Daily Fiction 20: The Gaslight

I went into my psychiatrist’s office last week. It’s on the second floor of a restaurant, a Montreal-style deli. They call their pastrami variant “smoked meat.” It’s good but it’s too expensive. When I’m poor I never have the money to go there, and when I’ve got more income I’m so used to nice food it doesn’t feel worth getting excited about some pastrami.

I still feel like I should go there, because I like to kill two birds with one stone, and to feel like the place has some special benefit, a feature I can use thanks to the convenient location of my psychiatrist’s office. I’m very suggestible that way. I’ll get polarized sunglasses, for example, and start finding excuses to go to the water, so I can look underwater with the polarized lens.

Still, I rarely end up going. Last week there just wasn’t time. I came in after work. I was a little bit late. I opened the little shoddily-painted white door next to the deli and went in to the unlit staircase and up past the restaurant office and knocked on the door to my shrink’s office.

“Yes?” he said.

“I’m here for my seven o-clock” I said.

“Come in,” he said.

He was sitting in his office with his head resting on one hand.

“So what’s going on?” he said.

I told him my vague worries—that I was getting older, that I was’t gonna find love, that people were laughing at me, that I was going to get cancer, that I was mediocre, that, though I wasn’t depressed at the moment, I was going to succumb to depression inevitably unless I constantly worked hard to keep my safety net up, which seemed like a huge hassle.

He sighed.

“What do you think about all this?” I asked him

“I think you’ve gone mad” he said.

“Mad?” I said

“Yep.”

“Gone?”

“Yep.”

“So I wasn’t.”

“Obviously you weren’t always mad. Now you are. You’ve gone mad. Is this making sense to you?”

“Not really,” I said.

“That’s because you’ve gone mad,” he said.

“I don’t think so.”

“Of course you don’t. You can’t trust a madman to self-evaluate as mad.”

“Well, look, sure, but like, I think I would know if I was approaching going mad, like if things were out of wack, like I would at least feel like something was crazy. I dunno. I feel like this is all pretty normal.”

He raised an eyebrow. He really managed to get that eyebrow high.

“Do you?”

I did. But I didn’t really understand why he didn’t back me up there. He was usually saying that kind of thing himself, to reassure me. That’s really all I wanted that day, someone to validate my self-reassurance. But he hadn’t been like that at all today.

“Yeah…” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, pausing to take a long sip from lowball glass with a few mostly-melted ice cubes and some clear beverage. “That’s the madness talking.”

“Okay, well what exactly do you mean by ‘mad’?”

“You’re in a state of madness,” he said. “Take a brochure.”

“Where?”

“Where? Out in the lobby. Not now, not now. After the visit.”

“What visit? All you’ve done this whole time is call me mad.”

“Wrong,” he said. “I’ve diagnosed you as mad.”

“Okay, well, let’s say I am mad. What are we gonna do about it?”

“Do about it? Madness is incurable. Best we can do is send you to the looney bin!”

“Jesus,” I said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you.”

I got up and walked out the door.

“Hey man,” he said “I’m just gaslighting you.”

“Gaslighting me?”

“Yeah. It’s fun. Want to try it?”

“What?”

“You wanna try gaslighting some people? I’ve been doing it all day. Passes the time. It’s funny. And because I’m their psychiatrist, people really listen to me. You can get away with a lot of crazy shit if you just commit hard enough.”

“You’re crazy” I said.

“There, now you’re getting the hang of it,” he said.

I explained to him that I wasn’t a psychiatrist. He told me that it was fine, it would just make people crazier if I pretended that I was him. and acted like everything was the same.

I had to admit it sounded like a pretty good idea.

He went to hide behind a file cabinet, while I sat in the chair that he was in. It was 7:30, which was time for his 7:30. There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” he said. The door opened. A tall, hefty-framed red-haired woman walked in. She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t as high as the doctor had gotten his, but there was more subtlety. She put one hand on a hip.

“Dr. Millstein,” she said “Are you gaslighting me again?”

“No,” I told her.

“Ha, very funny.”

“What is it you find funny?”

“Ah, come on. Gaslight me once, shame on me. Gaslight me twice..well, you better gaslight me so good I’ll forget that I was gaslit before.”

Millstein popped out of the corner.

“Fine,” he said “Ya got me.”

“So you boys are gaslighting people?” she said.

“Trying to,” he told her.

“Shit, I’ll gaslight with y’all” she said. “I’ll gaslight so good you’ll think I set a fart on fire.”

[to be continued]

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Daily Fiction 19: Ambulance Care

Daily Fiction 19:

Tommy put out his cigarette as the ambulance neared the top of the ramp, and rolled up the window. Marie downed her shitty coffee.

“There they are right there” he said. “And you got HurriCare right over there.”

“Yup,” said Marie. “Let’s get the patient.”

Tommy opened the back doors and grabbed the stretcher, while Marie took the bag and the laptop and threw them on top of it. They wheeled their way inside, and Marie looked back toward the lot.

