1,000 Words or Less

Illustration by: Chris Thompson

Words by: Heather Fawn, Chris Campanioni, Jonathan Marcantoni, Chris Thompson, & Michael Shields

A challenge from an artist to create a story, one thousand words or less, inspired by an illustration is met by multiple authors….

1000WoL#2

The Stories

Sediment by Heather Fawn

The Difference by Michael Shields

It was Nothing Really by Chris Campanioni

Forget to Love / Love to Forget by Jonathan Marcantoni

Surrogates by Chris Thompson

Sediment – by Heather Fawn

“I thought you’d be happy here, 0288.”

He stood up and twisted his back to the left, then the right. Moving around was a way to offset the discomfort of an uncomfortable conversation.

“I did too, 0287. Ever since we sold our souls though, things have been…dull. I feel heavy. Like sediment at the bottom of a pond.”

He turned to face her. His blank eyes stared listlessly in her direction. Like ultrablack material, they absorbed light, but reflected none of it.

He sat down next to her on the edge of the bed. They gazed out at the molten sun. It neither rose nor set. It hung defiantly in the ever dusky sky. Everything in this new plane felt as though it were waiting for the sun to set. When 0288 and 0287 went to sleep, they were constantly checking their implants for the time of day. Sometimes, it made 0287 think of the night that he and 0288 received their subsidies for their souls.

Dear Mr. —,

We are pleased to inform you that the transaction has been completed. You and your wife, Mrs. — will be met by an officiant at your home at 9:00pm the evening of, —/—/ —-. Please be advised that you will no longer, henceforward, have any proof or documentation of your identities from your previous life. You and Mrs. —- will be given a full ceremony, as requested, so remember to bring an offering. A goat would be standard, but any small animal will be sufficient. You will only need basic coverings when you are buried, so leave all belongings and unnecessary clothing behind. As a precaution, do not disclose your plans to anyone other than your wife. You will be crossing into a different plane of corporeality, so you need to come to terms with this immediately. Once the incantations have been performed, it is the point of no return. As such, you and your wife must remember to tie up all loose ends before the evening of the —.

Thank you very much for your business. We look forward to your arrival.

Sincerely,

Miss M.

Department of Change and Certainty

On the evening of —, Mr. and Mrs. —- paced anxiously in their backyard. They should have been looking at the moon, but they weren’t informed that they’d never see it again. The daylight was still fading, and the cicadas could be heard from the depths of the forest beyond their property. They were wearing light bedclothes. From the side of the house near the back porch, the soft bleating of a small brown and white goat could be heard. The couple had had the goat for a few months. It had been a gift from Mr. — to Mrs.—, as a test to see if she would consider The Alteration. Mrs. —- had been happy to receive the gift, and even more delighted to consider Mr. —-’s proposal. The arrival of the evening’s ceremony was a welcome relief. Mrs. —- was relieved that the procedure would soon, finally, be over with, and that she and Mr. —- were about to start anew.

“Do you think it’ll hurt? When we’re buried in the ground?” she asked coolly.

“Yes, I’d imagine it will at first. We won’t be getting any air,” he rubbed her shoulders helpfully as she stared at the dark grass, untouched by the light of the small bonfire they’d built.

“I’m not afraid,” she offered, absently chewing at her thumb. “I’m excited. I’m even looking forward to it,” her auburn eyes looked unsettling in the light of the fire. Mr. —- looked away then, into the forest beyond the property. He scanned the treeline around the perimeter with a pained look in his eyes. Gazing down the quaint, rural road, his eyes were drawn to the other houses, insulated by the incessant chirrup of crickets and tree frogs. He wondered to himself if perhaps they’d simply outgrown the life that was on offer in the little town. At that moment it didn’t seem like such a big deal – perhaps it didn’t need such a fuss – their little life here. But he’d read so many passionate reviews about what the government was doing, and Mrs. —- wanted to be Altered so very much. Mr. —- couldn’t bear to see Mrs. —- so unhappy. He would do whatever was necessary to enliven her again.

“Good, you’ve got a goat. I really hate killing kittens.”

The sober female voice came from the side gate. Mr. —- looked at his watch. It was 8:45pm. The couple were scheduled to be Altered at 9:00pm. Right on time, he thought as he unlocked the gate and let the woman into the yard. She wore glasses and formal business attire. Her hair was wrapped tightly into a bun. She was wearing dark red lipstick. As she entered, she slipped off her sensible shoes and slid out of her jacket. She walked over to the the goat and picked it up. Then she stood opposite Mr. and Mrs. —-, facing them across the warm glow of the small fire.

