Stapler and Tape

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The end came not from fire or ice, but from protein drinks. After the first tainted Power Fountain beverage claimed a human life, the world and Power Fountain LTD shortly broke down from there.The world was survived by the employees of the dissolution of society.

Holed up in a skyscraper for four years caused strain upon the 217 remaining people on Earth, even if it did come with new friendships, greater understandings, astonishing romances between accountants and marketing reps, births, clarity of demise, factions, deformed births, a short-lived quest for a legendary lost game of Solitaire removed from the computers to maintain productivity, lost births, murders, suicides, murder suicides, suicidal murders, muimimal surcers, and very little filing.

By the end, 215 people had died. This is the story of how the remaining one and a half people spent their final day on a planet that would be be inherited by the smarter iguanas.

The CEO that started the kerfuffle coughed out a gold tooth. It was not natural gold; not when he first started guzzling his own protein drink. Once the water fountains broke down and the maintenance staff dissolved into a puddle of protein years prior, Gonson Gobsmack (CEO) opened the vault that held the last untainted Power Fountain cans and issued them to the final nine humans.

To his immeasurable regret, even though they were untainted, sitting in aluminium cans for years had adverse effects on the consumer. Seven died. Two remained; Kevin Beecher (Data Entry Clerk) survived off of pen ink due to insurmountable fear of the protein drink. Gobsmack fared better only a day longer than the other seven who drank.

He was essentially dead, but delusion kept the man who sucked the world away busy.

“Beecher, file these folders for me, would you? Got to have things orderly for our clients. Appearances give us power. Power Fountain. Power…” Then he died.

Kevin nodded. He knew the last CEO on Earth had been confused, but who was he to ignored a dying man’s request?

He took the colorful folders to the cabinets and began sorting them by state. New Jersey (now barren, orange and musty ash within a month of the tainted shipment), Ohio (survivors lived there for a week until a turtle raced into them and caused the living corpses to shatter), Montana (a revolutionary form of suicide was invented there, but no one was around to document it), and Michigan (the only state with an inhabitant, Kevin Beecher).

He placed the folders into the correct slot, coldly pretending that he wasn’t just shuffling the names of corpses around a hollow coffin. Even seeing a folder with his own mother’s first name on it couldn’t distract him from his menial task.

The last data entry clerk wiped away a smudge from his lips. It had always been a disastrous habit of his, drinking slightly toxic pen ink at work. But it had been a large company, and he had enough experience with data entry that he could pretend he wasn’t there for Quality Assurance purposes, watching the world melt off while drinking a pen over a vat of protein-enhancing liquid.

“Gibson, Kristen. Hewlett, Stewart.”

He told himself that it started when a cute girl in marketing laughed at the ink on his face. Not a mean laugh, but a “chase after my heart” laugh.

“Larson, Alison. Brie, Brie.”

But he knew it was a predispositional habit of his spawning from middle school. He just chewed his was through a pen and liked the taste of it. Now he needs it to survive.

“Seofusall, Demi.”

Kevin Beecher realized with horror that his work is done. Nothing could distract him anymore. He rose and turned from the standing metal caskets. His footsteps kept time with the blinking of iguanas, more and more spawning each day.

He continued trudging past the marketing girl, who had died drinking the “clean shipment” only a day gone. She had been his office wife for three years but never bore him a child. They couldn’t justify it. They saw the world; it was not a world of hope.

Finally, he reached the center of the office. For five hours, Kevin gyrated wildly, saying nothing and looking eager for a vacation day. At last, his voice shone through his dance.

“And… done! Well, now that that’s over with, better go get the handgun my boss keeps in his desk and blow my brains all over the office.”

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Mountain Trail

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“Are we almost there yet?”

The rough shadows took a moment to converse, silent in their furious mimic, perfectly following the wild gestures of their physical companions. It was a near-perfect autumnal Thursday on the side of the mountain. The only deterrent to go outside would be the volatile grousing of the woman.

“We’ve been walking all day. I’m exhausted. We should’ve gone to the public rest stop like I wanted.”

Her figure said Embrace me; her face said Try it and die. Her mouth said more than enough to believe her. She was a striking auburn-haired lady, hips that moved to a symphony, and a henpecked manservant who once agreed to live together, even getting her a gemstone to commemorate a once-considered happy occasion.

“My back hurts. Did you bring enough bullets? Wipe that look of nostalgia off your face.”

He needed her to shut up. Cowering worked well, but it was his wife’s birthday. He wanted to bring her out of it, like every year. Yet for the past five years, he failed again and more. Once, he had been a young man of sixteen, but her nagging lips (which had brought him to fall for her) aged him prematurely. His once flowing brown hair turned ashen, his eyes no longer sparkled with buoyancy, the smoothest skin in high school looked even worse than Jeremy Finklemeyer on picture day.

“There’s only six bullets in here. What more could I expect of you?”

Worst above his other grievances, no one would believe him when he said he was only twenty-five. If he were to be reborn (and he prayed he wouldn’t), he hoped he’d remember to never marry his high school sweetheart.

“You need to do it. My eyes hurt too much.”

“Yes’m.”

She pulled out a soothing lotion and rubbed it on her feisty yet milk-kissed arms.

“Augh. I’m beat.”

She brushed aside her hair and pressed more lotion into her skin. She opened her mouth; rather, she finally closed her mouth and immediately opened it, only for nothing to escape.

“What?”

“What what?”

“You wanted to say something?”

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

It had to be something. She was loud (though never a screamer) and honest and never one to shut up. This was a breakthrough. A kind emotion might be hiding. He couldn’t press her, lest she bottle it up entirely.

“If you say so. At any rate, we should reach its campground in an hour or so. Then I can shoot it for you.”

“It what?”

She was seriously asking? Was she being coy? No, flirtatiousness and facetiousness were far behind her. They’ve been doing this for five years. Did she somehow forget mid-trek?

“You know… it?”

“Just say werewolf. Seriously, there’s no need to use pronouns. It’s just us.”

He felt dumb but relieved. Yet also enthusiastic. Her harsh and hoarse voice wavered a little when she said “werewolf.” He would wait for further developments.

“Yes, the werewolf. I’ll shoot it, cook it, and, well…”

“DON’T EVEN SAY IT.”

Her voice reached too high a decibel and rebelled on itself. He stuck a green bottle in her mouth. She calmed down, allowing him to press it against her lips for three minutes. When the bottle was emptied, she shoved him off. She shook and wobbled and cleared her throat. Cold tears streamed down her face.

“Don’t you say it. Every time we try this, you say it and I get my hopes up. Let’s just go and never say it.”

“It what?”

He was oddly defiant towards her tonight. Perhaps the annual journey gave him resolve.

“That… I can be cured of it.”

That was enough for him. He couldn’t consider hurting himself by asking her “It what?” again.

“Okay. We’ll find out sooner if we head out now.”

He was almost positive that she’d never return to how he remembered her. It hurt to remember her, but it was worse to forget.

“Don’t forget to turn the safety off this time.”

She was his Biology teacher when he was a sophomore.

“I’ll get it, I’ll get it.”

His friends said that she wasn’t calling him out in class because she wanted him; he was just stupid.

“You did manage to forget two years already, so let’s not make it three.”

When she held him after school one night, he never trusted his friends’ judgement again.

“You know, it’s a nice night out. Full moon. Your birthday.”

Everyone disapproved.

“No.”

His family shut him out.

“Just checking.”

The school fired her.

“You knew it was no.”

The legal system imprisoned her, but she was eventually on the street again with a ring on her finger and a husband in her pants.

“Sue me for asking.”

She tried giving him a nasty glare, but she started wobbling again. He forgot the woman he loved again. He bent over his wife and picked her up.

“Do we have anything left to drink?”

“It’s all gone. I’m sorry.”

She coughed bitterly. He wept like a boy.

“This curse ruined your life. I’m, I’m sorry.”

Her voice rumbled within.

“It’s my fault. I should have let you live a normal high school life, not force you from your ways because I wanted you.”

At that, her body went limp. Her pale fingers twitched slightly, the rust-colored liquid working its way back up and falling from her mouth.

Everything went silent. Then everything in the trees made a cacophonous turmoil. The skirmish of the animals left two people and one creature the only remaining members of the mountain trail.

Still in an uncontrollable fit of loss, he laid her across their gear. He reached his gun and aimed at the werewolf. The darkness didn’t bother his eyesight. He could make out a hairy figure, hunched over and about to die for the woman he still loved.

He pulled the trigger.

The safety was on.

Collapsing onto his knees, he prostrated himself in defeat, nothing new but the sense of regret lingering in his heart.

“Tommy? Tommy Cleavers? What are you doing up here, man?”

Tommy stood up to face the werewolf, oddly taking the form of a man. It hit him.

“Jeremy Finklemeyer? What… why…”

“I live here, man! Also, I go by ‘Jerry’ now. Like, I’ve been hiding here ever since I got turned into a werewolf.”

Jerry had clearer skin than Tommy recalled, but it was buried under mounds of body hair. He was rounder and taller and smelled better than ever, despite living in the wild and technically smelling horrible.

