Failure to Communicate

“Birdie, see who’s at the door, huh?,” I heard myself murmur. 

The knocking continued, and not a peep from Birdie. I groaned and pushed myself up, drowsily extricating myself from the tangle of blankets. 

“What time is it?” 

No answer. 

“Birdie?”

The room was mockingly silent.

Right. That’s probably what the knocking was about. 

Groaning, I rummaged through a pile of clothes and pulled on a shirt as I padded toward the door. I ran my fingers through my hair – probably didn’t help – and made sure my boxers were untwisted from my thighs, then opened the door. 

A man, several inches shorter than me, stood in the hallway. He looked like he had stepped out of an ancient ad – cheap suit, thin tie, and a hat I think they once called a fedora. He had a small mustache and thin eyebrows. His only concession to modern fashion was a light sheen of pink across his lips. 

“Tam Juris?”

I nodded, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes. 

“Shropstead Minor,” he said, holding out something small and rectangular to me. A business card? Where was this guy from?

As if in answer, he continued.

“I am a Formal Artificial Intelligence Liaison from the Office of Robotics.” 

I glanced down at the card. Sure enough, it read in thick block letters: FAILOR.

“Failure?”

“Fie-lore,” he corrected, then nodded toward the apartment behind me. “May I come in?”

“Uh, sure,” I said, stepping back. He brushed past me and stopped after a few feet. He stood silently, surveying the room. Through his eyes, I saw the strewn clothes, the dirty dishes, the unmade bed. Was I ashamed? Eh.

I cleared my throat and closed the door behind us.

“So, uh, what’s your success rate?”

He turned and gave me a look that made it explicit I was not, unfortunately, the first person to make this joke. 

“What is your AI’s designation?,” he asked in reply.

I came forward and stood next to him, folding my arms and rocking back on my heels. 

“Birdie,” I said, flashing him a grin. He looked up at me, expressionless. 

“You know, like, ‘a little birdie told me?’” I waved my hand vaguely as though summoning the expression, but he didn’t react. 

“Well, I thought it was clever,” I mumbled to myself. 

Shropstead turned toward the wall where the AI display was embedded. It was stuck on some kind of screensaver that looked like an aquarium. It was standard issue, so substandard, but I kind of liked it.

He leaned forward and made a sound with his throat I could not begin to decipher. Then he straightened and reached into a briefcase (a briefcase) and pulled out a tablet. 

He tapped away while I stood behind him awkwardly. Honestly it had been so long since I had anyone over I wasn’t sure what to do with guests. Not that he was a guest, really. 

“Uh, can I get you some coffee?”

He glanced up at me with a look I interpreted to mean how dare you suggest I drink such a thing as coffee, so I shrugged and went and got myself a cup. It wasn’t very good, so I guess he dodged a bullet there. 

I leaned against the kitchen counter, watching him. He was quite cute, in a buttoned-up kind of way. There was a small crease between his eyebrows as he glowered down at his tablet, and there were handsome wrinkles around his eyes. I briefly considered cleaning up the room while he was working, but he had already seen it as it was so it didn’t seem worth the trouble. Maybe if he had to come back…

“So…can’t you do this kind of thing remotely? Isn’t that kind of the point?”

He paused, breathed out a small exasperated sigh, and looked up at me. 

“It’s not functioning,” he said, as if to a child. “Which is why I am here.”

“Right.”

I shifted my stance to shake off my embarrassment. I had no idea what else to do but it seemed weird to just stand here in silence watching him work. 

“Can um, can I take your hat?”

Shropstead had already focused his attention back to his work, but at my question he raised an eyebrow. He looked up at me from under the aforementioned article and gave me, to my astonishment, a very slight smile. 

“That would be nice,” he said lightly, and pulled it off, holding it out to me. Surprised, as much by the response as by the fact the hat had been hiding a length of hair thickly knotted at his neck, I took it from him. And then immediately felt silly, because where was I going to put his hat? It’s not like people had places to just put hats. 

I juggled it awkwardly before just setting it on top of the kitchen counter. At least I thought to wipe off the crumbs first. 

“Well, I’m going to have to come back.”

I looked over at Shropstead in surprise. 

“But…you just got here,” I said stupidly. 

“And it appears I don’t have what I need,” he replied, not unkindly. He still wore that gentle smile. Was he…warming up to me?

Unless…

“Uhhhmmmmm……you have access to all my personal information, right?”

He nodded, a little shimmy of his head. It would have been adorable if I hadn’t been internally skimming through my considerably private personal information now in his possession.  

“But,” I continued slowly, “you don’t have everything you need here?”

He shook his head again, then shrugged.

“Sometimes you just don’t know ‘til you get there.”

“Uh huh.” 

