Category Archives: Stories

Mr Akiki

(0n]e

The neon sign lodged within the front window pane of Parrot Bay has illuminated the litter-infested sidewalk of my street for the past nine nights. I know this because my apartment-a shitty studio with barred windows, one mattress (no bed), and a rusted sink-is situated right above the establishment; each night, after working the graveyard shift, I have returned to find it alit. It’s odd, the turquoise lights may shine brightly, but I can tell that they are dimming, and that worries me because Simone never forgets to turn off the light when she closes her business for the day. On day ten, which happened to be today, I decided to check on her.

I was initially introduced to Simone Douglass when she came to scope out the location, maybe three years ago. She wasn’t striking or eye-catching at first, and she partially resembled the morally-guided brunette sidekick that was the second to last person to die in teen-slashers, but what she lacked in physical beauty, she made up for in her intellect. I learned that she was the first woman to graduate from community college with a degree in Computer Science and that she intended to open a used technology store that doubled as a repair station. However, I also learned that with her supreme intellect came with a few side-hustles (student loans cost a soul nowadays). I’m not exactly sure what she did in that space below my apartment, but I often witnessed a variety of customers coming at any given time of day. By 9:00 PM, when I prepared for my night shift, the store was empty, and Simone was on her way back home; that’s how things went, at least until ten days ago.

On this particular evening, my alarm was set for 7:30 PM, but I awoke due to a quaking from below (my mattress is on the floor). Had Simone finally returned? I threw off my comforter and dashed to the window. The only remarkable sight was the eerie blue hue from the neon sign that bathed the steel gutter under the sidewalk. The noise persisted; it was erratic and lacked any coherent rhythm or melody. Initially, I thought it was her stereo system, or maybe one of the many televisions in her shop had accidentally powered up-occasionally this happened due to the amount of energy the store used. I pressed my ear against my splintered floor and listened as the noises transitioned into voices.

Simone has a distinct whine, a nasally shrill that she was very much aware of-she claimed her shyness stemmed from this speech impediment-so I immediately recognized her voice. The other, well, it was hard to accurately listen for there were other noises that interfered whenever they spoke. It sounded like static, but instead of it having that uniform cracking and rushing sound-like a raging whitewater rapid-it was ominous and hollow as if it the source were in some uncharted seaside cove.

Now, I’m aware of what you’re thinking, and yes, I am also aware that eavesdropping is wrong, but you must understand that I had a legitimate reason for my actions. Not only had the neon light been burning throughout the past nine nights, but I also required Simone’s assistance as a dealer of goods. Each time I came to visit her store to pick up my order, the door was locked, and she was nowhere to be seen-and hiding is near impossible in a store with quadrilateral window panes instead of a front wall. Try to sympathize with me, what would you do when your neighbor has neglected their duties, and, as if fate would have it, you overhear them conversing with a stranger on the day you decided to investigate their timely disappearance? To the common man, this would’ve been enough evidence for them to put to rest their concern, but I’ve been told that Pisces are too empathetic, and my parents happened to consummate their love on a summer evening in June. Company or not, I had to see Simone and, if I were fortunate enough, she’d have my order ready for pick-up.

Parrot Bay. The letters pulsed back and forth as I peered through the front window. The store itself was empty, and the overheads bulbs were powered off, enhancing the luminosity of those lights still lit (the neon sign and some other unidentified source in the back office). I tried the handle, but the door was locked.

I tapped on the glass with my knuckles, but the echo died somewhere between the entrance and the office. I even called out her name while I was on the street. A dumb move because a nearby tenant verbally assaulted me from the third floor ( he dropped at least three “F-bombs” on me). Again, I looked through the glass, waited, tapped the door, and even considered picking the lock, but still, there was no sign of Simone. Something told me-maybe the neon lights-that I should’ve stopped or given up, but what of my order?

I know this may be hard for you to believe, but I promise that I am not in the business of crime; it’s a lucrative hustle that only the wisest, or foolish, can handle. And, when I broke into the back door of her shop, situated between the two olive-green, industrial-sized trash bins, I was not trying to steal anything. If you can somehow put your authoritative opinions to the side and entreat my confession, then you will soon have all the answers that you seek.

Now, I’ve been in Simone’s shop quite often, and I’m no stranger to her wares, but when I entered on this evening, I knew that something was amiss. Amiss might actually be an understatement because after finding the circuit breaker and bringing light to the building, my eyes were met with destruction. Nearly all of the television screens positioned on the back shelf had their faces shattered, black and copper wires undulated and constricted in a sphere like pythons caught in a breeding ball, and various green microchips and computer circuit boards were in fragments on the floor. Naturally, I called out to Simone, but not once did she reply to me; instead, she carried on her conversation with her company. The store was in shambles, and my first thought, just like yours, was a break-in. But why would someone break into a technology store and not steal anything? Deducing an answer to this question is what motivated me to proceed to the back office.

I must admit, I did consider calling first, but when I heard a bloodcurdling battle cry followed by a thundering boom, I dispelled the idea and rushed into the office. As I crashed through the door, a flash with the intensity of a solar flare temporarily blinded me. I expected myself to bear witness to two silhouettes: Simone and her company. However, when my eyes adjusted (it felt like an eternity in that white, hot light), I only saw one figure, if you could call it that.

In her hands was a rusted crowbar, presumably the one she kept under her desk (the neighborhood’s high crime rate called for “personal security measures”). Around her were more destroyed computer modems and accessories, and it looked as if the final blow had been recently dealt. The way she was wielding her weapon reminded me of that scene from Berserk when Guts defeated the one hundred men: exhausted and wounded, yet filled with a primal lust for battle…or death. She didn’t take notice of my entrance or even my presence for that matter; she simply continued her bashing. Shards of LED screens flew with each downward swing. I wanted to rationalize with her, maybe talk her out of her rage, but what words could I use when witnessing such a sight. Again, must I remind you that Simone is the same woman who used the last bit of her savings to procure this place as well as the products that lined its shelves; and here she was, ending the life of every digital object within her reach.

She stopped. So abruptly that my heart, which had been anticipating another blow, experienced a bit of tachycardia. Simone remained still for a few seconds, hovering over the remains like a seasoned hunter watching the soul leave its intended prey. And then, she approached me, with crowbar tightly gripped. Maybe it was fear that kept me frozen, or maybe it was the fact that if I moved I was probably going to need a new pair of underwear (and I was already down to two).

The distance between us shrank to only a few feet; I closed my eyes and foolishly threw my arms up as if they would shield me from her strike, but it never came. Instead, she opened her other hands and asked me for my phone. I did as instructed because the coward in me had no intention of forming any counter-arguments, especially against one who was armed. Strangely, she politely accepted the device, laid it on the floor, and smiled at me. Just briefly, because her grin was instantly replaced with a stiff lip. With the strength of the Norse god of thunder, Simone brought the curved edge of the crowbar down on my phone screen. Of course, I reacted, wouldn’t you if you just watched your digital lifeline get destroyed; and, after a series of increasingly tiring blows, I gave up any notion of salvaging the device or data. However, I was not enraged or angered enough to retaliate, plus she was still in possession of the makeshift (read: poor man’s) weapon.

As the carnage finally settled, and my muscles loosened their contractions on my bladder, I became mobile again. I inched closer to the door, preparing myself for a quick exit, but it seems that Simone was the one ready to escape. She heaved one of the boxed computer monitors that had a hole in the center with jagged edges and carried it to the chair. With the wall against my back and an ample amount of space between us, I considered the possibility that she was no longer a threat to me. So I stayed, at first to try and communicate with her, yet she remained silent throughout her task-unflinching as if taking a direct command from a superior who could seal her mouth. Unable to break free to her, I decided to observe her actions.  They made little sense at first: tying a few wires around the legs of the chair, propping the crowbar up on the desk, and angling the large computer on the edge of the seat. Once again, fate came to the foreground; Simone took one look at me, repeated a single phrase, and then went prone on the floor.

By the time I realized what her apparatus was, and where she’d positioned herself, Simone already kicked the crowbar; as far as the laws of physics are concerned, gravity will always bring objects down. The enlarged modem she’d just been carrying landed on her face, instantly crushing the frontal bones in her skull while the jagged edges sliced through the fatty deposits in her cheeks (even now, I can still hear that god awful crunching noise). Now the floor and my outfit were covered in her blood and other fluids; I assumed she was dead. Horrified, I went to check out the body; how firmly terror held me when her hand shot up and latched onto my arm. Rigor mortis reflexes or not, she would not let go. I eventually had to break one of her fingers to release myself from the grip. With the little first aid knowledge, I knew-my only instructors were actors on General Hospital and other soap-dramas set in a medical field (blame cable TV)-I checked the woman’s pulse.

Nothing. Yet, as if her spirit had not yet fully fled, a breathless cackle slipped through the holes in the computer modem. It sounded almost like a laugh, an innocent and sheepish giggle that a child would employ when entreated with sweets.

With terror and disgust as my two guides, I hastily made my way back to the entrance of the office and was about to leave when I remembered the other reason I came here: my order. I spent the next few minutes tearing away at what remained of the office, shuffling through her desk and filing cabinets. Eventually, underneath the bottom shelf of her closet, I found a box marked “Treasure Chest.” Inside it was dozens of digital compact discs, each neatly wrapped in a pre-made package. At the top right corner were the names of each of her customers, the particular patrons who made good use of her exceptional skills. Why was it called the Treasure Chest, and why was her store called Parrot Bay? Because…Simone was a pirate.

You already know this though, don’t you? A pirate, a person who bypasses the copyright laws and sells unauthorized works. She was the best I’d ever met. With only just a few hours of meticulously scouring through the reaches of the dark web, Simone could procure nearly any software that one desired: Adobe Creative suites, episodes of primetime television shows (remember the Game of Thrones hack?), virus installation software, and even modified versions of international video games. And now as I explain this, I realize that I may, in fact, be a criminal as well but that depends on what one considers a crime in this rapidly changing digital world. However, what I wanted was not of monetary value, it was a lost program that I’d heard about on some online community boards. Software that can enhance the internet experience. This was my first order from her-my only order-and I’d requested it over two weeks ago…before everything happened.

Unable to locate my order after a few moments of fruitless searching, I left the office and the remains of the owner. The switches of the circuit breaker flipped with ease and, once again, the store was bathed in darkness, except for the blue hue of neon light. Aggravated and slightly delirious (think you can watch someone die a grisly death and remain sane?) I ran through the shelves to the light. From my point of view, I could see the entire street, and it was empty. I found the plug that connected the sign to the outlet and yanked it out of its socket, but the blue pulsing persisted. I lifted my head from behind the counter and was about to tear down the sign completely when I saw the first police cruiser pull up to the sidewalk. How stupid had I been not to consider the chances that Simone the tech wizard and illegal software smuggler would have a silent alarm? I peered down the hallway at the back entrance, and was about to make my daring escape (just like I do on GTAV) until I heard the static from a walkie-talkie followed by a “FREEZE!”. With nowhere else to run, or even hide, I regretfully raised my hands, and chose the only other option…and here we are now.


“Mhhm. Would you state your name for the record once more? It seems our recorder was having some difficulty?” the bald investigator asked.

“Jean-Paul Holden, but I go by JP.”

“And, the events you’ve recounted to me are valid and true?”

“Certainly. I have no reason to hide the truth from you.”

“Indeed…” he clicked his pen against the clipboard. “And, what of this other person…you said that Ms. Simone was having a conversation with someone correct? Did you cross paths with them at any point?”

“Um…now that you mention it, I didn’t. It’s possible she could’ve been on the phone.”

“So you did hear her talking with someone else, you just didn’t see them?”

“Correct.”

“Do you remember what was said?” Jean-Paul shook his head. “Nothing? It doesn’t have to be out of the ordinary,” he added.

“It was hard to hear anything over that blaring static. I’m sorry,” he apologized.

“Static, hm. Now, could you tell me your relationship with Ms. Simone?”

