08 August 2010


It started out small.

I was at a restaurant, waiting for my chicken or whatever to show up. The place was one of those modern joints built into a turn-of-the-century building: wood and steel, high-efficiency lightbulbs and exposed brick. Seated near the window, I was absent-mindedly rubbing my fingers along the mortar holding the wall together. I felt the smallest of snaps, like breaking the arm off a porcelain ballerina, and suddenly I was rolling a piece of mortar between my fingers.

It was small, y'know? It wasn't until I got home to my cramped little efficiency that I realized I was still carrying this piece of mortar. I put it down on my little Ikea desk and stared at it for a while before I went to bed.

For the rest of the week, I'd get up, go to work, come home and watch TV or whatever. But every time I'd go to bed, I'd look at this little piece of mortar, and I wouldn't know why.

When I went back to the restaurant like three weeks later or so, I by chance got seated at the same table. And waiting for my pasta or whatever, my hands found the spot where the mortar used to be. And there was fresh mortar.

And then it hit me: I stole a part of the building.

The worst ideas are the ones where you can't tell if it's the worst idea or the best idea. But that night, the mortar on my desk was joined by a loose piece of wood from the windowsill.

I was eating at that restaurant three times a week now. I'd just take a little of whatever was falling apart. Bits of brick, mortar, wood, linoleum. A fixture was loose in the bathroom. A bolt was loose on a bar stool.

Pretty soon I had a duffel bag full of detritus in my apartment. I wasn't sleeping. Eight hours of staring at this bag, then right back out the door to catch breakfast and a hunk of loose marble from the bartop. And every time I thought I took something too big -- a doorknob, or a light fixture -- it would just get replaced. I was a bacteria, really, eating bits and pieces, and this building was healing itself.

The leg of a chair broke off. That Thursday morning it was in the trash. That Thursday night it was in my overflowing apartment. My apartment looked like a construction site, but I knew where everything belonged. I had long since memorized the restaurant. But I finally realized why the junk wouldn't let me sleep; it was homeless.

Soon I was too. Eating out all the time is really expensive. I was wheeling crates of building around, looking for a home. What I found was an abandoned lot with a 1000ft spool of stiff steel wire.

I built a wireframe. I knew where everything belonged. Everything. Light fixtures hanging on wire, brick and wood tied to the frame. Chairs, and bits of tables. Empty liquor bottles stocking an empty bar.

It took two days to flesh out the wireframe. And now I can see it -- the full, original restaurant, here, 70 blocks away from where it was born. Waiting for me to finish. My Sistene Chapel. My Ark.

If you replace every part of a boat, is it the same boat?

If I steal this building, won't mine be the real one?

09 July 2010

Time Travel

"I'm not sure I understand."

Perry smiles and takes a deep breath. "I know I have forever to explain this to you, Quentin," he says, "but I'd rather not take it."

Quentin chuckles as the pair look out on the fractured landscape, great glaciers of obsidian glass undulating as would the pistons of a great engine. "I don't mean to be daft, just having a bit of a hard time with the concept. Where is this place?"
Perry shakes his head. "You're still using the wrong adverbs, chap. You are not in a place, you are at a time. Or an untime, rather."

"Well how did I get here? Or, now, I suppose?"

"I thought it would be obvious. You've time travelled."

"Yes, you said that eariler, and I maintain that the thought is just as ridiculous as when I first heard it. I am not a scientist --"

"Well that much is apparent," interrupts Percy.

"Yes well, glibness aside, that merely proves my point. If I am having such a hard time fathoming what has taken place, how can I possibly have the wherewithal to travel through time itself?"

"That's a rather good point," says Percy, thoughtfully tapping his pipe against the heel of his shoe. "perhaps you hit your head on the way in and have forgotten you were a brilliant astrophysicist. Or instead got incredibly drunk and fell into a passing wormhole."

Quentin pretends to contemplate this for a moment.
"Untime?" he continues.

"Yes. Well you know time travel is impossible, of course."

"But you said--"

"And this is when impossible things go."

Quentin lets the grammar of that sentence wash over him as a flock of sparrows bursts fully formed from a rotted apple in the distance.

