The Crossroads

By Chef SteelPanMan

//Source.

There was a mirror in the room that reflected dust from the windows and the stilted light that came in. He saw himself in its reflection and he also saw past himself. He looked at the film of dirt and black marks upon the mirror and wondered how old it must be.

He wore a suit that he had never owned and it was a shadow in the dark room. There was music outside and he listened hard but he could not understand it. It floated beyond his ears and he could only feel it in a ghostly way.

He stared at the mirror and looked at himself.

To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading.

He wondered where he had heard that before.

Does that make me a bad person?

And he thought, yes, he must be a bad person, for he had never asked himself that question before.

The door opened and there was tepid light flooding in. The light hardly reached him and he saw more dust motes dancing in the air. A beautiful woman looked at him. She was older than him, a perpetual thirty, and she had a kindness about her and he had never seen her before.

“You are awake,” she said.

“Where am I?”

“This is the last outpost. We call it the Crossroads. Here is the last meeting place of both our worlds.”

“I don’t understand. where am I? Am I under arrest? What has happened?”

“Look outside, if you will. You might understand then.”

The window was yellow from light, a blinding hole from an outside that did not want to be seen.

Scary monsters and super creeps keep me running scared.

He blinked the thought away and looked out the window. There were people outside dressed in black and sitting in folding chairs and there was a priest beside a casket. He knew he was inside that casket.

“What is…”

“You know what has happened. It will take some time to digest, I’m sure. But please, we have so much to do.”

“No… No…”

He remembered something he had read on dreaming. It was called lucid dreaming. That was when you knew you were in a dream and then you could control it. He had tried to induce them many times before.

I am dreaming. I am dreaming.

He forced the dream to change but nothing changed and he was in the room with the woman and there was dust about and a feeling of dread overcame him.

I’m dead.

Then others in his mind:

Good. Scum like you should die.

He looked at the woman. Her kindness belied an easy attractiveness about her, a dangerous kind that told him she was sharp and prepared.

Just like every woman, he thought. You can’t trust them even in a dream.

His heart hurt. Or maybe that was yearning, an emptiness that he mistook for his heart.

“I am in hell,” he said.

The woman smiled and came closer.

“I know why you would think that,” she said. “But no. we’re in the other place.”

“This doesn’t look like Heaven.”

“Well this is an outpost, and this outpost is rarely used. You must excuse its condition.”

Around him were dark wooden furniture, a bed for resting that was well loved, and there paintings on the wall of nostalgic Americana.

“What’s going on? This is hell. It has to be.”

“So you admit you were wrong in your ideology?”

“I admit that everyone told me it was wrong. People these days can’t handle the blunt truth.”

“And what’s that?”

“That the strong survive and the weak must die.”

“Is that so?”

He was shaking.

“Yes.”

“And yet we’re here.”

In the mirror he saw himself and the woman. The image was a comedy with him next to her. He saw the marks on his face, the years of unkind genetics and the apathy that fostered it.

I could look better.

That hurt him badly.

I could have tried more.

She stared at him with some confidence that he was unaccustomed to.

“I was right then, if I am in Heaven. Our thinking is right. There is a Master Race.”

She smiled at him with a patience that made him angry and afraid.

“You’re a hero,” she said. “You’ll even get your own special place in Heaven. This is why we came to this outpost. The way is hardly used, but sometimes we get someone worthy.”

“I was right then?”

“You are a weak man,” she said. “Look out that window and tell me if you were right.”

Mourning him were his kind. They were a scant few and he was embarrassed by them. When he was alive, he had thought them brave and outlaws. They were outcasts and nothing more.

“This is a joke. I am in Hell. This is a cruel joke.”

“Is it?”

He looked at his hands and they were shaking.

To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading.

It was coming to him. what was that girl’s name he wondered? Was it she who had pushed him, or was she merely the last in an inevitable conclusion?

“Her name was Amanda,” said the woman beside him. “But she told you her name was Anne. She didn’t like you very much and thought you were a fascist.”

“How do you know?”

The woman shrugged.

He remembered he was crying. He had the gun in his hands and there was vengeance in that weight. He listened to that song. She had mocked him with its words and he had listened to it to hurt himself and culture that self-pity he had thrived on.

