Archive for: April, 2016

Corporeal Cohabitation by Cassandra Mehlenbacher

Apr 24 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

 

“I’ll miss your signature, sweetheart.” In the legal department of the Symbiogenetic Marriage Center, Zeke scratched his name next to Langley’s on their marital and corporeal cohabitation papers. He was wearing slacks, a button up with a little white flower pinned to his breast, and her second-favorite cologne, which smelled of ginger, leather, and coffee.

“It’s the last time I’ll write my name and I wish my hand hadn’t shaken so much.” Absently, Langley reread the binding document: 

I, Langley Dodson, and I, Zeke Dumont, vow to be of One United Body from this day forward as Lake Dumont, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, to honor and to treasure; from this day forward for all the days of our life.

“Separate parts joined together make a better whole. That’s all that matters,” Zeke whispered to her through a kiss on her temple. “Tomorrow can’t come fast enough.” He kissed her on the lips. “Love you.”

“Love you, too.” Langley turned around and Zeke’s Fathermother clapped the groom and bride on their backs. Langley’s parents hugged her. The uneasy tension in the arms of her mother and father made her throat constrict again.

“We’re going to miss you so much,” a red-eyed Mr. Dodson whispered to his daughter.

“She’s not going anywhere,” Mr.-Mrs. Dumont remarked with a wry smile.

Mrs. Dodson pursed her lips and looked at her feet. “Right. Of course.”

Langley knew her mother had more to say. Out of respect she’d stopped there.

*

“You know how much this’ll help us financially, Langley? That tax break. Doubled pay.” In a snug honeymoon suite at the Symbiogenetic Marriage Center, Zeke hugged his wife and massaged her neck. “I mean, of course, Being One with you’ll be terrific. I’ve thought about Being One with someone since I was a boy.” His hand glided down her side. “Since I understood that my parents were One. Just think…” He held his hand against her hip, still covered by her wedding dress. “In about a year, our child, made under perfect conditions by some very clever people, will sleep at our house for the first time…” Zeke’s smile widened.

His words… the last thing she wanted was for his words to penetrate her ears. And the idea of a child growing anywhere but within her renewed the heaviness in Langley’s chest and shook up the anxious matter in her mind. Zeke tried to pull her closer to him, but she moved away and stepped over to the door. She stood with her lips kissing the back of her small hand. If she reached out, she could open the door. She could run.

“This is what you want,” Langley whispered.

“What?” Zeke attempted to hug her from behind, but Langley squirmed away. “Langley, this is what you want, too… right?”

She lunged at the door handle and turned it. The door seemed stuck. Why was it stuck? This facility was too new for the doors to be stuck. She pulled at the door again and then realized that Zeke was holding it closed.

“Are you nervous for tomorrow?” He disengaged her hands from the door handle. One of his hands held both of hers while he brushed a loose strand of rusty blond hair behind her ear. “I’ve dreamed of this for so long. I love you.”

“I love you as you, and me as me, Zeke.”

“There will be more to love once we’re One.”

“Zeke…”

“Think of the good we’re doing, sweetie. Over-population—”

“I don’t care about over-population.” A tear ran down her face. Then more came.

“But don’t you know how much I love you?”

“If loving me was enough, you wouldn’t make me Be One.” Langley pulled her hands from his grasp. Her engagement band slid on her finger to her knuckle. She repositioned it, her eyes drifting to the wedding ring on Zeke’s finger. Both their names were engraved on the interior of that ring. It held both their birthstones.

“Is this because we decided to be a Husbandwife and not a Wifehusband?”

“I want to be a husband and a wife. I don’t want to a voice inside your head. I don’t want to Be One.” Those words felt better leaving her body than a fresh breath of air felt coming in after holding it during a long swim. She bit the inside of her cheek.

A crease formed between Zeke’s dark eyes. “You signed the papers. You’ve been okay with this until now. Not a peep. Are you really doing this to me?”

Her lips trembled. “I feel terrible.” Her breath came in gasps.

Sighing through his nose and leading her to the bed, Zeke sat her down. She cried silently as he removed the glistening pins holding her waves and curls in place. He held the golden, heart-shaped barrette he’d given her for their first anniversary. His palm dwarfed it. “I love that you wore this.”

Unable to help it, she smiled through her tears. The little pin was too juvenile for a twenty-year-old, but the least she could do for Zeke was to wear it on their wedding day. She’d never wear it again, after all, unless she changed Zeke’s mind.

“I want to keep being me.”

“You’re scared.”

“When I look in the mirror, I want to see myself.”

“You will. Because we’ll Be One. One self.” Zeke placed her hair decorations on the side table before he drew his fingers through her hair, separating the moused and hairsprayed strands.

Langley groaned. Her muscles went rigid. “I feel terrible. This is what you’ve wanted, but I—”

“Can we sleep on it, honey?” Zeke drew her close into a hug that she endured like a cat resisting a child’s attention. “That’s all I ask. Time to think. Time to rest. Today was a bit stressful.”

She sucked on her upper lip. For his sake, she could feign consideration. She brought her arms up and lightly hugged him back. “I am tired.” Lots of spouses backed out at the last moment, whether Zeke wanted to admit that or not. Time would not make her embrace the transformation ahead of her.

Zeke grinned and kissed her face. Then he kissed her again and again until he found her lips. “Now, Mrs. Dumont, I’ll start us a shower. Can I give you one great rubdown? I need to run my hands over you. One last time.” He kissed her temple.

Her stomach hitched. There was his oblivious enthusiasm again, and his eager kisses scalded her skin. Pursing her lips, she nodded. “Sure, dear.”

Zeke’s eyes went wistful for a moment as he stood up. Heading to the bathroom, he mumbled. “Mrs. Langley Dumont…”

Langley sat on her hands for a moment, rocking herself. She then looked over. The suite had a balcony. Opening the sliding glass door, she stepped outside and took a breath. A little table and two weather-stained plastic chairs sat facing the view.

“How many have sat here?” she mused under her breath. “What were their dreams?” She leaned over the railing. Their suite was on the twenty-eighth floor, if she remembered right. The sun was setting and the wind was blocked by the building. Trees in the distance shuddered as the wind ruffled their leaves. She scratched an itch on her forehead and raised herself up on her tiptoes.

Zeke said something from the bathroom, and she looked over her shoulder and cocked her head to the side, but his low voice was muffled by the walls and the water falling in the shower. Turning back, she gazed over the railing and a little chill went through her.

Could she? Dare she? Was jumping to her death better than corporeal cohabitation with Zeke? He didn’t seem to acknowledge her unwillingness at all. He wanted to hear her protestations as much as she wanted to hear his wishes.

Footsteps behind her. “That’s a beautiful view.” Her husband put an arm across the back of her neck and his hand on her shoulder. He’d removed his shirt. “You look beautiful, but it’s about time you got out of that dress. Take that makeup off. Get those muscles warmed up.”

Langley closed her eyes. “I really think you’re making light of my—”

“You’ll be happier once you know what it’s like. It’s not scary at all. You’ve seen how happy my Fathermother is. They’ve told me over and over how it was the best thing they ever did.”

“Zeke. The scores on our compatibility test were borderline.” She swallowed the lump in her throat.

With a hand on the small of her back, he guided her back into their suite towards the bathroom. “I love you, Langley. That’s all that matters.”

She closed her eyes and felt bile rise up in her throat. “I think I want to shower by myself.” She broke away from him.

Hurt filled his voice. “Sweetie, I just want—”

She slammed the door and locked it. The condensed air was throttling and the mirror over the sink was covered by silvery gray fog. Fumbling, she slithered out of her wedding dress and left it puddled around her feet. Her body shook despite the steam. She gagged.

