5k

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Even at the peak of rush hour on a weekday, downtown didn’t have enough people to look healthy. It wasn’t healthy. Half the city was empty parking lots. At noon on a Saturday, the streets were comatose. Walking across the heart of the city I saw just a few maintenance workers and a disheveled old man in a wobbly wheelchair lurching diagonally across an broad intersection, his artificial left leg jabbing proudly before him like a bowsprit.

When I reached the four-lobed square at the heart of the heart of town, I found a few more souls. I joined the loiterers in the square, sitting in loose rows. Some of us looked forward to becoming bus passengers; others had even less to anticipate. Clouds of smoke circulated between us, menthols and blunts and synthetic-fruit-flavor vapor. The thin sour smell of boiling hot dogs joined in from the nearby cart, the only open business within sight.

I watched seagulls and pigeons and shitty little brown-gray birds scour the pavement for a late breakfast. A breeze rushed past from the lake to the north, as indifferent as highway traffic. Buses limped in and out and a few people came and went.

The wind pushed a curious cloud across the sky, and I lost myself in it. When I returned to life I saw that a strange invasion was underway. Men and women, all lithe and sexy, were streaming into the square from the east and the west. The new arrivals wore bright tank tops in a riot of colors, and flimsy running shorts that revealed plenty of their powerful thighs. The runners all clutched a garbage bag in one hand. I imagined their street clothes were in the bag.

The running men and women gathered into disorderly clouds around us. Before long they outnumbered us, then doubled us, then tripled us. They limbered and stretched and talked quietly among themselves. As they idled I noticed that the crowd seemed to have an officer class. Among the sexy masses, there were lieutenants, taller and sexier and lither, both men and women. They wore gold tank tops, and carried leaf blowers on shoulder straps.
At the first glance of one of the appliances, I felt a surge of panic—was that some kind of gun? Was an atrocity imminent? But soon I saw the brandmark of a well-known manufacturer of harmless lawn equipment. My brief, sprinting fear vanished.

Through this strange gathering, the traffic signals had continued their cycle, rotely conducting a vanished orchestra. There was never any traffic downtown. But as the runners began to overflow the square itself and spill into the broad roadways that carved the square into four quarters, the traffic signals blinked out. At nearly the same time, the steady breeze died.

In the new silence, I noticed a man at the center of the crowd, near the statue of the city’s founder. His leaf blower was slung behind his back like a broadsword. I might be imagining this, but I swear that his shoulder strap was studded with military ribbons and honors, the confetti that dots the breast of a hero.

Before I could worry too much about this, he thrust a long, well-toned arm skyward. In his hand he clutched a sheaf of papers, with something like tassels dangling down his forearm. The crowd buzzed, a silent anticipation answered.

I watched all these from the slight elevation of the war monument in the southeast corner of the square. My perch afforded me a view of what came next. The man at the center broke up his sheaf, handing them to the people around him. I watched the papers pulse out into the crowd like the ripples on a pond. As the ripple reached me I saw that the papers were runner’s bibs. I watched the nearest men and women tie on their placards, their buzz turned to intent focus. The bibs bore tall black numbers and the logo of a local bank.

This must be a 5K or something, I thought to myself. I sighed with comprehension. The crowd made sense now. I watched as the gathering donned their numbers. I could feel the quiet deepen rapidly. It occurred to me that a 5K didn’t require leaf blowers. In the same moment, the long arm of the leader, a thick gold band around his ring finger, punched the sky again. The air around me erupted.

For obvious reasons this was the first and last time that I ever heard a hundred leaf blowers turn on at once. It sounded like a knife being sharpened inside my throat. The sound ricocheted through my insides and froze me.

