The red doors. Abandoned project #1

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And tomorrow I will go into the smaller door, the lesser door. Always and forever the grand door, the steps leading upwards, but not to the light, no, never that.

You’d think so, with the wide entrance, the columns and the arch. You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. That is the way that leads to the world.

This world is the world of doing, of broken promises and prom dates and first kisses and grandparents who die. The whole ball of wax is there for the taking.

But the other door? The plain one, the one you can’t see in until you’d reached the top step, the landing? It isn’t for nothing that you have to take eight steps to get there. Too high for anybody in the room to peer in. It is the best kept secret after all.

Door not locked, not even there, even. Not even any hinges for the door. Never were. And that light! Warm and low, like a late afternoon in September, when the skies are clear and the summer heat is a memory.

No, that doorway you only go through once, because there’s no coming back, no backtracking – not as far as anyone knew. There could be a mind wipe, a re-cycling, an up-cycling, but we’d never know.

Yes, tomorrow it shall be.

 

(Photo from Pinterest. Bramham House, England. Copyright belongs to the photographer.)

Gerald’s big truck

Gerald got a Ford F-150 years back, and he was never the same. He had always been mild-mannered, meek even. Never spoke up at work or home, never insisted on his way. It wasn’t like he was content with his life, just complacent. He’d spoken his mind before but nobody paid him any heed, so he just quit trying.
All that changed when he got his truck. He wasn’t even looking for one. The lease had run out on his Chevy Malibu and he no longer needed a car with all that passenger space. The dealer noticed he was tall and suggested a truck. “This is just like the one I drive!” the dealer said as he steered him over to a huge red truck. “All the big strong guys drive trucks these days” he said with a guffaw and then slapped Gerald’s back.
Gerald didn’t like the slap or the big booming voice of the salesman. He had never thought of himself as being big or strong, and he certainly wanted to make the salesman happy, even though he’d already forgotten his name. Two hours of paperwork and a test drive later and he was the owner of a brand-new pick-up truck and a five year loan at 5% interest.
It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t obvious at first. But over the first month, Gerald changed, and not for the better. It seemed better at first, sure. He was more confident, more self-assured. Something about sitting way up high in that all-American piece of machinery made him feel he could do anything. He’d never felt so bold or brave before. His confidence carried into the rest of his life, and he started telling people what he thought for a change. Since he’d had no practice at it before, he would state his mind and not wait to see if there was a rebuttal. He ran over other people in conversation, and before long he was cutting them off on the road as well.
No more mister nice guy, he was a truck owner now so he feared nothing and no one. Nobody could tell him he was wrong, and nobody could get in his way. He’d transformed from an inchworm into a snake and there was no turning back.

Sam and the camera

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Sam never felt comfortable looking people in the eye. He’d look away to the side or at his feet rather than make direct eye contact. It was too personal, too painful, like the mixing of a raw nerve in a tooth and a bit of soft bread. Out in public, his shoulders would curve inwards, trying to curl him into a ball like one of the hedgehogs he would see in his back yard. It was all about protecting the sensitive bits, for both of them. Sam wished he had spikes like they did for his first few years of life. Everything was too close, too loud, too much. It was only when he received a camera for his sixth birthday that he began to feel normal, or as normal as he thought he should.

How should he know that his senses were aberrant? It was all he knew. Abnormal was his normal, and that was all there was to it. He thought it was normal to feel like ice was in his stomach and fire in his throat every time he had to experience something different from his usual routine. He thought it was normal to feel faint from fear or anxiety for the majority of the day.

That all changed when he got the camera. The film was a 110 cartridge – easy enough for a child to install. The buttons were large and simple to use. Sam’s father thought it would help him express himself, but he had no idea how helpful it was truly was.

Sam was wary of it at first, as he was of all new things, but he liked the shiny brown case and all the accessories that came with it, so soon he was using it. The strap was fun to adjust and the flash cube was enticing with its shape and sparkle. He first took pictures by holding the camera out at arm’s length, not wanting to put this new thing so close to his face. After the first batch of pictures came back from the developer, his father strongly suggested he try holding the camera up to his eyes. There were simply too many wasted pictures the other way.

Something strange happened when Sam finally overcame his reluctance to put the camera to his face. Suddenly he realized he could see through the viewfinder, just as if it was a mask. He then realized that just like a mask, he was hidden from view. Suddenly his whole world opened up. Sam started taking pictures of everything and everyone. Suddenly he had a reason to go outside and be around other people. Family gatherings no longer overwhelmed him as much as before. Sure, there was still some awkwardness. That would always be there. But now he had a way to be around people that he never had before. It was like finally getting a key to unlock doors that had always been barred to him.