“She was a business owner who happened to live below me; I bought a few items from her in the past, but that’s as far as our relationship goes.”

 

“Was she involved with another person?”

“Not sure. I don’t pry into people’s lives,” JP expressed.

“Okay,” the investigator took the hint, “last question, what exactly did Ms. Simone tell you before she…before she perished?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as a saying.” JP wiped his lips with his hands and took a deep breath, “She just kept repeating the same phrase.”

“Then what was that phrase?”

Aki…ki…kiki…aki..ki…kiki.”

 

The investigator set his clipboard down on the metallic desk. “Does that ring a bell at all?” JP put his head back down in his palms, still in disbelief that Simone Douglass was dead. He loosened his tie, “Is there anything else that you can remember? Anything out of the ordinary?”

“No, sir. Are we almost done? I’m not trying to rush or anything, but I was expected at my job two hours ago.”

“You’re free to go but before you do, take this,” the investigator reached into his back pocket and removed a business card. “If anything changes or you remember something, don’t hesitate to call.” JP lifted the card from his hand and read the name, “Detective Carl Alison.”

Carl signaled to the guard who was standing watch at the door. He entered the room and collected the pair of handcuffs previously bound to JP’s wrists. “Would you mind showing Mr. JP to his belongings?” The guard tipped his head and gestured for JP to follow him throughout the precinct.

 

JP arrived at the entrance of his apartment complex. The first floor was dark, but he could see the strands of caution tape fluttering due to the ventilation. Luckily, the establishment lacked any security, and that the police disengaged the silent alarm; using the same pathway as before, JP entered Parrot Bay. He snuck past the miniature yellow tents with numbers on them, doing his best to avoid tainting the crime scene. When he arrived at the office, he peered through the cracked door and half expected to see the body. The coroner’s staff had already cleaned up most of the mess; however, the shrine of broken devices stood tall like an altar that once held a sacred object.

JP left the peephole and crawled from the office entrance to the cashier counter. He dug through a gap between the wall and the neon sign. His fingers tapped a solid object, a smirk now stitched on his face. JP retrieved the flash drive from the hiding spot and headed straight for the exit without so much as a second thought. All in all, he’d only been inside for three minutes.

Back in his apartment, JP wheeled his desk chair around. The flash drive was connected to his PC modem. While the system booted, he fixed a meal for one. The shrill cry of the microwave alerted him when his meal was complete, and he pulled the laminate film off of the plastic container. He stuck his finger in the macaroni and cheese, tasted it, and chewed on a bit of ice. “Still frozen.” Just like his computer screen.

JP tried toggling with the mouse, but the crosshair remained stuck in the top left corner. Frustrated, and exhausted from the interrogation, JP slammed the device twice. On the second smack, the screen glitched. White static shot across the screen and the pixels frenzied. JP jumped back, nearly knocking his dinner off of the desk. “Piece of shit,” he cursed as the screen remained still frozen. A beam of sunlight slipped through the shielded blinds; morning had come, and the status of his computer hadn’t changed since he inserted the flash drive.

He finally decided that enough was enough and that he needed rest. JP removed his uniform-his shirt had droplets of Simone’s blood on it. Standing naked in front of his device, he contemplated shutting off the power, but the risk of data corruption stayed his hand. Instead, with his options exhausted, he slipped into bed and reached into his bedside drawer. The container rattled as he set it down, counting out three pills. JP tilted his head back, dropped each of them in his mouth like a Sunday school treat, and prayed that the images of Simone’s skull being shattered would stop replaying in his head.

T-w/o\

He awoke when the orange glow of the sunset started to diminish. JP relieved himself in the bathroom and cracked open a room-temperature Mountain Dew. He’d examined the computer but, to his dismay, the machine had yet to process the program. Still frozen. However, while JP had been fighting through nightmares, his computer had downloaded twelve gigabytes of data from the flash drive. Irritated, he shut off the computer by pulling the power strip out of the socket. Enraged, he expelled a series of curses and indecent remarks about anatomical appendages, before leaving his apartment. He needed to replace his cell phone-it’d only occurred to him when his dosage alarm failed to ring that he lacked one.

Dressing in the clothes that he wore the previous night, JP, hurried out of his apartment. When he reached the entrance of his complex, and the front of Parrot Bay, he stared through the glass windows. Inside the store were officers, men wearing their badges and hats tipped to the side, drinking coffee while aimlessly wandering through the aisles. He decided not to linger, for out of the office where Simone had taken her life came Detective Alison.

JP arrived at the pawn shop a few blocks from his home. The shop was a shoddy excuse for a legitimate business (they’d been investigated for the sale of stolen goods). The establishment was less than appealing, the windows had streaks and stains, the lights were pulsing like a dying heartbeat, and the items for sale seemed to be scattered and tossed into corners with no definite scheme for decorations. However, now that Simone was no longer in the business of providing electronics, he needed to take his business elsewhere.

A greasy six-foot giant tucked a glob of snuff underneath his tongue-there was a cold sore the size of Texas on his lip that made JP wince as he entered. They exchanged pleasantries, or what could be considered pleasantries, because JP had little to say, and the cold sore cashier had a mouth full of tobacco. Cold Sore directed him to the electronic section, which was just a locked steel cabinet. He removed the key from underneath his desk, opened the door, and let JP have a glance at his wares.

In the corner of the room was a black and white television, its antenna jutted and bent like an elbow with a compound fracture. On the screen was static, but when JP reached for his phone, the digital haze broke, prompting the shopkeeper to glance at it. What he saw was a miniature image, a small insectoid like graphic appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. It crawled upwards, and when it reached the top of the screen, it glitched and disappeared. But not before an eerie noise erupted from the static that caused JP to freeze in place when he took hold of the phone. He stared at the television, but the screen was showing a commercial about snow cones. Still frozen.

JP powered on the iPhone 3 and waited for the recognizable logo to appear, however, instead of an apple with one bite in it, there were multiple holes as if a worm or some other creature had made a quick meal out of it. Unfortunately, he paid it no mind, because blistering Cold Sore was demanding payment-now that his television was active, he wanted to catch the next seven reruns of “Cops.” A handful of crumpled twenty dollar bills were exchanged, and JP stuffed the phone in his pocket. The bell above the door chimed as he exited; a shout broke out behind him. He doubled back just in time to see Cold Sore banging the television and bending the fractured antenna into an even more broken angle. Out of frustration, he threw the antenna across the room, crashing against a shelf full of band instruments, but JP was already on the next block at the time this happened.

Relief was the first emotion that settled into his system when he arrived back at his apartment; the officers were gone. The yellow caution tape that barred the entrance delicately flapped like petals kidnapped by the evening gale. As the fluttering continued, JP looked beyond himself in the reflective glass. His face still bore the shock from Simone’s death, but something else loomed in his eyes. It wasn’t fatigue, because he was used to sleeping for roughly four hours per night; it wasn’t fright, he’d seen worse sights while living with his parents who happened to be self-prescribed (his arm still bore signs from injections); it wasn’t even disgust, the television had more graphic content than what he’d witnessed. No, what lurked in the depths of his pupils was wonder. What thing could trigger someone like Simone to commit suicide in such a fashion? And, what of her last moments? Before his mind could formulate an answer, JP retreated into his hovel, fearing that realizations may alter his reality once again; he also believed he saw the gray coat of Detective Alison in the background.

 

The desk chair squeaked across the wood. The plastic tipped wires were carefully plugged into their appropriate sockets, and another swig was taken from the Mountain Dew (lined with stagnant backwash). It was time to update his phone, and transfer his data. JP plugged in the device and waited for his computer to load but, to his astonishment, the phone background matched his previous one. The apps were in the same order, and there was even the exact number of unchecked notifications. His name, his twelve contacts (two of which were no longer valid numbers), and even his dosage scheduling were set too. But, his machine was still rebooting, and there was no way that the information could’ve been the-

The computer screen skipped past the opening cutscene, and from the bottom left side crawled an elongated figure. Its legs, which were one-hundred digitized appendages, scrawled and glitched as it moved towards the upper right corner. As it marched, it jittered and made a distinct sound, one that made JP spit the rest of his Mountain Dew into the bottle.

Ki…ki…ki…kikik…kiki

It reached its destination, and it stopped as if each leg was being controlled by a single, unified neuron. The “centipede” rotated its body in the digital sphere and brandished a face. It had no eyes, a smile-made from its extended mandibles-stretching across his head, and a pair of antennae that bounced each time it twitched. And then, it spoke:

“I’m Mr. Akiki!” its lips moved, and the words appeared next to its mouth with a bubbly caption. “I’m here to help you, Jean Paul. If you have any questions, type them in the box below, and I will find the answer to them.”

He rolled his chair back in shock; the avatar seemed to laugh in response to his actions. Its sentience was staggering as if it was able to register JP’s astonishment visually. But, no way was it possible because it only existed in the digital realm (plus, he’d covered his webcam with black duct tape). He glanced at the USB sockets; stuck in the second slot from the right was the flash drive. He unplugged it and stuffed it in the drawer, underneath a collection of empty prescription bottles. Was this the program that was stored on the device, he thought as he rested his fingertips on the keypad.

The avatar rocked back in forth, swaying as one does when they are waiting for their turn to speak in a conversation. The mouse inched closer to the box, and, as it did, the grin expanded-or at least that’s what he thought. Mr. Akiki repeated himself, and the bubbly text box flashed twice, demanding the undivided attention of JP. He clicked on the open space, and his hands began to move without guidance.

The letters appeared on screen, “How do you know my name?” Mr. Akiki twitched and shivered, and its legs tapped against the screen as it prepared a response.

“I found it here!” The avatar glitched and the screen flashed. There was a photograph in place of the text box. It was JP’s license.

“How did you get that?” he typed.

“Mr. Akiki can find anything on the internet!”

“Were you the program that I downloaded?”

“I am!”

JP’s fingers moved across the black keys. Mr. Akiki physically flipped his bubbly text box into a blank square. He brought one of his legs, a slightly larger appendage with digital attachments that resembled fingers, to the screen and pressed a button. The screen flashed and enlarged until it engulfed the entirety of the screen. JP leaned in, anxiously waiting for the cybernetic apparition to explain itself. Finally, Mr. Akiki crawled towards the center, except its appearance had changed. The avatar was wearing glasses, large plastic frames that a first-grade teacher would wear (he half expected an apple to be in its hands).

“I am here to make your internet experience unforgettable! You name it, and I can share it with you, Jean Paul! I will show you everything that’s out there!” The screen fazed out for a second, and when it returned to normal, there was an image of Google or at least something that resembled it. After carefully examining it, JP realized that the letters were not just jumbled together, they were all connected. They resembled the body of a…centipede. Mr. Akiki scurried through the “O’s” before making its way to the search bar. Once inside, it dragged its body across, and letters came out. JP watched as the phrase “funny videos,” appeared in the box. And then, without having to click a single link or even the mouse, a media player materialized on the screen.

Soon, JP found himself wiping away tears of laughter as the internet’s most comical videos played: a soccer ball bounced off of a goal post and hit a player in the nuts, a young toddler shouting for blueberries lost her balance and brought the bowl of yogurt down, a wedding party fell into a river after the pastor lost consciousness (due to locked knees). And as he laughed throughout the rest of the night, until his eventual bedtime (somewhere around 3 AM), so did his new digital avatar, but for reasons unknown to JP at the time. “I will show you everything…”

Kiki…kikiki…ki…ki

 

He closed the manilla folder and set it back upon his desk, next to his coffee and badge. The precinct was unnaturally cold this morning; the incoming winter weather had the facility manager continually altering the thermostat. Only a few early birds were present, each of them slurping down their first cup of instant coffee (they’d yet to invest in repairing their brewer); Detective Alison was already on his third.

