“Hello, Mom.”

7 AM rolls around and my alarm clock lets out an electronic buzzing sound. It sounds like what an AI might think of buzzing bees without ever having been fed a recording of them. I am already awake. I was awake when my next-door neighbors began arguing in Spanish about who the real father of little Ana is. I was awake when an old Chevy pickup with a blown-out exhaust pipe made donuts in the parking lot. I was awake while a group of teenagers smoked underneath the no-smoking sign outside the apartment complex. I was awake when my mother called and left a voice mail message, saying “I love you, call me.”

I was awake, but I simply did not move. Not until the alarm went off.

Silencing the buzzer, I swung my legs off the bed, stood up, and walked to the bathroom. I disrobed, throwing my underwear into the laundry hamper, turned on the shower, and went on with the business of scrubbing yesterday off of me. After I dressed, I drove my car to the Park-and-Ride and took the 7:30 train to downtown. I got off at the 5th and Market station and walked into Jackson & Son’s Marketing Firm. A mirror monolith of a building, Jackson & Son’s Marketing Firm towered over the other sky crappers, reflecting only dark grey concrete and a florescent bulb sky. I walked in and merged with the other workers inside one of the six elevators on the first floor. I got off on the 7th floor, clocked in with my ID, and went to my cubicle. On my desk was an envelope with only one word written on it: “Dorothy Burns.” I took the envelope off the desk and placed it in my dark brown leather handbag. It was time to work.

At 12PM, I took out my lunch box and ate the cold cob salad I made last night. My cubicle neighbor, Ruth, came over and tapped me on my shoulder.

“There’s cupcakes in the break room. You want some?” she said.

With a mouth full of Romaine lettuce and ranch dressing, I nodded.

“Okay, I’ll go grab you one,” she said.

I swallowed the masticated morsel and took a sip out of my water bottle before continuing on an Excel Spreadsheet, documenting the change in consumer engagement. My cob salad, my bottle was empty, and the lunch hour was over by the time Ruth came back, holding two chocolate cupcakes.

She handed me one and starting munching on the other as she went back to work. I looked at the cupcake. Someone with very calm hands had painstakingly wrote the words “Happy Birthday” with royal icing on the cupcake. I placed the cupcake aside and continued typing.

By 7:00 PM everyone except me and the janitorial staff remained I continued to work until my cell phone began to buzz. I picked it up and turn off the alarm. I saved my progress and sent out the last report before logging off the computer and clocking out. I remembered to place the cupcake in my empty Tupperware before exiting the building.

I repeated this morning’s commute in reverse and in the streetlight-speckled darkness. Once back at the apartment, I checked the mail. There were many cards, all with “Dorothy Burns” written on them. But no bills and no tickets. Just cards. I emptied the mailbox into my handbag and went upstairs.

I undressed and threw my cloths into the laundry hamper. I emptied my bag and prepared lunch for tomorrow. I placed the cupcake with the cards scattered on the table. I took out a glass and filled it with sherry and stood for a while looking at the cupcake and the cards.

I downed the glass of sherry in one gulp, sat down, and read each card. One from Mom, one from Big Bro, one from a classmate from college, another from a classmate form high school, one from that guy who lives two hours away, and some from people I don’t remember. After reading them, I organized the pile on the table and took out some pens and paper. I wrote a thank you note to each sender, using a thank you note template I had found on my phone, and sealed each with the same white envelope I use to send checks. I poured myself another glass of sherry and I checked my phone. There was only one message, still. I hit redial and waited for three beeps. At the third beep, my mother answered. I said, “Hello, mom.”

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Call Me Grandma

Human blood is my favorite drink, especially, young warm fresh blood. Thirty years old is just young enough to still have that sweetness of infantile wonder but old enough to have a tinge of disillusionment and a splash of mundane fears. On this day, I was finishing a thirty-year-old graduate student from the University of Washington. His blood was a mixture of one-night stands, homesickness, and too many bottles of mountain dew. Yet, his fear as I drained his body was worth the trip and I do love playing with my food.

They are so cute when they beg.

As I was about to leave through the pentagram on his hands (why do “edgy” humans make it so easy for us?), I heard a knock at the door. Usually, that was my cue to hurry up and leave but I was still thirsty. Maybe it was that girl he was texting. She was twenty-five and therefore so much sweeter.

