Archive for: November, 2014

David Forever By Matthew Denvir

Nov 30 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

—He says he’s very busy, Mr. Stilbur.

—Yes, well, of course, we all are.  Tell him this is an urgent matter.

—Okay.

— …

— …

—Mr. Stilbur?

—Yes Nancy.

—Mr. Greggs is here.

—Send him in please.

—Hello Mr. Stilbur, I…

—Yes, Greggs, yes yes, come in.

—I’m sorry, it’s just that we are so busy out there with this…

—Yes, yes, tragic stuff.  Really, really… yes, well, please have a seat.  This is nothing official, no Nancy in here to…

—Yes, Mr. Stilbur?

—What?

—I heard my name, sir.

—Oh this damned.  Not now, Nancy.  This damned… how do you turn this box off?

—I believe that button on the bottom right.

—I see…. There we go.  Now.  Where were we?  Yes.  As you can see, my secretary is not present here with us in this room, which means this meeting is a level 2a.  I am now, and this is all protocol, David, a formality type thing, you know, I’m now on record, via OfficeInsure™, that I have informed you, David Greggs, of this meeting’s, eh, the uh, type of meeting we are having, and therefore I will turn off OfficeInsure™’s audio recording devi… how… how does one even do that anyhow?

—I believe it’s that red button, sir.  Second row, yep, that one.

—There we are.  Christ.  This thing.  All protocol, you know.  Still not used to it.  Point is, David, we are no longer being recorded.  This is a level 2a meeting, okay?  Nothing too serious.

—Okay good, I am busy and…

—Yes, yes, of course.  This won’t be long. I just wanted to… well, hey, how is your wife doing, by the way?  Margaret?

—She’s doing fine.

—Hey, that’s great to hear!  Some good news, ay?

—Well, the treatments are still…

—Are they working?

—Well we hope so, her spirits I mean…

—Knew a guy, Robert Salder, didn’t feel any improvement until the last day or so of the treatments.  It’s a real miracle, these things.

—Yes, well we hope they are working.  She’s being a real trooper through it all and I can only, well, I’m just being supportive and she gives me strength and we all hope it just works, uh, works out for the best.

—Yes, David, of course.  I just got off the phone with Bagley and he…

—Jeff Bagley?

—Yes.  The big guy.  And I was telling him about your dedication through all of this, you know.

—You said that?  To the CEO?

—Yes and he was very impressed with your dedication, I told him you didn’t even miss a single day of work he was very impressed.  He said something along the lines of, “Well that is the spirit of this company.  Everyone at InfiniBook™ should aspire to his level of respect for our calling and for the depth of his humanity.”  You know, something like that.

—I’m, I mean…

—My boy, you don’t need to say anything.  It’s a high compliment, yes, to be spoken of so highly by the national CEO of InfiniBook™.  Very big deal, as they say.  I’ll mention it in our branch’s weekly memo text.

—I’m very flattered…. I…

—Maybe just a quick, I don’t know, “go DG” or something at the end.  It’s hard to keep those memos under 80 characters as it is.

—Mr. Stilbur?

—Yes David.

—Is this what you called me here to talk about?  The, uh “depth of my humanity?”

—Partly, yes, but.  Oh Dave.  You are quick.  You see, this is why we hired you, your ability to see, I suppose, past people in a way.  See past their outward shell and into their true selves.  A, um, an exemplary InfiniBook™ employee indeed.

—So what is it you wanted to talk to me about?

—Yes, of course, sorry, well.  I’m afraid that, oh.  This is my least favorite part.  It involves a small transgression, David, I’m afraid, a bit of impropriety on your part as Facilitator.  Oh I dislike this, especially with such a, as you know, dedicated and talented employee as yourself.

—What?  What did I do?

—“Depth of humanity” and all that.

—Mr. Stilbur.

—Yes, David, I’m getting to that.  Just girding myself, as they say.  Really my least favorite part of this job.  But these orders come from above.  Protocol, as you know, and I have to follow these things to the letter.

—I understand.  But isn’t this a level 2a meeting?

—All by the books, it’s very… what?

—A level 2a meeting.  Therefore, can’t we just cut to the chase?  You don’t have to…

—I’m afraid I do, David.  When you leave here, Nancy will have you fill out and sign a Form-1281B in which you detail the discussion we had here in my office.  Meanwhile, a 1281A pops right into my Computact™’s inbox waiting to filled out with my E.I.D. code, which form’s completion will upload the thing right to H.Q. automatically.  You following?

—Yes but I…

—And they have this thing down to a science, really.  Our psych profiles for cross reference, a discretion expert on hand, a full-time job actually, I met him and his wife once in D.C., very nice lady, cat trainer or some damned thing.  Point is, they’d catch us if we lied and, well, neither of us wants to be in that position.  This meeting is level 2a remember, not 3a.

