Short Story: Doomed Somnambulist

A distant thrum cooed along the streets followed by ultra-bright LED head-lights. They galloped across rain-slicked asphalt and illuminated the rain-drops as if in freeze-frames. Attached to them was a modern electric-engine sports car. The thing was near-silent in broad daylight, at night a ghost. The only suggestion of its presence was the whisper of water spraying from its tires compelled along straights, corners, and otherwise-empty streets by a lead foot.

Attached to that foot was Mick Connell at the wheel. A descendant of a long line of Irish, hot-headed, drunkards, flaming red hair topped his Cromagnon-skull above a perpetual brood. The glass-quart bottle of off-brand bourbon raised to his lips made his vices all the more obvious.

A pothole sloshed liquor over his face, down the front of his black, button-up shirt. He cursed, capped off the bottle, and tossed it into the passenger seat. He fought to dry the wet spot with a hand. A droning horn drew his mind up. He swerved right with an angry growl. The horn doppler-shifted away. He cursed again, grabbed absently for the bottle and took another pull off it.

This time he drained the bottle, tossed it into the back seat. It clanged with a few others he’d polished off earlier. The car threw itself around a wide curve of a ramp and the highway spilled out ahead like a endless, faceted onyx.

Mick had only goal; murder that cheating whore and her man-bitch. Mick didn’t care if the guy lived in a corporate penthouse or the white-house, no-one humiliated him like this. The whore would get what was coming in time, but this was a matter of honor and a man’s now-broken, unspoken rules. It didn’t matter how rich you were, you didn’t dick another man’s wife.

“Shirley. That cunt. She’s done this. And in my home. Fucking brought him into my home and took it on my bed.”

Didn’t matter now, he knew. The place was burning to the ground. He’d already seen to that. He’d poured the gasoline himself, lit and dropped the match. They’d probably get him for arson, insurance fraud. A nickel or dime as punishment. He could do that. It was the principle of the thing. He lit the place up, watched it burn down, and in five to ten years, he’d be back to salt the earth.

There was only thing left to do, and he would do it without fear of the repercussions.

They’d been friends once, or so he’d thought. The truth was he couldn’t be sure anymore. He couldn’t be sure of anything really. All he knew was he’d run through the latest security footage from the house. He stopped specifically on the bedroom, hoping to see Shirley undressing or rubbing herself off. What he found drove him into a rage instead.

And now he was driving to murder that bastard. The gun in his waistband was a newer model, chambered with a .45 ACP round. It and the bullets were expensive. A whole mag cost more than a bottle of liquor nowadays, but it would be worth every penny to pump him full of lead– just like he’d pumped Shirley. His wife on his bed.

“Friends,” Mick scoffed angrily. “Fuck-friends, that’s what. Friends that fuck each other over.”

Mick could only vaguely remember when Koren had been his friend. It was mostly the fault of too many nights liquored up. He’d remember in the morning, then forget again by evening, whether or not he actively realized it. He’dd never forget this though.

The car raced down an off-ramp and into the city. It rocketed and weaved through sparse traffic from the late hour. Shirley was supposed to be working with Koren, for him, on some secret project for their company. Every night she’d come home sallow-faced and haggard. At the time, Mick thought it was from rough work. Instead, it was from getting dicked by the bastard. Well tonight would be the last time.

Mick raced into the parking garage of Koren’s building, skidded to a halt across three, empty spaces near an elevator. The engine died. He got out, stormed for the elevator, and queued the penthouse floor. He keyed in a code his “friend” had once given him; it still worked.

The elevator lurched upward. Mick pulled the pistol from his waist-band, flipped the safety off. His ears turned hot, flushed, and with a breath he checked the breech, let it slide back to chamber a round.

It would be quick, painless. For Koren anyhow. Twenty-five to life, probably, but time off for a crime of passion for Mick. Twenty even– plus the nickel for arson. More like fifteen or thirteen with good behavior. Nothing worse than he’d been through as a kid. Hell, with the right bribes, he might even get put up in one of those swanky, white-collar places they stuck bankers.

The doors opened on the elevator and he surged out like a tidal wave of fury. He stormed along a hall to a lone door at its end. With two, heavy kicks, the door burst in off its hinges. Mick exploded inside screaming incomprehensibly with the gun aimed at Koren.

The suited man sat across a coffee table from Shirley, his tie pulled down. His hair was ruffled, eyes dark, sleepless. Shirley looked equally haggard. For a moment, Mick paused. It was enough to slow his speech. The dumbfounded pair eyed him dully, began to grasp his accusations. Mick fingered the trigger, its barrel on Koren’s head. He took a deep breath, knowing it was a delicate moment. All the same, his mind and brain were frayed, and an interruption made things worse.

“Mick, bloody hell, what are you on about?”

Mick threw a memory card across the paper-strewn coffee-table between his wife and his victim, “I know what you two did. On my bed. In my home.”

Koren and Shirley exchanged a look; they knew what he was implying, but had not the faintest idea what the hell could’ve make him think it. Koren moved to stand. Mick’s finger tapped pistol’s trigger. He hesitated, locked eyes with Mick, “I just want to check the card.”

Mick sneered, allowed it. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe to savor the moment a little longer. Koren pulled over a laptop, played the lone, edited-down vid in its directory. Koren watched the clip for a moment. A furrow took residence on his brow. He swiveled the laptop outward so Shirley could watch. The vid played over, on repeat. The second time through, Mick was forced to watch.

“There’s nothing there, Mick,” Shirley said sadly.

“Not even you,” Koren added.

Mick stared at the screen, he’d clearly seen it earlier. Had double-checked the card over and over. The timestamp in the vid’s corner was even right. All the same, there stood a lone bed from a wide-angle. It was empty. The same five minutes of vid played over and over, the bed empty.

Mick was sobered by reality, “Wh… what’s going on?”

