Tag Archives: creative writing


25 May

A speaker embedded into the dingy wall crackled to life just as the first rays of sunlight streamed through a moth-eaten curtain. The third set of curtains in as many months, all of them devoured by moths. A lilting, feminine voice rasped through the badly beaten cone of the wall speaker: “Rise and shine! Rise and shine! Time to wake up for your morning exercises, comrades!” The emaciated couple lay on their backs on a filthy mattress jammed into a corner, eyes wide open as if they’d never been shut before, staring blankly at the ceiling. After a few moments, the male, on the outside of the bed, began to stir. He swung his bony legs over the side of the mattress, his bulbous knees rising to meet his ears as he pulled himself into a sitting position. “Time to get up, love. It’s morning now.”

Her round eyes flickered in recognition of the man’s mild exhortation and she lazily rolled to the edge of the bed. The man stood, very carefully, his body popping and creaking as he extended to his full height, and he shuffled over to one of two doors in the room, a closet. Opening the battered door with a combined squeaking of the hinge and his joints, he disappeared inside the closet for a moment and returned with two yoga mats and a pilates ball. By this time, the woman was fully risen and prepared herself for that morning’s duty. The couple hated morning exercises, which always reminded them how much they’d deteriorated in recent years.

Things went well at first. Political and ecological awareness at the beginning of the twenty-first century resulted in much social progress and conservation, erasing the environmental damage done by previous generations by 2022. Unwilling to repeat the mistakes of their forebears, mankind resigned themselves to using renewable resources that wouldn’t clog up their landfills: it was in 2024 that scientists were able to develop the first combustion engine that ran completely on smug satisfaction. This boded well for Prius owners and patrons of farmers’ markets who had been flaunting their superiority for years.

However, as ecological consciousness gained popularity, general levels of smug satisfaction decreased and new levels of righteousness needed to be attained. It was no longer enough to be vegan and eat locally-grown produce, instead you could only assume a holier-than-thou stance if you ate food grown in your neighborhood. Then it had to be grown in your backyard. Then it had to be grown in your house. Before long it was considered bourgeois to own a home and people moved into subsidized tents and huts. Over many decades, different aspects of life became trendy to excel in: by 2030, it was not enough to exercise a few times a week, so people began exercising several times a day. Yoga became the only acceptable form of exercise since it required the purchase of new yoga clothes. Being vegetarian and not eating meat wasn’t enough to show your support for animal rights by 2040, so people began treating their pets and beasts of burden like royalty, preparing five-course meals for their cats while they ate raw celery. Little by little, animals began edging their way into professional society, first as laborers and busboys, then eventually as clerks and office managers. In 2052 a giraffe passed the bar exam for Massachusetts and became the first animal lawyer. By 2060, animals had full voting rights and several mammals and amphibians held seats in the Senate and Congress.

In 2080, the first animal president was elected, a tiger named Tabby, who won by a landslide, having courted the insect vote. His first edict, the very core of his campaign platform: humans are now food. Humans accepted the new executive order and stayed in their homes as much as possible. Windowsill wheatgrass withered, cows strolled lazily in and out of deserted shopping centers. In four short years, the human population in America was cut by two-thirds, the remaining stragglers huddling in abandoned homes, making do with discarded American Apparel clothing and eating mainly paste.

“Okay, comrades! Let’s begin! Roll into a rocker with open legs and hold it for thirty minutes!” Simultaneously, the couple slumped to the floor onto their carefully-placed yoga mats and laid on their backs. With great exertion, they moved their feet into position over their heads as they curled into this awkward position. The man could feel every vertebrae in his back pop as he inched his legs ever so slowly over his head until he was practically kissing his knees. He looked over as it partner, struggling to perform the same maneuver. She was too weak, she couldn’t do it, and like a house of cards collapsed into a shapeless heap on the yoga mat while the pleasant voice from the speaker encouraged everyone to get limber. The man unwound himself in a flash and dashed to his lover’s side.

“What is wrong? Are you okay?” he stammered through cracked, dry lips. It was illegal to drink unfiltered water and he hadn’t seen a usable water filter in months. The woman did not reply, she could not reply, so starved was she for sustenance. The man’s brow was knotted with worry, knowing full well that there was no authorized food in the building, not even a dandelion. He stroked her hair and considered revealing to her his biggest secret. There was food in the house, food which had not been freely available in half a decade, but it was food nonetheless. He had come upon it while scavenging for wares to sell on the black market, the only place where one could buy necessities like razor blades and Tupperware. He had hidden it in the home, and wasn’t sure what to do with the illicit comestible until this very moment. He hurried back to the closet and dove within, emerging within seconds holding a small red and yellow stick. He descended to his lover’s side clutching the strange item.

