Ash, Part 15

November 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

Fifteen is a good number, if only because it means I’ve updated the same story 15 times. That’s dedication. Well, finishing it would be dedication, but I’m almost there. Hopefully? I think I’m about 3/4 of the way through. That’s based on nothing but a feeling, but only time will tell.

I also have not received the story idea yet for the next piece. There’s no rush, obviously, but I’ve had one or two people ask about it already. Excited, or just bored with this story? I don’t care! I’m writing it anyway!

With that, more fiction:

Chapter 15: Sing, Sing O Muse

An empty hospital greeted me when I clambered through the tunnels and back into the half-light of the lobby. A few sounds lilted through the dimness and the decay, but I ignored them. There was nothing left for me here. There hadn’t been anything for me here in the first place. I kicked down the front doors and strode through into the cloudy light of the “day”. I half-expected the clouds to part and the sun to shine down on the conquering hero. I came, I saw, I clawed my way out of a weird thing that eats memories. That was close enough to conquering for me.

Conquering hero, that was me. Ryan Kazlauskas. Kicker of butts, woo-er of phantom ladies, and possessor of the most bad-ass look this side of the Realm of Dreams. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there wasn’t nothing that this guy can’t handle. Ain’t no mountain higher, and there sure as hell ain’t no valley lower.

The crows huddled in a murder on the steps, looking the worse for wear and grumpy when they saw me. They scattered and vented their annoyance as I walked through them, but it would take more than caws and crow droppings to get me to stop. I did, however, cover my head as I ran under them. Hey, a bad-ass has to maintain his image, doesn’t he? And crow guano ain’t exactly the rage these days.

The ruined city loomed over me but it seemed a little less ominous than it had before. It was still just as empty, though, and for a second I missed Spes. Sure, the guy was creepy, unsettling, and annoyingly confusing, but he had helped me out. I figured there was a reason why he was doing it, but I resolved that I knew little and less, and the less I thought I knew, the better off I was. What did I know? He helped me, and more honestly than anyone else, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him again.

Although, I thought, I also wouldn’t mind a hint about where to go. Despair had mentioned the Tower of Dreams, but I couldn’t see anything in the distance. And judging by the way that distance worked in this place, I don’t think it was a matter of just walking there. But I had no other option, so I threw my jacket over my shoulder and marched off down a different road from the one I went down…how long ago?

That thought stopped me. I was dreaming, that much is certain, and I was fairly certain I was in a coma. But time didn’t pass the same here. There was no sun, no night, nor do I particularly think they clocks here. I didn’t feel hungry or tired unless I wanted to, so that was no help. It was pretty nifty having a brain used to being in a body but not having that body, all things considered, but it wasn’t a lick of help here.

I was suddenly chilled, so cold I paused in my walking. Comas, like I realized before with Despair, aren’t fun and games, and the longer you’re out the worse they are. What would happen if I got back, only to become a vegetable, bed-ridden and brain damaged? What if I already was a vegetable, and this whole thing was my brain’s swan song before it collapsed into madness and insanity?

What was it that Guilt said? The words came back like they were branded behind my eyelids: I am here to watch you die.

“Hiya!”

I screamed, I admit it. It was a bit girlish, but I was far past being concerned with that sort of thing now. I took a step back and stumbled on the ground, fouling my grab for my gun. My butt hit the dirt and my teeth clacked, the taste of blood flowing into my mouth. I fumbled for my gun again, but barely had it half-drawn when a shadow fell over me.

I looked up, fully ready to be eaten again when Spes’ face filled my vision like a giant hot-air balloon. He was smiling that same, goofy smile, and still wearing that same ratty coat. The waggon wheels squeaked in what must have been a hello, and he offered me a hand.

I didn’t take it. “Compromise tricked me before. How do I know you’re you, Spes?”

Spes frowned. “She shouldn’t do that. But she does it all the time. Still, shouldn’t. I’m Spes. She’s Compromise. We’re not the same.”

I had to admit, that sounded a lot like Spes, but I had to stick to my guns. My gun. Whatever, but I didn’t care to trust Spes yet. He looked upset, but aside from that, there wasn’t anything I had on him to prove he was really who he/she/it was. And then it hit me. It wasn’t foolproof, but it might work. 

