Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'Tis A Gift

My final roommate in six months was a missionary from Norway named Martine (pronounced, at her insistence, like "Martina"). After being sick for a month and a half, I moved out of my homestay, left Maximo Nivel, and moved to the San Blas area. I hadn't really been connecting with Cusco. Granted, it might have been because I couldn't breath. A lack of oxygen will do that. Once I moved to San Blas, however, I started feeling like I had finally found my place in the city, due in no small part to meeting Martine. 

If you're ever in Cusco, there's a coffee shop called The Meeting Place that you should definitely visit. No longer volunteering, living alone, and possessed of a New York-based coffee addiction, I essentially made the place my second home, and almost immediately started making friends Martine the waitress. A devoutly religious, fairy tale princess type, Martine was sunshine during the rainy season. She was up for anything, knew everyone, and could high-altitude bake like nobody's business. Despite being almost nothing alike, we turned out to be pretty good roommates. She lived for the mornings, I lived for the evenings, and somehow, in the afternoons, we made it work. Provided I remembered to do the dishes. 

This story is based on a Norwegian story she told me during one of our many "So, in your country, do you do this?" conversations. She gave me the details like Scheherazade, keeping the ending (and in particular, the fate of the protagonist's mother) to herself until a few days before we left. The story, I believe, is called "The Christmas Star" and if you haven't heard it (or seen the special on Norwegian television...in Norwegian) you should really look it up. 

The story is also a Christmas present. If ever you feel you're without the Christmas spirit, you should really talk to Martine. She embodies it more than anyone I've ever met.    

'Tis A Gift

The man at the desk could have been Saint Nicholas. It was Christmas, he seemed to want to help her, and he had promised he would make things go as quickly and smoothly as possible. At the end of a long quest, a helpful guide was always welcome. She simply would have preferred him to have had better hearing. 

“You’re looking for what?” he asked.

“I’m looking for the Christmas star,” Sonja repeated, “The one that shone over the manger during the birth of Christ? It went missing after my father, the King, cursed it when I was a child and now I’ve sworn to God and my kingdom that - “

“Well, you’re going to have to fill out form B-004.”

Sonja blinked.

“I’m sorry?”

“Form B-004,” he repeated, as if it should be obvious, “Simplest way to do this is to start with that. Then we’ll see what happens.”

“But, I’m on a mission from God.”

“Who do you think created paperwork?”

She shrugged.

“Tis a gift to be simple, I guess.”

Form B-004: Application to Locate or Request Replacement for Lost Judeo-Christian Celestial Object 

(NOTE: For stolen, mutilated, or personified celestial objects, please complete an Application For Replacement Plates, Stickers, and Documents [Form RX-834 available on DMV Web]) 

 [] Location of Original                     [] Replacement 

Please check at least one of the following:
[] Herald Angels         $6                   [] Eight-Day Miracle Oil        $8 
[] Heavenly Choir      $8                    [] Chains Forged in Life        No Fee 
        [] Soprano     [] Alto                   [] Christmas Star           $4 
        [] Tenor         [] Bass 
[] Round John Virgin         No Fee 

All applicants must complete sections A, F, and G. Royal, disembodied or spiritual applicants must also complete section C.

After several minutes, Sonja returned to the desk.

“I wasn’t entirely sure what to put as my surname since I was raised by a group of traveling performers before recently discovering that I was the lost daughter of a king. Is that alright?” 

“That’s fine,” said the man, typing up the information, “You’ll just have to fill out form FC-720 when you get to processing.”

“I don’t have a social security number, either.”

“Form AP-702.”


“Please have a seat.”

 She did. For about forty minutes. Eventually, as if he had forgotten and been suddenly reminded of her existence, the man looked up.

 “Did you fill out the rest of the forms?”

“I thought I had to wait until I got to processing.”

“You’re in processing. What do you think I’ve been doing for the last hour?”

Sonja sighed, and sat herself down with a new bundle of paperwork.

Form AP-702: Application To Excuse a Lack of Required Information 

(NOTE: For lost, stolen, mutilated, or cursed information please complete an Application For Replacement Plates, Stickers, and Documents [Form RX-834 available on DMV-Web]) 

Please check at least one of the following: 
[] First Name       $6                           [] Social Security Number      $11 
[] Surname           $8                           [] Telephone Number           $2 
[] Address            $10                         [] Mission                No Fee 
 [] Street Name                                  [] Prophecy                    $7 
 [] City/Kingdom/Empire                   [] Legend Title                 $3 
 [] Zip Code 

Are you from another plane of existence? 
[] Yes                                              [] No 

If no, state reason for missing information (Please Print)

Once again, she marched back to the desk and handed over the form.

“Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” he asked.

“Is that a boy band?”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

He entered the new information into the computer, slowly and methodically so as not to make any mistakes. Sonja supposed she should be thankful he was being so careful. She had come a long way, after all. She had suffered through grave trials and high altitudes, and even a confrontation with her evil uncle, just to complete her divine mission. She didn’t exactly have time to deal with botched office work on top of it all - no matter how long this was taking.

“Alright,” said the man, “Everything’s set, simple as that. How can I help you?”

“As I mentioned earlier,” Sonja began, “I am on a mission from God to -”

“Oh, you’re on a mission from God?

“Um, yes.” Sonja raised an eyebrow. “I mentioned it about an hour ago.”

“Well, then you’re going to need form GD-0073. Can’t do a thing until I have that.”

“Is this really necessary?” she asked, “I mean, I’m am a princess, and it is Christmastime. Couldn’t we just make an exception? Given the circumstances?” 

“Unfortunately, your name and the date do not rid us of the need for proper paperwork,” the man answered, “I realize this may seem tedious, but I assure you, this is the simplest way to do this.”

Sonja sighed. Whatever happened to the days when you could just slay a great beast to find your answer?

Form GD-0073: Statement of Deity-Based Mission 

(NOTE: For lost, stolen, mutilated, or fallen deities, please complete an Application For Replacement Plates, Stickers, and Documents [Form RX-834 available on DMV Web]) 

Please check at least one of the following:

[] Voice of God/Goddess       $6                    [] Non-Angelic Winged Messenger      $4 
[] Heavenly Host              $4                         [] Prophetic Dream          No Fee 
[] Metaphorical Apparition       $10 

Was the mission-imparting being a named entity? 

[] Yes                                                 [] No 

If yes, indicate name or title (Please Print)

Are you currently, or have you ever been a prophet or oracle? 

[] Yes                                                 [] No 

If mission involves possible war or the Chicago Police, please complete section D. All other applicants proceed to section F.

She slammed the form down with more force than was probably necessary.

“Can we move on now?”

“Let me just enter this all in.”

She waited, tapping her fingers on the desk in slightly bored frustration. As a princess she was rarely this agitated.

“Thank you for filling that out,” said the man, “it may not seem it, but it does make the process simpler for everyone. Now, how can I help you?”

“Once again,” said Sonja, through slightly gritted teeth, “I am on a mission from God to locate the star of Christmas and return it to it’s rightful place in the night sky above my home kingdom. I followed it into the woods as a child and got lost. My mother followed me, and we both went missing for about ten years. In his grief, my father cursed the star and it vanished. My mission is to find it and my mother so that Christmas can be restored to the land and everyone can live happily ever after except for my evil uncle who convinced me it was a good idea to leave home in the first place.”

“I see,” said the man, “and what do you need from me?”

“I need to know where I can find the star. An old woman who was probably my lost mother in disguise told me I could the answer here, so, here I am.

“I see,” the man repeated, “So you’re looking for answers to complete a quest, is that right?”


"Form WR-975.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Form WR-975: Application To Receive Information Required For The Completion of Divine Mission 

(NOTE: For lost, stolen, or mutilated information required specifically for completing your quest, please complete an Application For Replacement Plates, Stickers, and Documents [Form RX-834 available on DMV Web]) 

All applicants must complete sections H, Q, and X. Applicants on non-divine missions must also complete section Z. 

Please check at least one of the following: 
[] Supernatural Aid           $5                                          [] Frustrating Riddle       No Fee 
[] Sacred Documents        $4                                          [] Straight Answer     $10 
[] Final Piece of Universe-Altering Puzzle      $2           [] Location of the Holy Lance    $3 
[] The True Meaning of Christmas     No Fee               [] Location of Lost Family Member Or                                                                                                        Mentor Figure               $6 

Are you currently involved in a monolithic narrative? 

[] Yes                                           [] No 

If yes, please check phases completed 
[] Call To Adventure                                    [] Approach to Innermost Cave 
[] Refusal of the Call                                   [] Ordeal (Belly of the Whale) 
 [] Supernatural Aid                                     [] Reward 
[] First Threshold                                         [] Return 
[] Tests, Allies, Enemies, ect.                     [] Resurrection 

Applicants in the process of resurrection must also complete section C.

“Does filling out all these forms count as an ordeal?” Sonja asked.

“No, it does not.”

“Of course.”

She finished the form and handed it back. She tapped her fingers. She counted the cracks in the wall. She counted backwards from 100 and tried not to think about how much she needed to use the bathroom.

“Everything seems to be in order,” said the man, finally, “It would be nice if next time you had a few more steps of the Hero’s Journey completed, but since it’s Christmas, we’ll waive that for today.”

“How kind.”

“If you could just sign and date the last form, we’ll have your answer printed out for you in a few seconds.”

Sonja rolled her eyes and signed the bottom, wondering if Sleeping Beauty even had to deal with all this. The man turned around in his swivel chair and disappeared into a back room. When he returned, he handed her two small pieces of paper and a blue pen.

“The top’s your receipt,” he told her, “and the bottom’s your answer. The pen’s complimentary.” 

She crumpled the receipt and stashed the pen in the pocket of her fur coat, then stared down at the second paper.

The Christmas Star is a manifestation of the Christmas spirit, and thus, has been within you the whole time. Simply wish for it, and it shall be. For more information, please complete an Application For Replacement Plates, Stickers, and Documents [Form RX-834 available on DMV Web]

“Seriously?” said Sonja, “That’s it? I did all that, and that’s my answer?”

“I don’t know.”

Sonja closed her eyes. She thought of Christmas - of three wise men on a great journey, led only by a message and a star. “I wish for the Christmas star to reappear.”

She heard a sound, and after a moment, realized it was her phone.

The King (Dad) 
Hey, just looked at the sky and the star’s back! Good job! Also, your mother turned to be that old beggar woman after all, and now she’s back too. We’re both very proud of you. See you at Christmas!

“I was at least hoping I’d have to outsmart a witch or something.” Sonja commented, “Or win the heart of a prince.”

“Form SC-0057.”

“Right.” She sighed. “Well, at least I got an answer, and at least I got the star. I suppose it doesn’t really matter how I did it.”

“Sometimes journeys aren’t terribly exciting,” said the man, “doesn’t make them any less miraculous. ‘Tis a gift to be simple, after all.”

“I guess you could call it that,” she said, turning to leave, “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas!”

The decorative bell on the door jingled as she stepped through the doorway, then jingled again as the door closed behind a young, handsome man with a sword and helmet.

“Greetings!” the young man said, “I am Prince Charming, and I am on a quest to find my love interest, the fair Princess Sonja. Might you -”

“Simplest way to do this is to start with form SQ-0345,” said the older man, “then we’ll take it from there.”

“Oh thank you, good sir!” said the Prince, “Truly this is the start of a glorious adventure! Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Payaso Turismo

Good god, this took me forever.

