Dan

Your Number

You’re in the kitchen making dinner, listening to one of your favorite albums in your headphones because the neighbor is out mowing the lawn yet again. Chopping up the potatoes, singing along because the house is empty, still, and then the music stops.

You frown, wipe your hands off quickly, and pull your phone out of your pocket. Oh, it’s a call. Your area code, but unknown number. You shrug and pick up. “Hello?”

A woman’s voice you don’t recognize says, “Is Sandy there?”

“No, sorry, you must have the wrong number.” For some reason you’ve been getting a lot of these lately. You rattle off your number.

“Oh, shoot, you’re right. I should have known! You don’t sound like a Sandy,” she says.

“Yup, have a nice day…” And you’re about to hang up when a moment of deja vu makes you stop and wait. Didn’t this exact conversation just happen recently? You could swear that ‘You don’t sound like a Sandy’ line is just too familiar. Where did you hear that?

Then her voice breaks your reverie. “Umm, sorry. You still there?” She says ‘still’ with a slight drawl, but you can’t place the accent.

“Yeah, uhh.” You blink. “You want something?”

“What… what’s the date? I mean I know this sounds like a prank call…” But it doesn’t. She sounds earnest, and a bit stressed out.

“Uhh, I’m not sure. It’s Sunday. Like the twentieth or something, maybe?”

“But it’s… it’s 2017 where you are, yeah?”

“Look lady–” And just as you’re about to yell at her for messing with you, a strange echoing series of clicks interrupt you, rhythmic and almost musical, but loud and getting louder. They get so loud that she’s saying something you can’t hear at all beneath the noise.

“Gah!” you yell, as you rip the earbuds from your ears. Your phone shouldn’t be even able to get that loud. You stand there, weirdly embarrassed, staring at the wires as they sit placidly on the waiting pile of chopped potatoes.

The mower next door buzzes. You can hear something coming out of the headphones. Oh, right… it’s the album you were listening to before. You pop the earbuds back in, pick up the knife, and slice the onion down the center.

And then the music stops again. Another call. Same number. You have to confess to yourself that you’re kind of curious. Even if it’s a prank, she’s at least entertaining.

So you answer it. “Hello?”

“Is Sandy there?” It’s the same woman.

“No, you still have the wrong number.”

“And you still don’t sound like a Sandy,” she says.

“Well, it’s 2017 still, if that’s what you’re after.”

“Who’s president? Trump, right?” Her voice sounds like she’s almost too nervous to ask it.

You sigh. “Yeah, sad as that is, right?” Your reply comes out of your mouth before you realize how strange her question is. Then a strange whooshing noise comes across the line, and you hear what sounds like an argument in the background.

“Listen, Frank,” a man’s voice says loudly. “It’s too late, the branch has grown too long after we cut the root.”

“No, I’m telling you, we can take this upstairs.” A different male voice.

“Forget upstairs. We’re talking about fundamental laws,” says Not-Frank.

A tiny click and then you hear the woman sigh. “I’m really sorry I involved you in this.” Then she breathes your name like she knows you. “I’m sorry.” In that moment, you could swear she’s a relative. Or an old friend. But you just can’t place her.

The clicks start overriding her just as she starts to say something else, and you yell “Bye!” as you rip the headphones out.

Standing there, staring at the cutting board still, you shake your head. Then you pull up your call log and call back.

A man with gravel in his voice answers. “Hello, this is Sandy.”

“Oh, uhh, sorry. Wrong number,” you find yourself saying, feeling slightly dizzy.

“Look, we’ll try to purge and reincorporate the branch you’re on, but it probably won’t work. Things have gotten too strange. We just clipped a root of Trump branches, but we must have missed one.”

“Branches? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Now your time is isolated. You have our apologies, but there’s nothing else we can do…” He trails off, like he’s waiting for you to say something.

“Okay. This is officially the weirdest prank I’ve ever been subjected to,” you say.

“Yes,” he says. “It sure is. A prank.” He doesn’t sound real sure of himself. It’s a pretty convincing act, you think. “Again, sorry. Goodbye,” he says.

The phone clicks, and your music starts back up. You poke at your phone to go save the number, but there’s nothing in your call log. No outgoing, no incoming. None from today, none at all. Just blank. That’s weird.

