Remained | Small Structures – Ep. 31

My parents took their camper and left California, for good, tired of the high taxes and “the left,” and headed out east. Funny enough though, I remained, in Weaverton, in an apartment not too far from my old middle school. My new job wasn’t great, to say the least. All my education and work experience, I managed to get a dishwashing job at a terrible restaurant called Sully’s. I wasn’t good at the job, but there were times, at work, where I was able to keep away from everything else, to isolate my mind and let it drift. And plus, I guess the job wasn’t all that bad; in some ways, it was better than sitting in front of a monitor all day, but I still struggled, financially and otherwise.

I changed, I felt, not significantly, but just enough to feel at ease for a little bit longer. Soon, however, a new obstacle will render itself and I would have to adapt.

But, another thing started to occur. There were times when something stirred in between shadows. I remember one night lying in bed after a long day at work I saw it in the doorway. A white shape, completely still. My eyes adjusted and tried to focus. Soon, I saw a face. It was blurry, but I was able to tell that it sat above a night gown.

“Mom?” I turned on the light, but the thing dispersed. There were other sights as well that tugged at me just in the moments before and after sleep. At first, I was scared, then I learned to live with the phantoms.

“Burt?” One day, I saw him walking down the street. He turned around and smiled.

“Hey, man.” He was wearing the uniform of his family’s restaurant.

“How’s it going?”

“Alright. Just on my break. I’m, uh, delivering pizzas now. Again.” He shrugged and nodded.

“I take it you lost your place in the fire?”

“Yep. You?”

I nodded.

“Well, that’s fun.” He took a hit off his cigarette and blow smoke from the corner of his mouth. We stood there on the sidewalk for a moment.

“Look,” he finally said. “I never apologized to you. I mean, if you remember, I was kind of a dick to you. To a lot of people.” He flicked his cigarette onto the concrete and smothered it with his foot. “Don’t know if that means anything, or if you care. Probably shoulda said this sooner, but…”

I didn’t know what to say. My mouth just sputtered out some words of gratitude on its own.

“Yeah…still writing? You were writing, right?”

“A little bit. But not so much now. I guess it wasn’t for me.”

“Right. Right. Well, hope you find your ‘something’ then…Yep. Probably should get going. Fuck…” He took a sip from a styrofoam coffee cup. I had a feeling it wasn’t filled with coffee, however, since, as he spoke, his mouth reeked of booze.

“Um, take care. Alright?”

“Yeah, you too.” And he was off.

For a while, I wondered if Burt genuinely felt remorse, or if it was merely a sense of guilt he was obligated, for selfish reasons, to abate. I also wondered how much Burt was aware of himself. He seemed average intellectually, and a slave to his own desires; however, the couple of times I spoke with him, there seemed to be a sense of misery that quietly trembled in his throat. But, despite this, I had a feeling he would never change. This was a fate of a lot of people, including myself. But, why was I so obsessed with change, anyway? Was it because it was the only signifier I could recognize of what it meant to actually live? One who never changed or experienced growth was living a common death. In the past, such questions would have tormented me, now they delighted me, in a weird way, as they made me stare at myself and realize how absurd I was sometimes. Because such questions don’t really have answers, at least ones that I could get to. I needed to focus on something else. Something unique to me instead of trying to be deep, trying to figure out the dark, hidden language of life.

But then, what was I? Some say that everyone is good at something. But I don’t think that’s true. Maybe I’m cynical, but it always seemed like something con artists would try to sell to the gullible who needed to feel better about themselves. And, even if one is good at something, what if they never discover it, or, worse, it fades away? My dad was good at music, though he never seemed to satisfy him, fully. As a result, he never fulfilled his potential. Conversely, my mom was a star athlete, but now she is older, having reached the peak of her athletic prowess decades ago.

So, maybe I’m not good at anything; maybe I don’t have something innate that distinguishes me from the anonymous crowd. But maybe that’s for the best because there is a responsibility in greatness. I don’t have a responsibility to anyone; I don’t even have a responsibility to myself. But, as a result, I don’t have purpose. And maybe that was the purpose of that dream: to help me cope with this condition by recognizing that the entire universe is drifting along, as well, without purpose or meaning. All was silly. All was absurd, and to try to establish meaning and stability was even more absurd.

There was a utility in this perspective, but it had its limits, I felt. Because people are inherently absurd things. We are creatures that don’t see themselves that way who live in a society that imposes certain expectations on them. This strange nature has brought man to where he is now, but it also has brought a suffering that not even achievement could fully wash away. And, I still worried that, at the end of a life living as a dandy or wanderer, or would come to the realization that I had wasted something, even if life, in of itself, was just an odd mistake.

So, as I entered my apartment, I realized I was in the same place as before. I still had dreams, but I no longer commanded them in the way I had done before. Perhaps, I lost my ability to discern the life of sleep from waking reality, allowing me to lucid dream, or, perhaps, I had given-up. And, sometimes, I would sit alone at my computer and stop to wait for something that never occurred. For a broken melody that used to be plunked from behind the walls of my old apartment. I thought about where that person was and hoped that they didn’t give-up like I had, assuming that they had survived. And so things go.