As the choral whine of the blowers boomed through the square, each and every runner dumped their garbage bag onto the pavements and grass berms that made up the center of town. The bags had not contained street clothes, or windbreakeres, or energy drinks. What came out confused my eyes. The bags held cash. The bills were visibly new, almost stiff in their crispness. They were loose, unbound. The fresh green notes tumbled on their edges or slid flush against the flat surfaces of the square. My brain took more than a few seconds to understand that this strange and sudden crowd of attractive runners had dumped hundreds of thousands—maybe millions—of dollars on the ground in the center of the city. There were so many runners that I had to work to find another regular bystander, one of the loiterers from before, to share our incredulity. I saw on a frumpy woman’s face the same struggle I felt, the same incomprehension that was spinning my mind over its head. The breeze was dead but the money danced, thanks to the leaf blowers.

I couldn’t speak for the other regular people, but nearly all of me wanted to dive after the mounds of cash. Of course I had no idea what the consequences of such aggressive greed would be. I thought through the dynamics of the situation. There were a lot of runners, at least three tank tops for every non-runner. If any one of us civilians went after any one pile of cash, the runners could easily intervene, prevent any misapprehension of their loot. But if they did stop one thief, at least a few heaps of cash would be unguarded.

My manners quickly caught up to my racing desire. Taking money, even money off the leash like these senseless bills, would be wrong. Starting a scuffle to steal money would be wrong. Taking things that don’t belong to you is wrong, I reminded myself under the hoarse shouts of the leaf blowers.

As the blowers exhaled furiously, the dance of the money intensified. The piles were starting to mingle. My sense of order, my sense of what you do and don’t use a garbage bag full of money for, my sense of anything teetered. Maybe the money was fake. Maybe this was a prank of some kind, although it seemed awfully complex considering the victim was a few dozen sad loiterers. All of this was either entirely or not at all wrong.

As I stared and sought understanding, the fist shot up again, and disorder exploded the day.

The runners broke in a thousand directions, and the leaf blowers drove head-on into the piles of cash, blasting currency into every corner of the square. I tried to watch it all but only flashes of specific action could be seen. When the drifts of money hit you, they hurt. The bank-fresh bills, pushed by hot stale wind from the blowers, bit into exposed skin. As a heap of cash crashed into me I felt slashes on my face and arms. Out of self-defense as much as desire I swatted at the money, catching a few notes. Seven dollars. I worried that I had a papercut on or near one of my eyeballs. My face stung.

As I looked up from a frenzied recount of my seven prizes, another swarm of bills hit me. I covered my face this time, knowing better than to grab for money. A few of my earlier haul slipped away, and a few bills wedged themselves into my defensive posture. I was up to $12.

I stuffed the money deep into my pockets and looked around for the next wave. All across the broad square, different troupes were interpreting the same scene. Those runners with leaf blowers gathered themselves into fire teams and corraled as much money as they could. They stampeded their herds into the small clusters of bystanders. The victims contorted themselves, at once clutching wildly and shielding themselves from the cartwheeling dollars. As the mayhem extended from a moment to some minutes, garbage was swept up into the clouds. Cups, cans, hot dog wrappers, cigarette husks, lotto tickets joined in.

Convinced my chance for profit lurked into this chaos, I stepped away from the heights of the war monument and broke into a jog. I made to head off the biggest of the money clouds, gathering in the crook of the buildings at the southwest corner of the square. Both leaf blower teams and loping interceptor-joggers were converging there, cornering a large group of the innocent bystanders.

Confused cries rose out of the trapped civilians as they winced against wave after wave of swirling moneygarbage. They still clutched wildly through their tears at the passing greenbacks. I could see them all, cowering together in a lump, between the scissoring legs of the circling joggers. Their eyes were wild with a mix of fright and greed.

As I edged toward the core of the madness, I found myself crashing to the pavement. I rolled over to find what had tripped me up. One of the joggers had checked me with a forearm. He stood over me, his skin glowing with sweat, his wiry frame heaving with effort. He couldn’t stand still. None of them could. Even when they stood, they jogged in place, intermittently glancing at their chunky watches.

More joggers joined my assailant, men and women, all fit and exceptional. A few were maybe more handsome than beautiful, but overall I felt like each of them was too good looking for me. In a different setting I would have been attracted to them all, and they would not have given me the time of day. But these creeping and futile desires were forgotten when the new arrivals produced clubs seemingly from nowhere. The shining black wands seemed too flimsy to deliver much pain, but my eyes quickly admitted their error as the first blows landed.

