Tag Archives: fiction

Avoiding Happiness: “Secret Santa”

Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013

Roll: 6,5. Result: Feelings, Avoid.

Gemma knew I liked to play things close to the chest, but she said this was pushing it, even for me. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about.

It was 4:30pm on Christmas Eve; I knew because the voice on the train said so. I stripped out of my Santa outfit and began stuffing it into the backpack. I was relieved to find no sweat stains in the collared shirt I’d been wearing all day under the costume. I fished out my tie, wrapping it hurriedly around my neck and donning the suit jacket. Almost immediately the train came to a halt and dinged as the doors opened. This was my stop. I rushed outside and tossed the backpack to Donnie, who gave me the thumbs up and turned quickly to go.

Melissa met me at the top of the escalator, holding a briefcase and a cell phone. She mouthed the words, “It’s Lucky,” and handed off the phone, ushering me into the waiting car. I sat down, hearing two thumps on the roof, and we sped off.

“Mr. Greenwald,” I said, “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until sundown. What can I do for you?”

“James, I’m afraid this might not work. I’ve got a lot of investors, and most of them are all over me about this. I can’t go anywhere, I can’t do anything, without facing one of these cretins, and I’m running out of assurances to send their way.”

“It’s going to work, Mr. Greenwald, I assure you. I’m pulling up now.”

“I know what you think, James, but I need proof. I need something I can show them.”

“Then all you have to do is wait. It’s time. I’ve got to go, just keep being lucky.”

“James -”

I tucked the phone into my jacket and opened the door as we rounded the loop at the entrance. I stepped out in full stride as the car continued around and exited behind me, door closing on its own. Two men by the entry swung the doors open and showed me in.

Flashbulbs started going off, and I unleashed the great smile I’d been saving for them. As I walked up the wide red staircase, a pretty man with a headset came over and started prodding my head with powders and brushes. I rounded a corner to find Gemma staring from behind her clipboard. She rolled her eyes as I blew past her at a hurried pace, my cheesy smile on full blast. We sped down the hall, into a small, dark, and unimpressive room filled with wires and lights. Another man with a headset stood by a door at the far side with one finger up, the other over his ear. As I approached he dropped the one hand and waved me through, pushing open the door. A great clamor arose, growing as I approached the threshold and consuming me as I stepped beyond.

I pushed aside a red curtain as deafening applause erupted from the auditorium. My smile never failed; I waved, floating over to the podium where I shook Mr. Harding’s hand and thanked him. He turned and left the stage, leaving me to sooth the audience with a couple of good-natured laughs and quieting gestures.

“First of all, thank you,” I began. The applause sprang back to full volume, for only a moment this time. I calmed them down. “Thank you for the opportunity to be here, everyone.”

“We love you, James!” someone shouted from the audience. A bunch of woo-ing and laughter rolled across the auditorium.

“I love you too, whoever you are.” More laughter.

“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Love?” I smiled. I could practically hear the entire company groaning, bracing themselves. “I set up this face-to-face meeting because this year is quite unlike any of those previous. I know what you’ve come to expect: from me, from my company, from all of us who work so hard to provide the goods and services you’ve come to know and love, and even depend on. We reinforce that ideal with a grand gesture each year, from our hearts… to you.” I could feel my eyes twinkling. I let the smile fall.

“Unfortunately, like I said, this year is quite unlike any of those previous.” The temperature in the room seemed to plummet. “As many of you know, our sales have dwindled, our growth has almost frozen. At Kenga, we’ve been doing our best to be able to do something great for all of you, to wow you as we strive to do each year. But this one has been an exceptional year, and not for the better.” A dramatic pause.

“As such, this year, my company will be unable to pay back the community with anything of value.” I heard whispers flutter throughout the crowd before me. Looks of shock and disappointment were rampant.

