Joshua’s Moon

crescent-moon-watercolor-painting-silver-blue-gray-abstract-half-moon-art-print-joanna-szmerdt

I approached Joshua with caution.

We were in a twenty floor high rise overlooking the FDR Drive. Joshua was having an intense episode and dangerously near an open window.

“Where’s Joshua?” I discreetly pulled the syringe from its case.  “Can you get Joshua for me?”

“He’s resting,” Joshua calmly answered.

“Wake him.”

Joshua faced me. “No.”

My son’s illness had returned with a vengeance. The prescribed medicines were useless. Ineffective.

“Why not?” I asked.

“It hurts him to say goodbye.”

My stomach turned. “Goodbye?”

“He perceives what’s at stake.” Joshua sat on the window sill.

“Slow down, honey.”

“He understands sacrifice.” Joshua pointed to the moon, revealing cuts on his forearms. “I must take his body.”

Not this again, I thought.

“What happens if you take it?”

“Joshua goes wherever things go when they cease to exist.”

“He’ll die?”

“I’m unsure if nothingness is akin to dying.”

Now’s my chance.

I snatched Joshua from the window and pinned him to the ground.

“The earth is in peril.” Joshua didn’t struggle. “I’m the planets only hope.”

Nothing behind his eyes. The boy talking was not my Joshua.

I injected the needle into his arm.

Warmth immediately returned to Joshua’s eyes.

“Mom?” Josh whimpered.

I squeezed him tight.

“No!” He ripped away from me and rushed the window.

“Joshua!” I chased Joshua to the window.

The view of the sky weakened my knees. Impossible.

The moon. Crumbling to pieces.

“Why didn’t you let me go?” Josh asked with tears in his eyes.

Ghoul’s Night Out

drawn-tentacle-7-e1538685026870.jpg

She perused the menu of the expensive, five pentagram rated restaurant.

A posh, dark ages style torture room decor with stunning views of the unholiest realms.

Perfect for their Ghoul’s night out.

“Let’s see it,” Bestie demands.

She reaches her ring hand across the table.

Bestie closely examines the gem. “Two trapped souls?!”

“I know!” She shrieks.

“Lucky ghoul.”

“And… he loves children,” She adds. “Lightly seasoned… Well done.”

“Your fave.”

“Ahhh… bestie remembers!”

Fiery portals open above their tables. Flaming tentacles place two cauldrons of Boiling Hot primordial soup before them.

“Roanoake U Coven reunion tomorrow.” Bestie tastes the soup.

“The Black Lipstick slut sorority?”

Bestie squints. “Didn’t you pledge?”

“Yes… Before you sacrificed me to the demon, Bilquis.”

Bestie nods. “You’re welcome.”

“Whatever.” She laughs. “Hows dating life?”

Tentacles deliver blood champagne.

“Screwed one of the four,” Bestie answers.

“Horseman?”

Bestie smirks. “Famine.”

“Thought you’d prefer War.”

Too aggressive.”

“Wow… You’ve matured.”

“Two hundredth birthday just passed.”

“Happy belated.”

“I guess…” Bestie frowns.

“Your soulless mate exists. I promise.”

“Yeah, sure,” Bestie sighs.

Explore… Date warlocks.”

“Religious nuts? No thanks.”

“Zombies?”

“Followers. One track minds.”

“Oooh, Vampires? They’re romantic.”

“Total racists.” Bestie replies.  “Briefly dated a succubus.”

“When?

“That semester in Purgatory.”

“Hmmm…. Mummies?”

“Terrible dressers.”

“Wolves?”

“Wild in bed.” Bestie flashes missing finger. “Too wild.”

“Frankenstein.”

“Happily married.”

She groans.

“Ghoul, stop! I’m… fine.”

“You sure?”

Bestie nods and raises glass. “Tonights about you and your unholy union.”

“I guess,” She raises glass.

They share a toast.

 

Jack and Cake

Jack and cake

He remembered my birthday. Nobody remembers my birthday except my mother and Facebook.

I scarfed a piece of my shortcake and washed it down with my nightly medicine.

Straight jack out the bottle. No ice, no chaser. Dark. Strong. Painful going in especially when I take it to the head. Heavenly for my body, short term. Probably damaging my spirit– if I believed in that sort of thing, but oh so good for my mind. I’ll take the headaches. Next-day regrets. Just bring me ecstasy. Pleasure. That hard sleep I haven’t had since I was a child.

