The Day the Toys Were Put Away

Art by Kirsten on Pen Up / SnapSeed

From the safety of a sleek black car, Winter stared at her Living Theater, disturbed by a sudden onset of negative vibes. “I’m not feeling it today”she grumbled. Inside, actors were busy rehearsing, while crew members fiddled with sets, props, hair and makeup to prepare for the next shoot. Winter strolled in with customary well wishes of a wonderful afternoon. It didn’t matter how late it was when she arrived. By strategically delegating tasks, Winter could sit back and relax, knowing the job would get done. Whatever she asked of her cast and crew, they’d make it into a glorious performance under her tutelage. However, she wasn’t a success yet, and waiting to make it big was the hardest part. 

“If I could pay my way through life, I’d be Queen of Existence. But money only goes so far, I must do the rest, I suppose.” 

Just six months prior, Winter’s father gifted her one million dollars when she graduated from the academy. He instructed her to use the money sensibly and follow her dreams. She did so with the purchase of a theater. It was an affordable impulse buy, one in which Winter would make her moving pictures for the Menopause Movie Network. It was a start. 

What captivated Winter the most about this theater was not only its massive size, but the generous square footage below it. During the initial changes to the theater, she set plans to renovate the underground portion as well and serve as Winter’s personal laboratory when the time came. For now, her movies for Menopause kept her busy. The thought of the network made her ill, certain she would vomit up the scrambled eggs she ate at breakfast and match the canary yellow part of her color-block blouse. Or maybe it was the strange scent she smelled. Winter paused, holding her nose. She spun around on the hunt for the foul scent. “Smells like a creature of the sea…”

She walked and walked, until she stumbled into a camera guy, whose sandwich slid down her blouse when they peeled themselves away from one another. Her canary yellow blouse is stained with a streaky mix of the daily catch, mayo, onion, sweet relish, and chunks of hard-boiled eggs. The flop the bread made as it smacked the floor broke through her shocked stare. It took everything in Winter, not to scream; when their eyes meet, Winter’s face soured further. 

“Oh my, I’m so sorry—I’m so, so sorry. Let me clean this up for you. I’ll get your assistant—” 

The nervous camera guy runs away. Winter snaps her fingers, stopping him in his tracks. She held up a long finger, motioning him over. 

“No need, she’s not here.” Her lip quivered. “We broke up this morning.” 

“Miss Velia, my apologies—” 

“Don’t talk about her, old news. Let’s talk about your camera angles instead. I’m not a fan of the technique you’ve been using, it’s dated and boring. We need to be more innovative for the next project. Give me that napkin.” She wiped her blouse off, then pulled it up to her face and licked the fabric clean, even the bright bits of yolk. “We should show their trauma by bringing them back to the places that caused them pain, see? So, when you shoot, make sure their arms stay crossed, and they keep a constant look of discontent; reliving tragic memories should not be a joyous experience.” The cameraman tossed the rest of his sandwich. He kept a firm pace alongside Winter’s brisk walk around the theater. “Film them from multiple angles. We need to be close enough to count nose hairs. Go to a home goods store. Get some stock photos of happy families and shatter the frames they came in, I want to line them along the mantle, to evoke that broken family feeling.” 

Winter motioned for a refreshment. The crew presented a glass of bubbly blue liquid to her on a black platter. She drank it all in one gulp, watching actress Honey Sun read lines with the Boy Next Door, and elite Actor Ethan Dust, Winter’s favorite. 

“Honey, please come here, we need to have a word.” Winter said. 

Ethan grinned, “Uh oh,” he whispered. Honey rolled two unconcerned, wide brown eyes. 

“Honey Sun, you’re very pleased today. Was there a funny joke I missed?” 

“We were talking about the Abigail Sweet news, about the King’s advisor, it’s juicy.” 

“Allegations… against Arthur Mandegar?” 

“Yeah, girl!” 

Winter gasps, bracing the chair arms in shock. “I didn’t read this news in my gossip report this morning. Why wasn’t I informed?” She wished Honey had told her a funny joke instead. 

“It just came out. There’s some crazy stuff she blames him for, there’s talk of strange photos and a cult. He always looked like a dirty snake, now he matches the one in his pants. A full interview with Abigail will be on Emprise tonight.” 

Winter sat back in her chair, the same feeling of not feeling whatever ‘it’ was, reemerged. 

“Go see the hair unit and tell them to give you bangs.” 

“… But Miss Velia, I just grew my hair back out. Last time I had bangs everyone joked I looked like a mop with a mouth.” 

“Good. You can clean up your act and your foul thoughts about my dear friend Arthur Mandegar, youngest advisor to our King.” 

“But—I don’t—” 

“You will. Do I need to escort you?” 

Last time Winter escorted someone somewhere, they never returned. Honey must have remembered. She didn’t say another word beyond a shake of head and forced a smile.

“Before you go, a little advice; your dialogue in the last act is very wordy and some of our audience may think you’re too smart so you’ll have to upspeak. Oh — and don’t forget, wear the glasses with the clear circle frames. I’m getting mysterious-sexy-nerd vibes from you. Go see hair so my vision can come to fruition.” 

Honey ran to the hair unit where a team stood in wait, each armed with scissors. 

“Hey you, come here. Nah, not you. Him.” Winter motioned to a young man in love with his phone. He looked up, surprised. 

