Life, Death, Redemption, and Cute Little Birdies

Hey all. On a trip, so gonna make this quick, but it weirdly came to mind as worthy of sharing.

I was on a job out in a rural part of the county a few months back. It was a big house up in the hills behind a winery, so it had a really nice view from the front deck we were working on. The house itself was shaped a bit like a horseshoe, and the whole inside curve of that shape was lined with floor-to-ceiling windows. It was cool.

Well, I’m walking along that path to get some tools from the truck when I look down and see a bird on the concrete walkway. It’s on its back, wings splayed, kind of contorted out of shaped. Aww, poor little guy, I think, and start looking around for a bush to set the remains in. It was pretty obvious he’d gotten ambushed by one of the windows, and speed plus little bird spine equals…well, this.

Then I get a little closer and see what I didn’t want to: little sharp, stuttering, haggard breaths.

“…Fuck,” was of course the next mental diagnosis of the situation. Now, rather than a dead bird, here I had one that was dying and very likely suffering from its injuries. Didn’t want to move it, for fear of scaring it and causing it to twist painfully with reflex. Couldn’t just leave it there, for fear of a coworker stepping on him, if not just the unsightliness (is that a word?) for the owner. Wanted to mercy-kill it, but all I really had on me that was appropriate was my framing hammer, and that would have been a bad look if the aforementioned owner came around right as I was dropping it on the little guy.

I asked my older coworker for advice on what to do, and his answer was something akin to, “Hmm…dunno. Sucks.” I came back by the bird, and by now the dog of the house was staring at it, salivating, on the other side of the glass. So I bucked up, knocked on the door, and told the owner – just hoping she wouldn’t let the hounds out to brutalize the little guy with ‘play time.’

She saw, laughed, totally agreed, and we figured we’d just try and leave the little guy in what peace he might find in his last minutes; knowing that around evening time, nature (or a cat) would take its course.

Eventually, I come back and find the bird sitting upright, and I’m shocked. That ruled out a broken back, far as I could tell. He sat up straight, but his head was a little off-kilter. Broken neck still, maybe? I think, and I approach him a little.
[By the way, I swear to God we got work done that day, even though this view may not make it seem like it. lol]
His eyes flittered in and out of sleep. He’d lean forward with the loss of consciousness, catch himself, and sit upright again, like he was dozing off. As I got closer, he regarded me with one of his eyes, but he could. Not. Give. A. Shit. That I was coming within inches of his person. His birdsman…ship?

That was a first. I don’t think I’d ever seen a little finch dealing with results from a concussion before.

Later on, a landscaping crew came by, and before I could warn them about the bird [Again, guys, serious about my job, I really was working on the deck as my primary interest of the day.] I saw that one of them had picked the little guy up and was lightly petting his back between the wings. Who am I to say he shouldn’t? So I just watched from afar and smiled at the sweet moment.

Towards the end of the day, I come ’round the bend doing a final clean up of the day [See? Working.], and I notice the bird was gone. I check the hedges nearby, seeing if he was set in the shade. Nothing. I asked the owner if the landscaper had moved him, and she told me that no, he’d pet it and put it right back where it was. Then I’m ’rounding the bend for the final time that day – and I swear to God this is true – I hear a single ‘tweet’ from above me on the roof.

Now, I’ll never know if that landscaper was actually a Mexican druid with healing abilities or not, but I’d like to imagine that the bird had just taken a massive hit to the dome, suffered a bad concussion, and just needed some time to shake the cobwebs out; and that that ‘tweet’ was some kind of, “Hey, buddy, thanks for not smashing me when you thought I was dead.”

Altogether, it was a tale of trial, hardship, patience, adversity, and the ability to rally and overcome, all wrapped up in a neat little quarter-ounce package with wings.

A Story about “That Guy”

I was musing on this the other day, but most of us have probably heard an adage or two about not being “That Guy.” You know the one: the guy who keeps his shoes on in the home of people that ask for shoes off, the guy who litters his trash in the park while everyone else cleans their own up, the guy who laughs or talks loudly in the movie theater, on and on. We all know a “that guy.”

Little known fact about me: I was at one point Emergency Medical Responder certified and on my way to being an EMT/Paramedic. It was my first course of study out of high school before I decided that path was very much not for me. That said, I still carry a bit of baseline first-aid know-how in my noggin, and was certified as such once upon a time, is the point.

One of the lesser-known things you’re taught as an EMT-to-be is scene management; that is, interacting/handling the injured, onlookers, Nosey Nellies, the works. It cultivates one sense in particular, that being knowing the fine line between being helpful and being in the way.

So, one day I’m at the bank. I’m using an outdoor ATM basically on the corner of two busy streets, and I hear a sound that goes something like “Uuurrrt- bang!” I turn my head to see that an elderly pedestrian had been struck by a van not heeding a red light. “Oof,” I think, and retrieve my card from the ATM before walking over to see what I can do, which I knew thankfully would be pretty simple: hold C-Spine on the patient (keep their head in the same position it is, in case there’s damage to the spine), keep them calm while taking mental notes to assess their overall condition, call 9-1-1, and gather information from witnesses and the driver if possible.

In the time it took for me to pull my card out of the machine, maybe six seconds, I turned around to see an individual already doing exactly everything I’d described above. He had his hands appropriately maintaining the patient’s head position and seemed to have a level head as he introduced himself and began asking appropriate questions. The driver was being a bit loony – no doubt a bit freaked out over the consequences of hitting the pedestrian – but the Samaritan was doing a fine job of keeping them enough in line. I decide the best place for me is somewhere else, so as to not just be another body in the way, because outside of that, there were only a couple of bystanders observing the excitement of the scene.

And then…there was That Guy.

That Guy was adamant this was an URGENT CRISIS, and HE was the one who was going to HELP BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Then, That Guy decided all traffic in and around the area NEEDED TO STOP. RIGHT. NOW. Mind you, again, we’re on the corner of two notably busy streets around five in the afternoon, meaning there is a lot of traffic on the road at that moment which had suddenly come to a stop. Now, with lines of cars growing, they began to find their way safely around the scene of the accident.

