Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Death by Soda

           It was 5 am, Thanksgiving day. Helen got up early to finish the turkey, make the sides, and uncan that disgusting red cranberry sauce everyone in the family except her seemed to love. It made a weird slicking noise as it came out of the can. Shudder. Like your Aunt Catherine's jello that have been left out from the Church bake sale for 3 weeks because everyone was afraid to touch it. If she could just get through the next 8 hrs. for family she would finally be free to head off to her local Wallymart and get the coveted 82 inch ultraslim HDTV with remote. She had been saving up for 6 months to afford this new beauty to watch her beloved soap operas now that the kids were heading off to college, and she just knew this was the start of a long overdue rest. With Dan and 5 kids, the house never had quiet time.
           Thanksgiving was a total blur before the dancing TV screen in her head. Finally at 8 pm, she managed to get rid of the her odd-ball brother's girlfriend of the year and her oh so charming son, Dillert. Honestly, who names their kid Dillert? It was demented and asking for trouble. Like pasting a giant kick-me sign on your offspring. Well, another 8 years and the kid would be free to screw up his own life no thanks to his own Mom.
            Helen packed her car with the necessary drinks, energy snacks, and a cooler full of  turkey sandwiches. She proceeded over to the local mart and bundled herself in line. The night got cool and the line began to grow as midnight drew near. Finally, the employees arrived, stuffed with turkey and the local beat cop sleepily got out of his car. The crowd was dense, but not nearly as bad as people liked to believe on the news. The simple fact was most people preferred to be in bed sleeping off the turkey platters than huddled early in the morning cold on Black Friday. The employees started letting everyone in at 12:03. Helen spotted her cart and she was off down the aisle. 576 steps, 4 aisles and 2 helpful sleepy employees later, Helen had the Mega 82 inch ultraslim HDTV safely packed in her cart.
             The cart pulled slightly to the right on it's squeaky wheel, but with only 315 steps to the register, she knew she could make it. The best Santa sleigh gift ever. Suddenly, as she rounded the corner, she saw a wide-eyed small child in front of her, all decked out in a darling pink sleeper with feet. A small bunny was clutched in on hand. She desperately pulled back trying not to hit the sleepy infant. As she breathed a deep sigh of relief as the cart stopped, she failed to notice the it was tipped slightly backwards toward the large 3 liter soda display to her.
              Down came the cans and bottles one wicked thud at a time. "Mommy, mommy, that lady is getting all the soda." wafted up to her from the cracked tile.
              Her last thought was, "Oh, no. What will the papers read?"


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Waking up to "I love you"

             The throw-a-way first kid. I always got Gattaca, it was my story growing up. My mom had me as a last-ditch attempt to save her marriage with my father (which didn't work) and then later had my brother who I think she actually wanted, but by then it was probably too late for me. It was certainly too late for the marriage. As a child I knew none of this, I just felt this odd sense that I should be loved, that my parents told me I was loved, but somehow it never seemed to quite fit. I mean I knew I was never my mom or dad's favorite. But as I got older, I observed this huge gap between the way my brother appeared to be treated, and the way I was actually treated. Actually, the way anyone else I met parents' treated them.
              I even got told I was simply a parasite because all children are parasites to their parents. By the age of thirteen, I was trying to make sense of this crazy as my family was falling apart. Kids want desperately to be loved by their parents. It honestly seemed easier to think that I wasn't measuring up to my parents' demands for me to finally be loved or simply misreading people in general, than to question if they were ever capable of loving me in the first place. Perhaps it was I was a girl, or not making good enough grades, or tall, enough, or pretty enough. High school is a place for insecurity. It breeds like pimples.
              But eventually, if you don't die, you get older, and bruise your way through the real life, and none of the lies your parents tell you still make sense. And one day, you get tired of it. Just bone weary of the lies. And the not making sense. And you say screw it and you walk away. Because it's easier. Because you don't think you will stay sane if it continues. Because you feel you have no other choice.
              And eventually, you parents aren't dead. Everyone else thinks they are great people. Maybe I was wrong. But you weren't, you aren't wrong. And maybe it takes you getting burned a few more times to realize that. Because the one thing you needed from your folks, is the one thing your parents never had to give you. You can not buy love. Not with money. Not with time. You can not create it where it does not exist. You can create affection, you can create like, you can even form a relationship. But love, no.
              Frankly, I couldn't live with realizing that and talking to my folks every day and pretending. But that's a hard truth for anyone to handle. That they were never loved by their parents, just a convenient band-aid for a problem their folks actually wanted to deal with. But if it's true and you can face it, if you are lucky enough to find someone who actually means it when they say, "I love you." Then you wouldn't trade all the tea in China for getting to hear that in the morning.
             And now, I get to hear it every morning.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Bubblegum Mermaid

I was always small for my age. As if I was born late and forever rushing to catch up. Being a skinny knees and elbows wisp, you get nicknamed unimpressive things like Elf Ears. When I was 10, the final straw broke at our neighborhood pool. It was this wide affair with a 20 foot deep end. The kind that you have to pop your ears twice to reach the bottom.

