Welcome to 2023’s ninth edition. Obsession. Falling into somethings or someones and being unable to get up.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
“She’s dug up Fred’s grass!” My wife was standing at the bedroom window, looking down into the garden next door. It’s the only view into the property we have, or anyone else, come to that. The house next door is the last of a row at the end of the village. Across the lane are fields; to the west and north of us are more fields. A high hedge surrounds its back garden, old and thickly interwoven. So it’s the view from this one window, or nothing. Which always suited me: we keep ourselves to ourselves here, within reason.
Margaret and her husband Fred moved into the house a few years ago, after retirement. Fred had been a banker; she was an accountant. Good pensions, and a house in the city to sell; you need that these days to be able to afford a house in North Norfolk. We had a few chats over the low wall between our houses in the front. “She’s so looking forward to a proper garden,” Fred told me. “We hadn’t much ground in Norwich, and gardening’s her passion.”
That was putting it mildly. The first year, Margaret rehabilitated the existing beds, front and back. Flowers and shrubs in the front; vegetables in the back. The old fruit trees were pruned, the herb garden in its chequerboard of bricks replanted, and several raised beds built for tomatoes and runner beans and courgettes. They renovated the old fruit cage, too, and cut back the raspberries and blackberries and currants. She was out in the garden from dawn to dusk, it seemed.
Friday’s my pub night, for a pint or two and a game of darts. I invited Fred along, not too long after they were settled in. “I’m keeping busy,” he told me, over the glasses of Woodforde’s. “I help Margaret in the garden a bit, and meals are my responsibility. I like to cook.” He swallowed a mouthful of beer. “It’s one of the things that brought us to this part of the county, all the fresh fish and seafood, and the local fruit and veg.”
“From the look of the gardens, you won’t need much of that,” I said. They’d given us a tour earlier that day.
“If Margaret had her way,” he said, “there’d be no grass at all. But you need some, in my mind. It sets off the beds, and I want a place to have tea in the garden, or sit out of an evening.”
Fred and Margaret settled into village life well, I have to say. Fred made raspberry jam and red currant jelly and donated jars and jars to the church to raise funds. Pickles and pies made their way to various fetes and raffles. We had them over for a meal occasionally, but Margaret was heavy going. She had one topic of conversation, and that was the garden. I like my flowers and vegetables too, but an evening of nothing but green-fly and companion planting and soil amendments isn’t my idea of good company. Fred did try to change the subject a few times, to the quality of the wine from the local vineyard or the barn owl he’d seen a few times up the lane, but Margaret always managed to bring it back to gardening. Obsessed, she was.
Still, visiting over morning coffee or afternoon tea didn’t take more than half an hour, and kept us on good terms. Margaret would natter on about her plans for more raised vegetable beds, and did I think she could grow figs up against the house wall? My wife, who keeps herself busy with the church and the Women’s Institute, humoured her, partly to be neighbourly, and partly with an eye on the ready source of donations. Fred and I managed a few quiet words about the darts team or the quality of smoked salmon from the smokehouse up on the coast. But every time we went to theirs, I swore the patch of grass where the chairs and table sat under the big oak tree grew smaller. He’d lost the battle to keep any other turf, except for narrow paths between the beds.
Some weeks ago, I went upstairs to close the bedroom window. We keep it open to catch the breeze, but we were leaving to visit our daughter and her family, and my wife had sent me up to close it and draw the curtains, she being busy folding laundry. Raised voices caught my attention. “Don’t be ridiculous!” Margaret was shouting. “I can’t leave the garden.”
“It’s one weekend,” Fred said. “My mother will only be ninety once.” There was an edge to his voice I hadn’t heard before.
“She might not even make it.” A nasty rejoinder. Fred’s mother, who lived in a care home in Oxfordshire, was failing. He’d told me at the pub one night. He was her only child, and all the family she had. Margaret and Fred had no children and her husband—Fred’s father—had died years before.
“You are so selfish sometimes, Margaret,” Fred snapped back. “Mother wants to see you. She knows it is likely the last time.”
“There is too much to do here. The fruit and vegetables will spoil if I leave. Go without me.”
I crossed to the spare room to get the suitcases from the closet, and by the time I’d done that Margaret was alone in the garden, already busy weeding. I closed the window, and went back downstairs to bring our freshly washed clothes up to pack.
