The Man Beneath the Bridge (Challenge)
He sits there under the bridge hoping to gather dust beneath the nail like it's some fingerprint of existence or some shit. He used to be important and in some ways still is. He's quite wealthy. Just gave up a bit. Left it all in some fuckin mental break or something to find the meaning of it all. It pisses me off sometimes, but like a car crash I can't look away. Or stop thinking about it. Half pissed I work my ass off to buy food to survive and half impressed that there's someone out there that gave up everything by choice. He just sits there and looks at a mural someone painted under the bridge when they were probably stoned or high. I think he's searching for some color that never existed. Maybe some special meaning buried in a spray can-typo. For some dumbass reason it gives me hope. Maybe for all my struggles I'm missing something beautiful. Maybe he's just a crazy, senile asshole that does this for fun. I don't know. Gave him a dollar once. Asshole didn't even look up. Just took it. He probably won't even fuckin buy booze with it, which is a bit insulting. I'd buy booze with it. What the fuck else would I do? But this asshole seems to need nothing. Maybe I'll join him one day and see whatever it is he stares at so intently. Or maybe he'll just be dead tomorrow and this fixation will have been for nothing but a midlife crisis. I just know when I wake up thirty minutes before I'm ready tomorrow, and sip half shit coffee to go make someone I've never met money, this cocksucker will wake up whenever the hell he wants and look at a wall. Just because he wants to. And I'll feel like a dick for not dropping a dollar on my way home, thinking it's the right thing for him to taste my morning disappointment. He won't. But a dollar buys my sanity sometimes. And one day, I won't see him. He'll just be gone. And I hope I get there first, so I can look without anyone around at this dumbass graffiti he's so taken by. There's still a bit of color coming through. Maybe hope lies within the concrete. Maybe that picture of something so common will look like what I had all along. Or maybe I'll fuck a whore in front of it out of spite. Maybe the asshole I've become was what he gave it all up to avoid. I'm just jealous of the person buying paint right now.
The Piper’s Song
I provide my service, and then they pay me, or they don’t. It makes no difference to me. I murder their children, or I don’t. That makes no difference either, because, you see, piping is not about the money. I buy nothing. Merchants can offer me silk gowns or mahogany chairs, jewel-studded mirrors or plates of finest porcelain. I have no home; I have no need for a hoard of bric-a-brac. Neither do I need coins for food or drink, or lodging, or ferrymen’s tolls. I have my pipe, and it provides.
When they give me money, I throw it in a river.
Piping is about power. A town feels distress because there are locusts, or barbarians, or pathogens or drug addicts. Or rats, of course. The problem becomes a plague so that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put their peace together again, and then I am there with my offer. It can all go away, for a fee. Money can dispense with nearly every ill in our world if people have the will to part with it.
Sometimes, I am accepted, and the contract is fulfilled. I play my melody and lure the bad things elsewhere—often to another town, though the desperate rarely ask questions. I do my work; my patrons give over the demanded sum. They work so hard for that money, and then they must watch me waltz away and hear my jingling pockets.
At other times, I am refused. The people clutch their bills and coins and suffer on like the fools they are.
And sometimes, more often than you might think, I meet those who are not only fools, but thieves. They lack humility. I perform on my pipe; they cheer to be free, but withhold what is mine.
I drowned the children of Hamelin. I led them to the Steinhuder Meer, all of them dancing and laughing for fifty kilometers, even as their shoeless feet bled on the stones of the road. I played my pipe and they danced into the waves, giggling even while the mere filled their lungs and they died in water scarce over their heads. The muck, too, obeyed my pipe and swallowed their bodies below. The thieves of Hamelin might have found their children with ease if only they had known the tune.
I play those notes myself, whenever my work brings me nearby. I stand on the shore with my pipe and all the dead children rise to float on the waves. I play, they bob and I can hear their parents’ wails on the wind; I pause and listen. Once the cries fade and the bodies sink, I move on to the next plague in the next town.
