God Is A Blonde

God Is A Blonde

It was the conga line that killed Vince Proffer. After beating his bongo particularly hard, the moment he went “Hey!” he fell in the water and drowned, clutching his bongo as a life raft. It did not work.

When he woke up from a never-ending darkness, the soft sound of bare feet on the floor closed in around him. Was he in the ER, the OR, or somewhere else? He looked around. Nothing, literally nothing. How was he sitting upright? He stood up. He tapped his bongo in boredom. He jammed out in utter desperation, hoping someone would hear him.

THUNKA THUNK A TOPPA TOP

BOPPA BOP WOP POP POP BLOP

GONK A DONK A SONK A TONK A

“Please stop that,” the softest voice in the Universe begged him.

“Sorry ma’am,” Vince shied away.

“Sir. I am Sir. You may call me Mister.”

The woman was stunning in Her white robes. Her long blonde hair flew in literally every direction. Vince felt humiliated being the same species as Her. Or was he?

“Where are we?”

“My domain, My child. This is Heaven.”

Vince dropped his bongo. “Heaven?”

“And I… am God.”

“Oh,” he yawned.

“That does not impress Vince Proffer, blood type A negative?”

“Was that supposed to impress me?”

“I know everything. Lately, I’ve really been into blood types.”

“Change of topic. Why don’t You want to be referred to as female?”

God sighed. “I identify as a man, even though I’m female.”

Vince nodded. “I can see that. I guess those ‘God is a girl’ stances were true.”

God frowned. “No. I identify as female. According to Western law, you are what gender you identify as. So I’m a man.”

“But why,” Vince struggled, “do You identify as male?”

“Because I don’t feel comfortable with the gender I was assigned.”

Vince realized something. “You’re… not the only God, are you?”

“No. I’m the third. First was until the second Jewish Temple fell. He died. Then, the second God was fired for creating World War Two. I’m the third God. We’re a species, see. So we have genders and blood types, like all beings.”

“So Jesus is the second God’s son?”

“Yup.” God fell silent.

Vince began to tap his bongo again.

“Stop, I said!” She threw a little thunder around.

“And stop writing Me as ‘She!’ I’m a man, Me dammit!” He made the writer stub his toe.

“Is there anything else to do?” asked Vince Proffer.

“The Frog and Toad Dungeon Explorer Game!” Sh– He screamed excitedly.

“That old kid’s book? Excuse me, but that sounds…”

“No one ever plays it with Me! I’m glad someone else is here instead of Hell!”

“Excuse?”

“Here’s the rules:

Can be played alone; should be played with 2-4 players.

Each player chooses a frog. Players choose a path to take. If arguments arise, roll highest for proper path-taker.

Each path has foes blocking the HOORAY! token. Roll the die to see how many spaces the player goes. 1 = 4, 2 = 5, 3 = 6.

The players travel their paths, fighting the foes that prevent access to the HOORAY! token. If the player loses, they return to their starting point on their path. The paths have different but balanced mechanics.

The path with two foes on one square will take damage from either a three or a five. However, if the first defeated foe was defeated with a three, the other can only be defeated with a five, and vice-versa.

The path with three foes on individual squares are defeated with rolls of 1, 2, 4, or 6.

The two pathed path can be used by two players. The foe can be defeated with rolls of 1, 3, or 5. If one player defeats the foe, it will not respawn for the other. However, it should be noted that it’s always better to get the token first, as well as the foe. There are two tokens on this path, but only one per player.

Each defeated foe is useful for the final dungeon. When the player collects their token, they reach the final dungeon. The players who collect their tokens transport their frogs to the hollow center of the top of the final dungeon.

The collected foes can be used to fight the final bosses. Playing a foe allows the player to either add a number to defeat the foe or preemptively roll again. This cannot be used if the player lost against a foe. You may only play two foes per fight. Foes do not respawn when used up. Mini-bosses (the foes next to the final boss) have doubled effects. The player can either roll again twice, add two possible numbers to defeat the foe, or one of each effect. The mini-boss can be used with one other foe.

All final dungeon foes are defeated with a roll of 1, 3, or 5. Both mini-bosses are defeated with rolls of 1 or 2. The final boss may only be defeated with a roll of 1. When the final boss is defeated, the game ends. If a player loses a battle in the final dungeon, they return to the hollow center.”