“My dear,” gasped the man, “I have food here. It is meat.” He pulled back on a tab extending from the red and yellow stick, and the woman watched with weak amazement as it peeled back to reveal a short brown stick, glistening in the morning’s light. A salty smell not unlike excrement filled the air. “It is called a Slim Jim,” explained the man, “unenlightened people used to eat them all the time. I implore you, please eat this Slim Jim. I fear you will die otherwise.”

Her withered, gnarled hand extended shakily to take the Slim Jim, which she brought back to her face for closer inspection. She breathed deep the aroma, which now smelled more like a horse carcass than salty excrement. She rubbed her calloused fingertips over the slimy stick, noting that it was softer within than without. Lastly, the woman turned the Slim Jim over to examine its packaging, and all at once her eyes shot open in horror and she quickly tossed the meat stick out the window where it would certainly be consumed by rats, who comprised most of the city’s Sanitation Department. The man watched all of this unfold as if in a dream, but when the Slim Jim flew out of the window he was startled into cognizance.

“Why did you do that?” shrieked the man, “You will die without food! Why wouldn’t you eat that meat?”

The woman’s eyelids slid over her panicked eyeballs and she spoke in a whisper: “It wasn’t locally grown.” And with that, she expired.

Let’s Agree to Disagree

11 Apr

For almost five billion revolutions
Our planet has spun ’round
Give or take a few thousand years
(My watch was not yet wound)

Cosmic forces spewed red-hot goo
And, at first, it did expand
Then, over time, cooled and shrank
Into that on which we stand

That’s how it passed, I do not lie
Though others claim as such
They feel our whole existence
Came from bristles of God’s brush

If that is how you’d like the tale
I’ll be happy to adapt it:
God painted Earth with thermal law
The Big Bang was His palette

A Bedtime Story

7 Apr

Edna Sharp woke each morning at five thirty, without the aid of an alarm clock. She would sit up in bed and swing her legs over the right side, dipping her naked feet into strategically placed slippers. Edna would then plod off to the miniscule bathroom of her tiny studio apartment, take care of her morning business, and emerge from the bathroom door at a quarter to six. After getting dressed, preparing her lunch for the day, then making and eating her daily breakfast of two pieces of buttered whole wheat toast and a grapefruit, she’d leave her house at six AM and walk the half block to Queens Boulevard, where she could catch the number seven train into Manhattan.

Edna arrived at the subway platform anytime between five or ten after six, but whenever she arrived the train would always just be pulling into the station. She’d enter the same car every morning–fourth from the front–through the middle doors and sit down in the first seat to her left, which was always empty. The subway car itself would largely be empty that early in the morning, and due to her strict schedule, Miss Sharp would often see the same people at that time every day. After sitting down, she’d retrieve her latest pulp paperback from a battered tote bag and read until the seven train reached its last stop, Times Square.

In over twenty years of work, Edna had never, not once ever, been late. It was no wonder, really, since she arrived at Times Square every morning around seven o’clock, but work didn’t begin until eight-thirty. This hour before work was Edna’s most treasured time: in warmer weather, she’d park herself in one of the plazas on Broadway and peer at all the commuters and tourists exiting from their respective subway holes from over the top of her opened book. When it was cold, Edna liked to sit in a little coffee shop on Eighth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street and read her book while sipping tea. Very rarely, she would get a cheese danish; even more rarely, she would get a cheese danish with strawberry jam. During Edna’s morning excursion, anything could happen. It was the only time she might deviate from an otherwise iron-clad schedule.

At ten to eight, Edna would start walking to her job at the New York Public Library on Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue. She enjoyed this walk but didn’t dally at it. Edna reached the front door of the building promptly at eight and then the door of the gift shop she managed by five after eight. Her job was to unlock the door, turn on the lights, and begin setting up the shop for a business day. Other employees would begin arriving at eight twenty and keep coming until about a quarter to nine. Miss Sharp couldn’t understand lateness–she had never been late, why were others continually lagging behind?–but she rarely took the employees to task for it. As long as they showed up by nine, she didn’t complain. Edna realized she was more pragmatic and ordered than most, and took it for granted that she would be on time while others would not.