“Who’s she?”

Tommy turned around.

“My wife. She… look, we’ve been trying to get a cure for her curse, and we read on the internet…”

Jerry smirked.

“Let me guess. Werewolf blood, huh? Like, I get it. Some couple’s been trying to kill me for four years to save the woman.”

“Six years, Jeremy.”

The half-conscious croak made Tommy clutch his chest, then look at Jerry, then curl into a fetal position.

“Nah, get up. I said I get it. Like, hold on. Is she… Miss Eden? That’s our bio teach, Gertrude Eden? WOW. Like, no, congrats, but wow.”

“Hello Jeremy. I expected more in this report than cheesy fingerprints.”

“Well, maybe I can get an extension? You know, like the one Tommy got from you in his pants?”

“This was the final…”

“Excuse me, can we not do this now?”

Jerry looked up at the moon.

“Yeah, no problem. Good thing you got the wrong day. The moon is still Waxing Gibbous. Pick up Gertie and follow me.”

After a few minutes, they reached a cabin with a sign blaring “WEREWOLF BLOOD” in red letters.

“Not keen on the name, man, but it brings them here. See, when I got hunted by people like you, looking for a cure, I realized I could help them. I researched various cures and this year I finally feel ready to open shop. So what’s the curse?”

Jerry looked her up and down.

“Pale skin. A muddy-looking drink you need. Youthful features. Haggard partner. You have something on your skin. Lotion? Also, you’re crankier than I recall. I’m guessing you were bitten by something beginning with a V…”

“It’s not vampires.”

“What? Of course not, man. They don’t exist. I was going to say, like, vegan.”

Tommy nodded. Gertrude remained nonfunctional.

“People mistake the two a lot, so it’s cool you get it. When a vegan gets too hungry, they’ll bite a human because they won’t hurt animals. That drink has to be a protein drink, right? And the lotion is just her pale, meat-deprived skin acting up. But what’s with you?”

“Stress.”

“Well, like, werewolf meat works, but so does gorilla meat, whale meat, I do have shark meat. Anything with strong meat.”

“I’ll take the shark brain for 400, Jeremy.”

“I’m doing this for free, Miss Eden.”

“I think she’s doing a bit.”

“Ah. Eat up.”

“Thanks, Jeremy. And that’s Mrs. Cleavers to you.”

——————————

Tommy was overjoyed. His wife has bright tanned skin again, her voice cleared up, and her heart found him once more.

“Tommy, thank you for sticking with me. I think I would’ve shriveled up if you weren’t with me.”

Looking at the mirror, Tommy saw his features brightening up. In a few days, he figured he’s be hot again.

“Well, you know, I love you, so I stayed. And Jerry, how can we repay you?”

Jerry leered at a visibly annoyed Gertrude.

“I want you to fix my grade. When you got fired, the perma-sub teach hated me and I flunked. It still bugs me, y’know?”

Gertrude smacked the wall.

“Not only do I not have the authority to do that or the permission to be within thirty feet of the school, but I can’t believe you didn’t even ask to do things to me!”

“Ask your husband to do that, man! I have a lover already!”

Jerry pet a raccoon.

Gertrude looked down at her hiking boots.

“We have a lot of lost time to make up, Thomas.”

Tommy smiled.

“Yeah… a lot. Since you’ve been distant, I’ve been looking up videos of–”

Jerry and the raccoon howled, but for different reasons.

“Okay, nice catching up, guys! See about that grade, Gert!”

As the couple walked off the trail, they heard the shrieking sounds of questionable love.

“I didn’t mean just our love-making, you know. I think I’m ready for you to meet my parents. I want to see yours too.”

Tommy imitated the raccoon.

“Gertrude, it’s been almost a decade. We can’t go see them now!”

“That’s exactly why. I don’t want any regrets if something were to happen to you.”

Tommy giggled to himself, then burst out laughing, followed by Gertrude laughing heartily, the two of them going to the roads of the future.

“By the way, what did you want to ask me earlier right before we were talking about the werewolf?”

“Oh, that? I wanted to know if you had any tampons. Then I realized it was a dumb question.”

“Oh. Okay then.”

Snow Day To Live

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Only 17 hours prior, the entire Northwestern area had received a snowfall that accumulated at levels unparalleled for eight years.

At present, the snow that had once kept many schoolchildren happy at play began to depart. It had completed its task, keeping snow-shovels sold, and an unseasonable sun began to recall the clouds’ excessive shipment. Overall, it had been a fairly balanced snow day, and everyone in the Northwestern area could be considered more or less satisfied.

Not everyone. Not Charlie.

For the past four hours and change, Charlie Stood laid in the snow on his back, waiting to be asked why he was flat on his back in a pile of freezing mush, and also if they could get him a hot dog, as a cart was sixteen feet from his head.

He responded to those who asked that he’s trying to become evaporated with the snow. No one lingered long enough to offer him a hot dog, and the vendor eventually moved his cart to an area less hazardous to his sales.

Out of boredom (yet still fairly lucid, if not misguided in his endeavors), Charlie began pestering a stop sign.

“It’s like this, Ernie,” choosing the name based on his company’s slogan, STOP & EARN!, “Some people wish they could fly. Not me. I’ve always wanted to be pulled up through a straw. A rapture, I suppose.” He paused to give the vendor a dirty look. “I’ve heard that some frogs have been evaporated and rained down to earth.”

A pigeon sat on his head.

“I’m terrified of large bodies of water, so I’ve been waiting for a large enough snowfall.” Ernie politely said nothing. “STOP & EARN!, huh? My company makes its living from stealing potential clients from smaller companies. Stop other businesses from succeeding and we earn. I may not earn today, but I’ll feel good that I stopped.”

“Give me a break! Look, we all have problems, but being pulled into the sky isn’t practical, and if it was possible, it’s not the way we deal with our problems! Take it from me: STOP whining and make some constructive change. You can trust me; part of me was once Sigmund Freud’s spectacles.” This is what the stop sign would have said if it had consciousness.

The pigeon would have nodded. “How many of my brethren have been run over, maliciously slaughtered, devoured, yet not one human removes their remains? It’s disgraceful, sir! It’s, it’s distasteful, sir! But do I mope? No! I relieve myself upon randomly selected members of your species! Get up, you sad-sack!”

Rather than cooing all this, the pigeon relieved itself on Charlie and flew off.

Charlie wiped off the pigeon’s souvenir and closed his eyes.

Three minutes later, a woman’s low-pitched shriek could be heard.

Ten seconds following that, Charlie felt a sharp and wet pain in his face 36 times in succession.

Charlie opened his eyes. A woman somewhere between 46 and 46 and 11 months yanked him by his lapels.

“YOU…” Her nostrils seemed to produce their own smoke. More likely, it was the chilly winter air.

“SENILE…” The woman’s skin, normally the color of cardboard, currently resembled the shade of the hot dogs across the street. The hot dog grease on her hands and mouth added an unintended authenticity.

“FART!” She belched, trying to cover it up after the fact by placing a sheepish hand over her mouth.

“Hello, Ms. Ginley. I can sue you for assault, you know.” This possibility never actually crossed Charlie’s mind, instead begging for her forgiveness regarding whatever it was he did to her.

“You old idiot!” (July Ginley was only ten years younger than her subordinate, but she never liked to waste potential insults.)

“I find you in the snow like some drunkard layabout,” (July Ginley had a habit of drinking six types of alcohol on weeknights, eight if she was with friends.)

“And now look what you did!” She lifted a leg and pointed at her boot. “Your stupid face got kicked so much that it wore down the sole!” July Ginley wiggled her long red toes at her subordinate. Charlie really wanted a hot dog.

(This was a little prank July enjoyed pulling on her employees. All of her shoes were modified by a former college roommate to allow the sole to be detachable from the rest of the shoe. On this occasion, the sole flew from her boot into the hot dog bun of a young boy. The terrible taste of the sole would later be described by the boy as “The greatest thing that could have happened to me.”)

July licked her palm. “Wait… have you been to work today?”

Charlie confirmed he hadn’t with a tremendous lack of motion.

Brown curls flew threw her damp hands. “Do you see the button with our company logo hanging from your coat? DO YOU NOT THINK IT AS AN EMBARRASSMENT TO HAVE MY BUSINESS REPRESENTED THROUGH A FAT OGRE LYING IN THIS… SKY GUNK?!”

Charlie quivered. The “sky gunk” was melting evermore rapidly.

“ANSWER!” She kicked him with her soleless boot.
“ME!” She kicked him with her soleful boot.

“I just… I just wanted to be evaporated.” He had no problem telling strangers, but he turned his gaze when he said it to his boss.

July’s muscles softened.

“E… evaporated? Did you say evaporated?” Her eyes grew dewy.

Charlie’s breathing overtook his ability to speak.

“Ever since I was a girl, I wanted to be evaporated, to see the heavens.”

A pregnant pause was ruined by July’s belch.

Charlie tried speaking. “Do… do you really want to be evaporated?”

