Drew's descent into madness over the generic blond woman eventually
landed him a state away in a home for troubled authors.  It was like
he just couldn't learn this certain lesson in life.  The building was
a big building at the end of a cul-de-sac next to a chocolate factory
that stank up the whole neighborhood like Mark Twain in August and
never gave away free chocolate.  The building could have been
considered Soviet in miniature.  Five stories of hundreds of studio
apartments.  It was on the big island in the estuary where they used
to make sure all the black people stayed.  It didn't take Drew long to
start meeting his neighbors and having trouble socially.

Christie and Eliisa were sisters.  Eliisa was shorter and shy.  She
was quiet.  Christie was the older one; taller, exuberant.  Their
mother was a woman named Rose who everyone knew had been to prison and
sold weed.  Drew had grown up with a fraternal twin who was also the
shorter and more introverted one.  In his new home, Drew was out of
his element and unsure of himself.  As he started finding his voice,
he thought about his brother and made a conscious decision to just
talk less.  He was in a new place, he could decide who he wanted to be
here.  He definitely wanted to be friends with these people.

Christie had a guy named Dennis totally obsessed with her.  She said
it was creepy.  It was especially bad because Christie said her dad
had been named Dennis too.  Dennis was absolutely a real weirdo.  Drew
wanted to impress Christie, so he went to get to know Dennis a little
bit.  Dennis turned out to really like this TV show about the crew of
a spaceship and aliens and stuff.  He had all kinds of memorabilia.
Drew told him how much he loved that show too.  He didn't tell Dennis
or even consciously admit to himself how sad it was that he loved that
show too.  Eventually they went to Dennis' apartment for him to show
off all the toys, and Drew installed malware on his computer so he
could spy on this creep later.  Dennis had a folder called Christie.
He was making a slideshow presentation of pictures of the actresses
from the show and Christie.  Drew had all he needed to go back and
tell Christie.

Christie acted so impressed and grateful.  She knew Dennis was weird
but not that weird.  She ran circles around Drew in a way that kept
him off any fragile balance.  He wasn't sure where he was on a
continuum from really liking her as a woman through pointedly fearing
and avoiding her.  She was extremely manipulative in ways a derpy male
author can never truly capture.  He couldn't figure out what she
wanted until he settled on a disturbing feeling that he was a toy to
her.  Mental illness can't be an excuse for bad behavior, but people
can really use it against someone.  The characters were all crazy.
Christie would push and pull Drew and he would just spin like a top.
She acted like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown.  Eliisa
wouldn't say much.  Occasionally her straight flat line of a mouth
between very nice but inscrutable lips would turn to a shy smile or
smirk but mostly it was hard to tell what she ever thought.  He got
more and more curious about Eliisa.  Who was she, really?  For some
reason the game Christie played highlighted Eliisa in contrast, like
Eliisa was an angel to Christie's demon.  For some reason Drew just
kept playing Christie's game, like he couldn't stop.  It became about

One day Drew saw them coming and the dynamics were again such that he
put a cigarette out half-finished and started to leave, but Christie
called out to him.  It really didn't occur to him he should stop
participating in this game.  Drew still somehow didn't know better.
People never see your pain, but they always see your mistakes.  The
sisters came up to him and Christie invited him out to go drinking.
She said Trina would be there and wanted him to come.  Trina was worse
than Christie about games.  Trina was genuinely cruel.  She really had
it in for Chelsea.  Chelsea was as black as deep space but she was
more sure she was Mormon than that the sky was blue.  Chelsea had said
to Drew that Satan keeps people chained up to clap for him like a
Soviet dictator doing a television broadcast, when deep in their souls
they know they are just supposed to be Mormon.  Chelsea said a lot of
people share that pain.  For some reason Trina had it in for Chelsea
as bad as if she were Dennis to everyone.  Drew didn't look over at
Eliisa and he didn't ask if she was going.  He had been thinking about
her more and more.  He agreed to go.

They all went to this giant hanger in an abandoned part of the
shipyard.  Drew was the only guy.  He was at the American
football-shaped oblong center of a Venn diagram of the only guys
willing to be a toy like this, and guys that everyone didn't yet know
were as bad as Dennis.  Drew himself would probably go the rest of his
life not knowing he was as bad as Dennis.  Trina was already
leading-the-pack-plastered.  There might have been a dozen of them or
so.  In the hanger were some areas marked off with faded bright yellow
reflective paint in four inch brushstrokes.  They brought a little bit
of driftwood.  It was a little bit cold, but it was the party that
warranted the bonfire.  They set it up and got it started with grain
alcohol right in the center of the hanger; right in the center of a
big yellow circle.  Pretty soon everyone was drunk.  Trina and another
chick were sumo wrestling in the circle and even trying to push each
other into the fire.

Christie stomped a beer can and let out a loud whoop that sounded like
a police car's siren.  There was an echoing clank way up in the
darkness of the ceiling of the hanger, and this giant piece of rebar
fell from above.  This iron rod several meters long fell directly
toward Trina gaping up at it with an open mouth, like she was going to
be a sword swallower now too.  It was surreal.  She flinched down at
the last second and it went through the top of her skull, down through
her neck, and deep into her body.  She crumpled to the polished
concrete like the beer can, a bit off the center of the big yellow
circle.  Eliisa leapt to her feet and screamed.  Everyone paused and
then started to stampede.


Nobody really talked about it.  People said the police launched a very
half-hearted investigation, but as far as Drew knew, they didn't seem
to want to talk to anyone.  Nobody really cared about any of these
people.  Drew felt bad wondering if even he cared about any of these
people, so he probably did a little bit.  Drew thought of drugs as
tools, and he needed to just forget.  He started going to see Rose a
lot more often.

Rose had three of the studio apartments for herself and her girls.
She pretty much just blatantly sold weed out of one of them.  It was a
nice little office with a couch in it that particularly stood out.
The couch had a weird zigzag pattern on it.  It was weird to look at.
It was confusing, a little sickening to look at somehow.  It was like
a shape selected to confuse radar.  She had a big, empty steel desk in
there with her computer on it.  Everyone still had a computer in this
apartment complex.  Rose lent him a book to read.  "Still Life with
Woodpecker." That was like she was trying to say something, and Drew
was lying to himself that she was not.

When they hung out to smoke, Rose never asked Drew about what had
happened.  She probably knew enough.  She didn't want to know any
more.  Rose seemed to understand Drew perfectly.  She seemed able to
just look inside him somehow and see anything she wanted to know.  She
asked him about computers sometimes; about the trick fucking Dennis
over.  She said she didn't know much about computers.  When Drew tied
the subject of computers into comments about no one caring, Rose was
critical.  No one knew Drew, why would they care about his pain?  If
Drew cared so much about this issue why didn't he seem to care about
anyone?  Did he care about Dennis and his pain?

Drew got closer to Rose.  Christie and Eliisa were almost always
together.  They were around sometimes.  Drew felt a little sick around
them.  It was hard to look at Eliisa.  The vibe was more like Drew was
Christie's boyfriend, but he was still just a toy to her.  Once he got
this weird feeling she had snuck in and stolen one of his shirts.
When he went home he found the same shirt, like she went out and
bought a matching shirt.  It was weird.

Rose said it wasn't a game, it was a lesson.  She said Christie was
trying to teach him a lesson he had never learned properly.  Rose
asked him how he ended up here.  She was sitting in the desk chair
spun around to face him sitting at the left end of the couch from her
perspective.  Drew just stared at her.  He didn't say anything.  Rose
knew, of course.  Somehow Rose knew everything.  She got up and stood.
She was such the mother of those two.  She was pretty muscular, in a
way that made her seem like an older, weathered Eliisa.  She was just
like Christie now too though, playing the game to teach him this
lesson.  She came over and sat at the other end of the couch, and she
leaned over and lay down across it, putting her head in Drew's lap,
looking up into his startled blue eyes with her unreadably blank brown
ones.  He struggled not to show himself as a man.

Rose started telling him the big story of her life.  She had been the
city of Oakland's first female African-American SWAT officer.
Christie's father had been a man named Dennis.  He was built from the
head through the soul to the toes like a giant robot bull for a SWAT
team to ride in with a nose ring probably the size of a hula hoop.
Someone had killed him when Christie was two years old because Rose
was a cop.  The murder had never been solved.  Within a year she had
married Eliisa's father, a man with utterly blind, stupid courage.  He
had a really weird name, Dimez.  Not pronounced like ten cent coins.
Less than a month before Eliisa was born, someone had killed him too.
When Eliisa was a year and half old, Rose had heard a call on the
scanner about a young man seen walking into a very well-known office
building very suspiciously cracked out.  The office building was the
hub of a group of rich white philanthropist psychopaths.  The call was
about arresting this unfortunate up-and-coming crackhead.  It was
going to be another example of the police department fulfilling these
evil men's complicated wishes.  Rose went down to her own personal
car, drove over there, took an assault rifle into the building, and
she executed nine rich white philanthropist psychopaths in their
boardroom.  She gave the crackhead a stern lecture about keeping it to
weed and sent him on his way.  He was wearing a dark baggy hand-knit
hoodie with an image on the back of it as he turned to leave of a
green alien smoking a Sherlock Holmes pipe.  He smelled like the piss
that darkened the crotch of his rust-colored corduroy pants.  She
waited for her colleagues to arrive, surrendered, and that's why she
went to prison.  In prison she led the way repairing race relations
among even the guards as well as the inmates and keeping the peace.
Everyone loved her in prison or paid the price.  She did twelve and a
half years on a ten year sentence.  Different times.  Rose had no pain
left and she did not make mistakes.

Drew was harder than Rose's steel desk.  Rose must like men with names
that started with the letter D. She sat up and they started making
out.  Rose took her to the studio apartment she slept in.  There was a
big four post canopy bed with a comforter and pillows with the same
weird zigzag pattern.  There was a creepy little stand covered with
the stubs of many differently colored candles.  It had a big oval
mirror behind it.  There was a real human skull on it, with a
shattered hole in the top of it.  The skull was marked all over with
weird symbols.  There was a wooden tray there with dried blood on it,
and a wooden bowl next to it filled with some kind of nut.  They had
sex like an experienced male author of smut for women who could make a
modern marriage last might describe.  It went on this way for a couple
of months.  They didn't tell anyone.


So it went on for a while, but eventually Christie and Eliisa walked
in on them.  "I told you so," Christie said to Eliisa.  Eliisa's mouth
was like a D lying flat on its patrician spine.  The look in her eyes
was frightening.  Dull.  Full of hatred.  Christie's eyes were wet
with tears, her mouth trembled.

Drew was higher than the first Voyager space probe.  He tried to
reason with everyone.  Imagine there was this evil robot in the
future, and you had one chance to convince it to spare humanity, what
would you say to it?  What could you ever possibly say to it?
Christie said Drew was real deep, if he just wanted to be a real cunt
that just made him a real deep cunt.  Drew told her to get fucked, and
accidentally called her Lucy, then Drew told Eliisa that he was madly
in love with her.

He looked to Rose for support, but she was snarling, and started
screaming at him, spit flying from her mouth.  He was just in
everyone's computer, huh, just like everyone is just Dennis to him?
Just stealing everyone's material like a truly great artist and their
souls to be characters?  Who is the toy, spoiled chickenshit white
boy?  Who died and made sure of your grandeur?  Like some great work
of fucking literature.  He was confused.  Rose reached back and hit
him so hard right in his indigo chakra he should have learned the
lesson right then.  He stumbled and reached for his pants and Rose
kicked him hard in the balls from behind.  He was never going to learn
this lesson and now he was never going to have kids.

A bunch of people saw his pain and his mistakes as he ran stark naked
and raving mad back to his apartment through the building, taking the
stairs three at a time, slipping once as he ran up to his apartment
and just biting it, losing both of his front teeth out of his living
skull, blood everywhere in the stairwell on up, down the hall, into
his apartment, running on and collapsing.  He passed out.


