Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Paragons, Part Two

Warning:  This story contains mature elements.
Note:  This is Part Two of the story.  Part One can be found here.


Frank's hand fell atop the alarm clock, silencing it's incessant shrillness.  He cracked open his eyes, staring at the ceiling for nearly a full minute before he finally sighed and sat up, pulling the sheet to his waist.

He turned to look at the digital clock, which read 9:06, and he sighed again, as his stomach began churning with bile, followed by the rhythmic pounding of the start of what promised to be quite the headache.  He needed sleep, but sleep was proving to be an elusive quarrelsome prey.  He had gotten into bed almost eleven hours ago, but he had received maybe three hours of rest, and those had been broken into thirty and forty-five minute sessions, each ended by his dreams waking him with a start.

He didn't want to get out of bed.  He swung his legs over the edge and stood anyways, the pain in his head temporarily growing, causing him to shut his eyes and grimace.  It retreated to it's normal, bearable level, and Frank walked to the bathroom.

After he finished relieving himself, he opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out two bottles.  He poured what had become his daily breakfast into his hand—four aspirin and four antacids—before popping the pills in his mouth and chewing.  He was nearly growing used to the horrible, bitter taste—pills had been the only thing he had eaten many days?  Three?  Four?  The last time he had tried to force himself to eat, he had gotten almost halfway through a turkey club on wheat before the sandwich turned to ash in his mouth and promised that it would be making a return if he did not immediately halt the vile and base transgression of daring to have a meal.

He looked at the mirror, and it was as if he was seeing himself for the first time.  His skin was unnaturally pale, and the rings underneath his eyes were pronounced.  He stared at himself for entirely too long, and he finally realized that he couldn't find a single thing about himself that was good.  He stared at himself longer, his eyes roving the contours of his face, from his chin to his forehead and back, until he finally realized that he absolutely hated everything about himself.

The mirror shattered around his fist, the metal back crumpling inwards as the glass began to fall towards the sink.  He grit his teeth as the pain struck home, and pulled his hand back to examine it.  Most of the cuts were shallow, though a few were notable.

“Stupid,” he said, his voice a croak, as he watched the scarlet life ooze out of him, dripping towards the tile floor.

He left the bathroom, walking slowly through the bedroom, and then the living room, into the kitchen of his dingy one-bedroom apartment.  He unscrewed the top of the bottle of cheap vodka he'd bought the day before and poured a bit over his hand, hissing as the alcohol bit into the wounds.

The bottle, still in his unwounded hand, caught his gaze, and held it captive.  He wanted to drink.  Not much, just six or seven shots, just enough to get the fuzziness.  Just enough to make coherent thought a little less possible.

But he had work.  He couldn't show up to work with alcohol on his breath.

Begrudgingly, he sat the bottle down.  Logic said no.  Logic said if he drank now, he could lose his job, which would make it quite difficult for him to drink later.

Still, there were always other options.  He walked back into the living room and sat on the couch, facing the television, and grabbed a bag of green off of the coffee table, breaking it up into the bowl of his glass pipe.  He didn't turn on the television, or the stereo; he had discovered after a week that it was easier for him if he didn't watch TV, or listen to music.  Not much easier.  But easier. 

He had become quite the introvert in the last month.  He left for work at ten am every morning, and, unless he had to make a stop at the liquor store or his dealer, came straight home after.  He ignored calls from his friends, and knocks at his door only made him look in the direction of it, not get up and see who it was.  He watched no television, listened to no music, read no books, magazines, or newspapers, and only turned on his computer once or twice a day to see if a specific person had emailed him.

At work, he faked a smile, and he had quickly found that he was an eerily good actor.  He wore headphones, now, and he kept his MP3 player had a single hour-long track on repeat.  The track was nothing—just static that he had pulled off of some website and then set it to loop and overlap until it was ridiculously long.  Still, when he listened to the static on full blast, he couldn't hear the radio that was constantly blaring rock music in the shop.

Music.  He remembered when he loved music.  He would pick up his guitar and listen to CDs for hours, practicing chords with the songs, dreaming of one day being famous.  Not anymore, though.  Every song he heard seemed to remind him, bring up memories that he needed to keep buried for his sanity's sake.  Every time he looked at his guitar, he thought of the songs he could play, and none of them were pleasant.  Finally, he buried it behind boxes in the back of the closet, just to keep it from catching his eye any more.

He lifted the pipe to his lips and took a long drag, the smoke inflating his lungs.  He closed his eyes and exhaled, immediately bringing the pipe back up for another round.  Eventually, about half of the bowl was killed, and he had a pleasant head change.  He sat the pipe down and stood.

Time to get ready for work.  He showered, got dressed, grabbed his keys and headed out the door.  He realized halfway down the stairs that he had forgotten his cell phone...but he didn't need it.  The only person he wanted to talk to wasn't calling.

He drove to work, threw a fake smile and made small chat with a few of the guys for a few minutes before he headed in, putting his headphones on.  Eight hours, he thought.  Then a ten minute drive home.  Then I can be alone to drink and smoke.

That was perhaps the only thought that kept him going.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Reflection, Part Five

Contains mature language.
This is Part Five of the story.  Part Four can be found here.

That had been the first good birthday Jack had remembered. Oh, he was sure that when he was young, he'd had a few good ones with his mother and father, but even in this place, he couldn't recall them. Oddly enough, though, he seemed to have a nearly perfect recall of damn near everything that had happened since his father died, the memories coming in and crashing on him in waves of nostalgia, regret, and, when he thought of Cassie, streaks of unimaginable happiness mixed with unbearable, soul-wrenching pain.

He stood and began pacing back and forth, his gaze on the floor. After a while he noticed that there was no dampness in front of the chair, where he had shed his tears, and he wondered just how long he had sat there, reminiscing.

It hardly mattered, though, did it?

The Hopeless had grown strong, calloused, through his lack of hope. But he dared let the thought of happiness intrude upon him. If the lack of hope made him strong, then when he allowed his life to become a quest for happiness with the woman he loved, all inspired by a shared hope with her, than it only stands to reason that this would make him weak—and it did.

