Plugs

David Kopaska-Merkel’s book of humorous noir fiction based on nursery rhymes, Nursery Rhyme Noir 978-09821068-3-9, is sold at the Genre Mall. Other new books include The zSimian Transcript (Cyberwizard Productions) and Brushfires (Sams Dot Publishing).

There are two stairwells at either end of the hallway outside your new apartment. You take the one in front for the first week. The weekend comes, and you want to explore the back yard, so you take the steps in back.

Two flights. Four. Six, and you should be on the ground floor, but there’s no exit, just more stairs leading down. Did you miscount? Or is there a basement exit? But no, only more flights of stairs weaving back, then forth, lit by the same weak fluorescent tubes at each landing.

Down you go, envisioning some egress into a rumrunner’s cave, maintenance tunnels, or a disused subway station. Just as it is getting – you think – ridiculous, you reach the bottom. There are no more stairs leading down, there’s a door.

It leads to the street, as if you’d walked out the front door. Not thinking, you let the door close behind you. There’s a finality to its click.

It’s gray. Like the day is overcast, or there’s more smog in the air. But the sun is up there, only weaker. When you open the door again, there’s the front lobby, not the stairwell you left.

Days go by, and it never gets brighter. Everything is subdued, colors washed out, animals sluggish, people less animated. As the days go by you feel it too, this creeping lethargy.

You’ve been living in what looks like your old apartment; there is no other ‘you’ in this world, if it even is a different world. You avoid the back stair.

Until you don’t.

The day comes when you feel that a change, any change, is better than the eternal gray surrounding you. You plod down the hall, open the door, and gaze down the stairs. They seem to go on forever, and it sure looks dark down there.

You take one step, then another, wishing this were the kind of world where stairs could lead upwards.

Nothing, then the slow accretion of atoms pulling together, describing form, mind, body, bones, muscles, sinew, organs, and connecting tissue, as the transition recalls Vahid’s original pattern, reassembles him in this strange place. His new skin tingles, intensely sensitive, nerves afire with renewal. He flexes various muscles, and notices that he only has two arms; a mistake by the transition team, or a deliberate act so that he more fully fits in with this altuniv? Regardless, he will have to get used to the handicap.

As his vision coalesces, he sees concrete flooring, wooden pallets, yellow construction equipment, and endless metal racks full of cardboard boxes, dimly lit from high above by standby lights. Nighttime, in a closed warehouse. He’s made it.

He moves quietly to the far end of the warehouse, to the assigned drop location. The canvas messenger bag contains the clothes, sandals, tablet comp, and mobile phone planted by Vahid’s handler, as well as bottled water, a pair of energy bars, and three hundred local dollars in various multicolored notes.

Ravenous from the transition, he tears the foil from the energy bars, gobbles down the food, gulps water to wash it down. The clothing is snug, but fits well enough. He thumbs on the tablet and gets the safehouse address and a digital map with directions from the warehouse to the safehouse, only a few blocks away.

Vahid stows the tablet back in the shoulder bag, finds the warehouse exit (unlocked), and emerges into a sultry tropical evening, the air full of Southeast Asian food odors: curries and ginger and exotic fruit. He proceeds only as far as the end of the dusty lane before being spotted by a thuggish youth on a motobike chatting up a made-up young woman the same age. Upon seeing Vahid, he raises two arms, two arms on one side, and shouts, “Freeeeeak!”

And the others appear from nowhere, from around corners, from shop doorways, from the shadows themselves, each and every person four-armed, like Vahid himself before the transition, and he doesn’t see the first rock as it strikes above his right eye, nor the others as they connect with his knees, his left ear, his stomach, his kidneys, his two useless arms. In this place where he should blend in completely, he is surrounded, so fast, how do they move so fast, and before the first lead pipe or bat or length of board beats down, Vahid only has time to curse the transition team and his own willingness to make the worlds a better place.

Creative Commons License

This piece is just one in a 23-part linked narrative called Fragile, which will take a liberal interpretation of the song titles (but not the lyrics) of the masterful Nine Inch Nails double-album The Fragile. To read the other chapters in this series, click on the category “Fragile” below.

Making Divinity

The Cabbage-Patch God

The Dolls’ Crusade

*A Natural Attraction

A Remarkable Reaction

The Cabbage-Patch God decided to extend Her dominion over humans in order to protect Her future. Gods only exist as long as they have worshipers, and She was afraid that Her plush and painted congregation on the toy shelves didn’t count. Her only human worshiper was Kayla, Her creator. Friday night two of Kayla’s friends were sleeping over. This was a perfect opportunity to win the adoration of Britney and Whitney.

When the doorbell rang, Kayla ran down the stairs, shrieking with delight. She did not carry the Cabbage-Patch God with her, as she had done constantly for the past two weeks. The God felt a pang of worry. It might already be too late.

The three girls burst into the room, clattering past the Cabbage-Patch God where she lay slumped against the wall at the foot of the bed. The girls huddled in front of the desk, and the God could not see what they were looking at.

“He’s SO cute!” Whitney exclaimed, almost dancing in place. There was a faint click.

Britney giggled. “Look at this one! I love his floppy little ears.” More clicks.

Kayla squealed and leaned forward, pointing at something. “This is the cutest puppy ever! I love it SO much!”

The God suddenly felt nauseated and a pulse of weakness passed through Her. She squeezed Her eyes shut and gestured. Giant snowflakes in pastel pink and blue materialized above the girls and began to fall silently. The girls continued to laugh and talk excitedly. They didn’t notice the colored snowflakes because the flakes, which formed just below the ceiling, popped out of existence a few inches above the girls’ heads. The flurry’s intensity diminished. The flakes faded to white, shrank, and finally ceased altogether.

The God rubbed Her eyes vigorously. She needed to do better than that. The Cabbage-Patch God clenched Her fists, gathering Her powers. Let the girls ignore a full-size pink elephant! The wall beside Kayla’s bed acquired a pinkish hue. An irregular bulge suggested tusks, a trunk, and a broad forehead. Kayla’s mother called from downstairs.

“Girls! Lunch time.”

The wall snapped back to vertical and returned to a color that Sherwin-Williams had called “Ivory.”

“I’m starved!” Whitney shouted, and all three ran laughing from the room.

Kayla’s room was silent. The computer monitor on the desk showed a photograph of a dog, which wagged its tail and almost looked ready to jump right out of the screen. Elsewhere in the room, nothing moved.

The End

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