The runners pummeled me cruelly. The only respite was that they were so many, so compressed that they could not swing freely. No one runner could strike me at full force without hitting his or her comrades. But what force they did manage was plenty bad. Through mercy or wildness, they missed my face. But my arms, legs, and torso were touched all over by the hot red hurt of the nightsticks. The assault lasted only seconds, but its effects immobilized me for a good long time.

I heard the stealthy sneakered footfalls of my assailants move away. I uncrumpled myself and looked out on to the plaza. I wondered if they had avoided my face so I could better bear witness to the furthest extent of their cruelty. The leaf blowers hounded a few stray civilians into the frightened clump in the corner. The outriders—outjoggers, I suppose—circled with purpose. A detachment of leaf blower men kept the cash pile percolating.
The greed in the eyes of the trapped had vanished, replaced with woozy fear. Runners broke from the circle to sweep through and bash wildly at the prey animals. Trauma seemed to be blossoming in a timelapse before my eyes. But their grotesque suffering was no longer the strangest thing happening in the square.

With the cash and quarry trapped in the southwest corner, the majority of the runners turned to a new task. Their bright tank tops and ropy, conventionally attractive thighs swept from around the square toward a single vacant storefront, a former dry-goods store. With vicious strength, the runners burst through doors and boarded-up windows. The beautiful animal horde splintered glass and wood and drywall. They scoured over ever inch of the store, like roaches or scent hounds, running their manicured and elegant hands over moulding, dusty counters, dust-fogged display cases. I watched as the fiends smelled and probed and stroked every inch of the commercial tombs. Some of the runners began to gnaw on the interior walls, and others took up pieces of rubbish as instruments of demolition. Those without tools struck out with their fists and feet. Joining the dull whine of the leaf blowers and the fearful yelps of the captives was a manythroated snarl from the deranged joggers.

The attackers swept from the dry-goods store to the next storefront, a hair salon. A few of the runners remained in the five-and-dime. To my amazement, these rear guards took up a sober pantomime of commerce. One runner pretended to measure another for a suit of clothes with an invisible tape measure. A beautiful brunette jogger tied on a dirty white apron dotted with mold and pretended to take food orders from others sitting at the store’s soda fountain. A male runner, his electric green tank top torn and his enviable physique smeared with the dust of wanton destruction, pretended to wipe down the shattered glass of a picture window.

With building speed, the locust-like runners progressed around the square. I listened to the sounds of their destructive circuit. Glass squealed as it fell, splintering wood barked, and the savage mob bayed in satisfaction; all these sounds completed an orbit of my senses.

As the winter sun slipped back down from its feeble apex, the leaf blowers died out one by one. The cloud of cash spun itself out in a corner. A detachment of the biggest and strongest joggers produced and unfurled a single enormous trash bag. They spread the black-brown shimmering hide of the bag and set about baling the cash inside by hand. The bills, so clean and cutting at the beginning, were filthy and all over creased. From time to time a captive in the corner would break for one of the streets that led away from the square. These fugitives were run down and hastily beaten by roving squads.

As the looters blasted through the last untouched storefront, all but a trace of the money was in the giant bag. I watched the baton detachments descend on the cluster of civilians, frisking them savagely. Anyone holding cash was compelled to swap their catch for a crack over the head. Before long the captives voluntarily surrendered their cash without a search.

The sun began to slip behind the gap-toothed skyline of the dead city. Cold shadows fell across the square. The runners crowded around their great sack of cash, and lifted it like ants. They paraded silently south, in the direction of the next lost town.

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too many secret developments

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Deserter 36 transcended electricity. “I’m sick of all this lurid and tawdry convenience,” read a message written in charcoal on a strip of tree bark and posted to his publicist’s account on a popular social networking site.

An account registered to a man who appeared to be a main boss of the army commented on the post shortly after its initial appearance. “YOU HAVE TO USE IT,” he said in regular old typed letters.

