Friday, April 22, 2016

15K

   Next room’s alarm clock went off. Narcissus didn’t mind it and limited himself to yawning, turning over his left side and pulling the covers over his head. It was Saturday, for God’s sake, and nothing was going to interrupt his well-deserved rest.
   The door’s hinges squeaked and Claudio stepped into the bedroom. His footsteps made the floor creak, even when it was completely carpeted. Narcissus supposed he was wearing his sports footwear, the one he used for running. Claudio stopped next to the bed. He cleared his throat a couple of times. Then, he cracked his fingers.
   “Cissus,” he said. His voice sounded tired and a bit irritated. “Cissus, get up already.”
   Narcissus answered with a groan. He clenched his eyes, hard, and sank his face into the pillow.
   “It’s time,” said Claudio. He raised his right leg and softly pushed his roommate’s body. His foot’s sole made contact with his lower back.
   “Do not kick me,” babbled Narcissus.
   “Don’t exaggerate, I barely touched you. Now, get up.”
   “What do you want? It’s Saturday.”
   “It’s training Saturday.”
   “Well, good on you.” Narcissus curled up, like a woodlouse would. “Have fun.”
   Claudio uncovered Narcissus. He pulled the blankets towards the foot of the bed and, to be sure, threw them to the floor. “We are running at the woods today, remember? With Mona and her roommate.”
   “I thought that was cancelled.”
   “You thought wrong,” said Claudio dryly. “Now get dressed, prepare yourself. If I come back and find you still lying here, I’ll throw a bucket of cold water at you. I swear,” he threatened while leaving the room.
   Despite it all, Narcissus took his time. He had known Claudio for almost fifteen years and knew that it bothered him to be late to any date or appointment that he had. Without even having to look at the clock, he knew that Mona and her roommate would be arriving in half an hour or more. It was okay to be cautious, but Claudio was an extremist. There was plenty of time.
   While he put on his tight pants and tied his yellow sneakers, Narcissus wondered why he had agreed to this madness. He had never liked running. Au contraire, it was a form of exercise that he despised and avoided like a vegetarian avoids meat. And now he had signed up to one of those cross country, fifteen freaking kilometre, races, which included obstacles and mud pools and punishment for not doing the exercises correctly or in the established time limit. Go run at the hill?, Narcissus asked himself. He had to be completely crazy.
   But you had to feel like you were part of the moment, he recriminated himself. He had accepted to participate whilst drunk, in a party he and Claudio had organised at the flat. Now it was too late and he was hopping into the backseat of Mona’s red SUV, dragging not only his feet but every fibre of his body, smiling reluctantly and wishing to return to the comfort of his home as soon as possible.
   The woods were some twenty-five, thirty minutes from the flat, on the mountain’s hillside. The more they approached their destination, both girls and Claudio got more excited about their training race. Narcissus glanced at his watch. It was almost nine in the morning.
   “Cheer up,” said Claudio and hit him lightly on his right thigh. “The fresh air will do you good, and the more you train, the better you’ll do at the race.”
   “I need no training,” said Narcissus laconically. “I’m finishing that race through sheer willpower. And with a better time than you.”
   A sarcastic little laugh and then silence until they arrived at their destination. There were some worn-out wooden tables, and some benches that matched, five metres from the treeline. Mona parked next to them. Everybody got out and started with their warm-up and stretching exercises. The air was rather cold and the sky was overcast. Not a single ray of sunshine escaped the grey firmament.
   Narcissus listened, but did not pay too much attention, to the way Claudio gave instructions. He did like to run. He loved it, actually, and constantly signed up to all kinds of sports events. To pay for getting tired, so that your legs, arms, and God knows what other parts of your body ache? I don’t even have a gym membership, thought Narcissus. After defining the route they were going to take, they stole into the unknown.
   “I hope, for your sake, that it does not rain,” said Narcissus a couple of metres in.
   “Just stick to running,” said Claudio. Then, he inhaled profoundly and exhaled with a big puff.
   A few minutes passed. Narcissus seemed to have, after all, a good condition, and even though he had a constant buzz in his head, product of the lack of sleep and, possibly, last night’s alcohol, he was keeping Claudio’s pace. In reality, it was his ego that helped him run fast, to keep constant. Mona and her roommate started to drag behind. They weren’t so accustomed either, nor such fanatics, of running.
   “Should we wait for them?,” asked Narcissus after noticing how far they had gone from the girls.
   “No,” answered Claudio. His fierce gaze kept looking forward. “They’ll catch up eventually. If not, we will reunite at the end of the trail.”
   Both young men, aged twenty-five and twenty-three, tall and with long legs that enabled them to give big strides, picked up the pace. In a couple more minutes, Mona and her roommate were out of sight.
   Narcissus cussed himself with every breath he took, first because he hated running and, in a close second, because he was getting tired. Breathing proved to become more difficult, and he felt an acute malaise, as if he had a hole, on his side. He was about to let it go, to stop and watch how Claudio left him behind as well. Both heard the gut-wrenching scream, the kind that made blood run cold.
   They stood still for a moment, as if they were anchored to the ground. No other sound disturbed the silence that fell upon them. Not even the sound of their panting and gasping seemed to reverberate in their ears. They jogged back, first slowly and then faster, until they found Mona’s roommate. They had almost recovered their breath completely.
   The girl walked sluggishly, pressing her lips tight together. Her arms hung, rigid as steel bars, at the sides of her body. Her eyes moved rapidly from side to side, like the eyes of a little animal scrutinising the forest, making sure there were no predators nearby. Her neck didn’t bend and her head didn’t make it turn.
   “What’s happening?,” asked Claudio. “Where’s Mona?”
   The girl did not speak. She shrugged.
   “Mona!,” shouted both young men, almost at the same time, using their hands to amplify the sound of their voices.
   The girl kept on walking, slow but constantly. Claudio stopped her. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. He asked her again about Mona.
