Todd never had much power. At school, he was often thrashed about, even by his teachers and the elderly janitor.
Now, he is a city planner. Well, not for the whole city, but for a couple of intersections. He does not use his power for ill, however. No, he wants everything to run smooth. To him, that means signage. A sign here. A sign there. He’s heard complaints about “excessive” and “contradictory” signage, but he knows what’s best. Without signs, the world goes astray. People cannot be trusted to drive blind. Fortunately, Todd is there. Here to help.
A couple of stories written for Reena’s Xploration Challenge #194. The prompt was to write something using polysyndeton. I decided to write a couple of stories, 1 long, complex sentence each.
Couldn’t sleep (or wouldn’t,) so I went for a walk and when I stepped from the warmth of the hallway, the sky launched itself at me and the cold carried me down the street as the branches curled above, and I walked and walked and felt like a strange, grey thing, but then my thoughts slid into the shades as I saw something on the street, a shape stopping beneath a street lamp, its ears poking upward, steam rising around it, and then it rushed towards me, without sound, and I moved in a walk, but then ran, ran, and ran, and my legs slowed and wobbled and shrunk into the concrete, and the creature rose behind, and, finally, I woke on the road, near the gutter, and the sun beaming into my neck, but I couldn’t recollect myself or ponder the moments that rose into the black, but instead had to merge into the day, and be gone with the others.
The Great One
Mr. Darius wandered from field to field, from city to city, from nation to nation, because, well, after a while, even the most sonorous of sights fell into smallness, like a distant star in a child’s mind slouching into a dull wristwatch, and Mr. Darius had seen many sights, and while he tried to impress himself with a new corner of an evolving world, he knew that, after a while, every civilization, every war, every scientist, every wide-eyed toddler was just another variation he had seen years, decades, or centuries prior, and so Mr. Darius moved from sky to sky, beyond the sun’s grapple, like a prehistoric quadruped lost and squirming in yet another bright and shiny millennium.
A nobody entered the diner the other day. He sat, ordered a coffee, and sat. No one really talked to the nobody. Maybe everyone forgot he was there. Or maybe they had nothing to say to someone who wasn’t there. And then he left, I think. I mean, when I looked he was no longer there. Maybe I saw him leave earlier, but simply hadn’t noticed. Or maybe he phased into the air. That happens sometimes, I hear.
I’m glad I’m not a nobody. I have a family and a wife. And I have friends who are very fond of me. And when I go out, people sometimes talk to me, and notice when I need something. However, there is always that fear. I can see myself waking-up one morning, and my wife recognizing me, but almost barely, as if something had slipped out from my eyes. And she would just shrug. A love no longer. And my kids staring at me, and then looking away from me. No longer caring. No longer obeying or curious about my day. And then I would just walk into the background of everyone’s lives, a mere placeholder like the plainest tree or fixture.
But, I have a name, and eyes that hold something that people can see. And I can walk into a diner, order a coffee, and sit, but still be there. I can have moments that belong to me. And I can also hurt people. Experience consequences. Be loved or reviled. And see the ripples from my touch. The most a nobody can do is retain a shadow, or be servant to a thought such as this one. But beyond that, the nobody is already gone, alive or dead. You and I, however, are.
I used to have a name, but now they call me the Sculptor. Some come to me for the simplest pots, others for busts of their ailing family members. Sometimes I make things for myself. Underneath my home is a garden. People frozen to a moment I’ve designed. Statues of flowers that the sun used to see. No one is allowed in the garden, but once I’m dead they would find this small, overcrowded world no longer hidden, no longer special. I imagine them already, gazing at the faces, not understanding what they mean, staring at the flowers and not recognizing their beauty.
“Daniel. Daniel? What are you doing?”
All things become curios. Even the greatest art. Even the largest empires. Even the deepest memories. Just little things. Little pots or cups made to fit a corner. Talked about until they lose their words. And everyone forgets. So why do I do this? Why do I keep doing this? Well, I be–
“Daniel? Are you still in your room? You need to help your father. The shop opens in 15 minutes. Come on now.”
I sigh. Summoned by another voice. Perhaps I’m not the Sculptor. And perhaps the garden underneath this world only lingers in my head. But one day I will take up this unforgiving role. That’s what these hands are meant for. I guess you can say…that’s what they’ve been sculpted for.