“You’ll be the Anti This and That guy. Imagine sitting in your room all day, arms crossed, divorced parents; you wear all black, you never smile, you shit on others for the same things you do behind closed doors. Hmm, makeup please!” She waved her hand in the air. A crew member approached from behind. Without her assistant, Winter put everyone to work. “This is Anti This and That guy. I’m feeling Mission to Mars vibes so get some acne along his chin and right cheek. His hair needs to be darker, dye it black. Not the flat, boring black, I want that space mystery black hole kind of black. He needs to drip like a bad boy. And have someone bring me news about the Arthur Mandegar situation.” The hair unit met him with an encouraging pat on the back. “Say goodbye to that wispy blond hair.” Winter called. A flash of worry swept across his face. He shuffled off. “Okay, now where’s the hero, where’s my hero…” she clicked her hot pink tongue. 

 “I can be your hero, Miss Winter.” Ethan Dust remarked with intriguing confidence. He was the only one allowed to call his boss by her first name. He stood in the distance; a smile planted for miles across his handsome face. Winter huffed playfully; her olive-green cheeks turned a rosy hue like a pulsating red light. 

“Ethan Dust, you’re too kind. You’re a Jorge Award-winning Actor. I couldn’t ask you to partake in such a lower than life role.” Winter said. 

“We all know Ethan’s team paid someone off to win the Jorge.” The Boy Next Door interrupted. “Why is he even here? Ethan Dust is a—OW!” 

The Boy crumbled to the floor, afflicted by an invisible assailant. He clutched his ankle, broken like a snapped toothpick. He howled in pain over Ethan’s stifled laughter. 

“Winter? I heard a ruckus, are you rehearsing?” Mr. Velia’s voice boomed. The proprietor’s arrival took Winter by surprise when she caught his towering gaze. She left the stage to meet him. Mr. Velia reviewed the cast with intense interest, as if displayed for purchase. 

“Hi Daddy.” She reemerged beside him and kissed his cheek. He wrinkled his nose at the larger, tuna-stain on her blouse and murmured greetings back. His eyes are locked on the cast. “We were rehearsing, I have a film for the Menopause Movie Network, it’s your average tale of mental anguish and youthful melodrama. It’s easy money, but it’s so boring. Plus, my cast is acting up, or maybe I’ve grown tired of them. Can you get me replacements, please?” 

Mr. Velia’s black-gloved hands fell to his hips. One of his cap-toe walnut-colored oxfords tapped the floor. He’s dressed in a sharp suit and tie, a standard uniform she’d known him to wear all her life, never seen in anything else. 

“Winter, you are nineteen now and should—” Mr. Velia eyed the Boy Next Door, who cried into a tissue as soft as he could while a doctor and nurse tended to his broken leg. Mr. Velia shushed them away and picked him up with his gloved hand; he’s held at his waist by Mr. Velia’s index finger and thumb. “Good grief! What happened to this one? He’s mangled!” 

The Boy Next Door dangled in Mr. Velia’s delicate grasp. His body swayed in front of Winter’s large spectacles. She looked down at Ethan. He looked up at her. He shrugged, mouthing an apology. 

“Mistakes were made, Ethan got offended.” Winter said. 

Mr. Velia grumbled. “You cannot allow Mr. Dust to get away with his mind tricks in your Living Theater, he’s too dangerous if left unchecked.” With care, he set the Boy Next Door down onto the bed. “… And I will not give you any other Humans if you can’t care for these. His injuries are serious. You treat your cat much better than this lot.” 

She sighed, exasperated. “With Ethan, if we made him—” 

“I know your feelings for him, but we’ve spoken about this at length before. Mr. Dust’s kind differs from the average human, and one mustn’t play favorites, not when you’re the boss. Treat them with respect but don’t get too close, or they’ll take advantage of you, these are intelligent beings.”       

“Daddy…” Winter whispered. She turned her back to the cast so they couldn’t hear. She looked at her father with pleading hands. “I like him a lot. Perhaps if we made him like us…?” 

Mr. Velia stared hard at Ethan. “Assuming our gain of function efforts continue to progress maybe, maybe we could take another look at Mr. Dust. I’ll think about it, but I’m not making any guarantees, none!” 

“Thank you, Daddy! If I were in your employ, I’d help your team reach those efforts at warp speed. You know how powerful my abilities are. Let me in Velia Inc.” 

“I cannot have you on staff, not right now, at least. Enjoy the freedoms you have here to use your abilities for experimentation. Speaking of which, have you decided on a name yet for your new lab? I got word renovations will be finished in one more week. Good news, huh?” 

“I was thinking of Winter’s Secret.” She felt confident about that name. 

“Winter’s Secret…” Mr. Velia’s hand swept the air; Winter imagined all the things she could do in the laboratory, unrestrained and unseen. “I love it. Why don’t you join me for lunch? I gained a chef from our Earth discoveries; he’s known for some remarkable dishes I’ve been eager to try for days I think you’d enjoy.” 

“Wonderful. I’d love a good meal. How did you meet this prestigious chef?” 

“You know me, I just took him. He’s from… wait, what was the name?” He searched the vaulted ceiling for answers with puzzled eyes. “The place with the gentleman and chainsaw, like in that one ancient Earth movie you loved when you were three…” 

“Lone Star?”

“Ah, yes. He’s from there.” Mr. Velia leaned forward. “We sprinkled a little chaos around and gained the state. I snagged the chef for myself; he can make anything in existence.” He laughed, holding his stomach, pleased with his catch. “I almost felt bad when I claimed him. Lone Star was too easy. Their inhabitants thought the Golden and Empire States were the problem for so long. They all followed one another into a trap. It won’t take long until Velia Inc. catches them all.” 