Being in Cusco has been a bit like being the protagonist from the first act of Cabaret (before all the Nazis show up and things start getting all Brechtian, I mean). In my first week here, I met Megan Steinkirchner, and we proceeded to spend a lot of time at a bar called "Temple". A super-waitress from upstate New York, Megan is loud and ridiculous in the best possible way. Despite having completely opposite ways of reacting to things, the two of us make exceptionally good partners in crime, which does tend to make things a little distracting. I would open my laptop and settle in to work on this piece, and she would come in and go "Hey, you want to go to Temple?" and I would immediately realize that I would much rather be doing that. 

Given our frequent presence at the bar, when I asked Megan for a prompt her answer was "a story about Temple." It was kind of broad. Between constantly being at Temple, constantly being inexplicably sick with some sort of respiratory thing, and constantly heading out to the black market to buy misspelled CD's, it took me a while to get myself together on this one. I rewrote it about a thousand times. Even when it was finally finished, I typed it out today and then rewrote the entire thing yet again. At the moment, I'm not really sure how I feel about it, but if I fiddle with it any more it's going to drive both Megan and myself completely insane. I have a feeling the world isn't really read for both of us to be insane at the same time.

I should also note that though Megan apparently wanted herself to be a character in the story, I didn't really realize that was in the prompt until after I'd planned out the story. So, sorry Megan, you're not really in it. But, you're in this blog post, so, there's that!

I'm going to go use my inhaler.

Payaso Turismo 
I’d like to tell you a story.

There was once a city I can’t entirely remember the name of. It was rich in culture and arts - many considered it to be one of the “great civilizations” like the Incas or the Romans. People came from every part of the Earth to see it.

But then, one day, someone pissed someone off. No one’s really sure who. It might have been a proud local, or it might have been an ignorant foreigner - the details don’t really matter. Someone angered a god, or a spirit, or possibly a witch, and as a result, the entire city was eternally cursed. Their rich, interesting, unique culture was completely destroyed. Though the city was still beautiful, and it still attracted an outrageous amount of people, no one could entirely remember why it was such a popular destination. Their history was gone. Their traditions slipped away. All that was left was a culture of commerce - a civilization whose only way of life was to sell themselves to strangers.

Tragic, isn’t it?

But fear not, this story ultimately has a hero. Or at least, it has someone who very much wanted to be the hero. When the world turns to petty commercialism and inauthentic glitter, there is always someone who will rise up and try to find true humanity - someone who isn’t led by the bullshit of the modern age, and is thus fit to lead a generation of mindless peons back to who they really are.

That hero might have been me. My name might have been Ramona - though I might have used a screen name - and I might have been an internet celebrity.

It’s difficult to decipher your level of celebrity these days. Long ago, you were a celebrity if you slayed a monster, or won a war, or heard the voice of God while hiking up a mountain. If you had a great enough story, everyone would know it, and everyone would share it, and you would be guaranteed immortality. As society progressed, though a celebrity remained a person who had done something “great”, the idea shifted from being an idol passed down through oral tradition, to being a beautiful person plastered on every possible wall of your living room. Everyone knew them simply because they were constantly surrounded by them.

With the dawn of the internet, no one was quite sure who their celebrities were anymore. A new type of hero, someone who spoke through a webcam in their living room and beamed it to every computer on Earth, was suddenly an acceptable way to be great. Sure, not everyone on the planet might have heard of you, but you still had people listening and paying attention to you. Somewhere, someone was taking you seriously and would probably remember you. Isn’t that, ultimately, what being a celebrity was?

As far as I was concerned, it was. Though I might have seemed humble and unconcerned with status in my well-subscribed to videos, when the camera was off I considered myself a person of influence.

So, when it was suggested by one of my many followers that I travel to the aforementioned cultureless city and make a video about life beyond all the tourism, I eagerly accepted the challenge. As an influential figure, a celebrity - a hero, even, I was sure I could find the authenticity of a tourist trap and save a disconnected culture from themselves.

 “Hello,” a young, slightly scruffy looking man in face paint said to me, “Would you like a keychain?”

“No, I would not,” I said, looking down at the clearly plastic souvenir keychains. They were small, plastic cabaret clowns - closer to mimes than anything you’d see at a circus - poorly painted with faded colors that might have once been bright.

“Five dollars,” the man said, “but for someone sexy like you, four.” I probably rolled my eyes.

“No thank you. I’m actually hoping you’ll tell me a bit about yourself,” I said, “I host a webshow on YouTube, and I’m making a video about the real city, not the one you show to tourists. Would you be willing to tell me about your life?”

“Sure,” said the man, “if you buy a keychain.”

“I really don’t want a keychain,” I said, “I know they’re not real.”

“Oh, but they are,” he insisted, “they’re handcrafted by local artisans.”

“No they’re not,” I said, dryly, “They’re made in a factory for locals to sell to gullible tourists. I’m trying to figure out what this country has to offer beyond plastic clowns.”

“But clowns are an important symbol of our culture.”

“Are they?”

He shrugged, and gave me a wink.

“For you, three dollars.”

“No,” I said, sighing, “Tell me more about the clowns. What do they mean?”

“Two dollars.”

“No. Tell me about the clowns. How are they culturally significant?”

“One dollar.”


“Then how about a drink?”

Here, I’m absolutely positive I rolled my eyes. I scowled at him, realizing this was a completely pointless endeavor, and turned to leave. He took my arm.

“Baby,” he said, “Come on. You’re not really looking for the ‘real culture’ of this place, or whatever the fuck you said you were doing. You’re just here to have a good time.”

“I am not.”

“Oh yes, you are,” he said, “Everybody is.”

“I’m not everyone.” I said, pulling my arm back from him, “I have a job to do here.”

“What, your YouTube show?” he smirked, “Yeah, ok. So, online you pretend you’re this serious journalist or whatever, but offline, I bet you’re just like everyone else.”

“I don’t pretend,” I said, “I’m not the one in the clown make-up.”

“It’s traditional.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Well, why couldn’t it be?” he demanded, “I mean, seriously. Nothing’s real these days. No one gives a shit if their souvenirs have meaning, they just want to get drunk and pretend they got cultured. Nothing’s what it fucking says it is.”

“I am.”

This time, he rolled his eyes. He pulled out a pen.

“Look, you want to be a serious journalist and not have any fun?” he asked, scribbling something on my hand, “Meet me tonight. Temple. Only locals. I’ll introduce you to a bunch of people, you can interview them for your thing, and you can be out of there by midnight.”

I glanced down at my palm. He hadn’t just written the address.

“Zeb?” I asked.

“My name.”

“It is not.”

“You’re right, it’s not.” He grinned, picked his keychains up, and turned away. “See you tonight.”

I sighed. There were flakes of his white make-up on my hand, despite his face being the only thing painted. I was insulted, and annoyed, but continued to act cordial as I wandered the city trying to find something actually real. I was surprised by how few people were willing to talk to me. None of them seemed to understand that what I was doing was for their benefit. I was trying to find and resurrect their culture - to remind them that they didn’t need to define themselves as Vacationland.

“But I like Vacationland,” a woman selling clown T-shirts insisted, “I mean, it could be worse. We could have been cursed with death. Instead, we got millions of people traveling from all over the world to enjoy themselves and support our economy.”

“You don’t really mean that.” I said.

“How do you know I don’t?”

I simply couldn’t understand it. The only marginally authentic thing I’d heard all day was Zeb’s speech about nothing being authentic - and even that, I was determined to prove, was bullshit. It was beginning to look more and more like following Zeb to a nightclub was my only chance at proving my point.

Of course, that probably wasn’t actually the case. There are a thousand ways to understand a culture, even one that pretends it doesn’t have one. Going to a club with a handsome man in somewhat enigmatic face paint to engage in somewhat irresponsible behaviors was only one of these options. And yet, I was convinced it had to be done. In the name of responsible journalism, of course. Pleasure was not to be involved in the slightest. I was a hero, after all.

I stepped into the club dressed to the nines, holding my head up high as I fought my way through the throngs of grinding dancers. The drink I ordered was, if I recall, purely aesthetic. If I was going to mingle with people in an attempt to learn the inner truths of their daily lives, I imagined it would probably make them more comfortable if I was drinking with them. I wasn’t there to party.

“You’re not wearing a mask.” the bartender observed.

“Should I be?”

The bartender pointed to the dance floor, and I suddenly realized that I was the only person in the bar not wearing something elaborate and sequined over my eyes. It was like a sleazy, intoxicated masquerade ball. It hadn’t mentioned anything about masks at the door, and as far as I knew, it wasn’t some sort of Halloween-esque holiday.

“Why masks?” I asked.

The bartender shrugged.

“Why not?”

I felt an arm slide around my waist. I almost leaned back into the embrace before I remembered why I was there, and pulled back. Predictably, it was Zeb - grinning insufferably, still made up like a clown.

“Welcome to Temple.” he said, handing me a red, sequined mask.

“Thanks,” I said, attempting to sound stoic, “Do I really have to wear this?”

“You’re the one that wants to be culturally aware,” he said. I sighed, and tied it on.

He led me to a floor upstairs, overlooking the party downstairs. A group of people around our age sat on couches in the dark. The table in the center was covered in shot glasses, cigarettes and bottles. There were a few other things there as well that, at the time, I couldn’t quite identify. Like the dancers downstairs, everyone in the group was masked.

“So this is the chick I told you about,” said Zeb, “the internet star.”

A thin girl in a blue and silver mask opened a bottle of something and poured it into a shot glass. She smiled, and handed it to me. “Have a shot,” she said, “Welcome to Temple.”

The group turned out to be mainly street performers, all of whom Zeb had met while studying drama at a university outside the city.

“We figured,” said the thin girl, “being on YouTube might be good for us, you know? Exposure and everything.”

“Makes sense,” I said, “is theater really important in your culture?”

“As much as it is anywhere, I guess.” she raised an eyebrow, and looked down at my glass, “Are you going to drink?”

Not wanting to lose my subjects, I picked up the drink and chugged it down. It burned the back of my neck, and made me shiver, but it left the group smiling.

“Awesome,” said the girl, “let’s do this.”

It began with a drinking game. Someone shared three things about themselves, and the rest of us tried to guess which one was false. If we got it wrong, we drank. It had, initially, seemed like a good way to get to know these people, and ultimately, their culture. As I was the one most unfamiliar with the group, I frequently gave the wrong answer, and found myself drinking quite a bit. Despite that, the further into the night we went, the more successful I was feeling.

“You know,” I said, grinning, “I feel like I really know you!”

“What’s my name?” the thin girl asked. I thought about it for a moment, then smiled.

“I don’t know!”

We clinked glasses. I had been accepted into the group. That was what I had wanted, wasn’t it? I had almost forgotten. I realized at about my fifth drink that I was probably partying more than I should, but I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t really being irresponsible, after all. It was purely for research purposes. I was better than that.

The drinking continued. After another hour we were theoretically still playing the game, but we’d lost track of when we were supposed to drink. There seemed to be an endless supply of alcohol at the table, and though I do remember wondering how a group of street performers could afford it all, one shot later it stopped bothering me.

Eventually, a joint was passed around. When it got to me, Zeb held back for a moment.

“Don’t you have a job to do?”

I grinned, and plucked the joint from between his fingers - taking a slow, meaningful hit and blowing it in his face.

“I’m doing my job.” I said, “Why aren’t you wearing a mask?”

“I don’t need to.”

“Because of all the makeup?” I asked, running my finger over his lips.

“Something like that.”