The next day, a second photo of tree bark appeared.

“No, fuck you guys, being a dick in this way is permitted,” the faint charcoal lettering spelled.

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the smaller god

graven image ep

“Man do we wish we had a pizza.”

The chorus was singing again. Their intonation of the name of the small self-sacrificing god itself spread an awareness of mutual hollownesses in all those present–35, his betrothed, the chorus themselves.

“But we’re skint,” added the chorus of friends.

“Well, I ripped all my money to pieces on purpose,” 35 barked. “It was pissing me off. Fuck those pieces of paper and their attempt to be a decisive part of my life.”

“Fuckin’ A, yeah,” the chorus replied. A few confused looks were exchanged among the singers.

“Destroying it made me feel like a future king of war,” 35 barked. He barked everything he said.

“Fuckin’ A, definitely,” the chorus reiterated, with a hint of tranquilized formality. “But a pizza would be perfect right now. It would satisfy every bodily shortcoming we feel. Hunger. Sensory impoverishment. The understanding of ourselves as people who get to have pizza when the lust for the small god visits. Even our faith in folk notions of when the small god will come, what devotions spur him toward us.”

They all agreed on the desire, and that they lacked the cash required for fulfillment, save one dissenter. The betrothed possessed a line of credit with local merchants. An argument ensued. The disagreement quickly became about more than pizza.

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all kings is mostly rapscallions

Such urgency was an ugly thing to perceive. The wheels of the hansom cab had set off a hundred miniature thunderclaps, one from every paving stone. The coachman’s face was smeared with contempt for everything that was not greater speed. Even the horses seemed dissatisfied by the cab’s progress through the busy market street. From the window of my garret, I watched the conveyance snort and shove its way through filthy urchins offering squash, melons, puppies. The smells of the fares on offer filled my senses but today was not a day for leisurely commerce, if this was the man I was expecting.

The hansom barreled toward the entrance to the inn, and a man leapt out. A cloud of coins flew over his shoulder as he disappeared from my view. Just seconds later I could make out his crazed footsteps below, climbing the four steep flights of stairs to my room. With each successive THWONK the end drew closer. I turned from the window and awaited the aftermath of this awful crescendo.

The panting messenger, the whites of his eyes flashing like a blade, gasped for air. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his greatcoat, and unburdened himself at last.

“Sometimes,” he snarled, “I change my passwords on websites just to get an e-mail from someone.”

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huck finn’s theory of assholes

It didn’t take me long to make up my mind that these liars warn’t no kings nor dukes at all, but just low-down humbugs and frauds.  But I never said nothing, never let on; kept it to myself; it’s the best way; then you don’t have no quarrels, and don’t get into no trouble.  If they wanted us to call them kings and dukes, I hadn’t no objections, ‘long as it would keep peace in the family; and it warn’t no use to tell Jim, so I didn’t tell him.  If I never learnt nothing else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way.

 

 

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He wants to become a cake

cake

For the first 33 years of my life I was an account rep for an office equipment firm. Yes even as an infant. I have no regrets about those years. It was honest work and the money after an apprenticeship and some increase in seriousness—I increased, not the money. Money is never less than perfectly serious. So yeah I was an adult human, just barely real enough to sponsor one lower-middle-class family existence or rather I was eligible to sponsor. So my biological existence, I never questioned that. I loved my wife, my progeny, some of my acquaintances. I fed on that love. I suspect in their own human cosmologies, in which they were necessarily the world-spider at the center, they all did the same thing. The love was flies trapped and eaten. Prayers were prayed for the fly community to prosper and deliver a steady supply of victims for our replenishment. That is a gruesome metaphor but life is a gruesome metaphor. I received and gave. I was also flies. The processes of loving and being loved, of belonging to something, they were all dashboard indicators, a reassuring if possibly evil set of lights. Evil only in the sense that whatever it was in those devices that could look into a person’s living soul and comprehend it. And then convert that mechanical understanding into little yellow lights.