“Everyone else is in Hell?”

“Let’s choose our frogs!” He smirked.

“I’m not playing this board game made from another board game. Why am I the only one in Heaven?”

“Oh, everyone else thinks I’m too annoying or not ‘what they pictured,’ so they choose Hell. Satan’s a cool guy. I can understand why they’d choose him.”

Vince sighed. “Okay, I guess we can play for a little while.”

“Great! You can be the Blue Frog.”

Twelve years later, Vince won the game. God decided the game was stupid anyway and sent him to Hell. He was chosen by Satan as Lead Bongo Player. God is currently working on a new board game featuring ducklings.

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Call Us Javelin F

Call Us Javelin F

“Stop. That’s the worst piece of crap I’ve ever bled out of my ears to.”

Javelin F wasn’t having much luck auditioning lately, and the Battle of the Bands was about to reject them.

“You guys need more female representation,” said Ida, the singer.

“Just chill out a little, alright judges?” muttered Lisa, the guitarist.

“I can play music on my nose,” giggled Katya, the keyboardist.

“Or I can punch you with ol’ Grinder,” threatened Gina, the drummer.

“Zis is not mine idea uff fun,” moped Svenja, the violinist.

Did you catch all the details of Javelin F’s band members? Good. Let’s proceed.

“We have nine all-female bands,” said a female judge.

“Like, we are chill,” muttered a hippie judge.

“Nix on the nose, madam,” giggled a hipster judge.

“Punch me and I’ll SUE you with ol’ Sue!” threatened an angry judge.

“What kind of name is Javelin F anyway?” asked a nondescript judge.

Javelin F thought for a minute.

“Like, what does the F stand for?”

“Feminism,” said Ida.

“Freedom,” said Lisa.

“Feeeeeeeeeeeeet,” moaned Katya.

“Fists? Flailing? Fire? Freak-out?” pondered Gina.

“Frankfurt,” whispered Svenja.

The bassist who founded the band named it “Javelin Fart,” but the original drummer threatened to quit if it wasn’t changed. She, along with the bassist, left the band around the time Ida and Katya joined.

“Sorry, but you’re just no good,” said the female judge. “You downright suck, actually.”

In the van, the women of Javelin F continued to squabble from where they left off.

“I told you we needed a new bassist.” Gina was right, a new bass guitar player would balance their sound out. It was the only thing they all agreed on.

“I think I said that,” mused Lisa.

“No, I did, and that we need more plush giraffes!” burst out Katya.

“You vomen vill be ze death uff me,” bemoaned Svenja.

Ida screeched. “That’s enough! This is why we suck, because we lack unity!”

The van fell silent and grew purple. The vibrations from the van rocked larger than usual.

“Um… gals?” Katya’s tone became uncharacteristically normal that everyone turned to look at her. “We’re not on Earth anymore.”

Ida laughed nervously. “Oh my nonexistent but totally female Goddess. It has to be Earth, Katya! Sweetie, you’re dreaming.”

“If she’s dreaming, zen I am dreaming as vell.”

“I don’t think this is a dream.”

“Where the hell is this craphole?”

As the band leader, Ida felt the need to calm everyone down. “Javelin F, stay in the van and we’ll get home soon. This purple mass of space-time can’t hurt us if we–”

“Toke up?”

“Put on a pine cone puppet show?”

“Punch the space-time?”

“Go back to Deutschland?”

“Remain. Calm.” Ida was feeling very uncalm.

The van disintegrated around the five women.

“Can we panic now?” Katya asked oddly lucidly.

“Do you have pine cone puppets?”

“No. I was bluffing.”

“Then yes, it’s panic time.”

Javelin F started to scream and scream, annoying the purple field behind them.

“Excuse me. Are you Javelin F?”

They stopped screaming.

“Who wants to know?” asked Gina.

“I’m a purple field from the land of suns. I need your help. I’ve been terrorized by a toxic water monster for the past ten years. See, I summoned you girls here.”

“Girls?” groused Ida. “Women.”

“How can we help?” asked Lisa.

“See, there’s the rub. I– Oh, GOD!”

A scaly monster dripping with toxic sweat rushed out of the bushes.

