worships you... they do..."
Of course it is absurd. Do you think you know the half of it? There are rituals, and they will only grow more complex after your death. You sputter out "Why? I'm nothing special" in a tone Jesus would have recognized.
This part you remember. Erik, looking at the window, watching faceless people on the street walk through his watery reflection, says, "I think it's your art, man."
You follow his gaze to the window, see the small pocks and scars in the glass, and how your reflection bends around them. You tell them you gave up art. You tell them you'd stopped painting.
"But they didn't stop looking." Was it Matt who spoke? Perhaps.
Walking home that night, no one on the street will meet your gaze. Pigeons will disperse at your approach. Children will point, only to be quickly snatched up by their parents (and in one case, by a brooding man in a hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with your high school's symbol). You have every reason to feel alone, and alien.
The chalky red bricks and eggshell siding of your home has been defaced. A leering violent mishmash of image and color and jagged line. There is too much pain(t) and too little detail, you can't take it all in. Are you enraged? Terrified? Will you run down the street to the Denali's home, the only neighbors you have met in your five years on this street? You know Molly will welcome you in, tend to your needs, smile desperately, while her daughter watches with dark glossy eyes. Maybe you should stay, timidly enter your home and see that it is vacant. Walk through your drab rooms, step over the can of paint you have left in front of the sofa, clumsily pick up the phone's shapeless plastic receiver. The dial tone is warm and insistent. And loud. And new. Hang up the phone.
You are feeling very frightened, and not at all godlike.
Is that the patter of feet on your rooftop? Don't be silly, you've lived through enough rainstorms. Don't get too jumpy now. Calm down and look out your window. The darkness and rain obscures the man behind that tree, but he's there. Can you discern the faint halo of light spilling out from his candle? Keep watching, peering through the slats of your window blinds. Of course, from this vantage you can't see the rain washing your house clean. In the morning, the only sign of it will be a strip of paint-choked grass. You have been putting off mowing that lawn, you know.
Eventually, you will have to sleep. Don't bother setting your alarm; you will wake up on time.
At work the next day (the boss is out on a sick day), on your lunch break (some sort of minor surgery; no one knows the details), you call Allen. Ring. Ring ring. Ring ring. Ri-- "Mmmyeh?"
"Allen?"
"Shwannt? Woke me up."
"Shit, man, it's 2:30! ...look, I need to know. About Elizabeth, all of that. What's going on?"
There is a shuffling sound and his voice clears. "No. Look, ignore it. They'll leave you alone."
"Like hell! Someone painted up my house yesterday."
"Not-- did they? Painted what?"
"Fucking weird shit. I don't know. Tell me this is a prank, Allen."
He will laugh at your desperation. "You didn't complain when people started buying up your crap messianic art; don't complain when they want to make their own." If you are thoughtful, you will know two things now: Allen is not a believer, nor is he a friend.
"My house is not their canvas." You are hissing. Restrain yourself. Hang up in frustration upon his response -- "Of course not. You are." Fume. The break room is just off from the center of the building, and you do not hear the creaking moan of gale-force winds tickling the edges and windows. They whip up small stones and insects, slam screen doors, knock down a child's play fort, and die down. Have another cup of coffee.
Three days later Allen will be dead. Hunting accident. (Have you ever been truly angry against a clear sky? The backdrop to your rage is always thunder and violence. It borders on solipsism to ask which came first, and stupidity to dismiss it). It is time to think, now. Your aunt told you, when you were young enough to ask questions, that your father left after mom died. No details, no pictures, no memories. All you can recall of your early life is bright sounds and loud light. Sometimes, to amuse yourself, you would put dirt in your aunt's coffee grinds. When she switched to tea, you switched to stealing candy from grocery stores. Do not think that because you were never confronted you were never seen. Behind your back, thick old women would nod to the clerks, who went to stock shelves. Yours was the only neighborhood where wine sold faster than beer.
A child's life is dreary dull, and you filled your diary with fantasy. You thought no more of that book when your house burned down (a homeless cat chewed through an insulated cable), but it had been stolen two days earlier. It resides now in a shrine in a basement in a building in the city where you live. People watch you in awe when you turn your head. There is no hypocrisy in this; it does not perturb us to rub elbows with a deity. You are a manifestation, a variable. Do you feel that itching in the back of your skull? Possibility.
lobby