I’m not mad at the yellow lights anymore, that’s something I have worked hard to put behind me. So far that I can’t even see it anymore. I’m not sure, if I were confronted with the lights again, that I would make better decisions. But I do know that I refuse to see the lights. I get all the feedback I need about the condition of my soul from a set of vintage 19th century instruments that I illegally installed inside me. The point is my history of conflict with data about love and the inability of the golden lights to distinguish agape and eros. Please stop asking me about the yellow lights. I feel like you’re specifically attempt to capture me in some agitated state, to give your account some texture, some sense of what I am like and not merely what I am. I agreed to appear on your program to talk about my personal makeover. No I would be happy to get back on track. Just out of curiosity why is there a yellow light on your camera. Oh OK that just means it’s turned on, sure, OK. It’s not the other kind of yellow. No I mean it doesn’t even really look like those problematic lights, now that I have taken a few moments to consider. Yes, I will, I will proceed.

So at age 34 I decided I wanted to become a German chocolate cake. One specific German chocolate cake, sold at a nice local vaguely upscale mini-chain grocery. The store even had a German-sounding name, which was nice. This would have been the early 1990s probably, the time of this one specific cake. Yes a grocery store cake, baked by strangers. Not by grandmothers, no. The way I prefer to understand that origin is that everywhere is someone’s home or at least a corporate extension of home. So there is no way that a corporation, especially a small local corporation, could have made the human decisions that typically go into the existence of a German chocolate cake. Some human somewhere down the assembly line came up with that recipe. Imagine if you will a legal concept walking around its kitchen, an apron tied around its vast invisible waist. The alarming, floating oval of the apron’s string wobbles at eye level above the counter (corporations are very tall, descended from a race of invisible giants)

So where did the fictional invisible giant get this recipe? On a stained greasy many-times-scotch-tape-mummified recipe card with floral decorations in the upper left, passed down, this invisible fictional oversized recipe card from an invisible fictional oversized grandmother—what? Oh sure I’m sorry I didn’t realize that the mic would come off if I stood up. Sure yeah I’ll keep myself seated for the rest of the segment.

<cut to commercial, cue HE WANTS TO BE A CAKE chyron>

Yes there was at least one really challenging moment. A really good friend of mine—we were out for drinks—says to me, you shouldn’t be a cake. Make cakes instead. Don’t transform yourself into a cake. Become anything but a cake. Become a steak, a rake, a snake, hell, become a box of crackers. Cakes are the worst, she told me. Think about how caught up in themselves cakes are, how insular and low-stakes the cake community is. Who, they asked, wants to exist in that catty little world, existing only as mounds of ingredients and them being summoned together and sitting there in a pan and becoming this hot goop, going through the vaguely sexual transformation of blossoming from a tub of glop into this terrible and almost uterine thing and then they paint you like a cheap rotten god? My friend actually says all of this to me in the middle of a bar downtown. She says, don’t get caught up in cake life. I nodded like I was hearing her, taking her points as points and not mean slashes at my only meaningful desire.

When we come back from commercial I will tell you about how my family felt about this, about what it feels like to get eaten. Yes we can discuss my current projects, my thoughts on the news of the day.

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rabid tush patrol

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A publication once said or printed anyway that Deserter 27 was a future king of war. Back then Deserter 27 was tall and whip-strong and probably immortal. The experts who evaluated new soldiers had looked at him and carefully noted attributes shared by many young people who went on to become kings or queens. His hands and feet were too big for his frame, like a puppy. So was his ass, waiting patiently to be grown into.

The king analysts had hammered their centuries of shared wisdom into a rough system of understanding. It was not a science because it lacked laws. But just often enough the king experts were correct about who would and would not, and that gave them an authority. The authority gave them the confidence to continue carrying their traditional divining rods.

Once the rods, or one of the rods, were at the center of a scandal. A rod was left on a bus, an airport bus if memory serves. The man who found the road announced via a newspaper advertisement that he would make kings or queens or lesser but still noble creatures of anyone who offered him a sufficiently voluminous honorarium.