Koren shook his head, sighed, “I wish we could do something about that.”

Shirley agreed, “If we could, it would mean we could eliminate the problem itself.”
He wantonly waved the gun between them, “What are you talking about?”

Shirley was on her feet, voice soft, she pushed his arm down, eased the gun away from him, “Mick you’re ill. You imagined all of it. You don’t remember. Every-time the black-outs happen, you reset. Your brain creates dreams where memories should be. It’s similar to sleep-walking, in a way.”

Mick’s eyes began to well up, “S-so you n-never cheated on me?”

Koren was aghast. “Mick, you’re my brother, mate. I’d never do that to ‘ya.”

Shirley took Mick’s face in a soft hand, “No, honey. I understand what’s wrong with you. I knew when we met. I could never do that.”

Mick suddenly collapsed in a heap, reality weighing down on him. He sobbed, bound forever to eternally sleep-walk through life with terrible dreams mascarading as memories; forever a doomed somnambulist.

Short Story: Eternal Optimists

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Paris Incident by now. Who hasn’t? It was the sole trigger to the single greatest atrocity in modern history– and I speak as a German whom hasn’t forgotten her history. The Corps may have purged the bombings from the light ‘net and the media archives, but where I’m from, we still live with it. Everyday.

I wake up to a half-leveled horizon outside my window. There’s always frost there when the sun comes up. It doesn’t help that we have no heat in the building. Unless you count barrels of fire as heating. I don’t. After I eat whatever I’ve scrounged up or gathered from the air-drops by neighboring rebels or surviving humanitarian organizations, I head downstairs to the book store I live above.

Funny how some things never quite go out of style. For decades there were people who said that print media was dead. E-readers and web-books were supposed to make the written word obsolete. I can only laugh at the thought– one of few that elicits such emotion nowadays. Those people never realized you couldn’t use e-readers without electricity, or god forbid, the internet.

I miss the light ‘net. All we get around here’s the dark-net, and that’s used for encrypted communications between rebel cells. We simply can’t risk linking the light-net to any of the people here. The few that even have access are lucky. Most of them rigged scavenged-solar cells to old, power-hungry laptops provided by various cells around the continent. Most are grateful, but it makes me feel like we’re a charity case.

Imagine that, all of Berlin, once a powerful seat of progress in a technologically-minded country like Germany, groveling for scraps and hand-outs. There are probably only a few thousand of us left now. The corp-bombings saw to that. When Lemaire fell, and Paris burst into flames, London and Berlin were next in line. There were other places too, but most were small– too small to notice when they were wiped out completely.

But as a haven of technology and free-thought, instilled since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had the greatest concentration of Augs– that is to say Cybernetic or bionically augmented humans. Whoever wasn’t directly an Aug, was an “Aug-sympathizer.” Everyone knew that, including the corps. So when the proverbial sheisse hit the fan, everyone was splattered with it. When I say that, what I mean is; after two weeks of battling on the streets in major cities around the globe, the offended players banded together to bomb the rest of us back to the stone age. Literally.

Berlin got the worst of it. If there’s any solace to be take from our fate, it’s that we managed to wound the corps’ bottom lines enough to push them out of Germany altogether. We’d taken over most of their buildings, destroyed the rest, cut down those whom sided against us in the fighting. Most were slayed by the waves of bodies that filed through the burning streets.

We Germans have a way of being ruthless to a point of barbarism at times– not from a lack of humanity, quite the opposite in fact. We care so deeply and passionately about things that our natural ambitiousness makes us too strong-headed and hardhearted at the worst of times. Maybe if we weren’t so consumed by our ambitions then, we’d have stopped to look around at what was happening, or sensed what was about to.

Maybe if we weren’t so enamored with listening to our hearts we’d have heard the Raptor-cries. Maybe even, if we hadn’t been so loving of our augged brothers and sisters– whether literal or figurative– we’d have been righteously hardhearted enough to save ourselves.

But we weren’t. We were eternally the optimists. The same people whom, even generations later, were socially guilt-ridden for Hitler’s actions and determined to make up for it. Each of us felt the shame of World War II, promised not to repeat the mistakes that led to it. Somehow, we still let the corps take charge, and until they began their Nazi-esque campaign of extermination against the Augs, we supported them.

That was the issue though. It always has been for us. We let the evil into our hearts with open arms, ever-believing in the good of Humanity. Instead, we’re soon shown to have been manipulated, our love used against us and those that would otherwise truly deserve it.

The first bombs that fell over Europe targeted three, initial cities; Paris, where it all began; London, where the revolution looked to spread most violently, and Berlin, where the Augs that wouldn’t or couldn’t fight were likely to find sanctuary.

Raptors screamed over Europe with their hard-angled noses spitting chain-gun fire and their rounded bellies splitting to unleash hell. In minutes, any hope for a life in Berlin– for Aug or otherwise– was exterminated, burned to dust in the fires of evil. Before the sun rose the next morning, tens of thousands were dead or dying. Those not killed or critically wounded– and even then some– were distraught, chaotically confused. They tried to save what few they could. Everywhere you went it was like standing in a crowded metro whose noise and movements made you want to cower and weep. Many did. A few couldn’t take it, led themselves out.

I was eighteen when the bombs fell, just into university. I was just old enough to drink, and just young enough to feel the last of my innocence dissected from my heart. It was like I’d been given bypass surgery without anesthetic. The sharpness of grief in my chest was omnipresent in those days, punctuated by the stabbing sounds of rubble as we combed for survivors and dead alike. Most found were the latter.

I remember the worst of it, not because of the grisly scene, but because it was the first time I felt hatred. Hatred is something humans speak of out of anger most times. It is often despair masked by the ego to keep one’s image intact. This was different. This was real, pure hatred; a feeling that filled my mouth with a wetness as though I were goring the throat of a foe with my teeth. From there, it infected my being with a sharpened determination, a strength I have not lost since. It has kept my muscles taught when they should have faltered in fear, steadied my hands when they would have trembled with terror.

