Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Focus School

"The Focus School" was written during that huge sprint of writing I had in late 2006/early 2007. I believe it was one of the first ones I wrote. The idea for it came from a dream I had the night before.

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The Focus School

Neil was a special and privileged young man. His parents made enough money to send him to a very exclusive and reputable boarding school: The Academy of Concentration for the Creation of Well-Rounded Individuals. That was the name the brochures said, and it was the name many of the parents of students used when asked where their children were taught.

The students just called it the Focus School.

Neil found out very early why it “the Creation of Well-Rounded Individuals” was part of the Focus School’s name: at the Focus School, no one was special. Oh, everyone had their talents and their skills, their gifts and the abilities that set them apart, just like at any other school. But unlike any other school, the Focus School had the Repressors.

Almost immediately after he was dropped off his first day at the Focus School, Neil was fitted with a Repressor. It was a black band about two inches wide that strapped around his waist like a belt, but it was pulled tightly and in direct contact with his skin at all times. And it wasn’t quite around his waist. The Repressor was designed to be worn just below the ribcage.

It was uncomfortable, and Neil didn’t like it. Worse, it couldn’t be removed except by the Headmaster. He didn’t quite understand the purpose of the Repressor until he met the three boys he shared a dormroom with. Neil entered their room, which was small but comfortable enough for four boys, dragging the few things the school allowed students to bring from home. The room was narrow but high, since all four bunks were stacked one on top of the other. A single ladder went up the side of all four.

Charles, handsome but a little overweight with long, streaky light brown hair, lay on the bottommost of the four stacked bunks. Wil, was probably the skinniest person Neil had ever seen, and his dark red buzzed hair stuck straight up, giving him the illusion of height, as well. But his height was just an illusion. He peered down at Neil frm the very top bunk, well over Neil’s head, which almost made Neil dizzy thinking about it. Vaughn was also skinny, with greasy black hair that hung limply just past his ears. He sat in one of the four small padded chairs that were (thankfully) on the floor.

Vaughn grinned. “I didn’t know if you wanted the second or third bunk, so I haven’t picked yet.”

Neil scratched at the Repressor, which was digging uncomfortably into his midsection. “Thanks. I’d rather the lower one, though.”

Vaughn let out a cheerful little whoop and practically flew onto the second-highest bunk. Neil set his few things on his bunk and stretched out uncomfortably.

Charles leaned out and up, his head appearing just in Neil’s sight. “The Repressor bugging you?”

“Yeah. I don’t get what they’re for.”

“What do you know about this school?”

“It’s supposed to make us ‘well-rounded individuals’. That’s all anyone’s told me about it,” Neil replied.

“Charles is already well-rounded!” came Vaughn’s rather high voice from above them.

Charles shook his head. “Make us just like everyone else is all that means. You’re here. That means you’ve got something that makes you special. Really special. Is that right, Neil?”

Confused, Neil nodded. “I was the fastest runner at my old school.”

“Bet you broke a lot of track records, didn’t you?”

“Tons of them.”

Charles stepped out of his bunk and lifted his shirt to reveal a ridiculously muscular torso. He wasn’t overweight– not in a bad way, that is. The black band of the Repressor stood out against his muscles. “I didn’t do anything to earn these muscles. I can lift a bus full of people over my head and walk around with it like it’s a balloon. But now...” He picked up a discarded soda can and squeezed it with his hand. He strained for a moment before the can finally got a few finger-sized indentations. He dropped the can. “This thing makes me weak as water. I can’t stand it!”

“So these things... the Repressors... we have no talents? Is that what you’re saying?”

Vaughn nodded and jumped out of his bed. “I can shrink. Or... could. Now I’m stuck at this height, and it’s awful. I used to hide behind pieces of cereal in our pantry and ride cockroaches and mice.”

The look on Neil’s face was scary. “You mean... I can’t run anymore? This thing makes it so I can’t run?”

“You’ll be lucky if you can jog more than ten feet,” came Wil’s voice.

“What does this thing stop you from doing?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

***

Wil was right; Neil could hardly jog anymore, or even manage a fast walk. Few of the other students at the Focus School were as willing to talk about their gifts as Charles and Vaughn were. They said it was pointless trying to keep the charade that they were special. They were freaks, which was why they were in this school in the first place. Better to accept their normality and get on with their lives than indulge in fantasies.

Neil was in his fourth week at the Focus School when the teachers began to force him to run. He ran races with other students and lost every time. Many times, he was lucky to finish the race before everyone else got sick of waiting for him.

“They’re trying to break you, Neil,” Vaughn told him while trying to catch his breath after one race. “They do it to us all. They’re trying to make you think you’re not special, that there’s nothing to you.”

“But why only to me? Why don’t they humiliate the other students like this?”

“They do. Weightlifting contests... for strong guys like Charles, trivia competitions for the smart kids, long jumps for... people who could jump.”

