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Colorless; or, What I Talk About When I Talk About Dying
Topic Started: Mar 26 2017, 12:27 PM (299 Views)
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The evening sun, setting over the desert, cast long, dark shadows as it passed between the trees. The cars parked on the side of the street shimmered in the light, reflections bouncing off and cascading through the windows of houses made silent by absence and mourning. Somewhere nearby, on a neighboring street, someone yelled, in pain. Whatever the cause of their pain, it was enough to get them to start shouting expletives at the top of their lungs. All at once the tranquility of the evening disappeared, shuffled to the side and swept under the rug, as if it had never been there in the first place. Nothing to see here.

The front door opened, and out stepped a young man holding two glasses of lemonade. He walked over and sat down in a lawn chair, placing both glasses on the wooden table - its stature making it more like a step stool - and sighing. Again, from a couple of streets over, the man shouted, this time in harsher language, and the sound of a door being slammed resounded through the neighborhood.

Charlie picked up his glass and took a sip. His lips puckered as he set the glass down.

"Needs more sugar."

The girl curled up in the chair next to him reached out an arm and took her own glass, gulping down half of her lemonade. Charlie stared at her, a look of confusion on his face, wondering how she could stand to drink something so sour. She flicked her eyes up at him, meeting his gaze for a moment. Then, she drank the rest of the glass, and, leaning across to the table, slid it over to Charlie's own drink.

"I'll take yours, if y'don't want it," Marie said. Charlie shook his head.

"I'll just go inside," he explained, "To put some more sugar in."


Charlie went back inside with his drink, leaving Marie alone on the porch. A light breeze blew through her hair as she struggled to stay awake. The past few nights had been spent sleepless, staring at a screen, constantly on edge. Her father had told her not to watch the broadcast, on the first day. The second day, early in the morning, he had stormed out of his room, the sound of the door hitting the wall sending shock waves through the house. Marie had been watching television in the living room, eating toaster waffles.

"I can't do it," her father had said, trembling as he put on his coat (outside, a warm summer day) and opened the door, "I can't. I just can't, see? You can't fault me for trying."

Later that day, he checked himself into the hospital. For his own safety, the nurse said, as Marie sat in the waiting room to see if he was feeling up to seeing her. A small middle aged Asian woman. She asked Marie if there were any other guardians or people that could take of her, living nearby, anywhere, really.

Marie thought for a moment. Then, they called her eldest brother to tell him what had happened. He already knew about the game, and was coincidentally on his way to Kingman to be with the rest of the family, to support. The only time he'd come home in around six years, and it was because someone had - essentially - died. He told the nurse that he'd be at the hospital in a few hours. It took him four hours and 31 minutes - there wasn't much else to do in the waiting room except count the minutes ticking by - for him to arrive. The first thing he did when he entered the room was apologize for being late. He had made extra emphasis on slowness in order to drive safely, which cost him a bit of time.

In all honesty, Marie was surprised that he had gotten his license at all.

Before she left the hospital, Charlie had to fill out some paperwork that Marie wasn't allowed to see. She stayed in the waiting room with the nurse.

"This usually isn't what I do," the nurse said, breaking the awkward silence, "But there have been much cases like this recently, and I had to transfer over."

"What do you usually do?" Marie asked.

"Nursing assistant."


The two sat in silence for some more time.

"My daughter is on that island."

Marie was too busy looking at the floor to listen.

"Her father has taken a week off of work to be home and watch. He says she is safe. I cannot look."

The dust on the floor was very pretty, as were the colors and tiles and the tear stains rapidly appearing on them.

"I..." the nurse said, and then she closed her mouth, unsure how to express her feelings in English - or in Chinese, or in any language really - and the room was quiet again.

Charlie drove her home later. He had a lot of suitcases in the trunk, as if he was going to be staying for a while. Marie could hear him breathing heavily when he walked up the steps to his room. She understood. It was going to be hard for both of them.

The door swung open again. Charlie had a new glass of lemonade in his hand. Wordlessly, he sat down.

"He's dead," Marie said, blinking her eyes a bit.

Charlie was silent.

"I saw it, earlier today," she continued, "And I'm not going to see it ever again."

There were no tears. The two of them were used to this by now. Their father would have to stay in the hospital for a little bit longer, of course, and he probably still wouldn't be able to take the news well, but as for the two on the porch, they'd be fine. They knew it, deep in their souls. To them, he'd already been dead, and it was just a matter of time before the world realized and moved to correct its accounting mistake. That's what he was, now, a name on a form marked incorrectly. A pen stroke, and he was corrected.

They did a lot more looking at the floor that evening. Later, the man came back outside, hit some things with a hammer, swore a bit more, and hit more things with a hammer. Marie could hear him through the open window as she lay on the floor, her gaze lost in the ceiling fan.