I might have giggled. At that point, there was really no telling what strange things I might have said or done. The weed dulled my already fading mind, and there’s a good chance we didn’t stop there. A certain amount of time passed. As if on cue, physical contact began, the masks somehow managing to stay on through it all. I started with the thin girl, digging my fingers into her hair while our lips and tongues attacked. I felt her arm creep up the back of my shirt, and I followed suit, reaching into her bra.

“Nice job, internet star.”

I made my way around the rest of the group. By the time I reached Zeb, my bra was unclasped, my shirt was half-off, and my mask was dangling somewhere near my neck. He pulled it off, and started biting my neck. I might have groaned. I closed my eyes, groping for every part of him in the dark.

“So,” he whispered, between breaths, “having fun?”

“Yes.” I said, somewhat delirious.


I should have noticed that the group was gone. I should have noticed that they might not have been there to begin with. He may have asked me if I knew who I was, or he may have simply said “Welcome home.” The details of stories get so foggy. Either way, I tumbled into the dark, and when I next saw myself, I didn’t know me. The girl in the reflection was pale, with dark blue eye makeup, and smudged red lipstick. A cabaret clown.

I never did figure out who that was. It could have been me, but then, I’m not really sure who I am anymore. The story of Ramona - the fallen internet idol determined to find reality - could have been mine. At the same time, like the story of the city itself, so many details have been lost that I could have simply made it up. Do I really want an identity that badly? Probably. We all do. But in the end, do we really need one? No matter who or what we are, our stories are only half-remembered.

If you come to the city today, you might see me. I’ll be painted like a cabaret clown. Would you like to buy one, maybe? They’re very cheap, and so representative of our culture.

I’ll even cut the price down for you.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Queen of the Night

My final roommate in Bogota was a lovely Australian woman named Liz. In particular, she was from Tasmania, which, apparently is not a place you're supposed to admit you're from in Australia. All I know about Tasmania is that there's a place called "Exeter" there, and that the Tasmanian Devils are becoming extinct. If Liz is an example of the whole of Tasmania, then I would have to assume it's a pretty fabulous place, because Liz was one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I've always thought the whole "don't admit you're from this place" thing is stupid.

Liz and I bonded pretty quickly due to a shared love of music, strange B horror movies, and writing. She was working on a novel while I was there, and despite not being in a genre I generally read, her passion for the story had me continually riveted when she discussed it. I'm seriously excited to see it on the shelves in a few years. I'll be first in line to buy it.

The prompt she gave me was "dreams" which made sense since she mentioned she was into spirituality and dreams as mind expansion. I sat on this prompt for a while, and started a long involved story while I was in my hostel in Bogota, but ended up writing this thing instead. Despite the prompt being from Bogota, the story itself was actually written in Peru. Does that make it my last Colombian story, or my first Peruvian story? I don't know. You decide.

This is a combination of a number of dreams I had during my first week in Cuzco. It's seriously unedited, because I wanted it to be a bit confusing. Even thought it was written in Peru, and based on dreams in Peru, in an abstract way, I think it's really more of a Bogota story. It doesn't have much, specifically to do with Bogota, but for some reason, it feels like a good send off. I absolutely loved Bogota, and I miss it a lot. I'll think I'll continue to miss it for a long time.

Queen of the Night

You’re in an elevator with Freddie Mercury, which is immediately distressing because you’re pretty sure he’s dead. He’s combing his mustache in the reflection of the elevator wall and humming the “Queen of the Night” aria from The Magic Flute.

“You know,” you say, though your voice sounds slightly distant and strange, “when I was a kid, I really, really wanted to be the queen of the night.”

“Really?” Freddie turns to look at you, “As did I.”

But, of course, you’re not really in an elevator with Freddie Mercury, you’re standing in what was probably your old high school, looking at your grades which are inexplicably on the wall in front of the cafeteria. Predictably, you’re flunking half your classes, since you never could keep track of where and when chemistry was. You couldn’t even remember signing up for geography. Despite promising yourself you’d do better this semester so you could be a productive, impressive member of society, you’ve fucked up again, and there’s really no way to fix it but run.

The principal, who looks oddly like David Bowie’s bond villain brother, is leading the search for you. His magical powers are famously difficult to defy, and once again, you’re pretty sure you’re screwed. He’s making trees rise from the ground as he comes towards you, which initially you think is somewhat of an odd use for his incredible magical abilities, but then you remember his large campaign to beautify the school, and it makes sense.

You run. You wish, as you always do, that you weren’t so far behind. You should be ahead, but you’ve ignored everything so much that catching up is an overwhelming task. You’re so outrageously far away from where you want to be, you’re terrified you’ll never get there. The house you’re running through is so hard to navigate, and though the people are nice, you don’t make much of a connection as you run past them. Would this be a nice place to live? Probably. You’re not sure if you want to be alone or not.

“I think my principal is looking for me,” you mention to Freddie Mercury, “I don’t want him to hurt you.”

“No offense, love,” says Freddie, “but I don’t think your principal can really do much to me.” “But he’s, like, a wizard or something.”

Freddie smiles.

“But you’re the queen of the night.”

You realize he’s right, because it is night - though, admittedly, you don’t feel like much of a queen. You’re alone in a large building with faded colors and broken shapes. It might have once been a funhouse, but can’t really be sure. There’s a path ahead of you, lit by security lights, and through you can’t see the other end, you decide to follow it. There’s something you need to do, and somewhere you need to be, but you can’t, to save your life, remember what it is.

There’s an old bar ahead, and you take a seat. The person next to you might be someone you used to know, might be someone you just met, or might be your roommate. They seem to be shifting.

“Have a drink.”

“I can’t,” you say, “I’ve got something to do. And I’m running from my principal.”

“Oh yeah,” says the figure, “I know that feel. You’ll be ok. Let’s get wasted, it’s not like you have anything to lose.”

The figure has a good point, you realize. And they’ve already bought you a drink. You don’t want to seem like a spoilsport, right? Like you’re boring, or uninterested in fun? You want to be the life of this bizarre party, so you have a reason for people to be with you. You want as many people to be with you as you can. You want to be liked.

Or do you want to be alone? Did you ever decide?

A burst of presumably magical energy shatters the wall and you see your principal. His hands and eyes are glowing, and he looks every bit like the supervillain you imagine him to be.

“Oh fuck,” the figure says, “that principal?” They vanish. You’re not sure if you’re relieved or not. The principal strides towards you. You wonder why everyone in your life seems to look like a rockstar. Do you?

Probably not, as you’re somewhat emaciated in a hospital bed. No one looks attractive as a hospital patient. The doctor stands over you, and you remember that you’ve only got six months to live. You panic.

“I can’t die!” you scream, “I haven’t done anything!”

“I’m sorry,” is all the doctor can say, except he says it in Spanish, so he actually says “Que pena.”

Tranquillo,” you mutter back, wishing you could speak English. You realize you can’t really speak Spanish either, and are angry you won’t have any time to learn it. At least that would have been something. Why didn’t you go to Chemistry? Why did your grades continually suck when you knew you were better than that? You have no time to prove it. Maybe you weren’t at all. Now you’ll never know.

You realize you should probably tell your family, so you try to leave the hospital and run towards home. You check over your shoulder for your principal, convinced he could be anywhere. The hospital seems more like a dark, faded carnival attraction suddenly. It’s hard to find your way out. Someone you used to know, someone you just met, and your roommate grab you and pull you into a room with few broken couches.

“Let’s get fucked up.”

“No, I can’t,” you insist, again, “I’m dying. They gave me six months.”

“Shit,” the figure’s shifting faces fall, “then that’s definitely a reason to get fucked up.”

“I really can’t, I’m going to die and I haven’t done anything yet. I have to go do something!”

“No, you have to relax,” the figure says, “that’s such a stupid thing to worry about. What the fuck are you going to do in six months? You can’t do anything.”

“I might.”

“You can’t. Let’s get fucked up. Might as well go out with a bang, right?”

You start to think that maybe you should. They have a point, it’s not like you can change the world in six months. If you don’t get fucked up, you’ll just sit around being miserable. Either way, you’re not going to do anything important. You never have, and you never will. There’s just not enough time.

The figure hands you a bottle of something and tells you to drink it. You’re about to, when it’s torn out of your hand by your principal.

“This is why you’re failing everything,” he says, his voice an ethereal echo.

“But I’m about to die.”

You have your reasons for doing the things you do. It’s not as if you wander blindly through life. You try to do what you can, don’t you? Is there a way he’d even understand that?

“Probably not,” says Freddie Mercury. You’re both sitting on the floor now, the elevator hasn’t moved.

“I can’t believe I’m dying.”

“Happens to the best of us, love,” said Freddie, “It happened to me.”

“But at least you died a rock god,” you point out, “I’m going to die with my only accomplishment being running from my principal.”

“He still hasn’t gotten you. That’s something.”


Your chemistry teacher, who for some reason seems to be Mick Jagger, looks at you skeptically.

“You’re not in this class. I’m sorry.”

“But I finally found it!” you insist.

“No, you didn’t,” says Mick Jagger, “please leave.”

You turn to leave, but before you do, you realize there’s something you absolutely must ask.

“Did you really sleep with David Bowie?”

“Who?” asks Mick Jagger, “Do you mean the principal?”

Your principal is sitting in an elaborately decorated parlor drinking tea. He points to a corner and another tree appears. He shakes his head and it vanishes, apparently deciding it wasn’t right. You’re not sure how you got here. You’re short of breath, like you’ve been running, and you can’t seem to catch it. You realize you’re probably dying. Has it been six months? It must have been. Here you are.

“I finally caught you,” the principal says, “and you’re about to die. It really is a shame. You could have been somebody.”

“I didn’t have time,” you say, gasping for breath.

“Excuses are pointless,” your principal says, “time has nothing to do with accomplishment. You know that. You should have gone to class.”

“I don’t want it to end this way.”

“It won’t,” says Freddie Mercury, “You’re the queen of the night.”

And on the word “night” you suddenly, finally, wake up. You’re in your apartment, and your alarm is going off. In hours, you’ll have to leave for work. You haven’t been in high school in years. You rub your eyes, trying to focus as you drag yourself out of bed and across the hall into the shower. You catch yourself humming “Who Wants to Live Forever” and you’re pretty sure it’s significant, but the reasons why have faded. You step out of the shower and look at yourself in the mirror, noting that you look more like a zombie than a person, but you know you’ll live.

You join your roommate at the kitchen table for breakfast. You’re silent for most of the meal, until she puts her iphone down, and frowns.

“Did you know there’s this kid in New Jersey who just graduated college at fourteen?” she says, bitterly, “I was lucky to graduate at twenty-three.”

You nod sadly, knowing what she’s talking about, and almost agree with what she's saying. But for some reason, the conversation is hitting a nerve.

“You’ve got plenty of time,” you say, not entirely sure where it’s coming from.

“No I don’t,” she insists, “I’m already twenty-four. I’m so fucking old. Do you even thinking about that? Like, we’re almost in our mid-twenties, and what have we got to show for it? We haven’t done a fucking thing.”

You smile, and quietly finish your cereal. She continues to brood as you throw your dishes in the sink to wash them. You’re worried too. You probably always will be, just as you have been. It’s the way things work. You finish cleaning, but stop in the doorway on your way out.

“You know,” you say, “You look like a rock star.”

Your roommate looks up, confused.


