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  • Francis James

The Things We Do

“This is what we get for what we do

This is what we get

Doin things you never knew we do…”




“Bad” was playing on repeat in his head. He strolled on this cool-air and sun-warmed autumn day, amongst the dying and decaying leaves, up to the only diner in town. The trees were stunning, with their oranges and yellows, reds and browns. Leaves on the trees, leaves dancing and hobbling down the streets in droves with the help of the friendly breeze. He walked along the main road. He passed streets perfectly perpendicular to the main road, lined with trees, small and mid sized buildings, houses converted into offices, some houses still lived in. This place is cute. He hates to admit that he thinks it’s “cute” but it is, no denying that. The main road is nice and wide, speed limit is about 30 and people actually follow it. That’s not something you always see back in Jersey. It’s funny how back home the resident plates are the speeders, and the out-of-staters are always holding up traffic following the law. Diagonal parking spots along the curb on the main road, no pay meters in sight. Must be one of the only towns in middle America that don’t require pay for parking. It was a cozy little town, with a big white church on the hill just outside of the North East side of town. He was right in the middle of town on the main drag, across the street from the circle park with the big cement pillared gazebo thing in the middle. You could see that church on the hill to the North East, to the West you see flat ground for miles and miles until you scan from South to North and the flat horizon line becomes jagged like sharks’ teeth - rough, patchy, ominous. Intriguing and riddled with danger. The mountains to the West could the Rockies, but he wasn’t sure. Geography wasn’t his thing. Staying alive was. He knew it wasn’t going to last though.


To the South of the center of town was a populous suburb, smaller houses, sidewalks, lots of tree lined streets. It was pleasant, but to the West there is an old textile mill. He thinks it looks pretty cool, he even tried to sketch it yesterday. He likes how old and cavernous it looks, it’s spooky facade and industrial silhouette during the sunset. Beyond the neighborhood to the South is all farms and ranches and wide open land. The horizon line was flat. If you went out beyond the old textile mill, and looked South, you’d essentially be standing between the “assumed-Rockies” and the suburb. From there, once the early evening crept in and the sun had disappeared below the Westerly rocks, you’d lose the horizon line, land and sky blurred deep blue, and it felt as if you were standing at the abyss. The Abyss.


It felt massive.






There is just space in front of you.







Even with your feet planted firmly on the ground,




























and the knowledge of life in the town behind you,
































It feels as if












you’re floating

























Up, down,
























Away




















Into the abyss.




































































Have you ever felt like you could simply be swallowed whole?

















Swallowed whole.





























By something that was so big, just the mere fact of your existence was completely







insignificant
























and infinitely small.





















Infinitely small.






























Smaller.










































So small.
























































Smaller until there is almost no thing left












































































He remembered a similar experience at a beach once. It was dark, night time on the East Coast and the horizon line couldn’t be found. Sky met Ocean and it was all the same color, the same wide open, massive feeling overcame his existence. All of the sudden he was unwillingly part of something much too big. It was like standing at the mouth of some galactic sized organism whose mouth was made to swallow entire star systems and feed feed feed feed feed.


What’s it been, three or four months at this point? Insanity is not an option for him. He needs to maintain some semblance of control of his inner life - even if his mind crumbles just a little everyday.


His mind keeps replaying that night over in his head. It’s like a shitty TV with tubes and knobs and the picture is all fuzzy and the sound is fuzzy and it makes sense, but you want to believe that it was not what you heard. You want to walk away and turn it off, but you can't. Even when you unplug it, the TV never turns off.


“I loved you. I really did. I felt my being change as we got to know each other. It didn’t make sense at first but then I realized. It was love blossoming. I never thought I’d have love for anything else, ever again. I thought you’d be the one to change me. Or maybe I just loved the way you looked at me. My existence is a victim-hood of foolishness anyway. I live in torment, so why should this have been any different? Either way, we’re done. And you’re dead. It will not be swift, and it will hurt. I’ll give you a head start. It’s the least I can do. Take some time to prepare for eternity.”


