Crushing disappointment forced me to face a harsh truth…
Am I really investing in myself and my own opportunities as much as I am investing in finding opportunities in places I don’t own?
I’m hurt, but my painful rejection forces a crucial course-correction for my life.
This place I wanted to be in wasn’t meant for me.
He felt like he turned a corner– as he turned a corner to enter his office building.
He stomach felt normal. His didn’t feel heavy. He stood taller. And tears weren’t welling in his eyes as he blasted Demon Days by the Gorillaz in his headset.
He entered the elevator and pressed the second floor button.
The doors shut.
The damage from their rejection felt deep. Nobody could see it.
He flashed his badge and entered his quiet office.
He received the email from them while he was away on vacation with his wife.
Congratulations! We’re looking forward to bringing you on board! Thank you for your patience!
All they needed to do was check his references, and that wouldn’t be an issue. He had the perfect people in mind. He wasn’t a liar. Everything he stated on his resume were verifiable facts. So all they needed was to schedule him for a meet and greet to have a conversation with the people he would be working with.
He sat at his desk and took a deep breath.
It took them several weeks before they got back to him. That’s when things took a bizarre turn.
He reached back to his mailbox to retrieve the mountain of files to enter into the database.
The night before the interview, the people he would be working for requested I construct an entire mock campaign for their website the night before the meet and greet, which he found odd. Multiple interviews across a whole two month interview process, and the night before they wanted him to accomplish something it would probably take several days for a person working there to accomplish?!
He removed staples from the document and fed them into the scanner bay.
He accepted the challenge. He concocted a campaign in a night. He -as he has had to do his entire life because of how he looked- made it his mission to prove himself. He had the experience. He had the know-how. He just had to repeatedly prove his mettle and competence. That was the game. That was always the game.
He tossed the scanned documents into the shred box.
He agreed to a phone call after normal work hours. He did what they asked. He fielded every question and scenario they threw at him. He thought the meet and greet (it was really a third interview) went well.
He sat back in his chair.
The feeling of uncertainty and inadequacy started to churn in his stomach as well as sap his energy.
They emailed him a week later to inform him, after the meet and greet, that they decided not to move forward with his application.
He sank in his chair.
He did everything right. He had everything they wanted and more. They believed he did everything right up to the so-called, fake meet-and-greet. They seemingly chose him.
He thought back to his references.
Could one of my references said something to sabotage me? Why would they do that?
They were so eager about him in their email.
He retrieved the used filter and mug from his coffee maker before leaving his office for the kitchen.
He wasn’t perfect. That was the problem. He stuttered on their last question and they noticed he wasn’t the perfect candidate.
He stood over the dry sink.
He struggled to find the energy to even wash his coffee pot.
It was his fault for applying. For wanting that job as much as he did. For not putting as much effort into creating his own opportunities as he did seeking theirs.
People like him had to be perfect and infallible just to gain the benefit of the doubt or approval.
He opened the sink and scrubbed the gunk from the bottom of his coffee pot.
He was done applying. Done begging others to accept him.
He filled the coffee pot with fresh water before returning to his office.
He decided to build himself. It would be hard work, but he couldn’t imagine it being as time consuming as tailoring resumes, interviewing -begging- and updating your linked in profile.
It felt like someone attached ten pound weights to his eyelashes. One per lash.
He experienced an endless, torturous loop of filing, data entry, answering email… wash, rinse, repeat, drown.
He snatched the last of the spreadsheets from his printer before leaving his office for the copy room where he helped store all of the boxes for the archival initiative.
He plopped the spreadsheet on a desk and scurried back to his office before his manager spotted him.
He took a sip from the Jesus is the Gift! mug on his desk.
Room temperature. Flavorless.
Third cup of coffee.
Not a single job replied to him since he decided to change his career and cease applying to administrative positions.
He was just as capable as the people interviewing him. As the people he reported to- except for the ones with law degrees and doctorates of course. He felt these so-called employers should get him while he was still affordable. Before his value skyrocketed once he obtained his degree.
He reclined in his chair.
No more work for him. He was done the archival project. Done with that job.
It’s a lonely feeling trying to find myself at my age, especially when everybody around me (co-workers, peers, family, my spouse, people on the internet, etc.) seems to have everything figured out- or at least that’s what they portray. My closest peeps are all making good money. They’re in the prime of their lives with a catalogue of memoires of their youth from which to draw. Meanwhile, I’m in school with kids young enough to be my kids, struggling to finishstart my final paper.
His eyes felt sore from unblinkingly staring at his keyboard.
He quickly closed his browser before looking over his shoulder to see who knocked on his office door.
His office was an office, but not really an office.
It had a door and four walls, but half of the fourth wall was a glass, and just as much as he started into the hallway, the hallway stared at him all the same.
He waved in his coworker.
“Morning,” He said.
“Morning, Mister Sir.” His coworker entered his office and handed him a thick binder which he cradled between a tall, barely manageable, stack of folder.
He wondered why anybody sent paper documents in that day and age. It was a waste of paper and a giant f*ck you to Mother Earth.
“Thanks.” He took the binder.
“Did you update the database?” His coworker asked.