“Looks good” she said.

“Hit em up” said Tommy.

She keyed the nextel in her pocket as they made it through the first set of sliding doors.

—-

Caitlin’s knees hurt from crouching in the tiny ambulance stairway. Her ankles and her ass hurt too. Her shoulders hurt from holding onto the door handles.

As soon as Thomas slammed the door she got up and stretched.

“Goddamn,” she said. “How come I have to be the one to crouch in the stairway”

“Because my lazy ass is not in good enough shape to do it,” said Danny. “Pays not to exercise.”

Caitlin’s Nextel chirped.

“That’s go” she said.

“Fine,” said Danny. He took another look out the window, then crawled around to the front and left out the driver door. Caitlin followed him. They walked over to the CareTight bus and he tried the first key on his chain. Nothing happened. He tried the second and it was a match. They climbed in.

“Alright,” said Caitlin. “Let’s steal some shit.”

—-

The call had been an EDP. The nurses were laughing when they got inside.

“Ourand,” said Thomas. “Joseph”

The nurses looked at each other and laughed again.

“Oh, we got Ourand. Ourand right over there.”

“Why are we here today?” said Marie.

“Ourand hit Mr. Lemonick with the foot of his wheelchair.”

“The foot? Ah, that’s just an accident.”

“No, it’s not no accident” said the nurse “He broke it off and hit the man over the head with it.”

“HurriCare got your man,” said the CNA. She looked them down the hall with her eyebrows. HurriCare was loading…

[to be continued]

Daily Fiction 18: People Going to Work

Jenny went to work. She got up early enough to shower and put on her clothes and makeup so that nobody would hassle her, and got on the train early enough to not be late enough to be hassled about it. At work, she did three or four hours worth of low-engagement work over eight and a half hours.

The work didn’t mean much on its own, but in concert with the other people in the company, it accomplished the task of getting some money out of some rich people, who got money out of other rich people, who got money out of tens of millions of poor people. Once Jenny’s firm got their share of the money, they spread it around, in order of how rich everyone at the company was. Jenny wasn’t rich yet, but she was richer than she used to be when she worked harder, so she made more money.

She was wasting a lot of time, which meant the company was wasting a lot of money, but it was still chugging along, because it and all the business around it were run like businesses, which meant nobody was keeping very good track of what the money was being used for.

When she got off work, she went to a bar for rich people, and bought drinks with some of her friends. They weren’t quite rich enough for it to be a good idea to spend money there, but they didn’t see themselves getting there anytime soon, so overspending now was a better bet than saving for later.

Jenny considered changing her name to Jennifer. She considered changing it to Jen. She wondered which of the names would be the real self.

Bryan went to work. He woke up very early so that he would catch everyone by surprise when he went in to work and didn’t seem to have ever not been fully awake. His job was to be more awake and confident than other people and have them believe that everything was in order. He had no idea whether or not it was, because needing to know that was a sign of weakness. Bryan had all the signs of weakness memorized. He tried to find them in other people and not have them find them in him. He was very successful. People saw all his confidence and figured he was supposed to have things.

After work he went to the same bar Jenny did. He could have gone to a bar for richer people even than that one, but then he wouldn’t have been one of the richer people there. It was easier to keep up his confidence when he could feel people looking up to him.

Bryan had a very nice suit. He was considering getting an even nicer one, but first he would have to see it in a magazine that would assure him that it was new enough to give him an advantage but broadly accepted enough that nobody would think he didn’t know or follow the rules. He turned on his iPhone and reminded his digital assistant to remind him to remind his assistant to remind him to remind his secretary to order him the newest copies of the magazines that told you what suits would best make you appear confident.

He didn’t want to go home. His wife knew how obsessed he was with confidence, and he knew that she found that pathetic. She tried to not let him know, but the trying only confirmed her lack of confidence in his ability to keep his confidence up at the first sign of her lack of confidence.

—-

Rita went to work. She woke up very early to make sure that her son did the basic things that kept him alive, the more advanced things that kept him happy and healthy, and the even more advanced things that would make him a human with a huge variety of virtues. She also tried to get in some quality time with him. She’d been doing the same thing more or less for six years, since he had come bursting through her body.

Once she got to work, Rita covered for a lot of people’s mistakes at work. She knew how things worked well, which was an asset to the company, which held her like an asset it neither wanted to lose nor pay. Some people didn’t know how things worked, so they made mistakes, and she would find out and correct the mistakes. Sometimes she would tell them. Most of the people whose mistakes she caught were richer than she was. Some of the younger and more naive ones resented her for catching their mistakes, and upsetting their faith that the reason they were making more money was meritocracy. Others were happy with it, because it was much less dangerous to them than their error being caught by a richer person who might be considered potentially their rival for merit.

In the middle of the day, Rita went by the school to transport her son home, where her mother also lived. She also ate her lunch in her car during this time, because she didn’t get a lunch break.