Nourishment

I once knew a man who would water his lawn every Thursday, without fail. He lived down the street from me, when I still lived with my parents. I think this was during my early high school years. I was not very happy then; I would often spend time just wandering the streets and alleys of the neighborhood. I always claimed to be thinking, but looking back on it I wonder if I wasn't hoping for something drastic to befall me in some shadowed alleyway. The best love I felt I could hope for, in those days, was sympathy.
So this man, every Thursday he would come out and water his lawn. He was an older fellow, so didn't have many outside responsibilities. I don't think he worked. He had no apparent family. Honestly, I don't know what he did with himself most of the time. Only on Thursdays.
Does it seem odd that I make such a big deal about an old man taking care of his lawn? Let me mention, then, that he would do this year-round. In the coldest November months, he would trudge out onto snowdrifts and turn down his water can. I asked him once why he did this. He looked up from the lightly snow-dusted flowerbed he was tending and smiled indulgently, saying "To let them know that someone cares and they are not forgotten." He sprinkled me with his water can. Perhaps 'can' isn't the right word; it was plastic, colored a light green pastel, with a wrapped leather handle like the hilt of a sword. Droplets trickled down my face, escaping off my chin and the tip of my nose. I laughed and shook my head like a sopping wet dog, though truth be told I was barely wet enough to be called damp. His smile broadened; clearly he was delighted by my response. I gave him a sweeping bow and sauntered home.
I never spoke to him again, and rarely even gave him a thought as I passed his house. Occasionally I would consider saying hello as I passed him busy at watering, but I never did, and never even regretted it until now. I am writing this in my old bedroom. I am home for the firs time in 10 years, for my mother's funeral. Walking along this street, I passed his house and gazed awhile at the grasses. They were bright green and vital, but unkempt. Was he still around? Did they still know that someone cared? I had no water with me, so I hunkered down, leaned over until I was almost face-to-face with the sweet scent of earth and growth, and I spat.
lobby

get what you need

Ben was thinking about birthday cake. Exactly 14 feet in front of the mildly swarthy Malcolm Francista, through 3 feet of dials, meters, switches, and blinking lights set in banks of humming machinery, 4 feet of cement and steel panel, and 7 feet of unusually pure air, Ben Selzer was sitting in a sloppy lotus position, nude in a small dim and immaculate room, with wires going from small uncomfortable pads taped to his body to the right wall, beyond which Malcolm excitedly watched one particular meter spike repeatedly into the far right, marked by a small bit of duct tape with an exclamation point drawn on in red marker. He was stocky, tall, and wore a white lab coat he had bought on a whim a few months ago.
The room Ben sat in resembled nothing so much as a padded cell. The walls were not actually padded, but had a deceiving texture in the dim light filtering in through a plastic panel in the ceiling. The walls were an off-white which somehow always looked grimy despite being cleaned daily. The room was silent minus a soft hum from the air filters. Ben sat quietly, eyes held lightly closed, the only motion an occasional drop of sweat breaking off from the damp ringing his hairline to find its way down his face. A few drops skirted by his mouth and his tongue snaked out to catch them. He loved the warm salty tang of his own sweat. He was not thinking of sweat though, but of cake. Chocolate birthday cake with layers of fudgy frosting, maybe a nice glaze, burning beneath a candle forest. Candles blown out, discarded; he left the small spatters of dripped wax, as he enjoyed the unexpected smoothness across his tongue. He couldn't say for sure why he was thinking of birthday cake - his 20th birthday in May was almost half a year away - but cake it was. He could almost taste it. A crumb dropped from his lip.
On the other side of the wall, Malcolm was still intently watching the taped meter. Back and forth, the needle bounced between the marked 1/5 of the dial and high noon. Slowly its average position moved to the right, as Malcolm's face got closer and closer. He had the habit of leaning in uncomfortably close to whatever he was looking at, and in his excitement he was nearly hunched over to bring his face right up in front of the glass. As the needle wavered its way into the marked area and stayed, a slow smile spread across his face. He hit a small button and across the room a ream of paper began spilling from the printer, covered in numbers and graphs.
Ben ate cake.