“Why are you such a good person?” she asked. They were laying in bed, not sleeping, not making love, just resting. She had just gotten off of work a few hours ago, and he would have to go to work before long.

He snorted. “What are you smoking, and where can I get some? I'm not a good person.”

“You have a good heart. I mean, yeah, you overthink sometimes...okay, a lot of times. But you're still a really good person. You always want to help people.”

He thought about it, and was surprised to realize that she was kind of right. He'd become the guy at work that everyone called to see if he could pick up a shift, the kind of person that always stopped to see if he could help someone on the side of the highway, the man that dug deep when he passed a collector for a charity.

“I don't know,” he finally said. “I never really thought of myself as a good person. I mean, for a long time, I wasn't.” He turned his head, and she mirrored him, their eyes staring into each other. She had the most beautiful hazel eyes that he had ever seen, like miniature stars burned within each iris. My God, you're beautiful, he thought, and his heart swelled, the thought that this beautiful, intelligent, amazing woman was in love with him making him feel buoyant, as if he was lighter than air.

“I guess you changed all of that. I never really thought about it before,'s kind of your fault.”

“Huh? How is it my fault?”

“You changed me. Made me better. Made me the best me I could be.” He smiled. “I guess that's one of the reasons I love you so much.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, then she sighed. “I think I'm going to take the job offer, Jack. Unless you'd really rather I not.”

A few weeks ago, she had been contacted online. The owner of an art gallery was impressed with some of her work, and after a bit of talking, had offered her a job at the gallery, with the promise of featuring some of her work. The problem was that the art gallery was in New York City. He'd offered to fly her out, and get a studio apartment ready for her, was still half a country away.

Jack ran his hand through his hair, not sure what to say. “Is it what you want?”

She nodded. “I'd really like to be able to just work on my art one day. And waiting tables at Denny's isn't going to make that happen. This is the best chance I've ever had to work towards that.”

Silence filled the room for a few moments. Finally, Jack spoke. “So where would that leave us?”

“I don't want to break up, if that's what you're asking.”

“Well, I don't either.”

“ we don't. Seems simple enough.”

“So...what. The long distance thing?”

She shrugged. “I guess so. I mean, it's only a six-month job. We can last that long on phone calls. Plus, we could always visit each other. I'd make good enough money to afford plane tickets back every once in a while.”

He nodded. “And at the end, it it becomes a bit more permanent...I suppose moving to New York City would be pretty interesting for me.”

“Yeah,” she said, and she smiled again. “We're going to make this work, aren't we?”

He grabbed her and pulled her small body on top of his, and their lips met and their tongues entwined before he began unbuttoning her shirt. “You're damned right we are,” he said as the kiss broke and she pulled back enough for him to get the last few buttons and pull the offending garment off.


Jack smiled, shaking his head softly. “Cassie,” he said, his voice a croak, as if it had been years since he had spoken last. As timeless as the room he stood in felt, maybe it had been.

God. How he loved that girl. The one that changed him. Made him better. “I love you, Cass,” he said, and his voice was a bit stronger this time, as if these words wouldn't dare come out tainted, because they knew perfectly well how important they were, how powerful they were, how meaningful they were. How much raw emotion and force was carried in their four tiny syllables.

“God, how I do love you, Cass.” It felt good to say it, and he realized that this was perhaps the longest stretch of time he had gone through since he had first met her without telling her how much he cared, how important she was to him, how she completed his very existence.

The Hopeless continued to do the one thing that could truly hurt him—foster hope. The love that he shared with her was too important to them both to simply give up on, and so they stacked opposition against themselves, determined to beat the odds, and let the fact that they were soul mates triumph over any hardship.

Surprisingly enough, he refused to falter. The Hopeless did the one thing that he had never done before, and used his hope to strengthen himself, as his hopelessness had in the past.

“I know, babe,” Jack said. “It sucks being away from you. You have no idea how much I'm craving a cigarette right now.”

“Oh, don't you even joke about that,” she said, a thousand miles away. “You haven't smoked in two years, you don't need to start now.”

“I'm not!” he protested. “I'm just saying, I kind of want one. I'm not going to actually have one.”

“Well, I want a kiss. And I have to say, my addiction seems far less sinister than yours.”

“Yeah, but less cool.”

“You're a dork, dear. And I have to go. I love you.”

“I love you too. More than you know.”

Zeke stretched, yawning, as Jack closed the phone. “She doesn't know at all?

“Nope.” Jack opened one of his drawers, throwing socks haphazardly in the suitcase.

“I'm gonna miss your ass, dude.”

Jack looked over, at the man who had been his best friend for over a decade. “I'll miss you, too, man. Besides, there's a good chance I'll be back in a couple of months.”

“Yeah...” Zeke glanced at his watch. “Two hours until you need to be at the airport. You have anything else to pack?”

Jack looked around the room, ticking off a mental checklist in his head. “No. I don't think so. You want to head out now and go grab a bite to eat on the way?”

They ate at a steakhouse, and Zeke picked up the tab. “A parting gift,” he called it. Jack laughed and told his friend that he was acting as though they would never see each other again. Then again, Zeke didn't know about the box in Jack's jacket pocket—and didn't know that they never would see each other again.

Airport security was annoying, but the flight was uneventful—the best kind of flight, in Jack's opinion. He landed, got his bags, checked his cell phone. She wouldn't be getting off work for over an hour.

Jack's heart was pounding as he hailed the cab. He hadn't seen Cassie in over four months, far, far longer a period of time than they had ever gone without seeing each other since they first met.

He got into a cab outside the airport, and he had the notion that it was kind of a big first—the first time he had gotten inside a New York City taxi. He gave the address of the gallery Cassie worked at, and was whisked away.

He recognized the used car that she had bought outside, and decided that instead of going in to visit her, he'd play it cool, leaning against the car and waiting. Eventually, he saw her in the distance, and as she approached, she stopped, wondering who was leaning against her car. She strode closer, cautiously, then broke into a run. “Jack!” she shouted, as he ran to meet her and scooper her into his arms.

