And Then

And then he fuckin fell down the stairs like a idiot. But that’s not where our story begins.

And then he fuckin tripped over the stupid banister because he has six foot legs. And then he fuckin fell down the stairs like an idiot.

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Robuts

Ken was a store manager and a damn good one for a guy with a robot brain. With two hands in his pockets, he strolled around his glorious store, absolutely breath taken by his accomplishments. The things were in stock, the stuff was where stuff goes. I mean he was really, really happy with himself, more so than he had ever been.

Inside Ken’s head where the circuit boards rushed with electricity were two wires that were getting a little too hot from all the activity of being so proud of himself. With a schwick and a schwak, the wires fused just like that.

I want to tell you that Ken didn’t go completely haywire and start murdering his employees. I really do. But the thing is that’s not even the worst of it. Oh no, Ken wouldn’t stop at murder, he would do something completely unspeakable.

 

Ken wiped the fresh blood of his coworkers off of his brow and made his way to the science facility uptown in his rickety old Ford. He laughed and he cried the whole way.

Upon entering the lobby he fired up the place with a machine gun. He nodded, checked the map on the wall, and walked to the robotics station.

Furiously working with knobbly hands he assembled devices and screwed stuff together. When he was finished he pushed a big fat red button and the devices came alive. Trillions of nanobots fled the science facility and made their way all around the world. Like they could fly or something.

The nanobots tunneled into everyone’s brain’s and turned them all into robot brains. Ken now had complete control over the entire human race. He assembled everybody at a giant stage, like, a huge fricken stage. When everybody was finally there he flipped the switch to turn the nanobots off.

People looked around themselves completely confused. The stage lit up with Ken sitting on a stool holding a shitty old guitar. He strummed a couple out of tune chords and said, “So yeah, here’s wonderwall.”

Legacy

Troy entered the boxing ring.

Magnus entered the boxing ring.

Round after fantastic round, the behemoths of men slammed fists into faces and stomachs. Blood spewed from noses, knuckles cracked and shattered. They were seemingly fighting to the death.

It was in the sixth round that Troy finally succumbed to the annihilating blows. His skull fractured in two places, his breathing ragged, Troy fell to the ground. Magnus stood over him and placed his foot on Troy’s chest.

The medics rushed into the ring and pushed Magnus aside. They lifted Troy onto a stretcher and carried him out of the arena. Time was running out for the battered man and the medics weren’t sure they could save him.

•••

Four months later Troy opened his eyes again for the first time since the fight. There was nobody to meet him by the hospital bed except the nurse on duty. The nurse called for the doctor as Troy mumbled nonsense.

The doctor looked Troy over and consulted with the nurse. “Keep him on the fluids, he’s still just barely there. His injuries are going to leave him permanently disabled, he will never be the same.” The doctor left the room and the nurse changed Troy’s IV bag.

Troy was repeating something barely intelligible, the nurse leaned in to listen. After listening to the words a few times she could understand.

“Six rounds!” muttered Troy.

“That’s right,” the nurse said, “Six rounds.”

•••

 

-One year prior to the fight-

Troy put the shotgun barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

*Click*

He exhaled sharply and inhaled just the same, tears streaming down his face. He looked down and realized that the safety was still on. He pulled the gun out of his mouth and began hyperventilating. It was in that moment that he realized that he didn’t want his life to end this way.

The tv blared in the background, announcing the winner to the national boxing championship, Magnus Pope. Troy watched boxing all the time, always dreaming of getting into the ring with that bastard Magnus. He hated the man’s ego and the fact that nobody had ever made it past five rounds with him.

Troy signed on with a boxing coach the next day.

The better version of you

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Benedict opened the giant ass golden book full of wizardly spells and promptly fucked up his whole life. I mean this guy tried a spell that was way above his skill level. Anyways he was trying to animate the skeleton of some drifter he picked up off the train.

Waving a basic wand around in his crappy basement, he began the incantation.

“Ohbly dohbly doodly doo!”