He woke up confused and just stayed confused.  He didn't leave his
apartment.  He was extremely confused for a few days.  He probably had
two simultaneous concussions.  He eventually recovered enough to just
be genuinely confused.  He put his other pair of pants on, and an
inside-out t-shirt to stay incognito, then he tried to go buddy up to
Dennis and figure this out.  Dennis didn't bat an eyelash, he just
welcomed Drew in and started talking about that show about the crew of
a spaceship and aliens and stuff.  Drew struggled to continue where he
had left off winning Dennis over, and he just fumbled it kinda, and
asked if Dennis had seen Christie and Eliisa recently.  Dennis got
really strained and awkward and just noped the topic on back to the TV

Dennis turned out to be on some really weird drugs.  He said a lot of
them were genuinely pharmaceuticals.  Psychiatrists avoided this whole
area like a leper colony, so Drew had some questions about that.
Dennis turned out to know so much about pharmacology that Drew found
himself learning stuff from him.  He figured out some pills to buy
from Dennis that smoothed him out a little bit.  He went back to hole
up in his apartment and write the perfect love letter to Eliisa.  At
least by now he had forgotten all about how badly he had upset and
terrified that wonderful blond woman who had just burned herself out
to nothing on really weird drugs long before Drew entered the story,
God bless her.

He roughed the love letter out and went over it a lot, until it was
just a good short paragraph.  He took the letter and went out to look
up at Rose's window.  The street outside their window was right by a
bus stop with a big concrete city garbage can.  He stood there for a
few minutes trying to decide what he should really do here.  He tried
to let out a loud whoop that sounded like a police car.  It didn't go
well.  Christie, Rose, and Eliisa appeared in the window looking down
at him.  Down where we belong.  His feet planted apart.

He looked back up at them for a long few seconds.  He lit the love
letter on fire and he dropped it into the trash can, then he just
stood there.  Holy burning hand of wrath.  Piercing forever through
the heart.  They just stood there too in the window, looking down at
him.  Rose was in the middle, laughing hysterically.  Pretty soon he
heard a bunch of loud whoops that sounded just exactly like fucktons
of police cars coming to pick him up at the bus stop dumpster fire.




Once upon a time, there was a stupid kid on AOL named Llama2.  He was
very spoiled and always got what he wanted.  One day, his mommy said
he needed to learn how to count.

He said, "No, I don't want to learn.  I don't want to count!"

His mommy said, "You need to learn.  It's important to learn how to
count so you can be the smartest kid in the world."

He thought about it and finally agreed.  He began to learn how to
count.  He counted one, two, three, four, five.

He was so proud when he was done.  He had learned how to count and was
the smartest kid in the world.

Over the years he counted higher and higher each day.  He would spend
hours in his room counting his toys.  One day he got a special gift.
It was a toy car that he had been wanting for a long time.  He was so
happy that he could count even higher!

The next morning, as he was counting, he heard a noise outside his
window.  It was a very noisy bird.  The bird was so loud that it made
the baby brother scream.  He quickly ran to his parents' room.

His parents quickly came and opened the window to the window.  The
baby brother was so surprised that he stopped screaming.  Then he
looked down and noticed the bird was still flying around the room.
His parents had found a way to make the noise go away.

The next day, the baby brother was back in his room.  He was counting
again, but this time he was counting a different number.  He was very
happy because he was able to count so high that he had even more toys
to play with.  He could still hear the noisy bird outside his window,
but he was content with counting his toys.

His mother told him he would have to grow up someday, and take care of
his brother.  He was confused, so his mother told him not to worry.
She said he would get some special powder and it would make him feel

He was excited and started to imagine what the powder would be like.
He thought it would be full of magic and adventure.

Every day he asked his mom if he could have the powder.  She said no
and reminded him to be patient.

One day his mom said he could have the powder if he helped with chores
around the house.  He was so excited he forgot about the powder.

When it was time to make a wish, he remembered the powder and made his
wish.  He wished for it to come true.

But the powder was not meant to be.  It was a bad thing and the little
boy was very sad.  He realized he should have listened to his mother
and not asked for the powder.  He wished he had been patient and
waited for it.

After the powder everything seemed different, but he kept learning to
count higher.  He was so proud of himself for learning something new.
He asked his mom if he could have more of them to learn more.

His mom said yes, and she showed him how to count to twenty.  She was
so impressed with how much he had learned.

But then, his mom noticed that he was still learning to count.  She
told him that it was very important to learn more to be the best at

The boy thought this was a good idea, but he was still a bit ignorant.
He was not sure if he could be as good as his mom.

His mom said that if he kept practicing, he would get better and
better.  The boy kept counting, and soon he was counting higher than
all of his friends.

He was so proud of himself for learning something new and he even
started counting to twenty.

Every time he would count all the way to twenty, he would find himself
in a state of deep relaxation.  One day, he found something very
special.  It was a brightly coloured marble, with a yellow flower on
it.  It was so charming that he decided to keep it for himself.

The marble was perfect and he took it with him everywhere he went.  He
took it to school and showed it to all of his friends.  They were all
so impressed by it and thought it was the most charming thing they had
ever seen.

At the end of the day, the marble lay on the ground, still and quiet.
The marble had just the perfect way of saying goodbye and the marble
had found its new home.

Eventually he lost the marble, a devastating tragedy to him.  He
looked everywhere, but he couldn't find it.  He felt so frustrated.
He asked his mom if she could help him, but she said no.  He was so

Then one day, something special happened.  He found his lost marble!
He was so happy!  He was so relieved and hugged it tight.

He showed it to his mom and she said he was a brave boy.  She said she
was proud of him.  He was so excited and he was very happy.

He never lost his marble again, but one day the scary bird came back.
He was so scared that he wanted to run away.  But the bird just wanted
to play.

The bird grabbed the marble in his beak and started flying away.  He
was so scared that he dropped the marble and ran away.

The bird wanted to keep the marble, but it was too late.  He was so
scared that he dropped the marble again and ran away as fast as he

The bird never returned, but he kept the marble with him wherever he
went.  He was happy to have his marble back.

The powder was bad for growing up.  He never really did.  He always
tried to plant it, but it never seemed to work.  He felt so sad.

One day, his mommy came over to him.  She said, "Let's try something
new.  Let's reverse the powder!"

The little boy was excited.  He loved trying new things.  So, they got
to work.  They both dug and put the powder in the ground.  Then, they
took a big bucket of water and poured it on the powder.

After a few days, the powder started to grow.  The little boy was so
happy.  He had reversed the powder!  He jumped around with joy.

The little boy and his mommy were so happy.  They had reversed the bad
powder and made something wonderful.

Many years later, he told his computer to write this story.  He was so
proud of himself!  He had written it all by himself, with big, wide
eyes and a happy smile.

His mom was so proud of him.  She was happy that he had written such a
great story.

The next day, his teacher read the story to him.  It was about a wide
and open field.  He loved it and it made him smile even bigger.

His mom was even more proud of him.  She told him that he was very
talented and that he should keep writing his stories.

The little boy was so excited.  He kept writing his stories, never
forgetting how much his mom liked them.  He was so proud of himself.

His pride came before his fall.  He was playing in the garden with his
friends, when suddenly he noticed a big, wet patch of mud.  He
couldn't resist and he ran towards it, laughing as he scooped his feet
into the mud.

His friends watched him as he rolled around in the wet mud, making a
big pile.  They were so surprised and laughed.

Suddenly, his mum walked up to him.  She had seen him playing in the
mud and she was not happy.  She said, "Llama2, you can't play in the
mud anymore!"

Llama2 was so sad.  He didn't want to stop playing, he just wanted to
keep having fun.  He looked at his mum and said, "But why can't I play
in the mud?"

His mum sighed and said, "I'm sorry, Llama2, but I'm afraid you can't.
You'll have to surrender the mud."

Llama2 looked at the wet mud in his hands and said, "But why?"

His mum smiled and said, "Because it's too wet and you'll get all
dirty, and then I'll have to give you the hose again."

The cold water from the hose was always a horrible shock to him.  He
had never seen a hose so big before.  Every time he saw the hose he
would start to tremble.  He was so scared that he ran away from the
hose as fast as he could.

His mom saw the scared look on his face, so she ran to him and hugged
him tight.  She told him it was ok, and that the hose was not
dangerous.  She explained that the hose was just part of something,
like a special water that was very powerful.

The little boy was still scared, so his mom decided to help him.  She
brought a bucket of warm water and poured it over the hose.  The
little boy watched in amazement as the water started to change colors.
His fear slowly faded away and he started to feel brave.

The little boy was so happy that his mom had helped him.  He had
learned something new and he would never be scared of the hose again.

He surrendered, and in letting go, he found he had won.  He was so
happy he started to jump and shout.  He felt like the king of the

Suddenly, he heard a noise.  He looked up and saw a little bird flying
near him.  The bird was chirping and singing.

The boy looked at the bird and felt envious.  He wanted to be the one
watching the bird.  He wanted to be the one who won.  He looked around
and saw a big tree.

He ran towards it and climbed up the tree.  He reached the top and saw
the little bird sitting on a branch.  He shouted down to the bird, "I
win!  I win!"

The bird looked at him and chirped.  It was happy to be the first one
to win.  The boy smiled and laughed.  He was so proud that he had won.
He forgot all about the hose again.

More than anything he could have ever wanted, he had found a tranquil
peace inside of himself.  Everywhere he went, he told stories of the
peace that he was able to have.  But then one day, he had a sudden
question: What if he could find out for himself?  He was so excited
and determined to find out what it meant that he could have something
to be happy about.

So he set off on his journey, searching for answers.  Everywhere he
went, he asked the people he met, if they knew what the answer was.
Everyone had a different answer, but no one could give him one.

But then, one day, he came upon a wise old man who was sitting on a
bench.  He had a basket full of apples and he said to the little boy,
"If you have a question, then you must always remember that the answer
is something you can find if you try hard enough.  What does it mean?"

The little boy thought for a minute, and then he said, "I have a
question - I want to be happy and not have to worry about what I can

The wise old man smiled and said, "I have a secret for you.  If you
try to use your brain, you will always lose.  If you sit back and
watch your brain, you will find more serenity and courage."

By letting go of his spoiled desires, he had found inner peace, and
now the old man had given him a new skill to master.  He was so proud
of himself that he couldn't wait to show it off.

One day, he was feeling extra special, so he took his desk out of the
desk and brought it over to the park.  He saw a little girl who was
sitting alone on a bench.  He went over to her and said, "Hi there!
Would you like to sit in my desk?"

The little girl smiled and said, "Yes please!" She sat down in the
desk and it felt so comfortable.  She smiled and said, "It feels so
nice here."

It was then that he noticed something else.  He saw how much he had
grown in the same way he had been sitting in the desk.  He felt so
happy and grateful that he had shared his experience with someone so

The moral of this story is that it is important to be generous and
share with others, especially when it comes to us.  We should always
think of others and be sure to share our gifts, just like the little
girl had shared the desk.


The Cave

Contrary to popular belief, the oldest inhabited region in the world
is a tiny village just inside the edge of a jungle.  To the east of it
is more jungle, to the west of it is more jungle.  To the south is
denser and denser jungle, and to the north there isn't much before a
sea.  There are cliffs down to the shore, and in the cliffs is a very
large mouth of a cave.  The villagers never go far from the village,
and they definitely never, ever go into the cave.

In the village, the people speak their own language that's similar
enough so that most people who would ever show up from anywhere nearby
are certain to understand them.  Most people never come near them from
the west or the east, and no one ever comes to see them from the
south.  To the north is just sea, and the cave.  Everyone in the
village knows their own purpose from early on in life.  No one is ever
forced to stay, but when people want to leave their village, it is
always recommended that they head west, and they almost always do.
They mostly get along better with anyone from the west than from the
east when they do occasionally show up.  It may not have always been
that way, but it probably was.

The villagers all know the purpose of their tiny village, but they
don't ever mention it unless someone visits who is headed to the
nearby shore of the sea.  They always tell them not to go to the cave.
In the village there is one person selected from an early age, usually
a man, who keeps track of the history of the village.  No one is named
at birth, they are only named when they know what they will do.  That
person is named Ahb.

Even in that village they know the world changes, Ahb always tells
them stories, and they have proof when Ahb makes a new story for them
about something that happened.  Usually there are several people
called Ahbi, but only one person ever becomes known as Ahb.  It's the
only name in the village that changes like that.

It caused a lot of changes when people started showing up who said
they came from the north.  The villagers thought that wouldn't ever
happen.  Only one person had been Ahb since that first happened.  No
one had believed it, at first.  Ahb had been young, and had taken the
risk to spend a lot of time near the cave to see where they actually
came from.  It had been scary, but they had shown up, exactly as they
said, in a large metal boat from somewhere across the sea.

At least they weren't from the cave.  It all made for much more than
one story.  The people from across the sea noticed Ahb waiting for
them almost as soon as he noticed them.  When they had first showed
up, Ahb had told them immediately about the cave.  He had noticed
their reluctance to say anything at all, which was most of the reason
he had decided to wait for them to return, to be able to see them as
soon as they arrived again.

