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The Man Without Sundays

February 10, 2019

[ a short story by andrew j. bartlett]

He opened the front door to his darkened apartment. It was late, and this was to be expected. Flipping the switch on the panel next to the door, the room was filled with light. It had been a long day, and he was finally home.

The door to the waiting room opened and a young man, grinning eagerly – possibly too eagerly – emphatically shook the elder man’s hand. While the elder man grinned back, worried his arm was going to be pulled from its socket thanks to the repetitive pumping motion as his hand stayed connected with that of the young man’s, he was showered with a litany of thanks and gratitude: “I really, really do appreciate you taking the time to see me today. I hope to hear from you soon!”

The elder man, miraculously managing to relieve his hand from the grip of the young man’s, replied with the standard fare: “Well, we’ll keep in touch. Keep an ear out – we’ll be making our final decisions over the next few days, and let you know what we decide.”

The young man’s hand made to reach out and grab the elder man’s hand once more, but a movement from the latter, reaching to adjust the glasses on the elder man’s face, deterred any further awkwardness in the handshake department. “Now, excuse me,” said the elder man, “I have one more interview to conduct before the day ends for me. It was nice meeting you, and you’ll hear from us, as I said, soon.”

Back-stepping toward the door that would lead out of the waiting room, and back into the world of Not-Here, the young man said “Thank you” to the elder man one final time. As he pushed the door open and made his way out the door, he shot a quick glance at the other man, who had been sitting in the waiting room the whole time. His face couldn’t hide the resentment he felt in possible competition, but backward momentum kept him from analyzing too much in the moment by the time he was out and away from the scene.

The elder man stood for a moment, staring at the door and making sure the young man was not going to think an encore was requested. When reassured no such encore was going to take place, he turned toward the other man in the waiting room and said, while wriggling feeling back into his hand-shaken fingers, “You my 3 o’clock?”

The other man grinned modestly and nodded.

“Well, then,” said the elder man. “Come on in and we’ll get started.”

He crossed the living room and reached out his hand to the lump of fur sitting on the back of the couch. A tiny, pink nose met the outstretched hand, and he could feel the vibration of excited purring through such minimal contact. He was happy he was home, too, and wriggled his fingers through the fur at the top of his cat’s head.”

“I do apologize for that… performance you had to sit through, out there,” the elder man said as he led the other man into his office. As he made his way around his modestly-sized, yet still professional and intimidating desk, he extended his hand toward the across the other side in silent invitation. “We get a lot of exuberant hopefuls, and they tend to gush: an opportunity at a place like this, I don’t blame them, really. Unfortunately, an opportunity at a place like this… it’s a tough gig to acquire.”

The other man smiled. “I completely understand. And, please, allow me to get the gushing out of the way, and thank you for taking the time to see me today.”

The elder man nodded cordially and said, “Well, I must admit: I was intrigued when you contacted me regarding your interview time. We don’t normally take special requests, especially when we have set times for that kind of thing on the website…”

“Yessir,” the other man said humbly. “And, like I mentioned when I spoke with your… secretary?”

“Assistant. These are modern times, you know.”

He went from the living room and made his way down the hall to the bedroom. Setting his bag next to the dresser, he approached the bed and sat down. A tiny, exhausted sound escaped from the back of his throat as he closed his eyes and moved his head around, in circular motions. After several circles, he opened his eyes and took off his shoes.

“That we are, sir. Like I mentioned when I spoke with your assistant, my scheduling is a bit odd and the times that were available didn’t work in that particular frame of scheduling.” The other man blinked and then continued: “Which, I might add, not many places do their interviewing during the weekend.”

The elder man leaned forward in his seat, his eyes taking on a wily gleam. “Ah, that’s the trick. See how committed a person is by determining whether or not they’d forgo fun weekend plans by coming into some unknown office and interview for a job they might very well not get.”

Leaning back in his chair, the gleam in his eye gone, the elder man said, “Which is why I find it interesting that you’re even here at all. Schedule an interview you couldn’t make and then have the nerve to call and request a special interview outside of the parameters that we’ve set.”

The other man was taken aback, slightly. “I’m sorry, sir. I was under the impression you had seen my credentials and thought it worth giving me the opportunity to come in, at the very least. Did you not get my resume and attribu-”

“Yes, yes, I received your thesis of an application,” the elder man interrupted, waving off the other man’s words of argument. “But what I’m still stuck on is the scheduling thing. I apologize, but I’m a stubborn old man… and once something takes hold, I have to have some kind of closure before moving on.”

Nodding, the other man said, “I understand, sir.”

“No, I don’t think you do,” countered the elder man. “Not only did I break my interview schedule rule to have you come in today, but I am about to cross the line of ethics when I ask the following question: why could you not come in during the weekend and interview, like all the others?”

He walked into the kitchen, dressed in his most comfortable pajamas. His slippered feet swished over the linoleum as he made his way across the room and to the cabinet above the sink. From there, he picked out a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water from the tap. He sipped at the cool water and stared out the window between the sink and the cabinet, in the darkness of his backyard.

“Pardon my saying so, sir,” the other man said, “but what about the young man you interviewed right before me? Did he have special scheduling issues?”

The elder man made another dismissive waving motion. “Oh, that’s my cousin’s kid. Thinks if he schmoozes me and feigns excitement, he’s a shoe-in for the position we’re offering. Between you and me,” he said, leaning forward again, conspiratorially, “the only shoe-in he’s eligible for is the one applied to his own ass. I mean, I don’t know the kid well, but the time spent with him earlier was enough for me to gain that much knowledge about him.

“But!” he exclaimed, moving back and lounging comfortably in his own chair, “I’m really just telling you all this because I want to know your story. You’re no relative, and aside from your credentials – which, are nothing to shrug off, I do admit – I don’t see anything else worth stretching our own standards to appease those of someone who’s not even part of our organization.”

“Well, sir,” the other man said, “while I appreciate the opportunity to sit here and discuss with you the position you’re offering, if you think I’m not worth your time, I can just lea-”

“Nonsense. We got this far, you’ve piqued my interest, and we’re talking plainly now. You may as well just go ahead and tell me: what makes you so special.”

The other man considered. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll tell you, but you’re not going to believe me.”

Leaning forward slowly, the wily gleam back in his eye, the elder man said, “Try me.”

“Yes, sir,” the other man shrugged. “The truth of the matter is… the weekend doesn’t exist for me.”

He placed the empty glass in the sink, next to a fork and a bowl stained red from his favorite pasta recipe. His cat entered the room, a soundtrack of heavy purring marking the occasion, and jumped onto the counter. As his cat licked at the water droplets on the sink’s metal surface, he opened up another cabinet and pulled out a glass bowl.

The elder man stared at the other man. A heavy silence fell between the two for the span of several moments, until it was finally broken by the elder man. He opened his mouth, closed it. Opened it again and touched his tongue to the back of his upper teeth. “Hnh” was the sound he made before finding the words to say, “So, when you say the ‘weekend doesn’t exist’ for you… what does that actually mean?”

“Well, sir,” the other man said, “what it means is, where most people experience Saturdays and Sundays, I… don’t.”

His head making bobbing motions, though not necessarily nodding, the elder man said, “Right. You mean, because you are working so hard that the time seems to fly by, and thus… in a metaphorical sense, not being able to experience them?”

The other man gave the elder man a sympathetic look. “No, sir. I mean in the most literal sense that I do not experience Saturdays or Sundays.”

The elder man blinked. His face scrunched in an attempt to understand what was being said to him. After a moment, he finally said, “No, I don’t get it.”

Taking a moment, the other man looked down and took a breath before looking back up. A soft smile spread across his face – experience with this explanation, along with experience of the resulting reaction cultivated into a firm expression. “It all started several years ago…”

He set the spoon on the table, next to the glass bowl. Moving from the table and back across the kitchen, he approached the refrigerator and opened it. He looked at the items on the shelves and picked out several from each. When his hands were full of ingredients, he went back to the table to set them down before heading back to the fridge to retrieve the rest.

“I was working third shift for this customer service company,” the other man started telling the elder man, “and it was a pretty nice arrangement: I would work around the building, setting up merchandise and, every now and then, you’d have a customer suffering from insomnia or the like to assist with something outlandish. It wasn’t too bad, but Sundays were the worst…”

“How so?” asked the elder man.

“Well,” the other man continued, “I just noticed there was this differing mentality and behavior with people, customers and fellow employees alike, that strayed far, far from the normal fare in customer service. There was generally a lot more conflict and tension on Sundays than any other day, I experienced. It got so bad, I started to joke about, what with us being smack in the Bible Belt, that it was the way of the people on Sunday: go to church, absolve yourself of your sins of the week, then go out and commit new ones on this wiped-clean slate.”

The elder man nodded, said, “I see…”

Aware that he may have offended such a church-goer, the other man quickly got back to the story: “Anyway, I was scheduled to work a Friday-through-Monday stretch of graveyard shifts one weekend. I worked Friday night, into Saturday morning. I was scheduled until nine that Saturday morning, and went to take my meal break around four-thirty that same morning.”

