Die Writing

Alabaster Permanent Assurance

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on July 19, 2017

Aside
Boy has it been a while. I have done some writing, though not a lot. I’m participating in NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition again this year, and this is my first round entry. The prompts were horror, company picnic, and an inflatable raft.

OOOoooOOOoo

Run.
“Come on, Brian, don’t you want to be a valuable part of the team?” The gurgling, retching voice seeps through the walls, stalks along the dilapidated corridors. It is directionless and omnipresent. It is coming from every side of the mansion; it is right beside me; it is burrowing and spewing rot inside my brain.
“Be a team player, Brian!”
The voice edges into such shrillness, I want to claw out my eardrums.
Run.
Lungs wheeze and burn, legs buckle, blood mixes with sweat. Mind gone almost fully blank with fear. Words and screams tangle. My mouth is wide open, vocal cords raw and straining, but nothing comes out. Throat feels like it’s closing up. Running is the only thing left.
“We could use a self-motivated go-getter like you, Brian!”
The hallway turns sharply, terminating with a door at the far end. The small glass panel at the top of the door is dark. Could it lead outside? I ball up and charge. The rotten wood shatters under my weight and I break through in a burst of splinters and shattered glass. Pain and shock momentarily blind me.
Disoriented, I stumbled and trip over the debris densely covering the floor. There is something hanging in midair, a whole lot of things – long, rounded, firm, and quite cold. They sway gently away from me as I fall down.
I crawl on hands and knees along the floor, slipping and sliding on the binders and manila folders strewn everywhere. My eyes begin to adjust to the frail silver light coming in through the tall windows. I begin to discern long, vertical shadows suspended throughout the large room.
“I see you decided to join the team-building icebreaker!”
Bodies, bare and blue, dozens of them, hang by their necks from the rafter beams. The rope nooses creak under the weight. In the dim light, their eyes glow. Shelly, whose cubicle is across the aisle from mine, speaks to me in a hoarse, muffled voice.
“We are sharing awkward first date stories. Now it’s your turn.”
Her hand moves in a slow, pained arc, rising until it points at an empty noose in the middle of the room.
I dash for the nearest window, pushing and swatting the dangling feet out of my way, smash it with the base of an office chair, and hurl myself outside.
Something immediately wraps itself around me, cutting off all sight. It clings to my skin as I thrash to free myself. I struggle to my feet, and it falls away ¬– the welcome banner. “Alabaster Permanent Assurance Annual Summer Picnic: A Night To Remember Under The Stars.”
I sprint down the slope toward the island’s dock. The tiny yellow light by the boathouse is my only guide. The path is winding and covered in slippery gravel. The tall grass is heavy with the dew, grabbing and slashing at me as I cut through it.
“Brian, do not miss your chance to join a true market disruptor team at the ground floor!”
This time the voice has a specific origin. The shambling mass appears in the shattered window, bellowing. It is composed of suits and dresses, all layered one on top of another, all moving, shifting, rippling. In the center of it is the crumpled, emaciated corpse of Gary, our division chief.
The creature lunges, arching through the night air, and then launches into a gallop down the hill on all four limbs. Gary’s head jounces madly from side to side. His mouth, wide and unhinged, continues to holler. He bounds in grotesque leaps, closing the distance in a blink.
Inside the boathouse, wooden rowboats are stacked along the walls. Gary appears at the door. His revolting stench makes bile rise up in my throat. I grab at the nearest boat and pull. It budges, just barely. I plant a foot against an upright beam, dig my nails into the rotting wood, and heave desperately.
“Have you proactively envisioneered the ROI, Brian?”
Just as he reaches for me, the boat comes loose and slides off the rack, crashing onto him. He struggles wildly under its weight, shrieking. Bands of fabric shoot out from under the boat and wrap around my foot. I rip and tear at the dirt floor and pull away, leaving behind my shoe. By the door at the other end of boathouse, I notice a large plastic bundle with the words “LIFE RAFT” stenciled on a side. I grab it as I run out. Its weight nearly topples me as I scramble the last few steps toward the water.
“Together, we can architect some truly out-of-the-box innovations, Brian!”
I stick my hand inside the bundle, find the ripcord, and pull. The bundle explodes into a large raft, the rapid expansion almost knocks me away. It bounces uncertainly as it lands edgewise on the water. I jump into the raft. The tarp bottom rolls and swells unsteadily under my weight. I crawl and reach for the emergency supplies box. My fingers, covered in blood and mud, keep slipping off the smooth, hard plastic as I struggle with the snaps.
Gary appears on the dock, leaping and tearing about the narrow wooden planks. The cloth tentacles weave and stream above him, probing, striking, and reaching in all directions in a lurid dance.
The lock of the box gives, revealing the flare gun.
“I quit!” The flare jolts in a tight, furious line.
Flames engulf the jumbled corpse. It bucks and wails and flails. Layers of fabric shrink and curl, bleeding thick black smoke. Large blossoms of glowing ash float up from the unholy conflagration as it begins to collapse and disintegrate. The creature stumbles backwards and falls off the narrow dock. The black water swallows the flames. Screeches change into gurgles and then into nothing. The monster vanishes into the obsidian abyss.
And I… I float away into the solitary darkness.