“What about you? How do they make you feel bad that you can’t go small anymore?”

Vaughn sighed and ran a hand through his greasy hair. “Limbo, Neil. Limbo.”

“This is just wrong.”

“You don’t have to tell me that. But you have to wonder if your parents knew what this place was really like before they decided to send you here. I know for a fact that you’re not the only fast kid here. Sable, that girl who... I eat lunch with a lot... used to run. Like the wind, she said, over hills, so fast her hair would stay pushed back all day after she ran.”

“But why are we here?”

Vaughn shrugged. “My guess is to have the specialness stamped out of us. I’ve heard of people who graduated this school. There aren’t many– this school’s only had three graduating classes so far– but I think that all the exposure to the Repressors kicks the ability out of you for good. Either that, or you don’t get it taken off even after you graduate.”

“Do we not get it taken off when we go home for the summer?”

“Go home for the summer? We don’t get to do that, Neil.”

***

Wil and Vaughn were asleep, and Charles was snoring loudly below him as Neil tugged at the Repressor. It was hard enough getting a single finger underneath the hideous black band, much less pull at it with enough strength to get it off. It was hopeless.

***

“So what is it that makes us special?”

Charles shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“I mean, do you think it’s mutated genes, or extremely recessive traits, or what?”

“Like maybe we’re all products of some awful government experiment and now they’re trying to cover it up,” Charles laughed, but his face suddenly went serious, and he squinted at Neil. “What do your parents do for a living?”

“Mom teaches college French and Dad’s a surgeon.”

“They’re not secret government agents?”

Neil raised an eyebrow. “Are yours?”

After a moment of silence between them, Neil and Charles burst out laughing.

***

Neil had been at the Focus School for what seemed like most of his life now, but it had only been two years. He had finally and grudgingly accepted that he would never run again, or at least not as fast as he used to. But that didn’t mean he liked it. And it didn’t mean that the races against the other students stopped. He, Charles, and Vaughn almost never talked about the gifts they had had anymore, and Wil was as antisocial as ever.

At the “end” of every year (the first really hot day of July was considered the end, since no one went home for the summer anyway) the entire school participated in a mass spirit-breaking marathon of events designed to make every student feel horrible about himself or herself, including footraces, strength and endurance contests, mental tests– at least one event for every possible trait a student could have excelled in before. It was an agonizing day for all concerned. Every student failed miserably at something because of the unmentioned but always thought of Repressors. Many of the students who had any spirit left in them tried to act like there was no importance to the mass events, but they competed anyway, trying to win.

The end of the week would be Neil’s second End of Year Event Marathon, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Ready to lose a bunch of meaningless contests again this year, Neil?” Wil remarked as he passed by at lunch one day.

“Shut up, Wil. You’re going to lose, too, you know.”

Wil was already gone, and he probably hadn’t heard Neil speak.

“Wait...” A glimmer of spark of a thought was forming in Neil’s head. He quickly sought out Vaughn.

“Hey, Speedy,” Vaughn said emotionlessly.

“Vaughn, why do we compete?”

“Because they make us,” he replied around a mouthful of some rather unidentifiable food.

“But why do we try?”

“I don’t know what you’re getting at.”

“Vaughn, we need to get a message out to all the other students. This could be the most important thing we ever do in our lives.”

***

End of Year Event Marathon morning dawned, and Neil woke feeling happier than he had in a long time. At breakfast, some of the other students were actually smiling, if rather glumly.

The first event was a trivia contest. The questions were always simple, but the students who had once prided themselves in having quick minds were always sluggish thinking and never managed to think of the answers before someone else answered. But this time...

“What is the square root of sixteen?”

The big room was silent. The ten teams of students, grouped together seemingly at random, all appeared to be thinking. In truth, they were grouped by former ability, and they knew it. It was just a matter of waiting now.

A buzzer finally went off. A girl named Tomo timidly answered, “Four?”

“That’s... right...” the teacher didn’t look too happy, knowing exactly which team Tomo belonged to.

Question after question went by, and after each one, there was a long silence while everyone thought. It was always the team of formerly intelligent students that answered.

The trivia-off ended, and the victorious team looked over to the formerly fast students. Neil shot Tomo a wink.

She mouthed a “thank you” back to him.

***

The second event was a weightlifting contest. One by one, the students went up to lift as much weight as they could, and nearly everyone pretended to strain just to lift two hardcover textbooks. Charles, a girl named Jelani, and a number of other formerly strong students lifted far more, even if it was only by lifting five hardcover textbooks.

***

Event by event passed, and the students who normally came in last won the games they should have been winning all the time.

***

The teachers were all eyeing the students skeptically as they lined up for the long footrace. The race began, and Neil began to jog, already feeling that stitch in his side that was the Repressor’s doing. Sable, another formerly fast student, was right next to him, huffing but still jogging. She smiled at Neil. “This was a wonderful idea.”