Just north of Los Angeles, Gary Bremlin, married, approaching middle age, was heading home. He was speeding on the highway, going at least 30 mph over the limit. All police in the area were 20 miles away, for assistance in a bank robbery that had turned violent. The bank's assistant associate vice president had tried to save the day, and so far he and three others had been shot. Eleven people had been held hostage for the past 4 hours. The robber was minutes away from turning his gun on himself in frustrated rage, though even he did not know it yet.
Knowing there was no one to pull him over, the only checks on Gary's speed were physics, his car's condition, and his fear of death. He sped furiously.
Gary was a programmer of sorts, for Celltec. His job title said Programmer, but he did nothing so creative. His job was to fix all the small mistakes in the company's existing code, which was volumous and largely undocumented. Earlier that day, twenty minutes after his lunch break would have ended had he taken it, moments after he had found the reason why all their clients in good standing had recently been mailed two-weeks-overdue bills, Gary went to have a talk with his manager. He stormed down the long hallway, littered with printers and carts and similar office detritus, and threw open the door.
"We need to talk."
His manager swiveled in his chair to face him straight on. He raised his eyebrows invitingly.
"Dave has got to go, you know this. Why is he still here?"
"He's here because he does what is needed, quickly. He's efficient, Gary."
Gary's voice dropped slightly. "He's not efficient; he's incompetent. I just spent my fucking lunch break cleaning up his mess."
"Thank you. If you want, you can get your lunch now." Perfectly cordial and calm.
"That's not the point! Everything he does, I have to go over and fix it all up. He doesn't check his work, he does everything ass-backwards, and he's squirrelly. And he makes--"
"You want his job."
"-- twice as much... well, yeah. Yes."
He closed his eyes for a moment, exhaling slowly through his nose. Invisible dust danced in the air currents. "Gary," and here he opened his eyes, focusing them somewhere above Gary's head. "If I had you as a full programmer, if you replaced him, nothing would get done. You're a great editor, but you can't produce anything."
Gary's response hadn't been very articulate, or considerate, but no harm was done. His manager was used to him coming unhinged every few months. He merely sat, lips pursed, hands folded on his desk, nodding until the bile had all been spewed. Gary had turned quietly and slunk back to his desk.
Now he was on the highway, whipping dangerously around turns, wishing he could push his car into beating the speed of light, wanting to get home before he got up this morning.

Ben, wiped clean of sweat and wearing a white cotton bathrobe, stepped into the room. He cupped a small mound of crumbled cake in his left hand. Malcolm bounded across the room and clapped him on the shoulder.
"Oh Ben, my boy! You did it!"
Ben flushed and offered him some cake. He picked a small chunk and examined it closely.
"It's good?" He popped it in his mouth and chewed slowly. "A bit airy..."
"It's cake, Malcolm. I thought up cake."
Malcolm nodded and the men grinned at each other. Ben had cake on his teeth. On a table near the door, the printout had been stacked into a loose pile.
"Yes you did! We got the frequency."
"Was this it, then? I'm done?"
"I think so. It won't take long to adjust things, maybe an hour, and we'll be able to see."
"Everyone gets their cake," Ben said. He walked to the small trash bin and wiped the crumbs off his hands.

Filter was on the radio. Gary turned it up. This song always reminded him of college, of his asshole roommate and old girlfriends. He'd met his wife in college. He was going out with her roommate, actually, and after a spectacularly drawn out breakup, somehow they ended up together. He remembered kissing her on the worn out couch he had found at the side of the road one morning. He'd sewn a few holes shut and it was serviceable. He didn't mind stains in secondhand furniture. It wasn't that he was poor, but he didn't see any point in getting a new couch when someone was done with this one.
He remembered being impressed with how methodically she kissed. She left no room for mistakes and confusion, even now, five years later. They only spoke of love on anniversaries and birthdays, when they went on long aimless drives. Sometimes, after a movie, they rented a motel room and got drunk together in bed. He'd never asked her about old boyfriends. She always smiled at him when he came home. He was very content.

Ben had been an unhappy engineering major for almost two years before he became an unhappy convenience store clerk and lab rat. Malcolm was his introductory physics teacher at Winstone College. They both hated the class, but Ben needed it to graduate and Malcolm needed to teach so they would fund his research. Two days before the midterm, Ben walked into his office with a stubborn question about angular momentum and inertia. An hour later they were discussing his mounting debt, and he volunteered to assist Malcolm's experiments. He got a stipend, and it wasn't hard work: sit in a room with some wires on you and think of what you like.
He understood none of the science behind it, but Malcolm was trying to manifest wishes and he had plenty of those. Some sort of frequency, some sort of harmonic resonance, some sort of particle, and a lot of fancy equations were Malcolm's contribution, and together today they had made chocolate cake out of (carefully filtered and monitored) thin air. Ben had worried sometimes that their slow progress had been his fault, that he wasn't concentrating properly for whatever measurements were being made. He had some other wishes he had never mentioned to anyone, and he caught himself a few times dwelling on them. What would happen if the wrong wish began to happen?
Malcolm had been removed from his professorship at the end of last year after a drunken confrontation with the dusty old woman on the College Board of Directors who every year tried to pass a bill regulating the length of skirts. Most of the school would (in private) describe her as a definitive twit, but she made large donations and had been there longer than most of the students had been alive. The circumstances of his removal had very nearly caused a strike of the teaching staff, and by the time the dust had settled, the school needed to raise tuition to cover the new salary hike. Ben, being poor and unexceptional, was forced to drop out, leaving him a permanent sophomore with an unconsummated 3.1 GPA and an unmentioned infatuation with a man twice his age.
Now he lived in a small apartment and made ends meet by working the night shift at a convenience store. The pay was okay, and there weren't many people coming in at those hours. He enjoyed the solitude. He was still Malcolm's lab rat. The research was being funded by private donations, but there was not enough coming in to pay him for his time. He went now for the company.
Ben was aware of the futility of his feelings for Malcolm - he told himself it was nothing more than a slight crush, but found that less convincing by the day - but he sometimes found himself slipping into his daydream world. He often caught himself on the verge of taking Malcolm's hand, because it just seemed so natural to do so. Ben knew Malcolm was decidedly straight, had been seeing one Ellen Gramercy for years, that he would never see the heart-rending sparkle in his eyes. He wondered what might have happened if, in that instant when the algorhythms came together and he found himself holding a piece of chocolate cake, he had been thinking of Malcolm instead.