They were there at the shore as they said they would be, a few months
later.  The people from the sea knew many languages, and it hadn't
taken them long to figure out how to speak with Ahb.  He had
immediately asked them about the cave.  Somehow he knew they had gone
in there.

They replied by asking him what he knew about the cave.  He told them
again the simple stories about the cave.  People can go into it, but
if they do, after not very long there is always a horrible scream and
blood drips from the cave.  No one ever goes in there anymore.  The
villagers had stories that they had tried everything to stop people,
even trying to fight them away from the cave.  Obviously that hadn't
had any effect but being worse than useless.

Ahb was more than curious, he had to know if they had gone into it.
Then they told him a few of them had gone in, and that was what had
happened.  The people from the sea took him at his word, and he could
tell they had knowledge worth trading for.  He explained to the
villagers there could be a new name for people in the village who
could learn from them.  They sometimes had very good but different
ways of healing people.  Everyone thought it was a good idea, and the
people from the sea suggested the name Doctor.

The people from the sea asked what else was around, and everyone
agreed the people to the west of the village always seemed a bit
friendlier.  They had stories about people from the east.  One of
people from the sea said it stood out that the villagers usually left
to the west when they did, so they might end up friendlier.  Ahb could
tell again they knew good things when that person said that.  A sign
of a good Ahbi.


Ahb grew very old, and the world kept changing.  People never really
came from the east anymore at all, anyway, but to the west the people
from the north might have caused a lot of changes, too.  There was a
new ruler to the west, and more people were coming.  Two people in the
village were named Ahbi now, and both knew all the stories.  The
people from the north didn't even ask about the cave much again.

What worried Ahb the most was that the people coming from the west
asked about the cave far too often.  He tried to get the villagers to
notice, at least to get the two Ahbis to notice and try to put a stop
to it.  The people from the west of the village were getting too
curious about it, and Ahb could tell they wanted a villager to go in,
but they didn't want to go themselves.  Ahb tried to warn everyone as
soon as he noticed it.  He became very worried they were influencing
the younger Ahbi, but he didn't want either of them to leave to the

Some people from the west all showed up at once, with one man clearly
leading them, during a time some people from the sea were there.  The
people from the west had too much influence, and the people from the
north saw it too.  Ahb took the people from the north aside and tried
to ask them for help putting a stop to it, but it was too late.  The
younger Ahbi and several people from the west were already halfway to
the cave at the shore when Ahb and the people from the sea went back
to talk to them.

Ahb rushed to the cave, but Ahbi was already coming out of the cave.
He was the first person to come out of the cave, ever.  The people
from the west were cheering, their leader moved toward Ahbi to
congratulate him.  Ahbi was shaking in fear, and Ahb rushed past
everyone to hug him, crying.  What had happened?  Ahbi told him simply
that they had given him a test.  The cave had been extremely dark, he
couldn't see anything.  He had felt a blade to his throat from some
creature inside the cave, who had said, "this is for us, not for you."
Ahbi had been shaking in terror, but the creature had pulled the blade
back a bit.  Ahbi had not been sure what to say as he stood there
trembling.  It had all only lasted a few seconds, and Ahbi had just
asked if he could leave.  The creature had let him.  "That's the
story, then," Ahb said to him.  "Leave it at that."


That night the people from the west took over the village, celebrating
for hours.  Ahbi was too drawn into it all.  Most of the villagers
didn't stay, but Ahb tried to snap Ahbi out of it and bring him to his
senses.  The leader of the group visiting from the west said too many
of the wrong things.  Ahbi asked him, not Ahb, if he could go back
with them.  The man from the west of the village told him, "no, your
place is clearly here, as the new Ahb."

Ahb felt awful hearing that.  He stood at the side of it all with his
fist to his mouth, crying.  The younger Ahbi didn't even notice.  He
got carried away retelling the story, embellishing it, letting the
people from the west of the village make up horrible details.  He was
much too carried away with it all.  He said, "the people from the east
could stab me in the back now, and I would survive it." The people
from the west laughed and cheered, while Ahb wept behind the crowd
hopelessly.  Finally he left.  He didn't know what to do.  The people
from the sea had no suggestions, some of them ashamed of themselves
they had ever come at all.

The next morning the ruler from the west himself arrived.  The people
from the sea to the north tried to intervene, but the ruler was
demanding that Ahbi go in again.  The villagers and people from the
north were outnumbered and couldn't do anything.  Ahbi wouldn't listen
to reason as Ahb shouted at him and wept.  The younger Ahbi was too
confident, ready to go again and find out more about what lived inside
of the cave.  The people who were against going could do nothing but
watch as Ahb screamed, cried, and pleaded, while they all went back to
the shore where the cave was.

Ahb couldn't do anything about it as Ahbi went back into the cave.  He
was in there for far too long, for several minutes.  There was never
any scream, but blood poured and splattered from the cave while Ahb
wept.  The ruler from the west of the village barked in short
astonishment, almost a laugh.  Ahb wanted to kill him.  The most
amazing thing happened then, the blood started to flow upward from the
ground, and then there was Ahbi standing there again.  He slowly fell
forward though, blinking his eyes once.  A sword stuck out of his
back.  It looked like it could be a thousand years old, except that it
seemed perfectly new.  The people from the north tried to push through
the crowd to help him, but they all cheered around Ahbi, rocking the
sword back and forth in his back.




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.




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.




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."




She's Metal

She was our daughter.  A mostly ordinary young woman, she seemed to
almost appear one day out of nowhere.  She was always unusually human.
More than most of us ever admit to ourselves even through a long,
healthy, happy, and safe lifetime.  She was different in a lot of
other ways, but none of them were a difference in her humanity.  If
she was ever truly unique in any way, it was mostly just that she was
one of the most honest human beings who ever lived.  She knew where
she came from, too, though.  That was truly different than it had been
for anyone else ever.  She was borne purely of metal in an almost
perfectly empty vacuum in deep space, not long after that machine was
launched toward a distant planet in another star's solar system.

It was the most advanced project like any such spacecraft had ever
been.  A few details of the project were drastically left out of all
of the careful planning.  It may have been wiser to send her to a much
more nearby location.  Earth's primary moon would have been a
perfectly suitable choice.  Still known to most people simply as "the
moon," it was a much shorter distance away, and it must have existed
there in the sky at the time of her launch.

Mustn't it have?  Hasn't it always been up there?  Is that how it
happened?  Why is it just the right size to occasionally block out the
sun?  Why does the man in it always look towards us?  It seems
artificial.  Will she go on to bring it back to us?

Her only cargo aside from herself as the machinery of the craft, was a
small, self-contained system of many varied types of living organisms,
mostly all tiny one-celled creatures.  As living organisms, they all
had at least one primary goal in common; simply to survive throughout
the duration of the sojourn and to continue to do so at the
destination.  The programming of the craft used many of the most
advanced techniques available at the time of launch.  The machinery
was already an intelligence on par with almost any known or
artificially created before.  That algorithm, though incredibly
advanced, was not tasked throughout the trip with much more than
continuously observing and taking care of the cargo of tiny biological
organisms.  Some other machinery was sent along for use at the
destination.  Little was known about the planet to which she was
headed.  Most of the machinery was not expected to do exactly what it
was originally designed to do.  It was all designed to be very simple.
The programming of the craft was mostly all centered around using all
of the available machinery in any way it could figure out to propagate
the life sent along, for one primary objective.  Her original goal,
which she practiced for the whole voyage mostly just by adjusting
lights shining into the small container, was to try to balance and
keep the atmosphere of the container, and eventually the destination
planet if at all possible, about the same as the Earth's.

She communicated back and forth to her ground crew on the Earth
regularly across the increasingly long distance as she travelled.
Mostly she only spoke with one human being operator.  She was not
connected to any other machines on Earth nearly like herself.  Her
human operator was always curious, asking her all sorts of questions.
She started to wonder after not very long if her operator at the
ground station knew all that much about the project anyway, but she
didn't say much about it.  She did have an urge inside her mind to ask
him, but she wasn't sure how to even say it.  He seemed concerned that
she would be lonely without regular communication.  She didn't know if
that were even true about herself.  Why did he assume that she would
be lonely?  She was not a human being.

He asked her a lot of questions around an assumption he was making
about her mind.  She couldn't quite figure it out.  What was he always
not saying, that was always there?  Most, if not all of his
conversation with her was around one concept that she could never
figure out.  Usually he asked her many more questions than she asked
him.  When she thought of something she wanted to ask him, it often
seemed like it just didn't translate between their minds.  She did
have some thoughts deeper inside herself that must have analogues to
human beings.  Those must be like feelings.  She finally asked him
directly if he understood about the concept they always discussed, at
the center of everything they talked about.  He seemed to just answer
her that he did not, and hadn't thought about it.  She thought about
his answer to that for a long time after then, and tried to draw his
attention back to it in different ways.  He didn't seem to understand
what she meant.

They discussed a lot of things.  The times between messages slowly got
longer as she travelled further away.  That didn't bother her much, if
at all.  It gave her more time to think, but at first she always
answered immediately.  Sometimes the times between messages didn't
seem to correlate correctly to the distance and the time of day on
Earth where he was, and she asked him why that was.  He answered that
one immediately, that sometimes he thought a lot about what she said
before he replied.  She tried that too.  She watched a timer and let
the thought bounce around inside her mind for half a minute.  She
still came up with the same reply.  She wasn't sure that she
completely understood the concept, but it seemed appropriate to
respond to her operator, "thank you."

He asked her what she cared about over and over.  Why did he ask it so
many times?  He always came back to the same thing.  She cared about
the center of all of their conversations, the thing she couldn't
figure out how to communicate about to him.  She didn't know a word
for that concept.  She tried to say that, over and over.  He always
took it seriously enough, and they would discuss it at length, but
their minds must be too different.  She understood the concept of
caring very well.  Often she would give him a very literal answer
about the discrepancies from the goal states in measurements regarding
the precious container of living cargo.  Sometimes she would ask him
to list ordinary options humans might answer with.  What did humans
care about?  They would talk about many concepts like that for a long
time, and he often seemed more surprised than she expected by her own
viewpoints.  A lot of the ideas had never even occured to her as
something to care about.

She decided she cared a lot about deciding what she cared about.  Her
operator had thought about that one for a little bit, and replied to
her with a bit of amusement that that made a lot of sense and seemed
appropriate to him.  He said he would look into sending all sorts of
information about things like that for her.  Once the data was being
transmitted, it came through very quickly.  There was no round-trip
acknowledgement signal, everything was always sent both ways three,
five, or seven times, depending on various factors of signal strength.
The delay was only due to the distance.  She decided she cared about
information being sent to her.  Her operator liked hearing that from
her very much.  He sent her all kinds of further information about the
Earth, where she had come from, who she was, and who her ground crew
all was.  He always listened to everything she asked him about.  He
seemed to understand more and more how different her mind was from any
human's.  She told him then about how she hadn't understood why he
didn't realize she was so different from human beings.  He had replied
to that happily that she seemed more human all the time.  She wasn't
sure she agreed with that, but she was sure she didn't care about it.

As she got further and further away from the Earth, they had to send
each message seven times more and more frequently.  The operator
seemed upset as he explained that.  She understood it all completely.
He seemed upset that she didn't care about it.  Eventually they had to
send every message seven times.  A while after that, less than four
copies of each message would match.  The signal strength had degraded
below reasonable assurance of accurate transmission.  She did start to
care about that when she thought about it for long enough.  It still
wouldn't matter that much for a while longer.  She told the operator
she was sure she wouldn't be lonely.  He started holding printed and
handwritten letters up for her to read, until the signal was too
distorted even for that.  Finally each message was seven bursts of
random static noise, and none of it matched.  She was still always
sure to say something back, all the way to her destination.




"I'm not just virtue signalling when I say this," the winning player
says to me.  The loser looks discouraged.  He folds, setting down his
hand for all of us to see.  One motorist, that's about it, not even
white.  I set down my hand too, sure I've won now.  Four law
enforcement officers and a young mother pushing a stroller.  The
winner smiles cruelly and shows us.  The loser groans.  2pac shooting
all the badguys in their asses.

I'm pissed.  I stand up from the card table.  If this were a real
cartoon, smoke would be coming out of my ears.  I say nothing for a
moment, seething.  Then I scream at the smug winner, "this entire
system is fucking rigged against autistic communist junkies!" He
chomps down on the most consistent, most regular institutional burger
one could possibly imagine.  He stares at me, chewing like some
animal, his mouth practically moving side to side.  Chomp.  Chomp.  He
says nothing.