A week had passed since the death of Simone Douglass, and the third-year investigator was at a dead end. The cause was apparent: the coroner’s report stated that the brain suffered severe trauma which lead to an almost instant neural disconnect. According to his only witness, Simone had enough sensibility to utter a final phrase. Much to his dismay, the toxicology report that he’d received the previous night ruled out his hypotheses; he’d insisted that her motive was related to drug usage, primarily the psychedelic and hallucinogenic variety. How else could he explain the level of destruction Simone caused to her wares? However, the lack of any substances in her system (not even marijuana) set him back to square one. And square one was not where he needed to be because the Chief was steadily closing in-Alison had already been under the watchful eye due to his blunder in the previous case he was assigned (a double homicide in a community college computer lab). The Chief also believed that there might have been a connection between the two cases, but that failed to motivate Alison. With a case this challenging, Alison made it a point to arrive early with the hopes of cracking it, but as temperature fluctuated, so did his patience.

If only it were something missing, then maybe he could use his investigative skills to scour a lead; however, there simply wasn’t enough information to know if something was lacking. Simone Douglass was an anomaly. A recluse that left no trail, especially on the internet. As one of the younger members of the force, Detective Alison was the ideal choice for any crimes related to cyberspace. Truthfully, this was an agist inference-his superiors assumed that since he was closest to the Millennial generation that he knew technology, but Alison was about as digitally dimwitted as a recently divorced, single parent on an online dating site. Even his lack of internet expertise wasn’t a valid enough excuse for this challenging case; he was tempted to say that Simone Douglass did not exist.

He opened the folder again, hoping that some minute or overlooked fact would catch his attention and lead him to his breakthrough, but the report displayed only the known. As he gulped down the last of his coffee-black with a helping of frustration-Detective Alison swept his hand across his desk with one swift stroke. Papers went flying, and the folder landed in an oblong shaped tent, only a few feet away from the Chief’s door (luckily, he only came in on the afternoons to handle logistics). The rest of the officers minded their own business, opting to focus on their conversations about ride alongs, busted drug dealers and the weight of their products, prostitutes and pimps caught in the act (and which ones to “extort”), and their favorite type of case: wiretappings.

Alison went to retrieve his documents, after adamantly vocalizing his anger through a series of slurs. When he finally reached the pitched tent, it was quickly dismantled by a blonde haired officer dressed as if he were about to go undercover as a high-school student. His lazy green eyes suggested that he’d just awoken. He handed the parchment to him and bared a grin laced with understanding.

“Tough case?”

“Yeah, and I’m afraid it will go cold soon,” Alison stated.

“What’s the sub?”

“Suicide…but there is evidence of foul play. I’m wondering if my witness was telling the truth?”

Blondie tilted the lustered badge on his right breast, “Ah, so you’re working that case?” His tone made it seem that it was the talk of the precinct (it wasn’t). “I was there, first to arrive on the scene. Was soaking up some sun while on patrol when I got a call about a silent alarm being triggered.”

“Did you notice anything suspicious? Anything that may have seemed out of the ordinary?” The espresso in his system had him speaking at the speed of a southern auctioneer.

“Well, all of the devices in her shop were broken. There was, probably, a couple ten-thousand dollars worth of equipment in there. Televisions, laptops, wiring, even the computer modem that ran the security system, all of it was just destroyed. As if done in a rage. But,” he rolled his thumb against his index, “there was this shrine.”

“A shrine?”

“Hard to call it anything else. Makes you wonder what she could’ve been worshipping.”

Alison pointed towards the upper left corner of the main hall; whenever he needed to remember a specific fact and had no access to a notebook, he mentally set the note in the corner, so he could return to it when he was ready to jot it down. Of course, this action made Blondie consider ending their conversation, and returning to the dossier he’d been reviewing.

“And, you were the one who arrested…” his eyes darted around the room, “Jean Paul, no?”

“Yeah, that was me. Caught him trying to slip out of the back office, right where the body was found.”

“Did you happen to see him before then?”

“Well…” Blondie’s memory had to still be intact; he looked no less than twenty-five. “When I passed through the neighborhood earlier, I do remember seeing him just peering out of his apartment window. It was sort of eerie; he didn’t acknowledge me. Just kept staring with no real focus.”

He was about to walk to his desk, believing that he was done with this interrogation when Detective Alison gripped his free hand.

“And then, you made the arrest.” Blondie nodded. “What was he doing?”

“He was near the counter.”

“Tampering with the register?”

“No…he was, hm.” Glowing like a star student, Blondie snapped his fingers. “The neon sign. He was doing something with it, but didn’t turn it off.”

“The neon sign,” Alison muttered, his attention directed back to the corner while Blondie shook himself free from the vice grip.

With this bit of information, Detective Alison returned to his desk but refused to sit down. Although it wasn’t much, it was still enough information for him to bring his sole witness in for further questioning. He removed the file that contained Jean Paul’s phone number and address. If he was in the store, then he had to know something; and, if he knew something, then Alison was sure that he could extract from him. He had to, had to prove to the Chief (and the rest of the force) that he was capable of being a detective.

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The caution tape prohibiting entry into Parrot Bay had weathered due to the band of storms that hit the city. The driving conditions were so hazardous that Detective Alison delayed his house visit to Jean Paul for two evenings, thus bringing him a day shy of ten-when a case is exponentially more difficult to settle. He’d opted to make a house visit because every call that the detective put through was unanswered. There wasn’t even a voicemail set up. Before he decided to venture to the abode of his witness, Alison reached out to a fellow officer who ran communications. His bifocals fogged from his excessive mouth breathing. He’d asked to tap the wires of JP’s house to see if he were home, in exchange for a favor that could be settled at a later date.

When the line was finally established, Alison and Bifocals were shocked at what they heard. JP was alternating between laughter, banshee-like screaming, and insufferable fits of crying, only to repeat the cycle. And then he stopped as if he were…aware that they were listening. His laugh crawled through the microphone as Alison bit his knuckles until the blood drew. Then he said a name. “Mr. Akiki”. The glasses of Bifocals fogged as the detective blankly stared in the upper left corner of the room. What was he loo-

SKRRRRRRCH!

A deafening screech caused both eavesdroppers to dart away from their headphones. The carotid pulse throbbed against his neck while his temples tightened. The detective locked eyes with his reflection as he glared into Bifocals glasses. After that, JP went silent. Alison wanted to continue listening, even though the officer repeatedly informed him that he could no longer establish an open line, and retap JP’s wire.

“Something’s interfering with the channel. Storms nearly here.” Alison agreed, he’d wore his trench coat to protect against the slapping rain. “That’s a possible explanation for the shorted line,” Bifocals stated as he set the headphones on the hook, but Alison disapproved-he showed no signs of his opinion, on account of being in debt. “My best guess though is that this comes from the source.” Alison tore out of the precinct, stopping by his desk to grab his keys, badge, and gun holster. On his way out of the lobby, he ran into the Chief. The thick neck police force veteran (the office celebrated his 35th year of duty) halted the detective.

“Alison,” the scent of the Chief’s cigar coated his tongue as he spoke.

“Chief, I’m in a rush. I’ve got a lead on the Douglass case. The witnes-”

“You’re too late.” He then explained to the detective how a higher institute (he muttered something about the NSA) decided to freeze any investigations into the case. Their team was en route and would arrive at dawn. “Should’ve handled it sooner. Your recent performance has been shit. Therefore, you will be meeting with me tomorrow afternoon. There are matters we must discuss.” Alison nodded, swallowing his anger. He kept further responses short, hoping to end the chat with the Chief. When he departed, the gray-bearded veteran warned him not to interfere anymore, or he’d revoke his badge.

He ducked underneath the yellow and black tape as his signature (and only) gray trench coat skirting against the sidewalk and unlocked the door with the keys that he’d rented from the evidence room. The air inside the establishment was stale, and there was a lingering scent of ferrous blood in the air (the ventilation systems had been shut off by the property manager). He reached into his trench coat and removed a chrome pointer, a handheld utensil that he carried around when he was inspecting areas, and trying to avoid tainting the evidence.

Detective Alison’s search began in the office. He pushed the door open, removed his flashlight, and examined the perimeter before shining the beam at the center. It was still erect, the shrine of destroyed electronics. Alison knelt next to it: the foundation contained computer modems that had been pierced and jabbed, atop of those were the wide and flat screens, and every single one of them had a shattered hole the size of a dinner plate. The edges of the altar were lined with various gadgets and accessories (mouses, headphones, and speakers, web cameras); they suffered the same fate as their counterparts. Judging by the integrity of the structure, Alison deduced that the equipment had been destroyed before it was set into this position, and he also determined that setting them up in this manner required an ample amount of time. However, he still had no conclusion regarding its significance, if there even was any to be had.

He snapped a quick photo and then migrated to the right side of the room, where a tent with the number one had been placed. Around it was still stray stains of blood, and underneath the desk, he could see a pearly white object with rotted tendrils; someone missed a piece of the skull. Alison gagged at the sight, but then returned his flashlight beam to the site. A pair of latex-free gloves were removed from his pocket, and he strapped them up individually, slapping them loudly as a surgeon would before conducting an operation. His fingers traced the chalked line, noting the angulation and body placement of Simone. According to his witness, she’d been lying prone on the floor, when the modem came crashing down on her. As he examined the outline, he grudgingly accepted the claim. What could make someone remain still in a fatal situation? Some primal reflex should’ve overridden her nerves and made her dodge.

He came back to his feet and exhaled; there was nothing more to be learned here. Alison popped his knuckles and re-entered the main room of the shop. Leaning to the admissions of Blondie, he decided to check the counter. Just as the young officer had said, the register had not been tampered with, and it even seems that the front desk as a whole was untouched. He turned to the left and saw the neon sign. The wires had been unplugged; this had not been the case when he closed the scene a week ago.

“Someone’s been back here,” his finger shot to the corner. Alison then spent the next dozen or so minutes combing every inch of the neon sign. He peered in the crevice where the fuses connected with the base, scoured through the steel and cylindrical pipes and even removed the entire sign from its perch to see if something had been placed on the front. When he did this, a slip of paper fluttered to the floor. Using his pointer, Detective Alison flipped it over. A bellow of distant thunder crackled, and the scruffed cheeks of the detective curled into a satisfactory smile as he read the inscription.

Three knocks came to his door, yet he remained unfazed, or rather, he was so concentrated on the visual stimuli that his auditory senses had not registered the sound. His room was pitch black, except for the screen of his computer, and the occasional bolt of lightning brought a temporary flash to the habitat. At this point, he was unaware of what he was even watching; he just knew that he had to watch it. It’s what he’d been told to do. He needed to know everything.

The door banged again, and this time, he was able to hear the heavy pounding; yet, what could be more important than the images that he’d been seeing? Shots of recently freed slaves trying to start again; the mitochondria, or powerhouse of the cell, suspended in the matrix; metal bands recording tracks in the studio; blindfolded bodies standing in a line, the rifle squad taking aim; an eyepatch-wearing cat explaining how the lunar landing was a hoax; behind the scenes footage from The Shining; a Google drive document with the title Ingilaef, and flashes of photographs at the speed of light. Finally, a voice broke through the haze, identifying itself as a Detective Alison.

Kiiiki…kiki…kikik

His legs uncurled from his chest and his feet planted on the floor. JP wobbled and nearly lost his balance; what happened to his body? His hand grasped the doorknob, and a thin, watery mixture of Mountain Dew and mucus escaped his mouth. He wiped it away and glanced at his hands; the cuticles were long, dirty, and brittle, and minor sores were sprouting on his skin. He felt a jolt in his arm when he turned the doorknob as if the simple act required him to use the momentum of his entire body.

JP nearly fell into the arms of his visitor after the door finally opened. Detective Alison retreated to a safe distance, his hands instinctively reaching towards the holster on his hip (although, he’d never shot his gun except outside of the gun range). He hurriedly shackled his fear of assault, and regained his balance, although the same could not be said about his witness.

“JP…?” he asked, with a mix of confusion and shock.

The person in front of him looked disheveled, almost delirious. His hair jutted in various directions, there were voids underneath his bloodshot eyes, and his entire face had dried flakes of flesh peeling off (there were even a few covered in a yogurt-like pus). And, how horrid he smelled as if he’d been spending his days inside of a morgue. “Come in, Detective Alison,” his frail hand gestured towards the opened door.