After work, Rita went to work at the same bar where Jenny and Bryan were customers. She stood behind the bar with a few other people. Some of them talked to people and poured drinks and got more money. Rita washed glasses, moved bottles, cut limes, wiped down the bar, helped other people behind the bar with the things that they needed, and made less money.

A lot of money went to the owners of the bar. The customers at the bar had lots of money, and a lot of it was spent there. They accepted that the prices were high. But they did not accept the idea of paying much extra money to the workers, so the workers did not end up getting much money.

Jimmy didn’t go to work.

He woke up when he woke up. There wasn’t a set time to it. When he woke up he smoked weed. He had forgotten why, if there was ever a why, but now he was happy to wake up, because he associated it with smoking weed.

He didn’t worry about much.

[to be continued]

Daily Fiction 17: God Created the Heavens

God created the Heavens and the Earth. Well, He created one Heaven first. It was the best thing he had going for him. “I gotta make this shit a chain,” He said.

He tried to figure out what it was that made Heaven so good, so he could turn it into a franchise. It was tough. God had a lot of natural talent, and good instincts, and was feeling particularly inspired when he made Heaven, but it was harder to re-create it, much less find a set of rules that would allow a lesser entity to run it well.

And speaking of which, He didn’t have anyone good for that. He had plans to roll out some humans in a few days, but they were looking to be woefully underqualified, and all the other animals were even dumber than humans. Besides, He couldn’t create any of these entities yet, not according the rulebook. He was supposed to create the Heavens (not the Heaven) and the Earth before anything else. Then some firmaments, which were a little boring but very necessary, and then He could move on to the fun stuff. He was looking forward to creating the humans and then shaming them over their nakedness.

But He was getting ahead of Himself. First he needed to make the Heavens. And that meant He’d need some franchise owners.

He made some angels and sat them down in front of Heaven’s gate.

“Welcome,” He said, “I am God, the Creator. You see before you my greatest creation, Heaven. Well, what if you could have your very own?

“Get the fuck out,” said the angels. “This thing seems like a scam.”

“I’m the Lord Your God, the goddamn creator,” he said “If I wanted to scam you, you’d have already been scammed. I created fucking heaven, you think I can’t create a scam? Fuck outta here. What I’m giving you is an opportunity here. You dumb motherfuckers are too pig-headed to see the once-in-eternity opportunity I’m giving to you. I suppose that’s my fault. Should have created you smarter if I wanted you to recognize this kind of thing.”

“Hey, hold on a second,” said the angels, in chorus. They were a chorus of angels. “We just said it seems like a scam. Things aren’t always as they seem. We know you work in mysterious ways and the like. What’s the deal?”

“Thanks,” said God. “I appreciate that. Very good. We can do business.”

He created a whole other set of angels just to play the theme music for his little presentation. God had it going on like that back then.

“Here’s the deal,” said God. “We’re gonna take this heaven thing and blow it up. Now, the full suite is gonna be called The Heavens. We’re set on that. And it’s a multi-tier system. First, we’re going to have the original Heaven. Gonna call that one ‘Heaven by God’. Now, top tier after that is a bunch of full-service heavens along the line of the original. We’ll try a few little tweaks, maybe even some improvements. Gonna call those ‘Eternal Heaven’ ‘Glorious Heaven’, and ‘Divine Heaven.'”

“Then we’ve got our specialty heavens. These aren’t gonna be as large or full-service, but they’ll still try to keep the same standard of quality. So the idea is that the level of service is the same, it’s just not everything all at once. These will have their own title, but with the name ‘Heaven’ before them. Like ‘Heaven: Bountiful Fields’ and ‘Heaven: Clouds Above.'”

“And last we’ve got our basic downmarket heavens, like ‘Heaven Express’ and ‘Heaven After Dark.’ We still want to have a high level of excellence, and keep in mind everything that made heaven great, but it’s a different product category, if you will. Now do any of you motherfuckers want in? Because if not, I’ll make some calls right now, I can create some other investors in a minute.”

“Yeah, I’d love to, I just need to talk it over with my team” said some of the angels.

“I’m omniscient, talk it over with me,” said God.

“It’s a matter of capital,” said some of the other ones.

God told them He was fronting everything.

“I honestly see myself in more of a follower role,” said a great many of them.

“That’s actually great,” said God, “But not all of you are gonna be reporting to me. You’d have to follow another angel. Just as long as you’re okay with that.”

“I see your point” said the angels, and the signups commenced. True to His word, God created The Heavens, and did give them over to control of the angels, though He constantly micromanaged.

With that out of the way, He was free to proceed with the rest of the creation. For a while everyone just sat tight, until these two dudes named Cain and Abel were born.

“Now, did you create them, or…” said a few of the advising angels.

