THE CURER

Dirty fluorescence darted over eyes, mouths, ears. Pudgy repugnant hands stuck in mid-fiddle as the patient’s eyes came up for reassurance and were granted it just as swiftly from the curer, which is what she’d taken to calling herself on the nights when it all seemed just a little too much to handle. It was either stockinged feet dampening the midnight tracks with heels held in hand and hazy trainlight threatening from afar as tonight would be the night she’d do it or else going by the silly name. She took the name.

The fingers exploded from hands engorged to lamb chops, uncooked and sloppy. He had tits, pendulous ones, ones that threatened hers in size and heaved terribly whenever he cried, which was often on these Friday night visits. And he’d Tell, and he’d do his tit heave and his tit cry, and she’d cross and uncross skirted hams and check watch and picture stockinged feet dampening on midnight-lit tracks and open her mouth very wide during those crying sessions when the patient’s eyes were shut tight against the tears, open her mouth incredibly wide and swallow him whole in her mind, eat him up and explode stomach-first like some human slitherer, her skirted hams vesitigial and waiting to fall away.

Maybe she’d bring a gun to their next session. She’d pull out a pistol while he was doing his inevitable Tell and she’d put it in his hand and say Okay. And he’d look at her with tit heave paused and see her intent and maybe even stop crying. She’d grab him by exploded finger and guide him past the trigger guard and say Okay then do it.

But she remained ineffably adept, even in the midst of the Tell and the tit heave and the sweat that glittered in mucoidal droplets at nose’s tip and threatened to fall on putrid lap. Shifted face into pretty concern or pretty shock or pretty authority. Always pretty something and attentive, with eyes shining bright and idealistic even in that dirty fluorescence, practiced looks of attention and intent she looked over in lighted mirrors at home, mirrors that opened up pores to moon crater size, where she could open her mouth incredibly wide and eat herself whole if she wanted to. And she’d tweeze and pluck and squeeze and smile her authority and give pretty solemnity and even crack at pupils’ hollow a little bit and like smile with the eyes even as she ate herself whole on the inside.

And the sessions would end after a big climactic Tell, replete with blubber and hitchy pathetic sobs and he’d cry and say he needed it, as if there was any other way and she’d give pretty authority with just a touch of pretty pity, and that’d give him all he needed until next week, and she’d pretend not to notice his tic-like way of staring at her ass as she got up and left before him, almost bolting and leaving dirty fluorescence to find dirty lamplight out in the night with dampened, stockinged feet still in heels and not yet wobbly but almost psychosomatically so as she walked from one session to the next as she called it, this next session in graffitied bathroom with bassy beat pounding out the one in her chest and the revelers all Outside as she was now Inside the stall, as some anonym was Inside her and giving her a different kind of Tell and she was making all the noises she practiced and kept to herself and even recorded for playback to check pitch and timbre and maximum sex appeal and maybe adjust for the next time, the next Tell in some other tagged stall with some other anonym on some other Friday night.

And so the curer came rollicking down tracks set impossibly close and wobbly and twisting and tracing lines made mapbound with midnight light coming dirtily down as trainlight ran adjacent and refused to be heeded in inebriation. As stockinged feet collected moisture in the fog and transmuted it down on fickle train tracks, left pretty tracks from pretty feet as the curer opened her mouth very wide, impossibly wide and turned to face silly little trainlight down and out there in the foggy black. As she walked nimbly on through the buzz and anonym soreness and mentally unhinged jaw in preparation for the biggest meal she’d ever know.

Train gave futile cry and screamed off into the night without knowing what was coming for it. That it was another patient to be cured, its Tell untenable and so futile. Terribly, unmistakably futile. Pretty, stockinged feet marched on along fickle tracks, heels held aloft and out to the side in balance compensation. Wobble. Tip. Adjust. Wobble. Tip. Adjust.

That same train scream in the night and her mouth opened wide, ready to devour and cure and heal and set things straight so there’d be no more anonyms or sessions or tit-heaving patients.