“I’m sorry for this. We tried our best, but success just wasn’t in the cards for us this year. We’re putting together a special committee to look into the changing economic landscape and redeploy our company with a new strategy for the new year. Our mission statement remains the same: to push the human race forward into unbounded prosperity and technological development, while catering to its needs with smarter, more efficient products and services.” Some boos started to sally forth. They were rude, but not unexpected. Someone shouted “Corporate douchebag!”

I looked towards the voice, bringing back the smile. A voice in my ear said, “Get out of there. Apologize and get out.” I took the headset I didn’t realize I’d had and threw it on the ground. The crowd was getting restless.

“You didn’t let me finish, audience participant.” The crowd fell silent again. “My company won’t be able to pay back our community, because my company is low on funds. I just spent six hours down at the Central Mall playing Santa for hundreds of children. They came and sat on my lap and told me all about the things they wanted for Christmas this year. All the things Santa hopefully already packed onto his sleigh.” I looked at my watch. “It’s getting late, after all.”

“Some children asked for things their parents couldn’t possibly give to them: physically impossible toys, new dads, new houses, new siblings, super powers, islands, ponies, an infinitely reusable dismissal note for school… and some children asked for more reasonable things. To those parents, I say you keep an ear out tomorrow for the doorbell.” Some clapping.

“But, I know buying gifts for four hundred children isn’t quite the gift our community needs. Unless, of course, you know what one particular girl asked for.” My smile shrank, and I scanned the audience, suddenly honest before me. I could feel the eyes of a thousand people searching for hope. “After a boy had asked for a telescope and an Xbox, but before a girl had asked for an acoustic guitar and a pet shark, 9 year-old Elizabeth asked me for only one thing. She said, ‘Santa, I know you’re not real, but I don’t know who else to ask.’ I gave her my best ‘Ho ho ho,’ and asked her to wish away, because Santa was listening. She went on, ‘Well, like I said, I know you’re not real, but… I only want… I want to be able to go to school.” Some ahh’s rose up from the crowd. I got serious.

“I went down to the mall today to make a few kids happy tomorrow, but I never expected what Elizabeth said. That she should have to ask for something so vital, something that should be guaranteed, for our children…” I started to tear up. The audience was mine. “It’s a request that should be unheard of in this day and age, with what my company does, and with what I have. And that’s why… this year… I will be donating $500 million, the majority of my life savings, to public education budgets in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States.”

A low rumble rose to a deafening roar. Everything was cheers. So many shouting, awestruck people. Flashbulbs all around. I could neither see nor hear. I felt a tug on my shoulder. Gemma was there, shocked and happy, so happy. We hugged. More people came to share in the moment, and soon a large group had surrounded me on stage, and I knew then that I had done right.

Muddling Feelings: “Role Model”

Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013

Roll: 6,4. Result: Feelings, Muddle.

In the sixth grade, we had to give presentations on our role models, and for this I chose my father. Back then, he was untouchable; every word he spoke was true and his actions were driven by the purest moral justice. There was no problem he couldn’t solve, no situation that he didn’t handle with grace and confidence, no question he couldn’t answer. He was cool, whip-smart, and most importantly, my father. He was mine and no one else’s, and for this I felt so incredibly lucky.

When I told my parents about the presentation I had done, my mom smiled and my dad gave me a big hug, saying thank you and proceeding to try convincing me that Einstein, Ted Roosevelt, or Martin Luther King, Jr. would make better role models. I listened to his pitch, believing all the while that I couldn’t have made a better choice.

When I was sixteen, I came home from school one day and my father had gone. I found my mother crying in her bedroom, and she wouldn’t say what had happened, except that he was gone and he was never coming back. I was confused, and angry, and I demanded that she tell me where he went, but when she didn’t budge I ran into my own room, slamming the door and starting to cry myself.

Over the years the subject became taboo. I tried to get her to say anything, but she would always go silent and ignore me, or move into another room if she could. There was nothing in the papers, and none of my relatives knew either. They said that they would tell me if they could, but whatever had happened was locked away in my mom’s head.

