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Face The Morning

Susan sat at her desk, the sun shining in from the East as the sun rose over the horizon, casting everything in a rose gold blush. Something still wasn’t quite right. Reaching out she adjusted a picture frame, angling it just slightly more outward facing so that whoever sat opposite her would have very little choice but to see it. It was of herself, leaning against a low stone wall, arms extended excitedly above her head, a large, floppy straw hat settled on her head. By looking at it, it was impossible to tell if it was old or new, just that the woman in the photo was unmistakably her, being unmistakably happy, in an unmistakably plain field that could be located anywhere where fields could be found. Susan nodded to herself and placed her hands palm-down on the desktop, straightening her own posture and looking to the office door.

Aside from her office light, the office was quiet save for the hum of the overhead lights, and the intermittent click of a copier, spitting out papers somewhere in a supply room. It was as it should be then, Susan nodded in affirmation. After all, it had only just passed dawn, and no one else would be arriving quite yet to begin their day. Still, though, something wasn’t right.

Susan moved again, bringing her chair slightly closer to her desk, and began arranging her pens and paper. Carefully she lined each up by their colour, and then their height, setting them just so next to the pad of legal paper that sat, crisp, pristine and unused, within easy reach. She then removed a small palm full of paperclips from the supply caddy and set them down next to the paper. No. No, that simply did not look right. With an admonishing click of her tongue she put the paperclips back where she had taken them from, one by one, so that each lay flat atop the other within the caddy. With that complete, she nodded again, satisfied for the moment, and folded her hands, looking out her open door to the office floor.

There was a ding of the elevator, announcing the arrival of others, and the quiet murmur of conversation in the distance of the cubicle maze. Good, that was very good, Susan thought. This was how it was supposed to be, perfect and orderly. But still, something felt just a little off. Susan turned her chair just so and stopped so that she herself was angled toward her computer, the black screen showing nothing but her own reflection. There! That was it, now she knew what had been so wrong before. With careful hands, she reached up to her face, and pulled the skin up and forward, just so. It settled back around her skeletal orbital sockets and cleared her field of vision of the slight obstruction the out-of-placeness had caused. Carefully she moved down, straightening out her smile so that her lips framed her teeth, instead of sagging down to show her lower jaw. It would have been very frightful to be seen without her face on properly, Susan mused as she smoothed the skin of her neck down over her protruding clavicles. It simply would not have been a good way to start the day. A chorus of screams and madness were never good for office morale.

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The Gambler

Kosto watched as the man across from him tapped his newly dealt cards against the table, eyes darting up and down from the meager pile of coins that he had set in front of him. Kosto’s own cards were nothing to brag about, but being that they were the only two men left in the game, there wasn’t much he could do. He could, if he wanted to, keep folding until the man across from him had all of the money, but he doubted that would accomplish much.

“I’m just trying to win enough to get my little girl some medicine. She’s been sick lately, and my boss is a bastard with no heart.” Those words, uttered by the man across from him, kept Kosto playing, waiting to see when he could make a move. The corner of his opponent’s lip ticked upward, just for a second, and Kosto knew it was his chance. Setting his cards down, he took his large pile of coin, easily a month’s earnings, and slipped them to the centre of the table.

“All in.” He uttered lowly, then leaned back in his chair and observed. The man across from him looked at the pile in disbelief but didn’t hesitate long before pushing what remained of his own money into the pile. The dealer nodded, then checked the river, laying it out for the two men. Kosto’s opponent flipped his cards first. Three of a kind, not the most confident of hands, but at least better than a low pair with a middling kicker. Kosto flipped his cards, revealing nothing but a pair of twos, and an assortment of other disappointments. The man across from him didn’t question Kosto’s poor decision, leaping from the table and shouting in triumph.

“A round for all you hooves, who didn’t think I’d ever win! And the good stuff, barkeep!” The man around him clapped his on the shoulders, and Kosto narrowed his eyes.

“What about your daughter?” He asked, picking up his glass of whiskey and draining the last of it.

“I’ll just win again, it’s not hard. Besides, I know my wife has some coin stashed away where she thinks I can’t find it. That’ll be enough for the little biter.” The man continued to celebrate, picking up his newly won coin and slipping it into his pockets until no more would fit, and then he called for a pouch.