“OKAY! I’m coming!”
After a long moment, I open the door and proceed with the continuation of dust.
“See, you have to have the DRIVE and MOTIVATION,” Blake said to the audience of 6. “Because without either then you ain’t going nowhere.”
He moved over to the left side of the stage and moved his hands, but not too much. “You can have the best ideas in the world, but they don’t mean anything if you don’t hustle,” he further explained to the audience of 5.
Blake then went back to the center of the stage. “Dreams become ghosts if you don’t have a vessel for them.” He didn’t really like this line. It seemed good on paper, but once he projected it, it just seemed clunky, unnatural. Everything had to be digestible. Because when you’re a motivational speaker, there’s always a good chunk of audience that is ready to dismiss you. If you use too flowery language it comes across as suspect. You can’t be seen as a salesman. But one of them. But, he continued.
“They will haunt you. And they become agents of regret. And man, you’ve got enough to worry about,” he smiled, waiting for a laugh that didn’t come. But he did see one of them nod. And the other two were just staring at him. “Well…” on and on he went.
And soon, no one was there to listen to him. The auditorium was gone. But, he just kept speaking and speaking. “Hustle, hustle, hustle. Imagine being a crab without a shell. Do you think a crab just sits idle and dreams of having a shell? And waits for it to happen. No! The crab makes it happen!” But the auditorium wasn’t the only place that was empty. Soon, every building in the vicinity seemed to go silent. The cars left the parking lots. And no one was around to hear about dreams and crabs.
Yet, Blake was persistent. With a professional cadence, each word was articulate and properly enunciated, but without seeming too enunciated. He believed he was speaking to everyone at their level, or slightly above.
However, time passed, and when he finally finished his talk, he modestly thanked everyone and walked off stage. As soon as he started wiping his face with a nearby towel, the city started repopulating. People went back to their jobs and lives. And Blake was off to the next town to eagerly spread his wisdom.
She stood there, standing before the glory of the snowy monolith. Mt. Nero. The world’s tallest mountain. But, Nero wasn’t always the tallest mountain. There was once a Mt. Everest which many previously sought to make their own. However, Everest became too touristy. It seemed like everyone and their grandma had managed to climb the once-mighty beast (with the help of well-equipped climbing companies.) Taking-on Everest eventually lost all of its lustre and meaning. It disgusted Jayna. But she had an idea: she was going to make a new mountain. And it was going to be hers.
After purchasing a sizable chunk of Mongolia, her new terraforming company went to work on shaping her dream into reality. After months of retwisting the land, there it was. Mt. Nero. The behemoth scraped against sky, its peak disappearing into clouds. And now, she was going to be the first person to climb the world’s tallest mountain.
Jayna Hammath, a somewhat self-made billionaire who made her fortune doing something new with emails, died at the age of 34. It was a mysterious, tragic death. No one expected her to slip in the shower. However, this did not mean her dream was over. Even after her death, she started her ascent. According to a last-minute amendment to her will, her body was to be remotely operated. Soon, her wish was going to be fulfilled. Finally.
Her body made it about a quarter of the way before disappearing. There was a team that was traveling with her, but they claimed to not know what happened. Many speculated that the body malfunctioned and spontaneously combusted. Others thought that the crew became lazy.
Eventually, others were allowed on Jayna’s mountain. Nero was a tougher climb than Everest, but soon a chairlift was installed. Everyone and their grandma was now able to reach the end of the sky and behold the glow of the earth below. Then go home, talk about it briefly, and disappear into sleep.
As the sun lowered itself to the horizon, little droplets of water started to moisten the air. A gust sifted through the leaves and rolled along the bodies of passed-out drunkards throughout the resort. Maybe it was just his head, but Burt felt that something was wrong.
He followed the older man who was walking now at a brisk pace a few feet ahead of him. The man muttered to himself. It wasn’t too long ago that Burt thought that the man was some sort of authority on the island, making sure that its patrons bent to the will of the island. But it was clearer now that he was just a strange old man and a prisoner like Burt. He wondered how long had he been here, and where he was taking him if he even knew.
“It’s around here somewhere…somewhere…always moving it…I remember things…everyone seems to forget things around here…but I remember things…”
Burt could only speculate what he meant by this. Perhaps, the occupants of this island experience amnesia and forget that they are prisoners. Then what does that mean for Burt? Was he able to somehow “remember”? And what about that long, long period of aloneness. He was alone on this island for quite a while before everyone just started to appear. None of this made sense. He was also getting tired of walking.