“Tell me a joke.”

Spes blinked but said nothing. I slowly reached for my gun. One of the first things Spes said to me was how much he liked laughter, and there’s a saying in my precinct: don’t trust a guy who can’t take a joke. He was quiet for so long I started to actually get scared. If this was Compromise pulling my leg again, and by the way, where was she, then why drag it out? And if it wasn’t Spes or Compromise…I didn’t want to shoot this guy, just in case, but he wasn’t leaving me much choice.

I pulled my gun out of my jacket when Spes suddenly spoke. His voice changed from the normal, half-there sing-song to a strong, regular cadence, but it was still undeniably Spes.

“There were two hunters hunting in the forest, when one of them suddenly collapses to the ground. His friend calls the emergency line and gets the dispatcher. “Help! Help! I think my friend is dead!” The dispatcher tries to calm him down. “Alright, here’s what you do. First, make sure he’s dead.” The hunter gets off the line and the dispatcher hears a gunshot in the background. “Ok,” the hunter asks when he returns, “now what?”

I chuckled a little, and Spes lit up like the sun. I wasn’t certain, and couldn’t think of anything better, but the look of happiness on his face was far too real to be anything but genuine. Spes clapped his hands, and I came this close to giving him a hug.

“Goddammit Spes, where the hell have you been?” I asked.

“Around. Where I’m needed. Here. There.” He offered his hand again.

I took it and climbed back to my feet. “Well, can you stick with me for a bit? I’m…a little lost.”

“That’s nothing new. Sure. Where you going? Home? Death? Left?”

“No. I mean, yes, the first one. Home. I figure it’s time I left. Despair said I had to get to the Tower of Dreams and put on my crown. Do you know where that is? Hell, do you know what that is?”

Spes nodded furiously. “Yep. Dangerous, though. Lots of hmmm things in-between here and there. Desire won’t want to let you through. Greed might. Ambition would. But locked up. Compromise, maybe? Don’t know. Rage won’t. Rage won’t.”

The names bounced off me. I could figure out the gist of what he was saying, but nothing stuck. Rage? Desire? The big guys who wanted me for their own, sure. But Ambition and Greed? Locked up? I didn’t even know where to start.

“Alright, that’s a big deal to take in. Let’s start this over from the beginning.” I said as we walked in a random direction.

“Sure. Hi. I’m Spes. Your head doesn’t really hurt, you know. You just think it does, because that’s what he wants. It doesn’t have to hurt you at all. Oh, and you can pull that out if you’d like.”

I glowered at him. He smiled at me, just like he had the first time, and the cart squeaked. “Very funny. Let’s just get to the Tower, shall we? My throne or something is there.”

Spes nodded again. “Yah. Yah. Everyone who is awake and dreams goes there. We…normally can’t get in, unless we ride you.”

“Wait a second, “we” can’t get in, unless “they” ride you? Spes, are you one of the spirits that live here?” I immediately knew it was a dumb question the second it came out. Obviously he was, so I wracked my brains for a second question. “Wait, forget that, I have a better question. You’re the one person who freely told me their name who also didn’t think I was a lord of something. Why?”

Spes said “I never hide. Never. Not always there, but never hide. Not in me. Names have power. I give power. Not through hiding. Never.”

Naturally, this made no sense to me until I realized I was just shy of the mark.

“Spes, what emotion are you?”

He turned and gave me the biggest, brightest smile I’d ever seen. The world actually seemed to light up around me, and yes, the sun did come out of the clouds. And I suddenly knew.

“Hope. You’re Hope. Stupid, dumb, Hope.”

Spes nodded. “Hope. Spes. Elpis. Asha. All these are mine, but I can’t tell. I can’t tell, ever. Only lead up to. Only show the way.”

I chuckled again. “Well, I’ll be damned. And why can’t you ride me? Oh wait, you won’t tell me. Is this something deeper? Like, you’ll call if I answer, no matter where I am?”

Spes shrugged, but he was smiling. I was happy, even just a little. Bad-ass, and clever? Wasn’t I a keeper?

And then there was the roar.

