The Curse of Salmon Pea Wiggle

Here it is. Finally. Been working on it, bit by bit, during my breaks at work. Still working pretty fucking hard, though thankfully it’s let up a little bit. I’ll be starting a “final” project (“final” as in the final project for this part of the training, not even halfway through the training yet) tomorrow, so it’ll probably return to that level.

In addition to finishing this, I’ve also started a short (probably very short) story that I’ll probably wrap up soon before getting back to some of my longer projects.

Also, this is about as pure of a non-fiction story I’ve told. I may have slightly rearranged things, but that wasn’t even necessarily purposeful, since this happened like four months ago and I’ve just been gradually writing it, and gradually losing detailed memory of it at the same time. Now, obviously, it’s not that crazy of a story or anything, but I sort of realized during it that my writing is exactly why I don’t really care about this kind of thing happening any more. Something bad will happen and it will become “oh, well this will make for a good story”.

This is a pretty dope album I listened to recently. It’s… fuzzy, glitchy electronic? Like múm? But it’s also post rock? But kinda metal too? It’s great.

~

It all happened because of that damn salmon pea wiggle. Well, not so much that as the seemingly never-ending construction work going on at the house I shared with a few other people. And that was more or less caused by the house’s mold infection – or rather, the house’s owner’s obsession with mold as some sort of bogeyman.

But let’s just say it was because of the salmon pea wiggle. It was lunch time, I was hungry, and the house was empty which allowed me to make a less smell-friendly meal than usual. If you don’t know, salmon pea wiggle is basically SOS (shit on a shingle) with canned salmon and mixed with peas, served on crackers. I didn’t have crackers, but I did have some bread, and I had a can of salmon, so I decided to make it for lunch. Take a nice big dose, have a nice big meal, and maybe watch a movie or something. I really needed to work on my teaching certification, the time limit was running out, but I could take the next hour to relax for a bit.

I looked in the freezer for peas. There weren’t any. Someone must have eaten the rest of my frozen peas. Or maybe they were someone else’s peas and I had been eating them all along and they finished them off. But I thought someone had a can of peas somewhere around here. They might be in the basement, but I thought they had probably been moved out to the garage with a bunch of other cans, so I headed out. I searched the front and back of the garage, which in reality was only two-fifths of the space there, it had two attics and a basement but nobody kept anything in there, but no can of peas. I headed back to the house, but the door was closed – and locked. I guess someone had left a window open so the door closed easier without me noticing.

We had a spare key, though, so I reached around for it and… Oh yeah, they had moved it for the construction, and didn’t tell me where they put it. Apparently all the other windows, the ones that I might be able to squeeze inside through, were closed, the only open ones were the two that had screens that were directly connected to the wall, so they couldn’t slide. So I was stuck.

I had nothing on me. No phone – though that wouldn’t have helped much anyway, since I don’t have cell phone service – no books, no food, no water. And I didn’t expect anyone to be back home until six or seven that evening. I did, however, have access to the garage.

Buildings in New England are often unusual. They’ll have been around for a while and passed from generation to generation and owner to owner, accruing random additions every time, until they’re a bloated version of their original form. That was something like our garage. There was the main garage building, which had an attic. Then a workshop was added on to the end of the garage, with an attic of its own, separate from the main garage’s attic. Then, for some reason, there was also a basement, but only for the workshop.

As such, everyone in the house stored a lot of stuff out there. I mean, for fuck’s sake, the house’s entire basement was basically emptied into the garage for this construction work. The more important thing, in my situation, was that I had a bunch of boxes of stuff in there, mostly books.

The other main problem here was that I had something I needed to do, which is why I didn’t go with the rest of them that day. I had been working on getting certified to teach English as a foreign language. I had procrastinated – or, as I would prefer to say, “focused on other things” – with it for a while so I didn’t have much time to finish it up, and needed to do three or so lessons that day.

As it happened, I had an old laptop out in the garage. And I mean old, I bought it about ten years ago and it was already pretty old at that point. But it had wifi capabilities, which I could probably reach from outside the house, and I didn’t have much choice other than to try it.

As soon as I turned it on, I remembered why I stopped using it. It was slow, it was beaten up, like half of the keycaps were missing, and – most important for this story – the battery didn’t work, which meant I had to plug it in with it’s stupid fucking short cord with the plug that barely holds in the computer whenever I wanted to use it. The only plug in the back of the garage, where I was testing it, was on the ceiling. It’s a weird building. But that meant that the cord, heavy converter box and all, was hanging off of that plug, and I didn’t really trust it to hold.

The username that greeted me once it turned on was not my usual one, and that reminded me of the last thing I had used it for – essentially creating a “safe house” computer, something completely unrelated to myself that would serve as a secure backup. The side effect of that was that it had a long and complex password that I didn’t remember any more. I gave a few attempts at what I thought it might be, but failed. I had it written down somewhere inside, but obviously that wasn’t an option.

What could be an option, though, would be reinstalling the operating system. It would be a pain but, hell, I was probably going to be stuck out there for six hours, it was worth trying. I dug through one of my bins, the bin that held all of my old games and other software, looking for unlabeled CDs. I burnt a lot of CDs and DVDs with operating systems, and was sure I still had one somewhere. After finding a potential one I popped open the DVD drive – oh god, that’s right, the entire DVD drive assembly wasn’t connected to the laptop and would just slide out and I’d have to jimmy it around to get it to work – turned it on and booted from disk drive, and was greeted by the nostalgic, weirdly blurry default Ubuntu background image. I went through the steps – wondering, as I always did, how it knew what day and time it was – and, while it was installing, pulled out my guitar. My old guitar, or really my dad’s old guitar that he had given to me a long while back – was surprisingly in tune, considering how I hadn’t used it in several years.

I tuned it as best I could by ear, then was trying to remember some of the tabs I used to know. Failing at that, I dug around for my piano chord and key bible to figure out some of the chords I had forgotten… And the laptop died, and I remembered why I called it the craptop. How the fuck had I used it for so long?

I got it started again, and thought about what I’d do for food and water. The reason I came out here in the first place was to get food, but the only things I could find were canned pumpkin, canned coconut milk, bottles of ketchup and salsa, and some of those weird squeezable apple sauce packets. I wondered who was buying those.

All the same, I grabbed a couple and put them in the back where I was getting the laptop set up. I had a bunch of brewing equipment back there, including some flip-top bottles. I took one of these and stuffed a few mint and basil leaves from someone else’s garden in there, topped it with some water from the house, and shook it up. Might as well try to give it a little flavor, or at least cover up the somewhat gross taste of the water.

I found a little salt shaker in the garage and shook a little into one of the teacups I kept in one of my bins full of tea and coffee equipment, mixed it with water, and took it like a shot. It was hot. I was sweating already. If I was going to be out here for hours, I’d need some way to replace electrolytes.

Yes, New York time zone, yes, QWERTY keyboard, no, I don’t want to connect to the internet to install updates while installing, yes, here’s my password.

And the bar was slowly sliding across again.

Time to dig through my books. I had a hell of a lot of books out here. God damn, how many boxes did I have? For some reason I thought I only had two, but apparently I had four. Mostly non-fiction, since my lust for escapism demands I only keep fiction nearby, but there were a bunch of books out here that I had loved when I was younger. Unlike most people, I mostly read non-fiction when I was younger, not caring much for fiction, then got heavy into fiction in my early teens and more or less gave up any non-fiction I didn’t have to read.

Once it had finally finished installing and I had updated it, just to let it “refresh” – the amount of subtle superstitions people have about technology in particular is astounding – it was time to get connected to the wifi. The difficulty with that, however, would be the combination of ridiculously short power cord and completely useless battery. If I was to get it anywhere near the house, I’d have to find a plug toward the front of the garage and somewhere to set the laptop.

Which I did. However, the shelves I was going to set the laptop on where that nasty wooden paste shit that crumbles under the slightest strain, which it had.

I went back to my boxes of books, pulled out a few thick ones, and supported the shelf with them. I think that shelf is still supported by those books, actually. The cord depended entirely on the grip of the plug, since the heavy converter box was just left dangling with nothing to support it.

Suffice to say, it was ramshackle.

I could, actually, just barely get connected to my wifi signal. There were still a few difficulties, though.

The username and password to get access to my course were randomly generated and sent to me in an email. I hadn’t memorized them yet, so I’d need to get access to my email to do so.

The second difficulty was that I couldn’t remember the password to my email. It had been changed, added on to, and modified so many times that I didn’t remember which was the current one and which was a past one.

I tried a few, but no success. “Forgot your password?” it is, I guess. Now some bullshit password recovery question, or rather a normal question I had given a bullshit answer to. Knowing myself and what sorts of things I’d normally put in, I tried a few ideas but, again, no success.

Send a password reset to another email, then. This wasn’t a problem, I had literally dozens of emails, most of which I knew the password to, so I chose my iCloud email and sent it there.

Almost there, right?

Right?

I went to the iCloud site. Apple, as ever, more focused on form than functionality. It had some fancy smooth animated background while loading that slowed my computer – and its already weak connection to the internet – to a crawl. A moment later, a popup appeared on the site that said it couldn’t be loaded.

I tried again. Hell, I tried restarting my computer and trying again, but the same message over and over. How the fuck had I used this thing for so long?

I needed to get through this course. I only had a few days left and there was a limit on how many lessons you could do per day. I was cutting it close, and being stuck out here and unable to do them for a day would seriously set me back.

I saw someone, through the open door of the garage. I saw someone – a last resort – standing the neighbor’s porch.

It was the neighbor.

I ran out there, shirtless, shiny with sweat and hair either stuck to my forehead or sticking up wildly, toting a bottle filled with random leaves. I threw my shirt back on to make myself at least a bit more presentable.

“Hey, can you call Matt? His phone number is ___-___-____. I need to know where they left the spare key.”

“Oh, sure,” she said. She went inside and reappeared a moment later. “It went to message, so I left one saying you wanted to get ahold of him. I’ll come get you if he calls back.”

“Thanks.”

It was like that moment in a survival show where they’ve just conceded, used the walkie talkie to call in the helicopter. I was almost kind of disappointed that I wouldn’t have the excuse of having survived the whole six or seven hours, but beyond relieved that help was soon on the way.