“Okay…” the elder man said. He was sitting back in his chair, once more, his elbows on the arms of his chair. His hands were steepled in front of his face, his eyes focused down the point where his fingers connected, and looking straight at the other man.

“Well, after eating my meal, I would normally take a quick nap,” the other man went on. “So, after I ate, I put my head on the table and fell asleep. When I woke up, my boss was screaming at me.”

“Because you were late getting back to work?”

“You could say that,” the other man said. “You could also say that when I woke up, it was a little past seven in the morning, Monday morning. Turns out I had missed my entire weekend shift.”

He arranged the ingredients in order of application. Sitting down now, drumming his fingers on the table, he looked over everything in front of him and felt there was something missing. When he didn’t see the can with the red top, he knew exactly what he was missing; it was a weekly tradition, and he would not mess it up now. He got up, out of the chair, and went back to the refrigerator.

The elder man looked over his fingers, still steepled, across his desk and at the other man. “You’re telling me,” he said, maintaining his pose, “that you slept over forty-eight hours in one go?”

“No, sir,” the other man said, shaking his head and applying the sympathetic grin further. “I’m saying I missed over forty-eight hours. As far as to how much I actually slept… I’m assuming it couldn’t have been more than twenty, maybe thirty minutes.”

The elder man looked off to the side, deep in thought. After a moment, he turned back to the other man. “How is that possible?”

The other man shrugged. “All these years, I still don’t have anywhere close to that particular answer.”

“And any other answers in regards to this…?”

He set the can onto the table, like the final piece of an appetizing puzzle. Sitting back down, he licked his lips and opened the first package in the ingredient line-up. He dipped the scoop once, twice, three times, and emptied each time into the glass bowl. He proceeded to move down the line-up, drizzling and sprinkling for texture. It wasn’t until after he’d set down the can, placing the red top back in its place, and he was reaching for the jar of red when the phone rang.

The other man thought for a moment, then proceeded to answer the elder man’s question: “How it happens and why it happens are still unknown variables, I have to admit. However,” he leaned forward slightly, “over the years I’ve been able to find that there is a pattern. It happens once a week, and always along the same stretch of time – give or take fifty-two hours, between the hours of five in the morning on Saturday and seven in the morning on that following Monday. Taking into account where we’re located, in a time zone sense, it’s my theory that I’m not experiencing what would be Sunday… throughout the entire world.”

“… how?”

“Well,” the other man leaned back in his chair, “after some intense observation, intermingled with the awkward trials when it comes to falling asleep and waking up with several days having passed, I got to thinking…

“At first, I thought I was getting tired, like I was the very first night… er, morning that it happened because of the hours I had worked. After that first incident, however, I began to notice: no matter what I did, how much caffeine I ingested or how much sleep I got the previous night, I always managed to get incredibly sleepy between what would be four-thirty and five in the morning. So I did a little research, and it turns out that the expanse of time I’ve been missing is an approximate time frame for when some or every part of the world is experiencing Sunday.”

The elder man’s brow had furrowed. It was a look familiar to the other man, as this level of explanation intrigued nobody other than himself, and, he knew, sounded like a lot of work to make up an excuse to not work the weekend. Or do anything for the weekend, for that matter.

The other man cleared his throat. “In short, sir: had I not requested the time change for the interview, and had you not graciously agreed to do so, I would have missed out on the interview and not had this opportunity to meet with you.”

Silence. The room had been permeated in its richness, as the elder man stared across his desk at the other man, his eyes assessing and probing; not moving yet seeming to scan the other man for any signs of deceit or ill intentions. After a moment, he finally blinked. “Well, if nothing else,” the elder man said, “it’s a very creative way to get out of doing things for the weekend. Though, why anybody would try to get out of experiencing a weekend, I doubt I’ll ever know…”

The other man had to grin at this – the elder man had asked, and he had responded; how the former decided to go forward with this information… the other man knew that was entirely up to the elder man. They spoke for another half-hour, the elder man giving details of the position, and after all was said and done, he stood up from his seat. The other man stood as well, and both men walked to the door leading to the waiting room.

“I tell you what,” the elder man said, “even if it is off-schedule, I am glad we had this talk today. If nothing else, it gives me a good story to go home and tell the wife and kids. So, thank you for that.

The elder man extended his hand. “We’ll keep in touch. Keep an ear out – we’ll be making our final decisions over the next few days, and let you know what we decide.”

The other man took the elder man’s hand, gave it a quick pump before releasing it once more. “Thank you, sir. I look forward to hearing from you.”

He sat back down at the table, staring at the bowl in front of him. For a moment, he looked at the now disconnected phone, blinking. Taking a deep breath, he set the phone down and moved his hand to the jar of red. He removed the ingredient from the jar and dangled it over the bowl and its other ingredients, He smiled: the job was his. He would start on Monday – no earlier than eight that morning.

It was the cherry on top.

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Pizza for Your Thoughts?

January 26, 2019

I don’t know if you know this: I’m not one for alcohol. I didn’t have my first drink until two days after my twenty-first birthday, and since then I rarely touch the stuff. I used to be a prude about drinking and people doing said drinking, but over the years I’ve mellowed out and as long as you’re being responsible and not doing anything that would endanger your life or any life in your immediate or figurative radius, then have at it.

A few weeks after my twenty-first birthday, I was invited to a dueling piano bar downtown for a friend’s twenty-first birthday party. Overall, it was an okay time; but, then again: it wasn’t my birthday, so what does it matter what I thought of the environs, right? It was loud, with inebriated persons here and there, having a good time. Good on them.

Out of the dozen or so people attending the party specifically, I was one of the only two men in attendance. Even then, after about thirty minutes of sulking (because one of the girls partying, having a few drinks, and properly celebrating her friend’s twenty-first trip around the sun, instead of spending said time paying attention to him) that half of the literal two-man group stormed out of the bar and went home.

This left me being the only person in the party group who identified as male, and ultimately led to me being the volunteer Designated Driver when it came time for the tabs to be paid and the drunken ladies to be escorted home safely. (I should mention: Sulking Sam from the previous paragraph was the original DD for at least one of the girls at the party; his leaving in a huff left her without a ride, and without a clue thanks to her current state of inebriation at that point. Classy, that one.)

When I pulled my car to the curb in front of the bar, the soberest inebriated girl I was taking home helped corral the other two into the backseat. They slumped back there: one leaning against the door while the other draped herself over the first. A chorus of “You’re my best friend” with an “I would die if anything happened to you” accompaniment provided the background noise for the trip back to the soberest inebriated girl’s house, where all three of the girls would end up that night.

As the soberest inebriated girl continued to veer from inebriation and head closer to sobriety, she and I held light conversation. Every now and then, one of the girls from the back would chime in with a pearl of wisdom (“I. LOVE. This bitch!”) and then slump back to her drunken dozing.

My favorite part, the whole point of this diatribe, was when one of the girls – still drunk but still kickin’ with consciousness, with her backseat compatriot having passed out at that point – leaned forward from the back and said to my front seat companion, “Hey! Do we have any pizza left in the fridge?”

Trying to seem cool with a drunk girl, whom I’d just met that very evening and who might just indulge my subconscious curiosity as to what she’d had for dinner that evening at some point during this endeavor, I asked, “Pizza, huh? Any good toppings?”

“Fuck you!” the girl in the back shouted immediately. “That’s my pizza! You can’t have it!”

“Fair enough,” I said, “I’m protective about my pizza, too.”

The immediacy of the response amused me greatly, but the girl in the passenger seat didn’t think so. “Hey now,” she said. “Be nice. He’s taking you home when he didn’t have to.”

“Oh yeah,” the girl in the back said. A near-lifeless arm flailed over the back of my seat; the hand attached to the arm smacked my face, then limply fell to my shoulder. Pat-pat went the seemingly boneless hand. “You’re cool. You can have pizza, if you want pizza.”

I thanked the girl. Miraculously, the hand, pulled by the arm, was removed from my shoulder.

We got to the now-sober girl’s place, and the girl in the backseat roused her friend from her slumber. “Wake up, bitch! Let’s go eat some pizza!”

The other girl sat up, in a daze, said “… pizza?”, and, as though she were auditioning for the latest Romero tribute film, made her way out of the car and up the walk to the sober girl’s house. After making sure all three got into the house safely, I drove off and made my way home; the entire drive, wondering to my own amusement as to pizza girl’s opinion of pineapple.

To this day, I still wonder.

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Sleep When You’re Dead

January 9, 2019

[a short story by andrew j. bartlett]

I’ve been doing this thing recently, where I’ve been staying up late into the night straight into the early morning hours.

There’s no good reason for it, really – it’s not as though I have insomnia or any other kind of sleep-depriving issue; it’s more… I don’t know, like I’ll get myself sucked into something and I’ll just lose track of time. If I get myself into reading an especially good book, one that just grabs your attention and enthralls you into a page-turning frenzy, I’ll find that several hours have passed in the course of tearing through several hundred pages.