I ate another slice.

Sweet, soft, and rich like the nice brother down the hall who brought it for me. Such a solid dude. Always doing nice things for me. And I do nothing for him in return. Nice guy.

I slipped on my favorite lace panties. A skirt short enough to be a blouse.

Something comfortable that I could easily pull up or pull to the side if I was feeling adventurous.

Its. My. Birthday. 

“God damn.” I grabbed my belly roll then looked over my shoulder.

My ass was definitely fatter too. Shit.

My mood darkened. I’m thirty five. Metabolisms slow at that age. Mom was skinny up to about my age as well. She was also married to Dad. Had two kids and was a decade into her nursing career. I was still hitting clubs and putting on expensive lingerie and my best perfume to fuck guys who never remembered my birthday or where they met me.

I lowered the music.

“The fuck?” I whispered to myself.

I felt weak. Emotional. Lost.

Nice brother down the hall tells me I had a pretty face. Even with the smile lines. Guys I messed with compliment my shape and how good I feel. But never how my eyes squint when I laugh. Interesting that the one guy that says the most beautiful things about me was the last man I’d think about fucking.

I ate another piece. Smaller than the last. Turned up the music. Started to whine like I was playin mas in Trinidad.

“I love soca!” I screamed.

Fuck the neighbors. It’s my birthday.

My phone rang.

Shit… nice brother from down the hall calling.

Forgot he had my number.

“Hmmm…” I watched the phone.

Nice brother was sweet… but can sweet collapse my walls and have me sore and shuffling like The Walking Dead into work the next day? Can sweet grab me by the hair and have me screaming bloody murder into my pillow case? Would sweet give me panic attacks and have me shaking, tossing, and turning at night in anticipation of getting split into oozing, bruised up pieces? Sorry… Sweet can’t.

I pushed ignore. “Maybe next time.”

I tossed the cake in the trash. Deepthroated the Jack bottle as I cranked up the music.

It’s my birthday. I wanted strong not sweet. I’d text nice brother gratitude tomorrow. Now, I’m enjoying what youth I have left.

The Penalty for honesty… at work.

What’s the penalty for honesty at work? I wondered as I pretended to work.

I stared out the window for a moment.

My heart skipped a beat when my boss entered the room. I froze.

Gotta look busy. Look valuable. 

She quietly entered her office and shut the door.

What’s the penalty for my honesty? I pondered at I scrolled desperately through my social media feed for good news, a motivational post, or photographs of the nieces, nephews, and godchildren I never get to see.

There’s a seemingly immovable forty hour a week boulder in the middle of my existence. Unshakable. Immovable. Virtually unbreakable. Boulder.

I yawned. I stretched. I checked my text messages as I stretched.

I wondered. If I revealed to them… I’m overwhelmed. Can’t seem to get a foothold on the work. Can’t seem to get it together. Can’t tell whether its boredom or incompetence on my part. 

My stomach hurt. Terrible gas.

I skipped breakfast. Late for work again. So much to think about. So much to do. So little time. Vacation was nothing more than the space between misery. Like work release or yard time. I was being melodramatic.

What if I revealed to them that they need not smile in my direction. I know you don’t like me. I know you think I’m incompetent– when I make a mistake– and beneath you. I know you think I was hired to work under you and serve you– which I probably was. 

I stood. Stretch my legs.

What if I was honest with them about myself? What if I admitted to myself and to them that I was equally as fake? I don’t like you either. But I return your illusion with one of my own. Because I understand my role is to make them comfortable. And how crucial it is to the job, and my livelihood, 

I sat. Powered the scanner.

Error.

I restarted the machine.

Same results.

I softly pounded my fist on the desk.

I’m the only tool in the office not allowed to malfunction. And, the easiest to replace.

I slumped in my chair.

Can they tell I dig my nails into my forearms when they dress me down in front of my peers? Can they read in my eyes how much sleep I lose thinking about all the stuff I have to do the next day? Or the people I have to deal with. Or, how I can’t handle the amount of work they are tossing my way Probably not.

“Good Morning,” One of my smiley supervisors greeted.

“Good Morning,” I replied with a smile bright enough to overload a solar powered city.

“How’s everything going?” Smiley Supervisor asked.