July angrily squealed. She began piling snow on his large torso. “NO, YOU FREAKING DIPSTICK! I always wanted to own a large company and stomp on my enemies! There are no more dreams to conquer!” She removed her soleful boot and hit Charlie over the head, the only part she didn’t cover with snow.

“And, and EVAPORATION? Let it be understood, Stood. Under no circumstances will you be permitted to work for my company again. You are FIRED! YOU HEAR ME! FIRED!”

She tossed her boot over his face and checked her watch. Late. She would refer to it as a “company lunch.”

With the boot over his face and unable to speak, Charlie Stood was unable to get up from his snow dungeon. Later in the day, some teens buried the boot for whatever teen reason.


It was a week until the snow was all but forgotten.

July Janice Ginley was meeting with her board of directors to discuss her replacement during her vacation in “sunny Greenland.” No one liked her enough to correct her.

“Board members, my temporary replacement will be the next person to walk into this room!”

July had decided on her cousin. No business acumen, but how much damage could someone do in two and a half months?

“Gentlemen, I present to you…”

Thunder could be heard screaming outside. A sudden downpour trickled against the bricks of the building. The lightning landed through the roof, directly on top of July Janice Ginley.

A rosy-cheeked woman, 52, soaked to the bone, rose from the floor and examined her personal area, oblivious that she was on top of another human being.

The woman swept her faint blonde hair and rang the water out. “That was… that was definitely worth it,” she panted, holding a weary hand to her chest. She looked down at a twitching woman, unconscious. “I’m sorry, did I do that? Let me help you up.” She lifted July and turned to face the board.

“Oh. Hi! Um, have you seen a man with grey hair? Well, half of you have gr… His, uh, it’s Ch–”

In a spectacular bit about lightning striking twice, the woman dropped July, who was immediately crushed by Charlie Stood.

“Lorelei! Th-thank goodness! This was, was the best week of my…” Charlie rubbed an eye. “This is… was my office! Hello, Tommy!”

Tommy scratched an elbow, but Arnold wished Tommy would scratch his own for once.

“What are you… how…”

Lorelei laughed. “Turns out that the human body being made mostly of water has truth to it. And I’m not insane, like my brother accused me of being!”

Charlie clasped her hand. “Insanity runs in pairs.”

Clark cleared his throat, causing him to choke on something in there. “Um, well, they can’t be Ms. Ginley’s replacements. They didn’t WALK into the room. So who is is?”

“Excuse me,” Matt the new hire said, casually walking in. “I have some letters for Ms. Ginley.”

The whole room burst with applause. Matt shrugged.


Lorelei and Charlie live together with a crop of frogs they found in the clouds and rescued from becoming sidewalk residue. They make money through interviews, book deals, X-Treme E-vap-o-RAY-SHUN lessons, and Lorelei’s 3.2 billion dollar inheritance she received from her nephew. No longer having to STOP & EARN!, Charlie’s conscience is at peace.

Matt was so competent while July was in the hospital that the board elected to replace her. In a move lacking full knowledge of the individual, Matt brought his son to thank her and get some advice. The advice she offered them was so unpleasant that it should never be chronicled, and it caused Matt’s son, Lenny, to shove the boot sole he found in a hot dog into her mouth.

This caused her to remark how they should make “edible shoe soles,” causing Matt to take Lenny out and never return. But the remark lingered, as years later, Lenny patented various types of shoes: Shoes with replaceable Velcro straps, shoes where you could slip in a special printable paper to “Customize it to the MAX!”, one size, color, gender, or occasion fits all shoes, and of course, shoes specifically made for evaporation. Lenny never made edible shoe soles, as that would be terrible.

Being The Shoe King, marrying Lenny would have meant his wife would have shoes for life, but he happily married Greta, The Wheelchair Iron Maiden. He never looked back.

July Janice Ginley was unable to return to her office, or any office, due to medical and ethical reasons. However, her injuries are so terrible that she needs to take several painkillers a day, so she’s technically happy.

Ernie the stop sign is still unable to speak.

 

 

Red Flagman’s Rally (CREEPYPASTA!!! [not really])

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I heard this story from a friend of a friend of a friend, who was the first friend mentioned in this sequence. That’s how you know it’s true!!

A gamer by the name of MRgaming1019 wanted to play a new kind of game, but everyone was already playing the games he wanted to review for his reviewer man show, The Steven Dackowski Plays Games Show, even though I said his name was MRgaming1019 and not Steven Dackowski.

So he went to a very bad part of town to find a mysterious video game to play for his show. But the only games they had were Undertale for the Nintendo 64 and an old PC game called “Red Flagman’s Rally.” Since MRgaming1019 didn’t own a console, he bought the second thing.

It was 14.95, plus TAX!

The box had an image of a bleeding green flag, and also it was smiling. Whaaaat? That was my reaction, since this was from the 1990’s days.

The flag was being held by a man in sad gray clothing. Overalls made of denim or something drab, right? His face was made of teeth.

“This looks like a normal game, yes?” He put in the game.

Before it closed all the way, it got stuck. He couldn’t play the game if the CD got stuck in the computer! How would he face the day, knowing this haunted game clogged up the disc tray? His two fans would be so disappointed!

But it wasn’t a disc. It was a piece of toast?

He found a crusty yellow note in the game box. It read:

“-It’s been 25 years. Nora’s not waking up.

-Dammit, she’s our daughter! I’d pay 25 more years of hospital bills if it meant seeing her awake!

-I’m pulling the plug.

-NO! So help me God, I’ll divorce you if you kill her!”

Right. He wasn’t a 37-year old man from Virginia. He was a 37-year old woman in a coma for 25 years from Virginia.

Damn. Better wake up.


“How do you feel, Nora?”

Nora’s voice was hoarse, her words turning crustier with each syllable.

“I don’t know if I can feel. I lost 25 years of my life thinking I was a terrible video game reviewer.”

It must be some loopiness from being out for so long, thought her mother.

“All I remember was failing to do a sweet back-flip on my skateboard… There was a guy trying to stop me… he was holding something and waved it at me…”

“Try to rest, dear.” Although her mother worried that she’d slip back into sleep, it had been a long afternoon of doctors, relatives, friends, offspring of pets, and a childhood pal who had visited Nora everyday, often mentioning how “beautiful in lifeless tranquility” Nora had appeared to her.

Nora tried to sleep, but the tears made it hard. Could she ever be normal? She lost so much of her life because of one dumb mistake. Her hands bothered her to look at. They weren’t her hands. Nothing was hers. She didn’t want any of it.

From the view out her window, Nora appreciated the sad fog climbing across the hills. Far beyond the outskirts of the concrete wilderness, Nora spotted a flagman with a green flag, rapidly waving off some kids playing with fireworks.

“Damn,” Nora muttered. “My two fans are going to be so disappointed.”


OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, snap! Isn’t it weird how our fantasy universes can occasionally overpower our realities and we lose sight of real life? I mean, Ka-POW!

Anyway, like, comment, and subscribe for more things! PUH-EECE!

 

Laundry Room Key of Sadness (P4)

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“We’re nearly done, Eric. What does this inkblot remind you of?”

Eric gave the doctor one of his trademark false smiles. It was shy and weak, but it always filled the analyst with relief.

“All I can see is mud.”

The analyst frowned. “Mud? Eric, the point is to get a deeper into your psyche. You can’t tell me the next one is mud.”

The doctor was a hack. Her coworkers knew it, most of her patients knew it. Eric felt like he was being punished for losing his mother. But his determination paid off. He knew she wasn’t supposed to tell him that. No psychoanalyst worth her salt would. He would finish the test and innocently have her fired.

“Now how about this one?”

It looks like someone failed art school.

“Like my mother crying from the window for help, flames burning behind her. I cry every night over it.” Eric examined his burnt hand for the sake of drama.

“I see! Yes, yes!” The doctor wrote everything down as though she had come across anything new. In fact, she was writing down the same misinformation as everyone else. As a mental security measure, he let the doctors believe his mother died in the fire. She died some time before when the firemen trampled her. If the doctor had any real skill, she might have had picked up that the first thing he said was the root of the issue.

He hated mud. Those careless firemen barged in with muddy boots. This whole town lacked professionalism, and with his mother gone, he had no reason to stay. His mind was set: he would leave the trauma ward and find real help. Not in this town.

Crossing her legs, the doctor put one boot on the table. She cared more for having her patients like her than helping them learn to like themselves. “It seems that you’re suffering from the loss of your mother, but you’ve come to grips with her passing.”

Eric was flabbergasted being in the presence of the worst analyst in the worst town. The first half of her statement was astoundingly weak. That was the reason his uncle had him checked in. The second half was not only untrue, but he had said nothing to lead her on.

“That makes a lot of sense.” Idiot.

“Anyway, you’ve made enough progress that we’re letting you go today.” She said this while inspecting her sleeve buttons. “Your father is coming in today to get you. We need to discuss further hospital care with you two. We have group therapy–”

“I WON’T NEED IT.”