The word isn’t right. “Roar” brings to mind lions or animals. The wild force of Niagara falls, or the dull noise of an atomic blast. Roar brings to mind the idea of a sound that is fearsome, of wild, untamed, unrelenting fury. Of a primal power that can only be expressed like a verbal strike. Of power unleashed.

That is not nearly enough to describe the sound.

The world shook. Stones skittered off the tops of buildings and tumbled down, joined by chunks of concrete the size of refrigerators. Buildings collapsed into each other, exploding into dust and shards as they died shivering, happy to be dead and saved from the sound. The ground danced like the very sound of the roar was repulsive, so much so that the earth violently rejected it. The dream world itself stretched and warped as the world pulled away from the roar. My spirit felt like it was an elastic stretched just to the point before breaking.

I couldn’t have stood even if the ground would have let me. The roar filled me as completely as the dark. It pounded at my ears until my eardrums broke and blood poured down my face. It pounded at my bones until they shattered into powder. It pounded at my organs until they dissolved into liquid that rippled as it echoed the roar. My thoughts evaporated, incoherent above the beat of the roar. Blood filled me as my body was pulped and crushed by the sound. I was pressed down and mashed by the sound, until there was nothing but blood inside me. And it burned.

I was mad beyond any rational thought. I was hate and rage and annoyance pressed down into a ball of quivering fury. I was every driver cut off in rush-hour traffic married to the Count of Monte Cristo. I was ready to explode, ready to burst out and crush everything around me. It didn’t matter what. Nothing mattered now. There was the roar and there was me, and I Was the Roar.

The roar suddenly subsided and so did my anger. I was dazed, but once the earth stopped bucking, I found I could climb, albeit shakily, to my feet. Even Spes seemed stunned by the force of the sound. I checked myself over, but found that aside from some scrapes and dust that had gotten everywhere, I was fine. I probed a finger into my ear, but only pulled out dust and a little sweat. No blood. No rage. I sighed in relief. I was alright.

The street couldn’t say the same. Entire rows of buildings were toppled, some ground so fine that I stood taller than they did. Barring a few buildings that miraculously stayed upright, the city had been pounded flat by the force of the roar. It was like a bomb had gone off. No, that was like a nuke and a hurricane had had a baby.

“Spes,” I asked, my voice hushed into reverence by the assault, “what was that?”

His pointed to the distance and my heart dropped into my gut. His face was grim and wore an expression I’d never seen on him. It was halfway between fear and madness, and it scared the piss out of me.

When I looked at what his finger was pointing at, the shit was scared out of me too. The hospital still stood, but fires engulfed it. Blood-red flames licked out of the windows and raced along the walls, devouring it from the outside in. A figure stood in front, who looked like he was made of fire and blood.  Screaming faces pushed against his skin, trying to burst free. He looked like boiling water with a demon’s head. His arms were outstretched like he was a conductor leading the orchestra in a great symphony as the hospital came crashing down.

“Rage.”

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Attention: Parents of the World

November 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Achtung. 

Parents, I know life is hard for you. Mothers, I particularly feel your pain. I understand the difficulties that being a parent entails. Someone once described the first two years of an infant’s life as “two years of shit and barf”.

It understand your pain. I do, I really do.

What I do not understand is how you will fight and scream and argue with your children so that they learn to share, to play nice, that hands are not for hitting and that bullies are not for being. Not that I do not understand why you do these things. Perhaps if someone had told Hitler or Stalin or Doctor Claw how to learn or share or not hit, so much pain could have been avoided.

No, what I do not understand is how you will do all these things,

and then leave my workplace a goddamned mess for me to clean up after your lazy asses. 

Did I miss something? Because I was fairly certain that the old rule still applied, wherein the one who messed up said location, cleans up said location.

Or else you just want to teach your kids that hands are not for hitting, bullies are not for being, but cleaning up after yourself is for other people to do for you.

Das ist alle. 

How I Feel To Be Turning 24

November 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

Today: 

How I will feel tomorrow:

From white to Central Asian in 24 hours

Somewhere, in-between the discarded bottles and cups tonight, I will hear a distinct “plink” as Death moves the abacus one slot closer to the end.