“Hey, beautiful. I missed you.”

Shock was evident on her face. “What are you doing here?”

“I missed you. So, how about you let me take the most amazing woman in the world out to dinner?”

She was oddly quiet on the drive there, and Jack finally called her on it. “Sorry,” she said. “Really. It's just been a really long day, and I haven't slept a lot, and there's a lot on my mind.” She smiled. “It is good to see you, though.”

There's something wrong, Jack thought.

Is...there something wrong?”

No, Jack. I'm sorry. I'm just thinking.”

They finally got to a restaurant, and Jack stopped halfway to the door. “Umm...I don't think I can wait any longer, actually.”

She raised an eyebrow. “To eat? We're right here.”

No.” He took a deep breath. “Listen, Cassie, these last four months have been torture. I hate living without you, I hate just the idea of it, let alone the reality of it. You're...everything that's ever mattered to me. Everything that I never dared to dream for. There aren't words in the English language to explain how I feel about you...but I promise, if you'll let me, I'll spend every damn day of my life trying.” He knelt on one knee, his hand fishing in his pocket, and he brought out the box, opening it before her. “I know this isn't the most romantic place in the world, but...will you marry me?”

A tear fell from one of her beautiful eyes, and Jack realized that he was holding his breath, waiting for her to say 'yes', waiting for a smile to accompany that tear of joy and—

I can't,” she said.

Jack swallowed. “What?”

I'm sorry, Jack. I can't. There's...there's someone else.”

He closed the box, slowly stood to his feet, and put it back in his pocket. “I don't...understand.”

I didn't...we haven't done anything. I wouldn't cheat on you. But...I love him. I'm sorry.”

Jack stood in silence for a moment, his mind oddly blank, until he finally said, “ don't love me anymore?”

It's...not the same, Jack. I need him. I've been trying to think of a way to tell you...I didn't want you to get hurt. I wish you would have said something before you came.”

He opened his mouth. Shut it. Swallowed again. “Are...Cassie, I love you.”

I know you do, Jack. And I love you. But...not the way I love him. I need him.”

Jack cleared his throat. More silence passed, and for the first time since they had met, it was very, very uncomfortable. “Pop the trunk, please,” he finally said.


I need to get my bags.”

I can drive you. You can still stay at my place.”

Please just pop the truck, Cassie.”

She did, and he grabbed his suitcase and carry-on bag before heading in the opposite direction, ignoring her calls of his name. He found another cab and got in, asking for the nearest motel. The place was seedy looking, and had the option of renting out rooms by the hour. As Jack entered his room and dropped his bags, he thought that maybe it was the city, that it was just dirty, and corrupted things and people indiscriminately.

No. He couldn't blame a city for her choices. They were hers to make.

Over the next few days, she called several times. He never answered. He never got off the bed, except for when he needed to get a cup of water or use the restroom, or had to go downstairs to pay for another day. He thought a good few times about going to the store and buying some cigarettes, or maybe some liquor, but he didn't particularly feel like going anywhere.

He still loved her.

He lay in bed for the better part of four days, and the entire time, his thoughts were of her. Every time his phone rang, her name appeared on his screen, and he had to grit his teeth. Every time, it was harder not to answer.

Finally, he did answer, right before it would have gone to voicemail. He held the phone to his ear, silently.

“Hello?” she finally asked.

“Yeah.” His voice was hoarse, untested.

“How are you?”

“I'm fine. What's up?”

“I was hoping that...maybe we could talk?”

He coughed. “About?”

“Jack...I don't want things to be this way. I care about you. Can't...we at least try to stay friends?”

He sighed. God help him, he did want that. He couldn't stand the thought of losing her completely. “Yeah. I guess so. Um. I can come over, if you want.”

“Yeah, okay. I'm glad you're still in town. I'll see you soon.”


He showered, then dressed, pulled on jeans and a green tee shirt, before putting his hair into a ponytail. He walked downstairs and paid for another night, before he headed outside to hail a cab. Third cab in the big city, he said. I wonder when it'll stop feeling so weird?

Muggings are common in New York City. On this day, someone had gotten mugged only a block away, and that person was currently chasing after the mugger. As the criminal ran by, he gave Jack a mighty shove, launching him out of the way. Jack landed in the street, saw the bus.

There wasn't time to move.


The door creaked open once more, and again the strange being entered. “Are you ready?” It's voice echoed out once again.

Jack rubbed his head. “What...what happens, exactly?”

“You will be reincarnated. You will live again.”

“But...will I remember?”

“Your past life? No. Once you leave this room, those memories are gone.”

“Then...I can't leave.”

Jack had the idea that if the being was capable of showing a frown, it would be pretty large right about now. “You've spent many, many years in this room, human.”

“Do I have to leave?”

“No. But the pain of your memories won't fade here. A new life can bring about new happiness.”

Jack stared at the being, cold fire in his eyes. “Then you offer me two choices. I can stay here, and be tormented for eternity by my own memories, or I can forget about the woman I love and try to find happiness, maybe with someone else.” He turned to face the clock, ticking away seconds, minutes, hours, years, lives. “Please don't bother coming in to ask again.”

There was a pause. Then, “Very well.”

The robes swished against the floor, and the door clicked shut.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reflection, Part Four

Contains mature language.
This is Part Four of the story.  Part Three can be found here.

Jack shook his head, thinking of how stupid he was that day. Hardly the picture of Prince Charming, to say the very fucking least.

He stood and walked back to the table, pouring himself another glass of water. The carafe had been filled at some point, apparently, and it was still ice-cold. He frowned. He hadn't noticed anyone filling it up, or switching it out. But, then again, he had been a bit lost in his own world, hadn't he?

He drank the water slowly, finishing about half of the goblet before he sat down on the beautiful oak chair once more. There was an ache, deep in his chest, that struck up once he thought of that first meeting at the club, and that second at the restaurant. Before any promises were made. Before any connection was established. Before any more hope was crushed.

As it has been written many times before, so shall it be written many times again; human beings are strange, fickle things. What other life form changes so drastically through the course of paltry decades?