Getting up from the table, Kosto pulled another coin from his pocket and placed it down on the table to cover his own drink, before pushing through the crowd, leaving the stale and rank bar for the dark roads beyond. He had thought that this would be the case but was still saddened at what it meant. For a moment he had thought the man had maybe seen the error of his past ways, and simply did not know a better way to try and do the right thing. When the man’s wife had approached Kosto with the accusation that her husband was betting away all their coin, he had held little hope that such was not the case. Over his years of working such things though, he found that very rarely were the quiet ones prone to making rash or false accusations. With a backward glance toward the bar, sound pouring from it into the night, Kosto slipped into the shadows of the alley and started his wait. There would be a message delivered tonight, and it would not be pleasant.

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Bad Omens

          Lily had learned very early in life to trust her gut. It has kept her out of trouble and danger. From knowing that there would be a surprise pop-quiz in grade school, to anticipating the death of those around her, she’s always had a sixth sense niggling away when something was amiss. She chalked it up to being observant. But, since the car accident, she wasn’t so sure that it wasn’t something else all-together more uncanny, something more ancient than just a gut feeling
          Standing in the kitchen, she looked around and took stalk of the evidence that had greeted her that morning. Outside her kitchen window, under which the coffee pot she used every morning was plugged in, she met the owl’s unblinking gaze. She had noticed it right away, while she had spooned out the coffee grounds into the filter. Despite the bright sun streaming down on the leafless limb where the great bird sat, it was wide awake, ruffling its feathers and extending its wings, looking as if it had been waiting for her.
          The fresh container of coffee cream, just purchased the day before, was open; it’s curdled contents still in the bottom of her coffee cup. She had checked the best before date three times to make sure she was not misreading it, but there was no disputing that it signaled that the cream should have been perfectly fine for at least another three weeks.
          Lastly, on the kitchen table, were Darren’s work boots, freshly cleaned and oiled to look like new, despite their age. He had always been a stickler for taking care of his clothing but never before had he left them overnight on the table. There had been something off about their interaction that morning before he had gotten out of bed to get ready.  It had kept her awake, and sent her into the kitchen much earlier ten usual that morning. As such, she had been the one to see the owl, use the cream, and see his boots on the table before he had a chance to put them on.
          She didn’t hear so much as feel Darren enter the kitchen behind her, his socked feet whispering over the worn floorboards of their old but well-cared for home. Before he even had a chance to say good morning, if he was even planning to, Lily turned to meet him, tears building at the corner of her eyes, her voice hitching in her throat.
          “You’re leaving, aren’t you?” It wasn’t an accusation, just a simple question to which, her gut told her, she already knew the answer.
          “I know it’s Saturday. But I wouldn’t be going in if they didn’t need me.” His still wet hair fell boyishly over his face, even though it has long turned salt-and-pepper.
          “You’re leaving.”  It came out as a soft whisper, and a tear slipped down her cheek, hanging for a brief moment at her chin before falling. Darren crossed the kitchen, leaning in to kiss her forehead softly.
          “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll be back in time for dinner. Your sister is coming over to help, okay? I’ll be back before you know it.” He pulled her into a hug, her fragile frame pulled tight against his still hard body. Age had not taken much from him, only added to it. He pulled away again and smiled, the crows-feet at the corner of his eyes more pronounced. “We’ll have supper together and then go to the tea shop that you love if you’re feeling up to it.”
          Darren let her go, and Lily let him let her go, as he grabbed his boots off the table and made his way to the front door. She watched, crying silently as he bent down to put his boots on, the movement less easy than it used to be, and then retrieved his keys, before leaving, closing the door behind him. The owl in the tree hooted mournfully, and Lily knew that it too knew. The final nail in the coffin sealed, Lily cried as the sound of Darren’s truck grew loud, before fading into the distance, taking him away from her for the last time.

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The Embrace

Joshua exhaled, feeling every possible molecule out in steady succession. The fragile, verdant light that filled the night rippled, undulating like muscular coils around him, closing more tightly with each measured breath. The pressure had been steadily building for longer than he could remember. He knew that it, whatever it was, had not always been there. He had vivid memories of the time before when the weight of it had not even been a blip in the back of his mind. All the same, he couldn’t pinpoint when it had begun to close around him.