I was still alone. Every once in a while, I reached-out to my parents. They were usually busy doing something–various projects or going out with the new friends they’ve made. This was a good thing, of course, but it made me realize how little of a life I had occupied. Every once in a while, I would see a familiar face in town, other than Burt’s, but their existences were completely separate from mine. Sometimes I would chat with my coworkers, but most were younger than I was and I had a hard time relating to them. For a while, I thought leading a social life “wasn’t for me” and, thus, tried to focus on things I actually enjoyed, but there are just some things that you cannot deny as part of your existence. I was still human, a social creature, who was defined by others and still secretly sought company, even if minute.

But, occasionally I still had fragments of that dream, the one I had created and tried to control long ago. And each time I experienced a fragment, something new would cut through me. But the feeling would fade as morning fed through the window. At least there was something there, even if momentary, like a bug spinning in the endless water.


Today’s prompt: Sully

So yeah. This is the final installment of the writing challenge for the month of July. So, not really big fan of the ending, or the middle…thought the beginning was okay. Anyway, I’ll probably do a more in-depth retrospective sometime soon, but for now I’m just glad it’s over. And if you have no idea what this is yet you decided to read this installment anyway, click here to read from the beginning, if you want.

A Shift | Small Structures – Ep. 30

When I woke-up I immediately started writing. Miraculously, it was still night, as I sat at the edge of the bed, scribbling into a notebook. I wrote down what had just occurred, fortunately, every little thing was still vivid. What was strange thought was after every other word, I would start laughing. And the more I wrote, the more I laughed. I laughed at every absurd detail, every strange and surreal scene my mind had conjured. But, I especially laughed at the little “life” that I had conjured in the flame. How absurd and silly a person I was to fantasize in such a way. I tried to stifle the laughter lest I wake-up the rest of the house, but it was hard to contain. I laughed so much I started to sweat and my head ached. Once I wrote everything down I marveled at all the pages I managed to fill in such a short time. I flipped through the pages, felt how the paper became rough and distorted from my pen. I sighed and closed the notebook and tucked it away in my closet, never to be read again.

Things unfurled. It took awhile, but I eventually got a job in town, and started looking for my own apartment. My mom was concerned of course. She said that she was happy that I found work, but worried that I was selling myself short for taking something that was below my previous pay. I shrugged. I didn’t care, but not in a way that was dismissive of myself and the future; I didn’t care because any job would have been the same to me.

All my worries, all my anxieties, all my goals, all these things were still there, but they were forced into a different perspective. It was like peering at one’s self through another. But it didn’t feel like I was detached, but it was a weird kind of awareness. And it wasn’t just myself. Life had, at that point, became less of a tangible thing and more like a dream. Something that was strange, but also silly and absurd. Something that floated along to its own current. Or, perhaps, I had just found a new way of coping.

And the strangest thing was that none of this felt decided. I didn’t flip on a switch or tell myself that this was how life was now. It just sort of happened, as if it was always there, after that feverish night.


Today’s prompt: Surreal experience

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Gazing at the Dream | Small Structures – Ep. 29

Things clarified themselves. I marched through the smoke, but it wasn’t painful; I was able to breathe. I saw the houses on each side, yet the smoke still cloaked them. It was as if I could see through the grey without its existence being dismissed from sight. Instead of making the smoke disappear, I allowed it to thicken and consume all, while I continued on in a direction only I knew. And before I knew it, fire twisted around me, flames gliding around my skin. I looked down and watched as my flesh melted and spilled off my fingers. My eyes pulled away to the fire ravaging around me.

But then, it stopped. I had seen something, a mirror within the flame. A dream within a dream. I had seen a whole lifetime cupped within these passing hours: I become derelict after surviving the fire, growing-up on the streets, stealing, getting into fights. However, a benefactor soon finds me, a wealthy businessman and artist who takes me in and grooms me. He dies before passing along his fortune and businesses onto me. I soon become even more respected and powerful than he ever was. I become a great artist and politician, and through my elegant words I move the entire nation away from its own destruction. But then, I see my mother. Scarred and mutilated by the fires years ago. I had abandoned her and she has come back to haunt me. I’m able to shirk off the scandal and my public image is restored, but, internally, I am shaken. I abandon the world I have built. I give-up my possessions, my duties, my roles. I visit my mom who is confined to a bed, face wrapped in bandages. She tells me something that only I could hear, something that she never told me before. And I leave her, once again, forever. I see myself walking up a hill, away from me. Away from what was. Where I go I couldn’t decide, so that’s where the vision ended. The backside of a dream escaping to the sky. Or to somewhere I can’t see.