The king experts, fearing the loss of face, felt obliged to take out a larger ad in response explaining that the power of the rods was non-transferable. The capacity for turning base humanity into chieftain-and-higher level executives was not in the rod. That power was only inside the humans. And furthermore, what powers of understanding the rods did contain were whispered to the rod’s operator in an ancient and secret language. Unsurprisingly this language was only interpreted by the king experts, by drawing on a correspondingly ancient and secret body of data and lore.

Of course the experts knew that the rods were purely symbolic and always had been. They had not been concerned that the man who found the lost rod would flood the world with unlicensed monarchs, thus debasing the nature of authority. But they still felt obliged to protect and honor the rods. Even though majesty could not be created and could only be understood, the rods were still a part of their family.

It was not many years after the misplaced rod issue danced away in the wind that the experts began to appear in television, thanks to their own instinct for self-promotion and the good offices of a publicist blessed with foresight about changes in the media landscape. The suits the king experts wore for their television segments were blocky, shiny and stiff. Underneath their special conical hats, the glistening gray fabrics looked like some strange conservative sect of exotic dancer.

Before the airport bus incident and the newspaper ad salvoes and the offscreen detente leading to the return of the missing rod, before television, the king experts met in sad sullen rooms. They gummed expensive, shitty cigars in filthy office warrens. The walls and furniture and occupants were browned by smoke. These chambers were flophouses for wayward ideas.  In one such dropceilinged brownness, about two generations ago, depending on how you count generations or whether generations even exist, the old unhealthy king experts, the ones born before the splitting of the atom (retaining a certain molecular innocence and weariness) pronounced that Deserter 27 (who of course had a different number then) was a future king of war.

The information was put into an annually circulated list of future kings, bound and stapled and retailed across the nations of the alliance. The list came out as a special issue of WAR TODAY magazine—the NEW KINGS issue,  celebrated and sanctified by a special push by the ad reps. It was read and memorized and informally archived on the tables of strip-mall barbershops, where young boys might peruse for months and months to come, tearing themselves away from the infinite embrace of mirrored walls to see themselves in these future kings instead.

WAR TODAY long ago went out of business, having lost its advertising base to the televisions and the websites. Every so often one of its longer pieces, seeming stylized but really just warped by the passage of time, is revived and circulated by adepts of vanished transient information.

So 27 was a future king of war. This status was meant more to suggest that pending proper development he could be a possible future king; nothing was guaranteed, not by the experts anyway. In those days the market for analog graven images had not yet collapsed. This was before the big gravening firms spun off their print devisions to satisfy stockholders.

These were also the days of a new season of war. There was to be a desert campaign, and fans keened for preemptive memorabilia. Trading cards were printed. Deserter 27 had his own card. In patriotic colors and playful type beneath 27’s old name was FUTURE KING. If this was still only a possibility and not a promise, no one could convince his eyes.

[to be finished/whatevered/otherwised]

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their wide hips gave off the odor of the sea and of milk

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.03.04 AMThe first time Deserter 28 witnessed the permanent transmission of lethal force his bones turned to gas. Only the bones and some of their confidants understood this. Some of the confidants worried to excess that this meant 28 was fucked. In fact because of the high engineering standards to which we hold our bones and bone accessories, gasbone is not an immediate threat to safe use of a deserter. But what the bones and deserters still do not readily understand is that gasbone is a serious and lifelong medical condition that has to be understood and coaxed along, fretted over to a sufficient volume. Swallowing jagged life or even unimportant gang tackles for mediocre football teams incurs a risk of puncture. We might live with a leak, just like we might live on after a failed love affair in which it turns out we both only ever hated ourselves and that was enough to draw us together in a photonegative of desire. In both cases there is a slow trickle inside you. At first you don’t know, at second you don’t mind, at integers greater than or equal to three you can taste your own bones on your breath. They disappear into a wind that hardly cares what those bones ever meant to you. Not because the wind is a dick, but because there aren’t enough hours in the day to not be a dick in every way to everyone.