He had a lot to say, it turned out.
~~~~~ Creativity's Burning Pyre ~~~~~



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James never came back home.

That wasn't particularly surprising, given that the last thing he had said to his father was "I hope you die jumping off your ego and landing on your I.Q," an insult that wasn't funny then and still isn't now given the fact that Marie's father was a man without an ego and with I.Q to spare, but it still cut deep. Deeper than she thought. It had been so long since she'd seen him, she was almost worried about how he was doing. Charlie told her that he was probably in jail somewhere, busted for dealing drugs, but Marie didn't like that thought. She preferred to think he found a way to turn his life around and had just forgotten about them. In her mind, James had a beautiful wife and a young baby boy, living in the suburbs of a big city with all they ever need within arm's reach.

Still, he never came back.

Charlie played Super Smash Brothers Melee with her one night. "It's been a while since I picked up one of these," he said, holding up his controller, "I forgot just how much weight it has." Marie smirked, and navigated her way through the game's menus at lightning speed. Her brother didn't notice - he was too busy figuring out how to put his hands on the controller so that he could reach every button. Marie gave him a light tap on the shoulder, looking at his face illuminated by the pale glow of the television in the dark. Charlie was starting to grow his goatee into a full beard. She thought it looked rather silly.

With caution, he moved the analog stick all the way to the right from its starting position, holding it between his thumb and his index finger. Quietly, Charlie mouthed the names of all the characters that his cursor glided over, unsure which one to choose. Marie had already made her selection. Even if Kirby was technically the worst character in the game, she liked having the extra jumps. Plus, he was cutesy enough that being defeated by him felt like a solid slap in the face - she'd experienced that firsthand. Many times.

She scrolled through the list of names, looking for her tag in a sea of one to four letter abbreviations and references to in jokes and mishaps lost to time.


Charlie had picked Roy. Marie smirked. He didn't know what he was in for with that character. A neutral special that did 10% damage to the user, fast falling, and a noodle-esque hitbox on his sword; The only people who picked Roy unironically were either new to the game or felt like they had something to prove.

She kept scrolling.


The team flag icon flipped up next to Kirby's character portrait, turning him a deep shade of red. "My bad, didn't know what that did," Charlie said, pressing the button again to turn it off. Marie whistled and rolled her eyes, turning back to the name feed.


Then, she made it to the bottom of the list.

Charlie glanced over at her.

"Are you okay?" he asked, his tone softening.

She stared into the screen.

"Yeah, I'll be just fine."

Marie pressed the A button and the name field dropped away, a red bar telling her to push start striping across the screen. Charlie did the honor, probably accidentally, and the stage select screen came up. The cursor, a silvery clear hockey puck of an icon, slid over to the Random button. Marie sat back on the couch, sinking into herself as the Onett stage loaded into play. The clacking of controllers and clicking of buttons echoed off of the walls of the room, for minutes, minutes stretching into hours, until stars filled the skies and their eyes had gone bloodshot, laughs and laughs spent on polygons dancing on screen in a frenzy of rhythm and balance, all with Marie's character displaying four proud letters above his round head.


They fell asleep with their controllers in their hands, and woke up with the sunbeams the next morning.
~~~~~ Creativity's Burning Pyre ~~~~~



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Her father came back from the hospital a new man. Whatever had happened in there had changed him on a deep, almost unconscious level. Marie wasn't sure if he was even aware of how different he had become. For one thing, all the lights in the house were always on whenever he was home. No more dust floating around in the air, or dimly sunlit hallways in the middle of the day. Charlie was still around, but spent more time out of the house than before. Avoiding his father, more than likely. Dad seemed to be avoiding him, too: avoiding everyone in the family. He came back home one night with another woman. Never before in Marie's life had her father gone out dating again after her mother died. She took this as a cue to head upstairs to her room, and shut herself up in there until daylight came.

Her dad had regained his confidence in himself. All it took was one more death.

Soon enough, Marie was avoiding him too. She tagged along with Charlie wherever he went - down to the park, to the grocery store, on all errands and excursions - and spent less time at home. Several of her friends from school - those that didn't have siblings who were dead or dying - invited her with them out of town, something that Arthur would never let her say yes to. She was still cautious with where she went, though. Never to Vegas, that was for sure. She did go to Flagstaff once, though, on a college tour with one of her more academic friends. Marie thought the city was beautiful, but strange, because of how nestled away it was.

Marie tried alcohol for the first time at a party, a bottle of disgusting beer that fell to the ground and shattered soon after she took her first sip. She decided it wasn't for her.

Neither was wine. She never really had a taste for grapes.

Eventually, Charlie left, going back out east. He left Marie with one last parting gift, sealed in a white box tied with a red ribbon. When she got back to her room and opened it, she found a picture of the four siblings all together, smiling, that Charlie had held onto during college, and a note telling her to stay strong.

She resolved not to let him down.