As the dream faded, the flames receded back into the earth. I looked around and saw the blackened earth, a field of bones and ash. There was no more smoke. No more sirens. Just the air which sat silent upon all. And the blue sky stretching on and on. Was it peace? Was it contentment that invaded my bones? Or something more? Something less? Whatever it was, it made me feel like I was a denizen of this dream, not its creator, as I moved my eyes across its landscape. This destruction didn’t feel like my own, or anyone else’s. But something that was beyond creation, beyond words, beyond emotions. I felt like a dream gazing at a dream. And then, I was gone.


Today’s prompt: She never told me

Click here to read from the beginning.

 

 

Control | Small Structures – Ep. 28

I heard the screams. Sounded like mom. I bolted up the stairs. I could smell it. I went to the backdoor and saw the smoke pressing against the glass.

“Mom? Dad?” I ran through the house, searching darkened hallways and empty rooms. But I couldn’t find them. I ran outside. The sky was orange and intermingled with the smoke. I jumped into the car and reversed out of the driveway. Suddenly, as I started down the street, there was a crowd. They quickly surrounded my car, their hands pounding against the windows. I yelled at them to stop, but their faces swarmed around me. That’s when I pressed on the gas, and the bodies in front of me started to fly and roll along the sides of the car, and I darted through the smoky neighborhood.

“Maybe they took the camper,” I tried to convince myself that they were safe. Suddenly I was at the pier. A lone firefighter waved at me and I leapt out of the car, and I joined the line of people trying to escape. I looked back and the smoke covered the horizon, inching closer and closer to us.

We were quickly escorted onto the ship. The sails unraveled themselves and we were off. The smoke followed us, but soon stopped as we sailed deeper and deeper into the ocean.

The sky above us was overcast. People were given roles on the ship. I was scrubbing the floorboards and the mast. Something compelled me to stop as my eyes peered over to the distance. There it was: a whale tail rising from the grey seas.

“Look ye there!” One of the nearby sailors pointed. “My God! Thar she blows!”

And over to my right, I heard the laughter of two other sailors. “Told ya he would say it. Where’s my nickel?” One of the sailors pulled out a silver locket and dropped it into the other’s while muttering to himself.

“Man the stations!” Suddenly, everyone turned into a blur, bodies rushing around the deck of the ship, but I stayed where I was. Looking down I saw the captain, a three year-old in Napoleonic garb and a giant hat. “This won’t be the end!”

Suddenly, I was on a smaller boat, floating along with other sailors, and to our side was the whale, pinned to the side of our boat, net draped over its flesh. Its skin was filled with holes and tiny mouths. I looked into its black eye and it stared back at me.

As we approached our ship in the distance I leaned over and placed my hand in the water, swishing it around. That’s when I realized it. On closer inspection, the water wasn’t grey, but a translucent blue-green; I pulled my hand out and smiled. This was a dream.

Suddenly, the boat, the ship, and the whale: we were all surrounded by the edges of my parents’ pool. My dad was over there, skimming the surface of the pool with his net. Did he see us? And on the hillside behind him was a fire, but there was no smoke. It just silently burned there.

I was back on the deck of the ship and saw the faces of the crew and passengers. They all looked like what I imagined the European settlers looked like when they first came to the Americas. Their faces were silent as they stared at me, as if waiting for judgement. But I turned away, and started walking on top of the pool. I was now in control.

Tired of walking, I let my body slip into the pool, its water filling the space around me with its cool touch. Soon, I pulled myself out of the pool and sat beside dad who was still skimming the pool for leaves and debris.

We had a pleasant conversation until I noticed his attention frequently turning away. I followed his eyes and found a television monitor fixed into the wall of the house. We were then teleported into the living room where he was watching the pundits on FOX news. That’s when I decided, “Hm, fuck it,” and got into a debate with the old man. The discussion covered a range of topics, and every argument that he countered with I smugly toppled, citing not just the factual inconsistencies and fallacies he was employing, but the emotional impetus of his words. And I would end and restart the debate, wiping my dad’s memory each time, searching for an end to the discussion that was both satisfactory, to me, while being logical to who my dad was.

Until, I said, “Dad, why are you so angry all the time? You watch this crap at TV, allow these people to yell at you and make you afraid that the media and the Left are trying to ruin this country? But, can’t you see the bigger picture? Why can’t you see the nuances? You’re allowing these people to manipulate you. I know you won’t admit it, but they are preying on you so that you vote against your interests. They want you to be afraid. They want you to be afraid of the “illegals” or “Iran” so that those in power can keep you complacent and scared while all of your hard-earned money ends-up going to concentration camps and drone strikes. You’re allowing these people to profit off misery because you see everything as an ‘us versus them’ situation because it’s easier to see the world that way. But, you’re smarter than that. Right? Would you rather the government spend more on the military than on things like healthcare for all and renewable energy?”

But, he just sat there, blankly. His mouth opened, about to say something, but then I swiped him, and the rest of the room, away with a brush of the hand, leaving only a white void surrounding me. I knew what he was going to say wasn’t what I wanted to here, even though I was controlling pretty much everything he spoke. It may have been cathartic to “own” him and to properly diagnose him, declaring that I knew him better than he knew himself, but it wasn’t satisfactory. None of it was real, and it just made me feel like I was different than what I thought of myself.