To be insulted by these fascists is so degrading!

He wondered what he had called her.

“You called her an animal when she would not go out with you,” said the woman. “She did not cry as you hoped she would. She mocked you with that line.”

“And I listened to the song.”

“You searched the internet for it in your obsession.”

“And I planned to…”

“Yes, you planned to do it. To really do it this time.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. You don’t know. Maybe a mall or a street. Anywhere there were people.”

He could feel the weight of the gun in his hand.

“This is Hell,” he said.

“No,” she said. “This is Heaven.”

“There is no Master Race. You think I am a loser like they all did when I was alive.”

“Yes.”

“Then this is Hell.”

“No.”

“How? And why?”

“Because you did not do it. You hadn’t the heart to do it. Like all your kind, you were a coward at the end.”

“So what did I do?”

“You know what you did.”

The moment was blacked out in his mind. Like the music outside, he could only sense it in an ephemeral way. But he knew what had happened. There was purpose against his skull. The gun was cold and he trembled and nothing had seemed so harder than to breathe and commit to what he did not really want to do.

But I did want to.

“Yes,” the woman said. “You did. And you did do it.”

“I killed myself.”

“Yes. And as a result you saved many. Your life was an abyss for others to be ensnared in.”

“So you reward me with eternity in Heaven?”

Suddenly he was glad and he felt righteous. But the woman was bigger than him, as though her shadow would engulf him. He wondered what angel could she be.

“It is not an angel that you fear,” she said. “It is a woman.”

And he was breathing hard.

“I am in Heaven,” he said. “You said so yourself.”

“Yes. You are in Heaven. But for you it will be Hell. You will find that there are not many like you in here. All your brethren shall be in Hell. Here you will be the outcast you always were. Here you will live in a house of boredom, forgotten as the dust, another piece of furniture for the mirror to reflect.”

“No,” he said.

“Yes,” she said.

And then:

“Your funeral is almost over. Look well at those faces for they are the living. When we leave this place you will never see them again.”

He looked outside and the gathered was thinning. People he did not know paid half-baked respects. Little kin was there, and they wore dead faces, hopeless faces that tried to make peace with what he had been and what he had ultimately become.

Nothing, he thought.

“Yes,” said the woman. “And so shall you always be.”

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What the Hell is That Song

By Chef WriterJosh/Josh Parker

//Source.

Every now and then, I get a snatch of a song running through my head. When that happens, it can drive me nuts, and it’s a devil of a time trying to get another song in there to replace it. It’s gotta be another song, though. I can’t ever just have a head full of peace and quiet. Sometimes the song I try to listen to and replace the persistent one will instead mix with it, creating this weird cacophonic mash-up in my skull that makes me want to stab somebody.

In the last several weeks, there’s one song that’s been pretty persistent, and the craziest part is that I have no idea who the artist is, what the song’s name is, or even the words. All I can remember of it is a single refrain that repeats the same line three times. The first time is clearly the main melody, the second is a counterpoint, and the third is the continuation of the main melody. It’s a strangely pleasant song, sounding like something Del Amitri would come up with, but I’ve listened to their entire repertoire, and nothing matches.

Whenever I have heard it in the past, it’s always been in a crowded mall or restaurant, and I can barely make out even the tune over the noise of other people. The only part I recognize is the part that repeats in my head, and so my brain picks it up above the noise, only to tune out again once that part is over.

As best I can make out, the line is “When I turn it out”. I have no idea what that means, but that’s as close to what I hear as any lyrics.

When I tuuuuuurn it ouuuuuuut…
When I turn-it-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
When I tuuuuuurn it OUUUUUT…

On that last line, the singer soars up into falsetto. He has a light tenor voice as it is. Like I said, not at all unpleasant to hear. I have just kept wishing of late that I knew more of the song, or even what those lyrics were saying.

Like a time a few weeks ago that I overheard it somewhere in the background at work.

I work in a cubicle farm. What I do there is not important. I don’t mean I don’t want to tell you; I mean it just isn’t important. At all. If I were to come in to work and all my co-workers had been brutally murdered, I doubt anyone would notice.

