Monday, December 24, 2018

Collaborative escapes

(Today's blog entry is a collaborative short story, written a few paragraphs at a time with Beckah, and then edited together. It is not Christmas-themed, despite the holiday. We used this "random plot generator" and got the following prompt: "A man in his early forties, who can be quite jealous. A young man in his late teens, who is very aggressive. The story begins on a train. A reunion takes place. It's a story about a countdown to disaster.")

The Escape

The train screeched and stuttered as it started. Devin breathed a sigh of relief as he collapsed into a seat. He rotated his arm, trying to work out the soreness in his shoulder. He had had to push past at least a dozen people to get onto this train.

He glanced again at the photo on his phone, still shrugging out the soreness. The photo showed a man in his early forties, gray just beginning to show at his temples. He wasn’t smiling, and there was something in his eyes, a fierce look, that made Devin uneasy. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he’d seen the man before, but couldn’t place him.

Either way, he didn’t have to worry about the man for another three days at least. There’s no way he could have followed him onto the train, and even if the man knew where Devin was going, it would take him at least that long to get there. Devin would figure out his next move in the city.

He leaned his head against the glass and watched everything speeding by. It was hot, the train car stuffy. He reached up and opened the window as wide as it would go, hoping a cool breeze would relieve the stale air. He sighed. He was finally able to take a moment to simply breathe. He had been living looking over one shoulder for so long that now that he had a moment to himself he felt suddenly exhausted. He closed his eyes.

He’d been playing “The Game” for four years. There were only a handful of them who had made it that long. It had been such a rush for the first few months—escaping, finding clues, forging alliances. He’d even betrayed a double agent or two. The pay was better than anything he could have imagined. He’d made a few hundred, even a few thousand dollars, by beta testing games before. Besides, reality sucked. But those were always video games, sitting in a room by himself and then sending an email after he’d played through. When he’d been offered this position, a beta player in the world’s first “real world” video game, for ten times the amount he had ever made, he said yes immediately. It didn’t occur to him that he wouldn’t be able to find a way back out of it.

After the noobs had been weeded out, the puzzles had become exponentially harder. The goals became more challenging. And more and more people dropped out because they got hurt.

And they had been seriously hurt. He was still nursing his shoulder injury, and that had happened nearly two months ago. There had even been some subtle rumors of people dying…brief mentions on forums and chat boards in hidden corners of the internet. But Devin couldn’t bring himself to believe it would ever get that far with him.

Someone brushed past him and sat heavily in the seat opposite. Devin ignored them and kept looking at his phone. But then he heard the quiet click of a pistol being cocked. He looked up.

It was the man from the photo.

Devin tensed up, his grip tightening on his phone. He glanced around, but no one seemed to be paying any attention. This man could shoot him right here, on this train, and no one would even notice.

“It’s about fucking time I found you,” the man said. His eyes held that intensely fierce look from the photo. Devin’s brow furrowed.

“What do you mean? What do you want?”

The man laughed. “What do I want?” He looked down at the ground for a moment. “I want a lot of things. I want to go back in time. I want to win the game. I want to shoot you in the face. I want Juniper to be on my side again.”

Devin frowned. “Who the hell is Juniper?”

The man’s eyes widened. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

Devin had one eye on the pistol in the man’s hand. He shook his head slowly.

“Early in the game,” the man said. “Maybe six months after it had started. An alliance. You, me, Roger, Quinn, and Juniper.”

Devin felt like corners of his memory were being nudged by the names, but he couldn’t recall the events they were attached to. He shrugged at the man.

“You goddamn selfish son of a bitch,” the man said, raising the muzzle of the gun a fraction.
Devin’s fists clenched.

“You know the rules,” Devin barked. “You understand how it works. We’re all trying to win. Anyone else would have done the same to you and me if given the chance.”

“No, they wouldn’t have,” the man said softly. “They didn’t.”

The memories were edging back into his mind, names connected to details. He had never met anyone else in person, of course. They were all just names scattered across the net. It had made sense to make alliances back then, before the stakes were so high that it was a liability to trust anyone else. He remembered that there had been some sort of argument, and Juniper had taken Devin’s side, and the two of them had broken up the larger alliance. Their partnership only lasted a few weeks. Eventually, you’ve got to be on your own if you want to win. This man…

“Marcus,” Devin breathed. “Juniper made her choice.”

“And you made yours,” Marcus said. He was leaned forward in his seat, a spring about to uncoil. Devin’s eyes darted around the train car. It would be a struggle for Devin to escape. He tried to keep his voice calm.

“Juniper struck out on her own soon after…after everything, anyway. And you don’t see me on aiming a pistol at someone because I couldn’t look at my own shortcomings to see how they led me to be alone in all this.”

Marcus’ voice was a manic whisper now.

“I’ve never met a more self-centered, stuck-up kid in my goddamn life. You don’t even remember these people, do you? These people who saved you, protected you? Don’t you care about anyone but yourself, you little shit?!”

Devin held one hand up. “Calm down, man. We can—”

“Fuck you!”