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the gold didn’t believe in him

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“Hello is this this gambling problem hotline?”
“Yes it is we are listening in a sensitive and non-judgmental way, please tell us what your gambling problem is.”
“So OK my gambling problem is that the CAVEMAN KENO machine next to my video poker has this pterodactyl animation that flies over the screen and makes a super unpleasant screech. I don’t want to move to a different video poker, I have sunk a lot of spiritual and actual capital into this DOUBLE BONUS POKER. You know the machine I’m talking about. The one that is fairly glowing with its intent to cough up a jackpot in this lunar cycle. Right by the escalator up to the buffet area. When this was a department store, before the casino awoke from its thousand-year slumber, this was the perfume counter. This video poker machine has always been here. I’ve never gone up the escalator because of specific fears of what lurks above.”
“Sir or ma’am you are not supposed to call this number for this kind of problem. For pterodactyl problems you have to call the manufacturer.”
“Do you mean the manufacturer of CAVEMAN KENO or the manufacturer of the pterodactyl?
“Actually we mean the manufacturer of you. So God as you understand him her or it.”

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enmesh you in my concerns

skeletonemail

If you achieved some larger context the sub-development had traces of inside-out beauty. The template construction and subtle personal deformities could pop. The problem with the subdivision is that the houses were miles apart. This proved inconvenient and lead to brigandry. Also, as an enclave of the airport, the subdivision proved difficult for goods, services, and first responders to reach. This is why no one was surprised by the following.

House 221 was deep inside the enclave.

Pamela was doing laundry in the manner of a pioneer woman, hanging austere linens to dry in the airport breezes. She was middle-aged but still sexy. She downplayed the sexiness and in fact was not actually constantly appraising her own value as a sexual object but the sex value was irrepressible, it kept expressing itself to the others, who blamed Pamela for this.

The strangers materialized out of the horizon between flaps of a blinding white bedsheet. They were approaching the house with paramilitary caution. Spread into a loose net of consequence, prepared to douse nearly any version of reality the house could cough up. They lacked the bald pride of legal invaders. Their shirts did not say who they were. They did not have walkie talkies. They wore no-iron knit shirts in mostly quiet tones and their jeans were too casual for all but the least consequential office work. They walked with purpose but not as good guys. They delivered menace but not in a clinical way. Two of them were a little fat.

All the trouble the house could offer was Pamela. She was hanging out the washing on a tired clothesline dried out twine. Kevin the beagle was sunning himself on the small concrete patio. He glanced at the visitors but did not get up. None of what followed would compel Kevin to stand up. He was a fine companion but in recent years he had started to smell like serious earwax.

Pamela unfurled a twin-sized sheet in the mellow exhalations of the day. There would be a few more hours of sunlight to dry out the washing. Her dryer was ailing. It seemed to suffer from some respiratory sickness. Clothes somethings barely dried at all, other times they were scorched into aridity. Make the dryer more magic.

She snapped out the sheet and saw the six of them. They had brown hair. She exhaled in frustration.

“Who are you?”

“We’re student loans.” The answer came from behind her. She wheeled around to see that there were six more approaching from the other side. None of them were fat but they all had brown hair.

She did not respond immediately. The visitors glowered in an attempt at menace. This only deepened her confusion.

“Like, student loan officers?”

“No,” said a pudgy brown-haired man at the center of the group approaching from behind.

“So … are you selling student loans?”

“No.”

“We’re actually student loans. Personified.” This was a second man, a the other fat one.

Another unappreciative silence followed.

“I guess I am confused. I wasn’t expecting anyone. And now that you identify yourselves as student loans I guess I would have expected you to be sheaves of paper and neatly labeled file folders. If you were material at all. Just sort of gently throbbing clip art was more what I expected, if I had been expecting.”

“Cut the shit lady. Do you have the money?

“What money?”

“GOD DAMMIT I said cut the shit, not extend the shit additionally. One hundred fifty nine dollars and fifty six shitting cents.”

“I think there’s been some confusion. I don’t have any student loans.”