I did start to wonder whether she had killed him, although they had always been very happy together and I saw no signs that it had come to that. When I did eventually ask her straight up, her eyes went wide and she looked like she wanted to cry, but she wouldn’t. She just kept saying no and hugging me, insisting that it was nothing like that, but she promised she would never tell.

When she died, I went through everything in the house. I opened every file and folder, reading through it all, looking for anything which might be a clue as to what happened. I found one handwritten letter in my father’s handwriting, but unmarked. It said, “I still love you. I think of you often. Tell Guppy I love him.” Guppy was one of my old nicknames. She had never told me.

I sold the house and moved to the city, where I met my wife. When she became pregnant, and I got the writing job, we decided to move back to my hometown, and my old house was up for sale. The price was right, so we bought it, and I set right to remodeling the thing; It was full of weird feelings.

One day I was painting the front of the house when the baby started crying. I called out to my wife, but heard nothing, so I went to check on him. As I was climbing down the ladder, a man’s voice called out from behind me. Just my name, as a question.

I turned around, expecting an old acquaintance of some kind, but I did not know the man. He was holding an envelope, which he held out to me, saying that my father wanted me to have it. I stared. I demanded to know where my father was, if he was alive, what he was doing, and a hundred other questions. The man turned to go, but I grabbed his shoulder. He sighed and told me that everything and anything I could want to know was in the envelope. He stepped away, climbed into his car, and drove off.

The envelope contained six two-sided pages of small print, evidently written by my father. It explained that, when I was younger, he had been a contract killer. When I was sixteen, he botched a big job, and had no choice but to move away under witness protection. He had taken extra precautions to ensure that the letter made its way to me safely, so that I would not be endangered.

I read the letter twenty times that night, sitting on the floor of the living room in my half-painted house.

55 men. My father had killed 55 men by the time I did my presentation on him.

And he was my father, and no one else’s.

Avoiding Grief: “Moving with Gerard”

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013

Roll: 6,5. Result: Feelings, Avoid.

o_O I’m gonna go litotes all over this.

No, the dying wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was moving out all of her old stuff. As it turns out she had been very fond of some very heavy types of furniture in her last years, and hefty knickknacks with which to fill them. Removing and loading everything into moving boxes, moving those boxes, and then also moving the furniture took a team of ten young men, mostly family aside from one bored man from the street.

His name was Gerard, and he liked to smoke his pipe on his stoop at exactly 1:30pm each day. As it happens, this is the time we started loading the truck, and some of our remarks had caught his attention. Apparently Harold had asked me whether or not the small arms ammunition should be kept separate from the sterling utensils, and my response was something along the lines of “I don’t give a damn, so long as the ammunition is kept out of the guns and the utensils are kept out of your pockets.”

Gerard was a sociable fellow, and approached to make small talk while all too easily producing impressive smoke rings at his leisure. He watched the nine of us sweat through our plain clothing while he looked on with a hand in the pocket of his tweed jacket. It wasn’t until we tried to handle the grand piano that his use became apparent.

Hearing shouts of “It just won’t fit through the doorway,” he pranced up the steps inside the apartment complex to the third floor, where he found me and two of my brothers trying to persuade a big instrument through a small opening. He merely said, “Gentlemen, please,” and gestured for a moment to call his own. We relented and he set to work dismantling the thing in the craftiest of ways; each time we seemed uncertain and moved to stop him, he would shake his head and then pop some piece into or out of place.

Suddenly the piano was a manageable collection of small pieces, and he picked up the pipe to resume his former pursuits, returning down to the street below with one hand in his pocket. When the piano made it down into a second truck, and everything was loaded, I found my way over to Gerard to thank him. I told him that I had no idea a piano maker would come in handy at all in my life, let alone this particular Tuesday when so many things which had previously felt right were going so wrong. I offered to buy him a drink when he helped us put it back together at my cousin’s place, and he declined.

He said something I’ll never forget, which was, “I’m not and have never been a piano maker. I can’t put that back together, but I’ll buy it off your cousin for twice what it’s worth, if you’ll forgive my habit of encouraging people to seek out my piano-dismantling services by murdering their piano-owning loved ones.”

