Joseph had been let go from his last job on a Friday, after refusing
to make an appointment to see the company's counselor.  He was being
made out to look insane, his coworkers even gaslighting him daily.  It
had started as he realized he was losing popularity in the office, and
gotten worse and worse as he had been driven out of the herd.  He had
stayed calm about it for longer than almost anyone else could have.
It became too much, they would jam the printer or remove the paper
from it whenever he had to use it, they would move his coffee mug
around when he was focused on work, talking about him behind his back.
He saw the strange looks and knew they were conspiring against him.
They did their best to make even him believe he was insane, but he was
well-enough accustomed to normal, pathetic human behavior to see what
was truly going on.

When they finally fired him he sank into depression for months.  It
wasn't the money, he had plenty to live on for years.  It was the
feeling of being voted off the island, and having no idea how it had
even started.  They had all just decided in unison that he should
leave.  What had he even done?  After being let go from the company,
he had made a firm decision not to put up with other people like that
anymore.  He knew how to live frugally, switching to bottom-shelf
liquor and ramen noodles.  He lived this way for months.  No one
checked in on him, he wasn't close to family, they likely didn't even
know.  No one at work cared enough about him to call and say hi, and
he had always cared about all of them.  He had been agreeable to all
of them, and even felt like some of the blonde women there were
friends of his.  What had happened?

He didn't even need a job, not in such a cruel environment, but he
didn't know what else to do with himself, so he began to apply at
other companies.  He scored a few interviews but none of them led
anywhere.  No one seemed to understand how cruel everyone had become
at the job he had worked at for years.  Finally he was called into an
interview and knew the stars had aligned perfectly for him.  A blonde
woman was the interviewer.  Her hair was curly, beautiful locks
hanging around her face.

He knew the job was assured before the interview began, but he went
through all the motions perfectly.  He was at his most professional,
acing every question.  The subject of his former employment experience
came up, and because the interviewer was a blonde woman, it threw him
off a little bit.  If anything it improved the situation.  He
reflected on that a little bit as she continued to talk to him, maybe
employers were just worried he wouldn't fit in.  Maybe he was letting
them win, coming across as crazy after the ordeal.

She had asked him a question and he missed what she said.  Damn.  It
probably wouldn't hurt him though.  He asked her to repeat the
question, then couldn't focus as she asked again.  Her wavy blonde
hair was beautiful, she combed it gently with her left hand, her
fingers like the tines of a fork.  She sat looking at him, waiting for
him to answer the question, but he had missed it again.  She looked a
little puzzled.  She asked if he was distracted by something.

"It's your hair," he blurted out.  "It's beautiful."

She exhaled sharply in surprise, her breath like steam rising off hot
water.  Then she giggled a little and blushed, looking even more
puzzled.  "Well, thank you..." she said.

"I could just eat a bowl of it," Joseph said.  "Like ramen noodles.
With an egg in it."




When Protagonist was a little boy, he hated eating bugs.  His mother
would say to him, "eat your bugs, Protagonist.  You can't get big and
strong if you only eat vegetables and never eat your bugs." He hated
bugs, though.  He would eat one and dump the rest onto the ground when
she wasn't looking.  He did get bigger and bigger, but he was never
the strongest.  He was probably the smartest, except for maybe one boy
a few years older than him named Adam.  Protagonist always looked up
to Adam.  As they grew up, Adam was the first to notice women.  Adam
always had bad taste in women.

Protagonist knew how to pick his favorite woman, but he was always a
little bit crazy.  The young men would rough each other up, never too
badly, to impress the women.  No one ever roughed up a woman.  Adam
and Protagonist were never in competition for a woman's heart, but
Protagonist always told him that he thought that was unfortunately due
to his older friend's choices.  The two of them were sort of known for
their odd choices sometimes.  Adam was quiet, people said he would go
on to become very wise.  Protagonist was crazy.  He ate too many

Protagonist always liked the same woman, from the first time he
started noticing women.  She was a woman named Love.  Love was crazy
in her own way, always going along with Protagonist's worst ideas.
Protagonist always took the lead, but she never protested, no matter
how crazy as it was.  Adam tried to keep an eye on them.  Some times
were harder than others.  No one likes to eat bugs.

Sometimes the king came and ate people.  Times like those were
horrible.  When the king was around, people's true colors always
started to come out.  During one of those times, a man as old as Adam
tried to rough up Protagonist for Love's affection.  Protagonist felt
beaten before the fight began.  He knew he stood no chance.  Love
wouldn't have had any interest in any other man, just like Protagonist
wouldn't have any interest in any other woman.  Protagonist wasn't
thinking about that though.  The older man wasn't a good person.