But until then, cheers everyone!

Contest Result and Ash and Dust, Part 14

November 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

Drumroll? That will have to wait. First things first…

First: I’m continuing Ash and Dust for a few weeks (maybe?). At the very least, I have a new entry for it! For all those who have forgotten what the story is about and such, you can  click on the “Categories” drop down, and select “Ash and Dust”. That works for all my stories that are on-going, and if you can’t find something there, check “Completed Stories and Downloads.”

Second, have the actual story part!

Chapter 14: The Dark

I didn’t fall. I was certain of that. The darkness surrounded me like a wet blanket, heavy and clinging. It wrapped me and covered me. It filled me like smoke and like air. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe; there was nothing to see and nothing to breathe. Only the dark and me, the small bit that was waiting to be devoured.

I didn’t know who I was, what I was, nor was I sure that I was thinking. There were no memories left. I was just a husk floating through the dark, a piece of debris without purpose or place. For a long time, I just floated, neither enjoying nor hating the experience. It only was, as I only was.

I could feel the dark inside me, filling me up from my toes to the tip of my head. When I looked to where my toes should be, there was only the dark. When I wiggled my fingers, there was only the dark. When I squinted to see far away, there was only the dark. It filled me so completely that I began to believe I was the dark, that there was no difference between it and I. Once it filled me as completely as it filled the world around me, I knew there would be no more me. Not even this weak resistance would remain to separate dark from dark.

My being expanded as it swelled with dark. It flooded into me, but without feeling or sound. I simply grew as more dark filled me, what I imagined of my body filling like a balloon, filling until it would burst. It was so empty out there, and I was so empty inside. Why would the emptiness break me? Why was the darkness in me not enough?

These questions didn’t matter, nor did my thoughts think them. There was only the darkness, then there was me. Soon, there would only be the darkness.

My finger pained me as a band stayed firm against my swelling. I looked to my hand and saw a ring on my finger. There was so little of me left that I looked like Depression, a wire-frame wearing a ring that floated in the darkness. My brain tried to remember who Depression was, but it couldn’t. It could only remember that I had a brain. Suddenly, thoughts filled me. Where was I? What happened back in that room, with Despair? Why was I here?

The dark shifted. I still felt myself growing, but my form slowly returned to me. Like an old TV screen, growing into intensity, my body began to refill the frame. Fuzzy images, indistinct and clouded, returned but horribly grotesque and swollen. My flesh bulged where it was filled with dark and roiled with the motion of the blackness. Skin bubbled as particles of blackness moved through me and bones shifted to accommodate the material. My finger ached horribly as my hand, now the size of a frying pan, still grew. It throbbed savagely, burning pain restoring thoughts to my head, but it could not break the ring.

I floated still, but I was no longer placid. Pain filled me from all parts of my body, from my throbbing finger that pulsed hot with pain to my clementine-sized toes that threatened to burst. Every inch of me hobbled, every centimetre dilated with pain.

Pain. That was what I was now. Not the dark, but pain.

Take off the ring, a thought whispered in the darkness. Take off the ring, it urged with obvious desire, take off the ring. Take it off and the pain will stop. It will stop forever.

I reached across my bloated body. I was nearly circular now, but my engorged hands could grip one another. My fingers closed across the golden band. It shone now, shone with light so bright that it burned at my eyes. I remembered I had eyes, and they suddenly swelled with the dark inside them. They boggled out in every direction, spinning and splitting as they grew and grew.

With jerky, halting motions, I thrust the golden glow of the ring into my mouth. My teeth shook as they clamped down on the ring, ready to bite off the finger. They rattled so much they almost tore furrows into my skin, but I kept them firmly closed. Forcing my shaking chin to obey, I bit down.

Blood filled my mouth, and I remembered I had a heart.

Light exploded in my head, obliterating my vision and white noise roared in my ears. My consciousness blinked, blinked again, and was lost.

The light withdrew, and I stood in an empty church. Long rows of empty pews stared back at me, barren and lifeless. It was dark, but not completely. Greyness tickled the edges of the black.  I stood alone at the altar, dressed in a black tuxedo with a lilac corsage. 

