A Happy End to StoryADay May 2016!

Over 41,000 words written. 29 stories plus 2 rewrites. A story 140-characters long up to a story 3,862 words long. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, literary fiction, fictionalized memoir, and a narrative poem. Mostly third person point of view, but several first person and a few second person, especially mixed in with other POVs.

I averaged two to three hours of writing a day, mostly in the evening. The writing was rarely difficult, but the getting started was sometimes difficult, especially later in the month.

I’m grateful to the founder of StoryADay May, Julie Duffy, and I plan to participate annually. It’s a great feeling to not only write every day, but to write a complete story—beginning, middle, and end—every day. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and also built a habit of accomplishment. After National Poetry Writing Month in April and StoryADay May, I realize that coming up with new ideas is not that difficult. Sitting at the computer and writing routinely has become habit.

Here is a list of everything I wrote this month:

  1. The Circle
  2. The Mayor Heads Home
  3. 100-Word Glances at Men and Memoir
  4. The Pod and Not Sleeping
  5. Better Later Than First
  6. Dan Makes a New Friend and Wins a Battle
  7. Dialogue Before Exile
  8. Cinder Rocks
  9. Actions Taken at Saturn After Encounter
  10. A Toy Prince
  11. The Creek Under the Blackberries
  12. Protagonist at Exoplanet
  13. Antagonist Heading to Exoplanet
  14. Sidekick at Exoplanet
  15. Dusting and Cleaning
  16. Him Among the Other Immortals
  17. Artistic Pursuits After Aging
  18. Lifestyle
  19. Rewrite: Dusting and Cleaning
  20. The Land of Mirrors Takes Hold
  21. Animal Training for Robots
  22. Fallen Tree
  23. Autonomous Escapes
  24. Scouting the Robot Apocalypse
  25. Crystallize
  26. Rewrite: Fallen Tree
  27. Connection Between Sex and Art
  28. The Ravages of Not Aging
  29. Garbage Day
  30. Compassion
  31. Persistent Motions

Persistent Motions

[StoryADay May prompt: “Go Big (And) Go Home“]

Troy dances. He dances through the day. He dances at practice, he dances at parties, he dances before dawn and he dances before bed. The beginning and the end and in between and the reason why he does so is because when he was young it never occurred to him to take up dancing. He would rather blame his father. How out of ignorance his father never let him dance.

The truth Troy knows, though, is dance was an art he had no appreciation for, and all he knew was it was something some girls did.

He’s less ignorant now.

Clayton was a dancer. From early. By the age of three. From a family heritage of minstrel shows, vaudeville, Broadway, movie musicals featuring African-American casts and performers during the 1930s and 1940s. By way of an aunt and uncle. In every sense and of many styles but primarily of ballet when at twenty-two he joined a fledging company in Washington, D.C. founded in 1979 by an immigrant Russian couple who found him particularly breathtaking.

When he retired, he sought the warmth of the southwest, and there he planned to enjoy his obscurity and the sense of a life well performed.

Troy recognized Clayton from the only movie in which he ever appeared.

Spring Lightning! You danced with Dina Rosetta!”

Not at first, though. They greeted each other most every morning for several months leaving the apartment complex at the same time, heading to different gyms, Troy to lift weights and ride an exercise bike to attack his early fifties as they were attacking him, and Clayton to swim and stretch and enjoy yoga classes. His fifties had been kind to him, and his sixties had be a little less so, and what he hoped to achieve was a graceful exit.

My one shot at cinematic fame. A truly wonderful experience. Dina, so lovely to work with. Bless the musical revival of the early 80s. Bless the director. Cal Yancy made the movie happen, made sure it got finished when the studio got nervous that musicals were dead again. Maybe for good. Cal and Dina and their vision.

I stumbled into the role. She remembered seeing me dance a couple years before. Tracked me down. Came out to Washington, D.C. personally to find me, ask for me, offer me the role.

I miss her. I miss Cal. Both gone so quickly.

Clayton and Troy started inviting each other over for dinner and conversation. For Troy, Clayton’s experiences in dance, a history of opportunity and obstacles, of being young, black, and gay in the 1980s. His discipline. He triumphs. The injuries. The funny and not so funny behind-the-scenes dramas between artists.

For Clayton, Troy’s ignorance of dance, and his fascination. The way Troy stumbled across Spring Lightning and became a fast fan. How he hoped Clayton was the dancer he admired in the film, but was too embarrassed to ask until his question came out in a meet-cute moment of excited awkwardness.

They fell into each over a few weeks of fast friendship, and as fast lovers they enjoyed the comfortable sense of inevitability. The age difference didn’t matter to them even though they thought it should, at first, before Troy kissed Clayton. Their kiss was enough to put such thoughts to rest.

“We’re both old men,” Troy said.

“But we’re not.”

The sixteen years mattered only in the contextualizing of their experiences. There were more parallels between growing up gay in the 60s and 70s versus the 70s and 80s than not. Sixteen years of similarities and fascinating differences.