The finish line was still far ahead of him when Neil had to stop jogging and walk. Glancing behind him, he could see the other students advancing at snail’s pace. He smiled. Even at this rate, he would still be among the winners, as it should be.

The stitch in his side disappeared, and he managed to jog a little again. The wind came up behind him, making him feel like he was going faster.

Wait... he was going faster. His legs were covering ground at a fast jog– no... at a run.

He felt a loosening around his lower torso, and heard a loud snap. The black strip of the Repressor fell out of his shirt and landed on the grass beneath his feet.

It took him a moment to slow to a stop. Sable was right next to him, disbelief evident in her smile.

Behind them, the other students were standing in what seemed like a sea of black strips. They looked around at each other in disbelief, and a few students even picked up the fallen bands to inspect them.

Charles was at the forefront of the lagging students, and he picked up a Repressor and pulled on both ends. A tense moment passed, and a resounding snap filled everyone’s ears as it tore in half.

In a matter of seconds, the race field was in chaos. Students were dashing about, shouting complex scientific theories at the top of their lungs, pulling up huge clods of dirt with their bare hands, and dozens of other things, all at once.

In the chaos, Wil walked up to Neil. “I thought I’d never be able to do this again.” Without another word, he crouched at the knees and jumped straight into the air. He didn’t come down, but hovered over Neil’s head for a moment before shooting off across the sky.

“I’m glad I was able to help you do it,” Neil said as he took off across the field.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Undestiny

"Undestiny" was written tonight, immediately following my completion of my NaNoWriMo project for this year. I'm not really sure how to introduce it, since it's not... really... a... short... story...

Just... yeah. Welcome to my world, I guess.

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Undestiny

Day One

It was only a child, yet it was a beginning. There was nothing surprising about this child, not like other stories. So many great tales begin at the birth of a chosen child, and from the beginning, the greatness of the baby is made known. There is something about the cry of a child of destiny that sets it apart from other newborns. As for this child, it was only a child, indistinguishable from any other by cry or look. It was only a child.

I decided early on that there would be nothing to set my main character on the path of destiny from the very beginning. No special events at birth, no demonstration of unnatural power in the newborn babe, no loss of mother in childbirth. Granted, there were many books I enjoyed reading that had those kinds of things in them, some special circumstances surrounding the birth of the hero that would all come to the forefront later in life and be completely obvious then, proving to a doubting character that he was, indeed, the chosen one.

Hell, why even bother with there being a “chosen one” anyway? It’s been done to death. I suppose there has to be one, though, or else anyone can fit the job. If the regular people didn’t know what to expect, then just anyone could speak up and claim to be the one doing… whatever heroic deeds needed doing. People will cling to anyone who seems to know what he’s doing, who seems to know what’s going on, even if it is just an act.

Unless… someone just fell into the middle of the action and did the deeds without knowing it. Then what? Does that mean he was chosen anyway? Or was it simply chance? I scratched my head and took a bite of the now-quite-melted candy bar next to the keyboard. After years of writing, I’ve developed a taste for melted candy bars. There’s nothing like them. I licked the chocolate off my fingers, poised my hands over the keyboard, and thought some more.

Of course, at that point I had lost my train of thought, because I wound up searching the interweb for funny pictures of cats, and then my own cat distracted me, and then my neighbors started shouting obscenities in the walkway between buildings of the apartment complex. They always do that at the worst possible times. Fine, I’ll go to the bathroom while you finish your little curse-fest and go back inside. Kay? Kay.

Day Two

A child… but not a chosen one. Just a birth. But then won’t that make readers believe what they’ve been fed through the media a hundred times, that writing about the birth of this particular child means something? “Everything is there for a reason,” has been a mantra of mine for years. If I went back and read something about a birth like this, I would expect it to mean something.

Okay, scratch the birth process, and go ahead and skip the whole normal-seeming childhood peppered with strange occurrences, because that would make me expect the same thing. Predestination is not something easily worked with… well actually, it’s really easy to do. I guess that’s why so many people have done it. Well, I’m not going to. I need some time to think. I’ll go get distracted again.

Day Three

Okay, there’s a man, not a child. His childhood was exceedingly normal and boring… but way, that might be cause to suspect. Who really has a normal childhood? Damnit!

Fine. He’s always been pretty boring until something very strange happened! Aliens invaded… no. That’s been done. His parents die. Okay, that hasn’t been done to death. Yeah, right. Um…he loses his… no. He gets a… no. A truck full of toxic waste… no, he’s not a superhero.

This is getting frustrating. Everything has been done. More than once. Everything. It’s practically impossible to really have an original thought.

Oh, hi kitty. Be right back.

I’m back. My cat went away. By went away I mean decided to lie down right next to me and attempt to hit the delete button at every opportunity. Cats are not very good at constructive criticism.