Lilacs. She loved lilacs.

The doors at the far end opened and suddenly, she was there. Light didn’t shine in but flowed like water, growing and pushing off itself. It filled every corner and every crack, shining so brightly that it looked like day. No, brighter than day. The light smothered every shadow and sealed every hole.

But she was brighter. Her hair was drawn up behind her and little blond ringlets spilled free to dance about her face. Small glasses perched on her dainty ears but couldn’t cover the brilliance of her emerald eyes. They sparkled and glowed, and light spilled from her lips where she smiled. Her skin was silver and porcelain, fairer than the wedding dress she wore.

I tried to take a step towards her but my legs would not obey. I was completely rooted to the spot. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I couldn’t even hope to look away.

She stopped, close to me. So close I could smell her, soft silk and roses. So close I could feel the heat that radiated from her. So close I could taste her, salt and lust and lilacs. She barely reached the bottom of my neck but she filled my world. There was nothing else.

“This is how you saw me, Ryan.”

I closed my eyes when I heard her. I had forgotten her voice. I had forgotten how beautiful it sounded when she said my name. The pain of it nearly killed me.

“This is how you saw me, because this is how you remembered me. The room was empty, as far as you were concerned. Black, and empty. And you remember nothing else from the moment I walked in the door. You don’t remember the ceremony, nor the silly jokes Wesley played during the reception. You don’t remember the drive home, and now, neither do you remember what happened after.” She smiled and twirled. Little sparks of light drifted off her and danced away. “This is all you remember.”

“This.” She leaned is close and her voice changed slightly. I could hear other people in the background, the stomping of feet and strains of music, but the pure sound of her voice was unaltered. “And this: I love you, Ryan Kazlaukas.”

“Emily.” I said, my voice hoarse and broken.

“Yes, Ryan?”

“I forgot. I forgot everything. I forgot who I was, who you were, even that I love you. That…you love me. What do I do if I forget you again?”

She took my face in her hands. Her light touched me and warmed me, but it did not stick. It slid off like oil on water, like blood on tile. But her hands were warm.

“What is a man without memories? He is still the same man he was before. Your choices made you who you are, Ryan. Your choices made you into the man I loved enough to marry, to be with forever. I love you, Ryan. Not your memories.” Her voice changed again, but this time there was only one voice murmuring along with her. “In sickness and in health, till death do us part.” She rose up on her pixie feet and kissed me on the nose. “It’s what you promised too.” I heard my voice, filled with fear and happiness, repeat what she said to me. I swallowed blades as she continued. “You needed me to find your way when you were lost in the dark. Now, I need you. Till death do we part.”

Her voice changed a final time. It was ragged and pleading, and torn into pieces with grief. It was the voice of someone who has lost everything else and clings to the last bit of the broken raft that was her life.

It was my wife’s voice. Not a memory this time. It was Emily.

“Please,” it sobbed, “please, Ryan. Don’t die. I need you. I need you now. Please, just please. Please wake up.”

My eyes opened.

WAKE.

UP.

She disappeared and I was in the dark again. I bulged and groaned and threatened to explode, but the ring on my finger burned. It burned hot, hissing where the dark touched it. It burned loud, the retreating dark keening as it sloughed off the light. It burned brightly, smothering the darkness completely.

I stretched my hand forward and felt something block it. Something that quivered and quaked where my fingers brushed it. I closed my hand around it and felt it tear. Darkness exploded out in a gushing flow. It swirled and flooded to escape the light that pounded after it. The dark spilled out of my body as the pressure inside me released, blasting out with such force that I felt hollowed and empty.

Empty, but whole.

My hands tore at the barrier, ripping wet pieces free. I crawled forward, each squishing step ejecting more dark from me. It left me in droves and waves, keening as the light burned it. Light burned ahead of me from the hole I tore loose and I crawled to it. My hands scrabbled for purchase on slick tiles and I slipped forward.

The cold hit me, and I was out. My body, whole and weeping the last bits of darkness, stood free in Despair’s lair. Amazed and barely comprehending, I looked behind me. The ruined corpse of the Hor-ghast was there, deflated and reduced to a puddle. It dissolved into bubbling black tar as the light tore into it like a pack of hungry jackals.