But this is their strength, not a weakness. Humans are constantly evolving, constantly undergoing a metamorphosis into another person, adopting and strengthening certain roles throughout their lives, and, sometimes, very rarely, coming to embody them completely.

To embody anything, however, is a stunting process, even for the strength it gives you. A human who has become a Role Incarnate can never live a life untouched by that change, no matter how many decades of metamorphosis he endures.

Jack's eyes snapped open, and he looked around in confusion. Why in the fuck am I in the living room? he asked himself, before struggling to a sitting position. He looked around the room again to see Zeke passed out on the floor, lightly snoring, the bong next to him. Jack coughed and reached for the bong and lighter, taking a long hit before setting it down again.

He blew out a cloud of smoke and glanced around a third time, finding his cigarettes on the ground next to the couch. He lit one and again wondered why the hell he hadn't gone to bed.

He remembered, and a smile cracked open on his face.

She had come. He had known perfectly well that she wasn't going to, that there was no point in hoping that she would, and he had thought that he'd done a fairly decent job of not hoping, but then came the knock at the door, three hours after they had left the restaurant, and when he opened it, there she was.

“Offer still on the table?” she asked, and Jack told her that of course it was. After a few hours, Zeke passed out, and Jack and Cassie kept smoking, putting on no more movies but instead just talking to one another, until she finally pulled out her cell phone.

“Oh my God, it's 3am,” she said. “I'm tired as hell. And entirely too fucked up to drive.”

“Sleep here,” Jack had suggested. “You can crash on my bed.”

She had raised her eyebrow. “Really? Does that line always work for you?”

He shook his head and chuckled. “No line. Here.” He walked to his room, came out with one of his pillows, and threw it on the couch. “I'm couch crashing tonight. I need to keep an eye on his dumb ass, anyways.” He tilted his head towards Zeke. “So, bed's open. Just try not to do anything too weird in it.”

She had finally agreed to stay, and went to bed a few minutes later. But was she still there?

Jack took another hit from the bong before picking up his cigarette again and headed for his room. He quietly opened the door and looked in—he kept a blanket draped over his window, so the room was always dark, but he could see the lump of a human being on the bed, so he started to close the door again.

“So that's how you are, huh?” she said, her voice groggy. “Wake a girl up and then just leave without saying good morning?”

He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Sorry. I was just wondering if you were still here, is all.”

“Oh, am I not welcome anymore?”

“No, you are, but I didn't know if you woke up before me and took off.”

She sat up, a dark shape in a barely-lit room. “I'm not the kind of girl to just warm up somebody's bed and then leave before they wake up.” She paused for a second. “Um. I sleep in my shirt and panties, so if you wouldn't mind...leaving, then I'll get dressed and be out in a minute.”

“Oh! Yeah, sure.” He closed the door again and walked back into the living room, smiling. He had no idea why he was so damned glad she was still there, but he was, and he wasn't going to complain about being happy. He picked up the bong again, and took a long pull.

She joined him a few minutes later, yawning. “My God, you're a beast,” she said, shaking her head at the sight of the bong in his hand. “And how is it possible that he passed out like six hours before us, and is still asleep?”

Jack shrugged. “Man's got a talent,” he said, before holding out the bong to her. “Besides, he's only going on about thirteen hours. I've seen his ass sleep for twenty before.”

She shook her head again. “I couldn't do it. Not a chance. I'd feel so gross.”

“Really? Hell, I'm jealous, sometimes. A full day spent sleeping is a full day nothing goes wrong.”

She raised her eyebrow. “It's also a full day where nothing can go right. If you had spent all day yesterday sleeping, for example, you wouldn't have invited me over here, and you wouldn't have had my amazing company last night or this morning.”

He nodded, before laughing. “Oh, yes. And I'll admit, I did have to spend an extra half hour in prayer this morning, giving thanks for that blessing in my life.”

“Shut up,” she said, taking the bong from him with one hand while hitting him with a pillow with the other. “I was joking and you know it.”

He nodded. “I do.”

She lit the bowl and took a long drag, holding it in her lungs and staring at him with a raised eyebrow.

“What?” he finally asked, and she shook her head, exhaling the smoke.

“We talked for like...hours last night. Then you had me sleep in your bed. Now we're here, and I'm still wondering if you're ever thinking about getting around to actually asking me out on a date.”

Jack blinked. “Umm...would you like to go out on a date?”

She inhaled sharply through gritted teeth. “Ooh...I think I have to wash my hair....”

Now he raised an eyebrow. “Okay, that was fucked off.”

She laughed, passing the bong to him, and he shook his head before lighting it. “I'm kidding!” she said. “I promise. Yes, I would. Whatever gave you such a great idea?”

He spoke in a croak, keeping as much of the smoke and air in his lungs as possible. “I was talking to some pretty amazing company, and she brought it up.”

“Oh. Yeah, she sounds pretty awesome. You should probably do, like, everything that she says, ever.”

Jack exhaled, a grin that he was afraid might look rather ridiculous on his face, and he passed the bong back to her. That might not be such a bad idea.


The falling of his tears seemed almost in rhythm with the slow ticking of the clock, each falling towards the immaculate marble floor and creating perhaps the only blemish in the room—other than him, of course.

He stood abruptly, wiping his tears with the back of his hands. Once upon a time, he had thought that the pain he endured growing up had taught him well on how to hide his tears. He thought that it was a lesson that was taught—and learned—well.

But, he had learned later, that the pain he had experienced in childhood...the death of loved parents, neglect, abuse of all varieties...well, that paled in comparison to true pain.

Oh, humanity. We despair for you as much as we rejoice for you. How is it that you have fostered so many of your people to come to embody such Roles, forces of nature that no one can fully comprehend, so many times throughout your history? How is it that with so many billions of you that exist, you still, on occasion, manage to find your perfect mate?

We do not understand humanity. But we must respect it.

“Wow,” he said, holding the painting before him.

“ that a 'good' wow, or a 'bad' wow?”

“It' absolutely amazed wow.”