The doctor was so alarmed by his tone that she made eye contact with him for the first time. She saw Eric’s eyes, bloodshot and buried under eyebrows of impatience. The doctor fell over and crushed her decorative eye frames.

Eric knew enough about group therapy. Maybe others would benefit from it, but with something as vague as the trauma ward, it would be impossible to relate to anyone else’s problems. He didn’t want to discuss his own problems, far less that of strangers.

The doctor sat on the floor, humiliated. Before heading to the front exit, Eric stopped off at the head doctor’s office and informed him of the doctor’s incompetence in the most innocent manner he could muster.

She was let go moments thereafter. Her fiance’s parents forced their son to break off the engagement. The only good fortune for her was purchasing a lovely trench coat for nearly half the initial price.

The ex-doctor became obsessed with easing her anger. Finally, she decided to get twisted vengeance through blowing up a french fry restaurant in another town. Fortunately, she was as terrible with bombs as people.

Eric found Derrick waiting for him against the door. “How are you feeling, Eric?” He looked worse than Eric. Everything about him was too long, exclusion belonging to the tormented bent spine.

“Miserable.”

“Well, I’ve set up my new place. Been there three weeks, I think. We’ll live miserably. No one tells us to ‘cheer up’ or ‘smile.’ Are you in?”

Eric couldn’t smile. “Okay, Dad.”

“Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!” Derrick clasped his ears with intensity more suited to an employee trying to leave work early. “From now on, I will not be called ‘Dad.’ I just feel like a failure as a husband and father, okay? Call me ‘Derrick.'”

“Okay, Daaaaaarrick.” Eric winced.

******************************

“Everyone remember the plan?”

“Yes!” Sandra found herself happy to retain information involving Eric. She was disappointed that the same was true for Harold.

“You mean your plan to save your father from his own depressed hubris by preventing him from creating a horrific mud duplicate using my ancient tribe’s spell that brought its own demise? No, remind me.”

On the final vowel, Sandra twisted his nose. “Why are you so jaded, Harold? What’s your sad backstory that you became… this?”

Harold sighed. “You have no idea how tough it was growing up gay…”

Eric tilted his head. Did they have to do this now?

“I just… just…” Harold wiped some tears in the direction of a translucent light. “Absolutely loved it!”

Sandra gaped. “Whaaaaa?”

“I have no idea how tough it was for others growing up liking boys. Me, fantastic. The girls liked me a lot. They asked me for all kinds of advice. Fashion, guys, occult for the goth girls. And the boys, well. They were envious. They stuck to me like glue, hoping to get some tips from me.” Harold snickered at his own memories. “I managed to turn three or six of them too!” Laughter and an unsettling light fled to the clouds.

Sandra bawled up her fists and swung them at her sides. “I hate you I hate you I hate you!”

Harold choked on a chuckle. “That’s a lot of hate for such a young baby.” He dialed it back. “Look, why do you want me to be sad? Are you two-faced? Do you want my misery over joy?”

“N-no. You just act like Mr. Perfect all the time.”

“Moi, perfect? Eric, better hold this one down or she’ll jump my bones!” He failed to notice Eric standing in front of the basement window.

“Shut up! I would do no such thing! I only have eyes for Eric!”

“Technically, your eyes were made for Derrick, not Eric. Babies usually latch onto things they see.”

“Fine! Fine, okay? I’ve only been alive for a month! Wee-hee! But I’m more human than you could ever be!”

“Okay. I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings. I never spoke to one of you long enough to know you possessed any.”

A bird chirped at a raccoon with a dirty rag. A plane with only five passengers flew overhead. Eric banged on the basement window. Sandra stood dumbly.

“I’m sorry too. I know you just want to help.” Eric was pulled further into the laundry room. “Maybe we can hang out or something after this.” She smiled, feeling ashamed.

Harold smiled, filled with self-worth. “Only if Eric comes.”

“ERIC IS NOT ALLOWED TO COME OUT AND PLAY ANYMORE!”

The two biggest fools on the block turned to the basement window. Eric had been scrawny enough to pull in without requiring a key.

“If you two petulant brats have talked things out in Lala Land, feel free to come in through the front of the house. I’ll let you in here.” Derrick eyed the pair. “You’ve not ruined my plan yet.”

******************************

Sandra shuffled softly, recalling that she was compelled to stand at the door of the laundry room right after her birth. When the door opened a month ago, Derrick had been smiling, only to fly into madness that she was a fraction of his wife. Only her inner traits remained, and only half of those resembled her.

She met Harold that day, who ignored her the entire time. Harold spoke to the man he believed to be her father. He explained in the stone room the secrets of his lineage, that a full duplication of being would be impossible as it had been for the Master of Masters.

Derrick knocked over some erotica and stormed off. He refused to permit Sandra’s entrance. She went to the house next door. The first few days she spent her time lying in her living room, the mud pit she had been born from doubling as her grave.

Her semi-essence of the woman she was based on forced her to live a life. She ate french fries. She read at the library. She accidentally walked in during Harold’s shift a time or two.

One day, she saw a glum young man walking around the stone house. She felt drawn to him, as though they were connected. The memory of Derrick rest in her subconscious, so for seven days, she waited to find him alone.

“In.”

“But I’m not done reminiscing!”

“In.”

******************************

The normal appearance of the laundry room was gone. The washing machine was ajar, mud dripping on the door. The dryer was filled with brown, murky gunk. Everyone recognized it as mud. Eric laid on the stone floor, without a gag yet remained silent.

“I know what was missing, librarian.”

Harold stood away. He sensed that Derrick was mostly out and something worse was in.

“The Master of Masters tried spawning life with mud. Wet mud.” Derrick’s glasses were on the ground, shattered. “But that was a mistake. The mud was not an element on its own.”

Harold put a finger to his chin. “Oh! I’ve heard that the four elements were required to create life. But distilled. That’s how Sandra’s magic worked.”

“Correct. Sandra is composed of water and earth, while air and sunlight reached her enough to create a tepid life form.”

“Hey guys, I’m more than the sum of my parts!” Only Eric laughed. That was more than enough for her.

“To create a true life form on the level of God’s ability, to rewrite death, more is required. More powerful than what is given to any fool after a rainy day.”

Harold stood his ground. “Exactly what is ‘more?’ You can’t exactly bring in a tornado, a flood, a drought, or an earthquake.”

Derrick’s body patted the machines. “This is enough.”

Sandra gasped. “That’s brilliant!” She turned to Harold. Confused look. She set her loving gaze on Eric. Confused look, too. “He’s using the washer and dryer in place of the elements! The washer give him water, the dryer gives him fire and air! They both have metal insides!”

Harold was about to praise her until she finished her thought. “Metal is not stone.”

“It’s mineral, though.”

“Sandra, you’re brilliant!”

“I am brilliant,” Derrick’s voice growled. “She is nothing more than a pale excuse for my lost love.” He checked the load. “Two minutes left. Should I have put in some bleach?”

“No!” Eric managed to stand without the use of his arms to lift him. “I miss Mom too, okay? But she’s dead! Maybe we we should move on and not buy creepy magical depression houses from an online auction!” He slouched back down.

“Enough of your prattle, boy.”

Sandra turned to Harold. “Hey, could I save everyone with the free wish the room gives people?”

Harold found tact in his veins. He lost courage and needed a distraction. “I don’t know if… your kind could take advantage of it. You’re still a partial creature.” He put a hand over his chest. “Anyway, Derrick’s too powerful. His sadness overshadows that of anyone else. He must have been like the Master of Masters and trained such depression for a month.”

“Maybe he can make a perfect duplicate of his wife after all?”

Harold burst open a scornful laugh. “The Master of Masters was the most powerful wizard in the world. He couldn’t master it. There’s no way that a mortal using stolen magic of wiser ones could succeed where they had failed.”

Harold rubbed his eyes, wishing he hadn’t been so cruel to his sons and husband.

“Let’s face it. We’ve lost this one. We’re going to die at the hands of Eric’s father.”

A rumble approached him. “WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?”

Harold collapsed and hurt his back. “N-n-n-n-oth-th-th…”

Eric stood up, slipped out of his binds, walked over to the remains of Derrick, and said,

“He said you’re my father, Dad. And Dad, you are my Dad. Because by being my mother’s mate, you, my Daddy Dad Dad, are forever my Dad. DAD DAD DADDY DAD DOO DAA DEE DUU DII DYY DBB DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!”

Sandra concealed laughter. Harold concealed tears. Derrick failed to conceal his gyrating body refuse a translucent light. Eric’s dad collapsed.

“…I never wanted to hurt you… I needed to get everything happy in my life out, and the only thing left was that you…” Eric’s dad choked on tears. “Eric, my son… was still alive and okay.” His nose grew moist. “I forgot that you were the reason I was doing all this. And I just, I just blocked you from my heart… I denied you were my family for mud! Mud!”

Sandra gave him a green tissue. Grass stains. “And Sandra! I’ve been abominable to you too! You, you were what Eric needed, not a clone of a dream!”

Sandra ran her hand across his head. She took off her jacket and covered Derrick in it.

Eric and Harold gave a glance to the dryer.

