Sunday, July 30, 2006

Untitled Story - Jack

Editor's Note: This is Storytellers going in an entirely different direction. Jack's story is not quite along the same line as Scraps, our first contributer, but it's a damn fine "snippet" of fiction (though pretty long, this is clearly a part of a much larger story).

As with Scaps, we thank Jack for contributing.

I was almost 25 when I left the city of my birth. It was time to go, time to move on and get away. There were new experiences to be had and the pain of what I had once been, what I had once had was too much. Everywhere I looked there were signs of the glory and the fall.

For most of my life I had been a scrapper, never afraid to fight, never willing to give up and not smart enough to get out. It was a self imposed punishment for sins that I had committed but was unwilling to discuss.

It is not much of a description, not very colorful at all. In fact it is rather ordinary, but that is ok, I am ordinary and I prefer it that way. If you stuck me in a crowd full of people you would be hard pressed to pick me out. It was like that in school, never did or said much in class. No need to draw attention to myself I did what I needed to do to get through and nothing more.

And for the longest time that had been enough, an average, nondescript existence. It suited me fine to be a guy who punched a time clock. But sometimes even the average man find himself in a situation that is beyond his control,a time in which he becomes something more than he has been.

But the question is not what he does to elevate himself but how he handles the elevation.

It was Friday night and I had just finished my shift at the plant. There was no rush to get home because there was no one to get home to, no wife, no family, no girlfriend, not even a dog. Just an empty house that was sparsely furnished.

Friday nights were not much different than any other night of the week. I'd go home, pop open a can of beer and stare blankly at the television screen content to let my brain turn to mush.

On this particular night I decided to stop at an ATM. I wanted to order a pizza and I had nothing but the spare change from the last time I had visited the liquor store. It wasn't enough to buy a pack of gum, so I was forced to go to the bank.

There were two people ahead of me in line, a man and a woman and behind me there were a couple of teenage boys.

I didn't see him approach. I didn't notice anything about him including his presence until he was standing in front of us, waving a gun and shouting for our wallets. I have a bad habit of giggling when I am nervous. I don't like being the center of attention and now was certainly a bad time to laugh, but laugh I did.

5'8 or so and about a buck twenty sopping wet with a bad haircut and a Judas Priest shirt, that is all he was, oh and he had a big gun and an even bigger attitude. He grabbed my collar and asked me what was so funny. Before I could answer he had grabbed the woman in front of me.>> She cried as he pulled her in front of him and asked me if I thought that this was funny. I choked back a snigger and told him that it wasn't. He told me that if I so much as smiled he would kill her. I wiped the smile off of my face.

It was the wrong thing to do, but I didn't know it. The jackass cuffed me in the side of the head and laughed. It infuriated me, brought back memories of years of being teased and tortured by my someone who had been like an older brother to me. So I just reacted. I kicked him in the balls and smacked him in the head.

In the movies the gun falls and the hero (there has to be a hero) grabs it. Not here, not in my world. In my world when I slap him there is a flash of light and a loud noise. I am splashed with something, but it feels like hours before I realize that he just shot the woman, and that he did it involuntarily. The wetness I feel on my face is her blood.

I stand there in shock, numb and not really aware anymore of what is happening. The guy she had been with is beating the crap out of the jackass, the Judas Priest shirt is stained now, but it is with his blood.

There is a cop speaking to me, but I don't answer. The real hero is lying, telling the officer that I saved everyone's life, that if I hadn't hit him the guy would have killed us all.

I didn't hit him, I hit Georgie. It was Georgie I saw in front of me. It was Georgie taunting me, I just snapped and reacted. But I guess that somewhere inside I began to hear and to believe that I had been the hero, that when the bell rang I had come out swinging.

And that was really the beginning of the end. Life offers two types of pain, one physical and one mental. Man still hasn't found a tougher prison than the one he encages his mind in. There is no greater pain than the mental anguish we inflict on ourselves and there is no tougher warden than the person we see in the mirror. For some there is no midnight reprieve, the governor doesn't offer clemency. There is only one way out and no two people can share the path.

We all live in our secret worlds, but some of us never have the strength to leave our shelter and walk under sunny skies. I used to.

I used to live in a place I called paradise. I could look out on the world and from my window and gaze upon waters that called out to me. Deep blue seas that embraced me like a child in the womb. The seas were always calm and at night they would gently rock me to sleep.

But it wasn't real. I didn't live on a boat. I didn't live on the beach or remotely close to the water. It was all an illusion, a mindfuck that I created to make myself happy. The problem was that I hadn't realized it. I didn't have a clue as to how precarious my own happiness was and once that was shattered I knew nothing but darkness. I wandered aimlessly in a fog, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. It didn't matter, I didn't care.