A blare.

And a cry.

And a squeal.

Driving steel on steel.

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THE INVISIBLE ONES

He wasn’t walking to work so much as marching, his polished-smooth black loafers clicking and resounding noisily against chewing-gum-laden pavement. He had his briefcase, and his tie, and his shirt pressed crisp till it looked like it might crack at the seams.

He felt important.

The train ride over had been slightly unusual–his Brahms-blasting headphones had stopped him from hearing anyone on board, but he was sure he didn’t see anyone either. And he was especially sure that the conductor never came by to check his ticket.

But no matter.

His mind was set on the tasks for the day. As usual, his day would consist largely of ensuring profits for his employers. And yes, said profits were ensured through foreclosing on honest, hard-working people, but the ethics involved weren’t for him to mull over. And after all, the orders were coming from above.

The train was one thing–he’d on occasion seen a car or two barren, had trips that were conductor-less, but the streets were another thing entirely.

There was no one walking anywhere. At all. Not a soul on the sidewalk, not even a pitiful-looking vagrant standing by the street corner.

But again, a logical explanation could readily be found, he was sure. Perhaps today happened to be some obscure holiday he’d never heard of, a holiday that even the hobos observed.

And so he walked on, still with his Brahms providing an amniotic lull from the outside world he was forced to pass through.

The confusion began to set in when he arrived at the office, confusion thick as a fog that billowed in from nowhere when there was no receptionist to greet him, no shoeshiner to polish his ever-dulling loafers. The situation was dire enough that the Brahms had to come out.

But it was all in his head after all. There was the familiar clicking on keyboards, the other important voices on important calls with important clients. It was fine.

But still, he saw no one ambling about the office with their equally-polished loafers and their ties and their shirts pressed so crisp they seemed like they might crack at the seams.

And so he got up. His polished-smooth black loafers clicked and resounded noisily through the office as he searched for signs of life.

It seemed like–but no, surely that was a foolish idea. But if he were indulging in thoughts that verged on foolish, he’d have to admit that there was no one in the office–at least no one visible. He could hear hands on keyboards and important voices chatting away, but he saw no one.

Maybe if he went back outside and checked–but no, that would be silly. Besides, he was sure to see someone soon enough.

But as the hours passed and still he saw no one, curiosity got the better of him. He marched back outside and scanned once more for signs of life.

Now, in the Brahms-less outside world, the full reality of his situation hit him with the force of Beethoven’s Ninth. There were conversations, deafening out here in the city, and lesser shoes walking, and cars honking, but no people. Not a soul in sight.

Voices all around him, harsh and cacophonous, laughing and tittering too. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say it was a taunting laughter.

But there–a car! He raced to the street’s edge, loafers clicking noisily, and what he saw sent him over the edge of reality.

There was no one driving the car. It accelerated and decelerated just fine, turned even, but there was no one behind the wheel.

Another car, also driver-less, passed by. And then another. And another.

His breath came in stuttered gasps, hollow and unable to satisfy his lungs’ demands. That was when he called out:

“Is anyone there?”

More laughter. Damning laughter.

“I can’t see you! I can’t see anyone!”

Deafening staccatos all around. Coming from everywhere.

“Please help me. I just need…”

And he was on the ground then, up against a wall. His loafers’ tips were frayed, ripped. And there was something in his hands. Something he was proffering to the people who were not there.

“I just need…”

He didn’t want to look at the something in his hands. Couldn’t bear to.

“I just need…”

He forced his eyes to look. To see. They made purchase with a faded and torn document. He looked closer. It was a notice of foreclosure.

Of his foreclosure.

“I just need… a little change.”

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TITLE

Julian had the distinct impression that he was nothing more than a fictional character in a story. The protagonist maybe, an important character at that, but a character. No more, no less. He had no psychological makeup other than what the writer had given him already. His story was fifty-one words long. Now fifty-five. He had the deep-seated feeling that he’d existed before this story of now currently seventy words, had a childhood, adolescence, and the like, but the story just started now for some reason, like some celestial camera that decided to only now start recording.