   “I don’t know,” she finally said. “I saw you ran faster, so I picked up the pace as well. A little after she got out of sight, I heard that scream.” Claudio noticed the girl’s uncontrollable shaking. He himself felt a shiver down his spine.
   The three of them continued walking. Neither spoke, only Claudio and Narcissus took turns to shout Mona’s name. Echo didn’t seem to exist in that place, and that made them feel lost and lonely and most miserable.
   They had almost returned to their point of origin. Now, the wind roared forcefully, silencing the shouts with which they searched their lost companion. The cold filtered through their clothes. They started to quiver and to rub their arms, trying to generate some heat.
   “This isn’t working,” said Claudio, taking his hands to his mouth, blowing hot air from his lungs into them. The breath looked like a phantasmagorical apparition, going through his bones, muscles and flesh. “Let’s split up. We’ll cover more ground that way.” He cracked his fingers. They sounded like ice cubes bumping against each other. “God, I wish I’d brought a thicker jacket.”
   Curious, thought Narcissus, already walking on his own. He hadn’t paid attention to the weather until Claudio mentioned it. It was midsummer and it shouldn’t have been that cold. Maybe this is the usual temperature at this God forsaken place, he thought. He laughed and smiled mischievously. Where is global warming when you need it?
   He went deep into the forest and the mountain. In little time, his thighs began to complain. Narcissus snorted and yelled again. Then, he yelled one more time. He couldn’t hear the others anymore.
   They had to find her. After all, they had arrived in her SUV and she had kept the keys. A twenty-five, thirty minute drive was much longer on foot. Narcissus stuffed his hands as deep as he could into the pockets of his slim jacket. He rubbed his fingertips together. Even though they were sweating, they were still cold. “Mona!”
   How could she have gotten lost? What could have happened to her? Narcissus’ brain raced, trying to explain how the hell he had come to his current predicament. He analysed the facts he knew and something was not right, something didn’t add up. Why had she screamed as awfully as that? His nose started to run.
   Narcissus looked at his watch and hid his hand again as fast as he could. He hadn’t registered the time, so he had to look again. Quarter past eleven. It was impossible that she’d gotten so far. He shouted, unenthusiastically, again. He shook his head. “Let’s split up,” he mumbled, mimicking Claudio. “Some leader, he didn’t even tell us to regroup by the SUV in twenty, thirty or forty minutes.” He started to make his way back.
   He turned his head right and then left. There were a couple of little hills at each side of the valley. The view wasn’t spectacular but pretty tranquil. Calm and peace, ideal for a morning run until you lose one of your partners. He smiled again. Then, he heard the cry.
   “Mona! Mona, where are you?” Narcissus couldn’t identify what direction the wincing had come from. It hadn’t been a shriek, nor a call for help. A strange sound, really, but who knows what level of desperation that woman has come to, he thought. “Mona!”
   He pricked up his ears. He heard it again, distant but definitely approaching. Narcissus frowned and puffed. “Mona!,” he shouted, without conviction.
   He walked faster. The wince was closing in. Idiot, he recriminated himself, that’s how the monster finds you in the horror film. But you go on, continue to shout your pathetic “Mona, Mona.” The wince became two, and then three. Now that it was closer, it sounded like a constant and guttural growl.
   His jog didn’t last long. What he would almost immediately recognise as a hand, black, with rotten fingernails and covered by a layer of what appeared to be feathers, burst out of the ground and clung forcefully to his right ankle. The scream stuck in Narcissus’ throat, almost asphyxiating him. With eyes wide open, he kicked the hand with his left leg. He moved enough, he managed to break free.
   He stood up. He looked ahead. Two more of those things came out of the shadows, cutting him off, acquiring defined, clear-cut forms, too real for Narcissus to bear. Their legs arched into brutal claws, and they had a humanoid body full of thick fur. Their skin was as black as charcoal, and a strange membrane hung from their arms, covered with more hair that clustered into little groups, giving the impression of being feathers. The beasts’ snouts were the worst, with a viscous protuberance similar to that of pigs. Dead eyes, like grey marbles that turned without control within their sockets, and large ears that gave them the appearance of having crooked, opaque horns. The hand that had grabbed him was now unearthing the rest of its body.
   Narcissus’ nervous system generated a shock that flooded his entire body. He had opted for flight instead of fight, so he rushed towards the only way that was left. His legs filled with blood as he jumped over the beast that was still emerging from the ground. He ran, without looking back, towards the mountain.
   It wasn’t just a sensation. He was being pursued. The strange beings started to go behind him, howling dolefully, clamouring for Narcissus’ life. He didn’t know it for certain, but the anxiety that he felt in his stomach assured him that it would be his end if he let himself get caught.
   He turned his head. He could only see them through the corner of his eye. They gave long and potent strides, but they weren’t per se running. They flapped their membrane arms, treating them as wings, as if they wanted to fly. If they hadn’t had such a disgusting aspect, they’d even look like children pretending to be birds, raising their arms while they jumped and lowering them down to the floor at the end of their motion.
   The sound that they made didn’t belong to a unique animal. It was an indescribable mixture that included tones from felines, wolves, bears and several birds of prey. They did their part. They kept Narcissus timorous. They kept the boy’s blood with that sweet smell--and flavour--of fear.
   The road turned and twisted, not only from right to left but from top to bottom as well. The irregular mounds caused Narcissus a couple of slight slips, and the trees that were scattered about forced him to make small corrections in his direction every now and then.
   He didn’t know how long it had taken him, if he had run for a long or short period of time. The river seemed dangerous, but only if you had time to think about its flow. Narcissus threw himself straightforwardly and got dragged by the current against a rock. He hit it with his lower back. He tried to scream, but the water gushed into his mouth and choked the sound. He didn’t have time to cough either, since his complete attention was focused on getting out of the water trap in which he had so lightly entered.