“You look like a rockstar,” you repeat, “and I’m the queen of the night.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

Josephina Saves

In my last few weeks in Bogota, I was informed a girl named Scarlett would be moving into the apartment. I have always wanted to know someone named Scarlett - it is, for some reason, one of my favorite names. Despite my immediate hope that Scarlett would be some sort of elegant Southern bell, I was even more excited to learn that she was, in fact, Hungarian. Or possibly Romanian. To be honest, I never really could keep track of where she was from. She generally introduced herself as being from "Europe. All of it." which only added to her mystique. It is a decided shame that we only had a few weeks (not even, now that I think about it) to get to know each other. She was an interesting, outrageously intelligent person with a worldliness to her that made her decidedly wise beyond her years. You could imagine that she secretly knew everything, and as far as I'm concerned, she probably did.

Despite her Time Lord-like intelligence, she continually claimed that she was utterly uncreative. When I went around asking for story ideas, she assured me she would have nothing, which I assumed was a lie. Most people who claim to lack creativity are far more creative than they think they are. Sure enough, after I had moved out of the apartment and was living in a hostel in central Bogota, she Facebooked me with the following prompt: "an ironic story of a structured, control-freak woman who falls in love with a men while being in a happy relationship with another man who she also loves". Apparently inspired by a movie she saw, and given to me in a moment of pure impulse, when I saw her later that day she told me she didn't actually expect me to write it, and in fact, was hoping I wouldn't. Which of course, meant that I had to.

The vast majority of this was written during my last week in Bogota, during which a series of violent political protests were going on basically right outside my hostel. For the most part, I just heard lots of shouting and occasionally saw people banging on pots. There was one day, however, where I had been warned that things were going to get particularly dangerous, and I should probably stay inside. Sure enough, that afternoon I was accidentally tear gassed from a terrace window. It hurt. A lot. As much as I disliked violence before, I really don't like it now.

Because the prompt was specifically about a "control-freak woman" I had originally planned to write about a cult leader. I think it became what it is now largely due to what was happening outside my window while I was writing it. After the tear gas incident, I didn't really leave my room much, which is a shame, because I really loved Bogota and would have liked to have spent my last week being a tad more active. But, that's life.

Josephina Saves 

Josephina Rush realized she was the messiah one quiet Sunday afternoon in August. She and her husband were sitting on the porch, overlooking the green backyard. Each held a cup of tea, and a different section of their local paper. It was a typical, highly ritualized afternoon that both of them tended to look forward to during the chaos of their regular week.

“Look, Noel,” she said, tilting the article so her husband could see it, “they’re doing a special on the Chrysler Building tonight.”

“Seven o'clock,” he said, glancing over, “We should be finished with dinner by then.”

They smiled in unspoken agreement, and returned to their individual reading. It was then that a bright light suddenly appeared next to the chestnut tree to the right of the porch and a loud, ethereal voice echoed through the trees.


Josephina raised an eyebrow, and put her paper down. Her husband followed suit.

“I am,” she said, not entirely sure how to properly address a disembodied voice, “Can I, er, help you?”


Josephina looked to Noel, who shrugged his shoulders.

“I didn’t read anything about this in the paper.” she said.


“Why only me?”


“That’s not really much of a reason.”


“Yes,” said Josephina, slightly frustrated, “The world will end in a year, I have to save everyone by telling them, yes?”


The light vanished in a cosmic explosion of blinding, otherworldly spectacle. Josephina and Noel were left alone.

“Well,” said Josephina, “I guess we’ll have to get started.”

And so the otherwise average couple quit their jobs and became religious leaders. They began small - they started a website, published a podcast, and opened a Facebook page. Eventually, Josephina assembled a small, but vocal group of followers that became gradually more devoted the more Josephina adjusted to her role as messiah. One of them, a former advertising executive, suggested the movement adopt a slogan. “Josephina Saves” was soon graffitied on street corners and trending on Twitter.

The internet as a whole, in fact, proved to be a particularly lucrative place for her message to spread. Disenfranchised Tumblr users and Redditors alike seemed to resonate with the idea that the world was about to end. Cries of “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore” and “It’s about fucking time” were everywhere. “Josephina Saves” was reblogged and shared more than any other topic. The hashtag trended longer than the most pervasive celebrity inside joke. Josephina soon found herself one of the most talked about people in modern culture.

“There are three books being published on you,” said Noel, excitedly at their new headquarters one afternoon, “and CNN is going to do a special on you.”

“That’s fabulous, dear,” said Josephina, considering something, “but should we really be allowing this much, you know, discussion?”

Noel was, as he frequently was, confused.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been thinking,” she said, slowly, standing up and pacing across the room, “the most important part of this whole mission is to spread word, right?”

“Right,” said Noel, “all this publicity will allow you to do that.”

“It will,” she agreed, “but left unchecked, it will lead to public discussion, which will, inevitably, lead to doubt in our cause.”

“But was we’re saying is the truth,” Noel pointed out, “There’s no reason for anyone to doubt anything.”

“You’ve been on the internet,” said Josephina, “People will doubt anything. Half the world still thinks the president was born in Kenya, and that’s because everyone is allowed to throw their ridiculous ideas wherever they want. If we really want to succeed in our cause, we have to take control of what people are saying about it. It’s for the world’s own good. I have to save everyone.”

“For the world’s own good,” Noel repeated, nodding solemnly. He sighed, “It must be a huge burden on you, being the only one who can save us.”

Josephina stopped pacing and looked up at her husband. He was unsurprised to see the dark circles under her eyes, and the weariness with which she carried herself. When speaking to the public, spreading her message, she buried her anxiety and appeared strong - like a leader. It was only with him, in their rare, quiet hours, that she betrayed her true fear.

Noel stepped forward, as he always had, and took her in his arms. He kissed the top of her head, and she looked up.

“At least I have you.” she said.


The next day, Josephina began her campaign to control their message. She had adherents scouring the internet at all hours of the day, deleting and censoring any inappropriate discussion. She made sure any books or specials on her were filtered through her eyes first. Through very careful micromanaging she hadn’t realized she was capable of, her popularity continued to soar despite the controlling atmosphere at her headquarters. It all came to a head when a violent South American protest broke out, and “Josephina Saves” was written on the murdered body of a president. Josephina had to rush to denounce the protesters, which consisted of almost an entire nation.

“I will never condone the death of others,” she said into about a thousand microphones at a crowded international press conference, “My mission is to save, not to kill. I want no association with any of the people responsible for this atrocity.”

A million hands went up. Noel picked one at random.

“New York Times,” said a thin, skeptical looking man, “Ms. Rush, if your purpose is to save all people, and yet you want no association with the protestors, will they be saved?”

“Well, um,” Josephina had honestly not considered this, “They probably will be.”

“Do you still consider them to be followers of your faith?”

“Of course not,” she responded, “If they really believed in what I’ve been preaching, they wouldn’t have murdered someone in my name.”

“But, you’ve stated before,” the man continued, consulting a notepad, “that only those who follow you will be saved at the end of the year. If they are no longer considered your followers, how can they be saved?”

Josephina hesitated.

“Uh, well, then, sadly, I suppose they won’t be saved. I’ll have to deny them.”

“So you do condone the death of others?”


“You’ve said,” the man continued again, “that the world will end at the end of the year. The Earth will, effectively die and the only way to be saved from this death is to follow you. If you no longer allow these people to follow you, then by your own pronouncement, you are allowing their destruction, thereby condemning them to death.”

“Then, you know what,” said Josephina, frustrated, “I will save them. They can come back to the faith anytime they want.”

“Then it’s alright for your followers to murder in your name?”

“No!” Josephina could barely think. This was not at all how she had expected this conference to go, “That’s not what I meant at all...just, stop talking. Next question!”

The reporter smiled. He had gotten exactly what he wanted out of her. Noel stepped quietly up to the podium and whispered in her ear.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “that part wasn’t aired. I had it interrupted.”

Josephina nodded, and continued on. Despite having total control of the situation, she couldn’t take her eyes off the reporter’s smug expression in the crowd. Somehow, she couldn’t shake the feeling that, despite everything, he still had the upper hand.

A week later, Josephina was drafting a cease and desist letter to a blasphemous YouTube channel when the door to her office unceremoniously burst open.

“Is that you, Noel?” she asked, not raising her eyes from her work. They hadn’t seen much of each other since the conference - Josephina had been completely focused on making sure her message hadn’t been lost in the flurry of publicity, and Noel had been busy inducting new followers.

"If you’d bother to look up,” a terrifyingly familiar voice barked, “You’d fucking know.” She looked up. The reporter from the New York Times was standing at her desk - his young, angry face inches away from her own.

“Nothing I said was aired,” he spat, “Everything after ‘I won’t condone death’ was interrupted by an accidental broadcast of fucking Rosa de Guadalupe.”

“You know how it all changed when everything went digital,” she said, calmly, “No one can figure out how it works. Mistakes happen.”

“I know you tampered with that signal,” he shouted, “You censored me, when I was raising important points.”

Josephina tried to be reasonable, but it was difficult with his eyes staring into hers.

“What we discussed could have severely damaged my message.”

“What, you mean the truth?” he demanded, “A political leader was brutally murdered in your name, and as far as the world knows, your only stance on it is that you’re not a fan of death. If you’re really intent on creating a new religion, your adherents have a right to know the exact nature of your doctrine, including what happens when you kill.”

“I’m sorry,” said Josephina, frustrated, “but I don’t have time to go into every tiny detail of unimportant dogma.”

“How is death unimportant?”

“Because I’m trying to save us all from it!” Josephina stood up from her desk, and met his gaze. They were close enough to feel each other's breath. “I’m not trying to be a religious leader. I’m not trying to start a new faith, or get millions of Twitter followers. I’m just trying to warn everyone what’s coming. The only reason I need people to follow me at all, is that I was specifically told that I was the only one that could save them.”

He stared at her. There was an intensity in his face, she wasn’t sure she liked. Worse, she was afraid she actually did.

“You really believe that.” he said, slowly.

“Of course,” she said, with conviction, “it happened in my backyard.”

The man nodded, and then, without warning, leaned forward and kissed her. She was so shocked, that for a moment she caught herself enjoying it before she pulled back.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Offering you a deal,” he said, with a small grin, “you can interrupt as many signals as you want, but I still recorded our whole exchange. I can release it anytime I want, and if you try to deny me, I can sue you for obstructing my freedom of speech. Want to save the world? Fuck me.”


He took a step back, and took his shirt off. He was young and toned. His chest was perfectly muscled in a way she had only thought possible in rock stars and romance novels. She had to stop herself from reaching over her desk to touch it. His expression, which she had initially written off as smug and arrogant, had suddenly become dangerously alluring.

“How many times would we have to do this?” she asked, hoping her breathlessness wasn’t as noticeable as she thought. “Once to make sure I don’t release the interview,” he said, “and as many times as you’d like, after that.”

She sighed, frustratingly unable to take her eyes of his body. She couldn’t believe she had managed to let this happen. She had been so careful. She was in complete control of her media exposure, and to a certain degree, the whole of the modern media. How had this one, uncontrollable element slipped through her grasp? At least there was one way to control him. And, she allowed herself to think, it could have been a lot worse.

She turned on her intercom.

“Please cancel any appointments I have for the next few hours,” she said, “something very important has come up. I can’t be disturbed.”

“Josephina saves,” the secretary said, mechanically, back to her. She turned off the intercom.

“Indeed, I do.” she muttered. She looked back up at the reporter. “Take your pants off.”

He smiled, and began to undress.