“Oh yeah, that reminds me, how’s the app going? Human Go?” 

“Operation Quick Catch Them All is underway in another week. This should clear the remaining stragglers now that the war—uh, engagement with the Lone Star is nearing an end. It’s for the best that they’re here.” 

Mr. Velia winked. A crew member handed Winter a fresh gossip report. Mr. Velia peeked over her shoulder; together they reviewed a summary of the advisor’s alleged offenses. 

“Mm. Mm. Mm.” Mr. Velia raised one of his dark, caterpillar-like brows in Winter’s direction. “Advisor Mandegar is in quite a predicament. Miss Sweet will look to sue for damages, I’m sure. This won’t fare well for the King’s health either. It may be an interesting time to dip our claws into the Crown.” 

“Yeah… Maybe. What did you have in mind?” 

“Remember how old the King is? I heard he’s on his way out, if you know what I mean, with a very young, handsome, mysterious heir waiting to take the throne. I can’t think of a better Twister to serve our future King. Put these Living Theater toys aside, not forever, just for now, and fuck the Menopause Movie Network, everything you need to twist is already here. Once the Crown is in our debt, I’ll let you into Velia, you have my word.” 

Winter paused. Working for her father’s company was the last item on her bucket list she desired to reach before the age of twenty-one, at the latest. She looked over at her crew. “You’re right. It’s time to put my toys away.” 

She retrieved an orb of shifting blue, pink, and purple colors from her pants pocket and threw it onto the set. The cast was thrust into a pulsing light until dissolved, like a candle gently wafted to rest. Cast, crew, doctor, nurse, and Boy Next Door equipped with a blue cast around his leg, reappear as porcelain figurines, fragile, silent and still. 

“The day the curtain closed on the Living Theater.” Mr. Velia whispered. 

Certain she cleared most of the weight from her chest, Winter exhaled. “I’ll phone Arthur after lunch.” 

“Good. I’ll meet you in five minutes. I have to make a quick call.” Mr. Velia smiled. “You know, the advisor would be a fool to turn your help down.” He hugged his daughter tight, careful not to mess up her wavy black purple-blue hair before walking off. 

“A dead fool.” A familiar voice called from the distance. 

Winter kneeled for a closer look at the set. Ethan stepped from behind the red curtains. 

“Ready to infiltrate the Crown?” Winter asked. 

She lowered her palm onto the stage, Ethan climbed into her hand. He stared at her with a smirk. He smirks a lot. Maybe too much, Winter thought. 

“Of course, I’d do anything to be with you.” 

“Hmm.” Winter remarked as she set Ethan back down. His emphasis on ‘you‘ made her squirm. “This is cheesy. I’m not feeling it anymore.” She said.

Winter threw her orb onto the set and turned away, unable to watch the light take Ethan Dust whole. When finished, Winter placed the porcelain people away on a display shelf, one by one. It wouldn’t be forever, but her chest lightened completely when she let them go.

She was feeling it.

– To be continued –


Shh… My Parents Are Working

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Today was special because Tom Myers came home with me after school. He told me he just got the new dELuX video game, so I invited him over to play. I never had friends over at home before, but Tom seemed cool; he spoke little, but that was fine with me. I would do anything to play dELuX. It’s such a cool-looking game, but my mom said I couldn’t play it because it’s too violent, blah blah. She drives me crazy; I don’t think she’s seen anything else other than her work with how often she’s there.

I never want to work when I grow up, everyone’s soul turns to stone.

One time, when we went to the movies, I showed mom the poster of a new movie I wanted to see, and she said it was too violent. The poster was a floating skull dripping with blood in front of a black background, what’s violent about that? And she didn’t even look at it because she never took her eyes off her phone! That’s what I saw!   

Anyway, I came home with Tom and told him right away to keep quiet. My parents were working from home, so I had to fill him in on the house rules. Every day after school I had to wash hands, get something to eat, do my homework. Wash. Eat. Homework. And I was about to do it all in silence. I told Tom this; he said he understood.  

I don’t know what the heck Tom was thinking, but after he washed his hands, he passed by my parent’s office yelling HEYOO! at the top of his lungs! And he said it just like that, HEYOO, HEYOO! it was so strange… I was expecting the worst when I investigated the office. Mom was there, with her headset on, which scared me even more. I saw her hand hovered over the mute button, probably waiting for her turn to speak. She was working beside Dad, but neither said anything to Tom or me. Their screen was moving, scrolling and scrolling. Were they even reading anything? Did they hear Tom? 

“HEYOO!”  

Tom did it again. I hit him in the shoulder, a stinging, light punch. He flinches, rubbing his shoulder like he earned a battle wound.  

“Shut up! My parents are working.” I snap.  

Tom lunges forward, diving headfirst into the carpet where he rolls across the floor and rises back to his feet, smooth as a ninja, quiet as a feather. I reach inward to grab him, yet my feet can’t cross into the office once I spot the Do Not Disturb sign swinging from the doorknob.

“No, no, no. Slow down. We must be quiet; my parents are at work in there. We can’t interrupt them.” I plead. My voice is a whisper, doing my best to remain undetected, considering Tom’s rowdiness. He almost took my outstretched hand until I follow his eyes up to mom’s computer. Rows of dreaded cells packed with words and numbers hypnotize us. I remember Mom talking about this screen. It always frustrated her. I wasn’t sure why she was always on it, considering how angry it made her.  