I said it before, there are two kinds of pain and mental is far worse than physical. You can always find a way to escape physical pain, but you can't run from your own mind. Philosophers had long ago figured out that hell existed, that there was a devil, except he wasn't a guy with horns, a pitchfork and a tail. The church had made that guy up. The devil was someone familiar with you, someone who knew your most intimate secrets and your darkest fears. The devil knew you, knew how to torment your soul. The devil knew all this because he was, he is in you.>>

That's right, the devil is not supernatural. There is no Lucifer, no Satan, and no Beelzebub. It would be better for us all if he did exist. No, the devil is just a man, a person that lives inside us all.

See when they wrote the bible and told the story of getting banished from the Garden of Eden they were not talking about a mythological place, they were referring to the end of innocence. They were talking about that time when life hits you in the mouth, knocks you down and beats you senseless. They were talking about getting hurt in places that bandages don't stick, cuts that you cannot stitch, they just keep bleeding. And even if you manage to stop the bleeding that stinging sensation never really does go away.

The truth will always come out, or so they had taught us in school. One way or another it would find it's way to the surface. The problem is that sometimes the truth had all the beauty of a victim of drowning. The weights that anchor the body slip off and it shoots to the surface where it floats and bobs upon the water.

Face up or face down, it doesn't make a difference until you get close enough to take a closer look. And the smell, the smell is something that you never get beyond. There is a putrid stench that sticks with you, gets locked in the back of your throat and grabs a hold of you like some alien parasite.

Anyway you look at it, that body is not pretty, not graceful, not anything but ugly. And that is what the truth can be like, ugly. Our teachers would have use believe that there was something noble and majestic about it. Movies portray the hero as someone who never falters, who uses the truth to defeat the bad guys. I was a streetwise guy. I knew that the truth was never black and white, that there were shades of gray, but even a mug like me can get caught up believing his own hype.

I wanted to blame the jackass at the ATM for bringing this shit storm down upon my head. If he hadn't tried to rob us all, if he would have been honest, if he would have done a million other things the girl he shot would still be alive and I wouldn't feel so miserable.

And then again she might still be alive if I hadn't reacted like the frightened little boy I had been and maybe still was. If Georgie hadn't spent years tormenting me, picking, poking and prodding me, she might still be walking. A father wouldn't miss his daughter and a mother wouldn't cry herself to sleep.

Maybe if I would have learned how to deal with the bullying I could have stopped myself from just reacting. Goddamn Georgie, he was dead too. Gone for years and still I could hear him mocking me, feel his presence. They say sometimes the absence of someone is palpable. The only thing palpable about Georgie's presence was that even in death he still walked alongside me.

If I believed in G-d I would have prayed for something, forgiveness, death, anything, something to give me peace of mind. I hadn't had it since I had left home, if not longer. The very thought of prayer was laughable. Any faith that I had possessed had been beaten out of me.

She was dead because Georgie had proven to me that I was weak and that I was lacking in value and worth. Really it was my fault. Georgie was right, kick a dog enough times and he'll evolve. He'll pass through stages of confusion, denial, anger and then he;ll reach a point where he just doesn't care what happens, he'd just as soon bite you as crap on your porch.

Georgie had made sure that I experienced all of it. He said that he was helping me and I wanted to believe him. He said that he was making me into a man, making me tough enough to deal with a world that bent you over a hot stove and laughed at you.

The first time Georgie beat me I was scared. I didn't defend myself. I didn't try to, I just let him kick and punch me. And when he stopped I looked at him through teary eyes, not sure what to expect. He gave me a handkerchief and stuck out a hand to help me up.

I was wiping the blood off of my face when he hit me again. I didn't see it coming and when I came to I was lying in the dirt and he was gone, as were three of my teeth. Georgie didn't believe in giving or accepting help, to him it was sign of weakness and he couldn't have that.

Georgie taught me about burning anger. It was he who trained me, rather molded me into someone who was angry all of the time. Prior to his entrance into my life I was just another Joe, nothing particularly noteworthy about me, but Georgie placed me on his forge and made me into something different. Not someone, something, his words, not mine.

Georgie's influence was profound in the worst way. He claims that he saw potential and did nothing more than tap into it. And in my darker moments I tend to believe him, but most of the time I think of it differently. Georgie made me mean the way you prepare a pit-bull to be a fighter. Stick glass in his food, kick him, beat him and do what you can to make him feel battered and bruised. Place the animal in a position that makes it feel like it is never safe and never secure.

But humans are not animals, maybe at our most basic level, but even so there is still something more there, a sentient being who can go one of many directions. Georgie once told me that the fact that I wasn't catatonic said a lot about me. He said it with the sick smile he used to wear when he thought that he knew a secret that no one else knew.

If it had been about something else, someone else, I would have felt differently, but this was about me and that made it worse. No one wants to think badly of themselves, even Charles Manson wants to believe that he is just a misunderstood soul. It was just another one of the wounds Georgie inflicted on me. It would have been better if he had hit me, I had grown accustomed to that, was familiar with the pain, but the mental torment never left me. I could drink or smoke the other pain away, but I couldn't find a bottle big enough to take the edge off that cut, it was too deep.

"30" The End, Finito

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Just Friends - Scraps

Editor's note: Our very first submission is from my ex-Travel Mates partner Scraps and is found below.

