A trail of brown boxes line the sidewalk, leading to a moving truck with other memories piled inside.
Today, a family moves out of their small gray home, a sad shadow of the vibrant yellow one beside it. Bright as a lemon and absent of anything sour. Except for the Gray family, who were stoic, all carrying moving boxes in methodical procession and silence.
When they finished, they took one last look inside the house. Old corners adorned themselves in the finest webs vacated by the last owners. They inhaled the stale air, the familiar aroma of old memories and knick-knacks, things that were special to them on display for the entire family to gaze upon. All gone.
The vibe was off, yet potent, unseen, and detrimental to the soul. They had to get out.
Their last steps past the overgrown weeds is a memory of a challenge faced, accomplishments and failures, strange growth in the shadows of pain. The Grays didn’t tend to this garden; they were moving on.
After their solemn departure, the small gray house vanished, while the yellow stood alone, waiting.
Today, a family emerges from their vibrant yellow home. Inside, shelves are full, reflecting the Grays and their knick-knacks. Old and new memories merge. Outside, rows of flowers line the house, blooming in rediscovered bliss. It is what they nurtured with hope in the years of gray gloom.
Scattered across their front porch, the Grays sit in silence, smiling, watching the sunrise together of a new day, and a new chance.
Mark locked himself away with shaky leg anxiety and hair twirling hypothetical fears of damages to his reputation.
Ugh, I knew I should’ve moved that candle away from the curtains. His internal thoughts spun on, plaguing him with fear. He knew who to call but couldn’t find the number to reach them. Shaky hands shuffle through a crowded desk, paper clutter flutters in the air. He finds a red card, his phone, and dials fast. I think they’re on the list, not that I can remember why. I have to be sure though…
“Woke Services. What do you want you couldn’t get online?”
“I need the Fire Department, quick!”
He stretches his shirt over mouth and nose, his coughs muffled beneath. Breathing becomes a new struggle he never thought he’d face.
“Okay, let me check… Yes, they’re canceled.”
“Uh… I—uh, okay, um, t-thank you…”
“It sounds like you’re in trouble, and our Woke Master package could help. For a limited time we’re including our Nothing to See Here add on which comes with one free month of services. It lets our clients engage with and use the services of cancelled companies and individuals under the table. This way, everyone can speak one truth in private and the bandwagon truth in public.”
“Um… How much is the package?”
“Seven hundred, due today—”
Mark hangs up. He remembers the low account balance text. More smoke fills the room, but he settles in front of his computer, observing his solemn face at the sign in screen. He just couldn’t risk his reputation associating with cancellations.
I don’t want to die… He muses, but remains seated all the same, setting up a live feed of his approaching demise. Behind him, a ground level window big enough to fit through. Instead, he draws the blinds. The flames clutch at the door frame and down onto the floor where paper clutter ignites. Flames reach his feet, burning through the soles of his shoes…
Waves of joy infuse the air in a collective hysteria; shouts from an adoring crowd rumble within blackness. They await with devices on standby; eager eyes, each desperate to consume and share on social media, where likes turned into cash. Lux imagined holding center stage before a sea of fans, all craving more, touching her growing ego, waiting for the famous squeal of her Black Diamond Elektrik.
Her hands linger over the guitar strings as the cheers rise. Instead, Lux types away at a frenzied pace, dragged away from her daydream by the grip of life. She speculates about her money earned, notably after the overtime hours she contributed. Pay day was at the end of the week, the day she’s waited for to own the notorious guitar and pursue dreams she dared to turn into reality.
Lux worked fast, long fingers speed with determination analyzing and inputting data as the rest of the week flew by. Once her check arrived, it was short. When taken up with the System, she was met with a listless response.
“You did not complete your time sheet for Tuesday. I withheld pay for that day.” The System explains.
“… But I worked on Tuesday, I did the volunteer overtime, there are emails with timestamps.” Lux protests.
“You did not complete your time sheet. I withheld pay.”
Lux goes to speak again, but the System accesses the Blacklist. An internal tall tale whispered from cubicle to cubicle now proven as true. Lux stared at a massive excel sheet with names of former employees listed. Soon after, the dreaded cardboard box appears, waiting to be filled.
One more word and Lux Halifax would be in a cell.
Powerless against the system, Lux stopped fighting, withholding her musical dreams for another day.
Arani’s constant, tearful prayers plunged the translucent God of Shadow Mountain into misery and restlessness in her quest for infinite beauty.
Each day she visited the mountain, an ordinary reflection stared back at her through its slick outer layer. She stabbed the mountain to claim chunks of its mystical, black diamond clusters to transform herself, leaving empty-handed every time. The mountain was not one to extend its charm, but knew she’d return.
Taking the shape of a long, flat tongue, the translucent God brushes close, bearing the answer to her prayers.
“A sacrifice. Give to become.” The tongue’s soft voice deposits silver drops of persuasion into her ear.
Without pause, Arani presents a hazy orb of cool magenta, cozy coral, and shimmering gold. The sunset of each day offered on bent knee, placing the orb at the tip of the mountain’s tongue. One gulp was all it took.
“Now that I have given, when will I become?” Arani asks.
“You have it all. I require more, a sacrifice.” The tongue whispers, seizing Arani into a slimy spiral grip, swallowing her whole. Puffs of smoke bellow from the mountain top, lining itself in outstretched cerulean cotton patches. From its inside, diamonds line the puffs, each break into separate, multiple waterfalls. The translucent God rests, coaxed to sleep by the rushing waters of the girl.