We had a wonderful few days with the grandchildren, and, not wanting to leave before a final, special tea, didn’t arrive home until only the faintest of light still brightened the western sky. We had a cup of tea and went to bed, pleasantly exhausted. I was up first the next morning, and as usual went to shower and shave. When I returned to the bedroom, my wife was standing at the window. “She’s dug up Fred’s grass!”
“What?” I said. Looking out the window, I could see she was right. The chairs and table were gone, and where they had stood was a freshly-turned patch of earth.
“What does she think she can grow there?” my wife said. “It’s too shaded to be useful, surely?”
“Fred must have gone to see his mother,” I mused. “He’ll be livid when he returns to see this.”
But when I went out to our car to retrieve my wallet, which I’d inadvertently left in the glove box, Fred’s car was in next door’s drive. Odd. But maybe he’d decided to take the train. I’m surprised he could drag Margaret out of the garden long enough to drive him to the station, I thought, and went back inside to unpack.
Days passed. Two young men in a white van appeared one morning to build another raised bed where the grass had been. I wandered over, curious. “What will you plant here?” I asked, indicating the shade.
“Rocket and lettuce in the spring, or beets and carrots,” Margaret said. Well, I thought, they’ll all tolerate less light.
“I’m surprised Fred agreed,” I said mildly. “Where will we have tea now?”
“Oh, I thought in the front garden,” Margaret said, with a vague wave of her hand. “There’s space.”
Barely, and it was in the full sun in the afternoons. I pointed that out.
“We’ll get one of those big umbrellas when Fred returns.”
“When is that? He’s gone to see his mother, hasn’t he?”
“Yes. And she is far from well, so he may be some time.” She gave me an apologetic smile. “Now I’d best supervise the workmen.”
“Strange he wouldn’t take his car to Oxford,” my wife said later.
“Parking? It’s an expensive town.” I handed her a pre-dinner glass of wine.
“Perhaps.” We settled down to the wine and nibbles, and a discussion of what to buy the grandchildren for Christmas. Fred and Margaret were forgotten.
But Fred didn’t show up for darts that Friday, or the next. My wife, who’d gone next door to collect jam promised for the church, came back with a boxful and a report that Fred was still in Oxford. As he was a week later, and the week after that.
We’d never bothered to exchange mobile phone numbers; it wasn’t that sort of friendship, and after all, he lived next door. I grew mildly concerned, and then worried. The next time I saw Margaret deadheading flowers in the front garden, I went out for a word.
She barely looked up from her kneeler. “He’s left me.”
She sat back on her heels. “Yes. His mother died. He stayed in Oxford to deal with everything, but he’s just told me he isn’t coming back.”
“Not even for his car?” What a stupid thing to say.
“Someone’s collecting it. And I’m to pack up his clothes and send them too.”
“I’m so sorry,” I murmured.
Margaret shrugged. “It happens. I’ll miss his cooking.”
Forty years of marriage and ‘I’ll miss his cooking’? No wonder he’d had enough, with her fanaticism about the garden and this attitude. I wondered if his mother had left him more money than he’d expected, and that had been enough for him to decide to leave. Good luck to you, mate, I thought.
“Can I have his mobile number?”
“I don’t know it,” she said. “I’ll give it to you later, shall I?”
When I reminded her a few days later, Margaret said he’d got a new phone, and she didn’t have its number. I let it go: we’d been neighbours who shared conversation and a pint, not truly friends. If he wanted to contact me, he knew my address, after all. I was asked a few times at the pub if I’d heard from him, but after me saying I hadn’t, the question was dropped.
Margaret doesn’t make jam or pies, but she gives the fruit to anyone who wants it, and the same with the vegetables. She’s still out in the garden from dawn to dusk. She’s growing thinner. Her groceries are delivered now; ready-meals and lots of cheese and salami and the like, nothing that needs preparation or much cooking. Sad, really.
“Fred was right to make the break when he did,” my wife says. She’s looking down at Margaret toiling away, digging carrots out of the raised bed where Fred’s patch of grass was. I join her at the window to watch.
Wondering, as more and more I do, if Fred ever left the garden at all.
Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
Marcus Brown scanned through the latest Reddit posts on the release of Harmon’s Drawbridge and followed the link to pre-order the multi-player game. Six months and counting until he could spend a long weekend with his online friends and explore the virtual world.