His father hoped that Sam would become a famous photographer, but Sam had no such ambitions. Fame was never something he wanted, at least the kind of fame he was aware of. If he could become famous without even knowing about it, then he was okay with that. He could barely handle normal human interactions. The idea of having random strangers coming up to him on the street or in the grocery store to get his autograph was enough to send him running to his room to grab his trusted teddy bear.

Fame was overrated, after all. It just meant that people were impressed that you were the best version of you there was. Meanwhile, they spent so much time focused on your achievements that they forgot to work on their own. They got jealous sometimes, forgetting that there was enough success to go around.

Tracy and Robin

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Tracy and Robin had joked for years before they got married that people never knew who was “he” and who was “she” of the two of them. They decided that it was nobody’s business, so they never let on.

Their friends had hoped to learn the truth on their wedding day. Surely they would wear the traditional clothes? They were in for quite a surprise when they arrived at the event. They wore the traditional clothes, but not in the traditional way. This was in line with everything they stood for, so it made sense after all, but it still didn’t answer any questions.

Tracy and Robin were drawn to each other not out of a sense of finding their other half, but in finding another person who was whole. Both were perfectly comfortable repairing a car or knitting a shawl. Both could mow the lawn as well as cook. They felt lucky that their parents had taught them both how to be people first and foremost. Their gender was never used as a reason for or against learning anything.

They both hid their gender, not out of a sense of privacy or shame, but out of a sense of rightness. They wanted people to relate to them as people. The first item of prejudice was gender. Sure, you could add race, religion, creed, national origin and a host of other things up to and including what football team they rooted for. People used any excuse they could to pigeonhole you, to decide who you were before you even opened your mouth. Tracy and Robin figured that the more you can avoid those markers, the more people would have to make up their own minds for a change.

They were mindful to shop only where the bathrooms were genderless. Sometimes the buildings were old and only had one restroom with a single toilet. Sometimes they had family restrooms. They didn’t want to have to out themselves if they could avoid it.

They shopped at thrift stores, getting whatever clothing that struck their fancy and wasn’t too snug. Both were equally comfortable in pants or skirts. They were pleased when they could find clothing that was from immigrants because it was often loose and ambiguous. Comfort was the most important thing.

It was always assumed that one was female, but it wasn’t a given. Both could have been. Or neither. Or one or both could be intersex. Did it matter? Nobody separates by eye color or height, so why separate by something as equally meaningless and random as gender?

Mr Michaels

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Mr Michaels’ blindness was absolute. Born sighted, it had been 20 years before the cataracts had begun to form from the kiss of sunlight.

It happened so slowly at first, like a fog creeping in on cat’s paws. Every month the dull haze thickened, coalesced just a little more. It was so gradual that he never even realized his sight was being stolen from him until it was gone. It was as if his sight was a stone and the sun was the sea, washing it away to nothingness, no trace of it ever having been there.

It was nothing to Mr Michaels. His sight had gone so gradually that he’d forgotten he’d ever had vision. Just like that sea-stone, all evidence of its existence was erased. Just as slowly and just as insistently, his memory of sight had dissolved as well. He could no longer remember his mother’s face or the color of the sky in early November, could no longer even remember that he had ever known these things.

He didn’t think of his blindness as an absence. He didn’t think of it at all.

All his life he had worked outside. Perhaps it was an undiagnosed case of claustrophobia. Perhaps he was just set in his ways. His first job had been in landscaping, and every one after that had been related. Grounds crew for a municipal park, another one helping harvest apples, it was all the same to him, as long as he was outside.

His father never knew if he’d ever tried for anything more advanced. He never asked, but he’d been tempted to often. He wanted to encourage him to be his best rather than settle, but he remembered his own father doing the same to him and he still resented him for it. Perhaps this was his best? Perhaps he led a simple life because he was simple? Best not to dig too deeply.

Mr Michael’s hands became his eyes, showing him the size of the bulb or seed that he held. He then knew how far down to dig to plant it. His hands told him where the weeds were to pluck, told him what apples were ready to harvest and which ones were best left for the birds. His feet told him how far the flower bed was from the orchard, how far from the stables. His nose told him whether the horses were sick or scared. His ears told him whether a storm was coming, and whether it was going to be strong enough to warrant bringing the animals in early.

Watching him work, you’d never know he was blind. By tacit agreement, all the other workers on the farm kept everything where it had always been. That one incident with the misplaced hay bale had been enough to convince them.

It was only when you looked directly into his eyes that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was blind. Very few people were brave enough to do this more than once.  Looking into his milky eyes was like looking into a pair of mirrors set just opposite each other.  All you could see was yourself, all of yourself, unto eternity, ever diminishing into meaninglessness.  It was overwhelming and humbling.  You could see all of your strengths and all of your faults, unvarnished, untampered by the usual lies you told yourself.  This alone was unsettling, but the additional feature of his gaze was to leave you with an overwhelming sense of your utter insignificance.