“Nah,” said God. “They make each other, that’s how this works now”

Cain and Abel kept sacrificing things to go the heavens. Cain gave them fruits and vegetables, and Abel gave them meat. The angels all knew they should have more fruits and vegetables, but they were honestly more excited about the meat.

Word got back to Cain, and he killed Abel.

“Well, shit,” said the angels “The one who was giving us the meat had to be the one to get killed.”

Abel came up to heaven, and everyone assumed that since he was the first soul up there, God was going to put him in “The Big House,” which is what they were calling Heaven by God.

“Actually, I might not do that,” said God. “I’ll be taking Adam and Eve, sure. But I figured I’ll let one you get a bid at this one.”

Everyone in the top-tier Heavens got together their best presentations, and tried to land the bid. It came down to Gabriel, who owned Glorious Heaven, and Lucifer, who owned Wondrous Heaven.

Lucifer came to talk to God privately.

“Look,” he said “I know you have very good reasons to pick either one of us. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do in your situation. It’s a very tough choice. I love what Gabriel’s doing with Glorious Heaven. Top-notch. On the other hand, I’m extremely proud of the work we’re doing at Wondrous, and I genuinely think it stands with the very best.”

“Yep,” said God. “It’s a tough decision.”

“I appreciate your dilemma,” said Lucifer. “So I’m gonna make this easy for you. Give the contract to Gabe. He’s earned it. All I want is, when the other brother dies, the one with the vegetables, the murderer, let me put him up in my Heaven After Dark location. I see big things with the franchise.”

“You know what?” said God “I can actually see that working. If you’re willing to put as much work into your branch of Heaven After Dark as you did to Wondrous.”

The next day God announced his decision, and Abel moved out of Michael’s Heaven Express where he’d been staying and into Gabriel’s Wondrous Heaven.

[to be continued]

Daily Fiction 16: Hamburger Helper

Daily Fiction 16

I’m a hamburger helper. I help hamburgers. Have been doing it as long as I’ve been alive.

I wasn’t born, in the sense that so many people are born and live and die, so much as I just came into being one day. The way it happened was a diner cook was working the night shift, while her daughter helped clean the dishes. “You want this dusty-ass lamp cleaned?” the daughter said.

“I need you to clean whatever you got back there,” said the mother.

The daughter rubbed the lamp, and a genie popped out. It was about to go into its spiel, when the mother yelled “Hamburger Helper!” And the genie, misunderstanding it as a wish, and misunderstanding what Hamburger Helper was, accidentally created me, a creature with the divine superpower to help any hamburger with anything it needs.

The mother and daughter were fine. They used the other two wishes on a billion dollars and eternal health. They upgraded the diner to name-brand Hamburger Helper, which they weren’t using before.

But I was at a loss for what to do. For my mission was to help hamburgers, and for this I had to know what hamburgers wanted, and that was hard because hamburgers had no mind or soul.

So I had to imagine myself as a hamburger. I had to think of what it was a hamburger wanted.

I hung around the kitchen of the diner for awhile, and I watched the hamburgers frying on the grill. It was a horror show! I raced to the rescue, throwing the hamburgers off the hot metal. The landed to the wall and crumbled into pieces. I gathered the chunks of ground beef, forced them back together, pushed them into lumps, the matted fried brown beef against the stickier red beef. They were twisted, grotesque versions of their former selves. I wasn’t helping them at all. I was only torturing them.

Shocked by my own ignorance, I thought that I’d study hamburgers a little more before I could attempt to save them. What I found was that hamburgers, through the process of being cooked, actually became themselves. They didn’t want to be hamburger meat—they wanted to be hamburgers, proper. Though the heat of the griddle was painful, the hamburger emerged something greater, stronger, tastier, more intact. Though the jaws of the person were monstrous, being chomped was the pathway to a greater glory that a hamburger could never achieve on the shelf.

What amazed me was how short the timespan was for a hamburger to truly live. A good hamburger would cook in minutes, be served immediately, eaten immediately after that. It was shame, a pathetic fate, to stay long enough in a cooked state to go cold. Only the good hamburgers were eaten young.

So I resolved to help them. I’d stay around kitchens, making sure the burgers were cooked right, turned at the right time, served with quality buns and fixins.

[to be continued]

Daily Fiction 15: The Dragon Slayer

Daily Fiction 15

The Dragon Slayer

I got a reputation for killing dragons when I was a late teenager. When I was a kid, some other kids used to drag baby dragons out of the swamp and kill them. They’d run over them with cars, crush their wings with rocks and smash them to death, throw them into the quicksand pit behind the school and watch them drown. I never understood the meanness of it. I felt like it was so easy to know what to do to make the world good, and they were making it bad, and I didn’t know why. I thought about being a little dragon, wanting only good things from the world. One time I saw a bunch of kids, mean older boys, kicking around a barrel. There was a dragon stuffed in there, just its head sticking out. I started crying. I was afraid they’d see me cry and turn on me. But even more than that, I was afraid that they’d see me crying, and know how much they were hurting me by hurting the dragon, and hurt the dragon to hurt me more.  I ran out to try to save it. But I couldn’t explain why. If I had been older I would have turned it on them, made fun of him. I just told them they were mean. One of them knocked me to the ground, smashed me against the stones.  I got up, and two of them shoved me against a wall. I bounced off it and stood in front of them. “Tough kid,” one of them said, and they left me alone and kept kicking the dragon to death.