Have you ever done that: read to the point where you lose time, the only thing that makes you aware of the passage of such time being that of the ache in your eyes? This ache, brought on by not only your body telling you it might be time for bed, but your eyes begging for you to finally blink. Well, it’s that kind of thing which eats up my time and I find myself greeting a new dawn, as if to look at it expectantly and say, “Well, it’s about time. What took you so long?”

When I was younger, I had this child-like idea that the days didn’t turn until you went to bed. Sure, the clock may hit midnight and the adults may tell you that once midnight has struck, Monday has now become Tuesday, but my still-naive mind had other plans. If I had a big test on Thursday, for which I obviously didn’t study, staying awake on Wednesday, well past midnight, would keep me in the Wednesday time zone. Of course, as such things are to happen, my youthful vigor and stubbornness could not compete with that of the universe: I would find myself asleep by two o’clock in the morning, and when I woke up, Thursday would be sitting by the bed, giving me a look of arrogant victory.

I’m older now, and I understand how time works. As a construct, that is; as the relative idea that mankind has placed around the term itself. Enough seconds pass and then minutes are upon us; from there, we get into hours, then days, then so on and so forth. I get it: time has lordship over everyone with a job, with an appointment to get to, with a person they want or need to see, with a person they’d rather not need to see… basically, everyone with things to do. Which, quite short and plainly put: time has lordship over everyone.

I think about this now, as I sit and write out my thoughts on time and the idea that sleep, or lack thereof, could somehow be a doorway or a canal through time.

Or maybe sleep is more of a vessel…?

It’s been six days since I last slept. At least, I think it’s been six days: the sun has risen and set in six cycles, so I can only quantify each cycle as a “day”, as I had been conditioned in my youth to understand time and how it works. Truth of the matter is… regardless of how I write it or what I try to pass off as the way it should be, six days have passed and it is still Tuesday.

Back when Tuesday was actually Tuesday, on the calendars and throughout this particular time zone in any case, I had stayed up late playing a video game. It wasn’t anything important, nothing to really lose sleep over – some first-person shooter set in space, you’re the hero and all of the ugly, nasty-sounding creatures firing their weapons at you were the enemy. Simple enough, and I was completely in the zone. Oh, every now and then I would look at the clock, see how “late” it was, and mumble my mantra: “Wow, it’s late, should probably go to bed soon.” I would then go back to resume playing the game.

This mantra-mumbling turned into some kind of somber cycle until at a certain point I broke it by, after mumbling the mantra, turning to look out the window. Bright sunlight sat on the floor as it peeked through the window. The mantra over the past several hours changed slightly: “Wow, it’s early, should definitely go to bed soon.”

And yet, after stretching and further assessing the situation, I realized I was not at all tired. Not even a yawn during the aforementioned stretch. It was as though I had some strong form of a second wind. With that in mind, I got up from where I had sat for those last several hours, and proceeded to make myself something to eat. Only to realize further: I wasn’t at all hungry.

I wasn’t tired and I wasn’t hungry. This wasn’t too troubling, at the time, as I had looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was still early morning. During this time on any other day, had I gone to bed like I used to, I would have still been asleep. After thinking this over and easily accepting it as logic, I shrugged and sat back down. Seeing as I’d spent the better part of the previous night playing a mind-numbing video game, I decided to counter that by diving back into the book I’d been reading for the last week. It’s a fantasy novel where the elements become sentient and humans partner with these sentient elements and things ultimately go into chaos, and immediately after opening the book to where I had marked leaving off, I was back amid that chaos.

A significant amount of time passed, enough for me to finish the entire novel and close it with a sad yet satisfied sigh. I sat there for a moment, in a sad yet satisfied stupor, and when I finally broke out of it and looked at the clock, I become severely concerned. Yes, several hours had gone by – enough to carry the day from early morning into mid-afternoon; and yet, despite all that time having passed, I was still not tired. Not to mention: I was still not hungry, either.

I also noticed, as you do when things start to seem at their peak weirdness and your senses decide at that moment that each one wants to intensify and reach their full potential, that something else was missing. Something outside, that is.

Now, I live next to a pretty busy street, and if the time on my clock at that particular moment was correct, I should have been hearing the steady and almost soothing sound of mid-afternoon traffic. The time was just right, I should have been hearing the rhythmic beeping of a school bus as it backed out in order to make its way out of the parking lot to my apartment complex… but I didn’t. Not even the occasional frustrated honk, or the overcompensating roar of an engine in response.

Nothing.

I stepped out onto my balcony and found that the reason why I didn’t hear the sounds of traffic was that there was absolutely no traffic with which to make any sound. I strained my ear, giving it its moment to shine, to see if I could hear anything further out: potentially traffic from the highway several hundred yards away, or the incessant blaring of a car alarm going off, or even just the sound of people being loud, of kids squealing at the daycare down the road. And yet, aside from the soft murmur of the wind holding private conversation with the trees, there was nothing to be heard.

Walking back in from the balcony, I started to wonder if something had happened. If so, then what? Was it a holiday, of which I knew nothing about? Is that why there wasn’t any traffic, with people staying home for the day? Is that why I didn’t hear the beeping bus or the squealing children, as they had all stayed home as well?

My mind tried to make it make sense. I looked at the calendar, and no: no holiday. Looking anything up on my laptop didn’t help, either; I had forgotten to pay the bill for Internet, and it had been shut off a few days prior. No connection to the Internet, no connection to the outside world.

This last thought drove me to throw the laptop onto the seat next to me on the couch and immediately put on my shoes and rush out the door. I hurried down the three flights of stairs, with my keys in my hand – somehow in my rush I had remembered to grab them – and ran to the parking lot toward my car. I pointed the key fob at my vehicle like a magic wand and tapped the button that would unlock it. Thankfully, the back lights of the car flashed and the horn chirped to let me know it was unlocked.

I took a few more steps toward my car before stopping in the middle of the lot. Looking around, I saw that my neighbors’ cars were filling the spaces. It was the normal clustering of park jobs, and nothing too out of the ordinary. However, I still got this feeling that there were… Too. Many. As though these were the cars that would have been in these same parking spaces, but overnight. The amount of vehicles in the lot would attest to a possible holiday; and yet, like I mentioned before: there was no holiday notated on my trusty calendar.

Tapping the “lock” function on my key fob, which resulted in the obedient chirping of my car giving me its affirmative on the matter, I walked toward the main office of the apartment complex. Holiday or no, if anybody was going to be in the office at this time of day, it would be one or two members of the complex management. Seeing their faces, no matter how confused their expressions may be at the sight of a grown man in his pajamas in the middle of the afternoon, would bring a wealthy amount of relief to my mentality, and I rushed toward the door to claim my prize.

Only, the door was locked. I tried the handle and it wouldn’t budge. Standing slightly on the tips of my toes, I peered through the glass at the top of the door and found the office in complete darkness. I lowered myself back to solid ground and gave the door a firm knock; some days, even if the office was “closed”, members of management would work in the side rooms and do paperwork or other sundry tasks to catch up on the doings of apartment management.

Hearing no response, not a rustle of paper or the murmur of irritated comments about being interrupted, I knocked once more. And again: no response.

I thought for a moment, then made my way back to my car. After unlocking it and dropping myself into the driver’s seat, and was relieved to find that everything seemed to be in working order, literally: the key in the ignition cranked the engine to life, and I was able to back out of the parking space and make my way out of the parking lot. But where was I going?

Don’t ask me why, but I needed to see people. No, I needed to see a person. Just one. So I decided that the best possible choice would be to try somewhere considerably populated. One of the local shopping malls is located right down the road from me, so I turned onto the main road and drove in that direction.

The entire way to the mall, I worked my way mentally through scenarios, constantly telling myself that, regardless of whether there was a holiday on or not, there was always a group of people ready to shun the ideals of the majority and go to the mall. This group of people would be some kind of saving grace, some kind of resolution to what I was beginning to consider the unraveling of my sleep-deprived mind. If I could just see one person, I could leave satisfied, go home, and finally get to sleep.

That last thought poked at me as I realized, yet again: I was still not tired. And, yes: I was still not hungry.

I thought to myself that I would worry about those seemingly trivial matters later, as I drove into the mall parking lot. The lot itself wasn’t full, definitely not the scene of mid-afternoon shoppers, but it also wasn’t empty, either; vehicles were set in random formations, some close to the buildings, others parked in the farthest corners of the lot. I made no ceremony of my presence in the lot as I drove straight to the curb along the front of the closest building to the mall – I did not fail to see that it was the food court, of all places.

I left the engine running as I got out of the car and made my way to the nearest door. Not more than a few feet away from my vehicle, and I was already started to feel this trip was fruitless: there were no lights on in the building, there were no mixed smells of competing food outlets and their wares, but most of all there were no people milling about, shopping bags giving their arms a workout. It was shut down and still, the only sound that could be heard was that of the wind and the trees, their soft utterances starting to make me feel they were talking about me. Then again: sleep depravity, right?

I drove back home and when I walked back through the door, I found I’d left my phone on the counter. My phone! All this time, and I could have just sent a text message or even called somebody to see what I had missed. Unlike the Internet service, I had paid the phone bill on time, so there shouldn’t be any problem in getting calls or text messages through and to another human being.

