Stupid Island – Ep. 2: “A Voice for Dead Crabs”

Zed and Claire continued having fun in the water. “Wow! This is fun!” See? They splashed each other, oblivious to the fin circling around them.

Meanwhile, Sheila and Zmed followed the old man to a cave on the other side of the island. “Just where you taking us, old man?” Zmed said, trying to look brave when, in reality, he was afraid of caves. But the old man didn’t say anything. They both followed him, stepping into the shadowy cave. They continued walking down the tunnel until there was a light in the distance. They heard voices. Sheila and Zmed looked at each other.

Back in the water, Claire noticed the fin. “Hey Zed!”

“Yeah babe?”

“I think we should get out of the water.”

“What?”

Suddenly she was pulled underneath.

Zed looked around, confused. “Babe?”

Moments later, Claire reappeared with a splash, gasping for breath. “Whoa,” Zed said. “What happened with you?”

“I think I got bit.”

“By what?”

“I think it was a shark.”

Zed suddenly saw the blood in the water. “Oh shit!”

“Yeah. I don’t think it’s that bad. Let’s go and–”

Zed picked her up and ran up to the beach. As soon as he hit the sand he tossed her down and examined her wound. It was a cut on her ankle. “Aw man. Help! HELP!” But no one heard him. Larry remained by the palms, snoozing. Oh yeah, there’s a guy named Larry, but he doesn’t do much. Age unknown.

“HELP!”

“It’s alright. I think if we just stop the blee–”

“Sh. You’re about to die.”

“What?”

“Sorry, there isn’t much we can do for you. We only have so many resources. Sorry babe, you won’t be forgotten.”

“But I’m still–”

“No. It’s alright. You will be remembered, Sheila. Sh. Shhhhhh.”

“But I’m…” But Zed was always waking back towards the palms. He approached Larry.

“Hey man, where is everyone? We’ve got to bury the body. Or, I guess we could…no, we can’t eat her. Not yet. How could you even say such a thing?”

But Larry continued his snooze in the shade. Zed sighed and sat down next to him. “Man, I don’t know. I’m fairly capable. I’m a good leader, but I sometimes wonder if it’s enough…”

Claire hopped towards the two then laid down besides them. “I think if we just put some pressure on it we should be good. I’ll be up and running in no time!”

But Zed didn’t seem to notice her, lost in the reverie of thought. Larry just snored.

“So, how long have you guys been here?”

“Zmed! Seriously!” Claire pointed toward some of the women who were among the group huddled, dirty and pathetic-looking, in the cave.

“We reckon about a year,” said the old man.

“Two!” Said another cave-dweller.

“Aye, two.”

“Damn. And you guys haven’t found a way off? That’s pathetic,” said Zmed.

“Hey!” Sheila stood in the middle of the cavern dwelling. “Don’t blame them for what the system has done!”

“I’m not! I’m just saying they’re fuckin’ pathetic. Come on, let’s get outta here!”

“Wait!” The old man said. Zmed stopped. “What about the birthday party?”

“What birthday?” Then he glanced over to Sheila. “Oh yeah.”

“We’ve got crabs!”

“Sorry,” Sheila said. “I don’t consume living organisms.”

“Oh, but these are dead. So we got to eat them right quick!”

“Well, just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they’re not living!”

The old man was confused.

“The dead have rights too! They can’t help being what they are!”

The old man and the rest of the cave-dwellers looked down at the dead crabs, ashamed.

“Come on Zmed. Let’s celebrate our birthday with people who are a bit more progressive when it comes to crab rights!”

“No!”

Sheila cocked her head. “I’m sorry?”

Zmed sat down next to the cave-dwellers and started gnawing on one of the crabs. “I’m not going anywhere! I’m hungry! I don’t want any stupid coconuts or bananas! I’m a man! I need meat!”

“Wow, there are so many things wrong with that statement.” She glared at the rest of the sad faces in the dim cave. “You should all feel ashamed of yourselves. Disgusting. Absolutely di–”

But she was interrupted by a loud stomping. They all turned toward the tunnel and saw a shadow of what appeared to be a giant crab.


What a cliffhanger!

Stupid Island – Episode 1: “The Place with No Birds”

It had been a week since they had washed up on shore. Or maybe it was more. Or less. I’m not sure. There was no calendar on the island and no one was keeping tracking. So, it actually could have been a few hours. But, regardless, it might as well have been an eternity.

The group huddled underneath the shadows of some palms, butts planted in the sandy beach as they watched the infinite waves. As mentioned before, they had been there for a while. There was a virus pandemic, but once things started to die down the cruise lines started to reopen. They were all on a cruise ship but then, of course, the ship was attacked by pirates. People had forgotten that things had fallen into disarray due to the pandemic, so much so that pirates had come back.

The cruise ship lit on fire and crashed into a rock (people also forgot how to pilot ships due to the virus pandemic) and well, for all they knew, they were the only survivors, stranded on an island. They hardly had any food except for coconuts, nor water except for the fresh water spring in the center of the island. But they were too lazy to keep going back and forth to get water so that was no good. They could just make their new home by the spring, I guess, but there were too many bugs.