A few minutes later, I saw my neighbor coming across the yard and ran out to meet her. She handed me her phone.

“So what the fuck man, what happened to the spare key?”

“Didn’t we tell you?”
“No you fucking didn’t.”

“Oh, it’s __ the ______, inside a _______ __ _______ ____ on ___ shelf with ___. I don’t know why we didn’t tell you.”
“Yeah, I don’t know either.” I had wanted it to be some sort of a biting retort, but it came out just sounding like an agreement. Silence for a moment. “Well, thanks.”

I hung up and handed the phone back to my neighbor, and thanked her.

I got the key, put at least some of the stuff I had disturbed away, pulled the power cord out of the wall – no real point in shutting the computer down first, it was completely fucked anyway – and grabbed the laptop and cord together to bring inside.

I had finally made it. I was back inside. I was ready for lunch at 2:45.

Turns out we didn’t have a can of peas in the basement either. I only found out later that there actually had been a can of peas, there, on the shelf, all along. I just hadn’t looked.

But I made a roux, added milk and the canned salmon and French-cut green beans. Salt and pepper to taste – why did recipes always do that, say “to taste” without even giving a ballpark of how much to add – and toast some bread. Butter it, heavily, lay it out on a plate and drench in the salmon pea wiggle.

Before that, though, it was time for a dose. Nice big dose – gotta make up for lost time, right? – then eat. Eat the whole plate in a few minutes if you need. Maybe even toast some more bread and fill out another plate, just to empty it. I had a piece of toast or something for breakfast, but other than that hadn’t eaten in twenty-something hours. That was the excuse, at least.

I sprawled out and watched something on my computer. Moved out to the one room in the house that had air conditioning – the owner’s, of course – and played a bit of a game before the tiredness began.

I could feel my nerves thrumming and my eyes drooping. I laid down on the rug out there. My stomach was full, so full. Eating doesn’t make me tired, but getting little sleep the night before did.

I laid down on the rug. My stomach was too full. My previous tiredness made way for that warm feeling that comes with nausea, the increased saliva production and swooning sensation. My stomach tensed and released, and I ran to the bathroom.

I threw up, a lot. A ton. I felt drained, spent, and the tiredness returned. I cleaned up, rinsed out my mouth, and headed back into the AC after grabbing an apple. I sat down on a chair, ate the apple, and brought my laptop up to use it as it was designed – on my lap.

I turned on a video of Dan Gheesling playing Dark Souls II, and tried to relax while watching it. Watching something requires keeping your eyes open, and that should keep me awake. But as always, my eyes closed without me noticing, and the audio swam in my ears, muddling together into a mess of sounds and snippets of words barely understood.

And I slept.

I woke up about half an hour later. It wasn’t exactly “sleep”. As it is for me every time I sleep during the day, it was a sort of half-sleep. The sleep/dream state, but still being just slightly aware of my surroundings.

I started getting dinner ready. My earlier so-full stomach had, by this point, realized that I threw up everything in it, and it wanted more. Maybe it regretted demanding so much at once earlier. It asked for a more moderate amount, slower. And right around that time, my housemates got back.

I hadn’t done any of the TEFL work that, theoretically at least, kept me from going with them. Listen, I would’ve liked to have gone. They drove down to one of the nearer proper cities around here, the closest place to go to a number of stores, many of which I like. But I missed it all because I had to do that fucking TEFL shit, which I didn’t even get to do, so I’d have to crunch on it that evening.

And that, that, is the Curse of Salmon Pea Wiggle.

Jury-Rigged Toilet Paper

A more or less true story. A little more in some parts, a little less in others. I’ve actually been gradually working on writing this for a while, but finally got around to finishing it (mostly because there are two other stories I want to start working on), one of which is similar to this story in a number of ways (a sort of real-life tragicomedy with weird origins). I also have several other stories that are in progress (some further than others) that I’ll be working on too.

Music this time is this really great Turkish psychedelic/funk compilation. This same guy has three others in the series (plus a few others from different countries), links to them are in the description.

~

I sat there, on the toilet, earbuds in and Breaking Bad playing on my phone. I was enjoying this rewatch of the series more than my first. I finished shitting, just one of those little in-between shits that accomplish very little.

I went to wipe and noticed that the toilet paper was about gone. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but I was staying at a place in Quebec City via Airbnb and it was about 1:00 AM. I had enough toilet paper for now, but that was it. I checked the four cabinets in the bathroom – none had toilet paper. Four cabinets under the kitchen sink and counter, the six above that and the refrigerator, the four across the kitchen. Nothing.

I checked all the closets and possible other places they could be hidden. Still nothing.

I’d probably shit once more tonight, an actual shit this time, and I could ask the owner for a new roll tomorrow. Or maybe just not at all, I’d be leaving early anyway.

I laid, or lounged, on the folded-down sofa that I’d be sleeping on and focused again on Breaking Bad. It had been playing the whole time, I had just been listening. I was finding, more and more, that I disliked using my eyes. Reading was fine, but I didn’t like watching things. I thought about what I should do and saw a roll of paper towels.

Everyone knows you aren’t supposed to flush paper towels. But do we really know that or are we just told that? Those signs above public toilets that say something like “only flush toilet paper” are probably just a precaution, right?

I grabbed the roll and tore off five sheets. It was double-ply, so I thought I could separate them and cut them down the middle to decrease the effective density of the material and avoid any potential trouble. God damn, though, those two sheets were fucking hard to pull apart. And wouldn’t you know it, it was that scene where Gus is negotiating with the cousins in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish. I could just watch it for now, and make the process take longer, or I could focus on the towels and miss what was happening. Or I could pause it for a minute, but that thought never came to mind.

I opted for the latter, with occasional glances at the captions.

Jesus christ, I knew I should’ve brought my knife. I hadn’t, because I wasn’t sure if it was legal, Canada being sort of UK-ruled and the UK being absurdly stringent on knives. And it turned out that had probably been a good idea, since the border patrol guy asked if I had any weapons. Does a knife count as a weapon? It certainly can, at least, and I generally try to not raise any unnecessary red flags. It makes the red flags I do raise more easily ignored.

But god damn, these paper towels were tough to separate. The first one had been no problem, but I was having more and more trouble with each one and a knife would’ve helped. I guess I could’ve used a knife in the kitchen, but those knives were just different. I wasn’t as natural with them.

Once I had split six or so sheets, the resulting stack was higher than I would have expected. I tried using a knife to cut through it, but it was too thick. Scissors and, again, too thick. Either that or the scissors were too dull. I split the pile in two and cut through them separately with some trouble. Stacking the four cut sections together, I headed to the bathroom and set them on the back of the toilet, and returned to the couch and Breaking Bad.

Something about the paper towels was nagging at me, though. I knew you weren’t supposed to flush paper towels. But that’s only a problem when you flush a lot of them, right? Because they’re denser, and bigger than toilet paper? But I had made them thinner and cut them into strips, so it shouldn’t be a problem. But still, they were more resilient than toilet paper. You can rip toilet paper easily, even accidentally, but these paper towels still held together longer.

So I looked it up. I googled “why shouldn’t you flush paper towels”. There was a page by someone who was clearly a plumber or something and knew way, way too much about the relative strengths, densities, and other characteristics of toilet paper and paper towels, but there was also a post on one of those stupid question-asking sites. Like Yahoo Answers or Quora or whatever.

Its title read: “How to tell my father that I flushed paper towels down the toilet and clogged it?”

No description, no explanation. I just wondered what this situation was. Why did they flush a bunch of paper towels down the toilet? What is the father’s role in this? What, exactly, is going on here?

But more importantly, this served as a personal experience about the effect they can have on plumbing. Maybe those signs in bathrooms weren’t just to negate the owner’s liability in the rare case that something happened. Maybe paper towels were expressly designed to destroy bathroom plumbing. But don’t women flush, you know, sanitary napkins or whatever? Those have to be thicker than paper towels. What was it, specifically, about paper towels that made them so bad?

On the other hand, this poor soul had probably flushed whole paper towels. My prepared paper towels were each half the thickness and width of a normal paper towel, so maybe I wouldn’t have a problem.

I decided to put it to the test. I headed to the bathroom and took the top half-sheet off the stack, tore the corner off, and replaced the rest. I found a little scrap of toilet paper that was still on the roll, then headed to the sink. A bit of water had splashed onto the counter, and I set both pieces into it, let them absorb as much water as they could, then removed them. The toilet paper fell apart instantly, dissolving into a useless lump of pulp. The paper towel, though, as thin and water-soaked as it was, still held. It was compromised, but still decently strong, at least in comparison to the toilet paper.

I searched the bathroom for a plunger, just in case something happened, but couldn’t find one.

I headed back to the couch, and started getting ready for bed. Mix up a dose of kava in a pint jar, down it, clear my palate with a few sour gummies I had gotten at IGA, play a bit of a game while listening to something, mix up a little extra and down it, head to the bathroom one last time, and go to bed.

It was a real shit, this time. I was frugal as I could be with the fake toilet paper, using only four of the sheets to wipe. I thought a silent prayer and flushed. It flushed just fine, though as I left the bathroom I thought I heard a little gurgle. I was tired and buzzed enough to not care much, though. The bowl had emptied, that was all I needed.

I was heading out pretty early the next morning, so had my stuff all packed up when I woke up, admittedly a bit later than intended. I changed my clothes, put my pajamas in my bag, and moved my stuff over to the door. I figured I should go to the bathroom once before I left, just so I wouldn’t have to stop at a gas station or whatever too soon. I pissed and thankfully was sitting down, because one last little dribble of shit left me. I stood up and wiped. It shouldn’t have taken more than one sheet. But it was one of those shits that was like the endless bottle of oil from the bible. You can just keep wiping and wiping all day and the paper will keep picking up shit, even though it makes no sense. It took four sheets before I decided my ass was adequately clean.

I flushed.

It went down, about halfway, but the gurgle returned and an inverse whirlpool issued out of the drain, filling the bowl with a swirling mix of water, shit, and paper. It continued gurgling, the whirlpool kept going. The water rose, rose, reached the edge of the toilet, and just barely spilled over. It didn’t pour over, just spilled a little. The water remained level, a meniscus just slightly holding it in the bowl.