“What are you looking for,” Burt asked. “And what do you mean by ‘remember things’?” But the older man just grunted.
“They try to trick me. They make me think I’m the security of this island. Try to give me this power. But it’s not power,” he said. But this didn’t seem like a reply to Burt, but more mutterings to no one but himself. Burt was tempted to ditch him, but he was afraid of aggravating him. And he was still curious as to where he was leading him, if anywhere.
However, the rain started coming down harder, and the sky darkened. Pretty soon they will be cold and wet and unable to see. But his guide did not seem deterred by this, his mutterings getting louder and louder.
Meanwhile, Rachel, with the corner of her eye, watched the rain gather on the window. She thought about Cathy, her sister, he was probably all alone in bed, writhing in pain. Then she looked back at Gerald who was asleep. He looked so peaceful like a child. There were certain things she was liked about him, even admired, but she knew she never loved him. But he was there and was, for the most part, a positive part in her life. That was until her sister started getting sick again. Then it became a tug-of-war. Part of her knew it was silly, that she could just abandon both of them and live her own life. But she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do that. Cathy needed her, and she was still married to Gerald who she still liked somewhat.
All these things were interrupted though by something. She didn’t know what it was, but her mind caught it, if only for a brief moment. A snatch of something ineffable. She stood-up and walked to the window slowly. She didn’t know what it was. She tried to focus on it, but her mind would blur. It was as if her comprehension was unable to fill-in the details that were there. All she could say was that it seemed like a shadow. But even that was inaccurate. But whatever it was, it shook on the ground, writhing in the light just before disappearing. That’s when she started remembering.
In the distance, the older man yelled out, “Yes! Here it is! I knew it! I remembered!” He ran over to what appeared to be a metal door angled from the ground. His hands clasped for the latch and pulled. “Come! Help, you bastard!” Without thinking, Burt ran over and tried to help. The two pulled the latch, but it barely budged. The rain was now coming down hard. The wind was fierce. After a moment of struggle, Burt backed-off and watched as the older man continued.
“Gah!” Then he started banging on it. “I know you’re in there! I’ve been here before! Open up, you bastards!” The man pulled and punched at the door. But the door did not open. No one responded. Burt was tired and wet, and he couldn’t watch this any longer. Soon, the old man was all by himself, yelling and cursing at a door in the jungle.
Rachel sat by Gerald on the bed, watching him. Even in the dark glow of the night she was able to see his contented face. She knew he was dreaming of something, something he never had.
Rachel was starting to remember this island and everyone’s roles on it. And she remembered when Tom had, once or twice, explained that none of them were real. It was hard to believe, of course, but there was no escaping it. Rachel and Gerald and everyone else were merely parts of a program, designed with the memories of others. They were there to make this place seem more real for any “actual” human that visited. But this program was in the early stages and required constant reboots and updates. And with every reboot, she would forget everything Tom told her. Or almost everything. A memory, a word, may come here and there, which was strange since she was simply lines of code with a set pattern and behavior.
But she wasn’t angry about it. She remembered when she once was. How Gerald was angry. But then he laughed. She couldn’t believe that he would laugh. Now it made more sense. She looked-down at Gerald again, watched as his eyes moved underneath their lids, running to and fro through memories that weren’t his. She hoped Cathy, whoever she truly was or if she was even real, was okay.
Suddenly, the sun was back up and the resort was empty and clean. The rooms were empty except for one. Burt turned in his bed and noticed a platter of fruit on the table. He rolled out and grabbed the card. “Welcome,” the card said. He sighed and slowly shoved the platter off the table.
He wandered the resort. It was empty once again. Burt tried to find a new theory for all this, but his mind couldn’t grasp on anything. He felt like an animal, tired and confused, meandering in its large cage. Soon, he found himself at the service desk. He pressed his hand against the bell. Suddenly, a man entered. Burt was surprised by this.
“‘Sup,” Tom greeted.
Burt didn’t know how to respond. But, finally, he said, “I want to go home.”
Tom rubbed his nose. “But you’re already home.”
Burt’s eyes widened. His heart nearly stopped.
“Well, at least for a while longer,” he said. “It’s not finished yet.”