Four months next Tuesday. Maybe this head start is more like one of those “let him live in fear for the rest of his life and look over his shoulder until he’s dead” situations. Part of him wished that was the case because he knew some days he’d wake up and forget. Some nights the dreams wouldn’t come. But most of him wished he was dead already. His historic anxiety keeps the idea fresh in his mind maybe 60% of the time. He depression keeps his imminent doom at the front of his brain 20% of the time. The other 20% is half sleep and half alcohol, or music, or another escape from reality. One day it’s a skatepark, the next day it’s an art museum. One night it’s whiskey, the next night it’s another one-night stand - which he either won’t or can’t stop pursuing. Even I can’t tell if he’s purely out of self-control in the department or if he truly thinks he can get away with it. This guy has a dogshit track record in the female department which is why he’s in the situation he’s in currently.



He missed home. He didn’t want to be here, but he didn’t have a choice really. Not physically, but in this emotional state where he’s constantly fearing for the moment he turns a corner and there she is waiting with a gun or a knife or a scythe.

“It will not be swift, and it will hurt. I’ll give you a head start. It’s the least I can do.”


Her voice ringing in his ears. How long had it been? Four months almost, right.


His car was back at the motel, on the East side of town, only a fifteen minute walk away. He has been here in this town for about a week, and got an “on call” job at the cafe on Elm street, which was open from 6am to 2pm, mostly bussing tables, killing rats out back, and setting up the wrought iron outdoor furniture. He was paying rent at the motel “whenever he could” thanks to the cafe owner who called the front desk employee there and asked for a favor.


“I got a guy who needs a place, he’s working for me until further notice. He won't be any trouble, just a kid who needs to get on his feet.”


“This guy had no reason to vouch for me. But he did, and I’ll be thankful until I can save some cash and move on to the next town. Running. Always running is what I have to look forward to until the end. Whenever that is.” His thoughts running through his mind as he stares down the menu pasted to the front window of the diner. He stepped into the diner and headed for the counter.


Apparently this town was able to partially operate on cashless favors and handshakes. Made sense though. It turns out that there were some federal government testing sites near by from the 1940s through the 50s, and the town didn’t want to leave on the government’s bequest, so the Feds gave this entire damned town a monthly stipend. It’s like a guaranteed social security payment for risking radiation poisoning and not filing lawsuits. They seemed complacent. Or complicit. Maybe both.


At the counter, the waitresses and the cook gave him a quick look. No telling whether they were simply looks of acknowledgment or looks of concern. It was harder to read people in this town compared to others he had come across at this point in his life. These people were calmer, and nicer, and they seemed smarter. He thought these people just lived simpler than most and maybe that’s why they seem so relaxed.


He ordered lunch. Some sandwich and a coke. Finished off the meal with a cappuccino and a cookie. Might as well live a little while awaiting imminent doom.


As he sipped his espresso drink he thought of that first night. His eyes wandered across the counter top until he found a spot between the top of his ripped off sugar packet and the spoon with which he stirred the drink, about twelve inches in front of him, and he just stared. Daydreaming, repeating that evening in his head, slowly and delicately sipping that cappuccino. Even the tickling froth atop the steamed milk didn't distract his thoughts. He played it like clockwork.


He pulled up to the intersection behind the old mall at Service Road A and Service Road C. B ran parallel with A until it turned ninety degrees North towards the clearing in the woods where the tallest cell phone tower in creation stood. The mall was condemned and there were old service roads that lead behind the mall connecting the county college with a county public works department and other points of interest for the township, county, and any contractor working with them.


It was 2am, he had an hour to kill. He sat in his car with the lights off, listening to Type O Negative. He kept checking the box to make sure he had everything he needed. No use in that though, he knew he had everything the spell had called for. He was partially hoping he’d forgotten something so he can postpone the summoning, but no. He had what he needed. It was approaching 3am, and he turned off Type O, got out of his car and spent the next fifteen minutes laying on the hood looking up at the stars. He also sat up, walked around the car, sat on the trunk, climbed on the roof, layed down, across, and could not for the life of him stop moving. Anxiety can really make you fidgety.