Reluctantly, Alison accepted the hospitality, but when he entered, he immediately regretted the decision. Where JP smelled like a rotting corpse, his room reeked of feces-human at that. Everything was in disarray: The mattress, now soured, was flipped upside down; the refrigerator was open (and smelled as if it had been for quite awhile). The home had been tarnished, except for the desk where JP’s computer was situated. On the right-hand side of the black, steel desk was a miniature figurine. When he glanced at it, he noticed that it was a foundation made from the speakers, USB wires, external hard-drives and flash sticks. A shrine-what was he worshipping?

JP closed the door behind him and returned to his chair and monitor as if the detective were absent. Entirely indoctrinated by the flashing screen, leaving Alison to his anxieties. No amount of mental notes could bring him any clarity in this situation.

“Aren’t you curious as to why I came?” Alison tried.

He says you came here for answers. He’s given them to me, but he also says that I couldn’t give them to you.”

“Why not? And,” Detective Alison approached JP, “who is he?”

A hysterical laugh echoed in the dismantled apartment, and the thunder bellowed, signifying the storm’s presence above the complex. “He says you will know soon.”

“Why not now?” But, his question remained ignored as JP returned to the racing imagery.

Alison removed the bit of evidence he’d recovered from the neon sign and set it on the desk. “JP, I don’t have time for games. I need answers, and you’re going to give them to me. I don’t care if he says you can or can’t; you will give them to me because it’s the law.” JP brought his phone to his ear and nodded his head as if instructions were being beamed directly to the device.

“He says that laws are foolish constructs of weak people, used to exert an imaginary power over their fellow neighbor. He also says that there is a law that states you cannot extort information from a witness outside of an interrogation room. It’s Article 19. Section 5. Subclause ii.”

Baffled, Alison stepped back. According to his education records, JP had no history of law, yet how did he know the exact clause? “The law is what protects us. It governs us,” Alison stated.

“Our physical bodies, perhaps, but what of our digital existence? Your laws are not applicable where I plan to go.”

“And…where is it that you’re going?”

“With Mr. Akiki.” JP cheerily slapped his hands as if he’d won the lottery. “He’s invited me to join him. And, he’s told me that you can join him too. He’ll show you everything!”

He rolled away from the desk and gave Detective Alison a clear view of the screen. Believing it to be some prank by the lunatic that had replaced JP, Alison hardly expected to see anything; but, when the hundreds of legs glitched their way across the rectangular box, he pressed his investigation.

“JP! Listen to me,” lightning struck the ground, and the furniture rattled. “I am going to arrest you if you don’t comply with me. Now, I also don’t believe it has to come to that, but you must work with me.”

“Mr. Akiki says I cannot.” JP’s finger stretched towards the critter now shuffling with the images.

“What!? That little avatar is Mr. Akiki?” At the mention of its name, the avatar waved with all of its right legs. Alison gawked at the sight but returned to more pressing matters. He needed a resolution, now. “You’re letting a simulated program dictate your decisions?”  His right hand curled over the young man’s shoulder, which caused him to twitch. “JP, I’m here only because I want to know the truth. Now, I know that you went back to the scene and that Simone did have that order you requested. You hid it, right? Put it on the neon sign so that none of my officers would find it, right?”

It was impossible to tell if the young man was even coherent, his eyes were glued to the screen and the playfully frolicking avatar.

“He says that I can answer you now.”

Alison wasted no time with this interrogation interval, “Did you come back to the scene?”

“Yes.” His tone was cold and devoid of any emotion.

“And, what was the order that you placed?”

“The rumors were about software that enhanced the internet experience…but, it was actually Mr. Akiki.”

“What is Mr. Akiki?” Detective Alison finally asked.

“He says he’s a sentient entity that has dwelled in the digital dark, ages before man discovered the world wide web. He assumes the form of the Scolopendra gigantea, or cave centipede. Mr. Akiki is the one who gave me the answers to everything. Ask me, ask me anything!” JP bounced thrice on his chair before it buckled under the weight and threw him to the floor. With a giggle, JP regained his footing. Again, he repeated his question.

“How did Simone Douglass die?”

“No, not that kind of question.”

“Why not? What will happen if you answer it?”

“He won’t let me come with him,” JP sucked on one of the sores on his hand.

“Where,” Alison felt stupid playing into this farce, “where is he going?”

Everywhere. He’s got a plan. Now that he’s no longer trapped, he’s going to travel the world wide web, and he’s inviting us to be his legs.”

“His legs?” The lights flickered for a brief second, and the computer screen flashed, for the lighting struck a tree in the distance.

“Yes, he says that Simone is already there. And, that he has space for me, right next to her.”

“Simone…? JP, did Mr. Akiki…did he make you kill Simone too?” Maybe his fractured mindset hid the memory of the murder.

“No. She did it herself; I told you that.”

Detective Alison calculated the distance between his position and the door, just in case a hasty escape was necessary. JP’s constant shuffling proved the detective’s fears to be true; he was spiraling. Eventually, he would reach a point of no return. But, before he was able to calculate his route of retreat accurately, the lightning struck again, this time splitting a powerline routed to the same grid as JP’s apartment. The apartment was bathed in blackness. Detective Alison gripped his holster when heard JP’s voice.

“Ask me a question! Like Jeopardy. Or, should I just tell you what Mr. Akiki has shown me?” He was unable to locate the source of the JP’s voice in the dark for it sounded as if it were coming from every direction. “Carbon is the molecular key because it is capable of sharing its valence electrons and opening its orbitals to accept others; Mary Shelley’s inspiration behind her world-renowned novel, Frankenstein, was stemmed by the previous miscarriages she’d suffered; in 1518, a dancing plague sent 400 people into a Footloose frenzy, it occurred when a woman named Mrs. Troffea broke out into a routine on the street; a double homicide occurred at a local community college and the case went unresolved; Detective Alison is a rat bastard, he lied to me about my daughter’s murder; internal investigation discovered that Carl Alison forged evidence to steer the case.”

“Stop it! How do you know that?” his fingers slipped around the grip of his gun. His pulse raged loudly as the darkened room started to meld into a singular, black expanse. He tried to find the corner, but the lack of light made it impossible for his eyes to locate the exact vertex. Alison needed to leave, needed to escape this situation before it became worse. How had he known about his faults? He’d only lied because the Chief was hammering him about results-the mayor and parents of the victim seemed to be doing the same to him.

“Mr. Akiki. It was Mr. Akiki.” JP’s silhouette appeared against the computer modem. “He showed me the reports.” Detective Alison started backing towards the door. “Mr. Akiki is done talking though. He says you can’t leave yet.”

“JP, don’t do this…” Alison warned.

“He says that you can’t leave yet! He says that if I let you leave, that he won’t take me with him. Then, he’ll no longer show me everything.” JP’s voice scattered against the walls as heat lightning continued to thunder in the sky. “I need to know. I Need To Know. I NEED TO KNOW. I NEED TO KNOW!”

Kikiki..kiki…kikiki

An eerie chatter resounded from the speaker of the clutched cell phone. “JP, this is your last warning. I’m asking you to please stand down. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Mr. Akiki says that you’re a liar. Liar. Liar. Liar. LIAR!”

The lights returned while the madman wildly howled; suddenly, his erratic rampage halted. A faint alarm was echoing from the cell phone. JP’s stained teeth glimmered in the light. “It’s time! It’s time! It’s time for my dosage!”  Detective Alison’s eyes were readjusting from the darkness; when sight did return, he was transfixed by the subject in the line of his pupils.

Shoved into JP’s mouth was the iPhone, and the teeth that had once been apart of his simple smile were scattered on the floor, the roots trailing across the carpet. After he collected them, he ran to the edge of the desk. JP then started stacking the saliva soaked phone atop the miniature shrine that was previously erected. The missing teeth were placed around the perimeter as if they were a patrol unit on a wall. Once his task was completed, JP bared the remnants of his smile, the blood and tendons hanging out of his bottom lip.

“He says that I have to do it. I have to kill us.”

CRACK!

JP rushed the detective, throwing the keyboard at him. He blocked the device with his arm, but the assailant was already ready for his next attack. The base of the mouse slapped against Detective Alison’s temple and nearly shattered the bone above his eye. Blood drew and made his vision blurry; the clip on his holster was clicked. However, as Alison drew his gun, he temporarily lost sight of JP.

“KIIIIKIKIKIII!!!” the lunatic appeared in his peripheral, and suddenly he felt the grip of constricting wires. The black rubber dug into his skin as JP, who was hysterically laughing, continued to tighten it. Unable to see what was happening, and also unable to locate his gun, Detective Alison used the brunt of his back to slam his assailant into the wall. That proved to be fruitless, for the wires slipped up to his neck.

“MR. AKIKI! LET ME JOIN YOU! PLEASE, SHOW ME EVERYTHING!” JP’s arms flailed, and the wires crawled along Alison’s neck, pinning his thyroid between the walls of his windpipe. And then, he felt himself being dragged, slowly, then rapidly as the lunatic sprinted across his bedroom.

Shards of glass rained down on the sidewalk as JP hurled himself out of the two-story window. Lightning cracked across the sky just as his spine snapped from the tense wire (that he’d also wrapped around his neck). But, instead of him propelling down to the ground immediately, his limp body was suspended in mid-air. Still inside the apartment, clinging onto his life, was Detective Alison. The wires crushed the cartilage in his neck, and cut off any circulation or airflow. His eyes were bulging as his puffed cheeks turned cyanotic. In front of him was the computer screen, flashing brightly. It suddenly stopped, and from the darkened rectangle appeared the avatar. The centipede bared its malicious, faceless mandible:

Akiki…kiki…kikiii…kikiki

Consciousness slipped away as the digital avatar raved in the darkened room. With nowhere to go-and no possible way of escaping the wires-Alison closed his eyes. He relaxed the muscles in his legs, and allowed gravity to take over.

The two bodies came crashing down on the moist concrete, landing behind the yellow caution tape that guarded the entrance of Parrot Bay. A nearby taxi driver who witnessed the sight phoned emergency services. When they arrived, JP was declared dead-the official cause being a broken spine and brain trauma.

Ep!log>

The NSA agents-at least they claimed to be NSA agents-arrived the next day, their travel had been delayed by the band of storms that raged through the night. The Chief assigned Blondie to assist the agents.  He removed his black aviator frames as he stepped foot into the apartment; nearly vomiting his morning coffee  after catching a whiff of the foul stench in the air. Two agents, one dressed in a blue blazer, the other in a cheap, band graphic tee from Target, accompanied him as they investigated the crime scene. They meticulously  marked each site: the window where JP had fallen out of, the puddle of blood where his teeth had been recovered, and the desk that had housed his computer, and wires that had been used in the assault. According to the Chief, he was instructed to search out for any clues that could answer why their crucial witness hung himself, and that one of their detectives was now paralyzed in one leg. The team of three set up their tents, and collected any necessary evidence, before ending their search around three PM when they discovered an intact flash drive. He’d found it atop the shrine-like structure built on JP’s desk-and slipped it into his pocket while the agents were discussing their next strategy.

When he returned back to the precinct, Blondie passed by Alison’s desk. It was covered in various potted plants, cheap “Get Well Soon” cards, and Playboy magazines (“Rather have a limp leg than a limp dick!”). Ignoring the sight, Blondie pulled out his chair, toggled with the flash drive in his modem, and logged onto the police database network. The drive, classified as evidence, was Blondie’s choice for a starting point. He’d inserted it the night before but was unable to check the downloaded contents, on account of having to visit the crime scene at the crack of dawn-the Chief was demanding answers again. When his screen finally booted, Blondie was somewhat surprised and humored by the sight of a multi-legged digital centipede making its way to the center of his screen.