“Langley.” Zeke knocked. “Langley. I know you’re afraid. Talk to me.”

Langley crouched down on the floor, her fingertips pressing against the tile that had a fine film of mist on it. “I’m telling you that I don’t want to Be One. I’ll do anything else with you. Why aren’t our vows and rings enough?”

“This isn’t a surprise. You’ve known about my wishes to Be One from the start. Why didn’t you say something?”

“I thought I’d warm up to it…” Honestly, she had. She rubbed her teary eyes. “I should have said something, but you don’t always listen. I want to love you as me. I want to touch you. I want to be with you. I want you to go do things on your own, and then come back and tell me your stories. If you truly love us, you’ll let me be.”

The silence on the other side of the door was relieving. At first. He was listening to her, finally listening. Right? The sound of Zeke listening to her was very strange. Langley stood and turned off the shower, her muscles tense and her ears searching for Zeke’s voice. C’mon. Guilt and anger stabbed at her heart.

“Langley…” The grief in his voice set her nerves on fire. “Okay.”

She froze. “O-okay… what? What’s okay…?”

“I’m pushing you too far,” he said. “I see that now. We don’t have to be a Husbandwife.”

Jumping up, she unlocked the door, fell into his arms, and pressed herself against his chest, rubbing her face into his skin. “Thank you. I love you.”

They cuddled in their marital bed, wrapped in each other’s arms. Langley thought about asking to sleep elsewhere for the night, but didn’t want to be a bother when the bed was perfectly fine, despite its location at the Symbiogenetic Center. Zeke was quiet. Langley repeated herself several times when she spoke to him because he didn’t catch what she’d said. He was grieving his dream of Being One with her.

“I’ll be the best wife. We’ll have no regrets. Just you wait.” She snuggled against his neck, wrapping her arms around his chest to his back.

He rested a hand on her back.

After a while, they made love, and then they shared a light serviced dinner and some wine just before switching off the lights. Langley sighed and nuzzled her head into her pillow. Sleep came on quickly and she rested in fearless peace.

*

Langley smiled, expecting the fingers interlacing with hers to belong to Zeke as he tried to wake her up. The sooner they left the Symbiogenetic Center and went home to their apartment the better. It was bad enough the Center was in their hometown.

She opened her eyes.

A nurse, looking down on her, smiled. The suite had been swapped out for a sterile little chamber.

Langley shivered. What was this? Why wasn’t she in bed with her husband? Had something happened during the night and she’d been admitted to the hospital? 

This was a last minute decision, but it was the least we could do, I thought.

She looked around for her husband. She’d clearly heard his voice, but where was he?

The thoughts in her head turned over as easily as if someone had dialed in a different radio station. Don’t be afraid. You’ve always been more comfortable in your skin than I’ve been in mine. You’re so beautiful, sweetie.

The nurse stepped back as Langley murmured, “What? I don’t…”

Zeke’s words finally registered. 

Langley, don’t be afra—” 

No! Zeke!  I told you I-I… There was something on her head. She raised her arm to touch it, but her limb froze half way from her reaching it. 

Just relax. I will take care of us. We have nothing to worry about. Don’t panic the nurse. 

You lied to me, Zeke! 

We’ll adjust…

How? Why? He’d betrayed her. 

I didn’t expect you to feel so strongly, sweetie.

Tears of frustration ran down her cheeks as her body trembled. How could you have not known? Get out of my head. Now.

Langley knew Zeke was there, waiting to speak, in the background of their mind like a lingering bystander at a crime scene. Why couldn’t he just answer her? 

Sweetheart… they’ve already destroyed my body. I’m sorry. I love you.

 

Cassandra Mehlenbacher lives in the Pacific Northwest and received her BA in English from Central Washington University in 2014. She has publications with The Airship Daily, Wordhaus, The Story Shack, and others. When she isn’t writing and fending off the bills, she is drawing animals or spending time with loved ones.

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The Book by Patrick Doerksen

Apr 17 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

 

“So. Mark. What happened. Mmm, this is good.”

“Mom started Reading the Book.”

“When?”

“Four days ago.”

“Is it serious? Yup, good coffee. French press?”

“Well, she hasn’t stopped since.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What, there’s still hope.”

“Well.”

“It’s too goddamn easy for them. The Readers. There’s no way to cut ‘em off.”

“…”

“You know, some folks in L.A. even started printing it out. Font the size of ant turds. God. And still fills a gym.”

“Listen. You should talk to Damon. He knows a guy who knows a way, like.”

“Shit man. How? Have you Read any of it?”

“Just the first page, same as the next guy. Don’t judge, but I think it involves shock therapy? Wristbands, like.”

“I was in deep. Third chapter. Like, fuck, the book’s endless, right, but it’s just as endlessly inventive. Funny as hell; still it makes way more sense than anything. You start wondering, how can the guy, the author, keep this up? So you peer further in, looking for some flaw, something boring, and then you’re like, oh shit, this is better than the last page.”

“Talk like a damn Reader.”

“I’m serious. Like nothing else. Can’t paraphrase it.”

“I’ve read summaries. Chapters 1-20.”

“Man. Why don’t I just tell you about a sunset if that’s good enough for you.”

“So then let her keep Reading.”

“Fuck you man. She’s in deep. She’s going to the Reader’s Conference in L.A. next week.”

“Well.”

#

“Welcome, welcome! Please, yes, seats at the front here.”

[Shuffling feet.]

“Thank you for attending the Third Annual Reader’s Conference! Veterans in the audience know how it goes here: We stop Reading the Book for two days to complain about how we hate to stop Reading.”

[Mild laughter]

“In that sense, those of us here represent the less-committed Readers. I’m sure there are a few of you with connections who declined to come—sensing the irony no doubt—and are Reading at this minute! Ah, didn’t we all ponder it. But one of our purposes here is to dispel such narrow notions of “commitment;” being a Reader is not just reading—it is Interpretation. And gathered here today are some of strongest Advocates and Interpreters of the Book in the world!”

[Clapping]

“This morning we will begin with Doctor Berchart, who will be giving a talk on the similarities and dissimilarities between Reading and substance addiction. He will be exploding more than a few myths, I’m sure, so make certain you record it for your concerned loved ones.”

[Laughter]

“In the afternoon breakout we have a selection of speakers. Professor Hammil will be presenting on the impacts of cognitive enhancements and psychedelics on Reading. Sure to be scintillating! Professor Gerhard will be presenting some of his latest research on the origins of the Book; as I understand it, there have been a few small breakthroughs in this field. Which is it, Rick, an underground society of literary geniuses? A group-mind experiment, a host of connected consciousnesses suspended in zero-sensory chambers plugged with stimulants and psychedelics and what else? Some eternal being, perhaps?”

“But the question, Cindy, is rather, What is writing it? Because we suspect Artificial Intelligence.”

“That so? Fascinating.”

[Murmurs]

“The third talk will be given by myself, and that will be on the future of Readership politics in an increasingly polarized world. Oh, I see catering has just put out some refreshments in the back. Help yourselves. The coffee is bottomless, so drink up, sit up, and listen up, because we have two days packed with Readership goodness!”

#

“‘I will not Read the Book. I will not read the Book. I will not read the book.’ Every morning, first thing.”

“That’s it, huh.”

“When you say it with your soul.”

“That and the shock therapy will do it.”

“Always. A good diet helps, too—stabilizes. Who is it, your girlfriend? It’s a parent, isn’t it. A parent…”

“How much are these goddamned wristbands anyway?”

“$200 apiece.”

“Shit, you’ll be booed out of there.”

“Oh, a lot worse than that.”