—I see.  I’m sorry I didn’t mean to.

—It’s quite alright, David.  It’s quite alright.  Now.  Where were we.  Ah, yes.  The impropriety.  I have the files right here in my Computact™, so don’t be weirded out if I look like I’m just staring into space.  It’s just how I look when I read files.  The deceased in question is #846, a man who went by the name Jacob Fischer.  He died in 2043 at the age of 24.  Too young, too young…… Anyway, the complaintee is his sister, in our system as 846-008a.  Her complaint, filed on May 20th, 2046 involves an interaction with us on the day previous, the 19th.  The complaint number is 846-001c and the interaction number is 846-012b.  Low numbers, as you can see.  I mean, three years and this last communication was only his twelfth.  Not that well liked, I guess.

—And I take it I was the facilitator for that interaction.  Number, uh….

—846-012b, yes David, you facilitated that communication between 846 and 846-008a.

—Between Jacob and his sister.

—Precisely, Jacob and his sister.  There’s your humanity again.  Very good.  Very good.

—So the interaction was…

—Not yet, David, I’m sorry.  This is the protocol part.  We’ll get into specifics later.  Right at this moment, all you need to know is that you facilitated a communication on May 19th, 2046 that resulted in a complaint from an Indirect Subscriber.  Not a direct Costumer, mind you, which is why this meeting’s not being recorded.

—Okay.

—Now, protocol requires I engage in a short discussion about InfiniBook’s mission statement and your role in it, you know, etc. etc.  The classic type stuff, stick with me on this.

—Yes.

—So you may know a good deal of this information, David, but bear with me.

—Okay.

—Good.  Good.  All moving along swimmingly.  Very good.  Now David.  In your own words, can you please reiterate to me what InfiniBook™’s mission statement is?

—Okay.  Well.  It is to provide loved ones some kind of, I don’t know, nostalgia, some sense of, uh, a family member’s essence still being tangible, or able to be engaged.

—Okay.  Okay.  I think you fuddled a bit there, but I’m sure you get the gist.  Here is the mission statement as written in our Computact™ ad: “InfiniBook™ strives to maintain a tangible connection to the past without compromising the closure that is so important for the grieving process.”

—Okay.

—So you had the word “tangible” there.  Good job.  And it’s a very good ad, I think.  The marketing guys didn’t want that last part, especially the word “grieving,” but Jeff Bagley believed, rightly, that our customers would appreciate honesty during such a sensitive time.

—No one wants to feel sold to at their lowest point.

—Exactly.  That’s why Bagley is such a genius.  Anyway, our mission statement is about giving our customers, and of course our Indirect Subscribers as well, a connection with loved ones by allowing them continual contact with avatars of the deceased.  Now, David, what sets us, would you say, apart from our competitors?

—Well, I would imagine it’s the InfiniSelf System™, designed by Mr….

—No no, well yes, but no.  Don’t get me wrong, the InfiniSelf System™ is terrific, but it’s great in that Bagley understood its limitations and was able, therefore, to focus more on what the program could do than…well… I’m close to giving it away.  I’ll rephrase my question.  Why do you think our customers, 72 % of the market-share remember, are willing to pay more for InfiniBook™’s services than, say, those of Cloud Status™?

—Uhh.  Are you talking about the human element?

—Precisely.  Like I said before, the InfiniSelf System™ is a marvel of mathematics and programming, but Bagley’s genius was in his understanding of its limitations.  Our competitors may have understood this too, but alleviating said flaws costs money.  Our solution?  Allow InfiniSelf™ to work with the data and compile a believable online avatar for the deceased, but hire actual people, rather than some unfeeling A.I. with no gift for langauge, to facilitate communication with next of kin.

—I understand.

—You see?  Real people behind the keyboard; the InfiniSelf System™ behind the wheel.  That’s the brilliance of this whole thing.  And there’s something inspiring about it, too.  Computers can never replace people.  They can perform incredible functions with miraculous speed and precision, but Jeff Bagley understood that in this business, the human element is just as important, if not more so, than the smartest chips in the room.  Do you see where I am headed with all this?

—You’re saying this company runs most smoothly when all parties know their respective roles.

—Well bravo, David.  Really.  I couldn’t have said it better.  That’s perfect.  You see, this is why we hired you, “when all parties know their roles.”

—Computers do the valuable data work, facilitators make sure it comes across as real.