Every afternoon, the 2 lifeguards would round everyone up in summer camp for a friendly game of Marco Polo. Marco was an inescapable trap for a kid who could barely hold their breath and strokes looked more like a turtle flapping its limbs flipped on their back than any actual speed. Desperate not to get caught, I spent the whole summer practicing my breast stroke.

Nothing worked. Deep breaths. Hyperventilating. I'd get about 5 feet under water and maybe 2 strokes and the silvery top would call my name. Lungs bursting, I'd hit the surface. There seemed no solution in site and I was desperately destined to remain the first person eliminated every day after lunch.

But luck has a funny way of changing. Our babysitter happened to show us Splash and I became obsessed with the idea of being able to breath underwater. I'd hold my breath and start counting with the idea that at some point like Tom Hanks I'd suddenly be able to do it. The highest I ever got to was 22. Or my magical merman counterpart would show up at the beach and hold my hand. This being the real world, no mermaid arrived or magic underwater breathing ability.

After a week of waiting, 5 whole days, I had to conclude that I was not stellar mermaid material. Tuesday dawned and our babysitter once again had us watching a beloved Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13. Did I mention she had a huge crush on him? The astronauts all survive by rebreathing their own air as long as the oxygen levels stay above a certain point. "Ah ha I thought! This is perfect." My allowance was $2 a week and stumbling down to the corner drug store, the only thing I could find that would work on my budget with any promise was the 25 cent packs of gum. I had just learned to blow bubbles the week before.

Clutching my prize in my tiny hands, I made off for a friend's backyard pool to experiment mad scientist style. One stick of Wriggley's Bubble gum failed miserably. I cautiously tried two. This worked somewhat if I blew a bubble and eased into the pool, but it did not hold up to any movement. Three, now, that did the trick. Trying to contain my excitement, I plunged to sit on the bottom of the pool (it was only 5 feet deep) and blew a bubble. To my surprise, it formed a very small bubble, but after some experimenting it seemed to work and allow me to draw a second breath at the bottom of the pool.

Two more days of hurried testing and I was ready for camp on Monday.

"Marco" dawned that afternoon and I plunged unto the pool chewing my gum. Two strokes in, I blew my bubble. Three strokes and I was starting to gain speed. Like a shot, I plunged across the pool as my drag was reduced. Because below 4-5 feet you can go a lot farther, a lot faster with less drag I instantly found out. Any person who has been on a summer swim team can tell you this odd fact, but at 10 I had no idea. Instead of the extra 4 or 5 feet I was expecting, I found myself breathless on the other side of the pool.

It was as if seeking a small improvement, I had unlocked a magic door. No one caught me again that summer. Or any summer after that. Though, I did buy a lot of gum. And if anyone asked me my secret, I just smiled and blew a bubble.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Grandfather Quartet – Part I: Special Relativity –

This week's post is by one of Nash's good English major friends, Robert. Hopefully we will get to read more of his stuff. And now, a little time traveling:

The Grandfather Quartet
– Part I: Special Relativity –

Margaret noticed that the sunrise that morning had been particularly beautiful as she watched it come up alongside the halcyon Arizona highway from the bus that she had been riding since early the previous afternoon. Though the night had been sleepless, Margaret wasn’t tired. She was prepared for her cross-country journey. She took the bus because, unlike the rest of the world, she wasn’t in a hurry – at least, not any more. She now planned to enjoy her old age and watching the forests and mountains of Appalachia, the flat plains of the Midwest, and the hideous beauty of the craggy mountains and deserts fly by as she rode home was the best way, according to her, to return to her humble Flagstaff home.

The bus, which was empty save her and the driver, came to a pit stop about an hour outside of Flagstaff and picked up a few passengers. She never noticed the other passengers; the way she had been taught it was rude to stare, so she didn’t bother to look at all. She was perfectly content with her own well being. Margaret, though now withering with old age, had at one time been a pretty girl: tall and thin like a beanstalk with wispy blonde hair that was so light it shimmered like the sun and, as her mother liked to say, was going to blind some lucky man someday. Of course, she looked different now. She was still tall and thin although old age had weighed down upon her posture and her hair was no longer a beautiful blonde, but a rainbow of grays that seemed to match her chilly demeanor. A lifetime devoted to the search of one missing person had had an effect on her perspective on life.

Theodore Hudson, a physics lab assistant who obtained his graduate degree from John Hopkins University in Washington DC and who worked in a West Virginia lab after World War II had disappeared shortly after the start of the Cold War, if in fact you could say that such a thing had a definite start. Margaret was only eight years old when Theodore disappeared and though there were almost no tinges of sadness concerning her father’s fate, it never seemed quite right. When Margaret made the decision to discover what had happened to him, only that discovery would stop her. Dissuasion was not a distinct possibility.

Though she made it a habit to ignore other passengers on the bus when possible, it became very difficult to show such indifference to the man who had sat right next to her. Of all the empty seats on the bus, his decision to take the one right next to her was just inconsiderate. After all, people need to preserve their personal space when possible.