The world is large, and I know many tunes.
Four walls. Three windows. Two rooms. One door. I walk past this house everyday. It's always dim, always empty, always cold. You would think no one ever lived there at all. This building is something I would never want now, but something I used to love. I used to laugh, sing, and dance in this house. I hugged, loved, and watched my favorite person in the world die in this house.
Before Mary died, she had asked that I keep it so her spirit could live on. She had saved up enough to pay the mortgage off on this house, and 100 others, but without her it was only a house where as Mary was my home. Everything you could ever need, she was. She was my light, my music, my walls, my windows. She opened every door I had closed, and made every part of me feel safe and secured. Because of her, I left the doors unlocked.
I sold the house immediately after she died. I could still smell her in every room, and I could still taste her with every breath, and I needed to get away from that reminder. I could have anything I want in life with the money she left me, but all I want is her. Her spirit lives through me, not the house. I wander the streets at night, protected by her presence. I feel as if finding security in any place that's not with her is a betrayal, so I promised to never live in a house again.
One day as I walk past the house and I noticed a fresh coat of paint, new locks, and new blinds. I can no longer peer into the empty house that was once full of smiles and memories of Mary. This hurts to see, but a young couple leave the house, door unlocked, and I can tell it is now a home again. I know Mary would be happy at this sight…Four walls. Three rooms. Two hearts. One door.
They called her Vivian, when they called her anything at all. She would seldom give out her name when she sat in at bars, content to sit and respond to calls of "Hey, Lady," with a middle finger or a sardonic smile. Maybe both.
She'd sit on a stool as close to the middle as she could get, and wait, eyes raking the crowd like she was looking for someone that didn't seem to exist. She'd stay for about an hour and then leave, driving all night to some other town and sitting in some other bar.
She was tired. She'd worked her entire adult life, garnering more and more attention until she finally gave up, weighed down by stacks and stacks of dollar bills that just kept getting heavier, even now that she wasn't working. Some asshole told her to invest and like a fool, she did, and her money was still growing day by day, a large, smoldering parasite that was putting a hunch in her back and blisters on the soles of her feet.
She could afford anything. Could buy herself a house on some exotic beachfront, buy herself a model for a husband, could probably buy two-point-five kids. She could buy herself a perfect lawn and trees and flowers, buy herself the finest meals this world has ever seen.
Instead, she went to bars, paying for gas as needed along the way, and sat with her hand over the top of her single drink and watched the crowd grow and ebb around her.
The only significant purchase she'd ever made was plastic surgery, her face now unrecognizable from the one that used to be plastered on the cover of magazines with headlines like "The Woman Who Beat Elon Musk: Five Tips She Has for Young Woman" (an article in a magazine that she'd never actually granted an interview to yet one that sold nearly a billion copies worldwide).
The bar she sat in now was particularly run down, the owners a tired couple with divorce lawyers bookmarked in their contacts and tenants that resembled fat city rats more than they resembled people. These places were Vivian's favorite, the scent of cheap booze and despair hanging over her like a blanket. They were nostalgic, almost; reminders of the nights that her father actually remembered to come home and would read, in his slurred yet kind voice, bedtime stories. Stories of dragons and scientists and inventors, big girl stories that little Vivian never quite understood but enjoyed anyway.
She let her eyes travel, blank and listless, over the crowd, still searching for someone that she was beginning to think she'd never find. A face the same age as her own, just beginning to show the telltale decay of age.
A face that represented her biggest regret, and a face who's absence represented her biggest fear.
Her hour was up, and she uncovered the top of her drink, leaving it to sit and wait, full, until someone cleaned it away.
She showed no reaction as some guy behind her asked if it hurt when she fell from heaven. Her face a wall. Behind it, all her fear and regret were boiling, invisible to everyone except her.
Her regret had a name. Bianca. Short, a little overweight but not unhealthy, only a single pimple to mar her pallid face. Beautiful in her normalcy. She was average.