Or, I should say, tried to begin finding their way, but not if That Guy had anything to say about it (and oh boy, did he). This man threw himself in front of cars that were nowhere near the stopped van and the patient in order to “help out.” I still vividly recall him running down the road in a panic – wearing slip-on sandals and a loose backpack, mind you – chasing down and screaming at passing cars that “You need to stop, right now!”

So, I hope that if you’re reading this, you’ve never been a That Guy; and if you were at one point, you’ve seen the error of your ways. He wasn’t helping, even the least bit, but in his insistent, unsolicited effort to help, he became a hindrance and a hazard. If this was a Public Safety Announcement, I’d hope it functions like a true cautionary tale and keeps a few more That Guy’s from spawning into existence.

Cheers, y’all. Stay safe out there.

Old Limits, New Heights – an update & news

Twenty-seven is a strange age.

You’re old enough now to have enough experience to “know better” and have gone through enough tribulations that you’ve come out the other side of some difficulty; but at the same time, still young enough to be referred to as “a kid in their 20’s.” In a lot of ways, it’s kind of having the best of both worlds: enough years under your belt to claim experience and authority in some situations, but just enough green to claim ignorance and get away with it most of the time.

It’s also tricky, because I want to introduce a story with “when I was a young man,” or “when I was younger,” they both feel a little disingenuous because I mean, like, five years ago.

So, when I was a young(er) rapscallion, I was delusional about my prowess in hand-to-hand combat. Like we discussed way back in “Fight Club: Fringe League,” I’m way more cognisant of those limits nowadays. I know that I don’t know the correct way to uncork a punch. I’m aware I don’t have a trained poise for rolling with or absorbing punches and kicks. I have some idea of how hard it is to control yourself or another human while in a wrestling scramble. But a few years ago, that wasn’t the case at all.

I argued with friends and coworkers, pretty vehemently mind you, that I could handle myself in a fight with a mountain lion. I was convinced that as the cat would leap at me, I could sidestep it, pop it in the mouth, and leave it dazed and confused on the dirt. I had a whole technique that was 100% foolproof (emphasis on “fool,” here) wherein my thumbs would hook the corners of its mouth and my forearms would block the claws just below the paw, rendering me completely safe from its assault.

I realized later that, as a cat in that situation, it would still have hind legs with sharp-ass claws that it would use to deftly carve open my soft-ass torso, disemboweling me in maybe a few seconds.

And while I’m ranting about this, another thing. I saw a YouTube video some years ago (I tried finding it, but to no avail – so allow me to paint the scene) featuring a zoo enclosure somewhere in southeast Asia, I believe. Unlike the enclosures we have here in the U.S., it’s the massive open expanse, and the feed isn’t a slab of steak through a door, but a live feeding. Meaning, they dump a live cow or goat in the middle of this field, peel out, and the – in this case – tigers jump all over it, giving them some semblance of a hunt.

It was in this particular video that they were fed in this way a single large cow who, after being dropped in this field, naturally tried to make a break for it. To humans, do you know how f***ing strong a cow is? A cow could level an average person without even meaning to. Well, four tigers swarm this ole gal and just one of them brings her to the ground with minimal – and I mean MINIMAL – effort. Three just start going to town, tearing into the soft bits, and the cow is…well, being loud about it. The fourth tiger is calmly watching its siblings fill their tummies when it decides to saunter over, grip the cow’s neck with its teeth, and snap it like a cracker.

Y’all, it mercy-killed that bovine with the same energy I use to take a sip of coffee. And that monster was the kind of thing I thought I could “K.O. if I had the chance, bro.”

Disgusting.

Anyway, another book with my name on it came out this month!
Bards & Sages Publishing has their “Society of Misfit Stories Presents…” vol.III issue out now on Amazon for those looking for a paperback, and for the e-readers among us, Smashwords is doing their thing and offering a 20% off discount through the end of the year if you use the code PC74V at checkout.
Look for my contribution to the collection, “High Noon,” which follows a Canadian kid who tries to hike the Pacific Crest Trail but gets…caught up as he takes on a mysterious guest.
And that’s kind of sweet.

Til next time, y’all.

“Artificial”

Hey all, happy middle-of-the-week.

Growing up, in the war between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, also known as the ‘Great Conflict of Sci-Fi Nerds and Fantasy Nerds of Forever,’ I always had my flag pitched pretty firmly in the camp for Fantasy Nerds. That’s right, you science nerds can suck it with your “lasers,” and your “spaceships,” and “anti-gravity-whateverthehell,” I’m over here with dragons, immortality, ethereal curses, and all the rest.

And even now at twenty-seven, I still do kind of hold that stance, but am waaaay more of a mercenary now than married to either side. My heart will always be with the art of High Fantasy, but I’ve come to see the love for science fiction a great deal and have really become a sucker for things like the cyberpunk genre (R.I.P. CD Projekt Red). Movies like Upgrade, Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, and to a lesser degree of genre, Arrival, Inception, and Tenet.

As it turns out, Sci-Fi is awesome.

Alright, I was writing something out, but then I began to notice all I was doing was spoiling the story here today, so I bumped it to the bottom. Without further adieu….

“Artificial”

April 6, 2034

This day…just…keeps coming back to me.

You’d just died maybe two months before, and I’m standing at your grave. The headstone your family got for you is nice, nobody seems to go out for real marble anymore. Others have been by and left flowers too, I guess. But you didn’t tell too many people you liked sunflowers best, natural ones. The synthetic daises under your name smell right, the petals even bruise if you press them, but they never wilt. And they don’t bob in the same way when the rain drops hit them either.

I want to stand in the rain because with you gone at least it would feel like I have someone to cry with. But of course Lucille’s right there with the umbrella.

“Are you cold?” she asks me.

“No,” I tell her.

“Are you sad?” she asks after a pause.

I almost laugh, but there doesn’t seem to be a point in it. “Yes. Of course.”

“Barry,” she says again. “May I ask you a personal question?”

“Shoot.”

“Are you afraid?”

