Affliction

My work is about a two mile walk from our house, so most non-rainy days I enjoy a brisk walk back home and ponder on the day’s events.

Some days, like today, we have happy hour at work and I get a bit tipsy. You know how it is: get a couple of sampler-size portions in you, a beer or two – or three high-alcohol stouts – and suddenly I’m very social and happy and smiling and patting every “buddy” on the back.

I’m walking back through the nearly dark streets when my phone rings. It’s Lauren!

Continue reading

Jump

[Editor’s note: this is fiction.]

The sky is the color of steel, the cold gray of the coffin. She would have loved it. The sun of the south was too violent, and the Pacific Northwest cloudy weather matched her soul. She would have loved attending her own funeral. A light drizzle came and went right in the middle. The flowers fell on damp earth. None of us brought umbrellas, she would think it’s sacrilegious. We cried and mourned. I left early.

I went to the south, down to my pier, got in my boat and set off. It was early afternoon. The sky grew cloudier and darker by the minute, the wind sang louder.

It was cold, the drizzle a persistent beat on every surface of the world, but the sea was calm, and I pushed out into the sound.

Continue reading

Screams

A few months back, I started hearing voices. Not God or Satan, nothing like that. I heard my parents. They’re still alive and live a couple of thousand miles away, so I knew it wasn’t really them. And they weren’t saying anything, not really.

I heard phrases that they’d said often in the past, shit like "…brush your teeth?", "wear sweater", bits and fragments of full sentences. But these were just phrases. They "came in" right where some other sound stopped. A perfect blend from a coin drop to my father’s voice asking about summer vacation. Shit that I’d heard countless times in the past was now swimming up, maybe from the subconscious, and pulling up with it an audio memory.

I went to the doctor, he said it’s perfectly normal to hear the voices of our loved ones. Especially if I knew, in my heart, that this was a memory and I wasn’t actually hearing voices. Yeah, that’s what it was.

Continue reading

Dinos

Back home, when I was a kid, dinosaurs roamed the hills behind our house. The Experiment opened up a couple of portals and dinosaurs in Helsinki was one of the strange occurrences.

They spooked easily and typically stayed away from humans like the plague. Some of the theories said that this was a portal to a dinosaur-and-human world. Like, the dinos stayed clear of us because they’d learned a long time ago that humans were bad news. Seemed plausible, I suppose.

Whatever it was, an airhorn was typically enough to scare away a whole herd, so there were two on every shirt and pair of pants I wore. Lots of kids were dressed like that by our moms. The dads shook their collective heads, though quickly stopped when the glares shot in their direction.

Continue reading

Crystal Math

[Editor’s note: this story has been in the works for way too long, since at least 2014, and I’ve finally decided to publish it, mostly as-is. The tenses change a few times and there are some other issues with it, but I also need to be free of it. So here it is.]

10 years ago, your average Joe Six Pack didn’t have a damn clue what L4 meant. This is still true for poor Joe, though now his kids probably do. Do you? No, it doesn’t have a thing to do with the lumbar vertebrae, or the Bren Gun, or whatever else . It’s a damn point in space.

Ask a kid in elementary school about the L4 and he’ll wax poetic on the subject, much like the previous generation could be relied on to blabber about dinosaurs or sharks or Pokemon. Nowadays, every damn kid knows that L4 stands for “4th Lagrange point”. Which, in turn, means that if you’ve got two large bodies, like the earth and the moon, there are 5 “stationary” points. 5 points where you can put something, like a rock or a book, and it won’t move. L1, 2, 3… those are about as stable as the tip of a needle. Yeah, put something there, it won’t move. Look at it the wrong way and off it goes, sailing into the night sky.

4 and 5, that’s where the money’s at. So to speak. You put something there, it sticks around. Maybe not in the same place – it wobbles a bit, in an orbit, you see – but it’s not flying nowhere.

“Come on dad, let’s get some ice cream! We can talk space later!”

10 years ago, I had a thankless job at the University of Chicago. Which is to say, I was that PhD student who worked the night shift, stuck in the lab while the rest of my high-school graduating class was attending dinner parties and art-house openings with their families. Or the DINK weekend warriors, climbing Mt Rainier, unwinding from some mind-numbingly boring IT gig they scored along the way. Ha, those suckers. They’d never know the true pleasure of staring at electron microscope scans, processing data, setting up simulations in a dire attempt to replicate the… Where was I going with this?