Even worse, the man was drawing attention to himself by scoffing and gasping loudly at what he had read in the newspaper. Margaret kept up with the news and was not aware of anything particularly unusual that was happening. As such, she saw this man as quite a curiosity. The bus started moving again, having refueled, and the bus driver announced over the loudspeaker that they would be arriving in Flagstaff in just over an hour.

“Do you know what the date is?” asked the man incredulously in as faint southern drawl. “Do you know what year it is?” He wasn’t asking as if he didn’t know. His tone was matter-of-fact and exclamatory as if he had just made a great discovery that he felt necessary to confirm before announcing gleefully to the rest of the world.

“Well, I would say that it is indeed February 5th and the year is 2010,” said Margaret coldly. She just wanted to be left to her own business.

“Twenty-ten,” echoed the man. He turned his head back toward her, and opened his mouth as if he were about to speak. He hesitated momentarily, and then proclaimed “I bet that I can guess your name!” Margaret looked at the man skeptically. Of all the people to sit next to her on the bus, he was an eccentric, and a talkative one.

“I'll bet your name is...” he paused and began to stroke his chin. His lips pursed and his eyes became slits momentarily. His eyes opened up and his left pointer finger shot up into the air as he said “I'll bet your name is Mary Margaret Hudson!” He was spot on.

Margaret took a slow breath to keep from revealing the utter shock that stemmed from the feat performed by this random passenger. What are the odds that this random man can guess my name. In theory Margaret was a realist. Her father had always said “In a universe of infinite size, everything that could possibly occur must eventually.” In practice she was having trouble maintaining her realist philosophy. She doubted it was a guess: somehow this man knew her name. It was all too random to be otherwise.

“Well, that’s a very good trick,” said Margaret, “but I don’t imagine that I could get so lucky and guess your name. Why don’t you just share it with me? I do assume you have one.”

“Of course I do!,” said the eccentric, “my name is Theodore Hudson!”

Margaret had failed to shield from common view the gasp that symbolized the severe stupor that came with the utterance of that name. Though the man was clearly quite a bit younger than her, and by extension her father (if he still existed at all) she couldn't help but migrate to the idea that she was sitting next to the man that she had so willingly devoted her life to finding.

“Is everything okay?” asked Theodore concernedly, “you look like you just swallowed a bug.” She did not deny it. She was feeling quite light headed, and the bus rocked with an unnatural sway that she hoped was not due to the bus driver's technique but to her own dizziness at this man's presence next to her.

“I'm quite fine.” she said, sitting up, crossing her arms against her chest, and taking a deep breath. “I just haven't heard that name in quite a long time.”

“Is it important?” he glanced at her knowingly as he asked. Of course the name was important, and somehow this man knew it.

“Well more or less.” she paused and considered that this man could be false, out to play a trick upon her or take advantage of her. Though his face seemed innocent enough, his eyes were all too intent upon her: as if she were not actually a stranger. She decided that she would share no more. “It really isn't anyone else's business though.” The man nodded and ceased to push the question, immediately returning to his paper to act in childlike wonder at everything he read therein.

Margaret tried to return to her normal state of bus travel attentiveness, but found difficulty in this objective. Her attention was no longer focused outside the windows, but on the man in the seat next to her. The man sitting next to her having a quiet conversation with his newspaper. The eccentric. The talkative eccentric.

Despite this annoying eccentricity, the fact that he had chosen the seat next to her unnecessarily, and his odd reaction to the words contained in his ordinary newspaper, she looked at him and asked, “So, what do you do?”

“What do I do?” replied Theodore quizzically, clearly not understanding the question.

“As in...” she hesitated, attempting to overcome her discomfort with initiating conversation with a complete stranger, “As in, what is your career?”

Theodore's face lit up. “Ah, of course! My career! Well, I am a scientist.”

“Oh lovely!” Margaret nearly flinched at that word, lovely, and questioned how she had let herself say something so amicable as that. It went directly against her goal of maintaining her requisite personal space. “What are you working on?”

“Theoretical physics. I don't mean to sound pompous or anything, but I am specializing in applications of time dilation according to Einstein's special relativity and a possible way to reverse it allowing for two way travel!” As he described it, his face lit up with that excitement that only a love of one's labor can provide.

“Oh dear,” sighed Margaret. His presence here was beginning to become something of a coincidence and Margaret hated coincidences.

“In short, I'm working on...” Theodore paused and cast his eyes down to his shoes. His face lost that glamor that the love of his scientific pursuit had bestowed upon him. “Well, I'm working on time travel.” Time travel was not a foreign concept to her. She hardly had to act shocked. Perhaps Theodore misunderstood the reasons for her surprise.

Theodore, seeing Margaret's reaction, quickly returned to that boyish glee which the subject of time travel had cast over him. “You are the first person in a long time who hasn't laughed when I told them, in all seriousness, that I am researching time travel!”

“Where does one study time travel? That doesn't seem like a burgeoning field.”

“Washington DC. John Hopkins to be exact.” He hesitated, “Well, maybe not quite exact. I work in a lab owned by John Hopkins.” He hesitated again, retaining some words at the last second, only to release them after an extra second's consideration. “You know, I am here to visit family. I didn't come here alone.”