And so, the days spun on and on, each one with less color than the last.
~~~~~ Creativity's Burning Pyre ~~~~~



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To put that color back into her life, she got her hair done in a pixie cut and dyed it neon blue. Arthur would have never let her do something like this, and indeed, it had never occurred to her to do such a thing before his disappearance. Now, though, she wanted to make something clear to herself: the person she was before and the person she was in the process of becoming would not be one and the same except for the body they occupied, and even that was, admittedly, transitory. This was the only major change in her life for some time, until eventually she started the next year of school with a fresh set of worries in her head.

But one summer's day, Marie saw something that gave her pause.

It was a beautiful day like any other, not a cloud in the sky, the sun's white heat beating down heavy on her brow. She was going on a walk, taking any excuse she could to find a way out of the stifling house that she had been planning on leaving for some time, when she decided to take a detour through Liberty Park. She took cover in the shade beneath trees, dodging out of the way of the cameras that childhood had taught her were peeping through the bushes, until eventually she found a tall weeping willow and sat down, out of the way. There, she zoned out, letting the soft breeze wash over her like waves over a sandy shore. All she could do on a day like this was stare into the empty sky until her brain turned to hot fumes.

But then, all of a sudden, something blocked her view of the sun, and she snapped back to attention, pulled out of her hypnagogic (a big word she found peering through her brother's journals, filled with story after story, all beautiful, all worth remembering, stories that he would never be able to share) state through no intent of her own. She stood up and further scrutinized the presence, still close to the sun, twisting and swerving through the air in elegant dives and glides. It looked like a bird to her, at first, but soon enough she was able to tell that that was not the case.

No, the thing flying through the sky was, quite clearly, a kite.

It looked big enough to completely swallow somebody if it fell on them. If it fell on her, she wouldn't even be too concerned; it was so patterned and interesting that it reminded her of a warm hug, or childhood, or something of the sort. Its tails glittered in the sunlight, the colors refracted like stained glass patterns onto the grass. Eventually, whoever was flying it landed it skillfully on a hill, next to a middle aged Asian man in a gray business suit.

Confused, Marie got closer, and realized that the man was holding some kind of device in his hand. Two and two finally made four, and Marie realized that this man was flying the kite. How strange, she thought, I don't exactly have anything against middle aged salary-men who fly kites, but it really is a weird sight to see, especially in the middle of the summer like this, isn't it?

Marie turned around to walk away.

She stepped on a twig that broke beneath her foot.

"Hmm?" the man hummed inquisitively, turning to face her. Marie turned toward him, realizing that it was rude to look as if she was fleeing, and waved a hand sheepishly.

"Were you watching my kite flying?" the man asked, almost too invitingly, "Very pretty thing, right?"

Marie nodded and said, "I was mesmerized by it." The man nodded, and picked it up off of the ground to bring it over to her. She tried to turn down the closer look and guided tour of every kite-flying term there was in the book, but the man insisted. Besides, he was nice enough, and she wasn't doing anything, so what worry was there, right? No worry in exchanging names either, though she couldn't quite figure out how to pronounce his.

At some point, the man started talking about his wife, and his daughter, and how they sounded somewhat alike, and that his wife had left him for some inane reason at some point, moving out to the big city, the city where he used to work, when now he spent his days back home, flying kites, with his daughter, who was, as he said, her age. He sounded like he was hiding something, almost as if he was somewhat mentally unstable, but her own father was somewhat like that. Men who lost women, in her experience, were often hysterical, and didn't listen to reason.

Eventually, after a few jokes and laughs, she felt confident enough to ask the question that had been on her mind from the moment she had seen him and the kite together. She had lost most of her reservations recently, and she knew that she would never know the answer if she didn't ask.

"Sorry if I'm being rude, but...this doesn't exactly seem like a middle-aged man sort of thing, don't you agree? Especially this kind of kite, it looks more like something that would be flown by, well, someone like my age, or like me in particular...you get what I mean?"

The man laughed. "What, just because I'm old doesn't mean I can't fly kites!" Marie laughed along too, before the man began to speak again.

"To tell you the truth," he said nonchalantly, "It's my daughter's, and it's even secondhand for her."

"Where'd she get it?" Marie asked.

"Why don't I introduce you to her?" he said, dropping the control bar to the grass. For a few moments, nothing happened. Marie looked around the park, expecting the man to call out his daughter's name and call her over. Still, nothing. She turned back to the man, and found him gazing off into the park with a smile on his face.

"...Where is she?" Marie asked, the silence stuffing her head full of static, stuff like white cotton balls, keeping her from thinking straight. She felt another wave of sleepiness come over her.

"Shh..." he responded, "Just listen for a moment."

Marie waited and listened with him. One moment became five, and eventually moments became minutes, fully grown, sent off to college by their parents, coming back stretched out and disfigured.

"I give up," she said, throwing her hands up, "I don't understand what it is you're trying to show me."

"I understand," he said, shaking his head, still smiling, "I understand."

Marie took a step backwards from the man as he cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted a name into park grounds. Suddenly, a small figure popped up from the grass, waddling over toward him. The little girl hugged his leg affectionately, calling him "papa." This couldn't be his daughter,
right? He said that she was my age, and this girl looks like she's only five years old! If she tried to fly that kite, she'd take off with it!"

Something else stuck out to her; the girl looked nothing like him. He was Asian, she was white. He had black, straight hair, she had blond curls. Marie didn't have anything against interracial couples, but something told her that this wasn't the case. This girl wasn't his, not by flesh and blood.

"This is my daughter, Lili," he said, "Meet Marie. She also likes kites, just like papa, okay?"

"Kites!" Lili said, beaming at her, "Papa loves kites!"

"Kites are cool," Marie said, somewhat unnerved. Then, in a half-whisper, she added, "Didn't you say your daughter was my age?"

"What are you talking about?" he replied with a laugh, "Isn't she silly, Lili? Lili's always been just four years old! Not older, not yet!"

"Silly Marie!" the little girl laughed.

Something was definitely wrong here. Marie was unsure where all the hunches were coming from, but this one was especially strong. It urged her to figure out more about what was happening.

"Okay then, Lili," Marie continued, "Then whose kite is this?"

"Lili's!" the reply came, as emphatic as ever.

"But the kite is too big for you, isn't it?"

"It's not mine! It's Lili's, silly!"

After a while, the man and his daughter left the park, the little girl riding on his shoulders. It reminded Marie of something her father used to do when she was a child, and then something her brother used to do when she was a somewhat older child when her father couldn't muster up the strength to do it anymore. That night, she went home, shut the door, ignored her father's greeting, walked up the stairs and straight to her room, and turned on her computer. With a few clicks around the internet, she found herself staring at something that her eyes couldn't quite believe.

If she - Lili? - was roughly Marie's age, then she'd quite possibly be one of the children that was abducted, what felt like ages ago. Long enough for a man and a woman to get a hasty divorce, or at least separate physically. Long enough for grieving to stop, or start, or never end. Long enough for papers to be filed, and visits made. Long enough for a child to move in with a foster parent.

The night was long enough for her to put the pieces together. The night was long enough for more than a few Google searches.

Lili Williams was among the list of the abducted.

She had looked like her father in almost every way.

Lili was on a charter for the local elementary school.

Lili Williams was replaced.

Marie went to bed knowing that it was entirely likely that she was completely wrong. Even if she was right, or wrong, or somewhere in between, it felt disgusting to intrude so personally into someone's life, to unearth such trauma. How would she have felt if she was a mother in that position, having lost an only daughter to a tragedy so unbearably fantastical that it could be, with god-knows-what, be turned into a bad dream? Would she do the same thing? In all honesty, probably not; she didn't even feel like she was the kind of person to have children in the first place. It was this same kind of morbid curiosity, the desire to know what happened, that fueled the tragedy. If people didn't want to know that, then there would be no point to the whole thing. It was curiosity like this that killed her brother.

And yet, try as she might, she couldn't stop thinking about it.

So she didn't.

She got up out off her bed, walked back over to her computer, opened her browser, and searched further, not about the father and his daughters, but about the tragedy itself, and that oh-so-specific wonder: the wonder of what-had-happened.

When her father found her slumped over her computer the next day, sound asleep, she had two tabs open on her computer: the schedule for the week's train station for departures heading northwest, and discount hotel prices in the rough area of Seattle, Washington. He closed the door, and thought nothing of it, heading downstairs to make himself breakfast and get on with his day.
~~~~~ Creativity's Burning Pyre ~~~~~