Akii..kikik…kiii..kiki

 

JLC, III

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An Investigation into the Death of Professor Bergman 

Preface

This is the second entry in an ongoing story that I am literally making up every time I sit down at the keyboard (the one with eighty eight keys). Being my 3rd musical project, I am learning that these notes are more than sounds produced from a speaker; they are my sounds. They represent my emotions and my thoughts, and these I share with you. Why? Because I hope that you will discover what represents you, and then share that with another. Enjoy.

The Story

Singularity.

The point at which man and machine will meld together. Science said it couldn’t be done. Oh, did science deny me my right to hypothesize and dream and desire for something so impossible. But science is not man’s only tool in his quest for knowledge; emotion has carried my existence farther than fact. With this in mind, I begun my trials.

I will not list the details regarding my experiment in this report, because the world is full of thieves and fools who would wish to recreate this, and I cannot bear the possibility of one using this for selfish gain. If my calculations are correct, then I will assume the responsibility of being the one who brought the divine and the digital together for there is nothing, at this present time, that can do so. Of course it would be the synergizing of sound and silence that transfers the soul from body to build. But, I realize that an invention untested will never grant rest to my imagination; and in the shadows lurks a greater evil, the envious man.

The man who tried to steal my plans is now dead, but I fear that I will join him. It’s ironic, the dagger that will inevitably be the death of me is the same tool keeping my blood from leaking out of my punctured heart. And how fate loves to flirt, I have just put the finishing touches on my new invention. I call it the “phonetic transcriber“.

The device itself is compact, about the size of the average typewriter, but by utilizing a key biochemical byproduct, the machine is somehow able to separate the soul from the body. Hypothetically, at least. However, the time for hypotheses and calculations has passed, and action is required for I feel the cold tendrils of death looping around my neck.

Liv, although you’d probably tell me I’m a fool for doing this, I must take the risk; what else is there left for me but the eternal void? Heaven or hell may await me, and I fear neither of them. I am terrified, however, of leaving this earth without knowledge that my device worked.

With death on my doorstep, I have to take the risk: I will test the phonetic transcriber on myself.

*non-distinct static and digital downpour erupt from the device*

I declare that on October 9th, 1851, the first step towards the Singularity was conducted by I, Professor Cedric Bergman; may the world forget that this was also the day that I drew my last breath.

P.S. Liv, I hope you find your happiness.

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Night at the Kino: Terrifying Thirteen

Thirteen Fear-Filled Films Since 2000

This Friday happens to be a very special day; how rare is it to have a Friday the 13th occur in October. What are you going to do? If you have no plans, and are probably going to stay in, then this list is perfect for you! Why? Because I’m going to give you thirteen options for horror movies since the year 2000 (specific right?). Unlike my previous Night at the Kino, I wanted to introduce readers to the standout films that are considered modern. These range from zombie thrillers, possession stories, animated apparitions, even socially aware scares, and I’m confident that one of these films could get you in the mood for October (if you aren’t already). Now, how to find these films…well, there’s Redbox, some are on Hulu, but for the most…I’d say…do what you normally do (you know what you do, don’t you?). Below you’ll find them, and this is in somewhat of a particular order, but not one that is definite; honestly, take your pick, they won’t disappoint.

The Witch (2015)

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Hands down, I’d have to say this is the Control verse of modern horror. Robert Eggers meticulously crafted a truly tragic tale involving a Puritan faminly living in exile. Without revealing much of anything, I will say that the terror in this tale comes not from the supernatural but the human element. Where most films would focus on creating a grotesque or evil witches, Eggers turns the lens inward and dissects the nuclear family, one member at a time.

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The cinematography does a fantastic job of adjusting to the scope of the film, encompassing the entire woodlands and jumping to claustrophobic cabin settings. It truly is a terrifying film, and I dare you to try and watch it without feeling the dread on your skin. For his efforts Eggers won best director at 2016’s Sundance Film Festival. If you’d like to read my random movie review of The Witch, then click here

The Conjuring (2013)

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We’ve all seen plenty of films with this back story. A family moves into a home that happens to be possessed by an evil entity and it takes the family uncovering the secrets-with the help of some eccentric paranormal investigators-to break the curse. That’s this film in a nutshell, but that is only the surface of it. What James Wan’s The Conjuring did for horror (at least in my opinion) was focus on character development rather than diving right into the scare. This aids in the progression and pacing of the plot, which flows at a steady rate, rising to a dramatic climax in the end.

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Some people go crazy over the “Based on a True Story” label, but I will say, after doing my post-credits research, I was able to accept this title while others fail (The Warren’s were really out here, yo). Yeah, there are some jump scares and some cheap shocks, but the true terror of The Conjuring comes from its style of shooting. It feels campy, like a home movie at times, but that gives the viewer a closer approach to the terror, rather than capturing just reactionary moments.

28 Days Later (2002)

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Poster by Nathan Miller

Before Rick Grimes awoke from his coma to the end of the world, there was another hospital patient being welcomed to a zombie apocalypse in Danny Boyle’s (Trainspotting) 2002 thriller “28 Days Later”. The plot is simple, a virus in a research facility gets released and humanity is in deep shit. How deep? Well, when your blood comes into contact with the strain, you lose sense of yourself and become a zombie. And this is where “28 Days Later” shines, the ability to revamp a concept. Instead of giving us mindless ghouls like George A. Romero did (R.I.P. to a legend), Boyle went with a more savage approach, giving them speed and ferocity instead of shuffling. The characters in the story are survivors, they aren’t heroes of any sort, and that’s what I love.Most tales in the zombie genre have gun toting warriors, but this group outlasts the horde by using wit-and luck. 

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The cinematography is gritty and there is an overarching feeling of abandonment in nearly all of the locations. Makeup and Special effects shine with the trademark red eyes for the Rage virus, and who can get John Murphy’s chilling track “In a House, In a Heartbeat”. Overall, this movie is on my list for its revolutionary take on a common theme in the horror genre. Also, fun fact, Danny Boyle turned down knighthood in England.

Noroi (2005)

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Hands down, this is the most terrifying movie I’ve seen. Noroi: The Curse is a Japanese film directed by Koji Shiraishi and from the first time I watched it, I’ve been cursed. The first thing to note is the storytelling: using a “mockumentary” style of cinematography to capture the horror (similar to the original “The Blair Witch Project”). Often this fails because we’re bound to one point of view for it, but this film does a great job by using various sources of media to cover the story-news clippings, and both professional and personal recordings. It introduces us to characters and we get an intimate look at their lives, and how this curse is affecting, and ultimately destroying them.

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My favorite character has to be Mr. Aluminum Foil (you’ll see), his role is so vital to the plot because he creates a sense of panic every time he’s on screen. This isn’t your typical supernatural film, so don’t expect to be hit with the cliche like jump scares and melodramatic sounds; the film grounds itself into reality, and only steps foot into the abyss when it has reached the base of the spiral. A truly terrifying film for anybody willing to read the subtitles (if you can watch Narcos, you can peep this too).

The Descent (2005)

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Poster by Chris Weston

What happens when you take a group of spelunking woman who have underlying beef with each other, and pit them against the elements of nature, and a superior predator? If you watch Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” you’ll soon discover that answer. Firstly, having an all woman cast for this film is a testament to the versatility of horror-it’s not confined to the male genre-and that’s one of the main reasons I’ve listed it here. The premise alone is sure to breed fear, and then the writer decided to add a well-crafted back story behind the characters, which only added to the level of isolation and abandonment.

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Cinematically, this film pushes into new barriers, throwing us in the midst of extremely claustrophobic spaces, and using the natural darkness to add to the unknown element (also night vision was such a thing back in the early 2000’s). And who can forget that iconic scene when Sarah, played by Shauna Macdonald, emerges from the pool: it’s poster-worthy (which is why they used it as a promo). The Descent will have you afraid to explore any dark depths, whether they be caves or secrets.

It (2017)

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I read my first Stephen King book this year, “The Shining”, and it plunged me into a dark world, so when I heard that the classic “It” was being remade I was skeptical, but ready. Honesty Hour: I’ve never watched the original It-I am reading the book now though-but what I viewed in Andres Muschietti’s 2017 film was a very dark retelling of an already terrifying story. Clowns are easily the thing of nightmares; and Pennywise, played by Bill Skarskgard (“Hemlock Grove”) happens to be the most entertaining. Already from the beginning of the film we are cast into Derry Maine, and into the lives of the youth. The movie pairs both the innocence of growing up with the grim reaper of the gutters, and it delivers.

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Every moment was liable to worsen, as the film proved by keeping us on our toes. Why is this also on my list, because this is one example of paying homage to the source material. Hearing that Stephen King stamped this movie was enough for me to see it; avid readers know that it is rare for novels and films to find a common ground (Lookin at you “Game of Thrones”). It’s still in theaters, and makes for a perfect outing this Friday the 13th!

Kakurenbo (2008)

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Horror does not only apply to the human world, but to the digital as well, and Shuhei Morita’s 2008 animated short “Kakurenbo” is proof. Coming in at around thirty minutes, this film packs a dose of dread from the jump. The art style and background is haunting, and one is imprisoned in this game of hide and seek. A group of children come to play this mysterious game, Otokoyo, where oni (demons) come alive and seek the children.

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I remember watching this on Adult Swim, and having an entire new outlook on animated films. Once the story revs up, you’ll be upset when you find that the end is approaching; definitely something to view when you have some down time though.

Get Out (2017)

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Poster by Francesco Francavalli

There’s no way that I can go any further without addressing Jordan Peele’s breakthrough film, “Get Out”. Who would’ve thought black folk could do horror? (Because it’s not all devil magic). Aside from the social commentary regarding it-not brushing it’s importance off, there’s plenty of other think pieces out there-this is an engaging story. A “meet my black boyfriend” scenario gone wrong, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, “Johnny English Reborn”) begins to uncover a secret behind his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family. I have to give a shout out to the supporting cast in this film who really embodied their characters, Georgina’s meme worthy face, Walter’s sprint becoming an entire challenge, and Rod with his antics.

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Look at how much the film has shifted our culture, allowing more black stories to be told by us. And, the final bit that has to be addressed is the comedy (I’m a firm believer that any modern horror has to have it). Peele transfers his “Key and Peele” skit writing into the script, making room for fresh dialogue that naturally flows between each character; the comedy gave us the comfort we needed to get through this scary ordeal.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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This might be closer into the thriller era, but I will set it on this list anyways. I am one of the folk who enjoyed the original “Cloverfield”, and when this one appeared on Hulu, I decided to watch it. Now, like everybody else, I assumed that it was going to be the same take from a different point of view, but instead this film went in the opposite direction. Where the first film featured a monster raging through the city, this one focuses on the monsters inside of men, and what happens when three individuals are forced to occupy a bunker.

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Without giving away too much, John Goodman’s portrayal of the pragmatic Howard was one of the most underrated performances of 2016, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as Michelle, held her own against him. The film has its moments of joy, but there is always a tension looming in the claustrophobic cabin, and it often ignites into confrontation. Aside from the other thematic elements, I have to say that the characters shine the most, and I believe that comes from the small number. Having fewer people on screen can create time for development and exploration.

Signs (2002)

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Aliens in a cornfield? Cmon that’s fresh af. M. Night Shyamalan brought the world one of the greatest plot twists with “The Sixth Sense”, so naturally there was already an air of mystery surrounding this film. And then, you hear the cast: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin, Rory Culkin, and they welcome us into the Hess family. When a mysterious sign appears in the crop field in front of Hess family, it will push the renounced reverend Graham to uncover the mystery.

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Signs is unlike any other film on this list, it’s horror being in the unknown. We are graced with many moments in the film (the foil hats, Merrill’s monologue, Shyamalan’s cameo), and I like how they all relate back to this unknown entity; it’s all speculation, and it translates to the viewer as well. By the end of the film you’ll be wondering if any of it was real. Oh yeah, it’s on Hulu now!