So where am I now? No surprises at birth, because it’s been done. I don’t want to do a completely uneventful childhood, but any events that might make it interesting have already been done. So… we’re at square one. I have a character. And he’s just… going about normal life, until he suddenly finds himself doing deeds foretold long before he was born, even though he’s not the one foretold to do them!

Yeah, right. Foretold deeds have been done and done and done, too. So no prophecies. He’s just… doing deeds that… will save the world. Because the world needs saving.

Right. Every world has some huge cataclysm about to happen unless someone-- not a child of destiny, mind you-- steps up and does something. And that person just… falls into doing it, because that’s totally believable. I can just see that under-enthusiastic lady from the gas station on the corner suddenly finding herself saving the world even while she goes about her regular, everyday life. It would be a far-fetched set of circumstances indeed that would draw her into a world-saving endeavor. You know what, I’ll do this later. Where’s my candy bars?

Day Four

I’m really going to write today. I promise.

So we have a John Everyman with no surprising childhood, nothing special about him at all, and then… something… and happily ever after.

You know, what? I’ll deal with him later. World-saving. Let’s deal with that. Every world has a problem, right? Like our own. We totally have Armageddon-inducing problems right on our doorsteps. Like, if someone doesn’t do something, we’re all going to die in a year, because… we just are. That’s the way events have been playing since the beginning of time, all just looping and spiraling and shooting straight to right now, this moment, when if something certain doesn’t happen, everything just… poof!

I’ll believe that when I see it. Real life doesn’t have those villains, not like the media paints them anyway. I mean, a real life murderer is one thing… but for all the murderers in the world to be part of one big plot to overthrow all the governments of the world at exactly the same time, and then there will be a big coup while no one normal knows what’s going on…

Stupid interweb. I just got distracted again. Apparently I had mail. Heh. Heh heh. Now my train of thought’s gone again. Damnit!

Day Five

I am not dealing with this today.

Day Six

Nope.

Day Seven

I will write something eventually, I swear.

Day Eight

Day Nine

Day Ten

Okay, I’ve decided. I’m writing. And guess what! It’s going to be just like everything else out there: full of clich├ęs and ideas that have been chewed up and spat back out by Earth’s media for decades, centuries! It’s going to be the same old ideas tossed together in the same old ways, with the same old characters facing the same unbelievable problems that we’ve all come to expect.

But guess what? It’s going to stand apart, because I wrote it, and no one’s written like me before.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Lord of Darkness

"The Lord of Darkness" was written at Halloween 2003, my freshman year of college. I had a quote I wanted to use in a story (it's the last line of the story) and friends I wanted to use in a humorous story. I just realized I really should have posted this two weeks ago as a Halloween thing, but oh well.

Enjoy!
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The Lord of Darkness

“Happy Halloween!”

Daniel woke to see his little brother Jeff jumping on his bed, dressed in a Superman costume. “Wake up, Danny! It’s Halloween!”

Daniel sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Halloween’s nothing special until it gets dark, then you go trick-or-treating. Don’t get worked up this early, Jeff.” He reached over to the night stand and got his glasses.

Jeff jumped off the bed, landing squarely on his feet. “Mom says you’re taking me this year.”

“What?” Daniel jumped out of bed and rushed to the kitchen. His mother was busy frying eggs and bacon. “Mom, you’re making me take Jeff out tonight?”

“Danny, you know your father and I are having guests over. Don’t be too upset, please. You’re wearing a costume today anyway, aren’t you?”

Daniel nodded dejectedly. He and some of his college buddies were dressing up as the Greek gods just to freak out all the Greek society on campus. They had picked names out of a hat to see who would be what god. Daniel had drawn Hades, god of the underworld. He had a black toga with gold trim and flames rising from the bottom. His girlfriend’s mom was a master of the sewing machine and had made it for him. He had black sandals with laces that ran up to his knees, and he even had a small pair of horns to put on his head. He wore his contacts instead of his glasses, and he used a tiny bit of hair gel the edges of his eyebrows to turn them slightly upward. It was a cool costume, but he didn’t want to wear it outside in the neighborhood– only on campus with his friends, where he wouldn’t look like a dork. He made that very clear to his mother.

“Danny, since you’ve started college, we haven’t asked you for much. And you know how much Jeff looks up to you. Could you just do this one little thing for us?”

Daniel sighed and noticed movement in the corner of his eye. Jeff was standing in the doorway, his bottom lip in full pouting position and his eyes big like a sad puppy’s. Daniel rolled his eyes. “Oh, all right!”

“YES!” Jeff did a little victory dance.

A half hour later, Daniel was in toga, sandals, and horns. He drove the twenty-five minutes to get to his college campus and met up with his buddies. Anthony was Zeus. He had a sky blue toga and a golden plastic lightning bolt in his hand. Joey wore deep blue and had painted his face, arms, and legs blue. As Poseidon, he had a trident. It would have been a great costume, but Joey had a very odd sense of humor, and he had black swimming flippers on his feet.