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She had taken up night-walking to pass the time. Her father didn't seem to mind, so long as she came home before midnight. Quickly she realized just how little there was to do, now that Arthur was gone. Maybe it still hadn't really hit her yet, or maybe she was over the worst of it. She couldn't be sure of the answer. Marie didn't like to think about things like that when she went walking. She preferred to absorb the night air, to take in the sparse lights and noises of the outside. A thoughtless, unconscious movement. Even if she would sometimes wander out to the edge of town, her walking route gradually leaning in the direction of "anywhere but here", she would always return on her time, and her father wouldn't take any notice. Occasionally, he'd be asleep already.

One night, while she was walking, she thought she spotted Lili's father, and hastily made to turn the nearest corner. She was content with her contempt.

Arthur's room was just as he had left it, though slightly dustier than it had been before. Marie spent a few hours each weekend sorting through his things, picking through the rubble of his life. Most of the time, she would spend the time in his room reading a few of his favorite books, which he had thoroughly filled with post-it notes and scribbles in the margins. She hadn't exactly realized it before, but her brother had always been somewhat distant, despite how close the two had seemed. Sure, they had spent lots of time together, playing video games and hanging around the house, but these books hinted at something else she had never seen in Arthur. From On the Road, she learned that he had a longing to escape. 1Q84 taught her that he had an odd relationship with women, and the idea of sex. Animal Farm made him seem a bit more childish. Or literary. She had read online that the whole thing was some kind of metaphor for communism, but she shrugged it off. What wasn't, nowadays?

What stuck out to her the most, however, were his own writings.

Hidden in shoe-boxes and paper bags underneath his bed were mountains of journals, each one filled to the brim with stories and poems. It took her a few moments to realize, upon discovering them, what they were, because she had never understood Arthur as a writing person. He seemed all the more passive, someone who reacted to change rather than creating his own. A defender, a protector, not someone to go out of his way to make any moves.

The night she found the notebooks was the first time in weeks that she had allowed herself to cry.

