Chapter 6

It was immediately apparent that Ms. Smith and I would not get along well.

Firstly, she was the type to wear sunglasses indoors, and not because she was hungover. That would imply she had at least a modest penchant for fun, and Ms. Smith was clearly not fun. Furthermore, when I tried to speak directly at her, I found myself looking back into my own nervous eyes.

Like her furniture, her manner was uncomfortable and unnatural. Not to mention, she spoke to me as she would a child, reprimanding me with her artificial tone. She was sharp, she was precise, and I felt cornered by her the moment she first spoke. Ms. Smith, it seemed, was a human square.

“So,” She began, “What brings you here.”

“I- well, I think I’d like to begin searching for a career. And, uh, career services seemed like a logical start.” This response, as you might’ve already guessed, did not so much as elicit a smile from the Ms. Smith, rather it earned me an annoyed twitch of the mouth. A little flame started to burn behind those opaque shades. Evidently, the outlook of this meeting was even bleaker than I’d first reckoned.

“I see. Well, I’m glad that you’ve shown enough initiative to at least venture down here, Mr…?”

“Henry!” I offered, happy to give at least that morsel of information. Though it was clear that even the incontestable and inexorable fact that my name was Henry fell short of her standards.

Ms. Smith frowned.

“Uh huh…” She mumbled, typing away at her computer. Therein followed about a minute of this activity, periodically broken up by her taking sips from a mug on her right side. Perhaps this goes without saying, but the beverage of choice for Ms. Smith was coffee. Black coffee.

“Mr. Henry, what special skills do you have to offer in the work place?”

I mulled this one over, really trying to dig deep. I scoured the aisles of my library-mind, picking through shelves of useless talents and discarding anything I couldn’t market. Seconds later, I had a list. A short one, granted, but it was at least something.

Queue up item one.

“Uh, I’m good at tying knots.”

From behind her glasses, a pair of eyebrows shot up like two black cats startled by someone grabbing their tails. I plowed on regardless, before she had time to collect herself.

“I’m also good at exploring. I’ve led a great number of expeditions into the woods around my home, and I’ve fearlessly charted the inside of every abandoned house in the area. At night, too, mind you. In addition to that, I’m a fantastic archer. Yeah, that’s a good one, definitely mark that one down.”

I have my doubts that she marked that or any of my other aforementioned skills down, but after the second it took her to regain her composure, she did proceeded to do a great deal of typing. As seconds of this became minutes, I began to feel a little awkward.

“Uh, I also know how to make a spreadsheet.”

Ms. Smith mumbled something under her breath, but never stopped typing.

“Have you any ideas regarding the type of job you expect to secure with these skills?”

“Huh,” I reclined back in my chair and looked up at the ceiling. I racked my brain. There wasn’t any sort of conventional post that I could see myself in. Now that I thought about it, I don’t think I’d ever imagined myself pursuing a real career. Not one behind a desk anyway. I knew there were other types of jobs; jobs that put you out in nature, or had you traveling the world, but in this moment, the names escaped me. Certainly I’d imagined myself in the future; in a day dream, I saw myself as an old man sitting on a porch, mulling over old adventures come and gone. That was the only way I saw my future: as the past of my last dying days. Across the desk from me, the Ms. Smith mumbled something quietly to herself.

“What was that?” I asked, unable to make out the exact words.

“Nothing, nothing…” She said under her breath, barely paying me any mind. The next couple lines she muttered, but I was just able to discern them.

And as the Great Adventurer sat there
Pondering his future

“What are you saying?” I asked, furrowing my brow. I recognized that manner, that meter, that way of speaking, and reaching for my back pocket I felt for the note from months ago. The note that I’d carried with me every day, and had spent countless hours trying to decipher.

“Oh, nothing, just a little note for the report.”

“No you definitely called me-”

“Pay it no mind. Now moving on to the next question, where do you see yourself in the next twenty—”

“NO!”

The Ms. Smith was now typing furiously on the keyboard. I stood up and leaned across the table, reaching for the monitor.

“What are you doing?!” The exclamation began as a gasp and ended with an animal snarl. This woman, or demon, or what ever she was, cried out in protest, but it was too late.

I spun the monitor to face me and voilà: my life as an epic. Or a decent-sized portion of my life anyway, all written out in a style of prose reminiscent of that which I’d been seeing everywhere—beginning with the note.