When I was a teenager I started drinking to avoid being cruel. I wanted to show that I didn’t care about something, and I guess if I thought that if showed strongly enough that I didn’t care about myself, nobody would see I still had a weakness for empathy. Maybe that’s what I was thinking. I don’t know, I was drinking pretty heavily. My parents were working double shifts and came back late, and though they were always very loving and caring, I had time to slip away. They just were glad I wasn’t actively getting hurt.

Then my father got drafted to the war, and came back with a brain injury, and my mother overdosed on my father’s morphine. Apparently she’d been coaching him to keep reporting more pain to up the prescription, and taking it herself. My father went to live with my uncle, who I never got along with, and I inherited the house and stayed there alone. I started having my buddies over to drink. Around that time we got a dragon infestation.

I had always liked dragons, but having them running through my house, where I was sleeping and trying to live, made me uncomfortable. Their droppings left sulfur vapors that burned my sinuses, made me worry about my health. I was afraid of getting bitten in my sleep, or having my food contaminated by their poisonous fangs. At first I never saw them in person, just heard them slithering and flapping at night, saw their scratch marks on the floor, smelled the sulfur clouds rising, found their pools of acidic urine burning into my spare clothes.

Then one night I hard a scratching under my bed, went to grab the flashlight, and saw the glowing eyes of a dragon. It darted to the other side of the room, and hid inside my laundry pile.

At this point I was trying to figure out how to capture it. It was a small dragon, no threat to me in a fight to the death, but taking it alive was harder, especially when I didn’t want to get bitten. And they were very elusive, and I didn’t want to let it back into the house where it could keep wreaking havoc.

I went out to the yard and dragged lumber inside and started slowly building up a barricade around the corner where it was hiding. Then I put on a suit of armor, grabbed my net, and climbed over the barricade. Small dragons take a long time to take off, so I thought that if it tried to go over the top, I’d catch it for sure.

I shook the blankets and it darted to my right. I tried to grab it, and it broke left, started crawling through a gap between the barricade and the wall. I pulled it out by the tail, and slipped the net over it. It wriggled free of the net and started making a break for the same gap in the barricade, and I slammed a piece of lumber down to cover the gap. But I was too late, and the dragon’s head was already there. It split open.

I started taking the barricade down, and was still wondering what to do about the dragon corpse when some of my friends showed up. They were a little shocked by the killing, but also a little impressed. We started drinking. I needed to forget what had happened with the dragon, they just needed to get drunk. As we got deeper into inebriation, the tale grew taller and taller. The next day at school, everyone was calling me “dragon-slayer.”

I gotta admit, I liked it, even though I hadn’t liked killing the dragon and I didn’t want to do it again. I liked that they were paying attention to me and thought I was tough. So one night when we were in the parking lot, and there was a 5-foot-tall dragon walking around there, posing a real threat to people, I decided to be the one to take it down. It’s what people were expecting of me, and I wanted to be in the tall tales, and I think even people who were just believing in it the dragon-slaying thing because it was fun or new would think “wow, it’s for real” once I took the monster down. So I walked out there with my sword, and the dragon ran past, and it was flying, and I took a desperate hack, and ended up hitting it in the spine. It was twitching on the ground after that, and I cut the head off for mercy. I brought the head out, not heroically, just to throw it in the trash can, but knowing that if I looked like I didn’t care that would only increase my legend, It seemed like I did it more often than I did.

So coasted on those two slayings for a while. But when I got older, there was actually a need to kill dragons… [continued]

Daily Fiction 14: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Truth is stranger than fiction. I’ve read a lot of strange things in my day. Sister had all these books about wizards. Harry Potter, she called them. Kids running around casting spells, flying around on broomsticks. That’s some weird stuff. The wife’s into Fifty Shades of Grey, I think that one’s pretty strange, how this business executive gets this lady so hot with all these rules. My son likes these Game of Thrones books, and he says there’s all kinds of weird shit there, like there’s a funny rich dwarf who winds up controlling everybody. Strange, I know.

But that don’t compare to all the shit that’s happened to me on the police force. I tell you, if you haven’t been out there, you might think books have some crazy things, but seven years in these streets, you see things stranger than anything anyone could dream up. Why, a few years back, I fell asleep in my squad care and awoke from uneasy dreams to find myself transformed into a talking goat.

