Moving Out/On

She was a leftover sort of beautiful that morning. Her makeup was in dark clouds about her eyes and her hair was straggling down in wisps from a hasty bun. When she rang the doorbell and I opened my door, she was standing still and the sight of her sent a cold shock to my skin. It had just occurred to me that she wasn’t coming back at all.

I stood back and let her pass, and she walked in, just the way she had last week. Everything was piled in the living room, and she stopped short to see the stacks. I stood, silent, trying to notice if there was a perceptible smell of must from the kitchen. She stooped to pick up the biggest box at the bottom, swaying a bit as she stood to keep the two on top of it balanced.

I opened the door again, letting it grind long and squeaky on the hinges as it swung. She hefted the boxes in her arms again, and didn’t look at me. Neither of us spoke, and the quiet crackled.

She struggled with the boxes as she fit herself through the door, clutching the cardboard as it wobbled and tipped, threatening to fall. I didn’t offer to help. I just watched her go.

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A Writer’s Block Conspiracy Theory

“Something’s strange about this,” she said. Mike only glanced up for a moment at the sound of her voice, lowered to library volume. Natalie was curled in the corner with her computer heating her thighs and a niggling sense of discontent worrying at her mind. “Really,” she insisted. “There’s something odd going on every time I try to write.”

Lenovo ThinkPad X200s

Lenovo ThinkPad X200s (Photo credit: Ronald HN Tan)

Mike sighed and shut his laptop. “Have you written anything?” Natalie turned her screen so he could see the glowing white page, blank and pure and hopelessly frustrating. He leaned back and opened his computer again, and said, “Well what do you want me to do about? Just write something already.”

“No,” she said. “That’s the thing. I’ve been trying to and I can’t. I wrote an idea down during class, but I open up Letters and it’s just gone. Vanished. I can talk okay and I can scribble something in my notebook, but as soon as the damn program’s up on my computer my thoughts just scramble and, I don’t know, I feel like I’m losing all the inspiration or ideas or whatever that I might ever have had to begin with.”

Mike frowned. “Okay,” he said. “Let me see. You know what, close it and I’m going to do some research. I’ll meet you here tonight, okay? You go take a nap or something, you look totally drained.”

Natalie nodded and gathered her things. When she said goodbye to Mike he was already absorbed in the computer on his lap, tapping and clicking furiously. He was a rather gifted hacker, she knew, and eventually he would worm his way into something interesting, if not helpful.

She did take a nap, and woke up feeling refreshed. When she left her dorm the sun had dropped beneath the horizon, leaving the sky a pallid grey and the campus doused in blue shadow. She stopped for a sandwich and then found Mike in the library, still in the same chair. He didn’t look up when she walked toward him, only tearing his gaze from the screen when she gently shook his shoulder. He said, “Hey, Natalie. I found something.”

She raised her eyebrows at him, suddenly dubious. “Yeah? Anything useful?”

Mike grinned. “Yep. Very. Look – ” He pulled her over beside him so that she could peer over his shoulder at a bewildering array of windows and tabs piled atop one another. “I got into the email of one of the project designers of the word processing programs. Namely Letters, of course. Look at this.” He double-clicked a file entitled ‘The WriterBlock® Project,’ which sprang open at the second page.

Mike began to read. “This project shall be kept in confidence between the committee assigned to dealing with the COMPANY’s Inspiration® program. The specifics of the effect of the word processor LETTERS shall be discussed here and kept strictly confidential.” There was a space at the bottom of the page here for a signature, and Mike scrolled past it to the middle of the next page and kept reading, his voice tight and controlled. “LETTERS is designed to implement the WriterBlock® method, in which the blank page induces a sudden and severe lack of enthusiasm, inspiration, and original thought in the mind of the participant or USER. The USER will therefore lose any and all motivation and ideas, necessitating his/her concentration and the prolonged use of the LETTERS program. The LETTERS program will then, by implementing the WriterBlock® technique, begin to siphon the USER’s creative energies through the computer, using wireless internet to carry those energies back to the COMPANY HQ, where it will be used in further projects. These energies become the property of the COMPANY. This technique and its use are highly classified, as is the entirety of the WriterBlock® project.” Mike stopped reading and looked up at Natalie, his eyes glowing with excitement. She stared back at him, struggling with a vague sense of horror and disgust.

“They do this on purpose?” Her voices sounded high and too loud to her own ears. A guy sitting across the aisle of shelves glanced up and scowled at the two of them, so she continued more quietly. “I can’t believe it. I mean, it doesn’t even make sense.”