I listened as the faint knocking continued. After the third rendition of “Shave and a Hair Cut,” I heard a feeble voice.

“Larry, Larry, it’s your grandmother, can I come in?”

A grandmother! Grandmothers are terrifying. They are so close to death, that they know not to fear it. Worst of all, the wisest ones know how to deal with demons…The last one I dealt with sprayed me with holy water and threw a saddle at me.

I began rushing to open the gate through Larry’s hands when I heard the door unlock. My foot was halfway inside the gate when Larry’s grandmother came walking in. She was bent over like a cane and have a pink floral shawl draped over her shoulders. In her hands she carried a casserole dish that smelled of tomatoes and cheese. Her face was leathered and creased like a good book that has been read too often, but her eyes were tiny blue dots behind huge thick glasses.

I stood frozen. Not sure how she would respond to seeing her dead grandson and a red naked demon.

But she didn’t even look my way.

Instead, she beelined straight to the kitchen and began fiddling with the dirty dishes.

“Larry, honey, where did you place the soap? Oh, never mind, I think I found it.”

There was a crash and I started to smell blood.

“Oh, Nancy look what you did not.”

Against, my better judgement, I took my foot out of Larry and left the living room. I took a peak into the kitchen and saw Nancy holding a dirty towel to her hand.

“Larry, I think I need a Band-Aid. Can you go get one for me dear?”

Without thinking, I looked around the kitchen and found a first-aid kit above the fridge. That was the only thing I found easily. The kitchen was a mess, dirty dishes piled high to the ceiling, a fold out chair covered in dirty clothes, and empty boxes of Mountain Dew assembled around a tattered table. I pushed the clothes to the floor, and guided Larry’s grandmother to the chair.

She had not looked up at my since she cut her hand.

I took her hand, cleaned the wound, and bandaged it up. How would Larry let his grandmother see the state of his domicile? Shameful.

By the time I was done bandaging her wound and patting myself on the back for getting rid of yet another neckbeard, I finally realized that Nancy had shifted her gaze upon me.

She was smiling at me. The sweetest smile I had ever seen.

“Thank you, dear. My eyes are not what they use to be and there seems to be a lot of sharp objects in the sink.”

I stumbled backwards and ran back to the living room.

“Wait!”

I stopped as I reached Larry’s lifeless body.

She was standing in the kitchen doorway, her tiny blue eyes locked onto my back. I could feel them burn into me like dry ice. The floor boards creaked as she walks towards me.

I spun around. My pride already dashed. Who ever heard of a Hell Spawn Demon being afraid of a hunched back grandmother?

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?” I say, staring right into her eyes and raising my claws into the air.

“I am so lonely. Larry lives right in my apartment complex, ignores me every day despite living rent free, and you see how he lives? I was hoping you might want to stay instead.”

I lowered my claws closer to her and tilted by head.

“WHAT?!”

“Stay. Live here rent free and take care of security around here. Larry was supposed to do that but, well, he never was good at anything was he? Except for tattoos. He was good at getting them. I designed the pentagram on his hand. Told him it would be his birthday present.”

At this point, my arms fell to my sides.

“You’re telling me you wrote the pentagram?”

“Yes.”

“To invite a demon, like me…”

“Yes.”

“To replace your deadbeat grandson?”

“Yes.”

I looked down at Larry’s body and gave it a good kick.

“Heh.”

I haven’t heard something that crazy in centuries. I knew I could kill her and leave her to rot by her grandson but the last time I said no to a crazy scheme I ended up being the only demon not apart of the music industry. Maybe security is the next best thing.

“How many young’uns cause you trouble here?”

“Too many to count.”

“And I get free reign over how security is run here?”

“And all my other apartments in the city.”

“And the catch?”

“Visit with me every week and for every holiday.”

I quickly drafted up a contract, with the regular Deals with The Devil clauses. I signed it in and had Nancy signed with the blood from her hand.

“I look forward to working with you, Nancy.” I smiled as I shook her hand, sealing the deal.

“Oh, please, call me grandma.”

Why I Died Single

It was a pie.

Coconut cream pie to be exact.

There I was, munching on another slice of sin and attempting to write another sonnet (Sonnet Attempt Number 456, when suddenly my head falls into the fattest slice of pie this side of the Mississippi.

The waiter, an 18-year-old college student from UW, dropped his tray of dirty dishes when he saw me. Poor thing. He was so shaken up. He even started to cry.