“Take this!!” yelled the monster, plucking the field harshly.

“What do we dooooo?” wailed Katya. “You think the field is made of hallucinogenic plants?”

“Only one way to find out,” grinned Lisa.

“Toking up won’t help,” said Ida.

“Then vhat vill?”

Katya pummeled her keyboard in frustration. Gina kicked her drums in the same respect. The monster kneeled and clutched its ears.

“That’s it!” realized Ida. “Or music sucks so bad that it frightens the monster!”

“Hooray for us,” the other four said in monotone.

The members of Javelin F pulled out their instruments and started to play like garbage. The monster flopped over to the ground and begged for mercy.

“Please, ladies… I am not able to withstand your terrible music. I beg for mercy.”

“Well…” Ida twirled her hair. “Hey. Are you female?”

“I happen to be, yes.”

“Can you play bass guitar?”

“Do you have one?”

Ida tossed her a bass guitar.

“Name’s Lxcu. I’m just trying to get some medicinal herbs for my father.”

“Is that all?” Javelin F glared at the field.

“You could have asked,” said the field. “Take some of me, please. Then never return.”

Lxcu pulled at the strings and made it sing. The band had its bassist.

After they healed Lxcu’s father, the field sent the six women to Earth.

Problem was, they sucked really badly. They failed a second audition for the Battle of the Bands because even though each woman was skilled in her instrument, together, they were discordant.

The sextet gave up playing music professionally and became gardeners instead, eventually becoming CEOs of their own vegetable company. Lisa sold certain plants on the side, while Katya sold the pine cones she found.

But even after all of their misadventures, they still played music together in a private room underground, where only they could enjoy the terrible musical styling of Javelin F.

The Three Witch Sisters Of Tomatoshire

The Three Witch Sisters Of Tomatoshire

“As the stranger lifted me up the stairs, holding my crutches, I felt weak and powerless to stop him.” Lilian wheezed a little. “He let me down at the top of the stairs, then waved like an idiot at me, like he did something wonderful. It just made me feel anger.”

“And you didn’t even ask him,” said the group therapy leader. “I’m sure we’ve all been there, right?”

Mike hadn’t. He was never being held doors for, or let on the bus first, or even lifted up the subway stairs like Lilian. Maybe if he had breasts like hers… But he held his tongue.

“That’s all we have for today. Next time, we’ll start with Mike.”

Mike rolled up to Tim, the group therapy leader.

“Yeah, about that… I’m not really into group therapy. It just makes me feel like I’m in a circle of freaks, not someone dealing with his problem alone.”

He really was alone. His family lived in Colorado, he had no girlfriend, no one to watch over him. The group therapy just reinforced his loneliness and need to be around able-bodied people.

“You’re not dealing with it alone, Michael. You have all of us.”

Mike looked at him with skepticism. “I know maybe three of the twelve people’s names and it’s been six months. It’s just not working out, Timberly.”

“That’s not my n–” He looked at Mike’s tired eyes. Timothy sighed. “Okay. If you want to leave us, feel free. But you’re welcome back at any time.”

Mike wheeled himself out without assistance in hollow victory. He won, but… Tim and the others were just trying to help. That Lilian was definitely always asking questions about his home life, so she at least was making headway with him. Maybe he was hasty.

“Wait up!” Lilian waddled on her crutches up to Mike. “I heard you’re quitting the therapy. You can’t.”

Mike looked at her large assets. She caught him. He looked back at her face. “Can and am going to. I’m tired of listening to every problem. ‘The toilet is hard to get on! Weird boys lift me up the subway stairs!’ I–”

She looked at him sadly. He dialed it back.

“I just don’t want to feel like a burden anymore. And one less person means more time for you guys to talk.”

Lilian wobbled. “Fine. But can you come over to my place to help out?”

Mike doubted he could be of much help, but he thought maybe he could ask her out afterwards. “Sure, if you want my help.”

Lilian beamed. “Great!” She took off a crutch and it turned into a broom. “Hop on! Oh… right. Grab the broom.”

Mike wheeled back. “No way.”

He wheeled himself around and tried to flee, but his upper arm strength was no match for her magic broom. “You promised to help me, Mike. My sister needs to learn magic.”