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The graying morning

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on November 12, 2016

Aside
 This is another piece inspired by mishearing song lyrics. This is based off the song “Heathens” by 21 Pilots. The actual opening line of the song is “All my friends are heathens, take it slow / Wait for them to ask you who you know.” I thought it opened with “All my friends are here, so take it slow…” Which led me to a story for which the following is the ending.

Are you hip enough?
 Chelsea leaned against the glass and closed her eyes. LA was gliding past outside the limo. A breeze slipped in through the cracked window and tussled her gorgeous hair. The gray morning light made her look pale, sickly, and fragile. She was smoking, with her eyes closed, and when the car stopped at a light, she ashed the cigarette in the window.
 Robbie sat on the opposite side of the cab. He was stiff and still, with his hands on his knees. His heavy tweed jacket was in awkward contrast to her fleeting white dress. The silence that filled the cab was stunned and woozy from too many cocktails. It also echoed with booming music. Robbie was facing Chelsea, but his eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular.
 ”Did you get what you wanted?” She finally asked, still without looking at him.
 He did not answer right away. He was sobering up, from the alcohol, from sleep deprivation, from the sensory overload of it all, and nothing felt real. Sensations of his own body from five minutes ago felt like they belonged to a stranger.
 Robbie focused on Chelsea, and for a moment, he again saw the lanky Wisconsin schoolgirl. It didn’t last.
 ”How?…  Why?” His words were hoarse. It was hard to talk with someone else’s throat.
 ”Fuck you, Robbie.” She opened her eyes and looked outside, eye darting between gas stations, beauty salons, and greasy food stands. “We fit each other, this life and I.”

The Loss of Magdalene’s Star

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on October 25, 2016

Aside
Participating in another writing contest – The Great Flash Fiction War, this time. The prompt was “I can’t leave her now. She’s already gone,” with quite liberal constraints on its use.

I’m presently reading Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and I think her writing bled over a bit into this story. It also resonated with all those Jules Verne books I read as a kid.

