Dan

Escalation

The woman sits on the bus, like the rest of us. In strained silence, watching the sun leak out of the clouds and rehydrate our shadows as they flicker on the dirty rubber floor.

Then her phone rings. We all get to hear some terrible Billy Joel song I didn’t know existed, and will be very thankful to forget. Everyone like me who doesn’t have headphones blocking their vision scuffles their feet and looks around. Nasty looks. Nobody knows whose phone it is.

It keeps going. Jesus. It’s still going.

But it’s her phone. She answers it.

“You are a bad baby,” she says. No hello. Then, “You are a very bad baby.”

We’re wondering if this is just a warped term of endearment. I giggle a little, imagining a guilty baby calling his mom. “It happened again. The death brown, Ma. It happened. I’m sorry.” But we don’t get to hear the other side. She sits and listens for a while, and we sink into the mystery of it. A bad baby. Or a bad man.

“I’m very upset with you all right now,” she suddenly yells. And she does sound upset. Now we all think something the baby said made her very angry. Maybe the baby and his baby friends are all in trouble, now.

But she yells that so loud that the bus driver turns around and hollers, “Hey. No yellin’ on my bus this mornin’, alright?” And the alright manages to encapsulate the sound of a man working split shifts and eating cheap pre-packaged food to support his family. Maybe he has a bunch of bad babies, too, we think.

So she puts a hand over the phone, and very theatrically mouths a big “SORRY” to the people around her. Nobody looks her in the eye. We’re all still puzzling it out, and it’s about to get worse.

Before the woman puts the phone back to her ear, we hear a loud squawk from it. It sounds remarkably like a baby crying. But her voice goes into a parody of stern, like she’s heard on daytime TV maybe, and she tries to talk over what I still imagine is a crying baby, but can’t be. “Does your husband know about this? I said, does your HUSBAND KNOW ABOUT THIS?” And by the time she gets to the end of saying it the second time, she’s shrieking, holding the phone at arms length like it’s going to bite her, and her face is turning red.

We’re starting to get legitimately worried for her and the baby or whoever’s on the other end of the line, but the bus driver just doesn’t give a shit and pulls over to the side of the road. “Candy. Get out,” he orders. That must be her name, we realize. Even though it sounds like a curse when he says it.

Candy ignores him and the rest of us, fuming at the phone in her hand. “You are still a very bad baby.” Somehow it becomes clear to us that she’s somehow indicting the driver when she says it.

He stands up out of his seat, and sighs as he walks into view of the camera that’s recording all this for some poor person to have to watch back later. “I’m sick up to here with you riding on my bus trying to start shit. If you don’t hang up or get out the bus, I’ll have dispatch call the cops and have them at the transfer point.” The rest of us don’t have to watch it later. We’re all watching it now, missing our damn transfers because of Candy’s very bad baby.

So finally, Candy stands up. She looks me straight in the eye, and says, “I’m very upset with you all, you know.”

Then she walks past me and looks at some old woman across the way. “Does your husband know about this?”

As she steps off the bus, the driver lowers himself back into his seat gingerly, shaking his head. She turns around as the door closes, and points the phone at him, violently flipping him off with the other hand. “You are a very bad baby!”

“Sorry folks,” the driver says over the intercom. “I don’t know how Ma found out what route I drive. We’re gonna be late to the transfer point.”

Someone up front derisively yells, “You a bad baby!” We all laugh a little. Not a lot… just enough to try to forget that it all happened. But I can’t get that god damn Billy Joel song out of my head.

Advertisements
Standard
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.

Continue reading

Standard
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.

Continue reading

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Continue reading

Standard