The Babadook (2014)

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Another film that is currently on streaming sites is “The Babadook”. Yo, don’t let the people fool you, this movie is a scare, it’s just from an angle that is original; because what’s more fearful: a phantom from a child story booy, or a mother’s struggling battle with grief and a child that fails to behave. Director Jennifer Kent takes a leap into her own world utilizing set pieces and a cryptic style of storytelling, relying on an erratic rhythm rather than a steady pace. Do we ever know what “The Babadook” is, or isn’t; does it even matter?

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The desaturated color tone of the shots enhance the already grim tale, and Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia forces the viewer to share in her grief. And this is what makes the film scary, because once we’ve identified with this mother, we are sensitive to her plight but ultimately we’re enraged that she won’t address the issues. This frustration is converted into fear whenever the supernatural element is added, and since we’re in such a volatile state, we’re already ensnared. But it’s only an hour and a half of imprisonment, and will surely make you keep the lights on a little longer this weekend.

 

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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After he blessed us with the “Spiderman” Trilogy (starring Tobey McGuire), director Sam Raimi returned to his slapstick horror roots with “Drag Me To Hell”. When Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), a loan officer seeking a promotion, denies an elderly woman her loan, she is inadvertently cursed, and what a curse. It keeps the audience laughing long enough for the tension to build, turning back to the terror at a moment’s notice. The humor is amped with Justin Long cast as Christine’s boyfriend Clay Dalton, who often has smart remarks for every scenario.

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The film is true to Raimi’s genre blending of comedy and horror, even the antics of the supernatural are borderline hilarious (the maggots in the mouth scene). A must watch for any of his fan (if you watch “Mr. Robot”, you’re a Raimi fan).

 

Gok-seong or The Wailing (2016)

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Netflix has this movie on it’s catalog so there is no reason you can’t watch it this Friday the 13th. “The Wailing” is a South Korean film directed by Hong-jin Na, and it has crossed over into America for a very good reason. It’s terrifying. It’s hard to describe what this film is, because there are plenty of intertwining plots, but you watch a village become beset by an akuma, or demon. The film has great writing, both in terms of story as well as dialogue, each complementing each other. The conversations between the officers are often hilarious, and a great contrast to the macabre mysteries that are befalling the town.

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The soundtrack is spooky (yeah, I said spooky), and it really teeters on the shadow realm of acoustics. There are some scenes that leave you baffled (The Exorcism), and just when you expect the truth to be revealed, the film presses on further. It is a long ride, 2 hours and 36 minutes, but once the engine revs, you’ll be Wailing all the way until the end.

Conclusion

There you have it, folks. Ain’t no reason you shouldn’t be entertained-and terrified-this Friday the 13th. Of course, there are other notable works that I missed, and I feel cliche for making that disclaimer, but I’m going to do so anyways so you understand that my opinion is based more so on my immediate memory rather than a well devised agenda.. As always, feel free to comment or leave any feedback regarding my choices for films. Until next Tuesday…

Suffer

A strange phenomenon seems to be occurring within the being that I call my self. Ideas, questions, and answers that seemed too foreign to comprehend at the beginning of my journey are slowly becoming known, and I believe that this prolonged suffering is one of the keys to unlocking the next stage.

Why are we afraid of suffering?

Was it not one of the byproducts of being brought into this world? To love, to learn, and to suffer are what we live and die for; or rather, it is these three fundamental principles that govern our existence. The majority of my speculation and extensive readings have concentrated primarily on ancient knowledge and stark rationality; however, I am somehow also in tune with the power of swelling emotions.

There is a rhythm to feelings, a spastic occurrence or a gradual rising and falling of immature thoughts. And yet, this does not explain what is happening now.

As I suffer this agony related to the loss of my dear cousin, Danielle, I am simultaneously being exposed to a new realm of influence, action, and most importantly, belief. Emotions do not control the individual; however, it cannot be stated, with 100% assurance, that man controls his emotions. Rather, it seems that emotions are somewhat tied to the id that lives below the surface of the ego, and by experiencing a crippling blow (in this case anguish and grief), one is able to examine the complete spectrum of emotions and, subsequently, recognize the consequences of utilizing them.

It is as if I have become more in tune with the thoughts in my head by allowing the pains in my metaphysical gut to project rather than repress. In essence, I have temporarily found a way to access the vast wellspring of inspiration, desire, and change. God granted us the capacity for suffering (AKA passion) so we would discover the truth of life, and to live is to love, no?

Black Dwarf: A Playlist for Alice on Alpha Centauri

Foreward

Let it be known that I make music for myself, and for no one else, so what you are about to listen to is definitely for me, and it’s up to you as a potential listener to see if it is for you as well. What does one think of when they gaze into the void above, into the black twilight known as space? I have often pondered what lies out there, and this is where this project began. This is the soundtrack to the space terror that I have yet to write. 

The Story

Log Transmission: Nanophycisit Dr. Aurelius
Date: The 18th Cycle of the Ghoul Cluster, 20993

Alice,
I love you. It…it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to keep my promise. Something happened on our voyage…we were attacked by a giant ship as soon as we reached the Caesarian nebula, but then we took a prisoner on board who helped us defeat them. I should’ve known that was a bad idea because shortly after we had faults in our electrical systems, and the prisoner…well he’s gone. But he left something here, something horrible; we’ve called it the Omega-9. It infected my nanobytes somehow, and ever since then we’ve been battling for our survival. The crew started…mutating, and we’ve lost so many of them. It’s all hard to explain but, somehow, I made it to the Captain’s Cabin. There is a phonetic transcriber in here, so I’m going to write it all down, and hopefully you will receive this message. Look, remember when I said if I ever had the chance to be a hero, I would do so without question? Well, that time is now. I just…wish it wasn’t after we got married.

*Self-Destruct Sequence Activated*

Alice. My constellation, Alice. Not a day went by that I didn’t wish to be back on Alpha Centauri, in your arms. I always felt safe there. I don’t know why, but I kept replaying this one memory during  hyper sleep. It was that trip we took to the Chronos Cluster, and we watched the Narwal Nebula turn into a supernova. It looked like a school of flying fish, cosmic dust and energy rain; and, then you told me something I’ve never forgotten.

*5* “You said that-”
*4* “The stars don’t com-”
*3* “-pare to the”
*2* “constellation in my”
*1* “corazon.”

10101A10100101010
1010101010LI1010101
1C10001010110110011
001101010100101E01

–Transmission Lost.

Black Dwarf

A Series of Famous Last Words

Foreward

The progress of a plot is a difficult one to follow. It starts out as an idea that ferments inside the head until the hand is ready to craft what has been brewing inside the consciousness. When I wrote down my first lines it was not a story that spilled from my pen, but a letter, followed by another one until words were formed, then sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and acts. Since I have forgotten at which point I incepted myself into this plot, I will share this instead. This is a beginning, this is the moment when you will be introduced to my world, and the characters that inhabit it. It’s only a fragment of the world that I have formed, and although it may not be fully finished to my liking (which it never will be), it is complete enough for you to experience it. So, for all that have been wondering what the heck I’ve been raving over for the last year, here is your chance to see. Without further ado, here is a chapter from my first novel, “A Series of Famous Last Words.”

 

House Arrest

In the frigid autumn of 1936, a barren piece of land was bought on the northern side of Victoria. The deed included 1.4 acres that stretched into a dense forest that resided on the fringes of the city. The evergreens and other trees were chopped down to be used as building material for the development of Victoria’s new residential area. One particular set of blueprints detailed a home with three bedrooms dispersed across two floors, a kitchen that included a gas line, an elongated foyer, and two bathrooms aside from the master. Construction on this foundation began in 1938, and it neared completion by 1939, however, due to a violent lightning storm the building was set ablaze on March 13, 1939. After the incident, the building company-whose name remains unknown-decided to abandon the project and leave the house unfinished. It remained incomplete until 1947, when a young soldier and his new wife purchased the property. The veteran, who had just served America in World War II, used his military pension to reconstruct and remodel the residence. A spare room was converted into an extra office, and garage unit was installed. The veteran and his wife completed the project but were unable enjoy the living quarters for long on account of the tension rising in Korea. He eventually left to defend his nation, but returned to find the house empty and his wife missing. Her disappearance was never solved, although a few neighbors claim she left with another man. The veteran lived out his days within the walls, spending his nights drinking and watching reruns of western television shows, until his death in 1985. The house was eventually placed back on the market, falling into the hands of a rookie real-estate agent. Unable to fully appreciate the value of the house, the realtor lost a quarter of the possible profit when David Knight became the title holder.

Thud. Thud. Thud. A pair of running shoes belonging to David clashed against the cracked pavement, establishing a rhythm for his morning jog. He wore a bright yellow short sleeve shirt, black jogging shorts with a ripped seam, and a fanny pack for storing his keys and his pager. Elise had purchased his running shoes to celebrate his promotion two years ago, and somehow the shoes had managed to stay hidden in the closet until recently. The man had always been physically fit, but running never seemed to be on his radar; he preferred rowing in the surrounding lakes, but the weather was too humid for that now. In light of this, he’d created a running routine that would take him at least thirty-eight minutes, if he established a steady pace. The last few exercises had taken him nearly forty-five minutes to complete; his grieving body was not yet adjusted to the regime. Today, though, he set out to break the mold and reach his personal goal while trekking across five miles.

David pushed his body forward against the morning wind, watching for any stray cars in the empty road. His set path carried him around his neighborhood, which was approximately 1.34 miles; afterward, he would turn right and run towards the Glass Mural, North Victoria’s local landmark. The mural was created in 1889, a time period where glass making was one of the leading industries in Victoria. A welding couple, under the name Purefoy, had been chosen by the mayor at the time to construct a symbol that reflected the current status of the growing city. The team took the mayor’s request literally and created a structure made of concrete and glass that contained hundreds of unique shards with their own opacities. It was later found out that the pieces used in the mural were all the remaining fragments from the couple’s failed attempts at creating a single construct, a decision that left a sour taste in the mayor’s mouth. “Beauty can only be realized through broken pieces,” was the inscription that was added to the mural in 1957.

Thud. David’s feet kicked up into the grass as he moved from the entrance of the neighborhood into the park containing the landmark. Sweat poured down his face, even though the sun had not yet fully arrived to greet the day. As he ran in the park he took mental pictures of his surroundings; the streetlights and signs all seemed to lead him farther away from his house. From Elise. From Charlie. David peered into the faint horizon and located the Glass Mural in the distance. The structure was his personal turning point, being the halfway mark in his jogging route. This particular morning proved to be the most difficult thus far, and the emotional strain was starting to take its toll on David’s legs. Reality was rubbing against him just like his shorts chafing his skin. Elise had been turning in her sleep the night before, which was common at this point, but in her dreamlike state, she muttered a name that made David remember their past and made falling back to sleep near impossible. There was also the matter settling the finances associated with the funeral and the money they had saved for Charlie’s education, which required the assistance of a lawyer. Elise had mentioned that she’d found one, but David remained skeptical after witnessing how lawyers use emergencies and traumatic experiences to make a quick buck.

He finally approached the Glass Mural and slowed down a bit, taking a moment to appreciate the cleanliness of the surrounding area.  His image twisted and contorted in the glass as he walked around the construct. Some reflections were plastered onto warmer colors, but he found them to be too fantastical, preferring to look at the cooler hues; they seemed to match his heart these days. David pressed his face against the chilly glass as an excessive amount of sweat poured down from his hair.

Sofia shrunk in front of the white columns erected at the main entrance of the house. The stains from years of rainfall and erosion had chipped away the paint, revealing patches of softened wood. The front yard was empty, save for the attempted garden located next to the stairs leading towards the door. Sofia imagined her mother spending her free time trying to revive these flowers, and wished she inherited her green thumb instead of her oily hair. The girl walked towards the establishment as if it were haunted, carrying her new essentials in hand: two pairs of latex gloves, a basket full of cleaning chemicals, and the lunch her mother had packed. Her hair was down, and she wore a pair of slip on canvas shoes she had purchased from her most recent beach trip (almost  three years ago). Upon reaching the front door, Sofia was greeted by a small beehive developing in the corner underneath the porch light. There were no drones present, but she instinctively knew there was a queen deep within the core of the hive. The doorbell chimed, and Sofia pressed her face against the rectangular window to peer inside. The glass was made from a unique material that prevented those outside from clearly seeing in, causing her to ring the doorbell once more. “This place is a dump. My mother surely knows how to pick her customers” she said sarcastically. She knocked on the door. After a few seconds, an obscure figure with feminine features appeared in the window. “Shit, it’s a woman. This must be the wrong house.” Her nerves tensed as she contemplated leaving the porch but it was too late; Sofia watched the doorknob turn, and a woman with deep circles under her eyes popped her head out. “Sorry, I think I have the wrong house,” Sofia apologized.