Without blinking, I picked up the phone and powered it on. The screen came to life and its top menu gleamed with the colors and icons of its applications. I tapped the icon with the shape of a phone on it, and tapped the first name at the top of the list: “Bro”. He was the last person I’d spoken to on the phone, our conversation a quick one, catching up and mainly talking about the kids, and he wouldn’t be surprised by a call from his older brother that involved the latter requiring vocal reassurance that there were still people on this marble called Earth. Because, let’s face it: sleep-depravity or not, this was starting to feel like one of those stories…

However, no sooner had I tapped “Bro” than I was met with a screeching from the phone itself. There wasn’t a melodic chime followed by a pleasant voice telling me I’d misdialed or that something was wrong with the connection; no, this was a flat-out screech, worse than what you’d expect when you heard interference from two walkie-talkies in extremely close proximity to one another.

I immediately ended the call, for lack of a better term, and tossed the phone onto the couch. It landed next to the laptop, a collection of useless, yet functioning technology. And I simply stood there, staring at these pieces of tech, wondering what was going on and what I was going to do.

Some time had passed… I don’t know how long, or if it really matters, but for the sake of chronicling this thing, I’m going to assume it was a few more hours. I had stood, staring at the laptop and the phone, for a few more hours. I could tell you I was lost in a flood of thoughts, trying to piece together what I was observing, what I was experiencing, but I’d be lying.

In truth, I had grown seemingly numb. My mind had had enough for the time being, and it decided to take a break. No sleep, mind you, but to simply stop giving me the racing outputs I couldn’t deal with earlier in this span of time known as “day”. Essentially, instead of putting me in a kind of “rest mode”, my mind decided to give me the mind’s equivalent of the infomercial: nonsense programming that gave the idea that it was actually something but, in fact, was merely time-filling dross.

These hours had passed, and mid-afternoon had transitioned to early evening. Stepping out to my balcony, once more, I saw that the streetlights in the parking lot and along the main street had all come on, as they usually did. Looking around further, though, I did not see a single light on in any of the windows in any of my neighbors’ apartments. Folks should have been home, or coming home, at that point; and still: nothing but the sound of the trees giggling at the off-beat joke of the wind.

I slumped onto my couch after coming back in from the balcony, and really started to think. I mused over several possibilities of what was going on, and one thought came to me with thunderous approach: What if younger me was right all along?

What if the days don’t pass unless you allow sleep to carry you between them? Is sleep a doorway or a vessel? Is it both?

These thoughts and more came flooding into the fore of my thoughts, and I could not shake the idea that, in my not falling asleep, in not allowing Tuesday to become Wednesday, I was stuck in Tuesday. Had the rest of the world gone on without me, enjoying their Wednesday, while I stayed back in Tuesday? I wasn’t repeating the day, like in that popular film about a surly weatherman; I was stuck in a day that was no longer necessary, a time no longer necessary… more like that story about the folks on the airplane that ended up in another plane of space and time.

This last thought worried me greatly. Was this like that story? And if so, am I bound to provide witness to where I stand being devoured by faceless creatures?

If I hadn’t been sleepy before, I definitely wasn’t at this point. And, so we’re clear: I was also still not hungry. At this point, any appetite I would have had, would have left the room with any possible though of slumber.

These thoughts troubled me, and I didn’t like the direction in which they were making me think. I needed to calm down, somehow; regroup and try to think on this some more when I’d had a mental respite. So I walked to my bedroom, perused the bookshelf, and opted for a book that, up to that point, I’d read a total of seven times. Ready for my eighth read of this personal favorite, I went back into the living room, sat down next to the laptop and phone, and cracked open the book to revisit the wonderful story and characters inside.

Without fail, I made my way through the novel without interruption. After having officially completed the eighth read of this favorite novel, about angels and demons and a misplaced demon baby, I set the book down and apprehensively looked at the clock. The time had passed as I had pored through the story of the book, and the clock was telling me that it was now three o’clock in the morning.

What was supposed to have been Wednesday should have transitioned into what should now be Thursday. And, before you ask: still not tired and still not hungry.

I decided to take a walk. Yes, it was three in the morning, but the way things were looking, I was the only person in this realm of reality, so where was the harm, right?

The early morning hour was crisp, the temperature at a nice level where I only needed a jacket to help answer for the ever-present breeze. My walk was illuminated by the streetlights and my shadow swept from one to the other as I connected with each on every other step. I neither saw nor heard anybody moving or making noise at this hour; but what troubled me more so, what hadn’t occurred to me until this early morning walk: I neither saw nor heard any other animal moving or making noise. Not a dog howling at the moon, not a raccoon skittering amongst the trees several feet away… Was I the only living thing here?

And that’s when I stopped. I was in mid-step, my right foot about to show the left where to go next, when it decided here was a nice place to set for a spell. My shadow waited patiently in the glow of the streetlight while I stared out and tried to remember how to breathe.

Was I even still alive? I mean, I was conscious of what I was doing, what I was seeing and reading and hearing and all of the other senses alone and combined; but how was I to know whether or not I was actually… alive?

My thoughts raced about, and I was able to pick out a few in some sort of sequential order: Is this what it is like to die? To remain in a time that still goes on for you, but you are somehow still left behind? Alone? Do the living continue with their conceived version of time, until they too, at some point, end up in their own personal timeline?

But what if I’m still alive? If I’m going through time as though it is still going on, what does that mean on the other side? Do those I know, those I love, think I’ve gone missing? Where have I gone, if the timing of my days mirror those who have left me behind? And, above all else: if I’m still alive, will our times ever meet and I can be with them again?

As I said before, it’s been six days since I last slept. It is still Tuesday, and I am still not hungry. On that, I don’t think it’s actually a problem; although the time has progressed as it normally does, it does not seem to have had any kind of negative effect on me from a health standpoint. I still feel as I did on that first Tuesday, and aside from an ever-increasing sense of fatigue from the monotony and loneliness of my current situation, I feel fine.

I’ve wondered how I can get out of this situation, if I can get out of this situation. Part of me wonders if time has to line up to get back on track, in a way. If that’s the case, when would that be? Does it have to be another Tuesday? Does the time reset at the start of the new month? Or how about a year from the Tuesday that started all this? There’s no telling, we’ll just have to wait and see. Or, rather: I’ll just have to wait and see.

Baby steps, though – it’s coming up on what would officially be Tuesday on the other side. With any luck, this story will be a short one and I’ll have a weird story to tell my friends over drinks. They won’t believe me, of course, but that would be okay; regardless, it would mean I’m back in their company, in anybody’s company. Not only that, but places would be open, and I would be eating and drinking again! Yes, these are things that become so valuable when you’ve experienced what I have, these past six days.

I do worry, though… it has only been six days, and I don’t know if I can handle being here for much longer. When I consider the possible longevity of my time here, the possibility of a year – or longer! – here, by myself…

Like I said, though: Baby steps. It will have been a full week, and Tuesday official will be upon us. That’s when we’ll see if I come back or not.

We’ll see.

Baby steps…

h1

Remember, Remember

November 5, 2018

[for “dog food and depends”]

The fifth of November. Pick a year, and there’s no telling what event you might uncover. In 1955, a young man finds he’s time-traveled to the year, after having fled from a pack of murderous Lybians in 1985. In 1605, some guy was discovered guarding thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, meant to blow up the House of Lords. In 1942, the Art half of “Simon & Garfunkel” was born. And in 2013, my grandmother was in a life-changing car accident.

It was a Tuesday morning, the six o’clock hour. I had been awake for two hours, at work for one, when I had glanced at my phone and noticed a missed call from a local number. At first, I thought nothing of it; a wrong number, perhaps, but still: odd that any number would be calling me, in the first place, that early in the morning. If it wasn’t a wrong number, then who would be calling me? All the members of my work crew, the ones scheduled to be there around that time, were all accounted for – and, let’s face it: the ilk of folk we had on the roster during those days were not of the “hey, I’m going to be late, so I’m calling to let you know, because I’m considerate like that” variety.

I had been standing there, mulling over the possible identity and purpose behind the missed call, when my phone started ringing. It was the same number, and instead of answering it, I immediately silenced the device. A minute later, and the phone started ringing again. The same number, and this time, I actually answered.

On the other side of the line was an officer from the Durham Police Department. He asked if I was who he was looking for, and when I confirmed I was he for whom he was looking, he proceeded to inform me that my grandmother had been in a severe and nasty car accident.

It is amazing, to consider the amount of training these officers receive to be able to communicate information that any civilian will themselves receive with possible anguish and hysteria, and manage to perform said communication in a way that does not allow for said anguish and hysteria entrance into the vicinity. As soon as he uttered the words “car accident”, without missing a beat, he then informed me that, without using the actual word “miraculously”, my grandmother had survived the accident; and though they were using the “jaws of life” to extract her from her vehicle, she was coherent and amazingly responsive to all of the questions the officers and paramedics put to her.