Amongst the panicked-stricken staff and rubbernecking patrons, I was somehow rushed to the hospital where they pronounced me dead. February 14, 2020, at 1AM.

Technically, I was dead by 12:15am. I know because that was the time on my phone. I know because I was about to check my phone when my body collapsed. I know because I didn’t collapse with my body.

I still thought I was alive. Or dreaming. Or half-day-dreaming-half-food-coma. I don’t know. I just knew that I was sitting in my body one moment, and the next I was out of most of it… I say most because the rest was slipped off my shoulders and slumped on the table like a wet overcoat while I sat where my butt still was.

Getting out wasn’t a problem. It was kind of like slipping off a wetsuit, just not as wet and not as clingy. I did have help — the waiter, the EMT, the doctors, etc. They all moved my body without me in it.

And I followed, not knowing where else to go. The ambulance was, of course, cramped so I had to float above my body.

Such a surreal experience never felt so … Real…

I watched as they tried to resuscitate me. CPR. Defibrillator. But by the second time my body jumped with electricity off the bed, the doctors had to call it.

The immediate cause of death was asphyxiation due to coconut cream pie. But what caused me to face plant the pie was an aneurism.

Always thought chocolate would do me in, but that’s life. Never know what you’re going to get.

For a while, after they placed my body in the county’s morgue, I just floated there… All alone in the morgue. Not knowing what to do with myself.

As in life, as in death, am I right?

Twenty-nine years of life behind me, an eternity of death ahead of me, and I still cannot make up my mind what to do. Wasn’t there supposed to be light? A tunnel? A voice? A skeleton with a gardening tool? Or something?

No. There was nothing except my dead body in a metal freezer and me floating around. I don’t know how many days passed as I watched the mortician come and go, sometimes with files, sometimes with more bodies. There was no rush to contact relatives. All of mine have passed on long before me. Should I go looking for them in this after life? How do you find other dead people? Is there a Google maps for the dead?

As I floated, lost in thought (How would you even have host a site for the non-living?), my body was taken to be cremated, as per my last Will and Testament. I watched as the funeral director, the same man who walked me through my mother’s passing, lifted my body into the cremation casket, a simple light brown box with no metal handles and no cushions.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Summer of Crows

A thought, brought on by the morning chorus as sung by a neighboring murder.

The summer heat crept into my window, driven by the calls of crows. In a large pine tree a family, a murder, trains new fledglings to feed and fly. I am reminded of a story I learned a long time ago, back when I learned that love and expense were tied into one word: Maganda.

As the story goes, when the world first began, there was no land, only the sea and the sky, and between them was a crow — Black as the space between stars. One day the crow grew tired of flying around. There was no land.

Thinking on the wind, she began to stir up the sea with her wings, until the sea threw its waters against the sky. The sky, in return, tossed thousands of islands into the sea to restrain it. Soon the sea could no longer raise. Instead the sea began to flow back and forth, making a tide that beat to the rhythm of the crow’s wings.

Then the sky spoke.

“Crow, go and land on one of the islands. Build a nest and leave the sea and I in peace!”

As my Nanay told it, from then on the crow lived happily ever after with the other birds on islands between the sea and the sky.

That must have been the first summer of crows.

If You Give Deadpool a Lightsaber

If you give Deadpool a lightsaber, he’s going to ask for another lightsaber.

When you give him the second lightsaber, he’ll probably ask you for a red Sith robe.

When he’s finished dressing up, he’ll ask for the largest mirror in your house.

Then he’ll want to pose dramatically in front your largest mirror, as his robe billows behind him, to make sure he looks as badass as possible.

When he looks into the mirror, he might notice an intruder, so he’ll probably ask for his bag o’ goodies.

When he is finished giving the intruder a taste of his goodies, he’ll want a list of new marks to assassinate.

He’ll start killing (while having you drive him around the city). He might get carried away and destroy every piece of property in the tri-state area.

He may even end up killing people who were never on the contract list to begin with!

When he’s done, he’ll probably want to go back to your place and eat some chimichangas.

You’ll have to fix up a large plate of chimichangas for him with a six pack of beer and chips to go with it.

He’ll dig in, and make himself comfortable on your couch, and place his gore stained boots onto your antique mahogany coffee table.

He’ll probably ask you to put on a movie.