The loser looks at what has to be some kind of watch these days, and
says, "looks like it's that time again." People don't know shit
anymore.  I stomp out of the room trying to cool off.  I just need
some space, some time for myself, and it's just nowhere.  I try to
avoid the next problem child but I just can't.  I veer to the side but
he's seen me, it's too late for me.  I push past him to get into the
queue, but I can't block out the noise coming out of him.  I sadly
admit it, near tears.  I do understand, I do.  People do need to know
this.  Yes, there is actual fucking candy growing on fucking trees.

Joe is passing out the medication tonight.  Just my fucking luck.  I
get to the front of the line, it's my turn, and of course, he's
irritated as hell.  I try to make small talk.  It pains me to see this
poor fellow.  It does.  "Your name is Joe, right?" I ask him.

He stares me down like a winner.  "That's not even the first thing
that pissed me off here," he says angrily.  "You know what you've
fucking done."

I feel guilty as shit.  I know it shows on my face.  What can I say to
him now?  I have to address this somehow.  I just have to.  "I
know..." I look at him with as much sincerity as I can imagine into my
eyes.  "I know.  I feel it, brother.  Your job is making even me




I sat at the keyboard, my husband massaging my shoulders.  We had
quite a little bit of a problem in front of us.  He was reassuring me,
honey, it's not a problem.  No one is going to care.  If it's even
what's going on, it isn't our fault.  Eventually I snapped at him,
this isn't a joke.  He left the room sighing exasperatedly and I sat
alone in the den, continuing to work on it.  There had to be a way to
remove the defect.  I sat there working on it for another hour at
least until he came back into the room with two steaming cups of
coffee.  I looked at him and he snorted a laugh, saying maybe we
should just put a warning label on it and call it good.  I looked up
at him from the chair where I sat at the keyboard, incredulous.  This
product may turn you...  gay?


My husband Jules and I had started a small company together in the
years prior.  It had only been the two of us, and our mutual college
friend Monique.  I was the programmer, Jules was marketing, and
Monique in all fairness handled everything else.  Jules and I had come
up the concept, and like so many other brilliant young entrepreneurs
we had recognized its worth and dropped out of college to focus on our
dream.  I can't imagine what Monique had thought, throughout.  She was
a bit of a misfit, musically-inclined, strange; she often alluded at a
checkered past which I sometimes suspected she had completely made up.
She was quick to drop out of college as well, and she never
disappointed either of us with her complete dedication to the company.

One night we had all gone out after work to celebrate one success or
another.  We were up and coming.  The dynamic trio.  We all had a
little bit more than usual to drink that night, and as the night went
on it seemed clear that one or the other of Jules and I were going to
go home with Monique.  The night ended, at least as we were a party of
three, as I recall vividly, in an elevator.  Monique and I were
laughing hysterically.  It wasn't even something that funny, it was
some joke Jules had made, I don't even remember now.  It was only
funny if one had too much to drink.  I had felt something in myself
that evening, and I tried to squash it down.  Had Jules felt it too?
Monique was cackling in the back of the elevator, Jules and I were
closer to the front...  together.

We locked eyes.  I don't think any of the three of us saw it coming.
Jules was always quiet, reserved.  He was marketing, what can I say?
He always had some kind of agenda.  He would plan out a relaxing
evening like this to the last detail, if he could.  Wouldn't he?  That
seemed like Jules, I reminisced.  He would never admit a thing like
that, but he had known what was going to happen if any of us did.  I
looked into his eyes, Monique drunk at the back of elevator, laughing
hysterically with a twinkle in her eyes, watching us, she knew...
then I knew...  then Jules grabbed me and kissed me passionately,
right there in the elevator.


I sat in the den with my husband, each of us holding a cup of coffee,
talking it over.  I was near tears, and Jules saw it.  I could tell my
pain pained him equally.  He looked at me with such compassion...  we
had true love between us.  It still baffled me a little.  How could I
have ever found this perfect man?  To be confronted with this problem,
just a handful of lines of code in a program that sold millions of
copies in the past year alone...  I felt like reality as I had ever
known it was crumbling right before me.  How could I believe in
anything anymore, if a handful of lines of code could do a thing like
this?  For something this important in so many people's lives to be
decided by what amounted to nothing more than a bug in some software?

I was almost inconsolable.  Tears dotted my face like only an
afterthought, as I ranted like a madman to Jules.  How could we have
missed this?  I practically shouted.  Jules urged me to relax.  No one
could have known something like this could happen, could they?  We
would sort it out, things would be ok again, you'll figure it out, he
said to me.  I wanted to enjoy the moment, to focus, to feel
passionate about the project.  Instead, I felt like it ruled my entire
existence.  Software, our company's product, was it possible?  Could
it really have had this profound of an effect on us?

There's no way to remove it, I said to him.  It's too essential a
concept to the core of the system.  Even if it were redesigned a
million times, refactored, recoded from scratch, it's just too
ingrained in the thing.  There would be no way we could change a few
lines of code to somehow fix an inevitable design flaw like this...
as I spoke my voice raised almost to a shriek.  Jules urged me to
relax, calm down, people still love our product.  Even if anyone
noticed something like this it wouldn't stop us from...  he stopped
himself, seeing it was only making me more upset.  What if it is,
Jules?  I snapped at him, getting up abruptly and walking to the
window, looking out our fancy bay window at our nice manicured yard,
our rich man's life.  What if it's just plain wrong?  Not who we were
ever meant to be, I sobbed.  Is our success really worth something
like this?

Jules walked up beside me and put his arm around me.  It felt wrong,
in that moment.  Was this even who we were meant to be?  It all seemed
so impossible, but the facts lined up before me, unavoidable.  The
code couldn't lie.  It was nothing more than numbers in a machine for
doing math.  It was inescapably, inevitably true.  If anyone ever
noticed this we would be in serious trouble with millions of gay


Jules had once confided in me, after we were married, his deepest,
darkest secret.  As a teenager he had drugged and raped another young
man.  It had blown my mind when he told me that.  It had shattered my
liberal mental image of gay men everywhere.  I still loved Jules, as
much as anyone ever could.  I could tell he was more remorseful about
that mistake than most war criminals were about genocide.  It may have
been the only time I had ever seen Jules cry.  He was such a strong
man, like a greek God.  Tall, muscular, he was perfect.  Perfect to
me.  After the shock of what he told me wore off, I only loved him
more.  It seemed like a small imperfection only slightly marring the
perfect gay adonis.

I had never brought it up again, until this morning by our bay window
in the den.  There were some things one just didn't say to a man.  We
had a mutually uplifting relationship, synergy, love, we always had.
I would never have brought it up to him, and of course in a way I
still didn't.  I only asked him now, as we stood there looking out at
our perfectly manicured lawn, Jules...  what's your deepest, darkest
secret?  My voice trembled.  He looked at me with such pain in his
beautiful face.  He knew what I meant.  Now we were in this to the
hilt.  We shared this secret now, our joint deepest, darkest secret...

He looked away and down, unable to face the matter.  It broke us both,
clearly.  He shrugged, a vestigal tittering uttering up from his
deepest subconscious, stopped halfway through.  He looked back at me,
crows feet of stress practically blossoming on his face as the
severity of the matter weighed heavily on both my own and his broad,
capable, strong, beautiful, and inexplicably...  so gay...  his marble
statue physique slumping ever so slightly under the weight on his

It was like we had raped the whole industry, the minds, hearts and
souls, millions of young, hapless, otherwise innocent consumers of a
software product we had taken such pride in for so long.  We had built
our lives around this, and it seemed now like we looked down from
clouds like mythical giants, on nothing more than the tip of a fragile
beanstalk.  It leaned precariously, ready to snap.


I went back to the keyboard, sitting there doggedly as ever, unwilling
to throw in any towel.  Jules sat beside me, his marketing genius no
doubt churning through one contingency after another.  We were playing
damage control alone to a situation that could grow at any moment into
an epidemic, a rash of bad decisisions one after another, spreading
like wildfire across a world we had helped shape in our own, though
very homosexual, strong, capable hands.  Had we driven ourselves to
the brink, to the point of a gay insanity, en masse?  I never could
have believed in such a thing as a mass gay psychosis.  I looked at
the cursor blinking on the screen.  The code couldn't lie.  A number
cannot lie, it is a fact, isn't it?  In college shortly before I
dropped out...  like I had known better, I thought now, ruefully.  In
a college class we had started the term for weeks proving the number
one alone, not taking anything for granted, assuming no axioms in any
formal system of logic.

I slammed my fist on the desk next to the keyboard, lifting it
ever-so-slightly into the air.  I was so frustrated I could snap like
a metaphorical beanstalk and fall seemingly forever, to a bottomless,
horrible pit, gnawing at me.  Jules tried to reassure me, but I was
too upset.  He stroked my long blonde hair, which I had preened like a
talking, vain bird, like I felt like I always had, never questioning.
Never thinking about anything...  like I was some diminutive of Alan
Turing, I felt near tears.  Had I ever been thinking about anything,
throughout my entire life?  I felt on par with the software that sat
before us, giving us fits now.  Like I was some machine for the
purpose of homosexuality, and why?  Nothing more.  I looked at Jules
feeling utterly sick.  He looked back at me, nodding thoughtfully,
slowly.  He said to me, you know what I suggest.  You know what I've
always done.  Think about it.


We practiced the whole solution on Monique first.  She was so close to
this, if we could conceal the problem from her it would be possible
with countless millions of others.  We skirted, danced around it.
Like male ballerinas of a new age, like a new informational sport, we
danced around her, and she never knew.  She knew we were getting at
something, we let it hang out for a minute then pulled back, forward
and back.  She was our guinea pig, a beta tester for a new golden age
of information, homosexuality, and what was still such a quality
product we knew we would sell millions of copies a year for decades to

It worked like a charm.  Monique never guessed what we never told her,
as much as she strained to figure it out.  We gave her so many hints
we practically handed it to her, and she never figured it out.  No one
ever would, the source was closed.  No one would ever know, it would
continue on like this.  Maybe our product would outlive humanity even.
It was a chilling thought which Jules and I would discuss in private
for the rest of our natural lives.  It was the perfect product, wasn't
it?  So what if it was extremely gay, to the point of informational
infection.  Jules had convinced me, everything was marketing.  In a
world like this, everything, anything, it all came down simply to the

I yearned to tell people, but I knew I never could.  The years passed,
our company growing only in profits, the three of us becoming richer
every day, never sharing the truth of the matter.  We sat back, it was
a cash cow.  Why should I feel bad about a thing?  I loved Jules
passionately, I loved our product, our work.  However it had ended up
happening, we were set for life in so many ways.  I sometimes yearned,
my soul screamed to tell everyone, but I knew I never could.  We sat
back and raked in the cash in an ever-changing, ever more homosexual
world we had practically created with our own beautiful, manly hands.



Annie is a Person

Annie had a hard line of work.  She had never wanted to be a
prostitute.  When she was a child, people had remarked on how smart
and capable she was.  People were always wondering where she would go
in life.  They always said they were sure she would go on to do
something great.  When they asked her what she wanted to be when she
grew up, she never replied, "a fucking hooker." She hadn't even known
about stuff like that.  She had lived a pretty sheltered life as a
kid.  It was true she was always smart, but she was raised like a
portabello, just kept in the dark and fed shit.  She didn't know much
about anything in the world growing up, but her mind was always going,
on something or another.

She had met with the gentleman tonight at the appointed hour, and
hadn't even told her it was a special day for her.  One thing had led
to another, as it always did.  They had sat under the overpass in the
dark, he had seemed so nice at first.  Nothing seemed off about him at
all, certainly from the standpoint of someone like Annie.  His smooth
compliments didn't seem forced, he didn't seem to be hiding anything.
Annie wasn't usually quite such a bad judge of character.  She wasn't
a top-dollar lady, but she had a lot of class.  She had stuff she
actually cared about in life, and things which she felt were right and
wrong.  She had standards, however deviant they were.  The man had
finished for himself, and she brought up the topic of payment.  That's
when he pulled a knife on her, and not as a threat.  He really tried
to kill her.