I felt mildly helpless as I stood in the office at work, the phone pressed to my ear and hearing all of this from a calm and professional officer of the law. I wanted to do something, but what? I was the only manager in the building at the time – the next one wouldn’t be in for another hour or two – and were I to leave right that moment, where would I go? I knew where the accident had taken place, but being present wouldn’t have done any good; not only do I not personally have the training to be of any help to the paramedics, but the timing wouldn’t have been good at all. With my luck, I would have hit the road, made it to the scene of the accident, only to find that they had finally successfully removed my grandmother from her vehicle, and thereby transported her to the nearest medical facility… of which there was a slight debate between those on the other side of the line as to where that actually was.

In short: given all of that, I decided to stay put, continue working until I had more concrete information; as soon as I found out where they were taking my grandmother, I would be on my way and be there to offer any support I could.

An hour and a half after receiving the initial phone call from the Durham officer, another call came my way, this time from one of the State Troopers who had also responded to the accident call. She informed me that my grandmother had been successfully removed from the crumpled wreck of her vehicle, and was at that moment being transported to Duke. I thanked her, told her I was on my way (to which she informed me of which doors into which to go and which section of the hospital to do likewise) and after bringing the other manager up to speed on what was going on, both inside the store and out, I went to the hospital.

During the drive, I called my mother, who in turn called her sisters, to pass along the information – what little of it I had at the time – and set myself up as the point person when said information became available. This was how it ended up, over the course of the next couple days: I would contact my mother regarding new or updated information, and she would then turn around and contact her sisters. When in the emergency room and the surgeon asked me to sign for permission to perform surgery on my grandmother’s leg, I had to call my mother, who then called her sisters, to make sure that this was okay. A weird version of telephone, in both literal and metaphorical senses.

When I finally got to the hospital and found myself in the emergency room, I was amazed at how small and tight the actual area was. Granted, this wasn’t necessarily an area where you would want people to stay for prolonged periods of time; however, the scene into which I walked when I came upon the tiny section where my grandmother was being taken care of reminded me strongly of my days in high school, when I was in the marching band.

I spent four years playing trumpet for the Marching Spartans of Jesse O Sanderson High School, in Raleigh. Ask me to remember things and times from my four years in high school and, aside from the pesky business of almost having to repeat my junior year, a majority if not all of those memories consist of being in the marching band.

My freshman year, the band performed an arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”, and it was, to put it simply, an amazing show. It was energetic, non-stop, and powerful – play “Jupiter” around me, and watch me still get a tear in my eye when the “hymn” starts up toward the end. It became the show that, in our upperclassman years, we held over the heads of the underclassmen; to the point where they started to count down the days until the Class of 2001 was finally gone, and we could stop with “The Planets” this and “The Planets” that. If you’ve heard any of the performances of Holst’s “The Planets”, then you know an inkling of what I’m talking about.

But the thing about marching, for a layman, is this: how do you know where to go, and not only that, know how to not run into everyone else while trying to making these shapes and patterns? And nevermind the fact that, while you’re trying not to run into each other, you’re also having to perform as fluidly and flawlessly as you can! It was this aspect of how the doctors and nurses, who surrounded my grandmother on the bed, moved fluidly and flawlessly around her and each other, that made me nod inwardly and made me feel like not such a layman in the midst; even if everything else going on told me I should feel otherwise.

At one point, as I stood against the wall outside of the room itself, trying to make myself as flat as possible so as to keep out of the way, one of the nurses asked if I wanted to be in the room. In a chair. While doctors and nurses alike swarmed around me, non-stop, like a time-lapse video where I was the only static object from the viewer’s vantage. That thought, alone made me uncomfortable so I opted to stand against the wall. Not before, however, going into the room and letting my grandmother know I was there. Despite the swarm of medical staff, despite the drips and sundry connecting her to supportive fluids, despite having experienced a traumatic experience: my grandmother was one-hundred-percent cognizant of my presence.

As an immediate result of the accident, my grandmother sustained the following injuries: a broken wrist; a laceration over her right eye, about an inch and a half long; several cuts and bruises all about her person; and the big one – a compound fracture of her left leg. All of these, but most especially the injury to her leg, would make anyone in the same situation scream in pain or writhe in agony; however, when asked how, on a scale of one-to-ten, she was feeling pain-wise (with one being no pain, to ten being “please kill me now and end this suffering!”), my grandmother’s initial response: “Oh, about a three.” Amazing.

I stood in that hallway for three hours, making calls and taking calls. Most of the calls were to and from my mother: status reports, how things were, how I was, had I eaten anything yet, had I heard from anybody, et cetera, et cetera.

In response: not much to report or the cavalcade of doctors and nurses was dwindling so that meant she’d been stabilized, things were okay, I was okay if not tired, no I hadn’t eaten anything yet, no I hadn’t heard from anybody, et cetera, et cetera.

The cause of my grandmother’s accident was a loyal dedication to her work ethic. Well, actually: it was a tractor trailer colliding with my grandmother’s car which resulted in the accident happening; but it was my grandmother’s loyal dedication to her work ethic which had her out on that stretch of highway at that particular time on that particular day.

My grandmother, in her latter years, worked as a cashier in the cafeteria of an office building. She had been doing this job for several years, made friends doing so, and cultivating plenty of stories to tell in regards to the customer service experience (of which helped mold me in my own customer service experiences, on both sides of the counter). It was this aspect of her life which my father expressed great respect: his own mother had passed in 2003 of Alzheimer’s, roughly the same age as my mother’s mother was at that time, and he was amazed at her grasp of life and still contributing to society by being a part of it in the workforce. She enjoyed work, but above all she enjoyed being around people.

Over time, because of her work ethic, she found herself being stretched to two different office buildings. She’d work one a couple days during the week, and then work the other the last couple days of the week. At times, one building would need supplies of which the other building had plenty; so she’d offer to transport the items, as she would be in the area and heading to the other building anyway, so… Birds with stones.

On the morning of my grandmother’s accident, she was scheduled to work one building, which had recently run out of lids to their drink cups. The other building had plenty of lids in stock, so my grandmother, who was always one to be up early in the morning anyway, woke up even earlier in order to drive out to the latter building before heading to the former for her shift for the day.

The accident took place only a stoplight away from where the first building of the morning was located. She sat at the red light in the left-hand turn lane. When the light turned green, she made the left-hand turn. In retrospect, she did see the tractor trailer coming from the opposite side of traffic; but she had the green arrow, so she figured the tractor trailer would stop and everything would be fine.

However, everything wasn’t fine. The tractor trailer did not stop. And though she had the green light, it was not a green arrow; in fact, there was no green arrow, which meant the tractor trailer had the right-of-way.

In a blink, and just as one would think my grandmother had narrowly avoided the impending collision with the tractor trailer, physics came into play and reminded us all that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. As such, the tractor trailer’s bumper collided with my grandmother’s bumper, setting her vehicle to spin. The spin sent more of the vehicle in front of the tractor trailer, and physics banged its fist on the desk in vehemence, wondering if anybody was listening the first time: the tractor trailer further collided with the smaller vehicle, diminishing the latter’s physical presence as though to sate the vehemence of physics and posit that, yes, at least one of us here was listening.

In a few days, my mother and stepfather would come into town, would visit the junkyard where the crumpled mass of vehicle was being stored, and would take a series of photographs for the insurance adjusters to review. The vehicle itself, it was obvious even to those not well-versed in vehicle care, was totaled. Looking at the images once they were sent to me, I remember thinking how amazing it was for anyone to survive such devastation, let alone an elderly woman in her early-eighties.

Several hours after first arriving at the hospital, my grandmother was given a room, and I was finally able to sit down. Not in the room, not at that moment, but in the waiting room; still, it beat standing uncomfortably against the wall amidst torrents of activity.

I primarily played on my phone or read the book I was currently reading. Oddly enough, I don’t remember, specifically, what it was I was reading; however, nothing beats when I started reading Orson Scott Card’s “Speaker of the Dead” in the waiting room while my grandmother underwent her quadruple bypass surgery several years prior. Now that I think of it, it probably wasn’t as bad, but probably close to it – I’m thinking something by Stephen King, though I can’t really say for sure.

At this point, the morning had swiftly transitioned to that of the afternoon, but didn’t stay in attendance long when it was finally the evening’s turn to make an appearance. While waiting to be granted admittance into the room where my grandmother would be observed over the next several hours, a few people came by to visit. Most of these people were either from where my grandmother worked or from the church where most of my family attended during the very-early years of my life. I was enduring an agonizing conversation with the minister of said church when a nurse came out to tell me that I could now go back and sit with my grandmother. Without asking, the minister came with me.

Stable and on painkilling medications, my grandmother was awake and aware enough to know that not only I was there, but the minister was with me. Thankfully, he had only stayed for half an hour, but in that time iterated bible verses, a few prayers, and mild updates on the church and his own family. After one last prayer, he finally left so that I could spend time with my grandmother. Alone. With the stress-inducing beeps of alien machinery chirping away in the background of the scene.