And so, a distinct pattern began - almost as ritualistic as Sunday afternoons with Noel. The reporter, who she eventually discovered was named Gabe, would come to her with damaging information that had somehow managed to evade her reach, and she would tumble onto the floor with him to make sure he didn’t release it. Though originally, the act was purely out of necessity and done with utmost shame, eventually, like Sunday afternoons, she began to look forward to it. After endless days of devout, loyal followers and unyielding media obsession, the release she experienced giving in to primal desires with a man who was sure she was a fraud was refreshing, and eventually, needed.

Days passed, the end came closer, and yet despite that, nothing in the world seemed to be changing. She had assumed that she would start to see signs of the demise of life as they knew it as the date came closer, but in fact, the only thing that seemed to be diminishing was her ability to take part in it all. The social phenomenon she had spawned had left her unable to leave her headquarters without being mobbed by followers and paparazzi. She couldn’t even go on the internet without being stalked by private messages and @replies. Her weekly sermons had gone from heartfelt speeches to carefully constructed showpieces. She felt detached from the whole of society, artificial when she should have been real. She wondered how she was supposed to be savior to a populous she could no longer connect with, and realized, her only real link to any of them was Gabe.

“How exactly is the world supposed to end?” he asked, one afternoon as they lay entwined on the floor of her office.

“I’m not sure,” she admitted, sighing, “The light just told me that it was all going to end and I had to save it. I thought it would come to me again, but it hasn’t. I’ve been on my own.”

“How can you be sure it contacted you in the first place?”

“I saw it,” she said, “it was right in my backyard. It spoke while I was reading the arts and entertainment section.”

“But there’s a thousand things it could have been,” Gabe pointed out, “people have bizarre visual and auditory hallucinations all the time. It could easily have been something you ate, or the sun affecting you, or you could have dozed off and dreamt it.”

“But Noel saw it too.”

“Did he?”

She thought back. It was so long ago, by this point, and her memory had never been the best. Had he seen it? Or had she simply told him about it?

“He says he saw it.” she said.

“Anybody could say that,” Gabe said, cynically, “I could say I saw it. Doesn’t mean I did. You can’t believe anyone on their words alone, especially these days. You need actual proof.”

“But why would he lie to me about it?” she asked, “he’s never lied to me about anything.”

“Neither had you,” he said, “until recently. Who knows? Maybe he was just humoring you for a while, waiting for you to come to your sense, and then everything became huge, and he decided he wanted a part of it.”

“That would explain why he’s always so involved in publicity and finances,” she said, thoughtfully, “but...no, that’s completely insane. It’s Noel. He’s not that kind of person, he never has been.”

“Would you have even thought of yourself as the messiah type?” Gabe asked, “You can never really know.”

The next few weeks went by in the blur. She spent most of her time in her office, leaving only when it was absolutely necessary. She found it easier to give sermons online, taping them in her office and then pasting them on every piece of social media the world had to offer. Her words reached more people this way, as they didn’t have to travel long distances to hear her speak, and within a few weeks of switching to digital sermons, her message had become a worldwide phenomenon. She was informed that she had devout acolytes in countries she’s never even heard of, and thus, her new found following meant little to her. With Noel so frequently flying out to oversee the spread of their movement overseas, her only real interaction with other people on a day to day basis was essentially just her secretary and Gabe. Her role as a savior of the people suddenly seemed to be a bit far fetched as she gradually shielded herself away from any interaction with people to save.

One late Sunday afternoon, without warning, she heard the doors of her office open. She half expected it to be Gabe, his visits were often a surprise, but was shocked to find that it was Noel. He strode in, tan from his trip to India, and kissed her on the forehead.

“Everything’s almost ready,” he said, proudly, “everyone’s talking about the salvation next week. You should see it, Josephina, it’s like you’ve united the world.”

“Yeah, I guess I have,” she said, bitterly. Noel frowned.

“Are you ok?” he asked, gently, “I know I haven’t been around much. I’ve missed you like crazy, but as soon as this all finally happens, we’ll have all the time in the world to spend together.”

“Will we?” she asked, “I’m not so sure. Do you know how I’m supposed to save the world? Or what, exactly, is going to happen when I do?”

“I don’t know,” said Noel, “hasn’t the light told you anything more?”

“No,” said Josephina, standing up and pacing once again, “it hasn’t. In fact, it actually hasn’t spoken to me since it showed up in our backyard, when we both allegedly saw it.”

Allegedly saw it?”

“Allegedly.” Josephina sighed, “I think I saw a light, and I think it told me I was the messiah. But there are a million other things it could have been. I could have hallucinated it. Maybe I fell asleep on the deck and dreamt it. Maybe I’m an untreated schizophrenic and I haven’t actually been speaking to anyone. There’s no way to prove that any of this is real, let alone that I’m really capable of saving the world from a destruction that I haven’t seen any proof of actually being about to happen.”

“But I know you saw it,” said Noel, “I was there. I saw it too.”

“Did you? I have no way of really knowing that for sure. All I have are your words, and you could easily be giving me incorrect ones.” Noel stopped her, and wrapped his arm around her. He looked down at her, but she didn’t meet his eyes.

“Josephina,” he said, in a tone she knew he only used with her, “Why would I lie to you? Why would I support you and follow you like this? You know we were both there, and you know that we both saw it.”

She looked up at him. His eyes were bright, and earnest. Despite the years on his face, she could almost believe he was still the young man she’d met at her college orientation. It was as if he hadn’t aged a day. But of course, he had. She still loved him with the same passion she had when they first spoke, but times had changed since then. They had changed since then.

“You have no idea,” she said, slowly, “how much I want to believe you. But, these days, there’s no way to tell if anyone’s honest or not. I’m sorry.”

“Josephina - “

“Please leave,” she said, hoping she wouldn’t cry, “and don’t come back.”

He might have wanted to protest. He might have tried to say something. She wasn’t sure. She was firmly looking away from him as she heard footsteps slowly moving towards the door. When she finally looked back, he was gone.

“What is meaning?” she asked Gabe two days later as they were sprawled, once again, on her office floor. He raised an eyebrow.

“You’re the messiah,” he said, “that’s probably one of those questions you should have the answer to.”

“But I don’t,” said Josephina, sighing. Her eyes were fixed on the ceiling, rather than on him. “I was a consultant before the light appeared, you know. I thought there was meaning in it. I was helping people, I thought, helping businesses to be successful - to achieve their goals. I suppose, in a way, I sort of thought I was already a savior. And then I married Noel, and everything seemed to fit. I had really thought I found it. A life, a love, and a purpose - all of it meaningful. And then the light came, and I was called to a higher purpose, and I thought ‘alright, clearly that wasn’t it. Clearly meaning is more complicated and bizarre than I thought’ but lately, I’ve been wondering if it really is that complicated.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m wondering if, maybe, my life had more meaning when I was a random consultant with a life no one had heard of, than it does now that I’m the savior of the damn world.”

Gabe shrugged.

“To you it probably did,” he said, almost flippantly, “but, that’s what happens when you step up to the plate like you did.”

She turned and looked at him. He was lighting a cigarette, something she had originally told him he couldn’t do in her office, but had eventually consented to as their relationship had grown. He was considerate about it - or at least, she had always thought of him as being considerate. As she watched him and thought back, she realized he almost always lit up right in front of her while they were still on the floor. He had never made it a point to smoke out the window, or blow the smoke in another direction. He simply did what he wanted.

“Noel left me,” she said, pointedly, “or rather, I threw him out.”

This got Gabe’s attention. For the first time since they had begun their afternoon activities, he looked at her - his face, as always, frustratingly difficult to read.

“You threw Noel out?” he asked, in a tone that could very well have betrayed excitement. Josephina nodded.

“It was like you said,” she said, “I couldn’t trust him. I have to believe what I’m doing, and with him there, all I could focus on was the doubt.”

“And, are you still doubting?”

“Well, yes,” she admitted, “I thought that, maybe, if I let go of Noel, I could finally stop questioning everything and realize what it all means. I thought he was the thing holding me back. But he’s gone, and I still have no idea what I’m supposed to do.”

Still balancing his cigarette between his fingers, Gabe abruptly got himself up and walked towards his briefcase at the other end of the room. She sat up and watched him, but he wouldn’t look at her.

“Maybe you’re not supposed to do anything,” he said, “except fall.”


He still wouldn’t turn. He was almost eerily motionless compared to how she generally saw him.

“This has happened so many times,” he said, slowly, “Someone rises to the top and then falls to the bottom. People create outrageous expectations. We feel like the world is going to end, and then it doesn’t. Maybe that’s all this is. Maybe we need it.”

He finished his cigarette, and buried it in the ashtray on her desk. He sighed, picked up his briefcase, and finally turned.

“You might not know your purpose,” he said, “but I think I do.”

She watched him leave, unmoving from her place on the floor. Maybe it was her knowledge as the messiah, or maybe it was just instinct, but somehow she was very much aware that she would never see him again.

The news of Josephina’s dumping of her husband and subsequent affair with an apparently “unnamed” member of the press suddenly spread like wildfire. Everyone had an opinion on it, so many people, in fact, that Josephina’s formerly devoted team of media watchdogs simply gave up trying to control it. Whether in support of, or against Josephina, it was all anyone could talk about. No mission, no world ending panic, simply discussion of her personal life. As soon as it became common knowledge that Josephina was doubting the reality of her mission, she went straight from object of admiration and worship, to object of international ridicule.

Desperate to rescue her cause, but unwilling to leave her office and subject herself to a press conference, she held a last minute livestream on her website and opened it up for questions. To the great pleasure of the world of late night comedy, the question with the most “likes” at the end of the night was “r u avoiding the press because ur afraid you’ll fuck them?”

Josephina, having absolutely no idea how to intelligently respond, simply answered that she didn’t appreciate that kind of language being used in relation to herself. The author of the comment became a minor internet celebrity, while Josephina’s response became that week’s most popular meme. As the prophesied end of the world came even closer, Josephina frantically spoke through just about every social media outlet she could find, but was met with nothing but snarky, abusive comments and several people informing her it would be within her best interest to go die. Even her secretary was unable to keep a straight face around her, and after she was fired, she went straight onto Fox News.

In a coffee shop in Times Square, Noel sat - tired and sad - across the table from Gabe. Both were fixed on a large screen outside, in which a comedian was broadcasting a satirical apocalypse special counting down to the end of the world. The countdown reached ten. The comedian put on a crash helmet.

“With only ten seconds to live,” the comedian said, “I want the world to know that I’m sorry I wasn’t the one who fucked Josephina Rush.”

The audience, and the people watching on the street, roared with laughter. Noel and Gabe took simultaneous sips of their drinks. The countdown reached zero. The comedian shouted “Josephina Saves” desperately as the screen went black. There was silence. For one moment, and one moment only, you could hear a pin drop. The screen flickered back to life. The comedian looked around him in mock awe.

“Wow,” he said, “the end of the world sure looks alot like…the world.”

There was laughter. Those watching from the street continued walking, realizing that if they really wanted to see the rest, they could probably catch it on YouTube.

Noel looked down at his drink, despondent. Gabe raised an eyebrow.

“Did you really want the world to end?” he asked.

“A bit,” he said, “For her sake.” He sighed. “I just wonder what comes next.”

“Another apocalypse, I expect,” said Gabe, with a frustrating air of ease that Noel suddenly envied, “once the hilarity of having lived through this one dies down, we’ll all get cynical again, and start looking for another one.”

But Noel didn’t want to start looking for another apocalypse. He wanted his sunday afternoon paper on the deck, and a special on the Chrysler Building in the evening. He wanted to hear his wife tell him stories of how surprisingly difficult it was consulting for Dannon yogurt, and ask her where she wanted to go on their next vacation.