Unfortunately, the spell called for a diddly instead of a doodly. As soon as the words left his mouth, some magic shit zoomed into his body and animated his own skeleton. He tried to speak to reverse the spell, but his jaw remained clamped shut. Before he could even begin to think of how to fix the situation, his skeleton started moving his body towards the beatbox.

“Oh god, no…” Benedict thought.

The spell he was trying to use not only animated a skeleton, it made them bones dance. Benedict watched in horror as his own hands flipped through cassette tapes, finally resting on Vanilla Ice.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Benedict thought.

The beats dropped, Ice Ice Baby flooded his eardrums. Then his body was moving like a disgusting serpent, slithering and twisting and doing gross movements in general. This went on for hours, to the point that Benedict was completely exhausted. Just when he thought his heart was going to explode, there was a knock at the door. His skeleton turned the music down and went to answer the door.

Kevin, Benedicts shitty apprentice, I mean this guy was a real doorknob, walked in.

“What up B to the N to the dict! I just stopped by to… No way, is that Vanilla Ice?”

The eyes on Benedict’s face were wide and scared. He stared Kevin right into the face until finally, the skeleton nodded slowly. Like creepy slow.

“Fuck yeah B, crank it up!” Kevin said, oblivious to the torture Benedict was facing.

So the two of them danced like the dickens, all night and into the early morning. Kevin had the best time he had ever had in his life. When they finally stopped, Kevin went over and looked at the open book of spells, and the drifter’s skeleton in the corner. One of the seven brain cells in Kevin’s head flickered, and he realized what had happened. That old codger had animated his own damn skeleton!

“You’re stuck in there aren’t you?” Kevin asked Benedict. “Blink your eyes really fast if you animated your own skeleton and are now trapped.”

Benedict’s eyes blinked like a freak.

Kevin looked Benedict in the eyes and thought for a good ten seconds about how much fun he had dancing to Vanilla Ice. Benedict looked on in horror as Kevin walked over to the beatbox, still keeping eye contact with each other. Kevin flicked the switch and it was Ice Ice Baby all over again.

The Rolex

Darrell threw the gold Rolex into the middle of the river as he stood on the footbridge.

Percy Malone, deputy sheriff, put his hand on the revolver strapped to his side. “How could you…”

“It’s nothing to me, Malone. It shouldn’t mean anything to you either.” Darrell said, his face barely lit by a lamp on the bridge.

“That watch was the key to the inner circle. How can you say that?” Percy’s hand still hovered above the gun on his hip.

“The inner circle is a joke, they’re in shambles. Do you really want to be a part of a falling empire?” Darrell’s face was mostly emotionless, but Percy could see the patience and worry in his eyes.

Percy pulled his hand from the gun and scratched the back of his head. He looked Darrell straight in the eye, each second that passed putting more trust in the man. Finally, he said, “The sheriff tells me it’s a damn secret weapon. The guys on the streets say it’ll solve all of my problems. I don’t know what to think!”

Darrell nodded. “I get it. You’re in over your head. This is above your paygrade though, you don’t need to deal with me anymore. Just let me walk.”

“So what if I do, you just vanish?” Percy threw his hands up in the air, “Where are you going to go?”

“I have a piece of land up in Canada, nobody knows it exists.”

Darrell took a step towards Percy. Percy’s hand instantly returned to the revolver.

“You stay back!” Percy yelled.

“You’re a good cop, Percy. I know you’re not going to shoot me. I just want to shake your hand before I never see you again.” Another step forward.

Percy drew the gun and aimed it at Darrell. “Not another step!”

Still, Darrell walked closer. “It’s over, now are you going to shake my hand or are you going to murder me?”

Percy thought for a second before lowering the revolver slightly. “I’m not shaking your hand. Now if you take one more step I’m going to drop you where you stand.”

“Okay. We’ll do it your way.”

“Damn right we will!” Percy yelled.

A knife concealed in Darrell’s sleeve dropped down into his hand. Percy saw it and reacted, but Darrell was much faster than him. A bullet whizzed over Darrell’s shoulder as the knife was thrown into Percy’s chest.