I saw a young girl curled in her bed. We’d dug a path to her grave from beneath the collapsed upper-floor of her apartment building. Everything around us was charred black. We were forced to don respirators from the dust and stink of days old, immolated flesh. Then I saw her; curled in her bed as if sleeping peacefully, but where her skin should be was the marred, blackened flesh of a war-crime. She was like one of those Pompeiian victims, forever frozen in her death-pose.

I am a healer, a medic, a surgeon and I feel no shame in admitting I have a strong stomach. I have seen things that could bring the strongest men and women to tears and pained retching. Most of the time, I’m forced to power through them for the sake of the victims– my patients– and I do so. This was so awful I stumbled away in tears and vomited all the grief that I’d held back since the attacks.

Every morning I wake up she occupies my thoughts. Even as I go down through the bookstore, and out into street I think of how she was stolen from this world. She could have been my daughter had I not been more careful. At that, she could have been me if the bombs had been dropped only a few years further beyond than that.

So I walk along the street, largely clear of its debris, and watch the city around me with her in mind. It still has the look of the blitzkrieg turning in on itself. Full, corporate towers are replaced by mounds of rubble, steel and concrete land-fills. Nature has done its best to reclaim the rest while we keep it enough at bay to carry on in our missions.

To that end, my part is simple; keep people alive. I do it for her. Most that come to my clinic down the street are badly injured, either from work-accidents, refugee status, or as acting rebels for the cause. Germany is not without its remaining corporate outposts, but even they steer clear of Berlin. I guess it’s to pick their battles. They already took our government away, any representation or sympathy therein gone with it. Maybe they let us live just to remind the world that, while there may be a place for Augs to hide, it is still due to their good graces.

All the same, every morning I rise for her. The hatred of her image never falters or fails to arouse my determination. So I leave, patch up those whom may one day lead us from darkness and into light. While Lemaire’s death may have caused everything, an unwitting catalyst to a global revolution, it was us that let it happen– the survivors. Whether from our own convictions, or a greater cause, we can not allow ourselves to fall again. At least for us Germans, we’re eternally optimists, believing in a better world with heads even stronger than our unshakable hearts, and finally working toward it.

Short Story: Twelve Hours

Twelve Hours

Twelve fucking hours.

Those were the words in Connie Sutter’s mind. That was the time-frame the Indian in the maintenance call-center had relayed after she pressed the “Emergency” button on the elevator’s touch-screen panel. Stuck between floors, or at one, it didn’t matter, stuck was stuck. To make things worse that homophobe, Sheila, was beside her.

In many, physical respects the two were similar, though mentality dictated otherwise. They were both young, long, lean, and ample-chested with rigid postures and punctual professional lives. They also both lived in two of the eighty-floor apartments in the new, “Jackson” building of Chicago; the first, high-tech dwelling for the “new-aged middle-class”– or at least, that’s what all the papers touted.

Connie was a high-volume data-entrant across town, and a lucky one at that. She’d dated the building’s architect in high-school until discovering her sexuality. When she came-out, he was understandably upset, but the two remained long-distance friends through the end of high-school and college. When Connie learned she would be forced to move to Chicago for Graduate school, Emery was the first person she called. He pulled some strings, got her an extremely reduced rate on her apartment, and wished her luck.

Conversely, Sheila was an architect, or at least one in training. She hadn’t helped to build this particular building, but it was common knowledge among Emery’s friends that she was shrewd, outspoken, and aggressive; or as Connie put it, “She’s a heinous bitch.”

To be stuck beside Sheila without prior-knowledge of her might have put Connie at-ease, but unfortunately, that same set of Emery’s strings had imparted her own nature to Sheila. As Connie remembered it, they’d met outside their apartments in the brushed-steel hallway. Unbeknownst to either of them, the juxtapositions of a dozen LED-screens and lights had lit each of their faces to accent features the other found most distasteful. Even now it permeated their memories, tinted their features as they stood apart from one another.

Connie had been inputting the code-lock on her door’s panel when Sheila had arrived. A momentary glimpse at the woman’s high-fashion heels and “come-fuck-me” business skirt made her scowl internally. Likewise, Sheila was disgusted by Connie’s hastily applied eye-liner, lip-gloss, and unprofessionally causal denim. They’d caught one another’s eye at the apex of their own bemusement, forced by social norms to entertain pleasantries, introduce themselves.

“You’re the new tenant?” Sheila had asked as she attempted to swallow her own tongue.

Connie put on her best smile– given the circumstances, more of a grimace– and extended her hand. Sheila had eyed it with superiority, they’d already heard of one another. It was, after-all, a semi-historic floor in a semi-historic building. In other words, a coveted residence. The other inhabitants had fought tooth-and-nail to procure their top-floor dwellings, Sheila among them.

“Connie Sutter,” she’d replied as her hand fidgeted in mid-air.

The hand withdrew as Sheila crossed her arms, put on her best, faux-cordiality, “I’ve heard of you. Friend of Emery’s– the lesbian, right?”

Connie’s blanked features sank further to disillusionment, “Yeah. That’s me. I guess.”

Sheila’s disgust was clear in her huffed scowl, “Just keep your weird sex quiet, and we’ll pretend neither of us exists.”

Her fingers flew over her touch-panel door-lock as she disappeared into her apartment, left Connie to fume in a slump. That night, Connie made sure to masturbate as loud as possible, her back arched against the door to vibrate through it and echo through the empty hallway. Luckily, no-one lived beside her, but there was no doubt Sheila had heard. That fact was clarified over the few weeks that followed as Sheila’s disgust avoided her in the hallways and elevator. Connie no longer paid it any thought, she’d defended herself, won. It was over.

Until now.