At twelve o’clock, Edna took her lunch. Despite this being a free hour, she did one of two things every day: on warm, sunny days, Edna Sharp sat behind the library in Bryant Park and ate an egg sandwich on whole wheat bread with a cream soda purchased from the nearest hot dog cart. During inclement weather, she ate the same lunch in the employee break room. She would finish eating in about twenty minutes and spent the rest of her lunch hour reading. Regardless of where she had her lunch, she’d be back to work by one o’clock, on the dot. Miss Sharp didn’t even wear a wristwatch, and she didn’t need to. Edna was in a groove.

Edna’s workday ended at four o’clock, though she often stayed for twenty or thirty minutes longer for one reason or another. After giving her most trusted employee instructions for closing the gift shop, Edna left the library and walked the three short blocks to Grand Central Terminal where she would catch the number seven train home. She could have easily taken the subway entrance right on the corner of Fifth Avenue, the seven train stopped there, too. But Edna liked to take a look at Grand Central, look at the reversed canopy of constellations and walk by the Oyster Bar before going home to Queens. Depending on the day, she reached the subway platform a little before five o’clock. Despite being so close to evening rush hour, Edna always got a seat riding home.

Edna arrived at home at or close to five-thirty every day. A creature of habit, Miss Sharp would then do some variation of a handful of possibilities, depending on the season and her mood: if it was warm and sunny, she might take a walk around the neighborhood until six o’clock. If it was cold and dark, she’d go right home and tidy up, or sift through her mail, or boil several eggs in preparation for a week’s worth of egg salad sandwiches. Regardless, she would get home by six o’clock, and began preparing supper: either a can of vegetable soup with crackers or a leafy, green salad and a tablespoon of Thousand Island dressing. By seven PM, Edna had finished dinner and, after cleaning the dishes, she’d slip into her bedclothes and slippers, sit in her padded chair, and finish the book she’d been reading all day–or begin a new book, if that was warranted. At nine o’clock, Edna Sharp would brush her teeth and then sit down on the right side of her bed, kick her slippers off directly beneath her feet, and lie down. Edna continued to read until half past nine, when she fell asleep.

Edna Sharp’s dreams were not the stuff of surreal fantasy. Commonly, Edna dreamed about her workday schedule, egg salad sandwich and all, rarely with any variation. Sometimes she dreamed she was reading the most incredible book in the world while laying in bed, then Edna would awake with a start and become disappointed in the growing realization that her dream book didn’t exist–and worse, she couldn’t remember any details about it. A good dream might be where Edna found unclaimed money while lunching in Bryant Park, which actually happened one time. Not very often, Miss Sharp dreamed of her youth: of lost loves, of academic achievements and failures, of running around barefoot in the warm sun, trampling cool blades of grass underfoot. Though she often remembered them very well, Edna didn’t place too much importance on her dreams. They were, after all, just dreams. Everyone has them.

And when New York City dreamed, well, New York City dreamed of Edna Sharp.

A Work Story

25 Feb

Leonard Figsby was a small, unassuming man who had worked for the company for as long as anyone could remember. His desk was at the back of the office, near the copier but separated from it by a cubicle wall. Leonard was not the sort of person that people noticed, but had they been keeping track they would have known that he owned five ties, five short-sleeved work shirts, three pairs of slacks, two pairs of brown leather shoes. These he kept fastidiously neat and in perpetual rotation, wearing the same outfits from day to day, week to week, without deviance. One could only assume he did the same with his undergarments.

Leonard took one week of vacation every year, the last week of July, when he would visit his sister in Florida. In his ten-plus years of working, he’d only taken one unexpected day off, when his mother passed away. Otherwise, he was a model employee, always an hour early to work and never leaving before five o’clock. His lunch hour began at noon every day and he was back to his desk and working by ten to one. He was never observed taking a personal phone call, never used the internet or his work e-mail address for any private reasons. No one was quite sure of what he did at the office, but everyone was positive that he did it efficiently.