At 3:10am he had finished digging a small whole in the middle of the intersection of Service Roads A and C, and placed his small box in before covering it with dirt. Such a puny offering for his massive desired result. At 3:13 he pulled a torn, yellow piece of notebook paper he had ripped off his Dad’s legal tablet out of his pocket. The blue ink had smudged in some spots, but it was legible enough. He started his incantation, which lasted about 60 seconds. It was after 3:14, but not quite 3:15 when he finished. Nothing happened.


Nothing.


He turned around and sat on the hood of his car, leaned back and looked up at the stars.


No stars. They were gone. No clouds either though. Just darkness.


“What are you looking for?” she said.


He heard her voice and his blood froze in his veins. His heart pounded for a second, like it had leaped to avoid being hit by something. Her voice sounded sexy and dangerous. It sounded like she wasn't human. It sounded too perfect to be human. He sprang up, looked to his right in her direction. No one was there. She said again, “Over here, cutie”.


She was to his left. Maybe she threw her voice to mess with him. Maybe he got confused. It’s not really important, unless it is important. She got out of a black ‘62 - how he didn’t hear her pull up was beyond him - closed the door and stood there waiting for his move. She was gorgeous. It didn’t make sense that this girl in front of him was the most incredible looking creature he’d ever come across. It made her seem even less human than her voice did. She was perfect. How could someone, something, be this perfect looking? She was everything he ever knew he wanted and didn’t know he wanted.


She asked, “So, what do you want?”


He hopped off of his car, his feet hit the ground. He walked towards her, three steps, the dirt crunching and little pebbles sliding under his black on black shoes. He was dressed in all black.


He stopped. In his mind, in that moment, in a split second, he told her everything. He wanted a girl. A girl that was his and only his. Who wanted him and only him. He wanted to turn his ways around and have the one. A girl that lived down the hall, who he saw come home from work late at night through the hole in his front door, who he never had the balls to even say hello to. He had plenty of women visitors and used them just like he wanted to, but this girl was different. He wanted her to notice him, and to fall for him. He wanted control. He wanted all of her and wanted her to want all of him. He was sure his existence was meant for this woman down the hall. But he didn’t say all this.


His mouth opened, and he said “you.”


The cappuccino was done. The waitress had dropped his bill without him noticing. She seemed nice. In any other scenario he’d have noticed her immediately, gave her eyes until his meal was about through, smooth talked her into a date later that week (or even that evening), got in her pants on the first or second date, and after one or two more dates moved on to someone or something else. That was his MO. Lately not so much. Lately he’d been watching over his shoulder, checking every mirror, and having dreams so real he’d wake up in his bed and think the events of those dreams happened earlier that day.


He paid his bill and went to use the restroom. It was tiny, two stalls and one urinal when you walked in to the right, and a single sink with an old, dirty, gunk-stained mirror to the left. For a place with good food, it sure had a bad looking bathroom. It smelled good though stanley enough. And the smell became familiar. The lights in the bathroom flickered and dimmed a little and slid from steril white into a shade of deep red fairly quickly. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was bleeding from the eyes. From his nose. It trickled from his mouth. He looked down at his hands, the skin was burning without flame and slowly sliding off of his skeleton hands. He heard a shrill high pitched scream blast through his ears and his brain, piercing his head with instant pain. The scream sounded like it came from inside a deep cavern inside his own head. He felt every extremity being pulled apart from his torso, as if drawn and quartered.


“I’m catching up, cutie”


And in an instant it was gone. The sound, the blood, the pain. All that was left was the memory, the mental anguish. This was not the first time. Something similar happened last month, but instead of heat he felt cold that time. Is this something to get used to? Will it happen again? More often? Is it a preview of the tortuous pain to come?


“Prepare for eternity.”


He twisted around quickly. Looked all around. He heard her say that in his head? How was she doing that? His heart was racing, throbbing in his chest. He checked his pulse to make sure he was living. And after coming to terms with his current state of being, he turned around to use the urinal. He booked it out of there as soon as he was done, screaming past the counter, and the kind folks who worked there, back in the sunlight and the cool autumn breeze. He was definitely alive.