The worst day Percy ever had before was when a junkie tried to stick him with a needle. This was magnitudes scarier. He dropped down to the ground on his back, holding the knife jutting out of his chest. Gurgling, eyes wide open, Percy reached his hand out to his attacker as if pleading for help.

Darrell could see that Percy was going into shock. He rolled up his sleeve and pressed a button on a gold Rolex, exactly like the one he had thrown into the river. “I have an officer down in Cleveland Oaks Park,” Darrell spoke into the watch. “He’s bleeding out. Hurry.”

Darrell looked into Percy’s eyes, eyes that searched for mercy. “I’m sorry it had to happen this way Malone,” Darrell said gently. “Please don’t look for me anymore.”

The song of the dead

A grim look of grimness stretched over Carl’s face as he aimed the revolver at his brother’s grave. He waited for the sun to set before he clicked back the hammer, tears streaming down his face.

The ground began to shake around the grave, and a guttural groaning came from beneath the headstone. A hand punctured the surface of the ground, fingers moving around as if they were playing an invisible piano. A voice came from the ground, sounding muffled, like if somebody was talking with a mouth full of dirt.

“Just one song, please Carl!”

Carl grit his teeth and cried even harder. “Sorry Hank, it’s for the best.”

Bam, Kablamo, pew pew pew, bang! All six shots of the revolver were spent, leaving gigantic fricken holes in the dirt. The decrepit form of the deceased Hank sank back into the dirt. Carl put the revolver back into his jacket and blew a snot booger out of his nose before making his way back to his car.

•••

Carl stepped into the family household where his parents lived. He was met by his father Leon.

“Is it done?” Asked Leon.

“I don’t want to keep doing this every year dad. It’s horrible.”

“It needs to be done.”

“But why? Can’t you just tell me why?” Carl made fists with his hands and shook them.

“You know why.” Leon’s face was completely blank.

“Yeah sure, something bad will happen. That’s all you ever say. Why can’t we let him play that song he loves on the piano?”

Leon rolled his eyes. “Okay, son. I’ll tell you. If he plays that song just one more time, my head will explode. Your head will explode. Everyone in the world’s head will explode.”

“Well, maybe they should explode!” Carl yelled before running to his room and slamming the door.

•••

Later that night Carl’s mother came into his room, drunk off her tree. She smacked Carl in the face to wake him.

“Let him play.” She said.

“Mom, you’re drunk. You know I can’t.”

“Listen to me, you idiot. Your father knows that when he plays that final song, the world will be whole again. Only those evilest, a very select few, will be destroyed. Then we can live in harmony. Your father is one of those few evil people. That’s why he keeps stopping you.”

“Dad’s evil?”

“Yeah, haven’t you ever noticed he goes slow in the fast lane? He does it on purpose.”

Carl’s face squeezed up like an ugly lemon.

“No, it can’t be!”

“He puts mayonnaise in his milkshakes!” His mother yelled.

“Oh god,” Carl’s look was one of realization, “You’re right!”

“Let him play.”

Carl nodded.

•••

The next day Carl returned to his brothers grave. When the disgusting maggot-gobbled hand came up again, he did nothing to stop it. Carl set up an electric keyboard in front of the grave. The gross hands began twiddling tunes on the thing.

Carl’s head started to explode. “What the heck?” He screamed.

Carl’s mom showed up with Leon’s head in her hands.

“Ha!” She laughed, “I tricked you. I’m the evil one!”

“But, dad puts mayonnaise in his milkshakes!”

“That doesn’t make him evil that makes him a weirdo!” she said, and then cackled.

“Why is my head exploding?”

“Your brother’s song is so horribly bad that it combusts peoples heads. Unless their head happens to be so evil that it won’t even explode. The world is mine now!” Carl’s mom cackled and cackled.

Carl’s head exploded. Everyone on earth who wasn’t evil’s head exploded. That’s when suddenly Leon’s head began to speak. “Ha, you foolish crook! I knew you would cut my head off, and everyone knows a dismembered head won’t explode. Now it’s time for your reckoning.”