Some of the stories were whimsical. A whole three notebooks were spent on an office-place comedy, about a corporation that only pushes big red buttons all day long, competing with a small start up that pulls levers. Other stories were a bit darker, more realistic. One of the more perplexing was a several page long short story about two young women, college roommates. They quickly become friends, realizing they came from the same area of the northwest, but soon enough their relationship is destroyed when one roommate discovers the other sleeping in, apparently something they never do, and muttering in her sleep suggestively about the other. Marie felt unsure what to make of it, but she appreciated the prose on its own. Arthur, too, seemed to think lowly of it, as it had been at the bottom of the box where Marie found it. Another book, started just days before the abduction, was about a post-apocalyptic society. All modern electronics had been destroyed or made unusable, and humanity was returned to medieval times, abandoned skyscrapers becoming castles and subway systems turning into villages. Not wholly original, but solidly executed.

Slowly, she began to sort the books into three piles. The first was stuff that she was decently sure Arthur really wouldn't have wanted anyone to see. Writings from fifth grade and the like. The second was stuff that he had written that was decent, but more of value to Marie than anyone else. The final pile was the tallest, and the most important.

The final pile was what Marie thought the world ought to read.

Early the next morning, the phone rang. Marie was sitting on the couch, and got up to answer it, but her father already had the receiver in his hand.

"Hello, Phil Bernstein speaking," he answered somewhat loudly. Marie watched as the receiver buzzed in his hand. He nodded, making affirmative noises every now and again. The conversation, if it could be called such, was mostly just this, going on for a good five minutes before Marie turned back to her breakfast and continued to eat. Local news was airing a story about-

"I don't want you calling this house ever again, do you understand? My family wants nothing to do with this, this, project of yours, alright? We're trying to recover, over here. We don't need you digging up what we've all just managed to bury. Goodbye, sir."

Marie spun around in time to watch her father slam the cordless receiver down onto the base unit. He stood for a few moments in front of the phone, with his hands on his hips. He shook his head, and walked towards the front door.

"What was that about?" Marie asked.

"Some bozo wants to do some documentary feature, or something," he explained, unlocking the door, "about the kids." He stepped outside onto the porch, then turned back around and walked through the front door again. "I'm going to the store to get some food. Don't pick up that phone if it starts ringing again if I'm not home, alright?"


With that, he shut the door. Marie got up and locked it, watching out the window as he drove away in the minivan. For some time, she stood in silence, gazing out the window.

Then, her eyes turned back towards the phone. She walked over and picked up the receiver, scrolled through the caller I.D. list, and found the number.

Michael Shelley.

Without a second thought, she pressed the call button, and waited for him to pick up the phone.
~~~~~ Creativity's Burning Pyre ~~~~~



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Marie sat on the floor and flipped through one of the more beat-up journals in the dustiest shoe-box underneath the bed. It looked to her like one of the first drafts for the Push-Button story, written while Arthur was still a sixth grader. Was it seventh? The journal's date was all smudgy, and she couldn't really tell. Regardless, she rifled through the book until she found a passage that caught her eye. Full of letters spilling out of their lines and, occasionally, drawings in the margins, the page was one of the hardest to read in the entire collection. It didn't help that the fan was blowing the pages all around, either. She turned it off with her foot, unplugging the power cord with her toes. The breeze flowing between the air conditioner and the space in the window that it didn't quite fit would be cool enough for her to focus on the reading without starting to sweat.

"Let's see, here..."

Her eyes scanned the passage.

Then, they scanned the passage once more.

For a few moments, she stared at the page dumbfounded. The short snippet was, put plainly, a mess. With a sigh, she slid the notebook away from her and shut the lid of the box, shaking her head and sucking her teeth. There were probably better ways to pass the time while she was waiting than to summon ghosts. Arthur probably hid all of these things for a reason, anyway. Not just because of shyness, but possibly also out of shame. Marie didn't think she could find it in herself to blame her brother, but she couldn't exactly excuse him for making her read this, either. She gave the rug a playful punch in the arm in his stead.

Then, she stood up and left the room, shutting the door behind her.

The notebook, still open, was facing upwards towards the ceiling.

"Joe Johnson pulled up to his reserved parking space in the parking garage. Today was tuesday, November 11, 2032. Just another boring day at work. But Joe didn’t care. Joe is the kind of guy who just takes everything in stride, grins all the time, and never admits to stealing your $50 pen right under your nose. As Joe pushed the button to call the elevator for floor 14, he thought to himself, “Is there more to life than pushing buttons? What is beyond this metal and concrete jungle we call New Cabbage City? Really, what does it all MEAN?” Then Joe stopped thinking about life.

'It’s stupid to ask questions. Things will be told to you when you are ready.' Joe remembered the boss say once. And the boss is AAAAAALWAAAAAAAYS RIIIIIIGHT! As Joe sat down at his cubicle and pushed down his button, “CRASH!” he heard numerous tremors and quakes.

'PUSH THE BUTTONS FASTER PEOPLE!' The supervisors yelled, pacing madly back and forth. Drew, Joe's next cubicle neighbor, slid a piece of paper underneath the wall. It read:

'Joe, what do you think this is all about?'

Joe would have replied, but he didn’t decorate his cubicle like the other workers. No pencils, no paper, no nothing but a button. “KEEP UP THE GOOD *rumble rumble* WORK, EVERYONE!” The supervisors screamed over the chaos. “CRASH!” A potted plant fell over. “HEY, SUPERVISORS!” Carl, one of Joe’s “friends” yelled, “WHAT'S THE DEAL? WHY DO WE NEED TO PUSH THESE BUTTONS SO FAAAAST? AND WHY ARE THE SHADES DRAWN OVER THE WINDOWS?” The supervisors looked at each other, then back at everyone else. People looked up, continuing to press buttons.

'You aren’t going to like this.' The head supervisor, whose name is Jack, said. Then, he opened the windows.

Everyone gasped a gasp of awe, as a Giant Robot made out of Buttons fought a Giant Lizard Monster made out of levers. “KEEP PUSHING YOUR BUTTONS, IT POWERS THE MACHINE!” Jack yelled, and everyone kept pushing the buttons as fast as they could.

'AAAAAAAAAAH!' Bob shouted, and held his finger. 'IT’S RUBBED DOWN TO A STUMP!' Bob began to cry as paramedics entered the room, put him on a stretcher, and carried him away. 'BOOM!' Joe looked out the window as the button robot smashed the lever lizard to pieces. 'WE DID IT!' Joe yelled, as the room burst out in applause. Jack picked up his megaphone, and began to speak. 'Attention please: We lost 65 workers today because they burnt the fingers into stumps. Please, people, pace yourselves.' He said as the room went back to it’s normal routine of pushing buttons."

Mercifully, a gust of wind came along and blew the cover closed.
~~~~~ Creativity's Burning Pyre ~~~~~