Vivian realized, years too late, that every cruel word she'd said was out of jealousy. Bianca had the luxury of being normal, of not worrying about what others thought until Vivian forced her to worry. A luxury that Vivian did not have. Every grade was bullied to perfection, every feature was crushed down until it became something resembling beautiful, her mother living vicariously through every good-looking boy she brought home and threatening to disown her on the one genuine occasion that she brought home someone she loved on the basis of his appearance. He "wasn't pretty enough" to get her anywhere.
Maybe that was why Vivian had remained single. More than anything else, it was her mother's voice, telling her she needed to find a real man if she wanted to get anywhere in life.
Bianca had been hospitalized in her freshman year of high school and never returned, and on the night of Vivian's graduation she almost refused to walk the stage as the realization of what she'd done hit her like a truck. She didn't deserve to graduate. She'd nearly killed someone.
But in the end, her mother won, and she walked. Graduated salutatorian, an honor that disgraced her mother for years.
She was leaving a large tip as the door swung open. Not Bianca, this was a balding man with an indecipherable sports jersey.
She sighed at her own naivete and left, door slamming behind her. Retreated to her car, which, like her, was beginning to show its years. She didn't have the heart to replace it, even after she'd racked up nearly a hundred thousand miles. She intended to drive it until it broke down or until she finished her redemption mission, whichever came first.
She'd spent years wondering how much money she'd have to give. A million per every year of life? A billion?
At some point she realized that money was worthless. You could not reimburse an intrusive thought, could not bribe it into submission when you were the one who planted it there.
Even so, she kept searching, hoping to find a successful and happy woman rather than a headstone. She still hadn't found either one, and she'd googled Bianca's name at least two dozen times a month.
She'd scripted out her conversation. No flowery begging for apologies. Merely a statement, that she knew what she'd done and regretted it, that she hoped she'd found a way to move past it, or at least a way to cope.
No expectation for forgiveness, but a hope.
Vivian's next stop was in Cincinnati. They had some nicer bars, ones that glistened in the night, false veneers of happiness covering up a cesspool of tragedy that hung heavy inside them.
The saddest people tended to drink at the nicest bars with smiles on their faces.
It was nearing six in the morning, the threshold between night and day, between the early birds and the night owls, both suffering from the same affliction manifested in different ways.
She'd been to three bars tonight, unable to sleep, driven by some manic obsession.
This would be her fourth.
The bartender was a smiling blonde woman with short curly hair, heavy black eyeliner, and a wedding ring around a chain on her neck. She greeted Vivian with enthusiasm and Vivian decided that she liked her. That kind of radiance at six in the morning was rare to find. Either she was content and confident or she was on heavy drugs. Normally Vivian would lean to the latter, but with this particular individual, she was inclined to believe the former.
She actually took a sip of the drink before she covered it with her hand, motivated by some alien compulsion.
"How're you tonight, Hon," asked the bartender, her voice so soothing it was almost familiar.
Vivian just smiled and shrugged.
"Been a rough night?"
"I suppose. I'm looking for someone."
"Ah, ain't we all, girl."
Vivian allowed herself to laugh a little.
"I'm looking for someone I hurt. A girl I knew once."
"We've all hurt someone, Hon."
"Yeah, I suppose."
"Here's the thing. Whoever it was you hurt, she's probably moved on. Grown up, cried about it, and then moved on. Maybe she realized that you suffered just like her, in your own way. Maybe she taught herself to laugh at your insecurities, to pity the person you were. She doesn't need you to find her. Maybe she even found herself because of you."
Vivian looked up, startled by the poignancy of this stranger's words.
"I guess you have a point."
"I've seen all kinds of people here, Hon. Abusers, abused. And I'm telling you, a lotta times the abusers suffer for it even more than the abused do. Not always. There's always sickos, always exceptions. But more than once I've had a guy come in here three steps away from suicide because he hit his girlfriend once in high school. Everyone's got their issues. Their trauma. Tricky part is learning from it, excising your evil. Cause we all got evil, Hon."