CRASH

 “Get to the boat!” Captain Faulk thundered over the storm. Again and again he eyed the distance to the Ethebian Gate, two colossal pillars of ancient basalt guarding the narrow entrance to the harbor beyond. He spun the wheel, commanding the cutter away, toward the open sea. Magdalene’s Star lurched, her hull pierced and bleeding.
 “Captain, you must be away with us!” His passenger, the doctor, pleaded, wiping away the frigid brine. Around them, torn rigging beat and snapped in the wind as a host of maddened vipers. One of the sailors slashed the cord securing a tarp over the lifeboat. The storm immediately ripped the canvas away, and it flew off, flailing like a nightmare hag.
 “If she drifts, she’ll overtake and spoil the boat before it reaches the Gate.” He regarded the doctor with a level gaze. “You are needed ashore. I am needed here.”
 “She is lost!” With his free hand, he motioned toward the wounded sails and the broken booms.
 “Then I’ll follow her to Hades! Mr. Creene, get the doctor to shore!” The sailor gathered up the doctor in a heap, and clearing half the deck in a single bound dumped him into the lifeboat.
 Presently, the sea began to draw itself up. The coming swell was so massive, it seemed to tilt the horizon, as if the globe itself struggled under its largesse.
 “Mr. Aldour!” The second sailor appeared, his loyal eyes upon his master. “Cut loose on my command. Once free, race like hell. If the crest overtakes you, all will be lost in vain.”
 “Aye, captain.”
 “Get on with it.”
 The sailors leapt into the lifeboat and drew their hatchets, aiming for the lashes holding it in place. The dull grey steel glinted dimly in the early dawn. The storm thrashed and howled around them. The doctor, his pleading eyes still turned toward the captain, pressed himself into the bottom of the lifeboat, his bone-white fingers grasping tight his leather valise.
 As the sea surged upward, it drained the water away from the Ethebian Gate, revealing its treacherous and craggy maw. Magdalene’s Star, faithful to the last, rushed and sliced up the glassy slope. The crest nearing, Captain Faulk laid the cutter to starboard, shielding the lifeboat from the crest, turning it toward the distant hope of the Gate’s passage.
 “Now!” The captain commanded. One, then the other, the hatchets sounded, severing the lashes and letting the boat free. The sea began to boil all around, but in its wake, Magdalene’s Star left a brief window of calm. The lifeboat slipped into the rift of relative security, and darted into the watery gorge below. Creene and Aldour leaned into the oars with fiendish strength.
 Above them, Magdalene’s Star briefly cut a silhouette against the foaming ridge, illuminated by the first rays of the breaching sun. She listed to port, water broke over her deck, and the graceful cutter slipped onto the far side of the swell. The doctor caught one last glimpse of Captain Faulk, who stood motionless, rooted to his deck, his countenance serene, and his hands resting gently on the wheel. As the green bank rose between them, the captain raised a hand to his lips, and tenderly transferred the kiss to the rudder wheel.
 The sailors rowed with back-breaking power. The oars bent and creaked as they struggled against the water. The slope rose ever more, opening the vast chasm beneath them. With their own strength and the sea pushing behind them, the miniscule boat flew toward the Ethebian Gate with astonishing speed.
 The surface of the water around them changed, from taut to ruffled to bursting. Above them, the crest bisected the darkened sky. The swell clashed with the outward cliffs of the Gate and the surge began to collapse inward toward the narrow entry. The sea, with the madly sprinting mariners at its fore, thrust itself into the close confines of the Ethebian Gate.
 Everything became a furious roar. The sea, the very air transformed into an icy, stinging, whipping mist. Deafened and blinded, the men cried out, though not to each other, but merely giving a voice to their terror and anguish.
 The boat swept to the left. An oar was caught between the hull and the rocks. Crushed, it burst into splinters. In brief flashes of visibility, the wicked black rocks would manifest themselves, arrayed against the beleaguered travelers as battle lines of pikes, only to vanish in the foamed brine an instant later.
 Then in a moment, hell receded, and the three found themselves safe in limb and body, save for the burning salt filling their lungs and eyes.
 They turned their gazes back, toward the Ethebian Gate and the riotous sea beyond. The monstrous wave had dissipated, and momentarily, the sea appeared level. Yet no sign of Magdalene’s Star could be sighted.

The Maid and the Bishop (FFC 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on September 22, 2016

Aside
This is my second-round entry for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Since I scored zero in the first round, this may also be my last entry for FFC 2016.

The prompts were historical fiction, circus tent, and a doll’s head.

Perhaps, this needs some historical background. Surely you’re familiar with Joan of Arc. Cauchon was a French (Burgundian) figure, closely allied with the English cause. He presided over Joan of Arc’s witch trial. Jean, Duke of Alencon was a French nobleman and military commander. He was among the first to recognize Joan’s value, he was her close ally and even friend. Joan of Arc was nineteen, and Jean was about twenty-two. At the time Joan had come along, about a third of France was lost to the English and their allies, and the French haven’t seen a major military victory in decades.