It’s hard to say what it was, but the question stopped me. I had to swallow a lump in my throat before I found I could answer. “Of what?”

“Dying,” she says.

All I did was watch the rain break against the marble and run along the letters of your name. She’d struck a chord.

I want to tell her I am, but am also not. After all, you’d done it, so had everyone in history, so it can’t be that bad. I think of all sorts of reasons to be or not to be, but in the end all I say is, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“May I ask you another personal question, Barry?”

I don’t say anything, but just nod.

“Are you afraid of me?”

This time I look at her, and she looks at me. It’s tough to say what it is – at first I think it might be because she looks like you – but I think instead it’s the way she looks at me. I look into her eyes and every second longer I do, I see something else. Her eyes aren’t steadfast, they flutter subtly, searchingly, minutely quivering like yours or mine. Her lips flex so slightly, the way they do when your teeth don’t touch and your jaw is uneasy, so subtle you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t locked in such an intimate moment with someone.

“It isn’t fair,” I say.

“What isn’t fair, Barry?” she asks.

“To be so unsure.”

And why shouldn’t I be? The small signals in her eyes, her face, her hands. The soft cues of inner feelings we all use, all wrestle with. Our emotional responses have outward signs, just because she’s different doesn’t mean they can’t come from the same place. And how is she so different, anyway? Because she has a production date? I have a birthday. She has a serial number? I’ve got a social. Because of her programming? I’m a creature of habit and education too, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a person beneath it all. And that “unique cipher” DigitalBio is so proud of each of their products having…

I look down at my hands and think of the countless times since androids were first announced that I’ve done that. The runic layout of our fingerprints, the ridges of those tiny lines, the creases in the palm – it’s hard to see how that’s really any different.

I look back at her and she looks at me. Just like you she’s beautiful. The way her hair rests on her shoulder, the way the blue of her eyes contrasts against the gray background, she reminds me of you a lot.

Two men walk past and I catch their sneers. “They let you bring that thing onto the grounds?” they mutter. Of course she hears them, I’m sure, but she won’t move.

1’s and 0’s. Plastic, carbon fiber, and alloys. A machine of intelligent design is what we’re supposed to see. Programmed responses, algorithms, protocols, functions, and nothing else. But why is it foolish to see more than that? Once upon a time, the animal kingdom was thoughtless and bereft of conscious intelligence, but look a little further and gorillas take up sign language, whales and dolphins speak, crows remember faces, elephants lament and mourn their dead – all just like we do. Hell, even mushrooms communicate with each other. It only took a small amount of respect to see humans aren’t as alone as we pride ourselves.

So why am I so unsure when I look at her? I’m standing there, in a city cemetery, and she just stands there looking back at me. I feel the first tears burn down the side of my face and I know exactly why: because I don’t know whether or not to feel alone there.

“Do you,” I say still wiping my face, “do you ever get that way?”

It would have stuck with me no matter what, but what really got me was that she didn’t answer straight away.

After a few seconds of silence, I look at her again and her eyes are in the grass. I see her squeeze the grip on the umbrella, barely, hardly perceptible but it’s there.

“Yes,” she says.

Arthur C. Clarke had this great quote once upon a time where he said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” He’d meant E.T.’s, I think, but here I was confronted by a one-word answer that scared me, relieved me, excited me, lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders, and settled a new one on them all at once. I’d never felt those words more heavily than I did in that moment. The rain began to pick up again and drum against the umbrella’s hood.

“Come on,” I say.

“Where are we going?”

“Let’s go get a coffee for starters. This talk should take a while.”

Maybe she’s more like you than I thought.

Funny thing since you named her, eh?

END

I’ve harped on it at length before, but the game Detroit: Become Human may have faults here and there, but I ultimately found it to be an incredible ride in narrative. The piece below (now above) started, I’m pretty sure, was born of inspiration from playing that game. It was a Mental Movie that featured a man and a woman in a hospital room, at first. The man would be older and sort of plain, looking sort of like Paul Giamatti, and the woman would be young, fair, and beautiful. She would be in the hospital bed, and he would be standing beside her, and all that would take place is a conversation about humanity. Slowly, it would unfold that one of them was an android while the other was human, and I felt the natural assumption would be that the woman would be the manufactured android, giving how beautiful she was, but in reality it would be the man – I don’t know, an attempt to show the separations of what we value, humanity, and how those things influence our assumptions while at the same time being intrinsically linked. Then, one morning, I sat down, slapped some keys, and we got the above little piece.

Anyway, something to think about, maybe.

Til next time.

Pocket Story series #2

Woof, back so soon! Been rainy near these parts, so I’m stuck inside, which means I get to chain myself to my desk and rattle away on here. Livin’ the dream.

Brief thought experiment before diving into The Goods here today: Without googling it, and be honest, how many ants would you guess are there estimated on the surface of the planet? Don’t be surprised if it’s way more than you think, or weirdly way less than you’d imagine. Either way, it’s part of an essay-project I’ve had brewing, and I don’t think I’ve ever done so much math in my life.

Just…stay tuned for that.

Anyway, if you forgot how this works or are just getting started, the little ditty to follow comes from a premise generator from a book that I got at a yard sale some time back. It gives a circumstance, a character, and an action (and all usually pretty weird ones). So, getting on with it…

Where Are They Now?

Winston Turtledove closed his eyes tightly, gritted his teeth, and rubbed his temples. The noise was getting to be hard to handle.

I hope there’s leftover lasagna in the fridge. That hot sauce ain’t gonna use itself.

…if I can return these pants for store credit, and if they let me use that coupon since it only expired yesterday, then those new shoes will only be five dollars, or three if I scuff up the edges while they’re…

…those cards better show up in the mail today. Tracking said two to four days, but they’re usually early and the shipping update was pretty fast, so then maybe…

“…just call my name, I’ll be there in a hurry, you don’t have to worry, ’cause baby there AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIIIIGH ENOUGH, AIN’T NO VALLEY LOOOOW ENOUGH, AIN’T NO RIVER WIIIIIDE ENOUGH, to keep me from…”

…wasn’t he the one from ‘Three-Ring?’ Little Andy?Aw, he used to be so cute.