A shined red cherry of a car flew past him, barely clearing the pass, tires throwing up gravel like a comic-book bully kicking sand. Gary never moved his head, but his eyes followed the car as it sped past, engine purring smoothly. He pressed down on the gas, and got a few more mph out of the old Chevy. It shuddered in fear, and the engine squealed like a cat in heat, but he didn't let up. He turned the radio up louder; one of the back speakers had blown last month, but once you got it past a certain volume you couldn't tell.
He veered closer to the edge of the road on every turn.
He'd gone into programming for the money; too many people did, and the money dried up. Gary had never admitted this to anyone, but he really wanted to be a cobbler. Something about it appealed to him: the feel of the leather and the tools, the solitude, the craft. Creating something unique and real - shoes were such a basic need. He'd bought a kit once, at a hobby store, but nothing wearable ever came from it, so he took some of the extra leather and made himself a wallet. It lived in his pocket, fat but not obese. It caressed his hip when he sat, and spoke of possibilities he would never pursue.

Ben was his full name, his mother Janelyn told him one day, as that was what he would be called anyway as a Benjamin and she saw no reason to be obstinate about it. She knew better than to make waves.

Gary's house was small but presentable. There was a small lawn he tried to keep well mowed, some flowers that sprouted up around the mailbox, and a small garden snake that had made itself a home in a hole in the foundation. He left it snacks sometimes, but had never bothered to learn what snakes eat, and in truth raccoons took most of what he left. Once he had been sitting out on the lawn reading, which he did most days when his wife was out with her friends, and it slithered right up onto his leg. It just sat there, silently flicking its tongue, and eventually he found himself putting down his book and talking to it.
He didn't have much to say, but there was no one else for him to talk to and he was frustrated. He was so frustrated with his life, it didn't seem like anything had gone according to plan. He had a job he hated to make money that didn't come. His house was too small and his car was too old. He didn't have any friends in the city and was too shy to make any. His co-workers were indifferent to him. He was so tired all the time. But he did have his wife, that's right. He had his wife, and he was very thankful for that. Thanks for listening, you snake. It had hissed and slithered off, leaving him to think on his own for awhile.
He hadn't seen the snake in a few months, and promised himself he would look for it on the weekend. For now, he just wanted to kiss his wife, have some dinner, and take a nap. He usually felt calmer after a nap.

With a grin and a wink, Malcolm walked across the room and flicked on the dusty stereo. The Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want" swelled in, the angelic choir of its introduction coming tinnily through the small speakers.
"We're going to prove them wrong, my boy! No more frustrations, no more pain. We're going to make everyone so happy."
"Are you sure it's ready? I mean, it didn't work for me until I was concentrating so hard, and you had me alone in that room."
"That was just calibration, Ben. I was measuring what to look for, and you gave it to me. This time, all anyone has to do is want."
"Everyone wants."
"Everyone wants, all over the world. And we're going to give them their dreams. Wanting isn't even so conscious, usually. I wonder what I'll get. How about you, Ben? Any idea what you dream of?"
Ben glanced out the window, focused on the clouds. "Well, there's this guy..."
Malcolm laughed, "I suspect there will be a lot of that." He clapped decisively, walked across the room, and punched a button with a smiley face drawn on it.