A shadow passed over him, and he looked up from his cell phone into the café. A beautiful woman stood before him. A simple blue and white floral dress was cinched at her waist, drawing his gaze down from her lovely face, down the column of her neck, across the tempting swell of her breasts to the appealing swell of her hip. “Marcus?”
He half-stood, tongue ready to fall out of his mouth. She should sue the photographer who took her photo for the dating app because it didn’t convey her beauty. “Lihn Cao?”
“It’s pronounced Kow.” Her thin lips curved in a shy smile.
“Lihn. Can I get you anything?”
Lihn held up her cup. “I’m good.” She sat across from him, drifting onto the chair like a feather on a satin sheet. “How was your day?”
Better now. Super better now. “Good. Yours?”
“I missed a connection on the bus and worried I’d be late.” Her beautiful eyes, the irises so dark they appeared black, looked at him over the rim of a paper coffee cup.
He didn’t check his cell phone. She could be one minute, ten minutes, an hour, a full day late, and meeting her and her sweet smile made up for it. “Don’t worry about it.”
Her smile deepened. “Your profile mentioned you worked in accounting?”
“Head of accounting of a small manufacturing company that makes the only component for the Zamboni.”
She laughed. “Your company makes the part for the machine that smooths the ice during hockey games?”
He pulled his shoulders back in an exaggerated posture. “The world’s leading manufacturer of Zamboni parts.”
“How’d you start with the company?”
“I got an internship out of college, liked the corporate culture, and have stayed on ever since.”
“Don’t play hockey?”
Not since he hurt his shoulder playing hockey when he was nineteen. Since then, he could still skate well, but not take a hit. Something had changed in his shoulder, which no MRI, ultrasound, X-ray, physiotherapist, osteopath, or massage therapist had figured out. Whatever had changed had left a deep, burrowing cold in his shoulder socket for days after he had taken a hit against the boards.
So much for his hockey career.
He shook his head. “I haven’t played in over ten years, but I still like to go to a public skate and skaterink on the Rideau Canal. You?”
“I don’t skate well, but I can skate. I took dance as a child and like to line dance.”
“Where’s a good place to line dance?”
“I do now.” The corners of his mouth rose in a twisted smile.
A lovely pink settled in her cheeks.
Marcus carried a box labelled ‘kitchen’ up the stairs to the two-bedroom apartment they had signed the rental agreement for last month. Sweat poured down his back, and a pain drilled deep into his injured shoulder, but none of that diminished the excitement that gave a bounce to his step.
He entered the apartment and placed the box on the kitchen counter.
Lihn stood in the kitchen, her hair tied back in a bandana and a gorgeous smile on her face. She removed an item from a box marked kitchen, placed it in a cupboard, and then turned to Marcus. The depth of her smile reached into Marcus and caressed his heart.
He stepped towards her, looped his arms around her waist, and embraced her. The first kiss to mark the beginning of their life in a new apartment. It was a passionate and hopeful kiss that expressed everything they wanted to build.
He caught his breath, rested his forehead against hers to sear the moment in his memory, then returned downstairs, collected another box from the rental van, and carried it upstairs.
Day complete, unopened boxes stacked high, they ordered Chinese take-out from the place up the street, sat surrounded by a fortress of boxes, and ate dinner.
The first thing he unpacked was his desk. The second thing he unpacked was his computer, and the third was the internet router. He connected everything, then sat on an unopened box marked ‘linens’ and played Harmon’s Drawbridge.
Marcus rose at four in the morning, turned on his computer, and waited for the Windows update. He tapped his foot against the floor with the Harmon’s Drawbridge update installed. He checked his email and clicked through the link to pre-order the Harmon’s Drawbridge 2 game, set for release in six months.
His pulse tripped, and excitement bulldozed him. He checked his calendar, cleared every night from eight to eleven and every morning from six to seven to play the game. He’d shave time off his morning exercise routine and time with in-person events on weeknights. He’d keep Friday and Saturday nights to spend time with Lihn and friends but kept Saturday mornings and early afternoons for the game. He’d perfect his knowledge of the game, its world, and the nuances the developers had put in, hoping only die-hard fans would pick up.