With more effort than he thought he could muster, Joshua raised his arms, presenting them palm out in front of them. It was like moving through water, as he felt both resistance and weightlessness as his limbs responded to his mental command. A voice in the back of his head reminded him to breathe. Again, he knew that voice had not always been there, that there was a time when he didn’t obey its command. Or, at least, a time when he had not heard the command for such a routine action. But he knew that without its reminder, he might forget to draw the next breath. The light vibrated in response to his action, expanding outward to make room, before contracting in around him again. It settled back on him like a weight, slowly pushing the breath from his lungs. He could feel the substance of it, slipping into his nose, up towards his sinuses, and then down the back of his throat, thick and moist. The voice commanded him to swallow, and Joshua did. He could track the feeling of it all the way down, as it joined the dozens, hundreds, thousands, of others breaths he had taken before. It settled deep within him, joining the squirming, writhing mass inside his stomach, pulsing in time with his muted heartbeat.

Focusing his eyes, Joshua looked at his extended palms, though it took time for his eyes to focus in the green glow. He could see, more than feel, the sweat on his palm, beading and clinging to his skin with desperation. They too pulsed; erratic ripples just below his skin moved from the center of his palms outward, up to his wrist, then to his elbow, and to the tips of his fingers. This, the voice told him, was new. This was another step, another signal of what was to come, of what they had been preparing for with each exhale, each inhalation, and every swallow.

As he watched his hands, felt them lose touch with his body, weightless in the light, Joshua started to hear the faint rush of something in his ears. It followed his heartbeat, ebbing and cresting, growing louder. Coming closer as each moment passed. Be steady, the voice urged him, the reward was coming soon. Rising around him, the verdant coils pulled him in, tightening like an embrace around him. The rush of sound crescendoed, peaking like waves over him, drawing him down, deep into the glowing emerald void. Outside of his head, the voice rejoiced its triumph, and Joshua sunk down, pulled beneath the coils, as all began to fade.

 

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Saturday Shorts: Country Roads

Country Roads

Even with the heater going full blast, Susan could barely feel her fingers for the cold. Her thick mittens did little to take the bone deep chill of the truck cabin away. The snow fell thickly outside, reflecting the headlights of the truck in odd ways, making the road more treacherous than it already was, the wipers working furiously. The snow danced like ghosts across the stretch of abandoned back road.

Susan hated early mornings, when the sun was still hours away from rising, and absolutely loathed the cold. Despite these certainties, she loved the snow, as it was beautiful in its own way. It was part of the reason she had stayed in North Dakota, despite her hatred of winter. The other reason she had stayed for so many years was why she was up at such an ungodly hour in the first place, driving when it was likely that every weather and news station in the county was advising against even going out your front door.

The trailer she was towing behind the truck pulled along, following in the ruts created by the full ton trucks winter tires. For all Susan knew, she wasn’t even driving on the actual road, since the only markers that made the stretch a road in this weather was her ingrained memory from having come this way countless times before. Hell, she almost missed the turn off indicator as she came up to it, though in reality it was not an official demarcation of destination, just an old oak tree, branches now heavy with snow, the indicated she had reached her turn. With a hard jerk on the wheel, she managed to make the cut, the chains on her tires gripping the snow and the gravel below it to keep her from sliding; the trailer bounces along behind. In this storm, the tree was her only indication that she was at the pasture. The snow was so uniformly white and even that it was all muscle memory and reflex at this point, keeping her calm and steady behind the wheel.

Another five minutes of steady travel into the pasture, and she was actually beginning to be able to feel her fingers, though it could just as easily been the beginnings of frostbite, as she had had a brush or two with that in the past. It would have been glorious to be able to sit in the cabin of the truck, as the warmth began to slowly leach away the battering cold, but she was at her destination and there was no time to dawdle. She was not the only thing that was likely feeling cold, as it was  ‘ not fit for man nor beast out there’, as her dad had been want to say when he was alive.

With a deft twist, Susan cut the lights on the truck, and shifted to neutral, letting the truck and trailer roll forward to a slow and steady stop. Reaching up, she made sure her knit cap was pulled down tight over her ears, meeting the edge of the heavy scarf she had wound round and round her neck. Quickly, as if she were removing a band-aid, she threw the truck door open and jumped down, trudging through the near knee-high snow towards the back of the trailer. From inside, these was the distinctive sound of hooves on metal, and puffs of steam rose from the small ventilation windows. The bleating of a handful or tired and upset sheep echoed off the bare trailer walls, as the flock made its protest known. The smell of wet wool and lanolin was just strong enough to cut over the cold and crisp air of the storm, which numbed the nose almost to the point of being useless.