The uneasy dreams weren’t the weird part. I mean, some of the dreams were kind of weird, sure. There was this one where I was walking along this bridge, like the pedestrian part of a railway bridge, but the bridge kept spiraling off, and not just like a spiral staircase, but like a corkscrew, so I was going sideways and upside down, and it had looked like it was only about 80 feet across when I started but the distance of the bridge kept getting longer and longer, and I forgot what city I was in. But that was just a dream. And even though the dream was weird, it wasn’t weird that I had the dream. I ate two kielbasa and a Dr. Pepper, and I usually have weird dreams when I nap after a kielbasa.

But when I woke up, I found my front hooves on the dashboard, and my horns scratching the fabric on the ceiling of the Vic. When I’d gone to sleep, I’d had hands and hair and a hat and a uniform, like a normal person, but suddenly I had hairy, bony legs where my arms used to be and face felt very furry. I looked around for my radio, and tried to grab it, but I just kicked it under the passenger seat, and I went down to look for it. My horns got wedged under the glove compartment, and I had to shake my head really hard to get free. The glove popped open. There was a map of the State of New York in there, and an old roll of Necco wafers. I started gobbling them down, wax paper and all, and I was still hungry so I started eating the map.

Around then I heard my partner Wong calling my name, and I was relieved. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure of what was going on, and he sounded as concerned and confused as I was, so I was glad he was on the case. I raised my head up and “baaaa”ed at him, and that was another weird thing, because normally I don’t “baaaa.” He didn’t respond, but he kept calling my name. I “baaaa”ed louder, but he just looked around. His eyes wouldn’t meet mine. He even looked behind him.

“Kulawik!?” he said, “There’s a goat in the car!”

I realized he wasn’t talking to me at all. He didn’t see me, or didn’t recognize me. “Baaaaa” I said. “I’m right here.”

“Kulawik?” he said? He seemed confused.

I looked i his face. “Wong? Yeah, Wong, it’s me. Wong? What’s the matter? What’s this about a goat?”

“Kulawik…you’re a goat?”

“A goat? I look like a goat?”

“Wait…what!? Look like? You are…”

We went back and forth like that for a while. The whole thing was really strange. Earlier that day, I had been getting along pretty well with Wong. He’s kind of reserved and a little mean, so we weren’t the warmest partners at first, but we had started to bond more in the recent months. We were talking a lot about exercise routines that morning, some about basketball, and a little bit about our families. But now here he was, talking to me like a stranger, and I was talking weird too, basically like I couldn’t get through to him. There’s a way that one strange thing—getting transformed into a goat—made everything else in my life different. That was one of the strangest conversations I had with Wong. And on the way back to the station, I ate the whole map, that was another strange thing. I never used to eat maps or anything like them. I ate a stack of napkins too.

Things kept getting strange when I went back to work. Nobody knew how to handle the fact that I was a goat. All the union rules were written for people. But cops had a culture of sticking up for one another, and though nobody had ever worked with or been friends with a goat before, nobody wanted to say anything bad about me or acknowledge anything unusual or imply that I should be taken off my shift. But I could tell people didn’t want to sit beside me at the cafeteria, and there were little things, like going in for my physical. The doctor noted that my height and weight had changed. “This is highly unusual,” she said “you’ve lost 3 feet 8 inches, and 47 pounds. And you’ve grown a significant amount of body hair. I’ve never met a medical specimen that changed this often. However, your vitals are in working order, and, uh, I don’t think it would be right to fail you based on human standards, so I’m going to advise you be approved for field duty.”

But no sergeant wanted me on their unit, even though I’d been a pretty popular cop and had my pick of assignments before, and even though I was pretty popular on the force, maybe even more so after becoming a goat. They said they didn’t want the paperwork. I said if they didn’t want the paperwork, I’d eat it. It was a little joke I had. I was trying to use the joke to get them to actually throw away some paperwork, because at the time I couldn’t get enough paper.

They put me on boat duty, on one of the escort boats that goes alongside the Staten Island Ferry, but I said I didn’t know if I could swim. None of them knew if goats could swim in general, either. Eventually I got put in a foot patrol in Red Hook.

They fixed me up with a hat with horn holes in it so I could wear it without damaging it., strapped a gun to my back leg—even though I couldn’t shoot it or even pull it out or even hold it, they thought a cop should have a gun, and they also gave me a badge and an ID in the form of dog tags. Now, even though I was a goat, they called them dog tags, that’s as strange as anything I’d said.

First block of patrol, we got a man walking up the other way, and I just got the feeling he was a threat, and got it in my head to head-butt him. I lunged forward and hit him the middle of the stomach. He staggered back on this right foot, spun, and fell.

“What the fuck, you crazy goat!?” he said, and stood up, moving toward me pretty violently. I ducked under his punch and butted him again in the stomach.

Then he became pretty abusive, screaming about crazy goat cops, and I got ready to butt him again, and I connected. My neck hurt a lot more than I had thought, and so did my head, and held it with my hands in pain. That’s how I found out I had hands, and was a human again. And some onlookers got it on camera, but only that last part where I was human again, in full cop uniform, headbutting this man.