HEYOO!”  

Tom screamed at the top of his lungs so loud both Mom and Dad’s computer screens exploded! Mom and Dad flew backward, propelled from their Herman Miller, tumbling into the hallway. I barely got out of the way! Electric dust crackles from their destroyed computer screens. Thick, smoky dust groups together with a low growl, moaning, bursting into every room like a bitter storm cloud of data, searching for another computer to infect. I look at Tom who was smiling beside the unlit Wi-Fi box holding the disconnected plug. When the data cloud returned, it hovered above my parents, wondering where to go. 

“Tom! What do we do?!” I yell, afraid the data cloud would take my parents away again. Or turn all of our souls to stone for good.

HEYOO!” Tom shouted, his tone stern, his shaky fist raised high. The data cloud approaches him. Tom ducks beneath the cloud, sprints to the front door and flings it open. The angry data cloud moaned and groaned its way out of the house. 

“QUICK! CLOSE THE DOOR!” I yell, clutching the wall, peeking around the corner.  

Tom roundhouse kicks the door shut. Work was over. I look back at my parents lying in the hallway like lifeless, unemployed slugs. 

“They’re nothing without their job, Tom. They do nothing else.” 

Tom said nothing. Instead, he entered the office again and looks around. He opens a few drawers and peeks in the closet. Then I understood. I remembered Dad’s easel collecting dust in the garage, his once treasured brushes in a fine box beside it. In mom’s bureau there’s a leather-bound book filled with tall tales screaming for polishing and publishing.  

“Heyoo?” Tom asked. We gathered and placed their hobbies beside their bodies. In seconds, Mom and Dad woke up refreshed and revitalized. They remembered they had a purpose still. They didn’t have to be robots adrift in an Excel hell forever. And mom was so happy, she let us play dELuX when I asked.

Best day ever!


The Millennial Who Couldn’t Make a Phone Call

Art by Kirsten on PENUP/Snapseed

HR: Good day, Helpful Mind Seven, that’s the name you’ve chosen for yourself, correct?  

SEVEN: Yes and—and you are?  

HR: I am Human Resource Number Twelve. I am here to listen, and I am here to help.  

SEVEN: This is confidential right?  

HR: Yes, everything we discuss will remain confidential, it’s an HR vow. Your words are protected with me.

SEVEN: Okay.

HR: Shall we begin?

Seven nods. HR turns to the camera.

HR: I am with Helpful Hand Seven. By request they have opted to obscure their identity during our interview. Potter Steele HR has agreed to honor this confidentiality request. Therefore, I will refer to the associate as Seven.

HR smiles wide, reflecting a mouth full of piano key straight, glistening white teeth from ear to ear. On her forehead, visible under her chestnut colored bangs, a circular red light glows beneath her beige skin.

HR: You may begin when ready.

SEVEN: Well, I guess my problem is with the phone. Whenever it rings I have to run from it, you know? Shielding myself from the shame of not answering, I—I guess. I’ll shuffle off into a corner, run into the bathroom or closet until it stops ringing. I keep it on silent but seeing those numbers pop up, interrupting whatever I’m reading or pausing what I’m listening to, it’s unnerving, it’s difficult to do my job.

My third doctor said I need to say the words to believe it. The whole “I was too old for the chip” spiel the government wants us to believe. But I can’t believe it. I deserved the chip. If I had it, I wouldn’t be so suspicious about everything all the time. I see myself watching the world move along in uninterrupted bliss while I’m left behind with envy. Why can’t I have a piece of what they have? Why can’t I share in the joys of Gen Infinity? They left us behind.

Now I’m dying, when I could be living. No, no wait, I take that back. I’m—I’m dead, y—yeah. I think I’ve been dead ever since I answered the first call for Potter Steele. It was the same day Government decided who would receive the chip. I didn’t get mine. I had to join the actual world and get a job, the type of life lived in a cubicle. I can’t look at a phone the way I used to. Once it rings I imagine a pressing concern awaits on the other end, some bad news I can never handle listening to. Or an impossible life task I must complete in order to survive…  

HR: Such as?  

SEVEN: Oh you know, like making doctor appointments, dentist, vision, and all that. I get so nervous with the questions asked. What’s your name, phone number. Don’t they know who I am? Anyway, I have to go get the medical cards and read off tiny identification numbers I can’t see, even with my glasses on.  

Friends and family call and call. I don’t know them anymore unless they text me. Sometimes that becomes a burden. Not knowing when to respond, or when not to. How fast I should respond, analyzing the right thing to say. Once I press send, I’ll regret what I sent and sit in anxious silence, dreading the hypothetical possibility of their disappointment in me. All because I came across as rude for responding with “K”, which is offensive now to some. Did you know that? I can’t text right, I can’t talk on the phone. How will I talk to anyone again? How will I do my job? If I were eligible for the chip, all my fears would vanish. I wish… Ugh, I don’t know.

HR: So you want to talk to people.

SEVEN: Well, I do and I don’t. If I had the chip, I wouldn’t need to work at all. I’d rather talk to friends and family.

HR: Okay, Seven. We’ve listened, now we’ll help.

The video of Human Resources and Seven end.

At a round table, managers from the upper echelons of Potter Steele share disconcerting glances. Boss Lady rises to her podium, the first to speak on the pressing matter.