They were stuck together now. They fidgeted awkwardly, angrily. The touch-panel Indian had been loud enough for both the whole elevator to hear, and they were the only two in it.

Twelve fucking hours.

The maintenance crews had all gone for the night, the building left in the hands of the automated floor-scrubbers and sweepers– glorified, over-sized Roombas meant to replace the “human
element.” Unless there was a life-threatening incident, the maintenance crews wouldn’t be called in until morning. It had been one of the few things Emery had warned her about; the building’s owners, the Jackson foundation, were miserly in their way. They wished to help humanity by integrating technology into every facet of life. Apparently, humans didn’t help humanity; janitors least of all. It was stunted viewpoint spawned of corporate-greed, but it didn’t change Connie’s situation. She was stuck, heinous bitch homophobe with her.

But they weren’t just stuck, they were also incommunicado. It was uncommon knowledge that the EM fields that propelled new-age elevators interfered with cell-phone signals. The only way to make calls was through the touchscreen panel, hardwired directly to the call-center’s network, but the “techs” there weren’t in the business of carrying on conversations to stave off boredom.

Connie and Sheila fidgeted back and forth in the elevator, shuddered respectively when their motions randomly synced-up. To say there was palpable tension was would be an understatement, Connie downright felt it smother her– as though she stuffed a whole burger into her mouth at once, clogged her face-hole with greasy meat.

She swallowed hard, slowly eased out of her pull-over sweatshirt. Sheila rolled her eyes, leaned against a wall to stare at her chrome-reflection.

Connie sighed, “Twelve hours…”

“This’d go a lot faster if you didn’t talk.”

Connie rolled her eyes, sat on the freshly waxed floor, propped herself against the back-wall with her sweater as a pillow. Her eyes fixed ahead at her own reflection, occasionally caught the twitches of Sheila’s legs before they darted back from the “strip-me” stockings beneath her knee-length skirt. Sheila subtly watched her in the chrome, suppressed shudders with each look until she could barely contain herself. Her fingers clawed at her arms. Her eyes bored out Connie’s brains from a corner of her caricatured reflection. She caught a dart, swallowed hard, and chewed the inside of her lip. A dart at her, then back. Sheila trembled against fury. Her chest fluttered with held breath. Another dart.

“Jesus Christ! Keep it in check!” Connie’s face drew a scrutiny of Sheila’s sanity. “Don’t look at me like that you dyke!”

Her words echoed into silence. Connie swallowed terror from the froth of Sheila’s rageful face.

She stammered with shame that turned to exasperation, “I-I… what?”

“I said don’t fucking look at me! I’m not a piece of meat. And I’m not like you. If I’d wanted to be an object I’d’ve chosen it like the rest of you!”

Connie’s disbelief doubled, “What the hell’re you talking about?”

“I see that look!” She snapped.

Connie failed to suppress a laugh, “You think I wanna’ fuck you?”

“All you fags are alike. Sex crazed. That’s why you choose to flock together. You know you stand a better chance of fucking.”

A throaty snort slipped out, “You’re nuts.”

Sheila’s eyes were lethal. She huffed, turned away. Her body trembled in rage for a full-hour– one that Connie made sure to fill with long, nude gazes. The truth was, she wouldn’t have been attracted to Sheila even if they were alike. Sheila was too much like herself, bland, self-conscious, trying too hard to be taken seriously. Connie liked athletic girls– gymnasts, runners, and the like. They made for more acrobatic sex, could do mind blowing things with their petite flexibility that she could never manage. More to the point, Sheila was an idiot, and Connie like smart girls.

Connie somewhat remarked to this latter point, “No-one chooses to be gay, you dolt.” Sheila whipped toward her, opened her mouth, but Connie spoke before she could, “Don’t you understand science? Christ, the whole reason I’m stuck with you right now’s ’cause science’s screwed us.”

“Then explain it,” Sheila said, matter-of-factly. “If you’re so god-damned smart.”

“Aren’t you an architect? Didn’t you have to go through school?” Connie shook her head, “It’s simple biology; pheromones, hormones, genetics”

“Then we should wipe it out,” Sheila countered.

“Yeah, sure thing Mein Fuehrer, we’ll get right on that.”

“You’d dare–”

“The only reason you exist’s ’cause your parents’ pheromones attracted them together. Then their bodies secreted hormones that– unfortunately– led them to fuck and create you.”

Sheila’s eye twitched, “Oh and I suppose that’s different from you.”

“It is, actually,” Connie dead-panned. “My family’s all girls–”

“So you’re one of those freaks too, huh​?

“What?” Connie asked, dumbfounded. “No you idiot, pheromones influence physiology.”

“What’s that even mean?” She asked snidely.

“It means my four sisters– who are all straight– had too many raging hormones when my mom was pregnant. It forced certain changes to me in my mom’s wound from too much estrogen. Evolution happened.

“So you think you’re better than me, huh?”

“Really? Is that what you took from that?” Sheila was silent, her eyes lethally narrow. Connie rolled her eyes, laid her head back against the wall, “Idiot.”

Sheila huffed, turned away again.

Eleven more hours of this bullshit…

She stared up at her top-down reflection in the chrome ceiling, drifted into memories of her first girlfriend, Emily. She saw a mocha-skinned ear flush red as she nipped at the lobe, and felt her giggle and shudder beneath her. She and Emily had been gentle, loving people who’d hidden their relationship from their high-school peers to save themselves the same grief Sheila enjoyed imparting. Connie’d never dealt with her own, familial grief caused by her coming out. Instead, she took off for college to gain her BS in Mathematics, moved to Chicago for her graduate program.

Though she was “out” it was never her intention to be. Emery’d let it slip just before she started dating Emily, was the cause of their meeting, and word of mouth made it spread like wildfire in a drought. His accidental mistake became unending altruism toward her. Regardless, whatever Emily was doing couldn’t have been half as bad as this; she knew how to keep her mouth shut, had a monk’s patience. Connie didn’t.