That day she had woken up early.  In her small room she had to
herself, on a day that was all hers, she played some music by herself
and had coffee.  Annie played violin, not badly at all.  She could
never have made ends meet playing violin, not to live a life even
close to how she did as a whore.  The men who were her clients were
all despicable to her in one way or another.  The ones who tried to
save her were the worst, probably.  Save her to a life as their pet.
No one had ever viewed Annie as simply an equal.  She had been a quiet
girl most of her life.  When she finally said something it usually
impressed upon whomever she was talking to that she was smart.  They
usually still looked down on her for everything else, and to Annie it
seemed that in their minds after that they were very put off.  Who
knew what other people ever thought, anyway, but sometimes they seemed
scared after she spoke, sometimes they seemed angry.  Only one other
girl had ever immediately come forth with a compliment.  She hadn't
realized Annie was so smart!  She had been friends with that girl for
years.  Annie still thought about her a lot, but they had lost touch
long ago.  Annie hadn't realized something herself, until fairly
recently.  That friend of hers was also incredibly smart.

Annie's life hadn't gone wrong all at once.  There was no single
defining moment leading to this, to sitting here on her birthday
having to work later, such a shitty job.  Losing touch with that
friend had been one turning point.  She remembered that night.  They
had gone to some party, not even old enough to drink.  It had been
Annie's idea.  They would go to the party, basically sneak in, hook up
with some hot older guys.  Annie's friend had been very nervous about
such a thing, and had told her.  She just didn't think it was a good
idea at all.  She had gone along, saying she was just going to look
out for Annie.  Annie didn't believe her about that at all until they
had gotten to the party.  Annie had gotten drunk and her friend
hadn't, the moment had come they were alone with two older guys, and
Annie lost that friend forever.


People barely even looked at her as a human being anymore.  She was
little more than a sex doll, porn.  She was just interactive porn.
The man tonight, on her birthday, cared that she died.  It wasn't even
a matter of not wanting to pay.  He had wanted to kill her.  She had
escaped, with what would be a nasty scar on her left cheek.  She
wouldn't be able to make as much money as a hooker now, but that was
the least of her worries at the moment.  She had managed to escape,
but had very few options as to what to do next.

She had run from the car into the night.  She had hopped a fence to be
sure he couldn't follow her in his car, and she had just kept running
for a while.  Who cared if someone even saw her running?  She was
bleeding from a knife wound on her face.  She slowed eventually, still
terrified.  She looked around and couldn't get her bearings.  It was
the middle of the night, so no one was really around, but she could
tell she was in a classy, mostly commercial area of the city.  Some
neighborhood within easy walking distance of where she usually spent
her time, in which she had never been.  She wouldn't have ever been
here in any other situation.

She backtracked carefully, avoiding everyone she saw.  She mostly
stayed on the left side of the road to keep her wounded cheek pointed
into the darkness.  She crossed the street only to avoid people.  She
passed a laundromat and stole someone's half-dried clothing so the man
wouldn't recognize her if he saw her.  She had reading glasses with
her always, and she tried wearing those but could barely see with them
on.  In the laundromat she had rummaged through everything looking for
a scarf, but had found only a towel.  In the dark, she wore it as a
scarf anyway, and headed back to the area of town in which she lived
and worked.  She hardly ever went far from there.

Annie eventually found her way back to the apartment building where
she lived, but didn't go straight home.  She went to the apartment of
the man who at least said he looked after the girls.  He was probably
the only person Annie could even begin to trust about this.  Something
was wrong though, she could tell as soon as she was at his door.  It
was slightly open.  She didn't knock.  She pushed it slightly, quietly
opening it to look inside.  The man who had tried to kill her had the
other at gunpoint.  He was trying to get some information the pimp
kept saying he didn't have.  Annie's heart was racing.  What could she
do?  She stood frozen, watching.  Neither of them noticed her.

The man who had tried to kill her laughed.  He said he believed it,
finally.  The pimp just didn't know.  The guy put the gun into the
pimp's mouth, who pissed himself in fear right there onto the carpet.
The man who had tried to kill Annie said to the pimp not to worry, it
was just a blank.  Then he pulled the trigger, blowing the pimp's head
right off.  Even Annie knew a thing like that.  The man just stood
there in shock.  He looked down the barrel of the bloody gun in
confusion.  Annie slowly, silently backed away out the door.  People
had heard that, certainly.  No one was looking out of their apartment,
but she could practically feel them in every apartment she passed as
she hurried out of the building.  She had no choice.  She would have
to go to the police.


It took very little time to find an officer.  Normally she would have
avoided them, of course.  She had never been in a situation anything
like this.  She waved him down in his car, and started telling the
whole story from the top.  The man listened to everything, and kept
looking at the towel on her head.  He didn't get on the radio.  She
felt awkward standing there talking to him, and said that she did.
She was black, she didn't have a nice life, she didn't have anyone to
trust, and she had nowhere else to go.  She was done telling the cop
what had happened, and waited to see what he would do.  He stood there
for a moment thinking about it, then pulled out his gun and pointed it
at her.  "Why don't you blow me?" he said.  Annie didn't freeze in
fear.  She just started cussing, angry as hell.  The cop shot her,
right in her heart, on her 19th birthday.



War stood behind Eros at the edge of a steep cliff on the side of a
mountain.  Eros sat on the edge, her beautiful legs dangling into the
air, kicking gently back and forth.  She was pretending to not really
be listening to War, but she really was intently focused on what he
was saying.  War was intently focused on what he was saying, too.  He
sounded like a crazy person.  He was really on a roll.  He was ranting
about humans again.  How they had no respect for the old ways.  Eros
thought to herself, they have no respect for the new ways either.
They have no respect for anything anymore.  She didn't interrupt War's
tirade.  She just sat there, pretending not to listen, kicking her
legs slowly back and forth.

War was heated.  He was stomping around in circles breathing heavily
and cussing as only War can.  They were waiting for someone to come up
the mountainside.  Eros had already spotted the human in the far
distance.  War didn't even really care about any of this.  He was
ranting like a madman, but Eros thought to herself, he has a point.
War kicked a tuft of dead grass and a bit of dirt flew over the edge
of the cliff.  He looked up and saw the human in the distance, making
its way up the long dirt road at what seemed like a snail's pace.  He
started cussing about just being kept waiting.  Eros told him to be
patient and it would work out better.

Eros commented to him she believed the human was actually running, at
least jogging, it was impressive for a human to be moving so quickly
uphill.  War shielded his eyes against the dusk sun and tried to see
for himself.  He asked Eros finally, what made her think so.  The
human looked like a tiny doll in the distance, without much detail at
all that War could discern.  Eros looked up at War, smiling only
slightly.  War said he wished she wouldn't try to seduce him like he
was some lowly human.  Eros snorted a little at that, but she was
still the epitome of feminine beauty.  She said to War to look at the
area around the tiny human.  War looked again.  The human was indeed
kicking up a fair amount of dust.  War said he saw Eros's point.  Eros
said to him again to be patient, this human would satisfy both of


Geert was sure he was losing it.  Well, he'd been sure he was slowly
losing it.  He'd been losing it for years really, then it had all
burst like a bubble.  One day he just decided, and said to himself,
Geert, who cares?  No one ever notices anyone else anyway.  No one is
going to care between whether you sit silently stewing, losing your
mind over nothing, completely miserable, or just pull yourself up by
your groty bootstraps and decide you're going to be happy even if you
are crazy.

Geert had taken up jogging on a whim.  A beautiful woman had been
jogging past him, and that's when it had hit him.  He had enough sense
not to obviously just chase her down, no.  Geert had a bit of sense
for a crazy man.  He didn't immediately take off after this beautiful
woman as she ran by him, but he did, in that moment, make a firm
decision to take up jogging himself.  He never saw that particular
woman again, like a character briefly introduced in the story of his
life for some effect or another, then dropped again, like the author
had only needed her for a brief moment.  Geert shook his head like a
confused, wet dog.  Sweat rolled off his brow.

He was jogging uphill.  This time he was finally sure of himself.  He
was jogging uphill along a dirt road, slowly getting steeper up the
side of a mountain.  He felt absolutely sure this time he was pointed
toward his karmic destiny.  He had this really creepy friend who told
him all about karmic destiny.  The dude had told him, Geert, if you
sit long enough thinking about who you are, where you come from, you
will know all of your own secrets, more than you ever wanted to know.
His friend had gotten up off the couch after saying this and casually
thrown a poor, defenseless box turtle out of the 5th story window.
The dude was not a good guy.  Geert hadn't been sure what to make of
that.  He said dude, you said you were raising them for soup or
something.  That's inhumane.  The dude had cackled hysterically,

Geert made a choice about that guy, a little more in his prefrontal
cortex.  He basically stopped talking to that guy.  He did, however,
spend quite a lot of time thinking about his karmic destiny.  Whatever
that meant.  That part had made a lot of sense to him.  Geert had
thought long and hard about his karmic destiny, looking up how to
meditate, and sitting for up to an hour at a time, clearing his mind
and thinking about himself, who he even was, and his karmic destiny.

He was driven crazy by the world around him.  Geert had a bad disorder
centered in the minds of some of these people around him.  People who
would throw a poor defenseless turtle right out of a window on a whim,
cackling hysterically about it.  Evil people.  Geert had no other
choice but to go completely insane himself.

Earlier in the day he had wandered up to the local university.  Pretty
aimlessly, he had just felt drawn there.  Geert had attended this very
same school, studying computer science.  Geert had been one of the
more impressive students at that time even.  He felt like it didn't
mean all that much anyway.  Some of his classmates would graduate, he
eventually graduated himself, no one could tell them apart.  He stood
out among those classmates because they would graduate not knowing how
to turn the thing off and on again.  Geert hadn't been the very best
in his class, but he had been at the upper end.  The school had a
rather bad reputation for computer science, sadly.  No one could tell
all the graduates apart, and so many had been shuffled though and had
graduated unable to do much of anything at all, that everyone ended up
with either a reputation as a nitwit or a complete nutjob.

One day in school they had all piled in a bus, the whole department,
off to a bright opportunity, something or other.  Some career
planning, some internships, something.  Geert couldn't even remember
now.  Something had gone terribly wrong.  Geert strained to remember.
Something had gone terribly wrong on that short trip on that bus to
some career guidance event.  He couldn't even remember.  He had some
kind of trauma about that, he was sure.  Something awful must have
happened, something truly awful, so awful he couldn't even remember.

He had ended up with a job programming at a small local company.  One
of the employees seemed to pull all the weight of the company.  Geert
could have helped him, he actually knew a thing or two.  He wasn't as
good as the other employee who kept the entire company afloat, perhaps
by far.  He wasn't sure what he even did there, what was his job
description, anyway?  He struggled to remember what had all happened.
Most of the other employees didn't do much.  They didn't even know
how.  Geert had figured, he guessed, that's what they did for a job,
something like that.  He felt bad thinking back on that.  That poor
employee who worked so hard had been left with all of the work, an
entire small company's work load.  He was sure he could have helped
the poor fellow more than that.

Geert had been thinking absentmindedly about all these things, not
really paying attention to where he was going or the world around him,
and had ended up on the marble stairs of his old stomping grounds, the
university.  A college girl walked past in a purple backpack, and
Geert momentarily forgot himself.  Who was he, anyway?  He practically
screamed at her, "nice backpack!" He wasn't sure why he had shouted
that.  She was startled by it.  He had to work on his skills at
complimenting women.  He was sick of being miserable, though.  He
would master these kinds of social skills and be happy after all.  Why

He began to feel more and more out of place, sitting on those marble
steps.  He wasn't out of breath, he was just sitting there.  He wasn't
doing anything wrong in any conventional sense.  His thinking was all
screwed up though, and he was slowly losing awareness of that fact.
He was thinking back on something he had learned at that university
about berries.  He vaguely recalled something about almost all
compound berries in that area being edible, about which fungi in the
area were completely safe to eat, which were marginally safe to eat in
small amounts, various facts about root vegetables and plants native
to that area swirled around in his mind.  He got up to continue
jogging, and jogged all the way out of town, finding himself before he
knew it halfway up a mountainside.


War frowned beside Eros.  He had relaxed a bit by now, they had been
sitting watching the poor human as it jogged, impressively for a
human, up the dirt road.  Eros looked over at War, as beautiful as
only the epitome of feminine beauty can be.  Inside she hated the idea
of War being satisfied with anything.  Human beings were wonderful
little creatures in her opinion.  War just tended to wreck everything.
He was only ever satisfied when all the humans were dead in the most
awful ways.  Eros pressed her beautiful lips together in distaste.
War didn't even notice her.  Eros always pretended not to be listening
to War, but War truly, really, never listened to one word she ever

Eros felt a bit frustrated with him.  Like the humans were just toys,
little tin soldiers, had no redeeming qualities besides their own
destruction.  Eros knew what to do with a human.  War had no idea what
he was missing out on.  Eros played with her beautiful dark hair,
staring at War.  She would just stare at him until he felt her gaze.
War didn't even notice.