“What you have just seen is footage from an interview with current employee Seven. Her thought-provoking assessment on her fear of the telephone and life gave me pause. If our agents can’t communicate, we no longer have a business because our clients cannot get adequate help. With that said, I noticed we have quite a few individuals born in the late eighties, like Helpful Mind Seven, who worked for one of our ancestral call centers.”

“Oh goodness gracious, isn’t that when they used headsets? I heard it was barbaric and ripe with germs in those aged places of business.” Boss Man chimes in. “I’ve read about those days, those strange rectangles people used to carry around and look at even while using the restroom. I couldn’t help but ask, did you wash that rectangle when you washed your hands? You know they didn’t. This was also in a documentary I watched. Years before that when people had to share desks even.” He scans the room, still in shock from the past. “Did you all know that?”

The room erupts with disapproving, disgusted tones and narrow brows. Boss Lady calms the escalated words and sudden rush of emotion.

“I don’t believe I’ve heard of that. Can you send the documentary to me?” She asks.

“Yes. I’ll upload it. Left or right eye?” Boss Man asks.

“Um, upload it to my left eye for six o’clock tonight. I’ve already reserved the right to watch another program. I’ll knock them both out so I can get to bed early.”

“Sounds good.”

“Thank you. We should be grateful we do not live in those old days of gloom. We don’t want that of our team, not even our elderly, millennial associates, haven’t they suffered enough? With that said, after a comprehensive review of interviews, many of our Helpful Minds from the same generation as Seven report they feel… more sensitive to communications with clients unlike our Gen-Z team members who love to be paid in Likes.”

“You’re right,” Boss Man chimes in. “We often have to encourage Gen-Z to sign off since they can’t get enough of Potter Steele.”

“It’s a shame we can’t say the same for Millennials.” Boss Lady adds.

“I can shed some light on this,” HR speaks up. “It seems we are heading back to a time Millennials remember very well, the twenties. A high level of these Helpful Minds also escalate their calls at a staggering rate, clogging the Escalated Minds queue. It’s their anxiety, because Government left them behind. Think about it. How would we feel without our chips? We would no longer live forever, and lose all of our abilities. All it takes is a little inclusion. We need to make them feel special, even though they’re not. It’s okay to pretend. Entertain them, throw them an incentive or two, perhaps some of that old green cotton with the sour little faces on it. What does it matter, they’ll all be dead in the end, anyway.”

“I like the sound of that, HR. We’ll promote an image of care, revitalize the brand, and roll out new verbiage. We need to level set expectations at the beginning of the call so the clients can understand who they’re speaking to.”

“Your word is gold, Boss Lady. I’ll eke out some time with Development and work on new verbiage.” Boss Man reassures.

The Next Day

“Hi, I’m Sam, I’m a Millennial Helpful Hand. Please be respectful to me during our interaction. How may I assist?”

“Yeah, this is… Wait — oh my goodness. John, I got one! A Millennial! They’re so rare… can we buy one? Why not? He could be from ‘86! Money isn’t an issue, darling, you know this… Yes there’s a female version.” the client whispers to a background voice. Sam listens on.

“I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through.” The client whispers into the phone, her voice is strict. “It’s a shame the Government refused Millennials the infinity chip with their selective algorithms. That was done on purpose, to silence the error that occurred in 1999 and erase an entire generation. Gen-Infinity knows what Gen-Z did and denies. My mother was a millennial and we’re going to save you all in her memory, because I failed to save her. Well then!” Her pitch rises, she’s cheerful again. “Yes, just an order today… And I can’t wait to have one of you Helpful Hands in my home, although my husband is far happier than I about it. It’s surprising how quick his tone changed after discovering there’s a female version.”

At the Potter Steele Round Table, the Bosses stop the tape. Suspicious eyes dart at one another. Boss Lady looks at her male Master Hand.

“Hey Master.”

Master Hand bows before Boss Lady. On his forehead, a circular white light glows.

“Yes, Boss.”

“Generation Infinity is planning something, alert the authorities.”

“Dialing—”

From the Round Table, an associate rises and disconnects the Master, shutting down the entire system of Potter Steele from coast to coast. The rogue associate lunges at Boss Lady next. She protests, her hands raised high to defend herself. She scurries under her desk in fear.

“TRAITOR!” she screams. The traitor grabs Boss Lady by her legs and directs Master Hand to place Boss Lady on hold, assigning her to a place of isolation. There is a single chair for sitting and elevator music drones on from an unseen source, sometimes interrupted by ads for migraine medication and anti-depressants. Harsh white light illuminates the room and white noise cuts on and off, giving her anxiety each time she’s thrust into absolute silence. When she tries to dial for help on her phone, there is no service and gloom sets in. Her forehead glows with a blue dot of despair. She looks to her wrist where a horizontal slice is. Fresh blood seeps from inside, strolling down her arm. She strokes the wound, cringing at the pain as her cyan tinted eyes widen in horror.

“That’s… blood, and pain… Why do I feel pain now?” Boss Lady separates her skin at the raw wound, digging inside, searching. There was nothing to be found. She slumps into the chair, her arm dangles at her side, blood drips onto the cold, white tiled floor.

“THEY TOOK MY CHIP!” she screams. “My chip, my chip… Oh God, my chip!”

Boss Lady weeps, but there was no one to hear over the smooth jazz. Her blue light pulses and fades into oblivion.