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"How old are you?"

Idle chatter. Marie dug into her wallet, looking for two dollar bills to fork over to the kid behind the lemonade stand.


Lili graciously held out her hands, took the money, and stuffed it in a box that lay open on the counter of the stand. Then, she gingerly took hold of the lemonade pitcher and poured some into a paper cup. Her father looked on from the porch with approval. The lemonade tasted just a little oversour for Marie, but that wasn't what mattered right now. What she really wanted—what she felt that she needed, in fact—was to get some information out of Lili. Where had her mother gone? Did she know what happened to the other Lili?

"Thanks," she said, taking the cup with her, "Gotta run, now. Take care!"

She thought better of it. After all, Lili's father was watching from the front porch within earshot. Lili waved goodbye, and Marie waved back. Her father just nodded, and went back to staring off into space. There were all sorts of ways to cope with loss; she had experienced that much firsthand, with her own father. If somebody wanted to pry, then wouldn't she feel offended, too?




But she hadn't felt offended. Not when Mr. Shelley came calling. Her father had, but she hadn't.

Not her.

The thought jangled loose from her mind. One swift adjustment of her sunhat brim, and she was back to walking.

How quickly had lies made their home, hooked into her flesh?

All of a sudden, she felt like she was falling. Then, she landed back in her seat, and slowly crawled up and out of the shell of her skin.

Was that what waking up felt like, now? Wrapped in a hooded sweatshirt with hair that felt like seaweed, skin that was flaking off in flames, and legs vibrating into the next parallel reality where none of this ever happened and everything was as it should have been, Marie rose within herself. A quick blink of the eyes, and she knew that she was in her room with a laptop in front of her. A quick drag of the finger, and the screen woke up with her, taking far less time but just about the same amount of effort. A quick gulp of the throat, and Marie felt like she was choking.

A quick look at the page on the screen, and Marie put the laptop screen all the way down. Now, she could hear the television in the other room, waiting for her. Her door was slightly ajar, too. Phil must have found her, asleep in her chair, and decided to let her be. With concentrated willpower, she got her legs to move, and stood up from the chair, almost tripping over the quilt blanket she didn't remember seeing on the floor next to the chair.

Well, he was only almost able to leave her alone.


Not quite.

Sighing, she pushed the door open, and felt her way down the stairs.

He had lied.

It was just like any other walk she had ever been on, but she had pushed even further outside her circle than last time. The gas station she found herself at was out on the very edge of town, and looking at the shabby building reminded her just how easy it was to close any distance that she wanted to, whenever she wanted to. Train tickets out west weren't out of the question, if she could come up with the money. Phil wouldn't stop her, would he? She doubted it.

She walked into the station. There were a few aisles of snacks and other junk, good junk, stuff to refuel her on her way back to the house. She grabbed a Crunch bar and a bottle of no-name soda, made sure that it was the caffeinated kind, and then walked up to the cash register. There was a man in line, a couple heads taller than her. Looked young, but a little frazzled, at least from the back. He wore a punk-looking leather jacket with short spikes on the shoulders, and she could see the top of a tattoo poking up from his collar on the back of his neck. Dangerous? Probably not.

Him and the cashier were talking in hushed voices. Marie could only make out bits and pieces of their conversation.

"...used to live out here… see some family… take me."

"As long as… kind of disaster tourist... in my book."

"Thanks, I guess?"

"Ha. Safe travels, now."

He shrugged, and was almost on his way, when he turned and saw Marie's face. Something in him faltered for a moment, confused, a deer caught in headlights. They locked eyes for a couple of moments. There was a quality to his face that Marie remembered, but couldn't quite place, even if she felt like she should have been able to. He looked like he was going through just about the same thing, internally. An aeon passed between the two of them, standing there, but it was over in seconds; he shook his head, walked out the door, and walked off into the night.