I should tell him. But also, I had to go. I had to fucking go. I was almost late already, getting a hold of that guy and explaining and trying to find a way out would only take longer. So I grabbed my bags and booked it to my car.

Once I was just on the outskirts of the city I stopped at a Chez Ashton and got a big bowl of poutine. They had wifi, so I logged into my Airbnb account on my phone. Settings, account, advanced, delete account. Confirm? Yes.

I had already paid him. I hadn’t done anything wrong. At least, there wasn’t much else I could have done.

Ripe Aloe

Been a weird series of days, or nights, but I was feeling a bit better, noticed that Fear and Loathing was back on Netflix, and decided to write this.

~

I was clean. That’s why my eyes were bulging and my hair, that little bit that was left of it, was clinging to my forehead and I didn’t want to adjust it because that would necessitate a hand washing. It’s funny how the symptoms of sobriety, of being clean, for a drug user are the same symptoms by which someone might suspect someone of using drugs. That’s because, when it comes to the disease of drug addiction, they’ve got it all backwards; the drugs are the medicine to cure it. Taking them away is like taking a burn victim off antibiotics and expecting the infection to go away.

Have you ever looked at a nice, ripe, plump aloe plant and wanted to bite into it? It’s basically a tiny agave plant, right? I felt that urge as I filled my bottles for the night but fought it off just long enough to notice a blemish on one leaf – leaf? – that disuaged my appetite.

The fuckin’ headache and pupils that were either half or double their normal diameter, the inability to either sleep or wake, the once-in-a-while sneezes that sent a heavy chill down your entire body for a split-second, exciting all hair follicles.

But maybe that was just the point. Maybe I thought I was clean but the unclean side still existed, taking over my body during those hour-long spurts of sleep I got during the night and dosing up. And that was the problem, who know what goddamned shit I was feeding myself?

That was absurd of course, though, the kind of shit that can only exist in fiction. Split personalities and whatnot. They weren’t real, right? I was clean, pure and simple, and this was just the way reality existed for all the squares. I guess I just had never noticed it before.

I set the bottles down and looked around my room, taking a tally. I got the water, the tea – both kinds – the liquid palate cleanser and both solid versions, around six liters of water, the capsules for now and later, the bags of the shit I clung onto as my one hope of reaching sleep and the receptacle for using it, the tablespoon, the homemade funnel with three staples and a few bits of tape holding it together, and the little bottle of the stuff that made it taste just slightly better, or at least just slightly not as bad.

Was that sobriety?

Proceed

And here’s the third and final entry, the one that I posted part of a while ago. Only one song for this post, not a full album as usual, but it’s a great song and an amazing music video. I would highly, highly recommend watching along with the song. (I may have posted this before. I haven’t listened to a lot of new music recently, mostly just been listening to The Mollusk by Ween over and over, so I don’t have a wealth of new stuff to share. I’ll be getting back to it soon, though.)

~

When I woke up that day, I knew it was going to be a bad one. It was going to be one of those days where everything goes too fast, where my vision blurs and head swims and the very tip of my head vibrates and I can feel every heartbeat through my whole body.

Of course, it wasn’t that the outside world had suddenly sped up without me. At least, that explanation seemed incredibly far-fetched to me. It was just that my choices the last night, to take a bit too much to get to sleep a bit faster, and then didn’t get quite enough sleep because of those god damn construction vehicles that drive up and down my street, engine volume cranked up to eleven despite going about two miles per hour.

I didn’t quite trust myself to drive. I hated driving at the best of times, far more when I was the least bit mentally inhibited. So I arranged for someone to drive me, which threw a whole other wrench into the mix, since their schedule didn’t fit perfectly with the one I had arranged, so I sent an email to Joe and told him I’d be a bit late. He said that would be fine.

I took a dose of my wake up powder with a cup of tea, a bowl of cereal, and some nicotine. I felt a little revived, although still tired. I got there a few minutes before eleven in the morning, clipped my suspenders back on to the back of my pants – damn it, why did I wear these pants with these suspenders, the clips never hold on just right – and stepped through the front door.

The building I entered, the office building, was small. There were only a dozen or so employees there, so not much space was needed. I found Joe pretty quickly, but before we could start, a woman came up to me and asked me to sign in at the front desk. I didn’t even realize they had a sign in form, I had been here dozens of times and had never noticed it, but that was because my dad worked here.

I signed in, somehow remembered the date even though I generally have no idea what day of the month it is, accidentally wrote my name in under the “Company” form, crossed it out and squeezed a “N/A” in the corner, then finished up and turned back to Joe.

He was a young, redheaded guy I had met before. I had had a meal with him, with my parents, and gave him a beer I had made, a coffee stout, probably three or four years back. I had probably interacted with him, in person, other times than that, but that was the main one I remembered. I didn’t really know the guy, but I had a good feeling about him. He had given me some nice leftover tea a while back.

He was procedural. I knew this the moment that I mentioned I’d ask about his job, and he moved us to the conference room. With the other two shadowings, those questions had just come up naturally, or in spaces between other conversations.

This interview was short. He had things to do, so I tried to keep the questions brief and he kept his answers brief. He had gotten a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, a Master’s in Civil Engineering, and then a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering. At Proceed, he was a senior engineer, working in R&D with vanadium electrolyte. He had been working here for almost five years. He had a long-standing interest in energy in general, and particularly wanted to work with batteries. He discovered his current job through a friend who worked in the field.

“Is there anything else?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so.”

We headed to his cubicle, where he explained he had to have a phone call with a vendor about something. That gave me some information about his current project, and time to look around his cubicle.

“Hi Roberto, this is Joe…”

The phone call consisted of him talking about calcium content in tubing. The projects they worked on demanded high precision, to the parts per billion, and he was checking that there was no calcium in the tubing.

I scribbled at high speed, giving up some readability just to express information quicker. He used a standing desk. He had mentioned that he was training for a run, though I didn’t know if that was related or not. His cubicle held two identical water bottles, one on his standing desk, one on his normal desk.

A jar of Simply Jif next to his office phone. A coffee filter in a bowl. An object I couldn’t recognize, wrapped in masking tape, between one bottle and his stapler. A novel, Hackers by Steven Levy, in the back of his cubicle, news clippings and phone numbers and guides pinned up along the wall. A squat cylinder, about 10” tall by 18” in diameter, labeled “corrosive”, on the wooden floor below his desk. There was a lot to look at.

The vendor said there wasn’t any calcium in the tubing and, while Joe seemed doubtful, he thanked them and hung up, then switched back to his computer, checking email, referencing a graph, and updating a document that held a function, representing a relationship between variables.

We headed out the back door of the office, across a patio, and into a separate building, which held the laboratory. The upper floor was relatively empty, a few desks and computers scattered throughout, with a couple people working at them. Joe went to one computer, which was connected to a large metal box.

“This generates x-rays, which we can send through a material to detect a few specific elements. Silicon, or really aluminum, although that’s a bit harder to detect, through to antimony or lead.”

The computer UI implied that it was running Windows XP, and he said he needed to head back to his desk to grab a USB drive.

“I can’t just email it to this computer or something, because we keep it disconnected from the internet for simplicity and security.”

He left to get the USB drive, and I was left alone. There were others in the room, but I was alone. I didn’t really know what to do or what to observe. But Joe’s natural quickness brought him back pretty quickly. He plugged the USB drive, which reminded me of a “hockey puck” Apple iMac mouse, into the computer, and began referencing results.

Once satisfied, we headed downstairs, where the true laboratory resided. We weren’t there for long, though, since he could only find one pair of safety glasses.

“I think I might have another pair in my cubicle,” he said. “Sometimes I just bring them around with me and forget where I put them.”

We headed back up the stairs. Joe walked up two stairs at a time. Ran up them, really. I have long legs, and go up stairs fast, but he easily outpaced me, though that could just have been a result of my impairment that morning. We, or rather he, rushed through the upper floor and across the patio. I fumbled the door, noticed that I hadn’t closed it fully and went back. He told me it was no problem.

He didn’t find another pair in his cubicle, but he did find one in the bathroom area. He handed that to me and we went back down to the laboratory. We put on the goggles and he showed me around.

“We don’t really need to wear them, right now, it’s more just a precaution since we deal with a lot of corrosive materials here.”

I thought back to the container under his desk.

He showed me around the lab, to different mini-experiments, setups, and equipment scattered throughout. He was working on a vanadium electrolyte battery and showed a small cell and described how it worked.

“The electrolyte flows in through these two spots,” showing two holes in the side of the cell, “and out through here,” showing two others. “This carbon fabric,” picking up a little packet and showing it to me, “conducts the electricity.”

That was my understanding of it, at least, with my moderate knowledge of chemistry and nonexistent knowledge of electricity.

“We’ve found that the purity of the electrolyte is incredibly important, to the parts per billion. You can buy purification systems, but,” he said, bringing me over to another part of the lab, “they’re really expensive, like twenty-thousand dollars. So they had me build one, using twenty-thousand dollars of my time.”

I kind of laughed, but he didn’t.

He showed me some other equipment, a titration system they had built instead of buying a pre-built one – Proceed did a lot of big contracts, but they were a pretty small company and worked with a pretty small budget – and set a jar on a little base, dropped a pill into it, flipped a switch, and the pill started spinning.

“We can use this for mixing solutions.”

I realized it probably wasn’t a pill, but rather an iron bar or something, with a nonreactive coating, with a spinning magnet underneath.

He slipped on a lab coat and moved over to a large fume hood. “Fume Hood #1” was taped to the front, but apparently that hadn’t been its first use – “Busy Bubble Laundromat” was printed on the front alongside that sign. Under the fume hood was a large clamshell box, with a variety of cords coming out through one side, connected to a nearby computer.

“If you could just move out of the splash zone,” he said, “It should be dry, but just to be safe. This stuff isn’t too bad, it’s just corrosive. I’ve worked with stuff, like hydrofluoric acid, like they use in Breaking Bad, that pretty much, if it gets on your skin, it’ll just eat through your bones. It’s mainly used in semiconductor production. But if it can eat through glass, it can eat through bone.”

I moved to the side, fixed my suspenders again, then squatted to write a note while he looked through results. He opened the box and began shifting around hoses. Apparently some leak came up, and he began mopping up electrolyte with paper towels and tossing them in a bag, clipped to a workbench, filled with other blue-green soaked paper towels. He took off his gloves, threw them in the trash, and got a fresh pair.

