he reached for a bottle from the fridge and leaned back, rough plastic chair scraping against the hard cold cement. there were crickets along the quiet streets if you listened hard enough. conversations if you gave a half hearted attempt. and tension, if you didn’t try at all.
his companion shuffled on the ground. “it’s not important,” she muttered under her breath, eyes studying the ground.
he raised the bottle to his lips patiently. “tell me.” as an afterthought, he added, “i have no reason to blabber about it to anyone in this godforsaken place, even if it was interesting.”
“comforting much?” she lifted her head to the sky, eyes falling shut. “i’m… i’m gonna leave.”
the crickets stopped chirping, but they may as well have kept going.
“that’s your plan? just getting up and going?” “yup.”
I am a monster of my own choosing. I let the cracks split open and show. I am the one who caused the ruins. I raised my hands to poison my soul.
“Now that’s cheery,” a thin, slippery voice murmurs in the darkness.
The sound of a notebook dropping is immediately followed by surprised cursing, some stumbling upon the cold cement, and the shaky attempts of a terrified child to stand up.
It is night on the rooftop and two shadows lie on the ground.
“W-who are you?” she whispers. Whether she is hyperventilating or not remains to be seen. Her hands dust off on ripped jeans and brush against matted hair, trembling.
The source of the longer shadow stands in the brightness of the moon, face unseen, cane in hand, hat on head. As if this was a quintessential noir film, he drawls his words and walks forward, propping his weight on the balls of his shiny leather clad feet and his arms on his knees.
“Shouldn’t be up so late sweetheart, it’s bad for your body,” he says gently, grasping a shaking wrist. “Shouldn’t be writing such drastic words, it’s bad for your soul.”
In a swift motion he tugs her to his feet, tucking some stray hairs behind her ear. She doesn’t flinch, but she does step back, hands tightening around notebook.
“Do I know you?”
“You should.” He nods at the book. “That holds a ton of powerful words. You’d wanna be more careful with what you will into existence. Maybe try something like the weather, eh doll?”
The girl takes a good look at him— what she can of the darkened figure before her— and furrows her eyebrows.
Will into existence?
Her hands think for themselves and flip the pages of her book to an earlier list of words, just as disastrously written as the latest. The wind turns a chill as the light shines brighter on an old piece of work written long ago. Where, the memories refuse to say.
If I could will into existence. A friend with whom to live with. I would hardly care what they are. The devil seems a good place to start.
“Babe you gotta stop speaking your thoughts aloud so often,” He chuckles, watching the words make little pangs of realization pop on her tired, worn out face. “You okay there?”
She takes an eternity to respond.
“I’m going mental. This is schizophrenia. Or- or something. I’m hearing voices. They seem so real.”
Her words run over themselves and run them flat, shallow breaths working themselves out of her system as she claps her hands to her forehead, the night seeming to swallow her alive. Perhaps it already has.
Another pair of hands wrap around her own. “Now, could a voice look this good in eighty degree heat and a suit to match?” The moon was bright enough for a wink to appear.
“But you’re not actually the…” “No.” “Thank God.” “And you’re not actually a monster.” He places the smaller girl on the ground, sitting as casually beside her, enveloped in darkness.
“What are you then?” She doesn’t address the last sentence. Probably too shocked to believe it.
His coat ruffles in the wind. “Have you heard of guardian angels?” “Uhm…”
walmart shopping after work, after the end of the day and everyone’s ready to grab their frozen pizzas and go home.
“uhhh.” you stare at your camera, and then you stare and the rows of mini backpacks that hang before you. your sister slings an arm around your neck and pats a sleek looking black half pint.
“see anything you like?” panic. how are you supposed to choose anything? the idea of getting something absolutely brand new is foreign, almost dirty. everything you’ve ever possessed with the exception of your precious camera has either been stolen from dumpsters or carefully picked from thrift store racks. there’s something thrilling about getting something for your very own, something terrifying.