Marie went over and paid for her things. The cashier scrutinized her.

"Not safe to be out this late at night," he scolded.

"I've been out later than this before," Marie replied.

"That guy was eyeing you like he knew you from someplace."


"And you, him, too?"

"Look," Marie stammered, "just let me pay up and get out of here, okay?"

The cashier gave her a dirty look, but Marie couldn't have seen it unless his eyes were in her shoes. Her stuff was bagged, and then she hurried herself out the door, not wanting to stick around any longer. In her view, she saw the shadow of a man walking out along the side of the road toward the city, head down, hands in pockets, a trail of cigarette smoke wafting through the air behind him and a pale green baseball cap pulled down low. Each footfall looked a little staggered, a stammer in steps, like he could turn tail and split across the road at any moment. Marie kept her eyes peeled, focussed on his back, the shine of the leather jacket faintly glinting in the moonlight. It was almost eleven, if her phone was to be believed. She still had time before her father started to really care.

Not enough.

She decided to follow him.

They had all lied, really.

All three of them.

She remembered the night of the vigil. Her father hadn't let her go out, mumbling something about her having school or the like. It burned her up inside then, and it still did now.

She also remembered the plans she made with Lana, once. Marie stood outside Cheryl's for three hours, before she got chased away for loitering. Of all the people to show her up, she didn't think that Lana would have been the one to do it. She learned later that she had stayed home because Ben's death had streamed.

Nobody really wanted to hang out with her, for some reason, so she stayed in and played video games. Soon enough, though, even those left her. The fun and color spilled down the drain. Now, all she wanted was to walk. Walk, and look through writings.

Not fun.

At least, not in the conventional sense.

He strolled around town, Marie a few paces back. All the shops were just about closed, around this time of night, but that didn't stop him from visiting them to make sure that they were still in business. She didn't know how he hadn't noticed her yet, but somehow he had managed to remain oblivious of her presence. The man walked by the museum where her father worked, and paused for a few moments at its steps, took a picture of it with his phone, and kept on walking.

That wasn't the only time he stopped to take a picture of something, though. The other occasion was when he went to check up on the House of Sound, the old music venue that had closed a couple of years back. It attracted all kinds of freaks and weirdos to play there, but it hadn't managed to keep its doors open to compete with other, more accessible and less decrepit stages around town. When the man turned the corner and was able to see that it was closed, he put his hands up to his head. Marie couldn't hear what he was saying, but he started talking to himself. It sounded like he was upset, almost like someone had personally insulted him by closing the venue. He pulled out his phone, took a few pictures, and kept going. Marie felt strange, watching from across the street as some part of this man's childhood fell away. She felt like an intruder, and she was. He started to walk again, and Marie continued to follow. There was still something she couldn't put her finger on about the whole thing.

Gradually, she started to notice him making a strange set of turns. He walked around seemingly aimlessly, as if he was trying to remember where something very specific was. Marie looked around, but couldn't find any stores or restaurants or parks, or anything remotely interesting that might draw the man back to this part of town. There were only houses, sprawling onwards into more houses, out to the horizon. Whatever business he had out here, she wasn't sure. Maybe he was using some kind of Airbnb service, or Couchsurfing, and he was looking for the place he was supposed to stay.

Then, he turned down the street that Marie lived on.

She froze at the street corner, unsure if she should continue. Something was keeping her from moving, either way. The same thing was pulling her heart up and out of her chest.

Cautiously, she went around the corner.

The night was silent, except for the sound of an airplane passing overhead. The leaves were rustled by a faint breeze. In several homes, the lights were still on, and people were still awake. A few of the cars that were usually parked on the sides of the street were gone, and the vacant spaces they left behind let the pavement of the street stretch on for miles as a desert. He stood in the middle of that desert, his eyes on Marie's house. His feet did not move, and his heart did not stir.

Not yet.

He turned around to go back, and saw Marie standing just several feet behind him in the shade of a tree.

They had lied to her when they told him he hadn't ever wanted to come back.

"Where did you park?"

"I didn't drive in. I flew. Wanted to get some grub before I went to the motel, but it was too late for that. I just wanted to get out of the airport, so I did, and then I found the gas station, which is where I ran into you before."

"Where's your motel?"

"On the north side of town."

"Why did you come all the way out here, then?"

"Wanted to see the house. Y'know, just once."

"You could have come during the day."

"Well, I don't know about that…"

They had made their way out to Liberty Park almost wordlessly. There was many questions to ask, but they managed to bottle them up for just a little longer. In the quiet of the night, they found a hill with no trees and laid on their backs in the grass, gazing up at the stars. They got out their apologies, their condolences, their tears, within a quick five minutes. The big feeling came easily enough. All that was left was to close the wound left by several years of absence with a tourniquet of meandering words and a lupine wariness shared by outcasts from the pack. The small feelings that had been left to fester would be a tougher nut to crack.

"I don't think he'd want me back."