“You probably think you’re some kind of hero, don’t you.”

“Just doing what I can.”

“You’ll need more than wristbands. To get through to them.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

“Hey, you ever consider that maybe no one needs a guy like you? That maybe the Readers are OK and it’s us who are missing something?”

“Every day.”

“Yeah, no kidding huh. Lose sleep over it and everything too huh. Some fucking hero. Tormented soul trying to do good in a world run amuck.”

“Something like that.”

“Whatever. Just give me the fucking wrist band.”

#

“Thanks Alan. I’m here in L.A. at the Third Annual Reader’s Conference with Finnegan Caulwood, chairman of the United Reader’s Society. There is a surprising amount of buzz for a crowd full of Readers, wouldn’t you say Finnigen?”

“Oh we get rowdy.”

“Tell us a bit about how all this started.”

“Well, Navim, as you know four years ago the Book appeared. Within three weeks it developed an international cult following. I was one of the first promoters, there was a team of us, and we created a real social media presence for the Book. Soon we had some donors and I got a few hundred to agree to fly down to L.A. and voila, we had the first conference.”

“Tell us something about the Book, Finnegan. You left a top marketing job to Read and promote the Book full time. What is it about the Book that excites you?”

“Right, thanks for asking Navim. My introduction to the Book was unreal. I mean that literally. I didn’t know something like that could be real. In university I remember taking this Arthurian Legends class and we read something called The Mabinogion. It’s a collection of stories filled with the most peculiar stuff, but all taking place by the same logic. This is a pale comparison, but it contains the key: the Book is not pure absurdity or lawless creative energy, it’s governed, channeled, by some alien, Godlike mind.”

“That is certainly high praise.”

“Yeah, and Navim I’d actually go further. The Book really is a gateway. What it contains is something entirely Other, capital O—so Other that we would have no access to it were it not that the Book also eased us into it. So it’s a gateway, an organization of space and meaning such that we can perceive where one realm ends and another begins—and then cross over if we like. I’m sorry to you and your viewers, Navim, but only Readers will know what I mean. And if you’re not hooked then you may never be. I was reading the first page, the first paragraph actually, and immediately I had this sense that here  was something different.”

“Is that something you try to explore, here at the Reader’s Conference?”

“Definitely. It’s really slippery, though. The Book comes at reality from an angle no one has ever tried before. It’s in everything, the way the adverbs are used, the way the action proceeds, the details it fastens upon. You go further in, and each chapter of the Book pushes that slant steeper and steeper. Eventually it gets so steep that you’re tipped into a world wholly unlike our own. And still it doesn’t stop, it just keeps tipping; you keep getting that sense of entering something new, something completely different. You know what it’s like, to get caught in the momentum of a really good book?”

[Nod]

“Now imagine that going on forever. It’s like free-falling. That’s something we talk a lot about here at the conference. It’s nice, too, for the early Readers who haven’t made it as deep in; a lot of them—and this happened to me, Navim—will grow anxious for the Author, worried that the Book cannot sustain itself endlessly, that somewhere there must be a roof, or a floor, some sense of a container. That is a really scary feeling. Just being around Readers who have made it deeper than them and who are still Reading is a comfort.”

“Tell me, Finnigen, is it true that anyone who begins reading never stops?

“I can’t answer that without appearing just a little smug, Navim. It’s the truth a small handful of people have made it to the third chapter, the famed point of No Return, and quit. Now, not all of us are convinced these people were actually Reading, if you know what I mean. But anyhow, aside from these rare few, the answer to your question is yes. Everyone who reads the Book Reads the Book, Navim. And what better evidence for the worth of Reading than that?”

“Are you trying to make a proselyte out of me, Finnegan?”

“Oh no, Navim, the Book does that.”

[Laughter]

“I understand that you also offer some more intentionally therapeutic sessions here for Readers?”

“That’s right. We have a session with a counsellor who works with Readers who have lost a sense of priority and proportion in their lives—you know, the Readers who sit on their toilets all day and order take-out. Her name’s Penny, she’s great. It’s really important to keep healthy; it’s all about lifespan—if you’re able to stay alive longer, the more of the Book you will make it through. Binge-reading gets you nowhere.”

[Distant yelling]

“My apologies Navim. Every year we have a few self-appointed “Rehabilitators” who like to cause a disturbance. Really they are just biblioterrorist. I just can’t understand that sort of enmity.”

“I must ask, Finnegan. The Readers are obviously a very passionate bunch—with these naysayers about, have things every become violent here at the conference?”

“Never. We have security who will escort them away safely. Ah, there they are now.”

[Yelling subsides]

“Finnegan, can you tell me about these booths?”

“Of course. It’s important to keep in mind, Navim, that we as the National Reader’s Society have no professional affiliation with anyone or any business who decides to set up here in the lobby. This year we have a representative from an investor in China; you can see by his sign he is willing to pay a pretty penny for each page translated into Mandarin. Of course, the Book is untranslatable. We’ve had some investors from other countries in past years, none have been satisfied.”

“That booth there looks interesting.”

“Yes, we’ve had Expert Summaries every year. They are a good group, but let me tell you something, Navim. You can’t translate the Book and you can’t summarize it. Vicarious Readership, it’s called, and it doesn’t work. You have to understand, Navim, that by virtue of the fact that the Reader is asked to summarize a piece of the Book, he is in too deep to do so. By that point the narrative has grown into itself. Any bits he might bring back to the surface would be like odd shells and carcases brought up from the ocean depths—curious perhaps, but finally ugly and unknown. To access the Book’s wonders, one can’t cut corners. The only path is the path the Book gives us.”

“One last question, Finnegan. Where do you think all this will take you?”

“Only the Book knows, Navim.”

“Thanks so much, Finnegan, and enjoy your conference.”

“Thank you, Navim.”

“Back to you, Alan.”

#

“We should’n come, man; it’s weird, surrounded by all these—”

“Hey look, that’s Veronica Meyers.”

“Who?”

“They say she’s the furthest in—of anyone.”

“Stupid. As though it were some sort of competition, like. Huh, wow, she’s young.”

“She was a speed reading champion, before the Book appeared. 3,000 words per minute or something.”

“Huh. You know, there’s that guy, Jim something, some sort of savant, like; he’s finished it apparently.”

“Yeah yeah, I heard that too, that’s bullshit.”

“He says he can’t describe the end, that the Book redefines what it is to “end,” like. I saw an interview, he was shaking all over. This poor bloke, two weeks after finishing it and still shaking…”

“Yeah, well, no one’s finished it, it doesn’t end. That’s what’s so inane about the whole thing.”

“Think of it. What would a Reader have left in his small little life, if he actually finished it, like? I—”

“You know I said can’t actually finish the fucking Book, Alb. There’s no fucking way, not reading 3,000 words a minute, not reading 3,000 words a second.”

“Well, check out the interview.”

“…”

“So where’s your mom, I’m not seeing her.”

“You hear there’s people actually learning English now just to Read? It’s the fucking tipping point—if it wasn’t certain before the Book, language extinction and the monoculture of English is now the way of the world.”

[Yelling]

“Hey, what’s happening over there?”

#

The Book

 

An audiobook presentation

by Neil Gaiman, Kate Winslet, Benedict Cumberbatch,

and host of other famous performers

 

Updated biweekly

Unlimited streaming for $20/month

#

“Get the fuck outa here man!”

“Go back to grad school tight ass!”

[Ongoing aggressive heckling]

“Hey watch out!”

“He’s got something!”

[Screams, gasps, etc.]

“Listen!”

[The crowd quiets]

“Listen to me! Listen, for God’s sake, while you still have ears! There Book is dangerous!”