“DOLLAR SIGN ONE FIVE NINE PERIOD FIVE SIX,” the first pudgy brown-haired man roared. His roar was alarming but not impressive.

“I think you have the wrong house,” Pamela said. She stood up straight and puffed herself out to seem assertive.

One of the men shrieked. It was unclear if this was meant to intimidate or merely express anguish at the non-forthcoming payment. As the breeze carried his shout away, the other 11 men spoke as one.

“DOLLAR”

“But I don’t have any student loans.”

“SIGN”

“I went to college on a scholarship.”

“ONE”

“My grandparents tucked some money away in a mutual fund and that’s how I paid for my books and apartment.”

“FIVE”

“I had a job waitressing too.”

“NINE”

“Are you sure you have the right house?”

“PERIOD”

“Maybe you guys should leave?”

“FIVE”

“Stop saying numbers please, it’s upsetting me.”

“SIX”

She looked around in exasperation.

“Maybe you don’t have loans but your kid probably does.” This was the pudgier of the two pudgy brown-haired men. The other ten men also had brown hair, but most of them had acceptable or even admirable BMIs.

“I don’t have any children.”

“Oh you do. It’s your kid. I can tell when people lie,” the pudgier pudgy man shrieked. The eleven other men resumed the chant.

“Why would I lie about not having children?”

“No children?” The shrieker shrieked again. He flapped his arms as if to propel himself away from her statement.

“We’ll take your kids if you don’t pay,” the less pudgy of the two pudgier men hissed.

The chant sped up a tick.

“Why are you here? How did you even find this house? I don’t owe you anything. I’ve never taken out a loan in my life. I am not sure you all aren’t menacing me on my own property.”

The chant had devolved to just “DOLLAR.”

“I could probably gun all of you down under one of those stand your ground laws.”

“Do you even own guns?” the pudgiest man asked.

“Not enough to occlude all twelve of us in one gesture, one macromolecular gesture.” The pudgy but not pudgiest man was now jogging in place, his extra flesh trailing behind his bones and muscles

“That isn’t how guns work,” Pamela said. “It is more about the number of bullets I would have.”

“But do you even have guns, bro?”

“Why should I answer that?”

“Do you have enough guns for us to borrow? Each of us would like a gun.”

She looked back at Kevin the beagle.

“We would like the guns to be the same gun or at least look like the same gun.”

“I only have six guns.”

“Aren’t there six of us in some sense?”

“There are twelve of you.”

“Your point being.”

“Are you going to use the guns here or bring them back?”

“Can we decide later?” one of the skinnier men, not the shrieking arm flapper, said.

A second skinnier non-shrieker stepped forward. He smelled nice.”I feel like asking what we’re going to do with the guns is rude. Either you can help or you can’t.”

“Yeah even imposing the roughest of conditions on our guns tarnishes your brand.”

“Well, I feel like having my personal brand threatened by guests is as least as bad as not having enough guns for people who didn’t call ahead and also wanting to know how my guns, if I have six guns, will be used.”

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

“Can I tell you all something? I feel close to you. I’ve been taking courses at night. I’m paying cash though. Out of my savings.”

A dozen different versions of “No” went off like flashbulbs.

“Never do that,” the pudgiest man said.

“You guys aren’t even real student loans. You’re just regular loans.”

One of the non-pudgy men bellowed like a cow witnessing an atrocity. What would even upset a cow that much.

“Can we do work around the house?” “Do you have anything to eat”

“What do you all eat?”

“Money.”

“My doctor said I should eat six small meals instead of three regular sized meals.”

“Define small.”

“He or she said $159.56 was the one true portion size.”

“Please lady it has been so long.”

“I don’t understand. When you wake up in the morning as a student loan, what darkness does it feel like you have returned from?

“That’s not really how it works.”

“We’re not like you.”

“The fuck we aren’t,” the arm-flapping shrieker said.

“How long have you lived here?” another skinny man asked.

“Is it paid for?” the pudgy not pudgiest man asked.

“Are you paid for?” Pamela snapped back.

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