Dan

Candyman

I could write it like a horror story, the way the world ends, or I could write it like a beautiful dream. You could describe the awful shock of suddenly waking up to a world colored in radioactive glowing pinks and purples, sitting up to exclaim some profanity, and instead vomiting tiny colorful candies all over the bed. Or you could tell the truth about the end of the world, because I have to be honest here. It feels amazing when the candy pours out of my mouth unbidden. Even that first time, when my shock and horror gave way to supreme bliss, I knew that this was what my life was leading up to.

I know that sounds stupid when I write it down, like that. But it brings me great joy. It is a pleasure greater than orgasm, a wholesome gift of giving. It is what I am meant to do.

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Dan

World Grudge Holding Championships

Annnnd welcome back, folks, to ESPN3 for this years final event of the GHL. I’m Steve Inlezzen. With me is Bob McHestle. We’re happy to bring you the exciting action of this years playoff event. These competitors have clinched their path to these championships, and, well now, Bob… it’s time to see if they have what it takes.

That’s right, Steve. It’s finally time. The stage has been set. Let’s introduce our competitorrrrrs, in the… World Grudge Holding Championships!

Two giant CGI robots grimace at each other with glowing red laser eyes while bombastic theme music plays, and then they stand back to back with their arms crossed as the camera flies between their stoic spines towards a branching graphic.

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Dan

Halfway Points

As I sighed a pile of plastic organizer tubs onto the checkout counter at the hardware store, the man working the register turned to me and smiled. “Looks like you’re doing a whole lot of organizing. Daughter going to college?”

I shook my head and laughed awkwardly, mumbling. “No, just owned a house too long without moving. Too much stuff sitting out.” In that moment, I felt a weird wash of emotions. The thought of having a daughter is terrifying. I’m grateful I have a nice home, I feel my privilege and the guilt that whips with it. I’m grateful that I never had kids at a young age, and that my life turned out how it did.

I wonder if the hardware guy could read any of this on my face.

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Dan

Chicken Delicious

Gary looked up from his phone when the woman shouted at him from down the block. It sounded like she said “Come help,” so he stopped texting and trotted up towards her. What was she holding? A twitchy little dog? Had it been hurt? He shoved his phone into his pocket past the chain, and almost tripped on a crack in the sidewalk when he saw what the white animal was.

It was a chicken. A rooster, in fact, if his city-born eyes did not deceive him. Gary was slightly out of breath, and a little confused, so he came up to the woman and stopped, panting with his hands on his knees for a while.

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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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