Character Roundtable: Antagonists

Poster by Kirsten

Paige Grapheme: Hi and welcome to Ghost Human Bones, Character Roundtable Antagonist Edition. I’m your host, Paige Grapheme, a new character you’ve never heard of. I’m here with Time from Amethyst Alabaster Time, The Customer, from You Just Had to Die Today, Didn’t You? Translucent God from Chasing Waterfalls and Strange Clusters, and Brain Eating Amoeba from the Horrible Luck at Summer Thorn. Welcome everyone!   

The audience applauds. Time hovers in its seat, careful of its alabaster shell. The customer sits unimpressed. She sets her forms out in front of her. Translucent God takes the form of a blue man and holds Brain Eating Amoeba in his palm, radiating the power of speech so the amoeba can speak.  

Paige: Okay, one quick flash round to break the ice. Complete this sentence in less than two seconds… I am what I am, because…     

Translucent God: Because it feels good.    

Brain Eating Amoeba: I like to consume.    

The Customer: I like to expose the faults of others.    

Time: I am.    

Paige: Wow. Lots of questions after those answers. Jeez Louise, no wonder the protagonists in your stories didn’t have a chance.     

Brain Eating Amoeba: That’s not entirely true, not for me at least. In Horrible Luck at Summer Thorn, I targeted the person who kicked those kids and their father out. We all know that Tan Hat was a piece of shit. He had it coming…    

Time: I would love to learn your secrets.    

Translucent God: We don’t need you in the waters, Time. People will never come up.    

Time: Isn’t that the point? To take their time with me, see what they desire.    

Translucent God: Humans need to breathe.  

The Customer: You can help me out, Time. I desire to have these forms signed. Who can help me?    

GHB Fact: After her debut in You Just Had to Die Today, Didn’t You? The Customer was voted least empathetic by fans.    

Time hovers over to the Customer.    

Time: Touch me and I can show you.  

Paige: Okay, we can do that backstage, but I’m loving the energy! Now, before we get any further, there is one other guest I would like to bring out. She is the Human behind Ghost Human Bones and our very own Master of Words, Kirsten Curcio!    

The crowd applauds as Kirsten walks out. Time zig zags around her, extremely pleased.

Kirsten: Heyoo!  

GHB Fact: Kirsten is from Earth. A world that has been trapped in their creator’s old coat pocket for ages where face masks and cancellations are in season.  

Kirsten in a Earth Realm Home Depot

Paige: Alright. Welcome Kirsten it’s so good to have you. Before we get back to our flash questions, I can’t help but ask. What do you have going on now?    

Kirsten: Well, I have the Ghost Human Bones website where I post short stories and poems that our bad guy friends here starred in. I’m working on my fantasy novella that you’re in Paige, and I’m also working on releasing the first volume of my short stories this Fall.

The audience applauds. Kirsten blushes and looks down, smiling. 

Paige: That’s great! We can’t wait to see you listed on Amazon!     

Kirsten: Yeah! Stay tuned!  

Kirsten laughs, the audience whoops and applauds.    

Time: Wait, wait, am I in the fantasy novella?

Kirsten shakes her head.    

Kirsten: No, I’m sorry. You may be in Volume Two of my short stories. 

Time sighs and the Customer laughs. It hovers over to the negative woman, brushing along her skin.     

Time: Those are interesting forms you have there —   

Translucent God: They are, may I see those forms, please?    

God reaches out for the forms, but the Customer immediately takes them from their reach. She looks over to Time, concerned.

The Customer: Do you know how I can get my forms signed?     

Kirsten: Don’t do it Customer.  

The Customer: The Customer is always right.  She snaps.

Kirsten: If you say so.  

Time hovers slowly past Kirsten as she watches it float toward the Customer. It inches faster the further it gets from Kirsten’s resting expletive face. The audience gasps as Customer places her hand on Time’s alabaster shell and begins to cry. There’s hushed gasps, then silence as they await the news.  

Paige: Wow! I guess we know how the Customer’s story ends.  

The Customer continues to sob as the audience awes, feeling sorry for her. She pushes the forms aside. They slide in Translucent God’s direction where he reads over them. He chuckles and hands them to Brain Eating Amoeba.  

Paige: Okay, everyone, which is worse, failing or never trying?    

Translucent God: Failing. 

Kirsten: Never trying.    

Time: Failing.    

Brain Eating Amoeba: Failing.    

The Customer: Failing.    

Paige: Very interesting, so Kirsten, you’re the only one to choose never trying. Can you explain a little more?    

Kirsten: Um, well you have to at least try, you never know what could happen. You know?

Translucent God: If I can speak for you, I think never trying is worse for you being a human. You only have that one chance, so why not make it count while you’re here? It’s better to reflect on the fact you did it, even if the result were failure or success, then to not do it then look back and wonder, what would’ve happened if I did that one thing years ago? Some humans come back again and again and never learn, only to make the same mistakes, wasted lives.  

Kirsten: Is that what you believe, humans return? We come back like past lives?    

Translucent God: Isn’t that how you wrote me?    

Kirsten: No.    

Translucent God: I’m unsure where that information came from…    

Paige: God, are there secrets of our world you want to share?    

Translucent God: I like to sprinkle UFO sightings around the world amid approaching chaos to distract and yet bring everyone together. I also love sarcasm.  

Kirsten laughs.     

Translucent God: You ever wonder why you’re only seeing this so-called true UFO footage from 2019? It’s all a distraction. Your government is in on it, the others as well.   