“I should surely hope not.” she said, masking her utter disbelief at the number of conveniences present here in the eccentric.

“I don't mean to be too forward or strange, but I think you should come and meet all of us. The people I came here with, that is. I think that they would all truly like to meet you. We're fine and entertaining people! And smart too!”

“Meet me?” Margaret placed her open palm against her chest as one does upon receiving great flattery. “Isn't that a bit sudden?”

“Absolutely. How does tomorrow night sound?” Theodore pulled a pen and a small sheet of paper from his coat. He was surprisingly charming for someone so young. “Here is the address, why don't you drop by around eight o'clock tomorrow evening?” he asked scribbling on the paper, “Don't think of it as a date. It's not! You just seem interested in time travel, and I'm interested in time travel. So are my coworkers. Come on, it'll be a blast! A blast for the ages, if you'll forgive me the pun.”

Margaret stopped to ponder this for a moment. I suppose I could just drop by. If it looks bad then I'll move along and pretend I never met this Theodore fellow. thought Margaret. “Alright then, I suppose I might stop in.” she said with her uncertainty on full display. There are just too many coincidences for this to be an accident, thought Margaret.


The next day, Margaret awoke in her own home after days of traveling and wondered if the whole incident had been a hallucination stemming from lack of sleep. The paper! If there is a paper, then I really met Theodore Hudson on the bus. A quick search of her coat pocket presented her with all of the evidence she needed: a slip of paper with an address scrawled in neatly formed letters across its face. Perhaps this is my father's handwriting. She thought to herself chuckling.

Moments later, this silly thought had stopped her in her tracks. The man on the bus, like her father upon his disappearance, was a scientist and worked in a lab in West Virginia. Could that man, that Theodore, be her father? And if so, how did he find her here?

She placed her hand on the pendant hanging from her neck. It had been a birthday gift from her father just before he disappeared.

She took two slices of bread from the cupboard and jammed them into the toaster. What was, she wondered, Theodore's reason for being here? He said he was visiting family, thought Margaret, but he didn't come here alone. And he didn't say that he was staying with family... She stopped cold in her tracks again, and thought, this time aloud, “Am I the family he came to visit?” Her thoughts were interrupted by the smell of burning toast.

“Oh fie... now the house is going to reek of burnt bread all day.” She let go of the pendant, and tended to the unfortunate toast.

Margaret shook her head, and silently convinced herself that this whole thing was ridiculous and this Theodore Hudson was just a nice man on the bus who shared her fathers name, profession, and place of education.

At peace with the events of the day before, she continued to make herself breakfast and live out the rest of her day as any retired woman might. She read the newspaper, cooked herself meals, called her sister on the telephone, and as the hour approached half past seven, she left her apartment and walked boldly into the cold snowy evening toward an apartment that contained a man who claimed he was a physicist named Theodore Hudson who studied the theoretical physics behind time travel in the same lab where her another man name Theodore Hudson, Margaret's father, had disappeared without a trace decades ago.

As Margaret walked into the bright moonlit evening, clean as a canvas and covered with snow, she found herself hoping that her father had found her on a bus outside of Flagstaff, for which she soon cursed herself.

“Silly old fool!” she stammered aloud. “Hoping for some scientific fairy tale to come along and disturb your life will never get you anywhere. Father is probably dead; likely killed by some secret disastrous experiment. If he had helped to invent time travel, then we would see travelers from all through history.” She did not notice the strange looks cast upon her as she walked down the street talking to no one apparent besides herself, for she had wandered off into her own thoughts and memories.


Margaret had been able to walk right into the old offices and laboratories without so much as a question. The receptionist was absent, though this was not always the case. Today, she would not have to sneak into the seemingly empty facility. It seemed empty, rather than abandoned, because the only thing missing was the staff. Computers were still running processes, unidentifiably complex contraptions flinging lighting from place to place were still active, and papers were scattered about the laboratories of the facility as if they expected the missing scientists to return and finish their work. It was almost as if they had put everything on hold and left the West Virginia lab.

Margaret had been here many times before, as had her father. Unfortunately, the two had never crossed paths. In all likelihood, it had been years since Theodore had last set foot in his laboratory.

Despite her ever obvious signs of old age and the passage of time in the world around her, there were no signs of change or decay in the facility. The laboratory was just as pristine and untouched by time as it had been twenty years ago. She had stumbled on this facility almost accidentally while searching through the last remaining trinkets left behind by her father: his watch, a couple of now-faded and incomprehensible pictures, a neck tie, and three letters from his former place of employment. It had occurred to her that she had never searched for the laboratory.

It must have been a very secret place, as all of her initial searches proved fruitless, but she would not be deterred. She stumbled across the address in a few of her old things crammed in a closet after her mother's death. It was printed on an envelope containing the details of one of her father's old paychecks. Since then, she had made dozens of trips cross-country to search the labs for clues concerning her father's mysterious disappearance.

It was in this lab where she found the final clue to her father's inexplicable lack of existence. After hours of rifling through reams of papers she happened upon a roster for a “Project Aperture.” Beside her father's name read the role title “Time traveler's envoy.”