I stood-up in the void and sighed. Now what? Suddenly, a paintbrush formed in my hand, and I started painting below me. An array of watercolors bloomed from the brush, and slowly spread across the void. What did it create? I decided on a grassy hillside. One that never existed, except in previous dreams, except now it seemed more real. Maybe I had been here before, in real life.

Over there, was a table which seated a bunch of people. Friends I hadn’t seen in ages, Agnes and her master, and the poetry club from the now-gone bookstore. They were all talking enthusiastically and eating all sorts of colorful fruits and meats. And they were all happy and fulfilled. Each one of them has accomplished something in their life. They may have suffered, but their suffering meant something. Now they were great artists, scientists, thinkers. Conversing the issues of the world with passion and zeal. Thought-provoking theories and questions danced above the table, their words providing insight to the air.

And I stood over them, listening and watching without having to engage. Was this the highest form of life? Was this the epitome of our existence? Normally, I wouldn’t be sure, but here, I was content no matter the answers.

A hand reached out and held mine. She smiled up at me. A pure smile, one that came from nothing, but a place of sheer joy and contentment. She pulled me away from the table and soon we were on top of each other on the grass. He kissed and caressed each other. Every time I opened my eyes her face changed. One moment she was someone from my past, another a celebrity, and another, an invention that seemed more real than the grass or the sky above. Everyone at the table came and watched over us, laughing and basking in the beauty and passion of the moment. But then, I stopped. I looked up from her face and I was suddenly locked onto something in the distance. A schoolboy sitting at a desk.

Back in my room, the morning sun blaring in the window. I checked the time before heading off into the kitchen. Despite the abrupt end I still felt satisfied, and a little sad that I was now back to reality so soon. But what lingered still carried me as I headed up the stairs. I stopped and looked at the Christmas tree. The ornaments glistening, and the lights twinkling.

I pulled a glass milk bottle from the fridge and poured some on the stove.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

I turned and saw my mom who was in a white nightgown, her hair unfurled and dirty. I didn’t say anything. We both stared at each other. And then her face twitched. A cockroach emerged from her skin and traveled down her grey face.

“What’s going on here?” My dad stepped inside from the backdoor, holding the pool net. “GODDAMN IT!” He slammed his fist down and glass shattered around him.

My eyes opened. The room was dark, and I still heard my father’s voice echo across my skull. “Fuck.”

“Yeah, that was terrible.” I sat up.

“That was weird,” I said to Burt. We were both seated at the same booth at Romero’s as before.

“So, what were we talking about?”

“I don’t know,” I yawned. “Something about baby powder?”

“You okay, you look tired?”

“Yeah. Just a stupid dream.”

Burt took a sip of his coffee and then poured the rest down the wall. “Look at that. I’m an artist.” He smiled. “So, are you still lucid dreaming, or what?”

“What?” I stood up and looked around the restaurant. Fuck, am I still dreaming? Wait, yeah. Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be? Or was I always asleep?

Suddenly, I was standing in the middle of the road, staring up at the hills. The flames hissed as the smoke gathered around me. The houses on both sides were burning from the inside.

My eyes popped open with a scream.

“Eric!” I immediately sat-up and ran up the stairs. “Eric!” My mom was in the living room as she handed me a dog.

“What’s going on?”

“We got to get out of here! Grab everything you need. We’re being evacuated!”

I rushed down stairs, set the dog aside and grabbed all my favorite video games. Then I went into my room and found my backpack and made sure my homework was in there.

I ran out the door. My parents were filling up the camper and yelling at each other.

“Where’s the dog?” My mom asked.

“What?”

“Eric, you idiot!” My dad yelled and slapped me upside the head. He then ran back into the house.

“No!” My mom screamed after him. Suddenly, I looked down and the dog was in my hands, but I didn’t say anything.

“Oh no. NOOOOOOOOOO!” My mom collapsed at my feet, blood on her apron. “He’s dead!”

A fire engine pulled up next to us. “Come on! You have to get to the pier!” The pier? I dropped the dog which ran off into the smoke, yelping. And I started walking in the opposite direction.

“Eric?” My mom was still on the ground. “ERIC!”

I stopped. “OK. You can stop now. This is just a dream.”

“What the–Eric come on!”

“You have to go,” the fireman yelled at us. The fire engine drove past me and I continued walking, my mom screaming after me.


Today’s prompt: It blows

Click here to read from the beginning.

The Tree | Small Structures – Ep. 27

“Eric, would you be able to help your father with the tree?”

“No, I think I got it.”

“Are you sure?”

He nodded and went into the garage. It was the beginning of December. I was now living with my parents until I found a new job. But most days were spent in the downstairs area where I used to occupy my time when I was younger, watching TV on the couch.