   His arm strokes were non-effective, and his kick was nullified almost completely under the water’s pressure. He couldn’t hang on to rocks either, since his wet hands provided a weak grip. He seldom breathed, drinking more liquid than he’d like to. The only thing he could do against the water’s blows to his face was to clench his mouth and eyes. His hand felt something, a thin branch to which he clasped with all of his strength.
   It was like climbing a rope. Narcissus managed to place his feet over a rock and keep his balance long enough to throw himself to land. He spat some water and wished to lay under the tree that had saved his life. He turned worriedly.
   They were at the other side of the river. They had followed him, without getting into the water, throughout his passage. They screamed and shook excessively, taunting him. In different circumstances, Narcissus would have made them an obscene gesture. Now, he just jogged towards the mountain. The only thing he wanted was to get as far as possible from those things and forget them. The important thing was to survive.
   Cold stuck to him like a tick. His wet clothes caused him a constant shuddering, and he felt as if his bones had swollen up and wanted to get out of his body. He rolled up his sleeves. Think about something else, do not concentrate on the cold, he told himself. He repeated it like a mantra, like a prayer. Abstracted, he advanced automatically, getting farther away from civilisation. He heard the scream.
   “Mona?,” he whispered without thinking and immediately covered his mouth. It had been a woman, that was definitive. Narcissus shook his head and kept running. He feared he was hallucinating things. He smiled. As if the things that had followed him were not the product of a fever dream.
   He heard another scream. He growled and covered his ears. He kept on going, cussing through his teeth. Then, he stopped. In the distance, a silhouette seemed to be waiting for him.
   She was wearing an ochre dress, although, maybe, it had once been white. Where her clothes ended and where her brown skin began was difficult to distinguish, at least from where he stood. Black hair. She walked slowly, dragging her bare feet in Narcissus’ direction.
   Without knowing what to say, he ran again. He babbled a couple of incoherent things under his breath before yelling. “Are you okay?”
   The young girl didn’t answer. Her brown eyes, wide open, were lost. She wasn’t too tall, she’d barely reach Narcissus’ elbows.
   “Are you okay?,” repeated Cissus. He already was a couple metres from her. “You can’t stay here,” he said, “there are things stalking--“
   Her teeth were as sharp as needles, getting in and out as quick as lightning. The girl had jumped so fast that Narcissus hadn’t had time to think. She grasped his arm with both hands and started to lick the wound she had inflicted. The crimson of her tongue melted with the blood’s colour.
   The eyes were the first to change, rolling to the back of her head and leaving the grey marbles that Narcissus had come to fear. The dress broke into hair, and into a pair of translucent membranes that went from her arms to the sides of her body. As if it was being burnt, her skin darkened until reaching a jet black tone. The snout and ears lengthened. Narcissus couldn’t see her feet, but he knew that they had also enlarged until turning into claws.
   It was until her transformation completed that Narcissus tried to defend himself. He struck punch after punch between its eyes, feeling its fur slide between his fingers. The thing drove its nails into his skin and didn’t, not even for one second, stop caressing the arm of its prey with its snout.
   More of those creatures approached, grunting, savouring the scent of blood that lingered in the air. Narcissus stopped hitting and started kicking. Two of his kicks connected with the beast’s torso, the third one on one of its wing-like membranes. It appeared to be a sensitive part of its body, since it loosened its grip. Narcissus managed to escape, he pushed the thing with the whole weight of his body, knocking it over, and kept running.
   His arm stung. The blood that came from his wound was hot and sticky. He didn’t know why, but the sensation of that slimy liquid running down his skin made Narcissus feel nauseated. As he moved forward, the landscape changed. There were less trees and the ground became increasingly barren. The lack of obstacles let Narcissus turn his head, to make sure his persecutors were far enough. He had forgotten his fatigue completely.
   The howling increased and decreased in a lugubrious sway. Narcissus glanced backwards. He turned without losing speed. He didn’t count them, but there were almost a couple dozen of those monsters, running after him. He picked up the pace. He cussed through his teeth. He tripped with the terrain.
   He fell on his face and slid over the ground. Immediately, he turned over his back. He saw the stone that had made him fall. It was some kind of old, mould-ridden brick. He then looked up. The horde came towards him rapidly. He dragged himself backwards over his elbows, trying to get away, but he felt lost. It was the darkness that approached, black and implacable, ready to strip him of his life drop by drop. Narcissus was paralysed. He closed his eyes.
   Other than those things’ bellowing, nothing. The only constant pain was that of his arm, but he felt no other pressure over his body. There were no hands touching him, molesting him, nor fangs piercing him. The foul texture of tongues over his skin was non-existent. Narcissus opened one eye slowly. The creatures yelled at him fiercely, but they didn’t get any closer. They had created some sort of fence around him, delimited mainly by stones like the one that had made him trip. Some of them were stacked over each other, the echo of vestigial walls of a long-abandoned house.
   Narcissus had time to examine his wound. It worried him that it didn’t stop bleeding. He tore one of the legs of his pants and used it as a bandage over his arm. He pulled his stocking as far as he could over his shin and calf, trying to avoid the freezing cold weather. He sat on the floor and crossed his legs.
   The grey sky still didn’t allow any ray of light to pass through it. Narcissus observed the creatures. He smiled for a moment. I am crazy, he told himself, while he pondered what type of monster sucked blood, couldn’t stand the sunlight and wouldn’t enter a property that didn’t belong to it uninvited. Narcissus burst into a strange mix of laughter and crying.