—Excellent.  When InfiniBook™ receives a request for avatar creation, we compile the total available online life-data of the deceased.  Social media, publications, blogs, texts, etc.  We’re even now working on a way to utilize Computact™ video recording, for those who can afford Computact™s of course, but don’t tell anybody, Top Secret, kinda thing.  Anyway, we take all this info, we put it into the InfiniSelf System™, which then creates an online identity for the deceased.

—And facilitators communicate, via social media, with Customers and Indirect Subscribers as the deceased loved one.

—Yes, but you’ve skipped an important step.  As you know, every communication must be run through the InfiniSelf System™.  You get a query, say some weepy girlfriend who just watched some romantic type BlipTube™ video, she writes to a deceased ex lover.  Before responding, we always, always, run the query through the InfiniSelf System™ before responding.  That way, we can be sure we are responding in a mode apropos to the deceased.  I know you know this, it’s all just protocol that I remind you.

—I understand.

—After all, we don’t want to sound like other people.  I.e. you don’t want to sound like David Greggs; you want to sound like Jacob Fischer, or whatever poor bastard.

—Yes.

—The InfiniSelf System™ ensures we accurately ape the language, tone, and content of the deceased on their social media profiles.

—I understand.

—Thus is it wholly important, crucial one could say, to never stray from the script provided by the InfiniSelf System™’s diagnostics.

—Yes, I understand completely.

—Good.  Good.  All moving along here.  All swimmingly.  You’re doing swell, David.  Now that brings us to complaint 846-001c.  I have the report here in my Computact™.  Again, excuse the blank staring.  On May 19th of this year, IS-846-008a opened a communication with D-846 in which she wrote, and I quote with grammatical errors found in the communication, “Jake, I miss listening to you play guitar on our porch during those sweltering summer nights.”  Now this was…

—Where were the grammatical errors?

—Huh?  What?

—Where were there errors?  That sounded like a perfectly correct sentence.

—Well, yes, I guess it is.  They just have us say that every time, you know.  Most of ‘em, well you know how it is; you’re in the trenches as they say.  Anyway, that was the query from IS-846-008a.  Our records show you did run this through the system, and you were recommended, by the system, to facilitate a communication that included a cultural reference.  Does this case ring a bell, David?

—Yes, I remember it.  The girl had contacted him a few times before and…

—Yes, well, let’s not get into that.  Anyway, the InfiniSelf System™ recommended a cultural reference with a personal touch, and if you went back to 846’s profile, you would see the number of acceptable cultural reference points from which to choose.  Rock bands, mostly as I’m looking at it now, but some BlipTube™ channels in there as well.

—Yes I looked through all of those but nothing seemed…

—And our records show you even received specific suggestions from the system, like which lyrics to cite and whatnot, but these were all apparently ignored.

—Yes, they, well, yes, they all just seemed inadequate is all.

—Well the InfiniSelf System™ isn’t perfect.  But it safeguards us, in a way.

—So anyway I looked into Margaret’s…

—So you ignored 846’s profile and the InfiniSelf System™ and the system’s recommendations and went off the beaten path, as they say.  Is that accurate?

—Well, yes, I…

—For the record, since we have now established that you went off script, so to speak, and did not follow protocol, can you tell me what you did write in response to interaction 846-012b?

—I, um, what?

—When Jacob’s sister contacted him on his profile, what did you write in response, David?  These words in response being, of course, not protocol.

—I uh, well, I, I wrote some lines from a poem.

—A poem.

—Yes a, um, a Walt Whitman poem.

—I have the records here.  Again, excuse the blank staring.  This is what you wrote: “Still with you, Sis!  Remember Walt W.’s jam, ‘After the dazzle of day is gone / Only the dark night shows to my eyes the stars; / After the clangor of organ majestic or chorus or perfect band / Silent athwart my soul moves the symphony true.’”  Now, David, why would you go and write something like that?

—Well Walt Whitman wrote it, I just…

—David, please.

—Sorry, I, um, well I couldn’t find anything in the recommendations from the system that I thought worked, and nothing from his profile seemed to…

—But that doesn’t mean you should just pull shit out of your ass, David.

—No, no, no not at all.  I looked into her profile, you see.  The sister’s.  She was an English major in college, specialized in American Poetry, you see.  She definitely would have…

—David.  David, David.  You can’t do that, she…

—I would have thought she’d have gotten the reference, I mean, it’s about…

—David that’s not the point!  It was you whom she felt she was talking to is the point.  It was David Greggs, pretentious poet; not Jacob Fischer, wannabe rock star and her beloved but sadly departed brother!  She wanted a communication with the latter, not you.

—I wasn’t trying to subvert… I mean, I think I wrote it like he would have.