The box was used for heating, and when I asked what range of temperatures it worked at, I was pleasantly surprised to get an answer in Celsius. “45 degrees,” he said.

He closed the box up again, then switched to the computer to watch the live results on a graph. There was a dip, presumably from releasing heat when he opened the box, and it had slowly worked its way up again, but not quite far enough.

“We want this to get to 30 degrees,” he said. “I’m going to go get some tape, seems like there’s another gaping hole in the box.”

He went up the stairs, and I was left alone again, actually alone this time, but I felt much more at ease. There was a lot of stuff to look at, some of which I recognized and was familiar with.

He rushed back down the stairs with a roll of green tape, tore off a piece, and taped up a section of the box. The line on the graph went up a bit higher, and he seemed relieved.

We headed back upstairs, after taking off our goggles and hanging them on a shelf, and talked with someone I had briefly met before named Chris. He was having lunch and watching something on his phone, but paused it when Joe came up to him.

“So, it looks like we’re going to have to find some replacement for the green and grey tape, they have calcium,” Joe said.

“Yeah, I dunno. It’s just everywhere,” Chris replied.

“I feel like we’re floating in a world of calcium right now. I had thought we could use rubber bands or something, until you told me calcium was used in their manufacturing. I wish we could just, like, tip the entire box over. Just hold it down with gravity.”

“Do you think we could do that?”

“No, but if we rebuild it we should do it that way.”

They paused and thought, and I looked out the window. A woman stood at the back of a truck, shuffling around piles of what looked like bowls of ice cream. Further back in the room, another jar of Jif sat on someone else’s desk.

“What if we use teflon plumber’s tape?” Joe asked.

“Could work.”

“Just use it to tie it on, rather than sticking it on.”

“Yeah, like tying someone to railroad tracks.”

“Right, thanks for putting it in terms I would understand,” Joe said with a smirk.

He headed back to the front building, across the patio, and I followed him.

“Well, seems like I won’t be getting off as early as I wanted to. But anyway, is there anything else? Any other questions?”

“I don’t think so. Thanks for taking time to do it, though.”

We shook hands, and I said hi to my dad as I passed his cubicle.

Create

All right, here’s the next story. I haven’t played Quake, the game (I’m not really a FPS fan, other than the Half-Life series), but I’m a Nine Inch Nails/Trent Reznor fan, and they made the soundtrack, and it’s fucking awesome.

~

Willy led me in through the front entrance of Create. I had been here many times, but it had been at least a decade since then and I couldn’t remember if I ever actually came in this way. It might have even been rebuilt since I had been here last. I signed in, and Willy greeted the receptionist.

“I’ll probably be gone by the time you leave, so just make sure to put in the sign out time, alright?” she said.

We were getting there a bit late, after a lot of people had left for the day. I, and he I’m sure, would’ve preferred to do it earlier – I, because I wanted to see things in action, and he, because it just meant more time spent at work – but the company had told him I’d have to come in later because of safety precautions and potential for a lawsuit if, say, some acid spilled on me.

We were in the office section for just a moment, and I caught a hint of that unique smell. I had always called it ozone, because I once heard that computers generate ozone and the office section is full of computers, but I don’t really know what it is. I’ve only ever smelled it in this building, when my dad worked here, with one strange exception. There was a hole in the floor of a community building that I could smell it seeping from.

But I only caught a hint of it, just for a moment, then it was gone. We passed through a hallway, one wall covered in paintings by local artists, with prices and contacts posted below each, the other wall glass, showing a nice little garden beyond.

The hall opened out into a far more industrial Create than I was used to. Not “industrial” as it is commonly used, grimy and dirty, the floors and walls and everything were cleaned to perfection. And it was in that precise cleaning and attention to detail that I found the industrial side. It wasn’t the warm, close feeling of the office building, with that same old carpeting, it was waxed tile and white walls and bright fluorescent bulbs.

It was fast-paced. With one exception, the entire time we were walking from place to place, room to room, project to project. I had my recorder on, but had put it in my pocket and accidentally bumped it off. I carried my notebook and pen with me, which would normally have been filled with notes and descriptions, but the only thing written in it, in an otherwise completely empty page, about my time at Create read:

    “millitor -.5”

    He first brought me to one large work room, and we began walking the length of it. On one side, a giant metal tank, which he said was being used in cryogenic research. He brought me closer to it and showed a temperature-controlled box for testing materials and projects at temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. They did work on equipment sent to mars, including one of the rovers that still functions there, so testing ranges of temperatures was important for ensuring reliability.

“I’ve actually worked on one component of that rover, so it’s cool that something I made is on Mars.”

I knew they did Mars-related projects, but didn’t know that he was actually involved in them. That seemed pretty cool to me, as well.

One display in particular interested me, though he never mentioned anything about it. An assembly of metal pipes, with tubes and cords connected throughout, hanging from the ceiling over a tank. I had no idea what it was, or what it could be used for, but something about it interested me.

The overall sense I got from this room was like those scenes in spy movies, where they take the spy to the laboratory to introduce them to all the special new equipment they’ve cooked up, whether it was explosive chewing gum or a watch that doubled as a glass-cutting laser. That was, truly, what this room was like, but in real life.

He showed me one display of a past project he had worked on, which was used for securing arresting cables on aircraft carriers. Making a strong connection, strong enough that it could stop a fighter jet going at full speed – he explained that they always sped up right before landing, since they’d need to keep flying if they missed the cables – was difficult and used very heavy and unmanageable equipment. Create had been hired to develop a portable machine that could be used for it, which Willy worked on. He showed a picture of the system on an aircraft carrier, in a shipping container.

“I set up this whole thing in that shipping container so it worked as a sort of mobile workstation for it.”

At one end of the room was a large plexiglass workroom. He said he built it for dealing with mercury originally, since they needed to be pretty careful about that kind of thing, but right now they were using it for work with silicone.

He led us back out of the room, pointing out a few other things on the way. I noticed a row of black motorcycle helmets sitting on a shelf and was reminded, for some reason, of a character from Durarara!!.

We went outside, behind the building, and headed towards a cement bunker, partially buried. Inside, a few spotlights shone on a thick, short metal cylinder on tracks which led through a tunnel of sandbags.

“I actually had to bring in all of these sandbags myself to set it up. You can see, there, it goes back about six feet, then there are a few more feet of sandbags before the back wall of the bunker. This is testing the functioning of a rotor and, well, if something goes wrong with it, something will go really wrong with it, so we’re just making sure it doesn’t do any permanent damage.”

The cylinder had tubes and cords coming from it, one connecting with a display measuring the vacuum. That’s when I wrote “millitors -.5” in my notebook.

He was checking on how the vacuum system was working. They needed to create a vacuum in the cylinder before testing the rotor, and to help this process, they were heating it with strips, which he adjusted around the cylinder. They had slipped down a bit from where they should be.

“Once we get it to an acceptable level of vacuum, we’ll start testing it. We have a liquid cooling system here,” he said, pointing out two tubes going into the cylinder, “that goes around the rotor itself, because it gets pretty hot pretty fast.”

He checked a few other things and adjusted a few more, and told me how detail oriented you had to be to do this.

“You can have all the academic knowledge, you know, you can know how things work and all that, but you really need to be aware of every little thing for it to work right, and since no one can really be aware of everything, we have a bunch of people working on these projects, so if someone misses something, someone else will hopefully catch it.”

He switched off the spotlights and we headed out of the bunker. He shut the door – two or so inches thick, solid steel as he told me – and bolted it. We went back inside the building, and into the main hall, with dozens of specific-use rooms. Some clean rooms, which had an interstitial room with gloves and protective suits, some chemical laboratories, cryogenic laboratories, everything. Create did a lot of different stuff, as I was learning.

He brought me into the vacuum pump room. Desks and shelves surrounded the room, and created a little peninsula jutting out from the wall. He showed me a diagram on one wall, comparing the efficiencies of different vacuum pumps at different speeds.

He pulled down pieces of a vacuum pump from a shelf to show me. They were two centimeter-tall metal spirals, which would then interlock and rotate around another, and essentially trap bits of air in between the two spirals – it was a tight, precise fit – and pull it out.

Another one he showed me was a metal cylinder with hundreds of tiny blades going around it, which fit into two halves of a surrounding container of sorts which, again, was a very tight fit. The process was much the same – it caught tiny bits of air, trapped them, and pulled them through.

“You’ve got to pay such close attention to these, how you align them when you put them together. Even if there’s just a bit of dust in there, they’ll get messed up.”

He showed me a few mini-workstations in the room, including the soldering desk. He said he had to get a specific certification to be able to use it there, but now he’s the one that teaches others how to do it. Right before we left the room, he noticed something sitting on a shelf and showed it to me – twisted, ripped steel wreckage.

“This is actually part of the remains of one of those tests we did, in the bunker, that went wrong. And it wasn’t even at full speed, yet.”

He showed me the blade of sorts, more just a slightly tapered bar of metal, that they attached to the rotor to test it.

“The one from the accident isn’t here, another guy who worked on it decided to put it in his office, because it looked pretty cool.”

We walked back through the art-and-garden hall, to the reception desk. The woman who had been there when we arrived was gone, but someone else had taken her place. I signed out, and we headed outside. While walking, I asked him how he got the job.

“Well, I just had a high school diploma, but I just got a job here in shipping and receiving. And, well, I had done a lot of work on cars and wiring and stuff with my dad, and I was a hard worker, so when this one guy retired, who I had interacted with a lot, about three years after I first started working there, I decided to try for his job, and I got it.”

“So what is your specific job title?”

“I’m a technician. So, the engineers figure out what needs to be done, and design it all, and then basically bid for the different technician’s time. So my schedule remains pretty regular, which is nice. A while back, if they offered I could do twenty more hours of work on a week, I’d do it. But the reliability is nice, now, since I have kids.”

“And how long have you worked there, now?”

“Eighteen years.”

We parted ways, I thanked him for his time, and especially for taking some extra time at work, after hours, for me to come. He said it was no problem, any time.

There had just been so much to look at, at Create. There were so many projects, so much equipment, all sorts of materials and chemicals and everything I wished I could get access to but couldn’t, not without bringing up some flags on some government database.