I folded my arms and we stood for a moment, just watching each other. What the hell had happened in the last minute? 

Finally, our staring contest ended. He lost. He tucked his tablet back into his briefcase and moved toward the door. I moved quicker, and managed to reach around him to pull the door open before he could touch the handle. For a moment his shoulder pressed into my chest, and I felt a warm tingle in my belly. 

He glanced up at me for a brief second (was he blushing?) before stepping out into the hallway. He half turned back to say,

“I’ll be in touch.”

I nodded and started to close the door.

“Juris?”

I pulled it open again and peered out. He was standing there, briefcase in hand, hand out like he wanted something from me. I stared down at his palm, blinking. Finally, I reached out and shook his hand firmly. 

“Be seeing you,” I said with an authoritative nod, then closed the door. 

I sighed deeply. Why did interactions with other humans have to be so difficult? It seemed weird, I thought, walking back into my apartment, that he wanted to shake hands. Nobody shakes hands anymore. 

I paused when I saw the kitchen counter.

Oh right.

His hat. 

Well, at least he’s coming back, I thought, before throwing myself back into bed and wrapping myself in a blanket.

The Horrors of Writing

I know this is a bit of a cheat, and I’ve done it before, but I’m feeling less inspired than usual and just want to write something, so here we are. 

I’m not sure particularly why I’ve been unmotivated to write lately. I definitely feel my sleep was starting to regulate and I was getting into a good pattern of life, but I switched my medication again and between the grogginess and the time needed for mood stabilization it’s been making it harder to feel well enough to write. And I’m not really sure what to write about. There are plenty of stories I could go back to so I don’t have to start from scratch (the Raven Fires, Minty the Bard, Fernweh) but I haven’t really felt compelled to do so. 

I will say that as I was thinking about writing in general, it’s kind of interesting to see how my focus has shifted recently. I used to almost exclusively write science fiction, and while it’s the genre I probably still enjoy the most and prefer to read and write, I have been dipping my toes into horror. 

Now, for those who know me well, they know I am not really a horror person. Maybe it’s because I’m too imaginative and can picture the worst all too easily, maybe it’s because I have a hard time convincing my brain that these are actors/prosthetics/special effects, but I’ve never really been into horror, especially slasher or undead narratives. I’m definitely not a fan of gore, so that eliminates a whole type of horror. (I also realize too that I’m mostly referring to movies and tv, although there are even some books that are too much for me (see: imagination)). 

But there’s something about a specific sliver of the horror genre that I enjoy. I like a good psychological horror or ghost story, although there is a line for me when it gets too “real.” But I have started to enjoy that feeling of being a little scared. I’m definitely going to blame my friends Abigail and Jenny because they are definitely more game for scary movies and would somehow convince me to join them to see new ones. There are times, however, when Jenny would say “hey do you want to watch this with me?,” text me a link to a trailer, and I just reply with a big ole NOPE.

I am interested in horror as a genre, and I think you can tell really compelling and interesting stories in the context of ghosts or monsters or the supernatural (this is also why I like science fiction). I’ve started to watch some streams of people playing horror games (because I can deal with OTHER people getting scared, but cannot handle when I’m playing a first person game where things can just randomly be in your face all of a sudden. No thank you.) and have really enjoyed that experience.

But I have started to write more of what might be categorized as horror. I’m not really sure why that is. Is it because I feel unsure about my own state of mind and being and want to explore that in my fiction? Is it because I want to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself? Is it because there’s just something inside me that needs to come out and it’s a little bit scary and dark?  

I will also say that as I am getting older I am becoming more angry at a lot of things. I believe in the goodness of individuals in general, but humanity overall? We really really suck (especially white Christian colonizers; we really screwed everyone and everything over). I keep trying to be optimistic about the long term future, but seeing the effects of climate change, learning more about the malicious and targeted consequences of capitalism, the pervasiveness of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, all the -isms and phobias that cause people to be so evil to one another…it’s depressing.

I try and be a good citizen, environmentally conscious, socially responsible, but I am constantly battling my feelings of powerlessness with rage that there are people in the world who could make a real difference but who are instead jumping into their piles of cash like Scrooge McDuck and making everything worse for the rest of us.

So maybe that’s what it is. Maybe I’m taking out my rage and fear and pouring it into my writing. Psychologically that’s interesting, but maybe the simple answer is that sometimes I just need to indulge the morbid side of me in a healthy and appropriate environment. And maybe it’s just fun. 

Welcome In

The sharp angles of the lobby appealed to him in a way he couldn’t quite express. He always found calm in the regularity of geometry. His interaction at the front desk was friendly and quick, and he soon stepped into the elevator to settle into his room. 