Leonard didn’t interact with anyone in the office except for work reasons. He might smile blandly while passing someone between cubicles, or nod politely at a co-worker in the bathroom, but he never spoke of his weekend life or took interest in the lives of others. Except for one. One person in the office, Leonard was quite fond of. She had blond hair which cascaded down her back like rivulets of amber syrup, soft, smoky blue eyes that pierced and seduced Leonard mercilessly. Her puckered lips were usually drawn into a knowing smirk that played casually at the corners of her mouth, her skin was as unblemished as a field of newly-fallen snow. She was Eleanor Valentine, the office receptionist. And Leonard loved her very much.

Eleanor and Leonard had a daily ritual: every morning at 9:15, Leonard would get up from his desk and get two cups of coffee from the office break room. He liked his own coffee black, but into the additional cup of coffee Leonard put a splash of cream and one teaspoon of sugar. Then he would carry both cups to the front of the office, where Eleanor would usually be just settling in, and offer her the coffee with cream and sugar. Eleanor would smile sweetly, her gleaming white teeth beaming pure, hot light straight into Leonard’s chest, and in her sweet, sing-song voice, say, “thank you very much, Leonard,” while taking the coffee. Though this exact same scene played out virtually every morning since Eleanor started working at the office two years ago, it still filled Leonard with such incredible feeling, and every morning he would have to suppress his elation and effusive love to demurely respond, “you’re very welcome, Eleanor,” and return to his desk with the cooled, black coffee.

This was Leonard’s only non-work interaction at work, taking between forty and sixty seconds to complete. It was the only thing he looked forward to every day.

One Monday morning at 9:15, Leonard got up from his desk and went to the break room to get two cups of coffee. He carried these two steaming cups to the front of the office where Eleanor was setting her purse down and taking her coat off, having just arrived at work. Leonard waited a moment for Eleanor to settle, then handed her a cup of coffee prepared just the way she liked it. She smiled at Leonard, nodded, and said nothing. Leonard stood silently for a second too long, and an uncomfortable stillness began to fill the air between he and Eleanor. Feeling embarrassed, Leonard stammered, “you’re very welcome, Eleanor,” and hurried back to his desk, splashing his hand with some warm coffee as he rushed.

At his desk, Leonard despaired. She didn’t say it, he thought. She didn’t say “thank you.” Logically, he knew it was silly. Who cares if she didn’t say the words? She was clearly appreciative. Still, it gnawed at his insides and tortured him until Leonard couldn’t stand it. She didn’t say it. After a while, Leonard realized that he was less upset that she hadn’t said “thank you” than he was that she didn’t say his name. She didn’t say, “Leonard.”

Tuesday came, and Leonard again retrieved two cups of coffee from the break room and brought them to the receptionist’s desk. Again, he proffered Eleanor her cup, again she took it from Leonard and smiled weakly without saying a word. Leonard was mollified. He couldn’t even blurt out “you’re welcome,” he bowed his head and rushed back to his desk, spilling coffee all the way. In private, Leonard was devastated. She didn’t say it again, he thought, she didn’t say my name.

For the rest of the day, Leonard did no work, save for obsessing about where things had gone wrong between he and Eleanor. To his memory, their daily interaction had gone on unimpeded, uninterrupted, and without any change for the better part of two years. Sure, she took sick days now and again, and one time she arrived to work at 9:20 instead of 9:15–Leonard simply got her a new cup of coffee, that day–but otherwise their tête à tête morning coffee ritual ran like clockwork. What had changed? Was Eleanor displeased with some aspect of the ritual?

That must be it, thought Leonard with a sigh of relief, she is tired of this bland office coffee. Leonard had to admit that the office coffee was unnaturally weak and flavorless. Everyone drank it for the same reasons anyone drinks office coffee: because it’s available and free. But even the newsstand in the lobby of the company’s building had better coffee, and there was a coffee shop with a variety of roasted blends just on the corner. Yes, thought Leonard, it must be the coffee.

On Wednesday at 9:10, Leonard left the office and took the elevator downstairs to the lobby. He decided to bypass the newsstand entirely and went straight to the coffee shop on the corner, at which there was a long line. Leonard was agitated as he waited on line, shifting from foot to foot and peeking forward at the current transaction, as if watching it would make the moment go faster. After a few minutes, Leonard was at the resigter. He ordered a cup of plain coffee, black, and a cup of French Roast with a splash of vanilla, cream, and one raw sugar, which looked to Leonard like regular sugar except brown. He received and paid for his coffees, then entered his building’s lobby again, took the elevator up to his floor, and entered the office just in time to see Eleanor sitting down at her desk. He gave her the special coffee in a cup that had the logo of the coffee shop printed on the side. She took the coffee, nodded and smiled at Leonard, and then turned to her computer, signaling that the work day had begun. Leonard was crushed.