Vivian's hour was up but she lingered for a moment more before getting up and smiling at the bartender.
"Thank you," she said.
As Vivian left, her hand on the door, she took one look back. the bartender had moved on to the next person, smiling at some new stranger, putting them at ease with the sheer force of her kindness.
The name tag pinned neatly to her shirt read Bianca.
Half-way around the world
I’m an only child. Today, after I graduate from high school, my billionaire parents and I are boarding a private jet. We will travel around the world for 62 days, stopping in all the places I chose as my graduation present. I’m a bit concerned about that much family time, but when they asked what I wanted, I couldn’t think of a single thing.
It feels like we’ve already travelled half-way around the world on this one flight. I find the lightning piercing through fluffy clouds amazing, although I don’t enjoy the sudden drop in pressure. Suddenly, we are on a downward spiral without time to even think of what might happen next.
I’m no longer an only child. I’m an orphan. Why did I have to survive that awful wreck and lose both of my parents? Uncle Joe came quickly to be with me, but I never cared for my dad’s brother. Of course, he didn’t understand when I said, “I will never go home again.”
Now I have a billion dollars in my name. Nowhere I really want to go, and nowhere I want to be. I remember hearing about some very expensive trips going to the moon. I can definitely afford that. Wonder what they will do when I get there and refuse to go home?
Leave it All Behind
"Will you still be here in the morning?"
I raise my eyebrows at the elderly man sitting across from me, "Is there a reason I should be?"
"Well...You know your parents should be back--"
"I know when they'll be back, I'm the one that paid for their entire vacation. I didn't come to see them. I'll be gone before their flight even lands."
I came to see my childhood home, to see if it was what I remembered, or if it was better or warmer even. But no. It was the same house, only now filled with more exquisite decorations--decorations bought with the money I'd given them over the years without even a 'thank you' note in return.
"Linzi, you haven't seen them since you moved out... They're your parents," Kenny's wrinkled hands shake slightly from an emotion that is hidden from his soft, thoughtful face. He's what people would call a family friend, to me he's the grandpa I wish I had. And he's currently house sitting for my constantly emotionally unavailable parents.
The feeling that has always haunts my stomach thunders to life, an unexplainable anxiety. The need to leave. I've been here too long. The air is heavier and the lights are brighter. Too bright. My foot starts tapping a terrified beat.
"Try telling them that, Kenny." Even my voice is shaky. I quickly rise to my feet, and dust off the crumbs of dinner. "I need to go."
"Wait!" Kenny's old joints audibly moan as he starts to follow me up. But I'm already rushing from the dining room to the front door.
"Linzi!" He calls after me, but my expensive fur coat's draped over my shoulder, and my right hand grips my keys and phone.
When the door opens, and the cool night air sinks into my bones, a bit of the anxiety fades. I'm almost gone, almost free.
"Your bags!" Kenny calls, still in the dining room. He's stopped trying to chase after me, because this is what happens every time I stay too long.
"I'll just buy more."
I shut the door with finality; the road awaits.
I wonder where I'll go next, if anywhere will be enough to hold me for more than a couple of days. If I can ever find a place that gives me inner peace, where my soul can be put to rest.
But for now, I'll just be the journeying rich girl the media ponders and my parents ignore.
It was a blissful Saturday morning in New Jersey. I stationed myself near a bakery and sat down. I grasped a tin can in my hand, hoping for a bit of change. One by one, the customers entered the bakery and left, not even glancing at me. Of course, to them, I was a poor man with a shabby old beard and raggedy clothes. I sighed and got up to leave when a young boy dropped a quarter into the can. It landed with a loud clang and I looked up at him to see him smiling. As he walked away I pulled out a hundred dollar bill and snuck it into his backpack. Perhaps he would buy a new toy car or an action figure. I smiled to myself and left.
The next day I woke up in the alley where I normally slept. I decided to take a visit to the bank. When I entered, the lady at the front desk was rather surprised to see me.