She gasped at the weight of the discovery; her father was not necessarily dead or missing forever, just in the current time. Her vision became grainy and her head lightweight as she processed the discovery of her father's fate: the fulfillment that came at the realization of a lifetime of searching.

In her blissful daze, she began to notice the clacking of high heels against hard stone floors. Someone was clearly in the hallway, and, from the sound of it, coming toward her. Stepping out into the hallway, she found herself facing the receptionist who was now very armed with a handgun and very aware of Margaret's presence.

“You know, I shouldn't let you leave alive after what you just saw.” rang the receptionists hollow voice through the stone floored hallway. “But I'm going to give you a chance. Never come back here again. I know what you read. It's too bad nobody will believe you when you tell them. Welcome to obscurity!” Margaret stared blankly. She had not expected to be assaulted at gunpoint. “Go on! Get out of this facility!”

Margaret would not lose her life here in this lab as her husband Louis had years ago. His suspicions bettered him and when he came to the lab with Margaret, his clunky frame got the pair caught trying to sneak into the lab. The alarm sounded, the police arrived, and Louis was shot on sight. They hadn't seen Margaret.

Margaret left as fast as her withered old frame would carry her. She fled back to her sister's house and went straight to bed. The next morning, she informed her sister of her decision to skip her flight and return home a day early.

“Besides.” said Margaret, “I can take the bus. I haven't taken the bus in a while. I'm really looking quite forward to it.”

Margaret's sister had not ever asked where Louis had gone.


Margaret had stopped searching for her father two days ago on the absurd discovery that he was an aspiring time traveler. The pages of documents on “Project Aperture” seemed to prove its plausibility. From what she could remember, and what she could still understand of advanced mathematics and theoretical physics, all that was required for travel was a change in velocity relative to c, the speed of light. The issue was not moving forward, as the greater the velocity the slower the passage of time, but moving backward, which required the traveler to approach “-c”, the negative of the speed of light.

“Hey there, Marge. Is it okay if I call you that? I can call you by your full name if you'd like.” said Theodore. His voice pulled Margaret out of her flashback and back into the real world. She could not believe that she had lost herself in thought for the entire walk across town. Margaret found herself standing at the door of an apartment that was unfamiliar to her despite her overall familiarity with Flagstaff.

“So long as it is clear that I am who you are addressing, you may address me as you wish.” said Margaret. “I only stopped by momentarily to meet your family.”

“Oh, they ain't my family Marge, they're my coworkers. Come on in! Let me get you something to drink!” replied Theodore, closing the door behind Margaret reinstating that shield against the frigid weather. “This here is Mason Alexander, he's my coworker. Grad student. Almost as bright as me!” Mason, in response to Theodore's jests, reared his head back and laughed.

“Almost as great as the great Theo eh? Y'know, maybe one day I can aspire to achieve such great things as you, yeah?” roared Mason with a piercing New England accent. Laughing, Theodore turned to an older man, not much older, perhaps, than Margaret.

“And this here, this is the big boss. This is Frederick Wittsenberg.”

“VICHT-SEN-BEARG” announced Frederick. “You never can pronounce my name. How do you say it...”

“Say what boss?”

“The old dog cannot learn new tricks?”

“I'm not entirely sure that that is what you mean to say Mr. Frederick.” laughed Margaret.

At this, Frederick directly addressed her. “So you are the infamous Margaret. I have heard much of you, but you are, say, older than I would suspect you to be, no?” Confused, Margaret turned to Theodore for clarification.

“Oh now, don't listen to the boss. Sometimes, I'm not sure he knows what the hell he's sayin'.”

She was, in turn, introduced to everyone in the room this way, save one tall gaunt deathly-looking man in the corner. “That guy's named is Richard,” whispered Theodore, “he's not the most social of us. He's an...” Theodore paused, stroked his chin, and took a deep breath. “He's a bit shy.” By the time that Margaret turned to acknowledge him, Richard has already disappeared.

Theodore raised his glass. “Now that everyone's here, I've got a toast to make.” He cleared his throat. “We are all finally united at last!” The celebration had begun, for what exactly was not perfectly clear to Margaret.

The night was filled with much conversation. Drinks were passed around, stories were told, and for the first time in years, Margaret spent the evening in the company of entertaining individuals. She returned home late that night and fell promptly to sleep, pleased that her father was potentially such a charismatic man and that his coworkers were as interesting as they were brilliant.


Margaret awoke the next morning in good spirits but unable to find the necklace that her father had given her before he disappeared. As she made herself an omelet for breakfast and placed some beef in a marinade, with which she would surprise Theodore and his companions that evening, she retraced her steps the previous day. The only places she had been were her house, and Theodore's apartment.

What felt like a handful of hours of fruitless searching, combing through every nook and cranny for any place that the necklace could have used as a hiding spot, was enough to convince her that she had left it at Theodore's.

So she put on her coat, and braved the early afternoon February chill to walk to Theodore's apartment.