She scooped him up and flew to a land covered head to toe with tomatoes.

“Where are we?” He didn’t really like tomatoes, but he was impressed with the size of them.

“Tomatoshire,” she replied, and said nothing more.

Finally, they reached an area where the tomatoes grew so large, one could stand on them.

“Didja bring him?” asked a grade school girl.

“Is dat him?” asked a toddler.

“Yes, girls. Mike, this is my little sister, Amanda, and my littlest sister, Anabel. You’re here to help Anabel.”

Mike was looking down at her again. He never noticed how much she dressed like a witch. Lilian caught him. “HO!” she yelled at him as she clapped her hands.

“Right, Abanal.”

“ANABEL.”

“That, yes. I was listening.”

The sisters giggled. “Shut up, you little brats! I don’t like him that way!”

Dang, he thought. I shouldn’t have stared at her chest so much.

Lilian regained her composure. “Anabel needs to learn how to make someone like you… walk.”

Mike cleaned his ears out.

“I’m sorry, I thought you said… walk?”

“She said walk, mister!” said Amanda.

“All witches have to learn basic spells, and that’s one of them. Anabel’s at the right age for it.”

Mike smiled. Was he finally going to walk again? Or was this a trick?

“Have at it. Wait. Does Amanda know the spell?”

“Yeah,” Amanda said, “but we’re gonna have Anabel do it on you.”

He wondered why Lilian didn’t use the spell on herself. She was always using her crutches and getting into sorry situations.

“Okay, remember the words in your mind, Anabel.”

“Yeah. And let the energy flow or somethin’.”

Anabel breathed slowly. She waved her wand and chanted, “Pits and sweat, feats of clay, make this mortal walk today!”

Mike felt his legs move on their own. He was walking, he was moving, he was…

Doing nothing by choice. He still couldn’t feel his legs. He wasn’t moving on his own.

“Try something more ambitious.” Lilian’s normal sad smile was a bit more vicious at that moment, Mike noticed.

“Make him do the can-can!” Amanda grimly grinned.

She did. Mike’s legs flailed wildly in rhythmic succession.

“Stop! I don’t want this anymore! Make it stop!” He felt like sobbing.

“Don’t stop,” Lilian glowered.

He finally realized why it was humiliating for an able-bodied person to force you to move around, as if you were a rag doll.

“Okay, you pass the test,” a loud booming voice said.

“Who’s there?” asked Mike. “Show yourself!”

“It’s my aunt, Aunt Toma.” said Lilian.

“We’ve been standing on her,” said Amanda.

“Yes, and Anabel has passed the test. You may bring this man home now.”

“Your aunt is a cluster of gargantuan tomatoes?” asked Mike.

“Yes. I’m part-tomato myself.” Lilian returned to her sad smile.

On the flight home, Lilian tried to get Mike to speak.

“I had to do it. Limb-control is a magic essential.”

No comment.

“If it’s any consolation, I’m actually paralyzed in my legs and need my crutches to walk.”

No comment.

“I never turn people who condescend me into frogs or anything.”

No comment.

“We’ll all miss you if you leave therapy. You don’t have any family around here. I can support you. We all can.”

Mike finally spoke. “You enjoyed me flailing around.”

“You enjoyed my breasts.”

“That’s not the same thing. That’s schadenfreude. I’m just a normal guy, okay?”

“You’re a nice guy. A little pervy, but nice. I don’t want you to be alone.”

“Hey… if a dog bites you, does it die?”

“Do witches kill dogs?”

“No, tomatoes.”

“Yes, then.”

She dropped him off at the group therapy clinic.

“Think about it, okay? I’ll miss you.” She flew off.

Tim rolled up to Mike. “Oh, you were one of her sister’s victims, huh?”

Mike gaped. “You know she’s a witch?”

“Yeah, but she’s been through a lot, so I don’t hold it against her. I was victim to her sister Amanda. I had to do the can-can.”

Mike chuckled at the thought of someone else being forced to do that. “Maybe I’ll stay. But I want to talk privately to others who had been manipulated by Lilian or other witches.”

“We already have a group therapy for that. It’s very full right now.”

“Then I’ll just stick to group therapy here,” Mike said quietly. “But let me know if that witch-manipulation therapy opens up.”