“Waiting on the analyst to inbox me the request,” He replied.
“Okay, great,” HIs coworker said.
The analyst hadn’t send the inbox request to create the case as of a few hours back….
“Let me check.” He quickly signed into the database. “Ah, see… not yet.”
“Okay, fine,” His coworker nodded.
“Thanks for the reminder,” He said to his coworker.
“You’re welcome, no problem.” His worker left, but only closed his door halfway.
He sighed before standing up to shut his door.
His left knee cracked. It felt good.
It was the first time he stood in hours.
He returned to his seat and pulled closer to his keyboard before reopening his browser.
His term paper was due at midnight and he failed to write a single word.
He closed his browser.
He was less than twelve hours from a zero on his final exam and not even that forced him to write something. To write anything. She stopped believing seeing it as writers block a long time ago. Lack of intelligence, skill and discipline made more sense.
What was I thinking…
He left his computer, drew his hoodie from the coat rack and quickly left his office before anyone could see him leaving.
F*ck a degree. That ship sailed a long time ago.
He was too old for school anyway.
He just needed to stretch his legs and come to grips with certain things.
A “Psychological Short Story” by Darrion J. Beckles
I wrote this short story for my Psychology Class and it deals with several issues studied in psychology. I am no PhD, nor do I major in Psych. I’m just a geriatric millennial working to boost his college GPA.
He pulled the signal rope before timidly rising from his seat.
He checked the note on his newspaper on his way to the front exit, to ensure that his stop was -indeed- the next.
Doctor’s office. Union Station.
He didn’t want to forget his stop like last time. And he forgot to lotion his hands again. They were flaky like old biscuit, and his tongue and lips felt chalky like he’d eaten a spoonful of powdered milk before leaving his apartment, which lead him to believe that he failed to drink any water that morning.
“Union Station!” The Driver called out to him.
“Thanks,” He said.
The doctor said his short-term memory would continue to deteriorate and his blackouts would continue to increase as he got older. He spent years dealing with his cognitive issues. Even held a job and got engaged to be married, like a normal person with a normal brain.
“I appreciate it,” He waved.
“Tell Misty I said hi,” He said.
“Misty?” He answered.
“Your dog,” The Conductor said.
“My dog,” He replied. “You met my dog.”
“Your emotional support poodle on the bus yesterday,” The Driver said. “With the colored tail?”
“Oh, right,” He pretended to remember as he exited the bus.
He was embarrassed. Better to pretend he remember conversations than to explain his condition to anyone.
He stretched his sore arms before making his way towards the station.
He lost his marriage and prior jobs because no wife or employer wanted to deal with a man who often forgot their wedding date, or conversations with his bus driver, or whether he brought an emotional dog with him on public transportation.
He bypassed several drug addicts as he made his way towards the station.
“God bless you sir,” A disheveled woman followed.
He waved her off.
He may not remember whether he’d met her before, but he instinctively knew what she would ask for.
“I didn’t even ask you nothing, damn,” Disheveled woman said.
“I don’t have nothing,” He replied.
“Well, God bless you too.”
He waved the woman off again as he entered the crowded main lobby full of rush hour workers.
He sniffed the air.
Coffee. French Vanilla.
His sensory memory was something his doctor assured him would remain, even as his other memories declined. That gave him some sense of relief. He adored the scent of freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked croissants. They were familiar aromas. Aromas that jogged memories.
I work in a bakery. I’m a barista.
I own a bakery.
He recalled. He couldn’t keep a job, because of his condition, so he took some of his inheritance money and created one. He was the boss.
He sighed in relief.
He was always happy and relieved when his sensory mind triggered some lost or fleeting short term memories. He remembered where he worked. He also remembered that his job, his business, was not in Union Station, but blocks away, further up Massachusetts avenue.
He took one more whiff before leaving Union Station and heading up Massachusetts Avenue.
He took a look at his paper again. There was another note near the crossword puzzle.
He pressed the microphone on his Google search bar.
At least he remembered how to use his phone. At least he remembered that much… for now.
“Billy’s Bakery,” He spoke into his phone.
” This business may be closed at this hour,” Google answered.
“Thanks,’ He jested before checking his watch.
He was two hours early, but late for daily prep!
He was late again. His mother hated him for being late.
Did I set my alarm? Did I wake up on time? What time did I… wake up? His heart started to race.
He tried to force his memory to the forefront as he raced to his store, but that only made his heart rate increase and his temples pound like drums.
He wondered how much worse his mind would get.
He felt anxious. Afraid.
He was pissed at himself that he was late… again. He was always late as a child. Late to school. Late to bible study. Late for breakfast.
He tugged at his hanging thumbnail with his teeth.
His mother would get so pissed at him for being late. Mother would discipline him every time, and it would only get worse for him the more he tried not to be late.
He removed his thumb from his mouth.
His doctor hated that habit. So did his dentist. So did his ex-wife.
He remembered he was late before. That memory returned, but he couldn’t even remember what time he woke up or what he ate for breakfast.
Even memories of why his memories were going were beginning to blur. Why his sensory memories and even some of his long-term memories, like his turbulent childhood, were still intact but holding onto newer and shorter memories was growing to be more and more impossible.