My grandmother was only in this room a short time; it was a transition room while the unseen workers in the labyrinthine building put together a room in which my grandmother could stay over the course of the next few days. When the work was finally complete, she was moved one last time that day, into a proper hospital room. This was where she would be prepped for surgery, which was to happen first-thing the next morning, and would stay as she recovered from the excitement of the day to come… before being moved to yet another hospital room.

I sat with her for a few hours, her bouts of conversation lasting minutes, if that, as she drifted in and out of medically- and exhaustion-induced sleep. At one point, while the nurses were working their charts and ensuring everything was stable on my grandmother’s end of things, I had stepped out of the room to call my father. For some reason, I thought that he should know what was going on; even though my grandmother had not been his mother-in-law for twenty years, I still felt it the right thing to do, to let him know what had happened. It wasn’t me reaching out for support, but more so reaching out in a fit of respect.

It wasn’t a long conversation, and once the call had ended, I went back into the room to find that my grandmother had fallen asleep. Legitimately asleep, none of this droopy-eyed, back-and-forth into consciousness nonsense. Saying goodnight, I kissed my grandmother on the forehead, told her I’d see her in the morning, and left the hospital for my drive to my grandmother’s house, where I would tend to her dog, Bear, and make sure he was taken care of for the evening.

I picked up an order of Wendy’s on the way, and after an unforgettable thirteen hours on November 5, 2013, Bear and I finally got to eat.

h1

Free Space

November 11, 2017

a short story written by andrew j. bartlett

The young man had never hitchhiked before.

He’d seen television shows where lonely men walked down the side of a road or a highway, with a sad piano tune accompanying their journey, the lonely men’s individual thumbs pointed toward the sky in the tried and true signal of “I need a ride, if you’re willing to provide”; so that’s what he did: he walked down the road, thumb positioned with a semi-professional air, sans sad piano music.

A guitar strap across his chest anchored the instrument pressed against his back. The young man didn’t know how to play guitar – he’d owned it for several years, but never picked it up, except to move it when he was in search for an item underneath. In movies, he’d seen young men, strapped with a stringed instrument of one sort or the other, walk a lonely road until they reached a crossroads, selling their souls to the first devil who happened upon them in order to get their dark desires fulfilled.

The young man had been hiking down the highway for so long, he was starting to itch for such a crossroads, just to break the monotony of the entire venture. All this time, and not a single taker, not a single Samaritan had answered his plea for a lift to where he was heading; or, for lack of a better hitchhiking adage, “or bust”.

He glanced down at his watch – to gauge how long he had actually been on this one-way trek – but didn’t have a chance to look at the time, as his attention was diverted by an abrupt, obnoxious horn. Looking in the direction of the noise, he found a large, four-door passenger truck slowing to a stop just mere feet from where he was standing.

A head wearing a bright red hat popped out from the passenger side window, and a voice from under the hat shouted, “Well? You gonna come on in, or are you fine with that piano solo, Dr. Banner?”

The young man felt relief wash over him, he didn’t catch the reference. He grabbed the strap across his chest with both hands, and ran to the truck with a renewed sense of energy. As he came nearer and nearer to the truck, he saw that the red hat provided shade to a middle-aged face whose stubble had missed the five o’clock deadline, with a wide grin that parted and came together again as a piece of gum  fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended.

“Thank you. Thank you, very much,” said the young man as he finally reached the window and the red-hatted head protruding from it.

“Where is it ‘ya headin’?” smacked the head in the window. The breath gave off no scent of flavor of the gum; as if it had served its purpose long ago, and now served as a stand-in for that “dead horse flogged” saying.

The young man gave the name of a city, but punctuated it by saying, “… or however far you can take me, if it’s no trouble.”

It turned out to be no trouble at all. After the red-hatted gum-chewer confirmed it as such, he invited the young man to hop into the backseat of the truck, which was already occupied by the biggest dog he had ever seen. He didn’t know much about dogs, but in films he’d seen over the years, this one stood out to him as the type known to terrorize mothers and their sons, trapping them in their broken-down car on a hot summer’s day.

“Oh, pay no mind to Geezer,” the man in the passenger seat smacked comically. “He’s almost twenty years old and don’t do much but sit there and drool.” As if on command, the old dog’s mouth connected with the seat cushion via a thick strand of saliva.

Once the young man was completely in the truck and comfortably seated, the vehicle made its way back onto the highway, in the direction the young man had intended all along; the added benefit, of course, being it was a direction met at a much faster speed.

The man in the red hat introduced himself, though the young man, in spite of knowing better, came to know him as “Red”. After giving a brief introduction of who he was and a mini-biography to his recent time leading up to riding in this here truck – of which the young man didn’t retain, as he couldn’t find any way that it would interest him in the slightest – Red turned the introduction to the driver, a man with thick, black hair on the top of his head and the front of his face, whose name didn’t elude the young man: Tim.

“And you’ve already met Geezer,” Red concluded the introductions. “How about you? What’s your story?”

It was not a lot to tell, the young man said, as he told Red, Tim, and Geezer a heavily made-up story of how he had wound up on the highway and why he was headed in the direction of his destination. He didn’t like lying to these two men and their elderly hound, but he felt the truth wouldn’t have been as entertaining.

Red, whose head had been turned in the direction of the young man, in respect of the conversation, gave a nod and said, “Well, that definitely sounds like proper reason to be out here, on your own, trying to get to where you’re goin’.”

The young man nodded, looked out the window at the passing landscape as they made their way down the highway.

“Well, it’s going to be some time before we get to where you’re headin’. We don’t mind taking you as far as we can, ” said Red, “s’long as you don’t mind Geezer’s breath back there, a-and,” he continued, “if you don’t mind indulging Tim and me in the occasional road trip game.”

Shaking his head, the young man told Red he didn’t mind. In response, the man in the red hat gave an excited laugh and said, “Oh, good! In that case, I think it’s time we played our favorite – Travel BINGO!”

Red opened the glove box and pulled out three cardboard slabs; they were square in shape and looked like they had seen many years – decades – of road trips. They had been professionally-made, the young man could see, as they were more involved than the standard BINGO sheets he’d seen in his time; in lieu of marking a space with a pen or pencil, a tiny plastic cover moved from one side of the other, to indicate when that space had been fulfilled. At the end of a round, the plastic cover would be moved back to its starting point, refreshing the space for the next round.

“D’you wanna play?” Red asked, his chewing grin paused in wait for the young man’s response. When the latter shook his head and declined in the politest way he felt possible, Red shrugged with good humor and said, “No problem. Maybe if you see how much fun Tim and I have, you’ll want to join next round, eh?”

The round began the moment Tim’s BINGO board landed on his lap. Both of his hands stayed on the wheel, his eyes stayed on the road; yet, despite not having stolen a single glance at the BINGO board, he called out, “Cow.”

“Oh, it’s like that, is it?” Red cried, playfully fixing his hat in mock-agitation. “Well, okay, let’s see how this goes.”

From the young man’s vantage point, it was a short, quick volley of driver and passenger, calling out items they saw on the road as those items lined up with their individual boards. He could tell the two men had played this game, used these particular boards, many times – enough to memorize them to the point where neither man seemed to look at the board, for confirmation, as they declared another item for themselves. Red was very animated about his game, jumping in his seat and pointing, while Tim kept his attention on the road, saying only as much as the descriptions from the BINGO board itself.

At the end of this first round, it was Red who won, with “dog in a car”. He had legitimately seen a dog in another vehicle, though he had tried, in a fit of desperation, to use Geezer’s presence, to help him secure victory earlier in the game; it was vetoed by a single grunt from Tim, but in the end Red had found another dog in another car on the same road.

Red turned back to the young man, face almost the same color as his hat, and, nearly breathlessly, asked, “You up for round two?”

The young man gave Red a smile, and again respectfully declined. He almost took back his decision after seeing Red’s face flicker with what seemed like disappointment; but the man had already turned back to the front before he could do so. “Whaddaya say, sir?” he asked Tim. “Best two out of three?”

A grunt later, and Red and Tim were back at it with the BINGO. The second round turned out to be just as quick as the first: Tim saw another cow, starting off the game, but it was Red who carried the game almost to the bitter end; that is, until Tim called out “bird on a wire” to help lead him to victory. Red muttered and mumbled to himself, complaining about Tim’s luck and quickly commencing with the third round of BINGO, the tie-breaker round.

This time, the game lasted much longer than the previous two rounds. Neither man said anything at the start; in fact, five minutes had almost passed completely before either Tim or Red said anything at all. It was Red who started the round this time: “Church.”

Another several minutes of silence passed, before Red spoke again: “Cop car.” Tim grunted his acknowledgement.

The silent moments were stretching uncomfortably for the young man. Neither man had made any motion in his direction, whether physically or conversationally. Every now and again, he looked at Geezer, but even the two-decades-old dog seemed to have lost interest in him, as the large animal’s attention was affixed to whatever was happening out his window. The window itself was covered in a film of several-times-applied saliva.

Tim grunted “barn” and Red countered with “warehouse”.