She drifted in and out of a sleepy-daze for a full two-hours as Sheila fumed in the corner, her mind swept up in Connie’s disrespect and her own prejudices.

Why wouldn’t she want to fuck me anyhow? What, am I not good enough for the dyke-club? Do I not arouse her? I’d rock her fucking world. That’s what I do. How I get where I need to go. I’m good at it– even Emery knows it.

Connie shook awake as she dazed too near to sleep. Her eyes snapped open in time to catch Sheila steal a glance at her reflection. She ignored it, checked her digital wristwatch.

Nine more? Really, it’s only been three hours?

She lowered her watch, caught another stolen glance, saw Sheila’s legs tremble– either from exhaustion or fury, though Connie suspected the former.

“You can sit down, you know,” she said innocuously.

“I’m fine!”

“Yeah, okay, whatever,” Connie said. “If it helps I’ll stand– or would that be too submissive for you?”

“Go to hell.”

Connie eyes rolled audibly, “Just shut up and sit down. Last thing I need’s for you to faint and hit your head.”

“I won’t.”

“Yeah, okay, whatever. But you know if you do, I might have to give you CPR.”

Sheila swallowed hard, shuddered. She blew a burst of air from her nose, turned and sank against the chrome corner she’d been staring at, her legs cross-wise. She studied herself in the wall across from her, avoided Connie’s eyes as she ensured nothing beneath her skirt showed.

Connie snarked, “Feel better?” Sheila glared. “That’s what I thought.”

Sheila’s head rested against the wall, her eyes shut at the LEDs in the ceiling. She tried to calm herself, drift off. Connie slumped, contented by the silence, and dozed again. She woke abruptly to a tone on the elevator’s touch-panel. Sheila snapped from sleep, groggy. She sighed, rose to approach the panel, pressed “enter.”

The Indian came through, tinny from the panel’s small speaker, “I am calling to inform you. We have run our diagnostic program and discovered a fault in your elevator’s EM-rail system.”

“Okay. And what’s that mean to me?” Connie asked.

“Normally, in case’s such as this we might call the building manager back to work should there be an emergency. I am calling to see that no-one is injured inside, correct?”

“Yeah, but if you can report it why–”

“That is excellent. The next shift starts in six hours. The building manager will–”

“Wait, why can’t you just–”

“Arrive at six AM, local time. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“This is ridiculous! Put me through to the manager and I’ll–”

The screen dimmed, the remote call ended. Connie heaved a sigh, rolled her eyes.

“Unbelievable,” Sheila spat.

“I’m taking the stairs from now on,” Connie muttered facetiously.

Sheila scoffed, “You live on the top-floor of an 80-story. You’re not walking all that way.”

I wish I had.

Connie returned to her spot against the wall, “Yeah, whatever.”

Sheila closed her eyes again. How melodramatic. Jesus, no wonder all of them take drama.

Another hour, more thoughts, and more restless sleep. Neither of them seemed to regard the other’s presence as much now. They drifted in and out of their mutual, inconsiderate thoughts, their only similarities the underlying wish to no longer be trapped. Water and food would’ve been nice, but Connie’d gone longer, and Sheila seemed fine.

Connie’s thoughts eventually drifted back to their first interaction in the hallway. She knew she had been ambushed even then, but why? Why even make the introduction? Neither of them seem to care much for social conventions, Connie’s loud orgasm had been evidence to that– as had Sheila’s obvious snap in the elevator. Why force themselves to pleasantries at all? Was it merely their mutual desire to dominate the other’s psyche, assert themselves?

Connie found herself amused at the thought of a towering intellect that forced Sheila to her knees with a cowering, introspective terror. She chuckled aloud without realizing it.

“What!” Sheila snapped.

“Huh? Oh nothing, just thinking about something.”

“Oh, yeah, like what, vagina?” She derided.

Connie’s mental filters were too fatigued to work properly, “Oh yeah, a big ‘ol hairy muff right in my face. That’s what I’m laughing at.”

“What the hell’s so funny about a vagina?” Sheila spat.

Connie shook her head, “I’m not laughing at that, you idiot. Although, now that you mention it, it would be pretty funny if you put some googly eyes over it– you know the kind you buy in a pack of hundreds?” Sheila’s face blanked. She visibly struggled with a dilemma. Connie continued with rising laughter, “Maybe if you glued ’em on above the muff, and– well one time I saw this vid of a naked-chick skydiving, the air was pushing her lips all around. Add the eyes with some screaming sound-effects as everything’s going wild, maybe make it look like its diving toward some enemy for battle–”

Connie couldn’t contain her laughter. Sheila’s eyes were wide, she dared not picture a vagina in the presence of one of them lest some sort of sapphic voodoo consume her.

“What is wrong with you?” Sheila asked at Connie’s apexing laughter.

“Oh c’mon, haven’t you ever looked at your own pussy in the mirror, or are you just a brood-mare for the state? Hell everyone thinks their junk’s weird looking. Even most’a the guys I know.”

“I like male genitalia,” Sheila chided.

“Yeah, I bet you do. But even they think it looks like some kind of wrinkly hot dog– or an elephant’s trunk. Haven’t you ever seen one do a helicopter impression?”

Connie’s tongue thwop’d against her lips. Her finger bounced side to side in the air with her head as she bellowed the noise with glee. Sheila’s face wrote a thesis on the difficulty of containing her momentary amusement. Thankfully, Connie was too consumed to notice.

“How would you even know what that looks like?” Sheila asked, genuinely confused.

Connie stifled her laughter, “Oh like I’ve never seen a rod before. You must not know much about lesbians.”

“I know all I want to, thank you.”

“Then you know we actually use a lot of penis-shaped toys.”

“I don’t want to know that.”