He hunched over and unbuttoned his jacket.
He started to sweat, his heart raced, his muscle tensed as he fought for breath.
His doctor would always recommend crossword puzzles to job memory, writing things down, and when all else failed, pausing and breathing.
He checked his crossword puzzle.
He wrote the notes, but they may as well have been from another person.
Dissociative amnesia was written on the paper.
That was it. Amnesia. His memory loss was due to amnesia.
He stood tall.
Bill’s Bakery… his Bakery… blocks away. He chose to focus on the positive things. The things he remembered. It’s what his doctor ordered.
“Hey!” A woman called out to him.
He turned to see the disheveled looking woman he dismissed from Union Station. She was standing among two disheveled looking men.
He waved her away and started his way towards his destination.
The woman grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.
“Don’t turn your back on me,” She roared.
“Sorry,” He answered. “Just trying to get to work.”
The woman grabbed his shirt and struck him.
Ceiling lights. Beeping. He was laying on a mattress and he was wearing a gown.
He attempted to sit forward but pain, heaviness, and a restraint around his hands and waist dragged him back down to his pillow.
“Where am I?” He asked.
He checked his hands.
His hands, covered in welts and dry blood, were in cuffs.
“You’re in the hospital,” A male voice answered.
He recognized the voice. His Doctor’s voice.
“Hospital?” He asked.
“You were in an altercation,” The Doctor said.
“Do you remember anything?”
He vaguely remembered the woman from the station and two guys confronting him just two blocks away from his job.
His doctor entered his line of sight as he stood over his bed. “A woman and two men are dead.”
“Me?” He asked.
“I’m afraid so,” The doctor replied. “Your condition has evolved.”
O., Spielman, R. M., & Jenkins, W. J. (2022). Psychology 2e: (Official Print Version, paperback, B&W, 2nd Edition): 2nd Edition. Open Stax Textbooks.
“One hundred miles from the capital, a mercenary meets the predacious killer he inspired to slaughter a military battalion of government soldiers”
Every hostage he left behind in the watchtower was gone. Dead.
He should never have left them. He should have never left his crazy partner to watch them alone. It wasn’t his worst mistake, which was what made him even less confident he could recover the mission.
He peeked into the upper room from the stairs, using the stone corner for cover in case the killer was still there.
Nobody was supposed to die.
The Killer was there. He could hear the Killer wheezing in the room with the tower window.
The hostages were laying on their side and still bound and blindfolded just as he left them.
He quietly emerged from the stairs and onto the floor, gun drawn, and quietly walked along the wall, avoiding the puddles on the stone ground.
The Killer seemed unaware of his presence as they stared out into the woods.
He was staring out into the woods just hours earlier before he left for his mission. Before he encountered the Killer for the first time, in the midst of slaughtering an encampment full of soldiers. In the midst of ruining his plans.
He tiptoed towards the Killer who still hadn’t moved from the tower window.
He was ready to eliminate the threat quickly and move on with his second plan. But he witnessed first hand how strong, indestructible and adept the threat was when dealing with the country’s elite soldiers with nothing more than a knife. He didn’t know what he hoped to achieve with a pistol.
“You do not have to hide from me,” The Killer called.
He approached with caution, with pistol drawn. “Is that so?”
His partner was in the corner of the observatory room with a gash on her forehead. He couldn’t tell whether she was dead or unconscious but she was unconscious in the corner.
“I expected you here sooner,” The Killer said.
“I’m starting to expect you everywhere I go,” He answered back. “Are you following me?”
The Killer didn’t answer.
“Who are you?” He asked.
“Who I am is what I’m now figuring out,” The Killer answered. “And you are helping me do so.”
“Am I?” West circled slowly towards his partner.
“Since the first time I laid eyes on you,” The Killer added.
Not creepy at all.
“You can put your weapon away.” the Killer said.
“Why’s that?” West asked.
“I’m not here to hurt anybody,” the Killer replied.
“But you hurt my partner,” West looked towards Keyana.
“She attacked first,” the Killer said. “I can’t help but defend myself.”
Keyana’s head injury didn’t appear life threatening, but he needed to determine that up close. He’d seen plenty of people die from minor (looking) wounds before.
“You can lower your weapon,” the Killer reiterated. “You have my word I will not attack.”
“I don’t think so,” West answered. “I think I’ll hold onto it for now.”
“As you wish,” The Killer replied.
The Killer was much smaller close up than what he remembered.
He thought of how the Killer mounted the six foot armored soldier and tore past their armor and into its neck.
“Look out,” His partner, Keyana, groaned as she shifted her position.
She was alive.
That was one less body to feel guilt over.
“Why did you kill them?” He asked.
Unfortunately, the hostages shared a much different fate. All were dead, but some were even sitting in the same position he left them.
“Are you alone?” The Killer asked.
He glanced over his shoulder knowing Prentace must be putting himself into position to attack the Killer.
“Yeah.. I’m alone,” West answered. “Answer my question.”
“I’m always alone,” The Killer looked over their shoulder before reaching back and grabbing empty and squeezing the life out of the empty space behind him. “But you’re not.”