So, you’ll get your DVD collection, and pick out some of your favorites (Neverending Story, Princess Mononoke, The Fault in Our Stars, etc) and he’ll ask to see your Monty Python collection.

As he watches  Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he’ll get so excited that he’ll want to make a movie of his own. You’ll remind him that he already did but then he will stick a chimichanga down your throat before asking for a video camera and a black beret.

He’ll film a movie.

When the movie is finished, he’ll want to burn a copy of it onto a disc and sign it with a Sharpie. He will then save it later to auction off on ebay.

Then he’ll want to upload the movie onto Youtube.

Which means he’ll need your computer.

He’ll upload his movie and watch as the view count goes up with each refresh.

Staring at the glowing screen will remind him that he’s badass.

So, he’ll ask for a lightsaber.

And chances are if he asks for one lightsaber, he’s going to want another one to go with it.

 

 

The Thin Man and His Rice

Once upon a time there was a thin man who lived on a farm with his twelve brothers and elderly parents. His parents were in their twilight years and knew that they were not long for this earth.

As per tradition, the couple gathered their offspring together around their large bamboo bed. Starting with their youngest son, the family’s patriarch gave out their inheritance.

The 13th son received his father’s staff and his mother’s shawl. The 12th son received his father’s youngest carabao and his mother’s cat. The 11th son received his father’s books and his mother’s lamps. The 10th son received his father’s pots and pans and his mother’s silverware.

This continued until the first born, the thin man. By then, nothing was left to give except for “the farm and your mother’s rice seeds,” said the patriarch.

“You will stay on the farm alone and live here as we did. Grow and prosper as I have, my son. May this land give you 20 healthy sons and a beautiful wife as it has given me.”

The thin man did not speak, but instead raised his father’s hand to his forward.

“Go now, my sons, and rest,” said the mother.

The next day, both elders passed away. The funeral was arranged and within one week, both farmer and wife lay in the ancient cemetery on the hill overlooking the village.

Following the funeral, each of the 12 brothers left with their inheritance and with one word of advice for their oldest brother:

“Give and receive as Father and Mother did. Give up on your bad habit.”

The bad habit in question was his stingy nature. The thin man was not generous to himself or others, hence his thin form and emaciated chest. Despite his family’s prosperity,  he never ate more than was necessary. Now, without his brothers they feared he would never eat.

However, he thanked them for their concern and, as the last brother left, he let out a sigh.

“Finally,” he thought, “No one to nag at me.”

Just as the elders wished, each son prospered in his chosen field of interests and the farm flourish. However, despite producing the most rice out of any farmer on the island, the thin man grew thinner and thinner.

With each visit from his brothers, the thin man wasted away, until he was just skin and bones. Yet, despite his brothers worries and fear, he looked happier than ever. The thin man rejoiced in how productive his farm had become and he prided himself on his own frugality.

The farm continued to produce bumper crop after bumper crop, which in turn attracted local mice. Fat black mice began to raid the thin man’s storage and swam in his rice paddies. Enraged, the thin man began to set traps for the mice and scanned his field with a scythe, hunting for more. He cooked the pests outside his house on a fire, hoping the smell of roasted meat would scare others away.

Three moons have passed before his 13th brother came to visit. As the brother walked through the fields of rice, he noticed the decaying remains of mice scattered here and there in cages or decapitated by traps. By the time he reached the thin man, the 13th brother had vomited his breakfast. The smell of mice feces and rotted meat was too much for the young man.

“Kuya,” he said, opening his family’s door, “KUYA! What has happened to the farm?”

“Huh,” said the thin man as he turned to his brother, “Mice, Raul, mice! They have come to take my treasure. So I had to do away with them. Look.”

He held by a bundle of dead mice in his bony hands. The thin man had tied ten mice by their tails with hemp rope.

“I will scare them off with this for sure,” said the thin man.

“Kuya,” Raul said, “No, STOP! The mice are not the problem, Kuya.” Raul held his brother’s arm. “You have too much rice here. I passed a dozen or so mountains of harvested rice just sitting there. Sell the rice and be done with the mice, Kuya, please!”

The thin man stroked his chin while studying the dirt caked on his foot. He click his tongue twice. “You have a point, Raul. I will go to market tomorrow and sell as much as I can carry with the old carabao.”

“Yes, yes!” said Raul, “And I will help you.”