– – –

We burnt the piano that night.

Sci-Fi Short Story: “The Roland Device”

Monday, Dec. 9, 2013

Roll: 4,3. Result: Short Story, Sci-Fi

Roland prepped himself to zork. It had been 30 quanons since the Hinarii raiders took off on the last space train – no no jk. I wish. Aherm.

The Roland Device (part 1)

Roland rubbed his neck, trying to crack it like he’d already done a hundred times that night. He craned back down to the magnifying lens, suddenly unable to see because of a glare. A sunbeam had snuck through his weary blinds; he snapped them closed. The birds were coming to life outside. He applied a drop of solder to one last connection, and dropped his new metal casing into place, pressing it shut with a rubber-tipped instrument. There was a click. He sat back.

A smile spread between his lips, and he enjoyed a brief laugh. His eye caught on the pile of failed attempts in a box beside his desk, and his joy passed. He lolled his head over the back of the chair and let out a sigh.

– – –

“ROLAND!” He threw his arms out in surprise, cracking his wrist on the desk and falling to the floor with a crash. He heard laughter from beyond his door. “Roland, you okay?” Grimacing, he massaged his hand and stood up. He cracked a blind, seeing the sun high in the sky, and froze. He scrambled to get his shoes on and grab his backpack, barely remembering to include the device before dashing to the door. “Roland, shouldn’t you be at-”

He slammed open the door, hitting Lindsey square in the face. “OW! Ow ow ow… Roland… shouldn’t you be at work?”

He continued down the hall, and without looking back said, “You okay? Sorry, gotta go. Yeah, work. Sorry!”

He disappeared out the front door. “Gee, thanks,” said Lindsey, dabbing at her nose to check for blood.

– – –

In the parking lot, Roland drifted into the last space, the one furthest from the building. He was out of the car before its lifters shut off and it floated to the ground, though he had to dash back to grab his bag. He slammed open the front door and started up the stairs straight to his office. At the fifteenth floor, he jogged out into the hallway. “Roland, buddy, you look like shit!” said Eric.

“Okay. Thanks Eric, gotta go,” Roland said between breaths, pressing on. He saw the door to his office open and started to believe the coast was clear when his boss stepped out, spotting him immediately.

“Roland. I was beginning to think you’d fallen ill, or into a tiger pit. You have ten minutes to clean out your desk… unless you have a valid excuse, of course. Try me.”

Roland wasn’t ready to lose his job, or demonstrate his device, but it was one or the other, and at least there was a chance his latest attempt could work. Panting, he gestured for his boss to follow and moved into the office, plopping down his backpack to take out the device and two pairs of safety glasses.

“What is this? I don’t understand,” said the boss, equipping the goggles.

“Do you see the bags under my eyes, Monty?” he asked, before strapping on his own protective eyewear. “Hopefully… this here is my excuse. Watch that pen.”

Roland took a deep breath and switched on the device before leveling it at the pen on his desk. A red laser dot confirmed his accuracy, and he pulled the trigger.

There was a click, and nothing happened. He pulled it again, maneuvering the thumbstick in desperation. Click, click, click.

“So… let me get this straight. You stayed up all night customizing a laser pointer instead of getting ready for your presentation to the international committee? And you missed it. You slept right through it. I’m sorry Roland, I need to let you go. Ten minutes.” He turned and left, muttering, “And I have to fire Rodney today.”

Roland barely noticed he was gone. He sat clicking the device for a minute or so before whipping it against the wall in anger.

“Sorry man, that sucks,” said Eric, appearing in the doorway, wide-eyed. He was holding an empty box. “Boss said to bring this to you. Beer later? I know you don’t drink, but… maybe tonight you will?” He chuckled, handing over the box. “I’m sorry, man.”

Roland took it from him, waving for him to leave, and mumbled a “Yeah, beer…”

Eric backed into the hallway and vanished. Roland took the box to his desk and started cramming everything in from his three measly drawers.