James had made plans to return once he heard the news about Arthur. He didn't really know what he would do when he came back, but all he knew was that he had to go back, even if it was only to be alone in the place where he grew up. When she told him that Charlie had decided to return too, he wasn't surprised. He asked how he had been, but he hadn't said anything about their father until just now.

"I'll be honest with you," Marie said, shifting, "I don't think he wants me around either, and I don't really want to be around him, either."

The way their father changed caught them both by surprise, it seemed. The two chalked it up to a combination of mid-life crisis and the loss of Arthur. Marie wanted to know more about where James had been, but he wouldn't say. He was much older now than he had been once he left, and a lot had happened in that time. One thing he did say was that he liked what Marie had done with her hair. She decided that she'd take the compliment graciously, but was unsure what that meant coming from someone with an anarchy patch on their jacket. He had a bunch of other patches, too, but Marie wasn't sure what any of them meant.

"What are your plans, after school ends?"

"I want to get out of here," she said without hesitation, "and see the world."

He chuckled, with a smile on his face that looked like disappointment. "My advice? Don't."

"Why not?"

"Someone has to look over things, here. We can't all leave him behind."

They were silent, for a little while.

"What was he like?"


"Arthur. Who did he turn out to be?"

They went quiet, for a bit longer.

It seemed that the small feelings had proven a little too tough to handle.

"Did you watch it?" he asked.

"No," Marie said, shifting uncomfortably.

James shook his head.

"You're lying, aren't you?"

"I only watched the bits with him in it," she said, lifting her hand to her face to brush away some dirt, "nothing else."

"So did I," James affirmed.

"And what did you think?"

James sat up, and hugged his knees. There were cigarettes in the pocket of his jacket, but the first time he tried to take one out to smoke Marie asked him if he would keep from it for the evening. Something in him moved him to comply, even if his body didn't agree.

"I don't know how he managed to get as far as he did without actually killing anyone, even if he wasn't the only one to do so. I would've guessed that he'd be angry at someone, or that he'd run into someone bad, or that, at the very least, he'd try to defend his girlfriend, or whoever that was."

"He never was the kind to get angry," Marie said.

"I watched other people, too," James continued, "some of them, I remember, some of them were Arthur's friends that he'd have over when he was younger. Some of them were the siblings of some of my friends."

Marie wasn't sure what to say at that. It was tantamount to staring at a car crash, except it was a car crash that erupted into a fire that just kept burning and burning until it caught on the trees and spread to the rest of the town. Eventually, you couldn't argue that you didn't find some satisfaction in watching it burn. Compulsion could only take one so far, after all.

"What kept you watching?" she decided on.

"Other than vague curiosity?"

"Yeah. What made you stick around?"

James considered his words carefully.

"I don't know."


"Not much of anything, I guess."

She stared at the stars for a few more moments, and then curled up away from it. All of a sudden, she felt a chill.

There was a full moon out.

On a night like this, she should be out walking.

She'd just have to make up for it tomorrow, she figured. It was supposed to be good weather out. Cool, for a summer day. Her sunhat looked at her expectantly from the closet. Tomorrow, it would have to be. Behind the hat, she saw a nice looking full body mirror that she had put away one day because she was having trouble looking at herself, and decided that she'd have to take it to the thrift store the next morning. She could probably get a few dollars for it. Marie's gaze caught on her hair for a few moments. Maybe she'd try dyeing it back to brown, somehow.

Things were getting rough, lately. She didn't like to admit it, but she knew that eventually she had to. Charlie had said that she was good at compartmentalizing, one day, but that only made things worse. That meant that what she was doing was working on others, fooling them as if the thin veneer of apathy and distance was one she was wearing on purpose. The aim of her deception was, chiefly, herself. If she could convince herself that she was fine, that the motivation to keep going on was slowly bleeding from her, that she wasn't getting obsessed as a means of coping, then things would turn out alright. Fake it 'till you make it, right?

She took a look at the situation she was in currently, in a more immediate sense. Her knees were digging into the carpet, or the carpet was digging into her knees, whichever; her knees hurt. Her hands, clasped together, fingers pointing diagonally out towards the open window, were starting to clam up. All was silent. As far as she knew, she wasn't even sure that Jews were supposed to do this sort of thing, what she could only define as a desperate appeal to something she knew probably wasn't there.

Not true.

There had to be someone. Someone she had neglected. With a tremble, she spoke:

The Shades of Me in You
by Arthur Bernstein

Trees in the park
And the shadows in the dark
When the far off hounds bay and bark
It's time to go home

You're the youngest of the other three
And the elder two can barely see
After childhood ecstasy
There are shades of me in you

We share the same blood
Just around half of it
Maybe just a quarter or so
I don't know, I can't know
I'm just worried you carry it too

That there are shares of me in you
The way you stare into the ground
And the way that the ground can't bring itself
To look back into your dying eyes
Makes me ache for your health

I think it would be best
If you saw someone about it
At this ripe, young age

There are shades of me in you
And now I do know it's true
That one day you'll find yourself
In some hospital bed

And my mother did see
The shades of her in me
And we're not that close but I can see
The shades of me in you

But I should leave it
Alone, just for now
Let it wilt you
Until you are colorless and frail
On your own.

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