The next day, as promised, the thin man and his brother left for the market with a mountain of rice piled high onto the family’s old cart. At the sight of the rice, many villagers cheered. Their farms had not been as prosperous as the thin man’s and they grew hungry and thin with each passing day. Families by the dozen began flocking towards the cart and shouting, “SELL, SELL, SELL, GIVE, GIVE, GIVE!”

Raul quickly found an open spot in the marketplace and spread out a large blanket.

“How much should charge the people,” he asked the thin man.

The thin man’s eyes glimmered as he looked at the mountain of rice.

“No less than 9000 pesos, Raul,” said the thin man, still staring at the mountain.

“9000 pesos!” Raul laughed, “No, Kuya, I meant per pound? Cup?”

“9000 pesos per cup,” the thin man said, not looking at his brother.

“Kuya,” Raul touched his shoulder, “No one here has that kind of money. 10 pesos is pushing it but 9000 is impossible.”

The thin man looked at his brother, “9000, and that is all, Raul.”

Both brothers sat down and turned family by family away. Before the day was half way done, the crowd became agitated as news of the price of rice spread. Eventually, the village elder were called and brought to the thin man and Raul.

The elder approached the thin man.

“Is it true that you are charging 9000 pesos for a cup of rice?” said the elder.

“Yes, po,” said the thin man.

“Anak,” the elder said, “As you can see the village is poor. Every farm but yours has failed this harvest. I know you and your family. Your parents taught you and your brothers to be generous.”

“Yes, but if I give for free now, what will I get in return later? How can I use you are not hording your money somewhere else, po?” said the thin man, “I will not be tricked out of my wealth.”

“If you will not give freely to the village that fed you, then will you sell at a lower price?” said the elder.

“9000 is as low as I will go,” said the thin man.

The two men stared at each other for a while. The sun extracted a thick bead of sweat from the elder’s brow.

“So be it,” the elder turned to the crowd, “live this man to his fate.”

The crowd dispersed and left the two brothers alone.

Raul and the thin man walked silently to the farm. Raul did not look at his brother. Instead, he packed his things and left without a word. The thin man took no notice.

“Fools,” he thought, “It is about supply and demand, the higher the demand the greater the price for the supply.” He click his tongue.

As he started a fire in his stove, he heard a large thud coming from the barn, where he stored his rice seed.

“Mice.”

He took up his scythe and walked into the barn. The thin man flicked on the lights. The old carabao was eating his hay. The tools still hung on the walls. The bags of rice seed seemed undisturbed. There was only one thing amiss; a small trail of uncooked white rice lead behind the larger bags of seed.

The thin man crept to the seed bag and looked behind it to find a cowering small boy.

“They grow vermin larger than I remember,” said the thin man.

“Please, po,” said the boy, “I only wanted a handful of rice for my sister and I.”

“A vermin and a thief, huh,” said the thin man, “May God have mercy on your soul.”

With that the thin man swung his scythe, missing the boy and striking a bag of seed. The boy darted between the thin man’s legs and ran out of the barn, screaming. It had begun to rain outside and the boy’s feet slipped in a puddle.

The barn door swung open as the thin man screamed after the boy, “Come back here, thief!”

The boy ran behind of the dozen mountains of rice scattered around the field.

“Come out little mouse,” said the thin man, as he stalked around each rice pile.

The boy’s nose began to itch and he was about to sneeze when a hand covered his mouth.

It was Raul. He had come back after he heard a scream. Raul placed his finger to his mouth and motioned the boy to stay.

He came out from behind the rice and faced his brother. “Kuya, what is the meaning of this?”

“Ah! Raul! Good. Have you seen a little thief? He stole some rice from me.”

“Kuya, he is just a boy. What is one bit of rice to you?” The boy came out and hung onto Raul.

“YOU!” shouted the thin man. He raised his scythe to cut down the boy and Raul. Raul ducked and shielded the boy with his body as the earth began to shake.

The earthquake collapsed a mountain of rice onto the thin man and drowned his cries underneath the roar of moving earth.

As the quake subsided, the rain stopped. Raul dug into the rice for the thin man.

He found him, dead, suffocated by rice.

After the funeral, the remaining thirteen brothers decided Raul should keep the farm. Under him, the farm and village prospered. As for the young boy, Raul adopted him and his sister and they lived happily ever after.