“the marvel ones look cool,” you mumble, eyes a captain marvel one in the kids section. you’re still a kid, after all. “unless you wanna explain a flaming superhero on campus, i’d settle for something more discreet.” they rest their arm on your head simply because you’re short and you glower. “or not. whatever catches your eye.”
you pause. “do you mean that?” “always.”
the walmart is left with one bobbing brown leather backpack and a jojo siwa balloon punched in the face.
you’re suspicious. you should be, the people who you trusted stabbed you in the back and forced you to thank them for it.
still, a way out is a way out is a way out. you’ve stopped questioning the morality of a situation and just accepted it regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. what’s that to you anyway?
her apartment’s small, you’ve never been here before. the fun, artsy cousin from christmas and thanksgiving dinners holds her baby with one hand and with the other, pulls you in for a hug. you stiffen, you relax, it’s calm for a while, and then she asks you the question.
“how are you?”
it is then, slowly, surely, you feel like maybe you can heal.
kitchen island at 10 pm, sitting cross-legged as your brother fishes for spoons in the utensil drawer.
“how’s it going?”
you answer by nearly falling off the island in exhaustion, but thankfully your hands grip the side in time and you give a sheepish grin. “oops.”
the truth is that daily mundane life is so freakishly different from living in a state of survival, and you’re not used to waking up to do, to be, to thrive. to running, to being free to run, to interacting with other humans, to do normal daily mundane human stuff. you are used to playing mind games you never win and cussing the person in the mirror, to locked doors and dark windows. you love it and you hate it and you don’t know what to do with it.
“ahh, sounds like you need some sugary motivation for your troubles.” the brother places a bowl in front of your regrettably small form, tucks a spoon into your tired hands, and lifts a giant carton of ice cream from the freezer.
“you’re tired too, aren’t you?” you say, propping the ice cream scoop against the white cardboard to dig into the heavenly coldness.
the brother simply winks and asks for two scoops of chocolate.
crickets chirp outside the empty hotel, echoing into the surrounding greenery. a few complacent rabbits hop through dust and gravel, nibbling at the blooms that fall from the front trellis. the dog slumps over on the roughly made welcome mat, the cat airily lounging on one of the corner chairs. the faint sound of geckos can be heard if you close your eyes hard enough.
inside the almost abandoned establishment are three men.
one leans back, portly and grey, wizened hands curling around an off-brand cell phone as he videochats with his wife, who adjusts her headcovering and scolds him to take care of himself. “who knows what could happen out there?” “mhmm.” he does. he’s the nightguard. but he straights his torn cotton tank and nods, laughing in his deep guttural tones that almost drown out the crickets. “opo. yes.” he hangs up, stretches his flabby, tattooed arms behind his head, acknowledging the others with the raise of his eyebrows.
the shuttle driver, a small wiry man, with broad wrinkles streaking across his oily face, strikes a match, lighting up a fresh cigarette. the box tucked into his stol– borrowed cargo shorts clearly describe what a life of substance abuse lead to, yet he raises said substance to his lips and inhales. it’s not a life he chose, but one he was born into. the only one he knows. he looks up. “did you eat dinner?” he asks in accented voice of his daughter, who walks around to the hotel’s kitchen, phone in one hand, printed memes in the other. first of her age group to go to college, making her own coin, he was as proud as hell of her, and he’d said so often enough. she gestures to the plate of spring rolls in her hand and disappears as quickly as she appeared. such were girls, such were their ways.
the third man has no such vices as smokes or love, not to the others’ extremes. perhaps when his little hut’s become a better sized apartment on the mainland, when his secondhand shorts and tank top become a fine two piece suit, his beaten plastic sandals real leather dress shoes (they say the luxury of living rich is paid by doing nothing enjoyable, but didn’t the ends pay the means twice over?). as it is he puts his earphones in and makes small talk, a knife in his hands as he grasps a branch of wood, slowly shaping it into, well, whatever his hands decide.
none of them have much reason to be here except for that one fascinating, unknown, mysterious word: quarantine.
is it fate that brought them together? a curious job that proved to be more than just a way of earning money? who knows. Dios has made them stay, and it is Dios that will allow them to leave without catching the pla– the covid19, as the social medias say. the question of what happened to the other numbered viruses begs asking, but nobody bothers to.