It worked.

It would have kept working.

What changed, and they didn’t know this until much, much later, was what changed for everyone: aging as treatable medical condition. It was a wonderful thing to stop aging at 69, at 53. The treatments had been a decade in the making, in the testing, from human trials to expensive opportunities for wealthy early adopters, to affordable options for everyone, covered by insurance. At every age the damage acquired dealt with in loops of repair that maintained. Not escape velocity, but a stable orbit obtained.

Only a year later, the first human trials for rejuvenation.

When you are approximately 25 again, you realize how much pain and suffering you had learned to ignore after decades of slow time and inevitable decline: your increasing frailty and reduced range of motions, longer recoveries, new shortcuts, the platitudes you sell yourself, such as the one about stopping to smell the roses when really it’s your degrading knees, heel, back, bowels, guts that prescribe your comfort with activity.

You had time to adapt.

You are horrified how well you adapted.

Your body reverts not to your past 25-year-old self, but to a different, better, optimized, actualized you at 25.

When you are approximately 25 again, you don’t lose all that wisdom you gained. You don’t forget all your experiences. You remember them better than you have ever remembered them.

Rejuvenation has reached into your tiny depths, down to the tiny machines that work not like repaired machines but new machines, factory new and factory settings, and a few tweaks besides to keep them in that state indefinitely.

Tiny machines and their composite results: your memory, your thinking, your mind, your behaviors, your actions, your future. This is the New Biology of peak performance, without losing what’s there to remember.

When you are approximately 25 again, you can still die. The runaway bus doesn’t care how rejuvenated you have become. Squash. You’re dead. In rejuvenation and the Great Pause in early adulthood, it’s the violence and accidents that will try to kill you instead.

As the ways of dying from aging are eliminated, as recharged and enhanced immune systems eliminate infectious threats, what’s left are violent acts and accidents. It’s pretty easy to avoid accidents. Given a much longer life span, though, you have more time in which to find that accident that will kill you.

Tackle those threats next.

When Clayton and Troy were approximately 25 again, it wasn’t violence or an accident that killed their relationship.

It was dance.

Dance was why Troy was so interested in Clayton. And now he had the opportunity to pursue this art he had never considered before. Opportunities for the rejuvenated masses to pursue old and new interests arrived rapidly. How to spend your time was the primary question of the day. Dance was how he was going to spend his time.

Troy learned how to dance. Troy practiced. Troy immersed himself in instruction and history, in various styles, in all aspects.

Clayton didn’t want to dance. He didn’t want to teach Troy how to dance. He didn’t want to participate in Troy learning how to dance.

“I’ve done it. I have new interests. I am happy for you and support you learning how to dance.”

It hurt Troy like a rejection. From the moment he learned about rejuventation technology, he imagined him and Clayton embarking together in the artform. How could Clayton not want to return to his life’s work?

He waited. He thought Clayton would change his mind. He tried to be supportive of Clayton’s new interests. But it festered.

“It’s my life, Troy!”

“Yes, it was, and you are throwing all that experience away. You need to see a counsellor. Figure out what it holding you back.”

“Nothing. Nothing is holding either of us back.”

“Then why aren’t you happy for me?”

“I am!”

“Why won’t you help me?”

“You have instructors! I’m not interested. For the last time it’s okay that you are dancing. And it’s okay I’m not. Let it go, dammit!”

Troy didn’t. When they parted for the last time, he tried again.

“You love dance.”

“I did.”

New passions. His second life.

Without each other.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 31


[StoryADay May prompt: “The Power of Three“, but really I brought together anecdotal and some autobiographical material and mixed them together in unsettled fiction that left me a little unsatisfied, because I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say.]

What else to do but leave it alone, the lizard in my bathroom. It stared up at me, I imagine, because it was mortified by such awkward heights. Not lofty, only frightening, like a looming predatory bird backlit by the sun, either hungry or falling, and either way, too huge to mean safety.

But safety did I mean. There are certain critters I don’t want in my bathroom, most of them insects. A solitary little lizard? It could have at it. I prefer not to be scared by sudden appearances, but if it kept to its corners and I kept to mine, then I thought we would be just fine.

Only that is not what the lizard needed. What the lizard needed for me to do is to accept its fright, lift it carefully, and carry it outside where it belongs. In the morning I found it in the same spot between the bathtub and the toilet. I peed. It did not move. I was compelled to watch it move. It did not. I rolled out a length of toilet paper, tore it off, and approached slowly, hoping to scare it back into a corner. It did not move.