—Oh goodness, David.  That whole “Walt W.’s jam” business?  It came off… I mean, Jesus I’m sorry about this because, you know, “depth of humanity” and your wife and your kid in that accident two years ago and all that, but I mean, Christ, David, it came off as totally pathetic and weird.

—…

—The strings behind it… so obvious.  It’s sickening, really.  It’s gross.  You could see why, oh the fuck’s her name, 846-00…whatever is so upset over this.  And Liz is in trouble for this too.  Apparently off God-knows-where with that new young intern kid when she should have been in your sector approving these communications!

—I see.  It wasn’t her…

—I mean do you see how this makes me look?  It’s like I have no control over this whole branch.  Such a breakdown like that.

—I’m sorry, sir.  I really am.  Is there anything I can…

—No no, Christ.  I’m getting too worked up over this as it is.  It’s still pretty minor, just don’t pull this kind of shit again, okay?  A simple switcheroo is all.  Reggie is going to handle the Fischer case from here on out, and you’ll take over one of his, a #254, some wacko who offed himself by pretending to skydive.  Who does that?  Backpack had no parachute at all, just bricks and a note.

—That’s fine, Mr. Stilbur, a totally reasonable fix.

—Well it’s not my decision, it’s protocol.  Everything’s protocol, Greggs.  Sometimes I don’t know why a computer doesn’t just do my job.

—Not at all.  You’re very needed, sir.  The human touch and all.

—Well thank you, David.  I’m all worked up, here you are trying to end things on a positive note.  Like I said, why we hired you.  Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, I’m sure Nancy is just itching to get that 1281B into your hands.

—Okay, sir, I’ll get out of your…

—Just heed this last bit of advice:  You’re a facilitator, got it?  You’re not a writer.  Your job is not to make the customer feel better; it is to accurately create the illusion that their loved one, or some part, some ripple of their loved one, still lives.  Do you understand?

—Sir, I understand completely.  And let me just say before I leave that this company’s compromise on that health plan thing is really helping us out, I mean my wife…

—Yes, well, it’s fine, all by the books but that reminds me.

—Sir?

—Your wife.  I know this is delicate, but with your wife ill I figured.  Well.  I noticed that she does not have Pre-Mortem Contract of Intent with InfiniBook™.

—Um..

—Are you aware it’s free for employees?  I mean, you could be her Direct Subscriber at no cost and….. oh dear, I am being improper I’m afraid, not the right time, just look at your face.

—No it’s just that…

—I merely hoped that someone in this office has kept you informed of our policy, you deserve that much.

—It’s just, um, well.  We talked and…. It’s her choice, sir.  You know how it is.

—Yes, yes.  Of course of course.  I understand.

—Thank you sir.

—Sir?

—Oh blasted.  Yes Nancy?

—Your daughter is on line one?

—Well fine, just a minute.  Afraid I have to take this one, Greggs my boy.  Send love to the family and keep up the good work, “depth of humanity” and all that.

—Yes sir.  And her name’s Margaret, by the way.

—Well of course it is, I know Margaret.  I’ve met your wife many times, lovely woman.

—Yes, but I meant the sister.  Her name is also Margaret. Maggie Fischer.

—The si…. oh, yes well, very good.

—Mr. Stilbur?  Your daughter.

—Yes Nancy, Christ.  Au revoir, David, don’t forget the form.  Hello?  Penny?  What do you mean the cat……. The neighbors?  Stop yelling….. I just want…..  no stop yelling I can’t….. I can’t…… I can’t……

 

 

 

Matthew Denvir hails from Kingston, New York.  His fiction has been published in journals such as The Conium Review, Paper Nautilus, and Thunderclap!  He received a NY Press Association “Better Newspaper” award for his Le Moyne College column “Cheers and Jeers,” a satirical treatise on college life.  He graduated with an M.A. from Bard College in 2011.

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Protagonist, Conclusion by Nicholas M. Bugden