“look at this,” the shuttle driver declares in broken tagalog mixed with abbreviated english. he raises his phone as a movie, possibly streamed from some shady site in germany (what’s germany? who knows) plays. there’s bombs and explosives and great big men that look like they would if they were white save the day, and everything’s big and huge and dramatic.
“ah. cinema,” the security guard notes. the phone is propped up against a motorcycle helmet, and all three lean back and watch, muttering approval and commentary amongst themselves.
suddenly there is no hotel. no lobby, no crickets, no animals, no night, no quarantine. they find themselves into a world that looks so similar and yet so different from their own, and they enjoy it immensely. if they had been born anywhere but here, perhaps it would truly be their world, but Dios didn’t plan it that way. one could wonder why, but one didn’t, since doing so would disrupt the movie.
they sit attentively, and the night ceases to exist.
in the corner of all of their eyes, a small kid with wild hair and dinky glasses, in a too big shirt and a definitely borrowed pair of gym shorts, curls up on the stool behind the counter. their face almost sinks behind the clunky laptop barely anyone uses but them. the kid is peculiar at best, and Dios knows how often they’ve been discussed by all three (with occasionally the shuttle driver’s daughter), from their unusual antics and shifting personalities to how adept they were with any piece of technology. they have been observing quietly, and their hands fly over the keyboard faster than is humanly possible.
but the film continues to stream, and they, too, fade from existence.
(happy death sentence— nanowrimo month i wrote a thing enjoy also weez inspired this thank you weez)
“This was a mistake.” “I like it Kate.” “It won’t wash off fast.” “It looks good on you, Kate.” “I’m an idiot.” “You’re a lovely person, Kate.”
She places the dyes on the bathroom floor, tousling her soft, freshly colored hair. The white and pink are fascinating to look at, contrasting with her natural brown– but it’s too bold, too quick, too soon, what would everyone say? What if they laughed? What if they even noticed?
“I’m scared Dad.”
Her father lifts his head from his work, filling out a dozen reports for the small precinct he was assigned to. “And why is that?”
Kate points to her head. “I look like a clown.”
“No,” comes the reply, void of any actual opinion. “You look very unique and interesting.” “Nobody respects interesting. I want to be liked.” She leaves the messy hair paints on the slightly stained floor, shuffling to the ancient couch across from her dad’s desk to vent her woes.
“Mom’s gonna be so mad. She might shave my head in her sleep.” “Your mother won’t try. I’ll talk to her about it.” Her father closes his laptop, reaching out to pat her cheek. “I really do think it’s lovely.”
Kate smothers a smile underneath a face-plant into a pillow. “Well. Uh. thanks.”
They glance at each other, two members of a mostly decently split family. They share the same brown hair and green eyes, same sharp chin and quiet face. Almost identical copies, if you ignored the pointed nose, perfect eyebrows, curly hair, straight teeth. Those were all her mother’s doing.
“Did you talk to the lawyer about transferring custody?” She tries not to sound hopeful, but there’s a small glint in her eye that can’t quite be dimmed. Another feature from the missing person in their family.
Her father seems to notice this, and his eyes avoid Kate’s as he fiddles with his paperwork.
“I have to meet up with the Sarge for a briefing. Maybe next week,” he replies reluctantly. He arranges his stray papers and props them up in a nice flat little line. “But by then Mom’s gonna pick me up and drive me to Charleston.” The corners of Kate’s mouth turns upside down, a small sigh of disappointment creeping into her voice. “I know.” “You dislike briefings.” “I know.” “Then why–“ “Bills, Kate.” Her dad opens up a drawer and places the stack of papers inside, standing up. He treads on creaky carpet to the kitchen, leaving Kate sprawled on the couch.
“But–“ “You’ll understand.”