Red only had a few more spaces to fill before his ultimate victory, but Tim made things interesting by calling out “tree”, “bridge”, and “bus”, within the span of thirty seconds. He allowed Red to sweat for another minute before finally saying, in a short grunt: “BINGO.”

Despite Red’s animated game-playing tactics, the young man noticed that his sportsmanship was better when he accepted his loss to Tim. “You got me again, you cheat,” Red said jokingly, “You and that damned ‘free space’.”

Tim simply grunted. Red took the board from Tim’s lap, and replaced all of the boards, including the one the young man declined to use, in the glove box.

“Well, what’s fair is fair,” Red said, in a resigned fashion. “And you get to do the honors, Tim.”

The young man had become so enthralled by the back-and-forth of Red and Tim’s BINGO game, he had failed to notice the shift in the speed of the truck – as there was none at all. At a complete stop, the truck sat at the side of the road, a little further away from the highway than one would consider for a simple roadside pit stop.

Tim turned the key and the engine went silent. Without any preamble or utterance, he opened the door and got out of the vehicle, making his way to the bed of the truck.

When asked by the young man what Tim was doing, Red replied with a shrug, “Tim won BINGO.”

Before he could say another thing, the door on his side of the truck was thrown open, and Tim’s large hands grasped him, tightly, to pull him from the backseat. He was dragged further and further away from the truck, further and further away from the road; he kicked and screamed, but nothing he did seemed to help him in his current situation. The young man hoped that something would come to make sense with all this; he also cursed himself, for hitchhiking in the first place.

His kicking and screaming ultimately zapped him of whatever energy he’d built up when he was picked up by these two strangers and their dog. His breath heavy, his entire body exhausted, he started taking stock in his surroundings – and the realization of where he was sent a short wave of adrenaline through him, adding a few more seconds of kicking and screaming to his “to-do” list. The stones that surrounded him ranged in different sizes and heights, yet they all carried the same themes in their inscriptions, as they legitimized the time frames of vitality for those dearly departed.

In short: he and Tim were in the middle of a cemetery.

The young man, exhausted and terrified, wondered how deep into the graveyard they would be heading when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the hole. He groaned and, his throat tight, tried to plead with Tim to let him go. For a moment, he thought he had gotten through to Tim – the man had stopped, albeit right next to the open grave, and released his grip on the young man; however, as he crumpled to the ground and took a whiff of the freshly disturbed ground next to him, he saw Tim reach for the shovel he’d brought with him. It was strapped to his back, as though mocking the young man for how he had looked when Tim and Red had found him on the side of the road.

Tim brought the shovel to his front and gripped it with both hands. Even as the young man wept and tried to back away from him, Tim lifted the shovel in a batter’s pose. “I won BINGO,” he said, and took a swing.

When Tim was finished, minutes later, he threw the shovel – covered with dirt, blood, and possibly some other bodily  composition – back into the bed of the truck and covered it with the truck’s ever-present tarp. He walked back to the driver’s side, wiping his hands on the sides of his pants to remove whatever dirt he could, opened the door and hopped back into the driver’s seat.

Red, who had been sulking in his seat the entire time, looked out his window for a moment, then looked at Tim. “A cemetery, huh?” he said.

Tim only grunted, as he turned the key and started up the engine once more.

The truck made its way back onto the highway, leaving the incident in the cemetery in its wake. It was only a few miles removed when Red finally asked, “What made you think of doing it in a cemetery, this time?”

The driver didn’t answer immediately, but when he did, it was in a humorless grunt: “Free space.”

h1

[1 November 2016]: The Princeless and the D

November 1, 2016

Not long ago – possibly during a time when you were younger, or your parents were younger, or their parents were younger, but not long ago – there was this guy, see; let’s call him… Richard. Yeah, that sounds good: Richard.

Now, Richard was a man of special tastes. He liked his food a specific way, he liked his drink a specific way, and he liked everything else he consumed in a specific way. Mind, don’t ask me what these “specific ways” entailed, as I’m just the narrator and am not, contrary to the beliefs of certain family members who will be left unnamed (you’re welcome, Aunt Susie), the “Richard” spoken about in this here story; if you’d like to know the details of these “specific ways”, you would have to acquire a time machine, set it to the exact date and coordinates of a location when and where this Richard was located, and either ask him yourself or sit out in the bushes like a creep and watch him like one of those nature documentary filmmakers.

But, seeing as we don’t have a time machine at hand at this particular moment in time, I’ll just have to continue the story. Unless, of course, you do have a time machine, then peace be with you, and please don’t affect the timeline too badly – I am trying to tell a story, here.

There came a time, during Richard’s specific way of life when he realized how lonely he was, enjoying things in a specific way without someone else around to enjoy watching him enjoying things in a specific way. He turned to his mother, a full-time matchmaker who was also a matchmaker on the side, to help in his search for such a specific someone else to be by his side for life.

According to the propaganda she spread herself, Richard’s mother was the best in the business. There was neither truth nor fiction to the claims, as matchmaking had been outdated for some time at that point; any would-be competitors would catch a whiff of interest in the profession, then another aroma would hit their olfactory senses, and said competitors would then take up more lucrative professions, such as stamp-collecting or lion-taming.

As Richard’s mother adhered the final striker plate to the last box of that week’s batch, she looked at Richard and nodded to the file cabinet in the corner of the room. “Dickie, go over to the file cabinet in the corner of the room, open the second drawer and pull out the folder marked with a ‘D’,” she told him.

Richard walked over to the file cabinet in the corner of the room and stood in front of it. He put his hand to his chin and studied the file cabinet in the corner of the room with a fierce commitment.

“The second drawer, dear,” the matchmaking matchmaker told her son.

Richard turned toward his mother, and pointed at the file cabinet in the corner of the room. His mother nodded, and he opened the drawer of the file cabinet in the corner of the ro-

“I said the second drawer, duckie,” he heard his mother say from the other side of the room. He immediately closed the drawer and opened anoth-

“That’s the bottom drawer, Dicky.”

Richard closed that drawer and opened the next dra-

“The. SECOND. Drawer.”

He closed the drawer and opened the last drawer in the file cabi-

“That’s the bottom drawer again! Honestly, can’t I even…” his mother grumbled as she stood from her matchmaking table and shuffled over to the file cabinet in the corner of the room. Not without a hint of an idea of love behind it, she shoved Richard from in front of the file cabinet in the corner of the room, opened the second drawer, pulled out the file marked with the ‘D’, closed the drawer, shoved the folder into Richard’s arms, and shuffled back to the table to finish packing up her day’s work.

Richard stared at the folder for a moment, then joined his mother at the matchmaking table, where he proceeded to sit across from her. He set the folder on the table and opened it carefully.

The opened folder revealed its contents to contain that of personal files – personal files of every single and eligible female in town. Richard didn’t have to ask his mother why he had such a folder in her possession – given her profession, it wasn’t uncommon for the girls (and some times boys) of the area to request her services. A part of the service required each girl or boy, or “client”, to submit a file containing personal information; such personal information included date of birth, eye color, familial medical history, and how they liked to spend their Friday evenings when it was raining and the moon was in its waxing crescent phase.

The matchmaking matchmaker’s son pored over the files, setting aside the ones that particularly interested him while keeping in the folder the ones that did not. Several minutes later, and with six files pulled from the folder, Richard looked up at his mother and asked what he should do now.

Looking at the six files spread out on the table, his mother asked, “Are these the clients you wish to test, to see if they are compatible?”

Richard had never heard his mother speak in such a manner, but he trusted she was asking him the right thing, so he nodded. His mother smiled in response and gathered up the files of the clients in question. “Well, now… there’s only one thing we need to do, then…”

In short, what Richard’s mother had planned was this: she would contact the clients in question and invite each one separately to a one-on-one evening with her son. The evening would include dinner, music, and light entertainment. For the purpose of the thing, the client would also have to spend one night in the matchmaking matchmaker’s guest room – the reasoning of which was unclear to the clients, but for the sake of the thing, the ones who agreed to the terms and conditions without any questions asked (and, mind, only three of the six agreed; the other three immediately claimed that the matchmaking matchmaker had reached the wrong number, don’t call here again, this is the fourth time lady, do it again and I’ll contact the authorities, click).

The first client was set for Monday evening. Seeing as the entire thing had been set up by Richard’s mother, all of the evenings would be taking place at the matchmaking matchmaker’s home. When Monday’s client walked through the door and saw all the matchmaking paraphernalia, she made a quick joke about the “fun evening in store”; Richard didn’t get the joke.

Monday evening progressed as planned: dinner was made, then set, then eaten; music played in the background, some classical, some jazz, some cat-yodeling; and light entertainment, which consisted of Richard completing a Medium-level Sudoku puzzle – he only had to look at the answer key in the back three times.

The puzzle was completed, and Monday evening was minutes away from turning into Tuesday morning. As the client made her way to the matchmaking matchmaker’s guest room, Richard noticed his mother standing in the hallway, watching from the shadows. He could see she had a grin on her face, but did not think to ask what she thought was so funny or why her eye was twitching like it was; instead, he himself went home, where he liked his bed because it helped him sleep in a specific way.