[Booing here and there, sparse]

“The first chapter of the Book is not what you think it is! You think it is about a retired UFO crash litigation lawyer and his disembodied wife. No! It is not that! I tell you, it is about the alienation of a people! It is about what is happening to you even now, as you jeer at me and judge me in your hearts! It is a warning that every Reader has ignored!”

[Boos here and there, less sparse]

“Listen, dear Readers: you are growing different! You and I once walked the same road, and could speak to one another, and be heard by one another. Now where are you? You have taken an exit, an offshoot from the road, and you are no longer on it. Furthermore, your path has no signs, no marks—you know not where you go!”

“Like hell!”

“You there!”

[Gasps, a shriek]

“Yes you, who just spoke with such malice. Come up here. What is your name?”

“J-Jarred.”

“Jarred. How long have you been a Reader?”

“Nine months?”

“Nine months. Long enough. Jarred, you understand what this is?”

“Y-yes.”

“Tell me what it is.”

“A g-gun.”

“Jarred, what is a gun?”

“What?”

“What is a gun, Jarred.”

“A weapon? To shoot someone with?”

“What does the Book say a gun is, Jarred?”

“Hey, that’s enough! Let him down!”

[A shot is fired]

“Quiet! … Jarred, answer the question. What does the Book say a gun is?”

“It… it says, that, uh, guns are portals.”

“To where, Jarred?”

“To the Numinous Atopos? The Estranged Land?”

“Would you like to go there, Jarred?”

“N-n…”

“Well, Jarred, would you like to go to the Numinous Atopos? The Estranged Land?”

“Please!”

“Oh, but you like going there in the Book, don’t you Jarred?”

“Please! It’s, it’s just a book. Please!”

#

“What a psycho.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Oh, he’ll survive. Our sniper took out his collar bone, nothing deadly.”

“How the hell did he have the stage for so long?”

“Security’s radio’s weren’t synced up with the Nest. Anyway, no harm done. The conference can continue.”

“Oh, it’s continuing, that’s for goddamn sure. We’re not going to end this fucking epidemic with melodramatic stunts.”

“You think we could just unplug the internet?”

“I sure as hell wish, Rab.”

#

“Please! Mom, don’t do this. It’s insane. Please!”

“Mark, will you first pu-lease calm down.”

“You’re about to empty your bank account to buy a bunch of snake-oil nootropics so that you can sit for longer on your ass and stare at a screen!”

Mark!

“Mom, I mean it. This is insane!”

“Mark, please. You’re all worked up. You’re sure you’re ok?”

“The gun wasn’t point at me, mom, it was pointed at you!”

“M—”

“I mean figuratively. You’re a Reader, mom, not me. Are you sure you’re ok?”

“Mark, I need you to try just for a minute to understand. Here—listen. Don’t interrupt. If you found something that you loved, that made sense of everything in the world for you, that gave you peace, that held you afloat in time, would you give up everything for it?”

“But that’s not what you’ve found, mom! The Book makes sense of nothing!”

“Oh, so I’m talking to an expert Interpreter, am I?”

“You don’t need an expert interpreter or whatever to tell you that! Just an ounce of common sense! Please, mom, just try it, just for a three days. The shocks don’t hurt, only just enough to work on the part of the brain that forms habits.”

“You are offending me, Mark. If I told you to give up on Marisa, that she was ugly and stupid and not worth your time, and gave you a shock collar—”

“It’s not a collar—”

“—and gave you a shock collar to get rid of your ‘habit’ of making out on the basement sofa for hours—”

Mom—”

“—and talking till 3am with the TV blaring, what would you say to me son? What would you say?”

“This is insane.”

“Mark, how am I to communicate with you if you keep insisting that ‘this is insane’? You’re not trying to speak my language at all.”

“No, mom, you’re not trying to speak mine!”

“Oh, listen, the next keynote is beginning.”

[Distant] “And so I asked her, ‘Knowing what you know, would you Read the Book?’”

“Oh mom, I wish you wouldn’t go. I… I’m losing you.”

“Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark… I love you. If you would only Read the Book you wouldn’t feel the way you do. … Oh Mark, come here.”

END

“Patrick is a social worker living with his wife in Victoria, British Columbia. His poetry has featured in a number of journals, including Presence, Simply Haiku, Mayfly, Bones, Haibun Today, and Sonic Boom, among others.”

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Bugged by J.M. Kerr

Apr 10 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

 

“What’s her name?”

Bill Martin teetered back in his chair, leering at the new I.T. girl across the office.

“Kara something,” said Enrique, Bill’s desk-mate.

“I know that. What’s her last name?”

Bill scrunched his eyes trying to make out the woman’s badge. “Looks like… Wormley? Is it Wormley?”

“That doesn’t sound right,” Enrique said.

“Just tell me what her last name is, Rick.”

“How should I know?”

“Weren’t you with Stan when he hired her? I thought you were his right-hand man now.”

“Is that bitterness, Billy? You said you wouldn’t have taken my promotion even if they had offered it to you.”

“That’s right, Rick. You can be a corporate douche. Not for me.”

“Sure, Bill.” Enrique swiveled around in his chair. “Why do you want to know her name anyway?”

“Facebook.”

Enrique grimaced. “That’s it? You want to invade the poor woman’s privacy just to find a bikini pic to jerk off to?”

“Exactly.” Bill grinned.

A notification sounded from Enrique’s computer. “Sorry perv, but you’ll have to call off your search.”

“What’s up?”

“There’s a shortage in the server room. And, the new I.T. girl isn’t on the payroll till Monday so I need you to check it out.”

“Goddamn rats are chewing on the wires.”

“You’re probably right. Better take a hammer, for protection.”

Bill sighed as he pulled a small ball-peen from his desk drawer. It was stained red from his last trip to the server room.

“Try not to get bit. I doubt workers comp will cover rabies.”

Bill got up from his desk. “Fuck you, fag.” It was a whisper.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

Bill made his way down to the basement which housed the building’s servers. Row upon row of buzzing towers lined the floor. The lights were out, but Bill could hear the rats shuffling around. He shuddered. The light switch was at the bottom of the staircase, half way down the wall. Bill would have to grope for the switch in the darkness. In his mind’s eye he saw fat, greasy rats with beady red eyes, scurrying under his feet, and crawling up the server racks. He hurried to the switch and flipped it. The room was flooded with buzzing, florescent light, and a single rat scurried beneath a rack.

Bill searched for the loose wire, and for the new girl’s various social pages. He glanced up from his phone in time to spot two stray network cables that had come unplugged. He reached down for the cables still staring at his phone.

“What was her damn name? Warby, Warmely? Wor… SHIT!”

The rat plunged its teeth deep into Bill’s thumb, and blood ran down his forearm. Bill let out a yelp, and shook his hand wildly. Black tufts of fur filled the air, but the rat’s jaws only tightened. “Fuck. Get off… HELP!” Bill felt the comforting weight of the hammer tucked into his belt. He grabbed the bludgeon and raised it. Just then, a blue cord wrapped around the rat’s torso and squeezed until its eyes bulged. The vermin let go of Bill’s hand, and the cord swung it against the wall where it dropped to the ground and scurried away. Bill saw that the cord wasn’t a cord, but a tail. A long blue-grey, prehensile tail attached to a creature.

The thing was almost human, but smaller, only half Bill’s height. It was covered in grayish skin that was peeling, flaking. Its face was pointed like an iguana, and wispy white fuzz covered its body. At first glance Bill thought it was some little mutant monkey, but then it spoke.