His voice comes out wearily, resignedly, and Kate hears it with distaste in her gut. She shakes her hair out of her face and follows him, sliding around on taco patterned socks on the kitchen’s marble floor.
“Yeah, well, I don’t.” She crosses her arms, leaning on the kitchen table as her dad pulls out a soft drink. “Neither do I.” He raises the can, and Kate swipes it from his hand after one swig to chug it down for herself.
They burp in near unison.
“Then you’re just a liar,” Kate mutters in cherry coke breath.
Her father says nothing. He lifts a uniformed arm, stroking her hair with a roughened hand. “Looks real nice on you. I like the ice cream thing you were going for.”
Kate half-heartedly raises her shoulders. “Whatever. Mom’s gonna be ticked.” She turns away, taking the can of coke with her. “Why’d you have to break up again?”
She’s heard the response a million times, but her mind insists on hearing it again. The cold finality of a judge’s gavel swinging hasn’t stopped ringing in her ears. The mom sized gap in this house is raw and empty and she hates it.
Her dad could’ve stopped it. He’s stopped so many other horrible things before.
“That’s– That’s not fair, Kate.” Her father pinches the bridge of his nose, arms leaning on the table. “And you stole my drink.” “I’ll give it to you if you answer the question.”
She almost feels bad at the sound of a tired sigh, but she daintily sips the carbonated sugar regardless.
“It just didn’t work.” He whispers these words like a sacred secret, confessing some little known sin. His priest scoffs.
“Please. You swore forever.” “And forever wasn’t enough!”
His hand collides with the table, voice rising beyond his seriously quiet good cop tones. Kate drinks, unfazed.
Her mom could never understand why she wasn’t terrified or upset at her dad’s occasional explosions, just like she never got Kate’s own tendencies to scream the night away, but they did. That’s probably why they got along so well. What was anger if not to release it dramatically?
“Forever. Forever implies the existence of enough, Dad.” “Tell that to the judge, Kate,” her dad sighs. He straightens the knocked over water bottle that toppled over in his outbreak, stepping around to pry a half empty can of coke from Kate’s hands. “I’m gonna start a fire outside if you want to join me.”
The sound of heavy feet walking away is paired with the sipping of a sugary drink encased in a light metal cylinder, which Kate absentmindedly registers as her father walking away.
She watches him from the window to the backyard, grabbing kindling together. Kate chews on her lip.
Okay, maybe she was too hard.
Her father is casually chatting with a neighbor over the fence by the time her converse covered feet land on the patio. “Yes, it’s a lovely night. Fire’s really calming.” The neighbor nods. “I can see that, Dave– my goodness. Is that Katherine?” They squint over her dad’s shoulder at Kate’s small, wiry self, curled up on a patio chair. “What an interesting child. And her hair.”
Her dad chuckles. “She just dyed it this afternoon, like that ice cream, y’know.” “It’s neapolitan, Dad,” Kate can’t help adding. Dave winks at her, turning to their bemused neighbor.
“Well,it is quite the creative choice,” they agree. “Y’all enjoy yourselves now.” They give a little nod and return to their own backyard haven, all aglow in citronella candles.
Kate feels a tiny ping of pride pop up as her dad joins her around the fire pit, watching the sparks fly.
“See? You look just fine, Kate.” He leans back, breathing in the smell of stars and smoke. They sit in the silence, the fire crackling into light.
She grabs a stick to poke into the ground. “Can we do this again next next week?” Her father raises his eyebrows. “Maybe.” “Can we get some ice cream?” “The three-flavored horror you like so much?” Kate sticks out her tongue, flapping her similarly colored hair in the wind. “Neapolitan’s me. It’s a me flavor. And it’s like, so good.” “It would melt from the heat.” “Dad.“
Kate mock sighs in all the power of exasperation, trying to capture the feeling of night and fire and grass and hair dye, the sad grin on her father’s face when he softly tells her
“I’d have neapolitan every day if I could. God knows if I could pick I would.”
“Back atcha, Dad.”