The next morning, when the client came out of the guest room and into the kitchen, she found Richard’s mother at the table. On the table itself were all kinds of breakfast fixings – toast, jam, eggs, bacon, cereal, juices, jelly beans, sardines, a boot, and milk. As the client pulled out a chair and sat down, the woman sitting across from her asked, “So, dearie, how did you sleep?”

The client started to tell her how it was the best sleep she’d had in a very long time, but she didn’t get finish, as a glob of jam had collided with her face. “Get out! Get the hell out of my house!” screamed the matchmaking matchmaker to the client, who was now looking at the woman with extreme incredulity.

In minutes, the client had run from the kitchen, then from the house, not sparing a moment to wipe the jam from her face. Richard’s mother finished her breakfast, cleaned off the table, and set to getting the house ready for the second client, who would be arriving a few hours later for her evening with Richard.

Tuesday’s evening went agonizingly similar to that of Monday evening. There was food, there was music, there was the entertainment – only this time, Richard played Solitaire for three hours straight. The evening had finally come to a close, the client made her way to the guest room, and once again, Richard had found his mother looming in the hallway, grinning as she had been the night before. When Wednesday morning rolled around and the client told the mother of her restful night’s sleep, she too was found fleeing the house, only this time with a glob of eggs streaming from her hair.

Richard and his mother found themselves at a depressive level of energy when Wednesday evening came around, thanks to the failures of the previous two evenings. Wednesday evening’s client was their last hope in finding someone suitable for Richard’s interests and the pressure was on. Regardless, when the client finally did arrive for the evening’s activities, Richard and the matchmaking matchmaker went about the evening as they had the previous two.

When the client made her way to the guest room and Richard found his mother in the hallway, no longer with a grin on her face, he decided to ask her what was going on. All she said was a sad “Oh, nothing” and she turned away to head for her own room, calling it a night, not daring to hope that the morning would be different, for a change.

Thursday morning rolled around, and the client came down to the kitchen to find a single box of cereal on the table. Sitting next to the cereal box – in a chair, as opposed to on the table as well – was Richard’s mother, looking tiny and sad. As the client pulled out the chair to sit down, the old woman sighed and said, “Don’t bother sitting down. Tell me… how did you sleep last night?”

The client sat down anyway. “I have to be honest,” she said, “it was very uncomfortable. I found this under the mattress…”

Richard’s mother looked up from her study of the kitchen table to see that the client had something in her hand. It was small, pink, tube-shaped, and ended with a curved tip at the top. At the bottom was a dial, which the client turned; the object proceeded to hum as she held it. A few moments of humming passed, the client turned it the dial the other direction and the humming stopped.

The matchmaking matchmaker’s eyes lit up. “You found it! You found it! And all because you felt it under the mattress! Only those with specific needs could feel that under the mattress! You and my son should be married on the morrow!”

“Well now, hold on,” said the client, setting the object in her hand on the kitchen table. “I don’t know what kind of language you’re speaking lady, but I’m most certainly not marrying your son and this here-” she pointed to the tube-shaped object on the table “-is not why I couldn’t sleep last night.”

The mother’s shoulders slumped a little as she said, “Why couldn’t you sleep last night?”

The client scoffed. “Really? You’re being serious, right now? Truth be told, I don’t know what I’m still doing here. Maybe I thought it was all some kind of horrible dream and I’d wake up from it in my actual bed.

“But I’ll tell you this: I don’t know how you’re still in business, lady. Matchmaking is an outdated profession, and matchmaking is right on its heels. Your son is a droll buffoon, who doesn’t know how to play Tic-Tac-Toe correctly. I was hoping the evening would be savored by a bit of shallow fun, but if this is any kind of indication-” she nodded to the pink, non-humming-at-the-moment object on the table “-I think I’m good, not getting mixed up in whatever craziness is going on here.

“And don’t think I didn’t see you last night, skulking in the hallway. Straight-up Creepsville, lady.”

With that, the client stood from the table and strode out of the house. Interestingly enough, said client went from there to move on to bigger and better things; by that, of course, I mean that as soon as she got home she was able to utilize bigger and better things, and thus have the quality rest she was unable to get the night before.

As for the matchmaking matchmaker and her son, they eventually found a woman who would fit in with Richard’s specific way of things. She never spoke and was made of plastic, and that suited Richard and his mother just fine – he could enjoy things in specific ways without recourse, and she could continue matchmaking and matchmaking. Ultimately, Richard’s plastic woman passed after a faulty seal, and the matchmaking matchmaker had to throw her file cabinet in the corner of the room into the bottom of the lake across the street, as she had to accept the fact that matchmaking was outdated and that she was not really cut out for matchmaking.

All of the clients never looked back on their weird experiences. They continued to have restful nights of sleep; especially one, in particular, who always went to bed with a satisfied smile on her face.

The End.

h1

A Scene from My As-of-Yet-Unwritten Cop Drama

September 7, 2015

[crime scene – murder, actually, let’s not mince words here; crowd of onlookers, held back by police tape, semi-surround uniformed officers; a forensics tech takes photographs of evidence]

[CAPTAIN stands off to the side, one hand authoritatively on his hip, the other hand up to his face; the hand holds a walkie, into which he is yelling]

CAPTAIN: Get me two more units over to the old steel mill. NOT the one from the previous case. And find out where the hell DET. MAYER is and why he’s not here!

[voice of DET. MAYER startles CAPTAIN]

DET. MAYER: I’m right here, CAPTAIN.

CAPTAIN: Ah! Mayer, you startled me. Where the hell have you been?

DET. MAYER: I’ve been here this whole time. There was some exposition I had to weed through.

CAPTAIN: To this day, I’m afraid I’ll never understand what the hell you’re talking about.

DET. MAYER: [removes sunglasses] What’ve we got?

CAPTAIN: Were you wearing those sunglasses before?

DET. MAYER: Yes. What’ve we got?

CAPTAIN: This way…

[CAPTAIN and DET. MAYER make their way to the center of the crime scene; a middle-aged man in a dog costume lies on the ground, a downed tree pinning him to the ground… literally – one of the branches has impaled the guy]

CAPTAIN: A Mr. Jim Lee Soon. Aged forty-two years.

DET. MAYER: What’s with the outfit?

CAPTAIN: Sources claim the victim was employed by one of those “rent-a-cartoon-for-your-birthday-party” agencies. For this gig, the clients wanted that cute cartoon dog from that classic comic strip series.

DET. MAYER: I thought that dog was white…

CAPTAIN: Cheap knock-offs. That’s the kind of thing you get, with those agencies.

DET. MAYER: How’d the vic die?

CAPTAIN: Witnesses claim Mr. Jim Lee Soon seemed to be running from something. He looked to be climbing the tree – for safety? we don’t know – but unfortunately the tree could not hold his weight, the trunk snapped, and the results sit in front of you.

DET. MAYER: Hm.

CAPTAIN: What is it?

DET. MAYER: Was just thinking… looks like he barked up the wrong tree.

CAPTAIN: Really, Mayer?

DET. MAYER: Too soon?

CAPTAIN: Now that’s just vulgar! I can’t stay in this scene any longer!

[CAPTAIN storms out, he-]

CAPTAIN: Nope! Don’t you dare dictate how I leave this scene, you!

DET. MAYER: CAPTAIN… you alright?

[CAPTAIN keeps wal-]

CAPTAIN: What’d I say! You don’t have a say in what I do or say! You hear me?

[CAPTAIN smacks himself in the face]

CAPTAIN: Ow!

DET. MAYER: Did you just… smack yourself in the face?

CAPTAIN: Not by choice!

[CAPTAIN is suddenly a duck, wearing a fez, and suspenders]

CAPTAIN: Now, that doesn’t even make any sense!

DET. MAYER: What doesn’t make any sense, CAPTAIN?

CAPTAIN: That I’m a duck, wearing a fez and suspenders!

DET. MAYER: Haven’t… haven’t you always been a duck wearing a fez and suspenders?

[yes]

CAPTAIN: No!

DET. MAYER: Sir, do you need me to call someone for you?

CAPTAIN: I mean, how do the suspenders even work in this scenario? To what are they suspending?!?

[DET. MAYER turns away from CAPTAIN; he speaks softly into his walkie]

DET. MAYER: I’m going to need someone to help escort CAPTAIN away from the crime scene.

VOICE ON WALKIE: Roger.

DET. MAYER: Roger, is that you?

ROGER: Yes.

DET. MAYER: Please let Delores know I absolutely loved the five-layer dip from the party Saturday. And let her know I’ll be begging for that recipe.

ROGER: Roger.

[DET. MAYER turns back to CAPTAIN; two uniformed officers are helping CAPTAIN move away from the crime scene; CAPTAIN is making noise and carrying on; the uniformed officers put him in the back of their cruiser; the officers drive away from the crime scene]

DET. MAYER: This job… it’s not all it’s quacked up to be.

GHOST OF JIM LEE SOON: [snorts] Nice!

[DET. MAYER and GHOST OF JIM LEE SOON high-five]

[end of scene]