I looked down at myself and saw that I was still naked but for my ring. It glowed; it glowed with the fierceness of promises sworn and delivered upon, and it fit me like a glove. Despair looked up at me, his hands split around his beady eye.

We stared at each other for a long time. I, naked, slick and panting. He, naked, silent, and untouchable.

Then I imagined myself dressed. Warmth and comfort covered me. My gun hung inside my jacket, and my pockets were heavy with cigarettes. I took one and lit it. The tobacco seared my throat but it made me feel half-alive again.

“Good-bye, Despair.” I said, and knocked out some ash on his perfectly clean floor. It didn’t disappear like the Hor-ghast did, and I silently cheered at that. “I think I’m going to take you up on your offer.”

I turned and walked into the darkness. I willed a flashlight into my hand and walked calmly through the caves.

I was going home. 

So…yeah.

Now for the drumroll!

The winner of my third contest is none other than our lovely….

Tanis!

Yes, Tanis is the winner this time! The die doesn’t lie, ladies and gentlemen. A one it rolled, and a one it is! Tanis, get that thinking cap on tight! Remember, it could be a fully-formed idea, a simple idea, or just a word that you think is cool! It’s up to you! There’s no rush, and I’ll be in touch (because it’s not like I see you like, every week or anything)!

But thanks to those who commented. It’s a cheap, transparent way to try and boot-strap you folks into talking, but you do get something out of it.

And besides, you love it.

John, away!

Reminder!

November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

We are approaching the end of my third contest! If you still want a chance to win a story, then post a comment here, post-haste!

For your patience, have a kitten.

A Brief Discursion on Hotness

November 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

Dear Hollywood, 

Please stop trying to pass this:

The shade of blue her eyes are has so far been only found in one other place in nature, on a diamond planet orbiting a distant sun.

off as this:

Look into my eyes. You are feeling geeky, very geeky.

We get it, you know. We may like to imagine that Zooey will come into our lives at some point and in so doing, we will all be graced with a little bit of that ephemeral hotness that surrounds her like her clouds of hair. We desire it, even as we, the basement-dwelling nerds that so love her, are terrified of it.

And yes, Hollywood, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say “but we’re just showing people what they want to see! You are the reason we only have beautiful women, beautiful beyond the ken of moral men. It’s your fault! And besides, we had Ugly Betty and that did pretty well!”

Oh ho! Not so fast, Hollywood! While indeed, your main character was not that attractive:

Those braces are big enough to be military-issue.

She was played by, well, her:

Apparently, braces, glasses, and untouched hair are all you need to be "ugly".

See Hollywood, even when you’re casting for someone with ugly in their name, you still need to have supremely attractive women. And I think it’s time you admitted your problem: you’re afraid of women. Terrified, even. And that’s ok, because as a biological male I am as well, but unlike you I’ve come to terms with it.

You’re so terrified of women that you can’t conceive of them as women. They’re teeth to be whitened, hair to be curled, boobs to be padded and butts to be em-butted. They are factors you can control to make them more palatable to your audience, because if you don’t think of them like that, then you have to treat them like…men. Men? Oh sure, they need to be controlled too, and they’re certainly judged on their appearance. If you don’t have a sixpack, don’t even bother trying to be a love biscuit.

But men can be things other than love biscuits. Women will always be judged in terms of their love-biscuitness no matter what role they’re in. Women, Hollywood, are not treated like men are. They’re not allowed to be anything but super-attractive. It takes a film-maker with a hell of a lot of grit to do that.

Fortunately, both the Coen brothers and Frances McDormand have grit to spare.

Male actors can be rejected for not being hot enough. Of that, I have no doubt. I have no doubt that their appearance is also massaged and altered as much as women’s. Hollywood, you are about image, after all. But men can be normal-looking. They can be fat. They can be butt-ugly, so long as their acting is awesome.

Take Steve Buscemi, Hollywood. Do you have a woman like that, who is so clearly not conventionally attractive, yet is so well-respected because of their acting chops?

Go find her. I’ll wait.