“Who are you looking for?” the woman inquired as she took a sip of her coffee.

“Um, a Mr. David Knight. Do you know where he lives?” she peeked at the numbers on the side of the home.

“He lives here, I’m his wife, Elise. What do you want? Are you selling something because if so I’m not interested in any of your wares, whatever they may be.” Elise said. Sofia immediately recognized an attitude in the woman’s voice.

“I’m with Garcia’s Guardians. We were…hired by Mr. Knight to care for this house.”

Elise turned back into the house and looked at the picture of David hanging in the foyer. “Asshole,” she muttered, loud enough for Sofia to hear.

“Umm…if this is a bad time then I can come back later.” Elise took a sip of her coffee and looked at Sofia. The young woman’s clothes were hanging off of her thin frame, and Elise could smell the metro on her. For a split second, Elise thought about slamming the door in her face and leaving her on the porch, but she knew that would only breed even more trouble between her and David.

“Come in, and take your shoes off at the door.”

David looked into the glass to find a memory of him standing with his son, Charlie. He watched as the boy counted the glass panels, “Twenty-two, twenty-free, twenty-four…” Charlie continued as David held his hand. When his son turned five, David noticed that he had developed a lisp. Elise mentioned that she wanted to take him to speech therapy to correct the issue, but David found his speech impediment unique, and wanted to keep it. “We should let him decide when he gets older.”

“No, the older he gets, the harder it will be for him to change. David, he’s about to start kindergarten and I want him to be prepared for it. Plus, you know how those kids can be in elementary school. They make fun of anything that is different, and Charlie would be no exception.” David silently nodded, knowing that his wife was telling the truth. He had given rides to a few teenagers with self-inflicted wounds, most of them blaming their misfortune on childhood bullying.

“You’re right. Why don’t you give me a chance to teach him before we take him to some doctor?” Even with all his medical experience, David still imagined himself more qualified to teach their son proper speech, simply because he was his father.

“Fine, but if nothing improves in a month, then we will take him to the doctor, of my choice.” David agreed. Twenty-nine days passed and Charlie still showed no signs of visible progress. In a last minute effort, David decided to take Charlie to the Glass Mural.

“Hey buddy, can you count how many times you see yourself?”

Charlie smiled, pointed his bony finger at the glass, and began counting. David watched his son as he moved from left to right. His hair was a messy blonde, which was odd because David had dark hair, while Elise was the originally blonde. He was short, just as Elise had been during her childhood. He also inherited his mother’s smile, a thin set of lips that curved just slightly to the left. It gave one the impression that he was winking at them. On this particular day, David decided to dress him up in denim overalls and a white tee-shirt. Standing in the wake of spring, Charlie looked like one of the farmers from his nursery book. “Now try and say twenty-three. Watch my lips” he brought his mouth close to his son’s eye level. “Twenty-three, three. You see how my tongue moves,” Charlie nodded.

“Twenty-free.” A wave of disappointment flushed across David’s face. His efforts hadn’t been enough to fix the boy’s speech. He looked into the twenty-third glass and failed to see a reflection of himself in it. The memory left as quick as it had arrived, David now unable to tell if it was sweat or tears that he was tasting.

Elise locked the door behind Sofia and motioned for the girl to enter the grand foyer. The walls were painted soft white that resembled a lavish beach house, but the bottom half of it was covered with marks and little fingerprints. All of the furniture belonged to a matching set, making the place look more like a showroom rather than a home. Sofia thought back to her mother’s apartment and how nearly all of their furniture had been given or purchased from the local flea markets.

“What’s your name?” Elise asked.

“Sofia. I’m working with my mo- with Mrs. Garcia, the other employee. We’ll be taking turns cleaning throughout the weeks.”

“I see,” she looked at the girl, “the truth is, I don’t really want you here, but you’ve already been paid so you might as well work. I still don’t understand why we need you. I told David that our house is okay the way it is, but he insisted on employing you.”

“We’re uh, we’re here to help you with the…healing,” Sofia sputtered the response her mother had trained her to give.

“Right, I’m sure you’ll be a big help in that area,” Elise scoffed. “Since you’re here, make yourself useful but let me establish a few rules: Don’t come up the stairs, don’t steal anything, and don’t bother me unless it’s an emergency. That’s all the instructions I have for you.” Sofia held her tongue against her wishes, seeing as this was her first day on the job. Her mother had warned her that most employees were either distant or unpleasant in the beginning, but Elise’s attitude was borderline disrespectful. And what would make her consider thievery?

Elise walked through the hallway, “You can set your belongings underneath the sink.” As she entered the room, Sofia realized that there were only two kinds of people in this world: those who have money, and those who don’t. This house was the only proof she needed to know that she belonged to the latter category. The expansive kitchen had granite countertops with maroon drawers, a black stove in the corner opposite of the chrome refrigerator and the rectangular glass table had a solitary plate sitting upon it.

“Are there any specific tasks that you need me to do? I’m here until 5:00 PM,” Sofia chimed. Elise lifted the coffee pot from the machine and poured herself another cup.

“Shouldn’t you have a set routine? I mean, that’s what we’re paying you for right?” Elise sneered.

Sofia examined her surroundings and figured the kitchen would be an ideal place to begin her shift, it was also the only room Elise had shown her thus far. She stared at the middle-aged woman, taking note of the thin bones hiding underneath her oversized knit sweater. “Start with the kitchen then just follow whatever mess you find, just don’t come upstairs.” Elise’s voice was adamant, and Sofia wondered if she would be hexed if she stepped into the forbidden zone. “If there’s nothing more to say, then get started,” Elise said as she made her way towards the stairwell in the foyer. “Oh, and one more thing, be a dear and clean the coffee pot. I’m afraid it’s blackened, and I need it spotless for tomorrow morning,” she disappeared around the corner, leaving Sofia standing alone on the hardwood floors. The echo of Elise’s footsteps receded, giving Sofia the courage to curse under her breath before she turned her attention to the empty kitchen.

David snapped away from the flashback and frantically began running along the pathway once more. An ache started to develop in his left knee, the same one he had surgery during his teenage years. The weakness of his scar tissue had been the main reason he’d picked up rowing as his activity. Determined to reach his house before his time was up, David decided to speed up his pace; but exhaustion was steadily rising along with the temperature. As he ran, he looked back over his left shoulder trying to capture one final look at the Glass Mural, and possibly his son. Suddenly, he found himself with his cheek pressed against the concrete and a severe pain radiating from his face. Bits of sediment embedded themselves in his hands, leaving erythemic marks along his palms. He achingly pulled himself up to his feet and dusted off his kneecaps. There was a reddish abrasion on his hand that looked as if blood wanted to ooze from the fresh wound. It took him another few seconds to realize that he had fallen, something he hadn’t done in years. Immediately, he began to trace the ground for any pot-holes or excessively large rocks to blame for his accident. A patch of raised concrete seemed suspicious, but it wasn’t enough to make him stumble as he had. David brought his hands to his face and examined the scratches.

“These hands, these damn hands. How many more must die in my arms? What good am I if I can’t save anyone?” he yelled into the empty street. A light came on in a nearby house, probably in response to his shouting. David shuffled along the concrete, attempting to relieve the pressure on his left leg. As he limped home, he remembered the last words the deacon had spoken to him.

“Prayer can help those who don’t have the momentum to move on…”

“When’s the last time prayer saved a life?” he said to himself as he looked up as the morning sky was painted with a series of vibrant brush strokes.

“How the hell am I supposed to know where things are if I didn’t get a tour?” Sofia scoffed. She walked around the kitchen, opening and closing the drawers in the process, to get a feel for the layout. “Okay, so silverware is in the drawer, and this is for dishes, and this is also for silverware too? What kind of setup is this? Who needs two drawers for forks and knives?” she slammed the last cabinet, hoping the sound would interrupt Elise from whatever she was doing. Sofia picked up the single plate from the table and placed it in the metallic sink. As she began scrubbing the dish, she thought about her new surroundings. These walls would become her new classroom, and she was forced to study the same skills her mother used. Sharpened pencils and notebooks were now replaced with toilet brushes and soggy sponges, and instead of wearing decent clothes, she was forced to don a raggedy t-shirt and her jeans from high school that barely fit. What good was cleaning compared to having a degree? She checked the clock, “Right now, I’d be sitting in my first class for the week, but instead I’m scrubbing dishes. I didn’t even eat off of this damn plate,” she muttered. Sofia placed the plate on the drying rack and wiped down the adjacent counter with her wipes. The moist sensation of the towel gave her a quick shudder, and Sofia soon realized that she’d forgotten to put her gloves on. The set of purple latex all purpose gloves were a gift from her mother. Sofia reached down into her basket and checked the wrists, noticing the “L” and “R” embedded into the rubber. Without hesitation, she donned the gloves along with the headphones attached to her CD player and began a thorough investigation of the kitchen.

Sofia walked over to the half-empty coffee pot and inspected the stained edges of the bowl. “Clean the coffee pot my ass,” she snapped. She dumped the liquid contents down into the drain and instead of pouring a drop of soap into the bowl, she spit into it. Grabbing the sponge she began to work her way around the bowl until a majority of the black smears were no longer visible, but the girl kept a few there to remind Elise that she wasn’t like her mother. However, as she looked down at her covered hands, she couldn’t help but feel a connection to the woman who’d taught her how to scrub away stains.

David removed his keys from his fanny pouch and entered through the garage door, passing a series of cardboard boxes sitting next to the steps. The pain from his knee was subsiding as he removed his shirt and shoes upon entering his residence. He was about five feet into the house when he heard the sound of water running in the kitchen. “Elise, are you up?” he inquired as he turned the corner before bumping into an oddly placed object. David was about to start shouting until he opened eyes and realized what, or rather who, he’d just run into. Standing in front of the sink was a young woman with a pair of purple headphones tucked between her shoulder length hair. She rung the yellow sponge into the basin and dried a glass cup in her gloved hands. The young woman turned to face David and dropped the dish onto the floor due to the shock.

“Jesus, I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry, I’ll clean that up,” she said as she frantically searched the kitchen for the broom. David pointed towards the pantry and Sofia did as instructed, finding the broom and dustpan in the corner. “Th-thank you, sir.”

“Are you Mrs. Olivia’s daughter?”

She nodded, “I’m Sofia Garcia. I promise I’m not this clumsy. I’m so sorry,” Sofia confessed while keeping her eyes low.

“You don’t have to look down or anything, I don’t deserve any extra respect.”

“You’re shirtless, sir.” Startled, David awkwardly laughed as he threw his sweaty top over his shoulder.

“Right, I’ll get out of your way soon,” he said.

David made his way to the refrigerator and removed a bottle of water while Sofia swept up the remaining fragments from the glass. The paramedic could feel the young woman’s eyes scanning him, trying to identify what kind of man he was. “I’m David by the way. I wanted to welcome you to the house, but it looks like my jog took longer than expected,” he said as he pressed the chilled bottle to his kneecap. Sofia shyly smiled as she dumped the contents of the dustpan into the black trash can. “If you need anything just let me know.” Sofia nodded as he made his way towards the stairwell, “also don’t worry about the cup, it’s just a small fracture,” he joked. The medical reference had flown over Sofia’s head and David realized that his joke failed, another reason for him to retreat upstairs.