Oh well. You pick up the onion again and start mincing it. When the next song kicks in, you start to forget all about the calls. You love this song, so you start singing along.

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Dan

Char

Ruth hopped along the edge of the wheat fields, dancing with the dandelion seeds. She had a private game that she played, where she would pick a stalk with its frozen explosion of fluff, carrying it with her, dancing with the wind, trying to protect it from blowing away but daring it to fly at the same time.

One arm outstretched with the trembling, spidery dandelion, she spun over the clover and wild strawberries, on down the mosses and between the ferns, flying over the dappled dry orange needles of the forest floor that led down to the lakeshore.

Inevitably the wind would win, and her quiet laughter was carried away with the tiny parachuting seeds as they sailed out over the waves and scattered.

Everyone who met her found Ruth to be a quiet, shy, polite little girl; but her parents knew a different side. When Ruth’s mother rang the dinner bell, and she came skipping over the road with a bundle of flowers and leaves in hand, Father exchanged a knowing look with Mother.

When there was company, it would be a quiet dinner. But when there wasn’t, little shy Ruth would turn into a tornado of questions.

“Why don’t the fishes climb up on land, Poppa?” and “How do the apples know when they are ripe?”

“Why do the bees love the garden so much?” and “But the roses, how do they grow in different colors from the same plant?”

And her mother would carefully try to explain how grafting roses worked, as more questions flew rapid-fire from Ruth.


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Dan

Unintended Eulogies

However many pounds of unordered flesh,
trying not to end.
We stab for strength
in a crowded sadness;
latching on to hope
in the sea of mold-covered pennies.
Filling my throat, it’s
a lump of crushed sunlight,
the sobs of overflowing
life and shock and
the happiness when
least expected.

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Dan

The Yummy Ducklings

No, this is a different story. Nope, not the same one your mommy read to you. Exactly! Now you see, children, the ducks of the Fairy Kingdom are a bit different than the ones we have here, in the normal realm. While their ducks and our ducks both love bread, and at a glance seem to be identical… What, Sammy? No no, not all bumpy-lumpy. Identical means the same. While they seem the same at first sight, instead of going ‘Quack, quack!’ these ducks can talk. Just like you and me!

Well, at first, when they’re tiny, they’re just learning how to talk. You know, like how your baby brother can only say ‘mama’ and ‘dada’. The ducklings are just like that. They quack ‘mama’ and ‘feed me’ and learn as they go. Except in the Fairy Kingdom, the ducks might learn different things than you. Because it’s the Fairy Kingdom, and everything there is sprinkled with magic.

Now give me just a second, why they’re yummy is part of the story I’m trying to tell you!

The first little duckling’s name was Samij. Sort of like your name, Sammy! But he was silly, Samij was, and he decided that he would try to live life to the fullest. So he ate and ate and ate the gross little grubs and fishies that little ducklings like to eat. He ate and ate until he got all fat. Then he couldn’t run, he could only waddle around. Yes, ha ha, a waddling little baby duck. One day, he was out waddling around looking for food, and a wolf ran up and ate him. Just like that. Munch munch!

Don’t cry. Samij was born in the Fairy Kingdom, so he was reborn as a log or a fish or a spider, later. Yes, that’s how it works in the Fairy Kingdom. Probably not here, but who knows? No, I wouldn’t want to be a log either. But who knows? Maybe being a log is totally great! You should ask a log sometime.

Back to the story. The second little duckling’s name was Ashanda, and when she saw the fate that befell Samij, she became very fixated on being skinny, and fast. Ashanda ran everywhere, until her wings grew out, and then she flew way up in the sky. But she didn’t eat enough, and so she couldn’t fly very fast. And a hawk swooped out of nowhere and ate her up. Yum yum, he said, as he soared through the air with Ashanda in his belly. And for a brief moment, as he dove towards his nest, Ashanda was finally as lightning fast as she had wanted to be.

That’s right, Lanny. Ashanda died in the hawk tummy, but she was reborn later, having learned her lesson. We hope. But remember, children, we may not get that second chance, because we don’t live in the Fairy Kingdom. But you have to finish everything on your plate when your mommy and daddy say so, so you grow up big and strong.