We spend a majority of our day filling out pointless reports. Remember the movie Office Space? That’s my life, in a nutshell. The worst part is, it takes up most of my life, is pure drudgery the entire time, and leaves me too exhausted to do much else when I get home. Doing boring, repetitive work is probably the most tiring kind of job one can do. Even a rigorous physical job still leaves one feeling like they’ve accomplished something. My job is a soul-sucking nightmare.

But, regardless, sometimes someone turns a radio on to break the monotony. It rarely works, but this one time, I swear I heard that song again. I was sitting at my desk, realizing how much overtime I was going to have to put in so I could actually finish all my reports for that day, when I heard that song again. But this time the words sounded different to my ears.

You’re not geeeeeetting ouuuuuuut…
You’re not get-ting-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
You’re not geeeeeetting OUUUUUT…

Heh. Fitting. I was likely going to spend the whole evening looking at this pallid office interior. Not getting out indeed.

I had a date that weekend. I don’t date much anymore. In fact, my social life in general kinda sucks. But this girl was cute, even if she was abominably stupid. I kept listening to her natter away at me all evening, pretending to be interested, but only because this girl was sending me signals that if I paid enough attention to her, she might pay special attention to me at the end of the night, if you catch my drift. Some of you might be judging me for that, but you just don’t get it. I get little to no excitement in my life. I have few friends and almost no time for romance. I gotta take what I can get. Most nights, if I want any action, I get it with RedTube and my only steady girlfriend, Palm-ela Hand-erson. Unless I was missing my signals, this girl was probably as hard-up as I was, and just as casual about who she used for service.

But about half-way through the date, that song came on over the PA system. It was quiet. Almost too quiet. But I heard it, and I thought the lyrics sounded different yet again.

She’s not puuuuuutting ouuuuuuut…
She’s not put-ting-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
She’s not puuuuuutting OUUUUUT…

I ignored the song, figuring my own subconscious was playing a trick on me. But it wasn’t. The song was completely right. At the end of the date she didn’t even want a ride home, and didn’t even kiss me. That was a wasted $70. And what the hell was that song? I wondered more about that on the way home than anything else.

Two weeks ago my boss, Albert, took special care to come by my desk and make an example of me. Turns out form I submitted had some incorrect information on it. I doubt it was really the end of the world, but that’s the kind of thing Albert is there for, to catch me in an error and humiliate me. He seems to be the only one there who loves his job.

There are certain types of bosses in the world, and the one I hate the worst is the one that’s invisible unless you screw up. In fact, I once had a problem that I wanted to send up the ladder because I felt like it was beyond my pay grade. I couldn’t find Albert anywhere. He was never at his desk, never wandering around my area. Always I was told he was “in a meeting” or “on a break”. That same day, I was so preoccupied by the one problem that I ended up misplacing a decimal on a report I was working on. I heard from Albert in less than fifteen minutes. I later counted how long it was until the next time I saw him. It was nearly three days, and exactly twelve minutes after making another “mistake”, this one on purpose just to see how quickly I could bring him out of hiding.

The explosion I got from Albert two weeks ago wasn’t even my fault. It was his. The information that was “wrong” was information he had added, thinking he was correcting me, then sent on. Turns out that I had put the right information on the form. So he screamed at me for twenty minutes, making sure everyone knew how badly I had “screwed up”. Covering his ass.

I walked past his car on my way out to get a smoke. I needed a smoke break like, yesterday.

I’m not sure where I heard it. There wasn’t a radio in the parkade, nor was there any sort of PA system. Maybe it just ran through my head, but I heard that damned song again. And yes, again the words were different.

Why not buuuuuurn it dowwwwwwwn…
Why not burn-it-dow–ow-ow-owwwn…
Why not buuuuuurn it DOWWWWWWN…

And I stood there by his car, hearing that song in my head, and I had an evil thought. Whynot burn it down? The bastard didn’t deserve a car this nice. I did more work than he did, got paid less and drove an old beater.

I knew there wasn’t a working security system in the parkade. The building was old, maintenance was behind, and I once had my car keyed, only to be told by our lone night security guard that I was up a creek because unless he catches the vandal in the act, he can’t do anything.

I paused by his car for a moment, and then walked over and opened the gas tank. I took a long drag off my smoke, and dropped it in. I hurriedly replaced the cap and jogged for the door.