The painting was of a knight, polished armor glinting in the moonlight, with a sword held high in the air. His shield was emblazoned with a symbol that Jack had drawn years ago, in high school, and behind the knight, as if he was protecting her, was a woman, her face hidden, but her build and height looked to be just about Cassie's, if not dead-on.

“Well, happy birthday, Jack. I know it's not much, but—”

“Don't you even give me that,” he said, interrupting her. “This is amazing. I love it.”

“Do you get it? Like, the point of the girl?”

He sat the painting down and pulled her in close. “I do,” he said, and their lips met in a passionate kiss. “Thank you, Cassie. It's amazing.”

She smiled, then shrugged. “I'm really glad you like it. It's really the first thing that I've ever painted for someone else.”

“Thank you, hon,” he repeated, and they settled back on the couch. “It's going on the wall as soon as I get home.”

Her smile widened, and then was interrupted by a deep kiss. Finally, she broke it, snuggling up to him before asking, “So what all is on your plate today?”

“Not a lot, really. Heading home, getting this baby put on the wall, then a meeting at work later. Zeke talked about coming over later tonight to game and smoke out.”

“Are we still doing dinner and everything?”

“Unless you don't want to.” He shrugged. “I don't have to do anything for my birthday. Hell, this is the first birthday gift I've gotten in, like, fifteen years. I'm already at a high point.”

“You're being retarded, dear,” she said. “Of course we're going to do something for your birthday. It's your birthday.

He turned his head to see the top of hers. “Hey,” he said, and she turned to meet his gaze. “I love you, Cass.”

She smiled again. “I love you,” she said, and they kissed again, more tenderly than last time. It was a kiss of pure love, one of unrestrained adoration between two people for one another, the kind of kiss that poets write about. It was a kiss that both participants wished could last an eternity.

But nothing lasts forever.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Paragons, Part One

Warning:  This story contains mature elements.

He slowly walked behind the couple, the earbuds he wore serenading him with peaceful classical music. He had spotted them at the theater, and they looked to be quite the romantic couple, very much in love, very much in lust. The man couldn't keep his hands off of her, holding her tight to him, his arm around her waist, achingly close the the swell of her magnificent buttocks, which were only enhanced by the slinky evening dress she wore. James couldn't blame the man—this woman, whom he had heard referred to as 'Miss Wilson'—was quite the beauty. She walked with an elegance and grace that seemed almost out of place on a woman so young—James estimated the two to be somewhere in their early to mid twenties—and it was obvious that she had come from a life of privilege.

She had called the man Bruce at one point, so it seemed that, most likely, that was his name. It would be an odd nickname, at any rate. Bruce stood a few inches taller than Miss Wilson, and seemed to be in very good shape. He had a strong jaw, and his teeth flashed with an almost blinding whiteness when he had laughed earlier, before leaving the theater. His build suggested at least previous athletics experience, and James guessed that he played football in high school, maybe college. Definitely quarterback. There was no way this guy played support—no, he was the star.

The two were walking slower, now, and James adjusted his step to match their pace as he reached up and loosened his tie, pulling it over his head and stuffing it in his pocket. The tie was silk, and Italian—he preferred to not soil it with blood, if it could be avoided. He unbuttoned the neck of his shirt—also silk, but that would have to stay on—as well as the next one down.

The two had stopped ahead, staring into each others' eyes with all of the hope and promise that love can bring. They were happy, high on this elusive chemical in their brain that they provided each other the means to create. They were each a drug for the other person.

James hated drugs.

He reached into the top of his shirt with both hands, pulling his 'mask' out. It was part of the shirt he wore underneath, one that extended to cover the bottom half of his face, hiding everything under his eyes.

She saw him first, as he continued to advance, and her eyes narrowed in confusion before widening in fear a moment later. After all, what kind of a man wears a mask as he walks the street of the city so long after dark?

Before she could cry out, alert her companion to the danger, James's hand reached inside his suit jacket and came in contact with the cold, smooth, steel cylinder. He brought it out as the sound began to escape her mouth, and with a flick of his wrist, the asp extended as she screamed, “Bruce!”

Her boyfriend, fiance, husband, whatever, began to turn, but before he completed, the steel asp slammed into the side of his face, spinning him on his feet to face nearly completely away from Miss Wilson before he fell to the ground. James thought—he wasn't sure—that he had felt a bit of give during that contact, and he wondered if he had dislocated or perhaps broken Bruce's jaw.

Still...that was a question for later. Not much later, but later, nonetheless. Now, the question of the moment was, how many targets did he have? His head turned slightly as his eyes flicked to Miss Wilson, frozen in fear, her breathing quick, her panicked eyes shifting crazily between Bruce laying on the ground and the strange man wearing a mask standing before her, a steel rod in his hand. James had just began to decide that he had two targets this merry night when she turned, running clumsily in her high heels.

Well,” James said, his voice calculated and precise, containing just the slightest hint of an English accent—he had spent two years at Oxford, bettering himself—as he crouched down before the man prone on the ground. “That was rather rude, wasn't it? The lady didn't even have the common decency to utter an apology before she fled like you were absolutely worthless.”

James didn't stop Bruce as the man's hands pushed against the ground. They stood together, a few feet apart, the asp dangling casually from the attacker's hand, and James noted that it appeared he had indeed broken poor Bruce's jaw, if the large dent in the side of his face was any indication. Blood poured slowly and steadily out of his mouth, which he seemed incapable of fully closing. He tried to talk, but got nothing out but jumbled syllables that strung together to absolute nonsense.

You'll have a bit of trouble talking, old chap,” James said, his brow ever-so-slightly furrowed, as if in sympathy. “Your jaw appears to be quite broken.”

The man ignored him, trying to communicate again, this time with nonsensical syllables that were shouted, as opposed to merely spoken, and his arms thrown out to his side, emphasizing the point that he was trying and failing to make. James flinched as a spatter of blood flew out of Bruce's mouth, hitting him perhaps an inch away from his left eye. He frowned under his mask, and brought his free thumb up, wiping away the drop of scarlet life, before looking down to see that his white shirt had indeed been fairly soiled, with drops of blood sprinkled merrily over it. He couldn't see for sure in this light, but he knew that his jacket was going to be just as bad.