The momma duck named her third little duckling Wilbur. Wilbur decided one day that since the Fairy Kingdom was a magical place, he sat there and decided the trees and the rivers and the sky and the sun were all watched over by invisible fairies. Because fairies are magic, you see. So he made little fires and burnt grubs and fishes for the fairies. Well, he didn’t see the fairies. Right, right. That’s right. He just assumed they were there, so Wilbur went and did his thing.

And sometimes his sacrifice and his constant beseeching of the fairies — well, beseeching is kind of like praying or begging. He was constantly shouting at the sky, stuff like, ‘O great fairies! Shine your lucky, pretty light on us ducks!’ And sometimes when Wilbur shouted at the sky, what he wanted to happen came true. And sometimes it didn’t. But the other ducklings started to join in with his fairy worship, even though their momma duck warned them that they couldn’t rely on fairies.

One day, as he was leading a sacrifice and was all weighed down by his wacky ceremonial robes, Wilbur was snatched up by a fox and carried off. Crunch, crunch, yum. As the fox hopped off with his dinner in his teeth, Wilbur yelled, “Save me oh great fairies of the forest! QUACK!” The other ducklings watched him get dragged off in horror, and then they all ran in every direction screaming. Well, quacking. Quack-screaming.

That’s true, the fox probably had to spit out the robes after, but it probably thought Wilbur himself made a delicious dinner. Now one of the other ducklings, named Felis, was inspired by Wilbur, and continued to worship the fairies of the forest and the fairies of the sky and the fairies of the rivers, even though they hadn’t saved Wilbur from being dinner.

But Felis had a dream one night, where the Great Fairy came to her and said, ‘There is only one Fairy in all of the Kingdom, and I am she! I have dominion over all ducks, over all the trees, over all the rivers, over all the sky, and over all the creatures that live in them. You must worship only the one true Fairy!’

So of course, Felis told all her brother and sister ducklings about this dream. And many of them began to worship the One True Great Fairy, instead of the many fairies of the kingdom they had praised before. And one day, it just so happened that a coyote came upon Felis as she slept, and even though she had begged the One True Great Fairy for protection that night before she drifted off, the coyote ate her up. Yum, the coyote said, as he hopped off through the valley.

And when the ducks all woke up in the morning, when Felis was gone, they praised the One True Great Fairy, because they thought she had taken Felis up to live with her in the Crystalline Castle, so high up in the sky that the ducklings couldn’t see it even if they flew up as high as their little wings would go. Well then.

By now the ducklings in the Fairy Kingdom had got quite advanced indeed, as their mother looked on, quite baffled by all of this, and saddened by how many of her brood had been eaten up so far. But she remembered her own mother’s sad, knowing smile, and understood that was the way of ducklings: they would try new ugly and pretty things, and eventually they would end up as food for the forest creatures of the Kingdom. She had been lucky to survive into a big duck, long enough to have alllllll of these ducklings, but even she would be dinner for a Fairy Kingdom dweller someday.

Sure, she was sad. That’s true, Jana… But the momma knew she couldn’t save them all, because she couldn’t make them any less yummy to the wolves and hawks and foxes and coyotes of the Fairy Kingdom. So she did the best she could to protect them as they had their various adventures.

One day, another duckling, named Bisho, had a brilliant idea. He said, ‘These shiny fairy coins that we find in the forest aren’t tasty. We can’t eat them. But they’re pretty and shiny and rare, let’s use these to trade each other for food and favors!’ Exactly, Sammy. Just like money. But for ducks!

They carried the golden coins under their wings, using them to pay for things, fearful that another duckling would take their shiny coins. Some of the ducklings dug pits in the forest, to hide their treasure piles. And Bisho, who’d been the smarty-pants to start the whole idea, had been very sneaky indeed. He only told everyone after he had amassed the biggest treasure pile of them all.

But soon, when Bisho was going to check on one of his secret gold stashes, a big old bear crashed through the branches and grabbed him up and… You guessed it. She ate him right up. ‘Mmm, mmm good,’ said the bear, as she chomped up little Bisho. Next, the bear saw the shiny golden coins, and she picked one up and chomped it, but it didn’t taste yummy like Bisho did. ‘Oh well,’ she said, stomping back through the forest. ‘That was one yummy duckling!’ she roared. Oh, now, don’t be so scared, that’s just my bear voice. I’m pretending, see? ‘YUM YUM! RAAARRR!”