… And within the plunge pool, at every sunset, villagers report they can still hear Arani’s voice, praying for more…
“So you’re telling me I turned in my forms and he hasn’t returned to work since with them? That was… what? A week ago, right? And I thought this was the best remote office. I need those forms processed!”
“He—He may be on vacation. Let me check with management down at the main office, they can tell me for sure.”
She agrees and waits. After sometime the associate returns grim faced.
“They couldn’t talk long at the main office, they’re in the middle of a fire drill. But they did say — ”
“I don’t care. I need my forms processed. I’m giving the go ahead to my private investigator. He’s going to find Garbell and get my forms processed.”
She leaves before he can say another word.
It wasn’t difficult for the PI to locate the home of Garbell. As soon as she obtained the information, the customer knocked on his door.
Many signs showed he was home. The car parked in the driveway, the roaming shadow peeking through the blinds, the sound of a muffled, hurried voice. She knocks harder, closed fists of determination the longer she remained ignored.
The door flies open, revealing an unshaven, hollow-eyed, disheveled man beneath worn blankets draped upon his shoulders like a has-been King. He clutches his chest, a phone drops from his hand.
“Mister Garbell, where’s my forms? I need my forms processed! You were supposed to do this last week.” He’s pushed to the side as she enters, spotting the manila folder on the entryway table with her name on it. “Ah ha!”
The customer shakes her head in disapproval, watching Garbell on the floor.
“No wonder you didn’t process my forms, you like to sleep on the job.”
Emergency workers pour into the home.
“Stand aside! We got a call about a suspected heart attack.” He spots Garbell face down on the floor. “That must be him!”
The emergency worker looks at the customer.
“Are you okay? He mentioned a strange person at his door was frightening his weak heart—”
“Sir! We need you!”
He rushes past the customer running to the aid of Garbell. She departs. Outside, another body lay in twisted silence on the ground. She steps over it while thumbing through her forms, returning to the remote office.
“I need these forms processed.”
The customer hands over the manila folder examined with apprehension by the associate.
“Well, we can’t do that. After Bob Garbell died, we don’t have anyone else to complete these types of forms. Main office would ordinarily help with these things but turns out that fire drill was an actual fire, it’ll take a year to rebuild. Main office said they had a guy from another remote office that specializes in these forms, but on his way to pick them up from Bob’s house one ambulance that responded struck and killed him as he was crossing the street. It’s such a shame. Well, I’m sorry we couldn’t help further. Have a nice day.”
Susan ate my food. Food made for a select group of people, not the entire hoard, not Susan. What gives her the right to dine on my baked macaroni and cheese? I don’t even think she contributed anything to the feast. There’s the cole slaw Mike brought in, store bought and soupy. There’s the homemade fried chicken Danielle made; hard work that paid off with its irresistible flavor. And here’s Susan, chomping on them all. Most of the mac and cheese is gone now. Didn’t she see the sign I posted? ‘For Mike and Danielle’s Taste Buds Only’.
I bet Susan doesn’t know how to cook. How could she? She didn’t contribute, just about as worse as those who sign up to contribute napkins. Then there’s her poor taste in dress; those flimsy sneakers I could find for three dollars at any corner store she wears. Finer attire would be more appropriate for the workplace, I say. If I were in charge, things would be very different around here, and any potlucks we had would be selective. A slogan like: ‘If you don’t contribute, you don’t eat!’
Yes, that’s it, just like that. We need to be forceful to get the message across so leeches like the Susan’s of the world don’t muster up any bright ideas for a free meal. As a matter of fact…
Kathy stomped over to her cubicle. It was a domain to tread lightly by. Everyone knew she watched and listened from this spot, waiting to catch any malfeasance, assumed or proven. While on hold for Human Resources, Kathy gazed over her ‘Ten Commandments of Kathy’s Workplace’ framed in rose gold.
C’mon, pick up, I need to report Susan’s misconduct.
Bottom of the barrel elevator music met Kathy’s ears, drowning out the sound of a gentle voice calling in the distance.
“Kathy?… Excuse me, Kathy?”
Bashful in approach, Susan was hesitant to speak as she tugged on her sweater, a poor attempt to hide the holes within its once vibrant gold fabric. Kathy’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, the phone still pressed to her ear.
What does she want now? I hope she’s here to apologize for eating my food.
“I’m so sorry to disturb you, this won’t take long. I just wanted to thank you for bringing in the baked macaroni and cheese. It was great, I haven’t had a decent meal in a while. I don’t know if you heard, but my family has been struggling as of late. My husband, Bill, I believe you met him at the team builder bowling event we went to last year? Well, Bill was laid off about three months ago and money has been tight. Any food we have goes to our kiddos, you know? I was so hungry… I was on day two of not eating much of anything until you, Mike, Danielle, and everyone else brought in your great dishes. I’m sorry I couldn’t contribute, I would if I could, it’s just, well, we all go through things, I guess. All I wanted to say was, thank you. I appreciate you Kathy, you really made my day.”
Susan shuffled off, Kathy’s eyes remained fixed on the void where her enemy just stood. She put the phone down, just as Human Resources answered on the other end. Her eyes trailed to the mirror, staring at her reflection. Guilt painted her face, and the taste of hurt filled her mouth like doses of poison. She recalled her own journey where she walked a similar path as Susan once.
…This was all a misunderstanding.
Besides, who the fuck cares who eats what at a potluck?