Nov 16 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Something doesn’t feel right for Sid.
It wasn’t the morning. Nothing went wrong then. Sid slept perfectly well. His wife even woke up around the same time and the two made passionate love, more passionately than ever before. It was as if their bodies were listening to each other and responding accordingly. So that was awesome… was it work? Sid did arrive late but since he was usually on time his boss completely understood. She even complimented his work from the previous day and talked about giving him a raise.
It must have been his co-workers then. He hated a few of them and he was sure there were a few that hated him back. One of them must have said something, done something to piss him off. But no. Each one was nice, hospitable, and even pleasant. And on the way home – sugar on top – people actually let him into their lane without flipping him the finger.
But something doesn’t feel right.
Was it his night class? It had to be. One of the professor’s readings must have concluded in a caustic debate that Sid was included in. Today the professor was reading a couple of short stories. After the first story was read, this student – a real moron – raised his hand. This guy always managed to piss people off. That was the thing that he did. He had to be the catalyst.
“Well I feel the story is kind of bad.”
Sid licked his lips. This was it. Give it to him professor.
“Sorry to hear that… is there any particular reason?”
“Well to me it doesn’t work,” the student challenged.
The professor looked back at the student. “I think it does. I think the use of language, punctuation and metaphor choices are nothing short of brilliant.”
“I… I guess… I think I just needed more description to get a better picture of what was going on and I think the author did a poor job with the ending… I am sorry for disagreeing professor.”
Now the professor finally looked a little angry. “Please do not apologize. Great ideas come from open discussion and intellectual back-and-forth. Thank you for sharing your opinion; maybe you will like one of his other stories better.”
And that was the end of the discussion: a respectful exchange of words. No complaints. Compliments? So then what went wrong? Was it one of the other stories the professor read that gave Sid this feeling? Nope. No one fought. There was only a free exchange of opinions. Nothing went wrong. Sid’s day was coming to a close, or concluding if you want to make the point crystal clear.
But something still doesn’t feel right for Sid. It was as if he awoke in a parallel world. On the way home he racked and wracked his brain. What is wrong then? What is wrong, wrong, wrong… that’s it! Suddenly Sid realized the problem. It’s this story he was in, nothing went wrong. You cannot have a story without conflict. When Sid realized this he knew what he had to do. He parked his car in the middle of the street, got out and shoved a stranger. Conflict must occur. The stranger did nothing. Sid shoved him again and called him a “fucker”. People don’t like being called “fuckers”.
The stranger looked at Sid concerned. “Are you alright sir?” Sid looked at the kind eyes of the stranger; he could not push him anymore.
“Yeah I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
“Are you sure? I will listen if you need someone to talk to?”
“No thanks.”
The stranger gave Sid a kind hug and continued down the street. What a bastard, Sid thought, I will have conflict. He went home to his wife. They have had vehement arguments in the past. It was simple: insult, argue, make-up, end of story. And he might even get the bonus of make-up sex.
“You’re a stupid slut,” Sid said to his wife as he walked through the door.
“Is this a sex game?” his wife asked unabashed, “I’m a naughty whore; you want to handcuff and punish me?”
That could be fun, Sid thought… no conflict. We need conflict.
“You’re supposed to fight with me.”
“Oh… you’re the naughty boy… do you want me to punish you.”
…no. …conflict.
“I’m insulting you.”
His wife looked at him with a blank stare. “Why?”
Sid did not have an answer. “I don’t know.”
“Oh… do you want to talk it through.”
“No,” Sid sulked.
“Do you want to have sex?”
Sid was getting angry. “What is wrong with you?” He gave his wife a disapproving shake of the head and stormed out of the house.
Conflict, conflict, conflict. That was it! These previous attempts were small, petty, he needed to go big. Very big. Gunfire down the street was big, fire a few in the air, wake up the neighbours, the cops come, spend the night in jail… maybe even get assaulted by a larger inmate. Now that is conflict.
Sid remembered there was gun shop up the street that was open late, with wallet in hand, he jogged to the spot where the shop was, but it wasn’t. There was a flower shop where Sid was sure the gun shop once stood.
“Fucking hippies!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
We must have conflict! There has to be another gun shop in the area.
“Where do I buy a gun?” Sid asked a random woman walking by the street.
“A what?” the woman asked, with a look that suggested deep confusion.
“You’re kidding me right?”
“Why would I do that sir?” responded the woman as she blinked her innocence to Sid.
Sid was lost for words. Everyone has gone crazy. How can you live without conflict? Something has to be wrong. Has to be! He pushed passed the kind woman who only apologized for being in his way. There was not a gun shop anywhere. There had to be one. But his searching was futile. He would not find a gun anywhere in this city, or bullets, or even blanks. However a lack of fire power has never stopped humanity from hurting each other in the past: Sid would make a weapon. Make something sharp, break into a random house, rob, cops, jail, end.
Sid looked for somewhere that sells knives, bats, brass knuckles, cleats, something that would bludgeon. But no stores were open. Everyone was home, spending precious time with their families. What has this world come to?
Sid shambled home, defeated. This story was never going to end. He was doomed to make wild, judgement-free, mutual-pleasing love with his happy confident wife, listen to respectful debates and put up with the kindness of strangers. Fuck.
“There you are honey, I missed you,” his wife said as she wrapped her arms around him.
“Of course you did… you probably want to have sex now?”
“If you don’t mind… I can go without you if you’d like.”
“No…,” Sid said dejected. He might as well get this over with. Sid looked at his wife, whose pants did not make it up the stairs with her. Then he followed behind her, his head slumped: he failed at obtaining conflict. But then it hit him. This was the conflict! His inability to obtain conflict. Hero wants conflict, fights for conflict, fails. Classic tale. Something feels wrong so now everything feels right. And unfortunately, this story concludes with an unhappy ending. Then the two made long passionate love, each having multiple orgasms.
THE END
###

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Forked Tongues by Jill Corddry

Nov 09 2014 Published by under The WiFiles

Something compelled her, that’s what she would tell the world later, when she was interviewed mere days before it all went to hell. But that was months later. And this is today. An ordinary, though stormy day.