"Mr. Monzerelli, what are you doing here?"
I whipped out my premium card and replied, "I'd like to make a transaction of 250,000 dollars please."
The lady nodded and escorted me to my personal bank, which was the size of a house.
I took out some wads of hundred-dollar bills before thanking the lady.
As I exited the bank, the lady stopped me and asked, "Why when you have the fortune of a billionaire would you stay on the streets, homeless?"
I just smiled and laughed. "Oh to me it doesn't matter whether I'm rich or not. I care about giving back to those who have been so kind to me.
The lady was still confused and just stared at me as I joyfully walked away.
(Drift-er // a person who is continually moving from place to place, without any fixed home.)
She's tired. Tired of being strong. Tired of faking a smile. Tired of being "okay." At the end of every day, she dreams of a new place, a new life, and unpredictably predictable takes off in search of it. Everyone knows her, yet no one knows her; it's what to expect when you have the highest following and all the money in the world. Everyone thinks it's her "next adventure," but in reality, she's just a drifter with no true home. In her mind, if you don't let yourself get too close to someone, it won't hurt as bad when they leave you.
Yes, she's a drifter, but it's only the moment she lies her head on her pillow where she feels the safest not to be okay. She cries until she feels no more. Staying up half the night, she thinks of the impossible and dreams of what could have been... what would never happen in her lonely life. She could paint with all the tears that had come out of each eye. Drop by drop, little by little; the tears keep coming. She tells herself, "Turn it off," turn off the emotions, the feeling, the pain... to only drift away.
She drifts away into a beautiful world; dream after dream plays in her head. That's where she loves to spend her time, in those dreams. It's where she escapes, where there seem to be no worries or problems or heartache. The dreams are almost tangible to her, like she's a part of them. Like she can reach out and feel... well, anything really. She feels the grass under her feet. She feels rain and the happiness of laughter from dancing in it. She feels her late father wrap his arms around her into a loving squeeze. She feels home.
Then a loud noise interrupts the dream. It's a dreadful sound that gently brings her back to the real world. It's morning. The sun is shining through her window. She can feel the warmth of the curtain-stained beam landing on her bare shoulder. She can hear the wind sway the trees as the fall season approaches. She rolls to her back and opens her eyes to see her white ceiling. She tells herself, "You're going to be okay. It'll be a good day."
Money Can’t Buy You Love
Larry sat at the bar, looking at the last few drops of Scotch in his glass. The hotel lounge across the street from the hospital where Larry's wife died last year is probably the last place you would expect to see him on a Saturday night.
Nothing in his life made sense since he lost her. When they found out she had cancer, he had been a dutiful husband. Stuck with her through every chemo treatment, every appointment, told her she was beautiful when her hair fell out and held her as she cried every night.
On the day she died, something changed. The doctor told him that she had only hours to live. Larry had the strangest reaction. For the man who had been so supportive and so brave, he just couldn't be there anymore. Larry nodded to the doctor and then proceeded to walk away.
Larry took the elevator down to the main floor, walked out the front exit and waited patiently at the intersection. When the light went green he crossed the street and went into the corner store. Larry bought a lottery ticket for the first time in his life. He had no idea why.
Larry then went into the hotel next door and sat at the bar in the hotel lobby. He drank and drank until they would serve him no more. Then Larry went to the front desk and booked a room facing the hospital. He couldn't see his wife's room, it was facing the other direction. He sat at the window staring at the hospital anyways.
Hours went by before he had the nerve to check his phone. By the missed calls he knew what had happened. She was gone.
Later that week he found out that she had bought a life insurance policy on herself without telling him. Because she had been so young and healthy, the premiums were cheap and the payout high. He was paid 6.3 million dollar. She truly did love him.
Larry hated all the money and he donated it all to charity.
The following week he remembered the lottery ticket. Larry checked the numbers, he had won the jackpot. 100 million dollars.