Possibilities played in my head. A heart attack. I had given it a heart attack at last night’s meeting. It’s wee heart had seized right then and there. Except I remembered it had moved away when I stepped too near. Then I must have crushed it in the night. Waking up to pee one of several times I must have stepped in the dark and crushed it beneath my foot. Even so little, though, I was certain no matter how groggy I was I would have felt that on the sole of my foot. Starvation, then. Unable to find its way out of the clean room bathroom environment I keep, it must have starved. What exactly was there to eat in a clean bathroom? I normally carried critters out, if I saw them. Hadn’t spotted any in days, not until the lizard. Maybe it lacked an easy source of water and died of thirst. In a room of water, the drops were contained in bowls and sinks, behind faucets, and mopped up with a towel as soon as I spilled any. Thirsty and starving, the lizard had made it back to the spot where I had spotted it, to let me know that this was my fauilt.

I had left it here to die.

I picked up the lizard with the tissue, half expecting it to move. It was solidly limp. I dropped it in the trash. Perhaps it would have been better to drop it outside, for another creature to snack on it.

I have no idea about such things. I have no idea how to take care of all the possible creatures that might enter my home.

The man is following me too closely.

It was a good day, just me and my friend. We met in Scottsdale, Arizona, a two-hour drive for me, a three-hour flight for him. In Scottsdale I could show him how the other half lives, since I don’t live there, will never have the means to, and still there are places I’ve been to there he hasn’t ever been. That makes me the two-hour drive resident expert.

The clothing-optional “resort” for men is not in Scottsdale. It’s in the dry heart of Phoenix on one of the major roads leading east, eventually, to Scottsdale. When we arrived, we rang at the gate, were allowed in, and were passionately flirted with by the owner. The resort cannot possibly be a sex club, though men usually only come for an hour or two and not to stay four nights and five days.

At the pool I kept my swim trunks on. No one was there the first day except the blinds that moved in the window of a room on the second floor above the pool.Checked to see that I had not yet removed my trunks. Or that my friend hadn’t removed his. He didn’t either. Who cares.

And then two older guys flopped out for a swim and after saying hello we kept rotating around each other in the pool like the other pair was a reflection. I thought about how their dicks were in the water and how mine was, too, but hidden, and all of us being rinsed, and, well, I got out of the pool and tried to tan, but it was too hot and I was too flustered and it was a lot cooler in my room…

Day two, and we went to Scottsdale. First stop: a fashion mall and neither of us with money or a reason to buy anything. I did get stopped by a beautiful young woman who told me I was a handsome man and she had products that would keep wrinkles at bay and rejuvenate my skin. I sat through her entire demo, including her hands on my hands, the gritty application, the revelation about how much dirt was in my pores, and the smooth and clean skin she left behind. There was not enough product to wash away the rage on her face when I thanked her and said no thank you.

“I mean, I don’t usually do things like that, but I’m on vacation, and I was curious, but I wasn’t going to buy anything.”

My friend laughed at me.

We had enough high fashion and I was hungry, so we headed to the Dos Gringos. Maybe the other half comes here. I don’t know. I just know I liked their patio, seafood tacos, and margaritas. It’s also the only restaurant I’d ever been to in Scottsdale, back when I used to live in Phoenix with a different friend, a married straight friend, and I was following wherever he wanted me to go like a puppy interested in more than just the best fish tacos in Scottsdale, but eating them over unrequited hopes anyway. Anyway, I was the Scottsdale expert, I remembered how to get there, and so I found a place to park and when me and my friend were seated under palm trees, I liked the old memories for a change.

Maybe the other half doesn’t bar hop. Maybe all the parts of Scottsdale it is easy to reach are all the places where my half come to pretend we had any idea at all about the rich and their activities. Maybe there is a wall somewhere. I’ve never been in Scottsdale long enough to find it, to try to cross it, to be rebuked. Come play in Scottsdale; don’t stay.

Gay bars, straight bars, every bar, streets of them easy to walk and that’s how we spent our second night.

And there’s a man following me too closely.

He’s down on his luck. We saw him a few bars back, asking someone for change. Imagine that: a man who seems drunk, among hundreds of drunk men and women, and the only difference is, he doesn’t seem to be having any fun.

And he’s dirty and his clothes are ragged and never were fashionable. Somehow he ended up behind me when I walked out of a bar. We keep walking. My friend nudges me. I point across the street. Say something loud like “Oh, I don’t think we’ve checked the bars on the other side of the street.” He’s right behind me. We dive through the door of the first bar we reach. Turns out it’s a restaurant. That’s fine. I’m hungry again. That’s fine. He doesn’t follow us in. He stops by the outside tables and chairs packed with outside patrons. Leans against the short stucco wall separating them from the sidewalk.

We talk about what we should do. I look around for another exit. Unless we find a way out the back, we’ll have to hope he eventually gets bored and moves on. He doesn’t seem to be looking for us. He looks lost, but I realize he might be following currents, and I just happened to be a current he got caught up in.

I think we tell each other about how we shouldn’t give money. Read that somewhere. Don’t give them money, because you don’t know how they will spend it. I also read that you should buy them something to eat. While we’re debating whether or not we should do that, we order food for ourselves. While we’re eating he’s still out there.