The building looked quite different in the day time. There was a plethora of small details that she didn't remember from the night before, though she had had a few drinks and it was entirely possible that she just did not notice them originally. They were, after all, just quibbles. The windows did not seem boarded up last night, and she did not remember the sign on the door declaring the building condemned. After all, she had spent most of the night inside the building. She really would have noticed if the building were so disagreeable.

Perhaps it is a ruse to deter intruders who would encroach upon the businesses of the illustrious time travelers thought Margaret, deciding to give the door a try anyway.

What was on the other side of that door was not was had been there the night before. The corners were consumed with cobwebs, and layers of dust, undisturbed for years, coated the floor. She crept in slowly and silently as if she were afraid of disturbing the dead. This place is most disagreeable. Hopefully Theo's apartment is cleaner than the entrance hall.

As she approached the door, the smell of stagnant water and rotting wood assaulted her senses. I didn't smell that at all last night!

She entered Theodore's apartment and, to her surprise, found that there were large holes in the floor, the wallpaper was crinkled and wilting as it separated from the walls, and the lighting that had been hanging from the roof last night had fallen to the ground. She could hear rats squeaking and crawling through empty spaces in the walls, possibly planning to expel this human invader. The apartment smelled of rot and urine and decay. But most concerning was its overall emptiness. It was, outside of occasional footsteps in the dust covered floor, undisturbed.

She looked down at her feet, and found that her necklace had fallen into a thin crack in the floor. Working it free from the grasp of the rotting wood planks, she thought So I was here last night. What is going on?

“What are you doing here?!” boomed a high pitched and slightly unsettling voice behind her.

“Where is everyone? What happ– “ the man to whom she spoke was oddly familiar and had a distinct resemblance with the mysterious man whom she had neglected to meet the night before.

“I heard reports that someone had entered this building. You do know it's condemned right?”

“Sir, this building can't be condemned! I was here last night! I was here with my father and his co-workers. You were there I think! I saw you there! You were standing in the corner just over there!” she pointed at where she thought he had been standing during the party.

The man seemed puzzled by this explanation. He was dressed in a shirt and pants and an orange hard-hat. His name tag identified him as the Arizona building commissioner who was named Richard Bartlett.

“I'm sorry ma'am. You must have the wrong building. No one has lived here in four years outside of the occasional homeless. It's going to be torn down in a matter of hours now.” Margaret, realizing this man's authority, looked down at the necklace, looked up at the man, and said “You must be right. My apologies.”


Back at home, Margaret decided that she needed to call her sister for advice and someone to talk to. The world seemed to be a much more confusing place since Theodore's re-disappearance just an hour ago.

“Hello? Is Lucy Hembourg there?”

The voice on the other line was unfamiliar to Margaret. “I'm sorry, who?”

“Lucy Hembourg. Could you tell her that her sister is calling?”

“I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number.” said the voice on the other line. Margaret tried again, this time sure to dial the number correctly, but that strange voice was the only person that Margaret was able to reach. Pulling out her contacts book she could not find the number for a Lucy Hembourg. It was as if she had never existed.

“I just don't know what to believe anymore.” sighed a tear-stricken Margaret.

Margaret looked around her apartment, seeing things that she had never seen before, while searching for other things that had disappeared. She sat down, confused and full of despair, and began to cry out for her disillusionment with this new world.

“What's the matter Marge?” came from behind her a familiar voice.

“Louis?!” cried Margaret spinning around in her chair. Sure enough, Louis was there with his arms outspread to accept and hold his distressed wife.

“Louis!” exclaimed Margaret before pushing away from his warm embrace. “You can't be real!” she said touching his face.

“What are you talking about? What's the matter?” asked Louis.

Margaret set aside her apprehension and confusion and broke down crying. “I can't find Lucy's number in my contacts book.”

Louis sat down at the table, opened the book, and found the number. “See? No worries love.” he said, pointing to the number in the book. She stared at the book's contents. Lucy's number was there.

“Louis, you're dead.”

Louis took a step back from the table, feigning fear of his wife’s words. “What did I do?”

“No Louis, I mean... you died. I saw them kill you.” Margaret stood.

“Who killed me?”

“Those policemen! Those government guys! You died in West Virginia!” Margaret balled her fists up as she shouted.

“Marge... love... we've never been to West Virginia,” replied Louis.

“Lucy lives in West Virginia. Where does Lucy live if not in West Virginia?”

“Lucy lives down the street! Marge, what has gotten into you?” He peered up at her, his eyes now as thin as paper. “And where did that necklace come from?”

“I...” Margaret, regaining her stiff outward countenance, decided that she would just have to accept that her stories seemed insane to the rest of the world.

“I found it. In a box of old things. What's today?” Perhaps I time traveled she thought.

“Tuesday,” both Louis and Margaret were eerily calm, breathless after their first fight in years.

“No. The number date,” said Margaret.

“Oh, February 7th.”


“Yeah. Same year it's been, well, all year! What's gotten into you?” Louis laughed.

