and then he cleared his throat and said

“what are your plans?”

“i don’t have any.”

“bull. i’ve seen the look in your eye.”

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.”

he cackled, nursing the poison in his hand.

“invite me to your funeral.”

roof

 

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.

The.

What.

“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…”


“That, but evil.”

w

assorted bottles on display in store

w

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.

i

two persons playing hockey on ice field

i

“i can’t keep TRACK of all of you,” the skate guard laughs as a bunch of little kids push them around the ice, tiny handmedown skates running against the cold to push this giant human around, for, you know, practice.

it is the second to last week of the skating season, and you wait for your friend to finish wrapping her scarf around her head as you have a small conversation about skating.

“i like it, i just wish i had lessons,” she sighs, staring over at some other girl on the ice whose teacher cheers her on as she does a cool one-legged spinny trick and doesn’t fall over. on the other side, the little kids have all fallen into a heap and their adult takes turns picking one up and dragging across the ice, giggling as they feel the sensation of floating on cold air.

“me too,” you agree. you take off your coat and step onto the ice, carefully pushing yourself off. you skate for a while, it feels like forever.

“hey, hey kid!” the skateguard comes up to you and the other children on the ice. “this is how you make a stop the hockey style, okay?”

without question everyone stands still and watches as they dart across the ice, sharply leaning on one side and letting a spray of ice fly across the rim. someone applauds. they come back proud.

“now you try it and see how it goes.”
“in figure skates?” you protest.

they throw their hands up in the air. “they’re all skates, aren’t they?”

t

poor lighted hallway

t

“…therapy?” the nurse asks kindly, handing you flip flops to walk in instead of the strange cloth sock contraptions they give upon arrival. you take them shyly, you’re not used to being offered anything, you feel guilty, you need to be tough, you have nearly died.

“is it expensive?”

the nurse laughs. “maybe, but your mind’s worth it.” they sit down and explain a way of healing you’d only ever heard as a joke, as a taboo element of life nobody wants to hear about, as something you never thought you needed. it sounds… it sounds good.

“we can set you and your family up for a session after you’re discharged,” the nurse finishes. “or… just you,” they add, watching your face crumple from passive to pained. “do… you want to talk about it?”

“uh, can i take you up on your offer another time?” you might be sidestreet, but you have manners.
“okay.”

when another time comes, you talk, and for the first time, you are listened to.

a

brown wooden framed white padded chair in between green indoor leaf plants inside bedroom

a

aftermath. an invitation. “let’s hang out!”

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.

k

photo of pendant lamp turned on

k

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.

sounds & silences

FB75E70D-EC0C-430E-953C-651DF8709924

clara:

~

It is evening when he stands helplessly in the narrow light of the subway station, watching as a missed train retreats into the mouth of a yawning tunnel. A rush of warmth and motion tugs at his sleeves as the sweeping headlights, like two glowing eyes in the darkness, flash around a corner and are gone.

Numbly, he moves to the far wall, finding a bare metal bench to sink onto. Above his head, a single pigeon considers the scene, nothing more than a silhouette against the distant fluorescent lights. Someone’s abandoned backpack rests on the bench beside him, quiet and unassuming. He considers it for a long moment, thinking about something else that was abandoned, and finds the shaky resolve necessary to stand and clutch his duffel bag firmly by its leather handle. The smell of emptiness seems to follow him, clinging to his hands and shoulders as he wanders out of the station and steps into the windy night.

~

The bus stop is freezing, a harsh difference from the stale warmth of the subway station. A heavy sky swirls above his bent figure, gray clouds drifting listlessly between pale stars, and harsh headlights come as a welcome relief in the fear-soaked darkness. He falls in line behind a thin-faced woman and her restless toddler, the floor creaking beneath muddy shoes as he slides his bag beneath an empty seat and settles into this dim world of shaky motion. He leans his head against the window, eyes on the shifting shadows of the outside world, watching for the familiar signs. When they come into view, he stands too suddenly, nearly tumbling into the aisle as the bus comes to a shuddering stop. The ever-moving toddler stares at him as he pulls his bag from beneath the seat and staggers for the door, pushing himself into the frigid darkness without looking back.

The moon is nowhere to be found, and the air feels restless with cold whispers as he follows the well-remembered edge of the road and shivers. At last, he comes to a stop, the leaning figure of a small-town church rising before him. His duffel bag is heavy in time-knotted hands as he gazes along the length of the shadowed road, stunned by the sudden realization that this is where the world feels like home.

~

The tall front doors are unlocked and coated with peeling paint, exactly how he remembers them. Inside, the air is still, and he slides the beam of a flashlight across red-backed pews, artificial plants, dusty carpet, stained-glass windows. He moves softly, hardly daring to breathe as he follows the center aisle towards the pulpit like someone lost. When he reaches the front row, he pauses, surprised at the sight of a small Bible sitting open on the pew. The thin pages flutter as he reaches for the book, aiming his flashlight at the red-inked words and reading with a slow thoughtfulness. After a long moment of consideration, he tucks the orphaned book beneath his arm and turns away.