At home, I went to the Create website, and checked out their job openings page. And, as I had hoped, Willy’s old job, shipping and receiving, was open. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying in this area, but if I would be staying for any amount of time, I might want to think about trying out for that job.

CERDC

Well, I’ve finished (and passed) my capstone, so I’ve basically graduated, and have been enjoying a little break for the first time in seven months, and haven’t really written much. I have a few (several, actually) buns in the oven, irons in the fire, whatever you want to say, that I’ll be working on soon. But I thought it might be worth posting the three stories I wrote for my capstone (I gave a preview of one of them a little while ago), which will last me a little while.

So here’s the first one. The goal with these stories was to write a non-fiction narrative vignette for each situation (whether the vignette is of the location, the environment, the employee, etc.). I got a 99% score on them, which is pretty good, although my teacher didn’t specify why he didn’t give me a 100%. I care very little about it, it affected my final grade so little, but the grades I got on my assignments were just so fucking arbitrary. I don’t think I should have gotten 100% on it, that’s not the issue, I just don’t understand why he chose 99% instead of 100%. They only had a rubric for the final (complete) assignment, so for the other assignments (first drafts of each chapter) he could basically give me whatever grade he wanted and I couldn’t do anything about it.

deep breath it’s okay, i’m done, i don’t have to put up with this shit any more

Anyway, here’s the first one. The name of the location is changed slightly, but still expresses the same thing, in an odd way.

~

The front gate, the entrance into the main building, it was all modern. Slick, but sterile.

The large, steel building made little visual impact, in fact I had passed by it many times without ever noticing what it was, but the two sets of security guards I had to go through made their mark on me. I knew I was heading somewhere few outsiders did and, while I had a camera and recorder, I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to use them. I debated about discretely turning it on, but decided against it. The government scares me, man, but they sure do a lot of interesting stuff.

They meticulously checked my identification, twice, which awarded me my guest pass, but they didn’t look through my bag or make me go through a metal detector, which I found surprising.

I was told that Joe would come pick me up and I took a seat at one of the few chairs scattered around the entry. This building was relatively modern, with relatively modern decor. While waiting, I saw a few people pass through, several into an auditorium.

I had expected Joe to come into this room through the hall beside the guard chamber, but he actually came in around through the front door, which he then led me out through. Joe was my neighbor, but I didn’t really know him. As I would soon learn, he liked talking. I had told him earlier that I had just wanted to watch him work. He said his work was boring. I said that was fine. But he seemed to appreciate having someone to talk to, someone to explain his work to just out of interest rather than, as he explained later, out of necessity for a client to understand what is happening.

He came in through the front door, which I didn’t expect. He told me that he’d show me around the facility for a little while, so I could see some of the areas they do physical testing, then head to his office.

“Is there anything particular you want to do?” he asked.

“Not really, I mostly just wanted to observe you work, and ask some basic questions about how you got into this job, what your degree is, that kind of thing.”

“Alright. I’ll be leaving in about an hour, so I don’t have much work left to do, but I can show you what I have.”

He led the way into a massive warehouse-like building. It opened into one large open room, which ran the length of the building, with a small office directly on the right, probably for security. Three sets of doors could be seen going along the interior wall, and we walked up to the first.

I was astounded by the sheer height of the doors. Floor to forty-foot ceiling – and I mean, really, floor to ceiling. There was no wall at the top, only door. He tried opening them, but almost wished that he wouldn’t. For some reason, I had a bad feeling about those doors. I couldn’t imagine why on earth they would need to be so large, and suspected them as a result. But he couldn’t pry the open, although whether that was because they were locked or simply their enormous size, I couldn’t tell.

We moved to the second door, which was more moderately sized, and opened without a problem. He began explaining what it was used for, and I asked if I could record this.

“Oh, uh, I’m not sure…” He saw the recorder in my hand, which had seemed to start recording of its own accord, and continued. “Our conversation, you mean? Sure, that’s fine. I just wasn’t sure about taking photos.”

My suspicion about photos confirmed, I thanked him and slipped the recorder in my pocket. Unfortunately, I didn’t look closely at the display, for if I had, I would’ve noticed that the section that normally said “Over 100 hours”, referring to the available space remaining on the memory card, now said something else. Only later would I learn that none of the recordings I made were saved.

He began explaining the machinery in the room again. A long, boxlike tunnel ran, hanging above the ground, the length of the room. He looked around for a light switch, since this room was currently in disuse and thus wasn’t lit up, but couldn’t find one.

“We can bring all of these rooms to, uh, around negative thirty degrees. I think it varies a bit between rooms, like some might be negative twenty five and others might be negative thirty two, but yeah. So, this tunnel here, you see, we can run water through that and bring the temperature down, to simulate ice on a river in winter.

“You see,” he said, gesturing below the tunnel, “there are these holes in the cement below it on either end? Well, that lets us cycle the water through it.”

I heard a sound behind us and whipped around. Someone was walking in the long room of the warehouse, and Joe greeted him as we left the room. That was the last person I would see in this entire building.

We went to the third room which, again, had more reasonably sized doors. This seemed to be the largest room yet, although the lack of lighting in the previous room made that hard to tell. This didn’t have any obvious machinery set up, mostly just a clutter of equipment, boxes, maybe even a small boat or two.

“So what we can do in this room is, you know, clear all this shit out, and then we can essentially create a scale model of a river in here to do testing. We can bring the temperature of this one down, too,” he said.

“A miniature model of a river? So, would that be for a specific river, or would it just be for rivers in general?”

“A specific river, a specific section of a river, yeah. They’re all very unique, and we need to test different things for them. We can get a detailed three dimensional model of a river, then scale it down and build it in here, and then test specific things with it. With a room this size, we can accurately scale down a river as large as, say, the Minnesota river.”

We left the room, then took a turn right, up some stairs, and the age of the building started to strike me. It was very obviously built in the 60’s or 70’s, and had changed little since then. The painted cinder blocks, the dull grey-green filing cabinets, all with the tiny castle symbol that marked them as Army Corps of Engineers property, the wood paneling. The main building hadn’t struck me in this way, but I just figured that it was of higher aesthetic importance.

He led the way to his office and offered me a seat, taking his own in front of his computer monitors. The desk, or desks, were set up in an L shape around him, and a dedicated coffee pot was on his right side, next to his phone. I had thought it might have just been sitting there, but it was plugged in.

“Can I get you something? Coffee?”

“No, I’m fine.”

He seemed relaxed, comfortable, and his voice reflected that. A scatter of cords, wires, devices, papers, and folders covered the long side of the L. Old, basic metal shelves, probably originals, clashed visually with reddish wood and green upholstered chairs, a modern mini-fridge, and boxes that looked decades old.

“So is there anything in particular you want to talk about?” he asked.

“Well, I guess, to get things started, how did you get into this job?”

Before telling that, he wanted to give a bit of his history that led to his working in this field at all. He started in engineering, at Rutgers, but ditched that after a year to switch to history. He soaked in all the liberal arts he could, then ended up finalizing with a degree in psychology. In that murky in-between period, between finishing a degree and starting a job, your real job, he spent his time working at restaurants, doing construction, and even starting a dog training business. He certainly could talk – that summarized pretty quickly, but the amount of details he gave was extreme, and I scratched them down in my notebook as fast as I could. It was natural, it wasn’t as if he just as chatty or rambling on, it was that he had a lot to tell and was detail-oriented enough to tell it all.

I never know where to look when I’m talking with someone. Their eyes is the obvious choice, but if you look someone straight in the eyes for too long, it gets a bit weird. It might seem threatening, for one, but additionally my eyes always did this weird thing. If I stared at something for too long, the exact point I was looking at would stay clear but everything else would dissolve and warp around it, until the only thing I could see would be those eyes, staring, alone in a world of murk and blur.

Once, while we were talking, I heard, or more sensed, someone passing by in the hall. The door was closed, and the glass was frosted in a way that, combined with the brightness of Joe’s office in comparison to the darkness of the hall, hid anything behind. It was just a general whoosh, the sound of movement itself, rather than the sounds created by movement, such as a creak or footstep. The building was empty, aside from the two of us and that phantom. When we first came here I had a sudden thought of Chernobyl, and that sense of atmosphere remained.

After doing the in-between jobs for a while, and feeling a bit divided about it, he decided to get another Bachelor’s degree, this time in civil engineering. He had thought he’d go into mechanical engineering, but the opportunity to learn a variety of fields with that degree introduced him to hydrology and hydraulics. As he described to me, hydrology is the study of how water finds its way into a river or other body of water, and hydraulics is the study of how the water moves once it is in the body of water.

After getting his second degree, he found himself in another in-between time, this time debating about whether he should get his Master’s. He worked, hard, in that time to save up a bit more money, then returned to college to get a Master’s in Environmental Engineering. After that, he worked in the Army Corps in Buffalo, then the Department of Agriculture, then found his way to CERDC, where he had worked for the past almost three years.

“So, we can just go now, if you think that’s enough, or I can work a bit on what I’ve got going here.”

“Whatever you want is fine, I’m up for either.”

He opted to do a bit of work on his current project, studying a river in Idaho. It was a one-dimensional study, he told me, which just measured the flow of water going up or down the river.

“You can do two-dimensional studies, which measure the flow of water in the river from side to side, but gathering the data is a lot harder and it gets exponentially harder to compute. Part of our job is efficiency – we could get more accurate results by using additional dimensions, but it would take much more time and a lot more money, for more powerful computers. Three-dimensional studies are possible, as well, measuring the flow of water from the surface to river bed, but I don’t know if many people do that, since it’s so much harder.”

He had three lengths of graph on the screen, comparing different variables. Temperature, wind speed, humidity, flow, stage, SWE, density, wind direction, solar radiation, AFDD. Two giant drill bits, the kind used to drill large holes through deep ice, leaned against the wall, partially wrapped in something, though whether that was to protect the walls or the screws, I didn’t know. I noticed a pair of sunglasses that he wore, although I don’t think I ever saw him actually wear them. They were just perched on his head the entire time.

While he was switching between diagrams, graphs, and charts, I thought of another question. “So, what made you interested in water, specifically?”