   Time passed eternal. There were not many things that Narcissus could do. There was no food to silence his stomach’s grunts, and he could only rub his chest and arms when the cold turned too harsh. Minutes transformed into hours. Those things that Narcissus now called vampires seemed tireless, their screams suffocating his emotions and hopes.
   Everything went completely dark come nightfall. He couldn’t see them, but knew that they could see him. Every time he cuddled on the ground, tired, hoping to, at least, sleep a little, the symphony increased in volume. He raised and rocked himself, sitting on the unwarming earth. Then, those things would shut up, challenging him to lie back again only to scream once more at the top of their lungs.
   In the early morning, when tiredness was about to knock him out, they threw it at him. Narcissus didn’t see how they used their wings as buckets, bringing the water from the distant river. He just felt how it fell on him, like an appalling cascade of angst and desolation. The cold made him stand up and move, to run in place with the hope of generating some heat. He hadn’t slept last night, and now he was sure he wouldn’t sleep that morning. Thinking that he might never sleep again, Narcissus collapsed. He passed out.
   He wasn’t sure if it had been the pain that woke him up. He doubted it, since he could barely feel his arm. He looked around him. None of those things seemed to be stalking him. I must be dead, thought Narcissus. Then, he looked up. Shunshine dazzled him.
   He saw his watch. The face was scratched and had no numbers. He had hit it against a rock, or water had damaged it. “It doesn’t matter, don’t waste time,” he mumbled through his teeth. He rose up clumsily. He looked again at the sun and wished it shone more potently. He moaned. Could he make it? “Just do it,” he whispered. “Just run.”
   His knees hurt but reacted to his command. His body responded and Narcissus picked up the pace. He heard those things’ growls, but couldn’t see any of them. He couldn’t identify if the sounds came from the real world or from his head. He exhaled forcefully and improved his stride. The only thing left for him was to carry on.
   The wind rose and hit him like knives, burying in his skin. It also felt like breath on his neck. He didn’t want to turn. He pressed his teeth together and kept running. He apologised to his thighs, when they started to burn with weariness, and he asked his lungs for a little more effort when they caused him an acute pain on his side.
   After a while, it occurred to him that he was running towards nothing. That his path was useless. They had arrived the day before, and Claudio and Mona and her roommate must’ve already been gone. He pushed those thoughts to the back of his head. It doesn’t matter, he told himself. If they’re not there, if that damned SUV is not next to those damned benches, I’ll just have to keep running.
   Narcissus didn’t bump into the river that had dragged him the day before. He got scared. Was he running in a mistaken direction? He considered if it’d be convenient to stop and analyse his situation. No. The important thing was to keep moving. And I’m on the right path, he assured himself.
   He couldn’t calm down when he finally saw the trees. In that moment, the yelling unleashed, resounding in his head to the point of migraine. Narcissus couldn’t run faster, but he kept his pace. He didn’t turn his head backwards, but he did upwards. The treetops flashed every now and then, like eyes that watched him for a second and then hid again in the foliage. He kept going for a while. In front of him, a red blur made his heart jump.
   The tables and benches appeared behind the treeline. Next to them, Mona’s SUV. Narcissus bumped into the pilot door’s window, startling the young man and girls that were inside.
   “Open up! Please, let me in!”
   The lock made a nigh imperceptible sound when it unlocked. As fast as he could, Narcissus opened the back door and jumped into the vehicle. He gasped for air several times before being able to speak.
   “Let’s go!,” he shouted, “let’s get out of here!”
   Claudio, Mona and her roommate were staring at him. They asked him to relax, they told him to remain calm.
   “Please, drive!,” shouted Narcissus again. Claudio was in the pilot’s seat.
   Mona, who was sharing the backseat with him, put her hand on his shoulder and offered him a rehydrating beverage. Narcissus accepted it and drank it in seconds. However, he kept moving his arm, urging Claudio to drive on, knocking on his seat and kicking like a little boy throwing a tantrum.
   “Take it easy,” said Claudio. “It’s all right, you are already here, safe, with your friends.”
   Narcissus saw the tables and benches and trees. It seemed that none of those things had followed him. He looked at the sky and discovered that the clouds had blotted out the sun once more. “It’s hidden again,” he mumbled. “It won’t take long for them to arrive... We have to get out of here!”
   “Take it easy,” said Mona. “It’s understandable that you are upset after being lost all night in the woods, but you are with us already.”
   Claudio put his hand on his other shoulder, and Mona’s roommate put hers on his knee. Narcissus looked at the three. “What... what’s happening?”
   “I twisted my ankle while running,” said Mona. “I tried to get to you but I fell on a ditch and hit my head. I fainted. That’s why I couldn’t hear your shouts, when you were calling for me.”
   “Afterwards, when we finally found her, you got lost,” said Claudio. “We searched for hours, but you had gone too far away from us.” He smiled, showing his teeth. “And then we couldn’t reach you. You were out of our grasp.”
   “Out... of your grasp?,” babbled Narcissus. He heard, clearer this time, the sound of the door locking. He tried to open it but it wouldn’t budge an iota.
   The three hands that were still over his body started to develop a blackish colour. Their fingernails rotted instantly, their clothes disintegrated into fine hair. Narcissus writhed, but three more hands grabbed him. Their noses and ears expanded into snouts and horns. Their tongues were the worst.
   The SUV tilted like a boat on the water. The pointy fangs punctured in three different parts of the body, creating sprays that stained all the windows. Except for the worn-out tires, now the whole vehicle was an intense red.
   The screaming gave way to the moaning. Neither lasted for too long. The rattling on the doors and the screeching of the seat’s leather faded like the last note of a vinyl disc. In the end, one sound, similar to that of a liquid being licked, was the only thing that escaped between the cracks of the doors.
   Among useless struggles, the three black bodies had fallen over Narcissus, sealing his end. Claudio’s voice, distorted and squeaky, uttered its last mock.
   “Look on the bright side,” it said, “you ran the fifteen kilometres in record time!”