Devin’s other hand raised into the air in a gesture of surrender. But Marcus was still furious. Devin knew he wasn’t going to be able to talk Marcus down from this. He was remembering Marcus’ quick intelligence and even quicker temper. His inability to keep things neutral, his lack of understanding of the importance of winning. How that importance was greater than anything else. s

Devin had been glad to be rid of him. He had been glad to forget him. But now he was forced to face that mistake head on. And he had nothing. He was sore and exhausted, caught on a moving train with someone who obviously wanted to kill him. Was the game really worth all this?

Suddenly the train slowed. Passengers glanced out their windows. They weren’t anywhere near the station—there were only fields and the occasional fence. Marcus turned his gaze towards the open window. There was some buzzy-sounding announcement over a loudspeaker about a delay.

The train jolted violently. The pistol clattered to the floor. Devin leaned forward quickly and scooped it up. He aimed it at Marcus as the train grinded to a full stop.

Marcus’ eyes narrowed.

Devin said nothing. He stood up, the gun aiming at Marcus’ stomach. The crowd on the train were chattering amongst themselves, milling about, speculating about the train’s sudden halt. Devin glanced up toward the open window, the darkness outside, the possibility of escape.

“It doesn’t matter if you shoot me,” Marcus said, his eyes flashing. Devin felt his stomach clench. “There’s nowhere to go. You can’t run from this.”

“There’s always someplace to go,” Devin replied coolly, and pulled the trigger.

The blast lingered in his ears, ringing with deafening clarity as he hoisted himself out of the train window, dropping the gun as he sprinted away into the darkness. He thought he could hear the other passengers shouting, but he didn’t look back. He thought he heard Marcus’ voice, startlingly close, “You can’t run. You can’t keep running.”

Devin didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Today I Love My Life For

Gratitude Journal: Excerpts and Explorations

Monday, January 8, 2018
Today I love my life for successfully flirting a good flirt.

It’s been an ongoing discussion between B and I. “What even is flirting?!” I demand. B has multiple (and very good) examples and explanations, none of which come naturally to me. I use B as my flirtation sounding board. “I have a thing for forearms,” I try. “Whose?” he says. “You’ve got to make it specific.” I’m astounded at the idea of just telling someone that I like their forearms. Just saying it. Outright.

Later that night, we’re sitting next to each other in the theatre, watching the other cast rehearse. I rest my head on his shoulder, in that friendly, cuddly way that we theatre people do. But after a few moments, I sit up and whisper, “You smell too good to sleep on.”

B stifles his laughter, then says, “THAT was a good flirt.” I make him high five me.


Thursday, April 12, 2018
Today I love my life for Patrick’s smile when I dropped my pen at rehearsal.

His words onstage are so full of life and it makes my spine hum. When he’s sitting offstage, he has this habit of taking his pencil and running it through his hair, up over his ears, along the sides of his head. A soothing habit.

I’m sitting across the room from him, and take my pencil and run it through my hair. Patrick is right, it does feel good. I look up and we make eye contact. I smile and run the pencil through my hair again. But it gets caught and clatters to the floor. I give him a sheepish look. And Patrick smiles, all the way from his chest to his eyes.


Friday, May 18, 2018
Today I love my life for listening to the rain while holding sleeping baby Michael.

Benjamin was almost two when Adele and Daniel moved here. And Nathan is almost two now. I’ve watched both of them learn to run, speak in longer sentences, ask questions that I don’t know how to answer.

But I only have a few short, precious months with Michael. The family will be in Arizona when he says his first words. I’ve been trying not to think about it.

Most of my memories of Michael will be of holding him while he sleeps, in the dim master bedroom, while Adele does the hundreds of other things she’s doing. His snuggled up warmth as we rock in the evening light.

Today, he’s asleep, his head against my chest in his moby wrap. We’re standing in a stranger’s kitchen, while Adele’s clear voice and the tones of her crystal singing bowls ring out from the other room. I’m here to hold the baby so that she can work uninterrupted.

Michael and I walk up and down, up and down the length of this kitchen. Something in his little baby self can tell when I’m not moving, and he stirs if I pause for too long. Outside, the rain comes pouring out of gutters, hits the wooden deck in soothing plunks, runs in rivulets down the windows. But there’s a stillness in it, too. In this moment, everything is still. I don’t have bills to pay or laundry to fold or work projects or auditions or lines to memorize. It’s just me and this rain, and Adele’s music, and this sweet baby boy sleeping with his head against my chest.


Saturday, August 4, 2018
Today I love my life for the hummingbird on the wire.

Oma and Opa have had the hummingbird feeder for at least 30 years. The guest shower has a window, chin-height, that looks right out onto it. I’m thinking about the autumn when I lived here, in 2008, when everything was falling apart, and the night when I was brushing my teeth at 2 or 3 in the morning, and some crazy bird sat outside that bathroom window and sang like it was welcoming the dawn. I wrote a poem about it—about that bird not giving a damn if it was the middle of the night and singing despite the darkness.

I glance out the window now, and see, in the morning light, a hummingbird circling the trees outside. And then it pauses in its frenzied flight, and lands neatly on the telephone wire above. Such a tiny thing. Hardly ever still. Its iridescent throat catches the light as it turns. It sits there for a full minute, a warm jewel in the sunlight. I watch it, feeling like everything is holding its breath, until it finally flies away.