Leon’s head began biting parts off of Carl’s mother. Like her skin and digits and chunks of muscle. When she was dead he looked around at the exploded heads everywhere. He sighed and began playing a song on the keyboard with his tongue. As he played the heads of people began to unexplode. Carl came back to life and looked at his father’s head.

“This is the most fucked up thing that has ever happened,” Carl said.

The stories we tell

O’durn’s lengthy fingers triggered control after control as the small craft plummeted towards the earth. He was using all four of his arms to keep up with the calculations to maintain the ship’s integrity. With the destruction and loss of communication from his home planet, most of the ship’s functions had to be performed manually.

As the spacecraft came within a few kilometers of earth, O’durn’s breathing suit ran close to empty. The ship was an open cockpit design with no pressurized breathing apparatus. If only he had time to refill from the reserve tank. The suit blinked red lights on the wrist, warning that it was going to render O’durn unconscious to preserve as much air as possible. With his final moment of consciousness O’durn flicked on the stealth toggle, making it impossible for anybody on earth to detect his decent.

•••

Hudson had been waiting for this trip for the whole year, and hell, he deserved it. He had made a promise to himself that once he hit twenty-five million dollars in profit he would take a break and return to his grandfather’s cabin for a month. Now here he was, casting his fishing line off of the side of the black dinghy in the middle of the lake.

There was nobody around for miles, only trees and brush made up the outskirts of the empty lake, with the exception of the hunter’s cabin nestled in between two very tall cedars. Hudson had not had this kind of peace and solitude for years, always the man to be working into the late hours of the night. After his wife was murdered in a house robbery, it was all he could do to escape the feelings. He told himself that his wife was somewhere, maybe in the ether, smiling at him for still living his life with intention, and he believed it.

He pulled a picture out of his breast pocket of Hannah and caressed the corners as tears flowed over his cheeks.

“I’m still here, babe,” he said to the ether.

Just as the words left his lips a bright flash of light filled the sky. Something came hurtling down into the middle of the lake, smashing through the surface and causing waves to lap in the water. After a few seconds, it bobbed back up to the top.

Hudson looked on in awe, but his instinct to help kicked in fast. He started the motor and made his way to the strange craft floating in the water. The thing looked almost like a motorcycle, only the front was a long pyramid shape with the tip facing forwards. A single figure rested on the seat, not moving. Always being more curious than cautious, Hudson pulled right up beside the ship.

After killing the motor Hudson reached over and poked the strange 6 limbed creature, but it did not stir. A red light flashed on a cylindrical tank on the back of the thing’s suit. Hudson noticed there was another tank that looked the same attached to the back of the spacecraft. It reminded him of scuba gear.

The idea suddenly clicked in Hudson’s head that the creature was out of oxygen, or whatever it is that it breathes and that the extra tank on the back was a spare. Pushing through the fear in his gut, Hudson pulled the tank off the back of the ship. There was only a single button beside the creatures personal tank, Hudson assumed it was the release. Proving himself right, he ejected the old tank on the spacesuit and replaced it with the tank from the ship.

Lights blinked green on the new tank, and on the wrist of the creatures suit. Then the thing was moving, the head lifting up and looking around. It looked straight at Hudson, and Hudson looked back.

“What are you?” Hudson said quietly.

The thing cocked its head.

“Look, I won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me. How does that sound?”

The creature pressed a button on its wrist. A natural human voice, one that sounded intelligent and soft, projected from its chest.

“Translating.”

“You, speak English..?”

“Continue speech. Translating.”

“Uh, okay then. My name is Hudson. I have a cabin on the shore of the lake. If you like I can show it to you.”

“Translation complete. Hello, I am O’durn.”

“Hello O’durn. Are you hurt?”

“I am not injured. You say you are peaceful, human?”

Hudson nodded his head.

“Yeah, like I said if you don’t hurt me I won’t hurt you.”

“I do not know war. My people do not fight.”

“Where are your people?”

“Destroyed.” O’durn lowered his head at this last remark.