“Gurk!” Prentace shrieked. “Help.”
He did his best to hide his shock.
Even animals with heightened sense had trouble tracking Prentace when he as invisible. His worry was growing with the Killer. His worry grew when he was facing something he didn’t understand, nor had the time for which to prepare.
“His cloaking fools the eyes,” The Killer lifted the Invisible boy to the air. “But not the nose.”
“Put him down, please” West ordered.
“As you wish,” The Killer dropped the invisible boy.
“That hurt,” Prentace whined. “This guy’s strong like a Grizzly Deer.”
He’d met killers who took lives for no logical reason. He hoped he wasn’t dealing with one of those. Killers without cause wanted blood. That was all. There was no negotiating or threatening people like that.
“Go stand outside and keep watch,” West ordered.
“Alone?” Prentace whispered.
“Yes, go.” West demanded.
“Okay,” Prentace asnwered.
He faintly heard Prentace staggering out of the room.
“I’m sorry,” The Killer said.
“For?” West drew closer with his pistol.
“For hurting your friends,” The Killer answered.
He didn’t have friends. Only business partners.
“But you hurt other people,” West replied.
“Yes,” The Killer coldly responded. “I do.”
“Why?” West lowered his weapon. “Who sent you to hurt other people?”
“I… don’t remember,” The Killer answered. “I just felt I should.”
West examined the Killer for weapons.
Two small curved blades. No firearms.
He would think he had the weapons advantage if he hadn’t seen the Killer use his knives.
The Killer smelled like an extinguished fireplace.
“Who do you work for?” West inquired.
He thought maybe Keyana, his crazy partner, tried to set the Killer on fire….
The Killer turned to face West “I came of my own free will.”
He looked into the Killer’s eyes.
The Killer’s eyes were vacant. He couldn’t read anything. No fear. No anger. No lies. Nothing.
“So, nobody’s paying you,” West said.
“My desire isn’t money,” The Killer replied.
West felt more confused then than he did than before he saw the Killer nearly decapitate an armored Guard with ease.
“Then what is your desire,” West asked. “Revenge?”
He figured the Killer was a Rising Tide rebel. The rising tide was an umbrella term for several, maybe hundreds, of small anti-government factions all over the country. The Killer could belong to any one of them.
“I don’t know,” The Killer said.
“But you’ve been specifically following me,” West said.
“Yes,” The Killer answered.
“Killing people around me,” West asked.
“Yes,” The Killer answered.
“Why?” West asked.
“You’re the leader,” the Killer answered. “Isn’t that what you want us to do?”
“Who?” West asked
“The Rising Tide,” the Killer answered. “You are the leader, correct?”
He was the leader. It was what he was hired to do. Be the leader. Be the figurehead and symbol of the fractured Rising Tide movement.
“Your goals are my goals.” The Killer asked.
“What do you mean?” West asked.
West wasn’t the first person in his position. There were several before him. He was the latest iteration.
“I no longer have to wander alone. I know my reason for being now.” the Killer said.
“I’m happy to help, I guess.” West raised his pistol. “But I’m going to need you to stay out of my way.”
“Why?” The Killer asked. “Have I done something to upset you?”
“You’re making my job more difficult,” West said.
“Your job,” The Killer said.
“I can’t have you bringing heat on me,” West said.
“What would you have me do?” The Killer said. “Tell me… Show me the way.”
“Frankly, sir…mam, I don’t care what you do,” He said.
West reached into his pocket for his last mint tobacco straw.
He was starting to lose his cool. He was losing his grip on the mission, the least he could do was keep his cool.
“You brought me to life,” The Killer said. “I’ll do what you command.”
He bit down on the tobacco straw.
“You can do whatever you want, just not anywhere near me,” West pointed to the fallen secretary who provided him intel in the encampment.
“What do you mean?” The Killer asked. “I did what you asked.”
“I never asked for this,” West said.
“With your actions… You asked without words,” The Killer said. “We’re removing the weeds, like you said.”
He promised to keep her safe if she talked. He promised to get her home alive to her children.
“Everything I do is because of you,” The Killer said.
He had less than a week left in the island nation and he was already was behind on his obligations to his employer. The Grand Archive was still standing.
He couldn’t allow anything or anyone to derail his well-laid plans and jeopardize his money.
West turned his back to the Killer. “Once I’m gone, you can kill whoever you want.”
“You’re leaving?” The Killer cried. “Why would you leave?!”
“I suggest you find your own way,” West said.
“But the mission is far from over,” The Killer said. “We need you! I need you!”
“Lower your voice, please.” West ordered.
There was nobody else around to hear them -they were dead- but the Killer’s voice was throwing him off even further. The medicine was wearing off.
“You give me purpose, why would you leave me?!” The Killer asked.
He bit down on his tongue.
He’d already said too much.
“I said, lower your voice,” West commanded.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you!” The Killer banged their head against the wall near the window. “I can’t be lost again!”
He wondered how right the killer could have been about what he’d inspired with all his actions, sabotage, and machinations. He never considered what parading around like an immortal, resurrected terrorist and inciting a civil war war do to the island. How many lives were lost and would be lost because of him.