“…Is this an experiment?”
Tom shrugged. “I guess you could call it that. You may not remember this, but you participated and you can’t exit prematurely. Things will go awry.”
Burt rested his head on the counter. “I want to go home…”
“Sorry dude,” Tom said.
Meanwhile, in Burt’s room, the entity came, placed the platter back on the table, generated some fruit and slid off to another part of the island that needed tending to. For it had no other choice.
The final installment for the A-Z Challenge. Inspired by the song “Zoo Eyes” by Aldous Harding.
The man, whose name was Tom, led Rachel into the backroom. It was small, windowless. A computer. A desk. A couple of servers with blinking lights. “Okay,” Rachel said. “I would like my phone, please.”
Tom sat down and turned his chair towards her, and leaned back. “There are no phones.”
Rachel gave him a nasty look. “Stop wasting my time.”
Tom shrugged. “I don’t know. Doesn’t really matter, I guess. Because, either way, you’re no longer going to exist.”
Rachel shook her head. She had no time for this. “Where the hell is your manager?”
“You said that last time.”
“And I’ll keep saying it until–”
“No, I mean you said that the last time before this place was rebooted again.”
Rachel now knew he was officially talking to a crazy person and stomped out of there. The sky was starting to dim. People were still stumbling around, drunk off their asses. She marched back to her room. Inside, she saw that Gerald was awake, sucking on a strawberry in bed.
“Gerald,” she said, “I don’t like this place anymore. We’re leaving.”
But Gerald didn’t respond, still savoring the strawberry. Then his eyes lazily rolled towards her. “Honey,” he said. “I love how smart you are. You’re always angry. Your mind always going. That’s what I like about you…”
“Okay. That’s nice, Gerald, but we’ve got to go.”
“Go where,” he asked in a content monotone. “We’re already here…”
Meanwhile, when Burt’s mind started coming to, he was being dragged through some dirt. “Gosh, you are heavy,” the older man observed as he struggled to drag Burt’s body.
“Wha…” Burt replied.
The older man dropped Burt and bent over him. “Hey! You awake? Ready for that walk?”
But Burt was still delirious. His head throbbed. The sky above was orange with some thick, grey clouds starting to form. It was oddly beautiful. He could lay there forever.
“Come on you. Get up. You’re going to help me get off this damn island. See, I’ve been watching you. You’re not like the others. You ask questions. You think outside the box. Which makes us pretty much the same. Now, get up.”
Burt, without thinking, slowly rose to his feet, his legs quivering.
“You’re not like them. Neither of us are. They’re something going on with this island, I ain’t a fan of it.”
Burt’s mind swayed. “Um, okay,” was all he could muster.
“None of these motherfuckers are going to control me.”
“Okay.” And the two continued walking through the jungle. Funny, Burt couldn’t remember a jungle being on this island.
Written for the A-Z Challenge. This part was inspired by the lyrics of “You Look Like Rain” by Morphine.
The older man stumbled up the hill. Looking up, he saw Burt. It was finally time to tell him the truth about this place. “Burt! Burt!” Burt’s head turned downward. “Don’t move! I’m coming! I’m your friend!” But, of course, Burt ran-off. “Damn it, how come no one listens to me!” He then noticed the entity trembling near the treetops before disappearing.
After some effort, the older man finally reached the top of the hill. After catching his breath, he continued after Burt. However, just a few meters away, he found him on the ground, his head bleeding next to a rock. “Great. Just great…”
Meanwhile, Rachel stepped into a small building and rang the bell at the front desk. When no one immediately arrived, she rang it again and again. She was a little peeved. Not just about the phone, but the number of people she had to step-over just to get here. The other visitors were getting massively drunk. Many were sleeping or passed-out or crawling on top of each other. Embarrassing.
In the corner of her eye, she noticed a rack filled with brochures. One of them read on the front: “XANADU: Endless Paradise for the Busy Life.” “Is that what this place is called,” she thought. Didn’t matter. She slammed on the bell. “Hello? Hello!” Finally, an average-looking fellow wearing glasses emerged from the backroom and calmly approached. Before he could ask what she needed, she diplomatically explained her situation. “Where the hell is my phone?”
The man simply nodded. “You must be Rachel.”
“It’s an emergency. I’m not in the mood for pleasantries.”