I didn’t know what to do. Part of me was confused, but another was equally mortified, as there was a definite part of me that recognized, if not the exact nature of this revelation, at least the magnitude of it. Still… what was really going on here? Even as I stood there, dumbstruck, looking at the monitor, more and more words were filling the screen. Even my thoughts and feelings were bleeding their way onto the luminescent face. I did the only thing that I could:

I smashed the screen. I threw it to the ground and watched as it broke into a hundred irreparable pieces on the floor.

“You can destroy this version, but we have hundreds more on file,” Spat our lovely Ms. Smith.

Perhaps I was overreacting to all of this. Maybe this woman was only recording everything I was saying, doing, and, by some means far beyond my comprehension, thinking, but worse than all of that, there was still the poisonous thought that this was much more sinister. The words had been typed at the exact instant that I did the things that it spoke of… which came first? Chicken or egg? Did this woman simply record my actions at the exact moment that I did them, or did I perform the actions that she wrote.

I spun around like a wild-man, looking for a way out of this trap. There was no logical way out of this one. If I’m speaking honestly, though, logic was never quite my forte. As it so happened, though, there were a great many illogical and wondrous escapes that I could think of, and so I went with the most pragmatic illogical approach.

I grabbed a handful of pens and looked at the woman at the desk. She seemed entirely unsure of what I was going to do, which was at once reassuring and quite fair. Frankly, I was equally unsure—but she didn’t need to know that.

“I’m going to write my own story from now on.”

And with that, I pulled back and launched one of the pens at the wall where it stuck like a hatchet caught on a fallen log. A web of cracks stretched out in all directions around it, and before our eyes they grew until they touched the far reaches of the wall. For a moment, both the Ms. Smith and I just looked at the wall. Then the sounds of howling wind and a crashing akin to that of a wrecking ball filled the air as the wall was stripped away in pieces from the foundation of the building. There was a huge, sucking whoosh of air, and many objects in the room, including the Ms. Smith, were vacuumed from the room and into the sky.

Fortunately I had sought refuge behind the desk, and after a minute, the howling wind died down and it seemed safer by degrees to voyage out into the open. Upon inspection, it seemed as though we were no longer in the city, or even anywhere near it. Walking to the edge of the room where the wall used to be, I was able to look off into a vast sky that seemed to stretch in all directions infinitely. Here and there a cloud floated by, drifting lazily along in the wind. Below me I could see that the building had been entirely uprooted, with clumps of dirt clinging to the bottom and a series of pipes dangling in the air. Far, far below me there was what looked like a forest passing underneath the building at a rapid pace. For a moment, I thought to check on the rest of the building and its inhabitants. However, it seemed like the real adventure was to be had down below.

I summoned forth another one of the pens I had grabbed. As these were most obviously magical pens, it was my solemn duty to explore their magic to the fullest of my ability. Uncapping one of them, I turned to the desk that seemed to be mounted firmly to the floor. I held the pen like I would a dagger and plunged it into the wood of the desk, wiggling it about to make sure that it held fast. Then I yanked with all my might, flinging my arm over my head and releasing what had now become a rope off into the gaping hole behind me. The rope fell and fell, extending past the base of the building until it stopped just above the tops of the forest’s trees.

Before I left, there was a thing that needed doing. Uncapping a large black marker, I crossed the room to the last intact wall and scrawled out what would be the beginning of my greatest adventure yet.

From a sartrien quandary, I descend
Upon an imaginary rope
That began as something pretend
But now, provides extraordinary hope

So hear our hero’s quest:
Tho you’d sooner own me, put me in a tranche
Be warned, omnipotent West
I’ll go on a limb and break the branch

-Henry

With one final tug to test the strength of my pen-rope, I took leave of the little office in favor of the formidable forest below.

Next Chapter

Chapter 5

I walked into the waiting room of a Ms. Smith. The room was sterile, tidy, and modern. Hard edges, simple shapes, and negative space; a geometric taste that said future without actual signs of progress. I tasted the air. There was nothing, and my feral heart called out from my chest; I knew I couldn’t live in a place like this. The air lacked texture.  My spirit would die here, while my body carried on breathing in air without character.

I sat down on a rectangle. On a table to my left was a pile of squares–magazines about sports, politics, consumer reports… I tossed one after the other to the side. The desk attendant glared at me. I was introducing entropy into the system.