For France and King!
 Mud streaked her face. Blood caked one side of her head. Swelling and the sweat made it almost impossible to see out of her left eye. She was bound to a chair with rough twine that cut into her bruised flesh; her arms were growing numb. A terrible thirst scorched her throat.
 Four guards stood in silent attention around her. The red tunics covering their spotless, gleaming armor bore the three lions of the English.
 The battle had been a roaring human storm. Afterwards, a silence so deep, it made your ears ring. Wind quietly whistled around the ragged canvas edges of the tent. She thought she heard distant horses.
 The canopy of the once-splendid tent rested on two mighty poles. Rotting straw covered the floor. The center clearing was ringed with benches, many broken and overturned. The faded canvas had lost its bright colors. Joan remembered tents just like this. They would be full of actors, acrobats, and clowns with clever limericks. She could not recall any. Her thoughts sank into a drowsy molasses.
 There was a rustling of heavy cloth and a burst of bright sunlight. Someone exclaimed in French:
 “Do my eyes deceive me? Is it really her? It is. A glorious day! Right here in the flesh. Joan of Arc.” The tall man clad in a fine heavy robe approached her, bending over to look closely in her eyes. A wolf’s smile appeared on his lips, and he continued with the flat and measured tone of a coffinmaker’s hammer. “The mighty, invincible Joan of Arc.”
 “Cauchon,” she breathed through her cracked lips.
 “One and the same.”
 The man straightened up and took in the shabby pavilion.
 “What in heavens is this place? A county fair, was it? Ah, the plays. The Lovers.” He pursed his lips in an exaggerated kiss. “Pierrot, the clown.” He frowned with theatrical sadness. “Nonsense, the lot of it.
 “This arrangement is temporary, of course. You’ll be moved shortly. To Rouen, eventually. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even see England before you are executed.”
 Then he added, in English, “Leave us.” The soldiers obeyed.
 He circled behind her. Joan’s neck was too stiff to follow him.
 “You’re quite pretty, you are.” Something creaked and thudded heavily. “Did you ever fancy yourself as Colombina?”
 Cauchon reappeared in front of her. In one hand he was holding the head of a wooden doll. He blew the dust from its perfectly polished countenance and held it up next to Joan’s muddied face. Then, he grabbed her chin and twisted her head, comparing her to the doll. Her neck and spine burned with pain.
 “The men talk about you, you know.” He studied the toy and the young woman. “What about Jean? That handsome boy duke of Alençon. Does he find you beautiful?”
She spat at him. He swung his fist wide and hit her. She did not flinch; the soldiers had hit much harder. The rings cut her skin and fresh blood trickled down her cheek. He dropped the doll’s head and splintered it with his boot.
 “You stupid girl. Dukes don’t go with peasants.”
 His gaze wandered away from Joan, and traveled toward something distant, beyond the canvas walls. His tone again turned casual, absentminded.
 “They are still dying for you. They scattered, but… Burgundy’s got the fastest horses, and your friends have none. All they ever really had was hope in you. Turns out, that’s not as good as a horse.”
 He leveled his gaze on her again.
 “You brought them here, and now they are all going to die.” Tears welled up in Joan’s eyes. She did not even notice them at first. Joan remembered the faces of those who stood by her without wavering, even before a certain death. Seeing her in their lines, they drew a fresher breath.
 “You should have stayed on the God-forsaken farm, girl.”
 Tears came as a torrent. She wept and choked on her sobs. She remembered the bodies strewn on the fields, the inhuman tension in the battle lines just before a charge, the exhausting, crushing marches. Yet even in those moments, the darkest of them, she saw courage grow in the hearts left fallow and barren by a lifetime of defeat.
 “I couldn’t… I couldn’t.” She shuddered, struggling to speak through the tears. “We are dying on our land. I had to come. And so I have come, and so I have done God’s work. Don’t you see that this is His plan? France will right herself with Charles as the king. God has told me so.”
 “Blasphemer,” he grabbed her throat. “You will burn for these words!”
 “He has told you, too. You can see it as clearly as I.”
 Cauchon peered into Joan’s broken, filthy face streaked with tears. Her eyes were as steady as a mountain’s heart. He recoiled.
 “The English will abandon you. They will sail back to their isles, leave you here as so many bilge rats, and never look back. In death, I will stand with the brave multitudes. But you, Cauchon, for the rest of your life you will stand alone, seeing terror in every shadow.”
 Cauchon staggered out of the tent. Joan’s words thundered in his head like hammers. He tugged at the suddenly suffocating collar.
 “Sergeant, have the prisoner bound and gagged. We leave for Beauvoir,” he ordered in a rasp, halting voice. The sergeant regarded Cauchon indifferently from his horse, then raised his hand and signaled to his troop. The English cavalrymen began to form into a column and move out onto the road heading north.
 “It’s just a woman, bishop,” the sergeant said coolly. “And she’s bound.” He rode off without waiting for a response. The troopers’ capes and banners billowed in the wind as they steadily receded. Cauchon stood still. A frigid, sucking hollow formed in his chest.
 “The witch,” he whispered in a quiver, not daring to go back into the tent. “The witch.”

About a conversation

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on August 17, 2016

What did we ever talk about?

I remember so much from that evening. I remember alighting from bar to bar. The polished dark wood of bar tops with pools of condensation left behind by the cold drinks. You scammed your way into one of the places by telling the bouncer you sweated off the stamp. He didn’t really care, so maybe it wasn’t much of a scam.

