Shape-Shifting [Repost]

Prompt: Rebel

Classic-Cuban-scene.-Image-by-Jaume-Escofet-CC-BY-2.0

I am a living hologram. I’m not sure why, since I don’t remember being hit by a bolt of natural or alien energy, or sustaining any particularly odd insect bites, or hanging around nuclear power plants as a child. I am more commonly called a shape-shifter.

When I went to the mall early this morning, for example, I was Cameron Diaz. Not exactly, since I didn’t want to attract autograph seekers. But malling is unpleasant for me. I don’t like shopping and trying on clothes. I don’t like changing room mirrors. Not as myself. But I like them plenty as Cameron Diaz. Plus, the freckled guy at the smoothie kiosk gets all tongue-tied, which I find endearing and sure, even a little flattering.

Sometimes I like to be invisible, blend into the crowd, if I’m indulging in a guilty pleasure like attending a Wayne Newton concert, or maybe visiting that lesbian porn film house. Then, I am my mother. Not exactly my mother, because I don’t want anyone to think my mother is curious about lesbian porn. But when my mother grew older, and a little bit rounder, and her skin a little bit looser, and her hair a little bit grayer, she became invisible. I wouldn’t have believed her if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Clerks ignoring her queries. People at parties ignoring her because she was no longer young and pretty. Sometimes I go to shops and parties as Cameron Diaz again (because she is a common transformation for me now, it only takes about ten minutes), and repay these people for their unkindnesses. I can’t teach them, so I take revenge. Nothing major, just contempt and rejection.

Job hunting, I am usually Bradley Cooper. Not exactly Bradley Cooper, because sometimes I want to be a little younger, sometimes a little taller, but he seems to have a non-threatening yet competent air about him, which works very reliably. I don’t need to job-hunt very often. I like challenges, and when I am a white man, I do very, very well.

When I find myself turning away from the human race, because the human race isn’t perfect, one of my favourite holograms is Maxine, the golden retriever. I go out prowling, covering five or more miles in a night, sniffing and peeing and visiting nocturnal friends. It is more fun than working out at the gym, that’s for sure. Once in awhile I’ll go to the farm where the family that thinks they own me live, and spend time soaking up their devotion, and rolling in muck.

Occasionally, I forget who I am. That’s when I take a trip to Cuba. I can always find myself again in Cuba.


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Rosa

Prompt: Inscrutable

spectrum-planet

As Angel began to breathe on her own, Rosa developed a cough. It was a dry, rasping, deep-lung cough, that startled Radical out of his deep sleep on the cot beside Angel’s bed.

It was only day two of the induced coma, and Rosa was pleased that Angel’s temperature had come down a little, and that her breathing was less laboured. But I was concerned for Rosa.

She shrugged off my concerns, which was very like Rosa. She was the member of the crew least interested in intimacy, and would help populate the planet out of duty, not lust. She dismissed my worry not out of courage, but from disdain for my weakness and lack of focus. Of course she cared about her health; she cared nothing, however, about my frivolous opinions.

Radical’s routine had been disrupted and he was sleeping more than he ever did before we were quarantined. This alarmed me too. Yes, we three were stuck in a small space with a sick child, but I seemed to be the only one completely unscathed. I slept well, considering. I had a good appetite. I walked the treadmill. I kept my spirits up. I tended to Angel, keeping her clean and fresh. I distracted Radical, who should have been much more restless than he was. Perhaps boredom caused his sleep cycle change?

I just wanted Angel to get well, and for us all to get out and back with the rest of the crew, back to our regular activities and duties, get the children back in school and back to their active daily life.

“How is she?” Radical asked me, climbing, uncharacteristically, into my lap as I sat by Angel’s bed. Rosa was preparing to bring the child out of the coma. Angel’s parents observed from the monitor, tense and agitated.

Radical asked me because Rosa would have ignored his question. “She is doing well, Raddy,” I said, trying to hug him. His sharp elbows and ribbed spine impeded my attempts. “Look! She is breathing just fine on her own.”

And Rosa crumpled to the floor.

Radical tumbled unceremoniously to the floor as I stood and rushed to Rosa’s side. She wasn’t breathing. I threw protocol to the wind then, for which I could have been severely reprimanded. Rightly so.

I broke quarantine and let the others into the hospital unit. Ed was second medical officer. Rosa needed him.

Christopher and Sara gave Ed a wide berth and went directly to the other side of the bed, leaning over Angel. Christopher then threw protocol to the stars, and picked their daughter up, cradling her in his arms.