Soon, dad emerged from the garage with the plastic Christmas tree, bound-up, and cambered up the steps. He was getting old, but was still capable, despite what others believed. But I wondered about when he would no longer be. Would he still be the same person, or would he deteriorate into something else? How much of oneself is defined by what they are able to do, or how much they are valued? I quickly turned away from such thoughts and looked at my laptop again, scrolled through more job listings, saw some for here, in town, and others further away.

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but I didn’t seem to care. If I ended-up being some fry cook here, in Weaverton, then that would be life from now on. My mom asked if I wanted to see someone, but me (and my dad) quickly shot down the idea. After all, despite losing quite a bit, I was still one of the lucky ones. There were many others who were still suffering, who lost loved ones or had become destitute, floating from shelter to shelter. But, humanity was a persistent thing; people had been through much worse throughout the centuries. Plague, famine, war. And people still have to contend with such things across the globe. Maybe I should have seen someone, but all that money that would be spent for what progress? I survived and tried to move on, not dwelling on the past.

Eventually, I went upstairs and helped mom decorate the tree. Everytime we decorated the tree together, she would talk about some of the ornaments she had received over the years, including a couple from me. While I thought decorating the tree was a tedious chore, she enjoyed it, perhaps it was one way of reconvening with the past in a positive way. Soon, the tree sparkled with various ornaments. “I wish we could keep it up all year,” she said.

“Why don’t you?”

She shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t want to be like those hillbillies who keep their trees up until July.” I thought this was odd. “But, it’s going to be sad taking it down. I remember our first christmas tree your father and I had when we first moved-out here. This was way before you were born. Your father haggled with the salesman for who knows how long and then, once the trouble of carrying it and propping it up in our apartment was done, there were pine needles everywhere. By the time Christmas rolled around it was bone-dry. Your father was so mad. He wanted things to be perfect. But, thankfully, this tree will stick around forever. You don’t have to water it. And putting it together is pretty easy. But, I kind of miss those days. When things were hard and imperfect. Don’t know why. Do you think you’ll ever…”

“Ever what?”

“I don’t know. Have your own tree with your own family?”

“Um, I don’t know. Probably not.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t see that happening for me.”

She smiled. “Oh, God. You men. Always so dour. I’m sure you’ll have your own family.”

“I have you guys.”

She didn’t say anything and continued looking at the tree. “You know, I just realized something.”

“What?”

“We forgot to put on the lights.”

“Oh…”

“Son of a bitch.”

“It’s alright.”

She sighed. “I’m going to get some wine before I do anything else.” She left the room, and I stood there, only with the tree. I sometimes wondered if my parents worried about me. Worried that I wouldn’t have my own life, that I would merely exist without a name. Despite their faults, they had lived their lives, experienced my moments and hardships that shaped them. But I remained shapeless. Sometimes I felt like I was barely a person. Like, when my mom told me her anecdote about their old tree I felt nothing, though I know I should have. Maybe there was something wrong with me. But, I looked at the tree and its ornaments, and tried to forget all of that, tried to take what I could from what remained of this moment.

 


Today’s prompt: First timer

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The Memory of Fire | Small Structures – Ep. 26

There was a line of us pushing down the road. All around us, including in front of us, was smoke. Cop cars blocked roads; sirens speeding past us. And the sky was a red eye quivering above.

The panic and terror were there, I felt them in my palms as they pressed against the steering wheel, but they were muted. It was as if my mind and body were on auto-pilot and were being tugged along slowly with everyone else down this road, not knowing what lied behind the smoke.

People who had to evacuate were stuffed into emergency shelters. I sat alone with the others.

Soon, I was able to reach my parents and friends. The next couple of days I awaited news of what my company was going to do. The office park was its only location. But, it didn’t matter. I didn’t spend much time in that facility; I hardly spoke to anyone, but it was interesting to see the wide array of reactions to this shared nightmare. People tried to connect to their loved ones. People were silent. People were angry, cursed at the staff and hated having to wait to use the restroom. And some people almost acted as if the fires didn’t occur. As things got better, I drove to my old building, or what remained of it.

Our building was gone. I had known this, but I didn’t feel it until I had witnessed the empty space that had gathered itself above the foundation. When I evacuated I had taken some important documents, food, water, clothing, and that’s it. I didn’t take my books, or my journal. All that was gone, along with everything else, to the fire. Dozens of structures were devoured by the flame including the office park, and the land that I once knew had been mutilated, changed. A couple of days and the fire was contained, but many homes had already been taken, and lives.

Some of the framing still stood, but the rest of the lot was just a pile of char, smoldering underneath a now-blue sky. I tried to find the remnants of something, something that indicated that there was life here once, perhaps pieces of my neighbor’s piano jutting out through the rubble, but it was all just a mangle of black debris, and dust waiting for the wind to pick it up and reshape it. I wasn’t able to get near where the office park was, but I was able to see half a building that somehow survived. I was certain that the ducks had flown away from the fire’s approach–I hoped.