There was a loud bang, followed by silence. Then, a scream. Lots of shouting, running footsteps, another bang. More screams. Roland peeked into the hallway and saw Rodney rounding the corner at the end, pistol in hand. Eric’s head poked out of his own office next door, closer to Rodney. It disappeared into the office as a hole erupted in the door frame.

Roland stared in horror as Rodney strode to Eric’s door and fired into the office. Eric was heard crying out in pain, but quickly cut off by a second shot. Suddenly Rodney and the gun were facing Roland.

He scrambled back into his office, finding nowhere to go but behind his desk. He cowered behind the drawers and waited. A shot tore through the desk to his left and he flinched. His breathing became rapid, and he spotted the device just beyond the safety of his desk. Instinctively he reached out for it, but as he pulled it in a series of shots rang out, apparently mangling the facing side of the metal drawers. In the moment of calm afterwards, Roland fell on his side, hastily pointing the laser in Rodney’s eyes.

Rodney put his hand in front of his eyes, bringing the gun towards Roland. Roland pulled the trigger.

Rodney gasped. “What the-” Roland jiggled the thumbstick and Rodney slapped himself in the face.

Roland pointed the device lower, and Rodney watched his hand move down. Roland jerked it downwards and Rodney’s hand pulled his body to the floor, landing him on his face and causing him to lose his grip on the gun.

With his heart racing, Roland disengaged the device from Rodney’s hand and aimed it at the gun now. He pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t react. He pulled up, expecting the gun to rise, but instead there was a massive groan, the lights went out, and the building shook. He released the trigger in a panic and fell down a foot, onto the floor. There was a thunderous crash. Rodney wailed and crawled for the door.

Roland sat still, breathing rapidly and trying not to move. Rodney’s wails grew fainter in the halls. A siren could be heard somewhere outside, growing louder. Another massive groan, and Rodney cried out. Now Roland began to feel a pull towards the doorway. The groaning continued, vibrating the whole room. Roland was sliding towards the door now. The desk tipped over and smashed into the doorway, joined by the potted fern, pictures from the wall, and the empty bookcase from the corner. As Roland clawed at the floor coming up towards him, his feet met the wall, and he stood up in the corner, one foot on the wall, the other on the floor. For a moment, the tilting halted.

Then the ceiling started to pull away. The room distorted. Light flooded in from odd places. Everything was noise, and Roland crouched, white-knuckled, as the sky appeared above him. He saw the ceilings of every office on his floor topple, along with the upper stories of the building, down to the street below. As they went, they snapped the wall on which he stood, and he was dumped out into the open air, along with his desk, fern, and pictures.

Roland was falling, and he was going to die.

But then, he wasn’t.

After unclenching his tightly closed eyes, he looked down at his white-knuckled hands, and in one was the device, pointed square at his own chest in a vice-like grip, with the trigger pinned. He swallowed hard, not hearing massive sounds of the top half of his building gradually settling on the ground below.

Roland looked down, spotting flashing lights through the dust cloud. He dare not move his hands at all. He heard shouting and screams from the crowd somewhere below, but when the dust finally cleared, he saw them pointing up. He took a deep breath and yelled, full of terror, “HELP ME!” 

Short Story via Literary Fiction: Jimmy’s Friend

Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013

Roll: 4,4. Result: Short Story, Literary Fiction

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Jim was a short boy with an ambition too tall for his stunted frame. He grew up in the outskirts of an industrial city in Nebraska, where his parents were both geologists and the local church knew everyone by name.

When Jim was in fourth grade, he told his teacher that he just wasn’t cut out for this life, and strolled out of the classroom. His best friend at the time applauded as he strutted out, but the teacher was dumbstruck and didn’t react. Jim managed to get all the way out of the building and then walked straight home, where he broke in through the doggy door and started gathering scrap metal and old electronics together in the garage. When the cops showed up, Jim yelled to them as he hammered and soldered that he wasn’t supposed to let strangers into the house, so they had no choice but to wait. Jim’s parents came home shortly after, furious that the school had let him out of their sights. By the time they got into the garage, Jim was touching two wires together, repeatedly flexing a small robotic arm with the hand of a stuffed animal stuck on the end.