“There’s more,” said Mike. “I could read you about loads of other stuff. This is a really developed project that seems to have started with the first computers. There’s tons of documents about it once you find the right people. I mean, for a company that’s so sure it wants all this crap to be secret, its executives and people never seem to clear out their inboxes.”

Natalie nodded, numb. She sank into the other chair and pulled out her computer, ignoring Mike starting to talk again across from her. He seemed very excited about all this. Letters was still up on her screen, and she raised her eyes to the white page. As Mike chattered, she let her fingers rest on the keyboard. She stared blankly forward, the unease and anger that clamored in her mind slowly fading away to nothing.

A Halfway Draft of an Ice Cream Scene

“Inside someone’s mind?” Devon was folded in the corner between the bed and the bookshelf, his arms wrapped around his knees and his neck craned upward to look at Isaac. The man offered him a hand and pulled him to his feet and away, and he blinked onto a long flat road. The sky reeled for a moment and he tipped over, landing sprawled on the gritty road. The air bumped out of him and he sucked in a gasp to say, “I’m so buggering mad this keeps happening.” Isaac let his hand go and began to walk, his head bent toward the dusty shapes clustered in the horizon. Just a few steps closer, it cleared into a bumbling house.

Devon scrambled to his feet and tripped toward Isaac, steadying into a lagging walk a step behind him. Isaac half-turned his face, giving Devon a glimpse of his profile, and said, “It gets weird. You okay with that then?” Devon snorted, and the sound echoed against the bare sky.

“Right,” said Devon. “Because only now it’s getting strange. Right.”

Isaac shot him a flat look, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, well then. When it goes all upside-down, don’t look at me.”

Devon gave Isaac his best wry expression back, and nodded. They walked on for a while, the only punctuation to the silence the thumps of their footsteps and the occasional shriek wheeling through the distance that made both of them jump.

When they got to the house at the horizon, it was tall and rickety. The outside was painted a rich deep reddish brown, and the windows stretched crossed and crooked up the walls. Isaac walked right up to the blue front door and into the house. Devon hung back, and when Isaac leaned to call him in he said, “Isaac, though, isn’t it, I don’t know. Isn’t it sort of rude to just walk into somebody’s mind like that?”

Isaac grinned at him, his face creasing and his eyes twinkling. “Nah, kid, this’s fine. No problems. Listen, anyway, haven’t you seen the subconscious we’ve been walking through? Nary a thing here except what’s hidden away. Outside the house you have to go exploring to find stuff, most often. The inside’s the only interesting bit for them as have not so much time in the area. It’s sort of the guided tour version of the brain.”

Devon rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, well, that’s not really what I was asking.” But he walked into the house, to be struck with a faint but distinct odor of eggs. His mouth dry, he followed Isaac through the first room – a quite respectable-looking foyer – and into the next. It looked as though perhaps it had started out as a kitchen until things had started growing from the walls, the counters, and the chairs. Still, it was nothing so strange as what they’d seen in just the last couple of weeks.

In the next room, there was a room of fluttering wings. Some even had birds attached, who flapped over to the men cawing for breadcrumbs before they gave up and raced in quick windy paths through the air. Isaac said, “Cripes, look at that,” and Devon said nothing. The next room was piled high with clothes, some of which seemed to move suspiciously. Isaac didn’t let him poke them with a foot. They went through a room with fish swimming through the air, and one books with flapping pages. There was a room full of blank-faced people who looked to be made of wood, and a room full of hands clambering about like awkward fleshy spiders. Isaac kept up a cheerful commentary as they walked – “Oh, haven’t you had dreams like this?” and “Bugger if this isn’t a funny mind. Suppose it’s about as funny as the rest though.”

Devon stayed quiet. His mind was troubled. He was thinking about brains, and minds, and thoughts and things. Specifically, he was wondering if all minds were very different. He didn’t think there were rooms of faceless dolls in his head – not that he minded that, but there probably weren’t less disturbing things there either. Perhaps his mind was a neat orderly house with maybe a library and a wraparound porch. What if it wasn’t nearly this interesting?

When they were walking up the spiral staircase that drifted in all directions, very slowly, he voiced the question. “What if my mind doesn’t look like this? Can I find out what it does look like?” Isaac turned to look at him.

“No,” Isaac said. He was already shaking his head. “You can’t never go in your own mind, kid. Messes you up, your own mind does.”

Devon sat and thought about that a while, watching a phoenix spinning and flashing before him. After a while turning and nudging the words in his head, he gave up and left them in an empty corner.