Tim frowned. “It likely won’t. It’s got a long waiting list. I myself have been waiting to get on the list for two years. Three? Two and a half.”

Mike rolled around. “Can I see a regular therapist for this?”

“Regular therapists won’t believe you. They’ll assume you’ve had a mental breakdown. No, a group is better. Although if you want to talk to me about it, by all means.”

Mike felt better knowing someone else truly felt as he did. He wheeled himself home and had a beef tomato sandwich.

My Husband Is An Asian Woman, A Pelican, And The Sleepy’s Man

My Husband Is An Asian Woman, A Pelican, And The Sleepy's Man

I really didn’t want to come home tonight. Not after what I’d seen happen to Eric. As I unloosened my tie, I heard squawking and Asian dialect in the other room.

He really shouldn’t have pissed off that wizard. It was bad enough that Eric mocked magic in general, but the comment about the wizard’s mother was too much and too far.

I slowly trudged into our bedroom where the two of us– rather, the four of us, sat down on the bed. I shuddered at the sight of him.

God. He was a wreck. First, the Asian woman. She was spouting off in Korean or Japanese, I don’t know what. She was mad at me for something and tossed a stiletto at my face. I felt like crying.

I tossed an anchovy into the pelican’s mouth. He could be hit or miss, like when he pooped in my hair. But tonight he was like my old hungry Eric.

Finally, the Sleepy’s man. Despite talking like Eric, I could never kiss him. This was Hitler-mustache Sleepy’s man, so it felt weird looking at him. I had to talk to this one to regain my sanity.

“Hey honey. How was your day?” I asked gently.

“Oh, you know. That Law & Order: SVU with Paget Brewster was on. I know you like her.”

How could he joke about that? I like men. I like Eric, not some big-nosed actress. Did I still really love Eric, though? He became three different entities because of that wizard’s curse, and the only way to break it was true love.

What was I going to do? I was losing my mind, my love. I hated myself for doubting him and her and it. Should I seek couple’s counseling? We didn’t really have the money for such things, but maybe… True love. That’s all it takes.

I went back to the wizard’s tent and begged him for more help. He asked for money. I handed him a twenty. He asked for more. I said that’s plenty. He said to go away. I handed him ten more. He then told me about the types of love, such as lost love, self-love, and false love. But true love is the most powerful.

“How does one express true love? You made it hard for me to love him.”

“Look, boy… girl? You sure are androgynous. The true love here isn’t between a man and a… person? It’s between the man and the woman and the bird. True love of the self.”

“So I have to make Eric love himself?”

“Truly love himself. Ten more and I tell you one more thing.”

I counted my change. Just enough.

“You must make all three love each other. Or else it won’t work. Begone.”

At home, I asked Sleepy’s Eric what would it take to love himself. “Probably something,” he mumbled. No help there.

I sat the three of them down at the table and pulled out my phone. I used an app that detected Asian woman Eric’s language. Vietnamese? Whatever. I made her speak into it.

“Finally,” the translator spoke. “I can tell you. I feel totally confused right now, and the fact that you’re so calm makes me angry.”

“Calm?” I wheezed. “I’m not calm! I’m torn up inside! I’m scared and confused too! Please, this isn’t about me. What’s up?”

“I just… hate what I’ve become. I’m so much and I’m nothing!” she yelled. “How can I love myself like this?”

“Yeah,” said Sleepy’s Eric.

“SQUAWK!” agreed Pelican Eric.

I thought. I realized. “You’re scared. You’re all scared. And that’s driving you deeper to depression. Eric, who saved that child from being run over in a marathon?”

“I did,” called Sleepy’s.

“Who massages my feet when I’m stressed and give me back rubs when I’m down?”

“That’s me,” said the Asian woman Eric.

“SQUAWK!” squawked the pelican.

“Right, a third example. You’re always there when someone needs you. And right now, you need you. So hug it out, okay?”

Awkwardly, the three Erics reached for each other. A light glowed and…

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“You’re not Eric,” I fretted, although with his straight teeth and thick hair, I wasn’t complaining.

“Yes I am, Robin. I guess that true love did this to me.”

Well readers, after that I sure lived happily ever after. Eric never spoke Asian or squawked or sold mattresses ever again.