“I wonder when we stopped enjoying things.” he mused, quietly, to no one in particular. Gabe finished his drink, and turned towards the window.

“I don’t know,” he said, uncharacteristically contemplative, “maybe we never did. I can’t help thinking that, as crazy as it all is, we might need this kind of thing. Like, without a savior for us to obsess over and tear down, we’d all go insane, and the world really would end.”

He reached into his briefcase and pulled out some cash. He stood up, and threw the money on the table next to his drink.

“Who knows,” he said, “Maybe Josephina really did save us all.”

Noel didn’t look at him as he stepped away from the table. He was contemplating the newspaper, and how much longer it would be available in print. He’d probably have to get an ipad soon, he realized. He wondered if Sundays would be different in digital.

The following morning, Josephina’s secretary woke and realized she hadn’t received her last paycheck before she was fired. Already annoyed at how difficult the job’s appearance on her resume had made acquiring a new job, she stormed into her former employer’s office with every intention of unleashing the full wrath of her caffeine deprived, early morning rage.

Except Josephina wasn’t there.

The office was almost exactly as she had last seen it - essentially the den of a madwoman. There were papers everywhere, with blankets and pillows nearly covering the floor and an old, musty scent that made it clear the room’s occupant had neither washed nor left the room in quite a long time. Despite that, it was eerily empty.

She attempted to cross the room to search the desk for her paycheck, but stopped halfway there. She stared at the floor in the center of the room, somehow mostly untouched by the filth of the rest of the office. She pulled out her iphone and snapped a picture. Within moments, it was on Facebook.

The picture was of a patch of floor which she helpfully tagged “my ex-boss’s office.” Beneath the picture she commented “went 2 J-Rush’s place today. she wasn’t there, but this was. WTF?” On the floor were a large group of perfectly rounded grey stones. They spelled two words.

“Josephina Saves.”

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Single Moment of Life

This one took me a while.

My prompt was "a drama" and it was given to me by Rachna Kamal, a woman with the most incredibly degree of empathy of anyone I've ever known. Her choice of profession - social work - fits her to a tee. I was utterly unsurprised to hear that she was planning on going into abuse and trauma therapy. You feel comfortable around her. She has that unnerving, but therapeutic ability to get you to spill your guts, and if you go out with her, you will inevitably end up discussing the darker points of your life, but at the end of the night feel better for it.

Rachna's major interest, in terms of stories, is "family drama". I struggled with that, for a while, because my family doesn't really have a large amount of drama, and when we do, it's not something I'd like to write about and put on the internet. The interpersonal drama in my life tends to come from outside the boundaries of my family. After I spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking about this on the bus to the blind school, I came to the fairly obvious realization that your relationships are your family. Your friends are an extension of your family. So, I decided to go with the drama of a failing friendship. And aliens. Because I'd been wanting to write about aliens.

This harkens back to a very particular, still somewhat recent part of my life, during which, I was taking a class on Buddhism. The story is structured around the Buddhist idea of 3,000 Realms in a Single Moment of Life, something I was thinking about a lot when I found myself part of a friendship that was falling apart. The "world" that each dialog takes place in is numbered, and the prose parts go in the opposite direction. It's cyclical, theoretically, but mostly, it's kind of pretentious. Sorry about that. Now that I've done this, I'll go back to writing fun things.

A Single Moment of Life

1. Hell  

“Please kill me.” 
“You know I’m not going to do that.” 
“I wish you would.” 
“You don’t mean that.” 
“You have no idea how much I do.” 
“Is that why you keep asking?” 
“It’s the only thing I have to look forward to.” 
“Asking a question?” 
“That one day your answer will be yes.” 
“Let’s begin.” 
“Please kill me.” 
“Another day.”

Another day alone, but it was alright.

M sat in the center of the quad and looked up at the sky. It was cloud, overcast, and altogether unfriendly. It was exactly the kind of weather she liked, even when it was pouring. Everything she had with her was soaking wet. Her bag, her books, the clothes on her back, even the camera she had taken great pains to wrap up and hide in her coat was now a wet, defective mess. And yet, she had no particular desire to leave her place in the grass. She liked the feel of constant rain prickling her skin, and had never once gotten sick from being out in the cold. Rain made more sense to her than sunlight - when she thought of the world, she thought of it raining.

She heard footsteps. They were cautious in the muddy rain, but aggressive. They belonged to someone with a purpose.

 M smiled. She wouldn’t be alone today after all.

A towel fell on her head. She sat up, and wrapped herself in it.

“One of these days,” said April, standing above her with an umbrella, “You’re going to die and I’m going to get no thanks from you.”

“Of course,” said M, gathering her soaking things up, “I’ll be dead. I doubt I’ll be thanking anyone by that point.”

She stood up, and joined April under the umbrella. Together, they walked themselves back to their apartment, carefully dodging any large puddles or mud patches along the way. At one point, a car passed, and April wound up almost as drenched as M.

“Your sympathy is noted,” said April, as M proceeded to laugh hysterically at her. Together, they looked like a pair of wet dogs.

“Hey,” said M, handing over her towel, “At least now we match.”

“That’s true,” said April, smirking, “And you know, it could be worse. It’s only water.”

“It’s only water.”

 2. Hunger  

“You’ve had your water for the day.” 
“My mouth is like sandpaper.” 
“You’ve had your water for the day.” 
“It’s all I can think about.” 
“I’m sorry.” 
“No you’re not.” 
“You’re right, I’m really not.” 
“I can barely stand.” 
“I’ll help you.” 
“Water would help me.” 
“I can’t do that.” 

“No,” said April defiantly, “I can’t do this again. I can’t do another one. I’m just going to flunk, and that’s all there is to it.”

M looked up from the astronomy textbook and gave her a look.

“You said that last time,” she said, “And you got an A.”

“I got an A-” April pointed out, lighting a cigarette as she paced back and forth frantically across the living room. M, having watched her do this hundreds of times before a test, usually from the exact position on the couch she was currently occupying, simply laughed.

“Have you ever considered becoming a Buddhist?” she asked.

April looked at her like she had three heads.

“Why the fuck would I become a Buddhist?”

“Because,” said M, preparing herself for a lecture, “There is a Buddhist belief in ten distinct worlds of human experience, from Hell all the way up to Buddhahood, or enlightenment.”

“Ok,” said April, taking a drag, “So, I’m guess, what with me about to flunk astronomy and everything, that at the moment, I’m in Hell. That’s great. Thank you Buddhism.”

“But that’s not it,” M continued, “Buddhists who subscribe to this system believe in the infinite potentiality of experience. For every world you occupy, you have the potential to occupy every other world at that exact second. You can literally experience 3,000 worlds in a single moment of life. So, even though you might be in Hell, you’re also a Buddha. The capacity is always there.”

“So, I’ve just achieved enlightenment?”

“You just haven’t noticed yet because you’re distracted by the Hell.”

April took another drag, pondering this.

“If I achieved enlightenment,” she said, after a moment, “wouldn’t I already know what was on this test?”

“The test wouldn’t matter to you,” said M, “You’d be above it.”

April thought for another moment, and then grabbed the pillow from the side of the couch and threw it at M.

“Fuck that.” she said, and fell back onto the couch with her, “I think I’d make a shit Buddhist.”

“You probably would. But it did get you to calm down.”

“That was the nicotine,” said April, “Definitely the nicotine.”


April leaned over and rested her head on M’s shoulder. They sat in silence, half considering the basic concepts of Mahayana Buddhism while the other half contemplated their chances of passing the astronomy exam.

“You always become a lecture.” said April, finishing her cigarette. “Does that bother you?”

“No,” said April, “No, it’s cool. It’s just...you know so much about such random things. Why is that?”

“I don’t know,” M answered, quietly. She was thinking of other things. “I think I’m just interested in people. I like trying to figure out how they think. Should I stop?”

“Fuck that,” said April, “It makes you interesting. I’d be a bad friend if I asked you to stop.”

3. Animality  

“Shouting won’t do anything.” 
“Fuck you!” 
“What did I say?” 
“Stop! Oh god, please!” 
“I’m afraid I can’t.” 
“Ow, my god. Biting me won’t help.” 
“....neither will scratching my face.” 
“Ow, ugh....sedative!” 
“That’s better.”

“That’s better,” said M, adjusting the picture on their TV. The gruesome scene became easier to see, if a bit more disturbing, with a small addition of brightness.

“Fuck.” April said, riveted, “He’s totally going to drop that toaster in the bathtub.”

As if prompted by the suggestion, a moment later the man on screen dropped the toaster into the bathtub. The result was a horrifying death by electrocution.


“You know,” said M, “Most people would scream at this point.”

“Why the fuck would I scream?”

“Technically, it’s supposed to be scary.”

“That doesn’t mean I have to scream,” said April, indignantly.

“True.” M thought a moment. She reached down beneath the couch and opened a beer - as if somehow, that would help her.

“You know,” she said, after a moment, “horror movies are always so underrated.” “Well, everyone thinks they’re torture porn.”

“Exactly,” said M, “Like the entire genre is the Saw franchise. Usually I can’t get anyone to watch them with me.”

“I know what you mean,” April agreed, “But to be fair, a lot of modern horror movies are shit. You wouldn’t see something like The Shining in theaters today, it would have to be, like, Hostel 2.0.”

“And be targeted solely towards 12-year-old boys.”

“Exactly, like women can’t be into horror.”

M turned back to the film. The protagonist was scouring the derelict, abandoned attic for clues as to what was happening. The scene was almost silent, but the suspense was deafening.

“Anyone can be into horror,” said M, quietly, “You just have to be into mystery.”

“That’s true,” said April, “But I think, in particular, you need to be into mysteries with difficult answers.”

“Or no answers at all.”

“Exactly. Horror is about mysteries that can’t be neatly wrapped up. There either isn’t an answer, isn’t a conventional answer, or the answer is disturbing as fuck.”

“You’re left uneasy, but intrigued.”

“Right,” April took another sip of beer, “And that, not juvenile torture porn, is what makes horror so interesting.”

“You know,” said M, “not many people get that. I try to explain it to them, and they have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about.”

 April smirked.

“This is clearly why we’re friends.”

“What, because of horror?”

“Yes,” said April, “Horror. Not because we like each other or anything.”

“No, of course not.”

They sat in near silence for a moment, their attention theoretically on the movie, but more realistically on each other.

“I’m really glad I met you.” said M, after a moment.

April looked at her.

“Me too.”

They smiled, then, as if realizing how transparently sentimental they were being, turned back to the film. The protagonist was running now, resigned to her fate, but for some reason, still desperate to defy it.

“So, do we think she’s going to live through the movie?” asked M, after a moment.

“Nah,” she said, grinning, “personally, I hope she fucking rots.”

4. Anger  

“I hope she fucking rots!” 
“Do you?” 
“Ugh, fuck...yes. I hope she dies.” 
“Do you really?” 
“She ruined my life.” 
“I thought you wanted to die.” 
“I didn’t until she came along.” 
“I want something to tear her apart.” 
“Like this?” 
“AHHH, fuck. Yes. Just like this.” 
“Wasn’t she your friend?” 
“I hate her.” 
“So completely.” 
“I see.” 
“Fuck her. Fuck everything. I hate it all.”

“Fuck her. Fuck everything! I hate it all,” April narrated, passing the bottle of wine to M, “and I was like, ‘you know what the best way to fuck with her would be? Fuck me.’ It was only supposed to be a joke.”

M took a large swig. It was their second bottle, and April was already kind of drunk.