In the Magic Place

Joe was staring, his mouth hanging open, his heart beating a rhythm of staccato awe. The woman in front of him was juggling colors. She flung one hand up, the fingers outstretched toward the sky, and a spinning clump of blue whirled in a neat round arc. The red sank into her other hand, which clasped it comfortably, and the yellow and purple flew in between. That all happened in the space of a second, and then she did it again. Her hands, moving up and down, framed a spinning circle of color that smeared pink and green and turquoise between the pieces of color she was throwing and catching.

Arielle tugged on Joe’s hand, and he started. “Come on,” she said, “We don’t have that much time left here, and before I bring you home I want to show you some other stuff.” She was pulling him toward the corner of the block. There was a living statue there. A man was standing next to it, motionless until Arielle plucked a coin from Joe’s shirt pocket and tossed it to him. Then his hand snapped up to catch the coin and he twirled, bowing to them and touching a gentle hand to the lump of silver towering over him. It was softly rounded and droopy, like a piece of metal that was interrupted halfway through melting.

When he touched it, though, it began to come to life. The shapes gathered themselves and their edges shrank into being, lines carving themselves on its surface. Suddenly the lump of silver had lengthened and was a gleaming tiger, tail flicking and head swinging from side to side to watch them with cold metal eyes. The man clicked a finger against it again, and it began to shift once more. It drew itself up and then folded, and then it was a rather old man, shining wrinkles wobbling on his chin and a dapper cap drawn low over his head. He was sitting and reading a silver newspaper on a bench that wasn’t there. One more tap, and the man melted to re-form as a statue, a lovely young woman with blank eyes and perfect proportions, her mouth a round O and her hands clutching a silver sheet around her. Joe and Arielle looked at the statue in its lovely still splendor for a moment, and then the statue smoothed and dropped into nothingness again. They thanked the man, who gave an almost imperceptible nod from his resumed position next to his magic treasure.

There was a candy stall on the next block, just across the street. Joe began to walk toward it, but Arielle caught him by the shoulder. He protested, “No, wait, I just want – ” She shook her head at him, and pulled the other way. He craned his neck to look as he stepped toward her. The second person had just bought a candy and popped it into his mouth. After a moment, he began to float – at first, just a few inches about the sidewalk, but he circled higher and higher until he was several heights above everyone in the street, at the same level as the first floater-eater. The table was piled high with jars and boxes  – Joe read “Fireballs – very hot!” and “Jawbreakers CAUTION” on one corner, while “Rescue Candy” and “Bubbly gum” were stacked on the other. He said, “Listen, Arielle, can’t we just – ”

“No,” she interrupted him. “We can’t. I’m sorry, but I have another tour coming up, and you know you can’t do magics here, not even borrowed or bought-for-a-quarter.”

Joe slumped and followed her, forlorn. The tours were expensive, and he couldn’t afford another for a while. “Chin up,” said Arielle, smiling at him. “We had to get you back to the real world eventually, after all.”

The Dragon Slayers

“It was horrible!” Seth’s voice was high and wavering, jumping to scrape against the ceiling before thinning and fading. “It was huge, and, and, it was giant, and oh god it had so many legs! I was scared.”

Danielle crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t even that big.” Her voice was loud, even in the bustling cafeteria. Jenna smirked, next to her.

Seth glared at both of them. “It was a monster. Don’t make it sound like it was nothing.” He ripped a bite from his sandwich, as if to emphasize his words.

Mark jumped in. “So tell me the story from the beginning, guys. I mean, who did something about it?”

Danielle’s grin spread across her face. “Me. I grabbed it and threw it out the window.” She took another dainty bite of ice cream, pursing her mouth, clearly enjoying her role as hero. She was the one known to battle the frights amongst the friends, despite her airs.

“You threw a monster out the window? By yourself?” Mark was skeptical. He looked from Danielle’s eyes rolling at Jenna to Seth’s tense stiff expression, and scooped another spoonful of rice into his mouth.

“Well,” Danielle relented, “It wasn’t that huge, I guess. But Seth was plenty scared, useless hiding in the corner. Even then, though, it was pretty scary. It was lucky Eric and Jenna were there. It took three of us to kill the bastard.”

Mark’s eyebrows quirked up. He was clearly impressed. “Three, huh?”

Danielle said, “Yeah! We sort of took turns hitting at it. It had, like, a million legs.”

Seth’s frown deepened, and he shoved the spoon into his mouth again. While he glowered at the corner of the table, Mark’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Not a spider, though?” Mark said.

Danielle rolled her eyes again, but Seth leaned forward and gripped the edge of the table. “No, though. It wasn’t a spider. Spiders I can do –kind of,” he added when Danielle snorted. “This was a goddamn centipede.”