AnnaMaria stepped out from under the protection of the stone archway, not really noticing the warm drops of rain that freckled her blouse. Thunder crackled faintly, far enough away it sounded more like someone crinkling wrapping paper. Within seconds her dark hair was streaming wet and sticking to her face and neck, but she couldn’t bring herself to seek shelter.

I’m so glad I came out. This is so beautiful, she thought, admiring the dark cotton puffs of the storm. A CRAAAAA-AAAACK made her flinch. And getting closer.

Brilliant white sparked directly above her.

Words, whispered in a thunder tender growl, touched her ears. She crumpled to the ground, graceful as a dry fall leaf, a smile frozen on her face, one that would have been beatific but was instead made grotesque by the blood dripping over her lips to the sidewalk.

*****

Colors danced, stunning her with pink arabesques and yellow grand jetés. AnnaMaria reached out, wanting nothing more than to join the rainbow jubilee. She extended an arm, intending to grab hold of the next pulse before it could disappear. Instead of connecting with the brilliant blue, her fingers slammed into something unyielding and cold. Her mind jolted awake, and she became aware of a steady beeping. Then an alarm. Muffled, hurried footsteps that grew louder. A door swinging open. The footsteps stopping beside her.

She sensed someone hovering nearby, checking … something. A monitor, her brain told her, as it put all the sounds together. You’re in a hospital.

AnnaMaria blinked, trying to bring the someone – probably a doctor or nurse – into focus.

Yet the joyful colors remained.

She raised a hand, touching her face, expecting soft skin, but encountering gauze. She blinked more furiously, frantically, until tears ran down her cheeks. The beeps became more rapid, as did her breath, until she couldn’t catch up with it.

“Slow breaths,” the someone ordered. He her mind filled in, automatically creating a face to go with the kind voice. “That’s it, easy does it. Now, Ms. Sanchez, do you know where you are?”

AnnaMaria tried to speak, but her voice caught and rasped, until she finally choked out, “The hospital?”

A smile touched his voice. She heard a faint scrabbling sound. Pen on paper? “That’s correct. I’m Dr. Holloway. Now, I know this is cliché, but what’s the last thing you remember?”

She paused, the dancing colors slowing as she pieced together the last moments on her feet. “The storm? There was thunder and …”

“You are very lucky,” Dr. Holloway said, after scratching a few more notes. “Not many people survive a lightning strike.”

“Lightning? I didn’t see any …” AnnaMaria squeezed her eyes, only inciting the colors into a merry jig. “I can’t see,” she whispered. She raised a hand, touching her face, hoping for a thick swath of cloth, but her fingers found only skin. “I can’t see. I can’t see. I can’t see!” Her voice grew shrill as a hungry baby bird.

A warm hand gripped her shoulder, interrupting her frantic cries. “It may be temporary,” Dr. Holloway said. “We need to do more tests …”

But the truth clogged her ears to the rest of his reassurances. For somehow she knew it wasn’t temporary, and that no test would show anything. No reason for her sightlessness. No hope for curing it.

The chill of reality stripped her of all warmth and she shivered, pulling the thin hospital blanket to her breast. As far as she was concerned, it was a death sentence. How could she make a living reporting on the latest fuck-ups and fashion faux-pas of the wealthy and the famous if she couldn’t see them? And it wasn’t like she’d made any friends along the way; her stilettos had left a punctured trail of betrayal and lies as she’d clawed her way to the top. Now the vultures would all get their turns at her flesh and bones.

She rolled away from the doctor, not caring whether he stayed or left, the sting of tears along her cheeks the only company she wanted. When she finally drifted into an uneasy sleep, it was to the murmur of thunder rolling in the distance.

*****

Weeks of counseling, both for her in-the-crapper mental health and to teach her how to cope with her new “situation,” did nothing to improve either. She couldn’t stop stewing and chewing over the shithole of her life. Not only was she … she couldn’t even think the word … Her boss had called the day after her accident to offer his well wishes, and for her to take all the time she needed to heal and adjust. And then, just before he hung up, he off-handedly mentioned that Marla Fucking Newton would be taking over her column for the foreseeable future.