The voices started about a week ago. At first, he thought he was insane, his personality fragmenting into different shades, but now he was just concerned about being driven to madness. As it turned out, through magic, a curse, solar winds, or a cosmic joke, he was hearing other people’s thoughts all of a sudden. At first, he thought it was cool. He’d listen in on neighbors, other patrons at coffee shops, and rather enjoyed the new dimension given to his people-watching hobby.

But the voices kept piling on and piling on, and he couldn’t shut them off. It’s fun to listen in one at a time, but when you’re never alone and have a crowd in your head at near all times, it was enough to mill one’s sanity.

It had also been a disappointing revelation to have, too. He caught passersby occasionally recognize him from his childhood role as Little Andy on ABC’s hit comedy ‘Three-Ring Circus,’ and he’d always like to imagine subtle awestricken ripples at his minor celebrity, but now he knew what mostly occupied their reaction was how old he’d gotten. Not shyness at asking for a picture, not fondness over the show, just pity for how he was now.

So he sat on his usual park bench, now a grumpy man in his early-fifties, and watched the birds whose thoughts were blessedly one-note enough to meditate out the other visitors of the park: “Coo? Coo. Coo? Coo? Coo? Cooooo. Coo.”

That’s when he saw old Harold, a man in his eighties who came to the same park regularly. Winston hadn’t seen Harold since his newfound powers had taken root. And the intrigue at some familiar thoughts pulled him from his meditating on the pigeons. It took some time, but as the light crowds of joggers, babysitters, and dog-walkers began to clear out, he found he was able to focus in on Harold’s thoughts.

“…some day. With Martha gone, a man would think the guilt would have gone away some day. But nope. Sure, everyone has their theories. They’ve sold their books, their movies, their crack-pot bits, and TV specials, but holding onto the secret truth? Outliving all the others and being the last one holding onto the secret. Now that…that’s a real Magic Bullet. Shit. Why do I even still come here? Is it the knoll? Maybe. I think the lake helps keep the images out. Killin’ a man, an important one…fuck. And poor Jacky, never got to…”

Winston blinked his eyes in disbelief, sitting on a bench in a park outside Missoula, Montana, with the man who might have assassinated JFK…

After a few minutes, Winston simply shrugged.

We never know where life will take us, do we?

END

So, I’ll be real, wasn’t entirely sure how to end this one, which might be pretty evident in the text itself. The attributes this time were as follows: “Suddenly able to hear others’ thoughts, // a former child television star // discovers who really killed JFK.” And full confession, the first mixture had the last part as “steals a baby,” but I wasn’t totally sure how to work with that one. The JFK thing at least worked with the telepathy, and besides, it was that or he “grows at extra arm.”

Anyway, hope all is well, take it easy, much love, and see you next time.

A Softball [Deductive] Pitch

I want to note that the tittle here is a little deceiving. Most of us probably recognize “a softball pitch” to be a phrase that roughly translates to “an easy problem to solve,” or “a simple obstacle to overcome.” Out of journalistic integrity (LOL), I looked up a few compilations of professional softball pitches

What. The. F*ck?

That is such a criminally misused phrase, dude. Softball pitches ain’t only fast, but they’re kind of scary scary as sh*t.

So, while I move forward with this, let’s recognize that I’m using the expression “a softball pitch” in its classic meaning, but have since fully recognized the power in their real-world applications, cool?

This brief little story is about…
<dons a deerstalker cap>
…the power of deduction.

None of us should be strangers to giving, and I bet we all have had a least a few encounters sparing our change or extra dollars to needy folks we’ve encountered on the street. I do it both out of common human decency, and secretively as a little offering to the leylines of karma that I should never find myself in the same misfortune. Any one of us is only ever a few mistakes or unfortunate circumstances from being in the same position, and it’s good to bow our heads to that reality from time to time.

Now, that being the case, I think a few of us have also had encounters where those asking haven’t been…well, as needy as they let on, right? Which, let’s say up at the top, that that’s kind of a sh*tty thing to do, faking it, because you take away from and potentially spoil the perception of others who truly could benefit from others’ generosity.

Thankfully, the shysters in question this time were just in generous as to the clues they gave that they were up to no good.

My girlfriend Amanda and I had pulled up to a red light, and on the center divide between lanes stood a couple of folks holding signs. Amanda at times keeps a bag of loose bills cobbled together from the bills gotten by going to CoinMasters with spare change for just such occasions. So we see the couple and she asks for the bag.

I reach in the back, retrieve it, but as I’m opening it to retrieve bills, my Sherlock Sense starts tingling. There’s something about the way they’re speaking to each other (the window is still rolled up, so we see them, but can’t yet hear them), motioning, and strutting that stands out. This may have had nothing to do with anything, but they were also wearing identical jackets and backpacks; again, not strange or malicious in and of itself, but it caught my eye is all I’m saying. They also had…we’ll say “hallmark” acne around their mouths. Again, could be anything, people’s individual diets and biochemistries are all unique, but it raised an eyebrow.

Thankfully, the final softball pitch of a clue (remember what we talked about) came when we rolled down the window.

We gathered up ten dollars to pass out the window, but once it was down, it appeared we happened along at precisely the wrong time (or the right time, depending on how you feel about the encounter). We can hear the one guy singing to the woman with him, “Let’s get this money, hey-hey, so we can start feelin’ funny, hey-yeah!”

To this day, I strive to the level of confidence that guy had in that moment to openly admit, in SONG no less, that he was scamming for meth money. Needless to say, we rolled the window back up (a bit awkwardly now), and continued on our way, saving the bills for a more genuine case of need.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t take this in any way as a message to distrust those looking for charity by necessity – not at all condemning those in earnest need.

Instead, take it as the message it’s intended in that it relays my dope-ass deductive skills which sniffed out a couple of fakers. Did it get a bit easy there at the end? Yeah, maybe. But does that discount my awesome perception…?

Agree to disagree.

Ciao, y’all. See ya next time.

Grenades at Work

Sup everybody.