“Oh, well, when I was young I did a lot of camping and fishing and, because of that, spent a lot of time near rivers. Something about them interested me, just the way they flowed and the power of water, and I guess that eventually brought me to my job.”

Around four, he said he was done, and we headed out of the building. When we were out front, I noticed a little castle symbol, below the block lettered “CORPS OF ENGINEERS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER”, and asked him about it.

“Well, I don’t know as much about the castle itself, but the Army Corps of Engineers has been around for a long time. Since the Revolutionary War, actually. Apparently, General Washington appointed someone an Army Engineer, and that’s what the Army Corps of Engineers considers its origin.”

I had had no idea of its age. The building itself was old, of course, but CERDC was only one section of the Army Corps of Engineers, and I knew little about the group as a whole. CERDC had seemed imposing at the start. It made quite an impression, but once I was inside, it felt hollow and disused, the main exception being those obscenely tall doors in the warehouse. But the fact that it could feel old and disused, and existed as part of a group as old as our country itself, made it even more imposing in a way.

Sleeplessness

Based on true events. Fucking sucks, dude.

I don’t know if I’ve posted it here before or not, but the Durarara!! soundtrack is fantastic.

~

The pattern was the same. 800 milligrams of magnesium (both citrate and malate) earlier in the evening, then Formula 303, some other anxiety supplement, and 600 milligrams of ibuprofen. Half an hour later, chug about three cups of kava sludge – only in its non-strained state because I couldn’t afford to use any extra – and play some of a game, then finish off the last cup, with a little more Formula 303 and a cup of Fidnemed tea.

Debate about getting ready to go to bed, then mix up one last little dose of kava.

Head to the bathroom, take a shit, jack off, vape for approximately twenty-three drags, something around ten milligrams of nicotine, then take a shower while listening to a podcast. Now, in the summer, the temperature dial was rotated around 225 degrees counter-clockwise from the top, warm but not hot. Regardless of the temperature, though, it would still sting my dry, cracked skin, stretching to its maximum with every movement.

One and a half squirts of soap to wash my torso and crotch, two squirts to wash my armpits and arms. Wet the facecloth and wash my face and arms with it, wincing because any contact with the skin around my eyes is unbearably painful, then wash my hair, dry my face with the squeezed-out washcloth, then turn off the shower with my right hand while letting my left hand dry off slightly, since that was what carried my iPhone – still playing the podcast – out of the shower.

Dry off, put on underwear – this is when I would get dressed, but it was hot enough that I wasn’t going to put on the clothes I had brought into the bathroom – shuffle around the bath mat to soak up any water that made its way out of the shower and hang it up, clean my ears, connect my headphones to my iPhone, then take a piss. Two pisses, technically. Well, if you really wanted to get into it, three.

Lip balm on my cracked lips, oil around my eyes, cream on my face (dear god, that sounds bad, doesn’t it), slip my iPhone into the waistband of my underwear and open the door, put dirty laundry in my laundry bin, get some lotion for my hands, which looked about sixty years older than I am, and carry the unused clothes into my room.

Lay in bed, listening to the podcast, get up a bit later and take two pisses, then return to bed and remove my headphones – disconnecting them from my iPhone to stop the podcast playing – and go to sleep. That was the pattern, specifically designed by myself to aid in sleep, or rather, aid in avoiding insomnia. This was around 1:45 AM. I think a lot of people thought I was a night owl that enjoyed sleeping in, but that was far from the truth. I just needed sleep – needed it, to function at all – and often couldn’t get to sleep, or couldn’t dose kava, until later. A container next to my bed held around ten Ambien. I didn’t want that number to decrease.

I tried not to think. But my mind goes, continually, no matter how fucking intoxicated I may be. I’ve megadosed phenibut and taken about seventeen drinks of alcohol, on no tolerance, as a lightweight, and I’ve never blacked out. There’s something about me that can keep me awake and aware through anything. One of the factions of my mind, fighting against all the others that are crying out for sleep, that forces me to stay up, to keep thinking about something, nothing in particular but just things in general.

Around 2:15 AM I turned on the light and took another small dose of kava and read a few pages of Durarara!! Vol. 3. I returned to the podcast and laid back down, in the dark, then got up to take another piss – two, really – a little later. I could feel my face drying out again already, becoming a mask.

The fear crept in, the fear that this would be another Bad Night, one of those nights I can’t get to sleep and can’t get to sleep late enough that I can’t really take an Ambien.

I dozed for half an hour, then that rogue faction woke me up and whispered to me. It whispered that maybe I needed to piss. Maybe if I didn’t piss, I’d need to wake up a bit later to actually piss. I tried to push it back, but caved and headed to the bathroom, and that little bit of physical activity woke me up.

I laid back down, tossed and turned, tried to find a suitable combination of arms and blanket to cover my ears and eyes, maybe dozed for a little bit or just went through a time warp, and found myself awake around 3:45. I tried to fall asleep, to keep myself physically and mentally still, but couldn’t.

My vision twisted and blurred around me, my headache continued getting worse and worse, my face had fully dried and hardened into a living leather. I called over someone who lived nearby. She knew about my trouble sleeping, and was often willing to help out with it.

The thing is, it was fully psychological, and I knew it. There was no real reason I should be awake, other than my mind keeping my mind awake. So having someone there, just for a moment, to remind me that the real world did truly still exist. The night was warped for me, it was a twisted version of reality that hated my very existence. Dreams were so deeply important to me, but if I was able, I would completely get rid of nights and sleep just to avoid this torture every time, the torture that had been slowly draining me and gradually impairing me. Even my hairline was showing the effects of this. It had been creeping further and further up over the past year. I was thinking about just shaving it at some point here so as to not look forty years older than I was.

I wanted to tell her how close to the edge I was, but I didn’t want to worry her or the friends she would doubtless relay that information to. They cared about me far more than I did. I had always had trouble with sleep, since childhood, but for some reason it had been so much worse for the past month or two, and it was showing no signs of relenting, other than one graceful night in which I was able to get to sleep around 1:30. The pattern had been the same for a long time, because it had been reliable and I needed reliability, but this recent inexplicable change was destroying me.

She was having trouble with her back, so she had to return to her bed before too long. I was less panicked by insomnia, but still very awake, so around 4:30 AM I put my headphones back on and turned on a playlist of Northernlion playing The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. I never went to sleep at night listening to something, but I had noticed that listening to things settled my mind a bit, let that faction focus on something else, and sometimes fell asleep during the day while listening to something like that. His voice was pretty level, unless he started singing something, but I turned the volume low regardless. I plugged my iPhone in, so it didn’t just randomly die during the night, or rather the morning, and turned off my alarm.

It helped, but my headphones didn’t. They were bulky and weren’t designed for wearing during sleep, particularly the strange position in which I slept, so finding a comfortable position was difficult, if not impossible, particularly now that the sun was coming up and I needed to cover my eyes more reliably than before.

From what I can tell, I fell asleep around 5:00 AM. I didn’t sleep very deeply, often waking up and trying to find a semi-comfortable position again, but the worst was around 6:15 AM. I was up for about forty-five minutes then. Not fully awake, but awake and partially aware all the same.

I woke up around 10:00 AM and thought it was 12:00. When I realized I was wrong, I shifted my position and struggled back to sleep again. I woke up around 1:00. During that time I had only gone through about ten episodes, which I had been vaguely aware of even during my sleep, Northernlion’s weird rambling having some minor effect on my sleep cycles.

My eyes were partially sealed shut with goop. My entire body felt like jerky, my headache persisted, my entire body shook and my head swam and I knew, despite that, I needed to work on my capstone project.

I took a dose of my wake-up powder, made a cup of double-strength green tea, had a bowl and a half of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, tried to recover, and tried to not think about doing the same thing the next night.

A Meaningless Work of Taboo Fiction

So, I’m not really involved in this whole gun control thing. I don’t have a horse in this race, so I don’t care that much. But I saw a clip of that town hall thing, and thought that would be a good chance for a civilian to kill Trump, then thought that, maybe, if someone was twisted enough, they might not just take that opportunity, but create it.

I shouldn’t need to do this, but to clarify, I’m not on any side of politics. I think they’re all pieces of shit. This story isn’t to “say” anything, it’s just a little situation I came up with. Chill the fuck out.

Not really sure how I discovered this album, and I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I know I fucking love it.

~

I think the original idea came when we watched that town hall thing, where the parents of the victims of one of the school shootings were in a room with Trump, shook his hand, and whatnot.

Like many people, I detested the man. I didn’t know much about his policies or anything but I just hated him as a person – he was that spoiled brat that thought he could get away with anything. And now he was in the highest position in America, or possibly the earth – at least, the highest public position. I have no doubt that, say, the CEO of Disney or something like that had more worldwide power. Or the illuminati. Or freemasons.

But some sacrifices must be made to accomplish anything lasting. I have always been obsessed with duality. The balance of good and evil, of cost and benefit. I knew something had to happen, and I would be prepared to sacrifice anything to accomplish my goal.

My son went to a pretty big high school. He was a junior. Eventually I garnered from him the identity of the kid that was most on the fringes of the school. The outcast, the kid who spoke to no one and everyone left alone. The kid that had nothing to lose, because he was bullied and his dad had left and his stepfather was a piece of shit, and he wasn’t doing well in school. I arranged a meeting for us. Before the meeting, I had some shopping to do.

I wasn’t allowed to legally buy guns, any more. I had lost that privilege, which everyone called a right, in my twenties. But I knew a guy, who knew a guy. You know how it goes. I retrieved a Walther P99, three cartridges, with enough rounds to fill them. I gave them to this kid, along with $10,000 and instructions. Three weeks from now – enough time to live it up with that cash, a few high-class hookers, as much drugs and parties as he wanted – in the time between classes, when most students were in the halls, he would start shooting. It didn’t matter, for the most part, whom he shot. The kids who bullied him the most, whatever. Don’t worry about what abuse they suffer at their house, what stories you two must have in common about your stepfathers, just revenge, simple revenge. But the important thing was to kill T___ R______, my son. Of course, I didn’t tell him that I was his father. He didn’t know who I was, and I intended it to stay that way. Context just messed things up. I’ve decided that the true importance in any given event is in what happens in the event itself, not what led up to it. I vastly prefer the destination over the journey.