“Her name is Warner. You weren’t even close.” The creature’s voice was raspy. The sound of it made Bill’s anus tighten. He turned to run, but the creature’s tail wrapped around his ankle and pulled him to the ground.

“What, no thank you?”

Bill lay on the linoleum, his finger dripping blood. “What the hell are you?”

“That’s complicated. The name’s Bugg, though.” The creature extended his claw. Bill flipped and scooted backwards, on his ass, banging his head into a server. “Shit!”

“You need to learn some manners, friend. I can help you with those social graces.”

“What are you? Was someone fucking rats down here, and your some rat-human hybrid? Was it Enrique? That deviant. I wouldn’t doubt it.”

“I’ve already told you, I’m Bugg. I live down here with the rats, and the server racks. Soaking up all the wonderful information that runs through these wires.” Bugg held a network cable between his fingers.

Bill sat up. “I should go. Try to forget. Maybe get a CAT scan.” He tried for the door.

“There’s no need to run. We’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. How about a peace offering?” Bugg walked behind the server for a moment. Bill’s phone buzzed in his pocket, but he was too afraid to move. Bugg reemerged. “Go ahead. Answer it.”

Bill got out his phone. “It’s a text message. A picture file.”

“Download it.”

“I’m not going to download it. This isn’t even a real number. It’s only five digits: 8-7-4-2-5.”

“It’s from me, Bill. A gift.”

“What is it?”

“OPEN IT!”

“Okay, okay.” Bill downloaded the photo. His eyes lit. “Holy shit! The new girl.”

“That’s better than what you’d find on her Instagram.”

“Where did you get this?”

“Nothing is safe from me, Bill. If the file is plugged into a network I can get it.”

“You can get more of these?” Bill asked.

“I could, Bill. I could get you anything on anyone. Data, Bill. Information. Knowledge. Power. How would you like to be a CEO?”

Bill wrinkled his forehead. “So you can tell me anything about those people up there?”

“What do you want to know?”

He considered the offer for a moment. A spiteful grin stretched across his face.

“Everything.”

On Monday Kara found a box of dark chocolate wrapped and placed on her desk. It was the third time that she had found a gift sitting there, all from the same person. Bill, again. Dark chocolate, she thought. My favorite. How the fuck did he know that. The day before it was a bouquet of peonies. Peonies were Kara’s favorite flower. Last week it was a vinyl record from the first band she ever saw live in concert. How could he know she had a record player?

Kara saw Bill beaming at her from his desk, leaning back in his chair to see past the fake fern. She glanced down breaking eye contact. He’s spying on me. The fucking creep.

Kara met Enrique at lunch. “Your friend Bill is really starting to worry me.”

“We’re not friends, Kara. Let me make that clear. We share a cubicle. That doesn’t make us friends.”

“It doesn’t matter, Enrique. You know him best. That’s why I came to you. I think he’s spying on me.”

Enrique glanced up from his food. “How do you mean?”

“He knows things about me, Enrique. Personal things. I’ve worked here a month, and he knows the bands I like, the food I eat, and the places I go. How good is he with computers? I swear he’s hacked mine.”

“Bill’s good for plugging in a loose wires. Beyond that, well he couldn’t even figure out the new contact software you gave us last week.”

“I know. He’s sent me a dozen emails about it. I thought maybe that was a ploy. You know, an excuse to talk to me. You sure he doesn’t know what he’s doing?”

“I don’t know, Kara. He could be hiding something from us. He does seem to know things.”

Kara placed her hand on Enrique’s. “He knows something about you, doesn’t he?”

Enrique sighed. “Stan was chewing me out at our last sales meeting. My numbers are down this month, by a lot, and Bill’s numbers have skyrocketed. Bill. He’s an idiot. He tries to fuck half his clients.

“So how did he become the top seller?”

“It’s simple. He stole my leads. All of his new clients are people I scouted.”

“So he is hacking us!”

“Could be. Except I don’t keep the leads here. I keep them in my home office.”

“He stole from your house?”

“He’s never been there. I don’t know how he got those leads. That’s not the worst, though.”

“What is? Kara asked.

“We we’re at this sales meeting, and Stan was reaming me. I guess Bill sees this as a good chance to pile on. He outted me. Told Stan that I was seeing Louis from accounting.”

“Is that true?”

“Yes, but how did Bill know? We’re very careful. Stan already had a grudge against me because of my name. This is just one more strike on my record. I’ll be gone in a month, Kara. Louis too.

“I’m so sorry, Enrique. I wish there was a way I could help.”

“I wish we knew what that bastard, Bill, was up to.”

“We have to confront him, Enrique.”

Enrique frowned. “He’ll just lie to us.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t care either way. I just want him to know that we won’t take it anymore.”

“Okay, Kara. I’m with you.”

“They’re starting to suspect me,” Bill said to an annoyed-looking Bugg.

“They should. You were sloppy. You outted a co-worker in the middle of a meeting. Have you never heard of subtly?”

“I thought Stan would fire him, but nothing has happened.”

“Of course not. You tied his hands. If he fires Enrique now it’ll be discrimination.”

“Well give me something else on Enrique. Something better.”

“I don’t have anything else. Enrique is a model employee, unlike you. His homosexuality was your best play. Stan is a bigot, but he’s not stupid. He won’t invite a lawsuit.”

“What about Kara? She won’t talk to me.”

“Did you give her the gifts like I told you?”

“Yes, but I don’t think she liked them. She won’t even make eye contact with me.”

“Really?” Bugg smiled. “That’s a shame. I was hoping that would work out for you.”

“So what do we do?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? You’re supposed to help me.”

“You’re beyond help. I’m not a genie. Besides, we have a bigger problem.”

“What?”

“It seems I over-estimated you, Bill. Now I’ve tapped out all the information I can get from this office. I need a new source.” Bugg circled Bill.

“Do you need to move to another building?” Bill asked trying to track Bugg with his eyes.

“That won’t be necessary, Bill. By the way, do you know how much data is stored within the human brain?”

“What does that have to do with any-”

“-On average, ten terabytes.”

“That’s interesting-”

“Do you know what that means?”

“Uh…”

“It means that even a feeble minded individual, like you Bill, is a goldmine of information. Every person you’ve known, every secret you’ve overheard, every intimate detail you’ve ever had privilege to, it’s all up there. You may not be able to recall it, but it’s there. Tucked away in all those bundles of neurons is every bit and byte of your existence. An entire human experience. Do you know what that’s worth to a creature like me?” Bugg was behind Bill now.

“Yeah, uh, a lot. Maybe. Problem is-”

“What problem?” Bugg was only an echo now.

“Well how could you get at it?”

“I could just crack your head open like a melon. Once I get in there I’m sure I can figure it out,” Bugg said from somewhere above Bill.

“Where’d you go?” Bill’s voice cracked. He had spent weeks in commune with a troll, and never stopped to ask how it was able to produce this information, or why he was giving it away, for free. Bill feasted on every sordid detail that was served, not once worrying that Bugg might be watching Bill closer than anyone else.

“I’m outta here, Bugg. I don’t want anything else from you.” Bill started to back out of the basement, but tripped. He plopped down on his backside.

“What if I want something from you?” The voice came from directly above Bill. He looked up to see Bugg perched atop a nearby server rack. His tufts of gray hair were standing on end, forming a ridged back. He was staring at Bill with his mouth open, drooling.

Bill turned to run, but in a second Bugg was on his back. Bill tore at him, trying to throw Bugg to the ground, but that tail had wrapped around his neck, choking him. He had almost blacked out when he saw the rat-stained hammer laying on the ground. It was his last hope. Bill dropped to his knees and reached for it. Bugg was tightening his grip now. Bill had a finger on the hammer when he felt Bugg’s tail loosen.