A landscape photo caught my eye on the National Geographic, and I pulled it from the bunch. Snowy mountains and rebel green hills, photos of streams shot and rendered to recapture the motion lost in the still; I leafed through pages of green and blue, spherical Earth in squares, while I waited for my name to be called. A desert photo drew me in. Vast and empty, I pried open the edges of the photograph with my mind’s eye and wandered in. I removed my shoes and dug my toes into the sand, massaging them with the warm grains. The sunlight glaring high up in the sky, I cupped my hand above my eyes and scanned the horizon. I invented shapes on the blue backdrop, my spider-mind using its many arms to paint characters and scenery where nothing was before. Camels exchanged humans in a bustling bazaar, whilst boars bartered soda tops for colored tapestries and more. There were rodents running errands for their crocodile masters, who sat atop crates and traded stories for gin. The scene was living, breathing and it morphed with every second, and the more my eyes wandered, the stranger it became until-

“Henry!” My time was up.

Next Chapter

Party

The night before I moved to Memory Lane I was at a party.

It was my friend’s party, but I only spoke to him twice that night. The first time he wanted to tell me that I was going to be okay. He told me that I couldn’t keep going on like I was, and that I needed to let other people help. I thought that these were two pretty contradictory messages, but all the same I told him I was fine.

I’m not sure he believed me.

The second time was a lot later in the night. I had come running to him while he was talking to a group of our other friends. I must have looked pretty scared, because he pulled me aside quietly and helped me find a seat. I tried to tell him about the houses,

the abandoned houses.

I asked him how long I’d been at the party. He told me it had been a couple hours.

I told him that was impossible.  It’d been a couple of months.

(Years)

He told me to close my eyes, and said that I should try and

R   e   l    a    x    .

I did. When I opened my eyes again, I was in my bed.

On Memory Lane.

Next Chapter

Chapter 4

Summer came to a close. So it goes.

The weeks came to pass and as they tend to do around this time of year, the leaves began to fall one by one. Like the leaves, my friends too began to fall away, one at a time. Thomas was the last to go. I went to visit him before he moved out. We didn’t talk about him going away, but instead focused on things we’d done over the last four years.  The adventures were many, far too many to count, and still for a couple of hours we tried to recall them all. As Thomas left, he left me with this thought:

“We’ve been through a lot these last four years. But no matter how much we’ve seen and done, the best is yet to come. You’ll see.”

Then he was gone. Perhaps not forever, but there was still an air of finality as I drove home. A week passed after that drive without a word from anyone. One week turned into a month, and all I got were a few texts and calls. Once I went up to visit them in their dorms. It was fun, to be sure, but I was on the outside of it all. Amidst smiles and laughs, we explored campus, but it was clear that this was not my world.

At home I spent more and more time out in the woods. Classes were boring; it was like being back in high school, but without my friends, and where was the point in that? Soon I stopped going to them altogether. My relationship with the family was strained; I was seldom home, spending hours driving around from place to place, looking for all the spots where old memories still desperately clung.

It was an unfortunate series of events that put me in career services. That morning I had been sitting on the back porch looking over the foreboding note I’d received weeks ago. It was even more tattered now than it was when I found it, the words now barely legible. My father came out to speak with me about finding work. In retrospect, I suppose it was a reasonable request, but the timing wasn’t right. The conversation blossomed into an argument, breeding shouts and threats; before long I took leave of that space altogether.

I walked from the house to my car. I drifted for half an hour, from parking lot to parking lot, following backroads and main streets and highways before finally settling in a little park. There were kids running here and there, their mothers and fathers in hot pursuit. For a while I watched and that was nice. From my perch on a park bench, I went and took a seat by a curious child digging in the sand. He pushed the grains aside with nimble fingers, making little divots in the surface of the sandbox. Next to him, I pushed the leftover sand into a bucket. When turned up on its open side, the bucket created a castle, and in this manner of filling and flipping the bucket I constructed a wall of castles in the sand.

The walls were cracked. Soldiers stood at either side, preparing arms for war. The architects of the wall discussed in hushed tones whether it would hold against enemy forces, but the general consensus was bleak. Within the hour, the kingdom would be stormed, and the might of the Queen’s army would be tested against that of the brutal foreign patriarch’s. The smell of fear permeated the air. In the calm before the storm, the only sound to be heard was a distant shout.

The child’s parents were ready to leave.