“Is there anyone else still alive?”

“I am the last. I escaped my planet, Hubris, on this skimmer just as the Yak-Guran invaded us. I was searching for a habitable planet when the last communication finally fell from Hubris. My ship had to be controlled manually at that point, and I was not fast enough to guide myself safely. I came too close to Earth to escape gravity again, not without calculations being done from Hubris, and so here I am.”

O’durn looked again at Hudson.

“You replaced my oxygen tank. Why?”

Hudson thought about it for a minute before he answered. O’durn did not seem to mind the moment of silence. Finally, Hudson said, “I guess the excitement of danger got to me. Ever since Hannah died…” He trailed off and looked into the distance with a thousand yard stare. “I don’t know why I did it. Usually, I can deal with the pain, I don’t put myself at risk anymore like I did in the first months after she died. I know that she would want better for me. I was thinking of her when you crashed into the lake, and I think for just a moment I forgot about being strong. I didn’t fear death.”

“I think that I know what you are talking about.” O’durn said quietly.

“What do you mean?”

“My family is gone. The place that I called home is now a thick layer of glass. My ship is no longer usable, and there is nobody left of my kind. Yes, I know what you mean because I wish you had not replaced my oxygen tank. This one that you put on will last about a month of your earth time, though I wish that agony could have been avoided.”

Hudson nodded.

“I understand that feeling well, but there is just one thing. We breathe oxygen on earth, you don’t need the oxygen tank.”

“It is not actually oxygen that I breathe, this is just the closest word in your language to what I breathe. The actual element does not exist in this solar system.”

“So you have a month to live.” Hudson scratched his chin.

“I think that I will pull the tank from my suit. I do not desire to live any longer.”

Hudson nodded again. “I see. Well before you do that, could I show you my cabin? I have a book collection that I love to show off.”

“What are books? I have no word to translate that into my language.”

Hudson smiled now.

“You’re in for a treat then. Come on, jump aboard.”

O’durn unclipped himself from the saddle-like seat and climbed onto the dinghy. Hudson started up the motor again and they made their way to the shore by the cabin.

•••

Hudson showed O’durn to a chair before putting a kettle on the gas stove. He made his way over to a large bookshelf that took up the whole back wall of the cabin.

“These are my books. I have read almost all of them.” Hudson said, waving an arm at the massive bookshelf.

“Ah, manuals. These are for the construction and repair of equipment?”

Hudson laughed. “No, not manuals. These are fiction, stories that are made up.”

“Fiction.” O’durn repeated. “What is a story?”

“You really have no concept of a story? A fantasy, something that does not exist in this reality?”

“No, I do not understand these words.”

Hudson raised an eyebrow.

“Here, I think the best way for you to understand is to just read one of these.” Hudson picked a softcover copy of ‘The old man and the sea’ from the shelf and handed it to O’durn.

“Please, I appreciate you teaching me about your culture, but I am in agony. I wish no longer to live. Let me relieve myself from these feelings.”

A solemn look of understanding went across Hudson’s face.

“I understand. I’ve been there myself. And I won’t stop you. But before you do that, would you just talk with me for a little bit? If you still feel that way by the end of the night then you may do what you need to. Just give me one day to talk to you.”

“If it really is that important to you, I suppose I can take one more day of this.”

Hudson smiled. He made his way over to the now boiling kettle and poured himself some tea before settling down in the chair across from O’durn.

“A story is something that we humans created a very long time ago. Sometimes we read for entertainment, sometimes to escape reality, and sometimes to learn more about ourselves. And not all of our stories in books. Most are in our heads, the things we tell ourselves about our lives. I would like to know your story, O’durn. May I ask you how you feel about the destruction of your planet?”

“We are a peaceful people. We have advanced technology but we have never used it for war. We were known across our galaxy to be empathetic. Now I feel that all we have done is wasted. That perhaps we should have been more prepared for a battle. I feel my wife, my children, died for no reason. Too soon, they had much time ahead until the Yak-Guran took it from them. I do not wish to live as my life is now pointless.”
“Thank you for sharing, now why don’t you try reading some of this book while I think about what you have just told me?”