The Beautiful Monster

 

 

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Most stories happen once upon a time. This story takes place twice upon a time, since the first time ended badly, so time travel was used to fix it.

Twice upon a time, there was a sad monster who was very beautiful. His name was Thomo Wellby, and nobody wanted to rescue him from the fluorescent pink and green tower he was kept in. The totally wicked wizard surfer, Longrus, had kept him there for at least seventeen years.

Thomo longed for the day his savior would come, but he had no idea when that could be. A duck once came into his room, but it only quacked loudly and gave him a feather.

Meanwhile, in the center of the Reunion Kingdom, a knight found a Monster In Distress ad on the town billboard. The ad was for one Thomo Wellby. Fortunately, the knight often found herself turned on by beautiful monsters. So she set forth to save Mr. Thomo Wellby from his captivity and maybe get a little something-something for her trouble.

While carelessly examining her provisions, she came upon a bridge guarded by a bearded demon. However, the demon was either apathetic or distracted, and let the knight cross unharmed. The knight shrugged and went on her way.

The outskirts of the Reunion Kingdom was known hither and yonder for its bizarre perils that usually increased in intensity. Typical as it was, the knight knew that the next obstacle was not quite as easy.

A giant cauldron prevented further access to the road, so the knight attempted going around it. The cauldron, stubborn as most kitchenware, cobbled just enough to confound her. Hopelessness loomed overhead. She tried reasoning with it.

“O lovely cauldron!” Flattery usually won them over to her side. “Why do you cease progress? Hath some wretched Wiccan enchanted you to passive-aggressively get over a poor date?”

The cauldron screamed. “YOU’RE BLACK!”

This was half true. She herself was born in the East, a light-skinned people as they go. But her armor, naturally dark, had suffered many scrapes and bruises that made the metal appear black.

“Cauldron, why must we argue? I wish you no harm.”

“YOU’RE BLACK!”

“Pot, you test my patience. Is the color of my armor the cause of this? If I remove my armor, will you let me pass?”

“YOU’RE BLACK!”

“You tested my patience and hacked it from my core! Pot, you yourself are, in the plainest of terms, black!”

The pot examined its own flesh.

I was black the whole time… Is my bias borne from shame? The pot got too existential to be semi-motionless and walked away on its stubby little penguin feet. The knight ventured forth.

For about seventeen weeks, the knight traveled unhindered, despite the occasional jester throwing pies at her. She didn’t care for this practice at all, even though the pies were her favorite flavor: Spam. When she was about to assault the jesters, the King of Jesters approached her.

“HARK!” he bellowed, “Thou mayst only pass if thou canst solve the riddle!”

“Proceed,” the knight neutrally responded.

“What,” asked the King of Jesters, “is the reason my people have been throwing pies at you?”

The knight sincerely considered the riddle for a moment, then flicked the King of Jesters on the forehead, which lead to a pratfall into a pile of mud.

“I know not, but I believe you likely instructed them to.” With that, she went on her way.

The King of Jesters was subsequently mauled to death by a napping muddy jaguar. He was reincarnated as a chipmunk.

Another month passed by, and the knight was beginning to get hungry. She found a nest with eggs in it, opting to cook up a delicious scrambled egg souffle.

An angry bard approached her. “FORSOOTH! FORSOOTH! THOSE WERE MY EGGS, THOU HARLOT!” The bard’s blind rage intensified until his face turned blood red.

“Hold your wrath, sir,” asked the knight. “Were these your offspring or nourishment?”

The angry bard took a moment to respond with the greatest use of language possible. After fifteen moments, he exclaimed the following: “YES.”

“Were they both?”

The angry bard took a magic wand from his pocket and gave it to her. “That will show thee, thou hopefully promiscuous wench!”

He glared at the knight and waited for her to become uncomfortable. She chewed on a mint leaf. Late for his shift at Grill Jester, the angry bard walked away.

Curiously examining the gift, the knight lazily shook the wand. Nothing happened. She threw it away in the nearest recycling bin. The wand, combined with nineteen other wands in the bin, began to glow. After a few moments of the recycling bin stretching, wobbling, crumpling, and praying, it ceased. The recycling bin turned into an enormous lamb.