Short Story. October, 2015.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Day in the Möbius Strip

   The alarm clock. I thought it was Saturday. Must be Friday.

   Without thinking about it, I throw my arm towards the device. Snooze. I press it two or three times, to no effect, before opening my eyes. The flashing number seven, colon, zero zero, bothers me. What a bore. I press the button once more but the sound, bothersome as well, continues.

   What did he tell me? The clock is my roommate’s. He’s a professor at a prestigious university. Theoretical physicist. To me, he’s one of those mad scientists. “Don’t press snooze,” that’s what he said. “Don’t bother pressing it, since it doesn’t work,” would have been a more adequate warning.

   The radio sounds while I undress. Sometimes, I think that the only thing that changes in my day by day are the songs I hear. Shower, shirt, shoes. Something’s missing. Shove off? The cold wind hits my naked legs. I return for the pants I did not put on before getting out of the flat.

   I will be one of the first to buy one of those automatic automobiles. Auto-automobiles. The one’s that drive themselves, I mean. After all, I drive the same route daily. Why not let a machine do the heavy work? With the new parking policy, I even arrive to the same space every day.

   Speak to the colleagues, drink some coffee, have lunch at the same eateries and fast-food chains. Honestly, now that I think about it, I believe I’ve not stopped going to the company’s mess hall in a long time.

   Is it important to describe what I do for a living? It’s a rhetorical question. “No, it is not,” would be a good captious answer. Captious because this one time, a skunk broke into the office and it was a pretty funny day. That happened... too long ago. I can’t remember the exact date. Did I live that or did I dream it?

   The point is that the way back home is, also, boring. For dinner, yesterday’s leftovers. By now, they are nothing more than little pieces of meat and vegetables. Vestigial vegetables of something that I don’t remember eating since a long time ago. I shit you not, I don’t know what I had for dinner last night.

   The TV’s programming offers nothing innovative nor too interesting. The websites that I check don’t either. The jokes are yesterday’s, and from the day before, and so on and so forth until the first, and only, day in which I found them funny.

   Still, I don’t go to bed until my eyes are completely red. If you asked me, I wouldn’t even be sure of what I saw on the internet. Pornography, maybe. It’s curious, the amount of media that I consume without thinking about its quality. Junk food everywhere, for the stomach and the brain. For the heart. Everything in this world clogs your arteries.

   But, anyway, it’s the weekend. Staying up late will do me no harm. I barely ask myself why I didn’t go out with a friend or a girl for a beer or a gin tonic. Whatever.

   The consuetudinary insomnia. I casually turn over my bed. I’m hot, real hot. Damn. It’s one of those classic nights. It will seem that as soon as I can fall asleep, the alarm will go off. It’s always the same. Oh, but it’s the weekend, right? Have I already said that? I feel that the tiredness finally knocks me out, that’s the last conscious thought that I have in this starless and Moonless night.

   The alarm clock. I thought it was Saturday. Must be Friday.


Short Story. October, 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Five

   “But, how does he do it mum?”

   “I don’t know honey. It’s just magic.”

   Chance was not satisfied with his mother’s answer. He remained there, looking at her with his brown eyes wide open. She left the candle on the table and turned towards him.

   “Honey,” she said, “I really don’t know. He’s not like you, or me. He just can and he does it. Take it on faith.” She caressed Chance’s cheek and smiled. She kissed him on his forehead. “Now go on and write your letter. If you don’t, how will he know what to bring you?”

   Chance walked away and sat at his little table, next to the Christmas tree. He grabbed a green crayon and continued. It had become a tradition on its own, to write his letter to Santa and decorate it with a little drawing. This year it was a turtle. His mind wasn’t completely in the task at hand, though, and he kept thinking until it hit him: if Santa Claus could deliver presents to children all over the world in a single night, wouldn’t he also be able to know what he wanted for Christmas without him having to write it down? He should be magical, after all.

   His father returned. He had spent most of the previous half hour looking for his football magazine’s pre-season special issue. It had been buried for far too long somewhere in his studio, and it was time to take it out again and remember the stats and forecasts about how the teams were likely to perform throughout the season. He sat on the couch, a couple metres from Chance, and continued to watch the game, while skimming through the mag. Not long after, mom approached.

   “The wreath is ready,” she said while sitting on the couch’s arm.

   Dad glimpsed at her. “Third quarter’s ending,” he said nonchalantly and resumed his watching. Silence fell as he felt his wife’s gaze, still upon him. “Five more minutes,” he said.

   “Five. No more.”

   His father nodded.

   “I’m getting Marnie,” said mom. She walked towards the staircase. “Chance, get ready for the wreath.” She proceeded upwards.

   Chance looked at his father, who winked at him. Ten minutes later, the four of them were sitting at the dining table.

   The Advent wreath was a family tradition. Every Sunday, for the four weeks before Christmas, they’d light each of the wreath’s four candles, have a family activity and say a little prayer. It was the first week, so the activity was that his parents recounted how they prepared for both his and his sister’s births. Chance already knew the stories. He remembered them from the previous year, and the year before that. His mind began to wander and he drifted away, until his mother called him.

   “Chance, do you want to say today’s prayer?”

   He gently shook his head. His mother then turned to Marnie, who shook her head as well.