Margaret would never, for fear of appearing insane and irrational, share her experiences. Whether she had fallen victim to a vivid hallucinatory picture show or been temporarily met by her father, swallowed by the time-traveling tides of Einstein's dreams, was never made clear to her. Nevertheless, she kept an ear out for her father while examining, but never truly living in, the altered life before her. When her time came to pass, she was thankful for Louis' presence regardless of whether he was really there, or merely an image.

Margaret never found her father.

by S. Robert Belk

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fiction Writing Ex 2

Day 78.
It has been several months since I was trapped on this Emperor-forsaken water world after the Rebels destroyed my Death Star. A piece of debris collided with my fighter and stranded me on this world.
It is one of the moons of Yavin, an uncolonized world with little land and lots of lightly polluted water.
In my fighter I had a filtration system and a jug that allow me to drink the water safely....but it is one of the worst chores of my day! I used to command fleets of the Empire's soldiers, but here I am soaking wet and drinking water out of a plastic jug!
Tracking beacon is active, but as of yet no Empire ships have found me yet. I managed to see a Rebel ship once, though it just came out of the atmosphere and dropped waste. It must have been automated because I used every trick with the Force I know to get their attention. Curses. Even the enemy might save me from this rotting cesspit.

Day 135:
I have named my helmet. It is now to be known as Erwin.
He and I have many conversations, but it would seem to any onlookers as if I were talking to myself, so I cut off the external speakers.

Day 154:
I have found a way to ignite the seaweed of this world with the force. At least, I think it is seaweed. My scanners say it is edible, but I honestly don't trust anything I find here after a second Rebel ship started dumping debris from the Death Star into the ocean.
A Storm Trooper helmet washed up on shore yesterday.
Erwin has a new friend. His name is Geoff.
I think they're plotting against me...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Raine Taxi II

This bag isn't quite heavy for someone my size, but for a little thing like this She must work out quite a bit. Can't quite tell her scent, though, doesn't smell much like an athlete. Maybe she's just from one of those families. I know that some of my physique came from family in the "Northlands" of Europe. Not much room for a Viking in modern day, so I do what I can helping to create peace between people.
Ironic, hm?
The walk out to the car was a pleasant one. It had been a long time since I last walked with a woman under the stars, "Beautiful night out, isn't it, miss?"
"Not too bad. New York has its own lights, but the natural kind are better." She stood and took a deep breath of the night air. It did interesting things with her business suit. Rather pleasant things.
Ahem. "The car is in the parking garage, miss, if you'll follow me?"
It took her a second to break away from the moment, but she eventually blinked and nodded to me sharply.
After walking for a little ways she asked, "So, how is it that you drive around Berlin?"
"Oh, the gas? I have a stipend from a few past business deals. They like having me mobile on short notice, so, I got a used company car and quite a large gas fund." I hope that's what she means, in Atlanta the gas might be expensive, but driving's almost a most to avoid some...worse parts of the city.
"Well, it provides useful for other business deals as well, hm? Anything interesting to see in the city?" She asked, moving a half-step behind me.
"Plenty of museums, if you're of the type to go. I have a soft spot for aged objects and places. Benefit of living around here."
"Well... I do have somewhat of a soft spot for...aged things. It might be interesting to see a few..." Hesitancy. Great. Well, there goes my chance with a gorgeous girl.
Business it is.
"Here we are, miss. Your chariot awaits." Accompanied by the quiet beep-beep of the Gulf unlocking.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Rain Taxi

Where was the blasted thing? She rummaged through her bag for her passport, the latest in a long-line of dozens. They were easy enough to get either through imaginary offspring or legal migration. People always said you were the spitting image of your aunt, mother, or grandparent, she’d yet to have them put two and two together. It was a bit depressing how easy humans were to fool. Or rather, people saw what they expected to see, and no one ever expected a vampire no matter how many Anne Rice, Twilight, True Blood, or latest vampire novel fad. There, in the bottom of her purse, it was lurking.

“And how long will you be staying in Germany, miss?” the bored attendant clipped out.

“A week, perhaps two at most.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“A little of both, I’m a designer. Plan to visit some of the local shops.”

“That’s not very common here, most of the designers go to Paris or Milan.”

“I know, but most of the equipment is actually made here.”

“I see, very good.” The man waved her through as if the answer meant nothing to him, which was probably true. Just a random polite question to a stranger to see if she raised any flags.

She snorted to herself and rounded the exit corner. A tall man was standing there with a sign that read, Catherine O’Connell and Elizabeth Jones. Damn, her assistant…she had forgotten to pass along the note that she had canceled at the last minute to run off the Bahamas with her boyfriend.

“I’m Catherine O’Connell.” She paused to readjust the bag on her shoulder.

“Benjamin Weimar, your translator.” His blue eyes twinkled down at her.

“You’re not German?”

“No ma’am, I’m actually from Altanta, a city in the US. Landed here a couple years back on walk-around looking for relatives.”

She tilted her head back to get a better look at the giant staring down at her. “I’m a traveler myself and that demands a certain flexibility. How is your business German?”

“Passable, but my business etiquette is even better. I’m guessing that’s what you’re looking for. Most Germans actually speak English so there must be a reason you want me along besides translation.”