“I’ll follow you,” The Killer calmed themselves. “I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
He couldn’t allow that murdering psycho to ruin his well-laid plans, and ultimately his payday.
“Will you leave me alone?” West asked.
He wasn’t the one relying on that money. Someone more important than he’d ever be was relying on the money from the job.
“I will not,” The Killer said. “I will follow you everywhere you go-”
West fired a single shot into the Killer’s chest.
The Killer staggered back towards the window and collapsed beneath the window sill.
He fired, striking the Killer once in the chest and a second time in the head.
“I’m sorry,” West said. “Can’t let you get in my way.”
There was too much at stake.
His stomach turned.
He didn’t want to shoot anyone. He didn’t mean to spill any blood.
He felt nauseous.
It was all messed up.
He pulled back his shoulders and took a breath.
He wasn’t sorry. He did what was right.
“Whoa!” Prentace shrieked. “You shot him!”
He approached the body.
“You really shot him,” Prentace shrieked.
“Why do you care?” West asked.
No blood from the body.
“Because we don’t kill people!” Prentace said. “You said…”
“I know what I said,” West interrupted. “Why aren’t you outside?”
“That was our rule!” Prentace said. “No killing!”
“Shut up,” West pointed his weapon at Prentace’s voice. “Why aren’t you outside?”
They left me no choice.
“Son of a…” Keyana tried to lift herself from the wall, but fell immediately.
He would take care of her later… If her condition didn’t make her a liability.
“Somebody’s… people are coming,” Prentace answered shakily.
“People?” West moved to the window.
“Yeah, a bunch of people,” Prentace answered. “And they’ve got a big gun.”
He could faintly hear the rumbling of the army marching on their tower.
The disease. The curse. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair he had to live that way. It was no way for any human to live, if he could call himself that.
He opened the cabinet behind the mirror to obtain his last vial of skin-colored makeup.
Most people in the world were born visible, and remain visible by default. He considered them the lucky ones. They woke up visible and remained so without effort. Not him. He was the what the media called the Unseen.
He applied makeup to his fingers.
He wanted to be visible for his job where his co-workers appreciated how eager and amicable he was in his support role. His boss needed to see him so she could pat him on the back and tell him how much of a big help he always is around the office.
He yawned and began to apply the flesh-colored makeup to his fingers.
He wanted to be visible for his family. They needed to know what he was like when he smiled, or when he cried– like when he lost his sweet grandmother.
Much of the junk in the makeup bottle was thick and sticky. It was an old bottle.
Need to hit the store…
He wanted strangers on the street to see him. To see him see them. Sometimes he longed to be ugly, because there was nothing uglier in this world than to be an unseen.
He stared at himself, at his nothingness, in the mirror where his face used to be just days earlier.
He touched his face.
He was sick, tired, and he’d been out of work and stuck inside for days, so he couldn’t do anything for anyone. He couldn’t work so he’d lost his entire form during those vacation days.
He left the bathroom for the living room.
If he wanted to remain visible to the human eye he had to continue to do things for people. Those were the rules. He had to do things for people and satisfy them in some way, and by doing that, the universe or whoever cursed him with that disease, would grant him momentary visibility. Those were the rules.
His phone chimed.
He was a slave to his disease.
He could feel his hand and his fingers but it was still difficult to guide his hand to his phone.
It was a text from his sister.
Sometimes he forgot where his hands were located.
Stress. It was probably stress. And age. Getting older wasn’t making his Unseen status any easier.
His sister needed him to pick up their mother from the store.
He lived in another state and he was tired. But, picking up his mother from store would be enough to restore visibility to his hand for at least another week.
He started to apply makeup to his hand.
He chose to apply the last of his makeup to his hand. He didn’t like how his face looked with makeup on it. He didn’t like how his face looked without…
It didn’t quite match his mocha colored flesh but it was the only thing he could find in the last minute.
There was no cure for his curse. He learned that the invisibility was permanent, even in death. There was no sense crying about it. It was who he was. One of the Unseen citizens who just had to keep doing things for people if he wanted people to continue seeing him. If he wanted to exist, he had to do things for people.
He lifted his hand to his face.
His hand looked like a mannequin’s.
The problem was, each time he lost visibility, it took more effort –doing things for other people– to restore it.
And the makeup was already starting to disappear.
He put on his cap.
The invisibility had gotten so bad by the time he was thirty years old it would even envelop his clothes. So, no amount of loud colors or glow in the dark paint helped. A slave to his curse.
“Tre!” He called.
His dog rumbled out of their bedroom and jumped on his chest.
“You walked already.” He petted Tre’s head.
Dogs and cats could see him. Only humans couldn’t.
“I’ll walk you when I’m back,” He said.
Tre rolled onto his stomach, allowing his tongue to droop down his snout.
“I see you, buddy.” He rubbed his belly. “Thank you for seeing me.”
He stared at his jacket on the hook before swiping it.
He liked how he looked in his jacket and hat. He just wished it remained long enough for him to appreciate how he looked in it.
His jacket vanished before he could exit the building.
He held on to how good he looked in his mind.