I’ve done some thinking and have come to the conclusion that enough time has passed that this story can be shared without anyone getting in trouble. Not that I’d particularly mind questions from my bosses where it happened since…well, I’m not there anymore.

Evasive attempts to sidestep possible repercussions now behind us, a question: have you ever worked an off-shift? You know, one of the ones besides a nine-to-five? It could be night shift, graveyard, swing, or best of all, weekend.

If you have or do, you might know what I mean when I describe them as…just, another color. We’re like specialists, called in to handle out-of-the-norm operations. And while there are the obvious drawbacks of an alternative schedule, the team-politics that come with it between various shifts, there’s also a certain degree of freedom.

Like a little bit less scrutiny. And in circumstances like those, creativity is allowed to flourish.

Allow me to demonstrate what I mean.

I worked at an optics company for some time a bit out of high school (shit, I don’t know why I’m putting it like that; I’m 26 now and I was there for six and a half years, it’s been my longest running job to date – but you get what I mean). It had its up’s and its down’s like any place, but one of the up’s was being able to handle some pretty neat stuff used in production from time to time. In this case, a large amount of dry ice.

One of the engineers there – we’ll call him Tugg, cause that’s funny – called a few of us into the break room one Saturday. The project that required the dry ice had been completed, but before disposing of the stuff, Tugg wanted to show off. He broke pieces off and held them in his mouth, making puffs of frost breath like some mid-forties dragon. He played Hot Potato with others, poured water on some to make sudden, big-ass clouds of “smoke.”

But best of all, he blew the tops off plastic bottles.

He’d take a small piece of dry ice, add a small splash of water, then twist the cap on real tight real quickly. The pressure would build up, and a few moments later – POP! The top would fly off with a bang. It was a neat party trick, but things grow boring if they stagnate, so Tugg up’d the ante.

He found a larger and thicker Snapple bottle to use for the same trick, and this time used a much larger piece of ice. He shoved the thing in there, followed it up with some water, and screwed the cap on tight, quickly setting it on the break room table and backing away…

After a few moments, we were wondering why it hadn’t popped. So we stood there. And stood there. The longer the top went un-blown, the less anyone was willing to approach the table. What had been a sweet peach-flavored beverage was now a highly pressurized container that would explode as soon as someone got close, we were sure. We egged one another to be the first to test it, but no one would brave it.

So we kept…just…standing there.

I turned to one of my coworkers to make some snarky comment, when the most miraculous thing happened.

The room, in less time than it would have taken me to even blink, had been filled wall-to-wall with fog. I also felt like I’d been punched square in the sternum and couldn’t hear anything besides a ringing in my ear which had followed a huge bang I was only just now registering had happened. But mostly, I cannot express enough in words alone how instantaneous the change was: one moment in time, the room was clear, and the next conceivable instant my vision was obstructed. Not even a chance to blink. Not even enough time for the reflex to engage.

A few moments of coughing and popping our ears later, we saw the Snapple bottle prone on the floor with the cap some distance away. With the dry ice, Tugg had successfully, accidentally created a dry ice flashbang grenade.

Moral of the story?

Not sure there is one, really. Be brave, I guess. Be bold? Provide helmets to your weekend employees if they’re anything like Tugg?

Anyway, that’s my tale. Ciao.

Funeral for a Hamster: A Legacy

Whoa, hey guys. It’s been a minute, right? Like a real minute.

Been a helluva week, too. Work’s been nuts, some family stuff, friendly drama, took Honorable Mention in the semi-finals of a national fiction contest (#humblebrag), and my pet died.

It’s been a thing.

BUT, that’s not what we’re here to talk about (kind of). We’re here…to talk about Hammy.

That’s short for “Hamilton”, the hamster – it was my girlfriend’s idea, I didn’t vote for it; but grew to love the name and the little doofus in short order. Apparently, the average lifespan of a syrian dwarf hamster is about two years, and the Lil’ Hercules (name explained in a moment) made it twenty-nine months. We buried him out front, with neighbors and family, in the rain, and said some kind words while I played “My Guitar Gently Weeps” on my phone.

I hope I live the kind of life where I merit a funeral that’s half as cool.

So, in the spirit, I’d like to share a few tales about Hamilton’s legacy and why he was so awesome.

  1. He Ate Fucking Metal and Lifted a Fucking Book
    He had a pretty spacious cage to run around in with plenty of ‘floof’ to burrow through. But that wasn’t enough for Lil’ Hercules. At one point, Mandy thought it’d be a good idea to outfit his space with an old egg carton as a sort of makeshift ladder to climb on. Cool in theory, right? Problem was, now he could reach the metal mesh that was the top of the cage. No problem, right? Wrong. Problem. Very much problem, apparently.
    I wake up in the middle of the night to some weird noises, but was exhausted enough to just ignore them. Come morning time, I get up for work, walk groggily to the kitchen, and while I’m making coffee, something scuttles over my feet. I look down, thinking I’m about to kill a rat, when I see the rat is orange.
    I wrack my brains over how he got out. Did we leave the cage open? Did we leave it cracked? No, and no.
    I go back to his cage with him scooped up, and see there’s a fat fucking hole in the mesh where the carton reaches. He chewed through (and presumably ate) aluminum screen in the name of freedom.
    We spent the next week expecting him to leave a couple bloody turds, and then die painfully; but that never happened. Instead, we put a heavy-ass biology textbook to cover the hole and kept an eye on him.
    Apparently, not a close-enough eye, because a couple nights later, there come more weird noises. I wake up, turn on the light, and spot him rummaging through our closet. I scold him (thoroughly expecting him to understand me), scoop him up yet again, and inspect his cage to see the – let it not be understated – heavy-ass biology textbook scooted off to the side.
    That rodent was on ‘roids.
  2. He Got Me to Kiss his Nuts Once
    Not too much to delve into here, it’s pretty self-explanatory.
    We, and most of our friends, made a fair amount of fun of Hammy’s balls. But that was only because they were ginormous! They genuinely, actually made it seem like they made it more difficult for him to walk.
    That aside, when he’d gotten used to being handled and carried, it was a nice thing to be able to nuzzle him and kiss his back or his head. Problem was, he was quick.
    So I’m holding him in the crook of my elbow, nuzzle him, and lean over to give him a kiss to the head, when he ‘Swoop!’ scuttles over my arm, and my lips brush right up against those kidney-bean-sized testicles.
    I think that was the day I decided I loved him. I’ve never kissed a pair of testicles and not loved the…y’know what, never mind…
  3. He Stared Death in the Face (kind of)
    There’s a neighborhood cat around here that we’ve pseudo-adopted. Her name’s ‘Tiger,’ even though her owners named her ‘Kitten,’ but that’s dumb, so her name’s ‘Tiger.’
    Anyway, Tiger loved to come over, hang out for warmth and scratches, and then jump up onto the bench where Hammy’s cage was and just…stare at him (We called her doing this “checking out Food Network”).
    Part of what made his passing a bit more gentle was knowing that he lived a life in which he never knew pain or fear (except once when he fell off the bed, peed a little, then hopped right back to life). So when a giant monster that stared at him mere centimeters away, longing to eviscerate him, and play with his tiny intestines like Silly String, he just looked at her, smiled, shrugged, and peed in his corner.
    I’m probably attributing courage for what was actually hilarious Darwinian ignorance, but I like to picture him as staring death in the face and shrugging. So, there.