Catherine sighed, well…at least he was charming. “Yes, it’s the nuances sometimes. Germans are so well….black and white. Sometimes you need someone politely standing by draining the color out of my words.”

Ben chuckled back. “Yes, well…it grows on you.”

“Very well, let’s go.”

“Don’t you have an assistant in tow?”

“Oh, Lizzie? She’s in the Bahamas with her boyfriend at them moment. A last minute surprise anniversary gift from him so I’m left scrambling to keep up the pieces. So let’s find the exit and you can show me the sites. Did you order a taxi?”

“Actually, I drove.”

“You drove? In Berlin? Are you out of your mind? And how did you even manage the fees?” she choked back her words. Her tongue still got away from her. Hell, if the man had a car…a real car in Berlin…it would be a godsend. Hopefully she hadn’t accidentally offended the man and ruined her chance at her own private ride in Europe.

He laughed at her, an honest to God belly laugh. “Wait until you see it before you pass judgment. She’s clean and black, and the VW isn’t a bad company.” Then he reached out and picked up her bag. “Let me carry your bag and get the door.”

Chivalry, she almost resisted for a moment, then decided it was a nice return to the 1940s. A man hadn’t opened a door for her in New York in 20 years. And if he tried to run off with her bags, she could always pounce him. Being a vampire had it’s perks.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Taste of Blood II

Those artist types, crazy and eccentric, the lot of them. Working as a translator for going on three years now and all I've gotten for it is a lot of thank you's and hail-fellow-how-art-thou's from between the United States and Germany, but hey, at least the food here is okay. My job is mostly trying to figure out how two business, political or casual people can get around subtle insults without blatantly insulting their opposing faction. I have to keep myself from laughing a lot of the time, but it is really a fun gig.
Ten minutes. Enough time to get my business face on and go meet my new clients. Some hotshot fabric connoisseur and her assistant. I didn't get the gist of their reason for being in Germany, but it has something to do with fabric and a lot of night-time hotspots around the city of Berlin, and that they needed someone who can translate, drive and generally be a ambulatory guide book to the area. It helps that three years ago I was in a similar boat, so maybe they'll listen to some of my advice.
And maybe they'll look at me stupidly and cut the contract early.
Who knows? I'll be at the airport shortly and we'll see how it goes from there. Here's to hoping they don't mind a Volkswagen. This Gulf is comfortable.

The Taste of Blood.

Most vampires were turned for love in the novels, but for me it was a business proposition. My original benefactor was as interested in the arts as blood. She turned me one night, mostly on a whim, or perhaps it was the mention of my first gray hair and how we all eventually grow old. That hopefully I would live long enough to taste the perfection that all true craftsmen long for to fashion a masterpiece. The last thing I remember is the swish of her purple sleeve as she bent over me.
Thankfully, being an artist covered all manner of eccentric behavior. Patrons never blinked when you insisted you needed all kinds of odd things or hours. A few fang marks and you could have a village rioting, but saying you need some blood for an evening from the patron to capture the true soul for their masterpiece and they practically fall over all over themselves offering vials full of the stuff. And so she'd lived for centuries, master to not one medium, but countless. However, in all those sunsets languages still stuck in the fuzzy space in her head. It was as if her hands had gotten all the creative juices and there had been none left for the tongue.
Well, here she was in Germany, departing from a red-eye and off to meet her translator. She was into fabrics these days and design. Fumbling through the iPhone, she came up with a name....Ben something or other. Well, hopefully he wasn't too hard on the eyes. Now to go find the taxi and hopefully survive the next week of bad food.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Something I've been thinking about for a while.

The badness of a movie is directly proportional to the number of 
helicopters in it.  

You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and 
compelling reason why we observe Daylight Saving Time. 

People who feel the need to tell you that they have an excellent 
sense of humor are telling you that they have no sense of humor. 

The most valuable function performed by the federal government is 

You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely 
suggests you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby 
emerging from her at that moment. 

A penny saved is worthless. 

They can hold all the peace talks they want, but there will never 
be peace in the Middle East. Billions of years from now, when Earth 
is hurtling toward the Sun and there is nothing left alive on the 
planet except a few microorganisms, the microorganisms living in 
the Middle East will be bitter enemies. 

The most powerful force in the universe is: gossip. 

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, 
gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, 
deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers. 

There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to 
make a big deal about your birthday. That time is: age 11. 

There is a very fine line between 'hobby' and 'mental illness.' 

People who want to share their religious views with you almost 
never want you to share yours with them. 

Nobody is normal. 

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human 
race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, 
that word would be: meetings. 

The main accomplishment of almost all organized protests is to 
annoy people who are not in them. 

If there really is a God who created the entire universe with all 
of its glories, and He decides to deliver a message to humanity, He 
will not use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad 

You should not confuse your career with your life. 

A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a 
nice person. 

No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too 

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one 
individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. 
Very often, that individual is crazy. 

Your friends love you anyway. 

Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. 
  -- Dave Berry, "25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years" 
I was thinking about all this the other day and realized that I 
don't often follow this as much as I should. Take note. Work on it. 
Your life will get better.