But light those halls up, kill my son, then – of course – kill himself. Experience anything he wanted in those three weeks, then end it all. It was a win-win solution.

Of course, I didn’t tell my wife. She wouldn’t have been able to handle it. She didn’t have the same resolve, the same fortitude, that I had. She would’ve broken down, she would’ve admitted something to somebody, and it would have all been for naught.

I remember the morning of that day. I didn’t even say goodbye to my son. I smiled, I waved, but I didn’t say anything. To be honest, I didn’t quite trust myself. I was concerned that, if I said anything to him, I might say something that would warn him, somehow, of what was going to happen. But he was my son, and he had to die as a sacrifice for the greater good. Like Jesus. God let him die for the greater good.

Everything went to plan, mostly. He was tackled by one of the kids, this senior that was in football and probably thought that he’d get some girls if he was the “self-sacrificial” one to take out the shooter. That little prick didn’t know anything about sacrifice, until the moment the gun was pointed at him. He was dead, my son was dead, and the shooter was dead.

I’ll admit, I felt paranoid here and there. But I had the “taboo protection”. If anyone suspected me of providing the shooter with weapons, there’s no way they could suggest it without being torn apart by the press and public. Survivors and parents of victims are immune to all criticism. I knew this, sure, but I was still paranoid every now and then.

My wife was upset, as expected. I played the part of a supportive husband quite well, if I do say so myself. Because the part was natural. I cared about my wife, I cared about my son. I just cared about killing Trump even more. Why can’t a man do both?

I hadn’t anticipated all the reporters and interviewers and all. I had kind of expected that we’d just be invited over to the white house or some shit. But, again, I played the part of a grieving parent well because, again, it was natural. Just a matter of switching modes.

I cried, my voice choked, I swore at the lawmakers and politicians and NRA and anything else I could grab onto long enough to tear to shreds.

Eventually, it was enough. I had sacrificed enough of my time and tears that we were able to pull together another town hall thing. I wasn’t quite sure about the security. I figured I probably wouldn’t be able to sneak a gun in there, but I remembered that movie with those two guys from Freaks and Geeks. They were going to kill Rocket Man (or his dad, not sure which, I was pretty drunk when I saw it) and they had the little strip they would put on their hands that would administer the poison transdermally. I could probably get something like that from that guy who knew that guy or, worst case, make something like it myself.

I don’t really know what Trump said during that meeting. I didn’t have to know what he said. All I had to do was agree with it, to show my support, to get a photo of he and I shaking hands. Which is what I did.

I don’t know how the other parents of victims took what he said. I didn’t really consider them in any of this, so there was no use in starting to care about them now. As I walked up to that podium, that fat yellow man before me, my hand extended, and I hesitated, for just a moment, was this real, was this happening, had I actually won? Had my little idea succeeded?

I smiled, I thanked him, I shook hands. I told him, I actually told him, to his face, that I was glad that someone was making a change. I just didn’t specify who that person was.

The Unseen Watchers

This is the final entry in my recent not-exactly-a-story trilogy, consisting of War, in summary, Civil Un-chess-t, and now The Unseen Watchers. There’s a common thread running through all three “stories” that you can probably pick up on.

Really fun glitchy noise album this time.

~

You may not see them, you may not feel them, but there are beings all around you, at all times, watching and listening to you. When you go to bed at night, a dozen or more may be surrounding your bed, listening and finding comfort in your steady, slow breathing.

Who or what these beings are is unknown. Some people, the people who know about them, say they’re ghosts, the spirits or memories of departed. Some say they’re aliens. Some say they’re people, but just people that “went wrong” in some way. People that were misled and were doomed to an eternity – who says they are immortal? – of watching, waiting, and listening.

There are some people who have tried to research them, study them, but their imperceptible state makes doing so difficult. Modern researchers have only found a few records of them dating beyond the past hundred or so years. It’s entirely possible that they have already existed, but it seems unlikely that, given how obsessed with supernatural events earlier people were, they would have never caught a glimpse of them

You don’t need to fear them. Statistically, at least, you don’t need to fear them. It’s highly unlikely that they will affect you in any way. But the knowledge, the simple knowledge, that they’re always there, everywhere you go, inescapable – that knowledge bothers you, doesn’t it? Even though that’s how your life has always been and always will be, nothing has changed but your knowledge, and that one fact bothers you.

Mr. Hóbarlang, a Hungarian researcher, was hardly the first to bring these beings to the world’s attention. But he made the news, and that sent those more prone to mania into a paranoid frenzy about these things which don’t affect them and they can’t affect in turn. Perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps a certain level of paranoia about things that aren’t under your control is healthy.

I have said that it is highly unlikely that they will affect you in any way, which of course implies that, very rarely, they do affect someone. It’s hard to say what happens when that happens. There’s rarely a trace. Which isn’t to say that the person disappears or dies, but there’s little trace of what happened. Rumors abound, while very little evidence can be found. Perhaps the paranoia is justified, then, even though it’s rare beyond rare. But what use is paranoia when nothing can be done?

Remember this, or try to forget it. But realize that the knowledge, that simple increase of knowledge, is the only thing that has changed. There is little you can do about that knowledge, other than become wracked with paranoia and overanalyze everything that happens. Don’t worry – statistically, you have no need to fear them. It’s highly unlikely that they can affect you in any way.

Statutory

I’ve been working on this one for a long time. I think I came up with the initial concept sometime in November, wrote a little bit of it then and once in a while after that, then wrote most of it over the past couple weeks.

Music this time is this absolutely fucking incredible progressive metal album. Even if you think you don’t like metal, check it out. It’s amazing and definitely worth a full listen.

~

The house shook. Somewhere in my sleeping mind a little alarm went off, which another part of my sleeping mind turned off.

The house shook again, more violently. The subconscious alarm started up again, fell off the desk, and ran away, which that other part of my mind took grave offense to.

I woke up. That goddamn construction. Every fucking day for the past, what, three months? Four months? Right outside my window. Like fifteen feet away. Oh, and it started up around five-thirty.

Thankfully, it seemed as though they had started off a bit quieter today. It was six-thirty by the time my eyes had cleared enough to see the clock.

I walked, or rather stumbled, to the bathroom and pulled down my pajama pants. I put a hand on the wall and looked out the half-window while waiting for my morning wood to go down enough that I could piss.

Zip, step, soap and water, squeeze the toothpaste tube and scrub. It was so rehearsed that I could do it unconscious, which I often did. I wasn’t really a morning person, to say the least.

I walked – actually walked this time, as my mind and body were now at least partially conscious  – back into my room. I flipped open a notebook, which was getting full and wrinkled with use – I needed to get a new one soon – and drew a little scribble inside. I always tried to draw something right away in the morning. It got me warmed up, both mentally and physically, and I liked looking at those sketches, infused with dream-vapor.

I flipped the notebook shut and tossed it onto the floor, among the pile of books and clothes already there. Oh, clothes. I picked around in them for something viable. That pair of jeans looked clean, and I didn’t remember wearing that grey t-shirt recently. Underwear was always a difficult one for me; I was a pretty clean guy, so I didn’t leave any “trace” in my clothes that I could look for.

I just grabbed a blue-striped pair, and threw the lot of clothes on my bed. I swung around, throwing the door shut with my arm without even really looking at it, and began pulling off my shirt. It was a t-shirt that was just barely too small, but I liked its design, so I wore it anyway. It irritated me every time I put it on and took it off.

I pulled off my pajama pants and underwear and tossed them both on the ever-growing pile. I should really take care of that at some point. It was getting a bit ridiculous. Someday, maybe.

I stepped through the possibly-fresh pair of underwear, and my door opened. I was surprised enough that I didn’t even pull them up, the underwear just hung around my left leg like an anklet.

My mom stared at me, mouth open. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure if she her agape mouth was just from shock or if she had been meaning to say something to me.

She cleared her throat, and that cleared my head. I put my right leg through the underwear and pulled them up, and then continued dressing normally.

She still stood there, as if expectant for something. Throughout the whole scene, neither she nor I had said anything. Once dressed, I sat on my bed and moved my hand around to try to find something to fiddle with, an object with which I could act natural and unbothered.

She turned around and closed the door behind her.

I gave an exhale of relief, and I think I heard her do so too, beyond the door. I noticed that my heart was beating fast and took a few slow, deep breaths to slow it.

The day proceeded as normal, although I noticed that my mom and I spoke less to each other – and never about the incident.

As previously mentioned, I hold the same routine every morning. Stumble to the bathroom and get ready, come back to my room and sketch, and get dressed. Our house – shared with my half-sister and stepfather, though they don’t play much of a role in this story – is a small one-story house. Anyone can hear any door that opens or closes. We are all perpetually aware of who is where in the house.

The next morning, I went through my routine again, and thought nothing of it. It was so hard-wired into my consciousness that the thought of doing anything else didn’t even occur to me.

When I was getting dressed, I heard a creak outside my door, the rattle of the doorknob, the clack of the latch bolt hitting the metal of the strike plate. I was pulling off my underwear at the moment, and sped up the process, kicking the underwear from around my ankles and slipping on – stumbling, all the while – the fresh-ish pair. But the door was open, and my mom stood beyond.

She smiled – it was a natural smile, but it horrified me – and stepped into my room. She swung her right hand in back of her, throwing the door closed without taking her eyes off me.

“What a big guy you’re getting to be,” she said. “I’m always forgetting that you’re practically an adult now.”

“Uh,” was about the only thing I could say, but even that came out as a sort of gurgled gasp.

She walked – I assume, I didn’t even really noticed – to stand beside me, and outstretched an arm to brush the side of my face and neck, sliding down to my shoulder. The perfume she had on, which she rarely used, intoxicated me, a thick fog of scent surrounding her, choking me.

My unconscious routine kicked in when my conscious faculties failed me, and I pulled on the underwear and reached for my pants. My mother put a hand on top of them.

“Do you love me?”

“What?” I said, again distorted by a gurgle.

“Do you want to love me?”

I cleared my throat. “I love you, mom,” I said, pulling the pants out from beneath her hand and beginning to put them on.

Her hand, which had laid flat on the pants, clutched the bed cover below, tendons straining and knuckles white.