She twirls a finger around her colored locks and watches the fire burn.
when he and his wife started the hotel it was with the goal of earning enough money to support their ministry, maybe be awesome while at it, maybe make a little difference in the island.
now it was an almost functional small section-business that thrived on chaos, if they were lucky, the power only went out twice, at least one child was on unofficial staff (the rest crowded the tiny library nook reading harry potter) and, at the peak of the day, the dog yawned.
it was awesome. it was chaotic. God was good.
the internet was terrible–
“heyyyyyyyyy tito i was thinking could we maybe make some pretzel bites i saw them on pinterest and like, you’re the best baker i know” the (temporary) resident geek shifted her glasses up, her star wars shirt hanging limply on her stick figure (he always said the mando needed to get fatter or how was she gonna fit her beskar armor?) (this was, of course, greeted with with a glare, un-reminscent of boba fett’s order.) she tapped her leg nervously. it was a trait she picked up before therapy, apparently.
“sure, if you play the star wars tune on the tiny guitar.” he popped a pain pill into his mouth. being diagnosed with chronic fatigue was a bother allmost some of the time, what could he say?
“it’s a UKE how dARE.”
he smiled and kept walking. (always did have a soft spot for the geek.)
“sir, what’s this greatest common factor” one of the sponsored kids came up– ah, jenna mae, always reposting those share-and-you’ll-be-blessed posts on the good old facebook. he suspected she wanted the blessing of likes on her feed, but who was he to judge? if mae wanted homework help, he’d give it.
“what’s 6 times 7?” “sir?”
he put his glasses on, liked how scholarly it made him feel. “ay, i asked you a question.”
mae totally deserved the instant sputtering of taglish and a good smothering, he was sure. for bonding purposes. it was essential to learning what numbers had similar sources. if they caused a commotion in the middle of the lobby, well, such was life.
“hello, sir?” one of the guests approached hesitatingly, flicking a glance to the best of 2019 award on the counter and the pile of empty freezie pop wrappers beside it. apparently donna’s kid found the freezer.
“yes ma’am?” he replied, clad in the blue jays jersey he’d tossed on and his proudly worn cargo shorts with only one rip in the hem. ann was going to kill him that evening, but fashion was fashion.
“do you know when the shuttle leaves?” the guest clung to their wetpack (clearly bought from the sellers at dmall, clearly not worth what they paid), eyes darting up at the blue and cloud ceiling.
“1 pm, and i’ll tell you where you should go too,” he answered with a beam, telling her how good parasailing was and how ignored pickles were on the side. free act of public service.
“hey, joe?” ann wandered over, phone in hand. “did you tell the russians about the no smoking rule?” she pursed her lips. she was always so serious, so methodical, so planned, peace on earth and goodwill to men, lady. he loved her.
“I assumed they knew.”
ann tilted her head. “maybe tell them again?” she made a face. “and mention the noise policy while you’re at it. mj doesn’t need another excuse to stay up and neither do we.”
“okay, okay.” he shrugged.
well, of course he was.
this life had so much to take from him. so many people who needed his help, an ear, a bed, some cash. so many projects to finish. so many things to do.
well, heck, he’d give. God didn’t put him here to sit pretty.
joe sat on the back porch and stared at the stars above, shining down on the unfinished field with piles of gravel yet to be used lying on it, with the ivy barely hanging on on one side and the stark gray of the unfinished building on the other, and joe smiled.
tomorrow his staff would fake argue with him about days off and how he was always on their backs to smile, smile, smile, and his niece would wake up with a panic attack but totally lie about it, and the kids would come over and he’d tell them all about the great gatsby, and the guests would gape and wonder what on earth was this strange, mysterious place where the internet was so bad they had board games and ping pong tables and h u m a n i n t e r a c t i o n ?
and he would beam and say
didn’t always feel like it
“AY GET THE CAT OUT OF HERE–“
but it was.
majestically, a bucket from the balcony crashed to the ground, and the dog starting barking the street up. in the distance, war ensued.
and joe was grateful.
(you guys this was written in between gaps at work ya mjolnir is trying out here so ty in advance for sticking it out)