Susan could hardly blame the sheep for being disagreeable, their foul mood was something she could relate to, given the circumstances. Being pulled from warm stocks at herded into a semi warm trailer at 3;00 AM would have that effect on anyone, though some would be able to protest in much more horrendous fashions. Susan lowered her scarf ever so slightly and let loose two short, shrill whistles that cut over the wind, and the sheep settled somewhat in the trailer, letting out a few soft baa’s as back talk.

Despite the thickness of her gloves, the little bit of warmth she had begun to feel was already bleeding away, so Susan made quick work of removing the dual lock and pins that held the back ramp in place. The ramp sank down into the snow, not resting fully level, but angling enough that it would be a short transition of trailer to ground for her charges. The latch that held the rolling door secure was a little bit more tricky, especially as the snow continued to fall and quickly cover every surface it could, but years of repetition made quick work of the obstacle. As the door rolled up the sheep, who had been huddled together near the back of the trailer, began moving forward toward the ramp, more out of habit than from any command, given that this was not their first time being transported. Susan moved away from the back of the trailer, the sheep descending the ramp into the snow one after the other in some bizarre game of follow the leader. Once the last of the flock, seven in total, had founds its way down the ramp and did not look like it would be retreating back into the trailer, Susan made quick work of closing the rolling door and locking the ramp back up, before she slowly worked her way back to the open door of the cabin, making sure none of the sheep tried to follow her. They stayed where the were, huddling together in the snow-covered field, their wool blending in with the snow while their black faces stood in stark contrast, even in the relative darkness.

Putting one foot back into the cabin and hoisting herself up with the door, Susan let loose another shrill series of whistles, which set the sheep into a nervous stomping. Taking a deep breath, the cold cutting her lungs like knives, she raised her voice over the storm, shouting into the darkness;

“Come out and get them, they’re all yours!”

With a quick pull and a dive across the seats, her  head down with her arms over it, Susan slammed the door behind her, just as the whoosh of something larger and heavier than a jet engine overtook the pasture, hidden by the snow. Susan did not dare look up, did not dare even breath, until there was nothing left but silence.

-Megan

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Short Saturday: You Were Warned

You Were Warned

There was no way around it, Arthur admitted to himself. He was going to need a much bigger trash bag to deal with this.

It had been a spur of the moment decision, and act of passion and madness. Now, standing among all the carnage, surrounded by the destruction caused by his own hand and his hammer, there was no denying that he must have been insane to think he would ever be able to get away with it. Carefully, he peels his soaked work gloves from his hands, the material sticking and refusing to let go, Carefully he turned one glove inside out before using it to remove the second, hoping to avoid getting anything on his hands. With a sigh, he left his uncomfortable face mask in place, and did his best to look past the obscure and unnamable matter that speckled his protective goggles. He did not want to risk removing them at this point, as it would likely mean he would need to get more, and he had none left on hand. With his luck, he would drop them onto the floor and they would be unsalvageable for continued use. On top of it all, he knew that it would be stupid to create a reason to leave the room he was in, even for the most innocent reason. If he made an excuse where it caused him to have to leave the house, he knew, deep down in his gut, that it would only complicate matters. If he created a reason to leave the house, he knew he would leave a mess which would indicate to anyone what he had done, or that he would simply leave it all behind and never come back.

He knew that if he left everything as it was, if he didn’t clean up meticulously, he would be caught, and would have to face the full punishment for his actions. The kind of punishment that he was almost certain would completely alter his life, more so than he had altered it when he had taken the hammer in his hands in that moment of absolute certainty.

As calmly as he could, Arthur grabbed the still open bottle of water from the counter, and took a long sip. Even though it was warm, it proved to be refreshing after his exertion. It also gave him the chance to really look around and take in everything that he had done, and all the complications it had created.

He should have listened when his friends told him that remodeling a bathroom was a job best left to those who knew what they were doing, and not a good project to undertake while your wife was away for the weekend. Definitely not a project to start on a Sunday.