That's just not going to come out,” he said, shaking his head and sighing. His eyes rose to Bruce. “That was just unnecessary, Bruce. Don't you have any appreciation for a good suit?”

For the first time, anger finally overcame the pain evident in Bruce's eyes, and James could see, clear as day, the thought that went through Bruce's head in a split-second. He can't talk to me like that! Bruce was thinking. I'm Bruce Something-or-Other! I'm going to kick his ass!

Sure enough, Bruce's fist shot out in a fairly impressive right hook, and James realized that Bruce had quite possibly been quite the bully once upon a time—the man had been in a few fights. Still, his fist met nothing but air, as James quite casually stepped back, just out of the range of the blow. Bruce snarled unintelligibly, and his left fist shot forward, in a straight punch. James turned as he reached his left hand across his body, grabbing the fist and pulling Bruce forward, off-balance. His right hand snaked back, and the asp crashed with devastating force against Bruce's elbow. A satisfying snap rang out, and Bruce's arm was quite suddenly bent the entirely wrong way. Still, James pulled, before finally releasing him and spinning around, crouching in mid-spin and swinging the asp once more, increasing ten-fold the force of the weapon as it smashed into Bruce's left knee through his well-tailored suit pants.

Bruce screamed in pain, and once again he fell towards the street, only his right arm heeding his command to break his fall. He screamed again as he landed and echoes of pain reverberated through his body.

James tilted his head, staring at the prone man. Was he finished yet?

He took a step forward and raised his leg, stomping on the back of Bruce's injured knee with his expensive alligator-skin shoes.

Now he was finished.

He smiled underneath his mask and began to walk away, slamming the tip of the asp against a light pole as he passed, condensing the weapon once more before he returned it to his inner pocket. He pulled down his mask a block or two later, and then buttoned his suit jacket, hiding the blood before hailing a cab. He gave the driver directions to his building, and paid him with a hundred-dollar bill before taking the elevator to his penthouse.

It had been a very relaxing night.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflection, Part Three

Contains mature language.
This is Part Three of the story.  Part Two can be found here. 

Once again, the sound of the door creaking open broke the rhythmic silence in the room. Jack turned to see the being at the door. It was tall, nearing, if not over, seven feet, clad from head to toe in loose, flowing robes the color of midnight, so large and voluminous that it was impossible to tell the wearer's gender. The only area the robes did not conceal was it's face, which was shielded by a blank, porcelain mask, with two dark pits for eyes. Jack stared into those pits, trying to see the eyes beyond, but it felt as if he was staring into a black hole. The eyes seemed to suck him in, drawing him further and further away from the ground he stood on, and he finally broke his gaze, nausea playing with his stomach as a toddler would with a toy from a fast-food restaurant, bashing it back and forth with wild abandon.

Again, the voice, the strange, disembodied voice that sounded more like the rolling of thunder than anything, seemed to fill the room, as if it were being issued from the walls themselves, rather than the being at the door. “Much time has passed. Are you ready?”

Jack paused, then shook his head. “No. I'm not.”

The being spoke no more, but simply turned, walking into the darkness of the passage beyond, his robes fading from sight in the eerie blackness, before the door swung shut.

Jack leaned against the wall and sighed, before he slowly slid to the floor, as if he lacked the energy to stand anymore. He thought only one word.


The Hopeless grew older, grew stronger, and, perhaps, grew wiser. He learned to hide his pain more securely, in order to better assimilate into society and gain more unfettered access to the few pleasures he had in life. The haunting presence of the woman in his mind's eye was eventually written off as nothing more than the product of the chemicals running rampant throughout his brain, and soon she was forgotten almost completely, the memory tucked neatly away in a rarely-visited corner of his head.

The human mind is a very strange thing.

“I.D.,” Jack said, holding out his hand. The man and woman each handed him a Driver's License, and he checked them both. The man was twenty-four; the woman, twenty-two. He handed them both back the cards. “Five each,” he said, and the man handed him a ten dollar bill before heading into the club.

Jack sat down on the bar stool behind the counter and pulled his cigarette case out of his pocket, lighting one, and remarking internally how nice it was to have a job where he could smoke whenever the hell he wanted to.

“That's really bad for you!” he heard someone yell over the pounding techno music. He looked over to see a small, attractive woman wearing a hoodie, jeans, and a flat cap.

“Hell yeah, it is!” he yelled back. “I wouldn't have it any other way!” He held the case out to her. “Want one?”

She shook her head. “I've got enough problems, I don't need lung cancer added to the list!”

He chuckled, looking at her again. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

She walked closer. “What?”

“Do I know you from somewhere? You look really familiar.”

“Nope, you don't. And that line is still as bad as ever.”

He rolled his eyes. “I wasn't hitting on you, you just look familiar for some reason.”

“You weren't? Why not? I mean, I can tell you, I'm pretty awesome. You should probably hit on me.”

He chuckled. “At least you're humble, right?”

She smiled, and for some strange, arcane reason, Jack's heart leaped. “Hey, you have no idea!”

I'm Jack.”

Cassie. How's life in the security business?”

Oh, you know. Secure. Or something.”

She laughed. “You're probably about the smoothest talker I've ever met.”

Hey, why don't you have techno blaring in your ears every day for eight hours, see if your brain doesn't turn to mush.”

Not a fan?”

I's alright, but at the end of the day, I prefer rock.”

Yes!” she said, holding out her hand for a high-five. Jack slapped it, a smile growing on his face. She nodded towards the front door. “Looks like you've got customers.”

He turned to see three men entering. He IDed them, took their money, and they walked in. “So what kind of bands do you like?” he asked, turning to the girl once more.

But she was gone.

He didn't see her again that night. He looked for her the next night, and the night after, unsure of why, but, he searched in vain. He knew he recognized her from somewhere, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out where. He didn't think she went to his high school. He was fairly certain they didn't have any friends in common, and he was positive they hadn't worked together somewhere. Finally, he shrugged it off, figuring it was all in his imagination.