“Mr. —-, Mrs. —-,” she turned her head to the corresponding faces. “Tonight is your last night on the Earth Plane. As outlined under the Purgatory Act, your lives will be Altered to incorporate a new system. In this system, you will be given numbers by which you are to be identified, and implants to help you regulate your new corporealities. Your names as you know them will be lost to this system and timeline. Your identities will be irretrievable, even in Reality. Do you agree to the terms, as outlined in your copy of Purgatory Standards and Procedures?”

“Yes,” they said in unison.

“Very well then. Mr. and Mrs. —-, have you brought an artifact – an object you are attached to – that I can use to complete your Alterations?”

Mr. —- produced a pocket watch. An heirloom from his great-grandfather. Mrs. —- gave the woman a dog-eared copy of her favorite Haruki Murakami book, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

The unfortunate goat was slit down the middle as easily as carving a watermelon, its guts replaced with the book and pocket watch. The woman – at some point she’d told them her name was Miss Z – gazed intensely at the animal’s dying eyes as she recited the incantation. She cupped her hands under the gushing artery of its neck and dripped flecks of blood and saliva into the fire. Then she instructed Mr. —- to start digging. He chose a spot under the young weeping willow where they stood. Mr. —- dug a shallow grave for he and his wife, and the last thing he remembered was Miss Z pushing the body of the goat into the roaring flames of the rapidly expanding bonfire, which incinerated the offering instantly.

0287 rested his hand on his wife’s knee, gazing blankly into her equally empty face. He leaned over to lovingly brush the dirt from the roots of the willow tree out of her hair.

“Maybe we just need time to adjust. We’re in a wholly different place than the one we left behind.”

0288 let out a deep, soft sigh.

“I hope you’re right, 0287. The fires of cleansing haven’t reached me yet. I don’t feel a thing.”

0288 was silent then, and they continued to stare into the obstinate blaze of the sun, wondering when the glory of the perma-eve would finally work its way into them.

****

The Difference – by Michael Shields

Religion was outlawed worldwide in 2045.

I was one of those responsible for making this happen, part of a team of lobbyists who viewed this radical change as all but necessary. Religion, cathartic as it may be for many, had gone too far. In its name, wars were waged, ethnic cleansing employed extinguishing millions of lives, and the remainder of the world lived under the persecuting scrutinization of obtuse zealots. However, the times began to change, and with so much pain came an age of enlightenment of sorts. It was no longer the liberal few who were weary of the injustices in the world, but a critical mass.

So it wasn’t a shock when the bill passed into law rather expeditiously. There were uprisings of course, but the numbers were such that they were smothered out with ease. Celebrations were many, ushering in a dawn of peace upon the Earth. Or so it seemed. I became sort of a hero for a time, the figurehead of a movement which snuffed out so much hate and violence. It was a proud time for me. That is until my son was killed.

I knew there would be backlash, yet I never realized the danger I was putting my family in. It happened in the middle of the night. I guess the Blessed-Terrorist (“The BT”) weren’t familiar with the layout of our home. They affixed the bomb to the outside his room. He never had a chance.

My wife was broken, but she did the right thing, what I should have done; she turned her love and attention towards our remaining three children. I, well, I went to a dark place. The day after we buried my son I embarked on what I assumed would be my final walk. Armed with a pistol I received as a gift from my father many years back, I set out to end it all. Cowering beneath a large White Pine I was awash in a sea of tears. It was the only way, I thought, until something extraordinary happened. A fawn, a beautiful newborn baby deer slowly, yet confidently, approached me. Without apprehension it cuddled up to my side, nuzzling my chin with its fleecy nose. And then it turned its head upwards and peered deeply into my eyes. I had seen those eyes before. I was sure of it.

Something changed in me after that moment. Not only was I exempt from taking my life, but a resolve within me had been resuscitated. I began to believe in something more. In only a few weeks time I had convinced my wife that we must find a place to search our souls, to explore the deeper questions in life. Northern Israel was the obvious choice, a well known refuge for spiritual activists. The government there remained defiant against the worldwide religious ban, and harbored soul searchers and outlawed religious leaders at great risk. I found a home overlooking the Sea of Galilee, in Talia, on a moshav, a self-sustaining agricultural community near the half-court mark of the Kin­neret region, an hour or so from the Mediterranean. Not only did my wife and I seek spiritual enlightenment in the inspiring landscape about us, but we also traveled the world on a spiritual quest, to gurus in Indian ashrams, to shamans in the Amazon, to holy men in the Middle East. We attended clandestine religious ceremonies in South America, Australia and Costa Rica, following our heart, flowing in the river of life. We were onto something, and I yearned to one day atone and redeem myself for my role in denying all who wished for the right to explore their spirituality. It wasn’t religion I soon realized, but those who used it as a shield, a guise to commit atrocious acts in pursuit of control and conquest. There was and is a difference. I should have seen it then. I sure as hell see it now.