It turned out that one of the other ducklings was hiding in the branches. The whole time, she sat there shivering, terrified. Yup, she had been sneaky; she was following Bisho to his treasure! But now, after watching him become a bear snack, Irsa had other ideas. She’d been convinced that the gold coins were not lucky, after all. She went back to the other ducklings, and filled with terror, she told them how their money was cursed.

Irsa stood on top of a stump so her voice would carry to all the gathered ducks, and explained to them that instead of hoarding money or worshipping The Great Fairy or any other thing, they should try to make their life in the Fairy Kingdom better by small strides, and help each other. ‘Let’s be nice to each other, and try to help each other not be eaten, instead of hoarding coins or shouting at the sky.’

Her mother duck said, ‘That sounds very sensible indeed, little Irsa.’ And as Irsa preened with satisfaction atop the trunk, a giant snake came out of nowhere, shoom! And he slid right up the stump she stood on and swallowed her whole, slithering and hissing off into the trees before any of the ducks could do anything more than blink.

And then, through her tears, with a quack in her voice, the mother duck told her ducklings that surely their sister would be reborn as something nice. ‘But you should all remember and think on Irsa’s wise words,’ she said. And as their momma’s quacking quavered, they huddled together all scared, and the remaining ducklings were not quite sure what to believe.

The end!

Yup, sorry, that’s the end of the story. Well, no, Bo… I guess you can’t say they lived happily ever after, really. All the ducklings were beautiful and ugly in their own way, but they were all yummy food for sneaky wolves, or yummy food for scary bears, or yummy food for speedy snakes.

Now it’s time for you all to go to bed. No no, don’t cry now, that was a fairy tale. Wolves and bears and snakes don’t eat human children in real life. The creatures of the Fairy Kingdom’s forests just eat tasty little ducklings.

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Dan

Subcutaneous

Greg yawned as he leaned into the butterfly stretch, feeling the knots in his lower back whine, squinting in the morning sunlight with the stale taste of sleep lingering on his teeth. Everything was just a normal, annoying Monday. Then he saw something black slithering up his inner thigh.

“Oh, fuck!” he yelled, his brain interpreting it as a giant centipede. And then the perception shifted and he laughed at himself. It was just a bruise.

Wait. No. It was a dark bruise a second ago, but now it looked an awful lot like text. He blinked, and tried to stretch closer, feeling his hips start to whine. Definitely text, but… can’t… quite read it.

Greg scrambled to his feet, knocking over an empty water glass as he rummaged for his glasses. “Mrph glumph,” went his mouth involuntarily.

Then he saw it. HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG, it said, in tiny little block letters. Is it a tattoo, or sharpie? Friend playing a really out-there prank?

Poking at it with a finger, bent over, staring at a part of his thigh that he never looks at, Greg started giggling. “Gotta be sharpie.”

He licked a thumb, and rubbed it on the inside of his thigh, willing the black to blur. “Nope.” Greg stared at his thumb, clean. Then back at his leg. The text didn’t dull or move at all. It’s really on there. “What in the hell…”

He picked up his phone and took a picture, to solidify it somehow. A way to try to prove it wasn’t just his eyes wigging out.

All day at work, Greg wondered about it. It sat there, invisible. He couldn’t feel it, but it was a strange kind of mental itch.

When he sat on the toilet, he had to stretch down to read it, suddenly embarrassed all over again, even though he was alone in his kingdom of the echoing stall.

HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG, his leg said.

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Peter

“He’s just so goddamn passive-aggressive!” fumed the woman with the out of control curly brown hair.

She picked up the telephone and angrily slammed it down on the kitchen table several times.

Peter jumped in his chair.

The woman took a deep breath, closed her eyes and massaged her temples with her fingertips.  Peter sat very still.  The woman let out a big sigh and looked at Peter.

“I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have yelled.  I didn’t mean to scare you.”  She breathed deeply and ran a hand through her wild hair and hung up the phone.  “He just makes me so mad is all.”