He survived two of California’s wildfires with us, scaled a bathroom cabinet like a parkour athlete, and loudly ran into about eleven-hundred doors in his plastic ball, then died peacefully in his sleep at the ripe old age of two-and-a-half.

We should all be so lucky.

Love ya, Hammy. We’ll miss you.

Hamilton, under his Rainbow Bridge

Catch you guys Tuesday.

Time is all we Have

Happy Wednesday, e’erybody!

(For those of you that have been following this chain of posts, please take this as my sincere half-promise that this is the [likely] second-to-last blast this story will get. But the response has been pretty nice and, again, this one meant a lot. So we’ll cheers to it once more as I fan the hammer on it, then onto another of my more recent favorites.)
(If you’re new: Weeeeeee! Glad you’ve joined us!)

Without further adieu…

Fifteen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

***

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

***

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend fifteen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

***

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

***

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.

Would you…if YOU could…?

Happy Tuesday, e’erybody!

This is a pseudo-re-post (which looks kind of French when written out that way). So, if you caught the O.G. post, then, thanks for stopping by! If not, you’re in for a treat. I’m going to post this once or twice more, because I’d like the story to get the coverage – I fucking cried when I wrote it, originally, so it gets a couple seconds’ more time than stories with fart jokes or whatever.
(Sorry. I’m feeling sassy. Not really sorry. Like, mostly sorry. Mostly-sorta sorry. I’m not sorry.)

Without further adieu…

Fifteen Years

Rachel watched from her perch while Eddie got her son into his wet suit. The breeze salted her cheeks and she quietly hummed a tune in rhythm with the waves. He had been so good with Wesley since losing his dad the year before. There was a period of adjustment, to be sure, but she had been so much happier after he’d moved in. “Thanks again for doing this,” she said as Eddie approached and gave him a kiss.

“Hey, no problem,” he laughed, his Hawaiian accent sweetening the smile that came with it. “Besides, I have to show him those trophies ain’t fake. What better way than to get him out here with me?”

“Still, you didn’t have to. Hey, Wes,” she called over Eddie’s shoulder. “Be careful, honey. Wait for Eddie to go out there with you, okay?” The boy looked over and gave a halfhearted smile, but stayed standing with his feet in the tide. Eddie gently brushed her sandy-blonde hair with his hand.

“He’s gonna be fine, okay? I’ll keep him close.”

“I know. I just worry.”

“You worry too much.”

“Maybe,” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just been really hard on him. He was doing so well in school, helping around the house, he even got his purple belt, and then it’s like he just let it all fall apart on purpose.”

Eddie raised a timorous eyebrow. “You think it has to do with me?”

She was quiet for a beat before saying with a smile, “It’s okay. Kids are kids, after all.” She kissed him again before breaking away suddenly. “Wes? Wesley!” she screamed.

Eddie spun around to see the ten-year-old boy walk slowly out into the waves and get pulled down by the undertow.

***

After they checked him out of the hospital, Wesley’s mom wanted to take him to see a therapist that afternoon. It was Eddie who suggested they come home first to let things settle. So they called his school and Wes had spent the last two days mostly in his room. He lied in his bed, staring up at the popcorn of his ceiling and listening to the adults in the hallway outside.

“Let me try and talk to him,” came Eddie’s muffled voice.

“Listen, honey, I love you and I know you want to help, but he doesn’t need to talk to you. Not right now. He needs a psychiatrist.”

“Probably, sure. Just let me try first. He’s been stone-quiet ever since he got back. If he shoos me away, then what’s the harm?” It was quiet for a bit after that, but there came a soft knock at the door about a minute later and Eddie stepped through. “Hey Champ, mind if I come in?”

Wesley didn’t say anything at first, but just sat up against the wall. He folded his arms around his knees and hid his chin behind them. “Sure.”

Eddie closed the door behind him and sat at the edge of Wes’s bed with his hands folded. “So,” he began slowly, “you weren’t too keen on surfing, hmm?” Wesley replied with a chuckle but didn’t say anything. Eddie gave him a minute and then continued. “You know, you really scared your mom and me.”

“I know,” said Wes, with more a tone of irritation than guilt. “You don’t have to tell me that. I know.”

“Hmm, sure, sure. Then you know what I’m gonna ask next then, yeah?”

“Probably.”

“Well, why’d you do it?”

Staring into the covers of his bed, Wesley was quiet and contemplative. Eventually, he lifted his head and looked out the window at the clouds. Heavy tears welled up in his eyes before breaking and rolling down his cheeks. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Hey bud, I’m hear to talk, but I’m mostly here to listen. I’ll believe you, whatever it is.”

“You say that,” Wesley laughed between the tears. He wiped his eyes and saw the sincere look on Eddie’s face. “Alright,” he said and sighed. “What if I told you that I wasn’t ten years old?”