AnnaMaria cringed. See. With only the company of the now-dead phone line, she realized she’d all-but been fired. Fired! Her. Something that fucker had been wanting to do since he squeezed his Twinkie-loving lardass into the manager’s chair last year. She could see – flinch – the corners of his greying pornstache fold into the pockmarked skin of his cheeks as he delivered the news, hanging up before she could react. And to double D Marla no less. The ass-kisser had been after her job for months. All those simpering compliments hadn’t fooled her. She’d accepted the busty bottle-blonde into her circle though; better to keep the competition as close as her black silk panties.

It had been all over the news, of course, with her show at the forefront. Marla had taken the lead to “break the big news to all you stunned viewers out there.” Stunned by her too-tight blouse, maybe. Though she couldn’t actually see it, AnnaMaria had experienced enough of the bitch’s wardrobe to know exactly what she’d worn to tell the world the good news.

Tears stung her eyes again. Dark pools of poison men around the country had claimed to drown in, to plunge into, to see eternity … the analogies were as endless and clichéd as the men giving them.

Once the gauze came off, Dr. Holloway promised her eyes were perfectly normal, at least on the outside. As for the insides … he ran test after test until she was numb from the crushing waves of hope he kept offering and told him to stick it.

Yet she was still blind. The word coated her tongue with lemon-rind bitterness. But at least she could say it now.

Out of habit, she reached for the lamp beside her bed to turn the light off. She caught herself this time. Last night she’d knocked a fucking pile of magazines to the floor; they were still there. Not that it made a difference, but she closed her eyes and took several long, slow breaths. Thunder rumbled, sending her heart into a wild tango.

She gripped the blankets until her knuckles hurt, hating the fear. Even as a child, she’d never feared the huge storms of her Floridan home, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder well into adulthood. Will I ever not be afraid?

Though she couldn’t see the flashes, her ears told her the storm was drawing closer as the sound of thunder became the roar of a dragon.

CRAAAAA-AAAACK

But the thunder wasn’t traveling alone. A soft sigh broke through the chaos, caressing her ears with velvet, wrapping her in the warmth of something she could only identify as love. It ran tendrils of honey-sweet words along her skin until she moaned in climax.

Blinking through the haze of intoxicating pleasure and belonging and unity, she bolted upright in bed. “Whoa! What the fuck?!” she whispered, clinging to the wispy fragments of the unexpected erotic dream.

She wasn’t expecting an answer. Let alone a full-on conversation.

*****

“Something’s different,” Dr. Holloway muttered, tipping her chin from side to side as he performed the usually routine part of their weekly appointments. “How odd …”

AnnaMaria shrugged. “If you say so. Not like I can tell.” A total line of bullshit, but he didn’t need to know that.

The light he shone in her eyes flared through the veil of blindness. Yet it wasn’t the first hint of sight she’d experienced since the accident. It started after the – visit? Encounter? Molestation? – three nights ago from, well, from something, someone, she’d never thought possible.

His sigh was not subtle. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me.”

She shrugged again. “Not like you’d believe me anyway.” Especially since she didn’t believe it herself. To come to her, an ice queen, a happy-to-backstab bitch who took advantage of other people’s most embarrassing moments. Went looking for them. Created a few incidents, even. Just to get the “scoop.” So for – it? – to come to her was ludicrous. To claim that she, AnnaMaria Corvalis, was special? Chosen? Maybe she should check herself into the Psych ward while she was here.

Her mind sprung into a life of its own, creating sparks of thought faster than sand in an hourglass. She squeezed her eyes shut and dug fingernails into her scalp, desperate to gain control. Dr. Holloway was at her side as she slumped over, his cologne warm and comforting. Focusing on that, breathing it in as if it was more precious than oxygen, AnnaMaria opened her eyes and screamed.

He glowed. Ribbons of blue, green, and silver bathed the doctor in soft light. “Please let me help you.”

Trust him …

The thought was effortless, a drop of water sliding from a leaf. So she did. Without hesitation. She took his arm and let him guide her out of the small room to a table in the cafeteria. She let him bring her a cup of weak coffee. And when he hesitated taking the seat next to her, she smiled, but not the false smile she’d used to get a story or trick some fluff-brained celeb into sharing too much. No, this smile was genuine, demure, and for the first time in more than ten years AnnaMaria felt comfortable in her own skin.

With coffee-warmed fingers, she took one of his hands in hers. “Everything is different,” she said, seeing, sensing, his surprise; understanding it was at her sudden change in attitude, at her frankness. “A few nights ago, something … no, someone. Someone came to me. At night. It was personal. Close. Erotic …” She paused and raised an eyebrow. The colors dancing around him pulsed faster now, and were ever so slightly tinged with reds and oranges. Partly from concern, but mostly, and she couldn’t help the suggestive lick along her teeth. The reds flared briefly. Definitely aroused.