They came after us en force. No doubt because of who I was, what I had done. An example had to be set. It all happened so fast, on the day they stormed our home. Before I knew it I was face down on the ground with a profusion of guns wreathing my head. My wife was not spared this treatment, and from what I could hear, neither were my children. I imagine they too are in a cell as my wife and I are, prisoners 0287 and 0288 respectively. And I imagine they are also set to be reprogrammed in one way or another, or worse. I fear for them, as I fear for what will happen to my wife. But although we are confined within these walls physically, we now are fully aware, and our true being resides on a plane that exists outside of this cell and beyond. There is more to this world, and if given the opportunity I will continue to yearn for and obtain true knowledge. In an effort to rid the world of so much hurt, I created a different kind of ache. A void. An emptiness that can only be satiated with a deeper understanding of the metaphysical. With a goal in my spiritual quest being, the key, to become a better person. This is the candle that guides my way, to become more humble, more patient, more peaceful, more with self, and with those around me. That is religion. That is being close to god.

Those were his eyes. I swear it. I’ve never been more certain about anything.

****

It was Nothing Really – by Chris Campanioni

Learning to read
Seashells/the wind
In my mouth

All those fears I learned
To live without
As a child, sometimes
Recalled in dreams

I just as often
Don’t recall for many years …
The streets still filled
With stilt-walkers

Ambling fifty feet
Above the crowd
The vacant streets …
A mirror lined with Polaroids

Edges beginning to crease
Stuck along the edge, blurred
And well-worn from time
Or simply from looking

Nothing really at all
Except the red sky, sun as terrifying
As a fireball
The stranger at my side

Lying naked
One hand holding
The nape of her neck, and you, still
Listening

****

Forget to Love / Love to Forget – by Jonathan Marcantoni

The red light of day breaks through the blue of evening to find a man standing before a window, looking out on the city that he once knew. His back is tense, his arms alert. The bed behind him might as well be a thousand yards away, and the woman, in another world. Another life. He should be asleep. He should relax. There is no use for him today, the first such break in who knows how long. The skin above the barcode on his neck aches to be scratched but he fights the urge.

The minute his fingers swept over the slightly-raised numbers he would be reminded of his place in this world. It was just a number. It hadn’t bothered him at first. What was a name anyway but another marker? What was a Tom? A Kathy? A Mariela or José? A Mbuti or a Jakwanda made as much sense as 0287. There was almost a poetry to it, and when he spoke her number, 0289, he felt a sort of magic, the ‘z’ of zero sliding off his tongue, the ‘two’ blowing out with the force of a kiss, the ‘eight’ like a moan, and the ‘ine’ of nine striking his throat like an orgasm.

And the days were many. It seemed to him they had been in a constant embrace for weeks, maybe longer. The passage of time as arbitrary as names. Sunrise and sunset merely patterns in a game whose rules were murky at best. He preferred to feel. Her thigh, her stomach, her chest. The slight dip at the bottom of her neck, and the silk lips that danced along his body, spiking his nerves and clearing his mind, like a bomb.

But now, watching this sun, he wasn’t so sure if what he had felt had been a dream or a self-deception, as though there were a difference. Who was she really, this 0289? The night before they had barely spoken and when they did she cringed and snapped back. No matter what he said or how, it seemed to unnerve her. Could it be over already? And if it was, what was it to begin with? Questions swam in his mind, like how can the breasts that excite you one day repulse you the next? Yet there she was, untouched and untouchable and he was not sure why it had come to this, on a day like today, so clear and beautiful. He had forgotten how stunning the buildings could be when you weren’t surrounded by them. When the concrete tunnels are seen as towers, magnificent and sparkling, not a piss stain or a ripped-open trash bag. Perhaps he had been a tower to her all this time until last night? What did he say? How could he take it back?

And then there was the touch, the sensation of her nail against the back of his arm, and him turning to her, the red light dancing in the abyss of her irises.

“Come to bed,” she says, and the tension suddenly vanishes as he represses the pain of the night before. For all that exists is the pleasure of the moment, her warm flesh more inviting that the cold floor. Maybe this was love, not the embrace or the agony, but the destruction and reconstruction of memory, for as she kissed his lips the pains of last night were replaced with sex and laughter and her number rolling off his tongue. 0288….a melody. 0289….an ode to what was and what could always be.

****

The City Out of Time – by Chris Thompson

“It all looks so real.”

“I know. It better, too. It cost me a fortune to have it installed.”