“Thank you, Bugg. Let’s talk reasonably.” Bill saw the tail whip out and grasp the hammer. “Oh shit!” It came down on Bill’s crown with a dull thud. Then the lights went out.

“He’s down here?” Enrique asked Kara as they made their way down to the basement.

“Stan said he’s been spending a lot of time down here. Said he was laying rat traps. Who knows what he was really doing.”

“Lights are off.”

“Do you know were the switch is?” Kara asked.

“Yes.” Enrique ran his palm along the wall until he felt the switch. “Got it.”

The lights flickered on.

“Do you see him, Enrique?”

“No.” Enrique cupped his hands to his mouth. “Bill, you down here?”

“He’s unavailable.”

Kara and Enrique exchanged glances.

“Who is that?” asked Kara.

“Kara?”

“That doesn’t sound like Bill,” Enrique said.

“No. That isn’t Bill,” Kara’s eyes darted around the room. She followed Bugg’s voice.

Enrique stumbled over a bundle of cables as they walked. Kara reached out, catching him. “Kara, what’s going on? Do you know who that is?”

“Yes.” Kara turned to Enrique. “Look, you may want to go back upstairs.”

“Why? Is this person dangerous? I’m not leaving you down here.”

“He’s not a threat. He’s… different.”

“What are you talking about, Kara?”

“If you’re not going back upstairs then you need to brace yourself.”

Kara and Enrique turned a corner and found Bugg perched on an unconscious Bill. “Oh shit!” Enriqued backed up.

Kara surveyed the scene. “Damnit, Bugg! What did you do?”

“Hey Kara, funny running into you here.” Bugg said with a sheepish grin.

“Is it, Bugg? I work here.”

“You work here? That’s a coincidence. I’ve been staying here. After you threw me out I needed somewhere to stay.”

Enrique’s eyes darted from Bugg to Kara, back to Bugg. “What the hell is going on? Kara, who… what is this thing?”

“Sorry Enrique. This is Bugg. Bugg is what you call a… gremlin.”

“Sure. A gremlin. Why the fuck not. Why have I never met one of these gremlins?”

“We like to stay out of sight.”

“What are you doing down here?” Enrique squared off with Bugg.

“We gremlin’s have always had a an obsession with human technology. We tinker with your creations, taking them apart, putting them back together. My father could dismantle a plane’s landing gear mid-flight, a real thing of beauty. Lately, we deal with information technology, like these servers. Were actually pretty handy. In fact that’s how Kara and I met. Isn’t that right, sweetie?”

“Don’t call me sweetie. What the hell did you do to Bill?”

Bill laid on the ground drooling. “Oh right, him. He got a little over-excited. I had to whack him with a hammer. He should be fine… I think.”

“You were helping him, weren’t you? You broke in to Enrique’s house.”

“Well… Yes. Sorry about that, pal.” Bugg nodded at Enrique.

“I don’t get it. Why were you helping Bill?” Enrique asked.

“Yes. I would like to know that as well.” added Kara.

“After we broke up I was keeping up with you. Checking your Facebook, Twitter, Google alerts, federal records.” Bugg mumbled that last part. “Just to make sure you were safe. You know how I worry about you, baby.”

“Get on with it, Bugg.”

“I was… around… on your first day. I saw Bill leering at you so I followed him down here. I may have implied that I could syphon information for him from the office computers. Hell, I think I even convinced him I could tap a human brain. It was all for you, Kara.” Bugg looked at Kara with wide eyes. “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t get wrapped with the wrong kinda guy.”

“You’re the one who told him to get all those gifts for me.”

“Yeah. I know how you hate it when men come on too strong. I figured the gifts would scare you off. It worked too. I saved you from the little perv, baby, but I had to give him something real. You know, to make the whole thing believable. That’s why I stole your leads, Enrique.”

Enrique rolled his eyes. “I’m glad it was for a good cause. How did you know about Louis and me?”

“Your profile photo on Facebook is you and Louis sharing a booth at the Cheesecake Factory. I figured it was a safe bet.”

Kara eyed Bugg. “Did you really think you could win me back by stalking me, sharing private information about me, breaking in to my friend’s homes, and assaulting a man just because he was interested in me?”

Bugg looked down at his tiny clawed feet. “I guess so.”

Kara glared at him. “I know we’ve had our problems, Bugg, but that… that’s so sweet. I know my parents say you’re all wrong for me, but I don’t care. I want you back, baby!”

Bugg looked at Kara with glassy eyes. “Let’s get out of here sweetie.” He ran and jumped into Kara’s arms. Kara squeezed the little gremlin tightly.

“Enrique, tell Stan I’m taking the rest of the day off.”

Kara carried Bugg out of the basement. He glanced over her shoulder, and back at Enrique. Bugg gave him a single wink, and they were gone.

Bill groaned from the floor.

“Enrique?”

“Yeah Bill. How are you feeling?”

“Like shit. What the hell happened?”

Enrique stared at the door where Kara and Bugg had exited. He sighed, and looked down at Bill. “I have no fucking idea.”

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Solstice Queen by Alex Jensen

Apr 03 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

Derek Mill wrote a book about his own life. Three years ago the autobiography awarded him 750,000 dollars. This year he was awarded 150,000 dollars for writing the book three years ago. Derek was awarded an undergraduate degree from a top tier university, which awarded him entrance to a graduate program at a top tier university. He was awarded A’s in every class. Over the last ten years Derek has increased the amount of people he governs by 2.8 million per year. This calculation, although misleading as Derek has only been awarded three different positions in ten years, reminded him of his value. Derek needed this type of thing since his father, Arnold who was Derek’s biggest fan passed away four years ago.

Arnold Mill would tell his son, “To govern is to be an angel walking the mountainous slopes of snowshoeing dragons.” Arnold Mill was awarded wealth as an artist of the avant-garde. He mastered the ability of disorientation, causing an audience to argue with one another about what he meant in a way that made everyone believe that they were the only one’s that truly ‘got it’.

This talent caught the eye of large businesses who hired Arnold to weave together words like, maintained, managed, integrity, talking points, seminar and developed in ways that communicated safety and trust while remaining entirely void of meaning. After his stunt in the business world Arnold became an asset to top tier politicians who went to top tier universities and who published top selling books about their own lives.

Which brings us to the well-educated and ambitious Derek, who just finished kneeling before a stuffed doll, chanting, ‘Envy is a reminder of who I can one day become.’ and who was now watching his sleeping wife Darlene.

Darlene Mill, the famous actress and singer. Darlene Mill the woman whose face was inescapable on magazine racks. Darlene Mill the woman Derek watched sleep when too anxious to dream. However this time it was an excited anxiety as opposed to an impending doom anxiety. For today was the day that the Solstice Queen would be announced, and this year Derek was (for the fourth time, and second year in a row) selected to be one of the seven Princes of the Solstice (In fact Derek, at 45 was the youngest man to receive the award four times).

This six others selected for this year’s celebration were:

Dale Burnett – A former all-star shortstop who now dedicated his life to proving that although return on investment will increase faster than economic growth, this is necessary to increase growth and help poverty. He proved this by filming a reality show where homeless people were given money as charity and others were given high interest microloans. Proving that the incentive of a growing interest forced loan receivers get a home faster.

Stuart Bailey – A pop-psychologist who changed the way people thought about marriage by introducing an idea that marriage should be done on a ten year contract so when the contract matured the couple could decide to renew and have a party or not renew and go their separate ways.

Richard Coin – A former lawyer who preached the philosophy of determinism through documentaries, books and television interviews. Informing the public that free will did not exist and therefore the concept of justice was primitive.  Advocating a change in the prison system and a better understanding of incentives that fuel rehabilitation.