He had nothing to do but walk, explore, try to enjoy the day. It was worth enjoying. It’s a gift, truly. He strolled along the main road, further away from the motel, towards a small cinema which had blinking light bulbs around the marque 24/7. He kept thinking about the rest of that night and the following weeks after he summoned her.


They had somehow, in an adrenaline-fueled blur, made it back to his apartment, where they immediately headed for the bed. Clothes were ripped off in a frenzie. Lust and love conjoined the two through the night.


The next day she was still there. She had not slept. She didn’t need to. He slept. And while he slept, she was in his head. She saw everything, knew everything. She saw his past, played through his eyes and filtered through his thoughts, and again through her eyes and filtered through her thoughts. How imperfect he was. Broken, tortured, wounded, like a lost animal in oddly familiar wilderness. Scars from wounds mostly self-inflicted. In some circumstances he was completely unaware and clueless, and in other situations he knew exactly what he was doing. Odd how these humans are so willing to hurt themselves. How could a creature that made her feel loved be so imperfect? She hadn’t felt loved in eons. Love wasn’t real, it was a trick, it was a method of control in her experience. She felt it though. She was content with it. In fact, she may have preferred it.


He needed guidance. He needed to be fixed. She could fix him. She could reverse his innate sinfulness. His transference of a loveless and confused existence to a lust for flesh.


In the morning, they sat together while he ate breakfast. She stayed there while he worked and they lived together for a few weeks. Every night was the same. It was amazing. Until one day the girl down the hall said hello. That was when it all spiraled.


As he walked West, away from the diner and his motel, he could see a large hill to the North. Two large hills actually. One hill, the higher one, had the white church at the top. The other hill had nothing at the top, was much wider, and seemed to have many more thick spots of trees. Turns out, according to the gas station attendant who sold him a pack of cigarettes, that “those richie-rich” folks live up on that hill. The gas station attendant had said it in a tone that insinuated poking rather than disdain. Those folks were mostly up there because they had inherited those houses and the families just stayed there. It seemed that there were no real socioeconomic differences between the residents in this town. Some lived here in the town center above shops and restaurants in cozy apartments, some lived on the hillside in old Victorians, Saltboxes, and newer Colonials, and others lived on the “valley side” in ranchers, Cape Cods, which is the South side not too far from the old textile mill. He started to like this town. It was simple, and nice, and welcoming. It felt almost familiar.


The sun started to go down, beyond the mountains. It illuminated the sky with yellows and oranges amongst deep gray clouds that stretched across the horizon below the bluing dusken sky. As he looked up, and up, and up, the blue became deeper and deeper turning into almost violet. He kept his head up and turned around to scan from above his head to the East. It was dark over there. Very dark. Stars in the sky started to twinkle and reveal themselves in the clear night sky to the East. Perhaps he should turn around now.


He had made it to the Western outskirts of town before he knew it, where one road went off and seemed to go on forever, stretched out towards the mountains. They must be huge, he thought. Their silhouettes looked menacing in font of the sun, like a graveyard of knives, Hell’s portal to Earth glowing behind them. But the scene didn’t match his emotions. He felt comfortable. He felt okay. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder. All was well. Until he looked down and saw a blade had pierced through his chest, entering from his back and exiting his chest.


He panicked internally, completely unmoving like a statue. And in the blink of an eye, it was gone. No blood, no blade, nothing. Another hallucination. This was strange. Two in one day. Very strange.


He started back towards the motel and talked to himself in his head. This will be the norm, he told himself. He had to figure out how to get used to this phenomenon of fictional death. Maybe if he did, he’d be less surprised when it actually followed through to the end. Bright side, right? He drifted into thought again walking back towards the motel, past the central park, the weird gazebo, the diner from earlier, onward to the industrial side of town, with chain link fences and buildings houses firms and companies and garages, and businesses of all sorts. He passed a furniture store that dragged him back to reality.