“What? He’s the god of the sea. He’s a fish-man!” Joey alone laughed at this.

Michael was Hermes. He wore pale green and even had the winged cap, staff, and sandals. Greg was Apollo. He was in all gold and had painted himself with paint that reflected gold in the sun. He had even sprayed his black hair with gold coloring.

Daniel’s costume was by far the best. He had a very mean look about him, and the horns added a very demonic effect. There were five guys in all, and as they strolled about campus, there were a great number of whispers– some good, some bad.

The usually quiet Anthony suddenly spoke up. “Hey, guys! What has four legs, is big and green, and would kill you if it fell out of a tree and landed on you?”

Daniel, Michael, and Greg shrugged. Joey tried not to laugh; he knew this joke.

“A pool table.” Anthony’s face remained perfectly solemn. Joey burst out laughing. After a moment, so did Daniel and Greg.

“I don’t get it,” Michael mumbled.

***

In an extremely distant and remote location, a child-sized human mutation ran as quickly as he could– on his three legs– to the Fire Throne. A normal-looking guy sat there. But this was no ordinary man. He had a pair of black horns on his head and a long, pointed black tail. He looked down his long, pointed nose at the mutation cowering at his feet. “What?” His voice was deep and guttural, and the mutation fell to his knees.

“There is... important news from above, O Great Lucky.”

The man seized the mutation by his sparse hair and jerked him to a standing position. “I have told you to never call me Lucky! It’s Lucifer!” He dropped the mutation to the stony ground, where the mutation quickly fell into a series of praising motions.

“It is not my will, Great Lucky. The will of your predecessor was that you be called Lucky. My mouth tries to form your right name, but it cannot.”

Lucky growled under his breath and leaned back angrily. “What is this news?”

“The Pantheon has returned.”

Lucky jumped to his feet. The mutation cowered and clasped his hands over his head, fearing he would be lifted by his hair again. But Lucky didn’t move to grab him. “What did you just say?”

“The Pantheon has returned, Great One.”

“The whole Pantheon?”

“No, O Masterful Lucky. Only five so far have revealed themselves. Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, Hermes... and Hades is among them, My Lord.”

Lucky kicked the mutation and sent it flying. It landed about ten feet away. Lucky’s angry scream boomed throughout the whole Underworld. He stormed to the Observatory of Death (all things in the Underworld have such names) and stood before the window that floated in the center of the room. Lucky drew back the torn black curtains and thundered, “Show me Hades!”

The window opened and a chill wind blew through the Observatory of Death. Lucky gazed out the window and into the bright daylight of the world above.

***

Daniel and his friends were the only people wearing costumes in their music theory class. Still, it had been fun seeing their classmates’ reactions (and their professor’s reaction) when they filed in together, five togas all in a row. Dr. Linton had chuckled, made a snide comment, and immediately started the lecture. Now the five of them left the room and parted ways. Daniel was finished for the day, but Joey, Anthony, Michael, and Greg still had classes to attend. Daniel went straight to the parking lot and got into his car.

***

“Hades in the twenty-first century! And driving an automovehicle! But he’s still wearing that ridiculous robe! You’d think he’d have gotten with the times!”

“I believe it’s called a car, Great One, and he’s wearing a toga.” The mutation shuddered as he spoke.

“Quiet, Runt! Don’t make me kick you again.”

Runt fell to his knees. “My apologies, Mighty Lucky!”

Lucky snapped his fingers. The Fire Throne appeared behind him, and he sank into it, chin rested on his fist. He closed his eyes and sat deep in thought for a moment. Runt looked on in interest.

“I’ve got it!” Lucky yelled so suddenly that Runt jumped in surprise and scurried behind the Fire Throne. Lucky reached an arm behind the Fire Throne and grabbed Runt by the scruff of the neck. He pulled Runt around and held him up until they were eye to eye.

“Hades is back to usurp my throne, right?”

Runt was unsure, but he was too afraid to disagree, so he nodded.

Lucky dropped him. “But if Hades were to die, he would be sent straight here, right?”

Runt nodded again.

Lucky stood. The Fire Throne disappeared, and Lucky started pacing. “If he came here, he would be under my jurisdiction. I could control him. You know what this means, Runt?”

“Uh... yes, but you say it first.”

Lucky grabbed Runt by the scruff of the neck again. “All I have to do is kill him, and he’ll be mine!”

***

Daniel sat idly in his unmoving car. “I can’t believe there’s this much traffic this early on a Friday! It’s Halloween, for crying out loud! Shouldn’t you people be at home putting up decorations or carving pumpkins or something right now?” He pounded the steering wheel with his fist. The horn honked, and that set off a chain reaction of angry people honking their horns.