“Shit,” said M, gulping down the merlot, “What did you do?”

“We had sex.”

M nearly spat her wine out.

“With your cousin?”

“Just once,” said April, wistfully, “And it was the best either of us had ever had. We weren’t expecting it, Monte was just trying to get back at his mom, but about halfway through we realized ‘Oh shit, I’ve wanted to do this my whole life.’ and, well...”

M took another swig and handed it back to April.

“Jesus fuck,” she said, baffled.

“And that,” said April, chugging nearly half the bottle, “is my darkest secret. If you hadn’t already earned the best friend card, you’ve definitely got it now.”

“I’m honored,” said M, still reeling from the revelation, “Does your family know?”

“Of course not,” said April, “Once we realized it was real, we swore each other to secrecy. As far as I know, it’s him, me, and now, you. That’s it.”

“That’s a pretty small club.”

“We’ve got T-shirts, though.”

“Do we?”

“Oh yeah, “April grinned, “They’re sexy.”

With a flourish, handed the bottle back to M.

“Now,” she said, “What have you got?”

M tensed.


“Oh, come on,” said April, giggling, “Everyone’s got some sort of terrible secret, it’s normal.”

“I don’t have one,” M liked, unconvincingly, “I really don’t.”

“Then you, my friend, are extremely abnormal.”

5. Humanity  

“You’re extremely abnormal.” 
“No shit.” 
“Yet, you look no different.” 
“Except for my eyes.” 
“What do you think you are?” 
“I told you, I don’t know.” 
“Without the facts?” 
“...I don’t know.” 
“Do you feel human?” 
“What is human?” 
“I don’t know.” 
“Here, have some water.” 
“You’re pale. Have some water.” 
“...thank you.”

“Thank you.” said the little girl outside M’s living room window the first time the dog dropped the wet, slobbering ball into her hand. It was difficult to hear through the glass and the sound of the bonfire, but she sounded fairly excited to be receiving it - like it was a Christmas present, rather than a sopping, germ-ridden nightmare. She took it in her hand and gleefully threw it across the yard for the dog to chase after, to which the dog returned it and patiently awaited a repeat performance. But, while the dog was perfectly happy to do it over and over again, the girl had lost interest, the excitement of being handed a plastic ball having apparently dissipated.

And yet, the dog was still thrilled. All it would take for that dog to achieve complete and total happiness was for that girl to throw the ball across the yard. It would rush frantically for it, then return, patiently awaiting its next fix of euphoria - a perfect temporary happiness.

The kitchen door opened and slammed shut. A disheveled and tired looking April dropped about a hundred pounds worth of baggage on the floor before collapsing onto the couch beside M.

“So,” she said, “Has the kid managed to fall into the fire yet?”

“Nope,” M grabbed a beer from the six pack at her feet and handed it to April, “So far she’s just sat there with a dog. How was Christmas?”

“Awful,” said April, bitterly, “As always. Mom bitched about my weight, Dad got really drunk, my sister announced that she’d had a spiritual revelation and was joining a commune in New Mexico and my Aunt Rita reminded us all that there’s a very good chance she might be dead next year. It was a magical evening.”

“Was Monte there?”

“No.” April lit a cigarette, “He wisely decided to go to his roommate’s for Christmas. Lucky bastard.”

“Probably for the best.” said M. “Yeah, you’re probably right. The amount of bullshit going down at the dinner, who knows how we might have decided to blow off steam.”

“No pun intended?”

“Of course not,” April grinned, “How was it at your house?”

“It was good,” said M, “It was nice to see everyone again. I hadn’t been home in a while. My grandmother still refuses to call me anything other than “Emilia” but apart from that, nothing particularly upsetting happened. It was mostly my parents talking about light.”

“At least they weren’t talking about cults.”

“Fair enough.”

They returned their attention to the picture window. The dog was gone, and the little girl was gleefully tearing shiny paper off a cardboard box. A few moments and a significant amount of excited screeching later and the box was eventually revealed to contain a large, stuffed pony with a colorful mane and glittering tail. The little girl was so ecstatic she nearly threw the toy into the fire.

“Someone just made that kid’s life.” said April. “Who knew a stuffed pony was so significant?”

“Oh,” April suddenly moved off the couch towards her luggage on the floor, “I almost forgot. I got you something.” She dug through her bag and eventually unearthed a thin package wrapped in blue, snowflake patterned wrapping. She handed it to M.

“Happy, uh, whatever,” she said, sitting herself back down, “You can pick the holiday, it doesn’t really matter.”

M stared down at it, taking a moment to examine the impressive wrapping job. There were only a few things it could be, and yet, as she carefully removed the wrapping paper, she was shocked to find the album she had been looking for for months beneath the packaging.

“Oh my god,” she said, speechless, “How did you find this?”

“There’s this CD in my town runned by these two guys who I’m pretty sure killed someone a few years back. One of them is really into obscure 90’s industrial. He knew exactly where to find it.”

“Oh my god,” said M, again, “Thank you so much. I can’t believe you found this. I had just sort of assumed I’d be doomed to listening to awful rips of it on YouTube.”

“Merry Christmas,” said April, smiling. M didn’t know what to say. She’d never been so thrilled by a gift in her life. The excitement of it almost made her forget her own present.

“I don’t know if this will top that,” she said, hastily pulling the poorly-wrapped gift from under the couch, “But, um, Merry Christmas. Or Happy New Year. Whatever.”

April accepted the gift and immediately tore the wrapping to pieces. Beneath it was a clear, plastic box containing a detailed statue of an outrageously dressed man.

“It’s the Goblin King,” said M, a bit nervous, “From Labyrinth?”

“Um, obviously,” said April, “he’s only all over my room. Holy shit, M, this must have cost a fucking fortune.”

“My cousin collects film memorabilia,” she explained, “he had two of these, for some reason.”

“Holy shit,” said April, again, ripping the packaging apart and putting the statue on display on the coffee table.

“God,” she sighed, “It’s so tacky and ridiculous, but so sexy.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

“I fucking love it,” said April, staring at it, “this is so much better than anything my parents gave me.”

“I’m glad I got the right movie,” said M. She had never been particularly interested in the movie, or particularly attracted to it’s bizarre star, but she knew the mere mention of it excited April.

“Put on your album,” said April, staring happily at the statue. M hesitated.

“It’s industrial,” she pointed out, “It’s not exactly Christmas music.”

“Fuck Christmas music,” said April, “It’s New Years Eve. Put it on. If I hate it, I have the Goblin King.”

In an instant, M had the CD in her laptop. The first song began and she had to restrain herself from shrieking as joyously as the girl next door. The album was hard to find, but brilliant - a masterpiece of ambient and aggressive sound tragically lost to the ether of obscurity. She had wanted it for years, and had never imagined she’d actually have it in her hands.

“Thank you so much,” she said, for what felt like the thousandth time.

“Thank you,” April replied, “Happy New Year.”

“Happy New Year.”

Outside, the fire was almost gone, and most of the neighbors had gone inside. The little girl’s pony lay on a picnic table by the embers, forgotten by it’s new owner.

“So much for the excitement of a pony.”

“Kids,” said April, rolling her eyes, “Oh my god.”

6. Heaven  

“Oh my god.” 
“You came to see me?” 
“It’s so good to see you.” 
“I missed you.” 
“You did?” 
“No one else will speak to me.” 
“Plenty of people speak to you.” 
“Not like you did.” 
“Like I used to.” 
“How did it get so bad?” 
“I don’t know. I think it just happens.” 
“I miss you.” 
“I miss you too. But I’m not really here.” 

“What?” April nearly spit out the wine.

“I might not be human.” M repeated.

April took a large gulp, and laughed nervously.

“You’re fucking with me,” she said, “You’re drunk.”

“I never get drunk,” said M, “I’ve tried. It’s something human I’ve never been able to accomplish.”

They were silent. The mood on the couch was frustratingly tense, and M’s heart sank as she realized she had probably just made a terrible mistake. She had never told anyone this, and had felt April deserved to know, but it was a gamble. Most people picked up on her peculiar nature without even having to be told. April was rare in that, not only had she noticed there was something odd about M, but she liked it, and just thought it made her more interesting. She was the closest friend she’d ever had, and M was desperate not to lose her.

She sighed, prepared for the worst. April stared at her, clearly working through something.

“Is that why you have two different colored eyes?” she said, finally.


“I’ve always wondered about that,” she continued, “Because plenty of people have un-matching eyes, you know? It’s a legit condition. But there’s something different about yours.”

“No one’s ever asked me that before,” said M, “In baby pictures, both my eyes are brown. My parents never told me when they changed, or why. They actually haven’t told me that much about my childhood at all. And there’s a lot I don’t remember.”

“So, are you, like, an alien?”

“I don’t know,” said M, “Sometimes I feel so human, and I’m sure I can’t be. And then other times, things affect me in a way they shouldn’t, like how I can’t get drunk. I went to the dentist with my cousin once, when I was a kid, and I could see the x-ray. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I swear, I could see it. It was like a stage light.”

“Have you seen, like, an actual doctor?” April suggested.

“My parents never took me to one,” said M, “Ever. They can’t even remember the name of the hospital I was supposedly born in. I’ve never even seen my birth certificate. To be honest, I’m terrified of doctors. If I see one, I have no idea what they’ll find.”

“But wouldn’t it finally answer the question of who you are? I feel like it would take away a hell of a lot of inner turmoil.”

“You have no idea how badly I want to be human,” M insisted, “I try so hard to connect with people, to feel like I understand them, but this weird...I don’t know, otherness that I have always gets in the way. I’ve never been able to keep a friendship going. If I find out for sure I’m not human, there will be no point in even trying anymore. Relationships define life here, if I can’t form them, there will be no point in living.”

M turned, and met April’s uneasy gaze.

“I know this is bizarre, and it probably sounds kind of crazy,” she said, “But, as weird as it is, I really don’t want this to change us. Will it?”

April stared at M’s uncoordinated eyes. She had thought of them as eccentric. They were distinctive, they were one of the many things that made M who she was. Now they were a little unsettling.

“No.” she said, defiantly, “It won’t.”

M smiled.

“Good.” she said, “I was hoping it wouldn’t.”

They broke eye contact. April handed the wine over to M who, despite having just admitted that she was incapable of being drunk, drank a fairly impressive amount of it before handing it back.

“So,” said M, with a burp, “Fucking your cousin was the best sex you’ve ever had?”

April rolled her eyes.

“Shit, don’t give me that again.”

8. Realization
“Don’t give me that again.” 
“What happened?” 
“I saw things.” 
“It was only a sedative.” 
“It makes me see things.” 
“Are they nice things?” 
“They’re exactly what I want.” 
“Then I’ll give you more.” 
“No. I don’t want to see things that aren’t real.” 
“Why not?” 
“I want to feel every bit of torture.” 
“Because it’s real.”

“Because it’s real!” April shouted into the phone, “Wasn’t that what we’d said? Or was that just me? Are you fucking kidding me? You know what, fine, go off and do whatever it is you need to do. Fuck it. I don’t care. Just don’t plan on speaking to me, or fucking me, ever again!”

April pounded at the “End Call” button with more force than was probably necessary and lobbed her phone at the Labyrinth poster across the room.

“Sorry, Jareth.” she said, bitterly, as if the man on the poster were real. M raised an eyebrow from her place on April’s bed.

“That didn’t sound good.”

“Fucking asshole,” April muttered, furiously lighting a cigarette, “he’s like ‘I’m getting back together with my ex’ which is bad enough considering he told me he loved me last weekend, but then on top of it he’s all ‘but we can still fool around in the meantime’ like I’m still going to want to fuck him even though he just dumped me for the possibility of being with the chick he dumped last year. What the fuck?”