“Excellent!” I replied as my face started to get sore from smiling. “Working on this and then I’ll head back and work on your stuff.”

“Okay, great!” Smiley Supervisor said, returning to her office.

Couldn’t afford to be honest. No matter how hard I crunched the numbers, I just couldn’t afford it.

Addicted to Headphones

headphone sketch

INT. HOUSE – DAY

MAN seated at TABLE.  Listening to HEADPHONES. Drinking COFFEE from MUG.

Sound bleeds from MAN’s headphones. Indecipherable talking. Sound effects from headphones. Screams. Lasers. Swords.

WOMAN seated across from MAN. Staring intently at LAPTOP. Drinking COFFEE from MUG which has BRIDE boldly inscribed on its face.

 

WOMAN

You’re addicted to headphones.

 

WOMAN looks up. Intensely stares at man. Awaiting an answer. Slightly irritated expression.

MAN looks up. Matches eyes with WOMAN. Removes headphones.

 

MAN

(puzzled look)

Huh?

 

WOMAN stares for a beat.

 

WOMAN

Never mind.

 

MAN

Cool.

 

MAN smiles at WOMAN. Returns headphones to ears. Increases VOLUME.

 

 

 

 

You’re the distraction. SMH.

Finger

He added a resource to shared spreadsheet.

This was their first meeting. First week of their weekly conference call. Something he’d been waiting for since he started that literary project so many months ago. Since he decided he wanted to write stories for a living. To be a part of an actual team full of people who shared his literary goals.

Marcey was looking in his direction. Not only looking but staring.

He tried to ignore her but couldn’t.

“Yes?” He asked Marcey.

“Nothing,” She kept staring.

It was something. He knew it was something.

“What is it?” He asked.

The kitchen was cold. Definitely a draft coming from the window.

“You cold?” He asked.

“No, you?”

He shook his head.

He considered asking adjusting the temperature. Changed his mind when he remembered Marcey’s sixty six degree rule. Heat only goes on  when temperature drops below sixty six degrees. The thermostat read seventy degrees last time he checked.

It felt colder than seventy. At least ten degrees colder.

He caught Marcey staring again.

He groaned. “Stop staring.”

“Sorry,” Marcey said. “Your hair.”

“What about it?

“Your hair’s distracting.”

“Oh lord.”

“You need a cut.”

He’d heard that distraction talk before and promised himself he wouldn’t take the bait.

“Not doing this tonight,” He said.

“Guys? You there?” Stacey asked on the phone.

He almost forgot Stacey, third writing partner and Marcey’s sibling, was on the phone. Ready to work.

“Sorry.” He raised the volume on the phone. “No more distractions.”

 

 

Hero Complex pt 1: “Rise -and fall- of the Puppy Guardian”

how-to-draw-Pitbull-Puppy-step-0

My hero complex was going to get me killed. Or fired. I knew it would. Death and unemployment would not stop me from being a hero and protecting that puppy.

I stopped traffic. Snatched the lost puppy from the street and carried it to the sidewalk.

“Calm down,” I begged as the baby pitbull tried to wiggle its way out of my grasp. “Chill yo.”

My work clothes were a wreck. I looked like a construction worker covered in many shades of brown. Dirt and god knows what. I didn’t want to to guess what was on that dog’s paw.

And I was already thirty minutes late for my new job. I sent an email from my smartphone. Considered lying to my supervisor. Stomach bug. The runs. Nobody questions loose bowels and I wouldn’t need a doctor’s note or further explanation. Everyone gets diarrhea and nobody questions it.

I put a leash on the puppy’s collar.

I thought the pup was a boy. Couldn’t tell and I didn’t want to lift its leg to check. I thought that would look weird to anybody walking by.

“Who’s your owner?” I asked the pup. “You live around here?”

I tried to recall the dog owners in the neighborhood. There were many. And the puppy’s breed was common in my community.

I walked the pup across the street to my block.

A woman with a dog walked towards me.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman. “Do you recognize the dog?”

The woman shook her head and kept going.

“Thanks…. for nothing,” I said.

The neighborhood was full of rude and antisocial assholes, I thought. That’s what I get for trying to help an innocent creature, I thought.

I walked to the house. Opened the door.

Considered opening the front gate leading to the backyard but that would required me to tie the dog to the front door and go through the house. Didn’t want to just leave the dog outside. Didn’t want people in the neighborhood to think I was an animal abuser. If I saw a dog tied to a front door I would think it was abuse.