Oh, you found…one? Maybe two? Whereas Steve can land a gig in the lead role of an amazing show that doesn’t also need to feature the word “ugly” in the title.

Hollywood, you need to get out a bit more, if only so women can get a break. Don’t be afraid of them (beyond the sheer soul-sucking terror of talking to them one-on-one), please, or else we’ll have more of this:

Check out the full-size, and according to TV Tropes: "being unattractive means being brunette, apparently."

Not that I would say no to working with Zooey. I mean, goddamn. It’s Zooey. 

All due respect to TV Tropes for beating me to the punch. Also, if you haven’t already, check out my contest. There’s still time to get in on the chance to win a free story!

 

 

Home, Part 6, And The Post-Mortem, AND A Contest!

November 17, 2011 § 8 Comments

Why yes, I’m doing this two days in a row. I get like this when I’m close to the end of a project; I just can’t wait to finish it and I rush straight to the end. Not saying that this ending is rushed. It’s what I planned from the beginning, but I just didn’t want to wait until next Wednesday.

I’m going to do this somewhat strangely. First, have the ending.

VI.

Naj mopped the floor of the St. Charles home for the several hundredth time. He liked to exaggerate about how many times he had to clean the group home, but even he couldn’t put it past several hundred. But several hundred days of back and forth and back and forth and squeeze the water from the mop and back and forth add up to damn near infinity. The times he did it just collapsed into a mush in his head. Hundreds of hours gone, as surely as the lemon scent of the cleaner evaporated and then they would just get dirty again.

Joe was cleaning out the room when Naj approached. Naj waved, glad for a second to talk. Nothing broke up tedious work like conversation. Brains boiled when they had nothing to do, and even just griping about the weather was enough to keep men like Naj and Joe sane.

“Hello Joe.”

“Hey Naj.” They clasped hands together. “What’s up?” Joe is much younger than Naj.

“I am well my friend. I am taking next week off, and my wife and I, we go to Cuba.”

“Oh yeah, you guys just got your passports? You’re Canadians now, eh? How’s it feel?”

Naj shrugged. “I am Canadian. I am Persian. What difference does it make? I will still get stopped at American airports.”

“True, true, and I’ll still get pulled over by the cops, brother.” Joe laughed as he wheeled out the garbage bin. He had a rolled-up poster tucked under his arm.

“Who’s room was that Joe?” Naj asked. He was slightly curious, but mostly just wanted an excuse to keep talking.

“It was that guy…the really quiet one. John, I think it was?” Joe said as he leaned on his garbage pail. He too was in no hurry to get back to work.

“Yes yes yes, John. I remember him now. I don’t think he spoke with anyone else. Not once. I said “good morning” every day, and he just looked at me with far-away eyes. You know those eyes?”

“Uh-huh. Yeah. Whenever I’d clean his room, he’d just sit there like he wanted to say something. I’d say hi and crap, y’know, just to make it easier for him, but he’d just sit there, y’know? I don’t know. He never had any visitors or anything, that’s for sure.”

Naj gestured to the stuff in the bin, a paltry few pieces of clothing and the debris of home life. “Is he moved out, or gone for good?”

Joe shook his head. “Nah, he’s checked out completely. Had a heart attack, last I heard. Happens often enough with people like him, but if you ask me, he was just waiting to die. Didn’t talk at all, didn’t eat much, didn’t do much. Just sort of gave up, I guess, and next of kin don’t want his stuff. Can’t blame ’em. It’s not worth my time to throw it out.”

“Sad, that is, when family goes.” Naj said sadly. Most of his family was still in Iran, but they might as well have been on the Moon. Naj could not go back there, not again. “Is anything there worth keeping?”

Joe held up the junk. “Shitty blankets and a few clothes that won’t fit you sound good? You can go through it if you want, just don’t let Finn see you.”

“No, if you say so that is fine. Goodbye, Joe.”

“See ya, Naj. Have fun in Havana, and don’t wear your turban to the airport!”

They chuckled, and walked off. While they needed a minute to vent, any longer and they risked Mr. Finnegan’s wrath. No small thing, that. Joe didn’t feel the need to get seen messing around by management. He didn’t plan on being a janitor for a group home much longer, as it was a shitty job in every meaning of the word, but there was no sense in getting fired for no good reason.