In this furniture store there was a single illuminated lamp in the window, hovering over a dark wood end table. He smiled. He liked lighting fixtures. He was enamored with chandeliers and lamps since he was a child, when his parents had bought a large chandelier for their center-hall colonial which was suspended above the foyer and staircase in his childhood home. Nostalgia set in. He remembered life when he was able to just run around a play pretend. That chandelier used to be the Death Star when he ran around his house in his white t-shirt and white sweatpants pretending to be a Stormtrooper in Star Wars. He would carry around a super-soaker as his weapon of choice, and tuck his sweatpants into his white tube socks because Stormtroopers wore boots, and he was not allowed to wear boots in the house, per his mother’s borderline obsessive clean-streak. He thought of Star Wars and how fun it would be to spend time in space, away from all this running away. Space sounded more inviting than the abyss that was the view on the South side of town. He thought about childhood some more before he was thrown off of his delicious scene by the sound of a stray cat screwing around with the garbage cans in the alleyway next to the furniture store. He moved on.


He kept walking, towards the motel, into the chilly evening autumn breeze. There were minimal light son at this end of town, only ones that illuminated the store fronts. He doubted there was much crime in this town. He had seen two police cruisers the whole time he was here and there was a good possibility that they were actually the same one. The chill autumn breeze reminded him of the ocean. It was damp and smelled sweet and salty.


As he walked towards the darkening Eastern sky, he remembered again.


She hadn’t witnessed it but she smelled the woman down the hall on him when he walked into the apartment. She could have witnessed it if she wanted to but she didn't follow him around in that realm. He made her feel safe enough to push the worry aside. He made her feel like she had not in eons, and she let him. Foolish.

Trust. Where did she learn that? How did she learn that?

He looked at her in the eyes after he walked in the door, and immediately, he knew that she knew. He didn’t need confirmation. He could sense it in his soul. His torn and incomplete soul. His life has been tearing pieces of himself away to give to others. Since childhood he’s been a people-pleaser. To his detriment, his soul has reaped the consequences. Every time he did it, he ripped a piece of himself away to give to another. He’d taken pieces of them as well. But those pieces don’t fit the incomplete puzzle. Those pieces aren’t his to have or to hold, and yet he keeps them because he has no choice. He’s given away pieces of him in exchange for things of which he cannot complete himself. There're many different shaped holes in his heart, none of which he can find the right sized things to fill. He doesn't look in the right places. They exist, but he pays them no mind. He wouldn’t see them even if they had the shape of a female. Because that’s all he sees. The female shape.

“Why?” she asked.

“It just happened. I wish it didn’t but it did.”

It’s hard to be sure if he really was sorry about it. He had summoned her weeks prior to extract this exact happening. He wanted her first. But he wants this Her now. Does he? Does he really know what he wants? I don’t.

His face showed some signs of remorse but they seemed hidden by shame. A bigger and much more ominous and brooding emotion for him. He hates feeling shame. That’s why he runs.

She looked at him with tears welling in her eyes. She was in a form she had not taken in many years and now she experienced tears brought upon by sadness and anger and betrayal. She showed up there that night to meet up by the luck of the draw, pure happenstance.

Yet he was the one that chose her. He said, “you”. You don’t just do that. You don’t make someone choose you back and move on when the game is over.

She’d have his head for this. On a wall, in his own apartment.

She was filled with infernal rage. Hell hath no wrath. She was Hell. Hell was under her control and she was to raise it up and use it on him. The heart that she thought was growing in her, the heart that was crushed and obliterated so many years before, it was turning back to stone. How could this have happened? How could she fall for this mortal? She had spoken against his kind in the first place, she had raised thunderous voice and was cast aside and out for all eternity because of his kind. How could she fall for it? She fell once and now she had fallen again. There was no forgiveness, there was no remorse, there was no moving through and onward. There was tortuous pain. There was suffering. That was her familiar place. That was her existence. How foolish to think there’d be another way. A way out of it all.