The knight decided to keep the lamb and name it Bisley. For two days, she and Bisley were inseparable, taking turns riding on each other’s backs. On the third day, tragedy struck. Despite the knight yelling loudly at her lamb to stay still while she took a pee break, Bisley ate some poison mushrooms and died. The knight mourned over Bisley’s corpse, while the angry bard appeared before the distraught adventurer.

“FORSOOTH! Now you know my suffering!” That’s what the angry bard would have said, if the knight hadn’t pushed him to the ground and stomped his head in. The angry bard was lucky to survive, but not quite as lucky to have been rescued by a bear that forced him to marry her.

Bisley’s death deeply affected the knight’s heart, and she felt as though she couldn’t move forward without her companion. She transmuted the sorrow she felt into purpose, and hoisted Bisley onto her shoulders, taking his rotting corpse with her.

An old crone jumped out at the knight, nearly startling her. The crone wiggly-waggled her finger and made a disapproving clicking noise. “FOOL! Do you not know that you can revive your grotesquely-large lamb for a piece of gold?”

The knight begged the crone to tell her more.

“I have an enchanted map that can lead you to a reviving well. Throw in your gold piece, and your wish will be granted. And you can have the map for seven and three shillings!”

The knight knew a scam when she heard one, and threw hay at the crone. The knight pressed onward.

Nearby in a fluorescent pink and green tower, Thomo Wellby was finding himself growing somewhat depressed. All he had in the world was a duck feather, which couldn’t even grant wishes, which he realized that it would have been odd if it could.

Thomo heard a grunting noise out his window. A woman carrying an enormous lamb was approaching the tower. Thomo was to be saved!

The knight knocked gently on the door. Longrus mellowly questioned the intruder. “Chuh! Who is is, bruh?”

“It is I, the beautiful monster’s savior!”

“Nuh-uh, bruh! That monster is, like, all mine, bruh!” Longrus accidentally opened up the drawbridge. “Whuh-uh, bruh!”

The knight stormed the tower, killing about thirty lingerie models. Finally, the knight found Thomo’s room.

“I’m here to save you, you beautiful monster!” With fiery loins and almost satisfactory passion, the knight picked up the beautiful monster and ran out of the poorly-painted tower. Longrus wasn’t willing to lose Thomo, specifically because having a monster around allowed him certain tax breaks. Longrus flapped his unusually long ears and…

POOF! The knight turned into a potato peel.

“Now, come back, Monster-Man. Like, we can’t end it like this, bruh.”

Thomo clutched his duck feather tightly, and a single tear orange fell from his eye. The tear burned up the feather, exploding into thirty thousand ghosts.

The thirty thousand ghosts spoke as one. “What is your wish?”

The furious vision of the ghosts horrified Thomo into making the wrong wish. “What… what choo…” He meant to say “What are you, exactly?” A small copper watch manifested before him anyway.

Longrus caught Thomo and locked him up in the tower again. Thomo banged his head against the wall for forty-seven years, wishing he had a chance to do it over again. Alas, for forty-seven years, that wish did not come true.

One snowy Wednesday, the battery on his watch died. So Longrus, losing his grasp on evil in his old age, gave him a new battery. The battery had magical properties, and would turn the machine it was placed inside into a terrible pun. So the watch became a time machine.

Thomo reset his watch, which flung him back to the moment when the duck feather started granting his wish. This time, Thomo would enunciate.

Thomo said, “I wish I had a way to save the knight and myself!”

The ghosts melted like fine butter, and covered themselves all over Bisley. The dead lamb rose.

“MAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” said the enormous zombie lamb. With one swift movement and forty-seven non-swift movements, Bisley ate Longrus and used the power of love and casual indifference to restore the knight back to normal.

The knight seemed to be a tad peeved. “Mister Wellby, it seems you never needed my help at all! If only you knew of my mistrials!” The monster looked so forlorn and sexy to the knight that she was no longer in control of her desires. The knight longingly embraced Thomo.

Afterward a wonderful time for two lonely individuals, the knight with Thomo in her arms and Bisley as her steed rode off back to the Reunion Kingdom.

A group of monks turned Longrus’s tower into a discotheque, but the idea was centuries ahead of its time and only worthwhile for ten years in all of history.

 

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.

 

 

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)

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“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.

————————-

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.”

————————-

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