DING

DING

DING-TEEDLE-DEEDLE-DUM!

The dryer burst open. Out of the dryer and onto the stone floor emerged a petite woman with black hair and hazel eyes. She gestured towards Eric’s father with open arms.

“Derrick,” she cooed. “Derrick, my love. What has happened to you? Come, let me shave you.”

Derrick’s vision flooded. She was there, he saw her! But he created her! She wasn’t real. Was anything real? Could he have her?

Derrick closed his fingers around Eric’s own. He closed his fingers on the other hand around Sandra’s. Harold stood in front of the trio.

“I can shield you. I may have nothing to live for.”

The thing flashed her red eyes at them, teeth far too large for the mouth bared in amazing malice. She stood, head down. When her head lifted, she looked completely different.

“You did good, Eric. You peeled your dad’s banana back and exposed his merits.”

Eric couldn’t shut his eyes. Could she…?

“I’m just messing with you, boy. I can read minds. I ain’t your mom.” She laughed, whereupon all laughed, mostly out of fear, partially to be polite. “I’m outta here. I’m off to Congress.”

She stomped out of the laundry room, breaking the door in the process.

The magic, both of the key and the power to grant deep desires, went to their masters’ resting place.

******************************

The stars looked nicer to any of them than they had in a long time. The quartet sat in front of the basement window.

An uncomfortable silence left them alone. They needed a distraction and they needed it constantly.

Sandra: “If the room made the deepest desires true, could it make you a king or rich?”

Derrick: “It was mostly limited to manifesting things. You could be a king, but only temporarily. Sometimes, I think.”

Harold: “Right. One story tells of a patient who replaces a king. It turns out better for the both of them. Most of them have Deus Ex Machina, but that one stuck.”

Eric: “Mine was to feel alive again. Sandra was a huge factor in that coming true.”

Sandra: “Eric! Aw, aw! Eric!”

Harold: “That reminds me. I need to make a phone call.”

Derrick: “I’d like to vomit. Hey, son. Maybe we could fix this place up.”

Eric: “Why?”

Derrick: “With the magic gone, me as a licensed therapist, and you following in my footsteps back in med school, we could make this a proper clinic for sad people. Focus on patients one on one. Really focus.”

Eric: “It’ll take a while to get off the ground.”

Derrick: “Most great things do. I was once on the runway for ten hours. Pleasant flight, but I wasn’t even travelling out of the country.”

Sandra: “That sounds nice. The clinic, not the runway. Wish I could help out.”

Eric: “…Sandra, did you check out your mud carpet yet?”

Derrick: “You don’t ask a girl that question, boy.”

Sandra: “It’s stable now. There’s still a lot of mud, probably for years. I guess there won’t be any new mud people coming from there anymore.”

Derrick: “Are you suggesting…”

Eric: “Mud bath! Soothe them on the inside! Then go next door and soothe them on the outside!”

Sandra: “Would people really want to bathe in mud?”

Eric: “Sure! Don’t you know that when you’re in mud it feels good and don’t want to leave?”

Derrick: “Speak for yourself. I need a bubble bath.”

Harold: “Guys, I’m heading off. I’m getting another chance from my hubby.”

Sandra: “Ah! So you did have a sad backstory!”

Harold: “I broke up with him just the– I mean, yeah, I guess I did. Thanks, Sandra.”

Eric: “Hey Harold, we’re starting a–“

Harold: “Nope, nope. Sounds like a job offer. I am strictly a librarian and family man now. Shove off, secret society! But feel free to check me out at the library any time.”

Sandra: “I’d rather check out a book!”

Harold: “…Don’t make me regret befriending you.”

Eric: “Okay. I have a HUGE, STINKING BAG OF POT. I need to calm down.”

Sandra: “Oh, yeah man. I’ll take some.”

Derrick: “As your father and the one most tormented by these events, I deserve half.”

Harold: “Gimme some, I need an apology gift for my man.”

Eric: “WHO SAID I WAS OFFERING TO ANY OF YOU?”

******************************

“Thank you, hope you won’t need to come back!”

Eric loved saying that. He knew some patients would be offended, so he offered it based on the client. The laundry room had been renovated into six rooms for therapists hand-picked by Derrick. Maybe desires weren’t being granted, but hearts were being eased properly. Putting carpet over the stone floor helped.

The government caught wind of the small business and helped move it along, on the condition that they would take the occasional felon as a patient.

“Who’s next? Doctor Stoley? Is that you?”

“Ex-doctor. They took away my medical license. Trying to bomb the french fry joint got me put in the j–joint. May I?” She gestured towards candy dish. He handed her one. She already seems better than in the hospital.

Back then, she had every follicle in place, twelve different scents on her body, stiff nails. Now she had clumps of hair escaping, one scent (not appealing), and choppy nails. Her knuckles read “damn it”.

She was in his shoes now. He had a bad habit of taking them off as he sat down. “Sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve worn comfy shoes. Wow, you have weirdly small feet.”

“I suppose I do, perhaps.” Or maybe you have weirdly big feet, Eric mused.

He cleared his head. She’s not the doctor anymore. She needs you.

“You say you haven’t worn comfy shoes in prison. Has that been bothering you more than anything else?”

Stoley was taken aback. “Yeah! No! What are you asking for?”

Eric breathed calmly. “I remember in the hospital. You always wore fancy shoes. Were those comfortable to wear?”

She smirked. “You kidding me? Torture devices! But when I lost my job and my guy, I didn’t bother dressing up for anyone.” She paused for oxygen. “I know I wasn’t in my right mind, but after that, even when I planned my revenge… I wasn’t scared of waking up anymore.”

Eric’s heart bled with remorse.

After the session, Eric decided to come clean.

“Look, I’m… I’m real sorry you got fired. You were a goo–you were a doctor.”

Stoley rubbed her forehead. “Look, Eric. I enjoyed the chatter, but let’s cut the chitter. You got me fired. The head doc told me. He’s not great at doctor-patient confederacy. I suck as a doctor, and I know it.”

Eric jumped. “If you knew I told him, why did you try to blow up Down-Fryzing instead?”

“Please, I saw you in there with some chubby chick. Nice choice, by the way.” Eric didn’t respond to that out of professionalism. “I went to pee in the bushes, but I guess you left. I wasn’t even mad at you at that point, but… I wanted to finish something I started for a change.”

Eric’s red hand twitched. He breathed in. Harold lent him a good book on meditation. “It’s okay.” It wasn’t. “We’ll talk about it next session.” She needed help. He could do this. Suddenly, he reached in his pocket.

“This is…?” There was a number on the card.

“Go next door, wait to be called. Sandra will lead you to our massage section of the business.” Heal inside and out. The government gave them the necessary permits. The new Congresswoman seemed eager to assist them.

“Sandra?”

“My girlfriend.” He might help Stoley, but he’d never like her.

“She’s the girl from the fry place, yeah? She’s cute.” At least she said it more politely this time. “Hey, this building is kind of weird. What kind of place is this anyway?

Eric smiled. Since meeting Sandra, he had smiled hundreds of times, but none were the same. This was a knowing smile, a smile kept among four people.

“Would you believe a laundry room?”

————————-

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Laundry Room Key of Sadness (P3)

WP_20150712_001

“Here’s what I know about depression, Eric.” Even before she lived as a memory, Eric found it hard to envision his mother knowing anything from depression. “The deeper you are in it, the more comfortable you become wallowing. It’s messy, it looks bad to others, but you feel just fine. You have to get up from depression.”

He knew it was a dream, but he ignored the sudden manifestations of reality. Sandra’s hands on his shoulders. “I’m getting out of it, but Dad’s acting like he’s one with sadness. Can you help him?”

“Wake up, Eric!” He loved Sandra’s warmer presence, but he wished she’d be less eager to start the day. He could hear her pacing every which way from midnight on in the guest room she had set up. In a way he felt he needed to bury, Eric was flattered she fussed over him.

“I have a banana,” said his mother. Right, it’s still my own dream, disappointed his mother didn’t make a special visit to his dreams. “Delicious. Full of vitamins. Nutrients. Potential naughty jokes.” Definitely my dream.

“Thing is, to get any of that, you need to pull…” She failed to pull the peel. “…the peel. See, it’s not easy. The easiest way would be to pull the top, but that brown chunky part hurts my hands. Sometimes I pull too hard and it rips off. But if you don’t hurt yourself or the banana…”

She continued to fail peeling. “You reveal the merits within, right?” Eric helped her, as Sandra ran down to the kitchen to deliver a rude awakening.

“Right, Eric! You need to peel your dad’s skin. Maybe literally. But,” she paused for an air of drama that was not his mother’s brand, “maybe figuratively.”

Pots and pans clanged, as his dream returned to the subconscious.

“That reminds me! The first metaphor I had! Depression is a lot like mud!”

“Did you say m–”

“ERIC! Thank goodness you’re up!” Sandra was in a green apron, though he realized that was thanks to grass stains.