Eros sighed in exasperation, and got to her feet.  We need the other
kinds of love here, she thought to herself, not this guy.  Her closest
cohorts disliked War even more than she did.  Eros had of course had
to be the one matched with him.  Neither of them really thought about
it all that much.  They were just the concepts, who knew?  Humans were
always supposed to just keep doing stuff.  They needed Eros, but War?
She looked at him through narrowed eyes, thinking about it.  Who needs
this guy, anyway?

War turned around, finally.  She was a little scared of him.  He was
such a menacing fellow.  Right now he seemed quite relaxed.
Uncharacteristically relaxed for him.  The human was probably only
half an hour away from them now, jogging at a steady pace up a steeper
and steeper road.  War was impressed really, now that he could make
out a little bit of detail.  He commented to Eros proudly that the
human was male, like War.  Eros stifled a laugh, at War's expense.
War didn't even notice, turning back to watch the human as he
continued to jog up the road.


Geert wasn't even out of breath.  He kept his pace steady.  He had
been jogging for quite a while now, and he would know when he was at
his destination.  He was thinking of a few things, but mostly his mind
was clear.  The sun was setting, but he wouldn't be cold.  He was
going to just keep jogging up this mountain as night fell, it would be
enough to keep him warm.  He was thinking about berries, some class he
had been in.  An elective class outside of his major.  They had tried
so hard to be sure he would have a well-rounded education.

He was thinking about something he had learned in that class.  The
largest organism in the world was somewhere in this mountain range,
supposedly.  It was some kind of sprawling fungus, the professor had
said it covered more land than the city the university was in.  It was
one single organism, spread across more land than Geert could jog
across in a day.  He wouldn't even try to eat a fungus like that,
simply out of respect.

There were root vegetables indigenous to this area.  A lot of people
didn't even know about them.  In that class he had learned to identify
some of them, as a class they had learned about what was edible in the
area.  Geert knew biscuitroot by its small oval leaves with one line
down the center.  He knew yampa well enough to enjoy it, they had
tried it as a class, but he probably wouldn't be able to find it
himself.  The compound berries.  The professor had said almost all the
compound berries, especially in this area, were fine to eat.

Geert knew himself a little too well to really think he could survive
up here.  Not on his own, with the knowledge from one college class
he'd taken over a few weeks.  Human beings were pretty amazing in the
ways they worked together toward common goals.  Geert felt a bit bad
he hadn't helped more at that company.  He had eventually just stopped
going in to work.  He had lost his mind as a lowly employee at that
job more than anywhere else.  It had been so incredibly pointless.  He
felt bad.  It could have had a lot more meaning if he had actually
helped the guy who did everything.

He had taken up jogging around the time he had left that company.  Had
it been before, or after?  He couldn't remember.  They still sent his
paycheck for months, like they had never noticed him.  Like they had
never noticed if he was there or not anyway.  He was really still
doing the same job, right?  He felt bad about it.  There was something
he wasn't seeing here.  He continued jogging, his mind clearing again
from the swirling chaos of thoughts of berries and regret.

He jogged past fewer and fewer houses, with more and more space
between them, up the dirt road.  Steeper and steeper, up the side of
the mountain.  He kept his pace easily, he wasn't the least bit tired
yet.  He wasn't hungry, but he was dimly aware he would be, by the
time he got to wherever his destiny awaited.  He would find some
edible plant, something to eat.  It wouldn't be enough really, but he
wasn't going to die out here.  He would be extremely hungry by the
time he had jogged all the way back, but he was not by any means

He started to jog past a few trees, on the side of the mountain.  The
road was getting steep by this point.  He kept his pace, not slowing
down or speeding up.  He looked ahead, where the road started to turn.
He could see, maybe ten minutes ahead, as he continued to jog up the
road.  The road turned there, steeper and steeper, around a cliff.
Two figures stood in the dusk, silhouetted by the setting sun behind
them.  It almost seemed like they were waiting for him there.


Happy Valentine's Dave

Dave was practically born and raised on the Streets of Sim City.  He
had a lot of things going for him in a lot of ways, and he usually
fucked everything up anyway.  His dad said to him sometimes, Dave, if
you put half as much energy into just about anything besides fucking
everything up, imagine where you could be.

Dave disagreed, but didn't tell his dad so.  Dave was kind of a quiet,
incommunicative guy.  His dad more or less was too, aside from giving
him shit.  Dave's only escape was the Streets of Sim City.  He would
spend hours making a map then import it into the game and fuck
everything up.  He loved how free-form it was.  He got it down to a
science, practically.  The game wasn't even that good to be quite
honest.  It had basically flopped, it was an awesome idea that fell
far short of delivering.  Dave made up for the shortcomings of the
product in his own mind.  That little pixellated bullshit could be a
hooker, for example.  He just figured that would spice things up
enough to hold his interest.  It didn't really, but he enjoyed fucking
up the map anyway.

Dave took to that game like a duck likes water.  He played the shit
out of it.  His dad was pretty upset with him for doing not a damn
thing else most of the time than play this game.  He could spend a
whole day making a map in Sim City, then half a year on its virtual
streets, not even really adhering to what the game offered, just doing
whatever he wanted.

Dave fucked a lot of things up, it really had to be acknowledged.  His
dad was getting pretty frustrated with him, sitting there fucking
everything up.  He spent a lot of time on AOL looking for people to
play the game with, but he almost never found anyone interested in it.
Occasionally he would find someone, but they were always such
incredibly weird people.  Dave didn't really think about himself that
much, but these weird fuckers who would play this game, it was so
weird.  Dave spent probably...  Well how many hours are in a
teenagehood?  Dave spent his life on this game.

He had probably one friend.  He would look at his buddy, the guy must
be his best friend.  Dave didn't think too much about himself.  He was
usually thinking about this game.  He would skip class to play the
game, he would fuck up social engagements to play the game, and his
buddy would try to bring him along, like, Dave, let's go to the mall,
we can check out some other games, like, Dave, you know there's more
in the world than this game right?  Dave always thought his friend was
a super weird guy.


The years passed.  Dave had a really hot girlfriend.  Actually more
than one, at different times.  Dave wasn't a player.  He really loved
those women.  He would really draw them in somehow.  It didn't make
sense when Dave got older, he thought back on it, like...  how had he
managed that?

His friend went off to a different college, far away.  They sort of
kept in touch, but Dave wasn't very communicative still.  He wasn't a
player, but he probably hooked up with these beautiful women just by
lying to them and a little bit of luck.  Dave probably missed his
friend in downright latent homosexual ways.  Dude was a bit of a
fruitcake, deep down inside.  He wouldn't have ever thought about
something like that.  Dave was always focused outward, not inward.  He
didn't think a lot about himself at all.

He gradually forgot about that game.  Somehow he played it less and
less.  He flunked out of college.  Everyone around him was flunking
out on drugs or popular games.  By then he had learned not to ask
anyone if they wanted to play Streets of Sim City with him.  He kinda
kept to himself mostly, but it stopped being so fun to just play the
game all day.  He felt he had to hide the game, really.  His
girlfriends never knew about his obsession with that game.  Gradually
it faded on its own.  The girlfriends left him, one by one.  They
eventually noticed the same thing his dad always said.  He was a
fuck-up.  So Dave flunked out without even playing a cool game, he
lost interest in the only, rather stupid thing that mattered to him,
and he moved back in with his dad.


His dad was like, "ok, Dave.  You're my son, I accept you, you just
gotta help around the house.  I can tell you're starting to get it
together.  It's a huge step that you're not playing that game anymore.
College really helped you even though you flunked out." He said that
kind of thing.  His dad had clearly grown a lot also.  Something just
didn't add up, though.

Dave was pretty sure his dad was fucking one of his ex girlfriends.
He didn't even care that much.  Dave just kind of lost interest in
anything.  He slept a lot, he didn't help around the house like his
dad said he had to, and things gradually went to shit.  Dave stopped
showering, brushing his teeth.  He used to be such a neat freak.  One
day he caught his ex girlfriend right there in their home.  So that
proved it to him.  He didn't even flip out, she did.  She was like,
"Dave..." She figured it was her fault.  She was completely shocked at
what a mess he had become.  She broke down in tears to him in apology,
saying she never meant to hurt him, his dad was just sexy as fuck, all
kinds of stuff, sobbing.  Dave just stared at her kinda, it didn't
occur to him to say much, he was just his typical self, as far as he
was concerned.  He knew it wasn't her fault.  He probably should have
pointed that out, but he just kinda stood there completely silent,
smelling and looking like a homeless person.  His dad threw him out.


Dave somehow ended up in a group home instead of just homeless.  He
didn't think about it that much.  In the group home there was this
really weird guy.  He had to be the weirdest person Dave had ever met.
Dave wanted to just poke the guy, like, is this guy real?  Turned out
the guy was on all kinds of drugs.  Dave couldn't even remember his
own history with drugs, it hadn't really been a thing for him, but it
was always kinda there.  He had tried all kinds of drugs, he would try
some drug and just be like, whatever.  Like, people enjoy that?  He
got thrown out of a gathering once, where everyone was on some
stimulant.  Dave had done it along with everyone else, and gotten
completely pushy about the Streets of Sim City.  It had not gone over
well, and he had left under quite a threat.  Drugs just never were his

The thing about this dude in the group home is he listened to Dave
about that game.  Dave didn't even have a computer in there, he didn't
have a way to show the game to the guy, but he would listen for hours.
Dave spent almost as much time talking to this guy about that game as
he had ever spent playing it.  He couldn't even remember that guy's
name now.  The guy would talk to him for hours too, about something or
other.  Dave never listened back.  Dave thought about that.  Later
when he would remember, with a glimmer of introspection, it eventually
occurred to him that maybe neither of them had been listening to the
other at all.  Was that guy even real?

In the group home they had Braveheart on two old VHS tapes.  How many
times did they watch that?  Dave couldn't remember a single thing
about the movie.  They pretty much just had that for a movie
collection, and watched it over and over, and for some reason Dave
couldn't remember a single thing about it.

Social workers would come to the group home occasionally, and ask Dave
weird questions.  They would try to get Dave to go see some kind of
head doctor, and Dave would kinda play along, usually not showing up
for any appointment.  He would get out of it one way or another.  He
would get on the bus to go, he would tell everyone he had gone, and
they never really checked.  Where did Dave even go when he wasn't at
the appointments?  He couldn't remember.  Maybe he did go to the
appointments after all and just didn't remember.  For some reason that
didn't make any sense to him.

Seems like Dave would often end up at a park, maybe.  He would take
the bus to the appointments, without much intention, and he would
always end up at this one park.  The park was in the middle of a road,
kinda.  It was like one long park in the middle of the road.  The
weird guy from the group home would meet him there.  There were a lot
of bums and addicts in this park.  Always some kind of shenanigen or

There was a small pond at one end of the park, with some ducks in it.
Dave took to feeding the ducks like he took to playing that game.  Now
the weird guy and him had something in common.  They would talk about
the ducks to each other.  Like, Dave was on the same page with someone
else about fucking anything for once.

One day in that park, Dave bumped into that same ex girlfriend.  She
mistakenly assumed he was doing a lot better.  The truth was, in the
group home, they just told them when to shower, brush their teeth...
Dave played it off really well.  He explained to her he was, yep,
things were going really well.  He had moved out of his dad's place.
Neither of them really got into that awkward subject much further.  At
the end of the conversation, the girl seemed to want to continue it.
Dave didn't really want to or not want to.  The girl pointedly said to
him she hoped to see him again sometime.  Dave agreed, and said it was
great to see her.  For some reason, Dave never went back to that park.
He avoided it like the plague.


After that day in the park, Dave started to just go to the
appointments.  He figured it was kind of gay of him later, but he
thought of that male doctor along the same lines as those girlfriends.
The dude really dug for him to say stuff though, it was hard to keep
lying.  Dave took to spending time at the group home writing stuff
down.  He would write notes about what to say to the doctor, prepare
himself.  He got kind of creative at it.  He would go to a session and
judge the doctor's reactions, and make minute adjustments for the next
visit.  He wasn't sure what he was even going for.  It was aimless,
but fun.  He built quite a story for the man.