“I’m sorry. You’ll never understand. I don’t even understand. I can’t help myself sometimes. I’ve been this way always, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t this way. I feel… I feel… I want to feel. But I don’t. I do at first, but it goes away every time. It’s like something snaps inside my head and it’s all gone. My love, my hope, my heart. It just disappears until something new, and then it re-emerges, fresh, excited, and it sucks. I hate myself for this. I hate myself for the way I’ve let myself become. I hate myself for doing this to you and anyone else. I want you. I know I want you, but my numbness won’t let me have you.”

She believed that. Which made it worse.

“I loved you. I really did. I felt my being change as we got to know each other. It didn’t make sense at first but then I realized. It was love blossoming. I never thought I’d have love for anything else, ever again. I thought you’d be the one to change me. Or maybe I just loved the way you looked at me. My existence is a victim-hood of foolishness anyway. I live in torment, so why should this have been any different? Either way, we’re done. And you’re dead. It will not be swift, and it will hurt. I’ll give you a head start. It’s the least I can do. Take some time to prepare for eternity.”

His heart pounded in his chest, it was racing. He wanted to cry. She disappeared. She was gone, and he was alone.


He returned to the motel, passing the night shift desk worker who had simply looked up, nodded, and headed back down into his magazine.


He opened the door to his room, flipped the switch on, and saw the room just as he had left it. He lay on the bed and looked up at the popcorn ceiling, seeing shapes of faces within the shadows. Some sad, some mad, mostly all experiencing some sort of negative emotion. The AC hummed, blowing cool air up, making the light curtains dance in midair in front of the window. He saw a shape pass the window, a silhouette illuminated by the neon signs out for the motel. He wasn’t worried. She wouldn’t be that obvious.


She was that obvious.


You see, at that moment, she entered his room. He lifted his head up to meet her eyes, and tried to pop up off the bed. He couldn’t. The bed wasn’t a bed. It was a slab of stone, and he was chained to it. Cold, hard, black stone. He was bound to it. The chains contracted with every pull as he writhed around trying to break their grip. She chuckled. There was no escape.


She walked gingerly over to the stone, used a fingernail to rip his t-shirt from neck to waist. She opened it and examined his chest. She dragged her finger nails along his abdomen, caressing him sweetly. He chest was strong. She liked it. She wondered what things lay beneath. He knew it too. He knew that look. On her, on others. It was wonderment. It was excitement. It was revenge. She used her finger nail like a blade, dragging it across his chest left to right, and again down the middle of the throat to the belly button. His torso burst open, long tendrils like the tentacles of an octopus burst forward. A shrill sound pierced his ears. Blood everywhere. She stepped back and smiled in satisfaction. Her eyes glistened and her white teeth shone through a barrier of black lipstick. She was stunningly gorgeous to him at that moment. She had control over him and he let it go. He let it all go. His eyes closed and he felt numb.


He drifted into nothingness. Black nothingness. He felt fire on his skin, and ice in his veins. His eyes burned and felt like they were being pulled out, carefully, slowly. His arms and legs stretched into the great beyond and he could see no end. He felt connected to nothing emotionally, mentally, spiritually. He felt bound physically, trapped and confined metaphysically. Nothing made sense. He watched the darkness surround him, as he fell into the abyss. He experienced it and at the same time seemed to have an out of body experience, watching himself drift away at a speed greater than light itself into a vast oblivion. It was forever. It went on forever, and longer.


Then he awoke.


She was next to him on the bed in the hotel room.


“Same time next week, stud?”


“What?”


“Oh right. You don’t remember. We’ve been doing this for years, sweetie. Funny how I sometimes forget that I make you forget. Convenient though. The look on your face is priceless.”


She snapped her fingers and he was fast asleep.


You see, there is no town. There is no motel. There is nothing. There is only today and maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day. Little to his knowledge this has been going on for about a thousand years, give or take a few hundred. Every day is a new day but every week or so is the same old thing. Eternal suffering. Until next time, that is.


Maybe one day he’ll break the cycle. All he has to do is try.



“This is what we get,

Doin’ things you never knew we do”


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