The lottery official told him he could take 20 million a year for the next 5 years or 63 million all at once. Larry took the lump sum.
Larry had thought of donating the money, or even burning it. He was so ashamed that he had abandoned the person he loved the most right when she needed him the most.
The next day he gave all the money to the humane society. His wife had loved animals.
Larry got a call from his lawyer. It turns out his wife had invested heavily in Bit Coin when it was just starting up. She had made a fortune and put the order in to sell before she passed away. He had a cheque for 630 million dollars waiting for him. She wanted to surprise him but never got the chance.
When Larry hung up the phone he began to sob. He didn't believe in fate, but he couldn't understand what was happening. Why was the universe rewarding him for his cowardice?
Later that day he got a call from the contractor working on his house. There was a mold issue and they were replacing the drywall. The contractor had found a hidden storage space. Inside, all kinds of gold bars. The previous owner must have stashed it there and never told anyone before he died. Larry had bought the house at an estate sale. It was all his.
Now a year had gone by and Larry sat alone at the hotel bar across the street from the hospital where his wife died. He had sold his house. He couldn't stand to be there anymore. Living out of a hotel is not cheap, but fortunately for Larry the hundreds of millions he now possesses easily covers the bill.
After all, his wife's nickname for him had always been, "Lucky Larry."
All the Money in the World
I had done it.
Many had tried it before, but I had actually done it.
You would think that the hard part would be achieving staggering wealth, but the real work as always comes down to the details. Anyone can become a billionaire, well not anyone if we are concerned about how far we’re stretching credulity, but the point being that it at least seems like an achievable goal. Frankly, it’s one of the little fictions that allow any of them to exist in the first place. Having a trillion dollars seems to be at least conceptually possible, but when you start talking about having all of the money in the world you begin to run into some pretty tough logistical issues.
Do you know how many pennies, or penny equivalents, there are in the world?
How about nickels? Damn, I hate nickels.
If you want to have ALL of the money in the world, you are talking about mason jars of change. Dimes that have found their way into an old coffee can full of nuts and bolts. You are talking about people who have tacky little cardboard displays of all fifty state quarters. You have to consider scouring the ocean floor for sunken pirate treasure, and gold coins sitting behind glass in museums. Dragging the bottom of wishing wells, digging between the cushions of every coach on the planet.
Do you actually know how many different types of currency there are in the world?
At least I don’t have to worry about crypto, that stuff is clearly fake.
The whole thing is an enormous undertaking, but do you know what clears up most of those complications? That’s right, money. It’s also made significantly easier when you realize that once you have taken control of most of the larger chunks of cash that you are essentially paying yourself for everything that you buy.
Ironically, for the last decade, the largest economic driver in the world was actually my own search to complete my collection of the world’s currency. Fully one quarter of the entire population of the planet was employed by me in this task in one way of another. From people walking the sides of roads and parking lots scrounging for change and others scouring the globe with metal detectors to deep sea divers on the ocean’s floor.
Like many of the world’s richest men prior to me, peasants by comparison of course, I am not satisfied merely with the accumulation of wealth. I am an adventurer at heart and have been employing some of the greatest scientists and engineers in the world in the construction of the largest, most luxurious spacecraft ever constructed. I am going to explore the galaxy and deliver the stars to our planet in a way that it’s governments have never had the will to do.
I will also be taking every last scrap of my money with me.
I’m not foolish enough to think that I can trust the rest of you not to spread it around again while I’m not looking.
Today was the day. I broke atmosphere a few hours ago in the fastest, most advanced piece of technology that humanity has ever conceived of. My course has been plotted and laid in by my crew, and I am off to places that no human being has ever seen before. All I have to do is kick back and wait.
The view screen shows me the Earth disappearing behind me, transformed by distance into a shimmering blue dot, and with the Earth behind me I can only look forward.
The glowing disc of the sun starts to burn on the screen.
It is growing larger.
Filling the view screen.
Nothing but a roiling angry sheet of fire.