24 March 2010

What's Mine Is Mine

A star explodes in my brain and I'm awake. In my nostrils, the smell of steel; in my mouth, the taste of copper. White-hot light sears my eyes; my ears scream as blood rushes through. My joints snap like splintered wood, fingers crackling towards the sky, as wet coughs escape my dry throat.

I'm alive. Fucking Christ, where am I? Cold metal on my back, dry plastic on my legs... I'm naked. Fucking autopsy table? I touch my chest, but there's no incision, no stitches. They didn't cut me open.

What happened? I was at a bar... Sadie's... Meeting someone? The fucking deal... I remember dim lights, damp tables, shitty beer and that cocksuck Guillerme with his yellow eyes and shit-eating grin.

That motherfucker. He poisoned me. Deadly nightshade. "You cross us, you wish you dead, eh?" Now I know what he meant. Nightshade induces paralysis, slows the metabolism, stops the heart. A mask like unto death.

Right. Step one: pants. Step two: beer. Step three: find Guillerme and stab him in the dick.

I try to move and fail, falling off the table and landing in a bloody, naked heap. Every part of me screams out in pain, and under my curses and gasps I hear a sound like wet leather ripping. My insides shift and I grab my side. It's wet with blood, and my head lurches with nausea like the fucking SS goosestepped on my crotch.

For some reason, I think of the day I got my driver's license.

"Ahhh, fuck!"

Delirious from the pain, I wrap the plastic sheet around me like a towel. I'm leaving bloody handprints everywhere, my gut drooling like a St. Bernard. I find a clipboard attached to the bottom of the table - my last name, blood type, a bunch of fucking acronyms, and what I'm lookin for: OR5. I grab something steel and sharp looking from a caddy and bleed my way into the hallway.

There's arrows and maps on the wall, but I can't make sense of it. I'm losing blood fast, and with it, my balance and my patience. I stumble into what I guess is a break room to the sound of a girl screaming and a mug of coffee breaking. I point whatever it is I'm carrying and bark, "OR Five! Now!"

And she's nodding and walking, and I'm grabbing onto her and bleeding.

Forever happens.

And the operating theatre is treated to a crazed, naked, blood-soaked lunatic shoulder-checking his way into surgery. As I point at the lump of meat in the surgeon's hands, I realize it's time to update my plan.

"Give that back!"

Step zero: Retrieve my liver. I'll need it for step two.

16 March 2010

Gordian Knot

My name is Shane Hastings, and I untangle things.

When I was younger, say four or five, my older brothers started noticing I never had the same problems with my laces they always seemed to have. Their hastily tied bows would quickly dissolve into hideous, knotted tangles, grimy tapeworms latched to them for dear life.

So they started bringing them to me to untie them.

It was simple for me. No matter how convoluted, twisted, and knotted a lace got, it was still a single thread, with a defined beginning, middle, and end. Even when other threads intersected and twisted, matting into braids and dreadlocks, they too were single threads. They simply... unfolded for me.

Over, under, around and through.

When I was a bit older -- twelve, I think? -- I got called into the principal's office. I'd always done fairly well on tests, I thought, but too well perhaps. My teachers began to suspect I had been cheating, so they gave me a different quiz than everyone else. A multiple-choice pop quiz with stuff they'd never gone over, and I still scored a hundred. I hadn't even noticed. Passed one test only to fail another, stumbling right into a trap.

I hadn't cheated, of course. But it was the first time I noticed my prediliction for untying things hinted at something more innate, more primal.

In college, I skipped myself lazily over the placid waters of a dozen majors, causing brief but violent ripples at every step. Bioinformatics, Eng Lit, Illustration, Architecture. The highlight for me was a twenty minute argument with a two-time Mendeleev laureate on why string theory was so utterly and completely wrong that ended with him storming out of the lecture hall, vowing never to return until our institution produced students that actually wanted to learn.

After two years of that, my folks refused to pay another cent of tutition until I made up my mind about what I wanted. So I left school, started working odd jobs at soup kitchens and the like, roomed with another nice girl, Karen. She was clean enough, didn't keep me up when she brought boys over, and most of all didn't seem to mind when I came up with my half of the rent two weeks too late every time.