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Poetry Tuesday: Bared Bones

Bared Bones

 

Grave bones dropping dust,

Crossed at the old master’s feet.

Creaking and bleating their lonely cries.

Left with unrest in their defeat.

 

Dry bone, marrow turned to stone,

Tossed at the blind king’s throne,

No One left at the hearth,

No Sons to take them home.

 

Cold bones, wrapped in parchment flesh,

Shuddering in the darkness, in suspense.

Not a memory of theirs remains.

Yet, still these ones draw breath.

 

Hot bones bathed in red,

Upon the soaked bloody ground, abandoned.

No tomb for them but where they fall,

In a field so far from home.

 

-Megan

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Wanted: Avid Listener

 

He could hear her voice, even with his ears full of screams. Despite his efforts, the voice was no louder or clearer than what he had first begun to hear it speak. Some words echoed, and if he listened hard enough he was able to decipher some of the words, to begin to make sense what t was she was asking of him. However, most of her words were still too faint, still beyond his ability to comprehend. Sometimes he wanted to cry, to scream so long and so loud that it hurt. Until his throat was raw and bloody. All in the hopes the somehow, his own suffering would make the words come more clearly.

Shakily, he ran his hands down his unkempt face, over coarse whiskers and craggy skin, leaving trails of filth in the wake of his fingers. He repeated the actions over and over, until his face was just as dirty as his hands, just as imperfect and flawed. He did it without seeming to take notice, sweat from his brown joining in to the mess.

The room where he lived and did most of his work was barely lit, the merger light emanating from the crude braziers and a single lantern which hung from the lower timber rafters cast more shadows than illumination. Despite the small space, it was by no means a hovel. He strived to keep it clean especially when he had guests. They were the ones who ended up making a mess of the place, who abused his generous hospitality. It wasn’t as if he asked for much from his guests in exchange for all that he did for from. He was a humble man, and his requests were no sort of imposition. He didn’t ask them for money, or favours exchange for his generosity. He would give anything that was asked of him, his possessions were of little consequence to him, and he would offer every last piece of himself and all that was his to anyone who asked, provided they did not seek it out of personal greed.

Truthfully speaking, he felt that was he asked from his guests, his only request in return for all that he could possibly give, was small and of little consequence. What he asked was so small intact, that he found it absolutely astounding the amount of times his request was refused. All his guests had to do to fully benefit from all he had to offer, was to sit quietly for a time and listen to his stories. He did admit that some of his stories could be considered boring and sad, as some were tales of miseries and sadness long passed.

But those stories were just the beginning. Everything had changed for him, and for his stories, when she had started to speak to him. She was his fire, his muse, his very reason to continue living, and if only they would listen to his stories of her, they would see how inspiring and awe-inspiring she truly was. He just needed his guests to under what she meant to him.

All of his guests so far seemed to get excited, elated, and hopeful when he told them about how sh had some to save him. For a brief, shining moment, they would forget about themselves, empathize with him, and he was certain that there was nothing better in the whole world than seeing how she inspired that wide-eyed glee in others, just as she had in him.

He loved to watch those eyes light up, and fill with tears of pure joy when he told them, no, when he asked them to help him understand what it was she whispered into his ear now, in the dark of night when no one else was around. Her voice had long begun to fade beyond his hearing. whether this was due to age, or some other ailment, he did not know, but it burned at his very soul, and sent waves of sadness over him when he thought that one day soon, he would no longer even be able to hear her whispers.

He rejoiced, danced as much as his cold bones would allow him, when his guests, like him, cried out for her to come and save them, just as she had saved him. They begged her to save them from their own suffering. It was a new miracle, each and every time, and he felt as if hope returned to him when they agreed to help him, when they dropped to their knees and begged for him to let them help.

But, as with so many times in his life, hope and joy were short-lived. without fail, it seemed, each of his guests would prove to be incapable of keeping their word. Liars and thieves were prolific, and they sought to take even what little he had left in the world. So far, every one of his guests had proven incapable, unable to hear the full glory of her voice, unable to hear what she was saying with any clarity, some even proving more hard of hearing than him was. Some guests had even thrown his hospitality in his face, trying their backs on their promises and their pleas. They would lie to him about her words; he was never certain why. Some, he thought, simply were going deaf, while others like hard her voice and wanted to keep the joy and comfort all to themselves.