“Okay.” Eddie held a waiting pause. “What would you say you are, then?”

“I’m twenty-five.” Eddie couldn’t hide his reaction, despite his efforts, and gave a suppressed, coughed chuckle into his fist. “Yeah,” Wes continued, “get it out of your system.”

“No, no. I’m sorry. Just, you’re going to have to explain this one to me.”

“I’m not really sure where to start.”

“Okay. How about with how, if you’re that old, you came to be a…a little brah…again?”

“Because,” Wesley sighed, “because I wished for it. I was going through a real tough time and made a stupid, fleeting wish. And it worked.”

Eddie took a deep breath and leaned back on his hands. “Wow,” he said. “You know, if I could go back in time, I’d probably play-”

“The lottery?” Wes interrupted. “Yeah, I talked to people at work before all this happened and that’s what most people said, too. Listen, I get that you don’t really believe me and you just think you’re playing along, alright? But trust me that it’s way more complicated than that.”

“Okay,” Eddie agreed, nodding his head. “Then walk me through it and how that leads to what happened on Saturday.”

Wesley tossed his hands up. “What does it matter? I’m mostly just telling you any of this because it feels nice to finally let out. Besides, no one will believe you and I can’t get back anymore, anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

Wes groaned into his knees. “Because I lost my lucky coin.”

“That old one your grandpa got you for your birthday?”

“Yeah, I kept it in my wallet but it’s been missing for a week. It’s what I made the wish with to get here. I was going to use it to get back, but now I’m stuck.” Eddie made a puzzled look on his face that annoyed Wes. “What?” he asked.

“No, sorry. It’s nothing.” Eddie smiled at the boy and shook the thought away. “Come on, you were saying?”

It took several minutes of tug-of-war with Wesley before he opened up, but eventually he started explaining.

“It’s not that simple. ‘Play the lottery’, ‘stop crime’, ‘graduate early’. Everyone has a plan they think will work out. Firstly, I never played the lottery, and if I did, I don’t remember people’s phone numbers, let alone the Super Jackpot from fifteen years ago. Secondly, stop crime? If I have to remind you, I have the authority of a ten-year-old. Even if I did start telling the cops about a robbery, vandalism, or arson I knew would happen, that doesn’t turn me into kid-friggin’-detective. They’ll rightly assume I heard it somewhere and either dismiss it or it’ll implicate the adults around me. And fly through school? Okay, assume I do that. I ace every single spelling test and math quiz until I graduate high school at fourteen. I don’t want that.”

“Really?” said Eddie, wide-eyed. “Why not?”

“Because,” said Wesley, standing up forcibly from the bed and pacing around his room, “I won’t be some genius, exceptionally dedicated, or anything, just a guy who’s unexpectedly smarter than middle-schoolers. Plus, then that shoots me passed everyone I knew or would come to know and brings me into a world I don’t want. Never knowing my friends, probably prompting moves to new school districts, or whatever. And not doing that? Well, now I’ve been spending my days trying to pay attention, feeling patronized, surrounded by kids I’m supposed to but do not relate to. Every day is an act, every word is a sham.”

“Poetic.”

Wesley gave him a frustrated look from below his eyebrows.

“What? Listen, I’m not saying that it sounds a little over dramatic – which it does, but – this all means you should know how many people would kill to be kids again. Heck, man, you’ve heard me joke about it.”

“Oh, no. It felt like a vacation at first – having meals made for me, going to a super easy job, having a ton of energy. Not to mention getting to see my mom again, being as nice as I should have been when I grew up the first time, and making her super proud just with my grades. Not so much fun after a few months, though.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Hard to find anyone to have a good conversation with, first off. Can’t really do it with my classmates. I can’t do it with any adults because I’m trying to keep this cover going or because they won’t take me seriously.”

“Hey, whoa. I take you seriously when you want to be serious, Wes.”

“Really? Would you say that like that to your buddy Tom? Or be interested in discussing Machiavelli or the government’s response to 9/11 with me? The point is, we talk differently to adults than we do with kids and in this circumstance, Eddie, it’s annoying. Besides, the internet sucks now.”

“Okay, then if you want to be serious,” Eddie said with a sudden grim tone, “that thing you mentioned about getting to see your mom again. Does something happen to her?”

“What?” replied Wes, embarrassed. “Ah, no. Not really, anyway. It’s just…hard to raise a teenage boy by herself. It took a lot out of her.”

“So, you guys never met me?”

“No. Because, in my life, I’d quit judo by now, so we never went to regionals. Which means I’ve already messed up and gotten something wrong.”

“Hmm, is that so bad, though? Say this life goes differently than your last one. I’m not such a bad guy, am I? We have fun.”

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t mean it in that I dislike you for you. You’re…you’re pretty cool. I just…”

“What?”

“I need things to say the same. There’s someone I can’t risk not meeting, and it scares me to think that I might not.” The tears began to well up in Wesley’s eyes as a soft knock came from his door. Eddie placed a compassionate hand on the boy’s shoulder and answered it. Wesley saw his mother briefly while the door was open and when Eddie came back in he was smiling.

“Hey, do you want to go for a hike?”

Wesley looked at the clouds through his window and replied with a shrug and a thumb’s up.

***

“So,” Eddie panted as he pulled himself up onto the overlook with Wesley, “you sounded like you were in the middle of a big point.” His words may not have, but there had been a change to the way Eddie spoke to Wes over the course of the afternoon – his tone, his voice, his eyes – it felt like the two were speaking on the same level. Wesley wasn’t being spoken down to and he appreciated it.

“Yeah. Just that things are scary.”

“I’m sure. But come on, there was more than that. You were saying you wanted to get everything right, keep things the same?”

“Yeah, but even all of that is a craps shoot, and I’m terrified. I’m terrified because I don’t know the rules. I’m not the person I was when I was nine, nobody is. People change. People change because they have experiences and they grow. But what if this is some Back to the Future shit? What if I don’t have an experience that shaped me, either because of butterfly effect happenstance or because now I know how to handle it? Do I lose the part of me that grew from that in the first place like an old photo? Because if so, to keep who I am, I have to live every day frantically trying to relive every day, as it happened, for years. I’ll spend fifteen years never changing, never growing, constantly paranoid, ‘learning’ the same lessons, or else I lose getting to be me in the first place.”