I think we were eating store-bought lasagna the night we were watching the news about the La Brise area murders. I was fixing yet another of Ren's knotted necklaces. I think she started jumbling them up just to see if I could do it. They brought up pictures of the third murdered girl, Yolanda Cabrera, who'd been found brutally beaten and dumped in a tree off a hiking trail in So Cal. Police were asking for any information people had, showing a sketch of some burly mouth-breather, based on sketchy eyewitness accounts and footprints found at the scene. They flashed up pictures of the scene, pictures of Yolanda and the other two victims, all fairly attractive Hispanic girls with high cheekbones and a strong jawline, showing pictures of the scene, footprints, showing the sketch again, until...

"It's a woman."

Ren looked up at me, forcing a "Who is?" out through chunks of meat and pasta.

"At least, he thinks he is. Or he thinks he should've been. He, or she? Ey, is that the word? Whatever, they were born hermaphroditic, but their folks made the choice for them. Sexual assignment surgery. He thinks they made the wrong choice."

Ren chewed over this thought and swallowed it as if the taste didn't quite agree with her. She asked me, "You know this how?"

Idly playing with Ren's necklace, I replied, "Look at the women they've picked -- all very beautiful, but with masculine features. The woman he would've been. They're not missing any jewelry, so not likely theft. No sign of sexual trauma, so not rape. They aren't from affluent areas, so probably not B&E, and they did well enough in their schools and jobs to not be so tied into the drug biz that someone would hang em up in a tree. The footprint gait is a masculine length, but he sashays an awful lot when he walks. And nearly all the trauma is to the face." Something gives way in my hands, and just like that, her necklace is free. Then, laughing, scaring my poor roommate, "He's smashing mirrors!"

Clink. Ren drops her fork, staring at me in much the same way a horny teenage boy would stare at his naked grandmother. On a whim, I called the number on the screen and started blurting out everything. It took two or three transfers to get to someone who actually gave a damn, but the Lieutenant that finally answered had me come down to the station to give a statement.

An alibi first, of course. People always think I'm cheating first.

After explaining what I'd untangled, Lieutenant Hargrave relucatantly let me look at the rest of the evidence that hadn't yet been made public.

Over, under, around and through.

The cops would find Hector Fernandez, 32, coked out of his mind in an abandonded Anaheim mannequin store yelling full throttle at some poor store clerk about how his parents stole his flower and gave it to her and "all the other princesses".

He told her he was going to get every single petal back.

Have you ever watched yourself on the news? You fidget a whole lot more than you thought you did. Ren didn't notice the fidgeting though. She noticed that I was right, and I was on the news being right, and she'd turn to me and say, "So you know how you're always late on the rent?"

I guess you just sort of fall into these things.

My name is Shane Hastings. What can I untangle for you today?

13 January 2010

On the Importance of Staying in Touch

Let say, for a minute, you can see the future.

Y'know, just a hypothetical. You can just, like, totally close your eyes and see the future. Not, like, too far ahead or anything, but you can see like maybe when the bus is gonna come or somethin'. Maybe a little further, like the deli's gonna be outta pastrami tomorrow afternoon or what have you.

Then let's saying you're walking around, right? And you see this totally gorgeous chick, like drop-dead stunning, y'know, professional hair, high heels, great tits, whole package, yeah? And you close your eyes real quick, a-and you totally see yourself bangin' her. I mean not like, fantasy kind o' see, like you see the future and it is good, right?

Let's say, for a minute, you look like me.

Hypothetically, you're like, kind of a dumpy, balding, hairy, middle-aged guy, right? So you figure whoa, this is great, I'm gonna bang her? Fan-fucking-tastic, am I right?

So you get this, like, burst o' confidence. 'Cause it's a done deal, right? I mean, you've seen the future, so, y'know, you can't fail. And sure enough, she starts fallin' for it. Next thing you know, it's drinks, and she's laughing at jokes older than her, right? Jokes that'd get arrested for statutory if they ended up in her mouth, y'know? Okay, so she ain't that young, but I mean, least half my age.

Anyway, she's funny and smart on top of that package? You figure, hey, this is great times, y'know, and bam you close your eyes, and she's, I dunno, stealing your wallet. In the future, I mean, y'know, you're passed out from the throes of lovemaking, and she robbin' you.

But then you figure, hey, you can just lock up the wallet, right? Plus if she steals it, hey, you've paid for worse sex than you're about to get, so it's not even like a big loss.

Hypothetically speakin', of course.