10 years ago, I’d have given anything to be where I am now.

10 years ago, I was a damn fool. A silly PhD student.

Continue reading

Projection

Sometimes when I’m on the bus, it’s been an uneventful ride and I’m absorbed by the scenery, I blink and the landscape changes. It’s not the same Pacific Northwest scenery that I’ve grown accustomed to. The mossy pines get replaced by cacti or centuries-old oaks, the rolling hills morph into dusty plains or icy tundra. I watch and try to figure out where “here” is.

Highway signs are a dead giveaway, as are the billboards or the ads on the sides of buses, so I try to ignore those. I look for the birds, the foreign deer, lions, carts full of wares being pulled by bored-looking camels. These make the whole ordeal somewhat sporting.

But it’s gotten too easy. Which is another way of saying that I’ve seen every single country on the planet. The ones that have buses, which is most, save for the Vatican or Monaco.

Continue reading

Choice

The Choice Box, CB for short, sat on the table in front of me. A beer stood between us, half finished. I looked at the pint and wondered. “Who drank that beer?”

I looked around the hotel room. I was sitting on a chair in front of a table, a beer sitting on top of that. An old-fashioned analog clock hung on the wall, its hands hovered around 4, but the background was a digital image that said it was 7:22pm.

“Half the beer is gone. Who drank it?”

I wondered about this for a bit, zoned out for a few minutes, traveled along the pathway that my thoughts were carving through my mind.

It was like riding a train through the countryside for a while. You stare out the window and get lost in the terrain. Follow a river and imagine what it’s like to navigate it. Watch birds chase the train for a while and admire the creatures that hang there, within arm’s reach, as they soar. You watch the world, but can’t reach out and touch it.

The terrain and the inhabitants were my own memories and thoughts and desires. I sat back and thought through the events that lead to this moment, rode the mental train that went from “Last Sync Me” non-stop to “Current Me”. I rode the train and watched.

Continue reading

Last Call, part 2

I drove to Issaquah with the top down, my favorite brown jacket wrapped me in an orgasmic layer of comfort. “Pink Floyd” played through the speakers, of course. (It plays now, though a different album.) I sped through the twisty roads and trusted the GPS to get us there safely. Of course it did.

At the bar I ordered the barleywine I’d come for, and a cheap order of buffalo chicken sliders. My mind didn’t process in that moment that combining spicy food with a barleywine may not have been the best idea.

I read a different book now, Top 10 Volume 2. The book had one issue left, and that’s the time it took me to drink my beer, have the spicy sliders, and notice a man and woman sit down at the bar.

Continue reading

He Lives

Under a late-March sky, under hues of gold and blue and white, our world changed.

I was reclining on a patio chair in the shade of a large umbrella, a glass of sherry on the table by my side, a book in my hands. I had rented this cottage for the month and on this, the second day of my stay, went through the bookshelf in the living room and settled on this book to read.

Nothing too fancy about it, just your average pile of pages bound in a red leather cover, black letters etched into its surface, lines crisscrossing in some random abstract pattern on the front. I opened the book, took in the smell of paper, pondered at how curious it was that this scent still continued to mine the depths of my emotions, and began reading.

The book started out as a mystery, a plain and by the numbers murder with half a dozen characters and three separate storylines that I knew would careen around until they collided. But with each chapter came the more and more frequent digressions.

The characters were talking about the murder less, had started going off on tangents that I was sure would somehow matter in the end. Seemingly unimportant details from childhoods were brought up, stories of long-forgotten friends or lovers began to insert themselves into otherwise-ordinary courtroom scenes and graduation speeches.

The background characters took it all in stride, never piping up to interrupt the strange and unexpected soliloquies.

Continue reading

MG

I roll out of bed and pull on a pair of flannel pants, matching shirt, red and blue patterns on both. I walk out of the bedroom, down the hallway to the bathroom.

I place a bucket under the sink and open the tap, then release my own stream into the toilet. Water going into two different receptacles.

With a practiced and steady hand I reach up above the sink into a plastic bin, pull out a measured spoon of blue powder, and dump this into the bucket.

Once I’m done I wash my hands, transfer the contents of the bucket into a plastic watering can in the shape of an elephant, and walk around my small apartment, watering the dozen or so plants I have scattered on every windowsill and some counters.

The plants are simple creatures, they want little. Some blue medicine mixed into a bit of water and that’s all the plants need.

Continue reading