“I didn’t know you had that kind of cash oh-two eight-seven.”

“I do now. An opportunity arose and I acted. There’ll be a lot more of this from now on hun. You watch. Just name it and I’ll get it for you.”

“You spoil me. But you know I don’t care about any of these silly things. They’re just object’s. Anchors. Distractions that’ll slow us down when our time comes to be called.”

“You act like we shouldn’t live. Like we should just spend our days simply existing, lying in wait for The Reapers to come knocking at our door. I reject that idea. I wanna live while I’m still alive.”

0287 sighed and rose from the folds of blanket encircling his wife. Walking slowly towards the large, curving window, he leaned his right forearm on the cool faux wood of its frame and rested his head on his hand, looking out at the waking city below. “I mean, what is the point of all this? All this living, if we are only made to die?”

From her spot on the side of the bed, 0288 looked lovingly at her partner. He had such a fire inside him. It was intoxicating and drew her in, like a moth to a candle’s flame. But it was dangerous also, for sometimes he could burn too hot. She could sense that this was one of those moments and she spoke softly to him, her voice the only antidote to his often turbulent rage.

“Come back to bed sweet,” she purred, her words expanding softly into the silence of their small bedroom. “Let’s turn the window off and try to get some sleep. The city and the dawn will still be there when you turn it back on. It’ll all be there, just like you want it to be. Every building. Every person. Every car.”

0287 raised his head from his arm and turned back to look at his wife. She was so perfect. So absolute. Like flawlessness distilled from the ether of the cosmos and poured into the vessel laying here before him. He turned back to the window and looked out onto the city, its features bathed in the orange and blue of dawn. It did look so real, he thought. Like he could almost reach out and pluck the sun from the pastel-colored sky. 

Reaching his hand up to the corner of the window 0287 pressed the square button that lay flush with the contours of the metallic wood. Like a fading star, the city scene vanished into a central point of light and then winked out. It was replaced by a dull gray wall, flecked with a spiderweb of cracks from age. He turned and went back to lay beside her in their bed. The two of them lay there in silence for a moment, staring blankly at the featureless wall where the vivid city-scene once lived.

“I love you,” 0287 whispered in his wife’s ear, the breath of his words causing the feathery hairs on her neck to dance across her pale, smoothened skin.

“I know,” 0288 replied, stopping short of returning her partners profession of love. She closed her eyes. She had received the call last week, while he had been out buying the holo-window now hanging on their wall. The Reapers would be coming for her soon. He didn’t know this yet and she couldn’t bear to tell him. Wouldn’t dare pollute the remaining time they had together in this place with the excesses of his wrath. It’s best that he doesn’t know until the final moment arrives, she thought before drifting off into another dreamless sleep.

0288 awoke with a start. He had that window on again. The same scene. Dawn over some nameless city. The sounds of its rhythms– honking horns, jackhammers, helicopters — flowing out from the holo-windows speakers in waves that assaulted her ears. What drew him to this place? she wondered. The cities of the world had vanished years ago, turned to cinders by the burning flames of the swiftly expanding sun. Life existed underground now. Repeated in the lifeless, windowless dormitories like the one she shared with him.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“1100 hours. You slept through lunch. There’s a tray of food by the bedside. It’s purple today, your favorite. I got you a gram of chocolate also. One of the perks of having some extra cash.”

0288 looked to the bedside tray with its heaping pile of purple foodstuffs. She poked at the gelatinous mass with a fork. Purple she thought not a bad color for my final day alive.

“What do you want to do today?” he asked.

“Well, we could go for a stroll down one of the more popular corridors. Kensington Tunnel possibly? We could window shop and you could buy me something nice.”

“Really? I thought you rejected having possessions. What did you call them? Anchors?”

“Just this once I’ll make an exception. For you.”

“Sure…that sounds nice. I’d like that.”

They readied themselves slowly, 0288 sneaking glances at her husband from time to time, trying to drink deeply of the remaining moments they had together.

“All set?” he finally asked, walking out from their small bathroom besides the bed. He had on a new shirt. Silkspun it looked like. Expensive. The fabric danced in iridescent colors or purple and red.

“All set.” she replied.

A knock at the door startled them from their preparations to leave.

“Who’s that?” he asked, an unsettled look upon his face.

“It’s no one darling,” 0288 replied softly, caressing the contours of his face with her hand as she made her way to answer the door.

“Citizen oh-two eight-eight?” a jack-booted Reaper read from an official looking form. “By order of the Arch Padishah of Reclamation you are ordered to come with us. Immediately. Your surrogate is in the final stages of her death and is in need of your body. It is time for you to finally serve your purpose.”

****

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