We must have talked for a couple hours, and all I remember is a discussion of Catholic vs. Protestant whiskey, which couldn’t have taken more than a couple minutes. Not a word from the rest of it.Just the glow of the yellow lights, the cool wet air outside and the hot wet air inside. The crooked cobble stones and dodging the puddles.

There was music, so much music, but that’s just the nature of the place.

I remember shapes of words and inflections of our voices, the pull and thrust of the conversation’s current, but if I try to reach into this memory and grasp at the words and sentences, they all slip away like some dark lithe fish.

Carnival

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on August 17, 2016

He felt better about the carnival being in town than actually being at the carnival. Everyone had gone, and he did, too. Though he would sneak away, and settle on the far side of the carousel.

There, submerged in the soft shadows, facing the tangled mess of ropes and stakes that held the tents taut, he would sit on the trampled grass with his back against a piece of railing. He felt a great human warmth in the drifting, singing laughter, the strung up electric lights, the smell of saw dust and manure. Errant words and phrases fluttered by him like moths.

The carnival filled him with a jittery energy, made it hard to focus on any thought or conversation. Still he felt that the world better off with a carnival in it.

Twin Oaks (FFC 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on July 26, 2016

Aside
I am participating in NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Contest. This involves writing several very short stories (under 1000 words) over the course of several months. After each story is submitted, we may open it up for public commentary, since feedback is a major focus of this event.

Here is my first-round efforts. The prompts were romance, at a nursing home, involving a locket.

Victory Day
 “Annie?” Benjamin gently rapped on the slightly ajar door.
 “Yeah,” came a soft answer. Benjamin pushed the door open and stepped into the small, simply appointed room.
 “It’s Sully’s birthday,” she said distractedly after a pause. She stood by the dresser, an array of medals laid out in front of her. A small brass locket rested on her fingertips, cracked open. The locket shared its chain with a golden band, still as shiny as the day Annie received it.
 The room was full of sunlight, and it made her outline glow.
 “That’s right, Annie.”
 “Funny, somehow, don’t you think? Born on the Victory Day he didn’t get to see.” She studied the tiny photograph inside the locket. It did not matter that her eyes could no longer make out its every detail. The image of the gallantly mustachioed man was immaculately preserved in her memory.
 “Well, here we are, old and decrepit, and that rascal is forever twenty.”
 “Decrepit?” Annie looked up at Benjamin and smiled. “Speak for yourself.”
That smile instantly made his throat dry and scratchy. Just as it did when he was seventeen, and his best friend Sully introduced him to his dazzling main girl, and every time after that. It’s true, he thought, decrepit you are not, and never will be, for no length of time can grind away your grace. He looked down, straightened his uniform, and coughed to get his voice back.
 “It’s uh… I hear they got a right lovely turkey dinner set up for us. Roasted a real turkey even.” He stepped back into the hallway, with its aging carpeting and fluorescent lighting.
 “I think the sixty-five year anniversary deserves a real turkey, don’t you, Ben?”
 She strode the few short paces across the room, joined Benjamin in the hall, and took him by the right elbow. He looked down the hallway, as if searching for someone, while she looked at him. She looked at his perfectly ironed uniform, the gleaming medals, the kind, tired eyes. Something about his eyes has not changed since Sully introduced her to his funny, quiet best friend.
 “Sixty-five years, eh? That war’s been so long ago, sometimes I think it was a movie. And I was there!” She beamed.
 She thought about his eyes, and how the war had put the weariness in them. He came back bearing it and it never quite went away. She remembered how seeing the cracks in his eyes broke her heart more than anything about the whole war. It did not make her cry, the way she did over Sully’s box of medals. It just filled her chest with sadness like cold wet rocks, to see Benjamin worn down in such a way, and to be bound to stay an arm’s length away.
 Benjamin clasped his left hand over hers. She saw a bare finger where his wedding band had rested for almost as long as she had known him. Her breath shallowed with anticipation, eyes darted at his.
 “It’s been six months, just about.” He met her gaze, and nodded. “Shall we be along, then?”
 Annie rested her right hand on Benjamin’s shoulder. Her lips curled into a smile on their own, and her eyes momentarily glistened.
 “Let’s.”
 They started down the long corridor toward the banquet hall, joining the sparse, plodding procession.
 “Buy your girl a drink?”
 “My dear,” he looked up to her, returned the smile. For a moment, he seemed to be as much at ease as ever, the weight of his countenance lifted. “I have an in with the barkeep. It’s top-shelf punch for us tonight.”

