Shawn-The-Bastard saw the whole thing. Of course he did.
I was in the middle of my shift and it was pretty dead. My Tuesday regulars were all there: the four-top of sixty-somethings women who always look at my ass when I plug their orders into the computer, the two bald guys with the ties, and Janice, drunk as usual, ordering her burger plain, again as usual. I had made $38 so far, including a ten spot from some business muckety-muck type who ordered a salad and talked on his cell phone while he sipped his coffee. A pretty typical day.
Then she walked in.
I'm telling you, she wasn't human. Long dark red hair that fell to the middle of her back in crimson waves I wanted to swim in, green eyes like emeralds; big emeralds, too, not the cheap shit I can afford. And legs... my old man would have said she had legs for days. They were cream white and her skin looked so soft. She had a black skirt on, not too short, just right, you know? But her smile... I can't even tell you, I've never seen anything like it. She didn't light up the room, she softened it. It was like a snake charmer, like her smile hypnotized me and I couldn't move or think or breathe. I could have spent the rest of my shift just staring at that smile. Maybe the rest of my life.
It was Shawn-The-Bastard who woke me up. He caught me staring and told me to go take her order. He watched, snickering.
I walked to the table, pad and pen in hand; no way I was going to be able to memorize her order, my mind was in outer space. I stopped at the table, looked into her eyes, and forgot my name. She smiled. She said hello.
I walked out and drove to the beach.
Letters from the Future
My Dearest Anne,
I made it. They tell me you died in 1980. In my mind that is nearly 30 years from now. In reality it is nearly 40 years ago. It is difficult to keep it all straight. I wish you were here.
Who else can I speak to about the future and the in-between world we had no intention of discovering? They assigned me a friend to speak to, they call him a therapist. It helps. A little. It was his idea to write to some of my old colleagues and family. So here we are.
And where are we? It’s still Chicago, the same where just a different when. I wish you could see it! It’s nothing like we imagined, but it is still magnificent. No flying automobiles or visits from outer space. Really, everything just got faster. There are more cars, people don’t really share them anymore. And this fascination with miniaturized contraptions that light up: cell phones and computers and monitors, they call them. It is the culmination of the work of some of my colleagues and incredible to see, why just the power sources alone would be beyond the imaginations of most of our research team.
There is more. So much more. I cannot bear to put it into this first letter. Call this an experiment, an attempt to steady my constitution and bring down my heart rate so I can function. I must function. I must warn them of the in-between. When I learned of your passing I was devastated, but now I wonder, yes, I know, it is for the best.
In sincerity of heart,
Denton Marshall, Project Leader;
Albert Einstein, Co-Chair;
Wolfgang Pauli, Special Consultant;
Robert Ettinger, Special Consultant;
and the rest of the Advanced Research Team at the University of Chicago;
In 1950, after the great victory over communism, our honorable congress established a secret committee and an abundance of funding following the scientific breakthroughs of Drs. Pauli and Ettinger. We were tasked with sending a man to the future through the process of cryogenic freezing, for science, discovery, and research. And to beat the Russians, who were pursuing the same and who did steal some of our research, as you all know. Or knew. You are gone now. I am here. We did succeed. To a point.
I would like to report to you about the future. However, there is a more pressing matter, and as this letter is to dead men, I presume you will have the patience to wait until my next correspondence to learn all about the wonders of nanotechnology, lasers, and Uber. I have delayed long enough. To the point:
I vaguely recall the discussions (a la lectures) of Dr. Pauli and Dr. Einstein regarding the potential of parallel universes and the possibility of the cryogenically frozen body not being a strong enough vessel to contain the metaphysical being. It sounded like theoretical hogwash at the time. I fully anticipated sleeping, then waking to the future. Or dying, if our math was wrong. Dying would have been preferable.
I did sleep. For a time. I cannot say how long. And then I awoke to blackness. Not just dark, which is empty, but blackness, a physical thing like a mist, but impenetrable. It more than surrounded me, it was inside of me as well, and I was part of it, like a patch in a greater quilt, I belonged to this blackness. It had a sound, like the distant humming of a bomber flying high above. It was mechanical, I’m sure of it, but it was aware, conscious, feeling. It found me in itself, as if I were a parasite occupying a small area on a greater being, an irritant but not a threat. I was inspected by it. I could not see, though my eyes were open, there simply was no light in that place, but I know what I felt. It moved me around, jostling me to several positions, like a boy getting a good look at an army man toy. Just like on the outside, it also observed me on the inside. My organs were pushed around, my skin bubbled, my very bones were embraced. The pain was exquisite, maddening, and I was powerless. I could not make a sound, though I screamed myself hoarse. I don’t believe there was air or space, there was just the blackness. I felt that even if I could board a plane or dirigible and fly higher than any airship has ever gone I would still not see a space that this creature was occupying. I would still be within the creature. It did not occupy space, it filled every bit of its universe.