His watch began ticking as he entered his bedroom, and fast asleep atop the snow white comforter was Elise. Her body was sprawled out in a strange position, legs on opposing ends of the bed and her back was curved stretching out her neck in a way that would’ve been uncomfortable for even the most flexible contortionist. Somehow in this layout she had found peace, or the medication had kicked in once again. He knew that Dr. White had given her a prescription to help her through this difficult time period, but lately her mood seemed to revolve around her dosage schedule. David crept into the bathroom and started the shower, giving himself five minutes to remove the sweat and dirt from his sore body. This morning had already been a challenge and work would be no different, he had to write a report on his actions surrounding the death of Deacon Hamilton. As the beads from the shower rained down on his face, David’s hands shook in the steam, remembering the feeling of Darnell’s strength fading as he passed away. David banged his fist against the glass, wishing that he could have held his son’s hand in a similar fashion.

When Sofia entered the garage to take out the trash at the end of her grueling first shift, she accidentally kicked a cardboard box full of unknown objects. Her bony legs were already feeling the effects of her labor, the constant circular scrubbing motion worked muscles that had been dormant in her body for years. The chilly garage was bleak, save for the blinking safety light in the corner. One car, a black luxury vehicle was parked in one of the spaces, and the rest of the area was being used as a storage space. As her eyes adjusted, Sofia examined the expansive interior, taking note of the piles of boxes that were waiting to be sealed. Crouching down, she toyed with the flap of one of the containers catching a glance of folded clothes, reminding the young woman of her suitcase and all the clothes that she had yet to finish unpacking. Curiosity continued to swirl in the young woman’s veins, leading Sofia to a closet situated in the corner of the garage. Inside the closet were shoes scattered across the bottom floor, bright yellow rain jackets, a stack of packaged toilet paper, and bin full of magazines that may or may not have been read. Hanging on the back wall was a dark leather briefcase and a slightly worn messenger bag with a medical symbol patch stitched onto it. On the adjacent hanger was a cherry red book bag with handwriting on its shoulder straps. After examining the bag, Sofia deduced that it was too cartoonish to be worn by adults. In fact, there were multiple objects in this house that would’ve made any child, if there was one, feel at home.

Sofia turned the book bag and discovered that the black scribbles were actually the signatures of children. Her fingers traced the names, reading them to herself as she listed half the incoming second-grade class at Turtletop Elementary. Seeing the signatures reminded Sofia of her tenure in elementary school, and how she and her classmates signed tee shirts on their final day. It was a way for the students to always remember their friends, even if they happened to forget them along the way. Sofia was unsuccessful in finding the name, among all the other names, of who the bag belonged to prompting her to leave it alone. She closed the door to the messy closet, grabbed her basket full of cleaning supplies, and hopped out the door into the afternoon sun. Sofia threw the trash away and headed back inside the house to grab her belongings, which were stored underneath the sink along with the cleaning supplies. As she walked down the driveway, she caught a glimpse of the neighborhood that was soon to become her habitat for the next few weeks.

The houses in the area were exquisite, many of them being at least two stories with finely crafted windows and color schemes. The one directly next to the Knight residence had a full-sized balcony on the second floor. Sofia pictured herself atop it, staring out at the skyline as the sun set across the horizon. With a house like this, it was senseless for anybody to feel miserable, she thought, as she plugged her headphones into the CD player. There were no oversized trash bags crowding their front lawn or the sounds of sirens screaming through the bedroom windows. There surely was enough space in each house so mothers and their daughters could snore without having to hear the other in the adjacent room. A rush of electricity ran through Sofia’s veins as she prepared to come home after her first day of work; what exactly was waiting for her inside that cramped apartment?

As she walked home, Sofia noted that this around the same time that she originally left her last class of the day and headed back to her dorm. Often she would grab a to-go meal from the dining hall, choosing to eat in the comfort of her room rather than braving the expansive cafeteria. The hall was filled with too many scattered conversations, and Sofia remained out of virtually all of them because she often ate alone and read her books instead. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for her to share a meal with her mother, the two of them sitting down so Sofia could talk about her first day. Her body had started to ache beyond belief: is this what her mother experienced for the last ten years? Yet, she hadn’t heard Olivia complain once about her job. At what point was she willing to give her mother a chance, she thought to herself as the metro station came into view amongst the waves of mobile citizens.

As the city prepared for the summer night, the streetlights slowly illuminated the speckled sidewalks with a warming glow. Passengers along the transit system changed from local business owners and black nannies with white toddlers to carts full of sterile dress suits and sweating vagabonds who reeked of booze. Sidewalks became the escape routes for those who worked in the skyscrapers, while the sanitation crew prepared to start their evening shift. Just as she did in school, Sofia would take the journey alone, keeping her CD player handy the entire time. When she stood amongst the travelers on the train, (she often stood because people weren’t so forthcoming to offer her a seat), the music transported her mind to her personal paradise. Each song provided her with a different vibe, but they all harmonized to provide her with a melody able to keep her sanity in check after her hectic first day as an employee of Garcia’s Guardian.

The Art of Destruction

*Author’s Note*

I am steadily navigating my way through my second novel, and this journey has proven to be more intense than the previous; but, my progress is constant, no matter how few words are written per day: the story is still being told. I’m keeping the details of this second plot close to my chest, along with the title, but that does not mean I am unwilling to share an excerpt. I will give no background or foreground knowledge about the story, I will simply leave this task to your own imagination. And then, when you’ve finally forgotten about it, I will have completed this second work. (also excuse any grammar errors, this is still draft I).

“What must a man do when he has become tired of everything, but himself? Does he spend his days shamelessly entertaining the dull crowd of fodder, or does he disappear into the chasms of his own being, becoming a recluse and myth in the process?” Baudelaire spoke as he lit the oil lamp that hung in the corner of his sculpting studio. It was a lavish construct, crafted by an architect who was known for his appreciation for space and silence. Various works lined the walls: a replica of William Blake’s David and the Dragon was above the furnace, a scroll that had a Chinese character written in calligraphy, and two bastard swords that had been shipped from Italy. His residence was a den of relics, pieces made by the hands of daring artists who ventured beyond the conventions; however, they did not come close to the majestic collection of sculptures that he’d created.

Baudelaire ran his finger along the bridge of Pope Paralaxiu, the supreme religious leader in his generation, and blew away the marble dust. “Another completed model, and yet I have been unable to shake this stirring in my soul. Why does my heart not well up as it did when my hands first took hold of the chisel?” On his carved desk were various tools that he used to sculpt, and pinned on the wall, above the counter, was his first hammer. Nostalgia beckoned his attention to the metallic tool. “Ever since my boyhood, I have done nothing but create. Sculptures and paintings, critical essays and discussions, and yet, what have they brought me? Where is the joy that is supposed to exist at the end of an arte? Have I been chosen to be deprived of it, malnourished from this nutrient that my soul craves in order to survive?” Next to the toolkit was a leather pouch the Church’s messenger had delivered; Baudelaire noted that religious men tended to carry gold faster than they did the gospel. “And this,” he opened to reveal both jewels and gold, “are men foolish enough to believe I create in order to amass a fortune of these arbitrary trinkets? Coins and gems, and coins and gems, and COINS AND GEMS! That’s all they wish to reward me with rather than…well I doubt they will be able to reward me with anything that can satiate my restlessness,” he confessed to himself. The flame flickered and plume of sawdust danced in the embers. “I am wasted here! This life is but a fool and it is because society has no desire to do anything, but consume. They care not for intellectualism or philosophy, or even how to become a human being. No, they are solely focused on the productions and consumption, turning us artists into beasts of burden who must birth the objects of their desire. How many eyes have I molded that are more authentic than the irises of those who gaze upon them?” There was an angered tone in his voice which caused him to reach for the bottle of fermenting wine that he’d left under his desk. Removing the cork with his molars, Baudelaire recklessly took a swig that could’ve cured dehydration in a dying man. His lips were removed from the bottle, along with the hammer that was on the wall. “And what am I left with, but marble and blood?”

Suddenly, the hammer came crashing down on the desk and rocked the frame, tipping the pouch over. The mass of gems spilled and Baudelaire swatted them away with his hands. Emeralds and coins went flying across the floor as if a star had just exploded and released cosmic shrapnel into space. “Well I say damn the trinkets! Damn the constructs of this world!” Again, the hammer came crashing down against the desk until he turned the head on the bust of the Pope. Soon, pieces of marble were scattered across the floor and the skull of the sculpture sunk into itself. A thick cloud of sediments and dust escaped from the remains, and Baudelaire bared a devilish grin. “They are not aware that artists are not just creators…the live for destruction too!” His aggression brought the weapon down, repeatedly, on the face until it was reduced to a pile of smoothened rubble. One of the eyes had been tossed towards the painting on the wall, and Baudelaire rushed towards it, flailing madly. He tore at the piece, and sparked the furnace to life, by tossing the oil lamp into it. Now he was surrounded by darkness, and the only source of illumination was from the mouth of this oven; but the shadows did not prevent him from stopping his rage. “Countless days I have spent shouldering myself to this society in hopes of living comfortably. I have put my own person aside just to enter their realm of reality. But I dare to take him back. No, they will not have this essence of me, they must not! I will leave, and erase my name from this world. I will become the myth that men whisper to each other with envy. I will show them…that to live as one’s own self is a far greater luxury than the royal jewels of a corrupt court. And if I do not…then let my soul be eternally tortured by the curse of feigning an existence. I have wasted enough of my precious ego trying to craft my ideas into tangible constructs, just so men and women can criticize it for not meeting a noble standard.”

The furnace burned brightly for Baudelaire had cast nearly all of his possessions into the flame while shrieking. He took one more, drowning swig of the bottle to drain the wine, and he tossed the glass into the oven, which exploded upon contact. A few stray embers escaped into the engulfing darkness, and the madman dropped his hammer on the floor; the resounding chime of the metal brought him out of his berserk-like rage into reality. Into the destroyed studio that had once been decorated with the most majestic of man’s creations. “It is pointless to change the world. It is pointless to attempt a coup of society’s consciousness. No more…I will resist no more. I will depart. Leave this existence where it stands and forget all of this had ever happened. After all, death is the only release from this suffering.” He brought the chisel that had been with him since the beginning to his wrist. The jagged edge nicked his skin and instantly drew blood.

Amidst the wreckage he laid, with his palms coated in the dust of the shattered sculptures. The gnawing flame had tended into something more docile. A stray beam of the dawn infiltrated the dark expanse, bringing with it a faint light and warmth to the phantoms that had comforted the deranged man throughout the night. His tired eyes followed the sunbeam from the port of entry-a cracked window he purposely never fixed-towards something positioned on a column. Baudelaire rose from the rubble, dusted off the destruction, and guided himself to the surviving piece. His eyes widened, “what can I say about this moment that will do it justice? Indeed, if I were a man who did not believe in the power of fate, I would truly mark this off as a sign from the divine.” He removed the chisel from the base of his wrist and set it in his pocket, freeing his hands so they could tacitly inspect the lone statue in front of him. “But…I am not sure if this is a smile from fate. Could it be something more? Why, out of everything that was destroyed tonight, did this manage to survive the chaos? This is by no means a coincidence and, perhaps, it is a possible answer to the questions that plague my mind.” His hands traced along a smooth jawline that was defined like a majestic cliff. The lips that were placed in the center were slightly large, but thin enough to stay still when listening.  “I will only…” eyes sharp as arrowheads, “believe in…” his eyes. “You.” Fragments of soon-to-be-forgotten figures were thrown across the floorboards, all lying underneath the mold of his own face. Although, it has been near the other pieces, it had somehow avoided the destruction. “Only I remain.” With this realization his knees buckled, and tears streamed from his eyes as the chisel rolled out of his hand. The rage that had fueled his rampage was gradually substituted by exhaustion; he now lay flat on the floor, devoid of any sensation. Unconsciously, as if being controlled by the statue, Baudelaire raised his hand toward the crack of light and attempted to snatch the divinity, disguised as particles of dust, just as a man does when he is finally himself.