Peter relaxed a bit and took a breath.

“I mean, I don’t understand how he cares about his own mother more than he cares about me.  After all these years of me and him together, she still gets priority.  Honestly, I think he’s just scared of her.  He’s scared to let her down, so what does he do?  He bails on me so that she won’t be mad.  What a spineless asshole!”

Peter watched the woman as she sat heavily in the chair across the table from him and sighed.

“And it’s not like I ask that much of him either.  I really don’t.  I don’t care about jewelry or having a fancy house or stuff like that.”  She smirked and looked over at Peter.  “I mean isn’t it obvious?  Just look at this dump!  There’s a lot I could ask for, but I don’t.”  She gestured at the faded flower-print wallpaper that was beginning to peel.  “The least he could do is spend a little money and a little time on his own house and his own family.  I mean, really.  When’s the last time you spent any time with him?

Peter paused and cocked his head to the side.

“…I mean, when’s the last time he spent any quality time with either of us?  All he ever does when he’s home is eat the food I make, watch TV, and ignore us.  I…I just don’t understand…” She trailed off.  The woman placed her flushed face in her pudgy hands.  She sat motionless like that for several moments.  Peter sat motionless, watching her.  After a minute she lifted her head from her hands to reveal puffy red eyes and tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said in a quivering voice.  “I guess…” her voice trailed off.

Peter waited.

“I guess I just worry that he doesn’t really love me sometimes.”  She shook her head.  “I mean, I know that’s ridiculous.  The second I said it out loud I knew it was ridiculous.  He’s a good father.  And he has a good heart.  He really does.  I guess I just want to be put first sometimes.  Is that so wrong?”

Peter hopped off his chair and walked cautiously over to the woman with the tear-streaked face.  After a moment, he sat down beside her. She sighed and placed her hand on his back and they sat like that for several minutes, both of them staring together blankly at the faded flowered wallpaper.

After what felt like an eternity, the woman took her hand from Peter’s back and glanced at the clock on the wall.  “Wow, Peter, it’s later than I thought.  Do you want to go for a walk?”

Peter stood up and stretched, following the woman to the front hallway.  She opened the creaky screen door and they walked side by side out of the house and into the cool autumn night.  The gentle cool breeze felt wonderful on his face as they walked together.

Peter spotted his favorite tree.  He sauntered over to it and inhaled deeply.  It smelled incredible.

“Go on, Peter,” urged the woman.  “Do your business.”

And with that, Peter lifted his furry little leg.  The two of them stood silently in the cool  fall night, listening to the sound of pee hitting dead leaves.

 

 

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The Time I Met God

So this is strange.

I don’t believe in god, God, or gods. In fact, I felt like I could barely type the word. It feels alien. Foreign. Fake.

What’s strange, you may be wondering. Well, when I was a young child my mom took me to God’s apartment, we spent the afternoon there, and he made me a sandwich.

That’s remarkable, I know. And I also know the next question you want to ask me: What kind of sandwich was it? Sorry, I don’t remember. I wish I knew. I remember that it was good, though.

Anyway, what makes me think I met god? Well, it was the strangest thing. It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a movie. That much I know for sure. I remember certain details. Like, it was an apartment, not a house. I had a sense that we walked into it from the street but that, somehow, it was actually really high up in the sky. Though, I don’t remember looking on a window. And, my mom was sad and I had the sense that she was seeking counsel.

At some point, we were sitting on a couch. My mom and God got to talking. Adult talk. I have no idea what it is about. I was a kid. After a few minutes I slowly slipped off the sofa and slithered down the hallway. At the time, I was pretty sure they had no idea that I left. Thinking back to that now, I realize there was no way I escaped without them seeing me. I mean, I was sitting right next to them. What the fuck? Kids are weird.

Anyway, they seemed engrossed in their big people talk so I went away. At the end of the hallway was a bedroom. God’s bedroom, I reckoned. I went in there and sat on his bed. I recall looking around the room. There was a bookshelf, some pictures on the wall, and a vase with some flowers.

You may still be wondering why I thought this was god’s apartment. So I am. What’s the most surprising is that I don’t believe in such things. Ultimately, I don’t know why. I’d ask my mom, but she’s gone. And no one else was there.

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