At the front of the sanctuary, he lifts his light in another sweeping motion across the room and freezes. In the outside ledge of a gold-stained window, something moves. Stricken man and startled nighttime creature regard each other, both gripped by the suddenness of the moment, neither willing to be the first to move.

The bluejay spreads uncertain wings and disappears into the night.

~

He smiles a little to himself, switching off the flashlight as he leaves the sanctuary and follows a well-worn pattern of hallways to a tiny office. The creak of hinges in the lightless room makes him a little colder as he closes the door behind him, letting his heavy bag fall to the floor at last. The office is lined with bookshelves, beloved words that he used to endlessly devour, covers left to collect dust for a half-decade. Shame lingers in his throat as he rifles through his belongings and rolls a sleeping bag out across the unevenly carpeted floor. 

Unable to make himself sleep, he crosses the room to a single window and regards the shifting darkness. The moon has made itself known, nothing more than a narrow curve of silver between the clouds, nonetheless brightening the sprawling forests beneath its gaze. In this new light, the beginnings of a snowfall appears, soft gray flakes spiraling from the sky to settle upon every unassuming rooftop. He rests his hands against the cobwebbed windowsill and feels a sudden peace. Tomorrow, there will be the world to reckon with, but tonight there is only this forgotten little room and the snow-draped night.

motel room

night. crickets. wind. grass. roads. quiet. pizza.

calm.

school, noise, headphones, book, dessert.

calm.

table, chairs, creaky floors, dim light, hotspot.

calm.

home.

phone rings.

“hello?”

calm.

stands up. table. grabs hand. leaves. closes the door. alone. pizza.

not calm.

heartbeats. dry mouth. empty room. empty plates.

not calm.

look around. tiptoe. peek. crack. sobbing. hands holding.

not calm.

sit back. come out.

“they’re here.”

not. calm.

curtains drawn. couches arranged. pizza unfinished.

“hide here, don’t come out, i’ll get the landlords, they’ll know what to do.”

not calm, not calm.

rug. chair. ceiling fan. blue light. heavy steps.

“are they really here?”

a knock. jolt. fear. shadows. fly.

not. calm.

landlords. family. smile. eyes watery.

“you need to call them.”

phones— 3 of them. ring. ring. ring.

deadline.

deadline.

dead.

shoulders pressed. hands held. they sit in a circle. like a shield. shielding who? shielding from?

no.

“bu-but they can’t legally do that, we have a visa. we have the note.”

“i know. it should be enough.”

peek through curtains. police cars. 4. plus that one.

oh God. God. God no.

hands crack. shoulders heave. breath short.

not calm.

“this isn’t happening. we made sure you were legal.”

“w-what are the words again? i… i am using my…right to remain silent? i can’t remember, god, i can’t remember.”

throat tight. mind racing. people. so many people. small home. easy target.

“you’re not even packed, you’re not even meant to go, what, what the hell are they thinking?”

not calm.

ding-ding!

wait. wait. wait. wait. no no no no, this was not supposed to happen, no, you don’t understand, no–

finality. tears. pain. frantic text.

“if they’re taking you, we’re coming too.”

not calm.

door. open. cop. them. them. evil eyes looking, searching, unwilling.

talk. palaver.

“but… but they’re not even packed, because they were never supposed to lea–“

“we’ll wait for her.”

the papers weren’t enough.

cop. dull. gun. gun. gun. gun. God, do they even need guns? God, why are they here? God, where are you?

not calm.

backpack. crammed. memories. for good luck. lies. hands tight.

“say goodbye.”

WAIT, NO—

NO
NO

NO

“don’t try to run, do you want to get in trouble?” rough. hands. yelp. dodge. backpack.

choke. salt. tears. “goodbye! i’ll see you later! i’ll see you later!”

tears. tears. panic attack. family. call for mother. mother does nothing, she doesn’t know how, she can’t move.

wailing. shrieks. grief.

“i love you too! i love—“

car. door. open. push. pungent.

“stop screaming”

“stop it”

“quiet the **** or i’ll quiet her”

NOT CALM. NOT CALM.

dark. dark. red. whirl. trees. road. tears.

drive. tires.

the pizza wasn’t even finished yet.

silence. shock. window. open. large. unbuckle seatbelt. reach for–

car jerks to a stop.

hotel. empty. lights. parking lot. cold. chill. crickets. fire. people talking. night. luggage.

“no, you don’t need your backpack, just use your hoodie on the floor. it’s carpeted.”

automatic doors. smells. friendly receptionist. tears. smile. big smile. big big smile that doesn’t do anything but smile.

elevator. musty room. trapped.

ding!

walk. breathe. stiff walls.

room number 125.

motel room.

not home.

not calm.

not calm not calm not—

cinema

blood-moon photo

it’s saturday night.

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.