Ego-boosted, she straightened in her chair. Much as she was now curious to pursue this, him, thanks in no small part to the memory of that visit, there would be time for that later.

She sensed his curiosity, saw the blues darken as he waited for her to go on. “God came to me,” she said.

“God?”

“Yes. And don’t look at me that way. Trust me, I’m no religious fanatic. The only time I ever believed was during a damn good orgasm. But yes, it was God.”

Dr. Holloway toyed with his coffee. She could hear the paper cup shifting on the cheap plastic table, saw the colors – his aura? – shifting with his movements.

“But how?”

“How do I know?” she interrupted. “I just do. And no, I wasn’t drunk, or on anything else. I wasn’t hallucinating. I wasn’t dreaming.”

“Ms. Corvalis …”

“AnnaMaria. Or Anna. Please.”

“Fine. Anna, it’s just … damn if I don’t believe you. Your eyes. They’re different.” He paused, and took her hand. “They’re iridescent now. Not much, but they almost shimmer …”

Her hand reached for her eyes. “And they weren’t like that before?”

The strong blues and greens around his head shimmied subtly. “No, and I had plenty of time to study them. Your eyes, I mean.” His coffee cup shifted around again. But AnnaMaria didn’t say anything, giving him time. She almost chuckled out loud. How unlike her, giving someone time to think. The old her would’ve stuck a microphone in his face and all-but beaten him with it until he gave her something worth taking to air.

“Did he say anything?”

This time she did laugh, not cruelly, but she couldn’t help it. “She had plenty say, but only one thing that’s for everyone.”

“She?”

“Don’t even get me started. The woman bitch-sessioned for two fucking hours about how Her mate had ended up with all the credit. Not that She really minds, since they got it all wrong anyway. Men …” AnnaMaria couldn’t keep the smile from her face as the swirls around him shifted colors, the blues and greens deepening, threads of curious yellow changed into deep violets of understanding. And acceptance. Before he could ask, she said, “The message, one She wants everyone to know is that, well, They’re coming back.”

“They?”

“Yes, They. God. Well, all gods. They left awhile ago. For reasons the human mind is not capable of understanding. Trust me, I tried.”

His colors changed suddenly, sharply, with worry. “All of them?”

AnnaMaria grabbed both of his hands. “Yes, but … She says it will be glorious.”

*****

The message spread, slowly at first, for most chose not to believe. At first. Until They arrived. Then everyone believed. It was hard not to when every god ever prayed to returned. They didn’t appear all at once; it started as more of a slow trickle. One here, three there. The slow trickle quickly became a deluge, with major and minor deities popping up every few hours.

It was as if no time had passed, at least not to Them. Except They were no longer content to keep to their old territories. Apollo and Artemis were seen hunting in Canada. Anubis and Thor were spotted sunbathing on the beaches of Los Angeles. Loki, Puck, and Sun Wukong traipsed about the world creating blizzards in the jungles and hurricanes in the deserts. Zeus seduced his way around the world and back again.

Something had compelled her to go outside, she claimed, in an interview mere days before the world went to hell. More precisely, before it returned to the gods. Some mortals cowered in their basements, in denial of the war waging on their front lawns. Some joined in, swilling wine at bacchanals; orgies reigned supreme in newly erected shrines; the war gods took great delight in “games” involving nuclear warheads.

The humans, though kindly tolerated by some of Them, were really not needed in this brave new world. After years of being largely ignored and unloved until the humans needed something, the gods had decided to take back the earth. Bombs exploded overhead, accompanied by storms the like of which hadn’t ever been seen by human eyes. Towering mountain ranges erupted in the middle of New York City, Rio de Janeiro, and Paris, while a large lakes occupied the Sahara and Gobi deserts. The gods reorganized the world’s geological features on whims as fleeting as whispers, often in competition or argument.

AnnaMaria’s last thought, as the thunder gods tossed lightening bolts over them, was that she wished she’d asked thought to ask who it would be glorious for.

The End

Bio:
Jill Corddry started telling stories at an early age, and her parents get credit as the first to recognize her writing ability (and encouraged her accordingly). She even managed to use her BA in English for many years as a content writer for a few dot coms in Seattle. These days Jill finds a few spare minutes to write in between taking care of twin toddlers and soaking up the California sunshine. She has stories published in Lakeside Circus, Bewildering Stories, in the Demonic Possession anthology by James Ward Kirk Fiction, and an upcoming anthology by World Weaver Press. She is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the California Writers Club.

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