   “Okay, I’ll do it today. But one of you is going to do it next Sunday.” The four held hands. His mother went on to give thanks and to ask for health and prosperity for the whole family. Their rite was over.

   His parents started to question Marnie. They asked her how she felt about high school and if she already had any idea of what college she’d like to go to. Since Chance wasn’t interested, he returned to his little table and his drawing. When he finished, he got up and approached the stocking.

   “Need help, shrimp?” asked his sister. Unbeknownst to Chance, she had sat on the couch and was reading some brochures.

   He knew he couldn’t reach it. Chance turned to her sister, stuck his tongue out and started to drag his little chair towards the wall.

   Marnie laughed and got up, walked towards him. “Don’t make a fuss, shrimp. Here… give it to me,” she said as she reached out.

   “Don’t call me a shrimp,” said Chance self-consciously. He thought that, even for a nine year old, he was a little bit too short.

   “Okay bro,” said Marnie after a silent moment. She reached out again.

   Chance gave her the letter. “Don’t read it!” he shouted when Marnie started to open it. She smiled and closed it, then threw it in the stocking. “Have you written yours?” he asked.

   “No.”

   “Why not?”

   “I want something that Santa can’t bring me,” she said as she walked back to the couch. Chance followed her.

   “But… he’s magic, isn’t he? What could he possibly not bring you?” He sat next to his sister.

   “You will understand when you’re older,” she said. “Besides, I don’t want to hog Santa. What if I ask for something so big that he doesn’t bring anything to you?” Chance’s eyes widened and Marnie laughed again. She stroked his head. “See? Now, don’t worry. He’ll get you what you want.”

   “Marnie?” His sister looked at him, expectantly. “How does he do it? How does he manage to bring toys to kids all over the world in a single night?”

   “I don’t know, you little creep. Now go away,” she said as she waved Chance off. She picked up a brochure and kept on reading.


   The next weeks dragged slowly for Chance. Even more than in previous years, he found himself painfully waiting for Santa Claus, and for the presents he would bring, of course. The moments he found the most comforting were when he talked with his friends about what they had asked for. It was funny how they said to be sure that they had made it to the ‘nice’ list, but remained cautiously doubtful within. If he was to be asked, Chance would probably say that the most interesting conversation he had was one with his friend Thomas.

   “I don’t believe you,” had said Chance.

   Tom shrugged. He began to walk away.

   Chance ran after him. “But, I mean… tell me how.”

   “I just woke up, okay? Jesus, I shouldn’t have told you!” Tom hastened his pace.

   “So… you just woke up and there he was? In your room?”

   “No dummy, not in my room.” Both stopped. “I went downstairs and there he was, next to the tree.”

   “And?”

   “And… what?”

   “And what did you do?” Chance’s voice fluctuated between awe and bewilderment.

   “Nothing. I went back to my room.”

   “I don’t believe you,” had said Chance, again.

   Now, it was Christmas Eve. The tree’s lights played their usual symphony of bright and dim, while Chance and his sister watched special holiday cartoons on the TV. Mom would cook a feast, and dad would go out, to buy some last minute necessities. It was all too slow. Chance felt that even the day’s religious rites and the Christmas dinner unfolded too unhurriedly. He was eager for the nightfall. He had devised a marvellous plan.

   Just before bedtime, Chance drank a litre and a half of water. The need to go pee woke him up at two thirty in the morning. His footsteps were not heard as he made his way downstairs. The floor kept from creaking and the doors kept from squeaking. And there it was, at last. The Christmas tree was still without presents. He thought about sitting on the couch, but feared that its leather would sound, giving his position away. He sat on the floor. By two fifty, it was uncontrollable and he went to the bathroom. He did it as fast as he could, and rushed back without even flushing or washing his hands. However, Santa had already come and gone. Disappointed, Chance went back to bed.

   His sister woke him up later, urging him to “not being a pig” and to “flush the toilet when he went”. Downstairs, he opened his present. It was the superhero action figure he had asked for, wrapped in a silver box with a golden bow. Family breakfast, lunch and dinner came, as well as a series of board games in which Chance didn’t partake. He was sitting next to the Christmas tree, ignoring all distant sounds, just playing with his new toy. At night, he felt like he slept for a long, long time.


   The year that saw Chance turn ten was a blur. He had vague recollections of the moments he had experienced and of the things he had seen all through the year. The only certainty he knew was that autumn had come after summer, and that they both had followed spring. It was winter again, and eleven months had gone by without a moment’s notice. Chance was putting on some formal black pants, a formal white shirt and a black bow tie. The calendar marked the date as December 24th. They were spending Christmas with their grandparents. Probably. Before long, Chance was once again thinking about Santa Claus, mainly how he’d know where to deliver his presents if he was away, visiting family far from home. His mother called for him and the road trip began.

   Christmas dinner was great. Chance had always loved grandma’s cooking, especially her duck à l’orange. Everyone was having dessert after the main course. Well, everyone but Chance, anyway. His grandparents were chatting with Marnie, inquiring about what she wanted to do with her life. Chance excused himself and started to roam. He went down to the cellar. There, he found a long string with many rattle bells attached to it. He smiled and took it with him, hid it in the guest room where he and his sister were going to sleep in. After everyone had gone to bed, he sneaked into the living room. He tied the string to the chimney, right next to the Christmas tree, and returned to his room. He was not sure how he was able to do it without waking everyone up, since the bells rang wild and loudly.