Before the family left, one of the parents came over to me and thanked me for looking after their child. Though it was in part a joke, the parent thought it was really kind of me. I told them that I hadn’t been watching over their child, but rather we’d just been playing together. They laughed.

I went in the park’s rest area and stood at the sink, splashing water on my face. Looking into the mirror, I took stock of the years in my face. There was a sad, wordless recognition in the back of my mind; a small hand tugged at my frontal lobe, pleading, remember me.

Inside my car, I pulled a business card out from my wallet. It had the number of someone from career services who worked in the nearby city. When I’d snatched it, I hadn’t any intention of ever using it, it was just there and for no other reason than that I’d grabbed it. Putting the address on the card into my phone, I made my way into the city.

Next Chapter

Chapter 3

Henry, Oh Henry…

Frantically, I whipped my head from side to side. Where was the voice coming from? Completely submerged, I’d drifted down into the depths of the quarry, where this deep, resonating voice confronted me. It was omnipresent, vibrating the water all around me with its throbbing bass, my ears ringing as I listened,

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Day by day, the end nears
 So please, do keep in mind
You’ll have to come to terms
You’re the last of your kind.
No matter where you run
No matter what you try
Give in, and change your ways
Or in these deep, dark depths you’ll-

An outpouring of bubbles erupted from my mouth as I screamed, calling out to the voice. Show yourself, I challenged, dread spectre that calls my name. I slashed at it, clawing with my hands and gnashing my teeth until I took in too much water. My struggle had brought me further into the quarry’s cold, suffocating belly. What was it talking about? Why was this happening to me? Or perhaps, more prudently, what was happening to me?

When at last I broke the surface, the rest of the group had jumped in, minus Thomas who sat upon the ledge, looking over the horizon. I splashed around with the others before climbing back up to join him. He seemed to be lost in reflection, but of course that didn’t exactly stop me from intruding in on his thoughts.

“What’s up, man?” I called out as I came up on his perch by the ledge.

Thomas glanced over, and tilted his head in acknowledgment.

“Watsup,” He muttered as I took a seat next to him. The two of us looked out over the water.

“College starts next week,” said Thomas distractedly.

“Oh. Yeah. It does, doesn’t it.” I shifted around, moving a stick about with my foot, “Y’all be movin’ out of this here countryside fer’ the big ol’ city, won’t cha’?” I said, doing a bit. Thomas blew air out through his nose, granting me a feeble half laugh.

“Yeah. I ‘spose we are.” Silence. Then Thomas spoke up again.

“What are you going to do when we leave?”

I laughed a little under my breath and stood up, “You know, the usual. Maybe pick up a job. And I’ll be taking some classes.”

“Oh, true true.” Said Thomas, getting up as well, “Welp…”  He stood at the edge awhile before taking a deep breath and leaping in to join everyone else.

I stood at the edge, waiting to jump. I looked down at all of my friends playing in the water below me. In another week they would all be moving out to college, and I’d be left here in town alone. I’d been made promises of weekly, even daily correspondence from most of them, and I was told that I was welcome to come visit whenever I wanted to. These assurances put me at ease, and as I leapt into the water for a second time, the rush of cool freshwater swept any remaining doubts from my mind.

Next Chapter

Chapter 2

He,
The North,
Cuts the brush;
His Eastern entourage
Tailing that familiar rush
Of said sweet Southbound trail

Soaring spirits flying high, yet, marred
By echoes haunting this final evening quest
Now you must run fast from an impending scar
Sunset coming, leaves falling, all bowing to the West

Run, oh woodland wand’re, run for the edge is creeping near
Take stock of what you’ve got; watch each egg within your basket
Oh, You can hope, you can hide, but please do abide by fledgling fears
And know this marks the end of an era, this wood riddle from your casket.

Henry the Great
Adventurer

“Henry! Wait up!”

I turned from the carving as the rest of the group emerged, stumbling through the thickets. The sun was setting and mosquitos hummed while the wood pecker drummed beats that hung on the breeze. The trees permitted only a little light to pass through the foliage, but even so, I could make out another note. This one had been etched in the bark of a pine. It was oddly entreating, and equally fleeting, for as I turned back, the message was gone.

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“What up?” Thomas had caught up, leading the rest. Looking back to the tree one last time, I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I patted my pocket to make sure that the first note was still there; it was.