The waitress walks up to him and I’m certain she is telling him he needs to move on, find another place to stay. She puts a hand on his shoulder. I find that touching. A nice gesture. Now move along. But he doesn’t move, and she comes back into the restaurant and corresponds with a bartender. Asking for help, I think. The bartender pulls out a mug from beneath the counter, fills it was coffee, sets it down on a round tray, rummages below the counter again, and brings out a small container of dairy half and half, which he also places on the tray. The waitress picks it up, carries it outside, and I think she is taking it to a customer, but instead she walks up to the homeless man and offers the mug to him.

He nods. He says words I cannot hear through the window. He reaches for the half and half, attempts to pour some into the mug on the tray she is holding, but his hands shake and the half and half splatters. He looks frustrated. She nods her head, balances the tray on the stucco wall, and helps him pour, her hands on his hands, guiding him.

He drinks, still shaking, but carefully. A table opens up a few feet away and she guides him to it, encourages him to sit down while she starts gathering the empty glasses and dishes to clear a spot for his mug of coffee.

The waitress acts with compassion I would never have considered. I don’t know where that leaves me, but it leaves me in a dangerous, precarious place that finds me sober and quiet and driving us back to the resort where there are plenty of men now and the raw nudity of it all leaves me exhausted and quick to bed while my friend engages with them like the extrovert he is. Hours later he asks what happened to me. What happened to me was there’s a waitress in Scottsdale who did more in a few minutes than I will ever do in my entire life.

She’s shy, but so are all of us. It’s the first day of writing workshop.

We introduce ourselves. She says her name and how her kids paid for her registration as a gift. She’s never been to a workshop, she says, and she’s never written poetry before, and she hopes she doesn’t embarrass herself.

She sits in her seat at the table where we have gathered as if she’s embarrassed by what she’s wearing, by her weight, by her age. I guess she’s in her fifties. She mentions the children are grown. She doesn’t talk very long at all, but it was long enough to apologize for imposing on the rest of us her inexperience.

The teacher says soothing things. I smile at the woman, but she doesn’t look up much. What I think as the rest of the group introduces themselves is that too many of them are saying uncaring things about themselves. Isn’t this, I want to ask out loud, the place you go to begin? How can this be a beginning when you are so certain you have already failed? When it is my turn, I mention that I’m looking forward to everyone’s feedback to help my own work, and I’m looking forward to help in anyway I can. It sounds like I’m bragging, so I keep it really short.

Even though it is our first day, the teacher wanted us to bring in a page of our writing to share with everyone else. Someone will read our page outloud, and then we will jump into critiques. We pass out our pages, resulting in a stack of eleven, and the teacher randomly picks the first one to read.

The woman looks mortified. The teacher asks her what the experience was like writing her page, what she felt good about and what she didn’t, and what kind of feedback she was looking for from the rest of us. She cannot tell us any of these things, however. Instead, she bemoans her amateur status. “I really shouldn’t be here.”

It’s a cry for help and I don’t find it irritating. I say unprompted “We all have to start somewhere,” I look at the teacher, “and this is a safe place for us, right?”

The teacher agrees wholeheartedly. She lectures about it for awhile, about why the workshop is open to everyone of any writing ability, or none at all, and when we offer our critiques we should keep that in mind. She tells us what she wants to hear from our critiques: not personal attacks, not likes or dislikes, but elements of the writing that are working, and suggestions for how to make the writing even better. And because this is the first meeting, she will jump in frequently to gently nudge critiques toward helpful statements.

What I like about the woman’s poetry is the way it is grounded in what may or may not be objects in her own life. No, I think to myself, I don’t find her poems particularly well written, but what I do find, if she’s telling the truth about never having dabbled in poetry before, is how many bad elements of bad poetry she is avoiding. So when it is my turn to offer her my thoughts about her poetry, I focus on just that: how as a reader I feel like I am in the narrator’s space, how I can reach out and touch the objects the narrator mentions, and how it would be great to see even more of these objects, and how they interact with the scene, the narrator, each other.

“Really lovely work,” I finish. We all chime in with similar thoughts. It’s all very supportive. I think I am going to love this workshop. I wish my undergraduate workshops had been so helpful and team-oriented.

Our teacher seems struck by the way we critique each others poetry that first session. At the end of workshop, she praises us. The best and most supportive first day of workshop she has ever taught. We got it. Keep it up!

The woman new to poetry seems, in my opinion, to be much more relaxed by the end of workshop. Just before I leave, I say to her that I’m looking forward to reading more of her poetry.

The woman never comes back again. We finish the ten-week session and someone brings up her name as we are parting. The teacher mentions she never heard from her. No refund request. No apology. Someone dares to speculate that something might have happened to her.

I don’t mention how I saw her yesterday. At the grocery store. How I started to walk toward her, but instead went down a different aisle.