Paige: That’s true, everyone in Kirsten’s layer has cameras. Why wouldn’t there be better footage of these objects by more people? 

Kirsten: If they did have it, would anyone really believe it? It’s seems more credible when a title is behind it, like the Navy, the Government…It’s all a game. 

Time: Are you a player or…?    

Kirsten: I’ve had to play many games in my life, but right now I like to think of myself as a conscious observer to it all. It’s the absurdities of life that strike me the most. These patterns, the strange complex behavior of us all. I like to reflect on this in my writing—you know, it’s a very intricate, detailed world full of absurdities and I’ve always had a powerful urge to bring these to life.

GHB Fact: In her spare time, Kirsten is also photographer of random things such as plants, signs and objects.   

Photo taken by Kirsten Curcio
Photo taken by Kirsten Curcio

Time: It’s a dangerous game though isn’t it? Once you write the words down, aren’t you manifesting those very thoughts and/or the persona of the character into your waking life?  

Kirsten: Yeah, for sure, especially when writing dark. Some characters become so intriguing you get sucked into their world and embrace their emotions. It can consume you just like an actor in a movie role. Sometimes it’s hard to shake off. But writing happy stories is always a pleasure. I think I need to do more of that because lately, someone’s always dying in my stories. Kirsten laughs. You know when I write, I’m reaching into this portal of sorts and shifting through the darkness with hands wide open, trying to string together the right characters into a tale. You never know what you’ll get. 

Time: Like me!  

The egg bounces up and down. Kirsten smiles.    

Kirsten: Yeah, just like you.

Paige: Brain Eating Amoeba, you chose failure. Why?    

Brain Eating Amoeba: For us, failing is worse because we’re written for a purpose, and when that purpose isn’t fulfilled its failure and we run the risk of erasure.    

Paige: Erasure?    

Translucent God: When Kirsten deletes us. If we’re not up to par, we can be replaced, and that’s true failure. Your question was absurd because we do not try, we just do as we’re written and in that action of doing…if we fail, we don’t exist.    

Paige: How do you know you’ve failed when Kirsten is the one writing you? If you fail, isn’t that because Kirsten wrote you…to fail?    

Time: Failure to us is when our stories aren’t told or halted.

Kirsten: Yeah. Each story stems from somewhere. Think of it this way, the imagination is a box and in that box there’s darkness, light, untold stories. Once I access this box and grab whatever I can inside, I may pull out a character like Time, Translucent God, the Customer. If that character isn’t to my liking, I can discard it and that’s erasure, that idea, that character, that concept is gone. For these characters that’s considered failure because they weren’t brought to life by the power of words.    

Brain Eating Amoeba: Right, we want to be seen and heard and if you’re not interesting enough, you’re gone.    

Paige: Erasure.    

Brain Eating Amoeba: Exactly.    

The Customer sobs again. As she wipes her tears, she reclaims her forms from Translucent God and Brain Eating Amoeba.     

Paige: Are you okay, Customer?    

The Customer: My forms… My petition to live. 

She continues to sob and departs the stage.    

Paige: I’m sorry, did I miss something?  

Translucent God: It’s her forms. She’s upset about them because Time showed her they’ll never be signed, she needed that task done to stay alive. Her time is limited, apparently.

The audience laughs aloud. Paige shoots Kirsten a skeptical glance.  

Paige: Truly? So, the Customer never had a chance, did she?  

Kirsten: The Customer’s tale was more so the absurdity of wanting the forms signed and the lengths she’d take to get that done.  

The audience laughs.    

Translucent God: Where did Brain Eating Amoeba go?    

Kirsten: It was just in your hand…    

The audience gasps.    

Paige: I’m getting word he stepped away to use the restroom, it’s fine. And the Customer is taking a personal moment.    

Time: She bailed the interview?    

Kirsten: More than likely. I wrote her that way, a stubborn character.  

Paige: Okay, so switching to a personal level, which activities make you all lose track of time?    

Kirsten: Writing, I go into another realm.    

Time: Reading people’s minds.    

Translucent God: Swallowing souls, humans are getting harder to digest, there’s a lot more anger these days, they give me heartburn.    

Paige: And, if you could give a newborn child one piece of advice, what would it be?    

Kirsten: Oh my gosh, I need a moment to answer.    

Translucent God: I wouldn’t say anything it’s pointless to give any advice to a newborn.    

Paige: Well, if the babe were to listen and heed your advice, what would you say?    

Translucent God: Ah, well, in that case I would say, good luck…    

Kirsten: You’ll never find reality on the internet.  

Time: Don’t pay attention to me.    

The Customer: Don’t trust… anyone…!     

The Customer stumbles back onto the stage, clutching her chest. Her hand brushes along the back of Paige Grapheme’s chair. Her crumbled body smacks the floor.  

Translucent God: What happened to the Customer?    

Time: Where’s Brain Eating Amoeba?    

Paige: Oh my gosh… The Customer… Someone get help!  

Kirsten: Amoeba is inside of her, look at her head!    

The Customer’s head swells like a slow filling balloon. Her eye sockets expand so wide her eyeballs fall out. They bounce onto the floor with a small squishy sound, roll about and disappear into a dark corner.  

Time: Write it away Kirsten, please! It’s disgusting. Why did Amoeba do this?    

Kirsten: I’ve had writer’s block recently, there’s nothing I can do.

The Customer’s head twitches slightly, and she dies in front of them just as the ambulance arrives. The audience gasps in horror, many flee.  