What could be the problem? thought Leonard, writhing at his desk with internal anguish. Perhaps French Roast is not to her liking, he thought. It is a rather normal kind of coffee. I should have gotten something more exotic. Leonard resigned to do just that the very next day.

On Thursday at 9:05, Leonard left the office and took the elevator downstairs to the lobby. He exited the building and walked to the coffee shop on the corner, where there was an even longer line than the previous day. He was agitated as he waited in line, shifting from foot to foot and attempting to discern the action at the register, and eventually he was next to order. He ordered himself a plain coffee, black, and for Eleanor he ordered the most expensive coffee on the menu: Dark African Special Rare Roast, with a splash of vanilla and steamed milk, a half shot of cappuccino, one raw sugar, topped with whipped cream and chocolate chips piled almost as tall as the coffee itself. It needed a special plastic lid just to contain it.

Leonard was happy and practically floated back to the office, through the lobby and past the newsstand, into the elevator and straight to the receptionist’s desk, where Eleanor sat at her computer, typing away, a steaming cup of coffee from the break room already sitting on her desk! Leonard almost dropped both coffees right there. He silently ushered past Eleanor’s desk to the back of the office where he sat. No one saw or heard from him for the rest of the day.

On Friday at 9:15, Eleanor got into work, removed her coat and set down her purse as she always did. She sat down at her desk and turned on her computer to begin the workday. At 9:30, she felt she needed a cup of coffee, so she walked to the break room at the back of the office and fixed herself one, just as she had the day before. Somewhere in the back of her mind was a nagging thought, one she was quickly able to dismiss.

Leonard took off from work that Friday, citing personal reasons. He spent the previous evening searching the internet for any scraps of information he could glean about Eleanor Valentine, and after a long and rigorous search, he was able to learn quite a lot. At 11 AM Friday morning, Leonard arrived at Eleanor’s home and entered it by way of breaking a basement window at the back of the house. Upon walking up to the first floor, Leonard was greeted by Eleanor’s orange tabby cat, which he quickly strangled and dropped into the kitchen sink. Leonard then went to Eleanor’s telephone and called her mom, who Leonard knew lived nearby. Acting like a concerned boyfriend, he convinced her to come by on the double due to some inexplicable emergency. While waiting for Eleanor’s mother to arrive, he tied double knots in all of Eleanor’s dresses and stopped up all of her sinks with rags and, in the case of the kitchen sink, a cat. He turned on the faucets and let them run.

When Eleanor’s mother arrived, Leonard was waiting just behind the front door with a baseball bat. As soon as she entered the foyer, Leonard struck her in the head, knocking her to the floor. He then bludgeoned Eleanor’s mother mercilessly until her bloody brains made a sickly sucking sound every time Leonard withdrew the bat. He undressed her corpse and then used one of Eleanor’s kitchen knives to slice the body. He opened up her chest cavity and pinned it back like he had done dissecting frogs in biology class so many years ago. Leonard broke the ribcage and removed her heart, which he wrapped in a piece of her dress and set on the fireplace mantle. He removed Eleanor’s mom’s stomach and cut into it, releasing bile and undigested food all over the place. By now, the first floor was flooded and water was cascading down the staircase like a series of miniature waterfalls. Leonard looked at his watch: it was 5 PM. Eleanor would be home soon.

Leonard waited patiently in Eleanor’s living room as the water level rose ever higher. Pictures and mementos floated by, ruined forever, as Leonard sat cross-legged on her couch. Eventually, the lock in the front door jiggled and it opened. Eleanor immediately stepped into the foyer and screamed at the bloody mess before her. After a full minute of screaming, she recognized the defiled corpse as her mother and began to shriek. She fell to her knees in the sticky blood, sobbing, barely cognizant of the water soaking into her shoes and stockings. Looking around, Eleanor noticed Leonard sitting passively on the couch. With bleary, red eyes and a face streaked with tears and snot, Eleanor looked imploringly at Leonard. “You…you did this?” she asked, incredulous at her own voice issuing from her throat. Leonard nodded slowly.

“Why?!” shrieked Eleanor, now stroking the matted hair of the mutilated corpse before her.

Leonard blinked and sympathetically looked at Eleanor. “I just wanted some recognition,” he replied.

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