He pressed the button marked for the 5th floor, and the elevator lifted with a soft and pleasant whirring sound. With a tinny sounding “ping” the elevator rocked into place and the door opened. For just a moment, as he stepped out in the hallway, the lights above him flickered. A small shiver crept up his back, but he dismissed it with a rational shake of his head and followed the signs for room number 518. 

He unlocked the door with his key card and stepped into the room. It was cold and dark, and when he flipped the light switch the shadows dashed into the corners like living things. He carelessly tossed his bag onto the bed and sat down, gaze soft. 

“Listen,” he said quietly, “I’m just here to take a break ok? I don’t need a babysitter.”

There was the faintest echo of a snicker, such that he easily could have convinced himself that he had imagined it. He sighed and kicked off his shoes. He started to lean back, but his bag dug painfully into his side so he sat back up. A second, deeper sigh deflated his body and he pushed himself off the bed, wandering into the bathroom. 

The light wouldn’t immediately turn on when he flipped the switch, and he glared up at the ceiling. The room seemed to shudder, and then the light flared brightly before settling into its normal fluorescent glow. He looked into the mirror and was unsurprised to see the figure standing behind him in the reflection.

“JUSTIN!”

“It’s Jordan.”

“JORDMAN! WHAT ARE YOU UP TO, HMMMM?”

“I’m on vacation, Yerglintz.”

The shadow over his shoulder wriggled convulsively. Jordan felt rather than heard the laughter. 

“VACATION? WHO SAID YOU COULD GO ON VACATION, JORDMAN?”

“I submitted my request.”

“BUT WAS IT APPROOOOOOOOOVED?”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t, Yerglintz.”

“HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.”

Jordan nodded absently and started unbuttoning his shirt. He felt a shiver of panic and then the figure behind him seemed to retract. 

“OH, UH, YOU’RE………….I’LL JUST…………………..KAY BYE.”

Jordan allowed himself a bittersweet smile as he turned on the shower. Yerglintz had always been squeamish around human bodies. He could feel that even the shadows in the corners of the main room had retreated. 

He peeled off the rest of his clothing and stepped into the shower. Perhaps he should just spend the whole weekend naked if it meant getting some time to himself. He leaned into the water flowing from the showerhead. He really was in some deep shit. 


Please please please please I don’t want to die.” 

His whispers fogged up the glass his face was pressed against. He could feel a pressure against his right side, and his chest felt tight. His eyes were closed, a conscious effort to shut out the damage around him. It was terribly cold.

His breath caught and the pain in his side intensified. He groaned.

“Please, if there’s anyone listening…if there’s anyone there…” 

His breathing slowed and he clenched his fists against the growing chill. 

There was a flash of light, bright against his eyelids. The pain in his side disappeared. He felt a weightlessness like he had never before experienced, and after a few seconds dared to open his eyes. 

He was in an office, sparsely furnished, dutifully dull in tones of grey and light brown. The fluorescents glowed brightly and he blinked quickly. He was seated in an uncomfortable chair in front of a plain oak desk, worn and scratched. A nameplate on the desk read “Jordan Spierman.”

A door he hadn’t noticed opened in the corner and a man walked in. His clothing was nice but clearly not new, and he was looking down at a file in his hands. He sat wearily behind the desk. He spoke in a bored monotone.

“Bay Ngo?” 

Bay removed his hand from his side where he had been unconsciously rubbing the spot where the pain had disappeared. 

“Uh, yeah?”

“Ok, so it looks like you died and I’m required to offer you a second chance at life, provided you agree to the terms and conditions provided for you here.” Jordan pulled a paper from the stack in front of him, and, without looking at Bay, slid it across the desk.

Bay sat stunned.

“Wait, wait, I’m dead?!?”

Jordan raised his eyes and regarded Bay. There was a heaviness to his gaze, but Bay also saw a kindness there. Jordan’s tone softened. 

“Do you remember what happened before you got here?”

Bay heard the squeal of tires, smelled the burnt rubber and gas and blood. He squeezed his eyes shut and breathed deeply. 

“Not everyone gets this chance,” Jordan continued, and Bay warily opened his eyes again.

“But you asked for help, right?”

“Right….”

“Listen,” Jordan said, leaning forward, “it’s not such a bad deal. You survive, wounds healed and all that, and at the end of your life you spend a few years working it off. No biggie.”

Bay hesitated, and Jordan lowered his voice conspiratorially. 

“Look, man, I’ve got a quota to fill, and I’ve read the terms and conditions. It’s worth it, I promise.”

Bay thought for a moment, clenching and unclenching his fists, then nodded. Jordan handed him a pen and he signed at the bottom of the page. As soon as Bay’s hand lifted from his signature, he vanished. 

Jordan leaned back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“One down, 14, 327 to go.”