“Oh like you don’t have a vibrator.” She quickly corrected herself, “Well you probably don’t. No woman could be so uptight and still pleasure herself.”

Sheila huffed disgust, “That’s none of your business.”

Connie rolled her eyes, snorted, “Yeah, whatever.”

“You never told me how you knew.”

Connie gave a snort, re-focused, “Right. I knew a guy in college. He was very effeminate, too gay to function, but he also thought women’s bodies were much more geared toward sex with men.”
“I agree. It’s why your kind are wrong.”

Connie scowled, “C’mon, don’t ruin it. We’ve been through this.”

Sheila sighed, threw a hand up, “Fine. Tell your story.”

Connie returned to her recollection, “Anyway, we were drunk ‘n he had this idea that we should… well, compare. Since neither of us would be interested in the other, we figured what the hell, right?”

“See? Sex crazed,” Sheila interrupted with superiority.

Connie tilted her head in disbelief, “Oh please, like you didn’t do stupid shit in college.” Sheila visibly bit the inside of her lip, refused to admit agreement. “That’s what I thought. Anyway if you’ll let me finish; basically I agreed with him, said it looked like some kind of weird, alien-face all drawn up and cold, or maybe an elephant with the balls as ears.”

Sheila stifled a laugh with a burst of air, but Connie rose to her feet. “He was so drunk he goes–” she thrust her hips, gyrated them, trumpeted like an elephant. “BRROOWWW! I am the motherfucking king of Africa! I lost it. Fell over laughing.” Sheila visibly struggled as Connie shifted her thrusts, thwop’d with her tongue, “Now I’m a fucking Cobra-attack chopper.” She darted forward, gyrating, banked around in the tight elevator. “Roger, echo Charlie-One, we see the target.” Connie’s hips gyrated faster, her mouth spit machine-gun noises. “There I am, on the floor crying my eyes out, totally naked, and he’s–” She riffed a classic rock song in time her movements, headbanging with it.

Sheila’s mouth quivered in odd shapes. Her cheeks bloated, red. Her eyes watered against sharp breaths that suppressed laughter. Her composure cracked. She burst into a raucous fit as Connie’s head and hips banged in time to a long-past chart-topper.

She stopped to catch her breath, leaned back against a wall in a pant. Sheila was in tears.

Connie laughed between deep breaths, “When we’d settled down, he said something about gay guys loving Jethro Tull ’cause they could always imitate playing the flute.”

Sheila’s laughter pitched higher. Her chest bucked for air, “What the hell’s that even mean?”

Connie shook her head, “I still have no idea.”

Sheila sniffled, the imagery vivid in her mind. She swallowed hard to regain her composure. She huffed, upturned her nose, “They are funny looking.”

Connie snorted, “To say the least.” She considered something a moment, heaved a breath, “So, now that you’re not entirely angry– why do you hate me so much?”

Sheila looked to her, dead-panning, “’cause you’re a lesbian and it’s a filthy thing.”

Connie was taken aback by the sudden, autonomous reversal, “So… you can laugh at my jokes and still hate me? What, did your husband cheat on you with a man or something?”
“I’ve never been married,” She said matter-of-factly. “And no, that’s never happened. And it wouldn’t either, because I’m an excellent lover.”

Connie choked on a snort, “So? We’ve established this; if someone’s gay, they’re gay. You can’t change that. So what is it really? Were you raised to believe it was wrong or something?”

“Of course I was. My parents were good people. They took care of us. They’d’ve never let one of you corrupt us.”

Connie slapped her forehead with a palm, massaged her face and eyes as it slid downward, “Christ, you can’t really be this dense.”

“Do not insult my intelligence,” Sheila spat. “I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class.”

Connie looked away in thought, then sank back against the wall, “Look, just shut up about it. You really don’t know what you’re talking about. We don’t choose anything. None of us. We don’t choose our names, or eye or hair color, or who our parents are– and trust me, even with as much as I love women, we don’t choose to be gay. Life’s beyond our control. All of it, but especially these things. If you really believe the bullshit us-verse-them stuff, I can’t change your mind. And I’m not even going to try.”

“Good,” Sheila said, despite a hint of dissatisfaction.

Three more hours crawled by, Connie dejected by the momentary glimpse of possible camaraderie. In truth, she was mostly friendless in Chicago. Emery was always gone on business, or else never had time to hang when he in town. Beyond that, grad-school courses involved too much socialize without an excuse. She’d even considered online dating, but ended up surfing forums, shirking projects, or lurking in place of interacting. She certainly didn’t want to be friends with people like Sheila, but the lack of human interaction plagued her.

Sheila finally broke the silence, compelled by whatever path her thoughts had taken, “I don’t really hate anyone.” Connie’s head rose, angled toward her. “I don’t have time for it. Hate requires a lotta’ extra thought.”
Connie’s brow furrowed, “Could’ve fooled me.”

She rolled her eyes with a huff, “Like you’d know anything about me.”
“Or you me, or any of… us. How many gay people do you even know?

“I don’t need to know anymore. I know the one gay woman that had a screaming orgasm after I asked her to keep it to herself.”

Connie snorted a laugh, “I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t been so hostile.”

“Well it was rude.”

“And well-deserved.”

“Still rude.”

Connie shook her head, “Look, I’ll admit it didn’t help things, but… well, you’re a bitch. So am I. I also tend to antagonize people.”

“I’m only a bitch when people make me one.”

“So the very act of my existence, despite never speaking to you, made you into a bitch?”

Sheila’s eyes narrowed, “I saw that look. That “she thinks she’s better than me” look.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I am.”


“Because I am.”

Connie shook her head, “No. Ugh-uh. That’s not how that works. Saying a thing doesn’t make it a thing. Maybe, in the interests of keeping the peace, maybe I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did, but that doesn’t change what you did before.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. Don’t you get that?” Connie said, flustered. “All I did was exist, and you hated me for it. That’s what that bullshit us-versus-them thing is. It’s people turned into assholes at the very thought of others unlike them– like the Hitler thing.”