Poetry is in the mystery of it all. The moments of mystery especially. How we hold onto the hope that we might still glean something: an image, an idea, a fleeting sensation. I wanted to ask her if she was fine, if she was still writing, if she thought she might try a later session. Some mysteries, though, are better left unresolved.

By people as uncaring as me.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 30

Garbage Day

[StoryADay May prompt: “Torture Your Protagonist“]

The web has nothing new to add. He chucks his tablet onto the couch next to him and watches TV where the coverage is now 24-7 and all they do is rotate through the same old details: no known vectors, shows up in clusters but not always among people exposed to the sick, not much change in behavior at first but the behavioral changes escalate after a few weeks, quarantines in the southern states, no test, not treatment, and no ideas.

Max shuts off the TV. He’s glad he lives alone. His last boyfriend, Harold, is two years gone and last he heard the idiot was living with friends in Austin, Texas while making another go with another band. A few dates since that last day but nothing serious involving moving in together. He enjoyed his space so much after Harold that he didn’t bother with a roommate, though it would have been nice to have help with the mortgage.

After he finishes editing and meeting deadlines for a couple assigned articles (“12 Reas Self-Drive 🚗 Dead” and “Your New 🤖 ☠ Secret”), Max climbs the stairs in need of a nap. He takes the sheets off of the bed and the cases off the pillows, and drops them in the hamper. If he’s going to do laundry, he decides he might as well get everything, including the curtains that haven’t been washed in years. After several trips downstairs to the laundry room, he sits on the edge of his mattress and feels overwhelmed by everything he has to do today. There are afternoon deadlines, lunch and dinner, chores, research, and a jog on the treadmill left. Not enough for a list, too much for a nap or relaxing before bed.

He finds that water isn’t draining out of the master bathroom sink, though, and so he tackles that first. On his hands and knees under the sink he unfastens the pipes to find the clog of slime and hair, drops the mess into the wastebasket, and leaves the pipes in the bathtub to rinse out. One of the lightbulbs is out above the mirror. He turns off the lights, uses a towel to unscrew the dark bulb, and tries to remember where he keeps extra bulbs.

Searching in the kitchen, Max is overwhelmed with hunger. At least he’s back on track with his tasks. He makes himself a sandwich, pours a glass of milk, and finds a box of stale oyster crackers in the cabinet above the stove to munch on. A lot of the cartons and bottles in the cabinet should probably be thrown out. Several are empty. He pulls everything down and sets them on the kitchen counter. So much waste. It will be nice, Max thinks, to downsize. Plenty in his home that he hasn’t used or thought of in at least two years.

Confronted with all the items he owns, a garage sale seems like a very good idea. He walks out to the garage to retrieve a few boxes, and after seeing everything in there he can also get rid of, he eventually wanders back to the house to pack up the extra kitchen junk.

It’s dark outside.

He would like to sit down to watch the nightly news, but he settles for browsing the web on his tablet while he eats leftover spagetti and tomato sauce. The contagion continues to spread. Video footage shows the afflicted in quarantine, hospitals. They don’t look especially sick, but they cannot stop moving. Healthcare workers behind masks try to comfort them. The White House has pledged immediate funds for dealing with the crisis. In locations where there are signs of infection, experts are urging people to stay home and watch each other for symptoms.

Max carries out filled boxes to the garage and brings back fresh boxes. He finds so much stuff Harold left behind. He takes boxes into the living room and packs up old books and trinkets, many of them with a story that somehow involves him and Harold. They had been together for eleven years. They broke up not long after they were engaged. Max thought he was over it by now, but finding these items Harold had left behind reminded him that he wasn’t quite there yet.

When he runs out of boxes, he starts using big black trash bags from a box he found in the garage. A lot of what he finds isn’t worth trying to sell in a garage sale or donate. He makes a separate pile for bags full of items to leave for trash pick-up on Thursday morning. They’ll take anything, so he loads up the bins, wheels them up to the front curb, and stacks more bags behind them.

Back in the living room and passing by the television, he switches it on for the white noise. The media is obsessed with video clips of recent strange behavior. One of the clips includes a local affiliate where some of the technicians and assistants have come down with symptoms. A cameraperson follows discretely behind them while one of the on-air personalities asks them questions about how they are feeling.

“Is it contagious?” she wonders outloud.

He’s finding a lot of dust and hidden corners of dirt. Behind the couch, Max discovers dried out tortilla chips and hard candies. He’s pretty sure he went through a cleaning fit just after Harold left him, and cleaned the house top to bottom. Two years of evidence of Max living on his own and apparently slovenly. He pushes the couch out of the way and stoops to pick up the food there, but some of it is next to the wall where the rug recesses slightly. The carpet seems a little bunched up. He pulls at the carpet with his fingers. Sure enough, there’s plenty more to pick up and vacuum. He yanks out enough to get an idea of how much work this will entail and finds furniture in the way everywhere he wants to proceed.