Protocol didn’t matter any more.

Angel opened her eyes.

Rosa died.

I went to get a blanket for Rosa, and saw my son, Radical. He was in the shadows behind Angel’s bed, watching everything, alone and unmoving.

Interview with the Immortals, Part 2

Prompt: Orange

orange tree art

In which journalist Lindsay Hatcher sits down with Immortals Harp and Donny to discuss the rules and vagaries of not dying.

Lindsay Hatcher: Harp, as the elder female of the group, do the others look to you as a mother figure?

Harp: What? No. I don’t think so. Do you, Donny?

Donny: What’s a mother figure?

Harp: So much for your expensive education.

LH: Donny, I see you are juggling four— no, five— oranges, rather adeptly.

Donny: I had time to practice. Oranges are my favourite fruit of all time, at the moment. No matter where you are, how filthy or grimy, when you peel an orange it’s clean and fresh inside. They are juicy and quench your thirst. They are full of vitamin C. And some of them have seeds you can plant and grow a whole tree full of oranges. Amazing.

Harp: It is, when you think about it.

LH: How many Immortals are there?

Harp: Six, in our group.

LH: How many outside your group?

Harp: I don’t know. I’ve seen others in the cave. Sometimes when I’m in the world I see people I suspect are immortal because they behave so recklessly, like the first few times I went back.

LH: How many in the cave? What do they do? Do they form their own, separate groups?

Donny: Nah, they are scared. They just stay in there and don’t get any older. It’s gross.

Harp: That’s true, no one ages when inside the cave. And there are some who never leave it. We call them the Undead, because they aren’t exactly alive. Because they don’t actually live.

LH: Do you talk to them? Do they have, like, friends?

Harp and Donny exchange looks.

Harp: Some inside the cave seem to form friendships of a sort.

Donny: They fuck.

Harp: …

LH: And do they venture outside the cave? On the ridge?

Harp: I’ve seen a few people out there. They don’t follow any of the paths.

LH: The paths are marked with bits of coloured string. Who marked the paths?

Donny: Goff did. He’s been down most of them. He knows where they lead. He’ll say, if you want to go to Nettle Valley, find the blue and black string. If you want to go to Pyongyang, find the black and green string.

LH: Why would anyone want to go to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea?

Donny, shrugging: For an adventure. To see what it’s really like.

Harp: Goff has only marked the paths that he himself has followed. There are others.

LH: Have you ever wanted to stay somewhere in the world? Set down roots? Have a normal life?

Harp: It’s not possible.

Donny: What’s a normal life?

Lindsay Hatcher, Harp, and Donny take a break to peel and eat oranges.


==

Words

Prompt: Unravel

night sky evergreens

Folly hadn’t spoken since we visited her abandoned town, except to ask if we could sleep outdoors instead of in the big empty Best Western motel that was situated just outside of Chandler’s Folly. I admit, it was sometimes creepy to inhabit a completely empty place meant for hundreds of warm bodies, beds all made up and ready for customers, the neon sign “Vacancies” still automatically lit at night, an ice machine miraculously still full of ice, and what seemed like miles of empty, gaudily-carpeted hallways.

Life was a lot creepier for Plato and I, before Folly found us. Now there were three of us, which was so much better. Now I had someone who could talk back, though Folly often chose not to. Plato was a good listener, and a good dog, but his language skills were lacking.

When the world ended, poor Folly had wandered in the woods, completely alone, before she stumbled upon me and Plato. Talk about creepy. No wonder she couldn’t remember her real name. She couldn’t even drive, being only eleven. I got my driver’s license as soon as I turned sixteen. That was almost a year ago. My birthday was in two days. Maybe the three of us could celebrate somehow. Birthdays were big deals in my family with cake and the whole thing. I tried not to think about it. I set up the tents and got a small fire going. Folly liked to roast things on an open fire, even plain bread or peaches.

The motel was perched on the edge of the green belt and only a ten minute walk from the campsite. Folly turned up as I was cutting up some cooked chicken for Plato. She brought a box of macaroni and cheese and three Creamsicles for our dinner. Sometimes Plato ate better than we did.

So we sat around the fire after our mac and cheese and after me, Folly, and Plato had eaten our Creamsicles, and talked about birthdays. I wasn’t even bothered that talking to Folly was the same as talking to Plato, meaning I expected nothing in return, really, except I know Plato loved me and Folly was just a kid I didn’t know.