Mr Michaels was completely unaware of this.  He wasn’t bothered in the slightest that people tended to leave him alone.  It meant he had time for his own amusements.  That suited him just fine.

The Village

The Village had no place to hide. They’d planned it that way from the very beginning. Decades later, the influence of the Company could still be felt.
They’d laid out the streets in an arcane pattern which would have been instantly recognizable to ancient alchemists. It was reasonable after all, since the Company were modern alchemists. However, they were no longer trying to convert base elements into gold, but into bombs.
The Company was all about control. It had to be. What with such volatile elements under their purview, control was a matter of life and death. The only problem was that they did not know when to stop.
They thought the same about their employees as the elements that they worked with – unknown, potentially dangerous. The Overseer decided early on to keep them isolated from the city at large and then to further segregate them by function. It was best to keep the workers from mingling with the supervisors, and both from regular citizens. Explosions could not be ruled out. Separation was for everyone’s safety.
They’d done their job too well. Even now the people who lived in the Village, no longer a Company town, still were isolated from the rest of the city and suspicious of anyone who had not lived there for at least 20 years. Even that wasn’t a free pass, with any aberrant behavior transforming a “friend” to a “foe” at the speed of a post on their neighborhood watch’s Facebook page.
The layout of the neighborhood created invisible walls that focused energy and attention inwards. It was a feedback loop. It was a closed circuit. Day after week after month after year it built up with no release. Like crabs in a pot, they clawed at each other, keeping the whole group down, preventing escape. Little did they know that they were all doomed.
Only the Overseer could have predicted this.
It was his plan all along.
On the surface it seemed like a great place to live. All the houses were built by the Company for their workers. The school, the library, even the gymnasium were provided. All the workers had to do was show up to work and put in eight hours every day excepting Sundays. Everything was paid for through their wages. They didn’t have a lot of money left over for personal needs, but they felt it was a fair trade-off to be able to live in a model community. They were told that here their children would be safe, protected from the dangerous elements of the rest of the city.
This inward-facing community was their undoing. With no new information, no variety, no challenge to the status quo, the Village stagnated and degenerated. It became inbred, where aberrant and defective ways of thinking became the norm rather than the exception.
They never saw it coming. The wall surrounding their village and their minds was invisible but no less effective because of it. Perhaps it was more effective because it was invisible. They didn’t know they were trapped, thus they had no reason to try to escape. Why would they? It was perfect here, they all agreed. Those that didn’t agree were silenced in the way that works best – by declaring them crazy. Why martyr someone by forcing them to leave the community? Excommunication wasn’t just for the Church. It was far better to keep them as an example of how not to behave.

Smile lines (a very short story)

Paula was older than everyone, but only chronologically. Sure she’d lived longer than everyone else in the department, but you couldn’t tell by her actions. The only evidence of her greater age was in the deep wrinkles around her eyes. They looked like smile lines, but the smiles had to be for show, or from another period of her life. Perhaps she smiled out of habit, because even when she was telling very personal, very private stories about herself, she smiled her brittle smile at whoever had the misfortune of being stuck at a task that required they stay in the room with her.

The other staff had taken to looking forward to any task that involved being away from the back room after she arrived for the day. Normally these tasks were completed by whoever felt like it, and whenever it was convenient. Now they took turns, working around her shift. Every day one lucky person got the blessed reprieve of not having to listen to her yammering.

She needed a therapist.
Or an exorcist.

She’d been counseled by her temp agency to not share personal details, but she ignored those censures, choosing to run over her coworker of the week (or month), or however long the assignment was (or however long they could stand her) whichever came first, like an 18 wheeler over a kitten. It was merciless and bloody, with no regard for the emotional and psychic carnage she left in her wake.

One employee, unlucky enough to be forced to work with her three days in a row, even considered homicide. This gentle soul, a vegetarian for six years, a person who marched in peace rallies, a weekly volunteer at the domestic crisis shelter, had gotten so overwhelmed with Paula’s incessant complaints and bizarre observations that she started fantasizing about how she would make her be silent. Strychnine in her water bottle was considered. Loosening the lug nuts on her tires was a possibility. Anything that involved a painful end that was preceded by terror and confusion – the same as she had endured but more focused, more compact. That would do nicely.

Asking Paula to be mindful of others didn’t work. Neither did complaining to her supervisors. Flat out telling her to shut up seemed cruel, but perhaps it was the only way to regain peace at work. Mindless blather and too-personal comments was cruel so why not fight fire with fire?