This, at least, is the story he just told his friend Gordon, at the coffee shop in the lobby of his office building in Lower Manhattan. Gordon sits and stares at Jimmy, shaking his head and laughing.

“Oddly enough, Jimmy, I believe you, I do. Unreal. It just all happened at once, one day? You realized what you wanted? And so young?”

Jimmy laughs, looking up at Gordon from his own stool. At the very least, he didn’t lie about being short. “All at once.” He smiles, enigmatically.

Gordon’s watch buzzes. “Oh shit, Jimmy, I’m sorry, I gotta go. Thanks for the story. And this,” he says, holding up the macchiato.

“Anytime, Gordon. You know where to find me.” He stands up, shakes Gordon’s hand, and retreats back into the near elevator, which seems to have foreseen his stylish departure.

“Sheesh,” Gordon mutters, smiling. “That fucking guy.” His watch buzzes again, in response. He swallows hard. I can do this.

Gordon turns the corner into the food court proper, bursting into a fake smile at the sight of Lily. He waves enthusiastically, mentally preparing himself as he nears, leans in for the kiss, then deposits his bag and sits. His movements feel stiff, and forced. He grows uncomfortable as he thinks that she must have noticed, and that she must have noticed him thinking so. And that she must have noticed him thinking about her noticing him, and so on.

“What’s wrong?”

Shit. Not a good start. “Look.” He releases a heavy, grievous sigh. “We need to break up.” Oh no!

She starts. “What? Are you serious? Tell me you’re not serious.” Her eyes grow wide.

Gordon returns the gaze. “No.”

Silence.

Lily cracks a smile.

“No, of course not!” says Gordon, rending his lips apart, in awkward mimicry of joy. She doesn’t notice his internal agony.

“You really had me going!” She slaps him. “My God!” Loud, relieved laughter.

“I’m a jokester!” says Gordon, laughing uneasily. “You know me!” More forced ha’s. He looks down at the table.

“That’s not funny, you know.” Gordon can hear the smile fade from her voice. “Gordon, it’s not.”

Gordon stares down, burning a hole in the table before he looks up, stone-faced. “I know.” A pause. “I was serious.”

Freewriting a Thing: The Necklace

Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013

Roll: 3,2. Result: Freewrite, Thing

I used to have a necklace that my great-grandfather gave to me. It was sterling silver, and by the time I got it, good and tarnished. It was a simple chain with an elegant little setting for a blue gemstone. I don’t know what kind of gem it was, or if it even was one, but I know that it was the most beautiful jewel I’d ever seen. It wasn’t totally clear, but it wasn’t opaque either. There was a sort of glistering swirl of dust in the thing, and yet the gem was the swirl. When I looked at it, I saw the boundless sea on a clear summer day, all mixed up with the cloudless sky overhead. Looking at it was happiness, and it reminded me that nothing was complicated, everything was pure.

When I moved out, I made sure to put it with my things, and to this day I remember stowing it in the same bag as my toothbrush. When I finally finished unpacking, I couldn’t remember setting it out anywhere in my new apartment. I went through all the boxes and bags I’d brought with me. I tore up the whole apartment I’d just organized. I called my parents, scoured my car, retraced my steps, and called my parents again. I waited, to see if it would unearth itself naturally. As of right now, I still have not seen that necklace.

I never met my great-grandfather, but I like to imagine he had blue eyes, like the gemstone, and like mine. I wonder if he’d be upset that I’d lost it. I wonder why he told my parents that I should have it. He must have had thirty or forty great-grandchildren, and he picked me. While I was still a baby. My parents told me that he left it in his will, without any explanation. I was really grateful to have it, after I realized how special it was, when I was old enough, but now I have nothing.

It’s ironic, that I want to have it again, just so that it can remind me that nothing is complicated. Nothing is lost. Everything is where it should be.

Oh!

Here it is.