It’s easy enough to scoot the furniture out of the way. He starts moving furniture from the carpeted area of his living room and dining room, including the kitchen, and then outside on the lawn. Once he’s got the first floor furniture moved out, including several items that he’s pulled and pushed through doorways and out the backdoor, feeling them now in his back and knees, he remembers that he eats in bed frequently. The master bedroom must be a disaster. He moves furniture into the hallway, but it blocks his bath, so he starts getting creative about how to get it downstairs. He packs up all the small stuff inside and on top of furniture and then lifts and shoves and pulls and wiggles and walks on corners dressers, nightstands, a desk, chairs. At the stairs he lets the dressers slide on their backs on the carpeted steps. He’s not able to hold on to his second dresser and it pulls out of his grip and tumbles down the stairs. The back starts to separate as a result and one of the knobs on the front breaks off. He doesn’t really need two dressers, though, so he maneuvers it out the front door and to curb.

Max stops to catch his breath. He notices the neighbor across the street sitting out on her steps and smoking. She’s half revealed by the street light, and when she drags on the cigarette, a little more of her face is caught in the faint red glow. She watches him, and then her attention is on his next door neighbor.

“Hey, Charlie.”


“Looks like you have the same idea.”

Charlie chuckles. “Damn right. This crap should have been out of my house years ago. It’s crazy how much we hang onto.”

A door slams. The woman across the street is no longer on her steps. Max watches her front window curtains move.

“Well, better get back to it. Hope to be done by morning.”

“Sounds good, Charlie. Later.”

By morning, Max has taken everything he can carry out of his house and out of the garage, and placed the either on his driveway in front of the garage behind the house or near the curb for garbage pick-up. As soon as the self-driving truck arrives on Thursday morning, it will notice how much he has thrown out and call for additional trucks to retrieve what it cannot carry.

He yanks up the carpet, rolls it up, and tugs the rolls out the front door to the front lawn. He’s wanted new carpet for years, so he might as well get rid of it now. He carries a broom with him back into the house, but he leaves it in the doorway and considers the cabinet knobs and hinges in the kitchen. Some of them are a little sticky. He doesn’t like the color. He retrieves a screwdriver from the tool box sitting on outside the back door and starts with the cabinet fixtures but doesn’t stop there.

He cannot believe how sore he is. All that jogging, morning pushups and situps, and house cleaning turns out to be too much for him. He snacks and drinks water while he works. After the cabinet doors are stacked against the house, he tries to budge the refrigerator again. Slowly, so very slowly, he manages to rock it out of its place against the wall, then over the linoleum (leaving large gouges) and through the back door. What’s inside will keep as long as he doesn’t open it frequently. He presses his back against the doorway leading from the kitchen to the dining room. He’s going to need some downtime to recover from all this work.

In every room of the house he finds things that will come off or come apart, like all the doors, window screens, curtain rods, outlets, metal vents, pipes, handles and knobs, the fan over where the stove used to be, and more besides. By the time he gets the front and back doors taken down, its hot outside, but there’s also a nice breeze blowing through his house.

The woman across the street has gotten a late start, but soon enough her front curb is covered in stuff she is throwing out. The neighbors on either side of him are making good progress on their homes. A police car drives down the street and the police officers inside shake their heads but don’t stop.

When dusk arrives, he remembers he hasn’t checked the news in awhile. The TV is in the backyard with all the other stuff he wants to keep. He grabs his phone from his pocket and does a quick search for the latest news.

Still nothing. And none of the news sites have added any new articles in hours. Very little is new on social networks except for more anecdotes about suddenly afflicted family members and friends. Emotional posts about not understanding how this is possible, but only a handful of those in the past two hours.

Eventually onlines services start going down, but by then his phone is dead and lying in the trash pile that lines the curb and lawn and crosses the driveway to start mixing with his neighbor’s pile.

“Keeping the garbage trucks busy.”

Charlie laughs. “You’ve got that right. Got to keep those bots working for us so they don’t get any bright ideas.”

The walls have to come out next. Max has taken to peeing in the backyard now that he has removed the toilets, along with the sinks and bathtubs. He found where he could turn off the water to most of the pipes in his house, but there are still a few pipes he has to wait on because he doesn’t want to flood the house. Meanwhile, there is so much more to remove, so he moves on to the walls. Sledgehammer and crowbar from the garage getting more use today than any time since he and Harold bought them years ago.

The neighborhood is full of activity, of loud sound, of tired neighbors laboring and snacking and finding wander. Sometimes they share tools, but rarely is there a need; they make do with what they have, even if it is just their own fingernails, hands, arms, legs, and strength.

Max is exhausted. He cannot wait to sleep. He’ll sleep when he is done.

On Thursday the garbage trucks are out in force. The house will take days. The garage another few days. Max can see the end in sight.