As he reached for the doorknob, Gary was suddenly aware of a strong floral scent coming from inside the house. Far off behind him a muffled shriek fell flat, wetly. He did not have long to marvel at the front door of his home literally melting away at his touch, as he found himself confronted with his wife standing in awe of the ceaseless army of well-muscled young men threatening to crowd her into the wall of what was suddenly their isolated mountain villa. Overhead, with a silent thunderclap, the clouds rained gold, and wheat, and sex. His wife flushed slightly, watching all those men grin lasciviously at her, their eyes twinkling in unison. Gary's right hand quivered slightly.
Then, there was nothing at all.
lobby

Plans and Intentions

Stephen smiled graciously and spoke what he did not know to be his last words. "I hope you have a lovely time on your trip. See you soon." He did not know these were to be his last words, as I said, but he did know he was partially lying. He did want her to have a lovely time, certainly, but not on a trip. He didn't want her to leave at all; he wanted her to stay and have a lovely time with him. He wanted them to go on long aimless drives and eat at small charming restaurants and laugh with genuine joy at each other's company.
Instead, she got on a plane for France and he was hit by a bus on the way home from the airport. Neither of them had all that much fun, but then again, neither of them suffered.
You might be surprised, if you decide to observe for a time after you die, how many people will profess their love for you, and how deeply they wish they had said something before it was too late, and that there will never again be someone so wonderful as you. You might be less surprised how many people are heartbroken upon confronting their professed lovers, when they too die. Who expects to be held accountable for their mourning?
The last words he said to her when he was alive, and she was too, were "I hope you have a lovely time on your trip. See you soon." He knew he was lying at the time. The last words he said to her when he was dead, and she was too, were "I waited for you so long. Please never lie again."
They both walked away into their separate eternities, where there are no planes and busses, nor trips. Neither of them had all that much fun, but then again, neither of them lied again.

(should i keep the last sentence? do something else? i don't know how to end this)
lobby

the lost art of breathing

There was once a young boy who learned how to breathe. You may think you know how to breathe, my friend, but you do not. There is an art to breathing, like everything else in this beautiful world. All things can be done with art, if you only care to learn. And this boy, all he wanted was to learn to breathe with art. It took him 7 months and 3 days of concentrated effort, which was all redeemed with that one glorious swirling crystalline inhalation. The air swept up, setting columns of dust to twirling in the late afternoon sunlight streaming through his bedroom window, swept up and annihilated him. For 11 seconds he was not aware of any sensation, any thought, only of the joy of that perfect breath. He held it until his lungs distended and bled, and only then did he exhale.
Too late, the boy realized that his education had been one-sided: while he had studied every minutiae of the act of inhaling, of the filling of the lungs and the swelling of the chest and the air flowing through your body to all its deepest points, he had given no thought to how it must end. The frightened rush of the air as his lungs squeezed and his chest collapsed and his eyes fluttered, he hadn't been expecting this. The air went in sweet warm milk and sunlight; it left him tar and daggers and ulcerous madness. The boy shuddered, fearing to draw in another breath. His throat wept bloody tears down into a burgundy ocean washing through his insides. His teeth spiked and quaked at the touch of such arctic air. His gums dried and flaked off; his eyes bulged and sweated; his skin parched and jaundiced, cracking and crackling him into a laminated wax paper boy.
And there he stands, by an eternal patch of late afternoon sunlight, afraid to draw another breath, for any breath drawn in must someday be let out. Mustn't it? Better not to risk another lance thrust into his side; better not to draw that sweet air down into him. Better to be eternal, as the swirling twirling dust slowly falls, resting first on one air current and then another, this one and then that one, until the single last fleck comes to rest near his right foot. Then all is truly still.
lobby

carcrash culture

[a song. i have the melody set, but no music. and a few bits i haven't decided on, you'll note.
it's sortof about jack, and sortof not]

carcrash kills him
cancer thrills him
bursting from your throat
now she's passed out
drugged out, put out
this is all we know

let's try lying
flailing, dying
in this atmosphere
when we set down
if we're let down
at least i have you near

CHORUS
in this disaster
if we must fall, we're falling faster
faster than light, until we're gone
in this disaster
if we must fall, we're falling faster
faster than ever before, after
after we're gone

carcrash culture
cancer like vulture
there's no other way
we're all let down
screaming no sound
crying 40 days

clouds like coffins
words not often
bursting from my throat
please don't leave me
please don't grieve me
i'm not worth the note

CHORUS

BRIDGE
no tumors no rumors
no fumes or perfumers
no laughing or crying
or kissing or dying
it's all instrumental
not loving, not gentle
no fear anymore
NO FEAR ANYMORE

carcrash culture
cancer like vultures
pecking out our memories
love like lichen
panicked and frightened
that any(one/of you) (could/will) ever leave

carcrash killed him
cancer thrilled him
he found a new way
anchored, let down
screaming no sound
i never learned to pray

CHORUS

carcrash vampire
friends (on/like) fire
just burn me before you go