“Fuck you for that by the way,” Sheila spit. “I’m not a monster.”

“I’ll paraphrase what you said; “let’s exterminate a group people based on their genetics, cause they’re not like me.” Who’s that sound like?” Sheila’s mouth made funny shapes to retort, but her brain came up empty. She looked away, conceded defeat, but Connie pressed her. “Look, I get it. Whatever your reasons, you dislike certain people, but don’t try to act superior to them. There’s a difference between disliking someone because you do, and because you believe you’re supposed to.”

Sheila remained silent, clearly thinking on was being said. Unbeknownst to Connie, Sheila had always considered herself a good person– aggressive perhaps, but never such a monster as Connie suggested. In fact, the comparison stung deeper than she let on; her great grandfather had been one of the Germans that had helped the Jews escape the holocaust. It had always been a point of pride; he’d proven his obvious tolerance so she wouldn’t to.

But gays, really? Is that really an apt comparison? I don’t thrown them in camps, but…

Her train of thought ended there, and she realized, had carried on much longer than she could recall. She caught Connie checking her watch, sucked up her pride.

“Do you have the time?”

Connie eyed her, bit her bottom-lip, “Two more hours.”

Sheila sighed, “Thank you.”

Connie’s head laid backward. She shouted at the air, “Fuck, I just wanna’ get outta’ here!”

“Am I really bothering you that much?”

Connie was flabbergasted, “Not everything has to do with you.”

“Maybe not, but you seem rather impatient at my presence.”

“Trust me, I’m just naturally impatient. Always have been,” Connie replied spitefully.

Another hour of silence passed. One more to go. Sheila had been mulling over something she was afraid to admit. Mostly, it was a buried, natural inclination toward know-it-allism that fueled curiosity. She wouldn’t have admitted nosiness, but most certainly curiosity. It was a good thing in all respects, helped her learn, regardless of how others felt about her. Without such knowledge however, the question that escaped her lips seemed ill-timed, ill-advised, and shattered a fragile calm in Connie that had become shaky from hunger, boredom, and cabin-fever.

“How did you know you were a lesbian?”

“What?” Connie asked, stunned by the question.

“I said, how’d you know you liked women?”

Connie’s mind was plagued by her state. She looked Sheila dead in the eyes, as an alien studying a new species might. The answer was literally contained within her second sentence, but she was too ignorant to realize it.

Connie’s stomach rumbled, forced a tremor to her hands shook, “Think about the two sentences you just said, then report back.”

Sheila’s eyes darted over the floor, “So… you knew you were a lesbian because you like women?”

“Sounds difficult, doesn’t it?” Connie rebuked sarcastically.


“How’d you know you liked men?

Sheila thought, replied simply, “When I hit puberty I found them attractive.”

“So why would it be so different for me?” Connie pressed.

Sheila looked around, shrugged, “Because you’re not supposed to.”

“Says who?”

She shrugged again, “I dunno, it’s just not part of the world.”

Connie’s arms were locked in a cross, “Are you serious? Do you realize what you just said? Let me rephrase it so you can hear. How’d you know you were gay? Oh, puberty? Aren’t you not supposed to be gay? Says who? I don’t know, being gay’s just not a thing.”

“Yeah, and?”

“And?” She said, irate. “Do you not realize how retarded that was? You’re gay? Oh there’s nothing gay in the world.”

“That’s not what I–”

“You’re a fucking moron.”

“Hey that’s–”
Connie wasn’t listening. She’d been forced along an angry tangent that spiraled onward with a flailing hands and arms, “Fucking hell. I swear! It’s people like you that make life awful. People like me, who’ve been persecuted their whole lives, attacked in the most malicious ways, all because you’re too ignorant to stop and think about the damage you’re causing.”

“I never did anything to you!” Sheila countered.

Connie rose to her feet, furious, “Except you’ve treated me like shit for the last eleven hours cause I like tacos instead’a sausage. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is, or how much that shit hurts a person? Do you really think you’re better than me because you prefer to cum a certain way? Jesus Christ, d’you know how many kids kill themselves each year– young children, teenagers, even adults– because of the kind of shit you’ve been spewing?”

“That’s not my fault!”

Connie shook her head, possessed by her anger, “God damn it, yes it is! Morality may be a gray area, but this isn’t. You’re either spreading or enabling hate, or you’re against it. And the kind of hate you’ve been spitting out tells me enough to know this isn’t the only place you do it– it’s also the same shit that makes people kill themselves!

“You’re being dramatic,” she said, weakly defensive.

“Oh really,” she said, taking a knee in front of Sheila. “Then answer this; what would you do if this little spiel of yours ended here, and later you found out I killed myself– slit my wrists or put a bullet through my own head ’cause of it? Would you even care?” Sheila’s face scrunched up. Connie pressed her for an answer at nose-length, “Tell me, would you even give a fuck about a person taking their own life away ’cause of something you said?”

Sheila sniffled. Tears edged into her eyes. She spat with a whimper, “I’m not a bad person!”

Connie froze, “What the hell?”

“I’m not a bad person. I’ve never done anything to deserve that.”

“What’re you–”

Sheila balled up in the corner, wept, “Shut up! Just shut up!”

Connie was confounded. It was as though Sheila had been confronted by some terrible thought or memory. Connie shook her head, returned to her spot, confused. She watched Sheila for a few moments before she regained a shaky composure.

Connie slid sideways to look at her dead-on, the two now at opposite sides of the elevator, “You wanna’ tell me what that was all about?”

Sheila breathed, her face full of grief, “You wouldn’t understand.”

Connie swallowed her pride once more, “Look, I dunno what it was all about, but… I’m sorry if I upset you. I really just–”
She wiped at her runny mascara, examined her hand with stuttered breath, “My father killed himself when I was young.”