The light turned green, and the long line of cars in front of Daniel pulled forward. The truck in front of Daniel finally started to move, and Daniel smiled. As he neared the light, it changed again. Daniel stopped once he saw the light change. The truck in front of him had kept going, and Daniel had front row seat as an airplane fell out of the sky and landed on the truck.

Daniel stared, his mouth hanging wide open. If I hadn’t stopped, it would have hit me, too, he thought.

***

In the Underworld’s Observatory of Death, Lucky pulled at his hair angrily and screamed. “Who’d have thought Hades would be such a safe driver?”

“Not so easy, is it, Lucky?”

Lucky turned around. He knew that voice. Standing in the doorway was a very smug-looking man with gold-colored hair, black eyes, and eerily white skin. There were two quarter-sized bald spots on either side of his head just above the hairline. He smiled, showing sparkling white teeth, two of which were almost like fangs. He stood with his arms crossed over his chest.

“What are you doing here?” Lucky snapped.

“Can’t kill Hades, eh, Lucky? Can’t prove what you claimed all those years ago?”

“Shut up, Satan; I don’t want to hear it. Get back to your chamber!”

Satan strode up to Lucky. He attempted to put an arm around Lucky’s shoulders, but the chains on his arms wouldn’t allow him to stretch far enough. At best, he would have strangled him. Satan gave up and crossed his arms over his chest again. “Are you forgetting how you got here, Lucifer?” Satan spat out the name like it was something dirty. Runt had cowered before Lucky before, but now he sought refuge behind Lucky’s legs. He clasped Lucky’s ankles, shivering violently. “Did I not give you this job? I can take it back if you don’t prove yourself a better Devil than I was. If you lose Hell to that bloody Greek...”

“I said shut up! And it’s the Underworld, not Hell!”

“Lucky, Lucky, Lucky. Sometimes I forget how young you are.” Satan shook his head.

“I’ve been the Devil for six centuries!”

“Compared to my two milennia? Or Beelzebub’s sixty-five million years? You’re young, Lucky. And you don’t have what it takes!”

Lucky hung his head. “Then can you help me?”

Satan put a hand on Lucky’s shoulder. “I thought you’d never ask.”

***

Daniel was still shaking in fear when he got home. He told his mother what had happened, and once she realized how close he had come to being killed, she hugged him tightly and covered him with kisses. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Mom.”

“Are you sure? You might have internal injuries.”

“I’m fine, Mom. Really. I’m just kind of scared and tired. I’m going to take a quick nap.”

“Didn’t get much sleep last night?”

“Nah.” Daniel retreated into his room. He changed from his costume back into his pajamas and curled up in his bed. He fell asleep almost instantly.

Daniel had been asleep for a very short while when his mother left the house to get Jeff from school. It was a half day for the elementary school kids. The classes were having little Halloween parties and then leaving. Daniel’s mother wouldn’t return for half an hour with Jeff, and while they were gone Daniel was deep asleep, so he didn’t hear the door to his room open.

A small, dark shadow entered Daniel’s bedroom. A pistol was silhouetted in the shadow’s hand. The shadow crept up to Daniel slowly and silently, then pressed the pistol to his head. There was a brief moment of stillness, then the shadow pulled the trigger. Daniel shot awake and a hand flew to the side of his head. His fingers came back wet. The shadow was nowhere to be seen.

***

“A water gun?! You shot him with a water gun?!” Satan gnashed his teeth.

“It... looked real,” Runt stuttered, shivering violently from head to toe.

Satan grabbed Runt by the neck and lifted him. “Where did you get that pistol?”

“It was in one of the other rooms. On the floor.” Runt’s voice came out raspy and coarse. His hands flew to Satan’s trying desperately to pry them away.

“Was it the room with the cartoon character posters on the walls? And the sky blue paint? And was the bed shaped like a race car?”

Runt nodded, unable to speak.

Satan dropped Runt with a thud. “That was the little boy’s room! You honestly thought a kid’s parents would leave a pistol sitting on the floor in his room?”

Runt shrugged. “It is America.”

Lucky kicked Runt. “Idiot!” He sank into the Fire Throne. “We’ve got to get Hades to die! Do you have any more bright ideas, Satan?”

“Only one, but you’ll have to take my chains off and let me go topside.”

***

The rest of the day went by quickly and without anymore odd events. Daniel soon found himself back in his toga, sandals, and horns, leading SuperJeff around the neighborhood. The sun was nearly gone, but the streetlights still hadn’t been turned on, leaving the streets dark and creepy-looking. Costumed children and parents moved in clusters, and “trick-or-treats” chorused up and down the road. Jeff was carrying a pumpkin bucket with a lot of candy in it. Daniel towed around a pillowcase. Whenever Jeff’s pumpkin was full, he emptied it into the pillowcase so he could go back for more. It was a very big neighborhood, and Jeff had emptied the pumpkin at least three times already.