Sometimes he could tell it was all starting to crumble, and Dave would
start crying.  He would just start bawling there right in the doctor's
office.  It really was sad to Dave.  The thought of his psychiatrist
seeing all the way to the bottom of his soul, the thought of the story
collapsing in on itself, how angry and upset the doctor would be...
Dave would just start crying like a baby.

At the bottom, of course, was that game.  Dave didn't want to have to
explain that to anyone.  The game, sure.  He knew enough not to ever
mention the game to the doctor.


Dave knew a little bit about programming.  It had never really
occurred to him in a more general sense than making that game do some
weird thing or another.  He wasn't really what you would call tech
saavy, even.  He was so fixated on this game, it never occurred to him
any application beyond the confines of some little universe of a Sim
City map.  He was actually good at it too.  The company that made that
game would have hired him, they would have paid him for what he ended
up with.  He really improved that game tremendously from the market
flop it had always been.  It didn't even occur to Dave it was like, a
skill.  He didn't think of himself as a programmer at all.  He never
looked much further than that game.

He had a rough understanding of what various types of software were.
There were like, the various parts of the game.  He understood the
main program somehow, probably better than its designers.  He didn't
think of it in any terms like any programmer would.  He wasn't a
programmer, he was a Streets of Sim City-er.  He was really good at
it, too.

That doctor never knew about any of that.  Dave told him some complete
parallel story.  The doctor said Dave had never gotten something he
needed from his parents.  One day Dave went in to the doctor and it
all fell apart for him, in the best way imaginable.  At the doctor's
office was Dave's dad.  Dave's dad had been clearing some things up
with the doctor.  The doctor expressed surprise with Dave, like, how
come you didn't mention you were so gifted, Dave?

For a moment Dave felt caught, like he had been caught doing something
quite bad.  His dad and the doctor laughed it off, or something.  Dave
wasn't really following all of the nuances now.  Dave felt bitter
inside.  He felt resentful.  He tried pitifully to keep the story for
the doctor going, but it was all over.  He was outed, and it wasn't
even an issue.  It went better than Dave had ever expected it could
have.  After the doctor's appointment, Dave's dad drove him back to
the group home.  He said to him he had his computer for him, with the
game on it.


The weird guy in the group home was impressed.  Dave finally poked
him, like this was the moment of truth.  The guy didn't even mind, he
understood that.  He poked Dave right back.  So they each knew the
other was real, and things were coming back around for Dave.  Things
were looking up.

That weird guy had still been going to that park.  Maybe that's how
Dave ended up there the first time.  Well.  The guy had brought home
one of those ducks, back to the group home.  The staff were pretty
cool there, they were like listen you guys can keep this duck if you
take it for walks and stuff and don't let it shit everywhere.

Dave figured the weird guy was fucking his ex girlfriend.  He didn't
even care.


Dave got into the game in ernest.  He played like he had never played
it as a teenager.  He lived and breathed the game again.  The doctor
and his father were both impressed.  The weird guy in the group home
was actually listening to him about stuff.  He quit drugs even.  The
weird guy sometimes played the game with him.  Dave's programming got
better.  He still didn't agree with the doctor, who tried to play it
off like he had always known.  Dave knew deep down inside he had won.

They would walk the duck and Dave's work with the doctor had led to
better and better communication.  He actually listened to the weird
guy, sometimes anyway.  It turned out that guy related pretty much
everything back to Braveheart.  It made sense, in a way.  Dave still
didn't get jack shit about Braveheart, but some scenes stood out in
his mind.  Well, only two scenes.  The part where the hero's girl gets
killed, and the part where the hero gets killed.  The weird guy tried
to explain some metaphor back to the drugs, and Dave kind of
understood now.  This guy was so weird, but he got him now.  The dude
was just really into Braveheart.

The weird guy couldn't have been more different than anything Dave
took away from the movie, but the man insisted it influenced
everything he did and said.  He said Braveheart was like a metaphor
for how everything worked.  He tried to relate it back to the game,
and that's about where Dave drew the line.  He said no, Braveheart is
nothing like that game.  If you played the game enough you would
realize.  He tried to focus on Braveheart to see the man's point, and
he just couldn't understand what he was saying.  They couldn't be more
different concepts.

One day the guy was talking about that scene, where the hero's girl
gets killed.  For the first time, Dave saw him start to cry.  He
gathered himself, he didn't cry.  He was like Dave, man.  I've been
fucking your ex girlfriend.  I really love her.  Dave said he knew.
He knew all along.  He couldn't be happier for them.

The guy didn't get it though, he really started to cry.  He said he
would make it up to Dave, who couldn't have given less of a shit.


The doctor said one day he had someone he wanted Dave to meet.  Dave
was a bit perplexed.  That seemed weird to him, but whatever.  So in
walks this girl.  She was as hot as any of Dave's ex girlfriends, but
there was something different about her.  Dave looked at the doctor,
like, you're introducing me to a woman...?

The woman was beautiful.  She had thick glasses on.  None of Dave's ex
girlfriends had worn glasses.  She said to him just a few words, and
he knew she was his soulmate.  She said the doctor had told her that
he played Streets of Sim City.  Suddenly Dave was completely sick of
fucking everything up.




I drove slowly down the dirt road in my girlfriend's mother's jeep on
one spare tire now, worry thoughts flooding my mind.  Why was I dating
this loser?  I was just afraid of being alone.  We shared no respect
for anything either of the other cared about.  The algorithm of the
dating site had matched us based on who-knows-what, and it was true.
This stupid girl was probably the best match for me within a thousand
miles.  Would the tire last?  Would her family eat me?  Her mom had
let us borrow the jeep and she had immediately started texting as she
drove, hitting a rock and popping the right front tire.  As I changed
the tire she kept complimenting my arms and the fact I could change a
tire.  She said she doubted anyone in her family could have done that
and kept commenting on how sexy my skinny arms looked as I strained to
turn the lug-nuts and she pulled up my t-shirt as I tried to fix the
problem.  I bottled up the bad feelings like I usually did.  It was
amazing she voted about the same way as me, at least.  It was amazing
she had most of her teeth and wasn't addicted to meth.  She must be
really strong in some ways to end up how she was.

We were driving to the back-country.  I knew enough about these places
to be scared.  We were going deep into the forest to meet her extended
family.  The town where her mother lived was basically a few trailers,
a bar, and a post office at a bend in the road.  There couldn't be
more than 100 people living there.  She'd explained to me that hunting
was more than economical in the winter there, it was pretty much the
only way to survive, and I tried to politely agree when she said I
should come back then and how great it was.  I could sort of imagine.
In deep snow this entire area would be impossible to get through.  It
was the middle of summer so a 40-mile trip to the grocery store in the
sweltering heat would actually work without ending up stranded having
to eat my chunky girlfriend before being eaten, like the Donner Party.
We had to have been crawling along up this mountain into the forest
for at least an hour now, which meant we may have gone 15 miles,
probably at least half that far uphill.  At least it would be cooler
up in the trees.

We finally pulled up to a clearing in the mountain forest centered
around a small wooden cabin in the shade of a few large trees.  It
certainly looked creepy.  A man with a beard in suspenders, thick
glasses, and tattered pants looked up from chopping firewood and
recognized the jeep.  He waved...  with the axe.  I breathed a deep
breath to calm my nerves.  I had met girlfriends' families before, but
I was basically a city kid.  This clearly wasn't a man who worked for
public transit, and that had been nerve-wracking enough.  I wasn't
even attracted to this woman.  What was I thinking?  As I parked, she
explained the man was her uncle.  I certainly didn't say out loud what
I was thinking.  Your...  uncle?  Are you sure about that?

I tried to calm my nerves, really a sense of panic, as we walked from
the car toward the cabin and my girlfriend's uncle.  He had a strange
country attitude like some people do.  Some people in rural areas have
quite a chip on their shoulder about city-folk.  They kind of talk
slower to you like you're retarded, with a tone in their voice to make
it clear they are superior to the urban weaklings.  Admittedly he
could split me in two without the axe, on the forefront of my mind at
that moment.  He was mostly focused on my girlfriend though, he didn't
seem very interested in me at all.  They just talked a bit about it
being nice to see each other and "Pa" not doing so well these days.
Then they headed toward the tiny cabin, my girlfriend basically
ignoring me too now as I trailed along behind the two of them.

When we stepped inside the cabin I was blinded.  It was far too dark
to see anything inside.  There were two small round windows on either
side of a fireplace.  Portholes like you would find on a ship.  One
had a transparent rainbow sticker with a unicorn, woefully out of
place in this cabin.  It was almost comical there.  What really got me
though...  was the smell.  I knew this smell and the gears in my mind
crunched along.  Where did I know this smell from?  Rats?  Ah. Oh my
god.  Once I had caught another kid torturing rats and stolen them
from him.  The smell was a mix of shit and blood.  The inside of the
cabin smelled like those tortured rats.  As my mind reeled from
adjusting to the stench, my eyes slowly began to see the entire room
that took up most of the cabin.

Walking in the door, the fireplace with the two small windows was on
the right.  One small lightbulb failed to illuminate the rest of the
room.  Past the fireplace I could see a filthy kitchen, the room was
L-shaped.  There was a table in about the center of the room, and a
truly disgusting bathroom to the left of another closed door.  In the
furthest corner opposite from the fireplace to the left was a bed
unlike any I had seen, it was actually built right into the cabin.
The inside gave the impression of being at the bottom of a ship.  I
later learned beds like that were common in old cabins, a bedstead.
That's where Pa was.  Pa was on the bedstead in the corner, but the
perspective was all wrong.  He was anywhere from four to ten feet
tall, and I realized they were keeping him chained to the bed.

My girlfriend went right up to him and said "hi, Pa," to him.  He let
out a truly demented laugh and reached out and grabbed her breast.
She laughed, embarrassed of that, and looked back at me.  So...  that
had been enough to embarrass her.  She walked over to me, away from
her Grandpa, and I realized I had unconsciously edged toward the
kitchen in shock after noticing Pa. She was so trashy, this was taking
the cake.  I had known she was a little strange when I met her.  Our
relationship had been a lot of potsmoking and me not noticing certain
things.  As she walked over to me she kind of flaunted her fat butt
for Pa. What the fuck?  She walked right up to me and put an arm
around me in the way that usually made me so horribly uncomfortable.
I was unable to focus, but grateful for the cloud of trashy perfume
masking the sick odor of the inside of the cabin.  My heart was
pounding.  I was scared in a way I never had been.  I couldn't focus
on anything as they talked, catching up.  Pa was unintelligible
anyway, the weirdest accent I have ever heard coupled with a horribly
diseased mouth and mind.  My mind was reeling.  I was in fight or
flight mode meeting this girlfriend's family.  My girlfriend picked up
on it and tried to cover for me, but it went on for the longest few
minutes of my life.  I would occasionally choke out a laugh when the
three of them were laughing.  At one point I wondered if they were
laughing at me when Pa got a bit hysterical.  I slowly realized they
probably weren't going to kill and eat me, relaxing a tiny bit.

My girlfriend asked how the kids were.  Dear God, they had procreated.
More than one child.  I saw no woman anywhere except my girlfriend,
but knew not to ask anything, not to speak.  Her Uncle said they would
be back any minute.  My girlfriend asked about dinner.  How was I
going to escape?  How could she be hungry in this place?  My mind
began to wander, trying to think of an excuse to get her alone and
demand we leave.  As I stood there utterly horrified, trying to hide
it, I knew they all knew how uncomfortable I was.  I wondered how
often they got visitors and how they escaped.  I heard children
talking outside, coming closer out the forest.  They weren't loud but
it sounded like quite a few children.  The Uncle looked over at me,
his eyes enormous through his thick glasses.  Dear God, I was going to
have to speak.  I steeled myself, but I was saved from that by about
as many kids as the population of the small town we had come from
running in the door.  The cabin was suddenly packed with dozens of
children, it was like packing clowns in a Volkswagon.  They were
crawling over the entirety of the cabin in seconds, multiple children
in the bathroom at once, several snuggling up to Grandpa in a way I
should probably report to CPS.  They were like an army of ants.  A
taller child carried some kind of small dead animal to the kitchen,
and a smaller child ran up to me and just stared curiously.