He wheeled the bin to the trash compactor and chucked it in. There wasn’t much and what he had said to Naj hadn’t been an exaggeration in the slightest: the patient had had nothing more than basically the clothes on his back and a few knick-knacks. For Christ’s sake, Joe thought, the only photo the guy had had he’d taken to the hospital. The only thing that had made that room the least bit livable was the poster.

Joe unrolled the poster. It was a big one. Hulk Hogan stared down triumphantly, his foot on the chest of a defeated opponent and a wild roar on his face. Joe felt a little weirded out, however, by the fact that Hulk’s mouth had been torn out. Not cut out, but torn out, lips and all.

He shrugged and tossed it in the compactor as well. Hell, he didn’t even know why the guy would have liked Hulk Hogan, of all people. He was just some washed-up old wrestler who made an ass of himself for reality TV.

I mean, thought Joe, Hulk doesn’t even fight anymore.  

Second, have the post-mortem, and then the contest will be below! I’ll wrap it around the question I was asked earlier:

Why did you name the character John? 

This was asked to me early on in the comments, and here’s my answer. This was a very difficult piece to write and I went into it with a lot of assumptions that were just wrong. I learned a lot about Down’s Syndrome, and a very little about the people who have it. Yet, one of the things I did learn was that they are people too. People with a cold don’t stop being people, and people with cancer don’t stop being people: people with mental illness don’t stop being people, even if that’s sometimes hard to imagine.

I have had only one significant relation with a person with Down’s throughout my life and, in a way, it was a bad influence on me. It separated those who have the Syndrome into a) my relation, who is special and unique, and b) everyone else who has it, who are amorphous and thereby neither special nor unique. I figured that there was something weird and different about them. There is something different about them, but it’s not weird and it’s not magical, and it’s certainly not terrifying.

They are humans and understand the world as humans do. Yes, they have a reduced I.Q., on average, and yes, there are low-functioning cases, but in the end, there isn’t something essential about them that’s different. Read about the symptoms and it will make sense. They often have poor hearing, which is the primary cause of their lack of social skills. They develop slower, which is also related to delays in speech and learning, which are in turn related to reduced or the loss of hearing. This is also one reason why those I.Q. scores are lower.

So, why did I name the character John? Why did I choose to identify myself with him? Because there but for the grace of my parent’s correctly-developing gametes go I. The only difference between John the writer and John the character, aside from lived life experiences, obviously, is…nothing. I could have been him. Any of us could be.

If I develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or AIDS or any other of a number of diseases, I could be like those people too. We’re all those people, and the only difference between us and the people who have Down’s is one chromosome. And that chromosome doesn’t change a God damn thing about them. They’re people, we’re people, and we all need love, support, and family.

I won’t lie: I didn’t know that going into this. I learned that the long way, and I hope you did too (if you didn’t already know that). I learned a lot of bad things too, like how roughly 90% of fetuses with Down’s Syndrome are aborted in the UK , a number that I suspect is much the same here. I highly doubt 90% is the national average for abortions.

I’m going to give someone with Down’s the last word, if only because I imagine that society doesn’t. It’s from Sujeet Desai, and you can read his story here:

 I love meeting new people, especially when they respect me.

Finally, I’m going to end on a higher, happier note. Now that I’m done another commissioned story, it means my plate is now open for another! So you get to participate in the third instalment of my muppetational contest!

Yes, you too could win an amazing story lovingly hand-crafted by me! By amazing, I mean that I hope it won’t suck! But it will be yours!

All you have to do to win this fantabulous prize is to comment on this story, A Home of Iron and Glass. You can comment on the whole story, or just a part. You can comment with deep, dramatic insights, or with a simple “I liked it” (or “I didn’t like it”). You can just comment and say “wut” or something else as benign! You can even do it anonymously if you’re shy!

I don’t care! But this is your chance to win something, which may or may not be big!

So comment away! I’ll pick a winner in time for next Wednesday’s entry, which as usual, will be a continuation of Crown of Ash and Dust. 

Oh, and if you want to choose the title as part of your winnings, I’m ok with that. Really.

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