I asked her about her birthdays, just to be polite, and as usual Folly didn’t answer until about half an hour after I asked the question. I wondered if she ever had bouncy castles at her birthday parties; that seemed to be a thing parents did, rent these big inflatable things in red and pink and blue that kids could jump on. So a half an hour later she said, “Yes”, and then went into the tiny pup tent she liked. So much for that conversation. It was weird, but maybe her forced solitude got her comfortable being alone; anyway, I didn’t see much of her for a couple of days.

On the morning of my birthday, which was four days after Folly unravelled after being back at her home town, I awoke wondering if we should go back one more time. She really needed to find her house and her name and her history. It was painful to remember, sure, but without memories of my mom and dad and two sisters and our lives, I don’t know how I could have gone on. Folly maybe needed that too.

So she was grilling some breakfast toast over the fire and I suggested we go back to Chandler’s Folly again, now that we knew what to expect. I didn’t talk to her like she was a stupid kid, what was the point in that? She was the smartest person I knew, even if she was the only person I knew.

She actually spoke. She said, “Come with me?”

So I walked with her back to the Best Western motel and beyond, to what looked like a car dealership. I was curious about this. Maybe her father or mother had sold cars? What was the connection?

She led me to a monster of a motor home. Something called a Thor Venetian. Pasted on the door was a red bow, the kind you might find on a small, wrapped Christmas present.

I looked at Folly. She had her usual blank expression, except for a slight air of impatience. So we went inside.

Well it was like a fancy dollhouse, but cosy, you know? Lots of faux suede and tile in muted tones of beige and white, clean and new. I was interested in the driver’s cab, but she nudged me along until we were at the built-in dining area where, I swear, an iced, two layer birthday cake sat in the middle of the faux marble topped table.

There were unlit candles in the cake. The icing was chocolate.

“I made it,” said Folly. “Duncan Hines.”

“You are smart for a kid,” I told her.

“I’m not a kid,” she said.

This was one of the longest conversations we’d ever had.

But I wasn’t thinking about that at the moment. The cake was exactly like the boxed cakes my mother used to make for my birthday. Yes, stale and dry and delicious. The icing came from a package that didn’t even need refrigeration to stay fresh, but it tasted good anyway.

We ate the cake, and gave some to Plato. We washed it down with cold milk. We didn’t sing Happy Birthday or anything.

At the end of the day, as I sat by the fire trying to figure out if we should travel in my red Jag from now on, or in this mammoth motorhome, I realized that I myself had barely spoken since Folly had shown me the cake. She had said nothing more, and now snored in her pup tent.

The sky was again a canopy of stars, which seemed to get brighter every night, framed by spikes of tall spruce and cedar.

Sometimes, I realized, words had no meaning. No purpose. No use.

Like Butter

Prompt: Keeping up with the Jones’
Tell us about the one luxury item you wish you could afford, in as much detail as you can.

gulfstream color

I know that private jets are expensive. They define the old saying, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Leafing through the jet classifieds, looking for a near-new aircraft (I’m sure they devalue as soon as the leave the lot, like cars), very clean, not too big but capable of ocean-hopping, and soothingly neutral inside, I’ve come up with a fine option.

The Gulfstream G650 ER.

Now the Gulfstream line happens to be the favourite of professional golfers, and I mean, holy shit, who know pro golfers earned billions? I knew they were comfy because I think someone once emailed me a powerpoint presentation of Tiger Woods’ alleged house. All very posh and plush. But jets are pricey, and then you have the costs of renovating, crew, fuel, maintenance, and so on. So here’s a tip for those who long for luxury items: become a professional golfer.

The interior of the Gulfstream G650 that I have my eye on is not overly large, so I couldn’t, say, fly wedding guests to Barcelona, but I could probably manage a small wedding party. It has a 42” monitor and a blu-ray DVD system, satellite TV and a wireless LAN; two bathrooms, though I believe only one of them has shower facilities, and a spotless forward galley with an oven as well as a microwave. The sleeping area looks cosy, but as in all advertising, “cosy” actually means “small”. But it is a bed, and a soft and fluffy bed, that you (and a companion) could stretch out on. The current wide and luxurious seats are covered in a buttery beige leather, which suits me; however I might change the woodgrain of the tables and trimmings— you know, make my mark on it.

Flowers. The pictures show lots of vases of flowers. Do they come with the leather upholstery? I think not, but as another old saying goes, In for a penny, in for a pound.

I’m in.