I opened the door. Walked the dog through the house, living room, and basement leading into the backyard.

“I’ll find your owner after work,” I said to the pup. “Gotta go to work.”

I shut the basement door.

Dog whimpering. Scratching the door.

There was nothing I can do then. I was already an hour late to work on my third day. Or… was it my second? Could have been my fourth, I thought. Didn’t matter. There was nothing I could do other than keep him safe in my yard. If I let it go it’ll wander.

I ran upstairs. Changed out of my sweaty, dirty button-up shirt and replaced it with a fresh short sleeve polo. Put on a second coat of deodorant. And I was out of the house and on the way to the Metro rail within five minutes of changing.

My phone vibrated. Marcey was calling again.

I sighed. Reluctantly answered.

“Yes?” I said.

“Where’s the dog?” Marcey asked.

“The yard,”  I replied.

“Which yard?” Marcey asked.

“Our yard,” I replied.

“What?” Marcey shrieked. “How’d he get there?”

“Through the house,” I replied.

“You walked a strange dog through our living room?” Marcey said.

“He’s not strange,” I shot back. “He’s a puppy.”

Marcey laughed.

“What’s funny?” I asked, feeling a bit offended.

“Nothing, yeesh,” Marcey replied. “I was talking to my coworker a-”

“Why tell your coworkers?” I asked.

“Oh come on,” Marcey said whilst laughing.

I didn’t understand what she found so damn funny about the situation. I just rescued a puppy from being flattened by multiple cars. I just preserved precious life! She should be praising not mocking him. She should be begging to give me a back massage for all the heroic work I put in that day. Asking how I would like my eggs prepared for my heroes breakfast. And what made it worse was she brought her stupid coworkers in on the joke. I was the joke, I guessed. She didn’t appreciate my heroism. No surprise.

“Don’t leave him in the yard,” Marcey said. “Let him go. He’ll find his way home.”

“And let him get run over?” I said.

“That’s not your problem,” Marcey said. “Someone could be looking for him.”

I sighed.

Stupid dog. Stupid girlfriend making fun of me for wanting to be a hero. Stupid me with the hero complex that will one day get me killed by a dog owner. Or a speeding car. Or a stray dog. Stupid situation, I thought.

I returned to the house and to backyard.

The pup was waiting for me on the backyard balcony. The pup sprinted down the stairs and immediately jumped into my arms. Left dirty paw prints on my fresh shirt.

“Come on little guy,” I said as I hooked the leash to the pup’s collar and lead him out of my yard.

I took him a block away to a small park away from the main avenue.

I was going to let him go. But I didn’t want to let him go onto Main Street where he could get flattened by a speeding car. I couldn’t sleep comfortably knowing I contributed to the death of a puppy. Maybe Marcey could. But I couldn’t.

“Good luck, little guy,” I said as I released the puppy onto the side street.

Maybe its owner will find it. Maybe someone else from the neighborhood will discover the pup and give it a new home. I tried. Lord knows I tried.

The dog ran to the nearby playground, sniffed around the grass before lifting its leg to pee.

Oh, its a male, I realized.

I wished him -the puppy- well before sprinting home. Quickly changed into a fresh shirt and rushed out of my house and towards the bus stop.

I hope I could catch a bus. I was more than an hour late to my new job. But I saved a life so it was worth it.

The puppy -the same one I spent an hour rescuing– narrowly avoided two cars as it darted across the street.

“Shit,” I said to myself. “Are you kidding?”

The puppy disappeared into an alley.

“Damn,” I cursed myself.

My phone vibrated.

At first I thought it was my job reaching out to see whether I had returned the lost dog. Whether or when I would be reporting to work since nobody else among the pool of PhD’s and Masters degrees know how to make photocopies or pivot tables. Part of me hoped it wasn’t the job. I didn’t much feel like lying over the phone. Not while I was in a heroic mood. Also I was a terrible liar.

It wasn’t the job.

“Yes, dear,” I answered.

“What happened to the dog?” Marcey asked.

I couldn’t tell Marcey what happened. I already felt like an idiot. Didn’t feel like being the butt of her and her coworkers jokes.

“Nothing,” I replied. “On my way to work.”

It was time I hung up my cape, I thought. Well past time I gave up being the hero. And considered villainy instead.

I clenched my fist.