He starts to think about how best to tear up the lawns, bushes, trees, sidewalk, driveway. Never too early to start planning for the work ahead. The garbage trucks will carry everything away. It’s what they were designed for. What more autonomous garbage trucks are coming off of the assembly line to do.

Eventually the neighborhood will come together to start working on the streets, sewers, power lines, pipes, and fiber optics. Max doesn’t think his neighborhood has ever had a block party before. He’s not sure if many will show up, though. They might get infected with whatever was going around.

He’s relieved he’s okay so far. Maybe some people have a natural immunity.

He drinks water out of the hose in the front yard and then stops in front of the ladder and looks up. The gutters have to go, and so does the roof.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 29

The Ravages of Not Aging

[Today I worked on next week’s exercise for The Writers Studio workshop. The third-person narrator is supposed to be fond of the main character and less-favorably opinionated toward the other character. I didn’t write a complete story, but I’m giving myself a break today as StoryADay May is coming to an end and I’ve done a lot of writing to date.]

The doctor, or “Specialist Argent” as he introduced himself, stood in front of his patient as stiff as a lord awaiting a bag of gold coins, supplication, and a baldly-stated desire. He belonged in an ancient castle on a hill, not in the clinic, a cutting-edge facility among the few remaining stores open in the strip mall. The facade of the building was modern and out-of-place, and it was not clear patients wouldn’t enter through its crisp sliding glass automatic doors to find an interior in disuse and decay: an old sign cracked and leaning against a corner, old store racks storing pieces of cardboard and rat feces, floors and walls stained and ragged with cracks and holes.

The smartly-dressed and friendly receptionist, though, and beside him a diminutive robot, its duties at first unclear, were more than convincing enough that the clinic was from the future. The smart tile responded casually to expected appointments, their shadow of digital information climbing off the marble slabs of interior wall, rotating forward to lead the patient the last few steps, and finally onto the receptionist’s monitors, one facing him and the other facing the new arrival.Then they were further dazzled by the wall behind the reception as it filled with depth, color, and motion. The prepared introduction interacted with the new patient by reaching forward to magically pull out a sample of DNA from their body like a golden thread. It unravelled macroscopically in the open, lit up in various regions to suggest change, and coiled and shrank as a younger version of the patient was rendered before their very eyes.

It was why patients came here.

Specialist Argent was not in keeping with the hype. When he was in the room, what lay behind its walls could be the sludge of former patients, devoured by experiment, never to be heard from again, except for their ghostly howls from the afterlife. Specialist Argent wore his lab coat like armor; it was tight-fitting and tightly buttoned. He held his left arm up and a wrist display like a shield before him. He was, remarkably, inexpliciably well into middle age.

And Alexander trapped in this laboratory of hidden horrors, sitting meekly on the edge of an expensive looking bed in a space decorated and refined like a five-star penthouse accommodation, nodding as the doctor explained in monotone the three phases of treatment and the protocols Alexander would undergo, and not asking the obvious question about the doctor’s apparent age. Alexander at fifty, nervous like a lost student on his first day of university. He fidgeted eagerly and his excitement and curiosity belied his own aging, the grandfatherly roundness and glow only just pulling at his cheeks, around his eyes, his mouth. His hair handsomely receding and black in color with gray like fresh fallen snow only just sticking. He had worked hard to keep weight off, and what he had gained around his stomach was hidden well behind a nice-fitting dark gray knit shirt that covered the belt loops of crisp black slacks. A nice sense of fashion, even here where he would eventually change into soft clinic attire that would be his wardrobe for the next two weeks. He would have aged gracefully, naturally.

He had come to the clinic instead, like so many of a certain economic class were now in cities and suburbs in the developed countries. The $5000 deposit had made the treatments affordable for a wider segment of the population. Clinics were spreading rapidly, purchasing properties like strip malls at below-market values and transforming the area around them into heath-focused oases. Alexander had saved his money diligently in the five years since the first few clinics opened to the wealthy just a few years after successful human trials that followed a wave of breakthroughs in understanding and treating aging. He had led a financially ascetic existence to reach his goal.

The doctor finished his explanation abruptly. He stared at Alexander. Finally, he indicated the closet. “You’ll find in there clothes to change into. You can use the wallscreen for more information about what I just told you. We’ll begin taking samples this evening.” He turned on his heels and hurried out of the room.

Alexander did as he was told. He had worked hard to get here; there was nothing left to do but go along with everything. He had done his research. The clinic came highly recommended, the protocols were more widely disseminated, and the proof was in five years of before-and-after treatment results and breathless media coverage.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 28

Review: Phobos Magazine Issue Three: Troublemake

Phobos Magazine 3: Troublemake: weird | fictionPhobos Magazine 3: Troublemake: weird | fiction by Luke St. Germaine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The poems and flash fiction in this issue tend to feature ornery characters, leading to lots of humor and dark twists. Something else besides the flower is in the gifted pot in “The Lovely Amaryllis,” leading to some really great images and humor in a story told through email. “Sack Race to the River” reads like magical realism, starting dark and just getting darker. “Bad Spelling” is all about the title pun, with an abrupt and horrific twist. I found “Broads and Batwings” pretty opaque but I think there is something Lovecraftian to it. “Troublemake” introduces a character with a signature voice, one to root for in a circus setting.