There were big questions that squirmed at the edges of my brain, questions of what was next, but my mind refused focus; I was still on auto-pilot. I watched everyone’s suffering like a ghost whose name was lost among the ashes.

Brush fires dotted the surrounding towns and counties in the following weeks, but eventually the fire season silenced itself. Rain came and created mudslides out of the charred and loosened earth, and more damage was wrought.

While I was at the shelter I heard a story of how a group of people managed to put-out one of the brush fires that was about to encroach on their homes. I also heard about an elderly woman who was trapped in her home as it burned to the ground. I saw videos of horses escaping from the fire after their owners had no other choice but to let them loose from their pens. I also saw an image of a snake. It was coiled with its neck jutting out, its mouth open and teeth fixed for the sky. But the snake was frozen, its skin darkened. It must have been surrounded by the fire and its only defense, the only thing it has ever known, was to launch its venomous jaw as the flame gathered around it. But the snake was quickly smothered, but instead of being reduced to soot, the flame froze it into place. Instead of ash, it became an object, one that held the memory of fire, even as the world around it grew and healed itself. A structure held together by a now-faded destruction.


Today’s prompt: Save the world

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Displacement | Small Structures – Ep. 25

The first time I saw a wildfire was when I was a child back in Weaverton. It was a deep red scar spreading itself across the side of a hill, smoke emitting from its maw. My parents told me to take what was important so, of course, I made sure to grab my favorite video games. It was terrifying, but, in a strange way, exciting as well. It meant something new. A possible new life that we would be entering if the blaze reached our house. This was a part of me I didn’t want to admit and I allowed something else to displace it. Fortunately, we didn’t have to evacuate, but there were many properties that were consumed and dreamed into ash. People’s homes and possessions structured into smaller things, unrecognizable and anonymous.

The same shock that I experienced when I was a child came back to me as I saw the light in the window. Evacuation warnings sprang. The office was closed. I didn’t need to evacuate, yet, but I hurried to get gas in my car just in case. The sky was filled with orange and yellow. The smoke was in the distance, but its smell permeated everything. My parents messaged me, but I assured them that I was fine.

For a moment, after the fire had burned away homes and buildings, it was starting to be contained, but the day soon shifted, and the fire oozed forth. Our building was soon told to evacuate.


Today’s prompt: The first time I…

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The New Sky | Small Structures – Ep. 24

“No I didn’t.”

I looked at him. “Didn’t do what?”

“No, I didn’t do anything. I watched, but I didn’t actually do anything.” I realized what he was talking about. He was talking about when he and the rest of that gang stole my shoes.

“Yeah, well,” I said. “You just watched then. You didn’t help or do anything.”

Burt looked down at his plate then back up at me. “Yeah, that’s because I was just a kid. Look, I’m sorry that happened to you. And you’re probably right…I should have done something. But I–I didn’t, and you kinda need to get over that. It’s just one thing that happen–”

“No! More shit happened to me. I was bullied all the time as a kid. And there was nothing anyone could do about it.”

“Oh.” Burt’s eyebrows raised then he reached down for his slice of pizza and bit down. As he chewed, he replied, “well, I’m sorry about that. But you know, I was bullied too. Most kids were. Kids are fucked-up. But I don’t remember bullying you, and if I ever did then I’m sorry. Really. But, again, you can’t let that shit run your life.”

“It doesn’t…I mean, maybe it weighs on me too much. But I can’t help it.”

“Yeah you can.”

“How?”

“…I don’t know. But we’ve all gone through shit. You just can’t let it control your life.”

“I don’t think it controls my life. But I do think about it sometimes. It invades me sleep. The times I was bullied and felt like there was nothing I could do. I felt that way my whole life.”

Burt tore again into his pizza. “You know, no one really has any control. That’s because there’s the people at top, and the people at the bottom. And the people at top, they control everything, and we all fight and squabble underneath them, but they’re the ones pulling all the strings.”

“Sounds like some conspiracy shit.”

“Yeah. But it’s true. Take Johnson & Johnson company or whatever. For years, decades, they knew there was asbestos in their baby powder. Decades, Eric. And no one has done shit about it until recently. But, is anyone going to go to jail? No, because the whole system is rigged in their favor. Rich CEOs can fuck-over and kill as many people as they want, but, guess what? People are still going to buy baby powder. Is your pizza cold?”

I looked down. I barely touched my slice. “Um,”

“Look, it’s OK. I know it’s not that good. But it used to be, until my dad died. He used to own this place.”

That’s when I stupidly realized that Burt’s last name was Romero. Burt Romero, the son of the man who started Romero’s Pizza and operated it for decades in Weaverton. A popular fixture in town. How come I never made the connection before?

“That’s because you never saw beyond yourself, Eric. You’ve always been trapped in your own world. Willingly. That’s how you managed to cope. And that’s fine, I guess. Everyone needs something. Like religion or video games. The problem is is that it prevents you from seeing life as it is. From touching it. And I can’t blame you. As I said, the world is fucking crazy. It’s owned by assholes who are controlled by their asshole impulses. And I guess there’s really nothing you can do about it.”