Die-hard fan? Marcus had been to every Comicon in his city and cities within a four-hour driving range. He’d taken time off to attend, chatted with other fans, joined fan clubs, and subscribed to every reputable blog. He had no time for amateurs who vented and hyped and pretended they knew how to unlock the world’s secrets. There were Easter Eggs in Harmon’s Drawbridge 1 that could unlock mysteries, and special weapons in Harmon’s Drawbridge 2.
Marcus slipped out of bed in the three-bedroom home he had purchased with Lihn.
Her light breathing came from behind him, and she lay draped over an S-shaped maternity pillow, the swollen bulge of her eight-month-pregnant belly supported by the pillow.
He pattered to the kitchen, flicked on the power to the coffee machine, and then prepared peanut butter toast. He hooked the toast in the corner of his mouth, gathered an extremely large cup of black coffee, and then went down the hall to his man cave. He pressed on the keyboard, and his dormant computer whirled its multiple fans to life.
He typed in a twenty-five-character alpha-numeric password, clicked on Harmon’s Drawbridge 2 to open, then devoured the rest of his toast. He wouldn’t eat again until late afternoon because every second of his day mattered. He sucked the peanut butter from his thumb, logged into the world and played.
His cell phone chirped. It was eight in the morning and time to log onto his paid work, but he ignored it. He was on the verge of unlocking a mystery box, and the contents of the box might level him up. A cyber friend encouraged him through his headset to continue picking the lock.
Marcus’s character failed on the first attempt—his skill level was too low. Frustrated, Marcus walked his character to the nearest town, interacted with the blacksmith, and took smithing lessons with him.
“Come on,” Marcus’s cyberfriend said in his ear. “We’ve only got ten minutes left.”
Marcus was well past his time to play that morning, but he didn’t care. A treasure chest needed to be opened, and only Marcus could open it. His character picked up a new lock-picking set and fumbled with the lock several times, wearing down the utility of the picks.
He shifted in his seat. He didn’t have enough gold coin to buy a new locking picking set, and he was already forty minutes late for work, but he had to open this mystery box—it could give his player new skills, secret weapons, it could open a portal to a distant land yet to be explored. Anything and everything in this mystery box could give him a one-up on his fellow players.
Anticipation coiled in him, and with enthusiasm, Marcus clicked off his character to open the mystery box. Marcus’s breath stilled, and his twinge of excitement teetered on disappointment.
His character fumbled with the lock, then it popped open.
“Ha!” Marcus exclaimed.
“What’s in?” a cyber-friend asked in Marcus’s ear.
“It’s a Quest Key.”
“I didn’t think those were activated yet.”
“Apparently, they are.”
“Put that in the bank for safekeeping. There’s plenty of thieves in this town.”
Marcus had his character collect the mystery box and Quest Key, then walked away from a collection of other characters, took the long way through side streets and stopped in front of the bank. He paid the fee, and his character deposited the mystery box and Quest Key.
“Have to go.” Marcus logged out of the game.
Ten hours, thirty-two minutes until he could log in again. The latest news on Harmon’s Drawbridge flashed on his cell phone screen. Marcus logged into his nine a.m. Zoom meeting, turned off his camera, and read through the updates on Harmon’s Drawbridge, searching for clues on improving his play, gaining access to the coveted rewards, and levelling up faster than opposing clans.
Anxiety whirled in Marcus, and he checked the rear-facing baby car seat one last time, then stepped out of the way to let Lihn place their day-old baby girl into the car seat.
He walked around the back of the car, sat in the driver’s seat, and turned on the car.
Lihn eased into the front passenger side, buckled the seat belt over her still-swollen belly and glanced at Marcus. Her cheeks were puffy from water weight but rounded in bliss.
Marcus drummed his fingers on the steering wheel on his way home. He’d checked his cell phone and updates on gamer boards as often as he could in the past twenty-four hours, but Lihn’s demands in childbirth had pulled him away from the game, the latest updates, and the new game-wide quest.
He parked the car in the laneway and removed the hundred-and-one baby-item-stuffed-go-bag they had brought to the hospital for the birth. He hooked a series of bag straps over his shoulder, then shuffled up to the front door and unlocked it.
Lihn carried the baby into the house and placed her in a baby seat in the living room.