   Chance woke up to the chiming. At first, he was little bit scared. When he remembered that it was his doing, he rushed to the living room. He was so excited that he didn’t notice the empty bed beside his, or the sunlight that was already filtering through the drapes. His sister was standing there, playing with the rattle bells, as if composing a song. It was too late, and the presents were already beneath the tree. Chance’s parents and grandparents arrived at the living room and stood around, until Marnie finished fooling around. Afterwards, the presents were opened. Chance got a pair of skates. He went outside, tried them, and didn’t return until it was time to go back home. Then, sitting on the back seat, he fell profoundly asleep.


   Chance was tucked in bed. He lazily opened one eye, then the other one. He got up and out of his room. The whole house was dark, and the only thing Chance could hear was the living room clock’s distant ticking. He made his way downstairs, and even further into the cellar. There was a big calendar, which he didn’t recognize, on the wall. He felt so drowsy he couldn’t read it. Yet, somehow, he knew the date. It was December 25th and another year had gone by without him really acknowledging it. Everything was foggy, out of focus. He made an effort, but couldn’t even remember his birthday party. He had turned eleven that year. The clock marked two in the morning as he returned upstairs.

   The kitchen floor was impeccable, and the pantry was full with cereal boxes and bread. And flour. Chance grabbed the big flour package and brought it to the living room. He was just going with the flow, moving mechanically, even when he started to pour the white powder all over the floor, starting at the chimney and all the way up to the Christmas tree. Chance felt tired, and didn’t fully understand why he had spread the flour. Maybe, on a subconscious level, he felt like Santa’s footprints would be valid proof of his ability to run the world in a single night. He returned to his bed, leaving the package on the first step of the stairwell.

   His mother’s shouts woke him up. Chance ran downstairs. His mother was extremely upset and his sister was laughing uncontrollably. His father had started sweeping. The whole living room was covered in a white layer of flour, as if it had snowed indoors, and the family’s footsteps were everywhere, except for a narrow path that ran from the chimney to the presents in front of the tree: a couple of brand new bicycles, for Chance and his sister. Chance smiled incredulously. His mother, upon discovering his grin, made him vacuum the whole house.

   The cold breeze felt good on his face as he rode his new bike downhill. His sister had also gone out on hers, but he didn’t know where she went. The only thing that mattered now was the ride. He raced the wind, pedalling against it as fast as he could. He returned home late in the afternoon. His parents were watching the Christmas football match on TV. His sister’s door was shut; she probably had returned and was minding her own business. Chance felt exhausted, so he entered his room and went to bed. He didn’t make too much out of the fact that he, in the entire day, didn’t get out of his pyjamas.


   Chance’s stomach growled. He woke up hungry, feeling as if he hadn’t eaten a thing for a long time. The house was, once again, in darkness. Marnie’s door was wide open, so he peeked inside. She wasn’t there, so he kept going. He stopped at the living room, where it struck him as odd that the clock was nowhere to be found. His stomach growled again. He entered the kitchen and opened the fridge. It was filled with Christmas leftovers. He picked a salad bowl and took it with him. He sat on the living room’s couch. A ray of moonlight was the only thing that disturbed the stillness of the room. It pointed directly at the Christmas tree. He noticed the stocking that hung right next to it. He walked over to it.

   The stocking was full. Inside, Chance found a letter. It was his handwriting, but he had no recollection of writing it. He tried to read, but there was not enough light. A chill went down his spine. He put the letter back in the stocking and went upstairs. He went into his sister’s room and looked for her old video camera. He didn’t find it, so he went into his room. He wasn’t sure of what he was searching for until he found it. Inside a box that had a note that read “Happy Twelfth” he found a camera of his own. It didn’t matter. He was moving mechanically again, without thinking too much about anything. He placed his camera on the living room’s couch, pointing towards the tree. He hit the record button and returned upstairs, without even thinking how tall he was, and how he had already reached the stocking, high on the wall.

   His mother woke him up. He had left the salad bowl on the couch, unattended, which was not the right thing to do. Chance apologised and followed her downstairs. He didn’t bother opening his Christmas present, which was some videogame he had wanted for some time. He picked his camera up and fast-forwarded through its most recent video. Before he could examine it meticulously, mom called him for breakfast. When he asked where Marnie was, his parents told him that he already knew she was not returning from college for the holidays. After eating with his parents, he excused himself to his room. He played the video again, and watched its entire seven hours. The camera’s angle was not so wide, and it didn’t show the lower or upper part of the tree. For the seven hours in which he looked at the tree’s midsection, he found nothing out of the ordinary. He took a piece of paper and wrote that he didn’t want any presents. All he wanted was to know how he did it, how Santa Claus delivered his presents to every kid all over the world in a single night. When he placed the letter in the stocking his parents told him that it was too early for writing to Santa. He didn’t care and just smiled. He returned to his room and tried to fall asleep. After a long time, he managed to do it.


   The man was wearing a red suit and he had a long white beard. He wasn’t as fat as one would have imagined, though. Chance found him downstairs, sitting on the couch, waiting for him with a goody smile on his face. He no longer knew what was happening.

   “Santa?” asked Chance, finally.

   The man in red nodded.

   “Am I… dreaming?”

   “After all that has happened to you, all that you have experienced, what do you think?”

   Chance shrugged. He really didn’t know anymore.

   Santa smiled. “A time machine,” he said as he showed Chance the letter he had left in the stocking.

   Nonetheless, Chance frowned.

   “I use a time machine, Chance. It’s the only way I can deliver presents all over the world in a single night.” Santa got up from the couch. “Come along. I’ll show you.”

   It looked like a sleigh, painted in red and gold. The reindeers that pulled it had weird-looking hooves. Rocket boots, Santa had said. Their brown-leathered reins hung over a strange panel at the front of the vehicle. Santa pushed a couple of its buttons, and then pulled a lever. The sleigh didn’t seem to move. The surrounding world, however, thrust itself over them. Soon before long, every light rushed past, only to end like a glimmering dot in a far and foreign space.