There was a lot of foot traffic outside. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people on one block with either somewhere or nowhere to go in a hurry.
In a city built for thousand but populated by millions, everyone recognized everyone else, even when they didn’t. And in an apartment of one, outside of his dog, there was nobody to see him. The unfortunate bastard bastard could rarely even see himself.
The makeup on his hand dissolved as he set off towards the metro station.
Hopefully a day in the office and of service to others would allow him to be visible again. Even for a moment…
He texted his mother.
His transparent hands danced on his invisible phone– since he’d memorized his mother’s number and the qwerty keys on his smartphone.
Using the voice option was a painful reminder that one day, no matter how hard he worked, the world would no longer see him.
I should have finished my book years ago. Instead…
I stared a hole through my monitor. The one line I typed in Word was starting to blur because I refused to blink because I was tired and I knew blinking was too close to sleep.
All the talent in the world and I was still drafting my novel.
I sighed. I took my second shot of rum.
I used to laugh and scoff at authors who spent decades writing their books.
That will never be me. I’ll be published.
Decades vanished, and I was no closer to The End than I was a decade ago because I keep starting from the beginning.
I stood and start punching the air.
I shadowboxed when I felt anxious.
Jab. Cross. Jab, cross, uppercut, roundhouse….
Sometimes I’d set my boxing app and go the whole twelve rounds trying to figure out what to write next. What to do next.
I took a seat.
When I started my novel I was forever young, single, and directionless with all the time in the world. I was also a terrible writer. But I had time, and youthful exuberance (ignorance) on my side. Now, I was just old and careful and too painfully aware of my mortality. I was confused at to whether I should care more or care less at my age.
I typed a line.
My main character was now in the middle of an existential crisis. It’s all I knew.
Write what you know, right?
I closed Microsoft Word and reopened my Youtube browser.
I chose not to care as much anymore. It was my choice. It made little sense to waste anymore time on a story I’ve failed to finish for more than a decade.
I clicked on a channel about cameras and filmmaking.
It was cool. A lot of quick cuts and After effects.
I yawned. I clicked on Microsoft Word and reopened my story.
I needed to finish my book. I couldn’t go a third decade without finishing my book. It was the first book of a series. I’d be damned if I died before I finished that story.
I wrote a paragraph.
My main character was a twelve year old was crumbling under the weight of an existential crisis. That was how I would write the chapter. A twelve year old child in a fantasy world suffering from a real adult world problem.
I felt hope. I would finish my book in the next ten years. I no longer cared whether it was trash or whether anybody will read it.
He laid his rifle and compass on the grass before taking a seat on a rock.
His soldier, Ash, must have been halfway towards the sunrise before realizing he was no longer behind him.
That kid… that girl… His soldier was young and enthusiastic with good knees, and would often walk ahead of him even though he should always be in the lead because he was her superior officer and she was the soldier.
Ash returned. “The sun is setting.”
“I see that,” He replied.
“Why are we stopping?” Ash questioned. “The shadows are on our tail.”
“The shadows are always on our tail,” He said. “Always will be.”
“Which is why we continue west during the day…. Sir,” Ash drew a cone. “We’re down to our last shelter cone.”
“I’m aware.” He massaged his knees.
“And we’re low on ammunition,” Ash added.
“That we are,” He said.
Ash groaned before taking a seat on the grass beside him.
“Ever seen the sunset?” He asked.
“We walk west,” Ash answered. “The sun sets in the west.”
“But have you ever paused to watch the sun… set?” He asked. “Or even the sun rise.”
Ash turned her mouth. “No… why would I?”
The young soldier looked frustrated, but he couldn’t tell whether the frustration stemmed from his questions, or his decision to rest.
“We fight shadows and we walk west,” Ash said. “There is no purpose in standing still to look up.”
“Why do we walk west?” He asked.
“Because… its what we were created to do,” Ash said.
“You sound frustrated,” He said.
“You continuously stop and ask silly question, sir.” Ash stood. “We are wasting time?”
“And you never wonder why we walk west…” He questioned again.
“The prophets said so,” Ash replied. “Our purpose is west.”
“What’s West?” He inquired. “I’ve lapped the world and have seen nothing.”
“Ever wonder what’s West? Why we walk, West?” He questioned.
“No.” Ash turned her back on him.
“Why not east? Or North…”
“No!” Ash paused to inhale. “We will know our purpose when we find it.”
“You sound so certain,” He said.
“It is not our job to be certain, sir,” Ash answered with venom.
“Is it not…” He replied.
“Stand up, sir…” Ash commanded. The enemy is clos–“
“Remain still.” A soft whisper carried on the wind. “Still… remain stilllll…”
“Shadows…” Ash drew her rifle. “They’re here, sir.”
“Yeah, as expected.” He reached down to reclaim his rifle from the grass.
Ash’s eyes widened as she stared behind him. “The sun sets on us… We need to move west.”
The girl looked ready for a fight.
“You go…” He said.
“What?” Ash reached for his arm. “Move, sir…now!”
He was done fighting. He no longer had the energy or faith or desire to fight.
He handed his rifle to Ash. “I’ll remain to watch the sunset.”