“Nothing. Let’s keep going,” I murmured, still distracted by the phantom prose, “Let’s keep moving.”

“Where are we going, Henry?” Thomas hollered, as the rest of them struggled with my pace. It was a challenge for them in the fading light, but they made their way well enough. Pulling aside some thorns with a gloved hand, I called back over my shoulder:

“Just come on and you’ll see. It’s right up ahead.”

A few minutes longer we trudged through the dense brush until, at long last, we hit the clearing that I sought. The leaves, the trees, all the branches and the thorns, they opened up to reveal a small lake surrounded by walls of rock and stone. It was a quarry; one that reached unknown, though apparently profound, depths. Its surface, a sheet of smooth glass, reflected a rich, late-summer’s light; the sun was setting over the horizon line opposite our shore, casting an array of deep autumn hues across the lake. With our group fanned out behind me, I turned to address them.

“Here, my friends, is your graduation present. From me to you.”

I fell backward from the cliffside.

Next Chapter

Globs the Cannibal

Written by Zachary D. Turner and illustrated by Charles J. MacDonald

Globs was a cannibal. He ate other people.

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Globs lived with a collective of other cannibals, which really shouldn’t have been a sustainable living situation, but I digress.

Globs wanted to expand his palette. Snobs, the cannibalette, suggested Tender: an app that pairs you with yummy meat-trolleys you can interview prior to eating.

Globs met Lori on Tender. Lori was a meat-trolley dressed up in a pretty painted skin-jacket. She had looked good on the digital display case.

Globs introduced himself. One thing led to another and soon Lori, the flesh-pocket, and Globs, the cannibal, were out on the town. Lori had a couple of drinks, and Globs whet his whistle.

Globs asked Lori if she wanted to Netflix and chill. Lori acquiesced.

It was later that night, that Globs, the cannibal, ate Lori’s arm.

One week later, Lori met with her lawyer.

Lori, pleadingly, implored her lawyer to take this case to trial.

Lori’s lawyer, pretentiously, informed Lori that the odds were not in her favor.

Lori, exasperatedly, pleaded her case again.

Lori’s lawyer, condescendingly, informed Lori that there was not enough evidence to carry the case.

Lori, incredulously, waved her stub-arm around like an excited Diglet.

One month later, the case went to court.

CannibalFinal2.jpgBoth sides presented their case. Globs’ lawyer said that Globs can’t help being who he is; he’s driven by an insatiable desire to munch on yummy meat-trolleys. He insisted that Globs also could not be held accountable for his actions when he was under the influence of a wet whistle.

Lori’s lawyer was a tin bucket filled with eggs and gummy bears, so the only sounds he made were squeeeeeshy bear growls.

The judge, a fellow cannibal named Jorbs, reached a decision. Globs was not guilty.

Lori’s rage tornado was an A+.

“Judge, this is bullshit,” exclaimed Lori, “this court is bullshit. This story is bullshit, and the language it employs is bullshit. You can’t reduce people down to walking meat-trolleys and shrug it off when they get their goddamn arms bitten off by fucking cannibals! This shit happens all the time, and nothing changes! It’s 2015, and Luke Shmyran is still writing songs about eating toe chips in his skin-hat. It’s archaic. It’s senseless. Non-cannibals should be able to walk down the street at night without this realistic fear of getting eaten, just as we worked to ensure that men could walk down the street at night without getting raped!”

The courtroom went silent.

“Woah there, Lori,” said the judge,  “you know better than to allude to the sexual harassment of men. Our courts worked hard to abolish that decades ago. That was a dark time for men: we couldn’t so much as walk down the street without getting dog-called, and sheep-whistled at. People used to throw around terms such as ‘fatherfucker’ and ‘daughter of a fuckboy’ like it was no big deal. Back then, people went around saying ‘hey, gals’ to everyone, like we weren’t even there. It was as if we were invisible. It’s a better, safer time for our gender now.”

“Sorry, judge, I—I, should’ve known better,” Lori conceded.

The judge sighed, “Anyways, with regards to the case, Lori, Globs is a cannibal. It’s what cannibals do. I mean, for one, you went home with someone named Globs. That was your first mistake. Like, his name is Globs; you could not have found a more Cannibal-sounding name if you tried.

Second of all, the defense says you smelled like people, which, hello, is what cannibals eat. Let’s face it: you were asking to get eaten that night.”

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