“I thought you said there was something.”

“I did? Meh, maybe. I don’t know…” We sat in silence, finishing our lunch. “Maybe you just have to stop obsessing over what you have no control over. I know. That’s pretty trite. But, that’s honestly the only thing I could think of.”

“But doesn’t that make us compliant? Like what you said about the baby powder; if no one did anything about it, it probably would have still kept going on.”

“Well, I guess people can do some things. So I guess do what you can? I don’t know. Um. Look, I don’t know why you’re coming to me for answers–”

“I’m not–”

“I’m just something you invented. Or, at least something you’re trying to.”

“But, this isn’t how lucid dreams work.”

“Well, in yours it does.” Burt took his plate and flung it like a frisbee into the restaurant and watched it as it popped into a pigeon mid-air. “Maybe people have too much freedom.”

And with that I was tossed back into bed. What did he, or I, mean? For a few moments, my eyes stared at the darkened ceiling before falling back into themselves. I didn’t write that what I had experienced in my journal.

The following morning, the sky was a deep orange. And in the window I saw something clawing at the sun. A giant grey structure stretching itself across what could be seen.


Today’s prompt: Baby powder

Click here to read from the beginning.

The Invitation | Small Structures – Ep. 23

“Oh boy. We are in for another hot one! This heat-wave just won’t stop! Apparently, temperatures are going to continue to skyrocket, breaking last year’s rec–”

I changed the station as the traffic trudged along. I tried turning on the air conditioning again, but only warm air spooled out of the A/C vents, filling the inside of my car. The A/C in my car, of course, decided to quit as soon as the heat-wave came into full swing.

The other cars pushed along slowly. It wasn’t normally this slow or congested at this time, so it must have been some sort of accident that people, of course, just had to gab at for no particular reason.

I was being bitter, maybe even prickly, for obvious reasons, but also for reasons that weren’t so apparent. I say this because, a couple of days before, I had ran into Burt again.

It was at the bookstore; I decided to go after work because I was starting to write again, and wanted to pick up something new for inspiration. As I headed toward the poetry section, the back of Burt’s head entered the view. He was standing around in the classics section which was a couple of rows over from poetry. I continued walking however, pretending that I didn’t see him.

I scanned the spines, seeing if there was anything new. The more I read and wrote poetry, the more I realized how much of it was ghastly. No wonder people didn’t read poetry anymore; most of the newer stuff was pretty much the same: bland takes on politics, oppression, race; nothing new being said and, not to mention, the lack of original imagery or connections. Even though I didn’t understand most of what he wrote, but I was becoming drawn more and more to the likes of Wallace Stevens or Hart Crane. Two poets who weren’t always personal or confessional (the former almost never wrote about himself, at least directly,) yet nearly every line was suffused with imagery and ideas. The amount of skill and talent and time it must have taken to compose each line in order to make it seem effortless. Why couldn’t more poets at least try to grasp for such heights? Perhaps it was too hard? Maybe, it’s because such poetry isn’t trendy anymore; it’s easier and more rewarding, from a commercial and critical standpoint, to write about how one is oppressed in chopped-up prose, preaching sentiments that the reader already shares while imparting them with nothing new, just the things they want to hear. Yet, I still searched, trying to find something gleaming among the detritus, or, at the very least, some poems that, while interesting, ultimately fail that I can take inspiration from and “better.”

As I flipped through the pages of a flimsy chapbook, putting it away, and grabbing another, a presence neared. Quickly looking I saw him standing near; my eyes darted back down. I tried not to think or notice him. I really didn’t want to have to stike-up a conversation with him; I just wanted to continue with what I was doing and get out of there, like normal.

“So, what did you think?”

I looked to my side. Burt standing there, watching, bags gripping underneath his eyes.

“Um,” my brain short-circuited.

“You know. You were there, right? At the poetry get-together?”

“Oh,” I said. “Yes, I was there.”

“Yeah. So, what did you think of it all?”

“Oh, um…”

“How come you didn’t read?” My mind was empty. He rubbed his sweaty brow. His hair was unkempt, and it looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days. But, up close, the kid I knew in middle school was still in there. Did he recognize me?

“You know what’s funny? Most of the people who go to the readings almost never look at stuff in this section. I think they get all of their inspiration from Instagram. There’s some poets on there that get a lot of attention, but I wouldn’t recommend them.”

“Um, okay.” I didn’t really know what to say. I couldn’t just continue with what I was doing or walk away. I was trapped.

“Sorry, am I bothering you?”

“Oh, no. Sorry. It’s just–”

“Nah man, it’s all cool. I probably shouldn’t have bothered you. I just thought that maybe next time you could read something, you know, if you’re into that, or whatever. Because, I don’t know, the fact that you’re actually interested in reading poetry it seems instead of just writing sad garbage down means that you might be good. Or something I don’t know. I’m kind of drunk right now.”