“If it helps,” said M, “if he does get back together with her, I have a feeling that relationship isn’t going to end well.”

“Motherfucker!” April flopped onto the bed next to M, eyes fixed on the Labyrinth poster she’d thrown her phone at.

“Why can’t there be more men like him?”

“The Goblin King?”

“Yes,” said April, with anguish, “god, he’s like, perfect.”

“Ok, first of all,” M began, “I’m pretty sure the guy that plays him is in his sixties now. Secondly, If I remember the movie correctly, doesn’t he kidnap what's-her-name’s brother, trap her in a mostly rigged Labyrinth, and then drug her with a peach?”

“Well yeah,” April admitted, “But he re-orders time for her. And, have you seen his pants?”

“Yes.” said M, remembering them as an image she consistently wished she hadn’t seen. “But, again, he’s as old as my grandmother now.”

“I’m not talking about the actor, I’m talking about the character.”

“The character that isn’t real?”

“The character that should be.”

“Really?” M was skeptical, “If he was, I really don’t think it would result in a particularly healthy, or functional relationship.”

“Thanks for that, M,” said April, suddenly terse.

“What? It’s true.” said M, confused, “You always seem to be attracted to these guys that come with some sort of toxic obstacle, like a girlfriend, or a drug habit, or a passing resemblance to a villainous goblin king. It’s like the Monte thing.”

“Monte!” said April, suddenly, “I wonder what he’s doing tonight?”

“April, no.” said M, firmly, “You two broke it off, remember? You’re cousins.”

“But I love him,” said April, matter-of-factually as she began a desperate search for her phone.

“No you don’t,” said M, “You’re in love with the idea of being in a taboo relationship. You’re attracted to the obstacle.”

April stopped searching. She glared at M with the same intensity she’d had on the phone.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s like every other time you end up back in a bad relationship,” said M, slightly anxious from April’s glare, “And then, when it ends badly and the guy turns out to be a dick, you hate him with every bit of passion you’ve got in you. You and Monte decided what you had was unhealthy and you broke it off, why don’t you keep it that way so you don’t have to hate him? Shouldn’t good, real relationships be simple?”

 April just stared.

“Fuck you.”


“Fuck you.”

“I’m sorry?” M was baffled.

“You heard me,” said April, “Fuck you. You have no idea what the fuck this feels like.”

“Then talk to me,” said M, “What are you feeling?”

“No, I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Well you can’t just sit around and stew.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you do it’ll just keep eating at you,” said M, “I’m sorry if I said the wrong thing, but I keep watching this happen, and I don’t want it to destroy you.”

April was silent and still, and yet somehow still managed to give off the impression that at any second she would burst. The negativity radiating off of her was practically visible.

“Get out.” she said.


“Get the fuck out of here,” April repeated, “I don’t want to talk about this, you won't understand.”

“Then make me understand.”

“You can’t!” April spat, “You’re probably physically incapable. You only want to understand because you find it interesting, not because you actually give a shit. You just want to feel more fucking human.”

“April, I -”

“No, I can’t do this, if you won’t leave, I will.”

Before M could stop her, April stormed out of the room. M stood alone, anxious, and for the first time since she’d met April, afraid.

“What just happened?”

8. Realization  

“What just happened?” 
“We’ve called in a few more experts.” 
“Did you?” 
“It won’t help.” 
“We’re getting closer to results.” 
“Are you?” 
“Then why are you calling in backup?” 
“Second opinions.” 
“You don’t have any results.” 
“Yes, we do.” 
“You’re just going to keep testing me and testing me.” 
“We’re going to reach a conclusion.” 
“I’m going to be in more and more pain.” 
“We’ll figure this out.” 
“And you will never know what I am.”

“You will never know what I am?” April repeated, mockingly, “Are you seriously pulling that, M?”

M sat in a somewhat unattractive heap on the floor of her bedroom. The floor was cold, and for the first time, she wished she had taken April’s carpeted room upstairs. Or, at the very least, invested in a rug. Anything to make the situation warmer.

“Please calm down,” she said, quietly.

“And that!“ April shouted, “You know nothing pisses me off more than being told to calm down.”

“I’m sorry.”

 “Stop saying sorry!”

“But then, what do I -”

“I don’t know!”

April ran her fingers through her hair, “just...say anything else.”

“I apologize, April,” said M, seriously, “Profusely.”

April paced back and forth. She alternated between taking short, irritated drags from her cigarette and biting at her already short fingernails.

“I just can’t believe you did something like that.” she said, quietly.

“It didn’t work though,” M pointed out, “Did it?”

“Yeah, thank god you’re probably a fucking alien.”

“April -”

“M.” April sighed, “Just...when something’s wrong, when you’re feeling, you know, like this, tell me. Talk to me.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to lose you.”

“What the fuck?” April took a particularly long, desperate drag, “Where the fuck do you think I’m going?”

“I don’t know,” said M, “I’ve had a lot of friends decide they can’t deal with me. It’s a huge burden to have to deal with someone who doesn’t even know what they are. Sometimes I feel like I just wasn’t meant to be here..”

“Don’t say that!”

“I’m sorry -”

“And don’t say sorry! Fuck, M.”

“I just...” M sighed, “I wish I could make this have never happened.”

“Well, you can’t.” said April, bitterly.

“I know.”

“So what do we do?” April lit another cigarette. She was burning through them.

“How many more of those are you going to have?” asked M.

“Are you really going to tell me what to do after this?”

“How many?”

April reached into her back pocket and pulled out an entirely new pack. She unwrapped it and flashed its complete contents at M.

“Just a few more today.”

9. Bodhisattva  

 “Just a few more today.” 
“I overheard your conversation.” 
“Which one?” 
“The one with your supervisor.” 
“I don’t know what -” 
“You don’t have results.” 
“As I said -” 
“You’re going to lose your job.” 
“I’m not the only one on this project.” 
“And so will they.” 
“So, I’ll keep trying. I’m a professional.” 
“And as a professional, you know its useless.” 
“Nothing is useless.” 
“This is. It’s alright. I’ll take care of it.” 
“I can’t let you -” 
“Just leave it there. Tell them I took it.” 
“But -” 
“It’s alright.”

“It’s alright,” said M, nodding to give April her approval to enter the room, “But no, I haven’t seen it.”

April glanced around M’s room. She seemed annoyed at having to be there.

“Are you sure?” she demanded.

M sighed.

They were coexisting. She couldn’t really call it anything else. They rarely spoke outside of basic questions, and rarely spent time together outside their rooms. Somehow, the shift seemed natural. And yet, their lingering, mostly ignored tension was starting to gnaw at them.

“I’m sure.”

April stood in her doorway, scanning the bedroom. There was a pause. M watched her.

“If you did take it,” said April, after a moment, “You should really just tell me.”

“Why would I take your vodka?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Much as she didn’t want to admit it, April had a point. On a particularly bad night, M had stolen a good portion of April’s vodka. Predictably, it hadn’t even done anything. And yet, despite her obvious guilt, M still felt slighted by the question. Yes, she had done it before, but this time she legitimately hadn’t. April should trust her.

She stared her down.

“I did not take your vodka.”

April looked away.

“Fine,” she said, “whatever. Just stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like that.”

“The way I always do?”

April glared at the floor. Somehow, the fact that she couldn’t look M in the eyes made it all the worse.

“Fuck this,” she said, “I don’t want to do this right now.”

“Do what?”

“This.” April looked like she about ready to get violent. M could feel their tension like a tangible force - another moment like this, and it would strangle them both.

“I’ll go check my room again.” said April, suddenly.


They turned away from each other, April towards the hallway, and M towards her desk. In another time, they probably would have glanced back, and wondered about each other. Now they knew everything there was to know about the other, and there was nothing either of them could do about it.

An anguished, frustrated scream came from upstairs. M heard something break, and tumble downwards. She turned, and at the foot of the stairs outside her door lay the remains of the Goblin King. At an earlier time, she would have been upset. But now, she understood.

She put her headphones back in, and found the playlist with the album April had given her last Christmas. She hadn’t listened to it in months. She tried to tell herself she could, that in fact, she had every right to.

 “But,” she said, sighing as she switched playlists, “I can’t.”

10. Buddha  

“But, I can’t -” 
“You should use that word less.” 
“Should I just -” 
“Everything is alright.” 
“But, we’ll never know.” 
“You’re not meant to.” 
“...you’ll never know.” 
“I’m not meant to either.” 
“Don’t you want to?” 
“I don’t want anything anymore. I don’t need it.” 
“Should I say something?” 
“Like what?” 
“A prayer?” 
“If you’d like.” 
“I don’t know.” 
“Then just let me go.” 
“I’m going to inject you.” 
“Thank you.” 
“Thank you.” 
“Tell April...” 
“Tell April, I’m glad I met her.”

“I’m glad I met her,” said M, moments away from hyperventilating, “Am I?”

She could swear the walls were closing in on her. The room was smaller than her closet, and the restrictive handcuffs weren’t helping. She had been worrying about this moment since the beginning. And yet, there had been a significant amount of time in which she had honestly been convinced it would never come.

But of course, here it was.

Coming downstairs and not finding April hadn’t been too much of a shock. April rarely left her room these days. She hadn’t noticed anything was going on until she checked her phone.  

Not surprised you didn’t answer my last text. Being fucking polite is only human. If you survive, don’t try to contact me again.

M had spent about three minutes contemplating the meaning of the text before it became abundantly clear.

There was a knock on the front door, and within minutes, she was escorted from the apartment and thrown into the back of a van. Inside, everything was confiscated. If April had anything she wanted to say to her, she would never be able to.

And now she was here. Alone.

Things had gone so wrong. A part of her had known it would, but another, more emotionally charged part had so badly hoped it wouldn’t. There was a time when April could understand her better than anyone else. They had needed each other - they weren’t just friends, they were dependents. Every element of their daily lives had included the other one, and for the longest time, that’s how they were comfortable living.

For the longest time, M had actually felt human.

How it gotten so bad? How had they reached this point? Weren’t friends supposed to last forever? Isn’t that what they taught you in movies? If you formed a connection with someone, it meant you were connected, didn’t it? It couldn’t just go bad, like rotting fruit, there was something special about it. Wasn’t there? Or was it just, as everything else was, a matter of potentiality?

Because, of course, every fruit has the potential to go rotten. By that logic, she reasoned, every friendship had the potential to fall apart. No matter how profound your relationship might seem, for even moment you’re in Heaven, there’s the potential for Hell.

She wondered where April was now - what she was doing and thinking. Their relationship had become toxic, and had ultimately led to where she was now, but for some completely inexplicable reason, M still wanted to see her. Somewhere in the irrational part of her that had honestly believed she would have a best friend forever, she was still clinging to the idea that they could work it out. There had to be a way, she just needed to talk to her.

The door opened and several doctors entered. They took turns looking her over, paying specific attention to her eyes. They discussed tests and funding and the ways in which this project would inevitably change the future of scientific thought. M barely listened. With every word, her future was more solidly confirmed.

She would never see April again. Her life as she had recently known it, was over. They would never speak, and never patch things up. Every relationship has the potential to be the greatest of human experience, and theirs had always had the potential to go to Hell. She understood that now.

But, did that make her human?

She sighed, and realized she no longer cared. Despite whatever the doctors were about to do to her, there was a good chance she would never know. She was, inevitably, right back where she started.