In movies, cars that have their gas tanks hit with a bullet or lit on fire explode immediately. In real life, it takes a bit more time. I heard the tank itself ignite, but the fire was contained within the vehicle for nearly six minutes after I hit the stairs. I heard the detonation from there.

My heart was hammering. I couldn’t believe what I’d done. I went into self-preservation mode, high-tailing it up the stairs and hiding in a janitor’s closet. I waited there for twenty minutes and then walked back in calmly, pretending I had gone up the block for lunch.

I sat at my cubicle and ignored everyone for the rest of the day. I tried not to hear Albert as he burst into the office in a panic. I ignored my own pounding pulse. As the fire department cleared the building, I walked calmly along, facing the ground. They had the fire contained within a half hour, and I moseyed back in, just as calmly.

I had never done anything like this in my life, but I couldn’t ruin it by giving myself away. I sat back down, quietly, trying not to sweat, trying to keep my breath even, until the end of day. Then I went down, along with everyone else, to the parkade.

The fire from Albert’s car had damaged three other vehicles. Two were undrivable. Mine wasn’t one of them. I was able to retrieve it and I drove out of the parkade in complete silence, staring blankly ahead.

About three blocks later, I got the giggles. They started small, but eventually, I was laughing like a junkie pumped full of sugar. I had always been a law-abiding citizen, and I lived a life of misery. But now, I had committed a full-on criminal act and damn it, but it felt good! And Albert, well, how deserving was he, the bastard!

And there, maybe coming from another car, was the song.

Well we buuuuuurned him baaaaaaaaad…
Well we burned-him-ba–a-aaaad…
Well we buuuuuurned him BAAAAAAAAD…

We had, indeed, whoever “we” were. It was a wonderful feeling. A feeling of freedom! I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything.

And I felt that freedom until three days later, when Albert cornered me in the elevator. He was spitting mad.

“I know it was you,” he sputtered. He could barely contain his fury in that flabby little five-foot-six frame. His bald head was glistening with anger-sweat.

I was cool. “What was me?”

“You blew up my car, you bastard,” he said. He edged closer, like he was going to take care of me right there.

“That’s crazy,” I said. “I wasn’t even in the building.”

“You were. No one saw you leave. No one saw you come back. I asked around. There’s only one place you could have been. The parkade. Everybody else was accounted for. Everybody but you.”

Maybe it was the elevator playing it, or maybe it was my own imagination. But I heard the song again. With the lyrics changed. Again.

Gotta taaaaaake him ouuuuuuuuut…
Gotta take-him-ou-ou-ouuut…
Gotta taaaaaake him OUUUUUT…

I suppose it might have been saying “take him down”, for that matter. It was so faint. I never have heard it clearly. But I knew the song was right. Albert had to go down. And I was the man to do it.

I didn’t ever own up to torching his car, but I stopped denying it. I knew he couldn’t prove it, so instead of denials I began taunting him. Gently, but enough to show him how aware I was of just how little he could do to me. I even began ignoring his constant finding of “mistakes” I had made, which weren’t even mine.

And then four days ago, I met him in the elevator again. He had taken to turning his back to me, spurning me. That was his mistake. I lifted the straight-razor I had brought from home and sliced his carotid.

Blood was just everywhere. I mean, everywhere. The door opened on the parkade, and I just about fell on my ass from all the slickness. I dragged Albert to my car and put him in the trunk. The entire time, from somewhere, came that same song, the lyrics changed yet again.

Gotta buuuuuu-ry Aaaaaaal…
Gotta bur-y-A–a-aaaaal…
Gotta buuuuuu-ry AAAAAAAL…

I did bury him. In a shallow grave twenty feet from the highway in a field. I don’t know if they found his body, but I know one thing. I forgot that the cameras in the elevator worked just fine.

I still don’t know what song that is, though. I think about it sometimes. Wonder if I ever really have heard it right. Wonder, in fact, if I’ve ever actually heard it at all. I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m not so sure it matters anymore.

But it does play inside my cell, sometimes. A familiar version of the words, playing softly, usually when I’m trying to sleep. Almost sounds like it’s gloating.

You’re not geeeeeetting ouuuuuuut…
You’re not get-ting-ou–ou-ou-ouuut…
You’re not geeeeeetting OUUUUUT…