The sun beat down on the sand, and them. As mentioned before, they all sat there. Hungry, thirsty, sunburnt, and terribly bored.

“I’m bored,” said Zmed. Yes, his name was Zmed. He was a man in his 20s. His glory days were in high school where he was the #2 best quarterback, #2 best chess player, and runner-up for prom king. He sighed.

“Stop complaining!” That was Zad, also in his 20s, who was also well-built and tough. He also happened to had gone to the same school as Zmed and was in the same graduating class. He was #1 in the things Zmed was not. He was also better looking, so sorry, Zmed.

“Maybe it was global warming. Do you think global warming has anything to do with it? After all, our ship was on fire. And cruise ships aren’t supposed to do that,” said Artie.

“Shut-up. Everyone knows global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese!” Zad said.

“Yeah!” Added Zmed.

Artie stared down at his blustery feet. He was a man, also 20s, except he wasn’t very good looking and never had any glory days. He was also a virgin. Sorry, Artie!

“That’s not true!” Sheila said. “The Chinese are a great, wonderful people, so back off!” Sheila was also in her 20s and didn’t know any Chinese people.

Zed just shot her a look and continued trying to carve a knife out of a coconut.

“Okay guys.” Mara stood-up. “I say we find some shelter and food, so who’s with me?” Mara was also good-looking and a go-getter, easily the smartest and most capable person on the island, but doesn’t want to force her ego to control things and is genuinely concerned about survival. As a result, no one wants to listen to her. 20s.

The group kind of looked at her, squinting.

“Come on guys!”

“Um,” Sheila said, “did you just say guys?”

“Yeah, and who made you leader?” Zed said.

“Yeah!” Zmed interjected.

“I’m the leader!” Zed pointed to himself. Zmed didn’t like this, but didn’t say anything.

“Okay, ‘leader’ what do you think we should do then?” Mara replied firmly.

Zed took a moment to think, looked at the rest of the group, trying to come up with something quick. “We wait.”

“Wait?”

“Yeah…we can’t afford to expend any energy. They might be coming for us soon and we have to be at our best and best-looking or else they may not pick us up.”

Mara just rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I’m going to search the island.” As she started walking into the island Artie scrambled after her.

“Wait, I’m coming!”

Zed started to mutter to himself.

“Are you okay?” Zmed asked.

“Yeah. Fine. Of course I am. She can do what she wants. Free country.” He started to rapidly shape his coconut knife as Zmed watched.

“Hey guys!” Claire came strolling towards the group, smile on her face. She was always quite chipper and that’s about it. Her age was somewhere in her 20s. “I’ve got some bananas!”

“Good,” Zed said. “But you should say something first before going off.”

“Oh. I did. But, sorry. Here!” She handed him a banana. It had been ages since Zed had even seen a plantain.

“Where did you find these?” Zmed asked.

“And did you really say guys?”

But Claire didn’t say anything, her eyes reaching out to the ocean. “I think I’m gonna go for a swim!”

“Yeah, I’m gonna go too!” Zed said, abandoning his knife. The two beautiful people threw off their shirts at Zmed and Sheila (rude) and frolicked in the waves, splashing at each other. Zmed immediately grabbed Zed’s knife and hid it on his body.

“So,” Zmed said. “Do you think we’ll ever get off this island?”

“It’s my birthday.” Sheila said, her gaze turned downward.

“Whoa. That’s cool. What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Say, maybe we can go to that spring or whatever.”

“Why, because I’m a woman?”

“What?”

“You know, I’ve been belittled my whole life!”

“I don’t understand what I said has anything to do–”

“Excuse me.” Sheila and Zmed turned and saw an old man standing before them, looking quite dirty and disheveled with a long, unkempt beard.

“Whoa. Who are you?”

“I know a great spot for birthdays and such.”

“Really. That’s tight. Come on Sheila.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.” She stood up. “Let’s go.” And they followed the old man.

Meanwhile, Mara and Artie were wandering deep into the wilds of the island, traversing thick brush and vines. Artie was scared, but Mara, while somewhat scared, was determined to uncover the mystery of the island.

“Say,” she said to Artie who trailed behind her, “did you ever notice that there aren’t birds on this island?”

“What? Um…I don’t know…”

“Seems a little odd, don’t you think?”

“I…I guess…”

“Also, those cameras.”

“What?”

“Look.” They stopped and she pointed at one of the video cameras installed up on one of the trees, its eye fixed on them.

“Huh.”

“Martie.”

“It’s Artie.”

“I don’t think this is an ordinary island.”

“Yeah.”

“We should tell the others.”

“Or, maybe we shouldn’t.”

“What? Why?”

“I dunno.”

“Ok. Let’s go back.”

“Right.”

“Do you remember how to get back?”

“Um.”


Whoa! Look! Another series I’m writing on the fly! Just making stuff up as we go! How will it turn out? Probably bad! Also, the birthday subplot was inspired by The Daily Spur word prompt for today.

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

Click here to read from the beginning.

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

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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

Click here to read from the beginning.

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

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