The alley

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on June 23, 2016

At the mouth of the alley, he broke stride to pause and light a cigarette. That always casts a bubble around you – lighting a cigarette – for a moment you can curl into a tiny world within your hand shielding the fragile flame from the wind. The people flow around you, and you can feel a bit of aloneness.

Entering the alleyway was like bursting through the tight water surface, drawing the breath to save yourself from drowning. The busy street left behind, the alley was empty, dark, and a little musty. No one here but the ghosts. Patches of varied lighting revealed the alley. Bulbs in various colors and stages of decay didn’t exactly light the way, but maybe suggested that one might be found.

In a mirror image of the postcard-perfect street facades – the way hell mirrors heaven – backs of the houses formed an irregular, chaotic fjord of porches, claustrophobic yards, and kitchen windows. Gliding along, he could see someone absent-mindedly making dinner. A young wiry man on the phone; on hold forever – or maybe at the receiving end of a run-on monologue. Indistinct TV images flickering on  curtains and ceilings. A middle-aged woman in a  soiled white tanktop smoking by an open window; he raised his cigarette in an invisible, fraternal salute.

The alley twisted sharply, curled up like a hand cradling him. It was quiet and warm, a gentle darkness that relaxed the eyes. He inhaled the tobacco, the damp back alley air, the faint detergent drifting from the clotheslines, the distant fragrance of curry, the alley cats and the alley rats.

Another impossible twist, and the street, bright and peopled, was in view. Dive again, with lungs renewed.

On the streets 9

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on June 21, 2016

The elderly gentleman sat in the fishbowl window of a bar. He wore the look of distant melancholy. There were strings of bright lights and loud, animated people behind him. The man sat perfectly still, folded hands propped up in front of him, with his gaze resting well beyond Adams Morgan.

His only companions were a crumpled paper bag and the space across the table that distinctly felt like it should be occupied by a person.

***

Two Asian girlfriends half-staggered, half-strutted down a  gently sloping street. The one on the right was overcome by the hilariousness of a story she was relating to her friend, word swallowed in suffocating laughter. Hanging off her friend’s arm, she was responsible for the staggering.

The silent one marched with her head held up high, she was armed with a confident smirk, eye like jet black coal, and two paintings clutched in her free hand.

***

The woman walked into the near-empty, weekday-evening train and dropped onto an empty seat. She placed her elbow against the rubber edge of the window, propped up her chin on her hand, and stared into the rushing darkness of the tunnel. She had unruly, coarse, copper-red hair that looked tired.

Whatever she saw in that void, it lifted her. When she exited the train a few stations later, all the exhaustion was gone, and her eyes were bright again.

On the streets 8

Posted in Uncategorized by erdaron on June 19, 2016

The Pride Parade wound through the streets like a river of exuberant joy. Dance formations were followed by floats blasting music out of oversized speakers. The gaps in between were filled out by groups of people dancing, strutting, marching along, waiving signs, arms, and hips. The river banks were made of people, too, radiant and smiling people. Some were dancing, too, or high-fiving and hugging those in the parade. Some, with tears in their eyes, were thanking everyone that’s gone by. Everything was soaked in the sun, the heat, and the music.

The young woman stood still, pressed into the human embankment. The emotions of the moment washed over her without leaving a trace. As her mind wandered off to a foggy distance, she stood completely still, a single-serving packet of chip held up near her face.

***

The man held up a cucumber slice like a damning piece of evidence. He wore a dad’s uniform – a burgundy polo shirt with a crumpled collar and close-cropped, badly combed hair. He seemed to preside over a table filled with children of various ages at a semi-fashionable cafe diner. He fixed his accusatory gaze on the oldest of children, a young woman with long blond hair. There were no words. No scene. Just the well-rehearsed manner of a detective who’s nailed the criminal, perfectly honed by years of being a parent.

***

Just after bar closing on a Friday night. Adams Morgan was choking on traffic. In a knotty intersection of several small streets, a cab driver pulled over to the curb, then got out to yell at the traffic behind him. He was a tall, lean man wearing linen pants and a grey t-shirt. His anger seemed indiscriminant – though slowly, the traffic was moving through the intersection, but he did not stop.

Without turning around, he took several steps across the street, onto the sidewalk opposite his car. From behind, a gleaming black Cadillac zoomed up. Its breaks squealed, the headlights jumped – the lights always appear extra bright in moments like this – and seemed to swerve toward the cab driver. It slid to the edge of the street. The rim of the front tire scraped the curb as it stopped a couple feet short of the man. Who never flinched, and did not even turn around.