Protagonist had clearly lost the fight, and was struggling, pinned on
the ground, when his hand touched a large, sharp rock.  He picked it
up and bashed it into the other man's head.  The man collapsed, blood
coming from his head.  Protagonist got to his feet, shaking and
elated.  He had hit the man so hard that he was asleep.  No one had
ever thought to do something like that before.  The other man didn't
wake up, though, like an old person going to sleep for the last time.
Protagonist felt as evil as the king, and wept.  Love couldn't console

Protagonist never felt right again.  He obsessed about it.  He wanted
to do it to the king.  Love followed him, and they prepared to fight
the king.  The dug holes with sharp rocks in the bottom, got sharp
rocks ready, and they took the fight to the king's home.  It didn't
take long for him to arrive.  He bounded up to get them, and
Protagonist wasn't even afraid.  He shouted at the king in defiance.
The king came up to the hole, but he stopped.  It wouldn't be that
easy.  Protagonist and the king circled the hole towards each other.

The big rock was no match for the king.  He hit Protagonist so hard
that he flew, blood coming from his side, and started walking towards
him.  Then he stopped, turned around, and bounded over to Love,
smashing her to death instantly, and roared.  Protagonist ran up
behind him and jumped on his back, beating him to death with a sharp
rock into his head, over and over.

It came at a great cost.  Everyone came and ate the king like a giant
bug, just like Protagonist had said.  Adam stayed with him to the end,
as he bled to death.



Ben couldn't get the woman leading the first group he attended out of
his mind.  He had been scooped up from a homeless existence, patched
up on medicine, stuck in a tiny studio apartment, and mandated to
attend the groups.  The woman had told her story to everyone the first
night.  Years ago, she had been someone like they all were.  She had
almost died in an abusive relationship.  Her boyfriend had attacked
her brutally, collapsing her ribcage into her internal organs, leaving
her for dead, but she had managed to call an ambulance.  He had been
sentenced to prison when it went to trial, and he had been murdered in

Ben had been early to the first group, he had been the first one
there.  Hearing the nice woman tell her story so calmly had turned his
blood as cold as ice.  He had sat there as she talked about it,
shivering.  She had been so nice when he had walked in at first.  He
might have imagined it, but thought there was some attraction there.
As everyone got to know each other at the sessions, Ben's story
started coming out of him, new even to Ben himself.

He had had no mother figure to speak of, really.  The woman who was
probably his mother had kept him locked in a cellar like an animal
until he had escaped at a young age to be homeless.  He had grown up
in that environment, a completely feral human being.  He was almost a
fully grown man when he first fell in love, with a prostitute.
Nothing could have ever happened between them.  One night a man beat
her so badly that her face was bleeding, dragging herself on one bad
leg down the busy strip.  Ben was there in the shadows, trying to look
out for her, but too scared like an animal to do much.  An expensive
sportscar pulled up to her, the window rolled down, and another man
tried to hire her again on the spot.  Ben lept out of the shadows,
through the window, and pulled the man out by his throat.  The car
kept rolling, Ben dragging the man out and beating him to death with
his bare hands.

Ben made that shit up for that nice lady's benefit.  He wanted to
impress her.  Unfortunately, she believed him.  She was scared of him
for a long time after that.  Ben was just crazy, he didn't even know
what hole he had climbed out of.  It was bad.  He had fallen head over
heels for that nice, traumatized, wonderful lady.  He was always early
to the groups, he was usually the first one there.  Her fear subsided
as he was always respectful to her.  She probably figured out how
crazy he was.  He couldn't do anything about it.

His mind involuntarily fantasized about her in strange ways.  She
would stand there naked in his mind, but it wasn't even sexual.  She
stood there as if for a medical examination or to get a tattoo.  Ben
started to realize that she was crazy too.  He made the most progress
out of anyone in the group.  He was extremely motivated, and it was
all by his love for her.  She wore a wedding ring, but she never spoke
of any man.  Ben was going to be a leader of one of these groups

It hurt to be around her.  It hurt to wake up, to fall asleep,
everything in between, and to dream.  Ben started to figure out his
actual story.  It hurt to not tell anyone.  The world felt like it was
melting sometimes when he sat there in the groups, struggling to hold
it together, to not be crazy.

One night he got there early like he always did, he was the first one
there like he always was.  She awkwardly walked right up to him before
she started like she always did, and she gave him a hug that left him
dizzy.  She stared him down as she turned to continue getting
everything ready for the group.