So that’s strange. You’ll never find that in any book. How could you make that up? The truth will always be stranger than fiction. Now let me tell you the story of how I saw a woman swallow a whole Italian sub—well, a whole half of one—in one bite.

Daily Fiction 13: Marine Corps

When I get really embarrassed or humiliated because people don’t think I’m as great as I want them to think I am, or when they think someone else, even themselves, is better than I am, I think about joining the Marines.

The Marines are good soldiers, and I want to be good at something. And I like to know that I can kill other people, not so that I can do it, but so that when I hate them I can imagine beating them up, making my hatred their truth. This stops me from having to do anything, but lets me hold on to the hatred. When I’m fantasizing and hating, I always imagine a conflict at the end of that fantasy. If I were to lose that imaginary conflict, I’d be left with a sour taste in my mouth, I’d feel bad about my hatred, I’d see it as something dangerous for me. If I win, I feel good, and even though I never want to push it and destroy the fantasy, I can at least feel that my enemies are at my mercy, that I am a good and powerful and merciful person. I can fantasize about winning a fight even if I’m not really able to win it, but I just think being a Marine would help me imagine this result more strongly and more confidently, and that would be good enough.

The Marines also are impressive. Even if the cause isn’t good, or the outcome, or the individual actions they have undeniable personal virtues far beyond what most of us have or need. I wish I could focus more, I wish I could endure more physical pain, I wish I could better withstand stressful situations, I wish I could easily muster the will to do things which I do not want to do, but which need to be done. My proficiency in all these skills is well short of what Marines have to do at a minimum. I can’t imagine being thrown into one of their situations. I’d freak out, break down, and suffer. But I can imagine having already gone through their situation and coming back into mine, and being almost embarrassed how overqualified I am in these areas. And most people know it. I like the idea of being able to say just one word that indicates an abundance of enviable virtue, barely needing to say anything about myself.

It’s not just the ability to withstand suffering, either. It’s having gone through the suffering itself. It’s something other people wouldn’t want to do. And better, something they’d want done. They fear going through it, but they wish for someone else to. You’ve fulfilled their wish. And there’s a gratitude that comes with having suffered that way. People give it a certain respect, provided it’s sanctioned and branded and revered the right way. They know they can’t tell you anything, can’t speak for your experience, that you’ve already lost something that they’re afraid to lose. They’re always below you in that way, even when they’re above you in so many others. Imagining having that kind of suffering makes me feel good, because some kinds of suffering just make people have less respect for you, for allowing it to happen, or being there for it to happen to you.

Another I like about Marines—Marines are interesting. Their lives have high stakes. Their stories do, too. I want to know what happens to them, and not even to find their embarrassing secrets. If I had been a Marine, everybody would want to know my stories. I could tell the stories or not, but I would have that feeling of control, of having no limit to how much people wanted to know about me. And I wouldn’t ever need to know their stories, because I’d have the stories in myself.

But the main reason I’d join is to be different from everybody else. Nobody who’s like me, or the people around me, would ever think of joining the Marines, or actually go through with it. Me neither. But if I would, it would make me different, it would take me out of that context, it would put some distance between me and whatever embarrassment I felt at the hands of my peers, and the old rules would not apply, and I would come back having transcended their world.

I want to join the Marines so that I can win a petty conflict in my mind with some people I shouldn’t care about. I’ll never go through with it. But I like to imagine. My motivation may be shitty, but if I did it people wouldn’t be able to say that I didn’t do it. I like to imagine that I did it even though I won’t.

Daily Fiction 12: The Rich Fellow

Daily Fiction 12:

There was a rich fellow. He’s the one we care about.

He lived in a big metropolis sprawling with people. He was a generous and thoughtful soul, so he was always grateful that the people went about so much activity, for so long, just to create the world he walked around in. The world was good. It was good at doing what it was supposed to, which was to give the rich fellow an interesting life.

There were street vendors, chess players, men standing outside beckoning people in to comedy shows, women preaching the word of Jesus, police officers riding horses, families having dinner outside in the summer night outside the streetlight. The rich fellow took some joy in all of them.

The fish market was one of his favorites. They had hundreds of varieties of animals, all pulled up from the sea, many copies of each one, but with slight variations between the specimen. No two were exactly alike, but all of one kind were alike enough to have a standard price, to give the customer an expectation of quality.

He was amazed at how much work they put into the fish market. The stalls were made of old wood, painted yellow, and it was chipped just enough so that he would know it was old, but not enough to dampen the yellow or his mood. The vendors, and even some of the customers, had funny customs, special ways of using words, idiosyncracies in how they exchanged money and parcelled their product, that provided him mild fascination but never fully confounded him.

And this for a place he only went to three or four times a year! They kept it running all the other days, just in case he would show up. They kept it running even if he’d already come and left for the day and there was no hope of return.