“I can tell.”

“So, what do you say?”

“Oh, well. Um, guess I’ll think about it.”

“Yeah. I mean you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Actually, it may not be a good idea.”

“Oh. How come?”

“I don’t know. I think everyone is there for the wrong reason. I know I am. See anything good?”

I looked at the book I was holding, honed-in on the poem and shook my head. “Not really. A lot of this stuff is kind of the same. But maybe there’s something good here. But even if there isn’t it’s still fun to look.”

He nodded and scratched his scalp. “Alright. Well, good luck to you then. Um, sorry for bothering you.”

I didn’t say anything. He just pointed at me and brushed past me, headed outside, and I went back to combing through poetry books that no one will read.

This weird, yet banal exchange floated around my brain as I continued driving. There was just something about it. Something missing. I wasn’t quite sure if Burt had recognized me, I’m guessing he didn’t. And seeing his state…it didn’t look like he was happy or successful in any meaningful way. A loser. But this didn’t satisfy me, nor did I totally feel bad for him either. The whole thing was weird for some indeterminable reason. Perhaps because there was no closure to it. A person who had bullied me as a kid and no what? Just two weirdos floating around without accomplishing anything.

The traffic continued its push underneath the sun, and after a couple of intersections, things began to disperse, as if there was no reason for the congestion. My car was free to glide down the road, and for a moment I felt good despite the heat and everything below it.


Today’s prompt: Prickly

Click here to read from the beginning.

 

Blueshift | Small Structures – Ep. 22

It had been awhile since I was there last. I don’t know why I decided to visit that night. Ever since my interest in writing wanted I frequented the bookstore less and less, especially on open-mic nights. But, out of all nights, I was there, watching and listening to the same group. I don’t remember why I was there. Maybe it was because I was tired of spending every Friday pissing away the hours online. Regardless, I was there once again, and so were the writers. I was actually impressed; it had been over a year since I attended one of their open mics and they were still going at it, at least most of them were.

Unfortunately, the writing hadn’t seemed to improve, each of them still relying on the same bank of cliches and trite imagery. But the enthusiasm still remained.

“OK, thanks Tiffany. Alright, I think we’ve got, um, Burt next…” My ears perked. Something about the way she said that name, with a subtle hint of regret and despair. But, she still smiled. “Um, you ready?” She said, leaning over to one of the two guys in the group. He nodded and slowly got up, yellow notepad in hand.

And then his face turned to us, and then something happened. At first I thought he was just some other guy, but there was a sense of familiarity. Something about him that I had recognized, but I couldn’t pinpoint where. I froze, and the room shrunk; everything was suddenly centered around him.

“Alrighty. Um, how’s everyone? Uh, got some stuff. Probably not good, at least not as good as Tiffany’s, but, you know…”

As he started to read from his scribblings my mind tried to locate where else I had seen this person before, if at all. And about halfway through his poem the answer finally jumped at me.

It’s always a strange thing, seeing something that you recognize in a place where it doesn’t belong. This was my home now, my world, and it occupied its own space while Weaverton, my hometown, belonged elsewhere. So, when I saw that face which I thought was left in Weaverton, it felt like an intrusion, a violation.

Burt was his name, and the last time I had saw him was many years ago in Weaverton. I had seen his face from time-to-time in high school, but in middle school, he was one of the kids that had taken my shoes and sacrificed them to the power lines.

He continued reading as I observed him. Yep, it was definitely him. He even slouched the same way he had done during class. But he was mellower, and his hair was slightly receding. He also used to mutter things to himself during class and shoot the other kids looks. It was strange watching him, actually speaking instead of muttering, and doing something somewhat constructive.

I didn’t feel angry. He was one of the many kids that had bullied me, but watching him stumble through his scribbled-down poem made me feel a little bit bad for him. Well, the poetry, from what I caught, actually wasn’t that bad, or as bad as expected; at least they didn’t rely on the same cliches as the other writers.

“Alright. Um, that’s it.” A smattering of applause and Burt shambled over back to his seat.

“OK Burt. That was good. Definitely an improvement.”

“Hell yeah,” Burt said with laid-back enthusiasm. It didn’t take much perception to realize he was kind of the odd one out of them.

“Oh, um, you can’t smoke in here.”

“What, I thought it was legal now.”

“Sorry…”

I couldn’t tell from where I was, but I imagined Burt muttering to himself as he put away his joint, or whatever he was about to smoke, just like he did back in school.

 

The rest of the hour kind of evaporated, and as the group disbanded I was out the door. Perhaps it was because I was afraid Burt would recognize me as well. I didn’t think he would suddenly try to yank my shoes off, but I, well, didn’t like to speak with the past. If I wanted to confront the past it had to be on my own terms, not in some awkward, silent exchange, or meaningless conversation. So, I was out of there and headed back to my apartment where I’m sure I spent the weekend in front of the computer, but who knows.


Today’s prompt: Online

Click here to read from the beginning.