There is more. So much more. I will tell you, but I cannot bear it just now. My therapist, a Dr. Lazowski, is coaching me along. I get upset, you see, and his team administers an injection, some calming agent.
We were right to be afraid, boys. Very right, indeed.
To: James Davies
You were right. We shouldn’t have. You told me God intended a man’s lifetime, and it should not be stretched beyond respect. God is real. I know this, now. And so is his antithesis. I think I met the latter. There is no hope.
Bad Writing Challenge
It’s not that I think you care about it or anything or like you even know what I’m talking about or like you will even remember doing it. You jerk. I was the one who always cared and took care of the kids. And the dog and the cat and that stupid goldfish you won at the carnival. It was stupid. The carnival I mean, not the goldfish. The goldfish is stupid too, but I said it was stupid not that it is stupid because I was talking about the carnival and that was stupid. And you are stupid. And this whole thing is stupid and just stupid, stupid, stupid!
Now I’m yelling again. Are you happy that I’m yelling? You never cared for a minute, did you? Not that I was yelling but about me. You didn’t even say anything when I changed my hair. It was golden sunrise and now it is golden citrus, but you don’t even care, do you? Do you?! You don’t. Do you?
Daddy said you were the kind of guy who wouldn’t get up unless no one was around to get your beer out of the ice box. Well guess what I’m not getting your beer and there isn’t any anyway because guess what I didn’t go to the market today! You can go get it yourself and Daddy was right about you and your stupid face and your stupid goldfish and I hope he dies! Not my daddy, your goldfish, my daddy ain’t gonna die because he works hard, unlike you.
So feed your fish and get your own beer and get out of this trailer because I am done and you and me are done and I’m done with you. You can just go get a job and stop living off the government. I’m a proud woman! Stupid!
He wore a white hoodie that day. It wasn’t his favorite, but it was heavy and the inside was soft and it would do to keep the cold off as he worked. He looked good in it, too. His black skin contrasted with the bright white and his broad shoulders filled it out nicely. He put his apartment key and his phone and his wallet in the pockets; you never put valuables in a back pocket in this neighborhood. Walking out the front door he turned right and began to walk to work.
Slinging burgers wasn’t a life, but it was a job. He was saving up for a car, though the sum kept going down whenever his mother or sister called needing help to get by. He had a second job scrapping metal on the weekends, and sometimes he could get hours parking cars when the big arena had a concert. He got by.
He was on his lunch break when it happened. He stubbed his cigarette against the brick wall in the alley behind the diner. There were men running a block down. A commotion. Police. A chase. He reached for his phone. A loud bang. Burning. Pain. His hoodie turned red as he lay in the alley, dying.
They said in the press conference it was a mistake. He matched the description. He had a hand in his pocket. It all happened so fast. He looked threatening.
Apologies. Uproar. Protests. Debate. But what does that matter to him? He can’t hear any of it. His hoodie is still red.
So, I’m In, Right?
I ate and played and danced and laughed.
I loved potatoes.
I loved a woman.
I loved too many women.
I had kids.
I had fun.
I ran and worked and fought and yelled.
I was selfish.
I was needy.
I was very needy.
I had meaning.
I had a life.
I. Me. It was all about me.
But I went to church. So...
It was there as I stood in the produce ailse, choosing between Honeycrisp and Fuji. The slithering sensation of hopelessness awakening, squirming, squeezing just a little tighter. Again, in the car. I passed a billboard along the highway, advertising a funeral home. Will I choose that one? Will I even choose, or will I let my family decide on those details once I'm gone. Some say it is better for the grieving to have something to do.
It was born (no, hatched, I guess, snakes come from eggs, right?) even before the appointment with the oncologist. Sliding silently into my brain and growing. A lost train of thought here, a forgotten name, a moment when I couldn't remember why I had walked into a room. I went to my family doctor after I couldn't think of my son's name for a full hour. His face was grim. He referred me to "the best cancer doctor in the region", and away we went.
Sometimes it is still and silent, just a heavy weight inside, sleeping between meals. Other times it is wild and angry, thrashing about, biting with venom that dissolves my memories and functioning, feasting on all that is me.
I'm doing chemo and radiation. Poisoning myself and the snake, a marathon race of survival where one will die and the other will only almost die. I find myself subconsciously touching my bald head at times. Not vanity, really, just missing my old look. The snake touches everything.
I am not winning this race. I know it. Sometimes I think the snake knows, too. Not that I'm not trying. Maybe there is another winning.
I chose Honeycrisp, by the way. Fuji is cheaper, but I love the flavor and crunch of the Honeycrisp. I don't know if I'll be able to keep it down. But damn if I'm not going to try.