“I’m… sorry?” Connie replied, confused. “I was just trying to make a point.”

“You did.”

Connie’s head tilted in agreement, but she countered, “Look, I don’t know what to say about that, but… d’you blame yourself for it or something? You–”
“He always said I was a “bad girl” that I’d never grow up to be good because… I was a bitchy little brat who didn’t ever learn from anything. And then, after he said it one day, I ran out. When I came home there were… cop cars all over and–”

She sank back into tears. Connie was stung. She chewed her lip, checked her watch; half-hour ’til shift-start. She swallowed her pride, slid across the floor to Sheila’s side, and put an arm around her. Sheila tensed up, shied away.

Connie shook her head, pulled her in, “I’m not coming on to you.” She breathed, rocked Sheila to comfort her. “Look, I’m sorry.”

Sheila sniffled again, “Yeah, I know. Y-you… you couldn’t have known.”
“I don’t… I don’t know why it happened, but I know it wasn’t your fault.”

Sheila nestled her head against Connie’s chest, “I know.” They sat in silence for a long moment, as time ticked away. When Sheila finally spoke again, she did so with distance. “I don’t wanna’ be a bitch, but I have to be aggressive. The men I work with… well, I guess it just, transfers over.”
Connie nodded, “I don’t fault you for asserting your place in the world, but treating me like you have, I can’t excuse that.”

The two parted organically as Sheila sat upright beside Connie. She cast a glance at her, noticing for the first time that her bright, round eyes were stunningly beautiful.

She looked to her skirt, preened a corner of it, “What was it like for you?”


“You said it was bad, but… what was it like?”

“Oh, um, well,” Connie stalled, the memories to painful to be dredged up without at least some, mental preparation. She swallowed hard, “Mostly just the same kinda’ shit as this. That’s why I eventually got through it. You can only hear the word dyke or fag so much before you just get tired of it, or loses all meaning. Besides, sexuality’s only one, small part’a human being. Every one of us has different things that make us unique. Sexuality’s not even in that category.”

“Did it make you… suicidal?”


Connie sighed, “Emily made it better.”


“My first girlfriend,” Connie replied as she sank into a bittersweet memory. “She was sweet, beautiful. I think part of it was made more difficult for her ’cause she was mixed– black dad, white mom– so she clung all the harder to me. We were good friends, but everyone knew I was gay. I think it made them suspect it of her for a long time too, but we hid it anyhow. Otherwise, it was all directed at me. A couple people said some things about her but… well, the point is, you get through it ’cause you have to. If you’re lucky, you have a friend, or a girlfriend– someone– to help you along the way. I had Em, and she was… ”

Connie trailed off. Her eyes welled with tears. She cleared her throat to keep her composure.

“Did you love her?”

“More than that, but yes,” Connie admitted.

“What happened?”

Connie shrugged, “High-school ended. We went our separate ways. She wanted to do one thing, I wanted to do another. We loved each other in a way no-one could top or change. Each of us was the others’ first. There’s just… that place, you know?”

Sheila nodded, “I guess it’s just human nature then. It’s romantic though– a good story.”

Connie agreed, “That’s why it upsets me so much when people don’t consider that. Apart from obviously hurting someone’s feelings, people don’t think of all the love they’re denying them. Emily and me… we were just two of millions who’ve been told we shouldn’t be allowed to love because of the way we do it.”

Sheila shook her head, “No wonder you hate me.”

Connie countered, “I don’t hate you. That’s the thing. Generally speaking, people who are oppressed or persecuted don’t hate, they’re just frustrated, scared, or sad. I do hate ignorance. It’s an universally unfair thing, but especially in this case. I mean, we’re both women– professionals. We’re already handicapped in so many ways by our society, have to work that much harder because of it. I hate that too, and ignorance on top of it just makes us separate ourselves even further ’cause of ingrained prejudices.”
Sheila twiddled her thumbs as she fought to find her words. She rose and extended a hand to Connie, “Go ahead.” Connie shrugged, pulled herself up. Sheila hugged her, “I’m sorry I’ve been such a heinous bitch.”

Connie hugged back, “It’s okay, I guess.”

The elevator jolted, parted them. The lights flickered, as a vertical ascent began. The elevator rocketed upward along its E.M. fields, like a rail-gun that fired them at the building’s top-floor. It slowed to a stop, and the doors opened with a ding.

Connie checked her watch, “Right on time.”

They eased themselves into the hall together, followed the chrome to their apartment doors in silence. The LED screens and lights had dimmed in the morning hour, the hall lighting supplemented by the sun that rose beyond a window at the hall’s end. The two stopped across the hall from one another, at their respective front-doors.

Sheila hesitated as Connie keyed in her pass-code. She looked back at Connie as her door slid open, “Look, I’m gonna’ take the day off after all this– I’m pretty tired, but…” Connie faced her from a lean in the jamb that blocked its motion tracker. She gazed across the hall, urged Sheila onward, “You… uh, wanna’ have a drink later or something? You know, as friends?”

Connie considered it, “Maybe, but… why?”

Sheila shrugged, looked to her feet, “I dunno. I just thought, maybe, since we’re both lonely we could … you know, hang out?”

Connie straightened, “Just c’mon. I’ve got a bottle of wine you might like.” Sheila hesitated, Connie met her eye, sighed, “You’re not my type anyway, I like smaller girls.”

Sheila chuckled, “Oh please, you’d do me, don’t lie.”

Connie’s eyebrow rose, “Full of yourself, are you?”

Sheila shrugged, stepped up to her, “I have to be. It’s a man’s world.”

Connie shook her head, motioned Sheila after her as she stepped in, “Yeah, fine, whatever.”

The door slid shut as Sheila spoke, “Twelve fucking hours, can you believe that?”