Ash dimmed her eyes at him before removing her hold. “You’re a stupid old man.”
It took the girl longer than he expected to stop calling him sir. He lost a bet with himself.
“Perhaps.” He reclaimed his compass from the grass and handed it to her. “Lead whoever you come across and lead them well.”
Ash snatched the compass and shook her head at him. “Stupid…”
Ash took off towards the what was left of the sun, that time without turning back. His soldier quickly disappeared below the setting horizon and over the grassy distance.
He wished Ash well. He hoped for her to meet someone younger and that she would lead them well.
A chill on his neck.
“I knew you’d catch up eventually,” He said.
“Remain… still,” The loudening whisper commanded.
He drew his canteen and took a drink as the shadows around him grew.
The sun was all but gone. The shadows were all but on top of him.
“Alright… I’m remaining still…” He called. “Now what?”
The sun vanished, stars appeared, and scythe shaped tentacles emerged from the grass.
No amount of caffeine could have woken him up that morning.
He stumbled off the elevator and shuffled his way through the dimly lit halls of his office building.
He didn’t feel like himself. He felt like someone else was in control of his body and he was just the passenger.
He swiped his badge.
He opened the door and entered his office through the kitchenette.
The office was quiet, which was usual for a Tuesday.
He was an hour behind his usual schedule but he was certain there wouldn’t be enough people present to notice.
He entered his office, gently shut the door, hung up his bookbag and jacket before taking a seat to power his computer.
He never shuts down his computer. He simply logs out, because it takes a whole millennia for it to boot, and part of him was hoping the constant running would burn out the computer so his employer would be forced to either get him a new one or telework.
He was burning out. He only logs out and never shuts down.
He left his office for the kitchen.
His coffee was cold. He needed the microwave.
He needed to believe the caffeine would kick in eventually.
“Morning?” Someone called.
He looked over his shoulder to greet the old man. “Morning, how was your weekend?”
“It was fine, thank you,” His old coworker replied.
“Was the office busy yesterday?” He asked.
“The office was closed,” His old coworker replied.
“Oh, wow,” He itched his beard. “I teleworked yesterday.”
“The boss let us out early on Friday,” His old coworker said.
“I can imagine,” He responded. “The place must’ve been a ghost town.”
His old coworker nodded.
“The boss here?” He asked.
“Not yet,” His old coworker replied.
“Okay, let me know if you need me for anything,” He said.
“I will,” His old coworker waved before exiting the kitchen.
He popped his coffee in the microwave and set it for thirty seconds before stretching his ailing knees.
He questioned whether there was a different life for him. Whether he had reached his cosmic peak, and working hard to leave the office life was like fighting gravity and that he’d be far happier accepting his pre-destined position in life.
He pulled his coffee from the microwave with two seconds left on the timer.
The coffee was lukewarm, but he didn’t have the patience to wait another thirty seconds for his caffeine. He needed his caffeine. He could do nothing about his mental tiredness, but the physical tiredness…. caffeine will hold him over until its time to head home.
He returned to his office and immediately guzzled down half of the lukewarm coffee.
He sat in front of his computer and opened his email.
No new emails.
The coffee was failing to rejuvenate him.
He had to accept the reality that no amount of coffee or prayers or well wishes will replenish his mental and physical energy.
It was time to accept the reality that he will always be tired. Tired and bored was his lot in life, and ironically, the acceptance of that truth was his one chance of finding peace. If he can’t find success, then would dedicate his life to finding peace. It was all he could ever hope for.
He forced himself to smile before opening his word processor to begin his work.
Her bite wound was beginning to turn. And so was she.
Her cleric’s healing magic was ineffective against the spreading rot, inside and out.
Her flesh turned cold, numb, and she could feel the same happening to her soul ever more rapidly. The pain all but disappeared. She felt nothing- and that was a terrible thing. To feel nothing was a terrible thing because to be human was to feel something.
She shoved the healing cleric away.
The cleric’s magic did little to slow down her descent.
Kill the cleric. Kill… the… cleric.
The cleric extinguished the warm light emanating from his ankh. “I have to tend to your wound.”
She stood and retrieved her ax. “I’m beyond healing.”
It was inevitable. Her soul will be lost and she will become another legion in the army of the underworld. The least she could do, in whatever time she had before her soul ceased to exist, was to fight her way to the next level so that the next Paladin could fight their way even further towards the bottom floor. If… there was a bottom.
She moved to the chamber door.
She could hear the monsters wheezing through the cracks in the chamber door. She could feel their warm breath.
There were more than before, she could tell. She was certain there were more beyond her own understanding.
“You have to let me heal you,” The Cleric protested.
“No,” She placed her eye to the key hole. “Save your magic. You’ll need it to get back above ground.”
A bloodshot eye stared back at her.
They were patient, waiting for her to open the door and engage them again.
“I was a fool for thinking you and I could make it to the bottom.” She moved from the door and retrieved her dented helmet from the ground.
“You followed your visions,” The Cleric answered.
“You mean the fever dreams?” She answered. “They amounted to nothing but my demise.”