“Isn’t this enough, Jeff?” Daniel held open the bag so Jeff could make
another deposit.

“We haven’t even gone through the whole neighborhood yet!” Jeff whined. “We still need to go down that road.” He pointed toward one of the side roads that led further into the subdivision.

At that moment, all the streetlights turned on, bathing the neighborhood in a ghostly yellow glow. Only the road Jeff was pointing to remained dark. Some of the lights on that road flickered weakly, but most of them didn’t even try to turn on. One by one the flickering lights went out for good.

“I don’t think we should go down there, Jeff. Not while it’s this dark.”

Jeff pulled on the sash that cinched the toga around Daniel’s waist. “I see some porch lights on down there! They have candy!”

Daniel finally gave in, and the brothers walked down the dim side street. An owl hooted, and Jeff clutched Daniel’s leg tightly.

“You scared, little buddy?”

“N-n--n-no.” Jeff’s voice shook, but he loosened his death grip on Daniel’s leg.

They stopped in front of the first house with a lit porch light. Daniel stayed on the sidewalk while Jeff went up and knocked on the door. Daniel watched as the door opened, but he was distracted by the sound of breathing behind him and a tap on his shoulder. He turned sharply and saw a man dressed in red pajamas with red horns, a red pitchfork, and a red tail. He had goat’s legs instead of human legs, and a thin black mustache and pointed goatee adorned his face.

Daniel screamed. So did the guy behind him. The devil-man drew back his pitchfork, and Daniel realized it wasn’t made of plastic, but red-hot iron. He punched at the devil’s face with all his might. The devil fell backward and disappeared a split second before he hit the ground. Daniel was breathing heavily, nearly petrified with fear.

“Danny? Can we go home now? All the houses around here are giving out stupid apples and pennies.”

“Yeah... yeah. Let’s go home.” They had just turned and started running
toward their house when the streetlights on the road poured forth a hearty yellow glow. They didn’t stop until they got to their house.

***

Lucky was throwing a tantrum. “I can’t believe that didn’t work! You almost had him!”

Satan stepped out of the devil costume and shrugged. “It used to work, back in the day. You should’ve seen the early Catholics when I used to do that to them.”

Runt was giggling like a little schoolgirl– uh, mutation. Yeah, a little schoolmutation. That’s it. “You went down like a sack of potatoes, Satan. One punch, and KA-POW! Down for the count!”

Lucky shot an evil glance at Runt and another at Satan. Runt cowered. Satan’s chains reappeared on his wrists. “What else can we try?”

***

A veritable mountain of candy flowed forth from the pillowcase, and Jeff practically dived into it.

“Now share with your brother, Jeff. Remember, he did take you out tonight.”

“Yeah, I know.” Jeff started sorting through the pile of pre-wrapped sugar and tossed a small package of candy corn to Daniel. “Here. I hate candy corn.”

Daniel, on the other hand, loved candy corn, and he immediately ripped open the package and popped a piece into his mouth. It caught in his throat, and he choked to death instantly.

***

Whiteness surrounded Daniel. The walls were white, the furniture was white, and even his clothes were white. And there were other people of all ages around, sitting in chairs, standing and talking in groups. They all wore white, too. Cheesy waiting room music was playing softly in the background.

A receptionist sat at a desk in the corner. Daniel walked up to her. “Excuse me?”

“Welcome to Purgatory. Please wait until your name is called.”

Daniel sank into a squishy white chair. Next to him was an old woman. She smiled at him. “What happened to you?”

“What?”

“How did you kick the bucket?”

“You mean I’m dead?”

The waiting room went silent for a moment. Even the cheesy music stopped. Then everyone burst out laughing.

“Of course you’re dead, young man. You see, I’ve been attached to life support for three weeks. Someone tripped over the cord and cut me off. That’s how I died. How did you die?”

“I choked on a piece of candy corn.”

“Tsk. Tsk. It’s always sugar with you young people.”

The music came back, and people resumed their general conversation. Daniel heard his name called, and a man dressed all in black appeared before him. A hush fell over the waiting room. “Come, my son.” The man reached out his hand.

Daniel took the man’s hand and was pulled violently away from the waiting room. He was immediately surrounded with bubbling lava and fire.

“Welcome to the Underworld, Hades. I am Lucifer.”

“You mean I went to He– “

”SHH! We don’t call it that here. I’ve legally changed the name. It is the Underworld now. Hell is such a strong word.”

“Why did I come here?”

Lucifer motioned to the wide expanse of the Underworld. “I want to offer you a job.”

“What?”

“I need an assistant who isn’t an idiot. I’ve tried three times to kill you today, and each time you foiled me. I need a mind like yours to help me reap souls.”

Daniel crossed his arms. “What’s in it for me?”