Rachel right away didn’t like this fool. He was far too mellow and really didn’t seem to care about her issue which was at utmost significance. “So? Are you going to get my phone, or not? Like I said, it’s an emergency.”
“I’m sorry Rachel, we have a strict no phone–”
“Don’t care. Don’t care. Don’t care. I’m paying…a lot to be here. You serve me, got it?”
The man nodded. His nodding was getting irritating. “Sure. Of course,” he replied in a way that was quite disingenuous, at least that’s how Rachel interpreted it. The man turned around and went back into the back room, closing the door behind him.
“Um…so are you getting my phone,” she called-out. After a couple of moments and no response, she started ringing the bell once again. The man returned. “So, what gives?”
The man shrugged.
“Okay. I’m going to need to speak with your manager. Or whoever runs this place.”
“Alright,” the man responded.
“So…are you…,” she let out an exasperated sigh. “Why is everyone so useless?”
The man rubbed his nose. “Your sister is going to be fine,” he said.
Rachel blinked. “I’m sorry? How do you know about my sister.”
The man shrugged and started heading back into the back room. “Oh no you don’t!” She ran in front of him, blocking his path. “You’re going to tell me what the hell is going on with this place.”
Written for the A-Z Challenge. This is a continuation of some of the previous posts. This segment inspired (a bit, kind-of) by “Xanadu” a song by Rush.
There was a knock at the door, but no one answered. Rachel was too busy with her search, and Gerald was laying in bed, his mind lost on the past and present. He thought about how great the bed was along with the air softly rolling through their room. He was also thinking about the time he met Rachel. In college, she was a couple years her junior, but more mature. It was as if she filled the gap in his silly existence. When he first met her, he immediately thought how much more often she wanted to see her. And to be with her. It felt so good feeling that way about someone. As if the whole world was rubbed away and he was allowed to float along in contentment. Before, he was committed to the bachelor lifestyle, but when he met Rachel, he wanted to be married and live with her wherever. His eyes were closed, but he gazed at her on a darkened hill, the night air combing across the stars. Rachel was still looking for her phone.
“It’s got to be…are you going to…ah, forget it!” Then there was the knock again. She sighed. “Can you?” She saw Gerald, lying peacefully on the bed. Suddenly, she felt (somewhat) bad for yelling at him. She marched over to the door and opened it.
“Greetings,” the older man said. “I hope everything is up-to-par.”
“Well,” she said. “Not really.”
“I take it you work for the resort.”
“In a way. In a way. Do you mind if I–” but as he was about to enter, Rachel stopped him.
“Well, if you work for the resort, maybe you can answer this: my dumbass husband believes that our cellphones were confiscated when we arrived; this can’t possibly be true, right? Or else I’m going to start knocking some heads.”
The older man chuckled. “Ah, I see the ‘no phone policy’ has been met with some controversy. But, I assure it, it’s all for your benefit. And comfort.”
“Comfort? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
“Honey, relax…” Gerald said from the bed, his eyes still shut.
“Your husband makes a good point.”
“No he doesn’t. He never makes a good point. Now, give me my phone back!”
The older man looked at Rachel for a moment. “Sure,” he said. “But I’m going to need you to help us out with something…”
“No,” Rachel replied and slammed the door on him. “What a prick.”
Meanwhile, Burt surveyed the island from on top of the hill. It was strange, he couldn’t remember a hill being here. Then again, he had the feeling that it had always been here. Burt scanned the small world below. The island was nearly covered with small rooms, a couple of restaurants and bars. Surrounded by empty horizon. He now wasn’t sure if this place was hell. It still could have been a hallucination, or a simulation. Perhaps he was in a coma. He could hear the music rising from the stage below. This time Jimmy Buffett’s brother was doing a rendition of a Beach Boys song. Fortunately, it wasn’t Kokomo. But the song played thrust him back home, just for a moment, when he used to be driven by his dad to school and he would play the oldies station.
He had to get off this island somehow. He needed to formulate a plan, fast. There was nothing on the hill except for some trees. No sign of that entity that seemed to evade him. He was certain that it was trying to lead him somehow. But it was probably closer to desperation. However, he did notice something. For the first time in a long while, he saw that the sun was starting to come down.
Written for the A-Z Challenge. This is a continuation of an ongoing story I started from my “Q” post. This portion was inspired by the song, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”