It was always the liars, he had come to discover, that could hearth voice of his saviour clearly. Liars were never to be tolerated, they spat in both his face and her face, trying to take everything the were offered without fulfilling their promises and his request in any meaningful way. She knew who the liars were as well, and it was when they were present that he voice surged most clearly to him these days, like a bell in the fog off the sea. She advised him not to trust the liars, they were going to destroy him and steal all that he had fought so long and so hard for. They would steal her away as well, if he gave them the chance.

Eventually, when the lairs and the deaf knew that he could tell they were not being truthful, they would turn violently against him, breaking hospitality. They would try to weasel out of their agreements, out of their promises. They would try to sway him with offerings, bribing him with things that he did not want, that he had no need of. Those guests always left before the sun rose the morning after they came to visit. They would go, and leave him with their mess.

The screams that evening were almost completely silenced when he finally felt her presence, her voice at his ear as her words ghosted past his conscious mind. It was elusive and ephemeral, and her touch as she spoke in his ear was quickly fading, words cutting in and out, half -formed. They told him that he had been right, these guests had been unable to hear her as well, unable to take her words and bring them to the light where he wold be able to fully understand them once again. They had left a speculator mess behind as well, strewn and splashed across the floor with no regard for that fact that it would take him hours to clean.

Picking up the broken ladle he had used to serve that nights fare, he returned to his task, guided ever neared to the realization that her voice might now be forever beyond his grasp. Perhaps, once he had really tidied up, tomorrow’s guest would be different, would prove to finally be able to help him discover her words, to find out what it was she was asking off him now. How best to serve his lady. Perhaps, they would finally be able to hear her as well, if he opened their ears a little further.  As he began the task piling the broken bits of meat together, he ran his hand over his face, trying to clear some of the thick blood from his whiskers. The liars were always the ones who left him with the biggest mess, and even less of his hard-won sanity.

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Poetry Tuesday: Day Dreary

DAY DREARY

Watching the sun rise over the tired city trees.

Hot steam bringing life to walking dead dreams,

used to follow the current, subdued.

Left to rot.

Arrive on time,

Day.

Turn and press the button,

Month.

The same bleeds out the difference,

Quells the imaginary possibility.

The adventure is pushed into he broom closet,

Locked tight and covered in cobwebs behind

A disused mop bucket.

Flavourless tuna salad lunch.

Monday  is every day, repeating over.

Friday is just a Monday in sheep’s clothing,

Closing an leaving illusory promises

To re-assessing the dreams of adventure.

But Saturday dawns, yawning with a fake

Beatitude of hardship, a covered reality of a different

Kind of work disguised as breaking.

It too is just as routine,

As the sun rising over still tired trees in a half sleeping city.

Waiting for something to break the cover on the safety

Glass alarm of freedom.

A Dangerous gambit to destroy the safely systematic, routine, boring.

Life.

-Megan

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Protocol

Protocol

Three blinked at the reflection in the mirror, focusing on the grey eyes staring back from the other side. Nothing was different, nothing was out of place. When Three has woken up that morning, to get ready for school as usual, it had been with a strange feeling that something had shifted, but no matter how Three looked at it, everything seemed just the same as it had the day before, the week before, the month before, and the year before. Nothing has changed.

Turning off the light, Three went to the kitchen, once again, the same routine as every other morning. There was a protein shake sitting on the counter, next to a lunch bag and a copy of the daily paper. As always, the front page flashed in warning; bold, red letters warned the readers of the graphic content, alerting them that what lay beyond the front page was not suited for most. The articles would likely offend many, or turn the stomach. Instead, the front page suggested that all the reader really needed to know was that the weather was going to be pleasant, and that the two district teams that had met in their races the previous night had tied, and decided to be friends and compete again the next night. With that, it brought the collective all-time records for both teams to 0 Wins- 0 Losses- 2,950 Ties, a respectable performance history for both teams.