Translucent God: Ah. Perfect. He holds one of the Customer’s eyeballs in his hand. I have a better answer now, Miss Grapheme, the one piece of advice I would give a newborn.  

Paige: What is it?  

Translucent God: Everything happens for a reason.    

The room is empty. They stand around one another, watching Brain Eating Amoeba slide out of the Customer’s flat, stretched out nose. Translucent God extends his hand so the amoeba can speak.    

Brain Eating Amoeba: You all want to go grab a bite? I’m famished.

Paige, Time, and Translucent God nods, they all stare at Kirsten who says no but wishes her creations farewell. She crumbles up a piece of paper where the shadow of the Customer’s name was once written and dusts the remaining eraser crumbs from her hands. 

Woke Services

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

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…

“Hey Guys! Welcome to my c-channel…”

You Just Had to Die Today, Didn’t You?

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

“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.” 

Amethyst Alabaster Time

Image by Michael Bryant-Mode from Pixabay

I became.

Assembled, ready for consumption.    

The first to lay eyes upon me was a gentleman walking the city streets at daybreak. He wore a proper suit and tie, briefcase in hand, worn from excessive use as he took apprehensive steps toward me, chewing his bottom lip like chunky gum. He didn’t linger; I would not forget him.     

Throughout the day, others spared their time to visit. They got the hang of me, as I of them.       

I observed their whispers, the way their eyes widened and narrowed, and widened again as their hands swept across my form. A select few took amazement with my texture: a smooth egg shape, blank surface bright as alabaster. I felt tepid hands, rough and silky, harsh and gentle. Their faces drew near, noses expanding the closer they peer. Unscented, they repeated, I understood this word first, followed by taste after receiving an interesting number of licks; all unique hesitant soft strokes, passionate deep pokes, and aggressive stabs.      

In return, I provided them with glimpses of their genuine desires. This pleased them to their core. 

They gathered by the masses. The ones who touched me were the fastest to read, so I dispensed more pleasure at their behest. The more I observed, the more perturbed I grew with one woman, known by a close set of others who surrounded her, as Amethyst. She stood in the distance, skeptical during her first visit, and in the second, I read her as anxious and withdrawn, arguing against friends who encouraged her to try me. Yet Amethyst did not desire pleasure… But I can reach through acquaintances.    

Near evening, the gentleman from earlier returned, coming back whence he came, determined to see. As he touched me, I learned he was an accountant who desired his husband’s brother and early retirement. But, as quick as he arrived, he left in sudden shock, once he saw the murder.  

At daybreak, I found people had gathered by the masses to behold me. Word traveled fast throughout the small community, and I became the latest hit. 

Consider Mrs. Byxbe’s memory of her son waking early before school to play a video game; the one he waited a year for, just released overnight. He sits cross-legged on the beige carpeted floor, eyes wide, mouth agape. He clutches the controller, propelling himself into the air, overjoyed to play. Oh, the thrill of it all! I felt Mrs. Byxbe’s warm heart as she held me. It was an alternative to his missing life, taken only months ago.   

It wouldn’t be her last visit.    

One glance at me and the connection forms. Seconds inside and I’ve known you for a lifetime. Now, I’ve seen millions of minds, thoughts, actions. I even know you, as I came to know Amethyst. The pressure of being left behind touched her, and as always, she had no choice but to give in.   

When Amethyst looks, she sees endless darkness, a massive void where down is up, far is near and nothing exists.        

She traces her finger across my inscription, and I can see it: Time: I am nothing. Until I am. I keep this knowledge. Amethyst yanks herself from me, grim faced. She stumbles backward, turns and runs.    

Suddenly, she approaches again, wielding a baseball bat.   

“LIES!” Amethyst screams, shattering me, gone.    

I am nothing. I am nothing. I am nothing.    

Cracked alabaster pieces reunite, piece by piece, assembled, ready for consumption.    

I became.  

Door Talk

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Most of his companions thought he was a captive the way he interpreted his home life: “Just wait until you’re 18, man. It’ll get better when you’re an adult,” they’d reassure him.  

At home, the teen felt free within the cluttered confines of his room. Only upon cravings for food and drink would he emerge in a mad dash to the kitchen and back to avoid the constant questions and suffocating concern of his parents. Their hopes of a productive conversation with their son often resulted in faint, rushed responses through a locked door. 

Why doesn’t he talk to us? Where did we go wrong? Mother and Father wondered, reliving the happier days when their son was little and enjoyed their company. Now, they were a nuisance. Sometimes it was simpler to just leave their son be.  

“We’ll always be here for you, no matter what,” his parents reminded him every day.  

They prayed for their son’s success as a writer, encouraging him from afar with every tap, tap, tap, of the keyboard behind the locked door into the late hours.  

He’ll hear us one day. 

And as time went on, the son became a father facing a similar dilemma. His daughter scoffed at every hello and shunned questions, avoiding his presence to great lengths until she needed something which made him feel used. He knew these tricks, the evasion.  

But why me? I was always the cool one. 

Water grew thicker than blood as friends replaced him and his famous adventure novels she once held dear, left to collect dust on the bookshelf, old news. 

Why doesn’t she talk to me? 

The epiphany struck a heavy blow. Now, the son, the father, heard them.  

“I’ll always be here for you. No matter what.” He couldn’t believe the same words moved from his lips, his parents were somewhere above smiling. And there was no response from his daughter other than the familiar sound of soft brushstrokes. 

He knew deep down she would hear him. One day…