“You haven’t acted like it recently,” she said, getting up and walking to the door. She opened it and stood in the doorway. “I would do anything for you. Maybe consider what you could do for me,” she said, walking away through the doorway.

I blinked my eyes furiously, trying to get the blur out of them. They burned with warmth, not from irritation but from terror, an animalistic fear.

I didn’t know what I would, or could do. I tried, desperately, to interpret my mother’s words in an innocent way. Maybe she had felt over-worked recently and wished I would help with the dishes and cooking more. Maybe that was it. But maybe not. Maybe her words were what I thought they were, and she had meant them as such.

Overall, though, I just tried to disregard everything that had happened as misunderstanding, coincidence, accident, or some combination. School, work, recreation, it all proceeded as normal without incident for a few days.

I had a question to ask my mother, about whether or not I could take the car that evening. My mother and stepfather usually kept their bedroom door open, especially during the day while my stepfather was gone, but for whatever reason, it was closed.

I lightly rapped the door with my knuckles a few times, said “Mom?”, and took hold of the handle, turning and pushing it in.

“Wait a minute!” she said, but the door was already open. I saw her slide something behind her on the bed, and she kept her right hand balled up, touching things only with her left hand.

“Can I take the…” I started, but saw what I had previously thought were papers scattered on the bed. They were pictures of me. Pictures of me with my friends, pictures of me taking a bath as a kid, yearbook pictures of me, and some pictures I didn’t recognize, that seemed to have been taken recently.

“What… What is this?” I asked her. I wanted to demand it, but it just came out as a tentative and hesitant request.

“Oh, just going over some of your pictures. What a big guy you’ve grown up to be. Look at how small you are in this one,” she said, holding up a picture of me crawling around, naked. “Everything about you is just miniature. I’m glad you’re not like that any more.”

I tried to laugh it off. “Well, yeah, I’m glad I’m not a baby anymore either, mom.”

But she didn’t take the humor. A smile, though not a nice one, came to her lips as her eyes scanned me up and down. She picked up one of the photos, the ones that I suspected had been taken without my knowledge, and stared at it, brushing down my photographic body with the pointer finger of her right hand. She raised the photo, held by her right hand, to her face and took a long sniff of it.

“Can I take the car tonight?”

“Oh, of course honey, of course that’s fine,” she said, her voice completely changed, saccharin-sweet and just as artificial. I left her there, still staring at the photos, picking them up one-by-one and brushing them tenderly.

I had wanted the car to go on a date with Katie, a girl I had been seeing for the past month or so. We had been getting pretty serious lately, but she hadn’t yet met my family, and I thought that I’d bring her by my house after our date to introduce her to my family.

The date itself went well, I paid for a dinner at a restaurant that would be considered expensive by people of my class, but cheap to people of higher classes. Normally we just got a quick meal from McDonalds or something and spent most of our time talking, but I had wanted to express to her, without just saying it, how much she meant to me.

I had mentioned her to my family before, but they didn’t know much about her other than that I was increasingly growing infatuated with her, and I was excited to show them why I liked her.

We got to my house around eight, but my stepfather’s car wasn’t in the drive. I wasn’t aware of any plans that he had this evening – although I wouldn’t have been aware even if he had them – so I was confused. I parked, opened her door, and led the way to my house.

The door was locked, so I knocked. I had keys to unlock it, but thought there wasn’t much reason to bother with them if someone was nearby enough to just open it.

The door opened and my mother stood beyond in an ornate negligee. Katie let out a bit of a surprised gasp, but I could see that she was smiling so I wasn’t concerned. And if she was smiling, then I should be as well.

“Sorry, mom, didn’t mean to disturb you if you were getting ready for bed or something,” I said.

“No, no, I was waiting for you. And who is this?”

“This is Katie, my… girlfriend. I think I’ve mentioned her to you before.”

“Hi, Mrs. Walker,” Katie said, and shook hands with my mom.

“Oh, it’s… good to meet you,” my mom said, but her forced smile couldn’t quite conceal a subtle sneer. “Clement, can I talk with you inside?”

“Uh, yeah, but I have to bring Katie back home.”

“Alright, do that and be back quick, okay? I want to talk with you before your father gets back.”

I nodded, and led the way back to the car. Katie broke the silence after we had driven a ways.

“I think it was nice to meet your mom.”

I could hear the hesitation in her voice. “Yeah, sorry about that. I dunno what was up with her. She’s been acting kind of weird lately.”

“It’s okay. Some other time, maybe.” She was silent for a moment, then spoke again. “Thanks for bringing me out out for dinner. The linguini was great.”

Her voice was normal, uplifting, but when I turned to look at her something was wrong. Her smile, which usually beamed, was subdued. “You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed it.”

“Yeah.”

“Mhmm.”

The rest of the ride went by in silence. When we arrived at her house, I parked and unbuckled, but she had already slipped out her door, saying, “No, don’t bother, I’ll see myself in.”

“Oh, okay.”

I watched her walk up the long pathway to her front door. I didn’t look at her butt, or her hair, or maybe a bit of sideboob if it peeked out. I looked at her left shoulder. The way the blade moved back and forth, like it was completely detached from her body, moving with a mind of its own, shoulder and arm a single, long creature clamped onto the rest of her body.

Before she walked through the door, she turned back to me, and I saw her there, whole, as one being. The moment had passed.

I started the car and pulled out, heading back home, trying to remember what I had been thinking about her shoulder, and why.

I parked at my house and walked to the door. My hand extended to the doorknob, but before it touched the door flew open, with my mom behind. I was slightly startled, in the way you’re startled when the door to a public bathroom opens right before you open it, but I went in and thanked my mom for getting the door.

“Let’s go to the living room,” she said.

“Do you have makeup on? I thought you were going to bed.”

She didn’t answer me. I followed her and sat on the couch next to her. She looked me in the eyes for a moment before speaking, just long enough to make it slightly awkward. She laid a hand on my leg.

“Have you fucked her?”

I drew back, horrified. We hadn’t, although that was mostly because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to satisfy her, but I wasn’t expecting my mom to interrogate me on it and was taken back by the impropriety.

“Uh, no, but…”

“Good. She’s a skank.”

“Wha…?”

“Listen to your mother and do what she says, Clement.”

The entire time, her voice never went harsh or nasty. She was speaking normally, perhaps even a bit nicer than normal. Smooth, soft, inviting. Almost hypnotizing. Entrancing.

“You know, I can be so much more to you than her.”

“What? I mean, well, you are, you’re my mom, she’s just a girl I’m seeing.”

She smiled, still looking straight into my eyes. Once in a while I needed to dart them away to relieve the tension.

“I could, you know, be the girl you’re seeing.” The smile stayed on her lips but her eyes moved down to look at my legs for a moment, before returning to my face.

“What… is that supposed to mean?” I was confused, afraid, but hesitant – as always – to jump to an assumption of what was going on.

She gave me a sly smile in response and slid her hand up my leg and began trying to slip her fingers under my waistband.

I jumped off the couch and turned to face her, my head pulsing with heat. “What the fuck! What the fuck are you doing? Get away from me!”

She looked dismayed. “I’m sorry, I just meant… I just wanted to be close to you, closer to you…”

I ran up the stairs to my bedroom and shut the door. I ran my hands through my hair, I paced, I sat down, I laid down, I drew, whatever. Those things weren’t what I was doing. I wasn’t even thinking, I was just processing what had happened, doubting my memory, unsure, but processing it and working my way out of shock.

I dug through my closet for that bottle of vodka I had stored away. It was my friend’s, really, things had gotten “too hot” at his house and if his parents found it he’d be screwed, so he asked if he could store it at mine, and said that I could have some as payment. I wasn’t really a fan of alcohol, beyond being four years too young for it. But I needed something, so I cracked it open and took a few heavy chugs. I tried to forget and refresh. I drew, I watched some stupid videos online. I might have done some other stuff but by that point my mind had gotten blurred enough that I can’t remember it clearly.

~

The house shook. Somewhere in my sleeping mind a little alarm went off, which another part of my sleeping mind turned off.

The house shook again, more violently. The subconscious alarm started up again, fell off the desk, and ran away, which that other part of my mind took grave offense to.

I woke up and immediately wished I hadn’t, my eyes immediately shutting again automatically. Regardless of what had happened the previous night, my head hurt and I felt queasy and what little sunlight made it through my blinds pierced through my eyes into my brain.

I went to walk and stumble to the bathroom to either puke or piss, I was going to get it out of me in some way, but found that I was impeded in that action. I opened my eyes, slowly this time for them to hopefully adjust, and looked. My hands were tied with rope to the poles on either side of the headboard. I tugged on them, but to no use. I looked down and found my ankles were restrained similarly.

The thing that struck me most, though, looking down at my feet, was my mom standing at the end of my bed. She was made up with her hair down, which she rarely did, wearing only panties and a bra. She smiled at me. The corners of her mouth raised and her nostrils flared and I realized that smile was now a sneer.

She walked around to the side of my bed and, wordlessly, unbuttoned and unzipped my pajamas and pulled down my underwear. My dick was already hard from sleeping and needing to piss, and she started sucking it. I struggled, I strained against the ropes, I yelled and screamed and pleaded but she didn’t stop, didn’t respond or even show a sign of hearing me in any way.

When she was satisfied, she stepped out of her panties and pulled off her bra and began riding me, thrusting her hips up and down, moaning with each hump, looking me in the eyes the entire time.

“You like that?” she breathed at me. I continued yelling and flailing as much as the ropes allowed.

Against my will, I ejaculated, and she felt it, and she enjoyed it. She stopped, though her shuddering breaths and moans continued, and put her panties and bra back on. She looked at me and smiled again, a real smile this time, though it chilled me all the same. She untied the ropes and sat on the edge of my bed.

“Thank you, Clement, that was wonderful.”

I leapt out of bed and pulled my underwear and pajamas back on. Everything hurt, my body, my mind, my emotions, everything. I shook, I winced. I pulled back and sent my fist through my mom’s head. She fell back straight onto my bed and I jumped in front of her, fist after fist landing and breaking and cracking and bleeding her face, without my control. Some part of my mind, the part that turns off the mental alarm in the morning, told me to stop, but my body kept going. It screamed to stop, to pull back, to leave, to run away from here. And, eventually, my body responded. It listened. It obeyed.

I ran. I fucking ran.