So you get her in a cab, and you start headin' back to your place, already thinkin' of where to stash your goods, if you know what I mean, and you get there right? She goes to freshen up, and you lock up your wallet, watch, y'know what have you. She comes outta that bathroom, and I mean, the Virgin Mary never had tits this good. You got a goddamn naked supermodel pouncing on you, right? And she, basically, fucks your brains out. Sucks your cock like a shop vac, gets right down an' dirty with it. Tighter than a Chinese fingertrap, like they say. I mean, damn.


And y'know, right when you're, you're about to blow the biggest fuckin' wad this side of John Holmes, closin' your eyes hard, and bam you see the future again.

Only this time, you see this chick with her ma. And her ma looks real familiar, right? It, y'know, kinda maybe looks like her ma is your sister. Y'know, the one you ain't see in, maybe, a decade. And used to have the cutest little girl.

I mean, that's just awkward, right?

So, I mean, all I'm sayin' is, y'know, maybe you should call home more often.

23 December 2009

Suzanne Moratorium

The sleet falls like sugar in a tin pan, spilling on God's kitchen floor and sending the city's vermin scattering in to its darkest alleys. Red and blue lights splash through the window and jump off my desk as I send a shot of bourbon down to meet the other four. It's cheaper than heating and easier than counseling, and with my lack of clientele lately it's prudent to watch the books.

The sign on the door says "Moratorium Investigations," and I feel like the letterer missed an "on" in there somewhere. Not a damn soul is coming in here at this time of night. I think about getting a cab home, but with the state of this city I'd just as likely wake up in a short crate on a long boat to Shanghai.

A shadow darkens my door. I'm not too sloshed to grip the revolver on my desk and point in the vague direction of its head.

The door opens, letting in a walking puddle -- five foot eleven of beige overcoat and hypothermia draped over a man that looked like he could throw a bum through a railcar and still be home in time for dinner. He shakes the slush out of his messy brown hair, looks at me and says, "Walter Moratorium?"

I stare at him for a minute and send down another shot to join the party. "He's dead. I'm Suzie. Whatd'ya want?"

His face starts to go into full on "condolences" mode, so I cut him off right there. "Look, either tell me what you want or get out."

I'm startin' to understand I why I have so few clients.

He looks at me grimly. He says, "I'm sorry. I'm looking for a man named Augustus Briton."

Sobriety hits me like a prize fighter in a semi. My eyes tighten, my nostrils flare, my revolver finds itself loaded and holstered, and I'm standing.

"Go on."

03 December 2009

Concentrate, pt. 1

My mother says, "Close your eyes." She waits a moment, then adds, "Push it to the top of your mouth, and exhale slowly."

I do.

She says, "Let your mind relax."

I try. I drown out the clinking of glasses, taking of orders. The couple two tables to the right just got engaged. The guy at the bar buying a round just got promoted.

Drown them out.

Another moment, and she says, "Now tell me."

I concentrate, moving the lump of food to the left, to the right. Images zoom past, a memory zoetrope, herbal rolodex, and...

I tell her, "Salt, obviously. Black pepper. Cumin, oregano, and vinegar." She says, "And?"

I inhale slightly, a few more images popping up. "Onions and garlic? No, it's milder than that. Shallots. And scallion."

"Keep going."

"Um... Something lemony. Not sweet enough to be the juice, not flowery enough to be lemongrass. Lemon oil?"


I move the food a millimeter backwards. My tastebuds pick up on the bitterness. "Lemon peel."

I hear her thinking; the sound of an inked nib slicing checkmarks into a sheet of parchment. She asks me, "How?"

I've exhausted this forkful, so I swallow it and procure another. "Concentrate, " she say, in that nagging authoritative tone. I move small pockets of air back and forth through my nostrils, trying to discern everything that happened to every ingredient, every thought of the chef. The way my mother talks about it, you'd think you could tell a person's life -- past, present, and future -- through taste alone. Something mystical.

It finally hits. The slight scent of smoke. "Faintest hint of carmelization. He cut the peel, flexed it to release the oil, and fried it with the shallots and scallions." A moment later, I add, "In sesame oil."

She says nothing for a while, so I open my eyes, and ask, "Can I enjoy my meal now?"

She smiles and says, "Not yet. But you're getting closer. Now dig in."