A few weeks later, Zeke was at his apartment, the two of them celebrating 4/20 in traditional fashion, with a bong, an ounce of kill, and a collection of some of the best and most retarded stoner flicks known to man.

Dude,” Zeke said, lightly hitting his shoulder. “You know what sounds fucking great right now?”

Jack turned his head, his eyes heavy-lidded. “More weed?”

No. Yes. But, no. Fucking pancakes, man. Are you down?”

Dude, I don't have the shit to make pancakes. I eat fucking TV dinners and Chef Boyardee.”

So? You've got money, I've got money, let's hit Waffle House.”

Waffle House has waffles. That's why they call it Waffle House.

They have pancakes, too, don't they? I mean, IHOP has waffles, why won't Waffle House have pancakes?”

I don't know. Besides, who the hell goes to IHOP for fucking waffles?”

Well, let's hit Denny's, then. They're close. They have pancakes.”

I don't really want pancakes, man. I want...I don't know. I want a burger. With bacon. And cheese. And mushrooms. My God, I'm stoned.”

Zeke started giggling, which soon evolved into full-out laughing. “We both are, man. What do you say? Denny's totally has hamburgers.”

Dude...I don't think I'm really good to drive right now.”

I am! I'm a fucking master at driving while I'm high. I'm better than I am when I'm sober.” That's a bad idea, man.”

No, it's not. It's a fucking great idea. It's four-twenty, man! Live a little!”

Shit....” He stood, sliding his feet into his shoes. “This is a terrible idea.”

Nah!” Zeke said, springing to his feet. “We're gonna get our fucking grub on. Let's go.”

The drive actually was uneventful, and Jack found himself impressed at how well Zeke did. Of course, he also strongly considered the possibility that he only thought Zeke was driving well because he was blazed. Regardless, they made it there in one piece, without hitting or being hit by anyone, and Jack considered that a point in the 'win' column. They were led to a booth, given their menus, and told that there server would be there momentarily, before they each began devouring the menus with their eyes.

Wow, security man. You're high as a kite, aren't you?”

Huh?” Jack asked, looking up, and he was surprised to see the girl from the club standing before the table, dressed in the traditional black Denny's uniform. “Hey, you're—fuck. Give me a second.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “It'll come to you eventually. Maybe.”

It started with an S....”

No. Not even close.”

I'll think of it any second now.”

Dude,” Zeke said, “She's wearing a fucking name tag, for Pete's sake.”

Jack looked back at the menu. “That's cheating.” He snapped his fingers. “Cassie!” he said, looking back at her. Her name tag confirmed it, and she again laughed.

It took you long enough.”

Well, yeah, but...I don't know. Leave me alone, I'm high.”

Celebrating four-twenty, are we?”

What? Me? Never. I'm an upstanding member of the community.”

Of course you are,” she said, a smile on her face. “You're ridiculous. What can I get you guys to drink?”

She left after taking their drink orders. “She's kind of cute,” Zeke said.

Yeah...she really is, isn't she? Like...really cute.”

Zeke raised an eyebrow. “You got a thing for her? What, did you meet her at the club?”

Yeah. And no, I don't have a 'thing' for her. I don't even know her.”

She came back a few minutes later with their drinks, setting them on the table before handing each of them a straw. “So, do you guys know what you want, or are you not quite done drooling over the menu?”

Zeke snapped his gaze back to the menu, an almost panicked expression on his face. “Everything looks so good...” he said, longing in his voice.

She laughed again, and Jack realized that that, for some strange, indefinable reason, he really enjoyed the sound of her laugh. “I'm jealous,” she said. “I'm not going to do shit for four-twenty. You two look like you're having the time of your life.”

Do you know where Spring Oak apartments are?” Jack asked.

Yeah, on Morgan, right?”

Yeah. I'm at apartment three-twelve. Come on by, if you want. I'll smoke you out.”

Her eyebrows raised, and her smile turned wry. “Do you usually invite strange girls to your place?”

No. Well, I mean. Not unless they're from the club. And management frowns on that, half the time.”

She shook her head. “See? Utterly ridiculous.” She glanced at Zeke. “Do you have any idea, yet?”

Yes! This one,” he said, pointing at the menu. “Scrambled. And bacon, not sausage. And extra bacon.”

She scribbled down both of their orders and once again left, just seconds before Zeke burst out laughing. “You gave her your fucking address, homie? Really? Did that shit really just go down?”

Dude, shut up.”

You do realize that there's not a chance in hell she's coming, right? Like, you're aware that you just came off as a completely crazy psycho-killer?”

As high as he was, Zeke was still right. I just pretty much blew whatever shot I had with that girl. “Yeah. I guess so.”

The meal was eaten in relative silence. Jack's burger was decent, and the way Zeke tore through his eggs and pancakes, you would have thought that it was the ambrosia that Zeus sat down to every day.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Hung Jury

An argument. Not the first. Perhaps not the last. The participants are allies against each other, each merely wanting to do the 'right' thing. But what is the right thing? Can anyone truly know? At the end of the day, is the right path doing the thing that's best for you, that's best for the people you care about, or that is best for the planet as a whole? What moral code does one follow to truly be 'right?' Must one be true to a religious text, true to a law, or true to their own self?

The first ally is named Oron. He sits on a stone bench, one of many in the large room. He is clad from neck to toe in armor too masterfully-crafted to be an heirloom. On his back is a large shield, at his hip a long sword. He has a clean, honest face, with piercing blue eyes, and an air of quiet nobility hangs around him, as does the overbearing shadow of sorrow. His once-proud armor is in disrepair, tarnished and ugly. His sword appears to be rusted in permanent rest inside it's sheath. This man is a defender, a guardian, a man that champions the idea of suffering so that others will not have to. But he is broken. He has been defeated, as all men must one day be, and he knows not if he can defend anyone, let alone his ward, any longer.