He knew it went beyond the fish market. The fish market was just an example. That was another use of it, besides the amusement, the fascination, and the occasional seafood, (though he only bought seafood every third visit or so, barely once a year—all those multifarious species being pulled out of the ocean just to afford him the occasional dozen oysters or fresh salmon).  It was an example of how much work everybody was putting into the rich man’s rich life, even without knowing if he was ever going to make us of it. Every day they would deal in fish, staying in the fish world, just practicing for his arrival, as he crossed through the planes of existence with ease.

He was grateful with all his rich soul.

They also were doing an incredible amount of work to make him stay rich. He talked about money to people, and he got money for it. It was a good deal, but luckily some idiots were taking lesser deals. The ones he saw most immediately were the ones who moved the money around while he talked about it. They didn’t get as much money as he did, because they worked under him. And yet they worked harder. They were working hard rather than working smart. At least they were working. But they hadn’t done enough work, because they still weren’t having his job, much less doing it, which was kind of an afterthought to the having the job.

He had friends who would muck around with certain other work. One of them was talking about a system he had created to make it easier for people to buy bread directly from bakers. You could use the system on your telephone, which was the iPhone 6s, (although the rich fellow could still remember a time when your telephone was the iPhone 6, because the iPhone 6s had not been made yet.)

The rich fellow considered it crude and a little alarming that his friend had been able to become rich doing something that wasn’t moving around money. It seemed to him that money should go to the money-makers, not to people with idiosyncratic other pursuits. He wished that everyone at the world worked for his bank, so then everyone would be on the same system and there would be no chaos and everyone would understand more clearly that he was above them because it would be right there on the org chart. People usually got the message without it, but he figured there was no reason to be taking the chance.

Anyway, his friend, not a professional money-maker, had managed to make money just by building a system that went on telephones and computers, and dealt with baking. The rich fellow wasn’t sure what to do about it.

But in the middle of their conversation, the rich fellow’s friend mentioned something peculiar: that the bakers baked bread in order to try to make their own money.

This seemed very stupid to the rich man. Why would anybody bake bread? There was clearly no money in it. You were grubbing around in flour and water. There was no way to change that quickly enough into money to justify not going into money-talking instead. And yet people did that! It seemed to him that they had pursued a life of extreme poverty, and deserved anything that happened to them on account of their irresponsible decisions. But because it was hard to get that point through, he thought it would be good to use incentives—which he dealt with a lot at the bank—to punish people who didn’t make responsible decisiions like going into the field of money-moving.

At a party, he professed his love for all the actors who shaped out his world, and his contempty for all the failed businesspeople who were content with their insane plan that they could get money by moving things directly.

He called himself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative

[end to be completed later or never)

Daily Fiction 11: Mission to Mars

Daily Fiction 11:

It’s been 11 years since the ship accelerated. I don’t even think of it as taking off from EarthI think of the feeling. That weight, the pressing, the whole body being there, feeling your presence. It felt permanent, solid, beyond even how it had felt to walk in the world. Many of the others couldn’t stand it. They passed out, vomited. I helped some of them through it. Pulled them to the infirmary, administered their drips, talked them through their anxiety. I knew I was built for this, I knew they should be too. I could see them marveling at me, wondering how I was still healthy, unafraid. I knew I was built for this.

I’m not built for what we are now. Floating through space, just trying to stay normal, to stay healthy. Be positive. Be social. Be excited about the fact that we’re on the cutting edge of humanity, that we’re joining the Founders and adding a second wave of life, that we’re valued members of The Company.

I know how we’re supposed to keep ourselves strong. Exercise routine in the morning. Endurance, then flexibility, then the main muscle groups. Light breakfast. Keep ordinary hours. Come to social call. Highlight something from your work. Meet with your accountability partner. Discuss any problems. Even reciting the routine gets tiresome. I can’t get through it.

But I have to. Not because it’s good, not because it’s necessary, but because I cannot become a problem. Cannot rely on goodwill to make it through space. Can’t have the others smile sweetly with false concern as they help me through my problems, knowing their power and standing is eclipsing mine, with every duty they cover, every allowance they grant megrant me, already assuming the legitimacy of their control. And then I’ll have to start smiling more, laughing at their jokes, taking care not to get in their way, spending more of my energy appeasing them, countering their resentment.

I’m not a monster. I’ve loved, I’ve had a family. I know for some people care is a way of life, and though there’s always power being exchanged, always a battle, there’s often enough love not to see it. But these people don’t love me. I’ve spent the past seven years withdrawing more than they have, as their bonds have grown stronger. I see people laughing, smiling, in their accountability meetings. My partners are bored, uncomfortable, a little hesitant, trying to be nice. But there’s still enough to talk about, still enough for me to say about my work, still enough fog, that I don’t think anybody’s fully worried about me yet. At least I can drag it out another four years until we land on Mars. And then I can lose myself in the town, flee that dynamic entirely, never return to the group I never really was part of.

But that’s in four years.