“Sandra, not to seem ungrateful,” though he definitely was, between the disgusting mud resting all over the house and Sandra, her need to be up all night distracting him, not to mention even if it wasn’t her intentional fault, Derrick threw Eric out because Sandra made him happy.

She made him happy. He told his pent-up grievances to take a break. The grievances went to the bathroom and smoked.

“I’m grateful to you for putting me up, but why are you waking me up as early as…” The clock read 15 o’clock. He had to do math.

“It’s three,” she said in a hurried tone. “Sorry, I don’t know what your sleep schedule is.” She looked over her shoulder towards the window. “We have a few hours left to spend at the library.”

Three o’clock? Eric’s sleep cycle frightened him. He realized this had in fact been his normal hour to begin the day, and that he passed out usually at midnight.

“I’m sorry for jumping on you like that. Let’s go to the library.”

“Yes! And it’s okay. I kind of like it when people jump on me.”

He wanted to follow that up with anything at all, but one look at Sandra’s face informed him that she was teasing him.

Eric didn’t mind the mud anymore.

******************************

It was a warm library; happy families and studious cheerleaders packed the rooms tightly enough that one could walk on them as any floor. There was a sign by the front desk advising against that.

At the desk stood a clean-cut man, about early-thirties. His hair, greasy and black, occasionally complimented his clothing, bow tie and rolled-up sleeves notwithstanding. His eyes, rarely open, resembled a satisfied napping cat. His demeanor could also be said to seem cat-like.

“Welcome to our library, sir. My, that is one jacked-up looking hand. All red and stringy. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Guess you should feel lucky your face doesn’t look like that, right?”

Sandra leaned over Eric’s shoulder. “This is Harold Neamus. He’s the last shift during the day. He’s like this with everyone.” Eric became more determined to amend his sleep cycle.

“Oh!” Harold’s face became squishy with a nirvana of cruelty. “It’s the giant baby! Is she yours, sir? She’s come here before without a guardian, and I tried turning her away.” Eric felt weird, as though this dialogue was too specific to annoy him.

Harold tickled Sandra on the chin, leading both her and Eric to crush his hand. Their hands were locked, crunching a wincing librarian’s fingers in the process. They blushed the moment their eyes locked.

“Sir, I will not have… YOUR KIND in here. This library is a safe haven for happiness, and that means no baby-kissers.” Harold looked up at the giant baby. “Would oo wike a wowwy, baby?”

Sandra’s nostrils flared, relieving Eric that no mud came out of them. “I would NOT spike my mommy–er, MOTHER, and I’m not a baby!”

“You are! You are a giant baby, a one-month baby, yet you can walk and talk!” He examined the mud on her sneakers. “Still pretty messy, though. Look, trust me that you guys shouldn’t be like this, okay?”

Eric noted a hurt tone hidden in Harold’s voice. Harold suddenly turned to him.

“Look, a month ago, her father brought her here. Please return her to his arms, if she can be carried.”

“MY FATHER IS DEAD!”

Eric balled up a fist. He wouldn’t need it now. Harold’s face softened.

“Oh, oh, oh my, my, my. You really don’t know. Oh, poor sweet baby mud girl.” Harold put up a sign to the front of the desk. “Come with me.”

******************************

The dank, stone room was behind a bookshelf in the erotic section. “We have a very old erotic section. No one goes here. This place must be guarded.”

Eric carelessly flipped through a magazine and stopped at a page with a buxom lady now older than his grandmother. “What, the erotica needs to be guarded?” Sandra swiped the magazine and leafed through its pages.

“What? No, this room! I come from a tribe of ancient therapeutic wizards. Does that sound stupid?”

Eric was growing reckless in comfort towards Harold, but risking nothing gets one nowhere. “No more stupid than my laundry room.”

Harold nearly dropped the book he was examining.

“What’s so stupid about it?

“It… you need to be sad to open it. My dad locked himself in there.”

Harold laughed in relief, although it sounded more like he cackled in pride. “So it is you.”

Sandra found an article that made her turn red. She stored the tips in her mind for use on Eric.

“Sit. I have much to teach you, uggo hand.” Harold flipped to the center of the first half of the book.

“May 1, 1590 A.D.
I am matthew. my  masters, powerfilled men with the goal of easing the hearts of men. have constructed a plan to make a home to tame sadness. my masters and i will live in the quarters and the sad souls in the basement. further plans are unclear to me.”

Harold flipped further.

“June 3, 1590 A.D.
My masters have completed the home. they are now enchanting the basement. i am not allowed around yet. i examine the quarters for my masters and i. with the money poured into it, i expected more. floors creak, stairs croak. it is colder than the rain. the beds scorn my skin. i found a rash after sleeping on one. it is a home made for sadness.”

Sandra flipped to an ad that gave her a marvelous notion for her mud. She would ask Eric what he thought.

“February 24, 1591 A.D.
The home is near perfect, bar one flaw. the home itself is healing sad hearts of some men. the home is thus: my masters created a spell on the basement entrance. only those with heavy hearts may enter or leave. a dark key is made when closing the saddened man hand, to which he opens the healing room.

“Healing room…” Eric became immersed in the text.

“A shame,” Harold bitterly shook his head. “You use it for laundry.”

“Keep reading this gook, okay?”

“the room will grant the deepest desire for the sad men. my masters show wisdom. they cannot use sadness for evil. the sad men cannot manifest the death of any other man. the problem is that neither can they manifest life. many men are saddened by lost loves and few are being helped in the way of intention.

Eric gulped on nothing.

“my masters have a plan. they have acquired the deed for the land next door. it is a mud pit bought for near nothing. they plan on using the powers of God Himself. they will be Adam creatures, born from the desires of the sad to find their loves. my masters are wonder in human clothes.”

Eric’s whole being had a panic attack.

Harold snapped in front of Eric’s face. “By the by, Matthew never writes it down, but the masters made themselves miserable upstairs in order to get constant access to the basement. Since happy men couldn’t open it, the masters needed to remain sad to let the happy patients out.”

Eric jittered. “Really? How interesting.”

“Right? They couldn’t cast the enchantment to pick more than one emotion. And the masters, so kind, so understanding, wouldn’t allow the patients to feel trapped in sadness and reality. So unlike the happy men, they could leave freely.”

“Yeah, I figured that out! I got locked in after meeting Sandra!” She wasn’t listening. “You’re at the climax, right? You’re doing this to taunt me.”

“Heavens, no! Why, are you eager to read about Matthew’s skin growth documentation? He had many blisters, bruises, moles and rashes.”

Eric cupped his hair in his palms. “That’s all on the house?”

“Certainly. Oh, except for the mud house next door.”

“READ IT READ IT READ IT!” Life was happy to flow threw Eric again.

“Rude, rude, rude.”

“May 18, 1593 A.D.
This shall be my final entry. it is all over. my master of masters finally succeeded in casting the spell of life. before, we could only create half a life. half a being in the sad men’s hearts. most were satisfied, but not my master of masters. his spell needed perfection.

the magic had been simple. Adam creatures born from mud, but that meant they had an essence of mud. they were always dirty, dirtiest on the feet and less mud as it built up. the men were comfortable with the mud men and women. i fear them. i see no wives or sons. my eyes may be wrong, as master of master said, but i saw them as old as they were born, not their own age.”

Harold tapped his eyes. Eric whimpered.

“giant mud babies, walking around with men of false contentment. they lie to themselves. make up new stories about why are there. i did note they gradually get true memories, much like a baby will. my master of masters said i had wrong eyes. but he was disgusted whenever he saw a woman with a mud husband, a father with a mud son. my master of masters knew.”

Sandra took off a sneaker and measured her foot with her thumb.

“he vanished for a month into his quarters. there was constant sorrow heard from his room. when my master of masters emerged today, he reached a level of sadness unseen to any of us, a level that existed in his other emotions, he threw out the patients and locked us out with overwhelming sorrow.”

Sandra measured her armpit with her toe.

“i am the only one to recount the event, my masters all died. my master emerged with a mud man, his late brother. it was a mud man, my master of masters said, that had all the memories and qualities of the lost. i could not see a mud baby. the magic worked. but the mud  man shook tremendously and forced his way into the jaws of my lost master of masters.

not to pause at this but i found a new mole. it is green and thick. i shall compose a book around it.”

Forlorn, Harold stood up. “It goes on that way. Now you know why you shouldn’t date a mud baby.”

Sandra turned to the table. “What are we talking about?”

“I mean it. She’s nothing more than a large baby. In twenty years, she can be legal. Find your respite elsewhere.” Harold pat Eric’s back. Eric did not pull away.

“Not this again. Why do you keep calling me a baby?”

A minute danced around the room with silence playing a deafening guitar solo.

Eric turned to Harold.

“She wasn’t listening?”

Eric contorted himself to face Sandra.

“YOU WEREN’T LISTENING?”

Sandra rubbed a cheek. “There’s a book I wanted to check out. Although,” she lifted the magazine, “I wondered if you’d let me buy this.”

Harold took the magazine from her. “It’s no use. A month back, an older gentleman came in here with her, asking me about your basement. Even then, she ignored me.”