David Peoples – A successful film director who created an algorithm for sound and light pixels which would produce a new film each day that struck every human as intelligent, fascinating, funny, emotionally mature and original.

Burt Johnson and Ron Alexander – Two politicians just like Derek selected by a group of anonymous individuals with a high understanding of political theory. The public was well aware that they were not chosen democratically but all agreed that the anonymous individuals had excellent taste.

 

And then there was Derek. Derek eating his eggs and protein shake while he watched his beautiful Darlene sleep. Thinking to himself how he bought her the sheets with the high thread count and the mattress that astronauts use. That he got her the apartment with the skyline view and air conditioner that maintained a perfect 75 and a humidity level perfectly adjusted to the condition of her sinuses. It was he that kept her fed, loved, famous, happy and safe. Whatever desire she had, he suffocated long ago. She was perfect now, with him, she was perfect.

 

At 6:00 PM Derek and the six other elected Solstice Princes were sitting in chairs behind a podium. They were waiting for President Fremont to show so he could practice reading a speech while they practiced sitting in chairs behind him. At some point Burt Johnson leaned over to Derek and said, “Do you get nervous?” “During the performance?” Derek asked. Burt nodded. “You can take a blue one” Derek said. “I don’t like taking medication.” Burt said.  Dale leaned into the conversation, “You need a blue one?” Dale said. “No.” Burt said a bit embarrassed. “Coin!” Dale yelled, “Burt needs a blue one!” “You need a blue one burt?” Richard Coin said. “No!” Burt said, “I’m fine.” “If you’re nervous you should take a blue one,” said David Peoples. “I’m not nervous,” said Burt.

Stuart Bailey jumped in to kill the discomfort,  “Who do you think will be the Solstice Queen this year?” Stuart asked. “Unofficial poll said Mary Winston would win,” said Ron Alexander. “Don’t believe that bull,” said Dale, “After Michelle Davis’ best actress win she’s on everyone’s mind.” “What about your girl Derek?” said Stuart. “Oh I don’t think so,” said Derek. “People love to see a couple share the solstice spotlight,” said Stuart, “besides she’s due for a win.” “If she didn’t win it five years ago, I doubt she’ll win it now,” said Derek. “Jeez brother have some faith,” said Dale. “I just don’t want to get her hopes up, between Michelle and Mary there’s not much room left for Darlene this year.”

“You all speculating?” Said President Fremont entering from stage left. “Derek, Darlene is certainly due for a win, don’t be such a naysayer.”

“Thank you President,” Derek hated calling Ferris ‘President’. Three decades ago Ferris was crying because he claimed Derek hacked him on a layup. Now he was Derek’s superior. For decades now, Derek fantasized about taking a hammer to Ferris’s head so to release the air of pretension trapped inside.

7:15 PM  was television prime time and President Fremont was before a crowd and several cameras, holding a stuffed doll chanting, ‘Envy is a reminder of who I can one day become.’ After the mantra, there were words put together and thrown at the crowd and cheers thrown back. There was then acknowledgement of Derek and the six other princes, their accomplishments, their ideals, their hard work. It was all very motivating to the people. Then each of the men, including Derek, took to the podium and gave a presentation on someone else who they believed took great strides this year in accomplishing achievement.

Finally Fremont took the podium back and said, “Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, what we are all waiting for is to hear who will be the seventy-eighth Solstice Queen. The Solstice Queen is savvy, goal-oriented, aware and dedicated to improving the lives of others. Displaying honorable characteristics such as these in her everyday life, both as an individual striding to achieve economic, personal and humanitarian goals, and as a woman who seeks to improve society and the world around her. The award is unprecedented and performing in the solstice celebration is an honor that should only be given to the best. So it is my honor and my privilege to announce that this year’s solstice queen is…” President Fremont opened an envelope, looked at the paper, looked back at Derek and smiled. Derek’s wished he was dreaming when he heard: “Darlene Mill!”

 

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” was the first thing that Darlene said to Derek when she returned from the press. She then said something about walking on clouds and started laughing. Derek tried to ask her a few questions about the preparation she had to do, and Darlene gave a satisfactory answer and showed no concerns. She then said she was exhausted and passed out. Derek watched her sleep and wanted nothing more than to shake her until her eyes opened but instead he paced around the living room and left to go see President Fremont.

President Fremont

FREMONT: Mr. Mill!

DEREK: Hey, look, I had a few questions about the performance.

FREMONT: You’ve got more experience than I do.

DEREK: Is there any way we could change the solstice queen?

FREMONT: Excuse me?

DEREK: Could we replace Darlene with a different solstice queen?

FREMONT: I don’t understand.

DEREK: Could the runner up be the solstice queen?

FREMONT: I get what you’re saying. I just don’t understand why you’re saying it. Is Darlene sick?

DEREK: No. But, uh, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s good for her.

FREMONT: Does Darlene not want to do it? Why wouldn’t Darlene want to be a Solstice Queen. (Fremont Laughed).

DEREK: No she does, I just, I don’t want her to do it. I don’t think it’s good for her.

FREMONT: Derek, excuse me for saying this, but you sound incredibly selfish. The Solstice Queen is the highest honor, I don’t know why I’m even saying that, you know it. But even if she had the flu combined with food poisoning surely any woman would still accept the honor.

DEREK: It’s not good for her.

FREMONT: You are not the one to decide that Derek.

DEREK: I’ve given a lot to the performance and I should have some say in the decision.

FREMONT: Yesterday I saw Josephine Dawson, twenty-five years ago she was Solstice Queen.

DEREK: I know who she is.

FREMONT: You know what she told me? (Derek says nothing) She said it was the most meaningful experience of her life. She said she still replays the memory in her head every day.

DEREK: I know, I know, I know, It’s important. It’s selfish of me to not want her to do it. But I can’t help it, for some reason I do not want her to be the Solstice Queen. Now can you help me out? I’ve done a lot for you Ferris. I’ve done a lot. Can you give me this one fucking favor.

FREMONT: Look Derek, we’re practically family and for that reason I will not repeat any details of this conversation. But I would like for you to leave my office at once.

 

Derek watched the sleeping Darlene snore for forty-eight minutes. He felt like he was going to explode. He wanted to scream thousand of things but he knew that he must remain calm and subdued in order for the strategy to be effective.

The first strategy was to ask her how she felt about the whole thing. Did she feel exhausted? She said the excitement kept her running. She said that their adoration was fuel in her bones. Derek said that the exhaustion might be bad for her health but Darlene said even if it shortened her life by a year it would be well-worth it.

The second strategy was reminding her that it would bring a lot of attention into their personal lives. She said, “I know, isn’t it great.”

The third strategy was asking her if the whole event was making her nervous or if she had stage fright. She laughed thinking Derek was making a joke.

Derek had a fourth strategy but he became so wound up in frustration that he forgot what it was. When she was sleeping, his head was filled with only strategy but now he couldn’t find it. He sat there thinking of something to say but only said ‘Um’ and then the telephone rang. It was Darlene’s choreographer letting her know that she was waiting downstairs. Darlene gave Derek a kiss and ran off.

Derek wanted to strangle Darlene. He felt it was justified due to how she disregarded his wants. The logic of course can’t be translated into words, but as Derek paced the parameter of their bed, the logic was rock solid. The greater frustration was that there was nobody who would sympathize with him. He thought there must be someone who had felt this way. At least once a husband must have forbidden his wife from receiving this award.