A microphone appeared in Lucifer’s hand. “Tell him what he’ll get, Satan!”

Satan appeared, also holding a microphone. “Well, Lucky, if Daniel chooses to become your assistant, he will NOT be doomed to spend all eternity in a pot of boiling lava filled with ravenous piranha and sharks while being poked in the butt with sharp metal objects!”

From somewhere, Daniel heard a crowd go, “Oooh! Aaah!”

“He will also become your successor should you ever fail to accomplish your duties or retire!”

The invisible crowd began to cheer and applaud.

The microphone in Lucifer’s hand disappeared and was replaced by a sheet of parchment and a quill pen. “Do we have a deal?”

“Between a tortured eternity and becoming the new Devil? Duh!” Daniel seized the quill pen and signed his name. But instead of “Daniel” the name “Mephistopheles” appeared on the contract.

Lucifer shook Daniel’s hand. “You’re now officially Mephistopheles, my successor. I’m retiring now. I was never meant to have this job.” He popped out of sight, and the contract drifted down, landed on the Fire Throne, and disappeared. Satan approached Mephistopheles and shook his hand.

“Hello, Devil. Welcome to Hell.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Don't Sit Down

"Don't Sit Down" was written sometime in late 2006/early 2007. I got the idea from a friend of mine in college, Pete, who worked the desk at my dorm in college.

Enjoy! And as always, feel free to comment!
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Don’t Sit Down

Pete hated working at the desk. It was lonely, since no one ever came to this obscure desk of the office building. Even the people who worked in the other rooms of this division only passed by twice: when they arrived in the morning and when they left in the afternoon. And it was boring! The small screens of the surveillance cameras never had any action going on, and there wasn’t even any sort of paperwork or anything for him to do. So every day, Pete brought a book or some crossword puzzles with him to pass the time, but that didn’t really help. It was lonely and boring at the desk, but he needed the money.

Behind the desk was a small conference room no one ever used. There were days when Pete got so bored, he’d climb onto the table, curl up, and sleep for a few hours. But he wasn’t tired today, he had finished his book, and his mind was too slow today to do crossword puzzles. Pete was in a slump, staring at the camera screens without seeing them.

“This is dumb...”

Come rest yourself...

The voice seemed to waft through the air and hiss into his ears. But the hiss was... almost soothing. It woke Pete from his zombie-like trance without any sort of stupid-grogginess left over. His head jerked up and looked around the tiny, empty room his desk occupied.

There is no need for you there... Come... Rest yourself...

The voice called him, filling his mind with a rather pleasant, almost white sound. It did not really say words, but he understood them. Pete looked at the camera screens. Nothing was happening. And it was true: there was no reason for him to be there. He could come back in three hours and still be back before the suits passed by on their way home. He stood.

Come and rest... recover... relax...

He slowly stood from his chair, still looking around.

“Is someone playing a trick on me?”

No worries... Come and rest... You will never have to work again...

Pete leaned out of the door to peer down the hallway. It was completely deserted. He felt his legs take a step into the hall. Another. Another.

Relax... Recover...

He was in a part of the building he had never seen before. The walls were bare and unpainted, and pipes ran along the ceiling. There was a sort of faint dripping sound, but there was no musty smell or water stains anywhere. It was dry rather than dank, but it was certainly plenty dismal down here.

Follow me... I will lead you to pleasure... to joy... You can rest...

Pete followed the lilting voice, the lovely voice, the voice he longed to find the owner of. It promised... all he wanted and more. Never to work again.

The bare halls went on and on, never turning, always dripping, without change. The voice called, and Pete followed.

A door. Plain wood, unpainted, unstained, unsealed... only a doorknob adorned it. At the end of the hall.

Here... Inside, you can rest...

Pete opened the door.

The room was as bare as the halls, small, uncarpeted; only a chair, much like the one behind his desk sat in the center of the room. Only... this one was old and stained. It didn’t look terribly inviting or comfortable. Pete turned to leave.

Sit... Sit...Rest yourself...

Pete shook his head. “I’d feel more comfortable upstairs.”

Sit... SIT...

He took a step towards the chair.

SIT!

The distance to the chair shortened quickly, until Pete was leaning backwards, almost sitting in it.

Yes.. YES... YES!!!

Pete jerked himself out of the chair and towards the door. What was going on? Something didn’t feel right.

SIT!!!

A pair of invisible hands seemed to grab Pete and pull/push him back to the chair.

“No! I don’t want to sit down!”

Rest yourself...

“No!”

Sit... rest... sit...

The voice pulled at Pete’s will, making him want more than anything to rest his legs and sit in the chair. The hands pulled and pushed at him. He touched the stained old seat cushion of the chair, and the hands pushed him back into it.

That’s it... rest... relax...

Pete clamped his eyes shut as he sat in the chair. After a moment, he opened them and leaned back.

The chair was surprisingly comfortable.