   Chance and Santa stepped out of the sleigh and re-entered the house. It seemed as if they had never left, yet the air smelled different. When they reached the living room, Chance noticed that Santa was carrying a couple of presents, which he left under the tree, and some candy, which he poured into Chance’s stocking. Santa grabbed Chance by the shoulder and both stepped out of the way just in time for a younger Chance to rush into the room and find that he had missed his opportunity of catching Santa by going to the bathroom.

   “You should have flushed,” whispered Santa in Chance’s ear, as they both watched the kid stumble back upstairs slowly.

   “Thanks Marnie,” said Chance sarcastically. He tried to walk forward, but Santa stopped him.

   The clock’s ticking increased its pace, and time hastened its speed. Chance and Santa saw everything move faster. How young Chance remained just there, alone, playing with a toy on his own. Time only slowed down when everyone had gone to bed. Santa guided Chance back to his sleigh. They got in and Santa pressed another combination of buttons. This time, it was they who started to move.

   The sleigh landed next to a house that was very familiar to Chance, and they arrived just as a car was parking in the house’s driveway. Chance’s grandparents greeted him, his sister and his parents merrily.

   “Duck’s always a popular choice,” said Santa. He was biting a candy cane. “Do you know what your sister is studying at college?” he asked.

   Chance was unable to answer. He didn’t remember. Maybe, he didn’t even know.

   After everyone went to bed, Santa and Chance entered the house through the front door. Santa left a couple of boxes, containing skates, and some chocolates next to the tree. Chance tried to touch the rattle bells that hung from the chimney, but Santa grabbed him before he could. They stepped outside and waited for everyone to wake up. They listened to Marnie play with the bells, and saw a young Chance rush outside, put on his new skates, and steal into the horizon.

   “Do you want to know what your family did while you were away?” asked Santa.

   Chance shrugged. He did feel a little curious.

   “Oh,” said Santa as he looked at his watch, “no time… maybe on another occasion,” he said. Both returned to the sleigh and flew back home.

   The living room was covered in flour. Santa had just put the two bicycles next to the tree, not even bothering about the footsteps he had left. Now, he and Chance were just waiting, sitting on the couch. The sun started to rise, and Chance was looking at Santa nervously.

   “You left your footsteps all over the floor.”

   Santa smiled. He nodded, like a small and mischievous little boy.

   Chance heard a door open. He rushed towards the stairwell, grabbed the flour package and spread it on the floor, covering Santa’s tracks. He then stood idly by as his mother made his younger self clean everything up. He saw how his sister and he went outside, and then how Marnie returned alone, crying.

   “Why is she crying?” Chance asked.

   “Don’t you remember?”

   “I…” Chance hesitated, “I don’t know. Where are mom and dad? Why aren’t they here?”

   “I don’t know Chance,” said Santa, “I wasn’t here… either. We should go now,” he said and guided Chance back to the sleigh. “I believe we have time for one last delivery.”

   When they arrived, Chance knew what had to be done. He grabbed the gift box and started walking towards the tree. Santa stopped him. He pointed at the video camera that lay on the couch. Santa turned it off and turned it back on only after Chance had put the gift under the tree.

   “I don’t understand. I watched… I will watch… no, I watched the whole footage in that camera,” said Chance.

   “Yes, you have,” said Santa laconically.

   “But… I should have noticed in the video’s timer that you turned it off for a moment.”

   “The most important details of life are often the ones we pay the least attention to.”

   Chance was still thinking of Santa’s last phrase when they jumped out of the sleigh. He knew they had returned to the moment when they’d first meet. Santa walked him to his room and waved goodbye. Maybe Chance was a thirteen year old now, and he felt like maybe he had lived with a blindfold over his eyes for five years. Maybe he had gotten both answers and questions to things he didn’t even think of before. Maybe… this was all a dream and there’s more to Christmas magic than he had ever thought. Chance cuddled in bed and waited for a long time, hearing his heartbeat and the sway of his lungs. He fell asleep.


   The Christmas tree was refulgent, as usual. A ray of light filtered through one of the windows and hit it directly, like a spotlight for the important houseguest that returned every year. Under the tree lay a silver box with a golden bow. Chance’s present. He gulped and opened it slowly. It was the superhero action figure he had already seen. He smiled. Maybe Chance had a second chance.

   He didn’t speak through the entire breakfast, so his mother finally asked what was wrong with him.

   “Nothing,” Chance muttered.

   “Are you sure?” asked his mother.

   Chance nodded. “I think…” he said after a while, “I think I know about Santa.”

   Chance’s mom’s eyes opened widely. There was a scope of fear in them. She looked at Chance’s father, who shook his head lightly. Then, she looked at Marnie, who shrugged and shook hers as well. “What do you mean, honey?” she asked carefully.

   “I think he uses a time machine. You know, for delivering his presents.”

   Mom sighed with relief. “Maybe he does.”

   “No, he doesn’t. That makes no sense,” said Marnie. She shut up just as she felt her mother’s gaze upon her.

   “But I think it doesn’t matter anyway,” said Chance. “So… what games are we playing today?”


Short Story. December, 2014.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mash-up Marathon: Bonus

The Vice President

I want you!, to say no to drugs

And, well, this is how the marathon ends. This last piece, by the way, reminds me that... there's new merchanidse on REDBUBBLE!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mash-up Marathon VI

Double feature! In honor of the movies that are to be released soon and that have most people excited:

The Saiyajin: The desolation of Shenlong

I am fire... I am death

Star Mario Kart

Better than a lightsaber with guards

Thursday, December 11, 2014