Marcus dumped the baby stuff by the door, entered his office-turned-man cave, and launched Harmon’s Drawbridge. He hadn’t played the game in over a day, and every nerve in his body was bound tight. He needed release and the rush of loading his character, charging into battle and searching the fallen’s possessions for the new item, that stash of gold, that upgraded weapon that gave him the advantage in the next round.
In this game, he owned. For three years running, he had won every quarterly election as leader of his clan. He had battled and won a coveted cloak that allowed his character to be invincible and invisible. Under his leadership, he had led his clan to countless other clans, ensuring they paid taxes to him and could be pressed into labour at his clan’s factories. Whisper was his character’s name to any noob and any old-timer throughout the digital realm, and everyone knew him.
He dominated this game.
The baby cried, but Marcus ignored her. Lihn would see to the baby’s needs.
Marcus tapped his foot against the floor. The internet had been laggy all day—thunderstorms causing havoc on the electrical grid. Harmon’s Drawbridge was taking forever to load. His stomach growled, but he ignored it because it was important to see the game load. He had played the game since four in the morning when his six-month-old daughter had woken up for breakfast, and he couldn’t fall back asleep. Lihn had seen to their daughter’s needs, but Marcus took advantage of more of the awake time to play. That is if the stupid electrical grid cooperated and the internet company upheld their end of the contract and delivered high-speed internet.
He stared at the screen until the game loaded, then blissed out in two hours of uninterrupted play.
Marcus woke up three hours before dawn and eased out of bed. He pattered across the bedroom, down the hallway, past the baby’s room with extra ease to not wake her, to his man cave that was sometimes used as an office. He turned on his computer. He had turned off his computer every night to ensure he received every update to give him that slight nano-second edge in Harmon’s Drawbridge.
The Harmon’s Drawbridge log-in screen appeared, and he typed in his fifty-five-character alpha-numeric password and loaded up the world. His character had obtained near-god mode. Few, if any, other characters could challenge his might. No other clan and no alliance of clans were strong enough to challenge him or his clan. Marcus’s character was supreme, only one step down from the game developer.
Marcus sucked in a full, satisfied, light-a-cigarette-after breath, and walked about the realms of his clan. He checked on the farms, the workshops, the mines, and the training camps, reviewed updates from his sentries and tax collectors, and reviewed the import/export ratios. All was in order, and the gold coins flooded his clan’s coffers.
The front doorbell to Marcus’s house rang.
Marcus ignored it and continued to play Harmon’s Drawbridge.
“Your parents are here,” Lihn said.
Why? Marcus frowned, moved his character to the nearest town, banked his items, and logged out of the game. He walked down the hallway to the living room.
His parents placed Christmas presents under the tree and turned to face him. They smiled, and Mom came over to pull him into a hug, and Dad nodded.
The front doorbell rang again, and Lihn answered. Her parents, older brother, and the older brother’s wife stepped in. The wife held their one-year-old boy, and their three-year-old daughter darted into the room towards Marcus’s parents.
Marcus hung to the room’s edges, took his cell phone from his pocket, and started a two-hour countdown until he could play Harmon’s Drawbridge again.
Greetings were exchanged, and dinner was served.
Marcus sat at the head of the table because he co-owned the house. At the other end, Lihn sat because she had done everything else to prepare the meal, clean the house, decorate the place, and ensure everyone had a great time.
Marcus gorged himself on walnut salad, squash soup, turkey, cranberry sauce, and cranberry pie, and when he thought his stomach would explode with the next bite, he sipped his red wine.
His baby cried, and Lihn rose and collected her from her highchair. Lihn bounced the baby on her knee and kissed her chubby cheeks. Then, Marcus’s Mom reached for the baby and soothed her some more. The baby laughed and giggled and was passed to Dad, who gave the baby a bounce on his knee. The baby laughed, cooed, and threw her arms over Dad’s neck.
Dad kissed the baby’s hands, then passed her to Lihn’s mother. Baby babbled into Marcus’s mother-in-law’s neck and waved her tiny hands and kicked her tiny feet. Baby laughed and snuggled and rested her head into the nook of Marcus’s mother-in-law, resting contently. Baby’s large eyes shifted their focus from grandma to grandma, to cousin, to aunt, to uncle, and to Mom, then Baby stretched her arms out to be held by Lihn’s father, and he scooped her up and nuzzled kisses against her chubby cheeks.