Three disregarded the paper, as always, and made to grab the protein shake. Three’s hand hesitated a moment, and instead of grabbing the drink, took the lunch bag instead. Three was not really feeling exceptionally hungry, so it would not do to waste valuable time on the drink. Ready for the day, Three approached the front door. As the door opened, an option warning popped up: “YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN BREAKFAST. PLEASE RETURN.” The warning, while optical, blocked Three’s entire field of vision, and the entire doorway. Three hit the exit button, but the warning merely re-appeared, effectively keeping Three from leaving the house to begin the journey to school. With a sigh, Three returned to the counter and picked up the shake, and the warning window disappeared. With the way no longer blocked, Three could leave without further issue, though the time for travel had been cut considerable closer than was comfortable.

Leaving the house, Three walked for at least a dozen yards before stopping, setting the still full protein shake down on the barrier that separated the walking routes. These barriers kept students of Three’s age and younger separated from the adults walking to work, the transports carrying goods and supplied, and the older students on their way to the secondary school building.

Other students feel into line on the path to the school. All walking the same way at the same pace. They said good morning, exchanged their happiness over the outcome of the game the night before, and contemplated their lessons and exercises for the day, which would be both pleasant and informative. No one spoke about the news beyond the front page of the paper.

It was the exact same as the day before. The same as always, unchanged in pattern. Still, Three continued to experience that same nagging sense of weight and shift, as if something was fundamentally different from  what it had been before.

Once all the students were inside and seated at their desks, the bell rang. As it happened each morning, their daily exam popped up on their desktops. Each student was faced with a series of four questions. They were the same as always, there was no variation, no change.

  1. How are you feeling? Well (correct)
  2. Who won last night? Both teams (Correct)
  3. Who holds the highest office in the government? The Chancellor Supreme (correct)
  4. Did you eat your breakfast?

At the last question, Three paused. Three had never paused before. Here it was. This was the difference, the shift that had been brushing up against the back on Three’s consciousness since waking. It had been felt before it had even occurred; the effect before the action that would generate it. It was as if Three had made this decision before it had even been a decision to make.

With a quick eye dart, Three glanced around the room at the others; all of their screens flashed a pleasant green, indicated that they had finished their daily exam. Indicating that every answer was uniform, correct. Tentatively, with a fluttering of unknown emotions, Three purposefully wrote his answer.

4.         Did you eat your breakfast? No.

It took a moment, but Three’s screen winked closed, and a new window popped up. First it opened in front of Three, and then in a cascade of pings across the room to the others, all looking straight ahead. The new window advised the students that everything was fine. And additional subset window opened in front of Three’s eyes, containing a set of three very clear instructions: Three was to remain quiet; to remain seated with hands placed flat on the desk; and that Three was to await the arrival of a task force which was being dispatched to remedy the detected compliance violation.

It became obvious that Three was the only one to receive these instruction, as the rest of the students remained calmly seated, looking straight ahead as if nothing as out of the ordinary. Three drew a deep breath, as for the second time that day, a wave of emotions that had never previously been felt took hold. Three had somehow knows, right from waking, that the world was shifting. As it turned out, it was only Three’s world that was shifting, and Three had been the one to set into free fall. Looking from the other students to the window, Three’s feet shifted a fraction of an inch. It only took a breath for Three to make another decision that had never been made before, another change to the sameness and repetition of the routine. With a quick breath, Three made a break for the open door.

Change was within Three’s reach, the door felt as if it were just there, waiting. Suddenly, Three was sprawling forward, reached by sensations that had previously been unknown, to which Three could ascribe no known words or past experience. The sensations forced legs  and arms to contract and lock awkwardly, no longer responding to the brains impulses to move. They sensations caused Three’s teeth to clamps down hard, pinching cheek tightly between strong molars. A second later, and that uncomfortable sensation was paired with the explosion of stars, as Three’s head met the ground with a thud, ears ringing. With vision swimming in and out of focus, Three felt hands grab that collar of their shirt, hefting them up from the ground, holding them suspended.

As three’s hearing returned, head pounding, there was the sound of a voice, speaking in controlled, clipped tones. As the voice spoke, they began to move, Three in tow above the ground. “Unit Three is contained. We will bring them in for evaluation. All other units in this zone appear to be functioning as normal, all coding pinging green. We believe this is an isolated incident. Please be advised to re-initialize protocol in 90 seconds. Extraction complete. Alpha Team signing off.”

Not a single student in the classroom seemed to notice what was going o, focused on the screens in front of their eyes, as if the words “All is well” were enough to keep them from curiously investigating the ruckus taking place behind them.

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Filed under Saturday Shorts, Short Story