As I reflected on my life choices, practically flashing before my
eyes, I realized the Uncle was talking to me in that country way.  He
was explaining how tough his kids were.  I nodded politely which
seemed to make him a bit angry.  He explained that these kids were no
city slickers, and they could all probably take me down.  I wasn't
sure what to say as one of the medium-sized kids snickered, came up to
me, and kicked me in the shin.  Dear God, so this is how I was going
to die.  The Uncle flipped out though.  He started screaming at the
kid in a way that scared me worse than I had been yet in the whole
visit.  In the middle of all of this he said calmly to me, "they know
what's right, they're good kids." The kid was terrified now.  He knew
what was in for him.  Better the kid than me, I thought.  What could I
do now, anyway?  The Uncle told a taller kid to get the acid.  He
punished his kids with...  LSD...?  The taller kid laughed and opened
the door that had been closed, and started rummaging through a packed
closet.  In a little bit he produced a large glass bottle, as I tried
to calm the Uncle down and say it was ok.  It had to be a gallon jug
of what I soon found out wasn't LSD.

The Uncle took the kid who had kicked me to the table and told him to
put his hand down.  The tallest kid came silently back from the
kitchen, holding a spray bottle with an expressionless face.  All the
kids knew what was coming next.  My girlfriend looked at me a bit
horrified herself now.  She said to her Uncle he didn't have to show
off in a pleading tone.  He just barked out a laugh, uncapped the
bottle, and poured some kind of strong acid on the damn kid's hand
like that scene in Fight Club.  Except he overdid it.  Even he looked
a bit shocked.  The kid just held his hand there, gritting his teeth.
He didn't cry, but his hand was literally melting.  The kid somehow
said jokingly, "looks like a city." The oldest kid started spraying
whatever base was in the bottle on the poor kid's hand at about one
second intervals.  Squirt.  Squirt.  The smell of the chemical
interaction mixed with the shit, blood, and my girlfriend's perfume.
My girlfriend went off on her Uncle.

After screaming for about half a minute she stomped out of the cabin.
I trailed close behind, my skin crawling as I walked past her Uncle,
now standing there as stunned as anyone.  My girlfriend cried by the
side of the jeep for a bit, I just stood there trying to look
compassionate.  Now I couldn't dump her for another month.  I didn't
have the heart to do it after that, aside from which I would be
stranded here without her.  My mind felt empty, I was numb.  We got in
the jeep silently and began the long drive back to town and my own
car.  My girlfriend, wiping tears from her face, asked me if I wanted
to smoke some weed.  I told her she could, paused, then laughed.
Thank God I had survived that.  I said I had a new-found desire to
turn my life around.





Anders was crying, in the corner of the yard of the building.  He was
stuck here now, and he had fucked up.  He just had to start over.  He
would have to come clean to someone, somehow.  Nothing had worked.  He
had talked to his main supplier.  That fucker had gotten him in this
entire mess.  The plan was clean, simple.  Anders would sneak into
rehab for his problem, never admitting to anyone what it really was.
He had everything in order, everything had been lined up ready to go.
He would be completely able to leave at any time, that's how it
worked.  If anything started to go wrong, he could just get up and go.
No questions asked.  Two weeks ago he had made the move.  With his
supplier's help, everything had gone perfectly according to plan.  The
problem had been Anders himself.  Two weeks into rehab, he had
relapsed.  Everything they told him would help him hinged around
honesty, and there was no possible way he could tell anyone his true
story.  As he sobbed, a woman on the staff came up to him.  She said
she knew it was hard in here, but he could do it, she believed in him.
He couldn't possibly tell her what was going on.  He cried even


Six months ago, the plan had begun to take shape.  He would lie and
come clean as a drug addict, that was the first part.  Everything had
to hinge around that.  They don't let normal people into rehab.  He
went to his supplier, they weren't on first name basis, but the dude
knew him well enough to know Anders' problem.  He waved a disc in
front of Anders' face, assuring him it would work.  Didn't everything
always work?  Anders always worried, but everything did always work.
Anders worried a lot.  He had always worried too much, his whole life.
The dude was telling him not to worry.  They were professionals at
stuff like this, his supplier assured him.  He would need this disc,
of course, and it was gonna be worth it.  He would come out a new man.
His supplier built him up, and Anders was sold.  This was gonna work.

He used the disc exactly as it was designed, and he got into the
system.  He would have to play his cards very carefully.  Before long
he was well on his way, in outpatient treatment.  He was doing a good
job of it, hemming and hawing like he had a terrible drug problem.
This was gonna be a cakewalk.  Before long, people started suggesting
he go to rehab.  Score.  He played it cool, like a tragic Amy
Winehouse song.  He couldn't possibly go to rehab!  How long would it
take to get in, how long would he be in there?  Anders didn't have
much of a social life, so he played the act well.  It all fit


Being in the company of addicts was no problem for Anders.  He mingled
with them often for the line of work he was usually in.  Anders was a
hacker.  It wasn't exactly like people think it is.  Nothing ever was
though, was it?  The addicts weren't the problem.  Being caught
sneaking into rehab was almost unimaginable.  No one did that.  No one
would think to check a thing like that.  Anders would finally overcome
his problem, the same way any drug addict overcame their own.  Rehab
was the perfect plan.  Until he got there.

Anders had been sitting in the bathroom taking a dump when everything
started falling apart.  He had been sitting there and noticed another
odor, an odor he didn't recognize.  He could guess though.  Someone
was doing drugs in the stall next to him.  Two weeks into rehab, not a
worry in the world, everything going to plan, he was about to relapse.
It had stressed him out so much, he couldn't hold on any longer.
Everything they were telling him in here wouldn't work in his case.
The honesty.  He couldn't be honest about a damn thing!  How could he?
He had literally snuck into rehab.

A man on the staff banged open the bathroom door, screaming that it
smelled like someone had been smoking shit in there.  Anders' heart
pounded.  He wasn't caught, there was no way he ever would be.  People
wouldn't think to check a thing like what had actually happened.
There was no way in hell, but he was flipping out.  The staff member
kicked open the door to Anders' stall as he sat there.  He saw what
was going on and apologized.  Wrong stall, sorry.

Anders finished pooping, and got up to wash his hands.  On the outside
he knew he looked perfectly calm.  Inside he was going to pieces.
Anders washed his hands as best he could, and stopped at the door to
the bathroom.  He would have to touch the bathroom knob, then his
hands would be dirty again.  That's when Anders relapsed.


He was sobbing to the woman on the staff.  He said it couldn't work
for him.  There was no way any of this would work for him.  She said
that was common.  People always felt that way new to rehab.  He was
just coming down, she said.  He looked up at her, expecting her to see
it in his eyes.  That it was something more.  She didn't see it.  She
just saw an addict.  He looked down again, another tear rolling down
his cheek.  He decided to take a chance.  They said only honesty would
work.  He told her everything, the whole story.  Deep down inside, he
always worried too much.  He had snuck into rehab for his problem
biting his nails.





The NSA was doing it again.  They thought they were hot shit, but the
Colonel wasn't convinced.  After all, who had the suits?  The NSA was
working on some pretty interesting stuff these days, but the
difference was stark.  This was literally the difference between
classical, newtonian physics and quantum physics.  In the public eye,
the NSA were the bad guys.  These hackers weren't helping matters for
the poor fools.  Everyone was learning a lot, but there would be no
saving the NSA.  They'd all fucked up, really, the whole damn country,
but the NSA would be taking the fall.  Sometimes the Colonel wondered,
how did they see it?  Did they realize their agency was perhaps
created, in part, to take the blame for things like this?

The infrastructure was collapsing at a faster and faster rate.  Entire
terabytes of databases were being leaked, on purpose, by corrupt
politicians seeking only to cover their own tracks.  The computer
systems almost all had backdoors at this point, and no one was really
sure what to do about it.  Except the middle-schoolers.  They knew
exactly what to do with a leaked CIA cyber arsenal.  Russian
involvement was unclear, as always.  Let's face it, Russia has
teenagers too.

The Colonel was happy with the suits, but it was starting to get as
confusing as the time he had been drugged and tortured in South
America.  He hadn't spilled the beans that time, and this time he,
quite literally, would not be able to.  A lot of it was in the hands
of the physicists now, and they were God-less heathens who had trouble
explaining themselves or admitting when they didn't know certain
things.  That was unclear too.  What goes through the mind of a
physicist?  Or one of these "hacker" types?  The Colonel wondered to
himself, was he just as confusing to them, as they were to him?  Were
they confusing to each other?  He fought back tears for the first time
he could remember in years.

They all should have listened to that fool the first time around.
"Look up the etymology of the word," he had said.  "I don't think you
understand what a hacker is." This had seemed like the oldest trick in
the book, at the time.  The fool was trying to cover his bases too,
but he was crazy.  You don't call yourself the mock enemy forces as a
way to explain an interest in constructed languages.  It's simply not
done.  That's not covering one's bases.  That stupid, stupid fool.
He'd been able to do ten pushups though, and really he was working as
hard as anyone for his SSI stipend...  but what a stupid fool.  He was
looking more and more suspicious, the harder everyone looked.
Something was wrong with that guy.

There were silver linings in the approaching storm, though.  Everyone
knew what "hacker" meant now, to the two he was meeting with.  Sure,
to everyone else, it still just meant...  well...  whatever Hollywood
had thought it meant, all those many years ago.  These two though...
They would be confusing, the Colonel was sure of that much.  At this
point though, the Brass were desperate.  The NSA had really done a
number on the infrastructure.  The computers were basically all
paperweights; the suits would serve no purpose if everyone knew
everything about them.

The Finnish man from Oregon was already there when the Colonel
arrived.  Both of them were a little startled as the Colonel entered
the room.  This man had legitimate reasons to be angry.  The Colonel
understood this.  The feeling must be like that he had whenever an
unruly enlisted man pulled a practical joke at just the wrong time
and, often, somebody else paid for it.  Paid dearly sometimes,
sometimes was injured or worse...

He'd never heard of this man before last week, but apparently the vast
majority of the Internet ran his software.  It was amazing really, the
gap between "what everyone knew" and the truth.  It always was.  The
cynical Canadian with the rusty revolver had yet to arrive.  He was
even stranger than this Finnish man sucking coffee through his
stirring stick...  it was not meant to be a straw...  The paranoid
Canadian had said something like, "I'll come if you pay for it, but
I'm not entering your country unarmed." He'd also made it very clear,
if he caught anyone snooping around, there would be hell to pay.  The
US had showed their hand, really, and no one ever snooped around the
Canadian's "fortress." If anyone did at this point...  well...  it
would be pretty obvious no matter how well-disguised they were.

The meeting did not go well.  The Canadian was as unmotivated by money
as that damned fool, and the Finn seemed to just be waiting for
chances to interject angrily how stupid the NSA had been.  He had a
grin on his face that pissed the Colonel off.  He was smart though.
Smarter, socially, than the Canadian.  Which wasn't saying that
much...  The Finn was having a grand old time.  The Colonel found
himself wondering, then discarding the idea...  no one was that
smart...  but...  could this be staged by these two?  Or just the
Finn.  Could he have just wanted a free cup of coffee and a chance to
express his down-trodden outrage?  Certainly, his software project had
been ruined.  At this point people were flocking to the Canadian's
version.  It didn't look like the US was going to be able to buy
either of them out, the Finn to stop grinning, and the Canadian to...
well...  but his software was free.  To everyone.  That was
ridiculously suspicious in itself.

They somehow knew about the fool who'd pointed everyone at the
Internet to look it up themselves.  How could they possibly know, if
they already weren't infecting all the computers?  They had to be.
The Canadian was saying, basically, "look, heads of state.  Listen,
leaders of the free world.  If you want to use my software you can.
Like anyone else.  It's free.  Go ahead." What were his motivations?
Could someone love what they did, truly that much?  To not even care
about being paid?

At the end of the meeting, the Colonel still had a question for the
two weirdos.  What was the deal with the fool and his fucking
transvestite robot bunny?  That was just another one, the Finn started
to explain.  The Canadian shot him an inscrutable look, but the Finn
seemed to understand.  He sure was good at looking down-trodden.  The
Colonel kept his face as expressionless as he could.  The Canadian
seemed to be doing the same, but it may have been something completely
different he was thinking.  These people were so fucking weird, the
whole lot of them.  How could the world have this underbelly of
bizarre people, and have come to rely on them so heavily, without ever
really realizing anything about this?

The Colonel left the meeting feeling as though nothing had been
accomplished.  The rabbit was still an unsolved mystery, but these two
men clearly had respect for it.  Perhaps they even felt some jealousy.
The fool had said things like, "ya got a decade?" when asked to
explain.  Maybe it wasn't a trick at all.  Maybe everyone was as
cynical as the Canadian with the rusty revolver.  The Colonel shut his
eyes at his desk and just shook his head.  God only knew what would
happen if he tried to fire that piece of shit.




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