Baby squealed in delight and flailed her arms, giggling, cooing, and reaching out to touch his nose. Grandpa pressed a kiss against each palm and foot of Baby, then handed her to Marcus.
Marcus baulked, then reached for Baby with stiff arms and joints. He held her like she was an alien with a large head and larger eyes. Baby’s laughter died, and she stopped flailing her arms and legs. She sat still in Marcus’s arms, eyeing everyone around her but Marcus. Her tiny body stiffened as if uncertain to laugh, cry, or lie still until she was passed on to someone else.
Marcus’s cell phone chirped. Two hours had passed.
Harmon’s Drawbridge or continue holding his daughter.
Marcus ran his tongue over his lower lip, knowing his choice with absolute confidence.
It hits different people at different ages. Used to be, the old. The elderly. In their hundredth year.
Then it went back five years. Anyone ninety-five or older.
Then the ninety-year-olds.
Then the … well, you get the picture.
Almost like a designer disease, when you think about it. Why clear-cut five-year increments?
It’s an epidemic. We don’t get much information from the outside world, and when we do, it’s all unicorns and fairy dust, so I think it’s happening all over. Back in the day, every country in the world that could get a rocket’s butt off the ground, blasted ships out. So, better call it what it is, a pandemic.
SciFi writers weren’t wrong. It came from Mars. Not that we’ve identified an organism, or anything responsible. No fancy artifact or magical treasure came home with anyone, or was shipped home on the robo runs. Not that we know of anyway. Though some of the settlers and some of their sponsors are pretty sketchy, good pilgrims being hard to find.
No. It was after the tenth anniversary party, and the return home of the original survey crew that things started happening. When the over-a-hundreds started going.
If you’re into taste, unless you had some kind of weird fetish, it would probably start with overeating. Gorging. Old people demanding samples of exotic foods. Eventually, they’d start running their tongues over every surface imaginable. Not a pretty sight. They’d get extremely annoyed and even violent if you asked them what the hell they were doing, or tried to stop them.
A few dedicated observers finally figured out they were obsessed with the taste of things. This would have been somewhat okay, except that at a certain stage of the condition, having apparently taken in all the sensory information they could, or needed, people entered the second stage, which was, or appeared to be, analysis. Then they’d sit, or stand, or lie, immovable, and just, apparently, savour the sensory input they’d collected.
This catatonic state went on, until, despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses, they died. Starvation? No. They were on IV’s, and well nourished. Sensory overload? Maybe. Most of them died with a smile on their face, so who knows? Autopsies revealed nothing.
After it got a foothold in the elderly, the condition, disease, whatever, progressed through the ages of people pretty fast. It took only a year to get to the sixty-year-olds.
My mom was a Taster, my dad was a Listener. It’s been two years since I lost them.
The disease has come down to forty-year-olds.
If you’re a Taster, you get this irresistible urge to taste everything.
If smells are your thing, you surround yourself with fragrances, or smelly things like onions, garlic, cheese. Not to taste, just to inhale a few molecules. Forever.
If you’re a Toucher, the sky’s the limit. They go the fastest, often in the throes of pleasure. But it’s not all bad. Everyone dies with a smile on their face. That’s a bit of comfort.
Taste, touch, hearing, smell. Vision is a dilly. People with the vision version stop whatever they’ve been doing, and just stare. Some at TVs, some at computer screens, some won’t leave movie theatres. They stare, even when the screen is dark. God only knows what they’re seeing. Bus stops and train stations are crowded with silent people scarfing up visual data. They stare so long without blinking, their eyes dry out and they go blind. You’d think that would stop them, but it doesn’t. They go straight into analytic mode, then catatonia, then death. Always smiling. The spookiest ones have become skeletal from lack of food, and their smiles look more like grins. We all wonder what joke they know that the rest of us don’t.
I have found listening to be bliss.
That’s why we call this pandemic, Ecstasy. It’s better than any drug ever known.
If you’re a Listener, watch out for the desire to stop everything and just listen. The hum of a fridge. The sough of the wind. Leaves rustling. The sound your finger makes when it rubs a piece of cloth. Music. One musical note. I know this because I’m a Listener, and I have it. I keep telling myself it’s not all bad.