Eric froze, an internal fire balancing him out. “Did he have a crusty beard, hair to his neck, thin metal glasses…”

Harold finished for him. “Yes, and he wore all black. He wanted a book on fixing a mud creature. Her.”

Sandra screamed at the door. Harold rolled up the magazine and plugged it in her mouth.

It all made sense, as much as any of it could have in the realm of emotional instability. Sandra was warm, like his mother. She liked blue nail polish, french fries, and his mother exchanged puns with him all the time. But she didn’t look like his mother, black hair and hazel eyes.

They didn’t look a thing alike. His mother had been small, frail and feisty, while Sandra was tall, bulky and awkward. Maybe…

“Half,” Harold hissed. “Half of the lost one’s traits. Sometimes internal, sometimes external, but not both.” Sandra and Eric gave him a worried look.

“You think this is my first mud being? Come over to my place some time and I’ll show you my album of all the mud politicians and mud entertainers I’ve met. Way bigger babies than you, kiddo.”

Sandra collapsed onto a chair.

“My life is over…” She wiped away some tears, first from Eric’s face, then from her own.

“Oh, forget it,” Eric wheezed. “Look Sandra, why go nuts worrying about it? So Harold calls you a baby. And yes, maybe you are only a month old. And considering my dad made you to be his wife, that means I’m dating my mother and my sister.”

Harold smirked unkindly. “Are you strawberry jelly? Because you’re on a roll!”

Eric clutched the librarian of menace’s labels. “Damn it, I’m TRYING to calm down the girl I love!”

Even silence sat this one out.

“Eric… do you mean that?”

“I-I-I-uhh…”

“I love you too, Eric.”

Eric leapt into her arms. Her lips were soft, but dry. He loved her earthy smell caressing him.

Harold stamped his foot in a bratty rage. “You can’t be serious!” He sputtered. “How long do you know her, a day?” He pieced the facts together and calmed down. “Come to think of it, if you’re depressed and she’s a giant mud baby in love with you, I guess there’s no better pairing either of you could have.”

He was tired.

“More importantly, your father was furious that he couldn’t figure out what went wrong with the Master of Master’s spell. Where did you say he is now?”

Eric and Sandra kissed some more.

“Because he may not live if his spell fails.”

More kissing.

“Everyone may die, including Sandra.”

The kissing went to smoke in the parking lot.

“Harold,” Eric smiled in a way Harold hated: Genuinely. “We need your help. He holed himself up in the laundry room last night.”

“Good Sammy Ray! Why are we still here? Let’s save your dingbat of a daddy!”

On the way out, Harold ignored the line of literary fanatics waiting for him to return. The cheerleaders all made it into business universities.

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Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Laundry Room Key of Sadness (P2)

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Pale red draped Eric’s scrawny frame. In the center rested a faded pink design, something not unlike a fish skeleton. Examining it, he realized it was the least ugly shirt he owned. Sandra would simply have to look at his eyes instead.

Eric blushed, remembering his shirtless discussion with her.

Peeking his head into Derrick’s room, he found a large lump on the ground. After inspecting it from afar for a while, he realized it was Derrick.

Unsure of whether or not he was sleeping, concerned that telling his father that he was going out to be social would serve as a sharp blow to Derrick’s plan to live their lives broken men, Eric abstained from leaving him a note.

He clomped softly past the room, quietly unlocked the eight cacophonous locks to the front door, and was immediately smothered in nauseatingly fresh air.

It was cold, but this coldness was a separate entity from the one his house swam in. This damp outside air felt good on his hand. He forgot what rain felt like. At this, Eric realized that it had only been a week since they had moved in.

If I’ve forgotten sensations like this in only seven days… Eric waited a moment to process the thoughts racing above his clarity. Dad got here before me, 24 days ago. That’s… a month he’s lived here.

How long do I have to wallow in there before I’m as gone as him?

He didn’t want to think about it; he didn’t want to be even mopier when he was with Sandra, so he told himself not to dwell on it at the moment.

Inspecting the neighboring homes, Eric furrowed his eyebrows. Dull, tepid paint jobs lined up to stare at the stone structure. He wondered if their house ever wanted to hide from its neighbors too. Should he make a house for the house?

Eric turned on the hose and sprayed himself, hoping he would be less loopy for his date.

His face was dripping with water outside of his body, a realization which he had tried to ignore. Wiping his face with the crook of his elbow, Eric remembered how wet with mud Sandra’s feet had been. He turned to her yard. Neatly trimmed. Not a speck of dirt called to grab his attention. So why was she so dirty earlier?

The realization arrived that he could stall no further was delivered to him with the town library’s hourly bell. Six. Bravery dragged the fearful young man to Sandra’s house, knocked on her door bell and pinned Eric to the ground.

“Eric! Let me help you up!” Her plump arms picked him up with ease. “Make yourself comfortable. Mind the carpet.”

With that last one, Eric noted that her feet were still muddy. He finally saw why: Her carpet was a sea of mud. Her shoes were lined up on a small white table by the door. At that moment, he needed to gag.

Sandra sent him an embarrassed look. With complete cognizance, Sandra ask him with what the matter was.

Her gall surprised Eric. “Don’t you know your carpet is mud?” He choked on every syllable.

Sandra shook her hair with a sweep of her hand. Thick clumps of dry shampoo fell out of her sandy-brown hair. “Yeah… I mean, I’d be stupid not to notice, right? It’s part of the foundation of the house. I can’t afford a guy to clean it out or cover it up. Plus, it makes my skin silky.”

Eric had to agree on that last point.

She grabbed a filthy hand towel, wiped her legs, feet and hands, then, realizing just how filthy the rag was, threw it outside for a curious raccoon to play with. She dried her hands on the wall.

“How do you feel about french fries?”

******************************

She had popped into a pair of long leather boots, concealing her legs where necessary, much to Eric’s relief.

“This place only serves french fries as main dishes,” Sandra explained in unison with the spirit of Futility. “Big ol’ french fries the size of the side you order.” Blank and tired was the face of Eric. “Like, if you order a steak…”

“They’ll give me a big french-fry the size of a steak and small pieces of steak, right? Hope they’re at least fry-cut steaks.”

Nine people were in Down-Fryzing at that moment. One waitress working off loans for med school, a cook trying to mentally compose a novel, a government agent pretending to be a dishwasher, a man trying to break up with his husband and leave his two sons, Eric, and Sandra.

Of these nine people, only Sandra Robbie was laughing. Moments shortly after, two were laughing, when Eric Filles laughed for the first time in… he only had memory to suggest that he had once laughed.

Three people of out nine were laughing when the cook thought of a good joke for her novel, followed by a fourth who realized how much money he could get from child support.

“Sorry, I don’t hear jokes often. I like puns. I’m low-class.”

Eric liked to have considered himself funny. He used to feel light in his chest. He wanted to explain how puns easily break tension, not unlike at this moment, but no, he needed to charm his date.

Before the abyss of pain, his father used to give him dating advice.

“Talk about her more than yourself.” Smart advice, Dad.

“Eye-contact is important. Don’t stare at her boobies all the time.” I’ll need to mentally amend the way he phrased that one in the future.

“Romance, romance, romance. I charmed your mother using candlelight on our first date. And again with a fireplace during our honeymoon. Come to think of it, I lit incense when we conceived you. Heh, I guess there’s nothing your mother likes more than a red-hot raging fire. She just wants to burn, burn, burn!”

When the world reappeared again, Sandra had at some point wrapped herself around him. He felt cold again.

“ERIC! You doing right?” Sandra was too relieved to notice her semi-coherent statement. “You started shivering and then you passed out.”

He wanted to crawl into a hole, roll into a ball, and hibernate. He messed it up.

“I just need to sleep it off. I’m sorry.” The fingers on his red hand had distorted into a position that resembled the limbs of a tree. It was twitching.

Sandra lifted him into her arms. “I hope this doesn’t embarrass you.” She felt embarrassed.

“A little, but I’ll be fine, thank you.” He didn’t feel slightly embarrassed. He found himself happy to be lifted. She gave him something he hadn’t known he lacked.

“Tell me about your past, Sandra.” He was going to continue the date as it was ending, damn the awkward commotion.

“Oh. Well, like I said, my folks are long gone.”

“How?” He knew that was the wrong thing to say.

“I don’t remember. I was pretty little.”

“Uh-huh. So… who raised you?”

“I think I’ve been living in that house my whole life.” She didn’t want to discuss this, but she didn’t talk herself through why that should be.

“By yourself? How could you survive?”

“Oh, look! The town library!” Eric and Sandra stopped for a moment. “This library has a book all about the history of the town. I should take you here tomorrow.”

Eric shot Sandra a look, and, as she had been carrying him, Sandra had to confess.

“The trauma of my parent’s deaths gave me memory problems. I only remember about a month at a time. Please, I don’t want to discuss it.”

There was a sentence that loved to shield Eric after his mother’s passing. Nothing bothered him quite like nosy relatives trying to pity him. Sandra understood Eric more than his own father could. He swallowed bravery.

“I don’t know if it’s too soon, but… can I kiss you?”