Hudson sat quietly sipping his tea as O’durn flipped through pages. It seemed he could read almost five times faster than a human being. When he finished he looked up to Hudson who seemed lost in thought staring out the window.

“The man in this book has much resolve. Do you know him?”

Hudson laughed. “No, and I never will. Because he is made up. The things in that book never really happened. Somebody wrote that story simply by thinking.”

“It is a lie then?”

“No, not a lie, not exactly. A story. A creation of a reality that does not exist. This is something all humans do, whether they write books or not. And by the likes of what you told me, it sounds like your people have stories as well. You have just never recognized them as such.”

“What do you mean? How do I create stories?”

“The story of how the destruction of your planet is meaningless. Of how you should have been prepared for war.”

“These things are the truth, they are not stories.”

“No, they are simply what fits into your own interpretation of what happened. They are how you see things. Let me tell you, there are other narratives that would make just as much sense, if not more. When Hannah died, I thought that it was pointless. That I would never be whole again. That’s the story I told myself. It took a lot of self-reflection to realize that I could think whatever I wanted about what happened.”

“What story do you tell yourself now?”

“That her death has meaning. That it shows the capacity of a human being to have love for another. After she died I drowned myself in work, and I became very successful because of it. Now I feel that she is still out there somewhere, watching me as I live my life. She is proud of me and she wants me to be happy. And finally, she wants me to use her death for good, to empower others to see life through new perspectives. Perhaps in the form of an alien who crash landed and only has a month to live.”

“I think I am starting to understand. How do you decide what is real though? Surely something is objective?”

“Surely something is. But we may never know it. Our minds only know stories, they do not know the truth. And so why not create stories that make us better, whole again? Why not fill the dark holes in our spirit with uplifting narratives? I’m not saying the hurt will ever go away, just that there are different ways to respond to that hurt. I think that you need a better story for yourself O’durn. So that you may live the small amount of time you have left in peace.”

“I do not know what other stories to tell myself. I could never create something as beautiful as the story of the old man and the sea.”

“I think you just need a little practice, and I can help you along the way. Would you let me do that?”

“If you truly feel it would help this bitterness I feel, this terrible pit in my stomach, then yes, Hudson, I will accept your offer.”

“Thank you. I’ve already been thinking about some perspectives to offer you. For instance, the ruination of your world does not have to make you bitter that you were not prepared. You may still hold pride in your empathy and lack of violence. Their deaths do not take any of the significance of peace away. Though your people are gone, they do not have to be forgotten. You yourself are the last one left to tell your story of your planet. There is a great honor in that. And do you think your family would want you to live your life still with purpose? Something tells me they would.”

“These are wonderful notions, and I can even feel relief in what you are saying. Still, I do not know what to do with myself.”

“Why don’t you start by reading some of my books. I think you will enjoy them greatly.”

•••

O’durn read all of Hudson’s collection in two weeks. He found much solace in engulfing himself in books. When the books ran out he found himself drifting back into negative thoughts. He went to Hudson for guidance.

“I have read all of your stories and I found a lot of tranquility in doing so. But now that they are finished I do not know what to do.”

“Now I think it is time for you to write.”

“And what would I write?”

“The story of your people, of peace and of love. I have a lot of money to publish your stories, and I’ll do just that. Many people on earth would find your story to be an epic. You could bring happiness to those who choose to read your work.”

So O’durn wrote. He spent hours at a time writing at the little oak desk in the cabin. Again he found himself so lost in the activity that he was no longer considering his loss.

Then came the last day of O’durn’s oxygen supply. He lay on the couch contemplating the previous month. He had written many volumes on the old typewriter, and when the ink ran out he had used a pencil and paper. The more he wrote the more he understood the wisdom in Hudson’s words. He had just one last question.

“Hudson, how will the people of earth know that these are not just fiction? That these things really happened?”

Hudson smiled. “It doesn’t matter O’durn. They’re just stories.”