View all my reviews

Connection Between Sex and Art

[StoryADay May prompt: “Write At Your Natural Length“]

Why then the connection between sex and art? Nothing tantalizing about the muscular men in skin poses; the camera was not interested in their sexuality but shapes they made with the black and the white, light along curves, ridges and the punishing twists and turns of angling for their photographer. Not in the smooth white and black enamel-finished clay figures hinting at biceps, calves, abs, chin. Nor the central gallery piece where guests gathered in awe: what appeared to be a chest, but maybe three nipples. Or ocean ripples.

Ty knew when the artist arrived. What drew him to him.

Lena lacked what she thought of as an appreciation for art. While in town visiting her best friend, they followed early evening from one to the next cocktail lounge, and by eight Lena stood in front of the gallery where she seemed to sink away from the bright color of the city and her friend at night and into a pool of black-and-white circumstance captured as photographs on the wall and sculptures on tables.

“This is my exit,” and though her friend followed her in, Lena was not aware of her. Of only the works, their pointing at the artist.

This artist, he thinks of himself, has no gifts besides his craft. His index finger clicks shutters. His palms work clay. His hands pull out of his brain the landscapes curves make against empty volume. To him, neither the photographs or sculptures resemble the human body. The body is a medium deprived in frame and limited volume of concerns about the whole, or biology, or sexuality. Nothing natural to see here, only artifice, endless beyond the edges, constructed, representing a simple critique: too often we (I) think in wholes and what is there in wholeness but empty promises? So lonely.

Ty resembled the easy way that bodies orbit without knowing they are falling. He would have found it embarrasing except that the artist orbited him with increasing frequency, too. They would say four or six words total and then rotate away without urgency, finding in falling the calling of gravity unaware of up or down. Attraction, certainly, but beyond the frame of the small cubic studio who was attractive to whom was as important as the white wall white space between photographs.

“Oh, this one.”

“Yes, this one.”

Ty followed the back in the photograph. Missed the other orbit. Lena.

The whole of the man. The whole of the woman. The way they collapse the space and bring the artist fully into his own opening, and having now opened, fully embracing what was otherwise meant to showcase him and his work. He does not for one moment think there is a choice to make. There is a woman. There is a man. They are there. He is there.

What matters are two conversations that build connection that connect him to himself to see he is not in himself enough. The art, sure. The artist, yes. But him?

Room for more.

Lena noticed, of course. She had always noticed what was there between people, like neon lights above cocktail lounges that spell out They haven’t noticed yet but I do! If it confused her, confusion was below her sobering, lost with her friend who still tagged along but could have been in another city Lena wasn’t visiting. The artist was flirting with a handsome man and the artist was flirting with her and everyone else was also in that other city.

A city for three. She considered it, found nothing particularly appealing in the skyline. Maybe two suburbs on either side.

The artist finds his schedule on either side of his favorite time to work: early morning every day of the week. Ty arrives late evenings, leads eventually to the artist’s bed, and the hours there end in enough rest to open his eyes bright at 2 a.m. The artist slips quietly from bed and into his workshop. He pushes through dawn, they have breakfast, Ty leaves, and the artist goes back to bed.

He meets her for late lunch, afternoon sex, long dinner and dancing dates, walking adventures, or she watches him work. She goes home alone.

2 a.m. again.

Remarkable how it doesn’t matter, Lena thought. Until it did. How for her there was only the two of them when they were together, until she couldn’t help thinking about three. How it didn’t bother her who he was, who Ty was, until it bothered her that she didn’t want to ever know who he was, and if learning more, learning she didn’t care. Until she cared that both the artist and her should care.

She said goodbye.

Spent her days ignoring his phone calls, deleting his messages, not feeling especially sad or angry or hopeful he would be happy.

Remarkable how much he matters to me, Ty thought. Until he didn’t. There was no cause. Ty had no illusions they were exclusive, no illusions there weren’t women, too, no fantasies about threesomes and if his fantasy of the two of them together forever was especially comforting it surprised him to learn that it could fill him with so much sense of his own naivety.

What is art but passing?

He said goodbye.

Spent his days moving to another city, not feeling especially sad or angry or hopeful he would find who he was really meant to be with. Together.

The artist in imbalance finds how edges contain constraints that slice the sense of continuous space and limits his new photographs and sculptures to borders. He takes up painting and thinks about how the canvas is not a window but a closed and locked door that doesn’t let him out.

He won’t let the viewers out of his works, not without the physical act of turning violently from one work to stagger to the next where they are trapped anew.

His new art begs for bigger spaces and bigger spaces beg for his works.

He begs to be whole again.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 27