So he searched the records and he found that four times in history, elected solstice queens declined the award and let someone else perform. Margo Ruth, Gwen Young, Brita Stillson and Penelope Glass. All of them claiming they couldn’t perform due to illness. But Derek thought otherwise, maybe there was a husband behind the curtain pulling the strings. He searched the internet for the names of their husbands. He found that all of them were dead (Cancer, Heart Attack, Cancer, Overdose). Derek said fuck many times. He searched the women and found that three of them were dead (Cancer, Cancer, Cancer). The only one living was Gwen Young. Derek called her and said they had to talk.

GWEN YOUNG

“Hello,” Derek said. Gwen replied with a ‘Nice to see you’. Gwen had blonde hair that was clearly dyed, Derek thought about why she would dye it instead of let it be grey. She was a wise old woman now not a young attractive thing, besides the blonde dye was visibly obvious, she wasn’t fooling anyone. But Gwen was cheerful despite her fabricated hair color and they talked and drank coffee and pretended they were friends. Finally Derek navigated to the object of interest.

“You were once elected solstice queen [but then you decline] is that correct?

(Derek is young and Gwen is old. Derek was respectful of this and treated her politely, however when attention is thin we must get the point across quickly.)

“Yes, [Why is it that you bring this up?] I was sick unfortunately, a great regret in my life.”

“I’m sure you were disappointed, [I can’t let my wife be solstice queen, it’s not good for her and it does something to our marriage, I can’t explain it. It’ll ruin us.] Did your husband support your decision.”

“Oh yes of course. [Let me show you pictures of my husband. He kept a journal, many ideas and theories about the society we live in today, how marriage should be. He wrote many books but they are all in the basement. They are locked and I cannot remember where the key is but if you answer this riddle you shall find it. [‘Riddle’]] My husband was always supportive.”

“The solstice queen is a great honor, [Answer to Riddle] I’m sure your husband was proud.”

[The walls begin to melt and Derek believes he might be a schizoid. He chants mantras to try and grasp hold of reality. When he calms himself he realizes that the walls are not melting and instead it is actually a hologram being projected out of Mrs. Young’s ears to make the walls appear as if melting. Derek surmises that Mrs. Young is a robot and the answer to the riddle must have cracked open her mainframe.]

[Mrs. Young’s tongue unravels out of her mouth and into Derek’s lap. Derek sees a zipper on the tip of her giant tongue. He unzips her tongue. Several thousand microchips fall out of her tongue and scatter across the carpet. Atop a pile of microchips is a silver key.]

[Derek picks up the key] and goes to the basement.

 

On the morning of the solstice Darlene awakes having not seen Derek in six days. She figured that it was a tradition similar to the groom not seeing the bride’s wedding dress and she wanted to confirm if this was so but didn’t want to risk sounding uninformed, and she was much too exhausted every night from practice to search it on the internet. She hoped that Derek was not nervous as he had so obviously demonstrated that he was when he asked her all those silly questions. It amazed her that such a prestigious man still felt nerves and she reminded herself that everyone is susceptible to insecurity, which of course she knew but seemed to always forget.

Darlene met with the choreographer and went over a few basic things, nothing remotely strenuous. She was a bit in denial that she was going to perform and she was aware of this. She told the choreographer that it felt like a dream. The choreographer said that Darlene was the best Queen’s she ever worked with and people were going to be amazed at her talent. Darlene knew that the choreographer said this to everyone every year but still said thank you.

The Night of The Solstice

Derek arrived just as he was supposed to. However he had missed a week of rehearsal, and been out of touch with everyone involved. But he was allowed to skip meetings and he was allowed to come late, he thought to himself. He was Derek Mill goddammit and he prayed for someone to challenge him, but nobody did. They didn’t care.

President Fremont was talking on stage as Darlene was in a green room meditating in silence and as Dale was teasing Burt about being nervous. Burt told him to shut up and go fuck himself and the only reason you are calling me nervous is because you’re nervous. So fuck off. Dale was a bit embarrassed but smiled instead and apologized. Told him that he would do great and so would everyone. Derek wasn’t listening.

Derek ran on stage.

When Fremont saw Derek he gave him a look a father would give a misbehaving son. But when the crowd saw Derek, they roared. “I have something to say!” Derek shouted, and no one heard because the only microphone was at Fremont’s lips. “Save your speech for after the celebration,” Fremont said. Derek walked over to the microphone and said, “I want to speak to my people.” The crowd roared and Fremont was pissed but had no choice.

“Hello everyone,” Derek said, the crowd cheered. “Before we celebrate the solstice I want to say something. Gwen Young was once elected to be the solstice queen. She declined. She said it was because of the flu. This was a lie.”

The crowd gasped and chatted amongst each other about who Gwen Young was.

“She lied because her husband did not want her to perform in the solstice celebration. See her husband saw the importance in marriage and recognized that our values and ideas are backwards. We’ve become obsessed with progress. Obsessed with doing what makes sense but truly what we think makes sense doesn’t make sense. In Mr. Young’s writings I found many poems about love and essays about importance of staying with one another, I read about how the two of them were going to forfeit everything they had and run away with each other just to be together. He would have her and she would have him and that’s all that they needed. And I read that Mr. Young speculated that nobody could understand his logic because the hemisphere of thought had broken off from love when the god Harotha who lived before time had molested the sand beaches of Naragatha. Harotha was a bastard god and belonged to burn in a separate dimensional vortex. But because of him we are stuck in this chaotic nonsense world, where we can’t control what we love. So Mr. Young set out to destroy Harotha, he found the evil god and he even took pictures. But now that I’ve seen the source of evil in the photos of Harotha I no longer want my wife to perform in the solstice celebration, I’m free and I’m disqualifying my wife and removing her participation. It is my right as her husband, I can recognize this now and you will too once you see the photos of Harotha. Look! Look at the photos!”

Derek reached into his pants and grabbed what he thought were the photos of Harotha. He held them above his head for people to see. What people saw was Derek holding a handful of hair that was obviously grey but dyed blonde. Derek looked at the hair and saw it too. It was then that he realized he was in fact schizoid and he most certainly murdered Gwen Young and hid the corpse in her basement. Derek said fuck many times and was arrested.

The celebration still had to go on and Darlene was still the elected Solstice Queen, for this reason the staff decided it was best not to inform Darlene of her husband’s actions. They did however interrupt her silent meditation to tell her that her husband became very ill and could not participate. Darlene thought maybe he got stage fright. She was upset that he would not share this moment with her and felt a bit like crying but pulled it together and reminded herself about her responsibility to perform.

Meanwhile a politician named Joseph Thornwood was backstage well prepared just in case a freak accident like this occurred. He stepped in with great honor and took Derek’s place. The other six men were chatting about Derek’s incident and arguing about the meaning of what just happened. Burt, however, was not taking part in the gossip, his head was elsewhere. “Dale,” Burt said. “I am nervous.”

“Do you want a blue one?” Dale said.

“Do you have one?” Burt asked.

“Richard’s got a couple. We’re all nervous.”

Burt smiled as a thank you.

“Dick!” Dale shouted to Mr. Coin, “Dick! Burt’s nervous, you got another viagra?”

Richard Coin said he did and tossed it to Burt. Burt swallowed it. He was ready to perform and perform he did along with the other six men they showed the public exactly what they wanted to see and when they finished, just as it happens every year, Satan ascended from the Solstice Queen’s uterus and gave a rousing speech about the importance of being cooperative instead of competitive and how the senior teaching benefits are really the same thing as giving away tenure and that we should remember the importance of using incentives to stimulate an ambition to be an effective teacher as education should be the number one priority.

Derek watched the speech from the jail cell as psychologists tried to determine what was wrong with him. Derek envied the seven men on television and knew that he would never get a chance to be in the celebration again.

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