She should have never listened to the Council of Clerics and their visions. Now, she was going to die in a cellar, and her spirit would wander and rot in the sub-earth for eternity much like her stolen body.
“When you return to the surface…” She said.
“We both,” The Cleric interrupted.
“When you return… command the council to flood the tower with hellfire,” She commanded.
“What of the captives?” The Cleric cried. “The villagers and the hundreds of others.”
“They’re not alive,” She answered.
“I saw it in my dream,” The Cleric replied. “They’re scared.”
“It’s a trick,” She shot back. “This tower… it plays tricks. It uses our belief in dreams against us.”
She walked to the chamber door with her ax at the ready.
“We are here to rescue innocents,” The Cleric protested. “I can’t.”
She turned her ax on the cleric. “You will.”
“I can’t turn away from those in need,” The Cleric said.
“How many die if this demonic sickness reach the surface?” She asked.
“They won’t,” The Cleric answered.
“And who will stop them?” She questioned. “God?”
Behead the Cleric.
“Your God created this evil,” She said.
“This is not you talking,” The Cleric said.
“Who summoned this evil?” She cleared her throat. “That’s what I thought.”
She pulled her ax away.
“You’re asking me to sacrifice innocent people.” The Cleric looked to the ground.
“I’m asking you to open your eyes,” She said. “We will never reach the bottom before they reach the top.”
She was taught in her training that the high ground gave a warrior a great strategic advantage. She learned quickly, after watching hundreds of her fellow Paladins, wielding the most divine weapons and armor ever created, fall easily under a flood of shadow, decay and teeth, that the high ground was a disadvantage, both tactically and spiritually, in that hellish tower.
“I’m going to open this door,” She said. “I’ll get you to the elevator. Take it to the surface. Tell the council to burn this place to the ground.”
She imagined the hellfire rushing down the elevator shaft and shadowy staircases like a blue monsoon, quickly disintegrating everything it saturates in its path.
“Ready,” She said.
The Cleric nods before lighting his ankh.
She unlocks the chamber door and whispers a prayer to herself before yanking it open.
The Cleric screams an incantation and blasts the room and hallway with the light which momentarily freezes the monsters in place.
Go home. Go… Home. Go home!
Her ax burns a blinding blue as she beheads several beasts in a single swipe. “Stay close!”
The Cleric places a hand on her shoulder and envelops them both in a golden silhouette as she hacks and slashes her way through the hallway, through hundreds of beasts.
You will fail. We will reach the surface.
Her ax gets lodged in the armor of one of the cellar beasts.
An alpha. Armored and hard to kill. They’re rumored to be from one of the lower floors. She would like to believe they had made it close to the bottom. Closer to the Great Beast who sat on the throne.
She kicked the Alpha in the chest to free her ax. “I need juice!”
The Cleric shifted all of the golden silhouette to the ax.
They were naked. Unprotected.
“Go!” The Cleric commanded.
She slashed through the beast.
No resistance. Like a blade through melted butter.
The Alpha beast split in two as it hit the ground.
“Ahhh,” The Cleric screamed.
She turned her ax behind her.
A beast bit through the clerics cloak into his side.
She beheaded the beast quickly.
“The Gods…” The Cleric whimpered.
The monsters were beginning to recover from the jolt of light. They were regrouping and turning their bloodthirsty eyes on the both of them.
She grabbed the cleric and tried to usher him towards the elevator.
“I have to heal myself,” The Cleric said.
“We don’t have time!” She answered.
We have to return to the room.
“No!” She said. “It’s too late! We have to get to the surface.”
The possessed in the halls, the monsters, were breaking free of their magical stupor and were staggering towards them.
There were too many for her to face alone.
She yanked the Cleric towards the elevator but he pulled back.
“We need to regroup,” The Cleric resisted.
They were closing in. They were too many.
“I’m sorry,” She said before shoving the Cleric towards the attacking mob.
Kill the Cleric. Go home.
She rushed towards the elevator and pushed the up button.
Much of the mob was consumed with the Cleric and his tasty spiritual energy, so they were distracted.
She easily dispatched the few that came for her.
She felt jubilee as she separated their heads from their bodies.
She would allow them to reach so she can separate their limbs from their torsos.
She was amused. The carnage amused her.
The Cleric forced her hand. He should have just listened to what she commanded. He should have not resisted or dismissed her logic with his illogical faith. Destroying that place, and everything in it, including the innocents, was the only option, and the Cleric’s immovable ignorance would have doomed all on the surface.
The elevator arrived.
She entered and shut the door.
Thump! Thump! The monsters in the hall beat on the door.
She hovered over the buttons.
She was infected. It was inevitable she would turn. The Cleric was her only hope, or so she thought.
She removed her helmet and collapsed against the wall.
She killed him. She killed the Cleric. Her soul was beyond saving. The cold had all but taken over her soul. It was only a matter of time before she became one of the legion.
She placed her helmet on her head before pressing the down button.
There was no turning back for her. She would fight the infection with sheer will alone, and she would not allow it to overtake her until she reached the bottom floor to confront the one on the throne. The one flipping the switches on the tower.
I look forward to meeting you….
Somehow I knew… They knew I was coming, and they looked forward to it.