It hasn’t killed everyone. Some of us can fight it, some are immune and never get it. But it’s shredded our civilization. We’re barely keeping the lights and heat on. It’s certainly gotten our attention, though. As far as anyone can tell, there are no wars going on at the moment, and surprisingly, or not surprisingly, winters have started getting colder. The glaciers reforming. Ocean temperatures and sea levels dropping.
Is this the end of humankind?
We don’t know. We have developed coping strategies.
I’m still alive because every now and then, and more and more often, I can pull out of listening mode, and do something else. Communicate with others. Do my job, which is automotive repair. There’s a huge backlog, even with all the deaths. Eat. Bathe. Pray.
If you can pull away from the ecstasy long enough, it has less of a hold on you. Like dieting, and losing weight, it’s hard work. But the longer you can stay off your drug du brain, the better your chances of survival.
I found the first month the hardest.
It gets easier if you keep at it. These days, I’m down to four hours listening, twenty hours in the real world.
Word of this strategy has spread and the death rate has gone down. Maybe it’s because there’s mostly young people left, although there are a goodly number of immune and ornery oldsters still around, running things.
In any event, that’s what’s happening.
If we can’t get a handle on it, humankind will go out, not with a whimper, but a grin.
When I first met Tracy, she was walking along the ledge
outside my window, her toes over the edge.
She tapped on the glass, then threw me a smile
that was a little bit crooked, and a little bit wild.
She stepped through the window, like she did it all the time,
She said “Hey, how are ya? Thanks, I’m fine,”
“or so I’ve been told,” then she started to laugh,
and that’s what I remember when I’m remembering our past.
She said, “I used to walk the tightrope and swing on the trapeze.
Well, not really, but don’t you think that’s a cool thing to be?
Did you ever tap dance ten floors up and know you just can’t fall?
You know, I’d rather go crazy, than never go anywhere at all.”
We talked that night for what seemed like hours,
but when she left I didn’t know a damn thing about her.
I wouldn’t call it love, but I have a true confession—
that crazy girl with the crooked smile became my true obsession.
Tracy had her problems, I knew that going in.
I could live with her addictions as long as I was one of them.
“I get high on life”, she’d say, but smiling when she said it.
“I’ve taken wrong turns in my life, but I never will regret it.”
She said, “I used to walk the tightrope and swing on the trapeze.
Well, not really, but don’t you think that’s a cool thing to be?
Did you ever tap dance ten floors up and know you just can’t fall?
You know, I’d rather go crazy, than never go anywhere at all.”
She’d disappear for days on end, never tell me why or where.
She’d huddle in the corner, say, “you know life’s just not fair.”
From the giddy heights of ecstasy to the bottom of her soul,
Tracy was the pilot, but she never had control.
I knew one day her dance would take her too close to the edge.
I knew one day her dancing feet would slip off from the ledge.
I knew our time together was a trip that had to end,
but I didn’t know how much it hurts to lose your dearest friend.
Tracy used to walk the tightrope, and swing on the trapeze,
and if she said she did it, well, that’s good enough for me,
I never learned to tap dance, and ten floors is just too tall,
but I think I’d rather go crazy, than never go anywhere at all.
Renée Gendron‘s A Gift of Stars: Book 1 The Nearer Realm Tales is available for pre-order on Amazon. Her Golden Hearts: Book 2 of Frontier Hearts and Two Hearts on the Backspin, Novella 2 of her Heartened series, are also available there. The second book in her Outdoorsmen series, The Officer’s Gamble, was published on October 18. Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series is available as is her Ninth Star, Jaded Hearts, and Seven Points of Contact, Heads and Tales, a supernatural/mythological anthology. to which Renée contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Shopkeeper & Spoon, Beneath The Twin Suns: An Anthology, Heartened by Crime, and In The Red Room: A crime anthology with heart, all edited by Renée Gendron, are also available now.
Marian L Thorpe‘s newest installment in her wonderful Empire series, Empress & Soldier, has been released. (Empire’s Daughter is the first part.) She has numerous titles available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com. Her books are listed at Books2Read.
David M. Simon has published The Wild Hunt: Novella 2 of The Wild Hearts and Hunts Duology (Part 1 is Renée Gedron’s Ninth Star) as well as Trapped in Lunch Lady Land, a middle-grade fantasy adventure.