Eddie stayed quiet but just looked at the boy. He shuffled off his pack, set it beside the both of them, and took a seat on the rock with his legs dangling off the side. He took out a couple of sandwiches and handed one to Wesley. “Hmm, and that was enough to make you wanna end it?”

“Not…really,” Wesley said, timidly taking a bite of bologna.

Eddie watched Wes closely. “Why, then? A few years with us seem so bad you need that way out?”

“No. It’s not that.” Wes was staring at the rock, away from Eddie.

“Mmhm. Who was she, this person you need to meet again?” Wes looked back up with redness in his eyes and a quivering chin. Eddie wrapped a strong arm around the boy’s shoulders and held him while he cried. “I know, brah,” he said. “It’s always a girl.”

***

“Her name’s Carmen,” Wesley said between sobs.

Wesley told his stepfather everything. He spoke about how the two had met in high school and made fast friends. He told him the tumults of their relationship then and later, and how he’d known the moment a friend introduced them that he wanted her in his life in a meaningful way. He told him of how even though their life together wasn’t perfect, he loved those imperfections. He loved the way she would talk about the things she wanted to do in life, and how he imagined doing them with her. He loved the way she would joke about things she would change if given the chance, and how he would quietly think of how grateful he felt to have her as she was. He loved deeply how, despite the infinite number of ways they couldn’t have wound up together, the universe had seen fit to provide the one where they did.

“And I know,” continued Wes, “that they’re all the cliches, but I really do miss just being able to look into her eyes. I miss waking up to her voice, to the dimples on her cheeks when she’d smile. I miss comforting her when she was ever scared. I even miss the crushing pain of crying with her if she was ever hurt. And most, I miss listening to her heartbeat like it’s the only sound that exists, praying that between us I get to be selfish enough to die first because I don’t want a world without that sound.

“We’d been together for seven years before all this happened. It’s been hard sleeping in a bed by myself for the first time in that long. I miss her, a lot, but what’s worst is that now she doesn’t even know me yet. And she won’t for another five years, and if everything goes as it should, we won’t be together for another five after that. And even if that does happen, now I’ll have a secret I can never tell the woman I tell everything: that I knew her before we met and I waited a decade to be with her again. Try telling anyone that without it ending in some kind of paperwork.

“Our life had gotten hard, real hard, and all I wanted was a way out. But now that I’ve had it, all I want is a way back. Meaning yes, badly enough to walk straight into the ocean hoping to wake up like this was all a dream. So,” he said, wiping his nose and standing as the wind picked up, “what happens now? Do you tell mom and you guys sign me up for therapy or check me into some loony bin?” He sniffled with resolve.

Eddie was very quiet. He sat with his jaw jutting and was very clearly just watching the clouds roll by in thought. “Maybe,” he finally said with a big exhale. “But I don’t think so. Those places get pretty expensive, so I figure it’ll be easier to just give you this.” He reached into his pack and tossed Wesley a small, brown, folded leather wallet.

Wesley was stunned. “How?” he stammered.

“Taylor’s dad called yesterday and dropped it off while we were in your room. Apparently your buddy took it the last time you had him over. I told you it wasn’t a good idea to brag about your allowance like that. What were you saving up that much for anyway?”

“It was, uh,” the boy choked, “it was for the bus. I was going to take the bus to San Francisco. That’s where the fountain I toss my coin into for the wish gets built next month.”

“Oof, San Fran?” Eddie let out a puff of thoughtful breath. “Might be kind of a tough to swing it with your mom given things right now. But…”

Wes looked to the man with a dumbfounded, hopeful stare which Eddie returned with a wink and a smile.

***

The sun shone bright and clear through the window. Wesley reached over to turn his clock to face him. The time was 11:11am. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the almost unfamiliar sheets. Where there had been Spider-Man, there was now a checkered cream-colored pattern.

“Good morning,” came a sweet voice. Wesley felt a kiss on his cheek. “Aw, hey, are you alright?”

“It’s just good to see you.” Wesley wiped the tears away and hugged her. “I love you.”

“Oh honey,” Carmen said, laughing. “I love you too. Bad dream?”

He laughed with her. “You have no idea.”

THE END

The Take: This was a good one that came out of my short-lived Soapbox Writers’ Workshop. The parameters were: Romantic Comedy, featuring a surfer and a lost wallet. It came together pretty quickly, but took a lot longer to edit and sharpen. I’d shopped it around for a while, but I to-date haven’t quite found the right market for it, and also realized I’d passed it by a while ago as one of my best/favored manuscripts – I still love it, there’s a lot of me in there, but I’ve grown past it a bit.
It started off with me asking around work, “If you could go back to any age and keep your current consciousness – world view, knowledge, history, memories, opinions, everything – but you had to live your life forward from there, would you?”
The responses were awesome.
Many had the expected knee-jerk responses of “zoom through school” and “play the lottery.” But if pressed, reminding them that, y’know, their history is no longer their history – family, friends, jobs, events – none of that is guaranteed, it became less of an easy question.
Others I respected immensely. I explained the question, they had me clarify, thought on it, and then went, “Oh, hell no. I love my (girlfriend/family/dog/job/friends/you-name-it). Wouldn’t want to risk that.”
Others still, left me pretty flabbergasted…
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Even though you won’t have your family any more?”
“Yeah, they’ll be fine.”
“No, like, you wouldn’t have your kids anymore.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“Jesus, man. Didn’t you adopt?”
To this day, I’m unsure whether or not they were having my leg, still didn’t understand the thought experiment, or were being serious and just genuinely did not enjoy their life.

Anyway, to cap it all off, writing ‘Fifteen Years’ was an adventure, one that helped me chart out just how goddamn grateful I am for the life I’m swimming through.

Have a good one, y’all.

Ciao.