“…Yeah.”

The government agent walked a woman in a trench coat into a van disguised as a watch kiosk.

******************************

“ERIC! ERIC FILLES, YOU COME HERE!”

Dad? Angry? Maybe he’s brightening up again. In the fists of his heart, Eric knew it couldn’t be.

“Derrick, what–“

“LAUNDRY ROOM! NOW!”

Eric was afraid he accidentally bleached one of his father’s shirts.

“What is this about, Derrick?”

“I was looking through my laundry bag in the basement. Why did one of my shirts go from black to gray-black?”

Relief filled Eric for some reason. “I’m so sorry, Derrick. I’ll be cautious in the future.”

“Fine. Just open the laundry room and get my bag of clothes, please.”

“Derrick?”

“NOW, ERIC.”

Eric’s red hand finally loosened its crazed position. Clench… clench… he prayed for a key to manifest.

“There’s no key in your palm. Eric, why is there no key in your palm? Are you happy or something?”

“Dad–“

“I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME THAT! I TOLD YOU, TOLD YOU, ERIC! I TOLD YOU!”

His father scared him, but not as much as his father seemed to be called by a patriarchal title.

“All, ALL I needed was you to be sad enough, just in case I get locked in. But you go gallivanting about with that hippie chick, and now you’re too happy to be of any use!” Derrick clenched his fist, his nails digging into his flesh.

“Da– DERRICK! Your hand!”

Derrick smiled, and even with his constant dour pan, it looked worse than a frown. It made Eric cry to look at.

“It makes no difference. I feel no pain, Eric. It took me a month in this hell house to get it right, but I can have any emotion, joy, misery, lust, anger, envy. I’m always sad, Eric,  even when I’m not. And I don’t need anyone to let me out of the laundry room. So I don’t need you.”

Derrick turned a key.

“What do you mean, Derrick? I know the laundry room key trick is neat, but that’s no excuse to drive yourself crazy!”

Derrick shrank into the darkness of the room.

“That dirty barefoot girl, Sandra… I met her on my first day. She might be right for you. Just live with her from now on.”

With that, Derrick lived behind the door.

Eric screamed for Derrick. Pounding his fists on the door did nothing. What happened to his father? Why didn’t the sadness Eric felt at this moment let him manifest a key?

The only thing he could now was leave.

“Eric?”

He explained everything to Sandra. She tried not to look so happy to have someone move in, but Eric caught it.

“Stay as long as you want. Though please wipe your shoes before coming in. Once you get grass in the mud, you can’t get it out.”

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Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Laundry Room Key of Sadness (P1)

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It was a fine house; houses he had known for the bulk of his life were too familiar, too welcoming for people. People needed to leave suddenly before they could take a step on the tattered carpet with muddied shoes, eager to mark territory. No one wanted the house.

The house was older than any living being, species of turtles included. The brickwork, if one could call it that, consisted of gray stones. Smooth, but their coldness matched the temperature of the young man’s heart, which was never properly fixed, much like the house.

The stairs croaked when looked at. Frogs did not live in this part of the country, nor would amphibians willingly stay here.

The young man and his father were pleased with their choice. Sadness came from within, and could feed properly without. After the loss of the matriarch, father and son could no longer stay in the bright lights of California. Coldness, sadness, stones felt right.

The kitchen was functional, but the refrigerator lacked an ice machine. A definite step down from their old one.

Only three rooms could handle electricity at one time. Misery. They loved it.

They imported cozy stuffing for the mattresses. Sadness may have had domain, but no reason to throw out your back. The rooms were horrifically flammable. The guest room burnt down when a previous tenant brought in a space heater. The rooms needed to remain below 46 degrees Fahrenheit. They were planning to be depressed forever.

The bathroom was an outhouse.

Examining his reddened palm, Eric walked along the sadder parts of the house. He caught a glimpse of his father, crying over a singed photo frame again. Her photos were all but lost, remaining on the internet as a shrine to her memory. They dared not find photos of her online, unless they wanted to retreat to the darkness of their minds.

Eric noted the state of his attire.

“Derrick, uh… I need to do a load.”

For the first time in four hours, Derrick looked away from the frame.

“You know where the outhouse is.”

Eric groaned internally. “I mean a load of laundry. But I need a key to get in. And there’s none around.”

“Oh. Yeah, that’s the best part of the house.”

It seemed impossible, but Derrick had taken on an emotion almost outside of depression.

“The laundry room will only open if you’re wallowing in sadness. Make a fist, and the key will appear in your hand. Seems to be some strange magic from long ago. Whoda thunk it?” At this, Derrick scratched his crusty beard and left.

Dubious but too broken up and rancid to care, Eric stood before the laundry room. His scarred fist hurt when clenched, but he preferred it to nothing. But the nothing came back when he opened his hand, a smoky grayish-brown key having suddenly manifested. It frightened him; the fire still fresh in his mind.

After turning the key, it spread around Eric’s body and dissipated like vapor. He still didn’t like this as much as his father did.

As odd as the magic had been, the laundry room seemed mundane. It reeked of vinegar, likely the old basement had been a wine cellar once. The laundry machines were state of the art, fantastically. Eric threw the shirt he was wearing into the wash.

Looking around a bit more, Eric discovered a window, muddy grass, and two bare feet with dark blue nail polish. The two largest toes of the right foot tapped on the window.

Muddy feet, lamented Eric. Damn it.

Finding a step stool, Eric opened the window for the feet. A young woman about two years older than he crouched down to see him.

“Hey, uh…” She was awkward; a bit plain but Eric was in no mood for hysterics. Or women. “I’m your neighbor, that one there. Sandra. Robbie! Sandra Robbie! Sorry, I’m no good with this. You are?”

“Leaving.” Eric wished he hadn’t said that. Even so, he started for the window latch.

In a panic, Sandra stomped on Eric’s red hand, her foot wet with clods of dirt.

“Oh God! I’m so sorry! Pl-please don’t go!”

Eric’s eyes met hers, then the grotesque layers of mud on her legs, then his hand. He twitched in a state of patience.

“Never step on me again with muddy feet, okay?” He thought to potentially rectify that statement, but she beat him to the punch.

With a grin more appropriate for a certain cat, Sandra asked, “So would you be okay if I stepped on you with clean feet?”

Eric was not laughing. Eric was not angry. Eric was, although not completely closed off from his emotions, surprised to find himself telling her his story.

“Last year, my folks and I were having a little family time. Thing is, we got a little too light-headed. Careless. A match falls, our wooden home goes up in smoke.”

Sandra winced. For the 921st time, she felt like a dunce.

“My mother didn’t make it. My father insists I call him by his name now. Wants no responsibility as a family man. I accommodate. Me, I tried opening the door, but my hand got burned. The house’s clamminess calms down the pain.”

“Hey, I know this house.” Squinting harder than she needed to, Sandra inspected the stone exterior. “Didn’t a room get burned here? Why get a super flammable bedroom?”

“Oh.” Eric tried to phrase it normally. “My dad thinks if we live in flammable rooms, we’ll be more cautious. Again, I accommodate.”

Sandra thought it was phrased normally.

“Getting back, my mother was passed out on the carpet. We saw her, but three firefighters come stomping in our crumbling house. Stomping over my mother. Too much smoke to see, maybe. They crushed her with their muddy boots. She would have been…”

Humiliation embodied Sandra, who placed one foot atop another.

“I… I can’t…” She muttered something lost to ears. “Look, if it’s any consolation, my parents died when I was young. I can empathize. I feel cold and I prefer crying sometimes. And I never really got over their deaths.” Sandra scratched her freckles. “No, why would you feel better with my pain? I’ll go now.”

“Eric.”

“No, my name’s Sandra.”

“My name. Sandra, you described a lot of what I’m going through.” He played with an empty bottle of vinegar he found. “I managed to escape therapy because I can fake positivity, so I sort of regret not talking to someone about this.”

Sandra spat up a less stupid grin.

Eric, feeling friskier than he could remember, went for boldness.

“Hey… do you want to show me around this town? Maybe get some food?”

A laugh on par with a symphony rang in Eric’s ears. “Sure… but with a shirt on, I hope!”

Eric glanced down with the speed of pain. His face matched his hand.

“Ha ha! Look, I like what I see! I’ll meet you in front of my house at 6, okay?” Sandra gave a calm smile. “Thank you, Eric.”

The feet went.

With the load complete and Eric reconsidering being sad forever, he strutted to the door. He balled up his hand… Release! No key.

Right. The key manifests from sadness.

“Derrick? Derrick! I’m locked in!”

The door swung open at an inhuman velocity.

“Eric? Didn’t you make a fist?” Derrick’s eyes were nearly blood red.

“Guess… I forgot.” Derrick had gone mad, and discovering his son wasn’t almost as sad as he would destroy him. Better to lie, Eric supposed.

“Well, remember next time, okay?” With that, Derrick disappeared for the day.

Optimism wasn’t Eric’s best friend, but the laundry room brought him the first good thing since the incident. Eric needed a nicer shirt.

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Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four