But if he’d had thirty-five years of life up to this point, why did the story start right at this precise moment? And why the hell did he know about it? He woke up this morning, sleepily guided his feet into their moccasins, and was immediately jolted with the impression that he was simultaneously being written and read, there for someone else’s entertainment and nothing more. But who was writing him? He tapped into his subconscious mind, what he suspected had been responsible for his revelation of being in a story in the first place. The title… “Title.” How original. Julian was the protagonist of a story that had a placeholder for its title. For some reason, that thought made Julian feel even worse than he already had.

He concentrated, focusing all his mental energy on remembering where he was from- or rather, where his story was from. It was saved in a folder. That made enough sense. But what was the folder called? Ni… Nick… Nick’s Fics. That was it. He’d never heard of it before in his life, but he knew with complete certainty that he was the protagonist of a story called “Title” that was buried in a computer folder, which was for whatever reason called “Nick’s Fics.” Julian wasn’t a detective by any means, but he was sleuth enough to realize that his creator was likely named Nick, given the context clues. Nick what? But to be completely honest, what did it matter? He could’ve been written by this Nick character or William Shakespeare. At the end of the day he was still nothing more than a construction born of someone else’s imagination, fated to live out a life in a world of someone else’s choosing. A world that for Julian was as tangible as the air he breathed, but to the outside observer had only existed in written form for four hundred fourteen words. Now four hundred eighteen.

Julian sat in bed sleepless that night, turning over the metaphysical questions that had just been posed by the discovery he’d made. He tried to forget it, to just get some sleep, but he couldn’t. He didn’t go to work the next day. Or the day after. He just sat at home, trying his hardest to somehow tap into his racial memory, to figure out who made him. Even as he told himself it didn’t matter, that he should just move on with his life, the other half of his brain worked overtime, trying to make sense of the information it was receiving.

He lost his job. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to Julian, but it was a bit inconvenient. But the more Julian thought about it, the more it seemed to not be inconvenient at all. If he was just some fictional character after all, what did it matter that he had lost his job? That was likely just some obstacle the writer had hatched to place in his path, to trip him up as he fought to achieve his ultimate goal. That’s how stories work, right? A character has a goal, obstacles get in the way of said goal, and the character overcomes the obstacles to achieve his ultimate goal. Simple enough. But what in God’s name was Julian’s goal?

Did the writer not know? Or was Julian simply unaware himself? And was that the intention, to make a character who wasn’t aware of his ultimate goal, or was it just a blank on Julian’s part at the moment? Well, if this story was ultimately to have a happy (or at least somewhat pleasant) ending, then Julian had nothing to worry about. He could lose his job, his house, his car, but it would all end up okay in the end. And so Julian resigned himself to not doing anything, to letting the great cosmic writer decide how his life was to play out. He sat slouched on his couch for days on end, eating junk food and watching TV. He didn’t bathe, or really do much of anything else for that matter. Things would work out in the end, Julian decided. They always do in stories. Days passed. Then weeks. But still nothing changed.

Depression was creeping into the heart of Julian. His life meant nothing. He wasn’t doing anything of use. He just sat there, like some sort of lump, waiting for the writer to do what was necessary. And then it hit him. What would the difference have been if he were born a “normal” person, unfettered by a story? He’d still have the laws of nature to hold him back, still be born in a time and place he had no control over. Still have an ultimate goal and obstacles to overcome. Like a story whose beginning was set in stone but whose conclusion was to be decided. Julian went outside. He ran. He came back, began to eat healthy. The color returned to his life, in shades. He went out, got a job. But still something nagged at him. An urge, a strong desire. He wanted to write. He booted up his computer, not knowing what story he was to create. He just started writing. The protagonist? A man he had never met, but knew well. A man named Nick.

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