You're a fool, Oron,” says one of his allies and opponents, a man pacing perhaps ten feet away. He is tall, and an intimidating sight in his long, black trench coat. His eyes are red, and seem to just barely glow, like the last embers of a dying fire. His wavy black hair is cut relatively short, and his face is adorned with a meticulous goatee. Curved swords are in scabbards strapped to his back, and when he turns, his coat flares out, rendering the pistols at his hips visible.

Oron sits in silence for a moment, staring at the floor. Finally, he shrugs. “I don't see many options left here, Tybalt.”

I fail to see it as an 'option' at all!” Tybalt spits, the word 'option' thrown from his mouth as if it were something vile and twisted. “It's obvious that you can't be trusted anymore.”

Oron stands, his tattered cape billowing behind him, and on his feet, tarnished armor or no, he cuts quite the imposing figure. “You can trust me to do the right thing, monster, as I have always endeavored to do.”

You hate him, now. It's obvious to everyone.”

And who are you to speak of hatred!” Oron roars, his hand grasping the hilt of his sword. He pulls, but cannot free it from the rust imprisoning it.

It's my job to hate,” Tybalt snarls, and his hands reach over his shoulders, drawing his swords, the blades carving elegant ribbons in the air as he begins to approach the knight. “What is your excuse?”

Stop!” a voice cries, and Tybalt halts, his head turning to her. With a growl of frustration, he slams his swords back into their sheaths and turns, once more resuming his pacing.

It is easy to tell that Auria was once beautiful, but her beauty has been tainted with the shadow of death looming over her. Her large brown eyes are filled with sorrow, and her short blond hair falls listlessly around her shoulders. She has always been a creature of love, but her love alone can no longer sustain her, as evidenced by her slightly emaciated frame. Her sundress is faded, and her feet are bare. She sits on the floor, her back against the wall, and looks as if she lacks even the energy to stand.

Killing each other isn't going to solve anything,” she says, her voice soft and pleasing, but then she coughs, a rough, painful sounding thing that seems to carry on for far too long, making Oron wince in sympathy, and causing a flash of sadness to fly over even Tybalt's eyes at the sound.

They both know, after all, that she is the best of all of them.

Silence fell, and Oron takes his place back on the bench, tugging futilely at his sword once more, and, for a long while, nothing is spoken.

What you're talking about is murder,” Tybalt finally says, the silence breaking abruptly and suddenly.

Oron snorts, then starts laughing. “Incredible,” he finally says, shaking his head. “You want to kill...almost everyone. And this is your big opposition? That it is 'murder'? Really?”

I never wanted to kill him,” Tybalt responds, his lip curled into a snarl, and his finger punched towards the window, emphasizing his point.

Besides, it is not murder. Not by any of the standard definitions. Think of it as...euthanasia. People have been euthanized for thousands of years. Most likely will for many thousands more. It is...a noble act, to end one's suffering, when no other escape can be found.”

Our job is to protect him, Oron. Not kill him.”

A fourth voice enters the fray. “Perhaps in this case, the two are one and the same.”

Barris sits at a table, facing three large books open before him, and many more in stacks beyond them. He wears the robes of a scholar, and half-moon spectacles are perched on his nose. He is by far the oldest in appearance of the group, with a long, flowing beard of silver and deep wrinkles etched into his face. “He is an artist. A tragic one, at that. Historically...those people never end well. Perhaps protecting him, in this case, involves letting him die sooner, rather than later.”

Perhaps he should fight!”

That's your answer to everything, Tybalt,” Auria says, her voice tired and weak. “But not every battle can be won by picking up a sword and shedding blood.”

And what would you have us do, then?” he says, turning to face her, his coat whipping about him dramatically. “What would you have us do, knowing full well that you're in the clutches of death as we speak?!”

She shrugs, and leans her head back to rest against the wall. “Foster hope,” she eventually answers, and sighs. “It's the second most powerful thing in the universe, hope. Overruled only by love.”

With all due respect, Auria,” Barris says, his voice expressing remorse at what he must say, “One could easily argue that your cultivation of love and hope are what brought this mess about in the first place.”

She lowers her head, and a tear falls from her face, staining her dress. “I know.”

Oron stares at Barris, and shakes his head. “A low blow, scholar.”

The truth is not always pleasant to hear, knight. But that doesn't make it's validity ring any less soundly. I am as fond of Auria as any of you. But fondness does not change fact.”

The truth doesn't always need to be spoken. You are as aware of this as I am.”

Tybalt snorts. “So now, we should hide things from each other? You act as if it's even possible. Everyone knows you resent Auria as much as you adore her. Before she entered the battle, you thought you and I had things well under control. But you know as much as I, as much as Auria, and as much as Barris, that he was miserable. It was merely my influence that allowed him to hide it.”

And now,” Barris says, raising his head from his texts and removing the spectacles from his nose, “he is more miserable than ever before. The hope that he had is dying, and, as much as I loathe admitting it, you're dying along with it, Auria. So...what do we do?”

I told you,” Oron says, rising to his feet once more. “We put him out of his misery.”

I admit, I must agree with you, though I daresay for different reasons. And you, Tybalt?”

This is ridiculous. We can't just let him die. Not like a coward. Not like this.”

And what would you propose we do in substitution?”

I don't know, scholar. I just know that this is wrong. And absolutely pathetic, at that.”

Auria? What say you?”

She coughs again, a horrible sound that echos throughout the room. After perhaps half a minute, the fit passes, and she gasps for breath, before finally panting, “We hope. We yearn for a brighter tomorrow. Maybe that will be enough.”

Oron walks to the window, stares out of it, at the rain pouring from the sky, hurtling towards the ground fifteen stories below, and the edge of the roof less than six feet below. “Hung jury, then,” he muses. “Two for it, two against it. Means it's not our call anymore. It's up to him.”

And on the other side of the window is the eye of a man, standing on a ledge slick with rain. He sighs, glances at the ground so very far below him. There is no fear in his heart, but all the same, he finds himself torn, as if half of him is demanding that he take the final step forward, and half of him is demanding that he not.


©2011 Cerebral Vomit DESIGNED BY JAY DAVIS