At this point, I think it's important to note some legal mumbo-jumbo. We are not responsible for the content of the stories, which does not necessarily reflect the views of Storytellers. Oh and also, anything you put up here is your to keep, I certainly won't steal it - BUT I cannot guaranty that no one else will. So anything you submit here can get ripped off 100 ways to Sunday. You all need to realize that.

So, without further ado, I present you with our very first Storytellers submission - a little Jewish-themed satire called "Just Friends".

Note, of course, that your submissions do not have to be J-related, nor in the foirm below. The beauty of fiction is that the rules are limited. Enjoy:

She glanced at the new guy in town from across the room. He was pretty cute—not too short, but not towering over the crowd, either. Short brown hair. His eye color was hard to tell, from a distance. He was chatting it up with a few other guys she knew. Still, she turned away, lest he look in her direction. It wouldn’t do for him to know that she was interested. She pretended to be completely absorbed in the senseless chatter of her friends, though what she really wanted to do was go over to him and flirt a bit. She was eating by one of the guys he was talking to that night; maybe she could check him out later.

He noticed her talking to her friends and stealing the occasional look across the room at him. She was a pretty girl—blonde hair just past her shoulders, petite but not anorexic-looking. Yeah, he was interested, but this was the kind of place where asking a girl out on sight just wasn’t done. He’d get a rep for being too forward, or something similarly uncomplimentary. No, there was no chance he could go up to her and introduce himself. Maybe later he’d see if any of the guys knew anything about her. If he had to, he could ask one of her friends.

* * *

She tried to be casual about the way she brought up the new guy. She couldn’t sound too interested, or people would get ideas.

“So, Yehuda, who’s that guy you were talking to tonight after shul? I haven’t seen him around before.”

“Yeah, he just moved in last week. His name is Michael, and he’s from Teaneck. He moved into 740. Why do you ask?”

“Oh nothing, just curious.” My building, he’s living in my building!

He wanted to try to be indirect about finding out who the blond girl was, but there really wasn’t any good way to do it, so he finally just asked Shira, whose meal he went to Shabbos day. He’d seen them talking to each other Friday night.

“Who’s the girl with the blonde hair, I think she was wearing a striped skirt last night or something?”

“Oh, her? That’s my friend Malka, she lives in 740. She’s from Woodmere. She’s a really great girl. Why’d you want to know? Are you interested in her?”

“Nah, no reason. Just curious.” She lives in my building—score!

* * *

“Hey Yehuda!”

“Hey Shira, what’s up?”

“Nothing much. Hey, you had Malka G. over for dinner Friday night, right?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I had this guy who’s new to the neighborhood, his name is Michael, over for Shabbos lunch, and he was asking about her.”

“No way! She was asking about him, too!”

“Oh. My. Gosh. This is totally bashert! We’ve got to set them up somehow!”

“She lives in 740, right? He just moved in there. Maybe we should have someone else who lives there invite them both to a meal or something.”

“That’s such a great idea, Yehuda! Who do you know in that building? I know Rina, Alex, Mara, and Liz. Mara and Liz are Malka’s roommates, though, so that might be weird.”

“I know Donny, Jonathan, and Devora. Devora is Rina’s roommate, right?”

“Yeah…but I don’t think they do co-ed meals.”

“Okay, fine. So that leaves Alex, Donny, or Jonathan. I think Jonathan’s away this Shabbos, though. You want to call Alex, and I’ll call Donny?”

“Sounds great. I’ll call you later!”

“See ya around.”

* * *

She officially met him that Shabbos at Alex’s meal. They were sitting at opposite ends of the table from each other, but at some point mid-meal everyone ended up playing musical seats and she managed to sit and shmooze with him for a while. He was three years older than her, they’d gone to brother-sister schools in Israel (but three years apart), and he was applying to medical school. They talked about books, politics, and a bunch of other conversational fillers. She found out that his eyes were green. She wasn’t sure if she was interested, but at least he was a pretty nice guy.

He officially met her that Shabbos at Alex’s meal. Though they started out at opposite ends of the table, she came and sat next to him when someone else sat in her seat, so they had some time to talk. She was three years younger than him, and she’d gone to the sister school to his yeshiva in Israel. She worked as a junior accountant and was studying for her CPA. They made decent small talk—it seemed like she was pretty intelligent, especially compared to some of the girls he’d gone out with. And it didn’t hurt that she was even more good-looking up close than she was across the room (he hoped she didn’t notice him staring).

* * *

They met again at a few other Shabbos meals. He became friends with the same people that she hung out with, so they did a lot of stuff together on the weekends—motzei Shabbos parties, Sunday trips. They enjoyed each other’s company, and to some it may have even seemed like they sought it out.

One night, Shira called her.

“I thought of a great idea for you, Shira!”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“What do you think about going out with Michael?”

“What? Michael? I can’t go out with him—I’m friends with him!”

Yehuda called him that night, too.

“Hey Michael, what do you think about Malka?”

“She’s a nice girl, Yehuda, but we’re just friends.”